Wild Weekend Bikepacking in Death Valley National Park
Learning the true meaning of Murphy's Law over 52 miles of prime desert washboards
Sony RX100 II
Mark Finster is an avid cyclist, hobby photographer, and founder of Latigo Coffee, a subscription-based coffee roaster out of Los Angeles.
At some point, we couldn't just keep sitting around while The Radavist had all the fun in Death Valley.
Don't get me wrong, there's been no shortage of weekend radventures out of LA in recent years. But somehow Death Valley always elude my radar, until the stars recently aligned with a group I met through Topanga Creek Outpost. It was also perhaps the last ideal weekend out there before temperatures really start broiling. So we were off!
After our mad dash to finish packing, the route commenced (several hours beyond schedule, of course) with a gnarly descent into Saline Valley. We quickly discovered that any "descending" on this journey would offer no respite from the grueling climbs. It was bumpy. Like, really bumpy. The whole way.
"Washboard" is the right word. Instead of taking in the Salvador Dalí-esque desert surroundings, these roads demand 100% concentration in order to not completely eat it. It's a great reminder that if you don't like something in life (the compression of your spine on washboard roads, for instance), just stop complaining and change it, man. Maybe five feet to the right is a smoother ride. Maybe it's not. But it’s worth a shot.
"We had ten more bump-tastic miles to cover before any realistic hope at camping. Morale wasn't exactly 'high.'"
It was dark when we reached Lippincott Pass. Two of us forgot our headlamps. Some old French dude gave us a wad of toilet paper (which, of course, would come in handy later). We missed the famed sunset at Racetrack Playa. We had ten more bump-tastic miles to cover before any realistic hope at camping. Morale wasn't exactly "high."
Why do we do these things? We spend hours packing our already-busy weekdays with extra errands to make these trips happen, and for what? A pretty photo with some likes?
We all have our reasons. I personally get "out there" to feel awake—and there may be no "freer" mental state than packing up a bike and just gettin' gone. Making coffee outside is also pretty fun.
But most importantly, these grueling trips serve as a reminder that pain (both on the bike, and in "normal life") is temporary. Just have a snack, take some breaks, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Things will be fine.
The sun came up the next day. Our route was slightly less bumpy, and somehow, we all managed to pack enough water. The salty crunch of some uncooked Top Ramen near the summit of our last climb was a lifesaver. We finally enjoyed a smooth (and super fun) descent on Hunter Mountain back to the cars. Life was good again.
Then came our final challenge. On our drive out of the park, I was just about to pull over to make a pot of french pressed coffee for our crew when BLAM-O ... flat tire. The handiest of our group (the engineer, and the accountant) sprang quickly into action like a NASCAR pit crew. The sales guy took some photos. I made some coffee.