Why walk the entire perimeter of Death Valley National Park?

It’s 7 p.m. here in beautiful Beatty, NV and I just got off the phone with Marshall. They’re at about 6,000 feet up Oriental Wash near Gold Mountain north of Death Valley National Park. “The view is just beautiful,” he told me.

They’ve already worn their heavy shirts and needed their sleeping bags, so at this higher elevation they’ll definitely be using their cold-weather gear tonight. It seems strange, but even 80 degrees can feel very cold after you’ve been hiking and expending all of your energy in over 100-degree heat.

People ask me, “Why? Why, why, why?” Why do people like Marshall and Dave set out to do a self-supported, over 400-mile trek across some of the most brutal, unforgiving terrain on the planet?

Well, I’d love to give you an answer, but I don’t know. Maybe they don’t know, completely, either. Marshall searched his soul during the run across America and tried to find, and explain, his motives for pushing himself – mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically – to the limits in his book, Running on Empty. Some of the answers are there. And although he told me, “I’m not going to do anything else really extreme” after he finished the transcon, he’s currently on day four of the Death Valley National Park expedition with his friend Dave Heckman. When Roger and I saw them before noon today, they had already trekked more than 81 miles around the park:

  • Day one: 20 miles, CA highway 190 west of Death Valley Junction north into the Armargosa Valley
  • Day two: 25 miles, Armargosa Valley northwest to near NV highway 374 southwest of Beatty, NV
  • Day three: 27 miles (they had expected 21 miles, but terrain, cache locations, and the availability of some unimproved dirt roads rather than trekking completely cross-country, increased the distance), SW of Beatty, NV north, then NW to 9 miles south of Bonnie Claire in Sarcobatus Flat
  • Day four at the mid-day water cache: 9 miles, with about 10 more to go before reaching their overnight cache location, North to Bonnie Claire, then northwest to the foot of Gold Mountain

Dave said in the video preview of this expedition, “What’s really going on is you’re going inside yourself, and to really discover things about yourself that you can’t discover unless you do something like this.”

So self-exploration is part of it. Experiencing the beauty of the desert also drives both Dave and Marshall. We’re all hoping a documentary will be made about this expedition, telling more than just their story. They want to share the history of the Timbisha Shoshone, who have lived here for generations, and the history of the early explorers, miners, and other brave souls who explored, and sometimes exploited, the desert.

Other reasons? Dave and Marshall both also commented today about “all of the crap we don’t need.” They’re definitely discovering how little you really need to survive. Marsh wrote before about what they’ve buried along their desert route along the perimeter of the National Park, but you might be wondering what they are carrying and wearing. Here’s what they’ve got:

  • At least two, 100-ml bladders of water (6.5 lbs per 100 fl oz = 13 lbs of water) for “short” distances of 8-10 miles in relatively cool (at or below about 100 degree Fahrenheit) weather and “easy” terrain. Sometimes they will have to carry three (19.5 lbs), or even four (26 lbs) 100-mil bladders between caches, depending on heat, terrain, and distance between caches (which was sometimes determined by accessibility)
  • Deuter Spectro AC30 backpack
  • LEKI Carbonlite XL trekking poles
  • GPS unit (Dave)
  • Tracking device (Marshall, if it’s not fried by the heat!)
  • 3-D video camera (Marshall)
  • Still camera (Dave)
  • Satellite phone (Dave)
  • Small titanium trowel with a modified handle to dig up caches (Marshall)
  • ExOfficio Vent’r pants — probably Marshall’s favorite piece of clothing right now
  • ExOfficio T-shirt
  • ExOfficio underwear (boxers or briefs? Well, that’s a secret!)
  • GoLite long-sleeved shirt
  • Balega socks
  • Hoka hikers
  • Down sweater (Marsh) or long-sleeved fleece (Dave)
  • Sleeping pad
  • Bivvy sack
  • Light sleeping bag
  • Buffs (dust protection and water cooling)
  • Knife/multi-tool
  • Small stove, titanium cooking pot and coffee cup (Marsh)
  • Heavy-duty emergency blanket to use for a sunshade or ground cloth when they sleep
  • Light cord and a couple of “baby bungees” (more on that later)
  • Sun hat or scarf
  • Sunglasses
  • Headlamps
  • TP and sanitary wipes
  • Toothbrush
  • ENGO blister prevention patches
  • Sportslick
  • Dermatone sunscreen and lip protection
  • Watch
  • Wedding rings — hey, these are important! 😉

Total weight? A minimum of 25 pounds. Much more when three or four bladders of water are needed. So, someone asked, are they running at all? No. This is a self-supported, approximately 450-mile trek in the desert.

“All of the equipment is just perfect,” Marshall told me today. Thanks to all of the sponsors who provided the right stuff. Their lives depend on it! Marshall has tested equipment in some of the most difficult conditions, terrain, and locations in the world. He knows what works, and both he and Dave put a lot of thought into every detail of this expedition.

Marshall and Dave are both in great spirits and doing well. They’re working on their beards, but surprisingly, they don’t smell too bad. Really! The right clothing helps a lot. And they’re able to rinse off at most of the cache locations – dumping water over themselves and getting a “shower,” doing “laundry,” and cooling off in one easy step – as they buried enough water for this purpose.

More later as the adventure continues!



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