Pacific Crest Trail & Death Valley


Fall 2009


Denis Kertz, ©2009


Day 41: Sat, Oct 17, 2009 - Pahrump, NV to Henderson, NV [65.8, 6:34:04, 10.0 mph, 2,835']

I got up early and hurried down to the continental breakfast buffet that was included with my room.  I thought I would beat the rush but I apparently was part of the rush.  It was a good buffet with make-your-own waffles, cereal, and traditional breakfast food.  I got my money's worth.  By the time I was done there was almost no one around.

I left town shortly after 8:00.  My goal for the day was to make Henderson, just past Las Vegas.  I didn't want to stay in Las Vegas and figured Henderson would be enough out of the city proper that I would avoid much of the big city hassle.

I rode SR160 all the way to Las Vegas and it had a good shoulder.  The road was mostly flat initially and then did some modest climbing.  There wasn't any good place along the way to stop so I picked a drainage area with rocks for sitting for my second breakfast.  Shortly after there was a turnoff to Tecopa Springs and an information sign about the Old Spanish Trail, which SR160 was part of in places.  Not long after that the climb began to Spring Mountain Summit at 5,502 feet, 15 miles away.  The early miles were not too bad but the last 4-5 miles were pretty steep.

Right before the summit there was a sign for the Mountain Springs Saloon, which I passed on because it was off the road and a bit of a climb and I thought there would be something else.  I was wrong but that didn't matter much.  I began a good descent from the summit and rode through part of the Red Rock Canyon area which was nice.  After about 10 miles of easy descending I stopped at a food mart opposite the turnoff to the scenic drive through Red Rock Canyon and inhaled a 44 oz soda that got me refreshed.

The road continued descending all the way to Las Vegas which could be seen in the distance from near the summit.  The road had a good shoulder but it became a very busy road and noisy.  I stopped for another cold drink a little later on a very warm day.  Then I rode SR160 all the way to I15 where it became Windmill Parkway.  It was another 10 miles through suburbs to the Boulder Highway where my Internet research last night had showed motels in Henderson.  I had to jog around a wash that terminated the Windmill Parkway, finding a bike path that followed along the wash that kept me away from traffic for a while.  Then I jogged north to Warm Springs that took me the rest of the way to Boulder Highway.

I was somewhat clueless at this point but turned north on the highway, rode past a large casino and found a little motel that advertised $40 rooms.  I was able to get a room on the second floor and was happy with that since I doubted I could do better price wise.

The not so good thing about the motel was it wasn't particularly well located for food options.   However, casinos often have food bargains and I had a blue plate special at the nearby casino that included unlimited soup and salad bar so I was satisfied with that.

Day 42: Sun, Oct 18, 2009 - Henderson, NV to Chloride, AZ [79.2, 9:17:08, 8.5 mph, 4,094']

I packed up and rode the short distance to the Jokers Wild Casino and had their Hungry Man's special which was a normal breakfast plus 2 pancakes for $6, a good deal.  Then I left town on the Boulder Highway.  Along the way I passed by a large grocery store so I did some shopping which I hadn't done since Lone Pine.  That would turn out to be a good decision.

Riding along Boulder Highway wasn't a lot of fun with a lot of traffic.  When I got to Boulder City I stopped for my second breakfast which was early for me.  However, beyond Boulder City I wasn't sure what services I would find along the way so I decided I needed to take advantage of the few services I would find.  While eating at the food mart, I was approached by Brian who was getting gas for his car with a kayak on top.  He was interested in doing some touring and asked for any advice, which I told him pretty much was Do It.  However, Brian made an important point inadvertently that I hadn't thought of.  When I said I was riding to Flagstaff to catch an Amtrak train, he mistakenly thought I meant Kingman.  I told him the problem was Kingman didn't have baggage service so I couldn't ship my bike.  However, that got me thinking that maybe I should ship my bike home separately.  For this trip, having the bike with me when I arrived at Chicago Union Station might be a liability.  That's because the train is due to arrive around 3pm but these trains are often late.  If the train were late it would be too late for me to ride home due to darkness.  But if I didn't have my bike with me, just luggage, I could simply take the Metra to Naperville and be home.  So I made a note to check whether the Kingman bicycle shop could pack and ship my bike for me.  If so, I could catch the Amtrak in Kingman and avoid the 2-3 day ride to Flagstaff.

