Friday, July 9, 2010

Day 15 - Idaho Falls to Jackson Wyoming - Crossing Teton Pass

She sobbed.

She grinned.

When Alex crested the Teton Pass

after 5,500 feet of climbing...

Her emotions overwhelmed her..

Taking on this incredible physical challenge...

and succeeding

was something she had never experienced before.

Al can now bike with the best of them and holds her own...

I, too had a great day...

but it was very different than Alex's experience.

We all start before dawn...

Tension is high...

Many of us didn't sleep well worrying about the difficult ride ahead of us.

Teton Pass is legendary.

I start out riding with Rod - a delightful fellow...

I hear all about his black lab and his family...

He tells me a story about when he was just a lad...

- What's your background, Rod?

He's of Scottish descent.

Of course. Who else would call himself a lad?

After 15 miles of country road and chat, we hit the main road and things get serious...

We have a big climb.

There is a lot of traffic.

The road surface is rough..

And we have a head wind...

Good thing it isn't raining!

But we get in a great "paceline"

Sandy leads the way giving us all shelter from the wind.

That saves the rest of us 30% of energy as we bike in her wind shadow.

And she is a really strong rider.

I'm right behind Rod who helps me out - pointing out debris in the road, warning me when he plans to slow down or take a drink. So I can safely bike 4 inches from his back wheel. But it's not relaxing.

Behind me is Bob - who sings  a song of praise for Sandy.

He has a lovely voice, but how he can sing and bike at this speed is beyond me.

After a while I have to drop back...

I can't keep up the pace...

The SAG is only 4 miles away, but it's a really hard 4 miles.

How am I going to survive Teton Pass if I can't even make it to the first SAG?

First SAG, lovely SAG...

Views of the Snake River and the beautiful forests...

When did we so completely leave the desert?

Luckily we have a downhill now and the wind is more to the side.

In fact, we get an awesome descent that sweeps us into the valley with huge mountains all around us!

Absolutely beautiful!

We cross the Snake River and see magnificent mountains ahead...

Are those the dreaded Tetons?

We stop briefly at a store - load up on drinks

talk to fellow tourists eating their ice cream...

....and we head up to the Pine Creek Summit...

This is the prelude to Teton Pass.

The first mile is a killer...

But after one mile it's not so steep...

the grasses swirl with the winds, and I say - hey, I can handle this.

It fools you.

One mile before the summit it gets steep again...

I am getting way above the trees

I reach the summit with Allison, out of breath, screaming thighs...

Can we stop here?

I'm ready to quit for the day and the ride up Teton Pass hasn't even begun!

Luckily we have a nice downhill to rest our legs and land in the charming town of Victor.

Lovely little town in the shadow of big mountains.

We could buy a bit of land here...

Nice little cafe in Victor - sandwiches, supplies, flowers

We prepare for our upcoming attempt at the Teton Pass.

I'm at the base of the pass with Ian and Dereka.

We are probably the last bikers of the day.

We start off together, though I lag behind to take pictures of our wind - which now has turned into our friend, the tailwind.

I pass by both Ian and Dereka and stop at the sign welcoming us into Wyoming.

It's a necessary photo-op and a chance to catch our breath.

Derek smiles - not noticing the ominous sign foretelling steep mountain climbs ahead...

Soon Ian comes up behind us - working hard but in good spirits as always.

Our ride up to the top continues with that pattern..

I will pass them...

take a few flower photos..

and then catch up....

We can manage the slope for the first 10 miles...we have gotten stronger over the past 2 weeks.

But we know ahead of us the last 2 1/2 miles is a killer - 12% grade.

Just as I hit the steeper slope, I see the support van waiting.

Katie is in the van sadly.

Her Achilles tendon went bad at mile 6 and she is off bike today.

She's hobbles painfully.

Will she be able to finish the trip?

I ask them about the last few miles - they say go slow, stop a lot.

Gerard suggests a goal of just making it to the next sign.

Suddenly getting 100 yards seems like a lot.

I bike up the steep slope - stopping every few yards with my heart pounding and my lungs gasping.

Is this the altitude?

I turn the corner out of sight of the van...

and start walking my bike up the last two miles of the mountain.

It's a hard walk - each hairpin turn aims that 20 mph wind a different direction - head wind, side wind, tail wind.

My head is spinning.

My pedals aren't.

About a mile from the top I take a break to snap pictures of lovely wildflowers.

I look behind me and there are my friends Ian and Dereka walking their bikes up this impossbily steep slope.

So we walk together for a while - enjoying the view.

We decide this is better than biking the pass anyway.

If we were stuggling on bikes we wouldn't be seeing the beauty of the flowers or the mountains.

And we all took this trip more to see America than for the pure physical challenge of it.

As we near the top, Ian bravely takes to bike again and hits the summit barely staying upright but pedaling all the same.

We are ebullient to have made the top!

Congratulations all around!

Life is wonderful!

Then we look downhill!


It's a monster descent with curves and warnings about runaway trucks.

We are in fear for our lives!

Before I know it Dereka and Ian have charged ahead - brakes screaming.

I stop to ask if there is anyone else behind us.

Yes, Ellen is slowly riding up to the summit somewhere back down the mountain.

I can't wait.

I take a deep breath and dive into the descent.

I squeeze the brakes for all I'm worth.

I can only keep the bike down to 20 mph.
I'm afraid of losing control.
I'm not sure I could stop completely if I wanted to.

And I'm freezing!

That sweat I built up on the ascent turns into a bitter chill in the wind of the descent.

At the 2 mile mark I turn into a pull-off to celebrate with a chocolate chip cookie and a diet coke,  Ellen stops by me and I share.

She leaves and I'm alone again of the side of the mountain.

Another two miles of sheer terror and the road begins to even out.

It's a gentle downhill for the next 20 miles - over the Snake River again...

Into the town of Jackson.

New Jersey Mark treats Al and me to a wonderful steak dinner under the elk at the Gunpowder restaurant.

Just what my protein-deprived body needs!

At our hotel it's good-bye to our friends, Kay and Jay.

They only signed up for the distance to Jackson.

Now Allison, their niece, will be on her own..

with the other 48 of us to keep and eye on her.

Now to blog and to bed.

Al faces each day stronger.

I face the day wondering if I can make it.

And tomorrow - The Continental Divide.

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