Friday, January 31, 2014

Sore Throat

A sore throat for me is generally a sure sign I have ramped up the training too quick. Getting my knee issue figured out late last week, which was that I had weak  gluteus muscles and did a couple exercises wrong, meant that I unfortunately doubled my running volume. 

It's not even funny how predictable it is. Work hard physically several days in a row (and real deep recovery is not really possible mentally working a full day) at a level I have not done in weeks or months and the first physical sign of over living is a sore throat. The good news is, I postponed the workout for the day because I am slowly learning what is best for my health. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Writing, Because I am Afraid to Talk

I want to look you in the eyes and tell you my thoughts. I want to tell you everything about Mt. Everest. I want to answer your questions. I want to see the emotion. I want to hear about your life too. What drives you? How can I help? What have I done wrong to you?

I want to tell you about the world, about poverty and starving children. I want to tell you about suffering. I want to cry with you. I want to laugh with you until we cry.

I want to stay awake talking until the sunrise. I want to be vulnerable. I want you to know everything I know. I won't always be here, and some of this stuff is helpful. 

I want to talk to you about the passion I have had for nine years of climbing Mt. Everest that is happening this year. Yet, I despise my own seemingly endless bragging, and thus I have great difficulty talking about the hill. I want to tell you there are dozens of things to be afraid of. I want to tell you that if everything goes really well, according to plan, at the summit of the experience I will have an 8% of dying in the next 72 hours. How can I possibly tell you that?! That is not a conversation starter. In so many respects it is all so selfish. I could donate the money directly to a Nepalese charity instead of hiring a group to help me put my life in danger. 

When I return I will run to the Mines of Spain and bicycle to Balltown if I am able. I will go to work and try to make better designed structures. Hopefully I will be just as healthy June 30th as I am January 30th. Whatever happens up there, the world will keep spinning. 

I want to talk to you about the immediacy I feel in my life and how you have made my life better. It's like pulling teeth. The petty, safe, comfortable, and sometime mediocre world we live in is too easy to remain. The hard issues are so difficult to talk about! The hard realities are just so painful, emotional and serious!

I want to tell you so many things. Yet it is so much easier to inquire about your life or talk about the minor details in my life. You are fascinating. I'm serious. Your story is so different than mine that I honestly don't understand it. I want to know your details. Those things which torment us the most are also the most personal. Yours truly, writing, because I am afraid to talk.

I struggle.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


People I barely know are finding out how I spend my free time and money. And I think it is surprising for many of them. Recently at the coffee shop, a woman came up to me, "I heard a rumor about you." I replied, "it's probably true." Then we proceeded to talk about Everest for five minutes without actually mentioning the word Everest. One of the things she said was, "you're going to be famous." No one has ever said that to me, at least not in a long time.

To be honest, I think I preferred the lead up to Pakistan. It was more about climbing than a "bucket list" item. Most people didn't have a clue where it was, the name of the mountain I was climbing, or really know much about mountaineering and expeditions in general. When one mentions Everest, everyone has read a book or seen a show on television. There is an expectation, often incorrect, of climbing Everest over dead bodies, without enough experience, running out of oxygen, waiting in lines, and lots of people dying. Yet most 8000 meter peaks have those hazards to some extent.

So it is strange to me that on one hand, many more people will be interested in my climb than in 2009 because they have heard about it, and on the other hand the mountain itself is likely more safe and more developed and in many ways, almost less interesting. There is cell phone service near basecamp. There will be fixed ropes likely the entire way, not just the sections steeper than 30 degrees. It's an interesting experience to live through, the difference between attempting the 12th and 1st highest mountains.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Many Dips in Long Term Achievement

One of the books I have is The Dip by Seth Godin. The basis of it is that "overnight success" is more often the result of putting in months, years, even decades of work when the going gets tough to get the little advantages that lead to tremendous success. It is similar to the 10,000 hour idea that Malcolm Gladwell has. The other side of the coin is the dip for some things, like CEO of a company, is so long and deep that many people decide they don't want to put in that kind of work, despite the rewards. In those cases, Seth suggests you should quit. Just say no and move on to the next project where you can get through the dip.

As I think about Mt. Everest, my running, my engineering career, they have all had many setbacks. Yet I feel that getting through the dip is worth it. Tonight I slogged through a set of track intervals while a college student led them all. I suffered. My back filled with lactic acid, that only happens when I am truly filling my body with that uncomfortable substance. It hurt. Part of me wonders why I am putting myself through this at 27 years old? Yet I know that getting trough this workout, and the next seven just as painful will lead to better performances than I have ever had. For me, if I can raise the bar even just a little, just a few seconds in a race lasting a number of minutes, there is success.

