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Related Photos The Yellowstone to Saratoga, WY Stage (via Highways 287, 30, 76, I-80, and 130) Back
July 28, 2004
Today, Yellowstone National Park awaited us. After finishing breakfast at Madison Campground, we packed up our tent to begin our day of sightseeing. We left at 7:30 AM, hoping to beat some of the park rush. That wasn’t early enough. There were a lot of early bird motorists out as well as they no doubt were heading to Old Faithful. We began our route by ascending the curvy park road. The climbing was necessary as we were leaving the Madison River valley and there were three continental divide crossings ahead of us.
Our first stop was at a cluster of cars. As usual, an animal sighting had created a tourist traffic jam. There were two adult elk and a fawn which was a treat to see. One of the adults had a neck collar on for tracking proposes. Getting a photo of the young elk was quite difficult as it was being very shy. As we continued, we noticed that the climb was getting more difficult in places. We shifted to our second lowest gear which meant that we were now crawling along at 4 mph. We needed to pedal 16 miles up to Old Faithful and the motorists were giving us a wide berth which was nice. At one point, an older, non-touring cyclist passed us.
About ten miles before Old Faithful, we approached Lower Geyser Basin and started seeing areas of steam rising up from the ground. Seeing the earth emit so many pockets of steam was quite a wonderful sight. The steam clouds and the geysers are what distinguishes Yellowstone from the other parks. Entering Yellowstone from the west and exiting to the south, we were seeing just a small portion of what this grand park had to offer. We saw a lone buffalo that was distant from the road. We had been told that the buffalo herds were not in the areas of the park we would be biking across so this was a bonus.
The Old Faithful Geyser was located about a mile off the main road. We arrived at the visitors center to learn that the next eruption was projected to be about 50 minutes away. The park officials predict a time but caution that they can be off by five minutes or more. To fill in the time until the eruption, we walked to the Old Faithful Inn. The Inn was built 100 years ago and survived the 1988 fires because so many people rallied to defend it. This included Idaho farmers who diverted irrigation water specifically for the Inn. The lobby is six stories high and the pillars and railings were built using the the natural twisted shapes of tree branches. The Inn had an elegant yet rustic look.
We walked back to the geyser area and more people were gathering for the anticipated flare-up. As we waited for the big show, we ate some of the food we had with us. While eating, a woman from Missouri walked by and pointedly asked “Are you collecting money for Habitat?” The details of our trip were unimportant to her. She believed in our cause and quickly handed money to us. Almost exactly at 10:47 AM as predicted, Old Faithful erupted for approximately three minutes. There were the usual oohs and ahs and then everyone quickly dispersed. The cycle repeats about every 92 minutes. Randall’s impression was that the whole thing was over hyped. Barb reminded him that what we saw was completely natural and not made in Hollywood for millions of dollars. Imagine the wonder of it all when it was first discovered.
After the geyser show, we biked back to the main road and continued our route towards the south exit. We passed by a number of areas that were affected by the fires of 1988. That must have been quite a wildfire. There were signs which said “Naturally reseeded by wildfire in 1988.” Park officials are trying to change the way people view wildfires. The post-fire landscape may be barren initially, but it is all a part of the life cycle with both plants and animals benefiting from the “rebirth.” Many of the new trees naturally seeded were taller than us.
Not too long after leaving Old Faithful, we arrived at Kepler Cascades where we stopped to view the rushing water. Being in a park setting with lots of tourists, we were certainly getting some looks. A couple of people were curious enough to ask us about our trip so we handed them our Habitat card. Back on the road, our route would take us over the Continental Divide three times within a 20 mile span. Wow, no wonder we have so many of these crossings! These crossings would be our eighth, ninth and tenth and the three highest passes so far. Each pass was well marked with a large sign and had a small area for the photo opportunity.
Craig Pass, at 8,262 feet, came first. This was the most difficult of the three divides that we pedaled to. After Old Faithful, we had to climb nearly 1,000 ft in elevation to reach that first divide crossing. The day was heating up so we rested at a overlook above Shoshone Lake. At the overlook, we met a touring cyclist with a Bike Friday (a folding type of bicycle). Like us, David was biking east on the TransAmerica route. Since he was from Philadelphia and unlikely to return to Yellowstone, he was taking a couple of extra days to see the park. He had left his gear at the campground so that he could tour around the park with a lighter load. He was doing this trip solo but he also had a tandem back home. David had a website documenting his travels and was raising money for a child he knew who had severe birth defects. We had lots to talk about. As we left, he told us to “enjoy the tailwind, it’s on me.” Given that he was headed the opposite direction that we were, his sendoff statement was quite appropriate. You can check out his website at ridingforamanda.com.
