TransAmerica Cycle Blog#3: The Rockies Road...
Dear friends, supporters and sponsors, thank you for your patience. I know there has been a bit of a delay since last writing; time on the bike proved to be too much when I had to juggle social media updates, suitable sleep and eating, so sadly the newsletter suffered as a result. But I am not a road accident statistic, don't worry (!). I completed my journey last Sunday (woo!), and the updates will continue from now retrospectively - there are some great tales and photos to share! My story continues from Prineville, OR, where I had stopped after a serious tyre blow out... The rest was much needed. My body was clearly struggling to adjust to the new demands being placed on it, and a massage confirmed that my legs were about 90% lactic acid, and 10% muscle! A days respite and the massage made a huge difference, both mentally and physically, and also gave me more time to shake off the cold that was lingering on. The bike shop in Pineville also fitted me out with two new tyres, and a further night in a motel was a extra luxury. I pressed on the following day, feeling reinvigorated and more focussed. Some large mountain passes were coming up, and I needed to get back into a rhythm.
Above: Taking in Hell's Canyon. Below: Cycling with the roadies in Oregon.
My target for the next few days was to make it to 'Hells Canyon', an aptly named and gigantic valley that borders the eastern edges of Oregon and the western edges of Idaho. Travelling up a serious pass and through Baker City brought me to it's edge. On my first day I inadvertently managed to join a further 1500 road bikers enjoying 'Ride Oregon' - an organised two day excursion through the area. I got a few funny looks and entertaining comments from those who assumed me and my bags were with them, but once they knew about my journey, I was temporarily adopted! After half a day of riding with these guys, it was sad to leave the company and return to the solitude of my own world, but I had to press on. Hell's Canyon is a vast desert-like expanse, and it took me a few days of riding through and then skirting the periphery before I was finally clear. From there I routed through Cambridge, over some challenging passes and then eventually to Kooskia where I caught my fist glimpse of the prairies and wild west that I had enjoyed watching on film with my grandmother as a child. The prairies were vast open expanses hemmed in by impressive mountain ridges, and these huge areas were often shrouded with smoke from the extensive wildfires that had decimated thousands of acres over this dry summer. The open prairie, dotted here and there by clusters of farm buildings, silos and wooden homesteads, some seemingly untouched by time, were a sight to behold, the scenery so different from forested Oregon.
At Kooskia I had my first mishap of the trip. Lolo Pass lies to the north from this town, and it is a huge 100mile effort of gradual ascent, culminating in a sharp spike over the peak and into Montana. This is real wilderness. Whilst the road remained relatively busy, for a cyclist there are no supplies for an entire day. I had been getting used to signs that read 'no gas station for 50miles', but this was the next step up! It would be an early start. I had camped in the garden of a lovely couple, Becky and John, whom I had met when stopping to ask about campsites in the area. They really took care of me and saw me off on my way. I headed up the pass, and arrived at Lolo Springs to find I had left my tent flysheet on their lawn to dry. It was most unfortunate. There was no way I was cycling 100miles back down the pass, and no way to reach them at that time. So I endured my first freezing night in an open tent under a starry night at altitude - at least the hot springs at Lolo went some way to alleviate the pain! As it turned out, I did eventually make contact with John and he kindly posted my flysheet ahead of me to collect from a post office. They will never know how extremely grateful I was by their generosity, and one of many acts of kindness I encountered on the road. I had to endure a few cold nights on the road before meeting up with my flysheet again but at least it didn’t rain!
Above: Montana forestry. Below: In and around Grand Teton.
