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Category Archives: Western Express

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.

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour 2017, Plymouth. 

Riding the ACA Western Express Bike Route, 6-12-17.

Disappointing miles? Oh hells yeah! But then again, this is hard climbing and the bikes are as fully loaded as they can be. I am trying not to be too hard on myself. When I looked at Crazy Guy on a Bike and saw the daily totals people were getting in the Sierras, they were often close to 35. Well, we are climbing the Sierras and we got just over 35 today, so I guess we are normal. Sort of.

Leaving Folsom was a farce. A comedy of errors. We ended up in a cheap motel last night after a long stint at Starbucks. It was getting dark and we passed a combination self storage place and motel and we were intregued. The State Park campsite was still a few miles away and the hotel was really only 25 bucks more than the campsite, so for that money we took the hot water and the bed. There was a television too. I don’t live with one, so I really only encounter it when I am in lodgings. I had one for six months last year at Mount Vernon, but I literally never switched the channel from CNN and MSNBC to anything else. I had forgotten that Sunday night CNN gave up on news and instead devoted the whole time to Anthony Bourdain, who, though once interesting and still personally credible, has nevertheless become a TV parody of himself. “Hey–I am edgy, and I am in this hip edgy place that is not one you would have thought of, but turns out to be more hip and edgy than you would imagine. Whoa! Here is my friend (insert regionally appropriate name here), he/she is a great artist/musician/collector of something hip/architect/culture hero. Let’s eat! Oh man, (named person) your friend is an amazing chef! Now THIS is good! Such fresh ingredients,” aaaaand wrap. Pack up the cameras and back on the plane to the next amazing place. Bourdain in a can. Instead, we saw an ad for an old music collection and I spent the remaining waking moments trying to reconcile Clarance Frogman Henry and Bowser for Rami. 

But despite a fitful night’s sleep haunted by images of cheesy 1950s revival culture heroes (does Anthony Bourdain know Bowser? He must have gone into the restaurant business by now, he can serve Clarance Frogman Henry legs a la Francaises–such fresh ingedients!), I was still up and ready to roll by 7 or so. Not so Captain Snooze. By the time I finally got him moving we had to do all the morning stuff as well as stop by a mail place to ship home my Revelate Tangle top tube bag. Ok–I love this bag. It is very well constructed, cleverly designed, and makes great use of otherwise dead space on the bike frame. But the way I have  my LHT set up means that the Tangle presents a problem. I am using downtube shifters–bar ends always bang into my knees and I like having a Sprint Tech rear view mirror on the end of my drop bars. I have very nice Dura Ace shifters on the bike and they are greater–but the Tangle fills in the spaces where I need to grab the shifter. Previous tours have been on largely flat terrain and so shifting was less of an issue. But here–Jimminy–I am shifting more than a 24 hour factory frantically meeting an order, or an eighteenth-century maker of specialized nightwear–primarily shifts. The point is that I really need a quick, easy, and precise grip on the Dura Aces. In fact, I am pretty sure that this was the source of the problems I had shifting as we set out. So, thanks to REI, I have swapped out the Tangle for the Ortlieb Ultimate Handlebar Box. I know I am sacrificing some aero here, but I think my 7 mph climbing speed can withstand the drag. The box is proving great–although its setup instructions were a bit challenging. Ortlieb is so international that they are beyond written language, and instructions come in a cross between heiroglifics and kabuki theatre. YouTube videos helped though–but it did take a few tries to get right.  

Thus, it made sense to mail home the Tangle and we did. A few other tiny errands, an abandoned phone that required a panicked back track, and a calming stint at yet another Starbucks and we were off by about noon. Not a start to be proud of, but once we were in gear we quickly escaped from Folsom, and were on the golden prarie. Most of the ride had a nice wide shoulder and the cars were no issue. The climbing started right away though and it did not let up. In fact, it became more and more constant as we headed east. The shoulders went away right when Latrobe Rd got all squirrelly, but cars’ fears for their own safety worked in our favor on the corners. We took few breaks and just pushed on at an ever decreasing rate of speed. No question–this is hard riding. We made the town of Plymouth by 4:30 and I at least felt every foot of altitude we had gained. We were in a bind. There really is nothing along the path we are following and it is at least 25 miles between towns–and even those are not much to hang the name “town” on.  Do we stay or do we go? As Mick Jones might have asked–he is Jewish by the way. 

