Ride Report; Carson Sink’s Dunes

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“If you survive…” Such confidence inspiring words

“If you make it I will ride down and you can take my picture. For perspective,” Pete let me know. If I survived? What were the range of outcomes riding down the face of the dune? Ripping success, a slow stilted descent, tumbling down the sand face, and somewhere in the mix was not surviving. Then Pete wouldn’t feel obligated to follow my line. We rode down several faces that day and while there was a moment of hesitation with each attempt they were all fun! Pete Rissler, who I rode with around the Little High Rock Canyon Wilderness, invited me out on another adventure.

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My view inspired just a twinge of doubt

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Pete Rissler following my line

The Carson Sink’s Dunes are located in the Carson Sink between the Fallon and Stillwater National Wildlife Refuges. We rode from Battleground Point east about 5 miles. There are about the same distance of lesser dunes continuing east. Dunes and dry alkali flats give the rider the ultimate freedom to pick and choose their route. It is most similar to the experience on slick rock where you choose your lines. The dune surface seemed well packed under my 4.8 inch wide tires. It was the same for Pete with his 4 inch tires under him. Pete pointed out the two types of sand, a coarser more firmly packed sand and a finer looser packed silt. Sometimes there were invisible patches of the two and you could feel your bike going fast and slow. We came across a third distinct sand that was very coarse black pebbles, it mostly added color and texture to the dunes.

The dunes can test your bike riding skills unlike any other terrain. Just plodding through the sand with wide tires will test your power output. Next you can test your climbing abilities by choosing grades and length of sandy climbs. Steering take a bit getting used to if you try to weave your way up a grade or carve S turns down a slope. Rocketing down a face is much slower than you expect, brakes are a whole new tool. But with some speed you can find sand lips to catch some air off of. Between the sights and the riding the dunes are very entertaining.

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Pete’s Salsa Mukluk, The Stillwater Range and Botulism Bay in the background

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Botulism Bay from Battleground Point

Between the dunes were alkali flats, or playas. Some were hard packed dry clay beds, while others were soft and white with salt. We crossed one playa that was much harder pedaling than the dunes. Pete wanted to see the playas flooded up to the edge of the dunes. That would be a sight. There was some water in the sink that gave us an idea what that might look like.

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Water in the Carson Sink restricted some routes from dune to dune

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Tough existence for plants and animals on the Carson Sink’s Dunes

The dunes make for a great day’s outing. The BikeCarson gang have an excellent write-up with outstanding blue-sky photography. Travel by bike in this area the, Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge Complex, is fantastic. It can be linked to the Stillwater Range, Lovelock, Dixie Valley, and beyond. Pete and I had lunch at the Pizza Barn, Fallon’s oldest pizza parlor.

Pete Rissler has a lifetime of field experience in northern and central Nevada from his time growing up as a local and a career as a wildlife biologist. Every outing is a chance for me to learn so much natural history. On this trip, fish bones that were regurgitated by pelicans were of interest. Depending on where the pelicans were feeding, such as Pyramid Lake, the remains would be particular or even contain a tag from a biologist. Pelican  Island is a dune to the west of Battle Ground Point we plan on visiting – there is always a next trip!

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Live to ride another day

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My Surly Ice Cream Truck

I normally have front and rear racks and cargo cages on the fork of my extra-small Surly Ice Cream Truck. But these accessories can make transporting fat bikes challenging. Pete drove us out to the Carson Sink with our bikes on a Kuat NV rack so I was glad I removed these items. The velcro Two Fish water bottle cage, small Deuter frame bag, Skinz top tube bag, and Apidura handlebar food pouches were handy accesories but I also carried a small pack with extra gloves, outer layers, and water blader. With a little better organization I could have forgone the day pack.  In anticipation of a icy snowy winter I have the ICT shod with studded Vee Snowshoe XL tires. I left them on for this trip to take advantage of their width. The fat bike makes a great touring bike for the northern Nevada outback. Surly’s philosophy of Omniterra, Fatties Fit Fine, and 4130 Chromoly Steel Tubing make for versatile touring bikes.

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