Monday, November 20, 2006

In which a penguin learns about sand

Sunday was spent mostly in deep sand and gravel. I left the campground at around 8am and filled up on gas at Stovepipe Wells and paid my park fee. Behind the airstrip is Cottonwood Canyon Road. So I dutifully aired down my TKC-80 knobby tires, put on my rib protector armor, and pushed 400 pounds of bike and 100 pounds of tools and water and luggage down this sandy "road".

This was hard work, and a couple of times I almost lost it, but I didn't. Finally I arrived in Cottonwood Wash. Which is your typical gravel and rock filled desert wash. Which meant occasionally pointing the KLR's nose at a particularly rugged piece, shouting "banzai!" at the top of my lungs, feeding the beast gas, and praying because speed is the only way to scramble thru some things and you just have to trust your bike. Then stopping at the next decent stretch to catch my breath - wrestling 700 pounds of bike and penguin over this terrain is *work*.

At one point I realized that I must have turned up Marble Canyon rather than Cottonwood Canyon. I managed to get my GPS into topo map mode rather than city streets mode and yep, missed my turn. And had lost my paper map too at my prior map check. Plus it was already past 10am and I wanted to be at Furnace Creek by noon to get my official lunch err map and permit. (Hmm... ever notice how penguin conversations swiftly turn to food?). So I turned around and left. When I hit pavement again I dutifully pulled out my teensy air compressor, aired back up, and hit the road to Furnace Creek.

So I got a replacement map at the ranger station's gift shop. The burger at Furnace Creek Ranch Cafe was bigger than the one at PSR and the fries were hand-cut and meaty (but not as plentiful as at PSR). Fifteen bucks ought ta get ya a good burger and fries, eh? Anyhow about 1:15 I filled up with gas and set out for Warm Spring Canyon and Butte Valley.

What I found out is that Death Valley is *big*. By the time I got past Badwater to the southenmost intersection with West Side Road, it was past 2pm! Going up West Side Road and Warm Springs Canyon road, I eventually realized that the best way to get thru deep sand and gravel on a 700 pound bike+penguin was, oddly enuf, to go FAST. As in at least 25mph. This took serious nerve when every bone in your body is cringing in potential pain as the bike squirms under you, but it works - gyroscopic procession, if you want the fancy term. In the process of doing this, I realized two things: a) my bike was overheating, and b) my bike was sputtering above 4500 rpm. I decided my air filter was clogged with the fine dust we'd been walloping thru, as well as me being totally exhausted. So at Warm Springs Camp, I stopped for the day.

The spring was running, and yes it is warm. Supposedly it is drinkable but I only used it to wash - my air filter, then some clothes, then my hair. (the waste water went into the fire pit not the spring btw - do not contaminate water in the desert!).

I was so tired I couldn't even think about cooking. So I choked down some flavored pouch tuna and pretzle, tossed my ground sheet and air mattress and sleeping bag down on the ground, and went to sleep under the stars.

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