Before leavingMap May, 24th 2008 - May, 26th 2008
Outside my apartment before leaving. Note the brand new jacket...
One of the very few Holidays in the US is the Memorial Day, a yearly event to remember soldiers fallen in war. I guess this is meant to be a day spent with the family, but I don't have any family member here... so I decided to go on a road trip...
Recently I have been into hiking more than ever and I was seriously considering about going somewhere in the Sierras and cover a few miles of forests using some of the new equipment I bought. Then I thought I am really neglecting the motorcycle and I was once again attracted by a long road-trip. Destination Nevada.
Till the very day before the departure I was resolved of going to Klamath Falls, Oregon, but I am glad I retreated and decided to visit the the closer neighbor state, which turned out to be an outstanding vacation.
Friday I headed home early and started the preparation; as I often do before a trip, I payed a visit to my neighbor Jonathan, who frequently (or I should say ALWAYS) gives me good advices and extra gear that I keep postponing
Hwy 49 is a nice California road that brought me almost to Reno.
in my must-buy list. In this circumstance he provided me maps, oil for the motorcycle (which I forgot to buy the day before at the BMW store) and a heated vest. Shallow as usual, I gave for granted the weather was going to be good, but Jonathan and Lubab insisted I should take the small electric jacket since its volume is negligible when packing and it can make a big difference when conditions are worse than expected. But time brings wisdom and I learned I am always wrong, so I accpeted the generous offer. The weather forecast was scary: the Sierra's were supposed to be between 35 and 45 Farenheit with isolated thunderstorms and frequent showers on Sunday. Nothing could change my mind at that point and I left at 9.30 as in my original schedule.
For the occasion I also bought a new jacket. A BMW Rallye 2, electric blue. I must say that's one of the best purchases I make in the last few years. Another novelty compared to the other trips was the usage of a small hand-held GPS, which I actually purchased for hiking purposes. It does not have any maps in it (if not
major highways and lakes) but it has tracking capabilities that pretty much makes impossible to ever get lost (unless you run out of batteries...).
So - after a last chat with Jonathan (who took the first picture of this post) - I hit the road and headed North. The plan was to sleep in Reno the first day and so I did.
This time I spent some time planning the route on the computer using the AAA software; my main waypoints to be Reno and Dixie Valley, a small town in Nevada not too far from Reno. The problem is that the route I programmed was actually impossible to make with my motorcycle... but I'll come back on this later.
I wanted to leave the bay area as quicly as possible, so I opted for the 680 North up to Rockville. Then I merged onto Hwy 80 and headed towards Sacramento. Traffic was heavy and I was starting to be impatient.
From there, I didn't want to hit any major higway and - I must say - the plan worked rather well. I took a county road that brought me to Yuba City which I was somehow thinking
Another view of hwy 49
The landscape was changing very often.
completely different. For what I've seen it's just another industrial town. The road was long and straight and the wind pretty chilly: I got already cold at that point! What a beginning! I stopped by at Wendy's for a hamburger and decided it was time to try the heated vest. Yuba City is sea level and I had to face quite a lot of elevation gap before night, although Reno is only 4,500 feet (about 1,370 meters).
Hwy 20 was the real gateway between cars and traffic to the peace of the mountains; I rode a few miles of it before taking Plesant Valley Road, which merged into Hwy 49.
At this point I was still at the beginning of the trip; it's funny what you think when you ride your motorcycle or at least it is for me. I remember to be a little upset when I left, I guess I have been working too long without a real break. I was thinking about futile subjects: how to get rid of some junk I've got in my apartment, why the stock market is plunging, how my mom and dad are doing. Plesant Valley Road lived up its name
Nevada Hwy 445
Scenic route to Pyramid lake.
expectations and helped me relax a little bit. It's a nice curvy road where I did not find one car. At that point I started to be absolutely too hot and I later discovered why. The electric vest can be directly plugged into the power socket of the bike, but in such case it would be either maximum power or off. For this reason Jonathan bought (and lend me) a thermostat which has to be serially connected to the power (duh, it's obvious!). I don't know what I was thinking when I made the connections, but I short circuited the thermostat and connected the jacket directly. Not bad for having a degree in telecommunications.
