Climate Rider Kevin Martin Braves Death Valley

Kevin Martin is a big supporter of WBR and someone who lives the Power of Bicycles. Recently, he rode the Death Valley Climate Ride. Climate Ride is a non-profit that organizes multi-day rides throughout the country that bring deeper knowledge and understanding of the world around us, and they’re also a valued partner of WBR. So, we asked Kevin to share with us about his Death Valley experience and what it meant to him. Check out his story below! 

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Death Valley National Park holds a world record for the hottest temperature ever recorded: 134 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celsius) on July 10, 1913. It’s also home to the lowest elevation in North America, a place that’s 282 feet below sea level, called Badwater Basin.

Last year I did an organized cycling tour of Yellowstone National Park, which boasts the most popular national park in the world. Death Valley has the distinction of being the largest, hottest and least popular national park in the U.S. In the world of Bizarro, it made perfect sense that this should be my next cycling destination. I didn’t know about this ride opportunity, but the organizers of Climate Ride made it too tempting to pass up.

I had never been to a desert before and had imagined something like the endless sand dunes I had seen in Lawrence of Arabia or The English Patient, but wasn’t quite prepared for the colossal and massive mountain ranges that seemed to enclose the space like a giant campfire pit. Nor did I imagine so much natural and untamed beauty in a place that reaches temperatures way above 100å¡ on a regular basis.

It almost seems a disservice to call Death Valley a desert. In my mind, a desert conjures up images of zero life and miles of nothingness. Death Valley could not be further from that imagery. I have never seen such interesting natural land formations, multi-layered color schemes and a profusion of life in a place where its very name connotes loss and demise. Death Valley, especially in 2016 with its ‰Û÷super bloom’, is a place of life and profound imagery in abundance. 

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After moving to the Bay Area in 2014, I was thrilled to learn about the Death Valley Climate Ride that would occur in February 2016. How cool is it to be able to experience a major ride in the dead of winter and to be able to train for it during the fall and winter months? Thank you, Bay Area – I’m in!

What really distinguishes Climate Ride from the other cycling organizations is a more holistic focus on the complete adventure where cycling is but one aspect to gain a deeper knowledge of your surroundings. This Death Valley Climate Ride was a lot smaller and more intimate than most of their other more popular rides, but its basic formula is the same – pairing cycling routes with unique experiences in the area. This Climate Ride did that consistently throughout our four-day tour.

The mileage and elevation gain looked like the perfect four-day ride for a Bay Area cyclist that had to sacrifice some days to the El Nino rains, but could maintain a somewhat steady training schedule. The reality of the ride turned out to be not so perfect in terms of upper heat index, which was a major factor in achieving the seemingly benign elevation gain.

I can imagine Climate Ride’s route planning depends heavily on the location and the unique characteristics of its terrain. For Death Valley, this meant frontloaded climbing of over 5,000 feet in the first 20 miles, taking advantage of our fresh legs and avoiding the hottest parts of the day.

The second portion of the ride rewarded us with a long, blazing descent and a few rolling hills to the next campsite destination.

Before heading to the campsites, some part of our day always included field trips to interesting, historic and sometimes quirky landmarks in Death Valley, like the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns that were used to fire pinyon pine logs to fuel mine smelters the late 1800s; Badwater Basin, the lowest point (282 feet below sea level) and highest evaporation rate in the continental U.S.; Rhyolite, the famous Death Valley mining ghost town whose population in 1920 was nearly zero after peaking to 5,000 less than ten years earlier; the Amaragosa Opera House whose owner, Marta Becket regularly performed for an audience she hand-painted on the Opera House walls; and the glorious Zabriskie Point where the views of Death Valley were so stunning and surreal you would swear it was a too perfectly painted science fiction movie backdrop.

I don’t believe I could have selected a more unique and different cycling experience from last year’s Yellowstone tour and one where the climate is an inescapable part of the experience. The bonus for me, however, were the good friends I made that will last a lifetime.

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Well done, Kevin! Thank you for riding with one of WBR’s partners, Climate Ride and for sharing your story. 

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