Death Valley

January 21-25, 2021

Here is Dean Hunt's report:

I had a great time, the V Strom preformed like a champ except the huge trunk and saddle bags were like a plow or a sail depending on which way the wind was blowing. Mostly we encountered good weather although a little chilly. The ride from Boulder City was the most challenging with the wind and rain. From Wickiup to almost Wickenburg  we ran thru constant  rain that made passing semis a real challenge. My low gas light came on at the Old Marana exit but I was sure I could make it to Picture Rocks to buy gas. Haha I didn’t make it and had to call a neighbor to bring me some fuel. Until that happened I managed to stay warm and dry, but standing by the road without my helmet and gloves on I quickly realized it was cold as hell. It was a great trip.

Mark Grosvenor's report:

Although SEAT has suspended its near term organized rides due to COVID concerns, some of us decided to keep our hotel reservations and do this annual ride to Death Valley during the originally planned January dates anyway. We took care to observe social distancing where possible, and masked up when required. Long term friend, Ron Terrain, had made plans to come to Tucson from Wisconsin in January to do this annual ride with SEAT, and we were determined not to let him down. Even though, a week out from his Green Bay departure, he and his wife were exposed to COVID 19. Initial tests showed they were not positive, but they had to quarantine before they could travel & this ran afoul of the January 21st departure date we wanted to keep. On their 2nd round of tests, the wisdom of quarantining was proven, as they then tested positive. So traveling to Tucson was definitely out for them. Weather was definitley a factor for us who still planned to go, but the five of us decided to cast weather concerns into the wind and go for it! (this would not be the last time weather and wind would be thought of during this ride!)

Day 1: Tucson to Laughlin

 On the appointed Thursday morning, with rain already in the forecast for Tucson and southern Arizona in general, Mike Ostrom, Dean Hurt, Mike Shaffer, and myself met at McDonalds in old Marana to get under way. It was a pleasant 50 or so degrees when we met up, so, so far, so good weather wise. I was riding my K1600 GTL and Dean was on his trustee Suzuki Vstrom 650. Dean and I met first and grabbed a quick sandwich. We then saw Mike Ostrom pulling up on an unfamiliar ride. I commented to Dean I didn’t think I’d seen Mike on this bike before & that he’d probably had it for a long time, that I’d just not known about it. I hesitated to ask, feeling foolish for not knowing about this pretty copper colored Moto Guzzi. Well it turned out he had indeed just acquired it (anyone who rides with Mike should learn to expect different and unique bikes on nearly every ride!) He’d just purchased the used Moto Guzzi Stelvio 1200, and with a new camera attached to his pillion box, was ready to wring it out on our ride north. Mike Shaffer showed up shortly thereafter on a gleaming new Honda Goldwing DCT. He’d picked the 2019 gem up with only tens of miles on it, put the break in miles on it, and now he was ready for any highway or weather Death Valley & Nevada might dish out!

 Dean, who seems to know every highway, bypass, service road, and goat trail, between Tucson and Death Valley, took the lead, one he would pretty much keep throughout the four day ride. Out I-10 & I-8 to Gila Bend, it was in the 50’s, and nearly bone dry. We did go through some very light and short lived rain on our way, but if that was all we were in for, we were definitely ok with it. We took the familiar route from Gila Bend after a quick gas stop, highway 85 north to I-10, then west to the Salome exit, Mike O. following Dean, then myself, and Mike Shaffer riding sweep. Jim Phillips on his BMW K75, also intended to join us in Gila Bend, but a last minute text told us he’d forgotten his wallet, and had to return back to his home in Prescott, before meeting with us. He’d hook up with us in Laughlin that evening. During the trip up highway 85, I noticed a unique feature on Mike’s Stelvio. His brake light seemed to have a nervous condition, blinking randomly. Hmm, I thought to myself, might be a useful guide for those of us behind him, if we run into snow or heavy rain... but the Guzzi definitely had an issue with it’s brake light circuit.

