Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in a world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.
~ David Beckham
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
~ Margaret Mead
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
“You have to recognize that every ‘out front’ maneuver you make is going to be lonely, but if you feel entirely comfortable, then you’re not far enough ahead to do any good. That warm sense of everything going well is usually the body temperature at the center of the herd.” — John Masters
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
THE MAN IN THE ARENA
– Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic”
– delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910
– Theodore Roosevelt
And a bonus third:
“You must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Nobel Prize-winning Physicist Richard Feynman
A friend once advised me to be careful of startup purgatory. The story below was my response to him.
Imagine two people setting out to cross a large lake, each in a small rowboat. The first sets out on a clear day with the lake surface as still and flat as a mirror; a gentle breeze and a steady current pushing the boat from behind. Each time the oars are dipped into the water the boat shoots across the lake. Rowing is easy and delightful. Quickly the rower reaches the far side of the lake. She may congratulate herself for being quite skilled.
The second rower heads out across the same lake during a great storm. Powerful winds, currents, and waves move in the direction opposite the boat. With each pull of the oars, the boat barely moves forward, only to lose most of the distance gained when the oars are raised out of the water for the next pull. After much effort she makes it to the far side of the lake. This rower may feel discouraged at her lack of skill.
Probably most people would prefer to be the first rower. However, the second rower is the one who has become stronger from the exertion and is thereby better prepared for future challenges.
From The Issue At Hand by Gil Fronsdale.
Last Sunday I raced the Wolfpack Hustle Marathon Crash, a bike race that follows the Los Angeles Marathon course hours before its start. It winds through the famous streets of LA while they’re dark and empty — Sunset Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard, and Hollywood Boulevard. Thousands of cyclists participated in what was an unreal experience and exciting bike race.
The morning started at 2:40am. Ryan and I woke up, put our kits on, applied chamois butter, filled our water bottles, and loaded our bikes in my truck. We were staying at my parents’ house in Palos Verdes, which is roughly an hour drive from the race start in Silverlake. My mom graciously offered to give us a ride, and we departed at 3:00am. We got to the race at 4:00am and were greeted by thousands of cyclists completely congesting Sunset Boulevard.
The scene was like nothing I’ve seen — blinking lights everywhere, music, and lots and lots of bikes. It felt like Critical Mass, but much, much larger. Like Critical Mass, the crowd was very diverse. People were on fixies, in kits, on time trial bikes, in jeans, on road bikes, in costumes, and sometimes on beach cruisers, too. Although the majority of participants were hipsters on fixies, some without brakes or helmets.
We stumbled through the crowd looking for our friends — Lukas and Brian, and Brian’s two friends Jon and Brett. We found them in time for the 4:30am race start.
“Race” is perhaps a bad description. Of all the cyclists lined up on Sunset Boulevard, the front of the group was composed of people intending to race. However, the back of the group was composed of people joy riding. Our original plan was to joy ride, but about five miles into the ride we started racing. It was too hard not too. We were riding down huge, open, famous streets, completely empty of cars and full of other cyclists we just couldn’t resist contesting.
At first the six of us stayed together, sometimes getting separated slightly by the ebb and flow of the disorganized pack. But at the second climb, about three miles in, Brian and Jon attacked and Ryan, Lukas and I didn’t chase — we weren’t “racing” yet. As Brian and Jon attacked, they passed a guy on a fixed gear walking his bike up the hill. As Brian passed him at 20mph, he turned to him and yelled, “THERE’S NO WALKING IN BICYCLE RACING!”
Each of the first two climbs fragmented the pack — faster riders got ahead of the slower riders. We climbed relatively quickly, so by the time we were over both hills, we were mostly among racers. And whether we knew it or not at the time, we were about to blow them up — cycling speak for go faster than them.
Lukas, Ryan and I got organized and started sharing pulls. For non-cyclists, “sharing pulls” means taking turns riding at the front, which is much more work than riding behind someone else. Before we realized it, we were averaging 24mph and passing everyone.
We got to a descent with a tight right turn at the bottom. As we made the turn, we noticed two riders had been in a crash. Then we noticed one of them was Jon. As we passed we considered stopping, but from the sidewalk I heard Brian yell, “Keep going!” We kept going.
We passed dudes on fixed gears. We passed girls on beach cruisers. We passed other kitted racers on fancy road bikes with big, dished, carbon wheels. I was only concentrating on two things: “BEAST MODE” and “Uhhhh, can I maintain this?” Numerous times, either after a pull or while trying to keep up with Ryan or Lukas, I thought I was at my limit, that I wouldn’t be able to maintain our pace. But we kept pushing each other, and we kept the pace fast. And we kept accelerating.
