From our direction we’re traveling in, there’s only one road in, and one road out, to the hottest, most inhabitable place in North America, Death Valley. The music of Pink Floyd is the ultra mellow soundtrack for our crossing at 5:30 am today.
Way back in 1996, the first time we crossed this inferno, the only soundtrack was the wind screaming in my ears as we rode across on bikes getting baked in our leathers. Back then, we gave no thought to what time we crossed. I think we did it at noon. Today, drive across in comfort at dawn in our big ass truck, yet, I’m still terrified. Couldn’t sleep all night thinking about this epic drive. I mean what kind of morons do this in summertime? Us, that’s who. We’re always good for this sort of misadventure.
Sunrise, and the sun starts to splash 100 shades of yellow and ochre across the desert floor. One or two occasional joshua trees shoot up across the valley, giving our eyes something to look toward, other than the flat landscape. Jerry snooozes in the back seat, blissfully unaware. Looking at him makes me feel better about this. His presence calms me. What, me worry?
As the sun starts to brighten and the road gets narrower, we begin the slow windy descent over the mountain range and on toward the valley floor. The road seemed a lot wider on a motorcycle, Jim comments.
As we climb the 3000 ft. pass that will take us over the mountains and down below sea level, Jim starts to look anxious. I see him looking at the instrument panel, then looking out at each mirror toward the trailer. The truck is losing power he says. WHAT???? OMG I think I’m going to crap my pants. We aren’t even halfway through, and there’s potential trouble. It’s 7:30 a.m. and 89 degrees out. I had a lot of water in the trailer packed in jugs and bottles, but if we got stuck here . .
We pull over on an overlook next to a radiator water station. Everything looks fine. Pull away, and an instrument panel light comes on, then a ding. Then another ding. “Check Gauges” it says. We’ve never gotten that message before. We check the gauges. The temp is a little high, but that’s it. Meanwhile I’m feeling like I’m going to hurl. The truck gets a little more sluggish. Jim stays calm. I try to. We travel on, and the light and dinging stops about 15 minutes later. Halfway through we stop to take a photo op at around 200 ft below sea level. I’m nervous as Jim starts the engine up again. All’s well, no problem. He asks me if I want to take the detour to see Badwater, the lowest point in the continental U.S. at 282 ft. below sea level. No way, I want out.
By 8:45 am., we were out of Death Valley Hell, and into Pahrump Nevada. Whhhhheeeeew.
The rest of today we hauled ass into Kingman, AZ, and the truck is still fine. I am relieved. I can’t think of anywhere that’s more desolate, and reeks of more desperation and loneliness than Death Valley. I don’t ever need to go back.