Crossing the Continental Divide was a physical, mental, and emotional milestone. How did the 25 of us make it all the way from the eastern seaboard to the Rocky Mountains on the power of our own two legs? It was, and still is, somewhat mind boggling. Hell, I would’ve been thoroughly satisfied hitting that milestone and stopping there. But lucky for me, we didn’t. We kept on trucking westward all the way to the Pacific Ocean. And when that was done, we turned around and headed back east to meet our loved ones in Portland. I thought about it a lot the following year when I trained for my first Ironman. I thought about the lessons learned over those 4,500+ miles on my bicycle; hundreds of hours in the saddle spent laughing, crying, and sweating. I’ve got two more posts planned – one for the final 9 days of this trek and another about lessons learned, but if for some reason you don’t read it, please just know this: you are capable of more than you will ever think is possible.
“Cyclists see considerably more of this beautiful world than any other class of citizens. A good bicycle, well applied, will cure most ills this flesh is heir to.”
– Dr K.K. Doty
Days 42-43: Vail, CO to Hotchkiss, CO (131 miles)
I remember day 42 like it was yesterday. We were surrounded on both sides by the towering cliffs of Glenwood Canyon, which was carved over three million years by the power of the Colorado River. Most of the day was downhill and there was a paved path that followed the river. These are a few of my favorite things! I also distinctly remember how smoothly this day went – no flats, no detours, plenty of food. This was a rarity during our cross country journey, which made days like this one even sweeter.
After reaching Carbondale, we had plenty of daylight left to explore the area, so obviously we took the opportunity to drive up to Aspen and see the Maroon Bells. Almost 8 years later it’s still on my bucket list to come back here and see these beauties in the fall when the Aspen trees turn bright yellow.
Day 43 was our last major climb before the Tetons. As we trucked up McClure Pass, we passed a group of self-supported cycling tourists. I felt bad then knowing how much extra weight they were carrying, but I feel even worse now after completing several self-supported tours myself. Climbing plus an extra 30 lbs of gear, food, and water is no joke!
We ended up arriving in Hotchkiss under a gorgeous sunset. With only one more day left in Colorado, the feelings were bittersweet. I remember talking to my family on the phone this night. We were making plans for my arrival in Portland. It was the first time the entire trip that I was thinking beyond our finish line. My heart ached because I missed my family (four legged members included) so much, but I had grown so used to this time on the road and truly came to love it. I vowed to myself to fully immerse myself these final 20 days and not take a single second for granted.
Days 44-54: Hotchkiss, CO to Idaho Falls, ID (775 miles)
Alright team, get ready for a whirlwind. This next bit is going to cover four states. Full disclosure – I’m basing these blog posts off of my old ones from when I was actually on the road, with added tidbits and some feelings on looking back. Beginning on our last day in Colorado, myself and one other teammate took over leg leader duties. This meant we were in charge of planning the route every day and ensuring that all accommodations were arranged. This also meant less time for blogging, so bear with me while I recount days 44-54 from Colorado to Utah to Idaho to Wyoming and back to Idaho!
My most distinct memory from day 44 was watching the landscapes change as we headed towards the Utah border. As the rocks changed from earthy greys to a reddish clay color, I started to feel almost as if I had ridden my bike to Mars.
Day 45 was chock full of memories. We crossed over into Utah and rode through the abandoned town of Cisco. As my dad will appreciate, this place was a horror movie lover’s paradise. One of my teammates just happened to get a flat here, so we had lots of time to explore!
This also happened to be a very, very hot day, so at lunch some of us decided to wade in the Colorado River. Despite having wet bike shorts for the next several miles, I had zero regrets.
Last but not least, day 45 had some of the best views of the entire trip. This is what we saw heading into Moab:
Day 46 was an epic “rest” day in Moab. We hit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, which were both on my bucket list before even signing up for this adventure. If these pictures spark your interest at all, I implore you to visit the red rock country. Photos don’t do it justice.
Day 47 was our longest day, mileage wise at least, of the entire trip. We rode 121 miles from Moab to Price and it was one of the most memorable days for me. Miles 0-94 went off without a hitch. That’s a lot of miles to not have any issues, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when sh*t hit the fan at mile 95. We stopped briefly for lunch, but immediately after starting, we were surrounded to the north, south, east, and west by lightning strikes and pouring rain. It felt very apocalyptic – almost as if we were in the eye of a storm and there were no clear skies in sight. And of course we were in the middle of nowhere, so there was no shelter for miles. We started hauling ass to see if we could avoid getting hit by the storm, but pretty soon after my teammate got a flat. We pulled off the road and found the lowest point we could to hunker down in. At this point we lost our marbles…again. Someone mentioned something about jackalopes so we decided to stick small branches in our helmets and called ourselves the Jackalopes for the rest of the day. Branches in your helmet during a massive thunderstorm? 0/10 would not recommend, friends.
I was on water van duty on day 48, but that didn’t stop me from soaking in the views and also still getting some miles in. The driver dropped me off 7 miles from the host and I ran the rest of the way in…looking back, what the heck was wrong with me? I do remember my teammates were very angry this day because it was supposed to be mostly downhill, but the wind was so strong that they still had to fight the whole way to Provo.
Day 49 was a short and sweet one (under 50 miles) to Salt Lake City. I was SUPER excited this day because I knew I was going to see one of my best friends from childhood who lived in Salt Lake. We also got to present another scholarship to a very deserving young woman. She read us the essay she wrote for her application. Her incredible talent made it extra heart breaking to know that she was missing out on the higher education she desired. We were tied to our cause this entire journey, but it was easy to momentarily forget the dark cloud that is cancer when you’re surrounded by new sights every day. A visit with my friend was a much needed pick me up after being reminded of just how unfair this disease was.
The thing I remember most about day 50 is how hot it was, and the team drinking beers at the top of an 8 mile climb. Except they were Utah beers, so they had a super low alcohol content. Which was good, because otherwise we may have crashed on the way down the mountain.
On day 51 we said goodbye to Utah and hello to Idaho! Lots of good things happened this day. My teammate fish tailed my hair, we petted some ponies, ventured into some ice caves, and saw a geyser! Who knew Idaho had so much to offer? Certainly not 20 year old me.
One short night in Soda Springs, Idaho and then we headed north (east) to Jackson, Wyoming. Please do not take advice from me on taking the most “efficient” route across the country. We had a chilly start to day 52 (in the 40s in July!), but the ride to Jackson was a stunner. We winded along the Snake River and ran into a handful of Wyoming road blocks…aka herds of sheep:
We camped on Shadow Mountain this night just outside of Grand Teton National Park. When we got to the campground it was already dark, but I was the first one awake in the morning and could not believe my eyes when I unzipped the tent:
Day 53 was my favorite rest day to date. The team split up between the Tetons and Yellowstone because sadly we didn’t all have time to do both. I opted for the Tetons because I had been to Yellowstone before. We spent the day meandering between the towering trees, relaxing at alpine lakes, and reveling in the sheer size of the mountains surrounding us. Of all the places we went, Grand Teton National Park is the place I want to go back to first.
I wish we had gotten more time in Wyoming, but on day 54 we headed back to Idaho. This also meant we had a MAJOR climb ahead of us to cross over the Teton range. And not surprisingly at all, climbing Teton Pass was miserably amazing. It’s 5 miles long at an average of 10% grade. We took the Old Pass Trail which is for cyclists and pedestrians only and the views when we got to the top were well worth all the time we spent in the hurt locker on the way up.
At the border between Idaho and Wyoming, there’s a sign that says “Welcome to Wyoming. Forever West.” And forever west is right. Those mountains have had my heart since July of 2013.