Great Basin Divide, Wyoming
Day 55. It's impossible to take a photo that conveys the wild uncultivated expanse of this valley, particularly the gliding downward path that made reaching speeds between 20 MPH to 30 MPH so easy.
The highway curved down and to the right and then ran straight north forever into the distance. It's a little weird seeing all of this nothingness, particularly from a bicycle.
I recall from "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" the idea that traveling by car was little different than watching a television screen. You saw the landscape pass by, but you are just a spectator watching it with detachment. As a motorcyclist you become part of the landscape. You are in it.
For cyclists that's even more true because the landscape governs our day, taxes or rests our muscles, and affects our progress and speed. We more than part of the landscape, the landscape shapes us.
We are eventually heading to Lander, and I have travelled this road, by car, before in 2011 taking the kids up to the Wind River Mission. I recall vaguely the wide open expanses of nothingness - scrub, sage, rocks, and mountains in the distance. Cycling through it I am struck by how different I feel about this land.
Sure it's desolate in ways that are unfathomable in Illinois, or Kentucky or Virginia where it's town after town, with houses and ranches in between. But cycling has shrunk our world, rather than made it bigger. We parse things in ten or fifteen minutes segments - whatever it will take us an hour to do. Little convenience stores, tiny little towns become not just blurs that were passed by car, but major goals, stopping points and little gems of refreshment in their own right.
Along Hwy 287, Wyoming
Another weird change passing into Wyoming is that the cows are interested in cyclists again.
Riding through Colorado I noticed that neither the people nor the cows seemed particularly friendly or interested in cyclists. It was as if most drivers and people have become inured to accommodating cyclists. We're just part of the background naturally and pervasively.
Here in Wyoming we are back to people introducing themselves, asking where we are going, when did we start, and it's back again to being popular older men in spandex.
But even the cows in Colorado were jaded to us, and I would notice that they would not stop to look at us, unlike their bovine counterparts in Kansas and Missouri.
In Wyoming we are again objects of bovine interest and curiosity. Not sure why.
Split Rock Overview, Wyoming
Our trail meets up now with three historic routes now - The Oregon Trail, The Pony Express and the Mormon Trail. We are cycling past split rock - a major landmark in the Oregon Trail.
On average the speed of those long ago pioneers was 13 miles a day. We're averaging 60 miles a day so our journey is as different as it could be. Wyoming was the perfect route because it contained three things. Nearly daily access to water. Grass for livestock. Access to an easy pass through the Rocky Mountains.
The Pony Express only lasted 18 months but nevertheless found an eternal foothold in the lore of the West. Advertisements for riders described the company as looking for thin, skinny, wiry men, under eighteen, willing to risk death daily, and preferably orphans. How many labor laws would that advert trigger now?
Jeffrey City, Wyoming
We pulled into Jeffrey City making good time. This little burg remained hidden behind a low depression in the valley until we were a mile away from it.
Bill and I went past the church to the Split Rock Cafe & Bar - a dusty and worn out little building where Lisa acted as the waitress, cashier, cook, bartender and busboy at the same time. Prices were a little high ($7.50 for a hamburger, $3.00 for a Can of Coors as examples.). Bill had a bowl of chili and I had chili cheese fries (and a can of Coors).
In addition to three cowboys at the Bar, the Split Rock Cafe and Bar features several cowboy hats from prior customers, and two walls by the pool table covered with dollars bills. There is also a friendly German Shepard Dog, named "Pig" that comes in and out as he pleases and loves customers who pet.
With a population of 58, Jeffrey City seems hopelessly optimistic in its name. It had been a small city that boomed and bust within a generation.
This little enclave, somewhat midpoint between Rawlins, Wyoming and Lander, Wyoming began in 1931 when the Petersons, a Nebraskan couple, decided to occupy and fix up an old abandoned homestead for the fresh air to combat Mr. Peterson's lungs - damaged during a gas attack in World War One.
For twenty-six years Beulah Peterson called her little spot, their "Home on the Range." Their homestead is south of the Split Rock formation, a landmark of the Oregon Trail. When a former Pony Express Mail Station - turned Postal Office closed in 1943 - Beulah took up the job as the area's postmaster for the valley's ranchers. She used a cancellation stamp reading "Home on the Range." In addition to being the postmaster, Beulah also cooked for passing motorists.
In the Fifties, a speculator named Bob Adams discovered uranium in the nearby hills. It was the dawn of the atomic age and the Cold War, and the demand for uranium was booming. Rawlins' Doctor C.W. Jeffrey stepped forward with the initial capital and both the mining corporation and the moniker "Jeffrey City" were established.
Jeffrey City grew fast. Street grids were laid out, home plots built, utilities and street lights wired. Schools were constructed, including a high school with an olympic pool. Shops sprang up on what became main street. Hotels were built for workers who were waiting for their homes to be raised, or for mobile homes to arrive. Churches were founded. A library and a medical clinic were dedicated. Jeffrey City would even get its own newspaper, the Jeffrey City News. By 1979, 4,500 people called Jeffrey City home.
But in 1982 the demand for uranium was on the wane, the mine closed, and the twin lost 95% of it's population within two years. Today only four businesses remain operational. The Mocking Bird Pottery Studio, the Split Rock Cafe, the Green Mountain Hotel, and the Community Church which serves the ranchers of the valley.
We are staying at the Community Church which opens it's doors to cyclists during the summer. The downstairs has an enormous large room which serves as a basketball court and community room. There are showers, small rooms for sleeping and our hosts have yards of white walls inviting guests to write down who they are and where they are from. It is a guestbook from people all over the world cycling through the United States.
Beef Stroganoff tonight, courtesy of Norm & Christine. It's now 7:56 PM but the sun still hangs high in the sky. I don't know if it's because we are on the western edges of the Mountain Time Zone, or farther North, but it seems like an inordinate amount of light left.
That night I took a night photo. It was dark and you can really feel the loneliness of the continent here away from everything. However even here you can see the ribbon of cars along the highway - even though they were spread out one here and there.