August 5, 2014 : Ely, Nevada : [ Day 70 ]
There’s something about the desert that will make a man question his right to exist in this world. When one distant horizon, upon being reached, opens up to show another, and another, and another still. Even the shadows seem restless, eager to escape, but there’s nowhere to go. Crazy beautiful is a good way to put it. Emphasis on crazy.
I’ve been riding too much this past week, putting too many miles behind me in a sort of power-tour of the Northwest. I rode from Montana to Idaho and Washington, picked up US 101 and rode the entirety of Oregon’s Pacific coast, crossed northern California to Lake Tahoe, and then headed east across Nevada and Utah on US 50, aptly named “America’s Loneliest Highway.” Even the memories are motion-blurred, but it felt strangely good to just hold the throttle open and go, not worrying about photo stops or leisure time.
I departed from Missoula, where I posted last, and met my friend Tye in Kalispell. Tye is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, and he left the North Dakota oilfields a few weeks before I did. Both of us miss the paychecks, but are much happier in our new lives.
I’ve always wanted to spend some time in the backcountry here, but there wasn’t time for it on this trip. So I settled for a ride up the Going-to-the-Sun road. The scenery in Glacier is absolutely breathtaking.
From Kalispell, I headed east on US 2 through northern Idaho and into Spokane, Washington. From there I headed south to Yakima, and crossed the Cascades at White Pass, which was a long but beautiful day of riding. Almost too much scenery to take in for one day.
I ended up camped outside of South Bend, Washington, and picked up US 101 (the Pacific Coast Highway) the next morning. At Seaside, Oregon I parked the bike and walked down to touch the Pacific Ocean. I stood there for a long time, thinking about the journey. For a moment, a strange feeling washed over me, one that was as unfamiliar as it was unexpected. It felt like, well, that everything was right with the world.
South of Crescent City, California, I headed inland for Redding, and took the back way to Reno, Nevada. My route was almost, and probably about to be closed for firefighting efforts. This fire and another nearby in the Lasses National Forest, were started just a day or two prior by lightning strikes.
In Reno, I finally met with Dr. Gary Raines (USGS retired), who for the last year has been guiding me in my masters research. He is among the world’s leading experts on predictive modeling for mineral exploration, and it was a challenge academically to work with him. But we got it done, and obtained some fantastic results from a model predicting gold occurrences in Minnesota.
From Reno, I headed for Kings Beach, California, on the north end of Lake Tahoe. A friend from home lives there, and I crashed with her and her boyfriend for a couple of days. He was an interesting guy as well – rides a lot of dirt and has done a couple of big dual-sport tours on a DR650, as well as led motorcycle tours in southeast Asia.
From Tahoe, crossing Nevada on US 50 was almost a religious experience. Most of the landscape is empty desert, so-called “basin and range” country, because of the sequences of dry valleys and fault-block mountains. In most places, fuel stops are more than 100 miles apart. But the old gold-rush towns like Ely are awesome; like little laid-back enclaves of Americana where the prices of things are still reasonable and the people are friendly. I really liked Nevada, for all of its emptiness and mystery, and for its people.
But that about does it for my northwest power-tour. I am heading for Colorado in the morning, and the day after, I will be meeting Melissa! She left Tennessee this morning, and is making her way westward as I write this. I am still blown away that she is riding three days each way just to come see me. Our plan is to ride north into Montana, and visit my friends in Red Lodge before heading east together for a bit. At some point we will part ways again, and I will start heading back to Minnesota.
But this ride isn’t over just yet. The best part is yet to come!