Days 68 & 69: Volcanic Craters & Atomic Towns
After our arctic trek out of Wyoming, we headed back into "open ocean" for two slightly warmer days of riding — through Idaho's high plains of lava rock, occasional buttes, and an unseen nuclear research center.
But first! Yesterday we left Wyoming! And we were having such a Gorgeous Moment with the scenery on our first day in ID that we didn't want to pause to look back. But now it's time for (drum roll...):
The Wyoming Roundup!
STATS SO FAR
Total miles in Wyoming: 326.7 (+ 120 in a truck… Thank you again, Don.)
Total trip miles: 2921.3 (up to the WY-ID border, not counting car miles)
The Grand Freakin' Tetons: They deserve every bit of their name. Our first sight of them was—cliché though it might be—breathtaking, and they only got more amazing as we approached at sunset, then rode beneath them during a snowy sunrise. Mega-mountains.
Togwotee Pass: It was hard, but it was rad. Beau made snow angels at the top. It felt like climbing into a different world. The Pinnacles were stunning, and coming down the west side was one of our most gorgeous stretches of riding.
Saratoga Hot Springs: Free, open 24 hours, and a steamy respite after our first day of battling the wild Wyoming winds. Sara loved it. Beau was won over.
The Jackalope "Museum" in Dubois: Is it a museum? I mean. Maybe not. But Sara did get to sit on an enormous stuffed Jackalope. So there's that.
The Jackson Hole Bike Trails: Idyllic, paved, surrounded by miles and miles of unbeatable scenery. A true gift for cyclists.
Don: Like we said before, sometimes, you can't fully repay someone. Sometimes, you just have to pay it forward. We'll be looking for opportunities to do that, and we're ever grateful to Don for his incredible generosity — not only with his truck and his time, but with his stories. It was an honor to ride with you, Don.
Mike & Dannine: Awesome WS folks who took us in on one of our roughest nights and showed us the epitome of chill and caring hospitality. Badasses and good souls. Rock on, D&M.
Kenny & Nikki: Not just any WS host will take you in for two days and three nights. Kenny and Nikki gave us a warm and welcoming place to lay our heads and escape from literal sub-zero temperatures. Professional trail angels.
Best WY Eats:
Orsetto in Jackson: Pricy but worth it. A nice meal that really lived up to that description and felt like a wonderful treat. Great wine, delicious pasta, ridiculous smoked trout bruschetta.
Cowfish & Rise in Lander: Cowfish had killer cocktails (and fun stickers!) and Rise was a most excellent haven for tasty smoothies and greens-happy "hippie food" (which Sara admits to missing a fair bit right now).
Our Rawlins Road-a-mole: In Rawlins we went to a grocery store and hauled some avocados back to the hotel. Where we made guacamole. Yes. But we had left leftover red onion and tomato and cilantro, so we cut it all up and put it in a tupperware. Later we bought another avocado. Two days later, in the middle of Togwotee Pass, we pulled it all out and had impromptu guacamole in the snow. On bread, so I guess it was technically avocado toast. Millennial win!
Last WY Thoughts:
Winds, When, & Westwards: The ravaging winds of Wyoming made us viscerally conscious of the difference of attempting to do what we're doing at the time and in the direction that we're doing it. Yes, we've gotten more than a little tired of all the people who've told us, "Ohhh, you're really late in the season" — but they weren't wrong. We are late. And we're also riding east-to-west. Our experience has been, and will continue to be, vastly different from riders doing this same path in, say, the summer, heading eastwards. We've got the worst of the winds, and we're course-correcting for the cold. But, you ride you learn. And we're still riding.
Killing Season: We can't tell you how many times we'd be passed by a truck with a huge set of antlers protruding up out of the bed, or sometimes even a full carcass strapped to the top. It's hunting season, and we've seen the evidence of it everywhere. It's unnerving to say the least. And it's so clear that there are people (I fear, fewer) who hunt primarily for food — probably also for sport, but they do in fact butcher it themselves, take it home and freeze it, and feed themselves through the winter. But there are others (I fear, more) who clearly just like to kill. Who want heads on their walls and antlers in all of their decoratings. It feels like—as with so many frightening things—it boils down to being about power. Which... well. Which is frankly just fucked.
We've gotten a bit dark. But I suppose it's because, just because we ride through things doesn't mean we ride past them. It's all stuff that we carry along. But for now, farewell, Wyoming — and back to Idaho!
Day 67 began in Idaho Falls. We started a little later than we hoped because Sara woke up with near-debilitating neck/base-of-skull pain. (Oh, and she also got what we think was food poisoning in the middle of the night and was exhausted and calorie-depleted from spending a couple of hours around 3AM losing her dinner. Yay.) She needed to lie still for a while while the Advil kicked in. The neck stuff is worrisome, and it's always worst in the mornings. We're not quite sure what to do about it, but we're continuing to research and try things...
