Uncle Tom’s Adventures in 2019: Part 1

Welcome to 2019!
Here’s an update on my plans and goals for the year.


I’ve reluctantly suspended commercial guided backpacking trips in 2019. I learned my lesson in 2017 when I had to cancel and refund cash money for two fully booked 5 and 10 day backpacking trips. At that time, issues with serious medical conditions involving two of my family members demanded that I stay home and address the care of my loved ones. While those issues continue to be managed in the best manner possible, there now exists a real possibility that I will not be able to be in the wilderness if and when the health of my family takes a nosedive.
Nevertheless, I have made alternate plans to get out and schedule few things that allow me to be outdoors, sleeping on the ground, hanging out around campfires, and enjoying what I can in the forest.

I consider myself blessed.
Everyday life offers me engagement in the outdoors on a daily basis, in all seasons.

A very slow, but steady mile. (photo by Auntie Mame)

I live in a sort of “park” in midcoast Maine, where several of my neighbors hold large 100+ and even 1,000+ acre undeveloped properties. Long stretches along High Street, where I live at 430 feet of elevation on the southern side of Moody Mountain, not only don’t have any buildings, there aren’t even any utility poles or wires. What’s there instead is a canopy of towering oaks and other hardwoods that tower over the narrow roadway. This past couple months I’ve observed several mature bald eagles who have remained for the winter perched on a rooftops and trees, and even watched them glide over the bare open fields are they scan for their meager, but apparently adequate sources of sustenance.

I’ve stopped caring that the deer are still feeding on my shrubs, and fruit trees. That’s all that’s left for them and the flocks of 30 plus wild turkey after they ate the remains of my vegetable garden down to the ground after harvest.
I am blessed that many of my neighbors continue to allow me to hike and mountain bike right out my door, through the fields, abandoned roads, and trails that I’ve traveled over the past forty years that I’ve lived in this hand-made house. May all this continue as long as it goes.

Heading home, sinking..

At this point, I refer the reader to this article from Self magazine: The 2 Things That Will Help Motivate You to Be More Active

The article builds on data compiled between October 1, 2017, and September 30, 2018, from all 36 million people who use Strava that was aggregated and de-identified to respect athlete privacy.
Two factors lead to increased activity and help athletes stay active longer: goal setting and working out with someone.
My increasing engagement in walking and biking outdoors has been greatly enhance by both these practices.

I plan to continue writing about my 2019 plans in subsequent posts.

For 2019,  please consider joining the 919 other people who are subscribed to future pots from this blog.

Disclaimer: I paid for my Strava Summit ( formerly Premium) yearly membership

My 2018 Mileage Goals: MET ! YEAH !

Yesterday was one of my big days for 2018- the day when I finally  amassed 2000+ miles, balancing out half the miles on foot with the other half on one of my bikes.  Total hours spent hiking and biking was 506,  averaging one hour and 22 minutes a day.  I target about 75 minutes  of moderate to robust action a day.   If there are days where I am too tired to get out or I don’t feel up to it, I have to make up the time on another day, usually on the weekends.

Here are the Strava screenshots summarizing my achievements:

1,013 miles on foot
1,002 miles on a bicycle

Here’s a 2016 blog post about how I came to walk 1,000 miles in Maine a couple of years ago.

Some things that helped me meet my goals:

a)  I was injury free this year.  No crashes on my bike, where 95% of my bike miles are off road!  It is to the point now that if I get thrown off the bike, onto one of my bad shoulders, I’m a month off the bike.

b)  I was in good health all year, avoiding even a cold.

c)  I use a 2 minute daily heart rate variability measurement upon awakening every morning.  These days I’m using the Elite HRV App on my iPhone.  I’ve also switched from putting a cold heart rate chest strap to a CorSense heart rate variability sensor.

Here’s a blog post bout how I use the daily reading to gauge my recovery status, which guides how hard I plan to work out on any particular day.

d)  Get social.  According to Strava’s analysis of factors that contribute to increased time spent engaging in physical activity, there are just two factors that lead to increased activity and help athletes stay active longer: goal setting and working out with someone.  Read more about that here.

