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Day 52 – Big water

(Rest-day)

Its amusing to see the differences between our groups blogging styles. Parry, who just uses Facebook, definitely wins the prize for emotional and spiritual content. But I console myself with the knowledge that my spelling is way better than his. Sadly though, it appears my own family prefer Matt’s blog to mine! It’s all those informative posts with photos taken with a proper camera. *sigh* – yep, if you want to see some better photos from our trip, check out Matts blog.

We've reached 3000 miles!

Today we ‘rested’ in Jackson. The day started well with a great breakfast of Starbucks coffee (first on the trip – oh how I’ve missed you!) and an amazing waffle that honestly tasted healthy!

For a while now I’d been hoping for the opportunity to do some whitewater rafting if we took a rest-day in a suitable spot. So today I seized my opportunity. First I went for a 13 mile ‘scenic float’ (including lunch – I’m no fool) down then upper stretch of Snake River. There was a large family group of 14, mostly from South Carolina – and me. It was so much fun chatting to the families – kids and parents – and as luck would have it, one of the guys, Foy, lives in Portland, OR, and has offered his place as somewhere to stay when I get there! Hooray for friendly Americans :-)

After a quick break back at the rafting centre I was back out for the 8 mile whitewater trip. Usually you expect these adventure sports guides to use all sorts of words like ‘gnarly’, ‘sick’, ‘sweet’, etc. But all they could say was ‘yeah, the water is BIG at the moment’. No photos, I’m afraid, but I had a blast, paddling at the front, getting soaked by every big wave. Half way through we got out for a BBQ dinner. After devouring my potato salad, pasta salad, grilled trout, corn on the cob and peach cobbler, I managed to wangle a full second meal, this time with steak. The biggest set of rapids, class 4, was known as the Lunch Counter. Lots of rafts had flipped on this in the last week or so with the high waters but we were expertly guided and rode them just right. Overall it got me itching to get back into kayaking again. Anyone wanna go find some whitewater when I get back?!

Day 51 – Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but…

(65 miles)

Last night we didn’t bother setting up tents. We were camping in the city park – where I don’t think you’re supposed to camp so we wanted to keep it as subtle as possible. We actually slept pretty well just in our sleeping bags in the open pavilion.

The ride started with a 30 mile climb up to Togwotee Pass at 9658 feet. Unlike yesterday, the wind was already blowing strong at 6am. Against us. We slowly wound our way further up Wind River valley, battling the wind with every pedal stroke. Soon we were cycling past snow drifts and near the top, pretty much all the ground was still covered in snow but it was melting fast. Every river around here is full to bursting.

Climbing slowly

At the top

A winter wonderland

After reaching the pass, we should have had a glorious long cruise down the other side. The wind, however, had other ideas. It seemed to be trying to blow us back over the pass from where we’d come. I’ve never worked so hard going downhill for 20 miles!

There was also a 6 mile stretch of roadworks where we had to get a ride with the ‘pilot vehicle’ as the roadworks company are too cheap to insure themselves against driving into cyclists so their solution is to make sure no cyclists are allowed to ride on the same road they’re working on. So backwards, but given the wind, we were more than happy to put our feet up for a bit.

At about 55 miles we turned off the TransAm *gasp* and headed south *double gasp* towards Jackson which we’d heard was a cool place to spend a day (or a month if you could afford it).

We were now in Grand Teton National Park. For those of you who haven’t seen the Grand Tetons, they are simply breathtaking. Very rarely do you ever see the bottom and top of a mountain range at the same time. But the Tetons just shoot straight out of a flat valley in front of a large lake and stand in a line like a colossal serrated knife blade of rock and snow. It was hard to concentrate on the road because I was so distracted by the beauty of the view!

Entering the Grand Teton National Park

 But the wind was relentless and slowing us to a crawl. On top of this my gut was playing up again so it was painful to ride. After a long slow 8 miles we called a little group meeting and decided that as we were not on the route but on s detour, the sensible thing to do would be to hitch a lift. Not being exactly experienced in these things, we were a bit hesitant with our thumbing but despite this, I would say we only thumbed at about 3 pickup trucks before one stopped for us. They were a real friendly family from Virginia (hurray for the East!). We rode in the back with our bikes all the way to Jackson with big silly grins on our faces, laughing at how easy riding in a car is.

