Esperanza Inutil

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Well, once again the house-sitter is in place, and Clan Eschenbach is on the highway. Just me and the gorgeous ex-fiancee this time, our daughter is working as a construction manager south of San Francisco. Our plan is to roll out through Nevada, then generally up through Yellowstone from south to north. Then on to Whitefish, Montana, where on rouletteJuly 17th my good friend David Raitt, who is Bonnie Raitt’s brother for you music fans, is playing with the Baja Boogie Band.

From there we’ll cruise back west through Idaho and into eastern Oregon, and finally south through the Sierra Nevada mountains. As with our trip through England last year, I’ll be writing about it as time and the tides allow. Our route today and tomorrow is the “Lincoln Highway”, a curious highway with a strange past. It was the first transcontinental highway, running from New York to California. It was also the first national anything named in memory of Abraham Lincoln, predating the Lincoln Memorial. And it gets odder from there.

Today I found out that the Lincoln Highway came into existence back around 1911 because of the work of something called the “Good Roads Movement”. This was a movement calling for improved roads, and citing all of the benefits of a system of improved roads for the economy and for the working man. Of course “improved” in 1910 meant gravelled, not paved, but a gravel road is a huge improvement over a mud bath. That’s not too odd … but here’s the odd part. Care to guess what kind of automobiles were owned by most of the membership of the “Good Roads Movement”?

None. Most of the members rode bicycles.

It turns out that in the late 1800’s, the bicycle ushered in a new era of transportation in America for the common man. They weren’t cheap, but they were way, way cheaper and far more convenient than a horse or a horse and buggy. And they allowed a man to work a considerable distance from his home … but only, of course, if there were good roads.

So in about 1880, up in New England, some local bicycle clubs got together and formed an organization with an absolutely wonderful name … the League of American Wheelmen. It was hugely popular, and spread across the US. They published a periodical called “Good Roads” … and it was that League of bicyclists who subsequently formed the core of the Good Roads Movement.

How strange this world is … the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway, is the brainchild and the product of the concerted action, not of a bunch of car drivers, but of a bunch of bicycle riders.

In any case, today we rode the Lincoln Highway from the Bay Area across the dry hot Central Valley, through the semi-permanent traffic snarl in Sacramento, then up the Sierra Nevada mountains, and over the Donner Pass of culinary renown. I grew up in the northern Sierras, and as always, they were full of oxygen and the entrancing smell of the pine and fir trees.

Then over the top and down along the Truckee River to Reno, where we grabbed a room at the Nugget Casino and I’m writing this post. I hadn’t been in a Reno casino since I came here about 38 years ago to play professional blackjack, as I discussed in my post called “Decimals of Precision.

The biggest change in that time is that hardly anyone gambles with actual objects any more. For example, people play blackjack without touching a single card …


… they play roulette without a wheel or a ball …


… and they shoot craps without ever touching the bones.


I gotta admit, I don’t see the lure. I mean, on my planet you need to talk to the dice, shake them in your hand and blow on them, instruct them in the proper methods of rolling … and how you gonna do that with electrons?

Plus, maybe I’m just a suspicious guy. Although I trust a deck of actual cards, the venerable pasteboards themselves, why would I ever trust a computer model of a deck of cards? Seems like the programmers could do anything they want and I’d never know … does this sound familiar to students of climate?

The other thing that’s different is that back in the day, you had to pull the handle on the slot machines. So you’d see these old men and women with some big workingman’s glove on one hand, to keep them from getting blisters on the hand that pulled tha handle. But at least they were moving enough so you could verify that they were still breathing. Now, you just push a button … and seriously, for some of those folks, that’s the only thing moving. Their eyes are fixed of the “wheels” of the slot machine, which are not real wheels of course, their differential is glued to the chair, and all you see is the finger repetitively pushing the button.

So we went and jumped into the pool instead, or rather the hot tub. There we met a lovely couple of young folks just about to start college. They said they’d gone to a “magnet high school” in Las Vegas, which is a high school that teaches (in their case) medical related stuff designed to prepare people for an actual job … a crazy idea, I know. They said you can graduate from their high school as an EMT technician. How cool is that? … and there are other such high schools with different focuses. One of them is aerospace oriented, and you can get your freaking private pilot’s license as part of your high school curriculum! Dang … where were the magnet schools when I was in high school?

