The Loneliest Road In America

Heading West on Highway 50

“Don’t you get lonely?”  is one of the most common questions I get from people curious about my life on the road. The short answer is no, loneliness is not one of my problems and never has been. I’ve been a loner all my life.

Occasionally, I can talk my friends and family into copiloting on my road trips, but if I always waited around for somebody to join me I’d rarely go anywhere. Besides, going solo is great for one of my favorite things about traveling: meeting new people. When you’re not insulated by what’s familiar, you’re more likely to seek out new things.

My Kind of Road!

Last week, driving “the Loneliest Road in America” also known as Nevada’s Highway 50, I met all kinds of people: Great Basin tourists, veteran park rangers, genuine cowboys, life-long Nevada residents and even a few fellow vagabonds. How do I meet these people? I just smile and start talking and lo and behold, most people smile and talk back.

Starting conversations with total strangers is an art that I’ll probably never perfect, but I love hearing people’s stories. Everybody has one; the trick is getting them to tell it to you. The Teardrop is a great conversation starter. So are my dogs, so is my camera.

Once I tell people I live on the road, they’re usually hooked. They light up. My story seems to stir the fires of freedom that we all stoke or smother at some point in our lives. Conversations with total strangers quickly run deep, into dreams realized and dashed. A few people I’ve met have walked away with their eyes bright, their fires relit. Those are the conversations I love most.

A Band of Wild Mustangs Along Highway 50

Check out those wild colors! I love a red roan!

As for the inevitable question – isn’t it dangerous to talk to strangers?! – in my experience, no, it isn’t. Sure, I’ve met some weird people and some creepy people, but in my seven years on the road, nobody has ever actually threatened me. Despite what the media and the authorities might have you believe, the world is not full of psychos. Use common sense and project self confidence and you’ll find that there are a lot of friendly, interesting people out there.

Working Windmill! Old time windmills were used to pull water up from underground springs. You still see them all over the Plains and the West, but most are defunct. Very cool to see a wet one! Especially in such dry country.

Over Memorial Day weekend, I pulled over at a scenic overlook to check out a working windmill and started a conversation with three Nevadans. They ended up inviting me to a community BBQ up the road in the tiny town of Middlegate (Population: 17!). When I showed up, they were so pleased that they bought me dinner and we had a great conversation about vagabonding over all you can eat BBQ. You never know who you might meet on the road!

Small Town, Great People!

When’s the last time you had a meaningful conversation with a total stranger? Try it! Buck this awful isolating trend of only relating to other people you kind of sort of know through Facebook! Don’t let conversation – real, true, meaningful conversation – become a lost art. You never know when you’re going to meet somebody who tells you a great story, teaches you something new or inspires you to seek a little more freedom in your life.  :)

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently traveling the backroads from New Mexico to Alaska, writing and living out of a tiny Teardrop camper. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Cowboys & Horses, Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to The Loneliest Road In America

  1. P. C. Zick says:

    I think it’s almost impossible to get lonely on the road – at least that’s my experience. I remember a trip I took a few years back from Florida to Michigan. I told one of my colleagues I was driving and taking several days to get to my destination. She looked at me as if I’d grown a visible third eye, and said. “What in the world would you do that?” I think I said something like, “Why not?”

    “I forgot. You’re a writer,” she said.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. coyotejoe says:

    Yesssss! I’ve heard some locals say that Hwy 375 on the NE side of the Nye County Test Range is the real loneliest road, and I must say it’s pretty quiet out there – except for the mysterious booms coming from the test range.. Whenever I am on Hwy 50 heading either direction, I feel like I have come home :) Happy travels!

  3. I get that question pretty often, too, even though I’m not as nomadic as you. I tend to move every year or so and love it. Between meeting strangers, having my faithful furball sidekick for company, and my head churning out stories to entertain me, I’m just fine with how my life is.

    A popular follow up question is usually “What about sex?” (or relationships). Heh! Nosy people.

    So far I am loving this teeny beach town, pop: 473 – prior to this, I’d always lived in or near a large city. But I’m not loving this guesthouse. I foresee another move when the lease is up.

  4. Kendall says:

    I was just telling my co-workers this morning that the reason I went on a solo backpacking trip this weekend was because if I waited around for someone to go with me, I’d never get to go! I did get a little lonely at the camp after a long day of hiking, but that’s probably because my dog isn’t allowed in Point Reyes. I’ve driven highway 50 in NV and it is indeed isolated. I’m shy so it is difficult for me to start conversations with total strangers, but maybe that’s something I need to get over! Nice post

  5. This is so well written and so well said. I also took the time to get to speak with local Quechua people when I was visiting Peru. They are such warm, open and friendly people. Their stories always astounded me with their strength and resilience.

