Sunday, April 28, 2013

Quietly Epic Trip

I just got back from a section hike.  I really, really needed it.  Work was extremely stressful for two months (like, taking Xanax to get through the day stressful), and then after those two months of working myself into the ground I got a sinus infection.  Fortunately DeLee got me to go see my doctor.  I had assumed that I would just get better on my own, but apparently that wasn't going to happen.  So one course of Cipro later I felt approximately human.

Human, but still in need of a major brain cleaning.  In my case, that means a long walk.  There may be better ways to turn my brain off, but if there are I haven't found them.

I planned an approximately 100 mile walk through New York and New Jersey on the Appalachian Trail.  When I thruhiked, New Jersey was just so unexpectedly pretty that I wanted to go back.  And the adjacent parts of New York were surreal (but challenging).  I decided that I could probably do about 100 miles in 10 days if I pushed myself a little.  Pushing myself definitely helps with the brain wipe, so I went for it.

The first day was mostly driving up and a short walk to the first shelter, where I met friends for the first night.  It was wonderful to see them!  And nice to be in a shelter, as the weather wasn't that great.  I knew the next day, my first full day, would be hard, so I got up as early as I could.  14.5 miles over tough terrain, with my pack nearly bursting with supplies for the long hike.  I got on the trail at 6:45.  And it was, indeed, surreally beautiful.  And tougher than I remembered.  I didn't make it the 14.5 miles to the next shelter.  I found a flat spot a little before Mombasha High Point and set up for the night.  It was a very pretty spot but I dreamed of bears all night.  In the morning I found a wild turkey racing around, which I'm pretty sure is what got my bear dreams going.  I had to laugh at myself.  At some point during the night either something bumped my tent or I dreamed that it did.  I woke myself up yelling "GRAAR!"  Apparently in my dreams this is an effective way to scare off bears.

The next morning I hit the woods for a potty visit and used up the last of my first roll of TP.  I dug way down in my pack for the fresh roll that I had stuffed down in the bottom.  And it wasn't there.  I checked again.  I unpacked everything.  No roll.  Well.  That put a different face on the morning.  I started hiking with toilet paper on my mind.  Argh!  Here I am going up and down these crazy difficult ridges, and all I can think about is what's going to happen the next time I need to poop.  I formulated a plan.  I had wet ones.  That would get me to my mail drop, which is where my fresh roll of TP must have ended up.  And I could maybe use rhododendron leaves? 

The trail was so steep that at one point I took off my backpack and dropped it because there wasn't room for me to face forward while wearing it.  It was pushing me off the mountain.  I didn't even have room to turn around so I could try to back down.  That was a scary moment.  Both the feeling that I might fall, and the fear that after I dropped the backpack it would fall to somewhere I couldn't get it.  It bounced and rolled a few times but luckily stopped.  I climbed down the rest of the way to it and put it back on, but it wasn't the last time that day that I had to take it off.  Or sit on a rock and scooch my way over the edge, since it was much too far to step down.  Man.  What the hell were the trail planners thinking when they routed the trail?

Missing 4.5 miles of the first day meant that I hit the previous night's planned shelter in late morning.   I decided to stop and make a hot lunch as it was wicked cold out.  I looked in the shelter for the register, and what did I find?  Toilet paper!  One of those teeny backpacker rolls with no cardboard core.  This was one of those instances of true trail magic.  I couldn't have been happier.  I made my hot drink with joy in my heart.

Hitting the shelter at mid morning in the midst of pretty tough terrain meant that I was not going to be making up the distance so I could get to the next planned shelter.  And in fact I never did sleep in another AT shelter on this trip.  I did stay at the "secret shelter" but it hardly counts.  I sleep better in my tent than by myself in a shelter anyway, and I saw barely any human beings on this trip.  So I think that worked out for the best.

Once I got to New Jersey the trail difficulty ratcheted down considerably.  I had been enjoying the views in New York of course.  I had specifically done the extra tough section because I knew it was beautiful.  But in New Jersey I could relax and get my mileage on.  It was a bit of a relief.

Highlights and insights:  Unionville, NY serves gluten free pizza at the little pizzeria there.  My Jetboil is an essential piece of equipment now.  It's worth it to carry the heavier sleeping bag when it's cold out.  (My water froze, and my breath froze on the outside of my sleeping bag, but I slept like a baby.)  I saw NO bears on this trip (compared to 12 last time) and no mentions of them in the registers.  That was a huge relief.  I innovated a pillow attachment for my sleeping pad (elastic attached to both ends of a stuff sack) and it improved my nights considerably.  I innovated an upper body prop for acid reflux nights (daypack/stuffsack strapped under the head end of my sleeping bag by its shoulder straps) and that also improved one of my nights considerably.  My stomach was so much happier on this trip than it ever has been, thanks to gluten free food.  Pain in the ass that it is to shop and plan for, I have to admit that it's worth it.  I actually lost weight on this trip, which never happens on "short" trips.  Not seeing people did not make me feel lonely.  It was a relief.  Sometimes I need to be alone - really alone.  By the time I was done I was looking forward to being home and going back to work, which was exactly the point of the trip.

I finished my trip a day early, meaning that I could take Sunday off for rest.  Which I have done.  I'm eating like a horse (bye bye, lost pounds) and napping.  It's perfect.

I was very happy with nearly everything on this trip.  My gear (backpack, tent, steripen, stove, rain jacket, permethrin treated clothing) all performed well.  I was a little disappointed that I only had the energy for ten hours of hiking per day at the start, which I quickly realized was ludicrous.  Who goes from a desk job to ten hours of mountain climbing with ease?  I loved the music on my phone (played in alphabetical order, which turns out to make a nice playlist).  I loved the sunny but cold weather, and all the raptors I saw, and all the flowers blooming.

Yup.  It was all pretty great.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Packing for another trip

I'm planning to hike the Appalachian Trail through New Jersey in a few weeks.  It's a beautiful area.  When I thruhiked in 2010, I knew I wanted to come back and spend more time.  And now I finally will.

