Goal #19 on my 30 before 30 list was to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. This idea was hatched by my friends Mike and Sarah, and they let me tag along on their adventure.

I did zero specific training preparing for this climb, and bought all my gear one week before, hoping my base level of fitness would suffice for what I assumed was just ‘a long hike’.

There are several routes up the mountain and we settled on the Lemosho route provided by Trekking Hero for it’s scenic views and high success rate.

Day 0: Travel

I met Mike and Sarah in Chicago, we did an escape room Sunday night, and flew Ethiopian Airlines to the Kilimanjaro Airport on Monday morning.

IMG_20190113_202554.jpg

I began feeling the altitude during our layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at 7,000 feet. I was a little worried as Mike and Sarah were each given over 20 Diamox pills, which are used to prevent altitude sickness, and I was only prescribed 6. We arrived in Tanzania, paid $100 each for a visa, and then took a 45 minute ride to our hotel in Moshi.

Capture.JPG

Day 1: Lemosho Gate to Mti Mkubwa Camp

Our day began with a five hour drive to get to the trailhead. We stopped in town for supplies and would also make quick stops along the side of the main highway to pick up porters, our transport van slowly filling to capacity.

IMG_2479.JPEG (2).jpg

We checked in at the Londorosi gate and then drove another 45 minutes to the Lemosho trailhead. The guard with an AK-47 at the trailhead was a little disconcerting.

IMG_20190116_164236.jpg

Our group was made up of five Americans, one Canadian, and two South Africans. Five of us were in our 20’s, one in his 40’s, and two 60+. We saw some monkeys as we hiked through the rainforest, which would end up being the only wildlife we would see on the mountain. This day was a little bit of a shock. We hiked for a little over two hours, and only three miles, but I was tired at the end of it.

IMG_2497.jpg

IMG_20190116_183351.jpg

Day 2: Mti Mkubwa Camp to Shira I Camp to Shira II Camp

This was our longest day of the entire trek, consisting of 11 miles of hiking spread out over 9 hours.

IMG_2535.jpg

Our hike up Kilimanjaro was fully supported by a small army of people. Our group of 8 climbers was assisted by a total of 30 guides and porters. I had a small backpack that I carried during the day while a porter carried my 90L duffel bag that held all my other gear. We would leave camp, the porters would pack everything up, come running past us carrying all of the gear, and have camp setup before we arrived.

IMG_2574.jpg

We quickly got above 10,000 feet on this day, which was very noticeable on the uphills, as my breathing became unexpectedly labored. We saw the peak of the mountain for the first time as we crested one ridge, only to dip back down to Shira I camp where we had a boxed lunched consisting of fried chicken, fruit, and assortment of carbs.

IMG_20190117_120002.jpg

The rest of the afternoon we hiked across the Shira Plateau. It started to rain in the afternoon with an accompanying fog as we rolled into camp at 12,500′.

IMG_2640.jpg

Camp was great. Everyone had their own tent, except Mike and Sarah, who had a two person tent, meaning you put two people in a one person tent. There was also a large dining tent where we ate all our meals. Breakfast consisted of porridge, crepes, toast, and eggs, while lunch and dinner were made up of some combination of fruit, rice, soup, and or noodles. Coffee and Milo (similar to Nesquik?) were served with every meal.

Day 3: Shira II Camp to Lava Tower to Baranco Camp

Starting on this day and continuing the rest of the hike, the views in the morning were spectacular. To one side, we had an unobstructed view of the mountain. To the other, we could look down at the city of Moshi, veiled in a layer of clouds.

IMG_2646.jpg

IMG_2648.jpg

One member of our group dropped out early in the morning. The guides did the best they could to assist him, carrying his day pack and water, and having a guide stay back with him while the rest of us went ahead, but in the end, the task ahead was too daunting.

IMG_2657.jpg

This day’s hike involved a lot of ascending right from the start. After a couple of hours we got up 15,000 feet at Lava Tower. We ate lunch for an hour, giving our bodies a chance to acclimate to the altitude, before descending down to our camp for the night. As we worked our way back down, it started pouring rain. The weather on the mountain could change rapidly. Clear skies one minute would yield to a downpour of sleet the next.

IMG_2693.jpg

The guides were great, maintaining an easy pace and telling us where to step on difficult sections.

IMG_2762.jpg

IMG_20190118_145259.jpg

The weather cleared up as we arrived into camp.

