None shall pass. (All must pass.)
Last night was one of those drink-a-Dr-Pepper-right-before-bed-and-not-be-able-to-quiet-the-mind kinda nights. It didn’t help the last thing I read before going to bed was a series of blog posts wherein some dude tells a tale of what not to do when he and his girlfriend made all the wrong choices and found themselves high centered in a jacked up Toyota Camry rental car in Death Valley. It’s worth a read.
I was reminded how I haven’t posted anything about the Death Valley Rally in a while. (Granted, I haven’t posted a whole lot about anything lately, but I digress.) Lying in bed, brain going a million miles an hour trying to figure out how I would find an unconventional route across Death Valley – somewhere I’ve never actually been, by the way – I realized there was no way I was getting to sleep without asking others for help. I got up out of my bed, walked across the house, pulled up Expedition Portal, and posted my almost manic request for possible car-friendly (yet challenging) routes across Death Valley (for cars).
The thread was well into 2 pages before I could get back to reply at lunchtime. Responses varied from incredulity – This is a joke, right? – to cautious optimism – This could be a neat idea, but it would be a logistical nightmare. – to good, old-fashioned, anti-gubmint pessimism – They’d throw you in Federal prison just for thinking about something like this. All in all, though, a great chance to think about some of the risks associated with this event, specifically relating to the route we’ll take.
PICKING THE ROUTE
You can fly into Vegas, get a rental car, stick your smartphone on the dash, and get turn-by-turn directions for a leisurely drive to, around, and probably through Death Valley. It pretty much takes a debit card and a whim. You know this. I know this. And yet, Death Valley remains one of the most inhospitable and dangerous places in North America. Familiarity breeds contempt.
I want participants in this event to have an adventure. I don’t want you to get home, have your neighbor ask where you were, and then say, “Oh yeah. We did that one morning last spring during our Vegas trip.” I want you to come home with stories you’ll need two arms to tell. Know what I mean? At the same time, I don’t want you and your buddies to save a car and get it to Vegas, only to completely shred it in Death Valley. I want everyone to finish this event 100% intact.
Besides, we’re giving these cars away in the end, right? If they all make it, we all make it. So finding a route which is easy enough for us to complete with cheap, likely FWD Craigslist cars, but not so easy we find ourselves in a parade of tour busses and Winnebagos is key. I’m not above breaking out the tow strap or stacking the odd rock for traction, but you can see how fine the line can get in this area.
SURVIVING THE ROUTE
If you paused to read that Stranded in Death Valley story, you have a pretty good idea how quickly things can go from dumb to dangerous to disaster. Believe it or not, I’m actually considering Lippincott Mine Road, Ubehebe Crater, and Racetrack Playa at this point, though it’s still far too early to consider anything relating to the route planned. I’d really like to have experienced drivers recce the route(s) in advance of the event – if not find a way to drive them myself – to better understand what we’re up against.
A little Catch-22 action, we can’t commit to a route without knowing what kind of vehicles we’ll be driving, and we can’t pick the vehicles we’ll be driving until we commit to a route! If you’re thinking about which vehicle you might choose for this event, ground clearance, good tires, and a healthy cooling system should probably be at the top of your list, but I’ll have more recommendations for you as things progress. For now, I’m curious what you think.
GETTING PERMISSION TO USE THE ROUTE
And this all assumes I can get us a permit to get a group of 50-70 people, in 15-20 vehicles across Death Valley (with a possible overnight stop somewhere in the middle). Initial research on the Death Valley National Park website suggests such a thing exists, though it comes with a $210 price tag. Oh, and I should mention I’m not entirely sure how I go about getting a cool million dollars in liability insurance for the event, listing the United States as beneficiary? Yeah. That’s a requirement, too.
I’ve got an email in to the National Park Service introducing my vision for the event and asking for their feedback. Who knows. If we can’t get a permit to cross Death Valley or camp within it, maybe we just start and end in Las Vegas, but do a lap around the park on public roads, posing for group pictures at every attraction in the park. No matter what, this is going to be a special adventure for participants.
SOUNDS LIKE SOMETHING TOP GEAR WOULD DO
One of the guys on ExPo actually said this sounds like something you’d see on Top Gear. Well, I consider that a compliment, though I promise you, we’ll not be abandoning any broke-down, leaking, up-in-smoke machines on the side of the road. We’ll also not be crashing indiscriminately through the wilderness as they tend to do. Like Top Gear, though, we will have a full complement of experienced off-road and overland people with us, either participating or providing mission critical support from start to finish, much as they do behind the cameras. It’s going to be fun, but it’s going to be safe, or it isn’t going to happen.
A QUESTION FOR YOU
I hope you get an idea what I’m thinking the drive will be like. My question to you, then, is what do you think? Would you rather take an unusual route across Death Valley, where you might have to break out a tow strap to get unstuck, or stick to more easier, more frequently traveled roads? Leave me a comment and let me know, please.