Juggling my schedule around the weather, I decided to spend another day in Estes Park. I had dreams of tackling the old dirt road that was replaced by Trail Ridge, but I woke up late, it was raining, and was probably even harder than doing the paved road, much less doing it in the mud.
Plus then I’d probably have to wash my bike, and I hate washing bikes.
The light, but steady rain meant I wasn’t tackling any high passes, so I decided to go down Hwy 34 aka Big Thompson canyon, a relatively sedate 44 miles and 2600 feet of ascent.
Traffic was moderate but generally the shoulder was sufficient to leave room for cars, and nothing very technical or challenging even with the wet roads.
Since I was Just Riding Along, I headed to a shopping center and a sign told me I needed pie, so I stopped for breakfast.
Headed back to the hotel and hit up a local bicycle/coffee place, they have TWO Slayer espresso machines, and I hadn’t had a good coffee in 2 weeks.
Rolled back to the hotel, still pretty wet and rainy.
Will spend the rest of the day doing laundry and getting organized for the next two big climbs.
Current plan is Idaho Falls tomorrow and ride Mt Evans on Friday (Saturday is the official Mt Evans Hill Climb race, so I expect Idaho Falls will be filled with cyclists.)
I chose this climb because it would put me at a new altitude record for bicycling – approximately 12,400 feet above sea level. It also crosses over the continental divide, which is pretty neat.
Mt Evans and Pikes’ Peak are both around 14,000. So if things went poorly on Trail Ridge, I knew I should not attempt those (or attempting my white whale – the full Mauna Kea in Hawaii.)
Technically you can start this climb down in the actual valley, and turn it into a 7500+ foot ascent, but since this was supposed to be a warm up ride for Evans/Pikes, I opted to leave from Estes Park, which has the added bonus of a breakfast place I can park at, so I can eat pancakes when I’m done riding.
I was obviously not on my game this morning, since it took me until 6 AM to get kitted up in the parking lot. Then I forgot to start my bike computer. Then I got .8 miles in and realized I left my camelbak hanging on my motorcycle.
So on my 3rd attempt of starting the climb, I headed up.
The first 2000+ feet are pretty much.. tree tunnels. Not much to be seen except the epic huge mountains in the background, and increasingly dire warnings about changing conditions. I was pretty much surrounded by dark clouds, and you could see lots of puddles from the previous day’s precipitation. I REALLY didn’t want to do the descent in the rain.
Around 11,000 feet.. you hit some gaps in the mountain, turns out, this is the divide. Apparently the west and the east weather systems are fighting it out, because the wind turned REAL gusty.
WIFE: STOP READING HERE
Alright, if you’re not my wife who worries about me – it was probably 40+ mph gusts for about 10 minutes. One picked me up and moved me a good 8 feet to the left – luckily to the side where there was mountain and not cliff.
I definitely was having second thoughts and considered turning around (since there was still another 30 or 40 minutes of climbing.)
Luckily by the time I was done waffling, some trees sprang up again to block the wind, and it wasn’t bad the rest of the way up. I suspect it’s just that continental divide thing.
Once you get up past 11,000 or so, it turns into the now familiar arctic tundra.
There was actually another deer RIGHT on the shoulder, giving me the eyeball.. once again, no picture as I tried to figure out how to get past an animal larger than my motorcycle. Then I noticed it was chewing on a candy bar wrapper, so I figured it was distracted by whatever delicious treat an idiot tourist gave it. TOURISTS: WILD ANIMALS WILL KILL YOU, DO NOT FEED THEM. So dumb.
I continued over the summit (no sign?!?!) and down a bit of descent to a turnout area, there’s a paved trail that leads up a bit from here, so I decided to go up it – here I finally got to use my granny gear, as it was 15%+ in spots. Also a good test at 12,000 feet if I could power through something like that.
Generally I felt ok, slightly nauseated again – but hard to tell if that is altitude or just too many Pop Tarts and Lifesaver gummies. No dizziness or vertigo or anything like that.
