I will give forewarning now, THIS IS NOT GOING TO BE A SHORT BLOG, so get a coffee, some cake and sit comfortably and if you like this blog, send me some cake!!
I have edited a quick video from our trip to Death Valley so feel free to take a look here: Death Valley Cycle Challenge 2016, I did forget to take all of my spare memory cards so this was all filmed on the morning of Day 4.
Before we jump into my time in the States I would like to write a few lines about why I was cycling around Death Valley. The sole purpose of me taking on this cycle challenge was to raise as much money as I could for the local Macmillan hospice called Douglas Macmillan. In Feb 2015, my father was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer and given just 18 months to live. Sadly, he passed away in Aug 2015 having spent his last days at Douglas Macmillan in their end of life respite care. The care, support, advice and love he and the whole family received from everyone at Dougie Mac was amazing and helped us so much in what for me was the toughest time of my life. In 2016 as a way of saying thank you and to give a little back I wanted to fundraise for Dougie Mac, from their website www.dmhospice.co.uk I found a link to a charity challenge company called Global Adventure Challenges who offer a huge number of domestic and international challenges, ranging from Trekking, Cycling, Rafting and even Dog Sledding. I settled for a 260-mile cycle ride through Death Valley and finishing up in Las Vegas. I setup a JustGiving page with a fundraising target of £300, having never done any form of charity fundraising before I had no idea where to start or how much I may get. Fast forward five months to the day before I flew out to Las Vegas, I had managed to raise £1,994 just from sharing my page & story with friends and family on my Facebook page. I could not believe the support I had received from everyone. So many local families have had interactions with Dougie Mac and received their support during the tough times just as we did back in 2015, the willingness of my friends and family to donate just shows how highly we all regard Dougie Mac.
Day 0 UK to Beatty Junction – 5,348-miles
As we were flying early morning from Gatwick to Las Vegas I got the train from Stoke-on-Trent down to Gatwick airport the night before and stayed over at the Hilton Gatwick Airport. I had booked this challenge with Global Adventure Challenges and didn’t know any of my fellow riders other than from a Facebook group we had setup for this challenge. A number of us had spent the past few months chatting on Facebook and getting to know each other online before the big day… When I was at the airport waiting to board the flight, I was looking around to see whether I recognised anyone, but didn’t see one person I knew, typical! So, I had my usual bucket of Starbucks coffee and boarded the flight out to Las Vegas. Skip forward 11hrs, we landed in Las Vegas and then whilst collecting my luggage I bumped into my fellow riders, it felt a little like internet dating where you have chatted online for months and then just met in person for the first time. I had met up with a bunch of people I have never seen before yet knew all of their names and so much about them. Once outside we were met by our 3 guides from Arizona Outback Adventures, Chris, Todd and Tyler. We were packed up into 2 mini vans for 117-mile trip to our start point in a town called Beatty. We were just waiting for a guy called Paul (he was one of 10 who weren’t in the Facebook group so we didn’t know him), waiting for Paul would become a constant joke throughout our time here.
On the way to Beatty we stopped off at gas station for a 15-minute break. Right next to the gas station was “Area 51 Alien Center” and the “Alien Cathouse Brothel”, so we had a choice of the Alien gift shop or a brothel??
With only having 15 mins I settled for a wander around the gift shop, but what an odd combo. An hour later we arrived in Beatty, had a quick briefing on what to do tonight and what the plans were for tomorrow. We were given our itinerary pack and allocated bunk buddies for the week. I was paired up with a guy called Chris S, who was the one I had spoken to the most on Facebook so I was pleased with that. Not sure whether he was as pleased with the pairing. We checked into our Motel 6 pad for the night, got a burger at Denny’s and pretty much crashed out around 8pm, the jetlag was real at this point.
Day 1 Beatty Junction to Stovepipe Wells – Approx 35mi
Day 1 started early, very early. We were told by our guides that we had to be ready for bike fitting at 10am, but suffering from jetlag I was up at 4am, managed to scrape together another 2hrs on / off sleep but gave up at 6am and went to Denny’s grab some breakfast with Chris, after spending 3hrs in there eating and hogging the free WiFi we checked out of our hotel and went for bike fitting. Our bikes for the week were Trek Hybrid’s that felt like the weighed a tonne, especially compared to my 7kg carbon roadie back home.
