This was one of the strangest, best, most epic days of the tour. We woke up a bit before 7:00 to a text message from Caleb saying that he was in Colter Bay and was keen for the local breakfast buffet. Cue epic: I ate 2 pancakes, 1 piece of French toast with blueberries and blackberries, scrambled eggs, 2 sausages, 4 rashers of bacon, potato hash, 2 orange juices, more blueberries, cantaloupe, yoghurt; Caleb ate 4 pancakes, 2 pieces of French toast, eggs, hash, at least 10 pieces of bacon, a sausage, blueberries, a banana, a bowl of lucky charms, 2 glasses OJ and a cup of coffee; Zoe consumed a meagre 2 half-pancakes, 3 pieces bacon, a plum, 2 cups coffee, 1 OJ. I think they lost money on us.
All fuelled up with places to go, we set out and tried to make it to the enormous Togwotee Pass before the heat kicked in. This loomed as our biggest climb yet – 3000 feet over about 20 miles – but we were warned that there was a lot of construction and that any number of changes might be imposed on our route. We arrived at the work site to find a hill of gravel. No cyclists allowed. But on the plus side, the pilot car would take us and our bikes over the 7 miles of construction and drop us off about 1/3 of the way up the mountain. Score! Caleb was a little disappointed, and we all felt like we were cheating, but there was no alternative, so our consciences were clean.
We kept riding, made the pass (seeing snow below us and not above us for the first time) and pulled into a little park by a lake at the top of the hill. As soon as we were off our bikes, we started to chatting to Dean, the unquestioned highlight of our day. Dean is a 71 year old retiree who used to own a sporting goods store (it should be pointed out that sporting goods in this part of the country refer almost exclusively to hunting and fishing equipment), now runs the church op-shop and actually says things like, “Well, I’ll be darned.” He was watching his grandsons paddle around the lake in a canoe trying to find trout. He made (yes, made) his first gun at 11 years old, once shot a bear between the eyes at 80 yards and just loves firearms as a safe and responsible part of a well-lived life. We continued our wolf conversation, and he almost teared up with emotion. The wolves, we had heard from rangers in Yellowstone, were an integral part of the ecosystem and trimmed populations of elk; but for Dean, game like elk support the economy through hunting and tourism, so to trim their numbers was to send people out of business. He also argued that there never were wolves in Yellowstone until white men drove them up there from the plains. The debate rolls on. We began talking about bears, and the uselessness of bear spray if you’re being charged from upwind, and I said that having never shot a gun I’d be pretty nervous about carrying one around. He was shocked, and soon leant in mischievously: “you want a shoot one? I have two with me in the truck.” Well, who were we to miss a cultural opportunity like this? He offered us a choice between big and little, Caleb chose little and before we knew it we were being taught the basics of pistol management. He checked that nobody was around – partly to prevent anyone from being caught near the action, and partly to ensure that we didn’t get in trouble – and set a small rock on a hill side, perfect for a target at about 15 yards. Ladies first. Zoe loaded the Smith and Wesson .22 according to instructions. Her first shot went high, but she sent the rock tumbling with her second, setting the bar pretty high. I did the same, and Caleb hit with his first but missed with his second. We were naturals. He wanted us to know that “guns don’t jump up and kill people,” and while he didn’t make us NRA members, he did remind us that people with very different political views are still top notch super people. And he had perspective. Take the assault weapon ban: as background info, Clinton outlawed assault rifles in about 1995 and the Republicans let the ban expire ten years later, which we in the city all assume was pretty stupid. But Dean has sold guns all his life, and said he couldn’t have sold more than three of these things over 25 years until someone came and said you can’t have them. All of a sudden, he was selling them by the crate. Now everyone has them, and the regulation completely backfired (at least in this part of the country – people in the ghetto may well disagree). Not that he understands why people want them, since they’re not powerful enough to hunt with, but apparently they’re now symbolic of something that they never were before.
Dean shook our hands and after a five minute story justifying his intimacy, allowed himself to give Zoe a hug. We helped him pack up his canoe on his ingenious homemade racks and waved goodbye to him and his grandsons, and began the pretty epic descent down the pass. We stopped to chat with Eva and Jack, two young siblings from New York who, with very little preparation, were mountain-biking along the entire continental divide. Respect. They’re the only people we’ve met who have the same cavalier attitude to their cycling we do: it really doesn’t make us hardcore, it probably makes us pretty stupid, and they certainly didn’t want to get into any sort of pissing content over what they’re attempting (rare).
But this was the last pause we were allowed. Not long after we came across a swarm of mosquitoes who began to devour us. Every time we stopped we were set upon instantaneously, and we couldn’t figure out how they could find us in each place within a second of stopping. We then figured out that there were hordes of them clinging to all of the rear-facing surfaces of the bikes and bags, clinging on as we rode at speed, staring at our legs and waiting for us to slow to about 5mph before immediately going for our skin. So every time we lost speed, we had literal swarms on our legs. Stunning scenery went by unphotographed because we couldn’t stop riding, until we devised a special pitstop. We screeched to a halt, smacking our legs as Caleb rushed to pull the toxic deet repellent out of his bag. He ran around us spraying while Zoe tried to take a photo of the badland hills. It worked. We even had to spray all our bags and bikes, but the little buggers went away. I have dozens of bites and itch all over, but at least they’re gone.
In Dubois, we found showers at the laundromat and camped in the grounds of the church, which are open to cyclists. Great burgers and pie for dinner. Lovely town.