June 19, 1999 - Day 14 Ely to Utah/Nevada borderline

- 65.9 miles, 13.2 mph average, 816 total miles, 38.2 max mph
3 roadkill

Riesenberg
Here's John Riesenberg

John does house construction for a living and bicycling the rest of the time. If you're ever in Stoddard, New Hampshire, just ask where "the bike guy" lives. They'll get you to him. John is 49, same age as me.

Well, the breakfast was good. That was the high point of the day in terms of biking. But in terms of Good Samaritan-ship, this was a day of days. Here we go.
John stopped at a gas station to top off his tires. I went ahead to an ATM to get cash... and had a flat tire. The tube just exploded. Knowing that I had a lot of desert ahead in the next several days, I told John to go on without me; I went back to the sports store in town and bought some extra tubes.

Zach and Robin
Zach and Robin
I held out the water bottles on the edge of Ely and Zach Zeiset and Robin Nejame stopped to help out. Of course, nobody really knows exactly why I'm holding those bottles out, which makes me appreciate even more the people who stop. They stop because they have that "help out" mentality.
Zach runs his own computer business in Salida, Colorado and Robin teaches Spanish and some other courses (next year Spanish ONLY!) south of Salida (Moffit??). They were filled with positive energy, the kind of people you want to get to know better. When they dropped the water, they left little notes written on the jugs.

The road out of Ely went southeasterly for about 15 miles, into a headwind. Tough going. Then the road turns east and begins an ascent.
I had my second flat of the day climbing that first pass of the day. The good news? At least I was going 7 mph, not 40. And I was glad John had gone on ahead.

Junction Oasis
Oasis at the junction
This place came as a complete surprise. There were supposed to be no water facilities until the border, but here was this little place right at a major road junction (I no longer have my Nevada map, so can't tell you the junction). I downed two ice cold diet cokes and refilled my water bottles. Also watched Tiger Woods make a little run at the lead in the U.S. Open. Can't emphasize enough how good the words "ice cold" taste.

Willes Family
The Willes family
My third flat came on a pretty desolate stretch of road about 35 miles from the border. By the way, every one of my flats has been rear tire. It's becoming obvious that that tire just can't support the weight of what I'm carrying.
And now here's the bonus: my pump quit working. I could pump air in, but the valve that keeps the air in just quit working. I took that thing apart in every possible way. No luck.
So I fixed the flat, but had no way to pump the tire back up.
So I just flagged down the first car. This wasn't a passive motion; this was stepping out in the road and flagging. I don't even remember what I was going to ask them. Maybe it was the ridiculous question, "Do you have a pump?"
Well, of course they did. An automatic beauty that plugs into the cigarette lighter and pumps to over 200 psi. I was ready to go inside a minute. So, thank you to the Willes family from McGill, Nevada, just north of Ely.

Marlene and Melanie
Marlene and Melanie
I realized I also had no more patches. So to review: no pump, no patches, no spare tires that aren't already flat. Another few miles down the road I spied a car coming at me with two bikes on a top rack. I took a chance and flagged them down. Maybe I could buy a pump.
It's Marlene Helsey (driver), a fire captain for the California Dept. of Forestry in Chico, California, and Melanie Fune (passenger), a massage therapist. (This is a good pairing, as I see it. Melanie does the massage, then Marlene puts the fire out.) Anyway, as you can see from the picture, their good spirits were totally infectious. They didn't have a pump, but they did have a patch kit with one patch left in it, which they gave me.
When they drove off, I just felt better about my whole day. Hey, what's a couple of flats with no spare and no pump, in the middle of the desert, with evening coming on, and 30 miles left to go, when there's friendly people out there? That may sound out of whack, but those two really turned my day around. Thanks.

Sacramento Pass
Last pass in Nevada
And so it was up and over the last mountain pass in Nevada. Are you surprised to see snow in eastern Nevada? Nevada is a very surprising state. Not at all what you might imagine.
And then down, down, down to the Utah border. I could see the little settlement at the border for perhaps fifteen miles. That's a good hour.
And so it was particularly frustrating to get my fourth flat of the day within a mile of "home base", so to speak. And now I WAS stuck. I flagged down a car and asked them to get word to the bicyclist named John who was at that settlement (not a town, trust me), that I was, in fact, close and would get there soon.
Within a half hour, John appeared in a pickup truck driven by Gary. They loaded me up and drove me to the border. The settlement there is a gas station, a restaurant/casino, and a motel. The motel and gas station are in Utah, the restaurant/casino are in Nevada. In this little dot winking in the middle of the desert night I found a sense of community I hadn't felt anywhere else on the trip. People who worked there seemed to genuinely care about each other and help each other out.

Gary and Friends
That's Gary on the left
Gary made it clear that coming out to pick me up in the truck was absolutely no big deal. John had told him I was out there; that was good enough. Gary drills wells for a living; any kind, but specializing in water. The man knew his water.

John in Night Gear
John getting ready to tackle the Utah desert by night
This is John getting ready for his night assault on the western Utah desert. 90 miles to Delta, no water or services of any kind. Keep in mind that John has already ridden 65 miles from Ely today, and now will ride most of the night as well.
He's got a helmet mounted headlight as well as a generator-driven light down on his front fork. The generator is really genius; .007 percent drag ratio. That's practically nothing. He's got two rear mounted lights, and a third large flashing light.
We said our goodbyes and my last vision of John was his flashing light about a mile to the east, fading into the desert night.

I got settled in my motel room and went into the restaurant to eat. I had pre-ordered the chicken-fried steak so the cook started cooking when he saw me walk in. As I was eating, a young man walked up and introduced himself. His name is Brian Frehner, and we ended up having the most fascinating conversation of the trip to date. I regret not having his picture.
Brian is working on a graduate degree in environmental history at Oklahoma University. He said Gary pointed me out to him and said he should talk with me because I had asked Gary about the Ogallala aquifer.
Brian has been contracted by the National Park Service at Great Basin National Park to take histories of the people who live in the area. So Brian gets to drive out to remote areas all over the Great Basin and interview people who have lived there all their lives. Wow.
So what is the Great Basin? Well, the spaces between the mountain ranges in Nevada that I have been calling basins would be mini-basins. The GREAT Basin's boundaries are arguable, but Brian defines it on the north by the Snake River (Idaho), on the south by the Colorado River (Arizona), to the east by the Rocky Mountains and to the west by the Sierras. That leaves a lot of those north/south Nevada mountain ranges I had been climbing over for the past week as part of the Great Basin? Brian said to think of those mountain ranges like battleships lying near each other on a great sea flanked by two great continents. Pretty good.
Brian recommended some books to read. I'll pass them on to those of you who are interested. (Sujata Bharani, if you are somehow reading this, contact me so that I can put you in touch with Brian. I think he knows your environmental prof at Knox. Is he Mark Spence?)
If you want to find out more about America's largest inland fresh-water lake, the underground Ogallala Aquifer, the book is "Ogallala" by John Opie, U. of Kansas Press.
A Chicago book: "Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West" by William Cronin.
A book about the Colorado River basin and the struggles for its water: "Cadillac Desert" by Mark Reisner (sp?)
And "Dust Bowl" by Don Worster.
I'm going to take the liberty of putting Brian's email address at OU right here. Feel free to contact him with questions or other recommendations. The guy is good. It's bfrehner@ou.edu.Tell him I sent you.

And so to bed with a 90 mile stretch of what they call "the western desert" waiting for me, no spare tubes, one patch, no pump and a history of four flats the previous day. But I slept like a baby.

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