In my wisdom, I had not brought my cycle shoes or pedals but I had brought my running shoes. What a tool!! So I was going to have to cycle the 260+ miles and all the epic climbs not clipped in, wearing my Brooks running shoes, oh dear, not a great start. Whilst waiting for everyone to get accustomed to their new bikes (and have their pedals fitted, not jealous at all) a few people fell over when trying to unclip, which is never funny but made me feel better about not having my shoes with me lol just kidding, we have all been there when you first clip in and forget about it when you come to a stop and just flop to one side.
Here we go, we are off cycling… around 12noon we set off from the Motel 6 car park, I said to Chris that I am just going to take it steady this week and get from start to finish without racing, charging up hills, racing downhills, just generally being the competitive bastard that I am and true to my word, I left the car park at the very back of the peloton, we cycled 7 miles to a ghost town called Rhyolite where we stopped for lunch. To be honest, I found that 7-mile ride pretty tough going, there was a slight incline but nothing much, but I was feeling the effects of eating too much at breakfast and also a 1,000 cal cookies & cream milkshake oops, that wasn’t the best idea.
After lunch, we had a 4-mile climb from 3,300ft to 4,317ft followed by a 6-mile decent down to 152ft, feeling a little better I set off riding with Chris, Andy & Phil, a group I would spend the majority of my time here with. We were about a mile behind the leading group, notice I am starting to use words like leading group and a distance from the front now? The not being competitive lasted for 7-miles lol. This was the first time I had ever ridden in a group having just cycled by myself when training back home. We worked well as a group on the bottom section of the climb and Andy, Chris & I soon caught up and passed the leading group. At this point we were entering Death Valley, we stopped for photos by the Welcome to Death Valley sign.
Paul joined Andy and myself for the rest of the climb to the top of Daylight Pass, Paul lead the way up the hill swapping with Andy and I was finding it tough to keep up (milkshake & Gatorade combo wasn’t going well), I took the lead eventually only to turn the next bend and see the next aid stop. Me and Andy got there to see Paul had dropped back a few lengths…. Where’s Paul?? To be fair, he did lead us most of the way up the hill. I took some abuse for my drafting up the hill to take the glory at the last 200m.
After a stop at the top of the hill… what goes up, must come down. This meant a very relaxing 12-mile downhill going from 4,317ft to 5ft. I am not the most confident on downhills after I came off around 15yrs ago, so I hung back and coasted down at the back, I still topped out at 37mph which is fast for me, but Chris S clocked up an impressive 42mph!! Now we were down to sea level and in Death Valley proper the heat felt notably hotter, even at 3pm, from the bottom of the hill we rode the last 5 miles to Stovepipe Wells as group, stopping off at the stunning Mesquite Sand Dunes on the way.
Stovepipe Wells was made up of a Craft shop, our hotel and an RV park, far quieter than Beatty had been, but jetlag was kicking in again so after a brief moonlit swim in the pool and some dinner, I was once again in bed before 9pm.
Day one Stats:
- 13.8mph ave speed,
- 37.6mph top speed,
- 1,850ft elevation gain,
- 2:48:02 moving time.
Here are a few more photos from the Day 1 ride.
Day 2 Stovepipe Wells to Panamint Springs – Approx 58 miles
The plan today was for breakfast at 7am and being cycling at 7:45am, Having learnt my lesson yesterday regarding eating a large breakfast before heading out on the bike, I went for a more sensible option of porridge & eggs today plus a few cups of coffee, loaded my bags in the van and did a few stretches to warm up for the ride ahead. The planned route was to cycle from Stovepipe Wells to Panamint Springs via the Emigrant Pass, however, part the road had been washed out by a recent rain storm meaning we had to take an alternative route via Towne Pass. When cycling in Death Valley, the park rangers like cycling groups to be less than 15, as we were over 20 strong our AOA guides (Chris A) advised that we would set off in two groups, 20 minutes apart. A slower group and a quicker group. I opted for the quicker group, purely due to the extra 20 minutes of coffee drinking before setting off. I was waiting around with Andy & Paul when we realised that everyone had gone with the slower group, after waiting around for 15 minutes we decided to head out and take it steady for the first few miles.
