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Aposted by Janet Chui 2013-08-02 11:40:58
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La Vida Locavore
If you want a summary of how I'm doing, I can give it to you in two words: I hurt.
This week, I tried to switch to healthier practices. And, in fact, I did do that. More sleep, healthier food, less time under fluorescent lights, some social time having fun, a massage. It wasn't enough.
I cannot even communicate what it's like to live with chronic pain every single day. Unfortunately, far too many people know exactly what it's like because they live with it too. But if you don't know, I can't tell you. There's just no way to describe it that would possibly be adequate. But I can try.
Monday through Friday of this week, I spent every single day with a migraine. They ranged in severity, but Friday's was pretty bad. So was Wednesday's.
It's anxiety-producing. Every time I think about my day, my week, and my life, I dread the future because I know it will be filled with more migraines. I feel fine right now, as I write this, but I know when Monday morning comes I need to go back to school, with its fluorescent lights, and I will get another migraine. And I will do that every day, all week, except Tuesday. On Tuesday, I have one class, which I'll attend via Skype. I cannot imagine a life like this, with a migraine every single day. It's just so hard to get up every day, often feeling fine, and go to a place that I know will leave me with a migraine for the entire rest of the day. There's a lot of dread and anxiety that goes with that.
When I'm invited to a place I want to go - a party, a restaurant, or an event on campus - first I get excited about going, and then I remember that the place might give me a migraine, since I get them from fluorescent lights and projectors. Barbara Ehrenreich and Naomi Klein are speaking on campus. I've already RSVP'd. I love them both. Then I remembered they might show powerpoints as they speak, and I'll get a migraine. Do I go? Do I skip it? Can I find out about the powerpoint in advance? (In the case of Barbara Ehrenreich, it sounds like I'll be in luck - I know someone who knows her, who says there's no way she'll use a powerpoint... but what if they set up a camera and project her face onto a screen while she speaks?) This causes a lot of anxiety.
I have to do this with every single place I go. I had to do it for a party this week. Thankfully, it was OK. The week before, another party wasn't OK. There was a TV, and I made them turn it off. Then they turned on a fluorescent light, and I made them turn that off. I hate asking people to turn lights and TVs off. I'd rather just go home and let them have their TV and their light on. Then my friends moved rooms, and I couldn't ask them to turn off the light because it was dark out, so I sat outside alone for a while, until they joined me out there and had a bonfire.
Migraines are a time suck. Think about your day, and how many things you have to do. Now imagine getting all that done while either having a migraine, or not doing it because you need hours of extra sleep to get rid of a migraine. When I'm at school, I have to stick it out with a migraine til I can go home. When I'm at home, if my head hurts, then I try to sleep. I have to get my school work done, and I have to eat and shower and things like that. Other things fall through the cracks. Fun stuff, exercise, dishes, the litterbox, some of the work I'm supposed to do.
It's a vicious cycle. Stress, poor diet, goofy sleep schedules, lack of exercise, and anxiety lead to more migraines. But the migraines lead to stress and anxiety and goofy sleep schedules and all the rest, since when do I have time to exercise and cook healthy meals if my head always hurts?
It's alienating. Everyone else goes to class and works in their offices. Not me. I skype in to many of my classes. I work from home. I can't go to movies. I don't watch TV. I don't get the pop culture references. For my Friday seminar, I sit in a hallway outside the room and listen in, while everyone else sits around a table inside the room and participates. I wish I could attend classes with everyone else, and socialize with my fellow students before and after class. I wish I could see the chalkboard or the computer for my statistics class, so I know exactly what my professor's talking about as he lectures (I can only hear it) and I could take notes on what he writes on the board.
People ask how are you and the right answer is "fine." But I'm not fine. I'm on the verge of tears much of the time. Can I make myself just say fine and pretend? It's gauche to say otherwise, to tell the truth. "I'm not fine, I'm a mess. I'm desperately looking for someone or something that can help. Is it you?" Then the person who was just being polite is stuck hearing my sob story and that's not what they were committing to with the simple question "how are you?"
It's expensive. For years, I spent a fortune on full price prescription drugs and I could not get insurance (pre-existing condition). Then I got insurance. Still, I need weekly or biweekly massages, and those aren't covered. I need healthy food. I'm having a hard time taking the bus to school and might have to pay for parking. Cars are key to making a quick escape when your head is killing you. There's nothing worse than waiting an hour for a fucking bus when you've got a migraine. Add to that all the jobs I cannot do because of my migraines. Anything with a projector, TV, video, or fluorescent lights, basically. As much as I'm struggling with school, at least they are putting up with me because I'm a student. A corporation would want to fire me. I'd be earning a lot of money if I was still in software consulting, with a migraine every day. But why should I get a migraine every day to earn a living?
