Difference Between Depression And Jubilation II

On the last day of vacation, clearing standby a non-stop flight home half an hour after being told that the time for your original one stop flight had been moved up 25 minutes, you were late, all the flights home that night were sold out and you should start looking for a hotel.

Two aisle seats across from each other and a good movie on the plane are just icing on the cake. (OK.OK.OK. The movie was The Blind Side and it was heart warming. I said good, not best film ever good).

Life: Quality Vs. Quantity

John Bachar

This is/was the story of  John Bachar, the world’s greatest free climber. He was this amazing (and I do not use this word to describe EVERYTHING that is above ordinary as so many do today)  man who attacked life by engaging in one of  the riskiest endeavors and died doing it at an age just younger than my own. His is a fascinating story of integrating extreme training, style and grace and even mathematical principles to what on the surface looks to be intuitive movements by a born athlete.

I admire people who excel at physically dangerous endeavors because they do what I will not. I do not excel at physical endeavors and I am hugely risk adverse.  As documented previously in this blog I am scared of heights. And yet in this case I not only admire what John Bachar did but how he went about it.

Here are excepts from an article in The Economist:

John Bachar climbed slowly, like a spider—or, as he preferred to say, a starfish. He seemed to move in slow motion, swinging his legs out in parallel to seek a ledge, pulling to a crouch, raising one graceful arm to grab a hold. Nothing was hurried; all was smooth and unforced.  His only equipment, apart from rubber-soled boots, was a bag of chalk slung at the back of his belt, into which he dipped his hands to dry the sweat and improve his grip. He had no ropes, bolts or pitons, and preferably no knowledge of the ascent except what he had gleaned from the ground.

Wouldn’t he fall? He seemed to be catching on nothing: propping his boot on a pimple, gripping a “smear” or a hairline crack, freeing both arms from the rock to make a lunge. More than 50 feet up one mistake meant death, and he was often on faces of 200 feet or more. He was, he admitted, terrified of heights. But he had got over it.  Did he ever dare look down? “Of course. It’s beautiful up there.” Besides, “just looking down isn’t going to kill you.”

To become the world’s best free-climber, he was, took years of training. At 14 he was a weakling who could do only two pull-ups; at 16, when he made his first free ascent at Joshua Tree, he could do 27. By his mid-20s he had mastered doing pull-ups with one arm, or with 140lb of weights. Tightrope-walking helped his balance. 

He concentrate until all he saw was the “little circle of rock” ahead of him, and all he was thinking of was the fluidity and perfection of his moves. If he needed a surge of strength, he imagined throwing an electric switch to flood his muscles with power. He pictured his fingers as steel hooks, himself as a dancer.

Craziness was also necessary. Mr Bachar’s fellow-climbers often thought him mad—mad to free-climb on faces such as the 400-foot New Dimensions in Yosemite. He found it as cool and addictive as “being on another planet”. And it was the only professional sport with no coaches or rule-books, where each climber planned his tactics himself.

He was a mathematician  majoring in math at UCLA until he dropped out to climb rocks. Each venture up a rock face was, for him, an act of analysis. His mental state he divided into three zones. Zone one, no harm if he fell; zone two, hospital, but he’d survive; zone three, death if he made a mistake.

Unlike mountaineers, he felt no urge to conquer the rock-face. Getting to the top didn’t matter. All that counted was the grace, control and style of how he got there. The rock was his superior and, he felt, should remain as if he had never climbed it.  He was offended to come across rusty bolts, or so-called free-climbers setting advance protection for themselves. The effect of all this was to “lower the rock to your level”, removing its capacity to challenge and surprise.

By the same token, if he escaped after making a mistake, the rock had merely let him get away with it. He got away many times; a bruised back was the worst injury he suffered until, on July 5th, he fell from Dike Wall in the eastern Sierra.

He was 52 when he died. He probably could have lived a longer life but I am not sure at all that he could have lived a fuller one. Many people survive to a far greater age and never live as long as he lived. The combination of hard work, grace,  math, and  purity he brought to his art make him special even among those who achieve much in their lives.

Makes me want to go rock climbing…with the key part of that phrase being “want”.

