Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Rebirth


My plan of posting updates immediately following my surgery did not happen very well. Before the surgery, I got wrapped up in helping Deborah through her recovery, then there was work, and my new life. But, I want to let you know what has been happening and how things are going.

First, I want to say that Deborah’s recovery from her traumatic encounter with a car has been good. She had to be non-weight bearing on her left knee for three months. That is thankfully past, and she is in physical therapy to regain lost strength and get full use of the knee again. That is also going well and Deborah is nearly back to full health. That is a real relief.

As for my surgery, there were some last minute issues that caused the date to be changed one last time. Again, the insurance balked at authorizing the full double fusion surgery. The MRI was not conclusive that I needed the L5-S1 work, in addition to the full front and back approaches. My surgeon, knowing better, made the agreement that he would do the front approach and assess the situation. This meant that I would have to endure two three hour procedures on different days, instead of one six hour version. At this point, I was so tired of the struggle, so unable to do anything about it, and so in pain that all I could say was, “Whatever.”

So, now February 9th would be the day for the first surgery. Deborah drove me to the hospital for a 5:30 am check in and a 7:30 am start time. I was more than ready. After getting checked in and prepped, the nurse attempted to start my IV. I said attempted. She went for the vein in my left wrist just below my thumb. She stuck the needle in and taped it up, after which she went about other business. I started to feel rather poorly, and Deborah asked if I was OK. I said, “That hurts. In fact, please get her over here and get this thing out of me!” I have never done well with IVs in my hand. I thought I would bite the bullet because I would have lots of needles in me before this was over. But, this just was not right. The nurse ran back after Deborah called her. Indeed, she found that the needle had completely missed the vein. Unfortunately, my blood pressure dropped and I went into a form of shock. This is one of those weird mentally triggered physical responses that is very real. I sure got their attention. What I really wanted was a drink of water, but of course, I could not have that. They wrapped me in cool towels and lowered my head. In about 15 minutes, I was back to normal. The nurse was mortified. A different nurse started a new IV, and all was well.

I met the surgeon who would deal with my abdomen and would move things to expose my spine to my primary surgeon. I met the doctor who would make sure I was properly asleep. I also met a medical technician who would monitor my nerve function during the procedure, making sure whatever the surgeon did, they would know in real time if any nerves might be impacted. She put electrodes all over me. This was something that helped make Deborah more comfortable.

Finally, I said good-bye to Deborah, and I was wheeled into the operating room. I waved to the medical tech at her station in the corner, met the rest of the nurses and other support. Laid out on a table was an extraordinary selection of bright and shiny hardware. In addition to the usual surgical tools, I identified what were clearly some power tools. I like power tools. The table they would move me onto was a rather complex contraption. I asked how they were going to get me on that. It looked difficult. They said, “Don’t worry – you will be asleep.” Ah, OK then. We will come back to this later.

The anesthesiologist put the gas hose on my nose. “Just oxygen,” he said. A second later, I said, “That is definitely not just oxygen.” He smiled down at me, and said, “You’re right.”

Three and a half hours later I woke in the recovery room feeling very uncomfortable, but not in pain. Deborah tells me that she was not there. I am certain she was. Soon after they rolled me into my room and showed me the button for extra morphine. Morphine – now, in case there is any doubt – works brilliantly. My stomach had an eight inch incision. My guts had been moved around like so much baggage, I had six screws and two plates installed on the front of my spine, and two new artificial disks placed where my old ones used to be years ago. I was catheterized, groggy, uncomfortable – but I was not feeling any pain. I was OK with that.

“Have any numbness?” Yes, my thumb is numb. It was, in fact, very numb. To me, even in my reduced mental state, it was because the poorly installed IV needle had hit a nerve. But, this caused no end of concern for the nurses. They called my surgeon. My internist was informed, and I received a call from him. Geez, it is my thumb. My surgery was in my lower back. The two are not connected. I just laughed and laughed when my MD called. He told me I was clearly doing fine. The thumb did bother me, though, and I talked about it.

I turned the TV on and watched the interesting colors flash on and off. There might have been some images and sounds, but I could not tell for sure. I think Deborah was there. Nurses might have come in and checked things. I pushed the morphine button and watched day turn to night and back to day again. I think my brother and his wife came to visit. I tried to eat a little of the full liquid diet food. It did not like it in my stomach. The nurses helped to clean me up. They gave me pills, changed my urine bag, and I pushed the morphine button. The “question” started – “Have you had a bowel movement?” No. If I had, I would have told you because I ain’t moving from this spot.

It might have been the next day, or the same day, or the day after that, when my surgeon came to visit. He checked my bloated stomach and asked how I felt. I told him I did not feel much of anything. He told me that my L5 – S1 junction was much worse than he expected, and he repaired it as needed. He told me he would do the second surgery a day later. I cannot remember what I said, but whatever it was it caused him to say that we could wait, if that is what I wanted.