We took a short detour by the post office to do yet another round of sending home unnecessaries and posting postcards. Then we took a peak at the falls that give Idaho Falls its name. Then, it was onto Route 20 and out into what we've come to call the open ocean.
It was a barren, chilly, hunker-down-and-push ride. A headphones-in kind of day. Sara's nearing the end of Bleak House and Beau has started Far From the Madding Crowd. We were headed to a little town called Arco, and we knew there wouldn't be any real stopping points along the way. For miles, everything was this...
See that big sloppy mess on the shoulder? That's what we were frequently riding through. The recent snows and winds had moved big tracts of icy mud over onto the shoulder of the road, and while we dodged them when we could, we did a lot of rolling right through them. Our bikes are going to need a serious cleaning soon.
Eventually, we started seeing some striking, stand-alone peaks rising incongruously out of the flat expanse. Some historical point-of-interest signs let us know that we were heading into the lava fields, and that these buttes were formed by some wildly recent (in geologic terms) volcanic activity beneath these windy plains.
We also learned that there used to be elephants here. Damn!
We kept pushing. Much of this stretch of miles is taken up by the Idaho National Laboratory — essentially, hundreds and hundreds of acres devoted to a nuclear research facility that we (somewhat eerily) never saw from the road, but saw the warning signs for everywhere. This part of Idaho has apparently been a nuclear research site for many years. And we knew we'd be biking past a "town" called Atomic City on our way to Arco today. From the Wikipedia entry on Atomic City: "There is one store and one bar in Atomic City; the store no longer sells gasoline, due to new laws pertaining to its underground gas tanks. Most of the people who were raised in the town are now deceased, and many of the current residents are retired... The population was 29 at the 2010 census, up from 25 in 2000." We paused in one of the many of the lab area's "DO NOT ENTER" pull-offs (with no discernible destination) to have some lunch.
Soon after we took our gravelly lunch break we stumbled upon an actual rest area. Actual bathrooms! More historic signs! And a computerized signboard from the laboratory live-monitoring all the various bits of information about the weather in this location (wind speed, temperature, pressure, etc). It was a balmy 41 degrees! Practically summer again! (Also, Sara finished Bleak House. Overall, most excellent. Could have done with less self-deprecation by Esther—it's funny how Dickens creates/writes as a woman character who's fantastic almost in spite of him as an author rather than because of him—and was ready to absolutely murder Harold Skimpole by the end, but in general, A+ cycling listening.)
If we were a little concerned about the time of day as we set out on our final 15 miles or so towards Arco, we were soon overwhelmed and rewarded by our first real Idaho sunset. WOW. Just. Wow.
With a celestial watercolor exposition going on overhead, we arrived in Arco. "The First City in the World to be Lit by Atomic Power", the town's sign (accompanied by a sculpture of an atom) proudly informed us. There's also the fin of a decommissioned nuclear submarine on display right by the bike path that takes you into the town center. Okay. Cool?
While Beau heroically fetched takeout grub, Sara holed up in the cheapest motel we could find and did some blogging. (Sigh, the weather means that we're spending much more money on sleeping indoors than we'd hoped, but such is life.)
We awoke on Day 69 mentally preparing ourselves for more semi-desolate flatness. But soon after setting out from Arco, we found ourselves entering the stark and increasingly surreal stretches of...
Craters of the Moon might rank as the most uncanny national park we've visited. It's about 400 square miles of—according to the official website—"lava flows with scattered islands of cinder cones and sagebrush" and it really is otherworldly. Grand and eerie. The jutting fields of black lava rock feel like they could still be sizzling — like the "Rite of Spring" sequence from Disney's Fantasia occurred only recently. The buttes themselves, when seen from a bird's eye view, are a line of volcanic craters, raised up by the movement of the earth's crust across a fault line with lava flowing underneath. Sara kept hearing thrumming string sections and envisioning panicking dinosaurs.
After scoring some national park mementos at the visitor center, we sat down on a bench outside for Second Breakfast. That's when we ran into Adam and Alyssa — as we were to come to know them. While we were snacking, a couple with two little boys pulled up to the visitor center with a small camper. Walking past us, they stopped. "Hey, didn't we see you in the Tetons?" they asked. It turns out they had first spotted us back in Grand Tetons a few days ago, and had seen us on the road no fewer than six times since! They'd sort of come to think of the random cyclists they kept spotting as a good omen, and their kids had encouraged them to talk to us finally. It was wonderful to meet and chat with them — one of those serendipitous trail happenings that float down out of the clear sky. They're doing a tour of national parks as a family, and, who knows, they said, maybe we'll see you again on the Oregon coast! We hope so. Happy trails, Adam, Alyssa, and fam!
