Hocking Hills hike

Today brought an opportunity to return to the Hocking Hills region for another training hike. I went out with another group from Hike Ohio, which I am quickly beginning to really enjoy. It’s just a great group of people doing what they love. It reminds me of running races only it’s sort of the opposite experience. No one is running and everyone is talking to one another sharing stories and information about the experience. While this may be the way I did racing, I found that I would “zone out,” listen to my breath and count the miles toward the goal. Both hiking and running are wonderful experiences, but like I said, I am really enjoying the company of others at this stage in my life.

Hocking Hills Hocking Hills Hocking Hills

As we were gathering early in the morning before all the family cars arrived, the resident Naturalist told us about Grandma Gatewood. That she was basically the mother of the ultralight movement as she decided to “go for a walk” one day with just a potato sack, a pair of Keds and a shower curtain for shelter. He also talked about the actual man whom the Old Man refers to as the trail’s namesake. Some crazy old guy who chose to live out here with his dog away from society. There are some days when I feel the same way I suppose.

FitBit Hike Log

The time came to head out and we all single filed through the walk ahead though. We hiked around 7.5 miles of the Old Mans Cave tail networks. Climbing roughly 2000+ ft elevation gains under mostly cloudy skies in Ohio summer humidity. It was a pretty beautiful way to get in a workout. We came upon a lake where Dan, our hike leader, talked about how he and his dad would come out to this spot when he was as young as 15. I thought that addition was really great. Something that I think Brené Brown would have smiled at. The courage to share. Make it personal.

Selfie with Dan and the folks from the head of the pack

It’s funny though, as a white guy, I kept noticing how white everyone on the trails were. That is, with the lucky exception of my hiking crew. We had a handful of different nationalities. I really enjoyed the diversity and shared perspectives. I mean, come on, what’s not to love about a guy named “Yoga?” Or the Hispanic women who were laughing and having a ball together bringing in the rear of our troop? This was quite possibly one of the best-organized hikes I’ve been on to date. An experience I hope to repeat.

Almost there End of the road

Next up? I am planning a solo shakedown hike and overnight at Lake Vesuvius. This trail has been on my radar after having done months of research and watching others guys YouTube hiking videos which, since I am not a Boy Scout type, have been equal parts education and entertainment in some ways. It’s also a hike that my tattoo artist Andy Johnson told me about last year, no doubt to keep my mind off my back. Anyway, this will be a tent camping trip since I am still working on my knots, but there will be a fire at night so I am looking forward to reading at the end of the day while sparks float gently upwards into the summer night air.

It’s funny, this whole goal of hiking through the Olympics, and the training involved to get there, is making for an exceptionally memorable summer. I can’t help but close this blog by stating, again, how grateful I am to be alive. Enjoying the once unrealized possibility of returning to the outdoors. Life is good.

Lunch break at the waterfall

Posted in outdoors, personal

Witches Hollow hike

Meetup is a service that I know very well from my days as a tech consultant. It’s typically used to organize special interest groups surrounding a given technology stack, product or discipline. As I am working through a long distance hiking training program that I put together for myself. I was happy to recently discover that it is not just limited to tech. It also has some great hiking resources. One of which is a group named “Hike Ohio.” This post is about my first outing with a group of like-minded strangers to Clear Creek Metro Park to hike out to a location called “Witches Hollow.” Queue spooky sounds here.

The drive down was just a return to an area near Hocking Hills. I spent many years of my early adulthood road tripping down there to go hiking in my early 20’s with many friends. At one point, I took a date and well, we had a good time all by ourselves so to speak out in the woods. He was a glass blower. Ah, young lust-filled romance. That’s one moment I still have not forgotten across a couple decades.

When I got into the area finding the Park Office proved to confuse Google Maps. So I drove around a bit, eating into my 30 minute cushion that I have learned to add to trips for the first time because I suck at direction. The kind folks from Hike Ohio posted a sign so I eventually righted my course with 10 minutes to spare.

We all gathered under the trees in the shade. It was a 90 plus day here in Ohio today. Hot, but pleasant. Everyone applying bug spray and sunblock in turn as it’s a heavy tick season here and there were no clouds in the sky. We got a really great intro of the hike from one of the park volunteers and we all started walking down to the starting point passing Written Rock on the way.

From the paved road, we dove into the woods, off trail, and followed our guides to Clear Creek. At which point everyone but a handful of us pulled out a change of shoes. Ummm, yeah, forgot those. So I shucked my boots and socks, rolled up my pants and put a toe into the most refreshing water imaginable. It was about ankle to knee deep walking across slippery mossy sandstone slabs. I was grateful for my last surviving REI trekking pole to keep me from embarrassing myself too badly. From there we dried off and headed onward.

