10/1 – 10/2
Ravendale, CA to Pyramid Lake, NV
Pee on desert sage brush on a cold morning and the sweet tender scent will tickle your nostrils. Endless yellow scrub climbs golden mountains. Rattlesnakes sunning themselves in the road and little scorpions crossing the road.
I think of Mexico, and crossing that border and wonder if there is a border within ourselves that we will cross at some point. From the North of my youth toward equatorial middle age.
This was one of our longer sections without water. We filled all of our bottles the night before in Ravendale. It was over 70 miles to Pyramid Lake, the first place that would have water from what I could see on the map.
“What is it?”
I miraculously had a data signal and decided to read a bit about one of Nevada’s largest natural lakes. “Pyramid Lake is saline.”
We were sitting in front of what I would have assumed was an abandoned house had it not been for the dog in the back yard. “It is twelve more miles to Sutcliffe from the lake. How’s your water situation?”
“Uhh not good.” I looked over and Soph was holding a brand new water bladder that was spilling into her rear pannier.
“Shit, plug it quick.” She pinched it at the puncture and we poured what was left into one of my spare bladders. We salvaged what we could from her pannier. Her coffee cup sat upright at the bottom and was filled to the brim. We added it to the rest. Still, we lost close to two liters, most of her water for the day. I decided to try knocking on a few doors to ask for some, but one of the houses had an open gate and two dogs come after me.
“Soph, get the bear spray.” I pick a large branch up off the ground and walk back to the bikes. I decide that it will be a long day, but we should be able to make it the extra twelve miles to Sutcliffe, although there isn’t much room for error. I found out later that this “town,” Wendel, was basically one big weed and Meth operation and had recently been busted. Not the kind of place that takes kindly to strangers knocking on doors.
“Well it’s cool and cloudy, so we couldn’t ask for a better day to be low on water in the desert,” Soph says. It is a rare moment of British optimism. Meanwhile my mind is trying to think about what else could happen and what we would do if we needed to spend another night without reaching water. “As long as nobody gets a flat, we should be able to get to town by dark,” She adds.
A few moments later I notice it getting hard to pedal. I push on but it gets harder still and my bike begins to become unstable. I look down and see my front tire deformed between the wheel and the road.
I put a bit of air in and we ride 100 yards up to where the asphalt turns to dirt. There is a little cattle grate between each section and some posts that I lean my rig against. This is the border between Nevada and California. There are no signs. You can tell though. Even the California desert has a bit of Hollywood to it. Tall golden grasses sway in a gentle breeze. On the Nevada side, nothing but dirt. The wind doesn’t blow if you stand still and you can hear that little ringing in the back of your head. As soon as you start to pedal in Nevada a headwind picks up and knocks you back.
I look at my tire for a moment and consider my options. Pump it up and see if it holds long enough that we can get to town and deal with it later, or take it off and replace or patch the tube. I give it a squeeze and can feel that it has already lost most of what I just put into it. I take the front panniers off, remove the wheel, and carefully set the front end down so it rests on the rack.
A black Jeep pulls up and asks if we need anything. They give us water and chat as I patch my tube. Randy lived nearby in Susanville, CA, and Rhonda was visiting from St. Louis. He was an old friend of her late husband. He seemed drunk, but it turned out that he had cerebral palsy which affected his speech and motor skills.
“Every time I try to get a drink at the bar they think I’m hammered and won’t serve me.”
I think back to a customer that I wouldn’t serve once who told me he was fine but had a medical condition that made him appear intoxicated. I didn’t believe him.
They give us Randy’s address and both of their phone numbers in case we have any issues. We thank them for the water. They drive ahead and we continue forward. Rhonda had mentioned that she had recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It reminds me of Joan in Astoria and I wonder what the future will hold for each of them.
“SHIT SHIT SHIT!”
I turn around to see Soph skidding across the dirt. Her bike comes to a grinding halt and tips over. She is able to unclip and jump off, but her bike hits the ground.
“What the hell was that?”
“I don’t know, it just ceased up on me.”
