OVER THE DESERTS OF NEVADA.Gradually I leave the pine-clad slopes of the Sierras behind, and every revolution of my wheel reveals scenes that constantly remind me that I am in the great "Sage-brush State." How appropriate indeed is the name. Sage-brush is the first thing seen on entering Nevada, almost the only vegetation seen while passing through it, and the last thing seen on leaving it. Clear down to the edge of the rippling waters of the Truckee, on the otherwise barren plain, covering the elevated table-lands, up the hills, even to the mountain-tops-everywhere, everywhere, nothing but sagebrush. In plain view to the right, as I roll on toward Reno, are the mountains on which the world-renowned Comstock lode is situated, and Reno was formerly the point from which this celebrated mining-camp was reached.
Before reaching Reno I meet a lone Washoe Indian; he is riding a diminutive, scraggy-looking mustang. One of his legs is muffled up in a red blanket, and in one hand he carries a rudely-invented crutch. "How will you trade horses?" I banteringly ask as we meet in the road; and I dismount for an interview, to find out what kind of Indians these Washoes are. To my friendly chaff he vouchsafes no reply, but simply sits motionless on his pony, and fixes a regular "Injun stare" on the bicycle. "What's the matter with your leg?" I persist, pointing at the blanket-be-muffled member.
"Heap sick foot" is the reply, given with the characteristic brevity of the savage; and, now that the ice of his aboriginal reserve is broken, he manages to find words enough to ask me for tobacco. I have no tobacco, but the ride through the crisp morning air has been productive of a surplus amount of animal spirits, and I feel like doing something funny; so I volunteer to cure his " sick foot" by sundry dark and mysterious manoeuvres, that I unbiushingly intimate are "heap good medicine." With owlish solemnity my small monkey-wrench is taken from the tool-bag and waved around the " sick foot" a few times, and the operation is completed by squirting a few drops from my oil-can through a hole in the blanket. Before going I give him to understand that, in order to have the "good medicine " operate to his advantage, he will have to soak his copper-colored hide in a bath every morning for a week, flattering myself that, while my mystic manoauvres will do him no harm, the latter prescription will certainly do him good if he acts on it, which, however, is extremely doubtful. Boiling into Reno at 10.30 A.M. the characteristic whiskey- straight hospitality of the Far West at once asserts itself, and one individual with sporting proclivities invites me to stop over a day or two and assist him to "paint Reno red " at his expense. Leaving Reno, my route leads through the famous Truckee meadows - a strip of very good agricultural land, where plenty of money used to be made by raising produce for the Virginia City market." But there's nothing in it any more, since the Comstock's played out," glumly remarks a ranchman, at whose place I get dinner. "I'll take less for my ranch now than I was offered ten years ago," he continues.
The " meadows" gradually contract, and soon after dinner I find myself again following the Truckee down a narrow space between mountains, whose volcanic-looking rocks are destitute of all vegetation save stunted sage- brush. All down here the road is ridable in patches; but many dismounts have to be made, and the walking to be done aggregates at least one-third of the whole distance travelled during the day. Sneakish coyotes prowl about these mountains, from whence they pay neighborly visits to the chicken-roosts of the ranchers in the Truckee meadows near by. Toward night a pair of these animals are observed following behind at the respectful distance of five hundred yards. One need not be apprehensive of danger from these contemptible animals, however; they are simply following behind in a frame of mind similar to that of a hungry school-boy's when gazing longingly into a confectioner's window. Still, night is gathering around, and it begins to look as though I will have to pillow my head on the soft side of a bowlder, and take lodgings on the footsteps of a bald mountain to-night; and it will scarcely invite sleep to know that two pairs of sharp, wolfish eyes are peering wistfully through the darkness at one's prostrate form, and two red tongues are licking about in hungry anticipation of one's blood. Moreover, these animals have an unpleasant habit of congregating after night to pay their compliments to the pale moon, and to hold concerts that would put to shame a whole regiment of Kilkenny cats; though there is but little comparison between the two, save that one howls and the other yowls, and either is equally effective in driving away the drowsy Goddess. I try to draw these two animals within range of my revolver by hiding behind rocks; but they are too chary of their precious carcasses to take any risks, and the moment I disappear from their sight behind a rock they are on the alert, and looking " forty ways at the same time," to make sure that I am not creeping up on them from some other direction. Fate, however, has decreed that I am not to sleep out to-night - not quite out. A lone shanty looms up through the gathering darkness, and I immediately turn my footsteps thitherwise. I find it occupied. I am all right now for the night. Hold on, though! not so fast. "There is many a slip," etc. The little shanty, with a few acres of rather rocky ground, on the bank of the Truckee, is presided over by a lonely bachelor of German extraction, who eyes me with evident suspicion, as, leaning on my bicycle in front of his rude cabin door I ask to be accommodated for the night. Were it a man on horseback, or a man with a team, this hermit-like rancher could satisfy himself to some extent as to the character of his visitor, for he sees men on horseback or men in wagons, on an average, perhaps, once a week during the summer, and can see plenty of them any day by going to Reno. But me and the bicycle he cannot "size up" so readily. He never saw the like of us before, and we are beyond his Teutonic frontier-like comprehension. He gives us up; he fails to solve the puzzle; he