Happy 2764th Birthday Rome!

One of my favorite European cities has a birthday today.

According to legend, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus were the founders of Rome. Following the murder of Remus, Romulus became the first king of Rome. The traditional date of Romulus’ sole reign and the founding of Rome is April 21, 753 BC.

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Casa Amarilla: Antigua, Guatemala

No matter how many ‘nice’ hotels I stay at during my travels there is something about hostels that makes me feel at home in whatever country I might be resting my head at night. The Casa Amarilla is one fine example I want to share with you.

At the end of my week of Spanish classes with the Spanish Academy Antiguena my home stay was also over so I needed a place for my final night in town. Several of my fellow students had stayed at this one or in adjacent hostels on the same block as Casa Amarilla so I knew the area was safe and the prices were reasonable.

My room was on the plant and flower filled rooftop with tables, hammocks, couches and a view of the bight yellow La Merced church a block away. Filtered water, wifi access, shared hot water showers and breakfast were also included in the $15 USD per night cost.

An additional benefit, if one was staying longer and traveling the backpack circuit is the inhouse travel agency located at the entrance to this comfortable oasis. Whether you need a flight, a taxi or just tickets for the bus to your next destination they can manage it all. As with any travel agency in Antigua they sell tours to all the regional ruins and points of interest at very competative prices. Find them at 1a Calle Poiniente 24 in the city center, 502-7832-6646 or main@granjaguar.com

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Posted in Adventure Travel, Central America, Muses | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Food Extremes and Obesity in the USA

Is it food or just nutrition you are eating?  The media and mega manufacturing have been pivotal in pushing nutritionism, the trend of looking at food as ingredients for an individual ingredient’s value and not the overall food that contains the ingredient, to the masses.  A great example is the benefit of omenga-3 in a diet but suggestion people take the easy road and take a supplement instead of a salmon dinner.  Another would be using foods in ways they were not naturally designed—high fructose corn syrup anyone?  Society needs to get back to eating actual food as a pillar to a healthy and balanced life.  Other important pillars, in my opinion, are exercise and plenty of sleep; which will work in concert with a healthy food diet.  I do not mean dieting but eating a balanced diet where nothing is in excess.  For example, if you love french fries then by all means eat french fries—just once a week instead of daily.

Author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan, wrote a thought provoking and in-depth article on eating for The New York Times Magazine several years ago that is as relevant today as it was when it was published.  If you care about your food health consider it required reading.

His lengthy article can be summarized into several objectives to introduce food back into your diet and not the highly processed creations that come to market every year.  Do not try to incorporate all of them at once but work on one or two at a time until it becomes a habit and not a shopping or eating stress.

  1. Eat real food. Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.  It’s OK to be a food snob.
  2. Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims.
  3. Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.
  4. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.
  5. Pay more, eat less.
  6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
  7. Eat more like the French; or the Japanese, the Italians, the Greeks…
  8. Cook. And if you can, plant a garden.
  9. Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet.

Why should you be concerned?  If you live in the USA, or almost anywhere in the world, obesity is increasing quickly with more ‘fast food, ‘ specialty drinks and processed food and far less cooking or eating at home. 

I have researched and written previously about this topic, and with an almost morbid curiosity, I look forward to seeing the statistics each year from the CDC’s survey on obesity in the USA.  The reason is two fold–I hope that states will drop in the rankings, such as Georgia did this year, and that my home state of Colorado continues to lead the nation with a healthier lifestyle ranking.

According to the CDC during the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. In 2009, only Colorado and the District of Columbia had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%.

Thirty-three states had a prevalence equal to or greater than 25%; nine of these states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia) had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 30%.

Not the growth of a nation we read about in history class…

Where does your state size up?

Gaining momentum in the right direction are numerous initiatives to improve the eating and thus health of the nation.  Chef Jamie Oliver started the Food Revolution, a program that educates and inspires people around the country to eat fresh unprocessed foods in schools, at home, in their community, and in restaurants.  And speaking of restaurants I must commend Chipotle’s efforts to provide Food with Integrity buy using locally grown and organic produce and meats whenever possible.  If you have never eaten at a Chipotle I highly suggest you give them a try.

Use a tried and true method instead of a fad diet.  Eat less, move more.

As an athlete I am often asked for nutrition and training advice.  Since I am neither a nutritionist nor a trainer I first suggest talking to a nutritionist and a personal trainer if a person is serious about changing their lifestyle and/or losing weight.  Often health clubs and gyms will have a nutritionist on staff making it easy to accomplish both goals.  Or you can find a certified nutritionist HERE.  Do not overlook the value of talking to your physician before starting such a major life change.  They can provide valuable health advice to help you avoid injuries common to starting an exercise and diet change. 