It's maddening. I'm too disabled for many jobs, but not disabled enough to be officially disabled. I am capable of doing work - from home - but so far have not found a way to make enough money to live on that way, despite five years of trying.
There's one thing I haven't tried yet: botox. I'm going to try it. As soon as possible. I've gone to my primary care doctor and I've gotten a referral to neurology for botox and everything else related to my damn head and all this pain. Apparently it takes six months to get an appointment. I've called the neurology department several times to ask to speak to a nurse to see if she can get me in quicker. Apparently, she's just now working on scheduling patients who were referred in early September, and my referral came in much later. Because why would there be any urgency to help patients with daily head pain? They can wait six months. Right?
Sometimes people think my problem is made up. I've had bosses ask me "If you could make your headaches better, would you want to?" as if I'm doing this on purpose. To inconvenience them.
Lots of people want to help. They tell me to drink more water, try Imitrex, chant a Buddhist mantra, give up gluten, try acupuncture, and on and on. I've tried 20 different medications by my last count. They don't work. None work. Except for Percocets, which is addictive, so you can't take them frequently. I save them for emergencies and never use them more than once every two weeks no matter what.
Many times I feel lazy. I am embarrassed. I sleep a lot. I never have enough money. I must be doing something wrong. It makes me ashamed of myself. But the truth is that I am not lazy, I am disabled. Despite this, I hold myself to the same standards as everyone else, as all of the able bodied people. And I don't measure up.
I couldn't make my life work as a freelance journalist. I was happy for the most part, but did not earn enough money to live on. I thought grad school would be a solution. I knew it'd be tough. I knew I'd have to move away from California and to a place with cold weather and no mountains. I knew there would be a lot of reading, and a lot of work. Fine. I can do that. But I can't do it with a migraine every single bloody day. Nobody could.
So where am I now? I hurt. Physically, emotionally. I hurt.
Hello from freezing Wisconsin. I'm told the weather here is actually pleasant and that it will soon get worse. I think I will have a nicer fall if I just remain in denial about that until it happens.
Grad school has been kicking my butt, but not in the normal ways that it generally kicks butts. For most people, it's just the work that gets them. I can handle the work. For me, it's the lifestyle and migraines. Thus, I have not been blogging - but I also have not been doing anything blog-worthy. Mostly, I've been getting to class, getting home from class, doing homework, eating, sleeping, and having migraines. And petting my new kitten.
New kitten. Her name is Sierra. Sitting still enough to pose for pictures is not one of her skills at present.
I did visit a friend's farm a week ago. I didn't get much in the way of photos, since the season is winding down, the weeds have overtaken the garden, and I was limping on a gimpy foot (I twisted it going down some steps). But I did get this photo on the way home:
That's the first time I've ever seen a bald eagle. If it wasn't for the fact that there's a picture of a bald eagle on all of the post offices, I might have not known what it was. The eagle was enjoying some roadkill in the middle of the road and I almost hit it as I was driving. Fortunately, I slowed down - and then as I realized what it was, I pulled over and grabbed my camera. But I was so flustered and excited that I left the camera on the wrong settings and missed getting a much better shot. Then the eagle flew away.
Attempting to go to school with a migraine problem is no simple matter. I get migraines from projectors, videos, and fluorescent lights. The entire building is outfitted with fluorescent lights, of course. There's no avoiding that. For one class, I sit in the room when the projector is off and leave a digital recorder on while I wait in the hallway otherwise. For another class, I skype in for an hour and then attend the second hour. For a third, I sit in a chair in the hallway outside the room and listen in. That one sucks. A lot. And for a fourth, I'm listening to video of the lectures online, from home. That's the best option in my book. I can do it when I feel up to it and I can do it at home with comfortable lighting.
The other issues are just lifestyle related. Three days a week, I have a class at 9am and another at 4pm. It takes an hour to get to school by bus or 45 minutes by bike (or about 20 minutes by car, with parking and walking), so it's a hassle to go home and come back during the day if I'm not driving. And parking is costly. The bus and bike are free.
It's a matter of figuring out how to get up at 7am, get my butt to the bus by 8am, bring enough healthy food to eat during the day, be productive during my hours of free time on campus, and then make a healthy dinner and do homework and get to bed on time once I go home. Plus maybe some exercise.
That isn't happening.
Part of the problem relates to hurting my foot about a week ago. I was biking more before then. But it's also getting cold and the bike option will go away at some point. (I'm not one of the people who will put snow tires on my bike and stick it out all winter.) With my foot needing rest to heal, I'm getting no exercise (and exercise is helpful for my migraines).
