Thursday, February 27, 2014

Those Dratted Machines

Hundreds of deadlifts, back squats, rows, presses and more, all with heavy free weights, all injury free; and in a fit of foolishness, I get on one of those stupid gym machines and pull a muscle in my upper arm. I felt the twang as it went and stopped immediately. Luckily, the pain is localised and I was able to finish up my deadlifts and ankles to bar, but, it is ironic that someone who eschews gym machines as much as I do would get on one and, almost immediately injure myself. 

This my first week doing Alpine Center WOD's and it has been great. I'm enjoying working steadily and not being forced to rest between each set. By chance, three of the workouts I have done have featured front squats, bench presses, deadlifts and rows – all the same exercises I was doing under the Stronglifts routine, but I am using slightly less weight and moving through the sets and reps quickly. One day, the workout included dips. I have got weak on the dips as I have not done any for a long time, and my sports - kayaking and climbing - use more pull muscles than push muscles. In Nelson, I had a couple of home-made gymnastic rings that I hung from straps off my pull-up bar and I did dips all the time. But that was long ago and far away.

 Lake Nuga Nuga sunset, Doug Brown photo

Instead of just squeezing out two or three dips on each round, I figured I'd do the sets of dips on the assist machine at the gym. I often see people doing pull-ups on this machine and sometimes dips. As an aside, if you can't do a full pull-up doing negatives is a much more effective way to progress towards a full pull-up from a dead-hang than using an assist machine. The first thing I noticed when I got on the assist machine was that everything was in slightly the wrong place, which is always the way when you use machines instead of free weights – you get forced into some unnatural movement pattern. I shuffled back as far as I could to get in the proper position, but, in hindsight, I was clearly still a bit off, as that is when I felt my muscle go “ping.” Yeah, that's never good. I popped a tendon in a finger once on a bouldering wall and it did the same “ping” thing. Same thing when I tore my meniscus. 

At this stage, I'm not too worried. Although I turn 51 in a couple of months, I always heal quickly (good diet) and I don't expect to be out for long. I will, however, take a couple of days off bouldering, although, strictly, I could keep bouldering and just use one arm. I've done this in the past when I've sprained ankles, popped finger tendons, torn menisci (close to the sum total of all my injuries except for those sustained when I fell down a 15 metre cliff while canyoning in the Blue Mountains, but that is another story). All you do is take the injured body part out of the equation. It actually really helps with balance, movement economy and strength. 

But, I have plenty of other things to keep busy with right now. Our plans to be in Cairns until mid-June have changed and we will now be leaving at the end of March. This means we have all kinds of things to get done, like making new sails for our kayaks, getting our caravan inspected and re-registered and fixing various things that have broken – gear, like people's body parts, can go ping on occasion but can generally be repaired. 

Finally, I saw this picture recently on a forum I belong too. Mountaineers will instantly recognise Don Whillans, a famous British climber from the “hard-man” days when climbers drank too much, smoked, and ate crappy starch filled diets. The difference between Don Whillans and the unidentified tribal native of Gangotri is striking and demonstrates clearly that you can't out-train a poor diet. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Don't Wait Too Long

With some recent health scares among friends, I started thinking about how important it is that we not leave things too long. In particular, if your diet is full of processed foods, stop eating them now, and start eating real food. Don't wait until tomorrow, next week, or after that big celebration, start right now. Eat real food (preferably some kind of primal/paleo diet), limit your carbohydrate intake to your own personal tolerance level and view this as something you will do for the rest of your life, not for a few weeks or months to lose weight. Let this new healthy way of eating become something you do as a matter of course. 

The South Ridge of Gimli 

Start weight training, right now. If you are over about 25, you are losing muscle mass. Do big compound movements like squats, deadlifts, presses. Start with body weight push-ups, pull-ups, squats if that is where you are at, but don't wait until you have no discernible muscle mass. Everyone should be lifting heavy. 

Stop the chronic cardio unless you are at peace with finding yourself 10, 20, or 30 years down the road with cardiac problems, joint issues, hormonal disregulation, and poor muscle mass. Don't be fooled by worthless motivational drivel unsubstantiated by real science – no matter how awesome the photos and videos look. Go to PubMed, read the medical literature on this and make up your own mind. If the long term trade-off in your health is worth the endorphin rush you get from chronic cardio, buy some extra health insurance, try and do everything else right, and then embrace a not so healthy future. 