knows not how to unravel the mystery; and, with characteristic Teutonic bluntness, he advises us to push on through fifteen miles of rocks, sand, and darkness, to Wadsworth. The prospect of worrying my way, hungry and weary, through fifteen miles of rough, unknown country, after dark, looms up as rather a formidable task. So summoning my reserve stock of persuasive eloquence, backed up by sundry significant movements, such as setting the bicycle up against his cabin-wall, and sitting down on a block of wood under the window, I finally prevail upon him to accommodate me with a blanket on the floor of the shanty. He has just finished supper, and the remnants of the frugal repast are still on the table; but he says nothing about any supper for me: he scarcely feels satisfied with himself yet: he feels that I have, in some mysterious manner, gained an unfair advantage over him, and obtained a foothold in his shanty against his own wish-jumped his claim, so to speak. Not that I think the man really inhospitable at heart; but he has been so habitually alone, away from his fellowmen so much, that the presence of a stranger in his cabin makes him feel uneasy; and when that stranger is accompanied by a queer-looking piece of machinery that cannot stand alone, but which he nevertheless says he rides on, our lonely rancher is perhaps not so much to be wondered at, after all, for his absent-mindedness in regard to my supper. His mind is occupied with other thoughts. "You couldn't accommodate a fellow with a bite to eat, could you." I timidly venture, after devouring what eatables are in sight, over and over again, with my eyes. "I have plenty of money to pay for any accommodation I get," I think it policy to add, by way of cornering him up and giving him as little chance to refuse as possible, for I am decidedly hungry, and if money or diplomacy, or both, will produce supper, I don't propose to go to bed supperless. I am not much surprised to see him bear out my faith in his innate hospitality by apologizing for not thinking of my supper before, and insisting, against my expressed wishes, on lighting the fire and getting me a warm meal of fried ham and coffee, for which I beg leave to withdraw any unfavorable impressions in regard to him which my previous remarks may possibly have made on the reader's mind.
After supper he thaws out a little, and I wheedle out of him a part of his history. He settled on this spot of semi-cultivable land during the flush times on the Comstock, and used to prosper very well by raising vegetables, with the aid of Truckee-River water, and hauling them to the mining-camps; but the palmy days of the Comstock have departed and with them our lonely rancher's prosperity. Mine host has barely blankets enough for his own narrow bunk, and it is really an act of generosity on his part when he takes a blanket off his bed and invites me to extract what comfort I can get out of it for the night. Snowy mountains are round about, and curled up on the floor of the shanty, like a kitten under a stove in mid-winter, I shiver the long hours away, and endeavor to feel thankful that it is no worse.
For a short distance, next morning, the road is ridable, but nearing Wadsworth it gets sandy, and " sandy," in Nevada means deep, loose sand, in which one sinks almost to his ankles at every step, and where the possession of a bicycle fails to awaken that degree of enthusiasm that it does on a smooth, hard road. At Wadsworth I have to bid farewell to the Truckee River, and start across the Forty-mile Desert, which lies between the Truckee and Humboldt Rivers. Standing on a sand-hill and looking eastward across the dreary, desolate waste of sand, rocks, and alkali, it is with positive regret that I think of leaving the cool, sparkling stream that has been my almost constant companion for nearly a hundred miles. It has always been at hand to quench my thirst or furnish a refreshing bath. More than once have I beguiled the tedium of some uninteresting part of the journey by racing with some trifling object hurried along on its rippling surface. I shall miss the murmuring music of its dancing waters as one would miss the conversation of a companion.
This Forty-mile Desert is the place that was so much dreaded by the emigrants en route to the gold-fields of California, there being not a blade of grass nor drop of water for the whole forty miles; nothing but a dreary waste of sand and rocks that reflects the heat of the sun, and renders the desert a veritable furnace in midsummer; and the stock of the emigrants, worn out by the long journey from the States, would succumb by the score in crossing. Though much of the trail is totally unfit for cycling, there are occasional alkali flats that are smooth and hard enough to play croquet on; and this afternoon, while riding with careless ease across one of these places, I am struck with the novelty of the situation. I am in the midst of the dreariest, deadest-looking country imaginable. Whirlwinds of sand, looking at a distance like huge columns of smoke, are wandering erratically over the plains in all directions. The blazing sun casts, with startling vividness on the smooth white alkali, that awful scraggy, straggling shadow that, like a vengeful fate, always accompanies the cycler on a sunny day, and which is the bane of a sensitive wheelman's life. The only representative of animated nature hereabouts is a species of small gray lizard that scuttles over the bare ground with astonishing rapidity. Not even a bird is seen in the air. All living things seem instinctively to avoid this dread spot save the lizard. A desert forty miles wide is not a particularly large one; but when one is in the middle of it, it might as well be as extensive as Sahara itself, for anything he can see to the contrary, and away off to the right I behold as perfect a mirage as one could wish to see. A person can scarce help believing his own eyes, and did one not have some knowledge of these strange and wondrous phenomena, one's orbs of vision would indeed open with astonishment; for seemingly but a few miles away is a beautiful lake, whose shores are fringed with wavy foliage, and whose cool waters seem to lave the burning desert sands at its edge.
