Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mountains, bears, beers, mosquitoes.

A guy can really get enough headwind. For real. I was reduced this morning. Reduced to the form of a whining child. (Albeit, one who knows many more obscure ways to curse.) I moaned something fierce for the first twenty miles of the day. I pulled over at the first opportunity. I rolled into the gravel drive of a large log edifice. It was a gas station, gift shop, bar, and RV park.

My Morning Jacket was playing over the speakers at the bar. I wanted to call it quits and get a pint. Instead I bought a V8 and pulled a smooshed PBJ from my bag. It looked like rain. Indeed. I sat and waited for a downpour. I talked to the girl who was working in the empty restaurant and bar. I sat outside amidst kitschy bears carved out of wood.

The rain never came, but the wind seemed to change directions or at least die down. The sky looked threatening, but I pulled out my rain jacket and continued. I found the 'uphill' that everyone was talking about. I immediately began a long climb, and continued gaining altitude until I found myself on top of a high pass. There was snow, and I was cheered up instantly. I pulled over and poked around in the snow, and even took a couple pictures. The day was going much better. Like most people, I would much rather climb and sweat than force my way through a headwind.

I dropped like a rock off the back side of the mountain. The shoulder was wide and smooth. I quickly found myself cruising in an aero tuck at 45 miles per hour. I was amused when a pickup passed me going barely faster through the gentle switchbacks. We gazed askance at each other. "Yep."

The Teton mountains came into view, and my heart leapt. I was surrounded by postcard beauty, but amidst the photographic perfection I could smell the pines and feel the cool air. I passed many splotches of a snow that had fallen as recently as June.

Partway down the mountain, I came to a lodge. My guidebook had this as the last stop before my intended destination: a free campground for bicyclists.

The lodge was full of warnings. Nine grizzly bears had been sighted, and one as recently as an hour ago in the parking lot. A section of the park and a corresponding section of lesser-traveled park road was closed due to bear activity. I bought bear mace to the tune of $52.84, and once again my wallet began to weep. But, I reasoned, you can't be the dude who cheaped out on bear mace and then wished he had it. Well, shit. I went to the bar.

I got PBR at $3/pint. Plenty of it. And nachos. Nachos with plenty of stuff on them. I even treated myself to an IPA and a couple tracks from the jukebox. None of this is what I'd call cheap. I got pretty fucked up. I exited the bar and entered an onslaught of mosquitoes.

I raced down the steep mountain rejoicing at the views. I had to take a ride through a construction section. My bicycle had to be loaded in the back of a pickup truck. It robbed me of an amazing downhill, and took me past where the free bicycle camping was (if it still existed, anyway.)

I was dropped off at a National Forrest campground. Setting up a tent was a real chore. The mosquitoes were a terribly thick swarm. I was attacked as I put the poles into their eyelets and began snapping the screen in place. Unreal. For this pleasure, the charge was $10 per night. I decided to accidentally not pick up a pay envelope - it would just mean more mosquitoes and less money.

I was jawing away on the phone when the "camp host" arrived at my tent. He gave me the bear speech, and asked me to give him my money. I coughed up six bucks and a handful of change that was rattling around in my trunk bag. He might have come out ahead - there were some quarters - but it was probably shy of the asking price. I was bitten one million more times as I wrote my name and a bunch of other nobody's-business on the back of an envelope. I returned to my tent, murdered some mosquitoes who were unfortunate enough to enter with me, and got to the business of being pretty cold throughout the night.

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