My heart rate behaved much better – barely creeping up around 80% once I got over 10,000 feet, lowering my cadence seems to help significantly.
Alright, now the descent.. if my wife is still reading this she should stop again.
While I was dawdling at the summit, the weather degraded, it was now 25+mph pretty continuously, and the divide section was.. not good.
The only good part was that traffic going down was still quite light, while going up there was a steady stream of cars throwing off turbulance. But at least I could claim the whole lane – which was good, because I needed it – between the wind changing directions as I rounded switchbacks, and then the extra 40+ mph gusts coming through the divide, I was all over the road.
Thankfully it had not started to rain yet. After that andrenaline and white knuckle first 2000 feet, I pulled over and took a breather before tackling the rest.
The rest of the descent was also no fun, but not as scary, just very unpleasant. I meant to stop a few places and take more pictures – then another gust would pick me up and I’d change my mind.
I coasted into the breakfast place and got my victory pancakes, relatively confident I can attempt Evans and Pike’s Peak without immediate altitude sickness, assuming I can find an acceptable weather window.
After idling around Red Lodge, I was feeling antsy to do something, I am not great at doing nothing.
Since this climb starts pretty much from the hotel I am staying at, there was no real reason to roll out super early, so originally I was going to ride at 7:30, but after my experience on the motorcycle with the tourists, I went ahead and stuck to my early riding schedule and got out around 6.
Technically the road is “closed” until 8 AM according to the signage, for road work.. but I felt like it was a reasonable gamble. Nothing on this side of the pass looked like it needed eminent repair.
This a long climb – 30 miles, I haven’t done a sustained climb that long since Haleakala in Hawaii, but it is also not very steep. It also ends about 900 feet higher than Haleakala.
The first hour takes you along the valley floor, at a very gradual 3-5% grade before turning up. What’s sort of weird is right out the door my heart rate was elevated, I don’t know what your body needs to do to get acclimated to elevation, but I hope it gets onto it quickly.
There was very little wind, and pretty much zero traffic (!) – I took most of my photos on the way up, which usually I don’t do – figuring there would be more traffic later and I wouldn’t want to mix it up with cars descending at 35+ mph over and over while taking photos. That added about 20 minutes to my climb time, but hey, I’m a tourist here anyways.
After nearly an hour of 3-5%, you can start seeing where you’re headed, and things get more serious.. but not a lot more serious. The big switchbacks mean the grade never gets too fierce. This is the 2nd climb I didn’t touch my granny gear!
Shortly after leaving Montana, you reach false summit with a ski left. Unfortunately, you get to do a 1.5 mile descent before the final, REAL summit of the pass. The whole plateau section is pretty rough, since you’re well over 10,000 feet, and it goes on and on.
Finally, you get a view of the final set of swithbacks that take you to the true summit.
I hiked out to a small overlook that lets you peek over the other side (after attempting to ride through some snow and mud, which is apparently tricky)
Obligatory hero shots below – there were tourists who could take my picture so I get to be in these ones.
After returning the favor and taking a few other people’s pictures (and being told I am a lunatic several times, but I’m used to that part) – I put on my windbreaker and started the descent, including wallowing up that annoying 1.5 mile descent to the false summit.
On the way down, there was a herd of mountain goats right near the road, so I stopped briefly to take their picture.
The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful – since the grades on the descent are pretty mild, you can pretty much just air brake the whole way down, I barely touched my brakes after the goats! And, amusingly, despite my car concerns, not a single car passed me until the valley floor.
Tomorrow I end up in Greybull, Wyoming. Undecided yet on when (or which) climb I will be doing.
Finally, time to bicycle! I chose Mount Harrison in Idaho has my first climb because of the remoteness from other climbs, since I am unlikely to be bicycling through again. The downside is they don’t plow this road, they just wait for it to thaw out, and as of 2 days ago, no one had managed to make it past all the snow.
