Search This Blog

Cloud Peak 500 (2020)

In late 2019, compadre Lucas Haan alerted me to the Cloud Peak 500 bike packing route in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. I immediately recognized its potential as a primo shake out as part of my long running preparations to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. The Cloud Peak 500 offered about 20 percent of the distance and elevation gain of the Great Divide on a seemingly similar variety of remote roads and terrain, with occasional small towns for re-supply. As a bonus, the Big Horns are but a few hours from Rapid City. I marked it a priority ride for 2020.

Meanwhile, cycling friend Paul Brasby of North Platte, Nebraska catches wind of my Cloud Peak 500 plans. As a lifelong, successful road racer, Paul is an enthusiastic gravel racer and bikepacker with both eyes fixed on a Great Divide ride in the near future. He also concludes that the Cloud Peak 500 looks to be an ideal ride to prepare for that, as well as a great ride on its own. We decide to start together and see how it goes.

Dropping off Dude's Downhill on the Cloud Peak 500.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

This page links a series of posts about our Cloud Peak 500, which was my longest, hardest, and overall biggest ride of 2020. Like most of this blog, I wrote this series primarily as a digital scrapbook for myself and any friend that might enjoy it.

But this particular ride also belongs to Paul, who persevered through a gauntlet of challenges to become the first, and still only, official finisher of the Cloud Peak 500 bikepacking race. I wrote this for his scrapbook, too, and to document and recognize his achievement. Well done, Paul.

Additionally, I wrote this series for all the bikepackers out there dreaming of their next adventure. If that could be in Wyoming, the Cloud Peak 500 certainly is a route to consider. These ride reports, and especially the Logistics reports, reveal much to help plan such a ride.

Finally, I wrote this series to honor the work of Sarah Wallick and Aaron Denberg in creating the Cloud Peak 500. Only passionate, local enthusiasts know their backcountry well enough, and care enough, to piece together a route such as the Cloud Peak 500 and then share it with everyone. Cloud Peak 500 Official Site. Thank you, Sarah and Aaron. I hope to ride some remote roads with you in the future.

A. Introduction & Preparation

The Cloud Peak 500 beckons.
500 miles of remote gravel roads through and around the BIg Horn Mountains of north central Wyoming. It follows roads I don't know through country I don't know. Country steeped in history and legend.
Looks tailor made for a GDMBR dreamer. Take a look. You, too, may be intrigued.
    2. History & Legend
The remote gravel roads of the Cloud Peak 500 showcase the striking beauty of the Big Horn Mountains, but the real treasure lies in its history and legends.
Dinosaur tracks, prehistoric petroglyphs and pictographs, ancient stone circles, traditional native trade routes, Army forts, cattle drives, wagon trains, outlaw hideouts, range wars. Natives, soldiers, cowboys, cattle barons, sheep herders, homesteaders, miners. The stories are legion.
Here are twelve highlights along the way. Can't wait.

I love to study maps to create routes through unknown-to-me country and then visualize riding through it. But it's also fun to see what others create. For the Cloud Peak 500, someone else created a crazy cool route and I just get to ride it. Sweet.
Here's my first draft of an itinerary for my Cloud Peak 500. Although this likely will change, it's a start.
DISCLAIMER: I am NOT organizing anything other than my personal ride. I certainly am NOT organizing a race, event, group start, "Grand Depart," or anything else.

    4. Navigation 
Navigating a route through unknown country?
For most today, that means a digital map with directional cues, whether visual, audio or both. What's next? A bike that steers itself according to a program?
My Cloud Peak 500 navigation system = 6 sheets of maps + 1 set of cue sheets + 1 compass + attentive analysis. Thanks, Roam'n Around, for stocking great hard copy maps.

    5. Gearing Up
How does a Jones 29+ bike ride single track, rough logging roads and good gravel, when fully loaded for a 500 mile bike packing trip?
Pretty much the same comfortable, stable ride as unloaded. Just much slower uphill and much faster downhill. Overall, it looks to be a great bike packing bike for extended trips.
Getting ready to fly now.

    6. Packing Up
The Jones 29+ is fully loaded for the Cloud Peak 500. Here's how I packed it all.
Everything I think I'll need for 8 days, while needing to re-supply only water. Think backpacking on a bicycle.
It's built for comfort, it aint built for speed.

