Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hobo of Last Resort

September 24

I believe I can't fly.  I believe I can't touch the sky.  Stands to reason I was left with but one option to reach the Tahoe shore, the usual.  Although less efficient than wings my feet were able to deliver me there promptly, an hour to the highway, then another to King's Beach.
My first act was to raid the Safeway.  My food sack went from beggarly to bulging in minutes.  Having starved myself the last couple of days I was in need of a calorie bomb to renew the engine.  Not quite hardcore enough to follow Master Grylls' advice and down a stick of butter, I instead opted for a entire package of cheese.  O cow, how flavorful art thou udder's innards.
I continued my circle of Lake Tahoe from beach level, passing into and beyond Tahoe Vista, Carnelian Bay, and Dollar Point.  A sign informed me there is so much water here everyone on Earth could use seventy five gallons a day for five years before the well would go dry.  Count on extra, I'm not taking my share of showers.

I also had a humorous run-in with an ignorant local.  Late in the morning I walked past a woman and her two dogs.  They sat next to a shopping cart full of either her possessions or valuables she was selling.  I waved hello and thought no more of her. 
One hundred yards beyond her a silver-haired patrician stopped in his car and asked me, "Are those your bags?"  Since I was only carrying one I wittily asked him to clarify by mumbling, "Huh?"  He queried further, providing the necessary transparency to his thought process, "Isn't that your friend over there?" pointing at the woman with the shopping cart.  I closed our dialogue with another long-winded response, "No." 
The man thought me a drifter.  I wish I was still pushing B.J., that would have blown his small mind like a "Hobo With a Shotgun."
The hike concluded in Tahoe City, where I picked up my next set of maps, after some trouble with the post office.  Apparently they were unable to decipher Colin's award-winning handwriting and recorded my name as McCarty.
Mom had also kindly helped me by purchasing a room for me at the Mother Nature's Inn.  Luckily, the reservation wasn't under Alabaster Candlesticks.  I'd had enough of mistaken identity for one day. 

14 miles/3811 total miles

Californicating

September 23

Lake Tahoe is used to playing second fiddle.  It is the deepest lake in the United States - except for Crater Lake.  It is the largest alping lake in the entire world - except for Lake Titicaca (I'll give you a few moments to repeat the word aloud Beavis).  On the ADT, however, there is no rival in diameter.  This liquid obstacle would not be navigated around quickly.
I continued on the circular corridor of the Tahoe Rim Trail, moving counterclockwise.  The TRT runs one hundred and twenty miles among the heights overlooking the Lake.  Constructed in 1984, this rimjob appeals to both hikers and mountain bikers alike, although the pedalphiles are restricted to certain dates and places. 
I hurried through Tahoe Meadows, past Mount Rose, and up to Relay Peak, the highest point on the TRT.  Lollygagging was out, I wanted to make the California border and also I was low on food.  Rose's Knob and Baldy Mountain fell like dominoes that I had stepped on, bringing Stateline Point into view. 
I was unsure if there would be a sign and in the usual sense of the word there was not.  Someone with a GPS and too much time on their hands a creative solution.  Using pine cones they drew a line and then wrote the word California on the proper side.

Soon thereafter I met my first natives, Harris and Susan.  The couple, who have a second home at Tahoe, were out walking their dog.  They asked a number of questions about the hike, then somehow the dialogue turned to politics, a taboo subject for me.
As a representative of the Wounded Warrior Project, even one they can deny the existence of,  I am required not to push a political agenda.  They are a non-profit, non-political organization and discourage partisan tomfoolery amongst their agents and employees.  I managed to carefully express my opinions, whatever they may be, while delicately avoiding statements such as "Obama is a secret Muslim devil" or "Romney is a Mormon bent on the destruction of the good church of Scientology and all they stand for."
Neither my border crossing or idle chatter had increased the meager rations in my pack.  I called Ted for advice.  He suggested stopping at Highway 267 and hitchhiking to a grocery store at King's Beach.   Armed with this knowledge an idea of my own formed.  I ceased for the day within earshot of the road, ready to put my plan into action come the morn. 

20 miles/3797 total miles

The Iron Lady and the Lake

September 22

I felt like a midget playing basketball, never destined to reach the rim.  Uphill, upgrade, upset, Uppsala, use whatever word you prefer.  Gravity was against me and I battled to gain every inch of Robert Plant's love.
Hobart Reservoir provided a short respite and filled my water tanks as well.  More climbing followed, naturally.  Carson City's elevation is 4500 feet and the Tahoe Rim Trail averages around 9000.  I didn't finish bridging the gap until late morning.  When I did, Tahoe lay before me.  Seeing the enormous lake took my breath away, like in that "Top Gun" song.  The dazzling cerulean blue was impressive even from cruising altitude.

Exhausted already, I was in need of distraction and the Lord did provide via Anna, who came jogging up behind me.  We kibbitzed for the next hour as we made our way.  Anna is a young professional working in the bio-medical field.  Her company has developed a laser which will allow Diabetes patients to check their glucose levels without pricking their fingers.  In her spare time she trains for and competes in those short little Iron Man races. 
We parted at the trail's intersection with Tunnel Creek Road.  There waiting was Trevor Oxborrow.  He was doing a bit of preparation himself, training for an upcoming mountain bike competition.  He had waited patiently at the crossroads to check on my progress and condition.  Did I mention yet how awesome the Oxborrows are?
I worked for a few more hours after our meeting, bumping into a series of bicyclists and a handful of other hikers.  I'm glad to have company on the trail once more.  I don't walk alone because I hate people - there just wasn't anyone interesting in joining me for a short four thousand mile stroll. 

16 miles/3777 total miles  

To Tahoe We Go

September 21

I trudged away from the Subaru, giving one final wave to Dad as he departed.  We shared a wonderful experience together these last weeks, although we could perhaps have chosen a less crappy venue.  Sorry Nevada's waste lands, but I won't miss you like you miss the rain.
Happily my solo act will include the highlight of the state, Lake Tahoe.  First off, I have to close out a few miles in between.  Our farewell had taken place in Gold Hill, from which I took a series of dirt roads used by miners and TV repairmen.  Maybe not your conventional flat screen fixers; the path led me to the towers and transmitters at the highest point between Carson City and Reno.  I welcomed back the pack's crushing weight as I panted up the huge incline.  The reward was an eye-popping vista of the two cities, Washoe Lake, and seemingly everything within thirty miles.
Carson City below, target practice in the foreground

I was met on the way down by Ted, Nevada's ADT coordinator.  He has been one of the more effective state administrators, coming to me well-recommended by previous hikers.  The man rode his bike up a mountain just to check one me.  I'd say he is as good as advertised.
Ted's son Trevor has also worked hard to promte the ADT through his expedition company.  He also competes at the expert level in mountain bike races and recently rode the ADT through Nevada in a record five days!
The senior Oxborrow walked his bicycle next to me for a while as we talked of adventures on the ADT and other topics.  He enlightened me regarding the wild horses Dad and I have been regularly seeing the past few days.  Their numbers are composed of two separate groups, mustangs and strays.  The mustangs have a distinct Andalucian bloodline, descendents of horses on a Spanish galleon which ran aground, losing the animals.  The strays are simply escapees from ranches or were abandoned by owners who could no longer care for them.  Both herds have become overpopulated and a debate rages over what should be done.  Methods of disposal and which horses should be destroyed are in dispute.  The problem festers, unresolved.
Ted departed for a meeting in Sacramento and I entered Carson City.  The once tiny capital of Nevada has grown to a population over 50,000.  Kit Carson was the rugged mountain man who kept John Fremont from getting lost during their expeditions in the west.  For that (and for other awesome stuff I'll write about when I have a chance to do a modicum of research) he was honored with one of the fifty capitals you were forced to learn in school.  If you said Las Vegas you earned that "F" in geography.
I ramble with my mouth as well as my feet, which took me out of town at the campus of Western Nevada.  I ambled into Ash Canyon, using the last bit of willpower to secure a secluded spot beyond the treeline.  In this case I mean the line past which trees actually start to exist.  I stand now at the gates of the Sierra Nevada, Lake Tahoe somewhere above.

16 miles/3761 total miles

V is for Vociferous

September 20

A giant "V" was perched on the mountain above like a beacon.  What did this letter signify?

I finished with U.S. 50 today.  After over three hundred and sixty miles on the loneliest road in America I turned back onto the ADT at Six Mile Canyon.  I spent over three weeks following the route, getting to know 50 better than any trail, path, or highway on the entire trip.  V is for vanquished?
On Six Mile Canyon I had one of the most unique wildlife experiences of my life.  As I walked I noticed a snake in the shadows close to the road.  I carefully approached, unsure if I faced a rattler.  My eyes scanned for the tail, but before I could resolve that question another detail eased my mind while simultaneously blowing it.  I was in no danger of being bitten.  The serpent's gullet was already occupied - by a live mouse.  V is for venomous viability?

