My ups (and some downs) with Strava

I began tracking my biking, hiking, and walking efforts with  the Strava app on Christmas day back in  2011.  According to their website, “Strava lets you track your rides and runs via your iPhone, Android or dedicated GPS device and helps you analyze and quantify your performance. Strava provides motivation and camaraderie”.

I had been using the free version of the program until Dec. 31 of this year when I decided to pony up the $59 a year Premium fee and avail myself of the additional features at that level.  Three Premium features that I have used so far include GPX file downloads and transfers. I have not yet downloaded any other hiker or rider routes to my Garmin eTrex 30 GPS, but plan to do so in the next few months.

I also sometimes strap on my Garmin chest monitor and record my heart rate, which converts to a Suffer Score, which quantifies my suffering and allows me to visualize exactly how hard I have worked on a particular hike or ride. My most intense workouts yield a a special class of Points in the Red.  My Polish suffering gene interfaces well with the Suffer Score.

But the one feature that convinced me to pay for the use of the program is the ability for me to set goals and monitor them.  On Jan. 1 of this year, I took the advice of my son Lincoln, where I set a goal of 1 hour a day of either biking, walking, or backpacking for the whole year.  Strava allows you to set goals for distance or time.

I religiously track my progress week over week.  Simply put, I need 7 hours a week to stay on track.  I often take a day off between particularly hard workouts to recover, and things come up so it’s good to have some way of sticking with the program, even it it is an hour a day.  I often put in a longer ride or hike a few hours at the end of any week where I was slacking  in the beginning.

Here’s one of the visual presentations that has encapsulated my progress from Jan. 1, 2015 up to today:

Hourly achievement to date ( 2015)

Hourly achievement to date ( 2015)

As a psychologist, I am awed by the power of the reinforcement of this cart- to me.  To others, it may mean nothing.  This is the real data deal.

What is also satisfying about the program is the ability of Strava to aggregate data and present it in a manner that compares not only hourly progress, but progress within repeated walks, hikes, or rides.

There are stories about individuals that become obsessed about moving up the rankings for speed on segments of popular rides.  For instance, there is a Strava segment of the climb up Moody Mountain Road, which is just 1.2 miles from my doorway.  There are 87 people that have recorded their effort climbing this 1.8 mile section of 4% grade of 383 feet of elevation gain.  All are ranked in order, and there is one King of the Mountain on the top of the list.    I am not motivated by moving up the list, but I am motivated by knowing that I  am improving on my own performance.

For 2015, I am shocked and pleased  to see that I have broken 67 personal records,  when I compare my times since Dec. 2011.  Most of the time, I feel that I do pretty well out there, but there are days like yesterday when I nearly bonked on a ride that we call The Bog From The Pit.  Here’s that data:

Sunday ride

Sunday ride

But I didn’t totally crash and burn out there yesterday. If I had lost my mojo and landed on the ground in a weeping heap, then either Rigger or Kevin would have picked me up and helped me out.  I really enjoy riding with these Bubbas in the Woods, a group of Midcoast Maine faithful who have included me in their thrice weekly mountain bikes rides for close to 30 years now.

Bubbas in The Bog

Bubbas in The Bog

The big picture is what Strava offers me, and I like it.

Between Strava and The Bubbas, I am still moving along.

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As Hikers Celebrate on Appalachian Trail, Some Ask: Where Will It End? – The New York Times

Faced with increasing crowds and partylike behavior by a few, officials are threatening to reroute the Appalachian Trail so that it does not end atop Maine’s highest peak.

Source: As Hikers Celebrate on Appalachian Trail, Some Ask: Where Will It End? – The New York Times

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Hiking in The Hundred – The Last Day

Today was not supposed to be this last day of a 50 mile backpacking trip.

Improvisation ruled from day one, when my intended 3 mile afternoon and soak on the deep pool in front of my favorite shelter, the Cooper Brook Falls lean-to morphed into an 8 mile  jaunt that ended camping au sauvage beside a shoreline 0.2 miles down a branch off  the Appalachian Trail.

The crew from Boston that I am guiding through here is a tattoo-friendly family.  At least two of them were hoping to make the last day of the Boston Tattoo Convention  on Sunday, so today it was up early and out hiking from the

Rokrabbit and Gaspedal depart the shelter

Rokrabbit and Gaspedal depart the shelter

Rainbow Stream lean-to at 7 AM.

After a short climb out of the dark hollow by Rainbow Stream we hoped to make some miles before the predicted rain hit.

