Pyramid Lake to Fernley. We ride between the lake and brown sandy mountains for a dozen or so miles. The ground a strange patchwork of black circles where the desert scrub burned in a massive brush fire recently. As the rain drops, the fresh smell of ash and ozone rises. We ride through an open range. A herd of cattle gets spooked and runs off. One jumps a barbed wire fence and catches its leg. I feel partly responsible. A muscular bull stands at the roadside, staring us down, nothing between us but a few blades of grass. We make a quick stop in Sutcliffe for breakfast. Old fishermen are getting drunk and fondling a mannequin at nine in the morning.
Sand unfolds before us. Nowhere to go but everywhere.
I try to inventory the trash along the highway. It is a generally insipid activity, although what appears to be a dildo strikes curiosity. Hail begins to fall and bounces from the road like white marbles. The cold air beats on my sunglasses and causes the steam from my overheating brow to condense to fog on the lenses. I have to move them to the end of my nose every few minutes to clear them off. A big rain hits but doesn’t last long. The raincoat I bought in Eugene was well worth the money.
Counting time, subtracting miles.
We reach Interstate 80. That great East/West artery. I try to think about how many times I’ve crossed the country on it. Pick it up in Ohio and book it to Iowa. Break at The Iowa Eighty; largest truck stop in America. Get your fortune told, have your shoes shined, and buy virtually anything you want coated in chrome. Listen to truckers share old wisdom. “You know, urine is totally sanitized. If you forget your sandals at a truck stop shower you can just piss on the floor.”
Four hundred and five miles of corn through Nebraska. One year Adythia and The Buffalo woke me up for a 24 hour dash to Park City. We took my 93’ Pontiac Sunbird Convertible with bald tires straight across that highway. Dispatching everything paved until it broke down in the middle of the night in some garbage town in Wyoming. The only place open with food was the strip club. We ate rocky mountain oysters. I later found out that this is a euphemism for bull testicles. The man sitting next to us turned to his friend and said, “My daughter is coming on next.”
We slept in that little car in the below freezing night. The next day was Sunday. Nothing is open in rural Wyoming on Sundays because it is the Lord’s Day. Somehow we found a man named Fido that improperly diagnosed the issue as a bad fuel filter and promptly replaced it in exchange for some cookies and punk rock cds. Rather than spend another day there in search of a proper fix we limped on through an authentic Great Plains upheaval of the heavens. My windshield wipers barely worked, but The Buffalo soldiered on. One bolt of lightning hit the road just a few feet in front of us.
We stuffed the car with as much booze as we could before hitting Utah because in Utah every day is Sunday and there are no alcohol sales on Sundays. I don’t remember much of what happened when we got to Park City. There are hazy memories of somebody getting hit with a champagne cork, strange Utah drinking establishments where bartenders adhere meticulously to a draconian set of laws regulating the hawking of fermented beverages, and perhaps a broken ankle. I remember driving the I-80 though.
Running parallel to I-80 is US 50, the loneliest road in America. Through Fernley, it is just another road through strip mall America. We stop at Walmart because it is the only place in town that sells vegetables. A man named Tom Kat offers us some Coors Light for lunch. We decide to make a push for Fallon. The wind is in our favor, although there are storms at our back. We’re moving. 20 mph with that tail wind. The road is marred with a variety of fragmented discardings outside of town and my tire managed to accumulate various samples of it; most notably what appeared to be the steel spring from a clothes pin. I get a flat and try to patch it, but the puncture was right on the seam of the tube and wouldn’t hold. There was an abandoned barn full of abandoned shoes and little vagrant nests of soiled clothes and liquor bottles that we pulled into to get out of the wind while I replaced the tube.
The building shook and creaked in the wind. All of the doors and windows were gone. We could see the storm running across the desert through a hole in the back. I replaced the tube in about 8 minutes, most of which was spent pumping it up, and we were back on the road. The wind and rain reached us. As we approached a turn off, a white truck pulled off the road and a woman got out and waved us in her direction.
