Friday, August 28, 2015

To Be Fooled Is Human

Yes, I know, this is a fairly transparent plagiarism from Pope's famous "Essay On Criticism" but it just seems to sum up so succinctly our communal propensity as humans to believe what we want to believe regardless of any empirical evidence or even rational thought. If you read this blog regularly (Hi Mum), you'll recall that my last post was a rant about my disillusionment with the "paleo" movement which is increasingly the realm of slimy snake-oil salesman looking to make a quick and easy buck rebranding a basic paleo-type diet (no sugar, no wheat, no industrial seed-oil) with their own logo and selling over-priced under-performing supplements or other gimmicks. 

Product of training and diet, not snake oil

Dave Asprey, of Bulletproof infamy, is perhaps the most successful rebrander currently out there if the quantity, price and sheer volume of gimmicky available for sale on his web-site is any indication. From vibrating tables to upgraded water, Asprey sells it all. Wandering around his website is like being lost in Wonderland with Alice where each clickable link takes you from one outrageous claim (eat 4,000 calories a day while establishing lean physique, never exercise yet maintain enviable six pack, workout for ten minutes twice per week and look like a body-builder, etc. etc.) to another. It's dazzling, delicious and, of course, deluded. Losing weight, getting strong, regaining mobility, simply being a healthy functional human requires steady, consistent effort - both mental and physical - and cannot be hacked with no significant effort at any price.

Sometimes you just gotta dig in,
PC, Dave Jack

And, deep down, we all know this. We know that taking Green Coffee Extract won't really give us that shredded physique we've been lusting after, just as we know that pouring butter and MCT oil in coffee does not magically turn us into swole bros even while we sit on our butts all day poring over social media, but, we so want to believe that everything we want is attainable without any hard work whatsoever. Perhaps, taking the easy way out is genetically coded into most (but definitely not all) humans. 

Plain hard work and consistency

Being generally mediocre, I've always had to work hard at whatever I wanted. From staying lean to climbing better, there is nothing I have every wanted in life that could be attained by the click of a mouse and the entry of a credit card number. And for this, I'm truly thankful, because I've learnt that if you want something, you have to work for it and there is immeasurable value in working hard. "Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty..." (Theodore Roosevelt) and that includes upgraded water and vibrating tables.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Trust No One

I have become increasingly disillusioned with the paleo space lately as more and more talking heads peddle their own version of a "real food diet," almost always accompanied by an entire branded line of various food like substances - Bulletproof Ice-cream anyone (only $US92) - and/or supplements, supported by dodgy science and even more suspect reasoning. Frankly, admitting to eating a paleo diet or living a primal lifestyle has come to be synonymous with admitting that you have the IQ of a dead monkey. 

There are still a few smart people out there, wandering now in a wilderness of morons, Jamie Scott from New Zealand, Tim Noakes from South Africa, and Stephan Guyenet, in the US, all come to mind. But, increasingly the space is occupied by a new brand of charlatan making a good living off the desperation and gullibility that is so characteristic of most of humanity. 

Doug, half way through a long day of exercise

Most of new tricksters preach a series of dogmatic principles that are patently ludicrous, yet have come to be accepted as "facts" simply through repetition. Listening to a podcast while I stacked wood this afternoon, I heard a couple of talking heads (JJ Virgin and Dave Bulletproof Asprey - both of whom appear to be making a very good living peddling recycled drivel) espouse at least a dozen of these "facts" in the space of ten minutes. And that is what prompted me to write this list of the top six stupid paleo "ideas" floating about in the tribal lands.
  1. "Most people exercise too much." This little nugget came courtesy of JJ Virgin (and I've quoted it verbatim), but, I've heard roughly the same thing from at least a dozen other "paleo" peddlers. No-one really needs any kind of statistical study to know that this is patently ludicrous, a glance around any public space is sufficient. But, if you need statistics, consider that in the US only 20% of adults get the recommended (between 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week) amount of exercise per week.
  2. The food pyramid caused the obesity epidemic. Now, I haven't looked at any countries food pyramid for a decade or more, so I had to use Google to pull up both the Australian and the US food guides and, what do you know, neither food guide recommends a diet of highly rewarding processed food like substances with vast quantities of added sugar. In fact, both the Australian and the US government recommend whole foods, just like the ones I eat. The food guide did not make us fat. Consuming a diet of heavily processed highly palatable food like substances while doing very little in the way of exercise caused the obesity epidemic.
  3. Aerobic exercise is inherently bad for your health. This platitude is generally accompanied by all kinds of warnings about elevated cortisol levels, increases in fat mass, loss of lean muscle mass, and various other scare tactics. Again, it's patently absurd. Aerobic exercise in moderation is a healthy, some would argue, necessary precursor to health. It is only when aerobic exercise is taken to the extreme - multiple hours running every day, every week, every year - that it becomes actually harmful to health. If you have limited time to exercise, traditional steady state aerobic exercise is not the most effective or efficient way to improve your health, but it is a far cry from being inherently unhealthy. Sometimes I wonder if all the "paleo pundits" eschewing aerobic exercise are simply frightfully out of shape.
  4. There are very few people in the population who benefit from drinking their calories as promoted by any one of the charlatans flogging overpriced coffee with excessive amounts of added fat, fruit and/or vegetable smoothies, or any other source of liquid calories. The exceptions are people who are critically ill or have their jaws wired shut. For the vast majority of the population this might work as a weight management strategy in the short term, but that does not make it synonymous with long term health.
  5. Eating too much fat will make you fat just as surely as eating too much sugar. Most of us are past the low fat phase and have embraced some form of carbohydrate restriction individualised to our own particular circumstances and goals, but that does not mean that eating copious quantities of fat - bacon fried in butter washed down with a side order of butter in your coffee - is a healthy option.
  6. If it comes in a packet, it's processed food and should be eaten sparingly. It does not matter whether that much hyped nutrition bar is marketed by big food, the latest hipster or comes with a glowing endorsement from your favorite podcaster. Our first choice for nutrition should be real food as close to the source as possible. If you've got to unwrap it, don't eat it, that's how simple it is. 

