By Ed Chasteen
Most every bike rider who goes cross-country starts in the west and rides east. I started in Florida, headed northwest to Seattle. When I got to Wind River, Wyoming, I understood! That west wind howled in my ears like a freight train. I put plugs in my ears in a futile attempt to muffle the sound. For days I pedaled into that wind, bent so low over the handlebars that they touched my chest. Pumping as hard as I could, I could manage barely six miles an hour. How the pioneers in wagons maintained their sanity I do not know. Back home now, my mind measures any wind against what it knows is blowing yet in that far place. By comparison, they’re a breeze.
Below are a few paragraphs from my book about my ride through Wind River.
It is 2:15 and 60 miles to Dubois. I soon understand why the mountain range off to my left all the way to Dubois–the one for which the reservation is named–is called Wind River. For the next four hours I pedal upstream into that fast flowing river. By 6:30, I have gone 30 miles: 30 more to go. No way!
At Crowheart, a lone service station I finally come across, I ask if I can sleep on their floor. He says they don’t have a place. He suggests Red Rock, 14 miles up the road. I don’t see how I can possibly make it. I’m so tired I can hardly think. But I thank him and leave.
Back on the bike, I come about two miles later to what must be a mirage. Off to the right about 50 yards from the road is a compound composed of a church, a school and a house, all enclosed by a chain link fence. The gate is open and I enter. Parking my bike in front of the house, I step up on the porch and knock. No answer. At the church and the school? Nobody. I’ll wait. I’m out of the wind. And the last thing I want right now is to get back on that bicycle.
Nightfall comes late as I sit on the porch and wait for someone to come home. In the distance off to my left at about 11 o’clock I see lights come on and I can make out the sound of music carried on the still night air. The only other sound is of rushing water that I decide comes from a creek, though where it is from where I am I haven’t a clue.
The house faces east as best I can figure. I reach that conclusion because as I sit here I look back along the road I arrived here on and because that west wind whistles around the sides of the house. The two-foot wall that encloses the porch affords some protection against the chill that invades this place as the last rays of the sun are swallowed by darkness.
My teeth begin to chatter. I rummage through my panniers to find my insulated long-Johns, my stocking cap, my flannel shirt, and my wind breaker. Before putting on my gloves, I wolf down several peanut butter sandwiches, an orange, apple, some nuts and raisins. Then on with the gloves, I stretch out on the hard wooden floor of the porch, expecting any minute to see headlights swing into the gate and to have someone open the door behind me and welcome me inside.
No one comes. Wearing practically everything I have and using my helmet for a pillow. I sleep. I wake up often. And mash the button on my Timex that lights the read-out. Teeth chattering, muscles twitching, I change positions; sit up, lie down, stretch out, roll over on the other hip when pressure gets too great. One good thing about the cold: I can almost forget how hard the wooden floor is.
When I wake up at 4:15, I feel like a tin man who hasn’t been oiled, but I make spastic attempts at exercise to get warm. I repack my bike, stuffing things into whichever pannier will hold it, giving no thought to the filing system I’ve carefully devised so I’ll know just where everthing is. I hit the road at 5:15, wearing thermal underwear, blue jeans, flannel shirt and rain suit, complete with hood. And I’m still cold as I re-enter that infernal wind I thought had abated. I didn’t hear it much last night, but it’s back this morning. No, it’s not back. It was here last night, howling down this highway. My being out of it didn’t diminish it, only my awareness of it. The wind will still be here when I am home writing this book.
The wind is still trying to push me backward like it did yesterday. The only difference in the wind this morning is that it’s colder. Hunkering down on the bike as low as I can, leaning forward until my chin rests on the handlebars, pumping as hard as cold legs and tight muscles allow, I inch forward into the wind on a dark, deserted road.
After a few miles, the pavement ends; gravel of every conceivable size replaces it, and for the next seven miles I fight those rocks to keep from being up-ended or ruining a tire. And when an infrequent car passes in either direction, I’m engulfed by dust and flying pebbles.
Big Earth moving machines wander back and forth across this boulder strewn trail that passes itself off as U.S. Highway 26. My speed drops to an average of six miles an hour; it’s 9:30 by the time I get to Dubois, 24 miles from my front porch bed.