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Motorcyclist Dies After Riding Through Death Valley In Record-Breaking Temperatures

A heat warning sign is displayed as people walk on the salt flats at Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park. - Photo: Gabe Ginsberg/SOPA Images/LightRocket (Getty Images)
A heat warning sign is displayed as people walk on the salt flats at Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park. - Photo: Gabe Ginsberg/SOPA Images/LightRocket (Getty Images)

The majority of the planet is experiencing record-breaking heat, but the hottest place on Earth is still Death Valley, California, where temperatures have been in the mid-120 degrees Fahrenheit (or the low 50s in Celsius). The power of these extreme temperatures should not be underestimated, as evidenced by amotorcyclist who died from heat exposure while visiting Death Valley National Park on Saturday, when the park recorded temperatures of 128 degrees Fahrenheit, a record high for the date. Four other members of their party were treated for heat exposure at the scene.

Heat exposure is a unique beast, since it is cumulative and can build over the course of a day or multiple days. For anyone who is hoping to visit Death Valley any time soon, it’s imperative that you and your vehicle are prepared for anything. The hottest place on Earth isn’t a place you want to break down, run out of fuel, or run out of supplies. ABC 7 interviewed Death Valley National Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds, who said,

“While this is a very exciting time to experience potential world record setting temperatures in Death Valley, we encourage visitors to choose their activities carefully, avoiding prolonged periods of time outside of an air-conditioned vehicle or building when temperatures are this high….”

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In an official statement by Death Valley National Park, officials released a warning for anyone considering visiting the park by motorcycle. Though it may seem like common sense, it bears repeating that extreme temperatures prevent riders from being able to cool down while riding, and protective gear worn on bikes adds another layer of heat danger. The victim wasn’t able to be airlifted to an emergency facility because temperatures were too high for helicopters to be operated. Helicopters cannot safely fly in temperatures over 120 degrees (or 48.8 degrees Celsius) due to the thinner nature of hot air and the strain it places on the helicopter’s engine.

If you insist on visiting the hottest place on the planet during its hottest time of year, do it early in the day or late in the evening to avoid exposure to the park’s peak temperatures. It’s best to visit the park in a reliable car with functioning air conditioning, and it’s smart to do a few vehicle checks before going anywhere too hot. Make sure your cars oil level is full, your coolant level is correct, your tires are in good condition, and that you have more than enough fuel. Of course, bring more water than you think you’ll need for you and your passengers, and minimize time spent exposed to the extreme heat.

Photo: Logan K. Carter
Photo: Logan K. Carter

I visited Death Valley in the summertime a few years ago in my 2010 Subaru Outback, and my oil light came on in the middle of the park. Some cars require different oil weights in extreme temperatures, and the Outback was one of those cars, unbeknownst to me. Thankfully we made it out of the park just fine, but I did need to top off my oil afterwards, and it was a humbling reminder to do pre-flight checks.

It’s extremely risky to visit the park by motorcycle in the summertime, but this summer’s extreme heat makes the trip especially dangerous. It’s best to visit by reliable car with powerful air conditioning, but it still pays to double check the essentials, and of course to bring plenty of water and salty snacks to keep you and any passengers properly hydrated. Please stay safe out there!

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