Don's Bike Across America
Astoria, Oregon to Portsmouth, New Hampshire
June 19 to August 7, 2006

Don's Blog: July 3: A High Altitude Welcome to Wyoming

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Catching up on the rides from the past few days:

Sunday’s ride was an easy 34-mile spin from Blackfoot into Idaho Falls, a primarily Mormon town. The route was very easy and I took it slowly, so it was almost like a day off from riding. I had plenty of time to relax and get things done, but was not all that productive. I did clean my drive train (the chain, gearing, and derailleur) something I really needed to do.

One of the riders, Liz Miller, fell on Sunday while crossing some rough railroad tracks and suffered a concussion, requiring a trip to the hospital. Thankfully she is all right. This incident however, shows just how quickly bad things can occur. With this many riders covering so many miles, it is almost inevitable. I hope to continue to remain in one piece, knock on wood.


Monday’s ride qualifies as an “epic,” if you care to use the term somewhat loosely. Starting in Idaho Falls, we set out for the resort town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Lying between the two locations however, was not just 88 miles and a state line, but also two daunting mountain passes: the Pole Creek Pass at mile 55 and the Grand Teton Pass at mile 73. The latter offered a lung-sucking climb of 2,500 feet to 8,431-foot elevation, much of it at a 10-percent grade over the final five miles to the summit.

As if that were not tough enough, during the first 35 miles we faced the toughest headwind we had encountered so far in the trek. Riding with my regular partners Steven and Ted Leh, we were only able to sustain a 13-mile-per hour pace, despite riding in a pace line. It was tough work, made tougher by the knowledge that the two tough climbs were lying in wait later on in the ride. It was also very warm, into the 80s, surprising given the relatively high altitude.

I made it up the Pole Creek climb in fairly decent shape, but the Grand Teton climb, which I tackled alone (Steven and Ted haven taken an extended stop at the summit of Pole Creek) took a real toll on my physiology. Despite hammering a near maximum heart rate, I could only maintain a crawling four-mile-per-hour pace. The grade was so steep in places I thought the bike would lose its momentum and bring me to a halt. This much is for certain: this is about as much of a physical load as I could handle.

The summit was a pretty low-key place; I took a photo of the summit sign then headed down, at the same grade was we had climbed on the other side. With cars and trucks whizzing by, and just a little light-headed from the physical effort of climbing, it was a little bit scary. But I got to the bottom and then the fairly flat final eight miles into town.

Jackson Hole

From the Grand Teton National Park web site:

In the spring of 1822, David E. Jackson responded to an ad in the St. Louis Enquirer which read:

100 enterprising young men to ascend the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains, there to be employed as hunters. As compensation to each man fit for such business, $200 per annum to be given for his services.

Jackson signed on with William Ashley's fur company and was truly enterprising. In 1826, he and two other fur trappers, Jedediah Smith and William Sublette, bought out Ashley. In 1830, having made a sizable profit in only four years, these partners sold the company.

To mountain men, a low-lying valley surrounded by mountains was called a "hole." Because mountain rivers and streams that ran through holes created good habitat for beaver and other fur-bearing animals, trappers worked in these areas. Often a trapper assumed unwritten rights to trapping areas, and many places were named for the men who worked there most frequently. Sublette named the valley "Jackson's Hole" for his partner in 1829. Eventually the possessive was dropped because it was the, errr, butt of too many jokes.

Today, Jackson Hole is a winter and summer playground for outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world. Skiing, snowboarding, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking and kayaking are just some of the activities. "The Last and the Best of the Old West," Jackson Hole's culture is unique, blending its western heritage with that of a destination resort. On the board sidewalks of Jackson, cowboys with hats and spurs are often juxtaposed against snowboarders with dreadlocks and nose rings.