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8,000 Meter Challenge – More Than a Day of Trails

I know I need to write something here but I’m honestly not sure how to begin or where to go. If you would like to see the data and specifics of the 8,000 meter challenge, check out the write up on the Off Road Pursuits blog, here I’d rather just talk about what it meant to me personally.

When I originally asked Jess, Dax, and Carlyn if I could join them during their attempt at the 8,000 meter challenge the idea was simple. I’ve never attempted to summit Baldy, Gorgonio, or Jacinto so I wanted to find out if I could do them all in one day. It’s been too long since I put myself in a solid position to fail and I needed to get out there and test myself again. I would be joining Jess for his last big training day before Leadville 100, hopefully do as much as I could and if all else failed I would act as support for the group while they finished what I couldn’t.

Then on Thursday, while I was spending the week alone in Idyllwild, I got the terrible news that our good friend, Ben, and his climbing partner, Gil, had gone missing in Peru. I spent all day and night wandering aimlessly around the cabin praying for the best case outcome while trying to get a signal on my cell phone to keep updated on the progress of the search. While I know that these types of situations rarely end well, I also know that Ben is one of the strongest and most determined people I have ever met and if anyone could get themselves out of a bad situation it would be him.

While I spent all day Friday trying to keep updated on the search I debated on whether I even wanted to go out and do the challenge and I wasn’t the only one. Dax sent out a fantastic email that summed up what we were all thinking. We all were hesitant to go out in the mountains with a friend missing but it would be the only true way to honor his spirit and the best way we could find to send our positive energy to Peru. To finish the email Dax had a great suggestion, keeping with Ben’s belief in Naked Wrist Racing he asked that we all take on the day with out our watches and GPS. It turned out to the one of the best ideas of the weekend.

While my concern was going in to my biggest challenge in terms of mileage, time and elevation that I have ever done, it has always been my watch that kept me on track with my calories. How would I do without knowing how often to take in my food. Well, as it turns out Ben addressed this with a great Nietzsche quote early on in his post about it: “Necessity is not a fact then, but an interpretation.” It turned out that if I just stop thinking and let my body do what it needs to do, I’ll be fine. That would turn out to be an overwhelming theme later in the day.

So with the following in mind, “if a fulfilling run is part of the game, and especially if the time is not too important, the Naked Wrist can be a good option,” we met up on Saturday morning to start on an adventure that would turn out to be more than I even imagined.

Goal #1

With a start just before 6am, we set our sights on the summit of Mt. Baldy knowing it would be a warmup for the big climbs later in the day. Ben was immediately on my mind and would remain there throughout the day. Baldy is the shortest and steepest climb of the day but a good one. Never having done it before the time seemed to fly by and we were able to summit and get back to the car on Jess’ “warp speed” time projections.

Taking a moment to reflect at the summit

Stashing a memento of Ben’s unusual fashion sense at the summit

After getting back to the car we made a quick change and got on our way to San Gorgonio. As we were driving I did the math and was surprised to realize I had taken in exactly as many calories on the mountain as I would have if I had a watch and was keeping track of time. It looks like maybe my body does know what is best for it, another lesson from Ben.

By the time we got to the parking lot for Gorgonio it was already starting to get warm so we through on the layers of sunscreen, prepped the packs and hit the trail. Gorgonio is the longest of the three climbs but, despite a brutal steep switchback start to the trail, it’s incredible beautiful. The combination of the scenery, the ridiculous music accompaniment which would include Ace of Base, Carly Jepsen, Sir Mix-a-Lot among others, and the great company the mountain went surprisingly quickly. I hit a brief low point on the ascent which I recovered from quickly and again on the descent that a small piece of Dax’s beef jerky saved me from. Other than these two instances I really enjoyed this climb. Ben couldn’t have been more right, without a watch to worry about I was able to take in so much more of the beautiful nature I was surrounded by and enjoy the company I had out there. The final push to the summit was a long, exposed effort but it was completely worth it to just put my head down and charge to the top. The views from the top were amazing and I immediately understood why Ben thrived when he was in the mountains.

