August 2, Day 31 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014
August 2, 2014 is a day that Debbie and I will never forget. We knew we had our work cut out for us. We were 90 miles away from services, and the Bighorn National Forest—and a 9,600-foot mountain pass—stood in our way. We’ve never cycled above 7,000 feet. What’s more, we had just bicycled 156 miles in 90-degree heat the previous two days.
An early start to the day was imperative. For some reason, my cell phone, which doubles as our alarm clock, was an hour fast. That seems unusual since cell phone clocks are updated automatically as you change time zones. Regardless, when the alarm went off at 5:30, we arose an hour earlier than planned. It’s a good thing!
After large breakfasts at McDonald’s, we left Worland, Wyoming, in search of higher ground. Our final intended destination would be Buffalo, Wyoming, but only after we ascended Powder River Pass. A local had told us that our ride could be divided into thirds. The first third would be flat, the second third would be a steady climb, and the final third would be all downhill. He was right about the climb, but wrong on the other two counts.
The final leg of our journey also came with some surprises. Due to more rolling hills, we climbed an additional 1,000 feet before our free fall into Buffalo. After a day of trudging up an estimated 9,000 feet of elevation, we felt like large boulders that had been nudged to the edge of the cliff and, with one last tap, sent over the edge. Maximum speeds with our oversized loads approached 40 mph. Our data is estimated because our 10-hour cycling day, with over 13 hours on the road from start to finish, outlasted our Garmin’s battery life…check out the partial Garmin data here.
Today’s middle leg, the gradual climb, was true to form, and we cycled it for much of the day, spanning seven hours. Climbing with a heavy load is slow going. We were thrilled, however, to eclipse the mountain pass at 6:00 pm. Debbie’s reaction in this video speaks for itself.
We assumed the remaining 35 miles of our trip would be easy, all downhill, but what did we know? In a cruel twist of fate, 1,000 more feet of climbing was thrust between our mountaintop experience and the plunging joyride ahead. To top it off, our remaining fluids were running low, as was the daylight we would need to complete our monumental day.
This was not only a day when we exceeded our personal bests, this was a day of experiencing another facet of God’s incredible creation. After cycling through the Rockies and coming to high plains in central Montana and Wyoming, how did this mountain range become a wedge to east-west travel through the state of Wyoming? Its physical features do not mesh with the surrounding plains. It is a place unto itself.
Early in the day, as we approached the Bighorn Mountain range, we were cycling through barren buttes filled with untapped minerals. There were no trees here, and scarcely a shrub, at least until we began our climb. From where we come, God placed the forest at the base of the mountains. As you go higher, and if you go high enough, you may eventually break the tree-line, where the trees give way to rocks. The Bighorn National Forest worked in reverse. As we climbed, we began to see vegetation. Eventually, trees popped up. And when we had reached 7,000 feet, we were in the midst of a full-fledged forest.
The grade and length of the climb were also noteworthy. Another local had told us to expect a six-percent grade for 30 miles. This felt quite accurate by 6 pm. The grade twisted through the Ten Sleep River Canyon at its base. Eventually, the climb straightened out. The diversity of the terrain added joy and awe to our experience.
On the final 30-mile leg, we were wowed by vistas of grand, snow-capped mountains. These appeared intermittently as we jig-jagged up and down the punishing hills. On our final 10-mile descent into Buffalo, green, velvet-like, rolling hills had supplanted the barren landscape of daybreak.
The Bighorn region was an unexpected treat. Despite never having climbed above 7,000 feet of altitude in the past, on this day we were rising to new heights. We topped 9,000 feet on a day in which we cycled over 90 miles. Sore hands and butts notwithstanding, it was a mountaintop experience in every sense of the word.