Mojave desert adventure race

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The Mojave desert race - or how to survive 35 hours with 3 people you didn’t know 1.5 weeks before

It started with this email to the Alpine Club: “Do you want to see the Mojave desert like you have never seen it before, challenging the scorching heat of the day and the cold nights under starry skies?

We are seeking an adventurous team mate to join us (to make a team of 4) for the “30 hours of Mojave” adventure race Feb 3rd to Feb 5th in Nevada. It will be a hugely exciting adventure: trekking/running, canyoneering, mountain biking, orienteering, paddling. We will be assigned a map on the race day and will have to navigate from start to finish in a self-supported manner. We have 30 hours to reach the (yet unknown) destination. More info at:

We are already a co-ed team (2 guys, 1 girl), so the 4th team mate can be male or female.

If you’re interested please email:


Let me take this apart: 1) Do you want to see the Mojave desert like you have never seen it before, challenging the scorching heat of the day and the cold nights under starry skies? => True. although the starry skies are a little misleading, because it seems to allude to something beautiful and enjoyable (‘lie down under the starry skies, right, that’s the picture in your mind?’) so no, not what you are going to get. 2) 30 hours of Mojave => False. It was ‘around 30hours’. So yes, if you don’t finish in 30hrs, well you continue until 35hrs right? 3) hugely exciting adventure: trekking/running, canyoneering, mountain biking, orienteering, paddling => True: hugely exciting adventure. False: (But it’s not their fault) Too many turtles hanging around, so canyoneering got cancelled…. The only relaxing activity. Oh no, it didn’t get cancelled. It got replaced by yet more running and mountain biking. 4) More info at: => False. Basically there was no info at all about the race, not even online. Anyway, it’s an adventure race, right?

So, to anyone who doubts that it is possible to survive such a race (and even ‘kind of’ win it - we were the only complete team of 4 people that actually made it, other teams either already started with less people or lost some members on the way….but there were also not that many teams to start with;)), just go to Vito’s morning training sessions, Tuesday and Thursday 7am-8.30..ish… and you will find out what you will be able to do.

Back to the race: We gathered on a Friday night in a lovely Casino somewhere close to the Mojave desert. The perfect contrast to what was awaiting us the next couple of days. The organizers prepared a dinner for all participating groups and explained that they would not explain much about the race. Because it is of course an adventure race. So after not learning much, we enjoyed some last real food. But at least we knew now i) they are not going to say much more ii) the first leg would be kayaking, iii) we would get maps at 5am for this first part (not before), and iv) we would always get the maps and info about the next leg after finishing the previous one. So nothing to worry about - unless you are a person uncomfortable not being in control. Since all of us deeply trusted Vito and Palas, we (tried to) have an early night.

It started on a beautiful Saturday morning, 5am when we got ready to load the bikes and equipment onto a big lorry and headed towards the departing area. As promised, we received the maps and coordinates on the bus. After about 1hr drive we exited next to a little river. Nic directly started to outline the route with the compass while Palas and Marja prepared the metal kayaks - pretty heavy, but normally we should just sit and paddle in them, right? Then, off we went at 8am together with the other groups. After only 10min of paddling, we noticed that our little river didn’t lead into the big one…. So out of the kayak and carry it. Why did they choose metal kayaks again?? After paddling way too far, landing and searching for what it seems an eternity for the FIRST waypoint, we finally found out, that it didn’t exist anymore. Luckily this was just at the beginning of the race. Continuing to the second waypoint, we already were prepared that it didn’t exist and only had to take a picture of the place where we thought it would be (nobody ever checked the picture later).

The next leg was cycling. New map, new coordinates for waypoints, 70 miles of desert ahead. Rocks, sand, more sand, uphill, downhill, sand, more sand, some more rocks, some cactei, some more sand,.... That summarizes it pretty much. Sand means, try as hard as you can to stay on your bike and pedal like you never pedaled before. But sometimes it was impossible. And sunshine. Lots of sunshine by then. Of course. Until the night started. And we were still cycling. Finally we made it to the next transition area, 9pm-ish. We had access to a box that we prepared before with some extra food and clothing, so we had a 6-course dinner (fruit, bars, soup, bars, italian lasagne - no joke, this is what Palas&Vito prepare!, avocado, some more bars, and Erin’s banana bread (ask her for a recipe and you will never want to eat anything else anymore)) and a couple of 5min powernaps.

So about 1hr later, we were back on the road with again new map, new waypoints, headlamps. It somehow always happened that we arrived one of the first at a transition area but then took our time sooo much, that other groups arriving later, left earlier - but we caught up on the way again;)) but yes, one thing to improve probably. If you ever do such a race, try to be efficient in the transition areas. Or have fun like us:D

The running leg was more hike-running. It got really cold that night and I am not sure if we had made it without all the encouragement from Palas. She has an endless energy. Just like Vito - who experienced the pleasure of walking into a cactus. So we spent a short 30min taking out spikes before trying to relocate our position. We had decided to take a short cut instead of following official trails (which was allowed, but of course not straightforward at night). Thanks to Nic’s extraordinary navigation skills, we did find the trail again though. Around dawn, we were on our way back to the last transition area - pretty exhausted already. We hadn’t even found all the waypoints after sooo many miles.

Back in the transition area, mixing breakfast with map preparation, we learnt that we had to cycle aaaall the way back that we had come - and if we wanted, we could pick up the missed waypoints from the running leg on the way. So off we went. Marja had never cycled so much in her life and her butt really wasn’t prepared for this unreasonable imposition. Thankfully Nic traded his saddle which was heaven, at least for the first 20 miles. Somehow, the organizer managed to always put the cycling part into the hottest time of the day. Fortunately we were accompanied by slight cloud cover on this last leg. A few more waypoints, energy bars and power naps later, we arrived. At mile 40. And it was already past midday again. Space and time around us were melting into each other. Until we discovered the “alternative route in order to make it on time” - a.k.a. the highway. After pedalling through sand as if there was no tomorrow and still only advancing inches at the time, cycling downhill on this highway was close to flying to heaven. We were so revived after these 15minutes, that the last cross country part over steep hills up and down (the kangaroo portion of the cycling leg) was even enjoyable.

And we couldn’t believe when we finally arrived! 5pm Sunday afternoon! We made it, slightly over time, but in our full team!

So if this narrative was a little long and confusing, here are just some take-home points:

What did we do? => undefined amount of kayaking (3-4 hours), 70mile bike, 20 mile run-hike, 70mile bike Train cycling on sand if you plan on a desert cycling race Bring always a few extra muesli bars (or if you are lucky enough: Erin’s banana cake) for tired team mates (or for yourself - you will need more energy (food) than you expect) Take fixing tape with you Choose your team wisely. This team was more luck than anything (at least partly) but it was great! Palas, Vito and Nic are all extremely funny, helpful and just great teammates! And you need these kind of people that don’t complain but keep making jokes even after 30hours through the desert. If you thought about doing such a race, try it! It’s worth every inch! => if you want to train for it: go to Vito’s trainings Tuesdays and Thursdays 7am Would we do it again? => no doubts!

Any questions, please ask! And don’t take everything too seriously - just as in this kind of races:))