Final push to the summit

San Jacinto (peak #3) in the distance

After a long descent which featured all of us starting to battle a little bit with various stages of soreness, stomach issues, and fatigue, we made it to the cars to start the drive to Jacinto and our final climb of the day. We jumped in the car and less than a mile down the road Jess pulled over and we pulled in behind him. Expecting Carlyn was about to succumb to the stomach issues she was having Dax and I waited for the passenger door to open and see her leap out. It was Jess that stepped out of the car and headed in our direction and I immediately felt something was wrong, then he gave us the news that Ben and Gil’s bodies had been found on the mountain in Peru. I was speechless, it was like getting punched in the stomach while in a headlock. All the air was completely out of my body. Dax and I sat there silent for a while trying to process what Jess had just said. How the hell could Ben be gone? There has to be a mistake! He’s one of the strongest people I have ever met he can survive anything. He’s told me about things he’s done that I don’t even understand until I go home and look it up and realize just how amazing the accomplishment was. There is no way he won’t be joining us for the R2R2R run in the fall that he was organizing.

Finally when I couldn’t take it any more I put the car in drive and pulled out. I had to do something to try to stop thinking. The drive to Jacinto was a mix of silent thought, Dax and I trying to find the right words to help ourselves come to terms with the news, and an overwhelming sense of loss that turned to inspiration and finally determination. There was no way I wasn’t completing this climb of Jacinto. Ben was a huge inspiration to me, not just his physical ability and the things he accomplished but the way he lived his life. He was one of the most passionate people I met and without question one of the most well rounded. Some of the best parts of running with him were listening to his ramblings on everything from 90’s Hip-Hop, to climbing, to the Dalai Lama. It never ceased to amaze me how many topics he knew intimately and how passionate he was about each. However, the thing that left the biggest impact on me was Ben’s complete intolerance of anyone not pushing themselves. He surrounded himself with people that strived for greatness and in turn he pushed all of us to be better and stronger as well. He didn’t have time for people that made excuses, were afraid or too caught up in what other’s thought to put themselves on the line. Ben truly lived by the Prefotaine quote, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

On one of my earliest runs with Ben we discussed this philosophy and how much he hated people telling him how “amazing” something he had done was. At first I thought it was a harsh way of thinking, that the everyday jogger wasn’t as good as those that could do more, go longer and do it faster. But then I realized, it wasn’t the jogger that Ben had a problem with. It was the jogger that never wanted to be anything more than that. It was in him to desire more out of himself and those around him and he couldn’t afford to spend his time wanting more for you than you wanted for yourself. He had great things to accomplish and he wanted you along for the ride.

It was with all of this in mind that when we got to Humber Park to start our climb of San Jacinto I was reinvigorated and ready to tackle the mountain.The group had a swap of women as Carrie joined us for Jacinto and Carlyn stayed in town due to her stomach problems and constantly rolling her ankles. There was no need for her to keep pushing, she has an Ironman soon and can’t afford to get hurt. Unfortunately, my mind and legs being ready to go wasn’t enough to convince my stomach. While I was staying on top of my calories all day this was the first time I had done anything that woud take this amount of time and all the gels, chews, and waffles I took were catching up to me and I had no desire to eat anything sweet. I was able to get in a few hundred calories on the way up the mountain but once we hit the summit I had a fig newton and a couple sips of water on the entire descent. It wasn’t enough…or even close to enough. We were all hurting on the climb but we were able to pass the time with stories of Ben, recounting our favorite runs (unanimously the JTree Traverse), and generally doing our best to honor Ben the way he lived his life, by pushing ourselves to be better and stronger than we were when we started the day.

My lack of calories was causing me to crash badly on the way down but one constant thought kept me moving forward, Ben wouldn’t quit. It hurts? Who cares? Keep moving! Summiting Jacinto was tough but getting back to the car was probably the hardest thing I have ever done mentally and emotionally. There is no question I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of Dax, Jess, and Carrie and especially the constant thought of Ben in my heart and mind.

Tahquitz Rock, one of Ben’s playgrounds

I felt just like this picture looks

While I was typing post this I got a call from Toby, who was very good friends with not only Ben but Gil too. Toby was on his honeymoon when this happened and I wasn’t able to talk to him until today. Honestly, one of my biggest concerns was how he was doing with the loss. Of course, Toby was way ahead of me on this and was able to put in to words what I wasn’t. We didn’t lose two friends on the mountains in Peru, they will never be lost because of the impact they have had on our lives. We may not be able to make new memories with them going forward but they will always be there with us. Every time I step on the trails I know Ben is out there in the mountains ready for the adventure.

