Biologist on a Bike

Day 28: Jeffery City, WY to Rawlins, WY

6/18/18

Stats:
Distance: 73.53 mi
Average Speed: 11.3 mph; Max Speed: 29.7 mph
Elevation Gain: 1,860 ft
Average Temp: 70.1 F; Temp Range: 50.0-87.8 F

Story:
The end of week 4! Wow, I have been on the road for a (lunar) month. It doesn’t seem like that long.

I slept last night in the fellowship hall of the church, which was lined with windows on one side. Unsurprisingly, I woke up around 6 as it was getting bright in the room. One of the perks of sleeping indoors, it’s not hard to convince yourself to get out from under the quilt because the room isn’t cold the way it would be outdoors. Another perk, a coffee maker!

Where I woke up, Day 28

Greg had stayed out late talking to the locals at the Split Rock Café in town, and only woke up when Phillip walked in. He had initially planned to stay at Sweetwater Station near the rest stop, but ended up riding to Jeffery City before setting up by some abandoned buildings. Jeffery City was, Phillip told us, once a town of several thousand people with the economy centered around a uranium mine. The town population crashed in the 70s and it shows with the number of empty homes and storefronts.

Phillip stayed and chatted for a while, then went on his way. I was packed up by the time Greg was sitting down to eat, so I headed out as well, though we were both aiming for the same endpoint: camping in Rawlins.

Greg

I walked my bike over the worst part of the dirt road before carefully pedaling the rest of the way to the highway, where there was a pronghorn to greet me. Perhaps it wanted to wish me a good ride.

Pronghorn

One of the awesome things about the landscape around here is the exposed granite outcropping. While soil washed away and other types of rock eroded, the granite persisted longer, often making interesting formations.

This reminds me of the ruin of a castle

As opposed to yesterday, where it was cloudy and drizzly all day, the sun was out this morning, lighting the road with a happy, warm glow. But just like yesterday, there were miles and miles of scrubland with no sign of human habitation beyond barbed wire fences, snow fences, and the occasional grouping of livestock.

The open road

The Split Rock Café that Greg visited last night was named for a well-known formation. The Split Rock was used as a landmark by Native Americans, trappers, and settlers. There was even a Pony Express station nearby (for the year the Pony Express was in business before the telegraphs made it obsolete). No wonder, since it’s got a distinctive look to it.

The Split Rock

Not too long into the day I crossed the continental divide into the Great Divide Basin, an area where the continental divide splits. Presumably, water that falls into this basin stays there, surrounded on all sides by mountains that do not let it flow out to either ocean.

Continental Divide

Phillip and I leapfrogged each other a few times. I caught up with him, he passed me when I took a food break, I passed him when he took a food break.

A while after that, I noticed that my bike was riding a little oddly. I looked down and my rear tire was partially deflated. Crap. It wasn’t totally flat, so I pumped it up on the off chance that it was a result of too many bumps on the road the other day. Also, rain was threatening, and I didn’t want to be caught changing a tire in the rain.

The rain did come, only it was more than rain. It was a windy thunderstorm. The rain was cold, but that aws okay on an otherwise warm day. I’m not a fan of lightning on a steel bike, or any bike, really, but the lightning  was infrequent and always more than a mile away, so I kept riding. What ultimately got me to stop was a combination of the wind and hail. The hail was small enough to not hurt unless it hit bare skin, but the crosswind kept blowing it into the side of my face. With the hail making it difficult to watch the road, I stopped and crouched next to my bike with my back to the wind for about two minutes until the hail passed and the wind died down.

Meanwhile, my rear tire had gone soft again. I rode to the next “town” which wasn’t really a town anymore, and found a place where the shoulder was wide enough for me to feel safe doing my repair. It took about 10 minutes to remove the tire and tube, patch the tube, replace tube and tire, and pump it back up. The pumping was actually the hardest part of it. My frame-mounted pump (Topeak Road Morph G) is very good as portable pumps go, but sometimes the mechanism that forms a seal between the pump and the valve is a bit finicky. Today it didn’t seem to want to inflate to over 60 psi until the 4th or 5th time I tried. While I was working, Phillip had caught up again and stopped to chat and help. He held the tire while I pumped, which was nice. While I was working, he told me about witnessing the immediate aftermath of a semi hitting a pronghorn. And I do mean immediate; he heard the collision and looked over to see the pronghorn rolling along the side of the road, rib cage exposed, and other gory things. He said it was awful and disgusting. He also said that he should have stopped to take a photo.

Riding with two full tires was great. Or maybe that was the tailwind that I picked up at that point. It was probably the tailwind. Wheeeeee. It feels great to not be battling the wind while riding. Once again I caught up to Phillip and we road together for a while on a section of road with an awful shoulder. His tires are a bit fatter than mine, so he didn’t mind the narrow area of semi-ridable shoulder. I found it treacherous and opted to ride in the lane. The cars, seeing only a 4 ft wide shoulder and not registering how unsafe it was for bikes, were annoyed, but without access to a sign that says “this shoulder sucks, please pass safely” I had to put up with a few honks. After a few people passed too closely, I started riding about 2 feet out from the shoulder. To some people that may sound like an asshole move, but what happens when you ride close to the white line is that cars try to squeeze past you, buffeting you with their slipstreams. When you ride in the lane, they have to cross the center line to get around, and so tend to pass more carefully. There is a method to the madness.