The point is, if you actually want to go after big goals, you are going to get hurt. You are going to suffer in the pursuit of better. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Apple has success because of the relentless pursuit of perfection. Galen Rupp wins races and Olympic medals because after setting an American Record he does a still difficult track workout 15 minutes later.

I'm not saying suffer through every setback. Sometimes it really is worth quitting something and spending your time on things more worthy of your time. However, there will be setbacks in the things you set out to do, and you have to get up and dust yourself off and keep going. Learn from your mistakes and don't make them a second time. My setback and lesson of the week: sitting makes your gluteus muscles fade away and if you want to run fast, you have to strengthen and stretch them otherwise you will end up with knee pain.

Monday, January 27, 2014

I Live in Iowa: Week 142

Sunday: Pretty standard, church and 10 mile run followed by mostly laying around.

Monday: Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so no work, I ordered boots and a down suit and went out to lunch and ran a bit.

Tuesday: A blur at work of meetings and designs followed by a sore knee so I only ran for eight minutes.

Wednesday: Another rush at work followed by a quick grinding by my skilled dentist and a better run.

Thursday: The most intense work day of the week. We are behind schedule. It's not my fault, and my projects are actually more on schedule than some others, but overall, it's slow going. Did 2x3mile workout after work, longest workout probably since October and had a massage. Could not fall asleep, went to bed at 8:45, fell asleep well after 11.

Friday: A better day at work as one of my projects was made considerably smaller and another design was nearly completed. Then off to a chiropractor to see about my knee pain. A nice shorter run after work and a meal at Texas Roadhouse discussing, among other things, attrition.

Saturday: The usual 15 hours total track meet and bus travel, which means I did nothing else of consequence the entire day.

Honestly, I only worked four days, but it felt like six.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Life Is Good

Despite the stress, the sleepless nights, the doubts, the fear, the truth is it leads somewhere. Let's just say, my final two meetings of the week went exceedingly well. Like, 300% better than I expected. Life is good!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Design Rejection

Five of my designs or my derivitive designs were rejected in ten minutes. All were rejected for different reasons. The truth is, things are rarely designed well the first time, often not the fifth time either, and still common, not designed well when it goes into production of tens of thousands. This is why we work in teams.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Standardized Testing vs. Actual Use

The longer we wait to physically test a structure the more likely we have field failures from actual use that drive changes, so the physical test of the original design becomes less meaningful.

In the balance between using standardized tests and random field time, there is a trade off. A test gives you information much sooner and in greater detail about the weaknesses. Yet it is the same test regardless of the corner conditions where the machine may actually be operating. Another benefit of standardized testing is that we know what operation was most destructive. However, with actual use in the field, it is much harder to know what loads and boundary conditions caused the failure. It's like Apollo 1, in some ways it saved other astronauts lives since it failed during testing instead of a mishap like Apollo 13, where it would have been nearly impossible to understand the root cause, and might have happened multiple times.

The point is, a test can give you targeted information about one component's response to the loads and boundary conditions applied. Actual use on the other hand gives you information about the entire variety of loads and boundary conditions that will be applied over the entire machine. While many failures are of simple components, others are due to systems of components. It is a balancing act between standardized testing and field testing.

While this is strictly engineering I am talking about, testing a mountain bicycle on the same one mile loop you always test on, versus any variety of trails and other surfaces with serious riders, it could apply to many things.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My First Designed and Cut Parts

Well, it finally happened, something I designed at work was finally implemented. There was an issue and I came up with the solution to fix it. I designed two rectangular plates.
Now, this is my first ground up design at work, although the Janzen Gear I-beam Ice Axe and the 0.8 Hangboard were somewhat more complicated than this. It's just funny how simple this particular design is. Usually we are dealing with multiple plates, welds, tolerance run out, wrench access, machining access, weight, cost, structural durability, and deadlines. Not to mention a different group of people concerned about each issue. I've worked on more complicated issues of course in the last three years, but this was the first design I modeled in CAD that is being implemented. This fix accounted for all the possible issues, just in a simple manner. 

As my coworker took the picture we were joking that this is what we went to school for, to design rectangular plates. All the loans, the difficult math, the high paying salaries, for rectangular plates. If you can't laugh at yourself, life is going to be a lot more depressing. My job is awesome!