We were never passed by someone who we didn’t immediately catch up to. For example, one dude on a road bike wearing a high-vis jacket (newb) passed us twice. Each time we caught him moments later, after he hit his limit and couldn’t stay ahead of us. The second time he passed us, I screamed to Lukas, who was at the front, “GET ON THAT WHEEL, LUKAS!” I was pissed the guy had the nerve to try and pass us again!
At one point, eight or ten riders were riding behind Ryan, Lukas, and me. But they weren’t sharing pulls. The three of us were rotating in and out, and the rest of the pack was behind us, holding on for dear life. I considered turning around, staring at them, and yelling, “YOU GUYS EVER GONNA TAKE A PULL?!” But I decided against it — I figured it was better to keep quiet than yell at people. Plus, they’d probably slow us down if they got in the front.
On a flat, smooth road, we passed another peloton of about 15 riders. But we didn’t just pass them. We FLEW by them. I was on the front as we passed them. I had my elbows on my handlebars in a very aero posture, with my head down staring at my handlebars. I didn’t look at them as we blew by. All I thought was, “LATER MOTHA FUCKAS!!!!” We were flying.
With about three miles to go, we turned onto San Vicente Boulevard, a beautifully smooth, wide, dark road. About 20 riders had formed a peloton behind us, and the competition started heating up. Ryan, Lukas and I were still at the front of the peloton, rotating in and out, and speeding up. We were averaging 29mph, our headlights leading a path through the darkness..
When Ryan was in the front, a guy in a kit on a fixed gear passed us and got in front of Ryan. Almost immediately the guy hit a cadence he couldn’t maintain and started slowing down. At which point we were passed by eight or ten guys. UGH. Why did that dude on a fixed gear pass a bunch of geared riders hammering at 29mph?!?!
I knew we were nearing the sprint, so I sprinted up alongside the eight or ten guys who passed us, where I found a gap and entered it. I was the third wheel and in perfect position for the sprint. We turned the final corner onto Ocean Boulevard, and I sprinted up to 37.7mph and won the field sprint for our little group.
At the end of the race, Lukas, Ryan and I regrouped, shared a bunch of high fives and hugs, and reminisced about how EPIC the ride was. We were so stoked! We were never passed by anyone who stayed ahead of us. We did all the passing. We had pushed each other far out of our comfort zone and were stoked at the pace we were able to maintain for the 28 mile race.
Eventually Brian, Jon, and Brett found us. Jon shared his story about his crash. As he descended at 30mph and approached the tight right turn, a guy on a fixed gear with no brakes was trying desperately to slow himself down. He was moving all over the road and hit Jon just as they both entered the turn. Fortunately Jon and his bike only had minor scratches and bruises — he was able to finish the ride.
After sharing more stories, more high fives, and snapping a few photos, we decided we needed coffee and hot chocolate. We looked for a donut shop, couldn’t find one, and ended up at a 24-hour McDonald’s. We told more stories as we ate hash browns and sipped our warm drinks in the dark.
Rather than taking further advantage of my mom’s generosity, Ryan and I decided to ride along the beach from Santa Monica back to Palos Verdes. The 24-mile ride took us an hour and forty-five minutes. I was in survival mode the entire ride, struggling to turn my pedals over and keep up with Ryan.
We made it back to my parent’s house around 8:30am, four hours after the race had started, and nearly six hours after we woke up. We got out of our kits, showered, dressed, and drove to my favorite breakfast burrito spot, Phanny’s. We took the burritos back to my parents house, ate, then lied on the couch for a nap. Two and half hours later I woke up feeling great.
Ryan and I uploaded our rides to Strava and discovered that Lukas, Ryan, and I had the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd fastest times of the whole race. We averaged 22.5mph. We were STOKED. Those results are awesome, especially considering we weren’t racing for the first five miles, and when we were racing, we were only a group of three. Whereas the racers who started at the front probably had a larger group and hence could maintain a faster average mile-per-hour.
All in all, the ride was unbelievably awesome. We had tons of fun riding through the empty, dark streets of LA. But the best part of the ride was the camaraderie — we were pushing each other out of our comfort zones together, and were unbelievably proud to have hammered so hard.
I’m planning to do it again next year. And next time, I’ll start much further towards the front with the other racers. I should have known that I wouldn’t actually joy ride once my adrenaline kicked in :).
The left side of our yellow raft is in the river and the right side is pointed towards the sky. All of my friends have been ejected from the raft and are swimming for their lives. And in a few moments I’ll be joining them. I’ll never forget this last image before our raft flipped in a rapid called Joe’s Diner.
At the time the accident happened, I didn’t think I was going to die, but then again maybe I should have been more worried. I can think of several defining moments in my life that have shaped me into who I am. The story I’ll share today is perhaps the most defining. It’s at least the most exciting.
In July 2005, six friends, my dad, brother, and I spent the weekend whitewater rafting in Kernville, CA, a small town on the Kern River 50 miles northeast of Bakersfield. Our confidence was high after several other successful trips, so we planned to challenge ourselves with difficult rapids. We didn’t think much about it — bigger rapids meant more fun!
