Day 23: Silver Lake, CA to Death Valley, CA

Saturday 10/1

Although the wind raged through the night, we woke to a calm and sunny morning. After the cold and damp end to the day before, we were delighted to be greeted by clear blue skies.

After finishing the rest of the June Lake Loop, we stopped at a gas station for fuel and breakfast (all things hearty and nutritional can be found shrinkwrapped and sold to you by a guy who looks like Ron Jeremy). While there I made full use of the services available to travellers.

After sharing a semi-synthetic tasting bear claw (superior to non-synthetic if your goal is to have it come out mostly unprocessed), we cut across the 395 into the dirt. Just a few miles in we hit deep ground pumice and the bike wrestling began.

Did I say wrestling? I meant dropping. The front wheel plowed to the right and I knew I didn’t have the leg strength to keep the bike upright so I just jumped clear of the entire listing ship.

Wayne had ridden this area before and he knew this wasn’t the route he had previously taken on his baby whale (KTM Adventure). We backtracked until we found another road that was more pleasant for forward progress.

We wound through the mountains and then made our way south through Owens Valley.

With mountain ranges on both sides, the scenery was awesome.

Along the way we came across this landfill. We’re 200 miles inland, far from the ocean where the sea gull normally calls home. So just how do they figure out where all these dumps are and which ones are delicious enough to warrant all that flight time?

When we got to Bishop it was time for lunch. As a respite from sandwiches and ramen noodles, we stuffed our faces on fried chicken. The oils in the chicken blended perfectly with the morning’s semi-synth bear claw. Where once we thrived on a balanced diet, we now functioned just as well on oil and guar gum. The human body is incredibly adaptable!

We left Bishop via a frontage road. This stretch was unforgettable because it was the most literal interpretation of a dualsport road I’d ever seen. Long neglected and slowly being reclaimed by Mother Nature, it was made up of short alternating strips of dirt and pavement. It seemed almost too consistent to be entropy at work.

We stopped for our all-important ice cream in Big Pine before making or push into Death Valley. The initial section of dirt road was really nice. We took our time and enjoyed the view.

But as with most roads in the middle of nowhere, it became less well-maintained the farther we got from a population center. First the jagged little rocks began getting larger and more numerous. And as the elevation dropped, the sand washes increased. There were fewer opportunities to enjoy the view as keeping the eyes on the ground became top priority.

It had been a while since we’d been punished by triple digit heat on this trip… what better place to be reacquainted with that extreme than in a place called Death Valley? At some point I became so painfully thirsty that the only thing on my mind were ice cubes. Ice cubes in water. Ice cubes in soda. Ice cubes in beer. Ice cubes in urine. I didn’t care what the delivery device was — I just needed it to be super ICE COLD.

During a water break I asked Wayne to check his thermometer — it was 100 degrees in the shade. Somewhere along the way — no doubt while under the full strength of the sun — the thermometer registered a high of 110. We frequently checked on Simon to make sure he was doing ok; we had carried him too many miles to kill him off now.

Knowing that Death Valley was going to be hot even before we got there, we had long since scratched our plans to head towards Badwater. Our goal was to simply make southern progress along the western edge of Death Valley, where the elevation was still around 1000 feet. Not exactly alpine territory, but probably a little more agreeable than below sea level.

It’s a desert so there was plenty of sand. The edges seemed to be the firmest. I took one side while Wayne took the other.

Emotional relief finally came when we reached the road that headed towards a notch — and our escape! — in the mountains. Much to our surprise, we came across a guy on a BMW GS who was on his way to the hot springs (not sure which one or why, given the hellish heat). At first we thought he was riding alone, but the rider said his riding partner was back a little ways. It was good to see someone else on two wheels; it made us feel less like idiots for being there under those conditions.

I don’t care if snakes are at a pugilistic disadvantage because they don’t have arms. That’s their evolutionary problem, not mine.

A setting sun combined with a couple thousand feet of altitude gain finally brought relief from the heat. As we climbed higher we came across more water crossings. This puddle turned out to be trickier than it appeared.

Wayne got part way through it, caught some sort of rut, and snapped sideways. I thought for sure he and Simon were about to slam into the drink, but the bike swiveled back and shot out of the water. I was a little mortified of having to go through the same procedure so I was glad to see Wayne stopping and getting off his bike so he could bring mine through — it had already been such a long day of bike wrangling for this delicate lotus blossom! Sadly, chivalry was not coming my way. Wayne was just getting off his bike so he could be ready with his camera in case I ate shit. Ok, I guess it’s better not to be coddled. I took a different line and managed to avoid any drama.

We still had to ride for a while before finding an area clear enough for camping. The sun had set and the light was quickly disappearing so we wasted no time getting the tent set up.

We had just enough energy left to eat and then pass out. Life on the road continued to be primitively simple.

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Day 23 overview: 171 miles

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