We're extreme, crazy, or both...

On to Death Valley [May 27, 2006]

Eugene started at his house at 8:00am.  He left Moorpark heading for my place in Monrovia.  It took him approximately 1 hour to get to my place via the 118 and 210 freeways.  We left my house not too long afterwards.

Here's one tough little guy.

I fueled up at a near by 76 and we both jumped on to the 210 freeway heading East.  The sky looked kind of ominous and was spraying water droplets here and there.  Nothing to think it was substantial enough to worry about.  Just to think, I was anticipating Death Valley weather to be really hot so I only had a pair of short and a CoolMax shirt under neath the Rally2 suit.  Eugene had a similar configuration.  Boy were we ever wrong.  About the time we got a little pass Lavern, it started raining.  Big smacks of water on the visor and the freeway was clearly wet.  Very wet.  We were both cold.  Fortunately the rain didn't last so we didn't get soaked through.  Not too long after the first set of down poor, the second set came.  For me, rain like this is nothing to be surprised about.  I've ridden plenty in the rain so I wasn't too worried.  On the other hand, this was Eugene's first major rain being on the freeway.  He was a little hesitant but managed to get through it fine.

The next thing we saw was the I15 junction.  Our first small leg of the trip is about over.  We both made a couple of lane changes and we're on our way to the I15 junction.  Bad news up ahead.  I looked in the direction of the 15 and it looks like a parking lot.  About 200 yards into the junction the traffic was dead stop.  The problem with my configuration with the 31 and 41 liter panniers is that my ass is wide.  Really wide.  The good news, well not really good news just not bad news, I wasn't just going to sit in this ridiculous traffic, with ten million gazillion other cars, no doubt.  My one and only option, split lanes wit my big ass.  Poor Eugene had never split lanes before so again this is his first.  He was a bit nervous in the beginning but eventually got use to it (I remembered the first time I split lanes, it wasn't pretty).  I would go for a stretch and look in my mirrors to only see Eugene's head light as a small little incandescent spot.  I then slowed down to allow him time to catch up.  I know part of his slowness is the feeling of being closed in and being too big to fit.  I would eventually pull into a lane and ride with traffic until Eugene caught up.  On the second wait I scream to Eugene, "Try to stick close to me! My ass is wider than yours so you should be able to split easily behind me!"  It lasted for a little while until someone decided to cut us off.  In between the waiting sessions, a Harley chopper guy had passed up Eugene from being annoyed at Eugene's splitting pace.  The guy also passed me and was jockeying the throttle a bunch to get people to notice him.  He had straight pipes to boot.  I felt he was giving motorcycles lane splitting a bad name.  It's fine that you have to split lanes but don't be rude about it (e.g. look at Eugene and myself, we're both riding standard unmodified bikes and people were really nice to us; no throttle jockeying or anything).  Of course, to my pleasant surprise, the majority of the people on the freeway were generally very nice about the lane splitting.  Most folks made room for us when they saw us coming.  Even a bus was so generous as to slip to one side to let Eugene and myself pass.  Of course there were folks that could care less about lane splitting and tried to give us a hard time by cutting us off, but these people are and few in between.  Eventually traffic started lightening up when we got closer to the 215 freeway.  The lane splitting lasted a good 7 miles but now we're free to head towards the 395 highway.

Once we exited the 15 on to the 395 I was reminded of something that I didn't particularly like about the high desert.  The constant West to East cross wind.  Normally it's not too bad and would be a sustained 10 to 20 MPH.  Today it was a bit faster.  Probably in the 20-25 range.  It was a bit annoying but nothing too bad, yet.

We pulled into a shell gas station to rest a bit after experiencing the rain and lane splitting.  The high desert was cold and I wanted to add another layer for warmth.  Eugene was also happy to stop and mentioned something to the effect, "...I left my Gore-Tex liner at home ..." to which I replied, "Eugene, you should always have your Gore-Tex liner.  If you don't use it for rain, you will use it for warmth."  Information noted by Eugene.  I then loaned Eugene my extra sweater in my tail bag.  Seconds later, Eugene was nice and warm.  Goes to show, you can never have too much warm clothing on hand.  After a bit of ruffling Eugene produce two RedBulls.  We consumed them quickly and were off.  Poor Eugene, on the way out of the lot he dropped his bike.  I park my bike on the exit of the gas station and helped him pick it up.  It happens to the best of us.  We're off again.

