Burro Schmidt tunnel

The dirt road adventure to the tunnel


On our way out to the Ridgcrest 50k earlier this month we took a long-awaited detour to the Burro Schmidt tunnel. I’ve heard about this tunnel from Morgan probably every single time I’ve been out toward Death Valley. What’s the big deal? This guy named William Henry Schmidt, back in the early 1900’s, laid claim to some land with mining potential. There was a small problem though: A difficult to navigate ridge between his land and Mojave, where the local smelter was located. The solution? Dig a tunnel.

The view from Burro’s tiny house

He got started in 1906.  At first he hauled out the rock on his back. Then with a wheelbarrow. Eventually he built tracks and used a cart. And eventually there was no reason for the tunnel. But he kept digging. Almost entirely by hand.  He rarely used explosives and when he did they’d have such short fuses due to his frugality that he’d often be injured by the explosions.  The dude was notoriously cheap.  He patched his clothing with flour sacks (punk!).  This page estimates that he cooked 25,000 meals of pancakes and beans on his tiny stove.

Looking out the end of the 2000 meter (half mile!) tunnel

He dug for 34 years. Long after it was of any use.  He just became obsessed with the tunnel itself. And the digging. But he made it. The tunnel is straight for a long time and then takes a 90 degree right turn before reaching the other side. The view is outstanding. He never did haul anything through it, but he moved nearly 6,000 tons of rock. By himself.

Our crew in the bright post-tunnel sun

So on one hand you have a guy who spent his life digging a tunnel to nowhere. On the other you have a man with a dream who woke up every day and worked to achieve it. And he hung out with two donkeys (hence the nickname Burro) and ate pancakes and beans for most meals. Not a bad life if you ask me!  Often what we do feels useless, but if we are driven to do it and we are doing it that is something in itself.  What is purposeful is subjective and the pick-axe is in our hands! Get digging.

Burro gave us a lot to think about camping that night and running 31 miles the next day (more photos)


The New World of Ultra-Running: The Ridgecrest 50k

Do not wait until all the conditions are perfect for you to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect. -Some Inspirational/Spiritual Dude

My close friend Morgan decided at the turn-off to run the 50k instead of the 30k! Kick-ass attitude.Who needs training? Photos credit here.

I have a 50-email conversation in my inbox with the subject ‘2011 is to Ultra-Running What 2005 Was to Double Centuries’ and after racing the Ridgecrest 50k it has already begun! Two-hundred mile cycling events (calendar) were my introduction to paying for events and eventually racing. My double century tag has over 25 posts, including the 10 I rode in 2005. These rides were an opportunity for Morgan and I to travel around California, sleep in sketchy places and spend the day on our bikes. We got obsessed and by the end of the year he raced the Furnace Creek 508 solo! Fitting that we ran our first ultra-run together.

With my friend Catra in the tattooed division…


Pre-Race = Awesome

I talked our crew, 5 in our car plus a few others, into camping at Wagon Wheel, which is a free BLM campground on both the Furnace Creek 508 course and the Ridgecrest 50k course. Just a 20 minute drive to the race start! After checking in and seeing a few folks we actually knew (mostly from bike events!) we headed back to Wagon Wheel to cook. I love camp cooking. Maybe it’s all the bike touring I’ve done over the past 1o years (!), but there’s something about a meal in the open that rivals what most people, if they’re lucky, make at home. We had 3 stoves and 8 people and collectively and easily together made Spicy Peanut Sauce Ramen with Broccoli and Tofu. YUM. Favorite meal of all-time? We sat around the fire eating, talking and catching up. One of the best things about getting away is the time it opens up. Creates such great memories!


At our Wagon Wheel campsite.


Race morning

One of the bargains I made in picking the campground was that I’d get up earlier than everyone else and start the coffee. 5am alarm. BUT Maxwell, Mr. AdventureSNORE himself, beat me to it! Before my alarm went off I heard the familiar hum of an MSR stove heating water….score! Thanks Max! We (somehow) got to the start not only before everyone had left, but with enough time to eat and get properly prepared. And even get nervous! We found a few more Los Angeles cyclists also at their first run and got a group photo in.


Team Los Angeles Cyclists!



I was less nervous about this than a marathon. How is that possible if the distance is longer? Trail running. Low-key. Like a fast hike. Out in the world, exploring. I ran with Morgan and Jeff’s friend Hoffman for the first 15 miles! We’d jog, run some hills, walk some hills and generally take it easy and enjoying the world around us. More experience, less exercise (maybe this should be my tagline?)


Mandatory Couch Hang

I split from Morgan and Hoffman around mile 15 and was feeling really good. Running the hills. Though there’s one detail I just cannot write this report without mentioning. I really had to drop a deuce. The whole time. Yeah. I assumed there’d be porto-poties at the aid stations but I was wrong…Not fun. I thought I could hold it, but then on a long downhill…..I guess it could be worse……I made it off the trail at least! No mess. Phew. You know the Ice Cube verse about feeling ten pounds lighter? That was me.

Refreshed (in a way!) I got my pace back up and was holding ten-minute miles or so. Earlier a runner exuberantly told us that the last 5 miles were downhill. But he was obviously a runner because to a cyclist 5 miles of downhill on foot is not something to celebrate! I was struggling. And for the first time of the race I went awhile without seeing anyone. It was beautiful and I was taking my time descending. Then Catra and her boyfriend caught me! They had been so supportive of me the whole run and immediately said, ‘Stay with us! We’re going to finish under 6 hours!’ So I did. And we did! The last mile was (thankfully!) not downhill but ran around the parking lot before finishing in order for everyone to get a chance to see the condition you are in.


Morgan’s boat shoes. Apparently the barefoot-like running shoes that cost $80 are a based on these $15 boat shoes. I’ll just say that as I write this weeks later his feet still hurt…


At the finish Sasha (ran the 30k- her first run race!), Max (volunteered), Jen from the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition (ran the 30k) and Jeff (first ultra, finished in just over 5 hours!) cheered me on.  I was tired and sore, but smiling and stoked. It was not a death march.


What I learned

1. Trail running involves serious hills- up and down! This is helpful, in my opinion. You use different muscles and it’s much less monotonous than a road run.

2. Train on hills! Duh. See above.  In ultra-cycling many people make the mistake of only doing super long rides. You have to strength train on hills. For running this means up AND down.

3. Know yourself. I know what my ‘forever’ pace is like and I rarely ran faster than that. The key to finishing your first long runs.

4. Start slow! Relax. It’s a long day. Unless you are trying to win, which in that case you shouldn’t be looking to me for advice.

5. Have fun. How do I get these events done? I know I’m out there because I want to be. Keep smiling.  Enjoy it the highs AND the lows.


What’s Next

January 16th Calico 50k . Another desert run. A training run for this:

February 12th Twin Peaks 50-miler. Nervous. 17,000 feet elevation gain in 50 miles. I’ve ridden much of this area when I raced the Vision Quest mountain bike race in 2009 and it turns out I actually ran some of it a few years ago.  The fear of this run is real and it’s been the kick in the butt I need to train a little harder.


Well, a 50k was a great last event for 2010. What a year! And 2011 looks to be something special.  Thanks for reading, happy holidays and good health to you!

Rainy Day Stokedness

There’s nothing better to do on a rainy day than to read about events you’ve done and that you want to do. Especially this time of year! It’s so important to reflect on the past in order to prepare for the future, no matter what your goals are. A post came through my Reader about the Norseman Triathlon in Norway and I was reminded of the race adventure in 2007 when I had the privilege of being in what they call the world’s hardest full-iron triathlon. I wrote about it here and here.

Norway = One of the most beautiful places in the world
Norwegians = Some of the friendliest people in the world

Doing like most people with some spare time on a rainy day (well, after I went on a 2.5hr run…), I perused youtube for videos of this kick-ass race and found some really great ones (keep in mind I think most race/adventure videos do a poor job of capturing the reality of this stuff, but these are actually really good!). The first is like an intro and the second is like a mini-doc….





I wish I could get out there again!! Plenty of closer adventures to be had…

What’s getting you stoked for 2011?


It has been a few hectic weeks! First, I’d like to welcome everyone to my new site. I have some people here from my old blog, NoWhip.blogspot.com, from my twitter account, followers from various readers, and new folks who have found me through Appetite for Reduction, the book I worked on that came out last week. Welcome!


Going from Blogger to WordPress has been more trying than I anticipated. If you are one of the people subscribed through a reader, I apologize for the 60+ posts I seemed to make last week! I was organizing the categories from the old posts I transferred and each one was re-posted! Oops. And there maybe more of that happening…

I’ve some great posts coming, I promise. I ran my first ultra-run the first weekend in December, the Ridgecrest 50k. What a great time! On that trip we also visited the Burro Schmidt tunnel, which one man dug (mostly) by hand, one half mile through a mountain in 34 years. Yes, seriously! Some great photos from that mini-adventure. I’ve failed at this in the past, but I’m really keen on doing a ‘Best Days of 2010’ series where I cover events that didn’t get posts originally. So many fun days this year!

Thank you for joining me here. I’m stoked on the endless possibilities that having my own practice will provide. If there’s anything specific you’d like me to talk more about, please leave a comment below.