IMG_2724.jpg

Day 4: Baranco Camp to Karanga Camp

This was a short day, what would be the first of two prior to our summit night. We got a late start and could already see a large traffic jam forming up the Baranco Wall. This was the most technically difficult part of the climb, requiring actual climbing and scrambling rather than just hiking. Like, you could fall to your death if you had a big enough misstep. Watching the porters navigate this section was hair raising. They would create their own routes up the wall to avoid the traffic jam all while carrying large 30 lb duffel bags. We probably waited an hour on the face of that wall while the groups ahead of us navigated the technical terrain.

IMG_2753.jpg

There was a landing at the top of the wall, which we arrived at just as the clouds rolled in.

IMG_2776.jpg

We hiked for another two hours, including a very steep dip in and out of the Karanga Valley, before arriving at Karanga Camp.

IMG_2808.jpg

IMG_2805.jpg

These next details could be titled #FirstWorldProblems, as in things we take for granted in the United States, but aren’t guaranteed in the developing world. If I could change anything about this hike, it would be the bathroom situation. There were bathrooms at every camp, even with urinals, but no toilets. Instead, there was a hole in the ground straddled by two bricks. The foreigners were not adept at using such restrooms as evidenced by the bodily waste that didn’t make it into the hole. It’s difficult to describe that smell with words. Some of the outfitters had there own portable toilets, and If I were to do this again, that would be an upgrade I’d gladly pay for.

mvimg_20190122_093109

Day 5: Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp (Base Camp)

This was our second short day. We got to base camp before lunch, dropped off some gear, and then climbed another 600 feet for altitude acclimatization.

IMG_2837.jpg

After returning to base camp, I took a two hour nap, woke up for dinner, and then went back to bed to try to catch some sleep before our summit attempt, which would begin in the middle of the night.

Day 6: Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak to Millenium Camp

We woke up at 11 pm for some coffee and cookies and started hiking at midnight. The full moon meant a headlamp wasn’t needed. I wasn’t sure if Sarah was going to make it. She had started feeling sick a couple days prior and looked miserable as we began our summit hike.

Coming into this trip, I thought Kilimanjaro was just an easy hike. Something anybody of decent fitness could do. The hike to the summit was much more difficult than I imagined it would be. I’d say the difficulty was equivalent to running a marathon. Breaks were very short compared to the previous days. Trudging along, I could really feel the effects of altitude. During this six hour climb, we would go from 15,000 feet to over 19,000 feet. We were moving at a snails pace, but my heart was pounding away.

The climb seemed never ending. In the dark, we would think we were coming up to the top of the mountain, only to realize that we were just cresting a ridge that obscured the other half of our climb.

Reprieve from the constant ascending finally arrived when reached Stella’s Point, which marked the rim of the crater and the end of the steep uphill climbing. The sun began to rise, and we made our final push to the summit.MVIMG_20190121_063928.jpg

I was elated when we reached the summit. The unexpected difficulty of the last six hours made arriving at the summit that much more gratifying.

IMG_20190121_063957.jpg

IMG_20190121_063537.jpg

We spent a quick ten minutes on the summit for some pictures and then made our way back down the mountain, taking a shortcut route on loose dirt. It was a controlled slide all the way down. Dig heel in, slip a couple of inches, fight to maintain balance, rinse and repeat. We got down to base camp, took a two hour nap, and then continued descending down to Millennium camp.

img_2818

Day 7 Millennium Camp to Civilization

It was a four hour hike back to the Mweka Gate which marked the conclusion of our trek. The beer lady was doing good business. We got our finisher’s certificate and rode back to the hotel.

IMG_2846.jpg

img_2844

Summary

Climbing Kilimanjaro was a unique experience. It was my first time to Africa and my first multi-day hike and mountain summit. I have no desire to complete any of the other ‘Seven Summits’, but am grateful for having the opportunity to do this one. The entire trek was tougher than I imagined, which will make it more memorable. Thanks again to Mike and Sarah for planning everything and letting me join in on the adventure!

img_20190122_074629

I Got Glasses

Posted: October 20, 2018 in Uncategorized

I’ve got a queue of 32 blog posts that I’ve started but haven’t finished/published. This was one of them. This little preamble is to tell you that I don’t think this post will be very good, but I’m trying to get 25 posts out to accomplish Goal #14 on my 30 Before 30 List.

I’ve needed glasses my entire life. As a teenager, I’d wear them for two months, only to lose them and go a couple of years without them. My vision is bad, but manageable.

Last year, I finally grew tired of squinting at my computer monitors and set up an appointment with an optometrist. What an improvement! I feel like I have a super power. It’s such a minor change but has had a noticeable impact in my work. I can see my monitors! No longer do I need to lean in to read spreadsheets or small text. Two hours of effort for the appointment and I fixed a problem that had plagued me for years.