When I got to Hwy 49 the rain was almost steady and I was constantly fighting with the tank-bag cover for the rain which I reckon is somehow badly designed by BMW...
At any rate, since the rain was really starting to bug me, I decided to get to Reno as quickly as possible without taking any major road. By miracle I was able to find Gold Lake Hwy and I stayed on it until Hwy 70. At this point it was snowing pretty badly
Gas station at Pyramid lake
It seems a gas station from the twenties, very very nice.
and the temperature was somewhere between 35 and 40 F. By then I was still hot though, probably half power would have been good enough for the vest but I sorted that out only the following day. Hwy 70 must be really pretty on a sunny day but Saturday it looked just like a long hilly road to me. Speeding quite a bit I was able to reach Reno by 5.30 pm and find a motel.
The idea was to get to bed early and wake up early... but if you leave me in Reno this is not going to happen. I went for an abundant dinner and then Siena attracted me like a big magnet attracts a needle. Siena is, in my opinion, one of the most classy casinos where I've been (Las Vegas included) and every time I am in Reno I must go there.
My usual bet is $100 at the roulette; since that was a particularly slow night they granted me 50-cent chips and I lasted quite a long time... but without much drinking. A little bored and tired, I decided to go to the motel and read some of the Focault's Pendulum by Umberto
Stillwater is a wildlife natural refuge, that's where my offroad adventure begun.
Eco. I needed 300 pages to finish it and that night I was planning to kill it that night, but I got stuck watching Death Wish 4 by Charles Bronson!! I never watch TV and that was a movie I saw many years ago; it's funny to watch an old action movie when it's been years you don't do it. That really helped me remember why I don't watch Hollywood productions anymore (but I must confess the plot is far better done than many of the newer ones).
The morning I had a huge breakfast at Siena's because I knew I was going to have a long day. The temperature was low (maybe 42 F) and I started cursing at Reno. I think I've never been there with good weather. Last time it was raining, the time before I was with Diego and Gianni and it was snowing. The time before was also snowing. But hope never dies and I started riding at 10.30Am directed to Pyramid Lake. The route to get there is pretty scenic and it would certainly be gorgeous in a sunny day. The lake itself is an Indian reservation and is far bigger than I
This is very near the bail-out place... the road was still allright here, I didn't dare to take a picture later.
was expecting although I knew it was going to be large.
Around the lake there are a plethora of trails, but a permit is necessary to ride there. There's a little general store that gives those permits for a few bucks, but I didn't feel like going back. Also, the intermittent rain made those trails pretty muddy and my heavy moster would have given me hard time.... that's what I was thinking when my brain was still working fine.
I wanted to know if people living there are "real" indians; I don't know what I had in mind, but the woman that was working in the little general store looked definitely native american. I reflected what living there would mean and I didn't reach any conclusion. The lake area must be beautiful in the summer, they must have fun; that's what was echoing in my mind when I was freezing outside.
I headed back to Hwy 50, the loneliest highway in America, but I soon turned toward Stillwater, a wildlife refuge that, for what I've seen, was indeed wild but did not host any animal. In the bay area we have Alviso which is supposed to be very similar,
Behind Dixie Valley
Dixie valley was on the other side of that small mountain range; I got very near, but there was no way I could face it with a fully loaded motorcycle and alone.
but way smaller and less extreme.
The directions I printed for Dixie passed thru Stillwater because I forced a waypoint there. I was surprised my paper map didn't have any of those roads and now I know why...
The road to get to Stillwater is desolated, although some people were living no more than 10 miles before the actual refuge. The landscape quickly changed from mountain to desert and, when I was still thinking about void, I saw a sign saying "end of paved road". I thought that was going to be only interim and I was justifying that with the fact that AAA sent me to that road. I made the wrong assumption that software had only "doable" roads in its database, but I was wrong.
The initial part of the unpaved road was broad and hard-packed and I thought "Nevada, is this the best you can offer me?". I was not too concerned and I was still convinced the pavement would resume in a couple of turns. Dixie was about 20 miles away on a straight line but there was a small mountain range in between. Meanwhile, when I was really not expecting that, my front wheel sank
Just another wreck...
