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posted by Janet Chui 2013-08-02 11:41:15




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posted by Janet Chui 2013-08-02 11:41:08




posted by Janet Chui 2013-08-02 11:41:04




posted by Janet Chui 2013-08-02 11:40:58


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La Vida Locavore

I'm Moving to a New Blog

Hi folks. I've got some sad news and some happy news.

First, the sad news: This blog is going away. The company that hosts it is dumping the entire site hosting platform and I think all of their customers are losing their blogs.

And the happy news: I'm setting up shop on a new blog called Jill Over the Ground, something I've considered doing for several months anyway. And, whereas this site cost money, the new one is free.

I'll be moving MANY (but not all) of the posts from this blog to the new site. I've started moving some posts so far.

If you've posted here over the years and you want to preserve your work, please locate your old diaries and move them to a place of your choosing in the next few weeks. I don't know how long we've got.

The new blog will be a personal blog, which is basically what this has become anyway. When I founded this site, I hoped it would be kind of a combination between DailyKos and Civil Eats. I wasn't writing for a living then, and I could pour my efforts into blogging. Since I've been writing for a living, I haven't been able to spare the time to write on a blog for free - which means that this blog is basically a venue for whatever I'm interested in that I can't publish elsewhere and get paid for: Personal stories, photos, hiking, wildflowers, Native American lore, book reviews, travel notes, etc. The new blog will be more of the same.

So, see you there!

John Muir Trail Planning: Gear

As noted previously, I'm planning to hike the John Muir Trail this summer. I'm blogging my planning and journey here as I go along. Now that I've got a permit and an itinerary and I'm well into training, it's time to talk about gear.

Previous JMT posts:

As with any backpacking, weight is key. Even dropping an ounce or two per item is worthwhile. But, as they say, you can drop your pack weight the most by reducing the weight of the heaviest items: your backpack, tent, and sleeping bag. In my case, I opted against an ultralight pack because when I tried one, my back hurt from the lack of support. So I'll be traveling with:

How did I choose my pack size? First of all, it must be large enough for a bear canister, so smaller sizes are mostly too small. But if you get an overly large pack, then you tend to fill it up and end up carrying more weight. I think my pack is on the small side of what's needed for the JMT - but I can make it work.

My tent is a bit unconventional, as it's single walled and non-freestanding. But it pitches fast, it's spacious, it's light, it was a great price compared to similar weight tents, and I love it.

As for the sleeping bag, I can't say enough about how much I love the company, NEMO. While I was buying gear, I was also researching an article that was ultimately accepted by and then killed by Outside magazine (no biggie - that's something that happens when they have too much and need to drop something). For the article, I interviewed NEMO at length. Truly, they are wonderful. Also, I love that the bag is spoon-shaped. It tapers at the waist but flares out at the knees, which is great because I am not mummy shaped and I like having the room to move my legs around in my bag.

My gear list is a work in progress and I might switch out a few things for lighter ones (as noted below) before I head out on the trail. That said, here's most of what I've got now.

So the total weight so far with everything I've listed is nearly 15 lbs. I guess I don't qualify as ultralight.

A few notes on these items.
Water Filter: This is heavy. Normally I like it because it filters out sediment, whereas a chemical water purification option like AquaMira wouldn't. But AquaMira's smaller and lighter (just 3 oz). For the JMT  hike, I might go the AquaMira route to save pack space and weight.

Sleeping Pad: I've just switched from the Thermarest Prolite Plus, which is heavy and uncomfortable, especially since I sleep on my side. I thought about going to the NeoAir Xlite instead of the Xtherm, and that would have been several ounces lighter - but not as warm. I've also heard stories about these pads crinkling while you sleep on them. I don't know if this will bother me or not. I can't imagine it will outweigh my pleasure at carrying 7 fewer ounces in my pack. (Actually, considering how much my base weight will be, maybe the Xlite was a better idea... The 66" version is 11 oz, 47" is 8 oz, although I'd be annoyed to have my feet hang off the end.)