We soon reached the second crossing at 8,391 feet. Another divide crossing, another photo op! We then enjoyed a curvy descent as we dropped about 600 ft in elevation. As we coasted downhill, we had some good views of Yellowstone Lake. At the bottom of the descent, the town of Grant Village was a couple of miles off the route. Because we had a goal of reaching the more distant Colter Bay Village, we opted not to go off the route. Our last divide crossing of the day was at a mere 7,988 ft. The climb to this crossing was gradual and no big deal.
We crossed paths with two other cyclists before leaving the park. One was a young teacher who could cycle all summer. He had biked 56 days so far to get to Yellowstone from Virginia via the TransAmerica route. The second was an older man, perhaps around sixty, who was from the Netherlands. He was riding a recumbent with larger size wheels which put him at almost a level position with his feet way out in front. He had to raise his head to see the road in front of him. It didn’t look comfortable but he surely preferred it.
After the divide crossings, we had a few short climbs as we rode by Lewis Lake and the 30 ft high Lewis Falls. As we neared the southern boundary of the park, the Lewis River could be seen far below us in a deep river gorge. The wildfires of 1988 were powerful enough to jump this river and keep going. About two miles north of the park’s exit, we began a long, straight descent. Going down the side of the mountain at 35 mph, we reached the park boundary in just a few minutes.
Awaiting us at the park’s exit was a long line of cars. Hmmm, what was this? The line was long because of road construction ahead. Once we reached the flag woman, she radioed ahead to the pilot truck. The pilot truck driver said her pickup bed was too short for loading a tandem. However, there was another longer, pilot truck that would be available in 45 minutes. So as the cars went through, following the shorter pilot truck in various cycles, we had to wait and wait.
When the longer pickup arrived, we removed the panniers and the trailer from the tandem. We then loaded everything onto the bed of the truck. Randall also rode with the tandem as he used one hand to hang on to the pickup and the other to keep the tandem from falling off. Barb rode in the cab with the driver. For the first time in 3,200 miles, we were required to put our bike and trailer on the bed of a pilot vehicle and be driven through a construction zone. The pickup took us over 4 miles of very rough road with mud and wet gravel. We were very appreciative to not have to bike through that.
Once we hopped back on the bike, we were now traveling down Highway 287 in the Grand Teton National Park. Our route took us by Jackson Lake as we ventured down a hilly, curvy road. After three continental divide crossings, we were OK with the curves but the hills were not how we wanted to end the day. We could see the mountains but they were hazy. Do they have smog in western Wyoming? We later learned that there was a debate as to the source of the haze. Depending on which weatherman you listened to, the smoke from forest fires in either in Alaska, Canada or Washington State was to blame. Even without a clear view, the Teton Mountains were certainly majestic.
When we reached Colter Bay Village, we were very much ready to retire for the day. We had called about hotel availability but the prices were too high (typical for resorts in park areas). We would be camping again tonight, but this time, there was a separate service area with groceries and showers facilities. The hikers/bikers were placed in the furthest section from the entrance to the campground, about a mile from the service area. When we discovered the distant location of the camp sites, we decided to bike back one mile to the service area. We went directly to the shower facilities. Randall had no waiting for the men’s shower but Barb had a line of women to wait on. We washed our bodies and our clothes and then put the wet clothes back on. Our clothes dried faster this way but not fast enough for Barb as she put a jacket on.
At the neighboring grocery store, we bought some sandwiches for dinner and some pop tarts and fruit for breakfast. There were some touring cyclists outside the grocery store who asked us about our trip. They were biking the Great Divide, a mountain bike route which closely follows the Continental Divide from New Mexico to Montana. Their route used forest service roads a lot. Sometimes our route has taken us to isolated areas, but theirs takes them on even more isolated excursions. Perhaps we could have tried this type of ride 20 years ago, but certainly not now!
We biked back to the campground and picked a campsite next to a motorcycle gang. We rushed to set up our tent and eat dinner before nightfall. What a day it was!