I set the alarm for 4:30 (there is a “dangerous heat warning” through Friday for this area) and woke up still feeling very beat up from the 1000 miles of motorcycling and my squished/cut up toe. I decided to be optimistic that bicycling up a 9000 foot tall mountain would be a “recovery” ride. I got my stuff together, rode to Albion, ID and unloaded at a gas station/convenience mart (side note: I wish I had stayed in Albion, it’s a nice little town and not as busy as the highway corridor.)
After spending a few miles along the valley floor, you reach the ski area turn off.
The ascent is gradual and mostly pastural and then becomes a bit more alpine-ish.
I saw my first snow around 7400 feet, and this was also where I started noticing that I like air. I spent the past two nights around 4500 feet, but I watched my maximum HR percentage (MHR) drift upward as the air got thinner.
Closing in on 8200 foot altitude, there was a 10 foot patch of snow I had to shuffle through – this is the first bike ride I had to kick snow out of my pedal cleats.
A bit further, you can see where you’re headed, then you ’round a bit switchback and.. a bit more snow.. but still passable.
Once more around a couple of switchbacks, and victory!
More motorcycling tomorrow, but definitely feel better with a bike ride and a major climb completed!
Another practice weekend where reality went awry from plan several times.
Mosquito ridge is a pretty remote & isolated climb, that is difficult to pair up with much else, so a good target. There’s a couple of spur roads that add to the difficulty – both ~2500 ascent and 10% average grade. One of these is dubbed “The Corkscrew” and the other ends at a place that Google maps marks as “The End of the World” – you can also do a loop that takes some dirt for another 1000 feet of ascent, and ends up totaling 11,000 ascent and 85 miles.
I’d prefer to do the bulk of motorcycling the day before a hard climb, but Friday traffic looked too depressing to fathom, so I decided to get up REAL early and try to hit the road by 5 AM Saturday, do the 3 hour motorcycle ride, and give myself maximum daylight for the bicycling.
Everything after this ended up being improvised on the fly. First thing was the WIND. There were wind warnings everywhere near the bay, 40 to 50 mph gusts. So I decided to head east and go up the inland valley. Conveniently forgetting the Altamont Pass is covered in windmills. So my ride was pretty tiring (even ignoring the soul killing power of the central valley) – they were holding big rigs at the pass due to the high winds, so I suppose that means it was pretty strong.
This is the point I started thinking “hmm, maybe I won’t be doing those extra two climbs!”
I rolled into Foresthill on time, to be faced with 41 degrees and wet, heavy fog.
My transformation time was hindered by being COLD and not super psyched to do an 8 mile descent to the base of the climb. I did remember chemical toe warmers, and a half buff.. but that’s still really cold.
The good news is my latest modifications have further sped up the bike removal part – single quick release bag and I have modified the front wheel holder to use a spare through-axle that I can leave attached to the rig.
I downed a hot cup of coffee to brace myself, and headed down the hill. And yes, it was REALLY COLD.
The other important part here is that this 8 mile descent means if you turn around (instead of doing the loop) – you’re gonna have to pedal back up it.
Once over the bridge, I started the ascent. The first spur road (the corkscrew) was a couple miles up the climb, and I immediately noticed the dirt fire roads were all EXTREMELY wet and muddy.. boding very ill to make it over the top.
At this point I pretty much decided I’d go to the top of the ridge without doing the spur roads and decide what the plan would be from there.
I rolled past the Corkscrew turn, and there was a sign saying “Road closed 2 miles” – I don’t know how “closed” it was, but I wasn’t going to investigate at this point, and kept on heading up.
There was lots and lots of water streaming down the mountains.. pretty much waterfalls every where. Pavement was generally good, especially compared to the previous Napa trip.
The main climb is pretty gradual, and since there are few cars and no real difficult grades, you can really enjoy the scenery and the views. And it goes on, and on.