 Pitch One, South Ridge of Gimli

If you have goals and dreams, now is the time to pursue them. Make a realistic plan and stick to it. It's not about motivation, it's about discipline. Ignore the latest fads and fashions, focus on your own goals regardless of what your friends and/or significant other is doing. Find someone else who shares your passion, or go it alone, which ever works, but don't piss around getting side-tracked because your latest Facebook BFF says doing something else is badass. The only thing that is badass is being the best you can be.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


It's raining in Cairns today, a fluctuating mixture of light sprinkles and heavy down-pours. The cane fields are back to looking like rice paddies, Freshwater Creek is running fast and brown, the air is cool and the temperature pleasant. It is over three months since I posted my goals for the summer in Cairns, about half-way through the total length of time we will spend here. I should, therefore, based on simple mathematics, be half way to my goals.
  • Climb the roof at the Esplanade – check.
  • Squat 50 kg, deadlift 70 kg – half a check. I'm working a 50 kg back squat, but only a 65 kg deadlift.
  • Eskimo roll four times out of five – check.
I'm pretty happy with my improvement in strength and fitness. I am lifting the heaviest weights I have ever lifted (not bad as I sidle over half a century) and I have climbed the roof at the Esplanade a few times. I've gone from dreading tackling the roof to having a blast spidering across the roof.

 Arizona granite

Simple mathematics would dictate that I have pretty much reached my goals, and yet I haven't. I wanted to have some measurable goals so that I didn't flake off, get side-tracked, not work hard, or, in some other shape or form, kid myself that I was making progress when I wasn't. But, in the end, what really matters is performance, not random numbers. 

It would be really cool to get out and climb some real rock and see if my improvements in overall strength and climbing fitness have made the Australian sandbag grades seem any easier, but, Cairns in the middle of a tropical summer doesn't offer much roped climbing. One thing is clear, although I have rolled four times out of five on two occasions (only two), my eskimo roll is no where near reliable, which is really the performance measure that actually matters. 

 Aussie Sandstone

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and feeling frustrated with my slow progress towards a more reliable eskimo roll. For a couple of weeks, when it was raining heavily, I really lacked much motivation to get out and practise and that set me back a stage. Motivation, however, isn't really necessary, discipline is. So, now I am focusing on discipline. Discipline is practising twice a week regardless of motivation, and, starting on a sliding ladder of three, getting three successful rolls for three successive sessions (no limit on how many attempts that takes), then four successful rolls for four successive sessions, and so forth. 

Finally, I am changing my gym workouts and going back to doing Alpine Center WOD's. After three months of Stronglifts, I am continuously cycling up and down to add 2.5 kg to each lift (with the exception of deadlifts where I am still steadily adding weight). This is not necessarily a bad thing as I am still progressing (albeit slowly), but I now have to rest 3 to 5 minutes between each set. Not only is this tedious and time consuming, but it is nothing like what I do in real life. This kind of protocol is excellent if you have never done any weight training at all and want to build some strength, but I want to be fit and strong more than I want to stand about resting just so I can get one more rep out.  Lastly, give this a read. On the surface, it's about climbing, but the principles are transferable across all sports.

Out On The Water

It rained about 50 mm overnight and, when we drove over the Barron River on the bridge at Kamerunga, we were surprised to see the weir that we usually cycle over covered by swirling brown water. There must have been some heavier falls up in the catchment area. Certainly, it would have been a good day to go up and catch a view of Barron Falls as the river height at Myola was nearly four metres. But, we were on our way to Palm Cove for a short kayak trip. Feeling optimistic, we had packed our sails and hoped to sail at least part of the way out to Double and Haycock Islands.

Although there was a shore dump at Palm Cove (courtesy of a steep beach) there wasn't much in the way of wind, only about 10 knots, and blowing from the ESE. We could sail, a little bit, towards Double Island, which is slightly north, but getting to Haycock Island required paddling. No great hardship really. We saw a couple of turtles on the way out, one of which almost jumped clear of the water. 