NO! I want it as soon as possible!!”

My outburst likely could have been heard well down the hall. My surgeon smiled and made the plans.

Day moved into night again. The TV stayed on, for whatever reason. I tried to read. Nope. The page just made no sense. “Have you had a bowel movement?” No. OK. Just no.

It must have been the morning of the second surgery, Sunday February 11th, because Deborah was in my room at dawn. I guessed it was dawn, because it had been dark for a long while.

The preparation went smoothly this time. I would have a different medical technician monitoring my nerve response, and I would not have a second surgeon this time, Going into my back would be generally simpler. The hardware would be heavier, however. This time, because they would have to put all my weight on my stomach, I wanted to be asleep when they rolled me over and put me on the operating table. Yeek.

This time I do not remember waking in the recovery room. I just remember being back in my room, and being very uncomfortable. I was laying on the work my surgeon just did – another eight inch incision, with a drain coming out of it, six big screws, and two more plates. I was really liking the morphine.

Day turned into night. I could hear Deborah coming down the hall on her crutches. I liked that sound, because it would mean she would be there for a while. I heard that sound all night long, and thought I was dreaming. It turned out to be a printer mimicking the sound of crutches.

“Have you had a bowel movement?” No. Believe me, I will let you know.

My surgeon came by and checked his work. He removed the drain. At some point someone removed the catheter as well. Out came the urinal, because I was not moving from that spot. I used the morphine button.

I was started on oral narcotic painkillers in addition to the morphine. The first one, I think it was Percocet, resulted in really intense hallucinations. I did not care much, but Deborah was worried.  So, I was switched to Norco. That worked fine.

I think my internist sent a friend from the ER to check on me. He might have been a nice guy, though I cannot be sure if he was even a guy. For all I could tell, he was a large rabbit. A friend came to visit. Similar deal. Hey, Dave! You sure do have big ears.

At some point a physical therapist came by and showed me how to get out of bed. I did it, but I did not want to do it. I used a walker and moved around the room a bit.

“Have you had a bowel movement?” No. “Well, you cannot leave until you have had a bowel movement.” Oh, good. Threatening me will surely scare the crap out of me, right? Not.

Another day passed and another visit from the physical therapist came. This time I got myself upright and walked down the hall with the aide of a walker. My surgeon came by again. He asked if I wanted to go home tomorrow. “Yes, please!” He said he wanted me to walk a lap of the floor, and then he would release me. Ah, a challenge. Good. He never said anything about my bowel movements. Unfortunately, that was, in fact, an issue. I had not had any solid food since the day before the surgery. I had no ability to make it happen. The nurses called my internist. We tried Milk of Magnesia – nothing. Late in the night, I was given something stronger, a lot stronger.

“Have you had a bowel movement?” Yes, right now! Help me get to the bathroom, or we are in for a fun clean up.

OK. That was messy, but it was out of the way – Now on to walking the floor. Being an ultrarunner has advantages in cases like this. The therapist came by and I told him what I needed to do. He was definitely skeptical. With my walker, I showed him how walking two days after major back surgery was done. He was not skeptical any longer when I raced a man with a new knee, and dusted a woman with a new hip.

I was going home! Less than six days total in the hospital, and that counts the day between surgeries.

It has to be said – I was sad when the morphine drip was removed. The pain started soon after. The ride home was intense. At least I had the Norco, and I downed several during the hour long ride.

The next two weeks are basically missing from my memory. Deborah was trying to get me food and help me in other ways, but she was still on crutches. She had a real challenge on her hands. A home nurse came by, measured my incisions, and took my temperature and blood pressure. She never came back. I did not need her. A home physical therapist came by twice. He showed me some exercises that were easy for me. I walked him to the door using my walker the first day. He was surprised I could do that. The second time was several days later. He brought some tennis balls for my walker. While I appreciated that, I had ditched the walker the first day I had seen him. He did not come back, either. The pain and discomfort were considerable, but bearable with the help of the painkillers.
 
Nice work! It does not even set of the metal
detectors at the airport. I checked.
My back incision. No stitches - medical "super glue."
The front was too ugly to show here.

I regained feeling in my thumb after about a week, maybe a little longer. When I was looking at my incisions in the mirror, I noticed I had significant bruises on my legs and back. I am not certain now if they gently placed me on the operating table, or threw me there. I was very asleep, so they could have done just about anything. I kind of like the idea that they played a game of throw the patient while they waited for the surgeon to get ready. I enjoy amusing people.

By the third week, I was walking a mile down the street. Slow, deliberate steps, but I was moving. My bowels where moving just fine too, thank you, though getting on the toilet was a new adventure in pain. I was able to start eating somewhere other than bed. I was starting to sleep through the night. I started to go to work, which surprised everyone. This required dropping the narcotics, because I need to think clearly and make quick decisions.