I’m strongly motivated by riding or hiking in a group.

Sunday morning with The Bubbas in the Woods.  A fine congregation !

Two to three times a week I ride with the Bubbas in the Woods, 33 members strong and riding year round on Midcoast Maine trails for the past 30+ years.

It’s pounding rain right now, with 2-3 ” predicted to wash away the foot of snow that has recently fallen here in the past week.  Maybe it will dry out enough so that I can fit in a ride in the woods Sunday morning.   I’m cruising into the last few days of 2018, feeling pretty smug but the way things turned out for me in 2018.

Consider getting friendly with a hiker or a hiker and give the 1,000 miles a year thing a go of it in 2018!

 

 

 

 

I’m Riding My Own Ride, so Don’t Diss Me!

Here is a 3D graphic clip of my most recent Sunday morning mountain bike ride at Ragged Mountain:
Clik it! —>>>https://www.relive.cc/view/1830659825

There are those folks who react to those of us who like to record and review our outdoor adventures by posting disparaging comments like,  “Just ride the damn thing!” ( Implying that it is unnecessary to gather and work with data from program such as Strava, or Fitbit) that might take a pointers from the backpacking community, where ” Hike your own hike! ” is a well-know slogan.  It translates to ” Do your own thing.”

Of course you can just ride !   You can also just walk and forgo the adoption of a technology such as a bicycle to get around in the woods.

It is motivating for me to set yearly performance goals, based on my own baselines. My goals for 2018 are amassing both 1,000 miles in riding my bike and another 1,000  in hiking.  Here’s how I am doing:

Recording rides and hikes keeps me on track- I am not guessing about whether I rode or hiked enough this week.

IMG_8378
Sunday morning members of some of The Bubbas in the Woods. A fine congregation to be part of!

Goal setting, along with cardiac monitoring through technology such as heart rate variability keeps me on track, and out of trouble,  as I age along the path. My yearly physical took place this past week, with the blood work, prostate results, and cardiac markers all very favorable.  Even my previously pathetic Vitamin D level skyrocketed into the outer limits.

Takeaway:

Public communication about fitness goals and progress is consistently supported by science!

When Walking Speed Matters

On 07/11/2018 I blogged:  I’m tired of Taking Crap from People for Walking Fast.   Myt post concluded that,  “In the end, it is important to recognize the value of walking at any intensity and pace, but if you are able and willing to pick up the pace, even for short bursts of faster walking or hill work, it will result in increased bang for the walking buck.”

Here are two more recent references related to why you might consider increasing your walking speed:

The first was from the (July 25, 2018) NY Times:

Exercise Makes the Aging Heart More Youthful

This particular health article notes specific benefits to the left ventricle and  coronary arteries found in Master’s athletes and individuals who have been regular and frequent exercisers for decades.

“For lifelong heart health, start exercising early in life and keep exercising often. But even if you have neglected to exercise and are now middle-aged, it is not too late.”

Similar benefits were replicated in a two year study that arrears to be solidly supported. Randomized groups were subjected to varying levels of frequency and intensity of exercise. They found that a sedentary group showed the usual effects of time, with heart muscles, particularly their left ventricles or chambers, shrunken and less powerful than in younger people.  The same changes were evident in casual exercisers. However, men and women who had exercised at least four times a week for years, or in those who were masters’ athletes had left ventricles that looked and functioned much like those of people decades younger.

I just finished reading Daniel G. Amen’s ” Memory Rescue: Supercharge Your Brain, Reverse Memory Loss, and Remember what matters Most

Amen is a bestselling neuroscientist, psychiatrist, and founder of the Amen Clinics.  He’s particularly interested in preserving and even increasing blood flow, which turns out to be advantageous for folks experiencing memory decline as well as  for individuals who re concerned about aging and fitness.

