I had my alarm set for bloody early and got up right away. If I was going to stop early I had to hit the road early. My head felt a bit foggy, must have been the Fat Tyre or was it the sea food as I felt a bit "bleh" in general. No matter, it was another morning. Time to ride.
I rolled out of the golf course just on first light and turned right, onto the route. Only the route wasn't there on my gps. No magenta line. I thought that I had a gps glitch so I reloaded the track. Still no magenta line. I zoomed out and sure enough, there it was back behind me. This is when it hit me that I was off route! Of course, Squirrel Creek was on route. What the hell had I been thinking? I turned around and rode the 0.4 mile back to that corner and onto the route.
The morning was still and quiet. Just me and the Tetons.....
It was soo worth being off route yesterday and getting to ride here this morning and not yesterday with that 30mph wind. I soon rolled past Squirrel Creek Lodge which was right beside the route....grrrr. Idiot!
I had seen the Targhee National Forest signs last time we were here, a few years back. Who would have thought I would be back, on a mountain bike in the Tour Divide?
Of course the road promptly turned to snot. It went up and it was covered with a thick coat of energy sucking gravel. I could not have dealt with this yesterday. Today, refreshed, I simply got on with it.
As I started to climb into the forest a few cars went past. The talcum powder fine dust was choking and it took a while to disperse with zero wind so I took a moment in the sun.
Lots of pinchy, rutted climbs followed and I could see multiple tyre tracks in front of me. It was a kind of game to try to figure out whose they were and how old they were. I could tell some were from yesterday, but one set looked very fresh. I soon came up behind Mitchell P on a climb. I thought I was going slow so it was great (for me) to catch someone and drop them quickly. It must have been crushing though for poor Mitchell. I had been there!
This sign meant we were getting somewhere. That somewhere was Flagg Ranch Resort in Yellowstone National Park. It was still a few climbs away but I began to pass campers and a few cyclists so I figured I was getting close.
I rolled into the parking lot of Flagg Ranch, dodging RVs and cars. It was a rude shock to be thrust into civilisation again, me being used to quiet roads and lost in my thoughts. I dumped my bike against a picnic table with some others, grabbed my cash and marched inside to the dining room. There I saw Doug sitting at a table with a female racer. Asking if they minded me joining them I got to meet Alice D. They were just finishing up as I was starting or so they said. Maybe it just wasn't a pretty sight watching me meet breakfast.....
Filled to the brim I waddled outside where Alice was finishing drying her tent and Doug was chatting to some tourers. I chatted to Alice for a while. She was the womens Single Speed record holder from last year but this year she had issues like a busted bottom bracket on day 1 and a broken seat rail. Her new seat had arrived at Flagg Ranch and she had just fitted it. The broken seat was sitting on the park bench. She asked me to take a photo......of her seat.......so I unwittingly did......
Errr...not that seat.......this one..........
It was hard core of her to have ridden all this way with a broken seat rail but then again, it was hard core to have single speeded all this way. Quicker than I had on a geared bike. Respect!
I wandered back into the c-store and stocked up with some snacks as I wasn't sure how far I would go today. My notes had me aiming for Lava Mountain Lodge but I had higher ambitions today. My bags bulging and Camelbak full, I bid Doug and Alice good morning and headed off toward the Tetons.
This was a major road in a major national park. in fact, the first national park in the world. At least there was a good shoulder on the road but working against me was the attention seeking scenery that had drivers (and me) not really paying attention to where they are going so I was slightly afraid of being mangled by a huge RV. Of course, there isn't a single vehicle in this photo!
I climbed for a while right out of Flagg Ranch with my full belly and all. Not fun. but then I enjoyed some major downhill action on silky smooth road. All the while getting closer to the Grand Tetons.
I came to the Teton National Park entrance sign and watched bemused as a dad tried to get his wife, two kids and two dogs to pose just so before he raced in for the self timer family shot. Of couse, a dog blinked or a kid barked so it took a while. For my patience he kindly offered to take a photo of me, one of the few non-selfies I have.
