Tandem, An American Love Story

The Great Salt Lake

The Great Salt Lake stinks! I thought all that salt would make for sterile water. Nope. Turns out there is something called a brine fly that breeds in huge numbers and the larval form sometimes piles up on beaches to a foot deep.

There are some mountain peninsulas that look like islands, and at sunset I could swear I was looking out at one of the mid-sized San Juan Islands in Washington, made more complete by sailboats against the reddening sky. The illusion was completed when a kayaker appeared out of the sun’s glare to land on our beach.

Great Salt Lake State Park is shown as having a campground on the official state map, but that is apparently not so anymore. (One thing we have learned on this trip, never depend on a map, any map.) We have pitched our little tent in the shadow of Saltair III, an airplane hanger disguised as a castle.

Saltair I and II were much nicer (we saw old pictures in a museum inside). Saltair I had the worlds largest dance floor, and all the big band greats played here. Special trains brought 2,000 couples from Salt Lake City to dance. We would have loved it. Saltair II was torn down when the lake retreated far away from it, and Saltair I burned down.

Saltair III was built in the 1980’s, and was almost immediately flooded to 10 feet when the lake rose. It has just reopened and is pretty seedy looking, offering bad hot dogs and rock concerts. What a comedown. I think nature is trying to tell the state of Utah something. The lake itself is marvel enough. (No, we didn’t float in it, too cold, and the fresh-water showers aren’t hooked up yet.)

We have been seeing seagulls since crossing over the Wasatch Front, first since the Texas Gulf Coast; emerald fields speckled with white gulls, snowcapped peaks high and close. Here at the lake they look quite at home, just like at Dungeness, padding around in the muck looking for food.

There are cliff swallows over our tent. They are building nests on Saltair III and socializing. They are building their summer nest as we head north toward our more permanent nest, our migration easing toward its end.

The next day, we stopped in Delle, Utah to fill up on water at the last place before the Nevada border 70 miles away. We needed lots so we could camp on the salt flats and avoid a 110 mile day.

A sign just outside of town announced, “Town For Sale.” Not much there but an old gas station/truck stop convenience store. While we were eating and filling bottles, we watched the comings and goings.

Two truckstop tricks got themselves thrown out of a big metallic green truck. One of them was barefoot and carrying one shoe. The other wore a flounsy dirty skirt, an old high school letter jacket and a mouth full of rotted teeth. Both were in their mid twenties and good cursers, the air was blue where they walked past us, mad at the trucker. Claire made me promise not to offer one of them her seat on Zippy. Not to worry. Probably couldn’t pedal up the on-ramp. It wasn’t long before another trucker offered them a ride. I hope he’s had his shots.

Several truckers stopped by to talk about Zippy and our trip. Lots of head-shaking going on. Truckers know the road and they figure we’re very strong and either brave or stupid. One couple talked at length about their on-the-road lifestyle. They co-drive and love it.

After over an hour of watching people, we decided not to buy the town after all, and headed west.

Knolls is on the map, but it’s nothing more than an interchange to a frontage road leading to commercial salt basins. An strange white place, silent except for the drone of the Interstate.

We found a place a little bit out of sight, and set up camp. All around us was snow white and crunched underfoot. The salt lay in broken slabs that were light and brittle. It was sharp to my tongue and had a texture like rock salt. I ate some, and carried a piece to lick like candy. In the late afternoon sun, it was bright white and pan flat, running for miles and miles in three directions to distant mountains.

Near sunset a hard wind came up and pelted us with salt for awhile. I worried that the tent pegs wouldn’t hold, but they did.

After dark, the sky cleared, the wind died, and a bright moon washed the salt with the whiteness of daylight; it seemed to glow, and the mountains floated gray and disjointed.

Red Garter Hotel and Casino, Wendover, Nevada. Two nights of freelance camping and we’re ready for showers. We rode less than 50 today, almost all of it along the Great Salt Lake Evaporation Basin and Bonneville Salt Flats, nothing but white from horizon to horizon.

This presents challenges when it’s time to pee. Interstate 80 is busy and there are no bushes or underpasses. But, we’ve had lots of time to perfect our technique this past year. You can guess how we used Zippy and a couple of broken down cars as shields.

Bed time. Tomorrow is a 60 miles with more than 3,000 feet of climbing and we have to get up early to get our $1.99 breakfast and see who’s still gambling.

We hated to say good-by to Utah. It’s a very beautiful state and we met many wonderful people. I have written of it’s beauties, but now I have one negative thing to mention. Sorry. Utah, by a large margin, has more soiled diapers on the road shoulders than any other state. I’m not sure what this means. It doesn’t fit with the rest.

We encountered two major climbs, the second with a steady headwind, to Wells, Nevada.

The only services were at Oasis which is being brought back by some optimistic and energetic people. They have a cafe, store, tiny motel and will open a bar soon. We’re always happy to see isolated crossroads thrive like this. Finding services closer than about 60 miles, sometimes much longer, can be hard in many parts of the west. We see the ruins of many formerly thriving businesses that once provided services to hungry, tired and thirsty travelers. Seventy miles is only an hour in today’s automobiles and on today’s roads, consequently small places get passed by and die. This is not good for cyclists.

We worried a lot about the reportedly very hard northwest winds in Nevada. They are here, but they haven’t affected us as much as expected. One good thing about these desert headwinds; they bring the sweet scent of sage to us, covering up all but the worst diesel exhaust.

And, like Texas, people have said we would hate the sameness of the crossing. Like Texas, we find it not boring at all, but quite beautiful and varied. There are high snow-covered mountains, blue sagebrush hills, round grassy hills and an occasional salt flat.

We are seeing purple lupines and yellow wild-sunflowers among the sagebrush; that brings us full circle to the seasons, since they are some of the first flowers we saw after crossing the Washington Cascades eastbound last May.

When the wind doesn’t blow and the trailer trucks hold back for awhile, we hear the meadowlark and the high-pitched crystal-bell tolling of a small, and to us, unidentified rodent that inhabits the right-of-way. They are everywhere and yet we have not seen one roadkill.

Claire decided they are such an advanced mammal that they drag their dead off the road and have little burial ceremonies. I suspect that we would see instead, six tiny pallbearers pancaked around the original victim. You can see that we have some deep conversations.

There is always something interesting to see and talk about during these long desert days. Lately we talk a lot about what we will do once we return to Dungeness. True gypsies would not give a thought to such silliness, so we must have some domestic normalcy left in us.

It is, however, very hard for us to imagine ourselves getting up in the morning and not going somewhere we have never been before, with faces we’ve never seen before and travel challenges we’ve never faced before. We have to find a way to meld the two lifestyles. Somehow. Someday.

We are traveling through an area where much of the action in my novel takes place, and I am seeing new things to add to the word-picture, and getting excited about it again.

Winnemucca, Nevada. It is Mothers day, and both of us are feeling our losses, missing our mothers. A kid of 16 asked me to buy cigarettes for him. “I’m dying for a cigarette.” Boy did he ask the wrong guy. I told him about Claire’s mother and how she died of cancer from smoking, and how terrible her death was. His look was blank. I should have known that 16 year-olds already know everything there is to know about everything.

I don’t mean to belabor the smoking thing, but DeLee’s death was so powerful for both of us; it changed us forever, was a major impetus for this trip. I can’t believe how many kids we see obviously addicted. It hurts.

We’ve been here for a couple of days. Found a good RV park for $10 a night including free coffee and ice cream! They’re losing money on us.

I got a cold that Claire has had for awhile, only I either got it worse, or I’m a wimp. I think my immune system just goes berserk when something gets in my respiratory tract, an offshoot of the asthma I suspect.

We’re both surprised that we got sick, since we haven’t been sick much in the past year, which was the prediction of the virologist we met in Tennessee. I think it was too long a period without any vegetables or fruits. These little desert town convenience stores don’t go in much for fruits and vegetables. We’ll fill up on fruits and veggies while we’re here.

Winnemucca is booming. The RV park is over half full of gold miners, here for the mining. I guess some new processing techniques were developed a few years ago that makes gold economical to mine at current prices. The Carlin Trend running north and east of here has lots of low grade gold ore and several mines have opened, employing thousands.

Between Elko and here, Interstate 80 was thick with busses taking workers to the mines. We talked with one of the miners this evening who relocated from northern Idaho. His fifth-wheel is right next to our tent and he wanted to know about our trip. He was in logging and construction in Idaho and is glad to get the steady job. The people living in the park seem to enjoy the minimal living spaces. I suppose they expect to relocate again in a few years, so why put down roots?


Comments

Tandem, An American Love Story — 2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the memories, and the update on your own adventures. That last few days back to Sequim was bitter-sweet after more than a year on the road. We’ve never been the same; a good thing.

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