Up and out

Up and out

We encountered several sections where the tread was pounded down into a perpetual wet mud layer.

Logs help, but not when they are wet !

Logs help, but not when they are wet !

We have seven miles  of walking  along the shoreline of Rainbow Lake to complete today.

Topday's MIssion: Rainbow Stream Lean-to to Abol Bridge parking lot

Topday’s MIssion: Rainbow Stream Lean-to to Abol Bridge parking lot

While hiking near the Rainbow Stream campsite we encountered a southbound hiker.  I stopped to talk a bit with “Farmer”, after I recognized his Templeton, Massachusetts accent.  It turns out that Farmer and I had both thru-hiked the AT together in 2007.

Uncle Tom and Farmer

Uncle Tom and Farmer

We also realized that we had talked together on that hike as well.  Farmer told me that he started another thru-hike attempt in 2009, with his son.  Unfortunately, Farmer’s son died soon after being diagnosed with brain cancer.  Farmer said that he had several other setbacks since then, including a quadruple heart bypass last year, but that he was back trying to finish his thru hike in sections.  He said that when he hikes, he now thinks of his son.  Farmer is 75 years old.

The rain began to come and go as we were finishing up around Rainbow Lake, so we added makeshift rain covers for two of the packs.

Keeping the gear dry

Keeping the gear dry

Eventually we made it up and to the top of the Rainbow Ledges, but this time, there was no Katahdin view.  Instead, I introduced the crew to the wonders of wild Maine blueberries, which were in abundance just off the trail itself.

Worth it !

Worth it !

Everyone was increasingly tired, so we decided to stop at the last shelter at Hurd Brook, and hydrate, cook hot food, and rest.  This was supposed to be our destination today, after 12 miles of hiking.

The Hurd Brook lean-to going north has a tough, slippery access path over off-canter, slippery boulders that needs to be traversed.  I heard from a hiker that I had guided up Katahdin several weeks ago that she had fallen into the water here, where she also broke her Leki pole.  I had real doubts that we would be able to do any more miles today, but, to my surprise, the gang perked up again on recharge, and told me they wanted to add the 4 extra  miles so that they could gain some time getting back to Boston.

We were all totally soaked from the rain, and needed to keep moving in order to avoid getting chilled.  After building anticipation around every final corner, we eventually reached the end of The Hundred at the Golden Road, where we still had to slog a quarter of  mile to my van.

Not over yet

Not over yet

The feeling of accomplishment and awe at what this family was able to accomplish in these 50 miles of walking overwhelmed for all of us,  and tears of pride and joy fell freely with the rainwater that ran down our chests.

Gaspedal's done !

Gaspedal’s done !

As the four of us we sloshed past the Abol Bridge store, a half-dozen thru-hikers were huddled up under the overhang at the entrance to the store.  I glanced over and waved at them, with a smile on my face.  They were almost done, with just 15 miles of hiking left until the reached the end of the AT on Katahdin’s summit. I shouted encouragement to them.

And our last gift of Trail Magic  was the best of all, when we received a standing ovation of clapping from the hikers as we walked on to our car.  If there was ever any doubt, we all knew that this crew of hikers are now part of the Appalachian Trail family.

The magic of a wilderness walk unfolded itself, yet again.  So much happens in a day out here. The wilderness in Maine will be there when we need it again.

Bugdawg, Gaspedal, and Rokrabbit

Bugdawg, Gaspedal, and Rokrabbit

Yup !

Yup !

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( sort of ) Boston Globe review of Redford starring in ” A Walk in the Woods”

Other than the inaccuracy that 3,000 individuals completing the AT in 2014, this is an entertaining read.   The bulk of the article is a review of the new movie, coming out nation-wide on Sept. 2.  Who can go wrong with casting nick Nolte as the stumbling cast-off named Katz?  I liked the fact that we will be seeing  actual footage on the Appalachian Trail, something that didn’t happen at all in Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” movie about that other National Scenic Trail , the PCT.

Here you go–>” Appalachian Trail getting a promotional boost” – The Boston Globe.

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Hiking Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness – Day 3

Nesuntabunt !

Nesuntabunt rocks !

I mentally conjure the image of a bundt cake when I encounter the steepest climb in the northern half of The Wilderness- well maybe the steep sloping sides.  Just west of Nahmakanta Lake, at a mere 1,550 feet in elevation, Nesuntabunt challenges the hiker in that area, mostly due to jolting us out of our complacency in walking over the relatively flat AT in that region.