    Sure it's a big pack, but it won't kill me
I could go on. I feel as if I am just getting warmed up to the topic, but, I've already written over 800 words so perhaps it is best to leave the rest of this list for another blog post. Until then, follow the maxim of Fox Mulder (X Files) "Trust No-one" particularly those that are trying to sell you ice-cream.

Mount Direction, Madmans Hill, Gunners Quoin

I had a hankering to get out and stretch my legs on terrain that didn't involve vaulting over fences every few hundred metres, so on a gorgeous spring morning I drove down to Risdon Brook Reservoir. This small water supply dam lies on the western side of the Meehan Range and is very popular with casual walkers and joggers. My plan for the day was to hike up Mount Direction, which Doug and I had been up a couple of months before, and then carry on using some old roads but mostly walking through the bush to Madmans Hill and Gunners Quoin. To return, I would join up some old tracks on the east side of Risdon Brook.

Starting off on the usual route toMount Direction, I passed at least two dozen little pademelons sitting in the sun and warming up after a frosty night. Because I was not following the directions assiduously, as we did last time, I turned uphill on an old track about 100 metres too early. It took me about 300 or 400 metres of walking to wake up to this, and, like most people, I didn't want to go back. 

Derwent Valley from Mount Direction

A glance at the map indicated that if I took a rising traverse to the north, I would intersect the old road that goes right to the top of Mount Direction, so I took off through thin bush and quickly found myself traversing a rather steep hillside on intermittent game trails. Crossing the creek that drains east looked very bushy and I began to wonder if I should have gone back, but, ducking down, I found another good game trail that crossed a less vegetated area of the creek. After that, I had reasonable animal tracks until I emerged from the wetter and lusher creek area into the much more open eucalpyt forest and reasonably quickly intersected the old road. 

The track to Mount Direction is a wee bit steep but not long and soon enough I was up by the huge summit cairn admiring the view. Only a tiny bit of snow was left on Mount Wellington but in the far distance, the mountains around Mount Field were still looking quite white. 

There's snow in them thar hills

You could head north along the ridge line from Mount Direction and eventually drop down to the pass near Madmans Hill as the forest looks very open, but I had previously decided to follow the powerline track up to the pass just south of Madmans Hill and then follow the ridge from there so I walked back down the steep track to the powerline and then walked along a good gravel road until I reached the height of land. If I were to do this again, which seems quite unlikely, I think I would walk north from Mount Direction as the gravel road is not that nice to walk on. 

Following the ridge north to Madmans Hill, the forest was very open and the way easy. The route is actually cairned, although this seems completely unnecessary as it is hard to get lost, but, the cairns do keep all the foot traffic to one line which did seem to be generating a vague foot pad. Madmans Hill has an open spot on top and views of the Derwent Valley. I actually expected the cairns to keep going along the ridge, generally north to Gunners Quoin but I did not see any more cairns or sign of passage. 

 Looking north to Madmans Hill and Gunners Quoin

The forest, however, is still open and allows for easy walking. At a broad saddle just below and south of Gunners Quoin, I came to a cleared area of private land so I ducked down the southeast side 40 metres or so into the forest and then hiked up the last 150 metres to the Gunners Quoin. There are some short dolerite cliffs on the west side which rock climbers infrequently visit. They look a bit scrappy and not really worth the walk to climb ratio but, there are some good boulders to sit atop and a lovely view out across the valley so I stopped for some tea and a bit of lunch. 

