We are in the Wild, Wild West! I’ve kept calling it that. It’s not that wild. Only wildly scenic. Such picturesque sunsets and landscapes, I am just in awe of what beautiful country we’re biking through. I’m also constantly kicking myself for my ignorance growing up and thinking places like Idaho, Wyoming and Montana were barren and boring. Since our days off in Breck we cruised through and had two stops before entering the ‘forever west’ state of Wyoming. I quickly learned that the Colorado v. Wyoming feud is actually real. Childishly comical, but real. I also learned that this is really where the Cowboy culture lives and thrives, not in places like Texas. When entering Wyoming, we were surrounded by mountains even though they seemed so distant. It was a foggier day and it really gave the impression that we were in the middle of nowhere. Towns are few and far between out west, and coupled with the storm, I was starting to panic a little. But as usual, everything turned out just fine.
The first town we hit was Saratoga. It’s a pretty small town but the free hot springs it offered lured in the travelers. Here we stayed with Karim and Darci, two wonderful warm showers hosts. Karim actually showed up when we were about 20 miles short of Saratoga, since that’s where he works, and introduced himself while we were taking our last break for the day. He gave us some specific directions to his house and off we went. There we met Diana and Marc who were doing a short bike trip and actually live in Estes Park, Colorado not far from us. Austin and I took advantage of the hot springs and met a group road tripping to California. One of them was valiant enough to get in the “lobster pot” otherwise referred to as the source spring which was significantly warmer, you start to prune just looking at it. It was a cool town to visit and Karim and Darci made our stay really comfortable. I just wish I had it in me at the time to join them for volleyball but I usually want to do as little as possible post-ride.
Next, we hit Rawlins and camped at our first KOA. It was pretty cold that night but there were windscreens that came in really handy. The camp had all the essentials covered and the added amenity of an outdoor stove that made fixing dinner a bit easier. The next morning, we left with the intention of making it to Jeffery City. Instead, we made it less than 10 miles out before I got a sidewall puncture on my rear tire. Just my luck! I’m just happy/fortunate that Austin is pretty handy and sewed and patched it up with a car patch he went to get at the nearby Auto Zone. It was an impressive job. If it were up to me, I’d still be staring at the tire wondering how to proceed. To my surprise, not a single driver even stopped to ask if we (or I) needed help. Even while I waited there alone waiting for Austin to get back with the tire patch. But anyway, the worst part was inflating the tire again with our weak pump. It’s nearly impossible to get it up to the correct PSI without your arm giving out, but it was going to have to do. By the time we took care of that, it was too late to head out for a ride so we stayed another night at the KOA… bummer. But good news is, the patch made it to Jeffery City the next day. We stayed at the church in Jeffery City which had a kitchen, a couple rooms with old mattresses, bathrooms and showers. It was a pleasant stay and we added on to the wall of signatures from proud cyclists. The next morning though, before grabbing breakfast at the local and only restaurant, I felt a bit rushed because we were heading out later than I hoped to and it was my fault. So as I was putting things away hastily, my bike tipped over and my camera fell out of the handlebar bag. I thought there was no harm done until I took my camera out to photograph the Red Canyon we were biking through to find that my lens was broken. Damnit, damnit, damnit- the summation of my thoughts as we finished off the ride and made it to Lander.
I was at least excited to be there. Austin is a NOLS alum and had visited before since that’s where NOLS is headquartered and he also did a section of his course at the Sinks Canyon there. It was a cool town that is very uniquely western but also had some modern restaurants, breweries and things of the sort. First order of business was having my tire replaced so we paid the Gannett Bike Shop a visit. They were friendly and fair and offered cyclotourists free ice cream! I chose not be my usual “frugal” self and upgraded to the Marathon Plus tire to replace my rear tire. I also replaced my fairly stretched chain and had the shifting looked at again. The staff was impressed with Austin’s sewing job, too. Oh, and we met another cyclist headed east riding in chaco’s with just as great a tan! Then, we headed to the Noble which is where NOLS participants stay while in Lander. We managed to stay there with Austin’s alumni “perks.” My surgical pursuits failed me while I tried to check out what was wrong with my lens, perhaps I made it worse. I reached out to a couple friends and it was pretty unanimous that the lens had to go to warranty. After stressing out about it all, I decided to order a replacement and we sent the broken one to Austin’s mom to be dealt with later. This of course meant two unprecedented rest days while we waited for it to be overnighted. The rest days at least meant good food and good beer and a comfy place to sleep so things could’ve been significantly worse. I also toured some of the NOLS buildings, met one of Austin’s instructors, bought some of their food at the “gulch” and got to thinking that maybe I’ll do a shorter NOLS course soon. Once I got my new lens in, we headed for DuBois. I have continuously repeated this since, but the ride to DuBois has been my favorite day of the whole tour. It was beautiful, vast, the weather was chilly but comfortable, we had a slight uphill but also a slight tailwind, and I was just feeling great. Here, we stayed at the local Episcopal Church which was welcoming and comfortable. We were able to use their kitchen to make pasta and we laid our sleeping pads in their living room area. We also went out and had pie at Cowboy Cafe which was strongly recommended to us. We had the bourbon chocolate pecan pie and even I was impressed despite not liking pecans or caring much for pie in general. Next day, Jenny Lake!
