Monday, August 27, 2007

Surely you did something?

Went to a benefit the other day. I'm just a hiker. Pretty selfish - get a lot of pleasure from using the wilderness but don't participate in it's preservation other than paying dues to some environmental organizations. Anyway, good friends were sponsoring this event for , so we went to hear Drew Dellinger read his environmental poetry. There was an opening act by Mary Ellen Hill "History of the Universe in Fifteen Minutes", which I recommend anyone to see if they get the opportunity. Her website is , but the reason I'm blogging about this event is that one of Drew's poems has been sticking with me, even though I try to ignore it:

hieroglyphic stairway

it's 3:23 in the morning
and I'm awake
because my great great grandchildren
won't let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling?

surely you did something
when the seasons started failing?

as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?
did you fill the streets with protest
when democracy was stolen?

what did you do

His website is

Friday, August 24, 2007

Are meltdowns a fight or flight response?

Subtitle: The Meltdown Mechanism.

After seeing a granddaughter thru the terrible twos, and now in the grownup fours, and currently seeing my grandson thru the not so terrible twos, not to mention some of my workplace experiences, I've got some experience with meltdowns. For a child the meltdown comes in a flash, gone in a flash, triggered by trivia to our minds but catastrophe to theirs. As they learn the ways of the world, these incidents usually diminish, perhaps due to the realization that there is a scale to incidents, and if a full response is invoked by a lesser incident, they have nothing left to show the impact of a larger incident.

Since this is common to all children, maybe it's just a developmental change in brain chemistry: the first sign of the fight or flee triggering enzyme, and the young brain is shocked into instant response.

What about those adults who have difficulty scaling responses? Some succeed - you only have to listen to talk radio to know it, but what about the rest? The ones we see in the workplace with a broken volume control, either off or on to the max. How do they learn the team building skills that require listening and negotiating? How do they succeed in the workplace when an appropriate response is called for? How do they manage to maintain relationships outside of work? Again, is this body chemistry? Sticking © 2009 in here to foil blog bandits.

For the bi-polar or depressed personality, medication can be literally lifesaving. Should there be a med for the venting personality or would this throttle the superachievers, those so far ahead of the crowd that they have little understanding or tolerance for lesser beings? Are they like those bi-polar individuals whose creativity is bound to their illness?

I'm all questions today. If it truly is an overwhelming burst of brain signals saying fight or flight, are they doomed to a Type A death from heart disease? Is there a strategy for lowering their risk? Are the primitive response pathways in the brain fixed and immutable or can they grow new neurons?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pacific Crest Trail Section or thru-hiking - an extreme sport

No doubt about it. Consider your normal recreational backpack - hike six hours, find a beautiful campsite, hangout, bag a peak, read, swim, photograph, etc. Definitely a vacation. Active, yes, but if asked what you did for vacation, you answer "went backpacking" with no hesitation.

Now, our recent 300 mile section hike on the PCT. Up at dawn - roughly 5:30. On the trail by 7. Gorp break at 9, PopTart break at 10:30, jerky, powerbar, dried fruit & cracker for lunch, Gorp breaks thru the afternoon & finally finding a suitable camp spot at 7pm. A dry camp of course. You only hit water once or twice a day, and rarely is it when you want to camp. So, on the last water, pump about 3 liters extra for supper and breakfast at the dry camp. Some days we might stop at five pm. On those days the thru-hikers will be going by, sometimes saying "stopping early?" as they go on to complete their 30+ mile day.

So why do we do it? Because it feels so good to stop? Possibly because the food tastes absolutely wonderful whenever we have a town stop. The views sometimes are fantastic, but if I had to analyze a typical trail day, I'd say the first four hours are pretty nice, we feel good, views are good, not hot yet. The next three are so-so. from 2:30 to 4pm is usually pretty awful. Too hot, we are tired.It's uphill - don't know why, but this seems to be the case. Four to seven it's cooled down, so conditions are good, but by then our feet are wanting to stop, but we hobble on. Sticking © 2009 in here to foil blog bandits.

This goes on day after day. Finally, weeks later, we are in the car driving home. Our topic of conversation - how we are going to do the next hike, when should we do that missing 300 mile part of the California PCT that we have left - that part that happens to include the Mojave desert. Stay tuned.

Anyway, to the title of this entry. This was not a vacation. It was certainly demanding on our aging bodies. I suppose you could call it one more diet plan such as "Timecheck's PCT Diet", since I can now look down and see my belt buckle, but I think it is valid to classify section or thru-hiking the PCT as an extreme sport.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Beagles and Unintended Consequences

As our backpacking miles approach 500 miles per year and our ages continue to advance (I'm 71, Susan 66), things hurt. Each trip has it's moments of splendor, but the number of days to become trail hardened keeps increasing. Eventually we get to the point where few people pass us while we are hiking, though they do pass us after we have stopped for the day around five or six pm.

At that point we are usually talking about food at the last trail town, food at the next, etc. But, a question we think about, but don't discuss much anymore, is: Are we using up a scarce resource, or toughening up and extending the life of our joints. Well, it turns out that question has been answered, by some physicians writing in the Journal of Sports Medicine in 1997. Kaiser Permanente has summarized that article and some related ones in:

The short answer is no, you are not wearing out your joints, or doing much to them at all, unless you have a prior joint injury. Then you have a much greater chance of developing osteoarthritis if you do strenuous activity such as running.

The unintended consequences are, did I really want to know this badly enough to pay the price in beagles. It turned out that in the most significant study, they had eleven beagles running on a treadmill at 3 km per hour, 75 minutes a day, every day for ten years, wearing a jacket weighing 130% of their body weight. I can see a beagle enjoying getting out and running 75 minutes every day, even for ten years, but a pack at 130% of body weight?? Sticking © 2009 in here to foil blog bandits.

I didn't want to know that badly. Whatever the answer, I would have kept backpacking till my body told me it was time to stop. Sacrificing beagles for heart disease advances, or breast cancer, ok, for predicting athlete's future performance, no. Take enough case histories over that same ten year period and the answer should be clear without use of beagles.