In 1875, Ebenezer Bryce settled in south-central Utah, becoming the otherwise empty area’s first permanent resident. He famously described the land as “A hell of a place to lose a cow,” and he would go on to be the person for whom Bryce Canyon National Park is named. If southern Utah is a hell of a place to lose a cow, then I’d be interested to hear what ole Ebenezer would have to say about riding your bike through it.
For the first time this summer, I felt like I was in a place that was totally unlike anything I had ever seen before. Utah felt like Mars, but with roads. The painted canyons are even deeper reds and beautiful in person, and they’re all that exists out there. At camp, the temperature plummets in the 40s at night and heats back up in minutes when the sun rises. You wake up with a dry mouth and black boogers because of all the dust, and heaven help you if you run out of water. I honestly have no clue what would compel someone to ride the Western Express without support. There’s just no resources out there. This is a common thread out west.
Cedar City, Utah, home to Southern Utah University and some apparently impassioned karaoke singers (as we learned on our night out there), was our outlet into Nevada. If Utah is remote, with towns small and far between each other, Nevada is nothing at all.
We’re riding through Nevada on US 50. In 1986, the now-defunct Life magazine described US 50, saying, “It’s totally empty. There are no points of interest. We don’t recommend it…We warn all motorists not to drive there, unless they’re confident of their survival skills.”
Nevada has leaned into this harsh criticism, proudly describing 50 as “The Loneliest Road In America” and each town along the route has passport stamps for The Official Survival Guide to 50 (the bit of literature from which I read about the Life quote). Collect enough stamps along 50, mail them to the Nevada state offices, and they’ll send you a certificate signed by the Nevada governor declaring that you survived Highway 50.
So, yeah. We’re riding our bikes along it? Again, I don’t know how anyone could ride this route on their own, it is so mind-numbingly desolate that to be out there alone is terrifying. You’re at the mercy of the sun, and if you were to get heat exhaustion or have a mechanical issue on your bike, the odds of someone driving by you are slim. It’s so unexciting I haven’t even taken photos of it. There’s simply nothing to look at.
Nevada is an area that clearly wasn’t meant to be inhabited. The heat and lack of vegetation, water, and resources makes you feel like nature is saying, “Get out of here, everything here is dead.” And so that’s what we’re doing.
In two nights we’ll be into California, and in six days we’ll have reached San Francisco. The last week is always mentally challenging for me: I’m just so excited to get to civilization and welcome the team into the Pacific, that I’m begging the days to go by faster. Knowing just how great the end is makes the final riding days feel that much longer, but I’m doing my best to enjoy the time left and to not focus on the glee that’s awaiting us in San Francisco.