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Death Valley in the Fall (11/22/2014)

Date: Saturday, November 22
Meet time: 9:00 a.m.
Ride-out time: 9:15 a.m.
Meeting place: Death Valley National Park, Furnace Creek Visitor Center (map)
Rain policy: Heavy rain cancels
Category: 3 - moderate-fast pace (12-15 mph)
Terrain: 3 - rolling hills, some steep climbs
Miles: 36-48

Bicycling in Death Valley is an experience unlike almost anything else in the world. In fact, it's a multitude of experiences, depending on the altitude, season, and the weather; every visit is different. A few years back, several DSSFers traveled to Death Valley in the springtime for a major event, only to be confronted with impossibly strong headwinds, freezing temperatures, and even a mudstorm. Other times, the ride has been peaceful and serene, if a bit hot. The long-term average temperatures for November 22 are a high of only 73 degrees and a low of 49 degrees. So even if you've been to Death Valley before, consider joining me for this journey to three of the valley's key locations ... two of which are not part of any of the organized events that take place there.

We depart from the Furnace Creek visitor's center and immediately begin a short but attention-getting climb of about 200 feet, with an elevation at the top of, um, zero feet. Really. Sea level. Then we head south for about 16 miles of rolling hills as we gradually lose altitude on our way to Badwater, which at -282 feet is the lowest point in North America.

After a photo and toilet break, we begin to retrace our route back north, but we take a detour in this direction. We will travel the entire length of Artist's Drive, a 9-mile one-way road that begins with a moderate climb of about 1,000 feet before twisting among the scenic, colorful rock formations and then dropping back down to about -250 feet.

Next, we take Badwater Road back up to the Furnace Creek junction and elevation zero, and then we head east for a climb of about 650 feet to the Zabriskie Point parking lot. If you want to take pictures at the overlook, it's a bit of a hike on foot from the parking lot to the point itself (no bikes allowed). After that, it's all downhill back to Furnace Creek, where much-needed food and drink await.

Total climbing is about 3,500 feet. Two options are available to shorten this ride. You can skip Artist's Drive to save about 5 miles and 1,350 feet of climbing. You can skip the Zabriskie Point climb to save about 7 miles and 650 feet of climbing.

Lodging is your responsibility. Rooms at Furnace Creek are expensive; as of posting time, two-bed rooms for November 21 range from $209 to $273 plus tax. Beatty, Nevada, is one hour northeast and has a Motel 6 at $53 for one person. Pahrump, Nevada, one hour east, has two-bed rooms for $98. Ridgecrest, Calif., is about two hours southwest and has several name motels in the $70 range. There's also camping available at Furnace Creek Campground, right next to the meeting location, for $18 and up.

Death Valley National Park charges a $20 fee for each motor vehicle entering the park.

Because getting here is such a big deal, we will ride unless conditions are really, really bad or unsafe. Note that there are no services, no water, and no food along the entire route. You must bring enough food and water to cover the entire route. (You will likely require far more water than normal.) Toilets are available at key locations along the route. We have no SAG vehicle planned (you're welcome to volunteer to be one if you'd like); if you have a mechanical or other failure, you could be in the desert for a few hours until another rider can retrieve you. Because of National Park Service rules, this ride is limited to 19 people, including any SAG drivers. RSVPs are required for this event so I can keep you informed about anything that might come up.

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RSVPs are required for this ride.