Thursday, July 30, 2009

Altitude Problem Solved (on paper)

I always say that if you do something wrong just enough times then you can't help, but get it right eventually.

I now have enough information to go up to at least some altitude.

The problem for me always comes back to running out of oxygen and getting sick from it.
This is caused by
- overexertion - particularly with carrying a backpack
- sleeping too high since my breathing slows down when asleep
- not enough time for a gradual assent - there never is

In the gradual ascent realm is: The one time we went through the Mitre Basin I did not get sick. I was at 13k and fine.

I have been sick at Outpost (10k') several times but at that low altitude was able to recover although oddly enough I have been at Lower Boy Scout Lake (also 10k') twice and one time was fine and one time was ill and didn't recover till I descended, but getting to LBSL is much, much harder than the Whitney Main Trail.

I have been sick at Trail Camp (12k') more times than I have been well.
This most recent time at Trail Camp I was fine when we got there and I was fine until I went to sleep. When I went to sleep my breathing slowed down and when I work up I had a headache, was nauseated and couldn't walk more than a few steps at a time. This is a real live example of the adage Climb High, Sleep Low.

One time I was fine at Trail Camp was when I had come up from Outpost with a day pack. I was able to continue on to Trail Crest and ran out of water and decided to descend (back in those days I was afraid to drink unfiltered water - now I see that there isn't enough evidence to support the claim that the water has Giardia - yes a little, and so does a public swimming pool which actually has more risk.)

I have been saying that the problem with Climb High, Sleep Low was that I could only get so high. Yesterday I looked up the elevation of Trail Crest. It's 13,600'.

Pause. Really? That high huh?

I had been saying it was 13k', but 600 feet higher is a Big Difference at that elevation. That day I climbed with a day pack from 10,400' to 13,600 which is a gain of 3200' which is not something to just write off with pat on the head saying "nice effort." The summit of Whitney is only 900' more in elevation gain. I have been past Trail Crest once, but was crawling and stopped at maybe 13,700'. In that case, I had slept at 12k' which I realize now, probably put me at a disadvantage.

So the take away lesson from last trip is clear: Don't sleep at 12,000', unless you are well acclimated to it. Sleep where there is more oxygen. Sleep with the trees. Thank them for the oxygen by exhaling on them.

And if I have trouble on a day climb with not getting enough oxygen there are the personal oxygen solutions which do well in a pinch. Though I need to mess around more with them.

I have tried Oxia and really didn't like the fact that a lot of it seemed to go out into the air. Plus I also had two canisters leak.

So if I'm going to make use of it while climbing. I need to find another source.

Some choices are still listed from the last time I did this search - others seem to have disappeared.

Now, of course, I want to go back to Whitney. The only issue is when? My time is pretty booked and the trail quotas are booked for this year till Oct 15th (though cancellations do occur because of party size reduction). While it's tempting to go in late October (I can deal with snow - however snow really does slow you down, plus it's a lot colder then too), my time might be better spent testing out my theories on the higher peaks of Yosemite (Dana, Gibbs, Lyell), though those are only in the low 13's, but that's not bad as a testing ground.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Whitney Portal Fire Drama 7/14/09

Before I forget I really must post about this last Mt. Whitney story from our trip.

I do have some photos that I need to upload, but this is the gist.

We spent the night at Whitney Portal Campground to help some with acclimatization and because it's beautiful and sometimes I like to go up to the store to say hello to Earline and Doug Sr.

Because we wanted to get a really early start the next day I decided to forgot my store visit till when we got back from our trip, so having already eaten dinner down at Lone Pine we put stuff in the bear locker, cleaned the truck out of scented items, put the tent up and settled down to get some rest while it was still light.

After the sun went down, I was half asleep when I heard sirens. Now I live in a city, so while still asleep I convinced myself that it was several blocks away and nothing to worry about, but then a voice in my head chimed in going: "Hello? You are at Whitney Portal. There is no "several blocks away" there is one road. Period." I wake up and peer out the tent since we haven't put the rain fly on. I see flashing lights out at the road (we're on a small access road back to our campsite.) Then we see another set of lights up on the other access road. Uh oh.

Terri who is starting to wake up innocently asks: think I should put a shirt on? I reply: Umm yeah. That's starting to sound like a Good Idea.

Less than a minute later we can now make out a flashlight moving from camp to camp. Uh oh again. This is starting to resemble watching something on TV and the person comes out of the TV to talk to you. - I hate it when that happens.

The flashlight approaches. We say hello to the flashlight and ask what's going on. Now a sad commentary on the state of things is that I'm explecting Flashlight to tell me that a prowler is on the loose (In the wilderness? Oh please).

Flashlight says "[his name] Highway Patrol. We have a fire just down the hill and you need to pack up and evacute." Terri asks if we have time to pack everything up and Flashlight says yes. I ask where it is and he says it's just East of the creek.

