Day 5 – We’ve left the mountains and the rain behind. A cold front moved through last night clearing out the clouds and dropping the temperature. However, the calm air has been replaced with a strong wind. Today is our last ride on our Wyoming cycling adventure. Starting a few miles south of Rock Springs, Wyoming, we will conclude our ride at the dam on Flaming Gorge Reservoir in northern Utah – a distance of 53 miles.
From the turn-out on Highway 191, where we unloaded our bikes, we immediately start climbing to the top of the plateau. A cool, stiff cross breeze accompanies us. I don’t mind climbing or long days but I do mind the wind. I love the colors, the views and the vast spaces here. The red sandstone layers in the cliffs and buttes pop against the blue sky. And the views are endless. That’s another great thing about cycling. You are out there, in the moment and there is nothing between you and the whole world.
On top of the plateau the almost treeless landscape stretches out as far as you can see. Off to the west we parallel a small canyon. Flaming Gorge Road, an easily drivable dirt road, runs its length and conceals places named Slippery Jim Canyon, Firehole Basin and Ramsay Desert. Yet another open road beckons our return another day to explore. On the other side of the far away ridge is the Green River. The wind direction shifts a bit and becomes a slight tailwind. A welcome change.
We encounter long stretches of straight open road. You can see where you are going way out in the distance. Even though the riding is easy it looks like the road goes on forever. I’ve always dreaded these stretches. Seeing where you are going miles and miles ahead plays on the mind. I prefer variety during the ride. It makes the day go quicker. The highway has a small shoulder but since there isn’t much traffic we can ride where we please trying to find the smoothest part of the road and chat as we go.
While riding one of those long straight stretches of highway we encounter two groups of pronghorn foraging out in the sagebrush along the road. The first group is close enough to the highway that we startle them. They take off and run in what seems like random patterns. Suddenly they cross directly in front of us, darting to the other side of the highway. We could have been roadkill. Later on a second group scatters and runs away from us. We continue riding uphill slightly atop the plateau but eventually we head southwest and encounter more varied terrain.
After a few more miles of uphill we finally come to our first significant downhill. Its a very fast ride down, hitting speeds around 35 miles-per-hour. As the road curves right our friendly tailwind becomes a very strong and problematic crosswind. Both Keith and I are pushed across the road. Things become a little dicey. I’m not sure about Keith but I have to brake to steady the bike. I catch up with Keith and we both remark about that crazy crosswind. We crest the hill and see Maxon Ranch, the first home/ranch we’ve seen since we started. There aren’t many people out here. At the bottom of the hill on our right is another dirt road that heads north to a couple of other ranches. We are now riding in the bottom of that small canyon that so far we had only seen from above.
Riding into and out of the small canyon provides a welcome change from the long straight sections we had been riding most of the morning. We continue riding southwest while gaining elevation as we approach the top of the the next plateau. We head down a bit and off to our left is the Red Creek Badlands; carved and highly eroded red shales and sandstones and sharply eroded cliffs. The road surface improves a bit but still not much of a shoulder. The traffic is still light.
We climb the final steep hill into a brisk headwind. The worst possible combination on a ride. We reach the high point on our ride and get our first glimpse of Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Uinta Mountains off in the distance. As a sub-range of the Rocky Mountains, the Uinta’s are unusual for being the highest range in the contiguous United States running east to west.
From the top of that steep hill we have about 10 miles of fast downhill. Passing into Utah the road levels out a bit. The reservoir is still a few miles away with a few uphills thrown in just to keep us riding hard. We finally get a nice up-close glimpse of the reservoir. A dramatic setting at the base of the mountains. We pass the very small town of Dutch John with our last uphill in view. Finally we get our last fast downhill to Flaming Gorge Dam.
Norma is waiting for us in the parking lot next to the dam. She’s been an invaluable partner in our ride, sagging us and allowing us to ride just like one of those expensive tours. One more time to load our bikes. Our week-long cycling adventure has come to an end. Keith has fulfilled his wish to do a multi-day ride. I’ve gotten to ride and see places I’ve never been. We started out in Cody, Wyoming under overcast skies and have finished up at Flaming Gorge Reservoir under sunny, blue skies. We’ve experienced every type of weather; thunderstorms, rain and hail and seen this season’s first snow on the mountain peaks. We’ve also experienced some of the best cycling and scenery the West has to offer. And we’ve met some interesting characters along the way.
We’re excited to finish our ride but a little disappointed that it’s over. However, we still have a few days before we head back to Denver. The next two days we will be at Red Canyon Lodge (owned and operated by my friend Mark Wilson) located on the mesa above Flaming Gorge Reservoir. It will be nice to relax, enjoy the pleasant weather and recall our our grand cycling adventure.