Day 6: Rexburg, ID- Dubois, WY, 195 miles, climbing – 9763 feet
I left my hotel around 7:30 in the morning. This was later than planned but my body felt rejuvenated. According to Trackleaders both Mike and Barry left 2 to 3 hours earlier than me on that day. The plan was also to depart around 4:30 am since the heat is still a major factor. Today was also when I had to climb up Togwotee Pass – a mountain pass located on the Continental Divide in the Absaroka Mountains at 9584 feet.
I could see the Teton Range behind me and it looked intimidating with its peaks covered in snow.
The Teton Range is a mountain range of the Rocky Mountains in North America. It extends for approximately 40 miles in a north–south direction through the U.S. state of Wyoming, east of the Idaho state line.
Midway through Wyoming the elevation profile was getting flatter but this one big obstacle was laying ahead. Honestly, I just wanted to put this big hump behind me and move onwards.
It took me six days of being isolated from civilization to start saying hi to the cows in the morning 🙂 Seeing more animals than humans was now the norm.
I was feeling fresh and had enough food and water to carry me up the road. Right after Chester and Ashton I was closing in on the town with the strange name Squirrel.
The town of Squirrel was founded by a group of immigrant farmers from Germany in the late 1800s. Most of the people living in Squirrel were of the Lutheran faith. When they needed a cemetery in their community, a man by the name of Carl Lenz donated a piece of property to the Church to make the new Lutheran Cemetery. The cemetery was established in 1906
I crossed into Wyoming immediately after this – state number 3 of this adventure. It was truly exciting but there was so much more work to be done. One hour later, I was on Grassy Lake Rd, a name I would never forget. It was already noon, temperature above 100 F and I was running low on food and water. This road was straight gravel and in fact a pretty nasty one with very little shade to make matters worse.
Warning signs for bears were also on display. This must be the place where I would definitely see a bear or two. Not that I was looking forward to this experience while still dealing with my knee injury. The road had no lanes, just deep gravel that at times featured some large slippery rocks. It was a struggle to find a line where the gravel was more compact and even had to unclip at times so I can prevent crashing out. At times it felt like rumble strips as the rain is probably shifting the rocks around and creating a bigger mess.
To my surprise, this is where I started seeing a lot of bike travelers. Some even knew about the race and stopped to cheer me on. I was looking forward to the next open business at Colter Bay village some 25 to 30 miles away. Survival mode once again, counting the drops of water left and conserving food and energy. Somehow I managed the first few miles without falling and getting face to face with a bear. Small wins, remember?
The only thing that sucked was cars passing by and dumping clouds of dust on my sweaty body. I was breathing it while fighting some very aggressive flies. I think they were flies but they sure stun like bees . I even applied citronella wipes for mosquitoes but the attacks did not stop. I mean, I’ve never seen anything like this in my life and was wondering if these creatures were created in a lab by a mad scientist. . . They stun so badly through any layers of clothes and then circle around just to intimidate me. The only time they were not a problem was when I moved with more than 7 Mph. However, I was moving super slow and the flies were trying to have a feast. All of my plans on arriving in time at the next resupply stop went in the drain. The goal was to attack the big climb at reasonable time and that looked more and more unlikely.
What I though was going to take 3 hours, ended up being over 6 hour adventure. This wide road switched to a tiny gravel road , sections covered with trees and some completely wide open. Luckily, Glade Creek was running beside it and I stopped to dump some cold water on my head and fill up my bottles, all 8 of them.
To make the situation worse this area was also ATV heaven. Perhaps the best way to travel around on these roads. But for me this meant more dust flying all over the road and sticking to my skin and throat. There were few climbs, super short but extremely steep. I am not ashamed to say that I walked few of them as the gravel was so deep and the bike did not feel secure at all.
At some point a pickup pulled next to me and asked if I’ve seen some speakers that fell from the bed of his truck 🙂 I mean, come on, really? I quickly and respectfully told him no as the bugs were eating me alive and took off.
Up and down the gravel road I went until I heard a weird animal like noise. I looked around me and nothing but eventually realized its a flat tire. Not bad after 900 miles on some challenging terrain. As I pulled to the side of the road, the flies were all over me, I was smacking them with my hand and they were falling down. I must have killed at least 30 while trying to change my tire as fast as I can. There was no object puncturing the tire but rather pinch flat on some large rocks. Kind of expected as I was running 34 mm tires on 40 psi. To top it off, I broke my favorite pink glasses here. Ahhh
This day was already going south super fast . The knee issue wasn’t even bothering me as my mind was occupied with new challenges and pains. As I went downhill towards the end of the gravel section, I noticed a large puddle in the middle of the road and followed the only set of bicycle tires to the left. As soon as I passed it, I felt my rear tire slipping and was instantly on the ground. My head hit the ground but the speed was so low so the hope was that the damages are minor.
A car pulled up from behind as I was getting off the ground and checking on myself. They were kind enough to offer water and assistance but I refused and went ahead while thanking them. Upon further inspection, all seemed fine and functional as the bicycle fell on the bags but my right hip & glutes were in pain. The front chainring ripped a hole in my right sock and I was bleeding. To top it off, my right palm was bruised and turning blue pretty fast. There were some cuts around my hip and it was painful but all in all nothing that would prevent me from moving forward. Not now after all this work I have done ! Admittedly, holding the handlebars was a challenge so I had to rely on my left hand a lot.
Luckily, I was almost done with the gravel and that was such a relief. I was now pedaling on a flat and smooth pavement in the National park and looking around for bears 🙂 At one particular location there was a small traffic jam with about 5 cars pulled over on both sides of the road and people sticking their heads out the window. I figured they were looking at bears and taking pictures. I looked in the same direction and zoomed pass them but saw nothing. I guess it wasn’t meant to be. There was no time for stopping and playing it a tourist.
This was a moment to truly enjoy the beauty of Grand Teton National Park just south of Yellowstone. I took few quick photos of the scenery but there was no time to waste since Colter Bay Village Convenience Store was the only game around and closing at 9pm.
It was a race against the clock to arrive before 9pm. No way I was going to make it through the night without supplies over this monster of a mountain.
I arrived at the Convenience store with just 30 minutes to spare. It was super busy as there was nothing else around and they also had gas. Everything was extremely expensive but kind of expected in a top tourist location. Sixty dollars was only enough to get me 4 cold sandwiches, almonds, drinks, water and few bags of chips.
As I was pouring water on myself while comfortably sitting on the concrete floor, a gentleman was filling up his bottles from the spigot of clean mountain water that was like 2 feet from me 🙂 I felt like an idiot wasting this water I paid for to get my core temperature down. Although behind schedule, 20 to 30 min break was needed to ensure I am properly hydrated and full before heading out. Next open business was some 60 miles away over Tawgotee pass. Ughh
The pass is named for Togwotee, a subchief under Chief Washakie of the Sheepeater tribe, a branch of the Shoshones. Togwotee led The Jones Expedition over this pass in 1873. Before the expedition, the pass was reported to be an important trade route for native tribes.
About 10 miles later the big climb was awaiting. It was already getting dark, I was at 6700 feet elevation and was to climb up to nearly 10 000 feet. Not the timing of the day I was expecting but kind of too late to worry about it. I figured that this 20 mile hill will not take more than 3 hours and I will get to the top around midnight. The elevation was not really a problem as I didn’t see anything above 8% and the typical gradient was 3% to 5%. At the same time, my knee problem from the day before and fresh injury from crashing out was really slowing me down.
It was surreal to climb at night and I was sure to miss some nice scenery. Here was also where majority of the bears reside. For the first time during the race I fired up my helmet light so I can watch my surroundings. I saw no bear in sight and just ended up having neck issues from looking to the sides the entire time 🙂 I did hear a scratch like noise on the railing and that gave me a lot of adrenaline rush. It was time to sprint up the hill like my life depended on it. . .
The more I climbed, the colder and windier it got. I was not happy with my progress as the average speed was super low. What I planned on being a 3h ascent actually ended up being 4.5 hours of misery. The time stamp on the picture at the top was 1:30 am and I was freezing. My GPS was displaying the lowest temperature during the entire race – 38 F. It was so cold that I had my wool undershirt, 2 Jerseys, Jacket, Pants, 2 pairs of socks and even heating pads. At the same time there was this feeling of relief being on top of Continental Divide, a monumental point in the race.
I bombed down the descent immediately in search of warmer climate. There were some cabins at the bottom of the hill and that was my designated sleep stop for the night. It was time to be extremely careful because the wind was crazy, it was dark and I was freezing.
Somehow, I was caught in the moment and just passed by my sleep stop – Lava Mountain Lodge 😦 This was not cool at all. It turns out that it was not at the bottom of the descent but apparently about half the distance. I had no idea where I can sleep next and that was really frustrating. Might as well go to the next town and try my luck there.
I arrived in Dubois, WY after descending for another hour. There were few hotels in the beginning of town but they all had No Vacancy signs 😦 I entered Motel 6 and it felt great to warm up for a minute. The receptionist was missing in action so I waited. A short 15 min cat nap on the couch and I was up but still nobody at the front desk. I rang the bell, called , nothing, what a mess. Everything tried to beat me down to submission today but I was still standing!
Tired of wasting time I decided to keep moving. As soon as I noticed the local Postal Service I entered and was able to sleep about 2 hours and charge my devices. Just bad timing as it was close to sunrise and the postal service employees were starting to arrive. I can hear them stuffing mail in the PO Boxes behind me. This was also where this eventful day ended.
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