China Garden to Panamint (Oct 28th)

China garden was a surprising, cool oasis in the desert. It had trees, reeds, and even goldfish!

Nip decided to take a seat and share a snack with them. The fish seemed surprisingly well-fed for being in such an otherwise barren environment.

Relieving myself of my jacket, I explored the nearby foundations, and tried to imagine what buildings used to be here.

One of them bore the plaque, “In memory of Willy Saurer”, but it seemed likely to have been placed there recently.

I followed tiny mule hoofprints over a hill, where I discovered an old mining shack.

When I returned to the oasis, Pete was thirsty, and wanted to try out his new water filtration straw. He looked a bit silly, but hey, whatever works! I won’t be trading my water filter in any time soon.

We wandered back to the bikes, and noticed that Nip had a flat tire. A challenge! We quickly set to work. I liked the adjustable side stand Pete had to help prop up the bike.

Nip had never changed a tire before, so it was kinda fun to show him the ropes. I sat back and took pictures for the most part, because there’s only so many hands you need to take off a tire.

Next step was finding the leak, glad we had that pond to help us out! The spot to be patched looked as though it had been worn down, via friction or otherwise, it was not a nice clean puncture hole. Strange.

Nip patched it up. I helped a bit with getting the tube back in and the tire back on the rim. Pete aired it up with his compressor, and we were good to go!

To get to Panamint, we would have to go up a soft, deep gravel trail which we had seen earlier. I was not so sure about this part, as it seemed fairly difficult. Pete tried to reassure my concerns, saying that it would probably level out soon after.

Yeah, about that…

Because I am a sissy and was too afraid to stand up and lean forward, my rear tire kept digging into the gravel and swam through it, instead of fishtailing along on top. At one point, the road got a bit steeper and this happened.

I couldn’t get the kickstand down, so I just left it, wedged there in the gravel, giving a desperate little laugh about the situation as I took photos. Pete and Nip came back to help me, and as I hopped on the bike, I forgot that the kickstand wasn’t down and fell over. Awesome.

(Thanks for the photo, Pete!)

So, now what? “Get on and gas it, we’ll push you out of the hole!” Uhh. What. This was something I’d never had to deal with, and concerns flew through my mind. Would the bike roll backwards and hurt somebody? Would rocks come flying out? Would I careen forward madly and injure myself? I ignored them and tried to focus. Lean forward. Gas it.. stall. Restart, slowly let out the clutch… and I’m free! I fishtailed my way past where their bikes were parked and slowly puttered on.

The road kept climbing higher and higher. The gravel got a bit less terrible. Maybe the hard part is over!

God damnit.

I’ll admit it, I panicked here. “What the fuck? THE ROAD IS MISSING! HOW DO YOU EXPECT ME TO DO THIS?!” They moved some rocks into the dip at the top of the crack and pointed to the right-hand side. They joked with me, but I wasn’t in a very joking mood. This was serious! I could get injured! I could fall in that hole! The road was GONE!

I gunned it and after a few halting blips of the throttle, managed to make it to safety. I was almost shaking with adrenaline, and had to stop and calm down before I could continue. At least the views were nice.

We continued along, the gravel reappearing as the road began to slant downwards. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the deep, soft stuff we’d encountered earlier.

Just as I started to think it was safe, we encountered the Fucking Scary Hill. Even Nip took his time on this one, dabbing and riding the brakes as he tried to pick his way around the bigger rocks. This was the first time while riding that my brakes have been unable to completely hold me. Even with the brakes on, I was slowly sliding due to the loose, sketchy terrain. The sheer drop off to the left didn’t help things. It felt like the first time I was sitting at the top of a log ride, wide-eyed and nervous.

I kept slipping, which threw me off balance and made me more afraid. In desperation, I tried the obvious advice everybody gives novice dirt riders and which none of them listen to: ease up on the brakes and let the engine slow you down. I didn’t want to go that fast down this hill, so I still tapped on the brakes, but I stopped sliding, which made me feel more in control. Eventually I made it past the worst of this.

Past that initial drop, the road was still gravelly, with rocks to avoid, but it was not nearly as steep or loose. Emboldened by my success, I began to brake less, and less, aiming it and hoping for the best. This was the first time I’ve ever felt more stable with less braking. The road curled around and around, winding its way to the bottom. At one point, I passed Nip, who was braking more than I was. I considered this a minor victory.

We stopped briefly at the trailhead to Panamint Springs, but the sun was beginning to set, so we decided to give it a pass. The road from the trailhead to the highway was quite a bit nicer, and I stood up for most of it. At the end of the dirt was a large dip, which I managed with ease, and I’m sure I would have almost looked like I knew what I was doing if anybody had been bothering to watch.

I was exhausted, but proud that we’d managed to conquer the road. Pete and I stopped for some pictures with the setting sun.

Thumbs up for Death Valley!

Further along, Nip flagged me down, and I awkwardly pulled off onto the soft shoulder. He pointed out a light-colored, squiggly trail in the distance. “See that? That’s the road we were just on! I thought you might want to take a picture.” Damn straight!

I even took a panorama. I love how this place looks in the setting sunlight.

Both Nip and Pete sped off, wanting to get back to Lone Pine before it got dark. I went a bit slower, enjoying the glorious twisties carving around the side of the canyon. In the last of the setting sunlight, the moon began to rise, and I couldn’t help but take a picture of the twilight. It was long dark by the time I hit town.

We had pizza in Lone Pine and discussed the day. Pete called it a “trial by fire”. Absolutely. Even though we didn’t go as far as we wanted, and I could have done better in thousands of ways, it was a good day. Every time I bite off more than I can chew, survive, and face down my fear, it is a success.

Pete’s account of this adventure can be found here, with a lot more pictures!

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