We left early in the morning and were almost immediately thrown on to The Paiute Trail. ATV route No.1! It resembled the Rainbow Trail in style but seemed much easier to ride (although it could just have been that a further 2000 miles had honed our riding skills a little!!) Although narrow the trail wound in flowing curves over green mountain sides and through little vibrant streams. It seemed hard to believe that only the day before the desert had seemed so harsh and dry. We followed the trail for 30 beautiful miles taking in the green surroundings and cool air before finally being thrown across a cooling river crossing onto a dirt road.
The dirt road ran into a small place called Kanosh, where we were to stop for petrol as there was to be no more until days end in Baker. It was as we rode out of Kanosh past an old cemetary and into some sparse forest land, that we came accross the first of the barbed wire 'gates' that Dave was later to become all too initmate with. These proved to be a little irksome as time went by, but I suppose they have to keep the livestock out/in somehow...
The feeling of remoteness and ever increasing expanses of nothing grew considerably as we headed toward Nevada, one of Americas remotest and least populated states. Whereas before we had crossed range after range of mountains dropping into sparsely populated valleys, we now crossed range after range of mountains and dropped into empty valleys. I stopped navigating using miles and started to try and guess how many of these expansive wastes we would cross before seeing signs of human population.
It seemed ironic that the area was so devoid of human life. One hundred and thirty years ago there had been many people and millions of buffalo living in this region of the world. They lived a nomadic existence perfectly in tune with their surroundings and left little or no impact on the land. Unsurprisingly (like many other indigenous populations) they had lived this way for thousands of years before the 'Wasichu’ arrived and systematically exterminated them.
Although it saddens me to be associated with such behaviour my (and probably your) ancestors were the 'Wasichu’ (the plains Indian name for a white man) and we are all familiar with the twisted stories about how they came and bravely fought their way across the American plains like heroes. In reality this perception is so far from the truth it would be amusing if the truth were not so awful. It wasn’t the first act of genocide practiced by man, and it certainly wont be the last, but for me it is one of saddest as it continues today.
Although often portrayed as aggressive the local bands of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe had lived together in harmony for millennia. There was plenty of food and a rigid social structure which created law and order based upon a strict moral code and pride of heritage. There was initially no objection to the white mans arrival but incidences of shooting and scare mongering by the new settlers caused bad feeling and started a conflict. The results of this are still evident today in the many small, downbeat, reservations and Indian management offices that are scattered across the most inhospitable and remote areas of the USA.
It is perhaps ironic that in 1868 the white mans first act on arrival in the west 'the violent savages’ was to graciously award, ' the violent savages’, their own lands, 'for as long as the grass should grow, and the water flow’. What this turned out to mean was, ' for as long as it takes us to discover that there happens to be gold on your land and then you’re nation will be eradicated’. The tales that followed resemble some of the worst horror stories ever told and are very bit as hideous as the treatment of the Jews during World War II.
By December 29th 1890 the end of Indian freedom was assured after 'The Massacre Of Wounded Knee’, I defy anyone to read an eyewitness account of this event and not feel appalled by the lack of humanity shown toward fellow human beings by the US Army. The white mans lasting effect on the ecosystem of the plains was hardly less spectacular. By 1900, 'Wasichu’ had killed an estimated (and ungraspable figure of) 60 million buffalo for meat, hides, and most disturbingly fun. The remaining 23(!) buffalo were hidden and sheltered in the Yellowstone National Park in the hope of one day restoring wild buffalo to the plains of North America.
In my opinion the worst tragedy is the worlds perception of this event. Sunday afternoon films regularly show ignorant 'Redskins’ whooping and howling as they attack another innocent wagon train while in Amarica today American Indians still fight for the rights to inhabit their own lands and have had to ask the American Government for official apologies about any number of unlawful killings, unlawful land dealings, and unlawful massacres. A strange concept for country a so obsessed with the ideals of freedom...
Strangely being near to Nevada somehow made all these thoughts seem far more real. Examining the maps and seeing names I recognised from the stories I knew made all the events I have described seem far more tragic. It was lucky that the road was long and the scenery spectacular, there was a lot of thinking done that day.
We passed over mountain and plain many times as we followed straight dirt roads towards our final destination of Baker. To the north we saw of some of the salt lakes that give the city in the far north of the state its name, the heat haze shimmering on the horizon removing any ability we may have had of guessing its size. Having ridden across most of the US by this time my guess was larger rather than smaller! A quick look at Jon’s map of the US seemed to show a white spot about the size of Wales...I was definitely beginning to appreciate how big the USA was.
As we rode on a huge white mountain became visible on the horizon and fifty miles later we rode over a low pass and 'turned right’ into a yet another empty valley. Finally, after eight hours of riding trails we took a right turn into virgin desert for our last few miles of the day, it was to be a taster of the days to come. Rough riding, often over nothing, toward nothing, but to an imaginary point where two fences cross, or your oddometer says 'turn’ was to become the norm and provide us with some serious navigational headaches. America was about to become like the Sahara, but with less to navigate by, worse mapping and no GPS points! In a few miles we would reach our days target and stop to relax before the onslaught of a new day.
Baker was a single motel, gas station, restaurant, games room, shop, bar, café, bookshop, etc, etc. Its amazing what you can fit into a single building if you have to. It was so remote it didn’t even have usable TV!!! Instead a steady flow of complimentary videos flowed from the 'shop’ to our room as the temperatures outside dropped with sunset
The Border Inn, Baker, as it's name might suggest, was quite close to the Utah-Nevada border; So close in fact that as we slept, we were in Utah but as we ate, we were in Nevada, all on the same site! I was quite amused by the place really, the flashing neon sign, the small 'casino' section inside the main building all seemed quite incongruous in the middle of literally nowhere. The Inn is by the side of highway 50, which they call 'The loneliest highway in America' and I can believe it... As it turned dark however, it became clear that we weren't quite so isolated as I had first imagined as I could see the street lights of Baker proper, all five of them, to the West, Garrison to the South and a couple of other small places due East. I took a couple of photo's (which didn't come out at all well) and then went indoors to watch the video of Sexy Beast that we had rented from the shop earlier.
Earlier in the evening, another biker had rolled into the motel, his nearly new BMW R1150RT leaking fluid from its shaft drive rear end all over the rear brake disc. After a few phone calls regarding his warranty, it became clear that his plans to hit Laguna Seca for the World Superbike meet were hanging in the balance as he was going nowhere until his bike was recovered, taken to a town big enough to have a BMW dealer in it and fixed. In order to distract him from his predicament, Jon and I went back to the shop with him as it also happened to be a bar, where we shared a few drinks and he regailed us with stories of 1200 mile biking days all over the states. It turned out that he had ridden direct from Eastern Colorado that morning, a feat which had taken us some seven days! Sometime approaching midnight, thirsts sated, we retired to our respective beds for the night...