It started with a phone call.
“Want to do an Olympic Triathlon with me?”
The request from my good friend Greg sounded harmless enough, and since I’m down for any adventure, I immediately agreed. This was the start of my 8 month Ironman journey.
I’ve kept active in my 30s, mostly with Crossfit and the occasional 5k. An Olympic Triathlon consists of a .9 mile swim, 26 mile bike, and a 10k run. I was not a swimmer, and my biking consisted of using the city rideshare bikes to go to Soho House. Also, my running was more like jogging while jamming out to music (Ironman’s don’t allow music on the course). I had a lot of work to do.
I won’t bore you with the Olympic Tri details, only that they cancelled the swim at the last minute, so Greg and I upgraded to the half Ironman distance. It was a duathlon of a 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run, but it served as a great wake-up call that I was definitely not Tri-fit.
Anyone can do an Ironman, but not everyone can commit to the training and expenses required. Triathlon is an expensive sport. The Ironman that my friend and I chose was Ironman France. We picked this race at random, with absolutely no due diligence. We liked that it was in France and in early summer. Our rationale was that we wanted to be done with this whole thing in time to eat and drink our summer away. Basically, we were dummies.
Ironman France is absolutely the worst choice for a first long course Triathlon. For starters, the cut-off time to finish is shorter than all other Ironman races. Second, the bike involves going over a mountain in the Alps. Third, Europeans take this sport seriously, and you will not see a single overweight person doing this race. In America, you can always count on a few out of shape people to cushion your overall ranking. And lastly, picking an international race causes your expenses to double. Did I mention this sport is expensive?
Since I was new, I had to buy everything to be able to train and race.
Bicycle - I went for a road bike so that it could have life after the Ironman. Trek Emonda ALR. With all the bells and whistles this set me back $2000.
Running shoes (multiple pairs) - $300
Wetsuit (don’t go cheap, go for a really good one from the start) - $500
Tri Suit (Again, don’t go cheap) - $300
Accessories (sunglasses, hat, performance socks, etc... ) - $400 (these add up)
Race fees (Ironman plus training races) - $1500
Swim Gear (goggles, pull buoy, cap, etc…) - $150 (you go through a lot of goggles)
Food and pills (you eat a lot MORE and you need supplements AKA pills. This figure is an estimate of the extra food I ate) - $2000
Getting to and from an international race with family and some extra time to explore France - $6000
Tri watch (you really need this) - $600
Gym memberships (I needed a pool) - $800
Coaches - $500
$20 that I lost on a long run and wasn't able to get a coffee and muffin - priceless
Total, and this is conservative - $15,070 YIKES (and I know I’m leaving stuff out)
If you are serious about doing an Ironman, you should really invest in a coach. I used two, my friend Chris Mcdonald, a 7 time Ironman winner, and Tim Gerry, a local Triathlete and regular podium finisher for his age group (more below). Both were critical in getting me to the start injury free, and more importantly, to the finish in one piece.
I trained for real for 6 months (for 2 months I told people I was training, but I really just tooled around on a Peloton). At my peak I was doing 12 hours a week, but on average I did 9-10 hours a week. 50% consisted of biking, 30% running and 20% swimming. Swimming was my biggest weakness, and during my first open water swim I had a panic attack. If this sounds like you, I recommend getting into the open water as much as possible. I had panic attacks for my first 4 open water swims, and a near panic attack during my first open water race. But thanks to perseverance and a lot of training, my Ironman swim went without incident, and for me, very quickly.
I also recommend getting a training partner. Professional, and semi-pro Triathletes will typically tell you that they train alone to mimic the mental conditions that you will face in an Ironman. However, I find that while I may be mentally strong enough to finish an Ironman, 6 months of training without a training buddy would have killed me. Greg Schaefer was the guy who asked me to do that first Olympic Triathlon, and the one who would travel with me to France. We had countless laughs, dark days, awesome workouts, and breakthroughs together. Some mornings I would pump him up with a motivational text, and sometimes he would the same for me. If I was lagging behind on my training, he would give me hell. He is the reason I was able to finish an Ironman, and I recommend you find someone to do this journey with you as well.
Also of note, training for an Ironman will put a serious strain on your marriage and/or relationships. Your whole routine is flipped upside down. You need to have a candid talk with your partner about what is to come. They need to understand that early nights and long weekend training sessions will become the norm. Once they sign off on your craziness, make sure to constantly thank them and recognize their sacrifice during your training. Your whole family will be doing that Ironman with you, so don’t forget about them. Luckily my wife has always supported my crazy adventures, and her love and support kept me afloat during many dark training days.
I left for France 4 days before the event. I figured this would allow me to adjust to the time zone, get my bike in a good place, and to find a supermarket so I could purchase my pre-race food. I chose to stay at an AirBnB as opposed to a hotel, so that I could have a kitchen and more space to move around and lay out my stuff. The apartment was located within walking distance of the start line. I recommend this course of action for any overseas race.
My pre race meal consists of a bagel, apple sauce, coffee and a sports drink. I followed the advice of countless pro triathletes and woke up at 3 am race morning to eat my meal, and to give it time to digest.
Typically with Ironman races you set up everything the night before, so race morning I was able to walk with my wife to Greg’s hotel to get a coffee. Surprisingly, I was very calm the morning of the race. Having my family with me gave me a sense of security, and I had a lot of trust in my training. I swam a couple days prior in the Mediterranean without a panic attack, and this helped fuel my confidence.
We were allowed to visit our bikes race morning. I went to the bike corral and saw all the very fit Europeans fiddling with their bikes and making last minute preparations. I didn’t need to do anything, so I just walked over to Greg’s bike and talked his ear off. I typically focus my nervous energy into incessant talking. In turn, Greg funnels his nervous energy into talking shit… He’s from Long Island, and he’s fluent in shit talking. We got more than a few weird looks from the locals. We were in a good state of mind.
