Western Wilds

Bryce canyon was mystical. I did a full moon hike with my friend Sara Kinney (who is also a videographer / editor, currently working on a documentary project about the sisters) and my new friends Tom and Joyce, both of whom joined Sara to help with shooting. Didn’t know what to expect, as I didn’t have an image in my mind. It’s the best way to approach something — like going into a movie without seeing the trailer.

We crept towards the lip of the canyon guided by a young ranger, and were greeted by spires of wonderment. It was somber and otherworldly, alien and beautiful. You just have to go to fully get the vibe. Lit by the moon, our eyes adjusted, we saw depth and cold color. A thunderhead mushroomed in the distance, the lightning zapping from the inside, setting the whole cloud aglow. We heard and saw a rattlesnake (my first!). We learned about the Native people’s beliefs – the canyon was a sort of hell, filled with souls who had done wrong, turned to pillars of stone forever. It felt vaguely like a cemetery.

The next day, July 20, was BVB’s 70th birthday. Pretty important. Aside from some small bickering, it was a nice day, ha ha. We spent a chunk of it in Bryce, walking the rim trail slowly, viewing the spires from all angles. A raven floated by, croaking. We smelled the butterscotch of the Ponderosa Pines. We bought trinkets. Dad was content, I think, albeit slightly tired after this seemingly unending journey.

The following morning, the moon was still full, sitting low in the blue sky, amongst gauzy clouds. We took off for the “Loneliest Highway” into Nevada, which is Route 50 and also the Lincoln Highway – we were reconnecting with the sisters’ original route after the cool detour. Once we crossed into Nevada, the heat bore down. The afternoon stretched; the winds on the flat lands between the ridges blowing harder. I spied a dust devil off to my left, and calculated that it would reach the road just as I was riding by. I made a decision to ride through it. Oh god, never again. A personal two-second hurricane. A tiny tornado. In case you were wondering, dust devils pack a punch. I was able to stay on my bike, on the road, but just barely.

Since I’ve lived to tell the tale, I suppose I’ve crossed over into some sort of Old West mentality.  Nevada oozes it. Sometimes it’s a bit gross — anything and everything could be a brothel. Cigarette smoke wafts through the air. Hotels are casinos. Hell, gas stations are casinos. Best not to make eye contact with some folks… like the disheveled old gold prospector-type eyeing our luggage at Hotel Nevada. But there’s also warmth in places — the cute soda fountain in Ely; the mayor named Melody we met at the thrift store who welcomed us. The lady who was attending the spelunking conference who looked like Mrs. Potato Head.

We rode clean across Nevada in one day, from Ely to Carson City, breaking away from the group to ride, just me, my folks, and Sara, Tom and Joyce following in the Prius. Peaks and valleys rising and falling. Climbing through small mountain passes with names like Pancake and Pinto, and then dumping back out into long stretches of straight road, The road ahead, straight for 50 miles until it tucks back up into the hills again, is filled with illusions, reflections. A lake pools in the middle, hulking shapes moving through it. As we draw nearer the water evaporates into nothingness, the shapes morph into a cow or a car.

This is the road wherein I go the fastest I’ve ever gone. 85, 95, 100. At first it feels daring, but then it becomes the new normal. Slowing back down to 75 mph feels like I could walk faster. I keep checking my rearview to make sure BVB is still following, Mom on the back. Slow down. They’re near now; speed up. The road lays out before me like a submissive lover. I am moving through a golden shimmering tunnel, my eyes fixed on the point where road meets horizon. I feel a wave of calm sweep over me, inexplicable. Trance-inducing. Reminded of when I performed with a butoh dance company. We walked, each step a thousand years. Fred Hatt, one of the accomplished dancers, coached me. You are walking slowly, fixed on the horizon, looking through the wall of the building out onto the landscape beyond. Eight golden buddhas spin around me, hovering in light. Walking the ages, aeons falling away like autumn leaves.

Bouncing over frost heaves, hurtling along. Om dum durgayei namaha.

This road is indeed the same the sisters travelled, but they didn’t have the privilege of speed during their journey. I’d imagine they still fixed their eyes on the horizon, the landscape wavering in the heat of high noon. Dehydration and hallucinations. God knows how they did it; it would have taken them a few days to get through what we did in an afternoon.

Detour into 722, passing an old tramp seated on the side of the road, shirtless and sunburned. Our first sandy salt flat, a cloud of brown in the air above it. The smell of campfire. We move closer and now it’s evident the brown cloud is not dust but smoke. We are headed into another mountain pass, towards a wildfire. It’s seated on the top of the mountain, but we thankfully skirt around it through a charred landscape. Dead trees with grotesque reach of black limbs. Black ground. We come ‘round the corner, farther from the fallout. I look in my rearview and see the side of three consecutive mountains aflame.

We stop at Middlegate Station, an extremely old timey lunch spot that harkens back to the Pony Express days, about a half mile down the road from a tree covered in old shoes. Back on the road, I flash the “two wheels” hand sign at a leather and brain bucket-clad one-percenter next to his hog on the side of the road. He gives me the sign of the beast.

Getting closer, mid afternoon heat almost too much to bare. Military jet planes circle in the near distance, rumbling. Where’s Area 51 anyway? In Nevada you truly feel most alone, but are likely being watched. Heck, we were likely being watched in Colorado Springs too, staying near the antennae-laden peak of NORAD. But more about that later.

We were getting close. Arriving in Carson City, it was our last stop before San Francisco. In the parking lot was Monique Filips, the cool mom who has been traveling with sidecar containing her two kids, Spencer and Makayla, her husband Frank following on his own bike. Makayla cheered as they arrived, her little fist punching into the air as she yelled, “Carson CITAYYY!” We laughed.