Blog Updates

Life is a journey, we’ve all heard the saying and for the most part we understand the logic behind it. But really, life is several journeys that we undertake concurrently. Our educational journey and the inherent human drive to continuously gain knowledge. Our fitness journey, where many of us are struggling to find true health in a westernized culture that’s intelligently designed to make and keep us fat (obesity rates have continued to skyrocket since the 1950s despite all the “interventions” peddled by American culture and the organizations developed to get us healthy). Our wellness journey, where we try to balance a fast paced life and competing priorities with finite time restrictions and deteriorating mental health. Finally our drive for adventure, discovering the new and exciting or rediscovering the old and forgotten. The same drive that keeps us looking at the stars and exploring the deepest parts of the ocean. These journeys are progressing daily, whether we consciously recognize it or not. I hope to use this forum to share my journey with anyone who shares a passion for better understanding these journeys, and ultimately finding happiness and REAL wellness in a world that frequently seems like it’s designed to keep us unhappy and unwell. In the past this blog has been an outlet for me to share some of my outdoor adventures with the community, but like many people I find it difficult to balance life with those constant adventures. So I want to expand the content a little bit so that I can engage with the community more frequently, as well as making the content more personal so that you can better relate to it as a human who is going through something similar (or not). There will be some cosmetic and functional changes to the blog over the next few days, followed by more frequent content relating to those life journeys that we all travel. I encourage you to share information that you find useful and engage in the comments if you feel inspired to.

Sincerely,

Traveler   

Need an excuse to get outside?

We don’t own this, but it is great enough to share. Spring is almost here, my hiker trash buddies longing for sunlight filtering through green canopies! Have a laugh, then go prep your gear.

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8 Reasons That Not Hiking is Probably Killing You

Hiking is an all-around great workout. Walking is one of the most beneficial exercises that you can do for heart health according to the American Heart Association, when you add a weighted pack into the mix as well as negotiating (sometimes) strenuous paths in the forest the benefits only increase. But even knowing all that, we still find ways to put that next hiking trip on the back burner in favor of less strenuous activity. So here are 10 reasons that putting off that next hiking trip is probably killing you.

