The Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth, 41,000 square miles of sand and salt flats bordering the Andes Mountains in Chile. So why are corporate executives lining up to cross it?
Well, if you can survive the Atacama Crossing, you can probably survive even the toughest boardroom meeting. The race, which kicks off on March 3, involves a 250-kilometer trek across harsh terrain where temperatures can reach as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit—not pleasant when you have to carry seven days' worth of supplies on your back.
Despite the unforgiving conditions, several corporate bigwigs are forsaking the golf course to test their mettle in the desert, including competitors from Anheuser-Busch, Goldman Sachs, BBC World News, and the luxury jewelry brand John Hardy. Why they chose the Atacama Crossing and not the Ironman or Tough Mudder is between them and their image consultants, although we bet the bragging rights that come with surviving one of the world's most inhospitable deserts might have something to do with it.
How dry is it, you ask? There are areas of the Atacama where rain has never been recorded—ever. The landscape is so alien, in fact, that NASA uses it to simulate the moon when testing its rovers. Unlike on Mars, however, there will be 30 water checkpoints throughout the course.
As you might imagine, training is intense, especially for those who want to race competitively. No weekend warrior is likely to beat Vicente Juan Garcia Beneito. Last year the Spaniard made it through the six stages of the Atacama Crossing in 23 hours and 46 minutes, acing it along with the other races in the 4 Deserts series: the Gobi March (China), the Sahara Race (Egypt), and the Last Desert in Antarctica, which, despite the frozen water, is technically the world's largest desert.
Complete all four and you're in one of the most exclusive clubs in the world: the 4 Deserts Club. That's prestige you can't buy with a wad of Benjamins. While it's too late to sign up for the 2013 race, it's the perfect time to start training for 2014. Don't forget to hydrate.
—Keith Wagstaff is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Follow him at @kwagstaff.