10/4 – 10/10
We decided not to rush Thursday morning as I was hoping to catch the start of the quick draw competition. I wandered the fairgrounds to take in the denim jeans, “Don’t tread on me” belt buckles, and country jams. Old cowboys sat in front of a mirror practicing their stance. Hips forward, shoulders back, left arm held high in the air with hand relaxed and fingers dangling, right had tickling the handle, an internal countdown taking place. When the clock hits zero there is a quick blur of motion and satisfying ‘click’ as the hammer strikes an empty chamber. I find it intimidating to be in the presence of so many great athletes.
A woman in a purple dress lines up next to a man and smokes him. “It’s a different world now,” I hear an old cowboy say. Everyone gathers around as two of the fastest slingers square off. A good shooter can control their speed enough so that if they’re facing off with somebody that they know is not as fast they will focus more on accuracy and less on speed. Each of these men shot under three tenths of a second, so they were both out to pull as fast as possible. As a result they each missed on their first shot and had to reload. The winner advanced with a terrible time, but a win is a win.
I didn’t get a chance to see any of our friends from the previous night shoot, although we would later find out that Dynamite Kid won the whole thing. Adding to our list of world record holding cyclists that we had met, we had now enjoyed hot dogs with the fastest gun in the world.
As we ride off it quickly becomes apparent that we are near a military base. Jets circle overhead. The air reverberates as a chopper flies by. For the first time we reach what is an iconic desert. Nothing but sand for miles with mountains in the backdrop. Not even the lowliest weed can survive. A black truck is stuck in quicksand on the side of the road. Somebody has taken the time to write out the entire Declaration of Independence with stones along the edge of the road. It goes on for well over a mile.
We climb our first of many passes. Nevada is the most mountainous state in the union. The area is known as The Great Basin because all of the ranges run south to north and create a landscape reminiscent of a washboard. The riding is a series of 10-20 mile climbs and descents with a flat area in between that is usually less than 15 miles. Some days we would climb 4 of these passes. When you reach the top you have a 30-50 mile view of your descent, the valley, and the next climb. The road runs straight….. endlessly. I want to take a video on the way down but the feeling I will get from a digital rendering is no match for a 35 mph descent and I dare not interrupt.
These hinterlands could only be described as necrotic. So much nothing scattered before your nothing eyes that occasionally they fool you and you think you’ve seen something. All of the traffic signs are bleached from the sun. Even the road appears a faded white in some areas.
The ground shakes as we pass a bomb testing site.
We ride through Middlegate Station. A tall cadaverous man lights a joint next to the gas pumps and wishes us luck. Wheels pointed toward the middle of America. Occasionally we see a man on a horse with a dog herding cattle. Everything is so unchanging for so long that I become disoriented and lose my sense of whether the road is going up or down. I can only tell by what gear I’m in. As we climb the temperatures drop and icy beads of sweat form on my forehead. We strip down to short sleeves for the uphill, full sweaters and windbreaks for the down, and an intermediate layer for the flat parts. This is how it goes for a week in the high desert.
Cold Spring Station is a compound with camping, water, fuel, a pathetic little store, and a decent restaurant. The owner comes to chat while were eating.
“You on the bikes?” Mouths full we nod. “I hate cyclists. I have a forty foot trailer loaded with ATV’s and such. I pass you assholes going uphill and I have to squeeze between you and traffic on the other side.”
“You could slow down,” we offer.
“Oh hell no. Do you have any idea how much that trailer weighs when it’s loaded? I would burn a ton of fuel if I slowed down on a hill.”
“Well I guess it’s good to know that you only value a person’s life at thirty five cents or so.”
“It’s not that, you’re just not supposed to be there.” He almost seemed as if he thought he was being inappropriate and so he changed the subject to something he felt we could all agree upon. “Anyhow, your stuff is safe here. I have guns. Lots of guns. And I will shoot anybody that trespasses because it is my God given right to defend myself.”
“Spectacular.” I said. The conversation descended into a generally one sided diatribe with an occasional “ohhh” or “hmmm” through our chewing.
“It’s not like you put gasoline in your bike, so you’re not paying any road taxes.” I considered giving him a pat on the belly and pointing out that he is clearly getting his fair share of beef, corn, and dairy which I do not generally partake in but still subsidize through my taxes. Instead I chewed my meal and turned my attention to an article I had been reading about how England was falling further and further into a self-excavated populist chasm and simply replied “mmmmm,” as I ate my salad.
50 more miles to Austin. Two monster climbs. Rainy rest day in nice little clean trailer motel for $65 a night. Wander streets of old western silver mining town in mountains for luke warm egg and bacon breakfast. Malnourished opioid town not interested in pleasantries but quick to take your money. Good looking cookies in dirty little café.
“Those are chocolate chip macadamia nut and those are banana oatmeal.” The lady informs us.
“Two dollars each.” We snag two of the chocolate chip. She takes a banana oatmeal for herself. I ask about the day’s weather and mention that we need to ride out the next day and she ignores it.
“Four dollars,” she says with an open mouth of macerated confection falling out on the counter. We wander back to our little habitation and watch the wind and grey skies through the window and try to remember life before the internet as it is generally useless here.
Petrichor is the word for how it smells after a rain. It has something to do with ozone getting trapped in rain drops, hitting the ground, and then rising back into the atmosphere. Ozone is one of nature’s best sanitizers.
