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July 4, 2016

The Bird in the Bush: Day 1 - Sunday(7/3) - Denver to June Lake, CA

Update: I am alive and well and resting peacefully in the resplendent Boulder Lodge, overlooking the scenic June Lake, in June Lake, California.

Start Time: 8:03 a.m. MDT
Start Location: Morrison, CO
Starting Odometer: 40,112
Witness: J.J. Ellison

End Time: 11:06 p.m. PDT
End Location: June Lake, CA
Ending Odometer: 41,125
Witnesses: Becky Oldfield, Boulder Lodge, June Lake, CA. 760-648-7330

Daily Trip Meter: 1,013 miles
Driving Time: 16 hours and 3 minutes.

So, I wake up this morning, and start packing things up for a motorcycle trip across the Great American Desert. And I have to say that, there is some very real fear when you start one of these ridiculous rides. Like...no one else that I know is doing this. Most people just go to work on Mon - Friday and then watch TV at night and they seem to be fairly content. Why not me?

Why am I so enticed by the bird in the bush?

Why am I compelled to quit my job, and then drive an adventure bike across the continent?

So, I'm throwing some things into an absurdly small little CC Filson handbag. Strap an old 2.2 gallon gas tank onto the back of the KTM seat so I won't die out in the Great American desert, and I take off.

JJ is on his lot, so I wheel in and let him get a "before" photo of me. As in, "This is what he looked like before he hit the deer and got run over by an 18 wheeler."

And I'm off. I get away about 8:30 a.m. roughly. Stop, gas up, get a gatorade for the road. You have to have food and drinks when you're on a bike. Always.

The forecast called for rain, but it's not raining and I hit I-70 west. It's technically the 4th of July weekend, but because I'm leaving on a Sunday, I correctly guessed that there wouldn't be much traffic.

At first, I'm too hot, but then as I climb to towards Eisenhower Tunnel, I'm getting colder and colder. But then, by the time I get down to Silverthorne, it's not too cold any more. Same thing again at Vail Pass.

I get to Vail in something like 90 minutes, and it's always surprising to me how close everything seems when you finally make up your mind to go there. Now, Avon, and now everything starts to go from evergreen mountains to a more arid landscape. Glenwood Springs. Grand Junction. Now, everything really starts to look like a desert. Most of this pretty much as I remember it.

Stop at the Utah state line for a photo op. I ask a total stranger to take my photo, and he does.

From Green River west, it's a new sight for me, because I've driven this route twice, but always form West to East. Now, I'm going from East to West. So, it looks a lot different.

I'm surprised to see that the speed limit on I-70 in Utah is 80 mph. (It's 75 mph in Colorado.) So, I drive 90-100 mph while I'm in Utah.

In Utah, it starts to rain on me. Then it stops. And really, the rain just makes it so it isn't too hot. It rains on and off on me all across Utah. Twice, it starts hailing on me like the world is coming to an end. Marble-sized chunks of ice are hitting my hands going 90 mph, and, even through the gloves, it hurts like hell.

There are these birds....I'm not clear what kind they are...look similar to barn swallows...and they come flying at me, missing me by millimeters, as they're feeding along the highway. I can't guess how many birds I dodged today. But not just birds...rabbits...foxes...you name it.

I remember much of the state. I remember the big lake, and a lot of the towns like Salina and the little dogleg you have to do on I-15 as you follow US 50 West.

US Highway 50 is widely documented as the "Loneliest Road in America".

Now, west of Delta, outside of Hinckley, Utah, I stop at the shoe tree. I remember this tree, and decide to stop and get some photos of it. But as I start to take photos, the wind picks up to hurricane strength winds. threatening to blow over my parked bike. How it didn't go over, I'll never know. It took everything I had to keep the bike from going over.

Now, I'm riding west out of Hinckley, Utah, and the winds are so strong it's like wrestling an alligator. This goes on for about 60 miles. Only when I climb out of the valley and descend into a new valley do the winds let up.

I stop at the Nevada state line to get a photo of the Welcome to Nevada sign. I've been racing a guy across the desert for hundreds of miles now. He's towing a totaled truck on his trailer, and he stops to talk to me at the state line gas station.

"Man...I was afraid I was going to find you crashed on the side of the road back there. That was some crazy wind, huh?"

"I can promise you it's the worst winds I've ever driven through," I reply.

I shoot a couple of selfies with my Canon camera using a timer at the state border.

One thing I'd forgotten about in Nevada is all of the cattle gaps. I'm never clear when I cross a gap...are the cows with me now? Or was I leaving them behind by crossing the gap? This should be documented more clearly, I think.

Now that I'm finally in Nevada, I'm thinking that I shouldn't stop at Ely. I want to keep going for a couple of reasons. There's still at least two hours of daylight left, and I have a long drive tomorrow, so why not keep going to Tonopah?

