I stirred out of bed a little before 8am and headed down to the front desk for the free breakfast. The setup was modest. Coffee with powdered creamer and batter poured in waxed paper solo cups for the waiting iron. The spread was anything but fancy, but I was reminded of what really matters in life. This food will serve me well and it is free. This is a country of consumption. We eat too much, drink too much, and buy too much. Breakfast at the National 9 Inn in Tonopah was a poke at my psyche to keep things simple, to appreciate what is truly important and let go of what it not.
I took a new tack on this day. I called the hotel in Green River and asked them what was the latest check-in time. The clerk informed me that they are open 24 hours and said, “You can check in anytime you like.” The classic rock smart ass in me wanted to respond, “But I can never leave?” in reference to the final verse of the Eagles “Hotel California,” but I was somehow able to resist this retort. Please let me state for the record that I am not a fan of the Eagles. Joe Walsh yes, but not the band. Knowing I had an open ended check-in time prompted my brain to whisper, “slow down.” Instead of tearing off on the Brick I decided to look around at the old mining town and snap a few photographs.
Tonopah has a sad tone. Many of the buildings are boarded up, and the ones still in function are dilapidated. The town wears the tattered coat of old money, a destination that was once more important than the now slowly crumbling halfway point between here and someplace else. A withering shell who’s soul evacuated for parts unknown – worse than a ghost town because it is a crippled “has been “ that tries to survive when welcoming death would be a sweeter memory.
I headed out on 6 and made my way towards 375. A sign warned me “Next Gas 111 Miles.” I was 30 plus miles into my fuel supply which has been getting me around 130 miles before the reserve warning light would start to glow. I calculated that I would make the next gas no problem since I could go at least 25 miles on the reserve fuel supply.
I tore into the nothingness of 375 also known as Extraterrestrial Highway because of the many UFO sightings on the strip of tarmac. I didn’t see any cars for miles and some of the sections were so long and straight, that the end of the earth would have been visible if there weren’t mountains on the horizon. The roads reminded me of the advertisement for the film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind that featured broken line pavement vanishing into the distance. The slogan on the movie poster quipped, “We are not alone.” I looked ahead at the miles of desolation in front of me and then in my rear view mirror that was equally empty and answered, “I am now!” I actually laughed out loud. This was favorite road so far. There were whop de doo hills and extended sweepers that never seemed to end. The only inhabitants of this land are cows that are left out here for the season. They have no barns to return to at night and just sleep where they stand. Loners in the dessert like me.
On this road I really connected with the Brick. I was hitting speeds of near 100 and although that seems unsafe, I was so focused that the driving was some of the safest I have ever done. I knew if I wasn’t focused I could be jacked into the scrub and not found for hours, or become a tattoo on the side of a lumbering cow crossing the lonesome highway. No, I was in the zone. I was at one with the machine. The long smooth road and unshrinking mountain in front of me served as the perfect altar for this prayer to the gods of speed. My high-speed bliss would not last. I looked down at the gauges and my fuel light was glowing like a beacon. I passed a road sign and calculated I had 39 miles to get to the gas station. My racer-like runs had burned the fuel at a more extreme rate than was normal at sane highway speeds.
I wound the Brick down to a seemingly unmoving 60 miles an hour to save fuel. I realized I probably would not make it to the next gas station and started to formulate a plan. “No,” I said to myself changing my position. Somehow the Brick and I would pull this off. I nursed the throttle as the miles clicked off and eventually came to a crossroads. I could continue to the left that lead the correct way on 93, or head south toward Alamo. I remember the sign indicating that there was no gas for 111 miles, and distance to Alamo matched that number. I gambled to the right hoping to find some water for my thirsty steed. As I rounded a curve after about 10 miles, a gas station came into view. I exhaled realizing that all was going to be ok, and that the Brick and I would not become a parched skeleton and rusted frame in the desert.
I pulled the Brick onto the center stand and popped the gas cap. Looking into the tank I saw the fuel level at the bottom. There could not have been more than an eighth of an inch swirling in the aluminum receptacle. Somehow we made it. I filled the dehydrated bike when a man in his 80s approached me. “Where you heading?” he asked. “Green River. I coasted in here on fumes!” I replied. “That’s a long piece of road.” He answered. “I like long roads,” he continued. “I am one of the last living guys from the original 200 mile-an-hour club at Bonneville Salt Flats.” We chatted for a while and I was in disbelief that after my sprint down 375 I would run into an aging high-speed demon with stories of breaking records and the good old days of the storied Flats. The ideas of experiencing new and unique events one right after the other stunned me. I had just blasted down a unique road at 100, I had a nerve-frazzling brush with getting stranded, and then I met a grandfather of speed all with hours of each other. I was digging this journey. This is living.
I headed back north and re-passed my fork of destiny and got going the right direction on 93. I passed Oak Spring Trilobite Site and doubled back to see if could get one of the ancient bugs as a souvenir. The entrance into the site was dirt and navigating it was sketchy. I parked and looked around for a while. A sign gave directions on finding a Trilobite fossil, but I had no luck. The place was picked over a million times and anything of interest had long since been carted away.
