Namib Race Blogs 2021

View All Posts 2021 From : Robert Ripley

Robert Ripley
Stage 1!! Racing at last!

24 October 2021 03:20 pm (GMT+01:00) West Central Africa

So my pre-race Covid test was negative and Sam came and got me and I was blindfolded and taken to an undisclosed location.  Just kidding!  We were transported to Camp 1 on the shores of the Swakopmund River.  The camp was lovely and parked beneath some interesting rock formations.  And it was a little windy.  Per the wildly circulating rumors, Carlos the course director was out frantically changing the course to a location where the wind wouldn't blow the pink flags on which our lives depend away.  the wind died down the first night but returned with a vengeance on Saturday, gusting to over 30mph.  The sand blew up under the fly of my tent and filtered down through the mesh, coating everything I had with sparkly bits of the Namib.  I must admit I was feeling a little downhearted as I crawled into my gritty sleeping bag.  I was wishing that I was still back at the Strand Hotel and I could call housekeeping to come and change my linens.  But I was able to get 10 hours of sleep (interrupted by my old-guy bladder a few times) and I felt good in the morning and was able to get into my running kit without getting too much sand into the wrong places.
After the requisite briefing and the camp staff's beautiful singing of the Namibian National Anthem, we were off.  The pack was riding well (my pack weighed in just over 6kg and was reportedly the lightest in the field) and the legs felt good and then about a kilometer up the river we hit the mud....   Carlos must have read my blog posting about my shoe choice of the Hoka Carbon X which has essentially no tread.  Because, as I mentioned, I wasn't expecting mud in the Atacama, or the Namib.  So for about a kilometer I was flopping around like Bambi on Ice.  I managed to completely soak my right foot and spray mud all over, but, thankfully I remained upright.  And for the next few kilometers we followed the Swakop River in moderately loose sand with a few deviations into a Motocross track (fortunately, no motorcycles were up yet).
Early on, Ben came by me running 8:30 miles.  I ran with him just long enough to clock him and realize that was way to fast, so I let him go.  And then I ran with Mabasa for a while.  By Checkpoint 1 I was on my own.  At checkpoint 2 I could see another runner behind me, but couldn't make out who he was..
After Checkpoint 2 we turned off the river for awhile and did several long grinding climbs.  I could see Ben way up in the distance and he was moving well, but very gradually he came back to me.  We exchanged the lead a couple of times with Ben passing me on the downhills and me moving ahead on the climbs.
The scenery was nothing short of breathtaking (and it wasn't just me struggling to breath on the climbs), with jagged slabs of striated rock jutting out of the sands.  Everywhere I looked on the ground there was quartz and other shiny things that in any other circumstance I would have been picking things up and putting them in my pockets.  But I restrained my urges and pushed on.  And then we dropped back to the river and pulled into an amphiteatre of volcanic rock and the old Goanikontes Ostrich farm..  Absolutely stunning.
And Ben was still a bit behind me when I hit the farm, so I finished Stage 1 in first place.  Of course, there are 5 more Stages.  I think the critical thing will be how the legs feel in the morning.  
I would say the ratio of type 1 to type 2 fun was roughly 50:50 today.  Hopefully we can maintain this ratio!  I am thankful to be here in this beautiful country, healthy enough to run through it.  And I am thankful for everyone's support.  Wish me luck for stage 2!  I'm off to find more calories and some recovery tights.

Comments: Total (15) comments

john clark

Posted On: 25 Oct 2021 03:50 am

I read once that a person should either write about something worth doing, or do something worth writing about. you are doing a fantastic job of both. equally impressed with your writing as well as running talent. Hope your legs continue to do as well as your brain. They are connected, in ways not fully understood. Look forward to the stage 2 post. great job Rob!

Mike McLeod

Posted On: 25 Oct 2021 03:23 am

Go Rob! We are rooting for you!

Mike McLeod

Posted On: 25 Oct 2021 03:23 am

Go Rob! We are rooting for you!

Mike McLeod

Posted On: 25 Oct 2021 03:23 am

Go Rob! We are rooting for you!

Nancy Kadel

Posted On: 24 Oct 2021 08:42 pm

Fantastic Rob!!! Just keep running, just keep running….xoxoxo stay strong!!!

Nancy Kadel

Posted On: 24 Oct 2021 08:42 pm

Fantastic Rob!!! Just keep running, just keep running….xoxoxo stay strong!!!

Nancy Kadel

Posted On: 24 Oct 2021 08:42 pm

Fantastic Rob!!! Just keep running, just keep running….xoxoxo stay strong!!!

Nancy Kadel

Posted On: 24 Oct 2021 08:42 pm

Fantastic Rob!!! Just keep running, just keep running….xoxoxo stay strong!!!

Jeff Ripley

Posted On: 24 Oct 2021 07:03 pm

Great effort Robert! Thanks for interesting posts… keep them coming. Good luck in stage 2!

Jay Van Alstine

Posted On: 24 Oct 2021 06:17 pm

Go Robert! I've been keeping the other 1/2 of your Jewel Lake fan club up to date on your travels/travails! Moira and I were less surprised by you sweeping the field than others might be! 🥇Jay

Carl Botterud

Posted On: 24 Oct 2021 05:53 pm

Well done my friend. Stay strong, pulling for you!

Cassandra Lee

Posted On: 24 Oct 2021 05:21 pm

Go Rob, go! Well done and strong work for your first day! I hope you continue the ratio of type 1-2 fun. We’ll be cheering you on all along the way. Woo hoo. Well done. Jia yeow.

Barb Echo

Posted On: 24 Oct 2021 03:13 pm

Rob, how awesome. You’ve worked so long and hard to get where you are. You made your own history today. Way to go.

Kelley Kadlecek

Posted On: 24 Oct 2021 03:09 pm

Go Rob!! You’re off to a great start! Cheering you on!

Justin Ripley

Posted On: 24 Oct 2021 02:35 pm

Go Crow Go! Keep your spirits high, your fun ratio even, and enjoy your adventure. We are thinking about you. Cheers! Ig
Robert Ripley
3 More Days!!

21 October 2021 04:37 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

Good morning Swakopmund!


After some frantic packing, a precariously timed COVID test (thankfully negative), and over 40 hours of travel, I have arrived in Swakopmund, Namibia.  Happy to be here. Really happy. 

I used to be able to sleep on airplanes.  One of the many things I could do when I was thirty that escape me now.  Fortunately I was able to get some solid sleep last night.  Until 4am.  

But I’m feeling pretty good now after a little jog on the beach.

My task this morning is to get my freeze drieds and powders moved over from their heavy original packing to lighter, more packable plastic.

I am thankful that all my race gear and food made it here intact.  (Although the multiple packages of powder stoked the suspicion of several TSA officers, the one in Bend swabbed almost every packet for explosive residue).  But it could have been worse.  One of the volunteers was transporting freeze dried food for a couple of racers and his bag was impounded by Namibian customs officials.  Last I heard he was being levied with duties equal to roughly half of the cost of the food!

 I am also happy to report that all my food and stuff fit in my 25 liter race vest (with a small front pack).  Somehow it feels heavier than I imagined.  

The last final hurdle is another COVID test this evening.  If that’s negative, then I can go out to Camp 1 tomorrow afternoon.  Just in time for forecasted high winds!  Should make for a peaceful night sleeping in a tent! 

Rumor has it that the potential for high winds has made Carlos rethink much of the course.  And the rumors seem to indicate that these changes are not going to make the run any easier.

But, maintaining ignorance has always worked well for me, so I figure it will be what it is and I’ll see it when I get there.


Through happy coincidence, I wound up sitting next to Jack Fierstadt on the flight to Walvis Bay.  Jack is a veteran of many RacingThePlanet ultras and a wealth of information and tales.  Jack also has the notoriety of being the only racer here older than I am. 

Anyway.  Hopefully I haven’t picked up any stray virions in my travels.  I have been so nervous about this COVID test that I wore a medical grade N95 mask for most of my hours of travel.  We will see if my paranoia pays off if tomorrow I find myself one step closer to the start of the race.  Wish me luck. 

Some of you have asked if I am doing any fundraising along with the madness.  And, as a matter of fact, yes, I am trying to raise money for patients undergoing cancer treatment at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance  (which is where I received treatment for my NK cell lymphoma).

Feel free to help the cause.

Comments: Total (3) comments

john clark

Posted On: 23 Oct 2021 05:32 am

I don't think you have enough Springsteen on your music playlist. Mighty Max Weinberg on drums keeps my old legs moving, and the Boss's lyrics and authenticity inspire me to keep trying to do my little part to make life a little better for someone somewhere. My current Springsteen heavy running playlist has Roulette, and Meet me in the city as songs with a good beat. For pure hope and inspiration my favorite is Land of Hope and Dreams. Current running playlist also has the Killers "Somebody Told Me" and a nice happy little tune - "Anniversary Song" by Cowboy Junkies. There is no really good anecdote to wind, but loud music is a start.... Will be following and pulling for you from the dark, cold, opposite side of the planet. Best of luck!

Karen Wei

Posted On: 21 Oct 2021 10:46 pm

Rob, I don't know if you remember me from Antarctica 2016. I have SO enjoyed reading your blogs: hilarious, honest, informative and just plain enjoyable. So glad you have met Jack, he's a great desert buddy and we did Namibia together in 2015, as well as Jordan 2012 and Patagonia. I will be excitedly following both of you and sending through lots of strong and happy run/walk vibes and messages. Bon courage and have a safe & fun race! K xx

Karen Wei

Posted On: 21 Oct 2021 10:46 pm

Rob, I don't know if you remember me from Antarctica 2016. I have SO enjoyed reading your blogs: hilarious, honest, informative and just plain enjoyable. So glad you have met Jack, he's a great desert buddy and we did Namibia together in 2015, as well as Jordan 2012 and Patagonia. I will be excitedly following both of you and sending through lots of strong and happy run/walk vibes and messages. Bon courage and have a safe & fun race! K xx
Robert Ripley
2 Weeks to Go!

