As i descended into Idaho it began raining: freezing rain. Through warmshowers.org I found a place to stay for the night, even though Travis wasn't there to meet me. There was a "Ride The Divide" DVD, so I started watching it. It was very inspiring to see the movie but half way through something caught my eye: a Yellowstone National Park brochure resting on the table. I was so close to it but sadly a quick internet search showed the park was closed.
Day 1 (58mi/93km) Yellowstone
I decided to go for it anyway, if successful, I will cross the continental divide an extra four times and find out why Yellowstone was America's first national park. At worst, a very unpleasant return trip.
There was still very light traffic on the road, probably park staff, construction workers, etc. A bus driver told me that the road I've been hoping to use was closed, something about bridge work. Not encouraging but I can surely find a way around.
The whole scenery was outlandish, I was expecting dinosaurs to come swoopinG down at any moment.
...And then on a narrow trail, coming around a corner I ran into bison. I must have been few meters away, screamed out something and immidiately started backing up. The bison got up but didn't move. Those animals are big, with big heads and big horns. I went into the trees to go around, we all know who has the right of way. You can see the look in his eyes "One more step and I'll kill you!!!" or "You take one bite off my grass and you're done!"
Old Faihful, a deserted semi-circle of benches surrounds it and I try to imagine how this place looks in the summer. Full of people, full of cameras, everybody is in a rush. Instead it's just me, Deadhorse and Old Faithful. Few more geysers below.
Those Four magic words that can end this voyage abruptly. Would I be able to navigate like I did on the last "Bridge Out" section in Montana?
The bridge was there and I made it to the highest pass yet: 8391ft/2558m. The problem is it's getting dark and cold. I decided to set up at a day use area, which provides food storage and ample camping spots.
Day 2 (79mi/127km) The Tentons
I descend to West Thumb, where I meet the sunrise over a misty lake. Geysers, steam and that sulfur smell. Back on the road I spot an animal, maybe a ferret? Weasel? Meanwhile in 1988 a huge fire swept through Yellowstone. While burning the old trees it released the seeds from the pine cones, a very large portion of these trees are just as old as me. If I were a tree - I would be this tall!
A ranger car pulls over.
"You know the park is closed right?"
"I thought it was open for non-motorized traffic." Act confused Iohan, ACT CONFUSED. Works pretty well for me, because I generally am. The sign at the entrance did allow bikes in certain section but not over the mountain passes or where I was.
"It's closed. Period."
He let me go, I was 20 miles from the park exit. Before he drove off, he warned me about bears:
"They are still out and about" - Great. That's all I need now...
I rode into Jenny Lake campground and found a good spot. Bear-proof storage, picnic bench and even a power outlet at the boathouse. What more can you ask for?
Day 3 (22mi/3km) Jackson
I made it into Jackson at 11am, and I would love to tell you more about the town but I spent glorious two and a half hours at Pizza Hut's lunch buffet followed by two more at the library and then a mad dash around town to stock up on food.
Day 4 (78mi/126km) The 9500
Today I tackle the first 9500 ft pass, the pavement and easy grade made it a walk in the park. Just after I see people loading trees from a clearcut block onto a pickup.
"It's enough to fill 1/6th of a loggin truck and they didn't want to come back so they gave it to us."
It would take Forest and his family two trips to load all their winter firewood. He suggested that I stay wih his brother who works at a ranch on the other side of the mountains. There is a storm coming.
Day 5 (49mi/79km) Union Pass
Union pass, pavement and easy grades have made me feeble and weak. I barely finish the climb to continue on a roller coaster terrain before finally descending. A pickup pulls over to warn me about the storm and cold temperatures.
"It's supposed to get down to 0." Then it hit me, it's 0 Farenheit, not Celsius (that's -18C). I rode past Forest's brother's ranch on the excuse that it's too long of a detour and maybe nobody will be home. The headwind picked up and the road went to absolute crap. I am out of water, all lodges have been closed since Jackson, it's November after all. I keep going in the dark when a pickup pulls over and offers me a ride, I decline but ask for some water. After not very successful search in the dark for a sheltered spot I set up next to a sign and bungee my tent securely.