We start to pack stuff up and Flashlight moves on. We pack for about 5 minutes and the tension in the air noticibly increases (sirens are getting numerous and loud, people are starting to shout), we start to hurry as we can now make out where the fire is. Terri who hasn't been through a fire before is starting to stress some, but is holding it together. We get everything stuffed in the truck and we have a brief disagreement about my taking a moment to close the bear locker. There is stuff in there (trash) a bear shouldn't have, so I ignore her entreaties for a moment. I have told her that I'm pretty good in an emergency and she is resolutely remaining unconvinced. "You're not good. you're terrible in an emergency. We need to go." (She took it back later. :)

We exit the campground and there to our right is the fire with a couple of trees a blaze and being doused with water. We pull over and watch for a little while and I take some mostly unusable video and trade stories with the other folks in the campground. This is all turning out not to be the typical restful Whitney Portal experience. The fire subsides and comes back and subsides again. A whole bunch of fire equipment is arriving and you can hear more coming in. For what appears to be a relatively small fire this is a Very Big Deal. Mostly because the area has houses. If it was in the wilderness area it would have not been treated this way.

After a while it becomes clear that this will go on for a while and all these people are going to be looking for hotel rooms and the thought of a bed is sounding really good right now, so we head down to Lone Pine. Neither Terri or I has been an evacuee before so it didn't occur to us that since we were displaced that they would have found a place for us (there was a meeting hall commandeered for the purpose).

Going back down to Lone Pine we pass many fire crews coming up. Then we come to where the incoming road is blocked by a fire truck. It is at one of the lower campgrounds and it's full of Badwater Marathon vans (my blog entry on the Badwater Ultramarathon is here). I had forgotten about them. They moved the finish line down here since the road was now blocked. This also had another meaning that was slowly sinking in. On the very busy day of Tuesday, in the ever so hopping town of Lone Pine (not), every hotel room was booked. Eek. The woman at the desk found us a room in Bishop and we took it. Bishop is one hour away. As we drove up we were still being passed by fire crews coming in the other direction.

The next morning I called the Whitney visitor's center to see if the road was open. It had opened at 7am, which is a huge bummer for the day climbers who need to start around 2 or 3 am to finish in one day.

We drove back to our abandoned campsite and cleaned out the trash in the bear locker and found a couple of small forgotten items including a great flat Victorinox knife set that is so small I lose repeatedly and then find again months later.

We then looked at where the fire had been. Six trees had been chopped down and several others charred. While it was a small fire, it was a sobering thing to realize that our campsite was about 500' away from it. Fortunately for all concerned, there was no wind and perfect weather.

The fact that the fire was small is a credit to the Calif Dept of Forestry. the Whitney Portal is full of connifers that just so want to burn, but really can't be allowed to in that area. Fires here can get out of control in a huge hurry so they hit fires with everything they have, hence all of last night's drama.

Cause is still under investigation. We did talk to one firefighter who said the investigator was down there right then. Now that would be a cool job. Kinda high pressure but how fascinating. I later did talk to a ranger who said that he saw a military plane in the area fire off an antiaircraft flare right about the same time.

All in all this misadventure only put us 4 hours behind schedule for hitting the trail.

When we came out of the wilderness, intermitent thunderstorms were ongoing and the firewatch crews were out. We went to the portal store for one of their delicious lunches and I find Earline monitoring the radio for fire updates. On the night of the 14th they had already left, but this was now in the middle of the day. One road access makes getting out of there in a hurry difficult (though I must say on the 14th it was pretty easy) We had an enjoyable lunch amongst the fat chipmunks and while lightning did strike close enough to hear the alarming initial cracking (as opposed to just a distant rumbling), nothing struck close enough to make us want to run though I was glad that both Terri and I were off the mountain. On the drive down, we passed a couple of the firemonitoring crews and could see a fireburning in the mountains that I think they just let burn out, but keep a careful eye on.

So all in all, not your typical Whitney trip.

The Bummer of the Maximum Heart Rate

I'm only realizing now that someone my gym instructors are half my age. (The ones that are actually older are very impressive I must say.) Keeping up with the younger instructors is a challenge and is pretty empowering. Then every so often I am reminded what a disadvantage that I am at and this is why they put athletes in different age groups.

The disadvantage that older athletes face is the Maximum Heart Rate (I usually refuse to call myself older, but in this case, it's pretty inescapable). As you get older, the tissue stiffens and the maximum rate that the heart can go decreases. The bummer about this is that a younger person's heart can pump a significant more blood than an older person's and man I'm jealous - sometimes I wish I'd appreciated it then.

I overheard one of my gym instructors say that her near max heart rate was 195. Mine is about 174 or 175. The standard formula (220-your age) would put it at 173, but fit people usually can go slightly higher. This means that on demand her heart is able to move around that much more oxygen than mine. Because she exercises just about every day her resting heart rate is 38 (I asked one day) and mine remains at 58 despite exercising four times a week plus dog walks. That means that her heart is that much more efficient as well.

Because I can't get my heart to beat as fast as hers, efficiency and being comfortable at higher heart rates is the only way I can keep up. The standard text books are fond of telling you that you want to work out at 60-80% of your max HR. If you're no longer 20-something and training for anaerobic things like mountain climbing (or just trying to keep up with the 20-somethings), then you have to get comfortable working much harder. you get to learn all about how to work at that "anaerobic threshold" where your body is no longer processing oxygen. It's that leg burn phase and you can push that threshold up further.

