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