I had crossed an old road on my way up which runs through the saddle just south of Gunners Quoin so I took a compass bearing off the map and set off to follow this down to intersect the road which would, eventually, wind its way - with many junctions - back to Risdon Brook Reservoir. Coming off the summit, I sighted along my bearing and found a series of cairns, some bits of flagging and a good foot pad. This pad pretty much followed my compass bearing all the way down to a gate in the fence (how handy) and very quickly to the old road shown on the map. If you come up this way, the track is marked by a cairn at the side of the road. 

 Gunners Quion

This old road follows a spur ridge down to about 300 metres where it drops steeply into Quoin Gully. Quoin Gully has a deeply eroded creek which the track crosses, then climbs perhaps 30 metres, crosses another minor creek and then intersects another old road. This old road heads west down a spur ridge before dropping steeply again to the south to Huon Gully. Along the way I passed two or three "Private Property: Keep Out" signs but, as the route up Gunners Quoin is cairned walkers appear to be ignoring these.

Just after crossing Huon Gully I came to another track junction and followed this track as it wound around the hillside above Risdon Brook eventually leading to the main heavily travelled path around the Reservoir where I encountered - within ten minutes of the car - the first people I had seen all day. A map and compass is handy for this walk as there are many old tracks and junctions to navigate, but all the creeks, ridges and hills in the area offer up lots of terrain features to help with staying found. 
 

 Lunch stop on Gunners Quion on a wonderful spring day

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Don't Kid Yourself, Or, Above All Else Know Thyself

One of the great things about eskimo rolling is that success and failure are unmistakably clear. You are either upright breathing freely, or back under water holding your breath. You simply cannot pretend that you are competent at this somewhat complex skill. Most of us, however, don't actually need to eskimo roll that frequently if at all, so we do not necessarily get such clear feedback, and then, "Houston, we have a problem." Or, if not a full blown problem certainly an impediment to reaching our goals. 

Leaving Rocky Isles and heading for Direction Island, 
Far North Queensland

It's human nature to believe ourselves better than we actually are. Psychological surveys have repeatedly demonstrated this. Whether it is intelligence, attractiveness, compassion, competence, or any of a dozen other metrics, almost all of us think we are above average. In both ourselves, and more particularly others, we frequently - if not always - conflate confidence with competence which is why you find seemingly intelligent people heading off doing obviously stupid things having been convinced by the confident and charismatic.

 Heading back down to the valley 
after a failed attempt on Mount Cooper, Selkirk Mountains, BC

We might forgive ourselves for being convinced by others but how is it we can so easily convince ourselves of things that are patently just not so? I see this every time I go to my local box gym. Inevitably there are a bunch of people (most frequently men, sorry guys) who are fooling themselves that they can lift weights much heavier than they can actually manage. Yesterday it was the chubby guy "curling" about 40 kg, except, his bicep curl had a range of motion of literally 2 to 5 centimetres! He might want to believe he did 20 curls, actually, he did zero. Or, perhaps the obesity researcher I met on the weekend who was bemoaning the amount of sugar people ate while he chowed down on a chocolate cream filled pastry from the nearby bakery for breakfast. Seriously, as my friend Roland would say, "that's not a healthy choice." If this PhD educated expert could not work out how to get sugar out of his own diet, what hope does he have of convincing others to forgo that sweet, white nectar. 

 Fail, Selkirk Mountains, BC

Some degree of belief in our own competence is absolutely necessary if we are to go out into the world and do what has to be done. I am very aware of this when climbing - another sport where you can fool yourself (going clip to clip on a grade 21 dogging at every move is NOT climbing a grade 21). If I am leading a rock climb, particularly a "trad" climb (gear protected climb for non-climbers) I simply must believe I have a much better than average chance of succeeding. If not, I'll fumble, flail and, most likely, eventually fail. I could, quite literally, kill myself. 


Not a good place for false confidence, 
Monashee Mountains, BC

The line, however, between an appropriate level of confidence and a delicious vision of deluded omnipotence seems hard for many of us to grasp, and, I think we condemn ourselves to unending mediocrity as soon as we lose touch with our real abilities. We've all heard about "working our weaknesses" and, the data on deliberative practice in the role of expert skill acquisition is pretty well established, but, how can we practice deliberately or work our weaknesses if we cannot recognize, let alone embrace them?

