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September 1, 2011

The California Bike: Day 4 - Small Town Eyes - Tonopah, NV to Green River, UT

Update: I am alive and well and resting quietly on the banks of the Green River in the town of Green River, Utah.

Photos: Probably won't post any photos today. Can't begin to describe how tired I am. Almost wiped out in the parking lot. 340 miles to go tomorrow. Ugh.

Update: Photos posted.

Vital statistics for Day 4: September 1, 2011
Miles driven today: 506.4
Miles this trip: 1,107.1
Photos taken today: 1,014
Photos taken this trip: 4,230
Weather today: Clear, sunny, warm

Gps Stats:
Trip Odometer: 517
Max Speed: 99.2 mph

Day 4

I roll through the town of Tonopah and small town eyes follow me. They're pinned to this nightmare dusty town like a butterfly on a cactus. And this stranger rolls through town on a bike with some gear and they all look and wonder...who is he? Where is he going? Where has he been?

The next town in 170 miles away. It will be a stretch for the bike. Further than I've ever gone between gas stations...since the Punta Prieta desert. That was 300 kilometers also. It was almost exactly two years ago but remember it like it was yesterday.

The desert here isn't so dry as Baja. Baja was full-on cactus from horizon to horizon. This land must get more water than Baja. There is some scrub on the ground, but not much.

As I roll across the desert, I realize that I'm cold. Almost to the point of shaking. I stop to put on my Circle 7 wool gear and that problem is solved. Thanks again.

Now, rolling across the spectacular morning desert. Yosemite was stunning. It's beautiful here also, in the desert, but in a different way of course.

Someone painted this two lane blacktop road across the desert and strung up telephone poles beside it. Where did the poles come from?

Boredom is all that there is out here.

I'm not really riding a motorcycle any more. It's more like a simulation. Sitting on a vibrating cushioned seat, watching the yellow line on the left and the white line on the right. Trying to keep between these two lines. But it's all an illusion. I'm not really riding the bike any more. This isn't happening. This isn't real.

This is a odd sensation. Something I've never experienced before. Not even in the deserts of Mexico.

You can see the highway stretching straight away from you to next mountain range on the horizon. It's hard to know how far away the mountains are, so I make a game out of guessing and then measuring the distance. Eventually, I realized that these mountains are generally about 10 - 20 miles apart from each other, for whatever reason. And in between them lies this lunar landscape with some low scrub. Just enough to conceal rabbits, coyotes, hawks, deer...who knows what else.

If you look all the way to the horizon, on an average road, I can see at most about 20 miles. Now, the road appears thinner, as you look further down the road...further away from you. The road seems to thin out almost to a needle way down there 20 miles away. Now, if you study this asphalt needle, you'll see that it's dealing cars to you, albeit very slowly.

I don't pass many cars. Maybe one every 15 - 20 miles. This stretch of road is called the "Loneliest road in the country" for good reason.

But, if you study this asphalt needle, you'll see cars materialize way out in the distance, and then they roll down the needle toward you, gradually increasing in size. I studied the needle to see how close they had to be for me to notice them. I don't think that I could ever clearly discern them before they were within about 5-6 miles of me.

But I get tired of these mind games. I mean, you're bored, and there's not much to do, so you do what you can to keep from going insane. Then, I pass a man's house. And I just start laughing like a hyena. Like...seriously, dude? Out here? In the middle of freaking nowhere? And I'm laughing way to hard and I start to think maybe I'm going a little crazy from being so far out away from civilization. It isn't all that funny, after all.

Now, I'm sitting on this little illusion of a motorcycle. To a person in the desert, it would look like I'm going 70 mph, bent low over the handlebars to preserve precious fuel, as I've mentioned before I think that I'm reasonably sure I'll never make the next town.

So, I'm sitting on this vibrating motorcycle simulation, slowly weaving from side to side, and it's sort of like being on the ocean. You never have to turn or brake or change gears, of course. You just hold on and the asphalt ocean rolls gently beneath you, slowly lulling you to sleep.

You could choose to fix your focus on any point in front of you...from 20 miles out to the front fender, and in my confusion, I just focus on the front fender. I even close my eyes just for a second or two. You really can't imagine how calming this is, when there are no winds in the early morning, like just now.

