Get Up And Code 051: Richard Campbell Climbs Mountains
I was really excited to be able to talk to Richard Campbell from one of my favorite podcasts, Dot Net Rocks.
Richard has a pretty interesting “hobby.”
Full transcript below:
John: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to Get Up and CODE. I'm John Sonmez. Today, I’ve got a really special guest here. I was really excited when this guest contacted me via e-mail because I’ve always wanted to talk to Mr. Richard Campbell here. You may know him as the host of .NET Rocks! and also RunAs Radio. He’s a regional director for Microsoft. He’s MVP in ASP.NET. He is a partner of PWOP Productions and he is still the co-founder of Strangeloop Networks, but he sold that. I don’t know how many hats that Richard is wearing, but it’s quite a few.
Richard: I have described myself as learning to harness my ADD for the forces of good.
John: Yeah. I was pretty surprised too when you contacted me about the fitness side, and especially, just hearing about what you’re doing. You’re definitely involved in a lot of different things.
Richard: Yeah. I like to do a lot of different things and I have managed to evolve a career where I have lots of choice. I’d like to work on a different thing everyday. The last time I had a “real job” was in the ‘90s. After my child was born and I was sort of in that place where married two kids, mortgage, at that point, I had already been in technology for 15, 20 years. I knew my way around the tech pretty well and I was running an IT shop, part of a marketing company, and I started to look around my office and thought, “The only thing left for me to do at that point in your life is provide for your family the best way you can.” I thought, “Well, I can do better than this,” and started pushing myself. I took far more control of my career at that point than I had any time before that. Up until that point in my career, it had been something that more or less happened to me and I started really driving it once I had children and really had a goal I thought was worthy, which was providing for my family as best I could.
John: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s amazing. I'm definitely in support of doing that as you know with helping developers to try to market themselves just to take charge of their career. The same thing happened to me too like I finally got to this point where I was like, “Hey, now, I need to actually start doing something.” It’s weird being out on your own like not having a—I mean you’re probably used to it than I am, but it’s a little bit weird still for me.
Richard: It is, yeah. You did get use to it, and I feel like at this point, I think, I'm not employable. I wouldn’t want me to work for me. I'm a pain in the ass, really, but that’s the way I’ve worked for a long time. I’ve created a lot of businesses and some of them like Strangeloop ended up being sold to somebody else or they morph into something else. That’s just the way I work. I like putting together good partnerships and then growing something interesting. Then there’s a point where it grows into something that you’re not getting as much value from anymore, but it’s valuable to somebody else and you move on with it.
John: Yeah, yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I love the name of that company from the … it’s from Gödel, Escher, Bach, right?
Richard: Yeah, Gödel, Escher, Bach. Subsequently, the Gödel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter put a new book called I Am a Strange Loop. In fact, every customer we got at Strange Loop got a copy of that book. The concept of the Strange Loop is basically a feedback loop, which was the device we were building. We built a device that analyzed web traffic and figured out how to make it go faster. It self-assess as it made alterations to it that then measured the change and see if it was actually making it faster. If it wasn’t it would get it out of the way. If it was, then we’d progressively make more and more changes to make the site go as fast as possible.
John: Ah, okay. That makes sense now.
Richard: That’s where the name Strange Loop comes from. Yeah.
John: Yeah. I remember that part of the book where he was trying to make a record that would cause a vibrational frequency that destroyed itself.
Richard: Yeah. Harmonic resonance is exactly that. It’s self destructive and it’s self-reinforcing each cycle of the way it makes the subsequent cycle larger. You try not to get resonant feedback. That’s bad. You’re trying to get constructive feedback but it’s very challenging to get that right.
John: Awesome. What’s going on in the fitness side? I think a lot of people are like, “What? Richard Campbell? What’s he doing on Get Up and CODE? What does he know about fitness?”
Richard: Well, I am not an incredibly fit guy by most people’s standards, right? I'm about 5’11”, 250 pounds. My lean mass is 185 at the moment which is a by-product of 30-something weeks a year on the road and having a limited control over your food, plus liking food a lot and liking drink a lot, which are not a good combination. I do have a bit of a rollercoaster ride, but at the moment I'm in training. I'm going back to Nepal, my fourth trip to Nepal. Every other year since early 2000, I would pick a difficult trip, something challenging and something like a major cultural experience for me, which is something that actually fascinates me, but it’s physically demanding. That gave me the incentive to try and pay more attention to my exercise and fitness level.