Monday, January 20, 2014

I Live in Iowa: Week 141

Another week, living the dream. Every time I say that I get the psychological kickback of thinking, 'I just said I am living the dream, so it must be pretty good.' It's like saying, "I'm a good student." Well if you say it you are more likely to make it happen. So if you say you are living the dream you are more likely to feel you are living the dream. Let's face it, my life is pretty incredible. As I say that I have two reactions, one is to look around and see all the people less fortunate than I. I need to be productive and generous in my life because so much has been entrusted to me and I feel it is my duty to spread my wealth with the less fortunate. Second, I look around at all of those that have life similar to me or even better. While I know I could do better and be more generous, the same goes for many others as well.

Work was good. Work is good. I wake up in the morning looking forward to going to work. The vast majority of the year I leave for work before the sun comes up. Like I said last week, I have more relaxation about work since Christmas than I did before. Things are getting done, we are fixing problems, we will eventually go to production with a new product. It will never be perfect, people will always find things to complain about. Yet, in the time we have between now and then we will make the product even better. Sure I could get more stressed out about the process and how slow it moves and how many steps there are, but in a strange way that lumbering complexity is part of the fool proof aspect of what it takes to find all the bugs.

Running went well, I ran two workouts and a race and a total of 57 miles. Saturday I ran a 3000 meter indoor race against against a bunch of mostly Augustana runners. I finished in 8th in 9:19, and I had seeded myself at 9:15, so pretty close to what I expected. We got out slow I was in maybe 4th at 100 meters, but was boxed in and slowly drifted back along the rail as we ran I think 38, 39, 38 for the first three laps, so on the strait away after 650 meters I moved out to lane three and cruzed into first. I led for maybe two laps then was passed by two people and ran in third through at least the mile, maybe 2k. Then it started to break up as many of the Augie runners put in surges. I held my own okay, but of course ended up in 8th over all. Only a few seconds out of 4th place. I also closed well, thinking of the pain of a 3k compared to the pain of a marathon, HA! track races are easy. I out kicked one or two runners that were right with me with 200 to go. The goal for this indoor season is a 5k PR. My 15:44 is one of my weakest personal records.

Coaching was good. Those two workouts I ran I ran entirely with runners on the team I coach. I think it helps them to have someone running with them as much as it helps me to have someone to push me. Our distance runners ran their first meet of the year and overall, we are headed in a good direction. Of course I think of the negatives, probably another kid with anemia, a few out of shape, people focusing on the wrong events. However, overall, we are headed in the right direction. In a matter of weeks we will probably get several school records. Not just our relay records, which are slower than many high schools, but also a couple of our open events. The team overall set at least three school records over the weekend, Women's 55 Hurdles, Women's Pole Vault, and Women's Weight Throw.

What else in life? Preparations for Everest continue. I have been sleeping a lot. I slept 10 hours once this week and then 11 hours Friday night. The other nights I am getting a solid 8-9 hours. I had a mini-fever probably four times this week. Part of it is going to bed a little more dehydrated than I should. Another part of it is going from 37 miles and no workouts to 57 miles, two workouts and a race.

It was a good week.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Back in the Game

I am running a 3000 meter race tomorrow. My first race in over three months. I am getting back into the game. There is nervousness I am rusty and out of shape. There is excitement about the thrill of pushing myself. 

It is exciting getting out there on the starting line. I won't do this forever and that helps me appreciate every opportunity. Tomorrow, even if I get last, it will be a good experience. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ways I Might Die on Mount Everest

To ignore my possible death on Mount Everest is ignorant. It is a very real possibility. I rationalize each possible way to die but ultimately, what happens happens. A falling serac, an avalanche, missing clipping into a rope at the moment I lose my footing and fall, a heart attack, sitting down and not getting up could all kill me. To think that I am above death on a mountain is ignorant in every sense of the word. I could die in April or May 2014 vainly seeking to climb to a place over 6000 other people have already been.

How might I die based on altitude? This info graphic gives a nice overview of deaths at which altitudes.

5400-6000 meters: The kumbu ice fall I could get killed by a falling serac, which is really just a big house sized block of ice in a glacier waiting to slide five feet down the mountain and topple down on other ice. While the chance I die in the ice fall are very low (more Sherpas die in the ice fall than clients because they are paid to maintain the route) it is clearly a chance. I will mitigate this risk by climbing through it generally in the dark or early morning hours before it has the chance to get hit by the sun and melt, which is to say readjust.

7000-8000 meters: Avalanche danger lurks. While not a huge concern due to generally low snowfalls at those altitudes and placement of camps near the right edge of the slope, tents are wiped out by avalanches. If I die in an avalanche chances are I will get to enjoy a few minutes before I suffocate to death. I will mitigate this risk by only sleeping there two or three nights, hopefully.

