OATBRAN 2004 One Awesome Tour Bike Ride Across Nevada (on the Loneliest Road in America)

Beautiful Scenery (yes, this is all Nevada)

And a great group of people

At the end of September, I finally did the ride that I had signed up for in 2003, but had to cancel. It was challenging, but a lot of fun. It was the fifth anniversary of my heart attack and bypass surgery, so this was a wonderful way to celebrate (and prove to myself that I was doing ok). For more information on the ride, look at OATBRAN web site. I took notes every day, and have put this together with the pictures for others to enjoy.

Note that all of the images that you see in this link to my photo album, which you can then browse through at your leisure.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

PICT0001The ride description calls this day "The Gathering." For me, it was a day to pack, and to get my presentation ready for the ARMA conference in Long Beach that I'd be attending once I got home. So, I spent most of the day polishing my slides, reviewing them with co-workers, doing odd house-chores, and sewing the rear window of my Miata convertible top in place.

I finally departed at 5 PM. Traffic was easy (since I was going the opposite of the traffic returning to the bay area). The ride was beautiful. I saw a beautiful sunset to west as I was approaching Sacramento. I kept the top down the whole way, and was quite glad that Ann had given me the hooded sweatshirt, as it got a bit chilly in the mountains. The moon was almost full, so one could see the trees in the moonlight, as well as moonlight reflecting off the creeks along the road in the mountains.

I was the last to arrive for the reception and dinner at 9:15; I was too late for dinner. The nice thing is that Curtis knew who I was without a word (process of elimination). The folks at the Forest Suites were nice, but managed to give me room keys (twice) to rooms that were already occupied and the keys did not work. They finally brought over a key and put me in a different room. I went through my information package (including post cards from each town along the trip), set my alarm for 6 AM, packed everything up, and went to sleep.

Monday, September 27 - Stateline to Fallon

PICT0004PICT0006_editedWell, today it started. Woke up at 5:59 (my alarm went off as I was in the bathroom... oh, well). Went to breakfast, only to sit down at a table with a person who lived a mile and a half away in Los Gatos. Other things are familiar also. The traveling mechanic with us is Glenn Miyata, whose name sounded familiar as I heard the ride described. Turns out that he is also the mechanic who does the Big Sur Ride that I did two years ago. A great guy; late in the day, he diagnosed a funny shimmy on my rear wheel that I noticed once I went over 35 mph or so in the decent into Carson City.

PICT0008PICT0007The ride started with pictures in front of the Pony Express statue in front of Harrah's. The way it works is that everyone gives their camera to Curtis, who stands in the turn lane in the middle of highway 50 and shoots the picture on 60 different cameras. After that, we took off, with rolling hills along the lake, and a medium climb to the top of Spooner Summit. From there, it was a sweet descent to Carson City (max speed was about 45, but I backed off due to the rear wheel).

Today was full of cars, trucks, and development (strip malls, junk yards, and houses of pleasure - my favorite name was "Squeeze Play adult entertainment"). Even though we were promised no headwinds, the winds are from the north, and a good deal of today's route was northerly. There was one long straight stretch that went on for 20 miles (or so it seemed). Other than the Tahoe part, seeing the green fields of Fallon, hearing numerous jets from the air base, and seeing cowboys practice roping for the rodeo, it was not the most exciting day. All the multi-year people say it gets absolutely wonderful from here (and I have met people that have done this 5 times, and one has done it ten times).

Crash of the day... a person from the bay area hit his brakes a bit too hard in town (3 miles from the end), did and endo, and fractured his clavicle. He's out of the ride (more on Barry later).

The personalities are interesting. So far I have heard about the woman who always wears pink. Last year, the brakes failed on the gear truck, and it started to roll downhill. They stopped it by throwing her bag under the wheel. I figured that this was a myth, but just 5 minutes ago I saw a woman and her husband who came over for dinner, and she was in pink. I'm sure that there are more personalities to learn. The ages of people are wider than one would think with some people in their 70s (and they were fast).