10 October 2021 02:59 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

I may be crazy, but I think this race might actually happen, and I may actually be able to complete it.  Knock on wood.


Just a few more hoops to jump through:  I’m looking down the barrel of 40 hours of travel and dealing with British Airways changing my flights every few days, not to mention the Covid testing requirements of 4 sovereign nations.  I went and got a practice Covid test (it was negative!), and the turnaround time was under 24 hours, so if I time things right I may be able to pull off travel to Namibia with just one test.


Trainingwise, I’ve begun a hardcore taper.  When you are out plodding through the woods hour after hour until your feet bleed and your mind goes numb (or vice versa), the idea of a taper might sound really good to you.  But when you actually start the taper, you find yourself with all this extra energy and time and nothing to do with them.  You can only spend so many hours a day on the couch.

I’ve been taking some long walks with the dogs.  And getting our little ranch ready for winter.  And stressing about race details.  Should I wear the clip on front pack (it’s an extra 120gm, but the weight equalization makes the whole load more comfortable)?  What’s the best adhesive to glue the velcro for the gaiters onto my shoes (I’ve been using “shoe goo” with moderate success, but is there a better option)?  Am I going to have enough calories to survive the week?  (Fortunately, I have been gaining weight since starting the taper, so I should have a few extra calories stored in strategic places.)


I am thankful to have made it to this point healthy enough to compete in a race like this.  I am thankful that Nancy is putting up with me during this long process.  I wish all of my fellow competitors, as well as the race team, good health and safe travels.


See you in two weeks!

Comments: Total (2) comments

Bridgette Copeland

Posted On: 21 Oct 2021 02:24 am

Rob, it was a pleasure meeting you and Nancy and for you to open your home to us. It was wonderful to sit and talk and to get to know you both, the fur kids the indoor and the outdoor ones. We wish you the very best in your run and the very best to Nancy as well. Looks forward to reading about the adventures. Ed and Bridgette ( the mt. Bikers) friends of Brian and Cass

Zeana Haroun

Posted On: 11 Oct 2021 06:14 pm

Hi Rob! I am so excited to follow you during this race. You are going to do so well. It really is managing the paperwork and PCR tests before and after that are going to be challenge. Once you are there it will be a proper vacation :)
Robert Ripley
The Cancer Thing (Part 2)

05 October 2021 06:46 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

When I first started thinking in earnest about running the Atacama Crossing Race it was 2019.  I was thinking that running this crazy desert race would be an appropriate challenge to commemorate 5 years cancer free.  I thought it would show that I had taken on the cancer (in my case, NK Cell Lymphoma) and come back stronger.  And I thought maybe I could raise some money for patients going through cancer treatment.  But I was worried that planning a celebration of 5 years cancer free before actually passing that date would be overly hubristic and tempting fate.  So I put the race off until 2020.  And the pandemic put that race off until 2021, and then 2022.  And now I am 3 weeks from the start of running the Namib Race as Plan B.  Last week, 7 years ago, I finished my 4th and final round of chemotherapy.


Somehow the grand gesture I had in mind has morphed into just another minor detour on the path to survival.


The past year has brought devastation and despair to humankind.  Healthcare systems have been overrun, millions of people have suffered and died, and loneliness and isolation have reigned.  In my own little part of the world, both of my parents died.  If not directly from Covid, the imposed isolation contributed to their demise.  Nancy, the love of my life, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020 and had to struggle to get treatment for her cancer while hospitals were cancelling "elective" procedures (like cancer surgery) due to the pandemic.


One of the competitors, on a race I served as medical director, said that he decided to run the race after googling “hardest thing a man can do” and what came up was a 4 Deserts multiday Ultra.  I haven’t tried this on Google.  And I haven’t run the race yet.  But I can tell you that the hardest thing I have done wasn’t an athletic event, or even going through radiation and chemotherapy at the same time. By far and away the hardest thing I have ever done was trying to be of any use to the person I love most as she was being treated for cancer.


When I started writing this blog, I thought I’d be highlighting my epic battle against cancer.  But now, with retrospect and insight gained over the past year, I’m coming to grips with the fact that there wasn’t really any epic battle.  I was just another guy doing what needed to be done because he didn’t like the consequences of not doing what needed to be done.  I am thankful for the cancer doctors and nurses and pharmacists and radiation technologists and nutritionists who knew their stuff and got things done for me.  And I am thankful for the love and support of my family and friends that carried me through the darker times.


Which brings me back to the fundraising thing.  It seems a little trite to be out pushing one charity over another right now in the face of all the need that is out there.  You know if you have any money to contribute, and you probably know a hundred places where that money could do some good.  I did start a GoFundMe page over a year ago.  It raises money to support patients who have to come and stay in Seattle to get specialized cancer treatment.  I do believe this is a good cause, especially now when cancer patients are having trouble getting the care they need due to overcrowding at the hospitals.  So, if you are in a position to make a donation, it would certainly be appreciated.  Or you could make a donation to your local cancer center.  If you are in Central Oregon, you could make a donation to the St. Charles Cancer Center (where Nancy is getting her care).  Or you could make a donation to TeamRivs and support another ultra runner, Tommy Rivers Buzey going through NK cell lymphoma.  Like I said, the need out there is huge, please find it in your hearts to support a cause you believe in.

Comments: Total (2) comments

Kelley Kadlecek

Posted On: 08 Oct 2021 07:51 pm

We will be cheering you on Rob from Bend! What an amazing experience and we will anxiously wait for all the cool details and pictures. Have fun! Kelley and Larry

Mary Gadams

Posted On: 06 Oct 2021 03:20 am

Thank you for this post, Rob. We are so happy you are past seven years, cancer free. We are all cheering for Nancy now. We have a dear friend battling many cancer hurdles at the moment. Good luck on the race. You will be in one of the most beautiful countries on Earth.
Robert Ripley
Sand Training

02 October 2021 08:35 am (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

Nancy and I spent the last few days on the Oregon Coast.  In addition to fish and chips and the soothing sounds of breakers on the beach, I was there to practice running in the sand.  South of Florence and North of Coos Bay lies the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.  It is, according to the website, “one of the largest expanses of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world.”  Sedimentary rock from the coastal range has been eroded into fine grains and washed out to sea by the rivers and then thrown back on land by the winds and the tides to form sand dunes.  In other words, there’s a lot of sand, and it has been sculpted into interesting and challenging shapes.

The Oregon coastal sand is of finer grain than how I remember Namibian sand.  And, since it has been raining on the coast, more damp.  These two factors mean that the sand is more compact, and, for the most part, easier to run on.  I was able to find sand that had been chopped up by foot traffic, horses, or dune buggies and this sand was softer and more unstable to run in.  And, as the dunes get steeper, the sand becomes less compact bringing on the familiar “one step forward, two steps back” phenomena known to desert runners.

So I was able to spend a couple of hours a day plodding across the sand, climbing carefully up the dunes and sliding down their backsides.  I worked on what I think my best sand stride is: quick tempo with a flatfooted strike. It’s still more work than running on a firm surface, but I think it’s doable.


I was a little worried that my chosen shoe, the Hoka Carbon X would be a little stiff for the sand, but they seem to handle the sand well.  And my Raidlight desert gaiters worked well to keep the sand out.


I’m looking forward to seeing the course and finding the surprises Carlos is going to throw at us.


Comments: Total (1) comments

Sam Fanshawe

Posted On: 03 Oct 2021 11:00 am

This is brilliant preparation. While it's hard to fully replicate the Namib Desert dunes this gives you a great idea of them. Who knew there were such beautiful dunes in Oregon!
Robert Ripley
Team Ripper does the Bend Beer Chase

29 September 2021 04:24 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

With less than a month to go before the Namib Race, I thought it was time for tuneup race, so, this past weekend, I found myself running the Bend Beer Chase!  55 miles running in between multiple breweries in Central Oregon.  Fortunately, the Beer Chase is a relay, so I only had to run 2 legs (7 and 6 miles), which left me a bit of spare time to taste the beer samples.


Most of the relay teams were made up of 6 runners, but I only have 4 brothers, so we were forced to run the relay with only 5 runners.  Fortunately, I didn’t get stuck with the extra leg.  Another thing that set our team apart was an average age of nearly 59 and a running history dating back to the early 1970s.


After months of slogging through the woods with a pack trying to keep a 6 minute kilometer, it felt good to leave the pack behind and push the pace for a few miles.  According to Mr. Garmin, I managed to run my fastest 10km of the year.

And the team of brothers did pretty well too!  We finished just out of the top 10 (11th out of 113 teams) and second in the masters category. We managed an 8:10/mile average pace.  Not bad for a bunch of old guys!

                   Team Ripper: Crow, Iggy, Hu, Lars and Hans

After a year of loss and isolation, it was good to get together with my brothers and celebrate life in the best ways we know how—running down the road and hoisting a pint.  I am thankful that I have such good men as friends and brothers and that, despite our challenges we are all still healthy enough to tie our own trainers and get out and pound the pavement.




Comments: Total (1) comments

Sarah Horne

Posted On: 30 Sep 2021 10:22 am

Amazing Rob - Nice that you can share these moments with your family! What a great photo of the team - and a well deserved pint!
Robert Ripley
What Songs Should be on the Namib Race Playlist?

