GARRISON, UTAH -- In the middle of a dry sagebrush valley, a mile east of town, we pulled the cork on a bottle of cheap white wine. It was the closest the local store could come to champagne, but that didn't lessen our celebration.
At the bend in a dirt road, we had crossed into Utah, and thereby finished more than 500 miles of hiking and bicycling from Lake Tahoe to Great Basin National Park, across the state of Nevada.
Nevada was the second state we had mapped as the American Discovery Trail Scouting Expedition, a joint project of Backpacker magazine and the American Hiking Society to establish the route of the first coast-to-coast trail.
As we traveled across California, we had looked ahead with dread.
Just before we had entered Nevada, a traveler got his car stuck in a wash. He had made it the seven miles through the desert to a watering hole -- but that night he froze to death.
We expected harsh land. But what we found when we tracked into the heart of the desert was completely different from the featureless wasteland most people think they see when they pass through on the highway. Dry it is, but not featureless. We crossed more than a dozen mountain ranges on our traverse. We climbed over 10,000 feet in elevation several times, passing from sagebrush plains to mountain forests of aspen and pine.
Even the hot dry valleys are beautiful if you take the trouble to get out of your car. They are peaceful, with sunsets that last all evening and more stars than a planetarium.
If Nevada was so nice, why were we celebrating? It was also a lot of work.
Here's a typical central Nevada week in the life of the ADT scouting team, the week we got lost without knowing it:
Friday: After resupplying with food and water, we arrive at our starting point in the mid-afternoon. Team members Ellen Dudley and Sam Carlson ride their mountain bicycles about 20 miles across the Big Smoky Valley and then 2,000 feet up into the Toquima Range.
Saturday: Ellen and I hike more than 16 miles over Mount Jefferson, from 7,600 to about 11,000 feet. The trail fizzles out, and we have to climb hand-over-hand near the top. Clouds blow in, and the trail we're supposed to follow down doesn't exist.
We pick our way down, reaching camp just as the rain begins. Sam is there with a four-wheel drive vehicle. We eat dinner in a downpour and go to bed in a downpour. In the morning we look up to see snow on Mount Jefferson.
Sunday: Sam and I bike across the Monitor Valley. It's an easy day, which let us time our ride to avoid the continuing rainstorms.
Monday: Ellen and I begin the 20-mile hike over Table Mountain, a 3,000-foot climb. This time there is a trail, but it doesn't go where the map shows. We follow it anyway, tracking where it takes us. Sam drives around to the other side.
Tuesday: The trail peters out near the top. Another nonexistent trail leads down. It's a terrifically steep bushwhack to the bottom. Meanwhile, Sam rides the route across the Little Fish Lake Valley and back again, a 40-mile jaunt on sandy roads.
Wednesday: We stop at a ranch -- the only one within 50 miles -- to refill our water jugs, then drive to the base of the Hot Creek Range. Following an obscure map a ranger drew, we think we can make the more than 15 miles across the range in a day if we go light.
Sam and I walk up another trail that disappears in a few miles. We use map and a compass to cross over a sagebrush ridge into another valley. From here jeep roads take us across two more ridges and valleys. It's late, and the main divide of the range still lies ahead of us.
For once there's a trail, and in the lingering twilight we spot a jeep road snaking a few thousand feet into the valley on the other side. We take the north fork of this road and descend in darkness. Ellen has made a five-hour drive to the eastern side, but will we find her in the dark?
Shortly before 10 our flashlights reflect off the vehicle. We won't have to spend the night wrapped in space blankets after all.
Thursday: We hike across the Hot Creek Valley, through the Confusion Hills, and across the Big Sand Springs Valley. We have to backtrack to rescout when one of the roads on the proposed route is no good. Sandy roads make it difficult to turn the car, but we manage to scout 40 miles of trail by dark. It's the emptiest valley yet. Only wild mustangs.
Friday: It's a short ride through the Pancake Range to the Duckwater Shoshone Indian Reservation. Except for the rancher who gave us water, these are the first people we've seen since Mount Jefferson.
As we walk into the community center, Bob, the local lawman, says with a smile, "I've spent the last 48 hours tracking you." Seems our handlers at Backpacker were worried we hadn't checked in, not realizing that phones in Nevada can be several days apart. "They were even talking about sending a plane out."
We apologize for putting him to the trouble; we'd had no idea we were lost.
We explore the reservation, swim in its crystal clear hot spring, then ride a few miles further. From Duckwater, it's another week of traveling to our celebration at the border. But first it's time to resupply in the town of Ely, where we hear there are showers and salads.
Eric Seaborg is a trail coordinator for the American Discovery Trail Scouting Expedition. For updates on the team's progress, call the ADT Hotline at (703) 754-9008.