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  • Susanne Bruesch & Nora Manthey

A Matter of Life and Death - Learnings from the Desert

We spent almost a week in and around the Death Valley. As in any desert, you find extreme beauty but also extreme conditions you have to prepare for. This is what we learned.

Water is vital.

9 litres of water per person per day is what the Death Valley National Park authorities ask. We thought that an exaggeration at first but soon found ourselves drinking as we never drank before. Temperatures of up to 40 degree Celsius, warm desert wind, and no shade will leave you sweating, a lot, especially when cycling, even with an electric bike.

Find your own way.

Each one of us developed different techniques to stay relatively cool and hydrated. Michael for example preferred to have his gallon at hand, literally and always. I rather paused and drank, loads.

To keep cool, we sometimes just had to pour water over ourselves. However, in the dry heat clothes dry all too quickly. Better pour water over your head and put on the helmet. The melon helmets we use isolate, keeping you a little more chilled for longer.

Start early.

We found it made sense to get up at 4am. Thus there is enough time to bring down the tents, to pack all supplies for the day and to enjoy the beautiful sunrise on a cloudless desert sky.

Take a siesta.

Do as the locals do. In this case it is mainly animals in the desert and these are nowhere to be seen comes noon. The heat is best beat when lying down at midday. Sometimes a canyon offered a bit of shade but otherwise we lay as we fell.

Respect thy neighbours or else they bite.

The desert may seem dead but is full of life. It is home to often poisonous animals that start hunting at nighttime. While they do not go after humans purposefully, if you happen to come across them unannounced they could lash out.

When stepping out of the tent at night, make sure to wear a headlamp or torch and sweep the floor ahead of you with light.

Rattle snakes would give a warning if someone is coming too close for their liking. If you are bitten, you need to go to hospital and inject an anti-dote. To slow the poison's progress inside the body, immediately slow down blood circulation. Rattle snakes are more dangerous at this time of the year as they are just coming out of hibernation and are hungry.

Scorpions live underneath stones and like shady places. If you do feel the urge to turn a stone, wear gloves. At night, take your boots inside the tent or shake them well the next morning if you have left them outside.

Black widows are easy to make out as they bear a red cross on their back. These black spiders prefer corners and angles of buildings such as toilet houses to hang their nets.

We did not come across any deadly animals.

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