Friday, July 22, 2011

XP Conclusion - On the Pony Express Trail - July 18 - Virginia City and Placerville California


July 18 2011 – XP Conclusion – Virginia City Nevada and Placerville California – We awoke early and I readied the horses for one last walk on the Pony Express trail.  Both Frank and Whiskey traveled the trail and both horses deserved a walk down the main street of Virginia City.  Yesterday was Frank's day so today I saddled Whiskey and ponied Frank.  We began our walk out of camp and up to the main streets of Virginia City.  It was early on a Monday morning.

When traveling with horses, you need a veterinary health certificate and the health certificate requires the street address of a destination.  For my destination, I used the address of a famous landmark in Virginia City, the Delta Saloon, 18 C Street, so that is where we walked.  Frank and Whiskey were seasoned travelers and were little concerned with the early morning traffic of the streets of Virginia City.

After the tour, we gathered with the others for breakfast and conclusion to the trip.  Dave Nicholson, the trip leader talked about the personal nature of the journey and our personal goals.  Dave recognized that many of us achieved our personal goals although many of us had to modify our goals when the magnitude of the trek became apparent.  Like the pioneers, we relied on each other, we compromised, and we improvised.  Some decided that the trip was too much and left while the others pushed on westward.  We recognized Karen Chaton and her horse Granite Chief for their amazing accomplishment.  Karen was the only one to ride every mile of the trail, and Granite Chief is Karen's main horse.  Karen used a combination of excellent horse care, experience, a dedicated crew, two very fine horses, and a measure of luck in crossing the west.  For myself, I realized my goal of riding every day, getting my crew, both horses, my dog, and myself safely to Virginia City with the ability to go on if necessary, and riding over one thousand miles of trail.  The two horses had each gone over six hundred miles of trail.  Those are the tangible goals.  The intangible goals were to see the US like very few others, relive a period of history in a personal way, meet interesting people, and experience magic along the way.  The tangible goals are quantified but the intangible goals will change my life.

The very ending of the breakfast was special.  Dave half joked noted that these trips often end in a divorce due to the hardships.  In fact, I heard rumors that the sheriff did arrive in camp in one town with divorce papers for someone on the 2011 XP, but I do not know if the story is true.  One couple, Gary and Janus, decided to get married at the end of the trail and Dave performed the ceremony with all of the XP riders serving as witnesses.  Gary and Janus decided that if they can survive 2,000 miles of trail, they have the fortitude to face a normal life together.  The ceremony was short and a fitting conclusion to the 2011 XP.

For us, the journey wasn't over.  Like the Pony Express horses 150 years ago, Frank and Whiskey started from the bank of the Missouri River back in Elwood Kansas and we wanted them to go to the western terminus of the trail.  Like the Pony Express riders 150 years ago, we started from the Patee House in St Joseph and we wanted to go to the western terminus too.  We loaded the van and set off for Sacramento California.

The Pony Express trail from Western Nevada to Sacramento has been completely replaced by Highway 50 and Highway 50 is very busy.  There would be no ponies and there would be no riding.  The highway goes over two major summits and we headed west in the van, overloaded with the two horses.  The summits were difficult and we crawled up the grades in first gear for some of the miles.  The traffic was unlike anything that we had seen on the dirt roads and back roads of America.  By the west side of Echo Summit, we were anxious, we were weary, and we were stressed.  After the long descent, we decided to exit at Placerville, look for the Pony Express Station, and decide what to do from there.

We exited Highway 50 in Placerville, wound our way through the narrow streets of the town in the traffic, and I looked for the XP station marker, but there was nothing that I could see along the main street.  We were tired and stressed and I saw a parking lot next to a fire station where we could stop and rest the horses.  We parked, watered the horses, and I walked to the fire station to ask directions to the Pony Express marker, but no one knew where to find the marker so I walked back out to the trailer.

We were resting with the horses discussing what to do when the captain came out to talk with us.  We chatted and he pointed to a monument, just a few feet behind the trailer.  By the winds of fate, we had arrived at the exact site of the Placerville Pony Express Station.  One hundred and fifty years ago, in early July 1861, the western terminus of the pony Express was moved to Placerville when the telegraph line reached the town.  Had we ridden the trail 150 years ago, Placerville would have been our destination and the end of the trail.

