We are in awe.
Day 67. We woke today early again. Kenny & Nikki drove us back up to Alpine Junction — since it was road already ridden, we didn't feel bad for not biking it. We left their house around 6:30am. We left in about 0 degrees Fahrenheit. When they let us off, the bike rack had frozen shut and wouldn't let us have Sara's bike back. I bought a coffee and poured some over the clamp mechanism; the coffee froze without effect. Eventually Kenny kicked the thing open.
We hid in a gas station with a small, unused dining area, watching the mountain sky turn pink from black. We read, we chatted, we searched our devices. The temp kept dropping till the sun rose close to eight. We waited for the sun to light the parking lot, then we stepped out.
It was 5 degrees now. I wore the most clothes I've worn so far, possibly ever in my life: 2 t-shirts, 2 long-sleeved t's, a sweater, a puffer jacket, a flannel, a rain coat. I wore underwear, bike shorts, long underwear, joggers, khakis, 2x socks. I had on lined leather mittens, 3 bandanas, 1 hat, 1 neck warmer. 2 pairs of hand warmers were tucked into the mittens. Insole-length foot warmers rode the bottoms of my socks, while toe warmers were stuck to the tops. I had wind/rain guards over my biking shoes. Sara's situation was about equivalent.
The stateline was 2.5 miles away — if we got there and couldn't go on, we would turn back. We got there and felt surprisingly okay. We took the requisite pictures. We took them quickly, since picture-taking requires removing mittens.
The 20 miles from Alpine to Palisades are along the Palisades Reservoir, cold breath rising off the water like a long large kettle about to a boil. Snow is settled in the curving tracks where trucks have been joyridden between road and reservoir. The highway climbs up and back down ridges along the water; the sun is at our back. At the end of the first long climb I pull the neck warmer down off my face (it's been pulled up to my nose) because it's getting hot and damp and hard to breath through. Then we turn the corner and descend; the sun is now blocked by the ridge, and my speed has probably doubled. My cheeks are instantly stiff with frost, but with the speed and the mittens it isn't safe to take my hands off the handlebars to re-cover my face. Halfway down, my mustache is rigid as a bristle comb; ice beads have formed on some of the ends. The once-damp neck warmer is frozen almost solid. My eyelashes stick when I blink.
A handful of seconds to the bottom, and soon I'm back in the sunlight. This is different than other colds: other days you monitor your body and limbs to make sure you're comfortable. Today it is about making sure we're safe. I pull over, break the frost on the neck warmer and pull it back up to my nose.
In Alpine there's a gas station where they let us stay indoors and drink hot chocolate from the hot-sugary-coffee machine. The Gatorades we also get seem tepid compared to the temperature of our bodies. Sara buys a roll of duct tape, fashions an extra layer of toe guard from the tape, donates the rest of the roll to the ladies working the shop.
Another ten miles finds us in Swan Valley, ID. We stop at Ray's Coffee & Wine, We order sandwiches. Sara unpacks her feet to warm her toes. After the sandwiches, they allow us to linger by the fire in the corner.
There's a climb out of Swan Valley, and the shoulder is sketchier than it's been. But there's no wind, and soon we're at the top of the rise: a high, long plain with distant mountains in every direction. A layer of snow rests just below the long straight rows of cut-off stems of some thin golden crop. The near world is a shocking white-gold; further on are the white-and-shadow mountains. The sun is out and the sky is icy blue. The only clouds just now are thin and far to the west. This grandeur gets us most of the way to Idaho Falls.
The temperature has risen into the teens by now. Soon we have a headwind, but a gentle one. The winds slowly bring the clouds overhead. We stop at some point so Sara can take the tape cups off her toes — they're too tight, and circulation is more important than layers.
The approach to town is marked by the muddling effect of settlement: the road shoulders again become irregular, jolted around by driveways and oncoming intersections. Squat buildings, fences, other outposts of humanity are more often blocking and marring the landscape. Traffic builds, and we begin hitting stoplights. An abandoned stockyard occupies a few blocks along the north side of the highway. The clouds now cover the sky; it is not yet sunset, but the far-west horizon is for some reason already peach colored.
The cities and towns out here are never how I picture they'll be. I don't know how or why, exactly — I don't think I have a general idea of what a town is, and much less of what these places will look like when I've never been, have often never heard of them before the few days when they showed up on the periphery of my map. But somehow they often seem to be missing something, maybe like the original instance of someone's settling here was lacking some prerequisite — often a town abuts some advantageous terrain or geographical entity. Here they're just plopped down when it's been far enough since the last town. So it seems.
The flatness accumulates a greater and greater density of low-slung stores and houses, and soon there are restaurants and bars. It has risen now to the day's high: 30 degrees. We do not stop until we've traversed a short warehouse district to arrive at our hotel. We order delivery. We do laundry — more than half our clothes are drenched in sweat from just today. We settle in.
It's unlikely we will see another day so cold or so captivating. This is our penultimate state.
Day 67: Star Valley Ranch, WY, to Idaho Falls, ID, 72.5 miles, 2,325' elevation gain, a whole lot of stunning country