I reached two fitness goals by the last day of 2018: riding my bikes 1,000 cumulative miles and also walking (via hiking or backpacking) 1,000 miles.
I have zero interest in indoor walking/running or biking, either in a gym or at home. After decades of continuous health club memberships, I walked away from my local YMCA in late September of 2013, due to my shifting preferences and awareness of what my heart ( literally) was telling me. I needed to be outdoors more. That fall I had returned from third thru-hike, amassing 2,500+ miles on the Continental Divide Trail. I was fully planning a return to my gym rat status, but all it took was for a single return session for me to change my long devotion to the gym.
For 2019, I plan to amass 2019 cumulative miles via foot, either hiking or biking.
Another goal on my list is to read 40 books this year. I “shelve” books to read and books that I’ve read and monitors my reading, with the help of the Goodreads app. It tracks my progress toward reaching my total book goal. I especially like the scan function which allows me to immediately scan ( via the app) a book’s barcode which links to the exact same info that appears in Amazon (also owns the Goodreads app). If I plan to read the book, I save it to my Want To Read list. So far I have read 3 books in Jan. I pretty pleased that one of them was the 557 page The Outsider, by Stephen King. I have it 4 stars, by the way, even though none of it included scene from Maine.
I’m here in Florida this week for 6 nights of camping with my older and closest friend Edward and his wife Jane. He’s here at Fort Wilderness Campground for a few months break from running his fruit and vegetable farm in MA.
I am becoming more familiar with my Seek Outside tipi. Is warm here but it sometimes rains hard, like it did last night, from around 2 in the morning until 9 am. The 12 foot diameter span gives me a palace of a place here, with 6’10” of headroom in the center.
We are able to find leftover firewood that we have used every night to enjoy a warming fire.
I plan to get a lot of walking in while I am down here for a week. Yesterday , I logged 7 miles.
I finally decided to add yet another goal for 2019. It came to my attention through Alistair Humphreys, whose Microadventures book and website promote cultivating a mind that leads one to enjoy adventures that are likely right outside the back door, rather than thinking of and treating them as distant journeys, every one.
For 2019, I plan to sleep outside at least one night in every calendar month. January ? Check!
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:
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.
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.
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 a big fan of old Maine sporting camps. The state is full of them still, leftovers from the post logging period where former settlements that housed the little armies of men who worked in the woods were converted to establishments that catered to upper class men and women who wanted to hunt and fish under the wings of Maine Guides. I’ve stayed in places from the Maine/Quebec border all the way down to the Midcoast area, where I bought one of my own tiny camps 11 years ago, on Hobbs Pond, in the town of Hope, just a 10 minute drive from our house.
When Marcia and I had a young family, we started a tradition of spending Columbus Day weekends at Baxter State Park, initially camping in their three-sided lean-tos, until we spent a early October weekend in snow and ice. Fording Wassataquoik Stream when the shores were frozen is painful. Enter our discovery of the Baxter bunkhouses- true winter setups, complete with wood stoves and tighter quarters. Those were larger events that included friends with family, as we learned to reserve the whole bunkhouses for our October adventures.
Times changed and I got into winter camping, favoring traditional foot travel on lakes, rivers and streams. I still do that, hauling ample gear on a long narrow toboggan, even lashing a canvas tent with wood stove and stove pipe to warm the body when it is well below freezing outside. In Jackman, I sampled Chet’s traditional cabins before venturing out for longer forays on Attean Pond and the Moose River.
Lately we’re enjoyed Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps, Namakhanta Lake Camps, and are now here at Debskoneag Lake Wilderness Camps, an ancient place, where at east one of the little camps was built in the 1800s. We are here at Point Camp, set on a tiny peninsula that is surrounded by water on all three sides.
Marcia and I are sharing it with our friends Lynn and Ivan. We came in yesterday and they are joining us today. You get here by heading directly north from our home in Midcoast Maine for a few hours, winding your way through faded little hometowns, and sparsely settled back country until you veer off pavement just past Brownville Junction to hit the gravel Jo-Mary Road, a relatively solid dirt highway of sorts that meanders some 25 miles through working forest until the road peters out approaching the Debnonskeag Lake Camps.
We unloaded our gear to a small dock where we were picked up in a motorized wooden freight canoe that transported us a half mile up the Lake to the camp itself.
Leslie is our host here, an Amazonian descendant if I ever saw one. She radiated capability, friendliness and girl power. She was strong enough to heft a fully loaded vintage steel Coleman cooler up to her shoulder as she moved quickly along the very uneven twisting path to deposit our cooler on the floor of the cabin.
I’m usually too busy to relax much of the day, but after we unpacked here I slid into alpha brain wave mode easily when I rocked in the hammock for a while after I started a campfire on the shore of the lake outside our camp.
It rained lightly of and on on the whole time that a grilled hot dogs over the wood coals. I don’t eat hotdogs much but enjoy them and even thick slices of Spam when they are grilled to perfection over hardwood coals. On toasted buttered rolls, appointed with fresh mustard, relish, and a healthy dab of my homemade kimchi, our first supper was just right on this Fall weekend night.
Then some reading and writing in the main room of the cabin, around the big Vermont Castings vigilant wood stove that we didn’t need to light tonight. Although this cabin is tight enough, it is more than 100 years old, and has weathered through so much water and wind and flying debris that I consider living in it for a few days is a rare privilege.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.