Remnantology

Dedicated to the examination of the remnants. Phil Levy's words in reference to history, archaeology, Judaism, academe, music, outdoorsing…

Category Archives: Bicycle

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Larned, Kansas

Riding the ACA TransAmerica Bicycle Route

I got hit today. It was not severe and I was not hurt–I was just clipped by a white minivan’s rear review mirror. But I was very shaken up and really really angry. I was just a few miles outside of Larned at the start of what was going to be a long day. Instead, I had a very short and scary day that ended in Larned right where it began.

I had not planned on staying in Larned at all. This stretch of Kansas has long patches of nothing. Towns that are really just crossroads and miles and miles without any kind of service. It is nothing as bad as the desert–there is water–but it is pretty solitary. I had a great time riding up and over the Pawnee Watershed hills and later made a stop of at the NPS Fort Larned park, because, history. Storms the night before had disrupted my sleep, but even so it seemed warmed out. At 1:30 it turned out it was 104, so that explains the warm feeling. When I rode into Fort Larned I was pretty glad of the shade and cold water. When I rode into Larned proper about 7 miles later the allure of a town was too much to resist. Not that I have been really roughing it all that much. Kansas is dotted with good facilities every 60 miles or so. Over the past few night I stayed in the great gym in Scott City and camped out next to the old High School in Bazine thanks to the nice family that now own it, live in it, and welcome cyclists. But between these wonderful watering holes there is not much. It seems that most riders follow the same path and land on the same lily pads. 

When I got to Larned I learned of the afforbale motel right close by and I succumbed. Soon, I had grocery shopped, cooked, eaten, bathed, and was falling asleep by 9pm. Up by 5 or so today, granolaed, and back on the road soon thereafter. I went a few miles south of town stopped only by a small traffic jam caused by a loading grain train blocking the Main Street. South of town the route runs along Rt 19–a fairly narrow road graced, as it happens, with no shoulder. The white line more or less marks the edge of paving. The next thing I noticed was that the speed limits was 65–and that struck me as a bit  fast even though the road is arrow straight. Right away a roadrunner ran across my path. I think I saw one once before in Arizona but not as close as this. Yesterday I saw a dead coyote by the side of the road, but I have little evidence to implicate this particular bird. The charm of RT 19 I think is that it is lightly trafficked, and indeed, I think only one or two cars passed me before the white minivan. His mirror hit me mid-arm and did not even knock me down. I saw the van speeding off hugging the white line. He made no effort to stop–even though the impact had slammed the mirror back on the door. The road was empty so the minivan had all the room in the world to avoid me. I sceamed and fumed to no avail. I tried to flag down the next car, although I am not sure just why–I think I was just panicked a bit. At any rate, the car just pulled into the oncoming lane and ignored me. Some people are awful. I collected my wits for a bit and made sure I was not actually hurt. I was facing  about 50 miles of nothing eastward, and so I thought it best to head back to Larned in case there was a real problem. Only on my way back did it dawn on me to call the police–hit and run is still a crime. Of course I was probably too late for the sheriffs to have found the van. Nevertheless, once the cars had made it past the train, the sheriffs past me rushing down Rt 19. One doubled back and check in. Deputy Perez suggested I see the EMS team. At first I did not think it was called for, but as we talked I decided to let him call them. Sometimes adreneline can cover pain and I did not want to trust my judgement. The EMS guys did not see anything worrying, and soon Deputy Perez gave me a lift back to the motel–Room three left just as I left it. I filled out some report forms and went back to sleep to silence the anxiety. 

Larned was not in my plans, but I was clearly parts of it’s. I found the local coffeeshop/scrapbook suppply store/tuxedo rental and here I sit watching the cattle trucks and the grain trucks pass by. Burgers and buns, burgers and buns–albeit in their most unprocesed state.  Things here are oddly expensive–and 16 dollars seemed a lot to pay for head shearing–maybe for a full shave–but not just the machine. A store here advertises used c-pap “so clean machines” but most of the store fronts are empty. The streets are largely paved in brick, which is charming, but a bit rattley. I will leave tomorrow at dawn though–“so clean” after a bath tonight. 

In 1700 through, this place was a paradise. The land sits between the Pawnee and the Arkansas Rivers meaning endless water. The soil is fertile–hence all the trucks carting proto-burger buns, and in the old days, the burgers themselves roved in large herds on the plains beyond the rivers. It was easy to get your meat and three veg, and quaff a stiff drink of Colorado snow melt. They tell me that a few miles from here there are surviving ruts from the Santa Fe Trail which ran right through here. But for the Pawnees, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes, each wagon on the trail was a speeding white minivan, swatting everything it could with its massive rearview mirrors. I got off easy. 

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Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Ordway Co. to Tribune Ks.  

Riding the ACA Trans America Bicycle Route.

Wind. That is the defining thing out here. It colors every action and defines every moment. There are short gusts, sudden blasts, curling sweeps, hot waves, and cooling zephyrs. Most of all though, there is a constant barrage of headwind pressing against a rider’s desire to go forward. This Mid-western Mistral never really stops–it just presses and presses. It is my constant irritating companion and the sound of its demanding hiss for attention never leaves my sad ears. Sometimes I imagine it as small horse jockey. He is wearing a grarish livery of purple and yellow checks and has his two-toned horsey helmet strapped on tight. He has his little hands clamped hard onto the flats of my handlebars, and he is leaning in towards me, pushing me back with all of his might. His feet are flat to on the ground and as I ride forward despite his pushing, the heels of his riding boots scrap backwards along the pavement leaving little scratch marks and trails of gravel. All day long he stares angrily up at me. Oh, and he is screaming at me too. Sometimes I take a break for a drink or just to enjoy the shade. But when I come back to the bike, the jockey has rearranged himself. For the next few miles, he is going to lay flat on his stomach behind the bike and grasp my rear rack and make me pull him along. I don’t think he minds much how he does it–as long as he is slowing me down. At one bend in the road, near a non-place delightfully named Chivington for the man who oversaw the attrocities committed in 1864 at Sand Creek a few miles to the north, I managed to give the jockey the slip. The road reoriented, and for a moment the Jockey was off his post. He was still there, screaming at me the whole time, but for a mile or so he was sort of hanging onto the left end of my handlebar. Suddenly, my speed jumped up. In no time I was overpedaling and had to shift up three or four gears. The ground was flat but my speed increased even as I felt my effort actually lessen. From the usual 11mph (my depressing Spinal Tap joke–this only goes to 11) I sailed to 13, then 15, then 17mph. The Jockey was still there and screaming, but he was less intense and I could see he was having a hard time giving me a hard time. But then the road turned again, he found his footing once more, we resumed the position of our all-day battle.