The ride started off at sea level with a 17-mile climb up to 4,956ft, so it wasn’t a steep hill but it just kept going and going and going, looking at my Strava stats the hill peaked at 8% gradient but the combination of the heat and the constant uphill cycling was tough going. At times with the landscape so vast it was difficult to tell whether you were cycling uphill, downhill or on the flat other than when the thighs were screaming at you, that made you think, hmm must be still going uphill. At 9-miles in we reached the first rest stop for the day, I have to say as well, these rest stops or “aid stations” that the AOA guides put up were fantastic, the literally pull a table out of the van and fill it with high energy / protein snacks, fruit, iced water tanks and Gatorade powder, so far on this first 40+ miles I think I have done more eating and drinking than cycling.
Andy, Paul and myself and picked up Vish on the way, Vish had been miles out in front until he stopped and waited for us, I don’t know what he had for breakfast but it certainly worked, either that or it was beer power from the night before, we reached the rest stop first, after 10 minutes with nobody else in sight we set off on the last 8 miles of the climb, riding as a group of 4, each taking their turn on the front and yes I did my spells at the front this time as well.
With about 4 miles to go we stopped to take in the stunning views of the valley, at which point Chris L came flying past us absolutely powering up the hill, this was the last we saw of Chris until the top, he was gone and out of sight before we got back on the road, I am sure there was some mechanical doping going on there, he was like a machine on that climb. It took us in total 2hrs 40 mins to reach the top where we were greeted by another table full of snacks. The good news was that the next 10-miles were a 3,000ft downhill to our lunch stop…. Yes more eating, its hungry work doing all this cycling.
As with yesterday I let the confident speed freaks go first and I just rolled down with a few aero tucks here and there as my confidence grew. This time I topped out at 40mph but Chris S and Andy went over 46mph, overtaking a slow moving RV on the way. We had lunch in the shade of a Welcome to Death Valley sign with the US Air Force flying by. After lunch we had the option of cycling the last 5-miles to our hotel in Panamint Springs or, as we had cycled less than the planned 58-miles we could add on an extra 10 miles by cycling down the road and back again. Myself, Chris S, Andy & Paul opted in for the extra 10, this turned out to be an extra 10-miles each way as we missed our turning point, the sun had set by the time we arrived at the hotel, we were even stopped by a park ranger who was concerned that we looked lost, no, we were just tired and going slow in the dusk. The picture below was our hotel room for the night. Basic sums this one up, but after a day in the saddle and by far my longest ride and biggest climb I was ready for bed, but not before Pizza for dinner. Tonight we were also treated to the Super Moon, what better place to witness the brightest the moon as been for 40yrs than sat in the middle of Death Valley a Dark Skies area.
Day two Stats:
- 10.8mph ave speed,
- 40mph top speed,
- 5,603ft elevation gain,
- 5:10:49 moving time.
Here are a few more photos from the Day 2 ride.
Day 3 Panamint Springs to Furnace Creek – Approx 58 miles
The first half of today’s ride is the reverse of day 2, back up the 10-mile, 3,000ft climb with the 17-mile decent down to Stovepipe Wells where we would have lunch before the remaining 28-mile ride to Furnace Creek. Knowing we would start the day with a big climb again, I fuelled up with a big bowl of Frosties and coffee. We were split into two groups again but more kept back in the faster group this time in the knowledge that this climb was steeper and slower than the previous day. The strava stats for today show this climb tops out at a 24.4% incline but averages around 8% over the 10 miles, so again not a huge mountain stage but a challenge for 8:15am.
Whilst we were waiting around for our departure time, we spotted a roadrunner was waiting with us, I had never seen a roadrunner before and it wasn’t quite how I expected it to look from the cartoon versions.