A short distance to the right of Hot Springs Station broken clouds of steam are seen rising from the ground, as though huge caldrons of water were being heated there. Going to the spot I find, indeed, " caldrons of boiling water;" but the caldrons are in the depths. At irregular openings in the rocky ground the bubbling water wells to the surface, and the fires-ah! where are the fires. On another part of this desert are curious springs that look demure and innocuous enough most of the time, but occasionally they emit columns of spray and steam. It is related of these springs that once a party of emigrants passed by, and one of the men knelt down to take a drink of the clear, nice-looking water. At the instant he leaned over, the spring spurted a quantity of steam and spray all over him, scaring him nearly out of his wits. The man sprang up, and ran as if for his life, frantically beckoning the wagons to move on, at the same time shouting, at the top of his voice, "Drive on! drive on! hell's no great distance from here!"
>From the Forty-mile Desert my road leads up the valley of the Humboldt River. On the shores of Humboldt Lake are camped a dozen Piute lodges, and I make a half-hour halt to pay them a visit. I shall never know whether I am a welcome visitor or not; they show no signs of pleasure or displeasure as I trundle the bicycle through the sage-brush toward them. Leaning it familiarly up against one of their teepes, I wander among them and pry into their domestic affairs like a health-officer in a New York tenement. I know I have no right to do this without saying, "By your leave," but item-hunters the world over do likewise, so I feel little squeamishness about it. Moreover, when I come back I find the Indians are playing " tit-for-tat" against me. Not only are they curiously examining the bicycle as a whole, but they have opened the toolbag and are examining the tools, handing them around among themselves. I don't think these Piutes are smart or bold enough to steal nowadays; their intercourse with the whites along the railroad has, in a measure, relieved them of those aboriginal traits of character that would incite them to steal a brass button off their pale-faced brother's coat, or screw a nut off his bicycle; but they have learned to beg; the noble Piute of to-day is an incorrigible mendicant. Gathering up my tools from among them, the monkey-wrench seems to have found favor in the eyes of a wrinkled-faced brave, who, it seems, is a chief. He hands the wrench over with a smile that is meant to be captivating, and points at it as I am putting it back into the bag, and grunts, " Ugh. Piute likum. Piute likum!" As I hold it up, and ask him if this is what he means, he again points and repeats, " Piute likum;" and this time two others standing by point at him and also smile and say, " Him big chief; big Piute chief, him;" thinking, no doubt, this latter would be a clincher, and that I would at once recognize in " big Piute chief, him " a vastly superior being and hand him over the wrench. In this, however, they are mistaken, for the wrench I cannot spare; neither can I see any lingering trace of royalty about him, no kingliness of mien, or extra cleanliness; nor is there anything winning about his smile - nor any of their smiles for that matter. The Piute smile seems to me to be simply a cold, passionless expansion of the vast horizontal slit that reaches almost from one ear to the other, and separates the upper and lower sections of their expressionless faces. Even the smiles of the squaws are of the same unlovely pattern, though they seem to be perfectly oblivious of any ugliness whatever, and whenever a pale-faced visitor appears near their teepe they straightway present him with one of those repulsive, unwinning smiles. Sunday, May 4th, finds me anchored for the day at the village of Lovelocks, on the Humboldt River, where I spend quite a remarkable day. Never before did such a strangely assorted crowd gather to see the first bicycle ride they ever saw, as the crowd that gathers behind the station at Lovelocks to-day to see me. There are perhaps one hundred and fifty people, of whom a hundred are Piute and Shoshone Indians, and the remainder a mingled company of whites and Chinese railroaders; and among them all it is difficult to say who are the most taken with the novelty of the exhibition - the red, the yellow, or the white. Later in the evening I accept the invitation of a Piute brave to come out to their camp, behind the village, and witness rival teams of Shoshone and Piute squaws play a match-game of " Fi-re-fla," the national game of both the Shoshone and Piute tribes. The principle of the game is similar to polo. The squaws are armed with long sticks, with which they endeavor to carry a shorter one to the goal. It is a picturesque and novel sight to see the squaws, dressed in costumes in which the garb of savagery and civilization is strangely mingled and the many colors of the rainbow are promiscuously blended, flitting about the field with the agility of a team of professional polo-players; while the bucks and old squaws, with their pappooses, sit around and watch the game with unmistakable enthusiasm. The Shoshone team wins and looks pleased. Here, at Lovelocks, I fall in with one of those strange and seemingly incongruous characters that are occasionally met with in the West. He is conversing with a small gathering of Piutes in their own tongue, and I introduce myself by asking him the probable age of one of the Indians, whose wrinkled and leathery countenance would indicate unusual longevity. He tells me the Indian is probably ninety years old; but the Indians themselves never know their age, as they count everything by the changes of the moon and the seasons, having no knowledge whatever of the calendar year. While talking on this subject, imagine my surprise to hear my informant - who looks as if the Scriptures are the last thing in the world for him to speak of - volunteer the information that our venerable and venerated ancestors, the antediluvians, used to count time in the same way as the Indians, and that instead of Methuselah being nine hundred and sixty-nine years of age, it ought to be revised so as to read " nine hundred and sixty-nine moons," which would bring that ancient and long-lived person-the oldest man that ever lived-down to the venerable but by no means extraordinary age of eighty years and nine months. This is the first time I have heard this theory, and my astonishment at hearing it from the lips of a rough-looking habitue of the Nevada plains, seated in the midst of a group of illiterate Indians, can easily be imagined. On, up the Humboldt valley I continue, now riding over a smooth, alkali flat, and again slavishly trundling through deep sand, a dozen snowy mountain peaks round about, the Humboldt sluggishly winding its way through the alkali plain; on past Eye Patch, to the right of which are more hot springs, and farther on mines of pure sulphur-all these things, especially the latter, unpleasantly suggestive of a certain place where the climate is popularly supposed to be uncomfortably warm; on, past Humboldt
Station, near which place I wantonly shoot a poor harmless badger, who peers inquisitively out of his hole as I ride past. There is something peculiarly pathetic about the actions of a dying badger, and no sooner has the thoughtless shot sped on its mission of death than I am sorry for doing it.
