Death Valley Challenge
Day 2: Stovepipe Wells to Panamint Springs
We were to have our luggage ready to be packed at 6.45am on this day. Yet again everybody was up and ready early. I had been awake since 4.30am and Phil not long after (this might have been due to me switching on the TV). Once I had shown Phil how to use the coffee maker we settled back to enjoy back to back showings of ‘Saved By The Bell’ – showcasing some excellent 90’s fashion and not so excellent teen acting. I had also had a flurry of Facebook messaging with my wife. This was not soppy miss you texts, but her desperate to know the bank passwords so the Café staff could be paid.
Breakfast was a buffet affair this morning but still contained the essential staples. Phil seemed to be enjoying his yoghurt and muesli as I tried to decide between Tabsco or syrup on my French Toast. To help us Limeys the staff had written above each dish what they were. Two items meant to be eaten together were ‘biscuits and gravy’. This was a cue to go into Peter Kay mode (GARLIC BREAD)! In fairness it wasn’t digestives and bisto but more of a scone and cream sauce, but still not something I was prepared to give the time of day to.
Chris & Steve had decided to stagger the start of the ride with one group going half an hour before the next. There was no ‘picking sides’ but it was obvious by now there were varying degrees of cycling ability within the sixteen riders. This trip was billed as a ‘challenge’ and as such was not a cyclist only affair. To me it makes the whole experience more worthwhile and you really appreciate the effort some people have to put in just to get through the days.
The first part of the days ride was a 17 mile climb (average gradient 7%) and to get people in the mood Jim blasted out of the vans speakers AC/DC-Highway to Hell. My kind of tune and luckily it was loud enough to drown out his attempts to join Brian Johnson on lead vocals. The majority of the group headed off as soon as they could which left just me, Phil and James. James was on the trip with his daughter Jami. On the first day Jami had struggled but James stayed with her. It took Jami a while to convince James he was okay to leave her in the group and for him to go off at his own pace.
Just as we were leaving Barry appeared and said he didn’t realize that most people had already set off but was it okay for him to ride with us. Pleased with the extra company (even after two days, Phil’s company was getting tedious with his constant coughing, sneezing and nose blowing). The first 12 miles was on an arrow straight road that just went up. After only 3 it was obvious that Barry was struggling. I knew that the vans would come later and do a sweep but it didn’t seem right to ride away and leave him on his own. I told Phil and James that I was heading back and would see them later on. I turned around and rode back to Barry. He asked me what I was doing and I told him that I had dropped my toothbrush but couldn’t find it so I would ride back with him. I kept to a pace he was comfortable with and chatted on the way up. We had been told that national park law dictates you have to ride in single file but I kept a keen eye out for Park Wardens whilst riding two abreast. This was a seriously hot day and even at a steady pace I was sweating quite a lot. Barry had a couple of wobbles but manfully kept going. Before long we began to catch some of the back markers and placed Barry back into the pack. I then set off in pursuit of Phil, which didn’t take long as he was at the side of the road fixing a puncture (his first of four). Once Phil had fixed his puncture we began again and once more passed several riders, Phil’s superior fitness (you owe me £10) began to tell and he pulled away which meant he was able to get a photo of me as I crested the summit. It was a pleasant wait for the other riders and we passed the time of day with some guys that were using the road for brake testing on a school bus (no children were in the bus at the time). After I had consumed close to my body weight in mini chocolate treats I went back down the hill with Jim to help up a few of the stragglers. I found Margaret who had taken quite a few breaks but was now struggling to reach the top. Without anyone seeing I gave her a push for a few hundred yards and then as we neared a small group of riders almost at the summit I shoved her hard so she was able to beat them to the top (she had the good grace not to raise her arms in triumph or shout ‘losers’). From the top there is only one way to go – and it was a twisting descent for 11 miles before we had to make a left turn and rendezvous for lunch by the ‘Death Valley’ sign.
Lunch was a pack up that had come from Stovepipe Wells and more water. Cold water is fine and refreshing but I hankered after a large Coke (other fizzy brands of drink are available) with ice and lemon, Phil & James agreed that it would be a welcome alternative During the lunch break we were treated to a spectacular air show. Two jets from a nearby air base were ‘playing seek and destroy’ (either that or Top Gun 2 was being shot). It was an awesome sight as they raced to the clouds (well they would have been if there were any) and then descend to a low level before twisting round and round. Luckily for us Virgin were not testing any of their space rockets.
The road we were due to take had been closed, so Chris said that in order to make up the miles we simply had to ride 13 miles to a T junction, turn round and then come back, take a left and our hotel was two miles up the road. Only myself, Phil and James took this option. The 17 mile climb had taken its toll of some. Some riders went part of the way but were put off by the condition of the road. The road left the national park and was just a ‘desert highway’ – this in truth was the only part of the ride were those on hybrids were in an enviable position. After we had made the turn Chris came past in the van to make sure we were okay and then gave us a treat. A three mile stretch of the road was of reasonable quality so he pulled in front of us and we used the trailer to get a tow out of any wind resistance. Even though it was not yet 5pm it was getting dark as we rode into Panamint Springs Resort.
Chris and Steve had found a table on the terrace and were enjoying one of the three hundred bottled beers that were on offer. However my eyes were drawn to the three pint glasses that contained a large amount of ice, slices of lemon and a fizzy dark liquid – YES COKE! The guys had heard us talking and thought we deserved one. With the sun setting I have to say that was a Carlsberg moment (but with Coke). The cigarette tasted good too.
The rooms at Panamint Springs were basic but clean(ish). The ‘resort’ was a few wooden rooms, a bar and restaurant plus a gas station as a neighbour. In the bar before dinner Margaret bought me a beer to say thank you for the cheeky hill push. I wasn’t expecting much for tea as the whole place was a bit ramshackle but the waitress produced some huge and delicious pizzas.
This was the night that the group really began to gel. Nobody had been standoffish beforehand but being British it takes a while for us to drop our guard. At dinner (I keep saying dinner but as a Northerner it should really be tea) people were sitting away from their original groups or friends and it was like we were all one group as opposed to small separate parties. A bit of a cliché I know but that night we all began to appreciate each other.
Some while after dinner/tea myself, Phil and Barry were still at the table talking. The waitress came over and asked us to pay for the pizzas. I explained that I was from Yorkshire and that I very rarely paid for my own food let alone other peoples and quickly despatched Phil to find Chris or Steve to settle up.