I reached town early in the afternoon, meeting Dad at the Red Dog Saloon, where he was already slumped over a second pint.  The bar is famous for having hosted the first performance by Janis Joplin.  Her band Big Brother and the Holding Company still plays there on occasion.  V is for vocalist?

After a fine lunch Dad and I explored the streets of the ghost that had forgotten to die.  The discovery of the Comstock Lode in 1859, one of the richest strikes in American history, created Virginia City almost over night.  The heavy supply of ore lasted thirty years, allowing a rare permanence to set in, communities replacing the earlier camps.  A fire destroyed most of the buildings in 1875, which is the date you will see on most of the period structures, a large proportion of which remain intact.  V is for Victorian?

Nevada's legalization of gambling in 1931 helped to revive what by then was a fading town.  The TV show "Bonanza" took place near Virginia City and the long run of the program (fourteen years) brought renewed tourist interest.  The "real wild west" flavor of the main street has continued to draw crowds, as we witnessed.  A biker weekend called "Street Vibrations" was getting into full swing, black jackets, tattoos, and sunglasses de rigeur.  V is for vibrating visitors?
Sadly this was my last day with Dad.  He heads back towards home in the morning.  I spent the afternoon hastily preparing for the return to life on my own, buying maps and water purification tablets, deciding what to retain and what to discard, and meeting with ADT coordinator Ted Oxborrow and his son Trevor to discuss the route.  Yes, the days of companionship, four walls, and juicy hamburgers are at an edn once more.  V is for vagabond?

15 miles/3745 total miles   

Nevadan Sprawl

September 19

A thin orange glow above the Lahontan Dam greeted me as I returned to the trail.  A fox glanced in my direction before vanishing on more urgent business.  Dad drove off with the trunk open and flapping in the wind.  I chuckled, knowing today would be a better day.

The success of the Carson and Truckee Irrigation Project meant I would not see the normal sagebrush stage show.  Sure they were there, and the land was still quite barren, but instead of a valley with one ranch I was confronted by a string of communities.  From the time I crossed over the city limits of Silver Springs there was always a neighborhood or business in sight.
Silver Springs, Stagecoach, Dayton, and Carson City all lie in the next forty eight miles of U.S. 50.  Contrast that with where I have been: Ely, Eureka, Austin, and Fallon were the previous four settlements of more than two hundred souls - and they are spread out across three hundred miles!  There is no more room to swing those elbows around, unless you want to hurt your funny bone. 
Before the waters came this land was equally empty.  A blip on the map known as Desert Wells was the lone stop for dusty travelers.  How difficult was the terrain in those years?  One well was set aside for camels, the only beast of burden sturdy enough to regularly survive the perils of Nevada. 
I finished this afternoon at Stagecoach.  I've now walked more miles than all of last year, with an entire state left to go.  I laugh when I see the total number, the figure has risen to become completely absurd, meaningless, an abstraction. 

20 miles/3730 total miles

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Watering the Desert

September 18

Fallon is not a very old town, even for Nevada, coming into existence around the turn of the 20th century.  The wooden monumental courthouse, constructed in 1903, is perhaps the only situation of historical interest.  There are no major attractions, just a few rundown casinos, lying mostly empty with a handful of weary and bleary old gamblers going through the motions. 
As a result, "Top Gun" receives top billing.  Half the businesses in town were riding along on the coattails.  The Top Gun Dragway, Top Gun Wings, and the Top Gun Carwash.  The last was my favorite.  Do they use a jet turbine in the drying process?  Your car has never been cleaner.  Alas, the engine has been melted.
Miners and speculators traveled these deserts fifty years before Fallon appeared, making their way to the California gold fields and later Virginia City.  An oasis known as Ragtown popped up to meet their needs.  About six miles west of Fallon's current location, Ragtown's main purpose was quenching thirsts.  Arrivals would have just crossed the Forty Mile Desert and they and their animals were generally a mite parched at this point.

Mark Twain rode through while riding cross country.  He had little to say about the place, noting in his book "Roughing It," "On the western verge of the Desert we halted a moment at Ragtown. It consisted of one log house and is not set down on the map."
I was riding on fumes myself, the long miles in recent days finally taking a toll.  My left foot throbbed all day and by early afternoon I thought about little except how great a nap would be.  I want to burn through U.S. 50, but there is no purpose in it if I can't physically handle California afterward.
Therefore I decided to end a bit earlier than usual, halting at the Lahontan Reservoir.  The lake is part of the Carson and Truckee Irrigation Project, without which Western Nevada would be nearly uninhabitable and certainly not so well-populated.  The U.S. government's Bureau of Land Reclamation began the project in 1903, building three dams and a canal on the Carson and Truckee Rivers.
Lahontan lay half-empty, another victim of the poor snows this winter.  If these precipitation trends continue I wonder what the future holds for Fallon, Reno, Carson City and other cities dependent on the reservoirs for survival.

17 miles/3710 total miles

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Why I Love Volleyball

September 17

Its always darkest before the dawn.  You're always drunkest before you pass out.  The desert is always sandiest before a town.  Wise sayings, even the ones I made up. 
I spoke the other day of death in the desert, but more emblematic is the lack of life altogether.  The first six miles were the bleakest I have ever seen, even the ubiquitous sagebrush having fled.  This was blighted and bereft land.
The life quashing came courtesy of salt, which infiltrated the soil.  No organisms of any size could be supported.  The coyote tracks quietly communicated with me, "I'm just passing through, nothing to see, nothing to eat."  The finality of Carthage's punishment lay before me and underneath, crackling beneath my feet.
Slowly the salinity diminished, the ground turning to soft sand.  I was reminded of the edge of high tide on a Carolina beach, the spot where lapping waves kiss before retreat, leaving a spongy, but not muddy surface. 
Eventually the sagebrush returned, lizards, squirrels, and jackrabbits as well.  There was life in the blue sky above as well.  More jets, considerately not bombing me on this occasion. They zipped across the air, rolling, diving, a ballet performed on  high.  These are the best pilots in the Navy.  Fallon, I may have failed to mention, is the home of the Top Gun School, which moved here from Miramar in 1996.

We all know the movie, Maverick buzzing the tower, Goose kicking the bucket, Iceman acting all douchy, and the whole gang playing some seriously homoerotic volleyball.  They may allegedly be fictional characters, but the contrails filling the sky like the hyperactive drawings of a spastic with an Etch-a-Sketch are real. 
Lower flyers brought more omens of California.  I saw egrets and sea gulls for the first time in ages.  The Pacific becomes more of a reality each day.  My afternoon arrival in Fallon meant I was twenty two miles closer. 

22 miles/3693 total miles

Things to Do in Fallon When You Don't Want to Do Anything

September 16

I spent Sunday in religious observation, even though the Bears had already lost on Thursday. They were beaten by the Green Bay Packers, whose defense clearly cheated, repeatedly sacking quarterback Jay Cutler without express written permission from the NFL.
Meanwhile in the land of fairies and elves my make believe fantasy teams went 3-1. My women's field hockey fantasy team had a bye this week.
We decided to skip going to a horrible restaurant for dinner tonight, so no review there, sorry for those of you who were looking for more anger in today's episode. Stay tuned until tomorrow when I actually do something.

0 miles/56,738,259 total nautical inches

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fallon Out of the Sky

September 15

Ambivalence is a sign reading fault line: six miles. Clearly this means the quake-ridden California coast is near. On the other hand, the odds of being gulped by the Earth in one seismic swallow have risen. A few explosions brought clarity, but that was later.
I dawdled along another valley floor, enjoying the art of the young and bored. Not all of the juveniles in Nevada use their free time fully involved in the practice of shooting red octagons. Some take rocks and arrange them to form their names, or symbols. I observed a peace sign, heart, and two interlocking female symbols. Is there a hot lesbian love affair burgeoning nearby?
As I mused, creating a back story for the carpet-munching romance, the first bomb fell. The ordnance detonated miles to the south, the news and noise taking a minute to arrive and wake me from my reverie. From the moment the first boom sounded they had my full attention.

