Bakersfield, CA to Henderson, NV
Carved Canyons and Brothel Billboards
There. I've done Death Valley.
Saved by death-broth in Nevada.
Riding out of Bakersfield I was thinking of Buck Owens, of course, and pressed my brain-jukebox into service for possible Buck Owens tunes. All I came up with were “Tiger by the Tail” and “Act Naturally”, so that didn’t last long. Sorry, Buck, you deserved better. I stopped a little ways out of town at a convenience store to check my map and have a delicious breakfast of little chocolate donuts (favored breakfast of Olympian John Belushi) and some Pepsi Max, which with more caffeine than regular Pepsi, packs a pleasant punch. The terrain in front of me was flat and unremarkable, but that wasn’t going to last long, as I had some interesting mountains to pick through before I got to Death Valley.
Following 178 out of Bakersfield will take you to the Kern River Canyon, through which 178 cuts a very fun and tortuous path. If I lived out there I’d buy an MV Agusta Brutale and find a job at one end of that road and a place to live on the other. Once through the canyon 178 ascends the Sierra Nevada to Walker Pass, which is a little over 5,000 feet. Once I made it down to the desert floor on the Mojave side I was ready to make some miles to Death Valley. I did stop once or twice though, just to look at the desert and enjoy the quiet. I could definitely see spending a month in the desert by myself.
Unfortunately, the brain-dead road and traffic-free conditions gave me time for thinking about the whole thing with leaving my parents in Tucson. I hadn’t heard a word from them or my sisters, which meant either everything was fine, or nothing was. That’s one great thing about the desert, no cell phone service. And even if you did get one or two bars, service was so spotty that plausible deniability was always, well, plausible. What? You called me? Sorry, I’ve been in the desert for two days. Hey, I can’t hear you, you’re breaking up. Regardless, I decided that the next time I had good service I should probably check in.
Death Valley is Mandatory
For One Reason
Riding through Death Valley is mandatory. Is it a unique and amazing experience? Not really, unless you picked a 130 degree day to do it. The California interior boasts quite a lot of desert, and you could easily find a more challenging area with far fewer (try no) people around. But come on. Are you going to pass up the chance to have “Yeah, actually I rode my motorcycle through Death Valley” in your repertoire of cocktail party casual mentions? Of course you’re not. And neither did I. Be careful about pulling off the road to get those Death Valley “proof” photos though. There’s no shoulder on the road, and the sand looks hard-packed but usually isn’t. I almost got stuck once, thinking I had found a safe place. Luckily I remembered the dirt bike maxim, “when in doubt, gas it out.”
The Douchebags of Death Valley
Death Valley has its own unique beauty, stark stillness, blah blah blah. I’m not going to write that part because it’s available anywhere.
The road was smooth and easy most of the way. Along the valley floor, however, there is a section that is “unimproved.” I saw it from a quarter-mile off, not knowing exactly what I was looking at. A cloud of dust hung over the area, and I thought maybe it was just a little dust storm. But no. It was a washboard dirt road partially covered with gravel. I think some of my older fillings fell out over the next few miles. It felt a lot longer than it probably was, especially while riding through the clouds of dust and pieces of gravel kicked up by idiots going the other way at high speed. Some pinhead even tried to pass me, but changed their mind. Good God, what kind of jackass speeds through Death Valley? Aren’t they kind of missing the point?
I stopped at the Stovepipe Wells ranger station to gas up, pay my park fee, buy my kids Death Valley T-shirts and get something large and cold to drink. While I was looking at the big map outside, some twentysomethings on Harleys pulled in and parked. I turned toward them as they walked up, nodded, and was about to ask them which way they were headed. They walked past me like I wasn’t even there. Huh? Where the hell are these guys from? I took another look at the bikes. They were rentals, probably out of Vegas. Douchebags. I saw them again later out in the Valley. They passed me going about 80, then hung a right to stay on 190, along with most of the traffic. I alone took 374/Daylight Pass road, which wound through the desert to US 95, the road to Las Vegas.
The Worst Road of the Trip
US 95 is awful. Long, straight, boring. Billboards for brothels. Stay classy, Nevada. The wind, completely absent in the valley, pushed me all over the road. Even with the extra effort required to keep the bike in a straight line, the road was so boring I kept falling asleep. I gave up and dismounted at some souvenir hell-stop, and bought some Red Bull and a huge hot-pepper Slim Jim. I figured if the caffeine didn’t do it, the chemicals in the Slim Jim would mix with the Red Bull and create a fiery death-broth in my stomach that would keep me awake. That and a short walk did the trick.
What? You called me? Sorry, I’ve been in the desert for two days. Hey, I can’t hear you, you’re breaking up. Heh heh.
Taking 178 through the Kern River Canyon is a fantastic way to get to Death Valley from Bakersfield. Sign tells the story. And it's not kidding.
Here it is, the photo that must be taken. Next time I'm going to Mojave National Preserve. Fewer people.
Hello, Vegas. Goodbye, Vegas.
I had just visited Las Vegas with my wife in October, when we stayed at the fantastic Wynn Encore. It’s elegant, the food is great and the sleaze factor is zero – in other words, the exact opposite of most of the other hotels on the strip. But the last thing I wanted after a day on the bike was to deal with Vegas, so I rode a little ways past and found a relatively out-of-the-way hotel in Henderson.
"Exploded for No Reason." What?
That evening I called and checked in with my wife, and she gave me the latest fallout of me taking off from Tucson. While I rode through desert, largely incommunicado, dad had been engaging in damage control. He had called my wife and both of my sisters, and told them I had unaccountably exploded in a fit of temper and left Tucson “for no reason”. No reason? I guess him saying to me “Could you please leave?” had slipped his mind. My wife knew immediately the story was bullshit, as I had told her what happened. My sisters, however, took his story as truth, never even bothering to ask me what happened. People don’t want to hear anything that might contradict what they want to believe. I had dinner at a local Mexican place, took a shower and set my alarm, not too early though because I wanted to hit the barber shop before I left town.