JUNE 9/10 2001
Welcome to our Millennium Race, we hope you survive it! This is not another pretty 5 or 10 K race on Sunday morning at the beach. If you and your team-mates are not up to an Adventurous & Hazardous Endurance Team Challenge then go to the beach and collect seashells.
Most athletes that take on this challenging event will have more war stories and adventures to talk about than they have friends who will listen!
We’re gonna test you to see if you’re a challenger or a wannabe!
If you enter the race and don’t survive, don’t expect us to come looking for you.
We’ve heard about a lone telephone booth in the desert someplace.
Find it and call your mommy to come get you!
Heck, if you go out in some spectacular fashion you might get an honorable mention here on the web page…… maybe.
Cramps, Needles, IV’s, Ambulance rides, Helicopters rides and BIG Medical bills,
More Bills, Bruised egos, Terrible record times, and even Death!!!!
These can be yours if you do not drink enough WATER. The desert is as magnificent as it is brutal. Each person should be drinking water hours before you participate. Drink 1 quart of water each 1/2 hour, 5 hours before you receive tap-off. Any less and you might be drinking it through a needle!
This is not a nice friendly 5K or 10K early some Sunday morning at 8:00 o’clock. Also the idea that you are not competing until late in the evening or early morning at 2:30 am doesn’t exempt anyone. The desert doesn’t care. The air is dry 24 hours a day. Ever heard of freeze dried bodies laying along a lonely desert road?
Despite a recent, near disastrous run across Vietnam, the urge for an adrenaline fix has once again come knocking. Recognizing cold as my nemesis, I’ve been scouring the globe in search of an adventure race in a toasty warm climate. The above ad for the Mojave Death Race is the magnet that grabs my attention!
This unique event is the brain-child of a California Federal Marshall named Ron Cooke. Having a somewhat twisted sense of humour, Ron devised a challenging race consisting of 12 person teams for a tortuous run and bike relay across the Mojave Desert. Oh yes; and it takes place in the middle of summer!
The race used to be a brutal 250 miles but just for fun, Ron decided to add another 33 miles this year, upping the total distance to 283 miles, or 460 kilometers; perhaps in an attempt to have the race live up to its name! The race course starts in Primm, Nevada, and then crosses over into Southern California.
Ours is a mixed team; one of 27 teams entered in the race. Most of our team members are accomplished endurance athletes; marathon and ultra-marathon runners, Ironman Triathletes, ex-pro cycling champion, mountain climber, etc. Three vehicles are necessary to help sort out the logistics of this demanding race, and accordingly, we have at our disposal a motor-home, a van, and a 4-wheel drive for the off-road areas.
At the frailest light of this new day, the starting pistol sounds and runners unleash pent up vim and vigor as they bolt out into the desolate desert to begin their toilsome task. It is 5 a.m., and the onlookers are shaking their heads, probably thinking the whole lot of us is a few sandwiches short of a picnic; a not unreasonable diagnosis under the circumstances, I have to admit!
Our slowest runner is the first to go, and puts us far behind the other teams. The second stage of the race is run by Ivan Steber, a National Disabled Cycling champion, marathoner, and Ironman finisher; not too shabby when you consider he has only one leg! Half way through his run his prosthetic leg is bothering him, so he stops, whips it off and throws it to me, while another team-mate finds his replacement leg in the van. It’s an odd feeling, holding onto somebody else’s leg while he runs off into the distance to finish his run!
During stage four, our cyclist Carl has a wipeout on his bike, but fortunately is unhurt. He bounces up off the dirt with everything intact except his pride; riding his guts out through the rest of the stage to make up for lost time. As he finishes he treats us to a show of projectile vomiting. Good ride buddy!
On the next stage, Dave Molinaro, another Ironman, is riding at break neck speed over the dirt road but hits a sandy patch that launches him over the handlebars into the air. Picking himself up, he spots a lizard up on its hind legs skittering away from him with great urgency; the fleeing lizard no doubt scared to death having never before been exposed to the intrusion of a flying human in his bleak and barren surroundings.
It’s now 12:35 pm, and time for me to get my fit together! This isolated 17 km stretch is acknowledged as one of the most formidable stages of the race, due to the pitiless heat and tough footing in the inhospitable cacti-cluttered sandscape. I am the only Canadian on the team, which I’m convinced has something to do with me getting assigned this stage of the race!
The bullying sun is beating down with both fists and taking the temperature north of 100. It’s hot enough to fry a scorpion, and as I leave the car a lungful of the desert air turns my mouth dry as dust, reconfirming that running shade-less miles of desert is borderline ‘insandity’. The sneaky sand seeps into my shoes blistering my beat feet and stymying my stride through the granular terrain.
