“Even in the valley of the shadow of death, two and two do not make six.”
All we ever hear about Death Valley is the 134 degree heat and the egg frying on the pavement, but there is much more to it than the heat. The valley boasts unique rock formations, incredible views, and knowing that you are at the lowest point in North America. Riding through Death Valley National Park was a great experience. Getting out proved to be the problem.
I didn’t get my hands on the data for the Towne Pass climb until I was in Pahrump and it was too late to turn back. The truth hurts sometimes. 5,000 feet of climbing in 16 miles. 7-12% grades the entire way. I rolled out of my tent at Stovepipe Wells and started the climb up Towne Pass at 0 elevation before the heat started. It took me until 1,000 feet to get into a rhythm. At 2,000 feet my neighbor at the campsite the night before stopped by to top off my water. By 3,000 feet I was bonking. I struggled to 4,000 feet. Shortly after, a headwind slapped me in the face and I imagined the headline upon my demise. Man Dies of Massive Meltown in Death Valley Just Days Before Completing Cross-Country Tour. I rolled over the summit with nothing left. After a clumsy descent, I got to Panamint Springs, plopped down at the bar and ate overpriced fish and chips. I had done 40 miles. I got a campsite and fell asleep on the picnic table. I woke up a couple of hours later, drank a gallon of water and a beer. I owe a huge thanks to Mike and Mary Cooney, owners of Concord Motorsport back home, for sending me over a slice of apple pie.
I slept in a pile of sand that night, as the wind blew the desert into my tent all night. Panamint Valley Road was closed due to flash flooding, but I was advised that it was my easiest route back to civilization. Bad idea. I turned into the valley to find that the winds had not let up. I pedaled against a 40 mph headwind for 8 hours. Every few minutes a sandstorm would kick up and I would have to ride with my eyes closed, listening to the granules ping against my helmet.
I was eventually able to climb up and over the Slate Range and out of the valley. I rolled into Trona looking like a ball of dust. It was the toughest 48 hours of the trip, but I had made it. I’m ready for the final stretch.