Montana turned out to be one of my favourite states. It is beautiful. I cycled through lovely woodland, mesmerised by the views in all directions. Some parts were tough, one pass in particular, and I was utterly drenched for 10 minutes in a freak thunderstorm as I neared Sula - but it was incredible to be travelling through nature and feeling it on your skin. The forests gave way to more vast expanses of prairie, and in general the sunshine continued (the thunderstorm being my first and only bit of rainfall to this point!). With these wide-open expanses came my first continuous bout of headwind, which slowed my pace considerably and tested my resolve. I was past the most northerly part of my journey (Missoula) and now heading southeast. I travelled through Indian territories, picking up snippets of the battles that had been fought over native American lands, the disenfranchising of the people and their mistreatment, through greed of the white man. Their history still haunts these areas, marked at least by various roadside plaques and boards. It made a sad read, and I could still sense the anger amid all the beauty of these area. I eventually made it to West Yellowstone; somewhere I had always dreamed of visiting, but the glitzy lights, advertising boards and money-in-your-face left me somewhat disappointed. Everything was orientated around the tourist, and it just did not fit right! The only campsite in town cost $50 for a pitch! But on the plus side, I had my tent fly! :)
Above: The descent into Grand Teton National Park. Below: The sign says it all.
Cracking on I headed towards the park and into Wyoming, the only fast moving vehicle in a three-mile steady stream of traffic! I saw some bison (pretty cool), didn't see Old Faithfull (unfortunate timing), and made it to neighbouring Grand Teton by nightfall (definitely recommended over Yellowstone). By now I was truly in 'grizzly country'. However, I had, fortunately, not encountered anything wilder than racoon and elk. The day before I arrived in Teton, a guide had been killed by a grizzly whilst butchering game with a client only a few miles away, and this sad news did little to settle my anxiety! The campsites were also taking plenty of the usual precautions with signage and store boxes, and it was a constant reminder that grizzlies are a creature not to be messed with.
Putting my fears aside, I pressed on, surmounting another very high pass the following day then descended into a different world of desert and wildfire smoke. I was aiming for Jeffrey City, but I could have been on Mars! I felt good in my body, and for the first time I felt physically fitter and well able to tackle my daily schedule. I camped in a couple of interesting places, a church being one, a fire station another, as well as normal campsites and RV parks. I battled soul-crushing headwinds for hours, marvelling at the desolate landscapes I was passing through when I could raise my head high enough to see! Service stations were my food source for this part of my trip, which also led to uncomfortable times. Spending ten hours and more on a bike requires a near constant calorie intake, but there are only so many Cliff or Oreo biscuits you can eat before you begin to feel nauseous! It was tough going, but the wheels kept on moving and the miles kept on clocking up.
My next target was Breckenridge in Colorado. It was not far from the highest pass of my trip (Hoosier), and a good place to meet Dave, an old friend from university, who lives in Denver. We planned to meet and then enjoy a rest day before a final push and the Plains. However, it would be four days of routing over and through the Atlantic/Pacific continental divide, headwinds, sweat, and toil before I made it there.
Above: battling the winds of Wyoming... Below: and the desert landscape.
Those four days were punishing. Wind and tough ascents sapped my will power, taking me to dark places and beyond, and on several occasions I had to cycle well into the night (it made for an impressive forest fire viewing near Kremmling though!). Thankfully the Wyoming drivers were a big kinder than the redneck truckers in Oregon, yet I still had a few close encounters. At the Colorado border I met my first TransAmerica cyclists, going east to west! He was Vietnamese and from Boston. His name was Lee, and he had been on the road for three months. My intention was to start from the west and escape the incoming winter, but this guy was cycling straight into it – hat's off to him! It was great to share stories and offer advice, and sad to part in a way from a fellow soul, but I had to make it to Breckenridge.
Above: Meeting my only fellow TransAmerican cyclist (travelling the other way!)
You can basically divide my trip into three sections: The Rockies, The Plains and the Appalachians. The Rockies take up nearly half of this, so reaching Breckenridge in one piece was a huge psychological boost. My friend Dave cycled out to meet me and we rode for half a day, catching up and enjoying the scenery. I had forgotten what company felt like, and it was really nice to have someone I knew well to talk to. 'Breck', as it is known, is also a junction for the continental divide, an off-road mountain bike trail that runs down the spine of the Rockies, a popular route for those seeking even more remote bike packing adventures. We met several mountain-bike packers on the road, and shared tales of our travels before wishing each other the best of luck on our respective adventures. At last Dave and I wheeled into Breckenridge, unpacked and I put on a much needed laundry load before almost falling asleep in my pint glass. The next day was a rest and reset day, and it was definitely due!
The feeling of adventure and achievement was truly beginning to seep into my concience. More updates to follow.... Micah.