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...
Hi Cass, Loving following your progress. ‘swap a gun with him for a horse’ – priceless!
Just wanted to comment about how truly great your writing and adventure is. I’m enjoying it immensely and I hope to do similar things in the not too distant future. If you need a place to stay in St. George, Utah contact me.
A friend sent me a link to your blog. Thanks for posting your interesting tales and beautiful pictures. It sounds like you are riding the eastern side of the Divide, but if you find yourself in Flagstaff, Arizona I’d offer a place to stay… and try to convince you to talk to my Intro Environmental Science classes at NAU.
Thanks again for sharing.
Interesting, what you say about well meant warnings…people (and it seems much more intense here in the US) are so obsessed with risk. There is a certain edge of schadenfreude to it, I find, which I sometimes find subtly undercuts the well-meaningness of it all.
Your photos are truly awesome. I feel greedy that you’re dragging your bike through snow while I’m greedily devouring them from a comfy chair! I don’t suppose you have a Flickr gallery or something, with high-res versions of these beauties…?
Hi Cass, I was thinking about the Manali – Leh trip 2 years ago, googled your name and found this blog yesterday..
Wonderful stuff, so good to see you doing what you enjoy most. You are making me extremely jealous!
I went to the US myself for the first time in May this year, Seattle to San Francisco which was a lovely run in mostly good weather, it lacked proper mountains though…
I’ve got the Great Divide guidebook on my shelves, one day…
Keep having fun.
Cass, good to see your progress through the Grey’s River Range and on toward the red dirt and blue skies of Utah. I’m, impressed with your perseverance for mud, hail, and snow….but, I also know how beautiful the world becomes when you never leave it for the confines of home. Keep the blog rolling-I’ll be watching!
wonderful photojournal i really like you style and way of presting also your photograph are great too 🙂
Hi, bad luck with the saddle! It looks like a chopped and tied brooks, I bet they would replace it on warranty if you asked …
stunning photos, Cass. What camera are you using?
Hey Cass, I live in Vernal, UT. If you need a back yard to sleep in email me. Hot shower and a meal included.
That last picture in particular is really beautiful. I’m finding all the people willing to help you and share there homes with you very uplifting. I hope the film you watched was a good one. 😉
really enjoyed the post and the photos. my favorite was the dirt track shortcut to Fontanelle. glad that it’s a bit warmer for you…looks nice down there in the desert. still haven’t taken the helmet cam out…but soon. i’m shooting a lot of cyclocross racing the next few days. and i’ve really really been enjoying the music i got from you. the acorn is my favorite so far.
thanks kindly for the commments, and offers of places to stay. unfortunately for me, I’ve ridden on to Fruita. I’d love to make it over to Flagstaff, but not sure if time/weather will allow.
tom, am loving Fruit Bats and Monsters of Folk! Look forward to seeing cam footage.
al – it’s a Nikon D300. Lovely, solid piece of kit. And surviving all the abuse/neglect I throw at it, just.
andrew – the GDR is highly recommended. Really, really enjoyed what I managed to ride of it. My advice: pack as light as you can. There’s some steep hills, especially on the Canadian side.
Hey Cass…awesome as usual. Reading this in Amsterdam and was thinking of you last night as I walked through the city of bikes. Love the photo of the gas pump with reduced depth of field.
Can’t wait to see the colours of Moab…take care and safe travels…S
I see that you switched from the Swing to an OMM front rack. I’m thinking of running a Magura Odur fork on tour and wonder why you switched racks. Can you compare them for me? Thanks!
well, I wanted the extra platform with the OMM, and the support bar on the swing fouls epic design’s front bags. in theory, the swing makes a lot of sense, as it uses the fork crown to carry the weight, rather than the stanchions. in practise, the load is quite high, and far out to the sides, which does effect handling. overall, I’d say that any load on a suspension fork should be kept to a minimum – I just pack light stuff up front – on both racks. and I’d add that the shorter the travel fork the better, and the stiffer the better too. the odor is good, as is marzocchi’s mx comp. both heavy but reliable.
I am planning to follow that route through Wyoming this year, probably around the same time (Oct). I’ll be bringing the Pugsley, so will be ready for the muck, mud and snow (hopefully).