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Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Great Divide - Into The Great Basin

Into the great wide open
Under them skies of blue
Out in the great wide open
A rebel without a clue
Into The Great Wide Open, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty (1991) 

Leaving the big mountains behind, we power toward the Great Basin, pushed by 20+ mph tailwinds.

Early on the morning of Day 21 of our ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, we awaken after a comfy night sleeping inside the warm, dry, secure confines of the Strawberry Creek Safety Shelter near the top of Union Pass in western Wyoming. After riding about 1,000 miles, we're set to drop out of the big mountains of Bridger-Teton National Forest and spill onto the Great Basin.

That's a good thing. Paul is winding down to his final 4 riding days on this trip before his vacation time runs out. He would like to cross the Great Basin to Rawlins, Wyoming, right on Interstate Highway 80, to meet with his brother for a shuttle ride home. But Rawlins lies about 300 remote, exposed miles away. Under the best circumstances, that's a stretch for us.

Paul drops down Union Pass Road en route to Pinedale.

A badger brawls during our lunch break at the Green River.

Day 21 - Strawberry Creek to Boulder (73 miles)

With a 7:00 am start, we bounce along a rolling plateau for about 12 miles to a dispersed campsite, where we find fellow South Bound Great Divide riders Rob and Andrea, Franz, and the Three Amigos (Gary, Michael, Rich) preparing for the day's ride. Yesterday, all of them had reached the Strawberry Creek Safety Shelter before us, but opted to ride farther to camp at this place called "Mosquito Lake." To each, their own.

Union Pass Road turns rocky, rutted, and loose as it abruptly drops down to the Green River. As Paul bounces down the road, his phone bounces right off his bike. By the time he notices it missing, he's a mile or more down that steep hill. As Paul picks his way back up to search for it, a van filled with a church youth group happens by en route to a trailhead. Shortly after a brief heads-up, one of the teenagers runs down the hill to Paul with the missing phone. Trail Angels, once again.

We're still riding through wild country. Stopping for water and lunch at a bridge over the Green River, we witness a vicious battle between a badger and another critter, perhaps a fox. Those two are at each other's throats. After several minutes, the badger backs into a hole and the other saunters off. Both apparently survive, but you wouldn't know it from their blood-curdling screams.

The first 30 miles from Strawberry Creek demand almost 4 hours of moderately hard pedaling. But then the road mellows and a big tailwind wakes up. In just over more 2 hours, we cruise another 30 miles of pavement into the bustling town of Pinedale. We eat a big meal at a local cafe, re-supply for the next 3 days, and swing by Geared Up Bikes for a quick drivetrain clean. Oh, and one final huckleberry ice cream cone as we exit grizzly bear country.

Almost 3 hours after riding into Pinedale, with that big tailwind still howling, Paul suggests riding another 12 miles to Boulder, where there is an RV campground and a C-store for breakfast. Gotta surf that big tailwind, plus it would knock off a few more miles toward Rawlins. Really? Admittedly, I'm more than a little slow to get back on the bike. But of course he's right. That tailwind may not be there tomorrow.

Crossing the Big Sandy River and then climbing out of the valley.

We're just dust in the wind.

Day 22 - Boulder to Atlantic City (78 miles)

By sleeping on cots in a wall tent at the Highland Trail RV Park and eating breakfast at the C-store, we're able to load up quickly for an early start from Boulder. Maybe a bit too early. At 32 degrees, frost covers everything. It's our coldest morning so far. 

The roads are dry, hard-packed and fast. As the sun warms up, that big tailwind picks up again and we're cruising up and down a series of big rollers through stark sagebrush country. Now clear of the mountains, we fly through the surreal, lunar-like landscape at a relatively easy 15-20 mph. It's a really nice change of pace.

We spin along Lander Cut-Off Road to paved State Highway 28 and a developed rest area with water, shade, and indoor restrooms. The caretakers of the rest area live right next door and we hear that they allow Great Divide riders to camp there. That may be a good option, but we want to knock off a nasty 5 mile stretch of busy, annoyed pavement on Highway 28 to finish on gravel down the road a bit.

Mid-afternoon, we drop down a steep ravine to stop at a state historic site for a short break from the heat. Like Bannack State Park in Montana, the State of Wyoming preserved much of the town of South Pass City from a late 1800's mining boom. We check out the Visitor's Center, where we find ice cream and unique flavors of soda pop. Score!

