It’s not like it sounds. I did it in winter. In fact, when I reached the lowest point in the North American continent at Badwater Basin, my fingers were numb.
Was I also at a low point psychologically? Had I become lost? My close friend and mentor said that it looked like I had been “floundering” for the past year. Mission-less and drifting.
I cruised into this, the lowest spot in our continent ascending and descending alluvial hills. I was hit with cold and rain, and a 20 mph headwind.
How did I keep my calm? How did I push on through this leg? While approaching Badwater I listened to the Rich Roll podcast with David Goggins (link here), one of the toughest ultra-endurance racers on earth. He described his experience in the Badwater 135, a race through Death Valley in the heat of the summer (temperatures can reach 135 degrees F, some of the hottest on earth) for a grueling 135 miles.
“Everybody comes to a point in their life when they want to quit. But it’s what you do at that moment that determines who you are.”
I had quit elsewhere. I had abruptly left a situation that was psychologically and financially detrimental. I had given up on it. But then again, I had continued my unicycle trip, and through some of the most desolate terrain yet. I still haven’t given up that dream.
Death Valley was not hot and flat like I thought it would be (it can get hot during the day in winter, mind you.) It has several distinct ridges to cross over, which brought me from sea level to snow line, down to below sea level, and over again.
Prior to Death Valley, I had followed the coastline from Monterrey, through Carmel Valley, and down to Bakersfield. On the way there I dodged massive tumbleweeds, and was forced by lack of water to stock up at an animal feed water tank (A godsend, really. I boiled it, just in case.)
From Bakersfield, I crossed the southern end of the Sierra Nevadas, finding a hot spring, a humongous boulder blocking the road, and some great views.
Death Valley, however, was easily the most magical part of this leg of my journey. I woke at sunrise each morning, both for the effect and for to get a move one. Absolutely nothing compares to a crisp, cloudless morning in the desert.
Another few 5,000 ft mountain passes, and I was on my way out of the valley. The road grades up these passes were a solid 7-9%, which meant extremely hard unicycling and/or hours and hours of walking. Thankfully, I had Rich Roll podcasts to keep me inspired.
Did I mention I was training for a marathon?
About that. I began training in September 2016 for the Austin, TX Marathon on February 19, 2017. This 880-mile unicycle trek took place January 8-24. That means that in place of 4 weeks of the longest runs in my training program (between 12- and 22-mile long runs), I did 880 miles of fully loaded unicycle touring on mostly consecutive days of 40-60 miles.
Oh, and I rolled into Las Vegas 6 days ahead of schedule, so I bought some climbing gear and found some people to climb with at Red Rock Canyon for 5 days:
The 880-miles of loaded unicycle touring substitution for running worked out perfectly, since I had tweaked my knee on a 17 mile run the week before I spontaneously left for the unicycle ride. It did not hurt to cycle, so I went ahead with the trip. I resumed my marathon training just 3 weeks ahead of my marathon. It obviously worked out alright, since my I finished over a minute faster than my “realistic goal” of 3:30. I ran it in 3 hours, 28 minutes, and 40 seconds. (That’s 7:58 min/miles average)
“I don’t stop when I’m tired. I stop when I’m done.”