Nevada - A Marathon in Every State
After Midnight Adventures Around Area 51- I have to preface this bizarre story with a random encounter from a few years prior.
If not for the encounter, the details of this experience would have never been possible.
Back in May of 2016, my brother Joel and I embarked on an epic two week road trip, getting a true sense of what the western United States was really like. While we were spending a few days in Las Vegas for part of our friend Andy’s bachelor party, I decided to get on Bumble. After doing some swiping, I ended up matching with a girl named Bri, who lived just on the outskirts of Vegas in Henderson.
While my intentions on the app during that time was for a platonic relationship in order to get traveling recommendations for the area, that’s definitely not the intention of the app as a whole. Usually when the bombshell is dropped that I’m just passing through the area and don’t actually live there, the other person stops talking. I don’t blame them, as Bumble is meant to be a dating app for something stable. To my surprise, when I broke the news to Bri that I was from Michigan, she didn’t ghost me. In fact, quite the opposite happened. She began opening up about how she loves Michigan, but has never explored the state, despite having family from there.
What started as small-talk conversation on Bumble to kill boredom in a Vegas hotel room eventually turned into daily texting, phone calls, and conversations about any subject under the sun, no matter how deep and dark. She was someone I felt comfortable confiding in. Close to four years have passed and we still talk daily, and I consider her one of my closest friends. I ended up showing her around Michigan in 2017, venturing to all the destinations she’d dreamed of seeing someday.
Bri and I at a Tigers game against the Indians. She cried multiple times before the game started from sheer excitement. The final score was 10-0 Indians. How disappointing.
We’ve always explored other options for dating since we’ve known each other, and I was there when her now fiance Joe proposed to her in the Rocky Mountains. I consider Joe a close friend as well, and I’m incredibly excited for their future together.
I could honestly write a novel about our conversations, odd relationship and how much she’s helped me over the years. But for the sake of keeping things simple for this story, I’ll stop there for now in terms of giving an overview on our relationship.
Bri is a huge source of support when it comes to my goal of wanting to run a marathon in all 50 states. Naturally, she wanted me to make Nevada a priority in my journey back in 2018, so she could show me around her stomping grounds like what I did for her in Michigan. After doing some digging on RaceRaves, I stumbled across the ET Full Moon Marathon.
With the race starting at midnight on the night of a full moon, runners were required to wear illumination gear as they ran along the eerie and desolate stretch of Highway 375, which was nicknamed Extraterrestrial Highway by the federal government in 1996 from the overwhelming amount of UFO sightings that get reported on that stretch of road. The race piqued my interest in every form possible, so I knew I had to venture to the Silver State to see what the race was all about.
Joel decided to join me in my adventures out to Nevada, despite knowing that Bri and I can be a bit much when we’re together. As we show up to Bri’s house and Joel realizes that Bri and I are wearing the exact same Real Friends t-shirt, I’m sure he immediately started to regret his decision to be stuck with us for the next few days.
On the night of Friday, August 24th, Bri and Joe took Joel and I to a unique destination called Atomic Liquors, which is the oldest freestanding bar in Las Vegas. Located along the iconic Fremont Street, Atomic Liquors has a lot of history within its walls, being a popular drinking spot for The Rat Pack and the Smothers Brothers after their nightly shows. While there weren’t any famous musicians present that night that I’m aware of, we ended up meeting up with Bri’s long-lost cousin Nate and their friends. As we all shared good drinks and even better conversations, little did I know then that I was going to embark on the most bizarre marathon I had ever attempted within the following 24 hours.
The following morning, the four us went to one of Bri and Joe’s favorite breakfast spots after a night of drinking: The Omelette House, which specializes in exactly what you’d expect. I don’t think I’d ever seen such a massive array of items that could be stuffed inside of a folded egg in all of my life. Out of the overwhelming options, I settled on the delicious Mexi-Cali. I was in heaven.
Since Rachel was only two and a half hours north of Henderson, we had some time to kill before venturing to the incredibly small town where the race started at midnight that night. Before getting loaded up on last-minute supplies for the drive, we decided to check out the Clark County Museum, where the iconic man from Pawn Stars Mark Hall-Patton works as the Museum Administrator. Patton has several cameos on the show, giving Rick advice on how much items are worth. Fun fact: when Joel posted this photo on Facebook, some of his friends thought the cutout was Patton himself.
As we made the drive north from Henderson to Rachel, the cities were becoming more and more sparse, until they were essentially non-existent. Along the trek, all that could be seen from our car was the vacant desert landscape, further solidifying how truly isolated Rachel, Nevada is.
When I said Rachel is small, I wasn’t kidding. According to the 2010 census, the town has a population of 54. There are no stores in Rachel, and the closest gas station is 50 miles south in Ash Springs. There is, however, the Little A’Le’Inn, which is a restaurant, bar and hotel. If you decide to stay overnight at the Little A’Le’Inn, there’s no TV reception, but guests can pick from movies from the video library, which include older Area 51 and UFO documentaries. Lucky for us, it was the meeting place for racers before the start of the ET Marathon.
As we all walked into the Little A’Le’Inn, I couldn’t help but notice the unique decor. Alien memorabilia consumed the small gift shop in the corner, while UFO photos captured from all over the world lined the walls. We all made friends with the bartender, who definitely had his fair share of sightings in the town. He told us of mysterious discs floating next to his car while he was driving, and even told us of instances where he’s experienced “missing time,” a phenomena very common among individuals who have experienced an abduction.