As I approached the second spur road (“end of the world”) I was greeted by everyone’s least favorite sight:
“Road Closed” has various meanings, depending on where you are. Sometimes they are advisory (“You’re an idiot”) and sometimes they’re serious (“We will arrest you and fine you”) – unfortunately this one looked like the latter type, reinforced by a friendly ranger who responded with “10,000 dollars of closed” when I asked him how closed the road was. The closure was also very long, so it wasn’t a matter of nipping past real quick like – I’d have been on that closure for an hour or an hour and a half.
So, plan revised yet again.. let’s check out the end of the world!
This is a dead end at a dam, and very steep.. The 10% average grade is misleading, since there are 2 slightly downhill sections. So the rest is >15% solid.
I zoomed down to the bottom and took a quick picture, plenty of water rushing through the dam.
The grind up was actually a nice change of pace after miles and miles of 4-5%, but that probably says something more about me than the road.
At the top, obviously my only choice at this point was to head back down, which meant 1) time to freeze again and 2) I was going to have to do that 8 mile climb back out, so I was unlikely to investigate “Road Closed” #2 on the corkscrew.
Down the lonnnnnnnnnnng descent, past the corkscrew and back to the bridge, where I collected a water bottle I had stashed on the off chance I had run out of water, which, given how cold it was, was utterly unnecessary. I didn’t even finish my 2L camelbak, so I hauled around TWO full water bottles the entire ride.
Still, I will call it a successful trip – awesome scenery, great climbing, and I barely saw more than 5 vehicles the entire time. The “full mosquito” will have to be another time!
After getting back to the cafe, I loaded up the bike and then threatened the employees with eating all of the food they had. Instead, I settled for a recovery meal of biscuits, gravy, eggs and bacon.
After eating my ridiculous breakfast (which I normally would not do if I had more bicycling to do the next day or two, really!) I headed over to Auburn to find a hotel.
3 hotels visited, all 3 full up. Apparently there was a “car thing” and a “mountain bike thing” going on this weekend. For a longer trip, usually that means heading to the next town or finding a campground.. but in this case, my bike ride was shorter than expected and I was feeling pretty good.. so.. I just headed straight home.
Yes, that means I spent 10.5 hours on 2 wheels. 3+ hours motorcycle, 4.5 hours bicycle, 3+ hours motorcycle. The good news is I felt pretty good afterward, so that’s a good sign for my trip!
Total Motorcycle Miles: ~300
Bicycle Miles: 82.1
Bicycle Ascent: 11,300′
Minimum/Maximum transform time: 22/36 minutes
Number of selfies with people (Hi Toby!): 1
This was a “no planning” attempt – what’s the minimum information and logistics to connect a bunch of climbs together. Also testing out new modifications to the bicycle & motorcycle rig as that continues to evolve.
I identified two climbs I wanted to do (Mt St Helena & Bald Mountain) plus some likely secondary climbs to get some extra miles in.
My preparation consisted of:
Identify a starting point nearly the climb(s), preferably next to a restaurant.
Load Waypoints into Garmin Zumo 665 GPS on the motorcycle.
Load the climb segments into my Wahoo ELEMNT
Plan a route in ridewithgps.com and load into Wahoo ELEMNT
Saturday – Bald Mountain & Los Alamos
Up at dawn, rode the motorcycle up through the east bay (I haaate going through San Francisco!) and parked in a relatively empty Safeway parking lot.
New aluminum bushing and fork QR sped up my transform time a bit, the previous QR and rubbery bushing requires some wrestling.
Still wasn’t terribly organized on what goes where, since I wasn’t fully packed up I could be pretty sloppy.
Rolled out toward Bald Mountain around 8 AM, down Highway 12. This section was pretty unpleasant, roads in Napa/Sonoma/Santa Rosa are some of the worst in California.
I was glad to be on fatter tires (700×30.5 Hutchinson Sector tubeless.. they claim 700×32 but they aren’t.) There was also a TON of glass, apparently driving drunk is very popular in this area!
