I slept badly. It was cold, the generator of one of the RV's hummed loudly, reminding me that it's occupants were sleeping soundly in a heated space, and once the voices stopped, I kept a subconscious, yet vigilant ear out for movement in the camp. When the alarm mercifully went off, I shook a layer of ice off of my bivy. 'Stupid Brooks Lake Lodge' I fumed as I packed up, shivering.
The first hour on the bike always hurt. While I was down to one bum achilles that was being helped with the ankle brace that had been destined for the other ankle, mornings always brought stiff knees, stiff ankles, a foggy head. Some people chose to ride late into the night and not get up until sunrise but for some reason, I always preferred going to bed early once the first sleepies hit, and then suffer through the agony of getting up in the dark but for me, the darkness in the morning seemed a lot less spooky than the darkness in the evening.
The road continued its downward trend from the campground and I started kicking myself for not sleeping at a lower altitude as the miles would have been easy to cover. I quickly reached pavement and continued coasting and then, out of the darkness, came the sight that would have me kicking myself for the next hour: Lava Mountain Lodge - Rooms, Food, Free Wi-Fi. My jaw dropped. I'd seen the lodge on Google Earth, I had a waypoint for it in my GPS, I just hadn't registered where it was and didn't realize it was so close. I watched a warm room, a warm meal, free wi-fi, fade into the darkness. I berated myself for a solid hour, continuing to coast out of bear country to the base of Union Pass. Eventually, I let the mistake go, assuring myself that my second go-around at the TD would be faster because I'd actually know what I was doing.
Union Pass brought sunrise over some jagged peaks, I think maybe Gannet, the highest peak in Wyoming. The brilliant colors and the brilliant skyline took the sting out of what the cue sheet called 'a grunt to altitude.' Maybe I was expecting snow, maybe I was expecting a hike-a-bike, but I didn't find Union Pass to be a soul breaker. More of a pleasant jaunt through an area with signs declaring 'Grizzly Country: Special Rules Apply.' I sang. A lot.
The backside was rough, but the cue sheet had told me it would be and I started to discover that the cue sheet liked to exaggerate some features, and then completely neglect to mention others. One thing I did learn is that when the cue sheet said 'Road surface deteriorates', it wasn't kidding. It was a bit of a haul out to the pavement from the bottom of Union Pass, a haul that caused a momentary breakdown that found me sitting on the side of the road with my spoon and jar of peanut butter, but once on the pavement, The Place Cafe soon came into view on the GPS first, and then in real life soon after.
The bar, just open, was empty. In search of a caffeine boost, I stopped and chatted with the bartender while downing three large glasses of Coke. He shook his head in disbelief as I headed out, Pinedale on the horizon.
The road miles went quick. Super quick. Pinedale by lunch! And then the route made a left onto a dirt road for a backroads way into town. My fast speeds quickly plummeted as my tires sunk into a sand/gravel/rock mix rim deep, complete with washboards and a headwind. With Pinedale in sight, it seemed like a bad dream. Luckily, around the corner, after only a few minutes of wallowing, the road surface improved again, and aside from the wind that came to characterize the southern half of the route, it was smooth cruising into Pinedale where I was greeted with a gas station that had not only goodies, but a Subway and a burger joint. Bikepacking heaven.
I ordered a burger and fries first. While that was being made, I got myself a footlong tuna sandwich from Subway to go. After eating, I went to work buying a few select goodies for my Great Basin crossing. I kept them to a minimum because I had a post office drop in Pinedale with food that I was planning on picking up while sending my warm clothes home. I checked out and learned about how the trio of boys had left just a few hours before. The cashiers were very excited about the amount of food they bought, how they'd fit it all on their bikes, and then there was something about tight jerseys and shorts. Big packages in small spaces?
Rolling to the post office, I started dreaming of the goods waiting for me: Cashews, dried mangos, those clifbar gummy ropes. I strutted in, pulled on the door to the desk, and found it locked. What?! It was 2:30 in the afternoon, as confirmed by my watch. Also confirmed by my watch was the fact that it was Saturday. Crud. Dejected, I rolled down to the next gas station in town, and finding myself uninspired by all the food choices, loaded up with what I hoped would be enough to get me to Rawlins.
Rolling down the road, it quickly became apparent that a single burger and fries wasn't enough food and I found myself bonking just past Boulder, WY. I sat down to pout and eat at the base of a hill just as a pickup with two more classic Wyoming characters rolled up. 'You okay?' they asked, leaning out the window. 'Yeah. I just got tired.' They gave me a funny look and kept driving. Tired.
'You don't get tired, Ez, you get bonky. You don't get grumpy, you get hangry. Now MOVE. And eat.'
I munched along as the road did exactly what Shifferly had told me it would do on the drive up. It turned into a roller coaster. With a stout tailwind, I found myself bombing down the smooth dirt road only to nearly reach the top of the next roller, over and over again. The route here actually follows the Divide for several miles and the views to either side were expansive, beautiful, magical. It also helped that it was sunset and the fading rays of light set the world on fire.
Before I knew it, I had reached my preplanned destination, the Sweetwater River Information Center that Shifferly had told me was a bit of an oasis before the Basin. I pulled up, ate my tuna sandwich with a spoon, watched the character that visit a rest stop late at night in the middle of Wyoming (I was only slightly scared), did my morning chores, such as filling up 7 liters of water, washing my chamois, packing up everything I could, and set up camp. Aside from having to move my camp over by five feet when the sprinkler system turned on, I slept well under the giant Wyoming sky.