Going out of Mill City next morning I lose the way, and find myself up near a small mining camp among the mountains south of the railroad. Thinking to regain the road quickly by going across country through the sage-brush, I get into a place where that enterprising shrub is go thick and high that I have to hold the bicycle up overhead to get through.
At three o'clock in the afternoon I come to a railroad section-house. At the Chinese bunk-house I find a lone Celestial who, for some reason, is staying at home. Having had nothing to eat or drink since six o'clock this morning, I present the Chinaman with a smile that is intended to win his heathen heart over to any gastronomic scheme I may propose; but smiles are thrown away on John Chinaman.
" John, can you fix me up something to eat. " " No; Chinaman no savvy whi' man eatee; bossee ow on thlack. Chinaman eatee nothing bu' licee [rice]; no licee cookee." This sounds pretty conclusive; nevertheless I don't intend to be thus put off so easily. There is nothing particularly beautiful about a silver half-dollar, but in the almond-shaped eyes of the Chinaman scenes of paradisiacal loveliness are nothing compared to the dull surface of a twenty-year-old fifty-cent piece; and the jingle of the silver coins contains more melody for Chin Chin's unromantic ear than a whole musical festival.
" John, I'll give you a couple of two-bit pieces if you'll get me a bite of something," I persist. John's small, black eyes twinkle at the suggestion of two-bit pieces, and his expressive countenance assumes a commerical air as, with a ludicrous change of front, he replies:
" Wha'. You gib me flore bittee, me gib you bitee eatee. " "That's what I said, John; and please be as lively as possible about it."
" All li; you gib me flore bittee me fly you Melican plan-cae." " Yes, pancakes will do. Go ahead!"
Visions of pancakes and molasses flit before my hunger-distorted vision as I sit outside until he gets them ready. In ten minutes John calls me in. On a tin plate, that looks as if it has just been rescued from a barrel of soap-grease, reposes a shapeless mass of substance resembling putty-it is the " Melican plan-cae; " and the Celestial triumphantly sets an empty box in front of it for me to sit on and extends his greasy palm for the stipulated price. May the reader never be ravenously hungry and have to choose between a " Melican plan-cae " and nothing. It is simply a chunk of tenacious dough, made of flour and water only, and soaked for a few minutes in warm grease. I call for molasses; he doesn't know what it is. I inquire for syrup, thinking he may recognize my want by that name. He brings a jar of thin Chinese catsup, that tastes something like Limburger cheese smells. I immediately beg of him to take it where its presumably benign influence will fail to reach me. He produces some excellent cold tea, however, by the aid of which I manage to "bolt" a portion of the "plan-cae." One doesn't look for a very elegant spread for fifty cents in the Sage-brush State; but this "Melican plan-cae" is the worst fifty-cent meal I ever heard of.
