Trippin’ Toward Pioche
Monday began on a path not entirely unfamiliar. Having camped near Wendover for a little over a couple of weeks, I was near completion of breaking camp when a City of Westover pickup truck stopped by. Its proprietor worked at a water treatment plant somewhere up the long, paved climb and had apparently driven past each day, wondering just how much solar panel wattage the Mighty Defiant had proudly been displaying during her stay. On hearing that the total panel power approached 800 watts, he asked whether that was enough to run an air conditioner. He was within shooting distance of retirement, and had a modest rig with a very modest solar system, and found the whole solar thing to be a helpful but deep mystery when it comes to the specifics of possibilities. Naturally, I had to shoot down his hope of moving away from a generator for that kind of thing. I suppose that all those side-hanging panels make for a memorable rig, since I was surprised that he was already aware that this had been my third visit in as many years – something I hadn’t fully realized until he mentioned it!
By the end of the long conversation, he had volunteered that he had gone to culinary school and had a fondness for cooking, which neatly dovetailed with my similar interest in eating well-prepared food. He’d dabbled in catering as well as showing up at events with a huge smoker and some 60 pounds of smoked pork (cooked in one shot), among other things. At one such event, he’d been nonplussed to find that he cleared out everything he had in the first three hours. He did well, but at some point long ago had gotten a call from a relative about an open position as a city worker in Wendover and, as he put it, they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. These days, he is looking at a very sizable pension just ahead, and is mulling over the most appropriate manner in which to hit the road for part of the year. In five or so years, between that and Social Security, he rightly pointed out that he was going to be doing quite well for somebody with an eighth grade education.
Once he left and I hitched up the trailer, it was on my agenda to head for Pioche, Nevada some 240 miles south. That translates to four hours of drive time, not including any fuel stops along the way. Route 93 starts out of West Wendover, Nevada, works its way through Ely, and goes right next to Pioche.
When hauling a trailer against a headwind at 8 MPG, it’s a reflective moment when you see a sign that says, “Next fuel 130 miles”. I’d left with a full tank of course, but I couldn’t help but notice that any mechanical difficulty on this smooth two-lane would present some challenges. First, apart from an occasional gravel widening, there’s nowhere to pull off beside the road. Once you ease two wheels off the pavement, that’s pretty much it. The aggressive slope down into the bushes can be forced to accommodate a car, but a large trailer is an entirely different matter. If I managed to clear the Defiant’s low dropped axle tubes, there would remain the issue of tilt. Success with these would raise the issue of attempting to jack the guilty wheel off the ground with much more of the trailer’s weight on it, something my hydraulic jack already has issues with on the level. Given that I’ve had tire and wheel bearing issues with the trailer in the past, plus the fact that there is no cellular coverage whatsoever along this entire span, I found this to be a pleasant drive undergirded by unease. I’d simply have to bank on the odds, and those were generally in my favor.
Distances out here are deceiving. You can see a town up ahead and estimate that it’s maybe three miles away, and then you see a highway sign announcing that it’s in fact eight or ten miles away. The sign is always right, and the extended time to get there drives that home. After a fuel stop in Ely to replenish a half-depleted tank, the GPS kept me on the “Great Basin Highway” Route 93 as it wound through some impressive mountain roads near the southern edge of Humboldt National Forest. Up, down, and winding around, it was a pretty tour. Once again, the Mighty Furd’s “tow/haul mode” managed to keep me off the brakes during a 6-mile descent down a 6% grade as it automatically handled the downshifting for me on cruise control. I’ve done the fading brakes thing in my distant past while pulling a trailer in an old 1960 Bel Air with its two-speed Powerglide transmission, and that makes these new refinements wonderfully unexciting and highly appreciated. What a great scenic drive!
Then it was on to the flats ringed with high, snow-capped mountains and another cautionary sign of no help for another 90 miles. That span was a long, level ribbon that again made estimating distances by sight absurd. In a halfway reliable vehicle, Route 93 is a visually rewarding road to take, and I recommend it if you have the three-season chance.
I’d planned on Pioche because it’s an out-of-the-way mining town that in the mid-1800s boasted some six or seven thousand people, most of them criminals looking for an opportunity. Several camping websites claim there’s a city campground with full hookups at no charge: being off the beaten path, the town is trying to promote tourism for its rowdy past. And rowdy it once was, making Tombstone and Dodge City look like amateur’s night at the Women’s Society Tea.
Just as I pulled out of Wendover, I belatedly decided to check my trusty overnightrvparking.com website, the same one I list on my blogroll of recommended reading. Should have checked it before that is the most trusted source. In fact, the Pioche campground is a donation campsite that offers water and sewer hookups only. That meant that I’d once again need to heft the solar panels if I decided to stay for awhile. It also meant that I could forget about relying on a small electric room heater to avoid burning through propane to recover from the cold nights at 6,100’ elevation in late October. An online survey of businesses for the town did not show much promise for getting a propane tank refilled.
