Sunday, December 23, 2012

Eat Real Food

I remember, with horror, my days as a Carbo Crashing Junkie (CCJ) when I ate the standard “healthy” diet prescribed by practitioners throughout the western (entire?) world, full of “healthy whole grains.” A diet, I now recognize in retrospect was loaded with calorie dense, highly glycemic and highly palatable (read, you eat more and more and more) food guaranteed to, among other ills, cause metabolic syndrome. There is no doubt that, like trickle down economics, the standard western diet has failed miserably at achieving a healthy population. Rates of obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease and more, are now endemic in the western world, affecting at least two thirds of the population base.

The standard advice to exercise more and lose weight through a low fat calorie controlled diet is doomed to failure when the standard diet, focusing as it does on carbohydrate dense foods serves only to make people hungrier and hungrier as insulin spikes, then falls, then spikes again. The only answer is to reduce the amount of carbohydrate in the diet, particularly calorie dense carbohydrates that are promoted as a weight loss strategy by well intentioned but clueless practitioners.

Here in Australia, fatness is epic. I rarely see a slim Australian. What I do see are Australians whose entire diet is composed of various grains (in all their myriad forms, from breads to pastas to rice to noodles), calorie dense but nutrient poor starchy vegetables (the ubiquitous white potato), and an excess of treats. I am astonished at the amount of biscuits, cakes, pies, ice-creams, muffins, and other goodies that Australians eat. A treat is “an event that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure”, all those treats should be just that, treats, eaten sparingly, not at every snack and every meal. Even in my days as an unenlightened CCJ, I only ate treats sparingly, like one biscuit or a small serving of ice-cream per day.

Here in Oz, breakfast is some calorie dense, carbohydrate junk (frequently advertised under the “healthy whole grain” logo), followed by biscuits and cake for morning tea, capped a couple of hours later with some other calorie dense, carbohydrate crap (a thin slice of lettuce or tomato might accompany the “meal”). Then, as blood sugar inevitably crashes two hours later, some more biscuits, muffins, ice-creams, are consumed, followed in a brief two hours by dinner with, no doubt, white potato, rice, noodles, and possibly a very small amount of green vegetables.

It makes me crazy to watch. Some people seem to get away with it and are not too grossly obese, just mildly plump, others are big as buses. What they all share, plump and obese, is weight around the midsection, one of the cardinal signs of metabolic syndrome and the worst possible place to carry excess weight. The absolute disregard for their own health appals me. I worry about just sitting an excess amount of time on days when I can't be moving around all the time or missing my regular yoga session; these people are slowly (?rapidly) killing themselves and they don't care.

Some days I just want to scream at them all 'EAT REAL FOOD!'

Protein powered, tucking in to bacon and eggs before a ski day
at the Caribou Cabin

Friday, December 21, 2012

Muscle Up

Everyone has their own climbing style, Doug's is cautious and controlled with good technique, mine is way too slow and given to thrutching, and some people muscle up using brute strength. Women typically climb with better style and technique than men as their less muscular bodies don't allow them to haul their way brutishly up climbs. But, as always, there are exceptions to every rule. Yesterday, climbing with a new friend at Bangor, I saw, for the first time that I can remember in all my years of climbing, a female who muscles her way up climbs relying on big muscles to overcome technique.

It's interesting and often instructive watching other climbers. Sometimes you can learn new ways of doing things, sometimes you can recognize in others things you are doing wrong – such as climbing "like you poo and not like you screw" – and sometimes, it's just kinda interesting to see someone's style so clearly. Like my new female friend, who muscles up routes making use of big arm and shoulder muscles.

Doug showing good form on an overhanging climb at Bangor

Monday, December 17, 2012

Happy Holidays

Go here for our annual Christmas letter, a bit brief this year due to time constraints.  Best of the season to y'all. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

20 Grams, 10 Down, 2 Weeks

It's been two weeks since the 20 g netcarbohydrate experiment started, and I'm down 10 pounds with no significant hunger, fatigue or energy loss. Apart from the metallic taste in my mouth (sign of ketosis), I feel great, and have been continuing to do all my activities and work-outs. Apart from the tedium of measuring out cups of lettuce, the experiment has been remarkably easy. I think I screwed up the first week by eating too much protein and too little fat, but, since I cut down the protein and added in things like mayonnaise, avocados, cream, cream cheese, and flax seed, I've been pretty consistently in ketosis. My plan is to carry on for one more week and then start gradually increasing my carbohydrate intake until I reach my individual tolerance level.

