Name: Todd Mei

Birthday: April something or other

Occupation: Insurance agent. Ask for Walter Neff at The All Risk


The Challenge

1 32 boulder problems at Devil's Lake

2 16 "Classics" meaning: hard, high, scary
(and if he doesn't break an ankle...)

3 Run 32 Miles

4 Stop at 16 bars

5 Finish 16 drinks, each time enacting a famous drinking scene from a movie.


"Here's to all my friieeeenndss...."


A Challenge for One, A Challenge for All

“Grown men also cry.  Grown men also cry.”  
--The Big Lebowksi  

I had been checking the weather all week, and between and weather underground, the forecast seemed to alternate between rain and thunderstorms.  Finally, Thursday and Friday had consistent reports.  Both websites forecasted a sunny day on Saturday, April 24th, 2004.  

At 5am, five us made our way to the North Shore of Devil’s Lake—Nate Emerson, Patrick Neuman, Tim Lind, Jason Huston, and myself.  Upon arriving, three others met us there—Nick Rhodes, Mike Simon, and Steve Schultz.  It was the most people with whom I had been bouldering at the Lake, and it was 6am.  The temperature was a chilly 40 degrees.  

There is not much to say about the bouldering portion of my challenge except that it was the best conditions I had seen at the Lake in a long time, possibly ever.  The slick quartzite was crisp and the friction seemed to be good.  The morning began with a good portend as I was able to climb Show Me the Kind and Red Hair Arete in one attempt.  The exciting Zipper was still very exciting, but my confidence with pads and spotters made the climbing less tense.  All problems went down within one attempt with the exception of the Zipper (2), Beautiful Soup (3), and Massive Vertigo (5).  

Well, maybe there is more to say.    

In retrospect, it was a wonderful combination of old, middle, and new school problems: John Gill’s the Flat Iron, Eric Ziesche’s Beautiful Soup, Stuart Emerson’s Martini Madness, and Peter DeSalvo’s Massive Vertigo.    

As I predicted Beautiful Soup was the mental crux.  I had not finished the problem in my last several attempts this season.  On the day of the challenge, I managed to pull the crux three times which involves two high smears on slick quartzite, a bump into a featureless undercling, to an awkward throw.  It was only on my third go that I was able to keep my wits and latch the finishing hold after a pumpy traverse—turning a slopey block into a left hand press.  No words do it justice.  

Massive Vertigo gave me quite a scare as the sharp crimps meant only a few goes.  I had five attempts before finishing the problem.  As I was about to accept desperation and campus a low percentage move (as my vision of climbing holds became a confused cloud of dark quartzite), I heard Mike Simon yell “heel hook!”  Heeling on a side pull I was able to hold my swing and finish the top out.  Smooth Operator and Bud White would demand no less respect, but I had done those problems so many times, so tired that it was all a matter of being focused.  

Highlights of the bouldering include Nate Emerson committing to the crux on the Zipper, falling, missing his spotter, and tumbling down the hillside.  Unfortunately, this was not caught on video.  Fortunately, he was all right and laughing about it.    

Despite this, the best fall goes to Jason Huston who bouldered successfully many of the harder problems for the first time.  Jason was working out the top moves to Smooth Operator—a problem which derived its name from the smooth, glassy aręte that needs to be palmed and then heel hooked when mantling.  Jason looked in control until he slapped his left hand up the aręte a second time.  He was pulling hard with his feet to compensate for the lack of friction on the aręte.  Instead of an ascent, Jason felt his feet skate from beneath.  Nate described his reaction from atop a boulder as dread, so he looked down to avoid seeing the consequences.  I was off to the right side and saw Jason’s eyes become as wide as two full moons.  His feet skated but his left hand stayed on for a moment, long enough for him to get horizontal.  Then he fell straight down, almost missing a pad.  “I’m done,” was his reaction after a sigh of relief.    

Yes, in Wisconsin we’re known for our spotting prowess.  

I should mention the shuttle ride from the CCC parking lot to the West Bluff.  Neuman left his F150 at the lot.  Eight of us piled in and rode like hicks, whoop-knackering and guffawing.  