So, instead of stopping at Ely, I just take a left to follow US Highway 6 (leaving US Highway 50) and head towards Tonopah. Now, as it turns out, there are no gas stations between Ely and Tonopah, although this is not indicated by any signage. (No service stations for 168 miles might be something you'd like to point out, for future reference, Utah.)

Although US 50 has the nickname "The Loneliest Road in America", US 6 has a solid case for the title, as Tonopah and Ely are the only cities it goes through in the 306 miles it traverses in Nevada.

So, there are basically zero other cars on US Highway 6 when I run out of gas, 50 odd miles shy of Tonopah. There are a few things that come into play on this. My gas mileage is abysmally low, and I'm not clear why. My assumption is that it's because all of the additional weight I'm carrying with my suitcase and additional fuel tank.

I pull over on the shoulder and pour the 2.2 gallons of gas into my left tank. I'm not clear if this will be enough to get me into Tonopah, as I'm well short of my goal. I'm 53 miles from Tonopah. It's going to be close.

I stop to shoot a few photos here and there. Occasionally, I turn on my GoPro and shoot a minute of video occasionally. But the truth this that I'm deathly afraid that I'm going to run out of gas and die out here in the desert. I keep waiting for the Low Fuel light to come on on the KTM. I figure i can go about 20 miles once it comes on again.

The low fuel light comes on, and I drive into Tonopah on fumes.

So, now, I'm in Tonopah...I stop and shoot the mural of fighter jets on the side of a building. Now stop in for gas. Now, I have another problem. I'm very close to 1,000 miles in a day, which would get me the Iron Saddle.

If I could drive another 150 miles, I could get my Iron Saddle. So, at the gas station, I go in and start asking...."what's 150 miles west of here?"

And, pretty much, it's Lee Vining. Now, I know where Lee Vining is. It's the east entrance to Yosemite. So, I'm all for driving there, if it means I will get my iron saddle. now, in theory, I could wake up in the morning, and drive very early and try to get there before 8:00 a.m., as the Iron Saddle is based on a 24 hour day/window. But, I know that, if I drive there now, I'll be much more likely to actually get my Iron Saddle, and also, when I check into the hotel, I'll have a witness.

The sheriff tells me about a shortcut....120 that I should take. He says it's curvy and has rises and drops in it, and suddenly I remember driving across it now.

Will they have rooms there, I ask.

I never can tell with that place...

So, I bolt out of Tonopah, heading for Lee Vining.

The sun is setting as I pull out of Tonopah, so I'll be driving in the dark, which is extremely dangerous. So I take off and I'm 20 miles outside of Tonopah before I see a sign that says US 6, so I know I'm on the right road now, at least. (I reset my Garmin Montana to the factory defaults, so it's practically useless now. It navigates in a straight line, instead of following roads. It keeps changing the orientation of the screen. Very aggravating. Close to useless.)

The sun sets and now I'm driving in the dark, at 90 mph. Hell bent for Lee Vining. With no reservations. I see the short cut at 120, so I take Highway 120, and now I see a natural hot springs with a small motel built around it. I stop, but there are no rooms. This is going to suck if I can't find a room for the night. In a big way. I'm exhausted, and it's cold now, in the dark, as I roll down Highway 120.

Eventually, at about midnight (MDT), I get into Lee Vining. I see the store that I remember, but it's not a hotel, of course. Just a restaurant/gas station. And it's closed. I drive up to two people I see talking and ask, "Is there a hotel around here?"

They send me to some hotels up the road (North) a short distance on I395. But only one hotel is still open, and he has no vacancies. I'm actually still about 5 miles short of 1,000 miles for the day, according to my odometer.

I'm thinking....look man...we can do this hard or easy. I'm not sleeping outside. I'll curl up on this chair here and spend the night and I'll pay you whatever you want, but I'm not sleeping outside, see?

I plead with the guy at the counter, and he calls around and finds me a room about 11 miles south on I 395.

Ecstatic, I race south on I396 11 miles, turn right at the Shell gas station, and stop at the Boulder Lodge on June Lake, in June Lake, CA. This little run puts me at over 1,000 miles for the day, so I'll get my iron saddle after all.

I go check in, take a shower, and collapse.

Posted by Rob Kiser on July 4, 2016 at 3:10 AM


"On the road again....." I love getting up to your saga of yesterday. Be safe. Good luck. We'll miss you.

Posted by: sl on July 4, 2016 at 6:51 AM

ok, Rob, this is from a mother ..........not your mother but a mother no less. though it was such an adventure, you did on 7/3/16, it seems you did not follow my adage Be Safe, Have fun...........wow, not many could have done what you did but I hope you are a little more careful on the next legs of the adventure.......
Be Safe, Have Fun, happy 4th, hope wherever you land today , you get to see the fireworks..........that will get you off the road by 9!

Posted by: Suzanne Carter on July 4, 2016 at 10:20 AM

Suzanne, It was a long day of riding, and probably not one I would do again. I don't advise riding at night. I was just trying to push it a little so I could say I have my "Iron Saddle". :)

Posted by: Rob Kiser on July 5, 2016 at 5:17 PM

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