Our eighth week of pedaling along the GDMBR began at Sweetwater River just outside Atlantic City, WY, and brought us to Lynx Pass Campground, northwest of Kremmling, CO. We finished our push to Rawlins, WY early so we would have time to relax in town before resuming southward with friends Andy and Silvia. That final push included crossing one of the harshest, most unforgiving stretches of the entire GDMBR, Wyoming’s Great Divide Basin.
We planned to enter the Great Basin on our first day of the week, so we woke early despite the mishaps of the prior evening (late night flat tire, see week 7 post) causing us to reach camp after dark. A wall of dark clouds were already approaching from the west. The wise move might have been to wait in the shelter of our tent while the storm passed by, but we were anxious to get into the Basin, and were both holding on to the possibility of crossing in a single day. While packing up, another cyclist appeared beside the bridge. We never spoke with them, but it seemed they opted for the safe play and would let the weather pass before beginning the stretch ahead where shelter was nonexistent.
We rode quickly, but, within a couple of hours, we were faced with rain, thunder and lightning. Rachel stressed about the complete lack of shelter coupled with the fact that we were riding metal bikes while lightning struck all around. Soon, the storm had passed, however, another was looming in the distant western sky.
It wasn’t until early afternoon that we crossed the continental divide to enter the Basin, but the landscape remained the same. The hilly-ness surprised us, but we made good time, and at 4pm, we arrived at the turn off to A&W Reservoir. It was our first optional destination and the second promising water source of the day. We had skipped the first water source (Diagnus Well), because we were still well-stocked from the mucky water we filtered out of the Sweetwater River. At A&W, the second storm was nipping at our heels. Rachel was still feeling strong, but my neck and bum were in rough shape. With so much time left in the day, though, we figured we could tough out the next 40-50 miles to make it out of the Basin before nightfall, leaving only a dozen or so miles into Rawlins the next day.
Wind had been a non-factor until the second storm finally caught us near A&W. The route turned southwest and aligned with the wind for the next dozen miles, so we joyfully rode it like a wave. The tailwind made up for the thunder, lightning, rain, and hail and also made it easy to forget my aching neck and bum. Despite the mega-tailwind, the storm outpaced us, and, as it drifted into the distance, we watched herds of pronghorn and wild horses galloping beside us.
As all good things must come to an end eventually, so did that section of road with the tailwind. We turned a sharp left, and our delightful tailwind instantly became a devastatingly strong cross/headwind. My soreness quickly returned to the forefront of my thoughts and had me wondering if we had made a mistake by continuing on. The road ahead curved slightly southward but never enough for the wind to benefit us much. Those final 30 miles before climbing out of the Basin felt like an endless battle against the cruel storm. The miles passed slowly and the time between rest breaks shrunk so I could more frequently rest my aching body. Near the end, I felt void of energy despite the mountain of granola bars we consumed throughout the afternoon, and every bump in the road was beginning to make me feel sick.
Rachel eased along ahead, and, with only a few miles remaining, we found ourselves at the bottom of a climb to the continental divide which signified our exit from the Great Basin. Given my struggles, the climb felt daunting. I offered for Rachel to ride ahead and locate our campsite, so she quickly disappeared as I trudged along behind. Fortunately the mountain range sheltered us from the wind and the pedal strokes suddenly felt much easier. We firmly believe that wind is more challenging than mountains, and this was a perfect example. With a mountain you clearly see the challenge, but with wind you know you should be making much better progress. You wonder to yourself if the wind will subside in an hour; maybe you should just wait it out. It is a constant mental struggle when its blowing in your face.
It was completely dark by the time we neared the top of the pass, and despite having only a couple bottles left of water, we decided to forego a bit of extra riding for the last chance of water before Rawlins. Our map described the dispersed camping area as something like “through a gate, half mile off route under a group of pines.” Despite the vague description and the darkness, we found the road, but in less than a few hundred yards we came upon deep ruts filled with water. Rather than spend time analyzing the situation, I continued onward between the ruts where the water (I assumed) wouldn’t be so deep. Seconds later, my bike dove beneath me and all I could do to save myself from falling in completely was to jump off and wade through to the other side of the nearly knee-deep muddy pond . It had been a frustratingly difficult afternoon and this seemed a comically fitting ending – the icing on a cake of suffering.
That night, we cooked pasta for dinner. It tasted great, but required all of our remaining water. We had been conserving all day (since we skipped the well and reservoir), though, so the hot pasta water would not go to waste. We passed that hot pasta water back and forth until it was empty, like a pair of cowboys huddled around a campfire with a bottle of whiskey. Neither of our thirsts were quenched, so I’m sure we dreamt of buckets of ice water that night.
Side note: Skipping ahead a few weeks to Silverthorne, CO, Rachel and I sat down for beers with my brother Casey and his wife, Julie. They asked what our favorite part of the trip was so far. We struggled to pinpoint a single favorite place or section, so they followed up with “Okay, how about your least favorite or hardest part?” That was an easy answer for me; it was our day passing through The Great Basin. We all had a good laugh together, especially when I got to the part about accidentally riding through the muddy pond after dark, just before making it to our campsite.
Our thirst motivated a quick breakdown of camp the next morning, and we rolled into the Rawlins McDonald’s well before they finished serving breakfast. Our dreams came true, with an endless supply of water and giant iced coffees to boot!
For having successfully crossed the Basin and made it to Rawlins in time to meet Andy and Silvia, we rewarded ourselves with the cheapest motel room we could find. The next 24 hours consisted of grocery shopping, laundry, a visit to the post office, a tour of the frontier prison, phone conversations with family and friends, and plenty of food & relaxing.
