Area 51: Aliens & Exercise

After I left When Words Collide in Calgary, I drove south and followed the Extraterrestrial Highway (NV SR 375) to tiny Rachel, Nevada (population 54).

I’d signed up for the ET Marathon — the half, actually, because I’m not cool enough to do a full marathon. I’d booked the race and my room long before #StormArea51 was born. I arrived early and holed up in a mobile home to work on Blood & Bond.

I rented a trailer room and a shared bathroom at the Little A’le’Inn, the world-famous bar/restaurant/motel/campsite in Rachel. As I was there for several days, I got to know the friendly staff, owner Connie and Pam, Sam, Ken, Jay, Manny, and Betty. We spent some time talking about the preparations for #StormArea51 (the phone was ringing so constantly with inquiries that Connie had to institute an email-only contact policy; even so, the phone was ringing every few minutes while I was there).

I spent the week working on the manuscript in a low-distraction environment, which was fantastic and so necessary. (There is an Easter egg in the final manuscript to commemorate this local editing binge.) For breaks, I walked over to the Little A’le’Inn for meals, or I drove out to the Black Mailbox and Area 51.

black mailbox covered in stickers
the Black Mailbox

In the wide desert, there are few landmarks, so when UFO enthusiasts wanted to meet to watch in this dense sighting zone, they referenced one of the few objects that could be easily recognized, a mailbox belonging to a local rancher. As time passed, the poor mailbox suffered stuffing with unauthorized alien-related and alien-destined mail, repeated rifling through the rancher’s own mail, and occasional vandalism. It was replaced after damage by a more secure white mailbox, but was still known as the Black Mailbox. Finally the frustrated rancher took it down — but eventually it was replaced, this time not for mail but just for UFO fun.

The Black Mailbox also marks the dirt road which leads back to the connected dirt road which runs into the front gate of Area 51. I took a leisurely drive, stopping for some geocaching along the way, for as far as is legal, right to the outer gate.

Yep, I spotted one of the famous white pickups, the security teams who patrol and who are authorized to use deadly force if trespassers are stupidly persistent. They are alerted by hidden sensors on the dirt road, and coming through the desert isn’t a great avoidance tactic, either. They apprehend several people a month, even when it’s not leading up to an internet-organized mob event.

I met a guy coming back just as I started in toward the gates. He showed me his photos — he’d really pushed the line more than I did — and told me that he’d tried to take video, but his phone kept shutting off, until he got the idea to put it in airplane mode to record.

There are no geocaches near the gates or base perimeter.

The acknowledged purpose of Area 51 is aircraft testing. I learned what a sonic boom feels like (hint: I thought for a second someone had driven a truck into the mobile home).

I headed back to the Black Mailbox again at the end of the week for the ET Marathon, which starts at midnight in the middle of the desert and ends at the Little A’le’Inn. The race is held during a full moon, so reflective gear and headlamps are required — but a full moon is plenty of light, if no one is shining a headlamp in your face, so as the race pack spread out (I’m, um, not the fastest entrant) I turned off my light and just enjoyed the desert night.

It wasn’t a blistering race time, but considering I’d torn ligaments in my ankle a few weeks before and given up all training, I was fine with it and honestly just glad to be moving again after a few days of sitting still with my laptop.

After a post-race nap, I pulled out and started the drive home. My round trip totaled about 5500 miles in all, and I got to visit Area 51 before it was cool.

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  1. How fun, Laura! Thanks for sharing your experience. Looks like your timing was impeccable. Ha ha! Always setting the pace, doing things before it’s cool.

    • It was really funny, because I made my reservation at the Little A’Le’Inn back when I booked When Words Collide and the half-marathon, nearly a year in advance! Long before I even had release dates for Shard & Shield or Blood & Bond. And then the Area 51 event appeared, and I was suddenly ahead of the curve. By total accident.

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