North By North Pole

At the beginning of March, I shared the story of John Huston and Tyler Fish. These two wanted to be the first Americans to ski unassisted to the North Pole. They did it on April 25th, the 55th day of the mission. By not without some drama. Here is an excerpt from a press release less than two days earlier:

Minneapolis, Minn. (8 a.m. April 24, 2009) – Forward Expeditions LLC announced today that John Huston and Tyler Fish will now have to ski, snowshoe and possibly swim 28 nautical miles in approximately 50 hours to reach the North Pole by Sunday morning, April 26. Huston and Fish are on Day 53 of their historic Victorinox® North Pole ’09 Expedition, and the Russian base that has agreed to fly them out from the Pole is closing on Sunday due to deteriorating sea ice conditions. If they have not reached the Pole by that deadline, the flight will pick them up where they are – even though that might be just a few miles from their goal.

They were leaving one way or the other but after many months of preparation and 50+ days of travel in brutal conditions they were not to be denied. They traveled for 16 hours and 15 minutes on their last day! That was after working shifts of traveling for 12 hours and resting for three  for the three days before that. Pushing themselves to the limit on a  475-mile trek to the North Pole from Canada’s Ellesmere Island.


 John is a local, Chicago area boy. 32 years old. Graduated from Northwestern University in 1999. He had already led an exhibition to the South Pole. Not bad for 32. Too bad he is a White Sox fan. No accounting for taste.



Tyler Fish is an old man of 35. According to his bio on the expedition website, According to Tyler, there has never been a day too cold to strap on some sort of ski.  He spends his winters skiing at a competitive level in long distance cross-country ski marathons and also coaching a local ski team in Ely, Minnesota. 

Since I heard they made it I have been considering adjectives to describe what they did. Heroic? Maybe. They did not save lives but they meet this definition of Hero (from Dictionary.com) “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities”. Amazing? Certainly but not particularly descriptive or illuminating. Courageous. Definitely. I am open to reader suggestions.

One point of trivia. They consumed 8,000 calories a day. Think 320 candy bars. They say with all they worked off it could have been more. Now there is a diet. The North Pole Diet. Copyrighted. Next $1 million idea.

Check out the Expedition website here.

Skiing to the North Pole


The frigid winter is not something I seek, though admittedly I choose to live in the Midwest. So when I heard that John Huston and Tyler Fish are choosing to ski unassisted to the North Pole my interest was piqued. While they have been training for many months, the official start is today, March 1 (though there has been a 24 hour delay due to weather).

How did I first learn about this expedition? One of the two is a Chicago area guy who over the summer was seen running in Lincoln Park. Not unusual.  Except for the chains attached to the 4 tires he was pulling. This part of his training caught the attention of the local radio stations and the Chicago Tribune.

Their website amazes me. Here are some things I learned.

They list six challenges to a successful expedition:

  1. Polar bears. Over ten feet tall, 1400 pounds and oh btw they are hard to see during a white out.
  2. Cold, Wet and Wind. Average cold temp will be -35 degrees with low lows as low as -76 degrees. It is very humid so moisture control is a problem–especially when you are pulling a friggin’ sled while skiing. Sweat much?
  3. Drifting ice. There will be times when the ice is drifting backward faster than they are skiing forward.
  4. Rubble and pressure ridges. There will be times that they will use energy going around stuff instead of being able to follow the most direct route.
  5. Dark and Light. Darkness slows everything down (duh). But by the end of the trip they will have 24 hours of sunlight each day.
  6. Open water. Get this. This one would stop me well before my fear of polar bears–which is already off the fear scale. At times they will don wet suits and swim, pulling their sleds through arctic water. I may never warm up completely just thinking about that.

Other factoids:

  • The good news is they get to consume 7000 calories a day
  • The trip is planned from March 1 through April 26
  • They will cover 525 miles by ski or snowshoe
  • If successful they will be the first from the USA to complete this voyage. Only 22 people have done this before them–ever

So why are these two skiing unassisted to the North Pole? Sure they may get a moment or two of fame but not the Paris Hilton type that can be turned into a paid career of doing nothing other than being famous.

According to them this is a trip of Optimism, Humility and Responsible action. They want to inspire people to take on great things, to challenge themselves.