For a while, I just stare at the front fender. I'm lulled into this state of complacency. I'm not really moving. There is a new reality. I'm just sitting here while the bike shudders and vibrates beneath me, trying to hold it still between these two lines.

There is nothing here. Nothing but desert and a clear blue sky and two lines. One white. One yellow..

Nothing passes me and the landscape barely changes.

Only every 10 or 20 miles, I go up over a little ridge, drop down over the same ridge, and then begin to traverse the next lunar floor.

I know I'm going to run out of gas. It's only a matter of time. I'm following US 6 East to the next town, a hundred seventy miles when I started. The signs count down my doom.

I'm sure l run out of gas and, in my head, I practice my lines on every car that I pass. "Can you please help me? I ran out of gas."

I don't know how you'd get gas out of a car anyway. Not like I have a siphoning hose or anything.

I'm watching my front fender bounce up and down at about 70 mph and suddenly, I look up to find a police car bearing down on me, light flashing, the whole nine yards. He's coming right for me, approaching me rapidly...descending down the long asphalt needle. He swerves into my lane, so that now, if I don't move over, he'll hit me head on eventually.

He's royally pissed about something. Probably someone called in my driving skills to him and he wants to write me a slew of moving violations like that jack@ss cop back in Forks, Washington.

So, only I just let go of the handlebars and hold my hands up in the air, exasperated, as in "So, what? You're just going to hit me head on?" and the cop points for me to pull over, which I do, and he goes racing past, and then about 3-4 other cops, all doing the same thing. Escorting some insanely wide load down the asphalt needle, and now they're past me and I can resume my little journey into oblivion.

They were about the only cars I've pass all day, and they're gone now, all the lights and sirens have faded and the little emergency extinguished, so far as I'm concerned.

And now, back to my nightmare. Waiting for the engine to die. I've already figured that, if I can make it to 150 miles, then I'm set, because I can switch to reserve, and go another 20 miles, and I'll make it to the next town, instead of dying out in the Nevada desert.

I don't know why I do this really. Honestly, I don't. I guess that some part of me enjoys pushing the envelope, but this is suicidal. Running out of gas in the Nevada desert in the summer is a special kind of stupid. Life-threatening dumb.

But somehow, by a miracle, I make it into town without ever hitting reserve. I refill the tank and it only takes 3.8 gallons. So, it seems like I'm getting better gas mileage because a) I'm only going 70 mph and b) I'm leaning way over the bike so there's less wind resistance and c) in the morning, the desert winds are nearly non-existent.

I'm so happy to roll into town alive that I stop for lunch, to celebrate surviving the desert ordeal.

This girl comes in and starts talking about how she's going to Burning Man and I'm like..."How many tickets you got there, genius?"

"Only one."

"Well, good. That's all I need is one. Perfect."

"It's for me, silly," she coos.

She's cute, but she's never been, so she's pretty clueless. She's on the run from a litter of kids, the way some adventure-seeking moms are wont to do.

Somehow, she's already been from Oklahoma, to Eureka, then back to here (Ely, Nevada), and now is going to Burning Man.

The path makes no sense, of course. Must have been a drug run to Eureka for the new weed crop. Who am I to judge? I just want her ticket, of course. I proceed to try to scare the bejeesus out of her.

"You know, I've seen the worse cases of sunburn in my life out in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. People walking around with no shirt, no sunscreen, and skin hanging off of them in sheets, like the Japanese in Hiroshima or Nagasaki."

"I brought sun-screen," she counters.

"When I was there, they broke into half the cars and stole their radios."

"At Burning Man?"

"Yep. Sure nuff."

I tried to get her to turn back to Oklahoma, but it didn't work, so eventually I threw in the towel and fled the town.

I start slowing working my way East, following US 6, then US 50, onto I-70. Every time I stop for gas, I beg everyone in a truck to take me as far East as possible, but no one is ever going any more than 20 - 30 miles. Go figure.

