You know that feeling you get when you step off the plane somewhere exotic, and the warm air hits you square in the face...?
Well that’s how this latest Directors of Toughness testing mission started, after leaving the wind and rain in Portland behind us. Co-Director of Toughness, Faith Briggs and I arrived in Las Vegas airport, unsure of what the next few days had in store.
After a brief overnight stop near the city we headed out into the desert. At this point, it felt more like a holiday than a testing mission.
But that was all about to change. We arrived at the base of the famous Dante’s View in Death Valley National Park where we were given the instruction to make our way to the top where we will find everything we need to survive, but not much more.
This initial scramble up to the view point was honestly not too bad. It was hot but a howling wind was keeping us cool and before long we reached the summit. We took a moment to collect ourselves and discuss what we thought might be about to happen. Little did we know that Gert had prepared a special little treasure hunt for us around the desert.
At the top, we found a variety of safety equipment as well as tents, sleeping bags and…bicycles. After reading our first set of instructions, which contained only GPS coordinates it was obvious what we’d be doing. The next few days we’d be bike packing through the desert, through Death Valley and some of the most spectacular landscapes.
We packed up our bikes and fought the heat to make it to our first location, below sea level in the infamous Death Valley National Park. I was excited to camp on the desert floor and at this point still had high hopes that the temperature would drop significantly through the night. By 3:00AM it was clear this was not going to happen and I managed to sleep a grand total of 23 minutes on the first night.
The next morning was a struggle. With no sleep, the constant battle to drink enough water and eat enough food, energy levels were at an all-time low. We struggled on through the next revelation of the mission.
Deserts are not flat!
I suppose I’d never really thought about it before, but I always assumed that deserts were just flat. Well, I can confirm that’s not the case.
After many rolling hills and a long day riding and we reached our next location only to find more coordinates. I couldn’t help but think that Gert was just messing with us.
The Desert is not only one of the more beautiful places I have visited during my time as Director of Toughness but also one of the deadliest.
Having made it out of Death Valley and back above sea level, thankfully it was a far more comfortable night. The temperatures weren’t dropping much through the night but at least enough to allow the possibility of sleep.
Despite wanting to sleep the entire next day you can really do nothing but get up as soon as the sun breaches the horizon. The temperature seemingly goes from a ‘comfortable’ 80 degrees to an almost unbearable 110 the very minute you can see the sun.
Day 2 was about to be one of the more spectacular, we biked through the spectacular Valley of Fire. After a long, but spectacular day of biking, we pitched our tents, enjoyed an unbelievable night under the stars, and endured a few more rattlesnake encounters before setting off on our final day.
Our last set of coordinates took us to the very edges of the Valley of Fire State Park where the road disappeared and it was clear that the rest of our journey would have to be made on foot. Almost immediately after leaving our bikes and heading out on foot we passed a sign warning that hiking was not advised. It was a severe heat warning which I couldn’t help but laugh at feeling it had come three days too late.
Before long we were pleased to reach the relative shelter of a slot canyon. We followed the canyon until we were right on top of our coordinates. As we searched the area I joked with Faith that I hoped Gert had led us to a waterfall. It wasn’t to be.
We found our final piece of mail from Gert and both drew a deep breath as we read out loud.
You survived the Desert. Now get back to work.’
This mission had brought into light a few things. The Desert is not only one of the more beautiful places I have visited during my time as Director of Toughness, but also one of the deadliest. I began this process with the belief that some far away land and some unbelievable challenge is what, is anything would get the better of me.
Freezing temperatures in Canada, 100km trail runs in the mountains of Argentina and it was here, on ‘home’ soil, in the heat of Death Valley that almost cracked me.
What some people may consider a holiday pushed me further than ever and way outside my comfort zone. Without the protection from the gear I had with me I don’t know how far I’d have made it, but one thing is for sure. This mission, was the toughest yet.
Images - Cam Mcleod