A mile or so later we came into the hollow. The hemlock and tulip trees were beautiful against the fern and moss covered terrain with rock and cliff outcroppings everywhere. Evidently, this area became known as “witches hollow” back in the 1970’s when it was suspected that either Pagan’s or witchcraft practitioners gathered here. More likely it was a great place to smoke pot and do hallucinogenic drugs in my opinion however. The space was beautiful, serene, and yes, magical.

The whole experience got me to thinking about a guy I have been talking with on the AHA Support Network. He had a heart attack at the age of 39. He’s going through all the things that many of us went through. Worrying about his fiancé. How he’s going to provide. Thinking ahead to all the things he may or may not have lost as a result of heart scarring. It’s a dark place to be that I know only too well. It also reminds me of several books I am reading right now on my path to being a better meditation practitioner.

My conversation with the man I spoke about earlier has brought me back to pondering what I need to do to cultivate the strength to cope. Not just with heart disease. But with the nature of suffering, impermanence, and change in life itself. The fact that control is an illusion but we have a choice to not buy into suffering. To be grateful instead of fearful.

It’s funny, but while we were all spraying our bodies with bug spray and sunblock back at the Park Office, I fished out my red notebook from my backpack and jotted this down “cultivate a feeling of appreciation.” I think it’s going to become its own post. As an atheist, warming up to any ideology that smells spiritual is really difficult for me. Yet all the Buddhist philosophy I’ve been driven toward over the past two years seems to tug only more strongly. Like a compass when you find the point on the horizon to triangulate from. I think some of my answers lie in the direction of embracing a practice of observation, acceptance, and appreciation.

When I started camping again, after a 35-year hiatus, at the end of July last year, I never would have dreamed it would have led me here. Let alone to taking a huge jump with my best friend starting at the Hoh Rainforest and ending, 50 miles later, on Hurricane Ridge. But that story has not happened yet. More than anything, right now, hot as blazes or not, I feel incredibly grateful for today.

Posted in outdoors, personal

A thought and a view from my morning run

One of my favorite views of downtown from the running path to stop at and think about things in the early morning hours. Todays thought “observe, don’t react.”

Posted in running

My hiking training plan

I’ve been planning this post for a couple weeks now. My exercise routine has been in a slump and I’m using the 50-mile hike in September to recalibrate. When I was running half marathons this was a little easier because I had deadlines and goals to meet. I will be talking about a combination of walking, hiking, Yoga, weight training and walking meditation to prepare for carrying 25 lbs. on my back up to an elevation of 6000+ ft.

Building a base

This is a concept that I learned when I was running longer and longer distances. My cadence dropped down to running once a week, walking about 1 to 2 miles a day with ambient activity, weights once a week and a Yoga session. I have been progressively adding more activity into my weekly routine. This includes a goal of at least three two-mile walks upon waking in addition to two runs. One weight training session at home with my dumbbell set. One naked Yoga session with the guys I practice with (body acceptance there). I’ve also scheduled some longer hikes, the first of which is coming up next weekend at Lake Vesuvius backpack trail, the longer one, in Wayne National Forest. Along with adding some recreational camping trips to hone my outdoor skills such as knot tying. Which I suck at. Lastly, mental preparation for days of walking 10 to 12 miles in a day… hence walking meditation to help me calm my mind and get through the days ahead.

Diet

I’m no longer vegetarian but my diet still has a strong focus on fruits and vegetables. For protein, I am consuming lean chicken, turkey salmon, and tuna on a regular basis along with vegetable proteins. Mornings start with, groan, decaf coffee and a fiber-rich whey protein smoothie with bananas, blueberries and a beet. I have one additional goal which is to reduce the amount of wine I drink. Typically Eddie and I will enjoy some great red, white or rose with dinner depending upon what we are pairing it with. The calories there are what I want to manage better as my weight sits around 172 and I’d like to trim down to 164 by the time September rolls around. No easy task for someone who is on beta blockers.

Dr check-ins

Through summer I plan to check in with both my GP and cardiologist one more time. I’ve got an all clear as long as I listen to my body. I will be watching cholesterol, blood pressure and wearing my Fit Bit to track things like my heart rate while exercising and VO2 max variability over time. I don’t have any real physical concerns however this leads into part two of the emotional health prep below.

Mental health prep

One of my favorite topics. Not. Today marked the actual start of my training program as I added weekly Sunday or multi-day hikes to prepare for the rigors of hiking. I was on the struggle bus emotionally since I woke up. I met a friend for brunch at The Keep. She has Type 2 diabetes and really struggles to keep her sugar and cardiovascular health on track. She’s doing great though. The day progressed and the anxiety in my head remained consistent. Given some really beautiful weather, I packed up my day pack, grabbed my trek pole and headed out for a five-mile hike with some hills.