“The faster we walk as we age, the longer we live and the sharper we think.  An 80 year old person who walks 1 mile per hour has only a 10% chance of living until 90. But if that same 80 year old moves faster, say at 3.5 miles an hour, her or she has an 84% chance of reaching 90. (1)   As walking speed goes down, so do executive function and decision-making skills. If you haven’t walked at a faster pace for a long time, start slowly and work your way up safely.”

  1. Stephanie Studenski et al, “Gait Speed and Survival in Older Adults”, ” Journal of the American Medical Association 305, no.1, (Jan. 2011): 50-58

It should be noted that Amen’s  exercise recommendations for increasing blood flow include burst training ( intervals) , strength training, coordination activities, and mindful exercise.

 

 

Summer is Officially Here: Get Moving

“Aires ( March 21-April 19). To get where you want to go, you’ll have to make your way through the crowd.  Start moving and people will get out of your way. Movement is what makes things change.”- Daily Horoscope-Holly Mathis, 6/25/2018

Nature is ahead of me on this one.  Somehow,  in a surprisingly short amount of time, the vista outside of my big kitchen window is a mass of slowly expanding movement of green: my lawn, the hay fields all around me, and the three hundred and sixty degree panorama of forest that surrounds our house.

My ever-expanding vegetable garden is fully planted and growing steadily.  I’m already harvesting lettuce, green onions, beet greens, parsley , and celery.  Unfortunately the deer are also moving in to eat my plants, and I plan to install my electric fencing tomorrow after this rain lets up.

Bugs are moving.  I’ve pulled out one tick and plucked off a dozen already.  Did you know that tics are blind, and detect animal hosts through body odors, breath, heat, movement and vibrations?

I’ve got a few mosquito bites decorating my neck.  I’m not much bothered by mosquitoes after experiencing the massive numbers of them in Labrador on several of my motorcycle and canoeing trips there over the years.  Its all relative.

On thing that has assisted me in maintaining a level of activity that has kept my weight down, and in shape for backpacking is setting movement goals.  I have two: biking 1,000  and walking 1,000 miles a calendar year.

I monitor my movement progress through the use of the Strava app, where one of the functions allows users to view distance totals by sport on their Profile page.  As of today, I am 26 miles ahead of my biking pace

but 52 miles down on walking.

I plan to get moving on this by doing several two-hour hikes this week to climb back to hiking pace.

Lifestyle changes matter.  People who live in cities often walk more daily miles than us country residents, where services are too far away to access without driving a vehicle.

Looking for ways to move that are functional helps.  For example, I amassed 17,369 steps (8.4 miles via Fitbit) last Friday where I spent the better half of the day tilling, planting, weeding,  fertilizing, mulching, and watering the veggie garden.

When it stops raining today, I plan to fire up my little tractor and attach a cart and move down to the woods where I have stacks of unsplit rounds that I’ll haul up to the wood shed to split and move under cover for heating the house this winter.  I still cut my own firewood which leads to all sorts of strength, twisting, and core work.

This afternoon I plan to walk thee miles to my friend Dave’s house in Lincolnville Center where I’ll cop a ride to my weekly Men’s Group get together.

But I’ll be competing for a place on the path with the ticks, who will be waiting for me as I walk through the unmown hayfield and the brush that is filling up the abandoned Proctor Road as I move my way down to the pavement of the Heal Road that will lead me to open space walking to the Center.   I plan to wear long pants, sprayed with Permethrin and hope for the best.

The solstice passed on June 21.  Winter is coming.  Get moving !

 

 

 

How Heart Rate Variability Training Fits Into my Fitness Plan

For the past four years I’ve been in the daily practice of measuring my heart rate variability (HRV). It takes me four minutes at best, after sitting up in bed, at the end of the first of my twice daily thirty 30 minute mediation sessions.

(I have maintained a continuous 48 year practice of Transcendental Meditation, which I consider it to be the core technique of my health practices. Yes, I have accumulated over 10,000 hours of meditation practice. Malcom Gladwell put forth the statement that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field.)