Plymouth has a pleasant little cafe on the Main Street where we rested and schemed. Friendly locals tried to scare us with local info: big cats are on the prowl thanks to the fires, it is snowing in Kirkwood, the roads are horrible, Godzilla had attacked Carson City, there is an outbreak of plague at Fiddletown (real name, not one they made up for me). Ok–not all of that was told to us. But we were tired and it was getting late–and indeed there was no logical destination ahead of us–so we landed at Plymouth for the night, bringing my international Plymouth total to four. But the real crisis no one mentioned was that the RV park has NO TENT CAMPING. I mean–really? It is just grass! who builds a camping park and does have sites for tents?? Don’t answer that–I have already spoken to that genius. On top of that, hotels here start at $130 a night. Thank you Wine Tourism for making it impossible to afford a room. Next thing you know, Anthony Bourdain will show up to meet the local ballet impresario or artisan blacksmith and have a really hip meal–such fresh ingredients. Once that happens even a packet of oatmeal will be 30 bucks. Thanks Anthony! Thanks Wine! Thanks Locally Sourced Olive Oil! Thanks Popeye!

Anyway, we are resoureseful and secured quarters in a great undisclosed location for the night. Tomorrow should be an earlier start and let’s hope for twice the miles–but I will settled for less if it comes to it.  

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Folsom California. 

Riding the ACA Western Express Bicycle Trail.  Sunday 6-11-17

And laugh he did today! Well, maybe just a chuckle. Nothing bad happened–just low mileage let down.

As usual, Saturday was an off-the-bike day spent in this case reading, sleeping, and a short local walk. Nothing to report.

Today had a slow start from the cave in Sacramento–cozy and hard to drag out of bed at 6 am. We still had tons of yogurts to eat and orange juice left over and that was a good start. The real issue was that it is just so hard to get out of bed and onto the road. This is where tents are a huge advantage. In the woods or on tour, it is always easier to leave a tent than it is a bed. We made it out though by ten. I still wanted to hit an REI for last things before we leave civilization. Here were my genuius plans. 1: Leave Rami at a Starbucks with the bikes and get a Lyft for the 5 miles round trip to the store. Outcome: No Lyft connection available on my phone over and over–so that idea died. Lyft–if you are reading this–wtf?? B: A cab to do the same. Outcome: 10 rings and then an answering machine at the 24 hour cab co. Hey cab co., I hope Uber wipes you out–you would have been over-priced and slow to show up anyway. Plan The Thirde: Ride the 2.5 back to the REI in town. Outcome: turns out they do not open until 11am anyway and we were not going to wait a gratuitous hour. In the event, we might have been penny wise and pound foolish.

We left town again by way of the inner city bike path. Rami had found a story about a cyclist being attacked by machete wielding “stabby hoboes” not that long back and right close to where we needed to get the path. Machete Man was taking a break this morning, so we were lucky. Nevertheless, there was ample evidence again that every cranny of this city has been taken over. But as we headed north and west the path became less dicey and more like a regular path. A word about the homeless. This is always such a dilemma. We have an obligation to recognize and respect the humanity of these hard done by fellow humans. But many have made mistakes and are still living in their shadows. The tattooed tear on the face that says “I have screwed up mightily” or the premature toothlessness of meth habits are only the most visible markers of people who have lost their way or been shoved off their path. But guess what? People make mistakes. They do. So does that mean that they lose the right to humanity? It is amazing that we cannot figure out that punishments and punitive reward systems just don’t work. Too often we say to the drowning, “show me you can swim, and then I will throw you the life rope–but if you continue to drown, I will take the rope away. I don’t want to waste any rope on someone who might end up drowned anyway.” We need to change this attitude and just help people because they need help–not because they are somehow virtuous or somehow improving. And at the same time, there is no disputing the very real damage broken people do to those around them and the places they end up. Rami and I have been discussing this a lot. He has a deep romance with the edgy, the off grid, the untamed, and the seemingly free. He often talks about wanting to freight hop (bye bye leg!), or live in hobo camp–all fun and games until the fights begin. There is no point in arguing that that is not a life to romanticize–I am more in line with the butlers in Sullivan’s Travels on this one. I reminded him that many of the people we passed would happily slit his throat at night to steal all his nice bike gear. I think he gets this, and he was eager to move along when Machete Man came by on Friday. I read him as confonting ideas in words and playing out ideas in fantasy. The world is very cruel and grim right now and our sweet soft little ones are absorbing every dark and ugly iota of a culture that still thinks that it is entertaining to watch people–albeit actors–act cruelly and violently to one another. If you think about it, you’d realize how insane that can be. With that said–I still am Rik Mayall fan–so, inconsistent I guess. I think part of this ongoing discussion is because as cycle tourists, we are in some ways just like the homeless. Of course we have we some money to help us along (less and less as it happens). But we are in the elements too and looking for water and places to sleep.

