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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Cloud Peak 500 (Paul Writes His Day 7) - Wonder Where I'm Bound

It's a long and a dusty road
It's a hot and a heavy load
And I can't help but wonder where I'm bound.
I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound, Tom Paxton (1964)

After five days of riding the Cloud Peak 500, Paul Brasby and I face the facts. We're running out of time. We need to dramatically increase our daily mileage over the next three days or we will finish short. Decision time. Early on Day 6, we discuss options and leave Ten Sleep with a plan. I wrote about my Day 6 in Decision Day and my Day 7 in High On A Desert Plain. Paul wrote about his Day 6 in Ghost Rider In The Sky and writes about his Day 7 here.

After a well deserved night's sleep and my batteries recharged, I pack up and head out the door in search of a quick breakfast. I also need to swing by the Kaycee RV Park to square up with Kristy for the hunter's cabin I stayed in. FYI - you need exact cash to pay for the cabin and there's an ATM west of the Interstate at the local Sinclair convenience store on your way out of town on the bike route. It's also across the street from the Kaycee RV Park where Craig stayed at. I stayed at their other campground on the south side of town at the Powder River Campground on the bike route as you roll into town.

I took advantage of a well stocked store with hot breakfast food and a sub sandwich kitchen in the rear of the Sinclair store. They also had seating available, so I sat down, enjoyed my breakfast and caught up on what's going on in the world on TV. While I ate, I couldn't help but admire the large elk mounts hanging all around me. We are definitely in big elk country.

After a quick stop at the Kaycee RV Park and a big thank you to Kristy for a very comfortable night's sleep, I'm back on the road again, bound for the town of Buffalo, 78 miles away.

The morning started out a little on the late side due to sleeping in and now I find myself in warmer temperatures than I had hoped for at 9 am. A light wind was at my back and the first six miles or so were on paved roads, gradually riding up a nice grassy valley. I took advantage of cell service to send Craig a text message on where I was and where to stay in Kaycee.

My legs were feeling good at the moment, but the true test would be on Slip Road, when the road goes vertical for miles. On the elevation chart, the Slip Road portion jetties straight up off the page like Wyoming's great Devil's Tower, with its sheer wall face looking down on you from above.

After a few miles, the wind shifts to a head wind as I turned left onto Slip road. I couldn't help but stop and take a picture of a sign I've never seen before. "NO SEMI-TRUCKS, RVs, TRAILERS BEYOND THIS POINT, NARROW WINDING CANYON ROAD AHEAD." It got an exuberant thumbs up from me at the moment, but had I known what laid ahead of me, I'm not sure I would have given it one!! Within the first mile, I find myself walking already, with short punchy climbs leading me to the base of the main climb of the day.

Slip Road is the toughest climb of the trip by far!! With its 18 switchbacks and sustained gradients of 14-18%, Slip Road wears on you! The road is firm with good gravel and at times with good tree cover, but the corners of the switchbacks are steep, loose, and littered with washboards. That's what I call "all in corners!" After a stretch of non-stop switchbacks, the road straightens out and reaches for the sky. At that point, I had to start walking on and off for the next two hours.

                                                              Zoom in on Slip Rd in the background 

At one point, I was stretched out with my hands above my head on the brake hoods and my feet parallel with my rear wheel, pushing my bike uphill at a gradient that felt like 50%. I'm sure it was more like 18%, but it was steep! At that moment, two ladies pulled up along side of me in a Subaru and asked if I wanted a cold bottle of water !?!? Heck, yeah, I said under a heavy breath, as they both laughed. We stopped and talked for a bit as I quickly realized the driver knew this area very well. She told me that I was 30 miles away yet from Crazy Woman Canyon. As we chatted, I sat on the top tube of my bicycle. I had to put my right foot under the front tire, hook my handle bars around my right hip, and hold my right hand on the rear brake to keep the bike from taking off down the mountain like a runaway train. After a refreshing break, we said goodbye and I pushed on, literally and figuratively.

Slip Road has two false summits before topping out, but the view of the high alpine valley below was well worth the effort! After hours of climbing, I only had a 2 mile descent to the valley below. I'll have to wait another 25 miles to reap the rewards for all my efforts.

Summit of Slip Rd and the valley below

The next several miles I fought with a headwind rolling in and out of open valleys, like BearTrap Meadows and others, followed by a steep climb to get out of each one.

I was taken back by a mileage sign I rolled up on. I looked at my watch and realized it took me 7 hours to go 36 miles, with 42 miles left to go to Buffalo. Dang!! This day was the first time during our trip that the hills started to get to me mentally and physically, as my legs were getting weary from multiple days in the Big Horns and it seemed like I was getting nowhere for all my efforts. I'm a firm believer in being positive on the bike and the mantra of "keep moving forward" runs through my head often. So, I pushed the negative thoughts to the side and focused on the downhill section on Crazy Woman Canyon. I heard so much about this canyon from Craig during our trip, so it better be as good as advertised, Craig!

I was lucky enough to receive five bottles of water for the day from passerbys and still found myself needing more! BearTrap Meadows was the first chance to filter water from a stream at about Mile 29. If one would need it, there are several streams around Miles 40-50 once you pass the Dull Knife Reservoir all the way to Crazy Woman Creek. I found that no matter how high you get in the Big Horns, you are surrounded by cattle, sheep and, in some cases, elk herds. So, filtering your water is highly recommended, unless you're drawing directly from snow pack melt nearby.

BearTrap Meadows 

I was so glad to see Dull Knife Reservoir. The gals I met earlier in the day said things would taper off and lean more downhill from here. For the most part, they were right. It's still lumpy, however, and I had to walk a couple more hills. But I could tell the end was near and my long awaited downhill was soon approaching! My last picture of the day was of Dull Knife Reservoir. I unfortunately filled all the memory in my phone with pictures of the trip and, with no cell service, I couldn't send my pictures to the Cloud to free up room. What a bummer!!!

I found myself riding in and out of marshy meadows, with a thick forest of lodge pole pines and aspen trees surrounding them, as I cut through the southern finger of the Big Horn National Forest. At one point, I spooked a moose just past Doyle Creek and heard it crashing through the willow brush. After a while, the road opens up and I hit a paved section of roller coaster like hills, before turning right onto gravel again. For the first time all day, I ride past several dispersed camping sites all tucked away in the woods. I head to my only deep creek water crossing of the trip, Muddy Creek. The water depth was at mid-calf and 50 feet or so wide. I had to lift my front wheel up in the air to keep my bottom bracket dry. (Muddy Creek crossing may be impassible earlier in the snow melt season and may force one to stay on Highway 3 to Highway 16 to Road 33 as a bypass). As I rode away, I was followed by three young kids on dirt bikes playing follow the leader back and forth across the creek. After a short climb to get out of the creek bottom, I turned right on Road 33, Crazy Woman Canyon Road. Finally, bring on the downhill!

With water still dripping from my shoes, I start the descent on a normal gravel road. It soon turns rougher, steeper, and narrower as I ride deep into the forest again. The road then narrows to a single lane, rocky but firm road, with signs saying to give way to uphill traffic. Crazy Woman Creek swings in and hugs the twisty, tree-lined road with a roar, as gravity is pulling on us both to go faster. The bike accelerates quickly to the next corner. Left, then right, then left again. Slam on the brakes for a switchback or two, then let the bike accelerate to the next turn. Hard on the brakes again for a right turn over a single lane bridge. Now the creek is on my left side, dodge a parked car, then slow for one going uphill. Woo-hoo! I'm having a blast!!! This scene plays out for miles. It's like an alpine slide for bicycles! I'm loving it!! Okay, Craig, you're off the hook. This canyon is Aaaawesome!!

The opportunities for dispersed camping are everywhere along the roadside and along the creek. I so wanted to stop to pitch a tent, but due to my dwindling timeline, I had to push on. Nearing the end of Crazy Woman Canyon, the rushing waters carved out unique rock formations in the river bed, at one point even cutting out a tunnel. Nearing the end of the canyon, the rushing water carved out unique rock formations with large boulders the size of buildings, forcing the waters to flow around them. Before I knew it, I crossed Crazy Woman Creek for the last time and climbed out of the canyon to head to the town of Buffalo. Now, that's a crazy woman I'd like to see again!!

I quickly pop out of the forest and find myself high in the tundra foothills of the Big Horns. The road is good and fast, as the landscape points downward toward the valley floor below me. As the road starts to level out, I see a white Dodge Ram pickup heading my way, as a pronghorn runs across the road in front of him. A few moments later, that same pesky pronghorn runs back across the road in front of me for no apparent reason. It's like a game to them, it seems!!

Something I noticed about this trip is that you can't see the towns you're heading to until you roll over the very last hill. They're hidden from sight until the last moment, popping out from thin air like a magic trick.

I roll into Buffalo around 9 pm and discovered that most of the hotels and motels are full in the middle of the week, due to the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota. I swing into Rodeway Inn, my second stop looking for a room. The gal behind the counter started talking to me about my bike and was happy to share with me that her and her husband ride fat bikes in Arizona. Her husband walks in and shows me a picture of them on his phone. That's great, I said, as she scrolls through the computer. She has one room left, but it's their suite with three queen beds, a hide-a-bed sofa, four person dinette table, full kitchenette with an office table and it goes for $310 a night. Ouch!! I told her that all I need is a room to lay my head down and I'll be gone first thing in the morning. I tell you what, she says, if you only mess up one bed, I'll let you have that room for $69. Sold, I said! Thank you so much for working with me!!!

By 9:30 pm, most of the restaurants were closed or closing. So, I hopped on my bike and swung into McDonald's. I had to go through the drive-up window because the lobby is still closed due to Covid. That's a first! With two Big Macs, french fries, 8 piece chicken nuggets, and a half gallon of milk to wash it all down, I was ready for bed!

Before doing so, I try to check-in with Craig and noticed I had a text message from him. Here's a quick glimpse of our conversation, after two days of each of us riding solo and after about 36 hours of no communication.

Craig:    In Kaycee. Where are you?

Paul:        Just rolled into Buffalo.

Craig:    Wow.

Paul:        Hard, hard day. Took me 7 hours to go 36 miles straight up and 50 miles of head winds. Crazy Woman was pretty cool!!! How are you doing?

Craig:    I'm great with the ride and where I'm at. Wish I could have ridden with you the past two days, but you launched to another level. Amazing 5 days. Mind-blowing Days 6 and 7. Have a great ride tomorrow. So jazzed for you. Now, finish it!

Paul:        It better be mostly downhill. I don't have much left!

Craig:       Looks like a lot of creek following. Should be a nice victory lap. Get to sleep.

Paul:        Will do. Wish you were here with me!

The Cloud Peak 500 is within reach. One more day to go!

Today's totals. 12 hours. 78 miles. 6.5 mph. 6,738 vertical feet of climb.

I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound, Tom Paxton (1964)

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