To-night I stay in Winnemucca, the county seat of Humboldt County, and quite a lively little town of 1,200 inhabitants. "What'll yer have." is the first word on entering the hotel, and "Won't yer take a bottle of whiskey along." is the last word on leaving it next morning. There are Piutes and Piutes camped at Winnemucca, and in the morning I meet a young brave on horseback a short distance out of town and let him try his hand with the bicycle. I wheel him along a few yards and let him dismount; and then I show him how to mount and invite him to try it himself. He gallantly makes the attempt, but springs forward with too much energy, and over he topples, with the bicycle cavorting around on top of him. This satisfies his aboriginal curiosity, and he smiles and shakes his head when I offer to swap the bicycle for his mustang. The road is heavy with sand all along by Winnemucca, and but little riding is to be done. The river runs through green meadows of rich bottom-land hereabouts; but the meadows soon disappear as I travel eastward. Twenty miles east of Winnemucca the river arid railroad pass through the ca¤on in a low range of mountains, while my route lies over the summit. It is a steep trundle up the fountains, but from the summit a broad view of the surrounding country is obtained. The Humboldt River is not a beautiful stream, and for the greater part of its length it meanders through alternate stretches of dreary sage-brush plain and low sand-hills, at long intervals passing through a ca¤on in some barren mountain chain. But "distance lends enchantment to the view," and from the summit of the mountain pass even the Humboldt looks beautiful. The sun shines on its waters, giving it a sheen, and for many a mile its glistening surface can be seen - winding its serpentine course through the broad, gray-looking sage and grease-wood plains, while at occasional intervals narrow patches of green, in striking contrast to the surrounding gray, show where the hardy mountain grasses venturously endeavor to invade the domains of the autocratic sagebrush. What is that queer-looking little reptile, half lizard, half frog, that scuttles about among the rocks. It is different from anything I have yet seen. Around the back of its neck and along its sides, and, in a less prominent degree, all over its yellowishgray body, are small, horn-like protuberances that give the little fellow a very peculiar appearance. Ah, I know who he is. I have heard of him, and have seen his picture in books. I am happy to make his acquaintance. He is "Prickey," the famed horned toad of Nevada. On this mountain spur, between the Golconda miningcamp and Iron Point, is the only place I have seen him on the tour. He is a very interesting little creature, more lizard than frog, perfectly harmless; and his little bead-like eyes are bright and fascinating as the eyes of a rattlesnake.
Alkali flats abound, and some splendid riding is to be obtained east of Iron Point. Just before darkness closes down over the surrounding area of plain and mountain I reach Stone-House section-house.
" Yes, I guess we can get you a bite of something; but it will be cold," is the answer vouchsafed in reply to my query about supper. Being more concerned these days about the quantity of provisions I can command than the quality, the prospect of a cold supper arouses no ungrateful emotions. I would rather have a four-pound loaf and a shoulder of mutton for supper now than a smaller quantity of extra choice viands; and I manage to satisfy the cravings of my inner man before leaving the table. But what about a place to sleep. For some inexplicable reason these people refuse to grant me even the shelter of their roof for the night. They are not keeping hotel, they say, which is quite true; they have a right to refuse, even if it is twenty miles to the next place; and they do refuse. "There's the empty Chinese bunk-house over there. You can crawl in there, if you arn't afeerd of ghosts," is the parting remark, as the door closes and leaves me standing, like an outcast, on the dark, barren plain.
A week ago this bunk-house was occupied by a gang of Chinese railroaders, who got to quarrelling among themselves, and the quarrel wound up in quite a tragic poisoning affair, that resulted in the death of two, and nearly killed a third. The Chinese are nothing, if not superstitious, and since this affair no Chinaman would sleep in the bunk-house or work on this section; consequently the building remains empty. The "spooks" of murdered Chinese are everything but agreeable company; nevertheless they are preferable to inhospitable whites, and I walk over to the house and stretch my weary frame in - for aught I know - the same bunk in which, but a few days ago, reposed the ghastly corpses of the poisoned Celestials. Despite the unsavory memories clinging around the place, and my pillowless and blanketless couch, I am soon in the land of dreams. It is scarcely presumable that one would be blessed with rosy-hued visions of pleasure under such conditions, however, and near midnight I awake in a cold shiver. The snowy mountains rear their white heads up in the silent night, grim and ghostly all around, and make the midnight air chilly, even in midsummer. I lie there, trying in vain to doze off again, for it grows perceptibly cooler. At two o'clock I can stand it no longer, and so get up and strike out for Battle Mountain, twenty miles ahead.
The moon has risen; it is two-thirds full, and a more beautiful sight than the one that now greets my exit from the bunk-house it is scarcely possible to conceive. Only those who have been in this inter-mountain country can have any idea of a glorious moonlight night in the clear atmosphere of this dry, elevated region. It is almost as light as day, and one can see to ride quite well wherever the road is ridable. The pale moon seems to fill the whole broad valley with a flood of soft, silvery light; the peaks of many snowy mountains loom up white and spectral; the stilly air is broken by the excited yelping of a pack of coyotes noisily baying the pale-yellow author of all this loveliness, and the wild, unearthly scream of an unknown bird or animal coming from some mysterious, undefinable quarter completes an ideal Western picture, a poem, a dream, that fully compensates for the discomforts of the preceding hour. The inspiration of this beautiful scene awakes the slumbering poesy within, and I am inspired to compose a poem-"Moonlight in the Rockies"-that I expect some day to see the world go into raptures over!
A few miles from the Chinese shanty I pass a party of Indians camped by the side of my road. They are squatting around the smouldering embers of a sage-brush fire, sleeping and dozing. I am riding slowly and carefully along the road that happens to be ridable just here, and am fairly past them before being seen. As I gradually vanish in the moonlit air I wonder what they think it was - that strange-looking object that so silently and mysteriously glided past. It is safe to warrant they think me anything but flesh and blood, as they rouse each other and peer at my shadowy form disappearing in the dim distance.
