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)

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.

Another Crash

I had hit my chest, ribs, and shoulder hard as I ever did before. The sudden pain that I felt lying face down on the single track caused me to scream wordlessly several times. Blaine had been riding his bike just fifty feet ahead of me on Chris McKearney’s Trail in the Rockland Bog. Blaine backtracked to assist me as I laid face down moaning, and  encouraged me to collect myself and take time getting up. Everything had happened so fast. I recall two immediate thoughts: I didn’t hit my head and no bones seemed broken.

Mudded up Ice Cream Truck

I was apart from my Surly Ice Cream Truck so my winter boot cleats must of released upon impact.  Blaine remarked that the rubber o-ring on my Bluto fork indicated that it had compressed to maximum travel. I was a hurting unit.

The crash happened at the end of a Saturday morning ride, which was not my usual weekend mountain biking schedule. Normally, I ride at 9:30 every Sunday morning with The Bubbas-a tight group of bike nuts that have banded together to ride three times a week, year round, for the past couple decades or more.

I decided to ride with Blaine and Monica because a snowstorm was predicted for Saturday night into Sunday, with a range of 4-8 inches forecasted for the area. Even though I have five-inch-wide lugged Flowbeist/Dunderbeist tires on my bike, I’ve put in enough winter riding to know that 5 inches or more of fresh power might not be very pleasant to move through. Clear ground on Saturday was my choice.

Except that winter Midcoast Maine trails  can suck.

Landowner might be pissed

Most of the leaves that had fallen off the hardwood trees had been blown off the path. Wet (and slippery) bare roots were running across the ground, as were the rocks, ledges, the moss, slimy lichens, and the sticks and branches that fly up and can get jammed into the drive train. The usual stuff for this time of year.

I need to listen to the quiet tiny voice in my head that knows better than me when to back off. I ignored three quiet warnings yesterday.The first message came in the form of my Saturday morning heart rate variability (HRV) measurement. HRV is the physiological phenomenon of variation in the time interval between heartbeats. My iPhone holds the app, which links to a heart rate chest strap for a three minute collection of HRV data.

HRV screen

HRV is becoming a useful tool for not only tracking the training adaptation of athletes, but for gauging the body’s readiness for pushing or backing off the intensity of training sessions. Mine was down some 20 points from my usual status, indicating that it was sub-optimal, suggesting that I engage in a more moderate level of physical intensity for the day.

The second message that I ignored was contained in my morning iChing reading.

According to Bill Scheffel, ”The I Ching, arguably humanity’s oldest book, conveys a wisdom that requires no belief, is not part of any organized system or religion and comes to us as a kind of DNA of how we experience time and its events and ourselves as a unique matrix of energy.” My hexagram suggested that, “We are not meant to memorize a path then slavishly follow it.” Which leads to the last message I ignored.

Monica, Blaine, and I were resting a bit at the entrance to McKearney’s Loop on the way back to my car. I was sipping water from my Camelback when Monica said, “ I think I am going to pass. You guys can go and I’ll wait right here for you. I’m beat.” I was also fatigued at that point, at the end of a decent ride where my heart rate was at or above 145 beats per minute for 53% of the 7.7 mile ride.

So, a couple days after the crash  I’m here packing ice on my shoulder and ribs and intermittently dosing with ibuprofen. I’m hoping the throbbing will settle down for the holidays so that I can get back on the bike and share the local trails with my two sons, Lincoln and Arlo, who will be in from Montana and San Francisco for a bit.

It’s so hard for me to listen to inner counsel, but with 500 combined hours of biking and hiking in 2017 so far, and just one serious bike and one bad backing fall this calendar year I think I am not going to beat myself up too much about it. Even so, I am presently acutely aware that so much can happen in just one second.

I already have my New Year’s resolution ready to go. For insurance I plan to tell my hiking and biking buddies to remind about it.

Why is backing off so difficult ?

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

How Much Should You Exercise? | NutritionFacts.org

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Baxter State Park

Many of us struggle with deciding how much time we should put into exercising. The truth is a bit difficult to put into practice, due to our busy lifestyles.  You may be dismayed to learn that it takes serious time for your efforts to translate to better health and improved longevity.  In my case, the 75 minute a day target significantly turned health bio-markers around for me, via moderate walking, backpacking ,or biking .

Check out the FACTS below.  Note that you can watch the video or read the transcript of the video.- T. Jamrog

Physical fitness authorities seem to have fallen into the same trap as the nutrition authorities—recommending what they think may be achievable, rather than simply informing us what the science says, and letting us make up our own mind.

Source–>>: How Much Should You Exercise? | NutritionFacts.org

Actually, there is a “right way” to backpack

When the Adventurer of the Year from both Outside and National Geographic Adventure magazines speaks, I listen!

