Having decided to try and make it to Lander today, I knew I had to get an early start to beat the wind. I had heard It could be a show-stopper in Wyoming, especially on the high plains I traversed today.
I was out of the motel and peddaling by 03.45 – I set off in the dark, but even so, it was the warmest it had been in days. I had some climbing to do right from the outset, crossing the continental divide twice in the first 30 miles. It wasn’t tough though, the grades were short and gentle. By the time the sun had fully risen, I had made it passed muddy gap – another low pass. The dawn light revealed the terrain I had been traveling through – rolling hills covered in sparse vegitation filled the foreground, with sullen lookin mountains looming in the distance. Just before 09.00 I came to Jeffrey City.
Jeffrey City was named after Dr. C. W. Jeffrey, a wealthy doctor from Rawlins, who financed the costs for prospector and businessman Bob Adams to start the Western Nuclear Corporation mining firm and open a Uranium mine near the area in 1957, during the cold war and the height of uranium demand. Thousands of people looking for high-paying mining jobs streamed into Jeffrey City, and Western Nuclear designed and financed a company town for the workers and their families. At the height of the boomtown optimism, a high school complete with and olympic-size swimming pool was built. In the early 1980s, the uranium market collapsed and the mine was forced to close. As was typical of many boomtowns, Jeffrey City was singularly dependent on the local mine, and after it closed there was no reason for residents to remain. What was once a thriving local community with 95% of the population leaving by 1986.became a ghost town as 95% of the residents left the town by 1986. It’s hard to imagine a more depressing place than modern day Jeffrey City – all the buildings are run down and deralict, the run-down state of the place is emphasised by the fact that it’s the only town for 60 miles in any direction.
Shortly after passing through I met my first transam cyclists, a Swedish couple who had started their journey In Florida. It was great to talk to people who had faced some of the same challenges I have – they were snowed in for two days in Rawlins, only setting out for Jeffrey City yesterday. They had also had trouble with campsites, finding them to not really be a viable option. Talking to them also validated my decision to push on to Lander in one day – last night they were charged $150 for a filthy room in a portacabin! I had heard the woman who runs the shabby motel in Jeffrey City was crazy, but that seemed excessive. It would have been nice to stick with them for a while, but they were travelling a lot slower than me and I was concious the wind could kick in at any moment, so I quickly left them behind. I climbed up to the ‘Beaver Divide’, a ridgeline covered in snow where I was afforded some awesome views into the valley below from this point, and was treated to a 5 mile decent down into the valley. From there I had to really dig deep for the last 25 miles, I travelled through a canyon of red rock that contrasted sharply with the snowy mountians on the horizon. I finally limped into Lander for 02.00, completely shattered and in need of a drink. I covered 125 miles today, and felt every last one of them – not only was today marginally the longest day so far, but it was also hilly, and I had to deal with the altiude. I really felt the magnitude of Wyoming today – while it’s not on the same scale as Kansas it’s far more sparsely populated, in fact it’s the least populous state with around 500,000 occupants. As if to hammer this point home – today I travelled 120 miles, passed a ghost town and nothing else.
The area I travelled through today Is stepped in the history of the wild west. He Transamerica Trail intersected both the Oregon Trail and the Pony Express Route. The Oregon trail was the main route for westward expansion for much of the 19th century – an estimated 350,000 immigrants followed the route, searching for a better life in the west. The Pony Express Route came through the area from April 1860 to October 1861. Riders would cover 75 miles each, swapping mounts every 12 miles. The carefully co-ordinated chain was capable of transporting a message 1,966 miles from Missouri to California in 10 days. Although the riders are now imortalized in legend, the endevour was short lived, with the completion the telegraph in 1861 rendering in obselete.
I am going to take a rest day tomorrow, as I really felt the toll of a hard day today, and don’t feel ready to tackle the climb up to Dubois, the next stop on route. I’m just looking forward to sleeping past 03.00.