The most common question I get from friends and family is why would you want to walk around Salton Sea? (Which I answer here: Why walk around Salton Sea?) That question is usually immediately followed by: So what’s the big deal about taking a walk around a lake?
It’s not a lake! It’s a sea!
Salton Sea is not a lake, it is a sea! It has no outlets and it is saltier than the ocean (but not quite as salty as the Great Salt Lake in Utah). Okay.. It’s not a lake, so.. What’s the big deal about walking around it?
There are a few details about my walk that make it a big deal to me:
- Nobody has ever done it (along the shoreline)
- Approximately 122 miles of shoreline to walk around
- Summer temperatures of 110°F – 125°F with a heat-index (heat+humidity or “feels like”) of 140°F+
As far as I can find (please, correct me if I am wrong!) nobody has ever walked the entire shoreline of Salton Sea during the summer months. Dinesh Desai walked around Salton Sea a few years ago but he traveled the roadways that surround it instead of the shore. Walking along the streets and highway adds a few miles to the journey, but in some ways taking this route is less challenging than walking the shoreline. The roads give the walker a flat, level, hard surface for walking and if he should suddenly collapse from heat-stroke, surely a motorist would (eventually) slow down to help.
Walking the shoreline instead of the streets adds a whole new dimension of challenge. The shores of Salton Sea are covered in several inches of a crunchy mixture of barnacle shells and fish bones. Walking on this ‘death sand’ is like trying to walk on a sand-dune or through deep (hot) snow. Each step requires far more energy than walking on a hard, flat street and requires constant focus and attention with every step. The barnacle shells are like glass and many of the fishbones are as sharp as needles and it takes only one in your shoe to bring the entire journey to a temporary halt.
The vast majority of the shoreline of Salton Sea is deserted – no other humans for miles in all directions. Even with my support team tracking my every step via GPS, in the event of a sudden emergency there is no road access to 99% of the shoreline and even emergency-services could take an hour or more to reach someone in trouble. Toss in a dead cellphone battery or a phone dropped into the water, and things could get serious. Being the first person to accomplish this is kinda a big deal.
Over 100 miles and temperatures over 110°F
Most people would consider any walk of over 100 miles (20 miles a day for 6 days) a big deal. Do it in extreme temperatures and it’s even a bigger deal. But the naysayers will (and have already) point out that marathon runners & walkers, Iron Man competitors and other extreme-endurance athletes walk or even run 50 or 100 miles, sometimes in extreme temperatures, so what’s the big deal?
I am not an Iron Man, Tri-Athelete, or Marathon Runner
I am just a regular guy, 47 years old, that up to just a few years ago, spent the majority of my time on the couch or in an office chair. When I was younger (25 years ago) I did a few 5K runs and even did the Rosarito to Ensenada bike ride. But by 2009 I was overweight, had high blood pressure and was experiencing asthma-like breathing problems that were so bad I found myself talking to a doctor at the Urgent Care. The diagnosis: I was fat, out of shape, I didn’t eat right and needed to exercise.
After that reality-slap I started walking a few times a week. At first I struggled to complete a 1/2 mile, but before long I was breezing through 1 and 2 miles at a time. I got more ambitious and started walking in the desert-like area in the hills above my home. Eventually I was doing 5 miles at a stretch and I remember the excitement when I set my (first) personal record of 8 miles by walking to the top of the Etiwanda Preserve above Rancho Cucamonga.
I enjoy walking during the heat of the day, and cant (won’t!) go out if the temperature is below about 80°F. I have completed several 14-15 mile walks in 100°F temperatures, and several 5-10 mile walks in temperatures approaching 108°F but I am still far from any definition of an ‘extreme’ athlete.
To complete my walk around Salton Sea I will need to cover 20 miles a day, in temperatures of 110°F – 125°F, for 6 days in a row, and yet:
- I have not yet done even a single 20-mile walk
- I have never walked in temperatures over 108°F
- I have never done any distance walking 6 days in a row
I have one year to get from my current (decent) shape and endurance levels to be able to walk this far, this long, this many days, in these temperatures. Can I do it? I don’t know, but you what? I’m going to take that challenge!
To make my #SaltonSeaWalk even more challenging (maybe even dangerous) is the fact that I also have some minor physical issues to deal with.
I was born with only one kidney. This puts me at a slightly greater risk of renal failure due to dehydration, making staying properly hydrated while on my journey even more critical. As an added-bonus I was also born with 2 vertebrae in my lower back fused together. This puts added stress on my back resulting in moderate to severe back pain after most strenuous activity… Like long walks.
So, to me, even though elite endurance athletes may not think a stroll around Salton Sea is a big deal, to me, it kinda is. If I fail, at least I can say I tried. If I accomplish my goal, I’ll have the satisfaction of being able to say “yah, I did that”.