What Goes Up …

Prune Creek Campground, WY to Lovell, WY

The sun that greeted me to start the day yesterday was nowhere to be seen this morning. In fact, there were a lot of ominous looking clouds looking back at me when I peered out of my tent. In the grand scheme, rain isn’t the worst thing to deal with while on tour. However, I knew I had a big descent ahead of me and I was going to need all the braking power I could muster – which is typically pretty minimal but even more so in wet conditions.

I also knew I had another two hours of climbing before I would get to that descent so the weather at that moment really didn’t matter too much. I’d just have to hope for the best. In the meantime, I could think about what I’d heard from multiple sources that the grade of today’s descent was significantly steeper than those that I ascended yesterday. Did I mention the roads would definitely be crooked?This was shaping up to be a potentially interesting day.

Speaking of interesting, as I made my along Highway 14 I got to witness some cattle herding. There were two people on horses, one dog (not on a horse) and a big herd of cattle – it was like a scene out of City Slickers (yes, I know I’m dating myself by continuing to reference “old” movies but I think my ongoing midlife crisis dates me anyway). Anyway, as luck would have it the cattle were being herded in the same direction as my route so I got to ride along with them for a bit. At one point there was one rogue cow that bolted from the herd and escaped into the trees … I can’t help but think that the pursuing horse and rider were less than impressed.

As the next two hours of riding passed, the road continued to climb but the skies started to clear – or become less dark anyway. My concerns about wet brakes were dissipating. One less thing to worry about. I continued pedalling and was able to match yesterday’s progress of a little more than 1,000′ per hour and by shortly after 11:00 AM my climb over the Big Horn Mountains was officially over. It was all (or mostly) downhill from here.

The summit draws near

Side note: If there was ever any question as to why I was willingly spending six hours pedalling up a mountain, when I finally reached the summit the views provided the answer. They were simply stunning. As a wise woman once said, “They’re real and they’re spectacular!” Not surprisingly, my camera didn’t even begin to do those views justice. But they truly were awesome.

As I admired the view from the top, a tour bus coming from the opposite direction also pulled in to admire the view. The bus was filled with German tourists but a few spoke English and took an interest in my loaded bike. We chatted for a bit – the people I spoke with were from Hamburg and were on a rather long tour which started in Vancouver. We discussed our trips, my bike and gear, and other such things before it was time for us to go our separate ways. My big descent was moments away.

Last stop before descent

Of the things one typically doesn’t do on a bike tour, stopping while going down a hill is pretty high on the list. Especially when it’s a 10% grade. However, as I rounded a corner, the revealed view was worth stopping for. Or TRYING to stop for. Just to make things clear, stopping a fully loaded bike (probably in excess of 280 lbs/127 kg) with rim brakes is no easy task. Gravity REALLY likes objects like those. Plus, I didn’t want to wear out my brake pads either. If I would’ve had a drag chute, I’d have deployed it. But I didn’t. I’m not sure if my almost silent pleas of “Please stop, please stop, c’mon, c’mon … please sttttttoooooppp” had any effect but eventually I did manage to stop what I was truly beginning to believe was an unstoppable object. And yes, I may have even resorted to dragging my feet at one point. Again, no one said cycle touring was always glamourous. The resulting photos still didn’t remotely do the views justice but I know what I saw. And I’m very glad I was able to stop. It would be the last stop on the descent.

Is this map to scale?

I won’t say that the signs leading up to the descent were bordering on fear mongering because I think it’s important to have people’s full attention when warning them about such descents. That said, the scale of those signs may have been a bit much. The descent essentially had three big segments. The first was actually quite fun. Yes, I was going fast but the curves were gradual and I didn’t REALLY need my brakes. The second section was a bit more daunting as the steepness remained but the sharpness of the curves tightened. By the third section the hill definitely had my full attention. That attention was heightened as I hurtled past a sign which read, “Road Damage Ahead”. At that point there wasn’t much I could do but hope that said damage was minimal. If it was gravel I was likely about to have a VERY bad day. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. In fact, for the most part the damage sections had been repaired with fresh (albeit sometimes bumpy) asphalt. A much better alternative to gravel.

As I neared the end of the descent there was one last potential challenge. Cows. Yes, cows. Patrolling the shoulder on both sides of the road. My initial thought was, “Are you @#$%^ kidding me?” … which was then replaced with pleas to the cows to stay where they were as I coasted by. They complied.

When all was said and done, I spent about six hours (spread over two days) climbing the mountain and less than 45 minutes descending it. The descent didn’t end up being as intense as I had expected but it certainly had my attention the entire way. The lack of traffic was definitely fortuitous as not a single car passed me during the steep descents – considering my experience at the end of yesterday’s ride, I didn’t take that for granted.

My final destination for the day was the town of Lovell and the remaining ride to said town went without incident – although, after my 45 minute rapid descent, it felt like I was moving incredibly slowly.

Flavour: “Moose Tracks”

Home for the night ended up being at a local campground courtesy of the town of Lovell. There was no electricity but there were washrooms, showers, and about 10 sites, each having a picnic table and a grill. Not that I needed the latter but it’s nice that it was available. Admittedly, it did work as an excellent windscreen for my alcohol stove. Oh, and speaking of which, I finally finished off my first bottle of methyl hydrate so that’s one less thing to carry tomorrow.

Oh, and perhaps best of all … there was ice cream to end the day.

Today’s totals:
Distance: 97.92 km
Ride time: 4:38:41
Average speed: 21.08 km/h
Maximum speed: 67.30 km/h

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