460 point bouldering day
46 mile bike w/4,600' elevation gain
4 mile run with 1,200' elevation gain
46 sets of 46 team zissou
throw 46 rocks for ratso
drink 40 ounces of wine
"pour the wine over here. he doesn't know anything about wine."
drink 6 camparis, poured
by an intern "on the rocks"
2006 Challenge Blog
born: november 22,
renaissance man or slacker, depending on your interpretation
(10,000 challenge and training for world's)
big days in 04/05
challenge - furnace creek 508
the stainless interview
with aaron baker
Tuco the Rat:
Official mascot of birthdaychallenge.com
report a technical problem with this website:
Is Gonna Hurt
"I saw a rattlesnake in the road here a few days ago," I said
to Reed a few miles from the summit of Figueroa Mountain.
"Doubt we'll see it tonight," he countered. But if we do, it'
won't be moving too fast."
To this point, some 15 hours into my challenge, I felt good,
strong, and had nearly finished the bulk of the difficulty aspect.
The suffering aspect, however, was just about to begin and I was
worried. Why? Because I was cold, perhaps even freezing, and
this was with my heart rate north of 150 spinning up an 8% grade
at about 7 miles an hour. Very soon, Reed, Sandee, and I would
begin a 10-mile descent into the night of around vertical
4,000'. Earlier that day, my water bottles were freezing on
short descents thousands of feet nearer to sea level. This
was gonna hurt.
And I hadn't even
begun my drinking...
Chapter I: The Santa Ynez
An area teeming
with unusual life forms. Pretty country in these parts.
Landlocked. This was to be the setting for our
team's next adventure.
Given our current headquarters are
in Utah, this began as my last Southern California challenge.
One injury later, it became a Santa Barbara challenge that would
hopefully incorporate the Santa Barbara 9 Trails, an rugged
35-mile ultra course I'd always wanted to do. This plan
was again altered when team member Sandee Stridsberg was injured during
the Javelina 100 and ordered by our medical advisor
to "not, under any circumstances, do 9 Trails."
With a few borderline injuries, a
lot of base fitness but no real time to intensify it, my goal
became to do something hard in a circumference around Sandee's
Santa Ynez home. I was well acquainted with the area's test
pieces, which included Mt Figueroa, most famous as The
Texan's winter training ground for his Tour de France
victories. Refugio road, slightly less famous as a training
ground for the three ultra runners living in the Valley. And Red
Rock, even less famous as a bouldering destination developed
mainly be me and, even years after being published, still
frequented mainly by only me. I was also fairly acquainted with
the most famous area challenge, wine tasting. Since the movie
Sideways, the area has been overrun with Pinot snobs who shudder
at the thought of "drinking any fucking Merlot." Well within my
comfort zone, I would combine these disciplines to make up the
bulk of my challenge.
Chapter II: "That's what it
used to be like."
Was uttered by Team Birthday
Challenge's most loyal member, Bob Banks during an overnight
drunk whilst perusing the site. He was looking at
Ben's (I would have called him Kingsley) challenge from last
year. He was pining for the days when our endeavors took us to
the brink because even in the most challenging circumstances,
the members of Team Birthday Challenge find ways to keep moral
Training this year was minimal,
well, for me.
Busy with work and the tasks involved with re-location and
basically living in two states, all I could do was to concoct
something that seemed hard. In the end, I had absolutely zero
idea about whether I could come close. There has been times when
this challenge would have been a picnic (well, maybe not a
picnic exactly, but easier). This was not one of
those times. But it contained all the requisite elements of a
traditional challenge. Hard physical stuff, probably bad
conditions, and enough drinking to pick up the slack should I
have under estimated my fitness level.
I spent most of my pre-challenge
recon cleaning and wiring boulder problems that I--nor apparently
anyone--had done in many years. This was fun and somewhat
rewarding as I felt as though I was uncovering a new bouldering
area. Since Red Rock is in a river bed, things change during
flood years, which resulted in some new problems and changing
many others. By BC Day, the area actually resembled a proper
Chapter III: A Pack Of
As usual, we were a motley
crew of misfits adept at handling adversity. Our team included:
||Bob Banks: Chief
birthday challenger. Our senior statesman. My closest
colleague for over 10 years.