When I resumed riding I took 93 south.  This led me right to Boulder Dam which I didn't realize.  It was nice to see the dam but very messy traffic wise.  There was a lot of traffic and the road was very narrow, often with a guardrail that boxed me in.  Going to the dam this wasn't that much of a problem since the road was descending and I could just about keep up with the traffic.  Leaving, the road was climbing and I was obviously very slow.

Riding the bicycle really shined for seeing Boulder Dam.  Parking for vehicles was at a premium and people had to park wherever they could find a space and then walk to whatever they wanted to see.  I could pretty much stop wherever I wanted, check out the whatever, and just start riding again.  It was a very definite advantage.

Just after leaving the dam I entered Arizona and soon came to a gift shop that had refreshments so I again took advantage of the refreshment opportunity.  Then it was a lot of climbing to get back up to the normal elevation that was lost descending to the dam.  It wasn't a lot of fun because there was often very little shoulder to work with.  Actually, for about 15 miles from the dam there was construction underway except there was no work on a Sunday.  It was probably a really good thing that I wasn't riding this same route during the week.  In particular, the shoulders were a mess.  Half the time the shoulder was mostly blocked by concrete dividers so I had to be continually alert about what was happening with the shoulder availability as well as the traffic.

After the 15 miles of construction, which was to make 93 4-lane all the way, 93 became a 4-lane highway.  I initially thought that was good but somebody decided there was no need for a shoulder on a 4-lane highway.  Fortunately, most motorists were very careful and eased over to give me room, often moving entirely into the other lane when possible.

When researching this route in advance, I realized that Kingman at 93 miles was virtually out of the question as a destination unless I was lucky enough to get a strong tailwind.  There was just too much climbing and too little daylight.  My research showed Wilson Beach, Dolan Springs, and Chloride as possible stopping points.  Wilson Beach would have been attractive had I wanted to make it a relatively short day.  It would also have been very scenic since it was right on the Colorado River.  I had bit of a view of the river from on high and that made me realize that it was about a 3-mile steep descent that I would have to climb out.  So I bypassed that opportunity.

After a lot of climbing the road became a little roller coaster for a while that gave me some relief..  Then it pretty much flattened out.  After passing on Wilson Beach my goal was Chloride.  From what I read it seemed to have better services than Dolan Springs and was closer to the road although both were several miles off of US93.  Chloride also would make this a hard day at 75 miles but that would make tomorrow an easy day, leaving only about 20 miles to Kingman, and I liked that idea.

At about the 43 mile mark I saw a sign proclaiming a food mart 7 miles in the distance.  I was hopeful about this but also worried that this just meant 7 miles to a turnoff and then more distance after that.  So I kept a watchful eye ahead to look for signs whether I should be hopeful but the road was not helpful.  It either curved or ascended and never gave me a distant view.  Finally, in the distance I could see what looked to be a sign which finally gave me some hope there really was something along the road.  And there was.  I found a mini-mart where I stopped for a 44oz soda.  At this point it was pretty warm and I had a headwind too.  There was an RV Park right near the mini-mart that was tempting to stop for the day but the campground was just out in the open with nothing recommending it.  I did some calculations and figured I could make Chloride by about 6:30 if the road kept its current level.  That would be pushing daylight but I liked the idea of making this a hard day to make tomorrow easy so I pushed on.  A couple of miles later there was another food mart and I decided to take advantage of that one too.  There I had a 32 oz PowerAde and was hopeful its electrolytes would work a miracle.

My GPS has an altimeter page that shows an elevation profile.  It consistently showed just a slight ascent and I rode on pretty consistently at 8 mph with the slight ascent and the headwind.  I pretty much maintained this pace for 3 hours with just a few short, quick stops.  I have to believe that without my two refreshment breaks that I would not have been able to do that.  Somehow warm water just doesn't support that kind of effort.