  1. Heart Disease. Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in men and women over age 40, much of this owing to our increasingly bad diets and a tendency to get less and less physical exercise as we age. The more we sit and watch television, grab artery clogging fast food and generally avoid strenuous activity, the higher our risk of heart disease climbs. But, hiking is one of the best cardio workout around. Nothing gets your blood pumping like carrying extra weight on your back and negotiating fallen trees, mountain paths and burbling streams with views so beautiful, you’ll forget that you’re exercising. So not only will your eyes thank you for going on that trip you’ve been putting off, your heart will too.
  2. Blood Pressure/ Blood Sugar. High blood pressure and irregular blood sugar are becoming more and more common with younger and younger patients every year. We have an endless supply of starchy, sugary snacks at our fingertips and more and more series piling up on our “binge list” on Netflix. This combination of bad habits can lead to a few extra pounds piling on before you even realize it and aside from bad eating habits and lack of exercise (I hope you’re seeing a pattern here) excess body weight is the leading cause of high blood pressure and those bad habits going on for too long can wreak havoc on your pancreas, eventually leading to irregular blood sugar or even Type 2 Diabetes. But, one of the best ways to drive off high blood pressure and blood sugar problems is to start living a healthier lifestyle by eating better and getting more exercise. So instead of reaching for that soda and binge watching the next season of The Walking Dead, grab a bottle of water, some of your favorite trail snacks and head out for a short hike instead.
  3. Weak Bones. As we grow older our bodies naturally stop funneling calcium into our bones. A problem that is further compounded for women who have children, because a growing baby will leach the calcium out of their mothers bones if not enough is present in her diet. Inactivity also leads to decreased bone density, which in turn makes it easier to break bones in the event of a fall or other minor accident. But weight bearing exercise is a great way to increase bone density. When our muscles are forced to lift or bear more weight than what they are used to, our bones are forced to support greater weight loads, so our bodies increase our bone density to accommodate the increased load bearing needs. This is why Doctors tell people with bone density problems to begin lifting free weights. But instead of heading to the gym and lifting weights, backpackers carry that weight in their packs.
  4. Weak legs. Much like the stomach and arms, the legs tend to be one of the first areas that our body looks to store excess body fat. Extra leg and butt fat is less than flattering and are two of the areas that most people wish they could shape and change. Smaller leg muscles and excess body fat in this area also contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure. However, increasing the size of your leg muscles by walking with a weighted pack will help you trim away the excess fat from your legs and butt, and is also good for your heart. Many of the largest muscle groups in your body are in your legs. Your hamstrings, glutes and quads move a lot of blood when they are active. This blood has to be moved by the heart, causing an increased heart rate and improving heart health. It also leads to strong, good looking legs, and who doesn’t want that?
  5. Weaker core muscles. Your core muscles, i.e. you abs, obliques, hip flexors and back muscles, affect every movement we make in our daily lives. If you’ve ever done an intense core workout, you likely became painfully aware of just how much you use your core in the days following. Not only does a strong core help balance and stability, it also leads decreases your chance of heart disease, diabetes and a long list of other maladies. The opposite is also true, a weak core burns less fat as fuel, makes hernia-type injuries more likely to occur, leads to unflattering belly fat and makes you more susceptible to a laundry list of chronic preventable disease. But, shouldering a weighted pack and navigating your favorite trail passively builds up these muscles groups by holding the weight securely in place while you maneuver with your legs. Carrying weight long distances will quickly build up your core muscles.
  6. Poor Coordination. We gain absolutely nothing from watching television or sitting around the house. We lose time, gain weight and miss out on cool opportunities to make unforgettable memories. Walking on flat, level ground all the time lulls us into a false sense of security and leads to weaker auxiliary muscles in our legs and core that help up maintain our balance when we’re negotiating difficult terrain or maneuvering over boulders, fallen trees or unstable rocks. But hiking forces us to move over difficult terrain, often up and down gradual to step slopes and across all sorts of rocks, boulders, tree roots, branches, water hazards and undergrowth. This forces our minds and bodies to think and act quickly and builds cognitive awareness that increases our balance.
  7. Excess body fat. Being sedentary in our daily lives leads to a quick increase in body fat. Any time we don’t burn what we eat, we put on weight in the form of excess body fat and while it is not detrimental to have a little extra body fat, obesity is one of the most deadly chronic diseases in America and thousands more a year are falling into its clutches due to more and more people living sedentary lifestyles. But it’s no secret that hiking burns calories, thru hikers on the AT often lose between 20-50 pounds on the trail, and many are in great shape when they start. With a loaded pack and on moderate to difficult terrain a hiker can burn well north of 3000 calories in a day. Even a one to two hour hike can burn between 800-2000 calories depending on your body weight, the weight in your pack, and the difficulty of the route you’re on.
  8. Psychological health. We’re biologically designed to live in nature. We’ve evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to find our homeostasis in an outdoor environment. So naturally, when we’re deprived of the environment that our bodies developed to live in, we begin to see negative effects on our psyche and mental health. Because our ancestors lived for so long in the wilderness environment, many of the aspects of being outdoors effect our well being. They became basic needs over a very long time, basic needs that are no longer met by our man made environments. Another basic need that is not met as often as it was in decades and centuries passed is our connection to the community. Human beings are social creatures, but outside of our immediate families, people rarely get outside human interaction anymore. Society teaches us that we should be staying in and consuming artificial entertainment by ourselves or with a few members of our immediate family instead of going out with friends to seek entertainment outside of the home. Hiking is a great past time that only gets better when you include friends. Sitting by a campfire, having a few adult beverages and laughing and talking with friends is a great way to satisfy our need for human interaction and to be out in nature. This is a great way to get your blood pumping and stave off depression. Additionally, getting out and hiking and camping on your own or with close friends is a great way to build confidence in your ability to provide for and take care of yourself in harsh or uncomfortably situations. This builds confidence in what we can do, and helps alleviate anxiety.

So with all of the benefits that hiking brings to the table, extending our life, making us stronger and staving off depression and anxiety. Why do we continue to put off those next hikes? Do we really have anything more important to do? Probably not, so the next time you think of putting off that next hiking trip, remember all of the benefits that you’re passing up.

