birthday challenge
November 29, 2011 posted by

Birthday Pretty Hard

There are many sayings we use to describe Birthday Challenge. Perhaps the most popular is one coined by David Brainard during the abyss of my 40th 40-day adventure when things we going decidedly un-well. I think I had a nasty cold and was complaining about the prospect of spending yet another day outside in the rain when DB riffed off the theme from Mission Impossible. “It’s not birthday pretty hard,” he stated with his best Anthony Hopkins impression. “It’s birthday challenge.” It not only got me outside in a good mood that day, it’s become my measuring stick for challenges ever since.

Well, at least until this year. A challenge, by definition, requires an element of the unknown and a seed of doubt. Knowing that I’ll finish if I simply continue is not enough and I gauge the worth of my year’s quest by how many people tell me I’m crazy. This year, however, was never meant to be one of those epics and that lack of focus allowed it to unravel as soon as conditions went south, which is an ever-present issue for me since my parents decided to give birth during a shoulder season.

“Number one, I don’t want to get injured,” was Bob’s objective for our first duo challenge. No stranger to big suffering, he’d spent most of the year in rehab and didn’t want to go back. And since I, too, am coming off injury it became out theme, which is not exactly the devil-may-care attitude needed for success when you go big. Still, we carved out an aesthetic little epic on the eastside flank of the Sierra—a point to point adventure featuring road and mountain biking along with more climbing than 99% would ever consider in a day. But as soon as the weather altered our original line our lack of commitment began to show. We started late, never recovered, and ended up with what was, for us, little more than a big day of exercise; the definition of birthday pretty hard.

The 50/40 challenge

50 kilometers of road biking – the only thing that could be considered cruxy was the cold. It was very very cold.

40 kilometers of mountain biking – With our original line snowed in we deviated to one of the more mundane rides I’ve ever done on a hippie rig. Pretty though.

50 routes on sight
(combined total, so 25 each) – This was supposed to be 40 each but, frankly, we were bored as the climbing area we chose was not exactly inspiring. Most of the routes we did wouldn’t get a star elsewhere (though the guidebook seemed to love em). We thought the place was so bad we’re not going to mention where it was lest we damper your enthusiasm should you venture there. Climbing is an individual sport. Maybe you’ll love it.

We were supposed to do 50 boulder problems but those, too, were under snow meaning that we’d have to do this at a place we’d been to many times. This sounded very boring as there was no question of success so, again, we left it at pretty hard.

So basically we did what amounts to a grade V big wall climb on sight and rode 90k on our bikes. 12 hours of exercise; a hard day but nothing that will make to annals of birthday challenge.

it was, however, a proper bd challenge for finn who ran 40k averaging more than 10mph.

PS – It was my third 12-hour training day in a three-week period, which is worth an assessment. I’ll reflect on this in another post.


  • Steve, awesome job! I completed my Birthday Challenge on Saturday. Obviously very different than yours, but challenging for me none-the-less!

  • Une anniversaire loisir…A little leasure challenge if you will.

  • After we had to make amendments to the original plan, I have to admit my heart wasn't in it.And while I was concocting various ways to make it end quicker, Finnegan deserves special mention for his part in running 40k, much of it on pavement making him easily the hardiest trooper of the day.

  • and at 10-12mph no less. Yes, Mr. F is a physical specimen with little interest in pretty hard.The Loisir Challenge! Perfect. Le bonne vie. We even had some wine. Shame the cafe we hit en route didn't serve rose and lemonade.

  • I'm sorry, but it sounds like you got Bob on a road bike. And you say this wasn't a proper birthday challenge!?Please, was he wearing spandex (say it isn't so!)?

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