    7. Gear List
Here's my gear list for the Cloud Peak 500, a 500 mile gravel tour of the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming.
Inexplicably, this comes after a post on how I packed everything on the bike, which came after a post on how the loaded bike handled. I got it all backwards.
Oh, well.
B. Ride Reports

Day 1 of our Cloud Peak 500 bikepacking trip starts with sky high hopes and big expectations.
Eight hours later, it all collapses in a pile of utter fatigue and crushing doubt.

After my meltdown yesterday, Day 2 of our Cloud Peak 500 starts with a pensive resolve to trust.
It ends at a high mountain meadow overflowing with gratitude.
This day is why I ride.

Ascending beyond treeline, we marvel at the drop-off-the-face-of-the-earth views to the west.
Then, we drop. Like 4,000 feet in 8 miles. Down a rock infested, sand filled, twisted elevator shaft that the map calls a road.
I call it "Dude's Downhill," as it's straight from an X-Games course. It dominates Day 3 of our Cloud Peak 500.

Breakfast at Jurassic era dinosaur tracks and dinner at prehistoric petroglyphs and pictographs. Really old school.
In between is a whole lot of hot, dusty climbing up an arid mountainside on soft roads. Mid-day I detour down an overcooked valley to shortcut to the campsite, while Paul continues to climb the Cloud Peak 500 route for a late day forested descent. We share our site with an intrepid solo rider on his own cross country cycling journey.
Day 4 of our Cloud Peak 500. A day to go your own way.

Here we go again. Warm-up along a peaceful valley for a few miles, then grind 22 hot, relentless miles up the sheer face of the Big Horn Mountains on soft, steep, shadeless dirt roads. The big views are amazing, but you earn them with that nearly 5,000 foot climb.
After a long day climbing high, we scream down Ten Sleep Canyon to a cabin far below. For the first time in 5 days on the Cloud Peak 500, we find a shower. Living large.

Decision Day. Do we continue our current pace of 50 miles/day and finish short? Or do we double our daily effort to 100+ miles today to have a fighting chance to finish the Cloud Peak 500 in our allotted time?
Early morning on Day 6, we strike for Middle Fork Powder River Campground at 50 miles out and up, the only known water for the next 100 miles. We'll see what the day brings.

Cresting the last, big climb up the western flank of the Big Horn Mountains, I drop down the eastern flank to a dry valley and onto an overcooked prairie.
This is my Day 7. My final day of riding the Cloud Peak 500.
I am finished. And I am stoked.

After 5 days of riding the Cloud Peak 500, Paul Brasby and I face the facts. We will run out of time to finish, unless we dramatically increase our daily mileage over the next 3 days.
Time to decide. Keep riding as we have? Or, go to race mode?
I wrote about my Day 6 in "Decision Day." Now, guest blogger Paul Brasby writes about his 15 hour ride on his Day 6.

After doubling the time and distance of our previous daily averages, Paul wakes up to face the steepest, longest, driest climb yet.
Slip Road. Savagely straight up. At the end of this day-long climb lies the alluring Crazy Woman Canyon, if he can make it with enough water, light and energy.
Here, guest blogger Paul Brasby writes about his Day 7 of our Cloud Peak 500.

After 7 days, 5 hours and 30 minutes, Paul Brasby is the first and only official finisher of the Cloud Peak 500.
From one who was out there with him into the sixth day working those climbs in that August heat, I will paraphrase the legendary Steve Prefontaine to say that somebody may beat that time, but they're going to have to bleed to do it.
Here, guest blogger Paul Brasby writes about his final day on the Cloud Peak 500.

C. Logistics Reports and Photo Galleries

    1. Miles 0-52
Part of our Cloud Peak 500 adventure was riding into unknown country on unknown roads with unknown re-supply. We understood the general scope of the undertaking, but admittedly few logistical details.
Others may appreciate more. So, for those considering a Cloud Peak ride or for those just curious, I am writing a series of posts detailing many of the logistics of our ride, as well as displaying many more photographs.
This post is a companion piece to "Up High, Down Hard" and covers Mile 0-52, which was our Day 1.

    2. Miles 52-104
Photo gallery, digital maps, numbers, road conditions, re-supply and other logistics that we worked through on our Cloud Peak 500 ride.
The post is a companion piece to "Riding The Storm Out" and covers Miles 52-104, which was our Day 2.

