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Day 48 Recap; Loneliest Road in America

by EP on July 24, 2010

“This trip is a game.” So starts David Robertson’s 1996 essay on the 287-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 50 running from Ely, Nevada west to the California border. In 1986, a writer for Life dubbed the highway “the loneliest road in America,” and the name and associated mystique has stuck ever since. As we rode out of Ely just before 5:00 a.m., a simple, rusted sign said it all: “50 West; The Loneliest Road in America; No Services 77 Miles.” These 77 miles might not seem so daunting to someone in a car or on a motorcycle, but Robertson’s “game” has special meaning to three guys on bicycles tackling one of the most storied rides in the nation.

Since meeting other cyclists along our trip, we’ve heard all the warnings about 50 in Nevada: it never changes; you almost go insane; there is nothing and nobody; you see where you have to be in 30 miles, and it seems like you never get there. We were ready for anything as we left Ely to take on our first day on this loneliest of roads. We had more than enough water, cans of soup and beef jerky, Clif Bars and Nutri-Grains. This road wasn’t going to catch us by surprise. Once we were on the road, though, and much to our relief, the loneliness never seemed to catch up to us.

Turns out, we haven’t really had the chance to be lonely since leaving Portland on June 6th. Day after day of riding together has helped us stay sane on routes all across the country. Now, one week out from crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to dip our tires in the waters of the Pacific, we’re learning how much of this trip is mental, including the stretch of road we rolled along today. More than anything, this road is an exercise in patience. The name of the game with the landscape is climb and descend; ride along a valley for 10 miles; climb and descend; ride for 12 miles; climb and descend. Robertson says it well: “The Ride is Up and Down and the Theme is Basin and Range…Over Pinto Summit and down. Over Pancake Summit and down. Over Little Antelope Summit and down into White Sage Valley. Over Robinson Summit and into Ely. Southeast in Steptoe Valley to get over the Schell Creek Range. A turn northeast to get through the Snake Range. Down one more time to the Utah Border.”

On the one hand, it’s a great way to keep track of progress, each summit a measurable goal to mark time through the sprawling Nevada Desert. On the other, it is a never ending, monotonous drain on your patience or your sanity, a never ending treadmill of unchanging desert landscape. To John McPhee, in Basin and Range, it was the latter. He sums up his experience succinctly, “Basin. Fault. Range. Basin. Fault. Range. A mile of relief between basin and range. Stillwater Range. Pleasant Valley. Tobin Range. Jersey Valley. Sonoma Range. Pumpernickel Valley. Shoshone Range. Reese River Valley. Pequop Mountains. Steptoe Valley.” We’re not quite reduced to that point yet, but it’s easy to see how he could come up with a description matching the numbing effects of the Great Basin’s terrain. We break up the ride by stopping to eat, to drink, or to just talk. It’s a great part of the country, and as we pulled into Eureka, “The Friendliest Town on the Loneliest Road in America,” just after noon today for some rest and restocking of groceries, we noted how lucky we were to get to see this part of our country from the saddles of our bikes.

As we make the final push to the coast over the next week, we’re reminded again of how grateful we are for the support. But we’re not done. Don’t forget to tell your friends about our cause today, and think about using that extra ten dollars you had in your budget for the Wounded Warrior Project. We’ll be off our bikes soon, but the WWP’s work won’t be done. So, it’s important to help them sustain the incredible work they’re doing for our wounded American heroes.

Another early morning will send us towards Austin tomorrow, so it’s time to rest up before hitting the road again…

- The XC10 Guys


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Dr. & Mrs. Herbert N. Piper July 25, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Waiting to get Day 49. I hear you hope to be at Aunt Julie’s by Wednesday. That is wonderful and you’ll make it if you don’t stop to gamble. Get a picture for me of your dip n the Pacific!!!! Your doing great guys, see you in Corona! Love GG

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Buck White July 24, 2010 at 12:12 pm

I’m still reading and haven’t missed a day . . . great cause aside, I’d probably read these updates anyway. What an enjoyable blend of history, geography, and “people” experiences. I remember driving in a car in that part of the country and feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I can only imagine what it must feel like on a bike. Your effort is appreciated – I’m going to see how many $10s I can find in the budget. Keep it up guys, you’re almost there. Enjoy the final leg of your journey.

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