Saturday 29 July
Cajon Junction, CA
It is just five days since we were in Mexican Hat but it feels much longer. And for most of that time we have been roasted alive in endless deserts.
The eponymous rock at Mexican Hat is as enigmatic as ever; Monument Valley as cinematic, and the Grand Canyon even bigger than ever.
This blog post is mainly about heat. With tat and serendipity thrown in. There may be a message for us Loose Nuts – the name is more apt than ever.
Leaving the North Rim of the Grand Canyon we wanted to experience the extremes of Death Valley. In the way lies Las Vegas – a detour to avoid it too long and too tedious, so we put a brave face on and decided that perhaps we should see the pit of humanity for ourselves just once in our lives. To make the ride more interesting, our route took us through the Valley of Fire. The day had started out hot, and just got hotter. Air temperature gauges on the bikes read from 39 to 44 deg C; A brief stop at Echo Lake provided me at least with some respite in the form of a very warm swim.
We rode about 80 miles seeing almost no other traffic, let alone any sign of human habitation. As we neared Las Vegas my bike developed a thumping sensation with every revolution of the back wheel, as though it was not quite round. I thought I must have a puncture. Stroke of luck number one: Within 500 metres of this weird feeling of the bike not being quite right, a gas station hove into view. I couldn’t see anything amiss, and the tyre pressures were fine. Maybe the warped disc was the cause? We went on.
Las Vegas is a magnificent monument to the art of the possible – of how to extract money by the barrow-load, and kid people that this is what they want to do. It is a supreme exercise of marketing – persuade enormous numbers of people that they really want to come into the desert and shovel money into slots; to play various games at soulless tables, mostly alone and lonely, or showing off to their friends; to charge eye-watering prices for very little and make people feel that somehow it was worth it. While undoubtedly it’s a matter of taste (or lack of it) it was an experience so devoid of culture or soul that we all were glad to leave the next morning.
Here comes the second piece of luck: in the morning my bike had a completely flat rear tyre. We have ridden several thousand miles without coming close to anywhere with a bike dealer. Hundreds of miles at a time across vast plains. Yet here we are, needing to sort out a puncture, within three miles of a Triumph dealer in Las Vegas.
I should have put the entire budget on Red, as Tom suggested.
Eurobikes of Las Vegas were brilliant. Thanks to Shaun for a speedy new inner tube. The old one was not so much punctured as torn to shreds – it was completely transected and separated from the valve stem. GOK how it had held any air at all.
So now delayed, we pressed on to our goal – to cross Death Valley. And only a couple of hours behind time. Without wishing to be melodramatic, looking back on it that couple of hours could so easily have been our downfall.
It was hot (low 40s) on our way to Death Valley. We were amused by a sign at Shoshone for the Death Valley Health Clinic. We were less amused by a sign as we started to descend into the valley warning of “Extreme heat”. After the delay with the tyre it was now about 2 pm. We did not see any other bikes.
It was far too hot to ride with the helmet visors open. Physically painful at times – keys and coins in trouser pockets left burn marks on the skin (Ian). Temperature up to 47 deg C – we had had several stops already to take on more water, but it was being seared out of us, probably about 2 litres an hour judging by the amount we were needing to take in.
Still descending in the valley to sea level and then below, we all began to feel physically ill to varying degrees – in my case nausea and stomach cramps, but more worryingly as the air temperature approached 49 degrees I felt light-headed and dizzy – just concentrating on keeping the bike on the road, and on breathing. The sight of Furnace Creek, a ranch-like roadhouse (with a golf course!!!) was quite possibly a life saver.
After several litres of water / coke / Gatorade and half an hour in air-conditioned relative cool we felt able to tackle the next 25 mile stretch to Stovepipe Wells, and even stopped for a few photos. Even in 49 degree heat this was now fun – we knew we were mad, and absolutely everyone else was in an air-conditioned vehicle. A car slowed to photograph us photographing ourselves, then stopped and reversed up disgorging two lovely Italian ladies, who wanted their pictures taken with us. Famous for being Nuts.
But the heat was not in any way bearable, and we knew we had to get out of the valley as soon as we could. It was a question of balancing that need with the limitation that the faster we went, the greater the power of the roasting fan oven. The heat persisted long after we escaped Death Valley. Our destination for the night was Ridgecrest, 80 miles to the south, and as the temperature persisted in the mid 40s we knew we had to get cooler. Focus on making progress, focus on the road, focus on breathing. I’m sorry to say tempers were frayed. Nothing else matters than to get fluid, get cool, and to get where we are going.
This was an extraordinary experience. It is not to be recommended. It was probably foolhardy. But on this trip, we know we will encounter extremes. I don’t know where the limits lie, but I don’t need to test this one any further. And maybe we are the better for having experienced it.