Normally when water falls from the sky as rain it ends up draining off into an ocean usually via a stream/river/estuary network. An Endorheic basin is an exception to that rule. It’s a mass of land that retains its water as a man made basin would. Water only gets out through evaporation or being drunk by passing animals. Only a few of these basins exist worldwide and guess what? The Tour Divide route goes straight through the middle of one.
You’d think that a feature named “basin” would be a great place to get water. But think again, as water does not escape they are either lakes or very good at deep drainage. Guess what the Divide version is good at? The Great Divide Basin is part of Tour Divide Lore. You can get supplies at Atlantic City before entering it, then you are on your own for over 90 miles until you pop out at Wamsutter. There’s a well somewhere along the way but it is not to be relied upon.
Today was Basin day for us. We were awoken by alarms at 5am and as tradition dictates I told the others that I’d “catch them up” after they left well before I’d finished faffing. A gorgeous sunrise dirt track traverse took us to the highway rest area at South Pass. Here we luxuriated in flushable toilets and running water whilst chatting to Nic Brown who had bivied close by. Nic had major league arse issues and was not particularly enamoured with his Salsa Cutthroat either. I kept quiet as I was in love with mine.
Nic was another Kiwi but came from a part of the island where sarcasm was not as prevalent as Geof’s. He called me “Dave” instead of “whinging pom”. Nic joined us for the ride towards Atlantic City where we were looking forward to a massive breakfast to fill us up prior to the wilderness of the Basin.
However, Atlantic City had other plans. Firstly it’s a bit ripe to call it a city seeing as there are only about 20 residents and as many houses. It’s basically a dusty wild west looking village with a single shop and cafe. Which was shut. We were in bits about this as all of us were quite low on supplies and I couldn’t face another apple pie out of a box. Our only hope was Wild Bill’s Gun Shop and Bed and Breakfast (lol America). However, that too appeared to be shut.
We looked at each other and then pursued a targetted strategy of milling about a bit to see if anything would happen. Sounds useless to you but within 5 minutes Wild Bill himself came striding down the road complete with white beard and checked shirt. Yippee Yi Ay!
Bill open his shop and we purchased items for eating on the road. I discovered packets of spam in the depths of his shelves so filled up my bike with that. Then he marched us over to his other shack (he seemed to own half the village) and sat us down at a breakfast table. Coffee, eggs, juice and pancakes came flying out of the kitchen but their lives were shortlived as we did for them all. Until we had to admit defeat and raise a pancake surrender flag. Bill sat for a while and regaled us with tales of hunting, winter survival and other riders that had passed through. It was hard to leave and we thanked him profusely for saving our day.
But we had to face the Basin. And so we climbed out of Atlantic City into the profound wilderness with the wind on our tail. The views were amazing in a hard to describe way. Basically the most miles of nothing you have ever seen. Just nowt all the way to the horizon. The place is compelling in its nothingness and not a place you want to be when the wind is not on your back.
Riding with Nic was a refreshing change from the relentless piss taking I’d suffered on previous days. He was curious about my setup and even my pedalling style. I ride a fairly constant cadence and Nic asked if I had a power meter? I laughed at that, not sure they go low enough. He’d had a hard time of this ride already and in a previous attempt had scratched at Del Norte so close to the end. I then made a huge mistake by noting that it was great with the wind on our backs.
The Tour Divide overheard me and thus flipped the route nearly 180 degrees into the wind. Things got tricker for us as we climbed towards a fracking station and even trickier for Davy who needed to drop some children off at the pool or something? He went to ask in the station only to be told to use a bush. Yeah, right, they were all about 6 inches high. You’d have to lie down and make a poo fountain.
The Great Divide cues mention a car bonnet as a landmark. Lo and behold we found it and draped ourselves on top in Marilyn Monroe fashion (or was it Bettie Davies?). But the wind was picking up and we had 40+ miles yet to cycle. The track became a fracking service road and formed long low grade climbs. Combined with the headwind, lack of shelter and lack of scenery this melded into torture. It became every man for himself. No drafting each other just grinding onwards into the wind. I gave up on music as I couldn’t hear it over the gusts. Just pressed pedal after pedal wanting it to end as soon as possible. Which it didn’t as we were doing about 8 miles an hour at most.
The only thing worse than protracted cycling into a headwind is ..no sorry can’t think of it. It is utterly soul destroying especially when you are a featherweight like me. This invisible force cannot be reasoned with or move out of the way. You can’t nip round it or put on a jacket to stop it hitting your skin. It just pushes and pushes and pushes until you crack because there is no way it will as it has places to be pronto. The thing I really needed at this point was somebody to moan to for an extended period. But I knew I’d get no sympathy from my current companions so I just had to grind on along this pointless road hindered by a pointless force.
I tried to get spirits up by eating two Snickers bars in succession. This just made it worse by adding nausea to my list of ailments. In the final miles I crested each hill with hope of sighting Wamsutter only to have it dashed. And when I did sight it, hmmm, not the prettiest place on this earth.
But Wamsutter meant we’d made it over the basin. Vultures would not be picking at our bones and Davy could have a poo. We celebrated with soft drinks and ice cream from the gas station before pedalling off to a nearby motel. Here we were informed that they had two rooms. One had two beds and the other was a single. The single was discounted because a previous driver had used it to respray their car door. Only in America.
Nic took the single. The rest of us took the double and I took the floor. Geof offered a share in his double but I declined for two reasons. Firstly I spread during the night and his piss taking would go off the scale if he thought I’d sneaked up for a cuddle. And second I needed an excuse for the usual late leaving and this time it would be faffing with my sleep mat.
We ate in a Mexican restaurant without incident. That’s not true actually. It was the waitresses first night. She reconfirmed everything about ten times and then returned to reconfirm it all again. She wasn’t sure about anything on the menu so had to toddle off to check that as well. Her final act of brilliance was to bring Davy the whole cheesecake in a massive box when he’d only ordered a slice. We left a huge tip. It was her first night after all.