Blog

Lawn Lake Trail Bouldering : Rocky Mountain National Park

Today I went on a 4.5 hour hike up Lawn Lake Trail. My intention was to get some rest day non-climbing activity, but also to scope out some more lower elevation bouldering that would be snow-free, unlike Emerald Lake or Lower Chaos at the moment. 

The Lawn Lake Trail runs along the Roaring River, the same river that flooded the park in 1982. 

lawnlake

The trail is northwest of Endo Valley, and therefore has similarly scattered boulders along it's length. Below are a few pictures. There was one that I'd describe as a mini-Atari (a la Bishop, CA), with large compression moves getting smaller in width as you move up on the boulder (unfortunately, no pics of that one)

Additionally, as a result of the flood, the riverbed contains some massive car-sized boulders that looked potentially awesome: 

When I was looking at boulders, I was keeping in mind the fact that most boulderers don't want to walk very far. Almost all the photos of boulders shown are within 45 minutes of the trailhead, and are in this general area:

Gonna check this area out in the next week, particularly the river boulders. Stay posted. 

Mini dirtbagging break: Training in a Gym

I started my dirtbagging trip in December, and spent three months climbing most days and doing little else. While I was outside for hours most days, I didn’t really feel like the amount of physical activity I was doing was that high. When I was living back in Wisconsin, my daily activity would look something like this:

  • Walk / run / bike to work
  • Walk / run / bike to the gym 
  • Lift for 1.5 - 2 hours
  • Walk / run / bike to work
  • Walk / run / bike home
  • Rock climb for 2-3 hours
  • Go for a run

It was hard to go from that much exercise and training to just climbing. But I was mostly okay with it - I’d spent 4+ years being bitter that I couldn’t live this lifestyle and now I was finally doing it - I’d have the rest of my life to work out and be in good shape.

Nonetheless, when I had a chance to take two weeks to train out of my road trip schedule, I jumped for it. I’d spent the last two weeks in Joe’s Valley, and had to be in Denver 2.5 weeks from then. I decided to split the distance and spend that time in Grand Junction, Colorado, at a gym where I’d briefly stopped at previously. The gym was brand new and had a great training facility: campus boards with multiple grip styles, 6-8 hangboards, free weights, gymnastic rings, a decently sized bouldering area and tall walls with autobelays. I decided to make the most of having 2 weeks and improve all the things that would be difficult to work on outside. Here was my list:

  • Weight lifting to get my pulling strength back to par, improve my opposing muscles
  • Campusing
  • High volume workouts (doing lots of low to mid-range boulder problems each session)
  • Hangboarding

Based on these things, I made a A/B day schedule:

Day 1:

  •     Warm up doing lots of volume on v0 to v4
  •     Hangboard: heavy weights, short intervals, high intensity
  •     Campus board
  •     Trail running

Day 2:

  •     If my fingers felt strong, I’d do v0 - v4 boulder problems, focusing on volume
  •     If my fingers and forearms felt sore, I’d do 6-7 long, easy routes on autobelays for active recovery
  •     Lift weights

The idea was to jam pack every day with as much training as possible without injuring myself.  Overall, it went really well. 

Positives:

  • I got significantly better at campusing in a short period of time. I learned to double clutch the biggest rungs in about three sessions and could do a double clutch or two on the next-biggest rungs
  • I felt like I was really working my tendons and forearms when hangboarding
  • I could do a slow one-arm negative again by the end of the two weeks
  • I got in a lot of volume in a short time
  • I got my cardio back by trail running

Stuff I Learned

  • I could only get about 4 campus sessions in two weeks - more, and my fingers would start to get sore. I intend to use this information in the future to better plan my training sessions. 
  • When hangboarding, it’s better to use a smaller number of grip types and get more volume on each grip type than to try to do 12 grip types and only one set of each. 
  • I really dislike projecting indoors
  • Doing weighted pull ups on rings really helps with one-arm progression as compared to straight bar pull ups

I'm pretty psyched to do more training cycles like this in the future. I think it'll be a good balance between climbing outdoors full time and improving my fitness. 

My experience with L-Theanine

I recently started drinking coffee last fall. My relationship with caffeine doesn't start there though: I'm a long-time lover of tea, usually of the chai or green varieties. 

When I started drinking coffee, I noticed that I'd often get a headache, I'd feel jittery, and wouldn't have much improved focus while at work or in class despite being over-caffeinated. I attribute this to coffee's higher caffeine content - coming from a regular consumer of green tea, coffee is a pretty big jump.

Nonetheless, when I'd go back to tea, I occasionally noticed effects of the tea that would be out of caffeine's scope - tea lovers call it, "tea drunk" - for me, it was a really positive mood, an increased sense of well-being, high energy and incredible focus. 

I did some research and found that these effects are often attribute to L-Theanine. L-Theanine is an amino acid found predominantly in green tea, and it's known to counter some of the negative effects of caffeine while providing a number of other positive effects. If you want more proof, according to a quick scan of studies of L-Theanine on Google Scholar, it:

  • Reduces negative responses to stress
  • Reduces mental fatigue
  • Promotes: faster reaction time, increased alertness
  • Has mood-enhancing properties

Knowing this, I wanted to see if I could try L-theanine on it's own or take it with coffee when I didn't feel like drinking tea. So picked up a bottle from a GNC, and started trying it at different times of day. Here's what I noticed:

  • When taken with caffeine, I get mixed results: occasionally, I feel very alert and focused but also relaxed at the same time. Other times, I mostly just feel awake but unfocused - loopy, almost, in a kind of dreamy mood.
  • When taken without caffeine, I feel very relaxed and calm. Because of this, I've started using it as a sleep aid if I'm feeling particularly restless at night. 