The first thing I do when I'm planning a trip is try to figure out how far I'll walk every day, where I'll stop to camp, and where the water supplies are.  Once I have that laid out, I look at my resupply opportunities.  In this case, they aren't good.  There's a small general store (Horler's, in Unionville NY) several days in, and that's about it.  Take into consideration my gluten sensitivity and dairy intolerance, suddenly food is a real issue.  I won't be able to eat a lot of what I find in most stores.  So today I went to the grocery store to try to get enough backpacking food for the whole 8-9 day trip.

On a trip of that length, I have multiple considerations.  Primary is weight.  I will be able to buy some snacks at Horler's, and Joe To Go might have drinks or chips I can buy.  But mostly I'll need to carry my food.  After weight I'm concerned with variety.  Being hungry AND carrying extra weight in food you can no longer stand to eat (and I'm talking gagging when you try to swallow, here) are crazy-making.  So I know that I need variety.    I also need things to pack small enough that I can fit them in my backpack and still carry enough other gear to stay safe. 

Because my food will take up a lot of room and weight on this trip, I'll be carrying smaller and lighter versions of some of my other gear.  I'm still taking my 15 degree sleeping bag.  I can't compromise on warmth in camp.  But I'll take my little tyvek rain jacket instead of my big old Marmot Precip.  I might take my little antigravity gear stove rather than my larger and heavier Jetboil.  And I'll probably take my little Zpacks tent rather than my larger tarptent or LightHeart tent.

Last year I absolutely loved Packit Gourmet's breakfast smoothies.  They taste fantastic, and they're super high in protein.  400+ calories and 35 grams of protein is hard to beat, especially considering that each weighs less than 4 ounces.  The problem is that they're dairy based.  I decided to try making my own, and it turned out pretty well if I do say so myself.  I've found two different gluten free vegan smoothie powders - one chocolate, one vanilla.  To those I've added either strawberries, peaches, or pineapple and coconut, as well as stevia and dried whole goat milk.  I got the fruit freeze dried from my local grocery store (with the exception of the coconut, which I already had in powdered form.)  I used a mortar and pestle to crush the fruit to a powder and add it to the mix.  I've tried peach vanilla at home and it was DANG good.  I'll have that, plus chocolate strawberry and vanilla coconut pineapple.  I'm considering a vanilla apple cinnamon too.  That sounds like it would be good cold or hot.

I didn't make all my breakfasts up to be smoothies, though.  Again, variety is key for me.  So I threw in two different flavors of oatmeal, one Jamaican Peanut Porridge, and a couple different flavors of gluten free breakfast bars.  Every day I also get to have a serving of instant coffee with powdered goat milk and a little sweetener.  I used to bring dunk bags of coffee, but then I'd have to pack out the wet coffee bags.  Instant is good enough.

I mixed it up less in my daytime snacks, but they all taste pretty great so I don't need to.  This has been my standard snack bag for several years:  Welch's fruit snacks, a handful of nuts, a little box of raisins or four prunes, a couple pieces of hard candy, and several fun size candy bars or one full size one.  I can't have most trail bars now, but I like Kind bars quite a lot so now I pack a variety of those.  Most days I'll also throw in an energy gel.  They're good for that late in the day push up a mountain, when you realize you aren't as close to the shelter as you thought you were.

Every day I have a salty snack of some kind.  Doritos, Popchips, cheesy poofs (which, shockingly, can be bought gluten free), gluten free pretzels, and most varieties of potato chips are still good options for me.  The saltier and more flavorful, the better.  I also have one (or two, in hot weather) packets of Crystal Light every day - the varieties with the electrolytes in them.

Because I snack often, I don't always eat a real lunch.  If I do, it's minimal.  Maybe some Nut Thins (which have bonus protein since they're made from nuts) with sheep cheese or peanut butter on them. 

By the end of the day I'm usually tired (go figure) and uninterested in making a production out of dinner.  These little noodle soups have been my go-to easy dinner for years.  Luckily they're made with rice noodles so I can still eat them now.  I also like to carry out a retort packaged Indian dish for the first night, like Kashmir Spinach.  Neither the soups nor the Tasty Bite dinners are high calorie.  They're just something warm to put in my belly at the end of the day.  I don't usually do a big meat dinner.  Instead I bring pepperoni, bacon, sausage, and packaged chicken or tuna that I can eat a little bit of at lunch or dinner if I'm in the mood.  I get a lot of protein from my smoothies and nuts.  If I feel that protein is an issue I'll put a package of beef jerky in my snack bag for the day.

I have a few other favorites that often find their way into my food bag.  Crystallized ginger tastes fantastic and settles the stomach.  Fake gluten free oreos make for a nice rest break.  Hot chocolate is delightful for breakfast or dinner.  Werther's candies have been a staple for over a decade.  Dried mango is the shiznit.  And if I can get them, homemade Rice Krispy treats (with gluten free rice krispies, now..) really float my boat. 

So I purchased all this stuff and brought it home and packed it up.  It was REALLY HARD to pack it and not eat it.  I did do a little taste test to make sure the fake oreos were edible.  (They are!) But I persevered and packed for not only my New Jersey trip, but my next trip with DeLee.  Now I just need for it to be time to go.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Please welcome my new car, and try not to mention her hips. She's touchy.

I guess I can't NOT tell you that I bought a new car.  Eddy got too expensive and annoying to maintain.  And as much as I loved his bullet marked self, it was time for a new car.  Past time, even.  And then the windshield wipers started to shred, and the seal around the hatchback had already started to leak, and then on Friday the check engine light came on.

"THAT IS IT" I said.  In all caps.  I was done.  I was so done.  I mentally wished Eddy a fond farewall and girded myself for the car shopping that had finally come.  I still had no idea what I wanted, other than it would be comfortable and drive okay.  And have lumbar support.  I have always owned cars with lumbar support.  I just assumed it was normal.  But as it turns out, lumbar support is one of those special luxuries one gets, along with nice radios and fancy hubcaps.  About which I do not give a shit.  But the lumbar support is essential, especially after Pluto's contribution to the health of my lower spine.

