Death Valley National Park is a flat barren desert susceptible to scorching hot triple digit temperatures. This is the reputation that it carries in many people’s minds who have never been and because of this, it remains a place that all too often tends to be overlooked. The opening statement above could not be any further from the truth. In fact, this wilderness area is a land of many long stretched valley’s divided by rugged mountains. It is only a fraction of the larger geographic region of the United States known as The Great Basin, or simply, Basin and Range Country. Death Valley is an extremely diverse and dynamic environment. Over a period of a couple days one can experience cool to moderate temperatures and 60 mile per hour sustained winds with the later part of the day ending in a downpour of rain that slowly freezes into snow due to plummeting temperatures. The next day you’ll wake up to ice on your tent and snow-capped mountains. As the sun slowly casts its warmth across the valley, it makes its welcoming appearance over the mountains. A completely different day lies ahead, bringing clear skies and near 90 degree temperatures. This is only a fraction of what we encountered during our journey across not just an unforgiving land but in just as many ways one that is majestic.
Over the last four months I have seen this idea of mine, to run across the longest length of Death Valley National Park come to life. On friday afternoon, March 23rd, 2012 my team members: Billyjack Jory, Mauricio Ruiz, Mike Lambooth, Mark Nguon and myself headed north from Pasadena, CA. During our first night we camped above 6,000 feet elevation in the Last Chance Mountains. This marked the northern most tip of the national park boundary.
The following morning I began my run with Mike who I insisted on coming to accompany me for safety reasons. We descended down Last Chance Canyon where we followed a wash that eventually led us out into Death Valley. After meeting up with the trucks for a brief moment at the mouth of the canyon to refuel, Mike and I continued to follow the wash that serve as our, “trail,” and lead us near Ubehebe Crater. As we ran further into this wash, it began to split up into different directions. Mike and I found ourselves a little mixed up and started to become somewhat discouraged upon realizing that we should have already been done running for the day. Rather than continuing to follow this portion of the wash that could potentially lead us to nowhere, we climbed atop a near hill to gain a better vantage point. It was here where we were able to see a road and although it seemed out of the way, we were anxious to get out of this area and refuel on water that we no longer had. At this point, after most likely having exceeded the twenty eight miles we were supposed to have ran for the day, I started to second guess myself. After nearly getting lost and being exhausted I pushed myself to continue on. Rather than following the more reassuring but longer paved road to the crater I decided to turn around and head back into that mess I struggled to get out of. I shot an azimuth with my compass towards where I needed to be, and stayed on course. My day was finally over.
Sleep that night was limited due to a strong relentless wind which surprisingly did not blow our tents away. None the less, I woke up the next morning feeling fully rested and ready to run some more. This day I would not have to worry about getting lost. It was a straight shot from where we were towards the Racetrack Valley which followed a 4 X 4 road. My drivers Billyjack and Mauricio would have eyes on me at all times. Unfortunately this washboard road was not the most pleasant of terrain for my feet. I didn’t have much of a choice of where to run considering the land on both sides of the road was covered with large unstable rocks. After about 6 miles, I began to face a pain that was all too familiar to me. It was a pain which I have dealt with before during my 30 mile run across Joshua Tree National Park. Only this time it occurred in the opposite foot. Tendinitis struck again and at this point I had no ultimatum. I was crushed to have to stop about 40 miles into the run. My body felt fine except for this one pain.
Mauricio and Mike pulled the truck up beside me and suggested that I rest for a few hours and give it another try. Billyjack and Mark were a ways ahead exploring Virginia Lake without any knowledge of my situation just yet. I sat on the side of the road disappointed at my body. I had put all of this work into making this expedition happen. I was ready for this! I had anticipated a certain level of pain along the way, but not an injury.. I felt like I let myself down, my team down and especially those individuals who had donated money to this project. After about an hour I came to terms with the fact that there was no way for me to continue the run. That portion of the expedition had come to a heart breaking end.
As upset as I was and knowing that I am completely capable of accomplishing something to this scale the guys reminded me that I am not the type of person to just give up and that there will come another time for me to step up to this challenge again. For the mean time I had to stay focused on the bigger picture. The whole point of this expedition was to inpsire people to start living more active healthy lifestyles by reconnecting with the outdoors. Although this journey was still underway, that mission had already started to show evidence of success.
Seeing me put all of this time and effort into preparing for this trip and now being here inspired Mike to continue the run that day. towards Racetrack Valley. .He didn’t have much of a choice though. Our trucks were fully packed which allowed no more than two people per vehicle. If I wasn’t running then some else would have to run the rest of the way until we could burn up enough firewood to open up enough space for a third person.. Sure enough after battling another grueling day of head winds and a sand storm, he finished strong. Also, Mauricio and Mark admitted to having never been camping. This was also there first time visiting Death Valley. I honestly don’t think there could have been a better way to camp and experience this place then the way we approached it… especially for a first time.
That right there was reassuring that this expedition would accomplish what it set out to do. To inspire and reconnect. If each person on this trip has been changed in some way, then I am sure that when this journey comes onto film, others will to.