Today, we all met the uphill challenge, and all completed it in a strong manner, especially Bugdawg.  Collecting ourselves at the base of the climb, we drank up, and nibbled snacks.  Then I saw Bugdawg fiddling with his iPhone.  I heard music coming from the tiny external speaker.

“Uncle Tom told us that music helps on the uphills,” he told us.

I then gave Bugdawg my earphones, so that his listening would not affect anyone else’s wilderness experience.  We quickly spread out as the uphill route enfolded.  I consider Nesuntabunt one of my favorite uphill hikes.

Going up

Going up

We all agreed that terms like primal, and Jurassic Park-like fit this situation perfectly.  It’s a narrow shady groove in the forest here, surrounded by ancient mossy boulders covered with polypody ferns and mosses- and today humidity, as well.

Zen garden

Zen garden

Despite the grueling nature of the steep unrelenting walk, we were pumped about the whole situation, and barely contained our encouragement and excitement about new vistas as the trail twisted and turned its way to the top.

I moved from the back up past Gaspedal and Rok Rabbit in order to join Bugdawg, who was first on top.

Bugdawg on top

Bugdawg on top

He had a deep look of satisfaction on his face, as I told him, ” You will forever have a connection to the song you were listening to as you hit the top.  It will link you to the deep feeling of power in your chest that you are feeling right now.”   We both teared up right then and there and I knew that at that moment Bugdawg had crossed over to experience the power and deep satisfaction that sometimes may come to us as we move through the ancient forest.

We came down the other side and continued North, stopping for a snack and break on the shore of Crescent Pond. I felt that we should be looking for a campsite soon after that, and we eventually  stopped to cook our dinners by the bridge that crossed Pollywog Stream.

It was here that we experienced a true low point in energy and outright exhaustion due to the 98% humidity and heat of the day.  But somehow, after laying down, eating, and talking out our feelings, Rokrabbit and Bugdawg wanted to try and keep going.

Moving up Rainbow Stream

Moving up Rainbow Stream

We walked along the stunning cascades and pools of Rainbow Stream  where we eventually made it to the campsites behind Rainbow Stream lean-to.

These neophyte hikers from the streets around Boston had just surprised by completing a 14 mile day.

There were several thru-hikers staying in the lean-to and camping around us.  They listened to me as I stood on my soapbox for a while and spoke to them about understanding the rules of Baxter State Park, why those rules are there, and to be respectful to the rangers there.

We need to do all we can as hikers right now to maintain Katahdin as the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

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Hiking The Hundred Mile Wilderness – Day 2

Heading out

Heading out

On our second day, walking 11 miles,  all three of this Boston clan received their trail names.  It was a specific request that they all made of me coming into this adventure.  I could not guarantee that it would happen, but said that it was possible.  I’m not that impressed with all the Rainbows, Blue Skys, Striders, and Mountain Men that populate the trail year ofter year.  The AT tradition is to have another hiker give you a name based on some incident or personality characteristic that offers to others a glimpse of  your own uniqueness.

Dino was the easiest for me to scope out.  He worked for a major natural gas company in Massachusetts.  Dino was also a “go at it “ type of guy, so the name of Gaspedal bubbled right up into my consciousness, and he felt that might work.  I had warned Dino that hikers can end up with names that are pretty weird, like what happened to Assface and Balls.  He took to Gaspedal right away.

Gaspedal with Mud Pond in the background

Gaspedal with Mud Pond in the background

Rok Rabbit’s identity was part of a magical event.  As Jake as I were carefully picking our steps across a stream that was the Mud Pond outlet, avoiding a slip on the slick stones, he shouted out, “  Look, check out the rabbit coming along with us!”
I turned to my right and witnessed something I had never seen in my life- a brown snowshoe hare slowly hopping its way across the 15 foot wide stream, picking shallow spots, hopping up on a couple of rocks, splashing along, and making it happen. Jake then pulled out a green rabbit’s foot from his pocket, and showed it to me, and told me that the rabbit was a special animal to him. Bingo- trail name #1.

I was impressed with Nick’s keen eye for small life forms.  He spotted a nymph casing floating in the water on the edge of Antler Camp point, was excellent at spotting tiny little toads, often stopped while walking to poke around in the greenery to examine tiny beings, and appeared particularly attuned to the details along the trail.  I learned that Nick was an entomology buff, and had a good collection of insects in his own room at home. I suggested Bugdawg and he went for it.  Yes !