In any case, dear friends, we’re back on the road again for eleven days or so. It’s a musical journey this time, both Ellie and I have brought our guitars. She has a lovely Taylor steel string with a nice skinny ladies neck that fits her hand, and a strong, melodious tone. I have a Goya classical gut string, it’s probably thirty years old or so.

It’s taken the two of us a long time to learn to play music together. For a guy to teach his wife something, or for a woman to teach her husband something, is a delicate art. When we were first married, Ellie wanted me to teach her how to sail. So I sent her to a sailing school … I didn’t want to risk the storms.

But after 35 year of marital blitz, we’ve worn off all of the sharp corners, and in the last two or three years we’ve taken to playing music together. I used to play for a living, so I get to do the teaching, but it’s a pleasure this time around, we sing and laugh, and laugh and sing, and we both learn in the process.

So the theme for this trip is two-fold. The first theme is, guitars always sound better out of doors … and the second theme is “esperanza inutil”, a question I’ll return to next post.

As before, we’re looking for interesting places to see and people to meet. If you are anywhere around where we’re going, which would be on the Lincoln Highway out east from Reno, up through the corner of Idaho and then through Yellowstone, on to Missoula, Flathead Lake, Whitefish, and back through eastern Oregon and the north-eastern part of California, drop me an email at willis, with the usual “at”, and surfacetemps dot org. And of course, suggestions of what to see and do are always welcome, post’em up, move’em out.

All the best, the journey continues tomorrow. Posting, of course, will be as and when …


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July 12, 2014 12:46 am

Have a good trip !
And don’t forget us in the meantime, we who stay put at home, and travel only vicariously , in spirit, with you.
¡ Mis mejores deseos para este verano !

July 12, 2014 1:03 am

A suggestion for when time permits – keep going north to the Okanogan area of Washington. We have a rich geological history forged in fire and ice that has left us one of the most beautiful and unspoiled natural areas to be found.

July 12, 2014 1:45 am

Having done the route Salt Lake City – Yellowstone – Missoula – Whitefish more than ten years ago, it will be very pleasent to relive it through your eyes. Enjoy your vacation Willis.

Bloke down the pub
July 12, 2014 2:01 am

None. Most of the members rose bicycles.’
A bicycle would smell as sweet by any other name.

Pete Brown
July 12, 2014 2:18 am

That’s a good idea actually – you should do a travel blog from now on…

Santa Baby
July 12, 2014 2:28 am

It should be far easier with a model to forecast the result of a throw of dice than weather and climate in 100 years?

July 12, 2014 3:14 am

Dang, I haven’t been to a casino in 19 years, but my game was craps, no way I would do it on a machine the whole experience is when you got a table loaded with players and spectators and you rolled for 20 minutes and not only you won, but the players that bet the same won!. Do it too long the pit boss shows up, checks the dice, damn I had some good times back then! Have a good and safe trip!

Mike McMillan
July 12, 2014 3:50 am

So did you stop by the Donner Cafe?

July 12, 2014 4:32 am

I really like reading your blog posts. However, if you are in Nevada USA why do you show an advertisement for Hatteras Yatchs?

July 12, 2014 4:55 am

Bonnie Raitt just gave a concert in Moorhead Mn which by all acounts was excellent. But she gave a shout out to Winona LaDuke who was in the audience and said we don’t need pipelines. After the rail explosion of Bakken crude in Casselton ND last year most people around here including the farmers who can’t get grain to market would like some nice safe pipelines. See if David can enlighten his sister.

Alan Robertson
July 12, 2014 5:58 am

Willis, it’s obvious that you folks are having fun, but I’ll throw our a “Have Fun” anyway, so that others here might relax and enjoy the travelogue and enjoy the best of what’s offered.

July 12, 2014 6:00 am

Seems as though you may be backtracking the route of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” Seems very relevant in an age when the aesthetes are trying to bend the sciences into compliance to their program.

July 12, 2014 6:38 am

Lincoln Highway. Who knew? You come up with the most interesting things Willis.
Safe travels to you and yours.

July 12, 2014 6:49 am
July 12, 2014 6:59 am

Here’s a map showing the Lincoln Hwy through the western US:
As a lifelong desert rat, I know the Lincoln Hwy. Most of it through NV is now US 50 (‘The Loneliest Hwy in America’ [not anymore, i’ve actually seen traffic between Fallon and Austin]) you’ll def hit some dirt if you stick to the original Lincoln. If you have time detour through Fish Springs UT for the most incredible assortment of North American birds I’ve ever seen (was just there in May), enjoy!
btw – Just did a dual-sport motorcycle tour of western NV ghost towns in May. GREAT trip.