>From Battle Mountain my route leads across a low alkali bottom, through which dozens of small streams are flowing to the Humboldt. Many of them are narrow enough to be jumped, but not with a bicycle on one's shoulder, for under such conditions there is always a disagreeable uncertainty that one may disastrously alight before he gets ready. But I am getting tired of partially undressing to ford streams that are little more than ditches, every little way, and so I hit upon the novel plan of using the machine for a vaulting-pole. Beaching it out into the centre of the stream, I place one hand on the head and the other on the saddle, and vault over, retaining my hold as I alight on the opposite shore. Pulling the bicycle out after me, the thing is done. There is no telling to what uses this two-wheeled "creature" could be put in case of necessity. Certainly the inventor never expected it to be used for a vaulting-pole in leaping across streams. Twenty-five miles east of Battle Mountain the valley of the Humboldt widens into a plain of some size, through which the river meanders with many a horseshoe curve, and maps out the pot-hooks and hangers of our childhood days in mazy profusion. Amid these innumerable curves and counter-curves, clumps of willows and tall blue-joint reeds grow thickly, and afford shelter to thousands of pelicans, that here make their homes far from the disturbing presence of man. All unconscious of impending difficulties, I follow the wagon trail leading through this valley until I find myself standing on the edge of the river, ruefully looking around for some avenue by which I can proceed on my way. I am in the bend of a horseshoe curve, and the only way to get out is to retrace my footsteps for several miles, which disagreeable performance I naturally feel somewhat opposed to doing. Casting about me I discover a couple of old fence-posts that have floated down from the Be-o-wa-we settlement above and lodged against the bank. I determine to try and utilize them in getting the machine across the river, which is not over thirty yards wide at this point. Swimming across with my clothes first, I tie the bicycle to the fence-posts, which barely keep it from sinking, and manage to navigate it successfully across. The village of Be-o-wa-we is full of cowboys, who are preparing for the annual spring round-up. Whites, Indians, and Mexicans compose the motley crowd. They look a wild lot, with their bear-skin chaparejos and semi-civilized trappings, galloping to and fro in and about the village. "I can't spare the time, or I would," is my slightly un-truthful answer to an invitation to stop over for the day and have some fun. Briefly told, this latter, with the cowboy, consists in getting hilariously drunk, and then turning his "pop" loose at anything that happens to strike his whiskey-bedevilled fancy as presenting a fitting target. Now a bicycle, above all things, would intrude itself upon the notice of a cowboy on a " tear" as a peculiar and conspicuous object, especially if it had a man on it; so after taking a "smile" with them for good-fellowship, and showing them the modus operandi of riding the wheel, I consider it wise to push on up the valley.
Three miles from Be-o-wa-we is seen the celebrated "Maiden's Grave," on a low hill or bluff by the road-side; and "thereby hangs a tale." In early days, a party of emigrants were camped near by at Gravelly Ford, waiting for the waters to subside, so that they could cross the liver, when a young woman of the party sickened and died. A rudely carved head- board was set up to mark the spot where she was buried. Years afterward, when the railroad was being built through here, the men discovered this rude head-board all alone on the bleak hill-top, and were moved by worthy sentiment to build a rough stone wall around it to keep off the ghoulish coyotes; and, later on, the superintendent of the division erected a large white cross, which now stands in plain view of the railroad. On one side of the cross is written the simple inscription, "Maiden's Grave;" on the other, her name, "Lucinda Duncan" Leaving the bicycle by the road-side, I climb the steep bluff and examine the spot with some curiosity. There are now twelve other graves beside the original "Maiden's Grave," for the people of Be-o-wa-we and the surrounding country have selected this romantic spot on which to inter the remains of their departed friends. This afternoon I follow the river through Humboldt Ca¤on in preference to taking a long circuitous route over the mountains. The first noticeable things about this ca¤on are the peculiar water-marks plainly visible on the walls, high up above where the water could possibly rise while its present channels of escape exist unobstructed. It is thought that the country east of the spur of the Red Range, which stretches clear across the valley at Be-o-wa-we, and through which the Humboldt seems to have cut its way, was formerly a lake, and that the water gradually wore a passage-way for itself through the massive barrier, leaving only the high-water marks on the mountain sides to tell of the mighty change. In this ca¤on the rocky walls tower like gigantic battlements, grim and gloomy on either side, and the seething, boiling waters of the Humboldt - that for once awakens from its characteristic lethargy, and madly plunges and splutters over a bed of jagged rocks which seem to have been tossed into its channel by some Herculean hand - fill this mighty "rift" in the mountains with a never-ending roar. It has been threatening rain for the last two hours, and now the first peal of thunder I have heard on the whole journey awakens the echoing voices of the ca¤on and rolls and rumbles along the great jagged fissure like an angry monster muttering his mighty wrath. Peal after peal follow each other in quick succession, the vigorous, newborn echoes of one peal seeming angrily to chase the receding voices of its predecessor from cliff to cliff, and from recess to projection, along its rocky, erratic course up the ca¤on. Vivid flashes of forked lightning shoot athwart the heavy black cloud that seems to rest on either wall, roofing the ca¤on with a ceiling of awful grandeur. Sheets of electric flame light up the dark, shadowy recesses of the towering rocks as they play along the ridges and hover on the mountain-tops; while large drops of rain begin to patter down, gradually increasing with the growing fury of their battling allies above, until a heavy, drenching downpour of rain and hail compels me to take shelter under an overhanging rock. At 4 P.M. I reach Palisade, a railroad village situated in the most romantic spot imaginable, under the shadows of the towering palisades that hover above with a sheltering care, as if their special mission were to protect it from all harm. Evidently these mountains have been rent in twain by an earthquake, and this great gloomy chasm left open, for one can plainly see that the two walls represent two halves of what was once a solid mountain. Curious caves are observed in the face of the cliffs, and one, more conspicuous than the rest, has been christened "Maggie's Bower," in honor of a beautiful Scottish maiden who with her parents once lingered in a neighboring creek-bottom for some time, recruiting their stock. But all is not romance and beauty even in the glorious palisades of the Humboldt; for great, glaring, patent-medicine advertisements are painted on the most conspicuously beautiful spots of the palisades. Business enterprise is of course to be commended and encouraged; but it is really annoying that one cannot let his esthetic soul - that is constantly yearning for the sublime and beautiful - rest in gladsome reflection on some beautiful object without at the same time being reminded of " corns," and " biliousness," and all the multifarious evils that flesh is heir to.
