130 mph is indicated on the speedo as the bikes shoot arrow-straight across Death Valley’s floor. The road may be linear in direction but the warning signs of dips are not to be disregarded. Over one rise the bars begin to wobble a bit indicating an oncoming tankslapper. The VFR, it seems, was never set up for defying gravity.
I back off on the throttle and proceed at a slightly more sane speed, 100mph, which seems to be what it takes to hang with this crowd. We slow off for the sparse smattering of easy sweeping bends connecting the valley-crossing straights.
The ride out of Ridge Crest this morning only really started to give us a decent taste of desert scenery and twists past Trona on the 178 after it transformed into Wildrose Rd. We stop midway in a series of sharp descending turns that carry us downwards towards the ultimate low point in our day – 282 feet below sea level. Death Valley spreads out below us and the name Wildrose Rd. becomes an optimistic stretch. It’s hard to imagine any wild roses blooming here, despite recent rainfalls the relative state of greenery can still be described as desolate, a land of dried lakes and salt mines.
Wildrose Rd. is its own kind of special flower; it drops and climbs in a series of clean and well-maintained curves and twists before plummeting downwards towards the valley floor, transforming into a series of high-speed straight and sweepers. All the while the scenery is in cinematic soft focus; particulate hangs in the air softening the light, lowering contrast, and keeping us from noticing an important detail. The desert is in bloom, though maybe not at the lowest point in the valley.
At a rest stop just before Towne Pass on the 199, a very punctual German couple step out of their motorhome. They are excited in a constrained sort of way, having traveled to Death Valley to see the cactus bloom. According to them blossoms are a rare sight, occurring only two days out of the year in spring after the rains. We are lucky indeed, even though we figure 2 days is a bit of an overstatement of the shortness of time frame. The blossoms are vivid pink; we take some time to photograph the flowers, though we don’t actually smell the prickly things.
The day’s highlight is Dante’s View, an in-and-out side trip carrying us to a sweeping view of the lowest point in the valley, 282 feet below sea level, from one of the highest at 5475 ft. above. The road itself is begging for commercials featuring speeding bikes and commanding views as it serpentines tightly skywards. A couple of the corners are deceptive and tricky, decreasing in radius, and the close canyon walls on either side of the slim double lane ribbon encourage a certain sense of care that is in direct opposition to our opening displays of adolescent throttle logic earlier in the day.
After the stunning scenery and unpopulated roads of Death Valley, the riding into Las Vegas via Pahrump is a sad reality break. Approaching “Sin City” the traffic becomes sketchier and sketchier. The drivers are flightier and harder to read than a junkie searching for a fix, and the overall tone seems to affect the group. A truck cuts off a major portion of our group of 12 bikes and we begin to lose cohesion, now fighting through Vegas rush hour travelling in swarm instead of our previous sense of order along the final freeways.
Reaching the hotel, the Stratosphere, there is a sense of relief at being out of traffic. We park in the designated check-in area only to be verbally dressed down by the taxi stand attendant for our parking choice. We naturally fail to comply with his poorly and rudely phrased attempt to move us along.
Later, during a traditional Vegas buffet, we relive the day’s ride and plot our options for tomorrow. Vegas will be our home this night and the next, a treat in sport touring terms – we’ll be riding without luggage. It’s the simple joys… now to figure out the proper suspension settings after accounting for the buffet.