67.5 mi / 11.3 mph / 1786 ft. climbing
Home: 1st Choice Motel
The alarm went off at 4:30am, to give us the best chance of avoiding the day’s strongest winds. But the whistling coming from the window in our dark room told us that we had already failed. Oh well, nothing to do but get going anyway, and at least our early-rise means that if we’re reduced to 6mph speeds, we’ll still be able to get to Rawlins before nightfall!
Not that we expected it, but no late-night arrivals turned up, so we still had the entire church to ourselves. With no grocery store in town, we had our camp-staple of bagel sandwiches, but wow, heating up the bagels in an oven works way better than putting them in our frying pan on our one-temperature stove! We rolled our bikes up the ramp and out the door into the pre-dawn, and navigated the sandy road back out to the empty highway, getting rolling by 6:20am
The already-strong wind was actually blowing in our favor to start, so the first ten miles were an easy cruise toward the orange glowing sky, with the still-bright full moon giving a Tatooine feel to the already-otherworldy empty land we were riding through.
Then the road made a slight turn toward the south, and the ease was over. I’m not sure if it was some effect of the landscape, or just the wind evolving over time, but suddenly we were hit with winds coming from nearly the opposite direction that the forecast had predicted. As Rett struggled to stay above 8mph, I was keeping an eye on her rear tire. Did it seem a bit flat? Maybe, but it couldn’t have been much flatter than it was when we were cruising at 20mph fifteen minutes ago, so that means it wasn’t doing anything to slow her down. The fight against the wind (and the knowledge that we had more than 50 miles to go) was already bringing her down, so I kept my mouth shut and took a watchful-waiting approach.
Ten miles later, she couldn’t push any further and came to a stop. That gave me a chance to squeeze the tire, and whoa, yeah, that has hardly any air in it! We were close to the highway junction at Muddy Gap, where there was the only bit of civilization on today’s ride (a gas station), so we pushed on to change it there where we could efficiently combine the work with other chores.
I attempted to park where the gas station building would break the wind for us, but somehow failed at that, proving how strangely the weather was behaving around here. While I got to work on the tire, Rett went inside to get us some 2nd-breakfast. Much to my surprise, she came out with a couple of burritos (heated in the microwave) and sodas! I don’t think it was even 9am, but it’s always a challenge to get Rett to eat as much as she should while we’re riding, so, right on, let’s have burritos! The slow leak was from a small thorn (which became a fast leak when I pulled it out of the tire), so I got a new tube in, we finished our other business, and headed straight south on the new highway.
I don’t know if it was the burrito, or the caffeine from her Diet Dr. Pepper, or the fully-inflated tire, or riding without her Brim (which we’d removed because the wind was catching it like a sail and hurting her neck), but somehow Rett went from struggling to make it downhill in a crosswind, to cutting with force straight into a headwind and up a hill. I suppose it was probably a combination of all four of those things, plus her own internal choice to kick ass.
When we crested the top of the long uphill, the wind finally started blowing in the direction that it was supposed to have been aiming all day long. Still nothing helpful, but at least it was now pushing straight into our right sides and not our fronts, so we were able to move forward at 12mph on the flat sections.
The 67 miles we had to do today didn’t strike me as anything extreme since it was shorter than two of our last three rides, so I needed to keep reminding myself that this would have been the longest ride of our nomadacy if we had done it just five days ago! And we didn’t have an off-day before this ride, so the 126-mile total of yesterday and today was a new two-day record. And it certainly hasn’t been the ideal conditions one hopes for when they’re shooting for a record.
Eventually our burritos wore off and it was time for lunch, but there were no places to stop, not even a slight hill on the side of the road that would shield us from the wind. We ended up settling for a short driveway heading off the highway, and I don’t know if it was the distant snow fence somehow breaking up the flow, the fact that we were ever-so-slightly in a dip in the land, or just dumb luck, but we were somehow able to eat without the wind trying to tear every bit of food away from us.
If we had to climb a steep 700-foot hill to yet another crossing of the Continental Divide today, putting that hill at mile 52 is not how I would have drawn it up. But that’s how Wyoming drew it, so that’s what we have to do. Again, Rett exceeded my expectations. In the rough mental calculations I always do, I assumed that we’d be able to average 10mph over the last 20 miles up and down the hill, but we did it at 11.3mph!
We would have been slower than that, but shortly before we crossed the Divide marker, trail magic rained down upon us! A passing minivan pulled over onto the shoulder, and as we approached, the tailgate rose remotely like we were in an episode of Knight Rider and were supposed to roll straight up inside. Instead, we stopped, and the two passengers in the back seat turned around and told us to grab whatever we wanted out of the cargo area in front of us (cold Gatorade, lemonade, water, granola, etc.) They themselves were also recipients of the driver’s trail magic, and more-appropriate ones since they were CDT through-hikers catching a lift from the trail into Rawlins. But the driver, Half Moon, is an equal-opportunity trail angel, happy to help cyclists as well; he was keeping an eye out for a Swiss pair he had just helped out, and shared that he would be driving them to Denver from Breckenridge. When I simply mentioned that Denver was also our destination, he said “I’m not sure I can get all four of you in the van with your bikes, but…” Haha, no man, we should be able to ride there on our own, but holy shit, thank you so much for thinking with such a generous mind!
It’s not the first time we’ve been recipients of a trail angel’s kindness (kind of amazing since we’re a separate species from the through-hiker culture), but it’s the first time I’ve contemplated its origin. I always talk about the structural imbalance in the WarmShowers network of bike tourers: since most people live in cities, and most bike touring happens outside of cities, WarmShowers hosts in cities are underutilized, while those in rural areas near major cycling routes get inundated. Despite that, the network is generally a good way for members of the bike touring community to return the generosity that they’ve received. But in through-hiking, the imbalance is even more extreme, almost infinitely extreme: essentially no one has a house within walking distance of the major through-hiking trails, so a through-hiking housing-exchange network is completely infeasible. That means if you’re a through-hiker who wants to give back to your community with the same generosity WarmShowers hosts have, you essentially need to be mobile, going out in the world to give help to your brethren.
We gladly accepted a couple of cold drinks, and sent them on their way to Rawlins. Refreshed and revitalized, we crested the Divide (8!) and then rolled the final 10 miles to town. We were in not only before dark, but also before check-in time at our motel, but we lucked into an early check-in, in a first-floor room, right next to the external door, the perfect bike touring setup! We decided without much discussion to immediately extend our reservation to two nights. We saw a couple walk out wearing CDT shirts who looked vaguely familiar, and then saw (maybe?) the Swiss Great Divide-riding couple ride by, so we’re clearly in an adventure-travel nexus here!
Multiple Taco Bell and Wal-Mart visits gave us our fill of civilization, and I don’t think we missed much Rawlins tourism besides that.