The trucks have a role to play in this too. It is harvest time in this part of Color-ansas, and huge vehicles are shooting to and fro. The horizon is often dotted with lines of giant combine machines strolling along looking like backward mechanical brontosauruses. I see their drivers at every convenience store I stop at–dusty young men in baseball caps mostly, who seem to be in endless good cheer razzing one another and eating snacks. Some trucks carry the grain hither and thither to the silos that are the only buildings breaking the horizon. In Colorado, they also mark towns–but in Kansas they are more frequent and often just sit along rail lines. Other trucks though carry huge farm machines between fields. These are simply enourmous 18 wheelers plus a second trailer bearing 6 more, and are heralded and followed by warning SUVs. The machines have to move between fields because their owners’ livings depend not on the owning of land, but on the operating the machines to harvest it. Teams of harvesters move between towns and fields as needed as well, sometimes staying a day, other times a week or more. My hostel in Tribune is now home to two teams who are in the fields all day and just go to sleep at night. One of their number though seems to be on his own. He just sorts of haunts common room watching Shrek, or sits glumly outside watching the horizon while his fellows work. He has a new cast on his forearm–a clue perhaps to his seemingly unwanted leisure.

But there is no leisure when the trucks speed by on the road. Their effect differs depending on which way they are headed. The ones coming towards me are the worst. Their arrival is preceded by a momentary silence and then, all of a sudden, the Jockey has five or six friends with him. For a second or two, they are all over me. One jockey wearing black and white stripes is pulling my bike to the right while another all in orange satin, is doing all he can to pull me leftward. The two tug and sway and the bike feels all skittish and unstable. I have to remember each time a truck is coming to get low in the drops and brace for the Jockeys. Meanwhile one dressed in a red top with light blue jodhpurs jumps onto my shoulders and grabs my helmet jerking my head side to side–he kicks my chest with his feet. One time, a jockey in a yellow and green kit tried to grab at any loose items I had on my racks and throw them into the grass, all the while kicking at my panniers. But, blessing of blessings, once the truck passes and the attendant SUV zips by with its dopler-shifted “f*** Youuuuuuuuuuuuuu” trailing in the distance behind me, the new Jockeys all vanish just as fast as they showed up, and I am left alone with my usual friend screaming at me as always.

It is slightly different when a truck comes up from behind me. These of course, present more danger to me than do the ones in the oncoming lane. They are closer–and that is scary enough–but they also once in a while pick up some road refuse and throw it at me. One rock hit me smack in the middle of my back and I had to stop for a moment to recover. If I am going to be hit, it will be by a driver trying to get to the same town as I am. But, my deadly friends have an odd effect on the Jockey.  I have two mirrors so I generally know when things are coming up–larger than they may appear in the reflection. The first thing that happens when a truck gets close is that my Jockey lets go for a moment. On top of that, there is a hot wind that pushes from behind and for a second it is as if everything is lighter than air–no jockey, no loaded bike, just a pushing hot blast. The local drivers know there will be cyclists on the road and they are all adept and thoughtful in giving us plenty of room. Most occupy the oncoming lane as they fly by. This much appreciated consideration has an effect beyond putting safe distance between us. As the truck passes and the Jockey is for the moment disoriented, there is a moment when the full size of the vehicle actually blocks the wind entirely and it is as if I am drafting the truck. The Jockey is, for a second, gone. It is a welcome respite and almost makes up for the mortal terror of having to share the road with these beasts. But, it is a tiny a respite, and as soon as the truck farts its way away, the Jockey is back. He slaps me in the face for thinking that there may be some possibility of a life without him. How dare I dream, how dare I hope. “I am the Gulag and you are Ivan Denisovich, I am Alcatraz and you are my Birdman, I am French Guyana and you are Dreyfus!” he screams at me as he settles his little gloved hands back onto my bars, and the ride continues as before.

You can laugh now, you screaming harpie–but I will win. I will wake up earlier and earlier each day to ride as many miles I can while the Jockeys still snooze and take medication for their sore throats. If 5:30 am is not early enough, then tommorow I will try 4:30 am–whatever it takes to find the times when you are slacking. And as I get lower in altitude and deeper into Kansas, stable heat and greater humidity will sap your energy. Each mile I ride takes me a little bit closer to the place where your grip will finally fail you, and you will slip, and my wheels will roll right over you. I will back up and roll over you a second and a third time for good measure. And you too trucks. I know your routines now and can avoid the hours when you are most eager to get home. The harvest can’t go on forever. As long as I can make miles, I am winning.

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Mid-Slingshot. 

Speeding through the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route

After yesterday’s long and hot, but by no means unpleasant return to the Carson City greater metropolitan area, we settled in the Dayton State Park for a night’s sleep, again under cottonwoods. Dayton is the site of Nevada’s first gold strike–roughly at the same time as Sutter Creek’s in California. Today, it is a small suburb of Carson City with a few older buildings on the side, some new and fairly uniform subdivisions, shopping malls, and of course, 

Harris, the celebrated Redheaded Tweaker down by the river of whom we learned earlier. The state park with its brush and trees is also down by the river, but largely free of meth production. The park is an understandable  Dayton highlight. 

