I’d never been to Death Valley before. Just another one of those blank spaces on the mental map, one that I’d seen pictures of and said ‘I need to go there someday’ but seeing that it really is in the Middle of Nowhere, hadn’t really had the opportunity. Plus, it’s a National Park, and while National Parks are generally National Parks for a reason, they scream Lots of People in RVs and I tend to shy away from that.
A few months ago, Scott clued me in to a ride that Phil was putting on. It was advertised on MTBR.com and John was going, so I’d know at least one person on what was shaping up to be a good sized group trip. Last minute, I was told that we’d have some form of sag support so that we wouldn’t have to carry camping gear of three days worth of food for the 230 mile loop through the valley. All of a sudden, the 8 hour drive up there didn’t seem so bad, especially since we were able to carpool from Big Bad Phoenix.
Art in Rhyolite
Phil, John and I set off at a pre-civilized hour, meeting up with Michelle and Sabine and heading through the great wide open to Nevada. We arrived with enough time to do some car sight-seeing, an activity that I hadn’t engaged in for years. I think I prefer the bike. We stopped by the ghost town of Rhyolite under cloudy skies and took some pictures before heading into the Park to take more pictures and visit Badwater, the lowest spot in North America. While there, it started to piss rain, so being able to get back into a car really wasn’t that bad all of a sudden. The rain would continue through the night, but we found ourselves with overcast, but dry skies in the morning.
Six of us set off out of Beatty, NV, a town where people wear guns on their hips and babies wander around the ‘restaurant’ sections of bars playing pool. We climbed up to the top of Titus Canyon, a land straight out of Jurassic Park, the road mostly dry. I really wouldn’t have been surprised to see a T-Rex around any corner.
Topping out at 5,200 feet, we started down. First stop, town of Leadfield. It didn’t last long.
Then down through the slot canyon where the road condition deteriorated rapidly. The deep slot drains 35 square miles and the previous days dousing had washed out the road, stopping car traffic and causing the park service to close it, fortunately long after we’d descended into the depths of it.
The bikes didn’t fare well, though after scraping and spraying for the better part of an hour at the end of the canyon, John and I were able to get them ridable (with most of the gears) and pedal the 30 more miles to the resort town of Furnace Creek, elevation -190 feet.
Count that, a drop of 5,300 feet or so. Once a mining stronghold, it’s turned into a hotbed of tourism selling overpriced tee-shirts, gas at outrageous prices, and camping spots. Luckily, they also had a hose so that the bikes weren’t fated to be a disaster for the following 280 miles.
Leaving Furnace Creek in the late afternoon, we hit not only a heinous headwind heading south towards West Side Road, but also Golden Hour. Golden Hour in Death Valley is something spectacular. It made it seem okay that sunset was in 30 minutes and we still had 40+ miles to go to camp where our driving friends were to meet us for the night. Sag support is great…carrying bikepacking gear so you can sleep where you want, possibly even greater. Jury’s still out.
Riding in the dark isn’t so bad when you’ve got a buddy, there are a million stars in the sky, and the only sound you hear is the single chirp of a single cricket. And when it’s warm enough to pedal in a single layer, knowing that when you do get to camp, it’s not going to be freezing.
We arrived at 9:30 at night, 107 miles for the day. The drivers had started to get worried but when we saw the lights of the rest of the crew across the valley after, who’d decided to stay on the pavement for the last 50 miles, making their way slowly towards camp, we were able to sleep easy knowing that all would be accounted for a few hours.
Snuggling deep into my bag, I almost didn’t want to go to sleep with the million and a half stars in the sky. With a new moon, it was breathtaking.
Morning was equally spectacular, waking up to a land that I hadn’t seen the night before. The views continued. The riding continued. My mind continued to be blow around every corner.