Back in 2004, I climbed Kilimanjaro in Tanzania which is a way to just scare the heck out of yourself. In 2003, I decided, “Okay, I'm going to do this thing,” and then I needed to hire a personal trainer because up until then I had never taken my fitness seriously. It wasn’t important. I had many other things to worry about, but then nothing like calling up a trainer and saying, “Hey, I'm going to Kilimanjaro in a year and I’d really rather not die. Can you help me?”
Yeah. That got me on that treadmill and no pun intended. Every other year since then, I’ve done something, so this next trip. Depending on when this is published, probably, while this show comes out I’ll be doing the Annapurna Ring. It’s my fourth time back to Nepal.
John: Oh, wow. It’s amazing too like you hit on something that I emphasize on the show. Whenever I’ve had a guest on the show that’s been successful at anything, fitness related or I mean anything really in life, they’ve always had the same attitude that you have which you just said when you just talked about going to climb Kilimanjaro, is I'm going to climb. You said in 2003, not I'm going to try to do it or I'm maybe going to do it. It was always like, “I'm going to, I'm committed, and now let’s work backwards from the timeline and that’s how you get there.” It’s such amazing like how powerful that mindset is, is to have that “I'm going to do it” versus “I'm going to try to do it.” Everyone who is successful seems to have that same mindset.
Richard: Yeah, and it helps to lay down a big chunk of change too, right, buying your park passes. We were not exactly roughing it going up Kilimanjaro. There was an army with us and those people need to be paid. There’s that financial commitment part as well, just “I set a date. This is going to happen. Now, I’ve got to work my way back.” Having that conversation with the trainer of, “We have this many weeks to do training, what can we do?” and got to a place where I may have been the slowest guy up that mountain, but I made it up there.
Richard: The guides were betting against me, actually. It’s 6 days up and 2 days down to do Kilimanjaro, the western breach route. There’s a faster way but I don’t recommend it. Western breach is awesome, enough time to deal with the altitude. Altitude is a huge part of doing that hike. It’s not a technical climb. I am not a mountain climber. I'm a guy who likes to walk uphill. There’s nothing technical about climbing Kilimanjaro. After a couple of days, I realized the guides were making bets on whether I’d make it to the next camp. Each time I’d get into the camp, there would be some of them celebrating and some of them crying.
John: Oh, that’s funny.
Richard: I don’t think any of them actually expected me in the summit, but I did make it to the summit except my guide. My guide had bet on me making it to the top and I made it to the top. On the way, the camp on the way down there was a lot of cheering going on. I'm not real fast, but I'm pretty strong, and challenges like that are almost more about will than they are about your actual strength.
John: Yeah. Well, definitely, having that attitude to say that you’re going to do something. Like you said, it’s like burning the boat. I love that historical reference of burning the boats. It’s like you put down this money down. Since your burn the boat, there’s no retreat. You’re going to have to go forward.
Richard: Yeah, you’re going to do this thing and now it’s just a question of what that’s going to look like. The Sherpa are astonished by me. Subsequent to that experience, I learned that I tolerated altitude really well and I suspect this mostly because I have no dignity. I'm willing to simply pant to get enough oxygen into my system and which helps a lot. Because I think a lot of people try and hold it together when they’re at high altitude, and they end up getting really altitude sick.
I'm very tolerant with altitudes so I ended up doing a bunch of trips to Nepal. The Nepalese guys, the Sherpa that I’ve worked with, and we’ve gone and used to the same team every time we’ve gone. They call me [Moto Matche 00:09:56], which in Nepalese means the fat man because I'm the biggest guy they’ve ever seen up there. They are astonished at my size, but I can hike and I'm good at altitude. My blood ox stays high at altitude and I could just keep moving.
Everest Base Camp or going to the Namche, all of those places, it’s a lot of fun and it’s hard work. For me, you walk off the edge of the world when you do that trip. Once you get above Namche Bazaar in the Kumdu or you get pass Jomsom up in the Annapurna region, there’s no electricity. There’s no cellphones. You’re gone. I love setting that out of office message where I have to give you lat/long coordinates if you want to find me because, guys, there’s nothing else. You really want me, get a helicopter. I’ll be somewhere along this line and that’s that.