We pulled in and were immediately thwarted by the park’s incomprehensible fee structure. It is presented as a set of unclear options from which campers are suppose to select the one, or ones, that best apply to their visit, and then deposit the correct fee in the box, or risk facing the advertised $200 pick pocketing for failing so to to do. Take a look at the sign, and take your best guess at what was the correct fee per bicycle. Take your best guess now, before you read on, so that you can relish your choice before my big reveal later on. I will say this dear reader–there is like zero chance you will get it right. We sure didn’t. One read of the sign could mean we each needed to fork over one dollar. We have bikes, one buck per bike, five bikes, five bucks total. Simple. Or–maybe we are “campers” (abliet sans “vehicles”) and that would require 17 dollars per human camper (still sans “vehicle”) for a grand total of 85 dollars–a bit steep it seemed. But maybe we are both bicycles AND campers–that would mean the 17 dollar fee PLUS the one dollar bike fee for a total of 90 dollars. But we are also “entering” the park, and that seems to cost 7 dollars–a total of 35! Should that be added onto the 5? Or maybe the 85? Or maybe the 90? Who can master this chaos? In the end, we opted for a simple five dollars each and stuck the envelope in the slot and rode on. There are some simple rules to follow in these situations. If the people creating the fee structure cannot be bothered to make it clear, then they probably do not care all that much about people getting it right in the first place–or they are used to people getting it wrong. If you don’t care, I don’t care. 

Our camp was lovely and we slept fine. At 6am though a ranger came over to tell us we had to move since the sprinklers were going to start in 15 minutes and we were not in the camping area in the first place. Fair enough on the sprinkles–the grass did seem a bit too oddly golf course-ish to be a natural occurance. But not in the camping place? How’s that? In his view, the camping spots were near the front of the park–while we were in the back. There is a sign he said; they are marked he said. Really? We saw nothing at all to support his view. Were we talking about the same park? He might as well have said “you are only allowed to camp near the herd of elephants,” or “camping only under the rollercoaster”–also things of which there was no indication at the crucial moment of park entry. We hastily moved and all was fine. Oh, and how much did you guess was the correct fee? Well–the ranger told us it was actually 10 dollars per bicycle–a sum the park decided to make public through a clever game of numerical absence. I am thinking of a number between one and five and I list them as 1, 2, 4, 5. In my list, 3 is noticabale in its absence. That is the way the Dayton State Park assesses its fees–by not listing the sum of 10 dollars (and also by shrewdly not answering its phone during office hours) they have in fact highlighted it by ommision, and so obviously, 10 dollars is the fee. Simple!

The other joy of the morning was discovering that someone had stollen Xander’s riding shoes in the night. I wonder if the theif paid the park single entry fee of  5 dollars if he or she was a local, or 7 dollars if he or she traveled a long distance to steal the shoes. 

At any rate, we got our Slingshot conveyance, replaced the missing shoes and we are now in full slingshot. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. The Slingshot is in Full Swing.

Riding the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route.

Sure, I rode this stretch already, but the view was different. Does that count? The fact that the Sierras are so unlike the places I know makes backtracking–um, I mean Slingshotting–seem just like more adventuring. There were a few reasonable climbs today, but what made them hard was really just the heat. It is pretty damn intense. In fact, should climate change carry on as it has so far, in few decades outdoor activity in this part of the world in the summers will not be possible. The big ACA ride circa 2067 will have to be over before May in order to not kill the riders. It will be as impossible to ride here in 2067 as it is now impossible to ride in places like Needles, California where it reach 123 at 2pm today. We also learned that it was too hot in Phoenix for airplanes to take off. Hot. For me it is just about the intersection of aquatics and mathematics. I figure I am drinking roughly a liter of water every hour–that means about a liter every 10-17 miles on average depending on terrain and wind. These numbers are fine when there is water around–even if just at a convenience store. But once past Middlegate–or really past Carroll’s Summit–we were hitting distances like 65 to 75 miles between there being water. That means carrying about 7 liters of water for each of us–and that makes the bike so heavy to get over the mountain passes that I need to drink more to get the load over the hump. It is a losing circle. It seems that one, or possibly two cyclists have already died from dehydration over the last two weeks in this route. I hope that is just a rumor. For these reasons I am happy with The Slingshot. It is costing us more money we don’t have, and I will miss out on Utah, but it will get us out of the worst of it and back on the road. It will still be hot in Colorado, but there will be more water. It’s a moist heat. 

The line is working out well. Our new ride companions, Sam, Chester, and Xander are in good spirits and in good form, so we made good time–well–they all dropped me twice today since I am sticking to my slow and steady approach to heat and hills. We formed a pace line since the head wind was very strong. The drafting worked well until I fell back from a pull and Rami took over on the point. Suddenly the line was speeding up by 2 or 3 MPH and I just let it pull away. Rami is liking the group and I think he wanted to show his mettle. It was kind of fun though watching him pull away–a sort of metaphor for parenting. It also is a sign that The Slingshot is the right call. 

We revisited the convenience stores we hit on the way out and drank drinks. We saw more old folks with odd cars–this time open engine mock hot rods. I am so of two minds about this still. On the one hand, it just more consumer culture sociability and we all participate in that in one way or another. On that score the Mock-Rods score over the ‘Vettes since I am pretty sure that each of these guys did a lot of the actual mechanical work themselves. Skill is always impressive and admirable. The ‘Vetters on the other hand, just make a monthly car note payment to be in the ‘club’ and that is less impressive. On the other hand though, what it comes down to for me is that leisure gas consumption is one part of what is making it impossible to be out here on a bike. It is not an innocent hobby–they are actively participating in something that is harming others, albeit inderectly–depending on how much room they give cyclists. As seniors, they may not be around to see the long term results of their emissions, but they are the last hold outs of a world-view that thought these resources were bottomless, and that is having a hard time understanding the harmful consequences of habits they have always seen as at best a major boon or at worst, harmless. 

Tonight though we sleep under cottonwoods with the smell of sage in the air. Fifty years from now though, this will probably be a desert too. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Backtrack Phase One. 

Riding the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route

Let’s call it “The Slingshot”–that sounds better than backtracking. The idea is to roll back a bit to leap forward. Our time is limited, and we have a hard time making the miles we need to get to the eventual rendez-vous. My name for the tour was well chosen. 

