It’s Sunday morning, and I have 450 miles to cover on my little XT250 to get home tonight. Not at all sure I can actually do that, I’m going to give it my best try.
Tammy and Molly are already up and Molly calls out that she is making oatmeal as I start to pack up. One last batch of Molly’s magic oatmeal will be the perfect way to start my day and my journey home.
I emptied the last of my leaking fuel can into my gas tank last night and got some on my hands. An immediate sting on my left thumb revealed a small but deep crack that I decide to clean up and doctor this morning before putting my gloves on. Thankfully, it’s the only time I used my first aid kit on the whole trip.
After breakfast, I get hugs from both girls, and thank them for letting me be a part of this incredible experience. I try hard to keep my tears in check and focus on the joy and laughter we have shared. I’m going to miss them. But at the same time I am so excited to follow the rest of their trip.
I ride south less than a mile to turn onto a paved road that meanders along the southern border of Wyoming. My path leads east toward Encampment where I hope to find fuel.
Just as I turn onto the pavement, I see the road ahead is blocked with hundreds of sheep. While I assume they are being herded somewhere, as I ride closer I can see they are only grazing. A half dozen large white dogs are peppered through the herd and a couple come over to inspect me.
I’ve gotten a later start than I had hoped. That fact and the lovely fall colors and clear blue skies (which make me want to stop for lots of photos) will make covering all my miles today more difficult.
The road winds through the forest and climbs over a few mountains before beginning a longer, steady climb up to a pass. I pull in to get a photo of the golden autumn colors splashed across the mountainsides and in a moment of bittersweet surprise find that I am crossing the Continenral Divide, no doubt for the last time of this trip.
At encampment I am able to buy fuel, a nice surprise, which allows me to take the scenic byway up and over the Snowy Mountain Range and into Laramie. I’ve always wanted to drive or ride this road, so it’s a bonus from having stayed an extra day with Molly and Tammy.
The colors along the road are gorgeous. Oranges and a few reds have been added to the mixture of golds and various shades of green.
At first, the road winds along a beautiful valley dotted with ranches and hunting lodges. But as it climbs, the road becomes more exposed and the colorful deciduous trees give way to more hearty evergreens.
As I feel like I’m cresting the range, the road curves gently to the left. Rounding the bend I can see a rock wall and some on my left, with a small lake in front of it. Dozens of cars are turning into a small parking lot and I can see hikers speckled across the paths that criss cross the entire area. These are the crowning heights of the Snowy Range.
On the ride down, I catch sight of more bright fall colors. It’s a great day for a ride. The wind starts picking up by Centennial and gets downright annoying by the edge of town.
In Laramie, I park behind a gas station and buy a dime’s worth of diesel to clean my chain. Since I’m headed home anyway, I use my toothbrush to scrub my chain, rolling my bike backwards to get it all. I use engine oil to lube the chain since I will be on asphalt from here on out. As I clean up, I finally stand back and see the extent of the mess I’m leaving in the area behind the store and I feel bad. I’m not exactly a neat mechanic. Or for that matter, any kind of mechanic.
Trying to avoid main roads and the interstate, I plot a route toward Wheatland via a canyon that runs along the north side of Laramie. But to get to the road, I have to ride northwest, completely broadside against the wind, for several miles. My poor, heavily-laden, but still too light for strong winds, bike struggles and maxes out at about 45-50 mph. Ugh. This is going to be a long day.
I finally make the corner and turn to my right, effectively launching me forward now with the full power of the wind at my back. The canyon is beautiful.
At Wheatland I turn north on a two-lane road, aiming for Manning, and eventually Lusk. It’s getting late in the day, and as I stop for fuel and a short break, I debate about getting a room here for the night. I think I have nearly two hours of light left which would get me less than an hour from home, to roads that I know well. Although I know the risks of riding after dark, I think I can be careful, and am certainly slow enough, to be a little safer.
A man approaches me at the station and says he and his wife are on a Goldwing and just rode down from Newcastle. He says the wind is really strong and he thinks it’s too risky for me to carry on. I check an online wind app, and find out that indeed the wind is blowing at 25mph with gusts to nearly 35-40mph. Sounds horrible. But then I look at a map version and see I’ve already crossed the worst of it. Turns out Wyoming has had wind warnings out all day. No wonder it was such a miserable, slow ride.
I decide to push on and camp along the way if I get too tired to keep riding. At Hot Springs I fuel up and take a breather. It’s completely dark, but thankfully, the wind is gone. I only have 45 miles to get home and I’m not tired at all, so I carry on.
It’s a long hour and more to get home, my poor bike struggling against the low grade of hills, and me watching for deer. But it’s worth it. As much as I love travel, I equally love coming home. It’s gonna feel so good to sleep in my own bed.
An hour and a half of riding in the dark tops off my long day with a little cool riding, but thankfully the wind died off at the South Dakota border. I pull into the garage and park the bike, listening to her poor hot little engine ticking as it cools off. My baby has done well. But I still haven’t decided on a name for her. Maybe next time. Twelve and a half hours and 442 miles since I left Molly and Tammy.
Thank you, Molly and Tammy, for the adventure of a lifetime. Looking forward to the next one. Love, Michelle