Cook pot: I'm not thrilled with my pot and pan and might switch them out. They are Snow Peak brand and titanium with a non-stick coating. The pot lid functions as a frying pan and that's nice. Both are too large for my needs as a solo hiker, and I hate the non-stick coating. However, the low conductability of the titanium means that I can easily drink out of my dishes without burning my lips. (To date, I've been making coffee in the frying pan and drinking out of that. Silly, but functional.) If I switch to stainless steel, I'd burn my lips when I drink.

Water Bladder: Usually I try to avoid drinking or eating out of plastic. I typically hike and backpack with stainless steel Kleen Kanteens. To me, they are worth the weight. However, once the bear can goes in my pack, the big water bottles no longer fit. That's where the water bladder comes in. It actually fits in the pack. This bladder holds just 3 liters. It wouldn't work in the desert at all, but up in the Sierras where the most I'll ever go without a reliable water source is several miles the day I summit Whitney, it's no big deal.

Sleeping bag liner: Since my bag is down and some say you can't ever wash it without it losing its loft, I would rather not get it dirty. And on the trail, I will be dirty. So I'll get this liner dirty, and then I'll wash it. I went with silk because it doesn't absorb water like cotton does and I prefer to avoid synthetics when possible.

(Lack of) Pillow: I stuff all of my extra clothes into the stuff sack for my sleeping bag and use that as a pillow.

Other light items, 10 essentials, etc:

I will need to add:

For first aid, I'm thinking lots of band aids and 2nd Skin for blister care, Advil, Percocets, and Compazine (a nausea pill). I might take a wilderness first aid class prior to my trip to see what else is important, but I already know I get migraines (i.e. Percocets and Compazine) and blisters, so I'm already planning for those.

Also, you'll note two major categories of items not mentioned here: food and clothes. I'll address those in other posts.

John Muir Trail Planning: Training for Mountains in a Flat State

A few things have gone awry since I started to put my JMT plans in place, but for the most part all is well. I got my permit (see Getting My Permit) for July 5, with the intention of going on a 4th of July Sierra Club bus trip to Yosemite as a means of getting up there. Then the San Diego Sierra Club changed the dates of the trip, and that plan fell through. But I can take a train to Merced (or maybe even Fresno) and take YARTS (Yosemite Area  Regional Transportation System) from there. Less convenient, but not that bad.

Now for the many months of training...
I'm in a flat state right now (Wisconsin). I looked at a topographic map of the ENTIRE state the other day. Flat. The best there is for elevation is at Devil's Lake, a few hours from Madison. There's a very steep climb up a bluff that gets you some elevation gain, but I imagine that real training will involve going up and down it several times. After the snow melts and the mud dries, I'll go back to check it out.

By the way, Wisconsin isn't entirely without its perks:
Bald Eagle
Yes, I took that.

Bald Eagle
And that.

It's just flat.

My goal is to train gradually so I don't screw up my feet. Unfortunately, they are already screwed up so I'm starting from behind. Last summer I developed mild plantar fascitis and achilles tendinitis. The plantar fascitis resolved when I got new shoes (Ecco Biom hiking boots) and insoles (FootBalance). The tendinitis just lingered. Most recently, I've got a diagnosis of tendinosis, which is a chronic low grade inflammation of the achilles tendons. I'm trying to treat it with bodywork (myofascial release) and an anti-inflammatory gel (Voltaren gel). I was also doing a series of heel drop exercises called the Alfredson Protocol but then I saw online that apparently they don't work that well and the creator doesn't even favor doing them any more. I stopped doing the heel drops but I'll pick it up again now that it's warmer - you need a step or ledge to do them on so you can drop your feet down, and the only spot I've got is outdoors. It wasn't worth going out there when it was 9 degrees outside. Now that it's 50F, it's another story.