The navy has a large air station in Fallon and they were using the barren landscape nearby for target practice. Over a dozen bombs fell before I left the valley, a bright orange burst followed by a small mushroom cloud, then the brief audio delay before the "bang!" I couldn't help but wonder if it were a bad idea to blow the shit out of an area adjacent to a fault line. On a positive note, at least they don't test nuclear weapons here anymore.
Apparently I sent a subconscious request for expert advice, because as I completed these thoughts a man pulled up in his truck to check on me. Obviously he turned out to be a geologist, so I asked him my question. He said there was little chance of an earthquake being caused, but I should be worried about one of the planes accidentally dropping their payload on me. Thanks, I guess.
The geologist was out searching for gold. He told me that despite all the ghost towns, Nevada is still a great place for those looking for shiny riches. Only two other regions on the planet produce more gold. Do you think they still get a bronze medal for that?
I escaped the firing line by mid afternoon and encountered a sight yet unseen in the high desert. Large dunes are not a regular feature in Nevada. The landscape is much different from that of the Sahara or Arabia.
Sand Mountain is the exception. Coming around a turn I saw what looked like a six hundred foot pile of dust swept into the corner of Lahontan Valley by a giant robot maid. ATVs, hikers, and sandboarders scurried up and down the dune like ants. I gaped in amazement at the natural wonder, the third largest of its kind in the United States.

I stopped shortly after. All you can eat sushi in Fallon, followed by sleep and a day of rest on the morrow. After six straight long days I'm not ambivalent about that.

21 miles/3671 total miles

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Taste of Defeat

September 14

We inhabit an age when technology is constantly evolving. Cel phones, computers, televisions, and other devices are seemingly obsolete within months of purchase. How can we manage to keep up? The settlers of 1860s Nevada must have felt equally overwhelmed. The Pony Express, the Stagecoach, and the Overland Telegraph all came and went during the decade, victims of competition with each other and the new kid on the block.
All of these paralleled the modern route of U.S. 50 where I now walk. A choice clearly favored by the surveyors, but not it turns out, by history. With the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad and an associated telegraph line in 1869 the Overland and the Stagecoach were driven out of business, no longer efficient enough to compete in the new market place. The Pony Express had already perished.
U.S. 50, also known as the Lincoln Highway, had also originally been the fastest passage through Nevada. The construction of I-80 did not eliminate 50, but did herald the era of "the loneliest road" as drivers abandoned the slower and the older, much as we do with computers and cel phones today.
Some of the 19th century towns, though wounded, had survived as well. Cold Springs was one example and Middlegate is another.
Middlegate was run-down, a former stagecoach stop turned oasis for the tired traveler of 50. The town is possessed of a quiet dignity and charm despite and maybe because of the decaying Model T's and old carriages littering the grounds. The relics established staying power, the age of these vehicles had come and gone, but Middlegate remained.

I stopped to fill my water bottles and moved on - I would be back, but on a day filled with links of the past to the present, I had a rendezvous with my own recent history.
Ron and Kathy Fowler (see "Meet the Fowlers") had hosted me way back in May, at their home in Johnson Lake, Nebraska. They were returning from a family trip to Lake Tahoe and wanted to see how some of their past charges were getting along. Lunch with Boston and Cubby was followed by a meeting with this guy right here.
The Fowler found me five miles beyond Middlegate, which they returned me to post haste. We met Dad and enjoyed a beer and conversation before they zoomed on to Ely, where they planned to stay the night. For those of you who have spent the last months on the edge of your seats, Ron's sixty nine year old brother Rich was indeed able to complete his 200 mile, one day bike ride. I hope to meet Rich in Sacramento and hear his story in person in the coming weeks.
After the Fowlers departed Dad and I crossed the motel lot to the Middlegate bar for supper. A few moments of perusing the menu led me to choose an American past time, excessive gluttony. The Monster burger weighs in at one pound of beef and there was a T-shirt and glory to be gained if my stomach were up to the task.
I had once slain a burger of the same size and an order of chili cheese fries at Fuddrucker's during my Fat Ass Pig years (1995-2010) so I had belief on my side. My cockiness lasted about ten minutes, until the Monster was first sighted. I was psychologically beaten at that moment. The buns looked more like hubcaps and the toppings of lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle were piled high enough to form a junkyard of other miscellaneous car parts. Idaho had donated half the state's potato supply to furnish the fries. Two olives and onion rings stood atop the Monster, forming its eyes, which stared me into submission.

I later learned the Monster is finished by only one of ten who challenge the beast. I was at least able to enjoy the taste of defeat. The Middlegate bar is listed by "Nevada Magazine" as having the best burger in the entire state.

19 miles/3650 total miles

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Land of Death

September 13

Much of what I see in the desert is death. Little can live on the few drops of water in the rare stream and hidden streams. Those animals that do face other perils. The coyotes often wail in the distance, the bane of the pronghorn and the jackrabbit. Predators are not immune from danger either. One of their number lay astride the highway, done in by a killing machine of man's design. A thin strip of metal on the device read Acme XYY. Wile e would appreciate the irony for certain.
Man's doom lies along the highway too. Rarely have I navigated a valley without coming upon a memorial for one deceased driver and usually there are more. The attention wanders, consciousness fades from ennui, never returning. The urge to speed is overwhelming, nothing to gawk at, few other autos to block progress. Why not a snort of whiskey to relax and take the mind off the long journey? These thoughts for many are their last.
I have been grateful to have Dad looking out for me in this hard land and now another has my back as well. Today I had the honor of meeting Officer Brown, a Nevada State Trooper and Army veteran. He assured me law enforcement would keep me safe and passed along a token to thank me for my efforts, a Nevada Highway Patrol Commemorative Coin, colored blue, red, and gold. I have received few souvenirs on this long trip I will value more highly.

An otherwise quiet walk led me to a small outpost of humanity in the bleakness of Central Nevada. Cold Springs, not to be confused with the suburb of Reno, has a total residency in the single digits. A cafe, small hotel, and RV Park make up the sum of the settlement. I was thankful for a hot meal, a soft bed, but most of all that I had survived another day in the land of death.

21 miles/3631 total miles

What Would the Italians Do?


September 12

44, 43, 42, 41, 40, 39, 38. The temperature gauge on the Subaru plummeted as we neared the drop off point west of Austin. Thirty one degrees was the final answer, a cold I was not prepared for, since my winter gear is not set to arrive until Friday. As luck would have it, Dad had a extra jacket that fit me perfectly. Quite a miracle when you consider I am six inches taller and outweigh him by forty pounds.
My old nemesis the sun helped as well, my sudden ally banishing the chill within an hour of first appearance. I shed the jacket by the Reese River, a mere trickle undeserving of the title. In the 1880s Reese River was a joke played on fools back east looking to earn a quick payday. A phony "Navigation Company" was formed and stock sold. If the bamboozled buyers had done their due diligence, they might have discovered the waterway is only inches deep and a few feet wide.
Late in the day I stumbled onto the crumbling masonry of a more concrete business venture, the stagecoach. John Butterfield, "the Stagecoach King" operated a horse and carriage service, delivering mail and passengers from Salt Lake City to Genoa, Nevada beginning in the early 1860s. They were wildly successful caompared to the better known Pony Express. The Express folded in less than two years, the stage line lasted until 1869. Butterfield had wisely sold out to Wells Fargo in 1866.
The mercury by now had long abandoned the depths of the thermometer in favor of loftier heights. I had begged for the sun to appear earlier, now I rued our alliance. I pondered 20th century history for a solution. What would the Italians* of World War I and II do. I couldn't change sides, the sun has no natural enemy. So I ran away and ate dinner.

*If we here at Thoughts Askew have failed to offend your ethnic group, race, gender, political party, or religion please drop us a note, we would hate for anyone to be left out - Editor.

21 miles/3610 total miles

Friday, September 14, 2012

Austin City Limits

September 11
The Great Smoky Valley mercifully came to an end, the concerted effort of both feet bringing me to the perimeter. Things were looking up from there, literally and figuratively. There is usually only one mountain to climb between valleys, but in this case there were two, Bob Scott and Austin. I'm not one to beg for multiple steep ascents, but I was willing to make an exception in Nevada.
The higher elevations have trees, rock formations, and an overall greater variety of flora. In other words, something to actual look at.
An odd tree caught my eye, the branches growing vertically instead of horizontally, hugging to the trunk like lovers. An old automobile sat in a chasm tires and engine long scavenged from the rusted hulk. Sandstone was carved like sculpture, tiny cracks not quite revealing the secrets held within. Predictability had taken a siesta.
While I was thusly occupied Dad journeyed toward some points of interest in nearby. Dr. Peter McCandless, as he is more formally called, was a history professor at the College of Charleston for thirty five years. He has published numerous scholarly articles and two books, "Moonlight, Magnolias, and Madness" and "Slaves Disease, and Suffering in the Lowcountry." He is currently working on his first work of historical fiction, "The Loyalist." Here is the tale of his adventures today, in his own words:

Wanderlust getting the upper hand, I decided to leave Alastair to the mercies of US 50 and take a little side trip to visit a couple of intriguing sites near Austin, Spencer’s Hot Springs and
Toquima Cave. This required driving across Big Smoky Valley on a dirt forest service. How
far? I didn’t know. The directions, which I’d conveniently left back at the
Cozy Mountain Motel (no relation to Bates’ Motel – we survived it for five
nights) didn’t give mileage. That seems to be a habit round these parts. It was
only a few miles to the springs, I was sure. The cave, I recalled, was somewhere just past Pete’s Summit, which was at the top of Pete’s Canyon (couldn’t resist going there, obviously).
But how far was the summit? There was a historical marker at the entrance to
the road. It said nothing about the hot springs, but described Toquima Cave, where Native
Americans of unknown derivation had put a number of petroglyphs of equally
unknown meaning. Archaeologists blame shamans wanting to insure a good hunting
season. Nowadays, we’ve found that automatic weapons work better.
But let me cut to the chase. Istarted driving down the aforesaid road, which was smooth enough in some spots but a washboard in others, with occasional large potholes to keep one’s
interest. I could hit 35 occasionally but often had to slow to 10-15 (that’s
mph, not km/h for my international audience).
The first thing of interest I saw -- sagebrush and piles of manure in the road having gotten a bit boring -- was three wild burros. They stared at me near the road until I got my camera out,
then ran for their lives -- not a bad move when you consider human proclivities
and firepower. But I got a decent picture of three asses and moved on. Just
after that incident, I came to another dirt road leading off to the left. Did it go to the hot springs?
No sign, naturally. The road went up into the hills a bit, and I could see what appeared to be rings on the hillside. Could it be the work of aliens? Of course, I don’t believe in that nonsense but it did look spooky and strange things have happened out here, like nuclear tests. I thought I might check it out later if my courage reappeared, and moved on up Pete’s Canyon.
Soon I saw my first sign: Entering Toiyabe National Forest. Very helpful. Well, at least I
might see some trees, I thought. A few miles, further on, I did. Then I saw another sign. My heart leapt. It told me that wildfires kill trees!
Funny, I’d never thought of that. Pondering this weighty knowledge, I plowed on. I climbed slowly but relentlessly, mile after mile, through an actual forest, the temperature dropping as I went. "When will I reach the summit?" I thought. Should I turn back before I break an axle or blow a tire on the rocks that were now jutting ever more menacingly through the road surface? No, that would be intelligent. It’d be so much more exciting to break down and spend days out here waiting for rescue. I should mention here that I hadn’t seen any living person since I’d left US 50. In the interests of truth, let me say that I hadn’t seen any dead person either.
Finally, I could tell I was near the summit. I just know these things. When I reached it, I found a National Forest campground, Toquima Campground. Great I thought, the cave must be near.
I turned in. Some camper can tell where the cave is, I thought. Well, I’m sure
they could have, if there were any campers. It looked like a nuclear bomb had
hit it. Perhaps it had, back in the ‘50s. I looked about for some information
about the cave on a board but the posters all told me how not to start forest
fires. Actually, how to start them, but they told me not to do it. Thanks, NFS.
I decide to return to the road and go down the other side of the summit a bit.
I came to a road leading of to the left to a cliff. That must be it, I decided.
I started to drive up the road but gave up quickly as the rocks grew bigger
than my #$^ and the grade reached about 15%. I have a four wheel drive, I
thought, but this terrain is appropriate for the "Like a Rock Pickup", you know the one in the commercials. I stopped the car, got out and began to climb on foot, then on hands and feet,
and then I began to cry. At last I saw the cave, but disappointment slapped me
in the face again when I saw the chain link fence that covered its entrance. As
I got up to it, I saw the lock on the gate and the BLM sign asking me not to
deface the cave. How could I deface a cave I couldn’t enter? I thought. Of
course, I’m sure people have defaced it, including the Native Americans with
their petroglyphs. Now the question was, which marks on the walls were modern
and which were ancient graffiti? I took several photos through the fence,
hoping that I could figure that out someday.
After contemplating the cave for about five minutes I decided I’d better get back to the car. I started down, and found a path to the right I hadn’t seen on the way up. That must go to the
campground, I said to myself, very proud, for a second. Then I felt very
stupid. If I’d searched the campground a little more carefully, I’d surely have
found this path, which was level and a lot easier than the way I’d come. I was tempted to follow it, but I decided that might take me far from the car, so I went back down the way I came. The
way I thought I’d come as it turned out. All these pinion junipers and pinion
pines and rocks look alike and I was a bit too far west of the car. Having a
brilliant sense of direction, however, I soon figured that out and made my way
to the car.
I drove back towards the springs or where I thought the springs might be, seeing only one human being along the way. He was on the other side of a parked pickup, with his pants down, doing
what people do with their pants down. Deciding this was an inconvenient moment
to stop and say “Howdy!” I drove on. About ten bumpy miles later, I found a
road going off to the right, which looked like it was headed towards those
funny circles I mentioned earlier. I took it. It was less bumpy. These aliens
know how to make roads, I thought. A couple more miles, more or less, took me
to what turned out to be the springs. The circles I’d seen were roads circling
around the springs. There were no signs, of course, but I found an old fellow
with a long beard and makeshift motor home of wood, to which he had attached a
small pickup truck at the back.
I asked if the springs were here and he said, “Sure are, you’re practically in them.” I looked over beyond him and saw a pool.
“Did you take a dip?”
“Yep, just finished.”
“Was it good?”
“Mighty fine. This is a Class 2 springs.”
He went on to tell me about Class 1 and 3, but I won’t bore you with
that. Apparently, he was a hot springs connoisseur. He was off to southern California
now, he said, to the Salton Sea. I headed off to the pool. A BLM sign said they did not maintain the pool and if I scalded myself that was my bad luck. The rocks looked slimy and were, but the water really felt great, about 100 degrees (F, not C I hasten to add, or I’d have been
on somebody’s dinner table. I “took the waters” for about 15 minutes then decided it was time to go meet Alastair for lunch. I got out, dried off, and changed into dry shorts. No facilities, but no one’s around, I thought. I quickly changed, got in the car and drove off. As I turned around
the corner, I saw a couple of campers. Oops, I wasn’t alone after all. As I drove back down the road to US 50, I saw three pronghorn antelope, a pretty sight. Unfortunately, they ran off before I could get a good shot. About fifteen minutes later I found Alastair and told all these lies, but in briefer fashion.
*Now back to your normal point of view*. The old folks do tend prattle on don't they? After meeting Dad at Austin summit I headed down into town on a brilliant short cut Karen and Jerry had suggested. I was able to save at least a mile and avoid a section of narrow road with several dangerous ess curves and switchbacks.
At the bottom I found Dad again and we went to the Toiyabe Cafe for milkshakes. I stopped at the motel to let everyone on Facebook know I had reached Austin, as if anyone cared, then headed out of town and back into the nothing. I finished a few hours later at the historical marker for Jacobsville, deceased mining town number 1,548 on the Nevada Tourism Bureau Listings. I'd write a suitable conclusion now, but if you managed to read this far down I think you deserve a medal and I shan't keep you from it any longer.
22 miles/3589 total miles

New Donations Page

If you have had trouble accessing my Wounded Warrior Project site, that's because they have been swiching too a new site. Rally the Troops is now online and active, so just click the donate button above like before if you would like to chip in to help out disabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Over the course of the walk so far we have raised $9600 total. Help us get over the ten thousand mark and beyond.

Thanks, Alastair and Ken

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Native American Graffiti


September 10

You can mark off Eureka County. As of nine thirty A.M. Pacific time I made the triumphal march across the invisible line into Lander. Captain Frederick Lander headed one of the two survey teams sent to Nevada after the Beat Up the Mexicans and Steal Their Land War of 1848. He was responsible for investigating just what exactly the United States had acquired. The captain must have done okay since he had one of the nine original counties named in his honor. The leader of the other party, Simpson, only merited a mountain, which are a dime a dozen in Nevada.
Once over the line, the ground shifted in an annoying upward manner and I was forced to earn Hickson Summit by dint of hard work, elbow grease, and other important American values. On high my path collided with that of yet another cross country traveler. Troy is an erosion specialist and semi pro bicyclist who quit his job to see the country on two spoked wheels. He started in San Francisco and is aimed towards Maine. As of last count there are eight people in Nevada going coast to coast without the aid of a motor. Troy, Matt, Sally, Boston, Cubby, Karen, Jerry, and myself.
I took a short break from the trail to take a side trip with Dad to the nearby Hickison Petroglyphs. I had great expectations after having seen the well-maintained Native American art at Capitol Reef. The Hickison pictures were indecipherable, the surface upon which they were etched had crumbled and eroded. Tourists had worsened the situation by covering the petroglyphs with their own graffiti.
To understand what we were seeing we were forced to take the word of archaeologists, who make up more B.S. than any other field outside of theoretical physics. They suggested that most of the art was drawn yearly by tribal shamans in an effort to insure a successful hunting season. All non-hunting images were supposed to symbolize either boobs or vaginas, a prehistoric version of Playboy I suppose. It all looked like gobbledygook to me.
In closing, a few words about the topography. Don't worry, it hasn't changed much, except the bowls are growing in size. Monitor Valley, where I started the day, Big Smoky Valley, where I finished, and Reese River Valley, the next in line, are the three largest in Nevada. Big Smoky Valley is encircled by a hydrocarbon haze, and the many dust devils churning about the floor, which appear to be fires burning in the distance, add to the impression. I'll assume the adjective "big" is self-explanatory.