Our weekend paddling Pittwater provided a stark contrast between the Fat Adapted Cruisers (FAC's) and the Carbohydrate Crashing Junkies (CCJ's). The CCJ's are overweight and overfat, need to eat every two hours (high carbohydrate foods, of course), and seem to have barely enough energy to get through the day, while the FAC's cruise along eating just three times a day and have plenty of energy to run laps (paddle laps) around the CCJ's. I probably ate a quarter of the calories of the CCJ's yet expended four times the energy and am about four times as lean. A good rule of fours. 

Fat Adapted Cruiser in the foreground

A Lazy Paddle On Pittwater

My brother, Ken, had planned a leisurely kayak trip from the south end of Pittwater north to the only camping area in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park at The Basin, and was kind enough to invite Doug and I along. A couple of Ken's friends, Debbie and Mark, also joined the trip and paddled a sit-aboard that is operated by pedalling the legs that Ken owns. The rest of us were in sea kayaks – Ken and Renee in their Seayaks and Doug and I in our new Marlins (all made by Prijon).

On Saturday, we wandered lazily north to Great Mackeral Beach, before turning back and making camp at The Basin. On Sunday, we wandered lazily south back to Pittwater. The weather was great – apart from a little rain on Saturday night – the water a gorgeous clear aquamarine and wonderful to swim in, the wind mostly calm, and we rode the tide up on Saturday, and the wind back on Sunday.

The Basin is a lovely campsite right by the beach on a big grassy flat area with tame wallabies, ducks and even goannas. I would hate to be there when it is at capacity – 400 people – as it would be crowded as a New York ghetto, but, as the school holiday season is not quite in full swing, it was not too busy on this weekend. Given the number of people that packed up their camps on Sunday morning, mid-week would be quite pleasant.

Doug and I spent a couple of hours in The Basin itself (a big protected deep lagoon closed to power boats) practising wet exits and entries and eskimo rolls. Wet exits were easy, but entering the flooded kayak without a paddle float was impossible for me, though Doug, after much struggling did manage it once. With an outrigger paddle attached to the swamped boat and rafted up to a second boat, I was able to wet enter reasonably easily. Both of us were stoked to be able to eskimo roll our kayaks, even though we haven't rolled a kayak for about ten years, and have never rolled a sea kayak. The key is to make the sweep stroke really count – start way forward and finish way back and keep your head down.

The sheer quantity and size of boats on Pittwater is astonishing – and frightening from a global warming perspective. As is the sheer quantity and size of most of the Aussies! I was happy to see that at least three groups, including us, were actually self-powered at The Basin. One group on bicycles, one group of hikers and ourselves in kayaks. It is surprising that more people weren't in kayaks as it is a safe – provided you don't get run over by a boat – area to kayak with good scenery and wonderful swimming. 

Ken paddling on Pittwater

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Out On The Water

A beautiful day out on the water today in our new ocean kayaks.  After years of paddling a double kayak, it's probably not a surprise that Doug and I spent most of our time paddling a long distance from each other, me on one shore, Doug on the other, revelling in the freedom of single kayaks.  We launched at Swallow Rock Reserve, a small park and boat ramp, a fair distance up the Hacking River and paddled with the tide but against the wind east towards the ocean.  Port Hacking is really quite a beautiful waterway.  Although the north shore is solidly lined with houses, the south shore is mostly National Park and features a lovely eucalypt forest among outcrops of bush rock.  We paddled as far as Deeban Spit, a huge white sand bar that sticks out into the clear green water, and makes a great break and swimming spot, although the current fairly rips by. 

Our new kayaks felt great to paddle.  It's been years since I paddled a single kayak, and I certainly feel the need to brush up on my basic skills, high and low braces, wet entries/exits, and also paddling the kayak in rougher water.  We had pretty tame conditions today, apart from a few minor current riffles.  The cockpits on our Marlins are smaller than many which is really nice as we are smaller than many, and thus fit snuggly in with feet, thighs, hips and back well braced.  I felt I had good control over the kayak, but would undoubtedly find rougher water challenging until I bring my paddling skills up to speed.  Lots to work on, just the way we like it.

Our kayaks on the beach near Maianbar

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

New Kayaks

After much searching and a certain amount of angst, we finally have two single sea kayaks for our trip around Australia. Our hearts were drawn to fibreglass boats with their sleek lines, low weight and fast touring speed, but our bank account, along with fears of beating up a pair of shiny new fibreglass boats led us to HTP boats. We ended up with a great deal on discontinued Marlins (made by Prijon), one lime green, one, mango.

Today, we'll go out for a paddle on the sheltered waters of Port Hacking to get a better feel for them. 

Loading boats for the drive home from Gosford

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Short Trip South: Sport Climbing at Nowra, Kiama Coastal Walk

The kayak search is still ongoing, but, in the midst of that, we got a great Ebay deal on a cargo barrier and combined a trip to pick up the cargo barrier with three days away. Our first two days was spent climbing at Thompsons Point near Nowra. Apparently, the most popular crag at NSW's most popular sport climbing area. Very solid rock, nice solid ring-bolts (this is a sport climbing area), nice ambience above the Shoalhaven River (with ready access should you want a dip) and reasonable length climbs. We found the climbs on the average side (Wingello has better climbing), but, all in all, a nice place to spend a few days and there are hundreds of routes to climb.

On our third day we walked the Kiama Coastal Walk – a 22 km trek along the coast from Minnamurra (northern suburb of Kiama) to Gerringong Harbour. I'm not sure how many people walk the full distance, as, despite it being a beautiful sunny, but not too hot, Saturday, neither Doug nor I saw anyone doing the full walk. We did our usual trick for these through walks with one person starting at either end and crossing paths in the middle.

Personally, I like walking and could walk for a good part of each day, all year long, so pretty much relish any walk – heinous bushwacking probably excepted, so it's no surprise that I enjoyed this walk. It's not as wild as some, in fact, the entire walk passes through a heavily modified landscape from the suburbs of Kiama south to the farmland near Gerringong. However, the scenery is delightful, sea breezes keep you cool, there are dozens of opportunities for swimming off white sandy beaches in clear water, and, for the most part, you won't see many people.

If, because of fitness, motivation, time, or any other constraint, you could only walk one section of the full 22 km, the section from Marsden Head to Werri Beach is the best. This section cruises along farmland above cliffs, dropping every so often to sandy bays and rocky beaches and is away from houses, traffic, and people. A nice way to end the walk at the southern end is to stride along Werri Beach with the surf crashing onto the shore, prowl around the rocky headlands (low tide only), pass the bathing pool – take a dip – and end at tiny little Gerringong Harbour tucked in a sheltered cove.

Looking south to Gerringong

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Low Carbohydrate Eating

There is ample evidence out there that the standard “healthy” western diet is, in fact, anything but healthy. All those so called “healthy whole grains” and that plethora of dense carbohydrate sources (breads, bagels, pasta, rice, etc.) along with the avoidance of fats causes a whole panoply of ills that have been well documented. Unfortunately, this overwhelming evidence has not yet (will it ever?) trickled down to the overwhelming majority of clinical practitioners, and, of course, has got no where near the general public.

Doug and I gave up on conventional nutritional advice at least three years ago and since then have enjoyed enormous benefits from lowering our carbohydrate intake, increasing our fat and protein intake and cutting out all grains. These benefits have ranged from simply “leaning out” to resolution of joint and gastrointestinal issues to more energy, more strength and more rapid recovery from heavy exercise sessions.

But, it ain't easy, and no-one who watches their diet as diligently as we do could ever tell you it is, particularly in western countries which are drenched and drowning in high carbohydrate foods primarily made from grains.

I've found it tougher than usual to stick with my normally healthy paleo diet in Australia as this country, even more it seems than Canada, is sinking under a morass of carbohydrate rich food. There is literally a bakery on every corner, and the standard Aussie diet seems to be even heavier in dense carbohydrate sources (pastas, rice, noodles, bread, etc.) than the Canadian diet (obesity and wheat belly is endemic in Oz). It's also prime fruit season in Australia right now and the stores are full to bursting of the most amazing tropical fruits – pawpaws, papayas, mangoes, passionfruit, pineapples. Fruit, of course, is no where near as bad for humans as grains, but, fruit is a dense source of carbohydrate and does have a high gylceamic load.

In the last week or so, I've been experimenting with a super low carbohydrate diet – under 20 grams of net carbohydrate a day. I've been eating lots of protein and a moderate amount of fat. What is amazing about this diet is how well the human body can run on protein and fat. It's easy to go six or more hours between meals without running out of energy, getting a headache, suffering from mood swings or any of the other symptoms associated with the standard western diet. I am still able to train, hike, climb, swim and do any other activities I like so my performance is unaffected. In fact, I feel incredibly well.

I'm not sure I'll stick with such a low overall carbohydrate intake for ever – gotta eat some mangoes before the season ends - but, for a few weeks, it seems like a good idea to fully switch my metabolism into fat burning mode.  I always perform better on a cleaner diet, and, I'm always interested in performing, so, apart from a big wheat belly, I got nothing to lose.

