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Arts and Entertainment

I Survived A Scavenger Hunt In The Apocalyptic Desert This Weekend

Things got weird (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
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Last week, we wrote about a Rental Car Rally that was headed from Los Angeles to Death Valley, beginning Friday at midnight. I decided to follow the rally and see what it was all about, only to discover the desert had become some kind of treacherous, Apocalyptic wasteland and that we'd been forsaken by Google. Here's how it all went down. The Rental Car Rally is an event that happens a few times a year in various cities. Teams show up to a rendezvous point where they're given a list of checkpoints they must find, plus a number of 'mischief-making supplies' they can use to sabotage other teams. These items are generally sticky food substances that are drizzled or thrown onto the cars after the team has parked and gone off in search of the checkpoint. Photos uploaded to a server prove the team's visited all the checkpoints, and the winners are judged on route efficiency and popularity. At the end, teams vote on their favorite competitors other than themselves, and odometers are checked before and after to determine who was able to hit all the points in the fewest miles. Simple enough.

Before any of the costumed teams of competitors showed up to a lot in the Arts District on Friday at 10 p.m. to showboat their outfits and cars, we knew that the 15 Freeway from L.A. to Vegas was not in a good place. We also knew that the last checkpoint was in Pahrump, Nevada, which could pose a problem. Earlier that day, a massive wildfire jumped the freeway, setting cars ablaze. Rescue efforts were delayed by some jerks and their drones, and people abandoned their cars on the freeway and were met with hefty towing bills. Did we mention cars were on fire?

That's serious business, but I decided to accept Rental Car Rally's invitation and still go to the rendezvous point. My boyfriend and I threw on some costumes—the Silver Snakes from Legends of the Hidden Temple—and drove over.

Once there, we found a number of creatively outfitted teams. We saw a guy shooting sparklers off an electric guitar on top of a vehicle, Mad Max: Fury Road-style. We saw a Ghostbusters team complete with a van. There was a team of bananas, another of Ninja Turtles and a group of clowns. There was also a team called 'Heroes of the RAVEolution' that was some kind of MDMA-fueled, our-nation's-forefathers cosplay situation.

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A man dressed as Captain America who went by 'Lord Mustache' soon handed out boxes to each team. They were filled with a half-carton of eggs, bottles of syrup and barbecue sauce, shaving cream and plastic spiders, as well as a rule book and itinerary. Here we learned that the route would take us north and we wouldn't have to deal with the wildfire. This was a primary concern for us, but most of the other scavengers seemed most interested in using the food items to make a mess of other players' cars. This was a very non-vegan affair, as every car was soon covered in egg yolk. We decided to save our eggs. (I scrambled some for breakfast today.) Some, however, had brought their own eggs.

Before long, we were off to the first checkpoint. Now, even though we'd both worked full days on Friday, we felt great and the first five items went relatively well for us. Respects were paid to Paul Walker in Valencia, riders located a checkpoint hidden near an elementary school and we found the dinosaurs of Charlie Brown Farms over in Littlerock, just outside Palmdale.


Look, we've been awake awhile (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
The rule book specifically states that casual pranking was cool (most of this seemingly involved drawing penises on cars in shaving cream), but "wanton douchbaggery" was not. This rule didn't stop one team who went by '69' from firing a paintball gun at the head of a RAVEolutioner. Though he was wearing a Deadmaus mascot hat, it still wounded him. Team 69 was then on everyone's shit list, and eggs rained upon them.

For us, we avoided most of the mischief, and it wasn't until we were charged with finding the Bottle Tree Ranch, a large assemblage art sculpture in Helendale, that things went awry.

Because the Rally was judged not on how quickly it was completed, but rather the amount of miles used, we decided to take a short cut through the desert. We veered off the main road and, with Google as our guide, began navigating the winding and deserted roads instead. This was all going pretty well (and we got to see a few bunnies and chipmunks) until Google navigated us right to a gate with numerous signs declaring what was on the other side as private property.

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Google, I trusted you. (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
Even if we had felt like trespassing at 4 a.m., the gate was impassible without a set of boltcutters. It was also really difficult to turn around, as the gate was on the side of a cliff that, while smallish, would have meant we were stuck until help could arrive. We later found out we were not the only team Google had misled.

