Monday, July 18, 2011

What, Me Worry?

Death Valley is never boring. 

A friend of mine is taking on a Death Valley crossing in a unique way. She will be going from Badwater to the summit of Mt. Whitney unassisted, without aid of any kind – no crew, no delivery of fluids and food, nada. She will be pushing and pulling a carefully designed lightweight cart the vast majority of the distance. In that cart, she will carry all that she needs, including nearly 300 pounds of water at the start, and what she needs to take up the mountain with her. If she gets a flat tire, she must fix it herself. Going up Townes Pass, she will still be pushing/pulling more than twice her bodyweight in that cart up that arduous climb.

This thing she is attempting is hard. When successful, she will be the first woman to have achieved this type of crossing. Is she worried? Of course – some worry about what is coming is justified and good. It will keep her on her toes and make things go better.

We are not talking about an average adventure here. This is Death Valley. It is called that for a reason. Let me say it again, what Lisa is doing is hard. It is also certain that this woman has all the tools to succeed, and I am very confident that she will. Yet, things happen, and not everything is within her control.

During an email exchange the other day, I told Lisa I was not yet at the worry stage. That would come later. That night I did not sleep. What kept me awake, running again and again through my mind, was what I would tell her should Lisa not make her goal. What was that about? This is not information Lisa needs – she knows it already. Too much can happen to make any attempt at a Death Valley crossing a sure thing – far from it. Everything has to go nearly perfectly, and if not, you likely will have to suffer a lot. Suffering will carry you only so far, however. Dehydration, sickness, falls, infections, sleep deprivation, and many other things can wear you down beyond the ability to keep going. Crossing Death Valley to Mt. Whitney is truly testing the limits of human endurance, mentally and physically, and sometimes we find them.

But, of course it was not really Lisa I was worried for the other night. I do care about her pure solo attempt and have reasonable concern. But, by morning I realized I was staying awake because it was happening – I was getting worried about me. It is time. I have to be worried. It goes with the game. At times there can be real fear. I was very sick last year. I will not let that happen again. But, can I really make that happen? Could I end up in a hospital? Yes. That is possible. Not likely, but it is a real possibility. I was stuck in the desert last year for what seemed like a long time. I got really scared during that time. I was within sight of my crew. I would have been OK. But, what if that had happened out of sight?

My preparation this year has not been what I would have wanted. A flare up of my bad back put me well behind schedule. Am I ready – really ready? I know that I am, but I worry none-the-less. Things did not go smoothly.  Because this challenge is so big for me, I needed things to go better to settle my mind.

Do I have all the preparations and gear in order? Mostly, but there is still a lot to do.

Have I found the right shoes, socks, and lubricants to keep me from blistering severely? I don’t know. I will not know until I get out there and try it.

So much else creeps into my thoughts. Will my head be screwed on? Will I be mentally ready to push beyond and keep going? Will my crew remember to take care of themselves and not just me? More. There is so much more. Are my signs for the vehicles ready? Last minute orders – what if there is a backorder on something key? It never stops until the start.

I would be remiss if I did not say what is really bothering me. Lately I have been suffering significant heel pain during long workouts. Sometimes it is rather unpleasent. That is OK. I can deal with that. But, what worries me is that the most common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis. I have had plantar fasciitis (an inflammation of the plantar fascia, the tissue that forms the arch of the foot) in the same foot. It is in some cases career ending. It also can be very painful. I do not need this now. It could also be a heel spur, a forming of a hook of bone on the heel, and is often associated with plantar fasciitis. There are treatments and I am doing them – ice, stretches, Advil, the usual drill. But, as with any injury, the one true cure (if there is one) is rest. Rest! Not now. So, what am I worried about if I am simply going to continue? Well, if this does not resolve there is one inevitable. To quote Clubber Lang from Rocky III, when asked his prediction for the coming fight with Rocky, he said, “Pain!” (Picture Mr. T staring directly into your eyes, emphasis on the P.) But, beyond “Pain!” I worry that I might do long term harm. I do not want to face a choice out there.

I will be at Badwater for the start of Lisa’s adventure. After that, she will be on her own. On her own, but not out of our thoughts. I, for one, will be with her each step of the way, if only in my mind. I cannot wait!

One day, I will have her courage. I hope. Body willing.

“Badwater” Bill
Tujunga, CA


  1. Nice post Bill. I am looking forward to following both Lisa and you (as best is possible given the location). I am missing not being in the valley this year. Crewing the big race three years in a row was awesome. Not sure I could do that crossing, furthest I've ran is a 50k but I can live through my friends who do the crossing. I've known Lisa for over 15 years. We both used to live in Chicago and ran together on the Chicago Lakefront. She blamed me on the Ultra list of getting her into this sport, I guess that is one "It's Ian's fault" I like. She is in for a big adventure. I am happy you'll be there to see her off. Please report back. Then good luck with your solo, I'll be watching. Cheers Ian

  2. Bill! I read it and wept. I am about at my wits end with the preparations and there is not enough time. The cart, the water, the food, the mountain, the 60 degree temps I just ran in today, my current state of sleep deprivation, and now just this weekend... heel pain and PF from an un-asked-for change in my orthotics (long story). I do not have time to get them fixed. I will just have to bear it. It is what it is. While I wish worry on no one, I am comforted that you personally understand. I know how you feel, why you didn't sleep. Pre-race jitters I am used to but this is exhausting beyond measure. I try very hard to remind myself of the best advice that I heard (advice I give to others!)- that there is NO little thing - no sock or shoe or calorie or extra 30 minutes in the sauna that will make or break this challenge. It's going to be hard, freaking hard. Sure, a bad injury or a storm or something could be the deal-breaker (and there are certainly reasons to stop and try again another year), but not these little things, the things we WORRY about. Those are just little excuses in our minds. Our treks be hard and yes painful, but it only our minds that can break the deal. It's ok to not get the goal due to some serious reason as long as we give it our very best. I strongly believe there is no failure in that. And I strongly believe our best is good enough. Thank you for caring and sharing and I can't wait to see you Monday morning at the Badwater Basin. (I was going to post this on your blog and not publicly here on facebook, but then thought that would be kind of unfair and not real. So, I'm posting on both. :) ) Thank you, Bill.

  3. Lisa, now that we have shared a few tears, there is little I can add. You are right about the little things. In the end we will do this with heart and soul, not with the a few extra minutes heat training or a couple extra miles here and there. While I am not ready to stop worrying, I do feel confident again in my ability to push when called upon. That is what is important. That is what we both will do. We can. We will. See you soon.

  4. Choose flat surface whenever possible. Rough terrains are bad for your feet.