Thursday, June 25, 2009

Updates from Rawlins, WY

Day 25
June 14, 2009
Captain: Kendal
Weather: Overcast, with scattered THUNDERSTORMS!
Town: Dillon, MT
Where we stayed: Parkview Acres Care and Rehabilitation Center

Rachel and I stayed up kinda late last night, catching up on postcards and thank you notes, and I sewed our team patches on Rachel and Greg's shirts for our visit to the assisted living community tonight. Because we were up late, and had such an amazing place to stay, it was really easy to sleep in this morning! Greg got up early and had breakfast with Tom and Paul, the two guys we keep running into out on the road. Rachel and I had coffee with Lon and Kelly, our gracious hosts at the the Hot Springs. We wanted to get a move on as quickly as possible, so we would have plenty of time at the care center to meet residents and get acclimated. Rachel and I ate Raisin Bran in the room, and got packed up for the day. Before we left, Lon and Kelly told us about Bannack State Park---the original territorial capital of Montana---which has been preserved as a living ghost town. We really wanted to visit, but it would add an extra eight miles of cycling to an already busy day. Lon offered to meet us in his car at the turn-off for Bannack, so we wouldn't have to take our bikes off-route. It was such a kind and generous offer, but the thunderstorm clouds all around us made us too nervous, and we declined. The cycling was moderately challenging today: We crossed two mountain passes. We are definitely getting stronger though, because they felt so much more manageable than they would have a few weeks ago. We rolled into Dillon around 4pm, with plenty of time to get cleaned up before having dinner with the residents. The nurses insisted that we sleep in one of the empty rooms at the care center, and really rolled out the welcome wagon for us. I have to say it was one of the more unusual sleeping situations we've ever been in. I know that many people find nursing homes to be very unnerving: We don't care to be reminded of our own mortality. Visiting care centers can be very emotionally intense...and though we elected to make such visits a major part of our trip, it has been all too easy to put off the visits to "the next big town." Staying in the center was one of the best things that could have happened to us. We were all a little thrown at first---all of the beeps and smells and end of life issues---they're a lot easier to deal with when you're just visiting, not spending the night. But after we cleaned up, we came out to the dining room to meet some of the residents, and started feeling more and more comfortable. One of the residents we met, Greg, is a lot younger than most of the other residents, but had lived in the center for 17 years, as a result of his MS. He and his best bud Julie were so engaging and welcoming, asking so many questions about our trip, that very quickly our nerves started to relax. There was about a half hour before dinner started, and so we sat down at the piano to play through a few tunes as the dining room filled up. Julie was so moved by Rachel's voice that she gave her a pair of earrings that were especially meaningful to her. Truly a wonderful woman. At dinner, we sat with a woman who was one of 13 kids from upstate New York. She moved to Dillon a year ago after getting sick, leaving behind her friends, family, and home of 50+ years to be closer to her son. She seemed quite melancholy about her situation, but just kept repeating, "I guess you just have to make the most of it."After dinner, we had a whole lot of emotions and laundry to sort through, so we rode our bikes to the laundromat in town, and picked up some ice cream to help us "eat our feelings." A we sat in our beds together tonight, charged with emotion, we talked about how this trip keeps taking on deeper and deeper meaning for us on a daily basis. Not only did staying in the center help us get more comfortable visiting care centers in the future, but also become more of aging issues in our culture. The learning has only just begun...

Day 26
June 15, 2009
Captain: Rachel
Weather: RAIN, dramatic clouds, crazy sky
Town: Ennis, MT
Where we stayed: Camper's Corner Campground