Today we made 58 miles in good order with two climbs and a steady headwind. It was of course terrain we had done before, but that is the principal of The Slingshot. I am glad to be leaving Rt 50 behind even though much of the land it traverses is lovely. There is a bleak and foreboding to Nevada. It is a place creatures like us were not meant to live in, and there always is something appealing about those places that have bested us and not the other way around. Sure, there are big boxes here, and Modern Homoamericanus has done all he can to force his needs upon this unwilling landscape. But the sun, and the dust, and the blistering heat are constantly shouting back that man is not the master here. Yesterday in the shade of the cottonwoods and again this morning loading the bikes in the shade of an old bunkhouse, I noticed that the air was just perfect–as far as I was concerned you could just pipe it into my house. But as soon as I stepped out of the shade an into the sunlight, the bright glittering molten sledgehammer came down on my head like sixty pounds of baked potatoes right out of the oven. Meanwhile, we learned that it was hailing in Ely. Someone does not want us here.

It was not always thus. Rami and I napped mid day near some petroglyphs. We had made it through the salt flats where the heat was well over 100 degrees. The picnic tables at the petroglyphs are the first shade we saw in 40 miles or more and we had planned to rest out the worst of the heat there. God himself must be smiling on The Slingshot since the sky was filled with clouds for the first time since we were here. They acted as a parasol and made some of the climbing easier before they took their leave. While we rested, distant dark clouds scuffed into view,and I could see rain falling on the far mountains. About 10,000 years ago this world was totally different and we have to thank the ancient petroglyphiacs for some of this information as well as data from some sites. The killing salt flats had been salt marshes and were home to water birds, sandhill cranes, and of course the people who ate them. Rami reflected on the idea that one problem with man-made and man-enhanced climate change is that it’s speed means that there is not time for animals to adapt. He thought maybe the little tan chipmunks had had the time to adapt to their new environment. Indeed they have–at least to the one they are in now. The animals were on us the second we sat down at a park table. They darted around our shoes and chased around under the table waiting for whatever scrap or crumb fell. They even scampered up the bikes to get in the open panniers and a few even reached up from the ground to try and claw at the bottoms. Adaptive little buggers. We eventually fed them some science fruit squeezes and watched the show. 

It turns out there is a heatwave now and even locals are concerned over it. People tell us all the time that we are crazy–that is common tbing for cyclists to hear. But the heat has added a level of wonder to people’s condemnations–and fairly too. Today was the first day we saw other cyclists on the road. We had passed one or two here or there before, but few tourers and no feeling of mass. Today we passed a large supported group traversing Nevada, a lone east-bounder who looked in fine form and second who was less so. The second’s problem was the he had only one water bottle, was dry already, and had a big backpack on. He was young and strong and would probably be fine, but he knew he needed to adapt to his new environment–like a chipmunk.

We also passed a group of three cyclists who were taking a break. It is always good to stop and chat to see what you might learn about the path. In this case, it was a group of friends from Chicago heading east to, well, somewhere. A bit like us. They seemed up to the task and we rode on. Later in the day tbough we stopped for water at the first convenience after the desert flats and the three riders were there. They had back tracked too and must have passed us while we’re napping with the chipmunks. Now we are a small group riding The Slingshot back towards Carson City. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Middlegate Station to Carroll’s Summit and Back.

Riding the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route.

We spent a quiet Saturday hanging around the roadhouse. Rami played pool when he could and we drank lemonade on our “tab,” and watched the comings and goings. The main event of the day was a gathering of Corvettes from Reno. They arrived driven by members of a driving club of sorts. The members pick destinations and then visit them en mass. Each destination therefore is carefully vetted (hehe). In some ways, this is a quite honorable thing to do. It is after all a group of humans sharing an interest–even if it is one that is quite noticably contributing to rendering the planet uninhabitable for other humans. It being satur-rest-day though we were in a good mood and I was determined to see the good in this sort of thing. I told Rami that in truth, I would probably go check out a Mini rally if such a thing were to happen near us, and he agreed. Plus, it was sort of cool to see so many–maybe 40 or more–of the same sort of car filling up the parking lot. We hoped to see a North Dakota plate, but no luck, and just to be contrarian, we devoted considerable time to walking around and admiring the one old white station wagon parked amidst all of ‘Vettedome. It felt Dada. We noted that in many ways this was no different than going to an art gallery (except of course the dust, the crushing heat, the smell of exhaust, and dodging the cigarette smoke). It is true though–these vehicles are at least some people’s epitome of design and that is indeed art. I know it when I see it. Jeremy Clarkson had this to say about Corvettes in general and the 2014 Stingray in particular. Interesting in a Clarkson way.

My good humor was crumpled a bit though when two ailing old guys in Corvette T shirts (let’s call them Hacky Nicotine and Man With a Tube Up His Nose) at the next table started talking about the speeds they like to attain, and were sharing tips on how to handle the road at 200 mph. I hope this was just posturing, but it is pretty distressing to think that these fuel addled consumer maniacs might be careening down a highway not too far from here. Tube was concerned about staying on the road on curves but Hacky assured him that it was best to always straddle the center line. Tube had never tried that he said–and let’s hope he never does!

Eventually, the owners of 40 odd ‘Vettes’ finished up their burgers and shakes, and the aged driving couples slowly and achingly reinserted themselves into their expensive environmentally destructive conveyances and rode off to seek the Fountain of Youth elsewhere. I assume it offers up both regular and premium. Old people today, what are you gonna do!

Later in the hot day though our friend from Friday rode up behind his five identical brown mules. His arrival caused quite a fuss and people came out on the porch to watch. Clarkson reads the ‘Vette as a symbol of a driver’s allegiance to the right of the American political spectrum (such as it is). He may well be right. How I wonder would he interpret a curiously worded messages of X-tian evangelical fervor block printed onto the canopy of a pair of horse wagons? By way of contrast–and I had to look this up–the average horsepower of a ‘Vette is about 575. The wagon had 5 mules and we can probably rate each at 1.25 HP per mule. That means that the ‘Vettes represented a total of 23,000 horse power, or 18,400 Mule power. To match its engine, each ‘Vette would need a team of 460 mules to pull it, likewise, the wagon would need a team of 460 mules to be as powerful as ‘Vette engine. That team would be about 4600 feet long, or .871 of mile in length–a mile of mules! Food for thought indeed.

