Cross the Sierra Nevada from California into Nevada and it is like entering another world. California is a bit bigger with a population of some 36 million compared with Nevada’s 2.5 million, 600,000 of which live in Las Vegas. With that information alone you can be pretty sure that the landscape is going to be somewhat different. This is the desert south west where they enjoy 350 days of sunshine each year, on the other 15 days the UK gets it!
I seemed to be in no rush to get away from Reno. Having said farewell to my couch surfing host Deborah and her wonderfully behaved Labrador, Rowdy, I spent a good few hours sorting out a few things in town before I departed, I even managed to replace the water bag I had lost. The only one suitable was bright red, not a colour I really wanted, but I guess that will mean there is less chance of leaving it behind again. Heading out of town was a doddle, I left the same way as I had entered, then turned off east towards Virginia City. I could see the road passing through the hills and guessed it wouldn't be that much of a climb, I was wrong. It was one of those climbs with lots of annoying false summits, plus I had no idea what height the pass was at, it always makes it feel longer, but having said that it was probably the nicest climb so far, the views across the valley to Reno were just wonderful. By the time I reached the pass it was getting a bit late and a tad cold. I arrived at the lovely little gold mining town of Virginia City with no time to do it justice. It was one of those towns you see in old westerns with wooden sidewalks, saloons with guys wearing cowboy hats and everything full of character. Now days its all very touristy though, I gave it enough time to buy some very expensive food before heading down Six Mile Creek to pick up the US50. I was at Dayton, I missed my turning for the back road, and beginning to think that I was in for another very late finish, but this aint California, Nevada is much more desert like, it was so easy to find a place to camp, all I had to do was pull off on a little sandy track and head far enough away from the road and choose a sandy spot to lay my head.
The sky was clear, the sun up and bright, but it was still cold. I was in for one last flat day before the hills really started again. With a very slight tailwind I seemed to race along with ease, I arrived in Fallon wondering what I would do with the rest of the day. I chilled out with a coffee, stocked up on food and made my way out for the long stretch with basically nothing before Austin some 112 miles further on. One difference noticeable in Nevada are the casinos everywhere, there are even banks of slot machines in the supermarkets, only to willing to relieve you of any spare cash that you saved on your weekly shop with your loyalty card. I had entered Fallon on US50, a busy dual carriageway, I left on the same US50 but now a very quiet single carriageway road. Fallon only has a population on 7,000, so where did all the traffic go, it can’t have all stopped in town surely? It was from here onwards that the scenery really showed its class, desert scrub with mountains either side, really picturesque, I passed salt flats, mountains and a large sand mountain all with a perfect blue sky as a backdrop. It was dead flat for the rest of the day and I chose to stop an hour before dark and just before the first climb. Camping here is heaven sent, such a welcome relief after being in California. With an open vista I could see the nearby designated campground with a few RVs in it, but tucked behind a couple of little hills I was totally relaxed, nobody is every likely to notice you in this vast landscape.
The night was cold, pretty well all the nights here are cold, the water is generally frozen in the morning, but once the sun comes up the temperature rises quickly. With a leisurely start at about 8:30 the temperature is already around 6-9 degrees and still warming rapidly. Just after I set off I spotted another cyclist heading out of the scrub towards the road, a guy from New York and heading west, the opposite way to me. We chatted a while, both dressed for a cold start, but by the time we started cycling our separate ways we had already stripped off a layer. The first climb was completed, but the gears were playing up. A quick investigation showed that I had the same problem as Christine had, the cable was frayed and jamming, though it is so much easier to fix if you know what you are doing. I was back on the road with a new cable in place within 30 minutes. I guess the fraying had been happening over time, gear change is oh so smooth now. I did find it a little disappointing that not a single person stopped to check that I was ok, though I am sure they would have stopped if I had flagged them down. I filled up with water at Middlegate, which from what I could make out was just a bar but a board on the outside claimed a population of 17. I approached a tree, a rare enough sight in these parts, but this one looked odd even from a distance, things were either hanging or growing from it. Closer inspection showed that it was full of shoes, hundreds of them. The road was very quiet now, but I turned off onto the 722, discovering what quiet really is. After 8km I hadn’t seen a single car, I passed through the little village of Eastgate without seeing a single person. I was now climbing, a big climb, it dragged on and on, though the scenery changed dramatically as it entered a canyon, twisting and turning its way through the steep sided valley. It topped out at about 7500ft, the start of a series of passes over 7500ft that had to be crossed in the next few days, though during that time the road rarely dropped below the base level of 6000ft. Suddenly the road popped out of the canyon revealing a dead straight road ahead. This was also a feature that would repeat itself in the days ahead. In Nevada the mountains generally run north/south and with the road running east/west it was a series of passes followed be descents then dead straight roads across the valleys to start heading up the next pass. You could see things in the distance, but it took an age before you reached them, cars passing stayed in view for such a long time that I wondered how on earth I would ever get there. I camped out in the valley, the sunset was lovely, but with such a huge vista I just couldn’t capture the scene or the atmosphere in a photograph, I will just have to etch the scene in my memory, but knowing my memory it won’t be there for very long….oops, there it goes!