The five of us set off 20 minutes after the first group, it was lovely sitting outside in the sun in such a stunning place, it really is something I will never forget, the sheer size of the surroundings and changing colours of the mountains was so beautiful. We rode the first 5-miles to the rest stop together and I felt pretty comfortable riding up this hill, obviously, the mornings bowl of Frosties were working well. I had done a lot of training cycling steep inclines and feel most comfortable going uphill so I thought after the rest stop I will see how quick I can make it to the top and up the personal challenge, knowing that it’s all downhill afterward. Didn’t I say a few days ago that this wouldn’t be competitive? So I left the rest stop first and went for it from the start, 5-miles of pushing myself as hard as I could up this climb. Again when I reached the top there was a table full of food waiting which was welcomed, it was here that I discovered the little boxes of Milk Duds, how had I missed them for the 3 previous days? I think Paul had eaten them all. Now it was time to rest and let everyone else go ahead for the downhill, this time it wasn’t as steep as yesterday but at 17-miles long it was going to be a nice enjoyable coast down to lunch, I managed to get up to 39.4mph but at times the gradient wasn’t steep enough to roll all of the way down and one point my chain came off but that gave me the chance to get some photos.
After lunch, the final 24-miles were relatively flat and took just 1hr 43mins, I somehow managed to get that heavy steel bike up to 30mph as we rode into Furnace Creek Ranch. At the final rest stop on the way to the hotel we all stopped for this group photo, probably the first one we had together as a group since arriving here.
Furnace Creek Ranch was worlds apart from Panamint Springs, the room was fantastic, food great and to top it all off they had a thermally heated outdoor swimming pool, this made all those aches and pains go away for a few hours at least.
This was our last evening in Death Valley, tomorrow we climb out of the valley and head to Pahrump, it was quite sad sitting around the camp fire that evening, knowing that our time here was coming to an end.
Day three Stats:
- 13.8mph ave speed,
- 39.4mph top speed,
- 3,856ft elevation gain,
- 4:03:49 moving time.
Here are a few more photos from the Day 3 ride.
Day 4 Furnace Creek to Pahrump – Approx 63 miles
Today, I remembered that I had my GoPro with the one memory card I did remember to bring with me so I shot some clips and edited this short video from the morning ride. The video is on YouTube but here is a link to it…Death Valley Cycle Challenge 2016.
After yesterday’s success with the frosties I opted for another bowl of sugary joy. The route today was a challenging one given we had three days of cycling in our legs. From the get go it was a 17-mile gradual 2,600ft uphill, followed by 10-mile 1,000ft downhill to lunch and then another 17-mile 1,000ft climb. We were up early today ready to depart as one group at 7:15am and for the first time on this trip it did feel early. I was finally starting to get over the jetlag!! We were on the road just as the sun was rising which made the mountains look stunning, the air felt noticeably cooler and looked cloudy but I put this down to the early start.
I set off towards the back today, my knee had been aching a little before lunch. This was the same knee which I had injured whilst running the Birmingham Half Marathon a month before so I felt a little wary of it. After my chain coming off three times in the first mile I was beginning to think this wasn’t going to be a good day, little did I know what was to come later…. So after 4.5 miles we arrived at our first rest stop for the day, I stocked up on Gatorade and Milk Duds and went to check out the view point called Zabriskie Point and wow!! This place was stunning, I have put a few photos below of the view and another group shot (two in two days!! Check us out), the pictures, whilst they look good, don’t capture the scale of this place but still looks pretty breath-taking I think.
After taking in the view for half an hour we set off on the remaining 13-miles of climbing, I decided to ride along with Phil and have a good chat, a welcomed break from my self racing of the day before. After 40 mins, I set off in pursuit of Andy & Paul, who I assumed would be leading the way a few miles down the road. With the gradient being fairly low on this one I managed to kick on and catch all of the group apart from Andy who was just that little bit too far down the road, but we’re not racing obviously lol, it’s that competitive nature kicking in again but I do like to push myself harder, I feel this challenges me and helps me to progress and learn more about cycling in this instance. We had now left Death Valley behind us and were heading back into civilisation again, I already missed the natural beauty of Death Valley.
After this rest stop we had the 10-mile downhill followed by around 8-miles of flat riding to lunch. By now the wind was starting to pick up quite considerably, so much so even on the downhill I only managed to get up to 22mph and then the 8-mile stretch on the flat was into a strong head wind where I struggled to get over 14mph, this was the worst stretch of riding we had come across on the whole trip, we had lunch at Death Valley Junction in a café called Amargosa Café but to be honest, I think we were all the exhausted from the 8-mile ride into the head wind we hardly spoke a word, this picture of Andy sums up how we were all feeling. Secretly I was kinda hoping we would be told its too windy to ride and packed up into the van for an early night, but this is a challenge and until now it had been easy. If only we knew what the next 4 hours had in store for us.