Every day I felt the changes. Some numbness in my left leg decreased and is now gone. Years ago, I lost feeling in the front of my thighs. You could have put a cigar out on them, and I would not have known. I fully expected that those guys were gone forever, and my surgeon expected so as well. But, right away I found that sensation had fully returned.

I was up to about 3 miles of fairly hard walking, but still careful, by about 2 months post surgery. I have to admit to getting a little frustrated at that time, because I could not run. I had to let the bone set to ensure a proper fusion. Even a little pounding or a too aggressive twist could ruin that. Running at that point just was not safe. So, to ensure I did not attempt it, I stopped the long walks. Not the best thing, but the safer thing. I know myself. It was the best thing at the time.

It has now been four months since the surgeries. My doctors promised me 80% pain relief, and that I likely would not regain the lost function in my legs. There might have even been other damage caused by the surgery itself. That is the way these things go. But, with big, giant smiles on their faces, my surgeon and my internist both have said that I have scored the rare 100% success. Not only has my surgeon taken my pain away, I have regained all lost function and sensation. All nerves have returned to normal. I am told that just does not happen. I knew I had a world class surgeon, but this is beyond dreams.

With the OK of my surgeon, I have started light running. At three and a half months post-surgery, I wrote this note –

“Three and a half months ago, my medical team performed two major surgeries on my back in an attempt to give me my life back. They said we are doing this so that you will not have pain anymore. We are doing this so that you can run again.

Today that promise was kept.

Today I ran.

It was a mile. I panted and coughed just like I am beginning again - I am. It was a long mile. I took it slow and savored it like a long ago forgotten favorite song. It was a short mile. I wanted more, but I have to learn to run again. It was the best mile. When it was done, I cried a little, for I had no pain.

Today I ran.

And even better, tomorrow I will run again.”
 
My first run of my new life.


Just this week, I wrote this –

“Tied my running shoes with my feet on the floor today. First time in years. Ah, the little things....”

I have a long way to go. My body will continue to heal and adjust to the new hardware for about 8 more months. I need to remain careful to not do anything that will damage my surgeon’s good work. Once healed, I will be able to return to a fully normal life, a life without pain. I am like a novice runner again. One mile, two miles, a little more are the goals now. Each time I go out, it gets better. Easy, though. I still must take it easy and not push too hard. But, I know I am going to get back where I want to be. I will get there through hard work and making sure I let my back finish healing. I owe this to my surgeon, who did what he needed to do to make me run again, at no small risk of not getting paid for one of the surgeries. I owe it to my internist, for helping me in the first place. He listened when so many doctors did not. I owe it to Deborah, for living with me through this, for fighting when the fight left me, and for supporting me through this and through the ordeal that can be my dreams. I owe it to me, for simply enduring and continuing to live my dreams. 

When my surgeon first saw me after the first surgery, he told me it is a wonder to him how I could have done the running and walking that I had been doing with what I had going on in there. I smiled and said it was just pain..... He looked a little stunned and said, "That could not have been just pain." I did not disagree.

To celebrate my return to running and my fantastic return to life without pain, I have registered for the 2014 Napa Valley Marathon, my favorite marathon. It is my deep hope that I can continue in this vein toward Death Valley in August 2014 for my long planned self supported solo crossing. Friends at my current job, and from my old one are clamoring to help out. It will hurt to say that my goal is to do it without help. But, they sure will be welcome to come out and urge me on. That would be more help than anything else could ever be.

I feel so good. It is really hard to believe. The expression of being reborn is overused, but, in fact, that is how I feel.

Onward.

“Badwater” Bill
Acton, CA 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Onward

The long road that seemed to never end, has finally come to its last miles. I have received approval from the insurance company for my back surgery. In the end, it was not an issue of whether I needed the surgery or not. That seemed clear to all involved. It was a small, yet for me critical, issue of coverage for the double fusion. The wording in the insurance policy is clear -- such a surgery is not considered required unless there is clear evidence of dislocation by a certain percentage. Had this been clear to my surgeon and myself during the initial appeals, it might have not taken so very long. The bottom line, the evidence is not there. So, they have approved a fusion at L4-5 and basically a replacement disk and relocation of S1-L5. But, the approval clearly states that if my surgeon finds need for the second fusion during the surgery, that he is authorized to do it. This is fantastic news. I know that my surgeon has no intention of leaving me partly fixed. I will get what I need, and he is authorized to do so.

During my final appeal, I read a statement I prepared about my history, my current status, and how this is making a mess of my life. I was thanked by a panel member. In the end, I think that statement made them want to find a way to make the surgery happen in the way we all knew was required. Yet, that restriction made it difficult for them. After some questioning of my surgeon, this final outcome was found.

Bottom line -- we won. I will get everything I need.

This is another lesson in not giving up and never quitting. It took me some time to get motivated for this fight. My wife and friends kept me going when I could not. In every important way, this was exactly like an ultra marathon. And, like an ultra marathon, my crew made all the difference.

