What’s Your “Fitness Age”? – 2014 version

The first “fitness calculator” I learned about was Dr. Oz’s Real Age.  It became popular several years ago.  Real Age is an online calculator that is based on the results of answering questions about 125 factors related to a person’s overall health, including health, feelings, diet, and fitness ( i.e., How often you eat fish versus red meat to exercise and sleep habits, asthma, smoking, aspirin use, cancer history, parental longevity, and conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.). I took it once but didn’t get too worked up over using it more than once, even though my ” real age” was about 10 years younger than my actual age.

Now there appears to be a much briefer method of determining your relative fitness that is based on just 5 factors.

This 2013 study, from the  Norwegian University of Science and Technology,  reveals a more efficient, low-tech means of precisely assessing how well your body functions physically. It culminated in each of the 5,000 participants in taking a treadmill test assessing peak oxygen intake (VO2 max), or how well the body delivers oxygen to its cells. From the study, “VO2 max has been shown in large-scale studies to closely correlate with significantly augmented life spans, even among the elderly or overweight. In other words, VO2 max can indicate fitness age.”

The real value of this study is it’s apparent ability to establish one’s own VO2 max without the cost and inconvenience of paying for the medical procedure.  The researchers found that  just five measurements — waist circumference; resting heart rate; frequency and intensity of exercise; age; and sex — into an algorithm allowed them to predict a person’s VO2 max with noteworthy accuracy, according to their study, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise

The researchers have used all of this data to create a free online calculator that allows you to determine your VO2 max without going to a lab. All you need to establish is your waist measurement and your resting heart rate.  You plug these numbers, along with your age, sex and frequency and intensity of exercise, into the calculator, and you’ll learn your fitness age.

From the NYTime article, “The results can be sobering. A 50-year-old man, for instance, who exercises moderately a few times a week, sports a 36-inch waist and a resting heart rate of 75 — not atypical values for healthy middle-aged men — will have a fitness age of 59. Thankfully, unwanted fitness years, unlike the chronological kind, can be erased, Dr. Wisloff says. Exercise more frequently or more intensely. Then replug your numbers and exult as your “age” declines. A youthful fitness age, Dr. Wisloff says, ‘is the single best predictor of current and future health’.”

I have been recording my heart rate on a daily basis for the past two months with an iPhone app called Cardiio .

Cardiio app on iPhone 5s

Cardiio app on iPhone 5s

While there are manual methods that don’t rely on a watch, the program’s charting features give you the ability to aggregate and share data. I  sent the summary results to my doctor, as I am concerned about my occasional heart rate drops into the high 30′s.  While heart rate is one of the five measurements in the Norwegian study that drove my “fitness age” to 38, I want to stick around to enjoy my fitness.

She referred me to a local sport-aware cardiologist for a screening after my own office EKG results were normal.  I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, I’m going to try and drop another inch off my waist line, continue hammering the backpacking and bicycling, and doing my TM twice daily, which I feel has resulted in a decreased resting heart rate after practicing it twice daily for 42 years.

What’s Your ‘Fitness Age’?. <<- click here for full New York Times article.




Amtrak’s Magic Wears Thin

It’s 7:15 pm on the third and hopefully last day of our cross-county Amtrak ride from MA, Montana. I booked this ride for my mom and I last October, after being wowed by the stunning experience in Glacier National Park, the end point of the my thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail.
I had three reasons for booking the trip: one-I visit my son Lincoln and his fiancee Stephanie who live in MT. Next-I wanted my 87 year old mother Isabel to see her grandson and to spend a couple of weeks with her myself, and I also wanted to ride a train across the United States.
I booked an Amtrak “Roomette”.

Isabel settling in to our Roomette

Isabel settling in to our Roomette

It’s a tiny sleeping room for two.  Tiny means 6’8” long and 3’6” wide.  It’s tall enough to stand up, but not when the upper bunk lowers from the ceiling. Two padded seats expand to form a lower bed. It’s just big enough to also fit our small suitcases in there. After two nights of sort-of-sleeping, we are getting used to it.
My mental picture of what this grand train ride would be like is constantly being altered in live time, and is altered by a rapid downgrade.
There are definite positives, like not having to drive or fly and deal with airline hassles.  Our sleeper-car tickets also include automatically prepaying all meals, off the limited but adequate menu. The food is freshly prepared and of good quality. Its cool to order whatever you want and not think of spending any more money.  It’s also highly interesting to view the changing countryside as one moves westward and anticipate encountering the Rockies ahead.

Isabel enjoying the view from the Observation Car

Isabel enjoying the view from the Observation Car

We are meeting and conversing with a wide variety of American passenger, like a retired opera singer and a young black man headed to Chicago for a month’s residency with a dance troupe.
But these freakin’ delays!  Before I left, I received an e-mail from Amtrak warning me that the western half of the trip would have a four to five hour delay, due to a huge amount of freight traffic on this Chicago to Montana portion of the route. The rail out here is shared and owned by the freight companies, who give their trains priority, with Amtrak falling to last-place status.  Translation= numerous times when this Amtrak has to get on a side rail and wait for big long trains to go by-in both directions.
Bottom line-we now 8 hours behind our scheduled departure and it’s only 8 PM.  We were supposed to arrive at East Glacier station at 8:15 PM, where I have a room booked in the Whistling Swan motel.  Only now, we were just told that the earliest we will get to our destination will now be 4:00 AM! By the time we gather our bags and walk to the motel it will be daybreak, and the night will be over.
My crumbling attitude is holding up but I am getting stir crazy after not being able to hike or bike for a couple of days. My mom’s outlook is more realistic and resigned. It’s going to be another long night for us in the roomette on a very narrow mattress that I am harnessed into on one side so that I don’t get pitched off onto the floor. Eric, our concierge, told me that he’d wake us up in time to depart the train in East Glacier, where I’ll pick up my rental car and figure out what roads in Glacier are plowed, and which are still closed.
Most folks think that backpacking , day-in-and day-out, is tiring and stressful.  For me, this is worse.

Seeking Midcoast’s Maine’s Tastiest Fried Clam: Week 1

I kicked off my search by visiting Two iconic Maine restaurants this week:  Moody’s Diner (Waldoboro) and The Lobster Pound/Andy’s Brew Pub (Lincolnville Beach).

Some background: Raised in southeastern Massachusetts, I loved fried clams. I believe that I ingested the best fried clams I have ever eaten at Macray’s, a clam and clam cake shack that was on Route 6 in MA.  Westport’s  Macray’s was launched in 1957 and closed in 1992. I fondly remember those clams as slightly crunchy, nutty tasting, and all under a very light batter.  The place was take-out only, with people standing in line for up to a half hour to eat them. My dad and mom took my brother Roy and me there during the summer, often on the way back from Horseneck Beach. To this day, Roy and I are both in the habit of ordering friend clams on a regular basis at seafood restaurants. Unfortunately I have never yet had a fried clam that have matched my sensory memory of a McCray’s product.

Thankfully,  I’m in Maine now, which also celebrates the fried clam. I’ve dug them, I’ve tried to fry them, and I learned it ain’t easy to do home-made with a clam. This summer I plan to locate a plate of clams that matches  Macray’s.

moodys sign

Moody’s:  The clam roll is $9, with a clam plate for $14.59. It was lunch, and I was going to get the roll, and also potato and cole slaw, but those added $3 to the cost, so I ended up with the plate instead.
Here’s what I got:

Moody's best

Moody’s best

I have been avoiding french fries lately, and opted for the potato salad, which was excellent.  You also get a huge, delicious fresh yeast roll with your clams.  The fourteen clams were only fair-a bit too rubbery, and with a batter coating that was too heavy for my liking.  One aside- Twenty years ago I heard a Moody’s waitress describing the fried clam to a couple of inquiring customers from away. She told them, in a matter-of-fact voice, “Yeahh, the clam got the bellies here, but if they are too big, the cook squeezes them out some so they are not too squishy.”  That same waitress waited on me this week .  Before she finished my order I asked her if they still squeeze out the clam bellies. She told me, “ Nope. They used to, but no more. Too bad.”

l-2Andy’s Brew Pub:  The home-town choice was next, after a few recommendations from locals.  The Lobster Pound has been at the beach since the 1920s, and has re-opened this season in conjunction with Andy’s Brew Pub, featuring Lincolnville’s Andrew’s Brewing products, with a separate pub menu on the Andy’s side.  Fortunately, you can sit in the Brew pub side, order a fresh pint of Andrew’s, and they’ll bring over your Lobster Pound fried clams, as both establishments share the same kitchen.
Here’s the story:

Andrew's brings it on

Andrew’s brings it on

The clam roll is $9 and the plate is $16.  It was dinner time, and Marcia and were graced with being seated at the best little table in the place, right in the corner, facing the stormy, thrashing waters of Penobscot Bay.  I chose cole slaw with mashed potatoes, which were buttery and fresh. I passed on the  hand cut fries.  The 10 clams were lightly battered, and were not as dark as the clams I had at Moody’s. They also tasted better.