Day 6 (67mi/108km) Storm chasers... err storm dodgers!
Before and After. The Eureka - Midiori took a beating tonight but it's still standing!
Two people offer me a ride to town in the morning. It's cold but I have tailwind. Then a storm literally rolled over me and brought the best tailwind I have ever had. Then it was just like back on the ice road: "Keep your balance, no sharp turns and PLEASE don't touch the breaks!"
I rode out onto gravel roads again and as the sun started setting I realized that I will not have any cover from the wind. There are no trees but fortunately I found two large rocks to call home for the night.
Day 7 (50mi/80km) Cookies, Beer and a Snowstorm
Atlantic City, sounds like a big town. It's only 54 miles away and the elevation profile looks easy. I'll make it there for lunch. Snow had covered the ground which made progress slow.
"We don't have any water..." two hunters pulled over to talk to me, "but we got beer."
Oh well, why not. The remainder of my water was frozen solid. One of them pours a bottle into mine, the foam doesn't seem to go down because of the cold. When I look back at him he has another bottle open.
"Here take it." -well, I can't let this go to waste.
I later stop to finish it, along with some cookies. It's windy and snowing, what a great time to get drunk, it's 11am.
Another hunter stops, tries to open the window. HAHA it's frozen, he opens the door:
"Are you okay?"
"Enjoy the weather."
The crosswind increases and the rolling hills steepen, I often have to push my bike up.
I finally make a turn onto the highway. The good news: it's paved. The bad news: I will face that crazy crosswind head-on. I don't know the time but it's way past lunch, only 20 miles to Atlantic City, the beer has worn off and I feel cold. I am wearing all my clothes except for the 3rd pair of socks, and there is no way I am putting them on in this wind. I barely move at 3miles per hour on flat ground, walking up all hills and sometimes on flat ground. This is one hell of a storm
I pass some trees, 10 miles to go or should I camp here? No more photos, the mitts must stay on, I take out the GoPro and take one video at an easier crosswind section - the camera shuts down midway (batteries don't do well in the cold). It gets dark and the wind is even stronger, my hands are too cold to take out my light. There is another town before Atlantic City, maybe I can warm up there. After an hour of cycling and pushing I finally see few lights. South Pass - population 7. I knock on one door of the only house I see and I get offered to stay in a cabin, with HEAT.
"There is a phone in the house if you want to make some calls tomorrow."
"It's supposed to get warmer tomorrow, right?"
"Nope, it will be cold for a week."
Maybe it was he beer or not having to eat anything but those cookies. I'll need to be very careful, there won't always be a cabin waiting for me at the end of the day.
Day 8 (38mi/61km) Cold Feet
Atlantic City. "City" really misled me, so did the indication on the map of services. It was a small village. The store was closed, the inn was closed, the bar - open 3 days a week for lunch and dinner and today was not one of those days.
Luckily there were people in the bar and they let me fill up my bottles with boiling water and warm up. The bartender told me that the police were lookin for me to check if I am okay. Probably one of the people from the highway called. Adding "Wanted by the cops" to my rap sheet!
The cold was here to stay and the next 130 miles were some of the most remote on the entire route, even worse: there were no trees and no cover to hide from the winds. Should I really be doing this? My sleeping bag is rated to -9C...
But the landscape... it was UNREAL.
That night, my tiny thermometer pointed at -30C, the lowest it can record. I had my emergency bivy ready but got by without it. Wearing all my clothes in my -9C rated sleeping bag, I got up twice at night to boil water and keep the hot bottle at my feet.
Day 9 (45mi/72km) Out in the cold
All batteries were drained, none of the cameras would accept charging from the battery pack that I have. Clenching a fist inside my gloves no longer worked, instead I rode with one hand while the other I kept on my tighs to keep it from going numb. Cameras went inside my jacket pocket to keep them warm enough to turn on.
