The Great Basin. 100 some odd miles of nothingness. Heat, wind, it was considered a crux of the Tour Divide. It was also on my list of things I really wanted to see on the Divide, and Shifferly had spoken fondly of the section so I awoke with a mixture of dread and anticipation. Again, the indoor facilities were a blessing, the second half of my tuna sandwich divine, the cold shot of Starbucks Via...well, I spent much of the route dreaming about a good cup of coffee.
I rolled in the dark with the first rays of light emerging from behind the horizon as I passed through South Pass City first and then Atlantic City soon after. The steep climb out of Atlantic City brought the Great Basin proper. It was exactly as it had been described to me. A giant expanse of nothing. It was eerily silent as I pedaled and I wondered where the infamous winds that plagued/graced the basin were. 'C'mon wind!' I encouraged it as I pedaled with the pronghorns, which just as promised, bounded alongside me as I pedaled. And then, as the sun reached the critical hight, or a certain pressure differential was reached, the wind started. Lightly at first, then a little strong, and before I knew it, I had a 40 mph tailwind blowing me across the nothingness.
I may have hooted and hollered for a good chunk of the way. And unfortunately, when cruising at such a pace, I didn't stop to take any pictures. Epic fail. I wish I would have taken one of Cjell Money, the leader of the NoBos. I saw him coming from miles away, a speck at first, then a legitimate bike. When we finally intersected, I had to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. He was on a Blacksheep with a funky fork, long, flowing blond hair with a beard to match, goofy sunglasses, no helmet, a cut off tank top, cut off shorts, tennis shoes. He seemed an unlikely character to meet in the middle of the Basin, yet there he was. We chatted for a few minutes and he lamented that stopping to talk to each SoBo for three minutes would add up to hours, so I sent him on his way, a little confused at what had just happened.
But along the miles and miles of coasting (yes, I seriously coasted across most of the Basin), I knew that there was going to be a time to pay the price. Shifferly had said so. Just 20 miles away from the end of the dirt were two sections where the road doubled back on itself, straight into the jaws of the wind. Progress slowed from well into the double digits of speed to well under 5 mph. First for a two mile section, then for a 10 mile section. I called upon all the Front Range wind riding that I had done, of all the times I'd battled the wind up highway 135, I put myself in my happy place, recalled the crazy eyes that Matthew Lee had in the Ride the Divide on this section, and laughed at the absurdity of my pace.
With the pavement came the end of my food supplies. While I still had a half jar of peanut butter and some granola, the day of wind had dried me out to the point I couldn't stand the thought of it. While water was still plentiful, food intake was no longer an option. The 40 miles of pavement into Rawlins, including the final kick in the nuts Continental Divide crossing just outside of town, were sub-fun. People talk about the Basin, what people should talk about is the final 40 miles to Rawlins.
I stopped at the first gas station and when the cashier came out and asked me to not lean my bike against the glass, I threw such an irrational fit, I kept riding. Instead, I found myself at the Rawlins grocery store where several people knew about the race. In my bonked state, I don't think I made very good conversation. With some chicken tenders, french fries, and a gallon of liquid, I started to feel life creeping back in.
I had ridden the Basin and survived.
Preparing to leave, Jarral rolled up looking about as wind battered as I had felt when I first rolled into town. Being grocery shopping challenged, I directed him towards the deli and told him I was going to try to make it 25 miles up the road, 25 miles closer to the Colorado border. I made it 12 when the sleepies hit and I found a construction site with an outhouse. It was no Sweetwater River Information Center, but the trailers sheltered from the wind, the ground was flat, and I was well hidden from any passerby.
My first recollection of hitting the road in the morning was looking at the ground and seeing Jarral's tire tracks. 'He passed me in the middle of the night! How could he!' My second recollection was of being extremely tired. Bonkersville tired. I pedaled slowly, shoving massive amounts of food down hoping to break the bonk. I watched Jarral's tracks wander drunkenly around the road, at one point of time doing a little loopty-loop before continuing. I couldn't help but laugh as I watched his track weave back and forth, from one side of the road to the other, on the steep hills that characterized the final miles of Wyoming.
I felt like the climbing would never end. Up. That's all I saw. The road surface left something to be desired. 'I just want to get to Colorado!' I got to Aspen Alley and scoffed. 'That's nothing. Snodgrass has this beat any day. I can't believe people get excited about this!'
That was when I realized I was deep in Bonkersville, deeper than I'd been the entire Divide, and seemingly a permanent resident for the day as I'd eaten several thousand calories with no discernible shift in energy levels. 'This is beautiful, Ez, you're just having a bad day' I told myself. 'Keep eating, keep moving. Slow miles are better than no miles.' That's when I ran into another NoBo rider. He told me to keep it up, Brush Mountain Lodge was near and Matthew Lee's wife was a good cook. I was confused, what was Matthew Lee's wife doing at Brush Mountain?
Brush Mountain is yet another TD Lore location. Kirsten, the owner, is known to treat riders like royalty and I was excited to make it my warm meal stop for the day since the day prior my warm meal was sub-stellar. But there were still many miles before Brush Mountain. There was still the Slater Post Office before Brush Mountain and it was the middle of the day, a Monday, and I was going to send my cold weather gear home. I limped into the post office, a trailer on the side of the road and walked in. While it was, in fact, a post office, it was more of a set of PO Boxes and a mail box. No attendant on duty. No boxes in which to ship gear.
I reverted back to irritation and finished my fried chicken from the night before. Then I felt better and started the 14 miles up to Brush Mountain. Eight miles in, just as the road started to climb away from the river, my water ran dry. I stopped, looking back down at the river below. Worth going back to? Should I just grit out the eight miles? I chose grit and continued in the heat without water. Eventually, I started wondering whether Brush Mountain was just another hallucination, like Flagg Ranch had been before. 'What if it's just a big joke on TD racers?' I pondered.
And then there it was in all it's glory. I rolled up to see Jarral's bike parked out in front, Matthew Lee coming out to greet me. He quickly ushered me in, his wife Katie (?) quickly put a giant bowl of fruit in front of me. They had cherries! They fed me bacon cheese burgers, chicken tortilla soup, soda, a shot of whiskey, more fruit. Jarral rolled out mid-meal and I pondered following him but after a day bonking, the rest was a welcome relief. I vowed to put down as many calories as I could, and to let them digest.
I left feeling refreshed. Blessed by angels. The 12 mile climb, right up until the moment I bonked again, felt effortless. And then I limped down to the Clark store where I inhaled another Vitamin water, a smoothie, and fortified my snack pouch with another bag of Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids. Nothing to do but pedal.
Downhill and paved, the miles passed quickly before turning on to the dreaded dirt road that Shifferly had warned me about. Climbing on dirt when the road would have gone straight to Steamboat. It wasn't that bad and I soon found myself at the 7-11 to go to the bathroom. I had a plan: Bathroom break, Qdoba, Safeway, Rabbit Ears Motel, sleep. I used the bathroom, walked outside. Decided it was easier to restock at gas stations so I went back in and bought snacks. Walked back out. Decided that Subway was easier than finding Qdoba, so I walked back in and bought a sandwich and breakfast, walked back out. Realized I forgot my coffee drink for the morning, walked back in, bought a Startbucks energy drink. Walked out, decided I really didn't need a motel. Bedded down at the fairgrounds next to the pen of a giant white cow. He looked at me with interest as I inhaled my sandwich, set my alarm, and fell asleep to the sound of rodeo animals.