Interview with Stainless Steve
Aaron Baker caught up with birthdaychallenge.com founder Steve Edwards for his views on leash laws, smoking, and George Bush
photos: stainless and two of his favorite activities: suckin' wind on a mountain top finish, and suckin' beverages in the big easy with the nacirema drinking society
Why are you called Stainless?
It's kind of boring, but some friends were at a climber's party in Phoenix and someone asks Kevin Thaw were he's been staying. And he says, "I've been staying with Steve." Then Roger Errington, this guy I climbed with a bunch in the Valley (Yosemite) says, Stainless Steve?・and they both go, "That's perfect!" Everyone that climbed in Yosemite in those days had nicknames, so that became mine.
If you were King, what would you decree?
That dogs could go into all public places. Education would get all the funding so we'd be too smart to go to war. Plus, we could just get out all of our aggression by playing sports, which would be well funded also. When a town wanted to annex part of another, they would just play a match of futbol or have a cycling race.
If you were in Jail, why would you be there?
Violating leash laws, or maybe I'd be there on purpose so I could train. My friends and I used to talk about how cool some jail time would be. No worry about day to day existence: work, women, family matters. Just train all day long.
Who would you want as a cellmate?
Are you kidding? There is no debate at all: Jack La Lanne. A couple of years in jail and we'd know everything about training.
You've been known to tip a glass and blow your share of smoke rings, what do you think of our puritanical culture and how it effects our attitudes towards performance and achievement? Does B.C. make any kind of comment on the 'American' philosophy towards sport?
It's not on the philosophy of sport, but more like the philosophy of life. People get addicted to this, addicted to that. They get fat, sick--whatever--then go around blaming everyone else. Jesus! Take some friggin' responsibility, people! No one made anyone start to smoke. Christ, we live in a country where someone gets money out of someone else because they spilled coffee on themselves and got burnt. Well, anyone that doesn't know part of the coffee making process involves boiling water, which is HOT by the way, should not be allowed to go out in society, much less into court. And we ban dogs in public! But about smoking and drinking, these are fun things to do. Pleasures. They are rewards for a life well lived. That people abuse them is a reflection of how society has gone. People have become bored and lazy. They don't want to have to make decisions and they blame the world for their lack of success. They smoke because it's easier than not smoking, or they like it, which is fine. The problems come in where they start blaming everyone else for their "addiction", which is a load of crap. Anyone can stop smoking if they REALLY want to. It's a goddamned joke. I know it might be HARD, but since when did everything hard become society's problem. I see people almost everyday that quit smoking. Why can they do it and other's can not? There is no reason except that they want to. Anyone can stop, and it's exactly the same with drinking. So we drink and smoke during these things in kind of a derogatory way --Well, drinking I find fun, smoking sometimes as well but mostly it's awful-- to kind of thumb our noses at the notion that we'll get "addicted", because that's what others always say will happen. "It's statistically proven," they say. Well, I could smoke a pack a day for a year straight and stop, no problem. Sure, there is always some habitual loss when you quit doing something that you're used to doing but that's it. Change your habits and WANT to stop and it's a done deal, period. Look, I have no problem whatsoever with people that want to be lazy. I知 lazy sometimes myself. It's when we go around blaming others for this that it drives me crazy. And it's ludicrous that we as a society actually reward this kind of thinking. When that person went to court over the coffee, any judge worth their salt would have just laughed in their face as they were being shown the door. And, of course, that lawyer should be disbarred.
How did B.C. start?
It's on the site. I saw Jack do one when I was a kid and thought it was cool. Then one year I just started. Now I do them about half the time. When my friends all started doing them as well it was a natural evolution to build a place to record them. It wasn't a business plan, just a place to have some fun.
What does B.C. mean? What's the motivating philosophy behind it? What is it that you and others hope to get out of B.C.'s.? What is the goal, in other words?
Fun, mostly, but anyone that has done a challenge finds out that there is something more. There is a deep satisfaction that you get to even attempt one, which I think is reflected in people's reports. It's fun to see someone with their "birthday challenge face" on. You see regular people get into this zone, which in our case is often a place they didn't know that they could go. It's a bit like the Eco-Challenge; this beyond human thing, except that no one else is doing your challenge so there is this unknown. Whereas in an adventure race you know that you're going to suffer but there will be others along side you, so it's less scary.
What does it mean to succeed at a B.C.? Can one fail?
I think that the only way to fail is to quit because you won't succeed at your original goal. Quitting because of injury is entirely different. In my 40th, I wasn't going to make it and I was injured. I could have quit. I really wanted to. But I decided that the point was to push the suffering so I just kept on, sort of one foot in front of the other. Then I ended up finishing very strong. But I kind of knew this because I'd been there before--well, sort of. But it's the end of these things, where you really have to dig deep, where the transformations occur.