The Mule Driver turns out to be a guy named Boehmer who began his wandering in Ohio and has not stopped in close to a decade. Fans surrounded him when he came out of his wagon and he had a little flyer he was sharing. He seemed to like chatting with folks–especially the kids–but he had to tend to his mules. They waited patiently for water and fodder and after a while Boehmer moved the whole party down to a dry paddock for the night. When we set out this morning, the mules were free ranging in good order near the wagon camp. Seeing Boehmer on the road was very heartening as I said–mostly in that it was good to see others moving along in a non-gas-powered manner. Boehmer remembered us riding with him on Friday andappoliged that he had not been able to reply to our greetings in good form–the passing cars were too loud. The point I think is that in this world of cars, drivers are all anonymous–just people speeding by in metal shells. You notice the others traveling at lower speeds though.

We woke early on Sunday and had a quick oatmeal, grits, and tuna breakfast. We planned to follow the 722 road since it seemed more scenic and had water. I am a bit gun shy after Dry Friday, and so the promise of water along the way was too good to pass up. And at first we were right. We had our first shade in a while as we entered one of the most beautiful canyons I have ever seen. Free ranging cows scampered onto the road while some galumphed away–the dead one at the road side though just stayed where she was though. But things began to go bad early–about ten miles into what needed to be a sixty-four mile ride. It seems that someone a Middlegate Station took it upon themselves to remove the two bolts that held Rami’s rear rack onto his seat post tube. It is hard to imagine that the bolts both decided to simultaneously loosen and fall out all on their own. No–this had to be someone’s idea of a prank. The two bikes had been locked up on the porch next to our window so I have no idea when this might have happened. But happen it did, and all of sudden Rami’s whole rear carriage was dragging behind him. Not good. I fixed it with spare bolts but was both pissed and feeling a bit violated.

The next problem was exhaustion. We started the day earlier than usual, and Rami was missing his beauty sleep. The fact of a small breakfast only made the matter worse, and so we paused in a lovely glade by a fresh running brook under some pines and cottonwoods. We napped in the cool shade and snacked a bit before heading up towards the summit. The problem is that once again we hit a long steepness that was too much to bear. We rode and walked, but then we saw the switchbacks–each dealing with more than 100 feet–and my soul died a bit. It was close to 2 PM and there was clearly no way we would make the fifty miles to Austin where the next water was. I hate these moments. What is the right thing to do? Forging on feels right in all circumstances. But at the same time, I can’t ask Rami to push past what is comfortable. But he will usually put on a bra even face making it hard to know the true story. There is always a tension between adventuring and parenting. In this case, my own despair at the steepness of the switchbacks and my water worries were thumbs on the parenting scale. We had chosen wrongly for today and chose correctly to head back to Middlegate Station and the roving bolt thieves. I re-rented our room and tonight we are keeping the bikes in it with us. Tomorrow we will stick to Rt 50 and hope for a better result – albeit in a far less lovely setting. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Middlegate Station NV.

Riding the ACA Western Express Bike Route, 6-16-17

We made it. Happier words I have never typed. I sit in the Middlegate Station Roadhouse with the shadows lengthening while Rami plays pool. The low ceiling here is covered in dollar bills and this little cottonwood oasis–no really, it is an oasis–is covered with a creative hodgepodge of trailers, old buses, disused cars, and shiney RVs. This is THE place to be when passing this part of RT 50 and it seems that everyone who passes by stops for gas or food or something more restricted in some counties. We will spend our off-the-bike rest day here and so we opted for a room rather than a tent spot. The room is nice–a bit like a trailer–but it has beds and its own bathroom and the truth is that at 35 bucks it is a palace and we could not be happier. Lower cost short term lodgings is something we just don’t get in this country where everyone seems to want to be a big shot. Thank heaven some people still know the art of the clean low cost bed. 

 We began the morning late again (more about that later), but we were on the road by 8:30 am. We made a tidy little run into the oddly sleepy town of Fallon and stocked up. On the way in we saw a vernacular reminder of what is happening in the background of places like this. Meth–and perscription drugs too–are a plague: a scythe that is causing a lost white generation. African Americans saw their lost generation in the crack epidemic, but now the heavy handed sentences and lack of meaningful ways to help the wounded are twin barrels turned on white America–particularly in the hinterlands. I know that’s not the most insightful insight, but there are reminders of it everywhere. Rami–being a kid in the now and today–is unduly fascinated by this stuff. All of his peers are. From Breaking Bad (which I still refuse to watch despite many assurances that it is good), to a familiarity with the drug enthusiast’s patois, his generation are THE drug generation and we have made them be that. I read it as an innocent enough way to come to grips with it all and it is certainly good that he is talking about it all. I guess the problem would be should he stop talking. At any rate, his savior ne-fait-pas came in handy the other day in a convenience store. A gent strolled in and asked the Charge D’affairs if he had (and I quote) “86’ed the tweaker down by the river yet?” Monsieur le Patron replied “Oh Harris–yeah. I’ll take care of him.” Rami and I had a nice exchange of lingo. Growing up the 70s gifted me with an rich and nuisance understanding of CB and number codes–so 86 was as natural to me as is English–you copy? But what is a tweaker? Was Harris some Giapetto-like craftsperson using his skills to alter this or that into that or this? Or perhaps Harris had some sort of strange nipple fixation, and had simply tweaked one too many? No–my son informed me that Harris was in fact a consumer of meth. What Rami did not know though, was what 86 meant. I told him, and he understood. It was a big 10 4.

In Fallon we chatted with a very nice young woman with a beautiful baby. She told us a bit about the road ahead and even wanted to know what she could do to help out the many cyclists she sees on the road. Without missing a beat I said, offer them water: a fortuitous comment on my part, sadly. She was glad to know that though since she wanted to do something to be kind. And on that theme, she then insisted on paying for the food we were buying. I protested a few times but she insisted. It was a remarkably sweet thing to do. 