Talk about a low level of interruption. You’re just away from the world. I found that doing that every 2 years helps. That’s when I really think about how I want to lead my life like where I want to go next. I usually come out of those experiences and they’re 2 or 3 weeks long with a mind on this is what I want next and then you spend the next 2 years making that happen.
John: Wow. Yeah, that’s great. It’s really hard to get away from the—I just spent the last 2 weeks on vacation like a staycation. I ended up working a bunch. I took some time. I played some games and stuff, but if it’s there like I almost like I need to be cut off from society like you said over there in order for us to be able to get out of there otherwise I can’t resist to pull myself on my pocket.
Richard: You’ve heard these studies where if you have to exert will to do that because you’ve only got one pool of will. If you’re exerting will to not do certain things that still takes energy away from you. They demonstrated this with dogs which I thought was really interesting. I have a Cairn Terrier and I’ve trained dogs all my life, and I’ve seen this exact evidence. You put the treat on the dog’s nose and you make him wait and see how long he can control his will before he wants to eat the cookie, a very reasonable test.
You’re taking dogs and making them sit still for 5 minutes and then putting the cookie on their nose. They found they can wait less time. If they put the dog in a crate, lock the dog up for 5 minutes and then do the test, the dog can wait much longer, because it takes no will from the dog to sit still in the crate.
John: Exactly, yeah. I see that’s a really good point. Actually, that’s one of the ways that I try to live my life. I always tell people I don’t like to make judgment calls on the spot. That’s why sometimes people are like, “You eat the same thing everyday and like you’ve got it planned out.” Well, the reason why I do that is because it takes no will power or it takes very little because I’ve already made the decision ahead of time.
Richard: That’s right.
John: I’ve made rules for myself that must be followed.
Richard: You’re one of those guys who preps all of your meals for a week. You’re one of those guys who makes all the meals for the week, right?
John: I used to do that but now that I don’t have to go to work and I work for myself, I do it each day but I have everything like I eat the same meals everyday. I know exactly what they are and I know what time I eat them. I have my routine and it’s like rules for me. It’s like life or death rules. I don’t even question it. There’s not even judgment call, should I get up and get to the gym in the morning or should I run? It’s like, “Today is Monday. It’s gym day. Today, it’s Tuesday. It’s run day. It’s 12 o’clock, it’s time to eat six eggs.” I use that strategy because I don’t want to deplete my will. If I always open up the refrigerator door and say, “Hmm, what should I have for lunch?” I can feel the will power leaving me at that moment.
Richard: Well, you’re using it up on things you could have used it for other things and I think that’s the bigger thing here. It’s actually budgeting will. The idea that it takes a lot of will to make the plan, it takes a lot less will to execute on the plan.
John: Exactly, yep, yep. If you planned it ahead of time, you’re much more likely to be successful.
Richard: Just trying to conserve that pool and I'm pretty confident that my pool is deeper than a lot of people. It’s like I push myself pretty hard in a lot of different directions, but I still—if you really want to think hard, it’s the reason I go away for 3 weeks. If you really want to think hard about what’s important to you, it takes me a week just to have the noise in my headstop.
A long time ago, I figured out the 1 week vacations, I am only vacation like the last day. If I actually want to break, it’s got to be at least 2 weeks.
John: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense, yeah. I actually started planning my schedule now like in later in the fall. I'm going to be taking like a month in August and part of September off. It’s in my schedule now. I'm like, “Okay, this is my refreshing period and I'm going to try that.” Because I tried the smaller periods and they’re just, like I said, even just these 2 weeks, it wasn’t quite enough. I can’t get out of the mindset yet.
Richard: I’ve had a friend of mine who tired of travelling all the time. He was going to do the staycation thing, but he also sat down and made a long list of all the things he always meant to do on his house.
John: Oh, yeah?
Richard: We actually scheduled in the house maintenance stuff and so forth that he was going to do on that break. He didn’t put any times around it but he just made a list. When he stopped working on his work and started working on his house, he was doing eight-hour days of that. Within 3 days, he had done everything and then was sort of, “Oh, I can really just relax now, can’t I, because everything is done.”
John: Yeah. It’s like the mental clearing, almost like the strategy behind get things done type of, get it out of your head.
