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Thursday, January 11, 2018

90 days left - where did the last 170 days go?


That momentum I thought I had for future posts went out the window as I wrapped up a busy semester.  Once the semester ended, I headed up to the Pacific Northwest (the states of Washington and Oregon in the US for those of you from far away).  I skied and skinned with my pals and they taught me a thing or two about youth (don't waste it).  Today (Tuesday) marked a milestone where I both began training again in earnest after skiing during the holidays.  Finally, I felt good enough to train after suffering from 3 sinus infections.  Ah...all is good now.  So, 90 more days until I will be in Kathmandu (as of January 9th).  Here is what I can offer as an update.

1.  I am physically fit to leave today.  So if I am fit already, why continue to train?  Over the next three months, I plan to lose a few pounds to make climbing a wee bit easier, break in some new(er) gear while staying fit, and implement a few training changes to put the finishing touches on what I believe is shaping up to be another great preparation.  I am fit to climb today but I have some minor details to iron out.

2.  I keep learning with each adventure.  My first Everest preparation focused a fair bit on training.  I found that fitness was only one aspect of alpinism and a very small part.  In preparation for my second Everest expedition, I focused more on hypoxic training AND fitness.  Together, these two approaches provided me with sufficient stamina to reach Everest basecamp in a day and a half (well short of the 5 days it took us in 2014).  Still, I thought I could do better.  For my third time (and final attempt), I am combining the two previous bits with another approach - get hardier.  I figure being fit, acclimatized, and hardy gives me the best shot of tolerating anything.

3.  Hardiness training comes easier than I thought.  Preparing for marathon swimming gave me insights into how training leads to better tolerance for extreme environments.  Specifically, I learned to tolerate cold water by simply immersing myself in cold water, cold air, and warming up naturally.  I now vary my diet, eat simple foods, and push myself to be uncomfortable.  Every day, I take cold showers to develop better cold tolerance.  These efforts are easy and enjoyable.  You can say what you want but after a while, I find comforts to be uncomfortable.

4.  Weight training takes priority over cardio training this time around.  I found that too much cardio training lead me to lose muscle mass.  Rather than push my time running, and working out on the elliptical and bike to build my cardiovascular fitness, I now focus more on weight training to maintain my strength.  I focus on legs more than upper body but I cannot let my upper body go to pot.  Upon my return from Everest, I have a month to recuperate and then I head back to Ireland for more marathon swimming in Cork (hi to my Cork Distance Week friends).  So, I hope to remain strong throughout the entire preparation.  

5.  My plans are shaping up.  I leave on April 5th for Kathmandu.  More details to follow.

Thanks for following along.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

10 lessons learned in 100 days of training: 160 days left before I head off to Everest again

Greetings family, friends, and followers.  I am not one for lists.  The internet click bait of "7 reasons" or "10 most..." are just that - bait.  I actually learned things in the past 100 days and figured I would share them with you.  Further, my aim is not to pursue things because they serve some purpose of filling out a dossier of collected experiences.  Instead, I prefer to experience them and let others keep track if they desire.  After careful reflection during the past 100 days of preparation, I figured it might be mutually beneficial if I provided you (and me) with a written account of what I learned.  Some might find these lessons rather trite while others might never expect that training for an expedition would lead to such insights.  Regardless of the impact, I list the top lessons with a little explanation following each.  Here goes...

1.  Nothing beats a routine - find one that works for you.  I attempted to integrate several new training procedures into my preparation and slowly found that the procedures that really taxed me the most - the stuff that made me maximally uncomfortable - were those I often neglected.  I am no different than anyone else.  Comfort, relaxation, entertainment, and such drive me toward acceptance whereas the opposite often requires a greater effort to practice daily.  Lifting weights and core exercises for me are not my cup of tea; I do them because if I do not lift, my muscles will atrophy and if I do not keep up my core strength my back causes me fits.  Thus, lifting and core exercises are important parts of my preparation and yet these are the most often skipped portions of my daily training.  So, what did I learn?  I found that doing these right away ensured that I completed them during the day.  I wake up now, check all my vitals (spO2, heart rate variability (HRV), weight, etc), complete my breathing exercises, and then head straight to the exercise room to do movement prep (warm-up exercises), core exercises, and lift - all before breakfast.  By sticking to this routine, I have yet to skip these important aspects.  I also know if I don't do them right away, I find too many life events (work, family, email, etc) interfere with me getting them done.  So, my new routine helps me stay on top of these oft-neglected parts of my training.

2.  Rest and stress go together to make us (me) better.  I do well under stress.  The harder the training session, the longer, more taxing the session, the better I feel.  My HRV even shows this effect so it is not a cognitive distortion.  I was built to go forever and when I rest too long, I feel flat, uninspired, and often react paradoxically.  What I learned from these past 100 days is that my morning HRV does not lie.  If I stress myself and my body is ready for rest, my HRV scores reflect that readiness to rest.  That might not sound very insightful but consider the depth of what I learned.  My HRV scores tend to go south (low is bad) when I do not sleep enough, eat poorly, and don't drink enough water throughout the day.  Yep, nothing really insightful there either.  These scores predict how I will perform 2-3 days later.  I ignored them (a bit) early on in these 100 days and later found myself sick and struggling with sinus/ear infections.  As I licked my wounds throughout the recovery process, I saw a trend.  The rest my body needed was more subtle and was easily detectable by a slight downward progression of HRV scores until the floor fell out.  Yes, the trends are what matters - not just the individual scores.  For more on this point, I intend to post my data so you can see where I saw the trends.  Stay tuned for a future post with data.  The point is that rest and stress go together but in ways that may escape detection.  We all need to monitor what we do, how we do it, and when we do so to understand the complex relationship between rest and stress we benefit IF we actually change to adapt to that relationship.  

