Category Archives: 2015 Blogs

Slot Canyons – Beauty and the Beast…

Slot Canyons I: Buckskin Gulch
Our first experience with slot canyons started like most other days, except we were more sleepy and disgruntled than usual. The day before had been a nine-mile hike out of the Grand Canyon, and we were still feeling it. We hopped out of the van into a cold, blustery day. Everyone bundled up for the trip, wishing we were still in bed.

1817    There was no blazed trail to the slot canyon, so we followed a narrow footpath along a riverbed. They trail eventually faded away, and we had to make our own trail (something Sweeney was more than comfortable with).

1866    We soon arrived at the slot canyons, and even though we had been a tough crowd in the morning (and because we didn’t know what was to come in the afternoon), we forgot how tired we were.
The entire scene seemed otherworldly.
1958     We were fifty feet deep in a crack in the earth that was basically invisible to someone standing at normal ground level. Naturally, we climbed some walls,
1979took some pictures
1969and painted some faces.
1991   Unfortunately, the excursion through the slot canyons ended far too soon. Our attempts at crossing the small sea proved futile, and we were forced to turn back.
Slot Canyon-Crossing the PuddleHowever, to make the return trip more interesting, we decided to take a different route to the van.
*         *           *
IMG_9627Two hours later, clapping, whistles, and yelling filled the air as the sun began to set. Tara led the noise-making in hopes of deterring any potential predators. Everyone had become a little nervous after we found a pile of bones.
2072Attempting to shortcut our way back to the van had failed, and we had to retrace our steps through what we feared to be dangerous territory.
Mtn_Lion_crossingStill, we  had no doubts about our fearless leader’s navigational ability, so we confidently followed Dr. Sweeney.

Although we had a couple of tense moments, we arrived at the van safely, without any wild animal attacks or serious injuries, ready for another day on (or preferably off) the trail.

Slot Canyons II: Lower Antelope Canyon

On the way from Page to Flagstaff, we made two stops: The Glen Canyon Dam and Lower Antelope Canyon.
For our first stop, we had a good dam guide, Duane, to give us a good dam tour. Duane had worked as an electrical engineer at the dam for almost forty years. He first took us over the top of the dam and explained the construction process, which was completed in 1963. Over 700 million tons of concrete were required to create the massive dam, which controlled the flow of the Colorado River. He told us that if the dam collapsed, the water pressure would lead to a 100 foot wall of water rushing at 400 miles per hour. The water would reach the Grand Canyon (which is 80 miles away) in fifteen minutes.
Duane then took us to the turbines, which were 512 feet below the top of the dam. He explained that the eight huge turbines provide electricity to a range of over 200 square miles, and Glen Canyon can make electricity cheaper than any other hydroelectric source in the area. Besides giving us quite a bit of interesting information, he told us a few good dam jokes. He even let us take a selfie with him.

After Glen Canyon, we stopped at the Lower Antelope Canyon. The Navajo tribe owns Lower Antelope Canyon and does not allow tourists to explore it without a native guide. Instead of Dr. Sweeney, Shushi, a young Navajo man, would lead us through the canyon.
From the earth’s surface, Antelope Canyon was not very impressive. Standing right next to it, a person might not even notice it existed.
2347But we could tell it was going to be a special place when Shushi pointed out fossilized dinosaur tracks on a several hundred million year-old rock. We took dozens of pictures before we even made it to the canyon.
photo 1     Shushi led us down five flights of metal stairs bolted into the canyon wall. In less than a minute, we were 105 feet below the surface of the Earth.
2356     Antelope Canyon was even more incredible than the slot canyons we had seen two days before. Shushi told us the Navajo folklore about the sandstone formations, pointing out the “Lady of the Wind,” an eagle, and a Native chief, to name a few.
IMG_9730IMG_9669IMG_9734IMG_9747    He took some pictures of us in cool places.
photo-2   Shushi even played us a song on the Native American flute.

Finally, Shushi described how many of the rock structures in the area had formed. First, he poured water into a small heap of sand to show how sand dunes became saturated with water and dried in the sun. After his sand pile had dried, he scraped the sand away from the base, showing that wind blew the surrounding sand away from the solid structure. Finally, more wind and water shaped the exposed sandstone into the formations that we see today.
Glen Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon were truly incredible, especially with Duane and Shushi as our guides. We got to see two marvels, one man-made and the other natural. It really gave us a better appreciation for both the power of nature and the impact that humanity can have upon it.