The further North we went, the hard the wind was pushing on us.  It got to the point where we couldn't even go any faster than 50-55 MPH to prevent us from going off the road.  This pretty much lasted until Kramer junction where we had hoped to stop at the Astro Burger for a lunch break.  Unfortunately, they were closed.  We ended going to the Antiques store next to them for a quick bladder relief.

There was some kind of car show going on in this old aircraft hangar.

Our relief savior.

You can't really see it here but the bikes were being push back and forth by the wind.

Eugene is running out of the store after hi-jacking their restroom for a while.

As mentioned earlier, the further North we went, the worse the wind got.  There were several instances of me forced onto the shoulder because of the wind.  The progress we made was very slow and agonizing.  We were doing at best 50-55MPH to prevent ourselves from being blown off the road.  At one point we got down to as slow as 40-45MPH to keep things safe.  We were constantly at a 10-15 degrees left lean.  That is until a really strong gust would come up and blast us almost of the road.  I looked in my mirrors and see Eugene occasionally leaning really hard to the left to keep himself on the road during one of those hard blasts.  If there was ever extreme riding, I think this is it.  Trust me, there were at least two instances during the ride up the 395 where I start questioning my sanity.  I wanted to give up, turn around, and head home.  I then questioned myself and wondered if I was insane to keep on plodding along or I should just call it quits and head back home.  Somewhere in among all this thinking it dawned on me that is isn't fun, it's work.  In the meanwhile, cars are starting to stack up behind Eugene.  The poor guy had to contend with people tailgating him because we couldn't move very fast.  Seeing the pressure on Eugene didn't help to motivate me to keep going.  When a passing lane appeared, it was relief because we would get into the slow lane and let the cars pass us.  I have to admit, this is one of those occasions where being on two wheels is a complete disadvantage.  Especially when you're as tall as me.  Why did I keep on going?  For one, I know I'm tougher than this, but really, it's too late to turn around.  Where we're at, it would take too long for us to turn around and head back.  Not to mention I don't know if the wind was any better if we headed back.  We could have done it but it probably would have taken much longer than we would have liked.  It turns out Eugene had similar thoughts about quitting.  The funny thing is, he told himself that if I can do it, he can do it also.  I don't know who is crazier?  The crazy one that thinks he can do it or the crazy one that wants to follow the crazy.  Relief from the wind?  None that we can see.  In reality, it got worse.  When got to the first turn off for Death Valley (Trona), the wind was howling.  I'm sure the constant wind was about 40 MPH and the gusts were about 60 MPH.  I saw a plastic milk carton dart across the highway like it was a projectile.  Aluminum cans faired no less.  We were toss, and turned.  My helmet felt like it was glued to my left cheek.  My left nasal passage was partially blocked because the helmet push on my goggles which pinched my left nasal passage.  My left neck muscles was getting fatigued.  It was bad.  At a certain point, I had to just pull of on the side of the road to rest.  Unfortunately, the side of the road was designed with drainage in mind so there was this annoying angle, on the wrong side of the bike where we tried to park.  Once the bikes were settled (e.g. poorly parked), we both hopped off for a breather.  Boy was the wind gusting.  It was knocking us back and forth while we were trying to talk to one another.  At one point, a really strong gust came along and knocked my bike over.  Boom!.  Eugene pointed at my bike and I turned around and looked at it.  All I can say is, "Whatever..."  I told Eugene, just leave it there for now.  We then turned our attention to Eugene's bike as it was about to be knocked over.  We both grabbed it and moved it into a better position.  Once done, it was time to pickup my monster of a bike.  Dam, babe is heavy.  It's even worse when the wind is blowing on the opposite side of the bike we're trying to lift.  Nonetheless it's up and we maneuver my bike into a safer parking position.  At this point I posed the phrase to Eugene, "We're either extreme, or we're insane. Or both."  I got a laugh out of Eugene.

