Death Valley Challenge
Day 1: Beatty to Stovepipe Wells
I put as my Facebook status that I was in the VIP lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3 but despite explaining that my wife had been on Simon Mayo’s request show the previous evening and actually spoken on air to request ‘Viva Las Vegas’ for me, I was not afforded access to the said VIP lounge so I was in some mock English tavern staffed entirely by Spaniards. My drinking companions were Phil, whose idea it was to cycle Death Valley and Jim who was Global Adventures guide for the trip. As a nervous flyer I was keen to neck a couple of strong drinks before boarding but was disappointed there was no ice for my G&T(s). (I bet they had ice in VIP.)
The first flight would take us to JFK in New York. The seatbelt signs remained on for most of the flight as there was a lot of ‘bad air’, Delta don’t say turbulence. Had I been less scared I might have appreciated their humorous take on the safety video – but I was too busy checking my seatbelt, crossing myself and taking a Tramadol. It was free drinks for the whole flight and they did have ice – RAH ! There was nothing remarkable about JFK airport other than it was $10 for a pint of beer.
We arrived at Las Vegas airport at some time at night (two time changes had lost me). To get to your baggage you have to walk through a large gaming area with cinema size screens advertising the acts that were performing in town. On offer was Rod Stewart, Kiss and Judas Priest. We were met outside by Chris & Steve who were our local guides and looking after us whilst in the US. The group was 16 strong and by now was split into varying states of excitement, tired, drunk and hungover. We were shepherded into two mini buses towing trailers and began the two hour drive to Beatty. The drive out of Vegas was spectacular with all the well-known big hotels and attractions visible.
In the UK we have (had) Little Chefs adjoining petrol stations, in Nevada there was the gas station an Area 51 visitor centre AND a brothel. We were told we would be stopping for only ten minutes so it was only one or the other to visit!
We checked into our motel sometime after midnight (I think) and issued with our day bags (these were bags like the ones supermarkets describe as ‘bags for life’). These would be accessible throughout each day so we could pack sun cream, extra layers, medication, cigarettes, whilst our main luggage would be locked in one of the trailers. We were instructed to be in reception for 8.30 with our luggage ready for breakfast. With the excitement and/or effects of jet lag people were up and about from quite early and half a dozen or so were enjoying the early morning sunshine when I popped out at six thirty.
Breakfast was at Dennys, which was situated behind Nevada’s largest candy store that was adjacent to our motel. My first American breakfast was everything I had been expecting. Bacon that cracked, eggs offered six different ways, sugar loaded French toast, a stack of pancakes, syrup and free coffee refills-FAB! The service was super quick despite twenty people all ordering different dishes and at least half having no idea what an ‘over easy’ egg would look like.
After breakfast it was time for the bike fitting. We had been told that hybrid bikes would be provided but road bikes were available for an upgrade. We had paid an additional £120 to ride a Giant Defy 2. After completing the ride I felt that it was a bit cheeky to provide hybrid bikes as it was definitely a trip that was suited to road bikes. We had taken our own pedals and saddles. I fitted the pedals straight away but held off with the saddle (as it turned out- the one provided was more than adequate and comfortable). I had also taken my Garmin but each bike had a Cateye fitted as well as a seat pack with tyre levers, spare tube and Co2 cannisters. Bike sizes had been determined by height and weight being provided by us on application forms. One lad called Chris must have had very bad handwriting as his 5’7” must have looked like 3’7” as his bike was of a size that an eight-year-old would be happy with. His seat post was ramped up to the maximum safe limit and then a little bit more.
There was a very thorough safety briefing and we were ready to go. The plan was that Chris & Steve would be further down the road with the vans to meet us for fresh water and snacks. As we set off I realized that we hadn’t been told what ‘the route’ was. Having been on London to Brussels and London to Paris with signed routes and still getting lost – I wasn’t keen on being stranded in a desert. It was explained to me that there was no route as such, as there was only ONE road – RAH again!
Despite the vastness of Death Valley and America in general it was bizarre that after only a few minutes we had crossed from Nevada into California (we would swap over several times throughout the trip). I pulled my camera out of my back pocket to take a ‘scenic’ shot but the loose fixing at the bottom had come off. I also thought I had lost the memory card but it turned out it was still in the laptop back home. Phil offered to give me a copy of photos he took (so he takes credit/criticism for most of the visuals in this). The first stop was by the sign for Death Valley, after such a colossal breakfast it seemed wrong to be picking at mini chocolate bars – but I’d never had a Hershy before. At this and every subsequent stop the guys produced a portable bike rack, and laid a table with treats, cold water and isotonic drinks.
Lunch was a pack up that had come from Subway which was part of Nevada’s largest candy store (it was large). Our lunch site was at an information station and roadside toilet, at the top of the first climb. The toilet was basically a hole in the ground with a plastic pedestal placed over. I assumed that rainfall would wash away the holes contents – but this was the desert and the smell will remain in my memory for quite some years to come.
After lunch it was only another 15 miles to our destination which was Stovepipe Wells. There was a stop to have fun at Mesquite Sand Dunes but I was happy for the youngsters to play in the sand whilst I sat in the shade and started my umpteenth litre of water.
There was only another three miles after the sand dunes to our hotel. Stovepipe Wells was a mock Western style set up with the added bonus of a swimming pool and air conditioning. We were two early to check into our rooms but the saloon was open – RAH again! There was an eclectic selection of draft beers and the one that took my fancy was ‘Arrogant Bas***d’ (my asterisks).