It grows pitchy dark ere I leave the ca¤on on my way to Carlin. Farther on, the gorge widens, and thick underbrush intervenes between the road and the river. From out the brush I see peering two little round phosphorescent balls, like two miniature moons, turned in my direction. I wonder what kind of an animal it is, as I trundle along through the darkness, revolver in hand, ready to defend myself, should it make an attack. I think it is a mountain-lion, as they seem to be plentiful in this part of Nevada, Late as it is when I reach Carlin, the "boys" must see how a bicycle is ridden, and, as there is no other place suitable, I manage to circle around the pool-table in the hotel bar-room a few times, nearly scalping myself against the bronze chandelier in the operation. I hasten, however, to explain that these proceedings took place immediately after my arrival, lest some worldly wise, over-sagacious person should be led to suspect them to be the riotous undertakings of one who had "smiled with the boys once too often." Little riding is possible all through this section of Nevada, and, in order to complete the forty miles a day that I have rigorously imposed upon myself, I sometimes get up and pull out at daylight. It is scarce more than sunrise when, following the railroad through Five-mile Canon - another rift through one of the many mountain chains that cross this part of Nevada in all directions under the general name of the Humboldt Mountains-I meet with a startling adventure. I am trundling through the ca¤on alongside the river, when, rounding the sharp curve of a projecting mountain, a tawny mountain lion is perceived trotting leisurely along ahead of me, not over a hundred yards in advance. He hasn't seen me yet; he is perfectly oblivious of the fact that he is in "the presence." A person of ordinary discretion would simply have revealed his presence by a gentlemanly sneeze, or a slight noise of any kind, when the lion would have immediately bolted back into the underbrush. Unable to resist the temptation, I fired at him, and of course missed him, as a person naturally would at a hundred yards with a bull-dog revolver. The bullet must have singed him a little though, for, instead of wildly scooting for the brush, as I anticipated, he turns savagely round and comes bounding rapidly toward me, and at twenty paces crouches for a spring. Laying his cat-like head almost on the ground, his round eyes flashing fire, and his tail angrily waving to and fro, he looks savage and dangerous. Crouching behind the bicycle, I fire at him again. Nine times out of ten a person will overshoot the mark with a revolver under such circumstances, and, being anxious to avoid this, I do the reverse, and fire too low. The ball strikes the ground just in front of his head, and throws the sand and gravel in his face, and perhaps in his wicked round eyes; for he shakes his head, springs up, and makes off into the brush. I shall shed blood of some sort yet before I leave Nevada. There isn't a day that I don't shoot at something or other; and all I ask of any animal is to come within two hundred yards and I will squander a cartridge on him, and I never fail to hit the ground.