From here the road continued down and I saw a sustained 60km/h (35mph). There was much rejoicing....
And just when you think you can't get any closer to the Tetons....you do! I wanted to go into touring mode right here. Stupid race.
I had to be careful as cars were pulling over, buses were pulling over, RVs were pulling over and then they were all pulling back out. Doorings, sideswipes and full on rundowns were highly likely. More so than a bear attack I reckon.
Heading east through Moran Junction, where the Jackson Hole road met Rockerfeller Parkway, the Tetons were still right there. At 7000ft above the lake they really had a presence.
Turning off the main road toward Turpin Meadow the climb began again but at least the road was quiet.
I stopped at the Buffalo Valley road cafe for a sandwich and a milkshake. There were views out across the valley and I could see the RV park our family stayed in during our visit in 2012.
From here I had to pass Turpin Meadow ranch and the campground. The campground had been closed because it was too high of a bear-encounter risk. This was serious grizzly country.
Turpin Meadow came and went, then the climbing started again. It was a still day and very hot in the sun. This made the air thin and me...slow. It gave me time to work on my whistling though as it looked like a bear might be around any corner!
It was stunning country and hard not to stop and take it all in but again I felt very alone out here so pressed on.
I did pass two guys on horses along here. The lead horse started to spook so I stopped, said hi and that I would wait for them to pass. They thanked me and said the the horse didn't know what I was until I started talking. I apologised and said I would have started talking earlier.....if I had had the breath to do it. They laughed at me. I laughed at their dumb horses. I call that one even.
Eventually I came to Togwotee Lodge (pronounced Toga-tee) which was right on the highway. The route went bush back near Moran Junction when it could have just climbed straight up the highway and shaved miles off. At this point I would have been happy if the rest of the ride was on dead flat, straight, sealed road all the way to Mexico! Despite the exquisite weather and scenery, my sense of humour was being sorely tested.
At the lodge, standard top-up ensued.
While I rested I got talking to one of the off duty reception staff who said this place was pretty quiet in summer but went off in winter. All of the cabins and snow mobiles that I had just climbed past out the back sort of gave that away though. A tourer, whose bike you can see in the picture above. came along for a chat. He knew about the Divide Race and the Trans America race that was happening at the moment. He told me Jesse Carlsson was crushing it in the Tran America. Way to go Jesse! We chatted bikes for a while before I said it was time to make a move.
That move was going to be on the main highway for a while as the route climbed Togwotee Pass. It was getting cold now but was bearable as long as I kept moving.
The scenery was spectacular again as I approached the highest pass on the ride so far, Togwotee Pass.
I almost went over the pass and down the steep road that beckoned but something said "no". I checked the gps and sure enough I had to take a left at the Wind River Lake picnic ground and track via Brooks Lake Rd. Holy picture postcard perfect Batman!!
This was a spectacular section of trail where I snapped away at the scenery while whistling madly and spinning frenetically. It looked like bear country, even more so than any since Canada.
There was ice still on the side of the trail.
I felt super slow on the climb as I was now around 10 000ft.
I was very glad when the road began descending and I had to use brakes again.
Hooting along at 40-50km/h, a woman with her kids almost cleaned me up with her huge truck as she cut a blind corner. I had enough room to move but was not very impressed with her "there won't be anything coming" technique.
Brooks Lake road popped me back onto the highway, the same highway as before but pointing in a very downhill fashion. I was soon at Lava Mountain Lodge where it was time to fill the tank again. They tried to sell me ribs with sides but I just felt like the sides today. I got a mountain of coleslaw and potato salad for about $4.50. I still couldn't get over how cheap food is in this country!
I tuned into the lodge's wifi to see where everyone was. I could see Beth and Simon were part way across the CDT alternate that formed the route this year, as opposed to the Union Pass section of previous years. Greg and Evan, the Kiwis were just in front of them with Robb Orr. While I loved the look of this lodge and really wanted to stay, it was only 6pm and I had at least 4 hours daylight left. Time to man-up and press on. I topped up my water and did just that.
