I spent the holidays out in the Nevada and California desert. I had a fantastic time, and the trip was exactly the correct medicine for my annual holiday melancholia. The idea to go to Death Valley started back in September during a tour down the gorgeous Oregon coast. I wasn't surprised that the weather along the Oregon coast was somewhat damp and gray, but I was a little surprised that the roads were so crowded with large RVs and trucks. After several days of lane-width-maximized RVs and other vehicles nearly blasting me off the road into the ocean, I was exhausted (no extremely close calls, but still). I decided that I wanted to go somewhere sunny and warm and desolate. For some reason, Death Valley called out to me, even though I knew little about this place except that it's below sea level, dry, and hot. The more research I did, the more I liked the idea. There's no direct way to get to Death Valley. I opted to find a cheap flight to Vegas (shipped my bike UPS to an excellent and helpful local bike shop there), and ride the 120-ish miles into Death Valley.
By the time I got my bike and food and water all together, I didn't get on the road until 2 pm. I spent probably another hour getting out of Vegas sprawl (mostly sidewalk riding) while simultaneously looking for an appropriate fuel for my Trangia stove at various gas stations. While waiting at an intersection, a guy dressed in trendy outdoorsy clothing approached and asked where I am going. I'm always reluctant to divulge many details of my travel plans to people who ask, because they always seem disappointed if I'm not on some "epic" round-the-world adventure. Anyway, I told him I was looking for stove fuel, and he directed me to a nearby REI. I headed to REI, which was farther away than I expected, but they had the fuel I wanted (denatured alcohol) and a nearby road actually had a bike lane heading out of town in the right direction. My opinion of Las Vegas improved immediately, as did the quality of my cycling experience.
The busy-ness and crowded-ness of Vegas falls off quickly on the outskirts of town. Population density was near zero after about 10 miles. I'd been warned that there was a major mountain pass to cross just out of town. I didn't want to get boxed-in on a cold mountain pass after dark, so I started to look for a place to camp in the vicinity of Red Rock Canyon.
This road looked intriguing.
I sat on the hillside and marveled at the strange (to me) desert landscape and watched as the sun quickly sunk below the western mountains. As the air seemed to get chilly immediately after sunset, I had a quick snack and crawled into my tent. In the middle of the night, some very strong winds started to jostle my tent. I was feeling rather cold and under-equipped for the weather. I'm pretty tough, but still wondered if I'd bitten off too much. Anyway, the winds were odd in that they were very intense for 20 minutes, then dead-silent for a similar period of time, then intense again. The next morning was chilly, and the winds were still intermittently ferocious. I snapped a few pictures. First, making breakfast while still in my sleeping bag:
Next, Red Rock Canyon is a beautiful area.
Home sweet home:
Incidentally, while I was taking down my tent, the wind returned and snapped off one of the tent poles. I considered going back to REI, but decided that I could somehow rig up a broken tent to get through the remainder of the trip.
After taking my time waiting for the weather to warm up, I was on my way. I started to notice that I had no frame of reference on slopes. Based on the visual, I guessed I was on flat ground, but was seemingly working too hard to maintain such a low speed. I was out of my element! Only when I looked backwards over my shoulder did I realize that I'd been going uphill for a considerable distance. In fact, I spent most of that day going uphill. At Blue Diamond, NV, there is a small rental mountain bike shop. I stopped in to chat with the guy working there for some local knowledge (he was seemingly not knowledgeable, about anything, local or otherwise). I'd been going uphill all morning (by now it was noon), and he told me, "you're going to feel a lot better when you get over that hill!" He implied that I hadn't reached "the hill" yet. Huh. Shortly thereafter, I knew I was on the hill, and I spent the next couple hours going over it. It was not terribly steep, but it was very long by Minnesota hill standards. Several times I walked my bike, not out of exhaustion, but out of boredom. I saw bighorn sheep. There was snow, and toward the top, the air was considerably colder. Eventually I made it:
I smiled and said to myself, "my &%*$ing troubles are over", but as I began to coast down the other side, I found the insane, tent-breaking headwind again, and it was COLD. I nearly froze to death descending the western edge of the mountain. I worked very hard to get to Pahrump, a town with an economy apparently based on legal brothels, ammo-hoarding, and attempting to reinflate the housing bubble. Pahrump has casinos, and I found the hotel rates at these casinos to be reasonable given the cold, windy weather, and my frayed composure. Thus ended day 2.
Stay tuned for day 3, etc, when my adventure continues into in Death Valley National Park.