Last Night in the Desert. Tomorrow: Vegas
There’s something almighty rewarding about perching in a $22 tent from Walmart, a few metres off the side of Highway 95, 18 miles south of Beatty, Nevada, and perhaps more importantly less than 100 miles north of Las Vegas, our final destination.
The sky is almost dark now but the moon is nearly full and gives us enough light to find laptops, cameras, torches, clothes and snack. There is no wind and apart from the frequent roar of a passing night truck we are in complete silence bar the tapping of fingers on keys. I love this. Writing in the night, in the wild, in the open, my chest bent over my knees and happily sore thighs. Every bit of me aches but I don’t feel at all sore, I’m content right here.
Seb just reminded me of the man in the bike shop near his house in Manly, Sydney. During an infrequent training ride prior to this journey Seb popped into the shop to have his tyres pumped up (already you see the levels of preparation that went into this, Seb doesn’t even have his own pump) and on telling the man what he was training for the response was, ‘Mate, you’ve got to use a bit of realism about these things, that ain’t gonna happen.’
This afternoon, in Beatty, a Wild West Town with the desperate trimmings of commercialism, I looked into the wide eyes of a young man who was serving me a Subway sandwich and heard him say those now ever-so-frequent words, ‘I’d love to do something like you’re doing.’ The usual suspects that deter the folk who speak and don’t act are money, time and the daunting fear of the unknown. ‘I wouldn’t know where to start,’ said the chap.
‘You just start,’ I said. And if this Tandem Journey has proven anything, it is that a remarkable, difficult, satisfying and geographically wonderful challenge can be cooked up and completed with little more than a cheeky grin and an eagerness to experience stuff. ‘Get a map,’ I said, ‘look at it a bit, and then buy a bike, even a second hand one.’
‘One day I will,’ he said.
‘One day is never,’ I said, sucker punching him with my finest cliché, ‘mate, you’ll never regret doing something like this, you will look back and remember it for the rest of your life.’
And then I ate the sandwich, and it was good, and I popped up to the counter to tell him so. He should do his ride, but not give up the day job, because he’s splendid at it.
There have been several times on this journey when Seb and I have been psychologically on our knees. That second day where we were kicked off the Freeway in Seattle by a jolly cop and then proceeded to get outstandingly lost in the rain. My trainers began to simultaneously fall apart and fill with water. My toes, somewhere deep down in two pairs of socks and a holey shopping bag, they began to resemble prunes.
And then there was Day 8, the long push to Mt Shasta, first over the top of the Siskiyou Summit, a two-hour climb to the highest peak on the Interstate 5. And then we descended fast into California and became pummelled by headwinds on a long, flat prairie. Three hours, it took us, to pedal less than 10 miles. Heartbreaking. Mt Shasta was up there somewhere, in the hills we had been staring at all day, the ones that began almost as hazy clouds and then defined themselves as we edged closer. We climbed through the snow, still fighting the wind, pausing often to rub the cold from our fingers. We were both haunted by the next day’s challenge, the Cascades Range, a 135 mile stretch of mountains that lay between us and the flatter – we hoped – Nevada desert. Our spirits fell to our sodden shoes, our bike Tinkerbella continuously played up, offering resistance to which a solution could not be found. We were two men on an adventure at its lowest ebb, which is a good place to be if your intentions are decent, because there’s always an angel waiting to pick you up. In this case, the angel was named Kevin and he owned a pizza shop in Mt Shasta. We thought there was still a good ten miles to go when he pulled up in one of those unnecessarily enormous American cars that everyone here seems to own, and I struggled not to hug him firmly when he said that town was barely a mile away. Later, he brought us pizza, because he happened to own a restaurant called Say Cheese. We ate, we slept, we woke, we took on the mountains. And we won.
Seb and I haven’t cycled much before, certainly not seriously. Sure, we both keep ourselves relatively fit, but we’ve both got some muffin tops to offer round. Once upon a time we both decided to do something different and exciting and new. Something that scared us. That first thing is the catalyst, and since then we’ve both been saying yes to self-made opportunities far more than we say no, because once you realise that you can. Well, you just do.
Two weeks ago we were both en route to Vancouver, Tandem Bicycle Experience at a level of 0 out of 10. 12 hours before we were due to start our bike was in a box. The next morning we sat upon her and then fell into North America. Somehow, and here in our tent we can’t fathom how this is possible, we have now been pedalling for 13 days. We have covered 1296 miles, passed through cities, grasslands, mountains and desert. We’ve frozen our butts off at six in the morning and ended the same day in thirty degree heat. We’ve been inches from passing trucks, or they’ve been inches from us, and at times our pace has topped 45 mph and the slightest loss of focus could have ended everything.
Tomorrow we ride into Vegas, and all day long I can guarantee you that we will have wide grins on our faces, even on the longest, straightest roads that never seem to end. This has been the most ridiculous journey of my life so far and for at least 50% of the time it’s been a pleasure to ride with Seb. The other 50% has been less enjoyable, mainly because I’ve been sat behind him gazing open mouthed at the scenery when he made the decision to release the most toxic fumes known to man. And if you’re familiar with the nature of bike seat farts, you’ll know that they produce considerable squeezing noises that make the whole sensation quite unpleasant.
Still, let’s look on the bright side, we finish tomorrow, unless we get our first flat tyre. That might prove to be an issue, because this morning we accidentally left the bike pump behind and we still have 100 miles to cycle on America’s Loneliest Road.