So I drove my happy ass to Carmax on Saturday morning.  Well, first I spent an hour searching for Eddy's title.  Then I drove to Carmax.  And because I had never been there before, I first blundered into the associated Toyota dealership.  I had no idea.  I thought it was just Carmax.  And so there was a very nice salesmen talking about Toyotas and I'm wall "why the Toyota fixation dude?"  But anyway I test drove a RAV4 after talking to him about my car-related needs.  And once I finally figured out I was in a Toyota dealership, I said thanks and asked for directions to the used car lot.

He notified Charlene that I was coming, and she accompanied me around the lot as we checked car after car to see if it had lumbar support.  Answer:  no.  Finally we found like five cars with lumbar support, and I test drove them.  Okay, five "crossover vehicles".  Because I needed a station wagon, basically, in which I could drive both 2+ human beings and carry a bunch of crap.  Backpacks, yoga mats, horse cookies.. it all adds up.  Plus my muck boots, jumper cables, snow shovel, and a bunch of other useful objects.  So I need a lot of room in my boot.

The problem was this:  most of these vehicles drove like a truck.  I don't want to drive a truck.  I want to drive a car.  The one that drove the very best?  Had a scent issue.  I don't know what the hell they did to it, but it had a perfume smell that had my throat raw after the test drive.  I thought maybe I could live with it until the smell faded, until I found the two spots where somebody had drilled through the body of the car.  And I decided that I did not need to know what illegal activities had taken place in this vehicle, but I DID need to not buy it. 

I also drove a Mazda CX-something out of affection for Mazdas.  And it drove like a dream.  But it did not have lumbar support.

Around this time JD showed up.  He had to stay home because due to bizarre and crazy happenstance, we got our drive regravelled yesterday.  And somebody had to pay the graveller.  Obviously I couldn't, as I was car shopping.  He went on one test drive with me, but by then it had been five hours and I was completely zombified.  I had no idea which vehicle was which.  They all blended together.  So we left for Silver Diner.

At Silver Diner I ordered a diet coke and a coffee, because they only had caffeine free diet coke and I clearly needed caffeine.  I also ordered a bunless burger and some mashed potatoes (safely GF) and ate moodily while staring at JD's fries.  Once I was back in the land of the living, we talked about the various vehicles I had tried out.  There is no huge benefit in buying used vehicles right now.  Everybody wants them, and so the price has gone up.  So I decided to buy the very first vehicle I had tried - the new RAV4.  It drove great, it had lots of cargo room, the back seats were fine, and if I got the fancy package I could have lumbar support.  And butt warmers!

Only problem was, I had left Eddy's registration at home.  So we drove back there, and waited a little until Mr Toyota Salesman was available again, and then spent all of my available money on a new RAV4.  In green.  Not that I particularly cared about the color.  And we finally got back home around 9 pm.

So I am the new owner of a RAV4.  Note that I did not say "proud".  It's a nice enough vehicle, but it's no Eddy.  And it has a LOT of functions, most of which I have not read the manual for yet.  So it beeps at me a lot.  It's a little bitchy.  And it was manufactured in Canada.  It's clearly female (RAV4's are a little wide in the hip area) and might be named Nanette.  I'm waiting to see.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Winter backpacking trip

DeLee and I went backpacking this weekend.  I was desperate to get out, as I am ass deep in alligators at work and backpacking helps me de-stress.  We planned a short circuit hike (6-7 miles / day) in Shenandoah.  I knew it would be cold but I was confident that my clothing and sleeping bag were up to the task.  I didn't count on snow, however.

They closed Skyline drive on Wednesday or Thursday after some snow and ice.  This happens often enough that I didn't worry about it.  I figured that as usual the drive would open up again in a day or so.  But that didn't happen this time.  They did open up portions of the drive by Friday, but not the portion we needed to get to for our planned hike.  And Friday evening as we were driving out, they preemptively closed the entire drive because they expected more snow and ice. 

Well.  That changed matters a bit.  We had originally planned to drive into the park Friday night and stay at a hut close to the drive, thus saving $100 in motel fees or an early morning drive from home to the park.  The previous December we had stayed at the local Holiday Inn and it had been quite nice  - fridge in the room, spacious, clean, and best of all a gluten-free-friendly restaurant on the premises.  So we headed up to the Holiday Inn to see if they had a room available.  They did, and all my information was still in their computer so checkin was a breeze.  We ate dinner, did a little pack reorganization, and conked out. 

In the morning, the drive was still closed.  I made oatmeal with hot water from the coffee maker, stared at the snow up on the mountains, and contemplated.  And looked at my map.  We could still do our hike if we parked outside the park and hiked in the to the AT.  And if we went in at Compton Gap, there was even an entrance station where we could get a permit.  Done deal.

I've never intentionally done an overnight hike in snow.  I've been snowed on during a hike and then hiked out in the morning, but I've never gone in knowing that I would definitely be hiking and camping in snow.  But I have hundreds of nights of camping under my belt.  I figured it was time.

We parked the car at the trailhead and started up the trail.  There was, indeed, snow on the ground.  However, there was no entrance station.  We debated briefly and decided to be scofflaws.  It wasn't worth hiking back to the car, driving to the main park entrance for a permit, then driving back and hiking back up the trail.  It would have added an extra mile and who knows how long to our day. 

I'm not a good scofflaw.  I planned to throw myself on the mercy of the ranger if caught.  Especially as we had relied on the map in good faith.

We saw a few people in the first two hours, but after that we only saw three sets of footprints.  And then two of those sets suddenly disappeared at a road.  They must have gotten a ride out of the park.  So then it was just the one set, and they were northbound while we were southbound.  I was pretty sure we'd have the park to ourselves at night.

Several miles from our planned destination (which was 10 miles from our starting point rather than the planned 6 or 7) DeLee was pretty tired.  I found a spring running, but I didn't find a good place to put our tent.  The winds were supposed to pick up, and our tent needed to A) be staked, and B) be placed with its butt into the wind.  All the campsites we looked at either sloped such that our heads would be downhill, or had standing deadwood nearby.  And I wasn't sure I could get a stake into the frozen ground.  So I persuaded her to keep going.  She started slipping and falling on the next hill. 

