Death Valley trip illustrated I needed to get some more room in my side cases, otherwise I wasn’t going to be able to pack enough stuff for several weeks!
Unfortunately my “big bag” just won’t fit under the fork, and my Kriega US20 was just a bit too small. Giant Loop makes some cool, cleverly designed stuff – I’ve been beating up their tank bag for years.
In the “side loading” bag segment, they have several interesting options – the Giant Loop Revelstoke (Amazon) seemed to fit the best size/shape profile for me. Interestingly this is advertised as a “snow mobile” bag – I’m not sure why it would care if it is attached to a motorcycle.. but that’s what I’m doing!
This bag comes with Giant Loop’s “GL Mount” stainless steel clips that capture the pack straps. With the Kriega I always felt like I was fiddling with all the various straps and buckles. The GL Mounts promise to make removing and replacing the bag easier, while being very secure.
Here’s a close up of the “TRI GLIDE BUCKLES” that lock into the GL mounts.
They seem VERY secure, so I’m hoping this bag stays attached even if contents shift or I forget to really crank down on the straps.
So, size-wise, I can fit everything I had in the Kriega, plus my Luxury Lite Cot, my Bivy, and a few camp incidentals. It would be nice if I could also fit my sleeping bag, but I guess that’ll have to do – it frees up about half a side case. That should be JUST enough room with some judicious packing.
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.