Richard: Or the Pompadour approach. I mean these are all about just “get that thing done, put it away, move to the next thing.” Once you’re in that grind—like I'm a natural researcher, I do it all of the time. You can’t produce 4 podcasts a week and work on half a dozen conferences, if you don’t think about material all of the time. It doesn’t even occur to me that I'm doing it until my wife yells at me because we’re in Mexico sitting on the beach, I have my Kindle opened, I'm reading some technical journal, and I'm making notes in my other hand into One Note on my phone. That’s just reflex for me. That’s what I do. After 2 days, she’s like, “You need to read fiction because we’re on vacation.” She’s now checking my Kindle to make sure it’s only fiction that’s in my queue, and I could actually relax a little more.
John: That’s funny. Yeah. I got the same problem. I can’t remember the last time I read a fiction book. I’ve been reading Steven Pressfield and I was like, “Okay. Now, I'm going to read The Legend of Bagger Vance.” I just can’t bring myself to spend the time reading something enjoyable instead of something that can help my career, but I need to do that when I'm on vacation.
Richard: For me fiction is hard science fiction which still sort of goes to the areas that I really enjoy and we ended up talking about on .NET Rocks! Geekouts and things.
John: All right, yeah.
Richard: In this last trip, I read The Martian and a handful of others. They’re technically accurate science fiction. _____00:17:36 is a phenomenal book. They were still fictional but they inspire. Whatever you want. If you’re doing head up work, that’s the problem is research is head down work just like software development head-down, and we do a lot of it. It’s what most people thank us for, right? It’s what pays the bills is all that head-down work. To do head-up work is not just to stare off into the blue sky. It’s to seed your mind with new ideas and press against them for what your value sets up being. Stuff like fiction, these are all about creating new ideas in your mind so that you can actually exercise some real leadership on what you want.
John: Yeah, that’s a good point. That’s a good point. I never really thought about it that way.
Richard: It’s not a huge number. I think that a lot of people never get there. It’s like changing the battery in your smoke detectors in your house. If it wasn’t for the fact that the thing has beeped you’d never get around to it. Something you do once a year or once every other year, hard to remember to do.
John: Right, yeah.
Richard: Then actually being good at it. It’s easy to get good at software development when you’re doing it 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. If you’re only every other year going to spend a couple of weeks thinking about career direction and goals for your life, it’s hard to get good at it.
John: Yeah, yeah, that’s very true. That’s very true. I'm curious about like how are you going to do this training now for this thing, especially with your travel schedule. You’re going to be down here in my neck of the woods in Orlando, at the time of recording it will be, I guess this week like leaving tomorrow or something.
Richard: Yeah. I fly tomorrow.
John: I mean you’re always travelling, right? How are you going to get ready for this? Obviously, this is going to take some training. You’re not just going to walk up to the mountain and climb it.
Richard: No. I have the advantage of having years of experience of doing this. For me, primarily, this is about dragging out all of your trekking gear, checking it all, finding mildew in the intervening time and getting it replaced and repaired. For trekking, especially, it’s all about the boots. I got the boots out awhile ago and make sure they fit and have enough tread, and replaced the laces because they were worn, and make sure no stitches were ripped. These boots actually need replacing. You’ve got to harden your feet to them. There’s no choice but to walk around them. Although my boots, I haven’t had them for years, just fit my feet brilliantly. It’s almost a bit of, “Oh, my friend is back. He’s back on my foot again.”
Yeah, today, this morning we actually did—my wife is coming with me this time. She’s gone once before. We did the plugs out test, the all-out test. We loaded the packs with the stuff that we’ll actually be carrying including the water, all of the gear we were normally wearing or at least one set of it for the duration of the trek, and went and did a 1500-foot climb. I happen to live in that part of the world, British Columbia, where 15 minutes from my house is a hiking trail that has very steep hills in it.
We’d hike for 2 hours and did a substantial elevation climb and got good and sweaty and exhausted the dog, and came back and everything worked. We were still comfortable. Our feet were not sore. I'm at the end of my training process at this point.
The measure is not hard for trekking. It’s mostly about some durability. Have you got enough cardio that you’re not going to be winded? Are your legs actually in sufficient shape for you to walk with that load? Running around in lightweight running shoes and gym wear isn’t going to give you the feel for what it takes to actually do a proper hike. It does help you burn up some calories and get things moving and get that heart rate going.
For the past four months essentially, I have been making sure I would keep my cardio up. The battle here is, as you said, it’s when you’re on the road. That’s what happens to me.
We do a road trip like the 2012 road trip that Carl and I did for .NET Rocks! That was 13 weeks, 38 cities, in an RV. We had a few breaks here and there, but the reality is it is—it looks very exciting and it’s fun. Make no mistakes, I have no complains about my job, but when you’re doing 5 shows a week, the daily grind is up at 6:30, pack your stuff, get something to eat, get in the RV by 8, start driving. You’re online during the day making sure that the venues are ready, talking to the folks that you’re going to meet with and saying hi to fans, and things. Arrive at the venue at 4 o’clock. Well, you stop at the hotel first, drop off the stuff for that night. Go to the venue by 5 o’clock or so. Set up. Do a four-hour show from 6 to 10. Go out with the organizers that helped you in that site for a drink and some of the fans. Back in the room by maybe midnight, go to bed, do it again.
John: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Richard: In 2012, I was probably the fittest I had been in many years. In early 2012, I had done Lo Manthang which is another Nepal trip and I was doing hour-long runs at that point. I tried to maintain an exercise schedule running at that speed on the road trip and hurt myself.
John: Okay, yeah.
Richard: The biggest thing I found was just not getting enough sleep. There’s so little time in a given day that sacrificing an hour for a jog against six-hour sleep is not worth it.
John: Yeah. That makes sense, yeah.
Richard: Strained an Achilles which now is affecting my work because I actually have to move around everyday. I was not real happy about that. You get off the pattern. You get off that cadence and you’re eating poorly because you’re often hungry. I regret not packing enough power bars with me on that trip because that’s usually the thing that would save me. You’d always turn to a bar and go, “I'm not going to eat that. I'm going to eat this.”
The other thing about a road trip and this work in general is it is an incredible drain on your will. You are burning a ton of energy to achieve a very challenging goal. Getting out in front of a lot of people day in day out is work. It’s challenging and it’s good for business. It’s a milestone. It’s an incredible experience. I’ve driven across the US now 5 times, getting out in front of folks to talk about shows and talk about technology, and just the fun it is of being a developer.
It costs you a lot and I think it’s very tough to—it’s tough to come out of a 13-week run without putting on 20 pounds.
John: Oh, sure, yeah, yeah. I have a tough time going for 1 week on vacation somewhere without putting it because you’re not in your routine. It’s hard to eat all this stuff. You can’t get to the gym. You can’t do your runs. I can’t imagine for 13 weeks. Yeah, that’s going to be really tough.
Richard: When you start to understand how real road warriors like the guys who—rock bands and things why they get so crazy, like I could see. I have not gotten that crazy but why they make such incredible demands on what’s supposed to be in their rooms and supplies and so forth. It’s like just trying to have some sense of control because every stop on a road trip is different. It’s a different venue. It’s a different group of people. It’s a different hotel. Nothing is repeatable. Nothing works exactly the same way. It’s a scramble every time. You know how far down the list your food and drink are in that scenario?
John: Oh, right, yeah. That’s the least thing that you’re worried about at that point, right?
Richard: Yeah. Certainly, Applebee’s looks good. You got to be pretty far down that Applebee’s looks good.
John: Yeah. I think that’s an interesting thing to do because you can relate, I think, to a lot of developers when they’re on, I hate to use the word death march, but something similar to a death march when you’re like staying up late, you’re trying to get this code out. You’re cranking. All of a sudden, your diet and nutrition, and workouts all start to fall to the backburner because you’ve got something that’s really pressing. Those things stop being a priority.
Richard: I think it’s that will drain. You’re putting all of your will into trying to make that milestone. Software development, especially, although there are other intellectual pursuits that people do this in benefits from exhaustion, that focus is the challenge. Why do so many developers get so productive late at night? Well, part of it is a lack of interruption, but part of it also is you get tired enough that you just don’t have the capacity to think about other things, so it becomes easier to focus.
John: Right. You hit that zone for a little bit there.
Richard: That’s where that zone is. The downside to that is Dr. Pepper and pizza looks really good when you’re in that state. When I was in my 20s in programming which is a disturbingly long time ago now, we do those weekend burns. We’re going to code nonstop for 48 hours. We’re basically not going to sleep and we smoked cigarette, we drank Coke and ate whatever, mostly Subway, I think. It was all stuff you could stock up on. I remember just going up and buying the equipment, everything we need for 48 hours, and then you just go. You don’t even get up and, frighteningly, we go through a carton of cigarettes in that time too.
It was leaving that apartment and that behavior where that made me quit smoking. Mostly, it’s going to cost me a ton of damage deposit to that room.