3.  Nagging injuries often reflect many problems - not just one.  I learned this lesson when training for my marathon swims.  My shoulders and back were aching before, during, and after my long swims and I figured it was more due to training load than anything else.  Dominic Latella - my wonderful stroke mechanics fixer-upper - noted some really bad tendencies I had with my freestyle stroke and, after I worked with him and complied with his drills, all those pains went away.  Preparing for Everest over the past 100 days, I learned that my nagging right knee pain was due to my running.  Previous years where I put in equal amounts of training did not involve as much running.  I would run between 10-30 minutes but often just jog around the corner and through the neighborhood to breathe the fresh air after too many hours of gym training.  Those runs convinced me this time that my body was ready for 30 minute runs - at least every other day.  Boy was I wrong!  My knee pain never subsided and I attributed it to too much pounding with too much weight (I was fat to begin with due to my swimming preparation).  As my weight decreased, my knee pain diminished but it remained present enough to affect my sleep.  Sleep changes, training load increases, and more pounding left me concerned that my knee might be fouled up for good.  Nope!  Thankfully, I can report that the knee pain was solely attributable to running.  I now intend to reduce running to the bare minimum, stick to no pounding exercises, and stay physically healthy.  Sometimes the pain is due to the obvious and others, the pain is more complicated.  Listen to your own body and test what might be the cause.

4.  Losing weight is easy if you have a purpose.  When I began my training in earnest, I weighed 198 lbs (almost 90 kg).  That weight was largely in my upper body with a good portion of both fat and muscle.  Upper body weight is useless in climbing.  We climbers want large legs to carry us up and small upper bodies - strong enough to hold our packs but not much more than that.  The shift in body weight is an important and difficult change for many and I found it tough initially to lose the weight because I had an inclination to keep some residual weight on to later lose while climbing.  My aim was not to lose weight while climbing per se but rather I know I lose about 1 lb (1/2 kg) per day above 15,000 feet (approx 4600 m).  Yes, that weight loss is inevitable so I plan for it accordingly.  Doesn't matter how much I eat, I lose that weight.  So, back to my weight loss at home.  I knew I needed to lose weight to train effectively and to redistribute that weight to be more productive for climbing.  Once I started the 100 days, I figured I needed to see the purpose of my weight loss.  Every day, I read about the route of my climb.  That reading lead me to internalize the purpose of my weight loss - to make every step easier.  The lighter I am the easier my climb would be provided I was not too light and too frail to maintain my strength.  I want excess weight to lose but not too much weight where I get injured training.  So, my lesson here - pay attention to the purpose and you will realize your goal.  Oh, for those who want to know how much weight I lost...stay tuned for pictures.  I went from 198 lbs (90 kg) to 177 lbs (80 kg) in these 100 days.  Not bad.  I would like to be in the low to mid-170's (78 kg) for the next 100 days to give my joints a break.  Also, I could afford to lose a few pounds of muscle in my upper body and move it down to my legs - a change that requires me to lift more with my legs (ugh!).  

5.  Nothing beats a little distraction on long, boring training sessions.  I worked my way up steadily to 90 minute sessions on the elliptical and bike - all indoors without much distraction.  The TV in the exercise room along with my computer provided me with hours of distraction.  When on the elliptical, I read/replied to email, kept abreast of research articles, posted to my research group, wrote several articles, and even ran some data analyses.  I am not that adept at typing while on the elliptical machine or on the bike but I can muster about a 6-10 words a minute.  The slow typing allows me to think.  When I am not able to think or type, I resort to the TV and consume something that keeps my mind off the drudgery of endless hours keeping my heart rate between 130-145 bpm.  I wish I could see the outdoors but remaining productive or entertained is a reasonable trade-off to the outdoors when I know I can mix activities.  Many of my students even endured meetings with me while I train.  I thank them profusely for putting up with my oddities during the Google Hangout sessions.  Without their acceptance, I might find it harder to fit these long sessions into my work-life balance.

6.  Our bodies may not fit the 7-day cycle but our lives require us to fit training into these 7 days.  I tried to the best of my ability to fit a training cycle of 10 days into a 7-day life without much success.  Early on in these 100 days, I found it easy because the maximum time demands were small enough that I could easily fit in 2 hours spread throughout any day.  Now, I have 4-5 hour days and life just interferes with those training demands.  Even if I break up the time into smaller increments, I could not accommodate the training load when I had a busy day.  Thus, I am returning to my 7 day cycle.  I know my body does not fit with the weekly cycle but my time demands require me to work with the hours that work for me.  My next phase of training (Strength Building) will be based upon 7 days and will incorporate more pre-planned rest days (see next lesson).  

7.  Looking forward to a rest day is a huge motivator for me.  I tried to schedule a rest day every 10 days.  That schedule worked for me with respect to my physical functioning and recovery but it did not work for my psychologically.  I need more frequent rest bouts where I know rest is coming.  When we climb, we know rest times well ahead of them.  We can put in an effort to get us to the rest point and then keep going afterwards knowing that the rest we had was the rest we needed.  I need both physical rest and psychological rest; the 10-day rest cycle was just too psychologically taxing for me to ever feel rested.  So, my plan is to build in rest based upon my 7-day work schedule.  Busy work days will only have brief workouts that energize me (movement prep, lifting, core, and stretching) and no long cardio sessions.  On days where I can really devote my day to training, I intend to put in my "summit" days - the days where I train for 8+ hours and get the real feeling of fatigue experienced during summit pushes.  

8.  When increasing workload, it is extremely important to limit hypoxic sleep.  I decided to experiment during these 100 days with both increasing my workload and increasing my hypoxic sleep altitude.  What did I learn?  Hypoxic sleep is very taxing and does not allow me to both increase my workload and increase my altitude.  I figured this might happen but the point really hit home when I failed to recover from several rather pedestrian days of training AND I got sick twice in the process.  My HRV scores were horrible, my motivation to train waned, and my morning spO2 really suffered - all as a result of pushing myself too hard and too quickly without adequate recovery built in to the process.  My aim now is to get strong at 11,000 - 12,000 feet (3350 - 3650m) and fully recover from my training routines.  Once I enter the final 100 days of preparation when my fitness and strength are both optimal, I intend to gradually increase my sleeping altitude and carefully monitor my HRV (recovery) and acclimatization (spO2).  When I experience a recovery setback, I intend to decrease my sleep altitude AND reduce my training intensity.  I learned from my two 10-day illness recoveries that hypoxia and training need to be carefully coordinated.

