An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a mighty herd of red eyed cows he saw
A-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw
Yippie yi ooh, Yippie yi yay, ghost riders in the sky
Ghost Riders In The Sky, Stan Jones (1948)
He's riding hard to catch that herd, but he ain't caught 'em yet
'Cause they've got to ride forever on that range up in the sky
On horses snorting fire, as they ride on hear their cry
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 writes about his Day 6 here.
After a welcomed night's sleep in a hunter's cabin in Ten Sleep, followed by a relaxed curbside breakfast burrito outside of Dirty Sally's General Store, Craig and I briefly part ways. Craig hits the road and I go across the street to the Post Office to retrieve a package of food I shipped to myself 10 days earlier.
I shipped several things back home, as well, and with the new for packed away on my bike, it now weighs in around 60 pounds, a far cry from the 72 pounds I started with!
The miles ticked by faster than most mornings and, before I knew it, I had 13 miles under my belt. The roads transitioned from paved roads to hero gravel (hard packed and fast) and a slightly downhill angle to the valley we were in didn't hurt any. My Salsa Cutthroat was cruising and two hours after leaving Ten Sleep I caught back up to Craig. As I rolled up alongside, I remember him saying this is a Cutthroat Day. You should go for it and push on to Sheridan before we run out of time.
It was something we had talked about from time to time, but I had a problem leaving Craig behind! Several months ago, I agreed to do this adventure WITH him. I had no plans to ride this adventure by myself. I can do that any day of the week back home. Due to my vacation time winding down and Craig's promise to his daughter that he would help her move the upcoming weekend, we were both running out of time to complete our planned journey.
Craig had it all planned out in his head as I rolled up. If I ride 105 miles today, 77 miles tomorrow and 56 miles the day after that, I could bag my Cloud Peak 500! That would mean riding from Ten Sleep all the way to Kaycee in one day with one known area to water up at a BLM campsite we hoped was there!?!? The next day ride to Buffalo and the last day to Sheridan, with nothing in between these towns to refuel. It was all on us! Water filtration will come into play on this stretch.
This was a decision not taken lightly, but one that had to be made soon due to the miles I had to get in. This is a very remote area and things can go sideways in a hurry out here, especially when by yourself. Being a week day meant for fewer people in the back country despite the few people we see on a busy weekend as it is. Ha!
With Craig's blessing, I decided to give it a go. I increased the power on the pedals and picked up the speed to a comfortable pace I thought I could hold for a long day in the saddle. As I pulled away, I gave Craig a wave, as he shouted out words of encouragement. We would see each other again in a few days.
With the decision made to press on to Sheridan, a totally different mindset kicks in. I find myself shifting into gravel racer mode, focused on and determined to put as many miles behind me as possible before dark. Drawing off past rides, such as the DK200, Odin's Revenge and the Gold Rush Mother Lode, I quickly run through a mental check list of food and my hourly calorie intake and, most of all, water!
Today was going to be a difficult day to find and obtain water, even with a filtration system. I left Ten Sleep with 3.8 liters between my frame bag bladder and bottles, planning for a 50 mile day. As the temperatures increased by mid-morning, I found myself lower on water than I would have liked. Now that I have doubled my mileage for the day, water was something I couldn't skimp on. Craig and I knew of ONE for sure water stop for the next 100 miles and that was around mile 50!
We had commented on this before, on how nice and generous the people of Wyoming have been to us. They're more than happy to offer water to us along the route when they stop to talk to us. Today, I may need their help and generosity more than ever!
An hour or so after Craig and I split up, I came across a guy and his dog in a truck after a night of hunting coyotes. He was nice enough to give me six bottles of water, which topped me off again. Two went straight down the hatch! I asked him if I could take a picture of him. At first he said no, then changed his mind and said ya go ahead. Just don't look at the pictures at the Post Office, as a cheesy grin came upon his face. I hear he offered Craig some water as well, further down the road.
As the hills ticked upward and the roads got steeper, the landscape began to noticeably change. I was losing my tree cover and occasional shady spots, as Mother Nature was replacing them with foot tall sage brush instead. I was in search of shade of the rest of the day in vain!
This route is a climber's delight, but if you don't have the right mindset, this route will bury you in despair. As the miles wore on, the hills got steeper and longer, with each hill bigger than the one before it. Like an angry sea whipped up by strong winds, they just keep coming at a relentless pace, whether you're ready for them or not.
Once again, I find myself getting low on water. As I rounded a hill, before me I could see a green oasis in the valley below. A sigh of relief was replaced by the words, "Come On." A large Black Angus bull stood guard of his lifeline, right next to the road where his stream flowed under, like a troll on a bridge demanding a toll to cross. His backside was turned to me, so I dumped gears, picked up the pace, and shot by him before he could react to me. In doing so, I lost a chance to filter some water.