Squinting so as not to burn my eyeballs against the sun’s hurting glare and flinging salty sweat from my brow, I lean into the jalapeño heat and hobble on, wishing I was back on my Skagway to Whitehorse Alaska run! Suddenly, a four wheel drive medical ambulance drives past with sirens wailing; somewhere up ahead the Mighty Mojave has claimed another victim.
Shimmers of heat vapor dance above the sunburnt sand, but mercifully in the distance I see the welcome sight of the motor-home in the transition area. It was a strong run, and we have moved up several places in the standings. Exhilarated to have my first part of this formidable challenge over, I’m locked into the thought that at this point all I really want is a full keg of cold beer and a long straw!
Our team races hard through the day and climbs from last place after stage one, up to the middle of the field. It is 8 p.m. and the thermometer is still reading 101 degrees, but starting to fall quickly. In the dark, Carlos, another of our riders, has an interesting experience driving him batty. A strong light on his helmet is attracting a multitude of bugs, which in turn are providing dinners for the cloud of bats dive bombing him as he screams along the darkened roads.
About this time, race director Ron drops by and informs us that so far, four competitors have been taken to hospital. Three from heat exhaustion and one with a broken collar bone. Many more are suffering from the Mojave’s mugging, and you know it’s funny, but I swear I can hear glee in his voice!
My second run of the day is only a 10 km run, but I’m fatigued from all the day’s activities and have a good puke just before the start of my run. The SAG vehicle is following alongside me to illuminate the road, so I can see where I’m going in the dark. My mental endurance is being tested, with gasps interlaid with grunts from feeling as if I’m shackled with leg irons on my ankles.
Still, all is reasonably OK until I’m about 30 meters from the transition area, when from the SAG vehicle, Rob screams ‘SNAKE’! At that exact moment I also see it, writhing across the road right in front of me, and with a jump that would shame a Maasai tribesman I vault over the snake. Trying to swallow my burgeoning adrenaline, I sprint to the end like a ‘roided up’ cheetah on the chase, grateful not to require the services of a toxicologist! Everybody gets a good chuckle from this hiss-terical encounter with he who slithers!
On another stage, Dave, who crashed earlier, gets a flat tire in the thorny terrain, and while repairing it, he hears a strange sound and looks behind him to see a rattlesnake warning him off. Obviously ‘rattled’, and wanting to avoid venom in his veins, he hastily finds another spot to repair the thorn punctured tire. Apparently snakes hide away as the yellow hammers down, and venture out after dark to forage for food.
Things seem to be under control for the team with no major problems; that is, until we get within the last two stages of the race. The driver of the motor-home (don’t worry Dave, I won’t mention any names) makes a wrong turn on one of the barren dirt roads.
Eventually the road dissolves into sand, leaving us no choice but to try and go back, and in trying to turn around, the 29 foot rig gets badly stuck in soft sand. All six of us in the vehicle try scooping out sand and putting rocks under the tires, but unfortunately it’s to no avail, and only buries the motor-home further into the sand.
Teammate Tom ‘Tominator’ Reid is a hulking California Sheriff who knows his way around cars, and suggests we try a blanket under the wheels for traction. This sounds like a good idea except for one important thing; we have no blankets! Grabbing all the sheets of the beds of the motor-home, we wedge them under the tires, but this attempt is also thwarted as the wimpy sheets are too thin to do the job.
We spread out looking for anything we may be able to use; not knowing when, or if, anybody else will venture down this lonesome road. Someone spots some old 6 x 6 fence posts so we use rocks to dislodge the barb-wire from the posts and carry them back to the vehicle. After more digging we lay the posts down. Tom then suggests grabbing all the rubber floor mats from the vehicle to provide more traction for the tires.
He then jumps in and revs up the engine until it sound like a jet engine. As he pops the clutch and absolutely floors the gas, shattered wood and sand fly through the air as the big rig fishtails, swaying dangerously back and forth and almost rolling over. As it lurches onto the dirt road we’re all yelling with delight and giving each other the high five’s. The ‘Tominator’ is undoubtedly the hero of the day!
Unfortunately we miss the end of the race because of our escapade, but a couple of hours later we arrive back for a reunion with the rest of our teammates. We have all raced to the end of our strength, and are elated to learn that our time for the race was 25 hours 2 minutes, placing our team second in our category.
The insufferable heat has sucked the life out of all of us and the only exercise any of us are now interested in is diddley-squats. Our unflagging attention is on getting back to town, where with the help of the Corona Brewery, we can happily succumb to being awash in a ‘tsunami of beer’ in a sillybration of our achievement. Given the horrid heat, I swear I’m going to be so damn attached to the bar it’s going to require the ‘Jaws of Life’ to remove me!
The physical and mental challenge of traversing hundreds of miles of the inhospitable terrain is balanced by the satisfaction of personal achievement. The ravenous hunger for personal challenge, adventure, and an adrenaline rush has again been satiated; at least for now!
Mark Colegrave 2001