My surgery is January 25th. I feel ready. It will not be fun. It will be painful and the recovery hard. I don't care. Mentally I am more than ready for what is to come. In the end, I will cross a finish line of freedom from pain and a return to the life of running and extreme adventures that I so wish to have back.

My wife will be there to support me during my recovery. I am getting some pre-payback, however. I am supporting her during a difficult recovery time right now.

Sadly, my wife, Deborah, was walking in a cross walk of a shopping center parking lot when she was hit by a car. She was battered and bruised badly, with a huge black eye where she broke the windshield with her face. The worst injury is to her knee where the bumper hit it. She has a minimally depressed tibial plateau fracture, an injury right at the knee. She also has a badly torn MCL. A CT scan shows that surgery is not necessary to reposition the break. But, she must be non-weight bearing on that leg for a full three months! That might sound easy, but it is not. Between the break and the torn MCL, it is also very painful.

I cannot help but think about just how close she was to getting killed. Just a few more miles per hour and she likely would have cracked open her skull and dumped gray matter all over the driver. While that makes for a great visual and a just payback, it would not have resulted in a continuation of our life together. I am much happier with the current result. All in all, she is just recovering from relatively minor injuries -- a lot of them, all over and in her body, but still relatively minor individually.


Deborah will still be on crutches while I am laid up. That will be interesting. We have been through a lot together. This is just a bump in the road. I am going to be fixed, and she is still alive. That is good enough.

So, as I was going to do six months ago, I will post here my progress through the surgery and recovery. I have set my recovery goal of getting to Death Valley in 2013 and doing my self supported solo crossing in August. That is my goal. If my aging body does not let me recover fast enough to make that happen, that will be OK. I will have tried. Recovery is just one more ultra marathon in this thing called life. I will, no matter what, be ready for 2014.

I could not look at it for a while, but now I can and use it for motivation. Please let me share the photo log video I made after my 2010 Death Valley crossing, Death Valley Express. My bad back was killing me, but I made it. Slowly, with a recovery from severe dehydration, but I made it. That is all I really wanted to do, and really could expect to do, given how bad my back has turned out to have been.

Find the video by clicking here. Turn on your sound. The music is a big part of the message.

For now, stay tuned. This surely will be an interesting adventure. Different, but interesting.

Onward.

"Badwater" Bill
Acton, CA


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ain't No Chain Strong Enough to Hold Me


The battle rages....

I am continuing to fight the war with my insurance company. There is a battle here and a battle there. Most importantly there has been no retreat from my side. My team, composed primarily of my MD, my surgeon, his staff, and my wife, will not back down. Though, I have to admit that I have felt defeated more than once, and more than a little let down by all this.

Things were getting worse. In addition to the pain, the nerve damage was starting to increase and show in different ways. My knees started bucking out from under me. There is numbness in my thighs, and I have a general sensation of weakness in my legs. I started to get really nervous about where this was going.

It was a friend that reminded me of the things I have done, planned to do, and a lot about who I am. She said, "Maybe this is why you are an adventure ultra runner - for the mindset." I had to stop, and think. I do not believe in fate or destiny, but I do believe one can make one's own future, and that we are the sum of what we have done and the memories that we have. So, this statement hit a nerve. I thought about how this ordeal is like an ultra run. It has mental ups, it has real mental downs, and it requires unusual commitment to continue. The difference is that this ultra must be completed. I cannot stop. I cannot drop. It is simply too important. It means my life, not that I will die without it, but the life that I want, indeed must live.

Friends have given excellent suggestions that I have followed up on. It is clear, however, there are steps
that must be taken in this process. I am really only beginning.

It was true that I was stuck in a down spot. I was tired, feeling beaten up and beaten. I had a hard time believing I could go on and that there ever would be a good outcome, even if I did.

My friend's comment to me helped me rethink where I was and what I was doing. I got myself a better outlook.

About this same time came a note from my surgeon. He said to keep up fighting the insurance, but also to rest assured that I would have this surgery.

Wow.

That was the other thing I needed, it appeared. A real statement that I would be OK. That my surgeon would see to it. I don't know how, but I believe him.

I felt good, and posted this to my ultra runner friends on Facebook:

"If I get through all this with the expected result, I promise to all of you that I will do extraordinary things with a working back. I must to make all this worthwhile to all those who have supported me through this ordeal.

I will make Marshall Ulrich and Lisa Bliss look like wussies! OK, no one can do that - but, I will push like never before to find my own boundaries, just has they have theirs, only to find they have no boundaries, no limits."

The responses I received were priceless. Lias wrote - "Yay! I would be just thrilled to be wussed by you! Of course you can do it!" Marsh was on a self supported circumnavigation of Death Valley, but I am sure he would say something similar.

I was ready to hit the road and do something amazing. But, I can't really do that, yet. I can continue to fight, and get the treatment I need. When that is done, look out!

