To assuage the humdrum of the interstate, I found myself pulling off for gas at intervals of less than 100 miles. At my stop in Winnemucca (I loved that name) and noticed the odometer read 185,150, indicating that I had just passed the 2,000 mile mark of the trip. Just 53 miles down the pike, I stopped at Battle Mountain that had a certain charm about it (or, at least, used to). The gas station was located on old U.S. 80 paralleling the double tracks of the Union Pacific. There was a vestige of a hotel, a cafe, and a general store along with a vacant spot next to the tracks that was obviously where a train depot once stood. It was hard to imagine, back in the Golden Age of rail travel, passengers detraining in the middle of Nevada to actually spend the night in a remote hotel. They must have been very weary travelers. The interstate had obviously done its job to insure the demise of a once viable town.
I loved driving in the late afternoon chasing my shadow on the pavement with a golden sun setting in the outside mirror. My Rand McNally indicated a rest area about 25 miles farther, which couldn’t have come at a better time as I was ready for an overnight stay off the road. I pulled into the concrete parking area that had a couple of big rigs dieseling away the night. I wasn’t all that satisfied trying to sleep next to the cacophonous roar of diesel exhausts, so I pulled off the pavement to an adjacent grassy area and scrounged up a parking spot under a couple of cottonwoods. I positioned Ol’ Blue so as to be shielded from the anticipated intense morning sun and reposed in the van bed, gazing up at the galaxies and falling to sleep to the distant sound of a Union Pacific freight. I thanked the Good Lord for another safe day on the road.
Sure enough, the next morning I was enshrouded in shade, which made getting ready to leave very pleasant and cool. After a quickie breakfast of some milk and a banana, I continued east on I-80 (there was no other choice when crossing northern Nevada) to Elko where I stopped for a paltry four and a half gallons of gas in keeping with my quirky routine of periodically pulling off the monotonous interstate. I always got a chuckle out of the little burgs in Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico that seemed to inflate their sparse populations with city limit signs such as W. Elko, E. Seligman, and W. Moriarty. As I approached the state line, I was greeted with a sign reading: “Welcome to Wendover…Your Last Chance to Gamble Before Entering Mormon Land.” I took it to mean “The Sin Stops Here.”
After stopping for one final Nevada gas-up, I coasted down into Utah out across the flats of the Great Salt Lake Desert (and I mean, it was really flat!). The only relief to an otherwise boring drive was being able to make out the hazy outline of the Wasatch Mountain Range just to the east of Salt Lake City. As I neared the Great Salt Lake, my olfactory senses picked up the malodorous briny water. It was too early in the afternoon to think about parking behind one of my favorite Holiday Inns for the night. However, I did drive over to The Inn where I parked in front and unhitched the velocipede for some overdue exercise. As I was about to pedal around the area on a little sightseeing tour, I couldn’t help but notice an unfortunate van that had obviously been parked under a tree for some time and was plastered with bird guano. I certainly don’t claim to be an ornithologist, but I could ascertain that from the constant cawing it was the droppings of the detested grackle (a large American black-bird) whose excessive excrements had proved to be a problem even in certain areas of North Texas – one in particular being my own neighborhood. It was common practice to implement simulated canon booms in order to scare the pesky birds from their roostings.
After filling up for a very reasonable $1.50 a gallon, I headed north on I-15 for 35 miles to Ogden (to avoid the grueling climb of I-80) where I hooked up with eastbound I-84. The pleasant highway meandered up through a canyon paralleling the Union Pacific double tracks at a very moderate ascent rate. To add to the pleasure, an endlessly long freight rolled by on the westbound track hauling the now familiar huge metal containers with European and Asian logos stenciled on their sides. More than likely, the freight was headed to the huge shipyards in Oakland, California.
I eventually merged with I-80 and shortly crossed the state line into the very southwest comer of wild and wonderful Wyoming where I again noticed the sparseness of the landscape just like I had experienced in Nevada. Factually speaking, the Cowboy State had the lowest population density in the contiguous United States of five people per square mile (as compared to 1,165 in New Jersey). I again found myself chasing my own shadow, as the sun was slowly setting inextricably into the horizon. Just past the small town of Evanston, I pulled off at a timely rest area to spend the night. After heating up some canned beef stew in a pot over the butane burner, I relaxed in the easy chair sipping on an apres-dinner glass of red wine. As I sat at an elevation of just over 6,000 feet (according to my reliable altimeter) and the temperature hovering at 55 degrees (according to my trusty thermometer), I felt assured that I was about to have a splendid night’s sleep. With absolutely no air pollution, I could gaze up and see every star twinkling crystal clear in the vast firmament of the Wyoming sky. I thought such an experience would be unfathomable to the unfortunates who spend their entire lives in one place like, say, Manhattan.
After my usual breakfast fare (milk and banana), I continued east until stopping in Rock Springs for a delicious, but decadent “Big Whopper” at Burger King. I had fond memories of the town, not of the town itself, but rather the Best Western Outlaw Inn (I loved that name – so innately Wyoming) where I had stayed in, or in back of, the rambling motel several times. A very memorable time was in November of 1981 on my maiden voyage in Ol’ Blue when I joined a raucous crowd in the sports bar to watch Monday Night Football featuring the Detroit Lions versus the Dallas Cowboys. I was forced to watch the game very passively since the entire crowd was made up of blue-collar rednecks rooting for Detroit. Motown had always been known as a blue-collar city (quite the opposite of Big D), thus explaining the partisan fandom. For the record, the Lions beat the Boys 31 to 21, much to the delight of the Detroit “faithful”.
About 80 miles down the pike, I happily exited the interstate onto WY 789 at the so-called town of Creston, which had formerly consisted of one cafe/bar/gas station, but to my dismay was now abandoned. I headed due south to Baggs where I filled up the tank while recalling an earlier visit sometime back in the mid-1980s when the town was conducting a parade in celebration of Wyoming’s Centennial. Just a whipstitch down the road, I crossed the state line where an anachronistic wooden sign greeted me with: “Welcome to Colorful Colorado”. Before the interstates transformed travel into a bland ritual, one could be entertained with a variety of state line signs such as: “You Are Now Leaving the Land of Enchantment. Come Back Soon”. Those were the good ol’ days.