Eugene's bike repositioned at a better angle.  Wish I would have thought of that first.

What I didn't realize at the time was the right pannier was dented in on the inside because
 of the force of the fall.  It saved the bike though.

At this point I decided the visor on my Arai XL was causing me some aerodynamic problems.  It's catching too much of the cross wind.  I decided to ditch the visor and goggles (into my pannier).  Much improved.  Less left neck muscles strain.  Back on the road we go.  The wind, still constant and still heavy.  Once we got pass the junction between the 395 and the 14, things got a little better because we were heading in the general direction of the wind.  At last, a little breather.  Unfortunately it didn't last long.  We were back at it again. 40-50MPH lateral wind.  Tossed and turned.  I have to admit, I eventually got use to leaning 15 degrees to the left.  All of a sudden a thought came to mind.  Perhaps I'm having this wind problem because I'm a big freakin' sail (e.g. sitting upright).  Maybe I can alleviate the problem by tucking.  Sure enough, it helped.  To an extent.  Really strong gusts would still knock me to one side but at least it was more manageable.  We were able to squeeze out a little more speed by staying down.  60MPH as opposed to 50MPH.

Thoughts of insanity still darted across my mind (e.g. I'm insane to be doing this).  We still have a long way to go and this is really slow progress.  Most of the cars that pass us up did so and also ended up slowing down.  They were doing no more that 5-10 MPH faster than us.  Nonetheless, we tried to stay out of their way since they're faster than we are. 

At what seemed to be an eternity of leaning to the left, we reach Olancha (190), the second and last turn off to go to Death Valley.  Initially the wind was less of a problem because we're once again heading in the general direction of the wind.  However, about 5 to 6 miles East of the Olancha left turn, the wind was rearing its ugly head again.  Not only that, we can see a massive sand storm to the front left of us.  It was big, and it was tall.  I should have known this was a bad sign of things to come.  Eventually, we reached the junction between the 190 and the 136.  We made a right turn and stayed on the 190 to head to Death Valley.  The wind started lightening up and we were able to do 70MPH for a good stretch.  After about 10 miles or so, I noticed Eugene flashing his blinkers at me to get off the road.  I didn't realize that he tried to honk at me.  I can't head the honking above the wind noise and the MP3 player.  So I pulled off the side of the road.  At that point I noticed it was 2:30pm.  We haven't eaten lunch yet.  This is because the Astro Burger was closed.  Damd people.

At least Eugene and I were smart enough to pack two MREs each just for this occasion.  I can't remember what Eugene had but it was something and clam chowder.  As for me, I had beef enchilada and refried beans.  The MREs were a welcome meal.  I probably would have kept riding if it hadn't been for Eugene's insistence for food.  He later told me that it wasn't his stomach that made him eat, it was his head.  Eugene has this condition where a lack of potassium in his system is dangerous.  So it was cool that we pulled off the road to chow down on stuff.

If you look close enough, you can see all the sand and dust being carried in the air.

Eugene flaunting his MRE.

My ever color changing monkey on my right pannier.

Still eating...

Now we're putting away the trash.

What's ahead of us after lunch is over.

Ahead of us are some gradual twisties descending down to Paramint Valley.  It was a nice descent until we reach a particular pass that was cut out of the mountain.  When I entered the pass, I was kicked to the center of the road.  I thought, "This is dangerous.  I hope Eugene catches this in time so he doesn't get in trouble."  As Eugene passes through this pass, he was also knocked towards the center of the road.  The bad deal is there was a on coming bus in the opposite direction.  Fortunately, Eugene was able to get back in his lane in time.  Cursed be the winds I say.  The rest of the descent was slow and very enjoyable.  The panoramic view is gorgeous.  One thing though, I did notice one of the dunes was loosing it's sand.  Again, I thought, "This can't be a good sign."  It also means there is a possibility of high winds down in Paramint Valley.  I just hope it's not too bad as we have to go through the valley and up the next mountain range.