The swim had a rolling start. I lined up with the 1:15 crew and said goodbye to Greg as he went ahead to the 1:05 alpha swimmers group. I knew I wouldn’t see Greg again until the marathon, which was 4 loops, so as long as I didn’t really choke I would catch him for a couple laps to hi-five.
The gun went off, and I waited. It took me about 15 minutes to finally get to the water. I hit my watch and jumped in with a European to my left and to my right. The biggest difference between American and European races is that Europeans view the Tri swim as a full contact sport. In the USA, if you accidentally hit someone with your hand or foot, you’d both swim away or maybe even pop your head up and say sorry. Here, it seemed people were seeking out fights. At first, the constant barrage of hands and feet was a bit unnerving, but then I had a revelation that I was bigger than most of the field, so I just started giving it back and asserting my space. People quickly backed off and I swam in the middle of the pack. The benefits of swimming in the middle far outweigh the negatives. Some people like to swim on the outside, so that they have more personal space. I like being right in the middle, because I don’t have to stick my head up to sight. I can just swim with the pack of athletes and trust that they are doing the sighting for me.
The swim was heavenly after the aggressive start. The Mediterranean sea was flat as a lake, and the sun was just coming over the hills. The deep blue of the ocean had streaks of light cutting through it, and I very quickly found a zen-like rhythm. The swim comprises two loops; one big, and one small. About half way through the big loop, and the farthest point from shore, I popped my head out and scanned my surroundings. I saw the long tail of athletes behind me, and the surging crowd of those turning the buoy ahead of me. Far away I could see the shore, and I could hear the muffled sound of the crowd cheering us on. It was a very cool moment, and one I recommend everyone do, as long as a 1 minute break doesn’t concern you or screw up your race plans.
I finished the swim in 1:17. It was by far a PR, and I felt ecstatic as I grabbed a volunteer's hand to pluck me from the sea. The walk to transition was about 400 meters, and I walked deliberately as I brought my heart rate down.
Transitions in Ironman races are great. You get a chair and a volunteer to help you change. I took what I call a Gentleman's transition. 10 minutes of leisurely drying off, changing and eating gels. My coach told me to go very slow for the first ten miles of the bike, which I happily obliged.
So far my Ironman was going according to plan, and I was thinking about how my original race projections and pace would need to be amended to make for a faster time. Then mile 12 hit.
Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.”
Mile twelve was the equivalent of a sucker punch to the gut followed by a jab to the mouth. 800 meters of what seemed like a 50 degree incline. Half of the field got off their bikes to walk. Miraculously I muscled my way to the top of the hill, to be greeted by 20 miles of a 4-7 degree incline. That set the stage for the rest of the bike: up, up, up, short flat, small downhill, up, up, up, etc…. This went on for the better part of 8 hours. Even the downhills seemed like uphills near the end. It was painful, and it was soul crushing. The one bright spot of the entire ride was the note I put in my special needs bag from my wife and daughter. That little reminder of why I was doing this race really gave me some much needed drive and strength. Also, the route is the most beautiful and breathtaking bike ride you’ll ever experience.
I cruised into the run transition and took a slightly shorter Gentleman’s transition. Upon exiting, I was greeted by my entire support team. Wife, daughter, mom and a group of close friends. It was a great moment, and one that dissipated any lingering fears I had about completing the marathon after such a hellish bike.
A lot of people complain about the marathon, but next to the swim, it was mentally a lot easier for me. I settled into a good rhythm and just chipped away at the 26.1 miles. I would walk for 15 meters at every aid station, and I would high five anyone from the crowd who stuck their hand out. I also realized every step I took was one closer to the finish, and with every lap my attitude improved (even though the pain grew right along with it). I also had never run a marathon prior, so I didn't know what to expect in terms of aches and pains. I find that I always have an easier time the first time I try something, so me being a marathon novice actually aided my race.
As the sun was setting I jogged into the finisher’s shoot. My buddy Greg, who crushed the course in a 11:22, was the first person I saw. He told me my family was right up ahead. He was worried I might miss them in the rush to get to the finish (he’s a great guy). Seeing My family was a very emotional moment for me. Since I was severely dehydrated, I couldn’t muster tears. I hugged my two year old daughter tightly as she told me I was yucky and wet, and I kissed my wife who was bursting with pride. I high-fived my friends and took in the atmosphere as the announcer yelled, “Michael, you are an Ironman.” Damn straight I am.
My enthusiasm quickly dissipated after the race as my sugar levels were low, and my friends had to go grab me some gummy bears to quickly eat. I tried my best to pose for photos with my friends and family, but you can clearly see in the pictures I was about to collapse. All that was in my mind was getting home, and getting some rest. It had been a long day.
Nutrition during the race
1 gel every 30 minutes and Gatorade every 10 minutes. This worked very well for me.
AnaLiza, Karina and my Mom. You guys got me to the finish.
The Schaefer Clan, especially Mary for being a rockstar before, during and after the race. Don't worry, Greg will only do another 15 of these.
Matt Hilgeman et son, Emily Henderson et crew and all my friends and family who texted me and tracked my progress during the race.
Chris McDonald and Big Sexy Racing for the training. Everybody go and get Ruby's Lube. It's a game changer.
Tim Gerry for his awesome taper and nutrition plan. I also did the same swim workouts as Greg for the entire 6 months. Greg hired Tim early. So Tim really taught me to swim.
Doctor Mancuso and the entire team at Highline Orthopedics and Spear Physical Therapy. A bulging disc wasn't enough to keep my away from this Ironman (thanks to Crossfit).
My trip after the race
My family and I went on an epic trip to Portofino and Lake Como. Post to come soon….
It would be easy to say we were reckless, but at that time, our fitness, relative youth and inexperience led us to believe it was not only possible, but simple.
