I don’t recall how I stumbled upon the idea of running across Joshua Tree but I eventually ended up on a blog which described the trek and that’s when I got hooked.

Reading and rereading the blogs of all of the original participants, I began plotting my adventure online and then in person. After feeling like I had gathered enough information, I set my sails for Yucca Valley, CA which would be home base for my adventure. Arriving on Friday, we immediately acquired the second vehicle since this is a point to point run with a drive, or a long walk, back. We opted for driving.



 

Prior to leaving Northern California, I had the car stocked with everything we needed, including numerous gallons of water, and after grabbing the rental, we drove straight to the north side of the park.

Upon entering the park, we immediately dropped off the rental at the backcountry trailhead and then proceeded further into the park to drop off our water. As we drove up the road, the park appeared less secluded than my previous trip and from my general perceptions. That was actually quite comforting. While I had planned on carrying my handy dandy Spot GPS Locator, I really would prefer not to hit that $10,000 ‘Search and Rescue’ button. With 'some' people, any people, in some direction, the odds of getting into a real jam were less likely. Not that I felt like we were in any danger but I wanted to be prepared.

After dropping off the water, we exited the west park entrance, grabbed dinner and went back to the hotel room. Not really much to add about the rest of the evening, I just spent my time gathering my gear, figuring out what I wanted to take and packed my pack.



Funny story about dinner though -- I looked up the reviews for the local establishments and several buffet-style restaurants received good reviews. Sizzler, yes Sizzler, was highly rated. We checked out the buffet prior to handing over our cash and sure enough, it looked decent. All I really wanted was salad. I eat salad every day and why would I eat something different on this night.

Walking down the line of the salad bar, I made a giant veggie salad and as I looked around for meat, I found the bacon. While piling bacon on top of my salad, I hear a voice, a question actually: "Are you a vegetarian?" I turn and I see an elderly woman. She repeats the question. I respond: "No, I'm not a vegetarian." She doubles down: "Are you sure you're not a vegetarian?" I look down at my salad, I'm admiring the mound of bacon on top, I reply: "I have bacon on top of my salad. I'm certain I'm not a vegetarian." Still not convinced, she says: "You eat healthy."

I made two more trips back to the salad bar, mostly due to the small sized dinner plates, and 'vegetarian lady' wouldn't stop eyeballing me. I refused to make eye contact with her.

Anyway.

When the alarm went off in the morning, I rolled out of bed, double checked my gear, jumped in the car and we drove the whopping five minutes to the starting location. There was no need to fill out the back country permit on the near end since we would be returning the same day so we jumped out of the car, locked the doors and just started running.

As I retraced the steps from the trip I took not too long ago, there was a sense of comfort from being on familiar territory and I think that eased some of my concerns about being out in the middle of nowhere. Making our way up the gradual ascent, I kept looking back to see the mountains and the sunrise.



About eight miles in, there’s an off-road trail which leads to Lower Covington Flat (from Upper Covington Flat) and it’s the first sign of civilization from our departure point at the Black Rock Campground. From there, it’s another couple of miles give or take until you descend into a valley – which valley, I have no clue. This section, in my opinion, provides the best scenery. It also seems to be a point where the landscape changes from a lighter sandy color to one with a darker appearance. We couldn't help but stop and take photos.





Continuing on our journey, we hit the midway point where we had stashed our water. We definitely had more water than we needed and we decided to donate it at the backcountry sign which we learned is what people do with their excess.

Back to running in about five minutes, we crossed the road onto the trail and we made our way through some of the more inhabited areas where climbers were clinging to the walls of large rock formations. That's when we took a small detour (read: briefly got lost). While running off the trail, through a campground, we realized we’d lost our way and we asked someone for directions (mistake). Following what we thought was our trail, we accidentally detoured through a pretty cool area known as Ryan Camp, and then we ran out of trail. We realized our mistake. No harm. By the time we got back to ‘our’ trail, we only added two miles.