23 miles/3567 total miles

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

International House of Crap

September 9

Looks nice on the outside, but its a trick - get an axe!

I took a religioius holiday today, spending most of Sunday worshiping at the alfar of NFL football. You'll no doubt be thrown into a deep depression to learn my fantasy teams only went 2-2. At least the greatest franchise in the universe, which you may better know as the Chicago Bears, stomped the hapless Indianapolis Colts into the turf, handing them a devastating 41-21 defeat from which the franchise is unlikely to ever recover.
I also watched the U.S. Open Women's final with Dad. Serena Williams toyed around with some Belorussian lady for a couple of hours before eliminating her desire to live in the third set.
All those sports made us ravenous, so we waddled over to the International for dinner. I recommend you head to the convenience store for one of those week old hot dogs instead (better the Toiyabe Cafe, they are very good). I will take the blame for the choice of venue; the history of the place was intriguing. The nineteenth century building had been taken apart from its old home in Virginia City and imported to Austin. Unfortunately the waitstaff had been imported from Planet Disinterested and Rude.
We were sullenly greeted with "what do you want to drink?" after being ignored for a few minutes in the empty restaurant by two waitresses (we were late learning something the rest of the town already knew). The younger woman sported pants which said, "I don't do nice." They should have said, "I don't do much of anything." You would have thought we had shown up at someone's house, sat down, and asked them to cook us a meal from the way we were treated.
The food was okay at best, the low point being a visibly black chunk of rot in my baked potato. Caring about quality was a little too much to ask as well at the International. I have been to many a dusty dive on this trip and even been served pizza from a cardboard box, but this was easily the worst dining experience I've had in nine months of traveling.
I'm no fan of Gordon Ramsay, but the International deserves a visit from him. The foul-mouthed chef might make Two Live Crew blush, but he may not have quite enough four letter words to appropriately describe this hellhole.

"I award you no points and may God have mercy on your soul." - Billy Madison

0 miles/3544 total miles

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bike-o-Paths II: Recycled

September 8

I resumed plodding in yet another endless valley while the Kiwis of New Zealand lay down to slumber, dreams of orcs and hobbits dancing in their heads. More grinding was on the menu. The best I could do was to make the mid-point between Eureka and Austin. Not a target likely to generate enough excitement to keep me awake.
My slumber did not last long. Only an hour in I was flagged down by a British motorist. He jumped out of his blue 50s Ford and warned of cattle loose on the highway ahead. You would have thought the apocalypse was nigh from his wild gesticulation.
As soon as I returned to my zombie-like shuffle, two bicyclists snapped me from out of the stupor. Matt and Sally are a Brit and Aussie couple nearly finished riding across the United States. They started in Yorktown, Virginia and plan to complete the crossing in San Francisco. A bonus ride to Los Angeles will follow and from there they will fly to Sydney to begin life anew down under.
Sally and Matt

Matt and Sally had seen the article on my walk in Ely and wanted to meet me. I was equally happy to hear their stories - I I have run into a couple of long distance cyclists, but they are the first headed coast to coast. They planned to stay in Austin tonight, as did we, so we made plans to meet up in the evening there.
My fifteen minutes of fame in Nevada were not yet up. Less than an hour later a SUV pulled over a couple of hundred yards up the road. Six people popped out and came over to introduce themselves. Megan Schlegel, Rick Davis, Mary Becherer, Bridget Webster, Marcel Vasquez, and Dara Lillis had just completed a week long bike ride across the ADT in Nevada. On their way back to Reno they had seen the Ely article and decided to look out for me. The group made sure there was nothing I needed (I gratefully took a banana) and Megan made a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project.
I had one last run-in toward the end of the walk. Two Shoshone Indians from the Duckwater Reservation shopped to say hello and deliver a couple of bottles of cold water, donated by Jim at the turquoise jewelry store in Austin. What a nice welcome into town! Especially since technically I finished the day's work forty miles shy of the place.
Even though we were still far off and Eureka closer, we moved our base to Austin tonight. The townsfolk are celebrating the Austin's 150th anniversary and holding a series of events to mark the occasion. We were set to attend a Wine Walk, followed by dinner at Stokes Castle.
The Wine Walk consisted of a traipse down Main Street, where we dropped in at various businesses. Each establishment served us a glass of vino and some threw in a snack as well. We were able to meet a good chunk of Austin's population along the way, including Dee, Bob, the aforementioned Jim, and an older woman who called herself Alice in Wonderland. Alice was kind enough to inform us of her plan to hang all politicians, then proceeded to rant incoherently about a number of other subjects. She certainly had original ideas at least, which is more than I can say for the automotons glued to Fox and MSNBC.
Properly lubricated, we arrived at the Chevron Station for the hay ride to the Castle. We were joined by Matt and Sally, who had reached town a little later.
Stokes Castle is a Norman-style keep built by Anson Stokes, a New York money man who had a large interest in the local mines. He wanted to live stylishly while also keeping a close eye on his investment.
The massive block of stone has long laid empty, but the property still enjoys a fantastic view of the Reese River Valley to the west. Dad and I dined along side Matt and Sally, savoring our pork tenderloin, potato salad, and wine almost as much as the gorgeous purple, red, and pink of the spectacular sunset. I have to say, Anson chose wisely.

19 miles/3544 total miles


Monday, September 10, 2012

I Have Found It!

September 7

I started off on the uphill this morning, scraping up to the top of Pinto Summit. There was insufficient shoulder and I was forced to duck behind the safety barriers whenever another semi came growling down towards me. When I reached the top I was pleased to learn this Pinto does not explode when you ran into the back of it.
On the other side the endless repetition was due to be interrupted by the town of Eureka. Part of me doubted any civilization could exist in such a landscape, but the map insisted upon its presence.
Sure enough, I rounded a bend and the oasis was real. The town was christened when a prospector, upon discovering gold here shouted, "Eureka!" The man must have been a classical Greek scholar, for the term Eureka*, which generally connotes a great breakthrough or epiphany, literally means "I have found it" in the language.
Jackson Hotel and the Opera House

I could understand the feeling, and considered yelling myself, except I am saving my last shred of dignity for Point Reyes. Eureka, like most Central Nevadan towns enjoyed its heyday in the late 1800s. Many of those older buildings have been preserved, including the opera house, Jackson House, and outhouse.
A shitstorm of controversy has swirled around the outhouse over the years. The palatial five seat crapper has been moved on several occasions and has even been the subject of a lawsuit.
 Sadly, the Eureka of today has little else to offer. Many of the businesses have shut down. Broken glass and boarded windows are the norm. The oldest cabin in town, erected in 1864, is hidden behind a barbed wire fence, eliminating any quaintness the site might offer.
All the same, I was bummed to reach the city limits, bound for more of the nothing. I was stunned to crest the next hill and find a busy beehive of activity in the valley below. Two unnamed settlements, the county fairgrounds, and several large ranches were spread out before me.
I know I have complained often of man's degradation of nature, so perhaps my joy at these sights seems a tad bit inconsistent. Let me try to explain my point of view. What I despise is sameness, whether it be an endless mass of sagebrush or the urban tedium of strip malls filled with McDonald's, Starbucks, and other corporate clones. There is something fascist about such uniformity, even if I hesitate to compare Mother Nature's design of Nevada to Hitler's extermination of the Jews. I'll leave such insane hyperbole to our politicians.
I marched down and pasted this crowded valley and out into the next, which brough a return to the habitual. There was a little more goldenrod than usual at least. Small victories...
 Dad picked me up about five and we headed back to Eureka for some high culture. The opera house was hosting a performance by Western singer Belinda Gail. She performed standards by Ferlin Husky, Andy Wilkinson, and Jack Hannah to a packed house. Her voice, like that of an angel covered in sugar and raped by Care Bears, captivated the youthful audience, several of whom could breathe without the aid of an oxygen tank. I particularly enjoyed her looks, as she in no way reminded me of sagebrush.

22 miles/3525 total miles

*The term's inclusion in the common lexicon is often credited to Archimedes, although since he had been dead two hundred years when the story of his Eureka shout was first told, the tale is most likely apocryphal.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Walrus Porn?

