We’re supporting inspirational adventurer Isabel Suppé in her latest adventure – cycling across America.
Here’s Isabel’s latest blog from her adventure.
Coaldale Junction. After hours of colors washed and brightened by the splashing monsoon rain, an image of utter desolation reflected in a mud puddle. Bar Sluts, the graffiti ridden sign announces. The restaurant used to be Coaldale´s most important building. In its own way, it still is. Ghosts are lingering on the wet white couch next to the puddle. With ghastly grins they point me towards the mound´s carbonized opening. A burned TV is sticking out of a pile of ashes and water is dripping through the ceiling.
A few sips from my water bottle, a cereal bar, and I´m relieved to pedal away from Coaldale´s broken gas pump and its ghosts. There won’t be any more buildings before Tonopah, only desert and dustdevils that seem to be determined to thwart my passage through Nevada´s desolation. And yet the little water has been sufficient to cast a spell over the few obstinate small bushes on the side of the road. To turn the petrified dust into green, into life.
I’m exhausted from simply keeping my bike on the road, from stemming my body against the treacherous, sudden, gusts of wind, when Jerry pulls his camper over in front of me. The old man is wearing brown shorts and compression stockings. He is breathing with difficulty and he is lonely.
Jerry is from New Mexico and he is returning from his ex-wife’s funeral in California. He doesn´t know whether to be sad. It is merely a reminder of his youth that has died, he says. He proudly offers me to use his bathroom and then sends me on my way with a self-heating can of hot chocolate.
That can of hot chocolate is the illusion I hold on to when the wind drives me off the asphalt for the 100 time. Tonopah is only 15 miles ahead but I am too exhausted to keep going. Struggling, I push my bike up a sandy slope so as to conceal it as well as possible. Then I set up my tent. I´m going to lay in it and have a cup of the frothy hot chocolate Jerry described to me. However, the futuristic green gel botton on my cup doesn´t seem to work. The can stays cold and continues reading: “If can doesn´t heat up, do not drink”. I finally fall asleep, empty with disappointment.
The next morning I set out early, before the merciless sun hits my tent. Just before the endless long solpe that goes up to Tonopah, I discover the first rest stop in 200 miles. It is equipped with running water and actual trees. A slim elderly man in an explorer´s outfit and small round glasses emerges from a huge camper with Arizona plates and walks over to me. Why do I have crutches strapped to the frame of my bike, he wonders. When I tell him about the 1100 ft fall, about the two days and nights on the glaciar, and my 13 surgeries, he falls silent. Then he shakes his head and with a condescending grin tells me that doctors don’t know anything. If I can hold on 10 minutes so that he can take his retainers out, he’ll invite me to pray with him. If I accept his invitation, he guarantees that Jesus will heal my foot within 15 minutes. He disapppears in the bathroom, and I take off, pedaling with all my strength towards Tonopah, towards the town that I know almost nothing of. I have found however, a list of notable Tonopah residents:
Andriza Mircovich, only prisoner to be executed by shooting in Nevada.
William Robert Johnson, Roman Catholic bishop.
Barbara Graham, the notorious Butcher of Burbank. Only woman to be executed in California.
An old dusty well from the gold seekers’ times is the first sign of Tonopah. What follows is just as dry. After sever bullet sieved signs I begin to pass bullet sieved, ruins, walls, houses. The ugliest women in the whole world live in Tonopah. The younger ones wear full beards and mustaches and the older ones are made of petrified dust. The rain didn´t do anything for them. He didn´t wash away the staggering husbands that bang into each other on the sidewalks or throw up in front of the gun shop.
In the casino (no weapons concealed or otherwise allowed) Scott, from California tells me that Tonopah had to stop publishing their police report. It had become too embarassing for the husbands bullied by their wives. The town keeps on growing he says, because whoever gets picked up by the cops around town, won´t get a ride home after coming out of jail. I study the Nye County News and read about the local community leader in Pamruph who is (was) a role model as well as the leader of a child´s pornography ring. I also discover that the local sheriff is running for justice of peace. Among his credentials: married for 26 years and a vast experience in homicide. I leave Tonopah knowing that I have seen the wild west, and just in time to avoid an encounter with the the only image that could seriously degrade my image of Tonopah: a glimpse of Mitt Romney´s tour bus.
