June 22, 2021
Guernsey, WY to Douglas, WY
66.2 miles/ 2,850 feet
High 94º/winds 15-25 west
I went from having the most boring ride yesterday to the toughest so far today.
Here’s the story. From my hotel in Guernsey to Casper is roughly 120 miles by the most direct route. The way I’ve been riding, that would be three, forty-mile days, give or take. The weather was forecast to get to 94º today, and 98º Wednesday. On Thursday afternoon, a thunderstorm is supposed to hit the area. So I had a choice of taking three to four days (if I sat out the thunderstorm) to get to Casper, or, power through two, sixty-mile days and hope to beat the heat by getting an early start and riding hard. I went with Plan B.
Part of Plan B meant abandoning the Pony Express Bike Packing Route. Jan has mapped out a really nice route through here, but it’s less direct. It runs about 160 miles or so, far too long for two days’ riding (for me anyway). She marked the stretch between Glendo and Glenrock as a nice scenic alternative. But I wasn’t in the mood for scenic. I had heat and distance and bolts of lightening to worry about, so I planned to stick to the more prosaic frontage roads instead of the loopier bucolic ones.
I left at 7 am. Like yesterday, it was cool. The ride started off with a bang. I turned onto Wendover Road a few miles west of Guernsey. It is a gravel road that climbs to a ridge, and it’s quite a climb, which led to an equally steep decline on the other side. In my hastiness to jettison the Pony Express Route, I was relying on Google Maps through this area. There was a Pony Express Station marker here that I failed to see or photograph. Another lost opportunity.
Gmaps tried to direct me onto a private road through a ranch clearly marked No Trespassing. While I was consulting the map—seriously, how is it that the timing was this good?—a Ford truck came bouncing down from the ranch. The truck pulled over and the window rolled down and the driver said, “Where are you trying to go?” He was probably about my age, but unlike me at the moment, very tidy, with rectangular glasses, a neatly trimmed mustache and beard, and a closely-shaved neck. Had I leaned into the cab I probably would have caught a whiff of aftershave. He was wonderfully polite and helpful. We talked for a few minutes and he gave me directions (which I now see are exactly Jan’s route through this area), and we went, well, the same way, only he traveled much faster.
The climbs through here were as steep as anything I’ve ridden yet. At the same time, the scenery was gorgeous. Wyoming ranch land. It’s like California (because everything is like California), only multiplied by ten. So go out to the largest field you can find, and imagine that x 10. Go to the place where you can see the most sky, and multiply that by ten. That’s how it felt out there. Limitless.
I was nervous throughout this part of the ride. I am used to the turns being told to me by the app (“In a quarter of a mile, turn left.”), and it was unnerving not to be reassured that I was on the right track.
At length, though, after a lot more climbing, I came to the frontage road. It turned out to be the old highway through the area (between Guernsey and Glendo) and wound through some more lovely country. I was not, however, too crazy about the “wound” part. It was not hot outside yet, but it would be. I wanted the route to be more direct, and questioned whether I should have just ridden the noisy shoulder on the even more direct interstate instead.
I made Glendo at close to forty miles, about ten more than I had thought. Still, I stopped for lunch. The other night I was reflecting on my trip so far, and for some reason, felt I had not stopped in enough towns to have pie in the local diner. Kind of a strange thought. I don’t know why it hit me. But here I was, given an opportunity to remedy that oversight, so I took it.
I sat at the counter of Micke’s Family Diner in Glendo and drank water and coffee and ordered the only non-meat item on the menu: grilled cheese. Then had strawberry rhubarb pie a la mode. It was wonderful. I talked to a guy and his work partner sitting next to me at the counter. They had passed me on the road and asked about my trip. Then somehow the question of my age came up and he was surprised when I told him. He said he’s not into auras or anything, but thought I had a much younger . . . something about me. Then he assured me he wasn’t trying to pick me up.
