archival and resource material for human powered recumbent tricycles

Death Valley

Dana Lieberman, owner of Bent-Up Cycles in Van Nuys, California, has taken a few trike trips, three of which are found on the CGOAB website (Crazy Guy on a Bike). Dana has ridden three human-powered wheels through Death Valley, along the Oregon coast, and in California around Big Sur. This page will feature his Death Valley trip. Here is the tale from Mr. Bent-Up Cycle himself:

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14 wheels, five riders and a dog tackle Death Valley

133 miles (214 km) over 4 days from February 17, 2006 to February 20, 2006

by Dana Lieberman


I needed a vacation…by mid-November of 05, I REALLY needed a vacation! Last year, I attempted the Big Sur coastline in February, but had to cut the trip short due to knee problems. So, it seemed obvious that I should try again, but this time with some company.

I wish I could say that I had some plan or criteria for inviting people, but mostly it was a matter of who happened to be in the shop when I was thinking or talking about my trip. The group changed in size throughout the planning process, and finalized at 5 just a couple days before the trip.

Scott and Jodi have been long-distance customers for awhile. Scott was one of the first to test ride the HP Velotechnik StreetMachine when I was still working out of the house. The two of them have toured extensively, and have published numerous journals on this site. They are a mellow, easy-going couple who seemed like perfect companions…and they usually bring their dog Django! They were riding a Greenspeed GTT tandem trike with a Burley trailer for Django.

Neal is the manager of Adventure 16 in Tarzana. He started as another customer buying a Greenspeed trike for touring, but over the months we became friends. He was the first person to actually commit to this adventure, long before we even knew what it would be! Needless to say, he rode his Greenspeed GTO.

Neal and Dimitri ready to go!

Dimitri came into the shop last summer, and after some conversation we realized that we went to the same summer camp together some 20 years ago! Dimitri also set me up with my first job…selling flowers on freeway offramps (back when it was safe), the year after we went to camp together. He is pretty new to bike touring, and was looking forward to trying it out. He defintely kept everyone entertained throughout the trip! He rode his ICE S trike.

There were a number of other riders who wanted to go, but for various reasons, couldn’t make it in the end.

The original plan was to ride the Big Sur Coast. Various iterations of the ride went around the group, and we finally decided that a 4-day trip from Monterrey to San Luis Obispo would be perfect. We all crossed our fingers and hoped for good weather (we all agreed that we would ride if there was a slight chance of rain, but didn’t want to spend four days riding in the rain).

The week before the ride, we all began checking the weather. As the days progressed, it looked more and more like we would hit some rain. So, three days before the trip, we switched to Plan B – Scott recommended a route through Death Valley. The weather seemed to be in our favor, and the mileage was about right. So Death Valley it was!

Now, I will say that I wasn’t exceptionally excited about Death Valley. I don’t consider myself a desert person, and wasn’t looking forward to four days looking at dirt. Scott and Jodi were convinced that Death Valley would change my perceptions, so I agreed to give it a try….


Day Zero: Getting ready to hit the road:

Thursday was hard…I was planning on closing the shop early to meet Dimitri and Neal at Adventure 16 with the rental truck, and off we would go to Baker. Needless to say, my mind was pretty preoccupied, and I was fortunate that it was slow.

All packed up and ready to go.

Dimitri with his trike.

We met up on time, and avoided most of the traffic on the way out to the desert. We stopped for dinner in Victorville, and decided to do some grocery shopping in Baker since the first night would be a dry camp. Of course, once we arrived in Baker, we found out that the closest markets were in Las Vegas and Pahrump! Fortunately, Pahrump was only 25 miles beyond the meeting point in Shoshone, so we agreed to get up a little earlier, drive to Pahrump to go shopping, and meet Scott and Jodi at 9ish.

Hotel in Baker


Day One: Shoshone to a Dirt Road in the Middle of Nowhere:

Friday February 17, 2006, 33 miles (53 km) – Total so far: 33 miles (53 km)

Our first day didn’t start as hoped…we woke up in the morning in Baker with intentions of getting dressed, driving to Pahrump for groceries, and then meeting Scott and Jodi at 9ish in Shoshone. While getting dressed, I realized that I had left my cycling shoes at home! All I had were a pair of Keen sandals and some Eggbeater pedals…not the greatest combination for anything other than running down the street to pick up lunch!

We decided to check out Pahrump for a bike shop, and worst case, buy some platform pedals at Walmart. We searched and searched, but could not find a “real” bike shop. So Walmart pedals it was…all $5.74 worth! As we were all on trikes, two riders were using toe-straps for parking brakes, and graciously donated them to me to avoid my foot falling off at speed. Overall, the system worked fine.

Jodi is ready to go!

We ended up meeting Scott and Jodi at 11am, and we were off shortly thereafter. The day’s ride ascended up Hwy 178 to the top of Salsbury Pass, a 12 mile, 1500 foot climb that was low grade, but seemed to go on forever. However, the sun was shining, everyone was excited and talkative, so we just enjoyed the ride up the pass.

Neal on the go!

Entering Death Valley!