8000-8848 meters: Cerebral edema, also known as acute mountain sickness, is basically a headache due to the brain swelling with fluid that disorientates people and causes a chain of bad decisions to happen. I will mitigate this risk by staying very hydrated, drinking tea, which has antioxidants which may in fact help, and always carrying dexamethasone in pill form with me. (You may remember the movie Vertical Limit had syringes of "Dex" that is dexamethasone and while syringes do exist the pill form is far more common and having licked the powder from the pills in 2009 in Pakistan I can verify it is very effective.) I also plan to mitigate this risk by descending the mountain if I have a severe headache (as I did the first time I slept above 6000 meters or 20,000 feet), if I throw up or my fingers and toes are especially cold.

Pulmonary edema, which is the lungs filling with fluid. This is a rather sudden illness and in the few cases I have read about on 8000 meter peaks it is nearly always fatal. I plan to mitigate this risk by carrying nifedipine in pill form and basically following all of the above suggestions with the addition that if I cough up blood once, that's it, I need to go down.

Exposure can easily kill people. Think of this as frostbite meets altitude sickness. At higher altitudes our bodies can not keep us as warm so blood is shunted to our core for our vital organs. This leads to fingers and toes becoming colder faster than in normal -40 degree weather at sea level. In other words, taking a glove or mitten off to take a picture, clip the safety line into the fixed line, or dare I say, help a dying person greatly accelerates the possibility of frostbite and while frostbite in itself is not deadly the damage of descending even slower once you do not have working fingers or toes means that that cold can rise up your arms and legs and bring your body to uncomfortable levels. It inevitably gets to the point where a person sits down, without his or her mittens on, and never gets up again because every minute sitting down is a minute getting a fraction of a degree colder (due to conduction with the rocks and snow one is sitting on plus not using the structural muscles). I plan to mitigate this risk by being extremely critical of opportunities to take my mittens off. In an ideal world, I will not take my mittens off on summit day. To be completely honest, that will depend on my ability to operate a camera in my Outdoor Research Alti Mitts on the summit. That will also depend on the ropes I have to change over, and any rescues that I may end up part of. My mittens do have leashes that I will wear so if and when I do take them off they only go eight inches away. Frostbite and exposure is one of the things we think about more commonly because it is a gray away more than others.

Finally, most likely on the high mountain, but possible throughout the mountain, I could die while climbing unroped. That is a loose term that may describe a mere five feet between one fixed rope and a second fixed rope. It could also mean standing at the top of the Hillary Step and unclipping one line and not clipping into the right rope and then going to set up my rappel and not setting it up right so I fall. Falls = death. I have not heard of anyone breaking a leg rappelling the Hillary Step and living although it is very possible.

So those are the most likely ways I could die. There are other ways, like heart attack and rock fall, but those are relatively minor plus I plan to wear a helmet most of the time and a heart rate monitor frequently.

Overall, there is roughly a 1.5% chance of dying on Everest. Now, being from the USA, it's only about .7% chance of death based on very comprehensive Himalayan Database. However, standing on the summit, having not used bottled oxygen I have roughly an 8% chance of dying on the way down. That 8% number is the one that really scares me. I must climb totally within myself. I've found two articles, I can't find the other one today, that suggested 7.6%, yet the point is, if 12 of us make the summit without oxygen in 2014, chances are one doesn't take a hot shower again.

Something worth mentioning, the key to most of these is listening to your body, to the headaches, tiredness and cold fingers and toes that unchecked can spell death. Having turned around on Broad Peak, El Cap, Longs Peak numerous times, and even Mount Adams in New Hampshire, I feel that turning around below the summit is something I am comfortable with. I have had summit fever on perhaps three mountains, but twice it was because over the top was the fastest way home and once, well it almost got me struck by lightening and killed so I hope I learned my lesson. In a related way, my Chicago marathon in 2013 was just plain horrendous. I felt like a lead ballon the last four miles. I had strength, but no energy. My reserves were gone. I was running on metabolizing fat, which is rather inefficient. It was painful in a very holistic way. However, it showed me how much I can tolerate. I can handle a lot. I passed Africans better than myself that stopped and DNF'd. Yet in that pain and suffering God allowed me to keep going and if I get to the that point on Everest, and I definitely hope I don't, I know that it is possible that I keep going. I've climbed in 60 mile per hour winds. I've soloed 60 degree ice slopes and fifth class rock, I've hit the glycogen wall, I've woken a black bear before dawn at 5 AM while running alone, I've repelled 6 mm rope and that braided Korean hardware store stuff.

