Sunday, December 28, 2014

3 Days in August : The Mohave Desert : Long Distance Training

3 days in August, long distance training, bike, hike, paddle
Map - 3 days in August, long distance training, bike, hike, paddle

This is a story, not of excitement or heroics, but just of grinding out long distance across natural terrain using only muscle power and wit.

Mountain Biking, Hiking, and Paddling:

In terms of crossing terrain, those are the big three of adventure racing. However, they have been my 'big 3', those and rock climbing, since before I did my first adventure race. Which actually, my first couple of adventure races didn't even have mountain biking. They did have horse riding though. The Eco-Challenge in Utah in '95 had about 28 miles of ride-and-tie, (ride-and-tie; the whole team, of 5 in this case, was not mounted, some would run, some would ride, then switch) and the Raid Gauloises in Argentina of that same year had about 80 miles of riding (the entire team of 5 being mounted, crossing the mountains, the pampas); great memories those two races.

So that is what I do, what I love to do - is ride, hike, and paddle long distances. There's a romantic notion to all this. History is replete with examples of man crossing oceans, crossing mountains, crossing deserts.

I like the feeling of doing that, of covering the long distances, covering the long distances over any kind of terrain, but especially the desert and especially the desert when it's hot. When it's hot, that's when the desert is in its full glory.

When asked what I'm doing, I always say, "I'm training". When someone asks Rebecca, "where's Robert", she answers, "oh, he's training". But in reality, I'm not training for anything in particular, not really. I might be getting ready for an adventure race, or not, but regardless - I'm just riding, hiking, and paddling.

Near the end of August of 2011, I was getting that, "I'm not getting out there enough" feeling. I always get that feeling if it's been too many days since the last adventure. It's one thing to hike, ride, or paddle. It is another thing entirely to push yourself to your limits. If I haven't pushed myself to my limits recently, then "I'm not getting out there enough".

I had it in my mind to do the big 3 in a fairly pronounced way, one discipline per day for three days. On day 1, I planned to ride 70 miles, on day 2, hike for 35, and on day 3, paddle for 55. I had set the weekend of August 26, 27, 28 for the effort, that weekend was approaching and my mind was wrapped for the effort.

It would be a solo effort out there in the desert for those 3 days. But of course, Rebecca would drive support, picking me up at the end of the bike and at the end of the hike, and dropping me off at the beginning and picking me up at the end of the paddle.

Then Druce called - he said he'd be in town and wanted to know if I'd be up for some training. I explained what I had already planned and he replied that he was psyched.

But here was the crux. I was acclimated to the summer desert, whereas Druce was acclimated to the coastal region of California's Bay Area. For myself, I was expecting the effort to be very hard. For Druce, unacclimated as he was, the effort would necessarily be extreme. Temperatures were expected to be in the low teens - of the 100's.

Day 1: The plan; from the house, ride to Dolan Springs and back, then continue riding to Willow Beach. This will be about 70 miles with over 4000 feet of elevation gain and almost 7000 feet of elevation loss.

Distance and elevation profile, mountain bike ride, house to Dolan Springs and back, 26 Aug 2011
Distance and elevation profile, mountain bike ride, house to Dolan Springs and back, 26 Aug 2011

6 AM found us on our bikes heading to Dolan, 6 AM, bankers' hours for a desert adventurer. We had ridden to Dolan for breakfast many times. It's a great ride on 4x4 roads through the terrain of the White Hills. It's a network of typical desert mountain bike riding; from smooth and rolling to impossibly difficult sandy washes to steep and ridiculously rocky hills.

Going to breakfast is a good 20 mile ride, coming back makes it a hard 40 miler, continuing to Willow Beach for another 30 miles makes it a challenge; perhaps not so challenging in the Fall or Spring, but in August - there is the heat.

The cool interior of the restaurant in Dolan Springs was a welcome refuge as it was just starting to get hot when we got there. Breakfast was nice, but sitting at the window watching the light refract in the heated air on the surface of the road outside was foreboding. Too early to think on that though, we still had 50 miles to go.  

By the time we got home, the sun was near its zenith, there was no shade, there had been no breeze, and we were feeling the effort. We stopped at the house briefly to re-supply our snacks and water but going back outside into the hottest part of the day for another 30 miles - we were not relishing. But, that was the task we had assigned ourselves.

It is mostly downhill to Willow Beach. My house sits at 3480 feet above sea level. Willow Beach is about elevation 650 feet. But in that near 3000 feet of drop is another 1000 feet of climbing and climbing out of Detrital Wash, up that sandy, rocky jeep road, crossing an indeterminate amount of washes was a slow, hot, desert grind for both of us and especially for Druce, unacclimated as he was.

On that climb up out of Detrital, waiting at one point in the meagerly adequate shade of a Mohave Yucca, I heard some rustling above my head. I peered up and the Loggerhead Shrike peered down.

Loggerhead Shrike in a Mohave Yucca
Loggerhead Shrike in a Mohave Yucca

With only a couple of more miles to go down Jumbo Wash, I was slightly worried about Druce. But I knew, just as he did, it was only 2 more miles to that cold, clear Black Canyon water.  

Those 70 miles in the heat was enough for any sane person, but we had to prep our gear, eat and get to bed early in preparation for tomorrow's hike.

Day 2: The plan, hike from the house to the summit of Mt. Perkins, at 5450 feet it's the highest peak in the Black Mountains, continue along the Mt. Perkins ridge, and then descend down to a point on Cottonwood Road. This would be about 35 miles of hiking with over 4000 feet of climbing and over 5000 feet of descent.

Distance and elevation profile, hike, house to Mt. Perkins and beyond, 27 Aug 2011
Distance and elevation profile, hike, house to Mt. Perkins and beyond, 27 Aug 2011

The plan also included a midnight start, for which we got up at 11 PM, but both of us were too stiff, tired, and sore from the bike ride to get going very fast. We didn't start hiking until 1. Still, that was a good starting time to beat most of the day's heat.

Down to the bottom of Detrital Wash the going was steady but very slow, we stopped about every hour for 10 minutes to take our packs off and put our feet into the air. In those early morning hours of darkness in the White Hills, we saw a Mohave Rattlesnake, lots of them here, lower down in the valley we saw a Western Diamondback, lots of them down there, and we saw a little baby Red Racer. After the sun rose, we wouldn't see one sign of wildlife for the rest of the day. It was going to be too hot for wildlife sightings.

Showing three representatives of these snakes, but not the actual snakes we saw that night ...

3 Mohave Desert Snakes common to the White Hills - Mohave and Speckled Rattlesnake and a Red Racer
left: Mohave Rattlesnake, right: Red Racer, center: Speckled Rattlesnake

We crossed the highway about sunrise, made our way up the alluvial fan of the Black Mountains, found a likely drainage to begin our ascent, passed by two springs on the way up, and made the summit by 10 AM, just as the heat was on.

The going along that Black Mountains ridge was rocky and difficult and therefore slow. We hadn't run out of water yet, but we were just about out of ice water. See the video below...

Please note, we were not out of water in this video, just out of ice water, ice water when it is 113 degrees is nice!

But before we had finished the hike, as we descended in elevation towards Lake Mohave, temperatures were soaring to around 117 degrees and we did run out of water. Good thing Rebecca was waiting for us on Cottonwood Road!

Well, those 35 miles were behind us. Now we had to prep our kayak for the next day, eat, hydrate, and rest. As it turned out, it was hard to sleep that night, over exhaustion was creeping in.

Day 3: The plan; begin paddling from Willow Beach at 2 AM and get to Katherine Landing in the best possible time. This would be 55 miles of paddling. Temperatures were expected to be in the teens of the 100's again.

Paddle notes, Willow Beach to Katherine Landing, 28 Aug 2011
Paddle notes, Willow Beach to Katherine Landing, 28 Aug 2011

I have probably hundred's of hours under my belt of paddling at night. There's something to be said about paddling in the night, besides the fact that I love it, at night, you are not trying to close the distance to your target or to the horizon, neither of which you can see. You simply get in the zone and paddle into the dark. My favorite time, one of my favorite things to do period, is to paddle through the night and into the dawn. Here's the dawn we saw that morning...   

Sunrise 55 mile paddle, Willow Beach to Katherine's Landing, 28 AUG 2014
Sunrise 55 mile paddle, Willow Beach to Katherine's Landing, 28 AUG 2014

We had done this paddle many times; sometimes in Summer, sometimes in Winter, sometimes with no wind, and sometimes in big wind. Our best time, wind aided, was in "Blue Boat of Happiness", 9 hours and 40 minutes. Today in "Sunshine" and in no wind our time would be 11 hours, which is still a pretty good time for 55 miles.

It was so hot at times though, more pleasant for sure than hiking around in the rocky mountains to our left or right, but so hot we'd stop paddling, jump out of the boat and take a dip. We did this probably 3 or 4 times.

Anyway, 11 hours later, at 3 PM we paddled into Katherine Landing, met Rebecca, went to dinner, and celebrated three great days of physical effort and adventure with a little rum & coke.


  1. You know Robert, I've had those feelings of "not getting out there enough" pretty much since you left the Vegas area. Lately I've been reduced to a sport climber and a "quaking has-been" on the long trad routes. So cool to see you and Druce out there doing it!.....You are an inspiration my man!!

    1. Sorry, it is you and your climbing that is inspirational. At best, I muck about as a climber, hiker, mtbiker, or paddler.

  2. I'm have the same syndrome. Not getting out there enough-itis.

    1. LOL, you get out there quite a bit I think! The thing is though; you, I, those like us; have a certain combination of addictions; adrenaline, beta endorphin, wanderlust.