Day 94: Jeffrey City, WY to Lander, WY - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

July 15, 2011

Day 94: Jeffrey City, WY to Lander, WY

I wake up to a cool, clear, beautiful morning, but all I feel is an overwhelming sense of defeat. On every panel of tent mesh I see dozens of mosquitoes, in much the same spots as when I went to bed. Maybe they never left and they've been staring at me all night, waiting patiently, picking the spot they want to attack. I lay in my sleeping bag and stare out at them, trying to figure out how to pack up and get back out on the road without contracting West Nile Virus.

Then I hear a zipper and see Kurt pop out of his tent.

"Perfect," I think. "He'll be my guinea pig."

He's well-covered with a thick jacket and a hat, but he tells me that the bugs aren't bad, that they're moving slower than last night.

"That's good," I say to myself. "They're still drunk on our blood."

It's enough to sway me to ditch the rain jacket and the elaborate patchwork of t-shirts I was prepared to wrap around my head and face, but I still won't leave my cave without rain pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and gloves.

Smart call. Not 30 seconds after I step outside the swarm returns. It's half as awful as last night, but bad enough that I still swat and swear like a maniac.

I pass the last house at the edge of Jeffrey City and return to prairie lands clear of people and roads and ranches, with rolling green and brown hills backed by snow-covered mountains way to the west. Not far out of town I ride by a group of 25 horses that stand a couple hundred feet from the highway. When I look back over my right shoulder a few moments later I see every one of them dashing toward me, galloping hard and kicking up dust and broadcasting the sound of a hundred pounding hooves. It's Wyoming's way of saying good morning.

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But the mosquitoes are still the focus of my existence. I didn't have to deal with them yesterday because the wind kept them at bay. On a windless morning they're out in full force and more than a dozen descend on me every time I stop. As a result, everything gets done at speed -- eating, drinking, note-taking. If I could pee off the bike without stopping I absolutely would. I protect myself for about ten miles, but then a hungry swarm decides to follow along, and then even motion can no longer save me. At 18 miles per hour I look back and see them trailing along, just above the right-rear pannier. Damn it all. I know that if I can't shake the assholes on the flats that I sure as hell won't be able to when the road starts to climb again.

I try to keep it together but fail completely. I pedal across Wyoming cursing and yelling, wishing for wind or rain or death. It's pure, undiluted misery.

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Then I come over a rise and see the most wonderful thing in the world: a yellow warning sign with the image of a box truck driving down a triangle-shaped hill that calls out a six percent downward grade for the next five miles. I instantly go from the depths of cycling hell to the heights of touring joy, flying down as fast as 40 miles per hour, looking out on the canyon walls in the distance, smiling and cheering and hollering in both happiness and relief. Once I bottom out the wind picks up and stays strong for the rest of the day, keeping the mosquitoes off balance and away from my delicious body. It's so very very sweet.

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Twenty miles from town I decide to grab a motel room -- or rather, the week-old beard, permastink, piece of shit bugs, and hazardous-to-my-health laundry situation decide for me. The timing of the choice isn't great, though, because it turns the last stretch into a grind. My thoughts drift from highways and antelope and beautiful vistas to cable TV, a queen-sized bed, and window screens that keep the mosquitoes far, far away.

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I pass the afternoon and evening moving between a rustic-sounding place called the Maverick Motel, a bar that rewards all of my hard work with a thoroughly delicious pizza that I power all the way through, and a modern-looking coffee shop that seems more suited to Seattle or Portland than the 8,000-person outpost of Lander, Wyoming. After several days of long rides across desolate country it does my soul good to relax away the afternoon in a series of cool, windless, well-hydrated bubbles.

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Night time brings the sound of feet clomping up a long flight of metal stairs, thumping bass from the lounge attached to the motel, and the wailing of passing police sirens. From the discomfort of a room with a busted air conditioner I block everything out, fall back onto a coverless bed, and lose myself to sleep before the light switch clicks to Off.

Today's ride: 61 miles (98 km)
Total: 4,765 miles (7,669 km)

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