My anaerobic threshold used to be around 160 bpm. Now it's 163-165 bpm. Yes it hurts - but only briefly. ;) The way through that is usually by doing intervals where you vary the intensity of what you're doing, while there are a whole bunch of different ones, right now I just use the ones in the RPM Spin classes I go to.

If you'd like a decent book on this subject there are 100's (mostly all pointing in different directions), but one good, albeit humbling, one (I'm lucky to match their fitness minimums and I often don't) is:

The Outdoor Athlete
by Courtenay and Doug Schurman of Body Results

So it turns out there is an honorable reason to (ahem) chase 20 year olds.

I want to take Sarah Palin's guns away from her

Let's just be forthwith about this and just justify all of Palin's terrible fears

I am a Hollywood Starlet (ok, that's so not true) and I want to take Sarah Palin's guns away from her - particularly her guns.

Yes I'm being flip. Sort of.
My British friends find our country's gun fascination pretty scary. Actually I do to. Especially after doing the research.

Having a gun in the house is a very good predictor of gun violence. It is so not a protection.

I though getting the stats would be difficult since there's so much opinion but the Brady Campaign came through for me very nicely though they are certainly not above categorically stating opinions without stats, but here are the ones where there are solid numbers:

- The risk of homicide in the home is three times greater in households with guns.(2)

- The risk of suicide is five times greater in households with guns.(3)

2. Kellermann, AL, Rivara, FP, Rushforth NB, et al. "Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home." New England Journal of Medicine. 1993; 329: 1084-1091.
3. Kellermann, AL, Rivara FP, Somes G, et al. "Suicide in the home in relation to gun ownership." New England Journal of Medicine. 1992; 327: 467-472.

More info

My opinion is that anyone who wants to possess a handgun (since handguns are much more the issue than rifles - Sarah Palin aside) must go through the same amount of training as a police officer. I don't want the Wild West days back again. I really don't want a whole bunch of untrained, armed vigilantes running around.

Palin quoted that hairbrained "We eat therefore We hunt."
Hello? Last time I was in a grocery store I didn't need to be armed with anything more than a debit card. Next wolf she shoots she has to eat. Whole.

I just heard her resignation speech. I must admit it has a certain strange poetic brilliance to it. What I really love is that Conan O'Brien had William Shatner read it on the air.

But of course all I can really say is what I've already said before: RUN SARAH RUN

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ripening Tomatoes Through Careful Neglect

2 weeks ago I had a tomato plant died suddenly of Southern Blight (the previous blog entries are here and here.) I picked the orphaned tomatoes and stuck them in a container while I waited till I had time to make that Green Tomato Relish that Jan C. told me about.

Then a funny thing happened. One tomato ripened. It was delicious. Probably would have been better if I'd ignored it some more. Then another did the same thing. Now it's happening to two more. Not sure how long I can take ignoring it as it looks really good. While the tomatoes are small, for some reason it's still gratifying to see what should have been a complete failure of a plant still give me something yummy during its short life.

The other plant is doing fine and is 6 feet tall. Perhaps due to swift removal of the sick one or just because of complete happenstance.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Badwater Ultramarathon

Because of our Mt. Whitney permit reservation, unbeknownst to us, our trip coincided with the Badwater Ultramarathon which is a 135 mile foot race (I never saw them run) from Badwater in Death Valley to Whitney Portal trailhead which is the start of the Whitney Main Trail. The promoters kinda like to let it be implied that the race involves Mount Whitney which it doesn't except for going up to Whitney Portal, but let's give them a break given this is basic insanity.

The main page of their web site is here:
The map of the route is here:
A recap of this race is here:

The recap refers to a fire that I will give much more personal detail in a later entry as it was only 500 feet away from my campsite.

It's 5pm and we're hanging out in Lone Pine eating an early dinner before going up to portal to camp and aclimate, it's around 90 degrees or so and obviously had been much hotter. Every so otten, I'd see someone dressed as a runner with one or two other people walk by with an obvious purpose in mind and clearly looking in pain - pain that they had signed up for, trained for, and paid for. Each racer had a support van with the competitor's name on it and signs like "Caution Runner." There was someone else in the restaurant and I worked up the nerve to ask him if he was associated with it (it also took me a while to figure out a polite way to ask if he was involved in this mascocistic quest.) He was and said that his daughter would be along soon. He said that they had started yesterday and ran all day and into the night. I asked him if they slept and he said they have the option to if they want (she slept about 30 minutes or so), but the clock doesn't stop. They didn't even stop the clock for the 10pm-7am road closure of Whitney portal access road bedcause of the fire.

Temps where they started the race in Death Valley can get in the 120s. This time it was considerably over 100 degrees, but I don't know how hot it got. Given that my body stops functioning at all around 110 degrees, the thought of running in such temps is pretty unimaginable. The winner of the women (who came in 5th over all) didn't even get any blisters. Her crew made her stop every 20 miles (!) to make her change her socks. 20 miles. The only way I've done 20 miles in a day outside of a car is on a bike. The idea that 20 miles is just a marker to take a break is so unfathomable to me. Not only did she not get any blisters (which means that she did far better off than the average adventure racer), she also didn't get sick from the heat which is another common problem.

Our first day on the Whitney trail was the day after the race had ended. Every so often I'd look up and see a very lean person with great legs and a Badwater shirt. I'd ask "So Badwater wasn't enough for you?" which garnered a variety of reponses. The best which was

"Yes we're card carrying mascocists"

I'm on the Whitney trail with a full backpack (obviously not a couch potato) and I believe I said something like "Yes, you're making us all look like wusses."

What was amazing was that the support people often run along with them. One did 45 miles and another ran 50. That's nearly TWO marathons. And you did it just as a support person. This makes me pause and marvel every time I mention it.

Another thing is that this race is very difficult to qualify for. You have to have a history of running in these types of races. they only let 90 people in. Yes, more than 90 people want to do this and you have to assemble a crew of people to chase you around in a van so that you don't die out there.

So given how hard this is to get into and to prepare for there must be some pretty sweet rewards right? This is the awards list quoted from the web site:
AWARDS: All racers who begin the event will receive a Badwater Ultramarathon t-shirt, hat, Race Magazine, and a goodie bag. All racers who officially complete the event within 60 hours will receive a finisher’s medal and a finisher's t-shirt. All racers who officially complete the course within 48 hours will also receive a commemorative Badwater Ultramarathon buckle.
- So if you start the race you get a t-shirt, a hat, a magazine and a swag bag.
- If you finish the race you get a medal and a finisher's t-shirt
- If you finish under 48 hours you also get a commemorative buckle.

Sign me up (not). Note the lack of anything monetary. Someone told me that if you win you also get free entry for life. They also told me that there really isn't much sponsorship money in it. One very accomplished racer gets free hats and socks. That is amazing. Racers may incure $6000 of expenses plus airfare if they're international. I thought us dog agility people were nuts. Not a chance.

I wonder what attracts people to this? The ultimate challenge? An accomplished runner or triathelete can make some of their expenses back in race wins. Certainly not in this case.

A google of: why ultramarathon
is surprisingly not coming up with much save for this little gem here:

On the insanity meter, this is second only to the running of the bulls.

There is an additional recap here:

The winners finished in under 24 hours. Which means they were doing an average of 5.63 mph, and given that I personally never saw them run, it means that when they were running they were going faster.

Of course I can't help, but notice in what great shape they are and how lean they are.
I'm in good shape, but I have elevated triglycerides. Aspiring to be as lean as they are or even just close would likely do me a world of good though my knees and feet might not like it. But my knees are fine right now so it's likely worth working on more. Even just shedding that extra 10 pounds I carry world likely be a boon. I have started back to treadmill running since I got back from Whitney and if I have anything startling to report I may put it here, but for now it will reside in my boring Training Diary.

But while someday I may enter a 5k, it's pretty much a guarantee that I'm never doing a marathon and it is a guarantee that you'll never see me in an ultramarathon. For them, I'll be happy to be an impressed bystander.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Whitney Marmots

At the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada you will often see Marmots who are described as basically being really large squirrels or groundhogs. However the very same page says that they typically eat "many types of grasses, berries, lichens, mosses, roots and flowers." Let me assure you that around Mt. Whitney's Trail Camp that is so not the case. They will eat anything they can get their mitts on and are accomplished thieves, and will rip right into things they think contain food (including tents).

Through out a lot of the Sierra, backpackers are required to place their food and any scented items like toothpaste in a bear proof container. While you are not terribly likely to encounter a bear, you will come across marmots and the container is pretty essential at keeping them and chipmonks and jays at bay. And along with their Ursian brethren, if you underestimate their skill you will pay for it in food.

So we're at Trail Camp and I'm trying to recover enough from altitude sickness so we can move to a lower altitude. I am just starting to feel a little better when I hear a suspicious noise just outside the tent. I look up to see that one of two marmots has just nosed the lid off of one of the bear canisters that we hadn't fully engaged. I yell HEY! and throw a boot (Terri's) at them and they run off, but not before one of then graps a ziploc bag of something.

Without even thinking about it, I shift into determined "I will catch you" dog owner mode and take off after then, but Terri says "Hey what about my boot?" in which I of course pick up and throw back at her on my way after them. The "Ow!" at my back tells me I should have paid more attention to where I was throwing said boot. I call "Sorry!" over my shoulder. "What do they have any way?" "Cheese" she replies.

We are camped beside a lake surrounded by boulders. Now if you're a non-human animal the odds of you ripping into a ziploc bag quietly are pretty much nil, so it was actually pretty easy to find said marmot who was pretty darn startled at having a human pursuing him or her. So I'm facing off with Ms Marmot and her cheesy contraband which I know isn't good for her anyway, and finally a voice in my head gets loud enough for me to hear. "Helloooo? This is not your dog. You have just cornered a wild animal who has a very valued resource. They have teeth and claws and you really have no idea what she will do if you push further." I am on a rock above her hiding place and if I had a trekking pole I could have stabbed the bag and anchored it in hopes she'd leave it. She is clearly considering what to do and I decide to try to let up a little to see if she will leave it. I give a foot and call out mostly for my own amusment "Step away from the cheese." She thinks about it grabs the package and retreats further into the rocks. Terri by this time has handed me a trekking pole, but I have decided that I've pushed things as far as I'm comfortable, so I leave her be and go back to the tent to collapse as I'm still not well and have used up my energy.

Anyway the lids to the bear containers then got completely screwed down. It wasn't long after till Terri saw another one testing the lid. She's sure that they are going to evolve a nose that jutes out just long enough to test bear containers.

One enouraging thing is that while said marmot was initially ripping into the package, the ripping and rustling sounds stopped pretty quickly after our face-off. I'm hoping it's because she didn't like what she found.

Anyway the startled look on the marmot's face was pretty funny. I should say that in this area particularly, being unfriendly and scary to wildlife is tacitly encouraged. The animals are getting tamer, bolder, and losing their fear of people. With the smaller animals this is a mere annoyance albeit bad for their diet, but it's deadly to bears. A bear that starts harrassing people for food is usually shot because they're too dangerous. As the rangers like to say: A fed bear is a dead bear.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mt. Whitney - last time (well maybe not)

[Apologies in advance, I copied and pasted this from my training diary and there are some spaces missing and I don't know if I caught them all.]

I knew it would likely work out this way. That I would go to Mt. Whitney and I would get sick, but I have to try one last time. [of course I take this all back in a later post.]

The crushing thing was that things looked so good the day before the scheduled summit day. I did everything right. I am in great physical shape (training for Shasta makes a mountain with a trail look easy). We went up slowly (which I really don't like as I'm an adrenalin junkie and like all the over-exertion and heavy breathing and completely underscores that this really isn't the activity for me), we took multiple days (stopped at 10,400' then on to 12,000' the next day), took medication (Diamox) when I started having some trouble keeping my respiration deeper than normal, took aspirin as well to thin my blood some, was able to help set up camp at 12,000' - in fact did a lot of it, cooked dinner and was able to eat no problem. I was even fine in the middle of the night, but after I fell asleep (instead of just dozing), my breathing slowed down (hence taking in less O2, and I woke up ill. I now have a hard limit - I should never sleep at 12,000' or above. I've done it before but only successfully once or twice. Even though I was ok when awake, when asleep my body degraded when asleep. There's a reason for the Climb High, Sleep Low mantra.

When I woke up, my head was splitting and I couldn't move hardly at all. Took the altitude medication and some aspirin. The headache gradually got better, but I felt nauseated, and still couldn't move more than about 10 steps without having to lay down. I stayed hopeful for about an hour and a half, but the window in which we could leave and get back down was closing and then it became get better enough to get down while carrying a pack.

Once you are ill, there are three things that are recommended that you do: Descend. Descend. Descend. Getting better on the mountain (past doing things like taking aspirin, orDiamox . Oxygen if you have it) is very difficult In my case, if I had oxygen I may have gotten better as I wasn't violently ill, but the thing is that while O2 will help you feel better, it will not help you aclimate and for me one time when I brought some, completely prevented me from aclimating to even 10k'. Over then next few hours I was able to move around enough, and even chased a marmot who had stolen food (that will be a later entry), and eventually was able to carry a pack back down to Outpost (10,400'), in which I nearly kissed the first tree I saw since there's a very noticeable difference in the oxygen level when you come to that first tree, but I never felt good again though was able to eat at Outpost (couldn't eat at all at Trail Camp after I got ill. Would I eventually have gotten better? Maybe since I wasn't violently ill, but it would have meant another day there and I didn't have it, and when you're ill, you're not very happy about choosing to stay ill. Would I have gotten better enough to summit - not likely. It's Monday, and I don't think I've fully recovered. Which is ironic as I could have run up that mountain if it were at sealevel (ok maybe not all of it but summitting would not have been hard.)

If I had another day the best choice would have been to descend to 10k' or 11k' or 11.5k' and sleep there and try to recover enough to climb from there (I knew I said this above - worth reapeating - once you're sick it's very tough to recover at that altitude). In our case, the weather was degrading and we were all too happy to hike out on Sat (7/18/09) as it had rained on and off all night at Outpost and a thunderstorm rolled in and stayed for the day, which is a bummer for those wanting to summit - not that day.

Ironically, Terri didn't have any trouble with the altitude this time. She has in the past, but other times has been great and has summitted (I have not). That's what's so funny about altitude sickness/sensitivity, there are so many factors that it's difficult or impossible to predict it. You can see obvious potentials: Terri gave a water bottle to a kid struggling up the trail, and she told him to drink it and fill it at every stream. But preventing it from happening is not much of a reality.

I think I'm done with my Whitney obsession (I made sure to stop in at the Portal Store just to chat with Earline and a staff member a little and say hi to Doug Sr. who was busy).

At the east side of the park off Tioga Road, Yosemite has mountains that are 12k and 13k - if I want to play with day hikes, I can do it there and Yosemite is way closer (and I bought a yearly pass again (only $40) so it's already paid for). The problem of not being able to sleep at 12k or higher is that there's a limit to how far past my sleep altitude I can go. I have gone from Outpost (10.4k') to Trail Crest (13k'), but I didn't feel that great at Trail Crest and the summit is another 1500' and the odds of getting that far are poor for me.

We're going to focus on kayaking for a while now (we're at sealevel and by the water - duh). We've done some before but it's in abundance here, and we would never run out of adventures. and of course there are our dogs and my dog sports obsessions which take up most of my time and attention.

The trouble is I like to climb thing and the mountains are so beautiful, alluring, and downright seductive. I can't help but want to climb them, when I see them.

The cool thing that I've written about before is that in the process of not attaining my goals I get to see some beautiful country that you don't get to see unless you go. Plus I have picked up a lot of skills having to do with camping, hiking, mountaineering, climbing. I can scamper around with trekking poles, glissade with an ice axe, and cook when it's windy using the tent vestibule as a wind block (one of those "don't try this at home" things that most every backcountry camper has to do at some point in time.)

But that doesn't change just how disappointed I am and it's just sinking in. It's supposed to be that if you train for something that you should be able to do it. Not in the case of altitude. There are ways to work with it but there isn't a way to condition for it. You are what you are. It's funny though. According to textbooks I'm more typical and everyone else is just getting away with breaking the rules. Textbook aclimatization is 1000' gain per day with 2 days at the same elevation every few days (I'm forgetting the number). No one does that - not even on Everest. I think the textbooks would say they are not aclimatizing. On Whitney that's true. On Everest that can't be true as if they didn't aclimatize some they'd be dead. But this is a disgression from just how profoundly sad I am about this. It's a loss and one that I'm still processing.

Other topics for later


Fire / Whitney Portal evacuation

Badwater Ultramarathon - "card carrying masochists"

Depressed appetite in the mountains and the inability to eat enough - (I lost 3% body fat in 4 days). This one is not yet written as I don't have enough information.

And where I take it all back:
Altitude Problem Solved (on paper)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Michael Jackson - His Effect on Others

While I am of the opinion that Michael Jackson, systematically killed himself, probably unintentionally, through the things that he repeatedly put his body through trying to make himself into something he wasn't instead of celebrating the incredible gifts that he had. He really was quite honestly one seriously messed up dude. HOWEVER!

I'm watching his memorial service on (thanks for allowing us to see it) and have been following the story over the past few days. He continues to have the most incredible effect on others - maybe even more so now. The anguish and the outpouring of grief - seeing what he meant to them. He was very much a symbol. It's been pointed out over and over just how many color barriers he brought down.

Every one who spoke, clearly never, ever expected to be in the position they were in now. They obviously wanted to do it, but not something they would have anticipated.

Speakers and Performers (I have missed some):
Stevie Wonder (spoke), Kobe Bryant (spoke), Smokey Robinson (spoke), Rev. Al Sharpton (spoke), John Mayer (guitar), Brooke Shields (spoke), Jermaine Jackson (sang), Martin Luther King III (spoke), Bernice King (spoke), Sheila Jackson Lee (Rep D-Tx) (spoke). Usher (sang), [right around now the feed has gone down drat] Finally got it restarted - everyone who spoke plus a lot of others is on stage (Jesse Jackson is there) and I don't know who is on stage but she's singing Heal the World (make the world a better place for you and for me), and I have never seen Usher and Brooke Shields standing together. The brothers Jermaine and Marlin are making parting comments. What's different is they are now talking directly to Michael, then shifting to talking about him. Marlin made the pointed comment of "You had to take so much pain. .. Maybe now they will leave you alone" he also requested Michael give Brandon (who has passed away) a hug. His daughter, Paris, came on to tell me he was the best Dad and thanked him and cried (if nothing else gets you this will). Then Marlin said goodbye and the casket was wheeled out.

The entire Jackson family was there with the men all wearing one glove.

Stevie Wonder was of course amazing, Sharpton was moving and talked about all the color barriers that Jackson brought down and how he never quit [to his detriment I think], Lee spoke of politics and making a difference like MJ did, and couldn't resist throwing in "innocent until proven guilty," and she and many others talked about his good works, and hospital visits, and charity work, and that MJ will be honored as a world humanitarian by the House. But no one seemed to see as incredibly genuine as Brooke Shields. I have never seen Shields really stop and appear to really really connect with her experience and relate it so well. Just watching her in a completely different context is fascinating. I never expected to be teary eyed watching Brooke Shields (?!)

Some friends are saying that they're avoiding watching the service. I do such things as cultural literacy but I was completely sucked in as it's really moving and I realized I was watching something much much larger than a simple memorial service.

More info:

Monday, July 06, 2009

Tomato Plant II

Consider this a post mortem, alas there will be no sequel at least for this plant.
It's basically a drying stick with green tomatoes on it. Its death was dramatically fast (days).

After thinking about all the ways I could have caused it (here), I realize now that, not only did I not do anything much wrong, I was missing the obvious one to point the finger at: Home Depot. The one thing I didn't have control over was the soil the plant was planted in and the Southern Blight could have easily slipped in that way (ok I didn't control the seed or it's initial "upbringing" (if you will) either or what it was fed which come to think of it if you're growing something to eat is very much a concern.)

This time I didn't grow plants from seed (actually only have done that once - quite rewarding, but takes more time). Usually when I buy started plants it's from a local nursery who gets them from local growers. This time I was at Home Depot anyway so I decided to try their tomatoes and basil. So far we're 3 for 4. I made the mistake of tossing the tag so I don't know where the plants came from. I know that Home Depot would replace the plant if I asked them to but after thinking about it for about a second I decided no thanks. I don't want to bring in any more "gifts" from them. I'm just glad they're in a planter and not in the soil.

So my local nurseries (Encinal Nursery, East Bay Nursery, Grand Lake Nursery, also Thompson's and Berkeley Hort though I've never bought tomatoes there) will be happy to know that I'll be back and am very sorry I strayed.

So now it's what to do with green tomatoes besides frying them. IF I want to eat them at all as Southern Blight eventually affects the tomato as well. I'm keeping a careful eye on the other plant which while not sick is not looking spectacular either.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Sarah Palin Stepping Down as Alaska Governor

CNN Breaking News tells me that Sarah Palin is resigning as Alaska's governor, and already there is speculation that she's considering a run for the presidency in 2012.

If I stop and listen, I can hear a the murmur of liberal pundits, writers, humorists and bloggers throughout the land saying with one voice:
. Run Sarah Run

Her running as the running mate of a competent contender is what was worrisome in this past election as having her one step away from the presidency almost by accident was more than a nightmare.

But she, herself, running for president? How perfect is that? We get two years of entertainment and slightly appalling flashes of being presented with Too Much Information, and get to watch the Republican Party try to manage her and not be able to. I really want to see her debate Obama though I know she won't get that far. As Stephanie Miller said: I miss the [Palin] word salad. I'm sure Rachel Maddow will be thrilled also.

Oh this should be fun or a train wreck or both.

Ill Tomato Plant

I am so bummed. One of my tomato plants is clearly dying and I have to decide whether to take it out to save the other one or try and nurse it till the tomatoes ripen (more than a month to go).

Here are my two plants. They've been doing well for the entire time:

Then right after a heat wave it started showing wilted leaves, so I thought it needed more water (many of the plants showed some stress after that), Extra watering perked them all up except this one. On further examination I see that things are not looking good at all. It's dying from the root up and there are bumps all over the "trunk."

What makes things hard is the tomatoes on the ill plant are looking good.

So now it's off to do tomato research.

As I feared this is bad. Southern Blight is what matches the description:

Southern Blight is a disease that can hang out in the soil and comes out when it's hot and wet. (Drat.)

There are similar distressing photos here:
and here:

This site:

says I need to remove the plant and burn it (good luck with that in my city), and don't compost it. My recycling company uses a high temperature composting method that you can even put rotting meat into, so I don't think composting is a problem.

Here's one novel solution:

But I don't think I need to do that. I have complete control over the soil in that planter and had completely changed it out this year. My planting mix is a simplification of Martha Stewart's (make fun of her all you like, but she knows her stuff)
I notice that her mix keeps changing, bit by bit - didn't used to have bonemeal or charcol.
The dirt is actually optional and I don't use it as it's too much of an unknown.
It used to be: peat moss, compost: sand, dirt (optional), vericulte and perlite
I'm a little suspicious of soil with pure white things in it (perlite) so for a while I haven't used it or vermiculite. Being lazy this year, I didn't add sand in and only used peatmoss and organic compost (chicken shit actually). Now it would be easy to suspect the virus hanging out in the poulet merde (the google spell checker must know french though I don't know how to turn it on) but I think the fatal mistake was not having enough things in the soil that didn't retain water (sand, perlite, even gravel) - apologies for the double negative, so even though it was on a drip system it was still retaining too much water and it would get occasional hand watering as well.

So depending on how much work I want to do today I may be able to make a difference here.

First take the ill plant out and put it in a separate planter - it's probably doomed, but I can give it a hospice bed if it's quarantined and not sharing soil. For the healthy-appearing plant it would really help it to get sand in its soil, but I'm not sure how to do that without traumatizing it. With the ill plant gone it might be able to dry out on its own. I'll have to go see how difficult this is going to be. It's a bummer as I'm so proud of the elaborate tomato cages I created this year with bamboo stakes and tie wraps but I can always do it again.

[time passes]
And that's exactly what I did. The ill plant is in a large pot that I had sitting around waiting for another job besides holding agility PVC. I lined the bottom with play sand which I had left over from a stepping stone project. Why I didn't use it in the soil mix escapes me, unless I did and just didn't use enough of it. Put the sick plant in and filled in the rest with sandy Alameda dirt which I usually never do as these houses didn't have trash service for a long time so all sorts of rubbish is literally in it (though the plants I put in the ground have done well - what does that mean?

The remaining plant I aerated some with a pole and poured a bunch of sand all over it and tried to work it in also leaving the hole where the other one was mostly open. There is signs of blight on the remaining one's tomatoes so all may be lost, but I'll give it my best shot. I don't know if my Farm Agent grandfather woutl be proud or appalled. Farm people take the heavy handed approach and quickly. Both plants would have been destroyed immediately and the soil scattered to dry or let fallow for a couple of years. But I am a not a farmer, but a namby pamby home organic gardener (that would completely puzzle him as he passed away before any of us could spell organic.) Maybe I should talk to one of my cousins who did a stint as an organic farmer.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Perhaps Some Lessons in Marketing to Americans are in Order

New restaurants in Alameda are fond of littering our doorway with menus. One that just appeared is a new combination Chinese-Vietnmese place. Now I love a lot of the non-beef Vietnamese food as they often use very fresh vegtables and the noodles are delicious. Having it be combined with Chinese food which is so often famously bad for you in that high fat often tasty way gives me some pause and I wonder if we have a literally mixed marriage here.

