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Saturday, 28 June 2014

Desert Crossing


By Pico Triano

The week on the road from Reno, Nevada to Salt Lake City Utah back in 1986 was the driest tour ever for me. If not for the experience gained while going to college in Southern California and some helpful information from friends familiar with the route I followed, I’m not sure I would have been successful.

I spent the weekend prior to departure staying with Leroy and Yong Abolinas in Reno. They were another great example of the hospitality I have found travelling. They made sure that I saw the sights and was refuelled for the next leg of my journey. I’d been introduced to them through friends I had met a week earlier. Nice meeting all these people but hard to say goodbye. They made me promise to contact other friends when I got to Salt Lake City so that I’d have a place to stay when I got there. I made the promise even though by myself I’m good with just wilderness camping as I go.

The first day out of Reno had to be the toughest even though I was well rested. It was hot and dry and the cistern for public drinking water at the Forty-Mile Desert rest area was dry as a bone. I’m grateful that I had been warned about that by some acquaintances from church that weekend. All my water bottles were full and I had bought several very large cans of fruit juice. There was a convenience store at the next interchange and I managed to get there without running low on fluids. That could have been a very serious situation.

I rode very well after that putting together my first ever back-to-back century rides. Travelling the same road day after day had other advantages as well. I had lunch in a truck stop, where the local truckers gave me much appreciated weather reports. A lot of those drivers ride regularly between those two cities and I think they’d pretty much adopted me by the time my second day was complete. I remember one honking and waving early in the morning as I stretched right after getting out of my tent. Those honks and waves would come periodically throughout the day. Nice to know the big boys are on your side.

I stayed a night in a roadside rest that allowed overnighters past Battle Mountain. The RVers who also overnighted there let me know that I wouldn’t be disturbed. That was another moment where I didn’t feel quite so alone out there.

In Carlin, NV Olympic silver medallist Rebecca Twigg’s mother checked my groceries at the store. We had a good chat. She invited me to stay the night in her backyard but I declined because I had to be in Salt Lake City for the weekend. That would have knocked me too far behind schedule. I grew up around the block from Canadian cyclist Steve Bauer who won silver at the same Olympics. That had met - small world.

Carlin also featured a dreaded obstacle though; a tunnel in the freeway through a mountain. I hate those. I wait until I can’t see any traffic coming for as far as I can see and then make a break for it. Pedalling like a madman I hope to be out the other side before traffic reaches me. There is less room to ride inside and right near the entrance drivers will be temporarily blinded. I don’t want to be road kill before their eyes adjust.

Entering Utah and seeing the Bonneville Salt Flats for the first time was a sight worth seeing. The salt is as white as snow and it is as flat as can be. After pedalling over a lot of mountains that was welcome.

My last challenge though was getting to Salt Lake City. Great Salt Lake in 1986 was way over its banks. My beloved Interstate 80 had turned into a causeway. I wasn’t sure I was going to get to dry land to camp before dark. I did but it was a near thing.

The following day I got in touch with the people who were supposed to put me up for the weekend. They actually drove out to give me directions. Alex was house sitting for someone and I got to stay with him. They told me I lost five years in the shower. I guess I was a bit gamy when I got there.

In retrospect, I would have bought lighting for my bike and done a lot of my desert riding at night. The sun and heat took a lot out of me. Interstate 80 had very wide paved shoulders and I think I could have night toured safely. A headlamp would have allowed me to avoid running over rattlesnakes in the dark. I had to take precautions concerning them anyway. When I set up my tent I would always make sure something jammed all the holes so nothing could join me in my sleeping bag. I also slept on top of picnic tables when I could. I don’t know whether that really was a good idea but I’d heard tell it was a safer way to sleep.

After completing that ride, I don’t have many worries about natural obstacles. I know how to plan with them in mind and most of them I can ride through.