On the 130th anniversary, I recreated part of the journey of the first person to cycle around the world on a bicycle. Taking it one day at a time. View the archive.

Desert diversion

By Stuart Lowe on

Waving goodbye to Noah the next morning, I headed down the nice riverside bike trail. Eventually I hit Sparks where I purchased some clean underware at Target. I followed my satnav until I realised it was taking me north but I wanted to go east. I decided to ignore its protestations and head to the I-80 where it cuts through a canyon. There was no alternate road for a mile or two into the canyon and I was going to use the magic rule I'd been told:

"West of the Mississippi, where there is no alternative road, you can cycle on the freeway."

Arriving at the freeway I saw a sign specifically banning pedestrians and bicycles. Drat. I back-tracked to a McDonalds to make use of their free wifi to devise a plan. On Google Maps I located the local police department and headed over to ask them. The front desk staff didn't think it was legal to go on the freeway but then became unsure when I mentioned the "west of the Mississippi" rule. A suggestion was that I go ask the highway patrol but they were based back in Reno and that would be going backwards. They said I could get the bus through but I pointed out that would be cheating. So, they found some local bike shops for me to call. The bike shops weren't any more sure about how to get the mile or so into the canyon to the non-motorway roads by bicycle. They suggested I go a different way to Fernley via Carson City. I asked how far that was and they said "85 miles"! It was probably only 25-30 miles to Fernley and such a big detour seemed crazy. I asked if there was an alternative. They said I could go via Pyramid Lake. That was only 65 miles!

With the uncertainty of the police about the legality of my being on the 1 mile stretch of freeway, I opted for the shortest diversion. So, I headed north in the direction my GPS had been trying to take me earlier. As I left the city limits I realised my phone signal was dropping so I called my little niece back in the UK to say that I was heading on a 65 mile diversion through the desert and I would send a message when I got through it. I made sure all my plastic bottles were full of liquid then headed into the desert.

Road into the desert

The road was quiet and well maintained. The trees had more or less stopped on the border of Nevada yesterday so I'd be able to see bears or mountain lions coming. There was amazing scenery. The sky was blue. Because it was still spring, it wasn't overbearably hot. My first cycle in the desert was actually very pleasant.

Nevada desert

Eventually I entered a Native American reservation. I suddenly worried that I may need a permit for that but the signs seemed to suggest that was only necessary for fishing or camping. That was fine as I was heading back south to Fernley anyway. As you enter the reservation you climb a little hill and then...

Pyramid Lake

The clue should have been in the name - Pyramid Lake - but the colour and expanse of the water still took me by surprise. It was a huge, vividly blue lake stretching for miles in either direction. A beautiful lake in the barren desert. I paused to admire the view. Then I turned right and headed south again towards my day's destination. At Nixon I stopped at a Native-run gas station to fill up on liquids. The young guy at the counter told me I might not want to use the soda machine as the ice part was broken. I told him that I actually wasn't keen on the huge volumes of ice everyone in America seemed to put in the drinks. It turned out we had that in common. He was the only person I met in America who didn't feel the majority of a cup should be ice.

Thirst quenched, I pedalled on to Wadsworth where there was suddenly more than one road and I stopped to ponder the route. A friendly Native American family, who'd seen me in Nixon, pulled in next to me and gave me directions to Fernley and wished me well on my trip.

I finally reached Fernley after my epic detour only to find that the RV park refused to let me camp because they said they weren't allowed to by law. Still being afraid of the possibility of mountain lions, I chickend out of wild camping and found a cheap motel room for $48. I washed my clothes in the sink and hung them up to dry.

I'd survived my first day cycling in the desert.