The next morning, I awoke seeing a RV parked in the area. I thought, “Maybe this is a chance to talk to somebody.” Well, after more than a hour getting ready for the road. I hadn’t noticed a sign of life coming out of the behemoth. See what I mean? I could have waited ’till the cows came home before anyone emerged from behind the shuttered windows. To heck with them. I was off to greener pastures. That’s a gross misnomer considering I was headed across the most arid state in the union.
I eased through Ely, and on the outskirts of town I could see an abandoned railroad track that meandered alongside the highway through several tunnels. After about twenty miles, the tracks disappeared into the sagebrush and dust. I thought, “Geemonee! There once must have been a passenger train that ran clear across Nevada to Reno. It’s almost impossible to imagine nowadays.” There were several more road-repair stops which really didn’t bother me. My shibboleth was: “I’ve got all the time in the world.” At one stop, I even had time to fix a sandwich. And at another, I was first in line, so it gave me a chance to talk with the flag lady. My first inquiry was, “How many more of these stops are there between here and Reno?” She replied, “You’re home free. This is the last one.” I went on to say, `”Ever since I got on this road back in Utah, I’ve been noticing these workers laying a trench for all this multi-colored cable on big spools. Is that fiber-optics cable they’re laying?” “You got that right,” she replied. I thought, “Welcome to the 21st Century. A hundred years ago, they were laying railroad tracks. Now, the most remote parts of the country were being connected to the information superhighway.”
As many times I’ve traversed the “Loneliest Highway in America”, I was still awed by the unlimited expanse of barren terrain and bone-dry mountains. It was as if God had forsaken Nevada when He planted trees. At several points along the way, I was again astounded at how far I could see the road stretch in front of me, like a straight ribbon disintegrating into a distant mountain range. And then, there were those dirt roads that seemed to vanish into nowhere, to places like Dixie Valley and Duckwater, 30 or 40 miles into the Sahara! I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Do people actually live out there? What do they do? Well, considering all the absurdities in this crazy world, they probably all had satellite dishes.”
A slight headwind prompted me to roll up the window and turn on the A/C (to a minimal). I found a FM station, KNPR out of Las Vegas, whose format was of the classical variety. And get this, the lady disc jockey had a sophisticated British accent, which sounded a little incongruous considering where I was. Anyway, there I was in the middle of Nevada, cruisin’ along in subliminal bliss. Eventually, my euphoria had to come to an end. My classical lady and her melodious sounds faded away. Off went the A/C and down came the window. The outside air was quite warm. I decided it was time for the luxury of a motel room… finally!
I checked in at the Fallon Best Western, which was on the main drag and close to everything. I unhitched the velocipede, and used it to its optimum, pedaling across the street to Safeway, Wal-Mart, and Auto-Zone. Time-wise, I figured I was a little more than halfway to Santa Cruz. It was perfect timing, a chance to shower and regroup, so to speak, before embarking on the next six or seven-day stretch with no plans whatsoever of being “indoors for the night.” 1 thanked the Lord for a safe trip, so far.
I had no intention of stopping in Reno, but at the very last instant I dove off I-80 at the Virginia Street exit. I was impulsively thinking, “I’ve got plenty of time. Get off and get on the bike.” The tour started with a stop at the seedy Sundance Motel, where I had stopped for a couple of cheap nights 20 years ago (in the Brand New Blue). I asked the manager if she remembered a JoAnne Frisbee who was the proprietor of the place back then. Ms. Makeme bin Dover was obviously of Middle Eastern ethnicity, barely able to speak English, much less recall Mrs. Frisbee. What’s with this country when every other so-called “service” personnel is a descendant of Mohammed the Unspeakable. It just so happened that an elderly charwoman overheard my questionnaire. She came up to me and said, “Hey sonny, I remember the Frisbees. They were great people to work with. We took it for granted that everyone spoke English back then.” Then I said, “There used to be a pay phone over there in the corner.” She replied, “We’ve gone upscale now. Got a phone in every room.” Then she added, “Mighty nice talkin’ to you, sonny. It’s been a pleasure to meet someone who knew the Frisbees.” Well, if that didn’t make my day!
Geemonee, the day had barely started. I pedaled down Virginia Street (the main drag), dodging pedestrians and autos in a devil-may-care manner. What I liked about Reno was the fact that the casinos still had their front doors wide open to the sidewalk traffic, an amenity that had long since vanished in Vegas. As usual, I found my way over to the train depot, a quiet, but still working station. An elderly lady was seated on the outside platform. I asked her where she was headed, and she replied, “Denver. I love taking the train out here. It’s one beautiful trip through the Rockies.” “I bet it is,” was all I could say. The eastbound was due at 4:15. I wished her a happy journey.
I scurried up I-80 and pulled off at the Hirshdale exit where I knew there was a clump of cottonwoods I could park under next to the tracks (I had camped out there before). I had time to check on Ol’ Blue’s precious bodily fluids and do some nitpicking interior repairs, like nailing and glueing a loose trim on top of the refrigerator. When it’s a do-it-yourself interior job, there’s always something that needs re-doing. And then, at exactly 4 o’clock, the eastbound AmTrak came roaring by. I waved at the “ghost” passengers behind the charcoal-tinted glass, and then I realized the train would be right on time for the waiting Denver lady in Reno.
About ten miles farther up the pike, I exited at Truckee. Gosh, it felt good being back in that pleasurable little town. It reminded me so much of Flagstaff – high-altitude towns with well-preserved railroad depots right on the main line. I just had to love `em. I drove over to the Botkin’s house on Donner Lake to leave a book that I had borrowed and my “Last Blast of Winter” travelogue. I knew in advance they weren’t going to be there, so I left my parcel inside the kitchen screen door and parked in my “reserved” spot under the pines next to the garage. Another night in Paradise.
The next morning, I just had to bike around the neighborhood as I had done so many times in the past. Besides rubber-necking all the different house designs, I was always on the vigil for new construction. Sure enough, I found one of particular interest. They were using a fairly new structural system called “Cempo”, a 12 inch square block, 24 inches in length, with a void in the middle (similar to the standard concrete block, only larger). But, there was one big difference. 85 per cent of those blocks were composed of ground-up styrofoam cups, the other 15 per cent being a mixture of concrete. How about that?! A superb testimony to recycling. Down the road a bit, there was a spiffy log-cabin style house going up with unique tongue-and-groove corner connections. Hey, I was loving it, but I’m guessing you’ve had enough of all this architectural falderal. Okay, I was finally headed out of there to Lake Tahoe.