“I woke up at 5 AM, got everything together, and headed out the wrong way…”
That morning I got up, bought a new pair of gloves (cheap work gloves that I cut the fingers off of), some trail mix, potato chips, honey buns, and a sandwich at the gas station/bar/grill/convenience store/gambling joint/city hall. Today was easy compared to yesterday, just eighty-three miles to Atlantic City. I was unsure if I would continue on when I reached Atlantic city, because that meant riding into The Great Basin.
I took off down an old asphalt road that was lined with green grasses, starry eyed livestock, and quaint ranch houses. It almost felt like Texas, if it wasn’t for the double-digit temperature and the Tetons looming in the distance. About thirty miles in, the pavement ended and dirt road began. The houses became larger and more dispersed out here. I crossed through numerous free-range areas, and for lunch I stopped in the shade of a huge boulder ten feet from the road. Cattle stared at me blankly as I ate my sandwich (turkey). Not huge conversationalists, these cattle.
Overall it was an uneventful day. Some great views of high-steppe and desert on top of a huge ridge. I looked out at a giant expanse, then turned to look behind me at snow-capped, jagged mountains. The sky was crayola bright blue and the wind was slight.
It was pretty.
After this highlight, forty miles down the dirt, I made it to Atlantic City. The only thing on this ride was dirt, rock, and the occasional antelope. Before this tiny town I went through an even smaller old gold mining town, with a fully restored gold mine. In Atlantic City I found a few riders enjoying the local eats and joking about The Great Basin. I sat down and ordered my usual two entrees and a root beer and we swapped stories and game-plans. They were in much better riding shape than I was. Yesterday hurt, and I was paying for it today. I was easily an hour or more behind these guys, and they went an extra ten miles. I decided to stock up, rest up, and take on all one hundred thirty miles of the Basin the next day. They thought I was crazy, but wished me luck and left the town while I waited on my Bison Burger with Fries and Chips.
Really the only place to stay, other than next to a dumpster (Camping out in a weird little town with stray dogs was not my cup of tea) I decided to hustle the homosexual bartender for a night in an uncleaned condo for twenty-five dollars. It worked, and I didn’t even have to buy him a drink.
I woke up at 4 AM and was on the bike by 4:30. It rained the night before, most assuredly soaking the other riders who took the Basin the night before. The Great Basin was a giant bowl of Steppe between mountain ranges. It sported dust, sparse vegetation, antelope, rocks, and sky. That’s about it. The first thirty miles flew by. The next twenty were hot, and had a little more elevation change.
Then, at mile 57, I flatted.
That patch job wasn’t good enough I guess. Or perhaps I had a rock in the tire between it and the tube. Maybe it was a thorn. Didn’t matter, my rear was flat, I was 57 miles into a wasteland, and had enough food for twelve hours if I pushed it.
So I got out my pump, my patch kit, and started patching the tire. First try was no-go, lost air half a mile down the road. Took the tube out, cleaned the tire out, found the leak, patched, kept going.
Hysteria is a scary thing. It’s a scary moment when you realize that you are absolutely alone with limited supplies and your only real means of transportation is out of commission and you can’t figure out why. I prayed, I cursed, I even teared up. All in about twenty seconds, actually. After that everything just gets numb and your cave-man survival brain takes over.
And I love my cave-man survival brain.
I managed to patch the tire, using a combination of Vulcanizing liquid, a patch, and electrical tape. This got me to mile one hundred.
The miles between sixty and one hundred were really nothing to write home about. Around mile eighty I did take a quick nap and get a bite to eat and a little water at the A&M reservoir. Almost lost my map in the wind there, actually. The wind stole it from my hands and it flew into the giant lake. I had to wade into the very cool water to grab the map before it floated off forever.