We hit the two convenience stores on our way out of Fallon and drank water at each one. We then headed into the desert. It was close to noon when we started the remaining 46 miles Middlegate. It was a singularly hot day and we rode through scorching salt flats and sandy valleys. We had two big climbs. Coming down at speed from the first we found ourselves behind a curious wagon pulled by four horses. It was gratifying to see that we were not the only non-gas-powered people on the road, and on we went. Soon though we hit trouble. With about 8 miles left to Middlegate we ran perilously low on water. We each were carrying about 3 liters and I also had a liter of club soda tied on. This has proven to be more than enough–but this is Nevada and we are entering a part of the state where stores and resupply are far apart–some stretches go for as far 68 miles with no amenities (or water) and many have hard climbs too. We were well-hydrated when we left the last store in Fallon, but about 40 miles later we were in trouble. We were both pretty sunburned too, despite sunblock. So here we were, no longer sweating and beginning the first signs of dehydration. Nevada really wanted to kill us today–but it was Nevadans who would not let it. 

We stopped at a road at the base of the second big climb. The road was flat and about 2 miles long. It led to a military instillation of some kind–we had been seeing jets and helicopters all day and most of the land here is government owned. I asked a guy who stopped at the sign if he had some water to spare. He said he did not, but he would radio back to the gate and they would let us fill up–at least they could fill our bottles for us. Great! We set off on a four mile diversion with supply dangerously low. We got the gate and the pig faced man there said no dice. Can’t come on the base. We don’t want to–can someone just fill a bottle for us?No, They said no. Can you fill one for us? No–I can’t leave the gate. You have a hose right there at the booth you are literally six feet from… No. Ok, thanks I said: our tax dollars at work, and we wheeled and left the reptile behind and set off to rerun the two added miles back to the base of the hill. We were still eight miles from our destination, but for thanks to four added miles we got to meet one of their nation’s greatest moral voids. As we rode back Rami and I talked about this. Rami has always been kind and that is his instinct and nature. It is rare that he meets with the real ugliness that some people possess where their soul or compassion should be. Here was a man, I said to Rami, who simply could not care less if you or I lived or died–our lives meant nothing to him. It is good to see the face of that sort of evil now and again just so that you know what you should never do. The good news is that he was old, and won’t be with us for all that much longer, while the woman in Fallon is going to raise a shiney new baby to be kind and generous. There is hope for a better future. 

At the end of the road though, we flagged down a truck and asked about water. A young man with a broad smile handed us a brand new full commercial water jug, saying it was ours to drink, and refused my offer of money to pay him back for the buy. We were not in desperate straights yet–but we were close and no doubt things would have been worse had we not met this second angel. This was our topic of conversation up the hill. Rami has long had a water angel story which he reminded me of, and I reiterated the Rabinnic idea that we are all angels to one another–even when we don’t know we are. The kindnesses we do often ripples in ways we can never see–but so does our ugliness–we just have to be ever mindful and very very careful.  10 4 good buddy.    

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour 2017, Lahontan State Park.

Riding the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route.

The plans are shifting and the Saturday lay over desitinaiton is in flux. Thus we are poised here for a few possible destinations. More on that as and when. Today though was quite a breeze–literally. First off we had a gentle parting from the hotel after drinking enourmous quantities of very cold orange juice in the lobby. We did a quick loop through the core of Carson City just to know we had seen the place while here. Some nice buildings there and a large number of casinos. It seems a sort of metaphor for state government, and I must say, I have never seen a state house with a vape shop right on its door step. 

With that tourism done, we set off down Rt 50 east into the rest of Nevada. ​There is a nice large climb just out of town and really zippy long downhill on the other side. The road is busy here, but the shoulder is wide and we were cozy. We passed the Brothel Zone just out of town. Somewhere in there was the one that Louis Theroux did his time. There were more brothels than I would have thought had I been asked. Vices are a theme here. 

Along we flew though and made great time for what promised to be a short day.  Very quickly we were making 23 mph on the flats–and doing that with less effort than I have to expend to hold at 21 mph on the road bike at home. How to explain that? The answer of course was that we were now beneficiaries of the endless strong wind sweeping down from the Sierras. Yesterday it was catching us at intervals and throwing us sideways. But today–ah today–it was a welcome friend, a hand on the butt pushing one along, nature’s own pedal assist. There were times when it felt like this wind could just push us all the way to Utah. Here’s hoping.

The landscape change was rapid and dramatic. We are now in the desert and high dry prairie. The sun is strong and hard breathing leaves me parched. We stopped along the way to fill up on fizzy water and salty potato chips. There are some interesting towns out here–Dayton for example–but they flew by too fast for us to notice. Flying along though we made it to Stagecoach and stopped at the Stagecoach Market. There we met the welcoming and friendly AJ–owner and proprietor. AJ is a Londoner who has left ready access to Caffe Nero and the 25 bus to run a rather busy and well-stocked roadside shop with a great view of the hills. We are on the old Pony Express route and one of the places Mark Twain visited in his western years–those memories are still here. AJ has a blue binder in which riders write a bit about themselves and their travels. Some of the stories are very touching and it is much to AJ’s credit that he sees the value in collecting them. The ACA maps only list the shop as a CS (convenience store), but the location is ideal for cyclist watering hole between Carson City and Lahontan. AJ is interested in stocking up on cycle goodies, so when you pass by, make sure you stop in and help make this the next big thing on Rt 50.

We made it to Silver Springs and saw the massive line of traffic caused by the blinking red light. That is when things got a bit worse for us. The State of Nevada, in its wisdom, has seen fit to make sure that the entire shoulder from here east is cut with rumble strips. That leaves us to ride on the inner edge of the white line! The good news is that there are very few cars on this section of “America’s Lonliest Highway,” but–WTF? What asshat said “I know, lets have no shoulder on a road used all the time by cyclists! Brilliant!” We have a few hundred miles of rumble strips ahead of us and I am not psyched. The wind will still be strong through so we will travel over them quickly. 

Lahontan is a huge resevoir and winter snows–now melting–have it filled and cold. We splashed around a bit and set up camp and settled in to look at desert stars after a nice sunset. More miles tomorrows. Ready to rumble!

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour 2017, Carson City.

Riding the ACA Western Express Bike Route, 6-14-17

It got cold. Not too bad–but cold. The tent was on a concrete pad porch under a nice log and tin roof. Huge banks of snow blocked two other sides so that we were pretty well insulated from the wind. The new REI Quarter Dome Plus is a huge improvement over the older model we used last year. The newer one is far less over engineered and goes up fast and easily. 