With one mountain left to go, I decided we should walk down the drive to the hut rather than go over that last hill.  DeLee was pretty much done.  I couldn't hear her over the crunching of my feet in the snow, so I'd stop periodically to check for her.  And I turned around once and she wasn't there.  I started walking back up the mountain to her.  She was far behind.  But we were close to shelter, and she made it the rest of the way.

I got her into her sleeping bag and started heating water.  She didn't want to eat, but I wasn't having that.  I told her I didn't care if she *wanted* to eat, she was going to.  Once the water (eventually) boiled, I prepared my soup and she prepared her chili mac.  My soup turned out to be a better choice.  She had to ziplock up the remains of her chili mac because she couldn't finish it.  But at least she got food into her, and she seemed to feel perkier.

We got into our bags pretty quickly after that, because the temperature was dropping.  I have no idea how cold it got, but my sleeping bags (15 degree with a 30 degree quilt inside) were up to the task.  DeLee was cold at first but soon warmed up.

My fitbit says I woke up 17 times.  Only 17?  Seems unlikely. 

The morning dawned very cold.  I was happy when the sun crossed the nearest mountain and began to shine into the shelter.  It helped warm things up.  Even so, we ended up having to insulate the filter tubes with a down jacket so that the water wouldn't freeze as it dripped down the tube.  With the jacket on the tubes, we filtered four liters of water and were ready for the day.  We buried the water deep in our packs so that it would stay liquid, and we stashed the bite tubes in our shirts so they wouldn't freeze solid between sips.  Dehydration is a serious issue in winter because you tend not to feel thirsty in the cold.  I was determined to drink enough to stave off dehydration, mainly because dehydration leads to lack of energy.

After the slipping and falling yesterday, there was no question of going back over the mountains.  Instead, we walked Skyline drive.  Since it was still closed, we could walk on it anywhere we wanted.  We had to stick to the shoulder anywhere there was ice on the road, but much of the ice had sublimated since Saturday.  It was a bit tedious walking on the road, but we had great views at the overlooks, and there were a LOT of animal tracks on the road.  Way more than I had ever seen in the woods.  So that was fun.

Around mid morning a ranger drove by, checking the condition of the drive.  He stopped to do a sanity check - were we okay?  Did we have warm enough clothing?  We reassured him that we were fine, and the very fact that we were taking the safer road rather than the more treacherous mountain paths was an indicator that we were sane.  Or at least more sane than we might be. 

He told us it was 17 degrees out according to his truck's sensor, and he was on his way.  We told him to be careful on the ice.

By about 3 pm both DeLee and I were struggling.  We were tired, the temperature was dropping, and the wind had picked up.  With the sub freezing temperatures and 30 mph winds, the wind chill was brutal.  Fortunately we were nearly back to the car, so I sucked it up and soldiered on.  We were both pretty happy to see the car.

I ended the hike wearing everything I had brought except my down jacket and the wet socks from Saturday.  I'm pretty sure I've never worn that much to hike in, certainly not without getting too hot.  When we got to the car I was wearing:  wool socks, my boots, grocery bags in the boots (because the boots aren't waterproof), two pairs of long johns, zipoff pants, a down skirt, a rain skirt, a wicking shirt, a wool shirt, a fleece shirt, a wind shirt, a raincoat, gloves, overmitts, a wool buff, a fleece neck gaiter, a ball cap, and a fleece hat.  And I wasn't too warm.  Wow.

There are a few changes I'd make if we were to do it again, and I think we might.  Waterproof boots.  A free standing tent.  Chemical water treatment.  Extra stove fuel.  More wool socks. More high calorie food. And more soups and drinks.  But I think we did pretty well, considering.  My face is wind burned, and DeLee is a little sore from wearing heavy boots, but I'm happy with the trip.  It was beautiful in the park with the snow.  I loved the solitude.  Even as I was worrying about finding a camp site, I was still impressed with the drama of the scene around me.

Long story short, I went hiking with DeLee and it was good.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Dairy and Gluten Free Backpacking

I wish I didn't have to bother with this, but clearly I do.  I'm still figuring out gluten and dairy free eating at home.  And I'm still figuring out what works for me on the trail.  Googling "gluten free backpacking" does lead to some information.  I'm blogging here what is working for me so far mostly as a record for me to check back on.

First and foremost, the most important detail is READING LABELS.  Because gluten is hiding in the most unlikely places.

Gluten free eating has surprisingly helped me in one place - protein levels.  I substitute nut based foods for many formerly grain based foods.  So now my snacks are higher in protein and fats than they used to be, and they stick with me much better than high carbohydrate snacks.  I feel less hunger and have more energy than previously.  And my blood sugar levels are less wobbly.

When I first discovered that gluten was my problem, I tried out many gluten free items from the store.  And they were mostly snack foods.  It was so nice to eat without getting sick!  It wasn't so nice to gain a ton of weight.  Eventually I got over it and stopped eating just because I could.  I still like the gluten free cookies and pretzels, but I eat them infrequently, just as before I got sick I infrequently ate cookies or pretzels.

Most of the gluten free food I am eating now is naturally gluten free, not created with gluten substitutes.  Vegetables, fruits, plain meats, oats (oats not being a problem for me, unlike the extremely sensitive folks), potatoes, rice, corn.  I can and sometimes do eat less traditional starchy/grainy items such as amaranth or quinoa.  But they weren't a big part of my diet before, and they haven't become a big part of my diet now.  They just aren't that common.

Dairy free is much easier.  Everybody is used to the idea of non-dairy.  Alternative non-bovine dairy such as sheep or goat products are a little more out there, but they're available.  There is a huge section of alternative milk at my grocery store. I can recall boxes of soy, rice, flax, hemp, almond, and coconut milks.  I've probably forgotten a few.  My favorite so far is Almond Breeze plain unsweetened almond milk.  It's low calorie and not aggressively sweet as many of the "milk" products are.  I don't know why they sweeten the stuff but I find it gross when they do.

