Next day, we stopped to see a German couple in bathing suits sitting at a breakfast table overflowing with goodies alongside their motor-home watching the desert scene before them. We stopped and all celebrated with wine glasses filled with orange juice and feasted with Frank and Casteen on bread, cheese, chocolate and strawberries. Later, we overlooked the moonscape of Panamint Valley 7,000 feet below us. We dropped 7,000 feet to sea level and 110 degrees with heat waves rippling across the bottom of the valley. We stopped at the lodge for a wonderful lunch and we saw pictures of “Seldom Seen Slim” a local miner who spent his life in Panamint Valley looking for gold. Let me tell you, we faced ‘brutal’ heat and dry air. Riding in that kind of heat kept our tongues stuck to the roofs of our mouths and our lips hanging up on our teeth. I couldn’t spit from such a dry mouth. The heat sucked water out of our bodies faster than we could drink water! Later, we cranked and sweated up an 18 mile, 9 percent grade “mother of a climb” out of Panamint to 5,000 feet and then, camped out under a fabulous moon and a zillion stars.
In my journal entry, “It’s a funny feeling riding to the edge of an ominous valley such as Panamint, with its utter desolation, sand dunes, heat, rocks and raw-edged “taunting” us to live through its debilitating heat, dryness and steep grades. We sank down into its depths along a snaking road that weaved through astounding scenery that could only be described as if we “landed on the moon.” Nonetheless, I took more than a few swigs on my bottle and pointed my bike to follow Denis, Scott and Bob into the depths of what can only be described as Dante’s Inferno…hours later with heat waves rippling of the valley floor, Bob and I opted to take an early out to find a campsite at 5,000 feet and cool night’s sleep. We busted our tail feathers for 100 yards at a time, sweating like pigs, then stopped for a drink and a bite of food. We continued that routine for five hours! Near sunset, the sky glowed with yellow-gold light. As we pedaled higher, cool winds and air refreshed our spirits until finally, we reached the top at 5,000 feet. I turned to Bob with a “high five” and said, “We did it.” “You got that right baby,” Bob said as we clasped hands in mutual joy. Another couple stopped in their car, “Do you two need a couple of beers?” “Does a baby cry? Does a mule kick? Does a bee sting?” Bob said. She handed us two beers and said, “Good luck!” Later we camped in a washout, fixed dinner and laughed at our good fortune and the two beers. Beyond us, the last rays of the sun sprayed over Death Valley. Above, planets, shooting stars, the Milky Way and a symphony of silence played across the ink black of space. We decided our lives enjoyed great blessings. Sleep came swiftly.”
The next day, we descended into the ominous heat of Death Valley. More desolation! Stove Pipe Wells featured history, water fill up, store for food and visitor center. We stopped at the sand dunes and talked with people from all over the world. We cranked for 40 miles to Furnace Creek and the famed Twenty mule Borax Teams, and miners that sweltered in that heat and hard living even today.
In my journal, “How in the daylights did they do it? How could anybody withstand this unbearable heat at 120 degrees F? Why? Even the plants hug together where a few of them survive, but everywhere, this desert punishes and punishes without mercy. The only ‘things’ not affected by this heat down here must be the rocks because they do not possess life! Yet, life persists in the form of birds, lizards, snakes, insects, cactus and other hardy souls. Why they choose to live here remains a mystery to me!”
Two days later, out of Death Valley across more desert and headwinds, to Las Vegas. You know, cities do not provide too much fun when you’ve enjoyed the freedom, clear skies, wilderness and peaceful joy of the back roads.
John Muir said, “If in after years, I should do better in the way of exact research, then these lawless wanderings will not be without value as suggestive beginnings. But if I should be fated to walk no more in Nature, be compelled to leave all I most devoutly love in the wilderness, return to civilization and be twisted into the characterless cable of society, then these sweet, free, cumberless rovings will be as chinks and slits on life’s horizon, through which I may obtain glimpses of the treasures that life in God’s wilds beyond my reach.”
In my journal, “Having walked along Muir’s Trail, and having read everything he wrote, and having explored six continents like he did, I feel a brotherhood with him and a spiritual connection. I wish all humans in cities could wander through the trees instead of the skyscrapers and cement of cities. Our civilization would be less prone to drunkenness, drugs and mental disorders—and more prone to useful, fruitful and fulfilling lives. Good for us to regain the life rhythms offered via wilderness. I count my blessings.”