Now, for some reason, I have an interview scheduled for today at 3:00 p.m. PDT. And, I'm afraid to cross the border into Utah, because the time zone changes there, and I will lose an hour, and I'm afraid I'll miss the interview. This is how stupid I am. I'm seriously thinking that "I should just wait here in call...in Nevada...before I cross the Time Zone barrier. Lord knows how that all works and stuff."

But, I'm not getting any cell coverage. And the next town is 84 miles away. I've got about 50 minutes to get there. So, I just open the throttle and head east.

And, I hate that I have an interview. I told them that I was retired. And I'm so p1ssed I don't know what to say. Don't they know there's a recession going on? The gall of some people.

So now, as I'm racing across the desert, I'm prepping myself mentally for the interview. The questions they'll ask. What my answers will be. Giving myself a little pep talk. Just royally p1sses me off though because I should be enjoying my vacation instead of having to talk to a bunch of dimwits that don't have the sense to come in out of the rain.

Now, I'm not good at planning, obviously. Never have been. After about 30 minutes, I check the time and odometer, and decide I'll need to go 120 mph for about 22 minutes in order to get to the next town, with cell coverage, by the time the interview is supposed to start. But the bike won't go that fast.

But, I figure I'll make a run for it anyway. So, I just weld that throttle open and I'm skint back...flying across the desert...bike is maxed out. Valves chattering...It's running about 90, 95...possibly 100. No better though. Skint back.

Now, Pirsig was very clear on this in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance. On hot days, you slow down, so you don't blow a tire. I'm wondering if my tires won't let go at 100 mph. The front. The back. It wouldn't matter. Or, the engine could sieze. At triple digits, lots of things can go wrong and, when something goes wrong at triple digits, it usually goes wrong in a big way.

But, so be it.

Finally, I check the watch, and I'm still about 14 miles outside of town, but it's time to call in, and I do, somehow, have a very weak signal. So, I spy a little marsh in the middle of the desert and pull over on the side of the road and dial into this teleconference.

Introductions. Boring questions from boring people. I hate to think about going to work. I want to tell them..."Ah..you know what? I'm on a cross country motorcycle journey and I won't be able to do any real work before say...uh....well....let's go with round numbers and say January 1."

But instead, I do the silly interview standing by the marsh on the side of the highway, with trucks occasionally rolling past, and ducks occasionally honking their discontent. After the interview, I continue rolling east and finally, I manage to wander over and connect to I-70.

When I hit I-70, it's funny because there's no one on I-70 either. So, I kept thinking I could ask someone for a ride, and I asked every truck I saw at the gas stations, but to no avail. And now that I'm on the interstate, there aren't many people on the interstate at all either. I mean, I-70 sort of peters out anyway. True, it connects to I-15, but there aren't a lot of people on I-70 out here anyhow. And, once I finally did get on I-70, the next exit with gas was 108 miles down the road, so, again, still pretty sketchy.

By the time I roll into Green Mountain, Utah, I'm more dead than alive. I can barely move. I've driven over 500 miles today.

I see a sign for a motel with a hot tub, and take out across the gas station parking lot toward it, only suddenly the parking lot disappears and now I'm driving across the desert. Hard braking and the front end locks up. Starts to go down. I left off the front brake and it straightens up, but the Filson canvas suitcase goes tumbling into the desert, for probably the 3rd time this trip. Laptop ok. The old Canon EOS 50D slightly injured. Don't really know how I kept it from going down. Dumb luck, probably. But very glad I didn't crash in the dirt going 10 mph. That would have sucked.

I'm not going any further. Completely exhausted. I pull into the hotel. They have a hot tub, but now I realize I don't have a suit. Chick at the counter goes to check the lost-and-found and returns with a free bathing suit. Score!

Relax in the hot tub with a half-decent back massage, which I desperately needed. Back hurts so bad I cant' move my arms. Left leg almost beyond functioning. Clutch hand not good. Both hands vibrated to the point of numbness.

Somehow, I have to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

Miles to Denver: 340.

Posted by Rob Kiser on September 1, 2011 at 11:16 PM


Dude! You're having way too much fun. Try to dial it back a notch.

Also, I think you could teach Pirsig a few things about introspection.

Posted by: Doug on September 2, 2011 at 10:00 AM

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