Day 64 of our wheely wanderings took us south out of Jackson, along the beautiful Snake River, towards the little mountain-side community of Star Valley Ranch. Here, we planned to wait out the weather. These bears gotta hibernate!
We let ourselves sleep in late because the friendly bike shop that was stowing our steeds overnight didn't open till 11. And our soon-to-be Warm Showers hosts both work in Jackson and wouldn't be getting back to their place until 5:30 or so, so we had plenty of time to make it down there. They kindly offered us a ride, but we were feeling car-sheepish after the Lander Express, so we decided to forge ahead the old-fashioned way.
First, though, we wandered around Jackson a little bit more — specifically in search of some more warm things to fight the coming temperatures. Sara scored some hefty mittens on sale (we've found mittens to be infinitely better than gloves when it gets really cold), and her frozen finger woes are hopefully now at an end. Beau found some wooly socks and an excellent Grand Tetons bear t-shirt. (Okay, it's not for warmth, but it's awesome.)
When it came time to grab our bikes and head out, we were thrilled to discover that yet more bike trails exist to the south of Jackson. One upside of these tourist towns (Breckenridge, Jackson...) is that they've invested in some first-rate cycling infrastructure. We went miles before we had to join the roadway again — and, when we did, we cut through some construction that revealed that they're ultimately extending the bike path even farther.
Maybe it goes without saying by now, but the views were still quite marvelous...
Once we were back on road shoulder, we mostly wound our way along the Snake River and through Targhee National Forest. It was V. Scenic. It was also a road that clearly closes up in certain winter conditions — canyon-esque, with a big, steep sloping rock face on the right and the river on the left. Signs warned of the possibility of avalanche. We admired the river. We rolled on.
At Alpine, WY, we took a turn to the south and started towards Star Valley Ranch. Alpine Junction is only a couple miles from the Idaho border, and we knew we'd be coming back this way in a couple of days. But first, winter was coming. Heading towards the valley as the day waned, we started to see huge golden pastures full of startlingly picturesque horses. Sara got a craving for Gordon Lightfoot. It seemed only right that "The House That You Live In" would come on as we headed towards the home of yet more unknown and yet welcoming hosts...
When you're caught by the gale and you're full under sail
Beware of the dangers below
And the song that you sing should not be too sad
And be sure not to sing it too slow
Be calm in the face of all common disgraces
And know what they're doin' it for
And the house you live in will never fall down
If you pity the stranger who stands at your door...
We picked up a 6-pack (the traditional Thank You offering) in the little village of Etna, then headed up a couple of steep hills to our hosts' house. Star Valley Ranch is quite literally at the foot of a mountain. And the mountains out here aren't like the Blue Ridge; the land doesn't roll and roll, with the crests eventually getting bigger until they turn into mountains. Here there's flat plain, and then bang! Mountain. Just rising up starkly out of it. We both hit an energy/calorie wall as we struggled up these sudden climbs after an overall chill day. When we got to our hosts' actual road, we just got off and walked. Gravel + killer incline. Not the most fun thing to do at the end of a ride.
And so we spent the next two full days peacefully holed up in Star Valley Ranch. Our hosts, Kenny and Nikki, are an extremely generous couple who are no strangers to putting up cyclists — sometimes for extended periods of time. We heard lots of tales of Mike, a cyclist from Norway, who showed up shivering on their doorstep in the middle of snowstorm last year and then hightailed it south into Utah once the weather was past. We're still planning to head straight west, but we needed to escape the cold front first.
And while it didn't dump snow on us, it snowed quite enough, and it was cold. Over the weekend, we peeked out the door to witness sub-zero temperatures and thick, mountainous frost. And also these cuties who were casually enjoying the bird feeder...
Kenny is pretty much a professional trail angel. Not only does he run a mobile bike shop as a side gig; he also volunteers on a Search and Rescue team. There's a little radio in the house that fires up every now and again with a scratchy female dispatch voice, warning of various situations out in the wilderness. Our first night staying in Star Valley, Kenny was called out in the middle of the night on an S&R mission — some hunters hadn't come home. He came back late in the morning with his truck coated in snow. (No one was hurt, and the story was rather salacious... Basically, some dudes had gone out with some girls for party-time reasons and gotten themselves stuck in the snow.) It was so cold outside that the hubcaps of Kenny's truck looked like this...
Though it always makes us a little antsy not to ride for more than a day, we were incredibly grateful for the rest, and for the proverbial shelter from the storm. Also, Sara's neck has been in pretty high levels of pain for some time now (all the way since Saratoga, WY), and it was good to have a couple of days to try to figure out some healing strategies for her aching sub-occipital lobes. (They've gotten so bad that they've woken her up in the middle of the night, or made it so that, in the mornings, she can't turn her head without pretty excruciating pain. It's something we've got to tend to in the going forward.)
Our plan is to head for Idaho Falls on Monday. It will still be cold AF, but it won't be NEGATIVE TEN DEGREES (which it's gotten to during our stay in Star Valley). If we can make it through Monday, we should (all extremities crossed) have survived our coldest day on the trail, and the temperatures should start rising from there.
We'll miss Montana (well, Sara will — probably only because she harbors sentimental ideas about Missoula because of Colin Meloy and the Decemberists), but we're grateful for the generosity of folks like Kenny and Nikki. And grateful for the ability to stay flexible, to make a plan and change the plan, to take a new path and keep going. Tomorrow, we bid farewell to Wyoming. It's been our hardest state by far, but it's also been stunning. Now, as ever, westward ho!
Day 64: Jackson to Star Valley Ranch, WY, 54.1 miles, 1950 feet of climbing, more beautiful bike path, one very scenic river, All The Pretty Horses.
Days 65 & 66: 0 miles. Hibernation in Star Valley Ranch. Much good grub (you KNOW we made carbonara!), much needed rest, some extra chill temps and some pretty chill deer.