The turn off to bald mountain takes you up a pretty narrow and twisty secondary road with a relatively pleasant grade, until you reach Sugar Loaf Ridge State Park – where a nice confused man attempted to figure out if he needed to charge me for admittance (Hint: No.)
From here, turning left takes you onto a dirt fire road. A few minor kick ups, but good flat dirt for the most part. At this point you reach a gate with old, broken pavement. This is where the real climbing begins – pretty much sustained 10 to 18% grades.
3/4 of the way up it turns back into dirt – but much steeper and looser gravel, and you are greeted by 20%+ pitches.
At the top, you’re greeted with awesome views of both sides of the mountain.
Descending is definitely an “advanced” descent – the top dirt section is very steep and loose, and the pavement section has a LOT of loose marbles on top of pavement. Once past that, smooth sailing back through the park and back up Highway 12 – this time with a head wind.
When I planned my route, I wanted to get some additional climbing in each days, so I tagged on Los Alamos front & back. Other than the terrible pavement (a theme!), the climb up wasn’t bad.
However, descending down into Hood Mountain Park I began to have a few regrets! The good news is at least the pavement was nice, it was definitely a grind getting back up.
Back to the shopping center, had lunch and researched for a hotel (yes, I had done no hotel planning, just like my real trip.) – my hotel criteria is usually “cheap and I can walk to food” – because having to kit up in smelly motorcycle gear again after showering is not ideal.
I am willing to splurge extra if they have a hot tub. Another lesson I’ve learned: Check in early. Even when traveling remotely, hotels are often full by 4 or 5 PM. Another reason to get my riding done at dawn.
Packed up the bicycle (1 spectator) checked in (hot tub broken! boo!) showered, got dinner, went to bed early to get ready for Day 2!
Sunday – Mt St Helena & Ida-Clayton
Hotel waffles for breakfast, and then motorcycled over from Santa Rosa to Calistoga and parked next to a cafe along Highway 128.
Back onto the bicycle and started following the route in my ELEMNT. This is really 3 (or 4 if you’re stupid) climbs:
1. Old Toll Road – a typical tertiary Napa-esque road
2. Highway 29 – fast cars and no shoulders
3. A hiking trail that is the WRONG DAMN WAY
4. A long, long, long fire road that goes to the summit
#1 and #2 – nothing really notable here, just keep pedaling
#3 requires some explaining: Since I was doing “minimal planning” – I didn’t give a lot of scrutiny to what ridewithgps was mapping. Apparently I was supposed to keep going another couple hundred yards on Highway 29, to the start of the fire road climb.
Ridewithgps decided it would much prefer I go STRAIGHT UP Robert Louis Stevenson hiking trail.
Since these two routes are so close, the Strava segment indicator said I was still on the right path. So I assumed (wrong!) that eventually the trail would become rideable.
WRONG WRONG WRONG
I don’t even have pictures of the craziest parts, where someone had cut ledges into the rock so you could climb up, in my case, carrying my bicycle wearing carbon soled mountain bike shoes like an idiot.
I nearly turned around to retrench, but a hiker who had done the route before assured me I didn’t have much more to go, so I scrambled my way up to the intersection with the fire road.
I took a break at the top of the ridiculous hiking trail, admiring my stupidity and having a snack, an then settled into the long grind to the top. This is basically loose gravel of various sorts on top of hard pack. It did make me wish I had slightly larger tires on, and I’d also consider this ‘advanced’ riding on a relatively skinny tired bike.
It went on for a long, long time and required paying attention to not end up in deep gravel, and to mentally note sketchy parts for the descent.
The last couple hundred yards to the top get even rockier, deeper, and sketchier – I skittered my way up, but was definitely on the edge of traction capability.
Amazing views at the top, and definitely satisfying giving the ridiculous hiking part!
I walked down the sketchiest bit at the very top since I wasn’t keen to break a collarbone, but took the fire road down the whole way (I would NOT want to try to descend the crazy hiking trail while carrying my bicycle!)
