Already it feels like a trip of two halves. Before Boise. And after.
This is how the second part of the trip is shaping up. 680km and 10 days since leaving Boise, Idaho. Now we are in Ely, Nevada. One of the most remote towns in the US, located on ‘the loneliest road’, highway 50 (as described by Life magazine in 1986, and since used by the tourist industry).
But back to Boise…
Despite being in town and only cycling to the shops twice, between us we managed to get 5 flat tyres. More than doubling the total for the trip. After some other general bike maintenance we finally left Boise on Sunday, on fully inflated tyres.
Left on Interstate I-84. The first motorway of the trip. And last. Noisy. Busy. Boring. At the first opportunity we exited. And instead followed a minor road south. Until a railway crossing, when we followed a track alongside. Eventually we were back on our original planned route.
Before Boise was forests and hills and winding rivers through steep-sided valleys in the cold or the rain. After Boise was flat farmland and distant mountain ranges on the horizon and big cloudless skies with the sun gently warming. At least to start with.
The first night out we were treated to a spectacular sunset. First flesh pink horizons and hazy purple skies, then yellow backlit cloud streaks before they set alight a flaming orange. And then darkness. Except it wasn’t because the stars showed the way. The way to an unfenced section of road where we could finally pitch tents and fall asleep.
The second day was a little less romantic. It started well. Breakfast at a roadside cafe in Grand View. Plastic tablecloths and sauces served in a 6-pack beer box. Coffee and free refill. A typically American affair.
But outside on the road it was windy. Cross-winds are nearly as tiring as full-in-the-face-try-to-blow-you-backwards headwinds. Dust whipped across the arid landscape revealing tracks to distant farms. A ball of tumbleweed bounced across the road.
Several miles out of Grand View there was a church. Here, believers are required to own a vehicle. Next to the church was a school. It looked remarkably quiet for a school day.
It looked remarkably like many a charity-built school in Africa. Built on free land, outside a village. So far to walk for the students. So they don’t as there is no teacher anyway. Better to have funded a teacher and sat the class outside.
I guess the difference here is that all the students were inside the classroom. Learning. And that they have parents to drive them to and collect them from school.
It’s a little ironic that here in the US education is a given but opportunities to use it are limited in today’s economy, and in places in Africa education is little more than a dream but the opportunities if you have one are immense.
But back to the road. Which now meandered along rolling lands of dry earth and scrub, wound its way up to a plateau which undulated onwards endlessly. With every rise a new horizon just a little further ahead. Looking like the end of the world with just a couple more miles before we would pedal off the edge. But every time we neared the edge, it jumped ahead.
After a long day under grey skies, we arrived in Grasmere. A town on the map. An abandoned and ransacked gas station in reality.
A broken down door, smashed windows, old-fashion petrol pumps beaten and torn from the ground. Inside, remnants of Christmas decorations, some dusty clothes piled on the floor. The ceiling stripped of insulation and stairs to a second storey too unsafe to climb. This was not a victim of the latest recession. Only of its own isolation. On the battered barn next door was painted, ‘Keep Out or Go To Jail’. There was nothing else stopping you from entering. And noone was nearby to see. But there was no reason to go in either.
There was no water either. Not even a tap or standpipe. So on we cycled.
Cycled until a smallholding. A ranch scattered with skeletons of trucks and maybe-functioning farm machinery. We entered hesitantly… And were greeted by a jovial fellow. One of those larger than life characters. Always smiling and happy to help. But here he was, at odds with his surroundings.
He gave us water from a plastic container (The water from the local reservoir is not fit for drinking.) and described a grove of trees down the road where we could camp. How kind. Later that evening, a truck pulled up by the trees underneath which we were heartily digging into dinner inside the tent. The jovial fellow shouted out hello. He had brought for us firewood and a thermos of hot water on this cold night. Just to make sure we were ok.
After a good, if somewhat cold night, we cycled on into Nevada. And through Owyhee in the Duck Valley Indian Reservation. There didn’t appear to be many ducks. But there weren’t many fences either.
Throughout the US, fences have lined a disproportionate amount of roadside. Even where there is not a farm or dwelling in the locality. Not even a cow to keep in or a coyote to keep out. It makes finding a place to camp tricky. Especially when the fence is labelled with Keep Out or No Trespassing signs and many a US citizen takes the Second Amendment of 1791 and the right to keep or bare arms very seriously. Without the fences, we were hopeful of a good campspot come evening.
Owyhee was much larger than expected, with a large gas station and shop. The last for 100 miles according to the sign. At that point I assumed the sign was an exaggeration purely for promotional purposes. Turns out it wasn’t.
Mountain City, a few miles further on up in the mountains, was an exaggeration however. To call a small hamlet a ‘city’ is a straight out lie. True, it did have a bar. But it was closed. A visitor centre too. Closed. Motel on the right – Closed. Motel on the left – Closed. RV trailer park. You guessed it. Whether this was due to the late time of the season, or a permanent feature I don’t know. But there was little reason to stay. At least we could get water.
Several litres of water. Which we pedalled with upwards, following clear flowing waters round rocky bluffs to Wild Horse Crossing, where we camped next to the Owyhee River.
No shortage of water then. Or firewood. So we had a big campfire with the flames lighting our faces and warming our hands. Until just the embers glowed red and the stars shone a brilliant white. And we went to bed. And woke to a thick frost and frozen water bottles and a heavy mist slowly rising from the river. Rising quicker than Lars does on any morning though. But two coffees later and we cycled on, with gloves on. Up to the Wild Horse reservoir.
A huge lake surrounded by bare dusty mountains, it felt more like high altitude western China. Here was where the ducks were. But no wild horses any longer. It reminded me of Karakul Lake (except for the ducks). Perhaps it was just the cool crisp clear mountain air. Here though, rather than the occasional yurt, was the occasional truck or RV. And recreational fishermen rather than women wrapped up warm whilst washing clothes.
We rode the day across this plateau and next morning after one more pass, we free-wheeled, wrapped in layers of warm clothes, down into Elko. A big town in this part of Nevada. With lots of big shops and cars and people and a place to stay inside for the night.