If I die you had better believe it's either instant and I didn't see it coming, or I fought like mad with mental screams and the force of men three times my size through pain that would stop most others. Yes I could die. If we let the fear of death stop us, what are we living for? I am a Christian, death is a welcome respite from the pain of this world. Yet humans have a resilient body, we can overcome again and again things that are "not possible".

"Impossible is nothing." - a rather liberal translation of Luke 1:37 in the Bible.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Going Hard! (And Being Older...)

Others have said it, as you grow old you can go harder on a given day than when you were younger. I'm specifically referring to running and training for endurance racing, but I suppose this would also refer to anything from studying to negotiating.

Tuesday (yesterday) I ran a workout with four different groups during track practice. I ran with each group until they were either injured or done. When I finished there was no one left running. To go from my moderate state of fitness to doing such a long and fast workout was surprising. I ran a 47s 300 m, 66s 400 m, and 14 s 100m, among about three miles of hard running. Yet toward the end, when I wanted to quit, I knew I could keep going, because I've been to that point in workouts and races so many times I know I can keep going. It was also the oldest I have ever been when running a workout.

I suppose this is just a perk of getting older. Most of the best ultrarunners are much older than the best track and road racing runners, in part because I suppose they benefit from knowing they can keep going when the going gets tough.

The downside is I don't seem to recover as fast as when I was younger. Although recovery depends on so many things, I don't think that is a hard and fast rule so much as maybe a consequence of doing harder workouts or spending less time on the little things that improve recovery. (At least that's my rationalization.)

2014 is going to be a good year!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Every Drive a Blessing

Seriously, my van is free to die whenever it wants. I mean every month that goes by that I don't have to buy a newer car means a large chuck of money can be spent on other things. Every single day I am reminded of how fortunate I am to have such a fine piece of machinery.
1993 Toyota Previa with 308,006 Miles 
Yes, 308,000 miles!

Monday, January 13, 2014

I Live in Iowa: Week 140

The week that was… Having a wonderful 16 consecutive days of vacation seems to have permanently changed my outlook. For example, to be honest my new position at work is more stressful than my old one, after about nine weeks I still felt that I was not really "getting it". Yet, taking vacation and allowing my mind to wander and focus on other things, and dare I say refocus on the critical things in life, I feel much less stress at work or about work now. I realize I have only been back one week, but I think this is another development in where work fits into my life.

I feel that having some time off allowed me to realize how effective I am actually being in my new position. In other words, I had a hard time knowing if I was doing any good, but I now know I am doing well. That doubt is a scary thing. I mean not knowing if you are worth your pay can leave one with the feeling they will send you packing.

That is to say, my return to work is going really well. We are getting things done and I know we will get quite a few things done before I leave in April for the big E.

I only ran 38 miles last week. My right knee has had a patella femoral tendonitis (runner's knee) flare up so my mileage was lower because it hurts to run, and it hurts more the farther I run. Not terrible, I still had a nine mile run and a very very light 6 mile tempo during the week, but enough that it curtails my normal volume. Thus I have been in the weight room four days this week doing my squats, adductor, abductor, and hamstring exercises that worked for me back in 2006 when I had this. Plus, I'm running like three times the mileage I did when I had it that go around. In short, this too shall pass.

Coaching, it's good to get back to seeing all the student athletes. We lost a couple in the last few months and it can be hard when we put in hours and hours of time into kids and they disappear. However, the ones that remain still give us our largest distance squad yet and seem more committed than in years past.  It takes a long time to build a program. This is really good for me to see the team as a whole develop. The rest of the team is quite strong, this is one of those teams that is just very weak on distance runners.

What else? Everest, of course. I read a lot about it. I have three more pieces of equipment to buy. None are necessary, but insure that I have a little more warmth and safety than if I did not buy them. Unfortunately, death is a big part of mountaineering. While Everest is likely the safest 8000 meter peak (lowest death to summit rate of about 1%) it is the most popular one so the most people die on it every year (5-8 is pretty normal). Also unfortunately, people write about death on Mount Everest far more than the success and safe stories. So I have been reading about why and how people died so that I can minimize the risk to myself when I am up there. Here is a thorough article I read recently about ten high profile deaths.