When we got to the base of the twisties, I needed to fuel up.  I probably had enough fuel to make it Stovepipe Wells but I think  that would be pushing it.  Fortunately, the restaurant and campsite at the base of the twisties also had a gas station.  A very strange and funny Shell gas station.  There were two pumps and what looks to be an abandoned building.  However, the pumps worked.  I noticed that my gas pump was missing a key pad (e.g. the electronics was showing).  The sign on the door of the building said something to the effect, "24 hour gas by credit card."  While I was fueling, I was skeptical that I was putting in the grade of fuel it claimed it was.  In fact , I was skeptical that it was fuel at all.  At least the smell of gasoline assured me it was really fuel.  At the end of it all, the pump asked Eugene whether he wanted a car wash.  As for me, when it asked if it wanted a receipt, I said yes.  It told me the receipt was inside.  We looked at each other in bewilderment and laughed.  Off we go to the next stop, Stovepipe Wells.

Crossing Paramint Valley wasn't too big of a deal.  There were an occasional lean to the left here and there but it wasn't bad at all.  Climbing and going through the mountain pass was easy going.  We just had to watch our speed at certain sections of the road because it could get dangerous (e.g. we might get air borne).  Surely enough, Stovepipe Wells.  I pulled over to show Eugene the sign that said we're at sea level and what did Eugene ask me, "Where's the hotel?"  I proceeded to tell him that we're not staying at Stovepipe Wells.  We're staying at Furnace Creek.  I estimated that it was another 30 miles South.  To say the least, Eugene wasn't happy.  I don't blame him.  I was pretty tired myself.  Two minutes later, we're off to Furnace Creek.

Did I mention there was a lot of cross wind in this story?  We'll if you haven't picked up on that yet, here's another hint.  The ride to Furnace Creek was no cake walk, for sure.  In fact, there was a massive sand storm while we were trying to get from Stovepipe Wells to the junction to go to Scotty's Castle and Furnace Creek.  Here's where my silly idea of riding with goggles and a face shield makes sense.  The goggles prevented dust, dirt, and sand to get into my eyes while the face shield prevented me from having my face sand blasted down to the bone.  Poor Eugene had to contend with sand in his eye lashes because he didn't have goggles.  The sky was dark because of the sand in addition to the sun going down.  We can see sand being whipped around on the road going from North to South.  As an occasional car pass us by, we would see wakes of sand being pushed around by the turbulent air.  15 degrees of leaning to the left was child's play at this point.  I didn't care how much we were leaning any more.  All I cared about was compensating enough to stay on the road while all this blasted sand was flying all around us.  All I know is my world was very bias toward leaning left.  Once again, I felt like my helmet was super glued to the left side of my head.  If it was hard to breath before on the 395, it is twice as hard to breath here.  Not to mention the sound of sand bouncing off of our windshield and face shield as we tuck to avoid the insane wind.  At one point, we ended up going in the general direction of the wind, Southward.  I notice something strange.  We are going 65 and there's barely any wind.  It's as if we're riding at 5 MPH.  You know what this means, it means the wind is approximately between 55-60MPH.  Scary.  Unfortunately, we got out of the tail wind.  Once again, my helmet felt like it was permanently stuck to my left cheek.  The great news is that it was only 17 miles to Furnace Creek instead of 30.  It was a really welcome site.  Yet another eternity, I see the Furnace Creek campgrounds, the Furnace Creek Chevron gas station, and the Furnace Creek Ranch.  I was elated.  We pull into the main office and I sigh a enormous sigh of relief.  We are here!

You can kind of see the bending of the palm leaves
by the wind in these pictures.

We check in, go to our rooms, and enjoy the lushness of the beds.  We came to the conclusion that we have been on the road for 9 hours (10 for Eugene).  That's no small feat.  Not only that, we must have ridden in the insane wind for at least 5 hours straight.  If anybody tells me that's not extreme riding, I'm going to deck 'em!