At Elko, where I take dinner, I make the acquaintance of an individual, rejoicing in the sobriquet of "Alkali Bill," who has the largest and most comprehensive views of any person I ever met. He has seen a paragraph, something about me riding round the world, and he considerately takes upon himself the task of summing up the few trifling obstacles that I shall encounter on the way round:
"There is only a small rise at Sherman," he rises to explain, " and another still smaller at the Alleghanies; all the balance is downhill to the Atlantic. Of course you'll have to 'boat it' across the Frogpond; then there's Europe - mostly level; so is Asia, except the Himalayas - and you can soon cross them; then you're all 'hunky,' for there's no mountains to speak of in China." Evidently Alkali Bill is a person who points the finger of scorn at small ideas, and leaves the bothersome details of life to other and smaller-minded folks. In his vast and glorious imagery he sees a centaur-like cycler skimming like a frigate-bird across states and continents, scornfully ignoring sandy deserts and bridgeless streams, halting for nothing but oceans, and only slowing up a little when he runs up against a peak that bobs up its twenty thousand feet of snowy grandeur serenely in his path. What a Ceasar is lost to this benighted world, because in its blindness, it will not search out such men as Alkali and ask them to lead it onward to deeds of inconceivable greatness. Alkali Bill can whittle more chips in an hour than some men could in a week. Much of the Humboldt Valley, through which my road now runs, is at present flooded from the vast quantities of water that are pouring into it from the Ruby Range of mountains now visible to the southeast, and which have the appearance of being the snowiest of any since leaving the Sierras. Only yesterday I threatened to shed blood before I left Nevada, and sure enough my prophecy is destined to speedy fulfilment. Just east of the Osino Ca¤on, and where the North Fork of the Humboldt comes down from the north and joins the main stream, is a stretch of swampy ground on which swarms of wild ducks and geese are paddling about. I blaze away at them, and a poor inoffensive gosling is no more. While writing my notes this evening, in a room adjoining the "bar" at Halleck, near the United States fort of the same name, I overhear a boozy soldier modestly informing his comrades that forty-five miles an hour is no unusual speed to travel with a bicycle. Gradually I am nearing the source of the Humboldt, and at the town of Wells I bid it farewell for good. Wells is named from a group of curious springs near the town. They are supposed to be extinct volcanoes, now filled with water; and report says that no sounding-line has yet been found long enough to fathom the bottom. Some day when some poor, unsuspecting tenderfoot is peering inquisitively down one of these well-like springs, the volcano may suddenly come into play again and convert the water into steam that will shoot him clear up into the moon. These volcanoes may have been soaking in water for millions of years; but they are not to be trusted on that account; they can be depended upon to fill some citizen full of lively surprise one of these days. Everything here is surprising. You look across the desert and see flowing water and waving trees; but when you get there, with your tongue hanging out and your fate wellnigh sealed, you are surprised to find nothing but sand and rocks. You climb a mountain expecting to find trees and birds' eggs, and you are surprised to find high-water marks and sea-shells. Finally, you look in the looking-glass and are surprised to find that the wind and exposure have transformed your nice blonde complexion to a semi-sable hue that would prevent your own mother from recognizing you.
The next day, when nearing the entrance to Moutella Pass, over the Goose Creek Range, I happen to look across the mingled sagebrush and juniper-spruce brush to the right, and a sight greets my eyes that causes me to instinctively look around for a tall tree, though well knowing that there is nothing of the kind for miles; neither is there any ridable road near, or I might try my hand at breaking the record for a few miles. Standing bolt upright on their hind legs, by the side of a clump of juniper-spruce bushes and intently watching my movements, are a pair of full-grown cinnamon bears. When a bear sees a man before the man happens to descry him, and fails to betake himself off immediately, it signifies that he is either spoiling for a fight or doesn't care a continental password whether war is declared or not. Moreover, animals recognize the peculiar advantages of two to one in a fight equally with their human infer! - superiors; and those two over there are apparently in no particular hurry to move on. They don't seem awed at my presence. On the contrary, they look suspiciously like being undecided and hesitative about whether to let me proceed peacefully on my way or not. Their behavior is outrageous; they stare and stare and stare, and look quite ready for a fight. I don't intend one to come off, though, if I can avoid it. I prefer to have it settled by arbitration. I haven't lost these bears; they aren't mine, and I don't want anything that doesn't belong to me. I am not covetous; so, lest I should be tempted to shoot at them if I come within the regulation two hundred yards, I "edge off" a few hundred yards in the other direction, and soon have the intense satisfaction of seeing them stroll off toward the mountains. I wonder if I don't owe my escape on this occasion to my bicycle. Do the bright spokes glistening in the sunlight as they revolve make an impression on their bearish intellects that influences their decision in favor of a retreat. It is perhaps needless to add that, all through this mountain-pass, I keep a loose eye busily employed looking out for bears.
But nothing more of a bearish nature occurs, and the early gloaming finds me at Tacoma, a village near the Utah boundary line. There is an awful calamity of some sort hovering over this village. One can feel it in the air. The habitues of the hotel barroom sit around, listless and glum. When they speak at all it is to predict all sorts of difficulties for me in my progress through Utah and Wyoming Territories. "The black gnats of the Salt Lake mud flat'll eat you clean up," snarls one. "Bear River's flooding the hull kintry up Weber Ca¤on way," growls another. "The slickest thing you kin do, stranger, is to board the keers and git out of this," says a third, in a tone of voice and with an emphasis that plainly indicates his great disgust at "this." By " this" he means the village of Tacoma; and he is disgusted with it. They are all disgusted with it and with the whole world this evening, because Tacoma is "out of whiskey." Yes, the village is destitute of whiskey; it should have arrived yesterday, and hasn't shown up yet; and the effect on the society of the bar-room is so depressing that I soon retire to my couch, to dream of Utah's strange intermingling of forbidding deserts and beautiful orchards through which my route now leads me.
Text, code and images © Ray Schumacher 2005