From here it was basically a fast blast back down to the valley, descending 29 and then the bumpy and cruddy Old Toll Road and then onto Ida Clayton road, one of the roads they do for Levi’s Fondo. This road is also a pretty typical climb, nothing really notable and no real view on the top either, so I took a picture at the top with some quality Napa pavement.
Another bumpy descent and I enjoyed a nice lunch, kitted up, and rode the 120+ miles back home on the motorcycle.
Another successful journey and more tweaks to bicycle & motorcycle, and I really need to acquire a Bluetooth keyboard so I can update while on the road.
Today was the ride home from Kernville, no bicycling.. but the motorcycle was definitely letting me know it had been neglected. The chain & sprockets were toast before I left, and now they were really bad. My aux fuel tank wasn’t working properly. My XM radio was cutting in and out (the horror.. at least on Interstate 5 it is!)
As a test trip, I’d give this a 9 out of 10. In general the things I expected to work, worked well. A few modifications and things on the “to do” list, mostly bicycle & motorcycle mechanicals, as well as figuring out how to pack for a multi-week trip and not just a single week trip.
Multiple climbs per day is unlikely, unless they can easily be pedaled between
Be selective on climb choice – scenic/epic vs. “really hard for no good reason”
Avoid back-to-back bicycling days
Camping should not be the first option as it consumes a lot of time and energy
SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP. The more the better! Motorcycling + bicycling is tiring, mentally and physically
Ride motorcycle more to remember how to ride properly
Accept being a ridiculous spectacle on the road and in parking lots, because it is ridiculous!
To-dos (crossing them off as I do them, ignore)
Replace chain and sprockets on the motorcycle
Fix aux motorcycle tank venting
Figure out how to load GPS maps to external memory of Garmin
Fix XM antenna to prevent suicidal boredom on interstates
CR2032 spare battery in front pack as a spare
Figure out how to pack bicycle chain lube without it making a mess
Fab metal bushing for fork axle bicycle mount
Fix broken Pelican case stay
Liner shorts for motorcycle riding
Larger tail pack to make room for longer trip stuff in the cases
Replace bicycle fork with something less sketchy
Tune up and R&R parts on the gravel bike
Acquire mesh gear bag to attach wet/sweaty gear to motorcycle when required
The previous night I rolled into Furnace Creek and it was 90+ degrees. Furnace Creek is 200 feet below sea level, and the air feels thick and hot.
Original plan called for camping (when the forecast was only 81!) but I quickly vetoed that and got a ridiculously over priced hotel room, which was worth every penny! They also accommodated my desire for a late checkout if I had any incidents out on the road. Once again I was a spectacle in the parking lot, with a dozen people taking pictures of me and my crazy motorcycle-bicycle rig.
Dante’s was the ride I planned on rolling out before dawn due to the heat (and later I would hear this day was an all-time record high of 99F, beating the previous record set in 1948) so before leaving I acquired a small, rechargeable 350 watt headlamp – a NiteRider Swift 350 (Amazon). I have a bunch of different headlights, but I wanted something light weight and reasonable enough to use for an hour or so before the sun comes up. When I did Mauna Kea to the visitor center, I used a TINY 20 or 30 lumen lamp, and nearly crashed when the shoulder ended suddenly. Lesson learned!
I rolled out a little before 6 AM, straight into a nice head wind. The grade here is pretty minimal (2-3%) – so you’re really just churning along in the dark. Once out on the road, you immediately get smacked by the heat radiating off the ground. Even in total darkness, it felt like 80+ degrees.
An hour and a half of the valley floor, you make the turn to Dante’s, this was right around when the sun was coming up:
This a pretty great climb as it starts off easy and gradually gets more difficult. From 3-4%, to 5-6% to 7-9% and then the final kicker: 10-15% for the last half mile or so.
I was basically staying ahead of the rising temperature, so it was a pleasant ~68 degrees the entire ride.
Here’s the view looking up to the final set of switchbacks up to the summit.