 Soon to be failed attempt at a new route on Mount Clutterbuck,
Purcell Mountains, BC

Personally, I've never seen the benefit of the false ego boost that comes from believing we are better at something than we really are. Pretending I can curl 40 kg is really not going to help me if a real world situation arises where I need to curl 40 kg. Similarly, feigning expert navigational skills is not going to help me when I'm lost, it's getting dark, and the rain is beginning. The only thing that matters in these instances is real ability. That bit of fakery that you indulged in at the gym or last time you were out in the woods might have pumped up your ego, but, in the longer term (or even the shorter term) you are simply no better than you were yesterday. And, in the end, isn't that what we all want out of life - to be just that little bit better today than we were the day before?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Calling Anemoi: Cathedral Rock, Montagu Thumbs, Mount Montagu, Wellington Falls

There can't be many capital cities in the world where you can drive for ten minutes then walk for eight hours without seeing another person, but in the Wellington Range behind Hobart, this is not only possible, but common. The park stretches 20 kilometres to the west of the iconic pinnacle and contains a labyrinth of tracks, trails and routes. Doug and I joined one of the local walking clubs for a days ramble in the park that would join up several different tracks to make a loop which would take us roughly up the west side of North West Bay River along ridge crests to Mount Montagu and down the east side of the North West Bay River to rejoin the Cathedral Rock track a couple of kilometres from the start. 

 Rainbow from Cathedral Rock

Although we met early, 7.30 am, there was almost an hours delay getting started as two people went to the wrong meeting place. Eventually, after a few telephone calls, the trip leader managed to get everyone to the start of the walk. Standing around before we started walking, talk, among some of the other walkers, turned to an unplanned night out on a recent club trip to Mount Rufus. Or, it could have been Mount Hugel, I'm not exactly sure, but, it really does not matter as here we were, an hour behind time, two people already navigationally challenged, our only other walk with this club also being marred by navigational issues. I admit I did feel a wee bit concerned. 

Cathedral Rock with Mount Montagu behind

There was the usual huck-a-lung race up the track to start which always drives me crazy because it inevitably results in various group members getting burned out early and becoming slower and slower as the day progresses thus negating the few minutes saved by sprinting at an unsustainable pace. I can't possibly be the only person who envies Basil Fawlty in the old British comedy "Fawlty Towers" in wishing that it was socially acceptable to just blurt out what we are all thinking, which, in this instance would be, "We will only be impressed by your speed if you are as fast at the end of this walk as you are at the beginning."



Cathedral Rock, Montagu Thumbs from Mount Montagu

We followed the Cathedral Rock track which passes through rainforest and fern trees beside North West Bay River before climbing up a series of switchbacks to a pass between Betts Hill and Cathedral Rock. The primary sprinter was by now quite worn out so the group settled into a steadier pace. It is a bit of a steep climb up a narrow track to Cathedral Rock where we got into the full brunt of the 40 to 50 knot (that's almost 100 km/hour) wind that is so typical of Tasmania. There was a complete rainbow hanging over the valley to the south but it was hard to stand atop Cathedral Rock, a series of dolerite columns, without getting blown over. 

Near Montagu Thumbs

Inexplicably, a snack stop, up in the howling wind was called, although, the leader may have had ulterior motives as one sure way to inhibit long snack stops is to have them in cold, uncomfortable places. It was a bit daunting at first continuing along the ridge for the next 2.5 km to a broad saddle near Mount Montagu, not because the terrain looked overly difficult but because when you are out with a bunch of people you don't know, some of whom look fairly fatigued already, there is always a concern as to how they will cope should conditions deteriorate. 

 Along the ridge to Mount Montagu

The track essentially follows the ridge, with some slightly narrow, but not exposed sections, over Montagu Thumbs - detour slightly from the track for the best view - until you descend 50 metres off Montagu Thumbs into dense forest on a somewhat overgrown track. At this point the leader put one trip member, who had a GPS track from doing this walk before, out front as he wanted to take one track up Mount Montagu and a different track down. My 1:25,000 topographic map only shows one track (not quite correctly marked), but the Wellington Park Recreation Map that our leader had shows two tracks. One heads up the final 150 metres to the summit from slightly south of east, while the second climbs due west from the main track to the summit. 

Summoning Anemoi on Mount Montagu

Coming from the south, we came across the southeast trending track first which is really not so much a track as a route, but it is reasonably well marked with bits of flagging. As we were on the shady south side, we had to walk through about 15 cm of snow. Without the snow, there may be more of a pad visible. The summit is broad and open and offers good views of the surrounding valleys and hills, but it was very, very windy, so, although it would be a great spot in different conditions for lunch, not one of us was keen on standing about in the wind. 

North West Bay River above Wellington Falls

Two people in our group had a cursory look for the second track but, when it was not readily and quickly apparent, the leader decided we should bushwhack down. This was not actually too bad, but, if I were ever to do this trip again, I would spend a bit more time looking systematically for the track. I'm pretty sure with a bit of careful grid searching, you would find the trail (we intersected it near the bottom where it was actually very good) and have a much easier descent than we had. 