Eugene and I getting ready to unload our stuff to take into the hotel room.

The rest of the night was easy going.  We had dinner and shopped at the general store.  As a reward for going through what we went through, I purchased a patch for each of us as a remembrance for the insane ride that we did.  There were plenty of opportunities this day for us to get into trouble or quit, but we stuck to it and made it all the way to our destination.

I bestowed upon Eugene a Death Valley patch.  To some it's a $4 patch.  To us, it was a royal pain in the ass, but we loved every minute of it.

Home or else [May 28, 2006]

With a good nights rest (kind of since the ac in the room was periodically loud enough to be an alarm clock), we were ready for the ride ahead of us.  After being beaten up so good the day before, we opted to take the short way home today.  Our plans for hiking the dunes the day before was dashed by the sand storm and the need to get to our destination.  Perhaps next year.

I was very pleased to peak out the window from our room and noticing the tree tops were very still.  This means we don't have to deal with wind for this day.  Finally, riding the way it was meant to be.  While we were putting stuff back on our bikes, we both noticed the intensity of the sun.  It was going to be hot (or so we thought).

The interesting thing about the trip home, should I say the theme for the trip home,  was meeting friendly people.  While packing, there was this older gentleman from London England.  He noticed our bikes and came over to talk to us.  Apparently he was on a two week tour of the US and was driving all over the place.  He had just come from Yosemite the day before.  In fact, his original intention was to come to Death Valley via the Tioga Pass (120) to the 395 and head South.  Unfortunately the pass was closed because of ice and snow so he had to take the detour (e.g. 41->99, 99->58, 58->14, 14->395, 395->190) to get to Death Valley.  He mentioned an accident with a Coke truck where one of its wheels was dented in so much that you can easily can put your fist through the wheel.  Taking that detour has to be at least 450 miles.  He mentioned seeing the I15 traffic the day before because he was driving on the I15 in the opposite direction (e.g. the stuff we were splitting lanes for 7 miles in the day before).  It reminded him of the M25 (I believe it was) in London.  He mentioned it is a belt motorway around London and it's always a parking lot.  Apparently the city government was narrowing the local street to allow ease of foot traffic and ease of handicap people crossing the streets.  He mentioned that people don't walk around much any more, and what is the ratio of handicap people to non-handicap people?  The street narrowing is the reason why the motorway is a parking lot and why Londoners are burning more fuel.  Go figure.  Sounds like a stupid local government problem if I have ever heard it.  We wish him a safe trip and got back to finishing our loading.  I checked out of the hotel, Eugene did some more shopping, we  grabbed a quick bite to eat at the restaurant, and then we headed off for the day's ride.  Gasoline prices were pretty bad at Death Valley.  89 octane is $3.80-$3.90 and 91 octane is a flat even $4.  I was glad I only had to put in 1.2 gallons.  Eugene, he didn't even have to fuel up.

Load 'em up!

We didn't really need proof that we rode through the sand storm but here it is nonetheless.

This is from the wind kicking over my bike.

Eugene's version of a mini sand dunes.

Our ride out continuing on the 190 to the 127 was uneventful.  The scenery was absolutely gorgeous (no pics because I was busy riding and looking).  About half way to the 127, I started noticing the weather isn't as hot as I thought it was at the hotel.  I was starting to get cold.  I look for periodic spots to pull of but there were none.  Unlike the day before, we were able to average 70 MPH to get to our destination.  When we reached the junction of the 190 and the 127, I pulled over to add more layers.  The funniest thing.  There is a truck and a trailer in the middle of nowhere selling beef jerky.  What's even funnier, there is a van coming from the 127 West direction pulling over and started taking pictures and video taping stuff all around them.  Eugene and I looked at each other and thought, "What the f*ck?".  We ended up being extras in their video.  I was still changing clothes when they came over and started talking to us.   Apparently they were coming from San Francisco.  They have been driving all the way and are planning on visiting Death Valley.  When asked if they were going to spend the night in Death Valley, they said they were just passing through.  Too much driving if you ask me.  They finished shopping for jerky and took off.  We gave a good wave and they're gone.

notice how fast the wind was blowing by looking at the flags as reference.

