Petra Desert Marathon 2014 – Part 2 – Vin Diesel and The Madaba Map

Posted in Uncategorized on October 9, 2014 by roninsherpa


In 2011 I traveled to Arizona and ran the Mount Lemmon Marathon. It was billed as “The World’s Toughest Road Marathon.” The Start Line was just outside Tucson which sits at about 2500ft (760m) and the Finish Line is at 9159ft (2790m) which was an elevation gain of over 6000ft. There was no downhill section on the course. It was uphill the entire way with an average gradient of over 6% and there are places we would hit well over 10%. The closer you got to the top, the less air there was. I am not talking about a staggering difference for someone walking around, but at the end of a marathon when your body is starving and worn out, the difference was major. On the logo, you can see the elevation profile.


Mount Lemmon was easy compared to The Petra Desert Marathon.

My friend and fellow LIVESTRONG Leader, Anne had suggested running the Petra Desert Marathon to a group of us who like the taste of adventure. In the beginning there were a few of us who showed interest, but by the deadline, Anne and I were the ones with race numbers. Anne was keen on the Half and I was to do the Full. The event was put on by Albatros Adventure, a Danish outfit that runs a number of “Adventure Marathons.” Their stable includes The Great Wall Marathon in China, The Big Five Marathon in Africa and the Polar Circle Marathon in Greenland, among others. Their trips are billed as “Adventure Marathons” because they are all held in exotic locations and include adventurous travel. We were going to the Middle East.

Technically it is called “The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” but most call it “Jordan” for short.


The idea of traveling in the Middle East was worrisome, and we were traveling into the heart of it all. The Syrian border is less than 50 miles from Amman. I spoke with friends in Washington DC, researched online, and everything I found said Jordan is very welcoming of tourists. There is no oil in Jordan and a large part of their economy is based on tourism. We stayed in Jordan for over a week and at no point did I ever feel uncomfortable. That said, there are some harsh realities there. There are almost 2 million refugees living in three large camps to the north. We did not see these camps, but we did see armed military everywhere. The men in the ball caps had small arms while the guys wearing the berets all had FN FAL assault rifles, AK47s or HK MP5 submachine guns. It was serious hardware.

Panorama of Amman Jordan

Panorama of Amman Jordan

Most of the buildings in Amman are white in colour, and square in shape. Most of them have rebar sticking out of the roof as if it was still under construction. It seemed out of every three buildings, one was unoccupied, unfinished and seemed to have been sitting there like that for some time. The city has spent untold amounts of money to install really beautiful, ornate tile sidewalks in the residential sections. However these sidewalks are unusable because there are very large olive trees growing in the middle of them, so people walk in the street with the cars.


Mosque with the moon. Amman, Jordan.


In Amman there are Mosques every 20 or 30 blocks. Each Mosque is different, yet all of them have the same type of structure having a dome roof and a small tower. On top of the tower will be a loudspeaker system over which a prayer will be said 5 times a day. While I don’t speak Arabic, the song, or prayer or chant would always be lovely to hear.

If someone could find a way to make money with black plastic bags they would instantly become a billionaire in Jordan because the bags are everywhere in and around Amman. The ground, roadsides and trees are strewn with millions and millions black plastic bags. That is not an exaggeration by any means. Farmers will have put up fences of barbed wire and millions of black plastic bags will drape the wire. It is an ecological nightmare. Once you get away from the urban areas, and into the desert, you don’t see any. Someone with an entrepreneurial flair could go in there, ask the government for a little start up money, and call it a “Beatification of Jordan” project, hire some of those refugees to pick up trash and pay them by the pound. Then take the recycled plastic and resell it back into the plastics industry. Jordan would get a face lift, and the business owner could get a few years of tax brakes (possibly) the refugees could feed themselves, and the country could get more tourist dollars because no one wants to hang out in a place with plastic bags in the trees. But I am just a silly American venting on the internet.

