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July-August 2001: Montana, Wyoming, Colorado

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At right you'll see an image I hope you never see again - a broken bike frame. This picture shows the rear drive-side dropout with the bike upside-down. We were fortunate to be near a farmhouse just outside Twin Bridges, Montana when it cracked. We were offered a quick ride in the back of John's pickup to Bo's Chevron, where it was welded (on a Saturday afternoon). Just one hour after the break, we were back on the road, good as new (we hoped).

While riding through Montana we made some new friends in Todd and Melissa, fellow world travelers taking a few weeks to ride through Montana and Wyoming before going to Kuwait to start new teaching jobs. We had a nice time camping with them a couple of nights before leaving them in Wyoming at Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone is a very interesting park - beautiful, lots of thermal features (geysers, hot springs, and other smelly stuff), and full of wildlife (i.e., more smelly stuff). We spent about 5 days cycling around the park, and saw herds of dozens of Elk, hundreds of Buffalo, and only one Bear. One morning we awoke in our campsite to find a large buck Elk munching on grass just outside our tent. It was a great visit, although Yellowstone is not very cycling friendly due to the large amount of traffic and relatively narrow roads.

We left Yellowstone for Jackson and the Grand Teton National Park. At this time there were some large wildfires outside Jackson, and our views were often obscured by smoke from the fires just on the other side of the mountains. Although we saw firefighting planes going to dump water and retardant, we were fortunate that we didn't get any closer to the fires than just to get a sniff of the smoke. Jackson is a touristy town (see previous diatribe about Banff and Lake Louise). We stayed there one night. It was enough.

On our way south through Wyoming, the weld we had on the bike frame broke again (the bead wasn't very clean on one side, and only lasted about 450 miles). Once again, we were fortunate to be right next to the Grand Tetons RV Park - where Henry, the owner, whipped out his wire/arc welder and promptly laid down a thick, if ugly, weld at the crack. Certainly, this weld will hold! This time, we were off the bike all of 50 minutes (most to strip the bike and build it up again after welding). I've had flat tires take longer to fix! (Well, maybe not, but still...)

Southwest Wyoming is a high desert, often at altitudes of up to 8000 ft, with lots of wind and many miles between towns. One such oasis was Lander, Wyoming, a very tidy town of about 7200 people. Well-kept houses, wide streets, and (best of all) a fantastic large city park that allows free camping. Many of these towns keep a nice park for the cyclists (or any other travelers looking for an overnight campsite), and I'm sure this helps their economy in the form of food, restaurants, and the occasional bike shop purchase.

Our next town was Jeffrey City. What a difference an abandoned uranium mine can make. Jeffrey City was a thriving community of about 5000 people in the early 80's, supporting the mine. When the mine closed, the town went from 5000 to 50 in just a couple of years. There are literally hundreds of abandoned homes and condos, and even a huge community hall that was built, but never opened. Jeffrey City is a stop for virtually all Transamerica cyclists due to it's location 75 miles from any other town on the trail. Fortunately, there is a small, cheap, and clean hotel still operating in the town (probably just for the cyclists), and a small bar still operates just down the road.

We came to Rawlins and met three cyclists riding the Great Divide trail. This is a mountain bike trail going following the continental divide from Canada down to New Mexico composed of mostly of forest service roads, singletrack, and occasional paved sections. Mountain bikes and BOB Yak trailers (like the one we are using) are the vehicles of choice for this challenging ride. Eric, his wife Christine, and new friend Patrick were enthusiastic about the ride, and their descriptions have Steve thinking that this may be a good destination for summer 2002. Shelley's not sure - lots of bears in the backcountry!

After a couple of days in Rawlins (they had a cinema and good Mexican restaurant), we went to Riverside, population 50, just on the Colorado border. Along with it's twin city Encampment there are perhaps 500 people in the area. As luck would have it, we timed our visit perfectly - just in time for their annual evening concert in the park! "Blind Dog Smokin'", a pretty good blues/cover band, was playing to a crowd of perhaps a hundred people in a beautiful, shady city park. Our campsite was also a treat: the fellow touring cyclist running the place even gave us some fresh fruit and homemade bread for breakfast when she found out we were having trouble finding anything in town other than Oreos and Pork Rinds.

A few more long days of riding brought us back to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. We stayed three nights in Frisco with our friends Bob and Elinor, who live in their motorhome year-round. We took a nice ride up to Vail Pass along with Chuck and Ruth, friends of Bob and Elinor who were starting a tandem tour of the Rockies that week. The whole area around Frisco, Dillon, and Breckenridge has a nice network of bike paths, a welcome change from the relatively busy roads in the area.

A short ride up to Breckenridge was next, where we met friends Kathy and John, visiting the area for a short holiday. We decided to take a drive over to Leadville, an old mining community, and then back to Breckenridge. Well, it sounded like a casual cruise - until we made a decision to drive over Weston Pass. A dirt road. An unimproved dirt road. In a Volkswagon Jetta. With four adults and an energetic 7 month old German Shepherd.

I did mention that this was a Jetta, right? Not a Jeep? Oh yeah, I did.

The ride started out smooth, with a nice hardpacked dirt road and beautiful views. Spirits were high, and even Ruthie, the dog, seemed happy. (Then again, Ruthie always seems happy - she's a big puppy, after all.) As we drove up and up, the road got progressively rougher, although John expertly was able to miss the bigger boulders and even ford a small stream caused by a beaver dam. All in the mighty, low-clearance Jetta.

