I’ve now deviated off the Great Divide Route in search of a night’s camping that’s not on/under snow, on the way to Fruita, Colorado.
Dashing south out of Jackson, finally. It's not always easy to reset the mind to travel again. Photo David Gonzales.
Leaving Jackson was hard. It’s often that way when you slip in with a group of kind people, pamper yourself with some home comforts (a cooking hob and a shower) and begin to put down some roots (read: mess). So when I did finally return to the road on a somewhat bleak and overcast day, I put The Band on the ipod and tried some harmony singing to lift my pensive mood.
I sought advice for the road ahead here, with the Owner of the Boot. When I went in, a man was trying to swap a gun with him for a horse. Alpine was cowboy central and thick, silver caterpillar moustaches were the fashion.
Initially, a cyclepath cosseted me out of town, linking up with the suitably serpentine Snake River, working its way down along a broad valley. Once in Alpine, I stopped to glean conditions along the Grey’s River Road, the dirt track that would lead me via the Wyoming Mountains into the desert. By all accounts, it would be a hard ride, so I treated myself to an overpriced, $4 brownie infused with swirls of cheese, which I pecked at and savoured for 3 days.
Please, build it for the children...
Back on dirt track - the Grey's River Road. It started it off broad and relatively smooth, wending its way beside Grey's River.
With clear water and flat pastures, wild camping opportunities abounded.
Ode to Love.
Lots of mountain action too. I had a fine view of this range from my campspot on the first day, 20 miles into the trail.
But that night, it rained. And rained. Turning my fine dirt road to leg-sapping mush by the morning.
More gloopy mush. Then came the hail, and the snow... Oh dear.
Towards the top of the pass, I came across a trapper, wading in amongst the reeds to bury evil-looking, spring-activated traps for beavers. He'd retrieved this unfortunate Pine Marten earlier that day. The trapper offered me a can of soda, and when I shook his hand, I felt a stump of a finger against my palm.
As I closed in on the pass top, at some 8650ft, mud turned to snow, and slush to ice, taking turns to slow me down. Pushing a laden bike in these conditions is no easy task. The front wheel kept sliding across the road into a foot of powder snow to the side, infuriating me. Bad wheel, bad!
With elk hunting season about to open in Wyoming, others were having their own issues. I'd met Dan further down the valley, and he'd been stranded with his horses for the last few hours.
Nearly there. In all, I pushed and huffed and puffed for some 6 miles. Two hunters offered me rides - one even drove a couple of miles in my direction to bail me out,wondering what I was up to. He seemed a little incredulous when I thanked him for his offer, but turned him away.
The bike felt heavy enough, without great clumps of ice around the hubs and jamming the brakes.
Once I crested the pass, I could ride/surf my way down in the snow. This group of old timer hunters were camped on the other side, by La Barge Creek. With the season about to start, they recommended I wear orange. 'Or you'll get shot' they laughed, with just a little hint of menace, I thought. Mind you, the orange jackets they wore really did stand out - like AA roadside mechanics with guns.
That night it snowed anew...
Dappling the autumnal trees.
Luckily, conditions rapidly improved as I dropped down in altitude. Relatively speaking. I was still completely splattered in mud, as were all the bags and panniers.
Luckily, the Rohloff is built for this kind of terrain. And I'm very pleased with the setup at the moment. I'm using one of Epic Designs' handlebar bags to stash my lightweight sleeping bag and mat up front, freeing up space for food in the panniers. I now keep my heavy camera in a front pannier, using an Old Man Mountain Rack on the suspension fork. With this new setup, the bike handles great - very stable on fast, potholed descents.
Down on the valley floor, passed the cattle ranches, it seems gas and oil are big business. Pipes protruded out of the earth like giant worms and steel cylinders glinted in the sun.
In fact, on the other side of the pass, it was a completely different topography. Dry, arid, with mineral-streaked rocks. And blue sky!
A different world indeed. Desert, as far as the eye could see. A band of white capped peaks dwindled down in size to the east.
After a brief stint on the highway, I was back on a dirt track shortcut to Fontanelle.
There, I stopped at the gas station/bare-bones-store to guzzle down a muffin and an isotonic drink.
As I was leaving, the kooky lady serving me told me to watch out for coyotes, wolves, mountain lions and bears. 'Bears?' I questioned, surprised they were still to be found this far into the desert. 'Well, I've seen one in three years', she clarified. Then: 'Of course, what you really have to watch out for is Man,' said the guy buying a 6 pack, as his pickup idled in the scratch of land outside. 'Yes,' she agreed, warming to the topic, 'Man can do some very bad things'. There was a pause as we all dwelled on our own dark thoughts. And on that note, I set off alone on the highway, thinking about how, for a country that takes so much pride in its freedom, I'd never received so many warnings to Stay Safe. Although they're all uttered with the best intentions, the negative vibe they leave in their wake inevitably niggles at my confidence, which is a shame. Anything can happen to you, anywhere in the world. Which doesn't mean you should just stay indoors.
The road was all but empty. Which, with those unsettling words still lingering in my head, I couldn't decide to interpret as a good or a bad thing. I rode on, and with some more miles under my belt, found myself a nice campspot on a bluff above the highway.
As the sun set, coating the landscape in a pink glow, I watched the cars and trucks pass by. It wasn't even that cold! I settled in to catch a movie on the netbook. Ah, this is the life...
More dirt. The Lima Cutoff avoided a stretch on the Interstate. I had it to myself.
Cacti! A sign of things to come...
Profile shot of the beard. I can now feel it rustle in the wind - I think.
Not much out here but shrub and sky...
All the creeks were dry. So I filtered water from the Black Fork River. Tasted weird.
Edging back towards the mountains, I rode south on 191 towards Utah. As I often do, I was questioning this itinerant lifestyle when I caught myself riding pace with a herd of antelope in the sagebrush. A moment later, a gleaming chrome truck whistled past, blotting out my elongated, late afternoon shadow for an instant. Two brief moments that brought me back to the present. And it all made sense again.
I don't normally take pictures of roadkill, but was struck by the similarity of this skunk's white stripe and the road markings. It would be ironic if a paint truck was the one that had run it down.
It was strange to think that just the day before, I'd been struggling through the snow in the high mountains. Now, here I was in open desert. A good reminder that things do change; it's important to remember this when you're in the midst of hardship.
And then, snap! My saddle had broken, with the rails shearing clean off. I was gutted, as this was the comfiest perch I've owned. I had to ride standing up for the last 10 miles to the tiny settlement of Manila, across the state border, where I was able to get it welded. I should be able to get a new one under warranty.
One mile into Utah, I stopped to ask Jim and Barbara if they knew of any old bikes with a saddle I could salvage. Jim hobbled into action, and within a few minutes, we were driving down the road to see Ira, the local welder. Half an hour later, the saddle was back on the bike. Ira wasn't convinced the weld would hold; hopefully it would get me the 65 miles up and over a 8450ft pass to Vernal, where a bike shop was to be found. Jim and Barbara invited me to stay the night, and we dined on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A Mormon family, they included my saddle and its repair in their prayers before eating, which I thought was rather touching.
The incredible colours and ridged landscape of Utah's Flaming Gorge Recreation Area, where dinosaurs did once roam...