Hank – We broke camp early with another light breakfast. The plan was to go to Arco first, about 20 miles, and get a meal. Then we’d go to Atomic City, a small town in the middle of nowhere between Arco and Idaho Falls. We’re going to Idaho Falls on Monday. The first 10 or so miles went quick. We had a tail wind and very little climbing. Then the cycling gods said, “Ha!” and spun the winds around into our faces. We fought gusting winds all the way to Arco. Pickle’s Place was a welcome place to rest. The menu says breakfast is served until 11:34 am but nobody knows why. Anyway, we had a late breakfast and hit the road again. Instead of northeast, our route was now southeast on Highway 20/26 and the wind was now to our backs again.
We had 30 miles to cover to reach Atomic City. Dark clouds began to loom in the distance and we started getting concerned about thunderstorms. We reached a rest stop and checked the weather radar and forecast. It called for rain in Atomic City by 3:00 pm. At the rate we were going we would barely make it there in time. Then the winds shifted against us again and we had some long gradual climbs that slowed us down. Lightning struck off in the distance. Straight ahead. To our left. To our right. Behind us. It snaked across the sky above us. Thunder crackled and rumbled. All taken as warnings that we were making a huge mistake. About four miles from Atomic City, Highways 20 and 26 split. Hwy 20 went east for another 45 miles to Idaho Falls. Hwy 26 went southeast towards Atomic City and Blackfoot. At the intersection there was a highway administration shelter covering piles of sand or gravel. We really couldn’t tell how close or far the storm was from us. It filled the sky before us. I told Kathy we could get under that shelter and wait the storm out. She wanted to go on to Atomic City. The forecast was still in our favor even though the maw of the storm opened wide before us.
Reaching the turn to the city, we saw a vehicle come from that direction and stopped the driver. I asked if there was anything in Atomic City worth stopping at. He said, “Yeah, the Atomic Bar is open. Tell Vickie that Travis sent you. Vickie’s a real sweetheart.”
We thanked him and quickly covered the last one and three-quarter miles to the bar while the clouds roiled behind us and the thunder boomed. A man standing outside an apartment building told us to seek shelter in the bar because “It’s going to get bad really quick.” That’s where we were headed anyway. We parked our bikes and went inside. A woman was in there by herself. I asked if she was Vickie. She said she was. I told her Travis sent us.
She looked at me and said, “Who the hell is Travis?”
Well, how do you answer that? After my misidentification of Travis’s vehicle and getting past the confusion that caused, Vickie realized I meant Travis Wolcott, who had just left the bar. Vickie said Travis was just passing through on his way to the Oregon coast. He’s a professional race car driver and driver instructor, but Vickie said he was a down-to-earth guy. So we all got to meet a person who’s famous in certain circles.
Kathy and I got drinks and Vickie let us bring the bikes inside so they wouldn’t get hammered by the storm. Speaking of the storm, not long after our arrival the heavens burst forth and unleashed a fury of wind, hail, and rain. We were very thankful we were not caught out in that mess.
Other people started showing up and, once we got to talking, wanted to know about our adventure. I noticed dollar bills with people’s names on the wall and asked Vickie how you get a bill up there with your name on it. It turns out to be pretty simple. Provide a dollar bill, or Vickie will give you one, and you write your name on it. Written, stapled, and done. The building itself was interesting. It used to be a TEXACO gas station many years ago. At some point, after being converted to a bar by prior owners, all the letters in TEXACO were removed except for the AC. Get it? Atomic City.
While we were chatting with Vickie and other customers a woman, who later introduced herself as Janese, came in and told the most bizarre story. She was driving to Blackfoot and saw a one-legged man in a wheelchair rolling himself down the highway in the direction of Atomic City. She was on the clock so she went on to Blackfoot, but she was wondering if the old guy escaped from a home or something. This was something you couldn’t make up. When do you see a one-legged man rolling himself down the highway in the middle of a high desert? Or anywhere else for that matter. On the way back from Blackfoot she found the guy still rolling down Highway 26. She stopped to see if she could help because, “I couldn’t fucking live with myself if I left him out there.” The man said he was “headed to the next town”. She offered to give him a ride to Arco since she knew there wasn’t anything in Atomic City for him. So she gave him a ride and in the process passed by me and Kathy as we were riding towards the town she was skipping.
