Wonderful reading. We read it together over breakfast and couldn't stop laughing with you over your various adventures. Keep on keepin' on, Rob. -- Tom and Connie
Jun 11, 2017
Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Until only a day before, the plan was to camp at Sand Moutain State Rec Area. I figured with a title like that, and with camping available, there would be water. Nope! The nearest source of water was 40 km away, and there wasn't much in the way of camping either. As the name indicates, it's a big pile of sand, and you're allowed to camp there.
Carson City to Fallon would be a short day in my book, and Fallon to Austin a little too long. Tom informed me of Middlegate, a diner and not much else, where I could get water, and added they'd probably let me camp there. Then I found out they have an eating challenge, and winning it results in a free T-shirt. I was just thinking I could use a T-shirt for off-the-bike time. Done deal.
Highway 50 from Fallon to Ely, which I'd be riding for the next four days, has earned the designation "America's Loneliest Road". I've seen lonelier. But I'm not sure any of those were US Highways, so fair enough. According to a few locals, the title "America's Loneliest Road" has increased tourism, ironically making it a much more trafficked road.
Highway 50 is also the Lincoln Highway, the first coast-to-coast road in the United States. And it largely follows the route of the Pony Express. In the Western States, where there aren't many roads to begin with, nor many reasonable routes through the rugged terrain, nearly every highway is on the same path as a historic route. Previous tours have put me on the Mormon Trail, the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Oregon Trail, and a handful of cattle drives.
Mostly a boring day, mostly flat, with a tailwind that got stronger as the day went on. It turned out to be a total distance of 187 km, but hardly felt like it. I arrived at Middlegate at about 6:00 PM, immediately went inside and ordered the Moster Burger.
The Monster is 1.3 pounds of beef, and that's the tip of the iceberg. Probably an entire tomato and half a head of lettuce is used to dress the thing, as well as two olives, a banana pepper, thousand island dressing, and two onion rings. The buns alone were big enough to make some people full. And then there were the fries, enough of them to share. No time limit, within reason, but you can't leave the room, you can't throw up, and you have to eat every scrap of food.
Since the burger was a double-decker, I decided to eat the halves separately, like eating two burgers one after another. Pretty good, I might add! By the end of the first one, I was no longer hungry. Halfway through the second, I was starting to feel full. I looked at the plate full of fries. No way was I gonna finish all that. But I didn't have to stop yet. I kept going.
Once the burger was done, I figured I might as well see how close I can get. I'd never know if I didn't try! I ate the fries two-at-a-time, then finally realized it was getting difficult in large part because I had run out of saliva. Even though it meant I'd be putting even more in my stomach, I asked for a glass of water. That made things way easier.
To take my mind off the task at hand, I started texting people (surprisingly, there was a 4G signal out here!). I continued eating the fries two-at-a-time, walking around the room every so often to help settle things down. Little by little, the plate emptied, until there were only a few fries left. Then none. I shoveled in the last few scraps of lettuce and received my T-shirt.
While I was eating, I talked to a few people in the diner. Two of them were ladies that had been all over the country and had previously met while living in a reservation, and by pure chance now lived near each other again. The other was Bob, an older guy who had bike toured up and down highway 50 a few times. He was pulling an enormous load. After finding out I missed the tourism stop and didn't pick up my "Highway 50 Survival Guide", he insisted on taking my name and address so he could pick one up and mail it to me. I obliged, even though I wasn't that interested.
There was indeed camping out back for free, showers for $3. I settled for a sink shower at the spigot. Overall, Middlegate turned out to be a perfect plan, except for three things:
1. There was a generator running loudly all night, right next to the camping area. Understandably, it's a necessity, and since camping was free, you wouldn't complain much, only...
2. There was a puddle of sewage water right in the middle of the camping area. Either move the septic tank or move the camping area.
3. Worst of all, the Monster T-shirt was of poor quality. The image was an iron-on that took up the entire front of the shirt. So it felt like wearing a plastic breastplate; stiff and didn't breathe at all. To the point that it was uncomfortable to wear. "Uncomfortable T-shirt" should be an oxymoron, but here we were. I threw away the shirt two days later. Having T-shirts printed in town would be about $6 a pop, and for eating all that, you deserve better.
All night, and the next morning, I kept expecting the Bowel Movement of Destiny, but somehow, that never happened. For obvious reasons, I didn't eat much for breakfast in the morning. Austin was a mere 105 km away. Try as I might, I can't seem to leave before 7:30, when I'd prefer to leave much closer to 6:00. By the time I left, Bob hadn't even begun to stir.
Some tailwind, but not like the day before. Some headwind here and there, especially early on. Lots of slow climbs, but nothing bad until the very end. Right as the heat of the afternoon came on, a long, steep climb into Austin. The other Austin, population 200.