Descending to North West Bay River

Once back on the main track, our next junction was indicated on the map (again the track is marked slightly wrong on both the 1:25,000 topographic map and the Wellington Park Recreation Map) as being only about 200 metres to the north. This track follows a spur ridge down to Wellington Falls on Northwest Bay River and gives access to the well maintained Wellington Falls track. Our leader instructed us to look out for tracks off to the right and we headed off again. Doug and I saw two indistinct pads, and our leader stopped at a third vague pad. A GPS reading showed that the third vague pad was right on where the track was marked on the map. A short foray down this "track" quickly ended as it was a dead lead. Our leader was, understandably, a bit bemused. Doug and I thought we should check out the two other vague pads we had passed, which, to our leader's credit, he agreed to do. Neither led anywhere. 

 Cathedral Rock from North West Bay River

There was some consternation in the group as the leader remembered the track as being quite open and easy. Luckily, one other participant had done the walk before, but, had only stumbled on the correct track after following one of the false leads. She remembered joining up with the track from the right, which logically had to mean the track was still ahead (to our left), so we agreed to walk ahead for 10 or 15 minutes. I always find setting a time limit for this kind of thing is a good strategy as, without a time limit, people will keep going until the notion of sunk costs ensures that even if turning around is the best possible option, no-one will ever do it. In passing, I suggested that, if we could not find the track we could always go back, which, was met with "No f**king way, it's too far." 

Wellington Falls

At a guess, I'd say we walked about five minutes and gained perhaps thirty metres of elevation before coming across a huge cairn and a very obvious track leading off to the east. We followed this across some bushy talus slopes for a couple of hundred metres before the track gained the defined ridge and descended steeply to North West Bay River. 

The river was pretty easy to cross on somewhat slippery slabs, and we had a very short break here before taking a short detour down to a viewpoint for the falls. We could also see Cathedral Rocks from just above the river. The next two kilometres is on a very good track that meets the Pipeline Track (gravel road). Crossing over the Pipeline track, a very steep track, which is actually the path of an old rusted out water pipe descends very steeply down a spur ridge to about 400 metres (ASL). An easy step across a side creek, followed by a hundred metre section of old road, leads to a well flagged steep side track that descends to North West Bay River. The river rocks were incredibly slippery so I crab-walked across to the other side keeping one hand on boulders. It was still easy enough, provided you didn't slip, to keep feet dry. The track out the other side of the river is marked by a cairn and is slightly downstream. This side track leads quickly out to the main Cathedral Rock track perhaps a couple of kilometres from the parking area.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

How To Move Faster

It has been three months since we walked with the walking club we joined in Tasmania, and, finally a trip that promised to be a bit longer at a bit faster pace came up on the schedule and I convinced Doug to take a day off from the "billables" and join me. It turned out to be quite a long day for Doug and I, as we left the house at 6.30 am and it was 6.00 pm when we returned. All this time to walk a distance of roughly 14 or 15 km with about 1,000 metres of elevation gain. How is it possible to be so slow? Well, I'm glad you asked, or I'm glad you asked how to become faster and more efficient. 
 

 Sunrise, Katherine Gorge, a good time to get started
D. Brown, photo

First, make sure everyone knows where the meeting place is, not just thinks they know based on previous trips. We were delayed at least 40 minutes in the morning by two people who went to the wrong meeting place. This will probably mean restating the obvious, but I've found that when you get a group of people together things that seem obvious, suddenly are not. 

Second, avoid the impulse to sprint out from the start at a pace that is clearly unsustainable. I have no idea why people with a good deal of outdoor experience do this almost universally, but they do. Going at an all out sprint might seem faster initially, but, in the long run - and generally within the first 15 to 30 minutes - this strategy quickly reveals itself to be much slower than travelling at a pace that you can keep up all day. There's a reason why sprint races are short and marathons long. Humans simply cannot go all out for a long period of time but we can go for a very long time at a moderate pace.

 Early morning on the water, Whitsunday Islands
D. Brown, photo

Third, if you need to drink a lot of water during the day, buy a hydration bladder so that you can take a quick drink without having to take your backpack on and off constantly wasting time and energy digging through the depths of your pack to find your water bottle. Hydration bladders can be bought for the price of a pie and chips so there is no use pretending you can't afford one. If you add up all the five minute intermissions you'll save throughout the day you'll come up with a fairly impressive amount of time and one that might make the difference between being out in the dark or strolling into the pub for a quick one before you head home.