9.  Expedition planning with climbing buddies makes the entire process much more enjoyable than being a member of a group that plans everything for us.  I never really liked field trips as a kid nor do I enjoy their adult versions like tours and such.  Planning adventures are part of the adventure and when things to wrong, I feel part of the experience - not just a person who is affected by the events.  I remember in 2015 when Sam, Alex and I were trying to arrange our schedules when we returned to Everest together.  That process of collaborative planning reminded me of why I so enjoyed expeditions that I planned with friends rather than these types of climbs where we are obligated to climb with an organization (Everest climbers must register with a Nepali or Tibet organizer to be permitted to climb).  Still, even if we are dependent upon an organization, I found that interacting with Sam, Alex, and Brendan (my climbing buddy for Aconcagua and now for Everest-Tibet) made the process much more enjoyable.  I wish Sam and Alex could join us but we shall climb together again in the future.  For now, I have a pal to coordinate plans and I so much enjoy that process than to think that I am going along with a huge group without much required of me to sort out.

10.  My dalliance as a "non-fan" came to an abrupt end for a good reason.  Many of you know me as a die-hard Notre Dame Football fan.  I yelled at my TV for many Saturdays over the past 3 decades.  The weight of each play, each win, and more so of each loss often affected me for days and often weeks following.  Yes, I was a fanatic.  The fanatic in me was starting to affect me in ways that I felt the need to give up sports for a year.  I took the entire 2016 off from fandom.  For the first time in that 30 year span, I didn't plan my life around the ND football season.  Saturdays were just another weekend day filled with activities that did not include yelling, celebrating, sitting, watching, traveling, pining, hoping, praying, or anything else that we fans typically do during games.  I filled my life with reading, listening, and thinking about science and other areas outside of sports.  My cash flow benefited too.  I unsubscribed from all the paid publications that were central to the fan of ND football.  Also, I cut the cord with Verizon's cable service.   All told, I figured I saved about $1000+ just by eliminating all these expenses.  Moreover, I devoted my time to learning new skills.  During that year, I developed a keen interest in programming Arduino modules, integrating sensors into my home automation, and mastering Python and Java (after many years of just dabbling in those languages).  So, I gained a lot from the time away from fandom but I felt I was missing something in my life.  My friends and family who are also die-hard fans no longer had me as a conversationalist.  I didn't read the sports pages, kept up with no race, ranking, or happening that would soften the blow to the "hey, how are you doing?" conversations that guys struggle to honestly answer.  I needed the fandom but I didn't need the stress.  So, this year, I decided to rejoin the ranks but do so without the same stress.  My son and I watch college football every Saturday - together.  We arrange our schedules to spend the time together.  He now yells more than I yell.  I'm not sure I am proud of that but obviously the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree.  I need the distraction.  I need the connection with my friends and family (mostly my cousins who I share so much in common).  I need to be a fan but not one who gets polluted by the bile that comes from the immersion into the sports.  No, I am no longer following recruiting (as I used to) and I didn't resubscribe to those publications.   I now just watch the games and I watch them with much greater appreciation for why being a fan is important for me - it gives me something to look forward to every week.  How does this lesson relate to the past 100 days?  I learned that some distractions that might appear as "bad habits" are probably more beneficial than harmful.  Bring on the Olympics in Feb and Let's Go IRISH!!!

I have many more posts to share my thoughts as I enter the final 160 days of preparing for Everest.  My flights are almost booked, my climbing adventures for this December are planned, and I am nearing the fitness I had prior to the previous climbs.  Here we go!  Expect more frequent updates.  I have a ton to talk about and hope you continue to enjoy the posts.  Thanks for following along.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Quitting isn't always failing: The four levels of quitting

A few days elapsed since I posted my latest news.  Rather than keep bludgeoning you dedicated followers with my weekly updates, I intend to send out some of my musings about preparing for these events.  Today's musing is about quitting.  

A few friends recently attempted some epic swims and some of them in their words "failed themselves."  One person went so far as to offer an insight so rarely read on the always positive side of Facebook by stating publicly "[t]hank you all for the comments and messages. The recurring theme seems to be one of assurance that I "gave it my all". Unfortunately that was not the case. Not going to make excuses. Simple answer is it all got too much for me and I gave up and quit... again" (PH, 2017 after he "quit" his North Channel attempt; permission granted to include quote for those who are wondering).   I admire the honesty in this post - especially in a forum so replete with syrupy sweet positive posts.  My friend was right.  The situation got too much for him and he gave up.  So, is he a quitter?  I think not.  Let me explain fully....

Quitting isn't always failing

Quitting doesn't always fit into a neat little box where we ought to characterize someone as a quitter and/or a failure.  Sometimes quitting is the smartest thing a person can do given the circumstances; sometimes quitting is what a person does who is not committed to an outcome; and even other times, quitting is what quitters do who never attempt anything.  To explain these dimensions, let me break down my own taxonomy of quitting and you can decide for yourself if you fall into any category at any one time.  I experienced all four and probably other levels of quitting without realizing it.

Patrick's Taxonomy of Quitting

Quitting while you are ahead:  Professional athletes who age to perfection often get questioned about quitting "at the top" rather than slowly deteriorating and retiring as a "washed-up" hero.  Those questions are tough because professional athletes often persist at their sport because that sport is all they know.  Quitting in those circumstances might be quitting on life and losing the only semblance of meaning the person maintains.  Even people outside sports understand this problem.  Do you retire early from work and "soak in" the virtues of a retired life or do you carry on with your work to provide you with meaning?  These questions haunt us all.  Quitting is part of this question and the decision to quit does not characterize who we are or what we value.  Sometimes quitting is a good thing and other times quitting can be quite foolish.

Quitting without trying:  On the opposite end of the value spectrum are those who quit without ever getting off the couch.  I quit piano without practicing one lick; quit learning Spanish without much effort; and quit learning to program in C (opted for C++) because I simply couldn't muster the enthusiasm.  I quit a lot and a quit without trying.  For those activities that I quit, I have nothing to say but that I obviously didn't have the desire to continue on.  Does that make me bad a person?  Nope.  I simply quit because the activity held little value in my overall purpose in life.  Quitting under these circumstances means that I had no staying power, no motivation to strive for more, and no will to put up with the hassles.  I know many people who quit without trying.  I'm not proud of these moments because these represent what we think when most of us envision quitters.  I fell into this category of quitter many times.  