The only advice I will give is stick to your plan and it will become a habit.  So turn off the TV, get up off the couch and go take a walk!

Get out and explore the World!

Posted in Food & Wine, Muses, Training | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Armchair Archaeology

If I had a dollar for every time someone said, “I wanted to do that when I was in college” after hearing that I was an archaeologist in the past, I could still afford to be an archaeologist! While my career path has meandered well beyond the crystal ball of any guidance councilor of my past I still have a strong interest in other cultures, especially dead ones.

To study archaeology is to study past cultures by examining the material remains left behind. There are no interviews with the owners, only the back and forth debate with one’s peers in an attempt to interpret what was happening in the past. So an archaeologist also needs to be a historian, a laboratory scientist, a GIS expert and a detective to be able to determine what they are seeing. Oh, and it helps if you don’t mind biting bugs, broiling sun, long hours, rattlesnakes (where indigenous), camping and cheap beer.  And those can be the highlights of a field season!

For my fellow armchair archaeologists the web truly provides a wealth of information; I have spent countless hours reading shipwreck excavation reports in Malta, perimortem mutilation of human remains, or other equally esoteric research.  For the remainder of this article I would like to share some resources I have discovered with you.

To keep in touch with the pulse of new discoveries and for education on the numerous other cultures that I do not have experience or expertise with I check in with Archaeology News almost daily to see what new and exciting discovery has been published. This site tracks all press stories that relate to archaeology worldwide.

For a more academic approach I am hooked on K. Kris Hist’s blog at About.com. Her articles summarize numerous concepts and theories on archaeology at a level meant for the armchair archaeologist. Numerous multimedia references are included with each article which allows for further research.

For the reader who would like to experience an excavation, unlike anything you saw on an Indiana Jones movie, there are numerous choices around the world. Determine if you are doing this for credit or just the experience then research your options.

The above are just three that I have reviewed or know people who have attended so they are not personal endorsements or recommendations but are included as a starting point for your research. There are also many local non profit archaeological projects that can use volunteers. Check with your state’s archaeology office or history museum.

If you have previous experience and want to work in the field welcome to the life of a modern nomad. Projects are often short term or seasonal and so is the employment. A couple of starting points, beyond using Google, are Shovelbums and Archaeology Field Work.

While archaeology is an exciting field actual field work is not for everyone. Please consider supporting it through a donation to one of the numerous non profit organizations that exist. At the national level the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) is an excellent choice.

With winter approaching in the northern hemisphere now is a great time to build a reading list to explore the history and wonders of past cultures on a cold snowy night.

Bonus credit to the first who can identify the ruin in the above banner photo; the only hint you get is it is in South America.

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Posted in Archaeology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Job Opportunity in Denver: Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission

In honor of election day in the USA lets take a look at one of the initiatives on my Colorado ballot.

I was surprised and amused with ballot initiative 300.

To all my past and present trekkie friends there might be some employment opportunities with the Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission in Denver if it passes.

While I fully support the ability for the average citizen to be able to get initiatives on the ballot in Colorado should there not be some standards or guidelines? I do wonder how this one gathered enough signatures to make the cut. Any suggestions?

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A Fall Run on the Monarch Crest Trail

After our cold snap in Denver (20 F!) this week and awakening of Indian summer I am appreciating the few trees that still have their fall color wardrobe. It may be ski season in the mountains but it is warm and dry along the Front Range a little longer.

So as an ode to fall I want to share a recent trail running experience on the Monarch Crest Trail. Monarch Pass, approximately three hours southwest of Denver, was to be our starting point. We arrived late after work on Friday and camped under the moon and stars on an access road at the top of the pass. Aly and I were doing the running while Aly’s husband Josh planned to meet us later on the trail on his mountain bike.

We woke before dawn, quickly packed up and had a cold breakfast before leaving by headlamp down the trail. Our goal was a 60 k / 37 m run to Poncha Springs (red route) in the valley below. Depending on the trail conditions and how we felt we had a few optional routes we could take to shorten the distance (purple routes). Josh left the truck at Poncha Springs and used High Valley Bike Shuttle to return to the pass where he started his ride several hours behind us.

This was a fun run for both of us and my first time on the trail. There are several junctions where decisions were key so Aly’s experience on this trail was very helpful in keeping us on track.

We ran…

..and ran…

…and enjoyed the warm sun, Colorado blue sky and the aspens sheathed in gold.

We met no other runners but a few groups of mountain bikers passed us all headed to Poncha Springs.

