CARDIO TO VEGAS Update: The Middle of Nowhere

I’m so flippin’ excited to write this post! It’s been about 2.5 weeks since I’ve updated you on my CARDIO TO VEGAS fitness challenge, and that’s a long drought. But I’m here now, and I have a big update. A SUPER big update. A SUPER big, SUPER nerdy update. I don’t wanna waste any more time – let’s get to it!

CARDIO TO VEGAS is my current fitness challenge, where I’m logging the miles I complete during my cardio workouts, and plotting them on a map. My goal is to reach 274 miles, the equivalent of running from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Along the way, I’m putting my nerd hat on and researching fun facts and stories about the places I pass. This post will show that you can find the most incredible, fascinating stories no matter where you look, even if you’re looking in the middle of nowhere. Seriously, keep reading.

Learn more about CARDIO TO VEGAS, and check out the archive, by clicking here.

OK, here we go. When I last left off, I had logged 125.35 miles, and it had gotten me to Barstow, CA. To that, I can add a lot of miles – basically, all my cardio from the month of August:

  • 7/29/13: 3.1 miles, running
  • 7/30/13: .5 miles, elliptical (warm-up to a weightlifting workout)
  • 7/31/13: 9.0 miles (7.45 miles on upright bike; 1.55 on ARC trainer)
  • 8/1/13: 11.7 miles, recumbent bike
  • 8/15/13: 1.5 miles, walking (my first exercise after a two-week break to allow my sprained foot to heal)
  • 8/17/13: 11.2 miles, recumbent bike
  • 8/18/13: 12.2 miles, recumbent bike
  • 8/19/13: 1.55 miles, elliptical
  • 8/20/13: 3.9 miles (2.2 on elliptical; 1.7 on seated elliptical)
  • 8/21/13: 12.5 miles, recumbent bike
  • 8/22/13: .5 miles, elliptical (warm-up to a weightlifting workout)
  • 8/23/13: 5.2 miles (1.43 on ARC trainer; 3.77 on upright bike)
  • 8/26/13: 12.0 miles, recumbent bike

That’s 84.8 new miles and a GRAND TOTAL of 210.15 miles! 84.8 is my longest leg yet, and I have my sprained foot to thank. I did a lot of biking after my foot healed, because it’s no-impact and doesn’t involve putting my entire body’s weight on it, and as a result, I logged a ton of miles.

Those 84.8 new miles take me north and east of my last stopping point in Barstow, and put me smack in the middle of the Mojave Desert, a 48,000 square mile expense that stretches throughout most of southern California and parts of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. For nearly all of those 84.8 miles, I passed nothing but desert. Take a look at this empty map:


The green portion of the map is the Mojave National Preserve, which stretches all the way to the Nevada border. The grey portion of the map is the Fort Irwin National Training Center, a military facility that totals about 1,000 square miles.

My exact stopping point turned out to be a few hundred yards from the Valley Wells Safety Rest Area, as this satellite image shows:


I usually like to write about the places that I stop, but there’s not much to say about the rest area. There are bathrooms and vending machines, and it has an impressive average score of 4.5 out of 5 stars on Yelp, with one reviewer saying that “I am more than happy to make a deposit here anytime whether it’s a one or a two.” That’s good to know, because your bathroom options are extremely limited – there’s probably not another toilet for 30 miles in any direction.

Because my stopping point is in the middle of nowhere, I thought I’d go back and research a couple places I passed on this 84.8 miles leg. Man, I’m glad I did, because I learned some crazy stuff!

About 25 miles ago, I passed the tiny town of Baker, which has the final gas and restaurant options before you reach the Nevada border. Baker is also home to the world’s tallest thermometer, which stands 134 feet and was built in 1991. It’s 134 feet for a very specific reason: in honor of the record-setting highest temperature ever recorded in the U.S.: 134 degrees in nearby Death Valley.