I learned about HRV from a demonstration that I observed in a psychology workshop with Larry Starr, Ed D. Dr. Starr has included neurofeedback in his psychology practice, where he utilizes HRV to reduce client symptoms of ADHD and anxiety.

“Simply put, HRV is a measure of the time gap  between individual heart beats while your body is at rest. The heart, in fact, speeds up when you inhale, and slows down when you exhale. This difference is known as HRV. A healthy, well-rested body will produce a larger gap, and higher variability”. – Dr. Phil Maffetone

HRV technology had been around for over 50 years but has only been recently available for home use. Long used in hospitals in treating heart patients, HRV has only recently been applied to endurance training.

I have been totally satisfied with the Sweetbeat HRV App for the iPhone, which pairs via Bluetooth with my Yahoo Ticker chest strap.

Here is a screenshot of two years of data, indicating a positive trend:

From the App Store: “SweetBeat HRV, the newest iOS application by SweetWater Health, provides real-time monitoring using state-of-the-art sensor technology and data correlation algorithms. Patent-pending correlation algorithms provide insight from other health and fitness devices. SweetBeat HRV also integrates and correlates data with popular fitness platforms like MapMyFitness, Fitbit and Withings. The next big thing in body-hacking is to understand the information presented in the data users track every day. SweetBeat HRV correlates metrics like HRV, stress, heart rate, weight, steps, calories, and so much more. SweetBeat HRV utilizes the popular food sensitivity testing and HRV-for-training features in the original SweetBeat app.”

I use the App for two purposes:
1) Primary is in determining whether my body is in a stressed state from over-training. In general, my daily 75-90 minute hike or bike ride results in a higher (better) HRV reading, but if my reading dips, the program prompts me to take an easy training day or even a day off in order to bring my body back into balance.
2) HRV readings also correlate with the occurrence of a cold. I’m generally a healthy guy, succumbing to normal bodily aches,  pains, and even tendonitis only when I have tripped on a hike or crashed on my mountain bike. In fact, over the past three years I have not had the flu (I do get the flu vaccine.) and I have only had a single brief cold that lasted for 5 days. My HRV reading dropped significantly one day a couple of years ago, where I was prompted to take it easy and rest up. The next day I experienced a sore throat and two days later my head swelled up with the full-blown symptoms of a bad cold.  My initial low HRV reading had been in response to my body beginning to muster antibodies to address the cold, a situation of which I was totally unaware.

HRV literature also reports being able to detect food sensitivities through the use of HRV readings, although I have not attempted to employ this aspect of the technlogy.  I’m sort of an I -can-eat-anything-person.

For further reading on HRV, I’ll refer you to this blog post by Phil Maffetone:

Heart Rate Variability: What It Is and How It Helps With Training
By Dr. Phil Maffetone  (April 29, 2015)

Humbling Heart Rate ?

I’m concerned that I’m pushing my heart rate too high on the bike. I’m 68 years old. Two weeks ago I rode my typical Sunday ride up and around Ragged Mountain, where I averaged 155 beats per minute for over two hours with a maximum reading of 173.  For a full 30 minutes of the ride my heart pushed  out 161-171  beats per minute.  My normal resting pulse ranges from 47-55 bpm .   I record data wearing  a Garmin chest strap that is linked to my Garmin eTrex 30 GPS unit.  From there I send it to Strava for saving o my profile.

Here’s a Veloviewer 3D elevation rendering of the ups, downs and all-arounds of the same 8 miles ride that I took this past Sunday:

Here’s the traditional view of the ride.  It ain’t easy! These  two images are not aligned correctly, but I bet you can rotate them  in your mind’s eye.

I talked to my doctor about it last week while he was trimming away at a plugged sweat gland that was causing me pain on the side of my foot.  He thought my heart/arteries were OK, but also said that he had at least a handful of apparently healthy patients who were athletes in their early 70’s that dropped dead from unexpected heart attacks.

So he’s getting me a referral for a consultation with an electro-cardiologist who has a exercise specialty.  That’s all I want, a chance to talk to someone who has knowledge and background to address concerns.  My own father died at 72 of heart disease, and my paternal grandfather died from what might have been heart disease when my father was a baby.

