On Friday November 4th, 2005, Team Red Energy left sunny Phoenix, Arizona, for Sierra Adventure Sport’s Desert Rage Las Vegas Adventure Race at Lake Mead, just over the Hoover Dam and just East of the famous Bootleg Canyon mountain biking area. The main thing on our mind was, “How cold is it going to be?” While it was only 10 degrees cooler at Lake Mead, living in Phoenix has spoiled us and always makes us question the temperature when traveling, since it seems like everywhere else is colder than Phoenix. So with every cold weather piece of race clothing we had packed, we set off for the next day’s race. Race Director Rick Eastman had joked about having us rappel off the Hoover Dam and to our surprise, while crossing the Dam, there were a few Las Vegas Swat guys set up and ready to rappel down the canyon side of the Dam. Were they testing it out for us for tomorrow’s race? Only time would tell.
The race got underway quickly in the chilly morning with long and short course racers starting at the same time. The long course racers would travel about 45 miles while the short coursers would travel about 25. Little did we know that the race would turn into a battle of attrition.
The race started at Boulder Beach with two tasks. We would start out kayaking about 8 miles, but first we had to run about 100 meters or more down the shoreline to gather our paddles and PFDs, which had been loaded up and taken away before the race. Next we would have to run about 100 meters or more in the other direction down the beach from the start and fill up one burlap bag per racer full of sand and rocks until it was weighed and found to be at least 40 pounds; then pick it up a carry it back to the starting line. These two events would serve as checkpoints 1 & 2.
Since there were not enough bags to go around, some teams were instructed to complete the sand bag checkpoint after the kayak portion of the race. We were one of these teams and quickly found this was not the best choice for us. We should have stayed in transition and plotted all of our checkpoints, because while we were the first team in the water and the first team to get close to CP3, finding CP3 turned into a follow the leader and many of the teams that had already filled the sand bags caught up to us by the time we located it on the South shore of the lake.
From CP3 it was off to Sentinel Island a few miles out in Lake Mead for CP4 and then back to one of the Boulder Islands for CP5 and then back to the TA.
From the TA it was a quick run to the West and up an approximately 100 meter high rock formation for a rappel down the North face and CP6. Then it was back to the TA for another special test and CP7. Remember those 40 pound bags of sand and rock? Well, they served as sled weights for teams to drag around the beach. Basically, you either put three sand bags or a team member on a 2’ x 3’ piece of plywood and pulled it by a rope which was threaded through the board down the beach and back. Sounds easy until you start hitting the baby head sized rocks that were half buried in the sand.
After playing on the beach, it was on to the trek and CP’s 8, 9, & 10. CP 8 took us back to the same place as CP 3 on the South shore of Lake Mead and then it was up to CP 9. CP 9 was on the side of a railroad tunnel about 1000 feet higher then the lake shore but only about 250 meters South of CP 9. We were warned not to try to go directly up to this point since there were scree slopes that were at about a 75 degree angle and to look for a faint trail that would take us close to the checkpoint. Well, we found the trail but must have stayed on it way too long because next thing we knew, we were walking through a scenic overlook among the tourists visiting the Hoover Dam. From the edge of the overlook we could see CP 9 only 100 meters away, but it was now below us by about 50 meters. Looking around, the only way to get there was almost straight down the edge of the overlook and on to the railroad bed. If you’ve never looked on the other side of a scenic overlook, it ain’t scenic. We had the hardest time getting down this section of rock since it was littered with broken glass, garbage, and huge fat squirrels feeding on the overlook buffet. Luckily the people above were nice enough to stop throwing food to the squirrels for a few minutes to let us down climb in peace.
From CP 9 it was a couple mile run along the railroad bed to CP 10, and then another couple of miles back to the TA to transition to the bike portion of the race. I must note here that the race started at 8:00 am and it was now a little after noon and we were somewhere in the top ten. I knew sunset in Vegas was at 4:30 but with only 20-25 miles to bike, we figured we should be in well before sunset, but decided to take our better headlamps, just in case.
We would travel about 10 miles until getting to CP 10, all the way into Bootleg Canyon at the trailhead for the Caldera Trail, roughly 2000 feet above the lake level. For this section, we couldn’t use any roads until getting into a residential area just East of Bootleg Canyon, so it was a lot of pushing the bikes through some pretty bad sand for quite a few miles. This was definitely the toughest part of the race for me, especially since I was having some stomach problems and had to stop to dry heave every few minutes. We heard later that this was where a lot of the teams dropped out from frustration with the sand. The maps showed dirt roads that were there, but would turn into roads of sand. The only way to tell what was a road many years ago, was that there weren’t as many bushes where the roads were. There was a better trail to take that went way out of the way, but we didn’t realize this until our way back in through this area.
Finally we reached the residential area and pavement. We snaked through a few city parks, got chased by a big horn sheep, and then finally made it to the powerline road that is used to pick up and shuttle the downhillers in Bootleg Canyon. We got some pretty funny looks from some of the downhillers, especially when they saw us riding our bikes, up the hills.
We continued into Bootleg Canyon and started up the road through the center of the canyon to CP 11. By this time, with the sand issues and my stomach issues, we didn’t know what place we were in and were pretty surprised to see the first teams coming out of Bootleg Canyon at this time.
We hit CP 11 and the turned around to catch CP 12 on the way out of the canyon and on the CP 13 at the East end of the residential area. It was then that we discovered the trail that would lead us to CP’s 14, 15, & 16; the one that we should have taken earlier. A nice trail that we could actually ride. It was about this time that the sun started going down. About 1 mile from CP 14 the headlamps came out. It would have been nice to have better bike lights with us, but since we were pushing up sandy roads again into the mountains, we only needed so much light. After reaching CP 14 and then coming a mile back down the sandy road it was on to CP 15 along the nice trail we found. We came to another sandy road, pushed our bikes up it 1 mile to CP 15 and then came back down the sandy road to the nice trail. We didn’t want to repeat this pattern again, so it was nice to head back down hill to CP 16 at the rappel site then down to the beach for the finish line. It was also about now that the temperatures were dropping pretty fast and two of my teammates decided to wrap their emergency blankets around themselves under their jerseys at CP15. I would have done the same, but I think my brain was frozen at this point.
You could say we were a little surprised to come into the finish after 11.5 hours with only a handful of people around and almost everything put away. We were even more surprised to find out that out of 18 teams that started the long course, we were the fifth team to finish and there was only one team still on the course. It seems that most of the other teams dropped out long ago and went home.
My hat’s off to Rick Eastman for designing a tough course that was not only challenging but also fun. It was the toughest of Rick’s races that I’ve competed in and was definitely the most memorable. Let’s just say that the hardest part about the bike was all of the sand. I clocked 23 miles covered on the bike in 6.5 hours, and two of those were in the darkness.
The next day we stopped at the scenic overlook on our way out of town to check out the area we went through, looked down, and just remarked “It’s amazing what you’ll do in the middle of an Adventure Race”.