Trip Journal: Gap of Rohan (2004, Along the CDT, Great Divide Basin, Wyoming)

NOTE: This journal is actually a running commentary with entries from all four people who went out on the trip (Matt Cassidy, Kyle Nelson, Becky Gould and Carl Karlen)…

CDT-C-01 Journal {MOS-04-1}

6/5/2004, 11:12am – Matt
>> Somewhere in Kansas

Merrily we drive along across the Great Plains, gradually approaching our destination – the Great Divide Basin. Today’s drive will be long and boring. Crossing Missouri, Kansas and eastern Colorado from East to West will take us through some of the flattest terrain this continent has to offer. Tonight, we will see mountains.

Our group has started to form up. I drove up from Memphis last night, meeting up with Becky and Carl in St. Louis. We all crashed at Becky’s place last night, spending some quality time with their three cats (Primo, Dax and Squeegee), and trying to get a few hours of rack before the big drive. With only four of us riding, I volunteered to drive, as opposed to having all of us fly out there and rent a truck or van, and a trailer. My VUE is just big enough for four people with bikes and a week’s worth of camping gear, with the external bike racks. This will save us considerable money, but it means an 11 hour drive from St. Louis to Denver, where we will pick up Kyle, our fourth and final rider..

Still somewhere in Kansas. Eighties music playing on the Satellite Radio. Lots of bugs on the windshield. Time for a nap.

6/6/2004 3:24 PM – Becky

Last evening we completed our journey to Denver airport, picked up Kyle and moved on to Colorado Springs to meet Mark, a.k.a. Skele-Toe. Kyle and Matt quickly assembled Kyle’s bike, which had been shipped from Phoenix, while Carl and I visited with Mark and his wife, Michelle. After being in the car all day, hammering across Kansas for most of it, it was all Carl and I could do to be engaged in conversation. I was pretty spaced out, my eyes kept drifting back to the muted television set.

We made it to the nearby Mexican restaurant for dinner around 9:45 pm. The food seemed OK going down, but I was to feel it sitting like a brick in my stomach later on. We said our good-byes to Mark and made it to the lovely Hilton in Denver. When we arrived at the Hilton we came upon a most interesting crowd. Apparently the local radio station had sponsored a concert of “Urban” music with nine acts, and the lobby was crowded with post-concert revelers and performers massing to attend an after-party. I think it was the closest I have ever been to seeing the in person conduct of actual “groupies.” And I’ll leave it at that. Fortunately our rooms were away from the room-party zone, and we all slept fine.

Carl and I had a refreshing morning swim, heated pool and cold morning air. We met for breakfast, discussing the newspaper tale of the Granby, CO man who had turned a steam-roller into an armored Kill-dozer of sorts, mowing down buildings in his town, including the offices of city officials, over an unjust zoning conflict that put him out of business. Fortunately he did not harm any one else, unfortunately the rampage ended in his suicide. The conflict that caused him to destroy property and take his own life was over sewer line access. Sad, but he does get my respect for determination and creativity in the making an unequivocal statement of protest. We re-packed the car, and were off to Laramie.

The drive to the Wyoming border is restful on the eyes. Although there is evidence of man’s presence everywhere (fences, power lines, wind mills, cattle) there is little to see on the plains as they spread out to the horizon. We saw, strapped to a flatbed trailer, a giant chrome sculpture of a mustang. We also saw some variety of horned deer, a few alpaca, wind farms, the occasional ramshackle wood building, and not much else. We accomplished our grocery shopping at Albertson’s in Laramie, magically crammed the food into the car, and are on the way to Rawlins, WY. At the moment we are barreling down a two-lane road through a brushy stretch of rolling hills. The sunny blue sky is dotted with fluffy white clouds. We’ve been driving for a day and a half, I really look forward to getting on my bike.

6/6/2004 3:24 PM – Carl

Day three. Flags at half mast, threatening to whip free and flap/wrap your face (Ronnie’s dead). The iceman cometh no more to the ice slough, the last Julep concocted before living memory. Dinosaur bones in these hills, hidden Sinclairs, striping the land. We, like they, Kum & Go. Along the fence-lines, balls of brush cover the expanse like hungry munching mammals, surfing the frozen waves of rock in flocks. At the Hilton, we arrived with the face-planting flap/rappers, and left past the white-wigged TV wannabe. If it is a road, it must lead somewhere, and we are headed to the middle of it.

