I drove down to Death Valley Friday evening, making it to Panamint
Springs at about 0100 Saturday. Pulled into the campground across
from the hotel/bar and passed out in the back of the truck. I was
up at sunrise, made some joe and drove about a 1/4 mile down the dirt
road that goes out to the Panamint Dunes (~500') to park the truck for
the day. After loading up my Camelback with a shitton of food and
water, topped off 2 large water bottles on the frame, tied a few extra
layers in a space blanket on the rack (no panniers), I locked up and
rolled away at 0836.
I had no concrete plans, just a good map and the day+ to burn riding.
I decided to start on 190 the general direction of my intended route,
see how I felt, and act according. Being solo w/o a proper bedroll
and limited gear, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to even get close to
completing what I'd sprayed about earlier in the week. No worries
though, I was there to ride and enjoy myself, see some desert and find
the harry edge.
2 hours later, I crested Towne Pass( ~4950') and nuked down
towards Stovepipe Wells. There's a campground near the turn for
Wild rose with a very cool stone cabin and a pay phone. Cells
don't work out there so I made a call home to let Ace know my agenda (or
lack thereof). From there it was a long, fast spin to the
station and at one point I glanced back over my shoulder to check
for traffic and I thought, "what have I done..."
From there I rolled further east on 190, then north towards the
Grapevine Ranger Stn. I figured if I got there and was feeling
frisky, I'd consider going out towards the Ubehebe Crater and possibly
on towards Racetrack Valley. Just continuing on in a loop sounded
appealing in that I wouldn't have to climb back up Towne. Doubting
I'd make beyond Racetrack Valley, if that far, before nightfall, I knew
I would be in for a forced bivy with essentially three layers, a rain
shell, and a worn out space blanket. I expected that to be
completely miserable and only halfway back to the rig with mostly dirt
roads and bunch of climbing the next day. I wasn't entirely
At about the turn for Titus Canyon I got to looking at my map
again. Not acting too hastily I pushed on hoping to make it to the
Ranger Stn before making a decision, then paused again at mile marker
26. More map time, then looking back across the Valley towards the
dunes I'd passed, the roof tops of Stovepipe Wells, and the ribbon of
road that climbed almost 5k feet back to Towne Pass. I peeled an
orange, nodded to passing motos and road bikers, and let my survival
instinct win. I'd been out six hours and was over 60 miles from my
truck. From where I was sitting I couldn't see the Ranger
Stn or Scotty's Castle and decided that pushing on was no longer what I
was doing, I turned around and began riding back the way I'd come.
It was a bit faster returning the 26 miles to highway 190 than riding
out and I was just outside of Stovepipe Wells when I passed a group of
road bikers I'd seen earlier. They were pausing to get pics with
the dunes in the background. "You're burning daylight,"
I joked as I went by. A few minutes later my front tire went flat
and I was taking a break on the shoulder of the road, enjoying the view
and patching the tube as they passed me by - jinxed. Turns
out that the rim tape had moved a bit and the tube was cut by a spoke
hole on the rim. Good thing that didn't happen at speed...
shudder at the thought.
I got out my first aide kit and used cloth tape to cover any holes
that were peeking out from around the rim tape. Guess the high air
pressure I was running on the road and the relatively warm temps may
have helped the rim tape move a bit... Mental note to get back into
that wheel and replace the rim tape... Once going again it was
after 1700 and the sun was setting. I had two full bottles left on
the frame and plenty of food so I rode past the "aide station"
w/o stopping. I knew I was in for a climb and didn't want to
dally. An hour passed and it was about as dark as it was going to
get. I stopped to put my flasher on so any traffic from behind
would see me, but thanks to the full moon I didn't need a headlight.
I kept waiting for that pay phone and camp ground to take a break,
snack, add a layer, update base camp, and just plain feel like I'd
gotten somewhere. It was a long time coming. I would see car
headlights coming downgrade occasionally and get passed about once every
20 minutes. Other than that I was alone. I was feeling a bit
tired but not hungry, hurt, or thirsty. The full moon was out and
I was definitely diggin' everything. The horizon wasn't far away,
and surely couldn't be much past the campground. By time I got to
the pay phone, cabin, and campground my legs were shaking a bit and I
was definitely feeling the sweat in my base layer getting cold. I
got off the bike and wobbled a little, dug out a headlamp and another
layer, and called in ...all's well and will check in tomorrow morn when
I'm driving... Legs began to seize while snacking and sitting on
the porch of the cabin. I wondered if the Park Service rents it
out, if it had a bed or wood stove... further.
