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Man vs Road: Cycling Through the Mojave Desert #Uberman #Triathlon

Back on the boat - safe, dry & happy

Back on the boat – safe, dry & happy

After finishing my swim across the Catalina Channel, I was ecstatic and completely thrashed.

Now it was on to the bike…

T1: Swim-to-Bike

We got back to Marina del Rey in about 90 minutes where Paul (my father in law) was waiting. We unloaded the boxes and cargo and everything else to his car and headed back to our rented apartment in Venice. Benjamin was already asleep for the night and Nina (my mother-in-law) just looked at me in disbelief. I think she fully expected me to get eaten by sharks and was honestly surprised that we all made it home successfully. Admittedly, the fear of sharks was VERY real for me throughout the swim, so I’d be insincere if I didn’t admit a certain amount of astonishment myself for being back at the apartment safely. There was something surreal about it having that massive effort successfully behind me.

Lena and I shared pizza and as much of the adventure as we could, though I found myself mostly unable or unwilling to recount the day because of fatigue and a sense of relief for arriving home safely.

My sleep that night was terrible. My shoulders and lacerations on my feet throbbed. My nasal passages were swollen from the salt water. The abrasions on my neck stung. and the cuts on my feet stung. I hobbled to the kitchen in the middle of the night for a midnight snack of  ibuprofen, bananas and ice cream.

The next morning, I couldn’t lift either arm more than a few inches above my waist without a sharp pain, especially my left unless I swung my right arm to push it higher.  I texted Brian MacKenzie. He suggested Voodoo Floss (which we had because Tbone and Lena are awesome) and mobility work – even some pushups and shoulder presses if possible (which they were not). I tried leaning against a lacrosse ball pinned against a wall which was intensely unpleasant.

Next stop: The Mojave Desert

Next stop: The Mojave Desert

We cleaned up the apartment and packed up The Beast, shared leftover birthday cake (it was Paul’s birthday was the day of the swim), and said our goodbyes. Paul and Nina headed back to Boise while Lena, Tbone, Benjamin and I proceeded to Mojave. With any luck, we’d be there by early afternoon to start prepping for tomorrow’s bike segment. I’d pick up with the other competitors there and start the second 200-mile segment on Friday. On the way, I texted my chiropractor – Michelle Chu – she’s awesome and is trained in ART and also works with the Sacramento Kings – who phoned me right away with advice to massage lightly and slowly get them moving. We’d find out later today if tomorrow’s bike segment was a possibility.

The Mojave Airport

The Mojave Airport

2016-10-20-17-40-19After checking into our hotel in Mojave and unpacking, the team vibe was discernibly lacking enthusiasm. Yesterday had tapped all of us and Benjamin was getting a bit stir crazy. Lena and Tanya took Benjamin for a drive to check the Mojave airport while I stayed back at the hotel. To get myself back into a positive mindset, I did deep breathing exercises I learned from the Wim Hof Method, then allowed myself relax and fall into a comfortable nap. I slept for about 30 minutes and felt revived and excited for the prospect of tomorrow’s bike segment. It was time to test out my shoulders.

First I tried George, my TT bike. Not bad, but I definitely felt pressure especially when turning to my left to check oncoming traffic, or steering with any significant turning. A bit disconcerting given the descents on the tomorrow’s course. I returned to the hotel and switched to Pedro, my road bike. Ahhh….. much, much better! Almost no pain because I was sitting upright!

I decided I’d start the bike on Pedro. Then once my body warmed up after a couple of hours, I’d switch to George until I got to the Town Pass climb at mile 130. From there, I’d switch back to Pedro for the ascent, then knock out the last 50 miles on George.

Tbone and Lena used the Voodoo Floss on my shoulders. It worked surprisingly well. I prepped Pedro and my cycling gear for the next morning, and met the team for dinner downstairs at the hotel restaurant. Spirits were much higher now from the breathing exercises, nap, and now the excitement knowing that in the morning, I’d be cycling across the desert in the early morning dark and chill. For Lena and Tbone, I think the wine at dinner helped a little too… Mostly, we all started to embrace the ridiculousness of the journey, and that the effort was as much about the adventure as anything.

