Exploring Tonopah

Two days blurred together, as a mixture of work, napping, and riding around the town. Thee room at the National 9 Inn was pretty good for naps, though a bit noisy in the morning.

Nice room, except it was next to the ice machine!

At first I ventured out just to find food. The nearest place was this klassy burger joint:

Howdy stranger! Come in and have a decent burger and some appalling nachos!

I ordered a burger and a big pile of nachos, intending to save one for later, but as soon as I opened the lid of the nachos I knew I wasn’t going to eat most of them:

They were as bad as they look.

I didn’t know it was possible for a made-to-order pile of nachos to instantly look like it’s been sitting around for two days, but this burger joint nailed it. I salvaged the avocado and picked at the rest.

The only other nearby place for snacks was a gas station. Walking the aisles, I was amused to see how many bags were bloated due to the 6000 foot elevation of Tonopah:

Puffy from being hauled up to 6000 feet.

That was the extent of my adventure for the first day. After that it was all work and rest until the next morning. Then I got on the bike and did some real looking around.

The first thing I noticed was this communications complex built on the top a hill.

This installation is why I've had speedy LTE on my cellphone for the last four days.

It’s visible from everywhere in town, and probably also visible for 50 miles in any direction.

Tonopah was built up around a huge silver deposit in the local hills. Now it’s all about preserving that legacy.

"Big" Bill Murphy, hero of the tragic Tonopah Belmont Mine fire that killed 17 on February 23, 1911.
Jim and Belle Butler, discoverers of the first silver bonanza of the 20th century, resulting in the rise of the town of Tonopah.
Chillin with Jim and Belle.
Monument to dead miners.
This is where I did NOT stay.
That is a weird posture for a miner.
I think there's some resentment here, given that the Governor is name-dropped in the notice.
Old hardware in front ... new hardware on the hill in back!

I also found a nifty fixer-upper project:

Here's a restoration project for ya!

Just a little light dusting and a trash can, and good as new!

I brought the laptop to a couple restaurants around town and did some writing while I ate. I found two places that sold some version of “fish and chips”, and a coffee joint built into a gas station whose idea of a “mocha” was pre-mixed coffee and hot chocolate powder with whipped cream sprayed on top — but it was a vague reminder of the coffee shops back in Oakland, so I enjoyed it. None of the patrons wore face masks, but all the employees did.

There was lots of variation in proper mask usage. Several young people came up to me wearing their masks, then decided it was easier to talk to me if they pulled the mask down away from their face, and when the conversation was over they raised it again. Duh. Lots of other people wearing the mask over their mouth but not their nose, and breathing through their nose. We’ve all had over a hundred days to learn what works and what doesn’t, but good information obviously spreads at a different rate depending on where you are — and around here, your politics.

Nevada is a state full of people just getting by. Shutdowns and shelter-in-place began to hurt them immediately, and most of them had no safety net when the money ran out and were forced to make ugly life-altering changes. I sympathize with their resentment. The extent of the damage caused by an infectious disease as it spreads is not something you can see just by talking to your friends and neighbors. You need data from large-scale institutions … And of course you need to have faith in those institutions. If you don’t, you’d be inclined to think the whole thing was a scam, or something that only applied to big urban centers and wasn’t your problem.

That, in a nutshell, is why I saw regular people wearing masks in Reno, employees wearing masks in Carson City and Tonopah, and no one wearing masks in any of the small towns, regardless of their age or what they were doing.

Speaking of coverage, I noticed today that there was a gap between my cloth gloves and the sleeves of my shirt. Oops!

Deeper tan where my gloves didn't quite reach my sleeves.

It only took part of each day to ride around Tonopah from end to end and see everything. The town was really not that big. One of the restaurants I ate at displayed a giant photograph taken in the 1910’s, and the houses and mining facilities marched off to the edge of the frame on all sides, but the population and the mining activity decreased all through the 1930’s, and in the 1940’s a huge fire broke out and destroyed much of what remained. Even during the days of the the silver boom the population never climbed much higher than a few thousand and in 2010 there were 2500 people living in Tonapah.

Oh, did I mention there’s a nuclear testing range about 30 miles outside of town? There’s that.

