Imagine driving down a road in Death Valley. The temperature is 128 degrees, scorching hot, and you have the AC cranked up the highest it can go when you see a man running down the street in a Darth Vader Halloween costume, mask and all. Is this a mirage? Are you really seeing what you are seeing?
Yes, yes you are. And for Jon Rice, it is a near-annual tradition.
It all started back in 1997 when Rice and a friend were traveling the United States. They drove down Death Valley’s Artists Drive when he thought he would get out of their car and run. Despite having an awful first-time experience, Rice found the exhilaration of running in extreme heat a challenge.
Rice waits for the hottest day in the forecast for Death Valley to run a mile as fast as he can at the hottest time of day while wearing multiple layers of clothing.
Knowing the risks that comes with running in the hottest place on earth, Rice trains all year long, running in his neighborhood and training to EDM music in his in-home sauna. Working out in his sauna helps him acclimate his body to the extreme temperatures in Death Valley.
The inspiration for wearing the Darth Vader costume on the runs came from knowing that parts of the Star Wars franchise were filmed in Death Valley. On occasion, Rice will have other runners join him, sometimes in a Chewbacca costume.
Rice finds his runs in the extreme temperatures to be totally worth it, bringing joy to himself and other passing by when driving in Death Valley. People would lean out their windows in awe as they pass him on the road.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Rice said, "I just thought, 'What a fantastic thing, to bring a tiny little bit of wonder back into someone’s life.' I loved the idea that people had stories to tell when they got home."