ACA Bicycle Tour of Death Valley, March 2013

Arlen Hall and I on Zabrinskie Point
Adventure Cycle Association bicycle trip to Death Valley, California, 9-15 March 2013
This is a trip in demand so I signed up as soon as it became available. I had never been to Death Valley before, and a bicycle trip seems the best introduction. The leaders were Chuck Penguilly and Arlen Hall. I didn’t realize it, but my good friend from another trip, Pat C, had also signed up. We rode together most the time on this trip, making it quite enjoyable. I knew that one night I would be in a group to do the cooking, and so decided on doing Würst and Sauerkraut. For the vegetarians in our group, Kathy was going to make up her special dish, which was also delectable.
Exercise training for the trip was near impossible. I rode regularly with the bicycle mounted on the trainer in the garage. A few outside trips were cold and wet. The last trip went up to near the Carbon River entrance of Mt. Rainier, and good ride with a lot of 18% grade, but leaving me soggy and miserably cold. Death Valley was going to present the opposite extreme of being too dry and too hot.
Preparing the bicycle took special attention. I wanted thicker tires than my 23 mm tires, but the Neutron Campy rims on my Steelman would not take over 25mm wide tires, so I settled for some all-weather 25 mm Continentals that worked out well. I also needed to mount a rack on the back of the bike, which demanded slight modifications, but worked well.
7,8 March I took two days to drive to Pahrump, and it was definitely under winter conditions as I was in snow country starting with the drive over Mt. Hood in Oregon. I stayed the first night in Altrus, CA, driving down through Klamath Falls. California and Nevada was thick with cops pulling people over. Nevada has the most outrageous speed traps where the speed limit jumps wildly from 25 to 70 mph. Fortunately, I escaped the police by using cruise control and watching for speed traps. I managed to arrive in Pahrump in the early evening of the second day, and stayed at the hotel we would meet in the next day. That morning, I took a short trip into Las Vegas, just to see what the drive was like. There was a fairly demanding pass to cross to accomplish the drive.

 The event

09 March Day zero was a meeting at 4 pm, where we all got to know the group leaders, and planned the events such as meals for the week. I roomed up at the Pahrump Best Western with Berle, a mild-mannered man from Wisconsin.
10 March Day 1-The first day was from Pahrump to Furnace Creek. Our first stop was at Wal-Mart, where we had to purchase all of the provisions for the coming week, and put them into coolers in the trailer that was pulled behind the ACA van. Coming out of Pahrump, there were several hills to climb, but with the cool weather, it was fairly easy to accomplish. After that, it was a marvelous downhill descent into Furnace Creek, which sits 177 ft below sea level and known as the hottest place on earth.  There was a swimming pool at Furnace Creek, which was made use of by myself as well as many in our group. I was in the group scheduled to cook, and made Würst and Sauerkraut. Total 101.5 km (63 miles), 3306 calories burned, 457 m (1449 ft) elevation gained, riding time 5:05, temperature ranged from 3.0-27.0 C (37-81 F).
Bikes parked outside of Wal-Mart
The Van
Enthusiastic Bikers loading the van with food
Outside of Pahrump
Pat pumping it up our first hill
Welcome to Cafilornia
Approaching Death Valley
Hills in Death Valley
More Hills in Death Valley
Also Hills in Death Valley
Arlen giving Rohe a little pep talk
Pat ready to go under water
The colors of Death Valley
11 March Day 2- Our journey went from Furnace Creek to Mesquite Springs. This was a grunt, because it wasa long uphill, and the weather was hot. A few people got a little dehydrated. The campsite was very primitive, no showers, no electricity, barely any running water, and no trees to hide under. Total 83.6 km (51.9 miles), 3209 calories burned, 927 m (3041 ft) elevation gained, riding time 4:47, temperature ranged from 6-33 C (43-91 F)
Mesquite Springs survival
The Van at Mesquite Springs
12 March Day 3- The ride took us from Mesquite Springs 2 miles back up to the main road, and up to Scotty’s Castle. We did a tour of Scotty’s castle, and then rode back to Furnace Creek. The temperature was beginning to affect many in our group. It is so dry, that you don’t accumulate sweat, and thus don’t realize how hot it really is. A few people SAGed part of this trip. It was great to get back to camp. Total 95.3 km (59.2 miles), 3306 calories burned, 754 m (2474 ft) elevation gained, riding time 5:07, temperature ranged from 13-42 C (55-108 F)
Pat and Burrell humping it up to Scotty’s Castle
Burrell and I approaching Scotty’s Castle
Pat showing how it’s done.
It should have been Pattie’s Castle
Scottie’s Castle
Wall flowers
Twins Separated at birth-Dave and Kathy
Inside Scotty’s Place
Scotty’s Music Room
13 March Day 4- This was a rest day. The two van tours included a trip to Salt Creek to see the guppy fish. The other tour was a trip up to Dante’s Peak. One person in the group, Jim, actually rode his bicycle to the top of Dante’s Peak, a cruel 5-6 K feet climb, and hot. I preferred to van-attack the hill, but would have attempted the climb if I knew that the next day would be a rest.  We also toured the visitor’s center, and laid low.
Salt Creek
Death Valley from Dante’s Peak
14 March Day 5- This was the hard day, being long, hot, and lots of climbing. It started at Furnace Creek and took us to the south end of Death Valley, going by Badwater, the lowest place in North America. The climb out of Death Valley was problematic because of the heat making it easy to dehydrate. I went through about 4-5 liters of fluid. Pat SAGed a bit of this ride, so I rode either with Rohe and Mike, or alone. Shoshone was a cool, green town in the desert, a nice coasting ride from the summit of the last pass. We went out to a restaurant that night, so nobody needed to cook. Total 117.7 km (73.1 miles), 4773 calories burned, 1768 m (5800 ft) elevation gained, riding time 7:11, temperature ranged from 9-41 C (48-106 F)
Pat in a very happy moment
The water was bad here
Saying goodbye to Todes Tal (Death Valley)
Summit of last serious climb of the trip
15 March Day 6- This was the last day, and the ride went from Shoshone back to Pahrump. Pat and I rode together for this. The first pass was actually harder than the first, having an incline of up to 8% grade at the top, whereas the second pass was a straight, gradual incline rarely exceeding 4% grade. We arrived in Pahrump by 10:15, giving us time to pack for the drive home.  Total  45.2 km (28 miles), 1741 calories burned, 554 m (1818 ft) elevation gained, riding time 2:42, temperature ranged from 7.0- 23 C (45-73 F)
Pat returns to awesome form
Goodbye Cafilornia; Hello, Nevada
Total workout for the trip includes 443.3 km (275.5 miles) on the bike, 16335 calories burned (from riding, this does NOT include basal metabolic calories, which averages about 1600 – 2200 calories a day, as well as calories expended to stay cool), elevation gain 4,460 meters (14,630 feet), and 24:52 riding time. The climbing would have been equivalent to going from Badwater to the summit of Mt. Whitney.
The drive home for me went from Pahrump up through Battle Mountain on back roads, to Winnemuca, and then up through Burns, Oregon, where I spent the night, and then on to Bend, across Santiam Pass, and up I-5 back to Puyallup, arriving in Puyallup at 4:05 in the evening. In Nevada, even on the most backward roads, the cops were busy pulling people over. Contrariwise, the Oregon drivers seemed to have no clue as to speed limits, and saw only one ticket being given while on I-5. During the drive, which is designed to go on roads I’ve never been on, or recently been on, there was much thinking about the possibility of bicycle tours on those roads. Maybe I need to retire early, because there are a lot of good roads to bicycle on.
So, my assessment of this tour was A+++. Chuck and Arlen were superb tour leaders, and did everything possible to make the tour go well. I’m not sure I would want to ride Death Valley without a SAG vehicle. This is due to the fact that heat and dehydration could easily ruin a good trip, and it would be hard to carry sufficient water, as well as to anticipate both the cold and hot extremes in weather. The Adventure Cycle Association does a superb job of building in the creature-comforts while allowing one to otherwise model the trip as they wish. One couple stayed in hotels close-by part of the time. Others had minor side-agendas. Nobody seemed to be unhappy, and everybody seemed to have a great time, even when they needed to be SAGed. About the only change I would make would be to omit the canned tour of Scotty’s Castle, as it put us into 108F weather for much of the day, maximizing the SAGed riders. An 8:30-9:00 start on the castle tour would make sense, but not later than that. Catered meals would be nice, but it was also fun serving as cook for a day. My observation suggested that the ladies in the group ended up with a disproportionate share of the kitchen activities, which wasn’t good. Only one other suggestion- the ACA definitely needs to invest in an “Arlen-Chair”. He deserves it as he was a real trooper, riding sweep on the worst days, and always being in a cheery frame of mind.
What did I like about Death Valley? 1) It’s unique, it’s geology and landscape not quite like anything else in the US. Rocks of multiple derivations including volcanic basalt, sedimentary rock, and lots of gravel, colors in layer upon layer and pillow upon pillow giving it a special sense of beauty. 2) Odd things, like a water springs in various unexpected places in the Valley. 3) Animal life. I saw coyotes, a road runner, bugs, a scorpion, and fish in the Valley. 4) The stars – at night, the absence of light pollution allows one to see more stars that generally possible in the city. The milky way was quite apparent. I should have brought my star maps. Next time… .
Thoughts on photography. I used my Canon 6D for the first time in the field, and realized how easy it is to accommodate the camera to the situation. I did not put the camera to its full potential, rarely adjusting the exposure to maximize control of depth of field. I also did not take enough photos, missing many great shots, and not including several participants in our grand event. The best landscape photography utilizes a tripod, which I left back at the car. I also could have used a longer lens at times, especially for wildlife photography. I wanted to use the gps feature on the camera, but that drains the battery even when the camera is off, so I left that function off. The tour schedule was not conducive to great photography, as the best photography finds a scene, and then returns frequently to that scene for the best lighting and optimal conditions. People photos in harsh lighting is near to impossible, and I had to adjust most of the photos to get the faces from being too dark. I wait eagerly for Canon or Nikon to come out with an improved version of the mirrorless camera (eg., the Canon EOS M system), that gives an  ultra-light camera with high definition. The 6D takes 20.2 mPixel full-frame photos, which I captured in RAW format, and utilizes superb lenses, making it ideal for landscapes, but not so good for cycle touring.
So, once more a special thanks to Chuck and Arlen for giving us an awesome time, thanks to Pat C. for being a repeat wonderful and entertaining riding buddy, and to Mike, Rohe, David, Kathy, Jim, Judy, Burrell, Don, Ray, Adele, and Teresa (not in that order), you were all most wonderful to ride with. If you come by my neck of the woods and want to do some riding or touring (or Kathy, sauerkraut consumption), please give me a holler and I’ll take some time off work for it. I’m sure Jim and Judy will attest that the NW, while wet most the time, when dry, is close to paradise for bicyclists.