At the end of the second evening I listened to the rest of the BBC Dracula radio drama that I’d started on the climb into town. For some reason I always forget that the original story actually ends with the protagonists pursuing Dracula all the way back to his home country — perhaps because all the dramatic retellings do it in a bit of a rush, after spending most of their time in England. Thinking about that sent me down several internet rabbit holes: The 1990’s movie. The town of Whitby, featured in the novel. A related tale from Jules Verne, called The Castle Of The Carpathians, photos of Colț fortress which was the likely inspiration for that, and a list of tourist activities in the area. It was all a fine contrast from the history and environment of Tonopah.

At the end of the second day I knew it was time to move on. Tonopah was a nice place to hunker down and work, but nothing more for me. The road was calling.

A long late climb

I got nine good hours of sleep — just what I needed!

As I was rearranging my tent, I considered my next move. If I made the ride to Tonopah today I would need a lot of food. The local burger shack didn’t open until 11:00, which meant waiting around for almost two hours, but leaving with enough food was more important than leaving early.

I’d probably stand around eating some of the food right after I got it, so I wouldn’t leave Mina until noon. Then I’d have around 60 miles and 2000 feet of climbing to do, assuming I could ride through the construction zone. My instincts said that was at least 12 hours. With rest breaks, I’d be arriving in Tonopah some time after midnight.

If I got to the construction zone and they turned me away, I’d be forced to go back the way I came and spend another night in Mina. Then I’d just have to hunker down in the RV park until the road opened. Not a terrible fate, since I could get work and writing done.

I washed and shaved in the RV park shower, then packed everything onto the bike.

Packed and ready to go!

Then I rolled downhill to the burger joint.

Mmmm, road food.

A woman was outside sweeping dust away from the tables. Long sun-bleached hair, strong arms, in her 50’s perhaps. When she saw me she said, “Go ahead and order; Mom’s in there.”

I approached the window and an older woman inside raised the screen, blasting me with a column of air-conditioning. The day was already heating up. She leaned forward and said, in a squeaky birdlike voice:

“Good morning, dearie! What can I make for you?”
“I’ll have the turkey sandwich, please.”
“You wan’ all de toppings? Lettuce mayo onion pickle mustard? Wheat bread okay? You wan it toasted?”
“Everything on it, yep. Not toasted.”
“Okay, dearie, let me just write this down… Turkey… Everything… No toast. Anything more?”
“Yes, could I get the fish and chips too? And a cup of ice-water?”
“Fish… Ice-water. Anything more?”
“That’ll do it!”
“Okay dearie. No problem. I get you ice-water.”

Just then the phone rang inside the building and she vanished. I heard her writing down another order, then she came back and I paid the bill.

As soon as I backed away from the window, another woman walked up. Early 70’s, tanned and wiry with a short gray haircut. Much smaller than the other two women. I looked behind me and realized she’d emerged from a gigantic RV that pulled up across the street.

The woman in the building took her order, using a different and more official tone of voice, and without using the word “dearie” at all. Then the daughter finished sweeping and went inside, and the mother-daughter team began cooking up a storm.

The woman from the RV leaned against a table, a respectable distance from me and my bike, and struck up a conversation.

“How far have you gone today?”
“Oh I’m just getting started. Going to try and head south to Tonopah. I heard there was some construction on the highway though and I’m worried about that.”
“Yeah, we just went by that. We’re coming from Arizona.”
“Was there a flagman out, or was it just a bunch of cones and stuff?”
“Bunch of cones, as far as I could tell.”

That was good news to me. It meant I could slip onto the closed highway without being spotted, and then negotiate my way around the actual construction when I was already upon it. The crew would be less likely to turn me away if I was already halfway through.

We chatted some more about travel in the time of COVID-19, and the difficulty of knowing what each day might bring. She was friendly but I could tell she was stressed out — probably from having to detour over 40 extra miles of winding mountain roads this morning.

A man walked up to the burger joint. Top-heavy, with tattooed arms sprouting from a sleeveless flannel shirt, and a friendly, almost goofy expression beneath his thinning crewcut. The mom inside broke away from her cooking to take his order, throwing in a few “dearies”.

He chatted with the woman from the RV. His truck was just down the street, and it had a busted alternator. He’d been stuck up in the mountains for a couple days trying to fix it, then getting ahold of a spare battery so he could limp it into town. From Mina he planned to hop to Hawthorne, where he knew a good mechanic.

