Back in the Saddle

 

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My first bike commute of 2017 after one of our many stormy days of this great January weather.
My commute is one of the most important parts of my life. I know that is an extremely strange thing for a modern, office-dwelling US individual to say, but in my case it’s true. And it’s because of one reason: I commute on my bicycle. Bike commuting is one of the bedrocks of my life. It starts my day right: I think about the day ahead, daydream, take photos, listen to music … all the while pedaling.

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More scenes from that gorgeous first day on the bike. 

 Especially with the completion of the McCarran bike path and it’s interlinking with the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway and the river path, my commute is Reno has become a great pleasure. From our doorstep to downtown Reno I travel along (well on one side busy McCarran) the UNR Farms, a great piece of the remaining green space in the Truckee Meadows, then along the river path whose twists and turns reveal and hide the river’s trace, Mount Rose, Peavine. It also reveals a lot of industrial development, and heartbreaking scenes of homeless people, illegal immigrants, and other tortured souls carrying out their days. It is sobering to see the juxtaposition of our area’s great beauty with the pain that modern existence engenders in so many. But even that makes my day become real, and reminds me to keep myself in check, that my problems are just a tiny drop in a vast ocean.

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Filled with gamblers, from outside the GSR is a landmark on the river path. Here from my second ride home of the year. 

I have always been a bike commuter, at least ever since I arrived in Eugene, Oregon. Those bikes and moments stay with me. Riding across town on my first commuter, a classic Schwinn Cruiser. Bike/bus commuting from our home way out on the Mackenzie River and then riding Manhattan on my Trek mountain bike. The Surly came into my life in Richmond, where it carried me sweating across town and Miami, and Reno. The only city I ever lived in where I don’t think I ever bike commuted was Santiago, Chile, for one summer/winter.

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The UNR farms on my way to work this morning. 

But this year has not started promising on the bike commute front. A combination of the weather (which has been impressive) and lethargy have kept me behind the wheel of an automobile. On Friday I rode for only the second time this year. And the paths were fine, and then we had a great biking weekend, and then I biked again today, so some rhythm is building.

But I’m still behind. I’ve worked 18 workdays so far in 2017 and I have bike commuted 3 times, so 16.66%. I should be well over 50% so this situation won’t last for sure. I’m keeping track and am going to see how fast it takes for me to get back over 50% and then if I can keep up the momentum and going to keep my stats for the year for days on bike versus days in the tube. If I don’t drive again, I should make it back to over 50% pretty much toward the end of February. We’ll see how it goes!

Gettin’ started on NaNoWriMo

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Well, “that happens in November,” you say. But one of my strongest impetuses to get start writing again, and to starting this iteration of the “dan blog,” was my being in National Novel Writing Month this past November. And, so, as part of returning to the writing life, I am going to occasionally update Overland Passages on my fiction writing progress.

Get on with the story, Dan! I have participated in NaNoWriMo four times and am 2-2. Only once was a crash and burn though, but really 2-2 only means nothing if they just sit around and do nothing. But the future is the key. So here are my NaNoWriMo entries in order from oldest to latest:

Landing. Two sisters take their demented father for a last visit back to the long lost family ranch. Along the way they run into a cyclist who is just slowly pedaling into the future.

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Nano Reno. A picaresque in the style of Cervantes’s El colloquio de los perros, in which a small dog a la Coco is launched on a picaresque journey that brings her to Reno.

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The Ballad of Ray Gone. Ray Gone is living a quiet life, stealth camping in the Carson Range and watching the jets go by, when a backpack of money and a pistol fall in his lap and things start to get hairy.

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Where I Am. A man decides to begin walking through a landscape that is entwined in him.

So what happened above. Well, with Landing, the idea was from a dream, and I am very unsure that I treated dealing with a demented parent the way I would want to write it. But it has material for sure, and my first project needs to be to get back to reading it again. Nano Reno, this could have been a winner, but I had a file problem that took the wind out of its sales (and it’s still missing text). But I will always love this story. The title is unfortunate though, trying to make a play on NaNoWriMo is a not a good idea, but I love this story (and I have to say I like its “cover” the best). I don’t know if anyone else would, but that doesn’t matter because I do. On The Ballad of Ray Gone, things were going OK until he got down into town where he was supposed to meet the noir femme fatale, but she was so flat and stilted that the whole thing fell apart. And on Where I Am, never really got a title, but I really enjoyed writing it and I feel that when I do get back to it, at the very least it will have some material. But overall, I don’t know, it’s just too soon.