Using the shuttle service, whether runner or rider, reduces transportation logistics inherent with point-to-point trails making it a worthwhile expense. High Valley has three daily runs for a nominal fee of $20 for each rider and their bike. They even rent bikes and can provide beta on the Monarch Crest Trail and other local routes.

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Posted in Cycling, Running | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Earning your ‘C’ card in Santa Rosa, NM

So you want to get scuba certified huh?

Well come along on a recent weekend road trip to Santa Rosa, NM where the famous Blue Hole has been the starting point for hundreds of diver certifications each year.

This trip was even more enjoyable as my good friend, Mark, was finishing his instructor certification by teaching his first open waters class with me as his evaluator. The four students were the real winners as they had two full instructors to take care of them.

To gain your scuba certification card, or C-card, a student needs to demonstrate the skills they learned in the classroom and pool sessions in an open water environment over the course of four dives. These dives must be done over two days.

The Blue Hole was tranquil when we arrived early on Saturday morning. The first task of the day is an orientation of the area for our students—where the bathroom is located, how to enter/exit the stairs, where to pick up tanks, etc. Mark (with the hat) and the students with coffee in hand quickly accomplished this task.

Scuba is a very gear intensive sport. Even more so when one is diving in cold water—temperatures under 70 degrees F—since we need to use a thicker wetsuit (7mm) in an attempt to stay somewhat warm while underwater.

The red and white floats mark the corners of the dive platforms that are at 20-25 feet. The instructor is in the center while the students line up along the outside length and the assistant is on the outside watching everyone. The picture below, from a previous trip, shows Mark and me (with yellow fins) during one of our dives at the platform.

We share the water and platforms with divers from all the surrounding states as the Blue Hole is the best, and sometimes, only option to be certified depending on the time of year. While you can get your certification on your vacation to somewhere tropical and warm you essentially give up two days of your time to get this accomplished which is usually not the purpose of most vacations.

The first three dives, with surface intervals to rest and warm up, normally take four to six hours.

In the warmer months, June to October, I will take students to nearby Perch Lake, for their fourth and final dive. This dive is considered a tour dive as all skills should have been performed on the first three dives. This is a confidence dive that allows the soon to be released to the world new divers the chance to put all the practice to use on a full dive while having an instructor with them. An added benefit, for the instructors, is that Perch Lake is only 55 feet deep verses 82 feet at the Blue Hole so without a shovel the students cannot go too deep.

The first task is some basic compass training and demonstration. Each buddy team attempts to pick a point and then navigate towards it only using the compass to guide them as they have a towel over their head. Their buddy keeps them from walking into anything dangerous.

As with all new divers’ air consumption is a skill yet to be acquired so the dives are rather quick at 15-25 minutes and soon we return to the shore. This time we returned with four newly certified students and the added benefit of a new instructor joining the shop’s staff.

Congrats to Christy, Ed, Peter, Emily and Mark!

The Youtube video (not mine) shows the underwater world of the Blue Hole.

Get out and explore the World!

Posted in Adventure Travel, North America, Scuba Diving | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Many Bites of Elephant at the Boulder 100

A little over a week ago I pulled the trigger and actually registered for the Boulder 100 race to be held 16-17 October. As I mentioned in my recent article I had not been training for another race this year after my efforts pacing Ultrathoner to his 100 mile finish at Lean Horse in August. Several reasons drew me to signing up–a few long distance outings, for fun, with Aly; conversations with Barry about his races; and the unknown, as in, what does running more than 77 miles (reference to my solid finish at Laurel Highlands in June) feel like? There was only one way to find out. Besides, why ‘waste’ 14 months of training conditioning without giving it a try?

The race is run concurrently with the 12 and 24 hours of Boulder on an out & back trail around the Boulder reservoir. While the repetitive nature of the course did not entice me to sign up I thought it would make it easier to self support and attempt my first 100. The course is some asphalt, a good section of gravel road and the rest single track trail with a well stocked aid station at either end.

The day was a beautiful Colorado fall day with a slight breeze and few clouds with the temperature in the upper 60s. The trees were changing colors and the distant view of the snow dusted peaks of the Front Range helped distract me from the repeat trail. Additionally with three races together I was constantly passing people with whom I exchanged pleasantries and encouragement. This would continue until night which limited my vision to the illuminated world of my headlamp.

To finish the race we had 14 laps to put behind us with the standard 30 hour cut off. I knew, short of an unknown medical surprise, that I could easily finish 50 miles before there was any concern for completion. My pre race calculations called for me to attempt an average 13.5 min/mile pace. I did not want to come out too strong only to crash later in the night but I also did not want to factor in much walking as I am not conditioned to walking long distances as I discovered at Lean Horse. So an easy dog trot was my goal.