A car parked nearby and two young women got out, both showing an unwise amount of skin for the blazing sunlight. They placed an order – no “dearies” for them – and then tucked themselves into another corner of the courtyard. It was getting crowded here.

The screen slid up. “Turkey sandwich and feesh!” said Mom.

I gathered two tinfoil-covered plates and placed them on my bike, then wheeled it about ten yards away. As I was scarfing down the fish, a man in a serape and a wide hat, walking with a stick, came ambling down the hill. He drew near and I saw he was unmistakably African-American. I was secretly delighted to find someone of his ethnicity out here in the boonies of Nevada, and we struck up a conversation.

“That is a really interesting bike you’re riding there. Recumbent I think?”
“You got it! It’s the most comfortable bike I’ve ever had.”
“Oh I bet. Yeah, I used to have a whole bunch of bikes. I think I had six of ’em at one point. Used to ride around everywhere.”
“Well, you know what they say. The right number of bikes to have is one more than the number you have now.”
“Hah! Yeah. You know, bicycling saved my life.”
“I was in a bad way. About ten years ago. I couldn’t work, and I wasn’t taking care of myself. I had this friend. He had … what’s it called … Spina bifida. He had a bicycle, and he rode it a little each day. I asked him ‘How do you ride that? Isn’t it really painful?’ and he told me, ‘I just ride through the pain.’ Ride through the pain, he said. I decided that day to get myself a bicycle.”
“Wow! Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. I was having a serious health problem about ten years ago. Probably not the same thing you were going through, but I got out and rode my bike, and it healed me.”
“Healed you! Exactly. I got that bike – it was a real clunker but I didn’t care – and I rode it all over Richmond, made loops, went out and back all over the place. Longest ride I did was Richmond all the way to Sacramento.”
“You’re from Richmond? I’m from Oakland!”
“Hey, right on!”

We had a lively talk about the wonders of bicycling. He drew in the gravel with his stick, describing his favorite routes. He’d gotten six flat tires on his way to Sacramento, and it had taken three days. He’d lived in South San Jose for a few years, and rode his bike up to San Francisco on a regular basis. He said that in the beginning, when he was still struggling, he was homeless for a while and would ride from town to town sleeping rough. The police would threaten to arrest him, and he’d say, “Hey, please do! At least I’ll sleep somewhere secure, you know?”

“So how’d you get out into the middle of nowhere in Nevada?” I asked.

He described a land-stewardship program that the state of Nevada was running. They sold him a chunk of land on the edge of Mina for a hundred bucks, and he promised to manage it, perhaps try ranching or farming.

“It’s tough out here, though, because of the thieves,” he said.

“Really? I figured people out here would be more honest.”

“Oh most people really are. But it’s the addicts. They’ll sneak onto your property and steal anything then can get. As soon as I got here I had to build a fence around my land, then I had to MacGyver myself a firearm to keep scaring them off.”

We both commiserated over the economy, the lack of social programs and support for addicts, and how it was hard to do the right thing while still being safe. I walked my empty plate to the trash can. He wished me luck on my journey, shook my hand, and went over to the burger joint to place an order.

Time to get rolling!

70 miles and well over 2000 feet of climb. This is the big one today.

First up: Several more amusing critter-crossing signs.

I am amused by how many different signs for four-legged highway invaders I can find along this route.

Then some serious utility infrastructure of utmost Kwality™:


And then, to my astonishment, a brothel.

Yep, it's a brothel. Nevada is weird.

The sign looks new, even though the place looks decrepit.

The main building was a big flat square, surrounded by freestanding white Roman columns like posts for an invisible fence. The columns were probably meant to add a feeling of classy reverence, like “here be goddesses,” but they appeared to be melting in the weather as though they were made of plaster, and the building itself badly needed a coat of paint. This weird establishment was plopped down in the center of a dirt and gravel parking lot. No cars were near it, though several broken or wrecked trucks and some construction equipment slowly roasted in the sun on the opposite side of the lot. The effect was like the building actually repelled cars.

Some distance behind this weird “temple” was another building, rectangular with a metal roof. Four joined rooms like a motel, each with a door. Printed across the roof in ten-foot letters was the word “PLAYMATE”.

I rolled by too quickly to get a picture – in fact I felt a sense of revulsion that compelled me to keep going, like the building was a giant predatory insect – but now I wish I’d taken a few shots just to document the sheer absurdity of it.

