Tour Divide Days 10-13 : Wonderful Wyoming

by Andy Amick on September 23, 2014

in Bikepacking, Tour Divide 2014

Waking up to a calm sunrise makes for a great start to the day.  The colors and the calm of the morning more than make up for the cold temperatures.  Plus, I knew that this day would take me out of Idaho and into Wyoming, wonderful Wyoming.  It gets a bad rap from some riders.  However, I enjoyed the variety of terrain, the wild camping, and long days of open views.  This was the Tour Divide I had imagined.

Day11_FurtherUpUnionPass

Rolling out of the Warm River Campground on the pavement, I saw a couple of raccoons and a fox.  I guess they were getting their day started with the sunrise too.  The pavement was easy riding.  I was zeroed in on Squirrel Creek Ranch which offered the promise of food and re-supply.

I rolled into the Squirrel Creek Ranch and it looked like it was all closed.  I tried the front door which was locked and started to feel defeated because I wanted to keep my string of real breakfasts going.  Just about the time I was going to open a candy bar for breakfast, the owner of Squirrel Creek Ranch walked out of the front door.

He invited me in and made me a delicious breakfast – eggs, bacon, toast, OJ, coffee, hash browns, more coffee, and even more coffee.  Score! I love this ride.

Covered wagon convoy on the road to Flagg Ranch

Covered wagon convoy on the road to Flagg Ranch

Happy and full, I took off up the road towards Flagg Ranch.  I had read about it online and in several books, but it was a complete letdown and waste of time really.  The service was horrible in the restaurant.  Then, the kid running the convenience store practically threw all of my precious candy bars and candy orange slices at me after he rang me up.  The only good part of Flagg Ranch was meeting and talking with a couple that was riding cross country on folding bikes.

Flagg Ranch and the ensuing tough pavement climb was another instance of me letting factors out of my control cause me to be in a bad mood.  The road probably wasn’t as steep as it felt and the service probably wasn’t as bad as I thought.  Instead of getting frustrated, I should have taken in stride, been happy I had food and water, and continued riding down the road.  It really is important to keep a happy mind and not let these letting things get you down.

The road climbed towards the Tetons and I met a couple of CDT hikers that had to come out of the mountains due to high snow.  They were doing a long road walk to connect back up to the trail.  After talking with them, I felt better and enjoyed the ride to the Tetons.

Day10_Tetons

Taking in the view of the Tetons was still special, even though I had first seen them back in high school.  It was overcast with darker clouds rolling in.  The lake and the jagged mountains make for a wonderful photo.  I didn’t linger long because I had miles to go if I wanted to get over Togowtee Pass.

Luckily for me, the storm clouds rolling over the Tetons threatened but never dumped on me.  I had been lucky with thunderstorms up to this point.  However, I knew my luck was bound to run out at some point.

Togowtee Pass was brutal for me.  The dirt sections were steep.  I walked many sections.  When I made it out to the Highway for the final pitch to the summit, I thought I was in the clear.  Nope.  The pavement, for me, was worse than the dirt I had just come through.  I was once again left walking up a paved road.  I just couldn’t keep my motivation to pedal or ignore the pain in my ankles when when I was in one of my easiest gears.

After cresting the pass, I started flying down the hill until I was perplexed by my GPS saying I was not on route.  This was the highway, the highway that led to the next climb of UnionPass.  I stopped, dug out my map, and then realized my mistake.  The route took a dirt road turnoff at the summit.  Cranky was a good way to describe myself at that point.  The Lava Mountain Lodge was waiting for me at the bottom of the hill just a few miles away, but I had to take some stupid dirt road to get there.  Plus, I had to climb a mile back to the top of the pass and find this little dirt road.

The dirt road wasn’t much of a road, but I found it.  It let to more snow and mud to walk through which made me really cranky at this point.  You wouldn’t like me when I’m really cranky.  I was yelling at the trail and wanted the snow and mud to stop.  It didn’t.  I turned onto the north side of the mountain, greeted by more snow and mud.  The road eventually went downhill enough to get below the snow line.  There was still mud all over the road.  That’s when I looked up and took in the stunning view.  It was worth every bit of the snow, mud, and frustration.

Day10_CathedralMtns

That’s when I started telling myself to shut up and quit whining.  When would anyone that I know be on this road and see this scene?  Probably none of them.

With a clearer mind, I made it back to the highway.  I cruised into the Lava Mountain Lodge which had food, hotel rooms, campsites, and bunkhouses.  I was planning to camp that night, but the bunkhouse was only a few dollars more than a campsite, plus it had beds, a table, electric, and heat.  The deal was too good to pass up.

Sleep was good that night.  However, the morning brought the first time on the ride where I didn’t want to immediately get on my bike and ride.  I was a little slow getting ready, but got suited up for the cold morning and ate my breakfast of cinnamon rolls and a Coke.  The front desk had some coffee brewed so of course I took advantage of the opportunity.  As I was finishing my coffee, Ryan Lee rolled up.  He was the first TD rider I had seen since meeting him and Kiwi Ken way back in Lima, MT.

