The Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup is one of the great true grit in athletic events in law enforcement, testing the mettle of competitors in unique ways.
The relay race, held over 120 miles of unforgiving desert and mountain terrain with more than 5,000 feet of net elevation gain, will be staged for the 37th time on April 1-2.
Missions and ambitions
A number of Orange County agencies are entered with varying goals, whether to win a division or rivalry, to “mug” as a top-five finisher in a category, or simply field a team that can complete the race in less than 24 hours.
Overall, the defending champion is the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Elite Running Team, which won its division in 13 hours, 23 minutes, 37 seconds, and remains the team to beat.
The Santa Ana Police Department is on a mission to recapture local bragging rights and a ceremonial trophy that goes to the winner between Santa Ana Police Department and archrival Anaheim Police Department.
Last year, Anaheim reclaimed primacy in the inter-departmental competition, which is symbolized by a foot-tall statue of a runner that reads “#1 in Orange County.”
Santa Ana claimed the prize in 2019, the year the trophy was created, and held onto it through two years of pandemic. Prior to that, Anaheim won the showdown four straight times and was itching to get its hands on the trophy.
Anaheim hit the tape last year in 14:58:31, taking fourth place in the Open Division and fifth place overall. Santa Ana finished in 15:53:21, seventh and 13th, respectively.
The Hogs, as Santa Ana’s elite team is named, are hoping to bounce back in a big way. It won’t be easy, according to team co-captain Sgt. Jim Rose, who is running his final race after starting in 2001.
Based on estimates the teams put in ahead of time for their performances, Anaheim expects to run about 50 minutes faster than the Hogs. While there is always a little gamesmanship in the times submittal, Rose says he tries to be accurate.
Rose thinks his team can come in at about 15 hours. Last year’s times were slower across the board due to the excessive heat and winds that forced organizers to temporarily halt the race to make sure that medical personnel were adequately deployed.
Santa Ana’s A team also lost a couple of women, who are running for the department’s inaugural women’s team.
“We don’t have many jackrabbits,” said Rose, who expects his team to be battling for eighth place, after finishing as high as third in 2013.
Santa Ana’s second team, the Gorillas, finished in 18:15:39, ahead of Anaheim’s B team in 18:29:42.
Santa Ana’s first women’s team will be led by captains Dania Osorio, Cassandra Hawkins and Amanda Miller.
Westminster on the clock
Westminster did not “mug” in 2022. In the words of team captain Mike Gradilla, “everyone left it all out there and I’m proud of all of us.”
The team finished in 20:45:01, and Chief Darin Lenyi ran one of the toughest legs. After mulling taking an easier leg this year, according to team member Omar Ayala, Lenyi re-upped for a mountain leg.
“He blew us all away. He’s a machine,” Gradilla said.
Ayala plans to give his all this year. He signed up for the toughest stage of the race, a 6.4-mile, 1,270-elevation climb in pre-dawn to the Mountain Springs Summit.
“I’ve been training and I want to do really good,” Ayala said.
Kern County contretemps
In the battle of Kern County, the Sheriff’s Department held onto the annual trophy that it and longstanding rival Bakersfield Police Department fight for each year. The Sheriff’s Department finished in 17:04:36, beating Bakersfield PD, 18:11:00.
Lt. Nicole Anderberg, who captains Bakersfield, is proud of her team and eager to reclaim the cup for the first time since 2018. To improve the squad’s chances, Anderberg says she added a couple of spry graduates from the Bakersfield Police Academy.
“I told them I’m gonna take you guys with me,” she said.
A desert runs through it
Between the start of the race on the desert floor in Baker, California, and the race’s conclusion at the Rio Hotel on The Strip in Las Vegas are 20 stages of varying lengths and difficulties. Last year, temperatures reached 105 degrees on the Tarmac roads, coupled with nasty headwinds.
At night the runners cross the Spring Mountains battling torturous climbs and dizzying descents in the blackness.
Baker to Vegas, more formally called the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club’s Challenge Cup, or, less formally, B2V, was founded in 1985 with 19 teams. The original race was the vision of Los Angeles Police Officers Chuck Foote and Larry Moore. During the first seven years, the race was held in Death Valley before eventually settling onto the current course. The run takes teams anywhere from about 12 hours to upwards of 24 hours to complete.
This year, 236 teams are registered, including teams from as far away as Germany and Australia, as well as teams from Canada and the New York Police Department.
“I think the NYPD men’s team has a shot,” said Rick Santos, race organizer.
Perhaps the coda on the race website sums up the event best: “Blood. Sweat. Pride. Honor.”