Death Valley Challenge
Panamint Springs to Furnace Creek
Panamint Springs being only adequate meant that there was no TV or coffee machine in the room. Phil knew me well enough not attempt conversation before I have had a coffee in the morning, I was also pleasantly surprised that the people that were awake and milling around outside stepped aside and didn’t speak as I shuffled to the dining area. In truth it was a beautiful morning and sat outside with the coffee and my pre ride cigarette I realized I was enjoying myself. I went back inside for breakfast and although it didn’t hit the heights of the previous night’s pizza it was not too bad (still offered biscuits & gravy though).
Myself, Phil & James watched the other riders set off and enjoyed the sunshine for another 30 minutes. Today’s route was back up yesterday’s downhill and then the chance to enjoy a 19 mile descent. On the flat the three of us worked together but agreed when climbing we would find our own rhythm and meet up later. Phil was ahead and James not far behind me when we began to pass some of the others. At Heathrow we had been checking in behind three young lads who were clearly going to be with us as their hoodies said ‘Death Valley 2014’. All looked fit and lean and I had assumed they would be the ones to set the pace but their agenda was clearly to have a good time and take more photos and videos than anyone else. To be honest if I could pull a wheelie going up a hill I would want it videoing too. I passed the lads (Cam, Scott and Tom) who were taking a break to take another photo. Every bit of kit they had, showed ‘Teenage Cancer Trust’ and they raised an incredible £15,000 for a charity very close to their hearts. I dropped down into the small chainring and got to the top with very little effort albeit at a slow and steady pace.
At the top of the climb the same brake testing guys as yesterday were there again. They laughed and asked if we were ever allowed to cycle downhill. Whilst waiting at the top a Park Ranger pulled up and asked Chris & Steve for their permits to have a vehicle in the National Park. My only previous experience of a Park Ranger was Ranger Smith form Yogi Bear so I was quite surprised to see him carrying a gun. At the JFK I hadn’t given it a thought as even in the UK you see armed policemen at airports. The debate on the merits of the right to bear arms can be debated by others more qualified than me – but I’m not comfortable with it. The descent was awesome. I prefer going uphill as I have little desire for adrenalin rushes, but on this road you could see so far ahead it was easy to let the bike roll and leave the brakes well alone. If your speed began to dip on a flatter section, you merely had to get into a lower position and before long you had sped up again. Ahead I could see that Phil had stopped – he didn’t appear to have another puncture (yet) and indeed waved me on. What he was doing was stopping to put his camera into video mode. He managed to catch me and also film my ‘near miss’. Traffic had been very light with only the occasional car passing in either direction, so I was shocked to see a saloon car overtaking an RV and coming towards me. In truth it was nowhere near close but still gave me an excuse to give him the finger.
Lunch was at Stovepipe Wells were we had stayed the other night. When we were a few hundred metres I initiated the following conversation;
Me – “there’s only one thing left to say Phil after that descent”
Phil – “What’s that?”
Me – “last one there buys the drinks”
Making sure I was already in the correct gear I sprinted away as Phil scrambled with his gears and gave chase. Although I won the sprint I still had to buy the drinks as he had no money on him. At each subsequent rest break for the rest of the trip we choose a marker and contested a sprint. Phil may have picked up the Polka Dot jersey on this trip but I made the Green jersey my own (mostly from false/variable starts and plain cheating).
After lunch it was a pretty flat 26 miles to Furnace Creek resort. Phil picked up another puncture but the three of us found our way back to the front. The three became four as Ted said hello to us. Not wishing to sound elitist I remarked on how well he had done to catch the three of us up. To his credit he confessed immediately that he had been offered a raft behind the trailer and for three miles ‘coasted’ at 20 + mph. On his first turn at the head of our peloton we had to tell him to rein it in a bit, but before long our 33% turns had become 25% and all the easier for it. After a few miles Ted said he was feeling it and would drop back but we said that he didn’t have to take a turn on the front – it didn’t matter as Phil choose that moment to get another puncture – so we all got a break.
Furnace Creek was a step up in overnight accommodation. The previous ones had been very much ‘one horse outposts’, Furnace Creek had a full stable of horses, and a bar, restaurant, gift shop, swimming pool and a golf course. A guide book describes it as the place to stay in Death Valley. It was like an upmarket Butlins (I have never been to Butlins so my idea of it is shaped on Maplins in Hi De Hi). Aware that we were representing the UK amongst hundreds of other tourists I felt we should be on our best behaviour as the photo below shows.
Before dinner Phil played an absolute blinder, he put his hand into the bargain bucket outside the Gift Shop and pulled out a keyring with the name ‘Jenna’ on. One of my daughters is called Jenna and she always complains that there are never any personalized gifts with her name on. Jenna is a more popular name in America and this proved it. It was indeed a bargain at only 99c (plus taxes). Forgetting the £1800 cost of the trip this made it worthwhile.
Another tick was completed when I went in the bar before dinner. I ordered a beer and as I took my first sup ‘Take it Easy’ by The Eagles came on the jukebox. GOD BLESS AMERICA!
Dinner was in the diner and we had the full menu to choose from. Those of us embracing the foreign culture ordered Burger and fries, the homesick chose fish & chips (other meals were available). Another cracking meal with everybody laughing and joking like old friends. I had a conversation with a guy called Eric, which I had thought an odd name for a Russian – but it turned out the funny accent was in fact Scottish.