How Exercise Helps us Tolerate Pain

The NYTIMES ran a health article about this admittedly small sample research project today.

How Exercise Helps Tolerate Pain

I don’t need this study to include more than a meager sample of 12 to know it’s the truth.

At this point in my life I regularly engage in a level of exercise that pushes me right to the pain zone: mountain biking, backpacking, hiking, snowshoeing, or snow biking.

My wife tells other people, “Everything Tom does for sports has to have suffering in it”.
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It’s pretty simple. If I am going on a challenging hike, I want to experience it as easier that other activities that I have suffered through. For example, I’m headed up to Katahdin for a week of backpacking. I have prepared by carrying a mass of iron chain that pushes to weight in my back pack to 23 pounds. I train on steep trails, where I m pushing to 3.5 mph.

Hurting helps.

Riding Vermont’s Kindgom Trails

I’m waiting tonight outside the shower at the campground, a phalanx of Boy Scouts jamming up the flush and flow in and out of the two men’s toilets, and single shower stall .

I had a great ride earlier this afternoon, and am very pleased to notch 15 miles of sustained pushing on my Santa Cruz Tallboy, whether it was straining to move upward on the steeps, or trying to keep the bike upright as gravity pulled me down these verdant hills.
Heading Out
What’s going on at the Kingdom Trails is barely controlled survival when I careen downward, at times skidding across lateral roots, the ends of the handlebars grazing past tree trunks.  

From their website, “Kingdom Trails in Northeast Vermont, a multiple-use trail system unlike any other and voted as the BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAIL NETWORK in North America by Bike Magazine in their annual Reader’s Poll. We were the Editors’ Choice in the Yankee Magazine Travel Guide to New England and were also named BEST OF NEW ENGLAND by Boston Magazine Travel & Life. “

I am really pleased that I kept the bike upright all afternoon.  A lot of the success was due to the engineering of the Santa Cruz Tallboy.  To me, the machine is not so much a bike but rather a descending apparatus.  The suspension sucks up big hits on rocks and drops off ledges with a unique mechanical squishing sound.  It’s totally baffling how the bike sustains it’s integrity, ride after ride, week after week, for years. These guys I ride with are not stick boys, or at least most of them aren’t.  They are The Bubbas, who stick it to the trails with authority and confidence.  We don’t break these newer bikes (so much), but we’ve demolished earlier frames and components before bicycles became stronger, and correspondingly much more expensive.

Riding Mountain Bikes on Mt. Rogers, VA

Last weekend I was down in the southern Appalachians.  The first 5 days, I was there, I walked 90 miles of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  It was glorious.  The wildflowers were in abundance,  and were prolific . There were times when I was backpacking, sometimes over 5,000 feet in elevation, while at the same time inhaling the intoxicating fragrance of woodland plants and trees. It was a healing experience.

Flame Azalea

Flame Azalea

Rhododendron in full bloom

Rhododendron in full bloom

After my backpacking segment, I stayed at my friend Mike’s mountainside cabin that I reported on in my previous post about my week down south.

 

One of the activities that Mike and I shared was a 14 mile mountain bike ride from the cabin through the Mt. Rogers Wilderness, where we pushed our bikes uphill toward the Grayson Highlands.  Our ride then followed an abandoned railroad grade to the top of our ride, where we intersected the Appalachian Trail at a corral known as the Scales.

The Scales

The Scales

The other geographical feature of this area are the Balds,  which are large mountaintops that are devoid of trees.  here’s a panorama of a bald that I visited.

Bald near Mt. Rogers

Bald near Mt. Rogers

Riding bikes here was a unique experience.  My friend Mike owns two Diamondback bikes.  He rode a later model with a front suspension fork, and I chose a 1986 vintage Diamondback Apex for the day.  I have an 1985 Apex at home, that I have converted to a road bike.  On this ride, I was forced to remember why modern bikes often sport front AND rear suspensions. The ride up was not so bad, because it was a steady climb of 1600′.  The ride down was a real suffer fest, due to the constant pounding of the front end on the numerous rocks and ruts that littered the trail.  My forearm and wrists were toast.

The next day Mike, his wife Susan and I went uphill again, walking a new route.  The real treat of the walk was encountering two black bears.  Mike’s Blue Heeler Jackson had run ahead of us and treed them.  The dog came right back to us when Mike called it, when we were able to watch this giant fat black bear drop like a stone down a tall tree with it’s little cub doing likewise on an adjacent tree.

 

 

Big life, big bike- Bubba style

I joke about attending the Church of Two Wheels on Sunday mornings.  But it’s no joke.
Riding with my long-time friends from the Midcoast Maine never ceases to amaze me.  Week after week, the bikes don’t break, we don’t crash (much), and we experience the pure joy of playing around in the woods, challenging ourselves on repeated sections of terrain.  This has been going on close to 20 years, all year round!  This past winter was a great one for riding these same trails when they are covered with packed snow and ice.  Today, my fat-tire Pugsley stayed home and my full suspension Santa Cruz Tallboy was resurrected  back into action.  The bumpy ledges and long  downhill from the top was kinder to my deteriorating shoulders than the rigid framed Pugs.
A bunch of The Bubbas have downloaded the Strava app on our phones or via our GPS  devices.  We encourage each other and share rides that we’ve completed with the rest of the the guys (and gals now) !  We now have maps!
 Pleasant map

Pleasant map

We get elevation profiles, like this one from Sunday’s ride on Mt. Pleasant !

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Here’s me jumping on the Tallboy, and following Rigger’s line for the ride down from ” the Blueberry field” to the ” Three way”.

photo by John Anders

photo by John Anders

3 minute video of me descending Mt. Pleasant <<– Click to view three minutes of pure joy, complete with me chuckling as The Hawk and I jockey for the right side into the singletrack.  Thanks to The Hawk for sending me his clip, and The Bubbas for being there for me, week after week.
Sanctuary.