Norm, for The X-Treme Dream Team

We are the One Percent

grand canyonThe Extreme Dream Team went on an overnight trip to the Grand Canyon. We were excited to see some amazing views, put our physical fitness to the test, and experience some of the physiological phenomena we’d been studying throughout the course. The Grand Canyon is located at the northern edge of Arizona. Carved by the Colorado River and other geological forces, it is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. Nearly five million people visit the canyon annually, but as we later learned, only about one percent of them hike all the way to the bottom, as we planned to do.

grand canyon 2Our chosen route was the South Kaibab trail. Created in the 1920s, the trail winds down 7.1 miles to our destination – Phantom Ranch – at the bottom. Looking down from the trailhead, the vastness of the canyon was awe-inspiring. The bottom couldn’t be seen from up there, just the canyon stretching out for miles. My first glimpse left me speechless, and as we began to hike down I was completely mesmerized by it. I was brought back to the real world by the smell of mule droppings that happen to line the trail and the sensation of the eccentric contractions in my leg muscles from walking only downward for miles. We saw many other adventurers hiking in either direction along the trail and we were sometimes passed by mules carrying passengers or cargo. The views were incredible, and we stopped to take countless photographs that could never live up to seeing the real thing in person. As we trekked downward, we noticed the types of rocks changing and the differences in vegetation and temperature. The world at the top was completely different from what we found as we descended. And talk about feeling small? The dots in the lower part of the picture below: that’s us!

IMG_9550We crossed the Colorado River and reached Phantom Ranch after nearly five hours of hiking. Phantom Ranch is the only lodging located in the bottom of the canyon. There is limited space, so reservations have to be made more than a year ahead of time. IMG_9570The ranch has cabins for people to sleep in and a main building that’s a cafeteria, gift shop, hangout spot – and probably other functions – rolled into one. We were happy to have a hearty meal prepared by someone other than ourselves after a long day of hiking. We had beef stew, vegetarian chili, salad and cornbread; and some of us tried the Grand Canyon Sunset Amber Ale—because what’s cooler than having a beer at the bottom of the Grand Canyon?

After dinner, we played games in the main building, bought souvenirs, and wrote postcards for our loved ones which would be carried out by mules and mailed the next day.

After eating breakfast and grabbing our pre-made sack lunches, we started our way up the canyon. We used the Bright Angel Trail to come up. The trail follows Bright Angel Creek and offers views that are completely different than those we encountered descending the South Kaibab trail.

grand canyon 3As we hiked up, our group of twelve settled into smaller subsets: the trailblazers led the way, the photographers took their time in back, and the rest of the crew fell somewhere in between.

I soon found myself in a situation rarely experienced during a travel course with twelve people – solitude. I hiked the beginning part of the trail just out of sight of the group ahead of me and just out of earshot of the group behind. This let the experience sink in and allowed me to reflect on how incredible this whole trip has been.

grand canyon 5As the hike continued, we found ourselves traversing many steep switchbacks that tired us out. We reached the top in under five hours and celebrated the completion of such an awesome journey.

IMG_9577Liz, for the Extreme Dream Team

King of the Mountains – Part I

The following is a summary, presented by Gabby and Courtney, of the first half of “King of the Mountains: Tibetan and Sherpa Physiological Adaptations for Life at High Altitude Edward T. Gilbert-Kawai, James S. Milledge, Michael P.W. Grocott and Daniel S. Martin” (Physiology 29:388-402, 2014)

Tibetans and Sherpas have lived at over 13,000 feet of elevation for over 500 generations, thus giving them plenty of time to develop an evolutionary advantage to the hypoxic environment in which they live. The purpose of this review was to identify the physiological differences between Sherpa/Tibetan populations living at high altitude, compared to lowlanders who ascend to and acclimate to high altitude. For the purpose of the review, Tibetans and Sherpas were considered as a single population and will be referred to as Sherpas for the rest of this summary.

The typical primary response to ascent to high altitude – in order to compensate for the lower oxygen content of the high altitude air – is to hemoconcentrate; that is, to increase red blood cell production and thus increase the number of red cells per ml of blood, thereby raising oxygen carrying capacity. Because hemoconcentration also increases blood viscosity, this compensatory response would, on a chronic basis, represent a cardiovascular risk factor by increasing cardiac workload.

