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Scribbles on life, the universe and everything… Woy Woy, Ettalong, Umina and teh Central Coast that is!
Into the Valley of Death..
May 23, 2009Posted by on
Day 6 – Western USA Trip
Death Valley, California
I’m riding into “Death Valley”! One wonders if the name is significant. I am on a motorcycle with no shade and no friends! How bad could Death Valley be? Lets find out!
I cannot help but recall the words of Lord Tennyson referring to the Battle of Balaclava… “Into the valley of death rode Big Al”…
I’m up early in Lone Pine, California. I had checked the Beemer the night before and it was ready for the task… well, except for the leaking seal on the drive shaft that was lubricating the back brake disk quite nicely. No chance of a replacement seal in a small town high in the Eastern Sierras on I-395! I will have to go without rear brakes. Who needs em anyway!
My anticipation is maxed out!!! Death Valley is famously hot, dry and lonely. The names of places in and around Death Valley inspire wild images. Names such as Dante’s View, Devil’s Cornfield, Furnace Creek and Salt Creek. There is also the more prosaic Cottonwood Canyon, Mosaic Canyon and Grotto Canyon. The mind boggles!
The record temperature for this area is 134°F (56.7°C). Right now it is cool, high in the Panamint Ranges at 7,5000 ft above sea level so I have my trusty old black “brando” leather jacket on.
The trip to the edge of Death Valley is essentially barren slopes and highly eroded rock. There is a strange black rock, looks like oil. It may be some sort of volcanic rock, it is very shiny and black. It comes and goes in outcrops. The land is dotted with the strange Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia)
I reach the edge of the main decent and stop for a quick photo op. There is nothing moving, just heat haze coming off the valley in the distance.
Fire up the Beemer and let it loose! The road is windy and often there is not much between you and eternity. The dodgy rear brake requires some adjustment in braking style into the corners. Occasionally I come into the corner a bit hot, I control the motorcycle and notice the sheer drop from the corner of my eye. My sphincter tightens! Adrenalin flows like vodka at a Polish wedding. I love it!
The first glance of the long straight roads appears. This is an awesome sight, the classical long road shot of many films. The road looks flat from a distance but it is a long series of “Whoop-d-doos”. YeeHaaaaaaa!!!!!!!
It is getting warmer by the minute, it was 127°F here last week. I need it hot for the bragging rights 🙂 It is the vulnerability when riding that makes it special. Out here, you really start to feel vulnerable. The smells, heat, dust, and huge alien expanse… riding, sensing and risking… it feels orgasmic!
At the bottom is a small town called Stovepipe Wells. There is not a lot there… a Ranger station, gas, general store, bar and motel (don’t need much else I guess). The motel has a pool. A Dutch couple I chatted with over the western side of the valley had stayed here. At night they floated in the pool and watch the stars. It was pitch black and the stars went to the horizon – wish I had stayed there!
I fueled up at the gas station here and bought a Tee Shirt (“Got Water”). There was not many cars or people about. The temperature here was 112°F (44.4°C). I was hoping for hotter, Sydney gets hotter (but not by much – record for inland Sydney is 113.5 (45.3°C)).
Death Valley is home to the Timbisha tribe of Native Americans, they have lived in this place for about 1,000 years. You have to admire their hardiness, it gets real cold here in winter so they have both extremes to deal with.
I pick up a permit from the local ranger, he seems rather gruff. Perhaps concerned at a lone motorcyclist heading into the valley of death!
There are sandy dunes blowing across the road. It is barren and lifeless to the casual eye. I see no living creature but I know they are here somewhere. They are smart, they stay out of the heat.
I hit the lowest point on the road, 242 feet below sea level!
Here there is some dunes but mostly salt pans. There is little living here I feel.
The vastness of the valley started to dawn on me. I was on a 4,500 mile (7,000 km) ride with 2 weeks time. I had to move but wished I could explore this mesmerizing place. My brief flirtation with Death Valley took me over the Amargosa Mountains and on to Nevada. I stopped at the Amargosa Opera House for a drink, it was a dry and dusty ranch.
By late afternoon I was in Vegas, looking for the BMW dealer who agreed to fix my Beemer overnight. I found a hotel with a view to the strip. I have been to Vegas many times and on this trip, I just wanted to relax and reflect on the great days ride. I found a great steak house, had a feast on a big lump of cow washed down with many cleansing ales… it was June 12, my birthday!