Last week I loaded my SIC Bullet V2 onto the roof rack, strapped it down and backed off the driveway. Instead of jumping on the I-405 North and heading towards Malibu for a downwind run to the Santa Monica Pier, I cruised past Culver City and got on the I-10 East. That’s right, east. There has been an escalating buzz surrounding the plans to restore sections of the anemic Los Angeles River, long ago encased in a venerable straight-jacket of concrete, but as I sped past downtown Los Angeles I continued my traverse across the concrete jungle. As enticing as it may be, the Los Angeles River would have to wait until another day.
Moving along the I-10 East to San Bernardino County I met up with the I-15 North and began to follow the route taken by countless Angelenos as they made their escape to the playground of Las Vegas. As the freeway climbed into the high desert, urban civilization faded away and was replaced by a patchwork of scraggly sagebrush and low lying vegetation. Turning off the I-15 onto Nipton Rd., I bounced along in my Jeep while the two lane road skirted the northern boundary of the Mojave National Preserve. Approaching the California – Nevada border, I popped over a slight crest and saw the sign I had been anticipating – “Welcome to Nevada”.
Nipton Rd. technically ended at the border, but the highway now referred to as NV-164 continued on through the desert. The area is thick with Joshua Trees and it was difficult not to conjure up feelings of the Irish rock band U2’s famous album from the 1980s and one of my favorite tracks – Where the Streets Have No Name.
NV-164 continued eastward, crossing the I-95 at Searchlight, where it assumed the idyllic sounding title of Cottonwood Cove Rd. As I began my gradual descent to the Colorado River, I paused briefly at the entrance station to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area where the park ranger waved me through with a warm smile saying, “Go on through, I trust you,” after I explained my National Park Pass was tucked away inside a bag in the back and would need to get out and retrieve it.
9th Island paddlers unloading at the launch site.
After approximately 4.5 hours of steady driving from Los Angeles I had arrived at Area 52, a nod to the U.S. Air Force’s Area 51 where experimental aircraft are tested far from the prying eyes of humanity. More publicly known to boaters and fishermen as Lake Mohave, the broad section of the Colorado River created by the Davis Dam has been a haven for outdoor recreational activity for decades only to be recently “discovered” by Braly Joy, the former SIC Maui Brand Manager turned venture capitalist, who recognized Lake Mohave as an excellent, quite possibly world-class, downwind run through the desert.
I met up with Braly at Cottonwood Cove Marina along with a cadre of his 9th Island paddlers, consisting of Las Vegas area natives and a pair of ubiquitous Hawaiian transplants. The later almost as essential as hydration when paddling in these parts. A steady southeast wind had coated Lake Mohave’s surface with whitecaps that afternoon. The seven of us loaded our boards onto a truck – six paddlers and our “shuttle” driver, snowboarding pioneer Shawn Farmer.
As we bounced along the gravel road heading south to the drop off point our crew began swapping stories and discussing exploits – past, present and future. We were an eclectic bunch, no two backgrounds the same, linked by the passion of paddling.
The wind was pumping steadily as we launched into the warm fresh water and made our way a to a rocky point a few hundred yards up wind before tacking out to the center of the lake to begin our downwind run. The view alone from the middle of Lake Mohave is spectacular. Ringed by a blend of jagged pinnacles and rolling desert plains, Nevada on the western shore and Arizona on the east. The wind propelled us towards the high canyon-like narrows north of Cottonwood Cove. The air temperature was in the mid-80s and the water felt warm – a stark comparison to the chilly Pacific off Southern California.
Ready and waiting.
Our group quickly splintered as we each found our own line. Some opted for an inside track along the Nevada shoreline. Others continually pushed towards the rough water in the middle where we paused every so often to regroup and discuss techniques for how to catch the best glide. My choice of the SIC Bullet V2 did not disappoint – the board was tailor-made for the choppy conditions that afternoon. As I caught my first runner I instantly heard the familiar rapid crackling sound created by the Bullet gliding over the rough water’s surface. Euphoric melodies filled my head and I was lost in the moment as the warm desert air rushed by.
Our run concluded back at the Cottonwood Beach Marina where Shawn had parked the truck with our gear in advance of our return. We tucked away our boards back inside their bags and gathered around the tailgate sipping cold beer, sharing snacks and stories. Just a bunch of ordinary guys. Nothing here, but the genuine vibe.