Like now for example. The rest of the ride to Folsom was great. The trail is wide and lovely. Its markings are confusing though. They ask walkers to stay left while cyclists stay right, The result is that we kept having people walking towards us. That pissed me off at first–I read it as ignorance. I jumped to the left lane thinking that maybe this was a dividend path–riders on one side and walkers on the other. But an oncoming pace line quickly disabused me of this error with a classic “WTF??” hand gesture, and I appoliogize for being the momentary turd in the water pipe. The managers have painted instructional messages on the paveing, but they are worn to varying degrees making it hit or miss if your can read them. On top of that, the sentences are all pressed close together so that you can’t read them all as you fly by. American River Bike Trail Elves–try to spread those sentences out a bit more–make them more like the Burma Shave signs of old. We can only read a few words at a time as we pass–give us a fighting chance here!  

But–once we were out on the trail and knew the rules, it was great. Lovely little bends in the trail and gentle hills. It was a Sunday, so lots of riders were out. We met and chatted with many very nice super helpful people. A few wished us a safe journey as they passed and we got lots of other nice comments. These are our people and they all recognize what the fully loaded panniers mean. Many many lovely bikes too. All makes and frame designs but the guy with the titanium Seven with the Ritchie Logic stem, Chris King headset and Dura Ace mechanical was a stand out. He helped us out at a confusing fork in the trail and later I told Rami that that was like a $7000 bike. He was unimpressed. I was not though, and so, Ponytail Man in the American flag Rolling Stones Cycling Jersey–I salute you and your awesome elegant bike.  See, the issue here is that titanium is as light as carbon but can still have the classic gorgeous lines of a steel bike, whereas carbon, and even alloy, will have to be all thick and bulky in crucial places. Viva the classic lines, and double viva for a classic ride that is less that 16 pounds (this is weight and not currency–the rapidly devaluing British Pound would need to come in at about 5500 to get a bike like that). 

We got to Folsom and ate a bit. Then, bike stores for the last of the shakedown fixes. Mike’s provided about 50 bucks worth of gels and beans–as well as the California themed cap I was wanting since San Fran. Thanks Mike’s–trust me, the cap will look like crap soon enough. But the fiddlier stuff they had not. They told us the short cut to REI and the next shortcut back to the trail. Next stop REI where Doug fixed the broken bolt and Rami’s front rack is back to normal. Doug and the others were full of great info–including the news that the shortcut road we needed was shut down. Over a big hill and down a dirt path was the way ahead. But by the time were done at REI–the only one I have ever seen that sells shock cord too!!–it looked like the 25 to Plymouth was a bit of a challenge. On top of that, the sky hard turned black and we the wind was bringing it our way fast. We scooted off to a ritzy Starbucks 0.5 away and here I sit waiting for rain that missed us. Looks like we are camping just north of Folsom tonight as long as I can get Rami out of the Barnes and Noble close by from where he keeps texting me about the books he has found and the ones he wants to buy. He is torn between Arthurian poetry and “The State and Revolution.” Maybe he plans on creating a homeless hobo round table and initiating the Off Grid Revolution. Then again, this place is lousy with high school girls– so I may never see Rami again.

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