Motorists on the i80 Interstate to Rawlings this morning would have been shocked to witness a group of six cyclists engaged in some bizarre flagellation ritual – arms and legs flailing and then frantically hitting themselves on the head, arms and legs. Strangely they showed no signs of stopping, indeed the harder they smacked themselves, the faster they pedalled.
What drivers wouldn’t have seen was that each cyclist was surrounded by a swarm of some of the most aggressive, persistent and damn right nasty Mosquitos ever seen. Mossies so hard and so mean they can bite through Lycra, Nylon and also, quite possibly, steel. Following wave after wave of attack, the cyclists had worked out their only means of defence – outrun the little suckers. Critical speed was 15mph. The race was on.
The game of chase had been on since early morning when we awoke early at Lake Saratoga, headed back into town for some breakfast at a diner with Jonathan and Jerry, Mike and Chuck and headed off north to Walcott where we joined the i80 to Rawlings. Usually cycles are banned from interstates, but here there was no alternative and it was actually much safer than many smaller roads we have cycled, having a wide shoulder and a substantial rumble strip to separate you from the trucks.
But the semis were the last of our worries as the mosquitos homed in and began their attack, biting through Lycra shorts and gloves to drink their fill. It was then that Terry coined the phrase “You land, you Die,” and so the flailing began. Fortunately we were blessed with a powerful tailwind and amazingly by 10.30 we had already ridden 35 miles. We left the interstate at Sinclair, whose claim to fame is a huge oil terminal and a town designed, curiously, in Spanish colonial style. Weird.
At Rawlings we all checked into Pizza Hut for lunch, said our goodbyes to Chuck who was flying back to Chicago and then took the group decision to head on to Lamont for our night stop. On our way out if town we met four hikers walking the continental divide to Canada – the hope to reach their destination in September, averaging around 18 miles a day. It makes our journey seem positively rapid.
It’s incredible how the landscape out here changes so quickly. A few days ago we were in pine forests surrounded by snow-camped peaks, now, after climbing and crossing the continental divide for the third time, we emerged into a wide arid valley with sculpted sandstone mountains, salt pans and dried up river beds. It felt more like Arizona or New Mexico than Wyoming. We made rapid progress on a newly tarmaced section, then bounced and cursed along a section so poor we were forced to ride the highway, Mike watching the mirror on his recumbent and ducking to the right whenever a vehicle threatened to come too close.
We are being forced to ride long distances between services and the gaps between places to stay are also widening as we cycle through the northern Rockies, although finding places closed down has been a familiar story we’ve faced elsewhere on the trail. So as storm clouds gathered over Lamont, itself in the middle of a semi-desert valley, hearts fell as we passed the local cafe (out of business) and found no-sign of a campsite. We were joined in our search by John and Grant, cycling East from Washington State to Washington DC and soon the reason became clear – the sign had blown down.
To be honest, even if the sign had survived the recent high winds, we wouldn’t have identified the campsite, which turned out to be an old trailer, surrounded by abandoned cars, tumble-down buildings, the skeleton of a tepee, chicken runs, crowing cockerels, dogs, cats and a middle-aged woman, who apologised for the state of the place.
True it did all appear ridiculously ramshackle and untidy, but her welcome was sincere and she provided us with fresh water and fired up an outside stove for hot water so we could wash. The loo was an outhouse with a long drop and no roof, so you could do your business while viewing the celestial sky.
We battled with strong winds and sandy ground to get the tent up, felt a splattering of rain, cooked dinner and then celebrated the summer solstice sat around the open stove chatting as solar lights came on one by one and lit the scene like some peculiar cross between a grotto and the local dump. But by then we had warmed to the place as if had warmed us – it was just the kind of experienced the TranAmerica is all about.
Grant and John then retired to sleep in an old abandoned trailer with a dodgy roof, Jonathan Mike and I to our tents, while Jerry and Terry bedded down in the back of an old Chevy suburban. Memories are made of nights like this.
Miles since First Landing: 76
Total Miles: 2714