Riding Death Valley: Third Time Lucky

Motorcycle Riding Death Valley: Third Time Lucky | RoadRUNNER Magazine
"I’m done. Get me the chuff out of here!”

Engorged on the place until I was as full as a tick on a hound dog, one afternoon on the Strip was all I could handle. Like anything, we had to see it with our own eyes, although I hear Las Vegas by night is something else entirely. Another time. For now, neither of us could escape the desert metropolis fast enough.

My partner in crime, riding, and life Jason and I were still wrapped up in the feel-good joy that is Burma-Shave: advertisements dating back to the ‘20s on Rt 66 heading toward Las Vegas. Scanning the family-friendly, upbeat verses—from “If you want a hearty squeeze, get our female antifreeze” to “Pedro walked back home, by golly his bristly chin was hot-to-Molly” and “Don’t lose your head to gain a minute, you need your head your brains are in it”—kept me riding miles of smiles all the way to Emigrant Campground, a cozy place in which to bed down for the night. It was down the road from Stovepipe Wells at Panamint Springs, and just over 20 miles from Death Valley’s park boundary—a perfect spot to ensconce ourselves in the desert of extremes.

Motorcycle Riding Death Valley: Third Time Lucky | RoadRUNNER Magazine

Titus Canyon, NV

Leadfield, which once thrived on mining but is now a ghost town, is located on Titus Canyon Rd, an adventurous backcountry byway in Beatty. Packing our steeds the following morning before temperatures got silly, we loaded all the water we could carry from the campground’s spigot. Bright and early, we were back on the road to resupply in Stovepipe Wells. Thanks to the $4 public showers at the resort swimming pool, I went from lank mouse to bushy-tailed.

Joining Hwy 374, our wheels hummed to the song of a one-way 27-mile trail through Titus Canyon, kick-starting east of the park boundary. Regardless of the vultures circling above, descending into Death Valley for the second time gave me the nerve to put my big girl pants on and kill it. As canyons go, Titus matched up to its Greek meaning: “of the giants.” Its swath of mountains possessed endless ruggedness, leading us on a serpentine, stony trail. Some of it was loose—cue the need to jolt my muscle memory and get my off-road on—and we meandered around vivid rock formations, adorned with desert flora and petroglyphs. The pair of us sewed our way through the hem of a rah-rah skirt without fraying any nerves. A spectacular climax ensued at the western end as the canyon narrowed to a winding finish.

Motorcycle Riding Death Valley: Third Time Lucky | RoadRUNNER Magazine
Jason set his bike next to a Napa dumpster with a dull thump of finality. He smiled after completing the stator installation. Stators—third time lucky, as they say!

Here We Go Again

It was probably as good a time as any to venture it again. Two years earlier, we were forced to leave Death Valley due to a failing stator on Jason’s BMW F 800 GS. En route, but never making it close to confronting the Racetrack, we geared up to conquer.

“You have got to be bloody kidding! You’re messing with me,” Jason barked incredulously as he came to a standstill. We were not even half a mile outside of Titus Canyon. Don’t tell me: the stator? My modus operandi had been listening, comforting, and caring while I felt a shiver of dislike for the F 800 GS—and not for the first time. It was behaving like a cheap umbrella.

Motorcycles and Gear

2008 BMW F 800 GS
2001 Suzuki DR650

Helmets: Schuberth E1, Schuberth Women’s C3
Jackets & Pants: Klim Badlands, Klim Artemis
Boots: Sidi GORE-TEX Adventure Boots
Gloves: Gerbing 12V Hero, Klim summer gloves

“That’s the second stator that’s failed in two bloody years!” Jason vented his frustration. The realization kicked in as the bike flatly refused to start. The irony was almost comical. In derision, the machine ground to a halt, radiating dejection. “I think the universe doesn’t want us to reach the Racetrack today.” Death Valley had claimed Jason’s stator again, but at least we would live to die another day.

Motorcycle Riding Death Valley: Third Time Lucky | RoadRUNNER Magazine
An isolated land of weather and rock, unchanged by millennia or man yet constantly altered by the climate. It’s a photogenically valuable contradiction. Imbibing its energy fueled our strength, molding us to the elements.

A Desert Full of Surprises

A surge of power from a portable battery pack got us to Lone Pine, the nearest town. This was where hot water, a fresh change of clothing, and the washing machine became my new objects of desire. A high-end stator and regulator could be expedited overnight, courtesy of RM Stator, and with Dave Mull’s compassion, fitted by the dumpster at the back of Napa. We decided we might as well camp up the road in the Alabama Hills, a range of jumbled rock formations near Mount Whitney on the Sierra Nevada’s eastern slope.