Why We Do Hard Things: Bikepacking in the Wind River Mountains

As I was pushing my bike up the steep road in the dark, I wondered “what do normal couples do for Friday night date-night?” (Cue Sara Jessica Parker’s Sex in the City voice.)

Admittedly, it was kinda romantic. A rainbow appeared spectacularly at sunset and the strawberry moon rose fat over the Lander Valley, occasionally lighting our way.

Romantic except for that any minute I might be cowering in a ditch for fear of a lightening strike. Dark clouds were roiling overhead and we were the tallest things on the side of a treeless mountain.

After the storm threat passed I got into a rhythm of alternately pushing my bike and riding. I was in a trance of moving slowly forward in the dark. Sometimes I didn’t know if Studd was ahead or behind me. It was trippy.

Going uphill

“You can’t do epic s@!T with basic people.” Studd Pyles, not your basic people.

Moonrise over the Lander Valley

We dubbed the trip the “Shoshone Lake Shuffle.” The plan was devised by Studd Pyles, my pard’ner.

Starting on Friday evening, we would ride from our houses in Lander to Shoshone Lake via the infamous Shoshone Lake Road, climbing 5,600 feet to Cyclone Pass.

From Cyclone Pass we would drop down to the lake to camp. On Sunday we would take a different route home via Pete’s Lake and Fairfield Hill.

Only about 54 miles roundtrip. Easy peasy right?

It’s sort of a sadistic right of passage for Landerites to say that they’ve hiked the Shoshone Lake Road. Only a few brave (dumb) souls have done it by bike. And as far as we know no one has done it bikepacking.

The route.

Camp #1 on Saturday morning. In keeping with the romance theme Studd picked a campsite in a grove of aspens full of wildflowers.

It was a consolation that the wildflowers were beautiful.

On Saturday morning the sun made a cameo appearance and we didn’t see it again all day. On top of that – the day started with a steep uphill on a bed of scree.

Then it started raining. I sat down in the rubble and cried. Me: “I don’t always want to do something hard. This is like my life, uphill all the time with lots of loose rocks. I want this summer to be easy….” (Waaaaah, poor me.). Well duh, this summer was already easier than last without cancer treatment!

I took a slug of whiskey and ate a snickers bar. Yes, before noon. Then I remembered something I heard Iohan Gueorguiev say on one of his See the World episodes. Something about not getting frustrated because he “chooses to be here.”

With that as my mantra, I got my sorry ass back up and started plugging away at the trail.

We alternately pushed and rode for awhile, topping out at what we thought was Cyclone Pass. It was beautiful and even quit raining while we posed for a celebratory picture.

Boy, were we off base!

Pasque flower

Soon after the “pass” we realized it wasn’t the pass. The road went from bad to worse. The incline was too steep to see over my bars and pick a line over the soccer ball sized rocks. It was pointless to pick a line because there wasn’t one. The average grade was 10% with a humbling high of 22%.

The Shoshone Lake Shuffle went like this: push your bike forward and up. Bike bounces backwards off rock. Lose your footing and slip on wet rocks. Swear. Push harder forward and lift front wheel up over rock. Bike clears rock. Take another step up. Repeat.

For 10 hours. Or something like that.

At every bend we thought we were nearing the top, only to see another section of steep-as-heck and rocky-as-hell bit ahead of us, running with water from snowmelt.

We decided we were in purgatory. But instead of crying I laughed, swore, and resorted to singing.

Coming down the far side of Cyclone Pass. It was all smiles until it I had to hike-a-bike downhill. I was slow and deliberate and tried to protect my still-healing foot.

When it started raining again I forgot my mantra and got cranky. It was most definitely happy hour. Or it should have been. I cracked open a beer but it didn’t help much.

I can’t tell you anything about arriving at Camp 2 except that it was raining hard and Studd rode ahead and set up the tent. Romance x 3.

When I arrived I was in tears. Big fat embarrassing sobs. I crawled under the fly and curled in a ball on the hard ground without bothering to inflate my sleeping pad. Studd covered me up with sleeping bags. It took 2 hours to get warm.

Camp #2. A spot of sunshine peeking under the fly on Sunday morning.

More time on the trail

Unbelievably Sunday dawned SUNNY. All I wanted to do was sprawl out on this beautiful beach and look at the mountains. The beach and the view were worth the ride. But we couldn’t lallygag. We had a big day ahead of us.

Lunch break in a sunny meadow.

HELL. yeah….definitely.

Super fun riding out!

Then it started to snow.

Snowstorm with thunder and lightening. The way you love me is frightening. Knock, knock, knock on wood.

The Salsa Mukluk, locked and loaded for bikepacking was the perfect transport for this trip. With the Bud/Lou tire combo it rocked on some of the sketchiest, most technical terrain I’ve been on. I would say this bike performs even better weighted down.

Breaking for sun.

And flowers.

More flowers.

Finally in familiar territory, almost to Fairfield Hill and then an easy ride back onto pavement (or so we thought!)

Doesn’t look bad but it’s hell. End of trip and the last uphill through mud.

Fairfield Fudge.

We realized within a couple steps that this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill-mud. It brought our bikes to a standstill and was a big fat downer. We couldn’t ride the dirt road down to the pavement and had to push, pull and drag down a steep sage-covered hillside. I was tired and kept tripping on the sage and rocks. But I didn’t cry.

And… almost home!

Who knew that when we left town on Friday in 90-degree heat that we would be riding in a blinding snowstorm for hours? That most of the trail would be unrideable?

This is the trip that you only think is fun afterwards.

Cue Sarah Jessica Parker’s Sex in the City voice again: I couldn’t help but wonder, why do people do hard things? And why would a couple choose to do them together?

I honestly don’t know. Maybe because in this out-of-control world we feel part of something bigger than ourselves when we take part in a challenge.

We feel most alive when we are in the wild doing something we love. We can turn our brains off and focus intently on putting one step in front of the other. We do it for the view at the top. We do it for the moments of grace in between the hard pushes.

I feel grateful and privileged that I am able to do hard things.

Every time I put myself out there I realize that my well of strength is deeper than I think. I believe that’s true for every one of us.

When we conquer a big-ass challenge and survive the elements we are better equipped for problems that are outside of our control. We know how strong we are. We can deal with family quibbles, health issues, aging parents, surly teenagers, a global pandemic, the broken weed-wacker, and work stress.

Maybe we do hard things together to share in the dust and the glory. To watch with pride and happiness as your partner does battle with the storms and the hills and the inner demons and prevails. And when we are old, to tell the stories to each other over and over again.


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