Launching into light onshore winds

From Haycock Island we could sail (and paddle) to the beach on Double Island where we practiced some eskimo rolls. I have been frustrated of late with my progress and had decided that the next three practice sessions I could not quit until I got three rolls, then four rolls for four sessions, and so forth. We had been out to Freshwater swimming hole the day before, and I had got three rolls (for about six), so I persevered again until I got three. My big error was bringing my head up, which engages the wrong knee, and summarily pulls the boat back over. I did a few high brace drills dipping my head right into the water and that really helped. Doug flipped his kayak with sail up, pulled the sail down and then rolled up. Very impressive. The water was very clear which helped him see what he was doing. 

 Storm clouds to the south

I tried to use the sail all the way back to Palm Cove from Double Island, but I ended up with the sail pretty much parallel to the wind, so I pulled it down for a distance. Landing on Palm Cove beach was easy, despite the shore dump, but I was not quick enough to pull my boat up the beach and the next wave in filled the cockpit. 
Sheltered cove on Haycock Island

Thursday, February 20, 2014

How Hard Can It Be

The people we are house-sitting for have all the small volumes of the local hiking guides. Generally, I look hikes up in the book, but leave the book behind, both because I don't want to damage books that aren't mine, but also because I always think, “how hard can it be, it's a trail?” On two occasions, I have missed part of what I set out to see on hikes because I left the book behind. The first occasion was on the leech slaughter-fest (our blood loss not the leeches) walk to Lambs Head when we didn't know to follow the track down to the look-out over Lake Morris. Admittedly, we were at that point half mad from leech bites. The second was today, when we walked only part way to Hartley's Creek Falls stopping at the first set of obvious, yet small, falls on the creek. On the latter occasion, we were half mad with heat and sweat. 

 Big saltie lizard

We spent the morning at Hartley's Crocodile World, which is kind of gimmicky and touristy sounding, and has all those elements, but, is also a good place to go see some big crocodiles both saltwater and freshwater. There is also a very successful crocodile farm on site which sells all of the 2,000 crocodiles per year that they raise to Loius Vuitton for making upscale consumer goods. It is, of course, a crazy world where an animal is raised simply so somebody with too much money who is too removed from the natural world can swan about a too big city with a handbag for which she/he payed too much money. However, if it is going to happen, I would rather the animal was raised and killed, not slaughtered to extinction (as nearly happened in Australia) in the wild. Apparently, all of the animal is used (although that might be just a nice thing to tell the tourists), not just the skin. Certainly, the crocodiles appeared to be living out a much better, albeit short, life than most other animals that humans farm. 

 Smaller freshie lizard

Seeing big saltwater crocodiles up close is pretty chilling. Although they don't appear to move very fast on land, they sure can move fast in the water. There are many tales of sea kayakers having encounters with saltwater crocodiles when paddling in far north Queensland or the Northern Territory. In fact, of all the people who have paddled a sea kayak around Australia, I don't think there is a single one who didn't at least one crocodile encounter. Dave Winkworth, who paddled with a group of friends from Cairns to Thursday Island, and wrestled – yes really wrestled – a large saltie who had attacked his mate off a tiny island halfway between Cairns and Thursday Island undoubtedly has the grandest story to tell. Unlike grizzly bears, a person is natural prey for a crocodile and, after watching them today, it is really easy to understand how no-one sees them coming. 

 Tall grass at the start of the trail

After all we had seen all the tours, exhibits and interpretive displays at Hartley's Crocodile World we drove 500 metres up the highway and walked up towards Hartley's Creek Falls. This is where we should have taken, or at least paid more attention to, the hiking book. I'll admit I was hungry, hot and thought my head was going to explode walking uphill in the midday sun. When we got to some pools on the river all we could think about was diving in. I'll have to go back on a cooler day, or at least earlier in the morning and walk all the way up. Where we were was, however, pretty nice with lots of big and small pools and small waterfalls running down slabs. I managed to cool off enough that my head stayed on until we got back to Cairns where it felt way too hot, too still and too sticky. 

 Natural jacuzzi on Hartley's Creek

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Fear comes from uncertainty. William Congreve.