Plans were a bit uncertain since we learned about the wildfires around Yellowstone that led to the south entrance being closed while we were in Lander. Damnit damnit damnit- yet again. I was so excited to bike through Yellowstone but unfortunately the closure forced us to detour. This was pretty sad news for me because I thought this would be the highlight of the trip. But luckily for us, we are only a state away and could drive in another time. This detour, however, was pretty significant and there was some improvising that we weren’t entirely sure of. After contacting ACA and some other resources, we decided we’d ride to Jackson and enter Idaho after Teton Pass. I was not a happy camper knowing we had to add such a steep climb to our tour but being surrounded by mountains on each side, we had no other choice. After making it to Jenny Lake close to sundown, we made dinner and headed for bed. The next morning, we decided to just stay in Jackson and I’m glad we did. We got to ride on the bike path along the Grand Teton National Park, and that was amazing. The Tetons are just stupendous and look so much larger since there are no foothills. I was in awe since we caught the very first hazy glimpse of them after climbing Togwotee Pass (pronounced Toe-giddy). I remember not being able to hold back my tears thinking of how beautiful it all was and how I wished I could share some of these photos with my grandmother who passed two years ago (on that date). I’m just glad I get to share it with my closest family. Once we got to Jackson, we had no idea where to stay. We had no camping options and warm shower hosts weren’t getting back to us. We went to the library and spoke to a local very briefly. He caught us outside later and offered his help. His name was Greg and he contacted a church board member to see if we can camp at the Lutheran Church he was a board member of as well. Just that easy, we had a place to pitch our tent and we were so grateful. It was also right on the bike path we were riding on the next day. We got there, put the tent up and got things together. Then Greg showed up again, offered us bottled waters to refill our dromedary and offered to treat us to dinner. The hospitality on this trip, as I’ve mentioned a thousand times before, is unparalleled. We got Mexican for dinner and got to learn a little more about Greg. Jackson was also a cool little touristy town that reminded me of Colorado (EXCEPT COLORADO IS SIGNIFICANTLY BETTER). The next day we officially began our detour into Idaho.
Teton Pass was intense. Perhaps the hardest climb of the entire trip, honestly. Steep 10% grades all throughout and a 2,000 foot elevation gain. Brutal. But we made it and it felt damn good to make it up! We were the only ones that deserved that view that everyone comfortably drove up to see. As much as it hurts while we’re climbing I recognize how much strength I’ve gained. My quads are a force to be reckoned with! The ascent was all on a paved bike path and the descent was a blast. We made it into Idaho! Prematurely, but hey. We were staying in Tetonia with a warm showers host named Nan, who wears many hats and one was as a NOLS instructor during the summer. She was helpful from the very beginning, offering us road tips among other suggestions. We stopped for smoothies in Driggs like she recommended and met a Belgian guy sitting outside. We got to talking to him for quite a while and started to contrast the culture and way of life in the US vs. certain Western European countries. It was an awesome conversation and we wish him the best. He’s 41, divorced, and has been traveling with his dog for 4 months. He’s now looking for a job because he ran out of money and says he’d otherwise continue traveling if he could finance it. Personally, I don’t think I’d be tired of traveling after four months either (it’s already been two and a half!). We went on to Tetonia and made it to Nan’s house. We got there before she did while she wrapped up a mountain bike ride. We showered and waited for her and thought we were expecting her friends over for dinner. Turns out they were making stromboli and had us over instead. We spent the evening talking and laughing with Wendy and Tony, a teacher and computer scientist, respectively. They’ve toured before and we got to talking and learning about their bikes and trips and things of the sort. They were really fun and funny and we were so grateful that they had us over for dinner. We said our goodbyes to Nan after breakfast in the morning and headed for Island Park.
