great report Craig!
I'll add my report to yours :) First and foremost, Joshua Tree NP is a stunning area-stark and raw, but every bit as beautiful as the mountains I play in. I found it to be a place you need to respect if you venture very far into it's vast of wilderness. My tale is actually two tales. The first tale starts at 4:00 AM as we grab a quick bite to eat, drink some coffee and grab our gear. We all head out in John's van. Sandra graciously offered to drive the van back to our ending point (Black Rock campground) and also to help crew and cheer us on at the half way point (Ryan's campground). After stashing water and taking advantage of the bathroom, we headed onto our starting destination. We arrived almost spot on to our planned time and departed at 6:40 AM. The temps were in the upper 50's and the views looked like postcards. I felt great and set out with what I thought was a reasonable pace. There were mile markers every mile and they seemed like they were flying by. I set up a regime of running a mile, walking 30 seconds-drinking and eating as I walked and then repeat- it felt great. The surface was often loose sand which slowed the pace some, but wasn't overly bothersome. I was paying attention to the mile markers and my watch and was very pleasantly surprised to see how quickly the miles were getting eaten up. Adan must have been feeling it as well as we often flipped places. I was soaking in all of the beauty of the desert and enjoying the sun on my face (it's been a rather long-ish winter in Montana!) I'm not sure I ever felt better on a run and before I knew it we were fast approaching the half way point. We were only a couple of miles from the half way point when I noticed Adan on the side of the trail stretching. I thought that was a good idea, but that I'd wait till I got to the campground. We made a pretty decent climb, but it left us with a wonderful downhill section and I was just giddy about that.
This is where the second tale starts, just a couple of miles before the half way point. As I headed into this glorious downhill, both my calves revolted with agonizing cramps. Not believing this could be happening, I kept running- but not for long. Not a problem, just need a little rest from running, so I eased into a nice walk. Before too long most of the guys were catching up and passing, but we all (minus Craig!) ended up at Ryan's within minutes of each other (a little under 4 hours). I sat in some nice shade as the temps had started to climb and were probably in the low 70's by now. I refilled bottles and bladder, proud of the fact that my fueling and hydration strategy was working perfectly- I had water left in two bottles upon reaching the campground. Unfortunately my calves were still cramping, Adan was still cramping as well (his was in several muscle groups). We decided to head out together and figured walking another mile would ease our woes. This wasn't the case and every time we started to run, it wasn't long before one or both of us was cramping. So we walked more and ran less, much less. The temps continued to slowly warm and wasn't long before it seemed hot. Somehow we both managed to change up our gait and run even while our muscles rebelled. At roughly the 23 mile mark it appeared as though we were gaining back some of our early glory and the thought of catching up and even passing the front runners (Jacob, John and Art) was very possible. We arrived at a long switched back section and even in our funny gaits we were making good time. We let out a couple of loud war whoops and attacked (attack in the context of two runners who don't quite realize the wheels are about to come off) the switchbacks with gusto! As we headed down and down, it finally begged the question where we headed. Adan most of had the same thought as we were both looking for signs of the trail in the distance. Soon our question was answered, the trail goes up- way up; way, way up! This is where I could feel the axle nut loosening and the wheels about to let go. We put our heads down and headed up. The breeze was gone, the sun bright and our pace almost a crawl.
It was at this point that I realized my hydration "strategy" was seriously flawed- at the rate we were going I would be out of water long before our ending point. At one of the switch backs there was a large juniper that was offering up a very alluring shady spot. I sat down in the shade and immediately both calves revolted and I had to painfully straighten out my legs. It wasn't long and Adan rounded the bend and also took relief in the shade, but not before he also convulsed with cramps. The cool shade felt wonderful and I commented how I could stay here forever. Adan pointed out that was probably a very common thought with a lot of people who died in the desert. With that thought, we gave up our oasis and pressed on. I took very small sips of water, knowing that I had to stretch my resources as much as possible. I approached another switchback and noticed something out of place deep in a prickly bush. Could it really be what it looked like? A Gatorade bottle filled to the top with clear water. I didn't do any scientific testing and instead unscrewed the lid and took a deep drink. Adan wasn't waiting for any testing either and he took a long drink as well. I filled my one almost empty water bottle to the brim and Adan took the rest. Angels at work, no one will convince me otherwise.
Unfortunately the high point was short lived as we still had a lot of climbing to do and were only at the 27 mile marker. Adan was convinced someone was playing a dirty trick on us and moving the mile markers apart- I agreed. Eventually we hit Lower Covington Flats and we were once again able to "run", this was not very long lived though as we had to take the fork of the trail to Upper Covington Flats. I knew that this wasn't good, as typically Upper usually means higher than Lower. Once again heads down and climb, and then climb some more. An eternity later we crested the Upper Flats and could see a long wash that eventually would lead us back to camp- just 8 short miles to go. Not too far after the crest, there was a fork in the trail with a sign that said Eureka Peak 2.4 miles. I yelled up to Adan if wanted to quickly bag Eureka Peak before heading down. He responded that wasn't 8&#@@ing funny! I thought it was and started laughing, unfortunately the laughing fit made double over with cramps- now Adan did find the humor in that!
As we started down the long wash it was apparent that we were likely going to be in deep, loose sand the rest of the way. This was not a good sign. To make matters worse, the joker who was stretching the mile posts out was now spreading them out even farther! After a couple of miles of fighting deep sand, a very sour stomach and the thoughts of walking for the rest of my life, I decided to run. I told Adan of my plan and In hindsight that might not have been the wisest choice, but caution was thrown into the wind and I ran, not fast mind you, but faster than walking (later at camp Adan said he felt inspired and decided to run as well, he said things went pretty good for awhile but then had no less than four muscle groups seize up at the same time and went straight into the sand head first! I should also add that Adan was having serious issues with one of his shoes, adding even more woe).
I finally made it, much worse for the wear. When I arrived I met Jacob who had finished in a impressive 9 hours. At his camp was standing David. Wait a minute a damn minute, how could David be standing in camp- he was behind us! I'll let David tell his story :) I headed up to our camp and met John and Art- they looked to be in pretty good shape (well compared to me anyways) and found out they made it in about 10 hours. I wanted to eat, but couldn't. David gave a frozen smoothie and I diluted it with water and sipped. I was slowly recovering when Adan made it to camp, now I know what I must have looked like when I arrived. It was dark for awhile and everyone was a little concerned with Craig still out there and like a specter out of the darkness Craig appeared, smiling like Sponge Bob- amazing!
As we sat around the campfire and shared our experiences, the woes were quickly washed away and soon we were bantering what our next adventure was going to be!