But mile 100 was a really painful mile. The patch broke, my tire lost pressure, and I was out of patches. I had thirty miles to go until I hit Rawlins, WY. I had zero food, a little water, and a flat bike that I could maybe average four miles an hour on. After rolling on a flat for five miles I stopped and tried to think logically. The sun was setting, I was on a paved road that no one ever drives down, and there was a bike shop in Rawlins.
About the time I was hatching my plan, a van drives up. Remember what I said about how no one ever drives down this road? It even says that on the official Tour Divide map. It’s a desolate wasteland of a road, just pavement as far as the eye can see in both directions in the middle of a high desert.
And here comes an old Chevy Astro van. A window rolls down and a man, his wife, and about 8 kids ask if I’m alright.
They were about as stereotypical as it gets for what most “learned” individuals would consider white trash. But Angels come in varying shades of awesome.
They had just bought McDonalds burgers for the entire family (Remember when I said there was nothing around for miles and miles? Yeah, where the heck did they get the McDonalds? ?) and shoved three burgers into my hands before I could object. When I tried giving them back, saying “I don’t want to take food from your kids”, the man simply said “God bless you man, but we don’t need it. We’re almost home anyway and you got a long ride ahead of you.”
I kept the tears in until the van disappeared over the next hill. Then I consumed the burgers, unhinging my jaw and tilting my head slightly to let them roll down my throat, a trick I picked up from watching Wild Discovery as a child.
So with a head a bit clearer thanks to food, I decided to approach my flat-issue in a logical manner. Riding a flat gets me 4 MPH on average, meaning it would take 5 hours to get into Rawlins. But riding a rim may be faster.
So I took my tire and dead tube off my bike, tossed it aside, and began riding on my rim. Yeah, it was a bit bumpy, but I was doing 10 mph. I couldn’t sit down on my bike thanks to the vibration, but I was getting somewhere at least.
I passed a Northbound rider about ten miles after this. We shook hands and introduced each other. He laughed at my situation, but in good jest. He even offered me beef jerky and honey buns, but I told him to keep them. He would need them for the Basin.
I made it to Highway 249 and had given just about everything I could. The tiny burgers were just not giving me any energy, the vibrations made my feet sting with pain, I couldn’t sit on my bike, and it was close to 11 PM. I continued toward Rawlins, however. I wanted off the bike in a bad way.
A truck stopped in front of me while I was taking a break at the intersection of the highway. A window rolled down and a skinny old white man asked with a grin if I was alright.
I caved. I know, I know, this is Tour Divide and I can’t accept help to go forward whatsoever. I know it probably makes my entire trip pointless, and I should have simply caught a bus home right then and there. I’ll get laughed at, scolded, and stripped of my second-to-last-place victory. People will spit at my feet as I pass them on the street and I’ll never be able to look at myself in the mirror without weeping openly.
But I caved. Five miles from Rawlins, I decided to hitch a ride into town. I couldn’t go on. I feared for my health at this point. So I told him everything, and asked if I could have a ride into town.
Now this old man was on the way out of town with his girlfriend, a woman who looked to be about 30 or 40 years younger than him. He hops out of the truck to help me put my bike in the back, and that’s when I notice that the old man can hardly stand. He’s unsteady, stumbling, and shaking.
Great, of everyone in Wyoming, I pick the old drunk guy to take me into town.
But apparently he just had a “nerve condition” that affected his walking. He swore he could drive. I bought it, and hopped into the cab. The woman was caressing his ears and they were giggling and joking like 16 year old lovers. It was cute and really unsettling all at the same time.
I had them drop me off at the closest motel place in town and I stored my bike into a room. I couldn’t sleep without getting some kind of real food in me, so I walked to a 24-hour diner. Walking to this place was a chore in itself, though. I had to walk across a construction lot, through two ditches, and across a highway. I finally stepped past the neon sign and into the silver bubble of a diner. My unearthly ability to make food disappear startled the waitress.
I don’t think I have ever been closer to passing out due to exhaustion in my life. But again, this was before New Mexico.