I had a beautiful drive through the rolling mountains, meadows, and vineyards of Sonoma and Napa counties. Then a quick zip of freeways to Sacramento. And then into the foothills and over the Sierra Nevada. As I climbed to 3000 and 4000 feet, the sky clouded over and it started raining. Then I came to a view of snowy peaks—beautiful. Then there was snow along the road. I stopped at Donner Peak and walked past the snow to the restroom in my short sleeves and sandals—a trucker was wearing shorts. From 80 degrees to snow, in just a couple of hours.
I glided down into Reno and checked into my room at the El Dorado. Then I took a walk around town and through the casinos. Reno’s an interesting place. Lots of tourists, midweek like this mostly retired people—couples and laughing groups of older women. I played the slots a little and lost maybe $15.
The next morning at the breakfast buffet, I was seated next to a couple of younger guys who worked for a lumber company in Fresno and were in town on business, but of course getting in some gambling. They were friendly, and talking with them made me feel less alone.
After breakfast, I took another walk around town. I went over to the Sands Regency. When I was looking for rooms, it looked really inexpensive and maybe worthwhile. I was glad I didn’t choose it. The casino was much smaller than the El Dorado, and it was just…a little shabby. One review I read said that there were some colorful characters among the gamblers there. I didn’t see that, and didn't stick around.
I had a couple of hours to play the slots. Worked myself up from $5 in nickels to $40. Then switched to a quarter machine and cashed out at $85. So I came out ahead even after paying for the room.
I got on the road to Ely about noon. About 30 miles east of Reno, I turned off on highway 50, called “the loneliest road in America.” I love this road. Once you get past Fallon, the traffic thins out. The terrain is pretty much desert, with sagebrush. High elevation, so it’s too cold for cactus, I guess. The road passes through a succession of valleys, with passes through hills to get to the next valley. Later in the drive, from around Eureka, some of the hills are pretty high—there was snow on nearby peaks—and the road is winding going through them.
But mostly, the road is straight and there’s hardly any traffic. At one point I pulled over on a dirt road for a 10-minute stop, and not a single car passed in either direction. I had to pass only three or four cars. Just one passed me, with a California vanity license plate that read SAN JOSE. It was also a woman driving alone. When I stopped in Austin, I saw her stopped there too. She’d driven behind me for at least 30 miles, so I almost felt like I knew her. I considered saying hi, but she was busy talking on her cell phone, and then she got into the car and sped away.
Signs warn that it is open range—I hear that the road is dangerous at night because if a cow wanders onto the road you can’t see it. But I didn’t see any. I did see 6 or 8 horses out in the middle of nowhere. I also saw a man on horseback on a dirt road paralleling the road. He was leading another horse, loaded down with his gear, and both horses were moving at a quick trot. I remembered him later in town, where the signs talked about this being Pony Express territory. He was getting around the same way the cowboys and Indians used to.
Some people find driving through the desert monotonous. Not me. I find it endlessly fascinating. There’s always something to notice. It was greener than usual due to spring rains. Here an arroyo, there a bird flying. The mirages on and alongside the road. Outside Fallon, there was a big tree, and it was filled with…I looked as closely as I could…shoes! Right around there, I heard a sudden noise and looked up to see a small sleek plane rising low over the road, sideways. There’s a military base out there.
I was listening to music as I drove. Incubus singing their song about “whatever tomorrow brings, I’ll be there with open arms,” which talks about the difference between letting your fear steer you and steering yourself. And Jennifer Berezan’s “End of Desire,” about a state of mind where everything’s fine the way it is and there’s nothing else you want.
And…when I took a rest stop in Eureka, I decided to photograph a rustic shed. And the camera wouldn’t work. It’s a good, almost new, digital camera. So as I drove on, I was struggling with feeling upset. And I was thinking about the first song, and how it would it be if I wasn’t fearful. And I brought myself out of being upset, and figured out what I'd do. Right, when I’m not fearful, I get creative, which is great for problem solving. And thinking about the other song, about that spiritual consciousness where everything’s perfect.
And I was going over the mountains, and I was looking at some rocky outcroppings. And I got a feeling of immanence, connection with the earth as a living organism. A taste of transcendence, going beyond myself into the All. Just a small taste. I resolved to take some time to sit in nature and be with the rocks and plants. Kind of a bit of vision quest. In a way, that’s what the trip’s about, though I hadn’t thought of it like that.
In Ely, I stayed at the Hotel Nevada and Gambling Hall. The casino was unimpressive after Reno, and the casino at the Jailhouse Motel across the street was worse, sleepy and not many of the kinds of slots I like. I got my complimentary margarita at the Hotel—it came from what looked like a soft-serve ice-cream machine. Signs pointed to “Live Gambling—Twenty-one and Poker—Downstairs." I walked down, and there were two tables, with one person gambling. Also a couple of coin-operated pool tables, unused. Back upstairs, I quickly lost all my Reno winnings. Easy come, easy go.