Thursday, November 07, 2013

The Loneliest Highway

I love road trips. In a perfect world, I would always have the time, means, and energy to just ride a bicycle everywhere, even destinations hundreds of miles away. But there's also something special about getting behind the wheel of a vehicle and piloting it across states, absorbing large swaths of scenery and chunks of local culture along the way. 

I've driven all over the North American West during the past ten years, and one of my favorite crossings is Northern Nevada. This segment of Interstate 80 is often described as the most monotonous, least engaging highway in the United States, with nothing but wide-open desert plains and distant barren mountains as far as the eye can see. I disagree with this assessment wholly, but then again these are my kind of landscapes — sweeping and mysterious, with adventurous intrigue lingering on the distant horizons. Still, the twelve-plus hours it takes to drive 800 miles between Los Altos and Salt Lake City is a lot of time to spend in a car by myself. To avoid the boredom sleepies, I keep myself engaged by stopping to take short walks and shoot some photos. This is my photo essay from the California-to-Utah commute.

The view from Donner Pass during the eastbound drive on Oct. 30, looking toward Donner Lake and Truckee, California.

Interstate 80 through Nevada. There are so many mountain ranges here that I want to explore. Someday I will take the time to stay, and not just fly past.

This truck stop has really, really terrible fountain soda. I think it's the well water.

But it does have nice views.

This photo is from the return drive. While gassing up in Wendover, I made a spontaneous decision to detour off I-80 and drive a highway that I've long wanted to travel — Highway 50, also known as the Lincoln Highway and "The Loneliest Highway." Towns along this road are all at least 100 miles apart, and there's little in between but sagebrush deserts and mysterious mountains.

Highway 50 lived up to its moniker as the Loneliest Road. The small amount of traffic I encountered out there was almost disconcerting. I imagine if you traveled this highway in a bad snowstorm and something happened, there's a chance you wouldn't be found for many hours or even days.

Eureka, Nevada.

An overlook view during one of the short walks I took near a BLM area that advertised petroglyphs. I did not find the petroglyphs.

Descending into Austin, Nevada.

Much of Highway 50 is above 6,000 feet. I thought it would be chilly, but temperatures were in the high 50s and even low 60s for most of the day. I *really* wished I could be out riding one of the four bikes I had in the car, but they were too deconstructed and tightly packed to justify a joyride. Also, I was (and still am) stiff and banged up from my bike crash, which I haven't recovered from as quickly as I expected.

A salt flat near Fallon.

Someday I will plan a bicycle tour from California to Utah on these lonely roads. Ideally it would take place during one of these colder months, because otherwise I would have to carry *a lot* of water. Even on pavement it's a hundred miles between resupplies. My kind of space.