The Great Basin

(Written from the entertainment Mecca that is Diamond Lil’s, Rawlins)

Wyoming, it’s over, it’s you not me, you’ve been wet and not looking your best for most of our time together and I am moving on to Colorado (or at least will be in a couple of days, all being well).

It’s fair to say that Wyoming didn’t really get a fair trial due to the inclement weather although even in the sunshine I think I’d prefer Canada and Montana. It’s perhaps a little too middle of nowhere for me. There are as many pronghorn antelope in Wyoming as there are people – 400-500,000 – and I can confirm that at least 8 of those people are absolutely bonkers.

There have been some highlights though: passing Yellowstone and the Tetons, the Great Basin and, most memorably of all, finding $50 on the sidewalk in Jackson!

I would, first up, like to say that I’ve found a wad of notes on the pavement twice before and both times I’ve been ‘a good citizen’. Once I gave the money to charity and the other time I caught up with the person in front of me to see if it was theirs and it was indeed their baby-sitting money. This time, however, after an expensive stay in Jackson – new battery charger and even the campsite is $40 and it’s 12 miles out of town – I knew straightaway this was no time for an altruistic act and that money was to be mine.

The key to picking stray money off the floor in public and not have yourself or someone else feel you should look around for the rightful owner is discretion. To achieve that, I got missile lock on an object in front of me to help maintain my current speed and direction, then stooped and scooped in one fluid movement before pocketing the cash with Fagan-like quickness. I was magnificent. Once I knew I wasn’t being tailed, I counted my bounty and left town with a spring in my step.

Next up was the town of Pinedale where I met 3 new cyclists: Dean (who is 70, carries a Mexico or bust sign to motivate himself and has a day off every 4th day when I believe he drinks the beer he missed on the previous 3 days), his friend Billy (60) and travelling separately, Sean, a big, burly, vegetarian South African. The guy is an excellent advert for the power of pulses as he is as strong as an ox, riding a heavily-laden single speed bike. Dean and Billy were having a day off, whilst Sean and I were heading to the same location that day. It was a lovely, comparatively easy ride and, for the first time in a while, the sun was out. We arrived separately, then pitched our tents next to each other on a patch of grass amongst the sage brush and, later joined by a couple of Australians, had a wonderful evening around the camp fire.

The next day was an absolute pile of shit. It rained solidly all day and the roads, whilst rideable, were very muddy and I ended up wheeling Reggie down the hills after one too many scary fish-tailing moments. I could however ride uphill and awarded myself the imaginary spotted Queen of the Mountains shirt as I occasionally creeped past Sean, legs whirring in the lowest gear, as, being on a single-speed, he inevitably ends up pushing up a lot of the hills. Over-taking was a first for me!

We passed through Atlantic City (population 57) and stopped for some grub and found Greg, Hannah and Brandon (the 3 I’ve travelled with a bit) in the bar, having taken a day off to wait for the rain to stop before crossing the Great Basin as that’s one area where you don’t want to be slowed down by wet roads – it’s a huge flattish area with little-to-no water (normally!) and not much else bar antelope and wild horses.

Sean and I carried on another 10 miles that day as it’s a long slog to the reservoir in the middle of the Basin that you camp at (out of necessity as it’s the only place you can get fresh water) and I thought I’d rather do 70 miles the next day than 80. We arrived at Sweetwater River wet and cold so Sean took it upon himself to start a fire. This was no mean feat with only loo paper, cardboard and some damp twigs to work with but he set about the task with gusto whilst I sat on a log looking pretty. Well, I did make one contribution saying that if things didn’t work out with the materials at hand, I could set fire to a tampon as I’d seen Bear Grylls do it on the Stephen Fry celebrity special and it burned rather well. The thought of a sanitary start to the fire seemed to spark something special in Sean and soon there were roaring flames saving us both from an awkward moment.

Robbed of my chance to save the day but keen to play some sort of role in proceedings, I set off to find further fuel for the fire. I spent a good 10-15 minutes trying to wrangle dead branches off various bushes which isn’t easy when they’re wet and, embarrassed at my two twig haul after all that time, laid them next to the fire with a muted ‘well that should keep it going for a bit…’. During this time, Sean had uprooted a small tree and already got going cooking dinner. He has 2 daughters and I think I bought out his paternal nature and as I am now stove-less, I often end up getting a free meal when around those who are fit enough to lug around cooking equipment.

The next day we set out across the Basin which, at first, was a bit miserable as, whilst there hadn’t been any more rain overnight, the roads were still heavy-going. I wasn’t even halfway to the reservoir by 2.30pm and was on course to arrive about 11pm. I was seriously considering evacuating the Basin as I hadn’t seen anyone else, thought I was alone and didn’t fancy cycling around in the dark in such a remote area. I set off before Sean thinking he’d soon catch me but he didn’t, so I’d written him off as dead. I expected Greg, Hannah and Brandon to catch me despite them having to do an extra 10 miles but they hadn’t and I thought maybe they’d seen a change in the forecast from the previously predicted 2 days of sun and decided to give the Basin a miss. No sooner had I studied the map for an escape route, Sean trundled by which meant I had no excuse but to carry on. As the roads dried out over the course of the day and the route became flatter, I started to appreciate the beauty of the Basin and had a lovely early evening ride before arriving at the reservoir in the dark, albeit over 2 hrs earlier than once predicted.