A funny thing happened though. Almost immediately upon entering the wooded paths, surrounded by green and outdoor sounds, my anxiety began to ease up. I practiced a walking meditation several times. Eventually, I felt a lot more stable and, momentarily at least, free from my ghosts. Lesson learned there. There is something to the Japanese idea of forest baths. I went from feeling like crying to relaxed and grateful during the course of five miles.

Wrapping it all up

There is a great book by Sakyong Mipham called “Running with the mind of meditation.” I attempted to read it two years ago during my running phase. It’s giving me a framework for the walking meditation and observing my anxiety without reacting. I also just finished Brené Brown’s excellent book “Daring Greatly.” Both texts taught me something about myself so far. It’s a way of thinking that is helping me to heal myself. Just as training for hiking, eating clean, getting better sleep is strengthening my body these books are helping me to train my mind. My ultimate goal is to embrace what Ryker Gamble said in his final Instagram post before he and two friends tragically died while having an outdoor adventure.

“Life isn’t about responsibilities, tough decisions, and hard work, it’s about feeling bliss and living in the moment.”

That is what I ultimately reinvent myself as. Someone unburdened by anxiety and fear. A man who enjoys life for everything that it can be. Outdoors as much as possible. Laughing often. Making many new friends along the path and while camping. That’s what life is about for me right now.

Without further ado, hope to see you outdoors in the near future. Onward!

Posted in outdoors, personal, running

How to be a better sharer

So I’ve been reading “Daring Greatly” by Brené Brown. Her insights and writing are noteworthy both on the personal and professional fronts. Yet she has this habit of embedding unexpected gems. The section titled “Clarifying intentions, setting boundaries and cultivating connection” is great.

She sets the tone in the first sentence of this section. Stating “much of the beauty of the light owes its existence to the dark.” She’s talking about our willingness to perform and think in ways that challenge our own entropy, apathy and fear. Times when we allow ourselves to reinforce disconnection rather than seeking to connect on a personal level with those around us.

While I am not anti-social media, I did close most of my accounts save for LinkedIn and the AHA Support Network. I have noticed that my own habits have changed when it comes to networking with people. Even with my writing on my simple blog. Less screen time, for me, has meant that I find ways to connect with others in more meaningful ways. It’s funny, because some of my family members have lamented that they miss seeing my “goings on” within the Facebook app. While I am flattered, it becomes something akin to broadcasting rather than spending time, face to face, with someone else.

She talks about oversharing as a mechanism to turn vulnerability into a shield. Which defeats the purpose. This made me think about how “good” of a Facebook user I was. Broadcasting. Everything. Well not everything, but sometimes, looking back, I have ample opportunity to laugh at myself. Driving this thought further, on the professional scene we often times seek ways to share our successes and lessons from failures. This is great but it sets me to wonder about… are we doing it right?

I’ve spoken and written about active listening. This is a great technique for when someone around you is broadcasting, or as Brené says – oversharing and thus “floodlighting.” But what do we do when we find ourselves broadcasting? She provides a suggested checklist to help from doing this. And it’s awesome.

Vet your stories with close allies, friends and mentors first. Share only experiences that aren’t “fresh wounds.” Perform the following self-questionnaire. Hone your message. Choose the right time for delivery.

  • Why am I sharing this?
  • What outcome am I hoping for?
  • What emotions am I experiencing?
  • Do my intentions align with my values?
  • Is there an outcome, response, or lack of a response that will hurt my feelings?
  • Is this sharing in the service of connection?
  • Am I genuinely asking the people in my life for what I need?

These thoughts all line up with making us better communicators. Friends. Colleagues. They also provide us with a caution to not misuse vulnerability, sharing, in ways that push people further apart than closer. I once worked with a man who had a great philosophy. He actively helped others to network and find jobs that brought like minded people together. For the simple fact that they enjoyed each other’s company. I loved that thought. His idea is all about being brave enough to share things in a professional capacity. Sometimes too much. But always there for one another driving toward a common business goal. I learned a lot about people from him. And in the process, myself. Brené’s suggestions in her amazing book about vulnerability ring true. We should all do what we can to choose to share, not over broadcast, and constantly invite others to share with you in safe, empowering effective ways.

The benefits of taking the time to review how we share may be realized both in the personal and professional arenas. Who knows, like my old colleague, the two may actually merge… making everyone the better for it.

Posted in personal, professional

2018 Hiking gear list

This post is about the gear I’ve settled on for 2018 and the hike in September. As I’ve written about earlier, I’m learning as I go but that’s half the fun. It’s also about “daring greatly,” a book my friend Stephanie steered me toward when she put Brenee Brown on my radar during a great dinner she, Eddie and I shared at Barcelona at the end of Spring. 

I picked up a copy of “The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide” during my last trip to Portland in 2016 on a stop at Powel’s. Right off the bat, it gave me a reality check. Talking about are you a camper or a hiker and what the differences are. Truth be told, I would qualify myself as 70% camper and 30% hiker at this point. But I have a giant leap coming up in September of this year as my best friend Doug and I are set to hike 50 miles through the Hoh Rainforest all the way to Hurricane Ridge in the Olympics. 

