It’s finally time! The most recognizable location in the whole song is our next target. Winnemucca is the first place mentioned in our song, but it would be number 90 of 92 in my order. I came to this place with huge expectations and this little community with the anomalous name did not disappoint.
Wednesday, September 25th, 2019
Reno, Nevada, USA
It was finally time.
Time for Winnemucca.
Many song places can find a place on my list of superlatives: Ombabika, Ontario is the most remote. Chatanika, Alaska is the furthest north. Argentina is the furthest south. Schefferville, Quebec is the hardest one to get to. Padilla, Colombia is the only one where they said they’d never had a gringo there before. 🙂
But Winnemucca is absolutely unmatched when it comes to superlatives. It is the most iconic, the most quintessential, the most recognizable, the most uniquely named (with apologies to Tallapoosa and Kalamazoo), the most recognizable place in the song. It is the first location mentioned, the only one said slowly and the only one said twice.
Esteemed aficionados of this quality publication will remember that the Americas version of this song is not the original. Australian Geoff Mack is the composer and his original version features 94 places from his home country. It begins with, “Well I was humpin’ my bluey along the dusty Oodnadatta road.” No, seriously:
When Geoff Mack was tasked with choosing the locations for the Americas version he sat down with some maps and a magnifying glass, choosing unique sounding locations that rhymed well together. I can imagine the pressure he felt at the selection of the first place. It had to be unique, memorable and rhythmic. Eventually he penned:
“I was totin’ my pack along the dusty Winnemucca road….”
Ever since this journey began, I’ve had people ask me if I’ve been to Winnemucca yet. After this day, I would finally be able to answer in the affirmative. I definitely had my game face on in preparation for visiting here. This wasn’t just some throwaway place tucked in the middle of Verse 3. This. Was. Winnemucca!
It was an easy ride on I-80, through harsh desert terrain. It was probably the most desolate area that I had seen since the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.
To understand why Winnemucca is where it is, it is necessary to understand the topography of the state of Nevada. My cousin Kent in Reno had told me that Nevada was most mountainous state in the US. I was skeptical until I looked at a topographical map of the state.
Nevada is absolutely scored with north-south mountain ranges. There are almost no open, flat areas in the whole state. The orientation and arrangement of mountains has historically made east-west travel very difficult across Nevada. The Humbolt River valley has long been the most convenient way to cross the state. It was the path followed by trappers in the 1830s, gold rushers in the 1840s and silver prospectors in the 1860s. Winnemucca is still a waypoint for travelers, as one of the most major population centers along Interstate-80.
I reached Winnemucca with the sun hanging low in the sky. Though I needed to find a place to set up camp, I couldn’t resist taking a slow, contemplative victory ride down main street. Of all the millions of travelers that have passed through this place, I have a hard time imagining that many were more excited to be there than I was.
I had seen that there was a free campsite a little bit out of town to the SE. I set up my maroon cocoon at Water Canyon Recreation Area, which would serve as a perfect home base for the next few days. I had a nice view of the city, far enough away that it was quiet, but close enough that I still had a spotty LTE signal. A man has to have priorities!
Thursday, September 26th
I slept great and woke up excited. Though I was eager to start getting to know Winnemucca, I forced myself to get a post published before any sightseeing. By mid-morning, my writing for the day was done and I turned my attention fully to the city at hand.
My first stop was at the Winnemucca Visitor’s Center. A nice lady named Debbie was there to help me and she was an incredible resource.
During our conversation, she casually mentioned that her husband was actually the mayor of Winnemucca. I asked if he would ever be open to a diplomatic meeting with someone who was super excited about being in Winnemucca. Debbie said that it was definitely a possibility. In addition to leaving with a greater understanding of Winnemucca and a possibility for a fun connection, I also left with some new swag: A pin for my tank bag, a “Love the Mucc” sticker for my trunk and a stylish hat from some event that was hosted in Winnemucca in 1996.
Debbie recommended that I visit the Humboldt Museum, so I made that my next stop. The staff there, Dana and Jerry, were wonderfully helpful and spent lots of time with me. Dana is the Director of the Museum. She has only been in Winnemucca a relatively short time, but has invested deeply into making the area’s history come alive. Jerry said his family has been in the area “as far back as the history goes.” He is a musician as well, performing under the name “Winnemucca Brown.” I can’t imagine two better people to help me learn about Winnemucca. They were awesome!
One of the historical tidbits of which I was most interested was the origin of the city’s most peculiar name. Everyone agrees that it came from Chief Winnemucca, a leader of the Paiute tribe. However, I heard a few different accounts as to where his name came from. Some say that it is a poor anglicizing of Wuna Mucca. Others say it is a mixture of the English word “one” and the word “moccasin” which is Algonquian. This seems a bit strange since the Paiute language does not seem to be related to the Algonquian languages.
Sarah Winnemucca was the daughter of Chief Winnemucca. She was a very influential woman, spending the majority of her life advocating for the rights of Native Americans. She was the first Native American woman to publish a book in English and to hold a US copyright.
