Over The Hump To Pahrump

In the morning I picked my bike up and wheeled it down the hallway to the casino floor. It was one giant room with banks of slot machines filling two thirds of it, and restaurant tables filling the rest. I kick-standed the bike and took a table far away from the other patrons – there were only ten or so – and ordered a giant salad, plus corned beef hash and eggs.

Ready for more adventure.

There was a massive television on the wall in front of me, in the traditional casino style. As I ate I saw an ad for an antidepressant.

The little daughter wanted to show her mom something, but her mom was staring down the hall leaning against something and looking pained, so the daughter turned away. Then the daughter talked with the Dad, who looked worried, and the daughter shrugged, looking away distantly. Bad mommy; you made daughter sad! You could have had a nice parenting moment with her, but your sad feelings ruined it! What a failure. Your sad feelings need to be amputated, pronto.

Next was a scene of the parents sitting down with a doctor. A scene of the mommy outside, throwing a ball for the dog. The dog was running in slo-mo, tongue everywhere, obliviously happy. Do that, mommy! That’s your role model: Sloppy, slobbery dog.

In three more scenes the mommy looked progressively happier. Finally she had that parenting moment with her daughter, who is smiling. Hooray, everything is fixed!

I wondered if people of color are ever featured in these ads, or if it’s always Northern European women. I wonder if it has something to do with that guilty protestant religious background trucked over from Europe, where a woman is a vessel for child-rearing foremost, and if she’s underperforming in that role it’s because of some internal defect she must root out and neutralize. “You don’t like being a mom, and nothing else? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”

If it’s not an ethnic thing, I bet it’s at least a middle-class thing. I wonder if working-class people see these ads and think, “Oh sure, all I need to do is start taking some pills, and then everything that’s upsetting in my life will magically not matter. Hah! Do they even know what kind of crap the world is throwing at me? A pill isn’t gonna make my heating bill go away, or pay off this credit card, or magically fix this damn car.”

Antidepressant ads drive me up the wall.

The meal was good though, and I set out on the day’s riding with a full stomach and lots of water.

Greetings from the massive cow on the state line.

Outside I gazed at a giant cow while I pondered my route. Today I would finish the ride to Death Valley Junction on the California side of the line, then go over a low mountain pass and enter Nevada, then coast downhill into the town of Pahrump. That would put me within reach of Las Vegas.

More local art.

As I pondered the giant metal bull across the street, I thought about radiation. That “Area 51 Alien Center” I passed by yesterday was only 50 miles south of a massive nuclear testing range. They say the fallout from atomic testing in the 50’s spread radioactive debris all over the Earth and into every living thing. I wonder if I am getting proportionally more of that radiation by being in Nevada? Parts of it look like a blasted hellscape, and parts of it literally are a blasted hellscape. Perhaps it’s good that I’m just passing through … and that California is generally upwind.

Seven miles of road all at once.

Anyway, it was time to ride. The wind was against me but the road went slightly downhill, which canceled it out. I entered California early in the day.

Swapping Nevada for California, but only for a couple of hours.

Pretty soon I was at Death Valley Junction.

Absolutely no services in this town. Not even any water.
"Day Use Only."
If you're trapped here, at least you can send a message out.
Closed and locked up tight.
Where I would have camped last night.

Here is where I would have emerged from Death Valley, if I’d gone down into it from Beatty. Several thousand feet of steep road in blistering 120 degree heat, with no services anywhere along it, and no services here in Death Valley Junction to greet me when I arrived.

The road into Death Valley. Not taking that.

It was the only road out I could have taken. The south edge of the valley runs into Interstate 15, which cannot be used for cycling, and on the other side is Mojave National Preserve, with several thousand more feet of blistering climb, and again no services. Even if I brought along four gallons of water and a huge pile of snacks I would still need to sleep rough, perhaps for multiple nights. It just wouldn’t work.