For us, the 2011 XP was over.  We, and the two horses, Frank and Whiskey, had traveled from the western bank of the Missouri River to California. As the mountain man said to Cindy in Wyoming, "Tom is a man of good medicine" and it was good medicine that helped us on our journey all the way across the Western US and it was the same good medicine that directed us to this very spot in the old town of Placerville.  It then that I felt the emotion of the trip and I knew that traveling the Pony Express across the Western US was like nothing I had ever done before.

Best Regards,

Tom N

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On the Pony Express Trail - July 17 2011


July 17 2011, Forth Churchill to Virginia City Nevada – After forty days on the trail, this was the conclusion.  Two months ago we left from the banks of the Missouri River and today we would ride into Virginia City, if all went well.  To make the AERC fifty-mile distance, the full-distance riders would go back on the trail about ten miles, return to camp, and then ride the thirty or so miles into Virginia City.  I chose to ride the thirty miles into Virginia City and I headed up the Carson River alone.

We rode through Misfit Flats, the stage set for the last Cary Grant film.  At the north end of Misfit Flat, I briefly glimpsed a dark horse approaching and I thought, "Another rider has caught me."  But no, it was a lone mustang stallion – one of the misfits.  The stallion ran on past and gathered a herd of about a dozen mustangs and they left into the sagebrush.  Soon they returned and the juvenile stallions were very curious.  I tried to shoe them away but they were persistent and I became concerned how a lone domestic horse might fare in a gang of young stallion misfits.  They were so close that I could see the pupils in their eyes.  They would retreat and then approach, each time getting a little closer.  I took my gate strap out of my pack a waved it like a ribbon and the young horses backed away.

The trail paralleled Highway 50 and then skirted the town of Dayton and the trail was very rocky.  Frank and I were alone and I was having difficulty with so much development after so many days on the Pony Express trail.  Somewhere on the east side we were trotting along and Frank stumbled and went completely down.  I came off the right side and landed hard amongst his stumbling feet.  I hit my head and Frank's feet banged me too.  It was a good day to be wearing a helmet.  All motion stopped in a cloud of dust and I took inventory.  My right elbow was hurt and my left hand was bleeding.  I wrapped my hand, walked for a bit, and then got back on and continued up the trail.  I hurt but no one was around so there was nothing to do but go on.  Eventually, I began to feel better although my elbow is still swollen.

From our viewpoints, Dayton is not a clean town.  We skirted the north side of town on the edge of the desert.  Many had used the desert as their own private dumping grounds.  Not only was there a continuous trail of trash in the desert, but for some dwellings it was difficult to determine where the yard ended and desert dump began.  Several riders commented about the trash.  In all of the trash the one bright spot was Patsy, Dave Rabe's sister.  Patsy came out to meet the riders on the last day, including her brother, and had water for the horses and the riders.  Patsy helped me wash my hand and clean the abrasions.

After Dayton, the trail ascended to Virginia City along the Chinamen Trail.  Virginia City is an old mining town and the site of the Comstock Lode.  The Chinese worked in the mines but were forced to live outside of the town by the prevailing conventions of the 1860s.  The Chinese climbed to work in the mines and mills along the Chinamen Trail which today is still a very steep trail strewn with rocks.  I led Frank up side of the mountain.  It was hot and there was no breeze on the canyon trail.

We climbed to the pass, on to the gap, and saw the first views of Virginia City.  We made our way into town and I rode in along the main street of town even though the designated route was along side streets.  Virginia City is a tourist town, I had ridden since the bank of the Missouri River, and I was going to give those tourists something to talk about.  Frank and I rode right up main street blocking traffic.  We walked the length of the main street and made our way along side streets to our camp on the mine tailings in Virginia City Nevada, two-thousand miles and two months from our starting point.  The next day we would all gather for breakfast to mark the end of the trail, Cindy and I would continue to the western terminus on the Pony Express Trail, but on this afternoon, I rode up and tied Frank to the trailer at our last camp on the 2011 XP.

Best Regards,
Tom N

Monday, July 18, 2011

On the Pony Express Trail - July 16 2011


July 16, 2011 – Sand Hill Station to Carson Sink Station, Nevada – Today I rode Frank twenty-six miles across the desert playas and small mountain ranges.  I rode alone.  We hauled the horses the 34 miles from Cold Springs because Highway 50 overlays the Pony Express Trail.  At Sand Hill Station the highway and the trail diverge.  We had a 5:00 AM ride start so we were up at 3:30.  Even so, the few other riders left about twenty minutes ahead of me and I had a very pleasant solitary trail experience across the dry lake beds of Nevada.  In the 1860s, Carson Lake was much larger than today and the modern trail crosses a vast salt flat where the trail of the 1860s traversed the shore of the lake.  In the 1860s, Carson Lake was the subject of landscape artists, but today's scene is considerably different.