After flying in we had a day to tour Amman on our own before we met the others. We wanted to see the Roman Theater located downtown near the shopping districts. To get there we needed a taxi. We were lucky finding a taxi driver who spoke English. He was a younger guy and he drive a spotless (SPOTLESS) Subaru AWD. Driving in Amman is a contact sport… like being in The Fast and the Furious. We had Vin Diesel driving our Taxi. We told him the Roman Theater and he said in broken English “Citadel! Theater Rainbow Street! Yes! I take you! 15 Dinar to be yours for an hour. I wait. You go and see.” ZOOM! And we were off. Up on two wheels at one point, zipping past situations I know I would have hit someone, blazing across town. As quick as it started, it stopped. We were at the Citadel. (To be honest I did not know what the Citadel was.) But it had closed just moments before. The nice guard with the machine pistol and the scowl told us it was closed. I have a great photo of the Citadel in the sunset because that was as close as we got to it.


Back to Vin and YEEEEOOOOOWWW we were off. I could see the theater but we seemed to be going the wrong way… Vin stopped in the middle of the road and pointed to a rail on the sidewalk. “Come.” We got out and just over the railing…

Roman Theater. Amman, Jordan. Thanks to Vin Diesel the cab driver.

Roman Theater. Amman, Jordan.

Vin Diesel was earning his cash. ZOOM we were off again and suddenly we were at the Theater. Sadly it had closed at the same time the Citadel did, but it is more accessible and we were able to get good photos. A local man approached us saying he was an off duty tour guide. He gave us a 60 second low down of the Theater pointing out some Roman writing we had not noticed before. He then suggested we step off to the side where we could get a better photo. The hair on my neck stood up and I thought we were in trouble. This is how all the kidnapping movies start… but my fears were unfounded. He was trying to get us to go to a shop who I am sure his family owned. We looked around the shop and I bought a coffee table book of Jordan. In the middle of the shop was a bowl of different older Middle Eastern money which was for sale. There were bills which had Sadam Hussain, Muammar Gaddafi, and others I did not recognize. If I were to regret anything from my time in the Middle East, I regret not buying some of those bills. They were kinda cool. We headed out and Vin Diesel zipped us down Rainbow Street and back to the hotel.

Vin Diesel the Fast and Furious cab driver in Amman, Jordan.

Vin Diesel the Fast and Furious cab driver in Amman, Jordan.

Our group was chauffeured around Jordan in a large bus. There were about 15 of us on the bus. 11 different nations all came together in the Middle East to run a marathon in the desert. Running a marathon is no easy task, 26.2 miles (42K) A lot of people dream of finishing just one in their lifetime, they see it as a crazy thing to do. Then there are the group of crazy people who run a marathon each year, to better their Finishing Time or even to qualify for one of the 6 Majors. The first group of people often looks at the second group and calls them “Crazy.” Well… then out of the crazy group there are a select group that run Ultra Marathons. These are marathons over 26.2 miles, like 100miles. The Marathoners look at the Ultras and call them crazy. Then there are people like myself and Anne who run Adventure Marathons. We “run where the brave dare not go. “ We are the ones the crazy crazies call crazy.


Running a marathon in a Middle Eastern desert is cruel and barbaric. Anne and I were lucky we have established relationships with a few supporting companies who provided us with some outstanding equipment which made the difference on race day. X-Bionic, Polar Electro, and Raw Bite each helped us complete this monumental task. Without each of their support, this would truly have been impossible.



Our group toured Mount Nebo, where Moses looked down into the Promised Land which he was destined never to reach. The Church of Moses was under construction and we were unable to view the brilliant mosaic floor. However we were able to see some original pieces set aside in a viewing tent and two large pieces which have been done in recent times. Mosaic artwork is one of my favorites and these pieces did not disappoint.

Plaque describing view at Mount Nebo.

Plaque describing view at Mount Nebo.


Then we got to visit Saint George’s Church and view the ultimate mosaic which is called “The Madaba Map.” Dating to the 6th century, the Madaba Map has been proven accurate which has helped explorers with archaeological finds as resent as 2013. Mosaic art really is one of my favorites and I loved the Madaba Map. I could have easily made a vacation of viewing it for a week.

Mosaic sign on the front of St. George's Church.

Mosaic sign on the front of St. George’s Church.