For long distance backpacking, I have to consider what I can buy at gas stations and the Dollar General stores I am most likely to shop at.  Not every town stop has a great Publix or Giant or Kroger.  Not even most town stops have a real grocery store handy to the hostel or motel I'll be staying at.  I can and will mail myself some things, but mostly I'll have to make do with what I find.

Gosh I'm long-winded.  You've probably given up and quit reading by now.  Too bad, because I'm just about to start listing actual useful products.  Remember that you must read the labels!  Sometimes they include wheat in weird places.

Oatmeal, instant or regular Quaker Oats
Kind bars
Dried or freeze dried fruit
Sugar, or stevia packets if I'm mailing from home
Dried honey crystals if mailing from home
Glutino breakfast bars if mailing from home
Smoothies, if mailing from home (Arbonne vanilla protein powder, freeze dried fruit)

Tuna packets
Spam packets
Manchego (sheep) cheese if mailing from home
Nut thins, any variety
Dried fruit
Scharr gluten free bread alternatives, if available
Peanut butter
Individually packaged jellies, if mailing from home
Individually packaged pickles
Celery from town
Glutino pretzels if mailing from home
Hard boiled eggs

Rice noodles
Instant Rice
Corn pasta (so far the spirals seem to cook the best)
Mashed potatoes - beware the additions in flavored packets
Spam Packets
Sausage (check the label!)
Gluten free individual soy or tamari packets if mailing from home
Frank's Red Hot
Any freeze dried, dried, or fresh vegetables I can find
Hot chocolate
Scotch, rum, tequila, schnapps, wine, cider packed in
Parmesan cheese seems to go down okay
Manchego cheese
Home-dehydrated spinach
Home-dehydrated spaghetti sauce
Retort packaged Indian or Thai meals

Kind bars
Pro bars
Lara bars
Dried fruit, especially raisins, mango, apples
Some stores have freeze dried apples or pears individually packaged
Most chocolate / candy - M&Ms, gummy bears, jelly beans,
Individual packs of almonds
Individually packaged prunes
Crystal Lite pure drink mix (contains electrolytes)
Nut thins
Corn based chips - Fritos, some Doritos, tortilla chips
Potato based chips - Popchips, most potato chips
Some beef or turkey jerky - read the label!  Plain is safest
Hard candies
Power gels

And anything else I can find in the store that is gluten and dairy free and I think I can keep down. 

Hiker items that I need to NOT pick up out of habit:
Ramen noodles
Capellini noodles
Breakfast bars
Nido dry whole milk
Power bars
Luna bars
Cheese sticks, mozzarella or cheddar
Hostess products
Frozen pizzas in town

In town foods that I need to NOT eat out of habit:
Burgers with buns or cheese
Any kind of sandwich
Most soups
Fried chicken
Chicken tenders / wings
French fries at most places
Ice cream
Soy sauce, and the associated sushi with fake crab / roe in it.
Most Chinese food
Pancakes, eggs at places that add stuff to make their eggs fluffy, waffles, french toast
Beer (oh god, the beer)
Any baked goods

Honestly in town will be tougher than on the trail.  It's really, really hard to ignore fresh, hot food when you have hiker hunger.  I'm remembering meals I've eaten in the past in town and I don't think any of them were both dairy or gluten free.  Sigh.  At least if there is cell signal in a town I can try googling the various eating establishments before I go there to see if there are some safe options for me.

I better make myself a list of safe town foods.  To wit:
Plain veggies
Plain burgers
Salads, oil and vinegar (but not malt vinegar)
French fries at some places
Plain chicken or turkey - maybe fried if I pull the skin off?
Go to a store and look for non-dairy ice creams, popsicles
Eggs, veggie omelets
Chinese buffets might have some stuff you can have, like spring rolls with rice paper wrappers, plain white rice, some sushi, fried plantain.  If you luck into Mongolian you can make it safely.
Chipotle is safe
rice & beans

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sometimes I get messages

JD is out and about this weekend doing nerd things.  Not that I'm not a nerd.  I am.  But we are differently nerdy.  That's not my point.  My point is that I'm solo this weekend, for a few more hours anyway.  I desperately needed some alone time.  As an introvert, just being around people is tiring for me, even if they're people I love dearly.  And so I look forward to my occasional days on my own.

Ironically as soon as JD clears the doorstep I miss him.  Despite the four cats and two dogs, the house is too quiet.  I suddenly have oodles of free time and nothing to do.  It seems like when I have time to sit and think, I never think about positive things.  I dwell.  When I *don't* have time to think, I manage to eke out a few thoughts, a blog post, an email, and I'm creative.  I come up with solutions.  I make jokes.  I'm just generally more proficient.

Why is it that I have to be a little annoyed to be proficient?

So I'm sitting here in my quiet household.  I had planned to go see Pluto, then stop by DeLee's and pick her up on my way to RoadRunner Sports, to try to find replacement trail runners because my current model had been discontinued.  And then we were going to stop in at the Perfect Pour to see if they had any gluten free beers I hadn't tried, and maybe pick up some hard ciders.  And DeLee was going to feed me some of the super hot chili she had just made.  An excellent plan for a Sunday.  And the weather is great, which always makes me happy.

I remembered that the oil light had come on in Eddy (again.)  The first time the light came on (a couple of weeks ago), it went right back out. I checked the oil and it wasn't low, so I discussed it with JD but put the issue on the back burner.  It came on again yesterday when I started the car.  Fortunately I wasn't far from home, so I drove it the two miles back.  But I intend to drive it no farther than the mechanic's shop before I find out what's wrong with it.  Oil pressure sensor?  Oil filter?  Something more evil?

The backup vehicle is Rabies, JD's truck.  I grabbed the horse cookies from Eddy and trudged through Shirley's yard to Rabies.  And cranked the ignition, and got that disappointing "Rurr,rurr,.. thud" of a nearly dead battery.  Something isn't right with the truck.  JD put a deep cycle battery in it last year so it can be recharged if it runs low, but it's running low far too often.  I don't think that the truck is charging the battery at all.  Sigh.

