When I choose a race, the destination is as important to me as the event itself.  But sometime this past year, I realized, I didn't have to participate in an event to go to cool places.  The transition from Ironman to ultrarunning has opened up a lot of possibilities for me.

Coming to the above conclusion, I started searching around to see where I wanted to go (read:  run).  I quickly compiled a list and near the top due to its geographic location, hours south of my home, Joshua Tree National Park.

 Those of you who know me are aware of my love for the desert.  It could be the most arid wasteland and I would still find beauty.  Perhaps it's the stunning sunrises and sunset which seem to be almost guaranteed.  I really don't know why I'm drawn but the idea of playing in Joshua Tree got me excited.

As I plotted my adventures, I realized I might need to camp.  I have some camping equipment but given that some of my adventures involve air travel, I decided to invest in some ultra light gear.  My requirement for said gear is that it should be light enough and small enough to fit into a piece of luggage with the rest of my stuff and not exceed 50 pounds.

The trip to Joshua Tree would be by car.  With a tent, ground cloth, sleeping bag and sleeping pad weighing in total less than 6 pounds and easily fitting into checked luggage, there was plenty of room in the car for my road trip companion... Ruby.

Ruby and I had an uneventful ride down south, probably the easiest trip through Southern California in the history of MANY trips.

Arriving mid afternoon, I setup camp and despite the gear being brand new, unopened and untested, camp was setup in 10-15 minutes.



Ruby kept a watchful eye.



While setting up camp, I realized I had forgotten firewood so I jumped back in the car, drove down the hill and grabbed a bundle of wood.

When I returned to camp, I saw an opportunity to get in a quick run before sunset -- I quickly changed and set out into the desert, racing against the clock.

I had a headlamp but my desire to get lost was zero.  Keeping a close eye on the clock, I flipped around and retraced my steps back to camp just in time to catch the sunset.

As soon as the sun dropped behind the hill, it started getting cold.  I grabbed the firewood, tossed it into the pit and moments later, I had a blazing fire. 



Ruby was pretty uneasy and when the sun completely set, her tail remained tucked and she stayed close to Daddy.  We sat by the fire and tried to stay warm but the wood burned quickly and the temperature continued to drop.  After throwing the remaining logs on the fire and watching them quickly burn, I decided it was time to go inside the tent.

This trip was an experiment from the camping gear to the desert exploration and the first lesson came from the gear.

In the tent's description:  "Lots of mesh for good ventilation."

In the sleeping bag's description and review:  "Temperature rating is a gauge for experienced users who understand proper equipment use. Unlike other Ledge classic and oversize bags it is not a comfort rating but a guide for use."

"Not a 20 degree bag."

I knew this going into it but when I looked at the weather, the low showed 48F degrees, not the low 30's which is what it actually hit.

That "lots of mesh" allowed for cold air to circulate inside the tent.  Coupled with the "not a 20 degree bag", I was cold.  It got cold enough that I started layering tops which seemed to cut the chill but there were times when I was not a happy camper.

When morning rolled around, despite how freaking cold it was outside the tent, I jumped out with enthusiasm.  After having a miniature breakfast, I packed up camp just before sunrise, donned my running gear and as soon as the sun popped up enough, I started my trek into the desert.

I had lots of questions running through my head:

Would I see the desert tortoise or a bighorn sheep?  No.
Will I see rock climbers?  No.

And a variety of other questions. 

After my mini run the day prior, one of the questions at the top of the list: 

What terrain would I encounter?



Sand.  Lots of sand.  At least there was quite a bit of sand in the first few miles which varied between hard and soft pack.



After a while though, the terrain changed to a harder pack and then it got rocky.  It switched around and there was never a point when I felt like I was getting bogged down but the sandier sections slowed my pace.



When I got far enough in, I realized I might not see anyone.  I stopped a few times to look around and it was just me and the desert.  Off in the distance, I could see a snow capped mountain.



As I made my way over this hill or that hill, or down into this valley or that valley, the landscape changed. 



With the trail being as well marked as it was, I felt confident I wouldn't get lost and become coyote food.  That said, I didn't let my mind wander because there were parts of the trail when the footprints vanished and I needed to focus on the route.

When I arrived at the trail end, I jumped into the car and started taking notes.  I had a list of items I kept in my head and I quickly jotted them down for my next trip.  Although this was a quick trip, it was a fruitful one and I consider it to be a successful mission.

After finishing my list, my attention focused on Ruby who was still quite nervous.  We got out of the car and while she seemed excited to see me, she stayed close and her tail tucked at a moments notice.

During the night, we heard coyotes on the hunt.  I don't know if it was the desert, the coyotes or all of the above but she remained completely spooked until we got back home. 

As I sit here typing out this post, she's lying on the floor next to me, on her pillow, in front of the heat register, encouraging me to hit the caps lock on the word DOMESTICATED.

At least for the time being, Ruby will not accompany me on any of my future desert excursions.  She really doesn't know what she'll be missing.