When we last checked in with Woon Chi, he was lounging poolside at Keough’s Hot Springs south of Bishop, California. With an afternoon temperature around 100 degrees, the southern trajectory of his road trip ended there. Continuing on to Death Valley would have been living up to its name. As the bartender at Rusty’s confirmed for Woon Chi, “No, no Death Valley. You’ll die in that helmet.”
Woon Chi enjoyed Bishop, as most everyone does with its abundance of old town character. He noted, “This town is full of spring breakers!”
Before leaving Bishop, he stopped at legendary Schat’s Bakery — not to be missed if you’re in the area.
On a map, Highway 395 looks featureless — just a highway between Bishop and Carson City. Yet there’s actually a lot to see and, as you’re driving north, the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range looms large on your left for mile after mile.
Just out of Bishop, Woon Chi stopped at Laws Railroad Museum and snapped two photos. Once again, “Same same but different.”
After the railroad museum he motored on to Mono Lake. Although it looks like any other lake from the shore, Mono Lake is actually one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. The lake is saline — three times as salty as the ocean — and its brine shrimp population attracts more than two million migratory birds every year. The lake is between one and three million years old but in 1941 Mono Lake’s freshwater sources were diverted, wreaking havoc on the lake and ecosystem almost to the point of collapse. Through aggressive conservation efforts during the past 30+ years, the lake is in the process of a partial recovery — a journey that will take several decades or more.
Woon Chi’s journey continued up Highway 395 where he took a right turn toward Bodie. The paved road turned to dirt, leading him to the tattered edge of a town lost in time. Cue Ennio Morricone’s theme song to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and imagine Woon Chi stepping off his Kawasaki w650 into his own version of a
Spaghetti Kway Teow Western.
Bodie is a real-life Wild West gold rush ghost town … bustling with the activity of more than 5,000 people in the 1880s, then slowly abandoned as miners moved on to more lucrative locations in the western U.S. In the 1920 Federal Census, Bodie’s population was only 120 people. By 1943, just a few people remained.
Woon Chi noted, “Everything stood still in time. So crazy. Especially when you peek in the houses.”
Back on the road out of Bodie, Woon Chi blazed a trail through the mountains up to Lake Tahoe.
He arrived at Stateline (the border between California and Nevada runs right through the lake) where a guy admired his bike and offered to buy him a beer. Awesome! He was shocked when that same guy took the stage at Open Mic Night! But locals would not be so shocked — Lake Tahoe survives on seasonal recreation so people often have to do a lot of different things to make a living year-round. Your realtor is the guy who plows your driveway is the guy who coaches your kid’s ski team is the guy who sings in a band and plays at Open Mic Night. That’s how Tahoe rolls.
Woon Chi headed to Meek’s Bay where his campsite was waiting, just a few steps from (what I think is) Lake Tahoe’s best beach. Woon Chi’s verdict? “Super cool n’ chill.”
He met a bunch of cool people at the campground, avoided contact with Tahoe’s notorious bears and summarized his experience by saying, “Tahoe is small enough to be clean and quiet, big enough for things to happen, perfect size.” He added, “I wanna come back n’ chill in Tahoe proper next time.”
He left the lake on Highway 89, with one small detour to see Truckee before heading east toward Salt Lake City. Truckee is where I lived before moving abroad to Singapore.
East on the highway and out of the mountains, Woon Chi drove toward the vast expanse of Nevada’s Great Basin. Fighting the crosswinds on the road, he made it to Battle Mountain — a place so terribly scenic he couldn’t be bothered to pitch his tent.
The blazing sunset that evening made up for the trashy inferno he saw on the road, and another day wrapped on his road trip around the western U.S.
In the morning he set out for Salt Lake City but rain forced him to stop in the unremarkable town of Wendover, Utah (which is remarkable for being the site of the hangar for the Enola Gay).
The highlight of this day came not in sunrise or sunset, scenic byway nor stunning landscape. The highlight for Woon Chi was American people.
“Bikers here are amazing man, there’s a solidarity amongst them. I stopped at a bridge earlier just to take shelter, a few of them stopped to ask if I’m okay.”
And when he checked in at the Bonneville Inn, the receptionist gave him a discount on the room rate because he drove all the way from Canada.
On a bike in the middle of nowhere, I think Woon Chi’s found the heart of America.
Missed part of the road trip? You can catch up with Woon Chi here: