Texte by Emily Bei Cheng - Photos by Emily Bei Cheng and Andy Wong

Earlier this year, I planned a bikepacking trip in Death Valley National Park. Death Valley is a massive desert valley in California that covers 13,650 km². It's famous for being the place where the hottest temperature in the world was ever recorded at 56.67C. Luckily, I squeezed in this bikepacking trip before the temperatures became unbearable in the summer months. The goal of this trip was to explore and build a new route that others could use as a bikepacking resource. The Echo-Titus Circuit is now live; check it out here: ECHO-TITUS CIRCUIT

The route crosses multiple mountain ranges including the Funeral Mountains and Bare Mountains. These morose names suggest an inhospitable environment, and while I'm certain it felt that way to the settlers that first traversed this desert, we were determined to make it our home for the next few days.

Water is scarce in Death Valley, so we stashed water caches along the route before starting our journey.

Twenty Mule Team Canyon was the first breathtaking landscape of the trip. The name itself doesn't inspire much awe, but the otherworldly scenery forces you to stop pedaling to properly take it all in. We arrived at golden hour as the the sun cast long shadows over the layered ridges.

As the sun set, we rode into Echo Canyon where we had gotten a permit to camp for the night. Here, the gravel got pretty loose and my 50mm tires were just wide enough to keep me from sinking in too deep. I managed to stay upright on my Hatchet while my buddies hiked their bikes. One friend jokingly called it, "All Natural, Organic, Chunky, Gnarly Gravel." I wasn't sure if he was describing double track or peanut butter.

The following day we climbed up to the high point of the route in the Funeral Mountains. The going was slow on rocky terrain and we found ourselves low on water, still 30 km from our water cache. We eventually flagged down a Jeep and the driver, surprised to see cyclists on this route, gave us 10L of water that we split amongst the 6 of us. Rehydrated (in both body and spirit) we pushed onwards and crossed the border from California to Nevada.

Away from civilization there are no border signs or no fences or fanfare to welcome us—just some whoops and hollers to each other as we rolled through.

– Emily Cheng

Another night passed, but we were woken up by sprinkles of rain. We were taken aback by the weather; Death Valley sits in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, so it rarely gets precipitation. In fact it's the driest place in North America. None of us had thought to check the forecast or pack a rain shell. Thankfully the rain was light enough that I found it mostly amusing and not devastating. We packed camp quickly, threw on the layers we had, and were quick to hit the road. We pedaled through Tarantula Canyon—no tarantulas luckily, but a lot of steep pitches of loose gravel and hike-a-bike. We finished the final major climb of the trip as tiny flecks of hail bounced off our damp jackets and battered, tired bodies.

When we finally reached the end and sought shelter, we could finally rest up and wipe the dirt off our bodies. A friend pointed at a bruise on my leg and asked where it came from. "I'm not sure," I replied. It could have been from Death Valley, it could have been from rock climbing earlier this week, or it could have been from a trail run, who knows. My friend affirmed my internal thoughts and quipped to me, "Not knowing where a bruise came from is a sign of a life well lived!" That's probably the best way to sum it up—immersed in nature, with my bike, with good friends, a life well lived.