Remnantology

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

Category Archives: Landscape

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. St Louis.

Finished the Katy Trail.

So here we are in St Louis, or “San loo-EE” as the locals call it, if they spoke French, and if they felt like it. We have spent the Saturday Zero Mile ritual with Robert “Buddy” Paulette (et famille), an old friend from grad school, a Rich Neck Alumnus, and as Sarah claims, one of the two or three funniest commentors on my Facebook feed–high praise given the level of the completion and the standards of the judge. She is right through–Buddy’s quick wit has given us all some true gems over the years. Buddy also is an accomplished scholar with a dynamic research agenda and some upcoming support from one of my favorite George Washington inflected institutions–ahem…. 

To get here, Xander and I finished off the Katy Trail in three days–two of them long ones. We hit the edge of some weather on the last day, but any delays were more due to my perennial quasi-rational fear of rain. All but one of my crashes have been rain-related and I am scarred. Again, Xander kindly indulged my hesitance once I felt a rain drop and saw a puddle, but in the end we still made 108 miles and slept in a nice Warm Showers home when done. We miscounted miles though and made the last 10 miles in the dark. The Katy is sort of hypnotizing already but under cover of darkness it is positively meditative. The next day was the ride into central San loo-EE–an urban ride with some fun hills and traffic dodging. Jews too! We passed a cemetery and a small party starting a burial. I stopped and hung at the back of the group to offer amens and wish the woman’s neshama an aliah in heaven. Having had to miss Gordon’s funeral, I was glad of the chance to pay some small set of respects here. The next Jew stop was a deli with a big blue and white star in the window. This was the first Jewish business I had seen in ages and in could not let it pass. Death and food–it sounds like a Woody Allen movie. 

Once in town, we found our way to Big Shark–the bike store which everyone directed us to. Xander needed a new tire and a small esoteric recumbent part problem addressed. Luck on the former and failure on the later. Recumbents are tricky beast and eventually Xander had to find a specializing shop and even they lacked the part but had a work around. While at Big Shark though, I also took the chance to replace my shoes–three tours seems to be the limit for a pair and my bad habit of unclipping heel inward have left a mark. But that is in the past–I now have a new pair of tourable shoes. Now I need to learn to clip outward. 

After Big Shark, we rode a few more streets and we were in the Shaw neighborhood where Buddy and Bridget raise their son Mack in a really nicely redone home in a neck of town filled with other great looking homes. It was then that Xander faced his biggest test thus far–even though unsuspecting callow youth that he is, he had no idea what lay in store. The question was can he survive a day in the company of two historians. That is no small challenge and one that has withered many weaker souls. All signs though point to Xander having made it through with only an acceptable level of recontextualization. 

Looking back from the banks of the Mighty Mrs. Ip, The Katy Trail itself is something of a blur to me. It was largely a species of green tunnel as I had expected and although there some trulylovely parts, a lot of it is just passing trees and a sandy white path. It was level level level and an easy ride– a great trail and a particularly good one for new cycle tourists. Camping was a bit unclear–so one area for improvement might be campsites along the way. The towns are a mixed bag and they get nicer and nicer as one moves east. And by nicer I mean they start to look more like Virginia towns–really, there were a few that were indistinguishable from Virginia counterparts. In one we talked with a local business owner who explained that the residents worked very hard to maintain the genuine charm of the town. Some of that included keeping out more “probelematic people”–an assessment around which she danced very carefully. I took her meaning though, and given the post-industrial meth and pitbull devastation we saw westward. She said they fought off a Missouri River tourist fish camp plan for the shoreline fearing that they would have no way to move people along when the fishes stopped biting. The issue as she presented it was the balance between possible income sources weighed against fears to maintain property values. Stranger danger vs stranger resources. Many towns with trails face this and there are many responses. I am not sure though this is the best one. Trails represent real sources of income and energy and the Katy in particular has some real state money behind it. Each trail head has a similarly designed information station and bathroom set–though not all have water. One level understands the value of these trails but as we saw in Cute Name Left Omitted Town, Missouri, there is still a strong fear of strangers–a fear strong enough to turn away their money. The irony of course is that each and every town along the Katy was a rail town, and as such its livelihood was dependent on the movement of goods and people up and down those now removed tracks. The original residents were themselves mostly strangers who relocated to be near the rails and in some cases the shells of their businesses are still there to be seen as well as ghost signs on the brick and the carved names of long-gone entrepreneurs. It is a bit late to go all xenophobic now–or at least it represents a curious case of amnesia. 

We paused for a quick swim in the Missouri to break the heat on our long day–making the day longer, but well worth it. The current was very strong and a big whirlpool carried a log around and around so that it looked like a sort of Loch Ness monster or renegade Twainian raft. The river is wide and the banks muddy and wild looking–nothing like an eastern river. The Corps of Discovery passed this way in the spring of 1804 and I don’t think the river looked all that different. These men were strangers then too–and bearing wallets in their own way.  The locals were of mixed minds about the strangers then too. Some saw advantage, others saw trouble. Both views were right then, and I guess both views are still right today. The more things change….