Once again surrunded by desert and dust devils, I discover a strange object on the road ahead of me. It isn’t an illusion caused by the heat and it grows bigger as I get closer. As it gets larger, it also becomes stranger. It isn’t a boulder, it isn’t a motorcycle and it isn’t a car either. Instead it is Howard West and his donkeycart. He´s a writer, and he´s on a book tour, he tells me. Besides he hasn´t just written one book. He has a whole series, called the Locked Gates. That´s why his donkeycart says: “facebook the Lockedgates”. I am dumbfolded hearing that he lives on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, and that he is now walking through Nevada presenting his work. Who to, I really don´t know.
Howard’s arrogant laughter under his grey bearded cowboy hat stays with me on the endless steep and windy climbs that follow. I´ll never make it to Warm Springs he says, refusing to understand that the point of leaving Tonopah in the late afternoon was to ride under the starry sky, letting moonshine protect me from the glaring sun. Howard is wrong. Around 10pm, I arrive at the ghost settlement Warm Springs. Three empty buildings stare at me through the open wounds of broken windows. I lean Rocinante against the bullet holes and investigate my home for the night. Inside the buildings mold and violence are thickening the atmosphere. Shaking off apprehension, I return to fresh air and begin to look for a place where to pitch my tent. Little later, I am cooking pasta without daring to light my headlamp so as to remain invisible to the occasional trucks.
A white shimmer emerges from behind the buildings. I turn my stove off so as not be be seen and wait. Nothing. The shimmer remains silently in the same spot. Then I understand: it isn´t a car, it´s a cloud. It´s vapor raising over a hot spring. After dinner I undertake a nightly expedition guided by the white cloud. Keep out! Say the big red letters on the white wall behind the barbed wire fence. I carefully crawl through a hole in the fence and illuminate a big turquoise pool with my headlamp. Minutes later I am swimming in the warm water sprinkled with stars, smiling to myself-and laughing at Howard West.
The next day brings even more heat, a rather uneventful encounter with a rattlesnake, and wind. So much wind that I find myself pedaling downhill with all my might, and moving forward at 3 miles per hour. The Extraterrestrial Highway really is as deserted as I had heard. Dust devils come storming down the mountains that shield the infamous Area 51 US military test site that besides atomic bomb testing is said to have been the scenery to events as extraordinary and strange as abduction by and of extraterrestrial beings, UFO crashes and much more. With my blanket, I transform Rocinante into a dust and sun shelter and secretly hope for a UFO to appear so as to rescue me from what feels to be a strong dusty blow drier, pointed at me. I finish my canned pineapples and no UFO appears. However, at the end of the day I receive tangible proof of their existence: in front of the big UFO at the Little Alien´s Inn in Rachel, the hardest of Nevada comes to an end.
Over lemonade, water, more lemonade and a steak, I listen to Bob telling me the story of the famous black mailbox. The probably most photographed mailbox in Nevada, belongs to ranger Steve. Steve and his family live far off the road, and ways away from their lonely mailbox. Their initial mailbox was black and word had spread that this mysterious mailbox belonged to Area 51. Ecologic activists, UFO seekers, defenders of extraterrestrial rights, opponents of Martian cloning, as well as other activists had stated their concerns in both writing and smelly objects. Steve´s mail had been stolen, defaced, photocopied, commented, and mutilated in every possible way. When the black mailbox mysteriously disappeared, Steve and Bob acquired a new, white, bulletproof depositor for Steve´s mail. They dug a deep hole in the ground, and the new mailbox was ankered in cement and locked with a massif lock that only Steve and the mailman possess a key to.
That night, as I fall asleep on my soft white pillow in the trailer behind the Little Alien´s Inn, I am staying in, I know for sure that Nevada, the desert state, definitely is a very fertile soil when it comes to harvesting stories.
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