 One last sunset run,
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, BC, Canada

Fourth, get fat adapted by kicking your carbohydrate addiction so that you do not need to stop and eat every one to two hours. Your energy levels will be more even and you'll recover faster for the next days hike. 

Navigate smart. This is way easier said than done, but, in many instances there really is no need to keep stopping and taking GPS readings. On our walk yesterday we had to descend about 180 metres from the top of a small mountain to the valley below. The track ran through the valley below providing a very obvious backstop - there simply was no way we could (unless we were complete idiots) walk across this track and not notice. In this instance, all we had to do was follow an easterly bearing for about 30 minutes (a guesstimate of the time it would take to descend 180 metres without a track) until we intersected the track. Stopping numerous times to take GPS readings and/or randomly changing direction just eats up time. The moral is understand the basics of navigation, make a sensible plan, then follow the plan for a reasonable period of time before you stop to reassess. This does not mean plugging away pig-headed into obviously bad terrain or conditions. It simply means that if you know what you are doing and have a solid plan you need to execute that plan without wasting more time. 

Wasting time staring at a GPS
Mount Heinze, Rossland Range, BC, Canada


Try not to dither about decisions for more than a few minutes. If you have to stand about for 10 or 15 minutes trying to decide whether to go forward or not, you should not go. 

Finally, and this should be obvious but obviously is not always so, keep moving. Stopping to regroup or to make sure no-one misses a junction in the track is a great idea, and will even save some time, but, don't keep stopping for no reason, and, once the reason you stopped has been accomplished (for example, giving everyone in the group a chance to adjust clothing) move off smartly. Don't stand about gawking at each other in some weird game of chicken. 


Early morning launch, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland

I don't have any empirical data to back up my assertion, but, I am pretty sure if people went out and instituted all seven of these strategies they could shave significant time off their trips. Of course, not everyone is interested in moving smartly and efficiently, but, even if you are the most lackadaisical of hikers one day, if you keep heading out, you'll be in a situation where you need to move faster and more efficiently to prevent a major epic from unfolding. That's when you'll be glad that swift, efficient movement comes naturally. 

End of a long day out on Mount Tilley, 
Monashee Mountains, BC, Canada




Friday, August 14, 2015

Why You Should Stop Doing Burpees

Like most people, I used to think a burpee was something you did after chugging a litre of fizzy drink (now known as SSB - sugar sweetened beverage). Now, also like most people - at least those with a passing interest in fitness - I know it is actually an exercise in which you squat, put your hands to the ground and jump your body into a plank, perform a push-up, and then perform a squat jump which takes you back to the start again, except, for most people, it isn't. Which is why, unless you have great form, you should stop doing burpees, or, at the very least do burpees slowly with perfect form.

Touted as a full body exercise, most of us, with our broken first world bodies that have spent too much time sitting in chairs and too little squatting, doing a perfect form burpee is difficult at a slow pace, and, at a fast pace, with fatigue rapidly settling in, impossible. 

For many people - and I count myself among the many - the trouble begins early with poor squat form. Either the dreaded butt wink as you try to get into a deep enough squat to get your hands to the ground with your spine neutral, or, what is seen more commonly, the back bend squat where instead of hinging at the hip and knee and maintaining a neutral spine, the exerciser simply rounds the back to get the hands to the ground because they lack flexibility, core strength and the ability to properly initiate a squat. 

 Back when I had looser hamstrings

The plank, must be the simplest, yet most poorly performed exercise out there simply because most people don't have anything approximating the core strength to actually maintain tension in the torso. Again, two variations present themselves, either the downward dog plank or the upward dog plank. Neither is a plank. Next comes the push-up, which is either a flutter in the top quarter range of motion, or the full blown collapse, whereby the lower torso collapses to the ground, rapidly followed by the upper torso - as if there is an extra hip joint in the spine - the "push-up" reverses the collapse. And, finally, the jump which virtually never starts from a nice deep squat. 

All in all, it's pretty ugly, and unless your aim is to ingrain poor movement patterns you should probably just stop and work the individual components of a burpee until you can actually do a perfect form burpee. Only then should you try pumping them out like Rich Froning.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Argue For Your Limitations

Two days ago I was at the gym working on my increasingly kyphotic spine when the resident chronic cardio junkie (a very pleasant woman but one with the typical zero muscle mass physique of the chronic cardio exerciser) asked what I was doing. When I explained the exercise, her immediate and, at least it seemed to me, unthinking reply was "Oh, I couldn't do that, I have a problem with my shoulder." I have heard this sentiment, in one form or another, so many times since moving back home to Australia that I have almost come to believe the entire population, drugged as they are on too many carbohydrate laden pies and cakes, has taken the dictum "argue for your limitations, and sure enough they're yours" (Richard Bach) as their national motto. 