40. Mack of the year. Long time birthday challenger.
Vice president of the Birthday Challenge society.
|Tuco the Rat: Best
friend, mascot, energetic. Embodies all that is birthday
challenge. Still going strong at 80.
||Amber Castell : 28.
Scriptgirl. Team driver. She would keep us on track
through the night.
29. Technician. Computer whiz, Miller girl, Trojan.
Provider of Heisman winner in case the challenge decided
to try and top
Kenji's. Born on the Santa Ynez River.
|Sandee Stridsberg: Calm,
collected, Swedish. My partner and reticent birthday
challenger. They say she's the brains behind the
outfit, though some argue that "brains" and "ultra runner" can't be used in
the same description.
Chapter IV: Let Me Tell You About
The 1985 Toyota van was purchased
from a used car salesman in Santa Barbara in 1989 with 30,000
miles. We got it cheap because a hole in the exhaust pipe was
confused for a major engine problem. Since that time, it's
logged over 300,000 miles on the original engine and seen more
of the United States than 99.9% of the world's population. My
home on the road for most of the 90s, it's never been towed or
failed to get me to my destination, even once when we'd lost her
transmission. It's also served as fill-in vehicle for many of
our Team members when they found themselves car less and the
Team van for the
Polo Cycling Team on the USA race circuit in the early 21st
somewhere in the
The Jaguar Shark, as she's now
called, was decorated with kanji by Francis of Marco Polo
cycling in 2002 and in 2005 got a complete facelift for the
Furnace Creek 508. Its modernization is complete with the
logos representing the members driven her for an extended period
of time: Brian and Bob, Reed, Josh, and me (Esteban). As my
challenge approached, she was still going strong.
Chapter V: I Thought This Was
Supposed To Be A Puff Piece
4:45: I'm up with the
coffee grinder (programmable coffee makers are a thing of sheer
genius) and, as I'm not a great morning person, a bit groggy.
Knocking off a bit of the biking first seemed like a good idea
because biking whilst half asleep is pretty routine. Coffee
helps immensely. I head out the door, certain that part one will
5 minutes later I'm back at the
house. It's cold. Really cold. My meager cycling attire was
virtually worthless as I'd left my real winter stuff in Utah. A
few days before I was melting in the heat and getting sunburned.
Maybe I'm just being wimpy, I think, but it sure seems colder
than usual. I find a jacket and head out again. The holes in my
gloves (the good ones are in Utah) expose my tips and cause me
to constantly keep one hand moving inside my jacket. And this
was on the uphill. I take a drink and spit it out, thinking I'd
packed old water bottles because there was something in my
water. Not knowing what, I take a sip and taste nothing. It's
gotta be fine, I decide because it's all the liquid I've got, so
I keep drinking.
At my first summit I begin my
warm-ups. I was wondering how I'd manage to knock off 46 sets of
these things. Maybe being cold would be an advantage. I'm doing
fairly small hills but, still, I'm forced to stop every couple
of miles and knock off a set of warm-ups. This, essentially,
saves me until the sun comes up. At the bottom of the descent I
take a drink. Nothing. Huh?, I think, because my bottle is still
heavy. Then it finally dawns on me what's in my water; it's ice.
My water is icing up, in Southern California!
By this time the sun is rising so
it's okay. My ride doesn't really get much warmer but I get home
no problem, wondering--just a bit--about the night ahead.
Except for the coffee, breakfast
didn't look too appealing. But I was cold so I didn't care. Down
it went. The van was already packed but I opted to throw on "the
yak"--a piece of clothing I didn't think I'd be using. Anyway,
the cold would help the bouldering, which was by far the hardest
part of my challenge. So at least I had that going for me.
way above: the end
of the pavement on refugio. we'd tackle this on foot later.
above and right: breakfast of aquatians.
Chapter VI: In Unprotected
A 460 point bouldering day works
like this. You get one point for the bottom of the boudlering
scale, V0- and add one for each additional grade. Add the totals
for all of your problems and come up with a score.
This was going to be
difficult because it would mean more bouldering than I'd done
since my challenge in 2000. It was really more bouldering that I
could hope to do, so it had a few hooks on it, mainly that I
could repeat a problem and score points up to 4 times. This gave
me a chance but I knew I'd still need to climb around 200
problem up to V4, or up to 300 if I couldn't pull anything hard.
I wasn't sure that I could do either.
