Friday, October 9, 2020: Gross Miscalculations

Frenchglen, Oregon, to Virgin Valley Hot Springs, Nevada

The night was cold, but the morning was surprisingly warm. A south wind brought the temperatures up into the 50s by the time we stumbled out of our tents.

We thanked Rick and his wife for their hospitality and headed out for the day. We stopped in Fenchglen for breakfast at the Frenchglen Hotel on Rick’s recommendation.

The hotel was built in 1916 by the Swift Meatpacking Company who owned a nearby ranch. People doing business at the ranch would stay there. Later, the hotel was used to house the teachers who worked at the Frenchglen School. The hotel was then bought by the Fish and Wildlife Service when it bought the land for the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. In the 1970s, the State of Oregon bought the hotel and owns it to this day.

Breakfast at the hotel was anything we wanted, as long as it was their French toast special. The French toast was thick and sweet, and the bacon was … well … bacon, so it was good.

Across the street from the hotel was a relic of times past … a phone booth. The phone was long since removed, but there was another historical artifact inside, an 8-Track tape. Down the street was an old general store with the only fuel for miles. We plotted our route for the day. We would head to McDermitt, Nevada, 152 miles away, and the next closest gas. Greg topped off his tank to make sure he would make it to McDermitt. I had filled up in Burns and according to my estimation from my fuel gauge, should be able to go about 200 more miles before I needed to fill up.

We headed north on Highway 205 and turned off toward the Diamond Craters. The area was a perfect example of the lands of the Basin and Range – large flat grasslands alternated with steep mountain ranges. The Basin and Range stretches from eastern California to central Utah. In the area around Diamond Craters, we traveled through large stretches of ancient lava flows that covered the plains.

We made a pit stop at Burns Junction at a gas station that had closed back in the days when leaded gas was still available. We were 55 miles from McDermitt and I still had two bars remaining on my fuel gauge – an estimated 100 miles. We headed south from Burns Junction on Highway 95 into one of the basins between parallel mountain ranges. We crossed into the Mountain Time Zone and back into the Pacific Time Zone and I watched the clock on my GPS go forward one hour, then back one hour.

About 20 minutes after leaving Burns Junction, the second bar on my fuel gauge disappeared – 50 miles of fuel left. I thought, “Well, I’m less than 50 miles from McDermitt, so it’s still looking good.” I wasn’t having any regrets of not topping off in Frenchglen. Twenty minutes later, the final bar on my fuel gauge started to flash. I was only 20 minutes from McDermitt. This was going to be close.

Thoughts started going through my mind. I imagined the tank running dry just as I pull into the gas station. I imagined running out miles from town and being stuck on the side of the road. I patted the gas tank and talked to the bike. Come on, baby. You can do it. As the miles went on, I became accepting of the fact that I could run out. If I ran out, I ran out. Not much I could do about it. I reduced my speed to try and save what gas fumes I had left.

Five miles from McDermitt, I started to climb a hill. The engine started to sputter as I went up. Come on, you can do it! The engine died near the crest of the hill. I pulled onto the shoulder and tried to keep the bike going. As I crested the hill, the engine came back to life. I could see McDermitt off in the distance. You can do it. The bike kept running as I went down the other side of the hill. Maybe I would make it after all.

The GPS read 3.2 miles to McDermitt. The road was flat, if not slightly downhill. Things were looking good. I’d like to tell you I made it to McDermitt. I really would. The engine sputtered again and died. I pulled the clutch and hit the start button … nothing. I coasted to a stop with McDermitt clearly visible in the distance.

At least Greg was ahead of me and had a fuel can. I fired off a text, sure that he would see it when he stopped and checked his phone. Out of gas, 3 miles north of town. I’m never going to live this down. I had the chance to top off, but my arrogance over the range of my bike bit me in the ass. Ten minutes went by, cars, RVs, and semi-trucks whizzed by without slowing down. Greg responded. Oh my. Ok. Filling RotoPax.

Almost made it.

I stood there on the side of the road, watching the traffic blow by without so much as slowing down. The narrow shoulder kept the bike and me close to the action.

Soon, off in the distance, I saw a motorcycle approaching. Like a white knight coming to the rescue, it was The Stig with gas to bring my bike back to life. He threw up a finger – you know which one – as he passed and turned around. He shook his head as he got off the bike. I hung my head in shame.

With some gas back in my tank, I was off for McDermitt to top it off. We stopped and grabbed food for the night, then plotted where we would stay.

We headed south on Highway 95 into the desert. To the left of us were the Santa Rosa Montains with their exposed granite peaks. To the right, the vast sagebrush plain of the Quinn River Valley. More magnificent desolation.

Suddenly, a flock of birds flew across my view. One bird was flying just a few feet above the pavement. He looked in my direction, I looked at him. I’m pretty sure the bird’s eyes got huge and he freaked out. The bird turned itself around, trying to stop in midair. He looked like a car trying to skid to a stop. You could almost hear the tire-screeching noise. It wasn’t enough. The poor bird flew into my left shin and exploded into a puff of feathers. A small bird is no match for a man’s leg coming at it at 75 miles per hour. I was left with a crime scene of bird blood and guts on my leg and its associated feathers and splatter on the frame of the motorcycle.

We turned onto Highway 140 and headed west. The road was one of those stereotypical desert roads: Miles of ruler straight pavement stretching from horizon to horizon, disappearing into a far-off mountain range. I could have taken a nap and not hit anything.

We stopped in Denio Junction to top off our tanks (one can’t be too careful), and continued into the valley between the Pueblo Mountains and Pine Forest Range. The road rounded the tip of the Pueblo Mountains and entered the Bog Hot Valley. Evidence of volcanism was present all around. Basaltic hills on each side, ancient lava bombs rested on the sides of the road – rocks bigger than a house that had been flung there by volcanic eruptions. One wouldn’t want to find themselves under one of those.

We turned onto a dirt road with a sign that read “Opal Mines.” After a few miles of dirt road, we came to the Virgin Valley Hot Springs campground. This campground was different from the other camps we had been to. It was all dirt; not a speck of grass in sight. A few old brick buildings whose uses are unknown to me dotted the campground. Some had fences around them, one was right next to a pond. We circled the camp to find the right spot and parked the bikes.

We set up camp and then walked around to explore. A few feet from our campsite was the remains of an old chimney. There was nothing to tell me what it was for. Was it the remains of an old kiln? Did there used to be a house there? It was a mystery.

We got into our swim trunks and headed for the pond. The pond was surprisingly warm; I’d guess at least 90 degrees. It wasn’t like a hot tub, but the warmth felt good. It wasn’t a proper bath, but was nonetheless refreshing.

After the swim, we headed back to our camp to make dinner. While heating our meals, a couple of other campers came up. The mystique of the motorcycle traveler drew them to us. We talked about our trip and the remaining plans. The two campers bid us farewell, thinking we were the coolest guys ever because we were traveling on motorcycles and playing Frank Sinatra music at our campsite. Take the compliments as they come.

The ISS-viewing streak came to an end tonight. The station rose too low in the sky to see.

Day’s Mileage: 296.1 (302.1 for Greg), Total Mileage: 1342