I'd recommend anyone try it - I didn't find it particularly potent so it won't screw up your day. Worth a shot, for sure.

 

Dirtbag Profile: Joe's Valley

Food

  • Distance to grocery store: 15 minutes (Food Ranch)
  • Distance to natural food store: ???
  • Availability of good coffee: Nope.

Expenses

  • Food: Average to lower prices
  • Gas: Average
  • Climbing: Free.
  • Camping: Free

Gear Store

  • Nearest Gear Store: at least an hour, probably more.

Nearest Town

  • Orangeville: A tiny town with few amenities. The Food Ranch is a gem though: a hot bar, groceries, gas, free wifi, and excellent people watching opportunities. 

Camping

  • Options: Lots of options.
  • Sociability of camping: Low, somewhat higher in Right Fork.
  • Camping atmosphere: Dispersed. If you stay in Right Fork, you can usually grab a campsite next to a few other groups. Otherwise, nights are pretty quiet.
  • Showers: There's a public pool that has $4 day passes in town.

Climbing

  • World class. 
  • Atmosphere: Nice. Left fork can be stunningly beautiful when the river is running clear.

Dirtbag Profile: Bishop

Food

  • Distance to grocery store: 10 minutes
  • Distance to natural food store: 10 minutes (Manor Market)
  • Availability of good coffee: Good.

Expenses

  • Food: Expensive
  • Gas: Expensive! California prices.
  • Climbing is free.
  • Camping: Cheap. In the Pit it's $2/night, otherwise you can camp for free in a number of places. 

Gear Store

  • Nearest Gear Store: 10 minutes, in Bishop. Wilson's Eastside Sports is awesome. 

Nearest Town

  • Bishop: Touristy, but lots of outdoorsy people means gear shops, cool bars, good coffee and quality food. Cute and small, but it has most amenities. 

Camping

  • Options: Lots of options.
  • Sociability of camping: Average. The Pit can get pretty crowded but there are always people out having fires. 
  • Camping atmosphere: At the Pit, it's pretty dusty and occasionally crowded but there are good views of the mountains. Bathrooms are a plus. In dispersed camping areas like the Buttermilks, you get beautiful views but no amenities. 
  • Showers: You have to go into town or find a hot spring. 

Climbing

  • World class. 

Dirtbag Food: Budgeting and Nutrition

I once met a dirtbag whose sole nutritional plan was to "eat lots of pasta". As a former psuedo-bodybuilder / powerlifter who highly emphasized nutrition, "lots of pasta" wasn't gonna cut it.

From the start of this trip, I knew that I wanted to eat healthy. And not just healthy, but cheap, too. I wanted to stay Paleo: so, no processed foods, legumes, grains or alcohol. I also didn't want to consume high calorie foods like nuts, so I avoided those as well. It was a rocky start, but I made it work. 

I keep my macro ratios roughly the following:

  • 50% protein
  • 30% fat
  • 20% carbs

Which means lots of meat and veggies. Unfortunately, meat and vegetables aren't cheap. And storing them kinda sucks. But I didn't want my dirtbag adventure to result with me being significantly fatter than when I started. 

I usually budgeted myself $2-4 / meal depending on the location - for example, Texas has fairly cheap food, while California is significantly more expensive. 

Here were a few rules of thumb for shopping that kept my expenses down:

  1. Never pay more than $3/lb for meat. This often means eating a lot of pork, dark meat and manager's specials. Who cares. Protein.
  2. Eggs. Eggs. Eggs. If meat was more expensive, I'd eat more eggs. I was eating 8 a day at the peak and now eat 3-4 a day. Good proteins and fats. Buy in bulk: I'd get a pack of 5 dozen for $9. This made breakfast really cheap.
  3. Never pay more than $2/lb for veggies. This means that the following should be your vegetable staples:
    • Carrots (5lb bags are usually 2-3 bucks)
    • Onions (cheap and oh so tasty)
    • Broccoli (green)
  4. Cheap condiments include: Sriracha, pasta sauce, and some kind of meat rub that you can put on anything. Psuedo-paleo, but hey, you gotta make food taste good.
  5. Generic brand everything. 
  6. If I absolutely needed to buy something prepared - like, if I were driving 8 hours overnight - I'd get a rotisserie chicken and some salad greens. Rotisserie chickens are about the cheapest precooked meat you can buy in a grocery store and go a long way.

My personal splurge items include:

  1. Fruit. Fruit is expensive and generally not worth it, but nice on occasion. Cheap fruit includes:
    • Apples
    • Bananas
  2. Greek Yogurt. I usually pick this up when it's $3.50 or less for a 32oz container. 
  3. Dark chocolate. 

 

 

 

Dirtbag Profile: Hueco Tanks

I'm not going to cover what's already been said a million times about living as a climbing bum in Hueco, but I'd like to start giving each area I visit a review based on certain criteria. So, here goes:

Food

  • Distance to grocery store: 20 minutes
  • Distance to natural food store: 1 hour
  • Availability of good coffee: shitty.

Expenses

  • Food: very cheap
  • Gas: very cheap
  • With Hueco, you're pretty far from anything, so unless you carpool, you'll probably be driving more. 
  • While you have to spend money to get a parks pass, once you buy it, entrance to the park is free. If you're going to be in Hueco for a long time, it ends up being pretty cheap. If you want to avoid paying for the parks pass, carpooling is always an option.
  • Camping: no free camping unless you work out a deal with campsite owners. 

Gear Store

  • You've got Pete's for your immediate climbing needs, but El Paso currently doesn't have an REI. There is Reliance Outdoor Gear according to Google, but it's pretty far away and I can't vouch for it's quality  (I've never been there). 