6/6/2004 9:58 PM – Becky

At our first campground. Finally the long hours of car travel are over. The stars are starting to come out, and I can see the big dipper right above us, pointing to the North Star. We are at a well kept BLM camp ground. We heard rustling in the Aspens, creaking and snapping. The guys are scaring each other. Carl has just finished telling Kyle and Matt about the Chupa Cabra, goat’s blood sucking legend of Mexico. There is a little pond nearby, Carl and I walked down there in the twilight.

The town of Atlantic City, WY is an odd little cluster of wood shingled old time-ish looking buildings. There is a tavern, the busy spot in town, attached to a general store. The odd name of this town may refer to the fact that it lies East of the Continental Divide, on the Atlantic side.

Good night.

6/7/2004 1:22pm – Matt

We have split up the support vehicle duties, such that each of us takes two half days. I drew the first morning. So, here I sit, in our loosely packed Saturn VUE, with the yellow strobe light on top. I am waiting for the group to arrive at our lunch point, which is about half to two-thirds of the way through Day 1.

Day 1 has proven interesting. We didn’t get started until a little after 10am, as we had to gas up the car in the town of Lander before moving on. Once that was taken care of, we ate, struck camp and headed out. The first three miles or so were a killer crank, up and out of the valley where Atlantic City dwells. Only Kyle was able to make the entire hill in one shot. Becky drove the vehicle, and the three of us took our shot. After that, I took back car duty, and sailed ahead of the group.

After that long climb, the terrain opened up, and the group made excellent time over the next 15 miles or so. We saw numerous concrete signposts denoting our crossing of the Oregon, California, Mormon and Seminoe Trails. This is where the frontiersmen made there way through the Rockies – the one place their wagon trains could make it through, The terrain is mostly very flat, but the plains are punctuated by deep valleys, and small but steep mountains, creating a place of surprising beauty. It also makes for pretty good biking – except for the constantly howling winds.

Lunch awaits. We will be switching out now, and Kyle will drive the remainder of today.

6/7/2004 6:53 PM – Becky

Our cycling day was complete a couple of hours ago, after about 37 miles. This morning, our first exit from the campground was a hill of loosely packed gravel. The altitude was causing my lungs to burn. When I stood up on the pedals to make better head-way my tires slipped on the gravel. I finally got to the top of that first hill – on foot – feeling like I might have made a terrible mistake. We cycled the rest of the way into Atlantic City and started an even steeper up hill climb. I think I was in my lowest possible gear and still struggling. Half-way up this hill Kyle, who had powered up ahead, waved to us to turn around. We had gone the wrong way. Back town to Atlantic City, and up the right road. This started a three mile up-hill. Already out of breath, I decided to drive up. As I climbed higher and higher in the car I became more and more glad of my choice. I waited at the top for the guys, who were looking pretty spent, but proud, by the time they reached the top.

It was, almost, all down hill from there. I got back on my bike and we were soon cruising along, making great time. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous. Rolling hills, sage brush, snow-topped mountains in the distance. The sky was clear, there was a breeze, sometimes a head wind, but mostly a cross-wind or, mercifully, at our backs. I most often ride in the city, or in Forest Park, in St. Louis. I had not ever had the experience of how a wind at your back really feels like a hand pushing you along. The altitude seemed no problem at all, even the up-hills were easier.

On one of the gradual down-hills, clipping along at 20-25 mph, we had a race with a pair of pronghorns. It really felt like they were playing with us, running at pace with us through the sage brush off the road. The kept pace with us quite easily, and were soon ahead. They actually stopped and looked back at us, possibly amused by our slow-ness, resuming their running when we caught up with them.

We’ve made camp near a little creek, on a grassy spot that is obviously a favorite for the cattle. There are no trees here, so we’ve pitched our tent in the shade of the car. Everyone has been relaxing after our first day of riding, now springing to action at the thought of dinner. Tonight’s menu: Rotini with tomato pesto sauce, garlic bread and carrots. Mmmmmmmmm . . . . starchy.