I emptied all the trash from my pack (hadn't even left orange peels out
there) at the campground and got back in the saddle. The
occasional vehicle roared by, kindly on the far end of the road.
It's nice how most traffic gives you space out there. Perhaps they
were more worried about the swerving I must've been doing or what the
hell I was even doing out there. Alone in the dark with just a
flasher on the left rear quarter of my helmet, I must've been an
I was definitely tired but secure with my challenge remaining
and confident I could make it. My only concern was if I'd end up
needing to rest any period of time, most certainly facing a chill and
only a shell and torn up space blanket to add for comfort. Having
finally made it to that pay phone, which I recalled was just down from a
summit I knew I must've been nearly back to Towne Pass.
Wellllll....... either I was bonking, or going like 45 mph on the
descent that morning (likely), or lost in a weird mental treadmill where
the mileage markers on the road were actually waywayway further apart
than normal. Finally got to the top of the hill and pulled my
soaked base layer off, put on my last dry one and my rain coat, tugged
the hood over my head to keep the ears warm, checked the light on my
helmet, flashed a huge twisted grin at a passing motorist, took a
picture, said "Good bye Death Valley" and rolled west in
It took like an 1/8 of mile to be spun out (42-11 with 180mm
cranks on 29" wheels with 2.1 Nanoraptors = fast). I
wondered what the peeps thought passing me in their cars in the dark,
then I reminded me to watch the pavement for shadows of rocks, cover the
brakes, and remember the spontaneous low speed flat I'd had earlier.
Another one of those would be a real buzz kill.
It was pretty rad charging downgrade W.F.O. by moonlight and road
stripes. As I approached a big righthand sweeper near the bottom
of the canyon a car caught up to me. I was happy to have their
lights as I passed through a road cut and scanned for rockstacles that'd
need to be missed. I was hammering along merrily laughing at the
impression they must've had and waved them by when we hit an open
straightaway. Wonder if there was talk at the bar in Panamint
Springs about the ghost rider w/o lights toiling away or making 40+ in
the dark... A good holler blew out the last bit of steam I had and
the chill air from the pass was giving way to warmer temps near the
The thought of missing my turn to the truck humbled me a bit so I
scrubbed some speed and I watched closely for a small unmarked dirt road
on the right as I approached the playa. I mistook a bush for a
troll and wondered if he would help me catch my turn. That'd be
cool, I thought, wait, but then they'd know I was out there and I didn't
need that when car camping...
Ha, must've dabbled a bit too long out there, or not long enough, and
I dismissed my troll sighting as the leading edge of a vision quest and
returned my attention to finding the dirt road. I didn't want to
have to double back and ride uphill to find it. I was
looking forward to pounding some recovery drink, eating some warm food
(chili, cheese, salami, and crackers) and peeling off my knickers and
Whoa, made the turn and bounced down that dirt road on 50 psi tires
thinking, what was I thinking - 70 to 120 miles of this and more -
that was out of line... where's the truck? I thought it was
only a 1/4 mile in, maybe that troll got it, or the Park Service towed
it since I didn't have a fee receipt in the window, or it was stolen.
Panamint Springs was only a few miles further, I could get a room...
horseshit. Truck's gotta be here, further.
Yep, there it was, probably a mile in. Funny how that
felt like a 1/4 mile 12 hours and 120ish miles ago, and 3 miles now.
I changed into some dry layers, took care of nourishing myself, and
embraced a solid 8 hour bonk. Trolls were kind enough to leave me
Next morning I was up at sunrise, started coffee, then
stretched a bit. Before loading the bike I pedaled down the road
towards the dunes and was happy to feel in good enough shape, yet tired
and sore enough to be content with my halfassed challenge.
It's one thing to push it wayway too far when you've got a crew, and
another thing to be out solo in a very big landscape. Suffering
alone is special.
Heading north towards home I stopped at Father Crowley point to take
in the view. I opted for Saline Valley Rd to get to Big Pine and
do some recon for a later, nice 3 or 4 day bike tour, on my fully sprung
bike. Orrrr, maybe on the GS - wait - now how about doing the 310
miler on my motorbike? That in a day would be respectable.
Thanks for entertaining me guys. It was fun out there.