Frozen water bottles and another small pass greeted me first thing in the morning. The pass was called Railroad Pass, I could understand why as I bumped over the regular breaks in the road that made it feel as though I cycling along a railway line. Once over I was greeted by a 25km straight. I ride along these practically everyday and come evening I can remember almost every bend I have been around. Sometimes I emerge from the mountains into a valley, cross the valley to disappear into the next mountain range 30 miles later and can still look back to see where I had been cycling for the last two hours. I arrived at the little town of Austin, population 350, and set about looking for the food store, but before I could say “yum, yum” I was out the other side without seeing one. I doubled back and called in at the garage which had the basics, at least I wasn’t going to starve. “Where do you do your food shopping?” I asked, “In Fallon, 112 miles that way” I was told, a bit of a nuisance when you get home and discovered you have forgotten the milk! I reached the top of Austin Pass, whizzed down and up Bob Scott Pass to fill up with water at the campsite there at the top, only to find all the water taps had been turned off. I was only after a top-up so I just scrounged a little off a couple in an RV. Heading along the next long straight I was once again stopped by the police and told to get off the road, though this time it was only briefly for my own safety as a very wide vehicle passed carrying one of those huge dumper trucks. One more pass was completed for the day before I headed down a track to camp in the open in the scrub. I just love camping in the open here, the vistas are amazing and you get to see the sun go down behind the mountains, I just sit outside the tent and watch in awe. Later in the evening I am treated to a fantastic display of the stars….isn’t life great?
I completed what was probably the longest straight at about 35km the following morning, the climbed up into the lovely little town of Eureka. I asked some people where the library was and got talking to them and was given apples and pears to take with me. It turned out I was at the museum and they said I could use the internet on their PC as the library would be closed. I carried on talking to the lady there, we talked about the simple life in a desert town like this compared with her home town in Virginia on the east coast, “You get to appreciate the little things in life” she said “not that I know anything compared with what you are experiencing. You don’t need much in life really do you, just shelter and a bit of food…..OH! And Jesus. Do you know Jesus? Isn’t he wonderful?”. From there I headed for Raines, the towns food market, which I can honestly say had more moose and deer heads hanging up than in any other supermarket I have ever been in, in fact the last Safeway I went in didn’t have a single one! Can you believe that? I was told by two separate people in Eureka where the best place was to get a shower was, perhaps I should have taken the hint, but I didn’t, another hill was beckoning. The climb was soon conquered, Pancake Summit, who on earth would think up the name Pancake Summit for goodness sake? I dropped down into another valley and thought I would have trouble finding a place to camp, the scrub was close packed, there was no room to put a tent anywhere, but I just followed my instincts, up a gravel track, off up a little rutted track, into the scrub about 100m and there was the only little open patch I had seen the whole time. I am sure I am being looked after. I sat outside the tent as the sun went down watching the odd car cross the valley and climb into the mountains on the other side. Seeing how long they took to get across made me wonder what on earth I was doing on a bicycle, but what the heck, there is no rush.
All night long there was a rustling around the tent that I failed to locate, but come morning I discovered a funny looking bug underneath the tent, a weird looking thing if ever there was one. Another couple of climbs brought me to a huge ex mining area with the biggest slag heaps I have ever seen, giant man made hill. Ely was the town next to it, deserted on a Sunday. I made my way to the biggest supermarket I had seen in days and parked outside was another bike belonging to Chris. Chris is an American and had cycled all the way from Maine in just 2 months, it made my pace seem rather leisurely. We sat and chatted a while and some people have the knack of making you feel good without even realising it. Another couple came up to us from the RV and chatted with us, “Do you know where we can get a shower around here?” they asked and Christ replied with “I have no idea, I haven’t had a shower for two weeks”, so clearly I had no need to worry. I also brushed up on my American with Chris and discovered that the reason I receive funny looks every time I ask for a tap to fill up my water bottles is because they call tap a faucet. A tap is what draught beer come out of apparently. I could have sat and chatted for an age but we were heading in opposite directions, time was getting on and we both needed to head out of town to find a somewhere to camp for the night.
