This is an event which has just happened, but until yesterday I didn’t even know about Furnace Creek and all it stood for. I mean – here’s a town in a desolate desert landscape, 214 ft below sea level, boasting a permanent population of 31, temperatures that can surpass 125° (52°C), and where most lodging is closed in the summer.
So what does one propose to do there? Well, why the hell not – an ultra-marathon? and in the middle of summer? And they say it’s a “mad dog an Englishman out in the midday sun”… hey, we’ve nothing on the Americans!!!
So a little more about the extremely extreme Death Valley Badwater Ultra- marathon which was completed on 15th July. There were 86 starters and 75 official finishers – an 87% success rate – not bad, not bad at all for one of the most hostile environments in the world.
Badwater, itself, is just 17 miles south of Furnace Creek resort. It is the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level and has massive salt flats.
Globally recognized as the toughest race of its kind, the Badwater Ultramarathon is a pure athletic challenge of athlete, shoes, and support crew versus a brutal 135 mile stretch of highway, a hellish environment of up to 130 degrees, and a sixty hour time limit from its start line in the bowels of Death Valley at Badwater to the finish line high on Mt. Whitney at nearly 8,300’ (2530m). The Badwater course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 13,000’ (3962m) of cumulative vertical ascent and 4,700’ (1433m) of cumulative descent. The Portals are the trailhead to the Mt. Whitney summit, the highest point in the contiguous United States. This one-of-a-kind foot race offers the promise of a supremely personal achievement along with international accolades for those who rise to the occasion.
Next event up for Death Valley, an arena favoured by AdventureCORPS, the organisers of these extreme events, is the Furnace Creek 508. This is another well known cycle event which starts on 4th October and finishes on the 6th. It’s a race for endurance athletes where the cyclists will cover 508 miles from Santa Clarita, California, across the Mojave Desert and Death Vallez to end in Twenty Nine Palms. This race is touted as the “toughest 48 hours in sports”.
Athletes who complete both the Badwater Ultramarathon and Furnace Creek 508 in the same year are recognised with the Death Valley Cup – only 15 people have earned that recognition since 1996.
In the words of Keith Wetiz of Team Black Angus Cow, a Furnace Creek entrance: “There are occasionally people in your life with whom you have an innate sense of communication. I’ve found that these people are often your training partners. Perhaps it’s due to the countless hours spent together not always being able to communicate verbally. Instead, we consciously and subconsciously study and learn their movements and expressions. Over time words are needed less and less. Rather a subtle gesture or body movement or quick look is all it takes to completely understand each other.
“Back home a couple months after our rookie appearance at the 2008 Furnace Creek 508, my Black Angus Cow teammate Scott and I met for dinner at our favorite local hangout, the Q-Shack. As always, the barbequed brisket was tender and the conversation light, but when a friend brought up the previous year’s 508, we both knew what was coming. We had both sensed it since leaving the desert. We had heard it in the still of night and just as clearly during the noisy backdrop of the world during the day. With a quick glance, just like the countless ones during all our rides together, I saw his eyes and knew.
“The desert was calling us back.”
The application period for the 2010 Badwater Ultra-Marathon will open on 1st February, 2010 and in the meantime enjoy this video of the 2008 race (AdventureCORPS) which’ll give you a pretty good idea as to what it’s all about…