You may have seen our dedicated member and volunteer, Helmut Gebels, supporting SUFC in his club jersey as he rides his bike to the games each week (yes – even to Penrith!!). Helmut is loyal supporter and has just recently begun volunteering regularly as a assistant referee for our lower grade teams.

During the off season however, he takes on a number of challenges riding his bike around the world, all with his beloved SUFC jersey on! Below is a report of his latest adventure in Death Valley, California.

While in the USA on holidays recently, I managed to do some cycling. For some time now, I had been speculating about riding into, or through Death Valley, California. I had driven the length of it some years ago and therefore my memory of the valley was a bit faded, but being ever optimistic and in good spirits, I bit the bullet and soon was driving the three hours from Las Vegas in a hire car to Death Valley Junction, the name implying to me a central location in the valley. It was only on arriving at this old town, that I discovered the “junction” part was railroad parlance and simply meant merging railway tracks from different directions. This led to the development of the town, but it was 31 miles away from Death Valley.

Death Valley Junction is now listed as a ghost town in California and it has been on the skids since the railway ceased transporting borax from the mines in the valley, and later tourists to the valley. Today, the Junction consists of some ruins of former glory and several substantial buildings relating to the town’s mining history, and the Amargosa Opera House. Amargosa was the original name of the town. The opera has a colourful history and some say that it is haunted, and definitely worthy of an inspection by intrepid travellers. There is also a cafe and a train museum, which recreates the town’s railway history in a large layout. A local warned me about the initial climb out of the town, which was at 2000 feet, but I paid scant heed to him, because I was fresh and eager for work and adventure.

The “initial climb” lasted 11 miles and took me well over two hours to arrive at the 3000 feet marker. It was with great relief that the downhill part now began, and for the next half an hour or so I enjoyed myself, stopping only occasionally for pictures, expecting to arrive in Furnace Creek in a short while. However, at some point, I became uneasy, as it was dawning on me that unless I stopped soon, I would need to climb 20 steep miles out of Furnace Creek on the return trip. I therefore stopped and proceeded up the steepness, for ten miles and the day suddenly became very warm.

The next two hours were not enjoyable, but morale was still good, because I found strength from this opportunity for some pre-season training, as well from raising awareness in my SUFC jersey. The adventure was also a decent warm-up for the annual ride to Penrith. When I finally reached the 3000 feet marker, I expected an easy coast to the car, but the wind had changed direction and made this leg quite an effort. I reached my car before dusk, disappointed with my progress but happy with my effort.

The next day I managed to prevail upon my wife to drive me to the top, so that I could coast the 20 miles downhill into Death Valley and Furnace Creek. However, the headwind was so strong, that progress, even downhill, was energy sapping and not enjoyable. After several attempts, I took the easy option and was soon in Death Valley, posing for pictures. Death Valley is well worth a visit and I was glad to have made the effort. In regards my mission, I was disappointed that I had failed, but as always in life, despite setbacks, we continue to strive and to do our best.