This Touring Stories section is designed to be a "library" for inspiration. On almost every day of every bicycle tour something incredible happens that forces you to believe that anything is possible. Sharing these kinds of stories is what this website is all about. I hope this will become a great resource for specific road and community information, helpful hints, and inspiration for anyone to start or continue bicycle touring. I encourage all users to submit their own stories and contribute to this ever-changing and interactive site. If you enjoy the following story, be sure to visit the Archive for more cycling adventures.

If you are looking for information on how to tour, consult the Touring Basics section. Want to explore the types of terrain and sites to see across the U.S.?, see Photos from my own tour in the U.S. Tour Map section. Be sure to visit the Links page for a comprehensive list of the best virtual touring sites.

And now on to a story...

Mosquitoes, Mountains and A Medicine Wheel by Matt Griffiths

It was on the short hike up to the Medicine Wheel that I realized why the ranger had told us that this was "beautiful country." And that any country this beautiful deserves our utmost respect. I already had loads of respect for the "natural world," but I had never ridden a bicycle through the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming before.

Offerings at Medicine WheelDave and I had just gotten a ride from the highway to the trailhead from a couple who drove out from the east coast. The man behind the wheel began explaining why they were out there. His mother was part Sioux and had made many journeys up to the Medicine Wheel, which is a very spiritual site to all Native Americans. Her ultimate wish , of course, was to become part of that very sacred site, to show her respect for the land and to receive the respect due her. We could not watch her son spread the ashes, but I could imagine them taking flight in the brisk mountain air at 10,000 ft. What a view!

It was while I was enjoying a similar view of the valley far below that my thoughts drifted toward the respect for these mountains that I had gained only the day before. The night before this fateful day was spent at Bighorn Lake along Alt Route 14, and that's when things got ugly. The sun had gone down but the deadly Wyoming mosquitoes showed no sign of easing up their relentless attack of eyes first, skin later. While preparing dinner, our attention was drawn to a huge mass of clouds being pushed toward us by a sudden hurricane force wind. The pesky flies were gone, but we took this as a sign to pitch the tent and prepare for a downpour. After struggling to pitch in the wind, we ate, nervously watching the clouds and trying to keep our food from flying away into the darkness.

Needless to say, the rain never came, the wind kept up and we didn't even use the tent until morning when the wind did stop…and the mosquitoes came right back. My eyes were so dry and caked with crust that I could barely open them to find the tent. Once inside we were safe from the blood suckers and our new nemesis arrived on the scene. I knew we were next to the highway, but this semi-truck was pulling up right next to our tent on the lakeshore! Could the fishing be that good? It seems we had camped in the spot tanker trucks drove to the lake to get their fill of water for local mining activities. By the time we left the site, at least six trucks had come down, turned around, backed up, and filled up for minutes on end, all a few feet from us.

Our ride this day consisted of a 30 mile, 4500 ft climb up into the Bighorns, which we heard was so incredibly steep that even the high school students in nearby Byron didn't like to drive their cars up there. Just another range to conquer, we told ourselves. Couldn't be worse than Teton Pass, right?

Top of the BighornsOf course we were wrong, it was only the hardest day of cycling in my life. It was about 10 miles of gradual uphill into a stiff headwind just to get to the base of the "wall" of mountains before us. From miles back you could see the road etched into the cliffs, zig-zagging all over the place.

That couldn't be our road, too high too fast (wishfully thinking). Once the climb started, you knew it because there were danger signs and runaway truck ramps around every corner. I now knew this was no ordinary day, and our horrible night before was not helping matters at all. I stopped early to give tribute to this day by wrapping a short piece of bicycle chain around my wrist. A reminder of the epic day I was about to have, it remained until we arrived in New York months later.

I was tired, really tired. The best I could manage was about five minutes of riding before the pedals would not turn any more. Rest for ten, ride for five is how it went all the way to the top. Oh, that's not the top. Around each sky cresting switchback, the road just kept going, and going. It was getting late in the day, and I was wondering if we would even make it up there before dark. At one point, I lay beside the road thinking of nothing, just knowing that I did not want to ride another yard. I could see no summit to this climb, but we knew it was there, so we pushed on.

Bighorns observation point (click for larger)Toward the top, the broad plateau of the Bighorns began to spread out before us. We crested a rise and got our first good look at our surroundings. These mountains are the perfect mix of forest and grassland, canopy and wide open views. We had made it and soon after saw the turn off for the Medicine Wheel and a campground not much further.

That night Dave and I enjoyed what we both agreed was our finest meal of the trip and we were in the mountains, safe. A gentle rain tapped us to sleep, and I, for one, was too tired to dream. Who needs dreams in this "beautiful country" anyway?

 

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