The Challenge

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 warm-ups

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

name: steve edwards

born: november 22, 1960

occupation: renaissance man or slacker, depending on your interpretation

training diaries
2004 (10,000 challenge and training for world's)

challenge history





big days in 04/05

everest challenge - furnace creek 508

el muertito grande
7 samuri 

4 formations


the stainless interview 2002

hardball with aaron baker


steve's links

wall rats

yegg central


contact steve 


Tuco the Rat: Official mascot of

Birthday Challenge
Santa Barbara, CA
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This 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 Valley

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 Kevin Brown 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 high.

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 boulder field.

Chapter III:  A Pack Of Strays

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.

Reed Bartlett:  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.

Charlotte Hufschmidt: 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 My Van

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 Marco Polo Cycling Team on the USA race circuit in the early 21st century.

somewhere in the mojave 2004

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.

angela sandova: artiste 2005


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 be easy.

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 Waters

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.

due south

Chapter VIII: How About A Little Teamsmanship?

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 before dark.

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 5,000'.

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 the darkness?"

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 Campari

"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 Merry-Go-Round

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 hand.

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 Dead

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), passed out.

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 hard enough."

down for the count with just a wafer thin glass of wine to go and dreaming of un-finished warm-ups

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?"