(Another perk of Wisconsin, by the way? I can try out ALL of my winter hiking gear in freezing temps and see if it works or not. Assessment: For 20F and below, my Marmot Quasar jacket works like a champ with an Icebreakers base layer and Smartwool sweater underneath - but my Icebreakers long underwear plus hiking pants aren't enough. My feet are fine in wool socks, but my tush froze. I recommend something like the Marmot down skirt to cover your rear end if you're spending a lot of time out in weather like that, like in a backpacking situation. It's fine to have a cold rear end if the issue is comfort; it's not OK if the issue is safety.)

Back to the story of my poor feet, I recently noticed that my right foot was pronating as I walked, and did some quick math. Oops, I've put probably 400 mi or so, if not more, on my hiking boots. I decided it was time for a new pair - and new insoles. That oughta help. When I first got them, the Ecco hiking boots solved my plantar fascitis problems almost immediately.

As for training, I hiked about 60 miles in the mountains and desert of San Diego over winter break. Since I got back to Wisconsin, I've been walking outdoors for exercise. I've read you should increase your exercise only by 10% per week to avoid injury. Ideally that's what I'd be doing. Unfortunately, the weather's been the boss of my workout schedule, not me.

Here's what I've done:

In that last week, for 2 miles, my pack weighed 28 lbs. That's because I walked with maybe 14 lbs in there to go get groceries, filled it up with food, and walked home like that. Also, in one of the low mileage weeks at the beginning, I walked in freshly falling snow and learned that walking in snow gives your quads an incredible workout. Man, was I sore!

This week, so far, I've done 7 mi with a 19.5 lb pack and it's just Monday. At this point, all logic and planning have gone out the window. I'm hooked on exercise and I crave it. It bums me out if I don't go for my walks, even if it's freezing out. I just add more layers and off I go. This week, the temps got up into the 40s and tomorrow it will be almost 60. You can bet I'll be out there, as much as possible.

A note on this exercise: It's boring. It's mostly flat, and all in the city. There's only 5 feet of elevation gain on one route I do, 20 feet in another, and maybe 120 feet max if I go up the biggest hill I can find in the area. I don't go anywhere special to walk, I just walk to where I need to go anyway: school, coffee shops, errands. A lot of places I go are ugly, especially when it's covered with dirty snow, and I pass smokers and cars and smell bus exhaust. Now the snow's melting and it's icy in the morning and muddy the rest of the day.

I decided to get an iPod to make it bearable, and that's done the trick. I never bring one on the trail with me, because the trail is never boring. But without the iPod, all this walking in the city would be unthinkable.

Now that it's nice out, I plan to up my game a bit. It's just over four mi to school, and it's easy to do five or six miles if I walk there and then walk between classes and walk to get the bus home. I'm going to start occasionally walking both ways, a total of 8.36 mi, to increase the mileage a bit each week.

Also, I've been gradually tossing more and more backpacking supplies in my pack, along with the school stuff I always carry. Now, if I ever get stranded in downtown Madison, I'll have all my 10 essentials, my tent, and even a trowel to dig cat holes if I have to go! Eventually, I'm putting my bear can in my pack. I'll probably keep the pack weight stable for the time being as I increase the mileage, however.

So far, I've been walking on sidewalks and streets. Once wildflowers start blooming, I'll hit the trails around here. And I'll soon spend 10 days back in San Diego hiking around the mountains there. I owe El Cajon mountain a visit :)

Once I get back from San Diego at the end of spring break, it's another month and four days until the end of the semester (but who's counting?). Then I am off to California for the summer, and I can train for real!

I've got all kinds of ideas for once I'm out there. I'm headed to Monterey first and then down to San Diego, so I can hit Big Sur on the way there. Then there's San Gorgonio, the Channel Islands, a trip back to Mt Baldy and San Jacinto for old time's sake, and much more. And July 5 will get here and I'll be on the JMT before I know it!

