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May 16, 2013

SF to Denver: 2013 - Day 2

I am alive and well and resting quietly in the town of Ely, Nevada.

Miles driven today (odometer): 29,015.9 - 28,619 = 396.9 miles

In the morning, I leave Groveland, California and follow 120 into Yosemite. I'd forgotten about all of the lime-green moss on the trees.

I was last here in September of 2011, so that was about 21 months ago. But there are large sections of the park that I don't really remember.

It's hard to understand how large Yosemite Park is. I drive and drive and there's nothing but forrests and mountains and lakes. Hardly anyone is in the park yet, as school isn't out.

Tioga Pass opened last Saturday, so I figure I'll run over Tioga Pass. When I first catch a glimpse of the pass, however, I'm stunned. White snow-capped peaks, and it's snowing.

What I failed to realize is that if they opened the pass 6 days ago, odds are it's going to be freezing cold. As we climb toward the pass, the temperature keeps dropping until finally I stop and put on everything I have, which isn't a lot. Three t-shirts, a cotton shirt, two thin rain jackets, and a leather jacket. Put it all on.

Then I resume climbing up Tioga Pass. The elevation of the pass is approx 10,000 ft above sea level. At the peak, it's snowing. It's so cold I'm shivering uncontrollably.

As I roll down the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the trees disappear and now it's this barren desert. At the bottom of the hill, the dramatic Mono Lake, and I stop for gas and lunch in Lee Vining. South 5 miles to 120 East, and 60 miles later I cross the Nevada state line, a cattle gap, if you can believe it.

Basically, Nevada is a barren desert. The Great American Desert. Although, I don't ever see a lot of bare earth. It's more like grass lands or sage brush. Not so much cactus and dirt.

There's pretty much zero traffic on the road. Long, ten-mile straight stretches of road cross flat bowls surrounded by low mountain ranges.

The landscape is beautiful, but vast. I have to get home to Jennifer, so I open the throttle and just hang on. The bike runs about 95 mph top-end on level ground. I don't know what the speed limit is. I don't really care.

I just hold the throttle wide open for hours. My wrist hurts. Shoulder hurts. Back hurts.

As I drive, I think about Carrie and me. I'm not sure what happens now. She left me. She's dating some new guy now. I'm trying to figure out what to do with my life. So I think about if I could get her back, and if it would work out if we did get back together.

This is what the desert does to you. It gives you time to think about complicated things. Sort of like if you dropped a piece of granite into a hand-crank cranberry grinder. If you have a tough problem to work out, driving across the desert is a good way to free up some time to think.

At some point last night, Carrie figured out that I'm not necessarily taking the shortest route back to Denver. She's upset because to her, it seems like, somehow, I'm trying to trick her. But that's not what's going on. The whole trip doesn't make any sense. I mean, the bike is worth maybe $1,500.00. To fly to California and drive it back to Denver is, at best, a break even proposition. The bike is just an excuse to drive across the country. "I've got to drive it back to Denver," doesn't really make any sense. It's just an excuse to clear my head, obviously.

I stop for gas again in Tonopah, Nevada.

It's 180 miles to the next town of Ely, Nevada. I have plenty of daylight, so I want to keep driving. Try to put up some good miles today. I'm hoping that there's a place to get gas before Ely, though, because 180 miles will be at the upper limit of the distance I can go on my bike. 30 miles outside of Tonopah, I pass a gas station. The signs seem to indicate another town before Ely. So, I pass the gas station.

Halfway to Ely, I'm so tired that I start to hallucinate. I see cars that aren't there. I see my own rear-view mirrors and get startled by them. I see things moving in the road that I can't understand. Nothing lives out here that's any bigger than a rabbit. Finally, I realize I'm seeing giant tumbleweeds rolling across the road.

But, when my trip meter gets to 143 miles, I switch over to the reserve tank. I'm still 37 miles outside of Ely, Nevada, in a barren wasteland. On this stretch of road, there are no other cars. This is not good. I switch over to reserve and keep driving, but I'm freaking out, of course.

I have some gatorade, and some cherries, but I won't live long out here in the desert. No cell coverage. No other vehicles.

I've been calculating my gas mileage at every fill-up on this trip. It varies from 43 down to 37 depending on how fast I'm going, how hard the wind is blowing, etc.

I do some quick numbers. My estimate is that the reserve tank is only 0.6 gallons. If I only have .6 gallons left, at 37 mpg, I'll only be able to go another 20 miles, tops. That means I'll run out of gas in the desert before I get to Ely. This is going to suck in a big way.

I drive until the engine dies, 9.5 miles further down the road. Now my trip meter is at 152.5 miles. I'm still 27.5 miles outside of Ely, Nevada, stranded in the desert. But now, I remember the last time this happened. I ran out of gas in the Owyhee Desert in Idaho, and later, in the office, I did some calculations, and decided that the gas tank still had gas in it, but it's on the other side of the tank. I have to lean the bike on it's side to get the gas over to the left side of the tank so it can flow into the carburetor. In theory.

I open the gas tank. Sure enough. There's plenty of gas, it's just on the right-hand side of the tank. I lay the bike over on the left side. The gas flows to the other side of the tank. I stand it back up. It fires right up, and I drive into Ely on fumes.

When I fill up the tank, it hold 4.58 gallons, meaning I had .02 gallons left in a 4.6 gallon tank. I decide to crash for the night. I'm exhausted.

Posted by Rob Kiser on May 16, 2013 at 7:59 PM


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