The distance in the title isn’t a typo, Jo-Roxy and I rode 187km in one day. At the beginning of the trip we had said, with all the confidence of cyclists who had barely begun a cross-country tour, one day when we have a really strong tailwind we’ll ride 100 miles (160km for those who prefer sensible units of measurement). At the time I thought of such statements as hubris, something to say for something to say, and also to impress Jo-Roxy, because as if I’m going to ride that far in one day with all these bags attached to my bike.
We began the day rising groggily from the couch in Tom and Sheila’s, our Warm Showers hosts, living room after a late and drunken night before. Saratoga is in an area of Wyoming that is predominately large wide plains flanked by intimidating mountains, it is sparse and untouched and lonely in ways that even Kansas isn’t. I think the reason this area feels so desolate is that there is so little evidence of human existence, if it weren’t for the roads and wire fences this could still be the wild west.
The wind was blowing a steady 60km/h southerly, if you faced it directly you could mistakenly believe you were standing at the rear of a passenger aircraft at takeoff. Luckily for us the first 32km were traveled with the wind firmly at our backs. We made the first leg averaging 30km/h without effort.
We hit the I-80 and turned west toward Rawlins with the wind and trucks doing their best to drive us off the road. We slowed to less than half of our previous pace. We made Rawlins and found a supermarket, snacked on four pieces of chicken each. Then we turned north with the knowledge that in the direction we were headed there was only two restaurants in the next 150km. With the wind behind us, our aim was to ride until dark and just get this part of the ride over and done with.
We pedalled and pedalled, the distance dripping off us. The sun in the thin air felt harsh on our skin and we both quickly became sunburnt. The scenery transformed as quickly as we were riding, we became surrounded by rock formations and wind-shaped rises. Wild horses, pronghorns (something like an antelope), deer and even rattlesnakes kept us company. We found an isolated cafe and drank a few jars of sweet tea.
The scenery of the last few days has been fairly spectacular, but when we came upon Split Rock we both agreed that it very nearly compared to summiting the Snowy Ranges. This area can go from boring and featureless to spectacular in moments.
We made it to Muddy Gap having travelled 90 miles, this was the destination I had had in my mind as a possible overnight stop but we decided to push on to the next town, Jeffrey City (though town might be overstating the collection of shacks and decrepit buildings that pass for settlements in rural Wyoming) nearly 20 miles away. We were both really excited and proud to be riding so far, we felt bulletproof and totally badass until the road and wind both turned a little to the west and completely decimated our average speed and morale. We crawled along in a near head wind with me shouting encouragement to Jo-Roxy who was having a breakdown. The sun was falling from the sky, our knees felt like rubber bands about to snap, there was no town on the horizon and Jo-Roxy kept telling me we were idiots.
Jeffrey City appeared in the near distance and stayed there as we could only manage 10km/h in the wind. I wasn’t looking forward to pitching a tent in the wind and the dark in a weird middle-of-nowhere town. We arrived just before dark, Jo-Roxy’s face streaked with tears and I rendered speechless by the exertion. Luckily, Jeffrey City is used to seeing cyclists as it is on the TransAmerican route and two people emerged from the Split Rock Bar, the only thing open in town, one of whom was Byron, who introduced himself as the mad potter. Byron explained that he had a trailer (caravan for those playing along from Australia) he lets cyclists stay in free of charge. He lead us away without us saying anything. The trailer was well used, to say the least, and seldom cleaned, but we didn’t care. We climbed aboard, unpacked our bags, changed clothes, visited the bar for a juice and went to bed.
I’m glad that we at least once rode an American century, even rode longer than the century, but I doubt I’ll be doing it again on purpose.