It was December 2016 when I first heard of Drynuary, short for “Dry January,” which refers to the practice of abstaining from alcohol during the first month of the year as a strategy for reestablishing control and giving the body a break from excessive consumption during the holiday period.  It seemed like a good idea in late December, and then I remembered the idea just as I was raising a glass of Champagne at a New Year’s Day brunch…and reluctantly set down the glass, untasted.  There were times during the month when I felt as if I were marching through a vast desert, but I made it to the end without a drop of alcohol, and the experiment was deemed a success.

The next year, Drynuary started a week early, as a couple of glasses of wine at a holiday party left me feeling very poorly (although it might have been a handful of cookies that was really to blame).  Drynuary 2018 was also a success, but I resumed drinking afterwards, having become at some point a fan of local craft IPAs, while I continued to enjoy an occasional sip of Scotch or Tequila.

I’d decided to take some time off from the corporate world during 2018, and it was now possible to have a beer at lunch — something new — and sometimes I’d indulge in a second drink at dinner.  Alcohol consumption began to rise, and not always with good outcomes:  two drinks at a hotel in Mammoth Lakes left me literally staggering (possibly due to the 8,000-foot elevation), while a single beer after working on the trails back at home in New York left me groggy and unfocused (possibly I was somewhat dehydrated).  I had never made a conscious decision that more alcohol was in my best interest, and therefore the question was raised, who was in control — me, or the adult beverage industrial-marketing complex?

So it was time for another experiment, which I coined Dry-ember, short for Dry September.  As part of this experiment, while banning alcohol for the month, I’d relax some of the restrictions against sugar and processed carbs that are part of my normal diet, the strategy being not to fight battles on two fronts simultaneously….

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Before Badwater:  William Lewis Manly’s 1849 Crossing of Death Valley

In 1978, Al Arnold became the first person to run the 146 miles from the Badwater Basin in Death Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney in the High Sierra.  Since then thousands of runners have completed a “crossing” in one form or another.

Contemporary runners face epic challenges in Death Valley:  brutal temperatures, fierce winds, and endless mountains  – valid reasons for the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon to tout itself as the “toughest footrace in the world.”

Runners take on these challenges to show the world that we still have the physical endurance and strength of spirit of our ancestors.  That we haven’t lost their determination and grit.  That in a world of wondrous technology, we haven’t gone soft.

In reflecting on his experience in Death Valley, Al Arnold once said, “If reincarnation is true, then I must have lived before as some kind of scout with an army or with pioneer settlers.  I really feel that you could drop me almost anywhere in the world and, barring human adversity, I’d survive.”

Interestingly, it was a scout who undertook the first documented crossing of Death Valley and the High Sierra.  The year was 1849, and the scout was named William Lewis Manly.  He was leading a group of pioneer settlers, or “emigrants” as they were then called, on an ill-fated shortcut from Salt Lake City to the California goldmines.

Arnold might well be Manly’s reincarnation, as they share the qualities of endurance and commitment.  Yet their experiences were quite different.  Arnold’s crossing was an achievement of training, discipline, and audacity.  Manly’s crossing was a venture gone wrong, a lesson in hunger, thirst, and fear, and a quest for survival.


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Before Badwater:  William Lewis Manly’s 1849 Crossing of Death Valley