Nearest Town

  • El Paso: sucks, so hard. It's sprawling, generic, semi-urban suburb lacking any unique character. Picture miles and miles of Walmarts and used car lots, with no distinct city center or cultural atmosphere.

Camping

  • Options: There are a multitude of options for camping within two miles of the park.
  • Sociability of camping: Hueco, so far, has had the most social atmosphere I've seen in a climbing area.  I've met most of my dirtbag friends this way. 
  • Camping atmosphere: very social, but you also feel removed from the city and out in nature. 
  • Showers: The Rock Ranch and Gletherland both have paid showers

Climbing

  • World class. 

Dirtbagging

Oh. Hey. It's been a while. Here's why:

In fall 2011, I decided to take a NOLS mountaineering course in the Himalayas of India. I flew to New Delhi with the hope of doing something different with my life - temporarily dropping out of university and for the first time in my life not attending classes in the fall. While I was there, I met some incredible people: dirtbags, adventurers, world travelers, and climbers. As I came to know these people, I discussed my plans for the future and my anxiety at the inevitability of getting a desk job and settling into an unsatisfying life. I expressed a desire to rock climb, to travel, and to do something different than expected.  

At the same time, I was getting used to living life out of a backpack: we spent 40 days trekking through the Himalayas, through rainforests, alpine tundras and glaciers. In this process, I realized that I didn't need any of the comforts of modern life to be happy. What I needed to be happy was a succinct list: beautiful landscapes; consistent exploration and adventure; and a feeling of productivity, be it through pushing through fear or pushing grades or making beautiful things. 

I kept talking with my coursemates and the idea of dirtbagging came along: living in my truck or out of a backpack, living cheaply, and spending the majority of my time outdoors. I excitedly pressed for more information and the ex-dirtbags of the group gave me some ideas on how to do it. From there, the seed was planted.

I wanted to be a dirtbag.

But at the same time, I knew I needed to finish my degree. I'd invested a year of my life at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and I knew that I would someday I might want a job that involved using technical skills in a professional setting. So I waited. I went back to school for two more years, working retail and odd jobs while trying not to be bitter that I couldn't climb and be somewhere that made me happy. 

Finally though, in early December of 2014, I graduated. And on December 30th, I packed up my truck with all the gear required to live and climb for an indefinite period of time. Alone and afraid, but incredibly excited, I made my way down to Hueco Tanks State Park, where I'd spend the first five weeks of my trip climbing meeting some of the best dirtbags I know. 

Since then, I've been to: Bishop, California; Red Rocks in Las Vegas, Nevada; Joe's Valley, Utah ; and Grand Junction, Colorado. I've met some of the most amazing people with similar dreams as mine. 

I'd say the most profound thing I've learned on this trip is what I need to be happy. In particular, what sort of work-life balance is optimal for my personality. Prior to this trip, I'd only known two extremes: being absolutely bogged down by school and work and bitter about my inability to travel; or, being on short, workless vacations where I was happy, but felt lazy and unproductive.

I know now that being in nature, climbing and exploring my hobbies is a critical part of my happiness - but at the same time, that being successful and feeling productive is equally as important. From this point on, I intend to perfect the balance between work and play. I don't want to fall into the rut of the overworked American - 40+ hour weeks, 51 weeks of the year is not for me. Ample time for  travel, exploration and climbing must always be a part of my life. I want financial success to come as the result of doing what makes me happy and feeling productive - but not be the thing that makes me happy or is my end goal. 

At the moment, I see no end in sight for this trip. I'm currently working part time, remotely, as a programmer for a decently-paying company. Given that this lifestyle is incredibly cheap, I'm saving money and making future plans to visit more and more places and to push myself as a climber. I'm excited to see where it takes me.

Happy dirtbagging!

Dirtbag Tips

The last four months, I've been dirtbagging. First in a truck, and now in a van. I've camped on BLM land and in Walmart parking lots. Here are some tips I've learned:

General

Coffee Makers: if you're van stealthing in a city, or live out of a vehicle without a sink, an Aeropress is the way to go. Easy cleanup makes all the difference if you have minimal water and lack the patience to scoop out French press grinds with a spoon. Otherwise, if I'm camping on public lands, I prefer a french press for its ability to make a lot of strong coffee at one time.

Pee Bottles: Get one. Women, get one and pair it with a funnel. I can't tell you how useful it is, but I learned it the hard way when the only cheap camping option near Red Rocks was in a Lowe's parking lot. But, please, don't make the same mistake I did and use a Nalgene as your pee bottle. You'll want to replace them every few weeks, because... Well, you'll find out.

Wet Wipes: possibly the most valuable thing I have in my van. Use them. Abuse them. I average about 10 a day. They're the most significant item keeping me clean. 

Soap: Dr. Bronners. Not just because it's biodegradeable, but because you can use it in minimal water situations without fear of nasty soap residue like you would with a regular dish soap. It just doesn't have quite the same strong bitter taste as other soaps. 

Cooking

Stoves: I use a Coleman two-burner stove. Skip the backpacking stoves, they're not worth the hassle.

Cookware: Before starting my dirtbagging adventures, I had the idea of using a pressure cooker to lower cooking times and reduce fuel costs. It worked out okay, but over time I just adjusted my cooking methods to make things cook faster and a pressure cooker is pretty huge and unwieldy. Now I'd probably go for a cast iron skillet with a lid - you don't have to wash it out and it's nonstick.

Food: Stay tuned for a huge blog post about my nutrition and food budget on the road. 

