Monday, July 5, 2010

Ain't no mountain high enough

Day 14. Idaho Falls Idaho to Jackson Wyoming. I don't even know how to describe our ride today. It was equal parts intimidating, exhausting, and flat-out scary. And by scary, I mean "white-knuckle, my hair is now entirely gray" scary.

At route rap last night, tour leader Mike told us what to expect today – two very difficult climbs and then a technical descent into Jackson that has seen previous riders risk losing control of their bike due to speed and road conditions. He wasn't trying to scare us, but it sure made me pay attention. After dinner I went over to Walmart just for the walk and then I found a Wendy's and got a Frosty Shake (different, and better than a Frosty!). I went over to the Falls and just watched them for a while, kinda to clear my head and not worry about today. It actually worked. I slept the best night yet on this trip – all the way to 4:40AM this morning (I'm not kidding about that). We had to wake up at 5AM anyway, and I did fall asleep around 10PM last night, so that's over 6 hours, which is great for me.

We had breakfast at 5:30AM and loaded the truck at 6:15. We were on the road at 6:25. What promised to be a long day got longer due to a 4 mile detour we had to take to go around a construction zone, and a nasty headwind that dogged us until the 30 mile mark. That's the first significant headwind we've seen this trip, and I hope we don't see many more like it. Not only does it sap you physically, it saps you mentally too. One note about breakfast. I ate like a lumberjack on steroids today. Yesterday I started fading around noon and I felt it was because I didn't eat enough in the morning. So today I had eggs, bacon, hash browns, a biscuit (they love their biscuits out here and each one must be 400-500 calories), two muffins, fruit, and OJ. All eaten before 6AM! It's a good thing I ate that much because we needed it today.

After leaving Idaho Falls (nice town by the way), we meandered through the last of the Idaho farmland I'm going to see for a while. Then the Tetons rose up to meet us. Spectacular scenery. Spectacular. I think this is the prettiest mountain range I've ever seen. The Duchess and I went skiing here in 1983 and while we didn't love the ski resort at Jackson Hole, we couldn't help but love the scenery. I hope this video and the attached pictures do it justice:

We kept pushing into the headwind and snaked our way up to the top of the first climb at Pine Creek Pass (elevation 6,764 feet). Little did I know that, as tough as it was, this was the easiest part of the day. What you have to realize is that not only is it tough going up these steep mountain roads, but what made this first climb tough was the headwind, the fact that it occurred at the 45 mile (73 km) mark of the ride, and that it topped out at 6,764 feet (only about 1,000 feet lower than the town of Aspen). It was a tough climb for sure.

However, there's no way a "route rap" can genuinely convey the nature of the next climb. Unfortunately, before we started the big climb, we had to descend about 1,000 vertical feet to the town of Victor Idaho in order to start the climb up to Teton Pass. That just sucked. As we roared down the mountain, all I kept thinking about was how hard it was going to be to go back up again. So, after crossing the state line into Wyoming (our third state), we started to climb.

Holy shit.

That's about all I can say about it. The climb itself lasted only 6.6 miles, but was at a grade that ranged from 3% (not bad, like the hill going north on Don Mills Rd. north of York Mills Rd. in Toronto) to a crushing high of 13% (on my computer at least, others showed a 15% grade). I'm trying to think of a 13% grade in Toronto but I can't think of one. It's steep. Basically I was moving at about 6-8 kms/hour, or a slow running pace. The good news was that the wind did turn around a bit in our favor, which didn't hurt. But what a climb. The altitude at the top was 8,341 feet (as a reference, that's halfway up to the top of the Two Creeks lift at Snowmass for the Lipsons and Roses). Not only that, but this climb started (started!) at the 75 mile mark of the ride (121 kms into the ride) and came on the heels of the first climb.

I have got to tell you that you learn a lot about yourself at moments like these. I learned that I get tired riding a bike up a mountain. Yeah, that's it. Tired.

I did stop by the side of the road during the climb twice for a 2 minute break each time. Others walked their bike up a bit. Still others got a ride in the ABB van for a portion of today's ride before they rode into Jackson. But everyone gave it their best shot, and there were lots of high-fives all around at the top.

But, after a struggle, I made it. The Teton Pass is marked with a sign saying that you are in Jackson (see picture "Howdy Stranger..."). It was incredibly windy at the top, so we started rolling down with a huge gusty tailwind. I'm not trying to be overly dramatic here, but I was about as scared as I've ever been in my life going down this mountain pass. Some of the other riders (at the bottom) said how much they loved it. I didn't. I actually pulled over on the side of the road going down and came to a complete stop just to curtail my momentum. It didn't work. In a couple of seconds I was flying down the hill again. I used my brakes liberally and kept under control. There was never a moment I wasn't in control, but the whole experience left me white-knuckled. It didn't help that there were major crosswind gusts and that there was significant car, truck, RV, and camper traffic on this road as well.

So, today we conquered our second state (Idaho), crossed our highest point/toughest climb (to date), and crossed the 1,000 mile mark in the trip. Not too shabby. Hey, let's go to DQ! But alas, we can't find a DQ in this upscale mountain resort.

Here's video from Jeff's handlebar camera to give you a sense of speed on the descent:

Anyway, we are now in the beautiful mountain resort town of Jackson Wyoming. I'm off to a pizza party at Pizza Hut and then an early to bed. We are riding up and over the Continental Divide tomorrow on the way to Dubois Wyoming (140+kms).

Now, on to today's mail:

Allan from Toronto writes (after hearing that every house in Idaho has a dog) "Macy (Allan's German Shepherd) called ahead to all her friends in Idaho and warned them that good food was approaching!!" I'm not such good food any more. Despite eating what must be a 5,000 calorie/day diet, I think I've lost weight on this trip. Tell Macy (and that idiot Friedman dog Griffin) that they better look for something better to eat.

Here are my Garmin stats for the day:

This is Joe's blog:


  1. Insanity going up. Insanity going down. I knew this trip would test your mettle, but didn't think it would do so (so significantly) twice in one day. What a thrill! Hope to see you in New Hampshire on the 9th!

  2. yikes. I knew your trip was too difficult for me but it's getting to be that reading the blog is too difficult for me.