 Passing Lemon Rock near the Freycinet Peninsula

From the guy who told me the reason he got fat was because he hurt his back and could no longer run (note to everyone looking to use this as an excuse, exercise has never been shown to be an effective weight control strategy) to my friend who replaced all his outdoor gear with the lightest possible (insert most expensive) gear on the market because he "wasn't getting any younger," we all seem way too eager to accept what we perceive as our "eventual" decline in physical functioning. 


 Perhaps climbers stay more flexible and balanced,
Steve L. does crow pose in the Adamant Range, BC, Canada

Well, it will probably come as no surprise to my regular readers (do I have regular readers?), but I don't buy it. I'm pretty sure this whole-hearted embracing of limitations has more to do with opting for the path of least resistance than it does with inevitable physical decline. You may be in bad shape with crappy knees, a bad back, an insulin resistant gut, and, etc., etc., and, it may seem now that there are no choices but, you always had a choice and you still have a choice. 


Hamish M. on the first ascent of Kerouac Crack,
still climbing after 50 years, no excuses 

The problem with our wealthy modern societies is that everything is easy, quick, convenient and offers instant gratification. The idea of actually working slowly and steadily towards some end goal has become an anathema. Food like substances that are cheap, ubiquitous, highly palatable and offer astronomical food reward make up the bulk of most people's daily diet. We want to go to the gym, lift a few free weights, or operate a bunch of machines and have that one hour of the day (if we even set aside one hour) undo the other 23 hours of crappy living. Our health information arrives via Twitter feed or other dubious formats and we never bother to set aside any time to think about whether what the latest talking head is peddling really makes any sense. God forbid, we might actually go research something for ourselves. In short, we have completely forgotten the dominant lesson of kindergarten - the ability to delay gratification is the harbinger of success (no matter how you define success, which might be dirt-bagging it around the worlds' most famous climbing areas). 


 Choosing a good line,
Hayes Creek, NT, Australia

At the gym today, one of the semi-regulars came in, the kind of guy you walk past on every street corner in Australia, overweight, insulin resistant, spine curved like a pretzel, no visible musculature. He proceeded to do his "workout" which consisted of using a few machines with the most truncated range of motion I have ever seen - and I believe I've seen a lot. His "push-ups" involved him fluttering up and down perhaps a distance of two centimetres at a rapid pace (note to all, your nose should touch the floor and your spine should be so straight you can lay a broom handle along it), and while planking, his butt was pushed so far up into the air that, had I not known better, I would have assumed he was just doing a poor semblance of downward dog. 



 Stay active, don't get broken
Doug on the summit of King William, Tasmania

Frankly, it was heart breaking. The guy is broken, so, so broken, and, he is trying, but nothing he is doing is making anything better. His workout is shortening up an already shockingly limited range of motion, his core strength of which he is undoubtedly somewhat proud is virtually nil, and he didn't do 15 push-ups, he didn't actually do a single push-up. Pulling back to level appropriate to his current level of functioning would be devastatingly demoralising as he would literally have to start his push-ups standing up and using the wall the way 80 year old ladies do. Perhaps even that would be inappropriate if he does not have adequate shoulder mobility. 


Might as well try, Sartori, Portero Chico, Mexico

But, he still has a choice. We have at our fingertips more high quality information than ever before. Sure, it takes some thought and research to sort out the excellent information from the drivel (here's a free tip, don't take any advice from anyone who is peddling anything, no matter how "organic"), but, it is possible. Real, whole food is just as cheap (cheaper if you consider the consequences) as food-like substances and anyone can learn to cook. We can all park the car and walk instead of drive. We can stand instead of sit. We can take the long view and begin a life-long quest with what is left of our lives to be as healthy and functional as possible. But, we have to learn to delay gratification and to take the harder, longer road, not the short easy drive. 



 RIP Magic Ed, Portero Chico will never be the same

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Threefor: Meehan Range, Derwent River, Port Arthur

Herein lie three short trip reports in one. First off, we planned to walk along Pontos Hills to Mount Lord. This is on private farm land, but, in the not too distant past, walkers frequently strolled along this scenic ridge-line until the modern obsession with litigation over trivial matters got in the way. We were part way along the ridge when we met a local farmer who was really concerned lest we stray onto his (we were actually on his neighbours land at the time) land as his insurance company had warned him that he was in big trouble should someone have any kind of minor mishap on his land. I really do wish that individuals, corporations, and lawyers would tackle the major public health issues, that is, excessive consumption of processed food and desist from chasing minor issues that have no real consequences for our society. But, there it is, it is much easier to tackle minor issues than cure society of the deep seated carbohydrate induced malaise that is costing us all a fortune both financially and in quality of life. 