We arrived at our campsite Thursday night with a plan to raft the following three days. Seven of us manned one raft — my brother, five very close friends, and me. My dad and another friend were each in their own kayak.
Rapids are classified according to their difficulty and danger. Classifications start at 2 and go up to 6, where a class 2 is a small, harmless rapid, and a class 6 is likely to kill you. Most guided recreational rafting trips do class 3 and 4 rapids.
We started off our trip on Friday by rafting the Lower Kern, an 11-mile stretch lasting all day. It’s a perfect first day, because it has easy, large rapids that are tons of fun and not too dangerous. Plus most of the stretch is whitewater, with only a few calm, lazy sections.
The last rapid of the Lower Kern is called Pinball, a difficult class 4 with lots of obstacles. Our previous trips down the Lower Kern always ended with a bad run through Pinball — we’d get stuck on rocks, bounced around, etc. This time we ran it flawlessly. This was a perfect end to the day, and a huge boost to our confidence.
I captained the raft from the rear, where I’d yell commands to maneuver us down the river. Each person in the raft had their own paddle. The commands I yelled were simple: an instruction to either paddle backwards or forwards. For example, I may have yelled “right forward,” signifying that the right side of the raft should paddle forward. “All back” meant that everyone should paddle backwards. And so on and so forth.
We started the second day with more confidence and a knack to challenge ourselves further. We ran several different sections, all consisting of difficult class 4 rapids. We were on fire all day — this was the best we had ever rafted. We wanted to go bigger before the day was over — we wanted to do a class 5.
For the last run of the day, we brought our raft down the hillside above a class 5 rapid called Bombs Away. The rapid is short, but it’s big. It has a 15ft drop followed by a huge wave. In all fairness, it’s relatively easy to run on a raft compared to a kayak. Nonetheless, we were scared and pumped up. Only six of us got in the raft — everyone else was too scared or too tired.
Normally when we approach a rapid, we hoot and holler with excitement, anticipating a fun and exciting ride. This time, we were silent except for my yell of “ALL FORWARD!” — a signal to paddle like hell. We entered the rapid perfectly, dropping for what seemed like forever. Jon, sitting at the front, noticed that all of a sudden he was paddling air — water was no longer below him. Finally we slammed into the huge wave waiting at the bottom. My dad, who was sitting at the rear with me, flew forward and hit my brother in the back of the head with his paddle. I was launched sideways into the well of the raft, where I was unable to see what was happening. After a few seconds I found my footing and got up to observe the damage. Pure chaos. No one was in their paddling position. Everyone had been pushed into the middle of the raft. My dad was making feeble attempts at paddling from his low, awkward position in the raft. His paddle was barely touching the water. Everyone else was stumbling to sit back up.
Eventually we all recovered, got into our positions, and screamed with excitement. Chaos is the source fun in whitewater, and we found plenty of it on Bombs Away. We finished the rapid, which after the drop was relatively calm. We had run Bombs Away flawlessly. Our confidence was at a new high. We slapped all our paddles together in celebration and exited the river to end the day.
We returned to our campsite that night with high spirits. We had finished two epic days of rafting. We ran several difficult class 4 rapids without problems. And we ran a big class 5 flawlessly. We could raft anything, or so we thought … until the next day.
We all woke up slowly Sunday morning, hazy from the evening celebration. We took our time preparing breakfast and lazed around the campsite. We decided to do one more run before packing our bags and heading home. We picked a short run near our campsite, which just so happened to be our favorite stretch: the Limestone Run.
The Limestone Run has two large class 4 rapids: Limestone Rapid and Joe’s Diner, along with a few easy class 3 rapids. The whole run takes less than an hour. The day before we ran the Limestone Run two or three times. And we had rafted the Limestone Run several times before this trip, too.
My dad and two friends dropped the rest of us off with the raft at the start of the run. They were tired from the previous two days and decided to sit the final day out. After they dropped us off, they drove to the end of the run and waited for our arrival.
The six of us started by inflating the raft. The process took about 20 minutes and started on land. Once the raft was pumped up, we put it in the river and left it to sit for a few minutes. The cold water cools the air inside the raft, which causes it to contract, hence deflating the raft slightly. Once the raft was cool, we used the pump to inflate the raft further. A partially-inflated raft is sluggish and less maneuverable.
As we pushed off the rock to start our run, I noticed immediately that our raft still wasn’t fully inflated. The thought crossed my mind to stop and add more air, but I decided against it — we were good, and I knew it.
The first rapid was Limestone Rapid, an easy, big class 4. We stumbled our way through it, making sloppy mistakes here and there. We hadn’t fully woken up yet, and our sluggish raft wasn’t helping.