In my favor was that I had the
chance to wire a lot of problems and, maybe more important, know
which shoes I could wear on what. Footwear matters a ton because
your feet inevitably fall apart during these things. My arsenal
was perfect for the task:
5.10 Retro Tennies, or
Sandbaggers as we call them. These are comfy and look just like
trainers. If I can climb up to V0 in these it'll be huge because
they don't pinch the toes together.
5.10 Ascents. The
"official shoes of Birthday Challenge" are perfect for epic
bouldering days. Technical toes with some heel cushion, they
work on most things you don't need to heel hook on.
5.10 Mocasyms. My boot of
choice for anything hard. 2.5 sizes below my street size, I'd
use them sparingly.
above: i'm not
here for the party, teri polo boulder
Chapter VII: Daydream Johnny
I was ahead of schedule and Bob
behind so began bouldering alone. The weather was cool but this
was perfect because I was moving. Soon enough I was sweating
and, one by one, the layers were coming off. I always say that
there's a point in a birthday challenge where the start was so
long ago you can't remember and the end so far off you can't
comprehend ever getting there. Generally, this period lasts for
hours. Sometimes it lasts days. Today it would last most
of the challenge.
During this time the mind
wanders, all over the place, until you begin hallucinating.
Sometimes you hallucinate for hours. To be a good birthday
challenger, you really need to learn to befriend all the
monsters of the night. This was not the case yet. In fact, these
were more like pleasant daydreams. And Tuco was there, so I did
have someone to talk with, which I do regularly and I'm sure
looks slightly insane to the hikers the pass me.
By the time Bob arrived my
scorecard had started to fill up. I'd already passed the 100
point mark and was feeling fine. Bob mentioned it being cold but
for me it was perfect. Our skin had be devastated during a recon
session a few days ago and the cold would give us an extra
hundred problems, easy. Once he was warm we headed to Teri Polo
for the hardest problems of the day, which I luckily did without
a fall (hmm, maybe, at least not many falls and no bad ones).
By noon or so I had less than 200
points to go. I was going to make it, so I took a break, ate
some bananas, and threw rocks for Tuco.
Chapter VIII: How About A
My skin first started to falter
soon afterwards, prompting my "this is starting to feel like a
challenge" comment to Bob. Before I could dwell on it, the team
began to arrive. First Sandee showed. Not long after, Reed and
Amber. Then Charlotte, along with her mom (in a fabulous red
hat) and dog. After a bit of social climbing I had Sandee add up
my scorecard. 471. Wow.
I had her re-count a few times
because I was done pretty early but the total stood. Not wanting
to spoil the party I ate sardines and did warm-ups while the
others bouldered a bit. I didn't want to wait too long, however.
If we didn't mess around too much, we could get some of Fig done
above: the rat at
his favorite place on earth
The bouldering totals looked like
this: 215 total ascents of 56 different problems up to V4. All
in all, it was a beautiful day amongst the boulders.
one problem to go:
explosive meatloaf, white trash alley
Chapter IX: A Gut Feeling
The unhurried nature of the
challenge was fun. Ultimately, I didn't think it would matter.
We weren't going to get over the top of Figueroa before dark but
something was making me uneasy. It hadn't really warmed up all
day, which I really noticed during the end of the bouldering
when I wasn't moving so quickly. Usually the sun warms the
ground enough that the lows don't happen until early morning but
I was thinking it probably never even warmed up that day at
Since I had plenty of mileage and
only needed elevation gain, we began at the foot of the climb.
This was a huge sandbag for Sandee and Reed, especially since it
was Sandee's first ride in months. We also didn't have great
lighting, adding to the sandbag on the dirt section. Thankfully,
we had Amber following us.
Regardless, all was going fairly
well on the way up. It was cold, for sure, but not really that
unpleasant at this heart rate. I didn't think I was near
hallucinating but was taken aback when a car drove up to us on
the dirt section and asked us if Santa Ynez was the direction we
were headed. This was pretty insane. It's a dirt road, at least
15 miles from the closest amenity, and heading uphill into total
darkness. These people are in a Beemer or something looking for
a restaurant. I guess this why people fall for those crazy plots
in horror films.
Anyway, the ascent went without
incident. I hit the summit in time to do a couple of sets of
warm-ups waiting for the Team. Technically, the hard part of the
challenge was over. All that was left was some warm-ups, an
uphill run, some drinking and 20 miles of downhill bike riding.
