Here's one for the though and super fit - a cycle trip through notorious Death Valley in California and Nevada. It's the lowest place in America at 86m (282 ft) below the sea level, and also one of the hottest on earth with temperatures regularly reaching 54ºC (130ºC) in the day (but sometimes freezing at night). That makes it the ultimate cycling challenge.
Death Valley National Park is a unique environment, offering a wonderfully atmosphere landscape of sand dunes, salt flats, multicoloured rocks, canyons, snow-capped mountains and seemingly endless wilderness. The Park has a number of roads, mostly narrow and twisting, and not even the most dedicated mountain biker can be expected to explore them all.
A good journey follows California Route 190, which crosses the middle of Death Valley (albeit not in a straight line) from Panamint Springs in the southwestern corner of the Park. From there it's a 29 km (18 mi) run to Emigrant, then another 13 km (8 mi) to Stovepipe Wells Village, which has all the facilities required for a little R&R.
You'll need it - the next leg is the 44km (28 mi) slog along CA-190, which turns sharply south before reaching the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. If you want to see that low point, detour to Badwater Basin, the south of the Visitor Center. If you can't face that 52 km (34 mi) round trip, continue to CA-190 and make the straight run to the Park Valley Junction, a 45 km (28 mi) ride.
If that's not enough to test your cycling prowess, you can take the State Line Road to Pahrump, Nevada - or even (if you're lucky) cycle on from there to Las Vegas. Wimps can do Death Valley by air-conditioned car - which does give them the opportunity to explore the Park's many wonders more thoroughly.
WHEN TO DO
November to March to avoid the worst heat conditions (and traffic).
TIME IT TAKES
A day, if you don't keep stopping off to admire the sights.
A literal highlight - Towne Pass, a 1510 m (4955 ft) summit that greets you just inside the Park.
Mosaic Canyon near Stovepipe Wells - take the dirt road for sweeping views and extraordinary walls of polished multicoloured rock.
Zabriskie Point - no, not the iconic Antonioni movie, but the real thing to be found shortly after the Furnace Creek Visitor Center - it's an amazing rock formation.
A long, cold shower and good night's sleep at journey's end, wherever that may be.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Death Valley is the low point, but the high point in the lower 48 states - Mount Whitney - is just 123 km (76 mi) west of Death Valley. After cycling the valley, why not go on to climb the mountain?