The thermometer doesn’t work. It was turned off for financial reasons – the electric bill to keep it operational runs $8,000 a month, and while the Bob’s Big Boy restaurant it shares a parking lot with is still open, the gift shop at its base has also shut its doors for good. Apparently giant thermometers aren’t exactly a cash cow, and that’s why the current owner has put the thermometer up for sale. If you have $1.75 million, you can own the thermometer, the vacant gift shop, and 4 acres around it. Start counting your pennies!

A few miles before Baker you’ll see an exit for a road that might be hard for you to wrap your mouth around: Zzyzx Road.


Zzyzx Road (prnounced Zizz-icks), appropriately enough, leads to the settlement of Zzyzx, California, and the name “Zzyzx” was invented by a very crafty man who wanted the settlement’s name to be the very last word, alphabetically, in the English language. That man was named Curtis Springer, and he was a very popular radio evangelist and top-notch con artist who swindled money from people every chance he could. I find Springer’s story fascinating, mainly because he’s the quintessential charlatan and quack, and I hope you do too!

Springer spent the first 45 years of his life moving throughout the east and midwest. He fabricated a resume, complete with degrees and diplomas from non-existent schools, claiming to be various kinds of physicians. Springer would use his falsified credentials to promote his “free” lectures, and while he didn’t sell tickets for entry, he did solicit for donations mid-lecture, and offered psychoanalysis packages for $25 a pop. The American Medical Association eventually caught wind, published a report detailing how Springer never graduated from any college, medical or otherwise, and Springer’s lecture career was over.

Springer had already moved on, though, and had begun using radio to reach a much larger audience. Claiming to be a Methodist minister (which he wasn’t), Springer got a twice-daily radio show on a Christian radio station in Chicago in 1934, during which he would sell a variety of potions, medicines, and elixirs, all of which sported mighty claims but were made of household products.

Around the same time, Springer got into the health spa business, opening a center in Pennsylvania that eventually was taken by the government due to non-payment of taxes. In 1944, Springer and his fiance headed west, to California. He filed a mining claim on a tract of federal land in the Mojave desert that, 80 years earlier, had served as an Army outpost. He named the property Zzyzx and opened a health resort, claiming it to be “the last word” in health.

It was a modest resort at first: 20 tents gathered around hot springs that Springer claimed were natural, but in actuality were heated by a nearby boiler. Springer split his week between Zzyzx and Los Angeles, where he would record his radio show and recruit homeless men to come to Zzyzx to serve as construction workers on the health spa’s first buildings. Over the next twenty years, Zzyzx flourished, growing to include a 60-room hotel, a church, a radio station, and various other health-resort-related buildings. Once the radio station was built, Springer moved his radio show there. At its peak, it was syndicated to over 330 stations worldwide, and Springer never missed a chance to hawk his phony potions and cures, for everything from hair loss to hemorrhoids to cancer.

Springer’s desert oasis hit the rocks in the late 1960s, when the federal government caught wind of Springer attempting to sell plots of land in Zzyzx to wealthy spa patrons. Realizing that Springer only had a mining claim on the property, which was public land, the government took him to court on squatting charges. He was also charged with false advertising for his collection of miraculous medicinal products, and in 1974 he was convicted of both. Springer got evicted from Zzyzx and served 7 weeks in jail. After his release, Springer and his wife relocated to Las Vegas, where he remained until his death at age 88 in 1985.

After the eviction, Zzyzx got turned over to the California State University system, which turned it into a desert studies research facility that’s still used by a bunch of CSU campuses.

Thanks for indulging me in that extended history lesson! I’ve driven by the Zzyzx Road exit, and never would have guessed that the man who came up with that name would have a story so rich and engrossing.

Let’s wrap this up with some maps! Here’s the 210.15 miles I’ve logged so far:


And here’s what’s left ahead of me:


The Nevada border is only about 25 miles away, and Las Vegas is only about 40 miles further!


4 Responses to CARDIO TO VEGAS Update: The Middle of Nowhere

  1. Melody says:

    Great work! Keep it up! 🙂

    (I think that gray area is actually Ft. Irwin, with China Lake being a little further north and west of it.). 🙂

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