6/8/2004 9:26 PM – Becky

Images of day 2 . . . .. . . listening to the lowing of the cows rousing us from sleep . . . my first shift as a support car driver . . . cold morning air . . . old school country music on the satellite radio (is this roughing it or what??) . . . waiting for the guys at the top of a really, really big hill, and noticing the amazing increase in the use of the F-word when testosterone is pumping . . . beginning my ride after lunch, coasting on the down-hills through the sage scented flatlands . . . meeting Carl at the top of the rise . . . the captured horned lizard, I “named” it Carl and we set it free . . . continuing along, the heat of the day rising . . . wondering, it is better to have no wind and be constantly aggravated by flies, or is it better to be pedaling right into a strong wind . . . cool rocks on the road, all colors, glimpses of obsidian . . . driving with Carl now in a mad dash to Rawlins to get water for the team, supplies had run out . . . feeling suddenly stinky in the grocery story . . . bumping into a friend, Laura, from Diversey River Bowl in Chicago at the Conoco gas station in Rawlins, she was in a van traveling to, or from Reno with a punk rock band . . . weird . . . rendezvous with Kyle and Matt at the dry reservoir, their smiles as we hand them frosty cold sodas . . . crafting a dinner side dish, “risotto cakes,” made from leftover beans and rice and potatoes . . . Carl cleans and reorganizes the whole car . . . watching the last light of day disappear over hot cocoa . . . complete satisfaction.

6/10/2004 5:42 PM – Matt

Lots to report since our last entry. Day 3 started at the bone-dry Sooner Reservoir, where we camped last night. This is a recurring theme – none of the so-called “reservoirs” we have come upon actually contain any water. Some appear to have been dry for quite some time. Kyle has car duty in the morning. Becky, Carl and Matt will handle the first half of the day.

After three miles of dirt two-track, it was a long stretch of paved county road to the halfway point. The winds yet again worked against us – mocking us it would seem. What could have been a pleasantly fast ride across this vast expanse of semi-arid prairie turned into a significant challenge, bucking a headwind. The road is all but deserted. The scenery for Day 3, much like the second half of Day 2, is less than spectacular. A little singing and story telling along the way helped a bit. We all long for the rugged mountains, canyons and mesas of the first stretches of the trip. The group reached our lunch rendezvous a little past midday – the base of Separation Ridge, just before the route hits US Highway 287. PB&J, chips, fruit and Gatorade are enjoyed by all.

From here, the route hits it’s one stretch of road that sees a significant level of traffic – US Highway 287. This 15 mile stretch of road going into Rawlins was to provide a myriad of challenges for Kyle, Carl and Becky. Upon hitting the highway, the riders were immediately faced with a 3 mile, 600′ net gain hill to climb. Kyle and Carl both managed it intact, with the escort vehicle (driven now by Matt) giving chase in the rear. At the top, Becky joined Carl, and all three riders made the mad dash for Rawlins. A wide shoulder made the rest of the journey a little more tolerable than was feared. Matt went ahead of the group to check into the Rawlins KOA, gas up the car, pick up cold drinks for the team, and acquire show times for “Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban”.

Three tired riders trickled into the KOA, and all were shown our palace for the knight: A “Kamping Kabin”, courtesy of KOA. This cozy little number has one queen bed and two singles – perfect for the four of us. Dinner was had at The Peppermill Bar and Grill, which was more the former than the latter. But the food was good, beer was flowing, prices were very reasonable, and it was located right next to the movie theater. After dinner, we wandered next door to “Movie Town” – a 2 screen movie theater that was, surprisingly, showing first run films. We saw the latest installment of the Harry Potter series, which we all agreed was the best of the bunch. Sleep was good in the Kabin that night.

DAY 4…
6/10/2004 Rambling Words – Kyle

Rawlins is windy! In fact conditions were high 50’s with SW winds at 15-30 MPH with gusts up to 40 MPH. To conquer wind you must first eat food. We stopped by the Square Shooters Eating Hole on the main drag downtown. Food was good and Carl had one of the Mountain Man breakfast meals of rainbow trout and eggs. Matt tried to get me to buy a Jackalope, but I had to pass for now. Back to the wind, how could we get away from it. The route just happened to be toughest in terms of elevation and now we had a headwind. Matt and I saddled up, Becky joined Carl in the VUE and we headed out. Well we made it about one mile before I decided to wait for Matt and make the suggestion of driving to the finish point to do our free day hike/bike today and then bike the route the opposite way tomorrow. Matt modified my suggestion into riding the route backwards today so we still had a free day tomorrow. It turned out to be a good idea. On the way to the end point on HWY 71, the scanner reported a forecast of low 30’s and thundershowers for the evening. Later I remarked that was three strikes to me camping out tonight (wind, cold and rain). Upon arriving at the new starting point I headed to some melting snow and tried to ride my bike on it. I think it has been a couple of years since I last saw and touched snow. And to do so in June made it a little more strange. Of course ever since I saw snow from the car the first day I was making a fuss that I needed to touch it. Matt and I were joined by Becky this time out and the fun began. The road had turned to gravel but that didn’t stop us from catching a furious tailwind mixed with a steep descent that got me up to 51MPH, a personal best! In our sweet speed session we lost track of Becky and Carl was still behind us with the vehicle. We continued on what turned out to be the easiest day of the trip when Carl pulled up along side of me with a bloody Becky in the passenger seat. She said she fine but I’m sure she will feel it in the morning. Just before getting off the gravel and back onto pavement, a nasty section of loose rocks mixed with a blustery crosswind, Becky had lost control and bailed out. When I saw the bike with front wheel taco-ed it seems like it could have been a lot worse. They went ahead and secured our favorite room KK1 at the KOA. The rest of the trip back into Rawlins was pretty uneventful. Another cool oddity of the wind made it possible to coast uphill at a leisurely 5 MPH, something that I have never experienced all the times I have been biking.

