To the left, an ocean of sand and rock. To the right, an ocean of rock and sand. This is an intimidating environment for anyone, and a name like ‘’Death Valley’’ does not inspire much confidence.
Death Valley is a desert located on the east side of California, the lowest point in North-America (86m below sea level). The desert is surrounded by massive mountains. The highest mountain in the Continental U.S, Mount Whitney (4,421m) lies a mere 136km away from the lowest point. This place is full of geological wonders.
I had visited Tucson and Utah for training camps in the past, but the desert loses its intimidating nature when you are surrounded by taco shops and Mickey Ds. Civilization is sparse in Death Valley, it seems like a different planet. A feeling of discomfort and apprehension was felt by both of us as we filled up the car with fuel for the last time before heading into the valley.
An evening surrounded by sand dunes was a stunning introduction to the valley and did a lot to show us the beauty hidden within this vast landscape. The stars now in the sky, our nerves at ease and sand in places where sand shouldn’t be, we headed to our camp for the night. What more did this place have in store for us?
The next morning we saw a warning sign posted on the outhouse at the campground. It mentioned the dangers of venturing out into the desert and threatened the unprepared explorer with a terrifying sizzle death if he or she was not careful. Note was taken, but it did not change our plan to explore the neighbouring valleys over the following days. We did not have the ideal equipment and we were taking a chance, but we both decided that we could manage the risk by being careful and that the adventures would be worth it.
Deep into the desert we traveled. As we went over passes to neighbouring valleys to explore salt flats and plateaus, the bikes hanging of the bike rack and dust caking everything, the desert showed us it’s true colour.
What was apprehension at first turned into awe and both of us became captivated with how much there was to discover here. The adventures were a success and by the time we got back, a strong appreciation for the terrain had developed in Turner and I.
It was hard to ignore that if we had not pushed through our discomfort, we would never have discovered the beauty of this place. Sometimes it is worth taking the risk. I don’t know when I will return to the desert, but I am sure that our time in Death Valley was enough to keep pulling me back to it for a long time.
Felix Burke is cross country racer from Mont-Tremblant, Que., training in Victoria, B.C. while studying at the University of Victoria. In 2018, Burke achieved his goal of winning the Canada Cup XCO series overall, racing for Rocky Mountain Bicycles. When returning to studies and training in September didn’t feel right, Burke decided to find answers on the trail. Where the Trail Leads is Burke’s story of the journey that follows. Chapter 1: New Season New Plan. Chapter 2: Planning. Chapter 3: Mt. Hood, Ore., Chapter 4: Dust and Burritos in Bend, Ore., Chapter 5: Bucketlist rides in Downieville, Cali, and Chapter 6: Wrong turns in San Francisco.