It was hot. Desert hot. 100°F or more. As I walked up the steep incline of the paved trail the sweat rolled down from the top of my head and dripped from my forehead to my nose, then down to my knees, finally leaving wet-drops on my shoes. Sometimes the sweat drops would land on the fresh concrete leaving little round dark spots. It was a ‘dry heat’ as they say, the kind of dry that sometimes made my nose bleed. So dry in fact, that what sweat didn’t drip all over my shoes and the concrete it quickly evaporated from my skin making me feel almost comfortable.
Walking toward the mountain-peak less than 2 miles in front of me, the trail was getting steeper and steeper with each step and the freshly poured 10-foot deep cement spillway just over my left shoulder got deeper and wider as I approached the dam that holds back all of the rain from the winter, keeping the city below from flooding, as it’s done so many times over the last 100 years.
It was during that walk, on that hot day, going up that hill, toward that mountain, that the craziest idea I’ve ever had, came to me. I had been thinking for weeks of a way to challenge myself. “Walk across Death Valley?” No. Too many people have done that. “Walk across the United States?” No. Would take too long and the wife would never allow that. Then, out of nowhere: “I could walk around Salton Sea.. During summer!”
That was in April 2014. Today, on day #6 of my walk around Salton Sea, and less then 5 hours away from achieving that goal that I had set for myself, that year-old memory was crystal clear. Even with my thinking clouded by “brain burn”, and not even able to remember most of the previous 5 days, that particular memory was not only vividly clear, but it was playing over and over in my mind like a old 78 record, stuck, playing the same spot over and over.
For the last 14 months virtually my entire life consisted of nothing other than the shoreline of Salton Sea. During dozens of trips from my home in Rancho Cucamonga I had walked on, surveyed, and mapped virtually every inch of the muddy, barnacley, shoreline, walked through virtually every canal, crossed all the rivers, walked through or around every marina, and took a picture with every stranded and abandoned boat within a mile of the water. I had walked through barnacles, mud, and quicksand in temperatures as high as 117°F. I did all of this, for one purpose – to achieve this goal. Now, I could see the finish line, the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, a fuzzy little area as I looked from “Heatstroke Road” at the Whitewater River. The finish line. Only a few hours away. As I walked toward the finish line, that memory – the memory of me walking up that hill, in that dry heat, mountain in front of me, spillway on my left, desert on my right, played in my head, over and over.
The morning of day #6 was different from the previous few mornings. I was excited and could not wait to get started. Maybe it was the extra rest and sleep after a short day #5. Maybe it was excitement about finally crossing the finish-line. But mixed in with all of the brewing excitement was fear. Fear of knowing that today, day #6, would take me through one of the most difficult sections of shoreline to walk through. Before reaching the finish line I would have to pass through miles of deep mud and a mile-long or more section that I affectionately refer to as “Death Beach” because of the extremely deep barnacles, making it very difficult to walk through. Maybe, it was fear of failure. I remember thinking to myself, “wouldn’t it suck to come this far and twist an ankle, get stuck in the mud, or get heat-stroked, and not be able to finish?“
The day got off to an easy start. The temperature was on the cool-side, maybe 85°F or 90°F, and the first two miles down Heatstroke Road were fast and easy. Twenty minutes after starting I was on the shoreline heading south toward North Shore. Only 8 miles of bad mud and deep barnacles between me and the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club.
After less than an hour I had hit the first mud-patch. I strapped-on my mud shoes and started slowly making my way through it. The mud was worse now than it was when I had scouted this section late last year, but nothing unexpected. Two hours later and I was at mud-patch number 3 or 4, and getting behind schedule, then my phone rang. Kerry Morrison of The Ecomedia Compass was checking-in on my progress. People were starting to show up at the Yacht Club, the crowd was growing, what time would I arrive? I told him that I was only a little behind schedule and everything was going great. Two hours later my phone rang again, this time it was my wife. She had arrived at the Yacht Club an hour earlier and wanted to know where I was – I should have been there already. I told her I was only a little behind schedule, and everything was going great.
The further I went, the more behind-schedule I got. The mud never ended, and in the spots where it did end, the shoreline disappeared into swamp areas with thick overgrowth of bamboo-like reeds and tall grass. The phone kept ringing, the clock kept ticking, the temperature got hotter, I continued to get further behind schedule.
It’s right around this time, I guess as it got hotter, that my brain went into “full burn” mode. I have fairly vivid memories of much of the morning, but by about my first or second video-update, I don’t remember anything more than a few faint flashes of the day, usually sparked by seeing a photo or a video. Because of this, I will have to tell the rest of the story with photos and short descriptions, just as I remember it.
Getting Close To The Finish
Just as I was exiting the “Death Beach” area, and only a few miles from the finish, the first followers began to show up. One of my loyal followers Bruce Poynter and a friend of his met me and gave me a cold drink.
As I got closer to the finish line, more and more people were on the shore to welcome me and cheer me on. Several newspaper reporters even trudged through the barnacles toward me for quick ‘from the shoreline’ interviews. The Yacht Club was only a few hundred yards away, but the finish-line, located at the front of the Yacht Club was hidden by trees and the building itself. I had no idea what the turnout would be or what to expect at the finish line. As I made it up a small hill and through the trees and bushes, the crowd began to come into view. At least 100 or more people, crowded around the finish line, all screaming and cheering me on. I was shocked, and even more, overwhelmed with emotion.
Finally, after 14 months, I could see the finish line. As I approached it the crowd roared and I was overcome with not only emotion, but the fear, anxiety, stress, and fatigue from the 100+ miles of walking had caught up to me. The only thing I remember is pushing my way through the crowed and going inside the Yacht Club where I collapsed trying to untie my stinky, mud-covered shoes. All I can remember is wanting to take off my shoes, and breaking into tears. It was over.
Just before pushing my way inside the Yacht Club, or, maybe after, when I came back outside – I can’t remember, this photo was taken. This is the image that to me, sums up my entire adventure.
After resting inside the Yacht Club, I came outside and wandered around for a while. I was still a bit overwhelmed, tired, and brain burned. Even though I don’t remember exactly what I did, I can remember not long afterward feeling bad that I didn’t make a big speech or didn’t say hello and shake everyone’s hand. This, if anything, is what I regret most, although I have an excuse that I was not in my ‘right mind’. I still feel bad about that.
I did meet a few people, and was pulled aside to receive a Certificate of Recognition from Senator Jeff Stone and the California State Senate, presented to me and The EcoMedia Compass by the Mayor of Indio.
I barely had an ounce of energy left but I was able to take a photo with “Jumpin Jill” of Palm Springs, and take a dip in the water. As the minutes ticked-by, I could tell that I was running out of steam. My legs, which felt fine when I jumped for the picture below, were now starting to get wobbly, and as the adrenaline of seeing the crowd at the finish line began to wear off, my body was starting to feel the wear and tear of the last 6 days and 102 miles.
I had done it. I set a goal. I spent 14 months of my life planning for it. It took 6-days to do it. Now, it was over. I felt like shit, I could now hardly walk, and I’m pretty sure I’ve suffered some minor but permanent brain-damange, but it was over and it was all worth it. As I was driven back to camp in the Jeep, I took one, final photo of my adventure.