I trudged back through Shirley's yard and dropped the horse cookies and my mug of coffee onto the roof of the Miata, and went inside to find the keys for it.  No keys were visible.  I texted JD.  "Where are the keys to the Miata?" ...  "In my pocket."  Well, crap.  The search for the spare key revealed nothing, other than that a Chrysler key and a house key were in the bottom of the umbrella bucket.  Also, there were 10 hiking poles in the umbrella bucket.  I may have a pole problem.

The only remaining car, other than the one JD is driving, doesn't have brakes at the moment.

I figured I'd tell DeLee she'd have to drive, but right about then she texted me that she wasn't feeling well.

You know what?  I may not take the first clue, but if you hit me upside the head with enough clue bats, I will eventually figure out what's going on.  The universe is saying something to me.  It's saying "STAY HOME" and it's saying it pretty loudly.  Once I recognized this, I gave in.  Fine, universe.  I'll stay home today.  Today shall be a day of rest.  A zero day, in hiker parlance.  I don't know why, exactly, the universe needs me to be at home today, but at home I will be.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

In which I get shot in the butt

On Thursday DeLee came by my house in the morning and drove me over to the Spine and Pain center.  I'm not kidding about the name.

They're direct about the reason you're there.
The doctor, with the help of a heavily shielded nurse, used an xray machine to guide his needle deep into my right buttock, where he deposited about a grapefruit sized bolus of steroids.  Or possibly a tablespoon sized bolus.  It felt huge though.  I mean, right then it didn't because first he gave me a local anesthetic.  But when that wore off.. sitting was not so much of an option.  I stood a lot on Thursday.

As an aside, since the shot needed to go into my sacroiliac, my butt had to be bared.  But I didn't have to strip.  Shirt pulled up, pants pulled down.  It felt pretty illegitimate.  And then my doctor was cute.  Hi!  This is my butt.  Good gravy.  Could it get any more awkward?

I am uncertain if the shot is working the way it should.  My L5-S1 joint isn't so painful, but it had already become less painful after the brusque physical therapist showed me how to work on my tilted pelvis.  And now the sacroiliac joint feels like I got kicked in the butt.  Like I should be black and blue.  Just on my inside parts, though.  Apparently it takes some time for all that stuff to absorb and do whatever it's going to do.

My instructions were to rest on Thursday and apply ice every hour, which I did.  Friday I went to work like normal.  Saturday I went out to the park like I always do.  My instructions were not to increase activity, so I didn't.  I even did less mileage than the previous weekend.

Today I sent a note to a friend who has been down the steroid shot route before and knew what to expect.  "I feel like somebody pegged me in the butt with a softball," I wrote.  "Is that normal?"  She replied that I might need to be less active on it, and to try heat.  I wrote back "I was less active!  I mean, I only went 8 miles instead of 11.."

My friend says, "Uh, I think I see why you might be experiencing some pain still.."

I obviously don't have the first clue how to exercise in moderation.

Wednesday I go back to PT lady so she can evaluate my efforts.  She reminds me very much of some riding instructors I've met.  Very blunt, outspoken, and REALLY GOOD.  Unfortunately I couldn't completely keep up with her rapid fire blasting of anatomical descriptions and consequences of various problems, but I *did* get her to give me paperwork specifying precisely how the curative exercises are supposed to work.  I was very impressed with her insight and knowledge.  I love it when I meet people who are very good at what they do, especially when it's something that would be very difficult for me.  I can't look at a person and tell you much about how their body works.  She can look at me and visualize how my bones are connecting, and make the mental correction to how they should be connecting.  Just amazing.  I just nodded and tried to pay attention to what I needed to do to make it better.

I expect that both PT lady and my chiropractor will lecture me about not taking it easy enough while we're changing how my inner parts relate to each other.  Medical professionals get like that.  Like it's so easy being me?  You do not want to know what happens when I'm forced to not hike for a while.  *shudder*

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I apologize in advance for how long this is

I walked through the grocery store yesterday and realized that I couldn't eat the vast majority of the foods in it.  There are whole aisles that I never go down anymore.  It was a weird feeling looking at all those shelves and realizing that the contents were irrelevant to me.  They're just pointless aisles, like the miscellaneous useless crap aisle in the middle of the store.  I make brief forays into aisle land for nuts and dried fruit, but mostly I'm hanging out in produce and the tiny organic section with its even tinier gluten free shelf.  Which is near to the shelf of the one acceptable non-milk milk I've found. 

I could shop at a much smaller store.

Of course, JD does most of the shopping, so I'm not including the places he goes, like the meat place and the frozen veggie place.  And even those have to be carefully inspected for wheat, largely because of soy sauce.

At least my food selection process is simpler, if not easier.

This weekend I hit new personal bests at my local playground (i.e. the closest national park).  I achieved my fastest time for a circuit, and my longest distance hiked there.  Both on the same day.  And although I was tired-ish, and wouldn't have minded a nap, I took a shower and then JD and I headed downtown to meet friends for alcohol and hilarity.  And meat, because I was freaking HUNGRY after all that, even though I ate snacks while I was hiking.  I pretty much destroyed a bunless burger and a side of fries.  And a whole bunch of hard cider, because regular beer is verboten and gluten free beer wasn't on tap.  I could not have performed this sequence of actions in the past.

I wonder if my current reasonably healthy state (not counting my back, or my inability to digest gluten) is to be laid at the feet of my diet.  I still get sick sometimes (like anybody else), but generally I feel better in under 24 hours.  Which is way better than the 2 weeks that a cold or flu usually takes.  And I have more energy than I can remember having pretty much ever.  And also both my speed and endurance have improved measurably.  Perhaps it's just my time (WOO 42!) or maybe it's something else.  Because you know it's not like I've been slacking all these years.  I've been out there chugging away, working out and hiking and doing yoga and just generally trying my hardest.  And still being generally slow and not very strong.  If a simple (yet annoying) dietary change is responsible, well.. Okay honestly I'll be irritated, because I could have done this fifteen years ago and been much more awesome in the interim.

