Today was another short day – just 30 flat miles from Buffalo to Clearmont – designed to break up the long and desolate distance remaining to Gillette. Yesterday, we took a break in Buffalo, Wyoming, just east of the Big Horn Mountains. We did laundry, resupplied food, and drove up to the great western town of Sheridan, by way of Fort Phil Kearney.
The ride on Sunday from Ten Sleep to near the summit of the Powder River Pass was (here I go again) utterly gorgeous.
It was uphill all 21 miles, with an elevation gain of around 4000 feet. The weather was cool and clear, and the gradient was not anything like Teton Pass (12%+) and the scenery distracted from any burning muscles. Ten Sleep Canyon is popular and prized by rock climbers – I saw many moving their gear to the base of various limestone cliffs.
Because the riding day was short, arriving in camp by 2;00 PM with a whole afternoon to read by the shore of Meadowlark Lake felt like a luxurious layover day.
The campground was fully reserved, but Wendy was able to appeal to a wonderful couple from Billings, MT, who graciously agreed to share their site with us.
These folks, Patrick and Carla, and their friends, Mike and Mona, were generous with more than their campsite. They brought us plates of hors d’oeuvres (grilled salmon), watermelon, orzo salad, and rhubarb cake – all of which we speedily devoured. Later, we were invited to their campfire and learned much about the political and social climates of Wyoming and Montana. They believe that Wyoming is in an economic crisis now because the state’s leaders had failed to see beyond the oil and gas gravy train that has been feeding the state’s economy, with the result that Wyoming has lost much of it’s economic base. They said that Montana, on the other hand, has long worked to develop a more diversified economy, with tourism providing a buffer to the fluctuations of extractive industries. Montana also has a much deeper environmental stewardship ethic. It soon emerged that Patrick, Carla, Mike and Mona are progressive Democrats who are as appalled as we are by Trump’s actions and behavior. Our evening ended with the best Irish coffee we had ever had, prepared with great care by Patrick. Meeting these two couples was one of those serendipitous things that add so much richness to a trip like ours.
On Monday we continued over the Powder River summit (at 9666’, the highest elevation of the ride, and the last mountain pass remaining on the route to the Atlantic) and down into Buffalo.
The ride included 2500’ of elevation gain, but a whopping 6000’ of elevation loss. Wendy is now a strong cyclist – her day included over 3000 feet of elevation gain, as she rode over the summit with me and then turned around and went back up the other direction.
Buffalo is a town of 4000 residents, with a two-block picturesque main street. It has a storied history related to the Bozeman Trail to the goldfields of Montana, and the destruction of traditional American Indian life in the 19th century.
A few miles north lies Fort Phil Kearny, where in 1866 the combined tribes of the Cheyenne, Lakota Sioux, Crow, and Arapaho under Lakota Chief Red Cloud wiped out a contingent of 80 US soldiers garrisoned at Ft Kearny. Until Custer’s annihilation at Little Big Horn 10 years later, this was the single biggest loss of US soldiers in the Indian Wars. The 1866 battle came about as a result of repeated violations of an 1851 treaty guaranteeing Indian rights to most of the fertile hunting grounds in the region. We spoke with the young woman who is the superintendent at Ft Kearny, and she is working very hard to tell the deeper story of westward expansion and the consequences for the indigenous tribes, the Anglo settlers, and the US Army soldiers. Right now, interpretation at Ft Kearny revolves around the military tactics of the battle known either as the Fetterman Massacre (current name), or the Battle of 100-in-Hand (Lakota name).
In Buffalo, we were reminded that we’re in the Wild West when we chatted with a young man carrying a semi-automatic pistol in his waistband. Along with hunting being very prevalent, “Open Carry” prevails out here.
After returning from Sheridan and Ft Kearny, we went to hear some absolutely great country music at the historic Occidental Hotel in Buffalo. Or was it the smooth sipping whiskey we drank that made it so enjoyable?
This morning, we traded stories and advice with a couple – a soon-to-be retired Methodist minister and his wife – who also own a 2017 T@B trailer.
These campground conversations are another wonderful aspect of this great trip.
Happy 4th of July to all! Surprisingly, Buffalo did not have any 4th of July festivities. Now in Clearmont, we enjoyed a buffet dinner and music by a bonfire at the beautiful Ranch at Ucross, a guest ranch that has just opened the new (and bare bones) campground where we are staying ten miles away.
Sunset is really late at this latitude so a fireworks display won’t be until almost 10:00 PM – we saw the fireworks from a vista point overlooking Sheridan before calling it a night.
Luckily/happily we were able to work out holiday weekend reservations at the last minute for all but the one night at Meadowlark Lake in the Big Horn Mountains. As Howard said, I was fortunately able to work out sharing a large site with another wonderful couple and their RV. This was the second time that I had to get creative to secure a campsite (the other time was at Craters of the Moon, which does not allow advance reservations). It’s a pretty compelling story that I have cyclist(s) meeting me who are cycling cross-country, the campground is our rendezvous point, and communication regarding a change in plan is impossible without cell service. Both times worked out well with lovely interactions (though hopefully we can plan ahead better, so that I won’t need to be “creative” again).
During Reed and Amanda’s time with us and since, we seem to finally have worked out our systems, the sun is shining (no more rain!), and we are healthy; the trip is feeling more fun than work – yay! We are having a wonderful time.
With the shorter cycling day into the Big Horn Mountains, we actually found time to sit and read books by Meadowlark Lake.
I’ve played guitar quite a few times. With our layover in Buffalo, there was even time for stretches with our ground cloth and roller in our campsite and working on our blog.
Today was a shorter day from Buffalo to Clearmont (Howard cycled 31 miles; my round trip was longer at 38 miles). We have the afternoon with a fast wifi connection, allowing us to post this blog entry.
In Ten Sleep, we miraculously pulled off a rendezvous with Jennifer, another alto in my San Francisco chorus, and her husband, Stuart, who are also enjoying travels with their trailer this summer. It was great fun to share stories and enjoy dinner and beer with these lovely people at an open-air brewery with live bluegrass music.
I highly recommend an e-bike as a way to enjoy cycling while building strength. Three days ago, my ride was 31 miles round trip with half of the miles ascending. On my first ascent of the Powder River Pass, I used low assist; I used increasingly more e-assist in the 7 miles of climbing back to the summit on my second ascent.
For three days, I really enjoyed listening to a radio station that plays Native American music 24/7 – very evocative as I drove our van and trailer through this area that once was their land. Lots to think about there…
Politics have been interesting, to say the least. We met like-minded people with a Trump “dammit doll” in our Thermopolis campsite –
and clearly others with a different viewpoint in Ten Sleep, a cute town just west of the Big Horn Mountains.
As Howard said, the scenery has been gorgeous with great cycling. The roads have consistently been great with a wide shoulder; the drivers passing us typically pull into the open oncoming lane, leaving lots of space between them and us. The beautiful snow peaked Big Horn Mountains are now behind us –
we’re on to the wide-open range now.