Climbing in Mexico where it is easy to eat a clean diet

Forward And Back

It's hard to believe we have been in Australia almost three months and are still – apart from our short trips away – in Sydney. After a big purge in Canada, getting rid of sleeping bags, crampons, ice axes and the like, we are now in the process of accumulating more stuff. For the last four months we have lived, quite comfortably, with just the contents of the two backpacks (each) we brought with us from Canada. True, we have bought a few things like a vehicle, a little two burner cooker and gas tank, a water jug and a bunch of carrot hangars, but, other than that, we've been having lots of fun with minimal gear.

The only thing that is holding us in Sydney is our increasingly frustrating search for a couple of ocean kayaks. We already own a double Feathercraft kayak – a great kayak (although it has become quite a wet boat as it ages) for travelling with (particularly by airplane), but a poor option for day or weekend paddles. Our Feathercraft, whimsically named “Headwind,” takes at least an hour to put together, and, must be carefully washed and dried after use. Not ideal for day tripping, or even multi-day tripping when on the road longterm.

Currently, it seems like every kayak we look at has some kind of downside – skegs in the middle of back hatches, massive weight and length, dodgy hatch covers, too small hatch openings, uncomfortable seats, and the list goes on.

We have found one kayak that fits all our criteria, but, our preference would be to buy one second hand rather than new. And so, we keep looking. In the meantime, we are having lots of fun swimming in the ocean, riding boogie boards, hiking, climbing, and paddling various kayaks borrowed from friends and family. Tomorrow could be the day we find the ideal kayak. 

Paddling borrowed kayaks in Botany Bay

Monday, December 3, 2012

Some People Never Learn: Another Wet Walk or Waterfall to Heathcote on the Bullawarring Track

After our semi-epic in the Budawangs, you might think I would be smarter than I was today heading off on a half day bushwalk after a night of rain with only an umbrella for rain protection. I could prevaricate and say that I thought the trail involved more fire trail walking than it did (fire trails are wide enough that you don't get slapped by wet bush every second, as opposed to typical Australian trails where you are doused with cold water at every step), but if I was honest I'd be more likely to admit that I breezily brushed off any concerns of wet bush as I didn't feel like both carrying and thrashing my nice new waterproof jacket.

In any case, temperatures today were 20 degrees warmer than on our Budawangs epic and while I got wet right through again, I didn't get cold, and, had I taken waterproof pants and jacket, wearing them would have rendered me just as wet from sweat. A change of clothes, however, would have been nice as, once I hit the water line road, I could have changed into dry clothes instead of staying in wet clothes until I got home.

In any case, this was a pleasant, rather typical hike through the Australian bush, handily accessible at either end via train. I took the train to Waterfall and walked south to north as I thought finding the trail head from the Scout camp at the Heathcote end might be difficult. From the end of Warabin Street, a trail (Bullawaring) leads downhill following Waterfall Gully and fords Heathcote Creek on a fire road. The signed trail leaves the fire road on the west side of the creek and follows Heathcote Creek roughly north, past a few (mostly) signed trail junctions to a final trail junction where you can gain the water pipe road in either 0.5 km or 1 km. As I was drenched by this point, I took the shorter route to the water pipe road which guaranteed me a final dousing as the trail was very bushy.

Once on the water pipe road, my clothes gradually dripped a little drier and I strode along crossing Battery Causeway where there are a couple of nice pools on Heathcote Creek. I had lunch at Mirang Pool where I hung my shirt to dry on a tree – no luck – and then walked the final kilometre to where the water pipe road takes a big dogleg and you reach the junction with “The Friendly Trail.” It's very pleasant walking along this section on the quiet road with views down to Heathcote Creek below and across to the small escarpment of Tamaroo Ridge. The Friendly Trail is, well, friendly, a really nice section of trail on a mix of natural and well placed sandstone steps through open gum forest full of tree ferns and coming out at a large Scout camp. From the Scout camp it is a short 1 km walk to the train station. It was a little chilly waiting for the train in my still damp clothes and I had to tighten up my pack waist strap to hold my shorts up as their increased weight was dragging them off my hips.

If this trip were to have a moral, it would be don't walk in the Aussie bush after a rain storm if you want to stay dry. If a dousing doesn't bother you, you could well have a very pleasant day walking, as I did, but, a pleasant day would be a great day with the addition of a dry change of clothes.

Pretty pools on Heathcote Creek