My folks raised me to respect hard work, and to do my best.  And I don't ALWAYS do my best because I'm not a saint, but I try very hard almost all of the time.  My job, my health, my fitness, my relationships, my dealings with anybody and everybody.  I try.  And I don't give up easily.  Which has made the last 20 years of being a steadfast but deadly slow hiker just a wee bit frustrating.  I'm trying, man!  That has been my refrain.  It's hard to tell without other hikers around, but I think that I might finally be approaching the hiking speed of a normal person.  Not a normal hiker, mind you, just a normal guy off the street.

I went to a followup appointment with my new GP today.  He reviewed my various lab results and said that if you just went by my test results, he would have to wonder why I'm wasting his time in the office.  I'm perfectly healthy, blood-chemistry-wise.  Blood chemistry like a boss!  He suggested I make sure I get my heartrate to 70% of my maximum for 30 minutes several times a week to maximize my results from exercise.  But then I went and looked up what that heartrate is, and I'm pretty sure I already do that.  At least, I do when I'm on the bike at the gym.  But JD is going to lend me his heart monitor thingie so I can check.

The doc also suggested that I am perhaps obsessive about my exercise and health, and he is of course correct.  Trying to do my best all the time includes working REALLY HARD at exercise and paying close attention to my health.  Apparently keeping copies of my own records and checking to make sure that my cholesterol isn't trending upward over a several year period counts as not quite normal.  But then again, I kept the natural gas and electricity records tabulated for the first ten years I was in my house so I could see if my energy saving changes were working.  So at least I'm not just a hypochondriac.  I am an equal opportunity obsessor.

I assume you stopped reading several paragraphs ago, because the minutia of how my mind works aren't that interesting.  If not, congratulations!  You get an A in blog reading.

Before I forget, I saw a physical therapist to be evaluated for leg length today, and my new nickname will not be Stumpy.  My legs are fine.  Apparently the break when I was six healed perfectly, lengthwise.  However, my pelvis was not fine.  The right side is tilted, likely as the result of a really nasty fall off Pluto several years ago.  Nothing was broken in the fall, but I crushed my sacroiliac a little bit and it hurt like hell at the time.  It was breathtakingly painful.  The only thing in my life that even came close was when I was kicked in the back of the head by a horse and crushed a nerve that was close to the surface at the base of my skull.  Both injuries produced the sort of paralyzing, all encompassing electric pain that goes far beyond tears and directly to inhibiting important bodily functions such as thinking, breathing, and moving.

When that healed, it apparently healed tilted forward, where it has remained ever since.  My chiropractor adjusts it often, but it goes back to its wrong position.  However this PT, bless her, has showed me two things.  1) A way to put it back myself, and 2) exercises to help it stay in the correct position.  I look forward to a less painful back / SI joint.  And to a more balanced riding position.  Pluto had been complaining that I wasn't balanced, but I didn't know why or what to do about it.  Now I know.

Also I know that it's ALL HIS FAULT. But I'm not holding a grudge.  Really.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

In which Pluto is secretly good

I know I already blogged once today, but some things need to be said.  Also after this you probably won't hear from me for a month, because blogging is so exhausting.  Twice in one day.  Geez.

This afternoon I toddled out to the barn to see His Highness.  He was in fine form.  He did his typical "wait at the gate, then lose interest as soon as I approach" maneuver.  Mystery eating one of his cookies changed his mind.  Then he walked up and let me halter him, and I let him know that I wouldn't be taking any guff today.  He was amenable to this idea.

First I spent forever cleaning his behind.  Every time it gets warm, his innards loosen up.  And this whole dang winter has been nothing but a series of warmups.  Argh!  Neither of us enjoyed the freezing cold water from the pump, but I did eventually manage to make him semi-clean.  He could use a real bath with warm water.  Amazingly, he pretty much stood still for it.

Actually he stood for everything.  He was SO GOOD.  He was like a regular horse.  I wished that Aviva and Margaret were there today, rather than last weekend when he was being a dillhole.  He was so easy today.  Sigh.

He walked on the lead perfectly.  He longed without comment.  He was just basically nice and easy to be around.  And OF COURSE HE DOES THIS WHEN WE'RE ALONE!  Because why would he want to be good when there were other people around to see it?

It was 50 and no wind today, btw.  Last weekend it was cold and crazy windy.  But still.  You make me crazy, horse.

He produced a little cough and a little snot while I was out there, so I have an email in to my vet.  He doesn't seem massively ill, and my inclination is to let his immune system handle this.  Especially as he's not skinny anymore.  (Yay blanketing!)  Waiting to hear what the vet says.

Follow up appointment with the neurosurgeon is this week.  No idea what will happen at that appointment, but what I'm hoping is he'll say I can get back on the horse.  I would have today if I had the doctor's okay.  And if Pluto weren't snotty.  But you know what I mean. 

I'm okay with him continuing to be a secretly good horse if it means I get to benefit.

PS the arrogant, self-centered part of me wants to think that he was deliberately bad for visitors because he's mine, all mine, and nobody else should ever ride him.  I am beating that part down with two by fours.

I heart my FitBit

JD got me a FitBit One for Christmas.  It's basically a fancy pedometer plus altimeter.  It keeps track of your steps, your mileage, and your elevation climbed.  If you wear it on your wrist at night it'll keep track of how often you moved at night.  The FitBit folks have done a really good job with this gadget.  I clip mine to my bra and leave it on all day, and it's unnoticeable to me except when I'm doing exercises on my belly.

I'm kind of in love with my FitBit.  Mostly because I've started losing weight again since I got it.  I have long suspected my problem was not eating enough, but nutritionists and the internet and pretty much everybody told me that A) Eat Less and Exercise More is The Way! and B) my body would just reach into my fat reserves on high burn days.  I.e. not eating more when you're burning more is just fine.

However, my experience with diets over the last several years has been that I lose weight precipitously for two weeks, and then it stops.  For months.  Until I finally give up.  I lose weight a lot faster than predicted in those first two weeks.  I.e. I'm probably burning more than expected.  Apparently two weeks is how long it takes my body to go into  starvation mode and crash my metabolism.

