Adventure Cycling has promoted Bike Your Park over the last three years to celebrate National Public Lands Day. I have promoted rides out of the Black Rock Desert and Dayton to Fort Churchill State Parks in years past. This year I wanted to visit the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. I had been considering this park on the western slope of the Shoshone Range in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. I planned a ride from the historic Middlegate Station to our state park, then returning on gravel roads through the Ione Valley back to Middlegate. As the route was planned it was 90+ miles with over 5,000′ of climbing. As a group ride, open to all, this was a bit intimidating. But I was willing to shorten the ride to accommodate any rider.
I promoted the ride through Orange Pedal Cycling, my neighborhood bike shop/cafe, who is doing an awesome job of promoting cycling community events. Over the next year we have planned a series of public talks and rides to showcase local adventure cycling. Although the ride ended up being solo we got the conversation started and hopefully OPC will be Reno’s hub for travel by bike!
I wanted this ride to be a loop. I looked at State Route 361 to Gabbs then SR 844 over the Paradise Range from Gabbs to Ione Valleys. Perfect! I recieved some criticism for riding pavement not dirt through this section. My thought was my time was limited and I needed to be back to work the next day. Otherwise, yes, there are ways to do this all on dirt. Another comment on my route was regarding the climb over Paradise Range. I gave it a second look, 2,000′ or so (more like 2,400′) in 9 miles, nothing I can’t handle. I should have given it a third look.
The return section through Ione Valley had me the most concerned. I didn’t know the conditions for the 30-40 miles of dirt roads. Over that distance in Nevada I have experienced every sort of road surface which can include miles of hike-a-bike. I had lights, I was prepared to camp, so let’s see what the Ione Valley has to offer. The road narrows and winds through the Desatoya Mountains at Buffalo Creek, and again I was a little concerned. But there is the adventure!
I chose to ride the KHS Grit 440. As a gravel bike it is most comfortable on any road. It rolls nicely on tubeless 700×40 Vittoria Adventure Trail tires. After 1400 miles of Nevada backroads they have yet to let me down. It was kitted with Revelate Design bags from tip to tail, as I was carrying gear for an overnight but no stove. My friend Tomo Ichikawa gave me a prototype accessory bar which mounts off the stem face plate bolts. This proved to be very handy since once you have cross brake levers and bags attached to your handle bar you don’t want to give up any more room for your electronics. I chose the 46 cm Ritchey AdventureMax bars just so I would have the most room and widest grip on the bars.
Leaving Middlegate was fantastic. Getting out of the car I heard coyotes to the north and heavy metal to the south. There was a big motocross gathering out of the Middlegate Station parking lot. Everyone can enjoy the desert their way. The highway had just been resurfaced so was smooth sailing. Out of the gate there was an 1,100′ climb, but with a long descent into Gabbs. I got this! This was my chance to look around for other dirt roads for my next trip out here. Looking to the southwest I recognized features from my winter tour through Rawhide. The puzzle pieces of rides past and rides future come together to link tours throughout the state.
And then there was the wind out of the south, it’s always a headwind! If you are riding in Nevada you must embrace the wind, or at least be ready to descend slowly in a headwind and keep your ears and face covered on an otherwise beautiful day! There is a huge sense of relief tucking into your tent at the end of the day and thinking, ah, out of the wind. If it is not the terrain, its the weather – just keep pedaling, and smiling.
From Gabbs I turned onto State Route 844 and thought to myself, this is a bigger climb than I imagined. But I love climbing so I broke it into 30 minute efforts over 2 hours with 2,500′ of climbing in 9 miles. I used the breaks for photo ops and a chance to really look around. The road carriers you through mixed juniper-pinion forest managed by the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The two users I could identify at this time were firewood gatherers and hunters. I summited crossing the Paradise Range looking at a broad Ione Valley.
The road to Berlin eventually turned to dirt and started to climb onto the Shoshone Mountains. I was relieved to enter the State Park, ride through it’s ghost town exhibits and make my way to the Fossil Shelter. I had missed the guided tour of the ichthyosuar fossil dig but got to look in on the exhibit and learn from the park literature an interpretive signs. What a curious prehistoric marine reptile. I saw a few park visitors, chatted with a ranger who invited me to stay in the campground, and even met a camper who was off to explore the environs on his mountain bike. But with my timeline I had miles to go before I slept.
Leaving the park I was excited to have a tailwind. The roads through the Ione Valley were in fantastic shape and I was making great time. I was chasing the sun and clouds enjoying the dramatic lighting on the infinite landscape. Again I passed crossroads for future rides in the area. But in the back of my mind I was wondering if the road ahead would turn into a river of sand. Unfortunately it is always a possibility with Nevada backroads.
Eventually I made the slight climb past Burnt Cabin Summit to Buffalo Summit. The descent on Buffalo Creek Road was the surprise of the trip! The landscape was absolutely entertaining. The sunset on a distant thunderstorm only added to the pure joy of this descent. The road was sandy enough I was glad to be descending and not ascending on 40 mm wide tires. Watching the sun versus my progress I had to make a decision between camping and continuing on to my car. The burger and beer call of Middlegate Station won out. By time I hit pavement I was riding by headlight.
The pavement section of State Route 722 to US 50 passed quickly. I saw the occasional ghostly mouse cross in front of my headlight but otherwise the finish of this 90+ mile loop was uneventful. I changed at my car before heading into Middlegate Station. There was a large gathering of desert motocross enthusiasts camping in the parking lot and they had packed the bar/restaurant. I wasn’t going to be eating alone!
A couple guys had ordered the Monster Burger Challenge, a 1 1/3 lb’er with all the fixings. They were warned to go outside if they felt they couldn’t keep the burger down. The waitress insisted it wasn’t “if” but “when”. The wiser riders were focused on their beverages. My cheese burger and PBR on draft were divine. I ordered a cheese burger; I got the juciesest double bacon cheese burger of my life. It was a task to finish. I rose to the challenge, and then made it back to my vehicle for a great night’s sleep.
This was a top ride for 2018. By the numbers the 97 mile loops had 5,500′ of climbing and 40 miles of great dirt roads. Climbing SR 844 was a great challenge. The Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park and the Ione Valley have days of sight seeing. The numerous dirt crossroads are all adventure worthy and can connect to other rides I have done in the area. So I will be back. Maybe even to try the Monster Burger Challenge.