Death Valley Challenge
Oh dear Jim you’ve really went and blew it. Up to this point I rated you as tour guide, as a drinking partner and as a cyclist but you ruined it. As the group assembled in the car park of Best Western for the final push to Vegas you blasted out ‘Viva Las Vegas’ but by Bruce Springsteen not THE KING. A fatal error. This was another downer on a day that had started far too early and wasn’t helped by a poor breakfast. Best Western had labelled a dish as potatoes but it was clearly fried potato peelings. Even a waffle maker where you made your own waffles could not make up for the substandard coffee. Luckily I still had a decent coffee sachet I had 'liberated' from a previous hotel and made a cup in the room.
The last day’s route was easy (no even easier than the other days). Thirty miles up the hill to Mountain Springs Saloon and then twenty five miles downhill to Las Vegas. Needless to say Phil disappeared on the descent and I found myself climbing up with James. Now we were out of the National Park and on a public road with a cycle lane. This meant we could ride two abreast without having to keep an eye out for a park ranger. The climb was never more than 6% so we found our rhythm and enjoyed chatting on the way up. I’ve mentioned before how many times I get lost cycling and came very close to going wrong even with such simple instructions. As we neared the top of the climb I said to James I couldn’t remember how many miles it was to lunch, but I put it to the back of my mind as we carried on chatting. I then heard a car horn sound and felt aggrieved as we were well within the cycle lane. I turned around to see who had the affront to ‘parp’ at us and I saw it was Steve in the van outside the lunch stop just as we were passing it. I’m not sure how far I would have gone up the hill before remembering the saloon was at the top of the climb!
Mountain Springs Saloon was my new highlight (sorry Arnies). The three of us were the only customers at first in the bar in which every wall and flat surface was covered in dollar bills signed by past patrons. Needless to say we added our own. Other attractions were a very pretty barmaid, gaming machines and ashtrays on the bar again, a lit log fire and a broken kid’s elephant ride!
I was amazed that the next customers in had English accents (and not from our group). It turned out they were Cam’s parents who had come out to meet him. I took the opportunity to tell them how well their son had behaved with his friends and that I was amazed how fresh they were each morning despite being out till 6am every night.
Once everybody had arrived we adjourned to the Grill room which was another wooden building behind the bar. I wasn’t sure what to order or indeed what some of the choices were but Neil ordered in front of me and it sounded good so I went for the same, as did Ted who was behind me.
It was a long leisurely lunch and the feeling of nearing the end was inevitable. All that was left was the fast descent in Vegas and to group at McDonalds for another convoy to the Vegas sign. There was a bit of tension in the air as we were about to set off. Two riders had chosen to wear Spiderman tops and they battled to be the best. Neither of the riders are likely to feature as stunt doubles for Andrew Garfield any time soon though.
The cycle lane into town was basically the hard shoulder with a bike painted onto it. As I overtook the three lads I made the mistake of venturing onto the ‘rumble strip’. Designed to make car drivers aware they are drifting off course they are terrifying when on a bike, but I stayed upright and tucked back in. Shortly afterwards I heard a bike bell ring and turned to see a young local guy keen to get past (and not make my mistake of going on the rumble strip). I let him pass then stuck to his back wheel as he sped past some others in our group. The road had now flattened and I was in danger of having to put some effort in to keep with him, so rather than humiliate him in his home patch I let him go. There was one casualty of the descent – Barry’s phone! It had dislodged from his bar mount and broken into several pieces. Barry seemed unperturbed despite now not being able to contact his wife who was due out in Vegas the next day.
The six miles through Vegas were ridden in between the two vans. The idea was that when the back van blew its horn we would all move over one lane. The problem was with so much traffic it was impossible to hear the horn so we drifted across five lanes to make several left hand turns in a disorganized rabble – but we all made it.
Much back slapping and handshakes celebrated our arrival on Las Vegas Boulevard South. But then we had to queue to have our picture taken amongst run-of-the-mill tourists who had come by car and not put any effort in. Pity the people behind us, as all of us had individual shots, group shots, shots with different tops etc etc.
We made the journey to the hotel in the vans with the bikes packed into the trailers. As we were given our room keys we had over two hours to spruce ourselves up for the celebration dinner and night on the tiles. HOWEVER! The route to the lifts passed by the bar and I suggested to Phil it wouldn’t harm to have one swift half to celebrate our arrival. I had thought there might have been a bottle of bubbly at the sign – but there wasn’t. Phil wasn’t keen as it takes him a long time to get his hair and make up just right but he relented. Just as we were ordering the Cockneys came past and seemed rather keen on the swift half idea. It felt like an apres ski beer as everybody was in cycling attire. The only problem was our luggage pile that was growing ever bigger on the corner, we might have been okay but Chris had a case the size of a small hearse. Anyway the swift half turned into a quick bucket after some nifty upselling by the barman, and then a couple more buckets. Needless to say it turned out to be a very quick dash to the rooms, get ready and race back down.
There is no more to report on the night as there is one golden rule; What happens in Vegas – stays in Vegas!
The next morning Barry came to see us off at 8am despite staying on for a week with his wife. He presented me with a small bag and said it was a present for me. I opened it to find it was a toothbrush! He said it was to make up for one I said I had lost when I went back down the hill for him. We both knew I hadn’t lost a toothbrush but it was his way of saying thank you. I’m the first to admit I’m a cynical, uncaring old git (no really) but I was touched.
I had another two flights to brave to get home, but the first passed in a blur and before the second there was a six hour stopover in Seattle. Some took the opportunity to go into the city and see the sights. I took the opportunity to drink Gin! Jim took pity on me and kept me company with red wine but still didn’t apologise enough for the Springsteen error.
I’m aware that the ‘cyclists’ that read this post will think that it was not proper cycle touring and not many miles were covered, but I enjoy these Charity challenges. They contain a wide mix of people and abilities and make for interesting days. Whilst well within my comfort zone I can really appreciate how much effort some people have to put in just to get through the days. I am certain that I will remain in contact with some new friends from this trip for a long time to come.
Phil & I raised over £2000 for Freddie’s Friends. As a whole the group raised over £55,000 for their various causes. That included a £200 cheque that a diner gave in Dennys on the first day when it was explained to him what we were all doing at breakfast in cycling gear.