I was surprisingly drained of energy by the time I arrived, but the campground was easily found and no other rigs were there. Too cool, I assumed. So, I had my pick of the litter, but it was not as straightforward as I’d hoped. I’d wanted to stay hitched up during my time there (owing to my lazy nature), but a moderate front-back tilt made that hope disappear. At 3-5 degrees – depending on where you measure in the trailer’s interior – that makes the refrigerator’s 2-degree limit a call to undo the weight-distributing hitch. The second problem was actually significant. A single tree is planted between each space, in the best possible position to block the sun in its arc over the nose of the trailer. They’d be so close as to lay branches in contact with one or more of the panels. That, I can’t compensate for. Given this rig’s total length and the ever-changing levelness factor within each space, there’s simply no room to tuck way back or pull way forward in an attempt to get all or most of the panels clear.
Being inside a town that even today has an unusually high percentage of its population running afoul of the law enforcement community, I thought it a bad idea to lay the panels on the ground to get sun. Heck, that’s easier done than hoisting them up to their hangers, but not a good idea when not in solitude. I did manage to deploy the rearmost panel that supplies the Defiant’s coach batteries, thanks to one of the slots having only a young, small tree on the trailer’s east side. The basic SSW orientation of the trailer means that this panel will need to be readjusted for tilt a couple of times over the day in order to maximize exposure, and then be ready for the next sunrise. Getting solar here will not be a wholly passive enterprise. Admittedly, I designed the system to technically remain workable in any sun arc orientation, but planting the panels for a southern exposure has been such a “deploy and ignore” habit that I’ve become spoiled.
So the good news is that staying here in Pioche is possible, given some adaptation to the minimal power capacity of the 110Ah coach batteries, and given the weather forecast of cloudy or overcast skies for the next few days. By the time the sun rolls out again I’ll be advancing on toward an uncomfortably toasty Parker, Arizona. The 3G cellular signal here varies between two and three bars out of five. Blogging and electronic entertainment is not out of the question, thanks to the Macbook laptop. But thought is needed: the trailer’s sole coach battery 12VDC outlet blew out in Wendover, thanks to a Y-adapter plug slowly backing out of it. That knocked both out of action. Fortunately, I managed to fake up a fused 10AWG “extension cord” from the coach’s solar controller load terminals to the living room. There’s some voltage drop in that wire length and the spare Y-adapter is pretty pathetic, so it’s best and safest to charge/run only one device at a time on that cord. That means watching what I’m doing, since two devices must often be run together to do a job, and some can run on rechargeable batteries, while some can’t. Whatever can, will need a recharge later. With the utter lack of resources at Wendover and here, ruining another socket or plug would pretty much end the show, so I’m keeping close tabs on devices being used, and their connection quality. Common cigar lighter plugs and sockets are such a miserably unreliable way to power anything. They always want to work loose and then melt from the heat before any fuse blows.
The other potential showstopper is of course propane. I should be able to just last the scheduled stay here, but I plan to try to hunt down a local propane source as well as a diesel fuel station today, among other things. The outside sending unit for my indoor/outdoor thermometer blew off on-route to Wendover, so I won’t know how close the water hose is coming to freezing, but it should be okay, though the first rung of a cold snap is forecast for tomorrow. A second, much more serious one is due in just after I leave here. This is about the only place I can think of where the camping spot, sun, equipment failures, temperatures and local resources have made staying a “well, we’ll see” thing. I’ll stay unless I have to leave for one reason or another.
As a first impression, Pioche is a wow. Two things impress. First is the sense of history here. Parked at the foot of a mountain, the town is a mix of abandoned ancient miner’s shacks and compact, often ramshackle homes. Second, a twenty-minute wheeze up the hill to “downtown” presents a tiny, dead movie theater and a smattering of businesses that opened around 1900. There are no such things as franchises or parking lots. Vintage, weatherbeaten pickup trucks clearly replace horses and wagons in front of storefronts. This town has evolved rather than be replaced by something now unrecognizable. Most places revamp into the modern age, and then sprinkle recreated visual tokens of their heritage about in order to recall their history and draw tourists. This place has never gotten that far – it never got to the proud modern age. Even though I’m parked next to the biggest, most impressive recreational facility I’ve ever seen, a walk uptown makes it inconceivable that such a place could afford it. As historical mining towns go, Pioche is the real deal. As far as I could tell, there are no outlying modern strip malls scattered at the outskirts. I’m not even sure that there are any outskirts. Another part of my quest today will be to see if even a single common franchise exists here. There has to be a Walgreens or CMS store, right?