“Perhaps I’ll try that some other time, when I have a companion with a car to be my safety net,” I thought. “For now, it’s time to do something easier.” Then I turned left, onto State Line Road towards Pahrump and Vegas … and immediately got a flat tire.

Removing all the bags in order to flip the bike.

Midway through a tube change.

As I was working, a guy in a stetson stopped his truck to ask if I was okay. I thanked him for stopping. Then 15 minutes later, a woman turned her truck around on the road just to come back and say she was going into town and could fetch things for me. I politely declined and thanked her for stopping.

A man in his 50’s, dressed all in leather and riding a motorbike, turned around and then stood near me making conversation for a while. He mentioned that he belonged to the Warmshowers website. We exchanged historical details and he told me he was from Oakland, and had spent 30 years there working on refrigeration equipment for trucks and buildings. I thought that was pretty cool.

“You will find people out here to be more friendly than California,” he said.

“Well I can say for sure they’re more likely to stop and help out a cyclist. You’re the third person who’s done that for me since I got this flat tire.”

He laughed. “They’ll keep stopping. You sit here long enough, they’ll form a line.”

I began packing up, and he waved goodbye and zipped away on his motorbike. I continued my slow progress up into the hills, feeling glad that people were looking out for me.

The inscription is too fuzzy to read.

Like it usually goes on long isolated roads, people coming in the other direction started raising their hands in greeting as they went by. I waved back as often as I could.

Highway workers gotta have fun sometimes.

I also found some mysterious things, as usual.

Finally near the top.

It got hotter and hotter as the day progressed. I found myself looking forward to one of the basic perks of civilization: Refrigerators. Part of the joy of passing through these hot regions is you know you will get into a town eventually, and then be able to drink all of the ice water you can handle. “Aaaaaahhh,” you’ll think, and get that nice visceral rush of satisfaction, from something that you usually find so ubiquitous that you just ignore it.

We have bodies designed to get pleasure from the slaking of thirst and the feeding of real hunger, and we live a lifestyle that is never dry or lacking in calories. No wonder so many modern people struggle with depression.

I patted the frame of my bike. “Just one of the small ways Valoria here saves my life,” I thought.

The name is as hot and dry as the place.
The sun is so bright, this plant is trying to reject light.
I have no idea how this plant manages to stay green.
More light-rejecting coloration.
Suspiciously alien looking plants!
Did they land from another planet?

In the afternoon I caught a swirly dust devil to the north, and watched it a while:

A vortex pulling dust up into the air.

I managed to get a bit of video of it too:

By my reckoning I was about 3/4 of the way to the top of the pass, when I stopped for a drink of water and stood around in the narrow shade of a hill, and then suddenly felt the pressure of a deuce knocking at the door. My body decided that it was time to poop, and jammed on all the “go” buttons at once. I shuddered and nearly fell over.

I tried to reason with my bowels. “Now look!” I shouted, waving my arms and waddling towards the embankment. “I told you yesterday, and this morning! I said, hey, this is a nice hotel room, why don’t you drop something here? And you said, ‘Nah, we’re good. Just keep cramming the food in.’ Now you ambush me on this hill! There’s no toilet paper, no water, not even a place to hide! Have you no decency?

“DROP THE SWEATS,” said my ass, “OR WITNESS THEIR DESTRUCTION.”

The road was on a little causeway, built up across a dip between two hills. The embankment went down about four feet, which wasn’t enough to hide me, but it was better than dropping trau right on the shoulder. There were no bushes. I had no idea how I was going to clean up. Curse you, colon!

Then, a miracle happened: Just as I reached the bottom of the embankment, I glanced up and saw a drainage tunnel running under the highway. If I squatted down and ducked my head I could just about waddle inside. PRAISE BE! A SHELTER FROM HUMILIATION! I got inside and got my clothes out of the way with half a second to spare. As I pooped, I heard no fewer than three cars go rocketing down the highway. That’s mortal embarrassment avoided, three times over.

With nothing else in reach, I did a mental inventory of my laundry back on the bike, and decided that it was time to remove one of my socks, and clean up with that. I’m not proud.

