NIGHT RIDE ACROSS NEVADA AND UTAH
Riding solo across the American Southwest was truly remarkable and challenging. Heading east from Ely I arrived in Baker, Nevada four days ago. This is home to Great Basin National Park. It was about as hot and dry as I ever want to experience. It’s been really hot for days. The water I was carrying, if I had any left was usually hot enough to make soup by the end of the day. I rode up to the entrance of the park near 7200 feet about 1000 feet above town. I was thinking it had to be cooler higher up. I reasoned I would wait till it cooled. Locals said it was unseasonable to be so hot. Don't know what I was thinking it was early June in Nevada.
The Great Basin is a geographic region of North America. It is a contiguous series of mountain ranges and basins that run north to south. It encompasses most of Nevada, parts of California, Idaho and Oregon. The mountains boast peaks of 10,000 + feet. The basins are often as low as 4,000 feet.
The national Park is one of the lower 48's most remote parks. That is the geographic name of the area I was currently cycling through. The park is home to 13,000+ foot Wheeler Peak. As well as one of four species of thousand year old Bristlecone Pines. To most people, the desert is harsh and devoid of life; a wasteland of nothingness and sand. It is in fact none of those things. Myriad flora and fauna not only survive but thrive in that unlikely environment. I was hoping to survive with a modicum of grace.
I camped for three nights in one of the park's lesser populated campgrounds. As in I was the only one there. No potable water piped to a hydrant. I camped near the creek where it was considerably cooler. When I dropped the 1000 feet back to town it was still hot as blazes. I needed a way out of there that did not include cycling in 100 degree weather. I came up with a plan. I was going to ride at night. Not unheard of among cyclists.
I ate a hefty and tasty burger and chased it with a full quart of Gatorade mixed with water from the Electrolux Cafe. The desert produces some interesting entrepreneurial marvels. I left Baker, Nevada with two gallons of water weighing sixteen pounds. There was a hundred miles of pavement to the next possibility of water. I was wondering if the benefits outweighed the cost. I set off at 6:00 PM eight miles west of the Utah state line heading east.
While it wasn't cooler, the sun had long since passed its zenith and it just felt less hot. This made a huge difference. I will never again underestimate the sun's ability to create or destroy.
I would be riding for about eight and a half hours with a moon though almost full, was obscured by clouds. The ambient light reflected on the barren hills and basins created a surrealistic landscape. There was just enough light to see the road. The world I was now cycling through was so quiet it was unnerving. I rode without my lights to save battery life. The next "town" was over one hundred miles from here. I encountered four cars that night and I could see their headlights for miles. Plenty of warning time to turn on my own headlight for safety sake. Some of the darkest skies in the contiguous United States can be found in the Great Basin. These are remote roads with very little traffic for many miles in any direction. I'm sure I surprised more than one driver.
It had begun as a quiet evening. An hour after sunset the wind shifted. I was riding into a headwind. It can sometimes be quite loud. Over the course of the next few hours, it would let up for a minute or two and I could hear more than just the dull roar of wind. What I heard was a dead eerie silence or the high pitched radar of bats and yipping of coyotes. I try to imagine what the world sounded like before the introduction of combustion engines or electrical motors. Now we hear them all day every day and most folk take no notice. Well, I notice them and I dislike that noise. I observe in my mind how I feel cut off from the "real world" with the omnipresent noise of traffic. I’ve been known to wear earplugs on high volume roads just to cut the decibels down. My professional training is in wilderness therapy is grounded in eco-psychology. I wonder how this constant noise affects the brain and thus our consciousness. Most of us don't even think about it. I know quite a few people who are terribly uncomfortable with silence. If you have read this far, I invite you the reader to try something. Set your intent to listen for quiet. If you're fortunate enough to find real silence focus your attention there. Once you have found total quiet, turn your attention inwards. How does the quiet affect mood, emotion or your thoughts? Do the same around lots of noise. Compare them.
The visual experience of this night was just as eerie. The moon was somewhat obscured. As such there was little in the way of high contrast in the undulations of the landscape. But there existed some texture in the shadows. Shapes were silhouettes with little or no dimension. I had a difficult time noticing where and when I was cycling uphill. I was never sure if it was wind resistance or gravity. Downhill was pretty clear. It was like somebody turned on the fan and I wasn't working as hard. Because of this, I cycled over 2 lesser passes and didn't notice. It was hard to figure out distance travelled because I could not see a horizon from which to gauge.
I pulled off the road to investigate what looked like a homestead cabin in silhouette. It was a falling down shack with huge weeds and tall trees surrounded by a cyclone fence that had long since fallen in spots from disrepair. It could have once been an old cattle station, a homestead, a stage stop or all three. On closer inspection I could see paint peeling from a clapboard building that was quite dilapidated. Trash and beer cans recently deposited on the ground alongside heavy treaded tire tracks spoke volumes. Broken windows and a door hanging open on one hinge gave me the creeps. The whole scene reminded me of The Blair Witch Project. I felt spooked. I left rather quickly and in the light of my headlamp I could see several glowing pairs of eyes looking right at me. I’m generally not afraid of ghosts. One set of eyes was running toward me on the road. I thought at first, "antelope? No, the eyes are too low to the ground”. Then I thought "jackrabbits". But their eyes are on the sides of their heads so it couldn’t be that. I came upon one sitting right in the middle of the road. My headlamp beam revealed huge canine ears. Then I saw the whole critter and it registered. Staring straight into my headlamp was a coyote puppy as curious about me as I was of it. We looked at each other for about ten seconds before it loped off to join it's three other siblings in the brush. I watched those glowing eyes watch me as I rode off into the night.
In the end, I gained two 6700 foot passes stopping finally at Wah Wah Pass in the Wah Wah Mountains. Yup that's what they're called.
I arrived at high pinyon-juniper forest and hung my hammock. These are old, sturdy junipers and pinyons. The Juniper is such a slow growing tree that any trunk more than 12" in diameter is in the range of a few hundred years old. Not a very scientific method I’ll admit but given all the variables it's close.
It was a tough but fascinating ride. My feelings and thoughts about the whole thing vacillated minute to minute. At times cursing the wind; thinking "THIS SUCKS!" to feeling exhilarated and in total unity with that harsh desert world. The indigenous people who lived out here had to be tough and creative. Their lives were shaped by the environment in which they lived. Technology was limited to raw materials at hand. Bailing wire and duct tape had not yet been invented. Evidence indicates ancestors that went back a few thousand years. They would have developed strong emotional and spiritual ties to this place. With time, I would too. I have a great deal of admiration for the early American pioneers and settlers as well. They also managed to survive through perseverance and innovation.
I am not a pioneer in the historical sense, or an indigenous North American. But this ride served as a great opportunity to call on my own grit and determination. I'm just passing through these parts experiencing a bike ride like no other. I’m heading to the next "watering hole".
Thanks for reading...