John Muir Trail Planning: Getting My Permit

It's official! I'm doing it! I've now secured a permit to hike the John Muir Trail starting at Happy Isles in Yosemite and finishing at Whitney Portal.

I've also revised my hiking plan a bit. Here's the dirt on how to get a permit.
There are two ways to get a permit for the JMT. One way is to walk up the day you want to go and ask for one. They reserve 40 percent of permits for walk-ups... but you'll be taking your chances if you do that.

Option 2 is applying in advance. Since you go through several different national parks and forests and it would be a mess to try to get permits for all of them, JMT hikers are only required to get a permit for their trailhead and first night camping.

Roughly 75 percent of JMT hikers go southbound (a.k.a. SOBO) and the remainder are northbound (NOBO). I'm going SOBO. I am doing it because it's easier for me transportation-wise, because I want to meet others and hike and camp with them for short bits and I think it will be fun to go in the same direction as everyone else, and because I want to give myself a gentle start.

There are four easy re-supply spots along the JMT. They are all along the northern half of the trail, and the last one is at about the halfway point of the trail. Hiking SOBO means you can start with a lighter pack, resupply occasionally, and only at the midway point, after you've got your trail legs, will you have to fill up your pack with enough food to last you the last 100 miles. Also, it's easy to hike short distances at a time in the northernmost parts of the trail, whereas the southernmost bit (Mt Whitney) allows fewer options. That is, going NOBO, you start at Whitney Portal and you can camp either 3.8 or 6.5 miles up the trail. Then from there you have to summit Whitney to officially begin the trail, then hike back about 2 miles, and descend to Guitar Lake, which is the first spot where there is water, unless you want to melt snow. Oh, and good luck getting a permit for Whitney Portal.

Therefore, I'm going SOBO. To do that, the official trail start is in Yosemite National Park. There are excellent instructions for getting your permit here. But here's what I did.

Step 1: Make your plan for where you will camp for each night on the trail, so you know how many days you will be hiking for and when you will finish.

Step 2: If you plan to resupply at Tuolumne Meadows, check a calendar and find out when Sunday falls. The post office where you resupply is closed on Sundays. It's open 9am-5pm Monday to Friday and 9am to noon Saturdays. If you aren't sure if you can reach Tuolumne Meadows by 5pm the day you will get there, then plan to pick up your resupply box the next day at 9pm. That will likely mean a late start on your day's hiking. In any case, check a calendar to make sure you know which days you can start hiking so that you don't end up in Tuolumne Meadows on a Sunday if you plan to resupply there.

Step 3: With that in mind, pick out a few potential start dates. You might have an ideal start date but also consider a few second or third choices. In a dry year with low snow, June is fine for hiking. Generally speaking, it's harder to navigate, not to mention colder, when there is snow on the ground. Once it melts, the river levels will rise. Then the mosquitoes get going. Then come the wildflowers. You can check the snow levels in the Sierras here.

Usually you'll end up applying for your permit when it's too early to tell how much snow will fall for the year. Last year the river levels were low by July 4 weekend. The mosquitoes were less than usual too. But if you're worried about river crossings and mosquitoes, August is a safer bet than July.

I plan to sign up for a Sierra Club bus trip to Yosemite. It starts and ends in Tuolumne Meadows. On the last day of the trip, everyone else will board the bus to go home. I'll pick up my JMT permit, stash a resupply box in one of the bear boxes in Tuolumne Meadows and then board a YARTS bus to Yosemite Valley to begin my hike.

If I wanted, I could spend one night in the backpackers campground in Yosemite Valley. So I could start my hike the day the Sierra Club trip ends or the day after. I was hoping to start the day after (July 6).

Step 4: Check the Yosemite website to find out when you can apply for your dates. You are eligible to apply beginning 168 days before you want to start hiking. For July 6, that meant January 19. You should fax in your permit application after 5pm PST the day BEFORE the day you're allowed to apply. That meant January 18. Just in case, I decided to apply for July 5 too. And that meant applying on January 17.