Benjamin was predictably finicky at dinner but we got back to the room for bath time and bed, and he fell asleep quickly. I followed soon after with my alarm set for 5am, preparing for a 6am departure to tackle tomorrow’s 200 mile segment from Mojave to Death Valley, finishing at Badwater Basin.

Sunrise in the Desert

I woke up Friday excited. My shoulders were definitely better, though still far from 100%. I felt confident that I’d be okay on the bike based on yesterday’s test ride, and I was ready to hit the road. After a breakfast of nuts, a banana and some coffee-flavored, caffeine-infused nutrition mix, I was ready to go.

Lena and I headed out to The Beast where Tbone slept that night. With my head covering on because of the chilly desert morning, I needed to adjust the strap on my borrowed aero helmet.

Snap. F*ck. The strap broke. Oh well. Two is one, one is none. I had brought my regular cycling helmet, strapped it on, and off I went.

Anyone up for 200 miles through the Mojave Desert?

Anyone up for 200 miles through the Mojave Desert?

I felt great muscularly – refreshed by the cool morning air and thrilled to be on the bike after how I felt just 36 hours on the Terranea rocks. Just hopping on the saddle for mile one felt like a victory.

I planned to go ride at an average pace of 15mph, including stops, as this was my pace at the recent Levi’s Gran Fondo Century ride. That ride had nearly 10,000′ of climbing over 100 miles. Today’s bike segment would be just under 10,000’ of climbing over twice the distance so I felt the 15mph pace was a solid estimate, putting me on a 13-14 hour day to finish the 200 miles – arriving at Badwater Basin between 8:00-9:00pm that night.

Watching the sun rise over the desert

Watching the sun rise over the desert

The first couple of hours were just plain fun. I watched the sun rise over the desert and had my first taste of long, straight quiet desert roads – miles and miles of space to myself. While I felt alone, I never felt lonely. There was a tranquility to the landscape and roads.

A whole lotta nothing out there...

A whole lotta nothing out there…

Our first rest stop, an impromptu break before Randsburg

Our first rest stop – an impromptu break before Randsburg


After about two hours, I turned onto Redrock-Randsburg Road and felt something behind me. It was The Beast! We did an impromptu rest stop where I stripped off my head covering and arm sleeves and started the first climb of the ride towards Randsburg. At Randsburg, I switched from Pedro to George for a two-hour stretch including some magnificent descents where I picked up some time by regularly hitting more than 25mph. We met up again for another rest stop in Trona where I decided to switch back to Pedro because of the long inclines ahead between here and the day’s midway point to Death Valley before the Town Pass climb. Those two hours turned out to be my only two hours on George…

Rest stop at Trona. Just one of a hundred examples of the awesomeness of my crew.

Rest stop at Trona. Just one of a hundred examples of the awesomeness of my crew.

Climbing out of Trona, boredom really kicked in. While the road wasn’t an out-and-out climb, it was a long slow incline that pushed me down to my small ring where I spun at about 8-10 mph. After being on the bike for 6-7 hours, this was starting to get pretty old. I was okay with the ride and the environment – it was just the slow progress that got to me.

I reached The Beast again at the top of a climb to Ballarat where I planned to hop back on George. After reviewing the course elevation profile and looking at the descent in front of me, I decided to stick with Pedro and I’m glad I did.

Dan Bercu caught up with us here. While it’s odd to meet people you know in the middle of the desert, it also shows that it actually pretty tough to get lost out here. I commented to him how the roads had been great so far. Surprisingly good.  Dan offered to drive ahead to the top of Town Pass, ride his bike down and climb back up with me. Even though I’d been riding for so long alone, I did consider whether I wanted company or not, then decided that it’d be better to have company than not and accepted his generous offer.

Seems I spoke too soon about the road conditions. After the descent from Ballarat, the roads were plagued with bumps and ruts. At one point, the strap on my bike bag beneath my seat broke and I pulled over. An SUV stopped to ask if I needed anything.

“Got a rubber band by chance?” He hunted around and found an orange construction ribbon. Bingo!

“You’re a long way from anything. What are you doing out here?” he asked.

“I started in Mojave and I’m headed to Badwater.”

“You’ve got a ways to go. Good luck.”

I asked him the same question. He was a government employee out to see if they had started the road construction on the road up ahead. Floods a few years ago washed out parts of the highway, explaining the road conditions I was experiencing.

He drove on and about 20 minutes later, I caught up with the construction site and The Beast. The road was completely torn out  for two miles and only a dirt passage was available, so I happily climbed into the belly of The Beast for another impromptu break and shoved PBJ sandwiches down my throat at a pace that would make Joey Chestnut proud.

Hitching a ride in the belly of The Beast

Hitching a ride through the construction in the belly of The Beast

The crew dropped me off past the construction and more long slow desert miles lay ahead.

After about 30 minutes, I reached The Beast again at the entrance to Death Valley National Park. It was getting later in the afternoon – about 4pm, so I’d been riding more than ten hours. More importantly, we had only 2.5 hours of daylight with ten-mile, 4000’ climb up ahead, and I was only 130 miles into the trip, well off my planned 15mph pace. I wanted to get to the top before dark so I could descend with some daylight and finish the rest of the ride in quick order on George fitted with lights and glowsticks.

Made it to Death Valley!

Made it to Death Valley!

I refueled headed to the Town Pass climb. Dan was waiting about a mile up the road and off we went. The first 2-3 miles were flat and we chatted. Then the incline started.

“Once we start climbing, I’m not going to much for conversation,” I said. Dan was very understanding and we settled into a quiet, slow pace.

The Climb. Was. Long. It starts at 1000’ on the edge of Death Valley National Park and peaks at nearly 5000.’ After climbing for what I thought was a while, we hit the 2000’ elevation sign. Ugh. Then later, the 3000’ foot sign about six miles into the ten-mile climb.

Somewhere on the Town Pass Climb

Somewhere on the Town Pass Climb

Dan optimistically called from behind me – “We’re about halfway in terms of elevation.”

Of course I replied pessimistically  – “Yeah, and we’re six miles in so that means the grade is going to get steeper for the last 2000 feet.” Poor Dan – I kept dousing his upbeat nature. I promise I’m not a negative person – just realistic about what’s ahead. It was late, I was tired and I could see daylight fading behind the mountains behind us. Just getting to the top before dark would be an accomplishment now, let alone figuring out how to descend and polish off the last 50+ miles.

The Beast leapfrogged us along the way, parking at turnouts and cheering us on. Each time, I quickly exchanged water bottles and nutrition and kept climbing. I unclipped three times during the climb – once about 30% into the climb to cool down where the mountain contours cast shade on the road, and to do a round of breathing exercises. My back was aching more than anything. I felt strong in my legs and my heart rate stayed in check around 120 bpm. The second time I unclipped was to shed some weight from the bike – I dropped off my second water bottle and front-mount bike bag. The third time, I shed my bike pump, rear big bag and anything else resembling weight.

To pass the time, I found a rhythmic counting cadence: I counted pedal strokes in sets of ten – 100 strokes, then 90, then 80, then 70, down to 10, then I would upshift my gears a click or two, stand up and push for 30-50 strokes, then back down and start the counting over again. It was a way to make progress and focus on sets of 500 pedal strokes at a time.

The sun set behind us and I reached a false peak at dusk. The Beast was pulled over, and they saw as I did there was still a bit of climbing left left. Plus Dan’s truck was no where in sight, so that meant we had some more work to do.

I pushed hard for the last 1/2 mile where the grade evened out a bit and reached the peak of Town Pass at dusk. As I pulled up to The Beast, Lena had George out and was pulling out the lights.

“Let’s have a meeting,” I said. “I think this is it for the bike. The descent is pretty tricky and it’s getting dark. I think this is enough. Even I make it, I’ve got three hours to go and that’s going to make for a late night and early morning. I’d rather get to the hotel and eat and be ready for the run tomorrow.”

Atop Town Pass after more than 140 miles and 9000' of climbing over 12+ hours

Atop Town Pass after more than 140 miles and 9000′ of climbing over 12+ hours, feeling great and wishing for more daylight to finish the bike.

No arguments from Lena, so we snapped a picture and loaded up The Beast for Furnace Creek about 35 miles down the road. Dan caught up after a few minutes, reaching the top in the dark. I told him my plan to end the bike segment here and hightail it to Furnace Creek to prep for tomorrow’s run.

Now onto the run…

One week to go. Shit’s getting real. [Uberman]

A week from today, I’ll be in Los Angeles for final prep before hopping on a boat to head to Catalina Island to kick off my attempt at Uberman.

The boat ride will take about two hours. The swim back to shore will be a bit closer to 15 hours…

I’ve done all the training I can do and now it’s just a matter of whether or I’m able I can put together five days of execution.  I’m well past the physical challenge of the ordeal. It’s become a massive puzzle:

… How to manage a 21-mile swim that starts in the dark and likely ends in the dark

… How I’ll keep myself going while still deploying good judgement after what’s safe and responsible to my family and myself.

… What to do if the current is strong. Or the winds create chop. Or there’s a migration of sea lions causing a shark feeding frenzy. Or that I’m just plain tired and unable to safely continue.

… Then if I finish the swim, how to get on a bike less than 12 hours later to start the first of two, 200-mile cycling segments knowing I’ll have back pain after the first 90 minutes…

… And if I finish the bike, how to start, continue, and complete a 135-mile trek by foot over 36 hours.



Yep, shit is getting real.

Uberman Training Update

NOTE: This post, nor any of my posts, are to be considered medical or training advice. This is only my reports of what I’m doing and what’s working and not working. Use it for informational and educational purposes only. If you’re thinking about endurance training, get some help from a certified coach…

As some of you know, and the rest of you now do, I’m training for Uberman. It’s a multi-day endurance event in October comprised of:

  • 21-mile swim across the Catalina Channel
  • 400-mile bike ride from the coast to Death Valley
  • 135-mile run from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney (the Badwater course)

The race is now three months away, which gives me less than three months of training to go…

I spent April, May, and June ramping up my general baseline fitness – getting myself into general Ironman shape and focusing heaving on ramping up swim mileage each week.

Last week was a bit of a personal test to see how much volume my body could take in a single week, while still working, sleeping, and otherwise functioning as a husband and father. I think I passed the test. Now the hard stuff ahead…


  • Swim: 32,000 yards (18.35 miles)
  • Bike: 151.5 miles
  • Run: 20 miles
  • Weightlifting: Two (2) short sessions focused on posterior chain and stability


Sunday: 5000 yard swim, Weightlifting


  • I planned to go longer – as much as 7500 or 10k yards, but just didn’t have the energy. At least I got in the pool after two weeks away from regular training.
  • We spent two weeks in Portland where I worked in frequent open water swimming, but my total mileage dropped way down and I paid the price on this first day back in the pool.
  • Deadlifts and kettle bell swings after the swim to work on posterior chain and stability.