Tom and Connie Davis from Carson City have a friend who lives in Austin part of the time, but wouldn't be there that night. Nevertheless, I was welcome to camp in their yard, and I found a church that let me in for a shower. An earlier finish than usual gave me some time to get some reading done, but 120 pages in, I still wasn't that interested in one of my books (yes, I had two). I wound up giving it away.
Barely any farther to Eureka, barely any more hills, most of them at the beginning of the day. After that, all flat, except a climb into town. Seems like the towns are all in the hills, probably because they used to be mining towns. Like yesterday, the wind couldn't make up its mind.
The temperature has been surprisingly cooperative, barely reaching 30 C, and only on occasion. Looking ahead in the forecast, it looks like that'll continue through half of Utah. The thing that worried me most about this tour was the heat in Nevada and Utah, and it looks like I'll escape the desert without seeing its worst. Good fortune!
The sun, on the other hand, has been entirely opressive. It may be under 30 C most of the time, but in the sunshine, it doesn't feel like it. And in the sunshine is everywhere, because there's no shade. On the rare occasion you find shade, it feels quite nice! The second you step away from it, you're roasting. The combination of high altitude and thin, clear desert air means you get no protection. But it could be worse. Imagine if it was 38 C and the sun felt this strong...yeouch!
I haven't gotten burned, but even so, my skin has gotten more sun than I'd like. In Austin, I noticed I was low on sunscreen. I had enough for one day, but not two. Eureka looked no bigger than Austin, which only had a gas station with a mini-mart inside. They probably had sunscreen, but not the good stuff. If only I could make it one more day to Ely, which looked big enough to have a supermarket. I didn't want to buy a bottle of weak stuff, get burned anyway, then have to buy another bottle again.
Imagine my delight when the first thing I saw in Eureka was a supermarket! Most of their sunscreen was weak and spray-on. Spray-on works OK, but the bottle is empty before you know it. One bottle left of the good stuff. Success!
In the same building was an Ace Hardware that, incredibly enough, had a bolt I couldn't find in two previous hardware stores and a bike shop. I'd been using one that worked OK, but didn't quite fit where it was supposed to. Another problem solved!
I didn't need much in the way of groceries, but saw that they had a variety pack of that Carnation vitamin-rich powdered milk stuff. Getting all your vitamins is hard to do on tour, and eating granola with "milk" makes it more bearable on a daily basis. Even better when the milk flavor keeps changing. Chocolate, dark chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Your food staples get repetitive on a trip like this, but if you can find little things to shake it up, that goes a long way.
The cashier told me there's free camping in the city park, where there was also a water spigot and bathrooms. Good enough for me! When I got there, I was stunned. Thick, cool green grass! Tall shady trees! They must be using half the state's water on this half-acre. The pavilion even had an outlet! Luxury!
The bathrooms were locked, with a sign reading, "Closed for the winter." It was June 6. I walked to the gas station a block away.
One thing the cashier failed to mention was the sprinkler schedule. They come on at 4:45 AM, all over the park. That's a fact I would've liked to know. I'd been thinking of cowboy camping under the pavilion, and since that was now the only dry spot in the park, that's exactly what I should've done.
As quickly as possible, I leapt out of the tent, carried everything over to the pavilion, then unstaked the tent and dragged it over as well. Then finally went back for Valeria, all while being drenched by the sprinklers. The sun was just starting to come up already. Time for breakfast, I guess.
One hour later, nearly all the stuff was dry, except the bike shoes. Gotta love that dry desert air! The sprinklers stayed on for exactly an hour, by which time I was nearly done packing up. For once, an early start! I would've preferred other circumstances.
The wind was already blowing and never let up, only gaining strength throughout the day. It was mostly from the south, while the road was pointed east in a zig-zag pattern, but seemed to be in front of me, even when pointed slightly north. Four big hills, lots of sagebrush. Another day in Nevada.
The days feel shorter and shorter now, not in length, but in time. Seems like I'm starting to get used to the mental aspect of riding long distance. Met a German heading west, and we exchanged encouraging words. I told him about the city park in Eureka and warned him about the sprinklers. A few km later, I realized I should've asked where he found to stay in Ely.
I can't tell if it amuses or annoys me more to see every patch of land fenced off, including that which no one uses. Who owns it? Why do they want people to stay off? Who are they protecting it from? What exactly are they trying to protect? If there were livestock or crops, it would make sense. But out here...gotta protect all that nothing from no one! Perhaps we've taken the concept of land ownership too seriously.
Once in Ely, I went to the Visitors Center, then the City Hall, and both were kind enough to make some phone calls on my behalf to see if there was a nice comfy floor available in town. No luck. I was about to start approaching churches in person when the City Hall called back and said Brian and Susie had arranged a room at the Jailhouse Hotel. Nice! Beds and showers rule!
You know you prefer peace and quiet when the noise level on "America's Loneliest Road" still bothers you.
Sagebrush should be Nevada's state tree, flower, bird, song, and motto.
Read about Coyote's adventure with his father in Central Texas. Music, food, wheels, family, all the finer things in life.