On Hearing Voices in the Desert: Nevada… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

Early prophets headed into the desert to seek guidance and find their gods. Living in the harsh environment served as a sacrifice. Being totally alone in deep silence of the desert meant they had only themselves to listen to. It was easy to hear the whispers and voices of their inner selves, and possibly something else, ancient voice reverberation down through time.

Early prophets headed into the desert to seek guidance and find their gods. Living in the harsh environment served as a sacrifice. Being totally alone in the deep silence of the desert meant they had only themselves to listen to. It was easy to hear the whispers and voices of their inner-selves, and possibly something else, ancient voices reverberating down through time.

 

Have you ever heard someone talking to you when no one is around? The mental health folks call this experience an auditory hallucination. If you do it a lot, people start worrying about you. Words like mania or schizophrenia are thrown around. Professional advice is sought, straitjackets purchased. Fortunately, it has only happened to me twice: the first time when I was out backpacking, the second when I was bicycling across the Nevada desert on my 10,000-mile bike trek.

The first occasion I found rather humorous. I was backpacking with my Basset Hound, Socrates. (It should be noted that anyone who backpacks with a Basset Hound is already mildly insane.) Soc was off chasing some imaginary beast in the woods— his deep, hound-bark reverberating through the surrounding mountains. I was meditating using my favorite mantra, ‘goat.’ Don’t ask.

The session was progressing well. I had quieted my ever-noisy mind; colors were taking on intensity, the forest becoming alive, and Soc’s bark sounding like a Beethoven Sonata. That’s when it happened. A clear voice out of nowhere spoke to me.

“Talk to me, damn it!”

Now you can’t make this up. It’s too weird. Apparently, the inner me wanted words to munch on, not silence. It’s used to my constant nattering. So it broke into my conscious mind, took possession of me, and made a demand. I could only laugh. I went back to meditating but it was hopeless. (If you want to hear the rest of my story about backpacking with Socrates, go here. It’s a very 70’s type of tale.)

People who are really serious about hearing voices, however, go off to the desert and hang out for 40 days, or years. Saints and other holy people have been doing this for millennia. Big, booming voices tell them to go off and save the world, or take dictation, or whip themselves. Piddly things like “Talk to me, damn it!” are never heard.

Rocks are one thing that prophets find in abundance when they head off into the desert. They are great for caves; the ideal home for self-sacrificing god-seekers.

Rocks are one thing that prophets find in abundance when they head off into the desert. They are great for caves: an ideal home for those eager to live in misery.

Nevada is totally filled with rocks. I am actually surprised it hasn't produced any prophets.

Nevada is totally filled with rocks. I am actually surprised it hasn’t produced any prophets (that I know of).

More Nevada rocks.

More Nevada rocks. Possibly three wise men, or three aliens?

And more rocks.

And more rocks.

The Nevada desert fully qualifies as a place to get messages. It’s full of vast amounts of nothingness and rattlesnakes and jackrabbits and dust devils and rocks and UFOs and sagebrush and casinos. A common message people receive is, “You’re bank account is empty.” I don’t think that the state has produced any saints. Characters, on the other hand, are a dime a dozen. It’s my kind of place. I’ve crisscrossed it many times.

I've often thought about the people who choose to live their lives isolated from others. What kind of a person does it take to make such a choice? What does living out here do to a person?

I’ve often thought about the people who choose to live their lives isolated from others. What kind of a person does it take to make such a choice? What does living out here do to a person? Something about the choice resonates with me. I did, after all, choose to go on a six month bike ride by myself.

thunder-mountain-monument

Nevada is filled with wonderful characters. One was Frank Van Zant who heard voices that directed him to go off and build this structure along Interstate 80. Known as the Thunder Mountain Monument, Zant built it as a haven for spiritual seekers (hippies) of the 70s, and as a reminder of how we have mistreated Native Americans.

I entered the state on my bicycle following Idaho/Nevada 93. I knew that I had arrived when I spotted the casinos. (There are very few ways that you can enter the state without finding at least one, and often several.) They were a welcome sight, being the only place I could get a snack and refill my water bottles on my hundred-mile ride from Twin Falls to Wells. I even donated five dollars in quarters to improving Nevada’s economy.

It really has to be a remote road that enters Nevada without a casino present. Highway 93 isn't nearly remote enough!

It really has to be a remote road that enters Nevada without a casino present. Highway 93 isn’t nearly remote enough!

Highway 93 connecting Twin Falls, Idaho with Wells, Nevada featured this view. It reminded me of how beautiful Nevada is.

Highway 93 connecting Twin Falls, Idaho with Wells, Nevada featured this view of what I believe is the Humboldt Range or Ruby Mountains. It reminded me of how beautiful Nevada is.

Another view. Nevada is part of the Great Basin and is made up of several ranges with basins between. During the winter and into early summer, these ranges are often covered with snow.

