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Robert Ripley
2021 it is!

08 September 2020 10:17 am (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

2021 it is then.

So, I apologize to the followers of this blog (of whom I am sure there are many).  I have been neglecting the blog and it has kind of drifted off into non-existence over the summer.

As you know by now, the 2020 Atacama Crossing was officially cancelled about 2 weeks ago.  As the summer progressed, however, it became painfully clear that a trip to Chile was not in my imminent future (not that I blame the Chileans for not wanting me to bring my little piece of the pandemic to their shores, I’d probably refuse me entry into my own house if there were any other options), and, as such, it was increasingly difficult to get psyched up to blog about the race.  Even harder than to train for it.  But, not to worry, I am still here, breathing air and hanging out in the woods with my dogs.  And Nancy, bless her heart (one of us was born to social distancing, hint, it's not Nancy).

I have changed my entry to the 2021 Atacama Crossing Race, now less than 13 months in the future.  I am hopeful that we will be living in a bright and shiny new world by then, one that allows for international travel and sleeping in tents with strangers.  If I were truly hardcore, I would be mapping out a year-long training schedule right now, timing the perfect peak for September 26th, but, as you may have ascertained by now, I am not that hardcore, and I simply don’t have that capacity for single minded concentration.  It’s going to be autumn here soon in the high desert, time to get the mountain bike out in the woods after the smoke clears and the dust settles and the air cools.  And after that, nature willing, it will snow in the hills and ski season will start.  Sometime in February or March, after a few months of social distancing on the Nordic trails, there will be time to start training for the ultra again.

Not that I’ve spent the whole summer sitting on the porch watching the alpacas eat the grass.  For want of anything better to do, I have managed a fair bit of running and riding.  I’m in pretty good shape (for the shape I’m in).  In August I ran my first marathon since 1989.  We started in waves, wearing masks for the first bit, after which there was ample opportunity to stay distanced from my competitors.  It was the slowest marathon I’ve ever run, but it was all in dirt and there was almost 1000 meters of elevation gain.  I was the second finisher in the masters category (over 40yo).  I was pretty happy with the result.  (the result being that I could still walk at the end of it all) 

Next weekend, Jaime, my coach, has shamed me into a half-iron duathlon (56 miles of biking followed by 13 miles of running).  There will be a time trial start and hopefully minimal contact on the course.  I think I read something about a mask?  And it's fire season here in the Northwest, which means that the air may or may not be clean enough to breathe.  I will have to let you know how that goes.

But for now, I am going to let this blog hibernate for a few months.  I promise that I will be back and blogging in the new year.  2021 should be an auspicious year.  Among other things, it will be the year marking my 60th journey around the sun.  Cause for celebration.

When I started this thing, I put my goals down as have fun, don’t get hurt and be thankful.  I am still having fun.  I have managed to get through this summer without getting hurt (knock on wood). 

I am thankful that I have not lost any loved ones in these crazy times.  For those of you who have, you have my sincerest condolences and hope for healing to come.

Addendum:  The Duathlon I mentioned earlier was cancelled due to wildfires in the area.  Our part of Central Oregon has been smothered in smoke, making outside training impossible.  But I am thankful the fires have passed us by (this time) and I am thankful for the brave men and women out fighting the fires.

 

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Robert Ripley
A Run in the Woods

27 June 2020 10:55 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

A Run in the Woods (Part 1) 

My last posting was about walking in the woods.  And, as much as I like a good walk, and, as much as I know that I will spend a good deal of the Atacama Crossing walking, I am training for a running race.  So the woods that I walk in are also the training grounds for my nascent career as an ultra-runner.

As you can see, I am still spending a large chunk of my training time on my bicycle.  But I have been gradually ramping up my running mileage. 

 

 

 

My last run was 21 miles (nearly 34 kilometers) and 20.5 of that was in the dirt.

(note that my recording device is a Garmin Forerunner 235, which doesn’t have an altimeter, so the elevation gains/losses are estimated with GPS)

My run started in the woods where I take my morning walk and gradually worked its way up into the foothills of the Sisters volcanoes.  One of the challenging aspects of the Atacama Crossing is the altitude.  We live at 3400 feet (a bit more than 1000 meters), and I train up to about 6000 feet with the summits of the volcanoes still another 4000 feet above me.  This gives me some advantage over the racers coming from sea level, but I will still be feeling the scarcity of oxygen when we start the race at 10000 feet!  Another Atacama challenge is the variety of terrain:  Atacama gives the runner  the opportunity to test their footing in sand dunes, stream beds, water crossings, rocky jeep trails, and even the infamous salt flats.

Central Oregon is pretty much devoid of sand dunes and salt flats.  I will probably have to head to the Oregon coast for some dune specific running this summer.  But I am not sure if I can find salt flats here.  The salt flats have the potential to put the runner through miles of crackling unstable footing.  The best simulator that I have been able to find is running through pine cones.

 

Additionally, my runs take me on miles of sandy single track which I share with horses, dirt bikes and the occasional elk herd.  This keeps me on my toes, literally and figuratively, as I try to keep my running balanced under continually shifting footing.

 

When we first moved here from the city and I started running in the woods, I would come back all dirty with bloody knees and palms.  Nancy would take a look, “Running trails again, huh?”  As I expect that anyone who runs in the woods will tell you, it’s not like running on the bike path.  You always have to be on the look out for the rock or the tree root that’s waiting to trip you up.  

Things I have learned:

1)   Always be looking out toward the trail about 10-20 feet in front of you.

2)   Try to pick up your feet an extra inch or so.

3)   Try to keep your cadence fast and your stride a little shorter.

4)   A midfoot strike gives you a more stable platform to react with 

Not expert advice, just a few things that have kept me upright and less bloody.

 

(Thankfulness note: I am thankful that I can socially distance while doing what I love, running in the woods.)

 

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Robert Ripley
A Walk in the Woods (part 1)

31 May 2020 11:51 am (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana



A Walk in the Woods (pt 1)

Every morning, unless something like work, travel, or a dentist appointment gets in the way, Nancy and I go walk in the woods.