Step 5: Pick out your entry trailhead and first night's camping. The trail actually starts at Happy Isles and most people camp the first night at Little Yosemite Valley. The permit application lets you say whether you'd like to climb Half Dome too, because it's a few miles from Little Yosemite Valley, making it a very convenient add-on.

However, in the past, because of the quota on how many people can hike from Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley, many people applied for alternate starts. Two of the most common ones are Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley, and Happy Isles to Illilouette. You can also apply to start in Tuolumne Meadows, which saves you the steep climb out of the valley but also means you are missing a few days worth of hiking on the official John Muir Trail.

Right now, there is a potential plan to only approve JMT permits leaving from Happly Isles to Little Yosemite and those leaving from Tuolumne Meadows. The other trailheads and campsites would be reserved for people who are hiking within Yosemite but not hiking the JMT. This has not gone through yet (to my knowledge) but it's on the table.

I was pretty determined to do Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley. I want the experience. I want to do the official trail. ALL OF the official trail. I put that as my first choice. And then, instead of following the newly proposed rules and applying for a second choice trailhead at Tuolumne Meadows, I put my 2nd and 3rd choices as Glacier Point and Happy Isles to Illilouette. I also asked for a Half Dome permit.

Step 6: Fill out the permit and fax that puppy in. It's $5 per application plus $5 per person. That's $10 for me since I'm solo. I used HelloFax, an online fax service, and faxed in my first application on January 17. The next afternoon, I received an email confirming that I got my first choice: Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley WITH Half Dome included. Hooray!

I tried again that night, this time for July 6, my first choice start date. The next day, I got an email confirming a permit for Happy Isles to Illilouette, again with Half Dome.

I thought about it a bit, and decided to cancel the July 6 permit. I'll go July 5. That will cut out the night in the backpackers campground, but after I arrive in the valley via the YARTS bus on July 5, I will only have to hike 4.5 miles to get to my camp for the night. It won't kill me to do that. The next day I'll hike up Half Dome and then camp in the same spot, a total of 7.1 mi with a daypack. I'll start hiking longer distances the day after that.

So... that's it! I'm really going! This is happening! I'll post updates as they come.

Seasons, San Diego-Style, at Mt Gower

Sorry for my long absence. I've spent the last several weeks in San Diego (a.k.a. heaven). On Monday, I will return to the meat grinder that is graduate school. Actually, I think being ground up in a meat grinder might be more pleasant.

Some people say they don't want to live in San Diego because they like the changing of the seasons. To them I say: Good. Stay where you are. We're overpopulated here. Enjoy shoveling snow.

However, we DO have seasons here. They just don't involve snow (unless you go up in the mountains). The Kumeyaay people referred to the seasons as cold, rainy (winter); wildflowers (spring); hot, dry (summer); and harvest (fall). That sounds about right to me. We're currently in cold rainy but the first signs of wildflowers are already here. And I AM EXCITED. It's kind of like when you first see Christmas decorations come out before Halloween and you know it's not actually Christmas season yet but it still means that it's coming. If wildflower season is your Christmas.

I wanted to share a hike I did this past Thursday up Mt Gower, an 8 mile hike in Ramona. Because a sadist constructed the trail, I did not get to the top. Well, I am sure I could have but it was late in the day and I wanted to get down by sunset. And the reason why it took me so long was that I kept taking pictures, enjoying all of the signs of San Diego's winter and upcoming wildflower season.
Mt Gower Open Space Preserve is located in Ramona, CA. It's the part of the county that gets beastly hot in the summer, so now is a good time to visit. Actually, March will probably be a better time to visit, because there will be flowers everywhere.

When you begin, all sorts of obvious signs point you to the trail. Shortly thereafter, you reach this sign:

Mt Gower Trail Map

You can go left or right. Go right.

