In which I have good things to say about cars, after riding a bike to Sweetwater Station, WY

Wednesday July 8, 2009, 87 miles (140 km) – Total so far: 2,838 miles (4,567 km)

For a while, I’ve been saying the sheer size of the USA is a major reason why we need cars.  This day’s ride was why we need cars. In addition to the vast, huge, enormous, downright big, empty spaces of Wyoming, add the wind.  A car can push through all that without any problems, and get you to where you’re going.  The size and emptiness of Wyoming makes a bicycle less than optimal for getting around this state.  There, I said it!

We haven’t done a century (100 miles in a day) yet on this trip, and this looked like a good day to try it. A rest day behind us, only Jeffrey City between us and Lander; we got a good, early start from Rawlins this morning. Actually we started slightly before sunrise, but with the wide open spaces and shoulders leaving town, that wasn’t too worrisome.  Two “Continental Divide” crossings in the first 40 miles, no big deal.  Actually, we entered and left the Great Divide Basin, where the water that falls doesn’t go anywhere.  On both sides, the drainage was to the Missouri, Gulf, and Atlantic Ocean.  But it sounds good, doesn’t it? Cross the Divide twice!

In the middle we passed one of the places, not towns, that were on the route.  Lamont, WY is a place; the place sign has an elevation, but no population.  What we watched for 10-15 miles was a rock.  Big, rather impressive, but still a rock.

Big rock

There were a few ponds that were drying up, I guess to become salt flats later in the year.

Little salt flat in progress

The exit from the basin actually looked like a basin, sort of, except for the crack in the basin wall that let us roll up the hill pretty gradually.  I think we climbed out, wind-aided, at 9-10 miles an hour.  Beats the last 3-hour, 4-5 mph Divide crossing!

Edge of the Great Basin

The 44 miles from Rawlins to Muddy Gap was aided by a tailwind.  Must be a record, two tailwinds in two days of riding!  There was a fair bit of traffic for so early in the morning.  I think I saw more configurations of truck trailers in those 44 miles than I’d ever seen before.  Still, we made that distance by 10:00, and turned west.  Unfortunately for us, the wind had shifted to SW, so it was a quartering headwind, and it kept shifting until it was a headwind.  Still, we made Jeffrey City (sort of a town, pop. 106) by 12:30.

We were paralleling the Sweetwater River most of the way.  We passed Split Rock on the way.  This was a landmark for the Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, California Trail, and the Pony Express.  It’s also in the Oregon Trail video game the girls played when they were younger, but it’s more impressive here.

Split Rock

After lunch, I did the most stupid thing I’ve done in a while.  I decided to press on toward Sweetwater Station.  The wind was howling by this time.  Four miles out, I suggested turning back, and Virginia did one of the more stupid things she’s done recently: she said she’d rather press on.  So we did.  The wind was hard, in our face, and gusting so bad it stopped us both on a number of occasions.  It took us four hours to make the 19 miles.

There was nothing but wide open spaces and wind.  I don’t know how to take a picture of wide, empty spaces that doesn’t look like a lousy snapshot.  But in this wind, we were concentrating on the four feet or so of shoulder, trying to keep the bike on that space and moving forward.  After a while I started walking so I could look around a bit.  There were some snowy mountains in the distance, probably the Wind River range.

Finally we rolled downhill.  No, we pedaled downhill, into the wind, as fast as possible, which was 6 mph on a 6% downhill grade.  Riding into wind like this is just stupid.  It’s like climbing, except you never get anything back for it like a downhill, you just exhaust yourself.  We made it into Sweetwater Station after 5:30, and the Mormons have a combination picnic area and exhibit.  These Latter Day Saints let us camp at one of the picnic tables and use the bathrooms and water.

Picnic campground at Sweetwater

This was the sixth Sweetwater crossing on the Mormon Emigrant Trail. Two groups of Mormon emigrants (from England and Scandinavia) started too late in the year, and were caught by a winter storm, out of food, in October, 1856.  If another traveler hadn’t ridden ahead to Salt Lake City to alert the Mormons already living there, all 1,000 would probably have died like the Donner Pass party.

The emigrants were poor, and most of them pushed their possessions on push carts that look like something out of “Fiddler on the Roof.”  The LDS today runs summer programs for their youth in which the kids load up the replica carts and push them down (actually, up, over Rocky Gap) the trail.

Pushcart replicas

The good part about the wind is it kept the mosquitoes at Sweetwater at bay until after dark, by which time we were safely inside our tent.  One of the Elders staffing the place estimated the winds were up to 50 mph this afternoon (without any prompting on my part).  Virginia thought some of the wind gusts were as bad as sticking your hand out the window of a car at highway speeds.  I certainly hope we don’t have any more days like this!

Trees in the wind

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