Thursday, December 29, 2011

To the edge of Death Valley

One of the many reasons I ride my bike is for the adventure of it. While most training rides take place on the same roads here around town, or even just on the trainer downstairs, I make sure to get out of suburbia and really stretch my legs.

From my house that can be done with a 20 mile warm up, then a climb over the North Ogden Divide and head to the Ogden Valley behind the mountains. Committing to 100 miles or so will also get you to some adventurous places in Northern Utah. But every now and then, I like to really get adventurous. On Christmas day I had a chance to do just that.

My in-laws live in Bishop, CA, in the eastern Sierra Nevada. We try to get out there a few times a year, especially around the holidays. I take my skis in the winter to hit Mammoth Mountain and I usually take my bike as well. Even in the winter, Bishop has mild weather and you can get a lot of miles in. Mammoth is suffering from a lack of snow, so my plan was to get in as much riding as my family would allow.

I have some favorite routes around the Owens Valley. There's an epic climb up Bishop Creek and another above Rovana to some abandoned mines. There's also a great 109 mile loop that takes you around Crowley Lake, towards Mammoth and then down the long and strait Hwy 6 between Benton and Bishop. But there's one route I had never taken, but always wanted to...Big Pine to Death Valley!

There's something so rugged and remote about the eastern Sierra and the adjacent White Mountains. The valley lies at 4,000 feet and is surrounded by 14,000 foot peaks. The scenery is beyond amazing. I often find myself alone on these highways and mountain roads with my mind left to wander away from my heart rate monitor and pedal cadence. With my planned ride to Death Valley, I knew I would find more of the same.

After presents and Church on Christmas morning, I headed out on my Death Valley adventure. I wasn't going to have time to get into the park, but my route would lead to the far northwest boundary and give me a view of the desert mountains of the scorched valley. Starting from Bishop, I took the County Road on the west side of Hwy 395. The road is paved but rough and turns to dirt for 2 or 3 miles but it keeps you off the busy highway. Once in Big Pine, Hwy 168 takes you north to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest or south on Death Valley Road will roll all the way to Scotty's Castle. I didn't have the time or the legs to make that trip, but I was motivated by at least seeing Death Valley.

The road turns uphill immediately into the White Mountains following a wide wash. It seems to never end. I kept thinking my turnaround spot, Saline Valley Rd, would be just around the next corner, but Death Valley Rd just kept going and going. The only sounds were my gears turning, my breath and my heart beat. The silence was first broken my a flock of birds, which scared the crap out of me. Only 3 cars passed and a lone cyclist making his way down gave me a quick wave.

I made it to Devil's Gate, a winding, twisted piece of asphalt carved right through some brown, jagged rocks. I stopped for a photo and kept on climbing, the potential view of Death Valley keeping me motivated.

I finally arrived at the summit and the dirt Saline Valley Rd. I could see the mountains of Death Valley but headed out on Saline Valley Rd for a bit to get a better view. It was spectacular. I regret not snapping a photo but I was getting cold and knew my camera phone wouldn't take a picture that would have done the vista any justice.

The decent was swift, averaging in the 30's, but shade had taken over the road and the temps were cold as well. When I had made it back to the 168 junction, I was elated, expressing out loud to myself how awesome that climb had been. I hate climbing, but when it comes to this kind of adventure its worth it.

The ride ended with 15 miles along 395 heading back to Bishop in the long shadows of the Sierra Nevada. Turing towards my in-laws house, I took a deep breath and looked up into the canyon I had just ascended grateful for the Christmas gift I had just been given.

Check out my route here:

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a sweet ride. Lucky you!!! Any day on a bike is a good one....well, almost. I'm a fair-weather type of rider.