    I envy your peace and solitude.

  6. Joni says:

    That is one problem I do not have….talking to strangers. When my kids were teenagers they hated going anywhere with me b/c I would talk to anyone. My fear lies in past life experience and several mental illnesses. I live alone and never get lonely. In fact, I HAVE to have a lot of “alone” time to beat stress. I”ve been married twice and it is NOT for me, been single for 13 years and find it fits me. Had I not had bad experiences when younger I would probably be out on the road with my two part schnauzer/mutt doggies. I am a write too. If I keep following you Blonde Coyote and several others out there alone I just might get the nerve to try it. You are very inspiring

  7. I’m also a loner and need a lot of alone time. I’ve been dreaming about doing what you’re doing. I’m a teacher/writer and am psyched about nature’s patterns. I too am a photographer. I’m saving for my tiny house on wheels, and probably a tear drop too. Thanks for all your inspiring writings. Here’s a link to my blog about nature connection. It’s for a virtual class I teach to homeschoolers. http://hascnc.weebly.com/natureglos-blog.html. I’ve got a lot of my photography on there too. All the best to you! Gloria

  8. Don West says:

    Well, you read my mind. I’ve been wondering for a few days if you get lonely or more so if you get bored. This post answers the lonely part. I don’t get lonely either, but I do get bored easily :-) I tend to get bored pretty quickly with people too…if I’m around the same person for too long. Reading about your adventures is really helping me develop a more defined idea of what to do when the next fork in the road decision comes along. I’m glad you’re blogging and sharing.

  9. What an interesting life! I wish I could travel that much but, alas, my husband’s a homebody. lol Oh well. I guess I’ll just have to live vicariously through you!

  10. Tim Sauder says:

    Your mention of the “inevitable isn’t it dangerous” question reminded me of a interesting art exhibit/social experiment I saw at the MOMA PS1 last year. Laurel Nakadate’s exhibit shows open trust can yield very surprising results. She interacted lonesome old chaps to an extreme level and yet she insists that not even once did things go wrong…

  11. These are wonderful photos of the western United States – just beautiful! The first one, of the lonely road, had me instantly singing, “Running on empty” from the movie “Forest Gump”.

  12. evea192 says:

    Really love reading your post`s. Here in South-Africa, u do not dare talk to strangers, u might not make it out alive, and i am serious when i say this.

  13. I think it’s great that you are living your dreams and that you enjoy being on the road and meeting new people in that way. In defense of Facebook, if it had not been for this kind of social networking, I would not be living my own dreams of trail riding, horse camping, and attending horsemanship clinics and events. And I would not have been able to connect with the wonderful horse folks that I’ve come to realize now as my dear friends. We horse folks tend to be too busy taking care of our ranches and animals to find the time to go out of our way to speak to that many strangers making brief acquaintances. Facebook groups catering to local New Mexico horse people have made it possible for all of us to connect and become real friends.

    ~Lisa
    Tijeras, NM

  14. Klbexplores says:

    I love you words….stir the fires of freedom that we all stoke or smother at some point in our lives. Circumstances and fear has kept me in situations that have not always brought the happiness I desired. It is up to each one of us to find our own path and indeed we are responsible for our own happiness. There is no path that is right for everyone. Your words have given me courage to find my the own way.

  15. You really do have a very unique life :) I read a lot of travel blogs and a lot of those people are living a vagabond kind of lifestyle too–but yours definitely stands out from the pack! I just love that you live life by your own rules and do what you want, when you want. It looks and sounds incredibly liberating. Keep it up–I LOVE to read about your adventures!

  16. I miss the ROAD and your travels keep me up on the best part of them THE STORIES

  17. Bunny Maita says:

    These are BEAUTIFUL! As always!

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  20. 4amWriter says:

    Great images, and it is reassuring to know that being friendly on the road doesn’t necessarily invite danger.

  21. You are so spot on! While living in my rig and traveling to all points of the lower 48 I have met the most increddible people and seen the most beautiful things. People tell me I am fun to be with, they love my “Stories” but they are not mine they are life as it should be. Loving and trusting one another.
    Keep on living the dream! I may never take a plane . I am 56, looks good so far,lol Iove the road and all it holds for those who Open their eyes!

  22. JC Reed says:

    I love that part of the world, I used to live in Carson City and drove route 50 more times than I can count. Most would say that central Nevada is bleak, but I always found it to be an amazing part of the world. If you are ever back along route 50, take a few days and head north into the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

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