Surprisingly out of all of the days I’ve spent riding, only one has really shaken me up. There were a combination of factors that led to what felt like a ride of doom, but here’s how it started.
From Salt Lake City my destination was Big Pine, California, where I was enrolled in a 2 week program that was to start the next day. I had been told that Nevada was a big empty state and an uninteresting ride for at least 10 hours, but I found that I was totally enamored with the scenery the entire time.
The scenery was continuously breath-taking, to the point of exhaustion. Most of the days riding my brain has felt super saturated with the continuous flow of beautiful landscapes, to the point where some days I almost wish I could ride with a blindfold to give my brain a break. I know. First world problems.
There was hardly a soul on the road the entire 10 hour ride, giving me many opportunities to lay down in the middle of the road with my camera to get different shots of the landscape. There was hardly a soul, it was so peaceful. It felt like all there was in the world was me, the open road, and the ginormous sky overhead. And cell service? Forget about it. Who needed it anyway, it was a straight shot to California and I enjoyed the break from the pressure to respond to text messages.
I rolled into one town where a sign read, “130 Miles to Next Service Area.” This was slightly alarming because my tank carries me pretty much exactly 130 miles, but I figured as long as I didn’t gun it the whole way I should be fine. I maintained a mindful 60 mph the whole way.
One thing that is cool about the open high desert landscapes that is hard to describe, or get a photo of, is the way the weather patterns flow. Off to the right you might see dark, ominous clouds forming, while over to the left the sky is light blue and full of fluffy clouds. And behind you the sky might be crystal clear and blindingly sunny. Then you might see lightening strike over the mountains, and over in this direction pouring rain- it’s a little worrysome becuase it’s hard to tell where the clouds are moving or where the gradual winding road will take you, but beautiful nonetheless. In the really dry areas you’ll see dark clouds with rain pouring underneath, but the rain never touches the ground. It just evaporates midway down, it’s so cool.
I took this photo at an intersection where I was supposed to take a left turn straight into some storm clouds, but decided to go 50 miles out of my way to move around them. I learned very quickly on this trip that riding in the rain is no joke. First of all, you can’t see shit once your visor gets wet, and if you lift it up your eyes and nose get pelted with water. And forget about trying to look through the windshield, there are no wipers and the wind just smears all the droplets around. I already mentioned before how slick the road gets- and I mean like slick, like you might as well try running across a frozen lake in stilettos without falling on your head, it’s just ridiculous. Don’t do it.
I made it to the next service station (whew!), and continued on my way. Again, it was just open, spacious, beautiful, and I had it all to myself. I felt high on life, jjust free and high, like a bird.
About 70 miles later I saw a green sign in the distance that I assumed would read the name of the next town I was approaching. I got closer and closer and squinted my eyes to see what it read, and when I read it my stomach. Just. Dropped.
“96 Miles to Next Service Station.”
PANIC!! PANIC!! PANIC!!
For those of you who are like me and slow when it comes to numbers, all you need to know is that there was no way my bike was going to make it another 96 miles. None. There was no cell service. No buildings. No cars. No people. The only thing for miles were mountains and approaching lightening, and the sun was going down behind the mountains. All the things I was previously in awe of I started cursing. “Stupid mountains! Stupid beautiful sky! Stupid peacefulness! Stupid everything! What am I supposed to do now?!”
To be honest, if I didn’t have to be in Big Pine the next morning, the quality of the panic would have been dramatically more subtle. I had enough food and water with me to last days, but even then I knew I wasn’t stuck here forever. I just hate being late.
While panicking I kept having moments where I’d think, “Oh, duh! Just call AAA!” Then I’d remember that I hadn’t had cell service for 8 hours. “Oh yeah, CRAP!” A few minutes later, “Well, I’ll just call somebody for help that’s all…” then pull out my phone, “DAMNIT!” I’m sure everyone has had those moments.
Way off in the distance I could see what looked liked a little building, so I got back on the bike and rode to it, the first house-like structure I’d seen in miles. I got off the bike, and felt so awkward approaching the front door. Like, where am I? And what am I supposed to say? There was a sign that said, “Closed,” but what this building was when it was open I couldn’t tell. There were several beat up vehicles behind it, and it looked almost abandoned. I knocked on the door and didn’t hear anything.
It was one of those moments that was so foreign that I didn’t know how to feel except wildly nervous and out of place. I had zero images in my head of how this whole thing was going to turn out. Beyond this moment of knocking on the door, my brain was blank. I guess that’s what being in the moment is all about. But there is a certain anxiety that comes with not having any relatively reasonable predictions to grasp onto, no projections good or bad to settle my pounding heart. There were no past experiences of how these moments “generally” turn out and that was making my brain FREAK out.