We woke up this morning, resisting the temptation to use the bed buttons to mechanically upright ourselves. At around 8 we ventured forth from our room in search of COFFEE. We found some, and with it, Greg, the resident we had befriended last night. It was good to see a familiar face, since we didn't recognize any of the morning shift staff and the early-rising residents. We chatted, ate some breakfast, and decided we might as well make some music. We sang a few jazz standards and hymns, and looked up to see a few engaged faces, and one that was sobbing. He was a younger resident, around 50, who we'll call Joe. I shook his hand and fount it trembled. He said "I always shake with this hand cause the Parkinson's does the work for me!" I asked him if he was okay )indicating the balled up kleenexes beside him) and he said, "I'm okay, I talked to God last night. I can give you his number, but you probably don't need it. You're a smart girl, and you'll figure it out." He further explained that he had both Parkinson's and Schizophrenia. He was very sweet and he wanted to make sure I wrote down both his and Greg's names so I could send them postcards, which I will do right after this journal entry. We also met Claire, the director of the center, who set up the event with Mission Control (Uncle Rich). She also went out and bout us delicious snacks for the road, and a special bag of Jelly Belly's for me (for having to put up with two stinky boys, I reckon). We finally got on the road at 11, but Kendal and I had to make a very important stop at the Mexican food bus, which is like the magic school bus, except that you don't acquire as much knowledge as delicious heartburn. The we waited out the first of many rainstorms of the day. The rest of the day was spent getting in and out of our rain gear. We finally go to Nevada City, soaked and wiped out. Greg (our Greg...not Care Center Greg) had been through there about an hour or two earlier, and waited out the storm in the Star Bakery, where he spent an hour enjoying coffee and dessert provided by owners Heather and Mike. According to the locals, we were either 1.5 or 6 miles from the top of a pretty durn steep mountain pass, but we had plenty of daylight left. Turns out we were 4 miles from the top, and had barely any light left, but we took their advice anyway, and split a frozen pizza and 2 local brews. Sort of a bad idea. Four miles of 7% grade later, we zoomed down the other side of the pass in almost total darkness. If you don't focus on all the million things that could go wrong in that situation, it's pretty fun! Kendal did not enjoy it, and Greg was very worried about us. But we made it, and I think we learned our lesson...which goes something like: Don't trust the locals, or don't eat pizza with a mountain pass in front of you...or something like that.

Day 27
June 16, 2009
Captain: Greg
Weather: Calm
Town: West Yellowstone, MT
Where we stayed: Hideaway RV Park

Today was another long slog to the finish line of West Yellowstone. I got a really early start and had breakfast at the Ennis pharmacy, which apparently is the hot spot for the locals, and met an awesome dude named Pierre. He had noticed I was riding a Specialized brand bike by my proprietary seat post and realizing I had a fellow bike nerd to talk to, I quickly asked if I could join him. Pierre was a rancher for a number of years and his father was from the Alsace Lorraine region of France! How cool! We talked about racing and gear, his story and mine and just had a great time. When the time for the check came, he picked it up! Thanks Pierre! I came back to the camp, packed up, and left at 9:30. The 70 mile route was a desolate gradual uphill. The scenery was however quite beautiful in the Maddison Valley. There was a cool contrast between the two mountain ranges. The western one was rolling and hilly and the eastern side was craggy and snowy. Thanks to the elevation difference you could see for miles and even see the patchy storm clouds dump rain in the distance. Upon entering the highway to Quake Lake, I stopped in this world famous fly fishing shop and met the world famous owner, Kelly Gallup. Kelly was from Traverse City Michigan originally, and called me out when I walked in with my maize and blue Michigan shorts. We talked about Michigan and I shared why we were riding. He was excited to hear about it and shared that he lost his father to Alzheimer's a year ago. It's absolutely crazy how many people along this journey have had Alzheimer's in their family. So I head up the winding road to Quake Lake---a lake that was created in 1959 when a 7.3 earthquake caused a mountain slide that blocked a river, and killed 29 campers sleeping in the valley below. Apparently the plate that the lake was located on dropped 20 feet and wreaked havoc on the surrounding areas. There is a memorial and a National Park Service station that explains the tragedy. Riding in this place is a reminder of how crazy a tectonically active place this is, and how insignificant we are in the eyes of mother nature. After 20 or so miles of headwinds and uphills, I was greeted by West Yellowstone: The most kitchy touristy place I have ever seen in my life outside of an amusement park. I was kinda like Las Vagas in Montana. It put my small-town American self into a tail-spin. I regained my bearings and met up with Bonnie and Jim at the RV park who greeted me with open arms. I set up my tent and took a well deserved nap. Awaking two hours later, I met up with the rest of the crew at the Beartooth BBQ and chowed down. Today was tough, but we have a rest day and will get to hang out in Yellowstone tomorrow.

Day 28
June 17, 2009
Captain: Kendal
Weather: FICKLE!
Town: Old Faithful
Where we stayed: My Cousin Adam's Dorm

We woke up this morning with every intention of getting an early start to the day. We had heard that it is safest to cycle in Yellowstone before noon, so we wanted to put in the 30 miles we had planned for the day ASAP. My cousin Adam (on my Dad's side...and therefore NOT Rachel's cousin...she's on my Mom's side...) is working in Yellowstone this summer, and he called me around 7:45 am to make plans for meeting up later in the park. We tried to get an earlier start by having breakfast in a gas station convenience store, instead of cooking. It ended up being a pretty bad idea, when later on we were trying to ride on bellies full of nasty food. Just as we got ready to roll out, we realized that someone had accidentally thrown away the camp to my canteen, thinking it was trash. (Cough Cough, GREG, cough cough...) So we did a little dumpster diving before we really got on the road. Our campsite was relatively close to the entrance to the park, so once we actually got rolling, we were in the park in no time. Adam had put us on a special VIP list to enter the park for free, and so the ranger at the gate just waved us through. We kinda felt famous. We rode the 30 miles to Old Faithful quite leisurely, taking a few moments to stop and look at wildlife as we rode by. One of the first things we saw was a beautiful bald eagle nesting in a tree just off the road. We also saw loads of bison: One in particular was right on the shoulder of the road! For that stretch, we rode right down the middle of the highway, using the cars to our right as a barrier between that beast and our bodies!

