March 27, 2022
- West Side Road to Badwater Basin TH
- 14.75 miles
- Features: Unforgettable Sunrise, Incessant Drying Wind, Water Cache at Shorty’s Well, Crossing the Salt Pan again, More Wind, Getting picked up by my Dad
- Temps: low 80F – high 100F
It is 2:30am when I glance at my watch. I still have not slept. I’m tossing and turning, the wind is relentless and I’m anxious that my tarp will collapse in on me. The thought of having to get out and steady it makes me want to get up, pack up and walk. But to where? I realize I just need to surrender. If my tent caves it caves. I release my grip on my tent pole, turn on my side and pass out for three glorious hours.
At 5:30am I am awake again. Nothing has changed. The wind is the same. Sand still blows in my face. My tent stands. Wow! I know its going to be light soon so I rouse myself, feeling grateful for the 3 hours of sleep I got. I drank enough fluids during the night that I actually have to pee. I also have enough water to make a coffee, which today is an absolute necessity. And now I am finally hungry.
The sunrise is nothing short of stunning. A painting really and the most color I’ve seen in days. It cooled to 80F overnight, the wind still feels so warm, like tradewinds on a tropical island. Oh the thought of an ocean…
It’s an adventure getting my tent unpitched without loosing it but I manage to bring in all the lines and loosely fold it up good enough. When I’m ready to walk its 6:44am, my first objective is to get to Shorty’s Well where my final water cache sits (hopefully) under the sand. It’s ~ 8 miles of easy dirt road walking to get there. When I am moving, I feel surprisingly good despite how badly my ankle ached last night. Now, I have zero complaints about cruising on flat, fast turf. My mind reflects back to last night, its like a blur crossing the salt pan in the dark. Did I really do that? And soon, I’m going to cross it again, just in a slightly different place. This will put me at the Trailhead for Badwater Basin, where I will end this first section of the DVT.
My Dad is going to pick me up at Badwater between 12 -1pm and I have about 14 miles to cover total. Normally the Death Valley Traverse continues up West Side Road for many more miles and then veers off in the direction of Stovepipe Wells. Initially, I’d hoped to walk all the way to Furnace Creek, but with all the slow downs from waiting in the shade, I’m shy on time, so it makes more sense for me to exit at Badwater. This way too, I will get to spend more time with my Dad.
The road is lovely but quite repetative and as I’m keeping a 3.2mph pace my ankle starts to feel incredibly sore, just like last night. I ease up my pace a bit. Even still, I make good time. Along the lonesome road, I see five people on dirt bikes heading in the opposite direction and they wave at me. The first humans I have encountered on this journey. When I make it to Shorty’s Well it’s 9:30am and I beeline straight to my water cache. That’s 4 for 4, they have all remained intact! I plunk down in the shade of a wispy Tamarisk tree. I’m thankful for a reprieve from the sun and wind and more coffee is definitely in order.
I have been trying my best to consume water, electrolytes and salt to initiate the re-hydration process, thus I plunge into my last bit of Boulder Canyon BBQ potato chips, finishing every last crumb, then start up on the peanut M & M’s, finishing everything off with palate cleansing Tangerines! Of the 18 Tangerines I found, I now have 3 left, and they still taste so amazing. I have a full liter of water, a full liter of electrolytes and one liter to spare in my pack. More than enough to get me the final seven miles across to Badwater. My goal is to make it by 12:30 and drink the 2 liters before I get there so that I will be slightly more hydrated when I finish, but I realize it may take a few days for true hydration to sink in.
10:30am. I am ready to face another crossing of the Salt Pan, the second in just over 12 hours. It’s still windy as all hell, this should be interesting. The first time I walked across this place on earth was in 2018 on the L2H and today I see several sets of footprints moving in the opposite direction, other L2H’ers I reckon. Who else walks across this basin but crazy thru-hikers? This now is my third crossing, and probably not my last!
The texture and terrain has changed since I last crossed this spot. Previously this area was known for the 12″ high razor sharp salt crusts that formed hexagonal shapes which you had to step over or risk cutting your legs. Now, they are much lower and less pronounced, there is less white salt and more brown crusted mud but this landscape is still so unique. I feel honored to be of the few who set foot on this alien landscape.
As I walk, the wind is so fierce. I am wearing my sun hat and it’s brim is plastered against my face. I can’t change this. My nose is so dry inside it almost hurts to breathe. I find if I place my hand over my mouth and nose, it helps to retain some of my own moisture. If I have learned anything on this adventure, it is the visceral experience of extreme aridity.
I see something shiny on the other side which I identify as cars in the parking lot. I check my GPS and see those cars are still 4.5 miles away. It’s amazing that I can see them already. I am going to be staring at their glare for quite some time still. I push my pace, I am done with this wind and am eager to celebrate my finish with my Dad. I travel as efficiently as I can against the wind. The sun is baking my bare arms now, I have to cover up. When I check, my thermometer reads 95F. Eventually, I can finally see teeny tiny specks that I understand are humans walking out on the salt pan! Hooray, I am almost there!
I make it to the salt pan trail where everyone hikes about, maybe pretending they are on the moon like I did last night. It is littered with people sauntering, snapping photos, touching the Earth with fascination. The Earth is packed down hard here from all the footsteps over time. It makes for the fastest walking I’ve done yet.
When I reach the boardwalk, I can see my Dad up at the parking lot, leaning on the railing. We wave to one another and soon we embrace with big smiles. The sun is baking down on this black asphalt parking lot but the wind has died down enough to have a conversation. I drag him out to the Badwater Basin sign for a finishing photo and several jovial folks chime in and offer to snap a few for us.
I reflect on how many times my Dad has been there for me at the end of my adventures. He flew up to Manning Park to meet me at the end of my 2016 PCT hike. He drove down to Campo to meet me at the end of my 2017 PCT hike. He drove out to Wire Pass in Utah to meet me at the end of my 2019 AZT hike. On the AZT, I also had support from my Mom in the many trail towns across the state, such a welcome comfort as I hiked that 800 miles completely solo.
I am so truly blessed to have this support from my family. I’m sure my Dad thinks I am a little crazy for doing these things, but I know above and beyond that, he loves me unconditionally and wants to see me happy, wants to witness me pursuing and achieving my dreams. And that’s what these adventures are to me. They are my dreams come to life, anchored and manifested into visceral experience. For all of this, I couldn’t be more grateful.
Back at the car, my Dad has brought a cooler with….drumroll... ice! Oh my goodness, there are salty chips, fresh salsa, avocado, cheese, beer, gatorade and water. Trail magic at it’s finest!! I select a celebratory Lagunitas lager, cracking it open as I plunk down on the gravel curbside in true hikertrash fashion. I am absolutely filthy, hot as hell, salty, sticky, sweaty, hungry and thirsty.
I gorge and sip for the next 45 minutes until the beer is gone and I then move on to orange gatorade which is so deliciously cold and refreshing. Home Run Dad!! It is nearly 100F in the parking lot and I start feeling like we should get out of this heat. We settle into the luxurious cabin of the car with the miraculous A/C blowing and begin the long drive back to get my car at Harry Wade Road. It’s going to be a two hour drive.
And that’s a wrap. I can hardly believe it’s already over, yet once again, what I packed into 3.5 days will fill me with memories to last me a while. Here’s to year number forty five, and many more adventures to come.