I live in NYC, so none of my friends could really say I was foolish, as none had attempted a summit before. They thought the challenge sounded pretty cool. I was one year into Crossfit at that time, so anything short of the Iditarod I felt I could handle, and only because I didn’t have sled dogs.
Mt. Whitney is not tall by mountaineering standards, but has always loomed large in my mind. Just shy of 15,000 feet, on a good day you could climb it in under 14 hours with a fanny pack and shorts. Most people choose to take their time and split it up into a weekend affair: rational people with common sense and a healthy respect of nature.
Lifelong buddies of mine, Chris and Mike, are avid sportsman, and typically down to do anything involving fitness. They agreed to climb Whitney with me on the first call, and we quickly entered the raffle.
That’s about all that went quickly. It took us 4 years to get our spots (see resources at end for how to enter raffle). We since learned that if you climb on the shoulder seasons, you can usually get lucky and pick up passes the day of.
I am originally from the south, and camped out frequently as a little kid, so I thought the outdoors was in my blood. I’ve spent the night under the stars, I’ve made a fire with bow and rope, and I know how to fish with just fishing line and a lure. I did these things when I was 8, and it's like riding a bike. You only need to do it once, right?
With this background, I thought it perfectly suitable we tackle this mountain in a single day. Besides, we didn’t have the money for a good tent, and we lacked the days off to make this trip much longer. My buddy Mike had climbed Whitney over two days in the summer, and said it was a very possible feat. Did I mention I did Crossfit?
Our plan was pretty straightforward. I would fly from NYC to LA, and my buddy Chris would pick me up. We would drive to Lone Pine; the city at the base of the mountain, and spend the night at the Best Western. Here, we would meet up with my other childhood buddy, Mike. We would have a few beers, and go to sleep. The next day we would do an easy, short hike to 10,000 feet to acclimate.
Why acclimate? Going from sea level to the summit in a day or two would be a recipe for disaster. The altitude sickness would cripple us. Headaches would give way to nausea, which in extreme cases could lead to death, or so we heard from our very brief Google searches. So we played it safe. We would do this whole expedition in three days; with one back up day in case of poor weather. This seemed smart to us. I am laughing as I write this: we were such idiots (except Mike).
At first everything seemed to be going seamlessly. Upon arriving at the airport I learned I was upgraded to first class. Awesome! Free breakfast and a Mimosa. The breakfast was quiche, and it tasted strange. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I ate it all. Two Mimosas later, I started to feel very bloated, gassy and sick.
Something was wrong. I travel a lot, and I know altitude can really screw with my stomach, so I thought that must be it.
When I landed, per plan, Chris picked me up. As we drove out of LAX, my bloated feeling instantly turned to nausea. The quiche returned with a vengeance. It was confirmed; I had a quite severe case of food poisoning. #ThanksUnited.
Chris drove me to his apartment, where I collapsed on his couch and began a pattern of collapsing on the couch, and running to the bathroom to throw up, for the next 8 hours.
I’ve been food poisoned before (Wendy's and at NYU, both accidental and not intentional), and I knew the path to recovery. I was going to be ill for two days. The only solution I could think of would be to get an anti-nausea shot. I discovered this trick while on vacation with my wife in Puerto Rico. You can pay someone 50 bucks to come to your room to administer the shot. Unfortunately, on the mainland you needed to go to a clinic. Long story short, we went to the clinic, I got the shot, and I started to feel a bit better after 20 minutes.
The nice doctors at the clinic told me to take 2 days of bed rest and an easy week to recover. We left the clinic and drove three hours to Lone Pine. We had a schedule to stick to.
It’s kind of funny in retrospect, because it never once dawned on Chris or I to call off the climb. We were such idiots (except for Mike).
After a very bumpy and miserable car ride, we made it to the Lone Pine Best Western. That bed felt like a cloud. It was incredible, and I instantly fell asleep.
That next morning I was greeted by my buddy Mike, who was a bit miffed that my greeting to him was, “where’s the bed, goodnight.” He was also incredulous that I wanted to still do the climb.
“You’re nuts,” he simply said as he walked off to get coffee.
Mike is a very gifted athlete. A runner in High School, he kept up the sport and now does ultra marathons. He’s climbed major peaks, and he’s got the stamina of a mountain goat. He’s also very tall, which makes his athleticism a bit unexpected. Great guy.
On the agenda this morning was the acclimatization hike. Just walking to the other side of the room was difficult, but this needed to be done. We all packed daypacks and got into Mike’s old, blue Jeep. The car is petty badass, but it had no AC. Hot cars do not do wonders for nausea, and I was feeling sick again.
The ride from Lone Pine to the Mount Whitney Portal is about 20 minutes. Before getting in the car, I saw Whitney for the first time (I learned later I actually didn’t).
Mt Whitney is one peak of many, and it’s tucked behind the ones in the front. So I saw the one in the front. Anyways, it was big, and I was in awe. And I forgot about my nausea for about 30 seconds.
At Whitney portal we parked, and started our two-mile hike.
I was a maestro with the curse words that day. The guys kept making me sip Gatorade and nibble on toast. Despite the beautiful scenery, I was sweating, sick and grumpy. After two miles we finally reached a lake, 10,000 feet up. I found a comfortable rock and laid down. I stayed like that for 4 hours… acclimating. I think acclimating is one of my favorite activities.
After a time, my strength returned, and I could finally appreciate the surroundings. The lake was crystal clear, and you could see small trout swimming by the shore. It wasn’t a large lake, but it would still be an effort swimming across, especially since the temperature was close to freezing. I was tempted to try. But I decided in my present condition it would be a bad idea.
This restraint in retrospect was nothing short of miraculous.
The hike down went very easy. It felt like ten minutes. When we got to the parking lot, we visited the small store that was managed by a very old couple. We ordered three hamburgers and beers. Alcohol was not my friend at the moment so I demurred and ordered a diet coke. The burgers were delicious, and I was starting to feel like myself. I recommend you visit this store on your hike.
I struck up a conversation with the old man, and out of the blue he told me that I needed walking sticks because there was still snow surrounding the summit.
"What? Snow?" I was incredulous.
“Yes, you need an ice axe and crampons,” he flatly stated.
“But you look more like a walking stick guy,” he added.
To this day I don’t know if this was a compliment or an insult.
We took the rest of our food to go, and drove back to Lone Pine to go to the outfitters before they closed. Apparently, we needed to buy some ice axes and crampons. And some walking sticks for me.
We got the full report at the outfitters. There was a snowstorm a week prior to our arrival. A man died while attempting to summit. Mike told us weeks previously that we might need crampons. However, the boots Chris and I purchased were not suitable for that type of gear. The shopkeeper let us know about an attachment called a micro-spike. These went over the soles of your boots, and would help you grip into snow. They spikes were about half an inch in length.
Mike had crampons with 3 inch spikes. Chris and I purchased the micro spikes. I’d like to note that Mike wasn’t really surprised by this snow info, and was confused why we hadn’t been checking climbing conditions, or why we didn't purchase rigid sole moutaineering boots that could attach crampons. Starting to see a pattern here? Mike had also brought an ice axe.
So $200 later, we went back to the hotel to organize our packs, and go to sleep for the early morning summit attempt.
We overpacked for a day hike (more on that later), and my pack weighed around 25 lbs. Chris and Mike had larger packs that weighed about 35 lbs. I brought 3 quarts of water, 4 cliff bars and a sandwich. Chris brought similar but added 3 quarts of Gatorade in addition to the water, and Mike, the sensible one, brought a little more, as well as a portable stove and some coffee. I didn’t see the sense in bringing coffee.
We slept longer than planned, and started on the trailhead at 3am. The weather was good, low 50s, and the trail was familiar and visible thanks to our headlamps and previous day's hike.
I was pretty pleased with my progress. My strength had returned, and we were doing about 2-3 miles per hour. The entire round trip would be 22 miles and 6100 vertical feet. At this pace we would summit and be down by 2pm. Maybe 3pm if we took some rests. I was betting on 2pm.
The next 4 hours, and 8 miles, passed relatively uneventful. We saw a beautiful sunrise, and some deer. We passed sleeping campers, with soft smells of distant campfires that had just been started. Then we saw snow.
It was very pretty snow. Mike was concerned.
"I never saw snow this early in the hike before."
I didn't know what he meant by that.
Hiking a mountain in snowy conditions is hard to describe unless you’ve been in it before. There are many types of snow consistencies, terrains, and slope factors that can make a hike pleasant or miserable. All of the factors today were miserable. The snow was slushy, the terrain rocky and unpredictable, and the slope steep.
Below we are switching into our micro spikes, and setting off into the snow. And for me, the great unknown.
Around 4 miles from the summit there is a very famous part of the trail called, “The 97 switchbacks.”
This was one of the more difficult parts of the climb, where you have to ascend 1,738 feet of elevation in 2 miles. I was looking forward to this part of the climb, because I actually like switchbacks. Counting them down breaks up the monotony.
Here is where everything really went off the rails. The switchbacks were frozen over. The guy who died last week died on the switchbacks. The Park Rangers closed it shortly afterwards. Most everyone we talked to from Trail camp had turned around. We pressed on, because these same people said some intrepid hikers were just going to the side of the switchbacks. I didn’t know what that meant, but I wanted to summit. Mike knew what that meant, and said "I hope the snow isn't too slushy."
I still didn't understand his concern. At this point, snow was still just snow.
To the side of the switchbacks is a ravine in the summer, and a double black diamond ski slope in the winter (minus the skiers, because the rocks would kill you). If you wanted to summit, you had to go up just shy of 2000 vertical feel over a condensed distance of 800 meters. Did I mention the snow was mush? Which meant you post-holed the entire way up. Post-holing is sub-optimal (AKA soul crushing). With each step you sink three feet into cold, wet snow. It's like trying to run up a hill with 50 pound weights tied to each leg.
So we pressed on. At this point we were at 12,000 feet, and the altitude was beginning to be felt. Altitude sickness will hit you especially hard if you're dehydrated, or recovering from an illness (ouch).
Those 800 meters took me 5 hours. At hour 2, I ran out of water and started begging my friends for some, which they obliged, because they didn’t want me to die. To put this in perspective, my speed was averaging 8 feet per minute, which is 0.1 MPH. I saw spiders passing me.
I’ve done half Ironmans, summited higher mountains since, and I have a two year old. Those 5 hours were the most difficult of my life. It’s good to have friends who won’t leave you. Mike positioned himself behind me, and prevented me from turning back, and Chris gave me his endless supply of Gatorade and Advil.
This is when the cruelest joke happened. Upon cresting the ravine, you are greeted by a sign that says you still have 2 more miles to the summit. Man, talk about a buzz-kill. Mike started melting snow for some coffee. He was so smart to bring coffee. Smartest guy alive.
I’d like to say it was all rosy from here on out, but those 2 miles were pretty brutal. Not because of the vertical ascent, you really didn’t have many steep parts left, but because the altitude really starts to hit you. My eyes were bloodshot, and my head was ringing. If I had actually done the proper preparation for this trip, I would have known those are glaring red flags to DESCEND immediately. Luckily, I didn’t do the prep, and Mike didn’t really press the subject (but he told me later he was actually very worried).
I would stop every 100 meters or so to gulp some water, and to rest. Mike would stay with me to make sure my rests didn’t turn to naps, and we kept moving. This whole part was very blurry for me, but I kept thinking back to my wife and my unborn child. Yes, this mountain was a last hurrah before becoming a dad, and probably why I wanted to summit so badly. I wanted to tell my daughter about it some day.