The next rapid was Joe’s Diner, also an easy, big class 4, with a large sweeping left turn and two large holes on the right side of the turn. A hole is an obstacle that recirculates water behind an underwater rock, as seen here. Holes can be dangerous for kayakers, but rafts typically go right through them. Furthermore, we often go through holes on purpose just for the wild ride. We had gone through both large holes on Joe’s Diner the day before, enjoying ourselves the whole time.
We entered the rapid correctly and started making our way around the left turn. I wanted to avoid the two large holes because I wanted our final day to go smoothly. I shouted “right forward” to turn the raft slightly left. Then “ALL FORWARD” to move us down the rapid and away from the holes. As we paddled we moved forward but not left — our raft wasn’t maneuvering as it had the day before. We were headed strait for the first large hole. And we were sideways. Once I knew we wouldn’t avoid the hole, I made a call for “RIGHT BACK, LEFT FORWARD” to quickly point the raft into the hole. The move was executed in time and we entered the hole strait.
All of a sudden we were sideways, our left side up river and our right side down river. We had entered the hole strait and left it moments later sideways. We were going strait for the second hole and we were still sideways. We didn’t have time to correct ourselves. A thought crossed my mind, “OH SHIT!”
We entered the second hole sideways and were immediately flipped, right side over left. Everyone was ejected from the raft instantly including me.
I struggled underwater for what seemed like an eternity. At first I saw nothing — the blackness of the river bottom. Then I saw white bubbles everywhere as I moved towards the surface with the help of my life vest. I surfaced and took a quick look around. Pure chaos. I saw my friends and brother swimming for their lives. I saw paddles, life vests, shoes, kicking hands and legs. And I saw the raft, upside down, racing downriver.
One thought popped into my head: I need to get to the raft. I knew this run eventually led into a fatal dam, and I knew the raft was our only way to get down and exit the river safely. I still had my paddle in my hand, so I threw it away and started swimming.
My view of the raft was constantly interrupted by waves and other holes. As I was swimming I was sucked underwater over and over again by waves and holes. I swam through debris — shirts and shoes — ignoring all of it. I needed to get to the raft.
I swam and swam and finally reached the raft. When I got to it, I found Jon (aka Zoo) holding on to one end. In one hand was the raft, in the other was two paddles. What a champion! I yelled to him with all my might, “ZOO, LET’S GET THIS FUCKER OVER!” He nodded. I grabbed the end of the raft with Zoo and we started kicking our way to the left side of the river.
We made slow progress, but eventually the raft was on the bank and we were standing on solid ground. I turned towards the river to see what others were doing. Dustin and Andrew had swam safely to the raft as well and were climbing onto the bank. My brother, who at the time was fourteen, and Nico were floating down river slowly making their way over. I yelled as loud as I could — as if it wasn’t already clear — to have them swim to the left side. With some struggle they eventually got over, but much below where I and the raft were. They hiked upriver to meet us. We were together again. And we were safe. No one was injured.
Although the six of us had survived, much of our gear hadn’t. Only one other person held onto their paddle, which meant we had three paddles plus a spare, totaling four paddles. Great. Six people, four paddles, a partially inflated raft, and several more class 3 rapids to get through. We rested a few moments, flipped the raft right-side up, and got ready for the rest of the run.
We bumped and stumbled our way through the class 3 rapids to the end of the run. My dad was waiting for us and was obviously worried. We had taken far longer than expected to get to the bottom. But we made it. We joked as college students do, “We all got sucked off at Joe’s Diner.” Very funny.
We all recounted the event and shared stories. Andrew, after being ejected from the raft, was held under for a few seconds and resurfaced under the raft. He dove under water trying to free himself, only to come up still under the raft. He did this several more times and eventually came up to daylight. Nico hit his head hard on a rock but was OK. Everyone else suffered the same journey as me: lots of turbulence, swimming, and episodes of being held underwater.
I was inspired to write this story after reading about the Tunnel Creek avalanche, an avalanche that claimed three lives in Washington. My friends, brother, and I are lucky that we’re alive to tell the tale of Joe’s Diner. Other adventure seekers aren’t always so lucky.
I’ve enjoyed adrenaline sports for as long as I can remember. My parents started me on skis when I was three. Today I enjoy mountain biking, road biking, snowboarding, snowmobiling, whitewater rafting, skateboarding, and surfing. These sports are dangerous. But my fondest memories are those similar to Joe’s Diner, where friends and I push our limits and find our edges. The risk is worth the excitement. I’ll continue with adrenaline sports for as long as my body lets me. I won’t let fear control me.
Since flipping our raft on Joe’s Diner, we’ve run the rapid successfully several times. We’re more careful, and we always inflate the raft fully.
Last week I was fortunate enough to heli-board in Revelstoke, BC with my Dad and friends. We had an amazing week of skiing and snowboarding. Here’s the video I put together: