Badwater to Mt. Whitney: The Way to Happiness

Crew for 2003 official finisher John JR Radich

Last week, we crewed and paced one of the Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon runners, John “JR” Radich. JR’s dedicated crew support consisted of 4 ultrarunners and bikers: Mark, Charlene, Jesse and Ivory. Marathons are a regular fare for the 49-year-old Monrovia resident, JR, who has been running extreme-endurance races for some 25 years, so he sets his sights even higher. As you know, Badwater (Death Valley) is the lowest point in the Americas. Then on Saturday, after the race, extreme ultrarunner “JR” and I ran to the “summit” of Mount Whitney. This was my first and about his 3rd MW summit climb (run).

During an interview early in the year by the Pasadena Star News, JR (who will run in the race for the fourth time) said: “There’s nothing like it. It’s the most intense race I’ve ever done. This race doesn’t care who you are, how many races you’ve won or how strong you are. It will test your mind and body to the limit and it will try to break you.”

News traveled fast back to Badwater event participants, as we heard about Sacramento Bee and other newspaper articles, plus that L.A. Times front page had a 7-page story on the Death Valley race and runners. The winners were one thing, but returning to watch and pay tribute to the very last finishers was more amazing, because you realized they had their very own interesting stories to tell. This year, his Badwater 135 mile finish time was about 10 minutes slower than last year’s Buckle. However, his team believes JR would definitely have broken below 40 hours, if a brand new Enterprise rental SUV with only 21-miles had not broken-down, with the A/C off during the entire event, in unrelenting heat. As a result, the runner and team lost about 4 hours off-loading all gear, ice and supplies onto a backup truck, plus the many long phone calls about the failed (“heat stroke”) Chevy Ventura SUV.

But a lot of extreme or bad things happened this year. Unofficial comments were: there was an unusually high 27 DNF (about 35 %), plus crews received about 40% of all medical attention (7 IV bags, etc) . And various running teams reported measured temps of 133 to around 140 degrees F! But Charlene deserves “Team Radich” commendations, for disappearing to sit in the dangerously hot broken-down van near the Scotty’s Castle road, while waiting for tow services, with only a jug of hot water and a popcicle delivered by a park ranger. And oh—projectile vomit that ultrarunner JR placed on my Brooks Adrenaline shoes in the “death zone” (between Furnace Creek & Stovepipe Wells, when he dropped to the hot ground covered with iced-towels), may be shipped to the highest bidder advertised on E-Bay.

Getting to sign your name & address in the Summit Log Book, stored in the locker right on the summit outside the Summit Cabin, is a reward. There was a slight bit of shivering plus quivering quads noticed up there. Perhaps to keep himself warm & know where I was, despite 2-way radios, JR ran back down to meet me along the last set of southwest trail switchbacks. No bothersome insects at high altitudes, was a treat! But since mountain lions or bears were no trouble, I understand that balloon-like swelling fingers and hands bother a few folks at higher altitudes (HAPE). We had departed in total darkness around 3:30 am Saturday morning. We made it back off the mountain to the vehicle at the Whitney Portals trailhead before dark after 7 pm. Of course we were very tired, from the treacherous ascent & descent. Later, one realized that there’s only 2 ways getting there – either by foot or helicopter. Rocky, boulder-laden trails would kill a horse! For fast hikers or runners at altitude, you will notice slight difficult breathing. Oh—the rocky 1,000 switchbacks were killers. Plus, passing through several spectacular meadows, blazing flowers, glaziers, and unbelievable views overlooking the PCT/JMT, Inyo, Lone Pine proper, Sequoia and Sierra Nevada’s was indescribable.

As you know, Mt Whitney (14,496 feet) was the tallest mountain in the USA, until Alaska’s Mt McKinley (20,320) was added. At one point on the summit, there was a furiously loud thunder, then within only about 2 minutes, rain and hell made us put on ponchos. Exposure to lighting is taken very seriously there! On the evening before running the summit, I purchased an “I Climbed Mt Whitney” shirt, so I had to live-up to it or never be seen wearing it. I felt sorry, as JR ran down carrying both our heavy packs to make time at several points, so I had to treat him later. What an incredible person. Wow – to pee or crap at the lowest or highest places on mother Earth! And oh, Rae Clark ran past me and others going up the 1,000 switchbacks, and was out-of-sight in no-time. As you know BTW: National Ultra Champion Rae Clark held the fastest time for the American World Record 50 km race (still unbroken, i think). I had dinner Tuesday night in Death Valley at SPW with Grand Slam awardee Errol “Rocket” Jones, Rae Clark & the “Skyline to the Sea” 50 km race director. Moments later at SPW, their Badwater race team & our team took group photos.

Interestingly, the local female cyclist on our team has biked over 18,000 miles around the world on every continent except Australia. Who knows what’s next for some of them, as Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Everest, Dead Sea and other ultraruns interest them more than watching soaps from a coach to combat city crimes, diseases or other causes. JR Radich’s fundraising goals for The Way To Happiness’ “Run The Crime Out of Los Angeles” was exceeded last year. Your deeply appreciated contributions and help are tax deductible and can still be accepted, by contacting or sending your donations to TWTH organization. HELP with the “Creating a Better World Youth Program.” MAKE A PLEDGE FOR THIS CAMPAIGN TODAY! Call, mail or fax it in at: The Way to Happiness International, 6381 Hollywood Boulevard, Suite 250, Hollywood, California 90028, Phone: (800) 255-7906, or (323) 962-7906, Fax: (323) 962-8605, Email:, or visit to donate online on our secure web site. Make a pledge—even if only a dollar per mile! By continuing to set his goals high, Radich said he hopes to exhibit one of the 21 precepts set forth in The Way to Happiness: “Set a good Example.”

It seens that TWTH’ “Set a Good Example” precept is a very good one. My knees are still dirty—bowing to the incredible BW entrants and finishers!

Ivory Phillips <team John “JR” Radich #77>