(Thankfulness note:  I am thankful that we live near enough to walk to the woods.)

Usually we walk for 2-3 miles.  Always we take a couple of mongrel dogs with us.  Since we live in the high desert, our forest is not the densely wooded, mossy floored, arboreal forest that blots out the sky with green foliage.  Our forest has a sandy floor with grass and sagebrush and randomly spaced juniper and ponderosa pine.  Our forest belongs mostly to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and has been logged before and will be again.  Logging roads traverse it, as well as single track bicycle  and horse tracks.  And, because the flora is scattered, in most places one can wander through the woods without a specific trail.  And because you can usually see the sky and often the Cascade mountains to the west, it is hard to get lost.  Although I have managed.

                                          North Sister Cascade volcano pokes up through the trees, upper right

Our little piece of forest is in the process of transformation.  For over one hundred years, open canals (or ditches) have brought irrigation water from the mountains through these woods to the fields below.  (Our little 3.5 acre pasture among them). When we first started walking here a few years ago, there were miles of ditches running like streams (from April to October) through the forest.  But here in the desert, water is a valuable commodity.  Everyone wants their share: the farmers and ranchers, the anglers and boaters, even the endangered spotted frog.  And the value of the water has reached a point where the loss to evaporation and seepage from the ditches has made it economically viable to put the water in buried pipes.  While I am sure that the frogs upstream and the ranchers downstream appreciate the extra water, the piping project has left large swaths of gravel in the woods where there once were 100 year old pine trees and winding paths along the burbling ditches.  We lament the loss of the sound of running water.

                                                    Cody by an open ditch

                                                   A piped ditch with some leftover pipe

 

 

On our walks we loosen up our joints and muscles and, by massaging a little caffeine into the grey matter, loosen up our minds as well.  Usually we talk about days past or future, but sometimes all we do is appreciate the crisp air, the trees and fleeting glimpses of wildlife.

The health benefits of walking are pretty much undisputed.  And walking in the woods is even better for you than walking the sidewalk:

Reportedly, walking in the woods makes you healthier in a number of ways:

  • boosts the immune system
  • lowers blood pressure
  • reduces stress
  • improves mood
  • increases ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
  • accelerates recovery from surgery or illness
  • increases energy level
  • improves sleep

In Japan they recommend forest bathing—shinrin-yoku, slowly walking through a forest, taking in the atmosphere through all your senses, and enjoying the benefits that come from such an excursion.  Dr. Quing Li has written the book on Forest Bathing and how trees can help you find health and happiness.  Apparently trees even emit pheromones that can help you fight cancer.  Maybe these cancer fighting trees only grow in Japan.

I’m not sure that describing one of our walks as bathing would be entirely accurate.  We do immerse ourselves, but we return home with dust between our toes.

 And, although the health benefits of walking a dog, are also indisputable, it is a little unclear if we are walking our dogs, or if they are merely deigning to allow us to tag along on their hunt.  While Nancy and I trot out 2-3 miles in our hour of walking, Holly and Cody might traverse twice that, occasionally circling back to see if we are still upright and carrying the bag of treats.

 As my muscles warm up on the walk, I stop for my stretching exercises.  It isn’t pretty.  My running coach warned me 40 plus years ago about the dangers of not stretching.  I’m sure he’d be surprised to know that I am still running, but I’m sure he would not be surprised by my level of inflexibility.  Stiffness that led to a number of minor injuries and then a nasty hamstring tear in 2017.  Brenda, my physical therapist, after causing me a great deal of pain, finally convinced me I should stretch.  Length is strength she tells me.  My goal is to stretch three muscle groups, hamstrings, quads and gastrocs (with Achilles) for three 20 second repetitions, once a day.  Six minutes.  Even I can do that. I think it’s working.

And then we come home from our walk and start our day.  The pasture needs mowing.  The alpaca can’t eat fast enough to keep up with the late spring growth.  Some of the irrigation heads need cleaned out.  There’s always weeding.  And work.  Not til tomorrow night.  And then there’s training.  That’s still a thing.  I’ve been slowly upping my running mileage as well as the hours on my bike.  It’s getting there. I hope.

                                                   This year’s alpacas!  Can you guess who’s been wrestling?

 

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Robert Ripley
The Work Thing (Part 2)

15 May 2020 11:17 am (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

The Work Thing (Part 2)

I’ve been working a lot. Today will be my 3rd 24 hour shift in 8 days.

Some of you will say that working 24 hours in a row in an emergency department is dangerous, both for me and for the patients under my care. And some of you would probably be right. The two hospitals where I work for 24 hours are not the busiest, so usually I can lie down for an hour or three here and there, making the 24 not a totally crazy thing to do, but any ER can get overwhelmed at times. On Sunday I didn’t get any rest, so I was pretty shaky getting home on Monday. Today, after two nights sleep, I am back. The good news is that after today’s shift, I am off for a week or so.

Working healthcare in the time of COVID is not much fun. Even here in Central Oregon where the virus hasn’t taken much of foothold. The constant worry about whether or not this air is good to breathe and whether or not I just touched something I wasn’t supposed to is starting to wear on me.

(Thankfulness Note: I am thankful that I don’t live or work in a COVID hotspot. And I give thanks and prayers for my colleagues that do.)

Now we wear masks and safety glasses at all times and we social distance at the work stations. When we go see patients we put on more protective wear. Gowns, gloves, faceshields. We don’t have many of the disposable high filtration N95 masks, so we wear painters’ respirators, making it difficult to understand what anyone is saying. I feel safe with the equipment we have, but it is draining to continually be changing in and out of protective wear. And every time you take off or put on (if you are reusing equipment, like a respirator) the gear, there is the potential for contamination. Some of my colleagues adapt their protective gear based on the complaint that the patient presents with, but I’m wearing full protective gear for every patient. It’s pretty clear that the virus is out there, and not everybody carrying it is complaining of a fever and cough. Still, all the gear is isolating, and makes it difficult to interact with my patients. Some of my best moments at work are when the department is less busy and I can sit in a room and shoot the sh#t with an 80 year old cattle rancher or a 20 something uber driver. This doesn’t happen in the time of COVID. Another thing I love about my job is the camaraderie I feel with the ER staff, and the social distancing and masking makes this harder to appreciate.

