The valley is golden and the mountains a definite purple. It makes it difficult to keep my eyes on the dust buried ruts and sure enough I go down. Amber waves of grain and the purple mountains majesty are my only excuse. Blame Woody.
We left Battle Mountain well rested, well fed and with clean clothes thanks to our new friends Alyssa and Jesse. The empty desert seemed a little friendlier today. But it didn’t help my skills. I was already dusty again and Samantha was calling me “Mr Tumble” but I was trying a new technique for riding these impossible ruts. A technique I wouldn’t master until days later.
The trick was speed. Get up out of first and hit at least twenty, then relax the arms, look far ahead and immerse yourself in meditative concentration. It’s akin to riding a tightrope, any minor loss of balance sends legs flailing, trying to kick the ground away from another crash. I try to use my knees for minor changes in angle but once off balance the only remedy is to grab a handful of throttle and try to blast out of the rut. This sends the bike hovering over the middle land before dropping into the parallel rut hopefully with me back in control. It is exhausting and results in many absurd looking maneuvers. I often end up blasting myself off the road entirely and settling in a plume of dust high in the sage.
We pass an abandoned homestead on the edge of a rare stream. The spooky buildings sit under the shade of half dead cottonwoods. We plunge through the creek and come out, finally, on a wide gravel road. It feels good to go more than twenty, if only for the breeze.
Soon we are back in the double tracks. Far ahead we see an SUV lumbering along. Actually we see his dust trail, which is visible for miles. He pulls off for us to go puffing by in the powder paths of Nevada’s great, dry desert. We come to yet another cattle gate and after letting Samantha through I happen to glance at the ridge. There in sillouhette, a pack of wild stallions, black against the sun, heads high, manes flying, thunder out of view. The Wild horses distract me so much I tip over again. I’m there long enough that the SUV catches up. I open the gate for him and as Samantha pulls up he asks us if we know where we are. Samantha, the master navigator, whips out a pack of Sam Corerro’s Trans America Trail maps and shows him the reservoir, ten miles and three turns away.
We snack on granola bars, pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries while gazing at the reservoir. All that water looks out of place here in the desert. We oil our chains with our new wax based teflon “oil” hoping to keep the dust off a little longer.
Later we end up in the town of Paradise Valley. The valley itself is nice, with actual trees and green grass. There must be water here. What we see of the town are a few old buildings, sawdust grey boards, broken windows, second story balconies long neglected. I wish the saloon doors were still swinging, the music playing and the people waving from the porch. Just ghosts now.
We turn north into the Humboldt National forest. We don’t know it as we head out the dead flat dirt road but we are about to climb a pass. The fields turn to forest and the pined turn to aspen as we climb. The road is a vicious washboard but the castle like rocks are impressive. They jut out clean from the hill like crystals of rock candy and dwarf Samantha as she winds up the mountain.
We make switchback after switchback. It’s late now and long shadows cast cold spots across our trail. We weren’t expecting such a formidable obstacle for our last twenty miles. At the summit we layer up for what can only be a long cold ride into McDermitt. We descend into great, sloping meadows and pass hunters lurking around for bulls. Just as we think we are done we crest one last rise and stare in awe. We can see just how much altitude we’ve gained as the road twists and pretzels its way far, far below. Too cold to camp up here at 7,000 feet so we use the last of our daylight to take the sled ride home.
Careful now, it’s late, we’re tired and our fingers are numb, we pick our way down the mountain. Then I catch a glimpse of something, elk running up the mountain. They don’t run far before they tire of climbing and we get to stare at them. Farther down the mountain we see more and then a coyote! He’s big, about the size of a German Shepard, but his coat is a deep golden brown. It’s nice to catch a glimpse of the mysterious jackals we’ve heard cry at the moon these cold nights. He doesn’t stop, just sort of lopes effortlessly straight up the mountain and gone.
Finally down, we ride the paved road into McDermitt just as a fat moon, perfectly round, rises over the mountains of the Indian reservation. I howl into my helmet but my celebration is premature because Samantha’s bike is drifting onto the shoulder, out of gas.
We can see the neon lights of McDermitt and what presumably is our gas stop less than a mile ahead. We always keep spare gas iutile jugs but we just kind of sit there, stuck to the bikes, unable to move, that giant moon looming. Eventually we fumble with our numb fingers and get going the last few yards to civilization.
Under the shockingly bright lights we check in to the motel, get gas and a tall boy and walk across the street to the “Say When” casino. Samantha would no doubt gamble and win if there was a card game going but there’s nothing but slots. We sit in the restaurant, cozy and warm, and feast on hot soup and club sandwiches. Then we walk back across the street to our motel and fall asleep in the glow of the casino lights, deaf to the coyotes tonight.