"Ain't no chain strong enough to hold me.
Ain't no breeze big enough to slow me.
Never have seen a river that's too wide."
-- Clarence `Gatemouth' Brown

Oh, and since you are here, follow the link in the right side panel to see the movie I made from my Death Valley experience in 2010. That was when I earned my nickname.

Onward.

"Badwater" Bill
Acton, CA

Monday, July 2, 2012

Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You ....

This is a post I do not want to write, but I have to do so. I think I cannot express myself better than I did in a Facebook post and a comment on Friday last week. Though it is not something I like to do, I will cut and paste that into this post. Forgive me for that. One thing of note - this started the day of the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Health Care Act.

"Lost my surgery today. Insurance has flat out denied coverage. This is clearly related to the transition in coverage and an attempt to deny a pre-existing condition. This happened yesterday, an historic day. I have to believe this is, in part, a reaction to that.

To say I am disappointed is a grand understatement. I might never get over this case of man's inhumanity to man.

There are options for fighting, but it is going to be long and hard and might never be successful. To pay for this surgery out of pocket will take everything my wife and I have. Do I have to consider that - yes. But, it is truly frightening.

I would like to sign off in my usual way, and I will. But, it will be hard to face the day today. I am just so deflated. It will be like rolling on four flat tires.

Onward."

And the response to a comment:

Comment from FB Friend: "Do the appeal Bill. Many insurance procedures are denied first time. It is a business decision. Most people don't appeal and the insurance company saves money."

My feeble response: "Been fighting for seven months. This is the 3rd denial [after approvals] and it is only a week out from the surgery. My surgeon and his entire staff are furious and shocked. What happened to me was not a business decision. It was pure spite. I have had to work job transitions around this surgery, prepare for several weeks off, and prepare emotionally for what will be a very painful recovery. I won't go into how this will impact my work and what that might cost others (including the taxpayer), My disappointment has turned to fury. I have been in crippling pain for months. To say that is not important is cruel, vindictive, and inhumane. This country must go to a single payer system. The Affordable Care Act does not go nearly far enough. Our friends from the North know what I mean. I once had proper and humane healthcare support. It was not in this country."

I was pretty steamed. Though I am feeling a bit better, and can see a couple of positives in not having the surgery this week, I have to steel myself for a fight - a fight I should not be having.

With that -

Onward.

"Badwater" Bill
Acton, CA

Friday, June 22, 2012

Life Happens....


I have waited a long time to write this post. Mostly for good reason. There have been many, almost too many, life changing events happening in the past several months. There just has not been to motivation to do it. However, I really must give you an update. That countdown clock has been running and some people have been watching it.

It is with some, but not a lot, of regret that I must say that Death Valley Express III is postponed. I thought long and hard about this. The fact remains, that I might have been able to get out there, but it likely would not have been good. Several months ago I started the process of ending a 15 year job to start a very new and different one in a different city. That included selling a house and finding and buying a new one,  plus packing up and moving. My bad back also started to give me extreme trouble. Also. I had surgery for a bad plantar fascia. That went extremely well, bye-the-way. But, it was just one more thing. 

With all that, I declared I would not be able to train properly for DV Express III. It has been officially postponed until 2013.


Last day at Caltech
My new backyard in the Mojave desert. It could not be better.
First new neighbor to stop by. Friendly place. His name is Gopher, Gopher Snake.

Now, the real issue has become my back. No amount of training will change this. Because I started feeling weakness in my legs, my spine surgeon requested a quick MRI. We found that my ruptured disk has completely deteriorated. I have virtually no space between vertebrae. To make matters worse, the adjacent disk is also gone. This much was not expected. I went under a general and received nine injections of steroids to relieve the pain. It helped, but not like it has before.

Surgery is now required. There is no longer a choice. My surgeon and my internist are very concerned I will do real nerve damage without it. It is no longer about just suffering and enduring pain. We are talking bad stuff here.

A cut from my MRI. The one of the bad disks is pretty obvious.

To help make sure I will have full function and can run, the surgery will be a double fusion with replacement disks. This requires two surgeons, entry through my back to apply the brace, roll me over, and entry through my front to insert the disks. Six hours with an hour to turn me over, at least three days in the hospital, more than two weeks initial recovery, and months until full recovery. 

This will all happen on July 6th, 2012.

The good news is that I will run again! I will run again without pain, or at least much minimized pain. That will make it all more than worthwhile. I can't wait!!!

So, watch this space for updates on the surgery and recovery. Death Valley Express III will then go off as planned for 2012 in 2013 -- and I will be running!

Onward.

"Badwater" Bill
Acton, CA

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"My name's Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump."



"Everybody's talking at me,
I don't hear a word they're saying.
Only the echoes of my mind.

People stopping staring,
I can't see their faces.
Only the shadows of their eyes.