The other day one of our nurses ran into a room, without putting on her gear, where a patient was having a cardiac arrest. And saved his life. And I had to yell at her. After I put on my gear and helped stabilize the patient. (Okay, I didn’t yell at her, but I did have to pull her aside later and tell her that she couldn’t do that.) Here I am admonishing an amazing, experienced emergency nurse for doing what her best instinct tells her to do. I am asking her to look out for herself before she jumps in to take care of her patient. How crazy is this?

But, here I am. On the fringes of the first (and hopefully the last) pandemic of my career. I have been preparing for this event most of my life. And, as it turns out, it is not really how I pictured it. For one, I thought that my residency buddies and I would be on the sharp end of the fight: wearing space suits, armed with cutting edge antimicrobials and kicking some virus butt. And here we are: no space suits, no decent antimicrobials, not much butt-kicking. Twenty, even ten, years ago, I would have volunteered to go to the hotspots: Wuhan, Italy, New York City. I may have not been bombproof when I was 40, but it would have been hard for you to tell me that. Now, after spending time on a cancer ward, I know exactly how mortal I am. With my low lymphocyte count residual from the chemotherapy, the radiation damage to my upper lungs, my asthma, not to mention my age, it would seem like I am a sitting duck for the virus. I am sure I am not alone in my anxiety and fear.

(Thankfulness note: I give thanks to all the people of this world who are staying at home to slow the spread of the virus until the healthcare system can catch up. And to all of you who can’t.)

It’s late here in Prineville. There are a couple of patients left in the emergency department sleeping off drugs or alcohol. As I said, I am sure I am not alone in my anxiety and fear. I am going to go try to lie down for a couple of minutes.

 

 

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Robert Ripley
The Gear Thing (part 2)

22 April 2020 01:15 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

The Gear Thing (part 2)

I had a birthday this week. I turned 39. For the 20th time.

I have to say that I don’t usually feel 59, but the morning after my birthday, after a couple too many thyme bomb cocktails (see below for recipe), I was definitely feeling my age.

But, fortunately there is no acute chocolate shortage going on, so there was cake! And presents.

(Thankfulness note:  I give thanks for chocolate, cake, presents, and the lovely, amazing person who gives me these things)

Nancy got me the Raidlight Revolutiv 24 liter race vest for my birthday. A race vest is a backpack for running (item 1 on the Mandatory Equipment List, MEL). The Revolutiv weighs 250 grams or a little more than 8 ounces. As opposed to my current running pack, the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 which looks like a backpack, the Revolutiv looks like a vest with a pocket on the back. According to Raidlight, it is a “large capacity” race vest, although it looks like it barely has room for a loaf of bread. It took me several minutes to squeeze a 5 kg bag of rice into the main compartment.

The Revolutiv to the left and the Fastpack 30 on the right

a couple of raid light water bottles in the foreground, no doubt the subject of future discussions 

And by calling it a vest (and, I suspect in the interest in keeping the weight down), Raidlight has been able to dispense completely with the padded shoulder straps one usually expects on a backpack. The material that comprises the shoulder strap area is so insubstantial that you can actually see through it in places. Which begs the question. How comfortable is this vest thingie? (how about after a 12 hour schlepp in the desert?)

As mentioned, I loaded it up with 5kg of rice (and 2kg of water) and jogged around with it yesterday. It felt pretty good. It does ride well on my back and doesn’t jostle unduly with my stride. But it is definitely not as comfortable as the UD Fastpack 30 which actually has a little padding in the shoulder straps and has a plastic/foam back support piece. So I think there’s going to have to be a tradeoff here: Comfort for weight. (weight in turn which may make me uncomfortable in the long run, Hmmm….) The Fastpack 30 weighs 750 grams (24 oz), so 3x more than the Revolutiv. And at 30 liters, there’s more room, for bringing more stuff, making a heavier pack for carrying out across the desert.

Model sporting a stuffed vest and pandemic hair hygiene 

Lots to think about. I am definitely going to have to take the Revolutiv out for a test run, or two. But given that the vest is made of paper thin material, I don’t want to test it out too much, because I’d be worried that taking a well worn vest out into the wilderness would be begging for structural failure.

And speaking of the weight v. comfort conundrum, I have been pondering the sleeping pad concept. Sleeping pads are not even on the MEL, but the idea of running all day and then preparing to do it again the next day by sleeping on the cold hard ground, doesn’t sound particularly appealing. We have a couple of the Thermarest NeoAir Xlite pads. We have a full size pad (12 oz) and a shortie pad (8oz), again the trade off: Is carrying an extra 4 ounces every day worth having your feet off the ground when you sleep every night? How do you put this to the test? Thermarest now puts out an even lighter NeoAir pad, the Uberlite, but the reviews suggest that they have a high rate of leakage (going back to the cold hard ground thing), so I am not sure it is worth investing in the new pad.

Sleeping pad options! Lower legs on or off the ground? One wonders.

Nancy also bought me the Raidlight Hyperlight jacket to satisfy item #25 on the MEL. We haven’t had much rain here lately, so I can’t speak to its waterproofness, but it is very light. I am going to put it on when I next go to work on our irrigation, so I will get back to you on water resistance and breathability.

All of the Raidlight stuff is pretty expensive. Naturally a few weeks after Nancy bought my birthday presents, Raidlight put their entire inventory on 50% spring sale. And although we were a little miffed at the timing error, I did get in on the sale and bought some tights (item #22), desert cap (#27) and some desert gaiters (not on the MEL).

