Thursday, December 20, 2012


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.


"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.


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.


"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.


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 -


"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!


"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. 


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.


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.


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


"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.


"Badwater" Bill
Tujunga, CA