September 6

Two more valleys, another summit, and twenty three more miles of U.S 50 felt my footsteps this day. There was one marker of progress to break the monotony. The WP signs finally came to an end.
If you haven't figured out the letters' meaning already you'll be glad to know they don't stand for White Power (unless you're a racist bastard of course). Close, but the correct answer is White Pine, the county I have been in since entering Nevada.
Stock photo*

Weighing in at 8,897 square miles, this massive brute of a county is the largest I have crossed to date. White Pine is greater in size than the states of New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island! Statehood may be a while in coming, however, since only 10,000 souls roam the huge territory, over half in Ely.
Little more of import occurred today, so let's use this opportunity to discuss two factors which have improved my quality of life lately. First, the weather has been much more pleasant than I had expected. Highs have been in the eighties and there is often a cool breeze. I'd read too many Las Vegas weather reports. Conditions are different here; I am farther north and at a higher altitude than Sin City.
Another wonderful recent bonus has been the arrival of Dad. He patiently waits for me a few miles down the road with water, food, and other supplies at the ready. On some occasions he meets me halfway and we walk to the support car together. A soft bed, regular hot food, conversation, and a connection with the outer world via his laptop are all now at my fingertips. The loneliest road is not exactly a place I will yearn to return to, but Dad has made the trip through a much more memorable and enjoyable experience.

* It wasn't snowing and there weren't copyright letters on the road when I passed it.

23 miles/3503 total miles

Where is Nowhere?

September 5


I've known for sometime the middle of nowhere had to be close. The lack of towns, water, and life of any kind were powerful clues. The monotonous repetition of valley, mountain pass, valley, mountain pass, valley.....has dulled and emptied my mind to the point where I have entered a Zen-like state. There is an awful lot of one thing here: nothing (and sagebrush).
The question still remains, however: where exactly is the middle of nowhere? A metaphysical inquiry, no doubt, but worth a discussion, especially since all I would talk about otherwise is nothing.
My original for the center of nothing was Austin. One hundred and ten miles from Fallon to the west and seventy miles from Eureka to the east. A good candidate, but a town, even one as tiny as Austin (population of under three hundred), is something and you need a larger amount of nothing to be nowhere.
The middle should be further east as well. My original calculations did not take into account the nowhere chops of Utah 21, which was even more desolate than U.S. 50. The simplest solution would be to find the precise coordinates of the spot between Milford, Utah, the place where somewhere ended and Fallon, Nevada, where it shall theoretically begin once more. If you do the math you will no doubt conclude where I walked today, from mile WP 46 to WP 23, is the official middle of nowhere.
Over one hundred years ago this area was somewhere. Almost over night nothing became something, the result of what has been described as a "silver stampede." In 1866 ten thousand people flooded Treasure Hill in White Pine County, creating four communities, the largest of which, Hamilton, immediately became the county seat.
The excitement was extremely short-lived, Hamilton unprepared for such a grand role. Less than a decade later the ore supply had been bled dry. The wham, bam, thank you ma'am strike concluded in 1873 when a fire burned down the Hamilton courthouse. By 1875, less than a decade after foundation, the town was disincorporated.
If the United States had a Ghost Town Hall-of-Fame, Nevada would be the logical location from what I have seen so far. Hamilton would be a shoo-in for membership.

23 miles/3480 total miles

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Its Alive!

September 4

Ely is a rarity of late, a mining town with living, breathing people. The axe never quite fell here. Even when local lodes diminished, the central location of Ely kept it on life support. The city was simply in the right place, an important hub on the railway route and a rare stop for tourists on three different highways (93, 6, and 50).
Success was never assured. When the initial rush to Nevada began the finds were elsewhere. Founded in the late 1870s Ely existed as little more than a stagecoach stop and a post office. The breakthrough came in 1906 with the discovery of a copper bonanza in nearby Ruth. The Liberty Pit, dug in 1911, was at the time the most massive man-made hole on the entire planet. I was told you can see the excavation from space. Kennecott Copper Company took over the pit in 1915 and slowly became the driving force of the local economy.
Who were their employees, the people that made the long journey out west to work in the dark, dank mines or toil on in the scorching desert laying the railway? The cheap labor pool in the early American West had been the Chinese. By 1882 xenophobic attitudes had banished the Asian work force through legislation, the Chinese Exclusionary Act.
Companies searched for a new labor source, finding it in a new wave of immigrants escaping tyranny and poverty in Eastern Europe. Italians, Serbs, Greeks, Czechs, Slovaks, etc. came here chasing opportunity. One mining camp employed 233 workers, 4 of which had been born in the United States. Ely was as much of a melting pot as any of the industrial cities back east.
All these things I learned as I walked the six miles through Ely and on past Ruth. I would speak to you of the latter three fourths of today's trek, but you look tired and I should wrap up events in a tight little bow before you nod off.
In fact, to thank you for persevering so long, I'd like to get you a present. Hopefully you are looking for a plant to give your yard that Western look. It just so happens I walked by about eight billion sagebrushes today. Don't worry, there will be eight billion more tomorrow. Place your order whenever you like, there's no rush, I probably have a couple more weeks of this tedious scenery to go.

P.S.: Thank God Dad is with me now, I no longer have to suffer alone. I just hope he makes it the two weeks before going irreparably insane.

22 miles/3457 total miles

Thanks to recent donors:

Laurie Jo Coheen
Jennifer Farnworth
Jill Hunter
Nora Kravec
Amy McCandless
Peter McCandless
Duffy and Michael Petty
Corey Smith

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Old Man Cometh


September 3
I ate breakfast. I ate lunch. I was interviewed by a reporter from the "Ely Times." Dad arrived after a long flight from London and a mind-numbing drive from Salt Lake City. He then slept for several hours. I worked on the blog. Dad awoke from his coma. We went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Dad went back to sleep. I did the same. Day over. I'll be back on the road tomorrow with more exciting action or at least some action at all. See you then.
O miles/3435 total miles

Home Cooking

September 2

When I resumed trekking in the morning I could already see Ely to the north. Incredibly, this would be the biggest metropolis I had entered since Grand Junction five hundred miles ago. The populations of the places in between probably fails to match that of my home town in South Carolina.
All that empty space had failed to stop the word of the walk from spreading. Ely resident Jennifer Farnworth had heard about the walk from a friend in Grand Junction and e-mailed me to offer help. She drove down to check on me this morning, gave me a contact number with the local newspaper, and invited me to a family barbecue that evening. Following three days with almost no social interaction (unless you count talking to myself) I jumped at the bait.
Before the soiree I checked in at the hotel, showered, and talked on the phone with my mother and brother for an hour. They had to force an end to the call once I started conversing about my belly button lint. I've gone so long without computer or cel service I wasn't about to shut up regardless of whether I had anything to say.
That evening Jennifer came by the hotel and took me to her family's abode on the east side of town. She and her husband Mike are government employees, working for the post office and state prison. Mike's father and mother, Mike Sr. and Joann were in from Rock Springs, Wyoming for a visit. Son Zacary and daughter Taryn completed the group. We dined on a wonderful spread of ribs, macaroni casserole, and a medley of squash, mushrooms, and onions. I felt thrilled to have a surrogate family again, even if for just one night. Better yet a member of my own tree will hopefully find his way to Ely tomorrow. I'll try not to scare Dad with more talk of belly button lint.

12 miles/3435 total miles

Hooptie and the Hobitch

September 1

I dropped into Spring Valley, eager to confront U.S. 50 once more. I'd heard a rumor from Karen and Jerry about hot food on the other side and raced to confirm. I could see buildings even from my nest of the night before, but in Nevada visual recognition does not equate to successful attainment until a large amount of roadwork is done.
Nine miles and most of the morning had passed before I reached the promised land of Major's Point. Only one look at the menu and I knew what I wanted. How can you see the word Hot Pocket and resist? Why they are not served by every restaurant in the world is a mystery. While I savored the high quality product, I relived the calorie counting days of my twenties - pizza with ranch dressing, double patty melts at the Paladin, and no small amount of beer. What a svelte physique I had during those years.