Keep a movin' Dan

it's the devil not a man

who spreads the burnin' sand with water.

cool, clear, water

After Carson Lake, the trail passes the ruins of Wildcat Station.  Wildcat Station was a freight and wagon station than came into existence a few years after the Pony Express.  Stone walls and rock foundations are all that remains of Wildcat Station today.

Shade and trees are rare in Nevada.  Cindy and I are resting the horses under the shade trees of a church in Silver Springs Nevada.  It is Saturday, and various members of the congregation are tidying the church for tomorrow's services.  We had a very nice conversation with Fred and Louise and another woman from the church.  Fred and Louise asked about the horses and asked if I was familiar with the Tevis Cup.   The question led to a long discussion of Tevis, horses, mustangs, Arabians, other breeds, and various outdoor activities.

Today was ride day 39, and tomorrow is day 40, the last day of the ride.  Either Frank or Whiskey has been on the trail every day and I have been on the trail with them every day.  Tomorrow's finish in Virginia City comes too soon.

Best Regards,
Tom N

On the Pony Express trail at the Cold Springs Station


July 15, 2011 – Cold Springs Station Nevada – The Pony Express Trail west from Cold Springs to Sand Mountain exactly follows Highway 50 so the ride today was a loop around the Cold Springs area rather than riding on the shoulder of the highway.  Tomorrow, we will trailer west to Sand Mountain and then ride the pony Express Trail across the dry lake beds to near Fort Churchill.

Today Cindy and I rode Frank and Whiskey in the canyons and foothills around Cold Springs.  We visited the ruins of the original Cold Springs Station.  Many of the station ruins that we have seen are little more than stones on the desert.  Some, like Hollenberg, Marysville, Rock Creek, and Simpson Springs were occupied for the past 150 years or have been restored.  Cold Springs is one of the best preserved ruins that we have seen in the west.  The separate rooms are intact and Cold Springs Creek still runs adjacent to the station.  It is easy to stand in the rooms and look across the desert to see the same views as 150 years ago.

Visiting the station ruins and thinking about travel 150 years ago leads to some interesting projections.  When the stations were active 150 years ago, the horse was the means of travel and the stations catered to horse traffic.  A traveler could ride coast-to-coast and be somewhat assured of finding tack and saddle supplies and replacement horses at the various stage stops and stations.  Today, motor vehicles are the means of travel and today's stations cater to automobile travelers.  Today's stations provide fuel and automobile supplies and repairs.  We don't know what will be the means of travel in 2160 and I wonder if today's stations will survive.  Perhaps in 150 years it will be as difficult to travel Highway 50 by automobile as it is to travel the Pony Express Trail by horse today.

There are two trails days left.  The members of our party have bonded and formed a cohesive group.  We watch each other and each other's horses.  Often, we do tasks and chores for each other without being asked.  We support each other and we are united in getting all of the horses and all of the riders to Virginia City.  Cindy and I are planning to follow the trail to the western terminus in Placerville or Sacramento, but today we are all focused on Virginia City.  Like the pioneer wagon companies, we will part company at the end of the trail and we will never cross paths with some members of the 2011 XP ever again.  We have shared the trail and we have shared the hardships.  We have talked about how no one single day or mile has been all that difficult but putting 2000 miles together over eight or nine weeks has been grueling on the horses, on the vehicles, on the riders, and on the crews.  We have traveled from St Joseph across the west on back roads and gravel roads.  We have seen the seldom-traveled parts of America and talked with some genuinely welcoming individuals, families, and communities.  We know some of our fellow travelers better than some of our friends back home.  We are very lucky.

Best Regards,
Tom N

On the Pony Express Trail - Cold Springs Station Solar Power


July 14, 2011 – Cold Springs Nevada – One other interesting aspect of the Cold Springs Station is that the facility is partially powered by a 30 kW solar system.  The system consists of three 10 kW solar arrays and the associated inverters and electrical connections.  The system has been in operation for about eight years and the power is delivered to NV Energy via a net-metering tariff.  The 30 kW system meets about half of the energy needs of the Cold Springs Station and the proprietor has purchased another 15 kW of solar capacity.  The proprietor acquired the parts through various distributors and constructed and installed the system himself.  Wind was considered as a power source but solar was chosen because of the mechanical simplicity of solar systems and the excellence of the solar resource at Cold Springs.