Quitting while under duress:  Many of us have quit when the going got tough.  I recall many instances in my life when things just turned sideways and I had enough.  There were countless climbs, outings on the ocean, and such that simply overwhelmed me at the time and I felt at peace with quitting because I had no other option.  I quit when I know the stakes are too high and I don't wish to test my fate.  Quitting here is not quitting.  I see this version of quitting as the one that creates the greatest shame for those who experience it.  My friend who posted on Facebook probably felt a bit of this but I would argue that his quitting falls more with the last level than with this one.  Sure, the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland is one if not the most challenging marathon swims on this planet but quitting under duress here is not quitting and giving up.  I believe quitting under these circumstances fall more in line with...

Quitting to reassess and to attempt again:  Many of us quit while we are ahead.  We quit after we assess the objective and subjective risks with an endeavor and, after careful reflection - the kind that is so abundant for us marathon swimmers and mountaineers alike - we opt to turn around or to stop.  That judgment is hardly quitting.  Sure, we quit but that act is not the same as any other act of quitting.  Our decision to quit stems from motivation to pursue the goal, faith in ourselves to accomplish that goal, and the meaning we derive in attaining the goal.  All of these parts and perhaps others go into what we consider before we pull the proverbial plug.  After we quit, we start planning our next attempt.  Quitting in these circumstances is learning from our failures of preparation - sometimes both physical and mental.  I spoke with countless adventurers and they all recount times when they quit but never times that they simply gave up and never returned.  Each of these "quitters" were simply taking a break to reassess their objective.  They dust themselves off and dive back into the next attempt.

I admire those "quitters" who fall into the latter taxon.  These folks are my heroes.  I admire those who succeed by facing adversity - especially if they find themselves on the lousy end with several attempts.  Think about all the times you believe you quit.  Do you consider yourself a quitter or a loser?  If so, think carefully about those instances and whether you gained much from the experience.  Quitters who never even attempted the risk are those who might be most apt to criticize the failure but for those of us who have failed and then succeeded, we admire you.  Keep on quitting until you get it right!


Thanks PH for granting me the rights to quote you.  Your post stuck with me for weeks and I was bursting to write this blog post for myself and for others.  Hope you found it somewhat instructive.  Also, thanks for all of you for following along with my adventures.  You'll read more about how I quit, pick myself up, dust off, and keep going.  

Monday, August 28, 2017

Back in the saddle again....

It has been a while since I posted to my "climbing on purpose" blog.  Forgive my absence; hopefully some of you are still interested in my pursuits.  Just to keep everyone (new and old) up-to-date on my goings on, here is a very brief recap...

2014:  I traveled to Nepal to climb Everest.  After the Khumbu icefall incident that killed many Sherpa, the Nepali government shut down the mountain.  I went home bummed and $40K poorer.  The events soured me on the whole Everest experience.  I was just astounded at the whole ordeal and wondered if this type of adventure fit my tastes.

2015:  I traveled back to Nepal to give it another go on Everest.  This trip ended with a similar result - no climbing - but Mother Nature one-upped herself and gave us a nice shaking in the form of an earthquake.  Many people lost their homes and lives.  It was a real tragedy and I left again about $40K poorer without even a sniff of the climb.  I was less bummed after this failed bid because there was nothing that could be done by any human to make the mountain safe.  Also, I felt somewhat relieved to be able to leave in good shape and healthy.

I left the mountains behind for a bit while I decided to focus my energy on swimming - a long-term goal of mine was to swim the English Channel.  So, in lieu of training for another climb, I started to swim and swim and swim.  Right after I returned from Nepal in May of 2015, I started to organize my English Channel swim.  I was fortunate enough to find a slot on a late tide in September with Neil Streeter aboard SUVA.  Mother Nature again proved more powerful (as usual) than my luck and I was sent home from Dover without even an attempt.

2016:  The setbacks from the previous years gave me a focus and resolve for training and adventure.  I set my sights on completing the open water "Triple Crown" and do it fairly rapidly.  The truth of the matter was that I had originally focused on only two of the swims - the Catalina Channel and the English Channel.  After completing them 9 days apart, my swimming friends urged me to complete the "Triple" by entering the 20 Bridges Swim (i.e., swim around Manhattan island).  Everyone in the marathon swimming community supported my bid and I was lucky that all the pieces fell into place.  After August 15th of 2016, I completed the three swims in the shortest time on record.

What these past few events taught me was patience.  I am not really a patient person; I wish I were and I am practicing being more patient every day.  The events that lead to these setbacks were not controllable by me or by anyone else.  My best bet was simply to get up, dust myself off, and prepare for another challenge.  So, I am here to tell you that I am ready for my next challenge - Everest 2018.

Some of you may wonder why I would try again after dropping a few years of college tuition on this endeavor.  Often, I tell people that I am just too stupid and too stubborn to give up.  Those past attempts were not attempts.  I never got past Camp 1 on Everest!  This time around, I intend to climb from the North (Tibet) side with SummitClimb (again).  My good pal Brendan Madden and I plan to climb together.  If you followed my previous posts, you'll recognize his name because he and I climbed Aconcagua together.  We are off for Everest in April.  Follow along as I provide more details about our adventure.

For those who wonder how I am preparing for the climb, I invite you to check out my daily training log.  I completed 38 days so far and will send routine updates on my preparation.

Thanks for following and stay tuned for some exciting pictures and updates.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

I'm embarrassed....but honored. Please vote for the WOWSA Open Water Swimming Awards.


I learned recently that I was nominated for the 2016 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year.  Check out the list here.  The reason for my post is to get you all to vote.  Vote for who you think is most deserving but vote nonetheless.  Why?  Open water swimming needs your support and everyone's support.  We open water enthusiasts get nary a mention in any of the swimming news.  SwimSwam (a great site for swimming news) offers stories of dogs more than people and rule changes more than performances.  At least they mention open water swimming.  Sites that have less dedication to swimming but focus on sports in general don't even give open water swimming any credit.  

