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GDMBR Chapter 9

Rawlins, WY, to Atlantic City, WY


The basin

Between Rawlins and Atlantic City lies Wyoming's notorious Red Desert. A vast swath is covered by the Great Divide Basin, where the little rain that falls flows neither to the Atlantic nor to the Pacific.


The route through the basin is an incredibly remote and barren 130 miles to the next-nearest town of Atlantic City. Then it's an additional 80+ miles in similar desolation until finally reaching the reprieve that only trees can offer.


No one—absolutely no one—had nice things to say about this section of the route.


At best, they offered advice on how to survive it; to lessen the pain of long days in brutal elemental exposure, the monotony of roads that never bend and sagebrush in every direction.



Nothing to prove

For me, this trip isn't some grand vision quest or soul-seeking journey. If anything it's the product of that. It's the acknowledgement that I feel most alive when I'm exploring my boundaries and challenging my beliefs.


Although I definitely enjoy Type II fun, discomfort isn't a requisite. Strength and wisdom can come from simply being in a new place that presents—literally or figuratively—a new perspective or by engaging in meaningful conversion with people along the way.


To me, this section of the GDMBR seemed like one of the riskiest, most uncomfortable and... least fun. I was okay with skipping it.


Honest attempt

Despite the front desk clerk soliciting on my behalf on a local Rawlins Facebook page and me ever-so-awkwardly approaching people during the hotel's continental breakfast, I was ultimately unsuccessful finding a ride around the basin.


By 10:00a, I faced the hard truth that I would indeed be cycling through, so I walked to Walmart and stocked up on supplies. I figured with the inevitable headwind, it would take me two or three days to get to Atlantic City.


I picked up a tub of Justin's vanilla almond butter, two packs of Beyond Meat teriyaki jerky, some Kind nut and fruit bars, Kodiak protein oatmeal, dried fruit and Vick's vapo rub to help soothe my congested nose and chest.


Together with the remaining three packs of strawberry iced Pop Tarts and nearly six liters of water, I was set.


A reluctant launch

My bike was so heavy. And the route took me straight up highway 287 for about twelve miles before turning off onto and old uranium mine road.



It was stupid windy. I could barely pedal along the narrow shoulder of the highway, so I did what anyone in my shoes would have done: I stuck my thumb out.


You know what's harder than cycling against wind with two hands!? Cycling against wind with one hand.


Hitchhike with Ramon

After a few miles of being jerked around by the natural wind and the unnatural violent swirls produced by passing semis, a truck spun back around and pulled over near me.


It was a man named Ramon. He was headed to Casper but could at least get me to my first turnoff, about eight miles ahead.


So I texted his name, vehicle info and details to my mom, grabbed some stuff off my bike, threw it in the bed of his truck and off we were.


What took only a few minutes in his truck would have taken me nearly an hour and a half on my bike.


And so it began

This is when it started, for realsies. The wind was insane, the landscape barren. The sun high and hot. For the next twenty miles the road was straight and flat.


Ahead I saw the squiggly mirage of heat on asphalt. To the sides I saw the deep wrinkly patterns of baked dirt, sage, and the occasional bones of dead animals, garbage and dried-up livestock poop.



Turning point

I remember being deep in the pain cave and hyper-focused on just getting to Atlantic City...


...when a big gust came upon me like a slap in the face; I actually had to put my foot down to steady my bike from falling over.


I cursed into the wind. I asked, "Whyyyyyyy!?"



A fresh perspective

But in that moment and perhaps for the first time, I looked at the landscape.


I truly saw it in its entirety: the blue sky, the red dirt, the bright green grass contrasting against the muted sage and the little bursts of lavender aster miraculously growing from cracks in the tarmac.



I was reminded that Atlantic City wasn't the destination. Banff wasn't the destination. I was where I was supposed to be. I had already made it.


All I needed to do was pedal my bike. What a relief.


From that point I relaxed into a slow but steady cadence, making sure to soak in my surroundings, take pictures and stop frequently for food and water.


Tipping point



Around 8:30p I stopped for a bigger meal and a longer break.


I hadn't made as much progress as I'd hoped. In fact, at the rate I was going it was going to take me at least three—maybe four—days to get to Atlantic City.