Bubbas Still Staying Up

Six Bubbas attended Sunday’s Church of Two Wheels 10 mile long service in Warren, Maine today.

After the melting snow cover caused me to cut short my plans for a long snowmobile trail ride on Friday, I expected that today would be the same: crumbling patches of ice, mud sections, and that sudden sinking on the front wheel scenario, complete with cockpit ejection over the handlebars. I’m very pleased to say that the subfreezing temps from last night and our 9:30 AM start set things up nice and solid.

For those of you who think that these well-attended winter rides are only suitable for us fat-tire riders, check out this video clip from the ride. Listen to the crunch of the ice beneath the tires while The Hawk comes into view on his Mukluk, closely followed by Rigger and Nate on their 26-inch-tire mountain bikes.

Another Wednesday snowstorm is predicted this week- could be at least 6″ of snow. Winter riding is still going strong in the Midcoast this Spring season.

The Sunday When Winter Went Away

There’s still a small pile of snow on the north side of my house but I’m declaring “Winter is over!”  No where is that more apparent than on today’s mountain bike ride on Mt. Pleasant, here in Midcoast Maine.  Just last week, a skeleton crew of Bubbas , labored our way up  the 800 foot climb to the top of the mountain, where conditions forced an early bail back to the parking lot.  Deep mud, ice, sleet, freezing rain , and then cold rain wore us down.  screenshot 3

That was then, this was now.  Nine of us went double the distance this week.  There is still mud and  water to churn through , but it’s not so deep.  And not so cold, and the sun was shining.  There was one big tree that had to be cleared out in order to to make the ledge challenge possible today. It was a very long and heavy tree.

Yo, Heave Ho!

Yo, Heave Ho!

Once we cleared the fallen timber, the challenge began and just a few of us made it up the ledge challenge. Here’s a video clip of  The Hawk and Rigger clearing it:

On the way up, I had what we call “a mechanical”. I had a chain suck, which is a dislodged chain jammed into the drive train somewhere, but not exactly. Then I saw a broken part situation like I’ve never seen before. One of the bigger rings on the rear cassette was bent sideways. IMG_2853
I hiked-a-bike up the last short portion to the top, where Ian launched into action, and went into the woods with a saw, cut a hardwood chisel, sharpened a point on it, grabbed a rock, and made it right. Then he adjusted the rear derailleur and I was able to complete the ride. The guy is an exceptional mechanical problem solver. Thanks, buddy!

Ian improvising a fix- photo by John Anders

Ian improvising a fix- photo by John Anders

The rest of the ride was much better, with the climbing over, well most of it.  Ian even made it up the super-challenging Abyss today, a feat that no one else was able to accomplish.  It’s astounding that  four-wheeled drive vehicles get in here right now, when it is so soft and muddy, and totally churn up these old forest roads.  We see parts of cars, lenses, headlight, grills , and undercarriage parts strewn all over the place.

It’s doesn’t get dark now until almost 7:45 PM.  Next up will be my first Rockland Bog ride of the season in two days, now that winter is over.  I hope to have my Pugsley’s rear cassette replaced by then, where I’ll join my Bubba pals in another wild ride through the forest and streams.

Might As Well Jump

Aging athlete?

Hoping to avoid osteoporosis, possibly a hip fracture?

From the NY Times’ Gretchen Reynolds–>>Why High-Impact Exercise Is Good for Your Bones – NYTimes.com.

I have been a faithful member of a gym for decades. But, no more.  I didn’t renew my YMCA membership for 2014. After returning from backpacking 2,500 miles in 2013,  I experienced a turnaround of sorts.

I exercise outside now- either walking, snowshoeing, riding my bikes ( which I have been able to do all winter), or tending to “farm chores”, like harvesting and transporting wood. I also save $450 a year in gym fees. Driving twenty miles round trip to the gym to work out for 45 minutes makes no sense, when I can just walk out the door and get moving. Granted, there are days where it is just too cold or snowy to safely do something out there, so I keep a couple dumb bells and a stability ball around to take up the slack.

How’s it working for me? So far, really good.  I lost 27 pounds on the hike, and usually gained back weight within a few months of home food and reduced activity.  However, this time I’m still down 15 pounds.

I’ll post details about my home exercise program sometime. Bottom line is that I feel good and have adequate energy on my hikes and biking loops.

One of the regular exercises that I have added to my program is jumping up and down from stairs, or an elevated railroad tie that’s outside.

I decided to start jumping after reading a superb book, Daniel E. Lieberman’s The Story of the Human Body 41mMojkNh5L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Liberman is a evolutionary anthropologist at Harvard. He writes about “mismatch diseases” that are a product of the incompatibility of our evolutionary drives with modern society: heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, back problems, and osteoporosis.  Rates of osteoporosis are on the rise, a fact Lieberman attributes to declines in the physical activity necessary to build and maintain bone mass.

The guy is a genius, this is his territory, he’s mined it fully. Lieberman points out that while the roots of our tango with osteoporosis are already established, there are still things one can do to keep deterioration at bay.  For example, I had no idea that teenage inactivity results in smaller skeletal mass, which increases one’s risk of osteporosis later on.  Calcium supplementation may be one of the established procedures to fend off osteoporosis, however, it’s not often effective.

Any old exercise program won’t do.  Check out this alarming article: Are Cyclists Pedaling Towards Osteoporosis?  “People do not achieve peak bone mass until their late twenties, so if cyclists or swimmers are in their early or mid twenties, and they’re not doing any exercise that’s going to load their spine and help them achieve peak bone mass, they may be putting themselves at risk for a fracture.”

Might as well jump…..