Through evolutionary pressures, Sherpas have developed alternative adaptations to high altitude. Sherpas are found not to hemoconcentrate at altitude. Instead, they increase their blood flow rate; they develop larger chest circumference and lung volumes to increase surface area for diffusional exchange; and they have a lower ventilatory recruitment threshold during exercise (since they work on an oxygen sensing mechanism rather than the CO2 dependent sensing mechanism of lowlanders). Sherpas also do not show hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction, which is common in lowlanders who ascend. This prevents in Sherpas the increased cardiac afterload that is typical in chronically adapted lowlanders; consequently, Sherpas are less likely to develop myocardial hypertrophy, a risk factor for cardiovascular dysfunction. Sherpas also show an increased ability to metabolize glucose as a substrate in place of fatty acids (glucose yields more ATP per molecule of oxygen than do fatty acids).

Pregnant Sherpa women also show the ability to divert a larger amount of blood flow and blood volume to the uterine artery, lessening premature births and miscarriages compared to chronically adapted lowlanders. On the other hand, the review found that there was no difference between Sherpas and lowlanders in the hypoxic ventilatory response to ascent and no differences in arterial oxygen saturation. With continued human hypoxic research, it is hoped that advances in the prevention and care of hypoxemic critically ill patients can be achieved.

Snowbowl Day – Fresh Snow and Beautiful Weather

We started the day with such promise- it was the first day we actually made it out of the house on time for the day’s adventures. Those who could ski a black diamond trail ascended to the 11,510 feet summit of Arizona Snowbowl to measure spirometry. However, our great feeling of being on time quickly subsided as we realized we had forgotten the laptop for the measurements. Fortunately, we were still able to measure our breathing rate, pulse, and arterial O2 saturation at the mountain peak before hitting the slopes.


With the measurements done, we were free for the real fun: skiing and boarding. Those who did not ascend to the summit began polishing their skiing and snowboarding on the bunny slopes, while those at the top put their skills to the test. We tackled ungroomed black diamonds.


Facing moguls and steep slopes, we descended to the lesser intermediate trails. Here we split. Those fearless enough to stay on the black diamonds trekked back up the mountain while the others cruised around the blues. DCIM100GOPRO

After a few tough hours on the slopes we were glad to break for lunch. Despite forgetting my sandwich in the frantic scramble out of the house, I was excited for the change of pace from cold turkey and cheese. The hot chicken tenders and fries from the lodge were just what I needed to warm me from all the snow that found its way into my jacket.


With our stomach’s full, we went back out. We met up on the bunny hill and were surprised to see how far the new skiers and boarders had come. After learning for only a few hours, they were making ’S’s like pros. Gabby even ditched the bunny trail to go on a intermediate slopes with Marissa and me. However, for some unknown reason, the trails were cut in half, so people could practice moguls. Despite this horrific setback, with some coaching from Marissa and me, Gabby fearlessly skied/slid her way down the trail.

Check out The GoPro ViewDCIM100GOPRO

With fresh snow and beautiful weather we were sad to call it a day.

Until next time

-Doug & the rest of the Extreme Dream Team

Living the Dream to the Extreme, Day 10!

Today we headed off to the Flagstaff Nordic Center to try cross-country skiing and fat tire biking in the snow.

With the sun shining down and the snow starting to melt, we quickly put on our cross-country skis in the yurt and headed off onto the trail.

This being my first experience cross-country skiing, it quickly became apparent why professional cross-country skiers have some of the highest VO2 maxes around. If you have ever watched competitive cross-country skiing, the athletes seem to speed over the snow effortlessly. As novices, we discovered that gliding over the snow isn’t quite so easy; the skill takes endurance, coordination, speed, and BALANCE.

Balancing with Style
Balancing with Style

Despite all of our falls, the Extreme Team had a great time cross-country skiing!

The OTHER Cross Country
The OTHER Cross Country

Later that afternoon, we headed back to the yurt for lunch. Afterwards, some group members went back out to continue cross-country skiing and the others headed off to try fat tire biking.

You may wonder, after a never-ending 50-mile bike ride and a treacherous mountain bike ride through sandy, cacti infested Tucson, how hard could biking through some soft powdery snow be? I think the best way to answer this question is with some up-close footage of the experience:

By 4pm, the Extreme Team was exhausted and hungry. We quickly headed to the grocery store to get ingredients for fish tacos before our guest lecturer arrived (took a selfie of course)!