We got out of the car and saw another car above us, on a different cliff. Not sure if they were killers (we'd seen The Hills Have Eyes), we decided not to call out to them but instead try our luck with a different desert trail. Ignoring Google's advice, we were able to make it out to the main road no worse for wear, but very dusty and an hour behind.

When we finally found the bottle ranch, we ran into the clowns. They told us they'd been trapped in the desert, too, when they ended up on a cliff. They said they saw a car stuck at a gate down below, but didn't want to call out to us because they were dressed as clowns and were worried whoever it was would think they were killers. Ah, the irony. We'd been instructed to be polite with the bottle ranch, so we quietly took a look around and went on our way.

As we were only a two-person team, we decided to stop at a motel in Boron at around 5 a.m. We crashed for a couple hours, then set out again in daylight.

By now, we were blissfully behind the other teams and felt safe from egg throwing. The next checkpoint was super interesting. Once a U.S. Air Force General Surveillance Radar station, the Boron Air Force Station is now pretty much abandoned. Many of the buildings still stand but have been ravaged by taggers and vandals. It seriously looks like some kind of end-of-the-world disaster befell the place.


The Boron Air Force Station (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
While other teams later told us they encountered people who seemed to live in the ruins, we ended up finding a group of about 60 or so dressed in military surplus gear, camping out and playing with Airsoft guns. They told us the Sheriff's Department had given them permission use the site for their event, so we felt safe exploring. We wandered around for a bit, feeling like we had all the time in the world to make our way through Death Valley and get to Pahrump. We were wrong.

The desert apocalypse wasn't over. It was raining very lightly as we left Boron, which had prompted us to use a paved road as opposed to another desert trail. However, as we headed for the the next checkpoint, the Friends of Amateur Rocketry viewing site, the rain became a downpour. The rocketry site required a slight detour on a smaller, paved road. On a normal day, this would have been a pleasant, sunny drive—one, in fact, that we'd made before. However, by the time we got to Randsberg Road, the path was this.

There was no crossing or getting through in our car, especially not knowing how much worse it would get. We had just been to Randsberg a few weeks ago, and knew it was sort of a long way to go to the checkpoint in question. So, we decided to head north on Hwy 395 instead and try to make our next checkpoint—a restaurant in Stovepipe Wells, followed by a drive through Death Valley. If we had to skip one checkpoint due to inclement weather, so be it.

Unfortunately, it wasn't long until we ran into another impassible hurdle. Hwy 395 was closed, and it looked like this.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, lightning was setting palm trees on fire.

With no way of getting through via any road, and no real indication of how long it would take for the roads to clear, we decided to head straight to Parhump. This was disappointing, though we weren't the only team to run into trouble. We soon learned that other teams had gotten stuck on dubious desert roads trying to find the Chloride City ghost town checkpoint. Other teams without all-wheel drive couldn't make it to that checkpoint at all. Some teams had their Winnebagos and cars break down, mid-rally.

Finally, come early evening, we made it to the final stop: the Chicken Ranch in Pahrump, one of Nevada's legal brothels. We found that we had just missed a huge dust storm, and it was unseasonably chilly making the pool party a bit of a bust. Still, we were happy to hear the road-weary tales of the other competitors, as disappointed as we were that our lingering in Boron caused us to epically fail. It was also the first time we'd hung out in a brothel, so there's that.

In the end, it turned out Plaid Max—a Bravehart spin on Mel Gibson's other hit—was the team to secure the Golden Gas Pump, the MacGuffin of a prize awarded to the team who earned the most points. Their efficiency and enthusiasm earned them our respect.

Now, we did manage to make it through Death Valley the following day and back to Los Angeles. However, the desert wasn't done being weird. On the 10 Freeway, a bridge collapsed due to heavy rain near the Arizona/California border. This area of the freeway is closed indefinitely, KTLA reports. Los Angeles isn't in the clear, either: more thunderstorms are on their way.

While the Rally was mostly a bust for us due to rain, it wasn't a total lost. We enjoyed the things we discovered in the desert, and our unused mischief-making tools are a suitable breakfast. We wouldn't recommend doing it an Audi, or with a team of only two people, but if you're looking for something to break the monotony of your usual weekend plans, check it out. Their next L.A. rally takes place in July of 2016, and there's one from Chicago to Detroit in September.