“It is a matter of how much you will be pushing your bike,” I paraphrase (misquote) Casey Clark during a discussion of “optimal” (read mythological) tire size and gearing. The gist of the conversation was it’s not a matter of if you will be pushing your bike, but when and for how long. Nevada’s varied terrain makes it challenging to have “the bike” for desert travel.
For this ride I chose my “gravel bike”, 2017 KHS Grit 440. The bike is near stock, bagged out with a Revelate Designs kit, new Vittoria Adventure Trail 700 X 38c tires, and Ritchey VentureMax Bars and Look S-Track pedals. This has proven to be a very capable and comfortable setup.
I have been looking at this loop route for years. I went through the mapping exercise in 2016 and estimated the ride to be 63 miles with 2000′ of climbing. About that time I talked Dean Magnuson into a trip just to “explore” the area. I didn’t think the entire loop matched our style of riding. We had a great ride, climbed Coyote Canyon, got some great pictures and video. Six months later I did a ride around Kumiva and Purgatory Peaks that returned on the north side of Winnemucca Lake. A couple months later I took my co-workers on an outing to an abandoned tungsten mine on the east side of the lake. This rich area is about an hour from Reno so no wonder I keep returning.
My riding partner, Brandon Anderson, at the last minute was not able to make this ride but I decided to go for a solo outing. While my riding partners are incredibly valuable I love solo trips. On solo trips I get to focus on my pace, route, objectives, internal conversations, and motivation. I enjoy the mental aspect of decision making, and risk evaluation without worrying about my companions’ experience. This ride was exactly that, I committed to the loop and was determined to mash my pedals back to the car because once the ride is over there is family waiting for me back home.
While my past rides included some less than ideal route choices I had a clear plan on how to get to the tungsten mine, past Coyote Canyon, on fast dirt roads. Beyond that I was just hoping the road conditions would be in my favor. I was keeping track of my progress, miles in a given hour, hours per 10 miles, etc. I was a bit worried that I was not keeping my first hour’s pace. Doubt crept in. The last leg of the trip was on paved road. Hope returned!
The winter’s record precipitation had taken its toll on the road. Some of the washes were 5-20 feet below the road bed. I was surprised to find someone had rerouted the roads upstream to a passable route. I didn’t think this road was important enough to warrant the effort. I am guessing the area either is valuable to off-roaders and/or miners. I appreciate their efforts.
My last known marker was the abandoned tungsten mine about 14 miles into the route. Similarly to Coyote Canyon, since I was familiar with this spot I continued past without stopping for photos. But this is one of the great points of interest on the trip. I recommend poking around the remaining foundation and try to imagine what it was like when in operation. I will return to explore the canyon above.
The roads became rougher, softer, and slower. I had a view across the playa of the Lake Range and its bold scar from the Tohakum II fire this August. Our dry lighting season left its mark in many of the mountain ranges I visit. At mileage marker 19 the road dropped off into a dune system at the north east corner of the playa. So I walked. With hindsight and the power of GPS mapping I stayed left where I should have stayed right!
I am not a fan of walking but I did enjoy seeing several species of lizards, my favorites include the high speed Zebra-tailed and Horny-toad lizards, that I wouldn’t have from the vantage of my bicycle. The fine sand held evidence of nocturnal creatures I could hope to see on an overnight. The jack rabbits were nearly as numerous as the lizards (license taken with hyperbole). The party never ends in the desert.
I could see on my GPS I was near a power line road and I was tempted to make a bee-line for it. I evaluated the choice by weighing the uphill, soft sand, and shrub dodging vs staying on the sandy road until it ties into the better road. The piece of evidence I didn’t have was the barbwire fence I would have to negotiate but avoided with a gate by staying on course.
On the power line road I wrapped around the north end of the playa and made my way to SR 447. With about 24 miles to go on paved road it was a relatively simple cruise back to my vehicle. My ride on STRAVA is here.
I was asked what the route has to offer beyond interesting tuffa formations. There are petroglyphs that have been dated back 10,000 years. Their artists were the first humans to migrate into northern Nevada. That is a lot to offer. The ancient history of water in the area ad well as recent history of water diversion is evident in the landscape you ride through. The geology of Nightingale Mountains, Selenite, and Fox Ranges changes every few miles changing the views as you pedal along. The playa is about 25 miles long by 5 miles wide but as you travel around it those dimensions feel vast. Wild horses, mules, antelope, reptiles, birds, and small mammals abound. While the route was physically demanding the rewards were abundant.