One of the migratory creatures most often sighted in Dubois during the summer is that distinctive species, the heavy-laden touring cyclist Homo bipedalist.
As with other wild creatures, it is crucial that drivers be vigilant for the touring cyclist, in order to avoid striking one. Their behavior can be unpredictable.
When possible, courteous drivers give them a wide berth and veer far to the left when encountering H. bipedalist as it travels on the shoulder. As with deer, they often appear in groups, and the first one in view is a sign that others are nearby.
The reason we see so many cyclists is that, as with deer and elk, our region is along a major migration route. In fact, it’s at the crossroads of two: The Continental Divide Trail that runs north and south, and the TransAmerica Trail, heading east and west.
Many creatures have been following these routes for time immemorial. Our local historian Steve Banks says that Native Americans, who often used game trails to guide them, followed the Wind River east and west and the trail down the Dunoir valley and up Union Pass as trade routes and during their seasonal migration cycle. The first European explorers in this area used Native Americans as their guides in turn, passing through the same intersection.
Although I often see migrating cyclists, I seldom have an opportunity to get close. This summer I’ve been fortunate to have two enjoyable encounters, both times with cyclists traveling northward from the Front Range of Colorado. One was a solitary individual following the TransAmerica Trail; the second was a mating pair following the Continental Divide.
The migrating species metaphor isn’t entirely a joke. Although many years ago we took bicycle trips of our own, these individuals do seem exotic to me now. I admire their stamina, their strength, and their determination. I can’t imagine doing what they do.
While driving eastward toward town one day, I saw a lone male heavy-laden cyclist laboring slowly westward. As he did not seem aggressive, I determined to stop for a closer inspection if I saw him again when I came back the other way.
He had progressed only a few miles when I returned. Having no special obligations that day, I decided to save him the hard slog over Togwotee Pass toward Yellowstone Park, if he was willing. I pulled over and approached cautiously.
“Would it be against your philosophy to accept a ride?” I said. He thought about it, smiled, and said, “Not at all.”
After loading his bicycle in back of the car, we set off again.
This wasn’t a race or some sort of personal challenge, he told me. He had come north on his bicycle to escape the dull and stressful routine of his job. He wasn’t using his cellphone for information, but just accepting events as they came along — including offers of rides.
We discussed whether he should venture into Jackson for groceries. I advised against it, as his object was to avoid stress and crowds. Along the way, he realized that by giving him a lift I had saved the need to use the supplies he already had, so he had no need to take the busy road to Jackson and could head straight into Yellowstone.
As we approached the top of the Pass, a thought occurred to me. “How’d you like to cheat?” I said. “I could drop you at the Continental Divide and then you could sail downhill just as if you’d climbed all this way.”
“That would be great!” he said. I was amused that he wanted to unload his gear and set off again without being seen, so we waited for all traffic to pass before we parted.
I encountered the mating pair on Union Pass one day when I went up there for a hike. They and had come north from their home in Denver to celebrate their anniversary by cycling the Continental Divide Trail.
Here, you see them sharing information with a cyclist heading the other direction. (It’s a pretty long steep climb that way, they told him.)
The male had many questions for me: Was there water at the bottom of this slope? Is it fresh? What’s the road like afterwards? How far is it to Falls Campground?
I answered to the best of my knowledge (yes, plenty; absolutely fresh; not bad, just one gentle climb and then a long set of switchbacks down to the highway; not sure but maybe 20 miles along the highway, mostly uphill). A while later, having finished my hike, I saw them again and offered them a ride.
They declined, knowing that it was downhill from there all the way to the highway. “Well if you’d like a drink at the bottom, feel free to stop by my house,” I replied, and told them how to find it.
Not long after I got home, they turned into the driveway. I offered each a beer, and I joined them on the front porch as they took a break.
They noticed that the wind had picked up, and it would be pushing against them as they headed uphill.
“And now I have that buzz,” said the woman, finishing her beer. They didn’t seem eager to start off again. I offered them a ride up to Falls Campground, and they accepted with evident relief.
Suddenly the man leaped up and ran toward the yard at the east side of the porch. “I’ve lost a piece of paper!” he said. (I had just been joking about things that would blow into the next county.)
He returned a few minutes later, empty-handed.
He brushed the loss away with a wave of his hand, saying he could easily make another. But having found the paper a few days ago, snared in a sagebush, I respectfully disagree.
Reading the two-sided document, I could see how much work and care he had put into it as he planned each step of the journey from Steamboat Springs to Whitefish, Montana. I put a red box around their journey so far; they were only about halfway there.
Alas, our meeting as strangers was all too careful. I wished we had shared contact information so I could send him the paper, if only as a souvenir.
Their journey must be long finished by now. I hope they made it safely, and that it has blessed their marriage.
© Lois Wingerson, 2019
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