Very soon the route turned off the highway and took to the dirt, climbing up into the hills. I was grovelling along with plenty of time to think about this move. I was following tyre tracks in the dust when I noticed a huge bear paw print on the trail. It was very crisp looking. I looked away. If I didn't see it, it didn't exist....I pretended I didn't see it.
It was getting late as I crested the climb then bombed down into a wide, open valley. A few trucks passed me here, the occupants all dressed up like they were going out to dinner. I waved and they waved back. This was nice.
Then I came to the CDT alternate. I think Scott Morris found this section last year on his mega CDT bikepack trip and thought it would be a more fitting section for a mountain bike race than the sealed road up and over Union Pass. Sounds plausible.
Arriving at the trail head at about 8pm I immediately noticed all of the "bear aware" signs and bear box for food. The trail itself is narrow and looks dark. "How long is this thing?" I ask myself knowing I don't know the answer. I zoom out on the gps then put the pointer on Union Pass road. 11km - in a straight line. Hmmm, I really don't want to camp here. I really don't want to go back to Lava Mountain but I really don't want to go into that bear filled forest. Again, I give myself an uppercut and think if I pedal really hard, 11km won't take long.
It starts out just like I plan with fast flowing trail but then as I get into the old growth section of the forest it gets dark, very, very still and there is fallen timber everywhere making it hard to see far. I am whistling like crazy - until a hike-a-bike section sees me off and out of breath pushing up a very steep climb. Something in the order of 30-35%. I can't even whistle. All I can hear are my footfalls and rasping breath in the thick silence.
Get. Me. The. Fuck. Out. Of. Here
As soon as the trail levels I remount and even Jay Petervary himself wouldn't have stayed with me! I smoke out of the trees into a clearing with a CDT blaze on a pole. I am suddenly on a mountain top, a huge, open, flat mountain top. And I am brave again. Fuck you bears, I am stopping to take photos!
Now I can see why they included this section of trail. From up here there are snow capped mountain ranges on three sides. It is a dead still, warm, even though the sun is setting and though I am at 10000ft. It is simply stunning....
I make up for the lack of photos back there, where I was terrified Dave.
I don't dally too long though as I know there will be a similar ring of trees on the drop off this mountain top meadow.
I soon come up to a huge herd of Elk that are trying to cross the trail in front of me and jump a fence. The first 10 or so get across but then I enter their comfort zone and they gallop along, a constant 200 metres ahead, trying to jump the fence, then running on again. I can hear them getting agitated and figure there are at least 50 of them. They weight a few hundred kilograms each and I am all alone. I stop for a minute and they all cross the trail then jump the fence. They are happy. I am happy.
I see the tyre tracks of the other riders on the trail in front of me, as I have done all race but this time I know who they belong to. They are at least 3-4 hours old meaning their riders are probably 30-40 miles ahead. A very safe buffer here on the divide.
As I descend off the mountain I have another encounter with deer. This time I stop right away and let them cross as I don't need to agitate them and they won't stop until they get across. The time for photography has passed. It is too dark and I just want to get out of here. There are several campgrounds along the Union Pass road and I figure I will camp at one of them.
Well after dark I pass the first one. It consists of a toilet block on some semi flat ground. This will do. I check in the male toilet and find it is quite large and clean. There is no way I am sleeping outside so I wheel my bike inside and lock the door. I lay my tent out then my mat and sleeping bag. There is plenty of room in here. Obviously, this is snow country and they must be designed to be emergency shelters in bad weather. Good thinking.
I manage to stretch, eat and check my map from the safety and comfort of my thunderbox. I had a pretty good day today considering I started in the rough (golf pun) and puttered along to Flagg Ranch (see what I'm doing...) then drove through Yellowstone. All up it was a 218km (135mi) and 3100m (10 200ft) day until my hole-in-one.