The 2nd part of the 2-day Basin crossing is much more manageable as you’re treated to some paved road, so here I am in Rawlins, ready to do some laundry and get some new brake pads for Reggie. I hope to head off for a short ride tomorrow afternoon before tackling some serious hills that take you into Colorado. Wyoming has not offered up any monster climbs so I’m a bit nervous about hitting the hills again, although hopefully I’ll be ok as I’m both fitter and lighter than before after ditching my bear canister.

This was a smallish plastic barrel to keep your food and toiletries in overnight so as not to attract bears. It did the job but was an awkward shape and weighed a lot when empty, let alone full of food which it was most of the time as I found it hard to keep track of what I had in there so it often ended up containing as much as a small local newsagent: white mice, foam bananas, Wham bars, cartons of UmBungo… You name it, they were in the canister. Thinking I was out of Grizzly country and only had less aggressive Black and Brown bears to contend with, I thought I’d chance my arm (and other body parts if not successful) at hanging my food from a branch overnight rather than lugging the canister around. I mentioned this rationale to Sean who said Brown bears are Grizzly bears, they just use a different name in different states. Best wish me luck then lobbing my food into trees!

Right, I’m off to bed as I’m cream-crackered!

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12 thoughts on “The Great Basin

  1. Anna, Wonderfully written as always – you made me laugh and cry ! Top tip for you (you may already know) excellent home made firelighters can be made out of afore mentioned female sanitary product smeared in vasoline. The combination make a brilliant firelighter.

    Keep peddling you are doing amazingly. I read you blog with a mixed emotion of pride and then a dose of reality that you are slightly mad !!

    Love, James

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    • Stove is currently living in my spare room in michigan. It is looking forward to be reacquainted with the aforementioned bear canister shortly. Both will eventually make their way across the ocean to England. Well, the beat canister might stay as it would find life pretty dull back in Blighty without any bears to fend off. Having said that, none in Michigan either.

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      • You can eBay the canister if you don’t use it – they’re worth a bob or two those things! I’ve got food poisoning from Diamond Lil’s 😦

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    • I sent it home as I needed to get rid of some weight! Thing is, it’s not good practice to dispose of food in camping spots (both for the environment and not to attract bears) so you end up carrying around half a pack of cooked but uneaten pasta for example for 3 days before you find somewhere to bin it. Now I just deal in wrappers! It was quite rash but, and I think Greg is vaguely right on this – if I was even having doubts about it, it was wrong and I should get rid of it. I miss it but all things considered I’m better off without it I think

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      • I wanted to ask about this. Now you’ve got no means of cooking, and you surely can’t scrounge meals of fellow bikers every day that you’re not living it up in a hotel, what is you favourite form of prepackaged camping dinner??

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      • Eggshellent question, eggshellent… [when the chips are down, that phrase never fails to pick me up a bit].
        Now I’m thinking about it, I’m struggling to think what I eat which is funny as I was going to do a food blog to capture daily nutrition on the road but only seem to remember to photograph one meal.
        I pass by somewhere you can get a cooked meal at least once Ebery 4 days. Normally more often than that. I maximise that eating opportunity.
        Breakfast is often a muffin, cinnamon roll or bagel. I’ll buy these fresh and hope they last. No official lunch – just snacking on sweets for instant energy throughout the day. Dinner usually consists of cheese (from a block or BabyBels), beef jerky and crackers, crisps or bread. I may have peanut butter at some point in the day for longer-burn energy but I don’t like it much.
        I largely do ok without a stove but it is difficult to get enough slow-burn carbs like you’d get from pasta if you cooked. Often I’m not hungry at the end of the day anyway and have to force myself to eat at least SOMETHING.
        I rarely have any fruit or veg but you can only buy it in the bigger towns which are few and far between on this route. In a restaurant, I try and add some sort of veg side dish. It was cherry and huckleberry season in Northern Montana when I was there so that was a happy time for me – I love cherries!
        Right, your turn – either Chris – for food run down in Kingston / France…

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  2. So having to swallow a bit of humble pie while still blaming auto-correct for the anagram question – enumerations.

    Anyway, you’ve come a long way, through a lot of places. And it all sounds very musical, what with Yellowstone and the Tetons, and Elton’s anti-homophobia ballad about the cold winds of Wyoming. So. Which famous male solo artists had hits with ‘Atlantic City’ and ‘Jackson’?

    Today’s bonus. You’ve burned all your sanitary products in an attempt to start a fire. Which of these could you NOT use as an alternative: sea pearls; cotton comforts; femi-sponge or a moon cup?

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    • Haha, I LOVE the Segway into your questions!
      Johnny Cash
      Bonus is a bit harder. Good knowledge of sanitary protection! I presume Google was involved? I’m going moon cup. I think they’re re-usable which makes me think they’re plastic.
      No idea what sea pearls are. I thought they may be a sea sponge but given mention of femi-sponge, I guess they’re something different

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