Here’s where my 30-42 gearing pays off – I was pretty tired after all the riding (both cycling and motorcycle) but cruised on up to the top. There was no one at the summit to take my picture, hence the Shadow Selfie.
Dowwwwwwwn we go – this is a pretty fun descent, past the 15% stuff, no need to really use much brakes at all. Just tuck and haul on down. At the turn off, I met 2 other cyclists pedaling up. Dante’s is definitely a popular climb (for Death Valley) since it conveniently starts at the Furnace Creek resort area.
Some time during the descent, my Stages power meter ran out of juice. My poor preparation struck here – it was well over 1700 miles on that battery. Oops. So some of my training load & kJ power is incorrect for this ride.
I rolled back into Furnace Creek and took a shot of my GPS showing 195 feet below sea level.
Scarfed some food and drank a bunch of fluids, showered and loaded up the motorcycle (once again gathering a crowd!) and headed back to Kernville – 185 miles away, with 3 Death Valley climbs in the bag!
A little bit about my original cycling Death Valley plan: Originally I was thinking I’d tackle 2 climbs per day, get up early.. ride one.. relocate to the start of the next, ride another. Just looking at the bicycle parts, that’s not super crazy – I’ll do 7000 ascent as a regular ride, and if I just do the climbing vs. droning along boring flat stuff, the actual saddle time would be shorter.
However, riding a motorcycle is also tiring. So is packing, unpacking and camping. After Wildrose, I headed over to camp at Panamint springs. Originally I was going to ride Towne pass back-to-back with Wildrose – I quickly abandoned that idea and decided to ride it the next day, and if I was feeling good, ride both sides.
Once again, up early (due to heat) and headed out to climb Towne pass. Starting from the Panamint side is definitely easier, here’s the view going up.
This climb is mostly just a grind on up, there was the occasional car, but nothing really notable. Despite it being in the Top 100, I wouldn’t have been real sad if I skipped it.
After about an hour and a half, I reached the summit and had to decide if I was going down the other side!
Actually this wasn’t a difficult decision – I was tired out. For my longer trip, I think back-to-back motorcycle-bicycle riding is probably not a great idea. I’ll need to be more selective about which climbs I choose.
I pointed my way back to camp and hauled down hill, sitting up the entire way, hoping not to overheat my brakes. These long Death Valley climbs make it real easy to hit 50+ mph. I was still on my small knob CX tires, so this was not an experiment I was keen to try out. I’ll be back on near-slick tires for the multi-week trip!
Back to camp to shower, pack up, and wait out the heat before heading over to Furnace Creek (55 miles by motorcycle.)
Alright, this is it. When planning this trip, there were 2 climbs I really wanted to do: Wildrose to the Kilns, and Dante’s View. I knew Wildrose was going to be a challenge, because of several factors: 1) it is in the middle of no where, truly the exact sort of climb I wanted to target for this adventure 2) the road is closed, and it has been for some time due to washouts, land slides, deep gravel, etc. 3) the weather forecast was getting worse and worse, now looking like mid-90s.
Now add that this is the first climb of the trip, because it was “on the way” from Kernville, it was setting up to be a bit of a nervous time.
DISCLAIMER TIME: Riding a motorcycle is dangerous. Riding a bicycle is dangerous. Riding either of these in Death Valley is extra dangerous. Doing one, or both of these, ALONE in Death Valley, is not to be taken lightly. I carry enough food and water for double what I expect to encounter. I carry a certified PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) in case of true emergency, but basically I assume I’m on my own for 24+ hours. I aim to be at 50% at all times (50% of food, 50% of water, 50% of my bicycling capability, 50% of motorcycle grip, etc.) That way when I go over the limit by accident or mishap or surprise, I don’t die.
Alright, up ~2 hours before dawn, drank coffee, bicycle kit on, motorcycle kit on top of bicycle kit.. and a rather precarious 2 hour motorcycle trip in the dark to the Panamint valley side of Death Valley. This illustrated a challenge: I have not been riding my motorcycle very much and am badly out of practice. More riding required.