People do amazing things every year and scarcely anyone outside our little, awesome community pays much attention.  As Cheryl Ward (my coach and friend) wrote to our team "[v]oting ends in 2 weeks. I just did it and it took me a minute to register with open water swimming (it's free don't worry), then a minute to scroll down to the performance of the year nominees and put a checkmark beside..." the person who impressed you the most.  My wonderful coach Cheryl asked our team to vote for me.  I'm humbled by the support but I urge all of you to vote and vote for the person who you think really did the swim of the year.   Click here to vote. 

Permit me to offer a little insight into some of my friends.  First, Roger Finch - a Facebook friend and a person I met several times while I traveled the world - represents all that is good about this sport.  He was nominated for 2016 Open Water Swimming Man of the Year and I think he deserves it like no other.  No offense to the others on the list.  Roger is selfless and dedicated to the sport.  I have yet to hear one person mention his name without the words "awesome" or "terrific" in the same sentence - all without profanity mind you too.  I wish the same could be said for yours truly.  Second, you all need to read each and every nominee for the women.  These gals are fantastic!  I am not sure who ought to win but I can say confidently that they are all extremely impressive.  From professional swimmers, Olympians (medalists too) to full-time professionals who endure these swims, I found myself torn to endorse any individual.  Instead, I will encourage you to read about these fabulous women and to express may warmest gratitude for being included on the same page as these fantastic folks.  

So please vote.  If you don't know what I did, you will read about it on the page.  For convenience, here is what they said:

Patrick McKnight (USA) Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming

Professor Patrick McKnight made two attempts at climbing Mount Everest in 2014 and 2015, but then he turned his focus on completing the fastest Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming in history. The 50-year-old had a target on a record set by a world-class 24-year-old from one of the hotbeds of channel swimming. He made his plans, he bought his airline tickets, and he left no room for going off plan. He started with a Catalina Channel crossing on July 12th in 11 hours 4 minutes; he crossed the English Channel on July 21st in 12 hours 54 minutes; he completed his Manhattan Island circumnavigation on August 15th in 7 hours 31 minutes to break the record by 1 day. For his eclectic interest in conquering challenges from tall mountains to tough channels, for taking on and breaking a record of an elite swimmer less than half his age, for flawlessly pulling off his 34-day plan en route to living a purpose-driven life, Professor Patrick McKnight's Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming is a worthy nominee for the 2016 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year.

Bottom line...VOTE!  Again, click here to vote. 

Thanks for following and thanks for your continued support.

My next post....about our next expedition to Antarctica.  Stay tuned.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Taking some time off


I know I have been silent for about 6 weeks now - nothing much to write about other than a few small sailing adventures and an ongoing battle with some nasty infection.  I sailed to the Bahamas with some friends.  

Life on a the November.  Ain't life great?

We called ourselves the "four guys whose wives hate sailing" crew.  It was a fun time in some wild conditions.  

Overall, I would call that a fantastic getaway.  What made it slightly more interesting is that I am battling some mutant infection that manifested itself as skin lesions that just won't go away - at least not without large quantities of antibiotics.  
Just a few of these beauties I may start to name
So the past few weeks I have been taking daily doses of things like Ciprofloxacin and Doxycycline along with as much probiotic I can tolerate to prevent my gut from losing this battle.  Yeah, it has been fun.  I hope to be able to resume normal activities sometime in December but I suspect I won't be able to train much until January.  For now, I enjoy the time off and my refocus on work.  Yes, I do work.  

Thanks for all your support.  I hope to start posting more soon about my next few adventures.  Stay tuned for when those details come available.  In the meantime, have a great time on your own adventures - big, small, foreign, domestic, new, or routine.  We all have adventures in us; take as many as you can while you still can muster the energy.  Thanks again and see you soon.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Getting the go

I promised to continue my explanation of what drives me to do what I do, however, I am feeling a bit of an itch that I need to scratch.  What better way to scratch the itch than to go?  So, what do I plan to do?  I was thinking about the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains:

The hike is 21.7 miles (~35 km) long with 8,800 feet (~2.7 km)  of elevation gain.  I want to do it in 24 hours or in a single push where I can go fast and light.  My friend Neal told me about this hike when we were in Nepal together.  Ever since that chat, I was intrigued.   

Anyone care to join me?  Before making a decision, I want to you to make it an informed one.  Yeah sure, it will be a blast.  It might also totally suck.  I can't promise much beyond the facts I have in hand.  Speaking of facts, I managed to collect a fair bit of beta on the hike.  Here are some details:

1.  10 peaks to summit (North to South order)

Peak 1:  Madison – 5367 feet
Peak 2:  Adams – 5774 feet
Peak 3:  Jefferson – 5712 feet
Peak 4:  Clay – 5533 feet
Peak 5:  Washington – 6288 feet
Peak 6:  Monroe – 5384 feet
Peak 7:  Franklin – 5001 feet
Peak 8:  Eisenhower – 4780 feet
Peak 9:  Pierce – 4310 feet
Peak 10: Jackson – 4052 feet
2.  Weather

Late October is always a little dicey weather wise. I figured the leaves turning colors and the fairly decent dry weather we all enjoyed over the past few weeks shouldn't last long so time is of the essence.  So, like any good climber, I check the weather forecast for the most volatile peak:  Mt. Washington.  The forecast calls for rain, ice pellets, and snow this weekend with 20-35 mph winds.  Sheesh!  Sounds like my kind of weather.  A great start to a Fun 2.0 journey.  I plan to monitor the forecast all week and make the call on Friday if I plan to go.

3.  Water

Looks like water may be an issue.  Two of the water stops for most traverse hikers close in mid to late October.  If I push off next weekend, I may not have water for two long stretches of the hike.  No refills mean I need to carry more.  I figured I could get away with a collapsible Nalgene like this one:

and my LifeStraw tucked inside for filtering:

That won't work if I need to ferry too many liters of water.  Of course, I could haul up a 3-4 liter camelback but that defeats the aim of fast and light.  We shall see.

4.  Trail conditions

Apparently the hurricanes that blew through the Northeast over the past decade laid waste to some of the trails - at least on the trail guide books.  I don't know the validity of that account but I do know if the rains come down, the trails will be a mess.  So, I might need to hike in something other than my flip flops.  NOT GOOD.  I prefer my flip flops to just about any other footwear.  