In the meantime, I’ll keep pushing it on the bike, rest up adequately between my two-wheeled adventures, keep up the meditation, and start ramping up the relatively short summer/fall veggie consumption season.

Here was my lunch today:

Spring onions, fiddlehead ferns, my own kimchi, tempeh, rice noodle oup.

 

 

 

Study vs. Action ? Improve Your Backpacking Success

People get better by putting time and effort into understanding and practicing the components that are necessary to complete a task,  job, or even a sport, like backpacking.  I recently read an article by Tim Herrera in his NYTimes Smarter Living column that challenged my thinking about improving my long distance backpacking skills.     Here’s the article:  Just Working Harder Won’t Get You Ahead. Working Smarter Will.    In sum, Herrera postultates about variables that affect skill levels in advanced  performers. Herrera claims that the strongest predictor of skill wasn’t time spent practicing; rather, it was time spent in serious study.  Unfortunately, Herrera draws on just one example- the “sport” of chess, as his example.

screenshot 14

In my experience hugely more productive to engage in the activities and practice the basic principles that bolster one’s chances of success than spend that equal time in serious study of backpacking books, websites, and videos.

Backpacking and hiking are activities that should be as natural as waking up or going to sleep- after all, once we learn to walk as babies, life is just putting one foot in front of the other, right?   Well, yes and no.

Walking is easy until you turn your ankle and sprain it, or worse.  It’s easy unless you find yourself off-trail in a unfamiliar area, or if you need to cross a raging stream that has the power to sweep your feet out from under you.

Justin Lee and Alan Widmaier in CA on PCT (2010)

Walking is no problem, until you are walking on ice slanted on an impossibly steep slope, or a bear rips into your backpack at night and absconds with your food.

Experience trumps familiarity, which brings up another pitfall of trying to master a set of physical and mental skills by reading, listening to,  or observing others engaged in the practice.   You fall into the pit when you follow up unreliable advice that comes your way  due to the ability of media to make a pitch look polished and professional when in fact it may even be uninformed ofreven false.  For example, I attended a workshop in April 2010 in Southern California as I was starting my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail  dubbed ” the foot talk” where a former PCT-thru hiker told us anxious group of wanna-bees that blisters were inevitable.  At the time, I had just switched to a pair of military issue desert boots that were supplied by New Balance that were loaded with mesh panels to dump moisture.  I was fortunate to complete that hike blister free, as I have with any other long distance hike since then.  Sure there were a few more things that I had learned bout taking care of my feet that I applied on my hikes, but the point is that experts don’t know what is best for you, and maybe not even themselves.

Edward tells me that , ” It’s still not right”

I bought a new tent this year- a 12′ diameter tipi , with one 6’10” pole, that required  serious study and practice to set up.  I brought my new tent to Florida this past January where I was camping with my best friend Edward.   I had watched two videos about setting the unit up as well as read the instruction sheet that accompanied the tent.  I also read all the customer comments on the website about setting it up.  I laughed when I read the comment about the poor guy who took 2 hours to set his tipi up the first time  in an actual snowstorm.   Would you believe that it also took Edward and me two hours to set up the tent, and that was in warm weather on perfectly flat ground ?  The written instructions were confusing, and we ended up devising a much simpler method for doing the job right, getting the setup down to 10 minutes after two hours of actual engagement in the act of putting the thing up taught and secure.

In Zen Body-Being, Peter Ralston writes about developing physical skills, power, and even grace.   In 1978 Ralston  became the first non-Asian ever to win the World Championship full-contact martial arts tournament held in the Republic of China.

Ralston writes about the wisdom of experience:  ” Studying techniques and training ritualized movement may be useful, but these are ‘details’ within a larger picture.  We need to  be able to discern the sometimes-subtle difference between just thinking about something and truly experiencing something.  One of the simplest ways to bridge this gap is to involve ourselves with hand-on experimentation and investigation.”

