Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day 11 Barren Ground and Big Hill Kemmerer, WY – Flaming Gorge Reservoir Dam 114 miles

The second Wednesday of the 43rd August of my life is one I won’t soon forget.

I got a late start out of Kemmerer and turned 20 easy miles before it got really hot (95 F). The next 20 miles were a struggle as I biked past some seriously arid land in southwest Wyoming. Running out of water is something somebody could do very easily around here, especially pedaling 70 pounds of bike and gear across the country.

I seem to notice the road surface more this year than last year across Canada. Perhaps it is the thinner tires I am riding. Miles 40-70 were tough as the road surface changed from smooth asphalt to rough chip-sealed pebbles. I think it cost me about 5 miles per hour. But later in the afternoon, the road became smooth again, and I pedaled fluidly by the north side of the picturesque Uinta Mountain range. I was told that the snowpack was epic this past winter, and the north slopes of some of the high peaks still held a bit of snow. I spotted my first peregrine falcon of the trip.

So I had pedaled 90 rather uneventful miles, but knew a big hill loomed. I had decided recently in route logistics - and running behind schedule - to wind my way around Flaming Gorge Reservoir. I was told as long as 300 miles ago that the hill awaiting me was a beast. The hill was that and more. The most difficult hill I have pedaled. Are there worse hills? Sure. But in my many travels, and carting four panniers of gear, this is the toughest hill I have pedaled. Nine percent grade for four miles. I would look up hill and say to myself, ‘there is no way I can climb that,’ or just be in denial that the roadside signs were really part of the road I was riding. The forewarning helped, because I effectively compartmentalized the pain. I rode my lowest gear the whole way up, and got into a cadence with my breathing. Instinctively I would lever repeatedly for yet a still lower gear that didn’t exist. Near the top I asked a spectator to take my photo. He was either alarmed by my appearance or by what I was trying to do. I wish I had the energy to smile (above).

The climb chewed up a big chunk of the evening and darkness loomed. I had several more small climbs to navigate. About 9 PM it got to dark to see much of anything, and I had a decision. Make camp along the side of the road – but without water, or bike 12 more miles in the dark. I remembered my friend Chris had participated in a ride in Death Valley, and he had used as head lamp. So I gave it a shot. It worked pretty well, just glad I was no in any of the fallen rock zones. Like running in darkness, one seems to lose a sense of speed; I seemed to be biking faster than I really was. Venus was the first ‘star’ to show itself, and I watched it climb over one of the mountains in front of me. The mountains above Flaming Gorge are covered in beautiful pine trees, but it is also open rangeland; a bit unusual to see cows grazing among ponderosa and lodgepole pines. My headlamp picked up their red eyes pretty well. I didn’t want to have my trip end by broad-siding a black angus on a nighttime bike ride. I also spotted numerous deer with my headlamp. A happy chill went through my spine; I thought of the children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. I finally made campground an hour after donning the headlamp. Some folks were still awake, and directed me to the water.

In retrospect, I probably picked a good time to ascend that horrendous hill. If I had tried this in the middle of a hot desert day, surely I would have sweated out more water than I could carry to replenish myself. My reward for climbing so late in the evening was a glimpse of my first golden eagle of the trip. It was silhouetted against rays of setting sun before it perched on a high cliff. Flaming Gorge? – you bet. The setting sun lit up the cliff rocks in a deep rust color. A spectacular view of the reservoir served as a backdrop to my pedaling. The nighttime air was cool and pleasant. Now, it being close to midnight and a new day fast approaching, I crawl into my tent. A great horned owl hoots downhill from me. Coyotes howl in the distance. On a moonless night far from the city, the Milky Way shines as brightly as I have seen it in years. I have nothing more to say.

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