In an adjoining building a chart hangs where our guide expertly described the Madaba Map section by section.

In an adjoining building a chart hangs where our guide expertly described the Madaba Map section by section.


The Madaba Map


My favorite section of the Madaba Map showing fish in the fresh water of the Jordan River, but another fish swimming away from the Dead Sea because of the salt.

It was a four hour bus ride to the hotel we would call home for the next week.

Beit Zaman is a breathtaking hotel. It sits on a hillside and overlooks the valley town bellow. The residents of the town are all friendly and curious about these funny runners dressed in spandex running up and down their hills. After unpacking Anne and I met in the lobby with some of the other runners to go for a training run. All I can say is damn those hills. Anne is from Copenhagen which is flat, so I know the hills were killing her. This marathon was not going to be easy.


As I said in Part 1, Anne and I were both here in support of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. We took time the night before to put LIVESTRONG decals and wrist bands on our water bottles. We wanted to make sure we had something that showed our support.

X-Bionic "The Trick" Running shirt and shorts, Asics Nimbus, Polar RC3 and RCX5 GPS, Raw Bites and LIVESTRONG

X-Bionic “The Trick” Running shirt and shorts, Asics Nimbus, Polar RC3 and RCX5 GPS, Raw Bites and LIVESTRONG

Then I retired for the evening going over plans for Race Day. Visualization, preparation, rest and relaxation are key elements to a successful marathon.


Up next, Part 3:

RACE DAY: The Goddess of Fortune and Beethoven’s “Ode to Pepsi”

The Petra Desert Marathon – 2014 – part 1

Posted in Uncategorized on October 2, 2014 by roninsherpa


It was the darkest place I had ever fallen into. I struggled for reason to take another step, everything hurt and I had no energy. Salty, grit chafed my every move. Raising my leg far enough to get my foot off the ground was an effort beyond my capacity and I was still over a kilometer from the top of that hill… which had just gotten steeper. I couldn’t focus, confusion had set in. I felt as if I were on a mental train, speeding past all the stops watching the world go by in a blurry fog. The heat was sweltering, there was no shade, no wind, I was alone in a desert, in the Middle East, 34 kilometers (21 miles) into the Petra Desert Marathon and I was hallucinating.


“There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing.” – Lawrence of Arabia 1962

The idea of running a desert marathon was born two years earlier in a Chicago blizzard so intense, it had shut down O’Hare. I remember on that morning’s run around Soldier Field, the bitter wind off Lake Michigan formed ice in the corners of my eyes, the dirty frozen slush soaked my shoes, and I thought people are crazy to live in this shit. Funny how extremes breed extremes.

Frozen at Soldier Field

Frozen at Soldier Field

I was in Chicago attending the LIVESTRONG Leader Assembly. As I write this, I have been involved with the LIVESTRONG Foundation for 7 years. I started with the purchase of a yellow wrist band and over time I took more and more responsibility until progressing to Senior Leader overseeing Leaders across 5 states. “Leaders” are a group of volunteers who run event booths, hold fund raisers, and advocate politicians to support government funding of programs and organizations which educate, treat and research cures for cancer. I have had the pleasure of meeting with senators, members of congress and heads of state to share my family’s cancer story and lobby their support.


Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC)


Senator Tom Harkin (D- IA)


Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)


LIVESTRONG is an international Foundation, and we have Leaders all over the globe. I work with Leaders from Japan, Denmark, Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, South Africa, South America, Mexico and many, many others. Cancer does not care what country you come from, it does not care about your politics, or your religion. Cancer robs you of joy and opportunity. Cancer treatments often make you sicker than cancer does. My Uncle suffered having operation after operation, along with chemo and radiation all of which took its toll on his body. In the end we believe the treatments were what killed him. With proper, continued funding, researchers will be able to find better treatments and hopefully even cures. It is the main reason I work with LIVESTRONG.