Aside from that, last week I had a migraine every single day including Saturday. That's not acceptable. It turns my life into a cycle of waking up, getting migraines, getting through the bare minimum of work and classes, and then putting whatever food I can obtain quickly in my mouth (not always healthy) and going to bed. It leads to crazy sleep habits, and leaves room for very little else in my life. Far too many times, I've had to just stop off at a coffee shop and get junky food to eat, just to fill myself up.
Friday, I went to my new primary care doctor here, since my health insurance just kicked in. She put in a referral to the neurologist for me and warned me that it might take six months to get an appointment. Today, I called neurology to beg a nurse to let me in sooner because I can't live like this. I plan to try botox to see if that will help. I hope it does.
This weekend, I emailed one professor and proposed skipping her lectures and just listening to them by video instead. She agreed. So now on Tuesday I have class only from 9:30 to 10:45 and on Thursday it goes from 9::30 to 1:30... instead of until 5:15pm plus meetings afterward. I can go home after my morning classes those days and eat healthy food and generally have my life back. On Wednesdays, I'm going to drive instead of taking the bus from now on too. That will allow me to go home in the middle of the day and cut out hours of time that would otherwise be wasted on the bus.
Hopefully this will result in a healthier lifestyle. Also, apples are coming into season at long last. This may sound silly but it was a big deal. I'd been eating pears as my main fruit simply because they were the cheapest. However, a ripe pear does not travel well. I found that out when I tried putting one in my bag and ended up with pear all over my laptop and phone. Apples, on the other hand, travel just fine. So I can start bringing fruit with me as a snack at school in addition to the peanut butter sandwiches, trail mix, and dark chocolate I've been toting.
This is all very frustrating, because I am disabled enough to be completely miserable while trying to do a normal thing (go to school) but not disabled enough to be on disability. When working from home as a freelance journalist, something I can do perfectly well despite my migraine problem, I cannot earn enough to support myself. But I cannot do jobs that earn enough to make a living without suffering daily migraines.
My professors have been fantastic in trying to accommodate my needs, but it really just SUCKS having to sit in a hallway outside a classroom while everyone else gets to sit inside and participate.
Sorry for all the venting, but that's what's been going on. It's not interesting or informative or helpful, but I wanted to let you know where I've been and what's going on. Hopefully I'll have something interesting about food. I'm going apple picking at an organic orchard on Oct 4 and I am going to an event on a farm this weekend, and volunteering at a Slow Food event in exchange for a free meal this week, so I should have something to share soon.
First off, this blog has a sponsor for this month and the next, so I want to say thanks. The blog costs $15/mo and I don't know if the sponsor wants to be named so I will keep it quiet for now - but thanks!
Second, I apologize for my absence on here. This month's been nothing but stress. I left California on July 29 and arrived in Madison on August 3. The move stressed out my cat Meg, who stopped eating and became ill. I wrote an article about what happened, because I could see it happening to anyone. Or any cat, rather. If a cat stops eating for a few days, he or she can become ill like Meg did. I did not know she was sick until I took her to the vet August 15.
Meg's condition took a severe turn for the worse the evening of August 16. The vast majority of cats who suffer this problem recover, but Meg did not. I spent 10 days doing everything I could for my cat around the clock - literally - and she did not make it.
The day Meg died was also the first day of grad school orientation, which lasted a week. Then this past week was the first week of school. Calling it a disaster would be an understatement. I think some things have been resolved, thankfully. But this will be a wild ride. It's the first time I've ever been assigned a research paper in a math class.
Just a reminder - this blog is set up for anyone to write, not just me. So please feel free to post whatever you'd like on here.
If you know me, you probably know I am passionate about my love for edible, medicinal weeds. There are a lot of reasons why I'm bummed to move from San Diego to Wisconsin, but one of the few things that are better in WI than in CA is the ample supply of useful weeds.
In my yard, I've got plantain and dandelion. I've found curly dock, thistles, burdock, black mustard, wild oniony something, and poke growing around town. (Note: Poke is toxic unless you know what you're doing with it.) Another friend has lambsquarters and mallow in her yard. She's even got lemon balm and catnip growing in her yard as weeds. And one lucky neighbor had an enormous supply of purslane (probably my absolute favorite edible weed) growing under their fence in their front yard.
Unfortunately, my lawn was mowed shortly before I arrived. My edible treasures were cut down to nothing. I was waiting for it to grow out to go nuts gathering dandelions and plantain. Then I'd occasionally walk past the neighbors to gather purslane to eat - and to gather the seeds and broadcast them in my yard. And I got a lemon balm start to see if I could establish it in my yard too.