Her front pannier had been moving around on her rack the previous day. I told her that it was not good and should be adjusted, but rather than do it myself decided that I would leave it as a potential lesson in the importance of maintenance should the clip break off. I wasn’t expecting it to get caught in her wheel and cause a crash. As I approached the bike, the wheel and panniers looked fine. I looked around the back and saw that her sarong, which she had strapped on her rack to dry, had gotten caught in her rear brake. I gave it a small tug, but it was completely stuck. I thought about our water situation, the fact that the sun was now coming out, and the prospect of taking her brake apart on the side of the road. A truck pulls up.
“You need help?” I think about it and wonder what they could actually do for us.
“Honestly, if you just have some water that is probably all we really need.” They have one bottle of water and half a bottle of ice tea. We take it. Soph rolls my bike up the road to lean it against a post and I try to carry hers because it won’t roll. It weighs a ton though and after fifty feet of hoisting the hundred pound frame on my shoulder I decide to leave the panniers and carry just the bike. As I set them on the ground I now have a better angle to reach the brake and try forcing the wheel backwards as I tug on the sarong. It breaks free.
“God had nothing to do with it. Look around, this is Satan’s door step. Put your bags on and let’s keep moving.”
“How’d you do it?”
“Texas rope trick. We need to roll, it’s getting late.” I start to put my helmet on. “What’s this?”
Soph hadn’t seen the cord to my headphones as she wheeled my bike away and they had gotten pulled into my front wheel. The cord was destroyed and I had just begun listening to “On The Road.” I did my best to hide my frustration, but it likely wasn’t enough because she rode ahead while I pulled the mangled cord out of my wheel. I take a deep breath and cycle on.
We get back together and I note that we should not be too far apart on this road. In this distance I see a vehicle coming and quickly realize it is the same black jeep from earlier.
“Hey, we brought some more water.” Randy jumps out with a pile of water bottles and tops us off. They remind us to get in touch if we need anything. I know we won’t have service, but thank them for the gesture. He gives us a rundown of what is ahead. Pyramid Lake is on a reservation and we need a permit to camp. The permit office is on the other side of the lake, too far for us to get to. He tells us about a chunk of private land in the middle of it and says we might be able to hide there for the night. With 25 miles of dirt still ahead, we knew it was unlikely that we would reach town.
“Once you turn right up there, the road is going to get bad.”
We turn onto Surprise Valley Road and it could be the most beautiful road in the world. Climb a hill and see Pyramid Lake in the distance with 100 foot tall conical mounds of red and white banded sandstone and tips of mountains so uniform they look man made.
At the same time, it is possibly the worst road we have been on. Slow and rocky. Rolling downhill and hit pothole full of sand. Front tire drops six inches and clipped in sandals keep my body from diving head first over the handle bars. 40 pounds of gear on rear rack saves the bike from flipping.
We pass a fisherman and ask if he knows a good spot to camp. "It’s opening day on the lake. Just go a few more miles and you’ll see a giant fishing camp."
Six more miles over atrocious terrain next to amazing blue lake. Road turns to pavement and we see a small village of RV’s and trucks. Slog bikes through volcanic sand on beach looking for a site. A woman yells to us as we walk by. “Hey, you look hungry. You should come have dinner with us.”
They bring us beers as we make camp. They’re two families that have been camping together in this spot for years. We join them around a giant fire ring and play Pictionary and eat giant carnitas burritos and fresh veggies with dip and there is never an empty beer as we tell them all about our adventures and they tell us about how great of an outdoor town Reno is. One of the fathers says to the children “You see kids, you can do cool shit like this. The world is full of amazing people and places.”
We decide that the place is far too beautiful to not take a rest day at. Our neighbors tell us that if anybody asks we can say we are camping with them so we don’t need a permit. I wake up the next morning and watch the sun rise while all of the little fishing boats leave for the day. The natives tell folklore of the lake being haunted. That little lake babies pull swimmers and boats under. It is a remnant of an ocean that once covered Nevada. Some speculate that there are underground tunnel systems that connect Pyramid to Lake Tahoe and that people or even boats that have gone missing in one lake have turned up in another. I wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and see the bright light of a search and rescue boat combing the waters. I tempt fate and go for a swim. It was some of the softest water I have ever touched.