2012 Assembly group photo

Often times over the years I have run in other events trying to raise awareness for our cause: The Marine Corps Marathon, The Wrightsville Beach Marathon, The Mount Lemmon Marathon and my annual trip to Florida in late November for the Space Coast Marathon. I joined my friends and fellow Leaders Jacob and Anne in Copenhagen, Denmark earlier this year to take part in the World Half Marathon Championships where Jacob organized over a hundred people who all wore LIVESTRONG Foundation shirts.

World Half Marathon Championships 2014 Copenhagen, Denmark.

World Half Marathon Championships 2014 Copenhagen, Denmark.

The Petra Desert Marathon was Anne’s idea. She announced she was going and asked if anyone else was interested in joining. I jumped at the chance. The entire event was being put on by a Danish company called Albatros Adventure. It was a 7 day event which toured the heart of the Middle East with the Petra Desert Marathon at the apex of the trip. It SEETHED of Adventure! We had some months to prepare for this adventure and we set out to find proper kit and gear for running a marathon in such an extreme place! Both Anne and I have had the pleasure of working with Polar Electro, manufactures of the finest quality heart rate monitors on the plannet. I was planning on using my RC3 GPS and my RCX5 GPS to record the marathon, and Anne has dubious honor of using the newest multisport personal computer from Polar, the V800. These units are all equipped with GPS and will map everything! Now to find other partners!


Petra is such an awesome place. I remember seeing photos of it in National Geographic growing up. Of course we have all seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy and his father come to Petra looking for the Holy Grail…


Wise people travel. Smart people ask stupid questions. Intelligence comes from experiencing new things and meeting new people.  Seeing parts of the world outside your normal four walls expands your mind to the consideration of other possibilities. You become smarter by traveling.


Anne and I met in Heathrow Airport in England, and flew together into Amman. We flew into Amman later in the evening. Flying over, I noticed that almost every street was lit. We discussed it and after a while we figured it might be for sand storms.

IMG_3702Thanks to Google Earth, Google Map and of course the superb Albatros website I knew quite a bit about what to expect about the physical surroundings. The Queen Alia International Airport is a brand new, modern airport which is beautiful.


We had made arrangements with our hotel, The Amman International Hotel, to have a driver pick us up. He had a sign with our name and he spoke English. Easy. No problems. Got to the hotel, checked in, and I took a shower. A note here about most of the showers in Jordan… they all have a tub/ shower but with no curtain. Instead they all have this half wall that only covers half of the side, and it is mounted on a hinge. I had been traveling either in an airplane, an airport or a taxi for the last 19 hours and was probably so out of it I just was doing it wrong, but water goes everywhere. The whole floor was wet. There was a drain in the floor so I wasn’t worried.

A note here about long distance air travel: sleep on the plane. You will not want to buy the damn little neck pillow, but buy the damn little neck pillow. Otherwise your neck hurts and you drool.


Next time we meet our fellow travelers, our guides and we meet the Fast and Furious Taxi Driver!



Posted in Uncategorized on June 6, 2014 by roninsherpa

Heart beats strongly.

Chest rises and falls with the rhythm of a song.

Legs pushing the earth beyond my vision.

Arms tucked close to my chest with little movement, hands open with fingers relaxed.

The trees grow worldly of their surroundings as I breeze past.

The orange glow lights the horizon and threatens my solitude.





Damn the sun.

Movie Review: Pompeii 3D

Posted in Uncategorized on February 22, 2014 by roninsherpa


In Roman times, Pompeii was a town along the shores of current day Italy. The town lived at the base of a rather large volcano called Mount Vesuvius. Pompeii is famous for being totally destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79BC. Research shows pyroclastic flow incinerated people and buried the entire city in 10-20feet of ash. A researcher named Giuseppe Fiorelli discovered during excavations that over time the bodies of people had decayed away leaving pockets of air in the solidified ash. He filled these pockets with plaster of Paris and made forms of the bodies that were once there, capturing the last moments that person was alive. These ghastly images are known the world over.


When my older sister and I were children, I was always curious about what she was learning in school, so I read all of her books. I vividly remember reading The Dog of Pompeii by Louis Untermeyer. It was the story of Tito, a poor blind boy who lived in the streets of Pompeii with his dog, Bimbo. Bimbo would steal raisin bread from the street vendor and bring it to Tito. Tito’s life was rough and Bimbo was his only friend, his best friend. When Mount Vesuvius exploded, all the people panicked and none of them had time to care for the blind boy. Bimbo tried to lead Tito to safety but Tito’s strength gave out and he collapsed. Bimbo could not get Tito to respond, so Bimbo did the one thing he would never want to do, he bit Tito. Tito yelled and started to run away from Bimbo. Bimbo guided him toward the safety of the harbor and the boats which were leaving by biting at Tito’s feet and forcing him to run faster. The men on the boat grab Tito who is yelling “Bimbo! Bimbo!” searching for his dog who the boat has no room for. The next line starts “Eighteen hundred years passed.” The story ends with scientists who are restoring the city and they find the skeletal remains of a dog holding a piece of petrified raisin bread.

The story affected me emotionally and led me to reading more, learning more and reaching beyond my comfort zone, about Rome and Pompeii and the geographic history of that part of the world. It made me curious about animal behavior which later in life I studied at NC State University. It sparked a passionate love for reading which I have become a bit of a snob over as an adult. I could view that one story as a small hinge upon which my entire life changed direction. I remember crying thinking about that dog and imagining what a terrible ending that must have been, but understanding the love and dedication. I remember crying for the loss, and the pain of the tragedy. With time, I came to understand it was a fictional story, but the fact someone, used a story to change how I felt, changed how I looked at things. I began to see storytelling as an art form, a way to convey feelings. Today I long for stories which stir my soul and engage my emotions as The Dog of Pompeii did so many years ago.

When I heard there was to be a movie about the destruction of Pompeii, it stirred those childhood memories and I wanted to see it. When I learned it was to be 3D I was even more excited. Today’s 3D effects are truly remarkable. I was excited to see this movie. Then I learned that Emily Browning from Sucker Punch would star with Carrie-Anne Moss who played Trinity in The Matrix and Kiefer Sutherland who is awesome! It was an all star cast made in a time when special effects have caught up to the potential of the idea the director has and the movie is about a subject matter I am already emotionally invested in. Sounds like the perfect movie, right?

Let me be clear in how disappointing this movie is: it sucked. Bad. I’ll tell you what this movie is exactly: If you cross Titanic, Gladiator, and Dante’s Peak, you have this movie. The story in this movie is identical to Titanic: two uber cheesy, star crossed lovers, run to the end of the hallway and fight the bad guys as the world falls apart around around them.  In Titanic the bad guy feels the need to chase Jack and Rose around the ship, shooting at them as the ship sinks. In this movie, the ship is the city of Pompeii. Just like Titanic, only the last 20 minutes are even remotely cool. The 3D volcano effects are badass, but you have to put up with an hour and a half of some stupid back story about Kiefer Southerland wanting to blackmail Emily Browning into marring him just to get to it. If, like Sucker Punch they had just gone, “Hey, we’re in Pompeii” then showed the eruption for an hour it would have been a been a better movie. This tries to have a Gladiator fight, a love story and a buddy movie all at the same time. But none of it works well because it is just all trite posthumous crap. I liked Sucker Punch because it was a visual movie. It had little to think about, but a tone of tongue in cheek, T&A. It did not take itself seriously. This movie is not that. Granted I may have had too high an expectation going into this movie, but it is a bad warmed over Titanic script with volcano special effects and a poorly done gladiator fight in the middle.


Of the Ronin Sherpa scale of 5 Swords, I give this movie a 2. I am only giving it a 2 for the visual effects and the 3D and the fact that Emily Browning is really nice to look at. I just wish she were a better actor, and I wish this movie was better.


Posted in Uncategorized on December 29, 2013 by roninsherpa

On Friday December 27, 2013 I turned 45 years old. To be honest, this year was the greatest birthday I have ever had.

I was able to spend the day with someone I love, try some wonderful new foods, and be free of the obligations of the world outside.

I am a fan of NASA and I got to watch a live video feed of two Russian cosmonauts conducting what would become a record breaking, 8 hour space walk installing external cameras on the International Space Station.