As a result, I have put together a training plan, which I will write about later, along with taking a long hard look at my backpack and its contents which is the subject of this post. It turned out, that only a few things from my 2017 backpack survived. I donated the rest of my old gear to a local boy scout troop leader who said it would be put to good use. Following is a list of items, and some notes, that I’m currently packing for both camping and hiking trips through the Summer months to see if this is the gear that I will be taking with me to Washington in September. 

Shelter 

I have two options currently. A one person Kelty Gunnison 1 tent and a hammock/tarp rig. Even with just one hammock experiences under my belt, I can already tell I am developing a preference for this mode of shelter over the tent style. Still, the Big Agnes Sleep Pad really does make for a comfortable nights rest and it’s not as bad to inflate as I thought it would be. The challenge though, as with all of this, is learning things. In the case of hammock, it’s tying knots. 

Cook kit & food 

I’m a JetBoil guy through and through. Still, I am intrigued with cooking over a campfire and a skillet but those are still experiences I have to learn. As far as dehydrated options go, my diet requires a low sodium, low sugar and as low fat as humanly possible track. Fortunately, there are a few companies who I am lined up with right now. Packit GourmetOut Door Herbivore and Good To Go. These folks do things pretty well diet wise and the food they make is pretty damn good for something you rehydrate in a bag over 30 minutes to cook. My guilty splurge however is the Chicken and Dumplings by Packit Gourmet. It’s not technically within my sodium guidelines but it’s so damn good. 

Clothing 

I totally used Andrew Skurka’s guidance in his book “The Ultimate Hikers Gear Guide” here. He talks about four categories that you want to plan for. The “go suit,” “storm,” “stop,” and “sleep.”  

For my go suit, I have one for three season use. The underwear I chose are from my running races days. I have a couple pair of these great technical boxer briefs that reduce chafing and promote dryness by 2UNDR. For colder weather I bought the Patagonia Cap MW Zip Neck long sleeve top, Cap MW long john style bottoms, and the Tropic Comfort Hoody II (which is lightweight enough for chilly nights at camp). Socks? I got the REI smart wool basics. The pants I chose are another Patagonia piece called the Quandry series. I like these because they are super lightweight and breathable. For warmer days I picked a sleeveless tank DAKINE Triplet Loose Fit Tank which breathes well, looks decent and feels super comfy. The boots I picked up are Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking Boots. For camp shoes, and river crossings, however I have a pair of pretty great sandals I picked up in Portland back in 2015 when Doug and I climbed up to McNeil Point on Mt Hood. And for really hot days, I usually bring a pair of “ranger panties” which I normally use for running shorts. Modesty aside, these things are amazingly comfortable. 

My storm suit is by Frog Toggs and is the lighter weight rain suit they have for about $25. I’m not looking forward to wearing this but I imagine I will be glad to have when I need it. 

My stop suit right now is again from my running days which comprises of a pretty great wind breaker from New Balance. While not good for Winter, and I definitely need to invest here as the temperatures start to drop, I think it will be good with all my other base layers on plus my hoodie and rain gear if absolutely necessary. That aside, I do have a warm skull cap, some wool gloves and a camo Outdoor Research Army cap for the sun. 

Sleep suit? Um… I use the one my mom gave me. Naked. Just my preference. 

Electronics 

I’m sort of tight on money right now so I am not sure if I will be able to get one the SOS GPS satellite devices I want to get this year. New car, tattoos, life and everything else there. But one of these things is definitely on my radar. 

What I have though is a camp lantern with a built-in battery to charge from that Doug sent me. A Black Diamond headlamp from my running days. A solar charger and battery by Anker. A Samsung Galaxy 7 Active phone and, as a luxury, a Kindle. Well that and my Fitbit HR II to track my biometrics I suppose. 

Sleep gear 

This of course varies depending on whether I am tenting or hanging in a hammock at the end of the day. For tenting I use either my Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOLite Sleeping Pad when I am going a little lighter or my new Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra Sleeping Pad (which is super comfy). The sleep sack I chose was the Big Agnes Thunderhead SL Sleeping Bag: 30 Degree DownThis thing is great. No zippers just fasteners to secure the fit. Super light weight and compactable. This was a splurge for me money wise at $250 but, so far, it’s been damn worth the price. I’ve used it as a top quilt in the hammock and as a bag in my tent. I’m really impressed at how versatile this thing is. 

For hammocking I will eventually buy an under quilt. For now however, I am using a wool Army blanket with a lightweight rubber exercise mat that is super flexible and conforms to the hammock and my body very well. 