John: Yeah. That’s funny. I use to be a smoker as well. Habits are hard to break, but when you change environment you’re more likely to change the habit, like in that case.
Richard: Yeah. I quit smoking by eliminating one room at a time. It’s like, “I'm not smoking at home anymore. I'm not smoking in the car anymore,” until there was nowhere to smoke. It’s one of those things you just have to do. The challenging part, I think, is that how successful we can be at our work with such bad habits.
John: Oh, definitely, yeah. That’s very true, yeah. Let me see. I think this would be kind of interesting. What would someone who wants to do this, because I talked to another guy we had on the show, Austin, who went to the North Pole. He did North Pole expedition and everyone thought that was pretty cool, but this sounds like—I mean this is actually something I’d be interested in doing, is doing like Kilimanjaro or doing like a Nepal trip. What does someone need to do that’s listening to the show if they wanted to do something like this? Could anyone do this like what kind of—am I crazy if I just set a date and say I'm going to do this in 6 months?
Richard: I think it’s very reasonable. Part of this is you do have to have some sense of your basic fitness. There are a variety of groups to travel with. I’ve travelled with Mountain Sobek before. MTSobek is the website and they do all kinds of vacations, but they’re extreme vacations. They’re actually marked as extreme or things like Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp, and so on. While they have luxurious ones they also have these very physically demanding ones and they usually will hand you a list of “This is what you need to deal with.” I think in the Kili, if I remember correctly and maybe this is 10 years ago, they said, “If you can run a 5K in under an hour, you’ll be able to do this.”
John: Oh, okay. That’s not too bad then. Most people that have been doing any kind of fitness should be able to do it.
Richard: Should be able to run a 5K. Go get couch to 5K, whatever audio thing you want and get to there. The only thing to know about altitude is different people cope with altitude in different ways. I am evidence that your fitness level has nothing to do with it. The reality is if you embolize, if you start coughing up blood in altitude, they’re going to take you down. It’s one of the reasons to go with a professional group. It’s not the hike itself but the emergencies.
The team that we went up Kili with, they were carrying a pressure bag which looks like a sleeping bag but they have a bicycle pump attached to it. If you start to embolize which some people are susceptible to this, they would stick you in this bag, pump it up so the fact that you were at higher pressure at that point which would stop you from coughing up blood. At that point, they have to take you down and have to take you down quickly because that pressure differential is really important. They basically toss on a stretcher and these guys run you down the hill.
John: That doesn’t sound like fun. I don’t know about the coughing up blood. I'm not having a good time when I'm coughing up blood. That scares me a little bit there.
Richard: All the more reason if you’re going to learn about your body at altitude –
John: Oh, I see, yeah. You would know it ahead of time and you’re going to test yourself before you go in and climb this mountain and have to be put in a pressure bag.
Richard: In a pressure bag, exactly. The good new is the safety equipment is there. We didn’t have anybody. On our group, we had 10 trekkers that went together. Some of us were friends and some we had met on the trip and became friends. Nobody embolized. Just understand it’s a possibility but it’s not a high risk. There are drugs you could take to decrease the risk. Diamox is one of them that helps you tolerate altitude.
You don’t have to do an altitude trek. It turns out I'm good at it like Kili was just my goal of there is one of the 7 peaks. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa. It’s also the lowest mountain of all of the highest mountains in the world, except maybe Everest which is in Antarctica which has a different set of problems.
That’s why I picked Kili. It was high. It wasn’t that high. The trek was awesome. It was 6 days up, 2 days down. We got a four-day safari at the end so we’re able to go into the Serengeti and see the lions and elephants, and have all of that experience with a professional crew that knew what they were doing, so we can have a good experience all around. You go.
I think it’s good to have a buddy. In my case, it was a bunch of friends of mine that we all went together. Everybody is going to have a slightly different experience. Why not challenge yourself and see the amazing part of the world? I'm pitching Kili pretty hard because I think it’s the best thing you could do. You start in jungle. The bottom of the mountain is 9,000 feet. There are howler monkeys overhead. Everyday hiking upwards, you’re in a different terrain.
By the end of the first day, you will leave the forest entirely. You’ll be at 12,000 feet and it’s now scrubbed, the alpine meadows. The next day, you’ll go into the Bronco Valley which is unique in the world. There are these weird giant cactuses that grow there for hundreds of years that don’t grow anywhere else. Eventually, you get up to the Arrow camp site at 16,000 feet and there’s a little bit of lichen left and not much else. The crater itself in Kilimanjaro’s volcano, you are walking on the moon when you’re in that crater. It’s just rock and ice, and nothing else.
