Friday, October 9, 2015

to Steamboat Springs

 I crawled out of my tent, hands and knees, icy dew flaking off the rainfly, a rocky climb in my near future. We made our oatmeal and peanut butter breakfast, warmed our soup, packed all of our gear onto our bikes and waved my mom away, hoping she would be able to find her own way around the mountain to Steamboat. We inched along up the divide, breath becoming shallower, loose rocks barring our way to an easy climb. We knew we would be following Joe's tire tracks that day, but further up, we noticed a few others as well, the sand holding the patterns enough to tell the others had been through that morning. The map claimed the last two miles would be "a pusher" meaning I would end up either walking my bike up the hill, or crumpled underneath it. I chose the former, unable to concede to the gritty scabs I would likely find myself with if I fought my way up the hill on my pedals. At the top, thinking it a false summit due to the inaccuracy of our Garmin's elevation chart, we rode a little farther, looking around each corner expecting more uphill until we started the even rougher downhill.
     Usually I am ecstatic once we reach the summit, knowing I'll be able to let gravity do the work for me. Most of the time I end up laughing maniacally as if I alone own the mountain, the wind causing my eyes to water and my calves burning from holding the pedals at equal distances to the ground so they won't hit any wayward rocks. However, this downhill hurt. Hurt more than the uphill I couldn't wait to escape. I swear we were riding down a dried up riverbed, the jarring we endured for the six miles down the divide had me riding with my mouth open, believing if I closed my jaw, my teeth would knock my other teeth out. Thinking of it now makes me laugh, wishing I could trade places with my dad so I could have seen the face I had been making. Really, the only thing I can picture is being at the dentist during a routine cleaning when they tell you to open your mouth, and then they expect you to also lift your gums from your teeth like a snarling dog.
     Anyways, when we finally made it down, we came to the Clark General Store. We pulled in, seeing other loaded bikes, saw Joe up on the deck and waved. He came down, commenting on the food inside, asking how the ride down had been and after he joined the other cyclists again, we pedaled off, towards twenty miles of pavement.
     Sometimes after a morning of jolting trail, pavement can be such a lovely reprieve, especially if you are following someone who makes a great windbreak. It can also be monotonous, dull to the point that you play games with yourself. One of the games I play is to see how close I can get to my dad's back tire without getting pelted in the chest by small pebbles. Another is to mimic my dad's gear changes and if I'm able to  coast while he's still pedaling, he loses and I win. With him hitting most of the wind, I usually won, while he would be unaware of any of this taking place.
     After finding my mom in Steamboat, our tents set up in the local KOA next to the creek just outside of town, I checked my phone to find a message from Joe inviting us to a brewpub that night with a group of other cyclists.  I found myself on the city bus at 6:45 that evening, not completely sure where I was heading, and there on the outside of downtown Steamboat, I got off the bus, looked around and saw only a gas station and a closed grocery store. After a ten minute confusion on the side of the road, I realized I had put in the wrong address on my phone and figured out I was only a mile from the restaurant. I walked in, sweating and breathing harder than I should have been. I walked up next to Joe, excitedly waved at him and in that moment every person at the table turned towards me and stared, wondering what this girl, panting and red-cheeked was doing at the corner of their table. Joe pulled me up a chair, introducing me to everyone, giving first name and nationality. At the table were a few Australians, New Zealanders, a couple Canadians, Joe...and then me, the only American. Everyone smiled at me common-placely, asking me if I was riding the trail as well. I made a somewhat affirmative noise and said, "Yeah, I mean pretty much..." They looked at me, and one of the Australians said, "You should just say yes. You're either one of us, or not. Unshowered, or showered." I definitely found myself in the first category most of the time and thanks to the hurried mile I just semi-ran, I discovered myself being patched in to this arbitrarily exclusive club of fuzzy, smell-ridden travelers. I suppose this wasn't necessarily a new club to me, thinking of the state in which I live with my best friend in the summers and the baths I do receive taking place in lakes and rivers. We played pool, all claiming different rules throughout the games and killed time before going to a club playing jazz that night.
     I've figured out something very interesting hanging out with that group of bikepackers that night. People love to give things to young people who look like they live out of their bike. Being included in this group meant I got into the club half off, the bouncer thinking it incredible anyone could travel by bike. I also found out that Australian money apparently can't rip in half, but Canadian money does if you try hard enough. Who knew. We stayed in Steamboat for a couple nights, exploring the town the next day, riding to the breweries, navigating our way away from the thunderstorms and traffic, knowing the days that followed would be high elevation, rugged terrain.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

from penitentiary to the UK.

