We had a nice evening in Eureka last night. They make the city park available to cyclists to camp and it was quite nice – better than some campgrounds I’ve paid for frankly. They didn’t have showers but I kind of felt like I got one on the bike yesterday when the hail hit – we were pretty soaked.
A local gent, Randy, was hosting some friends to a Friday night BBQ and he invited us to share the grill if we wanted to pick up something to put on it. Eliot went to the store and got some chicken, veggies and BBQ sauce and we were good to go.
We got to know Randy pretty well after hanging out, having a couple of beers and snacking all evening. He’s an interesting guy who’s a self-described woodsman and obviously has a lot of backcountry experience. He also has a huge family with (if I recall correctly) about 7 of his own kids and 4 adopted ones. How someone who already has 7 kids decides to adopt is beyond me but I would say Randy is generous as could be. I noticed that he made sure everybody got plenty to eat and gave us a steak to share to boot (it was huge – half was a meal). I also noticed he never took one for himself and was so busy making sure everyone was taken care of he never ate. Randy votes “the redneck ticket” which you can imagine where that goes but I really didn’t want to talk politics. He knows where we stand, we know where he does, and right now I guess I think its more important to prove that we have plenty in common before we jump in trying to convert one another.
Randy also believes in Bigfoot. Yup, I met a dyed-in-the-wool Sasquatch seer. Now he didn’t just come right out and say that immediately – he led up to it with a series of stories starting off pretty tame with hearing unexplained noises in the woods, seeing huge prints with toes etc (he had pictures), and ending with him seeing the big guy in his backyard more or less. Sometime about half way through those stories I started to clean up and get ready for bed which he rightly interpreted as disbelief. And Eliot told him as much too – that he didn’t believe him but he believes that Randy believes it. That’s honest. And to Randy’s credit, he didn’t expect us to believe it and said he wouldn’t believe it either, but in this case, he’s a Bigfoot “knower.” Hats off to him for sticking to his convictions in spite of widespread disbelief.
I was up and out early this morning and Eliot was sleeping in so I hit the road on my own again. I missed having the road to myself so it was kind of nice to return to my old routine, letting my thoughts wander, taking my time. I’ve noticed that when I’m traveling with others, I take less time with my photos and I don’t like that. It’s been a long time since I’ve taken photography seriously and one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most on this trip is taking time with it to get it right, or at least the best I can. I still rush people shots (would-be portraits) so those end up looking like snapshots.
It was a pretty easy day really with a lot of flat land to cover and only one big climb to get to Austin summit, just before descending into Austin. Thanks to Eliot for helping me adjust my attitude about this area. I was seeing it as sort of a hurdle between me and home but he was talking about this is about his favorite part of the trip. He really enjoys the space, the gradual climbs, the infrequent traffic. As soon as he said that yesterday I started turning my attitude around and now I agree. The spaces between towns are a little daunting (I’ve had “no services” sections for 65, 78 and 84 miles at a time) but the country is beautiful, the temps have been very moderate, Mariah has been kind during riding hours, and the people out here are of a different breed. When reality shows are done giving everyone in Alaska their own show, they could probably get a few seasons out of Nevada mining towns (or maybe they have already – how would I know?).
My ACA maps describe Nevada as “the Great Basin” as it was described by Fremont, one of the first Europeans to map the area. What I didn’t realize was that he called it that because none of the rivers here make it to the sea, they all run out into old lake beds and dry up between the hundreds of mountain ranges here. So actually it’s not a “basin” but many basins in between the north-south running ranges. Those ranges are caused by faults that open as the plates here are pulled apart on the east-west axis, and the lighter ranges of mountains “float” to the top of the more heavy sediments that fill the basins between them. I don’t mean to digress too much into a GEO 101 lesson but I found it pretty interesting and helps explain the repeating pattern of Basin, Fault, Range that you see in this territory over and over.
NOTE: The pic above is linked to a pano photo. I can’t embed them – wordpress barfs when I try.
As I was pedaling across one of those big basins this morning I was trying to think back on this trip to see what I’ve gotten out of it. I don’t know if I’ve said it here before, perhaps it’s between the lines, but I think the biggest gift of this trip is a restoration in my faith in the people of the US. Ever since last November’s election, I’ve taken a pretty dim view of my fellow Americans, and I still can’t get how they voted for someone so obviously unethical, self-serving, reactionary and uninformed (list truncated for brevity). But as I cross the country in a semi-unplugged state re: the news, I’m struck mostly by how generous and kind people have been. Maybe its the cycling tourist bubble that I’ve travelled in – there’s clearly something special there because people have gone out of their way to help, offering food, their homes, water, even money to help me along (and I’m not alone in recognition of this phenomenon). But it’s been wonderful to be on the receiving end of that generosity and something that I will try to take out of the experience – the desire to be more generous and compassionate myself. It’s contagious, right?
Leaving early, and having little climbing got me into Austin pretty early, maybe 1:30 or so. It’s an interesting town – another mining town that was much bigger at one time. In fact when Nevada became a state in 1864 (to supply the Union with lead and other precious metals btw) there was an article in the New York Herald and Austin was one of the 3 or 4 cities shown on the map on the front page. Now Austin is only a couple hundred people. As Simon described it, “it’s more of a place to hide out in than live.”
I’m starting to worry a bit about ending this trip though. I’m a little concerned about withdrawal from all this free time and travel. When I went into the Peace Corp after college I found out that coming back home was much more difficult than going oversees. You expect things to be different when you travel – you aren’t always ready for the changes in yourself and others upon re-entry.