A Walk in the Sky: Climbing Mt. Whitney

“Expeditions are born in the minds of men and more of them die there
than are defeated by avalanches, bad weather, and misfortune combined.”
(Nicholas Clinch)

I’ve gone days without showering before.  I sometimes watch “Man vs. Wild” on The Discovery Channel.  I’ll take a hike when a girl tells me to.  But that’s not enough to call myself a true adventurer.

Earlier this year, a few of my friends proposed a mission, which I unadvisedly accepted, to climb Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states.  It didn’t appeal or even occur to us to simply take the Main Trail to the top.  That’s for wimps.  We had to go the Mountaineer’s Route.

During the months leading up to the hike, I attended a Mt. Whitney workshop, became a member of REI, and purchased all the necessary gear bankrupting myself in the process.  But I was determined to conquer this mountain.

Summer flew by and before we knew it, it was time for the long drive to the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  The first thing we did when we got to the trailhead was to weigh our packs.  Mine came out to 30 lbs.  I had a tent, a sleeping bag, a change of clothes, a daypack, a 3-liter water bladder, snacks and a bunch of freeze-dried meals (which by the way are the most awful things I’ve ever eaten).  I was about to show myself just how much I hated myself.  Sorry, self.

Day one involved a 3.5-mile hike up to Upper Boy Scout Lake where we made camp.  After hours of hiking, hand and knee scraping scrambling, and some rock-climbing, we set up our tents in what seemed like force ten gales. In fact, I awoke in the middle of the night and found that the wind had blown my tent zippers open.  No wonder it was so cold.

Day two started when the sun rose. We only had to hike 2.5 miles to the summit, take pictures, and then traverse all the way down.  At least that was the plan.  We were all a little sore from the day before, but our logic told us that 2.5 miles would be easier than the 3.5 miles of ground we just covered.  Not only was the final push to summit harder and more dangerous, but the air was thin, and we were essentially stepping across steep gravel slopes for nearly twice as long as the day before.

Bodies started to break down so we all hiked at our own pace.  By the time I reached the top, I was emotionally and physically spent.  I remember nearly breaking down in tears. There is a guestbook to sign at the summit, but instead of writing something clever next to my name, I wrote the first thing that popped into my head: “Oh Lord, that was hard.” (Peter Min, 8/22/2010)

The hike back to base camp was excruciating.  When we finally returned, it was already 7pm and the sun was setting fast, and we still had to climb all the way down.  So on went the headlamp, the 30 lbs pack, and the treacherous journey down the rest of the mountain.

Two of my friends had to stay behind and camp another night.  They were in no condition to continue in the dark.  I, on the other hand, had no more food, no more clean clothes, and no more patience for all this misery.  By some miracle, I made it to the bottom with only minor scraps and bruises, though I did lose a hiking pole and left depleted of all water.

I met Mt. Whitney rock face-to-face and she almost broke me.  It was the greatest test of physical and mental fortitude I ever experienced.  Yes, I climbed to the top, but that was only halfway.  I felt accomplished when I reached the bottom.  I was safe, I was still alive, and I was going home.


Business Travel and Triathlon Training: Manhattan and Houston

One of the perks of the job in advertising is the ability to travel. I have traveled across the country for focus groups, in-home interviews, ethnographies, concept testing, meetings, and conferences and love to check out new places and especially the food. One of my other favorite things to do is train in a new city as well. I love waking up early, lacing up my runners, and getting lost for an hour or two in a new place. Training for endurance sports is a tough thing to work into any schedule, but it becomes even more difficult when you are on the road.

I have spent the last two weekends in New York and Houston and worked hard to still find time to train. I have decided to share a little bit about how I go about finding places to train and even people to train with.

As a member of USMS (United States Masters Swimming), I always go to the “places to swim” link on the USMS website and see if there is a Master’s program I can workout with and at the very least, find a nearby pool to go pay for lap swim time.

The next thing I do is search for a triathlon club in the area and find out their training schedule. If there is a big group run, track workout, or road ride on any of the days that I am around, I try to join along. Almost every club is happy to have a visitor for a day as long as you are respectful and don’t make bonehead moves in the peloton.

If there isn’t a tri club, I’ll look online for a running club, and I always look up local bike shops that might be able to rent me a bike or give me info on a group ride taking place while I am in town. If you are anything like me, you like just being in bike shops and looking at new gear, so finding a good local shop is hardly a burden.

My latest thing is to pick up a water bottle or two from the shops I visit when I am out of town so I can bring home a local souvenir. When recently visiting New York, I brought home a couple of SBR bottles and while in Texas, picked up a couple bottles from a shop in Houston called Bike Barn. The 160 mile drive to Austin was very tempting in order to visit Mellow Johnny’s and pick up a souvenir or two, but our hectic work schedule was enough for me to resist the temptation.

On the New York trip, I made sure I was able to go for a run in Central Park. Central park is surrounded by a winding, undulating road roughly 10 kilometers long that is sprawling with runners and cyclists getting a workout in before heading to work. I took a cab to the South end of the park, did the 6.2 mile loop around the park and then took a second loop that wound in and out of the various trails and bridle paths that snake throughout the park.

I didn’t get the chance to swim while in New York but if I go back, I will definitely go for a swim at the pool in Central Park or the pool on the Hudson River at the Chelsea Piers Sports Center. I have heard the view through the floor to ceiling windows surrounding the pool is amazing.

Off to Texas.

Were I to visit Houston again, I would be sure to stay at the Houstonian which has a world-class fitness club including anoutdoor olympic pool. The beef I have with the Houstonian is that they wouldn’t let me in! I tried to go there for a 3,000 yard swim and a spin class but I was stopped at the front desk and told “MEMBERS ONLY!”

As annoyed as I was with that treatment, I will stay make sure I stay there next time because I REALLY want to use that pool. Luckily I had a backup plan and headed to FIT Athletic Club just a few miles away. For 20 bucks they let me use all the facilities for as long as I wanted. While there I took a 2 mile warmup run on a treadmill, a one hour spin class, and followed it up with a 2 mile transition run on the treadmill at a torturous 6:15/mile pace. The FIT Athletic Club was actually very nice with the exception that it didn’t have a pool, but the spin class instructor (I believe her name was mary) was one of the best I have ever had, and the place had fresh towels which is more than I can say for my local 24 Hour Fitness.

Here is a quick list of my must haves for any business trip. And remember, you can pack light, you aren’t going to race a triathlon, just looking for quick efficient and fun ways to workout.

Swim: swimsuit, goggles, cap (leave your paddles, fins, and other junk at home

Bike: Helmet, Glasses, Gloves, Shoes, pedals, bottle, and spandex (if you plan on attending a spin class, remember that most spin bikes only accept the small SPD mountain bike cleats… unless you are at the almighty Equinox Gym pedals that accept both). Also, remember to contact bike shops ahead of time about renting or demoing a bike as they often may not be able to help you out on very short notice.

Run: Running shoes, shorts, shirt/tank

And for all three: sunscreen and your watch (Garmin preferred ;)) so your not lost or late for business (the real reason you are there!)

Working out while traveling is tough but very doable, so get out there and explore a new place, meet new people, and be energized for whatever kind of boring conference or trade show it is that you might have to attend.