Just 5 miles later, we drop down another ravine into Atlantic City, capping another good, long day on the bike. After devouring big burgers from the Miner's Grubstake Cafe, we lounge in luxurious accommodations at Patricia and Mark's log cabin right on the route. This is the nicest place, by far, on our entire ride. Patricia even washes our clothes and delivers home made burritos for breakfast. Amazing.

We are set up for success to launch across the Great Basin in the morning. Now, if only that tailwind sticks around.

Diagnus Well is not easy to spot from the road.

Long sight lines in the Great Basin.

Day 23 - Atlantic City to A&M Reservoir (85 miles)

By riding 150+ miles the last two days and by comfortably recovering the last two nights, we believe we have a reasonable shot to ride across a big chunk of the Great Basin to reach A&M Reservoir. This day will decide whether we make it to Rawlins, or whether Paul's brother will need to track him down out here somewhere.

Fortunately, that big 20+ mph tailwind of the last two days pushes us along once again. Within just a few hours, we cruise over 40 miles on hard, fast roads and stop for lunch in the shade of a building at the Bison Basin Oil Field Camp, the only development of any kind we see all day. It's 90-some degrees, but we're flying. Occasionally, the road bends enough North or South so that we experience the force of that westerly wind as a cross-wind or even briefly a head wind. Wowzer.

By late afternoon, I'm on cruise control and actually ride right past the A&M Reservoir, not expecting that body of water to be 50 feet above the road grade. So, I add a couple of miles to an already long, hot, windy day out in the exposed Great Basin. I'm out of water and out of gas. Time to refuel and recover. 

Filtering water from the shore of the reservoir, my mind drifts. The sheer magnitude of this landscape overwhelms. I realize that I am just a speck of dust blown across this great expanse of open prairie. Late that night, the countless stars show that the earth is even less across the cosmos. All of creation declare the glory of God!

Neither water nor shade anywhere for many, many miles.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Paul spots a small herd of wild horses on the horizon.

Day 24 - A&M Reservoir to Rawlins (57 miles)

That big westerly wind continues to howl into the night, buffeting my tent and sparking hope for one more day of tailwinds to blow us into Rawlins. Inexplicably, it simply stops in the middle of the night. The sudden silence awakens me. I step outside my tent, gaze in wonder at the number and brilliance of the stars, and know that big tailwind is gone. What's next?

It doesn't take long. After about 30 minutes of eerie calm, I hear what sounds to be a rumbling train bearing down. In a flash, the force of a new wind punches through the night. Oh, man. Here we go.

Sure enough, a new weather front reverses the wind. With most of our 57 miles to Rawlins veering south east, we plow into that stout head wind almost all day. A 25 mile stretch of rough pavement on Mineral X Road extracts almost 4 hours of hard, head-down pedaling. Then we ride 16 miles of U.S. Highway 287 over yet another Continental Divide crossing before finally reaching Rawlins.

But, hey, if we only face headwinds 1 day out of 4, and just 57 miles out of the last 300, that's pretty good. Besides, we now experienced a day of the infamous Great Basin headwinds. 

Filtering water as the sun sets at A&M Reservoir in the Great Basin.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Sunrise at A&M Reservoir in the Great Basin.

We roll into Rawlins early afternoon and enjoy a celebratory meal while waiting for Paul's brother Matt to pick him up for his shuttle ride home. Optimal conditions for 3 days push us 236 miles from the Strawberry Creek Safety Shelter near the top of Union Pass all the way to A&M Reservoir. The shortest day, and the hardest, is clearly that last 57 miles into Rawlins. But we make it to rendezvous with Matt.

Paul's 2021 Great Divide ride ends. My solo ride begins.

Into The Great Wide Open, Tom Petty & The HeartBreakers (1991)


  1. I also stayed at Pat and Mark's cabin in Atlantic City. Mark had been to the dentist that afternoon with an abscessed tooth. I think the ride across the Basin was one of my most memorable experiences. It was eerily awesome in spite of fighting the wind between Atlantic City and A & M.

    1. Atlantic City to A&M is a long day in the saddle, even for us with a tailwind most of the day. Nice work to cross that stretch the next day with that big head wind!