(Feb 11, 2022 – written by Dave)
Finally, a new bike trip. Our last proper tour was back in late 2020/early 2021 in Tasmania. It seems like forever ago. Kind of funny when you think of our pre-retirement working-stiff days when one trip a year was a good year. Now, some of us (i.e. me) start getting a little cranky when we go more than six months without some kind of adventure.
So off we go, on a new adventure with some twists. Our first three days are already over – we spent them in Death Valley “training” for the following six days when we’ll be on an REI cycle tour in Joshua Tree National Park and Anza-Borrego California State Park (more on this below). In Death Valley we had almost zero internet so we focused on riding and taking in the sights. We stayed at Furnace Creek, doing day rides and car camping in a slightly primitive campground.
Death Valley is a desert valley in Eastern California, technically part of the Mojave Desert. It also borders the Great Basin Desert. I grew up in the northern Great Basin Desert only about 6 hours drive from the park but can only remember visiting once when I was about 10 years old. This was Nancy’s first visit to the park. So really, it was the first time for both us.
Death Valley’s Badwater Basin is the point of lowest elevation in North America, at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. It is about 85 miles southeast of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States, with an elevation of 14,505 feet. We didn’t go anywhere near the top of Mount Whitney even though it would be one heck of climb and descent. By training in Death Valley, riding mostly below sea level, we can now say that we were altitude training the last 4 months living on the Oregon coast. Who goes to sea level to altitude train?
With Death Valley being below sea level, you may be wondering how water gets out of the valley. Wouldn’t the valley just fill up when it rains? Well, it barely rains here- just 1.5 inches (38 mm) in the average year – mostly it is very dry. It is not unheard of to get the rainfall of two years in a single storm causing massive flooding, gully-washing runoff and lakes in the valley low points. Over the millennia, the water in the lakes evaporated leaving mineral and salt concentrate dry lake beds. I’m sure if Death Valley weren’t a national park Elon Musk or some other squillionaire would be digging up things and making more billions here. For us, we’re glad it’s a park – keeping some places as we found them has to be good for mankind.
We had mostly great weather while in Death Valley. Daytime temps were in the mid-80s and nights low-60s. We had a wind storm one night but it was not too bad and our four-season tent survived. We got in a couple rides (44 and 47 miles), one out to Badwater (you have to ride to the low point after all) and a second one up to Stovepipe Wells (up, as in up to sea level – Furnace Creek is at -191 feet below sea level). It is winter here but we are not complaining about the weather, 85 is way lower than the 138F which was measured in the summer in 1913 – the highest temperature ever measured on earth, they say. We barely saw a cloud for the entire three days.
Below is a sampling of some Death Valley photos. You could really go crazy here with a good camera and early starts to catch the sunrise. The valley is stunningly photogenic…
With Death Valley complete, we move onto the second part of our winter escape tour. REI – Recreational Equipment Incorporated – is a large outdoor equipment co-op here in the USA. We’ve been members for some 40 years. Some years ago they started a travel business arm to augment their equipment sales business. They do all kinds of trips, backpacking, hiking, water trips and of course cycling trips.
Earlier this winter, after several wet and rainy days in Oregon, we received an email talking about a trip to sunny southern California later during the depths of winter. It was kind of spendy but we were already missing the Australian summer and knew that by the middle of winter, we’d better have somewhere warm to escape to. So we went ahead and booked it as a treat for us both having now passed into a new decade starting with a 6 (how could that be?). Neither of us have been to Joshua Tree or Anza-Borrego – if they are half as nice as Death Valley, we’re in for a treat.
The REI trip is completely decadent by our normal standards. Hotels are all booked for us. Route maps with elevation profiles and turns highlighted, all included in the package. One large luggage bag chucked into a van to be driven to our next lodgings, check. All our meals sorted in advance, check. There will be guides, to well… I guess guide us, I’m not sure. I know, stop, it’s not us! Oh well, as our friend Elsp says, there are no pockets in shrouds. We should be able to get out more regular posts on the REI trip as we’ll be in “normal” hotels with Wi-Fi. There will be no sleeping in abandoned Pink Houses on this trip. Check back on Sunday to see how it works out.