Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Sliver of Silver

Few states have the gumption to welcome you with a DIY sign that is spray painted on the rough road. Nevada, however, has that gumption and more. While we only biked a sliver of the silver state, what we saw and expereinced certainly filled us with more than just a sliver, whether it be food, disgust, or desert dust.

Our Nevada adventure began as we left the formidable Death Valley behind, staying well within the desert climes heading toward the fabled town of Pahrump. For nearly a month, we oogled the little blip on our map. Pronouced Paaaaaaaaaaaa-Rump, the town was a sprawling desert enclave of little casinos, long shoulder less roads, and one of the warmest couchsurfing places we had ever stayed at. For two days we enjoyed the warmth and love of the people we stayed with, along with the flavor and color of the local scene in Pahrump. Having exhausted ourselves of the many activities to do (sitting in front of the grocery store being the main one) we headed out into the desert again, with a 5,500 ft pass standing between us and the City of Sin, Las Vegas. We were dripping sweat as we rolled down the hill and into the Red Rock Canyon road that took us by the geological wonders of the limestone and sandstone landscape. A gradual descent and we made it to our warmshower host in west Las Vegas.

There are few places on Earth where two slightly smelly, dirty, spandex/tank top wearing bicycle tourers can feel/be more out of place than Las Vegas. We mingled among the drugged masses, as they spread their complacency amongst the casinos, the smoke filled death interiors where zombies sat not eating brains but slowly letting their souls be sucked dry. We were even almost duped with one of the all time classic scams, the old " Give me 5 I give you 2".  Luckily, I had seen this scam once before and was able to get out of it without being hoodwinked.  Despite the dry heat, we felt uncomfortable and dirty being in the throng of comsumptive humanity, and felt even worse after gorging ourselves as if we would never eat again at our sponsor, McFadden's at the Rio. A gut wrenching (literally) 12 mile bike ride back to our host and we vowed to never once again A) eat that much and B) step foot in Las Vegas again. The next morning we went to a breakfast buffet. At a casino.

another casuality of Las Vegas

Leaving the glitz and glitter behind, we re-started out bicycle tour along the shores of the man made lake mead as we winded our way to the Valley of Fire, where more examples of sandstone, faults and the forces of nature were on brilliant display. One might thing, at first glance, that the desert is a place of dreary, heat stained emptiness. I have found quite the opposite, as kangaroo rats, lizards, birds and other little creatures are constantly scurrying about as we cycle past them. The plant life abounds as well, in it's own distinct way. The yucca trees, mesquite trees, various shrubs and ground cover with shades of yellows, light and darker greens fill the expanse.

We are finally seeing what it means to be living. As the lined road passes under our rotating wheels, the breezes come and go, clouds wander over mountains and along flat escapes, our eyes seeking the wonder around each corner, knowing that more is always to come. We are the most dangerous things, we are adventurers, teetering on the edges of what we know and then beyond. The forces of nature are echoed in our bodies struggling to summit the next hill, the cracking smiles when the winds whips past our ears on downhills. On a bicycle tour, our bodies are the engines propelling us forward, the unfolding world our daily bread. The Earth herself sings us songs, the people we pass and meet offering all that they have before we move onward.   

Leaving the constipation of Hoover Dam behind, we cycled our longest stretch of freeway, 20 mile,s before heading off and having a luxurious lunch in the shade of the overpass.  The border town of Mesquite was our destination, and it didn't fail in being one of the many strange, off putting desert towns we have been in.  Having no options for tent camping we cycled off and crossed the Arizona border before finding a nice lumpy patch of desert to call our home for the night.  

And so now, sitting in Utah at another wonderful warmshower host, we are taking our showers and getting giddy about the next big thing, Zion National Park.  Our days for the next week to two weeks will be filled with geological wonder as it has been since Yosemite.  We'll see Zion, Grand Staircase, Glen Canyon, Painted Desert, and the Grand Canyon before heading south into Flagstaff.  We're all stocked up on water and food, Chris has bungee cords nearly falling off his bike, and we couldn't be happier.  You can see it here at picasaweb.google.com/bingleadventure, read about it at Chris's blog, but really, you need to live it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Bikes of Wrath

Often while I am biking, i am reminded of and surrounded by may of the words of Walt Whitman.  He spoke of beauty and of ugliness, of good and bad, of the nature of man that contains all, and that is what makes us human.  I easily have seen this in myself, others and the earth as I have moved across it by bicycle.  But another writer has been in my head recently, Steinbeck.  in California, a land of extreme differences, people have flocked here for many different reasons, some to peril, some to perish, and some to profit.

From the magnificent Big Sur coast, we left the ocean for the last time as we started out trek east over the coastal range mountains and the Diablo range, with a storm front chasing us the whole way.  Getting into the first valley east of the ocean, we say a different world, much drier, much sparser.  Luckily, we made it to Avenal, an oasis in the sun as they say, where we tried out hand at stealh camping for the first time.  Some police intervention and sprinklers later, we were up early and on our way on our longest day yet to cross the "fertile" San Joaquin valley, where dust bowlers came to escape their desert only to come to another, the desert of human greed.