20 September 2021 01:31 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana



I won’t be carrying a charger in my pack, so my electronics will be somewhat limited.  I won’t be carrying my iPhone or a camera.

I will be wearing a Garmin Solar Instinct GPS watch.  Hopefully, with a little help from the sun, the battery will make it through the race. 


And I have found a small, 30gm, MP3 player that, on Amazon, claims to have a. 72 hour battery life (but, in actuality, has about half that).  So, at least for the first few days, I will have some music to temper the voices in my head.


And so, I will need a playlist!  So, if you have any suggestions, I am wide open.  (Well, not completely wide open, Tony, Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond isn’t going to make the list, Ba Dum Bum Bum, ‘cause it just doesn’t have a beat that I can run to)


I have pretty eclectic tastes in music.  And I can run to a wide variety of musical genres, as long as the song has an unrelenting back beat that kind of syncs with 180 steps per minute.


Some songs that work for me:


Edge of Seventeen (Stevie Nicks)

I Gotta Feeling (Black Eyed Peas)

Take it Off (Ke$ha)

Party Rock (LMFAO)

Jai Ho (AR Rahman)

Buster Voodoo (Rodrigo y Gabriela)

Lust for Life (Iggy Pop)

Hey Baby (Pitbull)

Dreamer (K’naan)

Halo (Beyonce)

She Loves You (The Beatles)

Closer to Free (Bodeans)

Waka Waka (Shakira)


Anyway.  You might be seeing the trend here (the trend being that there is absolutely no trend!).


Or you could pick songs for the playlist that have titles or lyrics more appropriate for the task at hand:


Train in Vain (The Clash)

Beast of Burden (Rolling Stones)

Run Baby Run (Sheryl Crow)

Running on Empty (Jackson Browne)

Before They Make Me Run (Rolling Stones)

Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen)

Horse With No Name (America)

99 Problems, But Jockitch Ain’t One (Jay-Z)

Walk This Way (RunDMC and Aerosmith)

It Keeps You Running (Doobie Brothers)

I’ve Got Sand in my Shoes (The Drifters)


There you have it.  As I said, I am wide open to suggestions.  Tell me what you think ought to be on the Namib Race Playlist!


Comments: Total (2) comments

Justin Ripley

Posted On: 21 Oct 2021 04:54 am

Or as an homage to fictional ultra runner Chief Chingachgook you might include 'The Kiss' from Last of the Mohicans.

Eyal Shimoni

Posted On: 22 Sep 2021 06:53 pm

For me its lots of Neil Young, and Whiter shade of pale for the long march
Robert Ripley
Checking in. 34 Days to Go!

20 September 2021 12:22 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

34 Days to Go!


Last time I checked in the skies of Central Oregon were toxic from the smoke of fires burning in the Cascades and down in California.  Today I am happy to report that, after some rainfall over the weekend, the skies are crystal clear and the air is breathable again.  The precipitation has also left some new snow in the Cascades (our little alpaca ranch overlooks the 3 Sisters volcanoes) signaling that ski season is on its way!  

The Alpacas are happy because the rain has perked up the grass in their pasture which was looking a little parched as the irrigation district has been rationing our water the last last month or so.


But, much as I would like to get excited about getting the boards ready for ski season, first I need to get through this little test of endurance that we are having in the Namib desert.


Speaking of excitement.  I was also pretty jazzed to see the announcement of the 2022 Race in Lapland!  Nancy and I spent a week in Lapland in the fall of 2018 and were in awe of the landscape.  

And the Northern Lights!

Finland will be an amazing place to run.  I have been asked if I have signed up yet.  Not yet, but definitely thinking about it.


But first…. This little jaunt in the desert.


The good news, for my legs at least, is that it is time to start the taper!  I’m sure everybody has their own theory about when and how to taper for a race, but mine is taper early, taper easy.  It’s not like I’m just going to sit on my butt and eat bonbons for the next month.  I’m still going to be out there 5-6 days a week.  But I am going to gradually reduce my training load from abnormal to normal and then finally to minimal.  I was out in the woods running or hiking for 14 hours this weekend (counting Friday).  I’m definitely feeling the fatigue today—in my joints and muscles and well as my head.  Hopefully the taper will allow some of my stressed connective tissue to heal and harden.  And allow my immune system to ramp up for the challenges of traveling to Namibia.  

Today's training?  Rest Day!  I think I'm going to like this taper thing!


Comments: Total (0) comments

Robert Ripley
Food! (part 2)

08 September 2021 04:24 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

Powders, Snacks and Supplements


Before I go any further, I should remind the reader that, as I pointed out in one of my earlier postings, in 2014 I underwent radiation to the head and neck which, among other things, killed off almost all of my taste buds.  I have been working assiduously over the past 7 years to stimulate the growth of new buds and to train the survivors how to appreciate the gifts that food and beverage bring to the palate, but you need to understand that my sense of taste is impaired.  At best.  So if you hear me saying that something is “tasty” or “yummy,” you should probably take this with a grain of salt.


And speaking of a grain of salt.  Electrolyte supplements are on the Mandatory Equipment List.  Either salt tablets, capsules or powders.


As I mentioned earlier, the beverage choices at the Namib Race will be limited.  Water or, well, water.  The question is whether or not to bring some sort of powder or powders to mix in your water.  Me, I am going to be packing powder.  Over the years, I have tried just about every sports electrolyte drink out there:  ERG, HEED, Gatorade, Tailwind, Perpetuem, Nuun, Fizz, pickle juice.  And the product I’ll be going with is Skratch Labs Hydration drink mix in lemon-lime.  Everybody’s taste and gut is a little different, but I have found that I can drink Skratch all day.  Skratch was put together by Dr. Allen Lim, a PhD in sports physiology, working and traveling with pro cyclists in need of a better beverage.  I go with one scoop per bottle and that gives me 80 calories and 380mg of sodium.  Seems to work for me.  At 360 calories per 100gm, it will take almost a half kilogram of Skratch to get me through the week.


On a side note.  As a part of the medical team, and only to avoid placing an IV drip (which is a one way ticket out of the race), I have given skratch to two competitors who were unable to keep anything else down.  They both were able to keep skratch down and finish the race.  Not a scientific double blinded study by anybody’s standards, but it adds to my belief that Dr. Lim makes good stuff.

Skratch also makes a recovery drink that I like.  Most sports physiologists will agree that it is important to get some sugars and proteins (the ratio is argued, but it’s probable somewhere near 4:1, sugar to protein) into your system as soon as possible at the end of prolonged exercise.  Skratch recovery is pretty much chocolate milk in a powder.  With some vitamins, electrolytes  and probiotics thrown in to make it proprietary.  And it tastes good enough to be something to look forward to at the end of a long day.  Skratch recovery has 200 calories in 2 scoops or 400 calories in 100gm.  I will be carrying a quarter kilo of this.


Skratch has also recently come out with a new product:  Superfuel. Superfuel packs 400 calories into a bottle.  But it take 7 scoops of powder (105gm) to do that.  So it’s a little heavy to use as your main beverage.  Superfuel has a secret ingredient:  cluster dextran.  Cluster dextran is reportedly a slow digesting form of dextrose (sugar), which allows you to dump calories in without blowing up your gut.  Coming from the medical profession, I try to shy away from things called clusters, but this stuff isn’t too bad.  I don’t think I need a bottle with 400 calories, though, so I have been experimenting with sneaking a scoop or two in with my regular scratch to boost the calorie count just a bit.  So far, the results are promising.


Given that I am getting my food from Yorkshire and my powders from Boulder, Colorado, I’m going to source my snacks a little closer to home.  Picky Bars are made where I live, here in Bend, Oregon.  They were developed by professional endurance athletes who live and train here.  And they are yummy.  At 400 calories per 100gm, they come in a handy 4-5 bite size bar that can be gobbled on the run, or savored back in camp.  Picky bars are made of pronounceable real food ingredients, sit well in an active stomach and come in a variety of flavors.  My favorites are Moroccan your World (with turmeric, ginger and pistachios) and Smooth Caffeinator (with hazelnuts, chocolate and coffee).

If it gets really hot, say 90 degrees (32 deg C), I may need to add in a little more salt than the 380mg in a bottle of Skratch.  For this I will be carrying some salt tablets, probably Salt Stick or Endurolytes.


I have also been experimenting with a supplement called Vespa CV25.  This is a synthesized peptide based on a food secreted by wasp larvae that allows the adult Japanese Giant Wasp to fly 50 kilometers a day, kill other insects, chew them up, and fly the chewed ball of goo back to the hive to feed the larvae.  (Kind of like CrossFit for Hymenoptera)  The idea is that this peptide will help me metabolize body fat while I am exercising, thus giving me more energy without having to consume food.  My coach Jaime swears by the stuff.  My friend Mary, who is an ironman triathlete as well as an endocrinologist (which means that she probably still remembers the Krebs Cycle from medical school and understands how to apply it), thinks that Vespa CV25 is pretty much snake oil.  One way to improve the placebo affect a substance may have is to make that substance expensive and hard to get, which CV25 is, so it may all be placebo.  But I have been getting good results with CV25 and it is lighter than food!


And, finally, I’ll be bringing instant coffee.  As a long time shift worker who works all shifts, my circadian rhythm is pretty much nonexistent.  As such, coffee is how my body knows that it is morning.  Unfortunately, alcohol, which is how my body knows it is night time is not allowed in the desert.  So I will have to muddle through.  


You may be wondering about all this recent blog activity.


