My alarm was becoming a dreaded thing. It went off and I quickly silenced it knowing that Warren was planning on sleeping for an extra half an hour. I dropped my feet over the edge of the bed and rotated my right ankle. Not perfect but 90% better. I flexed and extended my left foot. My achilles cried out in protest, but not nearly as loud as it had cried the night before. I promised it I'd spin more, knowing that I had some flat miles coming up. I tested the grip on my bum wrist: far from perfect, but better. Pus was no longer oozing from my cut. There was a coffee maker in the room. Life was looking up.
I rolled out just as Warren was getting out of bed. The hotel owner's dog barked at me as rolled into the darkness. Then the sky began to glow with a brilliance I'm not even going to try to describe. I rolled quickly along the smooth pavement in the aerobars, pressure off my wrist, spinning, pressure off my achilles. The endless timber that had characterized the first five days of the route opened up to huge views and huge landscapes. I clearly didn't stop to take a picture. The magic of the moment seeped into every muscle as I rolled along effortlessly. Pain-free. So these were the Tour Divide legs that Matthew Lee spoke of.
I covered the 100 miles to Lima in short order with no major climbs and the major obstacle of the day being the incessant headwind for the final descent and seven miles of pavement into Lima. Beyond excited about life, I stopped at Jan's Cafe and ordered a burger for there in addition to my traditional large orange juice and large soda, an order of fried chicken and french fries to go, and a salad. Still loaded with food, I headed off determined to make it to Sawtell in Idaho, 85 miles away.
I knew it was flat but this was my first lesson in the power of a bad road surface to reduce forward progress to a crawl. The washboards were terrible, the wind even worse. The pass signifying the Montana-Idaho border seemed to never come. Then a pickup pulled up next to me, I was almost afraid to look up, but when I did, it was photog Eddie Clark, fellow Coloradoan shooting photos of the race. He played leapfrog with me for miles in the fading golden light taking pictures of my junk show with my knee warmers down around my ankles, arm warmers around my wrists, bags hanging loose, a baggie of fried chicken hanging out of my pack. I make bike packing look good. Somehow Eddie still made me look graceful (Picture here at Mountain Flyer), he must be a stinking good photog. I cleared the top of the pass, took the obligatory picture of the border crossing and continued pedaling through the RV parks and houses of Sawtell.
Darkness fell and I continued to coast along the road when I looked down at the GPS and swore. My little arrow was no longer on the red line. I backtracked and found the turn, a rough dirt road heading straight into the woods. Straight into grizzly country. 'Be brave, be strong,' I told myself and pedaled into the darkness. I couldn't bivy, I had a bag full of fried chicken. It was Sawtell Resort or bust.
I sang. The song of the trip was the Sound of Music song Do-re-mi and I came up with all sorts of lyrics for the tune. When I got really scared, the tune changed to The Song that Never Ends, using The Trail that Never Ends version. Then I talked smack to the bears, told them that little 130 lb Ez was going to scare them. That a big ol' 1,000 pound grizzly was more scared of me than I was of them. Still, I was pretty excited to see the lights of the resort in the distance and pull up. Unfortuantely, I missed my one-hotel-per-state opportunity and found them closed for the night. Still, there was an RV park with facilities, so I threw my bivy down under some shelter, downed my friend chicken and fries, and slept.
186 miles for the day. Bum achilles and all.
I woke up and enjoyed the use of indoor facilities. They even had a shower which would have been awfully tempting had I known about it when I pulled up. Still, the flush toilets, toilet paper, and running water in the sink made the morning civilized and I rolled towards the infamous Idaho rails to trails. I had braced myself for the worst, knowing that some people talked with dread about the section but that Jill Homer had enjoyed it. Jill and I seem to enjoy similar things but I was wary.