Janese introduced herself to us and invited me and Kathy for some home-made soup. We accepted. In the meantime, Kathy and I were planning on tenting in the city park right across the street from the bar. But Kathy was wondering if there was a motel here and mentioned that to Janese. Janese said Vickie and Blake, Vickie’s husband, not only owned the bar but also the nearby apartment building and there was an empty room. Kathy asked Vickie about it. Vickie talked to Blake, She came back with a $30 price tag. Done! Janese got the place ready for us while we finished our drinks and hung out with everyone.
With the room ready, we moved in and did a load of laundry. Janese lived in the apartment next door. I could hear a lot of good music coming through the walls. Kathy and I took much-needed showers. Earlier in the bar, I discovered I had pine sap stuck to my hair right above my forehead. I had left my cycling cap outside and a drop of pine sap found its way to the front of the inside. Wearing the cap all day ensured the sap solidly attached itself to my hair. I was thinking about cutting that chunk of hair off with my knife but I decided to leave it for the time being and deal with it once we get to Idaho Falls.
Vickie mentioned that Janese has an impressive voice and plays the banjo. Actually, Janese plays the violin, guitar, and banjo. She’s been a “starving musician” for many years and just recently returned to Idaho from San Francisco. She made a great chicken and vegetable soup. We told stories and shared things about our lives before, during, and after dinner. Then she treated us to a song she wrote. Her lyrics told the story of heart break and her voice conveyed the emotions perfectly. She’s written quite a few songs over the years and she’s working on recording some of them. I hope she does because it was a real treat to listen to her.
Kathy – Today we rode 54 miles with only 550 feet of elevation. As Hank stated the first 10 miles were absolutely wonderful as we were making excellent timing and thought today we may set a record for how fast we traveled. Well that suddenly changed when the Hellish Headwinds decided to return. We battled 13 mph sustained winds with 24 mph gust. Multiple times I thought I was going to get blown over, especially when the semi-trucks rolled past. Our speeds quickly diminished from 18-20 mph to a measly 7 mph.This went on for 12 miles before we reached Arco, Idaho. So, no record times after all. Arco was really the only sign of civilization between Craters of the Moon and Atomic City, Idaho. This 54 mile stretch was mainly desert with much sagebrush. After getting a bite to eat at Pickle’s Place in Arco we set out for our remaining 30 miles to Atomic City, Idaho. The landscape really did not change much from our morning ride.
During the 30 miles we passed through the Idaho National Laboratories. This is a massive land area where nuclear bombs and such were tested for human and environmental impacts back in the 1940’s – 1960’s. It is now a super-fund site that the EPA is working on cleaning up. So yes, the storms, lightening and thunder surrounded us as we were trying to make it to Atomic City, Idaho. It was pretty frightening as we pushed forward up the inclines with the super dark sky’s surrounding us. Lucky for us we arrived literally five minutes before the hail storm started.
I was so thankful to be inside the only place open (matter fact the only place at all) in town – The Atomic Bar. Vickie was in the bar and so helpful and kind. We enjoyed listening to stories from her and multiple local people within the bar. Vickie had the one bedroom apartment that was recently vacated available for us to stay in for the night. Apparently the previous renter left it in poor conditions, Janese was nice enough to clean it up for us as we chatted with the locals in the bar. Janese also invited us over to her place next door for a wonderful homemade chicken and veggie soup. We really enjoyed our conversations with Janese. Such a sweet gal, who writes songs with such passion, and has an amazing voice to accompany those beautiful lyrics. We laughed so much throughout our time at the bar and with Janese. There are too many stories to tell here. It was great to meet some many fun and wonderful people in Atomic City where the population is a mere 30 people.