Miles cycled – 79.3
July 29-30, 2004
It was a bit chilly in the morning so Randall made some hot tea. After breakfast, Barb called Jack on the satellite phone to discuss our upcoming stop in Saratoga, WY. Jack is a brother to our friend Marian back in Michigan. We broke camp and headed out of the campground. There was no one manning the entrance when we arrived late last night, but the booth was staffed this morning and they were willing to take our money for camping overnight. We asked the park ranger if we could reach the bay and view the mountains. He told us the bay was only about 3/4 of a mile away so we headed west to the bay. We got a good view of the Teton range although it was still a little hazy. We went back to the main road and headed south on Highway 287.
Just a few miles down the highway, there was a scenic turnout with a nice, broad view of the Tetons so we stopped for a picture (one cannot take too many photos of these gorgeous mountains). While at the turnout, we chatted with a couple from New York traveling in a motor home. They had been all around the northwest and had even driven through a snow storm on one mountain pass. Soon, we reached Moran Junction where many vehicles went south to Jackson, WY. We turned east (staying on Highway 287) and there was a cluster of parked vehicles at the next curve we came to. Another animal sighting was creating roadside havoc. This time, a moose was eating leaves off a distant tree. As we continued east, we exited the Grand Teton National Park. After every five mile break, we would look back to the west as the Tetons were visible for quite a distance.
Putting miles between ourselves and the park, the terrain became most arid and there were many ranches beside the road. We were seeing a lot of horses which one would expect to see in Wyoming (even their car tag has a horse). With limited services along our route today, we were sure to stop at a dude ranch resort for lunch. As part of their horse theme, the resort had “Whoa” signs posted on their property. We would soon start some serious climbing, so we had a serious meal with lots of iced tea. We filled up our water bottles and set out for the 18 mile, 2,300 ft climb.
The climb to the 9,658 feet, Togwotee Pass was somewhat tormenting. A 2,300 ft change in elevation isn’t very much when it is spread out over 18 miles. The problem was that for each hard climb we had, we would then go down a hill afterwards which negated much of our effort. The afternoon was a bit warm but we had a gentle tail wind to help keep us cooler. Another thing that made our ascent to Togwotee Pass memorable was the road tar. There were several half mile sections of the highway that had been resurfaced with sticky asphalt or tar. This was an ordeal as the tires became gooey and were sticking to the road. We would get some relief when the resurfaced section ended as the tires would then lose some of their tackiness. Then, another new section of fresh tar would begin. We repeated this pattern at least a dozen times on the uphill. Fortunately, the distance between the sections increased and the tar was less sticky towards the top.
At one rest stop, we noticed the disk brake was dragging and that the rear tire was possibly rubbing against the frame. We didn’t need extra drag going up the mountain! Randall spent some time realigning the wheel before he decided that the rear wheel itself needed to be trued a bit. We pulled out the spoke wrench and Randall made some small adjustments to make the wheel more true. With the wheel adjusted, the disk brake also stopped dragging.
As we climbed higher, the density of trees along the road increased. The trees were appreciated as we were less exposed to the sun. Towards the top, a broad open field emerged as we had a beautiful view. We reached the summit, our eleventh Continental Divide crossing, at 5 PM. At 9,658 ft, it was the highest elevation we had biked to on this tour. Even with the challenges we had on this climb, we felt like this was a fairly easy ascent. The sign for motorists heading down the road we had just climbed up said, “6% grade for 18 miles.” That was hilarious to us as there were probably only 6 total miles that were at 6 percent.
Having to bike 30 miles after 5 PM would normally mean a long day. But now that the climbing was behind us, we could enjoy the downhill to Dubois, WY and our long awaited day of rest. There was little traffic to contend with so we were able to go 30 to 40 mph for the first 10 miles. The next 20 miles, we slowed to 15 to 25 mph. The scenery was spectacular with high buttes. The red and white colors of the nearby hills were quite striking. We came across a fake cattle guard on the highway. Instead of a series of bars with gaps between, it had painted white lines. It was much nicer for a touring tandem to cross, but we still slowed down for it because it looked so real. Apparently, it fools the cattle, too. We got to Dubois by 6:30. There was another couple in the motel lobby as we checked in. Upon learning about our adventure, they said, “So, this is what crazy people look like!” The motel operators were quite receptive to touring cyclists as they had a “Welcome Bikers” on their sign and offered rags for cleaning the bike.