Non bouldering highlights: Tim Lindl unawaringly peeing at the base of the Beer Buzz problem; Tim Lindl taking a dump atop a hill across from Show Me the Kind so he could watch the bouldering and go to the bathroom at the same time; Neuman saying in front of a horde of kids at the base of the Zipper: “Hey, Huston!  I say you pick one these kids up and throw them over.  Pick a nice fat one so there’s a lot of juice.”  Lind and Neuman’s walking down the trail as a horde of boyscouts walk up:  

Neuman: “Don’t you wish you were a boyscout?”

Lindl: “I tried to join but they wouldn’t take me because I’m gay.”

Boyscout: [laugh]  

We finished perhaps one of the harder bouldering circuits ever done at the Lake in just over 6 hours.  


We stopped at the world’s first Culver’s in Sauk Prairie and had burgers.  Lindl embarked on the chili cheese dog challenge at the barking of Neuman.  Three chili cheese dogs, a small concrete malt, and three laps around the restaurant when finished with the meal…as fast as you can.  Neuman had told Lindl that he had to try and beat the best time.  A sportsman of many faces, Lindl obliged.  As they were leaving the parking lot, Lindl asked Neuman, “So how was my time?”  Neuman replied, “I don’t know, man.  You’re the first one to ever do it.”   

Biggest sandbag: without a doubt, the 4-5 some miles hiked during the bouldering which included lots of uphill and talus hiking.  My legs were tired.  


The Long Run

Our party’s now five strong, no problem with that!”  
--Ty Moncrief, Drop Zone (after one of his own skydiving party dies)  

Although very hard and the part of the challenge I wanted to complete the most, the bouldering did not size up to the running portion of my challenge with respect to pain.  After such a good morning at the Lake, I was sliding into complacent sports-achievement.  I seemed to say to myself that it didn’t matter what happened now that I had done the circuit of circuits.  

It was the calm before the storm, and the birthday challenge would soon become a challenge for each one of us in our own private hell.  In the spirit of a memorial, I feel that I should mention each person’s name who went on the run: Nate, Nick, and Jason would run.  Tim, Neuman, and Peter Gentry would ride support on their bikes.  Lindl towed a small trailer for supplies.    


32 miles  --  16 Bars  --  16 whiskeys   

By 2:45pm we were ready to leave the luxury condo and embark on the 32 mile run self-mangulation (yes, a new word).  Armed with body slick on the feet and armpits, band aids on the nipples, and enough self-metal to sink a small battleship, we left.  

The run went without incident until the third bar (about 6 miles in) despite the fact that my legs already felt a little too tired.  At Fieler’s, we were served by a bartender sporting an oxygen nose tube.  The elderly gentlemen there took amusement at our foolish endeavor once explained to them.  Jason had opted for a dry run (no whiskey) since he was by no means a runner, just some big wall guy from Oregon looking to challenge himself.  The last time I saw Jason drink was New Years Eve when he passed out outside Lindl’s house in sub-freezing temps after a Chinese movie night of red wine and stiff Caucasians a la Peter Gentry.  Well, Jason’s pseudo-Prohibition habits were the butt of a few jokes from the bartender who seemed to take it out on Lindl oddly enough.  For, when Tim ordered his rye on the rocks the bartender dumped about 6 ounces of whiskey into his glass.  Tim was on the road to oblivion.  Nate later remarked, “It’s a bad sign when the support crew is getting drunker than the runners.”  

The hardest leg of the run would appear to have been from Quivey’s Grove to Tony Franks, a full 3.3 miles.  Along the way we encountered kids burning a troll doll on the railroad tracks.  Neuman and Lindl chased them down for no reason.  Apparently one of the kids pulled his head out from behind the bushes and said, “We didn’t do it.”  That’s the thing, I just like to hide in bushes.  

I was very tired upon reaching Tony Franks.  I was half wondering if I could make it.  Then, it rained.  It won’t last I thought  The forecast said sunny.  It wasn’t supposed to rain until midnight.  The sky was a pale gray; those aren’t rain clouds.  


The run through the arboretum was fun for a few seconds.  Then I realized like a few years ago during my last challenge that I would be fighting, trying not to cramp up.  My last challenge at 30 years old entailed a running portion of 30 miles on trail.  I cramped up at mile 10.  It was a terrible fight the rest of the way, my cramps not clearing up until mile 26.   That was then.  The body remembers pain.  

Nate and Nick looked great.  I felt more like Jason—lagging, tired, outclassed by better runners.  We reached Bennett’s Smut and Eggs.  We ordered Jim Beam shots but we were fairly certain it was Early Times.  All the while, porn was playing.  Great crowd as you can imagine.  

