by Thomas Hochman
“Teddy,” says Jack M, “is the most badass person I know.”
He’s talking about Teddy Keizer, an OES math tutor who’s formed a reputation within the upper school for what has often been described to me as “math wizardry.” But what’s gone largely unrecognized during the 14 years that Keizer has worked with OES students are his past exploits in the world of speed hiking and ultramarathoning, where he’s held numerous records and garnered the attention of the New York Times, Outside Magazine, and SBNation, among others.
Keizer was born and raised in Coos Bay, and says that his family instilled an interest in the outdoors in him from an early age, spending vacations in and around the National Parks, and hiking whenever they travelled.
Keizer continued to spend a lot of time outdoors in high school and college, but only started to contemplate taking hiking seriously years later.
He had an early interest in politics, and was working for then-candidate Patrick Kennedy’s campaign after college, but eventually decided that he needed to “live [his] own life before moving to DC and telling other people how to live theirs.”
So, after a period of intermittent travel, he ended up in Colorado. “I was doing the ski bum thing in Crested Butte, and I was working part time for a hotel there.”
Keizer says he worked 10 hours a week and skied 50, couchsurfing and trying to find cheap places to stay. “Eventually, while I was going up Silver Queen Chairlift, some locals told me that there really was nowhere cheap, but jokingly told me about a cave that I could sleep in.”
Keizer ended up spending most nights in the cave, ultimately deciding to just build snow caves closer to town.
The thing about Crested Butte, though, is that it’s considered to be the second coldest place in the continental United States.
“Yeah, my thermometer went down to -20 degrees, and most mornings it was bottomed out,” he grins. “My family thought I was nuts, of course.”
While in Crested Butte, Keizer became friends with someone by the name of Scurvy Dog, so when it got out that he was living in snow caves, the nickname Cave Dog was born. It stuck.
Eventually, in the winter of 96-97, Keizer caught wind of the Mighty Mountain Mega Marathon for the first time.
“While I was working at the hotel, I always ate with someone who talked relentlessly about the Colorado 14,000 footers,” Keizer says. “He told me about the ongoing attempts to set the record for who could climb them the fastest, and I thought it was a cool idea, having no idea that that goal would end up consuming two and a half years of my life.”
About a year later, Keizer started to take the preparation for the record breaking attempt more seriously, climbing every “14er” a minimum of three times, streamlining his logistics, and training.
Not long prior to Keizer’s attempt, Ricky Denesik broke his own record for the 14ers, and claimed that the new time was just about unbreakable.
6 weeks later, Keizer broke the record by 43 hours, climbing all 55 peaks in 10 days, 20 hours, and 26 minutes.
During the attempt, Keizer ran into a number of the issues endemic to feats of such extreme endurance.
At one point, he says, he became so exhausted that he tripped, fell on his face, and immediately fell asleep. “I woke up because I was lying in a weird way on my arms, and realized that I had completely cut off circulation,” Keizer laughs.
Later, on the wildly exposed Maroon Bells Traverse, Keizer found that the standard route had turned into a sheet of rime ice, and, having left technical equipment behind for the sake of efficiency, decided to skirt around the mountain.
“I found a couloir to climb up but there wasn’t much to hold onto. My feet slipped in a rock chimney, and, for a moment, I was dangling by one hand 600 feet above the ground – that was pretty close.”
Nevertheless, Keizer set a formidable new record, and all of a sudden, newspapers were reaching out to him, authors were inviting him over for dinner, and he started to contemplate chasing other speed records across the country.
Here, Keizer invokes Cousteau: “When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.”
“I felt like I had found my calling,” he explains.
So, with his newfound experience, Keizer learned of three speed records on the east coast that had stood for 30 years (The New Hampshire 48, The Catskills 45, and The Adirondack 46) and promptly broke all of them in one summer. The accolades continued, until Keizer eventually decided he was ready to move on.
With his record attempts in the rearview mirror, Keizer settled in Portland. He’s been here ever since.
During activity period, I’m surrounded by a number of his tutees, and all of them have told me, in one way or another, that they feel smarter simply from having spent time around him. And this, coupled with his remarkable achievements, is made even more impressive by the humility with which he describes all of it, as if it were as banal as a walk in the park.
Without a doubt, we’re lucky to have access to someone of his ilk.
Thanks for reading.