I don't understand why people in the desert like to have those wrecks around... but they are very cool to see.
into the mud. The hard-pack was slowly turning into mud and my heavy motorcycle with road tires was sinking more and more. I decided to continue and I arrived to another designated waypoint. I made a right towards the mountains, Dixie was getting closer but yet so unreachable. The trail become very small and I started to worry about dropping the bike. I didn't even have enough space to turn around. The front wheel was erratic and i was holding the handlebars so tight my entire back was contracted for a long time. I thought it was impossible, there must have been something wrong in the directions I printed, but I made no mistakes. I stopped, I was at the bottom of the hill. I have enough space to turn around. While I think both wheels dig at least 5 inches into the ground; I start to think about quicksands, about not having seen anybody for more than 20 miles. I started thinking a real adventurer would not give a damn and would continue. I thought I would have ruined the trip if I didn't continue, but for once in my life common sense prevailed. There was only one sensible
Picture of myself at Walker lake.
solution and I realized it: bail out. I was very sorry to do it, but I'm glad I did it. There was no way I could make it alone; with another person and with dry conditions I would have attempted it, but not that Sunday, simply not that Sunday. I turned around and started going back to Stillwater. I did not realize the route was so hard when I was going toward Dixie; I saw the deep print my wheels left on the trail and understood the conditions were getting worse. I started to think what would happen if it started raining hard all of a sudden. The little daily life problems disappeard from my mind; I soon realized I was expelling those issues the same way to get rid of toxins when you sweat. I never engaged the second gear and I was sure the engine was pinging but I just wanted to get to the main road again. When I reached the hardpack I looked behind me and said "Luca, why don't you follow everybody's suggestion and stay home?".
I quicly reached Fallon, a rather large town on Hwy 50. I got some food, I filled up and
Me and Michael
We tried to get some food to the nearby casino, but the kitchen was closed... bummer!
I was ready to hit the road again. I clearly remember I started enumerating all the songs I know that contain the word "free". I recalled "I feel free" by the Cream, "Freedom" by Aretha Franklin, "Liberi Liberi" (free, free) by Vasco Rossi, an Italian singer and many others.
I wanted to go to Walker Lake and reach Yosemite the following day, Monday. I was sick of unpaved roads and I took Hwy 95, a long and straight highway. That's one of the very first occasions I reached maximum speed with my GS. According to the GPS, 118mph (189Km/h).
I stopped by the lake and I felt tired, I decidedly needed to stop soon. The ideal place had to be unknown, because it was the Sunday of a long weekend and I was worried not to find a room. Next little town was Hawthorne and I thought it was going to be perfect for the night. I found a cheap motel (40 bucks) and realized that town had something special. I was talking to the guy of the motel and he told me a few interesting things about Hawthorne. One of them is that many people get lost every
Beginning of Sonora Pass
The sign speaks clear...
year in the surrounding mountains, but they rescue them all. Last year there was only one explorer with an ultralight that was lost for good. Even Google pointed its satellites at that area in order to find that guy, but nothing.
When my door was not locking he also told me the only guy who takes care of locks in town is always drunk and you can find it at the bar, so they had to live with that.
When I asked if my motorcycle was safe over there he told me "Don't you worry, I have a big gun like everybody else in this town". It was just strange.
Next door there was a bar, the motel guy told me it was a nice place and he knew everybody. In front there was an Italian restaurant. I decided to go write my journal at the bar for an hour or so, then go to the Italian restaurant and then finish the book. Needless to say it did not happen... I ordered a Bud and sat to an isolated table near the restrooms. I was initially checking a map and did not realize that was getting the attention of every
person in there. One big guy with a honest face approaches me and tries to understand where I want to go. We talk a little bit and he offers me a beer. He goes to the counter and talks to his friends about me and my motorcycle and after a few minutes I was famous: beers kept arriving at my table. It's incredible the hospitabilty I received in Hawthorne. I resumed writing for maybe thirty minutes and then I met this really interesting guy called Michael. He now works for the governement but has some hi-tech background from the 2001 times; he knew Cisco and our products and seemed to have a bunch of things in common with me. He's travelled a lot and we had a very good quality conversation (we share the same passion for the South Pole and he's one of the very few he knew that kind of information about it). Before going for dinner I even played a few games of pool with a guy from Sunol, California. He was a cow boy, going to Nevada when he had time because he likes the back-country. We went to "El captain", a casino-restaurant that was supposed
Just some of the bad weather I found.