Much like Ben found a renewed sense of determination since the passing of Tim, it is now on to us to find our purpose and drive in this world. What is it that we will do to make ourselves and those around us better people? It’s up to us to live our lives to the fullest, we can no longer be happy just knowing someone that pushed themselves to the edge and live vicariously through them. Ben would never want us to live that way.

Rest in Peace Ben and know that your legacy is in good hands. We will all continue to Pullharder in your honor!


The Lake Hodges Trail Fest: One more step towards realizing dreams

Friends and Family,

As most, if not all, of you know by now this year has held some huge changes for me. At the end of 2011, I put in my notice at the San Diego Running Institute and by the end of January I was officially without a job and heading in to full on self-employment or bust mode. My mission was to realize a dream of mine to be able to support Carrie and myself while meeting three very important goals I have set for myself:

  1. Do something I truly enjoy.
  2. Be free from the constraints of a boss and work schedule.
  3. Give back to the community around me.

The first step towards realizing my goals is almost here. On June 23rd I will host my first event, the SoCal Wine Country Women’s Half Marathon and 5K, in Temecula, CA. The response to this event has been more than I dreamed of when I first put the idea together and it has been a very reassuring sign that I am on the right path. With the race coming up I’m getting more and more nervous and excited about race day.

The second step towards realizing these three goals is the one that I am the most passionate about. With the introduction of the Lake Hodges Trail Fest coming this October I am able to not only do something I love but, more importantly help give back to the community that has given me so much. The Lake Hodges Trail Fest serves as a fundraiser for Outdoor Outreach, an amazing non-profit based here in San Diego. Outdoor Outreach’s mission is to empower at-risk and underprivileged youth to make positive lasting changes in their lives through comprehensive outdoor programming.

Imagine growing up within a few miles of the Pacific Ocean and never having seen the beach. What would it be like to have no idea what the world holds beyond the few block radius around your neighborhood? When I was introduced to endurance sports it began a transformation in who I am as a person. Through my continued exploration of the outdoors, I not only learn more about the environment and world around me, but more about myself as a human being. There is nothing I want more than to be able to share that feeling and inspire that continued growth in others.

So the Lake Hodges Trail Fest is more than just another step towards me realizing my dreams it’s a starting point for others to begin realizing their’s as well.

Want to make a small donation to help Outdoor Outreach? You don’t have to run the race, just stop over at our fundraising page and donate whatever you can afford. Even a couple dollars can be what it takes to help someone gain an greater understanding of themselves and the world around them.


I know it’s nothing new but it’s something that, for one reason or another, has been popping up more frequently in my observable life (I guess if I can’t observe it then it’s not really part of my life, but anyway). There are constant excuses being thrown around for accepting the way things are and not doing what you can to change an undesirable situation. I’m not talking about on a global scale or even in the community, there is no point in discussing things of that nature because people continue to refuse to take responsibility for themselves and do what needs to be done to better their own life. So I threw a few things down and figured I would share the thoughts here, that’s what this is for right?

Everyday we arise with a million excuses in our mind that prevent us from living. Some are small; “It’s cold outside,” and some are more significant; “I have to work,” but they are all the same when they prevent us from truly living our lives.

There is going to come a day when it will be too late and there will be only one excuse for why we aren’t doing what we truly want. I pray that when that day comes you can say, “I had my excuses, but I was the master of them and not the servant to their desires. I lived my life to the fullest, with no regrets, and welcome this day like all those that came before it.”

Leave of Absence

As I’m sure you have noticed, I haven’t updated in a while. There are a lot of reasons for this but mostly just that I’ve been too busy with work, training, and life in general and this has become a significantly lower priority.

I’ve got some massive life changes in the works so it doesn’t seem like I’ll be able to get back to regular posting in the near future but if I can, I will. Unfortunately, this blog is going to have to be put on the back burner for a while til I can roll out some new and exciting things.

If you want to follow what I’m up to (Joshua Tree 37 mile traverse in March & PCT50 in May on the schedule so far) and keep in touch the best way is probably Facebook. I use Twitter sporadically so you can catch me on there once in a while too.

If you want to get me on either of those platforms, here are the links:

Thanks to all of you that read this blog and support me in my endeavors.

Solid Training and heading to St. Louis

I just got back from a 13 mile run at Lake Hodges to cap off a solid week of training.