Bottom line:  In Week 1, Andy’s trumps Moody’s.

Next up may be Chez Michel, right across the street from the Lobster Pound/Andy’s Brew Pub.  I have had two recommendations to go there.  However, I may well start that assignment back to this Andy’s Pub, specifically along their 35-foot handmade slab bar with a pint of Andy’s English Red Ale (6.5% ABV), a new Andrew’s Brewing ale that’s  not yet available in bottles.  Then I’ll walk to Chez Michel, across Route 1 to put another plate of fried clams to the test.  It’s a tough job, and I blame all of it on Macray’s.

[Disclaimer-I live in Lincolnville, next door to the Andy Hazen family, where I regularly buy beer.]

Riding the Kingdom Trails- Day 2/3

“It’s a serious uphill,” said Rigger as we were both laboring up another segment on our second day of riding in Vermont. Rigger was hurting. In the first 10 minutes of the ride this morning, Rigger took a digger, when he slid sideways off a narrow elevated wooden bridge section of trail. I wasn’t around to see it. Rick told me that he watched Rigger pitch sideways and land on his hip, then bounce off the edge of the wooden bridge and land on his elbow. When you have a crash, it sometimes affects your confidence. When it happens early, it could dampen your whole day. Even I was affected by it. I consider Rigger to be a low speed, technical riding expert and his fall crushed my enthusiasm for any more sliding and screaming on those sections of lubricated, slimy boards.

But in the end, the ride prevailed and I had racked up 22.2 miles of either high speed thrills and chills or granny gear creeping up the Vemont hills.
What a treasure these Kingdom Trails are to us mountain bike riders in the northeast. It never even mattered that two inches of rain had fallen here recently. The geology of this set of mountains and hills is such that beaucoup sand is just beneath us, draining the trails of any of the ridiculous mud pits we endure this time of the year back home in Midcoast Maine.

After our long ride today, the boys put on their culinary hats and grilled up steaks, burgers, and delicious pile of onions and three varieties of peppers that were heaped on bratwurst that was was grilled to perfection by Stevie Hawk, who has the sweetest portable propane grill going. Special thanks to the Hawk for taking the time to make reservations for us and for organizing all the little pieces that are necessary to make this over-the-top outdoor weekend a real special event. Here’s a few more shots to look back on.






Riding the Kingdom Trails- Day 1/3

I’m sitting here stretching out my aching calf this morning in East Burke, VT after barely suppressing a scream after my lower right leg went into complete tortuous cramp. It’s a new day of riding today at the Kingdom Trails.
I’m here with six other Bubbas who made the trip yesterday from Rockland, ME for the first of our mountain biking holidays this riding season.
We got here yesterday just after lunch, and dodged the rain clouds as we put together 16 miles of whooping, rolling fun here in Vermont’s hilly northeast country.



Day 6 Hiking the AT in TENN/VA

Guthook roused me with a “Morning, Uncle Tom”, on his way from the Abington Gap lean-to to retrieve his food bag, hanging from a nearby tree. I snapped open my eyes in the hopes that the deluge of rain that came in the night had stopped. It hadn’t.
My tent leaked in the thunderstorm last night. One thing that I hadn’t completed before this hike was resealing the seams on my Tarptent. There’s a lot of wear on gear that takes place on a five month thru-hike, and one piece of gear that suffers from neglect is a tent. The months-long packing and pulling on the tent seams wears off the coating over time, thus a leaky tent.

So Guthook and I shouldered our packs, and hiked 10 miles in three hours straight to hit Damascus. It was raining off and on the whole way, but warm enough that you could hike in shorts and a shirt and it was enough.

