891 miles, 34,160 feet of climbing, 17 days. Route map
I value the top of my bonce, my head, my noggin, my tête, my skull, my scalp.
So, why is it that I stabbed a broken, dagger-like tree branch (still attached to pine in question) into the top of it? Yup. And I wasn’t even riding my bike at the time!
Picture the scene: having just ridden some amazing descents through construction areas on dirt roads, cranking the top gear, grinning wildly at the road crews as they waved me past, having seen the Teton mountains (gorgeous) for the first time, having met and chatted to some lovely people along the route and then not failed to notice a truly enormous proper mountain storm developing overhead, I’m part elated part anxious to get to the campsite quickly and pitch my tent before the maelstrom unleashes its wrath and fury from overhead.
15 miles, I have to go 15 miles. I can feel the growing head-wind, smell the rise in humidity (what am I some kind of wild animal now?!) and see the clouds building and the lightning arcing on the horizon, getting…closer. Time to crank again, I push hard as there’s nowhere nearby to shelter at all.
I make it, just, for the hail starts almost as soon as I’ve pitched my tent and am packing the metal ‘bear-proof box’, but then as I stand and start to walk toward the tent I feel an excruciatingly sharp jab on the top of my head and I fall instinctively to the ground. Swearing ensues. Oh yes. Now being tall (6′ 5″) I’m unfortunately used to hitting my cranium on ill-designed fixtures and fittings at various locales. Like most would I check for bleeding and, thankfully, 99 times out of 100 (like I say its an occupational hazard for the tall!) there’s nothing, just a bruise. Not this time. First a spot on my fingers then my hand is covered then I can’t see out of one eye from the goo dripping down my face…seriously! Expletives!
Aside from getting to water my first thought is: bears. The shock must have addled my logic slightly since for a brief moment I think that they’ll all sprint down from the hills (calling up their bear mates on their bear-phones no doubt) as they sniff the intoxicating perfume of the plasma oozing from my skull, ready to maul and devour me, feverishly (more of this fear later).
They don’t (of course) but I do try to concentrate and tilt my head away from my body in an attempt to keep blood off my clothes as I make it to the campsite’s restrooms leaving a globule-trail of red along the sandy ground as the hail squalls around me. Wow head wounds bleed a lot don’t they?!
I wash under the tap and a kindly chap in the loos helps out, passing me a wad of toilet tissue with which I apply pressure. After about 10 minutes I seem to have stemmed the bleeding as he then heroically applies some antiseptic and a band aid but not before saying something like ‘Man that looks a bit gnarly, maybe you should get that looked at’. In the confusion of it all I’ve forgotten his name but if somehow you’re reading this, thank you 🙂
At this I walk to the RV of the lovely Jim and Faith the campground-hosts who kick into action and call up ‘dispatch’ – within a couple of minutes Ranger no. 1 appears, a very nice lady who has some First Aid training (she’d been giving a ‘Ranger Talk’ on the campsite and had heard the call on her radio). She defers to an ‘EMT’ Ranger who is apparently in the area on his way to a fire caused by the lightning storm – he’s able to stop off and check me out. His prognosis is that the wound looks on the cusp of needing more attention. So, another radio call and Ranger no. 3 arrives, Miriam (she is Ranger, Police Officer and Paramedic in one) or ‘Super Ranger’ as I have decided to dub her 🙂 who very kindly offers to drive me to Jackson hospital, negating the need for an ambulance to be called (remember, topically readers, this is the USA…!).
I’m sure I’m talking gibberish in the truck as she drives the 20 or so miles but in my mind it was a lovely chat. I try not to stare at the shotguns that sit between us in a rack.
It must have been a quiet night in Jackson for I’m seen straight away (those who know admission / triage may tell me that head wounds have a priority) and given a much needed Gatorade as I feel positively dehydrated after my long ride which ended more than 3 hours ago at this point.
“Ooh that’s a nice one” says Dr Thomas. 4 stitches later, my first ever (despite numerous tumbles, crashes and wipe-outs whilst mountain biking especially as a kid, somehow I’ve reached the age of 34 never needing stitches) the inch long gash is closed-up (sorry, bit graphic) although not before the bleeding started again in earnest!
After chatting to Dr T and fellow Doc about my ride (they know the Dalton in Alaska so are somewhat intrigued) and saying goodbye to Nurse Kim (thanks all), Miriam, who has been able to wait for me, drives me back to the campsite. I think I may have made a bit more sense on the return journey. Miriam you were fantastic, thank you 🙂
I let Jim and Faith know I’m back and ok at which point they insist that I come and eat dinner with them – its now around 9pm and I haven’t eaten since about 5pm (granola bars!) and in spite of the shock of the assault on my bonce I’m famished. The kindly Texans give me some good home food and we chat about life. Thank you ever so much both 🙂 and Rangers 1 and 2, too.