The other group on this is called "Rite of Passage." It's a group of kids at risk (most of whom have been arrested once), and are doing this ride as part of being out with other people. They seem like nice kids. The two that I talked to are from South Bend, Indiana, and are in a home in Nevada. They did most of the heavy lifting and support during the ride, assisting the ride staff

Well, the tent is pitched, I'm showered, and it is 26 minutes until dinner. Some people seem to be party folks, but the general expectation is that we'll be asleep early and will hit the road at dawn. Tomorrow is the longest day, at 113 miles, and about 5500 feet of climbing (if you go the scenic way).

The weather today was quite temperate, with the bank thermometer in Fallon reading 81F when we went through at 2:30.

Dinner was served by the Churchill 4H (baked potato bar and lasagna). And now, at 7:20 and still at 7:50 the marching band was practicing in the field next to us. Oh, well: you learn to sleep through anything.

Tuesday, September 28 - Fallon to Austin

Tuesday began early. With this (Fallon to Austin) as the longest day, we were told to get started as soon after dawn as possible. I did get started early, packing my tent as dawn broke. We had been warned that we should be careful as we started out of Fallon, since the sun would be directly at the end of the road to the east, blinding drivers.

Just outside of Fallon, we rode past Fallon Naval Air Station where I saw 4 fighters taking off. It was quite impressive to hear the roar and the rapid rate of climb. Later in the day, we hear the "boom" of live bombs exploding in target practice.

PICT0015PICT0016Once past the air base, we rode through a dry lake bed. It was flat for miles (10 or so). People would take rocks and arrange them on the side of the road. The first set of rocks in said "eat me" (a very expressive group). The soil of the lake bed was much different than I expected. I had thought that it would be hard as a rock. However, it looks like the picture on the right, and is soft; it collapses an inch or so when you step on it. The funniest moment of the day was when I was getting to the end of the lake bed, and we started to see sagebrush again. A woman was putting her windbreaker on and getting back on her bike; her comment was "I thought I would never find a bush again" (as you'll see later, bodily functions are almost as common a small talk topic as weather is to more polite society).

PICT0018The end of the valley has an area called Sand Mountain. The dune that you see in the picture is 600 feet high, and quite popular with sand boarders and skiers. It is a famous dune, with the sand left over from the glaciers. It was a beautiful sight to see.


PICT0024MiddlegatePICT0027Once we got over a small mountain range, we had a long valley in to Middlegate Station. I've never seen a dust devil (sort of a mini tornado, picking up dust and sagebrush 20 feet in the air).The winds came from south... really windy at Middlegate station, an old Pony Express station (that's me in front of a car that has seen better days), At Cold Springs, another Pony Express stop, we had lunch, and the wind became a tail wind (delightful).

PICT0035PICT0037New Pass summit was not too bad, but it fakes you out with an early false summit; it is longer than it looks. From there, it was a little downhill and limb to Mt Airy summit, with a beautiful view of snowy peaks. From that point on, we had headwinds and crosswinds in the long downhill into the Reese valley. Once we got to the bottom of the valley (and the mighty Reese river), we started a gradual uphill. There was a crosswind from that point on. The wind whistled through spokes; it must have been at least 25 mph. The last three miles of the ride were the worst. It was three miles of 8% grade, over newly tarred and rocked road, with the crosswinds. At the far end of town was the park where we camped overnight on the grass at the town park. The Austin Chamber of Commerce made great dinner, with barbecue steak sandwiches, many homemade salads, watermelon and carrot cake.

Last, but not least, the new Konica Minolta Xg camera is a delight. It turns on instantaneously and cycles pictures rapidly.

The night was also interesting. After a long day of riding (I got a blister on my butt... a first for me), most everyone over the age of 40 went right to sleep. But, lest you think that this was a dignified group, someone let out a loud fart. Another tent said "where did that come from... I can smell it over here." And the final comment was "did you ever notice what's funny about beans and onions? Beans come out what end, and onions the other." We all booed and went to sleep. About the conversation you'd expect from some 12 year olds. [we had beans for dinner that evening]

A virtual guidebook view of Austin is available.