The All-terrain Olukai Ohana - my footwear of choice year round

Yeah, you think I'm crazy.  I never get blisters and my feet are always warm.  Heck, I hiked to Everest basecamp in flip flops; what might 10 small peaks in the White Mountains offer me that Nepal doesn't?  Don't answer that question.  Please.  Still, the trail conditions may alter my gear options.  I'll consider some closed toe shoes of some sort.

5.  Transportation

I am not sure how I will pull this off - either solo or with friends.  Right now, if I go alone, I need drive up to north side of the traverse, hike down south and then find a ride back up to my car.  Another option is to go with someone else.  We would drive separately to the south side of the traverse, leave one car, then drive together to the start (up north).  When we finish, we would drive up to the start and collect the other car.  Makes sense to me.  The downside of that is we need to haul two cars all the way up to NH.  I prefer to hangout with my adventure mates.  If we hike together, I like to drive together.  Doesn't make much sense to drive for hours separately so we can save being stranded 20 miles away from our car.  I could run back to the car if necessary - that might make for more adventure and an even better story.  Better be sure there is a ton of beer ready to consume if I hike then run.  Need to sort out these details later.

So, there you have it - my initial ramblings about this weekend's potential adventure.  I'm getting totally stoked just thinking about getting out of suburbia.  So, any takers?  I'll buy the beer and gas.  

More Beta

Anyone interested probably ought to read some more beta for your own edification.  Here are some links I found useful:

There are probably a few other links elsewhere on the internet - especially on SummitPost.  I couldn't access SummitPost this morning (or last night for that matter) but you may be able to later.


One other important detail.  I cannot take off until Saturday morning; Friday, we have a lab shindig at the pub.  Also, I might be a little slow that morning after consuming a few too many pints of the fine stuff.  I'll do my best to curb my thirst for Guinness but I cannot promise I'll deliver.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Telling my story: The beginning (Event 3)

So now you know that my thirst for adventure comes from my desire to create new memories where adversity allows me to perform optimally.  Today, I have a more somber event to recount but, perhaps, the most profound event in my life.  

Event 3:  My greatest loss

After college, I felt directionless so instead of pursuing a job, I decided to enter the Peace Corps.  Why not?  I figured.  Well, a few snafus later and that option went away.  The options seemed rather dangerous with the Peace Corps and my mom wasn't too keen on the idea of me being shipped off to some far-away place and get killed.  We agreed that I could live with her for a summer, train for triathlons and volunteer at the hospital she worked while I figured out my next steps in life.  She really wanted me to get a job and start acting like an adult.  I had other plans...or rather no plans to be an adult.  I did what I knew how to do, learn.  So, I decided to stay with her and learn what I could about my options.

That summer was great.  I swam every morning with my youth swim team and masters group at Roberto Clemente State Park.  After practice, I would head up to Montefiore and enjoy all the great food the Bronx offered at the time (bagels, fresh fruit, and egg sandwiches).  Every work day, my mom and I would meet for lunch and then travel home together from the office.  I am sure she treasured that summer as much as I did; we had a ton of fun.  The weekends often revolved around my triathlons.  She drove me up and down the east coast in search of better competition and more interesting race terrain.  I recall many instances post-race where she offered her candid and sharp feedback.  Given her sacrifices, she wanted me to do well and her feedback was often tough to swallow.  Regardless, we still laughed a lot and I learned to really enjoy my mom's company.

That summer was the last time I really had much time with her alone.  Late that summer, I decided to move to Tucson, AZ sight unseen and go to graduate school - one of the best decisions of my life.  While there, I met Kat (my wife), dedicated myself to triathlons and science, and became who I am today.  Two years after my move out west, my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  She asked us to fly back to NYC in August 1990 so she could tell us the news in person.  She died 15 months later.  

I still find myself choked up when I recount her last year.  To say that her dying was the single most significant event in my life doesn't do justice to her.  She was my critic, defender, supporter, cheerleader, apologist, and all other roles that ever boy needs from his mom.  I never really thought she would die.  Seriously.  The thought never occurred to me.  When she was diagnosed with cancer, I thought she was in good hands at Montefiore Medical Center and that the cancer specialists would find a way to save her.  We all watched helplessly as she wasted away.  I couldn't bear her suffering but I wanted to be around her to tell her how much I loved her.  In fact, during the past few months of her life, I divulged every wrong I ever did and told her that if she lived, I would dedicate myself to making up all those wrongs to her by doing something good for her.  For her.  Yes, for her.  I never got the opportunity to make good on my promise.  In December, 1991 she passed away.  She never had a chance with that cancer.  I was devastated.  I couldn't even bear to be around my family so I left NY and didn't return for a while.

Mortality:  My mom's death forced me to confront the one thing I never comprehended - my own mortality.  I was young.  Before she died, I was 25 and still had the sense of immortality; afterwards, I realized that life could be short.  Time was of the essence to experience things that life had to offer.  Every day counts.  Be kind to people, soak in what life offers you (good and bad), and be grateful you have the opportunity to gain that experience.  

Make every day count:  I am not always a good practitioner of this motto.  Some days seem to flit by without any importance.  I know this because even to this day, I recall what happens each day and at the end of each week.  My memory game really sheds light on the importance of each day for each week.  Still, some weeks go by and I don't feel like I am doing much at all.  I write, work with my students, analyze data, train, and read but those things seem trivial to the big picture.  One event really put things into perspective for me.  I qualified for the national championship triathlon - a race held every year and that year was hosted just outside of Chicago (Gary, IN - not far from Notre Dame where I went to college).  My race went horribly wrong.   I just didn't care any more about competing.  The thought of my mom struggling with cancer made racing seem so trivial.  I couldn't muster the drive to compete any longer.  That race was the last one I ever did as a way to best others.  From that moment forward, I realized I had to race against time - make every day count by not doing things that mattered to others but not to me.

My legacy:  My greatest sense of accomplishment these days comes from my son (below) and my students (too many to count or fit into one picture).  If you think I am adventurous, compare my son's exploits with mine.  Before he turns 21, he will have been to more countries, watched more crazy events, and camped out more times than I ever did at his age.  Hopefully he takes to adventure like his dad. 