Back on the road, well fed, duly caffeinated, I rolled past Glendo Reservoir and was having a nice time of it. The sun was still benign, not oppressive. The wind had been light all day, playful. There was barely enough blowing across the surface of the lake to move a Laser. I pictured Kazu down there trying to coax the wind into the sails on his.
I passed a marker for the Horse Creek Station. I was particularly interested in this spot because it was Jack Slade’s home station, where he was based when supervising this part of the Pony Express and stage coach line. (Remember Jack from Julesburg?) Sir Richard Burton stayed here and did not like it. More particularly, he did not like having to sleep on the floor with the other men, and thought Maria Virginia Slade, Jack’s wife, and her friend weren’t very feminine (referring to her as a “Bloomer”). Well, I thought, Sir Richard can stick it up his arse. I took a couple of pictures, then moved on.
A little later, crossing the North Platte River (for maybe the twentieth time or so), there was a marker denoting a ferry run by Jim Bridger. Bridger may be the best known of the mountain men, the free traders who hunted beaver in the Rockies in the earlier 1800s. He also had a very strategically placed fort in southwest Wyoming, which I hope to see in a couple more weeks. So more about him later.
In due time I came to the little burg of Orin and, please forgive my language, my day just went to shit.
The wind was howling there, easily into the mid-20s, and right on the nose no matter which way I turned. I experienced that phenomenon where if I stopped pedaling, the bike stopped moving forward. Progress was excruciatingly slow, painfully slow, and the last mile into Orin seemed to take forever.
I stopped at a gas station convenience store and bought Gatorade and V-8 and a bottle of water as a backup in case I sucked down the last of the water in my pack. It was hot now, upper-80s, if not low-90s. And the wind just howled.
I left the convenience store, crossed over the interstate, and began the last fifteen miles of the day to my motel in Douglas, WY. Naturally, it started out as a climb.
Now, here’s the thing about hill climbs in this part of Wyoming—I noticed this yesterday in the climb from Fort Laramie to Guernsey, and this morning in my climb on Wendover Road and all the rest of the way to the frontage road—You don’t climb a hill here then go down the other side. You climb, level off, then climb some more. You get to the part that from down below looked like the top, only to find that the grade of the hill blocked your view of the next part of the climb, which is steeper. So, climb, climb climb; oh, there’s more; okay, climb, climb, climb; that curve ahead has to be the top; climb, climb, climb; it’s not the top?; climb, climb, climb . . . All day, people!
But this climb out of Orin, in the full heat of the sun and against the force of the wind, was the worst. It felt like that scene in Animal House: I thought I might as well drop my shorts, bend over, and get whacked on the butt by a wooden paddle, at which point I’d say, “Thank you sir, may I please have another?” That’s what climbing these hills felt like. Why yes, of course I’d love another hill to climb. Steeper? Yes, please. Thank you!
Because you have to realize: I am not climbing hills and ridges any more; I am working my way up the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. I’m at about 4,500 feet now, and by South Pass I will need to gain another 3,000. There will be a few descents along the way; but there is a lot more climbing in the short-term forecast.
Getting slapped by the wind at Orin was just the added insult. Wind so strong I had to pedal to keep moving downhill. Literally. Forget coasting, stretching, relaxing. If I stopped peddling, the bike would roll to a stop within a few feet.
It took forever to make Douglas. Whatever joy I had felt in the grandeur of the morning, whatever delight in the ride after lunch in Glendo, had been sucked out of me by the demon Wyoming wind. Also, it was now past three o’clock: I had been riding for eight hours, and the temps were officially in the lower 90s.
I got to the Plains Motel, which is beyond funky. It’s a labor of love some nut put together from “historic” (which I’m pretty sure really means “condemned”) buildings in the area. But it’s a room, it has a shower, overpriced but readily-available ice cream next door (of which I have already availed myself, naturally) and funky as it is, this room is my home until I leave at six a.m. to get an even earlier start on tomorrow’s ride. Then, if all works out, a few days off in Casper to evaluate the next part of the trip.