I’ll be honest with you: cycle touring had been wearing on me a little. We’d done big climbs, headwinds, early mornings etc, but I just hadn’t done anything other than cycling, preparing for cycling and recovering from cycling for a long while. I was a bit fed up last night. But today was one to raise the spirits. And all this despite a 6:00 alarm and being on the road by 6:50.
Strong gusts the night before had us paranoid that we’d be riding into the wind all day, but the winds grow throughout the day, so we got up early to beat the weather. 8 miles later (involving neither wind nor conversation) and we were in Sheridan, ready for breakfast and we smashed bacon, eggs, pancakes, French toast etc. The day was looking up.
And up we had to go. We had to gain the better part of 1000 feet before we could begin the climb proper, but it was gentle (sneak hills, as Zoe calls them, because they sometimes appear flat and make you wonder why the pedalling is so hard). The route followed a formerly bandit-infested route called Alder Gulch, an environmental catastrophe the likes of which I’ve never seen. Gold was found here, and garnets too. To access the former, locals invented a dredging machine about 30 metres long which dug down and overturned all the earth like a giant plow. What they left were seemingly endless rows of giant gravel piles. The old vegetation was buried underneath the river stones atop which they used to sit, and now with all the topsoil washed away nothing can grow on the bare rocks. They found gold, but they left a whole gully which is just gray heaps with the odd tree scattered between.
At the top, however, were two of the old mining towns: Nevada City and Virginia City. Both were abandoned in the early 20th century, but a couple of pioneer enthusiasts bought the remaining buildings in the 50s to preserve them. They also bought other 19th century timber structures and took them to these two towns for refuge, and you can now wander around an almost perfect time capsule, going up on balconies, looking at a couple of rare interiors, and pretending to be a cowboy or cowgirl (a lot of fun). It’s like a theme park, but it’s a real, functioning (albeit touristy) town still. One of the real highlights of the tour, and Zoe couldn’t stop taking photos. To make it better, we saw a grandma getting a lift on the back of a trail bike. We also came across a family from Alabama, and overheard their conversation:
Mother: “Why can’t I be Abraham Lincoln?”
Young Son: “Because you’re a girl.”
Mother: “So? I want to be Abraham Lincoln”
Young Son: “You can’t.”
Older son: “I want to be Robert E. Lee.”
Mother and young son (almost ashamed): “Oh…yeah. That’s right.”
In Virginia City, we looked up at the pass, a 1200 foot route winding between mountains. A cinnamon bun each for power and we began. We’d heard it was terrible but it really wasn’t that bad, and it was certainly one of the more scenic passes we’ve explored. Suitably impressed, we nonetheless had no idea how good it would get. We rounded a slight bend over the top, passed through a gap and suddenly burst out onto a view of the entire Madison river valley far below. The Romanist nerds among you may know the passages of Livy and Polybius which tell of an exhausted Hannibal staggering through the pass over the Alps and suddenly looking down on the Po plain and all of Italy. I never really believed that from one mountain route you could all of a sudden see such an expanse of land, but you really can! We saw for miles. Mountains, river, plain, town, everything. Zoe’s tried to take panoramic photos and we’ll see if we can stitch them together to make a widescreen print. If we can, it’ll be gold. And the best part in cycling terms was the greatest descent in the history of descents. It wasn’t busy, it had good roads, it was beautiful and we reached new maximum speeds: Zoe has the speedo and clocked 45.7 mph, and Caleb left her for dust. He has the advantage of larger wheels, but he’s also developed a trademark, low resistance crouch that he calls TIE fighter position. Basically, he lies his stomach flat on his saddle, puts his pelvis back on the sleeping roll which is strapped to his back rack, and then makes “p’dew, p’dew, p’dew” laser noises. It looks funny, but he gets real low and goes real fast. As an added bonus, every time we through the hill was over, we came over another crest and dropped another couple-hundred feet. Very much like being on a roller coaster that never goes up.
We pulled into Ennis in no time, planning on going another 25 miles, but after grocery shopping and two flat tires we decided to have an early end to the day and get ice cream. Fantastic ice cream. Coffee-cream, graham cracker and peanut butter, chocolate, and one called moose tracks, which was vanilla with swirls of fudge and bits of peanut butter cups. Now we sit in a beautiful RV park overlooking the river and mountains with geese, cattle, herons and we’ve been promised deer and elk. Sunset is beautiful, dinner’s on the go and I for one am pretty pleased that we called it quits and had an afternoon of leisure after such a satisfying ride.