…and one more selfie!
…and one more selfie!

The fish tacos were as great as was the company of our guest, Dr. Stan Lindstedt a professor and researcher at Northern Arizona University. After a delicious desert of Apple Pie by Blaire and Lemon Meringue Pie by Marissa, we all gathered in the living room for Stan’s lecture on Eccentric Muscle contractions.

As an Exercise Science student, I am typically learning about concentric muscle contractions, i.e. when muscles shorten while generating force. Learning more about the role of eccentric muscle contractions, i.e. controlled muscle lengthening under a load greater than the force the muscle can produce, gave a much-needed insight on the role of muscle function.

Stan pointed out that, compared to concentric muscle contractions, eccentric contractions can produce the same force at a lower workload. With high force outputs, many injuries tend to occur during eccentric muscle movements. This has lead to many healthcare practitioners viewing eccentric contractions as “bad” contractions to practice during training compared to that of concentric. Contrary to popular belief, through research, Stan and his research staff found that eccentric conditioning helps to enhance the elastic component of muscle, Titin. Thus, moderated eccentric conditioning is beneficial for performers in order to maximize their force production with a low energy cost.

Needless to say, Day 10 in Flagstaff was a big day for the Extreme Team. Looking forward to a day of skiing tomorrow.


Courtney and the Extreme Team

Xtreme Vibes

Despite hundreds of photos and hours of GoPro footage , not even the Xtreme Dream Team was able to fully capture the beauty of Sedona on Tuesday’s hike. The photo taking began as we rode in our great white van down Oak Creek Canyon. As we turned each winding corner, a new vista took our breath away. Cell phone cameras snapped away with increasing frequency until we finally reached Sedona itself.

more zona 008

Team Extreme immediately began to feel good vibes as the van rolled through town passing a myriad of crystal shops, meditation centers, yoga studios, psychics and other new age health specialists. We picked up a flyer at the tourist shop that told us about the Sedona energy vortexes.

What is a vortex??

According to the Sedona Visitor Center, a vortex is a funnel shape created by a whirling fluid or by the motion of spiraling energy. The vortexes in Sedona are unique because they were created by spiraling spiritual energy. This energy facilitates prayer, meditation, and healing. Millions of years ago, the red rocks of Sedona were a part of a vast ocean. As the ocean receded, the rocks were worn and smoothed by wind and sediment. Iron oxide eventually covered the sandstone rocks and created rust. This gives the rocks their red color.

more zona 007 more zona 006 more zona 005

A local Sedona dweller told me that the mystery of the good vibes lies in the red rocks, which emit iron oxide into the air. Hikers abosorb the iron orally as they breathe. This gives them an abundance of energy and mood boost. ….Team Xtreme has yet to verify this claim in any physiological source.

Although the energy of the Boynton Vortex cannot be recorded or quantified, changes in the vibes of the Xtreme Team were certainly noticeable as the hike progressed. The orange rocks contrasting against the blue sky provided continuous opportunities for Instagram photos with the hashtag “nofilter.” The landscape was covered with diverse plant life from prickly pear cacti, to calming sage and sweet-smelling juniper. The hikers soon split into two groups: the trailblazers and those who hung back to make sure that they did not miss one. single. picture. The back of the pack felt “high on life” and stopped frequently to marvel at the beauty of every branch. Eventually, the troop reached the center of the Boynton Vortex. Here, a circle of colorful crosses surrounded a Manzanita bush while the red rocks and blue sky stretched across the backdrop. We all felt compelled to form a circle and begin chanting around the vortex. When the ritual was complete, the group members concluded that they felt a change in their individual energies. To this day, no one can accurately describe the phenomenon. We conclude that the best way to understand the power of the vortex is to experience the vortex first-hand.




For me, the focus of this hike was more spiritual than physiological. The usual Xtreme Team mantra “Do it for the VO2,” no longer seemed relevant to me. While we are here to learn about our bodies’ responses to exercise and extreme environments, I think it is important to reflect on the cognitive and emotional benefits of living an active lifestyle. Getting outside and pushing our bodies everyday makes us all feel alive and more at peace. It reminds us to be thankful for our bodies, yet remember that we are more than just our physiology. Hiking through Sedona gave me the perspective that we are spirits having a physical experience.

