The biggest surprise : The Loneliest Highway in America

posted in: Cycle touring | 5

The Loneliest Road in America. It’s so long, can we skip it, hitch a ride or rent U-Haul?

Speaking to a cyclist at Californian coast when we were deciding which route to take: “Hwy 50? You probably gonna get bored.” Even when we were in Fallon, already on the road, a local told us: “You won’t find much scenic here.”

This kind of expectations we had about this road crossing Nevada. At the end we didn’t have much time to figure out plan B so we decided to go with the flow and we’ll see. Oh, how well we’ve done! Oh, how mistaken the people above were about this road!

Hwy 50 starts in Sacramento but there it’s far away from being called the loneliest road in America. The true lonely part is from Fernley to Ely. We took the road from South Lake Tahoe and are still on it, currently in Delta in Utah.

It was supposed to be that kind of a road on our trip, to get us from point A to point B, ideally as quickly as possible. But it became so much more. Already past Silver Springs  we were hooked. Crossing huge salty plains with little traffic (though we wouldn’t mind even less). The drivers didn’t mind us taking the lane as the whole shoulder was taken by rumble strip and they had enough opportunities to overtake.

That feeling of expectation what’s gonna be behind every mountain pass, we wouldn’t trade for anything. Lots of times you can expect a neverending straight road through a wide valley. Beautiful quick descent. The rest on the flat depends on the wind.

Next night we spent at Middlegate Bar and Motel. They allow free camping there, have wifi, water – what else a touring cyclist would want. It was cold so Tom went to buy 2 shots of rum for our tea. What an evening 🙂

Then we carried on past Shoe Tree – local attraction with tons of shoes hanging on the tree. Legend says it started with a woman arguing with her boyfriend. Then she threw his shoes up on the tree and drove away. Of course, there’s a woman behind everything!

We saw angry clouds on top of the mountains and wind was blowing into our faces. We stopped for some tea and fries in Cold Springs Restaurant (the only vegan thing we could get there). Cold Springs was the last place with water before Austin. That’s a tough challenge for a cyclist on Hwy 50. You need to carry ridiculous amounts of water due to large distances between places. Many times we had our 10 litres reservoir full plus 2 cycling bottles plus half of the other 10 l reservoir. Try cycling uphill with that! But I guess that’s the preparation for the Andes.

We stopped just before going up the pass as we could see snow on the mountains and a big rain cloud coming at us. It will be cold tonight! We quickly put up the tent and stuff it with necessities when it started raining. By the morning the tent was frozen.

First pass after the frosty morning brought unreal views of snow covered mountains. Huge mountains we never thought we will see in Nevada. It’s a desert, right? We arrived to Austin that day, re-supplied some groceries (as much as gas station store allows) and put even more water on our bikes. No services between Austin and Eureka and some serious mountain crossings. The worst one was just past Austin, Alps-like switchbacks but we survived.

At the next pass that evening, Tom knocked me off my bike (he claims unintentionally). When we’ll provide you with some statistics at the end of our journey, there will be significant amount of Luba’s falls caused by her fellow traveller. What a coincidence :-P. We decided to spend the night in the pass as it was already dark and the descent would be risky and cold. There was a campground, unfortunately closed. But what’s closed for a car, is not closed for a bike. Night was freezing and the morning brought nice scold by forestry person. What can you do, he said what he had to and then wished us a safe trip!

Long day when we nailed 102 km to Eureka, imagining a shower and a bed in the motel we booked. In Eureka we met other cyclists travelling with a dog. Thankfully there are other crazy people out there.

On the way from Eureka we saw big herds of wild horses. We were lucky before but this was magical. Road was quiet, you could hear them touching the grass when galloping. Perfect silence, that’s how Tom called it. 

We camped past the next pass on the hill. The next important thing these days, apart from the water, is where to set up your camp.  You want to be positioned in a way that the morning sun will get to you quickly and thaw your bones. Phoebe and Rory took advantage of the hill and were guarding as professionals. One of the nicest things about Nevada is that you can camp easily, though seen usually. There are fences, yes, but they don’t say “No tresspassing” and “Keep out” – our favourite American signs. They say : “Keep the gate closed.” in order no to let cows and sheep come out.  We try to pick those that don’t have cows and sheep present at the moment, as we had enough of cows close to Fallon when we had trouble to get out of our campsite due to cows thinking otherwise.

The next step was to get to Ely and buy some food as our five days of supplies were thinning. We saw some antelopes on the way. Past Ely we slept at the lake. Next morning we set off to the next pass. When coming down from it, the gusts of wind became really dangerous. We had to stop several times on the descent, not to be thrown off the bike. At Major’s Place we had coffee and filled on water again. The wind was massive. We could guess from the amount of windmills that this is normal here. It was so bad, we put everything we had on, to keep us warm. The cars were passing, nobody gave a shit about two struggling cyclists fighting the wind. At the end we found one tree around and hid with the tent behind it. The trouble was there were sheep behind the fence guarded by the dogs who came to check us out several times. Our dogs had to be on the leash and quiet, not to draw too much attention. But we survived and carried on against the wind next morning.

The last pass in Nevada was long, slow and windy. Finally the descent brought us to Border Inn and Utah! We made it! Crossed Nevada, 658 kilometers through beautiful landscape that blew our minds. And we can only recommend to the fellow cyclist in California and a local in Fallon: Guys, grab your bikes and explore The Loneliest Highway in America. You will see what we saw and will never say anything about not being scenic again :).

Follow Luba Lapsanska:

Older woman, 33 years old, experienced. She stopped being a doctor and started being a traveller. She likes animals more than people because they don't lie. She also likes looking at the the world through the viewfinder of her camera.

5 Responses

  1. Jane

    WOW THANK YOU. Reading your blog while sat in front of the fire while the rain is lashing at the window, I wish I was sat in the saddle and cycling with my dog on an adventure of my life. If I was only younger and fitter and had a partner who wanted to go explore! I can but dream. Thank you for sharing your adventures you have sparked a dream within me.

    • Jackson

      Jane, if it’s something you want to do, then make it happen. No excuses. I’ve met so many people who say “I wish I could…” “if only…” and continue the rest of their lives with no change or progress toward their goal or dream. Which is fine, if it’s not really a goal and more of a fancy/interest. But if you really want to take a bike tour, or swim in the Amazon, or climb Mount Everest, or ask that person out, or start a business, or whatever, only you can provide your own motivation to do so. Take baby steps and work your way up. And in doing so receive the joy of doing something difficult just for your own satisfaction. You don’t need anyone’s permission but your own. Good luck!

  2. Fadi Hassan

    Sounds like good time, but I think for a solo traveler it won’t be as fun, it’s more fun for solo travelers to go on routes with possibilities of meeting people


      It’s not too bad, we met at least one other cyclist per day, not Pacific Coast obviously 🙂

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