Thanks for all you comments and email wishing me birthday greetings, I guess I had better tell you what I did on that day hadn’t I? Amongst other things Nevada is famous for two things and as it was my last full day in the state I thought I would give one of them a go. The first thing is gambling, but we all know that is a mugs game. The only winners from that are the casinos, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many of them. The other thing is legalised prostitution. Hey, it was my birthday, it’s legal, I am single, I wouldn’t be hurting anybody, so why not give it a go. To cut a long story short, I was useless. Nobody showed the slightest bit of interest in me, I think I must have set my prices too high. I was looking forward to a bit of extra cash too, though I guess I would have only spent it on drugs as I need some more aspirin. Actually, I did do something different on my birthday, I had two cups of coffee before I started, an easy thing to do after another cold night and frozen water bottles again. I also intended to drink coffee at every available place I passed. The mission was accomplished, not difficult on The Loneliest Road in the USA. Having just dropped down from Connors Pass and the highest pass on this leg of the journey at 7722ft, I arrived at Majors Junction, hardly a major junction, but the only building was a bar, so with coffee in mind I ventured in. “Any chance of a coffee?” I asked, “We don’t have any on the go but I can put a pot on if you like”. So I settled into a comfy sofa in the bar full of nick knacks, the ceiling covered in one dollar bills, and the walls with pictures of deer and elk. The Americans love their wildlife, but they are never happier than when half of it is hanging on the wall, and there was plenty hanging around here. I sat back and watched the news for the first time in weeks. I saw footage of a gunfight in a bar in Ohio, somewhat alarmed by the number of people in one bar that were carrying weapons. I felt slight reassured though when I heard that 17 shots had been fired and not a single person had been injured, I guess the effects of alcohol has to be thanked for that. I got ready to leave and went to pay for two coffees “$1.50! Is that all? How much if I have a third one?” I asked, “Still $1.50”, I was told so I settled back down again. I eventually tore myself away from the comfort and went out into the wind, the road carrying on downhill on another long straight. At the far end of it I looked back and was mighty glad that I wasn’t heading up the hill. I turned north and with a good push from the wind I raced along, though as the road slowly turned through 180 degrees I was soon paying the price. The Sacramento Pass at 7154ft was the last one over 7000ft and with news of a storm for tomorrow I was mighty glad to be heading down a bit, from here on the base would be 5000ft and the passes at around 6500ft, it was surprising how much warmer it would be at night, frozen water and feet would no longer be such a problem. I had trouble finding a campsite, I wanted to camp somewhere before Baker with a bit of shelter just in case the storm arrived early. I climbed a rough track towards some trees, but it took me 45 minutes to find a spot which wasn’t stony or covered in scrub and then I was facing the wrong way into the wind. So all in all a better birthday than the rough time I had in outback Australia last year, but nothing exciting, other than the scenery that it. I did get one pressie, a book arrived in the post at Reno from Christine, Clear Waters Rising. I have started reading it today, I think it is going to be good.
The wind got up during the night, with the tent pitched in the wrong direction all I could do was hope that I didn’t get too much of a battering, which thankfully I didn’t. I did get a bit of rain, though by morning there was no evidence that it had rained at all. They say things go in threes and as I walked the bike back through the scrub to the tack I caught the front mudguard, it snapped in two, the third bike problem since my arrival in USA. It is now held together with black tape, the same as the rear mudguard has been for the last 18 months. Come to think of it, if I took all the black tape off the bike it would fall apart! I was surprised to find the return to the road was over 2km and with a loss in height of 100m. Back on the road I had a tail wind most of the way to Baker, then as I neared the little town it switched around doing it’s best to send me back again. Baker was a small town to do my resupply at, but when I got there, there was a sign on the only food store saying “Closed Monday and Tuesday”…great! I found a café that also claimed it had groceries. It did, but they were basic, it looked as though the next 84 miles would be covered by eating bagels and marshmallows. I talked easily to the guy who owned the place and with another bucketful of coffee for $1.75 it was a while before I eventually left, actually, I only left because he was closing! I left with “This storm will only last for two days” ringing in my ears, soon to be replaced with just the sound of wind ringing in my ears. The wind was hitting hard, those long straights seemed a whole lot longer when taken with such effort and just 8kph, to add to the pain there were markers for every mile passed just to emphasise just how slow I was going and how long it was taking me to get anywhere. It was rather depressing, I kept working out how long it was going to take me to reach Milford and if it was really such a good idea to be heading out with little more than a days supply of water and a bagful of marshmallows. I did still have some bread, it was stale and destined for the bin, but I was now really glad to stop and eat it, though I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I did appreciate it. I made it to the top of two passes for the day, progress was a little faster down the other side, though I could see I was heading for a sandstorm blowing its way across the valley. It was another long long straight, I could see I would never maker up the next climb before nightfall, there was no shelter either, tonight was going to be interesting. A small clump of trees came into view, there was something white beside them, I hoped it was a house, may be it was just a van parked up. Slowly I made it there, it was a two roomed building with some stock yards behind it and no sign of any stock or that anybody lived in it. It was locked, but behind it was a little “L” shaped patch that was totally free from the wind, I reckoned I could just about pitch the tent there. I set to clearing all the rubbish, leaves and glass, the tent went in, just, the back peg having to be pushed through the fence. I could hardly believe my luck, here I was nice and sheltered, yet take just two paces and the wind hit me when I ventured out. I slept well, the sound of the wind never dying down, but the tent hardly moved at all, I was happy indeed.