I am inspired. To what I am not yet sure. I do plan to check their blog everyday to find out how they are doing. If you want to as well they are now added to my blogroll.

If nothing else I commit to stop complaining about the weather in Chicago–at least for 2009.

5 Seconds Under Curaçao

Thanks to the cinematographic genius of Da Man, I can share with you the greatest underwater adventure since Sea Hunt (or Flipper).

Thursday Has Become Adventure Day

I am working on how to keep the Adventure Thursday theme alive when I return to the U.S. and my regular life. I will let you know when this conundrum has been solved. For now I have the first Adventure Thursday to share.

Thursday April 10 in Curacao was definitely Adventure Day. It began with a drive to Christofel National Park on the NW side of the island, home to the highest peak on the island. The woman at the visitors center told us the climb would take an hour each way and that it was easy except for the last 15 minutes. She was right about the time but not about the easy part. It was a challenging grade for most of the way, at least for someone as not in shape as I am. (There were some middle school kids going up as we were going down. Three of the boys finished the uphill part and made it down only minutes after we did. Oh to be young again.) The trail was rocky and had some places where you had to navigate where your feet would go. Several times me and my 30 inch inseam had to conquer high steps from on rock to the next.  And then there was the final section. As tough as advertised.

First we had to scramble over some rocks using hands as well as feet. Then there was a vertical section involving finding footholds and rocks or tree limbs for my hands so I could pull myself up. The last 20 yards required squeezing through a very narrow passage, barely wide enough for me to get through, that had a very steep grade. My feet were on the walls to either side of me.

A few cuts and bruises but we made the summit. The views were stunning. I will post pictures when I return. I was admiring my stamina and fortitude just when I realized I would have to go back the way I came. Crap.

The climb down, at least for this first section, was harder than the uphill climb. Face forward going down. Finding places for hands and feet. Needing to jump or drop where you had reached and pulled on the way up. Complicating things were the people coming up sharing the same path. After surviving this first section the downhill was doable. Strenuous but doable. Amazingly it took about the same time down as up. We had thought that given the way gravity works the downhill would have been faster.

Thigh muscles ached by the time I finished. I expect that they may be worse tomorrow. However, Chistofel Mountain was just the beginning of this 4 part adventure day.

Part Two was the dive at Playa Kalki not far from the mountain. We made time to find a nice lunch and spend time on the beach. But then on to diving. We had rented equipment the day before. Unfortunately the entire dive set including air tanks had to be carried down 22 steps. (Also meaning 22 steps up on the way back.) We geared up, did buddy checks, got information about the reef and then jumped off the peer. This was to be only our second unguided dive. Ever.

Nice dive, good coral, interesting fish. Best of all was the freedom. When you go with a dive master and group, you all go where the dive master goes. Too often people bunch up. I have been kicked in the head many times on such a dive. But when you and your buddy are on your own you go where the whim takes you. See something interesting to the right, go check it out. Want to just play in the water like a fish…do it. We made it there and back on our own contributing to my SCUBA confidence level and adding to the legend.

Number Three was only a little bit adventurous but it all counts on Adventure Thursday. We had found a very nice restaurant on our way to Playa Kalki and decided to have an early dinner on our return home. The owner was a card. He came to our table and recited the day’s menu. I wanted to try something I had never eaten but decided against goat brains though they came highly recommended. I opted for the barracuda. It turns out to be a meaty white fish. The food was quite good and the atmosphere outstanding. There are bird feeders on the other side of a half wall next to our table. The birds there were beautiful. Orange and black, yellow and green, small and large. Then as we got up to pay the bill the owner tells us that life is to short to rush and that if we sat in the rocking chairs we could get a surprise. Ice Cream. That was a very pleasant surprise.

Last but not least was the Night Dive. I have done this a few times before. There is an extra bit of adventure, and for me trepidation, in diving when darkness surrounds you. All you have that allows you to see is a flashlight. The beauty of night dives are twofold. You see a few things that you may see during the day but all the colors are different. Even better, the nocturnal hunters are out. We did not encounter as much as I had hoped but we did see some lobster and a baby barracuda. For this journey in the deep we wisely chose to take a guide along.

Four adventures in a single day. Lets see to what extent I can keep up the new tradition of Adventure Thursday.