I will likely mention this more in the coming months, but being in these places where death is common refocuses me. If there is something I want to do, I had better do it quick. Well, I want you to know I'm very blessed by God. To quote John 3:16 in the Bible, "For God so loved the world that he gave he only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." That sums it up. If I don't live to see June 2014, well then I guess I get to leave this world of suffering before most of you. My life and my time on Earth is insignificant compared to anything from God. To quote Ecclesiastes 1:2, "…Everything is meaningless." In part what that means is that all the things we chase after, other than God, are a waste of time. While I could expand on that more, you can come to your own conclusions about it for now.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Goal Oriented, Process Oriented, or Both

I just read this really interesting article that touched on the concept of process oriented:

A lightbulb went off in my head. I am process oriented. As I think about Everest, and the metaphor that is for accomplishing any goal in life I realize it has never been about standing on the summit. I have known that for some time. That is part of the reason I am choosing to climb without bottled oxygen despite it being significantly (3x-25x) harder. That is part of the reason I am only getting there close to 10 years after deciding I wanted to go. 

It is the reason I started a company and failed. It is the reason I race marathons, and often fall apart at the end. Success, reaching the goal, is not why we do these things, we do them to see what is possible. We put ourselves in position to take advantage of an opportunity. 

The process versus a goal? Is it really one or the other? Without a goal what are you processing? This is a deep realization for me. I've always said I was very goal oriented, yet I have also said that reaching the goal isn't as important as knowing I tried. That is why I was vegan for 73 days.

I need to think about this some more.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Advice from Everybody!

If there is something people like to give, it's advice. I am guilty too. One of the strange things I have encountered in my recent public quest to summit Everest is that many people have advice for me.  In part I am seeking it out. For example, I talked to the premier high altitude no bottled oxygen mountaineer about Everest, and he recommended not going in the first wave, because everyone goes then. I talked to others about how to train, and they recommended stairs and hills, which no one had specifically mentioned before.

People have been giving me advice about how I run too much for years.

In the engineering world, everyone has an opinion. I actually have a pending opportunity where I need to make a decision at work, at some point, and I have been doing other things, maybe subconsciously delaying making the decision. Regardless of the decision, someone will be unhappy. I'm not the best at disappointing people. I consider it a character flaw actually.

So often it seems the advice we want we can't get and the advice we get we don't want.

For the record don't lead your advice with "I don't care, but…"

There is no real summary to this idea that we get advice from everyone. I mean, when you have valid advice, by all means don't hold back, let people know. People obviously give advice based on something, even if that is a book they read eight years ago or a five minute segment they saw on the news three years ago. It can just be overwhelming sometimes. Making a decision based on a number of opinions or not clear facts, is hard. Yet that is what white collar work is, making decisions. We don't always make the best decisions, and it seems we make quite a few of them.

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Short Term Sacrifices, Long Term Rewards

As I make the rounds and people ask, "are you really going to climb Mt. Everest?" I have to answer that I am, and after they ask I tell them it is expensive. A fair percentage of people are saying, "that makes sense why you drive that van." Yes it does.

We all make sacrifices. We sacrifice one thing to have another. We sacrifice time with this group to have time with that group. Time with this person to spend more time with that person. Money on this thing instead of money on that thing. You can't have everything. You can have more than you can use, but you can't have it all. Honestly, if you live a long life you have maybe 2.5 billion seconds on the earth. That is not enough time to tell everyone in the world help in their own language one at a time. We are all giving up time with those people we have never met to spend more intimate time with those we have.

The idea of today is that short term sacrifice often come with long term rewards. Skipping one night of watching reruns to watch a friend's kid for an hour is a small sacrifice if it might mean I can positively influence a young person. Driving around in the second worst vehicle in the parking lot for a few years may be humbling when my coworkers are getting into much newer and nicer vehicles, but if it means I get to spend nine weeks at Mt. Everest trying to climb to over 29,000 feet, it's a good deal.

The world is full of things like this. I don't always want to go out and run, but running day after day has consistently allowed me to run races faster as friends retire their racing shoes. Saving a little money every paycheck in the case I get layed-off is a huge benefit. Going to the dentist to get fillings is not pleasant, but compared to having a root canal or a tooth fall out (neither have I experienced) is a small sacrifice.

Success, at relationships, running, engineering, speed skating, and just about anything is based on frequent small sacrifices of other things that in the moment might be more interesting, but in the long run do no compare at all to the success of a larger goal. That's what I want to encourage, going after the greater goal even, and especially, when it means you have to give up a whole bunch of little satisfactions. Hang in there! Go running on the day you don't feel like it! Tell your significant other "I'm sorry" the next time you neglect her, and then take her out for dinner. Don't go buy a new car the month you get your old car paid off. I find, that delayed gratification often makes the experience more memorable. In other words, I appreciate my job more than many, maybe even most, engineers because I know that it took over 400 applications and 57 weeks to get here. I also enjoy my running so much because it has taken me so long to see the level of success I see.

