Thursday, January 31, 2008

Stage 4 - Furnace Creek to Shoshone

THE ORIGIN OF PEOPLE (Death Valley, California. Shoshoni)
Part 4 - There were two women living at this house, the woman he had followed and her mother. The women were sitting outside their house. They told Coyote to go inside and sit down. When Coyote went in, he saw quivers made of fox skin hanging all over the wall.

Furnace Creek sits amid a brief gap in the Amargosa Range; The Funerals extend to the north and the Black Mountains run to the south terminating at the Ibex Hills. Climbing and descending multiple alluvial fans, the route to Shoshone skirts the base of the Blacks before exiting Death Valley near the ruins at Ashford Mill. Once you climb over the Blacks and make your first crossing of the Ibex Hills, it’s a quick little descent into Greenwater Valley and the Furnace Creek Wash. From there, Shoshone is just a short ride ahead.

It was after four A.M. when I pulled out of the Furnace Creek time station. We probably spent too much time there. Since it had been a long twenty four hours, the brief rest was good for me and for the crew. Almost immediately after getting back on the North Highway the turn onto the Badwater Road marked the beginning of a never ending desert roller ride through the Middle Basin.

Just past Badwater my night began to take on a surreal guise. I don’t recall exactly where I saw the coyote. His large white profile stood just off the road. He turned his head to watch until I was right next to him. From just a few feet to my left, he ran ahead and disappeared into the night. That was my first encounter with Coyote; my Spirit Guide.

I had no concept of the passing of time. I just pedaled. Deep into its last quarter, the waning moon shone brightly amongst the gaps in the black escarpment to the east. A bright planet accompanied the slim crescent in a celestial duet; from my varying perspective riding along the base of the cliffs, I fixed my attention on the display that continually appeared and reappeared.

The predawn glow turned the sky from a milky black to a deep cold blue. Across the valley to the west, first light was the tip of Telescope Peak. As the remainder of the Panamint Range awakened in a cauldron of red, I was struggling to stay awake. My body felt fine. My mind was exhausted.

After Mormon Point, Jaguar pulled up alongside the Thrasher Team while I was getting off the bike. “I’m having trouble staying awake”, I said. Jaguar said that he was sure that I’d feel better when the sun came up. I hoped he was right as I climbed in the van with Desiree and fell into a deep sleep.

Rob virtually yanked me out of the van. “Enough sleep”, he said, “We’ve got to get going”. By that point in the ride, I had learned to trust Rob without question. He told me that I had slept for twenty minutes; he rolled my bike in front of me and said something like, “Get going”. I did what I was told.

I felt renewed as daylight crept across the desert floor.

Pinched between the Owlshead Mountains and the Blacks, Ashford Mill sits in the narrowest part of this end of the valley. The Amargosa River funnels through The Narrows at Ashford Junction. I’m not a geologist, but it appeared to me that the concentrating effect of the narrowed drainage system improved the quantity and the variety of plant species found in the area.

One last glance across the valley at the Confidence Hills and we headed east toward Jubilee Pass. Jubilee Pass is the climb that takes you over the Black Mountains and out of Death Valley. From the top of the pass the view back into the valley is unforgettable.

I don’t think that I stopped at the Jubilee summit. Tucked onto my aerobars I relaxed down the quick little descent to the base of the Salsberry climb. This steady grade up the west flank of the Ibex Hills gave me plenty of time for sightseeing. I was intrigued by Epaulet Peak and Calico Peaks to the north. I searched the top of Salsberry Pass for the Devil; I had heard he lived there. All I saw was Sheephead Mountain.

The easy cruise from Salsberry Pass into Greenwater Valley and across the Furnace Creek Wash just flew by. We rolled onto Highway 127 and picked up a decent tailwind that pushed me into the Shoshone time station at noon.

My spirits were high.

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