So,  make 2018 the year you experience the outdoors and engage in hiking and backpacking more than you spend those same hours on screen while sitting on the couch.  Set a goal to get out for many hours, where you might be blessed enough to be able to walk though rain, snow, wind, cold, and dark and have the realization that walking might just be putting one foot in front of the other, but it isn’t easy, and it doesn’t have to be done on blistered feet.

Preparing for Long Distance Hiking

In the next couple of days I am simultaneously prepping for two events.

I present this coming Sunday at the 41st Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s biennial Conference “Views from the Maine Woods,” which runs August 4-11 at Colby College in Waterville.

Here’s my Sunday, August 6 workshop description:
Why Walking Matters: Benefits of Walking and Improvisational Skills in Long-Distance Hiking. Tom Jamrog, Triple Crown thru-hiker, author, and Maine Guide with Uncle Tom’s Guided Adventures.  From the ages of 57 to 63, “Uncle Tom” thru-hiked four National Scenic Trails. Tom reviews the latest research on the physical and mental health benefits of walking, and discusses pre-hike training and mental practices that can bolster an aging hiker’s continued success on the trail.

Two days later, I fly out of Boston to St. John’s to attempt a 185 mile thru-hike of Newfoundland’s East Coast Trail.

East Coast Trail website
East Coast Trail- Newfoundland

Foot care will be a priority activity that I’ll discuss in my workshop and that I’ve been applying on as I approach this rugged hike. I’ll tell the audience that I’ve been walking barefoot as much as possible in the past week in order to toughen up my feet. I have also been applying rubbing alcohol to the soles of my feet toes and heels, a technique I picked up years ago from Colin Fletcher,’s  The Complete Walker IV book, formerly described as “The Hikers Bible” when it came out in 2002. Alcohol cleans, dries, and toughens the skin. Addition to the alcohol, I use an artificial pumice block to buff up callous areas in my forefoot, toes, and heel.

IMG_2933I’ll be backpacking in thin wool socks from Darn Tough and my broken-in New Balance boots, a combination that has resulted in blister-free freedom over the past 5000 miles of hiking. Roomy footwear is  best.

Right now, I’ve signing off to work on my updated Powerpoint for the Colby ATC talk.

Maybe I’ll see some of you there?

For Exercise, Nothing Like the Great Outdoors

I’m sitting here on a dreary, gonna-be-hot-and-humid Saturday morning and deciding whether to hike or bike a bit this morning.

It is exactly half way into the 2017 calendar year. I’m just been through a month of recovery from a bad fall I took on May 22 coming down off the Bigelow ridge after clearing downed trees and cutting back brush  trail on the Appalachian Trail.  I had built up a bit of a cushion since Jan.1  just in case I experienced any setbacks (like a torn/strained hamstring and bashed up back).  Those of you who follow this blog know that I am a huge fan of setting goals, be it for fitness, or for scheduling upcoming trips that help me to spend time outside, and get me moving through the countryside.

I use the Strava (Premium version) App to track my progress for the year, with my overall efforts looking satisfactory. I’m on track for a year of 1,000 miles biking and another 1,000 miles of walking.  So far, I’ve broken 18 personal records while engaged in 156 activities that have taken me 241 hours to complete.

Mid year progress 2017

 

Breaking it down, I’ve done a bit better with biking than walking, with 516 miles logged:

My walking/hiking is just a shade behind, at 489 miles, just 11 miles short of my half way mark of 500 miles.

My walking miles are just a little bit behind.

So, I’ll I head out for a walk now instead of a ride.  If I put in a couple of hours, I should succeed in adding 6 miles or so.  I am fortunate that I can leave my house and walk in relative peace and quiet.  I’m done with the gym. I live where it is easy for me to walk or ride out my door. I plan to keep it that way.

Bottom line:    Strava goal setting helps, choosing activities that your enjoy to do for exercise helps even more, and staying in contact with other folks that like to bike and/or  hike is an additional lifestyle choice that promotes fitness in an natural and enjoyable manner.

From – The New York Times