The museum was really well done. It mixed together the region’s prehistoric and contemporary history well.
They’ve also brought a number of classic buildings from the area to the site.
This was a wonderful stop and made me feel even more deeply connected to this place.
A query I had posed to each Winnemuccan that I had encountered was a possible location for my song place picture. Ideally, I wanted to find a dusty Winnemucca road—of which there were plenty to choose from—with a sign indicating the distance or direction to Winnemucca. The narrator of “I’ve Been Everywhere” doesn’t actually begin in Winnemucca. He is merely along the “dusty Winnemucca road.” I thought my picture for the place should represent this.
No one had given me a reliable lead, so I found a gravel road and just began riding. About two weeks prior, after my rear shock had blown, I had committed to staying on pavement for the remainder of my trip. I don’t think Annie ever really believed me.
It is a really unique area. Much of the land is public and there are abandoned mines and other peculiar sights. The region is so different from the agricultural based Great Plains of which I am familiar. There are hundreds of ghost towns across Nevada, places that sprung up quickly due to mineral resources found in the area, but eventually crumbled back into the dust. Towns like Winnemucca, that have survived for over a century, are a real exception.
I found a quaint little murder cottage west of town which had some interesting artwork.
I explored for hours, but never found a Winnemucca sign. I eventually had a mini-epiphany: “Why don’t I just make my own sign?” In this way I could put it exactly where I wanted. I didn’t want to spend any money, of course, so I just set about scavenging supplies from some of the abandoned mines.
I found a full size mud flap from a semi. I don’t believe many motorcycles are set up in a way where they can just “throw one of these in,” but I had plenty of room in my trunk.
They all laughed at me when they saw the size of my capacious cargo capsule. Who’s laughing now?! (…yes, probably still them.) I also grabbed some boards from my murder cottage and some poles I found along the road. I have to admit: I was quite enjoying this process. I found a cow carcass too, but decided I probably didn’t quite have room for that. Also, I was a little short on time to properly tan the hide.
I rode around some more, finding some nice views overlooking the city, but I still didn’t find the exact shot I was looking for.
It was almost dark so I headed back to my tent, which I’d just left up for the day. I got a message from my friend Kelli in Salt Lake City. We went to High School together and she’s been a great supporter of my journey. She wanted to send me some money so that I could do something special. I took this as a sign to engage in an experience about which I was wavering: Eating at a Basque restaurant. This is the Martin Hotel:
Basque immigrants were early arrivals to the region, often herding sheep or cattle. The culinary influence seems to have been their most enduring contribution to the Winnemucca area. At Basque restaurants, there are a multitude of courses and you usually sit at a big table with other strangers.
Dick and Sherry from Idaho drew the shortest of straws, being forced to receive my incessant prattle about my quest to Everywhere. Honestly, I think they enjoyed it though. 🙂 I had a wonderful meal, with lamb as my main course.
The price of the meal was roughly equivalent to the amount I spent on food during the whole first month of my journey. I definitely wouldn’t have done this without Kelli’s thoughtful gift. Thank you so much!
I retired to my tent both full and thankful.
Friday, September 27th
I milled around in the morning before receiving a very flattering invitation via text. The mayor of Winnemucca, Rich Stone, was offering to meet with me. His wife, Debbie, whom I had met at the Visitor’s Center, had passed along my invitation to him. I loaded up all of the random scrap I was toting along and rode into town.
When you consider my immense value as an ambassador of Nebraska, promoter of Swedish-American culture and my sparkling international reputation; it is quite a surprise that this was the first time I was having a proper meeting with an elected official.
Rich was a delight to talk to. I gained so much more knowledge about the city and the region. A couple of interesting tidbits: Expansion is very difficult for the city because it is bordered by so much federal land. It literally takes an act of congress for Winnemucca to grow in any direction. Also interesting, was that Winnemucca is one of the only places in North America where brothels are legal (though none are currently in operation).
He probably spent about an hour and a half with me. I felt so honored that he would take time out of his busy schedule to assist a dusty traveler. I asked if he would take the honor of striking Winnemucca from my sign.
Having concluded my political responsibilities for the day, it was time to get back to picture hunting. I dropped by a hardware store and bought a couple $3 cans of spray paint. I also ended up making a bit of an impulse buy, purchasing a $15 folding shovel. Hey, I got room, right?
The more I explored the dusty roads in the area, the more I became convinced that my picture needed to include a view of Mount Winnemucca. This range bounds the city to the NW and is visible from nearly any vantage in the area. It has a stair-step like quality which I found quite attractive. Picture from later:
The little murder cottage still called my name. I didn’t think the official Winnemucca picture would take place there, but I thought it would be a nice place to take a little media. Other than trying to draw a portrait of Annie at the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, my experience with spray paint tagging is quite limited. Thankfully, my attempt on the cottage went well. I even think I spelled it correctly.
I really liked some of my pictures and videos here. I will probably use some of it for the “I’ve Been Everywhere” music video which will hopefully be produced in the next couple of months.
I got up close and personal with Mount Winnemucca, riding almost all of the way to the big “W” on the mountainside. These paths were really rough and I almost got stuck a couple of times.
The views around here were OK, but I decided that somewhere on the SE side of town would be better. That way I could get both the city and the mountain. My camp was on the east side of town, so I returned to there and started working on my sign.
I’ve had one of my Dad’s paint brushes on my left hand guard since I left home for my final chapter. It is a good reminder to see the world like my Dad saw it, with appreciation for the beauty in every little thing. On this day, the brush would serve as more than a memento. I used it to paint the board, as it was a little too small to spray straight from the can.
I did a little scouting loop near my camp while the paint was drying. It was another really rough stretch.
I eventually found myself at the bottom of a hill, having to complete a perilous climb in order to get back to civilization. I’ve had just one event I would consider a crash on this trip (in Chiapas, Mexico), but I’ve had at least half a dozen low speed “spills,” usually when riding off road. Oddly enough, none of these have been caught on camera.
The whole correlation/causation conundrum is a difficult nut to crack, but I thought maybe I could use it to my favor. I was pretty sure that I was going to spill on my attempt to climb the hill. But if I had my camera rolling it couldn’t happen, right?
This video is perhaps the best example of what it’s like to ride off road with a blown shock. If this whole motorcycle adventurer gig doesn’t work out, perhaps I’ll try my hand at bull riding.
I returned to camp and loaded up my now-dryish sign. I only had a little over an hour of daylight left, but I decided to try one more loop along dusty roads. I had some good options for where to put my sign, but I was still not quite sold.
This final loop was nearly too much. The terrain was very rocky and there were some steep elevation changes. The views were great though and I became convinced that a home for my sign would present itself soon.
The place above was nice, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to get back there for a picture in the morning (I needed Eastern sunlight on the mountain). I continued down towards town on some more difficult, technical terrain.
Eventually the rocks began to give way to sand. Somehow, I didn’t get stuck. With darkness beginning to creep in I finally found my spot. The path was dusty and the mountain framed the city in the valley below. Additionally, it was close enough to a real road, that I felt confident I could reach it again in the morning.
Saturday, September 28th
I woke up tired and cold, but I was rolling before sunrise. I knew I had a long day ahead of me. Not only did I still need to take my official Winnemucca picture, but I was also going to try to make it all the way to Crater Lake, Oregon. Oddly enough, this preceding night was actually my final night camping of the whole journey. Even had I known, I don’t think my enthusiasm would have been increased. This was the morning to capture Winnemucca. A day I knew that I would never forget.
I was able to access my location with only about a mile of off-road riding. I studied the view carefully, unsheathed my new shovel and started digging.
I was surprised to see a figure approach, as a guy was taking his dog for a morning walk. I didn’t feel like I had time to chat since I thought I might soon lose the sun behind clouds. Instead, I just gave my best “I’m totally not burying a body right now” smile and said, “Good Morning.”
I dug two fairly deep holes, surrounded the posts with rocks, then scooped the dusty earth on top. With sign in place, it was finally time. Ladies and gentlemen….and bikers, I give you, Winnemucca:
Here too, I captured a lot of different media. I think the image above will serve as the official one.
The guy with the dog eventually came back my way. With my work completed, I told him about what I was doing. His name was Guadeloupe and he told me that he never takes this path. He just felt like something different on this particular morning.
We really connected as we both shared our stories. He ended our conversation by opening his wallet and giving me all $23 therein. He said, “I’m just sorry I don’t have any more.” (It should be noted that I was not yielding my shovel in any threatening manner. I’m pretty sure this was not a robbery.) This was such a beautiful, random act of generosity. The fact that I’d meet this guy in this most obscure place on this most historic moment….
For posterity’s sake, here are the GPS coordinates of my sign: (40.943041, -117.716734). I don’t expect it to remain for too long, as nearly every sign on the outskirts of town are riddled with shotgun holes. However, I fully plan to revisit this place. It will always be special to me.
I returned to camp and loaded up my tent. Like any place, I still hadn’t experienced all that Winnemucca had to offer. However, I was overflowing with gratitude for all that I did get to see and do in this unique little town. I couldn’t yet claim to have been Everywhere, but I could now say unequivocally that I had toted my pack along the dusty Winnemucca road. Now that I had officially “begun” the song, I was ready to press on towards the end.
2 to go!
Stay dusty, everybody
Realtime update: I kind of miss doing these, so maybe I’ll use these to just post some post-trip updates. There have been some things happening. I’ll start with a neat “finish” to a previous story:
We have a quilt!
One of my favorite stories of my final chapter was visiting Prairie Quilt in song place Hennessey, Oklahoma (this post). My friend Rocky and I were treated so well by the wonderful people there. They said they would be sending me my own quilt and I was eager to see it at the completion of my journey. It is absolutely perfect and they even custom embroidered it for me.
This is absolutely one of the most special keepsakes from my journey. 🙂