What other simple changes could I make that would have a noticeable impact on my quality of life?

 

This will be a quick one…I registered for the Sioux Falls Half Marathon with my friends  Barb and Matt.

I had amassed a total of 18 mile of running between completion of Washington Island Ultra on July 28th and the start of this half marathon on September 9th. No bueno.

It was a great race. Starts and ends in the Denny Samford PREMIER center. Parking was simple, the bag check was quick, and starting a race in a heated arena is great.

I ran very close to an evenly split race, even without a watch. 1200 people ran the half, course was not too crowded.

HALF MARATHON

My finish time was 1:50:15, that’s an 8:25 min/mile pace. Races are a great benchmark of current fitness and my current fitness is bad. It will be a long road if I want to accomplish Goal #8 of qualifying for the Boston Marathon

 

Why?

Goal #29 on my 30 Before 30 List wast to go a month without news, social media, YouTube, and Netflix. The purpose of this goal was to eliminate distractions and to focus on behaviors that are more fulfilling. I knew this goal would be difficult because all of those distracting activities have become ingrained habits. Downtime in the day? Check Google News. Feeling anxiety with work? There’s an hour of YouTube videos to ease that discomfort!

You Need To Be Well Informed

At what point does information become entertainment? I grew up being told that it’s my civic duty to be a well informed citizen, but well informed about what? When is the news not worthy of my attention?

I’d argue that news is worthwhile if I’ll take present or future action with information received. I’d estimate upwards of 95% of the news I consume is not actionable, it’s entertainment. Should I tune in to around the clock coverage of some boys trapped in a cave half way around the world? Of course not, but I did. It was the perfect kind of news: drama filled! My caveman brain loves that shit. Are the lives of 12 Thai boys important? Of course, but I wasn’t going to do anything to save them.

I want to make informed decisions based on trends, aggregates, and long term studies, not daily anecdotes.

It’s Meant To Be Addictive

Prior to this month of abstaining, I would spend several hours each day perusing the News, Social Media, Netflix, and YouTube, even when I had more important things to do. Why?

The brightest computer scientists in Silicon Valley spend hundreds of thousands of hours to make these platforms as addictive as possible. The more I consume, the more ads they can show, and the more money they make. The stories that get the clicks bring in the money. Outrage sells. Manufactured conflict and drama are all crack cocaine to my pathetic brain.

Results

I should have mentioned in my previous ‘Wake Up Before 4:30 AM‘ post that I pursued that goal simultaneously with this one, making it difficult to tease out cause and effect. The overall results were very promising as it was a productive and invigorating month. I accomplished five of my thirty goals in addition to posting two Lethal Engineering videos, publishing three blog posts, and completing a record number of ‘units’ of work.

It was a very quiet month, as if the volume was turned down on the outside world. Everyday became similar to the one before and the one after. There was no drama in my day. Anxiety of the world coming to an end evaporated. It was kind of boring, but extremely relaxing at the same time.

The extra free time allowed me to focus on the items that affect me and that I can have an effect on. I spent an increased amount of time on activities that I find gratifying including writing on this blog, creating Lethal Engineering projects and videos, exercising, and reading. All those activities are more difficult than watching television or scrolling social media, but are undertakings that I know bring greater happiness.

I didn’t perfectly abstain from the distractions. There was a 95% reduction, giving in to watch Netflix with my wife on a couple occasions.

What Did I Miss?

Nothing. There was not a single piece of news that I wish I hadn’t missed.

I visited my parents shortly after wrapping up this goal and watched the nightly news with my dad. My goodness! What an entertaining 30 minutes! I felt fear, happiness, and sadness, all sandwiched between five expertly placed commercial breaks.

It is so easy to slip back into the old habits and that’s exactly what I did in the weeks following the completion of this goal. The contrast between the months of abstaining and consuming has been stark. This is a goal that I need to implement long term.

 

I Woke Up At 4:30 AM For A Month

Posted: September 24, 2018 in Uncategorized

I love sleep and don’t function well when deprived of it. As an intern, I once fell asleep during a meeting sitting three feet away from my boss. I had stayed up the entire previous night finishing my presentation for that meeting and was incapable of keeping my eyes open. The only thing that woke me up was the other intern kicking me under the table (several times, as I fell asleep again a couple minutes later).

Goal 27: Wake Up Before 4:30 AM For A Month

This goal was inspired by Jocko Willink, a former Navy SEAL who wakes up at 4:30 am every morning. I know he wakes up at 4:30 am because he posts a picture of his watch on Instagram along with some terrifying inspirational message like, “THE ENEMY NEVER SLEEPS”.