At this point my thoughts actually did turn to the fact I was in trouble. I was young and novice enough to think the risk was much smaller than it probably was. Mike would later tell me he wasn’t with me to motivate me, he was with me to make sure I didn’t slip into high altitude edema, which if happened he was prepared to physically drag me back down the mountain. I weighed 200 lbs at the time, so I'm glad it didn't come to that.
As I summited, I cried. It felt incredible to be on top of that mountain. It felt good to have not given up.
Now, if you didn’t think I was an idiot yet, let me tell you why I ran out of water. You probably guessed already due to the epic picture at the introduction. Ready for it???
Half of my pack was reserved for a full tuxedo and glossy dress shoes. I wanted to take some cool pics on the summit and surprise my wife, who sanctioned the hike, but was unaware of the outfit change.
Notice the others in the picture at the summit. Only about 15 people made it that day, and while they called us crazy, they got a kick out of it. We even recruited one of them to take our picture, who happened to be a professional photographer. Funny how life works out when you do bold things (and survive).
Below are some outtakes. My favorite is of Mike trying to show me his "take a stand" stance. It looked more like a weird jazz/karate hands stance. You can see the utter disdain in my face. The money shot is the first picture in this story.
I can’t argue that they’re not cool, but I don’t think I’d advise anyone to repeat what we did.
The way down was uneventful. Except for the part where we all almost died when we glissaded down the ravine. The whole round trip took about 23.5 hours. We made it in one day, barely. As we finished at 2:30am, we passed a group of three younger hikers in shorts, who asked us if whether we summited. We said yes, but we don’t recommend they try it. It was obvious from their gear that they didn't have axes or crampons. At this point I was a wise mountain man, and I knew the danger they faced. They appreciated the advice, but we could obviously tell they were going to go for it. I didn’t see any reports of dead hikers the next day, so I am fairly certain they ended up turning around.
1. Crossfit is NOT a good method to get in shape for mountain climbing. Mountain climbing is the best way to get in shape for mountain climbing. Start small and build up. If you are in a city, hit the stair-master for some epic 6-8 hour sessions.
2. Check conditions daily as the hike approaches.
3. Bring more water than you think you need.
4. Hike with someone more knowledgeable than you.
5. Don't schedule a root canal before a mountain climb, or a mountain climb around the time of a root canal (I didn't mention this, but yeah, I had a root canal right before the trip).
6. If you get food poisoning, just call it a day and go home.
7. Don't bring tuxedos, but if you do, make sure they don't wrinkle easily and roll them instead of folding them. Also, black is best, because you can't see the wrinkles.
8. The glossy tuxedo shoes were completely unnecessary. I didn't even wear mine in the photos (take a look), as my feet were bleeding and cold.
9. Always bring Advil. Miracle drug.
10. Walking sticks are awesome, but with snow you're better off with an ice axe. The guy was right, I am a walking stick kind of guy.
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp ground pepper
1 tbsp paprika
1/2 cup brown sugar
Optional - A dash of red pepper flakes.
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 qts cold water
3 tbsp dry rub mix
After boiling the brine mixture and letting it cool to room temperature, take a 6 lb pork shoulder and put in the brine solution for 12-24 hours.
Remove and pat dry (must be dry for a nice crust). Preheat over to 225 and line a roasting pan with tin foil. Put pork shoulder uncovered into the overn and cook for 1.5 hours for each lb of meat. For my 6 lb shoulder I cooked for 10 hours.
Comes out delish.
Recipe modified from here.
Karina came on down to Austin for Fibi Fest. Her Dad is the CEO, and her Mom is the Creative Director. Karina, of course, is the official princess of fibi & clo.
When you have a child, there are obviously a lot of things that change from your pre-baby life to your post-baby life. Michael and I always knew we wanted to have kids, and even today talk about how much better and more enriched our life is with Karina. And while a lot of things do change, there are some that we believe you should hold sacred to the way life was pre-baby. For us, it was Friendsgiving.
For the past few years, we’ve spent every Thanksgiving with our tight-knit group of friends. And as far as we’re concerned, they ARE family. We’ve done New York, Hong Kong, London, Austin and this year, New Orleans. And so (I think even to our surprise) we decided to…ditch the baby. Gasp! I know…I know. I can even sense myself judging myself. But the truth is, it was a months-long, thoughtful decision, and not to mention a very difficult one. As most parents would agree, there are a lot of traditions that you may have started pre-baby that have stopped post-baby. But for us, having mommy and daddy time with our friends who have always been there for us was important not only for our friendships, but for our relationship.
As parents (I might be biased but particularly for moms) we have a tendency to feel guilty anytime we put ourself first. It’s simply not in our nature. But what I’ve realized is that for me, I’m actually a better mom and a better wife when I take a little time to myself every once in a while. I make it a point to go out with my girlfriends and have dinner and cocktails at least once or twice a month. I make it a point to go on date nights with my husband and try out new restaurants and places at least once a week. And it’s not because I’m a bad mom or because I’m selfish, but because I am my own person with my own life. I also work hard, and I feel I deserve it. We all do. And as far as I’m concerned whether you work outside the house or are a stay-at-home mom, you better believe you deserve it too. It doesn’t even have to be anything crazy or frivolous. In fact, Michael and I just got a sitter the other day to spend time alone and go see a movie, which we used to do every Sunday before baby. The point is, it’s important not to lose your sense of self. When you become a parent, you’re given the biggest gift that God can give you. Take care of yourself and your happiness so that you can take great care of your gift.