We continued on our journey and finally reached Boynton Canyon. Upon entering the canyon clearing, I began to understand how small I actually was. The rocks stretched hundreds of feet below us and continued above our heads to graze the sky. We took in the beauty as we ate our sandwiches and posed for more extreme photos.

IMG_9227 IMG_9231

Eventually we hiked back and piled into the van. Just as we thought we were done for the day, the van pulled into the parking lot of Fay Canyon. There were still miles to hike before we slept. On this trail, we saw a few mystical hippie hikers with long beaded dread locks and flowing frocks. We knew we were in for a climb when Dr. Sweeney told us to “get ready to scramble.” At the end of the path lay a mountain of red rocks with no clear direction in which to proceed. Would another group of hikers have turned around? Perhaps. But the Xtreme Dream Team is always up for a challenge. We “scrambled” to the ledge and climbed higher and then even higher until we were sure we had the best possible view. We took selfies galore from precarious positions as our professors reminded us to “be careful.” At the end of the day, our phones and GoPros were full of pictures to show our families and good vibes coursed through our veins. However, the photos could not truly capture the magic of Sedona. The humble feeling of insignificance felt when standing near the large canyons, the warmth of the sun, and the crispness of the air are all lost in the lens of the iPhone. The powerful energy and majestic views are best remembered as a full personal experience of body and spirit rather than just a photograph.


Erika, for the Xtreme Dream Team

When in Doubt, Chicken Out

Today was an optional day of activities, which included mountain biking; but let’s be honest, who was really going to pass that up? Despite doing a 49-mile bike ride and a hike up to a mile high in elevation the days before you could feel the excitement in the air and pain still remaining in our sore muscles.

On the way to the mountain biking course where we were to meet Zoe Cohen, our guide and a physiology professor at U of A, we travelled farther and farther into desert. The thought on our minds was, “not again”… still traumatized from being lost in the desert on the bike ride, but the thought of demo-ing $5,000 mountain bikes was too cool to resist.


Once at the course and after being fitted for our bikes, it was time to ride.


Starting off nice and smooth, we were about to own the bunny trail. As we came up to the first obstacle, we were filled with nothing but absolute confidence. We had this. Zoe crossed the small ditch and made it look like a cakewalk. One by one, we attempted to cross over, and one by one, we slowly dropped like flies. The ditch may have been a little deeper than anticipated.

Courtney Tackles the First Obstacle

pano view of trail

Past the first obstacle, we were still going strong. Mountain biking seemed to be turning out like a nice relaxing day. Despite 4 flat tires, some crashes into cacti, lots of jumping cholla, cuts and bruises the size of softballs, we were going strong. Unstoppable. Oddly however, the ditches got deeper, the path got rockier, and Dr. Sweeney seemed to be biking faster and faster. Keeping in mind Zoe’s advice of “when in doubt, chicken out”, we continued, even on foot at times. Then it dawned on us. This was no longer the bunny trail, and there was no warning. Dr. Sweeney, being the leader, had kept us on a “need to know” basis (a.k.a. he didn’t tell us) and ventured off onto the advanced trail. Surprise!

We finally found our way back to the road to escape the desert trail and return the bikes by our 3 p.m. deadline. It was a long day filled with laughs, spills, wipeouts, sun, and some serious muscle power. The life lesson of the day: fall down seven times, stand up eight.



Gabby and the rest of the X-Treme Dream Team

post bike ride group pic

Rockin’ out on Finger Rock

After yesterday’s intense 49.3-mile bike ride, the “Xtreme Dream Team” decided to give our pelvises a break from the bike seats and go on a “leisurely hike”. We started the day by packing our rations, filling up the camelbaks, filing into the van, and riding to our destination. As per usual, we were blessed with a clear, beautiful sky, and plenty of sun (which we rarely experience in Scranton).

The trail, Richard “Dick” McKee Finger Rock Trailhead, was the path we planned to follow all the way up to Finger Rock, or at least to a higher elevation than the previous classes. The bar was set pretty high at 5,000 feet above sea level, but we were determined to crush that number.


We all began optimistic, but still realistic since we were all feeling the pain from yesterday’s excursion.

Go Pros out! We were ready to document our ascent. Once again, we were blessed with our favorite cacti friends and they were sure to greet us. The first half-mile was a breeze and then we started to realize… this was not a “leisurely hike”. The rest of hike was an uphill battle, which left us huffing and puffing to keep up with the “Queen” of aerobic fitness, Liz.