Navigation 

Some of us are not gifted directionally. I’m one of those guys. If it weren’t for GPS, and a sense of humor, I’d be a very sad hiker. Also, with my budget a little tight, while I want the Garmin inReach Explorer+ 2-Way Satellite Communicator, I will probably pony up the funds for the Garmin inReach Mini 2-Way Satellite Communicator (and a $40 off card). I can’t deny that I need to let people know where I am, that I can’t navigate worth a damn or that I may very well be in an SOS situation … which is kind of the point of all of this anyway. Facing fears and learning to live again. “Life is why” as the saying goes. 

My brother has offered to try to teach me what he can about using a map and a compass so I plan to take him up on that offer at some point as a potential backup to my reliance on technology and humor. 

Trekking poles 

This was kind of disappointing as I bought the REI Co-op Passage Trekking Poles – Pair, in pirate black mind you, and on my first use the fastener broke. Rude awakening here, that’s not covered under REI’s warranty but “satisfaction” is. Which made my husband laugh as he asked me if I was satisfied. Yeah, so I have one pole right now and I will be replacing these with something else in the near future. I definitely don’t endorse these. 

Hydration 

Only people who really know me understand how absolutely phobic I am about germs. I can go from good to disaster in three easy steps when reading about viruses or bacterial or tick born diseases. So the prospect of drinking from a water source that does not come from a tap and gets filtered in my home purification system scares the shit out of me. But, When in Rome and on the note of facing fears…. here I am. I bought a Sawyer Mini which I am using with a couple Smart Water bottles to filter water on the path. This will be our backup system on the Washington trek as Doug opted for a much nicer system for his needs. 

Small essentials 

These include a stuff sack with my first aid kit, Swiss Army, the Deuce poop shovel, body wipes, small shammy style body towel, fire starting kit, toothpaste, toothbrush, medications and so on. 

A note on heart disease 

My aunt Lora told me once that a disease takes part of you away. But that it also gives you some gifts in exchange. Sort of like Lance Armstrong when I read one of his books. He talked about having a football player build but then cancer ate that part of him away and he ended up with a much slender version of a mans body as a result which helped him to achieve what he did as a cyclist.  

Because of my heart attack, and daily battles with anxiety, I found the courage to go back outdoors. Am I green? Fuck yes. But it’s part of the journey that I am enjoying right now. As a volunteer moderator on the AHA Support Network I often times see people who have just had an event and ask the desperate question of “when will I find my new normal?”  

I am in a golden place right now. My first heart attack was treated quickly and left very little physical damage. The emotional damage, however, has been significant. Choosing to run races was my first attempt to push back. Camping and hiking is now another. I want to have the same flexibility that I see in some of these bad ass men and women who have survived incredibly debilitating events where they find themselves one day strong and the next exhausted after a simple shower. That’s the fear that constantly sits beside me every day. It terrifies me. Yet, as my meditation practice is teaching me. I am striving to be a better observer and nonreactor. That’s my path toward living again. 

Just the same, I am in contact with my family Dr and cardiologist in preparation for all of this. The advice is to listen to my body. But also to life my life the way I want to. It’s not just about the disease. It’s about quality of life and the purpose we realize. Which is the real reason I am going to hike through the Olympic Mountains with Doug. I am going to be with someone I love on a journey that will be difficult for both of us and something to remember. 

Just like my tattoo work I am doing right now though, I have no idea if I will have life enough to finish the full upper body work I started last year. But it’s a damn good way for me to mark the passage of time. A day I didn’t have a heart attack. An experience that transformed how I think about the world and myself. Connection through story telling as it were. 

One of my favorite songs is Marrakesh Express by Crosby Stills & Nash. It takes me back to the days when I was in forestry school while I was in my early 20’s. The idea of the line from this song though…  “Hope the days that lie ahead bring us back to where they’ve led.” Well, it feels like a future tattoo. It feels like the hike up to Mc Neil Point. It feels like kissing my husband Eddie for the first time. It feels like the meaning of life to me. For now? I am drawn outdoors and this is the kit that I have put together. Rusty and not 100% prepared or not, here I am and ready to go. 

Posted in outdoors

Tools for dealing with anxiety

[This post is an adaptation from a response I left for a much younger man in his early 30’s who experienced a heart attack recently. Having dealt with anxiety for the past three years, I thought it worthwhile folding this into my own blog for searchability sake.]

Intro

Anxiety was one of the “gifts” that my heart attack left me with 3 years ago. It was during working through that when I realized, with my shrinks help, that my Type A, “highly functional” GO! GO! GO! mindset has been a way for me to numb myself to an underlying anxiety disorder all my life. While I don’t get major panic attacks, I do have a physiological reaction to anxiety that causes my brain to seize up in what one of my Dr’s called “disaster thinking.” When that happens, it takes days, sometimes weeks for me to break out of that cycle. It’s exhausting. I’ve been to ER twice as a result of this. Following are some of the lessons and tools I use to manage myself.

