Day 24: June 26, Panamint Springs to Stovepipe Wells (Death Valley)

I did the usual chores around camp, packing up and checking my bike. In the bathroom I ran water into a sink and filtered it until I got my entire 10 liter water carrier full. No way was I going to pay over $4 for a gallon (it would have been about $10 for the entire container!). I wasn't looking forward to carrying all this water (over 20 pounds extra) over Townes Pass, but I didn't want to get stuck out of water in 105-115 degree temperatures.

The forecast for Stovepipe Wells was for a high of 116 degrees, which would be between 12 and 2 PM. I wanted to get as early a start as possible so that I wouldn't get overheated climbing the pass. I managed to get on the road by 8:30. It was a comfortable 85 degrees or so, with a breeze. Soon the temperature was 95 degrees, but still comfortable.

I rode a couple of miles down a gentle downhill into the Panamint Valley, enjoying the spectacular scenery. Ahead of me I could see the road winding up into the Panamint Mountains. Soon I was climbing a grade of about 8%, which I had been told would continue for about 7 miles, to be followed by a couple of miles of 10% grade.

As I climbed, I kept resenting all the water load I was carrying. Soon I was trying to find ways to get rid of water without wasting it. I tried wetting my shirt with it, pouring it over my head, wetting the socks on the water bottles (which worked very well), etc. I also kept stopping to rest. Near the top, a man in a rented RV stopped and gave me a bottle of water (which I took, not telling him that I'd just been dumping water). As we were talking, Ben Jones (who I'd talked to in Lone Pine) stopped and introduced himself.

After that rest, I hit the steep part, then had to coast downhill into Death Valley. Unlike my descent into Panamint Valley, I was mostly able to not use my brakes, and the crosswinds weren't too bad. So I had 12 miles of coasting with no pedaling and no braking, at speeds of around 35 miles per hour! As I descended, I could feel the air and the winds getting steadily hotter, from about 95 degrees on the top of Townes Pass, to about 110 or 115 degrees in the Valley. The winds were, if anything, hotter than the ambient temperature. Finally the winds became a headwind, and I had to pedal to go downhill. But there wasn't too much further to go to reach the buildings at Stovepipe Wells.

At Stovepipe Wells, there is a general store, a motel, a restaurant, a swimming pool, and an RV campground. I asked about camping and was told that there wasn't any, but I got to get an "unadvertised" older, smaller motel room for $38 per night (instead of the $56 the newer rooms went for). It had air conditioning and running water (which wasn't drinkable, but there was drinking water and ice nearby too). I went over to the pool and met Ben and Denise Jones. Denise was just finishing a little 10 mile run (she was trying to acclimate to the heat). I also met their German friend Jurgen, who had come up from LA to plan for the race and see Ben and Denise.

Ben is a retired doctor (he was the doctor in Lone Pine) who has been doing ultra marathon events with Denise for about 10 years. He goes by the name "Badwater Ben Jones" and calls himself the "Mayor of Badwater". Badwater is a little pond of alkali water down at 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley. There aren't any residents, so Ben can be Mayor if he wants to. He has a website at http://www.badwaterbenjones.com that has information about the race.

I had a great afternoon and evening lounging in the pool and talking with them. Everyone got to try my bike, too, and I think I may have made at least one convert. Just after a little crash during the newbie recumbent tryout, I discovered that I had a leak. I found that there was minor damage to the tire casing, so I'll have to patch the tube and try to fix the tire.

We had a good dinner at the restaurant (I pigged out at the salad bar), and I retired to fix the tire. I sewed it up with dental floss and protected it with tent seam sealer. I'll see how it does. Also, I fixed the headlight that was out, in preparation for my night riding through Death Valley.