An electrical mountain bike expedition by Loss of life Valley first

There are few feelings I despise more than waking up and not being able to feel my toes. However, this is the stake you need to make occasionally when you are planning to tackle an epic poem.

When we woke up on our second morning in Death Valley, the temperatures were hovering in the low 20s, frost covered my sleeping bag and the batteries on our eMTBs had shut down because, like us, they didn’t like the cold. On the plus side, the sun would rise soon and we knew morale would rise with it. Making coffee with a view of the racetrack at dawn, a phenomenon where rocks move almost magically on their own, wasn’t bad either.

Andy Cochrane

The five of us, a Riffraff crew from Durango, CO, Mammoth, CA, and Jackson, WY, got together to test a new Specialized electric bike, the Turbo Levo SL. Long miles of washboard dirt roads, loose rocky climbs and empty basin and reach land were on the agenda. The new SL weighs just 33 pounds, not much more than most non-electric mountain bikes, and we hoped it would be the ideal tool to unlock a new route using Pedal Assistant to tackle the biggest climbs without a huge weight penalty.

The mountain bike expedition through Death ValleyAndy Cochrane

We learned a lot over the course of the week – and probably set a world record for routes ridden on e-bikes with the device switched off. I can imagine that we will keep this up for a while. [Spoiler alert] In the end, the motorcycles did their job admirably, adding enough juice to climb 5,000-foot passes as they meandered through the largest national park in the lower 48. We connected a trio of supply points and rode a loop that probably doesn’t allow normal pedal bikes outside of the best riders in the world. That’s how we did it.

The mountain bike expedition through Death ValleyAndy Cochrane

The place: Death Valley may not get the love its western neighbors, Yosemite and Sequoia, are accustomed to, and neither may those to the east – Zion, Arches, and the Grand Canyon -. However, the relative darkness of this hot, dry, and huge park is exactly what makes it special. Death Valley is one and a half times the size of Yellowstone, the second largest park in the lower 48, and encompasses sprawling 3.4 million acres of deserted land, mostly connected by rugged dirt roads. The park includes the lowest elevation in the country, Badwater, at 279 feet below sea level to Telescope Peak, just over 11,000 feet.

The mountain bike expedition through Death ValleyAndy Cochrane

The route: We were hoping to connect some of the most famous but most underrated and least visited places in the park including Saline Warm Springs, the circuit and grandstand, Ubehebe Crater, Titus and Echo Gorges, Badwater Basin , Devil’s Cornfield, Mesquite Dunes and Darwin Falls, all by bike. To do this we would have to go over 300 miles of 30,000 feet of climbing, mostly on dirt. A few people who’d packed their bikes in Death Valley before us said with very little uncertainty that we were crazy – on these roads it was difficult, if not impossible, to get an average of more than 30 miles a day. And there would be almost no water. Despite the warning, we decided to do it anyway.

The mountain bike expedition through Death ValleyAndy Cochrane

We started in the northwest corner and did a big loop clockwise. We stopped every night to camp when we were running low to no energy. To make everything possible, we stopped at Beatty, Furnace Creek, and Panamint Springs to charge the bikes and refill the water. At times we drove with 8 liters each, so that we could drive for two days without drinking water. The terrain in this corner of the country is colloquially known as the “basin and reach,” and we quickly learned why. Reaching each successive valley required a serious climb up a mountain pass, many of which were thousands of feet long and took hours to climb.

The mountain bike expedition through Death ValleyAndy Cochrane

Equipment: The Levo SL was the crucial part that was hard to replace, but other parts in our kit also helped us make the trip possible. We all had normal items: sleeping bags, clothes, bike shoes, water bottles, headlights, first aid kits, repair kits, spares, and lots of instant coffee, but a few things stood out from the rest. Here are a few pieces of equipment I would highly recommend for any trip, but especially the longer and more difficult ones that you might want to tackle.

The mountain bike expedition through Death ValleyAndy Cochrane

A Primus PrimeTech stove system was a seamless way to feed a group of five without wasting fuel or adding tons of weight. MSR Carbon Reflex 3 tents are perfect for packing bicycles as they can withstand strong winds and are smaller and lighter than anything I’ve tested. The crews and hydration mix at Skratch propelled us forward during the day, while the horchata-flavored recreational mix was a highlight of every night. The Topo Designs Hybrid Hoodie and the Ultralight Jacket turned out to be the perfect combination for riding through mixed temperatures and also for hanging out in camp.

The mountain bike expedition through Death ValleyAndy Cochrane

A Garmin InReach Mini let my mom know that we were safe and could relax a little. An Osprey Siskin pack didn’t rub or stress my back even on the worst of roads and long days. It’s always worth having a couple of extra voile straps to tie things down with ease and security. And the food. We mostly ate Patagonia commission meals with some Snickers. You can’t go wrong with wild salmon and chili mango.

The mountain bike expedition through Death ValleyAndy Cochrane

The crew: The biggest variable of an expedition is not the weather, the roads or the wildlife, but the attitude of the group. It’s something that you can’t pack or prepare for, but that can ultimately make or break a trip. And luckily we were stacked in spades. A bicycle mechanic, a professional cyclist, a semi-pro comedian, a musician, and I, a writer and suffering lover. Sometimes laughter takes you further than anything else.

The mountain bike expedition through Death ValleyAndy Cochrane

The challenges: To be clear, neither of us was sure how everything was going to go – nor were we really sure what problems we might encounter along the way that we would have to solve. Sure, we had a lot planned in the months leading up to our departure, but if 2020 taught us anything then all bets will be void. Would we run out of batteries or water first? How would we ration the pedal assistant and how would it be used most efficiently? Where would we calculate in any small town? How many miles could we realistically drive each day before one of us Uncle calls? Would there be any problems with the bike mechanics? Bad attitudes? Wind, cold or snow days in the highlands?

The mountain bike expedition through Death ValleyAndy Cochrane

As with any other adventure, our preparation and planning would only get us so far and the rest would be left for now. We’d have to solve a lot of it in real time because curveballs were thrown at us.

The mountain bike expedition through Death ValleyAndy Cochrane

The knowledge gained: In the end, we did everything possible, driving the entire 300 mile loop through winding canyons, large mountain passes and some easy cruises on paved highways. We learned more than a few things along the way, including the following.

The mountain bike expedition through Death ValleyAndy Cochrane

If the battery is dead, just keep pedaling. Digital performance is finite, analog performance is less, especially when you have a lot of candy.

The mountain bike expedition through Death ValleyAndy Cochrane

A Grand Slam breakfast while traveling at Denny’s changes the game in several ways. We partied in Beatty and tanked up for the long days and I will never forget this meal. If Google Maps, Gaia and your bike computer go down, just trust your gut. Old dirt roads can meander and disappear, but you can still drive on. Most importantly, share the burden. We took turns breaking the wind, making dinner, and finding routes that would all save enough mental energy to assert ourselves. If this were all in one person, the outcome would likely have been different.

The mountain bike expedition through Death ValleyAndy Cochrane

– Watch recent shows from Cochrane including a bike-to-ski trail of volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest, a look at life on a crab boat in Alaska, coverage of the Baja 1000, and the story of an evacuation of the canyon deep in the Mexican jungle.

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