Not too long after the San Francisco people left a tow truck appear with a car on top of it.  He went pass us on the 127 and then came back.  He looked at me and ask if I knew where a city called Param (I think that's what it was called) was.  I didn't know but tried to look it up on the GPS for him.  No luck.  Apparently, he was towing the car to Param for some lady.  She told him to go West on the 127 to get there.  It was unfortunate that we couldn't help but we ended up joking about the situation.  He said he could have stayed home, watch TV, and do nothing compared to towing this lady's car.  He should have stayed home.  Later he ended up going over to the jerky guy to ask for directions.  I think he was more successful.  We left the junction shortly after.

We did an easy 30 miles but I wanted to pulled over when I spotted a gas station in Shoshone.  My hand had been buzzing from the road surface and I wanted a quick rest.

When we pulled over, I spotted a guy next to a red Kawasaki.  It looks to be the same class as a Hayabusa.

The driver's name was Dave and he came from Las Vegas.  We found out this is a brand new ZX-14 with only 400 or so miles on it.  He was taking it out for a break in ride.  Dave said the bike is fast and handles well in the turns.  He was surprised several times about it's capabilities and gave the bike excellent marks.  It's a pretty cool bike with focused beam lights and all.  We stood around chatted for a little while and then Dave took off to finish his ride.

Here you go Dave.  Nice bike.

From Shoshone to the I15 felt like it took forever.  It was only 57 miles.  There was hardly anybody on our side of the road except for one car.  I waved him to pass us and that was it.  No other cars for miles on end.  It was definitely in the middle of nowhere.  I think I was tired from the day before.

The 127 lead us into Baker where we fueled up for the last time and got onto the I15.  We did a steady 70 MPH all the way home with nothing much to report about.  We were passed by a couple of Harleys on the way.  About 5 or 10 minutes later, we saw two motorcycle CHP on the side of the road with one of the Harley guy signing a ticket.  I looked at one of the CHP and nodded.  He replied with a nod.  We went a good 10-15 miles until I had to go to the restroom.  I pulled off the freeway and stopped at a 76 gas station.  I parked the bike (at a bad angle again) and rushed off to do my business.  When I was all done and got out, one of the two CHP was parked next to my bike talking to Eugene.  I didn't ask the Officer for his name but he was a really pleasant guy.  We laughed it up about dropping our bikes and talked about the new models and all.  He said they were going to get the new R1200RT soon.  The R1150RT were very good to them but as usual, they're heavy.  As they fueled up, we headed back on the road.

The remaining ride on the 15 to the 210 was ... there.  Of course you get people that just don't get the picture and are driving their vehicles with a trailer at 70 MPH.  Oh well, they're in for a surprise one of these days.  I got home at about 3:30pm and relaxed from a very interesting two day trip.  Bottom line, people are impatient but they're generally very nice.  Everybody I've met on this trip is very pleasant and open.  It definitely give you a good out look about the world, but 60 MPH cross wind blows big chunks.

Regarding the right pannier, after I took the pannier off and unscrewed all the mounting pucks, it took about 15-20 whacks of a hammer and the pannier is good to go again.  The outer front right wall of the pannier got dented at the bottom in a way that there was a gap between the wall and the bottom of the pannier.  No problems, I turned the pannier up side down, gave it a couple of whacks, turn the pannier over, gave a couple more whacks on the bottom inside of the pannier and the gap is now sealed back up.  It doesn't look like it's original smooth self, but who cares!  The reason why I got these panniers is for functionality not beauty.  I love it.  30 minutes of whacking here and there and I'm golden again.  The mounting pucks are back on and the pannier is mounted on the bike again.  If I were to have BMW bags, I'd be calling the dealer and waiting for special order parts right now instead of putting the stuff back in the pannier for the next ride.  What can I say, the Touratech panniers are tough.  Minor labor, $0 to fix ...  Awesome!!

Written on: May 28, 2006
Last modified: May 29, 2006