The laundromat in Damascus was closed. The closest one was in Abington, 18 miles away. Guthook, EZ Hiker and I ate ate breakfast at the Tastee Freeze and then headed up to Tent City outside of the downtown area where we scored a free shower and a fresh washing/drying of our clothes all courtesy of the Trail Days Ministry. I was pumped to run into Crazy Horse, my benefactor from 2007.


At the Appalachian Trail Conservancy booth, I saw that Guthook’s AT App was now being promoted by the ATC.

Guthook was in the market for a super light sleeping quilt and four one that weighed about a pound. Here he is “field testing” it.


How about some dehydrated beer?


The rain came down even harder, and we huddled up with some other hikers under a tarp. So we got showers and clean clothes and the rain started to come down again. Our plan was to hitch 22 miles out of town to a cabin over by Mt. Rogers that my friend Mike had opened up for us.

When the rain abated a bit, the three of us started walking towards the center of town when an SUV pulled up and the driver welcomed our sorry wet selves into the dry interior of his vehicle.

The rest of the story is lifted from EZ Hikes’s blog.

20140518-175547.jpg He’s hiking with Guthook:

“We all climbed in and started introductions. The driver said ‘My name is Longhaul. I hiked in 2005′. I looked him and said ‘I hiked with a Longhaul in 2010.’ He replied ‘I hiked in 2010 and I remember you, EZ Hiker. So were do you guys need to go?’
I explained to him we were trying to get to a cabin near Troutdale.
He said, ‘I have a bunk room at my farm house. Come stay we me tonight and I’ll take you back to Trail Days in the morning’. “

Things worked out, again. We ate a huge amount of home made chili. Longhaul whipped up fresh omlets and bacon in the morning.

Day 5 Hiking the AT in Tenn

The chance of serious thunderstorms are predicted for tomorrow, starting at 1 am tonight. I pushed out 22.5 miles today to be positioned for a 10 mile downhill run into Damascus. Even if it is raining hard, I’m heading out early. I estimate that I will be walking for 3 more hours. When I hit town, I plan to get an early shower, hit the laundromat, and eat some real food, though not necessarily in that order.
From there, everything’s open.
The hiking today was super enjoyable.

20140515-204905.jpg It was a little cooler than yesterday, and the wind cut down on the sweating.

I am camping at the Abington Gap shelter tonight. I am in one of 22 tents that are pitched around the shelter. Guthook and EZ are in the shelter. We are trying to figure out where to sleep during trail days.

Day 4 Hiking the AT in Tennessee

What a crazy last half hour. I struggled into the Vanderventer shelter just before a huge thunderstorm hit that went through a hail phase.
This is a tiny cinder block shelter, and right now there are 20 grimy young hikers stuffed in, with more coming every 10 minutes. The shelter holds 6.
I planned to stay here tonight, but the situation is deteriorating by the minute. The young Gandalf, seated next to me, just drenched his leg and the floor all around me with boiling water from his pocket-rocket-fired liter of water. I was pissed. The minute he perched the stove on the edge of the shelter floor and then simultaneously started rolling himself a cigarette I felt there was going to be trouble. Luckily, I started pitching my gear to the dry floor at the rear of the shelter just before the amoeba of boiling water reached my stuff.
I really enjoyed this morning’s hike. I took the river route and viewed Laurel Falls.

The new cool thing this year for both guys and gals appears to be roll your own smokes. The rest of the guys fired up their roll-your-owns and proceeded to fill the shelter with tobacco smoke. Great.
Who should roll in the lean-to viewfinder this afternoon but my hiking friend Guthook! He is on a self-imposed assignment to thru-hike all of Virginia in just three weeks, putting him on a 25 mile a day pace. He’s got a sidekick named EZ hiking with him. We hung out a bit behind the shelter and caught up on plans.
Eventually the horde of grimy testosterone picked itself up and shuffled north around 5:30 PM, when a more friendly and other-oriented assemblage of hikers took their place.
My buddies Ken, Squirrel and White Rabbit are right beside me. By the time the darkness came, there were 10 more tents and 1 hammock surrounding the shelter.

Day 3 Hiking the AT in Tennessee

Profile from Huthook’s AT Hiker Guide, for iPhone (and Android), on the APP store.

