Going on a bike ride can bring its own hazards such as punctures and bad weather, so you need to go prepared. But today brings an additional concern – the possibility of rounding a corner and encountering a 800lb Grizzly Bear which will be surprised, and then quite possibly very angry, at being disturbed by a Lycra clad cyclist. Shortly afterwards he might catch a whiff of those M and Ms you’ve been munching on and decide that they, or quite possibly you, smell good. This is a bad scenario – hence the numerous ‘Be Bear Aware’ signs on the roads. So today we will be scanning the road ahead with particular alertness!
But first we had to get ‘out of the farmyard’ a term coined by Terry which I didn’t quite appreciate at the start of the ride, but now understand fully. It refers to how long it takes you to get packed up, breakfasted, out of town and on the road. On a good day it could be an hour and a half. On a bad, four hours or so. Today’s particular farmyard is Dubois and waking up late (my alarm failed) and various other factors mean it’s been a slow start.
Besides which Dubois is a pretty town to leave, surrounded by the mountains it’s mostly constructed of wood and has a real ranch and cowboy feel to it. It’s busy, lively and feels on the up, with few of the closed down businesses we’ve seen elsewhere on the trail. But bizarrely it’s not known for any of these attributes. For the past couple of days we’ve been meeting East- bounders who’ve pin-pointed Dubois as a must-stop. Why? Because it has the US’s largest Jackalope.
This mythical creature lives in a large gift shop in the middle of town and people come from far and wide to gape in wonder, pet him and then and have their picture taken sitting on his back. The Jackalope takes all this attention without a glint of emotion. It’s dead-eyed, it’s humiliation sealed years ago, when for some inexplicable reason, someone thought it would be a good idea to stick the horns of an antelope onto a giant jack rabbit. In an area populated by fabulous creatures such as bear, moose, elk and pronghorns you wonder why there was any need to invent this monstrosity, for which scores of animals appear to have donated their coats. So I say set the Jackalope free – or at least send it to somewhere that really doesn’t have anything to bring in the crowds – Toronto, Kansas for example.
We left the poor Jackalope behind and headed into the real world to look for real animals – and to ride another major climb. Today we cross the Continental Divide for what I think is the fifth time (the Adventure Cycling Association must have had a laugh plotting this route). Leaving town we are accompanied by our old and beautiful companion, the Wind River, down in the valley to our left with stunning views of Pinnacle Butte to our right, all part of the Shoshone National Forest.
At around 15 miles out we pass the Hack Memorial, dedicated to those who cut trees into wood ties (sleepers) for the railroad and continued climbing. As we climbed Terry, Mike and I rode the shoulder on opposite sides, sometimes scanning the banks of the Wind, then crossing to peer up the hillsides for signs of life. As we continued our journey up the Togwotee Pass, Terry suddenly stopped and beckoned Mike and I slowly forwards. And there in a scrubby clearing stood a moose cow, chomping away on the undergrowth. Only when we’d been watching for several minutes did she turn her back and disappear into the forest – only to reveal a tiny calf, that had been hidden by the scrub, following close behind.
After that the climbing passed quickly. Before the summit we stopped at a store for water and snacks only to meet a mud-spattered mountain biker taking part in the Great Divide race, which is entirely off road. He explained that just behind him was someone doing the route on a single speed bike. Extraordinary.
Togwotee Pass, named after an Indian Chief who helped show early settlers a way through the mountains and was rewarded by being sent to a reservation, tops out 9,658 ft. But weeks of hill climbing mean we reach the top with barely a splutter. Hills are our bread and butter these days and some of us even look forward to them. Bring ’em on.
Just over the pass on our left hand side, before we begin the long descent towards the Grand Teton National Park, is a large clearing and here, possibly half a mile from the road, we spot our first grizzlies, a mother and cub, probably from last season. Even from this distance their size is unmistakeable and the mother has the distinctive haunched shoulders. This is almost the perfect viewing distance, close enough to watch them scanning the meadow for food, but nowhere near close enough for us to be any threat. We stand entranced, watching through binoculars, while cars whizz past unaware.
We then began a long downhill and the Grand Teton Range opened up before us – a giant wall of snow capped mountains, half hidden in cloud, with the spiky Grand Teton and the flat-topped Mount Moran standing proud above the rest at 13,772 and 12,805 feet respectively. In many respects they are more impressive than the Rockies we’ve been riding through for the past week. And the reason is simple – there are no foothills – the Tetons look as if they’ve just thrust themselves straight out of the ground. It means the closer you get the more impressive their grandeur.
Mike’s inspiration for riding the TransAmerican came after he met a biker riding the trail at Jenny Lake, which is in the shadow of the mountains, so we’d decided to camp there and have a rest day while we were at it. Mike promised us a stunning location and we were not disappointed. As we left the TransAm trail and headed off route down the Jackson spur, the skies darkened threatening rain, but we escaped – again. And instead of a downpour we were treated to a display of brightly coloured mountain flowers blanketing the verges and hillsides.
We arrived to find Mike already set up in the cyclist and backpackers camp area and after visiting the lake at sunset, we made dinner around the campfire, chatted to a young family giving their two boys the chance to experience life in the wild) packed all food and toiletries into the bear boxes, (yes we are definitely in bear country) and settled down to sleep with just the dark and silence (apart from a yipping coyote) for company.
Today’s Miles: 75
Miles since First Landing: 2956