You spend the night in the crater and the next morning, you hike up the face of the mastiff to the top. You get photos first thing in the morning and then you get the heck down because it’s a long way up, but you come down in a different route. You come down the Talus slope route which is the eastern face. It’s all shattered rock and it’s easy to come down because it’s very soft. You’re basically almost skiing down. It’s impossible to climb, so that’s why you come down so quickly. The aid station is at 12,000 feet.
People who have problems at altitude, a pair of strong guys can carry you on a stretcher down to that aid station in an hour or 2. For me, it took the whole day to go from summit down to the—it took until lunchtime to get to the aid station. Until the evening I got to the first camp site at 11,000.
John: Wow. Well, that definitely sounds like an awesome experience I’ll definitely have to look into it. What’s the rough idea of what someone might expect to pay for something like this?
Richard: Somewhere between $5,000 and $7,000.
Richard: Yeah, between 5,000 and 7,000, depending on the guide group and what you get. It’s an expensive vacation. Let’s make no bones about it. You’re going to take 2 weeks, 3 weeks, out of your life. That’s why you don’t go every month, right? For every couple of years or so to take an adventure like that and to challenge yourself forward, it’s not an outrageous amount of money. It’s a part of the world—Tanzania is amazing. It’s a fantastic place and it was great to visit. It’s not exactly on the main path, except for this mountain which is Kili is by itself.
The cool thing about the top of Kilimanjaro is when you’re there, there’s nothing higher than that anywhere around it. There’s no mountain even close. You can see almost all the way to Egypt looking north. The whole Nile Valley is in front of you there.
John: Oh, wow. That’s an awesome view.
Richard: I went as far as Everest Base Camp in Nepal. I thought about climbing Everest, but I'm not actually a mountain climber. The bottom of Everest is almost the same height as Kilimanjaro. It’s 18,500 feet and you’re at the bottom of the mountain. There are 6 other mountains around Everest that are almost as high. Yeah. It’s something to be that high, gasping for air, nothing but rock and ice. You can hear avalanches every half hour or so but you can’t see them. If they’re coming for you, you’ll find out soon enough and you still got 11,000-foot mountain above you.
John: Wow, yeah. That’s just crazy.
Richard: It’s an experience but for better or worse, I found Kili really rewarding. You went to all these different sites. You had an unbelievable view and so forth, a great group of people. It was really, really fun. I love the Sherpa in Nepal. I love everything about that experience, but there’s nothing at base camp. There’s not even garbage anymore. They cleaned it all up. Base camp is the bottom of the ice fall before you start climbing the mountain and the ice fall moves.
That’s as far as you can go before you need to have a mountain climbing permit and that’s as far as the Yaks will go. When they’re traveling and transporting all the equipment up to do an Everest descent, they use the pack animals. They only go that far because only humans are stupid enough to climb an ice fall.
When we were walking up towards base camp, there was a group. I think there were Koreans that were loading gear up. They were using yaks on the way up. Well, as soon as these yaks are unloaded, they start going down. Nobody needs to tell them. I just got like mowed down by a yak because the yak is like, “I'm getting out of here and you people are stupid.”
John: That’s funny.
Richard: Yeah. It was amazing. The funniest part about that Kumdu experience going that high there is on—as soon as you get about 11,000 feet or so, your body changes modes. It’s now struggling to get enough oxygen. It starts making red blood cells as fast as it can, which means, A, your heart rate doesn’t drop and you run really hot, and you’ve never drank as much water as you have when you’re trying to make red blood cells at altitude, like 8 liters of water a day easy. You’re incredibly thirsty and your sleep pattern changes.
I would sleep for about two hours and wake up needing to pee and thirsty at the same time. I wake up after 2 hours, hit the bathroom, drink a half a liter of water, go back to sleep. I’d do 3 or four of those cycles a day. After a week of that where you never sleep longer in 2 hours at a go but you do several cycles over and over because you’re still tired. You’ve been working really hard all day. Your world is a little different and you are making red blood cells, but your body never catches up with your altitude until you start coming down.
We went into that cycle at about 11,000 feet and we hiked all the way to 18,500, and then we turned around and started coming back down. When we got into Kumdu, so it’s about 13,000 feet, we met our altitude. The way we found that out is we slept 8 hours straight. After over a week of being in that weird cycle, I sleep the whole night. I wake up and I'm heavy. I'm stiff because I’ve slept solid and it’s light out so I'm really confused. My water bottle is just still full. I always left 2 1-liter water bottles beside my bed because you’re going to empty them over the course of the night.
My water bottle is full. I’ve slept all night. What the heck is happening? Right? The guys are more familiar with this like, oh, we’ve met our altitude. Well, here’s where the fun part comes in. You keep going down. Now, you have more red blood cells than you really need, which means you become super oxygen efficient. You just don’t get winded anymore so you start going faster, and now we’re running down the mountain like we’re Superman.
John: Oh, I see.
Richard: “Let’s keep going, let’s keep going. We could keep going,” because you don’t run out of air anymore. Every breath is providing so much oxygen to your system now. You’re grabbing more of it. You’re keeping your muscles profuse. Yeah. It’s amazing how strong you feel and it goes away. Those last couple of days coming off the mountain are awesome.
John: It sounds like it might be worth it just for that. It’s pretty cool. I never thought about that.
Richard: I think it’s interesting to get yourself in a situation where you can actually test this on your body. Like any above 11,000 feet in the continental US, that’s not easy. There’s not very many places. Mount Rainier down in Washington, not far from where I am, is a 14,500-foot mountain. It’s a volcano. It’s apparently a two-day climb. I’ve never done because it’s actually a technical climb. You need crampons. You need to be roped together. You need to have ice axe training because people die on that mountain. You make a mistake. Plus when you gain that much altitude that fast, sea level is not far away from where that mountain is.
You go up to 14,500 in a day and a half, 2 days. It’s very easy to get altitude sick.
John: Yeah, yeah. That makes sense, yeah.
Richard: This is all the question about how are you going to create conditions where you can learn how your body acclimates. This Annapurna Ring that I'm doing now is a very gradual altitude increase. You start around 9 out of Jomsom and then you’ll get as high 15. If you don’t actually try and summit Annapurna, you’re just hiking around Annapurna. It’s a good place just trying to experiment with how do you deal with altitude. While you’re off the grid, there are people living everywhere you go.
Richard: Absolutely. You’re pretty much hiking from village to village, right? Just to be clear. I'm not actually doing a wilderness hike. I am just going to people who live of relatively non-technological society. They’re subsistence farmers. They do fine for themselves. They’re also really nice people and they’re happy to help you out.
John: That sounds interesting, yeah. I’ve never experienced anything like that. I definitely would like to do it at some point.
Richard: Yeah. Take yourself out of your comfort zone, bring an expert with you, and keep your eyes open and have an experience. You’d be amazed. It’s a very different world. It’s very cool. The fact that you spend most of your energy doing the fundamentals of being a human like breathing and eating and walking, it clears your mind.
John: Yeah, yeah. That definitely sounds like something that would be appealing to me. Like I said, it’s very hard for me to get to that cleared mind state lately, but yeah. I would definitely like to experience something like that. It’s not really that bad, 5 to 7 grand, yeah, it’s a lot of money but a nice Hawaii vacation or something can run you pretty close to that anyway.
Richard: You can spend that. You can spend a lot more too. Try a trip to the Galapagos. You spend a lot of money doing that. You’re going to an inexplicit place to live. It’s just a long way to go and it takes a certain amount of gear, but you’ll definitely have an experience you’ll remember.
John: Okay, awesome. Well, thanks for doing this show. I got to make sure I hit our sponsors here. A big thanks to SignalLeaf, signalleaf.com, for hosting this podcast. If you’re looking to start a podcast, hey, we need some more podcast for developers. It’s not a very saturated marketplace. If you’re interested in starting a podcast, check out SignalLeaf. Go over to signalleaf.com or whatever you want to create a podcast about and go sign up there. It’s run by my good buddy, Derick Bailey, who personally will respond to your request and is just excellent at customer service, a really dedicated guy. Give him a chance and check out signalleaf.com.
Yeah. Thanks. Thanks again, Richard, for doing this. This is really interesting. I think this is a different thing for a lot of people to talk about this. I really appreciate you coming around the show and sharing your experience.
Richard: My pleasure, John. Great to talk to you.
John: All right, take care and we’ll talk to you everyone next week. Have a good one.