I’ve been working my way through the MEL. Next steps will have to be bedding and lighting (items 2-4). The sleeping bag promises to be the most expensive purchase on the MEL. My Mountain Hardware ultralight 15 degree F sleeping bag from a decade ago weighs just under 2 pounds. It’s super comfy and warm, but I don’t think it’s going to make the cut (see comfort v. weight tradeoff). There are a number of bags out there today that meet the 32 deg requirement and weigh only a pound. And given that it literally has to fit in a breadbox, compressibility is also a big deal. It looks like the new thing for fastpackers is the quilt. Quilts weigh even less (no zipper, less material), but they seem a little futzy and if I read things right, you rely solely on the insulation of your pad for your parts on the ground side. Could be risky. If anyone has any thoughts on the trend towards quilting, let me know. Until then, I will be meandering the internet looking at down count and other bag factors until I can actually get out to REI or Northface and actually run my fingers over the ripstop.

Other than that life has been pretty good in our little part of the world. The irrigation district put water in the canals, and I spent much of the last week unclogging and replacing irrigation heads, so the water is splashing in our pasture and hopefully the grass will start growing soon. I have two 24 hour shifts coming up in the emergency room, but hopefully the pandemic will continue to tread lightly here in Central Oregon. Here’s hoping that you all are safe and healthy wherever you are.

(Thankfulness note: I give thanks for spring and growing grass)

Here’s a prescription for the Thyme Bomb cocktails (it'll cure what ails you!):

3 oz vodka

½ oz lemon juice (more or less to taste)

½ oz simple syrup (also to taste)

5-6 sprigs of thyme

1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger

Muddle the ingredients in a large glass

Strain into shaker, Shake over ice.

Serve in a chilled martini glass with a sprig or two of thyme as garnish

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Dafa Toto

Posted On: 05 May 2020 08:20 am

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Robert Ripley
The Work Thing (Part 1)

05 April 2020 01:04 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

The Work Thing (part 1)

For those of you who were operating under the misconception that I am a professional athlete, or for those of you that know me to be a bum that spends a lot of time exercising, I should clarify that I do have a job. I am a board certified emergency physician. I have been working emergency rooms for 30 years in Pennsylvania, Alaska, Massachusetts, Washington, California and Oregon. Emergency medicine has been a good job for me. The irregular, problem based nature of the practice seems to fit with my ADHD and the occasional opportunity to perform life-saving procedures provides the doses of adrenaline that my system needs to keep going. The emergency room is the most democratic part of American healthcare, we treat patients according to the severity of their problem, not their ability to pay for it. And while emergency medicine has been good for me, it has also allowed me to give a little back to the society that nurtured and educated me. Additionally, emergency medicine has given me the opportunity to provide medical care as a volunteer all over the globe. In 2011, I volunteered as a race doctor on the Gobi March, and the itch was introduced that gradually became my plan to run the Atacama Crossing.

 

Volunteers at the Atacama race in 2015. Most of the medical team is stage right. I’ve been on the medical team at 6 races now. I’m scheduled to work Gobi Mongolia 2020, in June.

(Thankfulness note: I give thanks for having a job in these hard times.) 

After my lymphoma treatment in 2014, in an effort to improve my chances of remission, we moved from Seattle to Central Oregon, and I went from working at a high volume, high acuity (huge stress) big city emergency room to lower volume, lower acuity work in small towns. Of course, crazy things can happen in small towns too, so when you least expect it, an emergency room in the middle of nowhere can suddenly fill with very sick or injured people. And now I work part time. 88 hours a month. Which, as you may have noticed, allows me more free time to train than your average human.

I went back to work this week. After 2 weeks of travel and 2 weeks of quarantine, it was a little bit of a shock to the system. Central Oregon is currently not one of America’s COVID19 hotspots. We have about 40 people in the area who have tested positive and roughly 10 people who have been hospitalized. The numbers are gradually increasing, but not doubling every day. Our hospitals have cancelled all elective surgeries and put up tents and made beds available for a potential onslaught of sick patients. But at the moment, mercifully, the beds remain empty and the emergency rooms are calmer than usual. Still, I will admit that I was nervous stepping back into the department this week. I always have a little anxiety when I come to work. You always wonder what’s waiting behind door number 2. But this is just a little crazier than usual. I am confident in the skills I have to take care of a person sick with the virus. But multiple people? And in the back of my head: can I keep myself safe from the virus? I have practiced putting on (and, more importantly, taking off) the equipment for SARS and Ebola. I can do this safely. But now we are being told we don’t have very much of this equipment. And we will be reusing masks and shields that we’ve been taught to throw away. Putting a potentially contaminated mask back on is a skill that no one has ever taught me, and yet this may be the most important skill of the coming weeks.

I’ve been rummaging through my garage for protective gear, in case the stores at the hospital run out before the resupply. Don’t be too freaked out if you see your doctor coming towards you in a chainsaw helmet and a painter's respirator.  I'll leave the chainsaw at home.

 

Or maybe we can all just wrap ourselves in Bubble Wrap until this is over.

 

But before the bubble wrap. I’ve got a 2 hour run on the training schedule. It’s 36 (2C) degrees and sleeting out. Sounds like the perfect opportunity for social distancing. And it will help my anxiety as well.

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Robert Ripley
Notes from Quarantine, Week 2

28 March 2020 03:53 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

Notes from Quarantine 

Week 2

I’m sitting in the kitchen listening to an episode of “Prairie Home Companion” from the 90s (surreally enough, the episode features an operetta titled La Influenza) and watching Nancy make kardemummabullar (Swedish cardamom rolls).  Yep.  Things are pretty desperate at our house.  Fortunately, today is the last day of our CDC sanctioned quarantine.  Unfortunately, under Governor Brown’s executive order 20-12, confining all good Oregonians to their homes, our situation really won’t change that much tomorrow.

Nancy making kardemummabullar

It has been a pretty good week here in Tumalo, my home town. (Ok. So I’m not Garrison Keillor, and my home town is really probably Anchorage, Alaska, but we do live somewhere in unincorporated Deschutes County near the village of Tumalo.)