Descending off the top of Salsbury Pass was one of the most amazing experiences – I felt like I was hang gliding down the pass. Some clouds had come out, so the sun appeared and disappeared throughout the 12 mile descent, lighting the canyons and mountains in a variety of colors and shapes. Truly breathtaking!

Scott, Jodi and Django cresting Jubilee Pass

Django is thrilled to get to the top and get off his feet.

A quick climb up Jubilee Pass and another, steeper descent to the Valley Floor. We continued along for about another 5 miles to a dirt road that led us down to a flat, out-of-the-way spot for camping. The dirt was so loose on the road, we had to pedal to go downhill!

Setting up camp was fun as it was the first night. Dimitri’s tent ripped, and I managed to burn a small hole in Neal’s tarp. Neal and I used a Kiva (by Mountain Hardware), which is a teepee style tent with no floor. It is large, and gave plenty of room for cooking out of the wind. To be honest, we were both pretty amazed it didn’t blow away given the wind!

As you can see, we weren’t worried about Dimitri getting lost in the desert!

Dimitri tries to figure out his tent


Day Two: Middle of Nowhere to Furnace Creek:

Saturday February 18, 2006, 43 miles (69 km) – Total so far: 76 miles (122 km)

The prior night brought a few drops of rain, and the moon peered out among the clouds every so often. But with the start of the second day, the skies were clear, and there was a nice wind out of the West. We broke camp and started with a hike out of the camping spot. While I may not follow Dimitri’s fashion sense, he was smart enough to figure out that towing a trike is easier than pushing one! He easily beat us to the top, and waited patiently for us slow-pokes to arrive!

The route was a rolling 43 mile stretch of quiet road up to Furnace Creek. The amazing tailwinds allowed us to make good time. We separated pretty quickly, with the plan to meet up in Badwater for a break. Neal and I cruised through some breathtaking scenery…smooth, gentle hillsides off to our left, rough-hewn, colorful crags to our right, and intermittent fields of pretty yellow flowers blooming in the sun.

Neal taking a break to look at the scenery.

Fields of yellow flowers.

We met up in Badwater and answered the usual questions from tourists. I tried really hard not to fall into “bike shop owner” mode, but still managed to hand out a few business cards. We found a guy wearing a “Got Glogg” t-shirt to take our picture:

It was obvious that the Park administrators had ideas about where the tourists should go. From Badwater to Furnace Creek, the roads improved tremendously, as did the number of vehicles. However, all of the drivers were courteous and gave us plenty of room. One couple even pulled over to take our pictures and seemed a bit taken aback by this guy cruising down the road in lycra bellowing “Piano Man” at the top of his lungs. Sing like no one’s listening, right? You should see me dance…

A view from the cockpit

Overlooking the mountains

We arrived in Furnace Creek in short order, and had lunch at the General Store in the Furnace Creek Resort. I was thrilled to finally plug in my new Garmin Edge 305 to get enough juice to get me through the next two days. I opened my bag and realized I had grabbed the cell phone charger! I am 0 for 2 on this trip!!!

Jodi was smart enough to grab the weather report…70% chance of rain and heavy wind predicted for that night and tomorrow! Oh well…that’s why we brought rain gear right? After all, I told everyone during preparations, if you bring rain gear, it won’t rain. It’s only if you don’t bring the gear that you are guaranteed a shower!

Tent campground was full, so we ended up camping in an RV park. The wind was so strong, we anchored the Kiva to an RV, and Dimitri didn’t even bother trying to pitch his tent. After a wonderful $3, luke-warm shower at the Resort, dinner in one of their fine dining establishments, it was back to our humble home amidst the generators. Fortunately, they were all off by 8 (the last person to turn his off got an applause from 5 tired cyclists), and it was actually very quiet the rest of the night. The wind was non-existent and the expected rain never materialized.

Camping in an RV Park


Day Three: Furnace Creek to Death Valley Junction:

Sunday February 19, 2006, 29 miles (47 km) – Total so far: 105 miles (169 km)

We awoke on Sunday morning to cloud cover and scattered sprinkles. Up in the mountains we could see that there were showers right where we were heading…a 19 mile climb up past Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View, over the top and down into Death Valley Junction. After a nice breakfast, we suited up and headed up the mountain.

The climbing was not difficult…Scott told us later that the average grade was only 3%. I might have been able to provide additional information with the GPS unit, but the only fully charged electronic device in my possession was the cell phone (and of course, no cell phone reception!).

During a brief stop at Zabriskie Point, it started to rain.

(Brief note: It was determined that the rain was, in fact, my fault. See…despite my previous lectures about bringing rain gear, I decided to leave my rain pants at home, thus ensuring that we would get rain!)

We all doned our rain gear and headed out. By the time we left the parking lot, it had stopped. That pretty much summarizes the climb…clothes on, clothes off, clothes on, clothes off…etc., etc., etc. I finally realized that it was much easier taking the jacket on and off if I just wore it backwards!

Dimitri, our Russian cosmonaut!

Scott, Jodi and Django approaching the summit.

We summited the pass at 3040 feet. However, since the summit was not actually marked, we had to guess! The star of the day was Django, who walked the entire 19 miles!