While I’m normally anxious for a race, a different type of fear and excitement overcame me. Regardless of where people stand on the debate on the existence of extraterrestrials, I was still about to attempt running in the middle of the desert in the complete dark, with nothing more than a headlamp and a small flashlight. Given the area is open range for cattle, there was also the possibility of running into a cow.
As Joel pointed out more pictures to me on the wall, the most unsettling ones were reportedly taken near the Black Mailbox, a common meeting place for UFO enthusiasts. One included a small mysterious looking being crouched over by the side of the road, that definitely didn’t look human. I then made the connection that my marathon starts at that Black Mailbox meeting point, and my anxiety quickly turned into dread. I became completely terrified thinking of what I was getting myself into.
To try and occupy my mind, we all sat outside talking to other racers as we prepared for the start of the race. We made friends with a woman named Rachelle from California, who was into the same weird folklore we were. She was talking about stories revolving around the Clown Motel in Tonopah, and many other odd destinations. I became so captivated with the stories that I lost track of the time.
Realizing I only had 12 minutes until the start of the race, I discovered that there was no shuttle taking me to the Black Mailbox, and I was misinformed by a previous patron. I then realized I had to drive myself to the start, which was roughly 10 minutes away. In a sheer state of panic, I loaded all of us up in our car and drove faster than I’ve probably ever driven in my life to the start. The fear of being abducted suddenly subsided as a pushed our poor rental car to the limit trying to make it to the start of the race in time.
With only minutes to spare, I reach my destination wondering again what I’m getting myself into, as I stare into the vast, dark landscape in front of me. As the race began, I don’t know if it was leftover adrenaline from speeding down Highway 375, or my fear of whatever could be lurking in the dark, but I instantly took off and left the rest of the group in the dust.
Whenever I heard any gust of wind whistling through the desert brush, I was frantically moving my small flashlight from left to right, scanning the road in a purely manic state. I’m not sure what a 130 pound runner with a flashlight could do against an advanced species, or even a cow for that matter, but I remained on high alert. I had to constantly keep reassuring myself that I was alone, as I knew I would tire myself out during the race from the pure level of heightened awareness I was operating at.
As I heard footsteps behind me around mile eight, my instinctive thought was “this is it, I just hope they make it quick,” as if an extraterrestrial would just run up and grab me in order to abduct me. To no surprise, it was a pleasant individual from Seattle. Turns out he also had a goal of running a marathon in all 50 states. The only difference was he was on state 46, so he was much further ahead in his goal than I was. After asking what his favorite marathon was, he said the Mount Desert Island Marathon in Bar Harbor, Maine without hesitation. I became excited thinking about crossing that race off my list someday.
After my new friend from Seattle passed me, I began to finally relax and take in the scenery a bit. Or at least what I could see of it. Maybe it was partially due to the amount of fatigue I was feeling from the race, or the fact that I wasn’t fully adjusted to the time change. Either way, I was happy to be able to relax and enjoy the desolate landscape around me.
To my surprise, no one else passed me for the remainder of the race, and I ended up placing second. As I laid on the stone covered driveway of the Little A’Le’Inn trying to regain my strength, a race official approached me saying my chip wasn’t registering in his system after I crossed the finish line. It was then that I had a ‘oh shit’ moment in my head, because in all of my fun shenanigans from the night prior, I never put my chip in my shoe to have my time registered for the race.
Purely embarrassed, I confessed my mistake to the race official, who didn’t want my second place finish to go unnoticed. When he asked what my time was, I deliriously answered “I’dunno, around 3:20?” My official time for the race was recorded as exactly 3:20:00. My prize for taking second was a water bottle with an alien on the outside, which remains my favorite water bottle to date.
Since I was in no condition to drive, we all loaded up in the car and started to make the drive back to Henderson for some much needed sleep. Joel got behind the wheel to take us back, given he’s used to staying up all night working third shift. However, with the full day of activities behind us, Joel began to get too tired to drive. Keep in mind it was now close to 4:00 AM Nevada time, which would be 7:00 AM in Michigan.
Joel then noticed Joe awake in the back, and kindly asked him if he’d drive for a half hour so he could catch up on some sleep. To which, Joe agreed, and hopped behind the wheel.
After around half an hour of driving, fatigue set in. Everyone in the car drifted into a peaceful sleep… including Joe. Since I was sitting shotgun, I woke up startled to feel the entire vehicle shaking. Looking out the window, I could see nothing but dust. Even in my dreamlike and delirious mental state, I could quickly conclude that we were not on the road. We came to a complete stop within about five feet of a small shrub. Oddly we were all very calm about the situation in the moment. Joel spoke from the back “wanna switch?” in a queerly cheery voice. To which Joe replied, “yup.” Joel then got back behind the wheel, wide awake from the situation.
Watching the sunrise as we completed the drive to Bri’s place was a memorizing and euphoric experience all its own. After snagging a shower and a few hours of sleep, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly happy in that moment. I was able to face my fears and complete a race that absolutely terrified me, and I ended up making it home safe with my friends by my side without getting abducted or crashing into a tree. The ET Marathon still remains my favorite racing experience to date from the sheer history of the area and the tales that followed. Later that night Joel and I said our goodbyes to Joe and Bri as we set our sights on California to unwind on some notable trails in some of their National Parks.