(The next day Jim talks to me about getting a Ranger to come and remove the low-lying branch in question.)Suffice to say I had a somewhat restless night (was I bleeding still? could the bears smell? oh dear) and bit of a headache for a few days. I could have ridden the next day but thought better of it and chose to rest-up for a few and absorb some of what the Tetons had to offer…arguably I found the Tetons more impressive than Yellowstone…
(In all seriousness, bears are a risk in the ‘Greater Yellowstone Area’ with an average of 14 people per year being killed by them. Having been in ‘bear-country’ almost constantly since late May I was realising at this point in the trip that maybe I was growing tired of the daily precautions and in spite of some education, resignation and acceptance, of the unavoidable occasional fear. I awoke one night in my tent whilst in the Tetons hearing what was, incontrovertibly, a growl. I’m pretty sure it was a dream but it showed me what was on my mind if I didn’t know already. That morning Jim told me that a couple of back-country campers had only last night been run out of their site by 3 bears, just a few miles up the mountainside – I’d been hiking just a mile away from that area only the day before. Spooky. On thinking through my future route and considering the approach of winter, when bears commonly come to lower ground to ‘stock-up’ I found myself ‘reasoning’, sensibly around the concerns but I won’t deny they’re still ‘there’, less apparent but there nonetheless.)
Before I left Helena in Montana I’d crossed the Continental Divide 4 times in 3 months and reached a maximum of 6200 ft. In the last month I’ve taken that total up to 10! 8262 ft, 8391 ft, 7988 ft, 9658 ft, 6720 ft & 7174 ft,! All of these were in Wyoming where I was regularly above 6000 ft, often 7000 ft whilst camping. A lot of it has been on ‘High Mountain Plains’ – I haven’t really felt like I was Clint Eastwood. Oh no, not me 😉
(Admittedly the highest of the above crossings included 500 ft of ascent in a ‘Pilot Car’ through major construction work, despite my protests with the driver that I wanted to ride it! I met another cyclist later who told me he’d heard about the ‘Brit who wants to cycle everthing’ from the driver…oh dear! Actually it was quite cool sitting in the back of the truck with Charles looking at the view…I still want to ride everything though!)
I also chose to go via the Snowy Mountain Pass (10,847 ft) in southern Wyoming – whilst some of the aforementioned passes were tough (the highest having 3000 ft of height-gain) this one was in a different league. It had over 4000 ft of ascent, a rocky track across a field at the start where I found myself out of the saddle in order to balance the bike and stop it from falling sideways, squalling thunderstorms at the top, a definate case of mild hypoxia (unexpected since I’ve previously been almost twice as high but it taught me some lessons about cycle-touring at altitude) and absolutely stunning, huge granite cliffs towering above windswept lakes.
And the descent, oh my oh my oh my! 10 miles, uninterrupted, flat-out with a tail-wind only braking twice, once for the second of two tight hairpins / switchbacks and then for a cattle-grid. Thank you disc-brakes! I did it in 15 minutes! That’s averaging 40 mph! On a bicycle! Without a doubt, this was one of the best day’s riding I’ve done in a long long long time and if I ever doubted why I’m doing this, it’s for days like those ones!
(and to think that one reason for doing it was that I wanted to do a 10,000 ft Pass – proud fool!)
I’ve had brutal headwinds in southern Montana but amazing tail-winds in Wyoming pushing me to 25 mph on the flat, seen the bonkers ‘Great Divide Basin’ (like ‘the moon but with shrubs’ I’d say) where the spine of the Rockies splits in two (go figure), almost ridden over 2 Rattlesnakes (I know!), seen Autumn / Fall approach as the leaves turn, been reminded that Winter is just a snowstorm away (I had a few inches of snow on my tent last week and rode through a near white-out whilst climbing to 8,000 ft to reach the Colorado border), visited the only prison (now a museum) to house both Butch Cassidy AND Billy the Kid, met more lovely and fascinating people including an increasing number of cyclists doing the ‘Trans-Am’ route across the USA (hi to Trevor and Nick from Ohio) such as the couple with 4 kids on 2 Tandems and one Single where one of the Tandems had…a kiddie trailer, more Store owners giving me free-camping and great Campsite hosts (hi Dave and Chris from Lander) AND been joined by Derek the Jackalope my new ‘Navigator’ (he and Charles are now in cahoots on all sorts I’m sure).
(thanks again to Chuck & Pauline for dinner in Centennial, WY)
In Yellowstone I treated myself and took a vehicle tour to cover the hundreds of miles of parkways and then spent a few days riding through the park seeing some of the thermal wonders (which were great) but I think I’d like to come back in winter to see those Bison covered in snow, breathing steam into the air (thank you David Attenborough for presenting me with this image!).
Somehow I’ve also had a large number of rest days too. Hmmm. On one of those I think I gatecrashed (unintentionally!) an amazing Rock Climbing Film Festival at the University of Wyoming in Laramie ( highlights of which for me were Alex Honnold ‘Free Soloing’ Half Dome in Yosemite plus some Patagonian Base Jumping – see Reel Rock).
I’ve reached the outskirts of Denver. Its rained for the last 3 days and there is heavy snow above 9,000 feet. I’m taking a couple of weeks off the bike to meet friends and chill-out…more about this soon 🙂
Take care all and thanks for your ongoing support.