We spent some time hiking around the geysers and steam vents around the Fountain Paint Pot Area of the park. Afterwards, we rolled into Old Faithful Village around 3:30, just in time to grab a bite to eat and see the famous geyser erupt. It was really exciting---unlike anything else I've ever seen.

After the eruption, Adam came and found us, and showed us around a bit. We got cleaned up, went and got a bite to eat, and did some Father's Day shopping in the kitchy souvenir shops.

We came back to Adam's dorm to meet some his his friends and co-workers. We got to see a side of the park that most visitors don't: Adam took us to the employee pub, here we played some pool, ate pizza, and danced the night away.

It was such a blast to spend time with family, and see such an iconic place in our country. I can't wait to get out and explore more tomorrow!

Day 29
June 18, 2009
Captain: Rachel
Weather: Cold
Town: Old Faithful
Where we stayed: Adam's Dorm

We slept until lunchtime, since the morning was soggy and slow and perfect for sleepin in, in beds with the windows open. Ahhhh!

We picked up Adam's staff-issued-bag-lunch-quota and ate them while we got ready for a hike.

On our way up the trail we stopped off at the post office with the grumpy postmaster, and then at the historic Old Faithful Inn, which is a beautiful old building made entirely of giant logs. Apparently it was the first ever lodge built in a national park, so as you can imagine, the snacks we bought there cost an arm and a leg.

We got on the boardwalk that allows you to safely approach the thermal features of the park, and spent at least 3 hours oohing and ahhing over the hissing, bubbling and sometimes exploding pools of colorful cyanobacteria and the occasional jerk's garbage/lucky pennies. Adam had the uncanny ability to make geysers erupt by pointing his finger-pistols at them and saying "pow pow!", 5-year-old-playing-cowboys style. We were impressed.

We finally dodged all the tourists and got off the boardwalk---Finally, alone with nature! We hiked a 2 mile loop to Mystic Falls. It was a gorgeous trail, up several switchbacks to a great view of the park and geysers below. We only saw a few other humans: It's truly amazing how few people actually WALK in Yellowstone, which is too bad for them, but lovely for us.

We retraced our steps back across the geyser basin, and waited on Riverside Geyser to go off, which ended up being totally worth the wait! It was 75 feet tall, and produced a double rainbow in the mist for nearly 10 minutes! We also waited in front of Grand Geyser, which promised to be a 150+ foot boiling steam explosion, but we got too hungry and cold as the sun set. Apparently, we missed quite a show, according to the regular geyser-watcher we waited with--a really sweet schoolteacher from Montana who escapes from her 11th graders ever summer in Yellowstone.

We booked it back to the lodge and picked up hot cocoa and pizzas to enjoy with Adam's favorite movie--BAD SANTA. It was a real heart-warming fun-for-the-whole-family kind of movie. Just kidding.

Day 30
June 19, 2009
Captain: Greg
Weather: Beautiful!
Town: Old Faithful
Where we stayed: Adam's Dorm

After enjoying a second night's sleep in a bed, we decided to go with Adam and his awesome Aussie friend Pat (who is actually from Maryland but has an Aussie accent) to explore Yellowstone. We had hoped to make it down to the Tetons but we were hesitant to rush anything.

After piling into Adam's swanky sedan, we rolled out to West Yellowstone to take care of some errands and let Aussie Pat out for the first time since he'd gotten there.

The highlight of the West visit was finally being able to enjoy one of the gifts we were given: The well-traveled Dairy Queen gift card that Kendal's friend Elizabeth had sent us. We made the most of West and left super-satisfied.

Our next step was to go to the visitor center at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, where we stocked up on snacks and knowledge about the park. The visitor's center was awesome, but apparently the one they are building in Old Faithful Village will eventually put Canyon's to shame.

We left the lodge to see the actual Canyon and the Upper and Lower Falls there, and we were blown away by the sight of it. We joked earlier about why the park was called "Yellowstone" and were looking for yellow stones the day before while hiking in the geyser basin.

We looked in the wrong place. The canyon walls were all sulfur coated sandstone. There were also stains of other minerals from the volcanism that painted the walls. It was stunning, and the falls created a rainbow, to put the cherry on top. We took a few photos, and Kendal nearly needed to change his pants because we were perched right on the edge of a 300+ ft cliff, where just three days earlier, someone had committed suicide (no joke).