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Stepping back to me

unnamedWhen I was six, my family moved into a big white house on the edge of town, a mile north of the Wabash River. I was the younger of two boys, and we were lucky enough to have parents who settled into the neighborhood and became permanent fixtures there. Mom and dad are in their seventies now, still in the same house, still going strong but for some minor ailments.

I liked the house, liked my room, liked our yard and the neighborhood, but what I loved was the twenty acres of woods behind the house. There was a failed development between the back edge of our back yard and the beginning of the woods, only one house was built; when I was growing up, it was just a huge square grassy field. We played baseball and football in that field when the grass was short,until they stopped mowing it and it returned to nature.  Then when the grass got tall we bunched stalks of it and tied the tops together creating big grassy tunnels full of daddy long legs spiders.  Finally, saplings took root and begin to growing into a young forest itself, but that took years – the years after I grew up.  To me, that was always “the field” and what lay beyond was “the woods.”

The woods called my name.

I entered reverently, passing under the coolness of the canopy and into another world. It was a world I’d inhabit for the next twelve years. When I was six, those twenty acres seemed like their own country, and each year on the last day of school, I’d be gone. Riding my Murray Stingray up and down the hills, swimming in the creek, eating apples from wild apple trees, and setting up camp sites that would host overnights for a decade – too many memories to remember them all clearly because they all run together.

Until the day I went to college, I wanted nothing more than to be a Boy Scout, and I yearned for the day I’d turn ten and a half so I could ink that triplicate member application. To this day I can still remember the smell of at form because I held it up to my face and breathed in its official, business like smell like a bookworm might bury his face in a book. Nature was my book, my constant friend, my retreat. In the middle of that woods, there is a massive glacial pudding stone at the top of a small hill that leads down to the creek. To this day, it is my touch stone, and I’ve felt drawn to go and sit there and think before some of the most important decisions of my life.

I don’t even know who owns the property anymore, but it will remain forever mine in my memory.

Turning twenty, courting my wife, getting married, starting a family – all of these things took a toll on my outdoorsiness. There is a thirty year gap in my life that has been filled with good and bad things, but was almost completely devoid of just being outside in the wilderness I loved.

I turned fifty this past August, and I swear, the next thirty years will make up for the past thirty with a vengeance.

Getting ready for the AT

boxI spent an inordinate amount of time today getting ready to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT).  I don’t know when I’m going to accomplish it, but I know that I will.

How do I know that?

Because I’m planning to do it now.  Back in 2013, I was supposed to mobilize and deploy to Kuwait for a one-year support mission.  I was at pre-mobilization training (PMT) the summer of 2012, and they ended up cutting the mission in half, and decided not to send the surgeon section.  I was the 38th Division surgeon’s plans and operations officer, and ended up as part of the rear detachment.  Not fun stuff.  But I got to keep this cool green box in which I can store all of the stuff from my AT hiking equipment list.  I keep that checklist as a checklist in Evernote.  It is based on the advice of lots of folks who have already hiked the AT and learned lessons I don’t need to learn first-hand.  They learned what to take and what not to take,  I’m taking what they took. I’m not taking what they sent home or didn’t take.  Pretty easy math, huh?

So the time I spent today, what did I spend it doing?  Finding out what I already had, and putting that stuff in the big green box. Want to know what is in the BGB?

List:

I bought a synthetic short-sleeve button down shirt from Ex Officio a few months ago.  It rocks.  It’s made from recycled water bottles, and dries in about five minutes.

I have both a short and long sleeve moisture wicking compression shirt of the Under Armor brand.  They keep the sweat off of my skin and stop me from stinking in the pit area.

I’m taking a mid-weight synthetic long sleeve fleece top from Sierra Trading Post from my last employer.  It’s blue.  It’s warm.  It’s going.

I already had a pair of lightweight synthetic trekking pants that zip off at the knees.  Those will be my day-to-day bottom half outerwear, and they were produced for the Boy Scouts of America.  It’s my nod to the six excellent years I spent in the BSA, eventually winding up an Eagle Scout.

There was an optional line there for underwear, which on a hike are simply a bother.  Don’t tell my mom, but I’m going commando.

I also have a fleece toboggan of military heritage.  It’s camel brown and I love it.  I wear it everywhere in the winter.

I also have a Columbia Titanium sun hat that I bought before accompanying my son to the 100th Anniversary Camporee in the BSA National Capitol Region (NCR) at Goshen Scout Reservation.  