We walked to the nearby grocery store to get some microwavable meals for dinner and tomorrow’s meals. We needed to stay inside our room as much as possible to work on the website. The room was billed as a river view (the Wind River was just south of the motel), but the owners had recently added a deck and storage area so we had a nice shed to look at. The walls of the motel room were covered with wood planks. Wildlife prints and antlers also adorn the walls. This was all very beautiful but the poor lighting made typing on a keyboard difficult. There was only one desk area so Barb sat on the bed and used a upside down drawer on her lap to hold her Palm computer and keyboard. We slowly made some progress, but not as much as desired.
Miles cycled – 66.8
July 31, 2004
We stayed in the motel up to the 10:00 AM checkout time but were unable to get the next stage story ready to publish. Although we were getting a later start, our next stop was projected to be Lander, WY (about 70 miles away) as most of the miles were expected to be downhill. As we departed Dubois, we were amused by some of the marketing props the merchants were using in town and outside of town to attract tourists. One motel had a large, plastic black bear in its yard. The car wash had a life-sized moose on its roof. The store fronts had mostly western themes.
Continuing southeast on Highway 287, there was a short climb just outside of Dubois. Before long, we were flying along at 15 to 20 mph as we followed the Wind River. We saw more of the pretty red buttes along the road, similar to what we had seen west of Dubois. Thunderstorms to the north and west were a nice backdrop to this setting. We were able to avoid getting wet but could not avoid the crosswinds. We came across a stopped motorist who had been heading northwest. A highway patrolman parked behind him was apparently writing up a ticket. The driver said to us, “Better watch your speed or he’ll get you.” At least he could still joke. We were going fast by our standards but not fast enough to get a ticket. After ten miles of riding, we entered the Wind River Indian Reservation. Services during our trek through the reservation were expected to be scarce with only gas station stops at Crowheart, WY and Fort Washakie, WY.
The general store in Crowheart was a welcomed lunch stop. This store was a delightful combination of gas station, groceries, hardware items, auto supplies, sporting goods and the local post office. We heard a faint sound and wondered, where have we heard this sound before? We found the noise source in a side room. A woman was slowly typing on an electric typewriter. Wow! We bought sandwiches, chips, cookies and icy drinks. We sat down on the bench in front of the store to eat and watch the people coming and going. A number of Native Americans stopped to gas up their vehicles. One teenage girl was wearing a red t-shirt which had the name of her reservation on it. Most striking was her footwear, a pair of red and white striped Nikes.
Refreshed from our lunch stop, we continued southeast again. Biking through the reservation, the land look very rugged and could be described as “badlands” as years of wind and water erosion have worn away the hills and buttes. The 15 miles between Crowheart and Fort Washakie looked fairly abandoned with a little sage brush and apparently very little rainfall. After eight miles of this remote setting, we climbed a couple hundred feet in elevation. We were now biking across a high plateau and the view up there seemed even more remote.
We descended the plateau north of Fort Washakie. Arriving in this predominately Native American town, we got some icy drinks and snacks. The convenience store and a neighboring business had bars behind the windows which may have been a indication of the challenge of making a living in the area. Leaving town, it looked like rain was coming from the west, so we were eager to complete the last 15 miles to Lander. Southeast of Fort Washakie, the wind from this front unexpectedly blew in on our right side. The wind speed jumped dramatically from 10 mph to over 40 mph. The effect of the wind was tremendous as it blew our tandem around. We were leaning the tandem about 10 to 15 degrees to the right (into the wind) to stay upright. A piece of trash got caught in the front wheel fender and made quite a racket. Amazingly, we did not get wet from any of this storm blowing through.
After leaving the Wind River Reservation, we saw a few farms along the road, some with sheep, cattle and horses. Just north of Lander, we enjoyed a nice hill going down into town. Lander, a city of nearly 7000 people, had lots of services. However, one hotel listed on our map appeared to be renting rooms by the month. Another hotel that looked well maintained, had a vacancy sign and one car parked in the lot, but no one answered the door bell at the office. We continued through town and got the last nonsmoking room at the Pronghorn, a more upscale motel. Unfortunately, the room was on the second floor so we had to carry our gear up the stairs. The tandem stayed downstairs, locked to a pillar. We ordered in pizza and finished the stage story to Missoula before going to bed.