On we went through the volcanic ocean...
Post-Bleak House, Sara has started to listen to Moby Dick, which she's feeling lots of different things about. First of all, no author ever needs to be embarrassed about their number of epigraphs after this book, whose "prelude material" literally takes THIRTY MINUTES to be read aloud. Herman Melville, thank you for prefacing your novel with literally every quotation about whales you could find. I guess I commend you for your research, considering that you couldn't just Google the word "whale." Also, I definitely know what the book is about now. Though the subtitle was also a pretty helpful hint.
But also, the book is surprisingly funny! I guess I had some notion that it would be very tough and bleak and manly and nautical. But the narrator is quite persnickety, actually, and has a wry, almost effete voice — and really a quite endearing one. In the early pages, I'm much more charmed and amused than I expected to be... But it's also hard listening because of all of its talk about "savages" and "cannibals" — you can tell that Melville/Ishmael is trying to write from a humane position, and wants to build an arc where Queequeg is ultimately humanized and any white fear of him is shown up as benighted. But it's 1851 and he (Melville) can only be so evolved. And the Noble Savage trope is a painful one — especially as we ride through this countryside which is still home to many of the native peoples who've endured so much brutality and had so much stolen from them in this country... I sometimes think we've come to such a point of strain at this moment in history—such an excruciating concentration of so many centuries of cruelty and wrong—that it feels like we're all pressed up against a tiny, tiny hole in the darkness, and so much is pushing to get through. A cosmic, moral bottleneck. What will happen to books like this, I wonder? What will happen to so much literature and so much art made in a different world? Will it pass through the hole with us? Should it? I don't know... And God created great whales...
Well. But we're still on the road. Back to third person.
Eventually we hit a gas station in a little town called Carey and loaded up on calories for the last leg of our ride to Hailey. Hailey is a bit of a trek from our self-made westerly route, but it looks like a nice place. We've got a Warm Showers couple lined up there, and a friend of Sara's from NYC has given us some recs on local bars and coffee shops (there are bars and coffee shops!). But first, we've got some hills to climb — and some picturesque animals to admire!
Hailey is in a valley (Sun Valley, to be exact) and you've got to go over some of the stark, imposing hillsides we've been looking at to get there. But once you do, you start to see "Share the Road" signs again, and the terrain gets flat and welcoming. Beau took off with a burst of speedy excitement — we didn't have a tailwind but we didn't have a headwind either, and that simple freedom gave him a boost into beast mode. We met up again at the start of the long and excellent cycleway that takes you all the way into Hailey. Before heading to our host family, we went all the way into the downtown area to check it out while there was still daylight. We sampled a local brewery and were super excited by Power House, one of the recs from Sara's friend — a rad combination bike-shop-and-craft-beer-and-burger bar. We had pints of stout and admired the all-out bike decor. Then, back on our steeds and back down the cycleway to the home of our Warm Showers hosts for dinner.
We're quickly running out of superlatives for the many stellar folks we've met through the Warm Showers community. But Seth and Kirstine and their fabulous daughter, Indi (short for Indica), are truly special. And we can't forget their pet ferret — named Bueller. Ferret Bueller. (Anyone? Anyone?) Seth is an arborist who also loves making cider out of found fruit — he gets hundreds of pounds of apples and pears from local folks who would otherwise just leave the yields of their trees to rot on the ground. Kirstine teaches English, and because of her job, the family has lived (and cycled!) all over the planet, from Chile to Thailand. Indi loves acting and singing and gymnastics and we got amazing displays of all three, not to mention an evening of wonderful conversation and a delicious vegan dinner. It's hard to ride away from some people — but it's amazing to know that they're out there, making their corner of the big world that much more awesome.
And speaking of awesome! As we were snuggling up on our futon at Kirstine and Seth's, we got a wonderful piece of news: As of tonight, we have met our fundraising goal! $4,228 raised to GET OUT THE VOTE. And that's not all. Who contributed the final $208 that brought us home? Adam and Alyssa! The couple we met at Craters of the Moon! Our hearts are so full. The kindness of strangers, friends. It's a real and a magic thing. (FYI: We're leaving our fundraiser open till we get to the coast. If you'd still like to donate, that's amazing. We plan to give any further donations to reproductive rights organizations.) As for tonight. We're so grateful to be bunking with Kirstine and Seth and Indica, and we're looking forward to a long push to Mountain Home tomorrow. For now, sweet dreams...
Day 68: Idaho Falls to Arco, ID, 69.5 miles, 2150' feet of climbing, much mud, much field, much sky, an atomic town and an astounding sunset.
Day 69: Arco to Hailey, ID, 75 miles, 1975' feet of climbing, one moon landing, one chance encounter, one detour to a very cool town with a very lovely family. And Ferret Bueller.