We discovered that Newport Market would shop for us and bring the groceries out to our car, so we were able to get food without violating our quarantine, and we didn’t have to eat frozen burritos all week.  And we figured out how to use Zoom (well, Nancy figured it out), so we could attend virtual dinner parties.

Yellowknife Wireless, our internet provider, generously gave us an additional free 200GB of data streaming, so we’ve been able to have parties as well as keep up with the progression of the virus and the multiple viral internet memes and song parodies.  (My favorite so far: My Corona by Chris Mann, google it).

The dogs have been happy to have us in quarantine.  They have been gracious enough to invite us along on their daily walks in the woods.  Our neighbors to the east have 80 acres of undeveloped juniper stands that they kindly let us walk on, and across the road is thousands of acres of BLM ponderosa pine forest to wander in, all while staying much more than 6 feet away from our fellow vectors. 

 

(Thankfulness note: I give thanks for living in a place that I can take a walk while still maintaining social distance.)

 

Holly and Cody, our brown mongrel rescue dogs, feel it is their mission to help the woodland critters stick to an exercise program.  Bunnies are chased back to their holes and squirrels are run up their trees.  On a good day, no one gets hurt.

Holly encourages the running (and high jump) career of a local squirrel 

Cody enjoys a well deserved rest after the hunt

Aside from internet surfing and walking the woods, I’ve been trying to get a jump on my spring chores.  We have a little more than 3 acres of pasture that alpacas graze on in the summer.  The irrigation water gets turned on in 2 weeks, so this week I’ve been getting ready.  I picked up the pine cones (pine cones in alpaca fleece, messy), trimmed the lower branches on the pine trees and cleaned up the weeds along the fence line.  Once the water gets turned on, I’ll be busy fixing irrigation heads and getting fertilizer laid down, so the alpacas can come in May.

Alpacas in the summer pasture

Oh. And then there’s the training thing.  It was announced this week that the Namib Race would be postponed until November. Disheartening, I'm sure, for my fellow desert racers in training, but definitely the right call given the current status of the pandemic.  I’m signed up as medical director for the Gobi March in Mongolia at the end of June, and I am cautiously optimistic that it will be safe then to travel and hold this race.  And I am hopeful that the Atacama Crossing will take place in September.  How hopeful, you may ask.  Hopeful enough to train for it.

As I write this, it’s snowing in the hills outside, a good thing, but unfortunately the ski areas have been closed by executive order 20-12 and the cross country trails are no longer being groomed, so Nordic skiing is no longer a training option for me.

So it’s down to biking and running 

I’ve taken the bike outside twice this week.  And gotten snowed or sleeted on both times.  Given the blowing rain and sleet at the moment, I’ll probably ride in my garage today.  (I used to be hard). As mentioned in earlier posts, I’m hoping to get some if not most of my fitness doing lower impact exercise.  When I do feel like a little bit more impact, there are miles of trail and logging roads literally out my door.  I’ve been playing around with running with a 6kg pack.  Have to say:  Not really pleasant.  But I guess I’ll have to get used to it.  I haven’t been able to meet with my coach, Jaime Dispenza, of Laughing Dog Coaching, but he has been putting an entertaining and challenging program onto my TrainingPeaks app.

But before training.  Fika.  Swedish noun and verb for coffee break with snacks!

(Thankfulness note: As always I give thanks for my lovely wife who makes me treats and Fikas with me!)

And then on Monday it’s back to work.  Oh, yeah.  The work thing.

Comments: Total (1) comments

Carl Botterud

Posted On: 28 Mar 2020 11:23 pm

Miss you guys, miss Tumalo. Nice writing and nice pics. Kaipo sends his love to Holly and Cody.
Robert Ripley
Notes from Quarantine

22 March 2020 11:42 am (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

Notes from Quarantine

Week 1

Wow. What a crazy ride this last few weeks has been. I must admit that, at the beginning of March, the magnitude of the coronavirus infection had not fully sunken in. Which, as a medical professional, is embarrassing to admit. Apparently, however, I was not the only one. We’ve known that sooner or later, another pandemic respiratory virus was coming. And, now that it is here, it looks like we are not ready for it.

My little part in this story (as it unfolds):

As I may have mentioned, I was scheduled to race in the Masters World Cup Cross Country Ski races in Cogne, Italy this month. The races were canceled at the last moment, and we were left with the decision to cancel the trip entirely or go ski in the Italian Alps. We had been closely monitoring the epidemic in Northern Italy: there were no cases in the Aosta Valley, and the CDC travel advisory for Italy was still at level 2 (travel, take precautions). Nancy and I had a long talk about the risks and the benefits, we scrapped the Milan leg of the trip, but we opted to go ski. In Italy.

Naturally, probably about the time we were checking our bags, the CDC raised the travel advisory to level 3 (avoid nonessential travel). But by this time, essential or not, we were committed. We flew into Frankfurt. Google said we were 7 hours from Cogne in our rental car, but after 5 hours on the rainy, crash strewn autobahn we were still 4 hours away, so we spent the night in Basel. The next day, after making our way through the Great Saint Bernard tunnel into the Aosta valley, we passed a large banner celebrating the upcoming Masters World Cup as we came to the lovely village of Cogne.

 

Poster for the Masters World Cup in Cogne

We had an amazing few days in Cogne. The weather was favorable, the skiing was great, and the food was tasty. We stayed at the Bellevue Hotel and Spa in a room with views from Monteparadiso all the way up and down the valley. And the people of Cogne, despite facing economic hardships from the cancellation of the World Cup and uncertain spread of the virus, were absolutely beautiful, going out of their way to take care of us.

From Cogne, we could ski to the villages of Epinel, Valnontey and Lillaz. We skied up the Val Ferret, with Mount Blanc peeking over our shoulder, and had coffee and torte at the Hotel Lavachey.

 

Nancy skiing near Valnontey with Monte Paradiso in the background

Nancy and I skiing Val Ferret with Mont Blanc behind us

But every day a bit more of Italy closed down, on Monday they shut down the hotels in the Aosta Valley and on Tuesday they closed the borders entirely.

We managed to get through the Mont Blanc tunnel to France without incident and spent 3 days in Chamonix. Our last morning in Chamonix, we read about the ban of travel from Europe to the States starting at midnight on Friday the 13th. We were scheduled to fly out of Frankfurt on the 14th. I called our airline representative to see if we could get on an earlier flight. She kindly laughed at me. While we had been sleeping, all of those seats had filled. But she did say that our flight had not been cancelled. Yet. So we went skiing. And then we drove to Frankfurt.

I must admit I wasn’t holding out much hope when we woke up in Frankfurt on the 14th. The flight departure board at our airport hotel showed pretty much only cancelled flights, from every major carrier.

 

Fortunately, I had purchased our tickets on the discount airline Condor, which appeared to be the only airline flying to the US this day. And so we made it home. We passed through the cordon of folks in hazmat suits without requiring any special probing and were able to catch a flight to Bend.

Where we are now in a self imposed 2-week quarantine per CDC recommendations for all travelers returning from Europe. Fortunately for us, we have enough toilet paper and frozen burritos to make it through, and we live in a pretty nice place to be quarantined in.  

Thankfulness note: I give thanks that we have a place to live and food to eat.

Every morning we walk in the woods with our dogs. And I’ve been able to run the back roads and bike my garage (it’s been a little chilly to ride outside, although the weather is turning for the better) while still maintaining appropriate social distancing. I have been trying to adjust my training and diet to keep my immunity at its optimal levels.

Podium Runner article on training and your immune system

I am feeling guilty about not being able to go back to work. My colleagues have been on the front lines as the pandemic comes to Central Oregon and some of them are working extra shifts in the emergency department this week because of a decision I thought I was making solely on my own behalf. And already it appears that our hospitals, along with most others, are running short of the equipment necessary to protect them and keep them healthy. My heart goes out to them. But I will be back there next week. Probably on the day that the masks run out.

Comments: Total (1) comments

Tony Brammer

Posted On: 25 Mar 2020 08:28 am

Hindsight is an exact science Rob, keep well and make the most of what comes next. See you in a desert soon.
Robert Ripley
The Cancer Thing, Part I

22 February 2020 09:13 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

The Cancer Thing. Part I

So by now you may have ascertained that I am running (training for, blogging about, shopping for, etc) the Atacama Crossing 2020 to give thanks for being 5 years cancer free.  And that in the process I would love to raise a little money for people fighting their own cancer at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Full disclosure, when Atacama happens in September, I hope to be almost six years cancer free. But because Atacama is such a large undertaking, and hubris being what it is, I was afraid of signing up for last year’s race ahead of the 5 year mark and risking the wrath of the gods.

I haven’t written about the cancer thing, or even talked about it much. Cancer is something that is difficult to talk about. If you ever want to quiet down a party, just lead with “well, the last time I had chemotherapy….” And, speaking solely for myself, cancer is something that I would like to forget about, or at least put behind me. But, the human body being an imperfect conglomeration of cells, there is always a new lump, a little dizziness, or a new ache and suddenly cancer is back, sitting at the driver’s seat of your random thought wagon. So, in an effort to put some of these demons to rest, I’m going to set what I can remember of the story on paper. Warning, this may not be especially entertaining.

Nancy and I were driving home (we lived in Seattle then) from Whistler, British Columbia on or about March 28, 2014 and apparently the sun was coming through the window of the car at just the perfect angle, and Nancy said something like, “it looks like there’s a lump in your neck.”

(Thankfulness Note: I give thanks for Nancy, my beautiful and brilliant wife, who has saved my life on more than one occasion.)

And I said something stupid like, “I’ve had a sore throat, it’s probably just a lymph node.” And we forgot about it for a week or two until we were both brushing our teeth, and Nancy said, “Really, you have a lump in your neck.” So we did what doctors usually do and asked our colleagues, in this case the ENT guys, what we should do. The ENT guys said it was probably just a blocked salivary gland, but, if we were worried about it, I should get an ultrasound.

The radiologist read the ultrasound as normal, but Nancy insisted I keep the appointment she’d made with her ENT guy. By this time it was May. He spent practically all of the 20 minute visit cleaning the wax out of my ears while we talked about bicycle racing. He was on his way out of the room when I finally asked, “so, what do you think this lump is?”

“Probably just a blocked gland.”

“Wouldn’t that be painful? Wouldn’t that show up on ultrasound?” I countered.

“Well, if you want, we could do a CT scan.”

The radiologist read the CT scan as “an invasive mass” at the base of the right tongue, with a long list of possibles, but most likely lymphoma. Now it was June. A few days later I was under anesthesia getting an open biopsy of the thing in my neck. The ENT guys said it came out looking like chunks of cottage cheese. They were worried it might be tuberculosis.

I didn’t see the actual pictures of the CT scan until several weeks later. What impressed me the most was that this invasive mass thingie had effectively taken over more than half the space that air went through when I breathed. I should mention that while all of this was going on, I was in the thick of bicycle racing season. Despite training harder and shedding 10 pounds (which I had thought was from the added training, but in retrospect may have been from the cancer), I was having trouble matching my results from the previous season (my first). Looking at the CT scan, it was no wonder I felt like I wasn’t getting enough air.

Finishing a road race in Walla Walla in April of 2014

The stuff they took out of my neck had to be sent to the pathology lab at the University of Washington for special testing, and it was over a week before the diagnosis came back: NK cell lymphoma, nasal type. The NK stands for natural killer. (You know you’ve drawn the short straw when they tell you that your cancer has natural killer in the name.)

The second week in June, we met with the oncologists. The first oncologist had made the cover of the Best Doctors edition of Seattle magazine. He was very nice. He told us that NK cell lymphoma was so rare that there wasn’t really a set treatment protocol. He said there were a couple of different treatment plans we could try, but the two year survival was somewhere around 50%. And that didn’t seem to bother him.

One of Nancy’s colleagues at the UW had recommended a lymphoma specialist at the SCCA, but he explained that he was a B-cell lymphoma specialist, and that we really wanted to see Dr. Shustov, the T-cell specialist. At the time, Dr. Shustov, had the largest panel of NK cell patients in North America. On Friday, June 13th, we met with Dr. Shustov. He described the 2 most recent promising studies on the treatment of NK cell and then told us which one he recommended (the most unpleasant option, the one where they gave the chemo at the same time you got radiation). He looked on the computer at his calendar. He said we could start on Tuesday. They would put me in the hospital, put in the IV port and feeding tube, and then start the first round of chemotherapy.

I asked him if I could finish out my shifts at work for the month of June, so as not to inconvenience my colleagues. No. I told him that I was planning to race the Baker City stage race the end of June. No. Could I at least race the Northshore road race on Saturday? Yes.

On Saturday, June 14th, Nancy and I drove to Bellingham for the Northshore race. It was a pretty good race for me. I went off the front briefly on the last big climb and splintered the peloton such that only 16 riders came to the line together. Given my complete lack of sprint legs, that meant I finished in 15th, but it was still a pretty good day for me. After the race we drove up to Vancouver, BC for a weekend of calm and comfort before the storm. On Sunday night we hedonistically made our way through an amazing 12 course dinner with wine pairings at the Secret Location Restaurant (sadly now out of business). In the coming month, the chemotherapy and radiation would kill off my tastebuds, so, although I didn’t know it yet, this would be my last supper, of sorts.

And, on another sad and ironic note, during this time, our 12 year old yellow lab Bailey was having nose bleeds. Dogs don’t handle nose bleeds very well. It’s hard to teach them to pinch their nose and tilt their heads back. We would come home to blood spattered walls, and Bailey would be curled up apologetically by the door. The first week of June, Bailey went under anesthesia and they put a nasopharyngeal scope up his nose. My dog and I were both diagnosed with cancer the same week.

Bailey, in happier days.

Comments: Total (1) comments

Tony Brammer

Posted On: 24 Feb 2020 06:06 am

The fact that you're still here writing this, makes it a little easier to read, this is serious shit, thanks for sharing
Robert Ripley
Geeking out over Gear (Part I)

13 February 2020 11:51 am (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

Geeking out over Gear (Part I)

Or, Confessions of a tech weenie. I’m going to attribute the moniker tech weenie to my buddy Jay. I’m not sure if he coined the phrase, but he was the first to use it in my presence. A tech weenie is someone who spends more time researching the wicking quotient of their Patagonia capilene baselayer than they actually spend skiing in it. Or something like that. If you spend more time on the internet looking at gear then you spend using outdoor gear, chances are you’re a tech weenie.

For the uninitiated, the Atacama Crossing Ultramarathon is a week long mostly self supported race in the desert. The race organizers provide pink flags to follow, water to drink and tents to sleep in. Beyond that, you are on your own. Oh, yeah, they also provide a list. The list for Atacama Crossing Mandatory Equipment has 35 items and doesn’t even include a sleeping pad or a toothbrush. Those 35 items have to be stuffed in a pack (item #1) and carried on your back as you jog across the desert.

I’m not physicist or sports physiologist, but I think that the lighter your pack is, the easier it will be to jog across the desert. I’ve noticed that the guys and gals who win these races have light packs. As a member of the medical team, I have witnessed gear check in at 6 previous 4 Deserts Ultras. I have seen a pack that weighed over 20 kilograms (he didn’t win), and I have seen a pack weighing under 6 kilos (this was Sandy’s pack, I think she was packing some super secret Aussie highly caloric air for dinner. Sandy, by the way, won the Jordan race in 2014).

 

That's Sandy winning the Womens Jordan race in 2014.   You can't see much of her because her husband Colin is hugging her.  But she does have a really small pack!

(Non-gear related photo of Nancy and me in front of the Treasury at Petra at the finish line of the Jordan Race.)

I’m going to put this out here right now. I would like my pack to weigh 7 kilos or less. That is about 15.4 pounds. Roughly what my Guru Photon R bicycle (circa 2014) weighs. Or your average raccoon. (Not that I would recommend carrying a raccoon on your back, or even freeze drying one for race rations) And item #35 on the list is a weeks worth of food, minimum 14000 calories, which I’m sure will be the subject of multiple blog posts, but, suffice it to say, food will make up about half of the pack’s weight, and any weight saved on gear means capacity to carry more food. And, as they say, food is life. (Never more so than out in the desert)

Naturally this need for lightweight gear provides plenty of opportunity for web-surfing. And Geeking. And shopping. In the last decade, the outdoor gear marketplace has exploded with ultralightweight gear options. For instance, I have an Ultimate Direction Fast Pack 30, a great running pack that weighs only 652 grams (1.5 lbs—less if you take out the back support panel).   But Raidlight makes a running pack (or vest as they like to call them now) that weighs only 260 grams. Begging the question, how much is it worth to you to take an ounce, or a pound, off your back?

Back when I was bicycle racing, I probably spent over $1000 to get a pound off my bike. The top of line Dura Ace Shimano groupset (gears, shifters, derailleurs, etc) weights 300 grams less than the excellent Shimano Ultegra groupset, but costs about $1150 more. ($3.83/gm or $115/oz) At the time, my cycling coach, Todd Herriott (Métier), said it would be a lot cheaper for me just to lose 5 pounds off the butt sitting on the bicycle. And he had a good point then, but, at the moment, I weigh 75 kilos and my bodyfat percentage is sitting in the single digits, so losing weight prior to going out in the desert may not be a great idea.

The Raidlight people have put their price on an ounce. Their top of the line Revolutiv 24 liter vest costs $250 and weighs 9.1 ounces and their next best Responsiv 24 liter vest weighs 10.2 ounces and costs $190.  So $60 an ounce.

This has given me a lot to think about as I geek out over gear. The choices are many. Sadly, most of the climbing and backpacking gear in my garage is not going to make the pack, even if it was cutting edge 10 years ago. I would like to spend less than $1000 getting geared up for the race, hopefully getting some supercool backpacking gear that I can use in the future.