Monday: 35 mile bike, 6 mile run


  • I planned to do 50 miles on my Tri-Bike (aka “George”) but had some mechanical issues and instead did a shorter ride on my road bike (“Pedro”), using the wind as a workout.
  • I had a pretty solid crosswind and headwind the entire ride, so I put Pedro in a heavy gear and focused on heart rate. The ride felt like a long incline most of the way, giving my legs a very solid workout.
  • With temperatures in the low 90s, the run was a chance to see how I’d do in the heat with pace and heart rate. Overall, I’m pleased.
  • My baseline running heart rate is 135 bpm for long runs, and I started there, with it slowly climbing throughout the run.
  • By the last couple of miles, I was into the 145 range, and I practiced a run-walk strategy to make sure my HR would drop when I walked, and it did quickly, which is a positive sign that I have it under control in the heat.
  • I purposely didn’t take any water or cold packs with me to reduce variables contributing to my heart rate test.

Tuesday: 7500-yard swim, 2.75 mile run


  • Back in the pool for real yardage by doing 7 x 1000, then a 500-yard cool down. It felt forced and lacked rhythm which I further attribute to my lack of pool swimming the last couple of weeks.
  • By 4000, it got a little better when my arms fatigued and I was forced into a longer, slower stroke more representative of what I’ll need to do in the race swim.
  • I was able to keep a 15:30 to 15:45 per 1000-yard pace, which is a good indicator for me. That’s roughly a 2.0 mph pace, and about what I’ve swam in my Ironman races.
  • The run was a simple jaunt around the neighborhood in the evening to get my legs moving and find a few extra miles for the week.

Wednesday: 2000-yard swim, Light weightlifting, 51.5 mile-bike


  • The swim was a bonus – I found an extra 45 minutes in the day so I hopped in the pool and did 500 yards to warm up, then 10 x 100 intervals at an 7-8 RPE, then 500 cool down. I mostly just wanted to get in a little intensity for the swim and force myself to sharpen my stroke with the faster pace. Mission accomplished.
  • Weightlifting – overhead squats with dumbbells and kettle bell swings. Focusing on posterior chain to strengthen my cycling and climbing, and the kettle bells for core strengthen and overall stability.
  • Cycling was very, very hard. It was 99 degrees and no joke. The first hour was generally okay and smooth, though I was feeling Monday’s ride in my quads.
  • Hour two included some basic climbs that I’ve done a hundred times, and I knew I was fatigued based on the gears I needed and the amount of time I spent out of the saddle trying to work up the Steiger and Cantelow climbs. These are pretty modest climbs that I usually do in the saddle and at a controlled heart rate. Today? Not so much… I thought about turning around and going home a couple of times, and kept going, and was glad I did.
  • For the final stretch on Putah Creek Road, my butt was burning in the saddle and I turned to meditating while riding and simply facing the sensation until it was over. Good practice for Uberman.

Thursday: 7500-yard swim, 3.25 mile run


  • Swim Ladder workout in the pool: 500-1000-1500-2000-1500-500-500
  • The second 1500 was the toughest. I was VERY drained after this, and at home laid on the floor staring at the ceiling while Lena made dinner. This never happens. I felt much, much better after eating, and concluding that I’m just not eating enough during the day. More fats please…
  • The run was another quick evening jog to work in some miles and otherwise reset myself to recover from the swim. Then a good stretch at night and felt much better the next morning.

Friday: 10,000-yard swim, 5.35 mile run


  • 10 x 1000 yards midday in 99 degree heat. I learned about a new hazard while pool swimming – sunburn. Ugh. Sunscreen next time…
  • The first 3000 yards were smooth, then I dipped a bit until 6000-7000 where I found a nice glide for the first time on my left side. This has long been a struggle for me. It only lasted about 2000 yards, then I was fatigued.
  • 9000 was a bit more tolerable because I knew then I had only one set left. The last 1000 went really well and I pushed hard for a 15:30 pace – a solid indicator.
  • I brought nutrition to drink during the swim to begin thinking about my “feeds” in the open water. I drank my drink mix every 2000 yards (roughly every 30 minutes0 to get some calories and I felt a huge difference between yesterday’s and today’s post-workout. I was far less hungry and drained afterwards, so a positive development there.
  • With the heat as it was, I thought an outside run would be good so I plodded along the miles at a 8:50 pace to feel the heat and see how I’d feel. Wasn’t too bad and I was glad to get in a solid run and a few miles, and to know I had only a bike ride left in the week.

Saturday: 65-mile bike, 2.75 mile run


  • Early ride in the cool morning air. Wow – what a difference 30 degrees makes. I felt great the entire ride and did some decent climbing and repeats.
  • But… I had a hard time getting my heart rate UP… I’m usually at a 118-122 HR in my zone 2, and was about 10-12 bpm slower. This is a sign of general fatigue. Even climbing, I couldn’t get above 130-135 bpm.
  • I was glad to experience this for a few reasons. First, I knew that I hit a physical limit for the week, which was kind of the plan anyway. Secondly. despite the signal of physical fatigue, I was able to maintain speed and power throughout the ride, and even the last 10-15 miles home, I felt good and strong and felt I could have gone another 35 miles if needed.
  • Most of all, I used ZERO nutrition on this ride. 3:35 in the saddle and 65 miles while fatigued with nothing but water. Of course I brought drink mix and an energy bar, and was able to go without. Before the ride, I ate an avocado and a banana, and drank black coffee. A good indication that my body can turn to fat for sustained energy.

Sunday: Rest


  • I thought about a run, and mostly felt mentally tired from the week and wanted to just spend time doing nothing.
  • I cracked open my new book – “Power Speed Endurance” by Brian MacKenzie. (Thank you, Lena!)
  • The next focus area is mobility and flexibility.
  • Stay tuned…

Swimming the Williamette River near Lake Oswego Railroad Bridge

Where motor boats are freshwater sharks… 

Scott’s Personal Update: 5/25/16

It’s my birthday today. I’m 42 now. Here’s what I’ve been up to…

Work Stuff:

I’m nearly through eight months running my own company full-time ( I started the year with very lofty goals around revenue and customers. Then I realized the most important thing I can do is survive the first year, and all the mistakes that I’ll make. I’ve made a few, none disastrous, and some have been pretty frustrating and good learning opportunities.

Life Stuff:

Lena is also eight months into life as a PhD. It’s pretty awesome spending weekends together and watching her have the opportunity to fly airplanes. Very cool. Benjamin is now four-years-old. I try to make everything we do together fun like taking him to school in the bike trailer, and sometimes taking the long way through the olive grove.

Training Stuff:

I’m registered for this thing call Uberman. It’s a multi-day endurance event that’s pretty close to what I wanted to do this summer on my own. But better because there are eight of us doing the event, and it’ll only take 5-6 days instead of the 10-day event I was planning for myself.

The end of May concludes my second month of training. Pretty happy with where I’m at – did a 100+mile bike ride on Saturday and off to the pool tomorrow AM for a 10,000 yard swim (10 x 1000). For those keeping score at home, that’s 400 lengths in a 25-yard pool, and comes to roughly six miles. Yeah. This is how I choose to spend the day after my birthday.

I haven’t been running to let my tendon injury heal, and it seems to be working. I figure I can catch up on the running training with my general fitness at a very solid level. People I’ve know for a while have said things like – “You look really fit.” – which I says a lot because I’ve considered myself pretty fit for a few years now. Seems that the training is having an effect.

Back in December, I ran my first ultra-marathon. I have a race report drafted that I need to finish and post.

Personal Stuff:

I’m continuing my practice of Morning Pages and meditation most mornings, though cutting back from 6-7 days/week to 4-5 simply because some mornings are swim mornings and I need to get to the pool by 5am. On weekends, I also generally skip to grab some more sleep or get up early for a bike ride.

Thanks for reading. I’ll do a better job of posting.


Mother’s Day – the day when…

… husbands and kids try to do all of the things that Mom usually does every other day of the year – cook breakfast, plan the day, make dinner – then screw it up royally, leaving Mom to first clean up the mess then do all of the things that she does every day anyway.



Thanks to Grandmom and Grandpop for the help. 🙂