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No.57 – USA – Nevada – Winter cycling in Never Never Land

Mar 17, 2016 | America, Blog, USA

Cathedral Gorge Valley State Park offers beautiful views of rock formations like almost everywhere I’ve been recently. You would think these kinds of views would have to end, but in fact around each bend comes yet another fantastic outlook.

Dawn, the Park Ranger, was totally thrilled that I was visiting the park in winter. $1 is the fee for cyclists – instead of the insane amount of $15 in Zion NP. I find the hefty entrance fees in national parks really inappropriate for cyclists.

A national park should think in an environmentally friendly way and therefore distinguish between the luxury travelers with a huge motorhome who has to pay little more for the whole family as a solo cyclist.

My bike didn’t really seem to want to roll anymore. Was it the long break I had taken, had I lost my fitness? Was it my rear wheel, which I had been using since Oman? I had serviced it in Flagstaff, but of course it is no longer new. Is it the new snow tire, which of course has a greater rolling resistance than my Schwalbe Tour Plus, which I can pedal with a lot more air pressure? Or is it the extra weight of my winter clothes? Or is it the huge distance to Alaska which gives me a lack of motivation?

What was the problem? The cycling felt a lot more difficult than usually.

In addition I had to slow down a lot not to sweat. I still haven’t figured out how it works, because once I start pedaling I sweat. However sweating means nothing more than I will start freezing soon, because of the wet clothes. But I had no idea how to avoid it. There is no shower and no heater waiting for me at the end of the day where I can warm myself up and allow my clothes to dry. Well let’s say most often there is nothing – sometimes I am lucky and find something warm and cozy 

I would call Nevada “Never Never Land”. The routes are endless. One pass after the other and in between a never ending road where I can see the long stretch ahead which will keep me busy for the next couple of hours. It seems close enough to touch, yet it is eternally far. The vastness is really absolutely fascinating.

Joshua Trees appeared. I was back in the desert. Great mountains – great scenery and no one here. I love this endlessness. It always brings on a special mood. While pedaling I am soaking up the gorgeous, unending landscape which fills my heart and soul with such happiness. Freedom thoughts, power, desire for more and addiction to life. Everything seems forever!

But at the same time it gives me grief because I know there is no forever, there is no endlessness on earth. One day I have to say goodbye to our beautiful planet – to this exciting life – everything is impermanent – including myself.

What then? Did I oversleep the last 13 billion years since the Big Bang and will I do the same for the next unknown billions of years? Just the thought bores me to death and also scares me a lot. I do not believe in any God, nor in heaven and not in reincarnation. I personally believe I have one chance – therefore I have to make the most out of it.

People who do believe in god, might be able to deal much better with their fear of death. Somehow I think, that’s the main point of religion.

Sometimes I’m in turmoil, desiring to get so much out of each day. But I’ve found, the longer I’m out here the slower I am going. I now need more time for understanding. I always want to understand, get answers to my questions, know details – in the long run that’s exhausting.

Therefore, I have no doubt that the reduction in my travel speed is needed and allows me to enjoy and get the most I can out of my days on the road.

Looking at the stars at night I try to never pass up the chance to make a wish with every shooting star. Trying to imagine how far it all is. A world that I will never get to see close up, a world that has always fascinated me, because it is so incredibly vast. So unreal, so strange. Exciting. For me the unknown is always exciting. And with the stars I know it’s so unbelievable that I’ll never ever understand it.

The area here is well known for UFO sightings. I can very well imagine that there is another life somewhere in space, however this life might look like. But even if “THEY” had the technology and were able to visit earth, I think it is nonsense that they would come for a short moment without saying hello and then disappear again.

But I wonder why people always locate UFO’s in the very remote areas? Is it because the military areas stationed quite close and test their new airplane types? Or is it the same feeling that I have in such areas, and people are inspired and develop daydreams and see things and experience things a city dweller cannot be accommodated in his daily schedule?

The clocks tick more slowly in the desert than elsewhere. People have time. A lot of time actually. Not a lot happens out here.

The view to the sky is much more present than in cities where one is surrounded by skyscrapers, cars and people. The question of who and how and why is more intense if you are far away from civilization. We need to focus more on our self, more on the essentials, more on survival. 

Extraterrestrial Hwy – what a great name for a Hwy. True to its name that day as  the Air Force and its NATO friends were everywhere in the sky. Red Flag is it actually called and I could make up to 30 jets flying at the same time. The sonic booms resounded through the valley and were brutally loud. Often the jets were flying really low. Pretty spooky.

Area 51 is known for the nuclear tests which were carried out here many years ago.

At the end of the day I passed another pass into a white valley. Suddenly there was a lot of snow. The wind was so strong and so cold that it felt as if I just entered another world.

In Little A’Le’Inn – the one and only motel on the entire route, I ordered a Denver omelette. It wasn’t a tiny portion, but it still felt like an appetizer. The typical cyclist hunger. As always actually. Getting a cyclist filled up is often not an easy task, and it is expensive in the long run.

