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Tour de Wyoming brings 350 cyclists to Powell

A bicyclist waves as he comes into town on U.S.  Highway 14-A around noon on Monday. He is one of hundreds of cyclists who left this morning (Tuesday) to peddle their way up the Beartooth Highway, U.S. 212. A bicyclist waves as he comes into town on U.S. Highway 14-A around noon on Monday. He is one of hundreds of cyclists who left this morning (Tuesday) to peddle their way up the Beartooth Highway, U.S. 212. Tribune photo by Ilene Olson

If Powell’s downtown seemed unusually busy this Sunday and Monday, and the town’s bike racks seemed strangely full, it’s because it was and they were.

Powell hosted approximately 350 cyclists of the Tour de Wyoming, a six-day ride throughout the Northwest part of the state. Powell High School served as the bedroom, kitchen and common area while downtown provided an added bit of fun for riders in search of a relaxing afternoon after 60 miles on the bike.

The tour began Sunday morning at Cody Middle School, where cyclists left as early as 6 a.m. to embark on a scenic round-about route through Badger Basin that led eventually to Powell.

Once in town, the riders congregated in the gym and on the grass of the high school, where tents spanned the suddenly popular campgrounds. Paul and Karen Kemmesat of Longmont, Colo., rested under the shade of a nylon awning that sat in the center of the high school’s most populous lawn.

Paul had finished his day one ride by 10:30 a.m., and was enjoying the leisure time he got to spend with his wife, who acted as his sherpa by driving the route and setting up their campsite.

The 2013 Tour de Wyoming is a first for both, and served as a retirement getaway of sorts. The two former Lexmark engineers recently hung up their calculators and graphing paper.

“I thought I’d come and see some new territory and see Wyoming,” Paul said. “It was a beautiful day.”

Beautiful and calm. Paul said he was relieved to avoid Wyoming’s infamous elements.

“The biggest worry here in Wyoming that I have is head winds and heat,” he said.

Able to spend a couple evenings in Powell for the first time, the couple said they looked forward to exploring the town.

“(The) best part is just enjoying the community,” Paul said. “We just like walking up and down the main street.”

The tour attracted riders from neighboring states, as well as neighboring countries.

Mark Logan of Kamloops, British Columbia, said he was encouraged to join the tour by his neighbors, who have ridden it in years past. Even though Logan is an experienced mountain biker, he said riding road bikes is a different challenge, especially in an organized long-distance tour.

“(It’s my) first time on any bike ride, anywhere,” he said.

Logan said everyone from tour officials to riders to the people driving by on the highway were very friendly.

“It’s fabulous. Really well organized,” he said.

The friendly, non-competitive atmosphere brought Susan Stauffer of Moscow, Idaho, back for her third tour. She had previously rode in 2010 and 2012 when her sister persuaded her to go.

Stauffer, who passes the eye test of physical fitness, said she’s a little intimidated by the ride over the Beartooth Pass Wednesday. The ride from Red Lodge, Mont., to Silver Lake, Mont., will lead cyclists on a 68-mile journey that steadily gains more than 5,000 feet of elevation.

“I probably should have trained more than I did,” Stauffer laughed.

She may be worrying more than necessary, as she said she would regularly ride 30 miles uphill around her home in Latah County. Whether the course is too grueling for her or turns out to be easier than expected, Stauffer’s keeping a positive outlook and modest goals.

“All you have to do is get from one camp to the next,” she said.

That easy-going attitude was common around Powell High School Sunday afternoon, when most riders were more interested in finding a cold brew than comparing times. The Tour de Wyoming lacks the competition of some of the larger-scale rides.

“What’s nice about this ride, it’s a smaller number of people,” Paul Kemmesat said.

Paul and Karen have experience the harsher side of organized rides in bike-crazy Colorado’s Ride the Rockies.

“This just seems real authentic,” Karen said.

The tour will head to Red Lodge today (Tuesday), Silver Gate on Thursday, Dead Indian Pass (with a stop at the Northwest College Mickelson Field Station), and will end in Cody Friday.

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