Back on the bike: Jackson to Afton
Saturday June 22, 2013, 75 miles (120 km) – Total so far: 2,173 miles (3,496 km)
I call them ‘the standard six’. The same six questions you get asked over and over by each new person you meet. Some days you might answer these same six questions at least six times:
1) Where you from?
2) Where you going?
3) How far do you ride in a day?
4) Where do you sleep at night?
5) Are you travelling ALONE?
6) Aren’t you scared/are you carrying a gun/doesn’t your family worry?
So any day I do not have to answer any of those questions, not even once, is a good day. Today, the day also begins with 35 miles of downhill, so I call it an excellent day!
Bike paths lead me out of Jackson to the south. The path parallels the highway, traversing a long and broad park that is actually just an extension of Jackson Hole. Ranchette-type subdivisions spread like cancer far down this valley, expensive homes with big fences staking out their spot on the land.
I stick to the bike path until the highway curves southeast, staying high up the side of the hill. The bike path dives down and straight. Instinctively I think, ‘no way, that’s just going to have to climb again. I’ll stay up here, thanks’. It’s a good decision. The road stays high; the bike path travels up and down, up and down, way down below in the hilly terrain. I end up staying on the highway the rest of the way to Hoback Junction. Except for the final miles into this crossroads, there is a good shoulder to ride in. When the shoulder disappears, the bike path is no longer an option, anyway.
From Hoback Junction, the road runs downhill with the Snake River. We weave in and out of the hills, following the river’s course. The river is always just off to the side and below the road. It is flanked by tall pines and boulders here and there. Pines, grasses and shrubs grow up the slopes between barren jumbles of talus rock. In some places, there is evidence of mud slides and the slumping of parts of hillsides. As we proceed down the river, the canyon gets narrower, the downhills steeper. At times, the hills in front of us seem to close, but always the river and road find a path to weave their way through. This is a fun ride this morning. The shoulder is wide and smooth the whole distance.
The road flattens out and the canyon gives way to valley at the bottom. We’ve just been escorted through the overthrust belt by the Snake River. The overthrust belt stretches down the west side of Wyoming and is associated with an ocean plate sliding underneath the North American continental plate about 150 million years ago. As small blocks of land on the ocean plate collided with the continent, the compression caused large slabs of sedimentary rock to move east on low-angle faults.
Much of the topography we’ve ridden through today, and will ride through for the next several days, was created by more recent faults that sometimes followed along these older faults. For me as I ride, it’s interesting to try to pick out what happened and when. For example, the mouth of the Snake River Canyon that we just exited was formed by the young and active Grand Valley normal fault which reactivated one of the original thrust faults. Regardless of whether I can figure it out or not, it’s fun to imagine Wyoming close to the edge of the continent instead of thousands of miles inland.
After we emerge from the Snake River Canyon, we head south down the Star Valley. The traffic picks up substantially here as we pass what seems like three million ranchettes and conglomerations of houses. The traffic is not overly considerate here, so I’m glad the shoulder is quite adequate. There are many churches along the road today. Most of these are LDS, since Mormons from Salt Lake City first settled this valley to produce food for its members, but I see the whole gamut of denominations today. By the time I reach Thayne I’m ready to add an 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not skim by the touring cyclist too closely. Everyone is in a hurry today!
Luckily, the traffic thins the further we head south. I manage to purchase a chocolate milk from a gas station in Thayne without speaking or being spoken to. It was most certainly an interesting transaction, but it did mean it was almost 10.30am, I’d been on the road for several hours, and I still had not yet had to answer ‘the standard six’. Yippee! I hate small talk anyway, so if I can conduct a very straightforward transaction without having to engage in meaningless conversation, I’m all for that. I hope my smile said ‘thank you’ as I left the store.
I ride into Afton and check out the various parks, eventually finding a suitable spot to hang out until it’s time to meet with ‘my support vehicle’. My mom is accompanying me until Flaming Gorge – where she’ll head home and I’ll head back north. The guys find a rocket – I find that if I sit far enough away from the family picnic groups that none of them wander over to ask the standard six. Yippee!
Later that afternoon, my mom and I head up to see the intermittent spring outside of town. I also wander over and speak to four cycle tourists staying at the same motel. I do not ask them the standard six. I do ask them if they know how difficult Salt River Pass is from this direction. From this question, the standard six get answered in a roundabout way. They are two older couples out touring for the week from Salt Lake City. They are certainly having a grand time doing so. Good on them – though to me a one-week tour would just be the greatest tease. I could only see it as a warm-up to something longer!