Alone in the world - Cycling the Great Divide Basin
After an unforgettable time in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, we are in the mood for a challenge. In Pinedale we decide to pick back in on the GDMBR. The next 300km will take us through a desert-like area with barely any water and facilities. When we check the weather forecasts in Pinedale, they all look good, we are really looking forward to the challenge through the Great Basin. Unfortunately, on day two the weather completely changes and enthusiasm turns into mental exhaustion. We feel alone in the world in this beautiful, desolate landscape. What we learn from this you can read further in this blog.
Plodding through the sand
Day 1 in The Great Basin - We have cycled 50km at lunch and are surprised to find the first 40km still paved. The pace is good and we look forward to the first gravel roads. After lunch the pace slows down and this gives an idea about the profile for the next few days. When we reach a summit of a climb we already see the next one, it is as if there is no end to these "fake summits". The cycling day after some rest days is always the hardest we think, so we don't pay too much attention to the fact that we don't really feel fit after lunch. At the end of the day we tick off at 82km and around 6pm we pitch our tent next to the road in a very nice spot. We stomp aside the copious and dried cow poop and eat our wraps with beans while the sun sets. We go to sleep feeling good, the next morning we wake up to a shining sun on the tent.
Day 2 in The Great Basin - The landscape where we find ourselves in is unique, a brown desert-like environment with dry bushes along the side of the road. The contrast is great from 1 week ago when we were still in the mountains and could wash ourselves in a river or lake at night. This time we use baby wipes to wash off the sand from our legs and are able to crawl into the tent somewhat clean. We are sparing with our water supply, as it hardly rains in this basin.
Atlantic City - The Western Village
We feel quite surprised when, on day 2, the sun disappears behind a big pile of clouds. A strong wind arrives and makes us move a lot slower than the first day.
When we arrive in Atlantic City (not the gambling town in New Yersey but a western village in Wyoming) in the late afternoon, it is as if time stands still. We find ourselves exactly in the setting of some western movie and stop at the saloon. There we meet Bob sitting at the bar, holster with gun clearly visible, but friendly and interested in what we are doing. He allows us to pitch our tent next to the church for the night. But unfortunately there is too much wind and no grass, so we decide not to pitch our tent there.
We cycle trough the village once again when Stefanie calls out, "Look! a sign that says hikers and cyclists are welcome!" We are standing at the fence of a house, the big Trump flag obviously flapping in the wind when a woman approaches us. We say we saw the sign and are still looking for a place to stay for the night. Meanwhile, the sky has darkened and the first raindrops fall down on us. The woman warns us for the upcoming storm and says she has cabins for cyclists. We feel very lucky for a split second when she quickly adds that the cost is USD65 per person. When we ask if we can pitch our tent under her canopy for a small price, she politely thanks and once again warns us about the storm, she turns her back and takes shelter herself. Unfortunately a different kind of welcome for cyclists than she makes it seem out to be on her sign and certainly different from the hospitality we were allowed to experience before.
Fortunately, another man shows us a spot where we can pitch our tent. We are in the tent just in time when the first thunderstorm rushes by. Several questions appear in our minds about the next 48 hours. The toughest part of the Basin is coming up and the weather suddenly looks much more threatening. Honestly, we are no longer looking forward to it but we are now in this place and have no choice but to continue. We will bike through the Great Basin and we'll see how it goes. Poco à poco.
Trapped in no-man's land
Day 3 in The Great Basin - The next day we bike into the heart of the basin after a tough climb out of Atlantic City, a rainbow welcomes us into the middle of nowhere. Only the cows, pronghorns and wild horses are curious about the rare cyclist that passes them. The thunderclouds form all around us and when we reach Diagnus Well (the last place to refill our water) we feel the first raindrops falling down on us.
