Brianís Cross-USA Bicycle Tour
Day 27 - Saturday, July 14, 2001
Today was the last major climb of the trip - crossing the Big Horn Mountains. There are three choices: from north to south - 14A, 14, or 16. The locals all said that 14A was the hardest and 16 the easiest. So I had checked my Wyoming bike map (which I had mailed to me in West Yellowstone) that gives the steepest continuous grade existing for at least half a mile. Highway 14A had grades of 9.5%, so that option was immediately tossed out the window. Highway 14 has a summit at 9000 feet and 4.5-5.5% grade, while Highway 16 tops out at 9700 feet with 6% grade. So I assumed that 14 must have had some short steeper sections, while 16 had a more steady grade - consistent with the local recommendation that 16 is best for RVs. By my view is that 14 is best for cycling - 700 feet less of climbing.
In the parking lot of the breakfast place I met a guy from Nebraska who drove his bike out, and he was planning to ride up the hill (without gear) and then back down to the car. He'd rather ride up a hill than deal with winds in the Nebraska flatlands. I got a head start while he was getting his bike ready.
So I headed out of Shell (elevation about 4200 feet) on Highway 14 and immediately hit the climb over the mountains. There's no warmup - you immediately hit the narrow switchbacks going up the mountain. They continued for so long that I was wondering if the 5.5% was a typo! Nebraska guy passed me on this section like I wasn't even moving.
I set a new personal low speed record [for solo touring, not tandem touring] - 3.5 mph. My previous low had been 4.0 mph.
While I was stopped at a turnout a Korean couple living in Southern Illinois stopped by. For some reason the husband wanted a picture next to me and my bike. His wife also took a solo photo of me that she said she'd mail to me.
Around mile 10 there was a nice stopping place for lunch, at Shell Falls. This was a popular tourist stop - full of people wondering how I made it up the hill.
Once I left Shell Falls the grade leveled out to the consistent 5.5% or whatever it was. Nebraska guy passed me once again going downhill - he jokingly wondered if I would make it up before dark!
Finally by 3 PM I had finished the 23 mile climb to the 9033 foot summit. Then it was 10 miles of downhill to Burgess Junction, the closest food. It was only a slight downhill into a headwind - rather demoralizing when you're expecting an effortless descent.
The Big Horn Lodge and Restaurant at Burgess Junction has camping also, so I am here instead of a nearby USFS campground so that I can have a short walk to breakfast tomorrow. I was going to call home tonight, but there's no payphones on the mountain, and the lodge's phone is a 4 party line.