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The Big Climb

Volume 56: Sat March 26, 2005

Last Sunday, as you know, I climbed the tallest building in Seattle. =) Thought I'd let you know how it went....

The story starts a couple of weeks before the actual event when I learned that there would be a fundraiser for leukemia and participants would raise money by collecting pledges then hike up the staircase in the tallest building in Seattle: the Bank of America Tower.

As much as I'd like to claim I did it for those poor people facing leukemia, I have to admit that I was more interested in climbing the staircase up 69 floors, 1311 steps, or 788 feet of vertical elevation gain—whatever impresses you the most. If the only way I could hike up the staircase was to sign up, well by golly, I was going to sign up. Anyhow, it was for a good cause, so it's not like I could complain.


It was a dreary day for the Big Climb, but I braved the elements to conquer the tallest building in Seattle


Then it was the day of the event. I woke up to a sad, rainy, overcast day. Sad because I was hoping for the world's most spectacular view from the top of the Bank of America Tower. But I went anyhow. Took the bus out, found the building, and wow, there were a lot of people there! It looked like a life-size ant farm. Hundreds—perhaps thousands!—of people milling about.

Fortunately for me, the 'race' line was much shorter than the 'climb' line. Race, meaning, you'd be timed on how long it took you to get up the building and climb meaning it wouldn't be timed. I had no desire to actually work hard at it, but I still wanted to be timed, so I chose the race line. =)

And, since I had no desire to be first—first place would take a lot of work and probably make me sweat more than I cared to—I decided to come in LAST! Yep. Last. Because NOBODY remembers who comes in second to last, you know? But everyone remembers that poor guy who comes in last.

I turned my backpack into the bag check"bags would not be allowed in the stairwells. Got in line. They took us in groups of about 20 to the stairwell. We went up a couple of escalators first—which I heard one wise-cracking comic comment about how this climb was "much easier" than they had expected! They laughed then. They wouldn't be laughing later.... =)

I smartly followed directions and put the timer chip on my right wrist. A couple of people did not follow directions and put it on their ankle. Boy did they feel stupid when they had to get the chip over a table to record their start and ending times. Ha! Make that a lesson. If they tell you to put the chip on your wrist, put the chip on your wrist. We laughed at the people doing all sorts of strange contortions trying to get their ankle on the table to record their time.

Anyhow.... Having the idea to be last, I got off to a good start by being the last in my group to get started. One girl said I should go in front of her because she'd be going slow. I told her lady's first, because I'd be going even slower. Finally, I was up. I walked up to the timing table, waved my wrist with the timer over the table, and a loud BEEEP radiated out of the nearby machine. My race had officially started!

I calmly walked past the two cheerleaders guarding the stairs. Okay, not guarding it, exactly, but rather trying to pep everyone up like going up 70 flights of stairs was fun and you should be happy you were there. I actually WAS happy I was there, but it seemed like they expected me to actually run up the stairs which I was not inclined to do because the level of fun is indirectly proportional to how fast you're breathing in situations such as this.


Smith Tower, located in the lower right, used to be the tallest building west of the Mississippi. It's not anymore! Qwest and Safeco Fields are in the background.

So I took my time going up. No particular rush, listening to the others pounding the stairs above me. In total, we were told, we would go up about 70 floors. We weren't sure of the exact number because we didn't actually start at the first floor, and we finished at the 76th floor, though we didn't know that when we started. We knew it was about 70 floors we'd have to do, though, and that's what mattered.

Every five floors or so seemed to have a water station. Actually, it seemed like it started off as being every ten floors, but then became more common the higher up the staircase you got.

I caught up to the first runner of my group after about 10 floors. Unfortunately, I didn't mean to do this. I had to come in last! So I stopped and started talking to the fellow. He was having a hard time of it, sweating bullets. He said I could go ahead, but I told him, no, I couldn't. I was coming in last. And he said he'd probably come in last. And I said, no, I WILL come in last. Then explained that that was my goal. Somebody had to come in last, and I wanted to protect everyone else from such a sad fate. I was willing to bite the bullet for them.

At one water station, a big, tough-looking guy stood seeming to do nothing but guard a bunch of discarded water cups on the stairs. I joked with him asking if he was the "Cup Guy", and he joked back saying he was an EMT ready to rush into action at the first sign of someone passing out or whatever they do. Or maybe he wasn't joking. He didn't laugh. I looked at my fellow laggard who didn't seem to be doing so well.


I take a small rest to catch my breath

A couple of floors later, I learned the laggard's name, though now, as I write this, I've forgotten it. Paul? I think it might have been Paul. While he was resting at one of the floors, I asked if he'd take a picture of me sprawled out on the steps like I was having a real tough time of it. He obliged, and here's the picture for you all to admire. It turned out pretty well, with me laying on my back on the stairs and my arms draped through the railing as if that's where I collapsed. We took a couple of variations of the theme to make sure it really looked like I was having a tough time of it. Let it be known that I risked prosecution for this photo. I didn't realize it when I was hiking up, but cameras were not allowed in the stairwell for unspecified "security reasons" and I blithely not only brought a camera, but even took pictures! It wasn't until later when I got back on the Internet looking for the race results did I see the small print online about no cameras being allowed. Whoops!

But back to the picture of me sprawled out on the staircase. Paul seemed, possibly, a little annoyed since he really was having a tough time of it and considered me only a "pretender". Bah!

At the 40th floor, a few cute girls were handing out water which I declined since I wasn't especially thirsty. But one of them had a little, miniature Jamba Juice that looked really swell, and I joked with her that what I really wanted was that Jamba Juice! She looked around briefly and said, "I can get you one!"

I didn't realize it, but the 40th floor was the "rehab center" that racers could stop at after they finished on their way back down. It was laid out with fruits, yogurts, energy bars, and—of course—cups of Jamba Juice. Hundreds of them. So I chatted with the other girls while she ran in to get me a Jamba Juice. I would be climbing in style now! =)

Which gave Paul a couple more floors of a head start. Though by this time, the next group of 20 racers had already caught up to me. You could tell they were starting to get tired, and I sucked on my Jamba Juice and let them pass. =)

At the next water station—at the 45th floor, I believe—they saw me walking up with the Jamba Juice and the guys there shook their heads at me and asked where was my platter of food while I was at it. I think they were making fun of me! Well, I actually didn't mind. =) I was getting tired of all those people at the previous water stations going "You can do it! You're doing great! Keep it up!" Because they didn't know I was doing well. In fact, I was deliberately doing poorly! I would have much preferred, "Hey, you loser! My granddaddy can get up those stairs faster than that!"

One girl passed me running down the stairs—she was one of the water girls going to another water station, I suspect, and she passed me commenting again about how great I was doing. I rolled my eyes. She was storming down pretty quickly, though, and had already gotten down one floor before I could reply saying, —Yeah, you're doing pretty well too!— Of course, she was going down the stairs, which some people would consider cheating. =)

Around the 50th floor I caught up with Paul again and we chatted more. We rested at one of the floors once again and he looked me over. —You really want to come in last, don't you?—

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I could do it."

By now, the second group of racers after us had been passing us, though they weren't moving very fast anymore. Sweating profusely, huffing and puffing. I shook my empty Jamba Juice cup at them and told them "There's more where this came from." ;o)

We—that is, Paul and I—were having a lot of fun. As a few guys were passing us, we'd comment to each other about these other guys not looking like they were having fun anymore. Just after the 60th floor, I started telling them to keep it up! They were halfway there! One guy snorted at me with disbelief. "There aren't 120 stories in this building!" I don't think he realized I was joking.

"Yeah, you saw through me. There's only about 10 floors left. Give or take a few. Still not sure exactly which floor we finish on, though."

Somewhere near the 70th floor—the last water station before the top—two girls were manning that station and they started the usual "Keep it up! You're doing great! You're almost there!" speech and I stopped to chat and drink some water. I explained that I wanted to come in last because nobody ever remembers the guy that came in second to last place.

They kept the pressure on, though, telling me that there were some good-looking cheerleaders at the top to look forward to. "I see—so if the hike up doesn't kill these poor people who actually ran up, then the shock of the cheerleaders will? I see...."

