Today I needed to cross Nevada so I could make my hotel reservation in Virginia City. Getting ther would leave me an easy day to ride on Thursday to reach the early festivities for the California version of the Redbeard memorial party. It’s not even 500 miles; easy right?
Before the ride
For the second day in a row, I was awake before the 8:30am alarm went off. I answered a few messages, cleaned myself up, packed the Nightowl, and rode across the street to the gas station to top off.
For those you who’ve been following me this trip, you might be asking yourself why I’m gassing up so early after yesterday’s stop in Salina, Utah. The answer is simple: I’m about to venture onto the Lonliest Road in America, which is US50 across Nevada. Between Delta, Utah and Carson City, Nevada, there’s only a few towns that have gas:
Each of these towns is anywhere from 70 to 110 miles (112 to 177 km) away from each other. For bikes with smaller gas tanks, your US50 crossing of Nevada us ruled by a simple credo: if you see a gas station, you stop and fill up. For bikes with larger tanks like the Nightowl (7 gal / 26.5 L), getting from town to town is easy, but you still need to plan where you’re going to fill up, lest you find yourself out of gas, with no mobile phone service, and vehicles passing (maybe) every 20 minutes or so.
Remember: Loneliest Road in America.
With the gas I had left from yesterdays fillup in Salina, I’d easily make Ely, but I’d run out before Eureka. If rode with what I had and subsequently gassed up in Ely, I’d make Austin, but I might not make it all the way to Fallon, especially if I find a headwind, and windy conditions are very common on the desert pan between the mountain ranges in Nevada. My strategy, was to top off the tank now, which ensured that I’d make Eureka (past Ely). After filing up in Eureka, I knew I could go all the way to Fallon, after which gas was more plentiful towards Carson City.
Note: I keep mentioning Carson City, but my reservation was for a hotel in Virginia City, which is about 10 miles north of US50 east of Carson City. The Silverland Inn and Suites was apparently one of Redbeard’s regular places to stay, so I’m going to give them a try.
The morning ride
With the Nightowl’s tank full, I left Delta, Utah westbound on US50. The weather was still sunny without a cloud in the sky. Since it wasn’t even 10am yet, the temperature was still clinging to the overnight cool. For the first time since the first night out of Ann Arbor, I zipped my sleeve zippers shut.
About 30 minutes west of Delta, you can see a bright white dry lake bed to the south of US50. This is the Sevier Dry Lake bed, which isn’t really dry this early in the summer. In August or September, it would likely be dry enough to drive a car or even a bike out on, but you still run the risk of breaking through the hard pan and getting stuck up to your vehicle’s axle in light, powdery muck. Based on signs I saw on the gravel road to the lake bed, this has become enough of a problem that the Millard County Search and Rescue team will fine you a minimum of $500 to drag you out if you get stuck.
I stopped at the lake bed and verified that the bed was indeed still a muck-fest. I parked the Nightowl near the lake bed and took a few photos.
It was dead calm with no wind and no insect noises. Just the metallic tinking sounds of the Nightowl’s cooling exhaust. On an impulse, I captured a video of this Zen moment next to a dry lake bed.
After crossing the border into Nevada, US50 curves to the north to get around the Snake mountain range that is the centerpiece of the Great Basin National Park. Once the road crosses the range, it curves south into a wide valley bordered by two long mountain ranges and containing a large wind farm. When I’m traveling US50 across Nevada in the opposite direction, I often enter this valley late in the day when the orange rays of the low sun bathe the entire valley in a warm glow. Since I like this valley so much, I tagged the active dash cam video of that footage for later retrieval; look for it in today’s video. Curiously, the wind farm was largely static in spite of a light wind from the south. Of the dozens of turbines, I only saw one moving. I wonder why.
Not far west of the wind farm valley, you cross another mountain range and turn north for a 20 mile jaunt to Ely, Nevada. Of the four US50 towns in the desolate portions of Nevada, only Fallon is bigger and more built up than Ely. By contrast, Ely is much older and has more old architecture in it’s downtown area.
As described earlier, I didn’t need to stop in Ely for gas. I had, however, been in he saddle for a few hours and ready to walk around a bit. Also, it was now 12:30pm and I’d skipped breakfast earlier in the day. Now in downtown Ely, I started scanning for lunch candidates.
One candidate was Hunters, a drive-in style diner whose sign advertised both breakfast and lunch. There’s also a bike parked there in the bountiful shade provided by the drive-in canopy. For me, possible breakfast, at a drive-in, with shade for me and the Nightowl, was a trifecta jackpot. I pulled in and backed into the only available shaded drive-in stall.
After peeling off my leathers and exchanging introduction with the other motorcycle rider, I went inside the dining area to order. As it turns out, their breakfast options were basically biscuit and bagel sandwiches and that’s not what I had in mind. Instead, I opted for a cheeseburger and fries. They had a few tables and chairs between the drive-in stalls, so I could chose to eat outside in the shade and they would bring my food out to me.