Nobody answered, so I went around to the back of the building and saw a porch. I looked in the sliding glass door and saw a man sitting on a recliner watching TV. I knocked, and he looked over. One of the doors was open. “Hi,” I said. “I’m so sorry to bother you…”
“Clarence? Is that you?” he said. He was an elderly man.
“No,” I said awkwardly. “You don’t know me, actually, um, I’m just riding by…”
“You ran out of gas, huh?” he said. “Jane!! Jane! Somebody’s here! They need gas!”
Oh thank god. My lungs filled with air again. Sometimes I forget to breathe when I get scared.
A petite woman came to the door. “Are you out of gas?” she asked. I told her no but that I wouldn’t have enough to get to the next service station. “Yes,” she said. “There’s a sign in Ely that says there’s about 170 miles to the next gas station.”
I told her I must have missed it, but that my bike wouldn’t be able to take me that far anyway. She raised her eyebrows. “You’re on a motorcycle? Oh my!” She smiled. “That’s quite incredible!” She chuckled a little but.
“Do a lot of motorcyclists run into this problem then? How do most people make that far of a stretch?”
“Honey I almost never see motocycles come through here so I don’t know. I wish I had gas for you but we are low ourselves, I don’t have anything for you.”
She must have seen the blood drain from my face. “However, about ten miles back from where you came from there is a refinery, that is usually where I send people when they run out, there should be someone there 24/7.” I breathed again. I remembered passing that area though, and it looked sketchy as hell. But gas is gas and it was getting later and later.
I asked her what they did for gas, and she told me that had to go 75 miles to Ely to get gas, and by the time they came back here they were already half empty. If I had had more time, I would have stayed and asked her a thousand more questions about how she got here and what she did and where they came from, I was so curious about everything. But I was also worn out and stressed and just wanted to get to my final destination. i still had at least 3 more hours of riding. I did find out though that she used to live in Chicopee, MA, about an hour from where I live in Pittsfield. Such a weird small world. How did she end up here??
I rode back to the refinery, an area in the middle of nowhere filled with giant smoke stacks and tall towers and loud generators and barbed wire and a sign that read, “All Trespassers Will Be SHOT.” Maybe not in those words but this was definitely not a friendly place to enter.
THe sky was overcast and the layout was ominous. I felt like an ant riding through some giant forbidding robot playground. I parked the bike, and with shaking hands I took off my helmet and walked over to the nearest trailer. I knocked on the door. Again, my brain was out of ideas for how this would turn out. Nothing even remotely similar to this moment had every happened in my life. And I’ve been in a LOT of sketchy situations. All I could hear was the loud humming and banging of machines.
A man came to the door, and with a thick hispanic accent he said, “What, what are ju doin here?”
I apologized and said, “I just need gas and the woman up the road told me to come here.” He looked at me.
“How much you need?”
“Not much, my tank only holds 2.5 gallons and I probably have 1 left.”
He raised his eyebrows the way the other woman had. “You on a bike?” I nodded. I could tell that his rigid disposition was much softer at this point. “Ok, is no problem, ride over to that pump, I’ll meet you there.”
I couldn’t see a pump but I rode to where he pointed. This place was so creepy. I saw something with a hose and assumed it was a pump, and saw him walking toward it as well. He unhooked the hose and I opened the tank. I asked him if other motocycles ever stopped here. “No, never,” he said. “I never see bikes on this road.”
I thought about how I had wondered earlier why I wasn’t seeing more bikes on such a beautiful road, it was the perfect ride for any motorcyclist! Then I realized that it’s because I’m the only idiot on a bike who doesn’t pay attention to caution signs. I use the word “idiot” with the utmost kindheartedness because it’s something that I like about myself, and my lack of planning is what has taken me to the coolest, most unexpected places on this trip. Maybe “idiot” is not the right word now that I’m writing about it.
He filled the tank and I asked him how much I owed him. “Don’t worry bout it,” he said. Although it was only 1.5 gallons I was so grateful and said thank you thank you, and we chatted for a little bit. I could handle a converstaion much better now that I knew I was going to make it to my next destination. He told me that he lived in Ely, and when I asked about the commute he said he just loved it. “In the morning, you have an hour to watch the sun rise, and in the evening after work, you just relax as you go up the mountain, it’s very peaceful.” I want to know more about people who live in such remote areas, to me the thought touches my fear of isolation, but for others it seems to bring them to a calm place.
I said goodbye and left, and made the rest of the ride to Tonopah without any issues. I slept like a baby that night, too.