Prior to getting to the Box Canyon campground, we stopped to see the upper Mesa Falls while biking through the scenic byway in the Targhee National Forest. Neither Austin or I have seen a waterfall quite like that, it was beautiful. And since there was a downhill to enter, meaning an uphill to exit, we were let in for free. Getting into the campground involved a couple miles on a pesky gravel road. Despite being near the highway, it felt very secluded so that was nice. We camped for the night and made rice and lentils for dinner. The next day, we headed for Montana and rejoined the route to end our detour, woohoo! Once we were back on the trail, we had a nice, gradual downhill to Ennis where we camped another night at Camper’s Corner. The temp camp host was actually from the Denver area and was thinking of moving back with her boyfriend after the camp’s owners formally made their move to Ennis. We took it pretty easy the next two days, short day to Twin Bridges and another one to Dillon. In Twin Bridges, we stayed at the bike camp that was built by a local that met some cyclotourists and asked them what they could do to get cyclists to stay in Ennis and not bike right through. They built the small camp and put in some couches, a bathroom, shower, sink and a bike stand, essentially covering all the bases. In Dillon, we camped at another KOA but not before meeting Joe while Austin adjusted my rear tire. Joe is an Englishman headed west and as it turns out, we ran into him the next morning and ended up riding for 3 days together.
We headed for Wisdom, MT where we made it to the grocery just in the nick of time. We bought some food and beer and the clerk was nice enough to phone the local motels for Joe. Unfortunately, there was a wedding in town and both places were booked. And so we all ended up camping in this small campsite that was built and is maintained by donations. Seems like some other cyclists have stayed as well but most visitors were eager hunters in RVs. We stayed in the small shelter to break from the harsh wind while we talked over beers and had dinner. Joe has been wanting to bike across the US for quite some time and had his brother build him a bike for it. He’s now living in London and is making a switch to music after some years teaching. He joked about the road rage he’s experienced but says he’s used to it because he gets it all the time in London. When talking to British people, it always amazes me how we do certain things so differently on this side of the pond. Namely, own guns and call English muffins, English muffins when they aren’t even English! The English have crumpets! Ah, America. The next day was a treat, after our second climb up Chief Joseph Pass and after taking care of yet another flat, that is. I went over a rock hard enough to flatten out my rear tire. Joe helped me switch out the tube and we were ready to go. But Austin was way down the hill and I was afraid he’d climb back up to see what was wrong. But I waved down a driver and asked him to let Austin know what was happening. On we went and made it to Darby. We stayed with Curtis, another amazing warm showers host. He had a room for each of us, we got to shower and do laundry, he made us dinner using his vegetarian cook book and walked us down to the local brewery. He was a great host and is slowly getting into touring himself. He’s retired from the armed forces and is now pursuing a doctorate through an online program with Colorado Tech University. After heading home after the brewery, we also ran into Max and Tim, two eastbound riders that started in Vancouver, Canada. We saw their bikes outside of a bar and they had plans of pitching a tent next to a park. Curtis invited them to stay since he had more room available in his house. It was great to meet some more cyclists and learn about their travels.
After some pesto eggs and toast in the morning, again made by Curtis, we exchanged contact info and parted ways with Tim and Max. Austin, Joe and myself had a 65 mile downhill ride to Missoula, where we are now. The ride felt a bit more uphill due to the wind. We have the worst luck when it comes to changing the direction in which we’re riding and the headwinds following suit. Somehow, I was charged up and I was leaving Austin and Joe in the dust through some portions. I wasn’t intentionally trying to lead but they both commented that I was getting stronger and I was biking “like a machine.” I joked that I was just really good at the downhills. Finally, Missoula! Our last stop before entering Idaho the proper way. We went our separate ways with Joe, as he had a warm shower stay set up through some friends already. We may meet up tomorrow to ride to Lolo but he’s heading for Portland on the Lewis & Clark trail. He’s got a plane to catch so he can’t stick with the TransAm trail. Missoula is a fun college town! I long awaited getting here. We’ve visited the University of Montana campus, hit up some restaurants, bars, and a distillery, and tomorrow we visit the ACA headquarters before heading for Powell, Idaho. I am very excited to make it to ACA and get our bikes weighed. It’s been a great, restful layover day and it can potentially be our last. It’s bittersweet to think about this trip ending. We’ve had so much fun and have learned just so much. I feel like I end each post on that same note, but it’s just so true! As this journey ends, I feel compelled to hold on, in some capacity. I can’t think of actually talking about this tour in retrospect. Impermanence is so difficult to come to terms with. But I’m still touring. I’ve got more places to see, more hills to climb and another coast to get to. Can/can’t wait!
[Thanks for reading! Please excuse the typos/grammatical errors. Pictures will likely be added after I get back to Denver. 😦 Feel free to leave comments, questions or reactions. You do not need a WordPress account to comment. See ya!]