UFC champ Evan Tanner's final test.
Credit: Courtesy Evan Tanner
On September 4, the day after Tanner left his apartment, Jorge Gayoso was wrapping up an afternoon's work at the waterfront, loading tools into his truck, when he received a text message that stopped him cold. It came from Tanner's phone:

If I don't contact you by 8 am, send out search and rescue. I am at Clapp Spring in the mountains west of Palo Verde. I set up camp a little south and east of Flat Tops.

As Jorge stood staring at the message – search and rescue? – a second one arrived:

I am out of water. Waiting for the sun to drop, then will try to hike the five miles back to camp. I feel like shit, but I'm okay. Gimme till 8 am, then worry.

Gayoso stared again. What had happened out there? He dialed Tanner's phone.

"Hey," Tanner answered. "I'm here, and–"

The connection broke.

Then Gayoso's phone rang.

"Man, it's so hot here," Tanner said. "I'm at Clapp Spring, but there's no water. So I'm just sitting here under a tree in the shade, waiting for the sun to drop."

Gayoso pieced together what had happened from what his friend told him next. On his first morning in the desert Tanner had decided to walk five miles to the spring he'd seen on the satellite images, where he could refill his water bladder. Five miles meant nothing to him; as an athlete he could jog five miles and hardly get winded.

"But it's just so hot here," Tanner repeated. By midday the temperature had reached 115 degrees. Even worse, outdated satellite imagery had deceived him; he had arrived at the spring to discover it was dry. So Tanner decided to hide from the sun beneath one of the desert's malnourished trees.

Worry rose in Gayoso's mind, but he spoke lightly. "Well, what are we doing here?"

Tanner said he planned to walk back to his camp after dark. Back to his motorcycle. He'd had enough of the desert.

The two friends bickered. Gayoso argued that Tanner should start walking out before dark so he could see any snakes, holes, or rocks, and wouldn't get lost.

Tanner, normally the gentlest friend imaginable, seemed annoyed. He noted he had a GPS. He'd be fine at dark.

"Do you have a flashlight?"


The connection broke again.