June 22, 2005 GMT
Bridgeport (California) to Ely (Nevada)

Wednesday was our longest, most punishing day in the saddle.

We were setting out to head almost due east across Nevada, heading for southern Utah and Bryce Canyon.

Roads don’t seem to run east-west across Nevada, so we were taking the one that came closest to it, Highway 6. The first leg was on Highway 120 (the eastern extension of the road we couldn’t take the day before because of snow), and it wasn’t until we joined Highway 6 that we found out it is also known as ‘the loneliest road in America’—and I can believe it. The road seemed to consist of a series of 20- or 30-mile straights, with the odd twisty bit in between, and about 100 miles between ‘towns’. And these ‘towns’ often consisted of not much more than a staging post—a motel and a petrol station (usually with one pump!).

Nevada here we come!

And a constant headwind blowing out of the desert towards the Sierra Nevada mountains. I thought that the wind blowing off the Pacific was a pain, but it was nothing compared with this. I reckon this headwind was blowing at about 40 to 50 miles per hour, so with our ‘ground speed’ of 60 mph, it was like riding at 100 mph with no protection from the wind. My hands were cramped ‘claws’ every time we stopped, from hanging on for dear life! When the road swung so we were sideways to the wind, we had to lean the bike into the wind to go in a straight line. No trees, only sage brush and tumble weed. We came to hate Nevada, but we did give a thought to the people who had originally crossed it on horseback or with covered wagons. It was bad enough at 60 mph, what must it have been like for them!?!

The most bizarre episode was when we were stopped by a woman standing by the side of the road with a sign that said ‘Road Works Ahead—Expect Delays of up to 30 Minutes’ and a big ‘Stop’ lollipop sign. My first thought was that it was a joke, or a hijack, but there were a couple of cars already stopped there, and she had a big jeep with official-looking writing and flashing lights on it, so we stopped. But we could see for at least 10 miles and there was nothing going on!

It was OK for the people in their cars—they just sat there with their engines running and the air-conditioning going full pelt. David and I got off the bike and unzipped our jackets and stood there, arms out from our sides like a pair of scarecrows, trying to catch the breeze. (The wind had, of course, taken the opportunity to take a rest.)

After about 20 minutes of this, a convoy of cars appeared in the distance, led by a big jeep with flashing lights. As it reached us, it pulled over and the driver waved all the following cars past. He then turned round and we could see a big sign on the back: ‘Follow Me’. So we did. And about 20 miles further on we found the place where they were resurfacing about 10 miles of the road. Why they had to stop us so far away, I will never know.

We finally reached Ely, tired, windblown and in need of sustenance. We had covered about 320 miles in the day.

Sunset over Ely, Nevada

Which led to another bizarre episode. There we were in the local McDonalds (the only eating place that was open by the time we got there!), eating our burgers and chatting, when this chap sitting across the way asked us where we were from and started to chat. We had seen him come in, dressed in dirty old ‘Limey pants’ and a decaying singlet and assumed he was the local bum. But he was eloquent and cultured in his speech and astonishingly knowledgeable. When I told him what kind of work I do, he immediately brought up the regeneration of an ancient date cultivar from a stone that had been found at Massada, in modern Israel. I hadn’t even heard about it, but when I checked up when I got back to Rome he had all his facts right! And he carried on a very knowledgeable discussion about computers with David.

He had some fascinating things to say about present-day America. He said he was glad to have the opportunity to talk to us, because we could understand what he was saying and he didn’t have to worry about whether we would denounce him to the authorities.

It was a strange and intriguing encounter, but when he invited us back to his house we chickened out, claimed fatigue and went back to the motel.

Posted by Paul Neate at June 22, 2005 05:15 PM GMT
 


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