Miles cycled – 70.5
August 1, 2004
The continental breakfast at the motel did not offer a lot of options, so we walked to the nearby McDonalds for breakfast. There were church services one half mile south at 10 AM so we packed up and biked to church. We put our long pants and sweaters on over our bike shorts and shirts to be more presentable. The day was already warm and the church was not air conditioned, so we sat quietly so as to not get too hot. The readings and sermon talked about the danger of toiling through life while focusing on meaningless things. It reminded us of why we were going on this trip. Afterwards, several people came up to our bike to ask about our trip. We got a couple of donations and were sufficiently warned about the big climb of the day – Beaver Rim.
We stopped for lunch before leaving the outskirts of town as services for the next 120 miles were quite limited. We chatted with the people at the table next to us. One of them owned a business in town in 1976 when the TransAmerica Route (then called the Bikecentennial Route) was first used. He remembered hundreds of bikers coming through. They said that the infamous west wind usually starts at 2 PM. We could see that the flag across the street was perfectly still, but it wouldn’t be for long. As we paid for our meal, the restaurant was closing down because of a gas leak and everyone was rushed out of the building.
Continuing on Highway 287 out of Lander, the road was fairly flat initially. After a while, Barb could feel that the rear tire was behaving oddly. Sure enough, we had a flat. We stopped in a nearby driveway and began to change the tire. To access the rear tire, we have to unhook the trailer. The tools are in a triangular-shaped bag on the bike frame and the tubes are stored in the trailer. As we prepared to repair the flat, a pick-up truck stopped in a turnout across the highway. The driver appeared to be looking at a lake on the opposite side of the highway, but we felt he was keeping an eye on us. Perhaps, he wanted to be sure we would be riding again, yet he just didn’t want to impose if he wasn’t needed. It took us about five minutes to fix the flat and as we were putting the wheel back on the bike, the pick-up truck drove away, the driver apparently confident that we were OK.
We began a gentle climb nine miles out of Lander. The wind started blowing on our right side just before the significant climb up Beaver Rim. We would need to gain a thousand feet in six miles to reach the top of the Rim. There was a climbing lane most of the time which was nice as it gave us more room to maneuver in the wind. As we approach the start of the six mile climb, a crosswind was blasting us at 30 to 40 mph. For one mile of climbing, Randall kept maneuvering the tandem back to the right side of the road as the strong wind was having its way with our tandem. What a workout! After this mile of weaving, the road then bend to the right. We were now going straight into the wind. Oddly, this actually made our climbing easier as we no longer needed to correct for the wind gusts from the side. With much less effort to keep the bike upright, we could now concentrate our energies on just moving forward. About half way up, a pick-up truck slowly pulled up along side of us as we were biking. An older couple asked if we would like a ride to the top. We thanked them for their offer, but said we were doing fine. The climb was long, and the wind added to the challenge, but it was doable. About a mile from the top of the rim, we saw the remains of a large rattle snake. Someone had cut off the head and the rattler. What a creepy sight!
After reaching the top of Beaver Rim, we enjoyed a five mile descent to Sweetwater Station, WY. The town got its name when the mule carrying the sugar supply for a wagon train took an unfortunate tumble into the river. Today, it’s not much more than a gas station and bar. As we stopped for drinks and snacks, a motorist asked how we liked climbing up the Rim. Randall said, “What I like about it was that it kept going up.” He wasn’t trying to be a smart aleck. He meant that we did not climb 200 ft and then lose 100 ft in elevation. The climb was a steady up until it ended.
We had tried earlier in the day to phone the motel in Jeffrey City as it was the only motel between Lander and Rawlins, WY. Our call reached an answering machine with the prerecorded machine voice saying, “Please leave a message.” We were wanting to confirm its existence as some people in Lander said there wasn’t a motel, while others said there was. Camping was an option but the two campsites listed did not provide water or toilets, let alone showers. The clerk at Sweetwater Station said the motel did exist and we later were able to confirm that with a second phone call. Heading on down the road, we just needed to bike the 19 miles to Jeffrey City, which was mostly flat with a gentle decline. With tired legs, we made very good time as we reached our destination within 90 minutes. Along the way, we saw horses, pronghorn and mountains off in the distance. One sign we came across was very noteworthy. It was noting that four historic trails crossed over in this area: Oregon Trail, California Trail, Mormon Pioneer and the Pony Express. When you see how remote and barren this region is, you really begin to appreciate the challenges of the western migration!