Here's a close-up of that map:

Mt Gower Trail Map

I made it to about the C. If you can't read a topo, let me translate this one: up down up down up down up down. I enjoy going up a mountain and then back down. I am less pleased about this repeated up and down arrangement, particularly when I don't expect it in advance. It's easier to get yourself in trouble on trails like these because when you're going "down" you still have to go UP.

In any case, there were already early blooming flowers all over, mainly sugar bush and manzanita.

Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata)
Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata)

Mission Manzanita (with bee)
Mission Manzanita, with bee

Mission Manzanita (with bee)

Mission Manzanita
Mission Manzanita

Other type of manzanita

You can still see the damage from the Cedar Fire of 2003, which burned most of this area, although there is plenty of regrowth. In this picture, you can see the dead wood from what burned above the manzanita regrowing beneath:

Regrowth After the Cedar Fire

There's quite a lot of a type of perennial sage I'm unfamiliar with. It's not white or black. It might be purple sage (Salvia leucophylla) but that's just a guess I can't confirm without seeing the flowers. It smelled slightly different from the other sages, and very nice.


Sage close-up. It's lighter than black sage but darker than white, with a different fragrance from either.

Speaking of good smells, I saw lots of my favorite-smelling plant, Artemisia californica, a close relative of sagebrush, mugwort, and wormwood.

Artemisia californica

Here's the TRUE sign of the start of wildflower season (for me, anyway): a baby wild cucumber vine beginning to grow. First these flower and then the rest of the landscape explodes in flowers soon thereafter:

Wild Cucumber (Marah macrocarpus)
Wild cucumber (Marah macrocarpus)

P.S. They aren't edible.

Here's another plant growing that will soon explode into flowers. I need to check to be sure but I would bet this is some sort of Four O'Clock.


Most exciting of all to me was the little baby native chia plants I saw (Salvia columbariae). These plants have nutritious seeds like the chia sold in supermarkets and health food stores, but it is a different species than those.

Native Chia (Salvia columbariae)

For perspective, here's how tiny they are right now if you are standing and looking at the ground:

Native Chia (Salvia columbariae)

So how did I spot these tiny baby plants? I saw what I correctly guessed were last year's dead chia plants up above them. Or perhaps dead plants from the year before, considering last year's drought:

Native Chia (Salvia columbariae)
Dead chia plants

There was also a bit of something I did not recognize in the sunflower family already blooming:


And the first blue dicks are starting to grow - with no flowers just yet. They are the plants that look like large blades of grass in this pic:

Blue Dicks sprouting
Blue Dicks

Indian potatoes (Jepsonia parryi) are also growing. These plants produce one flower in the fall and one leaf each in the spring. Because they are weird. But each little leaf hides an edible corm just below the soil.

Indian potatoes (Jepsonia parryi)

A navigational note: After maybe a mile, a water tower comes into view (visible in this picture below in the background). Once you can see it, there's a fork in the trail. Go left.

Artemisia californica
Artemisia californica in front, water tower in back

As you're coming along and the water tower is in view, you can look down and see some sycamores, which are the deciduous trees with yellowing leaves that have mostly dropped off in this picture:

Ravine with Sycamores

Ravine with Sycamores
Close-up of sycamores

The trail you want to follow goes down to the sycamores and back up the other side. It gets very steep as it goes back up. After you come up that steep side, you start doing all of the up and down, up and down. It's mostly fairly minor but it's still a pain. And you aren't even really going up Mt Gower, you're still basically walking toward it. This becomes clear when you look around and see this:

Mt Gower
Mt Gower... that tall thing that you aren't actually climbing yet

Oh, you wanted to go to the top of Mt Gower? Well, you've got a ways to go before you even start on that. Sorry. Keep walking. Up and down, up and down.

It wasn't long after that when I got fed up and headed back. I'm staying with a friend and borrowing her car, and it did not seem polite to stay out after dark when she didn't expect me to. But I can tell you that the last bit of the Mt Gower hike involves rock scrambling and bouldering, so expect that if you go.

