Ride Report #30: Summer Trip to the High Sierras and the Nevada Desert

Bob Dylan once asked, how many roads must a man walk down, before they call him a man?

Ever since I’ve been in this country I’ve always wanted to travel The Loneliest Road in America – US50. We tried to do a road trip out to Nevada in 2006, but ended up going to Las Vegas instead. Then came the kids, the dog and the house and I never really got to explore that area.

I got into motorcycling about 2 years ago and it just seemed like a motorcycle would be a fine way to explore the remote Nevada landscape. I researched the area for a couple of months, charted out a few possible routes and discussed the trip with friends online. The final route was as follows:

I have to thank the dear wife here – not only does she entertain the dangerous sport of motorcycling, but she also allows the luxury of multi-day motorcycle trips by taking care of the kids, the dog and the house. I am super grateful to be married to her!

I’m also grateful to have such friendly, enthusiastic and awesome riding buddies – Shobhit on his CBR1000RR and Bobby on his R1150GS. Good riding buddies make all the difference. All photos below are credited to Bobby and Shobhit.

Day 1 – Friday July 12th 2013.

The original plan was to assemble at Niles Cafe on Friday morning and get going by about 8:30AM. That would bring us into Benton Hot Springs by 5:30PM or so. Shobhit sent me an SMS the previous night that he had a leaky valve stem. So we met at Niles Cafe at 8:30 or so and rode to East Bay Motorsports in Hayward.

They open at 9AM, so we hoped to get the stem replaced quickly and be on our way. Nada — the guy says he could only get it done by 2PM or so. I thought the service rep was rude and callous. Anyway, we rode on and met Bruce in Pleasanton. Bruce said we could try Motowrx in Livermore . Sure, they were open and got us in-and-out in under 20 minutes. Great service at a fair price — I would definitely use that shop for my future needs.

Our first stop was in the small historic town of Knights Ferry. We walked around the old mill, the covered bridge and the creek. Quaint little place with a charm of it’s own.

We took a detour off Hwy 120 — using Rodden Road and Orange Blossom Road. Both were excellent choices and avoided the Hwy 120 traffic altogether.

Our next stop was the Iron Door Saloon in Groveland which is one of the oldest saloons still operating in California. The place has an old western feel to it. The beer was cold and burger was fine. Over lunch Bruce told us interesting stories of his days in Vietnam. This was the first time I actually met a Vietnam vet.

We entered Yosemite soon after and since Bruce had a “lifetime pass” we basically got in for free. Riding through Yosemite was amazing. Every time I come here I am amazed at the natural beauty of this place. Traffic was fairly light through the park and we had an enjoyable ride. Here is a pic from Bobby’s GroPro.

We took a break at the Crane Flat Area and decided not to descend into the Valley as it would take a long time and would further delay our plans. We pressed on, on Hwy 120, at a quick pace. Traffic was very light, and I do recall occasionally doing 80mph in a 25mph zone 🙂 . We did spot a couple of rangers along the way, but were doing modest speeds then and did not get into any sort of trouble. Bruce reminded us later on that Yosemite is federal land, so if you are caught speeding you have to go to Federal court not county court. Well, anyway, we made it to Olmstead point and Tenaya Lake.

The views there are magnificent. The skies were clear and the temperature was perfect. The huge granite domes interspersed between the pine forests make a very pretty sight. In full HD:

All smiles

We left Olmstead point and made a final pit stop at the Tioga Pass. Bruce turned around here and made it back home by 10PM.

The three of us then descended into the Eastern Sierras. Hwy 120 east of Tioga Pass is very scenic too. The descent is gradual, but the road cuts along side a steep mountain face. We made one final stop at the Whoa Nellie Deli in Lee Vining. We enjoyed a cold beer with awesome views of Mono Lake.

The last portion of our ride was Hwy 120 from Hwy 395 to Benton Hot Springs. Hwy 120 east of Hwy 395 is a very interesting ride! The road goes through wide open plains, twisty sections and some very dramatic dips. Yes, the dips are almost out of a motocross circuit. The White Mountain range was clearly visible on the way and Montgomery Peak looked very dramatic in the evening sunlight. That section of Hwy 120 is very lonely; we probably passed only 5-6 cars over the 46 mile stretch.

Our hotel for the night — The Inn at Benton Hot Springs — was very nice. We had the quaint two bedroom bunglow for the night and enjoyed soaking in the hot springs while drinking beers. That place is very desolate. We were probably the only people staying there that night. Since we got there a little after 7PM, the inn-keeper Jimmy had left for the day. He left us a note saying that the door was open and a walkie-talkie in case we needed help.

We had dinner at the Benton Station Cafe which is the only place to get food there and offers all of four options for dinner.

Day 2 – Saturday July 13th 2013.

Day 2 began at Benton. As we left Benton for Tonopah, the temps were climbing and the mesh suit was proving pretty handy. As you cross the Sierras into the high desert the landscape changes quite dramatically. Riding out to Tonopah on US Hwy 6 almost felt like we were riding on Mars. The area is dry, arid and desolate. There was little traffic, maybe a car, bike or truck every 5 miles or so.

This allowed for considerably higher speeds and we started running 100 (indicated) and above pretty regularly. Our speeds actually remained in that neighborhood for most of the day. Unfortunately the high speed caused my Sony Actioncam to come loose and fall off my helmet while riding. So the first casualty of the trip was this stupid action cam. I see Shobhit roar past me and wave out frantically for me to stop. We stop, turn around and trace our steps back for a few miles. Shobhit spots the dead remains and they don’t look promising. Meh, that camera sucked anyway.