Later on I did some reading, out of curiosity:

Wild, weird stuff.

I crested a hill and then began a very long, slow descent into a valley. The wind was blowing squarely against me at least 20mph, so I had to pedal to make downward progress. I felt less frustrated than usual because I might have to turn around at the detour ahead, and in that case the wind would blow me right back up this hill with ease.

Almost to the construction area...

I rolled up to the intersection with the cones and saw a truck parked next to them. I dismounted my bike nearby, and a woman in an official uniform and a hard hat got out the truck.

Before I could ask her anything, she said: “You can probably get through. There’s just a small section a few miles in where we’re resurfacing the highway, and it has a 2-inch drop, so you’ll need to be careful of that. But I can radio ahead to my boss and let the trucks know you’re coming, and you can probably just ride on through.”

What a pleasant surprise!

“That would be wonderful,” I said. “‘Cause that detour would probably be too much for me to handle.”

She nodded and got on her radio, and I took out my thermos of ice water and poured a cup. When she finished I offered her some.

“Oh no, I’ve got plenty in the truck, thanks. You can go on ahead!” She grabbed one of the big cylindrical cones and pulled it aside, making a gap wide enough for

Dang; that was easy!

I pedaled onto the empty road, feeling like royalty. Every twenty minutes or so a big-rig dump truck clattered by, going in or out, but aside from those I had the whole surface to myself. I stopped to drink more water and fish out a chocolate bar, and was disoriented by the silence. I could see cars moving along the detour in the distance but I couldn’t hear them at all.

Terrain that ain't good for much other than ranching or passing through...

For the next hour or so I went slowly into the mountains. The dump trucks continued to roll by. Then at the top of a hill, I saw a regular truck coming down towards me. It pulled to a stop and another woman in a construction hat waved hello.

“Hello! My boss sent me down here to talk to you. We’ve got a lot of trucks passing in and out of here, and sometimes when the road is closed they don’t pay a lot of attention to where they’re going. So my boss is worried for your safety. Do you need to pass through?”

I explained that I was on a bicycle trip headed south, and the detour would be too difficult, so ideally I could pass through instead of turning around.

“Okay, well, we don’t really want you riding through the site, but how about if we put your bike in my truck and I give you a ride to the other side of it?”

I quickly realized this was my best option, as well as a generous offer. The only other thing I could do was turn around and spend the rest of the day biking back to Mina, then probably back to Hawthorne from there.

“That sounds great; thank you!” I said.

She turned the truck around on the road, and I detached all of my bike bags. Together we lifted the bike into the rear of the truck and I tucked a few bags under it to keep pressure off the lower rack. Then I hopped in the cab. She spoke briefly on the radio, and we were off.

For the next half an hour she drove me slowly through the construction zone, threading around large trucks and earth-moving equipment. We kept up a light conversation about landmarks to see in Nevada, the economic impact of COVID-19, and teaching the old members of our family how to use the internet. I learned that this particular repair job was sandwiched between two other tough jobs, and was being rushed in order to keep the schedule. The recent earthquake – a long one in the 6.0 range – had pulverized several parts of the road and the crew had less than a week remaining to clean it all up.

“Oh jeez,” I said. “And here I come along on my little remote-work joyride and slow you folks down even more.”

“Oh don’t worry about it. This won’t take much time at all.”

In the back of my mind I was a little disappointed that I could no longer claim I had pedaled every mile of this journey, but I knew I didn’t have a choice — and besides, she’d carried me over the hardest part of the day’s ride on a day that called for way too much riding anyway. 65 miles and 2500 feet was beyond my standard budget. She’d subtracted 1000 feet and probably 10 miles from that.

Once we were beyond the construction, she pulled aside and we unloaded the bike.

“It’s all good road from here,” she said. “Be safe on your ride! I hope the wind is with you!”

“Thanks! I hope your work gets done on time!”

I hooked my bags in place, then poured some more ice water and stood around drinking it.

Time for more icewater.

It's a bit like making tea in England: There's a ritual.

Then I checked my phone and realized I needed to be in a work conference. I dialed in, then got on the bike and pedaled as I took part. Two bars of LTE signal out here in the middle of nowhere. What a world.

The vanishing road...