The sun went behind the mountains just before 6:00.  I had hoped to have daylight until 6:30 but that wasn't the case.  As it gradually got darker I turned on my rear flasher.  My panniers also have reflective stripes and it was obvious motorists noticed me since everybody was still giving me a pretty wide berth.  Still, this road with its very narrow shoulder and high speed traffic was not the place to be after sundown so I pushed as hard as I could to get to Chloride.

Finally, around 6:30 when it was pretty dark I stopped at a food mart right where I needed to turn east to get to Chloride.  I had a cold soda and then I was told by two different people that Chloride was about 4 miles off the road.  That was disappointing since I assumed it was only a mile or two.  By this time it was totally dark and I put on my headlight and headed out.  I was surprised how well my headlight worked but it was totally dark and nothing else was competing with my headlight's light so I could see the road fine.

Chloride is the oldest mining town in Arizona.  During it’s hey day of the early 1900s it had 2500 people but now was a small town of 400.  I was told there was an RV Park just past a VFW building and a cattle guard crossing and there was, well illuminated with lights.  I rode a little further into town because there supposedly was a motel and a restaurant.  When I found them they were both closed.  So I retreated to the RV Park.  I didn't see a sign for the office so I wandered around a bit and found the tent site area and set up.  I also found a shower in the restroom so that was nice.  I figured I would have better luck finding the office in the morning to pay for the site.  Then I took advantage of the grocery shopping I did in the morning and chowed down.

Day 43: Mon, Oct 19, 2009 - Chloride, AZ to Kingman, AZ [35.1, 3:28:20, 10.1 mph, 771']

It was a quiet night and I slept well.  In the light of the morning I was pretty sure where the office was but I was hesitant to knock on the door of the house.  Fortunately, the woman inside saw my bike and came outside to see what I wanted.  I told her I wanted to pay for last night and the cost was $10 which was a good deal.

Leaving town I descended 3.5 miles and 400 feet back to the highway.  I stopped at the food mart where I stopped last night and discovered it wasn't open and there was no sign indicating when it opened.  So I had my cereal breakfast and used the outside seating to make myself comfortable.

I left around 8:00 pedaling into the bright morning sun.  After a few miles US93 developed a real shoulder, about 6 feet wide and that made cycling the rest of the way comfortable.  It was a fairly easy ride until I reached the junction with 68.  Then I had to climb Coyote Pass but it was only about a half mile climb.  Then I descended the rest of the way into Kingman.

I followed US93 a ways noting there were plenty of motels and inexpensive ones if I needed to lay over.  When I saw a sign for the historic shopping district I took Beale Street and found a coffee shop with WiFi.  The historic shopping district was a big disappointment, with mostly thrift and pawn shops but there was a coffee shop and I stopped there.  After checking some work email I verified that Kingman didn't have an Amtrak baggage service but there was an Amtrak stop for the same train that I had planned to pick up in Flagstaff.  However, this pickup was at 2 am but I could get a good price for the train the next day, less than 24 hours away.

The only question was could I get a bicycle shop to pack up and ship my bike.  There were 2 bike shops but I had corresponded with one via email back in August to inquire about the feasibility of cycling the Route 66 route to Flagstaff.  That shop didn't look too far away so I packed up and started riding to it on Stockton Drive which turned out to be the major shopping area.  It also was separated from Beale Street by a fair climb.

My biggest concern was whether the bike shop would be open on a Monday.  Some bike shops stay open on Sunday and are closed on Monday.  This one, Bicycle Outfitters, was closed on Sunday and open on Monday.  The owner, Ran, wasn't there but another mechanic was and he said packing and shipping the bike wasn't a problem so I was set.  My big issue now was killing time until the 2 am train stop.

I rode back to the coffee shop and figured I would reserve and pay for my ticket online but the web site wouldn't let me do that because of the late purchase.  So I had to call Amtrak and deal again, as I had a few years ago in Albany, NY, with “Julie”.  This voice recognition system was just as bad as it was a couple years ago.  It took me almost 10 minutes to answer all the questions to identify the train and date and then I was told I had to be handed off to an agent.  I couldn't actually pay for the ticket but the agent gave me a boarding pass number and said I would have to pay the conductor on the train.  The good news was that the ticket would only cost me $116 with a senior rate.  It's just unimaginable that Amtrak couldn't figure how to do all this online.

