Death Valley '14

Total: ~829 miles
Time: ~28 hours

I can hardly believe two things.  One, 2009 was the last time I've been to Death Valley, and two, my buddy Minh is back, in high spirits, for a comeback ride.  Words can't begin to describe my joy to have my long time friend with me once again.  It has been an entire year, but it's worth the wait.

What? You don't want my money?

Total: ~310 miles
Time: ~10 hours

[ Day 1 - Friday - May 2, 2014 ]

It's a record first.  I arrive at our favorite meeting location, *$'s, just 30 seconds after Minh parked his bike.  Hey! Just because it happened this time it doesn't mean it's going to happen again.  Being fashionably late is my status quot.

Today's journey is a simple one.  It's approximately 310 miles from Los Angeles to Beaty, Nevada.  To make things simplistic we're sticking to the freeways and fast highways.  This will maximize our daylight.  Now that we're into May, having plenty of sun shine is not a problem.  We hop on the west bound 210 FWY and what do we see?  A massive traffic jam.  "What the heck!  Aren't these people suppose to be at work already?  It's 10AM people!"  We divert to side streets to bypass traffic and also make it a little safer getting out of town.  I've split with panniers before, but I prefer to such special powers when it's absolutely necessary.

For a freeway ride, even the 15 FWY is remarkably pleasant.  Of course there is the occasional car that insists on pedal to the metal 85-90MPH uphill, but most of the folks are civil and don't bother us.  The GS' cruise control performs magnificently.  I can't help but wonder what the major is thinking right now.  He's probably cursing under his helmet about me coasting along while he deals with a throttle lock or having the throttle death grip.  I can only ponder these deep questions as we're screaming up the hill passing Vasquez rocks.  Actually... he probably doesn't care or think about this.  I'm just making up stories.

Thai Chinese II vs Denny's.  Which is better?  Why Thai Chinese II of course.  However, Minh didn't tell me he wanted to go to one of my favorite curry hangouts.  So we went flying pass the Lancaster restaurant only to ended up at a Mojave Denny's.  Darn!  I would have liked to go to the Thai Chinese place.  Hah!  I sense curry run coming in the near future!

Check out this pig stuffing his face.  How disgraceful!

The temps are good to us.  That is until we reach Pearsonville.  It's in the low to mid 90F.  So I decided to charge the Coolvest and activate it's powers (yes... I've been watching too many super hero movies).  NICE!  The mid 90s drops down into the 60-70s.  The Coolvest is working its evaporating wonder.  I had to close some of the suit's vents to both make the coolvest last longer and also prevent myself from cooling off too much.

We make it through the 190 without much fuss.  The forever beautiful 190 scenic route.

Knowing the streets well, we slowed down enough to keep our rubber on the road when we came upon the vehicle launch stretch.  Basically it the section of the 190 just west of Pinto peak.  As is demonstrated in the Google Street View below, when you see the "Brake Check Area" sign, it's a massive warning to slow down otherwise you're going to end up in a ditch somewhere.  Maybe up the side of the mountain.

So we're in Death Valley.  We're just passing through for today, but being the good Samaritans that we are, we try to pay for our park fees.  I was even thinking about getting an Eagle pass to help fund the National Parks.  We stop at the Stovepipe Wells ranger station, but they're already closed.  It appears that 4:30pm is the cut off time.  We're just a tad before 5:00pm.  OK... let's pay via kiosk.  Being a gentleman, Minh offered to pay for the park fees, or at least try.

Attempt one...

attempt one result...

attempt two...

attempt two result...

A third credit card attempt was made.  No joy!


With the last card failing to authorize I mentioned, "Hey!  Maybe this is one of those fake scanners that grabs your information for ID fraud."  With that we both looked at each other momentarily then we started grabbing the kiosk car reader to make sure it's not fake and that we're not being scammed out of our information.  Sure enough, the kiosk appears legitimate.  The card reader won't budge.  We give up.  It looks like the park doesn't want our money.  The sad thing is we're not the only ones to attempt to pay the fees.  There were plenty of cars coming in and leaving the visitor center trying to pay the park fees.  I can only guess as to how much money the park is losing due to no ranger and a non-functioning kiosk.  Oh well, it is not for me to reason why.  It is for me to get the heck out of here because it's 104F below sea level.  It's freakin' hot!

27 miles from Stovepipe Wells to Beaty.  Beaty is in the mid 80sF.  Nice.  I didn't anticipate this and was thinking it would be in the high 90s or low 100s around here.  I'm glad I'm wrong.  We check into the motel around 5:45 and head to the Coach Casino Denny's for dinner.  Hmm... Denny's.  Dejavu all over again.

The GS is doing remarkably good with mileage.  It's able to get about 190 miles to 3.6 gallons.  By the time we reached Beaty, the fuel estimate said I still have another 80 miles left (including reserve).  This means I could easily ride another 23 miles before the fuel light would come on.  Impressive.  Here I was thinking I might have to bring a gas can just to stretch out the range a bit more.  It looks like my thoughts were unfounded.

Look!  I'm sky diving.

Total: ~187 miles
Time: ~8 hours

[ Day 2 - Saturday - May 3, 2014 ]

We had entertained the idea of skipping Death Valley and instead head to Rachel, NV to see what the Extraterrestrial HWY is all about.  Skirting the famous/infamous Area 51 would also be interesting, but at 420 miles round trip, it's a bit of a stretch.  My hide is already aching from the previous day let alone plunking it down on 400+ miles for today.  Like Minh said, "We're not iron butt, we're aluminum butt."  In the end we scrubbed the idea and decided to tour DV instead.

After almost one year, I think I'm starting to understand this machine.  I'm learning that I can't treat this GS like the 8GS.  In other words, the tire pressure tactic used on the 8GS simply doesn't work on this bike.  All that happens when I ride at or near max tire pressure is a royal pain in the arshe.  Literally.  So before we set out for this day, I decide to check tire pressure and drop a couple of PSI.  Sure enough, being at 4000+ feet has the rear tire at 42 PSI.  The front is at 37 PSI.  Not good.  I proceeded to reduce the tire pressure down to 37 PSI and 34 PSI.  Much better.  Now my ride is more comfortable and there is less saddle pain.

The first order of business for today?  The Ubehebe crater.  I've never been there before despite the numerous times I've been to Death Valley in the past.  Additionally, it looks like road is paved.  On our way out, the Major tried once again to pay for the park pass.  I told him to hold off as we're going to stop by a ranger station near Scotty's Castle anyway.

I had forgotten how large Death Valley is.  Just from the 190 HWY and Scotty's Castle road to the Grapevine ranger station was a long distance.  When we got the ranger station, they were closed.  Not only that, the road has been changed since I was last here where the ranger station is not to the side of the road as oppose to being on the road.  Once again, we try the kiosk.  This time, I put it one of my cards.  This time, again, we get the same exact authorization error message.  Instead of trying another card, I grab the card read and wiggled it.  It's rock solid.  This must mean they haven't paid their ISP charges and don't have network connection.  Yeah... right... whatever.  I'm done trying to be legitimate.

This doesn't look right...

We hop back on the bike and did another 3-5 miles to get to the crater.  We initially joked looking at a hole in the ground, but it turns out the crater is pretty cool.

After standing here for a while, we're noticing that the wind here is ridiculous.  It must easily be around 50 MPH.  It's like riding a motorcycle without being on one.  So I told Minh, "Hey!  Spread out your arms and lean against the wind.  Like you're sky diving and I'll take a picture of you.

Then it was my turn.

This is how you sky dive without a parachute.

Riding up to and out of the crater was like driving on the moon.

Next we head down to Furnace Creek for some lunch and the Artist Drive later.  When we reach the 190 HWY, it was 104F.  Alright we're going to need the Coolvests soon.

Apparently, it looks like DV is a magnet for idiots.  For some odd reason, there is a Nissan SUV behind us trying to push 80 on a 65 HWY.  He tried to pass Minh but couldn't muster enough speed before the road turned double solid.  At least he's willing to observe the street rules.  Seeing this and being concerned for our safety, I increased our speed to 75 just to stay in front of this idiot.  Once we hit the curves, they couldn't keep up.  It goes to show you can't get away from these people.

By the time we get out from the buffet lunch it was 2:00pm and 107F.  We soak the Coolvest and put them one to get some relief.  It definitely helps, but while we're going through the Artist Drive, we hit pockets of thermals at 113-144F.  It's so freakin' hot.  Once we're done with the Artist Drive, we give up and head back to Beaty.  By this time both of our arshes are conflagrated.  Nice... it's in the mid 80's F in Beaty.  We take our gear in and head over to the Denny's for dinner.

What happened to the road?

Total: ~332 miles
Time: ~10 hours

[ Day 3 - Sunday - May 4, 2014 ]

Having come in to DV on the 190 HWY, I was hoping to take the fork at Panamint Valley to connect to the 395 HWY via Trona.  This will give us a nice loop and hopefully shorten the travel time just a tad.  We checked out of the motel and started our drive back.  As we come up on the park entrance, there is a sign that reads, "Pay Fee Information Kiosk Ahead" I simply tossed out my arm in a derogatory gesture in a "Yeah right!  Piss off." fashion.  I'm done trying to pay the park fees.  After two days worth of trying, I say, "Screw you guys!  I'm going home."

We did make one last stop at the dunes just outside of Stovepipe Wells before we left the park.

At last, the final goodbye and we're off for this year.

We hang a left on Panamint Valley road, or what is left of it, and drove 12 miles until we hit Trona Wildrose road.  Just as we round the corner, the road ends.  What the heck?  What happened to the road?  Apparently what use to be Trona Wildrose road is now just an off road trail.  Being on a GS, I know I would have been fine to take the stretch if I put the bike into Enduro mode.  As for Minh, I don't think so being on a 600 lbs Blackbird.  So we do what we're so familiar at doing, we turn around and backtrack the 12 miles.  The silver lining is we only did 12 miles.  It could have been worse at 40 miles.

Since we're in the neighborhood, we stopped at the Panamint Valley Resort for lunch.

In a sense it was good for us to simply double back from two days before.  At least we get to view the scenic 190 in its full glory.  It was beautiful.  It's not called a scenic route for no reason.

Written on: May 6, 2014
Last modified: June 4, 2014