Day 9 Sweetwater Station to Rock Creek
30.65 Miles - All but 5 miles on dirt
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This morning we were on the road by 7:10. We waved goodby to the missionaries who were taking a walk and saw the one who is a world champion triathelete as he was coming in from his morning bicycle ride. We got onto Atlantic City Road (dirt) and headed south towards to the Wille Rescue Monument. About a mile onto the road Rhielle got a flat tire. It turned out to be a piece of steel belted radial tire wire that she had picked up somewhere. I really like the new patches I bought. We fixed the tire and were on our way. About 6 miles down the road there is a monster hill to climb. We were just getting to it when one of the missionary couples pulled up in a pickup with a handcart in the back. They said that a family had scheduled a handcart to pull from the monument over Rocky Ridge and they were delivering the handcart. They wanted to know if we wanted them to carry anything. Since they offered, we unloaded our bikes and let them carry our gear to the monument. I knew this would make a big difference in our day. Rhielle was a little upset because she wanted to do it all on her own but I knew what we were up against that day and was glad for the help. On the way up the monster hill Rhielle saw what looked like one of Spencers tie down straps lying in the road. She wheeled up to it and about two feet away realized it was a snake. It immediately coiled up but was looking the other way. She started to ride her bike past it but the hill was very steep and she popped her front wheel off the ground when she tried to get going. That head immediately turned around to face her and a big set of rattles popped up and started shaking. She was smart and just let the bike gradually roll backward until she was about 20 feet away. That was where she was when I arrived on the scene. Rhielle told me that the snake was mad because she had invaded its territory. We waited for Spencer to get there so he could see it and took some pictures. Then we gave it the most space we could as we rode around it. After we were passed the snake stretched out again and then slithered off the road. It was about six feet long. We got to the monument at 11:00 and our gear was there beside a handcart.
We visited the monument. I can't read the plaque without being touched. Below the monument near the Sweetwater river is where the Willie Handcart Company started their 27 hour trek to Rock Creek. The 14 advance rescue wagons found them at the sixth crossing. As they knew that the Martin Company was behind them and probably in worse shape they sent 8 of the wagons on to them. The Willie Company had their first meal in days and the next day moved from the sixth crossing to the base of the climb from the Sweetwater river. Most of the available relief supplies were cached at South Pass. They did not have enough food to last until they could get more wagons of supplies from South Pass so they had to keep moving. A blizzard was raging and there was no protection from the wind until they reached Rock Creek. The company started the 15 mile pull over Rocky Ridge along the top of a high plateau, across Strawberry Creek and into Rock Creek through knee deep snow. It was 27 hours before the last of the company rolled into Rock Creek. It is estimated that the wind chill was at least 10 below zero during that 27 hour pull. Thirteen people died from exposure. There is a mass grave at Rock Creek for these 13 as well as two other graves for people who died the next day.
We loaded our gear back on our bicycles and started pushing them up the mountain toward Rocky Ridge. The climb is so steep that we could hardly push our loaded bikes up the hill. I can't imagine what it must have been like to do that pull during a blizzard, underdressed after having been on starving rations for months. After an hour of pushing we finally reached the ridge. One advantage of having two wheels inline is that you can pick a single line through the rocks. We doubled up on each bike and pushed them over the ridge and walked back to get the next one. We then settled in for our 10 mile ride over the plateau. This has been a dry year. All the ponds, streams, and stock tanks are dry. Radium Springs was still running however. We reached Strawberry Creek (which was dry) and got onto Lewiston Road. This road is very sandy and much hillier than I remember last year. The last five miles to camp were the hardest. The sky had been overcast and it threatened to rain on us while we were on the ridge but now it cleared and turned hot. We got to Rock Creek and set up camp. I went over to the grave site and was talking to the host. I told her I was a Peter Mortensen descendent and she said that another couple at the site were related to me. The Peter Mortensen family were in the Willie Handcart Company. I went in to find them and we had a chat. They were going to go over to the Sixth Crossing site so I told them to tell the missionaries hello so they would know we made it. We cooked supper, clouds rolled back, and it cooled off. We were tired so we went to bed and were asleep by 7:30. I don't think it was just the 30 miles we rode today because this was as hard as any day we have ridden but I just had my first ibuprofen free day of this tour. Maybe my body is starting to get used to this.
Copyright © Clarence Whetten 2001