I killed some more time including eating at Mr. D’z on Route 66 and then rode back to the bike shop around 4:00 when the owner, Ran, was there.  I removed my panniers and repacked them to get everything into my large duffel bag, my two rear panniers strapped together, and one of my front panniers as carry-on baggage.  This took longer than I expected, about an hour, and Ran offered me a beer which I accepted.  The bike shop didn't close until 6:00 so I hung around since I had nothing better to do and so I could get a ride back to the other part of town near the train station.  A couple of folks showed up at the bike shop so there was some conversation to help kill the time.  One guy was Matt, who I had actually met at the coffee shop in the morning but didn't recognize when he showed up in a different outfit at the bike shop.  Matt was a guide who took customers down the trail at the Grand Canyon and had some interesting experiences with the varied fitness levels of his customers.  Matt was also training for his first Ironman Triathlon and was suffering from training burnout.

After closing up, Ran dropped me off at a Mexican restaurant/bar across from the train station where I had a bite to eat and a couple of margueritas and watched the Monday Night Football, which was a good time killer.  Kingman had a train depot but supposedly it was under renovation although it appeared nothing had been done in years.  There was also a waiting room on a side street but it didn't open until 10:00.  So I left the restaurant a little before 9:00 since it closed at 9:00 and walked a half block to a bar down the street.  There I had a beer and typed my notes for the day.

Shortly after 10:00 I walked the half block to the Amtrak waiting room.  It was open now but no one else was there and I settled in for the long wait for my 2 am train.  Not understanding how this train procedure worked, my big worry was falling asleep and missing the train.  But that wasn't a problem.  Later other folks started showing up and we eventually had about 10 folks waiting.  Then an hour before departure a conductor stopped by to check train tickets.  At that time I paid for my ticket.

The train was on time but it seemed to take forever to board.  First some new crew members had to board.  Then the train had to inch down the track to bring a sleeper car into position for boarding.  Then there was another sleeper car that had to be positioned and then finally the coach car.  It must have taken 20 minutes to board about 15 people.  In any event, the train wasn’t packed and I got assigned a seat all to myself.

Day 44-45: Tue/Wed, Oct 20-21, 2009 - Amtrak Train from Kingman, AZ to Naperville, IL

I spent the next day and half on the train back to Chicago.  While that's a long time compared to the 4 hours it would have taken to fly home, at a much higher cost, the good thing about train travel is that the seats have much more room and are more comfortable.  In addition, there is the observation car so one can move around to view scenery from a different perspective.  The biggest problem is sleeping on the train, assuming you haven't forked out the big $$ increase to secure a sleeping berth.  In this case, the train wasn’t packed so most people had 2 seats to themselves and could stretch out in different ways to find the most comfortable sleeping position.

I spent much of my time, aside from sleeping, in the observation car.  It was much lighter and better viewing than the regular seats and I could read there as well.

My original plan was to take the train all the way to Chicago Union Station and then take a Metra train to Naperville,  Fortunately, that didn't pan out.  I found some brochures on board that detailed the itinerary of the Southwest Chief train.  I had assumed the train, coming through the southwest, would make its way up through St. Louis to Joliet to Chicago.  But I discovered the train went through Kansas City up to Iowa and across northern Illinois.  And, low and behold, it had a stop in Naperville, my final destination.  So I was able to get off directly in Naperville and save some time and a little money.

The only problem was I had a little over a mile from the train station to my house.  That's an easy walk but not when carrying a large duffel bag and 2 rear panniers strapped together to form a baggage unit.  I debated getting a ride but it was a nice day and figured it couldn't be THAT bad.  Well, it was.  There's just no easy way to carry two sizeable baggage units and walk comfortably.  I could only walk about a 100 yards when I had to rest due to the strain on my arms.  One of the problems was that just letting the baggage hang by my side caused them to interfere with my walking as they banged against my legs.  I eventually discovered I could extend my arms out a bit to keep the bags away from my legs.  This was harder on my arms but allowed me to walk faster and make more progress before I had to stop to rest my arms.  Eventually I made it home after about a 30 minute walk, which might well have been the hardest part of the trip.



Copyright Denis Kertz, 2009. All rights reserved.