The thermometer hit 87 degrees today. All the climbs, jumping off ledges, stepping up and over downed trees, black fly devils, andy sweat -drenched shirt were intensified by the heat of the sun.
In the forest, the deciduous trees up over 3,500 feet still have little damp, light green leaves, which do nothing to create shade below. The only respite from the brutal heat were the frequent groves of rhododendron, with their long, thick , dark green leaves. The ground below them was damp, too, further lowering the temps.
I had a bad night of sleep. My upper spine was aching all night long. I forgot to pack ibuprofen.
I left the Mountaineer shelter at 6:20 this morning. Ken, the richly tattooed hiker, was out first at 6. I passed 16 hikers and was passed by two today.
At the end of the day, at the Dennis Cove parking lot, I ran into Hippie Kippy, a fellow thru-hiker and friend that I met a few times while hiking around New England in 2011. Kippy asked me to bring Bob Peoples a big tray of trail magic enchiladas.

20140513-192607.jpg It was just a .3 mile hike up Dennis Cove Road to Bob’s place. The frozen casserole felt great pressed against my chest.
I completed the 16 miles by 2 PM, and arrived at Kincora Hostel in time to snag a spot in the upstairs bunkhouse. A number of the other folks that I’ve been staying the night with came by later. Squirrel, a petite young lady organized a group supper, and I volunteered to organize a breakfast for the eight of us. Bob drove us to Hampton for resupply for the next 50 mile segment to Damascus. I bought three and a half days worth of food.
I hung out with Bear and his wife, Honey, a couple from Andover, Maine, who have run the Bear’s Den Hostel there for the past 20 years. They were staying with Bob in their pickup/ camper combo. They are vacationing before the hiking season starts in Maine. They had been out to the PCT Kickoff in California and were winding their way back to Maine.
I’m thinking of hiking the 50 mile Maine section from Gorham, NH to The Height of Land just south of Rangely. Bear told me he is able to slack hikers through that whole section. He said he would give me a great time stay at the Bear’s Den.
Great communal feed of spaghetti, salad, watermelon, and ice cream tonight. I very much appreciated the hikers including me in their group, and plan to repay them tomorrow morning when it will be my turn to cook.
The hiking was difficult and relentlessly hilly for most of the day , but the hot shower and warm welcome at Kincora made all the hard-earned sweat go right down the drain with a pile of my fretting and cares.


Day 2 Hiking the AT in Tenn

Profile from Huthook’s AT Hiker Guide, for iPhone and Android, on the APP store.

I woke up without an alarm at 6 am and decided to get up and start walking. It was still dark. I used my headlamp in the red light mode, which protects night vision, and also is respectful to those hikers who want to sleep later.
I had cell coverage, and saw heavy fog warnings for Roan Mountain, nearby. The rain held off all day, but the humidity was high, and my shirt got soaked anyways. My boots get wet by the grass in the morning, but dried out in the afternoon when it got in the mid-70′s.
I was the first one out at 7 am. Another former thru hiker passed me at 9 am. He was the only one. I passed 26 hikers today. I felt strong. I’m still ten pounds lighter than I used to be, and it makes a big difference humping up there long slogs. There was 3400′ of elevation gain today. Damn, it’s good to be out again. Lots of your hikers surround me, but just a handful of retirees.
My plan for the day was to keep moving steadily. I put in two and a half hours of steady walking, then dipped my water bottle into a stream, purified it with my Steripen, and drank a quart. I also ate a snack. I stopped again at noon, and ate a quick lunch. Then I somehow got into my head that I was going to arrive at the next shelter, Mountaineer, at 2:30 PM after an 18 mile day. That’s exactly what happened, even with no wrist watch . Mountaineer is a new shelter and is three levels high.
I was the second one into the shelter. I like sleeping against a side wall. It means that I can pile my gear undisturbed on that side, and only have to cope with one body next to me.
It is very reassuring to me to be hiking the AT. Sometimes, I lapse into a low level of anxiety on these walks, fretting away about what is not yet to unfold. Then I glance up and see these fresh white blazes on the trees and rocks ahead and settle back down, reassured. All is OK tonight.
I hope to reach Kincora hostel tomorrow, but am not expecting to score a place to stay there, with an estimated 50 hikers between me and Kincora.
Another adventure for tomorrow.