     We left Rawlins, WY anxious to make it to Colorado. The days before, we were buffeted by the winds through the Great Basin, seeing nothing but cows and shrubs, three cars within hundreds of miles. We ate our paltry breakfast sandwiches at the local cafe, made our way to the starting point just  past the next Divide crossing, past the Teton reservoir, it's water silty and rough from the wind blowing over the mountains. We passed Aspen Alley, Aspen trees lining a mile long stretch of road, golden canopy, initials carved in every tree along the way, couples professing their lasting love, the trees' bark folding in around the gashes.
     Halfway through the day we passed  over the border, not even noticing we had done so, and twenty miles later, we waited for my dad just past the closed lodge we were supposed to be meeting at. After a half an hour, my mom cocked her head to the side, looking in the side mirror, noticing someone coming up the road on bike. "Is that him?" I pivoted around in the front seat, noting the meandering pace of the packed down biker. "No. That is definitely not him." The biker came riding up beside us, shirtless with a grin spreading across his face. He pointed at the bikes on the back of the truck, "You're doing the trail as well?" he said in a lisping British drawl. We looked at each other, my mother pointed to me, "Well, yeah...she is. Pretty much." We asked him if he could use any water and declining politely he wished us well and went on his way.
      Forty minutes later, my dad wind burnt and drained got in the truck and directed us to a primitive camping site shown on the trail map. When we pulled onto the road where the supposed sites were, we looked around in confusion only seeing trampled down prairie grass, the ground hard and undulating underneath. "This is the nice camping site they mentioned?" We drove a little ways up the dirt road, until it became narrow and the grade steepened. We backtracked, trying to find an alternative to the night that would be spent lying on small mounds of packed roots and dirt. As we backed the truck closer to the turn, we noticed a cleared spot to the right of us with even ground and a  recently used fire pit. We pulled the truck in, shrugging and setting up the tents and a new fire pit that would not be surrounded by dried grass and leaves.
      We all looked up towards the road where we heard the rustling of bags and tires over gravel. My dad waved as the Englishman rode past us, "I'm not sure there's any decent campsites up that way," he called to the man. He rode about a quarter of a mile up the road, rotating his head in that same desperate way we had when we saw the mashed down grass. My dad walked towards him. "You can share this site with us up here, there's plenty of room." The man pedaled back towards us, swinging his long leg over the seat and walked his bike up into the  site where we had begun to set up. He introduced himself as Joe, shaking my parents' hands, cordial and relieved to have found a spot for the night. When we got the fire started and the chairs and coolers set out, Joe brought his little pot with water over, asked if we minded him using a part of the fire. Knowing what was coming, I squinted up to my mom, looked back at the squatting Joe, "You're welcome to join us for dinner. We have potatoes and all kinds of meat and vegetables." "VEGETABLES?!" Joe cheeped in a way that made it seem inconceivable that there would be fresh food this far in on the trail. "Oh my goodness," he said, "I was just going to have my Kraft dinner, but potatoes and vegetables sound lovely." "Do you drink beer, Joe?" My mother asked delicately. His eyes widened, the edges of his lips turning upward, "Oh! Yes!" We sat around the fire, talking and drinking, shooing Joe off of the beer cooler every twenty minutes for refreshers until the dark set in around us, the fire burning to coals, the lantern's incandescence creating a circle only wide enough for the four of us. The next morning, I woke hearing tires rolling past my tent, thank yous and goodbyes ringing through the cold, knowing we would most likely not see the jovial cyclist again.
 "sheep jam"

 great basin
aspen alley

Sunday, October 4, 2015


  We sat at breakfast one morning in Wise River, MT listening to the Scottish owner of the 3-in-1 motel/restaurant/casino tell stories of the Divide racers coming through in the middle of the night, knocking on their door at odd hours, their beards frosted and lips blue, hoping for a place to get warm. He told us of the riders that would come through for breakfast, wolf down six pancakes, fourteen eggs, guys that were thin as the rails running alongside the dirt roads. After he walked away, we all looked down at our plates, two eggs, toast, bacon and hash browns, all of us bloated from our meager attempt at a “Divide breakfast.” We sat there bleary-eyed and consumed with tracing our fingers along the lines on the map, contemplating where we would meet up, seeing no distinct town for the next couple of days. As my dad slipped the next map on the table, I caught sight of a town outside our trail limits, the hometown of a favorite author. Pocatello, Idaho, a place I thought was home to him only in his narratives, but alas, it was real! After a few hours in the backseat headed south, the landscape reminiscent of Manitoba, my mom looked back to me, "So. Are you ready to see Idaho? We're thinking of staying the night in Pocatello." I couldn't believe it. I sat in the back for another hour with the stupid smile plastered on my face, my eyes scanning the farmland for some hint of what caused the crude genius of all the works I love. 
     We drove through, only catching glimpses of storefronts and the eyes of the truck drivers passing through the city. My mom caught my eyes in the mirror. "Not how you pictured it, huh?" No. Not at all. We drove back through, back onto the interstate, up towards the Wyoming border. 
In Ashton, we restocked on beer and ice, searching for a place to camp for the night so that we could start riding in the morning. On our way out Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, we passed semi-trucks piled high with dirt covered potatoes and we entertained ourselves by scanning the shoulders of the road, wanting to add to our potato supply, my dad consuming them as if they were candy. We drove twenty miles before we noticed the signs that we were entering Yellowstone and somewhere along the way, we ran into a Ranger, informing us that the road we were searching for to get back on the trail was closed until the following Friday which meant another bypass. Luckily, the fastest way to get back where we needed to be was driving through Yellowstone and Teton National Parks. 
      After stopping at the ranger's station, the older man's fingers tapping against the forest maps, we made our way to  a lakeside lodge. A man in a pickup truck waving us over, telling us about the grizzly bear up ahead, "Just take your next right and you'll see it before the bridge." Instead we saw a moose swimming across the water as we pulled up to the lodge, calling for it's mate, wandering through the woods on the other shore. The next day, we drove through Yellowstone, unable to ride because of the shoulders of the roads, the tourists looking everywhere but the road they were driving on. We continuously pulled over, ready to pull the bikes from the back of the truck, but as we would look from car to car, we decided it would be too dangerous...most likely we would be hit by a passing RV rather than accosted by a bison. 

Where We Are! -Mapshare