Location: Dubois, WY (Lava Mountain Lodge)
Last night at an unknown hour in the middle of the black Wyoming night, a rain cloud opened up on me as I slept in the open. I didn’t wake up from the cold rain falling. I couldn’t or hear the drops on my sleeping bag. Instead, I heard Brian ask if I was enjoying the weather. I was in a daze. I sat up, still bound tightly around the face in my mummy bag. I could see my wet sleeping bag reflecting some distant light in the campground. It took a few moments to take action, but I put on my clothes, pitched my tent, and stuffed my wet things inside and crawled in. by the time I had done all of this, the sprinkling had stopped. I could see the outline of the gray cloud in the moonlight as it moved to the north, uncovering the sparkling Wyoming sky. I fell back asleep quickly once inside my tent. The rain hadn’t soaked anything all the way through.
This morning was one of our warmest. Brian and I were up and out of camp before Duchy had rolled over for the first time. We decided not to wake him, having already taken down his contact information. We will say goodbye to him later.
We blew through the last fifteen miles of Yellowstone, heading towards the south entrance. We stopped a few times to take in the scenery, but opted not to stop with traffic to ogle a coyote in the grass. We kept pushing through the morning with the wind to our back, and we kept the same pace into Grand Teton National Park.
The wind howled as we rode around Jackson Lake on the Rockefeller Parkway. The white caps in the lake matched the roughest day I’ve seen on Topsail Sound. The wind rushed down the slope of the jagged gray peaks of the Tetons and blasted the road. We stopped several times to take pictures of the majestic peaks, towering above everything else in sight like castle towers. Our route doesn’t travel over the peaks or even through a pass as we had expected. I doubt that any road does pass over those rugged mountains. Instead, after rounding the lakes, we turned east towards one of the taller climbs on the trail, Togwotee Pass. The pass is over 9,000 feet, as high as we’ve yet been. The climb from the base to summit is over 3,000 feet and about fifteen miles long.
We planned to stay at a campsite halfway up the mountain. As we climbed through the first miles, I was really struggling, having gorged on a loaf of sourdough bread at lunch. Each time my thighs pressed against my stomach, I felt like I was going to throw up. The only reason I ate so much is because I didn’t want to carry the molding loaf over the mountain. I gobbled it up instead of throwing it away. Just as I was feeling at my worst thought, as Brian had pulled away up the hill so I couldn’t see him around the pine trees, I looked up from the pavement and beheld a great big black bear walking in the road.
The bear walked from right to left, with long slow steps and his head slumped at the shoulders. Brian must have just ridden past him, and the bear was probably on the edge of the woods. I braked to a stop on the uphill, and I clicked out of my pedals. When I did, the bear stopped and craned his long neck towards me. I reached for my camera, my heart racing. I had the cameral in a second but it took several seconds to turn on. By then, the bear trotted to the trees. I didn’t get the shot and I put away my camera. I knew that the bear hadn’t gone far though. I hollered. I saw the black fur of his back as he shyly crept up the embankment on the side of the road. He disappeared over the edge. I started biking again, a little nervous, so I called out my usual bear warning, modified from the Appalachian Trail. I called, “Hey bear, go away, I’m biking here today.” Usually the warning takes that form and I repeat it several times.
I told Brian of the encounter at our next rest and he was disappointed to have missed it. He was though the closest to it as the bear crossed right on his tail. We continued to climb the long climb, and we came to a construction zone. The pavement had been scraped, so the road was gravel and heavy machinery was everywhere. The flag girl stopping traffic told us that we would have to catch a ride with the pilot car that led traffic through the site. The pilot car, a small pickup, led traffic down the hill and turned around to lead a new line of traffic up the hill. Brian and I loaded our bikes in the bed, and I crawled in with the bikes. Brian grabbed shotgun and we were off. As we climbed, the rough road made riding in the back dangerous. The bikes were bouncing, and I thought that they were going to topple over on me. If it had just been bikes it wouldn’t have been a worry, but a fully loaded bike carries a lot of momentum when falling.
Looking out the back of the truck as we climbed, I caught some great glimpses of the Grand Tetons, the jagged mountain spires. I could still make out the glint of pockets of snow folded in the deep and narrow crevices. The ride through the site was about five miles, causing us to miss a great deal of our climb. I didn’t mind too much since I wasn’t feeling up to the challenge. The pilot car driver let us out and helped unload our bikes. We were off again, still climbing uphill, but soon we encountered another construction site. Again we had to ride in the pilot car because of the dangerous conditions caused by the extreme work being done on the mountain roads. This pilot car dropped us off about a mile from the summit of the pass, so we actually only climbed about half of the total climb.
Being carried up the mountain by the trucks did cause one problem with our plans. We were driven past the campsite where we had planned to stay, and there was no going back. Therefore, we pushed on another ten miles or so, mostly downhill, and found another place to stay. We have come to Lava Mtn. Lodge and Campground. We’ve had showers, done laundry, charged our electronics and finally made camp. The campsites are a bit pricey and everything is coin operated, but I’m glad to be here, down the other side of the mountain. The area where we had planned to stay has recently been reported to have a high amount of black and grizzly bear activity. I can attest, having seen one myself. We’re not out of bear country yet, but I feel more comfortable in the company of others and a short distance from real buildings for refuge.