Karen and Jerry had suggested an alternate road for the next few miles and the bartender at Major's agreed with their recommendation. What was most likely an older incarnation of 50 ran parallel, unused but relatively intact. I was able to avoid traffic for a couple hours, most especially important because this portion of highway is narrow, steep, and hemmed in by guard rails. When I rejoined the big boy road at the summit, Conor's Pass, the worst section was in the rear view mirror.
Coming off the pass there was enough shoulder, although I was forced to roll the buggy on the rumble strip. At first the sensation was intriguing, we bounced up and down like a hooptie ride. I realized after ten minutes why normal people don't drive those kinds of cars. The jack-hammering effect of having your body shaken like a bowl of Jello takes a toll. I preferred the risk of being flattened to the certainty of losing teeth and walked out onto the driving land whenever there was a pause in traffic. So much for safety.
Late in the afternoon I passed the state maximum security prison, secure in the knowledge I would not be offered a hitch for the rest of the day. Just beyond I came upon memorials for two more dead mining communities, Ward and Taylor. Both had population highs of 1500. Osceola had been credited the same number, making me wonder if Rain Man had been hired to do the census figures. During the interviewing process, find out if the candidate has further skills beyond aptitude in math.
Of course, we aren't privy to the skill set of the other applicants. Snoop Dogg's (or whatever the hell he calls himself now) estimation that there were fifty two "hobitches" in Taylor might have been taken out of context by an interviewer lacking an expert level of linguistic talent in the field of Ebonics.
I came to a resting spot at the Ely Elk Viewing Area twelve miles short of the city. Thirty two elk brought in from Yellowstone years ago have flourished in the Steptoe Valley. 1500 (definitely 1500, definitely) now roam in the vicinity, though I saw none. Instead I was visited by a barn owl, which hovered over the tent, wondering for a moment if the head sticking out of my sleeping bag would make a good meal. Luckily, I was ruled inedible.

23 miles/3423 total miles

Monday, September 3, 2012

Only the Loneliest


August 31
In 1986 Life magazine Spoke of U.S. 50 in Nevada as the "Loneliest Road in America." The publication also pointed out that a driver should have "survival skills" to even attempt the passage. AAA agreed, saying there were no points of interest on the route and recommending travelers avoid the road like the plague if possible.
Five miles into today's journey my trajectory intersected that of the notorious highway. I will be on 50 on and off, mostly on, for the next three hundred miles. My first impressions? Nowhere near as lonely as Utah 21, where I saw an average of a car per hour. The average on U.S. 50 is closer to ten. Hardly New York rush hour gridlock, but a definite increase.
Traffic means more danger for me, so eight miles in I turned onto White Pine County Road 38. The dirt road cuts across a mountain pass, which 50 skirts to the north, meaning I could save some mileage as well. I had the trail to myself for the rest of the jaunt, passing a couple of properties and the abandoned mining town of Osceola. Tiny slabs of marble and slate marking the graves of children are the only evidence the town of 1500 ever existed. I've seen this movie before on many occasions in Colorado and western Utah. Although I know little about Nevada I have no doubt the boom and bust story will be airing again in the near future.
U.S. 50 came into sight shortly after Osceola, a thin line splitting Spring Valley below. Five rows of giant windmills whirled in unison to the north, lightning flashed in the Western sky, and an eerie wind began to blow. The storm appeared to be gathering on both sides of me so I wisely called a halt two miles from the highway. A red light atop the windmills blanked in approval. I flicked them the bird. What do these ignorant windmills know about the decision-making process?
22 miles/3400 total miles

We Want the Spelunk

August 30

After the hard slog of the last four days, twenty four hours of rest were due. I accomplished my errands early in the morning, giving me an opportunity to explore Great Basin National Park.
The entire Great Basin covers most of Nevada and some of the surrounding states. The name comes from the lack of drainage in the region. There is no outlet to the sea, water from the surrounding mountains either pools into a lake or evaporates.
The park only encompasses a small portion of the entire Basin, but is nevertheless quite a large place. I had limited transportation options, so Lexington Arch, 13,000 foot Wheeler Peak, and the bristlecone pines were out of range. The pines, by the way, are the oldest organism on Earth, living for thousands of years. I was able to view a tree ring at the Visitor Center from Prometheus, a bristlecone that lived to the ripe old age of 4,900. That's a serious drain on the social security system.
Thanks to the kindness of the Silver Jack Inn's caretakers, Ed and Raveyn, I was able to see the Great Basin's main attraction. Lehman Caves is one of the most spectacular underground chambers in the United States. The magic of dripping calcite has created decorations which defy gravity and boggle the mind.
You've probably seen stalagmites and stalactites, but have you seen drapes, shields, coral, wall bacon, parachutes, or straws? These named formations and a litany of others so far undescribed jut from the walls, ceilings, and floors, an art exhibit of the underworld.
I'd wondered initially if there would be much to see in Nevada, a state most people drive through rather than to, unless Vegas bound. So far there seems to be natural wonders galore, if you are willing to scratch a little bit below the surface.

0 miles/3378 total miles

Put Away Your Magic Underwear


August 29

I was awoken at dawn by three visitors, a pack of dogs scurrying to and fro around by tent, investigating this strange interloper. I dubbed them Hot, As, and Balls. As had disappeared by the time of my emergence, no doubt upset at being given such an improper name.
Hot and Balls stuck around and did all they could to delay my leaving. Covered in dog slobber and four days without a shower I considered entering my current fragrance in the Stench d'Or for 2012. Held in Paris at the Eiffel Tower dumpster, this totally made-up competition will judge the best of the worst in human bodily odiriferousness.
Hot and Balls followed me down 21, Hot giving up after two miles to chase a rabbit. Balls ended up being the most loyal canine companion yet, pursuing the shadow of the half-buggy, half-man for three hours. She was a well-behaved little brown dog of indeterminant breed, clearly having been trained by her owner. When traffic appeared Balls usually responded hastily to my call of "come here."
When I entered Garrison Balls disappeared, never to be seen again (I can hear Slave shouting "Geethus Chrise"). The settlement was not much to look at, a few houses, post office, and an Utah Department of Transportation office, one lone car parked in the lot.
On the other side lay a pair of milestones, the Nevada border and the Pacific Time Zone. I floated the final few hundred yards like a ghost wearing water wings. At arrival I took the obligatory border crossing picture and said goodby to the land of magic underpants.
I didn't linger long, for a warm bed awaited me six miles on in Baker. I checked in at the Silver Jack Inn at four only to learn some bad news. My father was scheduled to join me tomorrow, but has been delayed due to health problems my stepmother is suffering. He will now tentatively meet me in Ely to provide support.
I felt mixed emotions after such a series of events. I finished a state and a time zone, earned hot food and a soft bed, but I lost Dad (temporarily) and lost my Balls (forever).

17 miles/3378 total miles

Just Deserts


August 28

Early in the morning I neared the Desert Experimental Station. I knew about this place thanks to the secret map I purchased at the Conoco in Green River. There were no big signs and only a short barb wire fence, easily leapt blocked entry. Too easy, I thought. The ground is surely riddled with electronic sensors and explosive mines.
My fourth cousin's grandson's barber had told me about the things that go on here. I trust the man like my own pair of clippers and I promised to investigate the nefarious place, perhaps the real location of Area 51.
Not today, however, as I have more walking to do. Stepping in mines tends to slow my pace and I have a date with the loving arms of Baker tomorrow I plan on keeping. I will just have to sneak in and view the invisible airplane on another occasion.
Little by little I made twenty two miles, which I had set as my pace for the first three days out of Milford. A good distance, but manageable, unlikely to cause injury.
At the end of the day's toil I found a flat sandy spot next to a sign pointing to Burbank. Not the well known Los Angeles suburb, but nevertheless a reminder that California will soon be on my mind. Wednesday I enter Nevada, the last landlocked state I will cross. The Pacific is still far in the distance, but I feel as if I can begin to smell the ocean breeze.

22 miles/3361 total miles

Return of the Idols


August 27

Each action has an equal and opposite reaction. When you go down into a valley you must them come up the other side. I faced this task to start the day, filled with a deep foreboding, as if about to enter the gates of Mordor. My water consumption thus far had exceeded my projections. Could I manage to ration the last gallons? I was already starting to sweat profusely. How would my will fare when the cooking began in earnest?
As I sat in the shade of a rare juniper resting a white truck pulled off in front of me. Was this the chariot of my savior or my destroyer? Thirty miles from all aid I prayed the former.
The wispy white locks atop Karen's head and hanging from Jerry's chin announced the entrance of angels. My troubles were soon vanquished by their care, concern, and other words that start with c I can't think of right now. The two ADT hikers were heading to Milford to start burying water for their own trek through Western Utah and Nevada. They furnished me with a couple of extra gallons, inflated the buggy's tires, and Jerry gave me a pair of sunglasses to replace those I had lost.
They then headed to Milford to start caching. When they came back through hours later they had retrieved my hat and grabbed me a berry Smoothie. After a moment's hesitation I chose to drink the icy beverage instead of rubbing it all over my body.
Obviously my outlook improved following our meeting. Where before I had been cursing the huge empty space, I now saw the gift bestowed upon me. Where else can you seemingly have twenty square miles to yourself? I walked and I watched sand storms forming and dispersing across the valley, ethereal spirits dancing for the wind's pleasure. All of a sudden I appreciated the wonders of this great journey, this once in a lifetime opportunity.

22 miles/3339 total miles

Wah Sabe ?


