During the Gold Rush, a group of pioneers suffered the death of one of their own and had to sacrifice an ox while traveling through a huge California valley. Upon cresting a mountain range on their way out, one of them turned and bid farewell, shouting “Goodbye, Death Valley!”
Despite its name, Death Valley is alive and well – and best experienced by bike, of course! I, along with good friends Maria Ristow, Tim Oey, and Lauren Ledbetter, set out to ride the region during the last week of February with Climate Ride – a nonprofit organization that combines the love of bicycling with promoting climate change awareness and supporting sustainable, active transportation.
How does this work, and can anyone – especially you – get involved? Absolutely! Each Climate Ride participant decides which nonprofits will benefit from their individual fundraising efforts – these are nonprofits recognized by Climate Ride for their work in active transportation and environmental protection. SVBC is honored to be on Climate Ride’s list, and is grateful to be one of several beneficiaries to receive funds raised by our Death Valley group. All of us at SVBC encourage you to find a Climate Ride event you’d enjoy.
Each member of our team, easily identified by the stuffed narwhals we attached to our helmets for no particular reason, racked up between 200 – 250 miles for the weeklong adventure. More remarkable than the miles, however, was the landscape. The roads extended infinitely through sprawling valleys surrounded by giant, gently sloping mountain ranges with red, gold, and charcoal-colored rock layers.
The beautiful scenery helped distract us from the first day’s 23-mile climb that traced the route of those pioneers who gave Death Valley its name. After reaching Emigrant Pass – 5,318 feet above sea level – we descended through beautiful canyons and camped at a spot that gave us a view of (and anxiety about) the next day’s shorter, but steeper, 9-mile climb up Highway 190. We hovered around sea level most of Day 2, and then dropped 282 feet below sea level on Day 3 as we rode by Badwater Basin. On Day 4, our final day, we were treated to a tour of the famous Amargosa Opera House before continuing to Zabriskie Point.
Camping in tents contributed to the full desert experience in, let’s say, “interesting” ways. One night involved a windstorm that pulled a few tents off their stakes, and another was literally freezing – we had to break icicles off our tents in the morning. Listening to the occasional coyote howl in the night brought home the fact that we need to get outside our urban bubbles to fully understand that climate change isn’t an abstract concept – it affects all of us.
While I’ve been on bike tours before, Climate Ride Death Valley was particularly special because the focus wasn’t on personal fitness or watching a bike race – we were all there because of a shared passion for protecting our planet. Sitting around a campfire, we were treated to visits from various experts who manage resources and operations for Death Valley and an astronomer who brought a telescope as big as a car to share views of the night sky. Learning about how the desert is full of strong, yet oddly fragile, plant and animal life – and how desert regions play an important part in our planet’s health – inspired all of us to learn more about climate change.
Like many biking events where a portion of registration fees benefit a particular cause, Climate Ride sets a fundraising minimum for each rider. However, each participant may choose where their funds go from among a list of local, state, and national organizations that are focused on sustainable transportation and environmental causes. On behalf of my teammates, I thank each and every donor who supported us!
Cover photo credit: Lauren Ledbetter