Then, two days ago, the owner of my place (I'm renting) had a lawn mowing service mow the lawn - and all of my weeds. And my lemon balm. I am pretty upset about it.
Today I went for a walk to gather mallow, purslane, and lambsquarters. Thankfully, some neighbors do not mow their lawns too regularly. But the neighbors with the purslane apparently weeded it all by pulling it out by the roots.
This is, honestly, upsetting. I realize these people are normal and I'm the aberration. But we as a society are using lots of resources to grow and transport and buy food and then were are using more resources to get rid of the free food growing right in our own front yards.
Not to mention what we do with medications. I'm not against Western medicine, and I rely on prescription drugs for my migraines. Sometimes, I have not had the best luck using herbs. But sometimes I have. Odds are you have too if you use aloe on your sunburns. The other day I was picking up some stuff at Walgreens and the person in front of me was getting some dyed red probably ineffective and bad tasting god knows what for colds. And that's where herbs are really your friends. A good herbal tea and some homemade soup can do far more for your upper respiratory symptoms than the bullshit stuff you get at Walgreens. And here we all are going to lengths to eradicate these helpful plants from our yards.
Thank goodness echinacea comes from an ornamental flower. At least people around here cultivate that instead of mowing it down. If only they could reform their attitudes about dandelions too!
One more complaint? There are several trees in the neighborhood sporting signs saying they were treated with pesticides. Great. There goes my hopes for getting a beehive and raising my own honey. Because you can't control where your bees forage for pollen and nectar, so if anyone uses pesticides it can spoil it for everyone who wants to raise bees within several miles.
Stay tuned and very soon I will have a book review of a new book about edible and medicinal weeds. I'm just finishing up reading it. It's called the Wild Wisdom of Weeds by Katrina Blair.
After moving from California to Wisconsin, I decided to start a garden ASAP. Why ASAP? Because if I don't do it now, I can't do it until the spring. I mean, I'm sure I can plant garlic in October to harvest next summer, and I can plant a cover crop of some sort... but if I want to harvest something before 2015, I better get planting now. And for some things, it's still too late.
Even so, gardening here is like night and day from California. My entire world has turned upside down, garden-wise. For example: If I put worms in my compost bin, will they freeze and die during the winter? I don't know the answer. I have a hunch that with enough mass, a compost pile could generate enough heat to keep worms alive through the winter, but how big does it have to be to do that? My new one isn't the generally accepted 3x3x3 size that a pile ought to be, since it's just a little bin outside my door. The exact size my worm bin has always been... in California. Where it doesn't freeze all winter long.
Here are some thoughts.
In California, gardening was basically split between warm season (April to September) and cool season (September to April) crops. A few crops could live any time, all year round: beets, chard, onions, sunflowers, and perennial herbs. Some crops had their own special timing, like garlic, which you plant before Halloween and harvest around the Fourth of July. But most things are either warm season or cool season.
Now that I'm in Madison, and it's August, the weather's only getting colder from here. If I'm going to get a crop at all, it'll be the cool season crops: cabbage family, carrot family, peas, fava beans, and lettuce.
What's more, I've got limited time until the weather freezes. I'm basically working under the assumption that we'll get our first frost around November 1. August to November gives me three months. That means that I can plant something that grows quickly, like a radish, but I probably won't get a crop from something that takes a while to grow - especially if it's very sensitive to the cold.
Unfortunately, my gardening books got lost in the mail, so I don't have my garden bible (How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons) on hand. If I did, I'd look up the handy table in there that tells you exactly what temperatures each plant can tolerate. Without that to rely on, we can use this site or this site.
The first site says that the following plants can withstand light frost (temps down to 28): Can withstand light frost: Artichokes, beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chinese cabbage, endive, lettuce, parsnips, peas, swiss chard, escarole, arugula, bok choy, mache, and radicchio.
Additionally, cabbage family crops, onions, spinach, leeks, peas, and sorrel can survive temps even below 28 degrees.
The latter site refers to gardening in Maine, which I imagine is COLD.
It rates plants as follows:
Very Hardy ("will winter over if protected"): collards, kale, mache, parsley, parsnip, and spinach
Hardy ("survives frost generally to the low twenties"): Fava beans, beets, brussel sprouts, carrots, chard, chicory, endive, lettuce, radicchio, radish, rutabaga, turnip, and salsify
Moderately Hardy ("survives light frosts"): Artichoke, arugula, Asian greens, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, cress, kohlrabi, leek, mustard, onions, shallots, pak choy, and scallions.
