6/6 (posted late)
Today I made it over the continental divide, miles to . Although this is the shortest mileage day since Maryland, the 4,000 feet of climbing added the equivalent of 20 miles to the day. Getting over the divide is a big milestone – there will be more plains and passes to come, but none as intimidating as the Great Plains and the Great Divide.
Last night I joined Tim and his family for campfire stories and s’mores. Tim and Kate had an awful day – with a broken axle on their van, they have no idea how they will get themselves and their gear back to West Virginia without eating up their life savings. But they were cheerful and optimistic and great company for the evening.
I slept well, and woke up at 5:30 this morning, broke camp, ate a big breakfast of oatmeal and a banana, and flavored coffee powder. I popped an ibuprofen pill and poured some ambesol on my toe for good measure. I was intimidated by climbing Togwotee pass at 9500 feet – I just did not know how my body would react to vigorous exercise at that altitude, so I was taking no chances. I planned to go slow, and take several rest stops, and be sure to caffeinate. Noreen stopped by my breakfast table at 6:30 to chat; she was in Dubois because she drove her grandson to a horse camp up in the pass. She wasn’t going to drive all the way back to Iowa and return to collect him, so she was staying at the KOA for the week. She checked how my toe was doing, and we talked about long distance biking and food. I got started around 7.
The first 15 miles or so were not particularly steep. A few miles out of Dubois, a highway roadside sign flashed “Grizzlies Near Highway/ Do Not Approach-Stay In Vehicle.” I made a partial strip stop in a few miles, then stopped again at the National Forest sign to take off my woolen base pants. My front tire was a little soft, so I put air in it. As I headed further into the mountains, the climbs became more frequent and extended, but always seemed to be punctuated by flat stretches or even drops. I hate the drops, they feel like wasted climbing effort. I started to feel winded on the climbs. I began pressure breathing – a high altitude technique I learned from mountaineering legend Ed Veisturs on a guided ascent of Mount Rainier almost 30 years ago. Every fifth breath, I would blow out hard through pursed lips to increase the pressure in my lungs.
Pressure breathing dries you out. I wasn’t sure my one bottle of water would be enough. And as I rode, I thought about grizzly bears. Not approaching was easy, staying “in” my vehicle would not be. I began to wonder if I was foolish not to have thought about bear spray in Dubois. Soon I came to the Lava Mountain Lodge and store – and a sign out front advertising bear spray. I was sold, and I stopped to fill my water bottle too. The shopkeeper demonstrated how to use the canister, and pointed out “it works on people, too.” I tried to picture how bear spray might have let me assert my right to camp on fences in BLM land, and couldn’t picture it.
I planned my first rest stop at the Falls campground, about 23 miles up. When I got there, I found an icy stream by the roadside to cool my Pepsi and had a second breakfast of donuts and soda. I haven’t drunk a Pepsi in years, but I figured I could use the caffeination and I would burn off the sugar.
The climb to Togwotee Pass came sooner past my rest stop than I expected. It was also less difficult than I feared. The grade was significant, but not as steep as the grades I have climbed near home and in the Adirondacks. I kept pressure breathing and took frequent picture stops. When the snow fields extended to the road’s edge, I stopped to make a snowball and throw it at a tree. My aim was good, but my arm strength was not. Clouds were filling the sky, I had noticed mares tails earlier that usually forecast bad weather.
I had planned a lunch stop at Wind River Lake picnic area, which looked like it should be just before the Continental Divide. I figured I would rest up before the last push up hill. As I climbed closer to the summit, the sun disappeared and icy blasts of wind blew from the snowfields. So I stopped on a climb to put all my warm clothes back on.
It turned out that the summit of Togwotee Pass was actually before the picnic area, which was completely snowed in. Rather than post hole the 1/4 mile to the snow covered picnic tables, I crossed a thinner strip of snow to get to a dry ridge with a commanding view of both sides of the pass. As I ate lunch, it began to rain a cold rain. I put my rain pants on and got out my warm gloves for the descent. I moved the tent to the rear rack to make my bike more aerodynamic.
The Continental Divide sign was just past the summit, and I sped down the rain slicked road, bike shimmying in the wind.
My original plan was to camp tonight at Hatchet Campsite, but with a cold rain falling and possibly persisting, I began to consider other options. When I got to Togwotee Lodge, I ducked in out of the rain. They graciously checked the forecast for me, confirmed that the rain would end, and let me sit in the lobby charging my phone until their bar would open at 3 for a celebratory beer. I went to the bar at 3 and had a Wind River Blond Ale. The barmaid had an Eastern European accent, was interested in my trip and was full of information about the road ahead. There had been grizzlies near the lodge the last few days but she did not think they were down at Hatchet. Teton Pass would be steeper and tougher than Togwotee, even though it was much lower. At least the cars went slower there because the road was so full of tight curves.
I left the lodge at about 3:30, wearing all my gear because it was still cold. The ten mile run down to Hatchet was the most spectacular bike ride of my life! After about a mile, the spires of the Tetons glimpsed themselves in the road break in the trees. Glimpses became vistas, as the landscape opened up, and the Tetons spread before me in all their glory. All the while the descending roadway gently bent its curves to the landscape, as my cycling app called out the mile pace – one minute forty seconds, one minute thirty eight seconds, two minutes. I was at Hatchet in no time, with it’s sturdy bear lockers and plenty of available sites (though still close to Rt 26 traffic). I asked Pete the site host if there had been any bear activity at the campground. He said I missed the fun, since earlier in the day there was a sow and cub just over the hill east of the campsite, but the grizzlies had gone north and were well away from the area.
I took a wonderful nap, woke at 6 pm, and cooked most of my remaining food for dinner, with an after dinner campfire in the scented woods. I went to sleep with my bear spray next to my pillow, just in case.