I had just fallen asleep when the cop’s siren’s “booooeeeep” woke me up. Rami too. We heard the cop say through his bull horn “stop” and we agreed that that was not the command he would have used if our camping on the porch was his concern. “Stop camping there!” “Stop sleeping in the name of the law!” No–it did not make sense. So, instead of suddenly packing and leaving, we lay in our bags and watched the lights and listened to someone get a ticket. We also knew that if the cop left us unmolested, then we were home free, and indeed, and no one cared if we camped on the porch of the Carson Pass Information Center.

No one cared if we camped on the porch of the Carson Pass Information Center, and so we slept on and rose when the sun warmed us up a bit. We packed up the bikes and set off to let gravity do what it does best. At 8550 feet, Carson Pass is part of the annual Death Ride and we met a group of riders training for it. The race covers something like 129 miles, 5 peaks and descents, and something in the range of 15,000 feet of “lung busting climbing.” It is an amazing challenge. Rami later devoted himself to reading up on it am making his plan to ride it. No iPods allowed either. Ok–deal breaker right there!

The descent from Carson Pass was quick, fast, and beautiful. Heavy bikes want to go fast on downhills, but they have huge momentum and so it is wise to not let them do all they want to. I feathered my brakes a lot and really only held off when there was a straight shot down to a clear flat. Even then I easily broke 40 mph and could have gotten into the 50s or more if I wanted to. I did not want to. So much rests on machinery in a descent like that and I was almost too preoccupied with mentally checking every part of the bike and the ride feel to even focus on how beautiful was the place itself. I was listening to every brake hiss, feeling every shudder of the frame, weighing every jolt in the handlebars, constantly thinking about balance. I was not terrified, nor was I stressed–it was all just very technical: awaiting reports from the bike sent through the network of hands and arms and legs and feet. I bet a hang glider or a brain surgeon is pretty focused on the technical for a while before they really settle into enjoying the experience. “Hand me the little dremmel tool skull cutter nurse, I am really going to relish my time in this guy’s head! I am going to sail around his medulla oblongata as if I was hang gliding!”

Rami on the other hand was in adrenaline heaven. He had his music up loud and was imagining he was an eagle flying through the mountains. He has begun his training for the Death Ride. He is the Ringo just having a great time to my George overthinking everything. Dated?

Very quickly we were in Nevada and riding at the base of the range we just came down from. 
The climate was a total change–it felt noticably drier and hotter but nothing bad at all–just a nice change. We rolled over hills up and down until we got to the edges of Carson City. The maps led me to think there was a campsite south of town, but there were only sprawl malls and very unpleasant roads: six lanes many cars. The shoulder was fine though and were in town quickly, The first stop was The Bike Smith at 900 N Carson St. They were getting ready to close up and we were unfocused and a bit brain dead from the road. Nevertheless, I have been throwing my chain over my large chainring every time I gear up. The issue is the limiter screw on the front derailleur, but that is the part of the bike I feel least able to cope with. Carson City was our last chance to have a professional mechanic look at the thing before the desert, so in we stopped. Justin very kindly did a quick and solid fix and also spotted that the cable was fraying and summarily replaced it. Justin has a blog called Justinvelo where he discusses goodies he is seeing come through the shop and other issues in the cycling world. Mountain biking is big here–no surprise–and Justin had a very good discussion of the issues surrounding pedal assist. This is getting to a be quite an issue in competitions and some trails ban assisted bikes of any kind. Justin had some interesting insights into what might make a given rider support or oppose assist and he sees that riders with history are far more critical than new riders. My initial instinct is to think something is amiss with assist. But at the same time–assist would be great on some of these climbs–especially since we are not talking about motors, but rather internal mechanisms that simply add power to your pedal stroke. No stroke, no power. I have to think about this. 

We ended up at a hotel north of town and were fine. Food. I hate travel stuff that focuses on food. There is nothing worse that a travel vid that begins by showing a lovely city street somewhere for about 5 seconds and then cuts to the front of a restaurant. Next thing you know we spend the next ten minutes in a restaurant that could be anywhere looking at plates that could be anywhere laden with food that could be made or eaten anywhere sitting on tables that could be anywhere. Does it even count as a travel vid if all you see is the inside of some mostly generic high priced slop hall? Long and short, my adventures are not culinary. Local delicacies and the dining habits of the natives are things I am fine skipping. Thus, this will probably be all I have to say about food. 

Rami though is 16 and eats like some sort of creature that has to consume his weight in protein every 12 hours to survive. “I’m starving” is how most conversations begin. We don’t have an interesting array of eatables with us. Grits, oatmeal, bike gels, and lots of tuna fish. He is not sick of it yet–but it is only a matter of time. 

Rami says the beef jerky is too dry.  Of course it is–it’s beef jerkey! Dry is its thing, its metier, its ISP! What’s next? This ginger ale is too wet? This oxygen is too “breathy?” I can’t really complain though, I am a very picky eater myself and am the opposite of adventurous. What is that–an arm chair eater? But it is but it is not simply finikiness that makes me that way. It really is more an issue of outright contempt. I just don’t like food very much. That’s not to say that there is not food that I like very much–there is, and I am quite devoted to it. But it all tends to be simple–even elemental. Eggs (chicken ones), pea soup, lentils, white rice, beans, and hot chocolate are sort of the staples. There are extravagances now and then–but they are fairly tame as extravangences go. But I think above all it is the culture of food and food presentation that I can’t stand. Things were better when region and season limited what we could eat. With that said I a going to drink some Florida orange juice and grab a Perrier for later–I find Pellegrino to be just a little too flat for my taste. Maybe Pellegrino needs some fizz assist. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Carson Pass.

Riding the ACA Western Express Bike Route, 6-13-17

Having passed the night peacefully in Plymouth, I can now disclose the undisclosed location. It was the big lovely gazebo right in town. It became clear that cyclists stopped there often enough that it was no big deal, and so we joined their ranks. It got chilly at night but that was just a bonus as far as I was concerned. No one said “boo” to us and so we had a peaceful night. The guard kitty patrolled and we slept.