This is good information, but the next question is: how long does it take to grow? Radishes are famously quick. A chioggia beet can grow in 55 days. Carrots generally take more like 70 days. Brussel sprouts can take the cold but they take a long, long time to grow. Even though they are more cold tolerant than, say, arugula, I'd plant arugula now if I liked it (I hate it) because it grows quickly, but I wouldn't attempt to grow brussel sprouts now.
I decided to get starts for chard and kale, which means that they were planted about 6-8 weeks ago, and will continue to grow once I transplant them in my garden. The nice thing about these plants is that you can continue to harvest them. That's different from a carrot - it grows and you pick it and you have one carrot, but then the plant is not going to continue growing and producing more food. For kale or chard, you pick off what you want and make sure to leave at least 5 leaves growing. Return a few days later, and you can harvest some more.
I also got a cilantro start and planted some more cilantro from seed. I found a variety of thyme that can overwinter and planted that. I got a lemon balm start because I notice it establishes itself as a weed here. I put it somewhere where I won't mind having it as a weed. I might add catnip nearby.
My first priority was getting the carrot seeds in the ground. They take a while to grow and aren't as cold hardy as some of the other crops. Plus, they can take a while to germinate sometimes. I'm not sure which day I got them in the ground, but the first row of them has already germinated. Let's hope none of the squirrels or bunnies decide to eat them. I'm used to having lizards, skunks, and possums in my garden, but not bunnies, squirrels, and ground squirrels like we've got here.
Next, I planted bush peas, beets, spinach, and lettuce. I went with bush peas instead of pole peas because the bush variety grow quickly and give you a small crop, whereas the pole variety take longer to grow tall (up to 6 feet or more) before they start to produce. Then they produce and produce and produce, but by then I'm guessing the plant will be dead.
I would have liked to plant onions from sets (instead of seeds) and some fava beans, but right now I'm operating from what I can do for free. I borrowed a shovel from a friend, and she hooked me up with free seeds too. I ended up investing in a $7 of worm castings for the kale, but that's it.
Of the crops I planted, the majority have low fertility needs or they are legumes that fix nitrogen in the soil (peas). The exception is the kale, which needs decent soil to produce anything.
I can't pretend I did what I should have with the soil. I simply picked a patch of lawn on the south-facing side of the house (which happens to be the front yard) and started digging. I probably dug about 6 inches down, loosened all the soil, killed all the tree roots (there are many) and left them in place, and removed all of the grass and grass rhizomes. That's not exactly a double dig, but since I had no compost to add to the soil, I didn't want to go to the trouble just now - particularly because I was working against the clock to get the seeds in the ground.
Because there is a lot of un-broken-down carbon in the soil in the form of dead roots, that means that the microbes will also burn up extra nitrogen as they consume all the carbon. This worries me. I'd like to see if I can do something to the soil to add nitrogen, whether it's adding compost once I've got some or planting a cover crop of legumes of some sort. I really wish some of the birds that kept pooping on my car would do me a favor and poop on my garden instead. In the meantime, I'm just adding coffee grounds from the coffee I drink.
I'm now in a duplex with garden-friendly neighbors in the other unit, and we all want to get chickens too. We discussed it and decided that early spring would be the best time to get them, since it will be a pain to keep birds warm through the winter when they won't even be laying anyway. Might as well get six month old hens around early February. The landlord says he'll "think about it." But if we can get some chickens, then we'll have some chicken poop - which would be great for the garden.
I'll keep you updated on my attempt to grow things here in the Frigid North. It's much more of a crapshoot than in California. There it was predictably sunny and warm every day, although it rarely rained, since we've been in a drought for years. If it weren't for irrigation, gardening would have been impossible. Well, modern technology fixes the lack of water, but it can't fix the freezing weather of Wisconsin's winters. So this will be a learning experience.
You might have noticed that this blog was down for the past few weeks. What happened? Quite simple. The bill came due and I didn't have the cash. I hopefully will in the near future - that's why I'm going to a grad school where I've got free tuition and guaranteed funding for 5 years - but I don't start getting paid for being a TA til October 1, and I just moved from California to Wisconsin, which wasn't cheap. I mean, it was as cheap as I could make it, staying in Motel 6's and only taking what I could fit in my car, but it still cost something. Plus today's fun: taking the cat to the vet since she keeps peeing outside her box. Cross your fingers that she isn't diabetic. Whatever that would cost, I can't afford it.
An angel swooped in and paid the $60 owed on this blog, which is why it's up and running again, but it costs $15/mo and they bill me monthly. I just received a bill for August. I'm going to try to stay current with the bills, which will be easier once I start getting paid regularly from my teaching assistantship. This month's going to be rough financially, thanks to the move. If anyone reads and appreciates this blog, or perhaps writes on it and gets value from that, you can help keep the blog up by sponsoring it for a month.
If you would like to sponsor the blog for a month, you can send me money on Paypal to the email address OrangeClouds115 at gmail dot com, and I will send it directly to the blog people as payment. As a thank you, I would love to recognize you by name on the blog or post an ad of your choosing (it can be for a product but it can also be for an event, a website, or just a bit of text saying whatever the heck you want) on the top left corner of the blog for the month.
I recently posted about my attempt to eat "real food" while backpacking for 4 days in Yosemite. I feel a follow-up is in order.
First off, I had an Epic Food Fail. My pasta and tomato sauce meal, which I ate for dinner the first night of the backpack, was disgusting. And because I was backpacking, I still choked down the noodles. The whole wheat penne pasta tasted fine. I pre-cooked it and then dehydrated it, so it was very easy to reconstitute with hot water without a need to waste precious fuel by boiling it to al dente as I would have if I had used never-been-cooked pasta.
The problem was the sauce. I used my own special homemade sauce. Under normal circumstances, my sauce is delicious. I attempted to dehydrate it into tomato sauce leather. First I tried this in a dehydrator that lacked a fan. Instead of dehydrating, it went moldy. I lost a whole quart of precious sauce. Then I tried again in the oven. Well, it dehydrated. So I packed it up and took it backpacking without tasting it first. That was a mistake. It smelled good. It smelled delicious. I couldn't wait to eat it. It reconstituted perfectly. And it tasted terrible. It had absolutely no sugar in it, and it was extremely acidic, like eating lemon juice.
The problem with this while backpacking is not just that you are out a meal. As luck had it, I had a back-up plan in case a meal failed. I had an extra meal available to eat if need be, and then I could make up for that by buying my food during the busride home. That part wasn't the problem.
The problem were the bears. If you toss out food in the middle of the woods, you're inviting bears to come get it - and get habituated to eating human food. As they say, "A fed bear is a dead bear." Because problem bears are, eventually, executed.
My plan was to go at least 100 yards away from our camp, dig a hole, dispose of the nasty pasta sauce (I ate the noodles) in the hole, and bury it. A fellow camper was so distressed by this that he offered to transfer my nasty sauce into a ziplock bag, place it in his bear canister, and carry it out for me. And he did. He carried it for 3 days and about 6 miles.
The rest of the food worked well - aged gouda, chorizo, trail mix, Larabars, a homemade dehydrated meal of onions, carrots, bulgur wheat, chickpeas, cumin, and lemon juice, and a purchased dehydrated split pea soup mix to which I added dehydrated celery leaf, kale, carrots, cumin, rosemary, and thyme. The chickpea/bulgur dish was not as delicious as it is at home, but it was entirely edible. For breakfast, oatmeal with raisins, brown sugar, and chia seeds hit the spot. The only (other) real bummer among my food was the organic, Fair Trade instant coffee I brought with me. It was disgusting (as instant coffee tends to be). And yet, it was caffeinated, so at 5:30am when I was preparing to get up and hike with a 30 lb pack on my back, I was happy to drink it anyway.
As always, I was the only person in the group eating 100% "real food." Everyone else showed up with a collection of purchased, packaged foods, often freeze-dried backpacking meals, but sometimes meals they put together with collections of tiny pouches of sauces, noodles, rice, tuna, and other store-bought goods. They were all happy with their food, and they managed to make some elaborate, rather impressive meals, like Thai curry and miso soup.
But I noticed an unexpected outcome from doing this my way vs. theirs. My food took up less space than theirs. Naturally, I generated less trash in the end. I expected that. But all of their pre-packaged pouches took up a lot of room, and they struggled to fit it all in their bear canisters, whereas I had extra room in mine. That was nice (for me) but it would have been an even bigger benefit on a longer trip. I had the small size of bear canister and I could've fit another day or two of food in it. That would mean avoiding going up to the larger size of bear canister, which is not only larger but also heavier. And that's a big deal!!
This past week, I hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney. Depending on who you talk to, it is either 14,496 ft, 14,497 ft, 14,505 ft, or 14,508 ft. No matter what, it's the highest peak in the lower 48 states. And it requires no technical climbing or mountaineering skills to get to the top. Which is why people come from all over the world to hike it.
I think that's the wrong reason to do the trail. Don't hike it because it's the tallest; hike it because it is GORGEOUS. It's an incredibly pleasant, relatively easy trail (with the exception of a part near the top), and it's a really worthwhile hike even if you don't plan to go to the top.
Read on to find out why most people hike Whitney the wrong way (in my opinion) and how to do it right.
Whitney's summit is smack in the middle of this pic.
Most people who hike up Mt. Whitney do it one of two ways. Some get day permits and they day hike. Typically that means starting anywhere between midnight and 4am, summiting in the morning, and hiking back down by evening. Unless you're in such good shape that a 22 mile hike with 6100 feet of elevation gain doesn't phase you and you're already acclimated well to high altitude, this option is grueling.
Everyone I spoke to who did it said, "Don't do it." Some added, "It's a beautiful trail. Enjoy it." When I did the hike, I ran into plenty of day hikers on their way down. With few exceptions, they all looked miserable. I hiked part-way with one day hiker at a spot toward the end. He was dead tired and not happy about having a few more miles left to go at that point.
Why turn one of the most enjoyable hikes in the country into a grueling marathon? Besides, the lower altitudes are so beautiful, and if you day hike, you pass them in the dark on your way up and when you're too tired to care on the way down.
An option, if you are really set on a dayhike, is to hike up to Lone Pine Lake, which is 2.8 miles up the trail, the day before to take pictures, see the trail, and acclimate to the altitude. You do not need a permit to go to Lone Pine Lake.
Here are some photos of what you miss if you do this section of the trail in the dark:
That's just a few photos of the first 2.8 miles of the trail, from Whitney Portal to Lone Pine Lake. See why it's a dumb idea to hike it in the dark and miss all of that?
The other way that people do the hike is better, but I still wouldn't like it myself. They hike 6.3 miles up the trail and camp at Trail Camp. Then they get up early in the morning (sometimes VERY early, like 2am) and hike to the summit, and then backpack out that same day. The trail is 22 miles total, so they only have to hike about 16 miles in one day. And at least they see all the beauty on the trail. But they have another problem:
That is a yellow-bellied marmot, and it is more than happy to chew its way into your pack or your tent to see if you have food in there. And if you were responsible and put all your food in a bear-proof canister, oh well. Now you've got a hole chewed in your pack or tent. Someone I met on the trail had that happen to him. Another person followed the advice we got in advance and left her tent open to save the marmots the trouble of chewing it. The marmots got in her tent and peed and pooped all over, even on her sleeping bag.
I don't know what your stuff cost, but I know what mine cost. Tent, $259. Sleeping bag valued at $420 (I paid much less but that's what it would cost to replace it). Backpack valued at $275 (again, I paid way less). I don't want my gear damaged by a marmot.
Trail Camp is at 12,040 feet and it is rather crowded. It's above the tree-line so it's very exposed and windy. It can also be cold.
Here's what I did. I hiked in only 3.8 miles to Outpost Camp at 10,360 ft and I stayed there two nights. On day 1 I hiked in and took my sweet time, taking as many photos as I liked. You already saw the trail up to Lone Pine Lake (2.8 mi). Here the next mile, between Lone Pine Lake and Outpost Camp.
Here's the view from my campsite at Outpost Camp:
When I arrived in Outpost Camp, my first thought was "Wow! I get to sleep here???" I was so excited! Sure, I would wake up in the dark the next morning and leave very early, but I was staying two nights - so I'd get all the opportunity I wanted to poke around on day 3.
The advice I got to stay at Outpost Camp was mainly that it's warmer, less exposed, and less crowded than Trail Camp. Plus, some people don't sleep well at altitude (I sleep fine) and it's 2000 feet lower than Trail Camp so you might get more sleep. After the fact, I'd say my main reasons for staying there are that my feet are prone to injury and don't do well carrying weight, so backpacking 3.8 mi is better than 6.3 mi for me, even if it means a longer way to the summit; it's beautiful; and there isn't a big marmot problem. I had zero marmot trouble. I did keep all of my food, trash, and cosmetics in my bear canister, which I left about 20 feet from my tent, so there was nothing interesting in my tent at all.
So my first day, I hiked those 3.8 miles to Outpost Camp. The next morning I got up at 3:15am and by 3.48am I was on the trail to the summit, in the dark, with a head lamp. I never even saw Mirror Lake (about 4.0 mi into the trail). By the time I reached Trailside Meadow about a mile later, it was light enough to see.
I saw some cute little pikas:
Got some water:
And passed by Trail Camp. It was already light, and Trail Camp had nearly emptied out by then. After passing Trail Camp, I started on the Infamous Switchbacks. It's a 2 mile section of the trail with 99 switchbacks. You're above the treeline, and the view is nice... but otherwise it's pretty boring.
Your last place to get water before the summit is a spring at switchback #23. Make sure you have at least 3 liters to take to the summit. Your only other option from here on is eating snow - if there is any.