While the call was going I spotted a lizard by the road, and this time I decided to take a photo instead of just chasing it into the desert like a madman. I rolled to a stop, with the conference still going.

Local lizard!

Check out that super-long tail!

A few more miles of easy riding later, I reached the end of the detour. Now the road would get noisy again. Oh well.

Finally reached the end of the detour.

I recognized the intersection from my route research. This was Coaldale. The wasted buildings scattered here used to be a truck stop and motel. It was populated and running in 1991, abandoned by 1998, and burned mostly to the ground by 2006. Now it looks like this:

What a fine vacation home!
If this were Oakland, there would be 150 people hunkered down here.
People sure love spraypainting random crap.
Various opinions.
Good advertising!

In another bizarro juxtaposition of modern life, I walked around the site snapping pictures while actively taking part in a teleconference for work.

Long lonely road.

I rode on. The conference ended. I chomped my sandwich from the burger shack. I listened to more of the materials science audiobook, then some podcasts. The scenery continued to be mesmerizing.

Colorful hills.
Nice place to go for a stroll.
I've no idea what this building is. It's not labeled on any map.
A random rest area.
Some local history.
More of that big sky...
The day is moving on...
Tens of thousands of scraps like this line the highway.

I still had about 30 miles and 1200 feet of climb to deal with. The motel I’d called in Tonopah was open 24 hours, so at least I didn’t have to worry about showing up to a locked door.

"The Lone Mountain" ahead.

As the sun went down, the wind shifted direction and finally favored me. I covered ten miles of flat ground quickly as twilight became full darkness.

On my left I noticed a column of blinking red lights in the distance, like a radio tower, except it was too low on the landscape. Radio towers are usually up on hills. I got curious and pulled up a satellite map. A few seconds of scrolling around showed me this:

It’s the Crescent Dunes Concentrating Solar Power Plant. Pretty fascinating technology!

Toothy shadows at night.

The darkness felt comfortable, like the walls of a familiar home, and a little bit spooky as well. To complement the scene I listened to some radio shows:

These turned out to be a perfect fit, because the ride into Tonopah was extremely taxing, and I needed something to keep myself awake and keep my – pun intended – spirits up.

Moon over Tonopah.

The last ten miles of the approach to Tonopah were straight up a steadily increasing grade, so progress became more difficult just as my legs became less energetic. I could see the lights of the town above me in the distance, growing larger imperceptibly as the hours passed. Just to add to the challenge, the wind had turned on me again and was blowing an irregular 10mph.

It was 3:00am by the time I reached the motel and checked in. If that construction worker hadn’t given me a ride earlier in the day, I would have been cycling until 4:30am or even later, or probably just set up a tent in the “rest area” at the base of the mountain and had a dusty, noisy night of sleep.

It all worked out! Time to sleep six hours and then do three hours of work meetings…

Camping in Mina

This was a comfortable and affordable motel, so I was a bit sad to leave it, but the road was calling.

Packed up and ready for the road again.

First it was time to ride around town and look for more snacks!

This building is for sale. If I wanted to open a bistro, I wouldn't need to replace the sign!

Eventually I found this nifty burger joint.

Gotta hit the burger joint on the way out of town!

I'm detecting a theme here...

After chomping two orders of deep fried fish – one salmon, one cod – I was feeling fortified. Just one more thing before leaving town: The Ordnance Museum!

It's the Hawthrone Ordnance Museum! Gonna have to check this thing out!
Lots of dangerous-looking but inert stuff sitting around here.
Lots of America in here.
Lots of instruments and bomb parts here.
Fwoooosh! Bzzeeaarrrmm BANG!!
Check out those nosecones!
Vrrrrp... Clank! Whoooosshhhh.... BOOOOM!

Wild, weird stuff. Okay, now let’s get out of here.

Good thing I don't need gas.

Apropos of the documentary I've been watching lately.

The highway to the east brought me close to some of those weird bunkers.

A closer look at one of the countless ammo bunkers.

When those faded away, it was just open road, shared between me and the truckers. The sky decided there weren’t enough mountains around and decided to add a few — or maybe it was going for a giant winged serpent?

Cloud mountains.

A small anonymous road went bending away on the right, and I decided to follow it for a minute or two just to look around. It brought me to a tiny improvised graveyard.

