Grand Teton National Park is full of tourists in camper vans. The road winds up and down through dense forest. Mountains peek out of the trees. I’ll take it. After 30 miles of deep sandy ATV trail in Idaho, riding pavement feels nice. I can turn the pedals even through my quad’s a little sore.
It’s my birthday! I slept until 6:30 this morning and even took time to dry my gear on a tree before I packed up. I’m riding slow, thanks to the breakfast buffet at Flagg Mountain Ranch. I had two full plates.
I roll down to the viewpoint, stop short of the parking lot. The Tetons jut up across the lake. I just learned that the name is “the Big Ta-Tas” in French. They’re pretty incredible, snowcapped and sharp against the blue sky. Wildflowers bloom along the lakeside. But I wish someone was here to look at it with me.
A dozen birthday texts bleep into my phone all at once. Cell service! I call Montana, but he’s busy working. I get all weepy again. I try talking myself out of the funk: This is stupid. It’s an easy day on pavement! I should be loving it. But I still can’t stop crying.
So I keep riding. A sign says two bear cubs are on the road. Cars are stacked up by a meadow. Oh damn. A lady gets out of her car with a camera. There’s a big brown something walking around in the grass. It’s an elk.
OI turn at an intersection, leave the Tetons and start climbing. I’m feel like crap. A freewheel buzzes up behind me. I’m expecting another Divide rider, but it’s a girl on a carbon cross bike. She hangs out for a few minutes, slow pedaling. We chat about the race. Turns out she’s went to school in Morgantown. Small world.
She rides away, and I climb slowly as the road turns to dirt. It’s a nice climb, now that my breakfast digested. There’s a gas station and a lodge with a restaurant near the top of the pass. The restaurant doesn’t open for half an hour, so I buy some cheese sticks at the gas station and call my parents, then Montana. I whine a little, but don’t have a total mental breakdown this time.
The restaurant’s open. Some retired Texans have started walking in for early bird specials. Should I get dinner? No, it’ll take too long. I’ve been sitting here an hour. I sidle over to the hostess stand, peer at a menu. Screw it, it’s my birthday. I sit my muddy self down at a table for one and order a chicken sandwich, no bun, extra salad and fries.
The Great Basin is big, bright and windy. It’s 2:00, the brightest, windiest time of the day. I wish I’d started earlier, but I was enjoying Atlantic City too much.
I got to the bar at 11:30 after a long, hot ride from a cow-pocked bivy spot near the Big Sandy River. The bar was dark and cool with wood paneling and a gun rack by the door. Four bike tourists were there drinking root beer. They let me sit with them while I inhaled a burger and fries. They were taking a day off, lurking in the cool of the bar. I wanted to stay, too. But instead I signed the guest book and rolled out into the white hot day.
A big wind whips behind me, shoves me down the road at 20 miles per hour. Turn, the wind blasts me sideways. I almost wipe out. Yikes. I feel sorry for the people riding northbound - they’ve got this wind in their face. I reach up to take off my regular glasses and put my sunglasses on. But I’m already wearing the shades. I guess brown lenses are better for riding in the woods.
Turn right on the reroute to Wamsutter. Some rocky doubletrack, then a barely-there path through the grass. I follow the line, lose it, find the path up on a rocky bluff, get lost again. I’m amazed that someone was able to map out these faint cowpaths. The trail rolls up and down the bluffs (there’s way more climbing in the Basin than I’d expected) and finally drops back to a road. I turn up my yoga meditation music and zone out.
Breathe, ignore the wind, keep pedaling. I’m getting to Wamsutter tonight. No way I’m camping out here in this ugly barren desert with all these cows. I knock back a caffeine shot and eat a snack - Chex muddy buddies and dried chili mango slices with cashews. Yesterday that combination seemed like a good idea. Actually it’s weird and makes my mouth hurt.
As the sun sets, the wind settles down. The sky turns deep purple. A road sign! I love signs. They mean civilization. Wamsutter - 26. I’ll be there before midnight!
It gets dark. I’m bored, riding slow. So I cover up my Garmin with an arm sleeve. An hour later, I’ve gotta be close to town. There are some lights up ahead, blinking. The map says 15 miles, and I’ve been riding 8.5 miles per hour. Damn. I hope Wamsutter has a Holiday Inn. Or a McDonald’s. I eat a Clif Bar, try to pedal with more energy. I’m glad for the dark. This ride would be blistering hot in the daytime.