So.  While I vacillate a bit more over whether a vest or a pack is in my future and what is the best ultralight sleeping bag out there, I have started to purchase items on the list.  My first purchase: Items 6,7,8 & 10. (knife/multitool, whistle, mirror and compass)

 

$25 on Amazon! And I still have money and capacity for another 6.944 kilos.

Fortunately for me, Tony Brammer, legendary checkpoint 3 captain, will not be doing gear check in at Atacama 2020. He has been known to reject a racer’s pack because their whistle didn’t emit the requisite decibel level, or their mirror couldn’t signal the International Space Station.

(Just kidding Tony, we will miss you at Atacama, and we on the medical team appreciate the added safety that a thorough gear check provides!)

 More geeking out to do here. And maybe even some training. Better get busy. I will keep you updated on what the pack looks like and what’s going into it.

Comments: Total (2) comments

Tony Brammer

Posted On: 17 Feb 2020 06:31 am

Ah gear check, is there a greater pleasure to be had in life! You are truly the master blogger, keep up the great work

Jay Van Alstine

Posted On: 16 Feb 2020 08:23 pm

Robert, I should be less derisive of tech weenies, they are the mainstay of the outdoor gear economy. Given my BMI, I probably own a little too much carbon fiber myself. On the other hand, you fall into the doing camp and I support your geek pursuits! The vest concept is intriguing, it distributes the load evenly. Running with packs reminds me of the old days when we careened down Flat Top to be first back to the car. There weren't enough straps back then to keep our packs from beating us about the head and shoulders. On the geek front, I'm a fan of the skeletool. I don't have the carbon fiber model but it might be something to consider. You can open and close the knife with one hand which comes in handy on occasion. (https://www.leatherman.com/skeletool-cx-19.html ) The orange plastic whistle and little compass look pretty low tech. Keep the blogs coming! Jay
Robert Ripley
First race of 2020!

09 February 2020 12:11 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

So, in looking at it from Goal # 3 (Don’t Get Hurt!), my first race of the season was an epic fail.  I raced in the Boulder Mountain Tour in Ketchum (Sun Valley), Idaho last weekend.  The Boulder is a mass start 34 kilometer freestyle (skate ski) race that goes down the Wood River Valley from Galena to Ketchum.  It is a fairly fast race, having a net elevation drop of about 300 meters.  I have raced it several times in the past with decent results, lots of type 1 and 2 fun, and no untoward incidents.

Unfortunately, that was not to be the case this year.  The snow was fast and the third wave (waves 1 and 2 are the elite men and women) was particularly aggressive.  I managed to avoid the carnage on the first fast downhill corner, but on the second downhill, as I was trying to skirt the second large pileup, I caught a ski tip and got spun around, falling backwards at speed and smacking my head on the hard packed surface.

If this had been a football game, and not a ski race, a trainer or doctor would have popped off the sidelines and administered the SCAT5 (Sport Concussion Assessment Tool 5th edition) which I probably would have failed, and I would have been pulled from the game.

(Our friend Mike, who happens to be a brain surgeon, gets paid by the NFL to wear a red baseball hat on the sidelines and perform exactly this task.  That's Mike on the far left.)

red hat

But, as it was a ski race, I was left to my own best judgement.  (Can you say a man who tries to be his own physician has a fool for a doctor?)  And I was pissed.  (as in angry, not intoxicated)  Dozens of skiers were passing me as I tried to get off the snow, and in my adrenaline toxic race mode, all I could think of was to GET BACK IN THERE.  And so I did. 

Over the course of the next 30 km I fell 4 more times.  I have skied dozens of races over the years and thousands of kilometers.  I have fallen during ski races.  I have fallen during ski days.  But never have I fallen more than once or twice in a day.  On the third fall of the day I put my ski pole on the wrong side of my ski boot and did a face plant (striking my head again).  And each time I fell I lost my increasingly lower position in the field.  At some point I should have realized that there was no way I was going to fight my way back, and that it was time to relax and enjoy the beautiful sunny day and ski carefully to the next check point and take a bus to the finish line.  But the competitor in me just wouldn’t let it go.

I struggled on to the finish line despite never really being “on” my skis.  My time was respectable, 1:40 for 34 km (or 2:56/km).   But in the last 2 Boulders I finished in the top 100, and I wasn’t anywhere near that this year.

It wasn’t until I was sitting in the car with a massive headache that Nancy, the smart one in the family, explained it to me.  “You idiot, you had a concussion.” 

(Thankfulness note:  I give thanks for having such a smart and beautiful wife who has saved my life on more than one occasion and continues to care about me regardless of whatever crazy thing I am doing at the moment.)   

I didn’t get “knocked out” or lose consciousness, but one of the signs of concussion is impaired balance.  And my balance was clearly impaired.  And cross country skiing is all about being able to stay balanced over your moving ski.

Fortunately for me, my symptoms of impaired balance and headache resolved over the next 24 hours and I have been able to gradually ease my way back into my exercise based lifestyle.  I have been trying to limit my screen time. (hence the lack of blog postings)  I have been trying to avoid contact sports.  But, quite frankly, I never really regarded cross country skiing as a contact sport until last weekend.  I remember when bicycle helmets went from being an accessory to mandatory equipment in the 80s and ski helmets came of age for adults in the 2000s.  Now that the skis are faster and the trails better packed, maybe it’s time we started wearing helmets on the Nordic trails.  After this weekend, I’m ready to be an early adopter.  I’m not sure exactly what the helmet will look like, and it will take some getting used to.

helmet skier

But apparently it's already a thing.  Although this person is competing in Bend's Pole Pedal Paddle and has already completed the downhill leg (helmet required) and is about to embark on the bike leg (helmet also required).

Comments: Total (1) comments

Tony Brammer

Posted On: 12 Feb 2020 06:16 am

I bet you can't wait to get to the Atacama for a rest. I would suggest wearing a helmet at the awards banquet, just to be on the safe side, it can get a bit busy at the bar.