Roughly an hour later, I rolled into the Middle Fork campground, low on water and ready for a quick bite to eat. Twenty minutes later, I was on the road again, but not before leaving a willow branch on the side of the road for Craig, indicating I pushed on for Kaycee.
Topped off with water and a belly full of food, I leave a beautiful and serene campsite along a babbling brook filled with willow brush and lush green grass with a hand crank water pump coming directly from the stream. I was envious of Craig for he would most likely be spending the night here.
As I rolled out of the valley floor, I had to kink my neck upward to grasp the full view of my next climb before me, by far the biggest one of the day!
By late afternoon, I summit the climb out of Middle Fork. The trees at the top of this ridge were mostly dead, wind swept and stripped of their bark by harsh winters and hot, dry summers. It made for an eerie feeling, as I rolled over the summit. This area is a harsh and desolate region that one must respect, as I start my descent down the mountain. A mental slip-up here resulting in a crash would take hours for rescuers to get to me, let alone hauling me off this mountain. On the way down, I noticed my rear brake was starting to get soft on me, something I would need to address for tomorrow morning before hitting Slip Road the next day.
The road was rougher than I had hoped for and I had to ride slower than I wanted to. I even stopped to lower the air pressure in my tires twice. The views I was able to sneak in when the road smoothed out from time to time were impressive. Way down in the valley floor were large red bluffs with a road snaking upend over them. Wow. Is that where I'm going, I wondered. About half way down, I started to see a large, black spot engulfing the road below me, not sure at the moment what I was looking at. As I got closer, it finally became clear. It was a cattle drive, about a hundred strong coming straight up the road that I'm going down!
As I approached the herd, there was a small but abrupt hill between me and the cows that the road would go around to the North. I ride in the Loess Canyons of mid-central Nebraska where I'm from, known for its large cattle ranches. Having to pull off the road for a cattle drive or two each fall is something I'm used to. So, off the bike I went and hike-a-biked to the South side of the hill. I found a nice rock to sit on with a view of the rear end of the cattle drive and the cowboys that were pushing them up the mountain. I gave them a wave and they waved back, as I took about a 20 minute break. This was a good time to air up my tires again and get more food and water in me before the last push to Kaycee, about 35 miles away.
The head cowboy riding a beautiful white and tan horse rode to the top of the hill that I was sitting under. It was like watching a scene straight out of an old western movie. What a beautiful sight that was. He thanked me for waiting and wanted to know where I came from today and where I was headed. When I told him, he just shook his head in disbelief and wanted to know when I left.
During our conversation, I told him that I was getting low on water and asked if there was a place to get water between here and Kaycee. He said no, there's nothing between here and Kaycee, as he reached back and grabbed a bottle of water out of his satchel and tossed it down to me. He said, do you see those campers in the valley? That's our campsite. In the back of one of those trailers is a cooler full of ice cold bottles of water. Help yourself to all the water you need and leave the empty bottles in the cooler. Wow! What a blessing that was! Once again, Wyoming's awesome generosity strikes again!
With my bike now loaded down with ice cold water, I can now relax a bit knowing that my water situation is under control. I push off for the fork in the road where the sign says Kaycee 30 miles away. The roads now are dark red from the sediments from the red bluffs that surround me. The roads are firm and fast, but have these crazy talcum powder sand traps that you had to keep an eye out for and be cautious when hitting them at speed. I called them powder kegs. When you hit them, the talcum powder would shoot straight up in the air like an explosion detonated by my tires. This went on for 10 miles or so. Thankfully, the road surface changed to a normal gravel road I was accustomed to just before dark set in and a late evening shower was developing in front of me.
The sun was in the process of setting when the shower was upon me, creating a spectacular sunset, the best one of the trip!! With the shower came strong winds that blow easily across the high plains of Wyoming. One such gust hit me so hard, it about blew me off the road, as I had to slam on the brakes to keep from riding off the edge. A loaded down bike with a frame bag is like a large sail on a sailboat in the middle of the ocean, capturing every bit of wind that hits its sails. Luckily, the winds didn't last very long and now darkness was fully upon me.
I was in the process of searching on my phone for a place to spend the night in Kaycee when a group of pronghorns ran up from behind trying to beat me across the road. I actually shouted out loud the word "HEY!" not knowing what I was yelling at the time. They came right up along side of me on the road as I was pedaling, passed me doing about 30 mph, and blew by me before turning left and running back to where they came from. Okay, now take a deep breath and laugh it off. That was a clean your shorts moment for sure. The hair was standing straight up on the back of my neck and legs! These pesky critters would play games with me one more time before this trip was over.
I found a cabin at a campground in Kaycee and the gal on the phone said she would leave the cabin porch light on for me, keys on the table, and I could settle up with her in the morning. The people of Wyoming are so trusting and warm hearted, it reminds me of back home in Nebraska! I rolled in around 10:30 pm after 15 hours on the bike. I was ready for a hot shower, food, and a real bed!