After my longest and one of my best rides so far on Monday, I was scheduled for my typical Tuesday morning run but the poison oak came back with a vengeance and I couldn’t handle the itching let alone what I knew it would feel like once I started sweating. I took the day off from running and worked from home while trying to keep from ripping my skin off.

Despite missing my Tuesday run I was able to pick back up on the routine with a swim Wednesday morning. My sets and overall workouts are starting to get longer and I’m feeling good. I’m going to need to get Carrie to the pool with me though because I know my form isn’t where it should be. The evening brought Carrie’s Wednesday Night Strength class which kicked my butt like usual. This time it was the box jumps that worked me over.

Thursday was a great 9+ miles with some of the Dirt Devils in Tecolote Canyon. We had a good turnout and the current temps are perfect for runs in the canyons, chilly but not cold.

Friday I substituted my 2nd ride of the week with a trip to spin class with Carrie. She’s been going and has really liked it so I decided it was time to see what I was missing. Apparently what I was missing was sweating a small lake around a stationary bike while trying to block out the intense burning in my legs. This was my first spin class in a LONG time and sweet baby Jesus did I feel it. I think I’m going to start adding one of these a week because there is no question that I need it!

Saturday morning I went out for a short run to make up some of the miles I missed on Tuesday. Since I would be running longer on Sunday this was going to be the first time I’ve done consecutive days of running since before I started with the injury nonsense a while back. I was a little nervous but I’ve been feeling good so I went for it. I headed down in to the canyon and went for an easy 6 in Tecolote Canyons 2 & 3 and it was a perfect way to get the body moving before work.

And that brings us back to today. I was at Lake Hodges to time an 5K event that was put on in memory of Officer Jeremy Henwood. It was a great event that brought out 200 people to raise money. After the race I went out to run the Foxy Run (formerly Painted Rocks) Half Marathon course. I love this course and it’s part of the ride we did on Monday. The trails around Lake Hodges are a great mix of single track and double track and there are a ton of options to get a lot of distance. I let myself push the pace for the second half because I won’t be getting a lot of training in so I wanted to make sure I felt it during this session. I did, and it felt great!

Here are a few pics from today’s run:

Carrie and I are headed to St Louis tomorrow morning to spend Thanksgiving with her family. I’m looking forward to spending some time with her family and seeing her nephew, Isaac. He’s a cool little guy and just turned 4 this week. Not only that but they’re gonna try to culture me up a little bit with my first ever trip to the symphony. I’ll do my best not to embarrass Carrie (too much).

Have a great week everyone and Happy Thanksgiving! It’s my favorite holiday of the year and I hope you enjoy it at least half as much as I do.

Weekend of Trails

What a weekend…

We got it started with a drive up to LA on Friday to work the timing for the Griffith Park Trail Half Marathon Saturday morning. It’s only the second time I’ve ever actually gone in to LA and what an awesome venue for the event. In case you don’t know, Griffith Park is the location of the Hollywood sign and is an impressive park in the middle of LA. It has a great system of trails and the observatory gives impressive views of the city. We got lucky with the weather and Keira Henninger did an amazing job putting on a top flight race which everyone was raving about. Wish I could have been running but I still had a good time despite some problems with the timing system when we got started.

After the race Carrie and I got on the road back to SD and it wasn’t our best road trip. I picked up a rough case of poison oak on Thursday in Tecolote (yes…AGAIN) and it really flared up Saturday morning. Adding to that, Carrie wasn’t feeling well and we had brutal rains. Fortunately, I have an amazing wife and she stepped up and drove us home while I forced myself to sleep under the influence of Benadryl in an effort to avoid the insane itching.

Saturday night sucked and I was up til 3am because the itching wouldn’t stop and I couldn’t get to sleep. I woke up on Sunday after about 2hrs of sleep and decided I would head out to Mission Trails with all the best intentions of completing my scheduled 13 mile run. Unfortunately, good intentions can only carry you so far when you are exhausted, dehydrated, and lacking proper nutrition in your system. And how far is that? Apparently it’s 6.5 miles of hiking and “running”. I knew from the first mile that it wasn’t going to be a good day on the trails so I decided to get what I could out of it and try to enjoy it. I hit my goal of making the summit of both Fortunas and I was able to snap a couple pictures since I wasn’t breaking any speed records out there.