However, this is a dream road, not too hard, not too easy and, mostly, no traffic whatsoever.
to be opened late... but it wasn't. We ended up talking a lot and eating hot dogs. The cow boy dude (I guess his name is Larry) told me twenty years ago that place used to be packed and explained me there were people yelling and playing black jack on those tables that are now a far remembrance. He told me that every time there are hardships and the price of gold goes above $1,000, those little towns in Nevada grow a lot. I couldn't believe it still happens, but I believe him.
When I first met Michael I told him "you look like a friend of mine that plays pool, his name is John Johnson". I guess he replied "I suck at pool, but I understand the game". He remembered me John because of his look, but mainly for the way he was talking. Those two guys have the very same facial expression; I don't know how to explain it, but I reckon anybody would agree they are lost brothers. So far nothing is strange, you always meet people who look like each other. But a few days ago (after I started writing this post) I played pool
This town has 2 inhabitants! It's along hwy 108.
with John and told him I was on a motorcycle trip and I met somebody that remembered him in a little town in Nevada. He asked me what town and I said "a town of a few souls called Hawthorne". He told me "no way, I lived for a little while in Hawthorne". In the United States there are more than 300,000,000 people, Hawthorne has a population of maybe 200. It does not take a mathematician to understand this is an incredible coincidence. Even now that I'm writing I cannot believe it. He knew every place around, he mentioned "El Captain", he knew the Italian restaurant. John is the type of person that could have lived anywhere: if he told me he's from any of the States in US I would believe it (Alaska included). Michael is the same, he moved a lot and he could also fool anybody about it. John was living there because he was doing some geology; if you see that place you understand it's perfect for those kind of things. The only negative thing is that there is a huge presence of the army there, but if there wasn't the town woudn't probably exist.
This is an excellent alternative to the trafficated Hwy 505. The road coonects Modesto with Livermore.
How much fun I had that night! I headed to my hotel room, decided to finish the book (yes, I am dumb). I resisted till almost three in the morning, but then I feel asleep 30 pages shy to the end.
In the morning I opened one eye and saw only clouds; the weather was not giving me a break. According to the original plan, I had to ride "Lucky Boy Pass Road", which connectes Hwy 95 to Bodies (a ghost town I saw a few years ago) and then mono-lake. I got at the junction and ... Lucky boy pass is unpaved. Forget it! All the locals the day before told me "these mountains can kill you as fast as they want". All of them. There must be a reason and I didn't want to discover it Monday...
I got to Mono lake and the dreaded Tioga pass was closed for snow. Tioga pass (Hwy 120) is a little more than 3,000 meters high, but some years it's open only for a few months. I opted for the more moderate Sonora pass (2,933 meters) which was beautiful. This little winding road passed from 2000 to 3000 meters
My face at the return
That's how I looked after I reached Mountain View. Thanks a lot Jonathan for taking this picture.
in no time; the temperature dropped below zero celsius and the snow started to be thick. It was marvelous; the heated vest kept my heart beating (Jonathan has no idea HOW useful it really was) and got to the summit in little less than one hour. Getting home from Sonora was routine.
I just wanted to avoid the major highways and I was pretty fortunate; I took California J1 from Modesto to Livermore, passing thru the brown silicon-valley-style hills. Then Ca84 brought me to Fremont, just a few miles away from my house.
I am still so excited about this road trip that I keep thiking when the next one will be. I'd really like to spend some more time in those little towns with those wonderful people; Nevada, it's not over. Give me some time and I'll bring my sense of adventure, my book and my lust-for-life.
Tot: 2.337s; Tpl: 0.063s; cc: 12; qc: 55; dbt: 0.0426s; 2; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.5mb