This was one of those less mountainous transition days where big distance could be covered if a few things went your way. Peter and I headed out quite late by Divide standards, not hitting the road till about 6:30. Although many consider The Basin proper not to start till Atlantic City, much of the terrain already felt pretty "out there". Typically, although riding as a pair, we spent most hours leap frogging each other and riding big chunks out of sight and effectively alone. I met some interesting parties riding in the opposite direction including a pair of Aussie chicks who were doing the trail at a more relaxed pace and had endured head winds for three consecutive days, and a party on horseback from Montana in traditional western cowboy garb who had their own adventure well under way. Another terrific way to see the country I reckon.
Pete and I came together again just before Atlantic City, an historic town consisting of just a handful of remaining buildings, including the saloon, with an interior lined with enough animal busts to keep a taxidermist happy for some time. We lunched and ordered sandwiches to go for the flight across the basin, topping up with ice cream at Wild Bill's gun and knife shop at the other end of town where I also dumped my bear spray. Pete had already dispensed his, which I thought a good experiment. Safety off, I simply lacked the thumb strength to depress the lever, which wouldn't have been particularly useful had I actually needed it. I had so little opposed-thumb grip strength at this stage that I had to use mini pliers to engage and zip up my jersey. I feared that if my left thumb progressed to the same extent I'd be stuffed.
The Basin has a bit of a reputation with regards water, so for the first time on the Tour I filled the 3 L bladder I'd been carrying on my back, as well as the one in my frame bag. From here till the end I'd always fill both. The grind out of Atlantic City in the heat of the day was tough, but as vistas of The Basin unfolded, with a gentle tail-cross wind in assistance, much of the hardship of the last handful of days vanished. The silhouette of the Yellowstone massif i was leaving behind shrunk as I drifted south into the nothing. This was why I was doing the Tour Divide. I found The Basin mesmerising. Many parts reminded me of the undulating velvet expanses of central Australia. Vistas of the Painted Desert and Oodnadatta track came to mind. Peter had earlier discussed a possible bivvy spot on a ridge of note somewhere in the middle, but given favourable winds I quickly decided that this was an opportunity to make up time on that already lost, so forged ahead.
About halfway through the emptyness the terrain slowly climbs and man-made objects appear suddenly appear; old oil pumps and other signs of industry. Hence commenced the Wamsutter re-route sector, involving vague double track up and along the edge of an ancient angled slab of crumbling strata. Pronghorn antelope scattered as I moved along its rim, with different views folding away on either side. Magical stuff, if not a tough grind in places. Eventually a more conventional dirt track was gained with the sun aiming for the horizon over my right shoulder. I was over 200 km for the day and kept pushing although the wind was starting to wain as spectacular pink hues lit the sky in front of me. The calling cards of animals told me that considerable numbers of cattle and horses inhabited these paddocks so I pushed on, not wanting to get trampled during the night. A dozen cattle grids later the horse and cow pats disappeared, replaced by more evidence of industry - dozens if not hundreds of coal-seam gas enterprises humming in the distance, some marked by the occasional light on a stalk.
By this stage I was at about 270 km for the day. Wamsutter was another few hours ahead as by this stage the wind had definitely changed from cross to head, so rather than bust my chops I started looking for a flat place to kip. There were no large animals worry to about, given the clean track, but the sound of pumps and compressors was almost impossible to avoid. How's the serenity? Ironic given I was theoretically in the middle of nowhere. In the end tiredness won and I threw down camp just off the road and slept pretty soundly after what was a pretty satisfying day, despite the background hum, awaking with a start to the alarm, which was shortly followed by the rumblings of a large truck heralding that the basin wasn't done with yet.
(272 km, 2119 m)