Food storage: Get the best cooler you can afford. Buy block ice if you can, it melts slower. If you intend to keep meat, be prepared to get ice every 3 days or so. I also recommend having a shelf that sits above the ice so your meat doesn't sit in icy meat-juice while mingling with your fresh veggies.

Cleaning: Really, you don't need to wash your pans / plates / forks / cups / dishes every single time you use them. So what if there's a bit of cooked egg crust on your skillet? Do you really feel like washing dishes three times a day without running water? I didn't think so. Embrace the "dirt" in dirtbag.

Sleeping

Blankets: Don't just bring a sleeping bag. Bring sheets, a medium-weight quilt, and a warm sleeping bag to go on top of you if it's cold out. A sleeping bag by itself gets really manky if you're sweaty - the fabric is slippery and uncomfortable. Having normal blankets is a huge plus.

Stealth Camping / City Camping: Walmarts are your friend. Even if they say "no overnight parking", you can usually get away with sleeping multiple nights if you're quiet and don't disturb anyone. I've also found that most rest stops are fairly quiet and safe, even as a female traveller. 

Entertainment

Hard Drive: If you're bringing a laptop with you, it's worth it to get a large hard drive (mine is 1TB) and load at least a couple dozen movies, TV shows, audiobooks, podcasts, ebooks, and music. Enjoying nature in the middle of nowhere is great at first, but at some point you'll be dirtbagging with the cute boy / girl across the way and you'll need some entertainment. It's also good earning bonus points from the dirtbag you let copy your movies onto his or her own hard drive. Extra tip: If you're a climber, pre-loading a dozen climbing movies onto your drive can be a real crowd pleaser around the campfire.

Books: Books are great, but they take up a lot of space. Choose wisely and consider picking ones you don't mind trading. Or, get an ebook reader. 

Power

Charging: Put a power strip in a backpack. Before entering the coffee shop whose electricity you intend to steal, plug all your devices into the power strip and then stack in the backpack. 

Airplane mode is your friend.

Clothes

Don't bring a lot of clothes. Think like a backpacker. Layers are your friend. 

Sweatpants: I have a raggedy old pair of cotton sweatpants that are my best friend, especially when it's cold. I cut off the lower six inches so I can warm up in them when climbing in cold weather.

Underwear: If you bring a lot of anything, bring a lot of underwear. These tend to be the limiting factor in how long I can go without doing laundry. If I have a pair of clean underwear, I don't need to wash my clothes.

Mail

General Delivery: You can have items sent "General Delivery" to most post offices. I've only tried in small towns so far, but the post office holds the item until you pick it up. Usually, for free, if it's sent via UPS.

 

That's all for now. Happy dirtbagging!

 

 

 

 

Switching from Dieting to Maintenance

This summer, I dieted for 4.5 months to see what it could do. I had decent results, but ones that were ultimately killed by 6 3-day weekends in a row in the Red River Gorge. At the end, I was a guilt-ridden, obsessive and frustrated individual who just wanted to have a normal relationship with food.

So, about a month ago, I decided to make the switch from dieting to maintenance without counting calories. The rules were as follows:

  • Eat strictly paleo 
  • But none of that "paleo" bullshit like using honey in the place of sugar and almond flour in the place of normal flour
  • No nut butters (I have a tendency to binge)
  • No adding oils when cooking - fats must come from meat / eggs / avocado. It's easy to go overboard with cooking oils.

In addition to these rules, I decided that I needed to re-learn intuitive eating. I've been working hard at eating only until I'm satisfied (and not even necessarily "full"). I'm teaching myself to eat when the hunger stops and not when I get that bloated-stomach-fullness feeling. Here's how I've been working on that:

  • I'll fill a bowl with a much smaller portion than I think I'll need, but assure myself I can come back if I need more 
  • I'll grab myself a bowl of something to eat and the second I don't feel hunger pangs, I put the bowl out of sight and keep working until I feel hungry again. 
  • I don't keep snacky foods around, just foods that I have to cook into a legitimate meal
  • I've been incorporating a lot more fat into my diet and significantly less carbs
  • I don't ever let myself get really hungry, because that's when I make bad decisions. So I eat when I'm at like a 6 out of 10 on the hungry scale, when my decision-making skills are still in check

What I've been noticing as a result:

  • I need a lot less food than I think to stay full
  • I panic a lot less about having enough food
  • I'm eating to make my body feel healthy and run efficiently, not to satisfy a craving
  • I don't crave sweets (WHAAAAT?). Or alcohol. Or carbs. I just want to eat healthy, protein-filled meals. It was crazy, but on thanksgiving I loaded up on turkey and didn't really even think about the sides. I wanted to stay on track, and didn't feel guilty or deprived. 

I guess I've learned so much from this diet. Who'da thought. 

Happy eating,

The Weak Machine

List: Jeans for Women with Huge Butts/Legs.

This is a little different from my normal content, but I think it'll apply to the type of people who generally read this blog.

Anyway, I've always wanted a list of jeans that would fit my abnormally large squatters legs and butt. So far, I've found two models that are particularly awesome (but I hope to add to this list in the future):

1. Prana Kara Jean

  • Tapered leg, but not too skinny
  • Super stretchy- the thighs stretch to fit while the waist is the perfect size. Stretchy enough for climbing
  • Longer inseam so you can cuff them and look like a proper climbing hipster

2. The Gap Legging Jean

  • Stretchy enough for everyday use (but not for climbing)
  • Slightly classier/more professional look depending on the wash/color you get
  • Skinny leg
  • Shorter inseam

If you know of other jeans I should try, leave a comment.

-The Weak Machine

Link: The Survey

Here's a cool article from Climb Strong about a survey they did of climbers. Of particular interest was the correlation between redpoint grades and static hang time, which gives some credence to hangboard workouts. More interestingly, it gives credence to hangboard workouts structured like Eva Lopez's, which are centered around edge hangs (as opposed to slopers, pockets). 

 

Smith Machine Crunches

I'm not a big fan of the smith machine. I'll admit, I was pretty elitist about it, even after I decided that I kinda maybe somewhat liked machines. You can't squat with proper form using one.

Then, I went home to my parents' house for a weekend and my dad happily announced that he had "gotten another squat rack" (I already have a squat rack). I nodded my head and smiled, then went on with my business. Later that day, I went downstairs to discover that he had not gotten another squat rack.

He'd gotten a smith machine

I shuddered as I looked at it, then resolved to ignore it while I did my real squats and other lifts of the day. 

Yet, as I sat between squat sets, I began thinking about how I'd been doing cable crunches at the gym as a way to exercise my core. 

Previously, I'd hated any sort of core workout.  Most core exercises make you do a thousand repetitions of some light weight until your core burns, but this doesn't follow the principle of progressive overload for strength. A thousand reps of anything won't make you stronger, it'll only give you better endurance. Plus, I'd been told that I'd get enough of a core workout from my squats, deads, and pullups. But with a cable machine, you could continue to add weight and make your reps low enough to actually build muscle.

Unfortunately, I had no cable machine at home, and therefore no way to do heavy weighted crunches. Holding a 45lb plate above my head was about my only option, and that would be incredibly awkward.

As I sat there for a bit longer, I had a breakthrough: SMITH MACHINE CRUNCHES!

Solution: weight up the smith machine bar. Lower bar to lowest setting. Lay on floor. Crunch while pushing up bar. Increase weight as needed.

Bam. Core workout.

Oh, and I've been getting more ripped abs as a result. I haven't really lost much body fat recently (5lbs at most), but here's a picture from a recent climbing trip:

Definitely have some abs poking through. Success.

 

Run Commuting

Well, my run hiatus officially ended this summer. After about a year of no running following running my very first ultramarathon, I decided I missed it and that it would be a good asset for my diet project. 

I was typically running 2-3 miles after work on days that I didn't go rock climbing. It added up to about 8 miles a week, max. It was nice to get out and listen to a few episodes of the Dirtbag Diaries while destressing from a day of sitting in an office. 

Then, about a month ago, school started up. I had to give my loaner bike back to my friend, and I was found bikeless. Fortunately, I took advantage of a local bikeshare program, so I wasn't without speedy transportation to work, class, and the gym. 

Unfortunately, a bikeshare program has all the downsides of, well, sharing your bike. In addition, the bikes get put away once it gets snowy and I'd be resigned to walking several miles a day between different locations.

My run-commuting look.

My run-commuting look.

Then, it occurred to me. I was already running in the afternoons in addition to my bike commuting. That's a lot of unnecessary mileage. Why not just get my running in by commuting instead? 

The perks seemed pretty good: get some exercise periodically through the day (my commutes average about a mile and a half, but I have a lot of them: run to work, run to the gym, run back from the gym, run home); not have to do a run at the end of the day; the time spent running wasn't that much longer than it would take to walk to the bicycle sharing rack, check out a bike, cycle to the shared rack near my destination, check it back in, then walk to wherever I was going - I could literally walk out my door and run to the door of wherever I was going. 

The downsides were also there: I'd have to run with my backpack; I'd be sweaty throughout the day; I'd have to pack extra clothes to change into once I got wherever I was going (I usually end up just staying in my running clothes, thank god my employers don't care how I look at work).

But that didn't bother me. I don't care about being sweaty and don't really care about looking cute. The worst thing, really, is the backpack. Fortunately for me, I have a decent REI backpack with hip, sternum, and compression straps. I cinch that thing down to ultimate dork level, and running with it feels pretty natural. The only thing that makes me cringe just a little bit is the weird looks I get from people as I fly past them on the sidewalks on campus. Oh well. I've decided I care more about getting my workouts in than what people think about me while I do them.

I like to think of it as preparation for my eventual fastpacking adventures in some remote, mountainous terrain. 

Happy running,

The Weak Machine

High protein, low-ish carb, low volume cutting / camping food

I've been on a spree of travelling over my long weekends now that I have Fridays off from classes and a weekly hours limit at my job. The last two weekends I've been climbing and camping out of town, and have the following three booked for the same.

I've also been dieting since June, and am attempting to stay on track over weekends. And while I'm fine with the occasional diet vacation, five 3-day weekends in a row of non-tracked eating would totally set me back.  Which brought me to the dilemma of how to eat healthily and count calories while camping. 

So, in breaks between projects at work, I sat down with a pen and paper and sketched out some ideas for 4ish meals per day. Here's what I came up with. Only a few items will need refrigeration, namely the ham and the sausage. But these I'll just store with an ice pack in a small container until needed. 

Contents Per Day (I'll be camping for 3 days, so the grocery list was these things x 3):

  1. Breakfast 
    1. 5 oz packet of salmon = 140 calories
    2. "Low-in-Carb" veggie wrap = 60 calories
    3. 1/2 small avocado = 110 calories
    4. Small tomato = 20 calories
  2. Lunch
    1. 7 oz chicken pouch = 245 calories
    2. 1/2 small avocado = 110 calories
    3. "Low-in-carb" veggie wrap = 60 calories
    4. Small tomato = 20 calories
  3. Snack
    1. 1 packet baby carrots (500g) = 175 calories
    2. Uncured Black Forest Ham (7 oz) = 175 calories
  4. Dinner
    1. Bear Creek soup mixes (I got tortilla soup and gumbo), 2 cups = 240 calories
    2. Chicken Apple Sausage = 480 calores (4 sausages)

Here's what it roughly looks like on MyPlate:

Obviously, you'll need to adjust based on your calorie goal. The macros for these meals:

  • 56g fat
  • 173g protein
  • 150g carbs

Not so bad. You could even cut down on the carbs if you took out the wraps, but I think these make the chicken / salmon a little more portable and palatable. 