Make short term sacrifices and receive long term rewards.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Day Three Without Coffee

Once again I am taking a week off of coffee. I am still drinking tea, but that has somewhat less caffeine than the standard coffee. Day three is usually the crux. The day when my body thinks, 'but coffee tastes good too, and you know it will make you feel better!' However, I fear the dependent feeling on any substance. So two or three times a year I go a week without coffee. It keeps my caffeine tolerance low, saves me a little money, and give coffee that much more of a kick when I do drink it again.

Monday, January 6, 2014

I Live in Iowa: Week 139

Another week of only spending about 16 hours actually in Iowa. Despite the time away from home overall, I had a really had a great week.

While there is much to tell I'm going to tell it in reverse order because that's how I am thinking of it now. Saturday night when I was back in Dubuque after all of the traveling and everything that happened I watched Elysium and had a good cry at the end of the movie. The movie is a metaphor on several levels for different circumstances in life. Then I slept for 15 hours. I did have an ibuprofen which certainly kept me down. The point is my last two weeks were long and physically tiring. So tiring that I have a case of runners knee because I have not been doing the squats I need to eliminate this injury. Go hard enough and something has to break.

That's a long way of saying my brain needed to flush the pain, not just mine but other's, of this life though a 15 hour sleep. 

Friday and Saturday I drove back from Colorado, spending the night sleeping in my van in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I think the 2700 miles I drove in the last two weeks are responsible for the runners knee in my right leg. I think when I push on the accelerator my leg rotates counter clockwise and my knee moves toward my midline. Both motions accelerating the overuse and strengthening of the wrong muscles in my leg, thus an injury. Otherwise despite the consistent 20-30 mph crosswinds the trip was uneventful. 

Thursday night I had dinner with a good friend and her boyfriend. I was there to help her during a vulnerable period in her life in 2010 and somehow or other I helped her. Very few people can I definitely admit to having a positive effect on, but she is one of them and I am grateful that I have had that chance in life. 

Thursday was the day I went out there for, a long day on steep ground. It was pure mountaineering. Mostly time spent on snow and ice with an hour maybe on rock. Unfortunately I don't have pictures of the best parts. I crossed a snow field at nearly 13,000 feet that was surely 50 degrees of waist deep snow that I groveled through. Add to that there was a steeper section just below me and a fall or miniavalache would have surely ended me. Then I tackled a rock section that was supposed to be class three but I quickly ended up in the wrong place and did a class four move to a location that only had harder climbing above. At that point I had enough and decided to head down. When soloing you have to be totally within your abilities and crampons scraping around on rocks with a long fall and no protection to speak of gets in my head. So I headed down, which actually meant more steep down climbing than my planned route, which is actually better for my training than a hard climb and easy descent. This one day gives me a lot of confidence that I can tackle very steep sections on Everest. 

The day before, New Year's Day I spent sleeping, going out for breakfast, running and otherwise laying around my friend's house. Thank you T! My friend who offered up his couch was really nice about it all those nights I slept at his place. He is a defense layer in Denver and we had a number of good chats about difficulties in life we have encountered since joining the professional world. In short, student loans = not fun and intimate relationship with a woman = complicated.

New Year's Eve day I tried to climb Mt. Meeker but before getting through treeline the winds were gusting to 50+ mph and visibility was low as well so I called it a day without even putting my crampons on. 

Monday I tried to climb Dragon Tail Couloir on Flattop Mountain, but same story with the winds although I ultimately turned around because I didn't like the feel of the snow conditions in regards to an avalanche. Climbing, mountaineering, you put yourself out there and take on a certain level of risk, different for everyone but an acceptable level. You can fail time and again at the objective if the risk climbs too high. That is the nature of the sport. Between winds and avalanche conditions it is surprising that mountains like Annapurna or those in Patagonia are ever climbed. I also went hot tubing Monday night, pretty awesome!

Sunday I went to church at Bethlehem Lutheran in Denver. I have to say the head pastor there is above average in terms of sermon relevancy. Some pastors give sermons and I don't know what to make of them, other say things and I think, 'wow that is me he is talking about, I can do better.' After church I worked my way up through Denver and Boulder buying some gloves and tights. Expedition shopping is strange. Money loses much of its meaning. What is $120 for a pair of gloves if it means I keep every one of my fingers? Climbing an 8000 meter peak is in some ways just like any other mountain, cold and windy. Yet it is also hard to breathe up there so it is harder to stay warm. That does not mean it is impossible to stay warm, and there is the challenge, how much do you need to stay warm without carrying 40 lbs. of clothing or sweating profusely?