One of our first longer sea kayak trips in Queensland was along the spectacular east coast of Hinchinbrook Island. This was also one of our first experiences paddling in the full brunt of the southeasterly trade winds in single, rather tippy kayaks. We had done some big sea kayaking trips before, including a six week trip around the Solomon Islands and four weeks around the Palau Islands, but those trips were done in our super stable unsinkable Feathercraft double expedition kayak. Half way through our Hinchinbrook trip we found ourselves alone on the exposed east coast of the island in unrelenting 30 knot winds. 

 Landing in small surf on Ramsay Beach

About three weeks later, we paddled from Flying Fish Point to Cairns camping along the way at some widely separated off-shore islands. We had calm winds on this trip and the long crossings were stress free. But, as we moved further up the coast, and our last weather forecast got more and more out of date, the first seeds of uncertainty started digging into the fertile soil of my mind. I recall being somewhat relieved when we pulled into Turtle Bay on the mainland after crossing from Fitzroy Island as our last open water crossing was behind us, and, if we chose, we could paddle the remainder of the distance to Cairns along the shore-line. 

Before our Hinchinbrook Island trip I had forgotten about the fear that uncertainty can invoke. After our later Flying Fish Point to Cairns trip, I recognized in myself the long forgotten trepidation that uncertainty evokes. Looking back, I can remember that apprehension weighing on my mind on my early multi-day mountaineering trips, long ski traverses, and even long multi-pitch routes. Our fear is not necessarily of what may come, but is instead about whether we have the ability and skill to deal with the difficulty of the route ahead. As our skill level increases, we begin to have confidence in our ability to route-find, make hard moves, find gear placements, down-climb steep snow slopes, navigate avalanche terrain, and just generally deal with whatever the weather, terrain, and even our companions can throw at us. At a certain point, we can live comfortably with the uncertainty of the route ahead – whether it is a mountaineering route or a sea kayak route. When the day is over, we can make camp, relax our minds, and leave the next day's challenges in the future without worrying over them in the present.

 Cold camp on the McBride Traverse

However, we can never reach this level of comfort by practicing single skills, or even groups of skills in isolation. As I have said many times before, we are what we do. If we want to learn to be comfortable in challenging and dynamic conditions, we have to get out in those conditions and meet the challenges. Being able to boulder V3 will never guarantee that you won't be scared and fearful scrambling exposed class four terrain in the mountains after a long approach hike. Linking some parallel turns on an easy day trip to the local hill does not equate to completing long ski mountaineering traverses with serious exposure to avalanches, crevasse falls, cornice falls, or icy traverses where losing an edge could kill you. Being able to eskimo roll a kayak does not equate to paddling a long distance far from shore in strong winds and big seas. 

 Muir Pass camp

Whatever it is you wish to accomplish in the outdoors, there are no short-cuts. You must get out there in as many different conditions as you can with as many different partners as you can for as long as you can. Bouldering, ski hills, paddling on protected waters, and the like are all useful for training specific skill sets in more controlled environments, but, they are no substitute for exposure to uncertainty.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Fear And Loathing

The best kind of workouts have to be those which you approach with apprehension verging on fear and dread. Stronglifts is a bit like that. After the first few weeks which are pretty easy with the weights quickly going up, you reach that stage where each set of each rep of each exercise takes you to absolute failure. Any idealistic thoughts about pounding out some pull-ups, ankles to bar, or front lever work go out the window when you strain out the last set of the last rep, and, if you manage to bicycle home, you're pretty happy.

Doug cruising the classic Wheat Thin
City of Rocks, Idaho 

Effective as they are, such workouts don't leave much in the tank for other activities. Hiking, easy biking or kayaking, even some light bouldering are all doable, but trying to do much more is tough. You are just too sore, too fatigued, too flattened. If you are planning something a bit more ambitious, best to do it on Sunday after a day of rest but before the next workout. That' s the day I usually do my sprints – another workout approached with a mixture of dread, fear and loathing.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

You Can Squat With A Smith Machine

Like most gyms, the one where I work out has only one squat rack. In most globo-gyms this probably wouldn't be a problem as people overwhelmingly – and mistakenly – prefer working out on machines rather than lifting free weights. But the PCYC gym I use in Cairns is a bit of a meat-head gym and there are a lot of dudes (almost universally they are men) who use the squat rack. I try to work out between 7 am and 8 am, which, as far as I can tell, is around the “golden hour” for the squat rack being free. 