Before Michael and I got married in the Catholic church, we had to do the required pre-marital counseling. I was really weary of it. “Ugh…it’s going to be a priest that judges us for living in sin before marriage. It’s going to be so disparaging…” I complained to Michael. Turns out it wasn’t a priest, and he wasn’t judgmental. He was an incredibly witty, older gentleman with a wife of thirty years and two daughters, and he was awesome. A lot of what he said still sticks with me today, but the most poignant was this. He said, “…your marriage will ebb and flow. There will be high points and low points. Try to remember the high points and create more of those. Address the low points, argue them out and move on. But most importantly, when you have children, put yourself first, then your spouse, then your child.” “WHAT?!” I responded in utter disbelief. He explained further that when you are happy with yourself and the choices you make for your own life, it is then that you are able to fully give love to your partner. And when you and your partner are solid, everything else just falls into place…even your children. To this day, I struggle with this because I’m not going to lie, there are several times when Karina absolutely comes first no matter what. But it is now, that I’m starting to truly understand what he meant. And that is that there is a beautiful little human being looking up to me at all times. When I get ready to go to work, and come back and talk about my career to my husband, she will know that feeling accomplished is important. When I take time see friends who I love and admire, she will know that relationships are important. And when I take time to put my marriage first and go on a date night, she will know that marriage is work and commitment and it’s important.
So in conclusion, yes we decided to ditch the baby for Thanksgiving. But it was ok. It was harder for me than it was for her, and we Face Timed several times a day. But looking back, I also appreciated the alone time with my partner-in-crime (except for the couple times we nearly killed each other on the road trip!) and the friend-time with our bests. Meanwhile, Karina had an absolute blast with her Nana, Tata, baby cousin and the rest of my family who smothered her with love. I know they will never forget this beautiful time they got to spend with her. And for that, I am incredibly thankful. Hope everyone had a beautiful Thanksgiving! Cheers!
Security is the trickiest, riskiest and most stressful part of the entire trip, but with enough practice, it’s easy to look like a superstar while doing it.
Do yourself a favor and sign up for TSA-pre. The lines are shorter and you don’t have to take off your shoes. Trust me, taking off and putting on your shoes while juggling a stroller, baby and carry-ons is a feat where something will always go wrong. Also, DO NOT GET IN LINE AT SECURITY WITHOUT YOUR BOARDING PASS AND BABY BOARDING PASS. Yes, babies need their very own boarding pass too, so don't get to the front of the line and realize you don't have one. Trust us...we made this mistake once and it will never happen again.
You are allowed to bring breast milk through security. Tell them before you go through so they know they can check it if they need to. You are also allowed to bring water if it's for the baby. If you mention that the water is for you, you will have to toss it. So remember, all liquids are for the baby (safe to say this strategy won’t work with soda). However, gels and lotions need to be under 3 oz. So purchase some travel containers prior to the trip. Otherwise you will be leaving some precious baby aids behind.
If you are traveling with your partner, simply task one person with the job of holding the baby, and the other to do everything else. Plan this before you get there. This division of labor minimizes the chance you will forget something as you put items on the belt and gather them on the other side. Stick to this routine every time and you won't even flinch.
If you're traveling solo, ask for help. It is simply too much to fold your stroller, lift your carry-on and hold your baby all at the same time. The TSA is there to help. If they seem to ignore your requests, hold up the line and insist that they do. It is in their job description to help you.
Make sure to put your infant’s blanket in the diaper bag during this time so that it doesn’t fall out of the stroller or touch that nasty belt as you put it through the xray machine. In our case, we use wife's Zara pashmina as blanket so it can double as a cover-up as well to nurse.
Put wallet, phone and all pocket items in one place - a purse or a stroller zip compartment. With so many balls in the air, it’s easy to forget something if you do not consolidate.
Do not rush on the other side of security. Gather all your things and take a mental inventory of everything that you brought with you.
When my wife and I found out we were having a baby, and after the initial excitement tapered down, we were immediately inundated with the logistics of having a baby in New York City. What hospital to give birth in? How would we navigate work? Did we need to move into a bigger place?
We had a difference of opinion on most of these decisions, and we had many healthy debates about what direction we were going to take our life. One area where there was absolutely no disagreement was that we were going to keep working out. We agreed that if the other person wanted to make time for a workout, no matter what else the other person was doing (within reason), they would drop everything to make sure it was easy for the workout to happen.
One year in, this is still happening. Just yesterday I was dressed and ready to go and meet a friend when my wife expressed an interest to go to a fitness class. I whipped out my phone and pushed back my meeting by a couple hours. While this is an extreme case, and luckily my friend was the very flexible type, it shows the importance we place on fitness.
Why? Well for starters, purely selfish, who doesn’t like their partner to be in sick shape? But more importantly, when you’re healthy, you feel good about yourself and these good feelings pour into other areas of your life.
It’s easy enough to make your own excuses about why you don’t have time to workout, so it’s important your partner doesn’t add one more.
Make it easy for your partner. It’ll pay dividends.
Here are my two go to workouts when I only have 15 minutes to spare (and we always have 15 minutes to spare). The best part is that baby can watch from the stroller or pack and play. Set a healthy and good example from early on.
Running Tabata on treadmill.
Part 1. 5 minute warm-up
Part 2. Raise incline to max. Put speed slightly faster than your warm-up pace. Stand on edge of running treadmill while you make the adjustments
Part 3. Jump on treadmill for 20 seconds. After 20 seconds jump off for a 10 second rest. Repeat this 8 times, increasing the speed for each interval (this gets hard fast, but only lasts a total of 4 minutes).
Part 4. 5 minute jog warm-down
5 minute warm-up (light jogging or stretching)
For ten minutes do as many round of the following
Last night CNN commentator Van Jones expressed how difficult it would be to explain this election to his kids. For me, I felt I needed to talk less (because we all know how vocal I was during the election) and do more. So this morning I woke up and decided to take action. A simple action. I took my daughter to the park.