Best Regards
Tom N

On the Pony Express Trail - July 13 2011


July 13, 2011 – Cold Springs and Fallon Nevada – Today and tomorrow are the last two rest days on the 2011 XP and then Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are the final three ride days.  We are using today to have some minor service on the van as well as resupply for the last few days of the trip.  I am sitting in the Ford dealer in Fallon, in air conditioning, with internet service, waiting for the work to be completed.

The Ford dealer completed the repairs and the fault was a failing oil pressure sending unit.  The actual oil pressure in the engine was at the top end of the specification range which is very good for a vehicle of this age that has been worked as hard as this one (the van is a 1993 E-250 with about 130,000 miles which has spent many of those miles towing a loaded horse trailer).  As part of an oil change, the dealer performs a "40 Point Inspection" and as would be expected from an outfit that is in the business of selling vehicles and repairing vehicles, there were many potential repairs that could be performed adding to a total expense of many thousands of dollars.  We are going to take a chance and continue on our journey with an oil change and a new oil pressure sending unit.

As I wrote earlier, Cold Springs Nevada is presently, and has always been, little more than a stage stop.  The Cold Springs Station was a repeater on the first transcontinental telegraph, but the telegraph line was abandoned in less than ten years when the transcontinental railroad selected the more northern route along the Humboldt River.  Since the first telegraph route was abandoned in 1869, Cold Springs has been a stage stop for horses, and now it is mainly a stage stop for motor vehicle traffic on Highway 50.

Our group has increased the population of Cold Springs many-fold.  We are enjoying our stay, but most of us are eager to get back on the trail for the final three days of the ride.  The ride mileage totals have been posted and Frank and Whiskey have done very well.  Of course, they are not the highest mileage horses, but either Frank or Whiskey has been on the trail every day.  Both horses are still sound and neither horse has had any real health issues on the trip.  Frank's nose is healing and I expect him to be back on the trail tomorrow.

One of my friends from work has placed my photos and writings on a web-log and the address is:

The postings are in reverse chronological order and you can go back to writings from the start of the trip by selecting "Older Posts" until you reach the writings from the middle of May.

On Sunday, I hope to ride into Virginia City with two sound horses.  When we think back, it almost seems like another time when we left the Missouri River.  I can only imagine how the pioneers must have felt when they thought back to their prior lives in Ohio or to other homes in the east.

Best Regards,
Tom N

Thursday, July 14, 2011

On the Pony Express Trail - July 12 2011


July 12, 2011 – Austin to Cold Springs Nevada – We spent last night in Austin while the main camp was west in a dry lake bed.  The fifty mile riders hauled their horses back some distance on the trail in order to get a full fifty miles today.  I am riding shorter distances so Cindy dropped Whiskey and me off along Highway 50 and I rode a fence line south to intersect the Pony Express Trail.  Once on the trail, I rode east to the Edwards Creek Pony Express Station, then turned back west and rode to Cold Springs.  Along the Pony Trail I found an old horseshoe and a possible gravesite.  The gravesite had the correct shape and orientation but we'll never know if it is grave and if so, the story is lost to time and the desert.

Cold Springs was once a Pony Express Station and has been a gas station and is now a very small resort on Highway 50.  In any form, Cold Springs has been serving travelers on the pony Express and subsequent trails for 150 years.  Members of the gypsy caravan overwhelmed the small restaurant staff and began to bus tables themselves.  Others made relaxed at the bar, on the porch, or played pool.

While sitting on the porch at Cold Springs, we met a very interesting character who has been riding his bicycle across the country since mid-March.  Tom Harwood rode west from the Atlantic to the Pacific, turned around and is now riding east back to the Atlantic Ocean.  His route is not direct and he plans to ride north to Chicago and then south to Florida.  We talked about our respective adventures and the similarities and differences between bicycle and horse travel.  We talked about the sense of time on the trail and how life is distilled to simple and direct objectives.  We talked about our respective adventures and how the trips have changed our perspective, our lives, and how we have changed ourselves.  Tom is 62 and the key message that I heard was when he said to me, "I wish I had done trips like this when I was younger."

Best Regards,

Tom N