We were almost as low as it gets...it was going to get lower still. Don't worry though, we're only talking about altitude! No big uphills were planned today and whilst still cold, it was a lovely sunny day in Death Valley. We were running with the foot mostly off the gas as we'd managed to book Jenny in for a pamper at an RV servicing place in in Vegas for Thursday so we tried to time our arrival accordingly. Easy miles with a slow descent to 200 miles below sea level to a place called Furnace Creek. I was glad that someone hadn't turned the furnace on, on the way, but when I saw Furnace Creek in the distance I was surprised to see a lush verdant landscape with palm trees. I was a little concerned over how this had been achieved, but I learnt that it stems from a redesigned system for the local springs that actually enhances water retention in the area, so all was well. After lunch we took a mini roadtrip to Badwater, 17 miles away to see the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level. Pure salt rises from the ground here through cracks in the mud. I had a little taste. I can confirm it was salty. Taking in adequate salt has been an issue on the run, but I resisted the temptation to start filling bags. The local guide said the only people stupid enough to come to Badwater in the summer are mad dogs and Englishmen, before clarifying that it genuinely does seem to just be Europeans seeking a feather in their cap. I have to say that I would probably be intrigued to try, but I'm not sure about the 135-mile Badwater race. A few more miles to take some of the sting out of tomorrow's hill allowed me to meet Krzysztof Jarzebski, a Polish athlete who was undertaking a series of wheelchair marathons in the Valley and surrounds, braving the hills and elements. I love the kinship I feel with fellow adventurers and was full of admiration for his plan and future dream of building a training centre for para-athletes in his homeland. My route took me past Zabriskie Point, the place where U2 shot the front cover for Joshua Tree, before we headed back to the resort where we were kindly given a couple of beers by a travelling French family (Laurent, Corinne and Lola) and swapped stories with the cool gang of guys who call the Creek their home, as they work on the resort around a firepit.
Start: Stovepipe Wells. Finish: 4 miles past Zabriskie Point. 33.9 miles. Day 82 Tune of the Day: Blur – This Is A Low. It won't hurt you.
Before I set off running, we stopped at Zabriskie Point to get some photos. The Edge's main recollection of the Joshua Tree shoot was that it was “bloody cold”. I can concur. It was also raining. The landscape is so interesting (sorry for the use of “interesting”, but I reckon it's ok here), with different rock types creating a varied palette of colours. I posed for a photo trying to harness Edge's inner cool. My inner was cool and it continued to be that way as I climbed to 5,000 feet again, into a howling gale that felt like an invisible hand was pushing me back via my forehead. This was a late start, especially as the overnight rain had washed away the majority of my chalk mark designating last night's stopping point! I met a guy with his dogs on the way up and his well-wishing was the only positive point of what was possibly the toughest run I'd done so far. I was glad I'd done some of it the previous day. The push was now on for the State border with Nevada. A very kind lady had seen me on the road near an abandoned car and turned back to check if I was ok. I told her it was great to know people were looking out for each other in terrain like this and cracked on to the fairly surreal sight of the Amargosa Opera House (Yes, an actual opera house), Cafe and Hotel at Death Valley Junction, a remote out post at the crossing of the 190 and 127. Here we met Travis who revealed (much to Liv's delight) that this was the best coffee in the whole state, maybe the country. I'm not a coffee man, but can confirm that I'll nominate it in the BLT category. The owner, Gina, was originally from Melbourne and the place ha been fixed up to look like it was plucked straight from Brunswick. We loved it. It's all not-for-profit too, to enable renovation of the facilities. Please check it out if you're in the area – it's worth a detour! Anyways, back out into the rain for me and down the State Line Road to a very unceremonious border, where we struggled to work out exactly where it was. We called it at the change in the colour of the tarmac as each state maintains their own roads. I took a little more time documenting our stopping point tonight prior to the arrival of Jenny, who emerged through a haze of rain in the fading light. We stayed at the lovely Nevada Treasure RV Resort (it was like the Ritz!!) that night where I got a beer on the house as the girls relaxed in the hot tub and got chatting to Mark, a Death Valley Parks staff team member who had heard me talking and asked if I was the crazy guy wearing a red jacket and a light running over the top of Towne's Pass earlier in the week. I confirmed I was and he remarked that his co-worker had thought I'd watched Forrest Gump too many times and would be in stitches when he heard that the run was all about that! I was glad of the chat where I heard of the possible changes for the NP system under the new administration. Not pretty listening if the worst case happens. Protect your parks people! Stand up for what matters.
Start: 4 miles past Zabriskie Point. Finish: 8 miles into Nevada on Bell Vista Road. 33.1 miles. Day 83 Tune of the Day: Queen – Death on Two Legs. A deep cut. Sometimes Queen lyrics slip under the radar a little, but listening to these made me realise they were ahead of their time in many ways. Death Valley done. On two legs.
Functional running day! After an easy location of the start point, I had a couple of thousand feet of up, before a long downhill into the town of Pahrump (What an amazing name!) where we'd stayed the previous night. The town is over a huge area, though still isn't that built up. I decided to take the backroads to meet the team at the supermarket where they were stocking up. I said hello to a very inquisitive sheep in someone's front garden on the way and got to the RV in pretty quick time. The downhills make you think you're flying and be a bit dangerous in terms of long term self preservation, though as I know, there's usually a positive gradient round the corner which will bring you back to the plod, so plod I did, past overhead road signs advising of wintry conditions and to take care. I moved a little further away from the main carriageway. In doing so I noticed aeroplane symbols on the shoulder, making me think that this road was a designated runway in an emergency. It was straight enough, so I was happy enough with that and wondered what it would be like to see Captain Sully in a 747 bearing down on you. I now know that it's the far less exciting fact that it's for aeroplanes to catch speeding cars. With that revelation, it was time to hop back into town for the night, looking at the overnight temperatures of -2C and wondering what that would mean for tomorrow.
Start: 8 miles into Nevada on Bell Vista Road. Finish: Tecopa road/Highway 160 Jct. 35.0 miles Day 84 Tune of the Day: Del Amitri – Nothing Ever Happens. I was glad for an uneventful day.
What did it mean? Snow. That's what it meant. The tippy tap of rain on the roof in the relative shelter of Pahrump was somewhat different on the hills and today we were going to climb to our highest point since the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas. This was amidst reports of states of emergencies being declared in nearby mountain regions and people being stranded overnight. I was confident that the sun and the well-drilled road teams would ensure safe conditions for the RV, though Nads was obviously feeling a little trepidation. I chucked on the layers and found the roads to be ok, though the shoulders were a bit cut up with rough snow from the ploughs, so the central reservation seemed to be the safest place! After breakfast though, conditions were perfect, it was warm and even the way up the mountain seemed easier than usual – it may have been helped by the amazing view. As I descended I took the time to answer some questions from Year 7 of the Crayford Academy, whose teacher many of my friends will know – a certain Mr Ben Stileman had been relaying my exploits to and they were keenly following. This chat to the GoPro took me down from the snow into a more “expected” vista and on the horizon, Las Vegas, Sin City itself was in sight. I was informed over the phone that our meeting point had been extended for a few miles as there were extensive roadworks, meaning no chance of stopping and I skipped past a Highway Patrol officer whistling merrily and looking the other way to a “No Bicycles or Pedestrians” allowed sign put up because of the works and moved onto the side of the road where the building was taking place. Nice and safe. I was challenged by a concerned worker near the end and he let me know I shouldn't have been there though he was understanding of the fact that there was no warning of this on the other side and as I had no other real option and I was near the end, he let me carry on. Which was nice. All that was left after that was to bash out the last 7 or so miles before we decided to call it a day. The best bit about this was I got to then head to the home of a good mate, Lenny Cooper, who I last saw when I was last in Vegas – at his wedding. He's now living there with his ace wife Laura and young family, including two guys I was to meet for the first time - cool Leo and cheeky Bliss. They kindly let us park Jenny outside for a few days and the three of us then decamped via taxi to Excalibur – the Medieval themed castle hotel, which fortunately wasn't Medieval inside. We slipped through the door to be confronted with lights, gambling, the smell of indoor smoke and bars galore. We were in Vegas, baby!
Start: Tecopa road/Highway 160 Jct. Finish: 34.35 miles. Day 85 Tune of the Day: The Rolling Stones – Tumbling Dice. It's all Vegas, innit, but who in God's name called the dice game Craps?
Total: 2630.37 miles