Fact of the matter, it is fire season here in the American West, and it is not healthy to go outside.  So I have been channeling my excess energy into blogging while I wait for the sky to clear.  I’m not sure how to enter blogging about running as an activity into training peaks (and it is unclear what TSS--training stress score--that blogging incurs).  



Comments: Total (1) comments

Sarah Horne

Posted On: 14 Sep 2021 08:56 am

It's amazing what becomes 'tasty' after a few days at camp! Hope the skies clear for you soon and you head back out to the trails - enjoying hearing all your preparation updates in the meantime!
Robert Ripley
FOOD! (part 1)

04 September 2021 06:52 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana



Suffice it to say, people aren’t signing up for the Namib Multiday Ultramarathon because of the food.


Breakfast Buffet options on the Namib Race:  Hot water.  Cold water.  (Not an espresso machine in sight.). Dinner buffet:  same.  Lunch:  not even any hot water.


But food is the fuel on which we run.  And, the beauty (or agony) of it all, you have to carry what you eat.  The Mandatory Equipment List requires that racers carry 14000 calories of food, or 2000 calories per day.  The average human being burns 1500-2000 calories a day just staying alive, at rest.  This is called basal metabolism—the calories that keep our heart beating, our lungs moving air, our kidneys processing urine, etc.  This means that if you carry the minimum number of calories in your pack, you are fully prepared to spend the week at rest.  Unfortunately, the race organizers make this darn difficult.  Racers will be burning 300-400 calories an hour hiking and 400-600 calories an hour running, more or less, depending on their size and their pace.  Which basically means we will all be starving (if we carry only the minimum required food).   


So the food challenge is this:  How to carry as many calories as possible while adding as little weight to your pack as possible.  And this comes down to caloric density.  Or how many calories can you find in a set weight of food.  Dieticians will tell you that eating calorie dense food is bad.  You want to load your plate with fruits and vegetables which are not calorie dense.  And they would be right.  Unless you have to carry your food on your back.  There are 34 calories in 100gm of broccoli.  This means if I want to fuel myself with broccoli for the race I would be carrying 41 kilograms of cruciferous veggies.  That isn’t going to happen.  


So maybe I will load up on the most calorie dense food available: Butter.  At 700 calories per 100gm, 14000 calories of butter will add only 2 kilos to my pack.  There it is.  Done.


                                            14000 calories in just 2 kilos! (I'm not counting the butter dish)


Unfortunately I am not keto-adapted enough to survive on butter for a week.  I would be pooping myself and not be able to fully take advantage of all those yummy calories.  


And so I will have to find a more edible compromise.  And in general that means freeze dried meals.  Most freeze dried meals carry from 350 to 600 calories per 100gm.  I have been backpacking and climbing since the 1970s, so I have eaten my share of freeze dried beef stroganoff.  And I will say that the Expedition Foods Beef Stroganoff is as tasty as any.  (Once again, I am not a sponsored athlete, I have paid for and personally tasted every brand I mention here). It is not as if I can’t get good freeze dried food here in Central Oregon.(Expedition Foods are made in East Yorkshire and come to me by way of Hong Kong, or is it the other way around?).  I can wander down to REI and take my pick from a large and diverse aisle of backpacking foods:  I can get freeze-dried organic, I can get freeze-dried gourmet, I can get vacuum sealed vegan.  And I can get at least 3 varieties of beef stroganoff.  But I am going with Expedition Foods for three reasons:  they come in 1000 calorie meals (Mountain House beef stroganoff, for instance, comes 560 calories, which they call 2 servings, to a package, and only has 450 calories per 100gm), they are on the upper end of the calorie density chart, and they taste pretty good.  


                                           594 calories per 100gm!  Woot!


So here’s my 14000 calories:  One 1000 calorie breakfast (usually porridge with berries and cream), and one 1000 calorie dinner (I’m partial to the chicken tikka with rice), every day for 7 days.  On my ‘fatigue block’ weekends I have been trialing this menu and my gut seems to take it in stride.  I think it will work.  Sorry if that sounds pretty dull.  If my meals average 520 calories per 100gm, that gives me 14000 calories in 2.7kg.  Which means I have roughly another kilo to fill with drinks and snacks!


Comments: Total (2) comments

Sarah Horne

Posted On: 06 Sep 2021 08:58 am

Sounds much better than carrying 41 Kilos of broccoli!!! You can save that for after the race when you're craving anything green... have fun choosing the remaining snacks!

Sam Fanshawe

Posted On: 06 Sep 2021 04:01 am

The perfect example of keeping it simple (except getting Expedition Foods to the USA - but that part is logistics). I'll ask you on day 4 how the Chicken Tikka diet is going ;) . We are super excited to see you in Namibi!
Robert Ripley

02 September 2021 03:10 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

Plan B


Sadly, the 2021 Atacama Crossing Race has been postponed to 2022.  Even though Chile is probably one of the safest places in the world to visit right now, we can’t get in without a 7 day quarantine (I personally would have taken the quarantine as my taper, but I don’t think most of the racers would have been able to meet the requirement).  I can’t say that I blame the Chileans.  They have a good thing going.  


I think I said a few months ago that among my revised goals for the race was to train hard enough so that I wouldn’t die in the desert, but not so hard that it would break my heart if the race was canceled.  So my heart isn’t broken.  But I was pretty bummed.  I’ve been having vivid dreams of running the salt flats  with the crinkled desert surface extending off into the surreally azure Atacama sky with Licancabur hovering above the sands like a gray ghost.  I was so looking forward to getting back there.  Even if I had to run the salt flats as part of the deal.


I may still show up in San Pedro de Atacama a year and a month from now.  And I may even be in better shape.  But it is hard for me to let all the training I have done this summer go.  (I’m not really sure where training goes when you stop training, but I do know that at my age, wherever it goes, it disappears breathtakingly quickly).  I mean ski season is coming, but the hours spent trudging the dusty trails only partially translate to speed on snow.


And so.  Plan B!


The Namib Race is still set to start on October 24th.  Namibia has just been downgraded from a 4 to a 3 on the CDC travel list, and I intend to be there.  I was part of the medical team for the 2018 Namib Race, so I have history there as well.  Namibia is a beautiful country with beautiful people, and I look forward to returning.


                              2018 Medical Team!  Pearlly, Cassandra, Nancy and Bryan (and some old guy)


The race format will be the same as Atacama, but the experience will be different, with different challenges.  There will be more sand.  Namibia has the biggest dunes in the world, and I am sure that Carlos the course director will have us climbing as many dunes as he possibly can.  They have changed the course since I was there in 2018, so I have no first hand experience with the course, but I am sure there will be sand.


                                                          Setting the 2018 course


                                                                            lots of sand


 Running on sand requires anywhere from 25% to 100% more energy than running on pavement.  It's kind of like running a never ending uphill.  And the technique is a little different.  Sand requires a shorter, quicker stride and favors a flat footed footstrike.  Just like the aboriginal peoples of the arctic purportedly have 100 different words for snow, I’m sure the desert runners have delineated 100 types of sand.  Soft sand.  Packed sand.  Wet sand.  Quick sand?  And there is probably a different technique for every kind of sand.  The trails I run in the Oregon high desert often are often packed sand, but not the bottomless sand of the Namib.  I’m going to have to go find some dunes to practice on.  This may involve some travel to the Oregon coast.  I’m sure that I can find some sand dunes there!


The Namib race is at sea level, more or less, which is good for me (better than 2-3000 meters in Chile).  And it is likely to be warmer than Atacama, especially at night.  So sleeping should be easier.  (It could potentially be hotter during the day, however.). And as far as I can tell there won’t be any river crossings, unless Namibia gets some unexpected October rains, and, at least from my standpoint, dry feet are happier feet.


So Namib Race 2021 it is!  I will have to say that I was so, so, so looking forward to a taper in September, but for the prospect of getting to race, I will happily put off my taper until October.  One more month of over-volume training.  And you guys are going to have to put up with another month or two of this blog!

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Robert Ripley
The Gear Thing, Part 3

17 August 2021 04:59 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

The Gear Thing, Part 3?


Last year, more than 18 months ago, when I started this blog, I was obsessing over gear:  What to bring, how much it weighed, how much money was it worth to save one ounce, could you really brush your teeth if you cut the handle off your toothbrush (and would you really want to if you are having to poop in a hole and all you have to clean your hands with is 2 ounces of alcohol gel?).  And I’m still geeking out over this stuff, but I have made most of the decisions and I pretty much know what’s going into my pack.  Mostly.


But first off.  Let me just say how FREAKING AMAZING IT IS TO BE WATCHING THE RACE GOING ON IN GEORGIA!!!  Go Reinhold!  Go Isabelle!  Go Georgia the dog!  Go everyone!  The pictures have been amazing.  (Looking a little muddy though!). But it is giving my heart an extra boost of joy to see a Racing the Planet Ultra taking place after this long and painful hiatus.  I wish I was there.  Even if just to man a checkpoint or pop blisters in the medical tent.  But I am thankful for all the work that went into putting this race together and making it happen.  I wish all the racers in Georgia success, happiness, good health and safety in their endeavor.


And so back to gear.



As I mentioned before, it all starts with the MEL (mandatory equipment list).


The big ticket items that I will be going with include:

—Raidlight Revolutiv 24L vest (superlight, no padding to be found anywhere, a polyfilament ratcheting adjustment system that welds the pack to your body, and half price when Raidlight USA had their going out of business sale)

—Z-pack’s 3/4 zip 30 degree down sleeping bag. 900 fill down.  Practically a piece of art!  Weighs in under a pound.  Comes with a bungee tie down to keep it from floating away when you aren’t using it.

—Patagonia ultralight down sweater.  Already had this.  Could’ve spent $400 to buy a puffy that weighed an ounce or two less, but decided to spend the money elsewhere

—Raidlight Hyperlight MP+ Hoodie Jacket.  Also half price at the aforementioned going out of business sale.  Superlight.  Fabric so insubstantial you can literally see though it.  But it should keep me dry.  In the driest place on earth.  (If I was racing the Georgia race, I’d be wet right now)

—Petzl e+Lite Headlamp.  Two of these.  Superlight (1ounce) but not super bright.  If we are out together after dark and you have a big, heavy 4000 lumen headlamp, expect me to become your best friend.

—Thermarest NeoAir shortie sleeping pad.  Not on the MEL, but something to keep most of my old and tired bones off the cold, hard ground.  (and a Sea to Summit ultralight pillow, okay, so I need a pillow)

—Raidlight R-go bottles.  Not the little soft easy-flask bottles that came with the pack.

—an extra shirt, pants and socks.  Some 2XU recovery tights.

--hat and gloves

—and all the other stuff that you can get on amazon: sunscreen, alcohol gel, mirror, compass, red-flashing light, plastic poncho (the videos from Georgia are showing a few folks sporting these!), bivy-bag, blister kit, ace-wrap, etc.


So as of today, the base weight (every thing off the MEL that I will be carrying, not wearing, except for food and water) of my pack and gear is a little over 3 kg (about 7 pounds).  And I haven’t started cutting the handle off my toothbrush or cutting all the tags off my gear, so I am hopeful that I can shave another gram or two off my base weight.  My goal was to have a pack weighing in under 7kg, so that still leaves me with almost 4kg for food and water.  Food, glorious food!  The stuff of life!  (And a blog post topic in its own right)

Comments: Total (2) comments

Robert Ripley

Posted On: 25 Aug 2021 08:11 pm

Turns out I was never allergic to down. Only to the mold, dust mite carcasses and squirrel dander that impregnated the army surplus sleeping bags of our youth. Or maybe I just couldn’t breathe because someone was holding the sleeping bag over my face?!

Justin Ripley

Posted On: 23 Aug 2021 03:42 am

AHA! We always assumed your childhood allergies were contrived to get out of eating Mom’s home cooking or maybe later on to enjoy a sweet hospital bed during bike tours in Iowa. Although you did seem genuinely ill when we mixed the pb in w the jelly. But now I see you are promoting the use of down products! You have been exposed for the fraud you are. Seriously, best of luck in the Atacama! Love ya man! Iggy
Robert Ripley
Some more thoughts about feet and footwear

12 August 2021 10:05 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

A few more thoughts about feet and footwear 


As I may have mentioned, I have never run one of these multi-day ultramarathon thingies, so anything I put up here on this blog is just my musing about how I think things will work.  It shouldn’t be taken as race tested advice.  I have, however, worked on the medical team for 6 Racing the Planet races, so I have personally looked at hundreds of gnarly looking feet and popped thousands of blisters.  I think it was Riitta who said she was looking forward to seeing how well I managed my own blisters.  And I told her I was looking forward to limping into the medical tent and sticking my dirty bloody feet in some poor, unsuspecting doctor’s face.  (Not really).  I wish I had some wisdom I could pass on that would guarantee a blister free race.  (But I don’t). 


Many racers swear by “pre-taping” their toes and other sensitive areas with paper tape, cloth tape or, in extreme cases, duct tape.  I suspect that the racers for whom this works don’t come see me in the med tent.  The unfortunate ones for whom this doesn’t work come in with blisters underneath the tape.  Problematic at best. 


The experts at RTP and elsewhere (John Vonhoff, Fixing Your Feet), recommend running in shoes 1-2 sizes larger than your usual size.  This allows extra room in the shoe for tape, socks and the inevitable swelling that comes from pounding the heck out of your feet for hours.  But, if you don’t fill this extra space with something (socks, tape, fluid), your feet will slosh around in your shoes, and this in itself will cause blisters.  I personally, will be going from a 10.5 to an 11 in US sizing.  I would recommend spending some time running in various sizes of shoes to determine what degree of sizing up is right for you.


I have noticed that we don’t usually see the race leaders in the med tent.  I have asked them what foot secrets they can offer to prevent blisters.  Most of them will say, “I don’t get blisters.”  And my question would be, do they not get blisters because they are in front, or are they in front because they don’t get blisters?  One wonders.  As best as I can gather, they don’t get blisters because they have put in the miles of training necessary to win an ultramarathon.  And they have worked out the shoe-sock combo that is best for them.  And then there’s scar tissue.  Scar tissue is my secret weapon.  In training I run until I get a sore spot, and then I either stop for the day or stop to readjust my shoe or sock.  Then I let the sore spot heal up and form a little scar tissue.  And then, hopefully, that little bit of scar tissue keeps me from getting a blister there in the future.  In any case, chances are pretty good that you will get a blister or two in training—and this would be the perfect opportunity to get out your blister kit and play around with what’s inside and figure out what works best.  You will thank yourself later.  (And the medical team will thank you as well).


And, almost as important as the shoe choice, there is the socks choice:  1 pair, 2 pair, thick, thin, with or without toes, and, of course, what color do you prefer?  Tassels?  I have tried running with a thin liner sock under my running socks.  This works well, up to the point where it doesn’t.  For me, two pairs of socks doubles my chance of getting a bunched up bit of sock rubbing where it shouldn’t.  I prefer a single pair of medium thick socks.  I like the injinji toe socks in that they provide a little bit of individual protection for each toe.  But you have to be careful that the toebox of your shoe has the room to accommodate the extra fabric.  The other problem of the toe socks is that it takes 5 times longer to put them on than regular socks.  More when your toes are sweaty or dirty.  You don’t want to be that guy that’s still putting on his socks when the gun goes off.


And, finally, there are those funny looking gaiter thingies.  The last time I was at Atacama, the guy who won, Mo Foustok, wasn’t wearing gaiters.  But then, I swear when he ran across the salt flats his feet barely touched the ground.  Whenever I run in sand, however, my shoes fill up every 100 meters, and, if I don’t stop to empty them, it gets so I can’t run any further.  And, even in the non-sandy bits, gaiters help keep dirt and rocks out of your shoes.  I can’t say definitively that cleaner feet are less likely to blister, but, in the medical tent, it seems like the dirty feet are the one’s with the worst blisters.  But going with gaiters does mean extra weight on your feet.  Even with ultra-light gaiters, say 40gm each, if you take 250,000 steps in the course of the race, it will add up to 10,000kg of transported weight.  Plus they’re funny looking.

                                                                        without gaiters


                                                                            with gaiters


                                                                        under the gaiters


As you can see in the pictures, the gaiters definitely keep my feet cleaner!

These are the Raidlight desert gaiters that velcro onto your shoes.  I will say here that the pre-stick velcro that comes with the gaiters will not stay stuck to your shoes, and if you glue it on, the foam backing will fall apart.  Better to get non-sticky, non-foam velcro hooks and glue them onto your shoes.

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Robert Ripley
Some Thoughts about Footwear

03 August 2021 08:55 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana




One of the most important decisions that needs to be made is what exactly I am going to be wearing on my feet when I go trotting off into the Atacama Desert.  As you can see, I’ve got a few choices lying around in the garage.


(It should be painfully clear to the reader that I am not a sponsored athlete, so while I will be mentioning a few shoe brands here, I won’t be receiving any renumeration, or even free shoes.)


For years I ran in whatever was on sale at the shoe shop (in the days before the internet).  Converse.  Nike.  Tiger (now ASICS).  Adidas.  Brooks.  I ran the way I learned to run, with a long stride and a heel strike.  Then for years I was plagued with achilles tendinitis, so I wasn’t able to run much.  Then I fancied myself a bicycle racer for a few years, and I didn’t run at all.  Bicycle racers don’t run.  It’s bad for the legs.  When I did start to run again I taught myself to run with a shorter stride and a midfoot strike.  I found this was better for my Achilles tendons.  With the new technique, I needed a shoe with a little less drop (the amount of height loss in between the heel and the forefoot of a running shoe).  I tried the Newton for a time, but I kept getting hung up on the little rocker of tread under the forefoot.  I tried a pair of Hokas and found the sole rocker compatible with my new stride, and I have been running the Hoka since.  Mostly the Clifton.  I like the level of padding in the sole and the shoes seem to fit my feet well.


Unfortunately, the Cliftons are not the longest lasting shoe.  The guys at the shop suggest that you change them out every 300 miles.  And I have found that in gravel, or more abrasive terrain,  they will break down even faster.


The obvious Hoka choice for trails would be the Speedgoat.  The Goat is built with a sturdier upper, more supportive lacing and a grippier and durable tread on top of a cushy amount of foam in the midsole.  I have run through a few pairs of the Speedgoats and feel comfortable in them on trails.  Although I will say they do have a little less room for the toes than some of the other Hokas.


So Speedgoat it is.  




You will probably have heard about the carbon fiber plate technology being introduced into running shoes in the last few years.  The physics of the plate, I believe, is to absorb some of the energy of the footstrike and then transmit that energy into the pushoff as the shoe leaves the ground.  Nike introduced the Vaporfly and promised a 4% boost in times.  Naturally I bought into this, as I have mentioned before, I have no moral qualms about buying speed.  I will admit to being skeptical.  I even told the gal at Footzone that I’d be bringing the shoes back if I only ran 3% faster.  In 2019, however, I ran the vaporflys in a half marathon and my time was almost exactly 4% better than my best half marathon time from 2018 in non-carbon shoes.  Obviously, there were a lot of variables:  it wasn’t on the same course, both halfs were run in duathlons, after a 56+ mile bicycle ride on different courses, I was in different training phases, etc.  But, still, at my age, when you are getting faster a year older, that’s a win.


Hoka makes a carbon plate shoe.  The Carbon X.  And I will say that, even though it was not designed for trails, it is currently my favorite shoe for road or trail.  There isn’t much in the way of tread, so the Carbon X is not a good choice for wet, muddy trails, but I don’t see much of those conditions here in the Oregon high desert, and I don’t expect them in Atacama (famous last words?)  And I am no physicist, but I suspect that the carbon plate energy transfer doesn’t do you much good in sandy terrain.  At my usual pace, I don’t think the carbon plate makes me any faster, but what I do notice is I get better and faster recovery with the carbon technology.  So I feel this would be an advantage in a multi-day event.


The Carbon X is also not the most durable shoe.  But I have been able to run 400 miles (about twice as many as recommended by the guy at the shoe shop) on them before the carbon plate starts to poke out of the sole.



And, as is to be expected, just about the time I got used to the Carbon X, Hoka decided to improve them.  The X2 added some changes to the sole, particularly the heel, and they re-engineered the tongue as well.  The new tongue is stiffer with a rubberized backing which, over long distances, seems to cause skin breakdown over my anterior tibialis tendon.  So I had to go out on the internet and buy up all the X1s…


Anyway.  There it is.  I will probably show up in San Pedro with more than one pair of running shoes.  I may make a race day call as to which shoe I go with, but I will probably be out on the trail in the Carbon Xs.  Or the Speedgoats.  If you find me sitting by the side of the trail cursing a blown out sneaker, well, you can say you told me so.


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Robert Ripley
A Training Plan for the Atacama Crossing

18 July 2021 04:29 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

Training Plan


(Note:  this should not be construed as THE training plan for the Atacama Crossing (AC), merely my musings as to what I should be doing in what little time I have left to train.  I should also say that I’ve left the actual details in the capable hands of a professional, Jaime, my coach from Laughing Dog Coaching)

This is what I am thinking about!


  1. Walking:  Much as I would like to run the entire race, chances are pretty good that I will be spending more than a little time walking across the Atacama landscape.  As such, I will need to be comfortable walking, so my plan is to walk a few miles in the woods most mornings with the dogs, and Nancy if she’s available.  Not only will this strengthen my stride, but it allows my mind to wander and seek its own exercise.  
  2. Running:  The AC is, after all, a race.  The amount of running I can accomplish will determine whether or not I can be competitive in the race.  As I have mentioned in my other postings, my old legs can only take so much of this running stuff, so I will have to be judicious and intelligent about the miles I do put in.  My plan is to run most of my mileage in weekly blocks of 2-3 days.  These little blocks will hopefully simulate the fatigue of a multi-day race and get my legs used to going out to perform even when they are achy and tired.  Most of my running will be at an aerobic (Zone 2 for you Training Peaks geeks) pace with occasional bits creeping up into Tempo pace (Zone 3).  
  3. Cycling:  As I’ve mentioned before, I still identify as a cyclist (even if my bicycle racing career was less than legendary).  My friend Jay once told me that “the bicycle is the wheelchair of the older athlete,” and I will have to say that the Guru Praemio titanium racing bicycle Nancy got me for my 50th birthday (even though I asked for a Red 1961 Porsche Speedster) rescued me from a path to certain obesity and immobility.  So my plan is to continue cycling.  I will use longer rides to add to the ‘fatigue blocks,’ and I will throw down some intervals on the bike as well.  At my age, high intensity training needs to be taken sparingly, once or twice a week at most, and I find that I can control the intensity better on the bike with the numbers on my bike computer than I can while running and trying to look at my watch.
  4. Strength training:  Every coach and athlete will agree that strength training is an essential element to any training plan.  But no one can agree on what the best form of strength training is.  As a 125# cross country skier, I was traumatized early on when my coach tossed me into the weight room with the hockey and wrestling teams.  I will say that the best strength training program is one that you will actually do, 2-3 times a week.  After years of trying and then failing to follow through on various modalities, I have finally settled on the Vasa trainer.  While it was designed for swimmers, it is basically a poor man’s version of a Pilates Reformer.  The Vasa Trainer allows me to perform 20-30 reps of 10 exercises 3 times in under an hour.  Exercising most muscle groups while focusing on the core.  Without a trip to the gym.  Sold.  
  5. Stretching:  Again, an easily ignored (at your peril) essential.  My failure to properly stretch over the years has brought prosperity to several physical therapists.  Brenda Rode, my current therapist, likes to say, “length is strength.”  I try to stretch twice a day.  On my morning walks, after the muscles have warmed up, I do some static stretches of my hamstrings, quads and calf/achilles.  3 sets of 20 second stretches for each.  Before I go run, I spend about 5 minutes performing dynamic stretching:  hopping, skipping, soldier walking, knee to chest walking and heel to buttock running.
  6. Rest:  All of this training stuff causes trauma.  And the best way to recover from trauma is rest.  I will be resting as much as possible.  At least one to two days a week.  Sleep is good too.  Unfortunately, as we age, sleep becomes a more erratic and difficult goal to attain.  To make up for some of the sleep I’m missing at night, I’m having to resort to the old guy hack of taking naps.
  7. Nutrition:  While I won’t be giving up burgers or beer like Ben(!!), I am going to focus on a healthy diet, as plant based as I can tolerate.  Additionally, I will be tracking the calories I burn during exercise and try to replace those calories as soon after exercise as my GI tract will allow. 
  8. Race Specific Training:
  1. Terrain:  The AC course takes the competitor over sand dunes, through rivers and slot canyons, across salt flats, bare rock and jeep tracks.  While I have been doing almost all of my running in the dirt, over the next month I will be seeking out more unstable terrain to simulate the course.  Maybe I will even get my feet wet!
  2. Race Nutrition:  In addition to experimenting with various electrolyte concoctions and energy bars (expect a report soon!), I have been adding in some instant oatmeal in the morning and freeze dried cuisine the night before!  yum.  
  3. Grunge practice:  Nancy isn’t liking this, but I’ve been going several days without washing my running kit.  When it crawls on its own to the laundry room, it is time to wash it.  I haven’t tried going several days without washing me.  I guess that’s next level.
  4. Sleeping on the Ground:  Part of the AC challenge is to get up and perform after sleeping on the cold, hard ground all night.  I’m going to start throwing that element into the ‘fatigue block’ mix.
  5. Backpack:  I’m up to running with a 5kg pack.  I will have to up that by a couple of kilos over the coming month.  Then I plan on backing off.
  6. Altitude:  The AC starts out at 3000 meters, but descends to 2000 meters early on.  I live at a little over 1000 meters and train up to 1500 meters.  So I think I can handle the altitude.  I’m not thinking I’m going to have to start sleeping in an altitude chamber.  But I will have to look at my travel options to see if acclimatization is an option.


There it is folks!  You heard it here first (or 3rd, or whatever).  If you are training for the AC, feel free to borrow whatever looks good.  Or comment on the absurdity of it all.

Comments: Total (1) comments

Sarah Horne

Posted On: 20 Jul 2021 10:16 am

What a beautiful way to spend your mornings - walking in the woods with dogs. Sounds like the plan is coming together very nicely, so important to take the rest and recovery aspect just as seriously. I am definitely guilty of skipping a few of my stretch & mobility sessions...!
Robert Ripley
Du or do not, there is no tri

10 July 2021 10:27 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

Du or do not.  There is no tri.


Had my first race of 2021 this weekend.  It was listed as an Olympic Distance Duathlon.  (Note that, to my knowledge, there has never been a Duathlon at the Olympics, there is a Biathlon, but that involves shooting and skiing).  This race started with a 10km run, followed by a 40km bike, concluding with a 5km run.  Duathlons are often thrown in with triathlons to eke out a little more participation (revenue).  Basically, a duathlon is a triathlon for those of us who don’t swim.


As you may remember, I grew up in Alaska.  In Alaska, swimming is what you do with your last 3 minutes, should you be unfortunate enough to fall into the water.


Actually, I have done one triathlon.  It was the early 80s.  I was a pretty good runner.  I was in pretty good shape.  I had a bicycle.  I had completed the mile swim at boy scout camp.  How hard could it be.  Right?  (I didn’t have a wetsuit, or even bike shorts for that matter). My entire swim training regimen amounted to jumping in a lake and swimming 100 meters out to the dock.  And back.  Once.  Race day came and I ran quickly down the beach and jumped in the water.  And then 200 people crawled over my back, each pausing briefly to hold my head under the water.  Sure that I was going to drown, I floundered to the turn-around and clung to the gunwale of a boat for dear life.  The woman in the boat told me that this wasn’t allowed.  I believe my response was something like:  gurgle, gasp, expletive, splash, gasp, do you, gurgle, gasp, expletive, want to watch me expletive drown?  Surprisingly, I wasn’t disqualified, and I didn’t finish dead last.  I did get a tee shirt, a sinus infection, and a nasty saddle sore for my efforts.  Now I own bike shorts.  But not a wetsuit.


But I digress.  


Duathlons have been sort of my athletic thing for the last few years.  The USA Triathlon Duathon National Championships came to our town of Bend in 2016.  I said to myself, Hmmm, what do you need to do to qualify for the  National Championships?  It turns out that all I needed to do was pay the entry fee and join USAT.  Done.  In 2016,  with a moderate amount of disorganized training (a little riding, a little running, what more would you need?), I managed to place 5th in my age group.  Ego-Boost!  A sport obscure enough such that a mediocre runner and a mediocre biker is near the podium at Nationals.  So, naturally, I got myself a coach and started training in earnest for the 2017 Nationals.  And I won my age group.  (A monster is born)


My finishes at Nationals qualified me for the International Triathlon Union World Duathlon Championships.  (I can hear you saying, the ITU What?!?).  And being on Team USA for the Worlds means that you need to buy lycra with your name on the butt.


(Side note:  a spectator at the 2017 Worlds in Penticton Canada yelled at me, “you misspelled ripply!”  Really, do these shorts make my butt look ripply?)



Since then I’ve been to 3 ITU World Duathlon Championships:  2 standard distance (which is the same as Olympic Distance), and once at the long distance (10km run, 150km bike, 30km run).  I’ve managed to finish just off the podium each time.  I’m hoping that since I recently “aged up” into a new age group, I can finally make the podium at worlds.  Unfortunately, this pandemic thing, not to mention all my training for Atacama, has kept me out of the rarified Duathlon atmosphere these past 2 years.


So. This weekend’s race?  I won.  Both my age group and overall.  I stood on the podium with a 31 yr old and a 24 yr old.  Which means that if you added their years together they still wouldn’t have been in my age group.  They both mentioned how fast my bike was.  (I do have a very fast bike, at my age you have to buy as much speed as you can, but somebody still has to pedal the damn thing!). 


It should be noted that while there were dozens of competitors in the duathlons this weekend, there were hundreds of competitors in the triathlons.  Can I be faulted for picking the event with fewer racers, I think not.


Thankfulness note:  Not only am I thankful that I’ve found an obscure event to be competitive at, I am thankful to be out and racing again.  I am thankful for the vaccines that have made this possible.

Comments: Total (2) comments

Sarah Horne

Posted On: 12 Jul 2021 08:38 am

Congratulations Rob! You clearly have a very natural talent for the sport and don't need to worry about being out of the scene for a while - hope the sun is still shining in Oregon!

Sam F

Posted On: 12 Jul 2021 05:43 am

WOW, that's amazing Rob! Don't listen to those young whipper snappers - a win is a win! And I think we should make everyone have their name tatooed on their butt in the desert! ;)
Robert Ripley
Decisions to make

29 June 2021 04:19 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

Decisions, decisions


Planning an adventure like the Atacama Crossing is all about being able to make decisions.  What kind of shoes to wear.  Should I step on that snake.  Fortunately, I make decisions for a living.  They are not always the right decision, but the decisions get made.


So, I have decided on a training strategy.  


I am going to train.  And I am going to run.  Judiciously.


I am going to continue to build my aerobic capacity by riding my bicycle as much as possible, while throwing in a few longer runs to get my legs used to the fatigue.  As a sixty year old athlete (holy sugar, I turned 60!  How did that happen!) I understand that the best by date of my legs has long since passed, and I am working with a limited amount of articular cartilage.  As such, I can’t just go out and throw down the kind of mileage that most sane people would deem necessary to get in shape for a 250km multi-day ultramarathon.  I’m going to be walking a fine line between injury and unfitness.  


Last week looked like this (on Training Peaks):   



A little more cycling that running.  A couple of 30 minute strength sessions (about as much as I can deal with, we’ll have to have that discussion later).  But, all in all, pretty decent training volume, even if I say so myself.


Today is a rest day.  Rest days are key.  And beautiful.  It is especially good that today is a rest day because Bend, Oregon, where I live, just hit 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42 in Celsius).  That is the highest ever recorded temperature here (the previous all time high was 106 on August 1, 1916!) And while this might be good training weather for the Atacama, I am happy it’s a rest day.



And the dogs are happy that I’m staying in as well.


Okay.  Decisions made:  Training, yes.  Today, no.


But the really big decision that needs to be made is to shave or not to shave.


Not my face, my legs.


For the last decade or so, I have identified myself athletically as a cyclist.  And cyclists shave their legs.  (Something to do with road rash being less messy after a crash if you don’t have leg hairs in the wound, but mostly, I think, it’s a look that says you take this cycling thing seriously).    Ultramarathoners, to my observation, don’t shave their legs.  Although in an event like Atacama, where every gram counts, an argument could be made that a weeks worth of dirt, grime and dust caught in one’s leg hairs could result in a measurable amount of added weight to carry.  I have been on a couple of group rides this summer where mine have been the only hairy legs.  And next week I’m entered in a Duathlon (a run-bike-run event, kind of like a triathlon, without swimming).  I like to look my best when I race.  But once you start shaving your legs, it’s pretty much another grooming task that you’re stuck with until ski season comes around (skiers do not shave their legs).

And, really, who needs another grooming task?

Comments: Total (1) comments

Sam Fanshawe

Posted On: 30 Jun 2021 08:01 am

Rob! These are awesome blog posts - let's do this thing (not the leg shaving, the training and prep and running the Atacama Crossing!)
Robert Ripley

27 June 2021 09:30 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana



Well.  It would appear that there are 90 days until the Atacama Crossing Ultra starts.  And, while the Atacama desert has never been too far from my thoughts during the passing of these crazy times, it seems that I have left this poor blog to die a slow death from neglect.


So, if there is time to resuscitate said blog, that time will have to be now.


90 days is probably not nearly enough time to get my act together and get organized and trained up for the Atacama.  But it is what I have to work with.  To help me get my head around things, I will be trying out whatever random stuff is in my head on this blog.  


When I started this adventure I listed my goals as:

  1. Have fun.
  2. Be thankful.
  3. And don’t get hurt.


But maybe I need to put  a 4th goal out there.  Train hard enough so that I won’t die in the desert, but not so hard that if this race doesn’t happen in 2021, it won’t break my heart.  I don’t want to sound defeatist, I am encouraged with what is happening with the vaccine program in Chile, but if the last 15 months have taught me anything, it is that nothing is to be taken for granted.


Alright.  Time to get at it.  Have fun. Be thankful.  Don’t get hurt.  And get my arse in shape.  And while I’m at it I will try to blog a little.

Comments: Total (1) comments

Sarah Horne

Posted On: 28 Jun 2021 08:10 am

90 Days!!! Almost reaching distance... exciting times! I recently joined the RacingThePlanet team and have heard all about you - looking forward to meeting you in San Pedro! Those sound like great goals - good luck with the 4th, I look forward to hearing all about how you get on as you restart your race preparations!
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

Comments: Total (1) comments

Dafa Toto

Posted On: 05 May 2020 08:20 am

Dafatoto very happy with your article... very interesting for me to read. Dafatoto will also always visit your website. Thank you for sharing this information with us.
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.

Comments: Total (0) comments

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. ( ) 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.
Robert Ripley
replies to comments from last posting

09 February 2020 11:53 am (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

Geoff!  Sign me up for your next trip.  I'll bring the lycra!  (although we heard that Pearlly was out looking for the med tent on your trip to care for her blisters!)  Our EM group is off on a hut trip to the Tam MacArthur rim later this month.  But we will be taking a snowmobile, to get the kegs to the hut.

Carl!  Working on it!  See lame excuse in next posting!

Tony!  I'm all for the RTP biathlon!  But I think the competitors would need to be armed as well.

Comments: Total (0) comments

Robert Ripley
Skiing to Atacama

26 January 2020 12:01 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

At this point you are probably thinking. Jeez. This guy blogs more than he runs. And you’d be right!

Today was my first run since starting this blog. But, as you can see from the piechart below. I haven’t been sitting on my butt typing ALL week.

 pie chart

Mostly I’ve been cross-country (or Nordic) skiing.

I grew up in Alaska, and cross-country skiing was my first sport. I actually skied to grade school (through the snow, up hill, both ways). My father handcrafted my first pair of skis by cutting the edges off an old pair of downhill skis and using a plane to thin out the edges. He modified the downhill cable binding so that the heel would elevate and the toe would hold my footwear of choice, the “tuffy boot.” Sadly, those homemade skis went the way of most of my skis from the 70s: splintered on a treacherous corner at Kincaid Park or shattered at the bottom of a homemade ski jump.


This picture shows me racing in a knicker suit that my mom sewed on a vintage Singer sewing machine in 1978. No Lycra were killed to make this suit.

(Thankfulness note: I give thanks for parents who spent their free time making stuff so that I could go ski)

My first ski race was sometime in the early 70s. I had asthma and cold air made me wheeze; the air was cold during ski season, so I didn’t do very well. I found that wearing a respirator would warm the air and make me wheeze less, but it made me look like Darth Vader, before there was Darth Vader, and this made me the object of ridicule from my fellow racers. Fortunately, my asthma and my skiing improved. I raced for Dimond High School in Anchorage (we won the State Championship in 1979) and the College of Idaho (we won the NCSA Nationals in 1980).

(Another thankfulness note: I give thanks for the ski coaches who pushed me to become a better skier and a better human: Lynn Roumagoux, John Morton, Ernie Meissner, and others)


This picture shows me racing at the NCSA (College) Nationals in Waterville Valley, NH in 1983. No mask! I came in 4th that day. My mom did not sew the see through lycra suit that I wore. Or the union jack boxers underneath.

After I graduated from college I spent a year as a research assistant (ski bum) and then went on to seven years in medical school and residency. When I finally had enough free time to ski again, cross country skiing had changed. The skis were faster, the suits were tighter and people were skating on skis!

My first real job was back in Alaska. So I taught myself to skate. Unfortunately, I had a fool for a coach and he taught me a number of bad habits that have been hard for me to break. And then I moved away from Alaska and only got to ski on rare occasions for the next 20 years.


This picture shows me skating to the finish of the Tour of Anchorage in 2018. It’s definitely not as pretty as what they now call “classic” cross country skiing, but it is quite a bit faster.

Now I live 30-40 minutes from world class cross country skiing. In the winter time I try to ski as much as possible. Skiing Nordic is one of the most aerobically challenging activities out there, engaging just about every single muscle group in the body. And it is relatively low impact. Except when you run into things on the side of the trail.

Which brings me back to the pie chart above as well as the third goal (Don’t get Hurt!). My strategy is to build up my aerobic fitness without doing a whole lot of running. (Once again, this is not expert advice, just my theory) I am hoping that by mixing in skiing and biking I can avoid some of those nasty overuse injuries and save a few shreds of articular cartilage for September!

Ski season lasts until mid-March. Maybe a bit longer if the snow holds. I have a race in Sun Valley this weekend.

Nancy and I are going to Cogne, Italy in March for the Masters World Cup races.  Because I haven't had my butt kicked enough by the masters skiers here, so I like to fly to exotic places so the scandinavians can kick my butt!

And in addition to the cross country skiing, we also have great downhill skiing here in Central Oregon, both backcountry and lift serviced, which I try to mix in with a little moderation (don’t get hurt).

In any case.  The snow here is great!  Come try it!  I'll get back to the running stuff when it melts.

Comments: Total (3) comments

Carl Botterud

Posted On: 08 Feb 2020 12:19 am

Enjoying your writing, aren’t we due for an update?

Geoff Falk

Posted On: 03 Feb 2020 04:31 pm

You really need to let Pearlly and me take you back country skiing. Its cross country and downhill all in the same package. You can even wear tight outfits as is your preference; see-through or otherwise. Pearlly and I just finished a hut trip where we skied 6-7hrs a day for 6 days straight. Really good training!

tony brammer

Posted On: 28 Jan 2020 05:51 am

I love some of these theories; not running will prevent overuse injury, brilliant concept. I also love watching cross country skiing. The Norwegians rock and are a class above, but my favourite is Biathlon. May be we should introduce a rifle into the 4 Deserts events, only for the CP Captains and only for humane purposes. I think I'm going to have to reevaluate my decision not to go to Atacama this year.
Robert Ripley
Just what type of fun are we talking about here??

24 January 2020 10:52 pm (GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi

As mentioned, one of my goals for Atacama 2020 is to have fun. Which begs the question: How fun is running across a desert all day, every day, for a week? And just exactly how crazy are you? But I suppose it all has to do with what type of fun you are talking about.

I first heard about the different types of fun in February of 2014 while I was working medical team on a 4 deserts race. It was pouring rain in the Wadi Rum in Jordan and the racers were straggling into camp like so many waterlogged creatures. Eric Ladd, one of the docs, said, “looks like there’s a lot of type 2 fun going on today.”

It turns out there are 3 types of fun (news to me at the time).

Per the urban dictionary:

Type 1 fun is just plain fun. Simple, uncomplicated fun. It differs from 'fun' because it implies that there was a possibility for type 2 fun or even type 3 fun to have occurred instead.

a: "So, how was your boss's BBQ?"
b: "Oh, everyone got plastered and played twister. Proper type 1 fun."
a: "See, told you it would be fine."

type 2 fun

  1. An activity that is fun only after you have stopped doing it.

ouch i hurt everywhere that was some type 2 fun


type 3 fun

not fun at all, not even in retrospect. As in, “What the hell was I thinking? If I ever even consider doing that again, somebody slap some sense into me.”

That was type 3 fun!

#type 1 fun#type 2 fun#type 4 fun#sufferfest#pain cave

I think for many of my fellow humans, pretty much any form of exercise will come under the heading of type 2 (or even 3 ) fun, but for those of us who exercise a lot, maybe even live to exercise, I think we can definitely put some forms of exercise into the type 1 category: say, a perfect bluebird powder day on the ski hill, or a run in the woods with your buddy when your legs feel great and the air is crisp and you just feel like you could run forever, or the perfect trail for your mountain bike, with just enough terrain to make it fun, but not enough to make you gasp for air.

But I think we can all agree, there will be a lot of type 2 fun going on at Atacama 2020. Chances are pretty good that my legs are not going to feel great every day and the feeling that I could run forever will be quickly replaced by the feeling (or maybe the reality) that I am. Running forever. And in order to get through the day, I will have to look forward to the day, maybe in the distant future, that I can sit down with a pint and some coconspirators and say, yeah, that was fun.

type 2 fun

(some type 2 fun at the 2019 Zofingen Powerman)

Whenever I read about type 3 fun, I see references to polar expeditions and pictures of Shackleton’s guys pulling a boat across the ice. While I do believe there is something epic about a multi-day ultramarathon in the desert. I am hoping to stop a little short of Shackleton epic.

I’ve also heard of type 1.5 fun, but that hasn’t made the urban dictionary yet. Type 1.5 has been used to describe activities which are basically fun, but have some unpleasant components: say, skinning up the mountain so that you can put first ski tracks down a bowl full of untouched powder, or getting your feet soaked crossing the river to get over to the best running trail in the park.

And maybe there is type 1.25 fun. A totally fun activity with not so fun consequences?   Blisters, a hangover, your credit card bill.

In any case, I have always enjoyed testing the limits of my body (and mind) and I am looking forward to experiencing a spectrum of fun in the Atacama.

(ok. Let’s try to avoid the type 3 fun)

And speaking of fun, have I mentioned I live in Central Oregon? And it's snowing?  And it is ski season?!  The training may need to wait...

Comments: Total (3) comments

tony brammer

Posted On: 26 Jan 2020 06:08 am

No Neil Diamond in Atacama it is, but may be have a bottle of Cracklin Rose. Good luck with the training, I look forward to the continued delineation of your fun. I grade my grumpiness on my own.

Robert Ripley

Posted On: 26 Jan 2020 01:38 am

Tony! Totally guttered that you won’t be coming to Atacama! I think that the appropriate playlist for Atacama will need to be an entire post in it’s own right. Taking suggestions now!? But Sweet Caroline. Ba-dump, bump, bumm! comes under the type 3 fun classification! Especially when played at 3am at checkpoint 7 on the long march!

tony brammer

Posted On: 25 Jan 2020 10:41 am

4 Desert Races as a competitor were type 2 fun 4 Desert Races as a volunteer are absolutely type 1 fun
Robert Ripley
Let's get this blog on the road!

22 January 2020 08:42 pm (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana

First Blog Post!

The website says 248 days until Atacama.  That gives me less than one day to prepare for each kilometer I am going to be expected to run in the desert.  I have been operating under the impression that I had all the time in the world to get ready for this thing, but now, that I look at it like this, I’m suddenly feeling a sense of urgency.  There is all this stuff to do: research, run, shop (especially shop), run some more, start a blog.  But right now I am at work (we’ll talk about the work thing, but for tonight, let’s just say that there are no patients languishing in the waiting room while I am writing) so there isn’t too much for me to do besides getting started on this blog thing.

First things first, this blog will tell the story of what is going through my head as I get ready for Atacama.  I will ramble on about running, training, gear, food, salt, life, work, rest, play and whatever else flashes through my consciousness.  Hopefully you will find these ramblings as interesting and/or as entertaining as I do.  If not, I will apologize in advance.  What you read here should not be taken as expert advice!  I have never run an ultramarathon before, let alone a multiday ultramarathon, in the desert, carrying a pack.  I will try not to put anything completely crazy or false out here, but you should look at this more as an entertainment vehicle than the definitive tome on how to run an ultra.  If you have run an ultra and know this stuff and see that I am on the wrong track, literally or figuratively, please, let me know.  Or if you are like me, a first timer, maybe we can work together to get this figured out and survive the desert.  Feel free to comment.

My goals for Atacama are as follows:

  • Give thanks (be thankful).
  • Have fun.
  • Don’t get hurt.

I will talk in more detail about these goals, but, in case you haven’t caught this already, I am running Atacama 2020 in the spirit of thankfulness: giving thanks specifically to the good people at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, without whom I probably wouldn’t be here typing.

I have a fundraiser going to support the SCCA in their fight to save lives and help folks with cancer:

If you are looking for a good cause to throw a few of your hard earned dollars, or euros, or pesos at, I urge you to make a donation.  It is my expert opinion, as one who has come in one side and gone out the other, that the SCCA does good work.  And if you can’t see fit to donate to the Cancer Center of my choice, then I would ask you to make a donation to your local cancer center.

Okay.  That’s out there.  Let’s get on with number two.  Fun.  I still can’t go for a run.  But maybe I can go shopping!

Comments: Total (5) comments

Tom Hales

Posted On: 24 Jan 2020 02:06 am

Robert, I wish you the best of everything on this endeavor. I anxiously await the next post. I would offer advice and counsel but you'll have to do with encouragement. All the best my Brother!

Sam Fanshawe

Posted On: 23 Jan 2020 07:27 am

So exciting and for such a great cause. Can't wait to see you on the other side. With that advice and Tony's playlist you've got this.

tony brammer

Posted On: 23 Jan 2020 06:46 am

I would love to be in Atacama while you do this, unfortunately I can't make it this year. If you wish I can send you my playlist to listen to while you're training. Sing a long now "sweet Caroline......."

Carl Botterud

Posted On: 23 Jan 2020 05:56 am

You’re out of your mind. 248 days huh ..... looking for witty comment and I got nuthin’ - I am however reading your blog. Will get back to you with entertaining thoughts when they arise.

Carl Botterud

Posted On: 23 Jan 2020 05:56 am

You’re out of your mind. 248 days huh ..... looking for witty comment and I got nuthin’ - I am however reading your blog. Will get back to you with entertaining thoughts when they arise.