Fat-Bikepacking on the Outlaw Trail, Wyoming

My favorite book as a kid was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. To this day I wish I had a wardrobe that led to a magical, far-off land full of wonder and beauty.

To step through a doorway into a different realm and leave your old world behind, even for just a little while….

I have been lucky enough to visit many far-off and beautiful places, from Zanzibar to the Greek Islands. But my Narnia is not in any of those places.

As it happens, my Narnia is in Wyoming, both the deep-winter version and the trickling-meltwater spring one. To get there is not through an enchanted wardrobe but on our trusty steeds that are our fat bikes.

The adventures of Studd Pyles and Dirt Girl.

My partner and I fell in love with bikepacking a few years ago. Since we have adult responsibilities, our trips have been over long weekends and close to home. But staying close to home has opened our eyes even more to the wonders around us. And this spring was one of my favorite trips yet, which is saying a lot.

Our plan was to explore the Hole in the Wall area in the Bighorn Mountains over a four day weekend. I created a map that would hopscotch across public lands taking us from the plains to the mountains. Starting in the late afternoon, we had a peaceful sunset ride to where we made our first camp. Perched on a rocky outcropping, we woke up to a fine view of the high plains with herds of antelope and cattle in the distance. I should have brought my harmonica.

Camp 1 on the edge of the prairie.

We pedaled through the second day and with each hill and bend in the dirt road we fell deeper into the landscape and further away from any sign of humans. We discovered fantastical rock outcroppings, hidden green meadows, clear running streams, desert wildflowers and vistas that took our breath away.

All this. It felt like ours alone. Were we the last people on earth?

We followed tracks to see where they would lead with a general trending from the high desert to the mountains. Following in the hoof prints of the infamous “Outlaw Gang”, sometimes we were only on game trails that faded into tall grass.

We came across this marker where cattle rustling resulted in the “Hole in the Wall” shootout that took place here in 1884.

We took a side-trip to find the historic Hole in the Wall hideout that harbored Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch Gang, among others. All of these cattle rustlers and bank robbers were collectively known as the “Outlaw Gang.”.

And hideout it was!  Even with a marked trail we lost our way and turned around when it was clear we wouldn’t get there with our bikes. We’ll be back!

Near the small trail to the “Hole in the Wall” was a cool, shady place where cattle rustlers were sure to water their livestock and take a break from the heat. I could picture the outlaws riding by and tipping their hats our way.

 


The days end in glory here. The sun floats lower and the colors become more golden, more surreal, until the beauty is almost too much and then at the moment when your mind can’t fathom anything more beautiful and grand, God throws her light switch and gracefully dims the sky and lights the first star. Star light star bright.


The grass here is the greenest in a world of green against vermillion cliffs, lit by the grace of sunlight, the hills peeling away towards the mountains, layer upon layer. Those cliffs on my right, those cliffs! My face into the warm sun, the green green grass and red red dirt under my tires and my partner in front of me and beside me. Oh my soul, over the next hill a valley so magical, so rare, so peaceful and perfect and unmarred that it may only exist in my dreams. But here it is, in this. This very moment. If I didn’t have a witness I would have thought it a dream.

Riding into the setting sun I willed this moment to become part of me, to capture it in my very soul.

At the end of the day we spilled out of the dreamscape of no man’s land onto a county road (eek-civilization!) and climbed up and up…and up… to a bench where we camped under the stars for the night. Camp 2 had a view up a dramatic limestone canyon with the Middle Fork of the Powder River far below.

After leaving our camp the next morning we found water just past a ranch and filled our water bottles from a clear cold stream.

In general, finding water was not a problem. On one remote stretch I filled up at a stock water tank – no filter needed since it came deep from the source.

 


As we climbed into the foothills we were delighted to discover another new world without end. That’s the beauty of visiting a new place and not knowing exactly where you are — it feels exotic, exciting and endless.The only company we found was a band of friendly horses. Day 3 was long and hard. I didn’t factor in the elevation gain with the long miles. On top of that it rained buckets near the end of the day. It was getting on dark and our drivetrains and tires were caked with mud and had to be scraped off with sagebrush to gain any forward movement. All going up to a steep mountain pass. Even after pouring over topo maps and Google Earth, I wasn’t sure that it was a rideable route and my fingers were crossed that we wouldn’t have to backtrack.

 

The first of the balsamroot in bloom.

 

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When the rain stopped a rainbow arched across a high mountain meadow.

We were still pushing and riding in the dark since we needed to make a certain number of miles in order to have time to ride back to the trail head the next day. And that’s how we ended up camping at 10:30 at night. We crawled into our tent cold, damp and hungry. I’m glad that I have the partner that I do. He never complains about my overzealous planning.

We broke camp early with rickety muscles and immediately started climbing. There were so many times in the previous day that I thought we had topped out and here we were climbing yet again. I’m actually glad I didn’t look at the elevation profile, I would have felt defeated.

We were now on the west side of the mountains and there were drifts of snow in the road. The vistas were never-ending with long steep ascents and descents. The descents were a relief but it only laid bare the crazy steep next hill.

This was big country with big hills, in the Big Horns.

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We brought fat bikes, not because we anticipated snow, but because we didn’t know how much off-roading we would be doing thru cacti and such.
Just when we didn’t think the country could get any bigger, it did.

 

I estimated that we had about 25 miles to ride our last day, with a massive amount of climbing. I was a little concerned about getting to the trail head with daylight to spare since we still had to drive 2.5 hours back to Lander.

 


But the icing on the cake came at the end when, nearly out of the foothills, the most stunning view of the world was laid at our feet.  Like I always do at the end of a trip, I went slowly and took into my heart every detail instead of horses-to-the-barn. I’m never ready to step back through the wardrobe but I always bring a little of Narnia home.

 

 

 

Happy Trails my friends!

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