Jeffrey City’s population is listed as 106, but it is big enough to have a cafe, bar, motel and post office. We had enough time to stop for grilled ham and cheese sandwiches at the cafe before checking in at the motel. The motel was a small operation with 18 rooms but it appeared that only eight were used regularly. There were only three rooms occupied that night. We heard later that the couple that ran it were in their eighties and were trying to sell the operation. It was a clean, comfortable place with lots of hot water at a price that was not much more than staying at a campground. It was a much appreciated stopping place before our big day ahead.
Miles cycled – 58.5
August 2, 2004
We set our sights on a huge riding day as we hoped to get to Saratoga, WY today despite it being 110 miles away. It was a very lofty goal as we had never intentionally cycle-toured a hundred-plus miles in a day. There were previous rides where the circumstances forced us to exceed the century mark. We had the generous offer of a vacation home in Saratoga and planned to make this an extended stay to get caught up on the website.
This website updating seems to be a reoccurring theme. We have been able to bike the miles we expected if not a bit more each day, but we did not realize how much time it would take to maintain our website. We wanted to document our travels in a timely manner as after a while, the days run together and all the wonderful details can be lost. So this Saratoga stay would be an opportunity to take the extra time needed to catch up.
To cover this distance, we started at 5:30 AM, with just a touch of daylight in the sky. Just four miles into the ride, we passed another milestone: 3,550 miles, which is halfway into our projected total mileage of 7,100. It was still a bit on the dark side for photos so we waited until we got to Split Rock for the photo op (at 3,556 miles). It is hard to believe that having gone through only six states/territories/provinces (while having nine states to go), that we are half way through. This is a testament to the sheer size of the northwestern area of North America. It is enormous and at times, hard to capture in words or photos.
As typical for when we travel early in the morning, we had increased critter sightings. We saw rabbits and a coyote. There were numerous pronghorns as well with some of them actually near the road. Since they are unable to jump over the fence, they ran and slid under the bottom barb wire. What a sight to see them scamper! We realized that for the 22 miles we biked to Muddy Gap, we had seen more critters than cars (seven).
With a nice tailwind and a gradual downhill, we reached the service area of Muddy Gap at 7:40 AM. We stopped for microwaved ham and cheese sandwiches and donuts. Sometimes, breakfast is what you make it. The operator said she saw us biking on the road and at first was not sure if we were wildlife or a biker so she slowed down for us. She also noted that she normally did not open up until 8 AM but that she was unable to sleep so she decided to come in early.
Continuing mostly south on Highway 287, we pedaled through Muddy Gap pass at 6,250 ft without knowing its location; it was not marked. About eight miles later, we reached our first Continental Divide crossing of the day. The climb was fairly gradual but since they added a passing lane, there must have been something to it. We were having difficulty determining where the divide actually was. One interruptive sign we saw in Canada told how surveyors carefully traced streams to their sources to determine where the divide was. Here in arid Wyoming, it must have been even more difficult to determine. Fortunately, there was a sign to identify the Continental Divide (at 6,720 feet). Soon after the crossing we entered the small town of Lamont. We stopped at Grandma’s Cafe for some iced tea and pie, but did not feel the need for a full meal.
Back on the road, we had about 21 miles to go for the second Continental Divide crossing today. We expect this one will have a bit more climbing than the last, but together they shouldn’t equal the challenge of Beaver Rim the day before. At one of our rest stops by the side of the road, a car stopped in front of us and then slowly backed up to meet us. Hmmm, what is this? Two women got out and one had granola bars in her hand to give to us. They had just finished an organized bike ride in Montana and felt compelled to assist us since we were traveling on our own. They kept asking us if there was anything we needed. With tubes and patch kits, they were said to be well stock with bike parts in their car. We were pretty well equipped ourselves but we did accept a tube which was actually a bit narrow for our size tires.