In the valley, where a hefty chunk of America's food is grown, little poor towns dot the landscape along with cotton, pistachios, almonds and garlic.  All of these fields are worked by immigrant labor, all of these fields are feed by pesticides, all of these fields are watered by stolen, redirected water, and all of these fields make only a very very few people rich, as it makes other poorer.  It was flat, it was windy, it was a 93 mile day  getting through, and despite our exhaustion when we got to Millerton lake to camp, we couldn't have been happier to have gotten trough the valley, though another valley loomed in the distance.

From Millerton, it was a more or less steady climb towards 5,000 ft to the entrance of Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada.  The Sierra Nevada is actually one huge chunk of rock that formed miles underground and has been pushed up, exposed, and craved in the ensuing time.  The majestic sight of the Yosemite Valley, of El Cap, Half Dome, and the huge expanse of the valley was breath taking and we knew that we had made it to one of the very special places on earth.  A quick bomb downhill and we made the valley floor and found our first bikers since leaving Morro Bay.  A pair of Brits were cycling a similar route as us, and we decided we would bike out of the valley the next day together and camp up at 6,200 ft.  it rained off and on that day, soaking us, chilling us, but not in the least stopping us.

From our wet camp, we had a daunting 40 mile ride up to 10,000 ft and Tioga pass, where rumours of snow abounded.  They were true.  But so were the rumours of how beautiful the ride would be.  We would climb, descend, climb, and descend, in shade and sun and sun lined forests.  After summiting, it was 12 miles downhill, instantly in the dry side of the east Sierras, with Mono lake staring out in the distance.  As the sun set, all four of us made it to a warmshower for the night in June Lake and we sleepily ate chili and spoke of our day.

Me and Chris decided to spend a short day cycling only to the wonderful hot springs near Mammoth, where we soaked our legs and watched as the full moon rose over the mountains and made us forget our weariness.  The next morning was a wee chilly as we were camping in the desert at about 8,000ft.  So, covered in ice, we jumped into the spring for about an hour to let the sun do her job, packed up and continued south on our course for Death Valley.  We took two days getting to Lone Pine, our turn off for the park, and made plans to get to the free campground in the park, about a 60 mile ride form Lone Pine.  Of course, plans, like civilization, are foolish and crumble easily.

It started well enough.  We did a small pass that got us up to over 4,000ft and to the entrance of Death Valley. We were right on schedule.  Oh yeah.  A twisting, canyon filled descent and we made it to 1,900 feet and Panamint springs.  What we didn't count on was: A) That it would nearly 100 degrees and B) the next pass would be a 3,500 ft climb.  So, being the smart, resourceful biker that we are, we went with a new plan.  We sat in the shade for hours, and hour, and hours, and woke up at 3am, with a near full moon shining and the temperature and good 70 degrees and spent the next 3 hours climbing with the stars, the shaded mountains, and the wonderful silence that we have found only in the desert.  With a 5,000 ft descent to sea level, the sun was rising on our epic day.  From Stovepipe Wells it was 200 feet down over the next 30 miles into the belly of the hottest, driest, and lowest place in America, Badwater Basin.  With salt, and sand dunes, strange plants, little kangaroo rats, and being just as interesting to the tourists as the environment itself, we made our way to Furnace Creek and stopped.  We had another 3am bike ride ahead, so we spent the rest of the day in the shade.

Waking up at 3am again, we were noticeably more tired, and it was a bit warmer than yesterday, around 80's, but with the moon leading us, we bike 30 miles and 3,000 ft to Death Valley Junction as the sun rose.  We had made it across one of the most extreme, dangerous landscapes anywhere.  Yes, we rock.

In California, we found it all.  The extremes that come together that make this planet so incredible, the people who share their homes and lives with us, along with those who speed by us, the differences are always staggering, but they make it alive.  And now, having cross the official state line into Nevada, we turn another chapter of our trip and begin a new terrain.  We'll spend a few days in Las Vegas doing unbloggable things, and then head north east towards Zion National Park in Utah before heading south to the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff Arizona.  We have only adventure ahead.

Check out all the photos from Vermont to California at picasaweb.google.com/rossbikepics, and all new photos from Never onward can be found at by clicking here.  As our exhilaration at being alive increases, so does our appreciation of each moment we get to pedal through the majestic beauty that graces this humble, small planet.  With Freedom and Love, keep pedaling.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Interlude: Big Sur

South of San Fransisco is the "central" California coast.  Basically, it's all Big Sur.  From Monterey to Morro Bay, the continent ends abruptly at the ocean's edge, with moist, fertile valleys spilling into the rough, ragged coast line.  Bridges span the expanses, the highway hugs the precarious edge, and all the while two cyclists pedal along with growing smiles and senses of wonder.  We have ended our tour of the Pacific Coast.  Me, starting in Washington, Chris, from Portland, we have pedaled over 1,000 miles along the Pacific coast of the United States, and now head east, north, south, and east again in California to see it's other splendors, namely Yosemite and Death Valley.  Enjoy the Big Sur teaser below, remember to keep pedaling, and enjoy the breaths of freedom and chances to love that surround us every day.

As always, see them all at picasaweb.google.com/rossbikepics, see Chris's photos here.  Next time, perhpas from California, or perhaps from Las Vegas.  Only the bike knows.