An intriguing side road.
A touching roadside memorial.
An adjacent memorial.
Ready for more adventure!

I thought about mortality and memory for a bit, then went pedaling down the road some more. I was leaving a region of clouds and cool air, and slowly entering a region of clear skies and heat.

Another fine cloudy day.

Lots of land.

Miles and miles ahead.

During a roadside pee break I spotted a lizard, and decided to chase after it, screaming “RUN LIZARD! TWO-LEGS IS AFTER YOU! RUN RUN RUN!” and cackling like a maniac. Eventually the lizard plunged into a burrow in some sagebrush, winning the race. I pouted, then looked up and realized I had gone about a hundred yards from the road. Tricky lizard, leading me away from all my supplies!

While walking back to the bike I found a neat rock, though:

Neat rocks!

The day wore on. I listened to desert-y music and chatted with my workmates, doing some followup from yesterday. I threw in a few chapters from an audiobook about materials science called Liquid Rules. The wind, which had been blowing softly but directly against me for hours, decided to step it up a notch and slap me around.

Aww, I wish I had time to go see it...

It's a random 42!

I passed through the microscopic “town” of Luning. Google Maps promised me that the remaining miles were “mostly flat” but that turned out to be a lie.

Hey look! A spare bicycle!

At long last I rolled into Mina — and kept on pedaling. The RV park I was due to camp at was on the opposite edge of the town. Up a hill of course.

MINA stands for Middle of Nowhere Absolutely.

There was exactly one place in town that served food, and they were about to shut down the grill. I ordered a big basket of chicken strips and was quite happy with them even though they cost me almost as much as the campsite fee.

No horse play! No duck or pony play either!

It was the only thing available in town.

The bar patrons were all locals, and they asked the usual questions about where I started and where I was going. A friendly group. Above the jukebox was a four-foot banner reading “TRUMP 2020”. I sure ain’t on the west coast any more.

One of the patrons – a man with work boots, shoulder-length hair, and a big toothy grin — in fact, a kind of smaller landlocked-state version of Aquaman – said, “If you’re heading south, watch out for the highway construction. There was an earthquake a few weeks ago; tore up the highway. They set up a long detour.”

“Uh oh,” I said. “How long of a detour?”

I pulled out my phone and the man pointed to a section of highway about 30 miles south of the town. The detour was a big V-shape, using highway 360 and a chunk of highway 6. I poked a few buttons and realized it added 40 miles and several thousand more feet of climbing to the route, which was already a grueling 65 miles and 2400 feet. There were no services anywhere along it. If I had to take that detour, I would need to stealth-camp, and bring along an absurd amount of food and water.

“They might be already finished with the work, though,” said Nevada Aquaman. “Maybe you could find someone who’s been that way and ask.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m gonna have to do that. There’s no way I can take that detour on a bike.”

I finished my snacks and pedaled back to the RV park, thinking about my predicament. Should I just turn around tomorrow? Should I try to ride out to the construction and then ride back? I decided to sleep on it.

Starting to get dark around 9:00pm...

Now all I needed to do was put together the tent. Good thing it’s easy in the dark. Hooray for the inflatable tent!

Time to turn this pile of stuff into a campsite.

Presto! I was a little rusty, so complete setup took half an hour.

This was the first time I’d deployed the tent since Iceland, almost a year ago. It was just as cozy as I remembered.

Laundry And Food And Code

Since I had an entire day here in Hawthorne, it was time to do some errands. First item on the list: Find some decent food.

All the snow from yesterday vanished overnight. I hope the plants managed to grab some moisture!

Outside it was cool and only a bit windy. Not what I was expecting for the middle of Nevada.

I made my way to the opposite side of town and drew some cash out of an ATM, then walked into the only real supermarket available: A giant Safeway.

Where I live, Safeway is outclassed by local stores. Here, it's an oasis.

Fresh eggs, seafood, veggies, and guacamole… Pretty amazing, really! Over the next 24 hours, all this food got devoured. Plus, some ice cream:

I wanted just one ice cream bar, but they sold only in packs of six. Of the remaining five, the ice bucket preserved two of them, but ruined he other three. Oh well; they were 50 cents each.

Laundry was up next, but there was a complication: I only had one pair of pants – my cycling sweatpants – and I was wearing them. It’s a small town, but I don’t quite have the guts to just wander about in my underwear while my pants spin in the washing machine. So I needed another pair.