Hidden in Prospect park, in unassuming corners, are the statues of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. The statue of Lincoln is the first of him that the Union erected. It’s larger than life, but also smaller in stature than the giant memorials that came later.
I wanted my daughter to see truly great men. Figures who embodied the values that I hope my daughter will one day embrace. Tolerance for others, Courage to stand up for your ideals, and humility to admit when you are wrong. I also wanted her to see that even though I was distraught and in uncertain times myself, I still placed her first and that I can take a morning off to have some fun with her and teach her lessons on how to be a good person. While my vote didn’t create the short term future I wanted, I hope my parenting creates a greater generation than the one in which I live. It’s all any parent can hope for, and it’s up to us to take actions towards that end.
Take some time today to hug your loved ones and be the change that you want to see in the world. America is a woven fabric of families and communities, held together by love for each other. We are an unstoppable force, and one that overcomes all obstacles. Not one movement or person defines us, and as long as we pass on our values to the generation after us, we will continue to be the greatest country on earth.
We recently did a photo shoot for the relaunch of our sandal brand, fibi & clo. At its height, fibi & clo was an extremely popular sandal brand in the South and California. People up North enjoyed them as well, but just didn’t have as much opportunity to wear them like their neighbors down South.
Due to a much longer story that I won’t go into here, I took a couple years off to pursue my other passion, technology. Well, the brand is back, and due to another much longer story that I won’t go into here, it has the backing of a team of industry insiders and professionals that can help us rebuild the brand to be better than it ever was.
I called in some favors, and assembled a talented group of friends that would normally cost way more than our budget, but thankfully they believe in the brand as much as we do, and donated their heart, talent and time. We are blessed and grateful.
The first time we did a shoot like this, my wife and I were not yet engaged, and after we were finished we went out with the crew and had a lot of drinks and fatty foods. This time around we are a newly minted family of three, and the drinking part would be decidedly left out (and the wrap party consisted of BBQ and a movie).
We hired a babysitter, but we faced the decision - bring baby and sitter to the shoot or leave them at home. When Karina was born, I wanted her to experience the most that life has to offer. This is one of the reasons I resigned from my high-paying tech job. It sounds counter-intuitive, but while you may be less stable, work longer hours, and have less money, when being an entrepreneur, you can do it from anywhere and I find I get to spend more time with my child, and she gets to be more involved with the business I’m building (in fact she’s crawling all over me while I write this, so please forgive any typos from her banging on the keybodfsakjfd93ard).
With that in mind I decided to bring her to the shoot. I wanted her to see her mommy (the designer and creative director), and daddy (assistant to mommy for the shoot), in action.
Well, this was a mistake. The weather was perfect, and Karina slept most of the time, but every time she got fussy and cried, and even though she was tended to by our babysitter, Mommy could still hear the cries and would walk away to go tend to her. I think a better course of action would have been to have the sitter stay at home, and come visit the set a couple times throughout the day, satisfying my need to have Karina experience a shoot, and allowing mommy to concentrate on the task at hand.
Photo shoots are about controlling your environment as much as possible, and during an outdoor shoot these variables exponentially grow. A baby is one that you do not need (or maybe just in small doses).
This spot atop of Barneys, on Madison and 61st, was a favorite of ours before we were even married. Now with baby we love it even more. Barneys is the ultimate in NYC shopping, and Freds the ultimate when it comes to brunching.
There is a coziness about this place that instantly makes you feel at ease, which is a good thing because you are surrounded by the Upper East elite and occasional celebrity. You would think that bringing a baby into the mix would be an anxiety inducing event, but the waiters and patrons seem to enjoy that this is a family spot. Even when baby has an outburst everyone is extremely tolerant. If baby refuses to calm down, you also have the option to take her for a walk to calm her down, and do some shopping simultaneously.
The food never disappoints. The pasta selection and extremely large salads are perfect sharing dishes. A big plus is that the chef doesn’t mind splitting the dishes in the kitchen (In NYC you will often encounter chefs who would view this as sacrilege). The chef will also make some bland mashed potatoes for your baby!
Also, my favorite barometer of a good spot is the lack of turnover in the staff. We've seen the same waiters throughout our ten year patronage. This place treats and pays them well, which is a rarity in the service industry.
This was our second visit with baby Karina. It's never crowded, which is a good and bad thing. Good because Karina can literally crawl around wherever she pleases without fear of tripping waiters, but bad, because I really want this place to be around for a long time and it needs customers to do so. However I may have confirmation bias because we always go at off hours (since baby arrived dinner is sometimes a 5pm affair).
The food here is hands down some of the best I've had in NYC. The prices range $15-$30 for an entree and around 10 bucks for a cocktail. Our most recent trip was during brunch and we ordered the French Toast, Banana Pancakes, Chicken Paillard and the Burger (there were 4 of us so no, my wife and I are not gluttons).
The Banana Pancakes are a must. Crispy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. This juxtaposition of textures enhanced its incredible taste. We could have done without the chicken, but not the French Toast, another must-have dish. The burger was solid.
The interior has high ceilings with a skylight that makes the space feel even larger. The music selection is modern and the murals on the wall make for a very cool vibe.
Needless to say they are very baby friendly.
Like most New Yorkers, I haven’t owned a car since I moved to the city. Baby didn’t change that one bit, and quite honestly, while I do miss the freedom that a set of wheels brings, I am very happy not having to carry the burden of gasoline, car insurance, parking issues or maintenance. I outsource my in-city transportation needs to Uber.
This all breaks down when we travel. With stroller, bags and baby, sometimes you need a car. We’ve done it both ways. Here are my thoughts on both strategies.
This strategy causes you to think before you leave the hotel. You need to be optimized not only for your daily needs, but also for speed. I approach Uber like a NASCAR race crew. Once the car pulls up I try to pack the trunk, load the carseat, and have everyone buckled within one minute. Pack what you will need for the day in the backpack and whatever can fit in the compartments of the stroller. Eliminate all nice to haves and leave the essentials. See our packing tips section for a good guide.
Cities like San Francisco and Austin are perfect for Uber (Let’s hope Uber is allowed to re-enter Austin). Unless I am driving between two cities in Europe, I always go Uber. Uber is plentiful in major European cities.
I never take taxis anymore. I feel they are neither safe nor clean. The digital footprint that Uber leaves behind gives me piece of mind, and would cause nefarious individuals to think twice before messing with my family.
Renting a car
When we visited Los Angeles we started out with just Uber, but realized very quickly that all destinations were too far apart, and Uber limited us too much in what we could bring. Especially with beach vacations, I highly recommend you rent a car.
Bottom line. Do the math. If you can get a rental car for fewer than 40 bucks a day, and you’ll be out and about a lot, a rental car will win hands down. In NYC it never pays to rent a car. The prices are astronomical and Uber and mass transit will beat it every time.
Also do your research before making a decision. Some cities have banned Uber and some have a very limited supply. In Lake Tahoe, an Uber could take up to 40 minutes to reach us.
Jane's carousel is over 100 years old, and at 2 bucks a ride is one of the more affordable things to do in NYC. Our pro tip is to purchase multiple tickets at once and let the ticket taker you plan to stay on the Carousel. She will come to you to take your ticket after each ride.
After you and baby have had your merry-go- round fill, walk around the Brooklyn Bridge Park and you will encounter No. 9 subs and Luke’s Lobster. While baby enjoyed her fruit pack, I ate an incredible Lobster salad from Luke’s.
Short answer: Yes.
Long Answer: Baby food and milk are exempt form TSA guidelines for gels, liquids and aerosols. The rules say you are allowed to bring enough baby food for the flight. The big caveat here is that the amount allowed is not specified, and a TSA agent having a bad day could make security difficult for you if you brought a lot of food. If this occurs, ask patiently for the TSA supervisor and make your case why this amount of food is necessary. This has never happened to us, and we bring food for at least two plane trips.
To supplement the prepared foods, take some whole fruits like bananas and avocados that are easy to mash up on the plane. We also bring a couple packs of Mum Mums. Mum Mums are the ultimate baby pacifier. If our baby is fussy, or doesn’t want to go into her car seat, we simply break off a bit of this snack and hand it to her. Gives us five minutes of tranquility where we can position baby however we wish. She’ll be a willing participant, which is heaven-sent when on a packed plane.
One of the perks of having a child, besides the feeling of unbridled joy and people opening doors for you, is that you get thousands of crafting and design opportunities. These graphics were found on Etsy with frames found at the local art store. We believe in positive reinforcement in our household. Instead of no, we say "peligorsso" (danger), and when a milestone is achieved, we clap and celebrate. Surround your little one with reminders of the limitless nature of the human spirit. The nursery is a great place to start this messaging.
Fall in Long Island is for apple and pumpkin picking, and if you happen to be near Southampton, we highly recommend you take the family to Hank's pumpkin town. To get into the main attraction area there is no admittance fee. Hank's knows the more fun you have, the more likely you will buy pie and pumpkins.
And there is no shortage of fun or pumpkins here. Giant wooden play structures dot the area. Some are reserved for the older kids, but others are perfect for your one year old. Breath in the fall air, pick up some of the delicious kettle corn, and take a lot of pictures.
This Mario Batali restaurant is high end, but baby friendly. There are two things that allow for this; 1, the Maritime hotel lobby is adjacent to the restaurant, and there are many quiet seating areas where its possible and comfortable to breast feed your child, and 2, the spacious patio is perfect for strollers and the ambient street noise creates an environment where baby can nap without being awoken by the clatter of dishes.
Did I mention the food is spectacular as well? Every dish we sampled was great, but the real star is the pasta. Order a couple and share. We ordered the pici with sausage and the Tonnarelli Neri. Baby had a packet of bananas and sweet potatoes with a mum mum for dessert.
Yesterday we celebrated KK's first birthday. I'm still seriously (as Ron Burgundy would say) in a "glass case of emotions." On the one hand, I'm completely overjoyed and elated that our baby had a happy, healthy first year and that Michael and I survived given the obstacles having a baby can bring. But I'm also a little sad that it happened so fast. I know it sounds so cliche and everyone says it, but wow. I think the biggest revelation for me is that it really is a reminder to slow down and take time. Sometimes we get too caught up with work or errands or (in my case) making sure the house is always picked up that we forget that the minutes and the moments are just ticking by. Taking time to just spend time with people you love is more valuable than anything, even if it's just sitting around doing nothing and hanging out. I could go on and on but I'll leave you with this...what if we start to look at time not as an enemy, but as a precious gift? Karina may have received a lot of gifts yesterday, but I got one too and it was big. It was the gift of a day I'll never forget. Time is precious my friends. Let's cherish it.
PS - This is from Michael. I agree, so next time you see a pair of dirty socks carelessly left on the floor, go spend some time holding your baby as opposed to making Michael go pick them up.
PPS - Here are a few photos of the babe from yesterday, a photo shoot from June, and then the last few from her two-week photo shoot. Cue the tears for mama...
168 Smith Street, Brooklyn, NY
Positioned right on the best part of Smith street for people walking, grab a seat by the door so baby can people watch while waiting for your food. With ample beer on tap, and four TVs showing the latest sporting events, this place will keep the parents occupied as well.
This restaurant is not only baby friendly, it seemed like they genuinely wanted young families to enjoy the restaurant. The manager repeatedly checked up on us, and brought Karina a bunch of spoons to play with.
The food is solid, and the beer is even better. Pictured is the Chicken and Waffles sandwich, a special of the restaurant and the reason we walked in. Karina was able to also enjoy her first french fry, and these ones did not disappoint either baby or parent.