Big climbs and cool people - Bike Nonstop US Part 2: Idaho to Dubois, WY
This post is part of a series summarizing my experience with Bike Nonstop US, a 3,500 mile, mixed terrain race across the United States. Take a look at this page for all posts related to Bike Nonstop 2021.
For more information on the race itself, take a look at my introduction post.
All Nighter Into the Sawtooth Mountains
Andrew and I left Ontario, OR at 10:30 PM and immediately arrived in Idaho. It was still in the 90s but cooling down. Conversation and paying attention to navigating kept me busy enough to stay awake. Despite feeling tired, I was excited to escape the Oregon heat and hopefully reset my clock back to a semi-normal sleep schedule. Riding through the night was worthwhile to escape the heat, but I was missing the views. The moonlight provided just enough contrast to see silhouettes of the mountains we were slowly ascending.
After the route had us turn off the highway, we passed by a campground and Andrew stopped to get some rest. I kept going and started one of the few gravel sections on the route in Idaho. Deep sandy gravel paralleled the Payette River, with highway 52 on the other side. The gravel ended in Horseshoe Bend with a strange, single lane bridge blocked by concrete barriers. I hoisted my bike on top of the barriers as I carefully climbed over. Nothing was open in town, and I had plenty of food and water, so I continued on.
It was a curvy road with a minimal shoulder, so I was happy to be doing it when the traffic was lower. Feeling tired, I put on some music and found myself in my aero bars making shadow puppets with my headlamp and having them lip sync to the lyrics. A fun way to stay awake, or a cry for help? I'm still not sure.
The sun came up and a couple hours later I made it to a convenience store in Lowman, my first resupply since leaving Ontario a little over 100 miles ago. I was still feeling good and put my sights on Stanley to stop for the day, about 50 more miles. This would also keep me awake long enough to hopefully correct my sleep schedule.
As I was looking for accomodations in Stanley on my phone, another cyclist said hello. His name was Nathan, and he was resupplying and starting his day after camping in Lowman. Nathan was also biking across the country and was aiming for Stanley that day. Being unable to find vacant hotels in Stanley, I found a campsite behind a hotel that I could reserve and welcomed Nathan to camp with me. He agreed, so I continued on and started the climb over Banner Pass.
As the road became steeper and I slowed down, big flies started to draft me and bite all over. It was good motivation to keep going. I could hear thunder nearby and it started to drizzle as I approached the summit. I pulled over at the top by a restroom where a couple other cyclists were putting on rain gear. They were touring Adventure Cycling Association's Idaho Hot Springs Route. It's so much fun to meet other cyclists on their tours, and it was some welcomed socialization after riding most of the night solo.
I descended into Stanley and arrived at my campsite, which was an open grass field behind a hotel. In retrospect, a better option would've been to resupply and keep going to a campground along the Salmon River, but I was feeling pretty destroyed and some storms were approaching.
Stanley was a popular town. Someone mentioned they had booked their hotel four months ago.
It had taken me almost 17 hours to get from Ontario, OR to Stanley, ID, with an overall uphill elevation profile. It was rewarding though, putting in my longest day yet and being far away from the Oregon heat.
Nathan arrived in the early evening, wearing all his rain gear and soaked from the storms on Banner Pass that I luckily missed the worst of. I'm glad Nathan and I crossed paths. It was great to chat with him, as brief as it was. I wish we could've talked more but I was physically and mentally destroyed from a long day of riding and had to get some sleep. Nathan has been keeping a daily journal to help people follow along with his adventures.
Cold Start and a Quiet Day
That night and next morning, I used all the gear that had been sitting idle throughout Oregon. It dropped down to 42°F, so I dusted off the wool socks, wool tights, and down jacket. The first couple hours of the day were mostly downhill, which was welcomed, since I was feeling pretty slow from the previous long day.
The scenery was beautiful, biking next to the Salmon River with endless mountains and canyons. Traffic was minimal, the wind was slightly at my back, and it was the first day that I didn't have to worry about the weather.
Joining a slightly busier highway, I started the gradual climb up to Willow Creek Summit which was a new highest point on the route so far.
I ended the day in Arco, ID. Overall a calm and uneventful day. I laid out all my camp gear in the hotel to dry it after being soaked in dew the night before in Stanley.
Straight and Flat Riding Towards Eastern Idaho
Still being chased by Andrew and Kevin, I woke up early to try to stay ahead of them. This was a fun aspect of the race, having the choice between riding with others or using them as motivation to catch up or stay ahead. This was the flattest and least-curvy day of the entire race so far.
I started to see a glimpse of the Teton Range in the distance. Very little civilization between Arco and Rexburg, ID besides a couple small towns. Still being in the mindset of hot weather, I was carrying all 160 ounces of water but only needed half of that to make it 90 miles to Rexburg.