I put “clothing” into Google Maps and got one hit: An army surplus store a few blocks from the motel. I had no idea what I would find there, but I cruised over anyway.

I knocked on the door and a large man with a walking stick opened it.

“Hello there! This is gonna sound really dumb. I’m on a bike tour and I need to do laundry, but I’ve only got these sweatpants. Do you have something like a cheap pair of shorts I could buy?”
“Shorts? I don’t think we have any shorts here. But we do have some pants. Check that shelf over there.”
“Huh. These are all pretty overbuilt for my needs.”
“Well, yeah. Army. You just need a pair of shorts? You can go to the Family Dollar across town. They have a few things.”
“Family Dollar? Alright. I didn’t even know that store existed. Does that mean they’re gonna sell me shorts for a dollar? They must be made out of paper or something.”
“Oh, that name isn’t accurate. They’ll probably cost twelve dollars.”
“Twelve Family Dollars, right?”
“Most expensive kind of dollars.”

We had a good laugh and then I went across town again, feeling like a moron. There on the shelf were some ugly black cotton shorts, for 13 dollars. Only one size was even close to mine: 34 inches. I bought them, thinking I would just suck in my stomach while the laundry ran.

Next stop: Laundromat.

Time to wash my 1 pair of pants.

I fed one of my 20 dollar bills to the change machine and it pooped a small mountain of quarters. Bought some crusty little boxes of detergent, and then locked myself in the bathroom to change into those shorts. They were like a new-fangled hotel: No ballroom. I minced around the building, sticking my filthy greasy sweats into one machine and the rest of my laundry in another, then walked outside and laid myself nearly sideways on one of the picnic tables to wait. After a few seconds I unbuttoned the shorts and took the zipper partway down, then used my shirt as cover. Now I could breathe. 34 inch waist? Hah! I must be up to 38 or 40 now. How depressing.

I practiced my Russian on the phone, then paid a few bills. When the washers stopped I switched immediately back to the sweatpants – I couldn’t wait a minute longer – and threw the rest of the clothes in a dryer. The air outside would take care of the sweats. Rolling them around in a dryer would just bake the remaining grease further in.

I decided to fill out some time by adding air to my tires, and greasing my bike chain. I nabbed some toilet paper from the bathroom and tried to wipe off some grease, but the fibers got pulled into the chain. I was about to give up when a woman walked out of the laundromat with a basket.

“Would you like some paper towels to degrease your chain?”
“If you have some handy, yeah that would be great!”
“I always keep some in my trunk for workin’ on cars. … Here you go.”
“Thanks a lot!”
“Yeah, I’m always workin’ on my cars. I got a truck back at the house; got a leaky spark plug. I’m always cleanin’ something off, you know?”
“Oh, I know exactly what you mean. Thanks again!”

I rode back to the motel and settled in to do some work. Two loads of laundry cost me about five bucks. That left me with $15 in quarters, and there’s no reason to carry that weight to the next town. Better spend it on snacks.

Way too many leftover laundry quarters. Time to buy some road snacks!

I hauled the quarters to the gas station and bought two candy bars and an ice cream sandwich which melted almost completely between the station and the motel room. I’ve been having bad luck with ice cream. Maybe I’ll just stop buying it…

Haulin’ to Hawthorne

Up and on the road! And only half an hour later I found this nifty ranch:

The G lazy B ranch! My kinda place.

Good scenery today. Lots to see, and the wind is with me.

Hey Mr. Hinkle, I found your lane!

Somebody either dropped their Samsung phone out the window by accident, or threw it out of frustration.

Also, I found out where the world’s largest gopher lives:

The gophers out here sure are big...

It only took about three hours – and one piece of pizza – to reach the top of the biggest climb, which surprised me. Tailwinds really help!

Finally at the top of the climb!

I went over 40mph on the way down. Whooo!

I was now inside the Walker River Indian Reservation, approaching the town of Schurz. At the first turnoff leading into the town I saw this:

Sign of the times.

I slowed down at the intersection of 95 and ALT 95, intending to pee and eat a snack. Three dogs came barking down a driveway and ran alongside me. Fearing they would just keep chasing me for miles (and possibly get lost) like the dogs in Kansas did, I stopped and put my feet down and ordered them to go home before they got hit by a truck. They sat down around me in a loose group, panted for a while, and then reluctantly went back the way I was pointing.