I also borrowed from my mountain climbing experience the idea of resting 5-10 minutes each lap by sitting down and allowing my legs to rest. Most runners will walk and stand for a couple minutes at the aid tent then shuffle off on their next lap. I sat in a chair in the back of my SUV next to a cooler of food to recharge each lap. I think it worked as my time each lap remained consistent as the miles added up.

Before I knew it the day had shifted into night and I finished my 50th mile a few minutes over 10 hours. My friend Barry enthusiastically joined me as a pacer at the start of my 8th lap. Being a strong ultra trail runner in his own right I was concerned that he would out run me!

Hours slide by like minutes. The accumulated clutter of day-to-day existence – the lapses of conscience, the unpaid bills, the bungled opportunities, the dust under the couch, the inescapable prison of your genes – all of it is temporarily forgotten, crowded from your thoughts by an overpowering clarity of purpose by the seriousness of the task at hand.
–Jon Krakauer

Having a pacer on a 100 race is not required but is very helpful. The mind does wander after so many hours of running allowing simple things such as time and distance calculations, hydration and nutrition to get messed up without a pacer. Having more than one pacer is not a bad idea either as 50 miles can be a lot of time and distance for anyone to volunteer for during a race.

The half moon cast welcome light for half the night to supplement our headlight’s beam. Even with the moonlight it was dark enough to justify a headlamp yet many participants chose not to use one. Many were walking and not running at this point causing my main complaint of the race. If you do not have a light and are wearing dark clothing how can I see you until I just about run into you? It’s such a simple thing to check at the aid stations in order to continue the race for the safety of everyone.

While some of the walkers were still keeping a good pace Barry and I joked that Halloween was starting early with the arrival of so many shuffling runners mimicking the Hollywood zombie movies. If a runner is walking and limping that much how much damage is being done trying to compensate for what ever injury or lack of conditioning caused them to start walking that way? Perhaps that is a good indicator that they should quit?

The 7.14 mile laps continued to fall behind us approximately every 105 minutes until we crossed the line for the last time a little after sunrise for a sub 23 hours and a top 10 finish for my first 100 mile attempt! I ate the whole elephant and survived.

I certainly have to thank Barry for his company, photos and keeping me safe through the last half of the race. I suspect I’ll be returning the favor in the very near future.

Get out and explore the World!

Posted in Running | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

The Next Adventure: 100 Miles

A 60 k mountain trail run from Monarch Pass a few weeks ago confirmed the fact that I am in better running shape than I thought.  Naturally the planning wheels started turning so with a little research at UltraSignUp I found several race objectives. 

One was in my backyard.

So I signed up.

I will be attempting my first 100 mile race at the Boulder 100 this coming weekend.

Am I ready?  Is maybe an acceptable answer?

After a 60 k fun run (yes, fun and run in the same sentence as 60 k) I am going to give it a try.

I should be able to run at least between 50 and 100 miles.

And I will have some company to aid me through the night.  Barry, a climbing partner and fellow long distance sufferer, quickly offered to be my pacer.

I just hope I can keep up with him…

According to the race website this course is “run on the beautiful trails at the Boulder Reservoir with great views of the snow covered peaks. The course is flat with approximately 100 feet gain per lap with an aid station at approximately 3.5 miles. The course will be marked and is non-technical.”

Boulder 100 Course

Having run the 24 Hours of Boulder in 2008 on this course I would substitute boring for beautiful in the description above.

But this is about the personal challenge and not the surrounding beauty of the trail, which at night will be only the glow of my headlamp anyways.

Let’s see what a 100 feels like!

Inyanka yo.

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Posted in Running, Training | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

AAC – ACI Climber’s Exchange in the Tetons

While many were enjoying picnics and BBQ’s with their loved ones at family gatherings and block parties I went north to Grand Teton National Park for the first half of the USA-Iran climber exchange hosted by the American Alpine Club (AAC) and the Alpine Club of Iran (ACI). 

As the camp chef responsible (during the first half of the exchange) for cooking for the 25 members of the group I arrived ahead of our guests to go grocery shopping and do some meal planning. 

The first morning was cold and clear with a beautiful view of the Grand beyond my cabin.  Fall was certainly evident with the aspen trees starting to show their gold—and it was only the first of the month!  Having never climbed in the park I was looking forward to exploring it later in the week. 

The Grand in the backyard

The first task at hand was going grocery shopping, which is something I do not like to do.  Thankfully with the help of several new friends we filled four shopping carts to overflowing with enough supplies to kick off the exchange.  The receipt was over six feet long!  It was enough for two days of meals.