All in all it was a fun hike that will be spectacular once wildflower season arrives in full and beastly hot and miserable in the summer. Best of all, it's uncrowded, unlike some other nearby hikes. I saw a total of two other hikers the entire time I was there - and no dog poop or mountain bikers at all.

Up to Trouble Again

I haven't even lived in Wisconsin for five months and already I'm jonesing for my California mountains so bad I could practically go crazy. I'm headed back to San Diego over winter break, but I need more. So I'm planning to hike the John Muir Trail.

In case anyone else is interested in how one goes about planning a 220 mile hike, I'll share my plans here.

Step one: Figure out the basics - start, end, and resupply points.
Step two: Figure out everything else in between.

Easy, right?
The start, end, and resupply bit is easy. Most people start at Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park and end at Whitney Portal. I've visited both places and hiked the last few miles of the John Muir Trail, so that helps with that. You can hike it in the opposite direction, south to north, but I want to go with the flow. I am hiking alone and I'd like to meet and hike with people along the way. Also, going south to north means you have to summit Mt Whitney on your first day. I want to start off easy and work up to longer, harder days.

Resupply options are ample and easy for the first half of the trail, and non-existent/complicated/expensive on the last half. Since I'm poor, I'm opting for "non-existent" (I'm not paying someone to come over the mountains via donkey with extra food for me. I'll be my own donkey.) The one possible exception is exiting the trail at Kearsage Pass to go for food then. It would involve hitchhiking. Don't tell my mother.

You can join a Yahoo! group for the John Muir Trail that provides a spreadsheet with every single detail and GPS coordinate for the entire trail, courtesy of Elizabeth Wenk. It would be kind to purchase her book if you are going to use her data. Fortunately, the Hanukkah Fairy will be delivering my copy of the book soon.

So here's my plan as of now:

I might add more rest days in there. I might cut the resupply at VVR since it seems unnecessary, and I might add a resupply at Kearsage Pass. But, in general, this looks like a good plan. If I can get the permits for it.

Up next: Watching the weather, picking the date to do it, applying for permits, and lots of training.

Wow! Vitamin B12!

I'm typically in the "get your vitamins by eating healthy, minimally processed whole foods" school of thought. Another favorite saying is "People who take supplements have the world's most expensive pee."

I caved a bit on my 100% no supplements stance when I found that taking lysine supplements helps prevent/get rid of cold sores. I've taken that for years. Aside from that... nada. I try to eat a diet made up a wide variety of whole foods, mostly plants. That oughta do the trick.

I've also been a champion sleeper for most of my life. At least since high school. Back in the day, I literally slept in every single class in high school, including lunch and gym. I still got good grades, so nobody really bothered me about it too much. After school I'd get in my bed and sleep til dinner. Then I'd go to bed around midnight and wake up the next morning tired.

As an adult, I've always had a really hard time with mornings. Extremely hard time. It's not just that I don't like them. I oversleep alarms all the time. I've missed flights often enough that I won't even book a 6am flight now. Why bother? I won't get to the airport on time.

I tried weaning myself off caffeine recently, and I was able to do so... but then I slept all the time. Something was making me sleep a lot, and it wasn't the caffeine addiction. I went back to drinking too much coffee. Otherwise I'd never get any work done. Even still, I can sleep 10 hours at night AND take a nap during the day.

I've never been an athlete. I don't go fast. Ever. I'm not very strong, either. Even when I work out regularly, I plateau at a very slow pace compared to other people. I've always thought something was wrong with me. This past year I've done so much hiking and I've clearly gotten into very good shape - for me. But I still go very slowly.

So, a few weeks ago I went to the neurologist for my migraines. The PA ordered a bunch of tests. The doctor did an EKG and then sent me to the lab, where they took a bunch of blood. This past week, I had a cardiac stress test (a treadmill test). I was huffing and puffing and having a hard time breathing - but my heart was totally normal.