Another view. Nevada is part of the Great Basin and is made up of several ranges with basins between. During the winter and into early summer, these ranges are often covered with snow.

In Wells, I picked up Interstate 80, one of America’s major East-West routes. I had been dreading this part of my journey. For well over 9000 miles I had been travelling on America and Canada’s back roads whenever possible and busier two lane highways when forced to. Now I would be riding on a four-lane freeway packed with a high percentage of the nation’s cross-country 18-wheelers. My only option was to detour to the south and pick up Highway 50, known as America’s “Loneliest Highway” as it crosses Nevada. It sounded great, but I was out of detour time. So I bit the proverbial bullet— and was happily surprised.

A constant line of traffic heading west on I-80.

A constant line of traffic heading west on I-80.

You can see almost anything traveling along I-80. Peggy and I were amused with this pick up load of squished porta-potties. I had my doubts about how they were fastened down.

You can see almost anything traveling along I-80. Peggy and I were amused with this pick up load of squished port-a-potties. I had my doubts about how they were fastened down. I pictured seeing them on my bike trip with the rope breaking. News Flash: Biker killed by flying port-a-potty. What an epitaph that would make!

The surprise was that I-80 has great shoulders. There were also occasional breaks in the traffic.

The surprise was that I-80 has great shoulders. There were also occasional breaks in the traffic.

The freeway has great shoulders. I could ride along and totally ignore the traffic. In time, the freeway noise even faded away. There was nothing but the desert, distant horizons and me. There weren’t even any cows to talk with, at least not many. I was free to meditate— and hear voices.

Cows to talk with were few and far between.

Cows to talk with were few and far between.

When the voice came, it was the booming type, not the silent whisper you hear in the back of your mind on occasion that suggests you really shouldn’t do something you have every intention of doing. It caught me off guard and scared me. I probably should have listened. Maybe I would have learned something, like to go home and build an ark. But I shut it down. I’m not crazy, and I had forgotten to bring my rose-colored glasses. Besides, I had no desire to become the first prophet to arise out of the Nevada desert (a scary thought), or end up in a straitjacket.

A couple of days later I did have a bit of a revelation, though. Maybe it was even related to the booming voice, or not. I’d left Sacramento with a lot of questions that could be traced all the way back to my youth and even DNA. To say I was restless is a massive understatement. While I had worked hard and had my share of success, I considered work an interlude between adventures. And my adventures were as much about running away as they were about my unending desire to explore new areas. My experience with relationships was similar. I’d had several since my divorce in 1976, and they had all been with good women, people who would have made great life-companions. But I had no desire to settle down and get married, much less have a family.

Something clicked in my mind out there in the middle of the Nevada desert, however. Maybe it was the result of sitting on the back of a bicycle by myself for six months. There was a lot of time to think, and a lot of alone time. I had a strong, clear thought that felt right to me. I could wander and explore without ‘running away.’ It was okay to go home and enter a serious relationship. It would be okay to get married again. It would be okay to have a family. I even went as far as thinking about the women I had dated over the past several years. As I said, they were good people, but I doubted that any of them had a sense of humor about my desire to wander. A week, yes, or even a month, but six months or a year? No way. I needed a companion who liked to wander as much as I did.

The rest of my trip across the desert was tame in comparison. I spent a lot of time going up and down. Nevada is basin and range country. I was constantly climbing up ranges and racing into basins. Towns were relatively close together and each one came with a number of casinos featuring inexpensive and plenteous food. My pure life of the open-road quickly deteriorated. I caught a bad casino cold as a result, after not having a touch of anything for six months. Eventually I hit Highway 95, the cutoff to Fallon where I picked up Highway 50 and cycled into Carson City. The Sierra Nevada Mountains loomed before me. The next day I would cross them, and then head home.

Leaving Interstate 80 toward Fallon, Nevada I entered what is known as the 40 mile desert, which was a nightmare for early pioneers crossing in wagon trains.

Leaving Interstate 80 toward Fallon, Nevada I entered what is known as the 40 mile desert, which was a nightmare for early pioneers crossing in wagon trains. An 1850 survey found 1061 dead mules, 5000 dead horses, 3750 dead cattle, and 953 graves along the route.

Highway 50 between Fallon and Carson provided a gentler view of the desert.

Highway 50 between Fallon and Carson City provided a gentler view of the desert.

And signs to watch out for wild horses.

And signs to watch out for wild horses crossing the road.

As I entered the Carson Valley, the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range loomed up before me. I was approaching the end of my journey. I was approaching home.

As I entered the Carson Valley, the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range loomed up before me. I was approaching the end of my journey. I was approaching home.

NEXT BLOG: I finish my 10,000 mile journey and return home. A surprise is waiting that will change my life.

