I wake up early to a sky covered with patches of low, sleepy clouds. The surrounding ranges are freshly dusted with sugar powder. The asphalt is still wet. It snowed during the night and is clearing up now.
Masha is sleeping in; she has decided to go back to Reno.
Today I will pass the Burning Man office on my way out of Gerlach and cycle north on 447 (never been there before, yey!) — on my way toward Oregon across the northeastern corner of California. I’ve been looking forward to this part of Nevada because it is as remote as things get and because here I should finally cross the 4,000-mile point of the trip. The 85 miles of no services between Gerlach and Cedarville (in CA) rival the most desolate stretch of my 2007 tour: Highway 21 between Milford, UT and Baker, NV.
Indeed, I see just 15 vehicles in the first 50 miles!
Big milestone: 4,000 miles! (Near Duck Flat, still in Nevada). Just as I did at my 3,000-mile point back on the 2007 tour, I take photos in all directions to remember this remarkable place well. It’s a typical Nevada desert landscape, but with three big snowy mountains: Fox Mtn., Granite Peak (back near Gerlach), and Warner Mountains (up ahead, in California).
Finally I reach California (for the second time on this trip). The Nevada/California state line lies along Surprise Valley. This valley is a miniature replica of Owens Valley, through which we rode a few days ago. The steep, snowy Warner Mountains flank the highway on the left; snowmelt from the range feeds lush green pastures. But the eastern half of the valley, flanked by the Hays Canyon Range, lies in the Warners’ rain shadow and is yellow and bare.
It’s chilly; can’t be more than 50° F (feels uncomfortable for shorts and t-shirt). When a cloud hides the sun, the temperature suddenly falls to 40°. If I pedal vigorously, it feels like 5° more. Uphill, +15°. Headwind, -10°. Most of today’s ride is in moderate headwind. I make several adjustments to my clothing layers. Still, the conditions change so frequently that it’s impractical to adjust the layers sufficiently often. So I end up riding most of the day outside my temperature comfort zone, outside both extremes.
When I cross Surprise Valley and enter California, the highway turns north along the steep bluffs that form the foothills of the Warner Mountains. A lone car parked on the shoulder at Modoc County mile marker 5 piques my interest. It sits empty above the 20-meter-high precipice. I decrease my speed and look down over the embankment as I pass; there I see a middle-aged couple, buck naked, sitting in what looks like a hot spring where the steep bluff meets the valley floor. They are talking quietly, towels folded neatly nearby. They don’t notice me and my first instinct it to yell hello. But they look so peaceful and absorbed in their solitude that I restrain myself and pedal on.
Refrigerator-size boulders are scattered below the road on the right, but the cattle fence is not damaged. I wonder how frequently rocks spill from the cliff.
Eventually the land begins to flatten; farms start appearing more frequently on both sides of the road. More traffic, too, though still pretty low. Still, no services anywhere until Cedarville.
Hundreds of small animals scurry across the highway: raccoons, mice, chipmunks, even strange birds that prefer to run rather than fly. Stubby-tailed mole-like critters — ground squirrels, I later learn — bask in the sun but dash for their burrows when I approach. The burrows pockmark the ground in large numbers. Rabbits sit still in the open, confident of their summer camouflage. Groups of deer watch me tentatively from the distance. Some take off and run. Cows, lazily lounging in the grass, get up and turn to face me — a funny slow dance. They are so cute: thoughtful white faces on completely black or brown bodies.
A strange incident occurs when I get to Cedarville. After dinner at a local cafe I am about to get on my bike to go looking for a place for the night but the bike feels uncharacteristically wobbly. Flat tire! Somehow, my front wheel got punctured while the bike was parked. Go figure! A group of teenagers were hanging out outside the cafe as I was eating and at first I suspect them, but when I take off the rubber for repair, I inspect it and find a tiny sharp rock lodged there.