We were all smiles when we found a nice little cave to take a photo op, eat a snack, and get our breath back.

FullSizeRender IMG_9176

The break was short lived and we continued lunging up the mountain.

I quickly realized that those with long legs had a vast advantage to those that were vertically challenged, like me. We came upon another vantage point (5,000 feet), where we were all feeling ambitious and decided to do handstands and yoga poses.

Image 1 IMG_9196 Image 2 Image

What possessed us to do this you ask? The answer is “WHYPHY” (Work Hard Yes Play Hard Yes) courtesy of our favorite movie 22 Jumpstreet.

   We had met the 5,000 ft. mark and decided there was no shot of us making it to the finger. Our new goal was to get to 5,280 ft, 1 mile above sea level! Of course there was no flat areas a mile up so we made it to 5,600 ft, and dove into our provisions!

We started our descent after Dr. Sweeney and Doug discovered the terrain was too treacherous to continue. We rocked down the mountain with my JBL speaker, and had a dance party all the way down. We sang, we danced, and we smiled the whole way down knowing we were on our way to having delicious quiche for dinner.


Finishing with an inspirational Haiku


Climbing a mountain

Twelve brave students ascend up

Finger Rock

The “Xtreme Dream Team”

“15 miles he said, you’ll get breakfast he said, it’ll be fun he said…”

End of day 3…

After the rainy weather on January 8th washed out our plan of the timed mile and a half (darn…) and any other hopes of outdoor activities, we had to keep ourselves busy finding fun things to do around the house (aka the mansion). It was pretty obvious that bumming around was going to be the preferred activity so we watched a movie and played a game introduced to us by Norm, which we like to call “Xtreme Pictionary”. After laughing to the point where our stomachs hurt we hopped in the van and headed to Rosa’s Mexican Food Restaurant.

IMG_1597   IMG_1588Boy was that delicious. Two hours, 12 food babies, and four margaritas (for the seniors) later we were back in the van and on our way back to the mansion singing along to the songs chosen by DJ Tara Fay. With a relaxing and fun filled afternoon and evening (Sweeney and Doug were beat 3-1 in pool by Liz and I…) it meant only one thing: tomorrow it was back to business and the dreaded mile and a half had to be completed along with a nice leisurely bike ride…or so we thought.

Day 4… JANUARY 9th. WHAT. A. DAY.

I don’t think there are enough adjectives to describe the events that transpired today, but I’ll give it a try. First we woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed with the timed mile and a half run looming over our heads. Once we finally got ourselves out the door – with plenty of procrastination and a little bit of complaining – we headed over to a neighborhood road scoped out by Tara.

Image 7  FullSizeRenderOnce there, the run was a breeze. Erika filmed us all on the GoPro and gave us words of encouragement and we were all done within four or five minutes. Yup, basically a bunch of Usain Bolts here…

After killing the timed run we headed back to the mansion and got ready for a bike ride.Image 8 We were told this bike ride would be about thirty miles – 15 there, 15 back – with a pit stop at a yummy diner where we would be having our “second breakfast”.

Image 4  Image 5   Image 6  ImageWith a quick lesson on bike etiquette, how to start/stop, and where our destination was, we were on our way. Now I’m not going to lie, going into this whole 30 mile bike ride I was not exactly enthusiastic, but I really gained a new appreciation for it and it was actually fun…that is until about mile 18 when the muscle cramping ensued…and little did we know we were still 11 miles away from the diner.

Image 10SO, 30 miles later, after getting lost about five times, two flat tires (poor Courtney), a few falls and lots of hungry tummys we FINALLY made it to the diner!

Visions of omelets, bacon, sausage, waffles and French toast danced in our heads as we rolled up to the place Sweeney and Tara had told us so many good things about. Then we saw the sign on the door: CLOSED.

Image 11It’s safe to say I’ve never seen so many sad looking college students in my life. Just when we thought we were going to starve to death and be left as food for the Arizona Bark Scorpion, Sweeney and Tara came to the rescue with granola bars and told us there was a vending machine close by! With our stomachs full of Cheez-its, Doritos, Pop Tarts, Twizzlers and any of the other healthy options the vending machine had to offer, we were back on the bikes headed home.





FORTY-NINE miles, another flat tire, a couple more falls, and a lot of muscle cramping later we made it back to the mansion and the only things on our minds were food and the hot tub Image 1and the AMAZING sunset over the Catalina Mountains.