The FitBit solves this problem for me.  FitBit has a website that uses the information from my FitBit (uploaded automatically anytime I'm near my keyboard, which has a Bluetooth gadget on it that talks to my FitBit - it's a USB gadget provided in the FitBit kit. )  And so I check the website and it says "hey, you walked 13 miles today, you should eat 2500 calories rather than 1500!"   And then I go have more to eat and in the morning I've lost weight.  It's like magic.

The thing is that I'm not exercising more, here.  I'm eating more.  That's the only thing I've changed.  I eat more when the FitBit says to.  And I've lost four pounds in the last two weeks.  Which, give the previous month of calorie restriction without weight loss, feels like a miracle.

Of course, most folks probably have the opposite problem.  Not enough calorie burning.  And the FitBit will help them too, by pointing it out.  And by saying "You sat and watched tv today, you should eat 1200 calories rather than 1500."  But my way is probably more fun.

The FitBit has some other fun features which make me enjoy it, but which don't help my weight loss directly.  Like, occasionally it flashes something on its little screen.  Like "Smooches".  Or "Go Amy!"  Which is fun.  And the "dashboard", the section of the website that keeps my stats, compares the number of flights of stairs I've climbed to other objects in the world.  Like tall giraffes.  Or the Eiffel tower.  It's always amusing to see what I've "climbed" that day.  Yesterday it was the world's tallest bridge.

If you are having frustration with exercise vs diet vs weight loss, I'd recommend giving this gadget a try.  It's working for me.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

In which I mention the things I had forgotten to tell you.

I just realized I never reported back on my new doc and ensuing activities.  New doc is kind of intense.  I didn't get through my laundry list, in large part because he lectured me for several years on all the bad things I had done to myself by taking so much Advil.  He launched into that lecture BECAUSE I asked what I could take that would be less bad for me, which I feel is an unfair reason to get lectured.  Obviously I realized it was unwise.


He also yelled at me for not having been in to see my ob/gyn recently enough.  When I called the ob/gyn afterward for an appointment, they couldn't get me in for NINE WEEKS.  There is a problem with this system.  I started surfing the web looking for other doctors, especially as my ob/gyn had also shut down their local office so I'd have to drive a good long way for my appointment.  The closest I found was actually around the corner from me, which was great!  And they had fantastic customer reviews.  But when I investigated further, I found that they had moved out of actual gynecology and into liposuction and vaginal cosmetic surgery.  If I want my thighs smoothed and my coochie tightened, they're the ones to go to.  For my annual pap smear, however, I have to look farther afield.  I still haven't found another alternative to the folks who moved and can't see me for months.

I brought up the whole "I feel sick if I eat gluten, but I tested negative for everything so the gastroenterologist told me NOT to avoid it" thing, and new doc agreed that the gastroenterologist was an idiot and told me to stay off gluten.  Which I was already doing.  I don't so much miss the crusty bread and the noodles, but it does make it a lot harder to go out to eat.  Or to buy foods without research.  I bought JD some bacon salt for Christmas, and not only does it not have bacon in it, but wheat is one of the first ingredients.  WTF, man?

Fortunately we have a variety of organic groceries in the area where it's reasonably easy to buy gluten free goods, and we have several nice restaurants with gluten free options.  But it's still kind of annoying.

New doc gave me a referral for a local neurosurgeon because of my increasing back pain.  The old guys seemed fine but were a long drive, and wanted to refer me to other folks who were also a long drive and also not in my insurance plan.  So new neurosurgeon.  Although of course not so much neurosurgery is done there.  They really try to avoid cutting into people, because it's hazardous.  Both for the patient and for the doctor, when you consider lawsuits and etc.  They focus more on pain management.  If your pain can't be managed through braces and medications and physical therapy and who knows what else, THEN they consider surgery.  Which explains why they're changing the name of the office from having neurosurgery in it to having pain in it.

New neurosurgeon told me that he *does* think I can ride.  And I don't need a joint replacement.  He thinks the sacroiliac damage I took coming off of Pluto a few years ago is causing the pain in my lower back - although I feel it right in my spine, when he pokes and prods he finds pain only on the right side, not surrounding the whole joint.  And I don't have shooting pains or those awful electric nerve pains.  He also thinks that I have a short leg.  (Or a long one, if you prefer.)  Which explains why I can hike in the woods all day but two hours in a store kills me.  The uneven surfaces in the woods result in a different stride every time, so I'm not repeatedly torquing my pelvis the same way.  I'm having a scan to check my leg lengths, and also a visit to a physical therapist to do the same thing.  Fixing that problem might be as simple as putting a shim in one shoe.  To which I say "Hurrah!" but also "Why didn't we figure this out years ago?"

So we might have an easy fix for that, and I *might* be getting an injection into my sacroiliac to fix or at least bandaid my worst pain.  And he put me on Celebrex rather than Advil, which should be better for my insides.  So far it's been more effective at making me comfortable.

Neurosurgeon says I won't be able to ride completely without pain, but I don't expect that.  I just don't want to have to worry about crippling myself by riding.  Some pain is acceptable. 

I think that about covers it.  Now my GP and my dentist are in the same office park close to work and home, which is nice.  Neurosurgeon is in Bowie, which is close-ish.  All three are youngish black men which I find somewhat soothing.  Having grown up in PG County, as a white minority, I am not super comfortable with old male white doctors.  Technically my dentist isn't young anymore, but he was young when I started seeing him.  You just can't be intimidated by a kid in jeans and a tshirt.  (He dresses nicer now.)

2012 year in review

It was a pretty momentous years in a lot of ways.  Perhaps I should say it was traumatic.  I stopped riding due to my back.  We got a Schnork.  I got massively ill and discovered I couldn't tolerate gluten anymore.  Dad went into the hospital and did great, and then went back into the hospital (not so much with the great.  But he ended up being okay.)  At the very end I got the news that yes, maybe I could ride again.  

Through it all, I was hiking, being comforted by cats and Beauty and the Schnork (or I was comforting the Schnork, which is sort of comforting), hanging out with Pluto though I wasn't riding, going on dates with JD, watching Alex get married, spending time with DeLee, and being thankful for my neighbors, friends, and family.