Date- August 21
Location- side of trail
Elevation- 7,100 ft
Distance Traveled Today- You’ll have to read!
Distance Traveled Total- No cheating!
Weather/Temp- clear, cloudy, 80s, 90s, 70s
Injuries- Everything hurts…
Pain level- severe
Wildlife encounters- pronghorn, wild horses, grouse, horny toads, jack rabbit
Days without shower- 2
Days without laundry- 2
I was up at 5:15 am – a personal record for this hike. Smiles and I slowly packed up before walking out to the trail and beginning a dynamic warmup (something I wish I did every morning before hiking). But alas, I’m just too lazy to do it every day.
First light was strong in the east as the final few minutes ticked down to my start time – 6 am sharp. My pack was situated perfectly as I fixed the tension on my speed laces. Next, I selected my lineup of songs for setting the mood of the day.
As 5:59 am rolled around, I took a screen shot of my location/mileage on the trail (as shown by my GPS topographical map) for proof of where and when I began the 24-hour challenge. One minute later, Smiles was wishing me “Good luck” and “You got this, Mayor!”… as I tore off into the desert dawn with the “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin blaring into my skull. There was a tingling sensation of adrenaline trickling down my spine and branching out endlessly throughout the rest of my nervous system like electricity – standing my hairs on end. The feeling of invincibility and nothing existing beyond the realm of achievement was rife!
I chose the Great Basin to carry out this challenge for a reason – the terrain is very mild (as far as elevation gain and loss), and the double track trail is easy to follow. A fast pace and huge miles are within the grasp of anyone who wants them. Other than that…it’s a hot, flat, exposed, shade-less, and mostly featureless stretch of land full of range cows, wild horses, pronghorn, and horny toads. There is water, but this late in the summer most of it is dried up or reduced to foul cow wallows. Much of what’s available right now is seeping spring water that is rising to the surface naturally, or being brought to the surface by man made means. Throughout the 120+ mile stretch, there are two 30-mile dry stretches.
I came prepared. Aside from the monumental amount of fluids and electrolytes I’d consumed beforehand, I was starting out with 5.5 liters of fluid which consisted of: two liters of Gatorade Zero cut half and half with water, two liters of regular Powerade cut half and half with water, and 1.5 liters of pure coconut water with pulp. Also, I had two large double pepperoni pizzas (I’d packed out of Lander), veggie straws (with added extra sea salt), dehydrated snap peas (with added extra sea salt), a bag of candy corn, and three packages of gummy worms. Had my sugar – my salt – my complex carbs, and my luxury food (which was a little bit of everything but sugar). I was ready to rock!
I began with far more fluids than I needed because most of the best water sources were within the first northern stretch. Simply stated, I just didn’t want to have to stop to filter and lose time while being at my fastest. Just wanted the amount I had to get me to the edge of the dry stretches where I could stock up on 4 to 5 more liters (that would easily get me through to the next water) at my given pace. So, that was my strategy – and that’s what I brought.
6 am – 10 am
It’s hard to make a day seem interesting when all you did was walk as fast as you could without stopping…but I’ll try.
For the first 4 hours I maintained a 4 mph or better pace. For the initial two hours I was logging 1.5 miles every 20 minutes, and felt fantastic. I felt like I could go faster, but I didn’t want to overdo it. For a while, an 80-mile day felt within my grasp.
The path was jeep track/double track trail for 95% of the Basin. It consisted at all times of either hard packed dirt, rocky gravel, rocks, dried mud, or sand (the sort you’d find on a beach). The hardest part was keeping track of the turns and junctions with other roads/tracks, but those were well marked this year.
As far as the terrain goes, it was sagebrush, rock, and rolling hills for as far as you could see in any direction. The Basin isn’t known for its physical challenges (aside from the heat and sometimes lack of water). It’s known for its mental monotony – gazing out at a featureless and treeless landscape that is of almost uniform color; the trail stretching straight out away from you until it fades beyond possible sight. Walking into this sort of environment can feel more like a death sentence than an adventure… to some.
I crossed the Sweetwater River early in the morning without a second glance. This would be most hiker’s first reliable water source. There would be no more rivers for over a hundred miles.
Pushing deeper into the Basin by the minute, range cows and horny toad lizards were the first wildlife I encountered. They would be a constant presence throughout the day. It killed me not to be able to play with the horny toads.