We climbed the switchbacks back to the car, and our next stop was Artist's Point. This view gave a grand overview of the falls and the canyon, and was the inspiration for many a painting and photograph. (Hence the name)

It was at this point where we realized that it would not be possible to see Jackson, WY. Oh well. We drove past the Lake and back to Old Faithful. This was a nice preview of what the day held in store for us tomorrow.

We headed back to the lodge and got our laundry and watched a hilarious Aussie show called "We can be Heroes." It was a mock-umentary story about 5 characters (all played by the same actor) and how they were all candidates for the Australian of the Year. All of them are ridiculous and highly quotable. After three episodes, it was bedtime.

Day 31
June 20, 09
Captain: Kendal
Weather: Holy Storms, Batman!
Town: Grand Teton National Park
Where we stayed: Colter Bay Village

Where do I begin? Today was one of our most intense day so far. (Intense, like camping. Thanks for that one, Adam.) It was a fittingly dramatic close to our first month on the road.

We started the day pretty early...for us. Wanting to get out of Yellowstone before the crazy afternoon traffic hit, we got on the road by 10:30 am. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to our new friends at the Old Faithful Community.

But Adam did us a huge favor to help us get out of the park safely: He drove his car behind us (as a sag wagon) through the most dangerous part of the park (no shoulders, winding blind corners, and mostly uphill) signalling to other cars when it was safe to pass us and forcing them to give us a wide berth as they did so. On top of it all, he put all of our gear in his car, letting us ride for 17 glorious miles, unloaded!

It was a HUGE help, especially because we had four mountain passes to cross today, three of which were on the Continental Divide. It made me realize just how much stronger we have gotten, to glide up those mountains, relatively effortlessly.

Adam stayed with us until we got to the safer stretch of road with shoulders. He had to get back to work, so we said our goodbyes. Adam said he felt like he had picked up two new cousins. I replied that I would chose to be friends with him, even if we weren't related!

After Adam left us, things got a little hairy. We had another 20 miles or so left before leaving Yellowstone, and one more time over the Continental Divide. Greg rode ahead, and Rachel and I watched a thunderstorm come across Lewis Lake, and land right on top of us. We got pretty soaked, but took cover at a ranger station and let the worst of it blow over.

At that point, the temperature dropped quite a bit, and the rain kept flowing at a pretty steady shower for the rest of the day and night.

We were about 15 miles from our final destination, climbing our last big pass for the day, when all the dark clouds seemed to come at us at once. The wind kicked up, driving the rain at us with so much force, it felt like needles cutting through our clothes. Lighting started flashing in the distance.

We counted the seconds between lightening and thunder, attempting to assess the danger level as we climbed a nearly tree-less mountain on our METAL bikes in the driving rain. For a while, the lightening seemed a good 5-10 miles away. But suddenly, a clap of thunder sounded right next to us---so close that there was no delay between lightening and thunder. Quite nervous now, we jumped off our bikes, and stuck out our thumbs to any and all cars that passed.

Luckily, within a few minutes, a car pulled over to pick us up. We were so shaken by the nearness of the storm, we hopped right into the car, leaving our bikes on the shoulder of the highway, tires spinning! Linda, our rescuer, said in a gentle Arkansan twang, "Are y'all just gonna leave your stuff like that?" Realizing that we might not get to our bikes again for a while, we took five minutes to load our gear into the trunk of their rental car, and toss our bikes into the bushes on the side of the road.

Dripping wet and FREEZING, we climbed into the car to meet properly Patrick and Linda, who live in Belgium (his home, Linda being from Arkansas), and who are on a long vacation here in the US.
They kindly drove us back in the direction we had just come, since Rachel and I had seen a hotel/resort about 5 miles back. The two angels stayed long enough to make sure we could get a room if we needed it, and then headed back into Yellowstone.

Rachel and I met another mud-covered cyclist named Joe, who lives just a few blocks from Rachel in the Twin Cities! He's traveling ultra-light, and is in a race to cycle the Great Divide Route (Canada->Mexico along the Continental Divide).

We spent about an hour trying to see if Greg had made it through the storm without getting zapped by lightening. We finally got word that he was okay, and were told by some car travelers that the storm was clearing up where we were headed.

Needing a ride back to our abandoned bikes, Rachel turned on her girlish charms, and recruited Steve and Jeremy--two middle-aged construction workers, just off shift--to take us back.

In a very slow cowboy drawl, Steve said, "I'd be happy to drive y'all back to your stuff, but it's gonna take a minute." He was referring to the fact that his backseat of his extended-cab pickup was completely buried in who-knows-what junk. He shoved it all into a pile in the middle, so tall that I couldn't even see Rachel sitting on the other side.