I hope you had a good week too.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Mountaineering Solo

Mountaineering alone is hard. First of all, there is no one else to break trail. Every single knee deep step in the snow has to be done alone. Secondly, if anything goes wrong there is absolutely no one within hearing distance. Yesterday I was probably one to two miles away from the nearest human the entire day over very rugged terrain. There is a mental challenge to being out there that is both rewarding for every step that I take, and also scary because I know I have to do things perfect. No one would have even attempted to find me until today had anything gone wrong.
The South Face of Mt. Quandry's West Ridge January 2nd, 2014
I have some interesting videos I took and I'll get around to editing and releasing them this weekend probably. The point is, it's hard climbing alone. Both from the mental difficulty and physical safety point of view as well as the physical work point of view. I turned my GPS watch on when I left my car yesterday, the battery died after four hours, but in that time my heart rate averaged 137, including the stops I took to put on more clothing and my crampons. I like to imagine I kept close to that intensity the whole eight hour day because I was post holing up to my waist on the descent just like on parts of the climb. That's a pretty sustained hard effort.
Mt. Quandry's West Ridge
I really enjoy a solo adventure every now and then. I like the feeling that it is just me responsible for the climb. I have been thinking about Mt. Everest all week, and I thought about it a lot yesterday too. I had to break trail, climb without ropes, route find, and carry all of my own equipment. Mt. Everest will be totally different. I doubt I will ever, in the whole nine weeks, be more than 100 meters away from multiple people, have to break trail, climb without a fixed line, or carry much more than my clothing and sleeping bags.

In climbing and mountaineering the ability to do something is largely based on the confidence to just try it. Confidence is typically increased by having other people around, by having ropes, by a beaten trail, and not having to carry all of the equipment. As I compare this past week of training to the likely experience of Mt. Everest, in some respects, yesterday was harder. There was no fixed line for me like I anticipate on Everest, a fall might have been 1000 feet down. I had to do all the trail breaking. On Broad Peak one day I did about 200 meters of breaking trail up the fixed lines that had been buried by a snow storm a few days before. It was terribly exhausting! You try breaking trail at 19,000 feet! On Everest there will be so many climbers that I do not anticipate ever being the one out in front breaking trail. I would enjoy it if I was, but the reality is I doubt I will be. At the point yesterday when I pulled a class four move over some blocks and knew I was in the wrong place, there was fear about which way to go. On Everest I really really doubt I will ever get off route. In fact, I have heard that in places they even have two up (ascending climbers) fixed lines and one down (descending climbers) fixed line to accommodate all the people. The Hillary Step has an up and a down line. Try getting lost with three ropes all going the same direction. Finally, for every hard section I anticipate crossing there will be someone else around me to discuss with, probably to watch that person tackle the difficult portion, or at least to help me if I screw up and get hurt. That is so different from being at 13,000 feet more than a mile over rugged terrain from the nearest person.

Mountaineering solo is hard, but in the hardest endeavors we often find the most satisfaction. Don't only do what is easy, do what is hard. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Three Climbs and Zero Summits

Well, my climbing is done for the vacation. I tried three different days to scramble up some moderately difficult routes and never got to the top of any. However! They were great training. I'll talk more in the next few days, for now enjoy my next car!

A Pinzgauer

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy 2014!

2014. Ten years since I graduated high school. It is strange to think of it. I mean, through life there is always another goal, another thing to do. Many of the things I thought about when I was younger are now done. I have my two college degrees, I have an interesting well paying job. I have done some traveling. It just seems like I could wake up tomorrow and it would be 2024 and I would have less change, less growth, to show in my life than the last 10 years. 

The truth is, we don't know what the next ten years will bring. Growth and change are also not mandatory. Yet the process of development is so much fun that I fear no longer developing. 

Despite my desire to develop, I am afraid to publicly mention my goals (New Year's resolutions) for 2014. Anytime goals are mentioned to some extent they seem conceited. Like if I said I wanted to pay off my student loans in 2014 one could argue it must be nice to have so few loans. To be honest, it is nice to have a fraction of the loans others have. Yet the $400 per month I pay is annoying and I would like to pay them off. I could also say I want to arrive at June with no frostbite or brain damage from Everest and one could say I am an idiot for even putting myself in the position to get hurt like that. I suppose that the haters are right, but without opening yourself to vulnerability of getting hurt it is hard to have really fulfilling experiences, wether that is climbing a mountain or in a relationship or leading something. 

2014 seems to be starting off on a quiet note, but I think it will be a memorable one for life changing events.