Posted November 10, 2020 – Narrated by Carmen
Take it easy, Take it easy
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels
Drive you crazy
Lighten up while you still can
Don’t even try to understand
Just find a place to make your stand
And take it easy– The Eagles
We saw it coming for a half-mile or so.
Positioned low, a few inches above the vast saltbush and sage crusted landscape bordering the unfinished asphalt edge of Highway 50 – The Loneliest Road in America – we spotted a sign.
Passing it at 58 mph, the bold 12″ letters clearly read, “Strange Days Indeed.” I noted that the sign was so fresh I could almost smell the paint. Jim – the guy at the wheel with the encyclopedic Beatles Brain – sang a few bars of Nobody Told Me.
Seriously? You think that’s referencing John Lennon’s UFO?
“Look around,” was his response.
This is exactly the kind of place to experience a random sighting that gets you committed to lunacy for a lack of corroborating witnesses.
Then, as if on cue from Stephen King’s keyboard, Jim pointed out some very suspicious clouds. One looked quite familiar.
I shot him a spooky look and vocalized the Twilight Zone intro.
The sign was probably some random act by a bored provocateur – its effect pronounced because we hadn’t seen another vehicle in the last quarter hour.
Clearly, the sign was new. No evidence of fading, warping or tilting.
“I’m sure it’s about the pandemic,” I said, not ready to let it go.
“Or politics,” Jim said.
Could be. The plague is almost a year old, but the polarized politics – embedded in every dot and tittle – are coming to a head. The Doors’ Strange Days came to mind – a creepy song for a strange pandemic and this never-ending hyper-partisanship that just keeps going on and on like this creepy road …
Jim and I like to congratulate ourselves for our endurance, fortitude and ingenuity to find safe locations, but the 50 shifted us into the reality of the situation. Avoiding human contact has taken a toll. It isn’t normal to live like this.
Had we seen these strange days coming five years ago would we have made a different lifestyle choice?
“Like what?” Jim asked.
Again, my troubadour makes a valid point. Someday, when the dust settles, we may find a shady spot to pull off … but until something gives, LIB is a keen, elegant solution for these uncertain times. Mobility is the tactic we need to weave through this blurry, unpredictable landscape.
A car passed. “Thirty miles,” Jim said.
“Good call. You win,” I said.
Yep, we were taking bets. What else is there to do? The eerie isolation released our inner teenagers. We belted out several rounds of Why Don’t We Do It In The Road as Pico howled along. The pilots who patrol this road probably have some really great stories.
As the road continued, the conversation flowed. We got hits from all directions. Everything’s up for grabs on the monotonous, existential landscape of Highway 50 where the road holds a grip on time and space.
Jim even seemed to enjoy my riff on the idealistic and spiritual concepts about traveling in a straight line.
Western origins of the ancient curse, “straight to hell” can be traced to the myth of Satan being deposed to hell at the end of Saint Michael’s straight and mighty sword. The taboo of standing chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, the curves in garden paths, and the avoidance of perfectly aligned doorways are all mixed into the hoodoo.
Suppressing thoughts of zombie road blocks, we continued as the 50 screwed into our mental underbrush like a coyote flushes out hidden jackrabbits that skitter helter-skelter across the road.
But, eventually, we relaxed into the rhythm of the summits and the valleys – kinda like riding a roller coaster on downers – and recalled the good ol’ days of our youth … favorite teachers, professors, directors … we grieved opportunities missed, celebrated victories achieved, and mused over blessings dropped into our laps out of the blue.
We laughed till our stomachs hurt as we recalled watching Blazing Saddles every night from my terrace at the The Winner’s Circle Lodge next door to the Del Mar Drive-in Theatre when I was San Diego County’s 1974 Fairest of the Fair – consort to Don Diego, played by the dashing Tommy Hernandez.
We’re not just over the hill, we are history.
It’s so wise to travel in partnership on the 50 because even with the Official Survival Guide many travelers go full tilt, drive off the road and throw their shoes up into the trees.
We pulled out of our wonderful Mackinaw campsite on Fish Lake and passed through the small town of Salina which recons with a dark and abnormal history.
Then, we crossed the Nevada state line.
For several enlightening days of solitude, we traveled across the True West.
In quiet, scenic, pensive reflection we surrendered to the past on this old Pony Express Trail and – considering how it hasn’t changed all that much – grateful to be traveling it in modern luxury.
However, it was not our intention to explore this fascinating historic highway.
If it were, we’d have spent a few more days taking side trips. And dagnabbit, if these were not such strange times we’d have had our trusty Survival Guide stamped by friendly officials at the tourist offices and merchants at Baker, Ely, Eureka, Fallon, Dayton and Fernley.
But, as it happened, 50 was simply the most direct route to our Lake Tahoe destination. So, this drive merely served as our introduction.
Traveling from Carson City to The Great Basin National Park is The Adventure Motorists’ right of passage. We love traveling Route 66, but the 50 is a completely different experience – it is more scenic, authentic and infinitely more lonely.
This long stretch is the perfect environment to encounter wild mustangs, buzzards, coyotes, dust devils, UFO’s and VW sized tumbleweeds. The historic and delightful small towns – located hundreds of miles apart – took us by surprise. With great restaurants and boom town structures and culture still intact, these outposts are oases for travel weariness.
There is almost no commercialization between the small towns on the 50, so fueling up is crucial.
Some of the summits can reach more than 11,000 feet so, bring a coat.
Due to fabulous connectivity along the way – even in the most remote locations – we watched our favorite program, The Great British Baking Show. So in tribute, I would describe the 50 as kind of like a deconstructed German Chocolate layer cake: a generous layer of nice smooth road …
a dollop of mountains …
and a sprinkle of delicious nuts (quirky small town).
Then, repeat …
The excellent free dry-camping is the cherry on top.
This beautiful desert campground on Bureau of Land Management, BLM, property was one of the nicest no cost, BLM campgrounds we have ever had the pleasure to enjoy.
It was hot and dry so we ended the day with a nice cold dinner, and Pico licked the lids.
Then after another long stretch of highway (or two) …
Another mountain pass, or two…
And another small town, or two…
we stopped for a second night at Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area, another free BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campground.
Light rain accompanied by a soft cool breeze joined us for the cold evening nosh in the wilderness. We hear this location is ideal for stargazing on clear nights.
On our third day we headed for a famous Nevada oasis. Our goal was to grab a quick outside lunch at the historic Middlegate Station near Fallon.
Founded by James Simpson in the 1800s, this saloon and rest stop was named for the gate-like mountains surrounding the stop. With the east being Eastgate, the west being Westgate, this tiny rural Nevada town is called Middlegate.
After lunch and a fuel-up, we departed Middlegate and drove our last stretch of 50. As we crested the last pass we caught a whiff of smoke – and, descending, we saw the smoke and flames in the distance. We bid farewell (for now) to the Loneliest Highway and followed the detours around another wildfire.
But, at long last, the lonely road had come to an end. No, it was not a time warp. It was just an illusion of short-sightedness, a common human affliction, which can result in extraordinary and devastating miscalculations.
Here’s a sign I’d like to post on all of America’s highways.
If you want to see our exact route, click here.
*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.