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Sunday, October 18, 2020

Cloud Peak 500 (Day 5) - Back In The High Life

I'll be back in the high life again
All the doors I closed one time
Will be opened up again
Back In The High Life Again, Steve Winwood & Will Jennings (1986)

Here we go again. Today, the Cloud Peak 500 route directs us 30 miles primarily uphill on shadeless, dusty roads to gain 5,000 feet of elevation, roll a few miles between a few trees, and then lose it all in 20 miles down a dry canyon. Man, that sounds familiar. At the end of the day, we hope to land in the town of Ten Sleep for the night and maybe chill in an air conditioned room. Maybe even take with a shower for the first time in 5 sweaty days.

Before indulging in the high life of the city, however, we enjoy the life of climbing high above treeline to almost 9,000 feet. Starting from the Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site, we casually cruise into Hyattville, turn south for a mile or so and take the less traveled fork onto Hyattville Road (BLM 1117). Like every day so far, the morning awakens with few clouds, little wind, and cool temperatures. The clouds and wind stay away all day. And, as the sun rises, the cool temperatures soon go away, too.

Still climbing on Hyattville Road, a look back shows the distant valley from which we rode.

We roll generally uphill on Hyattville Road for about 5 miles on that now familiar soft dirt surface prevalent around these parts. Surprisingly, the route then drops for about a mile into a dry valley leading to a small reservoir within the Renner Wildlife Habitat Management Area. The State of Wyoming acquired this area to preserve winter habitat for big game. In the heat of early August, however, the biggest game I saw in these arid lands was a horned toad basking in the middle of the road.

Now, the road jolts up. Seriously up. Like 3,500 feet up in 11 miles, which is comparable to the heart of that beastly Red Grade Road way back on Day 1. And the heat definitely is on. At least we're hitting this climb in mid-morning, with relatively fresh legs accustomed to pedaling uphill for hours.

Early on Hyattville Road, looking back toward the patch of green valley nestling Hyattville.

This 11 mile climb is relentless, with multiple soft, steep pitches that drop us into our lowest gears and even off the bike. We grind and push up, up, up, while the temperature goes up, up, up. At the end of a particularly steep section, I stop for a break and take in the expanding view of the valley below. I'm astonished to spot in the distance the short descent into the valley miles away. I snap a picture, thinking that may be the last time I can see that road across that expanse. 

Wrong. On five separate occasions, over the next several miles, I stop at the top of a steep pitch or switchback, look back to see that descent and take a picture, thinking that would be the last. But the relentless climb maintains that sight line to the west, unobstructed by ridge lines or such niceties as trees. Near the top of the climb to 8,500 feet, we finally find some trees and a short decline that blocks sight of that valley. Good. Time for a new view. Time to look forward.

Finally in some trees at cooler, higher elevations, I look back on the dry valley from which we climbed.

Zooming in the picture above, that short descent into the dry valley is visible 10 miles away.

Even though the road is still soft and now considerably rockier, it is so nice to be riding through a forest at 8,500+ foot elevation. It's still an uphill haul, but we have sporadic shade and gentler temperatures than that furnace below. Just a few miles more.

We spin by a couple of big trucks hauling some equipment back to a construction site that looks to be the makings of a cabin. Focused on their task at hand, the men barely notice us passing by on loaded bicycles. We climb on without seeing any sign of another building for miles and miles. If you're looking to move off the grid, this certainly would be a place to go.

Finally amongst some trees, Paul spins up some Big Horn sized gravel.

It's well past noon when we finally re-enter Big Horn National Forest and roll through a high mountain meadow. At the very end of Hyattville Road, right before we turn onto USFS 24, we drop down to a valley and actually cross a small creek. After 26 miles and about 4,500 feet of climbing, this is the first source of water today.

Time for a well-deserved break. I break out some beef jerky, nuts and electrolyte drink for a sumptuous lunch. Paul filters fresh water from the mountain stream and tops off bottles. Sweet. Although we still have several hundred feet of climbing ahead, we know that the vast bulk of our work today is done. 

Crossing our first creek of the day, Paul rolls up the last pitch of Hyattville Road.

USFS 24 is a more developed and maintained Forest Service road that carries recreational vehicle traffic, such as campers, four wheel drives and ATV's of every kind. Not that it's busy. A vehicle passes by every few miles, rather than a couple of times a day.

Soon, we top out on a high pass at an intersection of several roads, trails and paths. It looks like a block party up there, with multiple pickups, trailers, and motorized off road vehicles of all kinds. It's a local group of friends and their families, up high in the Big Horns for a weekend of riding and camping. We share stories about these remote roads and our various vehicles to travel them. We all realize we have much more in common, than not.

Spinning up the final few miles on USFS 24. Much firmer than the soft roads below.

Oh, baby. We're moving now. The 20 mile descent starts fast on good gravel, transitions to even faster pavement for a few miles, and then back to gravel on "Old Highway 16" down Ten Sleep Canyon. It's tempting to let loose on this quick descent, but there's actually gravel on Old 16, along with washboards, loose stuff around corners, and the most traffic we've seen since Day 1. As we plummet down the canyon, the temperature shoots up while the number and size of trees shrink. Soon we'll be down to dry prairie again.

This twisty gravel road through Ten Sleep Canyon also attracts a different breed of outdoor enthusiasts - rock climbers. I check speeds regularly to scan the rock for climbers high on the canyon walls. They're up there, alright. I capture a few images, but the climbers are so small relative to the big walls that they're difficult to spot.

That big, loaded 29+ bike builds some serious momentum bombing down Ten Sleep Canyon.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

We roll into the village of Ten Sleep in the heat of the day. And it is hot. On the recommendation of Rowan Mitchell, our intrepid traveler we met yesterday at the Archaeological Site, we stay at the Ten Sleep RV Park on the east end of town. This nice little spot features RV sites, tent sites and cabins, all with access to showers, laundry and general store. 

After dropping back down to the hot, dry prairie and after five days without a shower, we opt for a cabin, which is basically two bunk beds, a door, a window, a desk, and, most importantly, an air conditioner. We gleefully shower, attend to bikes, wash every stitch of clothing not being worn at the moment, and walk downtown for a prepared meal. Living large.

We relish another full day of riding on the Cloud Peak 500, with big climbs and a long descent ending with all the relevant amenities of civilization. 

Back in the high life again.

Back In The High Life, Steve Winwood (1986)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your posting of this route! Having spent time in that part of the world,it's quite enjoyable to revisit. I plan to ride this route some day soon,thanks again. Marty