Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Blowin' In the Wind
Once I arrived in DuBois, my stomach only got worse all evening. It didn't feel better in the morning. And I'll spare the nasty details, but there were repeated, frequent signs of some kind of stomach infection. I figured a day of rest, especially with plenty of sleep, would be a good idea. And after 37 straight days of riding, none of them under 100 km, I think I've earned it by now.
It turns out DuBois is located on a popular coast-to-coast bike touring route, called the Trans-Am, and this church is one of the only places in town that people can stay. As a result, they’ve opened their doors to cyclists in a big way. Not only did I have a comfortable place to hang out all day, complete with a library and WiFi, but the fridge was full of leftovers, and I was told to help myself. I was in the perfect place to take a day off.
I "slept in" until 7:30, read a book, watched the USA vs. Germany World Cup game. Too bad we lost, but a close loss to a team that good isn't all bad, and we still advanced to the next round either way. Walked back to the church, read again, took a nap, caught up on my journal, read some more. It was a wonderful boring day, right when I needed one.
I had lost my sunscreen on Jackson, so I rode Valeria to the store about 2 km away. Before I did, I took off all the panniers. My goodness, was she ever fast! And Valeria is even on the heavy side, not built at all for speed! I'd gotten so used to a gigantic, heavy load that an unladen bike felt like a toy. If only touring were always this easy!
By noon, I was already feeling better and debated heading out for Lander. It wasn't that far, only 130-140 km, and it looked like I'd have tailwind all day. But I judged that I could use the rest even if I weren't as sick. And what if it comes back? I didn't see anything in between on the map, and taking too much time would have me coming in after dark. Let's just get the rest.
I set off the next morning feeling just a little off inside again, but it was workable. Especially when the road was consistently at a slight decline and there was a solid, steady tailwind at my back. Leaving town, I saw a sign proclaiming that Lander was only 120 km away.
That's it?? Maybe I should have gone for it yesterday...
One thing that stuck out early on was how Southwestern the terrain looked. I would've thought I was in western New Mexico, not northern Wyoming!
Only 30 km into the day, I got caught by three gentlemen. One was middle-aged. The other two were older and retired. OK, that's a little embarrassing...
Two of them, Mark and Gary, were doing a tour from Montana to Colorado together. The other, Roger, was going to Maine eventually and had latched onto these guys. I rode along with the slowest of them. It felt good to have a riding buddy and someone to talk to.
In no time, we'd done 40 km and stopped in at a gas station. As we left, all three of them got away from me. My stomach started acting up again. Only an hour or so later, I pulled into a highway rest area to take a break and let my stomach settle down. Managed to meet a pleasant group of folks from Georgia who made a donation on the spot. Thanks, y'all!
I got back on Valeria for the last 50 km of the day. The wind had now shifted into a headwind, though not quite as strong, and there were thunderstorms visible ahead. I managed to dodge the first one and ride through mostly sunny weather, but got caught in the second. Probably the hardest rain I've ridden in thus far, but only for a short amount of time. I'll take quick thunderstorms over all-day light rain every single time.
Just as the storm was lightening to a sprinkle, I saw Mark, Roger, and Gary's bikes parked on the side of the road next to the entrance of a house. I figured they wanted me to find and join them, and even if they didn't, I was still curious enough to see what they were up to.
It turned out they got caught in the storm worse than I did and stood under a tree to stay dry (not a good idea in a thunderstorm), and when the owner of the house came by, he invited them under his covered porch to wait it out. I sat a spell and conversed with them for a while, eventually also meeting the wife, daughter, and two grandchildren. I like how small-town and country folks stay close and also quickly invite you in.
Soon enough, the sun was shining again, and a little later, we got back on our way. Only 12 easy km into town, where we'd heard about a city park that allowed free camping. Once we got there, wow. Not quite what we expected. There must have been at least 50 tents set up and well over 100 kids around, mostly middle and high school aged. We went around to the far end of the park to do our best to find a quiet spot.
Two of the gentlemen went out for Italian food and I introduced myself to the neighbors. I think they all knew each other from formerly working at the same ski resort, though they were from all over the western states and were only in the area for a friend's wedding. They definitely had some amusing stories, and even shared a beer and some homemade cookies!
I set out for Rawlins, a solid 200 km away, but the forecast was for strong tailwind. Totally do-able. Only problem was the wind wasn't complying early on, and a 10 km climb threw me for a loop. The hill went on and on, a long climb out of a canyon, with the terrain channelling a vicious wind right in my face. The 10 km climb took almost an hour. Only 50 km into the day, I was exhausted.
The climb completed, the land leveled out. No downhill on the other side, just a flat plateau...and a metric crap-ton of tailwind.
Oh man was it nice!
