UFC champ Evan Tanner's final test.
Credit: Courtesy Evan Tanner
After that second comeback fight, Tanner took a break and rode his motorcycle to Oregon to see a girl. It was on that trip this past July that he forgot to check the fuel level in his bike and wound up pushing it back to civilization.

The woman, named Sara, had intrigued him with romantic talk of the desert. Tanner later wrote in his online journal:

I began to imagine what might be found in the deep reaches of the untracked desert. It became an obsession of sorts....

Today, I ran to the store to pick up a few things, and with the lonesome, quiet desert thoughts on my mind, I couldn't help but be struck with their brutally stark contrast to my current surroundings, the amazing congestion in which we exist day to day.

He described a plan to ride into the desert, where the emptiness of the landscape could allow him days or even weeks of reflection, like a modern Henry David Thoreau on his Walden Pond.

That sort of lofty, lonely talk made his fans nervous, and they said so online. Fighters should stay focused on their bodies. Their world is physical. And now Evan Tanner spoke of spooky things, of abstract treasures and existential congestion. Some fans wondered aloud whether he would die out there among the cacti and tumbleweeds.

"Come on, guys," Tanner wrote on his site. "This isn't a version of 'Into the Wild.' I'm not going out into the desert with a pair of shorts and a bowie knife, to try to live off the land. I'm going fully geared up, and I'm planning on having some fun."

Tanner set about preparing for his trek. He bought an enduro-style motorcycle, which he and Gayoso reconfigured for hard cross-country travel. They upgraded gaskets and put sealant in the tires. Rejetted the carburetor, attached aftermarket racks for his gear.

Meanwhile Tanner made a careful study of the desert, reading a whole stack of books about outback navigation, finding water, desert terrain. He shaved his beard and prepared to enter a landscape he called "crisp and clean, pure and shimmering."

He studied satellite images of the area where he planned to camp, marking a nearby spring from which he could replenish his water supply. And he gathered all the proper equipment, from batteries to water containers.

"Being a minimalist by nature, wanting to carry only the essentials, and being extremely particular, it has been a little difficult to find just the right equipment," he wrote online. "I plan on going so deep into the desert that any failure of my equipment could cost me my life."

On September 3, Tanner waved to a friend as he left his beach apartment in Oceanside, saying he might return in three days or three weeks. He planned on seeking peaceful solitude in the desert, however long it took.

He rode several hours inland, to the Palo Verde desert mountains, where he left the road and traveled across dry creek beds and through scrub brush. He pushed deep into the desert, into a valley. During the dry season even small animals struggled to survive on the washboard landscape, and signs in the area warned of a military bombing range.

There Tanner unfolded a small cot and chair, a sleeping bag, a water bladder, a handheld GPS, his journal, and two pens. He set up a tarp overhead, to ward off the sun.