Do NOT go into that tunnel.

As I emerged, I thanked the Kickstarter campaign of future time lords, for reaching back into the past and editing reality and placing this tunnel here, so I didn’t have to lose my dignity pooping in full view of those motorists. Feeling refreshed, I got back on the bike.

Another mysterious roadside object.

Almost near the top, I saw a guy muttering to himself and staring at me as he drove past in the opposite lane. “If only you knew the embarrassment I just narrowly avoided for both of us,” I thought. “But really — why is he muttering at me? Because I’m taking up too much precious road?”

I imagined him coming back the other way and stopping next to me to give me some kind of lecture about how I shouldn’t be on the highway. How would I respond to that? I figured it would be something equally chastising.

“How did you imagine this was going to go? You’ve said your piece. Now what; you drive away? And I’m still out here on the road between two towns, like before. You’ve just wasted our time.”

Honestly, I can’t think of anything – anything at all – that a person could angrily yell at me from their window that would change my mind about bike touring. I’ve been honked at, passed aggressively, yelled at, had things thrown at me, more times than I can remember … Everything short of actually being hit by drivers in their cars. Sorry, all you jerks out there, I’ll do everything I can to make room and stay out of your way, but I am not going to stay off the road.

My first glimpse of Pahrump.

Obviously this is where the aliens land.

As afternoon became evening, I began the pleasant downhill ride into Pahrump.

Discover ... Enjoy!

I passed a cluster of pickup trucks, with some folks shooting skeet nearby. Some small bits of ranch land, a few warehouses. Then the suburbs appeared. Everything looked a little ragged and burned out, including the people.

I was almost out of water, so I stopped at a convenience store. A car rolled up as I was leaving. A skinny man in his mid-20’s got out, wearing shorts and a button-down shirt, with tattoos all up his arms, a thin mustache, and a cigarette in his mouth. His face had a pinched, hunted expression. An early-20’s woman holding a baby stayed put in the passenger seat. Two kids sat behind her. As the man passed through the open door of the shop, he picked the cigarette out of his mouth and hurled it to the ground outside. A minute later he emerged with a paper sack, bent down and picked his cigarette up, and stuck it back in place. Away they all went.

Oh dear. Flying the confederate battle flag, nowhere near the south. I bet this person has lots of friends.
Yep, this is where Barney lives. Now you know!
Why make a new sign when you can just glue "RE-" over it?
Glad to be done with State Line Road.
Lots of horse-related stuff going on in Petrack Park!

I rolled on, and the sun dropped below the hills. On a few silent stretches I saw bats fly out across the road. I passed little squares of land, covered in un-mowed grass, surrounded by varieties of fencing, each with a small house in the center – or just as often, a trailer – and a large “NO TRESPASSING” sign stuck just next to the gap in the fence made by the driveway. Block after block of this, until I lost count. Some chunks of land had dogs inside, chained to various things, and barking. I guess Pahrump is where all the people who can’t live in Vegas go instead.

A nice pile of fish.

My second glass of water.

I kept pedaling and made it to the one sushi restaurant in Pahrump, with enough time to sit down and have a meal at an actual table. It was after 9:00pm, and all the other patrons had cleared out. I ordered a huge pile of sushi and drank four glasses of ice water, one after the other. With a big tip, all it cost me was $45, which is half of what it would cost in Oakland. Not as fresh, but so what?

Night "life" in Pahrump.

HEY! I'M CHINA WOK HERE!!

From there I swung out onto the main drag, and rolled past a bunch of casinos. I saw a “China Wok” restaurant and instantly imagined a Chinese man crossing the street in the bronx, getting accosted by a car, and screaming “Hey! I’m China Wok here!”

That made me laugh all the way up to the hotel. I exploded my luggage all over one of the two beds, then called up Beth and had a nice chat about Nevada, and culture shock, and work. Another weird bike touring day successfully concluded!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.