 Doug heading out past Garden Point

Well, we didn't want to go home, so we walked back to the car, and drove down to the Meehan Range which is public land, and, rambled up Stringybark Gully, along the ridgeline that encompasses Simmons Hill, in an easy under two hour loop. There are great mountain bike tracks here, but, sadly, we have no mountain bikes, so we just walked. 

A few days later, I had some errands to run near Hobart, so I stopped off at Risdon for a stroll along the Derwent River. There is a small nature reserve here and a larger area of native bushland, and, you can make up various circle walks taking in both the river shore and the hills above the river. I started from Saundersons Road near Porter Bay and followed minor tracks along the shoreline down to Bedlam Walls where I picked up a more major track that is part of the Clarence Valley track system and continued on to Geilston Bay. This was very pleasant as, for the first day in a couple of weeks, the wind had dropped and it was sunny. On the way back, I followed old vehicle tracks up onto Government Hills where you get nice views of Mount Wellington and made a loop walk back.

 Cliffs near Point Puer

Finally, yesterday, we went out sea kayaking. It has probably been a month since our last trip. Cold weather and steady winds have kept us out of the kayaks. Our initial plan was to launch from Lagoon Bay and paddle south down the Forestier Peninsula to The Sisters, thus covering completely the stretch of coastline from the northern end of the Peninsula to Pirates Bay. But, a locked and gated road barred access to Lagoon Bay so we quickly decided to drive a bit further south to Port Arthur and paddle south down the port to Standup Point. 

 Tasman Island makes a stunning backdrop

There was a two to three metre southerly swell running which gave some bumpy conditions in certain places. From a boat ramp in Stingaree Bay, we paddled straight past Garden Point to Point Puer. There are a lot of sea cliffs and caves along this section of the coast but the swell was running up from the south and hitting the cliffs with some vigour so we could not get in close to any. We then crossed the opening of Safety Cove to Briggs Point and paddled down to Standup Point where the water was confused with the swell, the falling wind, and some moderate currents. In calmer conditions you could likely land in Crescent Bay but with a southerly swell running that was not an option for us.
Back in Safety Cove we were able to easily land at the far south end, and we strolled along the beach in the sun, enjoying the view of Tasman Island. 

Safety Cove

Paddling back to Stingaree Bay, we detoured around Isle of Dead, and past the historic Port Arthur settlement. Coming back past Garden Point we saw a fairy penguin and a seal. Unfortunately, no photos of either. It was a much warmer day than our last day in the kayaks, but, winter still seems to have a relatively firm grip on Tasmania as there was a heavy frost again this morning. 

 Doug paddling past Port Arthur historic site

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Hare And The Turtle

I tossed my second used up wire brush in my backpack before stepping back to admire the latest scrubbed addition to my now 15 metre long bouldering wall. Although I didn't quite get today's two metre span finished, my wire brush had become a wooden handle - nary a bristle was left - and I had not brought a spare, I was still feeling pretty pleased with progress. I never scrub more than about 15 or 20 minutes at a time, but, it's amazing how much progress you can make if you just steadily plug away at something. There must be a metaphor for life here. 

 Looking along a scrubbed section of wall

When I first found this wall, while wandering about looking for a promising bouldering area near to the house, the extent of the scrubbing required was a little daunting. I've developed climbing routes before, and have seen not just days but weeks sucked away as you scrub moss, clean cracks, build trails, pry off loose blocks, place bolts, and do all the things that ensure that your routes won't simply disappear after being climbed once but will become routes that are enjoyed by many people for many years. In truth, route developing is time, gear and sometimes health consuming, so I was a little leery about developing a new bouldering area when I would only be in the area for the next few months. But, I wanted to climb without having to drive half an hour or more each way, and if that meant spending some time scrubbing, dusting and prying, I would do it. 

 Doug drilling bolt placements

In a strange twist where most of the population is eating crap and not moving more than is absolutely necessary to get themselves from the food bin to the toilet to expel the crap they just ate, there is a small, but rabidly vocal, segment of the population who seems compelled to spout the mantra of "Know pain, know gain" as if being successful at any athletic endeavour requires an endless series of crushing workouts and a "100% clean" (WTF does that even mean?) diet. There may be a superhuman few who can keep this up without breaking their bodies, but most of us would do well to remember that "dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but by persistence (Ovid)."

 Doug looking small above Kanangra Walls
created by slow, steady erosion

We are what we do, and, if we work steadily at any goal, whether it be climbing a grade or two harder, removing processed food from our diets, running a marathon, or getting a double body weight back squat, we should simply get started and continue working, slowly, steadily, until we get there. And now, I've got a new wire brush, so it's time to go scrub a little. 

 Doug having fun on Eskimo Nell, 
Mount Arapiles