Gaspedal, Rok Rabbit, and Bugdawg staying upright

Gaspedal, Rok Rabbit, and Bugdawg staying upright

We were all experiencing sticky clothing in the unrelenting heat and humidity.  Gaspedal was concerned about possible chafing in his shorts, so I asked him, “ You wearing underwear?”
He answered, “Of course”.  So I suggested that he go without them and see how that worked out.  Later in the afternoon, he said, “ I just tried going commando, and I like it. Mucho better.”

It was so hot that we took three swim breaks today:  Antler Camps, Sand Beach, and when we stopped for the night at the Nahmakanta Stream campsite.

Sand Beach

Sand Beach

Antler Camp point

Antler Camp point

Gaspedal cut his foot on some rocks at Antler Camp , so I was able to try out the New Skin that my friend Joe recommended.  It worked!  I painted a bit over the cut, which dried in 2 minutes.  Then I placed a small piece of duct tape over it and everything held up after we checked the wound at the end of the hike. The layer of New-Skin was still on there after the tape was peeled off and the cut had already healed up.

We stopped to drink and fill out water bottles at the Potaywdjo spring near that same-named shelter.

Hiker at Potaywadjo spring

Hiker at Potaywadjo spring

This spring is the largest on the whole Appalachian Trail, where ice cold crystal clear water comes up to the surface through white sand.

One of the issues in the hiking community right now is overuse, due to the increasing number of hikers that are taking to the Appalachian Trail.  Nowhere is that more evident in the outhouse that was set up here at the far edge of the Nahmakanta Stream campsite.  Let’s be clear- there’s no way I would want to be the volunteer who is responsible for maintaining this segment of the AT.  I’ve been in hundreds of privies in my day, and the one here was not only strewn with unused and a “bit used” toilet paper, it reeked to a place that was definitely not high heaven. It was nauseating.   I was the only one that ended up using it, and that was because I forced myself to breathe through my mouth, and I was very efficient at getting in and out of there.

Today, we had one uphill segment to lumber up- Potaywadjo Ridge, a mile long climb of some 400 feet in elevation gain.

Coming up Potawaydjo Ridge

Coming up to Potaywadjo Ridge

I was impressed at the strong,  steady walking of the crew, who all made it up without a whine and just one brief stand-up rest stop.

The walking today was punctuated by numerous sections where the trail is traversed on puncheons,  split-log  timbers with one face smoothed, used for avoiding walking in deep mud.

Deep wet forest

Deep wet forest

They are slippery when wet.

We met two couples who were parked on the Jo-Mary Road just before Nahmakanta Lake.  I asked them if they were willing to take our trash and they said yes.  The policy on the AT  is to Leave No Trace.  Sometimes it’s hard convincing hikers that this also means you don’t leave working items at the shelters that you don’t want to carry any more, but that you believe other hikers want. For example, rolls of duct tape, jars of food, battery operated lanterns with used batteries, metal water bottles, saws, or full bottles of white gas.  Pack it in, pack it out.  It makes the work of volunteers easier.  They are the ones that have to carry all the great stuff out that no one wants to carry anymore.

We also established a new pattern of cooking and tenting today.  Last night, at the wild camping site, we did both in sequence, and ended up being pressed into using our headlamps before we had all of our tasks completed.  I was also nervous about the possibility of a spark from our cooking igniting the deep dry bed of pine needles that were all around and under us. So, this afternoon, we cooked at a place that was next to water, and had safer undergrowth, which minimized fire danger.  Then we washed the cook pots and utensils and packed up and moved on, hiking for a couple of miles before we settled into this official campsite for the night.  There was one other section hiker who also was tenting at the site, Chopsticks.

Nahmakanta Stream Campsite

Nahmakanta Stream Campsite

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The Poles take on Himalaya Winter Climb ( 2008) – National Geographic Magazine

I just read this 2008 article from National Geo. magazine. The Polish climbers of the 1980’s and 1990’s evolved into the toughest group of Himalayan mountain climbers that the world has ever known. They focused on winter ascents of all 14 of the world’s 8,000 meter peaks. It’s inspiring to me.

Ice Warriors
“Numbing cold, gale-force winds, avalanches, frostbite. Why risk your neck on Pakistan’s Nanga Parbat in the middle of winter? Ask Polish climbers.”

photo by Tommy Heinrich

Himalaya Winter Climb – National Geographic Magazine.

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