So what if we’re still a few months out. Susan and I are planning what will be a pretty different Thanksgiving trip this year. We’re going to Death Valley, centered not only around the national holiday, but also around what’s been a cycling trek of mine almost 8 years in the postponing.
My first visit out to Death Valley back in February of 2002 was prompted by a brief write-up I read a few months earlier in Outside magazine about mountainbiking the 26-miles of reeeeeeeally bad road from Ubehebe Crater to Racetrack Playa.
Up to that point any extended period spent outdoors consisted of a whole lotta not much more than a weekend car-camping trip to Leo Carrillo Beach back in the early ’90s. But damned if I didn’t outfit myself with a tent, sleeping bag, lamp, camping stove, fuel, cooler, provisions, and my bike and head on out solo to one of the most desolate and unforgiving places on earth.
And the most beautiful.
Pulling in after nightfall, I lucked into literally the last available spot at the Mesquite Springs campground, and as a bonus the people vacating it were kind and generous enough to leave me with their leftover firewood — the one thing I didn’t bring.
So I set up my tent in the dark, got a fire going, dined on beer and Ritz crackers (that I shared with the boldest of the resident kangaroo rats)and turned in. The next day after breakfast I loaded up and cranked it the several miles of highway to Ubehebe Crater. Once there, I wisely decided against a foolish and risky roundtrip ride of some 52 miles out to the Racetrack Playa and back and instead made that deep hole in the ground my destination for the day.
More than 7 years later, I’ve been back to Death Valley a bunch of times, doing most everything I’ve wanted to do: from golfing there in July’s 120-degree heat to summiting the park’s snow-dappled Telescope Peak. Everything but ride my bike the length of the road to Racetrack Playa — and climb to the top of Eureka Dunes, which is also on the agenda but only four years in the not doing.
So this Thanksgiving weekend, I’m going to finally cross those challenges off the list.
We’re going to leave L.A. on the afternoon/evening of the 25th and head up first to Eureka Dunes where we’ll arrive well after dark and spend the remainder of that first night, all of Thursday and that following night there — in between climbing to the top of that 600-foot-high sandpile and enjoying an extreme al fresco Thanksgiving feast.
Then on Friday morning we’ll pack up and wind our way from Eureka Dunes to Mesquite Springs where we’ll make camp and relax — maybe wander a bit, maybe take in a tour of nearby Scotty’s Castle.
Saturday morning’s the big day. Susan’s going to drive me and the bike to Ubehebe Crater and see me on my way near dawn. As it’s going to take me anywhere from four to six hours to bike the road to Racetrack Playa (I’m not in any hurry — plus there’s 2,500-feet of elevation gain over the first 11 severely washboarded miles) Susan’s going to head back to Mesquite Springs to chill and break camp and give me a couple hours headstart before following me. If all works out she’ll either catch up to me an hour or so out from the lake bed or meet me at the Grandstand (a rock outcropping in the middle of the playa) where we plan to camp that night.
Sunday morning we load it all up and head home.
It’s going to be awesome.