Just as we rolled out, Steve turned to us and said, "Y'all don't mind if I pop one open on the way? Cain't get too messed up only driving five miles!" Before we could respond, Steve cracked open a Coors light and took a long, deep chug.

I guess beggars can't be choosers, so I spent the next five miles trying to remember if there's a law against sitting in the backseat while the driver chugs beer.

Our bikes were just where we had left them, only slightly plastered with twigs and leaves. We saddled up, riding the next 15 miles in a much gentler, but still very cold rain. For a good 2-3 miles, the road had been torn out, leaving only gravel/dirt/potholes. Cars rode through mud puddles, spraying us with grime. We arrived at Colter Bay Village in Grand Teton National Park, shivering, hungry, and caked in mud.

We met Greg at a restaurant in the village, cleaned up a bit, and had an enormous dinner with John, a solo cycle tourist from Denver who is also riding the TransAm. He's a retired paramedic/firefighter---so he thrilled us with his stories and I asked him all the questions I'd always wanted to ask a firefighter/paramedic. (You'd be surprised how many there were!)

We sat in the warm restaurant as long as we could...and then pondered how to get to our campsite in our dry clothes (it was still raining) when all of our rain gear was soaked all the way through. We did our best with trash-bag-ponchos, and rode our bikes a good 2 miles to our campsite in the rain.

Halfway there, the three of us got separated in the maze-like campground, and it took quite a few frustrated, cold, wet minutes to regroup.

Anyone who has ever done it can tell you that setting up camp in the dark/rain/cold is NOT so fun...especially when you discover that all your sleeping gear is wet from the day's rain. Luckily, I opted for the "Keeps you warm, even when wet" sleeping bag. And I was tired enough that even a puddle of water under my feet/head/everything couldn't keep me from falling asleep. I think it's safe to say that this was our most challenging day so far!

Day 32
June 21, 2009 (Happy Father's Day!)
Captain: Rachel
Weather: Rain, Sun, Hail, Sun, Rain, Hail, Sun...
Town: Dubois, WY
Where we stayed: Twin Pines Lodge

We awoke to a drenched EVERYTHING this morning. The floor of the tent had puddles in all the corners and everything that had been laid out to "dry" was soggier than before. Yuck. Greg left early, and then Kendal and I shoved everything into our panniers and shivered up to the General Store about a mile away, all the while wondering if our toes still existed, as we sure as hell couldn't feel 'em.

Along the way we met two brothers from none other than College Park, Maryland (Kendal's hometown!). They were taking turns bicycling and motorcycling...which sounds like a pretty cool way to travel next trip!

We threw all our wet stuff into the dryers at the laundromat, and then walked around the grocery store in a daze, trying to thaw our brains enough to decide between muffins and chili.

After calling our beloved fathers and chatting up the locals, we were finally warm enough to pedal. The first ten miles were gorgeous. Turns out, behind the fog and thunderclouds of yesterday, were the huge, incredible, majestic, GRAND Tetons! Who knew?

We tried to take video footage, but I don't think it came close to capturing the splendor.

We ran into Paul and Tom again, our Ohio friends we've been leap-frogging on the TransAm trail. Paul was on the mend from nasty sickness in Yellowstone, but Tom's lady-friend Carol was driving sag for them, so they were riding footloose and fancy free.

And then, we climbed Togwotee Pass. After about 10 miles of uphill we got slammed with freezing wind, then rain, then HAIL. Visibility got tough and using our extremities, tougher.

We shivered and sweat another 15 miles to the top of our highest pass to date: 9,658 ft! By then the sun decided to hang for a while, but we were surrounded by sinister clouds, so we didn't stop to celebrate long. We dropped down for ten miles, and man, were SLAMMED again with hail. And boy was I glad I was wearing my helmet: It was like God was shooting paintball guns at us from all directions!

At one point, Kendal, who couldn't see anything through the hail and rain, shouted "Should we try to find shelter?" But I knew if I stopped, I would have an impossible time starting up again.

We finally pulled into Dubois at 8pm. Uncle Rich had arranged CABINS for us, generously donated by Jennifer at the Twin Pines Lodge. We opened the door to our cabin and nearly cried/fainted/soiled our already soiled drawers! Other than being in someones home, the cabins were by far the nicest lodgings we've had. Showers, beds, tea-maker, adorable pictures of deer...

Rich also arranged for us to eat, so we threw off all our stuff in a soggy pile and found three of the driest articles of clothing we had, and booked it to the Rustic Pine Steakhouse, where we gorged on trout, steak, and on-the-house dessert.

I'm writing this snuggled in our cabin, medicating my "altitude sickness" that turned into a sore throat and cough with copious amounts of tea and blankets. Feeling very blessed and grateful to be here!