After lunch, I headed back out on the bike to conquer the local hill next to town. I made it to a road that went up and quickly turned to sand. I’m guessing there is a lot of motor sport activities out here. Well, I couldn’t ride it and I pushed up to the top of the hill. At the top rain clouds gave me a little sprinkle so I decided not to go further and went back down into town. Cruising along I came to a small park where Union Pacific had donated an old engine which was dedicated to one of there switch engineers with 42 years of service. I doubt I’ll make it that long with the county! More town exploring led me to another park which must be the epicenter of horseshoe throwing. A total of twelve courts, six on an upper level next to another six a little lower, made up what I like to call the horseshoe arena. Further down the road was what looked like the old state penitentiary, kind of a weird site right in the middle of town next to nice looking houses. I was growing tired and rain started coming down in short sprinkles so I headed back to the KOA for the rest of my Koke and a hot shower.

DAY 6…
6/12/2004 Carl

“Always remember to sunscreen the tops of your ears”, sage advice that I ignored. Ouch. My previous entry was to have started thusly- ‘Correspondence from the Bent Bar ranch…’, but that was before the big change in plans. Downhill with a tailwind seemed better, so we drove to the top of the mountain, and I jealously watched the other three start on down the roller coaster. No matter, I resolved to explore the alpen wonderland with the time I had between checkpoints. Nice country, beautiful views, high-altitude horses, and twin groves where Twin Groves should have been. At some point, I felt certain I should return. At the very bottom, where gravel turned to asphalt, and where the road to my imagined idyllic hidden valley campsite began, a member or our team had fallen, twisted tire and scraped skin.

KOA kalling Karl, krash rekwires komfort of kamping kabin. Hard to escape the Rawlins event horizon, welkome to the Hotel KOAlifornia. Dr. Gould bravely and ably attends to her wounds, while I attempt to help, which consists largely of opening band-aid packages. After a recovery nap, we check out the town and Wyoming’s old state pen, where we fail to take the mandatory cell block photos. Gas chamber, gallows, and Death Rose. Off to the movies again, to our new favorite theater, where Mr. Movies discusses cinema and invites us to a private morning screening of a summer blockbuster (which we pass up for the promise of mooses, meeses!). A good call, probably. Thrift store finds, excellent trout-y breakfast joint, Pizza Hut with good beer, and friends in the biz; all in all Rawlins treats us well.

Descend/ascend into Colorado, national park picnic, towering tundra trail, tracked the trail of destruction (still fresh) wrought by the Killdozer in Granby, and arrived at our hotel in time for a night out.

Last night of the trip, 6/12/2004 10:18 PM – Becky

Yes, it’s true that I did wipe out on my bike going down a gravelly hill. Bruises and abrasions were not serious enough to stop my ride, so I thought at the time, but the wonky bend of my front wheel meant the end for me. It all happened so fast, I fish tailed back and forth in the gravel, tried to regain control, and went down sideways. Not much pain at first, nothing like adrenaline to act as a natural analgesic. Hooray for Carl in the support vehicle, collecting my dusty crumpled-ness from where I waited by the side of the road.

On the New Mexico trip I slipped and fell on a cactus, the Wyoming biking has provided whiplash and road rash. Oddly enough, I am looking forward to my next journey on the Continental Divide. I guess I like the wide open spaces. The contrast between a 360 degree unobstructed Wyoming horizon and my day to day life in “civilization” aids in gratitude of both.

A word about the drive through Rocky Mountain State Park. . . . we passed though on the way from Rawlins to Denver. I have never before seen snow falling in June. We climbed a path to a 12,000 foot elevation, the wind was blowing, it was about 40 degrees. My body was aching from the fall on the previous day, but not knowing when I would pass this way again, and a borrowed pair of long pants, helped me to get to the top. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

Pulling in the motel at Hays, KS for the night. Our final push home in the morning. I’m ready to be home, but going to work on Monday is still hard to get my head around.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.