"We have to sleep," I yelled to my co-driver, Darren Skilton, over the sound of the Raptor engine. "It's 4:30 a.m." We had just finished digging our Ford SVT race truck out of the deep sand that had sucked us in as we motored across the lip of a dune. The half-hour-long task required not only shoveling yards of the soft, grainy material that mired our 35-inch General Grabbers, but also lying on our sides to scoop with our cupped hands and drag more of it out from under the belly of our truck, where it was impeding the driveline, skidplates, and side rails.

"Look in the book and see what time the sun comes up," my Dakar Rally partner called back. "The sun rises in Iquique at 7:08," I replied. "All right," he said, in a dejected tone, making it clear he wanted to persevere in our attempt to drive through the dangerous dunes in pitch darkness to the end of the race stage. The finish line, as well as our three teammates and a support truck with spare parts, sleeping bags, and warm clothing, were still 20 kilometers away in Iquique, Chile, and the only two visible passages through the dunes were blocked by stuck race vehicles. We had already passed a number of racers throughout the day and into the evening who were stuck, had broken down, or had given up the idea of further travel in the inky darkness.

My body was shaking. The cocktail of the night's chill and complete exhaustion sank my spirits as I settled into the co-driver side of our race vehicle. I tried to pretend it was a bed, and that my body was prone, instead of sitting upright in a hard plastic Cobra race seat. Fatigue should have melted into sleep after 18 difficult hours of racing, with stops due to a broken shock mount, high-centering on an unseen rock ledge, and getting stuck in silt and sand, but my brain was fixed on high alert and my body ached. Plus, keeping still made me aware that, despite my tight-fitting, fire-retardant race suit, a layer of Atacama Desert sand now coated my skin; it felt nearly an inch deep on my scalp as I ran my hand through my hair. I also knew I would need medical treatment when we reached camp.