“Temperatures that cook eggs.” Stefano Gregoretti repeats it several times, thinking back to Death Valley, one of the driest and hottest places on the planet. An expanse of dust and rock that extends for 13,518 square kilometers in the American West. We’re at 86 meters below sea level, in a place where summer temperatures reach 50 degrees daily, with peaks exceeding 54. Only at night can you find respite, when the sun descends below the horizon and the temperature drops by about 13 degrees.
No one would ever think of going to an area like this, if not in a car and with the air conditioning at full blast. No one, that is, except the ultrarunner Stefano Gregoretti and his partner Ray Zahab, who in early July 2022 chose to do something completely crazy: cross Death Valley from east to west, running, without stopping. It wasn’t the two athletes' first experience of this type; they’re used to putting themselves to the test in extreme weather conditions. Over the years they’ve completed crossings of some of the least hospitable environments on the planet, from Kamchatka, to the cold polar lands, to the driest places on earth.
On this latest adventure they took only the essentials: a pair of shorts, a shirt, a headband, a small backpack, and lightweight running shoes. They faced 134 kilometers of desert, to be covered day and night, following a straight imaginary line. “We wanted adventure, so we decided to leave the well-trodden paths and roads.” A line in the wild, in search of their limits and a way to overcome them. Perhaps also an answer to the many questions that fill your brain when you imagine and carry out something like this: Why? “They often ask me, and every time I have to stop and force myself to reflect on the reasons that push me toward experiences of this type,” Stefano explains. “The honest answer is that I don’t know. It’s just something you do. You don’t always need a reason to do something. Not everything has to be clear and defined always. Then you’d risk not feeling wonder in the face of the unexpected, of not feeling excitement in the face of such imposing nature.”