Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Not for the faint of heart

Day 15. Jackson to Dubois Wyoming. Today was not for the faint of heart. Not here in western Wyoming. Not on this bike trip. I've never ridden a bike on a day like today. It's 10PM in Dubois as I write this blog, and to say I am exhausted is a bit of an understatement.

The day started off in Jackson (which is a scenic little town with some very odd motel signs and a very cool bar where we had a beer and shot a game of pool last night). It was really cold this morning (about 6C) with a strong headwind right off the bat. We rode slowly out of town and into Teton National Park, which has to be one of the most scenic places in the world. There is no way you can get a sense for the majesty of this area from these videos or the attached pictures (also, check out the "signature" photo of me riding with the Tetons in the background).

We stopped a number of times for pictures and to rest our weary (and wearying bodies). In the past week, we'd take maybe 2 hours at most to get the first 35 miles in. Today, due to the wind and the climbing, we didn't get to the 35 mile mark until about 10:30. That made the day hard, and it got even harder from there.

At the 44 mile mark we started our 3,500 vertical foot climb up to Togwotee Pass. The climb today was long, but not nearly as steep as yesterday. Unfortunately, it was freezing cold and into a headwind. When I reached the 8,000 foot mark, I stopped for a bottle of water and pushed on to the top, which took me about another hour just to cover the last 8 miles. Before we got to the top we learned that there was road construction and that the Wyoming Department of Transportation (nickname – "Les Incompetents") told us it was against Wyoming State Law to allow cyclists to ride through a gravel construction zone. So, to ensure our safety (huge sarcasm goes here) they crammed me (and another rider named Rick, plus our bikes) into the bed of a sub-compact pickup truck and drove us allegedly through the construction zone. So, let's review Wyoming safety law:

crammed into the back of an open-air pickup truck, no seat belts

riding or walking a bike through gravel (which every cyclist has done in their life)

So, after ensuring our safety (cough, cough), where did these genuises drop us off? In the middle of the construction zone, 3 miles from the top on a gravel road (hard gravel actually, worse than below). There was virtually nowhere to ride. We made our way up a bit until we found a 20 foot wide piece of fractured pavement that had oncoming traffic (including trucks) heading in our direction so fast that we had to essentially ride into the gravel to avoid them. I never really felt in danger, but it absolutely sucked. We made it to the top – the Continental Divide, the place where rivers flow to the east and the west in North America. It was called Togwotee Pass and was at 9,658 feet elevation. Riding a bike at that altitude really saps your energy, and the fact that we had to deal with the construction didn't help either. Complicating the whole thing was the weather, which was quite chilly (around 10C) and very windy.

I thought reaching the top would be rewarding (like yesterday at Teton Pass), but there was no sign saying we were at the Continental Divide or even what altitude we were at. It was so draining and cold to get up there that it was kind of anticlimactic. I just wanted to grab something to eat from the ABB support van and get going with the last 30 miles of the ride.

Here's video from the top:

As I went to leave I was told that due to road construction down below the summit, I had to wait to be cleared before we left. So we stood at the summit for about 20 minutes and got cold fast. Finally we were told we could leave. We headed down and got stopped by "Les Incompetents" again who ferried us by open-air pickup truck below the construction zone. Again, Wyoming safety law (repeat after me):

crammed into the back of an open-air pickup truck, no seat belts

riding or walking a bike through gravel (which every cyclist has done in their life)

At last, we could head to Dubois. But our day wasn't done. The wind kicked up fiercely in our face at that point. So fiercely in fact, that as I went down a 6% grade hill (the kind of hill they build runaway truck ramps for) I barely broke 15 miles per hour. The last 25 miles (which normally takes 90 minutes) took me over two and a half hours. It felt like punishment and was not enjoyable at all. This was not fun riding. Cold, psychologically debilitating, and all at the end of a brutal day of 140kms of riding and over 5,000 feet of climbing. Not only that, but we have another 130kms into the wind tomorrow and it looks like 200kms into the wind to Casper on Thursday.

It wasn't a fair fight today, with the elements beating the crap out of us cyclists on this tour. Not a fair fight at all. But sometimes, perhaps more than we'd like to admit, we find ourselves in unfair fights. The key is to press on, and press on we did.

I absolutely love the adventure of this trip. The sights are awesome (and awe-inspiring). The other riders are great and we are all sharing our war stories over dinner and in all of our blogs. It is the experience of lifetime, for me anyway. But, the cycling, which should be fun, can be a bit overwhelming. I knew it would be a lot of miles, challenge, climbing, and wind, but it is somewhat draining. I'm just glad I've met a bunch of people I enjoy riding or just spending time with. I'm "into it" now and there will be no turning back. I'm on my way. Next stop – New Hampshire (after breakfast tomorrow, that is).

Oh yeah, I also did my laundry today. Everything is clean, just in time to see my Duchess Thursday. Everyone wants to know how The Duchess got her nickname. I love telling that story.

Two other things for those of you back home. For all of you sweltering, it will be 3C with a brisk wind when I start riding tomorrow. Second, see the picture of the rabbit/antelope, known locally as a Jackalope? Well, I was dumb enough to ask the desk clerk at the motel here what a Jackalope is (me thinking it was a cross between a jack rabbit and an antelope). It turns out that the Jackalope is a mythical nonexistent animal (kind of a local tall tale) designed to boost tourism some time ago. I'm such an idiot. The desk clerk is still giggling about this right now. I can actually hear her giggling from miles away as I sit here in my room.

Oh yeah, one other thing. Did any of you see the HBO movie called Taking Chance starring Kevin Bacon? It was an excellent movie about a young US Marine from Dubois Wyoming who was killed overseas in 2004, and the Marine officer (played by Kevin Bacon) who accompanied his body home to his family. The folks here at the hotel knew Chance and went to school with him. What a sad tragic true story that puts a tough day of cycling into much needed perspective.

Now on to today's mail:

Rob from Toronto writes: "Insanity going up. Insanity going down. I knew this trip would test your mettle, but I 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!" I will be there August 9th. It may be August 9th, 2011, but it will be August 9th.
Kenny from Toronto writes "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." I didn't realize my handwriting was so messy. I'll try to write neater next time Professor Lipson.
Here are my Garmin stats for the day:

This is Joe's blog:

1 comment:

  1. Mark, I've been faithfully transposing your blog onto the Due North Posterous and enjoying reading your posts along the way. You are a brave man! As a tribute to your efforts I will attempt to take my bike to the foot of Pickering and back tonight... a grudging 30 minute ride ---> uphill on the way back. Be safe.