Day 49: Rawlins to Jeffrey City (~70 miles)
Today is the day we would travel into perhaps the most desolate stretch. 70 miles of desert with one gas station 50 miles in. We planned to leave at 7:30 to beat the heat, wind and to give us our best shot at survival.
Naturally, we left at 9.
Even though we were a little behind schedule, the miles went by without too much effort. I passed Lila about 7 miles in. I didn’t think about it but 10 miles later I realized she was nowhere to be seen. “No worries,” I thought, “she’s an independent, strong woman. I’ll find some shade and wait up for her, I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
I didn’t find that shade for another 33 miles.
I found three trees just outside of the Muddy Gap department of transportation. I waited for probably 30 minutes before I saw my neon clad, lightly sunburnt road companion. We pushed another 2 miles to the gas station to have lunch.
Turns out somewhere in those 43 miles of separation the heat and desolation had gotten to Lila. She had gone a little crazy. In her altered state she bought about $10 worth of cheetohs and vegetable straws. She ate them in my company in the shade and began to feel a little more sane.
Aaron showed up after a bit and ate his lunch with us. Soon after we prepared ourselves to go the final 22 miles to Jeffrey City.
Jeffrey City was originally a pioneer town along the Oregon Trail known as “Home on the Range.” In the year 1957 it was renamed Jeffrey City after Dr. Charles W. Jeffrey who financed the creation of the uranium mining operation in the area and the creation of the Western Nuclear Company. In its heyday the city boasted a population of over 5,000 people. Today, after the uranium mining operation dried up, its number have dwindled to a mere 54 people.
When we arrived we were hard pressed to find any more than five of those residents of Jeffrey City. The whole town has many uncanny similarities to the fictional area in which The Hills Have Eyes was set.
- Mountainous terrain (✔️)
- Desolate desert landscape (✔️)
- Nuclear radiation (✔️)
- Cannibal mutants living in the hills (?)
When I arrived in Jeffrey City I went to the town bar to escape the wind and wait for Lila. After ordering some food I inquired about a TransAmerica trail legend by the name of Byron. Byron is a potter who lives in Jeffrey City and owns a studio named Monk King Bird Pottery. His speciality is “shot through pottery.”
To get shot through pottery, Byron would throw a pot on his wheel. Then, before firing it in his kiln he would take his .45 caliber pistol and shoot it. Once disfigured the pot would then be fired in the kiln and sold.
Unfortunately, the barkeeper informed me, Byron was out of town. However, his assistant, Chuck, might be at the shop. It was unlikely that Chuck would let us in, though. It’s not that Chuck is unfriendly, he explained, it’s just that he is a 76 year old Vietnam vet with an oxygen tank. It takes a lot for him to get up and entertain.
It was around then that Lila arrived and I told her the bad news. We were mildly disappointed but cheered ourselves up with the bar food.
It was just then, when we had given up any hope of seeing the pottery, that Chuck came into the bar. The barkeep introduced us and Chuck agreed to take us across the street and show us around the studio.
We saw all the pottery and the paintings made by Byron and Chuck. All of the shot through pottery was gone save for a few pots that had been shot with BB guns. Turns out the shot through pottery is so popular it can barely stay on the shelves.
Chuck seemed to like us so he offered us a place to sleep in his bus next to his house. We were already planning to sleep at the church in town but agreed to check it out. On the way over we met his dog, sweet baby Rex.
After looking around the bus, Chuck took us into his house to show us more of his paintings. Do not misunderstand me or interpret this as any judgment on the sweet man that is Chuck but his paintings were very creepy.
Most dealt with themes of horrible premonitions and final judgments. There was one sweet one that was only a little unnerving: a painting of his friend who overdosed on drugs. He had mixed his friend's ashes into the paint so the painting was of him, literally.
Finally he unveiled his greatest work, a 4' by 6' piece titled Utopia Road. He explained the symbolism in the piece. Only three people were dressed: two soldiers and a priest. The rest, he explained, had all been made equal (nude) and the shocked look on their faces revealed that utopia was not what they expected.
He gave me some orange juice and then we said goodbye.
After the art show we linked up with Aaron at the bar. From there we journey half a mile to our home for the night: the Jeffrey City Community Church.
The whole place was empty and a little creepy. We made the best of it by chatting and playing HORSE and ping pong (Lila beat me at both).
At around 9 we were all ready to hit the hay. We each got our own rooms/beds because we were the only ones there (or so we assume).
Like the other hundreds of cyclists who stayed at the church we left our mark on its walls. Tomorrow we will finally reach Lander, the NOLS headquarters, where we will have our first rest day in over a week.