Hitching our first lift - NOT on the TransAm

Three loaded bikes and three people all in the back of the pickup.

Our big dilemma now was where to stay. I won’t bore you with all the options we tried but suffice it to say, Jackson is not a cyclist-friendly town! I was determined that our detour to Jackson would be a fun relaxing time so I ended up treating the three of us to a couple nights in a motel in the town centre. This in itself was as important learning experience. We’ve spent 50 days pretty much scrimping and saving and always opting for the cheapest food/accommodation etc. It’s easy to become a slave to this penny-pinching way of life. It’s not exactly being a Scrooge – and being prudent with spending is commendable in itself – but I think it’s also important to be happy to splash out every now and again, to say ‘I will not be ruled by my desire to save money’. In a way, making Saving Money your life-goal is just as corrosive to your soul as making Making Money your life-goal. Possibly. Anyway, it felt good to splurge for once. Matt and Pat are both going to be full-time students next year so they’re in a very different situation.

We ate out at Merry Piglets Mexican restaurant, on recommendation. The 25 minute wait to be seated was worth it – I just love Mexican food! Matt is looking positively radiant these days – that food baby must be expected any day now… Afterwards we met up with Parry and Hannah (ooh – that reminds me I need an explanatory blog post about Parry’s absense lately!) at the Millon Dollar Cowboy Bar, a very classy joint with live country music, multiple hen parties and even two wedding day couples.

Out on the town in Jackson. Note the saddle seats.

Hmmm...

Not my scene.

Pat wasn't allowed in the bar as he isn't 21 yet. Note our sympathetic faces...

Day 50 – Da boys are in Dubois

(76 miles)

Various other blogs had hinted that today’s ride could involve some serious headwinds so we set off early. I was riding by 5:55am. Matt and Pat took a bit longer getting ready but I expected they’d catch me as they tend to push a bit harder than I do.

I really enjoyed riding by myself, being able to go at just the pace I wanted and not worry about anyone else. The scenery was fantastic as I slowly climbed up the Wind River valley. Picture postcard log cabins with horses in lush green paddocks were flanked on one side by the rushing river and the other by towering rock formations which reminded me more of Arizona.

Riding up Wind River valley

Not just breezy

Wind River

The early start paid off and I made it to within 5 miles of our days destination, Dubois, before the fabled headwind picked up. Suddenly it was like riding through treacle – I was so glad we’d left early. Amazingly I arrived in Dubois a full hour before Matt and Pat. Dubois is pretty touristy but at least it’s lively. We spent a relaxing afternoon just floating around various shops and cafes. I chatted to some guys who work down the road at a summer camp for kids with ADHD etc – made me ‘homesick’ for Camp Allegheny in Pennsylvania where I spent three summers.

A giant Jackalope. I was too cheap to pay the $1 fee to sit on it for the photo.

The laundromat. Of course...

Some days on the trip have been tough in many ways. But I loved today – just enjoying the ride and not thinking about the finish. And I’m proper excited about the next few days. Tomorrow we reach the Grand Tetons and after that we head into Yellowstone National Park. Bring it on!

Day 49 – Mosquito Gauntlet

(65 miles)

Matt was keen to leave ASAP this morning, hoping that the cold morning air would mean less mosquitoes along the 20 mile Mosquito Gauntlet that exists between Jeffrey City and Sweetwater Station. Unfortunately there were some ominous thunderstorms looming at 5:30am so we had to delay our departure. I made the most of the delay by ordering one of the legendary Split Rock pancakes at the cafe. This thing was colossal! It spilled over the edges of a large dinner plate and was nearly an inch thick in the centre!

Somewhere under there is a large dinner plate!

After an hour or so we set off but only got about 1.5 miles down the road before some crazy dark clouds and lots of lightning straight ahead forced us to retreat back to the cafe. Another hour passed before the skies cleared enough for us to set off again.

Who knew the TransAm went through Mordor...?