I take a walk through town. Like many small Nevada mountain towns, Austin boomed during the silver rush in the 1800’s and then busted promptly after. Car engines lay on sidewalks, most buildings are empty and crumbling. I pass an old brick house painted pink with two outhouses and a bunch of RV’s out front. A sign in the door says “Open.” I look inside and there is a wood burning stove and a few guys playing guitar. A man waves me in.
“Thanks, what is this place?”
“It’s just a little slice of heaven.”
“Yeah, I don’t know who these guys are and they don’t know each other, but they’re great musicians. My grandmother owns everything on this block and we’re just here for a few days and having a little get together. Name’s Wayne.”
“Chris.” We shake hands. “Hi Chris,” the guitarists, old bearded guys in cowboy attire, say in unison. Wayne invites me to the bar for a beer, but I decline as I am out trying to dig into the town a bit. He tells me they will be having pulled pork and music and a fire later and that I should come back. I continue my walk. The spicy smell of burned juniper branches rises from chimneys and permeates through town. I climb a hill above town and look out across last week’s peaks and valleys below me.
I get back and we lay around for a few hours and enjoy the underappreciated luxuries of heat, hot showers, walls not made of fabric, and hinged doors with weather seals. Eventually Soph asked, “What’s for dinner?”
“Pulled pork, beer, whiskey, country guitar, and a cozy fire.”
“Have you been out talking to people?”
“It’s not going to be like Florence again is it?”
“I doubt it, but I promise nothing.”
We walk back up the hill to the little house. I open the door and there are about two dozen people there. It looks very much like a private event. “Just make eye contact with somebody and start a conversation,” I tell Soph, “If we do that a few times in the first 20 minutes nobody will have any clue that we don’t belong here.”
“I don’t actually know anybody here, but it looks like a good time.”
“Hey, you’re the bike people.” We recognized them as the couple that ran a jewelry shop we had walked around in earlier. “Perfect,” I said. “That’s our in, go make friends!” Just then, Wayne walked up and said hi. Soph breathed a sigh of relief in realization that we weren’t completely crashing the party.
“Have a drink, grab some food, stay a while.” He had apparently been telling everyone about us. They all said they had heard of us and wanted to hear about our trip. Wayne’s wife was Susan. Her grandmother in-law owned the place.
“My mom and father in-law are old hippies. They live in an RV and play music and stay here for a month or so before heading down to Havasu.”
Her mom’s name was Anne. If I heard things correctly, Susan was 50 and she had married Wayne who was 10 years older, 60. Wayne said he was the same age as Susan’s father in-law, Russ, and that he was 10 years younger than Susan’s mother so that would make her 70. You would never guess that by looking at her though. She was dancing around with a tambourine, pulling people out of their chairs, giving hugs, and forcing percussion instruments into everyone’s hands to add to the music.
“You those two kids I heard that are gonna ride around the world?” An older man asks.
“Well you watch out in Mexico. I used to live on the border. It’s hell there, but it’s not the Mexicans, it’s all the Arabs that sneak in through Mexico.”
“Well sir, I will keep that in mind, but I’m of the mind that people are generally good regardless of where they’re from.”
“That’s right sonny. God bless.”
Somehow it gets around that I once played spoons in a jug band and I am soon handed a washboard and told to get on stage. I do the only sensible thing I can think of at the time: finish my wine, chase it with a shot of whiskey, and pour another one to keep me limber. Guitars, banjos, bass, lap steel, and trombone. Music is one of those few universal languages through which one can walk into a room full of strangers and have a sonic connection that you can feel and know that those that you’re interacting with can feel it to. Non-musicians can’t understand this.
Cloudy morning out of Austin. Big climbs and drops. Nothing but sand and scrub. See snowcapped peaks for the first time. We book a hotel in Eureka because it is supposed to be in the low twenties at night. It has a hot tub and we talk about it all day. We get there and it doesn’t work. I walk around Eureka. Cool little houses built into sandstone cliffs. Man driving pickup with gun in front seat.
4 big climbs from Eureka to Ely. Sore knees to start the day. Stock up on hotel breakfast. Coyote and vulture carcasses. As we approach town there is a mountain that has been systematically cut down and terraced as part of a mining operation. It looks like a polychrome Aztec pyramid. Had it not been created through such violent means, it would have been stunningly beautiful. A truck pulling a house in the opposite direction drives by and the wind it is pushing almost knocks me over. A second one comes and I ready myself, but it still catches me off guard.
From Ely it is one hundred and six miles to Pioche. I watch a little ant climb over the rumble strips on the side of the road and it reminds me of us climbing and descending these mountains. We had planned on a sixty mile day, but got hit with a 30 mph headwind and settle for 44. We’re up at 5:30 the next morning. It had rained a little in the night and now there are little droplets of ice all over the tent. Soph has to settle for chocolate covered espresso beans instead of coffee because we’re not motivated to set the stove up. The wind will pick up in the afternoon, so we want to move fast.
Stop in Pioche for Beer and pizza. Bartender tells us to go 13 more miles to cathedral gorge state park. Knees are trashed, but Thursday looks like rain, so I know we have a rest coming. The ride in is almost just like riding into St. George. Big red sandstone canyon on your right and amazing little valley with town ahead. 13 miles of descent.
We get a camping spot and a nice old man named Darryl gives us a few beers and commends us on our journey.