August 26

I left civilization behind early in the morning, trying to stay ahead of the sun. The dreary and barren Wah Wah desert lay ahead and I feared shade would be a rare commodity.
"What does Wah Wah mean," Mom queried me the other day. I couldn't give her the correct answer, but I will be glad to give you a number of off the wall theories. A. The sound of a baby crying (or in this case a grown man) B. A musical note played after some minor tragedy has befallen the protagonist (applicable) C. The noise a martial artist makes while performing a devastating combination of moves (not applicable).
I can't explain the origination of Wah Wah, but I can describe to you in more detail the geography here. From Beaver to the border I'll walk through a series of bowl-shaped valleys, about twenty miles wide on average, the edge of the bowl composed by a line of mountains. The valley floors are at 5,000 feet and the summits of the mountain passes are around 6,400.
Fourteen miles in I escaped Milford's bowl and reached a ghost town. Frisco is among the largest of the failed communities I have visited. At its heyday in the 1880s there were 4,000 residents! Sixty million dollars worth of ore were extracted from the mines here. A cave-in ended the bonanza in a heart beat and the citizens saw no further need to remain. By 1920s the population had emptied. Only a few stone ruins stand, a stark reminder of how fleeting are the tides of mineral wealth.
I turned down into the next bowl, the Wah Wah Valley. Not a tree grew below except at the small Wah Wah Valley Ranch. The only shade came from a flotilla of small fluffy clouds, thrrowing an occasional shield between myself and the great ball of fire. More helpful was the wind, which picked up nicely, keeping my skin out of the fryer.
There was one snafu on the day I should mention. I left the desert camouflage hat Ken gave me at the hotel. I had lost my sunglasses as well on the search for Beaver so I now have no head protection whatsoever. I wrapped a shirt around my head, going for the Arab hobo look.
I settled at the bottom of the Wah Wah among a series of antique cowpies, a dusty remnant of a previous bovine presence. None were to be seen or heard this night, however, allowing me to drift quietly into slumber.

22 miles/3317 total miles

The Ante-Desert Period in Alastarian History


August 25

The short walk down into the valley took only the morning to complete. Milford was pretty easy to locate. As I alluded to yesterday you can see it from nearly a dozen miles off.
I spent the rest of Saturday completing preparations for this week's expedition. I will be traveling in the waste lands for four days. Baker, Nevada, the next town with services, is eighty three miles distant.
I hope to do better than Dominguez and Escalante. The dynamic Spanish duo's search for an improved route from Santa Fe to Monterey came to an end here. They chose this spot to ask the infamous question in this case regarding the Pacific Ocean, "are we there yet?" The Paiute Indians told the padres they knew of no ocean, only more desert. The party was disheartened, having braved so much topographical madness just to be told they were no where close to done. The Spaniards returned home, thinking themselves failures, not realizing how important their maps would be for future explorers.
As luck would have it a highway has since been contructed through the land of which the Paiutes spoke. I'll be able to take Utah 21 straight out of the state rather than wandering aimlessly around as the explorers did. On the other hand, I don't have horses to carry my water, I must push my "mule" as Karen and Jerry call the baby jogger. At least the invention of running water has made the liquid more readily available and sanitary practices have eliminated dysentary and cholera. Modernity has indeed brought some perks to even the toughest trail.

7 miles/3295 total miles

Passed Over

August 24

Armed with a new baby jogger, but still without an infant, I set off towards Milford in pursuit of Gil Thorp.  I had no plans to capture the legendary high school coach today because of the small mountain range he had fiendishly put in my path. 
The Mineral Mountains are stumpy midgets compared to the Rockies, but a 1500 foot elevation change will at least get the heart racing.  Everyone except those who like death-defying drama will be glad to know the planned route is simple.  Take Utah 21 to the Pass Road.  Follow the Pass Road west until you run into 21 again.  Turn right!  Otherwise I may find myself back in Beaver which would be ironic considering how much trouble I had finding it in the first place.
I didn't screw up the first part, reaching the Pass Road by mid-morning.  The name sounds daunting as did a sign a quarter of a mile in warning the surface was damaged for the next twenty five miles.  The ADT directions list the Pass as eighteen and a half miles in length and Google maps agreed, which begs a question.  How bad a shape are the six miles which don't exist?

In reality I had smooth sailing up a gentle slope.  There was only one obvious bit of damage, a permanent washout filled with thick flowing mud.  My shoes were coated in the cement-colored gunk, but that was the limit of the damage.
A bucolic stream accompanied me, then was replaced as eye candy by a series of boulders set upright, looking like horror movie hands, reaching up out of the grave, trying in vain to grab the legs of the blonde who so foolishly relinquished her virginity in Scene V. 
I gained the apex at Soldier Pass and before two and began the descent.  A few hours later I could see the valley, with Milford front and center.  The sun was hovering slightly above the Frisco chain in the west so I crawled into the woods and found a comfy location next to what turned out to be a national fly and ant convention.  I would have been better off getting a hotel room next to a bachelorette party.  At least I might have received a penis-shaped pencil to go with my night of zero sleep.

17 miles/3288 total miles

Things to Do in Beaver When You're Not Dead

I've survived the pitfalls of the wilderness west of Circleville.  Now could I live through forty eight hours stuck in Beaver?

1.  Explore Beaver: I walked around downtown to see the sights.  Once I was done I still had forty seven hours and forty five minutes to kill.  Beaver is the birthplace of Butch Cassidy, but I have to admit I'm getting sick of the dude by now. Who cares if he was good at hide and seek as an eight year old or robbed his first bank at five?

2.  Meet with the Professionals: When I checked in Tuesday night I discovered I was not alone.  According to the hotel clerk a couple more long distance hikers had a room.  I was certain it was Boston and Cubby so I gave the man permission to tell them my room number.  Privacy issues prevented him from giving me theirs.  The two young ladies paid me a call the next morning, carrying a generous bag of edible goodies for me in their arms (although maybe not the bug spray, that tasted terrible).  We sat and compared disaster stories.  They shared the misery of their missing water caches in Eastern Utah and I spoke of my blundering attempts to arrive here.  They spent Wednesday doing errands and returned to the ADT Thursday morning.  The way they move I expect their finish date to be next Tuesday.

3.  Become a regular: There were only two restaurants of note close to my hotel.  Happily, they were both quite good.  3B was my favorite, the owner Ted serving up sensational burritos smothered in the house hot sauce. He is often asked what 3B stands for, so he came up with a list of possibilities and challenges the customer to come up with their own suggestions.  I humbly submit Beaver's badass burritos. 

4. Blog: Mainly I spent my waking hours catching up on the journal and watching TV.  I was a week and a half behind on the blog and both of my readers were really hassling me.  I managed to post most of the backlog while taking in seventeen consecutive episodes of "Dirty Jobs," a show I don't even really enjoy.  Great success!

The new jogger was delivered on Thursday.  Using 2% ingenuity and 98% dumb luck I assembled the contraption.  I am back in business tomorrow morning. 

o miles/3271 total miles    

Entering Beaver

8/21

My wake up call came at dawn when Cody sped up on his four wheeler, headed out to hunt.  He let me know Mom had gotten me a hotel in Beaver for the next two nights.  Fired up at the thought of hot food, a shower, and a warm bed I hurredly prepared for departure.
Yesterday's fiasco had left me only slightly closer than the morning before.  I might as well have been walking in a Cuisinart, spinning around in circles until I was shot out in a random direction.  The hunters all estimated I had twenty miles left to Beaver.
I strode with purpose, bent on my goal.  I don't know when I joined Fremont Wash, but the presence of a wash, Upper Fremont Ranch, and the fact I was headed west assured me I was on the correct road.  Signs in places where no one goes are rare because no one needs to ever read them.  You probably knew that already.
It took the entire morning but I reached the frontage road next to I-15.  My cel returned from a ten day coma and I used the revived device to contact Mom and Colin.  Speaking to my family raised my spirits so high they lost the limbo contest, relieving the loneliness which is a potent enemy out here in the great open spaces of the west. 
The last few miles were not without their difficulties.  A heavy shower fell and I retreated under an overpass.  I was coaxed out by impatience and carried on to the outskirts of Beaver, where the rain ceased.  At this point my feet staged a boycott.  They had taken me to safety and would not budge a step more.  They throbbed horribly, so suffused with blood I thought they might explode like the fat man in Monty Python's "Meaning of Life."  No matter, an army of kung fu robots was not going to keep me from that hotel.
I dragged myself into town and checked into the Best Western at five.  Mom called and informed me a new stroller was on its way, set to arrive Thursday.  I would be forced to rest for a couple of days.  Bummer. 


23 miles/3271 total miles*

*As I noted yesterday I have no idea how far I wandered in the woods.  I have a slightly better idea about today, but am not certain.  Therefore we will go with the ADT distance.  I walked much further but since it didn't really take me anywhere I guess we can't count it, especially since it would be a compeletely imaginary number.