We had bumped into
a cyclist in Lander on our day off outside Safeway, Kim, a guy who
was cycling the Idaho – Colorado section of the TransAm route, and
it was him who started to put the frighteners on us about Jeffrey
City. This was an old Uranium mining town that at one point housed
around 10,000 people and a thriving community delving into the ground
for 'Mineral X'. The mine closed in 1980 and since then the town has
become a modern day ghost town.
Kim was basically bricking himself about going there. Kim and we have been taking the same route and we've bumped into him a few times: in the Adventure Cycling Association building in Missoula, at a campground in Yellowstone and in Lander. He's a pretty cool guy, a hydrographer for the federal government living in California, in his late forties, and an experienced cycle tourist.
There are only about 50 people living in Jeffrey City now and they definitely fall into the Cleatus camp as far as rural Americans go... but I am getting ahead of myself.
The day started reasonably late as we didn't have far to go and we're getting pretty well honed as far as camp striking goes, plus with the wifi at the campsite it made for another unproductive spell of email checking and Facebook stalking before we got going. The guy from the trailer next door to us (Jim) who we had befriended was left my finished copy of J G Ballard's 'Super Cannes' as I thought it would appeal to his anti-high tech anti-business personal philosophy. He is the one who we had the chat with about unplugging from the grid. Don't know if Sarah told you about that. I also left him two spoons, as it seems a bit excessive carrying four metal spoons about (both our Sporks broke in a freak pot stirring accident).
Once we got going the scenery was pretty empty. Gone were the vast impressive vistas of wind eroded buttes and cowboy scenery. Instead it was empty fields of sagebrush as far as the eye could see and pretty flat. Nothing to sniff at to be fair, but rather the sort of empty scene that causes the mind to wander and get lost in your own thoughts, maybe a bit like being far out at sea in a sailing boat. Fortunately the 1980s disco accompaniment that had been my plague was taking the day off, and instead I used the spare brain capacity with scheme-hatching.
We stopped at a rest area for bagel lunch and surprise surprise we bumped into Kim who was just finishing up his bagel and peanut meal. Warm greetings were made, and the conversation inevitably returned to Jeffrey City. The main problem with it, is that as a ghost town there isn't really anywhere to stay, but as we are cycling through the big empty centre of Wyoming, there isn't anywhere else to go either.
These are the rumours that have been passing around the cyclist grapevine about this area:
- There is a really creepy motel you could stay at, except it is made out of portacabins and is run by an extremely strange lady. Kim did not seem at all certain you would get out alive
- The bar / cafe is run by an old lady who doesn't like cyclists and would gladly close the place rather than serve them.
- You could stay with the 'pottery guy' but he is a maniac who likes to party and will get you all messed up on booze and God knows what else (this didn't sound too bad to me, but 60 miles a day for 77 days is not conducive to all-night benders)
- Alternatively, you just find somewhere to stay in a field and hope no slack jawed local finds you to give you some mountain-man hospitality.
We all rode in together and went to the bar for a quick drink. I pushed the door open and had a slight American Werewolf in London moment as three potbellied cowboys (the only visible customers) turned around to look at us as we went in. There were actually three other cyclists also distributed through this bar too. Sergei, the moustachioed Russian cyclist on his custom built number and Steve and Shea from Montana, working their way up there from Virginia, who were actually just passing through on the way to Sweetwater Station down the road.
Sergei, Kim and we decided to camp out in the old picnic area which was now knee deep in grass all around it and the covered area was home to tumbleweed. “Watch out for rattlesnakes” the cowboys said and laughed, a little too hard.
As we were setting up camp, thunder clouds came rolling in and the figures of the two Montanans came working their way up the road. They had heard from the lady in the cafe that 50mph winds and lightning were predicted so they were camping with us tonight. Safety in numbers and all that. Actually it was nice to have a few people around to chat with and the time passed quickly as we all prepared dinner and set about figuring how to put up our tents on a hard concrete floor.
The town itself, there is actually not much to it. After the mine closed they moved away most of the buildings. As most of the buildings in the US are timber framed, they can be disassembled and moved to another location. This is what one bright spark did, moving many buildings down to Lander and re-selling them, making a tidy score in the process.
After dinner we went back to the bar for a couple of drinks. On the way there we ran into Byron, the pottery guy. We went into his studio to say hi and have a quick chat. There was a picture of Bob Marley on the door and he was clearly stoned, but talkative. He had bought the old petrol station for $5000 some time ago and had converted it into his pottery studio. His stuff was pretty good. They tried to get us to come to some bonfire party they were starting up later, and mentioned that they had got a lot of cyclists messed up before. In the past he had put people up in his shop and said we were also welcome if we wanted. It turns out he does like to party with the passing cyclists and said he could give us a lift to our next destination tomorrow if it all got a bit much and we stayed up all night. To my eternal shame, we made our excuses and left. His website is www.monkingbirdpottery.com
I am now fairly confident that I am giving off a constant, low hum. Sarah doesnt seem to, she says it is because she washes more than me although I have seen no evidence of this. I am getting a bit bored of the same old nut bars and have bought some more trail mix.