Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Coyotes, and Snakes, and Spiders, Oh My!

Alright, for anyone who attempted to decipher my last entry, I apologize. It was horribly scatterbrained and probably confusing, a poor account of a fabulous section. However, instead of dwelling on the past, I'm vowing to do better from here on out (or at least try)!

First off, I do have to backtrack a little to the last entry. After leaving Mammoth Lakes, I went to the most incredible hot springs I've ever been to (just didn't have the picture off my camera in time to add it to the past). I'd found it in the last minute of my library time, hurriedly jotted down directions and off I went. It wasn't far out of the way, an unmarked dirt road in the basin led to a parking lot and boardwalk down to the springs. It was located int he middle of the basin surrounded by wide open grass and brush with a spectacular view of the Sierras. i guess it's a popular spot, but one couple was leaving when I arrived and I had it all to myself. It felt great on my legs and took awhile to want to ride again afterward!


Best hot springs ever

From Bishop south to Lone Pine I took my time enjoying the towns, their parks, and stocking up for Death Valley. It was hot and I was still up around 4,000 ft! As I rode the road into Death Valley, I noticed I'd suddenly become quite popular; a number of vehicles passing began snapping my picture. The first car to do so came up from behind, slowed to my pace and a lady practically stuck a camera in my face without saying a word, even after I said hello! They just took their picture and drove off. Now, this happened a number of times while in the park, though some were a little more descrete; still, none of the usual thumbs up or waves I get from drives who acknowledge me. So, my two theories are that either I just look so darn good in my spandex that they have to take my pictures, or that they think I'm insane for riding into the 100 + degree weather with so much darn stuff on my bike--I"m leaning towards the latter.

Overall, Death Valley was quite an experience and I just barely made it out! My first night in the park I stayed at the most expensive place yet, $7.50! They hooked me up with a shower though which after a week and a half without was most welcome. At the camp in Panamint Springs, I met a group of guys riding from Badwater to Mt Whitney, then hiking up (lowest to highest points in continental US) and filming it for a show, Beyond Adventure (i think that's right). It made me kind of bummed that I didn't get to do Whitney on this trip, but another time! Anyway, the guys were all very nice and one even brought over homemade cookies! Homemade is such a treat nowadays, cooking on my MSR just isn't the same...

The next morning I met John and Laura who had camped next to me. Yet another wonderful couple who also gave me homemade cookies ( I was on a role!) With a long climb to start the day I was anxious to get chuggin uphill. Typically, I have a rule not to stop on uphills unless absolutely necessary, but I broke it what I saw a tarantula crossing in front of me. When I stopped, it turned and came straight for me! I waited as long as I could stand, then retreated--I was later told it's matting season and so they're out more and more aggressive.


Yikes he's close!

The pass topped out at just below 5000 ft and then descended all the way to sea level over 17 miles. Quite a downhill, not sure where else you can find something like that.


From here...


...all the way to here.

Now down at sea level it was getting really hot. I ran into a group doing a cancer fundraiser from Vancouver, BC to Austin, TX and another pair riding from San Fran to Las Vegas. I'll admit I was kind of proud to be the only non-supported rider in the crowd (though also the only one not riding for a bigger cause then myself).

In the heat of the day, John and Laura caught up with me, pulled on the shoulder and got out a complete picnic complete with ice cold water and a chair! They were incredibly kind and fun to talk with. The rest of the afternoon I escaped the heat int he air conditioned visitor's center and nice grass in the shade. I still can't believe they have a golf course and swimming pools at the bottom of Death Valley though. Although I know that the Forest Service is full of it's own problems, that right there is one big reason why Parks anger me.


John and Laura

Filling my water to full capacity (heavy!) with 75 miles to the next water source, I rode in the slightly cooler evening air. I don't think the night got down below 70 though. Right behind where I decided to set up my tent I noticed a sidewinder (i think) coiled up. Luckily he was just a small guy, but as the light faded and he totally disappeared he still made me a little nervous.

My little friend, only a little over a foot long.

Hoping to get a good distance before the heat of the day, I had my earliest start yet at 0700. Unfortunately, any allusion of making good time quickly died as I felt the headwind I would battle most of the day. A stretch that should have taken me less then three hours took nearly six. I did stop at Badwater and enjoyed walking around the salt flats, but otherwise suffered through the day.

Badwater-salty!

Wind is just supper hard to deal with for me. The only times I've been stressed, scared, of upset this whole trip was been because of wind. Other windy days I've found myself screaming but words of encouragement to help keep me upright and fighting; but this time I found myself just plain yelling at the wind, crusing it for causing me so much trouble. I guess being in the desert got to me, knowing that it would cause me up climb passes in the heat of the day and fully aware of who far it was to water.

During a break on the shoulder, two motorcyclists stopped to make sure I was OK, being cyclists themselves,m they know my suffering. They were great guys and even gave me an extra two liters of water ( I learned on day two of my trip never to refuse water, especially in the desert), this helped significantly knowing that I wouldn't have to ration my water. They also warned me about an aggressive coyote up a few miles ahead.


View of the road

I didn't think much about the coyote until I saw him pacing the road ahead of me. A car coming the other direction stopped to watch and he just circled their car! This made me nervous enough to get my bear spray at the ready (though the wind was blowing the opposite direction and would have made it useless, it still made me feel a little better). I approached slowly and rode in the wrong lane to both gain distance and keep the car there just in case. When I reached the car with the coyote on the other side of it, the people offered me a ride around. However, the coyote wasn't showing signs of aggression and I was already half way, so decided to keep going and look over my shoulder hoping he would follow.

Once I made it to where it started climbing, the wind must have felt sorry for me as it even gave a little tail wind at times (I proceeded to apologize for yelling at it). This climbed up top a pass of only 3300 ft, but was so gradual (and I was so beat by then) that it was a long, slow go. Finally down the other side I hit a record speed of 52 mph on a nice decent into a tiny town where water and cold juice awaited me! Mentally and physically, this was probably me toughest day yet. After 8.5 hours of riding, everything ached badly. Days like this remind me of how much I appreciate the easier days (which are luckily much more frequent).


Never-ending climb

This morning I awoke to more wind. These long, flat, straight stretches are killer in the wind as you feel like your never getting anywhere struggling along at 5 mph. However, I finally made it out of California and am now in Parhump, NV. It's a dust cloud here the winds are so bad, luckily it will be a tail wind of a ways as I head towards Las Vegas. I had planned on skirting Vegas since I"n not a fan, but with going to Utah, it made since. I also had a prompt reply for another warmshowers host there, so I'll be in Vegas tomorrow!


Hoping this wind dies down, or at least pushes me east.

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