Sunset to Sunrise: A Desert 50 Miler

This was our final day at the Warm Springs Campground near Moapa, NV. The campground is a unique, privately owned place with about 20 RV spaces. It is like an oasis in the desert.  There is a river that flows through the park, which is spring-sourced. The spring is a hot spring, and the river is therefore about 82 degrees year round. In addition to the river in the middle of the Mojave, the land becomes lush with plants and grass, and even palm trees.

After eating breakfast and such, I went down to the river and I set up a midline slackline over the river between a couple of palm trees.  It was about 9 feet high, with the water about 5 feet deep at most. I had a ton of fun slacklining over the warm river, falling off into the water below. I tried a few backflips, which wound up becoming cannonballs 😀

After about an hour I packed up the line. The film crew and I went out to a butte that was about a mile away and hiked up to the top of it. On one side, looking out into the horizon, it was nothing but barren desert. On the other, It looked like the rainforest; one side was light brown, and the other was many shades of green with diverse foliage. While on top of the butte, we were walking around shooting an interview. It was a scenic shot, being on top of the butte with 50 foot drops on each side, and only one sensible way down. All of a sudden, we heard a sharp noise. You could immediately see in all of our faces that we knew what the sound was. It was undoubtedly a rattlesnake. We couldn’t see it, but it was loud, and very close. We all froze. After a few minutes of scanning the ground for the diamond-patterned skin, we cautiously made our way toward the “exit”. With a bit of luck, we all made it down safely.

After arriving back at the RV, we packed up camp and moved out to where I stopped running the night before.

I began my run tonight (Tuesday 4/29) just as the sun was beginning to set. I started on Kane Springs road near Moapa, NV. The area on the road that I began at could kind of be described as a “bowl” in the middle of the mountains. There were mountain ranges on the left and right of me, with a couple of miles between us. I ran for about two miles before the sun made its descent behind the mountains.

It was one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen. Once the sun started going down, it cast a shadow from the contour of the mountains across the valley I was in. I watched the shadow come across the valley, creeping ever nearer to me, until I became a part of it. The mountains on the sun side were dark, but the ones opposite were still lit up in many shades of color. I kept on running. As I paralleled the varying-height peaks of the mountains, the sun reappeared and disappeared three more times. Essentially, I watched the sun set three times that night.

About an hour later, it was completely dark. I turned on my Black Diamond Storm headlamp. The stars seemed so distant, and the mountains no longer appeared even in silhouette. There was no moon. The only light was my headlamp.

I met up with the crew at mile 13. I loaded up on calories with my newfound favorite, a PBJ Banana sandwich, in frozen form. They seem to carry me quite well, and they are delicious.

Getting chilly, I put on my Oakley Persevere longsleeve, which also has a good reflective piece on the front just in case I happened to find the only vehicle within 100 miles on that run.

I ran along well for the next 4 miles or so, averaging about 7:20 pace. The wind started to pick up hard, and I was soon battling the dust and sand, and occasional tumbleweeds. I made a stop at the RV ahead to pick up a bandana to cover my face and mouth, and also my ski goggles to totally enclose my eyes.

It made the run a lot more comfortable, not to mention the breathing.

Kane Springs road went uphill for a while, and then took a rather steep downhill. The downhill didn’t stop for about 7 miles. When I finally hit the bottom, the road turned to asphalt, and I realized I must have been in Rainbow Canyon. The cliffs of the canyon were about 400m to either side of me, and hundreds of feet tall. I could look up and now see the silhouettes of them, contrasted by the starry near-midnight sky. The cliffs were huge. While I couldn’t see any real details, I could tell they were magnificent.

The same scene continued for a few more miles, until I could see one of the jagged canyon faces lit up completely in light. I was confused as to what was causing it. As I continued around the hill, I saw that it was the RV headlights, and a large spotlight set up by the film crew to catch me running past it. It was a cool shot, running by the walls in night, illuminated with the surroundings.

I stopped in the RV, having completed 26 miles, for another PBBJ sandwhich and some pasta, as well as pickles, cookies, and V8. I stretched and rolled out my muscles, which were holding up surprisingly well. The crew asked “so, how much more are you going to run?” I looked at my watch.

“Another.”
“Another what?”
“Another marathon.”
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It was my goal to get us through the dead zone that we were in. There were 5 of us, and no stops for food, water, gas, or cell service until Caliente, NV. I didn’t want to be stuck out there if worse came to worse, not that I mind an extended backcountry camp. It was also a goal of mine to do a 50 mile run, and this night was the perfect opportunity.

I changed into my “game time” outfit, my black and white muscle-print triathlon suit. My other clothes were a bit nasty from the run so far, plus, the tri suit made me feel pretty BA and was a source of internal motivation.

At 12:20am, I headed out the door and into the night again. I wound around the hairpin turns and hills of the canyon for about 8 more miles, taking in calories at every opportunity when I ran into the crew. I usually would tell Charlie, my head running crew, to meet me in 4 miles. In one instance, he met me ahead in about half a mile. I ran to the car window and asked if all was okay. He told me the road ahead is flooded, and to meet him there, and to be careful.

Sure enough, the road was underwater for about 30 meters at the bottom of the hill. I took off my shoes and began to walk through the chilly flow of water, cautiously checking my steps. The water never got more than 6 inches deep, and Charlie had no problem driving across to continue crewing.

About this time, I started feeling a weird sensation. It was like a dull headache, and nausea, combined with the tunnel vision I had developed from the headlamp. I informed Charlie that something was different; a feeling I had never had before while running.

The miles went on, and the night got darker. Noises seemed to be coming from everywhere. I began to look around, frantically trying to make sense of the noises.

No luck.

I stopped, and took in a bunch of water. It helped me for about a mile, and then I noticed the feeling again. This time, along with the noises, the plants and shadows on the side of the road seemed to become huge and distorted for a split second before going back to normal. Freaked out, I yelled at them, and ran faster. In a fit of adrenaline, I almost missed the crew waiting for me up the road. They asked what was going on. I just stared blankly, at a loss of words, and said “whuhhidunno.” And continued on my run.

The miles were blending together in a haze of occasional panic, and general confusion. I came to a field where my headlamp reflected dozens of eyes back at me. While running, I raised my fists to the eyeballs, thinking them coyotes, and yelled “Come on! Bring it on!”.  Nothing happened. They just stared.

At this point, I realized I was beginning to go into short, occasional hallucinations. Nothing extreme, and no disorientation, but, still a worry when you are in the middle of the night.

Around the next corner, I could see Caliente up ahead. I trudged on ahead, finally getting into the lights from the small town. I could see a rock with “Caliente” carved in it up ahead, as well as the film and running crew all set up.

I ran up to the rock and crawled my way up onto it. Looking at my watch, I saw “50 miles, 7:47”.
I couldn’t believe it. My legs didn’t hurt. Clearly, my body was exhausted, but I felt like I could keep on running. We did a quick interview, apparently where I mumbled a lot of stuff.

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I went to bed at 4:45am after eating a couple of burgers and pasta, finally feeling like I was back in “normal” mode. It had been a heck of a night, but it was honestly one of the most enjoyable and “situationally scenic” runs I had ever done.

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