I'm going where the sun keeps shining
Through the pouring rain.
Going where the weather suits my clothes.
Banking off of the North East wind,
Sailing on summer breeze…"

- Harry Nilsson



One of my favorite movies is Forrest Gump, not just for the long run he makes, but the story it tells of a man. Forrest was special - not too bright, but he understood life. He held onto the things he cared about and let go of all the rest. Life took him on a grand journey, a journey of great joy and success, grief and failure. Through it all, he held onto what he knew - that "life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gunna get." 

Life is an adventure, a journey, an undiscovered territory just begging to be explored. Sometimes the journey is of your making. Sometimes you are just there for the ride. As Forrest said, "I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happening at the same time."

Forrest's long run was certainly a favorite of ultra runners, myself included. Saddened by Jenny leaving once again, Forrest needed something. So, one day, he just got up and ran. He ran to the end of the drive, the end of the town, the end of the state, finally to the end of the continent. He was not done, so he ran back. It was just him and the road. As he said afterward, "When I got tired, I slept. When I got hungry, I ate. When I had to go, you know, I went."

I want some of that.

In the summer of 2010, I witnessed what was a real Forrest Gump like run. Danny Westergaard did not one, not two, but an incredible six crossings of Death Valley to the Summit of Mt. Whitney. Having recently lost his beloved father, Danny started with the race and just kept going, and going, and going. With only the support of his most generous cousin, Danny slept when he was tired, ate all the time, and went, well, you know. His achievement helped motivate me as I made my attempt at a double crossing not long after Danny finally stopped.


Bill and Danny Westergaard 2010


Last summer (2011), Lisa Bliss showed us another most incredible thing. She became the first woman, and second person only, to cross Death Valley from Badwater to the summit of Mt. Whitney completely self supported - no help from anyone anytime all the while pushing and pulling everything she needed in a cart. Lisa asked herself the question - "What would you do if you thought you were very likely to fail but stood just a chance in hell that you wouldn't?" Her answer - take the chance. The payoff was huge. I was on the course to see her achieve this fantastic journey, and I could not help but be powerfully inspired. 


Lisa Bliss 2011


But, such a journey was more than this man's aging and broken body could manage. 

Really?

The thought of such a journey for myself did not leave me. Maybe it was because of the question Lisa had asked herself. When I asked it of myself, the answer scared me - take the chance. I had learned a hard lesson in Death Valley in 2011. I did not finish my quest for a second crossing. Not through any fault of my own. It was what can happen to anyone when they go looking for limits. Sometimes your body and mind just say, "No more." 

I also have the very real issue of a bad back. I will not let it hold me down or keep me back. But, I have learned that it can slow me and make my training very erratic.  This is reality. If all goes well, and I never inflame my back during my Death Valley training, then there is little I cannot do out there. But, it has never given me three months, much less six, of uninterrupted training. Accepting the challenge of a fully unsupported crossing just feels like a step too far at this point. After all, only two people, two very capable people, have done it.

But….

I took a step back and asked myself, "Why does such an adventure appeal to me so much? Why is the risk of failure so worth the attempt?"

It comes back to Forrest, Forrest Gump.

In my last post, I mentioned that a significant part of my life has been kept in a mental box, never to be opened or recalled - until now. That part of my life just happened to me. I was a passenger on a train that was not in my control. The ride was miserable and frightening. Everything that happened to me could easily have ruined everything that followed. But, as Forrest so clearly reminds us, you cannot sit and wait for life to happen to you and grab at the good things as they go by. You have to make the good things happen. You have to do it for yourself, and by yourself if so necessary.

Last summer, as I was heading into the sunset, my crew was doing everything for me. Every mile they were there for me. Yet, even with all that support, I got sick. They worked their hearts out for me, and there was nothing they could do. Not really. And, in spite of having the best support anyone could ever ask for - true friends giving fully - I still just wanted to be alone. The solitude in the desert I so craved was being lost in the shuffle of supporting me. I was feeling a bit selfish for a time. But also, I felt just the opposite, too. Here are these people in the heat of summer in Death Valley suffering and working so that I could live a dream. That is how it must be done, so I will ask them again, and hope they find as much joy in what they do for me as I get in the receiving.

But….

The fact remains, I love Death Valley. I love being in it, working hard there, and doing something special there. Do I need to do something extraordinary to find what I am looking for there? Is there something I can do that, while still hard, somewhat risky, and a unique solo challenge, will give me the thing that I want. 

Yes! Yes, indeed, there is....

And, so that is what I will do. 


It is called a self-supported solo crossing. For those not familiar with the route through Death Valley, please see the maps here. There are several "oases" between Badwater Basin and Mt. Whitney -- Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, Panamint Springs, and finally, Lone Pine. I will take with me only enough water, food, ice, TP, that I need to get me between oases. I will resupply, rest as needed, and continue - alone. At the most, this will be about 70 pounds in a somewhat modified baby jogger. 

