(Start at the beginning: GS Nevada Dual-Sport Tour: Day 1)
Day 2 of our Nevada dual-sport tour on BMW GS motorcycles. Up early, we hit the road with a coffee buzz while there’s still a chill in the air. The curves of Walker Pass heat up the tires, and the Mojave Desert warms us to the core before we wolf a big breakfast at the Ranch House Café on US 395. Then it’s north to Big Pine and east over Westgard Pass (CA 168). We knock on the door of the Silver State and it says, “Come on in, I’ve got a couple surprises for you.”
It’s time to dirty up the bikes and Silver Peak does a bang-up job, especially on Mark’s F800GS. A huge sand pit guards access to the road, so it’s go ahead…or go around. Roger takes the first shot, holding his own until hidden ruts turn his R1200GS into a rodeo bull. It isn’t pretty, but he survives the bucking and makes it through. Watching the best rider of the bunch struggle is disconcerting, but I forge ahead on my F800GS until the ruts take over and all hell breaks loose. I manage to stop before it flings me off, then paddle out, another humbled rider. Jim does much the same. Mark isn’t so lucky, foundering halfway through and flopping over, but Roger is there in a snap to help him right the bike and plow on through.
After a breather and damage assessment, it’s up the mountain on a sandy road made firm by recent rain. We cross little gullies and slalom through a litter of piñon pine cones and small branches scattered by the runoff. Torquing to the top in first and second gear, I’m encouraged by how well my loaded 800 handles off the pavement and the traction available from the TKC-80s. This is my first trip with a Giant Loop Great Basin bag, and I’m impressed by how solidly it attaches and how little I notice it.
The ‘town’ of Silver Peak is mostly wreckage – wrecked cars, wrecked houses, wrecked mining equipment, and probably not a few wrecked lives. It clings to a modicum of fame as the only source of lithium in the United States, but looks deserted. My knobs sing out as we hit pavement again, heading north across stark desert to US 6. Tonopah serves up Mexican food for lunch.
Our plan for the trip is loose, almost non-existent: explore central Nevada and its basin and range topography – north-south mountain ranges separated by wide, shallow basins, or valleys. So now that we’re here, where do we go? Sheaves of maps give endless possibilities, leading to endless committee meetings before we choose a direction. Basic needs – gas and food – will dictate some routes and there are one or two places we don’t want to miss. After that, we’ll trust our instincts. Camping will be wherever we find ourselves, ideally before dark. Yeah, sure.
From Tonopah, we continue north to Belmont, a former silver mining town where the streets are dirt and locals use ATVs to run errands. Late afternoon light tinges everything in gold as we motor north on an empty strip of pavement. Empty of humans, that is – several groups of pronghorns graze at the roadside. In the pronghorn equivalent of a boulevard challenge, one group paces us across the desert at 40 mph.
A campground south of town looks like an army division bivouacked for a month and held Humvee races in the evenings – strike one. With the sun slipping away, we race north to the next one on a wide, gravel road. Arriving after dark, it’s obvious from the glow of campfires that the place is packed. The only vacant campsite is a lumpy weed patch sandwiched between two huge RVs – strike two. A half-mile down the entrance road we take a rocky spur that leads to a rockier clearing in the piñon-juniper. It’s not a home run as camps go, but at least we don’t strike out. Dubbing it Rock Camp, we unload and set out to squelch our road buzz.
Continue reading: GS Nevada Dual-Sport Tour: Day 3