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.
So ordered up the 2×2 rack and received it promptly. I pondered removing my Moto Overland Top Plate and bolting it straight to the bike. I wasn’t real confident in getting my elaborate stack of bolts, washers, spacers, Hepco Becker side case racks, etc., back together. In the end decided to just bolt it to the existing plate with a bunch of bolts and washers. Time will tell if this is a bad idea.
I went ahead and test fit my road bicycle (Parlee Z5SLi) and was very happy with the security and fit. With the exception of being concerned of the exhaust outlet in relation to the front wheel storage:
Now this is probably ok, there’s a good 8 to 10 inches between the exhaust outlet and the tire.. but given what I was planning, I emailed Garret @ 2×2 and he leapt into action, welding up a custom bracket that will move the tire up or back 3-6 inches, I rode Diablo without it, but here’s what it looks like:
Okay, great, we got a bike on a rack, now we need to take it some where. Embarrassingly, despite living in the bay area for 20+ years, I have never bicycled up Mt Diablo. So I chose this as my destination. I picked a convenient Starbucks ~50 miles away near the foot of the climb, loaded up, and headed out.
First observation: My motorcycle+bicycle is a SPECTACLE. People were swerving around on the freeway, zooming up next to me to take a picture, etc. This was a little unnerving, I couldn’t tell if I was losing parts or something else was happening. Please don’t take my picture while driving your car!
I quickly realized I would need to find some other solution to stashing my gear while out bicycling – it literally filled both cases completely, along with a helmet lock to bolt my helmet below my side case. That won’t leave much (any) room for a month’s worth of travel and camping gear. Later I did some research and found the Pacsafe Backpack and Bag Protector (Amazon) – it sorta looks like a squid mated with a bicycle cable lock. It certainly won’t stop anyone determined to mess with your stuff, but will hopefully deter a lazy snatcher.
Alright, so after 15 or 20 minutes of changing and packing and bolting the bike back together, time to roll!
Road conditions were pretty sketchy – lots of dirt, gravel, some water. I started on the south side went to the summit, then blasted down the north side and back up again.
– these are much much better than baby wipes. Far more substantial and you don’t smell like babies. Along with a beach towel and a fresh pair of shorts, I performed the Reference Standard Beach Change and was back in motorcycle gear.
Conclusion: This is doable. Needs multi-day and long distance test!