It all started
when I was a kid ...
right: player's ball,
pre-2000, with co-mack of the year, reed 'bubba' bartlett
I don't remember exactly when it was, but one day
on TV I saw Jack LaLanne pulling a boat from Alcatraz to San Francisco with his
hands and feet tied together. Until that time I had only know him as the guy from the Jack
LaLanne Show and never really considered him an athlete. I thought he just showed
housewives how to work out. I mean, I would do some jumping jacks with him when I was sick
and couldn't go to school but it sure didn't seem like real exercise, I just figured he
was some TV personality. But here he was, doing something that seemed totally insane.
||My idols at
the time were all real athletes, serious athletes: Ali, Elgin Baylor, Rafer Johnson, Steve
Prefontaine, Joe Namath (okay, they all weren't serious) but here was some guy doing
something that I couldn't imagine anyone else doing--or even attempting!
And why was he doing it? Not for a competition or to make
money; he was doing it because it was his birthday--and he was OLD!
"Wow!" I remember thinking, "This
guy is cool."
left: Broadway Joe, "I can't
wait until tomorrow because I get better looking every day."
However, I was involved in organized sports well
into college and never really had time to think about birthday challenges. Birthdays were
a time to let your friends get you really drunk. Although I did manage to follow Jack and
his endeavors, I never thought of one for me because there was always something else to
do. But I knew (because I kept saying it in the back of my mind) that someday I would
start attempting challenges of my own.
So I was working in this bar ...
College eligibility was gone and there was a void
in my life. I had been participating in competitive sports most of my life and without it
I was a rudderless ship. I needed to do something but recreation sports held no real
interest. Skiing wasn't exercise, hangin' out on some lake or river was inane and
adventure racing hadn't started. I needed some challenge, so I decided to concoct one of
my own. What I came up with was my first birthday challenge:
- Run the 23 peaks in the San
Gabriel's that are over 8,000' (actually 8,007') in 24 hours. It was problematic
since my birthday was in November but there was nothing to do about that. Jack did his on
his birthday, I would go on mine. I started training.
It was during my training when the next element
arose. My roommate at the time, RK Nyman, and I were having some apres-training cocktails
at my bar. I was cutting way back on my drinking and RK would have none of it.
"What!" he said. "If you finish
this and can't even have a shot with your buddies, it won't mean a goddamn thing."
He was right, of course, because the challenge
was part of my lifestyle and drinking was also part of my lifestyle. I then envisioned
walking into the Mt. Baldy Inn after my epic, sauntering up to the bar and saying
"whiskey". It always seemed so absurd that these guys in Westerns would come out
of the desert hot and thirsty and order whiskey. I had to experience it for myself. It
became the goal.
Training commenced and, for this event, was
rather absurd. Though still effective I would do things like down a six-pack then hit the
gym. Not on most training days but sometimes. This was before I believed that dehydration
could possibly affect me. In the end though, drinking hasn't really been part of my
actual challenges but an integral part in the "reward" afterward. It
has, however, become quite forefront in many of my friends' challenges...
Well, it snowed (as it often does in November)
and I had no chance to complete the challenge. I went anyway. I canceled my support crew
and had my dad drop me off in Wrightwood and told him to pick me up in Mt. Baldy. It was
only a fraction of the peaks but in the snow I figured it to be a good day. My dad thought
I was crazy, tried to talk me out of it, and as I ran up the snowy mountainside he looked
like he was never going to see me again. That night he arrived at the Mt. Baldy Inn and I
was sitting there at the bar, whiskey in hand.
After this I was busy coaching basketball during
November so I didn't do another challenge for a few years. My first year after I quit
coaching I was living in Yosemite and it seemed like a good time to pick it back up.
Here are my challenges since, with a
few of their highlights:
These things would be impossible if you
didn't hang around a similar cast of characters, and I'm very indebted to
everyone who's ever taken part in one of mine.
For the most part, these people are my
best friends in the world. When I can, I'm there to take part as support
person for their challenges.
Here's the original Castle Crew, circa
1994, at the inagural Player's Ball. From left to right:
Phil "Mustang" Request
Emmanuel Overdrive (that would be me)
David "Belt" Potter, often confused with the Reverend
Binky "Binky" Greene
Derek, star of Moustache 47
Scott "Hondo" Buchanan
Mike "Kid Dynamite" Brown
- 27 pitches in Yosemite
- Once again it had been snowing so I went to bed
thinking it was off. My partner, Scott Tibor, woke me up (a little late) and said that the
weather had cleared and it was beautiful outside. We did the Royal Arches route and then
Crest Jewell on North Dome. I was still a fledgling climber and had done both routes for
the first time earlier that year. They both had taken all day, a summer's day. We did the
RA in 2 hours and CJ in 1:45. With the hiking and the descent we still got down just after
dark but I was very happy with the time. The highlight was climbing shirtless on Crest
Jewell and looking down into the Valley, 2,000 feet below, where we could see people ice
skating. Another highlight was watching Scott's climbing boots slowly roll down North Dome
until they dropped off the rim and out of sight. They had somehow come unclipped from his
harness and it gave us a fright as we started double-checking everything attached to us.
Then we realized that Scott was going to have to do the steep and snowy descent in his
- 31 sport climbing pitches
- Todd Mei and I set out to do every route at The
Devils Punchbowl. This was during the early years of sportclimbing and bolted routes were
really exciting because you could climb in safety and push physical limits. I wasn't
prepared for this much steep climbing and my skin started ripping apart. I had to adjust
the challenge to finish and ended up doing laps on one route at the end of the day. I
learned a lot about what to expect and decided my next one would employ better form.