Finally I pass the refinery, down to a Love’s gas station. It’s the busiest one I’ve ever seen, packed with noisy rumbling trucks. Not much else in town besides one grungy motel, so I go there. It’s past office hours. I call the number on the door. A sleepy woman tells me there’s no vacancy.
I check Trackleaders on my phone. The Kiwis and the bucket hat man are at the motel, but I don’t see any bikes outside on the balcony. I look around. The church has some scraggly bushes.
I wheel my bike through the scratchy grass and lay down without setting up my bivy. It’s bright from street lights. Trucks blast past on the interstate, shaking the ground. I try to shut my eyes, but I’m still wired from the caffeine shot. I’m hungry, so I eat more muddy buddies, then I feel gross. At least the Basin’s over.
The only good thing about southern Wyoming is that it leads to northern Colorado. I’m walking my bike up a steep hot hill covered in loose sand. A truck passes me and kicks up dust.
I'm drained. I only napped at the church for two hours. Then I dragged myself to the Love’s station at 4:00 for breakfast. It had a Subway, so I asked for an egg on spinach. “Yellow or white egg?” the girl asked. Gross. I ate yellow egg on spinach with coffee while my phone charged. The Kiwis came in and started inhaling hot dogs and ice cream for breakfast. They always make good food choices.
They rolled away from me on the hot, washboard road out of town. I stopped to eat a fruit cup, but dropped it. Melon scattered over the gravel. I left it there.
Finally I descend the hot bright road into Savery. There’s a museum and and some buildings with a yard where kids are playing day camp games. It’s hot-hot, about 90 according to the thermometer hanging on the porch. The museum has cold soda for a dollar in a cooler! While I’m drinking one, a tall guy comes outside and tells me they’ve started a little store for Divide riders in the basement. I’m pretty close to the Brush Mountain Lodge, but I buy more nuts and chocolate anyway. Before I leave, the guy warns me about the huge climb to the lodge. Super. I drink another Coke.
The road is hot and scrabbly-steep. I get off and walk, promising myself I’ll never get such a bad night’s sleep again. My nose starts bleeding again. I push up to the top of the hill, coast down. The lodge!
I almost missed it. It’s a big log cabin with big colorful porch lights and an elk skull on the roof. Someone’s outside ringing a cowbell. I pull up and lean my bike on a picnic table. The lady with the cowbell runs out and wraps me in a big hug.
“Wow,” she says, “you’re the smallest non-child rider I’ve ever had here.” She’s Kirsten, the owner. I love her already.
Kirsten sits me in a chair on the porch with two bags of ice for my puffy knees. Alex the Aussie is there with an English guy and another racer who’s been laid up for a couple days with food poisoning. We watch hummingbirds zooming from feeder to feeder.
Kirsten comes back with a gluten-free pizza and a pitcher of ice water. She’s truly an angel. Again, despite Montana’s solid race advice to keep riding toward Steamboat, I decide to stay.
It’s a good choice. Kirsten has the lodge stocked with everything important - Clif Bars, sunscreen, aloe vera, Advil, band-aids, oatmeal packets, and even some charming volunteer mechanics who got jobs at the lodge after running support for a RAAM rider who dropped out 30 miles into the race. Kirsten feeds us more pizza and salad, and even does our laundry. I fall asleep in a nice soft bed, stuffed and happy.
I get up at 5:00 to leave the lodge. I’d love to stay for a good hot breakfast, but I’ve got to be in Steamboat early to get my bike fixed up at Orange Peel. I make a cup of instant coffee and eat some oatmeal. It’s not sausage and potatoes, but it’s better than yellow egg on spinach.
I race up the road, trying to put time into Alex so I can get my bike fixed first. It’s a good day! My knees look almost normal. I’m glad to be done with Wyoming. The crisp Colorado air feels good in my lungs. Up the last bit of climb, down the rocky descent. A guy stands at the intersection with a little dog in his arms.
“Are you Colleen?” he asks. “Welcome to Clark, Colorado!”
“Thank you!” I call as I turn down the road. He and his dog climb in the car and drive away.
The ride into Steamboat Springs is nice, paved and mostly downhill. The bike path through town is busy - it’s a sunny Friday afternoon, after all. Orange Peel is jammed, too. They’ve got rentals and repairs and retail all at once. I sidle in, tell a mechanic about my worn-out cog and chain, and they put me at the front of the queue. Dang, these guys are efficient.
