29 July, 2012

Day 24, 430km: Death valley

Day 24 already, a week and it'll be a month. Pretty cool. I'm realizing this as I type from my favorite (for it's high speed internet!) McDonalds.

So yesterday I had an appointment at BMW Las Vegas, to do the 10,000km service at 12pm.
Took the opportunity in the morning to visit the place below.

South of the strip
The place was interesting. A small parking lot and then the sign itself. Parked at the bottom of the sign, two strange looking people. An Elvis Presley look-alike, and a young woman. Two queues of people waiting for their photo. I was in the young woman queue. My turn arrived and I saw she had a badge around her neck.

Hi. Are you working for the city, I asked. It was pretty unlikely that the city would hire people to take photos at tourist landmarks but it being Las Vegas and her having a badge ... you never know.
Oh no, I'm working for myself, I'm a professional photographer she replied. She asked me to give her my camera.
So basically she would take people's cameras, shoot their photos and then ask for a tip. Professional photographer my ass. I wonder how much she makes a day. Let's say there is a person every 20 seconds for 6 hours of the day that'd be 1080 people a day. If 10% give her a dollar, she's making $3250 a month, probably much more than working at minimum wage...
Smart girl!

Then I was off for the service at BMW, the nicest dealership I've been too so far. Free drinks, coffee, donuts, WiFi and a lounge. Feels good. There I met Gary, a Las Vegas"ian" (how do we say?) who knows the region pretty well and recommended me many routes for California. Thanks!

Then off I was for the death valley.

A few kilometers before the entrance of the park itself
So I made sure I  was ready. Full tank, check. Full spare tank, check. Camelback full of icy water, check. Extra 5L of icy water, check.

It was about 35 degrees C above the valley
Down the valley itself we go...! There wasn't much people on the road, a side road recommended by Gary that led to Badwater, the lowest spot in North America. It got hot, as you can guess.

Luckily it was very dry too
The landscape was mineral, not a single tree, a few bushes and mostly sand and rocks as far as the eye can see.
I entered the park itself around 4pm. I would learn in the evening that 4pm is actually the hottest time of the day in this season. Again my planning and research skills proved how useless they are.

At that point it became really though :)
Took the above photo because the heat was really starting to get to me. I think I went through my first camelback (2L) in less than an hour. That can give you an idea of the amount of sweating. So I was standing on the pegs and the air that came into the jacket and pants actually felt cool, though it was more than 45 degrees C. The temperature gauge on the bike actually went up to 48 degrees C but I'm not sure how accurate it is.
Later I talked with a Deutsch couple who told me their car's temperature gauge went up to 51 degrees C.
I don't know what was the temperature exactly but it was f***** hot.

Then I started to see this
After a while the elevation went into the negative numbers. First time I see this in my life (I think). Still far from the Dead Sea's -400 something but impressive nonetheless. The GPS went nuts at that point and the elevation would jump between -20 and -100 rapidly even on a straight line. So it wasn't much help to estimate how close I was getting to Badwater.

Actually a lot of people...!
That was the first camelback refill stop. There was a bit of wind here so it allowed me to cool down. I have to admit I was envious of people in their air-conditioned cars! Although I got my first "You're crossing the valley on bike? Wow that's badass".

There's something hidden in this picture. Leave a comment if you find it! (Zoom in)
Turned west at Furnace Creek (well named, the place was literally a furnace with the jacket and pants). Did one more camelback refill stop (so that's 6L at this point). At that point I have to admit I wasn't feeling too well. I had been in the park for more than 2H by 45+ degrees C. The water I had was hot and I realized I wasn't sweating anymore, which was probably not a good thing. Stopped at the first spot of shadow I could find, removed my clothes and splashed water on my face. After a 15 minutes cooling stop I was feeling better and headed on for the last part of the valley.

A small spot of sand dunes. You can guess it was windy.
It was around 6.30pm by that point. The temperature hadn't still dropped!

Mountains! That I'm going too! Altitude, cool air!
So it was a relief to see mountains in the distance and know that I was going to cross them. Mountains = shadow = cool = nice = GOOD.

Did the last part in the twilight hours
The sunset in Death Valley's mountains was pretty cool, I have to admit. And literally cool too, with a nice 30 degrees C that felt like a spring morning to me. Eventually made it to a campsite where I spent the night.
The place was absolutely empty. I would come to realize the next morning that I didn't go to the place I found online but to another campsite 5km away. Garmin misled me to a deserted campsite. But it had showers and internet so what can I ask for more?
Well I could use some company! I saw during the day that my stickers are very effective. Car people (you know those who travel in big steel boxes mounted on four wheels) are now much more outgoing and curious about my trip! (Previously it was mostly motorcycle rides who were curious) So I was looking forward to be the superstar of the campsite (a la Franck Dubosc, walking around winking and waving at people with my toilet paper).

So since I was alone I decided I would do the "campsite setup" video that Thomas and Helene requested. I tried despite the fact that the night had already fallen. Well from what I can see right now on the videos, there isn't much to be salvaged it was just too dark. I'll maybe make a short montage and upload later later when I have more time on the laptop.
I have to say that I'm disappointed by the Gopro camera so far, the quality of the images (in low light situations) is lousy. Now the good thing is that the image isn't shaking, at least. A nice, stable and uniform black image.
I have to take some sequences in full daylight to see what it's capable of, but low light filming I can forget about. Maybe they have a very fast "shutter" (no shutter on this but I mean exposure time) speed to avoid having a shaky picture and that's why it sucks in dark conditions. Not sure, I have to test it more. If there's any Gopro owner reading this, please give me your tips on settings for filming in the dark...

Anyway. Today, I'm going to Yosemite!

Hope you enjoyed your weekend everyone,


  1. Hello Guillaume. I'm Khanh in Dextra Vietnam (khanh@dextragroup.com). Until now can I access to your blog and know your fantastic journey. Wow, so cool and adventurous, mon ami! I have never been in my life made a similar trip though I have thought about it a couple of times. I'm now 32 already and married. Thus not easy for me to take the backpack and go, but the idea still exists in my mind as an incomplete plan. Looking forward to your new posts. And do you think one day you are here, in Vietnam for a biking trip to explore the deserted and mighty mountain area of Vietnam?

    1. Hello Khanh! Glad to know you're following the blog!
      I plan to go to the Sapa region one day on motorcycle, maybe we can go together ;)
      Hope all is doing fine for you,
      Take care

    2. Hello Guillaume,
      Everything is fine? How come you know Sapa? I just returned from there by car. Very challenging by bike, I think.

    3. All is good! :) In Mexico now. Friends of mine went to Sapa, I saw the photos it looks great! How was your trip?

  2. Lost the link to your blog but found it by my own BLOG...you are doing well and covering a lot of ground. Death Valley and riding in the middle of the day? Too HOT! I hope you are truly enjoying your adventure and once again stay safe. Will be checking as much as I can. Leslie

    1. Hello Leslie, thanks for stopping by! Yeah Death Valley in the middle of the day wasn't the smartest but fun in retrospect. How about you girls any trip planned ?

  3. Pas trouvé la chose caché de la photo...

    1. Il y a un panneau "SEA LEVEL" cache dans la photo (nord-est de l'image) mais je crois qu'on ne peut pas zoomer suffisament sur le blog en fait. Merci d'avoir cherche!

  4. Non on peut pas zoomer Guigui, snifff sniffff