So I’m gonna read Landing and I’m gonna go back to Currently-Untitled-Formerly-Nano-Reno. To sweeten the pot a bit for my readers, here’s an excerpt from Landinga_brother_comes_home. I made the PDF when I was just learning InDesign, so that’s why it looks as “official” as it does, it really is just a draft. If you read it and want to make comments, I would love that (well, most likely). Please leave them in the comments section.

So if these are just drafts, that I haven’t even mostly read, why do they have covers, you ask. Well, NaNoWriMo says that your chances of winning go way up if you make a cover, and I enjoy designing them, so that’s where they come from. They were all designed on my iPhone with a program called Typic.

Dreaming about a day on our bikes in the South Egans

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The first lighting of the South Egans and Shingle Peak, which would be our companion for most of the day.

August 23, 2015. Camped in the shadow of an old windmill. Long day today, but beautiful and high spirits.

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Our Kirch camp. Where we had spent Renee’s birthday the day before.

Started pretty early. The storms pushed out the smoke and when we awoke before sunrise all of the mountains around were crystal clear. It didn’t take long for the haze to make its way back though.

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This is how you begin a day!

First thing detour to the Hot Creek pool where we bathed alone in the soft light. Tremendous and now when I am trying to sleep among all of the things from today it is what I want to remember.

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Renee feeling her oats at the start of the Shingle Pass climb.

The morning ride out to the highway and to the rest area was silky smooth, mostly. A nice trucker at the rest area was very curious about us and offered us water bottles. The first of only two people we interacted with all day. Then a few miles up a rather corrugated highway and we were on Shingle Pass Road. There was a guy with an ATV there, interaction number 2, we asked him about the road, which he was right about, it’s been great, but he also said there was “lots” of water in Cave Valley, this bit of knowledge certainly hasn’t gushed forth haha so we have a dry camp, due to a mishap I’ll share in due time.

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Shingle Peak.

From the turn of Shingle Pass up to the mountains a bright steep line of gravel road daunting although Renee says it didn’t bother her too much. She did spook a cow through the fence, in all fairness to the side it looked it should have been on in the first place. Otherwise just pedaling, steady, in low gear straight up; our only marks of progress noted by looking back or watching the looming cliffed mass of Shingle Peak grow nearer like a castle protecting the pass from marauding giants or dragons, but now haunted and fallen into ruins. It dominated the skyline for the majority of the day.

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A grand day and a grand place and a grand girl. Life is good!

So up and up, eating here, resting in the shade there. My shoes still hurting tried adjusting more often but nothing does the trick so finally switched to sneakers, which also hurt but nothing so bad. Finally crested Shingle Pass and after some lunch started whoopty-doing the way down over these tremendous shining white rolling hills into the Cave Valley. The mountains beyond striking cliff faces glowing white and gray.

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Hijinks descending into Cave Lake Valley.

In the bottom a nice ranch, but, on the last up and down pinched a tire. Stopped to fix it and found out that the big dromedary, which had been inside the dry bag, was leaking from its lid. We lost maybe a third of its water and so that’s why we’re on water rations although we’re only about 20 miles to Ward Charcoal Ovens where there should be water. Put a spin of excitement and through combination of dehydration and power of suggestion I feel thirsty.

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The places we find ourselves and where we want to be.

Walked up hill behind the camp and sat in juniper shade for a while looking at our tiny camp below. Ate cold mini bagels and then dived into bed. Our plan to get to Ward early. Goodnight.

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Our dry camp from the hill above.

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Good night from the Egans.

NOTE: It’s a tired, cold night here in Reno and I feel like daydreaming about some places and adventures, so I’ve taken my journal entry from the day and added pictures. I’ve started a new category for memory lane trips I want to share, Day Dreaming. Just a couple of notes about the route: We passed Whipple Caves. It was just a ways off the road, but given that you need to know what in the heck you are doing and have special equipment in order to access, and that it apparently doesn’t show much just from the top, we passed. But this account of a visit is well worth reading. And we went near and along the Far South Egan Range Wilderness.

Cedarville Days and another account of Massacre Lake

Above Fandango Pass in Modoc National Forest in the Warner Mountains.


Have spent this long holiday weekend at a friend’s family’s second home in Cedarville, California. It is near and dear to my heart and a place that Renee and I tend to spend a good bit of time exploring around. It has been a really fantastic weekend spending time with friends new and old and coming even closer to this special place. I know that John C.  Frémont was the first Anglo to write about this place and so did a little research in which I randomly found another, quite varied account of the events that happened at Massacre Lake that I wrote about previously:

One of a large party of California-bound emigrants passing through Nevada near the present California State line found what he thought was gold bearing quartz. This being about the time of the great California gold rush when men’s thoughts were permeated with dreams of the fabulous wealth of Western hills, groups of the emigrants straggled while searching for further evidence of the precious metal. Paiute Indians attacked the disorganized party in force and in a fight of several days duration; forty- men were killed, besides a number of women and children. Less than two-thirds of this big party got through, minus most of their livestock and personal possessions. Massacre Lake in this section owes its name to this running fight with the Indians and to the lives lost in other surprise Indian attacks in the same vicinity.

The northern Warner Mountains, looking toward Oregon.

Down in the Sink

On the Humboldt Sink, where the water comes to an end. Here it either rises into the sky or seeps into the earth. 

View of the Humboldt Sink from the southeast. Courtesy of photographer Famartin via Wikipedia Commons

Water has been the theme of life lately. More specifically, lots of it! In various forms too: rain, snow, frozen rain, floodwater, ice. Not to complain, I am loving this winter’s latest explosions. Any inconvenience is more than made up for by the good it does for all of us and the world we share with so many other living things. Tonight though, I’m thinking about a place where the water ends. Specifically, the Humboldt Sink. It has always been a place to rush by, the part of I-80 from Lovelock until you crest the hill and start arrive at the Fallon cut-off. A sort of blip in the map. But as I start to learn more about the Great Basin it occurs to me that sinks, even more so than mountain peaks or lush meadows, are the defining features of our part of the world.

A sink is a distinctive geographic feature; a basin from which no water escapes. Rather than flowing into some other basin (like an ocean), the water that flows into a sink does not flow out. It only leaves by evaporation or penetration (i.e., sinking into the groundwater). The Humboldt Sink is the end of the Humboldt River.

One Saturday we set out to explore the Humboldt Sink a bit, along with Lovelock Cave. The cave is an amazing piece of the human record of the Great Basin, a place that was occupied for over 4,000 years! After the cave we drove down the road and just walked out toward the sink. While we didn’t make it as far as the actual playa bed, just walking among the greasewood-dotted sand dunes,  swales and salt grass flats was striking.

This was also the beginning of the dreaded Forty Mile Desert, perhaps the most terror-inspiring and horrific place on the California Trail. Travelers were no fan of the place,

“In place of a great rent in the earth, into which the waters of the rivers plunged with a terrible roar (as pictured in our imagination), there was found a mud lake ten miles long and four or five miles wide, a veritable sea of slime, a ‘slough of despond,’ an ocean of ooze, a bottomless bed of alkaline poison, which emitted a nauseous odor and presented the appearance of utter desolation. ” —Reuben Cole Shaw, 1849

“Even the very wagons seem to know that we are off today for the great adventure—in sand, volcanic ash, alkali, furnace heat, and the stench of putrid flesh—We crossed along the edge of an immense baked plain with the fetid stinking slough for a guide, although the wreckage along the way almost paved our route…. It must have been here that one emigrant said he counted a dead animal every 106 feet.”

It was also an important place for Native Americans, and as such they often came into contact with and conflict with the newcomers. I highly recommend reading Across Nevada, a pamphlet put out in 2012 by the National Park Service from which the top quote is taken. It’s definitely gone into the library. The bottom, unacknowledged, one is from The WPA Guide to Nevada (already in the library).

It is a sink, and walking along in its sand dunes we often started to disappear a bit, giving us an even deeper feeling of walking into a place older somehow than everything around it. A place where more has disappeared than has remained. And, as described by John McPhee in Basin and Range, where a new ocean will one day appear:

“Death Valley. Walker Lake. Carson Sink.” An Exxon map of the western United States is spread open on the seat between us. He runs his finger from Death Valley to Carson Sink and on northward to cross the interstate at Lovelock. “The ocean will open here,” he repeats. “Or in the Bonneville Basin. I think here.” (p. 138 of his collected Annals of the Former World)

I don’t know if this is the most current geology, but this was what most caught my imagination when I read this fascinating book and remains for me a striking image, a metaphor even for the ability of reality to be transformed by the passage of time. That the place that I had driven by hundreds of times, where I walked with Renee and Coco on a calm and cool early spring day, where emigrants had cursed and fought, where Native Americans had seen the beginning of the end of their life ways with the arrival of bands of newcomers with terrible weapons and new diseases, that this place will become an ocean. We come across a perfectly molted snake skin and stop to examine its contours. One day it will open and where we are will be swallowed by a vast expanse of cresting ocean. We walk on, it’s easy to lose yourself in the vast plain until you lift your eyes to the ringing mountains.

The Rises and Falls of the Truckee

The Truckee at flood stage West of Reno.


We had a very exciting night in Reno and Sparks last night and into today with the Truckee rising to flood level with heavy rain high in the mountains on top of snow. It’s a weather phenomenon that brings pretty regular floods to the Truckee Meadows and other similar mountain and basin landscapes in our region. We stayed pretty close to home yesterday, our location is rather near the flood plain as it extends south from the where the Truckee enters the canyon south across the UNR farms. 

Our feeder road, Rio Poco, became Rio Mucho last night. Here during a brief lull in the rain.


There was some flooding on our main feeder road, especially early in the day when I’m guessing a culvert must have been blocked. We walked out in the evening and it is extradordinarily stunning to see the power of water, especially when we’ve been in a drought for a few years now. 

The periodic rises and falls of the Truckee are something I’ve always known about, but I thought I’d do a little more digging on them and share any tidbits I found. The most interesting article I found was at a Tahoe-based site stormking.com, with an article “Floods in the Driest State.” In the winter of 1889-1890, a chinook melted snow and flooded the Carson River Valley with debris. Ranchers had to dynamite ice near Gardnerville to open the waterways. The winter of 1906-1907 was particularly active in both northern and southern Nevada. Las Vegas was for a time completely cut off and running low on food supplies. Meanwhile in northern Nevada there was chicanery, shotguns, and a flood surge that carried away bridges and entire houses. One rancher left his house, but wasn’t able to take along his dog. He returned in a canoe to find his home flooded but his pup safe and sound, atop the family piano! There are many more stories such as this at the above mentioned site which is well worth the read. 

Of course, famously, the flood of 1997 “created” the Sparks Marina, which had previously been a gravel pit (and superfund site). 

Well as the waters recede we look toward the next rise and fall of the Truckee. 

Rhyolite 1907, Where Are We Now?

This sculpture, in Rhyolite, Nevada, represents very well for me the tension between presence and absence that happens in Western ghost towns.

On our drive south for Christmas, Renee and I stopped at Rhyolite, a ghost town nearby Beatty right off the main highway to Death Valley. Despite going by many times I’d never been there before and it was a stunning ethereal experience of standing in what had clearly been an important place for many people now tumbled into ruins among vivid colored cliffs, only tempered by a threatening overcast extending all the way along the line of Nevada. We stopped and parked along the old railway station and walked down the entrance road, which had most likely been the main street, now just tortured facades reminiscent of photos of bombed buildings. The emptied building dominates the skyline.

Ruin dominates the skyline. Other than the mountains, of course, which always dominate the real skyline in most Western cities.

It’s an idea that has interested me for a while. We are, well, future dwellers, at least it has always been a persistent feeling I’ve had—and the pace of human development, of the development of human population and technology leads to the idea of our being on the crest of a wave. But being in a place like Rhyolite begs you to consider that, in the midst of all of this population growth and networks of communication, culture, industry, et al., why do those of us who want to explore out in the reaches of the West find ourselves in a much less  populated planet than anyone would have experienced at the turn of the century? Where there were thousands of people there is now no one.

The old train depot, sadly, was swathed in chain link.

Rhyolite existed more or less from 1904 to 1909 (if you’re interested in details of the history, based on my fairly cursory research and just based on the quality, read the wikipedia article on Rhyolite, in addition to telling you all you want to know about the town, it is, in my opinion, a really great example of a Wikipedia entry). In those five years of existence it came to boast a train station, a bank with Italian marble and stained glass, two railroads, a building made of emptied bottles, thousands of people, a school and then another school, concrete sidewalks, maybe some more pools (based on this ghost towns’ site, by the way the as far as I could see uncited, but clearly  best text on this site’s entry begins “one of the most interesting stories”).

Thinking about Rhyolite and how it represents the conundrum of the West in modernity, where even with the explosion of outdoor recreation we are still just a shadow of past use, I got curious about ghost town. Its specific naming seems pretty obvious, but I wondered, when did that term come into use? It had to have been in some way cultural, there had to have been a moment when “empty” or “abandoned” town became “ghost town” and based on my quick search, the date is 1931. The term seems to have been in use before this, based on a footnote appearing in Western Places, American Mythology: How We Think about the West by Gary Hausladen (which I found randomly, and is published by the UNP, and is now on my must-read list!), but based on a search of “ghost town” and 1931, that date is most likely the result of photographer Paul Strand and his striking photos. I don’t know anything beyond this, nor even if this is correct etymology, but it is really striking to come from 1931, when the West went for the first time from untapped area for exploration, to closed, to Dust Bowl and “nowhere.”

The famous bottle house. With a miniature bottle replica of the town. 

After walking the main street, we stopped at the Goldwell Open Air Art Museum, where Belgian artist Albert Szukalski created The Last Supper and, even more pertinently for me, the Ghost Biker. They capture really perfectly the idea of absence in presence that overwhelms me in Western ghost towns.