To be sure, I will not be totally alone. I will have a couple of "watchers" who will see that I am safe. While likely not totally necessary, I have had enough trouble in the valley to know that anything can happen, and it is better to be safe than that other thing. Besides, I am not in this life alone, and I do not want those people to worry any more than necessary.

If you are sitting there and asking, "Why?" then you likely still need to understand the entirety of the experience in a way that I cannot explain. If you have read the other parts of this site and about my other attempts at crossings and remain perplexed, then you are not alone. That group includes me. 

But, I know what I want, and right now I want this. Freedom. Freedom to be who I am, to challenge myself, to take myself beyond. I have taken my life into my own hands, and I will use it. Through this solo test, I will again come to know a person I have been trying to know something about for 55 years - myself.


"The shortest answer is doing the thing." - Hemingway


Onward.

"Badwater" Bill
Tujunga, CA

Monday, January 23, 2012

Opening the Box


This is the first installment for the Death Valley Express III. It is also the first installment of what will become the story of my life - my memoirs, you might say. 

Two writers whom I respect a great deal have encouraged me to produce such a work, thinking perhaps that I have some interesting things to say. After a long hesitation, I decided to take their advice and started work in November 2010. I started the process with a general reflection on my life, and began breaking it down into digestible segments. For good reason, I have not thought about my life from about age five through high school and a bit beyond - well, really, ever. 

But, if I was going to do this thing, I would have to look into that box. 

You know what they say about leaving sleeping dogs lay, and similarly about closed boxes. Well, it had to be done. The box creaked open as I wrestled with the rusted hinges. The wave of painful emotion associated with a stolen youth, nasty experiences, and genuinely bad things broke over me and held me down like a riptide dragging me out to sea.

This was not going to work. Within two months of starting, I found myself so depressed that I was having trouble working, and having trouble training for Death Valley Express II. Running is good for the blues. But, I was not blue. I was in a dark, smokey cave of ill defined grief and sadness. I closed the box, opened the windows of my mind and cleared the air as best I could. And, I got on with life.

By all typical measures, I have been successful as an adult (except financially, perhaps). But that came at a cost, and was driven by a need to be something very different from what I was, and what I might have otherwise have been. The one constant, the one thing I always did since high school, the thing I most happily identify myself with is running. I have always been a runner, and I always will be a runner.

Not long after my abbreviated Death Valley Express II, I spoke with one of those writer friends. Not wanting to leave things as they were, I told him what happened. He was clearly empathetic at some real level. His suggestion was to break it up into small parts. Basically, open the box, grab something, and close it again right away. Eventually, the box will be empty, and it will all be out there for everyone to see, including myself. And it, and I, will be OK.

So, here I be -- starting that process. 

In my next post, which will follow very soon after this one, I will only really just refer to that box as I tell you about my Death Valley quest planned for this summer, August 2012.

Onward.

"Badwater" Bill
Tujunga, CA

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Golden Hour

For Joe, who taught me that an hour is all you need.

There is an ongoing phenomenon currently happening on Facebook. In the past, it would not be unusual to see motivational quotes posted there. The ones I see are mostly those of runners. A little something to help them, and maybe others, get out the door. I admit to the occasional posting of a quote or two. But now, an almost universal and different type of posting has become very popular – the posting of images or pictures with a joke, or, more often, something deeper or motivational. Personally, I find this interesting, but not really why I go to Facebook. I had started writing this post and had decided to set it aside. Then I noticed one of those images. It said, “It is not about not having time. It is about making time.” That is the message I was working toward when I started writing this, but I did not like how it turned out. So, I was motivated to rewrite it.

This piece might inspire a few, and agitate some others. If it does at least those things, then I am happy to have written it.

What is an hour? It is one twenty-forth of the time it takes for the Earth to rotate once upon its axis. It is about three or four times longer than a typical shower. It is about one eighth of the time we sleep at night and work each day. Most of us will live, on average, about 657,000 hours before time no longer matters. If you are waiting and bored, an hour seems like a long time. If you are having fun or focused on a task, an hour seems much too short. An hour is a unit of the measurement of the passing of time. It is a creation of Man to give time meaning and duration.



An hour is golden - for in an hour, you can do something you have always wanted to do, you can take the path less traveled, you can change the course of your life, you can change the course of someone else’s life. An hour can make you happy for the rest of your life, or it can crush you. An hour is long enough to do significant things, but not so long as to make it a burden to use one for something you wish for each day. It is your Golden Hour. It is a key to happiness and a guard against regret.

An hour could have been something very different – a very different duration, or name, because it is the people of Earth who made it up. For those who have enjoyed watching Star Trek over the years, it likely is a surprise each time there is a new alien encounter, time will invariably still be measured in hours, minutes, and seconds as if there is a Universal Master Clock that measures time for all the same as we chose to do on Earth. Maybe. Maybe the Universal translator input, goes to an atomic clock and converts units to species output, so one hour comes out as 2.5679 Vulcanian tuts, or something. But, that just does not seem likely to me, especially since the translator did not come into play until the later series.