It doesn't take long before we see the first flashes of lightning. We count the seconds between the lightning and thunder. The first time we count to 20 and we see a lightning strike in the far distance. A scene we would rather not see coming closer. When we reach the summit, there are no more seconds to count and the flashes fly everywhere We are scared and there is no place to take shelter so we make ourselves as small as possible on the ground. A fierce hailstorm falls over us as we realize we don't want to be here, we suddenly feel very vulnerable and alone.
The storm turns the road into one big mud puddle and we work our way through the sticky sand all pushing. The sand changes into a sticky form of clay and both of our chains get all clogged up. The wind picks up and this seems to take forever. All of a sudden all our self-confidence disappears and we cover less than 5 km in 1 hour. And then there are those little voices in our heads. It is heavy and especially dangerous with the thunderstorms, "What on earth are we doing here?" When we arrive at a wooden shed we decide to pitch our tent there. Thanks to the wooden construction, we are a bit sheltered from the wind. Ideal for cooking and filtering water. We finish our diner just in time when the rain starts pouring down again. It becomes a sleepless night when a storm rages over our tent and Niels in particular has had it. With only a few hours of sleep he is scared for what awaits us the next day after this heavy rain.
When a Subway sandwich suddenly tastes good
Day 4 in The Great Basin - The last day in the Basin, another 70km before we will be back in civilisation. It's a wet day and the bikes are covered in mud (read: sticky clay). We worry if the bikes will last until the end. Everything creaks, we use all the water we carry to keep the chain clean. Every peddle we take feels like a small victory, but when the umpteenth cold rain flies over us and we have to push the bikes again, we become exhausted every time again. Time seems to stand still, it is too cold to have a decent lunch and we are looking forward to a bit of civilisation. We leave at 8am and it turns 3pm quickly when we arrive in Wamsutter, which treats us to bright sunshine as we cycle in. Paved road under our tires never felt so blissful!
We see the green and yellow letters of the Subway sign appear on the horizon, a sandwich with vegetables would taste good right now. For a moment we don't think about our budget and order two Large sandwiches with large sodas and let ourselves go all the way, it's in faster than we notice. Then we meet Tim who shows interest in our story. We get talking, talking about our adventures, he about his worklife and family. An interesting conversation and a bit later he approaches us with dollar bills in his hand. He gives us 40 dollars out of the blue. Turns out he used to be a cyclist himself, something that has faded since he has 4 children. "But I still know the struggle and how hard it can be, so you deserve this!". Such gifts still feel like we don't deserve it. We remember ourselves complaining throughout the Basin and wondering if no one else needs this more than we do. We learn to accept gifts and thank Tim for his generosity!
Cycling through the Great Basin is a Once in a Lifetime experience for us. We had to seriously push through, suffered pain both physically and mentally but also believe it makes us stronger. Every experience makes us learn about ourselves, but here it felt different. We were more vulnerable than ever before, we missed having people around us and a safe hiding place when needed. The road and the route will remain a memory for life and make for great stories, but we have to stay honest with ourselves. We love challenges, but this was a little bit too much for the sake of the weather. This past month we cycled sections of the GDMBR and cycled more remote than we are used to. The Great Basin made us realize that we need a break for the next part and we remember why we love this cycling trip so much, and that is to get to know people and experience different cultures. For us, it is still the encounters that make the trip, not the places we bike.
Have we become too dependent on others?
A few days of a nice bed, a shower and healthy food are enough to recharge our batteries. We make the mistake of thinking we are dependent on others. Ever since we started, we have been cycling through countries where we barely find affordable options for accommodation. Sometimes we book a night in a hotel anyway, but the prices in Canada and the US are simply too high for us to fully enjoy this, so we remain quite stubborn in this.
We always believe that a trail angel will appear on our path, and they always do. Great people who open their lives to us, but we should not expect this to happen at the moments we need it, it is the unpredictability that make these encounters so beautiful. Do we sometimes make it too hard on ourselves? What will happen when we are truly alone in the world and no further help is at hand? It is a learning and growth process that we have to go through on this cycling trip around the world.