Hope this helps anyone on a similar diet, or anyone who travels!

The Weak Machine

 

 

     

     

    Weight machines are fun

    As I was walking into the weight room today, a big sign confronted me with the fact that the free weights section of the gym was closed for approximately an hour for a Kinesiology class. I quickly went through the five stages of grief: denial ("maybe it's not actually closed?"); anger ("how could it be closed? how do I do deadlifts??? WTF???!"); bargaining ("maybe I can talk to the professor..".); depression ("my gains are going to shit, I'm never going to be strong..."); and finally, acceptance.

    At this point, I considered the option of either: running on the treadmill for half an hour, or going to the machines section of the weight room and going against my entire mentality for lifting. However, at the prospect of running without headphones while daytime TV was blaring on the screens in front of me, I decided to give the machines a try. 

    As I fought my repulsion toward machines and sat down at the lat pull, it occurred to me that this was probably a good time to work on things I usually didn't get to work on, like isolation exercises. 

    I quickly finished my first set and looked around the room. There were 30 or so machines and only two other people using them. I decided that it wouldn't be poor etiquette, then, to do a little circuit and maximize my time.

    Because of the efficiency of changing weights (with these machines, you pull out a pin and move it up or down a stack to pick a weight), I could do 4-5 exercises while resting from my first set of lat pulls. 

    In a time period of 20 minutes, I did 5 sets of: wide lat pull downs, leg curls, back extensions, "bench" press, and cable crunches. That was pretty cool. Then, in the next 20 minutes I did leg presses, flies, hip adductors and abductors, Usually, my workouts with free weights are 3-5 exercises long. On the machines, I was able to exercise more of my body in a shorter period of time.

    And, it was fun. Like, really fun. Walking to the gym that day was a slog; I was tired of my routine and feeling pretty down. But doing something different like working on my weaknesses and doing a lot of work was pretty cool. 

    I think my perspective on machines is changing a bit. I don't think they're the best for getting strong, and they'll never become my main lifts. But perhaps I'll slot a machine day into my routine from now on.

     

     

    Gear Junkie: Boreas Gear

    While this website is mostly about fitness, I'm also pretty obsessed with the outdoors. I also know that, if you were brought here because you like my climbing posts, you probably like the outdoors too. And with any outdoor enthusiast, there comes an enthusiasm for good outdoor gear.

    I wanted to write a post about this company because I've been watching it like a hawk this spring, and I haven't found too many other blogs mentioning it. Boreas Gear is a new company that makes backpacks and more recently, tents. The reason I think they're so awesome is because they have a huge emphasis on beautiful design; from what I've read, the founder was originally into conceptual car design.

    These days when you shop for a backpacking pack, you mostly find bags that are overloaded with features: straps, zippers, lids, loops, tie downs, cup holders, pockets, and other doodads. As an individual going into (cartographic) design, these ultimately ugly and unnecessary features are a huge turnoff when trying to choose a bag. Boreas approaches backpacks minimally and beautifully with backpacks that look like this:

    Boreas Buttermilks 40L

    Boreas Buttermilks 40L

    Simple, beautiful, and minimal. It's my style. I love it.

    However, here comes my gripe: there aren't many options for women. The two packs I'm interested in, the Buttermilks and the Sapa Trek, either don't come in women's sizing or are a frustrating off-white color that will undoubtedly look pretty terrible after being dragged around in the woods for a few weeks. 

    Depressingly, I've tried looking elsewhere to other companies to find a backpack that might reproduce the feelings I get when looking at Boreas' packs. There really aren't any. Which is very weird to me, considering just how many backpack companies are out there. 

    I'm hoping the company will wise up and bring out more options for women. In the meantime, I'll be scouring their Facebook/instagram/website in hopes that they get something out before I move into my truck next year. 

    You can find Boreas' backpacks here

     

    6 things I wish I knew before starting my cutting (dieting) phase

    I've been cutting (dieting, in bodybuilding terms) for about three months now. While I've made progress, it hasn't been stellar.  If I could go back in time to when I first started this diet, sit myself down and have a chat, here's what I would say:

    1. You're in this for the long haul

    There is no "I'll be ____ skinny and weigh ____ pounds by [date]". This is not a race. This will become your lifestyle. Stop worrying about little slip ups, vacation meals and what you're going to eat when you're with people who don't know you're on a diet. It's about the long-term trend, and micromanaging will make you stressed out and cranky.

    2. Carbs make you hungry

    Eating carbs, even from "healthy sources" like starchy vegetables, have the effect of filling you up in the short term but making you hungry in the long term. It has the paradoxical effect of making you hungrier than when you started (and more prone to bingeing on food that you shouldn't eat). Cutting down on carbs will make you a much happier dieter.

    3. After a month of dieting, re-calculate your daily caloric needs based on your results to date

    At the beginning of my diet, I used an online calculator to figure out how many calories I generally burn in a day. However, I now know that I overestimated how many calories I needed, thus slowing my weight loss.