- Eat 32 eggs in one hour
- This wasn't done on my birthday, nor was it
supposed to be a birthday challenge but in reputation it has become one. It began with me
and Neal "The Big Daddy" Florine arguing about the feasibility of Cool Hand
Luke's 50-egg challenge. I thought it was possible but didn't want to try it. We started
bartering and settled on my age. It took place at the Egghead restaurant in Isla Vista, on
July 4th. Rules were that I could eat them prepared any way I wanted, they just had to be
grade AA large. It was pretty hard and I wouldn't have finished if not for Neal's
encouragement to keep pushing. I had to drink the last few raw and nearly lost it on the
last, which I finished in front of a sizeable crowd in front of the Video Shop (I left the
Egghead when it appeared that I may puke). Puking, of course, is bad form on a food
challenge (and you also lose any bets):
"He can't throw up."
"Now, when was the last time you saw my boy throw up?" - Cool Hand Luke
I capped this event by eating a whole habanero pepper. My stomach didn't work quite right
for a couple of months afterward but I never puked, and also made a couple-hundred bucks.
- Lead 33 sport routes in a
day - I did this with Rob "Slappy"
Norris, who followed every pitch. It was hard and, until that day, the most climbing that
I had done in one day. I had to redpoint every pitch, so I needed to re-climb anything
that I took a fall on. There weren't many sport routes around Santa Barbara back then so I
needed to go to, like, 6 different areas and climb routes up to 11d.
- Climb 68 routes in a day
- I had become a pretty good climber by this time and
doing 34 seemed silly. Plus, my friends Jack Marshall and Troy Mayr had done
63 different routes in a day that summer and I thought I could beat em. There weren't 68 sport routes near SB at this time, so I was
allowed to do half as topropes (they had toproped). Falls didn't count and I fell about 5 times, so in the end
I climbed 73 routes, but actually doing 68, up to 11d. This was the first of my challenges that I
thought was truly hard that I had completed. Scott "Hondo" Buchanan belayed me
all day and because there wasn't much extra daylight to play with, only did a little
- I needed to
somehow up the year priors challenge. I was very fit; the fittest climbing shape of my
life. I hadn't done a lot of running in years so I added running to the day. I led 35 routes and ran 35 kilometers (22
miles). Mike "Kid Dynamite" Brown
followed every pitch and did the running and Candice Torresdal (who had only been climbing
for a month or so) did 17 routes and all of the running. It was a great day out and went
much better than expected, except for the celebration: the three of us passed out on the
couch at the Shop, about 2 beers and half-an-hour into Apollo 13.
- This year I was not in good shape. I had been
bouldering some so I tried something different: to climb one, hard problem. It
was a first ascent and I had only worked on it one day. While I felt this contradicted the
whole suffering aspect of the challenge, it was mentally difficult--especially since it
was raining. The problem was very steep so it didn't get too wet, though the rock seeped
and keeping the holds dry was an issue. I couldn't warm-up properly and tore a bunch of
skin of an early attempt. I was about to give up but kept at it and finally succeeded just
before dark. I think the boulder problem is a classic (7-Year Plan at Red Rock). It was a
memorable day but the only real suffering was the hangover the next day. Arvind Gupta
accompanied me, along with a bottle of very nice scotch, which was gone before we
(somehow) made it home.
- Do 370 boulder problems
- I liked the way this sounded and endurance
boudering was what I had been doing. I was not in great shape but I was bouldering a lot.
I was also having some elbow problems. Then it rained just before my birthday, which
forced me to change my list of problems and climb harder stuff, up to V5. This did my
elbow in and around problem 240 my elbow started feeling like it was going to explode on
every mantel. I didn't finish, quitting with daylight to spare and about a hundred
problems to go. It was my first failure in a long time but that didn't seem to dampen the
evenings festivities. I wasn't unhappy with the day I had, which was probably more
bouldering in a day then anyone had ever done up to that point.
- Le Cog Corrodé - Again, I didn't do an actual birthday challenge but did an
equivalent during the Tour de France. I've always loved the Tour and its day in day out
nature. I feel it's the hardest sporting event on the planet, for sure. So, with
absolutely no prior riding, I decided to ride my own equivalent, which I called The
Tour of Santa Barbara. I started riding 10% of the real Tour and kept increasing it.
I rode 100% on time trial days and when Le Tour did hills and mountains, I mirrored them.
By the third week I was up the 50%, riding between 40 and 60 miles per day. The hardest
days were the back to back "alp" days. Former national cyclist David Brainard
rode most of the stages with me (though he'd take rest days when needed). He missed the
first alp day but joined to help me on the second, grueling stage. As I was dying on a
particularly steep section he called my event "the most blatant case of overtraining
he'd ever seen" then added, "God, I love it! More power to you!" Finally, I
was riding 100% of the Tour mileage. I finished riding nearly 1,000 miles over the 22-day
event. Dave gave me an award that he made out of a real Tour de France flag that was given
to him by 13-time veteran, Phil Anderson. He added my name to it and gave me the title of
"Le Cog Corrodé". It's one of the nicest presents I've ever received.
At 39 I did nothing and, as I stated before, was
in the worst shape of my life. However, success on the "Tour" and an almost
irrational love of doing extreme things to my body turned it into part of this challenge:
to go from the worst to the best shape of my life within the same year.