Since birth...
Patrick logged countless hours in the jogging stroller,
Probably logged 2000 miles in heat, rain, wind, snow, and sleet
Driving from Tucson to Portland, OR - every year, twice a year.
Coming back from the UK after my EC swim.  First class...of course.
On the boat during my Catalina Channel swim - at the finish
Aboard SUVA before my EC swim

Patrick on Aconcagua among the penitentes
Cool dudes on Rainier in 2013
and back yards:

Not happy with me at the moment....because I asked him to help me clean up the back yard.  Oh well.

Every time they succeed, I feel successful.  Each step they make along the road to improving, I feel productive.  Their failures are opportunities for advancement and I tell them that repeatedly.  They are collectively my legacy - something I learned from my graduate advisor (Lee Sechrest) and from my mom.  Lee taught me that it is far more productive to model and reward scientific productivity than to merely practice it yourself.  I subscribe to that model as I subscribe to all methods of leveraging my time and energy.  My legacy comes from modeling how to deal with adversity.  Only through working hard, trying new things, and extending myself beyond what I thought possible will my son and students realize their own potential.  My pursuits provide a legacy that my mom would be proud to follow.  She might find it a bit harrowing at times but she would realize that I need to do this to feel alive.  I know it and hope she is following me now.

Every day I reflect on my memories, the opportunities that adventure offered me to optimally perform, and thank my good genes and dedicated preparation for more adventures in the future.  The three events recounted in these posts keep me focused and keep my thirst alive.  

An obvious follow-up question is..."isn't this just an adrenaline addiction?" or maybe you are asking yourself "will he ever find himself?"  The answer to the latter is easy - I found myself a long time ago.  My answer to the first question shall be detailed in my next post and it my surprise you.  Stay tuned for rest of my story.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Telling my story: The beginning (Event 2)

Previously, I recounted how fleeting memories pushed me to want to create new, meaningful, and important events that deserved to be recalled.  Today, I offer you the second important event that shaped my thirst for adventure.  Here goes....
Event 2:  Hurricane David

One event that really shaped my thirst for adventure was a trip gone wrong that ended in us sailing through Hurricane David in 1979. 

Hurricane David's path in late August through early September 1979
 You need to see what we sailed in to really understand the gravity of that adventure.  

Our boat:  an early 1970's (don't know the exact year) Ericson 27 called Luffin' Lemon.  Yes, it was yellow.  It was our first family boat and one that lacked most amenities except for horizontal spaces to sleep and some sails to help us move through the wind.  The boat was more like a floating camper.  Here is a nicer version than our boat - perhaps a few years newer too:

Below deck was comfortable for small people and offered plenty of space of the inhabitants of Lilliput:

A "newer" Ericson 27 interior - Very Spartan

Our crew:  I grew up as a reluctant sailor - often forced to go on trips I didn't really appreciate at the time.  Sean and I frequently commented on the "cool" power boats; we sensed my dad found those comments irritating at best but we persisted.  To say we were a happy sailing family might be a stretch.  We shared each other's company on a small boat with very rough sailing skills.  Still, we made it work.  

The Trip:  Then came our family decision to sail to Newport, RI in the late summer of 1979.  Newport hosted the America's Cup every 3 years and 1980 was the next event.  Every year between those events, the boats and crew would train and match race in the waters outside Newport.  It was a really cool place to be during that era.  Sean and I enjoyed those trips while my mom would drive and my dad would yell at us.  You know, it was family sailing in the late 20th century - perhaps no different than sailing in the late 19th century among the famine ships. But I digress....

A Friendly Visit:  After departing at night from Newport and sailing through the wee hours, we noticed a huge flood light cast upon our little boat.  The flood light was the start of a bizarre event.  The US Coast Guard boarded our boat at about 2am.  Sean and I were half asleep and my dad held onto a bilge pump handle ready to defend us from attack.  The officers who boarded our boat appeared ready and better prepared than my dad for a fight.  They had their weapons drawn and were likely to fire at him had they detected his possession of the deadly bilge pump handle.  Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and they were off the boat after an hour of searching for contraband and illegal aliens - from Rhode Island no doubt.  I never knew why New Yorkers felt the need to keep Connecticut and Rhode Island residents from stealing their way into our fine state.  These folks could drive after all; there was no need to sail through the night.  Heck, walking might have been faster than sailing - especially on that night when there was no wind whatsoever.

Weather?  We heard the vague storm forecasts, but in those days, NOAA weather radio wasn't really the definitive source for bad weather.  We figured the best source would be the US Coast Guard.  As the officers left our boat, my dad inquired about the weather.  Their response?  "Nice weather ahead for you.  Have a safe sail."  That was it.  That forecast couldn't have been more inaccurate.  The real forecast was for torrential rains and strong gusts up to 90 mph with stead winds in excess of 70 mph.  Yes, the forecast called for hurricane David to blow through as we sailed down Long Island Sound from Newport, RI to Port Washington, NY (our home port).  The storm tracked well eastward of us leaving Long Island Sound on the deadly right side of the storm.

Water and more water:  Immediately after the Coast Guard left us, the light breezes we experienced over the past few hours gave way to strong, steady winds with noticeably warmer air.  In fact, it got really warm.  There were no comfortable spots down below even though that area was drier than the area on deck.  Sean and I sat with my dad in the cockpit as he steered our little boat's tiller with both hands.  The wind wasn't all we experienced; the waves started building too.  We found ourselves in a tempest as the winds picked up the choppy waves and turned them into walls of water.  I saw only water - water blown into my face, water in the cockpit, and water falling from the sky.  There was water everywhere.

Fear takes hold:  My dad ordered us to go down below.  We weren't really concerned so we asked to stay topside and watch what was going on.  It was clear from my dad's voice that he was growing tired and feared we might not be able to sail out of this storm.  I think Sean had that sense too.  We sailed close to the Connecticut shore where we knew huge bands of rocks made those ports almost un-navigable in even the best conditions.  We weren't in the best conditions.  In fact, we were in winds that were slowly ripping apart our little boat.  First, our mainsail ripped.  The boom sunk lower toward the deck as the mainsail tore horizontally.  If it weren't for the few threads that held some bits together, the main would have cut in two and dropped the boom onto the deck with some force.  I guess we ought to have been grateful for those threads.  Meanwhile, up on the bow, our jib was in tatters.  We had no way of dropping the sail because it was just too treacherous to leave the cockpit.  Heck, even the cockpit was treacherous.  