    After a month of solid dieting, look at the last two weeks. How many calories did you eat per day? How much weight did you lose? Do some calculations:

    Take your total weight loss for the last two weeks in pounds and convert that to calories (3500 * each pound lost). If you divide that by 14 (two weeks), you can figure out how much of a deficit you've been eating per day from your maintenance level. If you know your deficit, than you can figure out roughly how many calories you need per day. For example:

    If you lost 1lb in two weeks, that means you ran a deficit of 3500 calories over those two weeks. Each day you would be "losing" 250 calories (3500cal / 14 days). If during those two weeks your intake was 2000 calories per day, that means the number of calories your body actually burns per day is around 2250 (and not 2500, like you thought). From here, you can reassess your daily caloric intake, setting it to 1800 instead of 2000 and staying on track with goals. 

    4. Ease your way into the diet, but keep improving as you go along

    At the beginning, I was afraid of this diet. Afraid to cut down on calories. Afraid to lower my carb intake. So I set meager goals and then sat around for two months wondering why I wasn't getting anywhere. What I really should have done was: 

    Start with a reasonable calorie goal. Maybe a 200 calorie daily deficit the first week (most people start around 500), then the next week try for a 250 calorie daily deficit. . Also do this with carbs. Start with something reasonable, like 200 grams of carbs per day. Every week, decrease that number by 20. Fill the gap in calories with protein or fat. It's really rewarding to be moving forward and seeing better progress every week rather than staying stagnant. 

    5. Artificial sweeteners are okay in moderation

    Yeah. I know you don't dig artificial stuff. It's not natural or paleo or whatever. I know you scoff at people who drink diet coke ad infinitum. But that honey and sugar in your tea makes you really hungry/craving sugar and it's not worth it. Even though this diet is long-term, it's not permanent. You can eat more naturally once your done. Just get through this for now. A little stevia makes your greek yogurt taste awesome without making you super hungry later.

    6. These foods are awesome for diets. Eat them:

    1. Plain greek yogurt. Tasty breakfast, even better with protein powder
    2. Salmon that comes in a packet. 2.5 ounces, 70 calories, super filling. Great with eggs.
    3. Eggs. More eggs. 7 a day. With all the fixins.
    4. Frozen vegetables. Specifically the "California Blend". Eat 5 cups with lunch and you won't be hungry after, I promise.
    5. This ranch dressing. This brand saved my life. 45 calories instead of the usual 210, and you can put it on anything to make it taste less bland. 
    6. Frozen chicken breasts. Cheaper per pound than fresh and you're just going to be putting them on salads anyway.
    7. Chicken broth/bouillon. Frozen veggies go well in chicken broth too. Good for adding flavor to bland stuff.
    8. 1% Cottage cheese. 80 calories for half a cup. Eat with carrots / cucumbers / tomatoes. Filling late night snack that's hard to binge on. 

     

     

     

     

     

    Go West

    Between climbing days while finishing my last semester at school, I often maintain my psych by heading out for a sunset run along the lakefront in Madison, Wisconsin. I queue up the latest yet unlistened Dirtbag Diaries episode, and while my stress ebbs out through my legs, my brain gets excited with renewed dreams of the outdoors.

    Like many of us in the outdoor community, I'm stuck between pursuing the "responsible" career path and dreaming of spending a life outside. Anyway, I was running the other day and came across a perfect quote that I think you all might find applicable.

    "The things that make me happy: alpine starts, desert sunsets, exposed ridgelines... are not things that my parents can easily explain to people they meet at parties. If I were a lawyer, an accountant, a father, or just a rabid Chicago Cubs fan... those are things that my parents could relate to their friends at dinner parties. I'm sure my dad never goes into work on Monday morning and says to the guys, 'well, my youngest son finally led that heinous offwidth line at Vedawoo he's been eyeballing since last summer.' I drive a 14 year old car with 180 thousand miles and about 50 dents on it. The replacement value of my outdoor gear is larger than my life savings. I own one tie and I've never owned a suit. In the hardworking Iowa where I come from, this is not what success looks like"

    Brendan Leonard speaking in "Go West", an episode of The Dirtbag Diaries

    Diet Experiments

    In June I started the first calorie-counting diet I've ever been on. It's been a journey, to say the least. A slow, agonizing, but enlightening journey.

    I wanted to lose 15lbs. The first 5 were pounds I'd gained in the last two years from literally eating whatever I'd wanted- late night binges on nutella, heaps of bacon, nightly desserts and chai lattes. The last 10lbs were an attempt to get to a bodybuilder level of body fat (15%) to see what it would be like to finally be super lean.

    Three months later and I've only lost about 6lbs, but I've learned a lot about how many calories I need to eat in a day, what kinds of macronutrients work the best for me, and what type of eating schedule promotes the greatest happiness while also providing weight loss. 

    First, I wanted to figure out how many calories I had to eat. My daily activity looks like this:

    1. Bike to work
    2. Bike to the gym from work
    3. Lift weights (1 hour), powerlifting style
    4. Bike back to work
    5. Bike home
    6. Climb (2 hours) or run (2-6 miles) or both.

    Being a not very sedentary person makes it rather hard to figure out how many calories you need to eat. How many calories does lifting for an hour burn? How do you factor your rest periods between sets / different exercises / intensity? It's all a little overwhelming at first.

    So, I ended up using the IIFYM Calculator to determine my total daily energy expenditure. It put me somewhere around 2500 calories a day if I chose the "Twice Daily" exercise option. I subtracted 500 calories from that number and set that as my calorie intake goal. 

    The second part of the diet was to start a Leangains approach to dieting. It's an intermittent fasting style diet that centers meals and specific nutrients around workouts. It's pretty popular with bodybuilders and powerlifters because the goal is to lose fat while maintaining or building muscle and strength.

    The basic idea is that you have a defined "eating window" during the day- usually 8 hours. Your biggest meal, and the meal that has the most carbohydrates, is eaten immediately following your workout of the day. You also focus on taking in enough protein to prevent muscle loss while eating at a caloric deficit.