After lunch we ventured outside, hoping that the wind had died down but no, it was even stronger, we set off on the remaining 35-miles to Pahrump, this was without doubt the toughest stretch of cycling I have ever done, for the first 15-miles Andy and myself rode on ahead of the group, I would like to say we were racing away but looking at my speeds now, we averaged 9.9mph across that flat section, each taking a 5 minute turn on the front aka battering from the wind. At the final rest stop we decided to all ride in one peloton and share the workload out. This was going to be a tough last 20-miles. I only took one photo during this brutal afternoon, that was of this huge spider I spotted at the side of the road, I couldn’t ride past this without stopping.
Andy and I took turns leading the peloton through the wind and dust, Paul had ridden off in front and was nowhere to be seen at this point. Then my knee pain came back in devastating fashion. I moved to the back of the group and let the others ride on ahead. I spent the rest of the afternoon riding with Amy and Ange which was really nice, firstly, of them to not to drop me and secondly, it was good chatting with them too. We all finally arrived on the outskirts of Pahrump at nightfall, as Pahrump was a busier town with a lot more traffic than we had come accustomed to, we all rode as one group following our guide Tyler who took us to our Best Western Pahrump Station crib for the night.
Once safely in our room we saw on the news that we had been battered by sustained winds of 40mph, gusting up to 60mph, it was no wonder we had struggled so much. Tonight we ate at the Silver Spur restaurant in Saddle West Casino, hearing the hum of the slot machines and card games in the background really made me realise that we are close to Vegas now and tomorrow is the last day of cycling, which was sad but also exciting to be hitting Vegas this time tomorrow. I was so tempted to go for my first beer of the trip but knowing how many meds I was going to need to get over my knee pain I opted for the classic milkshake and headed off to bed fully dosed up with Ibuprofen.
Day four Stats:
- 10mph ave speed,
- 22.8mph top speed,
- 4,324ft elevation gain,
- 6:30:08 moving time.
Day 5 Pahrump to Las Vegas – Approx 59 miles
Today we had the earliest start of the week, but this was ok today, this would give us more time in Vegas tonight!! The ride was fairly easy and straight forward, we would start off with a 26-mile ride to the first rest stop, then it was a 10-mile climb to the highest point of our trip followed by a 8-mile drop into the outskirts of Las Vegas. Thankfully the wind had died down when we left for breakfast at 6am. I had a play around with the waffle machine but could not get them to come out like the photo so settled for Frosties surprise, surprise. My next cycle challenge should be sponsored by Frosties, they’re grrrreat. Anyway, knee update, at this stage I still had some pain but not quite as bad as yesterday. My plan was to alternate between paracetamol and Ibuprofen every 2 hours. Given the knee pain and relatively easy mornings ride I stuck in the group until the rest stop. Now we had left the valley and the stunning scenery behind, we were to spend the vast majority of today riding along the Pahrump Valley Highway 160, which isn’t the best on the eye but with the cycle lane just about wide enough for two abreast we felt pretty safe riding on the busy road, if only we had cycle lanes like this back in the UK.
Before coming to Death Valley, everyone was telling me “it will be too hot”, this next photo of 2 of our guides, Todd & Chris gives you a good idea of how chilly it was.
After 15-miles of riding we stopped for a break, by now my knee was starting to feel ok, I took a fresh dose of meds and continued along in the group, we just had 11-miles until the next rest stop and the start of the 2,000ft 10-mile climb, I wanted to have one last run up a big climb before leaving so I was resting my knee and hoping it would feel ok by the time we stopped. You will notice I am missing out a lot of details about the ride here, it was a pretty boring morning of cycling along a highway. So, at the rest stop my knee felt ok and I decided to go for it and try to catch up with Andy & Paul who were already on their way up the climb. About ¾’s of the way up I caught up with them and we rode in together to the lunch stop at Mountain Springs Saloon at the top of the climb 5,490ft up. This was one of the best lunches we have on this trip, the burgers were great but the atmosphere now that we were so close to completing this challenge was amazing. Everyone was happy, laughing and chatting. This was the point I started my celebrations with a beer, probably the first I have had for around 4 months.