Day 33
June 22, 2009
Captain: Greg/Kendal
Weather: Clear and Windy!
Town: Ft. Washakie/Lander, WY
Where we stayed: Lander City Park

So this trip being called "The Unforgettable Journey" has been aptly named. Today was on of the most unforgettable. The day started out mellow enough. And by mellow I mean an air-raid siren going off at 6am to call the volunteer fire fighters in the greater Dubois area. No biggie. Back to bed.

WE got up and chowed down on some tasty continental breakfast in the lodge. After getting all my stuff packed up, which was time consuming because I had to dry everything from the day before, I rolled out at 11:30 and left Kendal and Rachel to work on the group laundry and the blog updates. From this point on, we had two epic and distinctly different days. The Kendal/Rachel saga will be told after this one.

So leaving town, I get a glorious downhill/tailwind ride through the wind river valley. There were beautiful wind-eroded rock faces and superb colors with the different layers of sedimentary rock. I even had a fly-over by two stealth bombers. It was cool.

After meeting a couple of cyclists coming the other direction, I found out that Paul and Tom, our friends from before, were up the road only 2-3 miles. I gave it the stick and ran into the right as I was about to pull in for a break. I decided to forgo the break and hang out with my buddies.

Tom and I rode together until the start of the climb, and due to my double gearing, I couldn't chill with Tom. For about 10-15 miles, my tire had been making a thumping sound. I thought it was my hub. Stopped and checked it. Nope. Fine. Continued. It got worse when I was descending. Stopped. Checked. Hub and breaks were great. Weird. I stepped down again for a Cliff bar and waited for Tom so we could draft together. When Tom rolled up, I asked him if my tire looked okay. He told me there was a huge bulge. I looked back couldn't believe I had missed the giant bubble that looked as if it was about to explode!

I quickly took all the air out of the tire and brainstormed what to do. Tom and Paul had been riding load-less since Yellowstone thanks to Tom's lovely lady-friend Carol. Tom called up Carol and she picked me up in her car and brought me into Lander so I could get a new tire. After a call to the manufacturer (Specialized) I walked out of there with a new, better tire, at cost.

We set up camp and listened to the local community band play. It was very nice. After sitting around, Tom, Paul, Carol and I decided to get some pasta and wait for the others.

From here, Kendal will take over...
Same day, different story!

It's true our days were extremely different. Rachel and I didn't leave Dubois until almost 3:30pm. Rachel was feeling extremely under-the-weather, we all three had laundry to do, and the blog hadn't been updated for nearly 2 weeks.

So Rachel sat and used the internet at the lodge to update the blog, I did group laundry, and Greg hit the road. I also stopped by the local gear shop, WIND RIVER GEAR, and had the most wonderful conversation with Margo and Mati, the staff there. My camp stove fuel pump had been broken for weeks, and this was the first gear store we had come to with time to get it fixed.

After spending a half an hour on the phone with the manufacturer trying to follow his instructions to take it apart and put it back together again, the blasted thing snapped in half! Margo, feeling sorry for me, GAVE me a brand new pump, and had the company mail her a replacement.

I then asked Margo to help me pick out a pair of gloves, since I nearly had to amputate frost bitten fingers after the hailstorm yesterday. And would you believe it? She GAVE me a $50 pair of AWESOME gloves, just because she was moved by our mission and wanted to help out. I nearly teared up, and had to hug it out with Margo.

Long story short, we had an insanely late start, especially on a day with 75 miles planned, but the map showed it was all downhill, and there was a 20 mph tailwind blowing in our favor, so we left anyway.

For the first 30 miles, it was a glorious ride. Not a cloud in the sky, strong tailwind, downhill...Who could ask for more?

Then, I got a phone call from my best bud from home, Amelia Ruggieri (not to be confused with Amelia Graber, Rachel's sister, who will be joining TUJ in a few days!!!). Amelia R. is on a VERY long cross-country car road trip with her family. We didn't think we'd ever cross paths on our epic voyages. Well, turns out the Ruggieri's were in the neighborhood, and headed out in our direction!

So in the middle of NOWHERE on highway 287 in the badlands of Wyoming, a red van with Maryland plates pulled up next to me, and out poured 5 of my most-loved family friends! So surreal...

We talked and hugged (and I flexed my calf muscles) for about an hour, and then decided we all had to get was getting dark. At that point, we asked the Ruggieri clan to take our gear off our hands, and deliver it to Lander, where they were planning on having a late dinner. Riding unloaded would make our last 20 miles fly by a lot faster.

Well, as soon as they rolled out, it started getting dark, and FAST. In Wyoming, in the desert, Dark = Cold. And we had no gear, and were 20 miles from Lander.