Ryan had missed the same turn at the top of Togwotee Pass and was contemplating his next move.  I felt really bad for him because he was cold from the long downhill, but he really wanted to do the official route.  My suggestion was to see if he could get a ride to the top so he didn’t have to grind back up the pass.  I took off and later I found out he was able to get a ride and keep going on the official route.

Day11_GoingUpUnionPass

Union Pass is the last big climb in Wyoming.  It’s a grind to get up the long climb.  For some unknown reason, I was able to find a groove that I hadn’t found in several days.  The climb was hard but enjoyable and I was having a great day on the bike.

At the top, I met a motorcycle rider going northbound all the way to the Arctic.  We chatted for a few minutes about the ride, the riders he had seen, and how many days it would take him to get to the Arctic.

Day11_TopOfUnionPass

The views at the top were incredible.  Bright blue sky, bright green grass, more mountains in the distance, and lots of little alpine lakes.  Union Pass has a bit of a rolling summit that goes on for miles.  Rollers mean more climbing even when you’re ready for the official downhill.

The top had these un-nerving “Grizzly Bears Active” signs.  The signs didn’t say “be bear aware” like other places.  No, they specifically said there were grizzlies and they were active.  Even in Canada, they didn’t have specific grizzly bear signs.  I didn’t see any bears on this day or any other day on the TD.  While riding alone at the top of Union Pass, I was ok with this.

The downhill, like all downhills, eventually came.  However, this one was so rough with its rocks and ruts, that I was having no fun.  At the bottom, the road was washboarded, rocky, and still not fun.  Even the road into Pinedale wasn’t fun.  I had looked at the map profile (big mistake, never ever look at the profile) and was expecting a slight downhill.  The profiles don’t lie, they just don’t show all of the details.

I rolled into Pinedale in the early afternoon with 90 miles completed for the day.  Another meal consisting of a bacon cheeseburger and fries fueled me up, but I decided to call it a day.  In my pre-race planning, I had Pinedale listed as a short day in case I needed to make up time from other days that didn’t go according to plan.  Good for planning, bad for racing.

My planning helped me be comfortable with each day because I knew mileages between towns and I had goals for each day.  My problem was looking at the plan, and then letting that become the only thing I wanted to accomplish for the day.  A better approach would have been to look at the towns coming up for re-supply options, but not making a hard and fast endpoint for each day.  Go with the flow rather than have such a rigid plan.

After talking myself into staying in Pinedale, I checked into a hotel next door to a Subway and gas station.  Food was right outside my door and I needed food.  Two Subway sandwiches made for a good dinner.  Since I was in a hotel for the first time since Helena, I decided to give my clothes a good washing in the tub.  Oh man, they really needed it.

Day11_FeetInPinedale

The feet and ankles were taking a beating up to this point

This is also the first time I noticed my left big toenail turning a nice blue/black color.  I guess the pressure of the cycling shoes day after day was taking it’s toll.  The list of ailments was getting longer by the day, but I was making progress and that’s what mattered most.

 

Day12_PinedaleSunrise

With clean shorts, lots of food for breakfast, and an excitement about reaching the Basin later that day, I took off before sunrise.  I stopped in Boulder, WY for a big coffee and headed towards Atlantic City.  This was going to be a good day.

The mountains were a ways off in the distance, however, this was one of my favorite parts of the ride.  I describe it as peaceful.  Me and my bike were riding along and everything was good.  The mountains were not majestic like Banff or the Tetons, but that didn’t matter.

Day12_PeacefulOutsidePinedale

On the road into Atlantic City, I caught up with Sarah Caylor who I had not seen since Ovando.  We stopped at the cafe (the only thing open in town) for lunch before heading out into the Basin.  Of course, lunch was yet another bacon cheeseburger with fries.  I ordered two PB&J sandwiches to go and loaded up with food from their limited supply of candy and granola bars.

With a full 4 liters of water, a Coke, and a Gatorade, I left Atlantic City for the Basin and then on to Rawlins  One of my goals in the TD was to camp in the Basin and the timing was going to work out to allow this.  First up, I had to get out of Atlantic City.

Day12_TheBasin

The road out of Atlantic City is STEEP! I decided to walk all of it while Sarah impressively rode the entire section. After cresting the top of the hill, the Basin was laid out before us.  Luckily, there was a strong tailwind that blew us deeper into the Basin. It felt like there were miles at a time where I didn’t have to pedal.  Fun riding to say the least, but there were dark clouds building up behind us.