Holy s#*%!:  We limped along without much functional sail area at a fairly steady 8 knots.  For many of you, that may seem rather slow.  Our little boat was no speed demon but it wasn't a barge either.  In most reasonable breezes between 10 and 20 knots, Luffin' Lemon would cruise at about 5 knots.  Again, not bad for a small boat.  Now, we were going much faster; Sean and I took great pleasure in yelling out to my dad..."Dad, holy s#*%!, we are going 15 knots."  I think my dad almost had a heart attack.  He was exhausted and ready to call it quits.  At one point during a few exchanges, he was preparing us for our uncertain fates.  The boat was handling poorly, we had no communications, no clear navigable coordinates, and no clue how we were going to survive any longer in these conditions.  We decided to head for land.  It was really our only choice.  The boat was falling apart, the waves were huge now (20+ feet) and we could barely keep the water from crashing into the cabin.  We sailed into Guilford, CT at about 3pm that afternoon after nearly 12 hours of sailing in extremely high winds.  My dad could barely speak or move he was so tired.  By some luck, we managed to avoid all the rocks, sand bars, and break walls in our path and beached the boat in an estuary up some little isolated, overflowing river.  The town's people came out in force and helped us secure our boat and gave us shelter for the night.  We were safe.

The importance of this event:  At one moment during those last few hours, I did have the sense that something awful could happen to us.  We were all confident swimmers but the wind and water were intense.  I am not sure we would have survived had our boat sunk.  In fact, my chips were on us all dying.  I felt a certain peace with that outcome - not that I wished to die but rather I was not nervous, nor did I panic when I sensed that unfortunate end may be near.  Instead, I watched in awe as my dad, brother, and I kept our wits about us and we solved the problem.  

I was totally hooked afterwards and thought about that event for years - even to this day.  You never really know how people are going to respond to adversity until you experience an event with them.  In fact, you never know how you will respond until you experience it.  My dad and brother were calm - as was I - and I had an incredible sense of calm afterwards.  I knew no matter how bad things got in life, I could keep a clear head.  We told a few jokes during the event and that kept up our spirits - like the laughter we all shared when we noted the apple pie stuck to the ceiling of the cabin.  Yes, the pie was on the ceiling.

Bringing out the best:  Since that day, I sought to experience what life had to offer to see how I respond.  I doubt I need monthly, yearly, or even semi-regular checks on my response but I do appreciate how adversity brings out the best and worst in us.  My experiences including that sail along with countless others tell me that I am at my best and I love that feeling.  Adversity offers me the opportunity to perform at my best.   Adventures open the door to those adversity.  

I wrap up the "thirst" developing events tomorrow with my third and final event.  Stay tuned....

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Telling my story: The beginning (Event 1)

Now you know that I carry out adventures to feel alive.  What remains is why.  I have several stories that tie all of the why together.  Pour yourself a nice cup of your favorite beverage and read on!

Part 2:  The beginning

Over the past few months, I had plenty of time to reflect on my lifetime goals and figured after all the time reflecting, I would share those thoughts with you - my friends and family.  These reflections have more to do with "why?" than with the usual things I post about the "how" and the "where."  I decided to write the post in multiple parts to keep them light enough to read with your first cup of coffee in the morning but deep enough to get you to reflect upon them during your day.  Without further delay, I give you my story...

The thirst for adventure

Most people either never experience or never attend to life events that make them crave more; I have three vivid ones that shaped and continue to shape my life.  I call these events "my thirst" - an insatiable one that gets slaked by only more adventure.  My post-adventure malaise fuel my thirst even more and, as a result, my longing for more never ceases.  None of the events I recount below were sought nor were they profound enough to cause me to tell others.  They were mine and mine alone.  Now, because I am telling you about them, they can be yours and, hopefully, you can find your own.

Event 1:  A moment to remember

When I was about 6 years old, I recall standing at the entrance to Central Park at Engineer's Gate (90th and 5th) and feeling frustrated that I could not recall events that happened in the past.

Engineer's Gate - Almost the exact way I remember it on my "moment to remember" event.
 My frustration lead me to decide or rather will myself to remember everything that happened afterwards.  I said to myself..."I will never forget another thing that happens in my life."  Perhaps I was an odd kid but I doubt it.  Events prior to this were often recalled by my family members as if I were an "extra" when, in fact, I played the lead role.  Happenings such as riding my bicycle into our pool, peeing in the closet before potty training kicked in, or even misbehaving during kindergarten escaped my recall.  I vividly do recall feeling frustrated by these lapses in memory and I never wanted to utter the words "I can't remember" ever again.  

That frustration began my lifelong pursuit of recalling what I did each week to ensure that no significant event ever went unnoticed or unrecorded.  I often lay awake at night thinking about what happened, what was memorable enough to remember, and what were the inconsequential events that may inhibit remembering the more important ones.  My rationale was and still is that repetition would help me remember.  I do remember now most events but not everyone and rarely trivial ones.  Memories shape our lives.  My friend Alan Arnette has a saying on his website:  Memories are Everthing.  I believe this truth to be self-evident.  

Why was this event so important?:  After years of rehashing my previous week, I soon realized that I wasn't doing much with my life.  Weeks would fly by without any noteworthy activity.  I soon feared that I might not need to remember much because not much seemed to transpire throughout each day.  I lived a dull life as a kid.  

When was this realization?  Not sure.  That fateful day was probably when I was about 12.  Seriously.  Yeah, I was probably weird then and I still am a little gonzo.  I cannot recall the exact age but I do know my approximate age because soon afterwards I started getting into trouble.  

What kind of trouble?  Since my son is 16 right now, I am deliberately withholding those sordid details until he is older ... perhaps 50.  Let's just say that I started to experiment with life.  The experimentation lasted for about 4+ years and I truly experienced many things that life had to offer - none that bear repeating and none that shaped me much more than to help me figure out that a life of stupidity did not suit my tastes.  I moved on.

Memories shape our lives.  That seemingly innocuous event at Engineer's gate lead me to appreciate all memories.  

In my next post, I recount the second event that influenced my thirst for adventure.  Stay tuned.