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Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Clinton, Missouri

Off the Grid Riding Magic Trails

So many miles. Kansas is over now–not for the people who live there–no worries, they are all fine. But for me, it is now a memory. Kansas was the place I knew least about when I planned this adventure, and so it was the place I was most curious about. It has not disappointed. The landscape was so much more varied than I might have imagined. The people too have been wonderful–with of course one notable exception in a white minivan. But now that that I am a border ruffian and have fled the state, it seems a good moment to reflect. First some background though.

I had said that I did not need to have a real plan until I got to eastern Kansas. Until then I was free to imagine continuing on the ACA Trans Am to Yorktown, or turn right and head down to Florida on some mix of roads. There also was the possibility of heading north to ride the Katy Trail across Missouri and then cobble something together to get to Pittsburgh and then sleepwalk down the GAP and C&O to DC–old home week. Well, as it happens the Dago gang ran into some trouble, and I arranged to meet up with Xander in Newton and then head up to Chicago with him. That is the plan, and we met at Newton where he cooled his heels waiting for Captian Slow. Xander took up a berth with a wonderful Warm Showers family in the most amazing Victorian mansion-ette! I wish Rami had seen it–it would now be his most favorite home on earth. My slow progress afforded Xander time to learn the town, settle in, find a job, marry a nice local girl, run for office–the lot. I am not sure he really pursued all those possibilities. At any rate, we set off a few days back to finish off Kansas and hit the Katy Trail–the 260 mile rail trail that cuts across Missouri avoiding both cars and Ozark hills. The Katy is not on the ACA route, but many many people do the detour north to make use of the land’s longest bike path. We worked out a route to the trail head in Clinton that took us along a small rail trail called the Prairie Spirit Trail on our way–a sort of narrower practice run for the Katy. We only needed it for about 30 miles, but it made a great break from road shoulders. 

So, here I am in Missouri, on my way to Chicago and ready to write things about Kanasas. First off, the land was very diverse. The western end was part of that vast plain that stretches out to the Rockies. But east and more east and it gradually became a more familiar farmscape. At one point there suddenly were lots of German names and we entered a Mennonite hot spot. It has been my experience that Mennonite-rooted communities are very friendly places, and indeed that was true in Kansas as well. The odd thing was that 70 miles farther east it was suddenly cowboys again–and not just cowboys, but cowboys in leather chaps and big spurs. In my order of the world, Cowboys were west of Mennonites–not EAST of them! The rules matter! Kansas was flat, but there always were rises and drops. As we got farther and farther east, the rises became more pronounced. Right at the border is became downright hilly. In fact, we rode through some very long climbs and crossed a ridge that would have been at home in Nevada. The reward was riding through the spine of the last surviving bit of tall grass prarie. We had one very hot afternoon in that prarie when we needed water. The town had no stores and we saw no pumps. There was a high school though, and someone had obliegingly blocked a door open with a bit of  two-by-four. That was essentially an invitation, and in we went to fill bottles. That led to sitting down and that in turn led to nap time. At some point one of the two-by-four-dependent workers needed water, and he came down our nap hall and more or less stepped right over us. If our presence was a problem that was the chance to call attention to it. They did not, thus it was not. In the town of Buhler a nice fellow paid for my orange juice and blueberries and a local woman informed me that the recreation center let cyclists take showers for free. I was over there quickly and washed almost as quickly. That little break made what ended up being a 114 mile day a much happier affair. On our last night in Kansas we stayed with a wonderfully sweet family and had a lovely time chatting, joking, and cleaning bike chains. Kansas was a great. 

The Warm Showers network has been amazingly helpful. We met such wonderful, friendly, and welcoming people in Eureka, Parker, and in Eads, Co. It takes a special person to want to be a Warm Showers host. Some are cycling enthusiasts themselves and welcoming others is a good way to payback for revived kindnesses. I know that I stop for every hiker I see trudging along Rt 7 on their way to get groceries in Great Barrington–it just feels wrong to not stop. Janet and Orvin in Newton certainly have done time on their bikes, but they also have a wonderful capacity for caring for others. Robyn in Eurka is one of these as well–a sweet and caring person with a strong care-taker edge. The Campbells in Parker were both cyclists and care givers–but in their case, the whole family was in on the game. They were a great source of information about the upcoming Katy Trail which they rode and knew well. All in all, travel like this is made managable by these sorts of trail angels. It is remarkable that so many people are willing to reach out and open their doors to sweaty road-dirty strangers. But then again, most of the people riding out here are, if not cut from exactly the same cloth, are at least trimmed and edged in similar fashion. Gillian in Eads said that when she opened her ranch to cyclists (in exchange for farm chores), her neighbors said she was crazy and that people would steal from her. She was suitably dismissive saying it was hard to imagine a cyclist trying to rides off with a television, or perhaps a goat. In fact, the only thing most cyclists are liable to steal is storage space for all the things they want to leave behind to lessen the load. On that score, I think I am finally done mailing back all the things I regret carting along–like my sleeping bag! 

Trail angels like these generous people are part of what makes this so great. We live with this constant lie that we are somehow autonomous entities–that we rise and fall on our own merit alone. The truth is that we all are part of some vast hive and our successes are usually a mix of divine favor, luck, timing, and the kindness and labor of others. People who think otherwise are just a bit blind. They need to get out on the roads on a bike more often.

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. 

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. 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. 

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