Knowing what the wind is like out in the California desert, I reluctantly checked a weather report to see what was in store. Tomorrow's wind forecast: a steady 10 - 20 mph, with gusting 30+. Dammit.
Tomorrow was our planned ride to Rhyolite, certainly the longest ride of our week, and the most challenging. Even on a windless day.
I had recruited Angie, Tad, and Tim to come along. The rest of the group would climb to Hell's Gate and then turn around. The 4 of us would continue on through Daylight Pass, another 2000 ft above Hell's Gate, and then dip down into Nevada and to the strange and wonderful little ghost town of Rhyolite before returning up and over the pass for a 75-mile round-trip.
As with all rides in Death Valley, the underlying and unspoken disclaimer is always 'Subject to Change'. Conditions here change in a hurry, and on an unsupported ride bad decisions can turn into really bad days.
We left from Furnace Creek super early so as to get to Rhyolite by mid-morning. The rolling Highway 190 gave way to the Beatty Cutoff, and that's where the fun began. This is a delicious 8%, 10-mile climb - on a good day. On a day with a steady headwind, though, when the pace barely reaches 7 mph and you've used up all your gears, it starts to feel less like a challenge and more like a death march.
Angie and I didn't talk much up the Beatty Cutoff. But at some point, I asked her if we could consider maybe just going to Daylight Pass, and then seeing how we felt at that point.
(The truth is, I was ready to make Hell's Gate my turnaround point, but I knew Angie was looking forward to Rhyolite, and if she wanted to continue than I would suck it up).
When we finally got to Hell's Gate, the wind was fierce. Tad was close behind, and Tim somewhere behind him. Tim will admit that he's not the fastest climber. On the other hand, Tim is the most persistent rider I know, and as a 5-time 508 finisher, he is no stranger to adverse conditions. We would wait for him to arrive at Hell's Gate before continuing on.
I think at this point, Angie was done with climbing, too. And neither of us was all too thrilled with having to make the descent into the valley with that vicious cross wind. But neither of us was willing to call it quits. And Tad was OK with any decision we made.
And then Tim summited and made the decision for all of us, stating that he felt that continuing on under these conditions wouldn't be well advised. Or something to that effect.
Which just means one thing: we will be back next year, and we will ride to Rhyolite. We will pick our day, and watch the wind reports, and carry enough fuel and hydration. Our legs will be screaming for the opportunity to do this climb again - and then to keep going. We will ride to Rhyolite. And then we'll take some great pictures, fly back down into the Valley, have a cold beer (or two) at Furnace Creek, and we'll bask in our own pride of accomplishment.
Why am I so confident that this will happen? Because when you can visualize a goal so clearly you can taste the beer at the end, it's in the bag.
See you next spring, Death Valley.