72.4 mi / 11.3 mph / 3807 ft. climbing
Home: Twin Pines Lodge
Now well rested two days after our record-distance hike, it’s time to try a record-distance bike ride. After spending weeks thinking about taking the Great Divide off-road route around the west side of the Wind River range, in the end I decided that we should just play it safe and backtrack north a bit so that we could stick to the paved roads on the east side of the mountains. But that means we need to make it across 72 miles of mostly-nothing, and over Togwotee Pass, to reach Dubois. Well, we don’t need to. There are some USFS campgrounds along the way, but they’re first-come, first-served, which always makes me a little nervous (especially this close to a National Park). And the first one is “only” 25 miles of flat riding away, still leaving a tough day (including the entirety of Togwotee Pass) for the next day. And the second one is after the top of the Pass, and if we could make it that far, it would seem silly to not just let gravity pull us down for another 25 miles to get to Dubois. Plus, it had been 19 days since we’d left Red Lodge, which was the last place we’d stayed where we could pee without going outside. That means we were going to stay for two nights in civilized Dubois no matter what, so taking two days to get there (where at least one of them would be really easy) felt like too much rest even for slow-goers like us.
My hope was that with the tailwind, and the structure of the ride (ending with 30 miles of downhill), the record distance would actually end up feeling relatively easy for Rett. Still, we did stop at the Signal Mountain store 10 miles north of Jenny Lake to stock up on insurance-food, just in case we wanted/needed to stop at one of those campgrounds.
Before leaving the park boundary we had to run the gauntlet between lines of cars pulled over on each side of the road, with people walking about, sitting on their roofs, and looking to the hills. Turns out they were all looking at a couple of grizzlies, but again like in the Lamar Valley we didn’t even stop, because we could tell that no one was actually looking through the scopes they’d set up, communicating that the bears had already moved on. That means we spent five nights in Grand Teton National Park without seeing any big mammals, not even the moose or pronghorns we saw here in our two night stay in 2021.
This was our 15th day in Wyoming, but leaving the park on US-26/US-287 was the first time we’ve been on a route built for something besides tourism. And contrary to what you’d expect, Wyoming highways are great to ride on, mostly because the wide shoulders essentially give us our own lane. For most of the nearly 3000 foot climb the surface was a rough chip-seal, so that made it annoying, but it’s impressive how much easier a tough ride can be if you’re able to completely ignore the (few) vehicles on the road. The climb also had an unusual number of flat sections built-in, so while that meant we needed to ride 17 miles to get to the top, it also meant there was plenty of time to catch our breath. At every stop we would turn around, and the Tetons were still there, neither of us quite ready to say goodbye.
Two-thirds of the way up, the Togwotee Mountain Lodge appeared out of nowhere, so we pulled into the store for some cold drinks. The friendly clerk had no problem with us setting up and eating our packed lunch at one of their picnic tables outside. I didn’t exactly ask about spreading our tent parts all across their lawn like a couple of hobos to dry them out, but it’s not that fancy of a lodge. Another cyclist joined us, a young guy doing the Great Divide route. He sheepishly admitted that, while he initially wanted to stay as off-road as possible, now he’s pretty happy whenever the route puts him on pavement for a bit like it did today. And for these traffic-avoiders, a lightly-traveled wide-shouldered highway is a pretty good piece of pavement to be dumped on.
So we made it to the top! 43 miles and 2800 feet up is a pretty good day for us, but we had plenty of time and energy so no desire to stop here. As I had hoped, the remaining 30 miles were glorious, taking us all the way to Dubois with almost no effort. The 72 miles was the longest loaded ride Rett had ever done, and her second-longest ever! The 6 hours and 23 minutes of pedaling time was an even more-extreme record of our nomadacy than the distance, but somehow it felt like half the time of our previous record (our gravel Horse Whisperer epic), even though it was nearly 40 minutes longer. I must admit that I was quite pleased with the way that the day played out almost exactly as the data suggested it could, but it still needed Rett to be willing to trust that she would be able to do it.
Our two nights are at the Twin Pines Lodge, so even though we’ve returned to civilization, we’re staying in a log building, just like the last two times we were under a roof (our Roosevelt cabin in Yellowstone, and the Ranger Rider Lodge in Silver Gate).
Dubois is a pretty unusual town, striking a perfect balance (thus far) between being a local center of commerce and a tourist gateway to the National Parks. We saw a guy with literal spurs on at the gas station, and there is a hill near the center of town tunneled into with timber supports and other old mining equipment, and neither seemed to be there to get tourist dollars. The laundromat has an enormous cattle skull surrounding the entrance, but it feels like something the owner just thought would be cool, rather than a gimmick to get people into the laundromat (not least because doing laundry isn’t something people usually do in response to marketing). We did our laundry in response to it being almost three weeks since our last wash, but we certainly walked through the skull!
For dinner, we were excited to hook up again with Karrie and Fred, who we met at Jenny Lake two days ago. They had chosen the two-day ride to get here, but it made more sense for them because they did a hike yesterday morning near Jenny Lake, and then rode the “only” 25 miles to the Forest Service campground at the base of the climb. And then did the up-and-over today and ended up at the KOA directly across the street from us.
We went to the Cowboy Cafe, where again, there seemed to be actual cowboys mixed in with the out-of-staters. Karrie and Fred already felt like old friends, and it was great to spend more time with them. We felt no shame in playing into the bike-tourer stereotype by all going for pie al-la-mode for dessert (of which this place has a dozen types and seems to be quite famous for). Good food, good town, good friends…it seems Wyoming is good for more than just its parks!