Monday, July 19, 2010

BMW R1200R and I Take On the Loneliest Highway...

I started today's leg of the journey with excitement and anticipation. It's the "unknown" of a ride route that creates the excitement - but also a little anxiety - for me and today would be spent, in good part, riding on what's billed as "the loneliest highway in America" - US 50.  And I honestly didn't know what to expect.

What I do know about that 250 mile stretch of road is that towns are small, few, and far between which means that gas stations are also scant along this stretch of road. Google Earth street view gave me some reassurances as to what to expect as far as the gas situation goes. I identified a Chevron station in the town of Eureka that looked good, and that would get me across the state of Nevada from Fallon to my next gas stop and lunch break in Ely.

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I awoke at my usual "before the crack of dawn" time, had my usual in-room breakfast of banana, breakfast bar and cup of decaf coffee, and then got dressed, gathered my things together and headed out the door. It was a great hotel here in Fallon, and I made a mental note to remember it should I pass through here again. I had topped off my gas tank the evening before, so the only thing to do now was get onto U.S. 50 and head east toward Utah.

The morning was filled with glorious sunshine! As I rode out of town, looking along the south side of the highway I noticed some low sand banks below the road bed and off the shoulder by a few dozen yards. They went on for several miles and have provided "taggers" with an ecologically friendly way of making a statement. All along this stretch were messages spelled out with stones, not spray paint: J♥Ethan, for example, and "Class of 2010" were abundant and plentiful, one touching another for miles and miles heading eastward out of town. Very cool!

I was psyched to be on this road. It has been described by some as quite enjoyable, with changing terrain to keep it interesting. And they were absolutely correct! From the western side, near Fallon, it was more desert-like but as I got further east, the pattern of topography soon became apparent. There are multiple mountain ridges running longitudinally and in parallel to each other all across the state of NV at this latitude. Five or six miles of flat and straight valley road would become twisty and curvy as it climbed a mountain pass, then drop down into the next flat valley. Each climb took me up 1,000 to 2,000 feet from the valley floors. And the further east I got, the more wooded the mountains became and the less desert-like were the valleys. It really was very pretty...and just varied enough to keep it interesting.

A particularly steep climb passes through the town of Austin, NV. It was surprising that this little town has survived, having been built on such a steep slant, not a single flat surface existed in this town. Even the tiny little gas station was built on the hill and the slab in front of the pump had a 4 or 5% grade to it. Fortunately I could wait until reaching Eureka before filling up as I wasn't sure I could negotiate the gravel and the "grade" in front of the pump.

I dipped into the town of Eureka with 180 miles ridden on my tank of gas. The town is very pretty, with the buildings all carefully restored and looking just as they might have more than 120 years ago. The gas station was exactly as I expected it, with no surprises. As I prepared to leave after filling up, I noticed the building in front of me, and the year "1880" spelled out near the roof in the brickwork. It was a beautiful two-story red brick building and was the town's original opera house.

Refueled and refreshed, I continued eastward toward Ely, where I had lunch and topped off my gas tank again.

U.S. 50 is lonely only to those who seek crowds and congestion and civilization as we know it today. But to me, it was beautiful in its miles and miles of solitude, with only a couple of small towns along the way, very few cars, and wide open views of mountains in all directions.

"I survived Highway 50 - The Loneliest Highway in America."
You can read about the sights along the way here:
http://travelnevada.com/view-guides/nevada-highway-50-survival-guide.aspx

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A nice McDonald's salad resting comfortably in my tummy, I left Ely on U.S. 50 to go towards Baker and Great Basin National Park. Great Basin describes the geographic area made up of most of Nevada, a bit of western Utah, southern Oregon, and southern California. The national park preserves a small region just west of Baker. A relatively new visitor center sits right on NV487 just north of the tiny, nearly ghost town-like Baker NV. I paused a moment to take a photo of my BMW with the pretty mountainous backdrop, then went inside to get my passport book stamped, to watch the short film, and to browse the book store a bit. When I came out, a BMW pulling a small trailer, with Alabama plates and draped in two filthy, well-worn red Aerostich jackets was parked right next to me.


I had only to continue on NV487 into UT where the route became UT21, which took me to I-15 and Cedar City for the night. It was a smooth-sailing, uneventful riding day, with plenty of wide open spaces, interesting change-ups to the roadway, and some surprisingly spectacular views of near and distance mountain ranges along the way.

Tomorrow: Some UT national parks, into AZ for more parks, and Holbrook for the night.

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