Day 96: Dubois, WY to Colter Bay Campground - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

July 17, 2011

Day 96: Dubois, WY to Colter Bay Campground

The tan and red hills around Dubois soon give way to mountainsides thick with trees. Beyond them I see ragged peaks of gray and brown, and then farther on the snowy tops of the Continental Divide. A single-engine propeller plane painted blue and white keeps me company for more than an hour, flying below the hilltops as it loops its way back and forth through the valley. The morning is warm in the sunshine but frigid whenever I pass through patches of shade.

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Exactly 20 miles from camp the road starts rising more substantially up. It makes the beginning of the long climb to the top of Togwotee Pass. Soon the highway begins to gently twist and turn. Trees crowd the road's edges, I start to see purple and yellow wildflowers and small banks of snow, and every few minutes I hear the gently trickling of tiny mountain streams. With dramatic rocky peaks standing above everything it's phenomenal riding.

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I keep expecting the grade to turn dramatically steeper, but even as I near the summit it doesn't happen. With the help of a tailwind I cruise up easily at six to eight miles per hour the whole way, cresting at 9,658 feet on what turns out to be the easiest climb of the trip so far. At the top sits a beautiful alpine lake that rests in the shadow of the ragged mountains I looked up at on the ascent. Even though it's the middle of July, ten-foot thick patches of snow run directly into the ice-cold and perfectly clear water below.

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B.J. and Glen, one of the ACA group leaders, both dive into the lake and instantly remember what it feels like to have their balls jump all the way up into their small intestine. Not long after we meet Ro, a happy guy from Amsterdam who is traveling the Great Divide route, which runs mostly off-road along the Continental Divide between Mexico and Canada. He humbles us all by riding a mountain bike loaded not only with four panniers, but also a mostly full trailer. While I pass mini-marts all day long and eat in restaurants and often camp in places with showers, he cooks almost every meal for himself, sometimes goes days between towns, rides up crazy-steep off-highway grades, may only see a few dozen vehicles in a week, and often has to find water sources and then filter out the bacteria before he can drink. I seem like a complete candy-ass in comparison.

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B.J., Glen, Ro, and a sweet mountaintop lake.
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The downhill is equal parts stunning, exciting, and aggravating. Stunning because of the gorgeous peaks and rise on either side of the lush green valley, exciting because of the huge downhills that send the bike close to 40 miles per hour, and aggravating because of the stiff wind that moves me wildly from side to side before shifting slightly and smacking me in the face. But everything's forgiven when I coast around a corner and see one of the most amazing sights in America: the Grand Teton mountain range. It runs in a straight line across the western horizon, pointy and jagged, covered with snow, and looking bluish through the early afternoon haze. As I stop and stare at the wonder in front of me I think not only about how beautiful it is, but also how the name Grand Tetons literally translates to "large tits" in French. It's one of the great tragedies in American history that horny French explorers were not allowed to name more important landmarks.

As soon as I start pedaling again I hit eight miles of almost nonstop descent. It's smooth and easy at first, but soon I hit the construction zone and it turns into a battle for survival. I bang over deep bumps and ruts, dodge soft patches of dust and dirt, and let out a grumble and a good bit of cursing when the shoulder goes away. It's a white-knuckle dance where I balance speed, wind, rough roads, and trains of traffic that pass just a few feet off to my left. Slowing down never becomes a reasonable option.

So grand and teton-like.
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A headwind pummels me as I ride to the west and stare in awe at the mountains ahead and the tall green grass that lines the valley floor and waves straight at me in the breeze. The Tetons stand so perfectly placed and framed that it's almost like they aren't real—it's as if they're a giant background created on a computer and projected on an impossibly huge screen that hangs down from the sky. They are absolutely and completely remarkable and I can't look away.

But as soon as I cross into Grand Teton National Park my attention turns from scenery to self-preservation. It's a busy Sunday afternoon and long lines of cars, trucks, SUVs, and motorhomes from every state in the Union pass closely on a nearly shoulderless road. I always keep an eye on the mirror, ready to shoot off into the gravel if a driver decides to focus more on a rushing river or a grazing buffalo than the road and bike rider ahead.

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All of the hiker-biker spaces in the campground are full, but I'm able to grab a spot in the corner with the ACA group at their huge site. They invite both Ro and me to join them for dinner and dessert, and neither of us can turn down the hospitality.

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Afterward half of us crowd around a roaring camp fire to roast marshmallows and bullshit about bikes and traveling and how great all of it is. B.J. shares a touching story from our time in Kansas.

"It was back in Ness City," he says. "It was the middle of the night and I really had to drop a deuce."

Half the group busts out laughing, but the other half looks confused, so the story stops for a moment as he explains deuce dropping to the older crowd.

"So I walk over to the bathrooms. They were supposed to leave them unlocked for us but they forgot. Then I get on my bike and ride into town, over to the hospital. I ride up to the emergency room, because they'll have to be open. But they aren't. The doors are locked. It's like 3:00 in the morning and I'm having an emergency and the doors are locked and there's no one inside. So I ride around town more, looking for an open gas station or store or bar or something, but everything's closed.

"Oh, also I have to stop and fix a flat tire along the way because I ran over a goat head.

"Eventually it gets so bad that I just ride out toward the edge of town where it's dark, and I stop along the side of the road. I'm wearing my one-piece cycling jersey, so I have to take it all the way down and just drop a deuce right there in the dark outside Ness City. And that's when I realize something amazing: I could ride naked. No one would know."

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Everyone goes to bed before 10:00, just as the sky turns completely dark. I lay in my sleeping bag thinking mostly about bears but listening to the sound of a church group sing songs horribly off-key at a camp site a quarter-mile away.

Today's ride: 70 miles (113 km)
Total: 4,911 miles (7,903 km)

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