“If my husband were out in this mess I would want somebody to give him a ride.” Her name was Christy. Local woman. Democrat. “Only one in Nevada!” Husband builds mountain bike trails. We rip our panniers off and pack everything on in 3 minutes, just before the worst of it hit. “Where you going?”
“Camping and showers.”
She tells us we’re crazy for camping in this weather. I secretly hope that she will offer us a patch of dirt in a shed or a barn, but this doesn’t happen. I’m thankful for the ride though. She takes us 15 miles to Fallon, drops us off, and we work quickly to get the tent set up in 30 mph winds and a light rain. The showers were dark concrete stalls with flickering lights and peeling paint, but the water was hot and they were free. I considered the old trucker’s technique to clean the floor…..
Next to our tent, a few good old boys from Central Oregon pulled in and started to setup a 15’ x 25’ canvas tent complete with a wood burning stove. I drop by to say hello.
“Howdy, you here for the shootin’?”
“Not that I’m aware of. Somebody steal a horse or something?” Nobody laughed.
“It’s the quick draw world championships. We’re all competing.” On some level this is exactly what I expect to be happening in Nevada. Still, I am in a pleasant state of shock that it is happening right here, in front of me. “So what brings you to Fallon?”
“My wife and I are riding bikes from Alaska to Argentina.”
“I don’t know. Just seemed like the right thing to do I guess.”
“You eat yet?”
“Well go get your wife and come eat with us.”
We did the introduction thing for a few more minutes and I went back to get Soph. Whatever your stance on guns is in America, they are present enough that most people have a certain comfort with being around them. I’ve learned that this isn’t the case with the British.
"Now Soph, remember that just because they own guns doesn't make them bad people."
"So don't say anything offensive?"
"Why would I? They’re all armed and can apparently put a bullet in my head before I could even blink."
Everyone goes by aliases in quick draw culture. There’s Jabberin’ Jim, Dynamite Kid, Shadow Rider, Midnight Rose, and Kinzua Kid. They talk all night about Curly, Oregon Ranger, Quickdraw Master, Two Finger Slinger, and all of the other modern greats. I spend most of the evening talking with fourteen year old Dynamite Kid and he tells me all about his charter school, the drawbacks of outdated educational practices such as arena scheduling, and how learning German is the gateway to Middle English and Shakespeare.
We share hot dogs and chicken fettuccine. There is whiskey for all who are above age and are not teetotalers. Our friends give us the entire rundown on modern quick draw competitions
"It is not a question of 'if' but 'when' am I going to shoot myself in the foot."
Traditional Mexican holsters with a little curved piece of metal at the bottom that will hopefully deflect the wax bullet sideways if you pull the trigger while it is still pointing down. The target is twenty one feet away. The bullet travels seven hundred feet per second. The world record is .27 seconds! That’s naught point three seconds for the bullet to travel and naught point twenty four seconds for the hand to remove the gun from the holster, aim, and pull the trigger. The blink of an eye lasts about three tenths of a second on average.
“Lay back like you're doing the limbo so you only need to pull the gun backwards and not turn it perpendicular to the ground.” Dynamite kid shows us. They all shoot in the .4 to .7 second range. Even Midnight Rose. You have to wear traditional cowboy gear, but Jabberin’ Jim wears a red tie because Colt said "that's you, that’s your tie."
They invite us to sleep in their tent next to the stove, but the wind and rain have subsided and we’re happy to return to our little nylon cave. “Perhaps we will join for coffee in the morning.” They make plans for breakfast and Jabberin’ Jim says to Dynamite Kid, "I really want to get into some of yer Nanny Jo's pear butter"
chris- i know that you’re heading to check in with your people in st. george, but nonetheless wondering whether that means that you are completely forsaking the wonders of the sierra nevada in california, specifically yosemite and sequoia national parks, in favor of the deserts of nevada. quite a trade off. notwithstanding the humanity crammed into them, we found yosemite and sequoia nothing short of extraordinary.
Yeah, we opted for Nevada over California. It was a really hard decision, but logistically it made sense. Hopefully Cali will still be there when we’re back….