We were beyond excited to have Andy and Silvia join us for a week on the trail. The four of us caught up while they loaded their bikes outside the Uhaul agency, then continued with energetic conversation as we pedaled out of town. The terrain consisted of paved, rolling hills as we plunged deep into the desert. We were expecting the pavement to end, but instead we came upon the construction of what we found out was the future site of the Chokecherry Sierra Madre wind farm. The project was in its early stages – at the time, the only activity was paving the roads leading to the wind farm site. Unfortunately, a cyclist had fallen while passing through the construction zone a few days prior, so we had no choice but to load our bikes into the back of the pilot truck and ride along for 4 miles to safety on the other side of the paving. Shortly afterwards we called it a day, opting for primitive camping at Sage Creek. We set up camp early and had a nice, fresh meal that Andy and Silvia brought for us. It was a great first day together, and we were all plenty excited for tomorrow- onward to Colorado!
It was a big relief to spot trees in the distance, just in time to provide shade for our lunch break the next day. Those trees seemed a reassuring reminder that we would be entering Colorado very soon. The riding improved drastically for those last few miles of Wyoming – it had provided such variety and beauty, but being so exposed for the past week had us a bit worn down; hence, our excitement seeing trees ahead. Before descending into Colorado, we passed through Aspen Alley, which was a short but highly anticipated section of road – it felt like we had crossed off another GDMBR milestone once we passed through to the other side.
Later in the day, we met Ed and Beau while filtering water at a nice stream crossing. They began the route separately, but joined up because they enjoyed each others company so much. Ed was the cyclist of their two-man group, he had ridden many ACA routes prior to his GDMBR bid. Beau chose the GDMBR as his first bike tour, but was no stranger to long distance human powered journeys – he is a triple crown hiker (he has thru-hiked the AT, CDT & PCT).
The final 13 miles of the day were uphill on loose gravel – a serious challenge, but one that paid dividends the form of ice water, cold beer, fruit, brick oven pizza, soft beds, hot showers and a massive breakfast the following morning! We spent the night at Brush Mountain Ranch, where Kirsten gave us a very warm welcome and then made sure we were properly rehydrated and refueled. At Brush Mountain, we met Tanner, a northbound rider from Kentucky, who gave us a lot of great updates on the road ahead. Brush Mountain was one of the stops that had been highly recommended by other northbound riders, and it lived up to our high expectations. We love the service that Kirsten has provided for Tour Divide and GDMBR cyclists, and we hope to return some day.
The difficult climbing continued after Brush Mountain, eventually becoming very steep and difficult to ride. We had some fun with it, though, making the most difficult sections into a game of leap-frog – alternately riding short sections past the other person, then they do so to pass you, repeating until the summit or until the grade lessens. The difficult terrain remained and we rested and ate lunch in a shady spot atop the mountain before bumping our way down the other side. It was especially tough for Andy, who was toting a heavily-laden trailer. The trailer’s extra (and tiny) wheel made navigating the endless rock gardens down the other side a tricky endeavor.
Our next day balanced out the difficulty of the previous two; we slowly packed up camp at Steamboat Lake, had a fantastic lunch at the Clark General Store, celebrated our arrival to Steamboat Springs at Mountain Tap Brewery, sipped iced coffees at Starbucks, bought groceries, and ate dinner at a picnic table beside a dog park on the Yampa River. Most of the day’s riding was downhill, half of which was paved. We settled for tenting beside the Big Agnes store, only 2 blocks off the main drag through town. It felt funny and slightly uncomfortable, but we had heard through the grape vine that this was acceptable. To ease our concerns, we shared a few more drinks at a pub down the street. It took me a while to fall asleep because I couldn’t help but automatically tune in to nearby footsteps and conversations as we were only feet away from the sidewalk, but fortunately no one bothered us throughout the course of the night.
The ‘urban camping’ (credit goes to Andy for coining the term) beside Big Agnes lent itself to an early morning afterward, and we soon found ourselves at Powder Day Donuts. We seriously over-indulged with a dozen donuts (and the clerk graciously added 2 bonus donuts to bring the total to 14). Fortunately, the first few miles were easy along the bike path, but then we hit dirt and began climbing to Stagecoach Reservoir, where we rested off what felt like a donut-coma. While there, we met a game warden who informed us that the water temperature was 6 degrees higher than normal! This was contributing to excess algae growth and making it really tough on the aquatic life, although we were surprised at the number of crawfish we spotted around the dock.
It was an enjoyable rest and swim, and we were slightly dreading the rest of the climb to Lynx Pass, but it ended up being very pleasant in the later, cooler part of the day. That night we shared a big dinner of macaroni and cheese with broccoli and bacon, green peppers, and mashed potatoes (also with bacon, as a makeshift garnish). We talked around a small fire briefly, then prepared to turn into our tents, at which point we started hearing “oohs!” and “aahs!” from other campers all around. We quickly realized there was a large meteor shower, and we had lucked out by finding ourselves at the top of a mountain on a clear night, with very little light pollution. It was a great (surprise) ending to week 8!
P.S. One of the major reasons we chose to embark on this journey is because we feel there is no time like the present; you never know what tomorrow will bring. My father being diagnosed with Parkinson’s a few years ago was what prompted this mindset, and, as a result, we created a Team Fox fundraiser page for our GDMBR tour. If you’ve enjoyed following along or just would like to contribute to a good cause, please consider donating (click the image below to be taken to the page).
P.P.S. Sorry the updates have slowed down, we’re currently job hunting in Denver! We still have a dozen or so posts, you should be seeing the rest trickle in throughout the next month or two.