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An extract from my journal from some of the areas I wasn't able to blog about at the time. Today - The ride up the Big Horn Mountains
"Matt, Andy, Morgan and I slept longer and better than usual, and upon waking took our time over breakfast. This was not a day to be underfed or sleep deprived. We'd been warned about the ride over Powder Pass in the Big Horn mountains ever since we entered the state of Wyoming, and now as we camped at the base we finally began to believe the hype. The road wound north west through the low tree cover and disappeared into the folds of the mountain. The earth looked deformed; rising so suddenly and dramatically that the trees grew at bizzare right angles out of the side. Never before have I had such an imposing backdrop to my egg sandwiches and oatmeal! We'd made the decision to eat as much as we possibly could without bursting in order to power us up the climb, and it was a task we all took very seriously. Consumption took well over an hour, and digestion the same again. Sometimes eating is my favourite thing.
To begin with we ascended slowly and steadily, riding reasonable grades for well over an hour. Within the first ten miles we found Mike [who I later rode with from Yellowstone to Seattle] sat at the roadside. We'd first crossed paths in Wood, South Dakota. He'd just split with the some other cyclists he'd bee riding with, and was up for some company over the pass. The more the merrier, and as a five we proceeded.
Higher and higher we climbed, with no sign of an end in sight. Each bend brought a new peak into sight, and as the road stretched just out of sight around the corner, it always seemed to be just about to level out. Of course it didn't, but this was a blessing; it allowed me to be continually optomistic about the chances being put out of our misery soon rather than later.
35 miles later we were still painstakingly pedaling upwards. There are large sections of the day I can't recall. There was no pain, only numbness was manifest. But numbness of the brain, not the muscles. I think we all switched into survival mode, and knew we had no option but to crest the mountain. Getting stuck on the pass would be relatively disastrous; the temperature would drop well below freezing at that altitude, and none of us had enough water to spend the night there. Fortunately, by 6pm we began to sense an end. The grade intensified, and I was sure I was cycling vertically. Every pedal stroke seemed to take me no more than half an inch forward, while the summit remained tantalizingly out of reach. I focused on the trees, counting each one to the top. That didn't work, so I looked to the sky - but was only disheartened by the gradually darkening as the sun made it's way below the horizon. I looked for more things to take my mind off the task at hand but suddenly and euphorically no longer needed them; the last bend brought us dramatically onto the plateau we'd been waiting for. 'Powder Pass, Elevation 9666 feet' read a small notice by the roadside. Snow lay crisply by the roadside, and behind the sign a panoramic view of the mountain range. It was like no other I've ever seen. Perhaps it was truly one of the most spectacular sights I've ever seen or maybe I was just determined to appreciate it after the effort of summiting, but whatever the reality, it was worth a swig of good whiskey from the hip flask in celebration.
We could not hang about for long - night was closing in and we still had over 30 miles to cover to reach the town of Ten Sleep at the base of the range to the West. This time, luck or blessings favoured us. Pushing off from the top of the pass we began to roll downhill. It was the last real pedaling I had to do. The road slowly submitted and relented; our bikes picked up speed and I remembered what it felt like to move freely on a bike. The mountains receded and melted away to either side; the sky swelled and expanded to fill the void. We blazed a trailer straight through the middle of the earth. Canyons and gorges rose to meet the road, and nothing but beauty came towards us.
My normal caution on lengthy descents was noticeably absent - surely nothing this wonderous could carry with it any dangerous. Despite the loose gravel, Lola gripped the road expertly, and took the turns at speeds approaching, then passing, 40mph. Each bend brought something else astonishing into sight and the speed intensified the majesty until it was almost overwhelming. For an hour this continued until we finally rolled into Ten Sleep. This was not just another day on the road. This was 'it' - the 'it' that drives people to pursue adventure. I'd found it at the top of a mountain."