The next six miles of gradual ascent seemed tough. The sun was straight up, the temperature seemed to pushing the mercury up the thermometer and the air wasn’t moving much. Normally, the 80-ish degrees wouldn’t be enough to cause me that much trouble but given that Northern California is still in the 50-60’s, maybe 70’s (if we’re lucky!), as a high for the day, pushing into this warmer part of the desert was taxing me more than it should.

When we topped out and started the gradual descent, the next four miles still seemed tough and I was getting a little concerned about the amount of water I had remaining. I began reducing the amount I was consuming, attempting to stretch it out, but then I felt like I wasn’t drinking enough. I decided that I would drink normally and deal with a water issue if/when it became an issue.

Fortunately, we were able to get water at the 30 mile mark and I still had some left in the pack.



That previous ten miles seemed to cook me and I felt like the next ten might be a lot of suffering. But once we crossed the road, we were in an open area which had decent air flow and I was feeling strong again.

In the final stretch, I can’t recall how many miles, we were sort of paralleling the main road back to the north gate and we could see the town off in the distance. The majority of this leg of the route was a gradual descent and we pushed the pace pretty hard. I would have actually preferred to dial it down but I wasn’t setting the tempo. I believe the comment was: “We should negative split the back half.” Of course, we’d already accomplished a negative split of over one minute per mile but I guess that wasn’t good enough. :\

Almost wrapped up, we misunderstood the mile markers or perhaps it was just that stupid thinking you get at the end of a long day but we were anticipating the exit at the backcountry sign. When it didn’t appear like we expected, we paused and looked around. We didn’t seen any other way to go, the road was off in the distance where it should have been -- we started running again. Although somewhat confused, we were on the right path and we FINALLY spotted the exit but only after we made a slight ascent back toward the road.

We did it!

Even with a couple of extra miles, we still smoked what we thought would be our finishing time.

We paused to enjoy the moment, ate some nibbles we stashed in the car and then we went back to the water drop location to pick up the empties. From there, we decided to head out the west gate and as we drove up the road, I saw someone on a slack line. As I watched the person cross between the two massive rock formations, I really thought they were soloing the route. We stopped. It was only when we got right up to the rocks that we realized the tight rope walker was tethered but it doesn’t make the feat any less impressive, it’s just makes me think the person doing the crossing wasn’t completely crazy.

This area was littered with rock climbers, something my wife and I used to claim to be. We sat there for quite some time, watching the climbers climb. As the sun started going down and my belly started grumbling, I declared it was time to leave the park in search of food.





Coming out of the park, we stopped at the Joshua Tree Saloon which we were told had good food. From the outside it looked scary but I felt confident my smell could ward off evil spirits let alone some drunks. On the inside the place looked less scary. Or perhaps I’ve wandered into some really, really scary places and the bar is set a little higher. Honestly, it could be either.

We grab a table, I grab the menu, and I picked the very first thing that caught my attention. “I would like a BBQ chicken sandwich and sweet potato fries.”



And then oddly, we moved to the bar when I was perfectly content at our table. And as Karma kicked into high gear, the table swapper got what he deserved and we ended up near the craziest mofo I’ve ever encountered in a bar.

There was this guy who wouldn't shut up and he continuously made up stories. He was amusing for about two seconds. Unfortunately, our food took about 30 minutes to come out. I was dying. I eventually stopped looking over in his direction and I started watching football. Football! If you know me, you know that is something.

Our food eventually made its way out and I devoured it. Not because I was starved, I was, but because I wanted to get away from crazy. Mind you, I endured all of this sober since we were still quite a few miles away from the hotel and the other car.

Upon leaving the saloon, we drove back to the other car and then back to the hotel.

Clearly, the guy at the bar got to me because I wouldn’t shut up about him for the next hour. I actually thought I might need some therapy but it turns out, I just needed to kill some glasses of wine. All better.

What a day!







Thanks for reading!