I’m indecisive on which pack I’ll carry, but I’m leaning toward the Osprey Atmos 65 AG pack at this point.  By the time I buy, they may have newer models out. We shall see.

I already have a great winter sleeping bag, the North Face Furnace, but it is much too warm for summer camping.  I’m sure I’ll carry it from Springer Mountain in late March or April until the end of May or so, at which point I’ll mail it home and possibly re-delivered further up the trail in September.  In the interim months, I’m looking at another North Face bag, the Aleutian 35, for the warmer months.

have in my possession right now a ThermaRest self-inflating air mattress that compresses down to just about nothing for packing.  That will be going with me.

The military was nice enough to let me keep my issued waterproof bag.  It is large enough to slip over a five gallon bucket, so it should store all of my stuff that has to stay dry.

I’m undecided on which tent I will pack.  I know I’m taking a fist sized hammock for the warmer months, but I’m debating whether to get an REI Quarter Dome 1 tent for regular use.  Of course, when I can stay in a shelter, I will, but when I can’t I will opt for the hammock or the tent.  Options, people, options.

Footwear?  I know I’ll probably go through three or four pair of shoes, but which shoes will they be?  Methinks Merrell Moab Ventilator mid-ankle hiking boots will do the trick, or possibly the low-rise shoes.  In any case, I know the inserts will be Superfeet premiums.  Heard enough trail tales to know that the only way to hike is over Superfeet.

Trekking poles?  Yes, I’ll have a pair.  Don’t know which ones yet and don’t care.

Headlamp?  Same deal.  The PX has a lot of really geared up options, so I may try out one or two of theirs.  They have a liberal return policy and there’s a PX only 20 miles from my house.  Within biking distance.

I had to turn in my military issue CamelBak water bladder system but I know I’ll be getting another one for the thru hike.

I will be cooking over the JetBoil Flash, which features both the burner and the 16 ounce cup and cosy and has been getting rave reviews.  I’m a peanut butter and banana kind of guy, so I know I’ll be packing lots of PB, and dehydrated banana chips along with oatmeal, cinnamon, and nuts for the most part, but I also have an ample supply of MREs to bounce down the trail from a long military career.  They keep for a long time.  You tear open the foil pack and sniff.  If it doesn’t stink, it’s still good and you eat it. If it stinks, you eat peanut butter.

My water will be purified, along the trail, by a Lifestraw personal water filtration unit.  I’ll also find an inline unit that has good reviews.

I’ve already picked out my Nalgene bottle, and it is in the BGB.

I also have a really nice single folding blade knife that my daughter found walking along the road one day.  It’s a Gerber it’s sharp enough to shave with.

My first aid kit already has mole skin for blisters, an assortment of bandages, salves, wipes, and OTC meds such as the indispensable Advil, Immodium, benadryl and pepto along with sunscreen, foot salve, and bug dope.  I’ll consult with my doc before the hike to get a round of broad spectrum antibiotics.

No hike would be complete without a map and compass.  I’ll also have a Garmin GPS unit if needed, and AWOL’s trail guide, so I should be fine.

You’ll be happy to know that I won’t be wearing deodorant or bathing regularly, but I will be bouncing lots of toiletries ahead of me so I can indulge when I hit a town.

I have a mini-moleskine notebook and an anti-gravity pen that writes on anything for those moments when a brilliant idea hits and the mobile phone is dead.

And of course my iPhone will be attending with me for taking video, pictures, journaling, and finding out where the hell I am if I get turned around.

I have a very nice set of sunglasses/protective eyewear from the military and it will be going with.

And for entertainment?  Kindle Paperwhite with charging cable and wall plug.  I already have a waterproof case in which to put it.

What if I don’t feel like reading in camp?

Hoyle.  All weather infrared readable playing cards.  Shelled out ten bucks for them a few years ago and friends, they work.  You can have a full blown Euchre tournament in the middle of the Hundred Mile Woods in the dead of night with a red flashlight.

I also bought a cheap harmonica so I can offend everyone I meet for the first month or so.  By then I should be playing like John Popper.

That is basically it.  Most of that stuff will be traveling on my back for about six months.

Do you think I’m “all in” enough?

I do.