For all that an hour can be, in today’s world we seem to have too few of them in a given day to do all the things we claim we must do. The average human is, very simply, not very good at time management. But, each hour is precious, golden. Each hour we let go is an hour gone forever. The arithmetic is easy. You only have so many before there are no more. For some that end will come now, later today, tomorrow. For most it will be later, maybe thousands of hours later. Later will come. It will happen to each and every one of us. It is the way it is supposed to be.


So why do so many people say they do not have time to do something they love to do, or put off things they dream of doing? The average human is a creature of habit, routine, and excuses. We do not even know when we are doing it. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard someone say they do not have time to exercise or run, that they do not know how I fit it into their busy days. There are two things that might be happening here, maybe both. First, it might be a lack of understanding or fear of change in routine. How to make that time in your day? The other is making an excuse out of fear, ignorance, or simply a wish to not explain their choices. Those folks cannot say, for some reason, I do not want to exercise (or whatever). I want to do something else.

Find something you really want to do, that stretches your mind, or your body, or your imagination, or your spirit. That is your choice. Enjoy whatever you do. Maybe you really do not have the time. But, if you want something, it becomes about making the time. Don’t live an excuse. Accept your choices.

Making the commitment to change something is the hard part. It might be the most difficult part of the challenge to achieve something you want. Excuses just let the hours slip away, used for something else.

My wife tells me that this topic comes up again and again in publications oriented toward professional women. There are rarely answers. The challenge for many is real. But, I have to believe, based on my observations, that it can be overcome. Yes, something else might have to give way, maybe something important.

How can it be done? I am the last one to give advice on making time to an overbooked mother, a single father, or a twenty-four hour per day CEO. However, I will tell you I have seen and known each one of these type people and others find a way to make time to do something they really want. They count those hours. They do not put off. They do.

I use running as the example here. Most of my readers are runners. It is also something many people dream of doing – running a marathon. It is something that cannot be put off forever, though age is not really a limitation, it does not help.

Most people think running takes lots and lots of time. As an ultra distance runner, I will not deny that it can take up huge chunks of time. But, that is a choice I have made. It does not have to be that way for just about everyone else.

The key is the Golden Hour. That is all it takes. One hour per day. Not every day, but most days. That includes changing, putting on your shoes, and finding your keys. It does not include the shower afterward. You will do that anyway. At least I hope so.




One hour.





Think about your day that you believe is packed so full. Maybe it is very full, but I will bet you can find an hour. What is it that makes your day so full? If you want to find an hour, you will find an hour. Maybe you need to use the hour that nominally belongs to something else. I could suggest many, but I will also get arguments why those are not up for trade. I am not here to make that kind of controversy.

I am here to talk about hours. They do not grow on trees. They cannot be harvested for future use. They come, you live them, and they are gone. Forever gone. Think about that for just a moment. It will be a moment well spent.

One of the beauties of running for exercise is that it takes so little time to prepare to do, and it can be done just about anywhere. I have known dedicated marathon runners who are also “soccer moms.” They would take their kids to the game and watch while running around the field. One hour – done. Nothing to it and the kids had fun, too. That is what I mean about taking an hour that might belong to something else and using it for you, too.

Of course, there will be days when things do not seem to go anything as planned, and your hour for running somehow gets lost. Some people like to run just after getting up to make sure nothing gets in the way. I am not like that. Mornings are evil. But, when I have had to, I will run in the morning. Maybe that will be the only time you can fit it in that day. Or, it is OK to say it is not going to happen on this day. I will find time tomorrow. That is fine. Running/exercising should be fun, not added stress. If anything, it is a stress reliever when kept in perspective. Sometimes maybe you just do not want to use your hour for exercise or running. Sometimes I sit in my backyard for that hour and smoke a cigar, or watch the hummingbirds feed, or just enjoy the sun.

Sometimes in my hour of doing whatever I want to do, I think about why so many people put off doing something they dream of doing. Why, when we have so few hours in our lives do so many waste theirs doing little or nothing but dreaming of what they will do. I know the truth of this statement: waiting will end in tears for far too many. Live life now. Do not wait. Get ready for something big, and then go do it. For most, that will take little more than an hour most days.

Those of you who have followed my writings know that I have little patience for delay of dreams, and for those who suggest they think dreams are a waste of time. Time is all we have. It is like currency that we cannot earn, only spend. We can spend it on happiness, or we can spend it without thought until it is gone. Those who do not cherish their time will find only regret in the end. And regret is a high price to pay for anything.

Do not waste time. Use every minute of it for something you want, or you feel good about doing. There is no better feeling to have for the rest of your time than knowing that you have used your time well. Then your clock can run down, and you will have a smile on your face.

One hour. One Golden Hour.

It is my hour. It is your hour. Make it matter.


Onward.

“Badwater” Bill
Tujunga, CA