To The Shady Lady

I took my time packing up. I could see a big hill on the south edge of town, and I didn’t want to get all the way up there and then realize I’d forgotten some random item at the hotel. I don’t mind climbing big hills once, but I hate climbing them twice!

There’s something funny about that. It’s so irrational. Why am I okay with climbing a big hill even once, when I could just blast over it in a car? It’s got to be some deep instinctive thing about humans and the joy of exploring new terrain.

Back up to the highest elevation I've reached on this trip...

I took a break at the top of the hill, then began a long, easy cruise down, which flattened out into the first of several long valleys in the day’s riding.

Lots of injured veterans here apparently.

At a wide bend in the road I stopped for a snack, and at my feet there was a giant chunk of tire tread, laying on top of the gravel.

When the highway does this to vulcanized rubber, you know it's been a rough day!

The other size of the chunk.

Vulcanized tires are essentially one giant molecule of rubber, threaded with filaments of steel. To tear this piece off all at once, the forces between the truck and the pavement must have been tremendous. Was this the remnants of an accident, or a blowout? Either way it was cool, so I dropped it into a saddlebag and carried on.

Another roadside reminder of how dangerous my mode of travel is.

Hundreds of massive trucks passed by me today, only a few feet away from my body. They were my closest companions in these hot and otherwise silent valleys. As I rode I kept comparing my situation to that of the drivers, zooming by me on their own journeys. If you factor out the difference in speed, and the differences in sensation from traveling 10 miles per hour versus eighty, then my experience and theirs could be described the same way: Intervals of transport divided by intervals of stopping and looking around.

Stopping and looking around is one of my favorite activities on a bike tour. I get to do it whenever I want, which tends to be often – multiple times per hour – all day long. Any one of those people in their cars could stop, any moment, and look around the same way. And they do, but way less often. Maybe a few times in a whole day of driving.

Does looking around produce anything for me? Does it earn me money? Do I gather new wisdom out here, that makes me a better employee back home? Or is it something I do purely for entertainment? And if that’s the case, why do I find it so entertaining? Why is my sense of curiosity so well nourished by the experience of a new landscape?

At what point do I cross the threshold between deriving benefit from looking around, and simply wasting my time?

I pass within a few feet of hundreds of people every day out here, but in all the ways that matter, I am alone — with plenty of time to think. It’s no surprise that I would start asking big, sweeping questions like this.

The question of wasting my time is really about giving myself permission to do something “unproductive” by the standard of my regular life. In my regular life, I have spent an awful lot of time sitting at a desk, typing on a keyboard. That time goes by quickly, because I don’t see the desk, I see an alternate universe of logic and mathematics, where time is measured in solutions to problems. The interval between solutions – the time I spend being “stuck” and hammering at a problem – could be minutes, hours, or entire days, but it all tends to compress down into the same interval. A tick-tock of a pendulum, swinging from problem to solution, as the days of the real world flicker by around me.

It pays the bills and it makes things happen. But unless you define looking around to include the interior landscape of a mental journey – which I can’t quite agree with – I’m definitely not looking around. The instinctive part of me that’s thrilled by travel and curious about my physical world does not get any nourishment. So … Which activity is the bigger waste? Or, how much of each is proper?

On the other hand…

Some people get addicted to meth and spend half of their lives helplessly stealing and sleeping in a ditch.

If I wanted to, I could compare myself to them. I could also measure myself by the legacy of Steve Jobs, or Emperor Hirohito, or whoever. There is no objective standard for what I accomplish in life, so I set my own. And out here in the wilderness, I get to argue with myself about it. What am I seeing out here that brings this question to mind?

What would my standards be if I lived in a little town like Goldfield? They would probably revolve around my body. I’d work hard in a hot room, or a hot vehicle, or outdoors in the hot sun, and probably never make quite enough to be comfortable, but I’d have to stop and rest just from being physically exhausted. The whole idea of choosing whether to work would seem bizarre.

Or perhaps that’s too romantic. Maybe I’d spend five years gluing crap to a car so I can run it in weird parades around the country. The cars are fun to look at but then I’d have no money, so they’d languish in a dried up town, and I’d set up a donation box and linger around them like a ghost.

Or maybe I’d spend five years ripping off road signs from the highway to decorate my house on the main street. The tourists would like it, and a few more of them would stop and buy something. In the meantime, over many years, some unknown number of people would get lost for hours trying to find a road, or run into a ditch on some sudden, unmarked curve, because I stole the indicator for it.

Or maybe I’d be scraping by in Reno, turning fast-food hours into rent payments, feeling trapped, and with no idea what I was getting into, I’d stumble into a meth addiction and spend half my life helplessly stealing and sleeping in a ditch.

I may set my own standard for what I accomplish, but that doesn’t absolve me from wasting opportunities, or destroying other people’s work, or having terrible judgement and being too obstinate to seek help or advice.

Interesting thoughts. A few miles down the road from the grave marker, I picked up a round, chiseled hunk of obsidian. “I’ll keep this, as a reminder of these thoughts,” I said.

Nifty rock!

I saw more interesting things as the day shaded into evening. A helicopter hovered over the valley for a while, then landed a mile or so ahead of me.

This craft was having a rendezvous with an ambulance at a turnout by the road.

Eventually there was just one more valley between me and my destination.

If you look closely you can see some trees bisected by an antenna. That's where I stopped for the night: The Shady Lady B&B.

It’s not actually a brothel, but it was one about six years ago. The most important thing for my purposes was the location: Halfway along an otherwise empty stretch of highway 95, at the base of a slow climb. If I didn’t stop here I would be riding well into the night.

Welcome to the Shady Lady!

The property around the rooms was alive with noisy peacocks, which were very photogenic but made quite a racket. As I stepped onto the porch, three little dogs came running around from the back yard, threading between the birds, and added to the noise with their yapping. When the owner opened the door she apologized repeatedly for the chaos.

Nice joint!
My stuff all piled on the floor definitely reduces the classiness of the room.
I wonder if it's full of Peanut Butter Crunch?
Yep, there's a "Small Brothel Of The Year" award!!
They liked to sit near the recumbent.

One thing I didn’t anticipate about staying in a motel that used to be a brothel: The impracticality of the rooms. The one the owner gave me was filled with atmospheric props, and didn’t have a desk, or any drawer space, and all the chairs looked terribly fragile. I piled my gear in the middle of the floor and ate my dinner snacks leaning against the wall.

Thankfully the bed was clean. I pulled my own pillow out of the compression sack and snuggled up in the blankets with it, with some ambient music playing on the phone.

“This will be a good night’s sleep,” I thought to myself. “Middle of nowhere with no other guests, and just the quiet lullaby of some birds making the occasional –“

“BA RAAAWK! BA RAAAWK! BA RAAAAAAWWWWK!”

“Holy crap, that sounded like it was right inside the room! Maybe it’s just carrying really well in the dry air? No, that doesn’t make sense. Whatever. I’m sure I’ll just fall asleep in a little –“

“BA RAAAWK! BA RAAAAAAWK! HRRHHHLGHL!”

“Yikes! Okay, let me put some earplugs in. That’ll help. I’ll put this other pillow on my head too. I hope those birds go to sleep sometime soon. It’s going to be a long night if they –“

“HAAWRRGRRHBGHHLLBL! BA RAAAWK!”

And so it went, until about two in the morning.

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