As we were gliding onto the entrance ramp to I-10 west from highway 85, I noticed Mike S. waving at me from his Goldwing. Pulling over I was wondering why. Asking him as he pulled aside, he simply pointed to the spot on my rear seat where my small duffel bag used to be... damn. He’d seen it come off just before hitting the exit from 85, and said he knew where it was. He, myself and Mike O. took off down I-10 to circle back to 85 and find it, while Dean waited for us further down. During this brisk backtrack Mike O. noticed the Guzzi had cleared its throat and suddenly became much louder, like he’d blown something out during the high RPM run back to my duffel bag. More on this later*... anyway, Mike Shaffer’s eagle eyes located my bag. There it was, laying in the passing lane of 85, thankfully with no tire tread marks on it. Re-learning this lesson, I tied my sh%&*t down securely this time!

 Taking highway 60, Dean led us to 72 north, through Brouse and Parker, then onto I-40 briefly to highway 95. The skies had cleared totally from the brief showers on I-8, and we enjoyed a tasty lunch beside the river just up the highway from Parker. Here, Mike checked his brakes, but didn’t have the tools to do any permanent adjustment or diagnosis of his brake switches. A quick inspection of his engine, heads and exhaust, didn’t reveal any obvious issues either. Personally, I thought the more throaty roar of the Guzzi was an improvement, and my theory is the Stelvio just wanted attention. Being loud and erratic was something we could live with, at least for the next couple days! Dean continued taking us up through Fort Mohave and to Laughlin via Bullhead City. With approximatley 380 miles behind us, we welcomed the sight of the Edgewater Casino, where Jim Phillips had already arrived and was waiting for us. After checking in and freshening up, Jim bought us a round at the Riverside bar in the hotel, then we hiked over and had dinner down the strip at the Brew Brothers Tap House. It had been a great first day.

Day 2: Laughlin to DV and Beatty NV.

 he Edgewater Casino was pretty limited in its offering of food, but it did have a Denny’s located one floor down from the lobby, that was open 24 hours. We took advantage of this and had a pretty decent breakfast before departing Laughlin. Again with temps hovering right about 50 degrees we proceeded on 163 west and to Searchlight on highway 95, for a planned gas stop. After topping off, and taking a bio break, I saw four of Nevada’s finest parked very near our bikes in the parking lot. I was thinking, “What the heck? How’d we get stopped just getting gas?” Turned out it was just law enforcement discussing the errors of a local panhandler’s ways. No, the panhandler was not part of our group...

 Our luck was holding weather wise, there was no rain expected on this day. Onto highway 164 west, to I-15 S, to Baker, then highway 127 to Shoshone for lunch at the Crow Bar was our plan. Mike Ostrom had taken the lead on highway 127 and the only disruption from our plan was Mike O. doing an unscheduled 180 degree turn, Guzzi’ing back south, going by us at a Mike Ostrom clip. We continued ahead, as Mike didn’t seem to be in any distress, he looked like he was just having fun, which, of course, was the point of the ride. We pulled over a few miles ahead, just to be sure, but Mike didn’t catch up as we waited. We made the decision to forge onto Shoshone, guessing correctly that he’d meet us there. Turned out he’d lost a knob off his windscreen, and went back to get it. The Stelvio definitely wanted Mikes full attention...

The sky’s were generally pretty clear on our trip to Shoshone, but the temps dropped into the 40’s, and the winds picked up significantly. Dean on his V-Strom 650 and Jim on his K75 were tossed about some, but both managed to not do any unscheduled off roading. The fairing on the GTL let me know there was air moving about, with lateral velocity, but was pretty stable nonethless, and Mike S. on the big Goldwing wondered, “what wind???” The winds kept up for the most part over Jubilee Pass and into Death Valley as we swept to & fro on Badwater Rd. As expected it warmed up significantly by the time we arrived at Badwater Basin.  We stopped and admired the incredible vistas of the valley and the surrounding ranges. The weather produced clouds and styrations of shade and light which amplified the colors of the cliffs and mountains around us. Simply breathtaking. As we headed up highway 190 on the transit to Beatty, the GTL reported a high of 77 degrees before ascending up Daylight Pass road and back into Nevada. We arrived at the Exchange club before dusk, with temperatures hovering in the low 50’s across Daylight Pass. We checked in and headed across the street for some brews. Mike Ostrom spotted some burros crossing the street, but they were not interested in making his acquintance. After, we had some darn good food at Smokin J’s Barbeque, a new place directly in front of the Exchange Club hotel. This made Day 2 complete and utterly successful!