After lunch we had to get into the vans and be driven 8-miles down the hill due to roadworks taking place. Once dropped off we could see the casinos on Las Vegas strip, we had an 8-mile ride through the outskirts of Vegas to McDonalds where we would ride as a group through the streets of Vegas to Las Vegas Boulevard lead by Tyler. We had the van driving behind us to protect the group in the traffic. I have to say, the Arizona Outback Adventure guides handled this really well, navigating such a large group of cyclists through Vegas traffic is not an easy job but we all felt safe and secure.
One final right hand turn at the Mandalay Bay and we are on to Las Vegas Boulevard, just the last 200m to go until we reach the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. At this point as I am standing my bike up ready to be packed away, I can’t help but think about my dad, the reason and motivation behind me cycling this past week. I know he would have been so proud of what I had done and in typical fashion he would have spent hours looking through all of my photos & videos, asking questions or commenting on them. We queued up to have our photos taken in front of the sign. I felt sorry for those who arrived after us, they had to wait for all 20+ of us to have individual photos and then lots of group photos as well, and worst of all, having to wait for Mary to take hundreds of photos.
Having completed the ride, we headed for the Excalibur where we would be staying for the night and having a celebration meal at Buca di Beppo, after this we hit for town for some well-earned beers & shots.
This section is technically not day 5 but whoever, if you have read this far, then you have probably lost count of the days anyway. The next morning was home time for the majority of the group. Some were staying on after the ride, myself included, others were on the afternoon flight home. Chris, Paul & myself enjoyed the buffet breakfast at Excalibur, anybody who has been to Vegas will know how good a Vegas Buffet is!! Our morning plan was to do some last minute shopping, Chris & Paul wanted to hit the Apple store for a new iPhone and Watch, with time running out before Chris & Paul needing to be back for the bus out to the airport, Paul hit some technical difficulties with his new Apple Watch 2 so Chris and I left him there and got back in time for Chris to get the bus, this is where we end this story in Vegas with the same question being posed by the group as when we first met in the airport… Where is Paul?? But don’t worry Paul did make the bus in time. Just!!
Day five Stats:
- 12.7mph ave speed,
- UNKNOWN top speed (due to leaving Strava running whilst in the van I hit 63mph),
- 2,934ft elevation gain,
- 4:29:58 moving time.
A few final photos from the last day of riding.
I am massively proud of myself after completing this challenge in honour of my dad and raising so much money for Douglas Macmillan in the process. I have made such great friends whilst on this challenge, in fact, it was these people who made this out to not be a challenge but an enjoyable, fun, exciting time. I have to say thank you to everyone who I cycled with this week, you guys are amazing and we all achieved so much. Given that our abilities ranged from club cyclist all the way down to complete novice who has only just started cycling, each and everyone of us completed this challenge, we all got through the tough times, steep climbs, wind battered day 4, scary spiders and cleat induced falls, as well as enjoying the many highs.
Some final stats, cus I just can’t resist tallying up the stats once more.
- 272.2-miles cycled by me
- 18,567 of climbing by me
- 23:02:46 moving time for me
- 0 punchers by the group
- 6 chains coming off, all by me
- Number of bruises from Charlottes falls, far too many
- Number of photos Mary took, must be at least 4 figures
- Number of times Amy swore at that Bastard Hill, enough to fill the swear jar.
- Number of times Paul got to a rest stop first…. Possibly once lol
My last and final thought has to go to these guys below, our Arizona Outback Adventures guides, Chris, Todd & Tyler. These guys were fantastic, they looked after us 24/7, very knowledgeable, dealt with everything the weather threw at us and most of all, they were part of the team, not just guides they were our friends who made this experience what it was for us. If you want to do something like this yourself definitely take a look at https://aoa-adventures.com/ for US challenges and trips but also http://www.globaladventurechallenges.com/ from the UK.
Finally, just a bunch of photos I have not yet posted on this blog… great memories looking through all of these photos.
Thank you for your time and I hope you have enjoyed reading this mega blog, I am impressed if you have made it all the way through and not fell asleep.