Still, my legs were pooped, and I made disappointing time considering the conditions. And I was still getting over my sickness. Late in the afternoon, I made the turn to the SSE instead of due east, and the wind swung around to come from the SW, giving me a ridiculous crosswind that was a little bit in front of me. Rawlins was still 70 km away. It was about 5:00 PM already. I didn't know about doing another four hours like this.
I'd been seeing cyclists doing the Trans-Am all day, and they'd all told me that the only place to stay in Rawlins were hotels. A dive would cost $90. A Holiday Inn would be $150. I think that adds up to a big, fat "Screw Rawlins."
My only other option was LaMont, 50 km north of Rawlins, where a guidebook made a vague mention of free cyclist-only camping. The city had an apparent population of one. I made it there and found a decrepit sign pointing me over towards the only building around, a mobile home with a lot of stuff out front.
I pulled Valeria to a stop and looked around. Outside the fence were a few picnic tables with several gallon jugs of water on them. Clearly someone put them here on purpose, so this was it. I figured I should knock on the door and announce my presence anyway.
I made my way through the yard, which on first impression, looked like it might fit in a horror movie. Stacks of VHS tapes in faded cases, a dog tied to a shipping container, random assortments of sheet metal and sections of fencing, piles of things you probably last saw at a garage sale in the early 90s. None of it looked terribly organized. I knocked on the front door and got no response. Well, someone must live here, if the dog is alive. I had a quick dinner at the picnic table.
I was about to pitch my tent behind the old Suburban, dating back to when it was called a Silverado 10, when a white pickup arrived. An overwhelmingly kind lady got out and introduced herself as L.B. She showed me around her yard with a touch of restrained but clear pride. I don't know why I hadn't noticed before, but so much of the yard had personal touches and human charm, the barricades containing the plants, keeping them separate, and preventing them from choking out each other or overrunning the yard. The chicken coop she'd made by hand. The new pens for the younger, smaller roosters and the other one holding both chickens and ducks. The campfire furnace with lawn chairs around it, right next to the outdoor kitchen, complete with electric stove top burners. After being unnerved earlier, now I was impressed!
Instead of pitching my tent behind the suburban to stay out of the wind, L.B. recommended sleeping in the Suburban itself. All the back seats had been removed, leaving a large flat area, big enough for three sleeping bags. Against this wind, a layer of steel and glass sounded like it would hold up better than canvas, so I took her suggestion.
In the middle of the night, I got out to pee, and looked up. It was almost a magnificent night sky. Until now, everywhere this uninhabited had been cloudy at night, or still too bright at all hours to see stars. Not only was I now a considerable distance from any city lights, but it was a clear night at high elevation. It was almost breathtaking...only it was blurry. I’m not sure if it was the altitude or the dry air, but when my eyes are dry, I can’t see as well. The most notable examples are looking at lights at night; they all look big and blurry. This keeps happening more and more. It would be a shame if I can no longer experience something that has never once failed to inspire my sense of wonder to its fullest.
After the best night of "camping" thus far, I climbed out of the back of the Suburban and L.B. whipped up a quick breakfast. What she did was poke holes in pieces of bread, then crack an egg into the middle and pan-fry it all together. Such a simple thing, but there was something about it, that might have hit the spot like very little else has this whole time. I'm gonna have to remember to try doing that myself someday. Maybe with salsa. Or guacamole! Or I could hurry up and get to Texas and eat a ton of breakfast tacos...
The wind was calmer this morning, good news, since it had still been strong and unfavorable last night. I made the long trek to Rawlins, climbing into and back out of the Great Divide Basin, finally on the Atlantic side of the Continental Divide, at least until Central America. Pedaled into Rawlins and got on the highway pointed for Laramie.
50 km down. 160 to go. 75 km/h tailwind. Let's do this thing.
If the wind made it easy yesterday, you shoulda seen it now. You would've guessed the grass grew sideways naturally, and now it looked scared. The middle 80 km or so were surprisingly hilly, and if I had been going into the wind and dealing with those hills, it certainly would've been a shorter day.
The hills calmed down late in the day, and the wind let up a little bit too. I had a WarmShowers host in Laramie, but spent a small amount of time regarding Laramie's downtown area and the college campus. As much as Jackson, WY makes a tremendous effort to maintain a certain look and appear as a traditional western town, I feel like it doesn't come close. Jackson is what "Mountain Western Land" would look like if that were an attraction at Disneyland. If you want a real western town experience, go to Laramie.
The person I'd contacted on WarmShowers couldn't host, but found me a friend of his who's into backpacking. She was just getting home from a weekend trip that day, and was preparing for a much longer, 800 km hike in Colorado in only a week or two. Tough gal! We went out with another backpacking friend of hers and had a satisfying pizza and beer. At Butch Cassidy’s favorite hangout, no less! Behind the bar, you can still see places where bullet holes were fixed long ago.