Well rested by now, we hopped on our tandem and continued our quest to the second divide. After four miles, another car pulled in front of us. A woman got out and waved for us to stop. She asked if we wanted some ice water. The ice from our last stop had already melted, so we said, “Sure.” She got our her ice chest and began to determine the best way to get the ice cubes into our bottles. Scooping with the bottle didn’t work too well. She looked at her hands and said, “They’re almost clean.” We replied that after being on the road more than two months, our cleanliness standards had changed. She scooped up enough ice to fill Barb’s bottle and Randall’s Camelbak and then offered us some cherries. Feeling refreshed from all of the roadside assistance, we continued the climb.
The first three miles to the second divide crossing was a moderate climb at 4 to 5 percent grade. We went nonstop and when we had advanced the three miles, the climb leveled out a bit but we then realized that we were still climbing. As the road bend twice, we had two additional miles of 2 to 3 percent grade to climb. Again, it was difficult to determine when we had reached the top by appearances alone. A sign removed all doubt and told us that this Continental Divide was at 7,174 feet. We counted the two crossings today as numbers, twelve and thirteen.
Once we crested, we felt the west wind at our side. We descended into Rawlings, a town of over 8,000 people. We stopped at two electronics stores to inquire about a new battery for our Palm computer, but no luck. As we headed out of town on Highway 30, we spotted a Wendy’s restaurant where we had dinner before leaving town. With the wind being out of the west most of the day, we were looking forward to heading east. Unfortunately, the wind seemed to have diminish. Just outside of Rawlins, we biked by a herd of domestic buffalo. Our route took us on Highway 76 to Sinclair, WY, where appropriately, we biked by a Sinclair oil refinery. We thought it a bit odd though that the prominent service station just beyond the town was operated by Philips 66.
Now our route did something that went against everything our mothers ever taught us: it went onto Interstate 80. Biking on the interstate is legal in some western states because there is no alternative. There was a wide shoulder so we weren’t right next to traffic, but still, it felt odd. Many of the trucks pulled into the left lane to give us even more room, which we appreciated as there was the occasional thrown rock. Rocks thrown at those highway speeds can do some damage. The shoulder we biked on had a rough concrete surface which increased our rolling resistance. We had a bit of a climb during this segment so it took us about 80 minutes to bike the interstate. Like any interstate, the scenery was bland. We don’t promote riding on an interstate highway, legal or not, as it is just not as fun as the back roads.
After 13 miles on I-80, we exited at Walcott, WY and discovered we had a flat front tire. Perhaps the rough shoulder on the interstate highway caused a pinch flat? We pulled into a service station area and changed the tube. We couldn’t identify the leak location in the tube, so it may have been a slow leak. After getting some drinks and snacks, we headed south on Highway 130. It was now about 7:00 PM and we had some climbing to do and 21 miles to go to reach Saratoga. We soon met a young man biking north. He pulled over to our side of the road to tell us about the hot springs in Saratoga. “It’s open all night,” he proclaimed. He was from Italy and was biking the TransAmerica route. He kept looking over his left shoulder as he was trying to escape the rain storm in Saratoga. We gave each other regards for a safe journey and then hurried on to our destinations.
The sky to the west was dark with storm clouds and the west wind was blowing again (and, of course, we were headed south). We covered a few more miles before the rain started and we stopped to put on our rain jackets. We couldn’t get our jackets on fast enough as the rain was just pouring and blowing sideways. The wind increased to a fierce 40 mph and the rain was pelting our legs (it felt like dozens of pins hitting our legs). We were being blown nearly across the center line. We have been in some rough weather in our past biking experiences but this storm was leaving us with a lasting impression! Fortunately, the passing vehicles were giving us lots of room.
After ten minutes of heavy rain, it begin to diminish. Then, we heard a loud pop. Our rear tire was flat! With the rain still coming down at half speed, this was not a nice time to have a flat . We stopped and changed both the tire and the tube. We had planned to change the tire in Saratoga but instead, we slipped on the new tire without hesitation. Why? We were not going to spend time checking the old tire for problems. We got the trailer back on and the tire changing tools put away and were ready to start again. But wait, the front tire was also flat. Wow, was it the road, the rain or just bad luck? Again, we opted to change both the tire and the tube. As we stood in the rain and wind, Randall said, “I hope you are not loosing spirit.” Barb replied, ” I have lots of spirit; I’m praying as hard as I can!” We had started early in the morning, battled headwinds and crosswinds, crossed two divide crossings, trekked through a storm, fixed three flats and biked a huge number of miles, but we still had spirit.