Day 3: Beatty to Boulder City

 We knew the temperatures departing Beatty on this day would be some of the coldest, if not thee coldest, we would experience on this ride (little did we know...). So everyone was geared up properly expecting temperatures in the 30’s when we got on the road. Fortunately, it was only in the low forty’s by the time we’d finished breakfast, milder than we had expected. We had a good breakfast at Mel’s diner (the Chicken Fried Steak there is awesome, and big enough to use as a heated seat pad, but a lot tastier!)  We then hit Daylight Pass road back down to the valley. The trip from Beatty to Boulder City is not that far, and we wanted to see more of the valley before we headed back to the southeast. Jim suggested we explore the northern part of DV National Park, which some of us had never done. We all decided it was a great idea, so off we went down into the valley, making a right at highway 190. The roadside signs warned that the road to Scotty’s Castle was closed due to flood damage, but we pressed on, deciding to go as far as we could. Indeed, the road to Scotty’s was closed, but a quick left onto Ubehebe Crater Road took us to that big hole in the ground. Pretty cool. Round trip out to Ubehebe and back from the junction of Daylight Pass and 190 is about 90 miles, it was a nice addition to our ride. After a top off of fuel at Furnace Creek, Dean decided he wanted to get back to Shoshone via a different route than Badwater Road & Jubilee pass, hoping to avoid any further winds. Jim and Mike S. decided to accompany him on the northern route along 95, while Mike O. and I wanted to do Badwater Basin Road again. Along the way we decided to do Artist’s Drive as well. It would have been a shame to come all that way and not done so at least once on such a sterling sunny day, plus it turned out the winds were minimal. We all agreed to meet back up in Shoshone for a quick lunch at the Crow Bar again (currently serving takeout only).  Going back through Jubilee Pass lowered our riding temperatures, to slightly below 40 degrees. It was a harbinger of what we would experience on the way to Boulder City through Mountain Springs Pass. Jim, Mike S. And Dean were waiting for Mike and I when we arrived at Shoshone & after a quick bite Dean again took the lead, to Pahrump and 160 through Mountain Springs Pass and into the Las Vegas basin. The temperature dropped to about 39 going through the pass & the 215 bypass was busy, although I think we’ve all seen worse city traffic. We came into Boulder City with an ominous cloud front further off to the south east, and we were glad to get checked into the inn and have refreshments across the street at the Boulder Dam Brewing Co.

Day 4: Boulder City to Tucson

 We discussed the best (i.e., potentially driest) route back to Tucson, as it was plain from all the weather predictions we would be hitting some cold temps and rain on our way home. Mike Shaffer had decided to skip Boulder City and had gone back to Laughlin the previous day. He texted us that evening and said it was snowing in Laughlin. We agreed to meet him in Kingman the next day at the TA stop just before the I-40 exit. A buddy of Dean’s who lived in the Peoples Valley area between Wickenburg and Prescott, had sent him a text and video of snow falling there. So, looking at the weather maps, it was decided to head to Kingman via highway 93, and then make a gametime decision as how to go from there. Jim was having some troubles with the carburetion on his K75, ever since we’d dropped down below sea level at Death Valley. Apparently the K75 didn’t like negative numbers, or large changes in elevation in either direction. The stalling out continued on our way out of Boulder City, but Jim knows his bike, and promised it some loving care when we got to our next stop. The storm was heavy ahead of us, it was pretty obvious we’d be lucky to thread the needle between downpours. We met Mike in Kingman as planned,  Jim got out his miracle fuel/oxygen delivery gizmo, installed it & cured the K75’s balks. We all fueled up, drained out, and then hit I-40 to go straight to Wikenburg, continuing on 93 south. It was pretty cold and we hit moderately heavy rain just before Wickenburg. On previous rides we’d taken Vulture Mine Road from Wickenburg, but with the weather ahead still looking bad, we decided to skip it this time, make a beeline for the Phoenix area. Dean brought us to the 303 loop through more rain, where just before, Jim had peeled off to go to his place in Prescott. Down the 303, to the I-10 and then the 202 south loop brought us back to I-10 east. This was a smart move because it looked like the skies had opened up to the north east. We encountered more rain around the Toltec exits heading to Tucson.

 

The cold and rain was a challenge, but was it worth it? Hell yes! I clocked 1343 miles from my house and personally I would not have missed just about any of it. It was a pleasure riding with these gentleman.

 

Thank you Dean Hurt, Mike Ostrom, Jim Phillips and Mike Shaffer. I’ll ride with you all anytime!

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