Close to 8 am I noticed another hiker in front of me who was closing in fast on a stretch of open road. At one point he/she looked back when I was a couple hundred yards away. Suddenly the distance wasn’t closing so fast anymore. This hiker sped up to keep me from passing. It wouldn’t have been anything to think about… except for the fact that the hiker didn’t speed up enough to actually get away from me. This person was only going fast enough to keep the distance between us closing at an absolute snail’s pace. Maybe only a few feet per minute. For more than two hours the individual was in front of me, and slowly, slowly, slowly getting closer as I closed the gap. Some people just don’t like to be passed, and this was one.
In all honesty, it’s very distracting to have a person walking in front of you for hours with no interaction and nothing else to look at. I didn’t like it, and was greatly looking forward to passing them and having an unobstructed view of the nothingness ahead of me.
At 9 am sharp, I flipped my pack around to the front and removed one of my large pizzas without breaking stride. This was the first food I’d eaten all day, figuring a large pizza would hold me over until early afternoon. It took about 15 minutes to eat the slices from the Ziploc bags while on the go.
I had closed the gap from a couple hundred yards to a couple hundred feet by the time we were reaching the next water source (around 11 miles into my day). It was a seeping spring a few hundred feet off trail. I had no plans to stop here. Instead, I had my eyes set on another reliable spring in about 7 to 8 miles.
When the person reached the area where you would go off trail to get to the water source, I saw them stop and set their pack down; obviously preparing for a break or to get water. As I approached, I noticed it was a man in his late thirties or early forties (whom I had never seen before). He turned from his pack to look at me and I gave my customary, “Hey, how’s it going?” He gave me a nod and I quickly followed up as politely as I could, “I’d stop and chat with you, but I’m doing a challenge right now and I’m trying to maintain a 4 mph average!” He gave another knowing nod and a smile, but didn’t say anything. Instead, as I passed by, he quickly picked up his pack and fell in behind me – dropping back a couple hundred feet. He was too far for any interaction, but close enough to know he was there; like an itch in the back of my consciousness. He wasn’t interrupting my field of vision now, just my train of thought and ability to relax. Do you like the feeling and knowledge of being trailed or followed by someone you don’t know? Most don’t.
So I continued on as the individual trailed just behind me, matching my pace for whatever reason…and I felt my annoyance growing.
Deeper into the Basin I went… as wild horses and pronghorn scattered across the sage plains in all directions, along with horny toads scattered before my feet. A few miles out from my first planned water stop I came upon four horses standing in the trail. One was black, another was white, the third one beige, and the fourth was the color of suede. They made quite the diverse little posse!
As I approached within a hundred yards of them, they all turned and began to come in my direction. This was the last thing I wanted, due to my childhood fear of horses (after being trampled by one). I don’t hate them or mind them; they just make me very uneasy when they’re not being ridden by someone.
After a few seconds, they turned and made a long loping arc to my left. They were sticking together and alternating between a trot and canter. As they swooped almost parallel to me, they suddenly turned back in my direction and stopped on a dime. They were lined up perfectly, one right next to the other, just staring at me… It was so surreal. They watched me for a minute before turning (almost in unison) to begin another looping arc in front of me. All four started with a canter before breaking into a gallop and crossing the trail ahead of me. Once again, they turned towards me before stopping in a perfect lineup to stare in my direction. Then as before, they all turned almost in unison and galloped away before disappearing behind a rise – in a cloud of dust.
10 am – 2 pm
I had over 18 miles racked up when I reached the intended seeping spring where I wanted to procure water, around 10:30 am. It was a little ways off trail and kinda obscure, but I knew exactly where to find it from the last time I was there.
While I took off my pack and guzzled down my remaining water (before refilling all of them), my shadow hiker strolled up. As he approached, I immediately decided to make up for our previous encounter and introduced myself. “Hey, I’m Mayor!” I said as he walked up to the spring. I was ready to give him the customary “hiker fist bump,” but he never turned to me as he walked by and began to sling his pack off. Instead, he replied in a British accent, “I know who you are.” When he said this, I took it to mean that we may have already met and perhaps I’d just forgotten. So I responded in an apologetic tone, “Oh, have we already met?” He answered, stammering a bit, “Well, uh, no… I mean, I know you from social media.” “Ah, okay,” I said. “What’s your name?” “Soda,” he replied.