While I wait, I eat a (GF!) sandwich from the Backcountry Deli and read Mountain Flyer’s obituary for Mike Hall. Riding the Divide is a privilege, Mike said. I have another one of his quotes written down: "Life is simple and beautiful and you are free. Enjoy." I think on that for a minute.
One of my friends from Ohiopyle moved to Steamboat a while ago, so she comes around to say hi. We hang out for a minute. She can’t believe how clean my clothes are. I remember that I just did laundry and tell her about the Brush Mountain Lodge. She leaves with her boyfriend to go rafting. Alex rolls in, they adjust his brakes and he’s on his way.
Finally my bike’s finished. I’ve got a new steel cog, a fresh chain, new brake pads and an overhauled rear hub. My bike feels solid. I also buy eight gluten-free Honey Stinger waffles and some Nuun. I roll out, stop at a gas station and buy gummy oranges to supplement the waffles - another experiment in gluten-free ride food. People use candy to get carbs, right? I chew on them climbing up Lynx Pass. Actually candy is gross.
The grade is nice and gradual. A sweet tailwind pushes me along as I climb. Top out in a gorgeous aspen grove, glowing in the late afternoon sun.
Descent! Past Lynx Pass campground. I feel a wave of deja vu - Montana and I camped here once. Weird. More downhill, then some stream crossings and another climb. It’s steep. And I thought Radium would be an easy target for the night. The sun sinks down. An old man with a walking stick is stumbling down the road ahead.
“Does the old trail still go through Steamboat Springs?” he asks, swerving a little. His breath is sour and beery.
“Um, yes.” I tell him. I’m sure there’s some kind of trail going through that town. I wish him luck and ride away before he can change the subject.
Up, down, up, down. It’s dark and colder. I’m looking for a place to camp off the side of the road. I check my map. I’m a mile from Radium. I coast down to the river, see a little white light waving back and forth.
“We’re camping here!” someone yells. They’ve next to a pavilion by the boat launch. It’s Alex and bucket hat. Good enough for me. I’m excited to lay down and eat my extra sandwich from the deli.
Climbing up Ute Pass, I feel excellent. I love Colorado. And paved climbs. I ride up to Alex. He isn’t doing too hot. He’s out of water and food, so I give him a handful of Skittles. He perks up a bit. At the top of the pass, I eat some Honey Stinger waffles covered in peanut butter. Best snack combo far.
I start descending, then stop to take a picture of the mountains. This place is prettier than I remember.
It’s a screaming downhill from there. A left on more pavement - 16 miles to Silverthorne. They’re doing construction. I swerve to get around a sign in the shoulder, go right so I’m not in traffic. My tires slip on the soft loose dirt and then I’m sprawled out on the pavement. Alex rides past.
I jump up and look at my knee. Get woozy, lean on my bike for support. It’s okay, just scraped. But I can feel it starting to swell. I pop three ibuprofen.
“Are you okay?” An Indian guy on a road bike pulls up behind me. He looks really concerned. “Do you need a plaster or anything?” No, no, I’m fine. I notice all the bags on his bike. He’s a TransAmerica rider! We chat for a minute. He’s racing the TransAm, but quitting at Breckenridge because he needs to get back to Sweden to work. I let him go, wish him luck. Man my knee is sore.
I pedal into Silverthorne, fuming. My knee is puffy and stiff. Ugh.
Finally the bike path starts and I can get off the highway. Then two people are standing at the turn to Frisco. They've got signs. I know them! It's Lindsay Jones, my good gal pal from Ohiopyle! I throw my bike down and we launch into a big hug.
Lindsay is on a big roadtrip through the west. She and her friend were watching the tracker all morning. We talk, take a picture and both cry a little. Suddenly my little knee scrape feels a lot better.
After a long resupply stop at Natural Grocers (Colorado is a gluten free heaven!), I ride through up the bike path and through Breckenridge. I put on mental blinders to the ice cream shops, Starbucks, hotels, t-shirt stalls. Then I spot Alex's bike at Clint's Bakery & Coffee. Maybe just a coffee.
Two gluten free cookies later we're full and happy (maybe a little too full), climbing Boreas Pass in the setting sun. Geez this is sweet. Why did I move away from Colorado again?