I didn't have enough water for four days. I was already drinking more than anticipated and would need to begin rationing my water to make it last an extra day.


(There are a couple cattle tanks/reservoirs to filter water from, but they're a little ways off route and neither were at distances I was hoping to camp at.)


Second wind (pun intended)

All things considered, I was feeling pretty good. The temperature was dropping and the wind was waning.


I swapped out my chamois shorts, strapped a bluetooth speaker to my handlebars and decided to continue riding for a while longer.


In the twilight, I saw a chocolate-brown wild horse galloping parallel to me on the horizon. It was incredible; its long tail flowing behind it. I thought of my sister's late horse, Mokie.


As darkness set in, a pair of pronghorn ran alongside me, crossing the road ahead of me and then later magically reappearing from behind.


I heard the howl of coyotes from both sides of the road.


Things that go bump in the night


It got really dark. Fast. I tried riding without lights, but unbeknownst to me, animals like to sleep on the dirt roads at night because they retain heat from the sun. I kept running up on unsuspecting cows (SO MANY COWS IN THE ROAD AT NIGHT), flocks of sage grouse, bats, rabbits and other critters.


So for the next several hours I traded between using my headlamp and charging a little bike headlight, and vice versa.


By 10:00p there was virtually no wind at all and the air was cool—borderline cold. Perfect riding conditions.


With some good tunes on, I was finally making great miles! I stopped every 15-20 miles for snacks and water and was feeling pretty groovy!


Sleep

Around 2:00a I was at the top of a hill right before the start of a descent. I had ridden just over ninety miles and knew I couldn't make it the last forty two miles without some proper rest.


I also knew the colder air settled in the lower areas of the basin, so if I was to sleep comfortably I needed to be at the higher area.



I laid out my tent footprint on the edge of the dirt road, inflated my Therm-a-rest, rolled out my sleeping bag and crawled inside.


I woke up at 5:15a as the sun was rising. Surprisingly, I felt pretty great and my mood was positive!



I took my time packing up, ate more Pop Tarts and was on my way.


The first thing I noticed was that overnight, the landscape had once again changed. The terrain was morphing back into rolling hills and mesas—and most importantly, I could now see the Wind River Range in all its snowcapped glory! They were so much closer; I could almost reach out and touch them!


Within an hour, the headwind was back with vengeance and I was noticing the stinging presence of saddle sores that weren't there before—and were exacerbated by the deeply-rutted washboard that now spanned the dirt road.


Those final miles felt pretty terrible. I could barely sit on my saddle. I had to stop every couple miles and dismount to relieve the discomfort.


Wild Bill's Guns, Knives, Ammo and B&B

I'm so grateful for this place and these people. Bill and his wife Carmela, and Bill's brother Fred, were bright lights at the end of a really tough stretch.


My body ached from the inside out. My skin and chest were parched from the relentless sun and wind. And I could barely piece a sentence together I was so tired.


Upon arrival I ate a huge salad, cheeseburger, fries, apple pie and ice cream.


Then Bill and Carmela hosted me on their deck for molasses cookies and hot tea. A little while later, another NoBo GDMBR rider, Evan, joined.


Evan had been biking the Steamboat-Jackson section with his buddy, but injured his knee and was headed home early.


A tough decision

The forecast for the next couple days was increased sustained wind (with 50+ mph gusts) ushering in a cold front with sub-freezing temperatures.


I had an opportunity to join Evan's shuttle the next morning to Jackson (and get dropped off in Dubois), allowing me to skip the rest of the basin—but at the cost of skipping places I was really looking forward to visiting, like Pinedale.


I got my maps out and agonized over it for a couple hours, asking questions and getting more information.


I decided to skip ahead to Dubois.


Breakfast of champions

Evan, Bill, Fred, Chris, myself and a CDT hiker named Brian met in the grand dining hall of the old 1800s main house for breakfast at 5:45a.


The table was exquisitely set and we feasted on eggs-over-easy, sausage, potatoes, pancakes, OJ and coffee as the first light graced us through the massive portrait windows.


It was exactly what my body and soul needed.


Then we piled our bikes in Fred's truck, hugged everyone goodbye and were on our way...


Video dispatches from the trail:





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