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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West above prisoned eyes

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Two thousand miles and 5000ft from my hometown in New York, the “Rockies” are every bit of splendor imagined. Composed of many narrow ranges, conglomerated into a whole– from a distance they become one. The silhouette, the names of places, the arid valleys and basins; all are iconic, and American as Kansas.

Boulder, and Denver and Fort Collins are all myths come to light. These are real places after all; I’ll no longer wonder how a city differs at a mile-high (it doesn’t), or how a city can be home to so many breweries (Ft. Collins, somehow), or why everyone loves to hate Boulder (because it’s great). Putting faces to names, I’m solving the Colorado puzzle. I’m looking forward to solving the westslope soon, back on the Divide.

I don’t think that Denver needs any more millions of easterners, but towns in decline and tollways and beltways make Colorado seem easy. There’s still lots of space here, and the air and water is clean. Who’s to blame for the Chesapeake and the Everglades?; if Colorado’d had east-coast industries and millions of people a hundred years ago I’d be telling you about the prettiest Superfund site in the country. In some cases, mining has made quick work of what easterners took decades to do.

With circumstance and luck, the people came later and some hard lessons had already been learned in the east. By the time the modern population boom
hit Colorado, Aldo Leopold and John Muir were resting below ground, and on bookshelves countrywide. And by that time we’d learned to appreciate inhospitable, rocky landscapes for their ecological and aesthetic value; or their property value.

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Going to Jackson; vintage Yellowstone

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Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks have provided the guard, and respite of a few days without internet. It turns out the parks can still be a place “away from it all”; not that there are any lack of tourists, all of whom seem to come from places with accents (like Mississippi, Missouri, and the Midwest) and can’t believe that I actually biked here. I have begun to fabricate truths and spin lies. Sometimes I am from Alaska or Canada; sometimes I’m going to Bolivia, or Guinea, or another country that most people can’t “place”. It’s fun, and the reaction is usually the same as if I were going to the next obvious place, Jackson. “Wow!”, “No shit.”, and “Really?” are often heard while cycling through the parks. Accordingly, I respond “Yup”, “Shit.”, and “Really.”. Over, and over, and over. I should probably have more patience with people. That’s one of several reasons I’m not a politician. Yes, I realize that’s funny to you.

Yellowstone is a beautiful corner of Wyoming– mostly (also bits of MT and ID)– encompassing a vast caldera, high plateau, mountains; and steaming, boiling, and bubbling coming out of the ground. Despite the crowds demanding to know when the next miracle of hydrogeology will occur, if you happen to wander into the woods– not in the direction of anything boiling or spewing– you won’t see anybody at all.

I spent two hours warming my fingers and eating oats at the Old Faithful Visitor’s Center. I didn’t bother to see the the geyser. It was a nice day to be elsewhere. You don’t take 75 deg days for granted in northern Wyoming a few days short of the autumnal equinox, at 8000 ft.

Five days from sea level and Lael (proudly, pompously) crossed the Continental Divide three times in Yellowstone–all in a day, at or above 8000 ft.

Our first night in Yellowstone, we bathed in the union of the Boiling River and the Gardner River. Scalding hot plus freezing cold equals tolerably scalding, mixed with lukewarm and cool. Perfect on a near freezing evening.

I’ve been fighting a cold for a few days. Almost eighty during the day, almost twenty at night; the weather is brilliant, but my body is confused.

Jackson is a great bike town, and a great place to hide away and relax for a few days. There are a couple of framebuilders in town. I spotted a 26″ wheeled touring mountain
bike with more braze-ons than I could count (six on the topside of the downtube) and vintage Suntour Alpine Gearing (36 or 38t freewheel cog); a 1997 700c “touring bike” that fits 2.1 inch MTB tires, which makes it a pioneering 29er by accident, also with a softride stem and drop bars (Salsa Fargo?); and an impressively crafted swingbike (like the old Schwinns), with real-world parts including Schwalbe tires and vintage MTB equipment. 20110924-015156.jpg20110924-021240.jpg20110924-021339.jpg20110924-021406.jpg20110924-021523.jpg20110924-021543.jpg20110924-022145.jpg20110924-022216.jpg20110924-022304.jpg20110924-022403.jpg20110924-022440.jpg20110924-022536.jpg20110924-022550.jpg20110924-022620.jpg20110924-022751.jpg20110924-022823.jpg20110924-022851.jpg20110924-023021.jpg20110924-023206.jpg20110924-023217.jpg20110924-023233.jpg20110924-023412.jpg20110924-024421.jpg20110924-024440.jpg