STATS: 68 miles, 4 hrs 41 mins, 1500 feet of climbing
The day started normally, even pleasantly, enough. Forty five miles of tailwind had us all in a good mood. None of us realized we were riding, blissfully unaware, straight into ... The Twilight Zone (da da daah).
We made the turn west at Muddy Gap Junction, and for a while it was not too bad. Soon, however, the wind began to toy with us like a cat with a cockroach -- ignoring us for a few seconds, then carelessly swatting us and leaving us reeling. This was a whole new level of wind-driven suffering, even by yesterday's standards. Finally we spotted the little settlement of Jeffrey City in the distance. When we pulled up in front of the Split Rock Cafe and saw a new banner declaring, "Bicyclists Welcome," we thought we had found our oasis. Inside we encountered a friendly enough welcome, though the decor, menu, and facilites closely matched the sparse, dry, windswept location in which the cafe rested.
After a while we decided to wander across the street to meet Byron, the owner of the Monk King Bird pottery shop, who had offered us a place to sleep for the night. I am not really sure what we expected, but what we found was a young man covered in clay dust, sanding a piece of pottery, in the midst of random assortment of vehicles, furniture, machinery parts, logs, and all manner of other artifacts spread out in a random fashion in front of his studio-gallery-home. In a previous life the building had been a service station. Byron bought it cheap a few years ago, but has since had to replace the roof and therefore is no longer sure it was such a bargain. While we were there, however, he found that he could raise up one of the ancient hydraulic auto lifts by connecting a friend's compressor. Though he has no use for the lift, he was quite excited about finding it in working order and might be re-assessing the value proposition of the property. Byron sleeps in the back of the shop, but because there is no running water, he uses the bathroom in the cafe across the street.
Byron, the potter, appears to lack anything remotely like ambition. He enjoys creating pottery, but has no interest in arranging for shipping his work or tending a web site to market it. He would not object if others were to do these things for him, but he seems fine with leaving things just as they are. From time to time he takes some of his work into Lander for resale by shops there, and that provides him with enough money to get by. Regardless, I found his work to be quite attractive and purchased two pieces, a mug and a pitcher that he pronounced "The best thing in the shop." It has a pattern that he has only seen in three of the thousands of pieces he has created, making it rare and special (the pitcher on the right in the photo just below).
Next door to the Split Rock Bar and Cafe across the street is Otis's defunct gas station. You don't want to poke around over there because if Otis notices, he might take a shot at you (according to Byron). Down the street a bit farther is the bowling alley. Some say there are still pins and balls inside, but others say everything is gone. The real mystery is that there is any disagreement at all. Anyone can just walk over there and take a look, but for some reason they don't.
There are something like 50 people who live in Jeffrey City, though the town appears to have no government and legally is probably extinct. Originally there was a town on the site called Granite City, later given the picturesque moniker "Home on the Range." In the 50's and 60's uranium was discovered and mined there. An important personality during those radioactive boom years was a Dr. Jeffrey, hence the renaming to "Jeffrey City."
Unfortunately for J.C., once the first wave of nuclear power plants had been built and stocked in the U.S., nuke fuel recovered from decommissioned Soviet warheads could be purchased for less than the cost of mining and refining raw material. The town had nothing else to offer, so the people moved on and the businesses closed. In short, it is a modern ghost town.
Our plan for the night was that one of us, probably Fred, would spend the night on an old sofa in the shop -- if the cat sprawled out on it was willing to share. Ray and I would sleep in the camping trailer parked out front, which is just a place to sleep out of the wind; it has no water or electricity. Standing inside was like standing on a small boat, except the rocking (provided by the wind) was far less rhythmic. It did not take much imagination to believe that the trailer could actually be blown over by some of the gusts.
|In the foreground, Ray's accommodations for the night. Notice the flags. |
You can't see the trailer rocking back and forth in this still photo, but it was.
Considering the challenging accommodations and the predicted winds for the next day (significantly higher than the day we just finished), I decided to see if maybe I could get a lift to Lander, the next stop on our itinerary -- preferably that night. That way I could actually get a day to rest my foot and leg, which were still aching, and avoid the predicted winds of 30 (with gusts to 50) that would be directly into our faces. A young man named Kyle, who is Byron's roommate at present, was quite willing to drive me the 60 miles into Lander for an unspecified compensation. Fred quickly signed on as well, but Ray, always up for an athletic challenge, opted to stick it out. We later gave Kyle $40 each and he acted like he had won the lottery. Considering he drove about 120 miles round trip in his V8 pickup on our account, just refilling his gas tank would eat up a good portion of his windfall, but I guess he wasn't thinking about that part of it.
Kyle turned out to be an interesting young guy -- kind of a free spirit who likes the solitude of rock climbing and backwoods hiking over the complexities of a traditional lifestyle. He dropped us off at a real nice Best Western at the edge of Lander. The wind was really blowing by then, and Fred and I got sand-blasted just crossing the parking lot to a nearby fast food restaurant to get something to eat.
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