Craig Wisner

Joshua Tree Solo, 4/3-4/4

“…It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation.  Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially when my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to see as soon as I can…”

-from Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

And so it is for me, only I take to the wilderness instead.

Thus the logistics begin; how do I get to Joshua Tree, cross it via the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT), and get back to my car, alone?  The initial plan was to drive across the park, dropping a water cache halfway, and leave my car at the North Entrance trailhead, one terminus of the CRHT.  At that point I figured I’d bike into town, catch the bus from Twenty Nine Palms back to Joshua Tree, and bike up to Black Rock Canyon, the other trail terminus.  Settled.  I was packed and ready to go on Friday.  And then I didn’t feel well, so I postponed until Saturday.  Which didn’t work either.  So Sunday it was.  One problem with Sunday, however: no bus service.  So what.  Tired of missing this trip continuously, I figured I’d just suck it up, bike the whole way to Black Rock, and then hike back.  So I did.  Only I was still set on trying to do the whole trip in 24 hours or less (excluding drive).

A familiar drive.

Coming up on Hall of Horrors

Let's pretend that didn't just happen, shall we?

Roughly 37 hot and slow miles later, I had finished the entire park and arrived in Black Rock.  I kept reassuring myself, though not so sure, that I’d still be in fine shape to put in at least 30 miles on the CRHT.  The ranger at Black Rock sure seemed skeptical, but played along well and directed me to a good place to lock my bike.  After a brief rest, lunch, and tank-up on water, I was ready to hit the dirt.

The start.

Nobody seems to know the proper mileage of this trail.  My map calculations said 39 miles.  The back country board said 35.  Their trail sign said 37, but upon finishing at the other side, the same markers read 38.  The entire trail is signed every mile; I found this to be either helpful or annoying, depending upon my mood.  But it does help with pacing if you’re pushing hard.

The miles start dropping, time rolls by.  I begin to entertain the idea that I’m doing the Marathon des Sables…a good majority of this trail is sand, making it a bit tougher.  You swear you should be going just a little faster for your efforts.

While crossing a back country road I’m approached by people in an SUV for help, they’re looking for someone.

“Sure”, I say, “I’m doing the whole trail.  Who am I looking for?”.

“Well, he’s been missing since June…”


I didn’t see anyone or anything of that nature, but it gets you wondering when it’s approaching 90 degrees and you’re not exactly sure how long your water will last.

My legs are doing really well given the cycling of the day.  I reach my water cache, tank-up again, and keep moving.  I stopped for probably 20 minutes on the entire hike.  8’s became the theme of the day: stopping for a quick rest and food every 8 miles.

Given I had left the car on my bike at 8AM, come sunset I was beginning to feel a bit cooked; at this point I had logged about 22 miles on foot and 37 on bike.  I began to seriously entertain the thought of pushing all the way through to my car that night.  Amazing, beautiful, and comical: the internal struggle, the voices in one’s head during long events of this nature.  One minute I’ve talked myself into it.  And then I reason my way out of it.  I’m not sure how long this went on, but finally the more rational side won…after I tripped on a rock and fell face-first into the sand in the pitch dark.  Maybe it’s time to hang it up; after all, that’s what all this crap in my pack is for.

12 hours later: So why am I doing this again?


I ducked off trail and camped in the scrub, taking a little wind shelter where I could get it.  The water boiled, the ramen was delicious, and half my bottles were emptied.  A gorgeous night sleeping in the sand, wind whipping up in gusts until around 4AM.

Sunrise, boiling more ramen, a kangaroo rat playing the role of court jester while I stayed in my bag and ate and drank.

Breakfast and sunrise in bed.

My feet hurt.  My legs hurt.  My head hurts.

But all is well.

Six miles and I’ll be sitting back in my car…no longer wanting to knock hats off strangers, but savoring a tall iced drink.

I'm better now.

I missed my 24 hour goal by one hour because I slept a little late…and befriended a kangaroo rat.

Trip Totals:

Day 1: 37 bike, 31 hike

Day 2: 7 hike

Totals: 37 bike, 38 hike

On Gear:

VERY impressed with my new Montbell Tachyon Anorak windshirt and Dynamo windpants.  Stuff them in your pocket and you don’t know they’re there, yet they provide great warmth.  They have an excellent cut.  I think the anorak has the best hood of any garment I own.  Another new piece I had on this trip was the REI OXT longsleeve top.  Overall, it did well; great sun protection, breathability is decent, and it’s pretty comfortable.  I might have wanted to size up one to an XL; not having it as close to the skin would’ve likely felt better…but then again, I don’t like baggy.  Warning: this shirt will reek like hell after a day’s work.

Other than that, it was my standard SUL gearlist, though no shelter or spare clothes.


4 responses

  1. Nice one, sir.

    April 4, 2011 at 8:02 pm

  2. I saw your Saturday BPL post and felt bad that here you missed another stab at the CHRT and it seemed I wasn’t alone missing out with a cold. But you made it after all!!! So, you parked at the East Station or at White Tanks? Where abouts did you spend the night? Is your Elven Cloak part of the SUL list?

    April 5, 2011 at 12:09 am

    • I parked at the North Entrance backcountry board, what we were mistakenly calling the East Station. But yeah, the one on the way out to 29 Palms, passed White Tank. I spent the night probably about 1/2 mile from White Tank, just before the CRHT crosses the road.

      No…no Elven Cloak this time.
      But the Everburning Torch has kept me from having to buy batteries for years.

      April 5, 2011 at 7:06 am

  3. I just got back from Lexington, MO, been off the charts chilling with my brother in law and family in ol’ slave country, this was a nice way to readjust back into society. Killer dash into the desert Craig, very cool.

    April 8, 2011 at 7:23 am

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