Rain. Rain.  

A short jaunt to the Echo Tap.  Patty Strach met us there.  She brought me fresh socks, running tights and a shell.  It was Jason’s last hurrah.  He was done.  Pretty much off the couch, Jason had made it halfway.  I felt like Jason, done.  Nick and Nate?  Looked fine.  We stepped outside to hit the Coliseum Bar.  Lindl had phoned ahead to order us food.  Did I mention that the only food and drink to be had during the run was whatever the bar was serving?  

Rain. Rain. Rain….Dropping Temps…Wind…  

At the Coliseum Bar, we ate our food like Homer Simpson.  No words, just eating.  Meanwhile, Jessica Simanek (Nate’s girlfriend) showed up to provide what would later prove to be invaluable car support.  Oh wait, there were words exchanged at the Coliseum.  Maybe we should stop (with reference to the weather and possibility of pneumonia)?  

As we left the Coliseum Bar, it was…raining.  The runners took a head start.  A few minutes later, Neuman comes up from behind and says,  

“So Gentry’s gone.”


“Yeah, he just handed me the bike lock and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’  And he left.”  

Nate’s drunken reaction at the next bar, “Whoaa!”  Smiling in some kind of shocked but amused way.  

Dante professed that Hell was cold since it was farthest away from the warmth of God’s love.  Dante had never been to Wisconsin.  Clearly, Wisconsin is worse, at least it was that night.  For, there was not only cold temps but wind and…rain.  

We left on what Nate considered to be the crux leg, from South Bay Lounge to the Silver Eagle: 3 miles long (21 miles in).  I was so worn and cold, so cold and tired, so tired and pissed off.  Everyone was the same.  Nate never let on if he was in pain.  I tried to be positive.  In my own frustration I snapped, “I hate that.  It’s not over after this [leg of running].”  Then I heard my old roommate Kursten.  After eagerly partaking in the Fritter Challenge in 1992, he later refused to continue halfway in.  He yelled, “No, you can’t make me.  I won’t do it!  It’s not fun anymore.”  

Yes, it’s not fun anymore.  I recited the St. Crispin’s Day speech as I ran.  This gives you an idea that cardio-vascular wise I was fine.  My legs, however, were like two thick tubes of discount ground beef.   USDA chump.  

We were wet.  Soaked through and through.  The same petty pace bar to bar: get cold, stay wet, run, get warm, get to the bar, drink, stay wet, sweat, step outside, get cold, stay wet, run, get warm…  Temperatures were in the low 40s.  

We left the Silver Eagle.  And at that point I thought as close as we were I was not going to finish.  We started at a fast pace towards the Horseshoe Bar and halfway through Nate dropped back.  I was too tired to think anything of it.  Nate is a far better runner: tougher, more experienced at runs, a better drinker.  

Did I mention Nate has no spleen?  He lost it in a bad ski race accident when he was young.  By all rights, he should not be here today.  Jessica was worried the entire time about his lack of spleen.  He can drink a lot on a night out on the town or belly up at the bar, but a prolonged event of running and processing toxins at a rapid, intense rate?  

Nate arrived at the Horseshoe on Tim’s bike.  He was pale and for the first time, he looked worried.  After waiting a while at this hellhole, drinking from water-back glasses that felt like they still had the wax from lipstick on the rims, Nate threw in the towel.  He was nauseated.  Luckily, Jessica was there with the car to drive him off.  I can’t reiterate how tough Nate is.  He won the 100 mile Kettle Morraine race, posted the second best time, and has the 27th fasted 100 mile time in the States.  When he dropped out, it was like the bottom falling out.  Support in Nate’s case means someone who will try to endure as much pain as you can so that you know you’re not going it alone, all the while smiling or at least making jokes about the pain.  I was not happy.  

But I was wet and cold.  

Rain. Rain. Rain.  

Nick, meanwhile, looked fresh as if he had never started.  A tri-athlete and founder of the Intensity Newsletter, Nick Rhodes is a shoe-in for a Dirk Nowitzki stand in.   I couldn’t believe how he was taking this all.  A mutant.  He would keep saying that he felt terrible.  But it was quite obvious that the worst he felt was nowhere near as bad as the best I felt.  