The Basin is not as flat as it seems on the map.  There are no long climbs.  Just plenty of shorter climbs in the middle.  As the sun began to set, the thunderstorm was all around us.  The tailwind was still strong which made for a great pace.  Instead of enjoying the pace, I began to worry about shelter from the storm.  Riding through rain is one thing, but a thunderstorm at night is another.  We came upon a large section of snow fence just as the winds started to really pick up.

I decided that was going to be my campsite for the night.  Sarah wanted to ride on to get at least halfway through the Basin since she was not carrying as much water as me, but she decided to stop as well.  We set up our tents in a fierce wind, and managed to get inside as the rain started to fall.  The storm turned out to be a bit of a dud.  Looking back, I probably should have kept riding, especially since the next morning’s winds shifted into a headwind.  However, I was happy, dry, and warm, in my shelter that night so I really can’t complain.

Day12_BasinCampsite

The morning broke with a beautiful calm sunrise.  I had successfully camped in the Basin.  Check another one off the list of goals.  I would have preferred open camping with just my bivy and a star filled sky.  After downing my Coke for a morning caffeine fix and a PB&J sandwich for breakfast, it was off for more riding.

Other than a headwind, the morning riding went well.  We ran into a group of 5 guys in their 20s camping around an old wagon.  They were sitting in their comfy down jackets, making breakfast, and sipping coffee.  I missed that type of relaxing morning in camp, but I had miles to go and a race to ride.

Day13_TheBasin2

When the road turned to pavement, it became a nightmare.  Flat, into the wind, and lots of cracks in the asphalt surface to beat you up.  To make matters worse, you can see exactly where you are going, but you can’t get there it seems.  Eventually, I made it to the intersection of Hwy 287 which meant Rawlins was only few miles away.

Those few miles were actually long, hot miles through a major construction zone.  The cars had to follow a “pace” car, but they workers let me ride on the new asphalt and for a mile or so, I had the entire road to myself.  The temperature had to be in the low 90s, and I was ready for some cold iced drink.  I just had to make it to Rawlins.

Rawlins gets a bad reputation, but I saw it as just another interstate town.  Not bad, not good, just a town.  For lunch, I went to a Chinese buffet simply for the fact that I was tired of bacon cheeseburgers.  Because of the heat, I wasn’t able to eat very much.  Oh, I still managed a couple of plates, but I was disappointed in not making it through more.

Outside of the restaurant, I talked a long time with my wife.  We talked about lots of things, but the one item that came up was some of the rules “violations” supposedly taking place on route.  People in the bikepacking.net forums were pointing out possible violations of people’s call-ins to MTBCast.  Really?  People were now dissecting call-ins, those 1-3 minute calls we place to keep people updated on our progress and give tidbits of our stories.  Followers of the race are great, but they should be helping us riders out rather than making it harder for us.

I left Rawlins with plenty of food and water, and an angry mind after letting the talk of violations get inside my head.  With iPod music cranking, I mashed the pedals leaving Rawlins.  My temper was getting the best of me and again I was letting my mind go in a bad direction.

This is an important point for anyone looking to do this ride.  Really work on a positive mindset.  Lookup some of the things Billy Rice has talked about in this array.  It’s worth focusing on thinking positively as much as the physical training.

An hour outside of Rawlins, I ran into the ginormous 20+ mile construction project that was paving a dirt road with little traffic.  Why?  I have no idea.  I hit this section at 5PM so there wasn’t much work going on.  There were a lot of trucks making final runs and kicking up dust.  During this section, I ran into a lot of northbound riders (1 racer and many touring riders).  It was fun to stop and talk to them for a few minutes.  Plus, it got me out of my mental funk and into a better mood where I could enjoy the riding.

As the sun began to set, I began looking for a place to camp.  My motivation to ride into the night wasn’t there.  My achilles and shin were also not hurting at this point in the day.  Once my shin started to hurt, it seemed like I had a certain distnace/time I could ride each day.  After that time, I had no power for hills which meant lots of walking.  If it was around night time when the shin “gave out”, I simply decided to camp rather than hike in the dark.

camping around Aspen Alley

That night, I solo camped in a little clearing just before Aspen Alley with the hopes of seeing Aspen Alley with the early morning light.

About Andy Amick
A little bit nutty in general, a lotta bit nutty about bikes. Each of his boys received a bike helmet for their first birthday and the three of them have been biking together ever since.

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  • Hi Andy,
    I’m enjoying your write-up of your experiences on the divide this year. Keep it coming!
    I particularly like the way you are reflecting on how you went about things like deciding when and where to stop each day. I totally agree with you that mindset management is crucial. The whole experience happens in the grey matter between our ears!
    Great achievement riding it and writing it up!

    • Andy Amick

      Thanks Rob. Great job on your ride this year!

      When I started, I knew the mental aspect was important, but I underestimated how crucially important it is to the ride. A clear and free mind makes the riding so much easier.

      • Rob Davidson

        Friday here at work… My mental attitude to it is crap… Riding on the weekend though… Instantly feeling better about the day;-)

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