In the distance I could see a wind storm moving along, drawing dust way up into the sky.

Wind kicking dust up into the sky.

The plains were vast. There was a lot of dust to pick up.

I rode by a closed rock shop, a dilapidated hotel, and the husk of a gas station and visitors’ center. The economy was not doing this place any favors. The wind stole the visor off my hat and I had to march down the embankment into the plains to fetch it.

The wind is picking up even more dust.
Makin' progress now!
Somebody knocked this marker down and then bent it back up again.
Tumbleweeds get caught in everything!
Unfortunately, Rock Chuck wasn't at home.

I ate more pizza for lunch, and threw in a chilled candy bar for dessert.

This is how you keep your chocolate cool.

Soon I came to the marge of Walker Lake. By then a considerable amount of dust had taken to the sky and was beginning to pass over me.

Welcome to Walker Lake!

I managed to get a brief time-lapse of the dust gliding onto the lake, before moving on:

I was enveloped in a yellow haze.

The haze from the dust is getting serious.

Walker Lake was beautiful. It was tinted like the lakes I’d seen up in the Yukon, but of course the surroundings were as different as could be.

Looking out over Walker Lake.
The highway goes right alongside the lake.
I have no idea what Grifo Rino Wepn means. I assume the locals do.
Looking north. You can see how far the lake level has dropped...
Haze combining with clouds. Perhaps this is why rain is happening?
Lots of clouds moving along. Is the weather going to change?
Some birds trying their luck in the decidedly un-fresh water.

The shore of the lake was also fascinating. I rode by some really weird formations:

Eventually I had to stop for a closer look:

Interesting formations on the rocks here.
Over time it accumulates into quite a thick coating.
It appears to be a very slow accumulation of dust particles, sticking to the rocks.
Various kinds of lichen growing out of the pits. What an ecosystem!
This appears to indicate that the dust doesn't stick if the wind is too intense...?

There were animals about too:

No minor sheep in this area!

More animals about!

The clouds above began to look ominous as I rolled through the little town on the western shore of Walker Lake.

Okay, yeah, we're getting some serious clouds now.

I wanted to find some excuse to stop. Grab a snack perhaps? But there wasn’t anything compelling enough. I rolled by a local cop, and fully expected him to start his truck and chase me down just because I look weird, and weird is suspicious, but instead he gave me a big grin and a thumbs-up as I pedaled by. That was nice!

Huhuhuhh huhuh huhuh. Cool.

The place was closed. No ice cream for me!

More and more clouds boiled up over the peaks of Bald Mountain and Mt Grant.

They're piling up behind the mountains to the west and then spilling over.

The temperature dropped, so I put on my windbreaker. I was very glad I hadn’t decided to leave it at home. A few drops of water hit my arms, then the drops were replaced by tiny shards of ice, pinging off my bicycle and clothing.

I’d packed eight liters of water and ice for the ride today. Between the temperature and the water falling from the sky, I only consumed about one liter. Oh well — better to be over-prepared and a little slower than underprepared and suffering.

The long shadow of the storm clouds.
Looking back at the town of Walker Lake.
Great; thanks for the too-late sign.

And then I saw this!


And to my left, in the distance, I saw hundreds of low buildings and strange sloping cement rectangles:

Some of the hundreds of storage buildings and bunkers.

What’s this all about? In a few more miles, I had the answer:

The patch in the middle reads "READY, RELIABLE, LETHAL."

As I drew near the town of Hawthorne, snow began to coat the hills on my right:

Dumping snow on the nearby hills.

Finally, after a long and chilly run up a slow incline, I arrived in town. It was just after 6:00pm.

It's a fixer-upper.

So that's where freedom ranges!

There are twelve churches in this town.

Did we mention we could use a few dollars?

And what better way to greet new travelers than with a playful sculpture made out of bomb parts?

Welcome to Hawthorne! The room was great. Turns out the proprietor is from Oakland.

A pretty nice room!

As soon as I unpacked I rode over to the local bar and ordered a hamburger and fries to go. Not very many toppings but it was a big ol’ slab of protein, and that’s what mattered. Another long day of riding, assisted mightily by the wind and low temperature.