“They are going to clear the area, they are going to drop retardant,” we were warned by a fellow watching the flames coming out of a pit in front of the old mill in Grantsville Canyon. The stone masonry was black from soot. The fire appeared to be on several levels. This was our destination for the day. Time to re-think that. I wasn’t really looking forward to being told to turn around. I had been thinking these old ghost towns are only a harsh winter away from collapse. In this case their decay is only accelerated by fire.
We passed through the ghost town only to admire the structures from a distance. We rode up the canyon to find a shaded campsite and waited to hear the bombers overhead. They never came. A BLM engine-lead fire crew came through, dealt with the fire and stopped to chat on their way out. They gave us each a liter of ice water and a perspective on what our fire season could look like. The biology of juniper trees and the concept of 100-hour fuel moisture was introduced as if the firefighter had just come from a seminar on the topic. As someone who is interested in all things reading up on wildland fire management has been added to the list. I asked if they came in from Austin. Nope, Eureka! At least a two and a half hour drive in their war-horse of an engine. But how did we get here? We had just traveled 38.5 miles, climbed over the Desatoya Range, crossed the Ione Valley and started climbing into the Shoshone Range; Welcome to Adventure Cycling’s Bike Travel Weekend!
Adventure Cycling encourages two member-hosted rides a year, Bike Travel Weekend and Bike Your Park Day. I think I have been sponsoring rides and volunteering as a regional ride advisor for the past 4-5 years. It has been a fantastic experience that I will continue participating. I consider Bike Travel Weekend to be the kick-off for the season to really get people into bike touring. This year I chose a familiar route, past Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, through the Grantsville ghost town, through the Ione near-ghost town, and back to our start at Eastgate, central Nevada. The route is just off the Overland Stagecoach Route, Pony Express Trail, and American Discovery Trail for perspective. As a near 90 mile route with 4,500′ of climbing the route requires ambition.
Christine Anderson was the first to meet me at the trailhead. Then Shay Daylami arrived. Then we waited for Michael Morris. At 9:30 we rolled out. We needed to get started with the biggest climb of the ride in the cooler temperatures of the day. We were off on a 10 mile climb with 1,400′ of climbing to start the morning. We hoped Michael was ok.
Buffalo Creek Road is a gentle climb over 10 miles that slowly increases it’s pitch as you climb. There were a handful of side roads that reminded me I need to get back to spend a day to see where they take me. This road took us up and over this southern shoulder of the Desatoya Range so we could make a diagonal crossing of Ione Valley.
Crossing the Ione Valley was a 17 mile journey across a sea of sage. We saw raptors and ravens on the wing and a small group of antelope as we coasted down rollers only to grunt up the far side. Again there were a few roads into the Shoshone Range that caught my attention as well as one that crossed the valley to the Paradise Range. I see these as opportunities to celebrate with a burger and beer at the Middlegate Station.
Approaching Berlin-Ichthyasaur State Park it was clear it was closed for road construction. This was anticipated, but I wasn’y sure just how closed the park would be. The SP would have been an ideal side route with the opportunity for water resupply. But we re-routed to Grantsville Canyon and much to everyone’s liking it avoided a steep hill climb.
Entering the canyon the geology stood out. I often wonder if simple changes in exposed rocks were indicators to pioneering miners where to strike it rich. Approaching Grantsville we saw a couple of vehicles watching the historic mill burn. Later we learned they were volunteer fire fighters from Gabbs.
Our evening was peaceful. Dinner was had, with the help of the new ultra-light stove and titanium cook wear inspired by the Winnemucca Lake outing with Galen Watson. Christine was packing her titanium Vargo BOT, bottle pot. This was an inspiration from Mitch Ison’s kit on the Pony Express Route. It is great getting ideas from each other on these trips.
Waking up the next morning the day ahead was going to be full, but I was already looking forward to that Middlegate Burger! I hadn’t committed our first climb to memory but it was a great start to the day. I spooked a doe out of her bedding down site along the road. It was a mutual spooking. The crest offered views of the Reese River Valley, the Toiyabe Range and Arc Dome Wilderness. We are witness to the gems of central Nevada.
The descent into the valley was a blast on well maintained forest service road, NF 108. The fractured Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is an amazing resource for outdoor enthusiasts. I always think of a long-ago conversation with a ranger new the the H-T Nat. Forest, he said he was a ranger without trees to manage. I hope his mind has changed. I made a couple stops on the descent to snap a few photos and to make sure we all made it through the turns rubber side up.
The upper vs lower Reese River Valley seemed greener, cleaner, fresher. Some of this might be the early morning light but from my other visits the Mighty Reese River gets horribly polluted from agricultural runoff. The borrow ditch along the road had pretty good water flowing through it. With hind sight I should have filled a few bottles, added a couple of water purification tablets, and pedaled on. Note to self and any anyone else who agrees, on future trips I will carry a few water treatment tablets in my top tube bag for easy access. Right now they are buried in my first-aide kit.
These few miles traveling north through the Reese River Valley were a first for me. We were traveling through the Yomba Indian Reservation of the Yomba Shoshone Tribe. This was my fourth visit to their lands. I haven’t traveled any further south on this road but I have it in my mind to follow this route between Austin and Tonapah, gravel grinding at it’s best!
Next was our climb back over the Shoshone Range on North Ione Rd. Again, another moderate climb through pinyon-juniper forest punctuated with outstanding geology. I stopped at a road cut through sedimentary rock to see if any fossils popped out at me. I only spent a few fruitless minutes, but what if I invested a day? On the descent into Ione Shay stopped to explore a roadside cave.
Ione is the ghost town to be. It is still inhabited but we took a few minutes to poke around, enjoy the park, before we closed our loop through the Shoshone Range to cross the Ione Valley back to Buffalo Summit.
In the last miles to the summit the cumulative effects of the trip were starting to show. While the temperatures were not excessive, in combination with the Northern Nevada sun it takes it toll. While none of our climbs were exceptionally steep miles of 3-5% grade, combined with rollers, and loaded off-road touring it all takes it toll. After a cat-nap in the shade of trees near the summit, we regrouped for the 10 mile descent to the trailhead.
A great trip through high desert was had. Middlegate served up some delicious recovery food but as often the case after a hard day’s ride the conversation was minimal. Bike Travel Weekend 2021 was a success. We were a part of 700 trips, 5,600 participants, across the US and around the world. Where will we go next year?