08/14/2001 Entry: "Ride West--Day Seven (Sunday, Aug. 12)"
Begin: West of Cedar City, UT
End: Oakland, CA
Distance: 677 miles (21699-22376)
I left Jim's house at around 9:30 am on Sunday, thinking that if the day went well, I might push and go all the way to Ann's house in Oakland, but not committed to the idea. By the time I got to the California border, I was so sick of being on the bike that I was determined to make it to Oakland. My plan was to take Hwy. 56 west to Panaca, then take Highway 93 south and west to the junction with Highway 375, which I would take north and west to Tonopah.
The Utah-Nevada border is about 70 miles west of Cedar City on Hwy. 56. At the border, Hwy. 56 turns into Nevada Highway 319. Another 30 miles takes you to Panaca. About 14 miles past that is Caliente. If you intend to drive across Nevada this way on a motorcycle, you must buy gas in one of these towns. Both Panaca and Caliente have a single gas station each. I filled up in Panaca. There was a sign in the gas station that listed the distance to Tonopah as 203 miles. This is the outside limit of my travel range. My tank holds 5.5 gallons. In the absence of a jerry can of gas--which I don't carry--if I get 40 miles to the gallon, I make it to Tonopah, if I get 35 miles to the gallon, I don't. Given the intense winds and the possibilities for high-speed travel on these roads, counting on getting 40 mpg is not wise. Fortunately, you can get gas by going about 10 miles out of the way at the junction of Hwy. 93 and Hwy. 375. Stay on Hwy. 93 south about 10 miles past the junction and you can get gas in Ash Springs, or at least you can most of the time.
When I got to Ash Springs, it turned out that the power was out for the entire county. No power, no pumps. No pumps, no gas. I sat around and chatted with the other people at the gas station for a while waiting for the power to come back up. I had enough gas to make it to Las Vegas if I wanted to go that route, but that would put me way out of my way and probably add another day to my travel time. I waited around for several hours until the power finally came back on and I could top off the tank and head back up Hwy. 93 north to the junction with Hwy. 375 where I turned west towards Tonopah. Hwy. 375 is called The Extraterrestrial Highway, primarily because it passes just east and north of a large number of "secret" military testing facilities, including Groom Lake and Nellis, and people occasionally see very strange things flying around out there. I would probably give it another name, more ACDC than UFO. As far as I'm concerned, this stretch of road, from the junction with Hwy. 93 all the way past Tonopah to the California border, should be called the Highway to Hell.
There is absolutely nothing out there but high desert flats broken by occasional mountain passes. You top a pass and spread out in front of you is a anywhere from a 10 to 30 mile stretch of absolutely straight two-lane paved road. Sounds good if you like speed, but the cross-winds from the south and west were so intense that I found myself leaning over at a steep angle just to keep going on a straight line. Occasionally, trucks come from the other direction and break the wind for less than a second, which meant that I had to straighten the bike out to avoid turning into the truck. The vacuum of air created by the truck behind it causes the wind to rush in from the right side, requiring a lean to the right to keep on track; but this lasts for only a second until the wind from the left side would resume and I'd have to swing the bike over onto the other side of the wheel to hold a straight line. Several hundred miles of nearly complete isolation combined with fighting intense winds in a monotonous landscape completely cured me of any desire to cross central Nevada on a motorcycle again. I've driven Nevada's Highway 50, the so-called loneliest highway in America, probably two dozen times in a car, but it couldn't hold a candle to this road.
Hwy. 375 ends at the junction with Hwy 6 in Warm Springs, which is little more than a few abandoned shacks at a junction. I headed west to Tonopah on Hwy. 6, gassed up and continued on across the California border to Benton, which is where the state agriculture inspection station is. There I learned from the inspector that Highway 120 over the Tioga Pass into Yosemite was closed due to rockslides, so I would have to take a different route down the Bay Area. Highway 120 was open, however, to Lee Vining, so I headed east on 120 at the junction in Benton. About two miles up the road, there was a road crew blocking off the highway because a wildfire had closed the road. They sent me down a road that wasn't on my map called Benton Crossing. This was actually a pleasant series of twists and turns over a small summit and down to Highway 365. I jumped on Hwy. 365 north to Lee Vining.
I refilled the tank in Lee Vining and continued on up 365 past Mono Lake and over the Conway Summit at 8,000 or so feet. Down the other side, I rode through Bridgeport and on to the intersection with Highway 108, which heads west over the Sonora Pass.
This was a great alternative to Yosemite. It's a beautiful drive up twisting switchbacks to the 9,600 foot Sonora Pass. Then the road drops down the other side into a series of small towns and joins at the town of Sonora with Hwy. 120. From there, it's only about 140 miles on into Oakland. I just followed the signs to San Francisco. 120 hits I5 in Manteca. You take I5 south for about a mile or so and then head west again on 120, which then turns into I205 in Tracy and a little while later turns into I580 at the Altamont Pass. There is really nothing remarkable about this part of the ride except to note that the Altamont Pass is very windy and cold, even on otherwise warm nights. I arrived in Oakland at around 10pm California time, some 11 hours after leaving that morning.