Thunder, Lightening and Bullets: Adventures on Lake Mohave
“The wind is going to be nuking this Saturday! Can you make it out?”, read the mid-morning text from Braly. It was still early in the week and I didn’t have anything else planned so I ran the idea of me driving out to Vegas for a downwinder on Lake Mohave past my wife. Rarely one to stand in the way of one of my ideas for an adventure into the great outdoors, she smiled and asked how long I’d be gone. “Just three days, out Friday and back on Sunday. Everyone will be paddling SIC Bullet V2s, no riff-raff,” I told her as I started getting pumped up for the trip. Designed by Mark Raaphorst, the SIC Bullet V2 is hands down the best downwind SUP to ever glide across 75% of the Earth’s surface. The Bullet is also, in my opinion, the most versatile all-around fitness and excursion paddleboard on the market – an attribute often overshadowed by the shape’s much talked about successes in Hawaii’s open ocean races such as this weekend’s Molokai to Oahu. So popular in fact that when I drove out to the desert last Friday morning I carried a second Bullet V2 strapped to the roof of my Jeep Liberty – still wrapped in plastic and slipped into a new board bag for a customer, Mike, a member of the 9th Island crew who would be joining us on Saturday. Additional paddlers from the budding SUP community in the desert planning to come along on the trip included Braly’s brother in law, Kirk, who was in town on vacation and Adam, a Las Vegas area commercial real estate developer.
The drive from LA to Las Vegas along I-15 was relatively uneventful, save for a fleeting encounter with a high desert thunderstorm during which I watched the outside temperature gauge on my Jeep’s dashboard display plummet from 106 F to 71 F in a matter of minutes. Little did I know at the time the thunderstorm along the highway was a mere prelude to what was yet to come the next day on Lake Mohave.
One of the great aspects of paddling in Southern Nevada is the proximity to a variety of bodies of water on which to paddle. And then there is the glitz and glamour of Vegas itself. Together, the pairing creates a unique environment where you can experience both world-class paddling along with the opulent atmosphere of Las Vegas – all in the same day. Can you say premier location for a SUP industry off-site?
Vegas to Lake Mohave
As the dawn broke on Saturday morning we shook off the cobwebs from a night on the town and loaded the Bullets onto the racks of Adam’s extended cab four-wheel drive pickup, met James, our easy to please shuttle driver for the day, and rolled out of town. About 45 minutes later we reached the rural enclave of Searchlight on the outskirts of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area at the entrance to Lake Mohave.
Shortly after the National Park Ranger waved us through the gate we turned off the main road onto the Mead Davis Powerline Road, a gravel track generally heading in a southerly direction above the lake’s western shore. While parts of the road have almost certainly been navigated by car, we were heading off the grid into an area where four-wheel drive was no longer a trendy accessory never to be used, but rather a necessity. Let the adventure begin!
Anyone see a lake around here?
We slowly made our way along the “road” navigating around washed out sections and climbing through countless ravines formed over the years by successive flash floods as storm water channeled its way down the rugged terrain to the lake. After cresting a jagged ridge line the dirt track began to wind its way to the water’s edge. “That would definitely scratch the roof,” declared one of the crew looking out the side window as the ground quickly dropped away on either side of the road.
Not long thereafter the terrain leveled out and we could see a cluster of green foliage ahead – a sure sign the lake was not far beyond. The track literally came to an end at a reed covered section of the lake. Although we felt like intrepid explorers after the extended four-wheel drive journey to the launch point for our 10 mile run, judging from the tire ruts, we were not the first to visit the spot. There was little doubt, however, we were likely the first to make the trek with a quartet of SIC Bullet V2 stand up paddleboards strapped to the roof.
The launch spot appeared to be tailor-made for SUPs and as we off loaded the gear Kirk began to pump up a new addition to SIC’s 2016 lineup: a racey, red 14’ Air Glide inflatable Bullet which proved to be a nimble sibling to the original Single Carbon Composite construction shape from which it was designed.
Our crew assembled our sleds for a photo-op at the launch point before gliding out beneath the overcast sky. Unfortunately, the cloud cover that afternoon restricted the wind velocity and instead of the off-the-hook 25-30 mph fiesta predicted earlier in the week, we were greeted with a tame 15 mph breeze. The clouds were not threatening when we set out and small white caps formed a speckled pattern across the lake as the wind was blowing steadily from the south.
Riders in the Storm
That all changed about 30 minutes later when we looked back and saw an ominous dark patch of sky crisscrossed by white lightning a few miles beyond the lake’s southern bank. Before long, the wind had completely changed direction from the south to the west and was pushing us towards the Arizona shore. While the majority of the 67 mile long reservoir formed by the Davis Dam is narrow, we were now in the middle of the widest section where the water stretched approximately 3.5 miles between Nevada and Arizona.
As wind swell began to form on the lake, it became readily apparent we were not going to make it back to the Nevada shore where James was positioned with the truck before the storm overtook us. It was time to go with the flow and ride it out. Shouting out the call to “break right”, the five of us quickly splintered along different lines as we rode the storm swell towards the Arizona side of Lake Mohave. It looked like we were going to finally get our downwinder in after all I thought with a grim smile as we paddled with increasing intensity to stay ahead of the fast approaching thunderstorm.
Mike, Kirk, Adam and I more or less followed the same path and found ourselves together along the turbulent, tree lined bank. Braly was nowhere to be found. There is always one, right? A melange of submerged and partially exposed trees and brush littered the Arizona shore making landfall in this section impossible. At the last sighting before entering the aquatic minefield of crashing logs and detritus Braly had been about 50 meters further north.
Unable to make it to shore at our current spot, we slowly made our way north towards Braly’s last known location. An experienced endurance athlete and no stranger to the harsh conditions Mother Nature is capable of stirring up, we quickly linked up when we found him paddling in our direction. “I found a spot where we can get off the water,” Braly called out before turning around to point out the small section of exposed mud and grit between the undergrowth.
By now, the rain had been hammering down for several minutes and we tallied our minimal supplies, cell phone status, and assessed the situation. “What do you think?” Kirk, Braly’s Army Ranger brother-in-law asked me. Although the ground was littered with stones, the desert surface was generally a composition of soft, sandy dirt, which was nice since none of us had shoes. “I’d like to get a look at where we are beyond the undergrowth and assess our position,” I said. There were several broken tree branches nearby and I selected one to use as a makeshift machete to hack a tunnel through the dense bushes out to the main section of the desert.
It took a few minutes of aggressive chopping to carve out a path. Looking north and south, the treeline was virtually indistinguishable from one section to the next along the desert, so I gathered several stones to mark the location from which I had just emerged. Mike crawled out not far behind me just as a loud clap of thunder shattered across the sky. “Shit’s gettin’ real,” we heard Braly call out from back inside the undergrowth. Mike and I began to laugh. “If I had to be stranded in the desert, there’s no one I’d rather be with than an Army Ranger, a former government secret agent, an endurance athlete and Adam,” exclaimed Mike.
I was feeling decidedly more confident about our situation now that we were on land. We were still at risk from the lightning, but much less of a sure thing now that we were off the water. Desert thunderstorms can potentially last for hours, but as we surveyed the sky it looked as if the main section of the storm had passed to our South. The wind was dropping off and had shifted back to its previous trajectory from the South.
After an approximately one hour diversion in Arizona we made the decision to head back out on the water. In addition for the need to cross back to the Nevada side, we were still several miles south of the Cottonwood Marina where James was waiting.
The rest of the journey passed without incident as we each caught a few small bumps left by the passing storm. It did not take long for the air temperature to climb back to upper 80s and the uncharacteristically humid desert air quickly warmed our bodies and spirits. James was patiently waiting for us at the finish. He had hiked out to a rocky precipice overlooking the south bank of the marina and called out with his arms in the air as we entered the placid confines of the marina’s cove. “I had a couple of your beers while I was waiting for you,” he said as we carried our Bullets ashore. “What happened to you guys?”
Looking out over the lake from the Mead Davis Powerline Road.