At the Magic Chef

The eleven Iranians arrived at the Climber’s Ranch in the middle of the night after two days of travel.  Several hours later the brunch buffet opened allowing the ACI members to meet their AAC member guides and fellow exchange members.  Naturally when you put this many climbers together climbing is the first thing talked about after the polite questions about travel, ones health and the weather.  Since the ACI contingent arrived in the dark they were amazed at the natural beauty surrounding the climber’s ranch.  The rest of the day was unplanned allowing for everyone to get to know each other and to rest up after such a long journey.  I on the other hand started prepping and cooking dinner for 25.

The Climber’s Ranch is an old church and scout camp with rustic cabins at the base of a huge ancient moraine at an elevation of 6700 feet.  The primary building in camp is the library which is the gathering area for any guest.  Shelves of books, a wood burning stove, a PC and several couches make for a cozy place to relax between climbs or during poor weather.  Attached to this building is the kitchen with a 1946 Magic Chef stove in one corner.  This behemoth, with 8 burners, two ovens and a griddle, resembled a retired boxer whose body was not working well and what worked was often a bit unstable.  This required me keeping a close eye on the temperature and state of doneness of anything being cooked, fried or baked.

The library and kitchen building

The main gathering spot

Where most guests cook their meals

In planning the meals I designed themes to allow for variety and some ease of meal planning with an unknown kitchen.  Our welcoming dinner was an Italian spread including a salad bar, garlic bread and meat lasagna with homemade sauce.  For dessert there was watermelon and a fresh fruit salad for anyone still hungry.

The next day was a climbing day!  So after breakfast we gathered our gear and promptly left the camp to make the 0800 boat across Jenny Lake. 

Crossing Jenny Lake

Once across the group divided into two teams of climbers and one of hikers.  All were soon welcomed to the park by two large male moose grazing mere feet off the trail.  Plenty of photos were taken by all.

Moose on the trail

I joined the climbing group with Bo, Molly, Ben and Majid.  Our destination was the Guide’s Wall about an hour hike up the canyon.  I could not put my camera away as new mountains and vistas showed with every turn in the trail. 

On the way to climb

A beautiful view

The final approach to Guide's Wall

I tied in with Bo and Majid leaving Molly and Ben as the duo.  Bo effortlessly led us up three beautiful granite pitches.  In preparing for our final pitch we unanimously agreed we did not like the color of the clouds quickly building and turning darker ever minute.  So we promptly changed direction and three raps later we were back on the ground.  The front’s bark was worse than its bite but none of us would have wanted to be four pitches higher when it came through.  Either way it was a successful outing.

Haliku and Bo at the belay

Majid finishing pitch 2

Once back at camp I returned to the kitchen to make dinner after securing a few volunteers to help with the prep work.  The evening’s repast was baked potatoes, fruit salad, baked fish on a veggie pyre and a pineapple walnut cake for desert.

As an added bonus we had a slide show of amazing climbs around the world by past president Jim Donini.  Everyone was tired, full of good food and enthralled by Jim’s stories and beautiful pictures.  It was a very successful day.

Post dinner presentation by Jim Donini

After several amazing weather days we woke to grey sky and clouds obscuring the peaks.  Without the sunshine the temperature was noticeably cooler.  With these conditions plans were reworked where the majority of the exchange went for a hike directly from camp.  Instead of hiking we, the same group from the day before, with Greg instead of Majid, went rock climbing at Blacktail Butte located on the valley floor.  Composed of limestone this single pitch wall provided different challenges from those we had at Guide’s Wall.  The day flew by as quickly as the clouds streaming across the valley and before we knew it we had to return to camp.

Dinner this evening was ‘outsourced’ to a guest chef, Jim Williams an Everest guide and world culinary explorer, who prepared a lamb shank BBQ with all the fixings.  Delicious!  After dinner we were treated to a private showing of ‘180 Degrees South’ presented by Yvon Chouinard.  The movie is done in a classic adventure story model of exploration and adventure opening the authors’ eyes and minds in ways they could not have imagined when the set off on their journey.

After a dawn breakfast and picnic lunch preparation I said goodbye to my many new friends as they headed to Yellowstone National Park for the day on a photo safari while I returned to Denver.  The exchange was a very enjoyable experience with climbing and conservation being the common love between two diverse, yet same, teams.  I look forward to the ACI’s hospitality next year when the AAC team heads to Tehran.

Most of the team

Thanks to Tom Bowker for some of the pictures.

Get out and explore the World!

Posted in Climbing, Rock | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments