Crossing the Great Basin

Over the last four days we managed to ride across The Great Basin. It was hot and desolate and involved long days with virtually no services or even water sources. While it was incredibly beautiful, it was also tedious, monotonous, and exhausting!

We were well rested and geared up by the time we rolled out of Pinedale on August 4th, one month after we first started rolling from Banff. By days end we’d ridden 50 miles, pushing my odometer over 1,350! Not bad for a month of crazy mountain biking.

The day was fairly easy as the first 31 miles were paved with no major passes. Once we hit the gravel we started to pay for the easy morning as we climbed up into high elevation desert. We left the trees behind and could see nothing but sagebrush in every direction.

We “wild camped” on the banks of Little Sandy Creek where Wendy, a fellow south-bounder we hadn’t met before joined us. She’s typically going a bunch faster than us but we traveled more or less together through the Great Basin as there aren’t many options on where to stop each night…. It’s pretty well dictated by water!

At the one month mark Leslie and I have been reflecting on our trip so far and our quickly approaching end date. Leslie told me she is having a great time but isn’t sure she would do it again. Sometimes it really seems like they put us on the hardest, steepest, roughest roads they can find, which of course they do, which is what makes this ride so epic! I initially agreed with her 100%, but in truth I’m sure if the right opportunity arose I’d succumb to temptation and ride it again!

From Little Sandy Creek we rode 50 miles to the next good water source, the Sweetwater River. It was a really fun day though had a bunch more climbing that I anticipated based on the elevation profile on our maps. Each day we all look at the route for the next day to help us plan how much water to carry, what time we want to leave, etc. I tend to really get myself set for whatever mileage and climbing I have to push through, and the days we end up riding further or climbing more than expected make me tired! The climbs though we’re more a roller coaster of steep ups and downs than long hard climbs, so that was kind of fun.

We passed through two small mining towns, each at the base of a long drop followed be a very steep climb out. The first was South Pass City, now more or less a ghost town, but once Wyoming’s second largest city! Ten miles later we dropped into the only slightly larger Atlantic City where we had a great lunch at the one eatery in town. From Atlantic City we said goodbye to the last trees we’d see in days and climbed back up into the high elevation desert we now know so well!

Nancy’s odometer has an altimeter, so we learned that it wasn’t just our imagination that we’d done a lot of climbing, in fact we’d climbed more than 3,600 vertical feet! That’s not our biggest day by any stretch, but it’s higher than our average of just shy of 3,000.

From the Sweetwater River it was 12 miles to the next water source, the Diagnus Well, a grant funded project put in to provide water for livestock and wildlife in the other wide dry and barren landscape. We refilled every bottle we had to get us through the next 58 miles of dry riding! In all I carried and consumed ten 24 oz water bottles. It seems out here no matter how much we drink we are always a bit dehydrated and our skin is always very dry.

The roads all day were terribly maintained and very rough with scary patches of deep sand alternating with endless miles of washboard rattling our every bone. Throughout the day we saw headwinds, side winds, hot sun, sand, loose gravel, ledge, cattle guards, and virtually no signs of life other than a few cows and antelope not smart enough to seek shade in the heat of the day. The only shade we saw was at the only ranch we saw all day (a cattle camp) where we sat in the shade of a pickup to eat lunch!

The views were beautiful and you could see for miles and miles in every direction. frequently you could see the road for miles ahead and know when there is a rise to come! Even though we’d gotten up at 5 and out of camp before seven, it was late afternoon when we arrived. By days end everything hurt, I was tired and hungry, dehydrated and sick of rattling around in the sun. The last ten miles I was slow and tired but the icy cold water of the A & M Reservoir was totally rejuvenating!

From the reservoir to Rawlins was an “easy” 54 miles, plus another ten running around town. We got up and out early again to try to beat the pounding sun. To our surprise we left the sandy washboard behind after just 13 miles and turned head on into a strong wind on a poorly maintained paved road. I hate headwinds!

We drafted each other taking turns “pulling” the line. Luckily it was only 25 miles to a turn in the road and a lessening of the wind. From there we climbed a long gradual pass that was under construction but perfectly rideable. We officially left the great basin and sailed down into Rawlins. We were settled in a diner for lunch by noon.

I passed through Rawlins on the Transam 3 years ago, but hardly recognize anything. The boys got a hotel room but Leslie and I decided to save a few bucks and hit the KOA. It was two miles out of town and didn’t look very appealing. As soon as we rolled in the manager yelled at us for trying to walk our bikes on the grass to lean them on the office. He asked us to leave them in the road. Leslie explained that we didn’t have kick stands and just needed to lean them up on the side of the building. He sternly replied that that is what the curb is for! Being the rudest person we’ve met this trip, we replied that there were other campgrounds in town and rode off!

However the other campgrounds were several miles from town so we called around and got a cheap room at the Econo Lodge. Out bikes are now clean, my new rear tire is on my bike (I got another flat today), and tomorrow morning we are off again toward unknown adventures!

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Food for the next 4 days!

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