The miles didn't pass quickly, but after the harsh washboards of the roads south of Lima, the softer, abeit slower surface was welcome. In my Google Earth and blog sluething I had found the Flagg Ranch just 30 miles from where I had slept. I was excited for the breakfast buffet and I rolled along in my happy place when far down the trail, I spied a big, black creature. It scurried off to the side as I approached. Crud. Bear. I made sure my bear spray was accessible though I figured that if it had taken off, it would be gone by the time I got there. It wasn't. But it also wasn't a bear. It was just another Eddie sighting, complete with giant black down jacket. I told him not to scare me like that and that I was off to breakfast in twelve miles.
The Tetons came into view. The route rolled through giant plains, I counted down the miles to breakfast and when I approached the waypoint on the GPS I found a run down sign for the Squirrel River Resort. I swung into it: deserted. This was no good. I found a note on the door stating that someone needed food or information, to call a number. Crud. I had plenty of food and there were more resupplies I'd pass that day, but I was upset. I cursed Google Earth. I ate something, which was my go-to response to being irritated and pedaled.
Then I saw it, a sign: Flagg Ranch - 30 miles. What??!! 'Way to be on top of things Ez, really.' Up, up, up the road went, passing the sign saying road closed for winter season indicating snow ahead. At the top, just like at the top of all the other hills, the road went down and I charged through the first snowbank. At the second snowbank, I found a car, clearly trying to get through, the owner red in the face, covered in sweat, I'm not really sure what was going on. But there again, was Eddie with a shovel, clearing the pass so he could get photos. I informed him that Flagg Ranch wasn't back there and he laughed. He said he wasn't sure what I was talking about earlier in the morning, that maybe I knew something that he didn't.
I rolled down to the actual Flagg Ranch to find the restaurant closed. Thwarted again. I bought some sandwiches, got the lowdown on what the boys ahead of me had bought (Clifbars, yuck!), downed some food (smoothie, tuna sandwich) and rolled. The road went in the direction the majority of roads on the TD go: Up. Eventually though, like all roads, it turned downwards and I was treated to stunning views of Jackson Lake and the Tetons. The Tetons really do make up one of the most stunning skylines out there and I was sad to see them go as I turned up towards the Buffalo Valley.
I knew I had two passes to get over: Togwotee, where DaveB has a snowbike race I think, and Union. I was expecting snow on both. I sat at the bottom of the Togwotee climb to eat as I found myself looking for bivy spots even though it was only six in the evening. I pulled out my cue sheets searching for a good end destination for the day somewhere between Togwotee and Union Passes. I found Brooks Lake Lodge and somehow the lodge had made it onto my 'special' cue sheet of places to stay. It was 22 miles away and seemed like a good destination. Reenergized by the thought of a bed and shower, I rallied up the pass. The top, which was supposed to be snowy was a bit muddy, but nothing like what I was expecting. I started down, singing at the top of my lungs knowing I was deep in bear country. That's about when I came around the corner and saw two grizzly cubs sprint across the road. I slammed on my brakes thinking, 'I just missed mommy'. All bravery got set aside as I armed my bear spray and slowly rolled down the road.
Eventually the bear spray got put away as I was going to do more harm to myself trying to ride with it in one hand than a grizzly was going to do to me and I rolled up to the Brooks Mountain Lodge. It looked posh and I went through the giant gate. After some wandering around, a grounds keeper found me. I told him I was told I could get a room. He told me I was wrong, but that there was a campground just down the road. While I think he was legitimately concerned about my safety, he made a point of escorting me to the gate. Crud.
Not wanting to ride in the dark as I was scared shitless, to put it mildly, I pulled into the campground to find three giant RV's set up and was greeted by a classic Wyoming character, complete with cowboy hat and gun in holster on his waist. I told him my situation: I'd seen grizzlies, I was scared, I just wanted to sleep. The campground wasn't officially open until tomorrow and he invited me to camp in the space next to his crew. I chatted with them while I ate my tuna sandwich, sad to turn down the elk steak that they offered me. I fell asleep to the sound of their conversation, comforted by the thought that as long as they were awake and talking, the bears would stay away.