Thirty-four degrees Fahrenheit. Grey, damp, nasty--but it wasn't raining, so after 12 hours in the tent, I crawled out into a 6:30AM. Ugh. After numb-fingered fumbling, the Optimus was purring, and before long, a hot cup of happiness was taking the edge off the doom pressing down. To the south, snow-plastered mountains buried their heads in the glum soup. But it wasn't raining. A lace trim of frosting cracked stiffly from the pannier lids as I pulled them open to root around for supplies. Jodi packed sleeping bags and pads. Django sniffed about and peed on creosote bushes.
Shortly after 8AM, we crunched and rolled down the dirt track to begin the day's climbing, straight into the damp hanging belly of the beast. We summited at just over 5,000 ft., the highest of the tour. Dour granite outcrops and a few forlorn Joshua trees bore silent witness to the event. We layered up, strapped helmets, loaded Django and set off for the 18 mile drop to Panamint Springs.
The road became wetter and wetter as we zipped through slick sheets across the pavement. A short climb meant soggy doggy paws slapping happily. Then we pushed through clouds and fog totally obscuring the way ahead. Finally, the main event--miles and miles of 6--7%. Black wet road, tires spinning streamers, my fingers retreated to some other place as I worked the brakes and cornered gingerly through sometimes zero visibility. Jodi pitched in with the big rear disc, and we easily controlled our speed through hairpins with drop offs into solemn rocky canyons. Finally, we broke out of the clouds, a dim glow radiating from a distant dry lake bed. Panamint Springs wasn't far below.
Lunch and water at the Panamint Springs store. I picked up a couple of brews for camp--$5, each, thank you--and we pulled out into the heart of the Panamint Valley, now officially part of Death Valley National Park. At the far end of a long straightaway, the Panamint Mountains ascended thousands of feet in a fearsome wall, our punishment for daring to pedal into Death Valley. Towne Pass taunted in the dark afternoon light, whispering promises of lactic acid and sweat.
We pulled off onto a dirt track to camp beneath the brooding giants. In the late afternoon, we lounged in the tent as a light rain fell and fighter jets occasionally tore the silence with thunderous engines.
Miles: 28; Total: 56
Climb: 620 ft.