Updates From the CDT Part 3; Wyoming – The Easiest and Toughest of Miles

Now nearly two months and 2,000 miles into this journey, Kurt Refsnider shares more stories from his progress so far riding the entirety of the Continental Divide Trail. 

Pickle Pass! Yewwww!” I shouted with elation when the faint trail leveled out atop the saddle.

Since I began planning out this 3,000+ mile route, I’ve been more apprehensive about the Wyoming Range Trail and the 4,000-foot climb-up Pickle Pass than any other section. It was an enormous relief to crest that climb, but with 60 of the toughest miles of trail on the entire route lying immediately to the south, I was far from done with this trail. It took a full two days to negotiate all the steep ridges and high summits, trace the oft-invisible trail through flowery meadows, and then bushwhack out a long-vanished side trail to exit the Wyoming Range.

The actual Continental Divide Trail (CDT), the dirt thread I’m following on this journey, lies to the east in the Wind River Range. But with most of that section of CDT in the Wilderness and closed to bikes, the Wyoming Range Trail seemed like the most appropriate alternative.

Despite the rigor of the Wyoming Range Trail, the tilted red and white layers of sandstone, the striped cliffs, and the lush green meadows blanketing the valleys once again captured my attention just as they had on other rides here. The actually rideable sections of trail offer a rare flow unlike what any front country or “bike optimized” trail ever will. That’s part of why I’m so drawn to rugged backcountry trails, even ones that are so difficult on a bike.  And the solitude along the way is just icing on the cake for me. All that is why I’ve now ridden that trail three times in the past four years; each time, I also have concluded it’s the toughest trail I’ve ever ridden.

The Wyoming Range feels remarkably remote – few roads cut into the range, and trails are generally poorly maintained and see minimal use. In an effort to protect that remoteness, the late Republican Senator Craig Thomas and his successor John Barrasso championed the Wyoming Range Legacy Act. Enacted into law in 2009, this prohibited any future oil and gas leasing within much of these mountains, and the Trust for Public Land successfully bought out all existing leases and retired them.

A few days south of the Wyoming Range, my legs were recovering from all the climbing and hike-a-bike as I eagerly rolled into the Great Divide Basin. In this windswept sagebrush country, the Continental Divide splits, its two limbs reconverging just north of the Colorado state line. I was excited to spend a couple of days out there in the dry, rolling country. The CDT follows 2-tracks along the Divide on the east side of the basin past trickling springs, craggy outcrops of granite, and ridgecrests with long views. There’s even are a few scattered groves of junipers along the way creating pockets of rare shade. The riding was considerably less demanding than so much of the prior 5 weeks, and I breathed easily throughout this interlude in the CDT’s typical ruggedness. I hadn’t realized how much I needed this figurative pause, both physically and mentally.

Later on my second day in the Basin, nearing the town of Rawlins, I turned from one hot, shadeless two-track onto another. A ranch truck with a trailered skid steer was parked a hundred yards back, and on it sat Tom, a 70ish cowboy with an enviably bushy gray push broom of a mustache. He watched me roll over toward him and flashed a friendly smile. We got to talking, and he emphatically agreed that crossing the entire country on a bike was choosing the proper tool for the job – faster than walking and easier to take care of than a horse.

Mid-sentence, Tom shifted his weight awkwardly, a pained expression flashing briefly across his face. I asked if he was alright. “Well . . . I crashed my motorcycle this morning,” he admitted a little sheepishly. “I went out to check on the water for the cattle. I usually take my horse, but today I was in a hurry and took the motorcycle. That was a mistake. Nothing good ever comes from being in a hurry. I should have just taken my horse.” He slowly shook his head, staring off across the pasture.”I’d best be getting these corral panels loaded up. Don’t be in a hurry out there.” He chuckled as he stood up. “Thanks for stopping to say hey. I appreciate it.”

I pedaled on down the two-track, grateful for the reminder to not rush through this journey. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the quest toward forward progress and reaching the next town to resupply, but that’s not why I’m out here. I’m here for the trail itself.

Kurt’s prior update from 1,000 miles through Montana can be found here.