Wednesday, I went back to the neurologist. This time, the doctor himself saw me. He began looking at my test results. Everything was normal. Excellent in fact. Very healthy liver, kidneys, heart, etc etc etc until... Vitamin B12. I was low. Not even very low. Just a bit low.

The doctor ordered another test (methylmalonic acid) and a B12 injection. He said if I need the B12 then it will help, and if I don't actually need it, it won't hurt. Other than, you know, the pain of the actual needle. That hurt a bit.

The methylmalonic acid test will find out a bit more about my B12 deficiency. Apparently, B12 is supposed to do something in your body, and if it isn't doing it, you'll have high methylmalonic acid levels.

We get B12, as you likely know, from dietary sources. Entirely from animal products, which means vegans need to take B12 supplements. But I am no vegan. The doctor said that some people's bodies do not absorb B12 from their diet very well. And the B12 deficiency could be the cause of my fatigue.

The PA also prescribed a few other supplements: magnesium oxide, vitamin B2, and CoQ10. I've since looked these up, and each one has been shown to improve migraines in studies. So I'm taking them. She also has me taking an herb called Butterbur that has had some effectiveness in treating migraines. If you want to take it, don't get the actual plant itself (which is normally what I do). Instead get some sort of pill or capsule form that has the plant goodies with a toxic compound found in butterbur (called PAs) removed.

It's been two days since I got the B12 shot. I don't know if it's due to the B12, but I've never had this much energy. Ever. Or if I have, I don't remember. I feel great. I don't even know what to do with myself. There are so many extra hours in the day when you aren't sleeping all the time. It's utterly wild. This could really change my life. I always wondered what it would be like to be a normal person who was not tired all the time. I might get to find out.

Now, if only it wasn't so cold outside, and if there were some mountains to climb...

Book Review: The Wild Wisdom of Weeds

I'm a big fan of The Wild Wisdom of Weeds by Katrina Blair - with a few caveats. This is a subject that I feel passionately about, because Americans devote an absurd amount of resources to removing helpful, edible, and medicinal plants (a.k.a. weeds) from our useless monocultures (a.k.a. lawns) every year. And then we use more resources to grow, harvest, process, transport, and buy other foods - in some cases the very same weeds we want to kill in our lawns (i.e. dandelion greens). Therefore, this book is a breath of fresh air because it lends some much needed perspective to the usefulness of the weeds we overlook and waste.

Blair establishes herself as an expert on the subject early in the text, telling how she spent an entire summer living off of wild plants. The book is organized around 13 extremely common weeds that you can find no matter where you live in the world, give or take Antarctica: dandelion, mallow, purslane, plantain, thistle, amaranth, dock, mustard, grass, chickweed, clover, lambsquarter, and knotweed. I've personally found all 13 here in Wisconsin, and all but two in San Diego (although it's possible I just wasn't looking hard enough).

For each weed, Blair tells how to recognize it, why it's useful, and what to do with it. She provides recipes too.

This is where the caveats come in. It appears Blair is a raw vegan, or at least her recipes are. This type of cuisine can be delicious, but if you are not a raw vegan yourself it can be limiting. You might personally find it more useful to have a recipe for dandelion pesto with dairy cheese in it and instructions to cook it, rather than recipes for raw foods, which often call for dehydrating foods and never bringing temperatures above 114F or so. On the other hand, if you ARE a raw vegan or you enjoy that type of cuisine, then this book is for you.

My other caveat is that Blair is a spiritual person, and her spirituality comes through in her writing. If that's for you - and a lot of people will find it very appealing - then that's great. If it isn't for you, I fear it might turn some people off. That would be a shame too, because there are not too many books out there covering such a crucial topic, and this one is full of valuable info.

My recommendation is to get the book, and if you aren't into Blair's flavor of spirituality and raw veganism, just let that stuff go. Read the book, and learn what you can from it. You'll almost certainly find a wealth of healthy food growing in your own lawn. Then look online for non-raw, non-vegan recipes using these delicious plants.

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