Luckily, there was a town in between---Ft. Washakie, on the Wind River Indian Reservation (Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes.) We arrived in Ft. Washakie at dusk, about 9:15, with just enough juice left in my phone to call up the Ruggieri's and ask them to pick us up and take us into Lander.

They say that wisdom is the better part of valor.

So we looked for a place to store our bikes in Ft. Washakie, planning on hitching a ride back from Lander in the morning, and riding back into town.

That may sound confusing, but on principle, we've said we're cycling across the country, so personally, I feel that it isn't okay to move forward on the trail in a car, barring emergent circumstances.

So Amelia came back to get us, and we looked for a place to safely store our bikes. Our first stop was at the Indian Health Services Nursing Home, right off the highway. We thought it was a logical choice, given our mission.

The staff there was understandably concerned about blocking fire exits and pathways. They said that we should just leave them outside; that no one would bother them. But Rachel and I didn't love that plan, since we didn't have a lock, and we were right by the highway.

So we went to the only business still open in town, the gas station across the street, to look for a lock. Of course they didn't have one, but the really kind attendant offered to lock them up in the office. She would call her boss and let him know we'd be back for them in the morning.

Feeling much better about this option, we stood on the corner of the gas station, in our spandex, in the cold, dark night, and joyfully got into Amelia's van when she pulled in. I don't know what we would have done without her!

So while Amelia was fetching us, her family was chowing down on some pasta at the same restaurant that Greg had enjoyed earlier, and Amelia took Rachel and I to Subway, where I bought Amelia some cookies. (She ate pasta later.)

She dropped us off at our campsite, where Tom, Paul, Carol, and Greg were waiting for us, with some brews, and our tents already pitched. It certainly made us appreciate our friends, to be in such a stick situation and find a way out, simply because people were there to help us.

Day 34
June 23, 2009
Captain: Kendal
Weather: HOT!
Town: Sweetwater Station, WY
Where we stayed: Mormon Handcart Historic Site

We woke up early this morning, needing to catch a ride with Carol at 7:30 am: She had a flight to catch out of Idaho Falls, and was headed back in the direction of Ft. Washakie (and our bikes). We all woke up a little later than we had planned, and in a flustered rush left our campsite and got on the road. It's only 15 miles between Lander and Ft. Washakie, so it wasn't very long before we rolled up at the gas station from last night.

We walked in and announced to a lady that looked sort of in charge, "We're the cyclists that left our bikes here last night."

She didn't say anything for a second (that felt like minutes) and sort of scurried up the aisle. Finally she said, "We had an incident this morning..."

Our jaws dropped.

She went on to say, "If the night shift had told us, it wouldn't have happened." (She repeated this several times. Damned night shift!)

We didn't know what to ask, so we just waited for an explanation, which came from the kid behind the counter: "Let's just say, one of the bikes was...commandeered."

We looked at each other, then scoured he ceilings of the gas station for a "You're on Candid Camera" sign. Alas, it was for real.

The boy behind the counter went to retrieve the remaining bike, while Rachel and I each silently prayed that it would be our own bike that he wheeled out from the back. I must've prayed harder, because it was Bluebear (my bike) that emerged, not Sarge.

Rachel and I had yet to retrieve our chins from the floor. Neither of us knew what to say or do. As an DC kid, in this moment, I was painfully away of my ignorance of how a Reservation operates. Do we call the police? Are there police?

Because it wasn't my bike that was stolen, my mind went into politically-correct hyper drive: The kind that occurs when a person feels the need to be more gracious and polite than the ridiculous situation requires. My inner monologue wen crazy, and sounded something like:

"Thank you for letting us be on your reservation. So sorry my ancestors screwed you over so badly. If you need Rachel's bike, keep it. I'm sure it can never repay all of the atrocities committed against your people over the centuries. Do you need my bike too?"

Rachel's inner monologue, I'm told, was a little more practical: "What the heck do I do now?"

We took a little sidebar conference outside to nervously laugh and pretend like we knew it would all get worked out. Our counterparts in the gas station did the same. We regrouped in a minute or two, and learned the following:

-Whoever had taken the bike, had done it right in front of the staff, and he worked at the gas station.
-They were maybe calling the police, or maybe not, but they probably were calling the kid's dad.
-They really thought a cup of coffee would smooth things out. We agreed.

In the midst of the morning gas station gossip, I overheard someone say, "I saw Jeremiah ride out, turn left, and crash in the parking lot." Rachel overheard a girl say, "Did you see his face? It was all bloody!" Fearing the worst for both Sarge (her bike) and Jeremiah, Rachel began wondering where the nearest bike store might be.

A small crowd gathered in the gas station---a cast of characters we never quite figured out. But one man, possibly the owner, reassured us that they knew where to find Jeremiah. We were partially convinced, enough to just continue standing awkwardly in the doorway in our spandex shorts and wait.