Tools

Meditation

This sucked at first. I didn’t understand what it was to meditate. Like others before me, I also used Calm. The app taught me that all I need to do is sit down for 10 minutes a day, or as often as you can toward creating a pattern and just listen to yourself breath. This is where I think most people go wrong. We tend to think that meditation means “clearing your head.” Well, that’s not it. The point of meditation is to sit down. Count your breaths, inhale, count one, exhale, count two. Repeat. All the while you are bombarded with 1000 thoughts. That’s OK. It’s the millisecond where you see those thoughts and then your body tells you to exhale, you count, and that’s where meditation lives. The return to your shift in thoughts away from the noise and back to the breath. Over time, this can help to remap our minds to rely less upon disaster thinking and more on something that actually helps us to learn how to observe without reacting.

Think about that last line. This is helping me to observe my anxiety while returning to my calm self. Not clear minded or enlightened or anything fancy. But back to me and away from the firetruck alarm bells that constantly wail in my mind. Again, this is over time, but studies and medical pros say that this, like prayer for those who are religious, help to control anxiety and depression.

Exercise

Daily walks, running, yoga, hiking, strength training. Does not have to be fancy, but a regular routine and achieving a level of fitness helps to keep my head clearer. Gives me a healthy structure that work like guard rails which tell me that I am doing what I can to live a healthy life.

Mantras

My last counselor taught me about mantras. Little sayings you can repeat in your head to further train your mind away from the anxiety neural pathways, and more toward courage, acceptance and strength. The two I use often times are these:

  1. Since I am a chronic overachiever, “I am enough”
  2. And for when anxiety grabs tight, “I am bigger than my fears”

Breathing exercises

I use these in meetings all the time. My job is to argue with people about technology. It’s fun but sometimes my mind gets the better of me and I walk that dangerous line where my head wants to explode… which isn’t good for my blood pressure. Hence, breathing exercises. From what I have been told, these help lower your blood pressure, lower your heart rate and actually clear your mind.

This is what I do, however, there are more formal exercises you can practice.

  1. Inhale counting 3
  2. Hold counting 3
  3. Exhale counting 3
  4. Hold counting 3
  5. Repeat for about 5 to 6 reps

The nice thing about this is that you can do it during whatever else you are doing and no one really knows except for you.

Personify Anxiety

My first counsellor taught me this one. As per usual, I just looked at him like he asked me to put on a dress. WTF?

He told me that if you try to think of anxiety as a person, then you can have a conversation with it. I resisted at first. It was just too granola bar for me. But, I ended up working with him and it turned into an exercise where I would picture the anxiety as my mom circa my teenage years. She would come and check in on me during moments when that was the last person I wanted to see. I knew she loved me so it was not a bad thing. I checked in with her then asked for my privacy back. The idea is that anxiety is not necessarily a totally bad thing. We make it a bad thing when we don’t let it go.

“Get Help”

I’m a comic book fan and follower of the Avengers movies. There’s a scene where the hero Thor and his brother Loki are fixing to escape from a bad situation and they decide to use a childhood prank to break free of the guards. They call it “Get Help.” All kidding aside though, I hated the idea of seeing a professional. Talking about my feelings and droning on about what is wrong in my life. My mindset was that I could solve every problem on my own and I did not need some shrink to help me.

Wrong.

Don’t be all macho, work on opening up to others, being vulnerable as Brene Brown touts in her awesome 20 minute Ted Talk.

I’ve worked with two professional counselors since my heart attack and they have really done nothing less than taking a crowbar to my, once, very closed off mind toward learning how to cope with myself. To work through the grief process of having had a heart attack and being faced with the absolute fact that I am going to die and I probably know how it’s going to happen. Another thing I worked through were some devices, some listed above in my tool section, to personify and manage the anxiety and use it more in a positive way rather than a negative one.

Secondly, I talked to my GP about the event when I would need to have a medical plan to treat my anxiety. We have that ready to go as a backup in case things get worse. So far I have not had to pull that lever. But I’ll tell you, it reminds me of a line from a movie where the main the scene is something where the hero is about to go boldly forward and the terrified person talking to him tells him he’s worried. I think the line went something like “I never worry because that means you suffer twice.” Meaning, death only comes once but you can torture yourself over and over again. There is no shame in getting medical treatment for anxiety.

Lastly, try to think of your Dr’s, mentors, loved ones and friends as teammates. They have a vested interest in your quality of life. Don’t forget that they genuinely care about you. When a team works together, it wins.

Learning to live again

This has been something which has evolved over the past two years. My first year I freaked out. I went vegetarian. I started running races. 5k’s, 10k’s, 15k’s, half marathons, 20 milers… there goes my “overachiever” thing again.

This morphed into traveling all over the place, wherever I could, through 2017. This changed into camping and ultimately hiking for me. Getting back outdoors.

My hike to McNeil Point on Mount Hood 2015 two months after my heart attack.