While in Rexburg, I stopped at a farm supply store to get a canister of bear spray for the next day, where I was planning to cross the Teton Range and the continental divide. It came with a holster. I mounted it on the right side of my saddle bag for quick access. I practiced grabbing it a few times with one hand while riding as I continued northeast towards Ashton.
My goal for the day was to make it to Squirrel Creek Guest Ranch just east of Ashton, which was another 40 miles from Rexburg. I had called ahead earlier and was surprised they had accommodations available the Saturday night before Independence Day. Squirrel Creek Guest Ranch is on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR), which the Bike Nonstop route would be joining for the last bit of Idaho and first part of Wyoming.
Quiet farm roads brought me up to Ashton. Traffic picked up in Ashton and on the way out of town, given the holiday weekend, but died down when I turned on to Ashton Flagg Ranch Road.
To my understanding, this is one major point where the 2019 and 2021 Bike Nonstop routes differed. In 2019, the route went back south to cross over Teton Pass on highway 22 instead of continuing east on the Great Divide route, likely due to snow.
I arrived at Squirrel Creek Guest Ranch and the owner was so friendly. "Go ahead and get settled in and then let me know when you're ready for some dinner." He said, pointing at the cabin I had all to myself.
I walked down towards my cabin and saw two cyclists outside working on their bikes in front of the neighboring cabin. Their names were Porchara and Sasila, and they were on a journey crossing the country, too. They had started in Washington and were aiming to finish in New York. Our routes had joined around this point and were overlapping through Wyoming until the east end of Nebraska. We chatted for a little bit before I went into my cabin to shower and nap.
I woke up and joined Porchara and Sasila for dinner at the main lodge where the owner and some other guests were hanging out, enjoying the music on the porch. I ordered two entrees, a pulled pork sandwich with onion rings and a hamburger with french fries. Not my healthiest dinner.
It was fun to socialize with Porchara and Sasila over dinner. We talked about some of the YouTube channels we like to watch for adventure and cycling videos. We both talked about Ryan Van Duzer, a content creator on YouTube who had a part in inspiring all three of us to be on our respective adventures. I'm so grateful to have crossed paths with Porchara and Sasila. Their route would eventually take them through my current residence of Madison, Wisconsin, so we were able to meet up again after I returned from my race to chat more. Catch up with their adventures on their Instagram, @mynameiskustard.
Into the Wilderness, Bear Country, and Wyoming
I woke up the next morning and checked Trackleaders. Kevin had passed me last night, continuing on the gravel road into Grand Teton National Park, while Andrew was still behind me but already on the road. I decided to expedite my morning preparations so that I could catch Andrew to see if he wanted to ride together on the desolate gravel road. He agreed, so we started climbing on the gravel road and into bear country.
As the sun came up, I felt like I had been teleported to another location with the sudden change from farm fields into forested wilderness. The gravel was rough but there were no cars this early, so I felt safe. It was fun riding a section of the Great Divide route, a route I want to ride in its entirety in the future.
The road narrowed, the gravel became rougher, and the road got steeper. This was another section of the race where I was thankful for low gearing and wider tires. The gravel eventually ended and a smooth paved road brought us to a resupply point in Flagg Ranch. I met two other cyclists there who were riding the GDMBR from south to north. We chatted for a little bit and shared our experiences so far. It was great to talk with people who have been riding the GDMBR. Their favorite part so far was the mountain passes in Colorado. Their least favorite was the Great Basin in Wyoming.
Andrew and I joined the highway and continued south through Grand Teton National Park. I had been dreading this section, especially with it being the fourth of July. It wasn't too pleasant, but better than expected. Fewer cars and driving slower than anticipated.
We exited the park and resupplied before starting the last major climb of the entire route: Togwotee Pass which was also the continental divide. Many signs along the highways cautioned travelers to stay in their cars due to bears. This section reminded me of climbing Banner Pass in Idaho with all the biting flies, motivating me to ride faster. At this point, the route was also overlapping the TransAmerica Trail again, so I saw several groups of bike tourers heading westbound and descending the pass. Unlike the flies, the cyclists cheered me on as I climbed towards the top.
The climb went on for a while but was a comfortable grade the entire way. Andrew and I took each others' pictures at the top and started descending towards Dubois, Wyoming.
I didn't see a single bear the entire day, which was a little disappointing at the time. Later on and after the race, I had learned that my specific bear spray had been recalled due to some of the cansisters manufactured around that time failing to spray when triggered. In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't see any bears.
We split a small hotel room in Dubois which ended up being the most expensive hotel of the entire race, likely due to the holiday weekend and proximity to the national park. No fridge or microwave either, so I bought a bag of ice and filled up an empty trash can in the room to keep some yogurt and milk cold for breakfast the next morning. It was a shorter day mileage-wise, but with the 40 miles of gravel in the morning, it was a good point to stop. Andrew and I set our alarms for 2:00 AM the next day to get an early start.