Finally, finally, you hit Trail Crest. At this point you have completed 8.2 miles of the trail and you are at 13,700 feet up. You now enter Sequoia National Park (you were in Inyo National Forest). You cross over to the other side of the mountain, and remain there for the balance of the hike. Here's the view from the other side, looking down on Sequoia National Park:
What I read before going was roughly "once you reach Trail Crest, the work is basically done, and you're basically there. It's just an easy 2.5 miles to the summit."
I disagree. I hated this part of the trail. Admittedly, I had a monster migraine (it wasn't altitude sickness, it was an out of control horrible migraine, the worst of the decade, that began the moment I woke up that day). But I think I'd hate it anyway. Here's the trail:
Yup. One wrong move and off you go over a cliff. The trail is really rocky for about a mile or two, which means it's not comfortable on your feet, and you have to watch what you're doing to avoid tripping and/or breaking an ankle. The way down was as bad as the way up (or worse), and I'm just grateful it wasn't wet and slippery.
From Trail Crest, you descend a bit and - about a half mile in - you unite with the John Muir Trail at 13,480 in altitude. Then you start going up again. At about 9.0 miles in, you see cairns marking the route up Mt Muir. Shortly thereafter, you come to the "Whitney Windows" - rock formations that allow you to peak through and see the summit.
This is the view of the ridge leading to the summit, taken of the side of the mountain facing Lone Pine. So the trail to the summit is on the back side of what you're seeing here. The last bit on the right side of the photo that is sticking up and out is the summit:
Don't underestimate the time it takes to go these last few miles. It's not a major elevation gain, but it's challenging hiking because of all the damn rocks on the trail.
Finally, finally, you get to the summit:
See all those clouds? They had just rolled in, in between when I reached Trail Crest and when I got to the summit. It was 12pm, and it was lightly hailing while I was on the summit. Afternoon storms are common, and I was relatively lucky on weather. It was cold at the summit, but it cleared up pretty quickly and never really rained. The day before I summitted, it snowed. I met some people who hiked nearly the whole trail and turned around because of the cold. I met others who kept going despite the cold - and they were dressed in shorts. I packed several layers, including a down jacket and a space bag. I didn't need the down jacket but I wanted to be prepared to be stuck on the mountain overnight, should a disaster occur. Thankfully, it didn't.
That day, another hiker broke her ankle near the summit. Fortunately, she got cell reception at the summit, and they airlifted her out:
So, now it was time to go down. My migraine was in full swing at this point, and hiking was not even fun anymore. I just wanted to get below Trail Crest, to get off that exposed ridge at the top of the mountain. At long last, I did. As I hiked down, I met more people who were still going up. Some of them looked like they were in bad shape.
I felt better once I reached the switchbacks again, and still better once I reached Trail Camp. As I reached Trailside Meadow on the way down, I stopped and threw up everything in my stomach, which wasn't much. I had tried to eat a sandwich at Trail Crest and had only succeeded in eating a bite. The only other thing I'd been able to eat was dried mango. And lots and lots of ice cold water.
Some people get sick from the altitude on Mt. Whitney. If you live in the U.S. you don't have too many opportunities to find out how your body reacts to being at 14,000 feet. But I'm lucky because I've spent plenty of time in Bolivia, where normal life takes place at 14,000 feet. I know exactly how I react to 14,000 feet. When I go from sea level to 9000 or above, I suffer from a minor headache and slight nausea the first day. After that, I feel fine. What happened to me on Mt. Whitney wasn't altitude sickness. It was a migraine - and one of the two worst migraines I've had in my entire life.
Fortunately, when I arrived back at Outpost Camp, my tent was already set up and ready for me. My stuff was all there. I sat with a hiker who was setting up camp next to me and we chatted as he had dinner. I ate an apple. Then I changed into clean(er) clothes, got in my sleeping bag, and was asleep by 7:30pm. And I slept for 14 hours.
During the night, I heard hikers going past me starting around 12:30pm. I woke up then and again at 3am and 7am. I got up two of those times to go to the bathroom. All three times I woke up, my head still hurt. But when I got up at 9am, my head felt fine. I got up, ate breakfast, packed up, and had an enjoyable 3.8 mile hike back to my car.
If I had to do it over again, I'd do it exactly the way I did. But now that I've done it once, I don't plan to do it again. I hike because it's fun, and the rocky top part of the trail was not my idea of fun. I really preferred the beauty of the lower altitudes over the part of the trail above 12,000 feet. I also like steeper trails than the Mt. Whitney Trail. It's not a steep trail at all. If I go back, I'll hike it as far as Lone Pine Lake or Outpost Camp or Trail Camp and then head back down. And then I'll explore the other trails in the area, because there are plenty of them, and they are no doubt gorgeous, just as this one was.