So we press on to Tonopah and get into Tonopah Station for some decent omelettes. As I try to get gas, I find that my credit card is blocked due to suspicious activity (gas in Benton). Thanks PenFed, but no thanks. I resolve it quickly on the phone and we are on our way. Shobhit and I then switched bikes. I was excited at riding a liter bike on wide open stretches.

Nevada State Hwy 376

Hwy 376 runs north south between Hwy 6 and Hwy 50, basically going through the vast area of nothingness called the Big Smoky Valley. The views are breathtaking, powerful and surreal. The valley stretches out for a about 50 miles between the magnificent Toiyabe Range to the West and the Toquima Range to the East. That part of the state is truly lonely, we must have passed about 3 cars over the 100 miles we rode.

Shobhit ran his bike a few times up and down that desolate road and Bobby took some video —

And we eventually got down to monkey business

We turned left on hwy 50 and rode the windy fun road into Austin. As we got into Austin for gas, we were welcomed by a huge thunderstorm. It rained heavily for about 10 minutes and stopped. This reminded me of India — heavy short downpours followed by cool crisp weather.

Nevada State Hwy 722

We left Austin and took Hwy 722 which goes through the Desatoya Mountains and Carroll Summit. This is an extremely lonely road with very little traffic (again, maybe 3-4 cars in the 50 miles stretch). There is a huge salt flat along the way and as you descend into this vast valley, it creates a magnificent impression. The salt flat is visible in the left part of this picture.

I was back onto Shobhit’s CBR and loved every minute of it. Interestingly we came across a bunch of cows standing right in the middle of the roadway. I was leading and intended to pass them on the left. As I came close to the group, one of the cows got agitated by the sound of the motorcycle and started running (charging?). Thankfully she ran the other way and we passed through without incident.

The winding road up to Carroll Summit is amazing. I was pushing the CBR to my limits 🙂 and it was fun. As you come down the summit you see these interesting cave like rock formations on your left before you hit Eastgate.

We then merged back onto Hwy 50 and stopped for food and beer at Middlegate Station. Trying to avoid meat as much as possible, I order a veggie burger with my Sierra Nevada. It was awesome! Probably better than any veggie burger I’ve eaten in the Bay Area. I know, veggie burger + beer in the middle of the Nevada desert, how weird is that?

Bobby struck up a conversation with “dude” there. It turns out that he is actually a biologist trained at the University of Arizona. He came to the NV desert to study biodiversity and settled at Middlegate. He showed us his finger deformed due to rattlesnake bite. It also turns out that the whole place (restaurant, a few rooms and a gas station) runs totally off the grid on a diesel generator.

We gassed up in Fallon (one of the larger Nevada towns) and our final stretch of riding to Topaz was uneventful. We rode through several farming communities and the small (and beautiful) towns of Smith Valley and Wellington. I was tired and wanted to get done with the days ride. Bobby and Shobhit were riding behind me and wanted to stop at the Walker river. I didn’t see their flashing lights so I rode on — but in retrospect it would have been a good idea to take a break there.

We got to our hotel at about 7PM and after a quick drink and dinner we were off to bed. The hotel was a typical cheapo Super 8 with a gas station, convenience store and casino. It served it’s purpose, that’s all.

Day 3 – Sunday July 14th 2013.

We started early on Day-3 riding through Monitor Pass and Ebbetts Pass towards the Bay Area. As we left the hotel I noticed my speedo not working. It was smooth till about 50mph, then jumped around and died. We stopped briefly to check for a loose cable, nut or screw. I didn’t find anything, so we pressed on. The speedo worked intermittently on the ride back but it surprisingly work perfectly for the last 60 miles or so. A quick search on the Internet showed that my speedo rotor may be getting old and is probably due for a change.

Coincidentally we rode Hwy 89 and Hwy 4 the day after a big bicycle race – the Death Ride. The roads were squeaky clean, there was very little traffic and the weather was perfect.

We stopped at the Kinney Reservoir and Lake Alpine. We strolled down to the water and headed to the Resort for a cup of coffee. We were greeted by this furry friend.

She actually sat next to me for a long time. Must have been all the attention I gave her.

The ride was pretty much uneventful after that. We gassed in Copperopolis and made our way back to the Bay Area by about 2PM. We hit terrible traffic on 580 and took 84 over to Fremont.

Lessons learnt –

  1. Motorcycle trips are a lot of fun. I would definitely do this again. I hope I can make it an annual tradition.
  2. Safety was our #1 priority and it should always be. When the ride ends with only a lost helmet camera and a broken speedo – I call that ride a success! No crashes, no injuries, no breakdowns, no risky situations.
  3. Three hundred to three fifty miles is the ideal sweet spot for riding per day. We did about 440 miles on Day-2 and were exhausted by the end of the day.
  4. I should ride slower, take more stops and take the time to “smell the roses” along the way. There were a couple of places (e.g. the Walker river) where I was leading and the others wanted to stop. I pressed on, when in fact I realized later that stopping & taking a break would have been a good idea. It just didn’t occur to me while blasting through the canyons.

So there you go. The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind.

4 thoughts on “Ride Report #30: Summer Trip to the High Sierras and the Nevada Desert”

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