Soda was from London and we B–S’ed for a few minutes while I filtered out 2 liters and scooped two more to filter later. I never asked what social media platform he knew me from… but he knew about Katana and asked about her. Once we’d broken through the awkward ice from early on, I found Soda to be a really nice and personable guy. I told him more about the challenge I was doing and the mileage I was attempting. He admitted to pursuing a 50 mile day himself. Though now, he seemed interested in the 24 hour concept and said he might just keep going after he hit 50. We were in the same spot at the moment, but I was approx. 5 miles ahead of him in total mileage for the day.
All in all, I spent about 7 minutes off the trail procuring and filtering water, and conversating. When I headed back out, Soda was still finishing up with his filtering. When we parted ways I said, “Maybe I’ll see ya at the next water!”
As a precaution and extra cushion, I had begun the day with toe socks on. This was the 4th time I’ve worn socks for the entire hike, and to tell ya the truth – they hurt my feet even more. I don’t know how or why, but they were pulling on my toes in a way that made them feel bruised. So as soon as I got back on trail… I slipped off my shoes, ripped off the socks, stuffed them in my pack, slipped my shoes back on, adjusted the tension on the laces, and was off again. However, in the time it took me to do these things, Soda was also off again, and back behind me at his usual distance. There he remained as the day progressed.
The miles ticked by in the oppressive heat while the wind was nearly nonexistent. I wore a hat, but refused to hike with my umbrella (due to how much it cuts into my pace). As a consequence, I could feel and see my arms browning in the sun.
The equine, bovine, pronghorn, and horny toads continued to be a staple of the trail as time ticked by. With the heat cranking up, I could feel my pace drop below 4 mph – but just barely. At 12 pm sharp I pulled out one of my coconut waters and downed it. I planned to do the same with the next one at 6 pm.
Since the last water source, I was supposed to be in a long dry stretch. However, 10 miles into it I came across a water cache near the intersection of the jeep track trail and a gravel road. I took this fortunate opportunity to guzzle the rest of the two liters I had filtered, and then refilled them. Soda walked up about a minute and a half after me and did the same. It was 1:40 pm and I already had a little over 28 miles. This was a new personal record, especially when 30 miles rolled over before 2:30 pm.
I spent close to 15 minutes at the cache, talking with Soda again and shoveling some veggie straws and gummy worms in my face. Longer than I would have liked, but the snacking was productive.
When I started out again, I looked back when I was about a minute away from the cache. At this point, Soda was on his way down the trail as well. I really couldn’t tell if he was deliberately hiking a short distance behind me, or if it was just working out that way. Either way, I went about half a mile before stopping to take off my pack and retrieve some baby powder. I did this very slowly and deliberately… and then began to powder myself up – thighs, genitals, butt, etc. – all of the essential places. Didn’t really need to at this moment, but it was a necessary and good excuse to let Soda catch up and pass me, which he did. Then I let him get a little bit further, before starting to hike again myself.
He was now at a distance where I could hike my fast pace without worrying about overtaking him too quickly, or having him become my shadow again. Finally, I could recite poetry, listen to my audio-books out loud, or listen to lectures out loud (that I had previously downloaded on various subjects). This is absolutely nothing against Soda as a person. It’s just that his hiking style that day was immensely bothersome and distracting to me while I was doing what I was trying to do. I felt like I’d just gained my freedom back for the first time all day!
2 pm – 6 pm
I was still feeling great – still feeling strong as 30 miles rolled by between 2 and 3 pm. As 3 pm came around, an armada of clouds came with it while cool shadows fell over the desert. The timing couldn’t have been better… as the day was on the down swing and I could use any small grace or break afforded me. The wind found itself as a few rain drops hit me over the next hour, but it never actually rained.
As much as the thought of rain seemed good (earlier in the blistering heat), it was actually the last thing I needed or wanted. In an exposed land such as this, conditions can go from blistering misery to hypothermic danger faster than you can imagine. When it’s 90 degree doldrums in the desert, and then transitions to 40 mph freezing rain… you’ll be begging for the sunshine and oven air to come back. Choose the evil less likely to kill you or greatly diminish your well being – that’s one of my many mottos.
The Giardia wasn’t too bad. I hadn’t had diarrhea at all. Besides some bloating and bad gas, I felt pretty good. I can’t blame Giardia for anything that happened today. It simply wasn’t a factor.
At close to 5 pm, I came upon Soda sitting on the side of the trail having a snack break. This was the first time I’d really seen him stopped somewhere that I wasn’t stopped at first. We exchanged a couple remarks as I passed by, but I didn’t stop. When I was a few hundred feet away, I looked back and saw that he was picking up his pack and hiking. Again, I went about another half mile and stopped to sit down on a rock. This was the first time I’d sat down all day, which was almost 12 hours at this point.
I popped off my shoes, guzzled my second coconut water (a little earlier than I wanted), and began eating half of my other large pizza. As Soda passed by I jokingly remarked, “The tank was getting low.” He chuckled and kept going. I sat for 20 minutes eating, and enjoying the fresh air on my feet. I’d been sitting dangerously long and needed to get a move on, lest my body stiffen up to the point of agony.
As I stood up from the rock, I collapsed back onto it. My muscles were like wire and my feet screamed. I’d sat too long. I was a little less cavalier in my next attempt to stand, and did so successfully. Gathering my effects, I limped slightly back down the trail, slowly transitioning into a smooth stride as blood reentered my joints and muscles. I needed to do my best not to stop like that again. My feet did not like it…
6 pm – 10 pm
It wasn’t 45 minutes before I came across Soda talking with an older man (who appeared to be in his sixties) – next to a scummy pond. I’d just started feeling really good again and didn’t want to stop for very long, but I did.
The older man was a north-bounder that missed a couple essential water sources and became very dehydrated. He was debating whether or not he should get water from the pond or hold out and push another 12 miles into the evening. He had a strong foreign accent that I first pegged as German. I told him that if he was out of water now then he should probably buckle down and get some filtered pond water to get him through to the next source. He replied quite foolhardily, “I’m Special Forces, retired Colonel, it’s no problem to drink the pond water; I’ve had much worse.” I then asked, “KSK?” He said, “What?” Instead, I followed with, “Where are you from?” He responded, “Czech Republic – you?” I replied, “Florida.”
The three of us bantered about water, as well as who was ahead and behind us. It was another minute or two before I bowed out of the conversation. Soda did as well. In my brief interaction with the “Czech Special Forces Colonel,” my instincts told me he was probably full of shit – but who knows. Perhaps it’s just something he tells people when he’s abroad in an effort to not get “messed with” or to impress people. I have quite a few friends across the Special Operations spectrum. If any of them have one thing in common, it’s that they don’t introduce themselves as their profession/past profession, or use their backgrounds as an explanation for anything that wasn’t specifically asked. They’re quite professional. I could be totally wrong and perhaps the older man is what he says he is. Maybe it’s just a cultural difference in the way different country’s operators conduct themselves. Who knows. Either way, I got the vibe that the guy was all bark.
I let Soda get ahead of me again as we began a long but gentle climb. This climb just so happened to be home to the only trees in the Basin that fell on the trail.
At this point, between 6 pm and 7 pm I had more than 40 miles racked up, and for the most part was maintaining a 3 mph pace. My lower back was getting very tight, my hip flexors were very tight, and my feet were getting tender. This is why I went so fast early on – to give myself a buffer when I would eventually begin to hurt, tire, and slow down.
I put some music on while coming up the climb. When I was about a mile from the top with Soda (out of sight), a guy on a dirt bike motorcycle came blazing up from behind, pulling up next to me. “Are you Mayor?” he asked. Thoroughly surprised and perplexed I answered, “Yeah…” He then proclaimed, “Man, I met Smiles earlier and she told me what you were doing. She said you’d be ahead, but you’re WAAY ahead. I thought I’d catch you much earlier!”
Hearing this was a confidence booster. However, I was still unsure of why he’d been looking for me in the first place. As it turned out, he had hiked the trail in 2016 and was now on a cross country dirt bike ride. When he got to this region, he’d packed his bag full of soda, turned down the CDT and was trail magic-ING any hikers he found. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t have been riding this late, but because he’d talked to Smiles, he rode much later in order to find me. When he put a Vanilla Cream Soda in my hand, he might as well have been a motor-cross guardian angel. This was a very fortuitous encounter that did wonders for my energy, as well as my morale. A classic example of the trail providing!
High on Cream Soda and the goodwill of others, I floated down the trail and ran into Soda (the person) at a trickling stream. Motocross guy had given him a drink as well. So, now Soda was debating whether to get water from this stream or go on to a spring in 3 more miles. I told him I remembered the spring being a good one, and I was headed for that one myself. He decided to forgo this source on my recommendation of the other one.
I let him go ahead again and trailed behind. Shortly after finishing the climb and beginning the descent to the spring, the last of the light faded. Darkness swallowed the desert.
I let my eyes adapt and continued on without a light – the beige colored sandy trail almost glowing beneath me. In the distance ahead, I could see the light from Soda’s headlamp bobbing along.
10 pm – 2 am
Soda was at the spring when I got there, his headlamp darting all around. He was having trouble locating the spring. I pulled out my headlamp and joined the search. Try as we might, we couldn’t find the source of the spring – only a few mud puddles. I remembered where the water source came from 2 years previously, but it was nowhere to be found on this night. We pushed on to the next water, more than 6 miles away.
I continued to trail behind Soda, watching his light ahead of me while enjoying the stillness of the desert at night. Besides the usual aches and pains, I still felt good. I wasn’t moving as fast as I could have been, but I was happy with my pace, as well as the current state of my body.
It was around 10:30 pm when I came upon Soda yet again. Ironically, he’d found a bag of sodas lying in the middle of the trail with a note telling night hikers to help themselves to as many as they wanted – and to leave the trash. They’d been left by the dirt biker. He was camped next to his bike about a hundred yards back on the trail.
We both helped ourselves to one more soda as we sat down (talking and snacking) for close to 40 minutes. This was not part of the day’s plan. I was so tired at this point that it didn’t take much to sidetrack me. I enjoyed the break immensely.
Soda and I hiked on together from there for a little while, mostly in silence. He once again got ahead when I had to pull off the trail for a bathroom break.
When I got back on trail, I didn’t get far before almost stepping on a sage grouse that was nested in the middle of the path. It didn’t budge as I crouched down next to it, taking some pictures and a video. I was blown away by its lack of self-preservation. I could have picked it up and packed it out alive to eat later… which I didn’t. Either way, this was the closest I’ve gotten to a grouse without being flogged by it, or eating it. A cool encounter!
It was almost midnight when I found Soda at the piped spring flowing out of the side of a low sand embankment. We filled up quickly and pushed on. Within a couple hundred yards of the spring, I recognized Jetpack’s tent on the side of the trail. It had only taken about 53 miles to catch up.
I walked over and loudly whispered her name a few times. It was a little after midnight, but I knew she wouldn’t mind me letting her know I was passing by. I’d told her I would do that, before she left Lander. She woke and we chatted through the wall of her tent for a couple minutes before I headed out.
The trail became deep sand (like a beach) as it began to slope upwards. It took a hell of a lot of effort to maintain any sort of pace on the sandy trail. A little after 12:30 am, Soda called it a day and dipped off the trail to set up camp, after giving me a fist bump and wishing me luck.
Finally, I was completely alone with a bit more than 5 hours to go. Digging into the sandy climb, I crunched some numbers on my remaining time, including the pace I needed to maintain in order to get at least 70 miles by 6 am – I was behind on it. I would need to go faster than 3 mph if I was going to break 70. The only problem… I couldn’t walk 3 mph in the deep sand with the level of tiredness I felt. I tried and I tried, but was only wasting energy and time – AND hitting a wall. I just wanted all of it to end.
I stopped and sat down for the third time that day while shoveling gummy worms into my mouth. After sitting there for almost ten minutes, I finally got to my feet – it was after 1:30 am. Everything hurt! Everything ached! My mind and body screamed for sleep. I renewed my uphill efforts in the sand to nothing less than renewed feelings of frustration with my slow pace, while expending so much effort. In a last ditch effort to make something work, I began to jog…
2 am – 6 am
The wall crumbled when I began my shuffling jog through the sand. Suddenly, blood was rushing through my body and adrenaline coursing through my veins. All my pain seemed to fade away as I became comfortably numb. I was in disbelief with myself… what I was doing, where I was doing it, the time, and the utter surreal absurdity of it all. I was loving and hating it all at once.
As 2 am approached, I passed the 60-mile mark. I had 4 hours to go at least another 10 miles. This should have been an easy task, but the sand hampered it. I no longer had the strength to maintain a 3 mph walk. The only way to reach or surpass a 3 mph pace was to jog or use a military style rucking shuffle. For the next several hours I alternated between jogging, shuffling, and walking.
The deep sand that had started around the mid-fifties mark had lasted for nearly 10 miles before giving way to hard packed dirt or rocks. It was when the sand disappeared that I learned the real meaning of pain. Every rock and every step on hard earth felt like glass beneath my feet. I was reduced to moving in a strange hobble when walking on the hard earth, later wincing when stepping it up to a shuffle or jog.
There was still a ton of wild horse and range cow feces on the trail. I began to step and walk in/on every pile I came across. It was soft and forgiving, and every step onto dried feces was a step of pain relief.
My knees were throbbing and my hip flexors felt like rubber bands that had been twisted up by rubbing them between the palms of your hands. Everything inside me was yelling to “STOP!” …to make the pain go away – to sleep – to quit moving – to lay down – to close my eyes. It would have been so easy. I could have found an infinite number of reasons to call it all off and stop early. I’d already beat my old record of 63 miles. Why go on? Why continue to subject myself to this torture? I had a million reasons to stop already listed in my mind, but I only needed one to keep going… because I’d regret it. I could do this! I just had to not stop. If I did, I would hate myself in the morning. Hate myself for putting my body and mind through all of this and still missing my goal by mere miles and hours. If I just stuck with it, the feeling of accomplishment and the pride that comes with it would be mine forever. I couldn’t trade that for what would replace it if I failed.
The second to last hour between 4 am and 5 am was the absolute hardest, slowest, worst hour of the entire challenge. The end was so close – yet so far. Time seemed to be only getting slower. I wanted deliverance from the suffering.
I thought of Katana without her eyes. Uncomplaining, going about her days as if she’d never had eyes to begin with – waiting for me back in Florida. She’d taken an absolute tragedy and disaster in stride, without so much as a trace of self-pity or self-defeat. Even when unsure or scared, she always forged ahead – always tried. If she could face a challenge such as that for the rest of her life, then I could do anything for the next few hours. We can all do anything for just a few hours, if we absolutely had to. Even if it’s hanging by our fingernails.
The End in Sight
When the last hour finally arrived, I felt like a burst of wind breathed into the sails of my mind and body. At this point I knew I was getting my 70 miles. The jogging and shuffling had even left me with a healthy surplus. At 5:17 am I crossed the 70 mile mark and still had 43 minutes left in the 24 hours. I could have stopped right then and been more than proud of what I’d accomplished… but then I wouldn’t know what I could have done with the full 24 hours. I raised the bar.
I wanted 72 miles. This distance would average my pace out to exactly 3mph for the entire 24 hours. In order to reach it I’d have to maintain a 3 mph pace for the next 40 minutes. I couldn’t walk 3 mph anymore. That was out of the question. So I alternated between a full jog and a slow limp. I didn’t feel the pain anymore, but my body would only move in certain ways. It didn’t matter. My mind was saturated with motivation, accompanied by the dull indigo and violet light blossoming over the ridge- line to the east. It might as well have been a checkered flag. I could see the finish line!
The full desert was coming into hazy focus as time wound down. While the last minutes ticked by, I felt as if I could just keep going… and even entertained the thought of doing so. As I jogged and limped, I waited with anxious anticipation for the 6 am alarm to go off on my phone. It did, and I stopped where I stood. I took a screen shot of my current location on the GPS, then took another screen shot of where I’d started 24 hours earlier – measuring the full distance. I’d gone 72.4 miles.
I was on flatland covered in sagebrush. It didn’t look much different from where I’d started or anything I’d seen in between. There were cows nearby and a rundown barbed wire fence not far off the trail. I hobbled over to it and leaned my pack against a post before collapsing on it and kicking off my shoes. It was cold. I took out my fleece, rain pants, and down quilt. I put them on and draped the quilt over my depleted body as I laid in the dirt. The sun still hadn’t crested the ridge-line to the east. I closed my eyes.
You can read my current and past posts, and see my photos by clicking this link and going to Boundlessroamad.com