Fifty: Home on the Range (Saratoga to Jeffrey City)

by davidharries

Miles: 110
Total: 3,052

The tables turned today, and I was packed up and headed out before the Swiss broke camp. It was a splendid morning, and the first 20 miles to Walcott went by in a flash. In Walcott, the TransAm takes you on I-80W for 14 miles to Sinclair because there aren’t any other options. I stopped at Shell for a last supper of chocolate milk, and the shopkeeper tells me he runs cyclists to Sinclair at $25 a head. Steep. The wind really picked up along the freeway (I’d be battling it for the last 90 miles of the day). Luckily, it pushed hard out of the south, and kept me out of traffic. The freeway was not fun. The wind made it difficult to stay on track, and with cars, semis and RVs whizzing past at 75-plus m.p.h., it was a white-knuckle ride. To everyone who moved into the passing lane as they went by: thank you from the bottom of my heart for making a stressful span a little less so.

I got off the I-80 at Sinclair, with only my nerves the worse for wear. Yep, that Sinclair — the petroleum company with a Bronto for a mascot. I rode past a large refinery and through town (which was purchased by the oil company during the Great Depression) and then out on a secondary road that paralleled I-80 into Rawlins (pop. 9,300). I stopped here for lunch and pulled out map 5, which will take me from Rawlins to West Yellowstone, Montana. There are limited services for 125 miles between Rawlins and Lander, and I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a couple days’ worth of food and filled all of my water bottles.

The ride out of Rawlins on 287 was pretty, and I crossed the Continental Divide twice more (my third and fourth crossings). I ran into two groups of Great Divide cyclists, for whom it was the twelfth and thirteenth crossing. They said it involved a lot of climbing. I bet. I also saw a couple of hikers working their way across the CDT, but didn’t stop to talk because traffic was heavy. The restaurant in Lamont (Grandma’s/Anna Lope’s) was definitely closed, which was too bad, but I ate a Pop-Tart in the shade. Judging from the accumulated trash in the bin, I’m not the first cyclist to stop here. The wind let up a little bit between Lamont and Muddy Gap Junction, though this section of road was in poor shape. I was too busy dodging rumble strips and 18-wheelers, but this photo from my friend Wouter’s blog gives you an idea. Muddy Gap’s home to a great convenience store where I stopped for a very refreshing grapefruit Squirt sold to me by a clerk in a button-down shirt! He said it would be fine for me to fill my bottles, and it was my last opportunity until Jeffrey City.

The last 22 miles to Jeffrey City were very slow going with the wind coming out of the west. The wind’s much stronger here than in Kansas, and while it generally comes out of the south or southwest in the sunflower state, here the vector changes through the day. Both good and bad. I had a treat about 15 miles from stopping when I passed Split Rock, a granite landmark that guided settlers west. Its gun-sight notch aims at the Great South Pass, 75 miles away.

Home tonight is Jeffrey City’s Monking Bird Pottery (an old service station), owned by Byron (definitely crazy in the best way) and one of really just two businesses in town (the other being Split Rock Bar and Cafe). Jeffrey City used to be known as Home on the Range, and the only stopping place between Rawlins and points west. After getting settled, Byron and I walked across the street to Bob Petersen’s house. He had a big bonfire going and lives in Washington state most of the year, but comes down every summer to work on his grandparents’ property (the original Home on the Range). It’s a ghost town today, but between the late ’50s and early ’80s, uranium mining was big business, with inhabitants peaking at 4,500. Chernobyl and Three-Mile island dampened demand for uranium, and more than 95 percent of its population’s left. It’s eerie.