Then one of them spoke up saying, "Oh, I get it. You want to look good for the cheerleaders! Everyone else gets up there all sweaty and smelly and when you come up fresh and clean, they'll be all over you! Very smart!"

"Yeah, that's it! That's what I'm up to! Do I look okay? My hair isn't sticking up, is it?" as I padded my head down with a concerned look on my face.

I wasn't sure how long I had been going up building, nor did I know what the typical time it took someone to get up was. But I did know one thing: Out of the starting group I began with, nobody—and I mean nobody—came in after I did. Perhaps there was someone even slower in another starting group, but I knew I'd have a respectable slow time.


Traffic on I-5 northbound was moving slowly. This photo is lookout out towards Lake Washington. (See the I-90 bridge across it?)

At the top, a photographer took pictures of all the racers exiting the staircase. I smiled and waved at the photographer. A cheerleader cut the chip on my wrist cut off, then I admired the view from the 74th floor of the tallest building in Seattle. There was a little traffic office up there. I don't know what it's technically called, but they monitored the city's traffic and that was probably where the information all the radio stations used to report traffic conditions originated from. In fact, from my perch up there, I could tell that I was glad I wasn't driving I-5 north, because those guys weren't going anywhere fast.

The walls of the observation area had pictures taken of when the building was under construction—fascinating things for someone like me. Eventually I bored, however, and started back down. A large group of us herded into a freight elevator—which is absolutely HUGE! Who knew elevators could be so large?! You could have driven a car or two into it.

It took us down to the 40th floor, where I picked up another Jamba Juice along with other assorted foods and liquids. Grabbed a chair, moved it to a window, and watched the happenings of Seattle 40 floors below while dining like a king. I watched two ferries come and unload a batch of automobiles. A tugboat pulled a huge container ship into it's proper place for unloading cargo at the port. Two tiny little yellow dots directed cars onto the ferries.


This picture was taken from the 74th floor, but I watched a container ship dock here while on the 40th floor

After boring of this, I took the elevator back down to the bottom floor to check the race results that were pinned up on a wall. I came in at a respectable 33 minutes and 38 seconds. Unfortunately, the slowest racer at that point was 2 hours, 30 minutes, and 15 seconds. Sadly, I was about two hours too fast to get last place.

And you know, I can't figure it out. I didn't pass ANYONE on that staircase, and if it took someone 2 1/2 hours to climb the building, I WOULD HAVE PASSED THEM! I think the guy was a cheat. I think he left the staircase at the 40th floor, bummed around for two hours, then finished. Which, in my book, is CHEATING! Yes, I'll say it now: He's a CHEAT! If you leave the staircase, your time should be disqualified!

However, even without that cheat, I was still eighth from last place. Really a dreadful performance when you think about it. I tried to lose and I couldn't even do that well! However, if there is a silver lining on the cloud, I was dead last in my age group. Yes, that's right, I can still hold my head up high. =)


Reflections of the Space Needle from a nearby building. This has nothing to do with the race, really, but I liked the image so I took a picture of it. =)

I left to do other things, and that was the end of my Big Climb.

Later, I checked the official end results for the race. It's online at http://results.racecenter.com/2005/bcfl05.htm. Search the page for "Ryan Carpenter". I'm happy to report that I did, in fact, stay in last place for my age group. Number 104 out of 104. Wooo-who!!!!

Overall, however, I did poorly, coming in at 929th place out of 951 racers. The worst time of all, by a CHEAT named Andrea, claims it took her a whopping THREE hours, 37 minutes, and 50 seconds to climb up. That's over three minutes per flight of stairs. Nobody is that slow! In fact, eight people took over three hours to do the climb. And I didn't pass ANY of them in the staircase. Bunch of cheaters. *grumbling*

Next year, though.... Next year, I'll take four hours to get up that staircase—even if it kills me! I shall come in last! I shall spend more time flirting with cute water girls and less time hiking! I shall come in LAST! MUHAHAHaHaHahahaha!!!!

Happy trails!

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