But the real challenge was about to begin.
Chapter X: Trapped In The Ice
"Is something crying out there in
None of us were prepared. We put
on everything we had in the car. I had the yak, Sandee some sort
of fur-looking thing and Reed had jeans over his kit and some
sorta space jacket. We were, I'm certain, an entertaining topic
of conversation for the few cars that passed us.
There isn't much to say about the
descent except that it was friggin' cold--and I mean really
really cold. I don't think a second went by when I didn't
consider how cold it was. Amber, Sandee, and Reed were stellar
in support. Amber's encouragement and patience (and lights) were
invaluable and Sandee and Reed were suffering every bit as much
as I was. It was grim but we never stopped laughing.
By the time we got back to the
house my lower legs and feet felt like clumps of wood and had no
feeling. I was also about to puke. My diet thus far had
consisted of 48 sardines, 12 bananas, coffee, water, and some
e-caps stuff. I didn't drink enough in the cold and it was
catching up to me. I took a painful--yet blissful--shower
thinking I had it in the bag. As Enzo would say... HA!
Chapter XI: Pour The Wine Over
Here. He Doesn't Know Anything About Wine
We rendezvoused with the
team--along with interns Phil and Deb at Grappolo, a great
Italian place in Santa Ynez. It got the nod over all the
Sideways restaurants because it was closer and, well, better.
After a glass of wine--voted to be about 4 ounces by the
table--I was presented with my own bottle for easier addition.
Dinner was great, the company great, the wine great.
As it ended we had our first
mutiny. Bob decided not to run. He even tried to get me not to
run. "It's fuckin' cold out there. You should finish the
drinking and skip the running." While tempting, I knew I would
have to at least try the running. By the end of dinner, I was
right on the edge. It could go either way.
way above: starting the dirt section of figueroa
above: high fashion on the slopes
left: en route to refugio.
below: at or near the summit. things are starting to blur
Chapter XII: Intern, Get Me A
"On the rocks?"
After a couple of Camparis, Reed
decided he'd rather sit in a heated car with Amber so Sandee and
I took to the trail alone. It was basically power walking
because, frankly, I don't think I could have run at this point
(hmm, I think we actually tried a little running).
The night was getting hazy. I mean, it was funny, but I was
mainly just laughing at the absurdity of what I was doing. I'm
not sure how tired I was by the top of the pass because I was
very clearly engaged in an overnight drunk.
warm ups and the
descent into oblivion
Chapter XIII: One Foot Off The
I don't think the ride home
helped my condition but just to make sure it didn't I began doing
warm-ups right away to maximize the sloshing in my stomach. I had a
lot left and--apparently, because I don't remember much--I was
quite worried about finishing them. I also had more Campari to
drink, along with one small glass of wine. At this point, my
memory is quite hazy and everything else is reported second
the unraveling: at
least i seem to be entertaining to sandee;
oh, i'm pretty certain i need another campari;
lookin' just swell "feel good. feel strong...";
down goes frazier! down goes frazier!
Chapter XIV: All Hands Bury The
At least I was amusing by all
accounts, with those being Reed and Sandee as Amber packed it in
after a taxing night of driving very slowly. Somehow, I finished
the warm-ups though I've seen no evidence of it. What I didn't
finish was one last small glass of wine. This was my failed
quest over the last hour of the challenge until I puked and,
shortly afterwards (following one last ditch effort),
There are some good stories
and this video. One involves me
pinballing up the stairs with a glass of wine and somehow not
spilling any. Another is that I kept waking up during the night
and saying "I've got to finish my warm-ups." Sandee would tell
me I had and I'd fall back asleep, only to wake up again and say
the same thing. In the end, I'd been going forr 23 hours and came a whisker away from
finishing. But like the saying goes "if you finish, it wasn't
down for the count
with just a wafer thin glass of wine to go and dreaming of
Chapter XV: This Is An Adventure
Life is what you make out of it
and I make weird challenges. This one, while different than my
norm, was just about perfect since the idea is to come very
close to success or failure, so that it can always go either
way. Otherwise, it's not a challenge. I'd like to thank my
friends who supported me, all of whom have been mentioned. It
was an absolutely smashing time. I'm already asking myself the
obvious question, "what's next for Team Zissou?"