Phillip stoped about 40 miles into the day to set up his camp, and I kept riding, enjoying the shoulder when it improved, and always loving the tailwind. The wind was even kind enough to push me uphill a bit out of the basin. I stopped for some Gatorade before setting about climbing the last hill of the day when I realized I had dropped my knife at my last food/potty stop. Cue an additional 6 miles added to my day as I rode back to that spot, downhill but into a headwind, searched a bit, found the knife, and then rode back. I’d say I can’t believe I did that, but I can totally believe I did that. I’m just glad I realized it then and not tonight when I was making dinner and it was too late to go back. But it meant I got to approach the hill twice, which I didn’t mind too much since it looks a bit like what I imagine you would get if you could petrify an ocean.

The mountains look like waves frozen in motion

2nd time over the continental divide today

Rawlins is a big town compared to what I’ve seen recently. There were a few RV parks, but the ACA maps also said that you could camp in the semi-grassy field next to the 24-hour Walmart. Free campsite with 24 hour bathroom access? Okay.

It felt as sketchy as it sounds and I was glad when Greg pulled up about 2 hours after I did. On his way out of town he had tried to visit this pottery shop/gas station that somebody told us about yesterday while we were riding. The pottery shop was closed but had a sign saying to go next door to inquire. He did, and ended up in a prolonged conversation with the man there. It sounded interestingly bizarre, but I think I would have felt awkward, so I’m not too sorry to have missed it. We talked to one gentleman who came over to this side of the store to return some paving stones he had bought, and it turns out that cyclists set up in this field is not that unusual a sight, so I feel a bit less awkward about it. Now if only I had taken the parking lot lights into account when setting up my tent. I’ll be sleeping with a bandana over my eyes tonight.

Roadkill count: 1 pronghorn, 3 rabbits, 4 unknown mammals, 1 snake

Map Day 28

Flat tires this trip: 1

12 thoughts on “Day 28: Jeffery City, WY to Rawlins, WY

  1. Cheryl Tilders

    I watch for your posts every day and am annoyed if people disturb me while catching up. This is an awesome adventure. So happy to be riding along!

  2. Jerry Wyshnowsky

    I notice that the European touring bikes have mostly fat tires and the American ones (Trek, Surly, etc.) don’t.
    I wonder why? I don’t imagine that the roads are much different.

  3. BILL WX2DX

    Wow, it won’t be long before you reach my graduate stomping grounds in Nebraska.

    Forecast for Laramie, WY

    Saturday
    A 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after 3pm. Increasing clouds, with a high near 73. West wind 10 to 15 mph.

    Saturday Night
    Showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm before midnight, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms between midnight and 3am, then a chance of showers after 3am. Cloudy, with a low around 43. West wind 5 to 15 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%.

    Sunday
    A chance of showers before 9am, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms between 9am and noon, then showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm after noon. Cloudy, with a high near 58. North northwest wind 5 to 15 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%.

    Sunday Night
    A chance of showers and thunderstorms before 9pm, then a chance of showers between 9pm and midnight. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 42. Chance of precipitation is 30%.

  4. Flashen

    I’ve been following you since I saw a post about your ride on AHA and I am incredibly impressed. Last year my husband and I drove from San Francisco to New York and I remember how tough that was, but it was only 9 days in a car. You’ve been going for over 4 weeks already, on your own, on your own power, while braving the elements!

    On our trip, we spent the night in Rawlins and I recall how vast the high desert of Wyoming was. The landscape is on such a grand scale that we felt tiny as we traversed it. It could take an hour to reach the next butte in a car, which could be an entire day on a bike.

    Keep with it. The landscape of the US is anything but “confined and unvarying” .. I’ll keep following to see it through your eyes.

    1. Spin Doctor Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to say hi!
      In some ways a bike journey is easier. Not in a lot of ways, but in some. For example, when I want to pull over, I just find a place where the shoulder is wide enough and do so. When driving, I sometimes can go several hours without a stop (much to the displeasure of my lower back). I rarely go more than 90 minutes without a break on the bike, even if that break is just to take a few quick pictures or a bite to eat.
      You’re right about exposure to the elements though. That can be extremely draining.

  5. Leslie Diamond

    The place to camp does sound a bit sketchy. I hope you got some sleep with the Walmart right there! Stay safe!

  6. BILL WX2DX

    Hope you have lots of sunscreen and that you keep hydrated.

    Forecast for NE CO and W KS:

    Monday
    Sunny, with a high near 82. Northwest wind 10 to 15 mph.

    Monday Night
    Mostly clear, with a low around 58. Northwest wind 5 to 10 mph becoming southeast in the evening.

    Tuesday
    Sunny, with a high near 94. West wind 5 to 10 mph becoming north in the afternoon.

    Tuesday Night
    Mostly clear, with a low around 62.

    Wednesday
    Sunny, with a high near 94.

    1. Spin Doctor Post author

      I have UPF rated clothing for arms and legs and SPF 50 sunscreen for everything left exposed. Besides 3 water bottles, I also carry a 3L Camelbak bladder which can be filled on extremely hot days or when water is scarce and Gatorade powder for electrolyte replenishment.

      Yikes, that’s hot.

  7. Andrew Roth

    I’m glad you have encountered riding companions. I never could ride with people, unless it was totally flat, because normal paces and hill-climbing techniques were usually too different. We usually looked at the map in the morning, and saying “meet you there for lunch, camping, etc.” Kind of what you are doing with Greg and Phillip.

    Also I feel a little validated that you went 5 days between showers. I thought my lack of planning lead to a lack of bathing, but it is just impossible sometimes in the Big Empty to find shower facilities.

    1. Spin Doctor Post author

      It was tough on the mountains. I had the impression (though maybe it was just in my head) that he would have climbed the mountains a lot faster without me. I almost certainly would have been a bit slower and more prone to taking breaks on my own.

      LOL about the showers.

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