Look out fashion police!

The 10-mile ride down the other side was rather uninspiring as far as speed was concerned, but the views were stunning. The landscape had changed dramatically from Death Valley – we were now descending onto a seemingly empty plain, gently rising on all sides to form a low bowl of green scrub brush. Our destination, Death Valley Junction, was in the dead-center.

We arrived at the Junction, and unanimously decided to stay at the Amargosa Hotel instead of camping. This hotel is a Historical Monument, and features the Amargosa Opera House which is owned/run by Marta who puts on one-person plays (unfortunately, she was injured and not providing a show during our stay).

Rene and Elizabeth were our hosts, and went over and above by allowing us to park the trikes inside and letting Django in, despite the sign saying “no pets.” Elizabeth also gave me and Neal a ride to a nearby casino to pick up pizza(being driven down a rain-soaked road by an ADD woman with a cigarette in one hand and flipping her hair with the other was one of the scarier experiences of my life, and the pizza was one of the worst!). But we all got showers, met some interesting people, and had a good night sleep. .


Day Four: Death Valley Junction to Shoshone:

Monday February 20, 2006, 28 miles (45 km) – Total so far: 133 miles (214 km)

Three trikers outside the Amargosa Hotel.

Our last day arrived bright and sunny, but chilly. Scott and Jodi left about an hour ahead of us to meet up with a friend in Shoshone. We took it easy, as we knew it would be a quick day of riding. Once on the road, we cruised along at a nice pace with a slight descent along the entire 28 miles, and brisk tailwinds.

Pacelining on trikes!

We easily completed the 28 miles in 2 hours, and still managed to soak in the scenery and enjoy the quiet, well-paved roads.

Neal and Dimitri cresting a small rise.



Equipment List and Review:

I wasn’t too keen on writing this list…I often find these lists uninteresting to read, but a few people have asked. So here goes! I will also include some thoughts about some of the gear I used:

Trice XXL with the seat almost completely reclined Avid BB7 Mechanical Disk Brakes XTR Rear Derailleur Dura Ace Front Derailleur 155mm 26/39/52 Rotor Cranks Bar End Shifters Schwalbe Marathon Slicks Fenders all around Rear Rack Headrest

A set of Arkel RT60 Panniers and a TailRider contained: Sierra Designs down sleeping bag Thermarest pad CampingGaz stove and two cannisters of fuel 2.5Q Pot with lid/plate Fork/Knife/Spoon set Matches First Aid Kit Toilet Paper Baby Wipes Chamois towel 2 pairs of cycling shorts 2 Mt Borah Recumbent Jerseys 2 pairs cycling tights 3 pair wool socks 1 pair light gloves 1 pair waterproof gloves 1 balaclava 1 Mt. Borah windbreaker 1 Burley Rain jacket 1 pair waterproof RockSoks 2 Patagonia long sleeve undershirts 1 pair of Keen sandal-type shoes (should have been Lake cycling sandals) 1 pair sunglasses with interchangeable lenses 1 set of Patagonia silk long underwear (for camp) 1 pair fleece pants and sweater(for camp) 4 waterbottles 1 Fastback Designs Carbon system to carry 3L of water under the seat Toolkit with basic tools and spare tubes Flashlight Extra batteries Cell phone Charger Garmin 305 Edge GPS unit The Postman by David Brin (no, I never saw the movie and read the book years before the movie was made)

Overall, I packed light for this trip. I am notorious for overpacking. I probably could have left a few things at home…didn’t need 2 pairs of tights, 2 jerseys, and 3 pairs of socks. Also, the Burley rain jacket saw no use, but since we didn’t know what the weather would be like, it was required.

I fell in love with the DeFeet Woolie Boolie and Blaze wool socks! I couldn’t tell the difference between the two, but they both made the RockSoks obsolete for the cold.

The Garmin GPS is fun, but I am frustrated with the 12 hour battery life. Note, to get 12 hours, I had to turn down the contrast enough so that I could barely read the screen.

Neal suggested the balaclava, and it was wonderful! It is so versatile – I could turn it into a hat, or cover my entire face, and everything in between.


Final thoughts:

Well, I was wrong about the desert…at least Death Valley and it’s surrounding areas. The variety of geological specimens and constant change in color, topography and flora made for a beautiful, exciting ride that kept me wondering “what’s next?” I would do this ride again in a heartbeat, and look forward to exploring more of Death Valley in the future.

I have toured in the past on upright bikes, as well as recumbents. This was my first experience touring on a trike. I don’t think I could go back to 2-wheelers. It was so pleasant being able to enjoy my surroundings, take pictures, grab a snack or change clothes without having to stop. However, trikes do have their disadvantages. They are heavier. Also, since they have three tracks instead of one, you tend to feel the road more than you would on a 2-wheeler. For about 15 miles, I was wishing I had larger, high volume tires. But once we hit the good pavement, I didn’t give it another thought. Finally, they attract alot of attention. Don’t ride a trike unless you like meeting people!

Yes…we are already planning our next trip…

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Visit Dana’s trike dealership HERE.







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