Claire Porter
Great Divide
Middlewood, WY I woke up in Atlantic City disoriented in a teepee. The past 24 hours were a blur of events: I had slept at a rodeo ground in Pinedale the night before since the campground in town was closed, I had passed a llama ranch in Boulder, crossed the Divide several times before I finally rode along its spine on the way up to South Pass, and pedaled through the high desert long after the sun set to reach the town of Atlantic City. So far on the trip, I had been averaging about 50 miles a day, but yesterday clocked in at 88 miles. As I lay in the teepee, I retraced the day and night's events in my head. I couldn't believe I pedaled that far, with a headwind and several Divide crossings peppering the day (and night)'s ride. I remembered feeling nervous as I watched the sun set on South Pass, a good 10 miles from my destination. As I glanced at the map, I realized I had miscalculated. It was more like 15 miles, which normally would be an insignificant difference but not when the sun was plummeting and darkness rising.

When I reached South Pass City, it was dark and I nearly crashed into an older couple walking their dog in the starlight. I was tired, and about ready to give up my goal of making it to Atlantic City, but they encouraged me to press on because there was "going to be party in town". A party! I hadn't been to a party on the trip yet, and I felt like I needed to soak up as much good fun and morale-boosting experiences before I dove into the Great Divide Basin the next day.

The couple was correct- as I crested the final hill between South Pass City and Atlantic City, I spotted a constellation of neon signs in the valley below that had to be the bar, or a Christmas display. It was September, it had to be a bar. I had ridden 88 miles to get to the town, and with my headlamp batteries dead and several blind gravel climbs and descents, I had finally hit my destination of Atlantic City, Wyoming.

Part of my motivation for pressing so hard to reach Atlantic City was the recommendation of fellow Blackburn Ranger Amanda. "The owners are really sweet, and you can camp in the teepee in front of the bar". I was not let down. The party was in full swing when I arrived. It was Labor Day weekend, and it seemed like half of Wyoming's population was crammed onto the dancefloor. I walked up to the bar, met the owners, and they were delighted that I was riding the Great Divide. "You can sleep in the teepee out in front," they invited, but I took a glance outside and noticed that it was full of squealing children clutching Capri Suns and struggling to get the attention of their parents who clutched empty bottles of Coors Light. I knew there was only one option- join the party. I did a swing dance with an old lady wearing a cowboy hat, and someone found out I was riding a bicycle from Canada to the Mexican border and firmly told me that I wouldn't be buying myself drinks that night. I didn't- but I ended up paying f
or each of those drinks the next day when I hit the trail and entered the vast, waterless Great Divide Basin. And so I ended up waking up in a teepee, hungover, and exhausted. It was time to tackle the Basin.

A word to future Great Divide cyclists who spend the night at the teepee in Atlantic City (which I highly recommend): when you leave town the following morning, you have to retrace your tracks and go up the hill by the bridge. It seemed so natural to leave town by continuing on the road past the bar that I didn't bother to check the map, and I ended up taking a 6 mile detour up the wrong hill. Later, I found out that Blackburn Ranger Amanda made the exact same mistake. Whoops. I waved to the bar as I turned around and passed it on the correct way out of town, feeling a bit sheepish.

Soon after leaving town, trees, water, and humans evaporated away. I was left with sagebrush, sand, and a roaring wind that flickered between crosswind and headwind. My body felt like a rag soaked in Fireball and Big Sky IPA, and no amount of pedaling would wring out the rag. I felt horrible. I stopped at the Diagnus Well, the first water source, and drank my fill. I lay down in the sand, and felt my first refuge from the relentless wind. But after a minute or two laying there in the sand, I knew I had to pull myself together and pedal on. My body felt exhausted, but my spirit soared. This was by far the most remote stretch of the Divide I had encountered, and the endless desert was beautiful and reminded me of the Pacific Ocean in its vastness. After the Diagnus Well, I swapped my Adventure Cycling map for a handwritten cue sheet that traced the Tour Divide Great Basin Alternate route. The reason for the alternate was to avoid construction south of Rawlins, WY.  The alternate ended up being extremely enjoyab
le, that is, if you are into adventure and following faint two-tracks and pushing your bike up steep, rocky slopes. I loved it- this is what I expected the Great Divide route to entail- extreme adventure. I witnessed countless pronghorn antelope bound across the desert around me, I woke up to a moose outside my tent, and as I pedaled slowly up the wickedly steep slopes, I was able to look down at the coolest rocks I had ever seen. I recommend taking the Tour Divide Basin Alternate- it was remote, gorgeous, and full of wildlife that one wouldn't expect in such an arid climate.

The splendid remoteness of the desert was interrupted by an oil camp just before entering Wamsutter, WY. I watched oil derricks plunge their noses into the earth, sucking up oil rhythmically under the hot Wyoming sun. I rolled into Wamsutter, bought a sandwich at Subway, and rolled into Savery, WY that night. The day's ride was 101 miles, and when I descended the wild hill into Savery I was rewarded with a pitcher of water with a note that read "CLAIRE- welcome!" hand-written by Lela, the director of the Snake River museum (pretty much the only show in town). Lela is a spunky woman who has offered a night's rest and a pitcher of water to countless Divide cyclists, and if you pass through Savery, WY, a visit to the Snake River museum is an absolute must. Her contact info is on the Adventure Cycling map, and I ended up staying with her for a second night to rest a sore Achilles tendon, no doubt strained from my long days of riding to get through the Great Basin. The Great Divide Basin was difficult for its head
winds and lack of human contact, but extremely rewarding in terms of wildlife and the contemplation it afforded. With no cars, humans, or shade, my mind had room to roam, and I tried not to let it dwell too much on the high passes of Colorado that lay ahead. I enjoyed my final Wyoming sunsets, and reveled in the tiny little plants that speckled the desert and thrived despite the lack of water. The Basin was spectacular, but I was ready to return to the mountains.



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Claire Porter

Gear List

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Claire Porter

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