July 12, 2014 7:08 am

“One of the least visited historical markers”
I’m pretty sure the section of the Lincoln Hwy crossing the Dugway Proving Grounds is off-limits to the public.

P@ Dolan
July 12, 2014 7:08 am

Nothing is more beautiful than a guitar, except, possibly, two. — Frédéric Chopin.

July 12, 2014 7:12 am

And lastly, if you look for the ‘shoe tree’ near Middle Gate it was cut down by vandals in 2011.

July 12, 2014 7:17 am

I’m pretty sure the section of the Lincoln Hwy crossing the Dugway Proving Grounds is off-limits to the public.

July 12, 2014 7:49 am

You aren’t in Eastern Oregon unless you are in Northeast Oregon. That’s my country. Surrounded by mountains there are only three paved roads into the county and one of them closes during the Winter while the other two stay open if the snow plows keep working. The other roads are really not roads. Just cleared paths. I’ll take you fishing on the best trout stream anywhere.

July 12, 2014 7:51 am

That post was a joy to read!

July 12, 2014 8:05 am

Hope the roads at Yellowstone are repaired before you get there.

July 12, 2014 8:27 am

Why here

Fred Harwood
July 12, 2014 8:36 am

Just got back to Mass. after almost the same routes. 8,300 miles roundtrip, 32 mpg.

D Johnson
July 12, 2014 8:51 am

Interesting that your wife has the steel string, and you the gut string. I’d wager that it would be opposite for most couples with guitars. But I’m with you, and prefer the nylon. I live a couple of miles from the old Lincoln Highway, but a bit further east, off US 33 in northern Indiana.

July 12, 2014 9:16 am

My favorite games are blackjack and Pinochle. At someone’s house with a 25 dollar limit. BYOB and foods to share. Can’t stand casinos. They smell bad and I get lost because I can’t see over the machines.

July 12, 2014 9:17 am

oops. “My favorite gameS ARE…”
[Fixed. -w.]

Paul Marko
July 12, 2014 9:51 am

Appreciate the link to your non-climate posts in your response to Marc.
Wasn’t aware it existed. I consider it comparable to an easy listening library.
Also appreciate and adapted your exhale advice from your stress test post. Now I’m thinking I ought to switch to gut strings.

Andrew Parker
July 12, 2014 10:34 am

While DPG is restricted, the bridge is located in DItto area, where most people work, so it is seen by quite a few people every day. My youngest son took a tour of DPG with a student group, earlier this week. The detour around DPG, along the old Pony Express route, will take you through Fish Springs. I also recommend at least a quick visit.

July 12, 2014 10:44 am

BruceC says:
July 12, 2014 at 8:05 am

Hope the roads at Yellowstone are repaired before you get there.

Just one road affected, but it’s an important one if you wind up coming through West Yellowstone. If you do come in from the south entrance and Jackson, it’s still an important road as it gets to some of the hot springs area west of the Old Faithful area.
I think everyone should visit Yellowstone at least once, it’s one of the few areas where people can say “unique” and I won’t cringe.
I was there by bicycle in 1974, , in January 1989 after the 1988 fires, and by car on a spur from another bicycle tour in 2003, .
It’s not a bicycle friendly place (I renamed it Gas God Natl Park in 1974), but once you get 50 feet off the main roads it’s about the most interesting place on the planet.
I do need to scan my slides from 1974 some day….

Steve P
July 12, 2014 10:54 am

Fascinating and entertaining. I was just reading about the Good Road Movement recently, and also stumbled onto a brief mention of the Laufmaschine, or running machine, which was precursor to the bicycle, and originally invented by the German Baron Karl von Drais in 1817, which some sources say was an indirect consequence of the LIA, when the populace was too hungry and too poor to keep horses.
Long ago, I spent some time camping in the Three Sisters Wilderness, dodging thunderstorms, including several days along magical Jack Creek when the rain finally stopped for a few days.
Thinking of bicycles in the rain now after watching the riders in the Tour de France slogging through the downpours earlier.

July 12, 2014 11:22 am

Willis, check your email.