Later we were able to observe the #ISS pass directly overhead in the evening sky.

I even got a fantastic gift.

My birthday was filled with love, gratitude, amazement, delight, wonder and hope and I could not have asked for anything more.

They say with age comes wisdom and our values change. Things which are important to me today are the things I may have taken for granted in years past.

As 2013 draws to a close I wish for you all a day as perfect as my birthday was this year.

2013 Year in review.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 12, 2013 by roninsherpa

Time passes. Age creeps up on us and years burn off into the ether of our memories.

What was my 2013 about? What did I accomplish? What meaning will I place on this past year in years to come?

As a member of the LIVESTRONG Leader program, I was asked to say a few words about what 2013 meant to me through my work with the Foundation. This is what I said:

“I was honored to be on the LIVESTRONG Leader Training Advisory Council. This Council’s work will help train those new to the Livestrong Leaders program and streamline the process of keeping the existing Leaders in touch with LIVESTRONG’s direction, for many years to come. I was also honored to work in conjunction with Above and Beyond Cancer with their Million Dollar Marathon during which over 100 runners (including LIVESTRONG’s  own CEO, Doug Ulman) ran one after the other passing a baton filled with prayer flags all the way across the US. I attended both the LS Assembly in Chicago and the ACS Annual Research Breakfast here in NC. This year we’ve lost some beautiful friends to that dreaded bastard cancer. My heart is heavy with these losses, but the fire burns brighter than ever with their loving memories to help me focus my efforts for the coming year and further. LIVESTRONG everyone.”

Livestrong Assembly in Chicago at the BEAN

Livestrong Assembly in Chicago at the BEAN

Also in 2013, I ran in my first official Ironman event in Ironman Raleigh 70.3  which I blogged about HERE.


I fulfilled a BUCKET LIST item in running the Marine Corps Marathon.

Running past The Capitol at Marine Corps Marathon 2013

Running past The Capitol at Marine Corps Marathon 2013

During the Marine Corps Marathon I carried my father’s and my Grandfather’s dogtags to celebrate their service. I am also carried my Grandfather’s Bronze Star, earned when he selflessly put himself in harms way in order to help the men with him. He was seriously wounded by a mortar shell that blew him off a telephone pole. Sadly the rest of his life was spent in an alcoholic rage that all too often was focused on those of us who were family. I knew my Grandfather by his first name, Charlie. From childhood, he told me to call him that. I believe Charlie suffered decades of untreated PTSD which led him to his ultimate self distruction . Back then the idea of mental treatment was not seen as ‘manly,’ it was seen as weakness. PTSD takes the lives of so many of our returning vets, no family should have to suffer a man like Charlie. Untreated PTSD ruins lives. Ride to Recovery is one of my favorite organizations which helps vets learn to deal with the ongoing issues which stem from PTSD. Like LIVESTRONG, they help the people their focus is on. Please consider a small donations to either of these truly worthwhile causes. I ran 26.2 miles for your entertainment, please show your support. 

My year ending marathon for the past few years has been The Space Coast Marathon for a few years now. This year started the Big Bang Series where for the next five years there are a total of SEVEN medals someone can collect for attending the event! Each of the medals celebrate a different Space Shuttle, all of which were launched from Kennedy Space Center at one point or another.

Seven medals in total for running only five marathons! BLING!

Seven medals in total for running only five marathons! BLING!

Check out the BLING!

Check out the BLING!

I also got to visit the Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center. It is AWESOME!!!

With Space Shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center

With Space Shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center

2013 had its challenges and its rewards. Lots of new things began while others have run their course and the time has come to move on. I am looking forward to 2014 and the adventure it brings.


Posted in Uncategorized on December 6, 2013 by roninsherpa

After 6 years, 6 marathons, 23,612 miles on a bicycle training for three Olympic triathlons and 1, 70.3  Half Ironman, 3 tropical storms, 1 full blown category 2 hurricane, one cross country move, 1 cross country move back, countless hours aboard a stationary bicycle, and untold endless hours as my sole companion during endless miles of life in the United States without a car…

my iPod has stopped working.


Not bad for $35.00