“Actually, there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to backpack.In this sense, backpacking is like driving a car, learning to play the violin, baking a cake, or installing a toilet. I suppose you could do it your own way, but you may get hurt, you will not improve as quickly as you should, you may be unsatisfied with the end product, and you may have to mop up sewage that leaked through the wax gasket. What is the right way to backpack?”

Source: Actually, there is a “right way” to backpack

First Time Inside Maine’s National Monument

This past Columbus Day weekend, I finally set foot on the spanking new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.   It was easy.

To the Monument!
To the Monument!

I followed a marked, signed 1.8 mile trail from Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps on the (Map Adventures) Katahdin/Baxter State Park map.   I was spending the four day weekend at Windy Pitch cabin at the most excellent Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps (KLWC), which is presently into year 7 of their 20 year lease from Baxter State Park.

Windy Pitch cabin
Windy Pitch cabin

The collection of log cabins goes way back to 1885.

The Monument encompasses 87,500-acres of mountains, rivers, and forests abutting the eastern edge of Baxter State Park, land donated by Roxanne Quimby, whose company, Bert’s Bees, sold to Clorox for $925,000,000 in 2007. Through President Obama’s executive action, the unit was added to the National Park Service in September as a national monument, bypassing the need for Congress to authorize it a national park.

Despite media portrayal of this Monument as an unfair land grab by the Feds, it’s 87,000 acres represents less than 1 percent of the total forested lands of Maine.  According to the North Maine Woods website, there are 3.5 million acres that are considered North Maine Woods. That’s a whopping 0.236% of those privately held lands.
The move to make the land public was a long, protracted battle that is still being waged by a local faction that strongly resists any government encroachment on their traditional uses of the land, be it hunting, snowmobiling, or riding ATVs . There are still prominent National Park-NO! signs greeting the approaching tourist who exits I-95 in Medway to reach the Monument. Unless the citizens of Millinocket decide to upgrade unimproved gravel roads leading out of town into the area, this won’t be much of an issue for them, because both the South and Northern entrances to KLWWMN completely avoid traffic into Millinocket or even East Millinocket.

I stopped into the new storefront office of KWWNM on Maine Street, Millinocket, just a few doors down from one of my favorite eating establishments, The Appalachian Trail Cafe.  The ranger there informed me that entrance, lean-tos, campsites, and even some cabins are free right now on a first-come, first-serve basis but campfire permits are still required from the Maine Forest Service (207-435-7963).

Downeast Magazine has an excellent review on the Monument that is full of  tips, pictures, and places to go.

In my case, I was pleased to finally walk it, although it was a brief visit.  Make no mistake about it, these is not 87,000 acres of pristine forest. This lower portion of the Monument is made up of recently cut-over land and it still shows.  Critics point this out, but my review of Governor Baxter’ initial purchases of what is now Baxter State Park was largely made up of land that had been burned or denuded. Here’s an example of Baxter land pre Baxter State Park.

Logging in present Baxter lands previous to State Park
Logging in present Baxter lands previous to State Park

Pretty bleak, I’d say.  Regrowth will also happen here, but it may take 50 years or more. I have walked thousands of miles of trails in the past 10 years, and cut over and/ or burned forests show up, but then they tend to grow back to be enjoyed by future generations.  Same here.

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Ivan  heading out of Katahdin Lake

Today, my hiking partner Ivan and I decided to walk up as far as the first new lean-to and then meander our way back to KLWC. There were exactly 9 cars sitting in the parking lot leading from the gravel Loop Road.  Others were in there, on overnights, or day trips. The lean-to was a mile from where the Baxter side trail came into the Monument. The path was still a logging road, and damn straight as well.

Southern End of the IAT into Monument
Southern End of the IAT into Monument

The lean-to was built in 2012, of standard log construction with a new outhouse nearby. There was water flowing close for drinking ( purify!).

Katahdin Brook lean-to
Katahdin Brook lean-to

We sat and ate lunch and then headed back.

We decided to try and walk back one of the old logging roads that went in just below Rocky Pond, east of the outlet of Katahdin Lake.  The road looked relatively new, and was probably upgraded ten years ago for timber. A half mile in, it dead ended. I fired up my GPS and saw that if we went directly south through the woods, it would take a quarter of a mile to intersect he mid-point of the same trail we took from KL camps to get to the Monument.

Bushwhacking it is!
Bushwhacking it is!

Ivan was totally up for it and led the way, bushwhacking through fairly thin saplings and dodging several unruly blow downs.

It didn’t take very long for us to reach the KL trail back to the camps.  In fact, we came out within 50 feet of the northernmost section of that trail, a very fortuitous happening. I have done a bit of bushwhacking, where results are generally more elusive.

I plan to get further into the Monument, for canoeing and backpacking. I might even pack my fly rod.  I hope to get away for a couple nights during deer hunting season here in November, as the largest western parcel bordering Baxter is free from hunting. Four additional parcels east of the East Branch are established for traditional hunting ( minus bait and dogs on bear).

