Sunday, July 24, 2011

The US-50 Ride: California, Nevada, Utah

[This is a 'catching up' entry covering July 19 - 21]

When US-50 was designed it started in San Francisco but the modern route now officially starts at West Sacramento, California, 3073 miles from Ocean City, Maryland where I will call the ride complete on July 30th.

I left the Pacific coast after a refreshing visit to John Muir Woods National Park (I suggest a early morning visit if you are in the area) and proceed around the north bay rather than face the traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge again and work my way around to Interstate 80, which follows the original US-50 route as I understand it.  At West Sacramento I encounter the sign above, letting me know that I am almost home.

The ride from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe on US-50 starts out looking like any Interstate highway but becomes a 2 lane climbing the Sierra Nevada mountains.  It gets cooler and traffic is moderate.  Pine forest smells surround and small roadside shops are found from time to time.  South Lake Tahoe is very built up and full of tourist oriented shops, lodging and eating establishments as one might expect.  However on the Nevada border the character changes abruptly to high rise casinos, and views of the lake are evident as I leave the populated area behind.  In 25 miles I see the lonely side of things.  Nevada takes up over 400 miles of that 3073 miles.  On the east edge of Nevada is Great Basin National Park, one of my target overnight stops, but it is getting late in the afternoon and I look for a suitable place to stop for the night. 

Fallon, Nevada has a Naval Air Station (thnk Top Gun) and is thus more developed than the other small towns, offering a good selection of motels and eating places.  The area is agricultural in nature and very green compared to other areas of this state.  The Main street here is spelled Maine Street and tonight, Tuesday, is farmers market night as well as the 2 for 1 burger deal at Jack's Place.  One is more than enough for me.  300 total miles on July 19th.

I plan for a good night's sleep and a visit to what is called "The Best Museum on the Loneliest Road in America," the Churchill County Museum in the morning. Got up, ate breakfast in a little local shop and went to the museum.  Opens at 10AM and it is 8:45.  Darn.  Should I give up over an hour of prime time riding to see the museum?  I decide to push on, riding into the rising sun - eastward. 

Ten miles west a stop at Grimes Point to see petroglyphs - kind of ancient graffitti on what was the shore of a lake.  I ride out into the wide expanses of plateaus and a series of passes for hours.  Next stop, about 100 miles, is Austin which promises some refreshments and a full tank of gas. This tiny town is typical of the remains of mining bust towns of the 1800s.  Nevada is not that attractive to me, but the riding is interesting and the road surfaces in almost new condition, many miles without paint stripes.  After a total of 338 miles I arrive at Great Basin and find a camping spot.  I ride into the nearby, tiny and very cool 'town' of Baker after setting up my tent  to enjoy coffee and pumpkin pie.  The evening was uneventful and I awoke at 5am ready to go - on the road before 7am. I am headed all the way across Utah to Rifle Colorado.

I want to share some of the signs along US-50 and bring your attention to the wonderful quality of the sky in these parts.  Most altitudes were around 7000 feet.  High, low humidity even in the irrigated parts, and perfectly clear sky.

Utah is beautiful.  The road is great, the terrain is distractingly beautiful and the traffic is, well, non-existent. Even when the route merges onto Interstate 70 as it does for most of the state, the traffic is very light until I get near the Colorado line.  It is just one huge vista after another and it is cool until I get to the canyons near Arches National Park when all of a sudden the temperature rises to uncomfortable levels in a short distance.  It is as if someone pointed a blow torch at me.  50 more miles to the border and then 60 miles to Rifle, home of a family member with whom I will spend a comfortable night and visit the Christo Valley Curtain site I worked on some 39 years ago.  It is now officially hot.  Real hot.  But no longer Lonely.

Lessons Learned:  The mental challenge of a ride like this are formidable and real.  Control requires special attention and exercise when the physical gets demanding, like in this heat.  Be in the moment.  It works.

Status: At Rifle, Colorado I was have traveled about 5814 miles.

Next I will travel to Pueblo to meet an old friend, go kayaking and then head out in extreme temperatures to Dodge City Kansas on US-50.

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