Name: Mark McDaniel

Birthday: Feb

Home: Reno, NV


The Challenge

To head in to Death Valley, alone with a bike, and chase the harry edge.

(the original 'plan' was to ride 300 miles)


Alone in Death Valley

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  minimart-RV-campground-hotel-saloon-restaurant-gas station-aide 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 committed either.

 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 unexpected sight.

 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 Panamint Valley.

 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 valley bottom. 

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 layers.

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 alone.

  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.