Heading towards Lander

The ride was mostly downhill but into a fairly strong headwind so we were pedalling hard all the way. In the end the mosquitos weren’t a problem if you kept moving. There’s motivation for ya! Our overnight stop, the town of Lander, turned out to be quite a bustling little place with lots of young people around – something of a rarity along our route! We wangled some free showers at the city pool by looking poor and pathetic (we’re getting especially adept at that), spent some time at the library where I started planning my post-trip ‘left-over’ time, and we had dinner and a drink at the packed out Gannett Grill bar while another thunderstorm passed over. Then we headed to the city park to camp.

Loving the salads over here!

Pro-tip: if the grass looks lush, there’s probably a reason for that. And the reason is probably a sprinkler. At 11pm I was awoken by a thundering rat-tat-tat on my tent as a water jet ran across the length of my tent. Over the next hour various sprinklers made sure my tent fly was well and truely irrigated. This in itself was of no concern – my tent is sturdy and waterproof. But words can’t express how terrified I was that a sprinkler would pop up between my fly sheet and my inner tent and soak everything, including my down sleeping bag, through the inner tent mesh. My heart was pumping like crazy for that whole hour. Lesson learnt: think twice before camping on lush grass in a city park!

The river by the park

 

Day 48 – Ghost (town) Rider

(70 miles)

Quickest. 70. Miles. Ever.

Up at 6, riding by 7, done by noon. Quite often the blogs of people who rode the TransAm in previous years mention how they got up early to avoid the heat of the day (as we also took to doing). What I don’t remember though is any mention of the other reason for riding early in the day: the wind. Almost invariably the wind picks up during the day (no doubt related to the increase in temperature). If you ride early, you can avoid the strongest winds. And as the winds generally blow against you as you travel west, it pays to avoid the stronger winds!

Flying through Wyoming

Wyoming's plains

Our destination was Jeffrey City, once a town of 5000 people with a huge Uranium mine. Then the mine shut and nearly everyone left. Today its pretty much a ghost town with about 50 people and 5 billion mosquitoes living there. But I’d heard good things about it from other cyclists so we were intrigued to see what it was like.We weren’t disappointed. The Split Rock bar/cafe is under new management and they like cyclists! Wahey! When we arrived a group of (real) bikers were just finishing lunch. We’d seen them up the road at a service station and they were amazed we had already caught them and had done 70 miles already. There was lots of banter and even group photos. Part of me would have loved to have just ridden off on the back of one of their Harleys!

Three of these things are not like the others

Almost as soon as we had sat down, a chap comes up and casually says “Hey – you guys can stay over in the trailer across the road. I let cyclists use it whenever they pass through.” And like that, all our worries about where we’d stay and the dreaded mosquito problem were gone ! The chap was called Byron and he runs a little pottery business in town (Monk King Bird pottery) – the stuff he makes is amazing!

The mosquitoes were indeed At Large. As soon as you walked outside a cloud of them swarmed around you. I sprayed myself from head to toe in bug spray which stopped them biting but it did mean you avoided going outside if at all possible.

We ended up staying in the bar all afternoon and evening. There was one scary moment though when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to finish the obscenely large Split Rock Burger I ordered (oh the shame!) but I soldiered on and polished it off.

Its amazing what 70 miles cycling can earn you

I did find the clarification in brackets quite amusing

We wiled away the afternoon using the free WiFi and reading old copies of Time and Newsweek magazines. Another cyclist, Evan, arrived shortly after us. He’s heading East to Washington DC to start a new job. Later on another couple of West-bounders arrived for the night too – brother and sister Carl and Sallie McDonald (http://warmersummers.com). As happy hour approached we had free monkey nuts and ice-creams. Later we retired to our very own trailer for the night – mercifully mosquito-free. Another night snuggled up to Matt in a double bed – lucky me!

Apparently one of those bars that doesn't operate a 'No shirt, no service' policy...

Our trailer on the right. Cool sky, eh?

Evan and Pat settle into their trailer bunks

 

Final word: Throughout our trip, us lads have joked about one of us meeting a girl in a random town we pass through and just deciding to stay. Sadly for me, I think my town was Jeffrey City.  And I didn’t stay – only my email address did :-(

 

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