The other biker was riding a brand new KTM 790. This was it’s first trip and the owner had left their home in southwestern Utah earlier today. He already had it decked out with engine and bodywork shields, a substantial looking saddleback rack, and the saddlebags themselves. While I was waiting for my food, he and I started talking bikes. Suddenly, a pickup pulls up to us at the Hunters and starts asking questions about the KTM. It turns out he’s a local who also owns a KTM 790. They were chatting about some feature of the KTM bikes when the pickup driver said, “It would be easier if I showed you. I’ll be back in a minute.” He drove off and returned five minutes later with his own KTM 790 decked out in similar but different accessories.
My food had arrived, so I ate while they exchanged notes on what’s better between soft luggage and hard luggage, which engine protection shields to buy, and alternative lighting options.
Listening in, I wondered how many times I’ve had similar discussions about features I’ve added to some of my bikes. Too many.
Pretty soon, I was done eating and ready to get along down the road. I bid the two KTM riders adieu and pointed the Nightowl west.
The afternoon ride
Using shampoo to wash your hair is a simple process: lather, rinse, repeat. When you cross Nevada on US50, the process is equally simple: mountain range, desert pan, repeat. Honestly, this pattern repeats itself seemingly a dozen times across the state.
Heading west, the pattern literally starts the moment you leave the Ely city limits when the road starts to curve up to higher elevations. To say that Ely is build at the edge of a mountain range is exactly correct. One at the top of that pass, Robinson Summit, you can see down into the next desert pan and see the straight line of US50 continuing off to the west towards the next mountain range.
I made good time to Eureka, where I filled up the Nightowl and rehydrated myself. Vehicle logistics got a little complicated at the gas station when a pickup with a horse trailer experience vapor lock in the heat and stalled for almost a half out in the middle of one of the two entrances into the gas station. Naturally, with my nice compact motorcycle, I was able to get around this obstruction and continue west.
Somewhere west of Eureka, my mind entered the zone and the miles rolled with little fanfare and no music playing in the background. I barely notice the wind getting stronger or the jets from the base in Fallon (that’s where the Top Gun group is headquartered now) doing simulated bombing runs at targets within sight of US50.
Even with the headwinds reducing my gas mileage, I still made it to Fallon with 40+ miles left in the Nightowl’s tank. I filled up and started the last ~60 mile leg to my hotel reservation in Virginia City.
Before exiting Fallon to the west, I was approached by a Harley rider in the neighboring lane. We were both first in line in our respective lanes at the stop light. When the light turned green, the Harley rider took off like he was running the quarter mile at the local drag strip. Watching him pull away, it occurred to me that he has laid down the gesture of challenge.
Alas, he must go down in flames…
I opened the Nightowl’s throttle wide, only to immediately bump into the rev limiter in second gear, leaving my opponent more time to distance himself from me. My subsequent shifts into 3rd, 4th, and 5th were correct and approaching (but not touching) the RPM gauge’s red line. This steadily reduced my opponents advantage until I finally passed him while he was still wide-open-throttle (WOT) in fourth gear.
Chalk this one up for the Nightowl.
After the impromptu testosterone challenge, there were only a few miles before I turned off on a cutoff (read: shortcut) to Virginia City. Just about the time I was wondering why the hell Redbeard would seek out Virginia City, the road I was on got much more rolling and curvy.
Ah, this is why Redbeard liked going here; the road in/out is righteous.
What I didn’t realize is that Virginia City is build on the side of a mountain. There’s one road traversing across the mountain; all the other roads travel straight up or down the mountain. These steep hills required you to stop at intersections and try and venture out into cross traffic without burning up your clutch or overheating your bike, If you’re new to motorcycling and just getting started, don’t visit Virginia City.
In spite the pucker-inducing quality of the local roads, I was able to find the Silverland Inn and Suites without permanent damage to life or bike.
After the ride
The hotel staff let me leave the bike under the canopy over the front entrance since it wasn’t in the way. I unpacked and walked the two-mile hallway down to my room.
The hotel had a swimming pool, so I availed myself of the opportunity to cool off. Ahhh.
Properly refreshed, I donned my jacket and helmet and asked the front desk if they suggest a local food venue. She directed me to the Cafe del Rio on the other side of town.
Virginia City isn’t that big, so I was able to cross to the other side of town in less than five minutes. Unfortunately, there was a short line for tables; I had to wait. 15 minutes later, the waitstaff seated me at the center front table directly in front a huge open window, affording a view of the street and the downhill landscape beyond.
I ordered a Jalapeño margarita and the Santa Fe Stacked enchiladas with both red and green sauce, described as pinto beans, rice, shredded beef or chicken layered w/corn tortillas, cheese, covered with red, green, or both sauces (our favorite), and topped with cheese, crema and a fried-to-order egg. Both food and drink were excellent.
One dinner quirk was the family at the table next to me. A father and three grown daughters. Dad was bald, but all the daughters had very long and very bountiful heads of red hair. I hadn’t seen so much red hair in one place in my entire life.
Back at the hotel, I dropped off my riding gear at the room, picked up my iPad, and returned downstairs to the bar adjacent to the swimming pool. I ordered a serving of Bulleit Bourbon, neat, and started writing this post.
No overheating of my iPhone today, so the map should be complete.
I picked out a few mountain pass climbs and descents.
Get my ass over the Sierra Nevada mountains and down to the party location.