The dust is tremendous. It billows around our knees and buries us in a cloud when we stop. We have to ride a half mile apart to avoid each others dirt billows. I can trace Samantha’s path through the sage by the pig pen like silt cloud that follows her.
Before I rode the trail I had a romantic vision of flying across an empty valley, leaving a dust plume behind like some Mexican Baja rider. The romance was gone now, replaced by nostrils, sprockets and air filters packed with the stuff. Imagine baby powder the color of coffee ice cream and smelling of earth. It makes bizarre puffing sounds when we ride through it, hides vicious ruts and it’s slippery.
We cross an entire sage brush valley buried in dust. Sitting on the front of our seats, balancing and battling through these dusty death ruts. We see mostly cow prints, which have beat this valley into pulverized earth, but also the mysterious tracks of two riders somewhere ahead of us. I pretend we will catch them but know we probably never will. If anything we will have taken the longest time in recorded history to complete the trail. Not because of our riding skills, which are decent and always improving, but because we are easily distracted and in no rush to be done with this epic trip.
As an example, after riding into the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge, we discovered a pleasant little pool and spent the day napping and cooking there. Not many miles were covered that day. We did enjoy a fitful night’s sleep as wild burrows stomped around our campsite and let out their horrible calls. Sounding like an over dramatic beast in distress it starts with a long throaty horse bellow and then degenerates into a sequence of gasps. The words “hee haw” do nothing to describe this gutteral bellowing.
The next day we continue deeper into the refuge and are treated to herds of wild horses, burrows and antelope. We come across a cinematic trailer in the desert, long abandoned and clearly looking for new owners.
We break for lunch in the warm dry grass of summer past. We snack on the usual nuts and dried fruit. A little stream runs through our lunch spot and a pack of wild horses grazes downstream.
After the valley of dust we are faced with a crucial decision, camp right here in the valley on nice hard packed white earth or push on to the motel in Fort Bidwell. We decided to push on and make up for a few lazy days. As anyone who knows the trail will tell you there is no longer a motel in Fort Bidwell or much of anything save some rusty pumps with weeds growing out of them. It’s dark now and it’s clear we made the wrong choice. We explore some more thinking we must be missing something. Finally we pull out every warm piece of clothing we have and accept our cold, dark ride to Lake City. After twenty cold miles and thankfully no traffic, Lake City turns out to be a street lamp and nothing more. “Not Lake City California, Lake View, Oregon.” Samantha tells me. I have navigated us 20 miles into the wrong state. There’s nothing to do but ride another cold 20 miles into the next town and pray its more than a street light. There’s a special loneliness reserved for motorcyclists lost on a cold night with no where to go. Finally we arrive and there is a little hotel with a light on, it’s 8:30 pm. The woman tells us she’s booked up, perhaps a little suspicious of the dusty dirt bikers come shivering out of the night with too much desperation in their eyes. But finally she relents and welcomes us. We explore the little town. There’s a cafe for morning espresso and a little restaurant still open for dinner. We have warm ravioli and climb into bed.
I have the feeling that all is right in the world. That everything is exactly as it should be. That we are where we should be. This wins over my opposing instinct to make more detailed plans. To throw ourselves into the adventure, rather than fight it with definite plans, just feels like the right way to ride.