Good Morning Great Divide

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Bed by campfirelight, awake by sunlight. Smoke fingers linger over my down bag in the early morning; I always take time to admire how lofty my bag has become by sunrise. I played games with REI for years returning bags, and finally bought a better bag at a local shop in Missoula last summer. I’m fully content with it, and a vapor barrier extends the range at the end of the season. Toss the coals about, lay a log on top and heat some water– coffee and cream of wheat will get me where I’m going. This is my last night in the woods for a while, as I’m into the great wide Wyoming open for a week of sage and sunshine. I can count the campfires I’ve had over the past four years on one hand, and this seemed like an occasion to burn a little bit of the woods. The campsite was littered with rusty cans of Texas ranch-style beans and shotgun shells– it wasn’t dirty by USFS standards, but well used. I took the opportunity to use it some more. If i’d had a big gun, I woulda shot it.

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Two days ago I climbed away from Idaho on the Reclamation Road between Yellowstone and Teton National Parks into a thick August swarm of tourists. Yesterday I climbed away from Teton tourists to the not-so-secret handicap accessible swimming hole at the top of Togwotee Pass. Descend twenty miles, then climb back to Union Pass and ride until dark. From my camp at 9000 ft, today is all downhill, nearly, and the final miles into Pinedale are paved. Ice cream and wifi aren’t too far off, despite fifty miles of riding. I rest my forearms on the bars and find my aero position– I’m there by noon.

The Great Divide narratives underscore the pretense of long stretches without water, the presence of bears and to be off the trail by “mid-October at the latest”; mostly I count long stretches without a half-gallon of ice cream for $4.44, and the fact that I’m “in bear country” is nothing new. The riding is occasionally challenging, but the route is a logistical walk in the park with the help of the ACA maps. It’s dangerous to visit supermarkets with big eyes and an empty stomach as 4 for $7 promotions of Keebler cookies and day old donuts are tempting– a hungry sucker, I had to find a way to pack a dozen day old donuts and a half-gallon of soymilk. The soymilk fills the Kleen Kanteen, but doesn’t last long. The donuts are now a ball of smashed donuts, and that’s just fine. This is the first “super”-market I’ve visited since Butte, and the experience is overwhelming– they have everything.

Leaving Idaho behind, squeezing between the two national parks…

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Not interested in an $8 campsite– the campground attendant was incredulous at that, and rude– I rode the final hour of sunlight to the Teton Nation Forest boundary. This is public land and I figure my tax dollars are hard at work helping the trees grow so that I can sleep amongst them. Actually, the USFS is a road builder above all else. They build a lot of roads, and a gated logging road provides perfect camping. I awake to climb up Togwotee Pass, to a 46 mph descent down the other side, and a climb back up to Union Pass. At 15 mph the Surly Larry tires hum, at 25 they sing, and at 45 they scream.

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Making camp by campfirelight, I awake to descend two-thousand feet to Pinedale over fifty miles– let the fat tires roll.

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8 thoughts on “Good Morning Great Divide

  1. If you are coming all the way south to Loveland, CO (or Estes Park), you are welcome to crash with us, and the bike and truing strands are here fore the using

    • Thomas, I’d planned to ride Trail Ridge Road although I’ve just discovered the route over Rollins/Corona Pass. It looks to be a great ride. Have you ever been up there?

      Lael is flying into Denver on the 23rd and we’ve got to get a bike together for her, which will most likely be a used bike from CL so a truing stand may be helpful. I’ve also got friends in Fort Collins and Boulder so I’ll definitely be in the area.

      I’ll keep you posted.

      nicholas

    • The scary part is that I was pedaling 44×11, which is a lot of RPMs on a loaded bike on a squish tire just to see the Cateye read 46. Actually, it’s still calibrated for the Big Apple…

      The bike does not shimmy, thanks to a med-light load, but is sorta squirmed when I was pedaling that rapidly. In a tuck, it was straightforward descending and felt completely safe. I descended on the road from Glen Alps this winter after riding up the Powerline Trail. A Nate on ice at 40mph– that’s scary.

    • Thanks Ryan. Just as I was cursing 100deg heat in the Great Basin, I experienced my first thunderstorm of the entire trip. In all, I enjoyed amazing weather– it’s easy to forget how lucky that is.

  2. Hello Nicholas! Cass sent me yr way. Hope we meet sometme; i used to teach Wombat camps up in Anchorage in the early 2000’s.

    • Welcome back Jacquie! Marin is near the top of the list of places I always try to return to in my travels. I’ve ridden through three times and each time BMC is closed, either after hours or on Mondays. Peering through the windows I want to get closer to the collection of old bikes inside. And the roads and trails!– the Bay area in general has a unique character with hills out the backdoor, networked with old roads and paths. Waking up in SPTaylor one morning, I huffed up the Shafter Grade to the ridge, and eventually to the pavement on Mt. Tam. I’d lost track, but it was immediately apparent that it was Saturday. Riding around Marin on a Saturday is a treat, especially as a visitor. Perhaps next time you can show me some favorite local rides; I love rides that connect places, as I always seem to be going somewhere.

      Riding through the vastness of the Great Divide Basin yesterday, I stave off hundred degree heat humming, singing “Counting troubles, instead of counting sheep/ Where the rivers change direction…”– Kate Wolf is another facet of my Marin fantasy.

      My girlfriend Lael grew up in Anchorage, which has brought me to Alaska several times. I had an amazing winter, especially with the “discovery” of winter singletrack (in the dark, almost necessarily), but I love the American west. Perhaps I just love being around people as much as I like living outdoors.

      Thanks for tuning in,
      nicholas

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