In Pinedale I met up with Eric, who I’d first met as far back as Whitefish in Montana, and we decided to ride the next few hundred miles to Rawlins together. This is one of the most remote and isolated stretches of the Continental Divide Ride, as it crosses South Pass, a low-lying area in the Rockies that was historically used as an east to west route for both Native Americans and early settlers – the Oregon and California trails, as well as the Pony Express crossed here – and it is where some of the most notorious losses of life occurred as immigrants to the west got caught in early storms or simply ran out of water. Much of the area is a wide open basin, where the water runs neither to the Pacific or Atlantic, but collects in seasonal lakes that dry up in the summer.
A good road ran south from Pinedale, gradually becoming dustier as we left populated agricultural areas and cycled into dry open high plains.
We soon found ourselves far from any people, with just an occasional ranchers or hunters truck passing us.
As we climbed into high mesa land, the road became increasingly hazardous and difficult to cycle, with deep dust and rocks that reduced grip to very little on the regular downhills. Eric had a nasty little spill which damaged his gears and front wheel. But eventually we found our way to a very beautiful little campsite by a rare running creek.
We set off again, into even more remote country.
Half way through the day we had the truly exhilerating experience of not just crossing the Continental Divide, but actually riding along the divide – we were actually on the very spine of the north American continent.
From there we passed through the only two real settlements for about 200 miles. South Pass City was once a major centre where wagon trains stocked up, and it had a few gold rushes too. Now it consists of a few old buildings kept up for tourists.
And after that, the comparative metropolis of Atlantic City, Wy.
Atlantic City is actually a fun place, with lots of interesting old buildings (most of them rotting away), with a handful of people and two bars awaiting the next ‘boom’ cycle. The last one was in the 1980’s, when an iron ore mine opened briefly nearby. People still look for gold around here.
We camped 10 miles on from Atlantic City at the second from last known watersource for some 65 miles.
The next morning we stocked up with as much water as we could carry at the small well just off the road and set off.
The road was incredibly isolated. The only life to be seen for hours of cycling was occasional Pronghorns on their migration south for the winter, and even more occasional hunters. The hunters seemed puzzled as to why they couldn’t find any pronghorns to shoot. We didn’t bother pointing out that you could hear their trucks and ATV’s (all terrain vehicles) for many miles away. Pronghorns aren’t that stupid. One day the local hunters will realise that you can get much closer to wildlife on a bike, until then the pronghorns and deer are quite safe.
The only buildings to be found were a small number of oil derrecks – this part of Wyoming has small oil deposits, but extensive areas of shale gas, which is attracting attention from the fracking industry.
We struggled on to make the next watersource, but Eric was having increasing mechanical problems with his bike. In the accident his gears were badly damaged and his bike computer (vital for navigation) was broken. Eventually we decided that the best option was to go for one of the ‘bail outs’ indicated on the Adventure Cycling Association maps. This was a 15 mile rough road leading up to the nearest highway. Eric intended to hitch a ride to Rawlins, I decided to go with him up to the highway, but cycle to the town.
The ‘bail-out’ was itself a very tough road to cycle. Eric got his lift, and I was left with failing light and 20 miles to get to the nearest town indicated on the map, called Jeffrey City.
The road was very empty and easy to ride, but it felt a long way, and the sun was setting by the time I got there.
The city, if you can call it that, is probably the creepiest ghost town I’ve ever seen. It was the center of a Uranium mining boom in the 1980’s, but has only a scattering of people now, with one seedy bar with the least healthiest looking clientele (all three of them) I’ve ever seen. The motel is long closed (looked a bit like the Bates Motel). It was dark when I went in, and I was gruffly told there was cyclist camping across the highway – the town is marked as a stop on a long empty stretch of the Transamerica cycle route so they are used to riders arriving at odd times. Fortunately, two cyclists did indeed arrive at the bar, two students from Chicago looking very wiped out, they’d taken a wrong turn and had ridden 80 miles that day. So we had a few beers and camped in an old picnic area.
They set off west that morning, I was going east and south, what was supposed to be 60 miles to Rawlins (actually quite a bit more) by road. I had a look around Jeffreys first – not a lot to see, but quite interesting!
I set off to Rawlins. The first section was very attractive, the road was quiet, and there were some interesting historic sites to see – this valley was an important Pony Express route.
What I hadn’t anticipated, is that in the entire 70 miles between Jeffrey City and Rawlins, there would not be a single shop open or a watercourse. A service station and restaurant were indicated on the maps, but both were closed. The small lakes visible from the road were briny from a summers evaporation. So I ran out of drinking water with 20 miles to go. So it was a tough last section before I got to the town at 7pm.
Rawlins main claim to fame is its State Penitentiary. There is a small old Main Street with few shops open, everything is located at the junction with the main highways. The result is a pretty depressing town with a small population scattered over quite a huge area. But I was exhausted after the last three days riding and badly in need of hydration, so I stayed for a days rest. I met up again with Eric who managed to patch up his bike, so we set off on the next stretch, approximately 150 miles up into the Sierra Madre Mountains, and down into the town of Steamboat Springs.