I see a pickup stop at a Y junction, there was a cow camp beside the road, the only sign of people aside from some oil rigs earlier this morning.
"Are you lost?"
"No, I'm headed down to mexico."
Mark took me to his house for water and also offered me lunch and even food to pack for dinner. He lives out here and raises sheep.
Wild horses and antelopes broke the monotony of The Great Basin. Hill after hill, open views, wind, cold. The temperature rose to -15, this made the remainder of the day feel like a walk in the park. I stopped at a junction next to a trailer which would provide good cover.
Day 10 (57mi/92km) "Don't make plans for the day man."
6am, it's just getting light. So the plan for today is to ride out 50, mostly flat miles to Rawlins. See about all-you-can eat buffet's, check out the library, warm up and camp out of town. Then I took a step outside my tent. NOPE. Headwind.
As I completed my 20 mile trek on Mineral X road, I turned to face the wind directly. Ouch.
Slowly crawling up the hill, I looked at trucks and cars zooming by and at the snowy mountains beside me, crows flying away from a roadkill and fighting the wind just like me. Who am I kidding, I love this. But I can't figure out why. I get offered another ride to town, I always thank the people for stopping, you never know maybe one day I will need that ride.
The town of Rawlins has a strange vibe. Major intersection, all services but "help wanted" signs at almost every store. Saw 4 different police cars cruising the small town as I rode through. No luck with couchsurfing or warmshowers, another night out.
Day 11 (48mi/77km) How about some snow?
I rode out on HWY 71, very uncertain about the road conditions ahead. A high, unpaved mountain pass and 8000ft+ elevation for 40miles awaited me. The sheriff pickup approached, he pulled me over to get my information.
"Do you have the proper gear for this?"
"Yup." Oh, he did not look down to see my summer hiking shoes, good.
He wanted to know my name, route, etc just in case there was a missing person report. The word "crazy" came up pretty often in the conversation.
Somebody pulled over to warn me about the road ahead. 1 foot of snow on the ground.
Four offers for a ride later I had my first flat. The patch glue was frozen solid, that won't work. I put in my backup tube, I hope I don't get another flat before I can patch this up.
After some very frustrating evenings in the cold (bottom left) where the string holding the tent poles freezes solid, I put them in my jacket 1 hour before camping to warm them up.
As I entered the forest the snow was everywhere. Two rough ruts left by trucks allowed me to make a very slow, bumpy but steady progress.
Day 12 (46mi/74km) Welcome to Colorado
Another luxurious night just meters off the road. By now I perfected the strategy to keep my feet warm. Nalgene bottle with boiling water, refill once from the thermos if needed.
After 10 miles on the rough road I finally went on the smooth pavement. Opening up the views and giving me a glimpse of Colorado's mountains.
A pickup stopped next to me, at least he tried to... he slid 3 bike lengths ahead of me. I moved down.
"Are you lost?"
"Nope, headed to Columbine."
He warned me about the snow and offered an alternate route which would take an extra one or two days. How bad could the next 30 miles be?
I stopped at a ranch to ask for water, there is no need to be a hero and melt snow unless needed. They invited me in to warm up and offered me a great lunch, I think it's a shame that I don't remember their names. They have a very impressive trophy collection.
As I passed ranch after ranch the road became less and less defined. I've been hoping to reach Columbine but as I entered Routt national forest it became clear that this won't be possible. The wheels sank into the partly packed snow, starting to pedal if I stop mid-way up a hill was nearly impossible and sometimes I couldn't even pedal. I spent two hours in the dark pushing and biking. As the temperature dropped to -25C I knew that setting up camp will be very difficult, I saw a flat spot beside the road and kicked the snow around to see if it was really flat. It was. The only thing I was successful at that night was growing my ice beard.
It was one fine ice beard!