My pace was surprisingly fast to the Glass Nickel.  Patty and her friends Honor and Colleen were waiting there.  I plopped myself down at a table away from the dining guests so as not to disgust them.  Honor and Colleen bought us drinks.  I couldn’t even raise a brow to say thanks.  Nick, meanwhile, was mingling like some kind of teatoatler.  But he had had every drink so far.  Mutant.  Neuman finally saw the light of a finish.  Lindl, in all cotton, looking like a vagrant was still drunk and miserable.  But he, too, saw the light.  Then Jesus came in.  

He, too, was wet and cold and tired.  He offered no solace or strength, so I took a shot.  And we were off again.  I knew it.  I knew it.  I knew it all along.  That goddamned hill just before the Weary Traveler was going to be hell.  It’s not even a hill.  It’s a slight incline.  But for some reason, it always feels terrible.  

That night, no different.  Each step was like a dagger in the mind.  Each step I wondered, or at least it seemed I had enough time to wonder, if my legs would cramp up.   By now the miles between bars had become much less, and the whiskey now became a concern.  I rarely get drunk.  I simply go from buzzed to throwing up.  I was buzzed.  I would have no warning signs except the spins.  By then it would be too late.  Two more bars.  Every now and then I thought I felt the spins coming on.  Lindl ordered some chips and guacamole at the Weary.  We ate like wolves.   Off to the Caribou.  

Rain. Wind. Cold…with a hey and a ho…blow you hurricanoes, blow!  

King Lear had moved from England to Wisconsin.  Lead in the water and bad weather makes for a good tragedy.  I was auditioning for the part of the Fool that night.  I was a shoe-in save for the guy next to me with a mullet, buck teeth, a Packers jacket, and chronic wasting disease in the brain.  Go Pack! Go!  

The path to the Caribou?  More of the same medicine.  it went down like Ipecac.  The whiskey there felt fine.  No way I would puke unless out of exhaustion.  

Leaving the Caribou (which was without incident) meant running round about to the last bar, the Great Dane.  The real course was supposed to loop Park Street and end with 33 miles.  I was in no way going to get an extra mile for anyone’s sake.  When the loop was mentioned, Nick blurted out, “I can’t run and backtrack!”  He must have been in pain, though it never seemed like it.  Neuman replied, “We got to get 32.  We’ll run to the Nitty Gritty and back to the Dane.”  The last leg was pure hell.  Over the hump of the isthmus and back up to the Dane.  Nick still looked good.  He let up the last block to let me finish first.

12:45am.  At the bar, I put my head down.  The bartender said I had to leave.  I told him I wasn’t drunk.  I was tired.  I told him I had just finished running 32 miles.  He looked at me like it was no big deal.  He gave us our shots of Wild Turkey Rye and then we ate food.  It only took us a few minutes to start laughing at how terrible it all was.  

Neuman had his 12th beer, successfully completing his challenge of biking 32 miles and drinking 12 beers.  Tim was still drunk.  Patty was disgusted at how bad we smelled—sweat, alcohol, stale smoke, and men’s tears.  On the way back to the condo in the car, I purveyed the Isthmus and wondered how everyone was living their lives: if was just wasting space or at least trying to experience some kind of suffering.

On Saturday, April 24th, 2004, I embarked on a birthday challenge of 32 boulder problems, 32 miles of running with 16 shots of whiskey along the way.  In the end, it didn’t seem to do anyone much good.  But at least we all tried.  No one wins in a birthday challenge.  No one.  


The next day, Patty and I went to see Jonathan Waterman’s slide show about crossing the Northwest Passage on kayak.  The very last segment involved him talking about a polar bear he had encountered just as he reached the Atlantic waters.  The bear had been tracking him for several miles.  Polar bears are known to stalk their prey over long distances.  The bear entered the water after him.  Instead of paddling away he decided to move closer to the bear.   He put down his paddle and looked at the bear, into his eyes.  He said he conveyed nothing but deep respect for such an animal—something he said he felt he had learned all his time while being absolutely alone for weeks at a time in the Artic, from all that he learned from the Inuit.  After a few seconds of gazing, the bear climbed atop an iceberg and departed.  

There is no sense to this ending, but hearing and seeing Jon Waterman’s story put everything into perspective.  Except for the prune feet I had after running in wet shoes for several hours.  

“If there’s not a chance it’s going to kill you, it’s not a challenge.”  
--The Big Daddy