JOCKO WILLINK.PNG

This was the last goal added to my list. I thought it would be a pointless month of sleep deprivation, but a 29 Before I turn 30 List just wasn’t going to cut it.

The Status Quo

For the past three years I’ve been self-employed, working from home, and waking up without an alarm. If you think that sounds glorious, you’re right. I’ve become very particular about getting 9+ hours of sleep a night which has resulted in receiving the nickname ‘Princess’ from my wife. “Do princesses do ultra endurance events?”, I ask her. “No, but they do wear sleep masks”, she says.

My Experience

The first couple days were rough. A very accurate description would be jet lag, as a four hour shift in my schedule is exactly what happened. An afternoon nap was quickly implemented. The rules of the nap were that it could be no greater than one hour in length and had to begin at least eight hours after waking. I utilized that nap every day.

JOHN WAKE UP 2

On Day 9, I woke up before my alarm. My body was appreciating the regular sleep schedule compared to the haphazard one it had dealt with previously.

On Day 11, I started to enjoy waking up early and found an increased sense of motivation for my daily tasks.

JOHN WAKE UP

The entire month, I always fell asleep instantly. When I shut off the lights and lay my head down, I was asleep in a couple of minutes.

Benefits

I thought this would be a stupid goal, but I was surprised to find that I felt motivated the entire month. I accomplished five of my thirty goals in addition to posting two Lethal Engineering videos, publishing three blog posts, and completing a record number of ‘units’ of work.

It could just be a placebo, but I felt like I was ‘ahead’ of the day all month. It’s only 7 am and I already accomplished X, Y, and Z. I’m usually not even awake by 7!

Thoughts

The purpose of these month long goals is to experiment with a habit and see how it affects my life. Waking up early was something I assumed would be pointless but ended up enjoying. Three weeks into the next month and I’ve already relapsed into my old sleep habits. I’ve found that high sense of motivation has evaporated as well.

Starting today, I’m going to re-implement a consistent wake up time of 4:30 am. I’ll modify the habit to ensure a full 8+ hours of sleep every day by increasing the length of the nap if I”m out late the previous night.

 

How I Saved A Life For $5,000

Posted: August 31, 2018 in Uncategorized

The title of this post is a little misleading. I sat at my computer one morning, and with a couple of clicks, donated $5,000 to a charity based in Cambridge, England. Statistically, however, that $5,000 will save someone’s life.

Let’s Start From The Beginning…

I was peer pressured into charitable giving my friend Matt Brand. He and his wife have donated over $100,000 to charity, aiming to donate 10% of their income each year. He told me about an anonymous poll he took of his former computer science classmates (a lucrative field) and found that very few were making charitable donations, despite a majority working for big tech companies with high salaries.

I was embarrassed. I too had a good job, living in a low cost city, with no dependents, and was donating almost nothing to charity. What was my excuse? Naturally, I did nothing to ease this guilt until…

Goal #25: Donate $5,000 To Charity

These lists of goals are a great way to do things I know I should do, but don’t want to. I chose an amount that felt significant but would not induce so much financial stress that I’d be permanently turned off from donating again. Baby steps.

But Which Charity To Donate To?

I stumbled upon an episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast where he interviewed Will MacAskill, a pioneer in the field of Effective Altruism. MacAskill approaches donating to charities like investing in a business. Which one has the best return on investment?

The best known charity ranking website is Charity Navigator, which compiles its ratings based largely on what percentage of donations are spent on fundraising/salaries/operations. MacAskill argues this is a poor way to rate charities. A much better way would be to see how effective the charity is with each dollar donated, rather than how efficient the charity is. We should care about the results a charity produces rather than how much they spend on executive pay and fundraising. MacAskill points out that the most effective charities are hundreds or even thousands of times more effective than merely ‘good’ charities.

Why I Chose The Against Malaria Foundation

The Against Malaria Foundation is the highest rated charity by Give Well, an organization that rates charities based on their effectiveness. On average, the Against Malaria Foundation saves a life for $3,500 by providing long lasting insecticide treated bed nets across the world. Deaths from malaria numbered over 400,000 last year, largely children under the age of 5. The analogy used is two 747 airplanes fully loaded with children crashing everyday. Tragic, right?

Against Malaria Foundation

The Most Tax Efficient Method To Donate

This $5,000 donation runs counter to my net worth goals. It’s well known that donating to charity is tax deductible. That will save us approximately $1,500 this year in taxes, reducing the actual cost of my donation to $3,500. But wait there’s more…

I donated $5,000 worth of appreciated stocks from my taxable investments through my investment company Betterment. When you donate stocks that have increased in value, you don’t pay capital gains tax, and the charity doesn’t pay capital gains tax either. Seems like a loophole, but it saved us an additional $200. Betterment makes this process extremely simple and has a great explanation of the whole process.