34 comments on “On Hearing Voices in the Desert: Nevada… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

  1. Curt, I would worry if you didn’t hear voices on your bike adventure.

    There’s another story in here. Okay, many stories. The one that immediately came to mind is with the metaphor of getting sick because you got out of your element (and off your road) to spend time with others at the casinos.

    Every one of these 10,000 miles entries is astounding, yet can’t come close to describing the impact that it must have had on you, let alone the intense drive that it must have taken to start and complete.

    • Lot’s of quiet voices, Bruce, of the type where you have an intuitive gut feeling. I’ve always tried to listen to them, and gotten in deep trouble when I haven’t. But the actual speaking in my head was a bit different, a bit scary. One of my friends on Facebook noted that many cultures have high respect for such incidents.
      There is a lot to learn about yourself on such an adventure, both mentally and physically. Having run challenging long distant treks for many years, I have always been amazed at the ability of people to meet challenges and how it impacts their lives, even more so if they have never had such experiences. Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comments. –Curt

    • I always had great faith in intuition, Ginette. Depending totally on logic has gotten me in trouble for time to time. Intuition never has, but the best of all possible worlds (for me) is when logic and intuition agree. –Curt

  2. Jeez, Curt, you’d think when a voice wants you to talk to them, you’d at least ask their name!
    I have a funny feeling I know what the surprise at home is going to be!

  3. Oh this was a great post Curt, and you left us hanging! Once again your photos are so absolutely beautiful. Wanting to live in isolation resonates with me as well, the older I get the more I relate to this feeling. Although those voices would probably have more room to talk with more isolation. Hmmmm.

  4. Hey Curt! so I finally updated that book review I’d been meaning to write. You liked it when there wasn’t anything there, I hope you like it now that…well, that there is something there! Hit me up here, and if you still like it, leave a comment 🙂 http://wp.me/p3Aqzs-Ni
    Have a great day!

  5. I’ve only heard a voice once — in the sense of out-loud, can’t be denied reality. I was in high school and walking through our local shopping mall when I heard someone call my name. It was so clear I looked around, but didn’t see anyone I knew. Then, I heard it again. it was a little disorienting, to say the least. I can only imagine what it would be out there in the middle of nowhere.

    i drove Highway 50 once, and had one of the most amazing travel experiences of my life. I may have told you about it, since you’re always evoking these old memories. Out there where there weren’t any more fences or telephone poles or anything, really, I passed an Indian girl sitting atop a butte, just watching me pass. I wasn’t traveling fast, and we really looked at each other. She never moved, and I never stopped. But I can see her on that pony even today, as clear as can be.

    Once I got home from my recent trip, some people asked, “Wouldn’t it have been better to have someone along, to share the experience?” My answer? “No.”

    • Thanks, Emily. In the beginning, it was very hard. But once you are out there, once your body and mind have adjusted, once you have created comfortable routines, then it becomes pleasurable. Life is incredibly simple. Each day is a new adventure. The silence out there, especially since I tried to incorporate meditation into my daily routine of bicycling, certainly encouraged listening to my inner voices and set the stage to hear more. 🙂 –Curt

  6. Thank you for sharing this Curt. I hear voices quite frequently – the still small voices that guide me or keep me out of trouble, but like you the booming voice has only come a couple of times. So of course I want to know what the voice in the desert boomed at you! And the revelation is wonderful. I too have spent hours on end alone, frequently in the wilderness and that kind of quiet lends itself to the emergence of clarity. Don’t tell me – you met Peggy soon after you returned home?!!
    Alison

    • You are welcome, Alison. I learned a long time ago to listen to my ‘small voices’ or suffer the consequences! Not only have they kept me out of trouble, they’ve led to some wonderful experiences. As for Peggy… read on. 🙂 –Curt

  7. You are right about the characters in Nevada! I lived in Winnemucca for 3 years and never developed a love for that desert, but I did learn to love so much about it. Highway 50 will always hold special memories for me, and the unexpected beauty of Austin, NV, the smell of 1000 acres of sagebrush after a rain, the warmth of the caves in Great Basin NP when it’s -12 degrees outside, Cowboy Poetry in Elko. I loved the herds of wild horses around Denio, and the snowy forests in Carson City and Tahoe, the fabulous desert hiking down in Las Vegas. It’s a great state.

  8. What an interesting post! I found myself wondering if I had ever heard voices, and I don’t think I have. However, when no one is at home, I hear a lot of things that I don’t hear when there’s a buzz of activity about. Loved the van Zant artwork, the squished porta potties, and the breathtaking scenery as you entered Nevada. Now this is a blog post with variety if there ever was one!

    • It is quite distinctive when you do hear a voice. I was quite surprised, and taken aback both times, Rusha. I wish I had written down the Nevada experience at the time… or at least listened. 🙂 As for variety, the spice of life, eh. –Curt

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