Come morning the wind was still howling, I would have given anything to just curl up and go back to sleep, but I guessed by the end of the day I would be very hungry, I got up. To my surprise, despite being very sheltered the tent was covered in sand, as was anything else left outside. The clouds looked even more threatening, they looked as though they carried rain. The direction of the wind had changed slightly, the going wasn’t so bad, in fact by the time I turned at the end of the straight I swear I even had a tail wind. Heading down the other side I reached the dizzy speeds of 60kph+….for a while. As I turned into the next valley there ahead of me was another sand storm blowing across (photos), within a couple of minutes I was once again fighting a strong headwind. Still, I as going better than yesterday though still working very hard to maintain 11kph, but I thought that was good, until I realised my altimeter was telling that I was still heading down hill. Another long straight across a valley was taking forever and I was being sand blasted at the same time. I was now in Utah, it seemed noticeably different in the amount of vegetation, the last couple of valleys there was nothing, hence with a bit of a wind the valley floor came to meet me. Ahead of me was blue sky and clouds, behind it was grey, may be the end was in sight. The further I got across the valley the more the wind direction seemed to be changing until as I once again turned out of the straight I was being given another push up the hill. I was going faster uphill than I had been going downhill. At the top of the climb the sun was out, I was feeling warm so I decided to stop for a bite to eat. You had to hang on to everything, even a bagel was whisked away from me by the wind, but I can move fast when food is involved. The weather improved, the wind eased at long last I reached Milford, not a moment too soon. I stocked up on food and decided to push on a little further, but by the time I was nearing Minersville I was still going through agricultural land and wondering where I would find a place to camp, but a little track went off into the hills and I found a perfect little sheltered spot. For all my efforts of the last couple of days I was rewarded with a glorious sunset (photo), I guess it was all the sand and dust in the atmosphere that made it so good. I didn’t get a great nights sleep, mainly due to micey type things that were really bugging me. They kept crawling up the outside of the inner tent, I waited until they were right above my head and gave them a healthy slap that made them hit the outer tent then slide down between the two. I hoped it would put them off the exploration trips, it did eventually.
The whole night was dead still, it was the following morning too. I was heading south over the last pass before Cedar City, it was so easy going, the sun was shining, I was feeling good again. It felt so fast to be cycling at normal pace again, I arrived early and had lunch at a diner. I asked the couple on the next table as I was about to leave if they knew where the library was and the great thing about sounding like a foreigner is that it makes it really easy to strike up a conversation. We chatted a while before they had to return to work, they had my commiserations. I was staying with another cyclist, Iain Dalton and his family. The address was hard to find, I asked a guy pulling out of a turning. A couple of minutes later we pulled up alongside me again telling me he had told me wrong way and redirected me. I think I met him 4 times altogether as he searched out the place for me. The house was the very last house up a long hill, a fitting end to the hilly journey across from Reno.
Today I was reunited with my long lost water. It was a tearful reunion, at least I thought it was until I realised it was just the last few drops of water from the bag. As I had climbed up Carson Pass a couple of weeks ago I had been offered a lift by Dennis that I refused, but I met him a couple of days later at the top of the pass and he offered to go and search it out for me, so I had given him a little map of where I thought I had left it. He kindly went up there, found it and posted it on to me here at Cedar City. This is another advantage of being able to speak the language and being surrounded by friendly people.
The next stage should be interesting, it involves more sightseeing and doubling back on myself than getting anywhere, but with the wonderful sights of Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park and Grand Canyon I think it will be well worth while.