Now we were beginning to wonder about our route. How much worse could it get? We started coming up to larger boulders in the road - where three of us (and the dog) would jump out to relieve the load on the car, and give an occasional push to help the car. Still, spirits were high, although nervous jokes were starting to flow. We saw the occasional spare car part on the side of the road - a muffler from a previous car foolish enough to attempt the pass in something other than a full-on SUV.

Then we looked at the gas gauge again. It didn't look good. This ride was taking longer than we thought, and we were almost out of gas.

I didn't mention we started the ride with less than 1/4 tank of gas? Oh, sorry. Yeah, not much gas in the car.

(Aside: Shelley's favorite Steely Dan lyric: "Is there gas in the car? Yes, there's gas in the car.")

Finally, while passing a few abandoned log homes from perhaps 130 years ago (casual thoughts in our minds: good firewood in case we get stuck for the night), we came to the crest of the pass - beautiful views, but perhaps more importantly we'd have gravity on our side from now on! John switched off the engine and we coasted down the rocky mountain pass road for perhaps 10 miles. Finally - what's up there? A sign in the road (although pointing in the opposite direction): "WARNING: ROAD AHEAD NOT SUITABLE FOR LOW CLEARANCE VEHICLES". Thanks a lot, guys - where was that sign coming from *our* direction?

Of course, we finally made it into the next town, filled up the gas tank, and had a good laugh about it.

Next time, we'll take the interstate.

We spent another day in Breckenridge to explore the town a bit, as well as to watch the end of the Saturn Classic bike race. 120 cyclists starting in Boulder rode over 7 mountain passes for a total of 140 miles. Only 20 completed the race - it was a very tough route. (We later saw one of the passes they crossed - the riders switched to mountain bikes for that section, as it was unpaved and very steep).

We left Breckenridge and began our climb of Hoosier Pass - at 11,542 ft (3,518 m), the highest point on the Transamerica trail. For the first time, we felt the lack of oxygen, even though we were fairly well acclimated through the past weeks at altitudes between 6000 and 9000 ft. At the summit we found yet another problem with the bike - we had actually snapped our rear axle in two pieces. Although the quick release would still hold it together, the axle would have to be replaced quickly. Another call to Jack at Tandems Ltd. in Alabama, and one axle was in the mail to Pueblo - our destination in two days.

It wouldn't end there, though. Henry's welding from the Grand Teton RV Park was looking a little suspect, and although it was holding, we didn't feel very good about it. After a few inquiries, we decided to ride to Guffey, CO (population 10), where Bill at the Guffey Garage would strip, grind, and re-weld the frame (this is the third time the frame has been under the heat of the arcwelder in the last 700 miles). Bill and his wife Colleen - in fact, the entire village of Guffey - were a trip. Mostly ghost-town, a couple of 'antique shops' (read: junk shops), and at the same time a completely charming old gold mining town. We were welcomed with open arms, offered cold beers (yessss!), and had a great time working on the bike and exploring Bill's eclectic garage. We stayed in their rental cabin - a 100+ year old log cabin with no running water (outhouse out back). It would be one of our most memorable stops in the past 5 months.

Slightly emboldened with a newly welded frame (but still with the broken axle), we made our final ride into Pueblo, coming out of the mountains and into the high plains of southern Colorado, where we would stay with friends Jack and Roxana Rink. We had the pleasure of joining three other cycling-minded couples for a wonderful dinner at the Rink's home, and all the fine pampering that actual running water (hot AND cold!) in your home can provide.

We have just rented a car to drive up to Denver, where we're staying with our friend Amy. We've taken a couple of days to visit the Boulder area, doing a little advance scouting for a possible landing spot at the end of the Plan B trip. We also had the pleasure of meeting Dianne and Kevin, on vacation from their home outside Kansas City, for a fun visit in the mountains. (It's funny how many friends we meet in Colorado - where were they in the high desert of southwest Wyoming?)

We've now ridden about 4500 miles (7100 km) over the past 5 months (about 4 of those riding).

New axle. Fresh weld on the bike. Rested muscles. We're ready for a sprint through Kansas - we should hit Shelley's parent's home in Derby in about 8 days of riding. We hope it doesn't hit 100F every day!


Cracked frame
Cracked rear dropout
Twin Bridges, Montana

Camping with Melissa and Todd
Camping with Melissa and Todd
outside Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful
Old Faithful
Yellowstone National Park

Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs
Yellowstone National Park

Tower Falls
Tower Falls
Yellowstone National Park

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
"Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park"

(No, not that Grand Canyon)

Bison
Bison (a.k.a. Buffalo)
Yellowstone National Park

Moose
Moose on the loose
Yellowstone National Park

Wyoming Roads
Southwest Wyoming road

Southwest Wyoming Road
Southwest Wyoming road

Blind Dog Smokin' gives a concert in Riverside, Wy.
Blind Dog Smokin'
playing the park in Riverside, Wyoming

Vail Pass
Chuck, Ruth, Bob, Elinor, Shelley, Steve
Vail Pass, Colorado

Hoosier Pass
Hoosier Pass, Colorado
11,542 ft - highest point on the
Transamerica Trail

Bill Soux welds the bike
Bill Soux works on the bike
Guffey, Colorado (population 10)

Guffey Cabin
Cabin and outhouse (on right)
Guffey, Colorado

 

July-August 2001: Montana, Wyoming, Colorado

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