After about an hour I was getting hungry and came upon a small town named Caliente. I found a restaurant called the Brandin’ Iron, and had a sandwich called a Grilled Diablo which was a burger on sour dough bread with jalapenos, Ortega peppers, and Swiss cheese. It was a delicious sandwich and I washed it down with plenty of half and half tea (1/2 sweet, ½ unsweet). The waitress was bummed about the lack of business, so I left here a $6 tip on my $9 meal. The few extra bucks would make her day I hoped.
I gassed up and jumped back on 93 towards a town called Panaca. I thought the highway was resuming so I gunned the bike. As I approached 60 I saw a sign that read 25 miles an hour. I got on the brakes hard but out of the corner of my eye I saw a flashing. I looked in the rear views and sure enough there was a cop far in the distance closing behind me. I pulled over and removed my helmet and sat quietly on the bike. The officer approached calmly. I immediately apologized telling him I didn’t see the 25mph sign. He told me the road was 45 before that and I was going 57. I rebutted that I was in the gas station and I didn’t see any sign before the 25mph one. I was polite and accepting and I think he noticed this. He went to his police truck, a brand new tricked out Ford F150, and sat there for what seemed like a very long time. I paced around nervously. He got out of the truck and came over to talk to me. I noticed a Yin-yang tattoo on his arm. He apologized for the long wait but evidently there was a nationwide search for a fugitive with my same last name of “Popp.”
He figured I wasn’t the guy because the man on the run had black hair and I was bald. I assured him I was not the criminal and that I had not received a moving violation in over 15 years. He was kind and he let me off with a written warning. I thought about my big tip to the waitress. Was this Karma in action? The Yin-yang tattoo seemed to be an indicator. I am not a religious person but this event led me to believe there is spiritual glue to the universe – a binding force that makes life livable when things can really go wrong.
I talked to the officer for a while and told him about my trip. He smiled and agreed to take a mock arrest picture with me. Every person I tell about my trip immediately takes a liking to me. They see my old bike and the dark circles under the eyes of my aging face and understand what an undertaking such a journey is to complete. They see that I’m out here trying to find myself. They see my heart on my sleeve and they want to be part of my success. Sheriff Tim Umina saw it and instead of wrecking my day with an expensive ticket, he gave me a break, even though his small town could have used the revenue. I thought about the conversation that Tim might have had with his wife over dinner later that night, telling her about this old guy crossing the dessert on a rickety old BMW and I smiled. Tim had two choices: Yin – darkness, or Yang – upward and expanding. His choice became part of my success – part of my dream. He decided to not be a barrier, but a supporter. I’ll never forget this traffic stop in Panaca. I will be nicer. I will be more helpful to others in my life.
I continued on and as if my day had not seen enough excitement, the skies darkened. I had no choice but to press on. The rains came and I pulled over and put on my wet weather gear. I got back on the road and the wind whipped at me from two directions. Wayne for the Clubhouse Inn back in Tonopah warned me of this effect the night before, “Watch out for the double gusts, the wind will come from one way and then suddenly the other. It can take you clean of your bike.” I did not realize the severity of his words. The rain picked up even hard and the winds were causing my bike to wobble so much that I feared death. I had no choice except to pull over even thought there was no shelter. I put the bike up on the center stand and it sunk a few inches into the silt. I keep my helmet on and the rain and winds became stronger still. I had some Yang moments earlier in the day by cheating fuel consumption and slipping out of a ticket, but now was the time for some Yin.
I held the handlebars of the Brick as the wind howled and attempted to push us to the sand. Why on such a charmed day did things start to go wrong? I needed to be reminded that just when things were going good, badness could creep in just as quickly. Without the rain, how can one appreciate the sun? After about 25 minutes, the downpour eased up enough to ride, but the winds still whipped hard keeping me focused. I was getting an education on this trip with so many life lessons packed into one day. The desert roads of Nevada were turning out to be the best college in the country.
The last few hours of the trip were beautiful. The rain was far behind me as I crossed into Utah. There were countless beautiful sights as I carved through the Dixie, Fishlake, and Manti-La Sal national forests. I had cut through here before on my way to Vegas but seeing it west to east was a whole other perspective. The sun sank as I pulled into Green River. A freight train rolled next to me and I paced along side for a while – two iron brothers crossing the country by methods few people use for transportation anymore. The sky was like a painting and the perfect end to a full day of riding.
I checked into the Motel 6 and went for dinner at a place called Ray’s Tavern. I sat at the bar and squeaked in a food order just before the kitchen closed. I treated myself to a big steak, a baked potato, and Texas toast. The bar tender slid a beer in front on me and I took the glass, raised it, and said, “To Officer Umina!” “Who is that?” asked a puzzled patron sitting next to me. I quickly replied, “An old professor of mine…”
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Tonopah to Green River – 548 Miles