The next morning the warm sun made it hard to shake awake but we managed, snacked up, and hit the trail. That is when the fun stopped. Right outside Plymouth we hit our first staircase of the day. I find that grades of about 5% or even 7% are fine–even sort of fun. They give you a good feeling of strength without having to achieve high speeds. I am happy just finding the right gear combination and slogging along at a calm pace. But many of the grades are much steeper and far harder to take on. The bikes are defiantly overloaded–with food mostly–but I am going to have to reconfigure and mail some things home. But what has two thumbs and is the other problem? This guy! I am not a climber and I am not going to suddenly become one–even though I have to come to some agreement with the more level-challenged parts of the earth’s outer crust. 

Climbing requires one of two posture options. The celebrated one is standing. That uses different muscle groups than sitting and that makes for a nice change. It also though is quite tiring and I find it winds me a lot faster than sitting. Remaining seated though requires very low gearing–that means the smallest chain ring on the front and the biggest one on the rear cassettes–for me that means 26/34 while Rami has 22/34. If you have not ridden in that configuration before, let me assure you that it leaves one looking and feeling a bit like the Roadrunner right before he shoots off down the road. The catch is that the shooting down the road never actually happens. Instead, the legs spin and spin: lots of pedaling and flailing signifying nothing. But when the road is steep, low low gearing the only way to move–albeit a slow way. I suppose one has the option of staying in a higher gear ratio–say 50/12–and standing and pushing that way. I am pretty sure that that would shoot my kneecaps off though. But they would at least fly down the road at a higher rate of speed than that which they are achieveing still encased in my skin. Sorry kneecaps. Just FYI, this is partly why there will be a big boom in kneecap replacements in a few decades when all those fixie rider chickens come home roost in middle aged bodies. Bargain basement here–buy the right stock now. 

The other wonderful gift of the modern miracle that is low gearing is the magical instability that low speed creates. One of the hardest rider excecises people work on is slow riding. Being able to keep a bike straight at say 3mph takes remarkable skill. Just like a track stand (when you stay on the pedals and keep the bike stationary by balance), slow bike skills are great to have. I am ok with my road bike, on a level, when I feel like it, and when I fail I can say, “no, that was just how long I wanted to do this track stand.”  When I am pushing a loaded bike up hill on a few inches of shoulder, I am not always a wizard the 3 mph straight ride. Instead, I am THE man when it comes to awkwardly fighting with my front end to keep it in line. This skill I have carefully honed is making riding next to passing cars a special pleasure. 

And this is what the whole day climbing out of Plymouth was. An occasional flat or even a downhill, but mostly being near tears and hating life trying climb grades of 40 or even 60 percent. Ok, they were probably only 10% or 14% but they might as well have been 60. Can’t be done is can’t be done. We rode, we walked, we sat, we rode again, we walked again, we sat again, we napped in a guy’s driveway, we got bitten by ants while napping in a guy’s driveway, we rode again. The whole day. We sat for a little while in Fiddletown early on and felt like maybe we were not confronting hell. I am not sure we were all that convincing though. Even the giant fiddle on the curious town building could only raise a small smile. 

The weather was dreadful too–just too cold or too hot–impossible to get right. Arm tubes on, arm tubes off, sweat dripping down face, face cold from wind. The good news of course was that this part of California is beautiful. We were crawling out of the golden hills and heading into piney mountains and it is great. But climbing. Maybe I am not eating right? Maybe the can ditch things on the bike? Maybe it is altitude? Who knows, it is just so damned hard.

Here are the fragments of thought that pass though my mind when I am suffering up hill. “Chairs are nice. Your legs don’t move when you sit in one. Hot tubs are warm. You can rest your legs in them. How many miles is it back to San Francisco? It is mostly downhill and flat that way. That pickup truck has room for bikes. So does that one. Ooh! A van–our stuff and us can fit in there and there probably is air conditoning. That’s a nice house. If I just stopped here and never moved again, could I live there? How could I make a living? Grow olives? Run a coffeeshop? Tend to dying cyclists?” But then the ground levels out or better yet, drops, and the monologue changes. “One gear higher? Yeah I think so–good burn in the legs. Push harder–not maximizing hip swing enough. Zoom. Into the drops–get more aero, butt higher, try to rest your chin on the stem–that’s good, 40 mph is good.  Jeepers the gears make a terrible noise when I drop them. It’s hot. Am I going that slow that the flies can actually keep up? That pickup truck has room for bikes.” See what happened at the end there? Every decline ends and the staircase is again before me. A sport designed for Sisyphus.

We made it most of the way when we ran against the California weather. In this case, not in a storm or something like that. Instead, it was in the form of rain a while back that had washed out part of the road we needed to take. More spirit deadening gifts from Jello Biafra–he is the governor of California–right? Some folks thought we could make it past the rain-washed road. No problem. Jump the barricades and just stick to the half of the road that is not washed out. We will recognize it when we see it–it will be the part that still looks like a road and not a landslide. Others said it was not possible to get by. Still others told a tale of a detour–one of the most distressing words in the English language. Confused and exhausted, we stopped at a quiet little store to ponder our dilemma over bottled lemonade. The owners were lovely. We were close to our goal for the day–a stealth camp somewhere that would leave only about 25 miles or so to Carson Pass where the climbing abates. But we were also tired and it showed. They offered to allow us to camp out behind the store, and I think I agreed before the sentence was finished. Then, they offered us a lift past the blocked road (a problem that I was already deferring until the next day). Again–we were yessing as soon as the offer came. Next thing you know, we had packed up the stuff into a pickup and then drove over hill and dale, until we were past the road failure and a nice parcel of miles ahead of where we planned to be. When the day was over, we were at Carson’s Pass setting up camp on the porch of the visitor station there. More angels appeared–this time in the form of a family taking in the views, fishing, and scoping out a future ride. They provided us with some water–I was melting snow to cook the pasta we bought at the store–and even gave us some ichthyic delights. A great end to an odd day that went from wanting to kill us to suddenly jumping us 20 miles ahead of our plan.

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