Have people used B.C. to raise money for charities?
Jason Mittman really got this going. He went huge, raising something like 30 large for breast cancer. Then Kenji Haroutunian did that on a smaller scale and the ball was rolling. We hope to do a lot of this in the future. It's more involved, for sure, but when you're doing things that everyone thinks are crazy it's pretty easy to get money. I wanted to raise money but was so scared that I'd die on, like, day 3 that I didn't dare. But one woman that was reading the daily reports told me, "if you were raising money for something I would have just given you my checkbook and let you take whatever you needed." I've always felt as though it was a little cop out on my part to not at least try.
Are many women participating?
There are some, quite a few really, but it's really very much a guy thing. I mean, it's like the travails of living, the tormented man. You know: Jesus, Moses, Odysseus, Phidippides... Men have role models all over the place. But women are really starting to come around. Lydia Grant has now done one two years in a row and is taking about her third, so it'll catch on.
Are there B.C.'s elsewhere in the world?
Not to my knowledge, at least like ours, but this sort of thing is somewhat popular in England. We've had some interest via email from England. I have friends in other countries that have participated but no one has done one in their country. They seem to need a catalyst. Once one person starts, the madness escalates.
What would they look like in other places?
Since they are personal there are no cultural boundaries whatsoever. People are the same everywhere. Or, I should say, are all different everywhere.
What would be different about the world if everyone did a B.C.?
People would be a lot more fit and we wouldn't have these issues with obestiy! We would also be more disciplined, and we'd take more responsibility for our actions. You really learn that it's no disgrace to fail, the point is to try. And this is something that our western culture does not do. You either win, or you blame someone else for your failure --and sue them!
If no one did?
Not too different than it is now, eh?
What kind of B.C. would you design for George Bush?
Well, Traci Marx did 28 random
acts of kindness, and that would be a good start. I think I'd have him then run through the wilderness in
Alaska or the Brazilian Rainforest with some local peoples, just so he could see
the grass roots level that his decisions are affecting. It's a lot easier to make a deal with you
buddies in a board room then to go tell a poor rural family that you're
going to ruin their life and devastate the land that they hold sacred.
(ed note: this was pre-all this unilateral crap going on. now my challenge would be for him to wander the streets of Baghdad, unarmed and unsupported, to see if he can explain to them how we've made their country a better place, etc, etc...)
What's the most radical thing you've seen in a B.C.?
Jack La Lanne's challenges were crazy. I mean, they still haven't been equaled. Mine was pretty darn hard and I don't know if there is a person that could complete it because it's so specialized. But Bob's training schedule is probably the craziest thing. Then there was his challenge. It's 8 am and he's drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette and some guy in the campgrounds like, "Not climbin' today, huh?" And Bob looks at him like he's crazy and says, "I've done a hundred boulder problems already!"
What would the ultimate B.C. be? What would it have achieved?
Human potential is so un-touched that there's just no way to say. We have absolutely no idea of what can be done.
"Get us all a cup of Good Morning America ... and some fritters. It looks like it's going to be a real humdinger."
I had one of my action dreams. I don't remember much of it but, like most, it looked like a film. This one was dark, smokey, and sinister in appearance. Shot with hand held camera, sort of verite, perhaps French New Wave. Black and white, of course.
Because it was my dream, I was the subject. I was tailing a man who was trying to kill me. I don't know why, exactly, but I was getting cockier and cockier about how close I'd get to him. Then I started mocking him. He would turn around and I'd disappear into the darkness. Finally, I openly mocked him in plain view. I think he was a cop so I must have been involved in something (not surprisingly) nefarious. Well, he shot me...
FADE TO BLACK:
I'm lying in a quagmire of my own blood and innards thinking, for some odd reason, "That was stupid. Now I don't think I'm going to make it into work tomorrow ... or anywhere for that matter." The cop, seeing me lying there and barely able to move (I am un-armed) strolls up. He's wearing a fedora and trench coat. He hovers over me for a sec and I'm thinking he's going to finish me off. Then he reaches into his trench coat and pulls something out. Something in color.
"Here ya go, buddy," he says, extending the object toward me.
"And good riddance."
I reach up and grab what is unmistakably a KING PIN fritter. He laughs. A great bellowing laugh. And turns and walks slowly off.
As life is ebbing from my body all I can think of is how apropos it is that a fritter should be my last meal.
The laughter gets fainter and fainter until there is no sound, just me in a black and white world staring at a Technicolor fritter.
I take a bite.