Cycling Route 50: America’s Lonliest Road

“Is sandy brown is your favourite colour? Do you dream of life in 40 degree heat? Do you too wish your face could be battered by wind AND sun? Route 50 vacations offers all of this, and more.” But let’s not start there. Let us start back in civilisation, back in the biggest little city in the world – Reno.

RENO

We glided gracefully into Reno via the summit of Mount Rose, watching the city emerge from a slightly Martian looking, but strangely beautiful landscape. Reno has a reputation as a ‘little Vegas’ – I hate to dash hopes of a ‘Hangover Part 4’ story, but this wasn’t the Reno I saw. Much to my disappointment, Whoopie Goldberg, a la Sister Act, was not running around downtown (I can only assume she’s now back in the witness protection programme), nor did I feel that all the place had on offer were casinos – although it is the only city centre I’ve visited which is deathly quiet at 9am. No, for me Reno was all about the people. And I left in no doubt that there’s more treasure in the hearts of its residents, than in those slot machines (Awwww – it’s true).

A FEW DAYS ‘REST’

Through a connection with Natures Bakery I was introduced to the lovely rabble at Reno Cycling Club. It was a jam packed 2 days from there on in. I got treated to a massage at the local spa (check me out), visited a middle school to talk to the kids and join them for their morning ‘Billinghurst News Network’ broadcast (pretty sure I had more fun than the did), and even managed to get my mug onto the Channel 8 News. Very surreal, and an event that confirmed I sound just as much like a pikey on TV as I do in real life. I also got to hang out with local team member and host Grant, who told me how he’d switched to cycling after detaching both biceps through climbing : “It’s never good when your bicep rolls up into your armpit” he said. Blurgh. Followed by: “You should try climbing you know, Anna”. Um. No thanks, I like my guns just how and where they they are.

But believe it or not the best part was in the leaving…

INTO THE DESERT, ON MY TOD

On departure day, with Lydia having deserted me to return to behaving like a sensible human being in the UK, I was amazed to find a little Reno Cycling Club peloton gathered at Hub Coffee Roasters at 6am. As we wound our way toward the city limits the peloton gradually thinned, until last man standing and team director, JP, announced he would ride with me all the way to my stop that night. Result! The sigh of relief from my mum across the pond was audible.

It was a momumental day, and one that included singing (only me singing), lessons in American-English elocution (it’s pronounced Nev-ah-da, not Nev-arrr-dah) and a bike swap as JP rode Boudica the beast up a 10% hill. By the time we rolled into the campground at Fallon there were 115 miles total and 3,200ft of climbing on the clock – my longest day so far, but it had been a breeze (ish).

THE NEV-AH-DA DESERT

Basin. Fault. Range. This is what you’ll get the whole way across Nevada. When the Sierra Nevada mountains muscled their way upwards thousands of years ago, the poor state had nowhere left to go. So it got squished, conseteena stylie into a series of peaks and troughs. And that’s exactly what you’ll encounter as you traverse on Route 50 across it. Up. Down. Along. Up. Down. Along. And repeat.

The manner in which I approached the week spent on ‘America’s lonliest road’ was almost as rhythmical as it’s topography. Each morning I’d get up at 4.30am and hit the road within the hour in a bid to beat the heat. I’d reach the top of the first pass just as the sun peaked over the hill, proceed to swear loudly, then drop my jaw as the dawn lit up a huge basin below – just enough so I could see some 20 or 30 miles across it to the next range. I tried a thousand times to take a great photo. To capture the ghostly outlines of mountains, upon mountains in the distance, but my shots never did it justice. You really have to see it with your own eyes. Until then, take my word that it’s a spectacular and a rather humbling sight to be greeted with each day.

To my surprise, each basin was different from the last, and I’ve learnt that the desert can be a varied place. Sand turned to scrub, to Grey rock, to Red rock, to forest, and finally to golden open plains that delivered me to Utah. The geek within (yes there is one in there) loved learning that The Great Basin is North America’s only ‘cold desert’. That is, the majority of its annual precipitation falls as snow. Of course it still gets ridiculously hot, it just gets mighty cold too. A sort of BOGOF on extreme weather.

SO IS THE DESERT A SCARY PLACE?

Not really. Nothing happens. Like, literally, nothing. Only if you let your imagination run wild are you in danger of some minor pant-poopage. Axe murderers and drug lords need water too you know – they’ve no business in the desert. Mother Nature does hang out here however. And she’ll eat you alive if you don’t respect her and the boundaries she sets in the vast expanse of nothingness. In hindsight, this Girl Guide was probably a little over prepped for old Mother N. I carried enough food and water for 2 days – just in case things went tits up. 10 litres of extra aqua on the bike made it heavy going, but as a rookie adventurer, it was the sensible thing to do.

THE PONY EXPRESS

The what? Precisely. Allow me to shed light on the coolest bit of Route 50 history. Back in 1860, it would take weeks, even a month to get a message from the West to East in the US. A few military types had a bold brain wave – hire young, wirey, preferably orphaned chaps to ride like the wind across most of it in just 10 days. Sort of like an upscaled version of the 4 x 100m – with letters instead of batons and the men on horses instead of drugs (yikes, I just said that. And of course I’m joking). Alas, the Pony Express was no money spinner. After 18 months of running at a loss, and 4 days before the first West – East telegram, it shut down.

Throughout Route 50 you’ll see remnants of the original Pony Express trail, historic sites that convinced me it really is a road which should be travelled alone. I’m biased of course, but it’s just so unique. Travelling along it with a group of mates, you wouldn’t grasp… well, the lonliness of it. Riding my very own steely pink horse, meandering from small town to even smaller, I felt a strange kinship with the Pony Express riders of yesteryear. Unless my folks have a few big secrets to share – I’m not male, an orphan or 120 lbs, and I wasn’t chased by Native American Indians (that I noticed), but I did get a sense of just how vast the country is, and how bad-ass you’d have to be to do it on a horse, through all seasons, time and time again.

ONWARDS INTO UTAH

So did I get sick of Route 50? Sort of, It was time for it to end. It’s not an easy road by any stretch. The heat, strong winds and thunder storms made for tough cycling. The climbs are steady, but long and frequent enough to suck the life out of your legs, and a week alone with minimal civilisation will just about suffice for now. Above all, it was the lack of choice which got to me – where to stop, what to eat, where to sleep – it was all so dictated by the few and far between towns and services (gosh, quite the little princess, aren’t I?). It sucks the life out of adventuring just a little and I’ll be glad of more choice on the road ahead.

I’m now headed into Zion National Park, to meet my ridiculously supportive folks who are flying over to join in the fun/calm their nerves. We’re exploring Southern Utah for a few days, and I’m going to collect me some fresh kit for the next stint – into Arizona, New Mexico and up the Rockies.
Yeeee haaaaaw!

This weeks pictures are a lot of wide open spaces and empty roads (go figure) – and they’re up to date on Flickr here.

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