“You may want to bring a… sham-wa” I read the email out loud to fellow Director of Toughness for Columbia Sportswear, Mark Chase.
“A what?” He asked and I showed him the word. “Oh it’s French, pronounced ‘shammy,’ I think it’s like a cleaning cloth in the U.K.”
I googled it. “Mark,” I said excitedly, “it’s also something for cycling!” Scrolling down in the email, we’d received the itinerary for our next gear testing mission: a flight to Las Vegas. What could we possibly be doing in Las Vegas?
Forty-eight hours later we found ourselves at the bottom of a trailhead in Death Valley and it was HOT. We had followed latitude and longitude coordinates we’d received via “Gert Mail” from the ever clever, Gert Boyle. We were about to embark on a Death Valley scavenger hunt, we hiked our way to our noble steeds for the next three days, two gravel bikes from Specialized. We transferred our gear from packs to bicycles and, after a few bungee mishaps, set off towards our next set of coordinates.
We quickly learned that as late spring dips into early summer in Death Valley, temperatures can be 105 degrees on any given afternoon.
Cycling up long hills was tough, but being able to fly around endless downhill curves helped to even out the journey. Our coordinates at the end of day one led us to an epic and otherworldly camp site, it was no surprise to find out that Star Wars had used the location in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
We had a frightening encounter with a rattlesnake right before bedtime, which combined with the oppressive heat lead to a sleepless night. When we woke in the morning, we were ready to hop back on our bikes and leave the campground…and the rattlesnake behind.
While temps sometimes drop in the desert, the drop we prepared for never came and the heat did not let up overnight.
We cycled through some incredible landscapes, following long paved roads that seemed to stretch forever and then dramatic, rocky hills. Our camp site on day two was far less epic, after a long day of riding we were tired enough that a gravel parking lot was the best we could do, my tired body had no real complaints and with strong enough coffee and a medium success making camp pancakes we hit the road again on day three.
Relief and joy came in the afternoon in the form of dune buggies and some epic sand dunes. Despite not having a driver’s license that lets me hit the streets, this didn’t seem to be a problem on the dunes and when Mark and I made it to our next coordinates we were unsurprised to see a Gert Mail glinting in the sand. I half expected a buzzard to swoop down and steal off with Gert’s mail before we got to it, but we successfully retrieved our next coordinates and headed back to our trusty steeds.
It was breathtaking and reenergizing.
We camped in the most incredible atmosphere on night three. When we arrived to the campsite, I immediately dropped my stuff and went for a short run up to the highest rocks so I could see off in the distance and admire the incredible landscape. I’m not sure Mark slept a wink, because the opportunities for astrophotography were too good to be true and I heard his footsteps meandering around camp long after I’d retired to my tent.
We spoiled ourselves with a sleep in the next morning and basked in the morning light while we looked off towards Lake Mead in the distance until we realized the sun’s intention was to scorch us, so we reluctantly hit the road towards another set of coordinates. After riding back and forth past a potential turn off, we realized the path ahead wasn’t going to be passable on bike and so we were back to hiking.
With sand below our feet and the sun really beating down we made our way towards slot canyons. The thin pathways of shade were as much as a gift as eventually finding the Gert Mail hidden on a shelf in the canyon. Instead of coordinates this time, we had a flight number. The journey was over. Or maybe it was just getting started?
Well actually…we still had to hike back out of what seemed to be the hottest area we’d hit yet and figure out how to get back to Vegas…
Faith Briggs is an avid runner and documentary film maker from Brooklyn, New York. She’s passionate about sharing contemporary stories from diverse communities and can always be found with her camera, whether in the photographer’s pit during New York’s fashion week or in the cloud forests in Honduras. She lives by the motto #goodvibesonly and loves to show that women and girls, quite literally, run the world. You can follow Faith’s journey as Director of Toughness here and social channels including: Twitter | Instagram