After several more awkward minutes, word came from the back entrance of the station that Sarge, and Jeremiah, had returned. Relief washed over us both, as the kid behind the counter rolled Sarge out to Rachel, who nearly cried.

As Rachel wheeled the bike past the men's room, a sheepish looking kid with a huge gash on his face poked his head out and said, "Sorry about the bike, I just wanted to borrow it."

Rachel had no idea whether she should punch him for taking it or hug him for bringing it back, so just replied, "Whatever man, I'm just so happy to have it back." As he walked out, the lady behind the counter shouted, "You'd better get outta here, Jeremiah! The law is on your tail!" Whatever that means!

About a hundred "Thank you"s and "Sorry about that"s later, we finally rolled out of the gas station, and took a detour up the road to the Sacajawea Cemetery, where that famous cultural ambassador is buried. I just seemed like the appropriate thing to do.

Several minutes later, we were rolling back to Lander, making up the miles we had been driven by Amelia the night before. After a quick pit-stop in the local reservation casino, we made it back to camp in Lander by 11am.

As if the morning hadn't been eventful enough, we also had a nursing home visit set up for the day. Rachel, still feeling sick and not wanting to infect any residents, took the time to do some grocery shopping, while Greg and I sat and chatted with some residents over lunch.

I talked to a guy named Toughy--famous at the center for being a wild bronc rider in the rodeo. He shared local wisdom with me for about 30 minutes, while Greg chatted it up with a former rodeo cowgirl and her friends at the table across the room. As we got up to leave, Greg hugged one of his lunch companions goodbye, who immediately burst into tears. She told Greg that he reminded her of her son that she had lost to cancer, around his age, years ago.

The exchange really startled Greg, understandably. And immediately following, one of the nurses at the center told us that a cyclist had been killed by a semi earlier that week, riding on the same route we were taking.

It was a lot of information to process, especially on a day that had already been so eventful, so we were a little on edge as we left town around 1pm, headed towards Sweetwater Station.

The riding for the day was through some barren country, with only one shadow of a town halfway in between our start and endpoints. We also climbed a 6% grade for about 5 miles, up to the top of a high plateau called Beaver Rim, which offered a glorious view of the vast open badlands we had just crossed.

There isn't much in Sweetwater Station, our destination for the evening. There's just a highway rest stop, a single house that sells fresh eggs, and a center commemorating Mormon emigration of the mid-1800s. Our maps said we could camp for free at the historic site, so we pulled in there.

What the maps DIDN'T say, is that there are more mosquitoes per cubic foot of space in Sweetwater Station, than there are ants in an anthill. We're talking SWARMS. I practically fell off my bike swatting at them, and frantically dug through my panniers looking for pants and a sweatshirt to cover myself. I only got the pants on before I made a mad-dash for the bathrooms, in a dead sprint for my life.

I was intercepted by a church elder holding a bottle of OFF, for which I was VERY grateful. Rachel and I both sprayed ourselves into oblivion, and the plague started to recede.

Very soon thereafter, we were greeted by Sister Gardner, one of the missionaries/caretakers of the historic site. She had ice cream, pie, and cantaloupe for us inside, whenever we were ready. It sounded like a great plan to me...especially to get away from the skeeters!

We spent a really lovely evening with the Gardners, learning the story of the Mormon emigration and the significance of the site. You can read the detailed version of the story here, but here's a quick synopsis:

Seeking the freedom to practice their religion, a great number of Mormons emigrated from all over the eastern US and Europe to Salt Lake City, pulling all their possessions in hand carts and walking 1300 miles from Iowa City. The Willie Company of 1856 set out too late in the season, and got stuck in a blizzard at Sweetwater Station, and nearly staved/froze to death. They were rescued there in the valley by a team of oxcarts sent from Salt Lake. Some 77 people perished in the crossing.

The Mormon Church now owns the lands around sweetwater station, (The Oregon Trail, Pony Express Trail, and California Trails also all run through there) and THOUSANDS of Mormon youth groups come there every summer to relive part of the crossing, pulling handcarts loaded with gear, in pioneer costumes and everything. We saw a whole big group of them leave on a 30 mile trek, and even took a turn pulling one another in the handcarts.

I have to say that I was moved by the whole story. I think of all the times I've thought this trip has been tough, but I realize that every night, I have a warm place to sleep, and food in my belly, and plenty of support from home. I just can't imagine making that crossing all by FOOT, carrying your food and supplies for the whole journey (they only got to eat 12 oz of flour a day!), and facing the life-threatening snow.

With so much to process, I was distracted from the sounds of mosquitoes buzzing around my tent, and fell asleep.

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