Donated Shares

I Clicked Submit, and Felt…Nothing

Logically, I know this is a significant impact, but it didn’t seem like it. I felt a sense of accomplishment since I finished one my goals, but little else.

I asked my buddy Matt Brand about this, and he said he feels the same way, but that he believes it’s his responsibility to donate. That’s a good way of looking at it.

I live in a country with tremendous prosperity, and with a couple of clicks on my computer, can significantly impact the life of someone halfway around the world. No heroics needed. What an extraordinary opportunity, right?

Goal #5 on my 30 Before 30 list was to complete an ultra endurance event. ‘Ultra endurance’ was loosely defined in my head as something taking longer than 8 hours. I added this goal since it had been over two years since I completed an event of that magnitude.

I stumbled upon the Washington Island Ultra, a ‘choose your own adventure’ of any combination of (8, 12, 24, 36 hour)  and (solo or team) and (triathlon, duathlon, or cycling). I thought it was an interesting event, as well as cheap and nearby, so I registered for the 24 Hour Solo Triathlon.

Course

0.25 Miles swim loop in Lake Michigan, 10 mile bike loop around Washington Island. and 2 mile run loop out and back from the campsite. Complete as many loops as you could, in whatever order you want.

Race reports are boring to write and exhausting to read, even if you’re into this kind of stuff. So instead, I”ll give you a brief overview of the thoughts going through my head throughout the event.

Swim #1 – 2.5 Miles

It’s a 24 hour race so I should take it really easy to start. But I should catch that guy ahead of me first! I am going to destroy this race. I’m the juggernaut!

Run #1 – 10 Miles

If I run more miles in a day than I have in any week in the last year, does that guarantee an injury? Is it socially awkward to cheer on other runners if you just saw them 5 minutes ago, and will see them again in 10 minutes (it was a two mile looped course)? How many permutations of good/great/excellent and job/work/form are there?

Bike #1 – 50 Miles

First 30 miles: When Alexis is making boo koo bucks, we should definitely get a house out here. These rolling hills are far better than my basement trainer. 12 hours on the bike is going to be no problem.

Last 20 miles: If I’m four hours into the race and ready for it to be over, how am I going to feel 20 hours in?

Run #2 – 12 Miles

What happened to the speed of the first run? Is it still considered running if I walk/hobble along for 12 miles? Why doesn’t anyone cheer you on when you’re walking? Why is there a guy in a bear suit doing the floss on the side of the road? It’s too early to be hallucinating…

Bike #2 – 50 Miles

Fuck running! I’m superman on this bike, but why is everyone passing me? They must be on relay teams…

Run #3 – 12 Miles

[SUNSET]

Just jog to that tree, then you can walk again. Your reward for finishing the next loop will be using the restroom.

Mmmm….Skittles! Changing the green Skittle from lime to apple was one of the greatest achievements of the last decade. If only they could fix yellow and orange.

Bike #3 – 70 Miles

Deer…Deer…Deer. Where were all you guys hiding during the daylight? I’m going to invent a sport where you ride a bike and shoot at deer. We’ll call it biathlon. I’m moving slow, but a 15 MPH collision with a 150 pound deer might kill me.

[SUNRISE]

These Pop-Tarts are delicious. Why didn’t I buy more Pop-Tarts!

Swim #2 – 1.75 Miles

I’m just going to pee here in my wetsuit. Why did I think an hour of swimming would be a ‘victory lap’? Just don’t drown, that would be embarrassing. Nobody can see you cry when you’re swimming.

Wrap It Up!

Overall, I swam 4.25 miles, biked 170 miles, ran (maybe traveled by foot would be a better description) 34 miles, and slept 0 hours. I got smoked by the first place guy. He did 240 miles!

I was pleased with how this race went. I wasn’t in great shape, but finished without any injuries, and suffered for the good part of 16 hours. The post race beer from the guys in the tent next to me hit the spot.

Next Year

Running, biking, and swimming for 24 hours sucks, but the race itself was fantastic. It had a super relaxed, ultra-marathon type vibe, with a majority of competitors camping on site. I plan on doing it again next year, aiming for a longer distance. A double Ironman (4.8 mile swim, 224 mile bike, 52.4 mile run) would be possible if I was in good shape and an Ultraman (6.2 mile swim, 261.4 mile bike, 52.4 mile run) would be feasible if I was in elite level shape.