Backpacking 500 miles in the Mojave Desert (part 1)

In November and December of 2000 I backpacked from my house in Palm Springs to Lake Mead and back.

Mohave 500 mile map

During the past two months I spent many nights in a tent. This time of year the nights are 12+ hours long, and I only need 8 hours of sleep. The first night of my Lake Mead bike tour I was thinking back to a long hike I had done 14 years earlier and decided to go ahead and document it during my biking and backpacking evenings this past November and December.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

This is the opening sentence in A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

 The year 2000 was about the same for me.

It started with the Y2K scare. In 1999 many people were predicting our money markets, wall street and generally the entire would was going to melt down because the world’s computers would crash trying to deal with the year date of 2000.

Although most reasonable people thought the Y2K panic was silly, I did withdraw and extra $300 cash out of the bank “just in case.” January 1, 2000 arrived without a glitch, which I would have missed since I was backpacking and camping in the Verde Valley of Arizona for a month.


2000 would also be the year I celebrated my 2 year anniversary of the best job I ever had. At the same time, I was finalizing a divorce. But things were looking up. My job, which I loved, would allow me to support my kids; not only financially but would allow me the flexibility to spend a lot of time with them. My future was finally looking good.


Then in the middle of May a bombshell hit. My boss and I had a call with our director who delivered the bad news that our contract would not be renewed by the client and upper management wanted to simply disband our consulting group. The call was for us to prepare for the end of the year closure and to discuss how to keep as many people onboard for the duration. Pretty depressing stuff.

During the call I suggested that instead of dealing with large manufacturers, perhaps we could re-tool and deal directly with the industry’s dealer network. Instead of a handful of potential customers, there were over 20,000 dealers. The director reminded me that we had no formal product to sell, no collateral, and no software tools. I suggested that we build product, create collateral and develop the tools. Skeptical, he asked how we could do this. Going out on a limb, I suggested he give me 30 days to build the products and if he liked it, another 30 days to do the software. He agreed.

In 28 days I wrote a 600 page manual with comprehensive process improvement products. Then over the next 30 days I built several software applications, which included time to learn how to program in Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications. At the end of July we “went to market.”


By October we had product to sell and we were selling it. Today, nearly 15 years later, most of our product offerings and tools are based of that 600 page manual from 2000. We have prospered over the years. This success is due to the quality consultants we have working in the field.


For several months I had been literally working day and night in my home office. Up at 6 am, write or program until noon; go to lunch; work till 10 PM; eat dinner; work until I fell asleep at my desk; get up at 6 AM. Once our products and tools were completed, I was traveling with our consultants making presentations to potential customers and getting signed contracts.

As we entered November, everyone in our group was feeling good about our future, and I needed a vacation. I would be off from November 18th until the end of the year. But I needed to be back by Dec 25th to spend time with my kids. This would give me 37 days for a great trip.

The desire to go on a backpacking trip for over a month’s duration wasn’t some sort of escapism. Yes, I had been very busy with 18-hour work days, but that kind of exertion energizes me – I enjoy it. But I had taken no vacation days the entire year and we had a use it or lose it policy, plus we had a ton of vacation days back then to include a closure from Dec 24th to Jan 1st, which wasn’t considered vacation time.

So I decided to treat myself to a long hike.

The Challenge

In most parts of the country the challenges of a month long hike in November and December is usually weather and normally snow. Desert hiking mostly eliminates this weather issue, and replaces it with one rare commodity; water. One would normally need to do a lot of planning and probably cache a lot of water and food along the way. Plus I wanted to avoid as many roads and towns as possible. Fortunately, I had hiked most of the desert areas between Palm Springs and Southern Nevada, so I knew it was possible without a lot of planning and logistics. However, there would be no time to research all the potential springs along my route, requiring a lot of water to be carried on long sections. Given that this time of year was cool and even cold, I knew I could get by on 1 to 3 quarts of drinking water per day. But I would have to keep cooked meals to a minimum; they use too much water even though non-cook food is heavier than dehydrated, freeze-dried or instant foods.

The last critical factor was that it wouldn’t be wise to carry copious amount of water the first week or so, my body would need to “get in shape” before I could carry over two gallons. A gallon of water weighs 8 1/3 pounds and I would need to carry between 1.5 and 2 pounds of food per day.

I would need to carry only the absolute necessities and nothing more; weight was my prime consideration for a successful trip.


After reviewing some maps, I decided I would only need to cache water and food at one place; The Sheep Hole Wilderness. Highway 62 is the southern boundary for this wilderness area and the Sheep Hole Mountains terminate right at the highway, an easy and convenient place to safely hide food and water.

Navigation wouldn’t be much of a problem. I would simply bring two road maps of southern California and Nevada. Plus if I got into a serious situation, I would rarely be more than 1 day from a road. In 2000, cell phone coverage was about nil in most of the areas I would be hiking, so a compass would be my only required navigation tool. Hiking GPS units was pretty much in its infancy back then, and the Magellan unit I had purchased a couple of years earlier was mostly worthless, plus it confirmed my prejudice against electronics anyway.

So I packed up my cache and drove just below the Sheep Hole Wilderness and hid it. I returned home and packed my gear, which took less than an hour. Then I hoisted my pack and walked out the front door heading towards the tiny city of Desert Hot Sprints.

Part 2

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