The people were super friendly and cared about my night. “It’s much too cold tonight, you cannot camp in these weather conditions – stay with us, we spoil you with a free night”. I was really thankful, because it was already minus 5c degrees when I left the restaurant. The night it was certainly about minus 20c degrees. (-5 Fahrenheit)

The next morning the trees around the few houses that existed in the small town of Rachel were full of ice crystals. It looked enchanting. It was cold and the air was clear. And it was simply beautiful to be out here. 

Mirjam, the cyclingdutchgirl who already cycled in Iceland, Canada and the United States in winter, gave me a few tips to stay warm. Among other things, she recommended a warm skirt, which is really absolutely great and makes a huge difference on the bike, because we ladies freeze especially at our bum. Thanks Mirjam.

Lauren from “Portland Pogies” sponsored me with some warm pogies for very cold days. Warmer than any pair of gloves.Thanks again! 

I cycled all day and saw only three cars. In the late afternoon a lady came and I stopped her and asked if she had passed any houses or any kind of shelter. I was a bit concerned facing the same temperatures for the upcoming night. She said she had seen an abandoned barn, but 20 miles away. “That’s too far”. As a consolation prize, she gave me sweets and chocolate and I waved her with a big smile. 

One thing is for certain the next winter trip I do I will bring a warmer sleeping bag.

Another 10 miles and just at dusk I saw a barn roof. Great. Hopefully the gate is open was all I could think. A little bit of hay would be a real comfort. The closer I got, the more it looked like the barn was part of a farm. A little further I saw horses and knew where horses are, there are people. Bingo. Eventually I saw light and kept my fingers crossed that nice people were living there.

I knocked. An old man opened the door. I explained my situation and he waved me in immediately and took me to his wife. “Hello, jump quickly in the shower, the food is ready in 5 minutes.” Out of sheer happiness, I gave the woman a big hug.

The man was raised on the property and has never left the ranch. They are one of the largest cattle ranches in Nevada and collect their cattle with helicopters as they do in Australia. The areas are simply big here. In the adjoining military areas they are only allowed to fly with special permission.

Happy people. They seemed in love like it was still their first days. I am always impressed when couples are still loving each other after 50 long years. They done more than a few thing right, congrats.

The next morning they left early, leaving me breakfast and box lunch and a lovely note on the table: “Happy travels”. I love it when people trust me.

10 miles later, a small pass and everything was free of snow and it was all of a sudden nearly 20 C warmer. Madness. These temperature changes are really extreme.

Another 50 miles of desert and I came into Tonopah an old silver mining town that had seen much better days than now. Really incredible how many abandoned and run-down houses are in these old towns in the middle of “Never Never Land”.

Of course, by now I was a bit bored of tarmac and had to go on a gravel road again. Behind Tonopah was a shortcut towards the North. But to be on the safe side, I checked with oncoming vehicles about the conditions of the road.

“Cycling this road. This is impossible. Never ever”, was the reply by a couple. “Why not? Is the road muddy, is there any snow or is it very sandy or what is the problem?” I asked back.

“It’s very remote. It has many stones and it’s always up and down, don’t do it.”

In the end it was a normal gravel road like so many others. Motorists simply have no idea what’s possible with a bicycle. Most often it is actually the opposite. If a car is no longer able to go on, I can still push or carry my belongings. Only clay, snow and deep sand make it too difficult. 

In Gabbs I went to the grocery store. Honestly, I thought I was back in Russia. Somehow this store reminded me of the old Soviet Union. Empty shelves, dark and chaotic.

Nevada never ended. Endless, endless, endless.

A storm came up and gave me a lot of fun fighting against the wind. I looked for a sheltered place to spend the night and get at least a little sleep that night. Windy nights are always noisy in a tent. Although my Hilleberg tent is really awesome in the wind and extremely strong. Nevertheless, I try to avoid wind at night and found a long, closed fence to get behind for some protection.

It hailed and snowed that night and the next day the headwind continued. As is well known among cyclists a headwind is no fun and it always feels like it is pointless to struggle because you won’t make any big mileage anyway.

Fallon and Fernley are both as the Americans might say hick towns which you don’t need to see. As always tons of junk food shops and no flair. Between the two locations there was way too much traffic and once again I wondered why so many bike tourists ride on the main roads. For me it’s completely incomprehensible.

In Fernely, I had a 4 day break and camped behind the freeway at a nice place. Normally I never camp twice at the same spot, mainly out of safety reasons. But the place was well hidden and therefore I was confident that no one would see me. Especially since I had now developed a trust in the American people. Over the past few months of traveling I really felt the chances of getting into trouble in these small towns to be very low.

In general I am amazed about the generosity, helpfulness and friendliness of most Americans. They are really nice to be with and I just feel good here. The initial uncertainty, which I had in the more southern areas of Arizona and California are long gone. Since Utah and Nevada spoiled me with warm hearted people nearly every day.

Nevada has surprised me in a extremely positive way. For me, a paradise for cyclists. No traffic and endless opportunities to camp. The scenery is just great and I’m curious what’s coming up next.


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