View of downtown, Point Loma, and the Pacific from 16 miles inland

Then there was Monday….and Monday more than made up for Sunday. Yesterday was about as good a day as someone could ask for. It started with a trip to the pool for a solid workout of drills and intervals. Carrie is starting to up the distance of my swims and it’s feeling good. After the swim, I went home to refuel with a delicious breakfast before heading out to Lake Hodges to meet Toby for a mtb ride. We ended up hitting a new-to-me trail (always a favorite) along with Raptor Ridge and rode all around Lake Hodges. We covered a bunch of ground and ended up getting in over 25 miles of incredible variety. We hit single track, fire road, hills, fast flats, downhills, and even a bit of paved road for what is probably the best ride I’ve done so far on the mtb. Every time I get in the saddle I’m feeling more comfortable and confident. I’ve still got plenty to learn but progress is being made! We capped off the ride with some great brews and ridiculous burgers at Urge Gastropub. Between the ride and Urge, I need to start spending more time in that area!

What a perfect day….

Top of Raptor Ridge

Defending his turf with everything he's got!

Lake Hodges

What does success mean to me?

My youngest brother is in his freshman year of college and on Sunday asked if he could interview me for a class project. In typical Kyle fashion, I wasn’t given any other details but of course I said yes. He sent over the questions and on Carrie’s suggestion, I’ve decided to post my responses below.

I later found out he was asked to interview a role model…I hope my answers are worthy of that title. I also hope he stops emulating my school work tactics so much and waiting until Sunday to start a project that’s due on Monday!

1. What does success mean to you?
Athletics are a very important part of my life so that is going to be where I approach the answers to these questions. Sports have taught me more about myself and developed my approach to life in more ways than I could have ever imagined.

Something I’ve learned over the past few years is that there are many measures of success. However, only one is important, that’s the success that’s found from reaching your own personal goals. External influences can drive you to be successful, but in reality this will make you to try to be the best that other people think you can be or want you to be.

Success means that I set a goal that I want to reach, no matter how unattainable some people might think it is, and I strive to achieve it. I put everything I have in to making that goal a reality and I will become successful. Even if I don’t achieve the planned outcome, I will have learned something about myself in the process that will change the way I chase down that goal or other goals in the future.

Pushing myself out of my comfort zone to find new limits of what I am and who I can be, that is success.

2. What does hard work mean to you?
Hard work is doing what has to be done to be successful. Endurance sports have taught me a lot about life and hard work is one of those things. No matter how much I love running, biking, and swimming for hours at a time, there are times when I just don’t want to do it. The bed is much warmer than the cold pool deck. My legs are sore from last night’s gym session and the miles on the trails just sound painful. I have no desire to get all my gear together and get out the door for a bike ride.

Then I stop and look at the big picture. What goals do I want to achieve? What’s it going to take to get there? The hard work is doing the little things that need to be done to reach my goals. It won’t always be fun and sometimes, it’s just going to suck, but I do it anyway, because that’s what it takes!

3. What achievements make you most proud?
As important as it is to be internally motivated, the achievements that make me most proud aren’t the ones that show how good I can be at something or show me what new levels I’ve accomplished. While that is a part of it, the achievements I am most proud of are the ones that I can look at and know that I’ve done the best that I could to demonstrate the incredible influence on my life that my wife has had; knowing that my family can be proud of what I have done and that I have opened their eyes and minds to new possibilities in myself and their own lives; and knowing that something I have done may motivate someone else, even someone I have never met to push their own limits and challenge themselves to try new things.

4. What are your work values?
Honestly, I wish I had better work values from a traditional standpoint. I truly despise work, especially when it’s something I’m not passionate about. I hate the thought of getting up every day and doing the same thing over and over again simply because I have to pay the bills or support a family. To me, there is nothing more terrifying than being stuck in a position where I have no choice but to continue showing up to a job every day because I can’t afford not to.

I know I was raised in a working class family and taught to work hard so that I could retire and enjoy my old age, but unfortunately, I see a major flaw in that. Why would I want to enjoy myself when I’m too old to take advantage of it? Why should I work myself to the bone during the prime of my life only to be able to relax when I have no other choice but to sit around and relax?

My work values from a job standpoint rely on one simple thing; do enough to support the things I truly love. When you find the things that you truly love, work like crazy to be the best you can be at them and enjoy them to the fullest! If you can make those two things; your job and your passion, the same, then you have found a place in your life that can make you happy for a very long time!