I have enjoyed walking most of the trails in Maine’s Acadia National Park, which is just 90 minutes drive along the Maine Coast from my house.  I think it is time for me to explore my share of the Maine woods.

The Elusive Davis Pond in Baxter State Park

Sept. 23, 2016- Here’s a first: a snowflake icon appearing on the LCD window of my Steripen Ultra. The rapid onset of a wet cold front that spit out a feeble 0.2 inch of rain hit Russell Pond campground last night and chilled my water purification device. No matter, the UV light bulb was able to fire up for a 90 second burst of bacterial DNA killing action to render another liter of life-supporting drinking water . Plenty more water came at me today.

Hans (AKA the Cajun Cruiser), Guthook, and I experienced a unique morning here at Russell Pond as we waited out the tail end of the rain, which was to end sometime before noon.  We enjoyed the company of Rainer (trail name), one of the seasonally employed rangers here at Baxter.  Rainer invited us over to his cabin right around the time that he was getting a radio update of today’s weather. After the skies clear, the temps are predicted to drop into the 30’s tonight at Russell Pond.

Rainer communicated his knowledge of the local trails, and put out leftover coffee and breakfast before we struck out to head over to the lean-to at Davis Pond.  I especially enjoyed viewing xeroxed copies of antique black and white photographs that depicted Baxter scenes from the period predating Governor Percival Baxter’s purchase of the property.

Long log slide into lake
Long log slide into lake

Rainer and I share a most unique situation. We are both Triple Crown hikers  (completed hikes of the AT, PCT, and the CDT) that graduated from Monsignor Coyle High School, a tiny Catholic school in Taunton, MA,  exactly 40 years apart. What are the chances?

High School Yearbook graduation photo - 1967
High School Yearbook graduation photo – 1967

We eventually packed out at 1:15 PM, reaching the trail head to Davis Pond in only 1.2 miles. Our total mileage to Davis Pond was only 5.5 miles, via the Northwest Basin trail.  Russell Pond sits at 1331’ and Davis is up at 2,946’, so there is a bit of up on this walk.

Although it is no longer raining, the brush, trees, and shrubs that our bodies moved through were covered with cold water. By the end of the afternoon, my feet were uncomfortably cold and wet.  Even with the drought, there were some wet sections of muddy trail in the first couple of miles of hiking.

Slippin' and slidin' along

Normally there is a wet ford of the Wassataquoik Stream on this hike, but with a drought in force, it was possible to walk on top of the big rocks and make it over with dry feet.  Here’s Hans making his leap.  img_8502

Part of  the path from Wassataquoik Stream is a stream bed of a tributary leading down from Lake Cowles into the upper reach of Wassataquoik Stream, which has its headwaters in the morass known as The Klondike.  Note the blue trail marker behind Hans.

Crossing Wassataquoik Stream
Crossing Wassataquoik Stream

The view here from the shore of Lake Cowles, approaching Davis Pond takes in at this glacial cirque that extends up a thousand feet.

Northwest Basin
Northwest Basin

A closer shot from the shore of Davis  reminds me of being at Chimney Pond looking up the wall toward Baxter and Pamola Peaks, but with no crowds.

Davis Pond
Davis Pond

As long as I kept moving I was fine, but when I stopped, the effect of the cold was very apparent.  I am reminded of the last 5 days in September of 2010 as I finished thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the northern Cascades. The temps never got above the mid forties, and my whole world was drizzly, wet, and punishingly cold.

I ate a ton tonight.  Guthook gave me an extra two person package of mashed potatoes to eat after I had already consumed potato chips, dehydrated chili, 1/2 a large Chunky candy, and two cups of hot tea. My feet continued to be uncomfortably cold even sitting on my pad inside my  bag in the lean-to.  My sleeping bag is rated at 20 degrees, but that was some 8,000 miles ago when it was new. I am extending its range tonight by wearing dry wool sleep clothes. I’m also testing out a custom bivy sack that I had made by Peter Marques at Tentsmiths over in Conway, New Hampshire.

I’ve only been to Davis Pond once before, way back in 1970.  I do not have any photos of Davis from that trip, but do remember sitting on the ledge in front and having an unimpeded view of the whole cirque in front.  I definitely was surprised by the size of the trees and the thick foliage I’m encountering this time.   Does anyone have a photo of  the lean-to at Davis Pond from that time?

It’s 7:19 pm now, and pitch black out.  Baxter is Maine’s real wilderness deal, with Davis Pond listed by some bloggers as the most remote lean-to in the Park.  It also has the best outhouse.

The New Thunder God's Throne !
The New Thunder God’s Throne !

Here’s my Strava elevation profile of what we are going to experience on tomorrow’s hike from Davis Pond to to Hamlin Peak and back.

Check the first mile (up and out of Davis Pond) !
Check the first mile (up and out of Davis Pond) !I