Since we’ve been back in the U.S., we’ve been impressed by how downright friendly Americans can be. We have more random people strike up conversations with us here than in any other place in the world. (It doesn’t hurt I suppose that we understand what all of them are saying.) A range of typical questions exists—from where we started to where we’re going, from where we sleep to how in the world we’re paying for it. Many of these interactions end with comments like “I have always wanted to do something like that,” or “What a great way to see the country,” or even, “I wish I could join you!”
But when we got to Nevada, we saw a rapid shift in responses from these random people. More often the conversation started with, “You must be crazy riding those bikes out here across this desert!” Or maybe, “I couldn’t carry enough water to last ten minutes out here in this heat.”
But the best comment came from a motorcyclist we met in Rachel, Nevada. Let’s back up for a minute and let me give you some context…
It was apparent to us by the end of our first day in Nevada that traffic wasn’t going to be much of an issue. I think within our first 35 miles in the state we saw grand total of four cars. It turns out that—with the exception of Vegas and Reno—there just aren’t that many people who live in Nevada. Massive distances sprawl between tiny towns, and for the first time since Northwest Argentina, we were forced to reevaluate our water supply and increase our capacity. Looking ahead on the map, we saw that for one stretch we would be going 110 miles (about 170 km) without having any means to obtain more water, and even from that point it would be another 90 miles before we would see a grocery store. Throw into that desolate mix the mountainous terrain, the 100-degree plus heat and the frequent headwind, and you know you’ve got to be prepared when it comes to carrying enough food and water.
We had planned on taking Highway 50, “The Loneliest Road in America,” which actually has a town about every 80 miles… so really not THAT lonely. But its direction didn’t fit as well with our overall route. We knew we didn’t want to go as far south as Vegas, being quite certain we’d bake In the 115 degree heat of the southern valley. So we settled on the route between the two: Highway 6 which would connect with Highway 375—known more commonly as the “Extraterrestrial Highway.”
Now perhaps you think it a bit silly that they have a highway named after aliens. But these people are devoted to the cause. The town of Rachel, Nevada, sits in the middle of nowhere, right at the heart of the ET Highway. And do you know what’s at Rachel’s backdoor? Area 51. That’s right, it does exist. A top-secret U.S. government research facility. Few people really know what’s going on there, and armed guards stand at the entrances—surrounded by signs about using deadly force–making sure no one else tries to find out. Now of course you can’t actually see that from the highway. But in the vicinity of Rachel, if you’re headed east on the Extraterrestrial Highway, take a right and go about 10 miles down almost any unmarked dirt road and you’ll find yourself at one of the many back gate entrances.
With all the mystery surrounding Area 51, it’s no surprise the small community of Rachel has embraced the alien theme. In fact, the one restaurant/bar/motel business there is none other than the “Little A’Le’Inn.”
Of course we stopped here for a break. Never mind that this is the only business we saw for nearly 200 miles. Never mind we were eager to have lunch and some cold cokes. Never mind that we were running low on water and would run out soon if we didn’t refill here. Put all that aside: this was the Little Al’E’Inn. And it’s just not every day you get to hang out in a place where the extraterrestrial theme is so celebrated. As soon as we walked in, we found ourselves caught up in the collection of photographs and articles covering the walls. Many were about Area 51 and the nearby Nellis Air Force Range. But many more were about strange UFO sightings and mysterious lights in the sky and signs of life from worlds unknown to us. Some seemed silly and preposterous, others at least drew a “hmmm….” as we read. In addition to the walls of alien fame, the room itself possessed an obvious extraterrestrial theme. Cheesy spaceship art (complete with blinking LEDs) and life-size alien dummies filled the free space.
We settled in to take a lengthy break here, as we were hungry, tired, and not particularly wanting to cycle in the worst of the heat. We picked a table in the back and ordered a couple of “saucer burgers” and fries. We pulled out our journals and sat for a while just writing and enjoying the air conditioning.
It wasn’t long before more folks started to pour in. A lone Asian guy walked in snapping photos of every piece of alien art. A German family came in and ordered some Cokes while soaking up the ambience. Then a crew of five rowdy guys arrived on motorcycles. They were decked out in the typical riding attire—vests and bandanas and Harley t-shirts. They were loud as they filled in the seats at the bar ordering up a round of beers.
Dave and I weren’t paying much attention to all the ruckus until the guys came back into our corner of the restaurant to take some pictures with the alien dummies who were wearing Area 51 t-shirts. We watched as three of them came over, taking turns posing with the aliens and snapping photos. One of them (let’s call him Steve for fun) got the clever idea to take the alien’s hand and hold it up in an inappropriate pose… he kind of hesitated as he saw us watching, then laughed roughly and went for it.
We sat there, looking sweaty and tired, quietly writing in our journals, and I suppose finally their curiosity got the better of them. One of them came and peered over my shoulder, asking what I was studying. He remarked how nice my handwriting was and insisted that all his friends come take a look at the neatly printed pages of my journal. Dave and I sat there mildly amused.
But then they figured out that WE were the proud owners of the fully loaded bicycles they had seen outside.
“You’re riding your bicycles to ALABAMA?!” Steve said in shock. “Why the hell would you do that?”
“You know, you’re not really going in the right direction,” one of them said. (I’m not sure where he got that idea… I almost asked him if he actually knew where Alabama was, but thought better of it.)
The conversation continued along these lines for a while. Expressions of wonder came from these guys as they thought about the details of our journey, particularly across the desert of Nevada. I suppose carrying water and food are really foreign concepts to men in a motorcycle club out on a two-day ride from Vegas.
Finally, Steve wrapped up the conversation with the comment that summed up what they really thought of us.
“Well, you guys sure have some f***ing balls of steel.”
And there you have it. Thanks? I guess…. I think it was meant to be a compliment, though I especially was not particularly flattered. Steve seemed to kind of consider that maybe I wouldn’t be as he shook our hands and walked away… but oh well. He meant it. And I wonder if other people thought something similar (though more appropriately phrased) as they saw us riding across those lonely roads of Nevada.
We spent just over a week trekking across the state, and our last night camped in Cathedral Gorge State Park. It was the only organized camping we did there, since wild camping in the desert was easy, free, and most often the only option. But Cathedral Gorge was a surprise highlight. Sand-colored weathered rock formations line the gorge, and you can walk right up to the best of them. You can even clamber around in the slot canyons formed by the years of erosion.
Though Nevada was desolate, its mountainous terrain and quiet roads were a nice change for us from the busyness of riding along the West Coast. And though it posed more logistical issues to figure out, we got the feeling that we had really accomplished something when we rode across the state line into Utah.