    3. Miles 104-151
Curvature-of-the-earth views and white knuckle descents highlight Day 3 of our Cloud Peak 500. Here's a photo gallery, maps and more. Cowabunga, Dude!
This post is a companion piece to "Dude's Downhill" and covers Miles 104-151.

    4. Miles 151-201
Today we grind up Red Gulch/Alkali National Backcountry Byway on one long, hot, steep, soft uphill. It's scenic in that Old West, wide-open spaces, and sagebrush way.
Photo gallery, maps and more from Day 4 of our Cloud Peak 500. This post is a companion piece to "Go Your Own Way" and covers Miles 151-201.

    5. Miles 201-251
How about another day to grind up a long, hot, steep, soft mountain road through sage brush? It takes most of a day to climb the summit, but the eventual payoff is a gravel plummet down gorgeous Ten Sleep Canyon.
Photo gallery, maps and more from Day 5 of our Cloud Peak 500. This piece is a companion post to "Back In The High Life" and covers Miles 201-251.
Update - Added 20+ new pictures that Paul just sent to me.

    6. Miles 251-299
Up for the next 50 miles of the Cloud Peak 500? Roll up a dry valley that barely tolerates a few hardscrabble ranches, go ballistic up a parched, powdered mountainside, roll along a high altitude, treeless ridge, and finally drop into a tiny oasis for the only water all day.
The Logistics of Day 6 of my Cloud Peak 500, with a large photo gallery, digital maps, and more. This is a companion post to "Decision Day" and covers Miles 251-299.

    7. Miles 299-356
One more climb up, and this time over, the western flank of the Big Horn Mountains. Then down the dry, hot valley to enter the storied landscape of the Old West.
For the most part, roads are relatively firm and fast, but starkly exposed to the sun and wind. Again, no water and no shade. All day.
The Logistics of my Day 7 of the Cloud Peak 500, covering Miles 299-356, with a large photo gallery, digital maps, and more. This is a companion post to "High On A Desert Plain."

    8. Miles 356-434
Finally back on the eastern flank of the Big Horn Mountains, where does the Cloud Peak 500 go?
Up, of course. Savagely up Slip Road, the steepest, longest, driest climb yet. About 40 miles and 7,200 feet of elevation gain all told, including a 6 mile stretch that shoots up over 2,500 feet. At the end, a crazy cool descent through Crazy Woman Canyon.
The Logistics of Paul's Day 7, covering Miles 356-434. This is a companion post to Paul's "Wonder Where I'm Bound" and includes a photo gallery, digital maps, and more.

    9. Miles 434-490
After 434 miles of climbing up and down the Big Horn Mountains in a mammoth counter clockwise loop, the Cloud Peak 500 breaks into the open prairie for a rolling 56 miles to the finish at Sheridan. No big climbs. No long steeps. But also no water or resupply. A fitting finish to a self supported bikepacking route.
The Logistics of Paul's final day of the Cloud Peak 500, including a photo gallery, digital maps, and more. This is a companion post to "The Road Less Traveled" and covers Miles 434-490.

D. Wrap Up & Links

Paul Brasby and I rode the Cloud Peak 500 in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. With our available time running out, Paul leapt to another level in the final 3 days, finishing the nearly 500 mile route in 7 days, 5 hours, 30 minutes. I maintained our prior pace to ride about 350 miles of the route, stopping a day earlier. A ride to remember.
Here's an overview of our week long bike packing trip. Over the next several weeks, I plan to post separately for each day. Such an experience teaches much and deserves some thoughtful time and effort.

At the end of our Cloud Peak 500, I felt good about the experience. Now, with all our daily ride and logistics reports posted, the Cloud Peak 500 is finally over for me. And I'm still feeling good.
I'm especially jazzed that my friend Paul Brasby completed the entire route to become the first and only official finisher of the Cloud Peak 500. Well done, sir.
To any bike packer out there dreaming of the next adventure, take a look at the Cloud Peak 500. It's a beast. Thank you, Sarah Wallick and Aaron Denberg for creating this unique, challenging route.

With emotions so raw during our Cloud Peak 500, I often struggled to express an experience in words. Then a song would cut through the clutter to light a path to the story. Here, in one place, are those songs.

No comments:

Post a Comment