Mike from Carson Valley a particularly cold place that could benefit from some warming
July 12, 2014 11:30 am

Speaking of bicycles, today the day of the annual Dea Ride in Alpine County. Just a little ways Reno near Markleeville, Ca. 3000 entrants is typical. Its a 125 mile endurance event including 15000 vertical feet ascents up three different mountain passes. Great fun for the self abuser.

Mike from Carson Valley a particularly cold place that could benefit from some warming
July 12, 2014 11:31 am

Dea = Death

Eric Anderson
July 12, 2014 2:17 pm

Sounds like a fantastic trip! I’ll be up in Idaho for a short rafting trip on the Snake later this month. Have had the opportunity to stay at Top of the World lodge along Highway 212 just past Beartooth Lake on more than one occasion (East of where you’ll be, it sounds like). Amazing country.
Keep us posted on the adventures.

July 12, 2014 3:41 pm

John Mcphee has written several excellent books that may be of interest. “Basin and Range” and “Rising from the Plains” are relevant.

July 12, 2014 3:48 pm

Actually, McPhee’s “Annals of the Former World” includes all 5 books in the series, which covers the geography of the 40th parallel across the US. And you can get the Kindle version for 9 bucks on Amazon.

July 12, 2014 3:48 pm

Hmmm, tried teaching my wife to drive. End result = more than one scrape in the car and expensive driving instruction from a professional (in that sequential order)! No divorce though, so that’s a positive!

Gary Pearse
July 12, 2014 4:57 pm

I enjoy your travelogues. The good ones, like yours, take us vicarious types along with you.
“Then over the top and down along the Truckee River to Reno, where we grabbed a room at the Nugget Casino and I’m writing this post.
I’ve stayed at the Nugget a few times. I was working on a lithium-boron mining exploration project in the Borate Hills not far from Silver Peak, NV in 2010- 2011. The company was HQed in Reno. I, too, was the odd one out by not gambling. My first visit was in the month of May and I thought it would be warmer than Ottawa, Ontario but I ended by borrowing a parka!

July 12, 2014 5:35 pm

I hope you get up to Wallowa County. I used to ride my horse up to the tavern with my sister, tie up at the hitchen post, and head in for an icecream.

July 12, 2014 5:36 pm

The tavern is all decked out now. Everything is complete and I’ve heard the food is excellent.

Michael P
July 12, 2014 5:45 pm

The best time my wife and I had in Yellowstone was an early morning walk at upper geyser basin. We got out before most everybody else. Watched geysers erupt without anyone else around and got to see an osprey successfully catch a trout in the firehole river. An absolutely beautiful morning.

July 12, 2014 7:24 pm

“Can’t stand casinos. They smell bad and I get lost because I can’t see over the machines.”
Words of wisdom from my old man in the late 60s on a visit to Vegas:
“No matter how nice they try to make a casino, it’s still just a bowling alley restroom”.

July 12, 2014 9:04 pm

Re the Lincoln Highway. You said it was motivated by bicycle riders.
Don’t you know, they didn’t built that.
President Wilson said so, right?

July 12, 2014 9:47 pm

“I gotta admit, I don’t see the lure. I mean, on my planet you need to talk to the dice, shake them in your hand and blow on them, instruct them in the proper methods of rolling … and how you gonna do that with electrons?”
I share that sentiment with things like movies. I don’t like the idea of buying movies from iTunes. I’ll have a disc, please.

Lonnie E. Schubert
July 13, 2014 8:27 am

Best wishes, enjoy your time.

Steve in SC
July 13, 2014 11:29 am

In your travels across southern Oregon, you need to stop at Crater Lake.
It is something you need to do before you die.
Examine the color of the lake which can not be duplicated on film or on computer monitors.
Enjoy the trip.

July 13, 2014 7:18 pm

Hey, if you’re going to be in Whitefish, take a detour to Glacier Park if you can, even part way in for a bit. One of the really beautiful places in the nation (and the world).

D.J. Hawkins
July 14, 2014 10:02 am

Ditto what ECK said. A nice trip up the Going to the Sun Road is hard to beat. Unless, like yours truly, you aren’t a fan of heights. Still glorious, even with the terror.

July 14, 2014 5:59 pm

Willis if you happen to be going through SE Idaho drop me a line would love to meet you as you have been one of my primary insperations in trying to learn more about this world.

July 14, 2014 5:59 pm

Sorry inspirations lack of sleep and a full belly dulled my senses

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