Wednesday, September 29 - Austin to Eureka

PICT0040This year was said to be different in weather than last year. Well, it was. Last night it rained (my tent only dripped once). It was clear in the morning, but putting away a wet tent when it is still windy was interesting. It was not my best Boy Scout skills of tent packing, but it did get done. I was all packed before breakfast, and just rode down to the International Cafe. The "buffet table" had been cleaned out already (all of those people staying in motels got up and going earlier than people who stayed in tents and had to break cam), so we lined up back into the kitchen and were served right off the grill.

PICT0043PICT0044So, around 7:30 I left. There was a thousand foot 8 percent grade coming out of town, so that was rough first thing in the morning. And the wind was still coming from the east (a headwind). The view from the summit was beautiful, with the sun shining on the west side of the valley. Once at the summit, it was an alpine plateau (some rolling hills). I took a couple pictures, and I may have some pictures of some wild mustangs in a field. I had no idea they were wild horses until I was being ferried back in the van later. The clouds were starting to roll in (impressive, but not picture-worthy). Then, it started to rain. A storm system came from the east (rumor is that it was part of Ivan) and dumped rain on us. It was cold and wet. By the time I reached the second rest stop (with 80% of the climbing done), they had decided to close the ride... it was getting dangerously cold. My hands and feet were numb. I gave my tights to a woman who was determined to get to the next stop (she only had shorts on). We packed 14 people (plus driver) into the van, and rode the remaining 50 miles to Eureka. It turns out that only one rider did the whole thing... a guy on a recumbent, who started right at sunrise (another motel advantage), and had a cover on his bike (not rainproof, but it sure cut down on the water). The other 58 people and their bikes went back in vans, and they got the bikes back however they could. All of teh climbing for the day had been done at the point where the ride was called; we just had one long valley to traverse.

The guys from Rite of Passage were great hard workers today. In fact, one kid from Bakersfield was good at changing a tire (I had a flat near the base of the last climb... a sharp stone that pierced the rear tire. I knew that I should changed that tire at home).

Once we showered and got our tents set up (or people defected to the numerous hotel/motels in Eureka), I walked around Eureka. The Post office was built around 1860 as a butcher shop, and was a pretty neat place. The Opera House was next door. I went to Raines market (the one market in town) and bought post cards, and will be writing tonight; the market doubled as the game rendering shop in town, so there were numerous trophy heads of animals.

It was also laundry day, so many of us gathered at the gas station/ pool hall/ convenience store/ laundromat); it has one pool table, and the house rules are:

  1. $5.00 for broken cue tips
  2. Do not sit on jukebox or pool table (there was no jukebox... just a 4" speaker radio/ tape deck)
  3. Hit the [glass] door with the pool ball, you buy the door

Am getting to know more of the other riders, although discussions are somewhat short-lived (there are not very many folks who hang together, except for the few couples).

It was also interesting, while in the van to Eureka, to hear the stories of some folks. More than a few people have sold their businesses and decided to cycle. One person retired and has been doing such things as a ride across America. Another person has cycled in 40 of the 50 states. The furthest away that anyone has been is New York.

PICT0046So, the tent is pitched and dried. I am showered and feeling both warm and human. The skies are blue. Laundry is exciting as ever. And I get to have dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow at the senior center here in town. We had a great dinner that evening, cooked and served by the Eureka High School cheerleaders. Breakfast in the morning, cooked by the folks at the senior center, was also terrific (eggs, pancakes, bacon).

A virtual guidebook view of Eureka is available.

The big city of Ely beckons for tomorrow, as well as the rolling terrain between.

Thursday, September 30 - Eureka to Ely

It rained a very tiny bit last night. However, the threat of rain had many people folding their tents in the evening, and staying in the Best Western or the gym. I stayed in my tent, and all that we got was a few sprinkles.

When I woke up in the morning, there was a rainbow. It started small, but turned into a full rainbow. That would be beautiful, except that the rainbow was in the west, the sun rises in the east, and that meant that bad weather was coming our way. We all went to breakfast at the senior center in Eureka (pancakes, eggs, and bacon... yum). We all awaited the word of whether there would be a ride today, or if it would be called on account of rain. Curtis arrived around 7:30, and said that he rode about 10 miles out, and that it was clear after 6 (basically, the climb out of town).

It was a great riding day. About 79 miles, and four mountain passes (Nevada has more mountain ranges than any other state in the lower 48). It stayed cool all day (I wore shorts, knee warmers, and tights over that, and that kept me warm). Once when a knee warmer slipped down, my right quad started aching, but I fixed this with a quick reposition. Almost everyone kept all of their clothes on for the full day; the sun shone only occasionally, and you needed the extra layers on the descents. None of the climbs were particularly steep, although the final one, Robinson, seemed to go on forever. Once this summit was reached, there was a 10-15 mile descent (possibly with a tail wind) into Ely. The road was flat and smooth, the view breathtaking, and you just pumped in the big ring and smallest cog (that just doesn't happen in the bay area much).

The terrain was hilly, with pinion pines, and even some grass. It is not what you think of when you say "Nevada."

From a wildlife perspective, today was more interesting than the previous days. I saw two ground squirrels (we'd call them chipmunks), and saw one baby tarantula walking on the side of the road.

PICT0051While coming up Little Antelope, a Nevada State Police car (with bizillions of flashing lights) stopped by all of the bikes to say that a wide load would be coming through, and we needed to pull off the road completely. When it did come through, I got a picture (thanks to the quick startup speed of the Minolta camera). A dump truck bed for one of these mining trucks was pretty amazing. It truly did occupy the entire road, and we all appreciated the warning.

PICT0054The ascent to Robinson summit was long, but not overly difficult. The descent was wonderful... 25-30mph (just a nice gentle downhill, and we even had a slight tailwind). The scenery was wonderful. We did pass the largest copper mine in the US at Ruth, NV on our way into town. Old mining ruins were scattered along the valley as we entered town

PICT0055_editedI arrived in Ely and had almost 3 hours until dinner. The jailhouse hotel is pretty nice, but seems absolutely wonderful after three days of camping. I have my own bathroom, a shower with fresh towels, and drawers in which to organize. It is heaven (amazing how your criteria change). Ely seems like a major metropolis when compared to our previous towns. One sign of a metropolis is a drugstore with a soda fountain.

Had a milkshake at Economy Drugs (along with almost everyone else on the tour). Went to the Hotel Nevada casino, dropped $20 into a quarter slot machine, and walked out with $25.25 twenty minutes later. Of course, the skill is to know when to leave. Dinner was at the middle school; it was a turkey dinner that was wonderful. I had forgotten, however, how to sit at the cafeteria tables; it came back fast.

A virtual guidebook view of Ely and the mines up the road at Ruth is available.

Barry, who had broken his collarbone, rode today and on Friday with us. He figured that it hurt about the same to be on the bike or in the truck, and it was much less boring to ride.

Friday, October 1 - Ely to Baker/ Utah Border

Well, today is the last day of the ride. It was a pleasure to wake up in the morning and not have to pack up a tent or pack your clothes... just get out and ride.

PICT0072UtahPICT0057TopRobinsonI started at 7:41, and finished 5 hours and 55 minutes later. It was a great day. It started a bit cool (so the multiple layers were warranted). I started by finding a Post Office box to mail the post cards I had written the previous evening. I did, in front of the Chamber of Commerce. The funny thing is the pickup time... 6:00 AM (there must be a truck that drives west across Nevada, since Eureka mail was 8:15 AM). From there, the ride was 20+ miles down the basin. Kind of boring, except for the view of the mountains on either side. Then we did a moderate climb up the first pass, and into the next valley. This was just spectacular. You could see Mt. Wheeler shrouded in clouds at 13,000 feet, and a number of other beautiful craggy ridges down the valley. The road did fake you out... after the straight road across the basin, there was a road (dirt road, which was a giveaway once you got close... it turns out that it went to the ghost town of Osceola, and then on to the rest stop on the back side of Sacramento pass). The real road swept to the left and up a canyon. Not too steep (nothing here was ever much over 6%), but long, with false summits. Wheeler peak looked great as the clouds cleared (you could see snow on the top), and then we had a long descent into the Border Inn. The ride ended there, at the Utah border sign.

A virtual guidebook tour of the Snake Valley (on the way from Ely to Baker) is available,

A bit of news from yesterday. Our Newsday reporter had a beer can thrown at him from a car as he approached Ely yesterday. He rode his bike around town, found the car, called the sheriff, and pressed charges for assault. Kudos for protecting bikers.