    This seemed to suit me because I was never really a breakfast person anyways. When I was commuting to classes twice a week this spring, I'd have 3 days off a week. These days would usually start with me getting up at 8am, doing homework until noon, lifting, and then making "breakfast" around 1:30pm. So, fasting until 1:30pm didn't really seem that weird to me. It also meant I could eat like I usually did: big meals that left me feeling full. How hard would it really be to have willpower for a few hours in the morning?

    Every weekend I'd take a cheat meal, usually Saturdays, where I'd eat whatever I want and however much I wanted without worrying about how it was going to affect my weight loss. These have been key to keeping me sane: I know that once a week I can still eat out with friends or make the food I've been craving all week. It's also supposed to reset your body's tolerance to your diet so you don't plateau.

    I also didn't worry about the diet on vacation, which probably set me back a little bit, but I didn't want to be obsessed about food when I was trying to relax. The longer I do this diet, the more I know that I shouldn't set hard deadlines for when I'm going to be at "X weight," and think of it as more of a lifestyle. 

    However, about a month ago I realized intermittent fasting wasn't for me anymore. It didn't suit my lifestyle, and it threatened my ability to stick to losing weight. Here are the reasons why I stopped:

    • I get really cranky when I'm hungry. I was hungry in the morning, and hated having to wait to eat.
    • Even though I ate big meals, it's like my brain knew that I wasn't eating half the day. I'd eat a huge meal and be stuffed, only to feel mentally hungry an hour later.
    • I started to obsess about food. I have poor willpower when it comes to eating, and doing IF all day weakened my willpower such that I would occasionally binge during the week. Cheat days were horrible and I ate back most of the calories I'd lost during the week
    • During the fast, I'd get really cold and feel sluggish
    • It's hard to fast with other people that don't fast. Visiting parents and relatives was really hard when trying to fast and eat properly.

    I don't think these things are necessarily the fault of intermittent fasting- just that my body and my personality didn't jive with how it worked. I like a lot of the principles of IF, and once I'm done with this deficit I might experiment using it again a few days a week or to make up for a weekend of bad eating. 

    So now I've relaxed on IF a bit. I still only eat a light snack in the morning, but that snack reverses 90% of the bad effects of IF for me. I don't get cold, cranky, or obsessed about when I'm going to eat. I still eat my big lunch after I work out, but I don't feel like I'm waiting all day to eat it. 

    Unfortunately, the diet has been going really slow. I haven't nailed it down yet, but I think it's a combination of overestimating how many calories I burn daily and my intra-IF cheat days. Nonetheless, I'm getting better. Now that I've stopped IF, my cheat days have seriously declined in their binge-yness. I'm way less obsessive and that's a good thing. I was also able to take the data from my previous weeks of dieting and approximate how many calories I was actually burning (for those wondering, it's more like 2350 calories/day instead of 2500 a day. So I've cut down my daily intake to 1850 rather than 2000). 

    I've also honed in on the macronutrient ratios that are best for me. Lately I've been eating:

    50% protein / 25% carbs / 25% fat

    Which is a little crazy, protein-wise. The most I've eaten for protein on a given day was 250g, which is more than the 1.5g / body weight figure given for bodybuilders (which I'm not). 

    One important thing I found is that the lower the number of carbs I eat, the less hungry I feel all day. The second I eat something with a high glycemic index, I start feeling hungry despite having eaten enough calories.

    I realized this first when I was putting honey in my tea. I'd be full from my small snack, but after drinking tea I'd be ravenous. By trading out the carbs for protein (and occasionally, fat), I stay fuller longer. I'm working on making it even lower, but daily I usually take in about 80g of carbs. 

    I also started taking some non-bodybuilding specific supplements. In particular, 

    • Fish oil. I realized I didn't eat enough fish and didn't get omega 3's in my diet, so these contribute. They're apparently good for staving off depression and preventing inflammation
    • Matcha tea powder: lots of antioxidants, supposedly helpful for weight loss and great tasting in greek yogurt
    • Whey protein: great in greek yogurt and good pre-workout protein
    • Green tea: apparently good for weight loss, keeps the appetite down, and good for focusing at work

    I also found some staple foods that I can't live without when dieting:

    • Chobani plain greek yogurt: 130 calories in a cup, infinitely changeable (you can add so much stuff and make it so tasty!), and lots of protein
    • Frozen mixed vegetables: I eat like 8 cups of veggies a day. They're delicious and filling and I get my nutrient quota
    • Eggs: super filling. I eat about 7 a day, and they're cheap
    • Frozen chicken breasts: cheaper than fresh chicken and great for putting into salads and soup
    • Chicken bouillon: easy soup / flavoring for otherwise bland food (see vegetables)
    • Salmon packets: I get the small, 2oz Chicken of the Sea packets. Surprisingly filling, and only 70 calories
    • Fresh veggies: now that I eat cleaner, I crave these things. Tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, onions, zucchini, carrots, and cucumbers are staples. 

    One thing that I worried about at the start was that my workouts would suffer. They've actually been going pretty well. I don't know that I've gained much muscle, but my strength has gone up in my pullups and squats. Not amazing progress, but enough that I'm content in that department.

    And that's pretty much it. It's been a journey. I've learned a lot about how my body works, and what it doesn't like (I discovered I don't do well with dairy). I know that if I have to do this again, it'll be way easier next time. My goal for the immediate future is to not think about how long the process is going to take and just let it soak into my lifestyle.

    Hope that helps anyone who wants to try something similar.

    Cheers and happy weekend,

    The Weak Machine