Stan’s Obligatory Blog

Happy Halloween

3/14/2010

Bright light city gonna save my soul, gonna set my lungs on fire

Filed under: — stan @ 10:13 pm

This past weekend was a grand adventure. Last fall, when I did the “Stair Climb to the Top” at the U.S. Bank tower in downtown Los Angeles, a woman I talked to there told me about the stair climb up the Stratosphere tower in Las Vegas. I looked it up, and it looked like fun. The climb was on Saturday, March 13. And as an added bonus, if I could make the cut and be in the top 50 climbers, I could do it a second time on Sunday in the ‘run-off’ to determine the winner. And besides, it seemed like a good excuse for a weekend in Las Vegas.

Kathleen and I drove out there on Friday afternoon. The trip was pretty uneventful, and we got there just after dark. I was pleased to see that the middle-age-mobile averaged over 30 miles per gallon for the trip. After checking in to the hotel, we took a walk to go find some cheap prime rib, since that’s one of the things Las Vegas is known for. We got a good nighttime view of the tower, and I took a moment to contemplate it a bit. And after dinner, we rode the elevator up to the observation deck to see the view. When we were up there, we asked the security guard where the stairs were, and he showed us the door and the top of the staircase. It looked simple enough. How hard could it be?

Saturday morning, I got dressed in my running gear and got ready to climb. The starting order was pretty random. They said it was just the order that we’d signed up in, so I knew I’d be able to catch and pass at least a couple people on the way up. When we lined up, they gave us a small lecture about the tower stairs. The staircase goes up the central core of the tower. it follows the side of the elevator shafts, so it’s in a roughly triangular space. There are landings on each end of the base of the triangle, and the staircases go back and forth across the space. One way, the staircase is attached to the wall. The other way, it goes directly across the space, about 6-8 feet away from the wall. So that leg is about a 20-step staircase that is just anchored at the ends, and there’s nothing on either side of the railing. This is known to give some people the willies.

When I started climbing, I saw immediately what they were talking about. And yes, it gave me a slight case of the willies. So when I was on those staircases, I just focused on the middle of the stair about three steps ahead and just blocked out the fact that on my right side there was a 300-foot drop. This went on for the majority of the climb. Probably on the order of about 600 vertical feet. I’d been practicing my pacing on the stairs at the library at Caltech, and I set my watch to beep every second to act like a metronome so I could maintain a steady pace. And I managed to do that all the way up. At the top of the tower core, the stairs entered the ‘pod’, which is the round space at the top where they have the bar, restaurant and observation deck. From there it was just a normal staircase for about eight floors up to the observation deck. The stairs let us out into a hallway where they gave us each a towel and a bottle of water. When I got there, I just flopped down on a chair and gasped like a fish out of water. Yow.

As always, I had the “Climber’s Cough” at the top. And everyone else did, too. It was easy to tell who had just finished the climb, because we were all hacking up phlegm. Apparently, this is a known phenomenon caused by high blood pressure in the lungs from the exertion of climbing.

After catching my breath, I had a look at the results that they were tallying on a large monitor. I was pleased to see my time was 11:35.96. I’d hoped to do about 12 minutes, so this was a pleasant surprise. And at the end of the day, it was good for 23rd place overall. This meant that I’d made the cut and could climb in the finals on Sunday.

We spent the rest of Saturday doing Las Vegas-y things. It was good fun.

On Sunday morning, I got dressed again and ready to climb. This time, the starting order was the same as our rank from Saturday. Between that and the fact that they sent us off at one-minute intervals pretty much guaranteed that nobody was going to be passing anyone else today. This meant that it was going to be a solitary climb. Just me against the stairs. Before starting out, I did a little warmup by walking up on the down escalator. Sort of like a stair treadmill. Again, I set my watch to maintain pace, and again I was able to maintain the pace all the way up. For some reason, it hurt a whole lot more the second time. Go figure. But I managed to shave a second and half off my time to finish at 11:34.50, which was good for 26th overall, and 3rd in the 50-59 age group.

I did the math, and my power output for the climb works out to about 0.35 horsepower for the 11.5 minutes it took to get to the top. I’m pretty happy with that for being 50 years old.

So now it’s onward and upward to the AON tower climb next month. And this one is also for charity, so if you can, please stop by and make a donation, however small, to the American Lung Association.

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