Why camping? Well, I live two blocks from my hospital. I work in the same zip code. I am always around help. Not so much in the Olympic Mountains. If something happens out in the wild, it can take up to 48 hours for help to respond to the satellite GPS transponder. In short, I will probably be a goner. It does not have to be that extreme however. This is my vehicle for facing fears. Learning how to draw the line about what I should and should not worry about. I’d rather be the guy who worries about having enough water along a trail rather than whether or not I am going to have a heart attack.

To close this overly long post, find your way. This journey is individual for all of us because we are all different. We do however share a common bond. Life.

If for no other reason, we should dedicate all that we are toward being free from our inner demons. Choosing light over darkness. Living well, being vulnerable, getting naked, having fun and laughing with others and at ourselves for the sheer joy of living.

Posted in personal

Gratitude for the now

I wrote a lot about gratitude in 2016. This is the same topic that came up earlier this year as far as jotting down few notes every day toward recording the things for which we feel grateful. I took that to heart and now take a few minutes every day to do just that. What I have learned over the past few months has been subtle but interesting.

My workouts have pretty much been running for the past few years now. This summer, however, I downshifted to a degree and got my husband on board with me to take nearly 3-mile morning walks together. My thought was that it would be good for his back, good training for my hike at the end of summer through the Olympic mountains (I am wearing a weight vest during these walks) and some good clear headed couple time where we could talk, reflect and prepare for the day ahead. Honestly, it’s been pretty great.

Yet there are times when I still get the itch to go for an all-out run in my “ranger panties” with some good music in my ears. I love those times. Especially when it rains during the summer. It’s the most amazing feeling where you are running full tilt, heat coming off your body in waves while cool water just pelts you from above. Definitely one of my “wow” moments in life.

The thing that made me think of gratitude this morning though was how steady my pace felt. How good the breathing was. The feel of the morning air on my skin. The other runners waving and saying “hi.” That and thinking back to the training days months after my heart attack where I would just start to spontaneously catch my breath and notice tears on my face for no reason. Like this little candy bar of sorrow, regret and happiness all rolled up in a colorful plastic wrapper.

Today was just happiness out on the trail. Nothing more. I guess that is what this whole gratitude thing has taught me though. To retrain my thought patterns away from fear and anxiety toward other pathways that feel better. This does not mean I don’t have bad days. It’s just a subtle tool that you notice in play once in a while when, say, you catch yourself smiling instead of crying on the running trail.

It reminds me of a guy I met over the weekend while camping. We were exchanging life stories, while drying off after a midnight swim, around the campfire. He showed me one of his tattoos. I think it was a combination of the symbols for Virgo and Aquarius. He said it meant “now.” That’s exactly what this morning’s run felt like. I felt like I was finally able, for once, to just be in the moment. Nothing more. Nothing behind. Nothing ahead. Just now. It felt amazing.

My own gratitude practice has taught me that I’m grateful for love, friendship, campfires, life and the most important thing of all… possibility.

Posted in personal, running

Experiment with a hammock

So I set out to try hammock camping two weekends ago. The thing about this is that I’ve been watching some You Tubers channels to learn more about living outdoors for a few days at a stretch. While I made it through Cub Scouts, probably by the force of my parents there, I never went through the boy scout track so all of this stuff is learn-as-I-go.

When I first saw some guys sleeping in tarp-covered hammocks I was immediately intrigued.  As I already had a hammock for my camping trips from last year with bug netting all I needed was the tarp and a way to rig up a protective cover for warmth since I am not buying an under quilt until after the big trip in September. From the “I’m not made of money department” there.

I bought an inexpensive tarp from Chill Gorilla for this experiment. Pairing that with my cheap Eastern Ridge hammock with bug netting. Then hanging my rig with these awesome straps from Hommit. For an underlayer, I paired a wool Amry blanket with a super flexible thin rubber exercise mat. Once put together it was really comfortable. I had my sleep sack from Big Agnes which I used for a quilt. Being Summer it was pretty warm to start with but the temperature dropped to 63 so I was glad to have both a top and bottom layer.

Back to my learn-as-I-go track. My knots sucked. It was truly a trainwreck. Fortunately one of my fellow campers taught me how to properly use the plastic slider affixed to the tarp connectors. Then he also taught me how to tie a Taunt Line Hitch and a Bolan knot. The first is used to give you an adjustable knot to fix the tension. The second is used to secure the line from the plastic slider which is also used to set tension properly. Once this was all in place the tarp worked fantastically.

Now the experience. I love reading and napping in my hammock but I have never attempted to sleep all night in one. While I had a difficult time adjusting to my hanging bed, I fell asleep eventually and slept really really well. It was one of my favorite nights outdoors. One I hope to repeat once I do some more knot tying practice and learn the actual name of the “plastic slider.”

In the end, I definitely think there is something to this whole hammock thing. They look great, pack down to nothing and are relatively lightweight. Definitely a cool experience.

Posted in outdoors

Dodging dietary bullets while outdoors

Hiking and camping require a person to rethink how they make food. Especially when you have heart disease. This post is part of a larger series chronicling my journey to the Olympic Mountains coming up at the end of this summer… and the misadventures, fun, and campfires along the way.

Cooking outdoors is very different than at home. Unless you are of the mindset where you bring an ice box, large format gas stove or equipment to cook over an open fire. I won’t want to carry that much in September up a 6000 ft incline, so I opted for the Jet Boil system last year. Granted, there are even more minimalist cook systems out available. This one just appealed to me because it’s pretty, well, “me” proof.

To prepare good dehydrated meals all you really need is hot water and a freezer bag full of your mix. You combine the two, place it in some sort of insulated cozy and let it steep for 20 to 30 minutes. That’s the formula for most hot meals and proof that you don’t have to buy a Jet Boil if you don’t want too.

Meal planning with heart disease really complicates things. I’m talking about the 80% of the time that I eat clean. Not the 20% where I treat myself to something that elicits memories from the smell, texture and flavor experience. Pulled chicken sandwiches for example which remind me of living back home with my parents when I was a kid.

While I am nowhere near dietician status here, the guidance I have gotten, and rules I follow, are somewhere between Mediterranean, AHA Guidelines and lots and lots of fruits and vegetables with wine at dinner. You don’t have a lot of those options while on the trail however. In my 8 months of hiking research via You Tube I found myself caught between the Ramen Noodle, Jerky, cheese and bacon camp. And I celebrate the folks who don’t have to worry about that stuff, unfortunately for me, these opions have wildly too much sodium, fat, and sugar.

Last year I started experimenting with Mountain House dehydrated foods, saw it on some You Tube videos of young guys losing their marbles on how good that stuff is. And they are really good. But, of course, every meal that appealed to me had the same problem as Ramen noodles or too much fat to for my mind to allow myself to splurge on. From there I moved to several other companies until I found three that I really love. Good To Go, Packit Gourmet and one that my buddy Doug hooked me up with called Outdoor Herbivore (the last being a vegetarian and vegan company which totally fit the 80%).

So I’ve been out the past two weekends doing some testing of hammock gear and one night in my single man tent to try out my lightweight Big Agnes inflatable mattress. Sleeping in a hammock is, by far, my favorite style to date and the subject of a future post soon. During these two overnight trips, I had a chance to try Good To Go Marinara with Penne and the Outdoor Herbivore Summer Tomato sauce with gnocchi, which I incidentally had the pleasure to share with an environmental author, meditation practitioner Buddhist, and activist, J.M. Seligman. That made for a great conversation starter lasting late into the evening. Yeah, Outdoor Herbivore was that good.

The Good To Go Marinara with Pene was fantastic. I boiled a little over a cup of water, removed the dry packet from the bag, added the water, sealed the bag, stuffed the bag gently into the still warm Jet Boil chamber. I left that to cook for about 30 minutes covered, “stirring” occasionally by removing the bag and massaging the contents gently because it was pretty hot. When it came time to test it, the flavors, aromas and pasta texture were perfect. I would highly recommend this dish to anyone who wants a little quick Italian style meal while outdoors. The bonus is that it only has 300 g of sodium and 1g saturated fat. Now for dehydrated food, that’s pretty damn impressive. Plus… no animal products as it’s vegan is made from whole ingredients.

This past weekend I tried a packet of sauce that my buddy from Portland brought to me on his recent trip to visit his family here in Ohio. That and his idea of using Gnocchi on the trail as a quick alternative to completely dehydrated food. I cooked the sauce by boiling 2 cups of water, adding the contents after turning off the flame, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes and boom! Right there in my canister was an aromatic perfect tomato sauce with onions and vegetables that were still damn crisp. Out of this world. Now my Gnocchi experience was a little underwhelming. I used the sauce to cook that in over 20 minutes, which worked but created a mess and the cooking was inconsistent as it was hotter at the bottom of the chamber than the top. Next time I do this I will probably be using a separate boil pot and strainer for the Gnocchi and then portion that out into individual serving bags for more than one person. All in all, though it was a pretty tasty meal with a great health profile (low salt, low fat, vegan).

To conclude, this is all part of the research I am doing right now to get ready for the Olympic Mountain hike that I am going on with my buddy from Portland in September. We both like food. Have various diet restrictions based on healthy living, and love to be outdoors. The point of all this is that you can, in fact, eat healthy while outdoors and not have to go the bacon, cheese, jerky or salami route that a lot of folks can happily enjoy without consequence. So this is part of the fun. Trying new things, meeting new people, midnight swims and drying off, buck naked, around the campfire. Why wasn’t college calculus like this?!

Posted in food, outdoors