PICT0070Great BasinBest line of the day from a 110 (or so) pound woman (Valerie) from Berkeley who, after riding the 63 miles, decided to ride to the end of the road on Mount Wheeler (it ends at 10,000 feet, while the mountain continues to 13,063) in Great Basin National Park. She rode up, saw some people from Florida at the rest stop at the end, ate a whole package of Fig Newtons, and then farted all the way back down the mountain. Needless to say, she was a great climber. I hope I do so well when I am in my 60s..

PICT0085PICT0080The rest of us that had less energy just stayed at the Border Inn, had some beers, showered, and loaded bikes. 23 of us went on a tour of Lehman caves. These were much more compact than the limestone caves of Mammoth and other famous caves. These caves were in Marble (metamorphosed Limestone) and some of the caves were along natural faults in the rock. The features of the cave were much more fine, the scale smaller and more personal, and much drier. It was beautiful, and the park service guide was great.

PICT0090_editedPICT0089PICT0074We finished with dinner at the Baker, NV fire hall, served by the local EMS group. It was great food. After dinner, Curtis presented awards (nearly everyone got a box of some sort of oat cereal... the best were Honey Bunches of Oats for the couples, and Honey bunches of Oats with real peaches for the youngest couple). We also got our "I Survived the Loneliest Road in America" T-shirts. I'd say that the age spread went from mid-30's to 60's, with the median being late 40s. Barry (who broke his collarbone on the first day) received the Oatbran box that had been on the front of Curtis' truck.

We then got in vans, with bikes all racked, and drove back to Ely. Curtis set up a mike, amps, and guitar in the Jailhouse bar, and we had a good time with Curtis and others singing, playing guitar, harmonica, and just telling jokes. It was a good time, and some very bad jokes in the bar.

Saturday, October 2

PICT0091EndRideThe day started with breakfast at the Jailhouse Motel. We turned in all of our bags at the gear truck, and went off to breakfast. After breakfast, we had our group picture in front of a mural of the old west in Ely

The last item for this day is the "what is sore." You overlook all of this when you wake up in the morning and know that you have to ride. But today, I notice. Damage (all repairable) is a bit of numbness in my left ring finger, my right thumb, and red patches (one less layer of skin) on my left butt. Time to visit the chiropractor to get the back straightened out. Also, it is time to buy better gloves

The trip back was largely dull and sleepy. There were some good conversations, but we were mostly anxious to get back and get home. Next year I will bring a book or some magazines for the ride.

PICT0094_editedWe did stop at Hickison summit (where the ride was aborted on Wednesday), and went over to see the pictographs. A virtual guidebook view from Hickison is available. The surprising thing was that ten thousand years ago as the glaciers were melting, most of these valleys were inland lakes, and the area had a number of Native Americans living there. The climate certainly has changed since then..

We stopped in every town as we crossed Nevada. The lunch stop was in Austin. There were two choices for lunch... the Toyaibe and the International Cafe. The two was unprepared for sixty additional people stopping for lunch; they hustled to serve us,

This was the ride I have done that was more than 2 days. I started it in less than the physical condition I had hoped for. Much of this was due to the two bike crashes I had in June and July, losing the same 3 inch diameter path of skin on my left hip side, and keeping me off the bike for a few weeks.

Thoughts for next year or the next time I do OATBRAN or another weeklong ride:

  1. Have greater leg strength going into this (lots of squats and lunges)
  2. Be riding 50-60 miles a day for at least three days in a row a few times before this.
  3. Have something to keep the back of my neck warm, and make sure to bring warm gloves and shoe covers next year
  4. Lose weight before starting the ride (so, who doesn't have this as a goal)
  5. Arrive in Tahoe earlier than last year (by 3:00 or so)

The final thought is that most of the experienced riders (who have done OATBRAN 3 or more times) was that, due to weather and wind, this was the toughest year they had seen.

BikeTheWest does a number of rides, which, if they are as well supported as OATBRAN, I would highly recommend. Their most notable ride is America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride around lake Tahoe.