Image 3With a delicious meal of stuffed peppers and steaks on the grill prepared for us by Blaire we were full, tired and ready for a good night sleep.

So there you have it folks; day 4 in paradise was anything and everything but unexciting. But hey, you know what they say: “when in Arizona do as the Arizonans do.”Image 2

Love, Marissa & the rest of the XTREME DREAM TEAM

Extreme Physiology 2015 – Attack of the Jumping Cholla!

Tucson, we have arrived! Tuesday, January 6th was a travel day for all of us. The weather was warm, the sun was setting, and the cacti and mountains took our breath away as we observed the beautiful landscape of Arizona. The journey from the airport to our house was relatively short. We rolled over dips in the road that we were soon to recognize as the road home. The house is beautiful, with a breathtaking view of the entire mountainside.




We looked on in awe as the sun completely set, wondering if the scene was truly real, and not just a mirage – we are in the desert, you know!


We prepared lasagna for dinner and picked out our rooms.


Full from the delicious meal and exhausted by our travels, we were asleep by 10:00PM. We woke up at 7:30AM on Wednesday to the sunrise. After a quick breakfast and lunch preparation, we headed to the University of Arizona for our first lesson of Extreme Physiology.









Dr. Doug Keen’s lecture focused on VO2 max and adjustments that the body makes during aerobic exercise.


The VO2 max test is a measurement of physical fitness. The test we were to perform was a treadmill test. The subject runs at a predetermined speed, based on his or her physical activity, increasing the grade by 2% every 2 minutes. Data, including heart rate and perceived exertion, was taken every minute. The subject runs until exhaustion. An oxygen mask and tube apparatus measured expiration, which determined oxygen consumption. At the end of the test, the subject’s % saturation and blood lactate was taken. Each person in our group performed the test.


image1 - CopyThe 2015 girls had the highest VO2 max average yet, at 50.1 ml/min-kg body weight, and the boys had an average of 55.5ml/min-kg. Upon finishing our testing, we caught our breath and ate our lunches. We bade Doug goodbye until tomorrow, when we would perform the Wingate Test.




We left the University and walked into 75 degrees of pure Arizona sunshine. We hurried home, gathered our camelbacks, and headed to Tucson Mountain Park for our first hike.

XTREME 194Traversing the Golden Gate Trail, we observed the various cacti and cholla: Saguaro, Teddy Bear, Prickly Pear, Barrel, and the group favorite, Jumping Cholla.

XTREME 113XTREME 190Dr. Sweeney pointed out that Native Americans use the needles on the Saguaro for sewing. The hike was beautiful. We found ourselves torn between looking up to take in the scenery and looking down to avoid tripping. The view is indescribable. The air makes you feel fresh and alive.

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We arrived at a Cairn, a pile of three rocks that point in the correct direction of the trail.XTREME 161

Marissa looked down to a Jumping Cholla perched on her hiking boot. If you brush by the cactus, a portion pops completely off and attaches, sinking its needles in. It is used as a defense mechanism against animals.





Just as Marissa recovered from her run-in with the Jumping Cholla, we got temporarily lost and so, took a group selfie of course.image2

XTREME 203We pulled up a map on a phone and re-oriented ourselves. Dr. Sweeney was the Jumping Cholla’s next victim. His attack was at the leg. He, too, recovered and we began our journey back to the beginning of the Golden Gates Trail.
Blaire and I hung back to take a few pictures of the sun that was beginning to set.

XTREME 184We hurried to catch up to the group. Arms swinging and head swiveling, I was looking everywhere and at everything. Suddenly, my left hand caught on something. I heard Blaire yell “Ohhh!” I felt a pinch and looked down to none other than the infamous Jumping Cholla sticking out of my fist.Dr. Sweeney flicked the cactus off with a stick and pulled out the remaining pieces later on at the house. And so with little blood and many pictures, I survived the Jumping Cholla.


The rest of the trip was successful. Upon returning home, we made barbecue salmon with rice, zucchini, garlic, and red sauce. Again filled with delicious food and exhausted by a fun-filled and exciting day, we headed to bed after a short presentation of the next day’s lecture. We are looking forward to 23 more days of the X-treme experience. Lesson of the day – watch that cactus.

Love, Maria and the X-TREME DREAM TEAM




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