For half of the 21 miles to Saratoga, we had to climb up and up and finally we crested and biked downhill into Saratoga. It was 9 PM when we reached the city limits and we were now relying on the street lights and our bike light to see the way. A boy on his bike saw our tandem and yelled, “Wow! How cool!” We stopped at a gas station to ask to see a map so we could find our way in the dark. The station attendant was most helpful. We had a small hill to climb to get to the private vacation house. As we arrived at the right street, a large deer darted into the trees. We initially went a couple of houses too far and could not find the key as it was explained to us. Barb went back to check another house and found the key. All this was done using our bike light as a flash light. We were waiting for the police to show up and haul us away. Once inside, we were able to shower and recover from the long day. We called Barb’s sister and asked her to ship us two new tires and several new tubes as we had used up our supply.
Miles cycled – 111.9
August 3 – 5, 2004
It was wonderful to sleep in after the long day of riding. We awoke to find a beautiful view of the sun rising above the Snowy Mountain Range. The picture windows in the back of the house gave us a wonderful panorama of the outdoors. Below the mountains was a golf course and immediately behind the back yard was a wooded area. All this was too dark to see when we arrived last night, so it was quite a treat to view now. Later, we would see deer walk across the lawn and in the woods beyond.
As we prepared to bike into town for breakfast and supplies, Barb’s sister called to say that FedEx would not accept the address we gave her. We called the local post office and found that there was no home delivery; all received mail is placed in post office boxes. We asked if we could we get a package from Kansas to Saratoga in one day. The answer was no, because the US postal service did not fly into town. Even express mail took two days. So, we had Susan ship to the local post office via US mail and added a day to our layover in Saratoga.
We biked to Mom’s Diner for breakfast and got a couple of huge cinnamon rolls to go. While there, we heard “Mom” tell another customer that business was down 50% from four years ago. Because of this another business owner opted to not open this spring and put his business up for sale. There was a help wanted sign in the diner’s window, so if tourism returned to previous levels, many places would not have the staff to accommodate the extra customers. We stopped at the Laundromat to wash our sleeping bags. We figured they were due for a washing after 3,500 miles and that required a commercial front-loading washer. While Barb tended to the sleeping bags, Randall walked to the beauty saloon for a haircut as there was no barber shop in town. He also visited the local Radio Shack. There, the clerk urged him to talk to the local paper about our adventure. The Saratoga Sun published on Wednesdays. Being Tuesday, the staff was busy trying to get the paper out. We said we would be in town for a couple of days so we set up an appointment for 11:00 AM the next day. We then biked to the grocery store and got enough food to last for three days. Our trailer was packed full of food for the ride to the house.
It was so nice having the use of a private home. This comfortable ranch house belonged to Jack and Peg. His sister is Marian, Barb’s good friend who sheltered us for five nights after we vacated the home we sold in Michigan. She even drove us to the airport for our early flight to Fairbanks. Now her brother, who we had only talked to by phone, had offered us his vacation home. What a family! Jack and Peg pilot their own plane. He and Peg discovered the charm of Saratoga on one of their “hundred dollar breakfasts” where they would fly somewhere to eat. We had many “breakfast run” spots in Michigan ourselves, but fortunately biking there didn’t cost nearly that much. The Saratoga airport was busy with many private aircraft landing while we were there. It was recently expanded to accommodate a Boeing 737, (but the US postal service apparently was not aware of this). Jack said a rancher from Dubois would fly to the airport where he kept a smaller aircraft. He would use the smaller aircraft to fly over his nearby ranch, checking to be sure the cattle were all OK.
On Wednesday, the reporter from the Sarasota Sun arrived by bicycle. She took some pictures of us with our gear and then we sat down at the table to talk about our adventures for 90 minutes. The reporter sent a copy of the newspaper to Barb’s sister. It was a nice, lengthy article with lots of details. Except for calling us “the Randalls” in the last paragraph, she got the facts straight.
On Thursday, Jack came up from Denver to meet us. The weather was threatening with thunderstorms predicted, so instead of doing a one hour flight, he drove up (three and a half hours). He took us out to the Wolf Hotel, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch. We also made stops at the post office (to pick up our package of bike supplies and to ship out unused items) and at the Saratoga Hot Springs. We had a pleasant time getting to know one another better.
Miles cycled – 3.5
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