A crazy fortnight of cyclo-touring to say the least, rolling into the madness that is Las Vegas and undoubtedly home to the worst drivers in the US. I was greeted by some gas guzzling, truck driving maniac screaming out his window at me to get a F****** car or get the F*** out the road. Welcome to Vegas!
Now there’s no arguing that Sin City is an impressive spectacle after dark with its dazzling lights and relentless effervescent buzz. However, the sheer consumerism and gluttony that goes with maintaining all these golf courses, water fountains and neon lights in the middle of the desert is never far from the back of your mind.
Not all was lost as I managed to source new tyres for the now ever nearing crossing of Death Valley a mere 200 km west of Vegas. With surface temperatures recorded at 90 degrees Celsius just 10 below the boiling point of water, it’s imperative to have substantial tread if you are going to attempt to cross the hottest place on the planet during the hottest time of the year.
Now I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little bit pensive about my next two wheeled challenge. Death Valley temperatures for the week were forecast at 50 degrees, heat stroke and exhaustion are not far away when battling these kinds of conditions carrying such a heavy load. Entering the hottest place on the planet that boasts the world record temperature of 58 degrees Celsius would be one thing, clawing my way out of Furnace creek from 80 meters below sea level, up and over Townes pass at 1511 meters elevation would be another.
Dropping down into Furnace creek from the gates of the National Park, descending in elevation you could feel the temperature being cranked up the deeper into the pit you got. As you gain speed the hot wind rushing over your body feels like a giant blow drier making it hard to breath. Passing the beautiful rock formations of Zabriskie’s point you wind even further down into Furnace Creek where temperatures are a freaky 50 degrees Celsius. It feels like sitting in an oven when you finally reach the pit at 80 meters below sea level. The reality of where you are soon sets in as the daunting prospect of clawing your way out takes over.
Spending the night in Furnace Creek I started the climb out of the Devils Courtyard the following morning with a sunrise temperature of nearly 40 degrees Celsius. There is no escaping, no hiding from these conditions, it’s you against nature. As the sun starts to intensify and the temperature increases it soon becomes apparent why this place is called Death Valley.
Lugging my 50 kg rig that now had 8 litres of water strapped to her and was almost 60 kg up the incline towards Townes Pass was one of the toughest days in the saddle I’ve ever had. With the combination of intense heat and steep inclines topped off with extra weight making conditions borderline unmanageable. Only making it half way out the pit after a 70 km day due to sheer heat exhaustion, I had been flirting with passing out numerous times on the climb and finally called it a day at roughly 800 meters above sea level.
Taking me a few hours to come back to relative normality I camped out on the side of the road to regroup and prepare for the final push out the canyon. Leaving before sunrise the following morning to try to beat the heat, I reached the top of Townes pass elated and over joyed at conquering the beast. Little did I know that I would be instantly dropped down into Panamint Valley on the other side, an almost carbon copy of Death Valley except for the fact it does not drop below sea level but is also mirrored by another 1500 meter pass.
With the scarcity of water, intense heat and relentless climbing, this part of the world is no joke solo and unsupported on a bicycle. A young European tourist would unfortunately find out the hard way. Attempting to tackle a short off road ride on a mountain bike inside the National Park the day I was clawing my way out of the valley, he did not make it and was pronounced dead from heat stroke. I was informed by a park ranger when I finally reached the summit of Townes Pass, this blog goes out to that young man and his family, my condolences.
Having conquered Death Valley I set my sights on Yosemite National Park in search of the giant Sequoia tree followed by the final push north towards Black Rock City my finish line after 35 countries in 3 years. The CO2 reading now flirting with the 3 ton mark as week 47 of 50 here in the Americas comes to an end.
After 47 weeks and 19 465 carbon free km the amount of pollution saved from our fragile atmosphere is a jaw dropping, stomach turning 2919 kg!!!