I open the menu and look at the noodle soups (a favorite), and I realize I am looking at a few 100 items none of which are veggie. Now I eat poultry and seafood, but I often eat veggie and tend to use the precense of veggie items as a mark of at least some sort of awareness of healthier choices and what a lot of people want (some alledgedly fine dining places are equally guilty of no veggie choices which is pretty inexcusable given that the don't have any cultural barriers to deal with). I find a couple of accidentally veggie items on the very last page, and ONE veggie and tofu rice plate. Not a good sign, not a place I'm going to bring veggie friends to.

Going back to the top of the menu I see Pho Ga which is Chicken Noodle Soup and decidedly not your mother's Cambell's Soup, and is often delicious. The very next item is "Pho Ga Long Trung Non" which in the points for honesty category is Chicken Noodle Soup with Intestines added. Pause. Now I was taught how to cut up a chicken, I know that even though I find them off putting, they're ok to eat. Though we would remove the intestines, my Farm Agent grandfather ate them and he lived to be 86 back in the day when it was still unusual for a guy with heart disease to live that long (the 70's), so it clearly wasn't harmful to at least him. But still, a lot of Americans of European descent aren't going to want to hear about Chicken intestines, especially things like Combination Chicken & Intestine Porridge (ok, that made me shudder a bit) and Pork Blood Porridge.

Ok enough of the menu. I close it and put in on the desk. I can't resist looking down at it. The reason? There is a picture of (a) a bowl of Pho (b) a dead plucked hanging duck and (c) a complete and very dead pig with one ear pointing up. Eeeek. OMG, can you say cultural divide? This is why you see ducks hanging in the front window in China town. They consider it truth in advertising. Someone needs to explain to them that perhaps that's a bit much truth.

So even though I've completely lost my appetite right now I will probably give their Pho Ga a try someday when I've worked my courage back up.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

GPS pondering

Part I

So after having driven off the map multiple times and having no inclination to stop doing so, I need to either go back to maintaining a great set of maps (might still so that), or buy a GPS.

Unlike backpacking GPSs, where they keep the price the same and just keep piling more features in - though in all fairness they're not that much money, in-car ones have come down in price and have gotten quite affordable as long as you're talking portable and not the specialized in-dash variety.

Just for fun, I checked to see how much that in dash Navigation System is for my Scion (which I turned down at the time.) $1800. Eeeeegads. That's enough to buy two top of the line portables and still have considerable lunch money, and I don't even need a top of the line one.

I'm a Garmin fan and I don't have any need to change so I started there first:

On the road-Automotive:

After some time with the Comparison feature I decided that I wanted Widescreen and something I could update (they all can do that it turns out), and having the street names read outloud to you sounded like a nice touch "Turn Right on Elm St" (rather that just Turn Right)

So the nuvi 1300 looked like a good choice:

Great - where do i get one? Well since I've never used an automotive GPS, going to look and touch one at a brick and mortar store sounded like a good idea. Garmin tells me that Sears and Best Buy and another one I'm forgetting have them. Well I like Best Buy over Sears, so I checked out their site to get an idea of their stock and they talk about a 1300T which the Garmin site doesn't even mention. The difference is that instead of just having the maps to the 48 states preloaded it also has ones for Hawaii and Puerto Rico. I pause a moment to consider this. I've driven in Hawaii - all around Oahu. One single map was just fine thank you. Ok 2 if you include the trail map. A GPS was most certainly not necessary. The idea of paying extra for such a feature amuses me, but sends me back to look further.

I probably should of just stuck with the 1300T. On checking the Garmin comparisons further (they highlight the differences with a slightly different color) I see that the nuvi 1350 has a feature that tells you what the correct lane you need to be in. Oooo that's a feature worth paying for since most of my misadventures start with being in the wrong lane. However is that worth $50? Hmmmm.

I think it's time to backtrack to the cheapest Widescreen and go from there.

Part II
Fortunately Garmin allows you to limit the blizzard of choices by selecting features on the left.

I selected Widescreen and the choices shrank down to just a couple of pages. Glancing down to the cheaper ones I see there's a different family of the nuvi that is the 200 series: 205W, 255W and the 265WT. So I compared those and the 1300.

The 205W doesn't have the street name announcements, and a friend said her experience was that the street names helped a lot. The difference between the 255W and 265WT seems to be Bluetooth and the stated advantage is that you can use your phone hands free which doesn't sound like an advantage at all.

To quote:
For hands-free calling, nüvi 265WT integrates Bluetooth® wireless technology with a built-in microphone and speaker. Just pair it with your compatible Bluetooth phone and talk hands-free through the 265WT while staying focused on the road. Simply dial numbers with nüvi's touchscreen keypad to make a call. To answer calls, just tap the screen and speak into its built-in microphone. Enjoy convenient one-touch dialing for contacts and points of interest.
I don't think that's worth $50 more than what the 265WT is to the 255W.

So the 255W's page is here:
List price is $219.

Checking Best Buy ...
As luck would have it it's on sale for $169.99

Sold. Cool.