It takes nearly 10,000 volunteers to make the Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay a real challenge, and yet not many people even know about it. To cover the grueling 120-mile foot race through some of the most desolate stretches of high desert, runners must create their 20-member teams with physical endurance, perseverance, and ability to support their participants within a 24-hour time frame.
The Challenge Cup is a relay pitting runners not against each other as much as against the worst the desert can toss at them. Scores are based on times for the legs of each section — some only four to five miles in length and the toughest with 10.7 miles — but must be completed by the 24-hour maximum deadline. In the past some teams were disqualified because they couldn’t keep up. Extreme weather, heat strokes, and blisters take out many.
What makes this race unique is the fact that only law enforcement personnel can race and you must be invited to help in the support roles. Not everyone can enter; not all can help. LA Police Officers Chuck Foote and Larry Moore created this crazy race 30 years ago, based on the format laid by LAPD Metro Division´s “Death Valley Relay” ending in 1985 — a seven-year stint of running through the Devil´s Graveyard.
Strong interest has grown each year to include not only California and Nevada divisions but other states and even other countries. Japan, Sweden, Germany, UK, and Canada coordinated their teams and flew in for the honor of racing. For more details visit: http://www.bakervegas.org
The foot race begins in Baker, California, at 8 am, climbs through the higher elevations to Shoshone, the Gateway to Death Valley, then veers right through a narrow canyon, across Chicago Valley, and into Pahrump, Nevada. Once passing through town, racers then begin the long climb up the grade toward Las Vegas. In this section, all runners are in the dark wearing flashing vests to warn motorists that they are sharing the road, their added protection is provided by their follow support vehicles. As they clear the crest of Mountain Springs Pass, the lights of Las Vegas prod them on to the finish line at the Las Vegas Hotel Convention Room.
Just looking at one Stage, where a baton is handed off to the next team runner, as many as 200 people can swarm there. They stand in excitement waiting for their runner to arrive, prompted by a trained team of Amateur Radio communicator volunteers who announce each runner coming in. The support teams also include the registration of current teams, a medical contingency, race officials, and the growing numbers of team race supporters and their families. Once the current racers have moved on, all of the support volunteers move on to the next Stage.
Volunteers who are assigned to man one stage for the complete 24 hours, will have been awake throughout the evening, well into the early hours of the next morning. My husband and I have helped in several of the assignment teams, whether it was in Shoshone, or race headquarters, or camped long the highway offering our radio support. We are now Lead Ham Radio assigned support for Stage 14. We’ve be involved for more than 17 years.
As old-timers we still find it fun, tiring, exciting, and enthusiastic to see all the teams milling around waiting for their teammates to break through the chute and hand over their batons. We even recruit new volunteers to invest their time so others can take breaks or even skip a year of service. The race officials also make it more efficient at stages by promoting the newest timing gear and computer-assisted scoring to make our jobs much easier.
Although the dates of the race tend to shuffle from March to April, next year’s race is now set for March 28th. Reservations in motels and camping resorts are already filling, and surely the teams are gearing up for the 31st year. It’s just another one of those strange desert traditions — one in which we are honored to assist.