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Day 62: The Ballad of Wyoming, Part 3 – The Tetons

Today we climbed from Autumn straight up into Winter, then rode back down again into perhaps the most magnificent sunset we've ever seen. But first, we were almost trapped again...

An ominous sky. A more ominous sign.

Day 62 found us waking up groggy and early at the Dubois Super 8, suiting up and getting ready to climb Togwotee Pass (that's "TOE-guh-tee", we learned). But no sooner did we roll our bikes into the parking lot—under a positively menacing gunmetal sky—than the hotel proprietor spotted us. "Are you biking that way?" she asked, gesturing west. Yes. "Oh, you can't go that way. The road is closed."

If there's anything that strikes instant cold terror (and resentment) into the hearts of cyclists, it's a closed road. Our hearts sank. Just... why? Well, why was apparently a nasty multi-car crash somewhere way down the road close to the pass. We tried to check the exact location of the closure (because, let's be real, it'd probably take us hours to get there anyway). Then we rode up to the closure sign to see for ourselves. While trying to suppress a freak out, we pulled into the nearby gas station and—thank goodness—the guy behind the counter saved us. He'd just gotten off the phone with his friend who was on the road out near the crash site. The report: "They've opened up one lane of traffic and are letting people through." Thank you, gods. Thank you, gas station guy. Somewhat delayed, somewhat rattled, we set off.

For a while, we climbed slowly along the Wind River, which doesn't get less starkly beautiful as you go along. Even the cows are picturesque.

The TransAmerica Trail: Or, Cows in Epic Places

Pretty early in the day we had our first encounter with something that was going to come to haunt us later on... Along this part of the trail, there are a bunch of gas stations and little places to eat that are connected to tourist lodges. Which—lucky us!—are all currently closed for the season. We've managed to hit these areas right between their peaks: in the summer, they're full of hikers and sight-seers. In the winter, they're packed with folks on skis and snow-mobiles. But right now, they're practically abandoned. So, we had to give up on the dream of any snacks or indoor-warmth breaks on our way towards the pass. But at least this place had some excellent bear statuary...

Soon we reached the line of cars waiting at a road barrier to be let through. Thankfully, the police that were there let us know that we could go around the barrier and proceed with our climb. Which — thank goodness they saw us and gave us the go-ahead before they turned around and drove off (presumably over the pass towards the cars waiting on the other side), because we biked for a long time before any cars came past us from our same direction. As we began to see the absolutely wild peaks that top Togwotee, it was all the more stunning and serene to have the road practically to ourselves.

A view of the Pinnacle Buttes, part of Togwotee's summit

Togwotee was a long climb. It's not as high as Hoosier, but it's much more mileage. And of course there were headwinds — though, at this point, the absence of wind is almost suspicious. Wind is our lives now. So, we did our thing: listened to Dickens and toiled steadily upwards. It wasn't the bad kind of toil, though. Not when we were surrounded by this...

It took a good long (and increasingly chilly) while, but at last, we reached the summit! 9,584 feet! And on top of Togwotee it is, was, and will be for a very long time yet, FULLY WINTER.

Once we started zooming down the other side (okay, zooming wasn't always accurate because ... take a wild guess ... wind!), our mouths were pretty much always open. Suddenly, the Teton Range loomed in the distance. The sun flashed off of mountain lakes. We pulled over at an overlook that let us just stare at the wild, jutting ridges of the Tetons for a while. They're like nothing either of us had ever seen. Except, maybe, in some sort of fantasy universe. They're like... the setting for Aang's air temple in Avatar. Or where some elven snow queen would live. They don't quite seem of this world. And for mountains, they haven't actually been here that long — the overlook signage told us that the Tetons are one of the youngest mountain ranges in the world. A tender 10 million years old and still rising!

We hung out at the overlook for a spell, just taking it all in. Then we looked at the clock and realized how much of our day had been taken up with the climb. We had to get a move on. As we headed downhill and westwards, we were disappointed no less than three more times by places we might be able to stop for a snack or a break — all shut up for the season. But, though we were getting peckish, things weren't getting less beautiful...

Dinner of champions.

It was almost 5'o'clock when we finally found—hooray!—an open Phillips 66 gas station (we had actually been trucking towards it because when Beau spotted it on the map we were worried that we might not make it before closing). But not only was it open till 6; it was also one hell of a gas station. There was a bar-slash-liquor-store and a little food shop inside, plus an excellent sticker selection (we're sticker magpies), and a really lovely woman behind the counter who couldn't have been nicer to us. When I decided that I was going to pull my old I-am-very-single-and-poor-in-Brooklyn move and eat a can of refried beans with a spoon, she not only encouraged me ("I do that, too! They're great!") but found me a can opener. She also looked at the map with Beau and gave us some tips about the road ahead. What a good'un.

We had to get back on that road soon enough — we still had almost twenty miles to cover before we'd reach Jackson Lake, inside the bounds of Grand Teton National Park, where we were intending to camp for the night. And the sun was sinking fast.

Oh, how it sank though.

That hour or so of riding into the sunset over the Tetons was—for all our tiredness, for all our chilliness, for all our niggling anxiety about how far we had to go—magical. It's impossible to capture this kind of sunset on a cellphone camera. It's only slightly less impossible to describe it. I'll leave that to better poets than I, though (especially with the level of brain-energy I often have left when it comes to the point in the day to concentrate on these blog posts). Instead, here are some more pictures...

As we paused to stare at the wild magnificence of the sky, lines of cars were streaming past us out of the park. All the tourists were on their way home after the sun went down. We were on our way in. Though we didn't quite know to exactly where. We knew the official park campsites were technically closed, but we figured we'd find something. We rode on. By the time we came to the dam over Jackson Lake, the dark was closing in and the waters were crashing against the dam in the persistent wind. I thought about "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and about how infinite and overpowering even a lake can feel.

We rode on into the dark. I'm not going to lie — we were exhausted at this point. The day was nearing the 12-hour mark, and the campground we had been aiming for looked too lit up and potentially populated for us to feel comfortable stealth camping there. We were both edgy on the dark roads, especially as they rolled on and on through the park without any sign of a next campground to try. Though we were fried, we ended up biking almost a full 10 miles extra, till we were almost at Jenny Lake (it's south of Jackson Lake and a little smaller and, we'd been told, really beautiful, though right now everything was pitch black). The proverbial end of our rope was seriously starting to fray when we found the turn-off for Jenny Lake Lodge. Also closed, of course, but we risked it. It was possibly supposed to snow that night, and after tiptoeing around the Lodge and its adjacent cabins, we decided it would do. We pitched our tent on the concrete "porch" under the overhang of one of the cabins — plus side, it would keep us out of any snow that might come; downside, the winds were still whipping at us and we couldn't stake it down. So we got it up and filled it with our bags as fast as we could, then with ourselves.

It was going to get down into the teens during the night, and we were in full unwashed-cyclist mode. Neither of us took clothes off; we just added more layers on top and got in our sleeping bags. Lying there, blinking dazedly at each other, we reviewed the day in our heads. Every day out here feels like its own year, its own time zone. Where were we this morning? Dubois?! How is that possible? We'd come through road closures, two different seasons, thousands of feet of elevation and descent, snowbanks and sunsets and lakes and wind and darkness and whole novels since then (Beau finished Our Mutual Friend!). We fell into the half-slumber that you nearly always get in a tent, knowing that we'd wake up before the sun to begin again. And on we go...

Day 62: Dubois, WY to Jenny Lake Lodge, 70.7 miles, 4675 feet of climbing, the Grandest of Tetons, the most glorious of sunsets.

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