After a quick gas stop in Trona, the sky started getting light and the vastness of the desert opened up. Droning another 45 minutes through the middle of no where, brought me to the Wildrose turn off. It is literally, a turn off into no where.
A little bit on the “Road Closed” – road conditions can change very rapidly in Death Valley, as nearly all the roads run along natural “washes” (normally dry river/creek beds) – so any precipitation will rapidly reconfigure conditions. In this case, there had been no precipitation for a few weeks, and I had reliable reports from motorcyclists & 4x4ers about potential conditions. At worst, it sounded like a few sections of hike-a-bike.
The main risk would be lack of traffic – no one was going to rescue me if I had a mechanical or injury. But see above disclaimer, I was pretty well prepared and riding cautiously.
First observation: Changing from motorcycle to bicycle takes a lot longer than you would think. Without really rushing, I’d say it took me 20+ minutes before I was ready to roll. It’s just a lot of bits and pieces to move around, bolt together, lock together, etc.
For my longer trip, this type of ride will definitely need to be an exception vs. norm.
I was somewhat nervous leaving my motorcycle & kit.. but hey, that’s part of this trip too, can I deal with possibly coming back and having no gear or motorcycle?! I did leave a note strapped to my bike in a document holder:
“Hi, I’m off bicycling and/or hiking for a few hours. I have plenty of food, water, and a GPS emergency beacon. Please don’t mess with my motorcycle or gear, I will need it when I get back so I don’t die. Thanks. Emergency contact xxxxx.”
Okay, off to bicycle – and as expected, yeah, there was some gnar on the closed road section. Deep gravel, washouts, some mud starting around 3500 feet. This ended up using a lot more watts than I anticipated, as pedaling through deep gravel requires a fair amount of watts or you fall over and/or stop and walk. Luckily there was only one section that I couldn’t actually pedal through, so I walked maybe 100 feet.
This overall section was probably the highlight of the trip. It was interesting, it was unknown, and it was EMPTY. When you are alone in Death Valley, you are REALLY alone. I saw not a soul until reaching the intersection with Charcoal Kilns road about 3/4 up.
Once past the closed section, you junction up with Charcoal Kilns Road, which takes you up to the old kilns that were used to make charcoal for the various smelters in the area.
This is more typical Death Valley – vast vistas and basically nothing.
The segment I had loaded on my Wahoo ELEMNT was from John @ PJAMM, which was labeled “2 miles past dirt” – well lemmie tell ya, that dirt was the worst. Lots of washboard, rocks and gravel. Both challenging and unfun.
Double unfortunate, that segment didn’t go all the way up. So when I was “done” – I had 20 more minutes of climbing to do, all of it from to 10-14% grade.
Eventually I made it up to the 2nd gate (the road continues further past the 2nd gate, but stuck to my plan to turn around here, given the potential heat down in the valley, etc.)
I had just finished off my 2L camelbak at this point, so I still had 2 full water bottles.
The valley heat was not far from my mind, so I hit the descent. This was even worse going down. Heavy washboard is the one thing a rigid gravel bike is really bad at. So it was slow, riding the brakes for several miles of dirt road. Once I hit the pavement, it was 40+ mph until the turn off to the closed section. Having some experience going up, this was not as bad going down since I could float over most of the gravel sections at a reasonable speed.
Back at the bottom, air temperature was around 87F. Not too bad, but glad I didn’t hang around.
Here’s the Strava segment. Note on John’s page, this is #56 with a Fiets score of 8.64, but as noted above, I kept on going for another 20 minutes of 10-14% grade. Plotting my route on ridewithgps.com returns a Fiets score of 11.64, which would put this climb up in the Top 20 in the country. Add in the remoteness, it was no surprise I had to create a new Strava segment to cover it!
After mounting the bicycle and donning my motorcycle gear, I motorcycled the remaining 15 miles to Panamint Springs to camp overnight.