My gym also has a Smith machine which the guys will occasionally use, but is much more popular among women. I'm not a fan of any machine lifts. Unless you are training for a body building competition, I think time in the gym is better spent doing some of the big lifts (squats, deadlifts, rows, etc.) and using your own stabiliser muscles to move the weight rather than relying on a machine. Using a Smith machine instead of squatting with a bar seems a bit like doing plank exercises to work your “core.” When you actually have to move something around in the real world, it is seldom, if ever, on a pulley and a track. Similarly, when we need to stabilise our trunk to move weight we virtually never do so in a static position. 

Overhead squat with Roland's 20 kg ski pack

People do some really weird things on a Smith machine they'd never get away with using an Olympic bar and weights. They tilt way back on their heels, they pulse up and down in ultra-quick tempo like some demented 70's aerobics tape, or they wiggle their butts about like a pollinating bee. So, when the squat rack was busy this morning, I approached the Smith machine with some trepidation. From all my observations it seemed well nigh impossible to do a proper squat on a Smith machine.

I did a few warm-up sets and then plopped 50 kg onto the Olympic bar. This sounds frightfully impressive as I don't weigh that much over 50 kg, but really it's not. The cage has some kind of pulley mechanism and the bar moves up and down on a track so you aren't really moving 50 kg. Luckily, I was only one set into my work-out when the squat rack came free and I quickly switched over – and dropped the weight a couple of kilograms. 

I did learn, however, that you can do a proper full depth squat on a Smith machine. That doesn't mean you should, but you can.

Calm Days, Turtles And Rays

More calm weather paddling over the weekend. There are stronger winds to the south of the state, but they never seem to reach this far north. The monsoon rains have retreated, with rumors of reappearing early in the coming week, but weather forecasting has always been an imprecise science. 

Yesterday, the water was glassy calm up at Palm Cove when I met Ros and Alan. Ros had her back breaking surf ski and Alan the SUP. I would prefer, for skill practice, to be paddling in rough water, but there is certain appeal in gliding silently over water smooth as a mirror when the sun hangs low in a tropical blue sky. Despite all the recent rain, the water was about as clear as I have seen it off Palm Cove, and paddling out to Haycock Island we scared up turtles and rays and watched them swimming off under our craft. I was paddling with my rudder up and, with the complete absence of wind, was easily able to turn the kayak by edging it and wove my way in and around all the off-shore rocks. 

 Alan about to paddle to Haycock Island

We paddled around Haycock Island startling schools of small fry hiding in the deeper pools in the rock clefts and landed on the west end of the island. The nesting birds have long since gone and the small rocky islet seems quiet these days without the coo of the breeding pairs. A couple of young blokes had also paddled out on SUP's and were shouting loudly at each other on the tiny beach. It seemed to me a clear display of ego, and I wondered why they bothered. The three of us are variously in our 50's and 60's and unlikely to be impressed by their wheat bellies and bellicosity. 

I took the SUP across to Double Island and around to a small pandanus fringed coral beach on the northwestern end. Alan took my kayak, and Ros, the only one who can tolerate the surf ski stuck with her original craft. Standing up above the water I had a great view of the reef as I crossed to Double Island. I always enjoy watching turtles flippering away under water. 

 Looking towards Double Island

We switched again for a short segment to the resort beach, where we stopped one more time to hunt for coconuts, and then, all variously back in our own boats paddled back. A light northerly wind was blowing straight across my beam and my boat immediately began to weather cock all the way back. 
This morning, after a rare breakfast, we took the boats up to Yorkeys Knob. I had heard about some bouldering on beach boulders on the north and south ends of Trinity Beach and thought we could paddle up to Taylor Point checking out the bouldering on the way and hiking up to the headland above Taylor Point.  First up we did some eskimo roll practice. I hadn't practiced my roll since the 2nd of February (almost two weeks ago!) and was not feeling all that confident. I did a few drills with Doug first, tried a few, failed a few, realized my seat was too far forward, my thigh pads too far forward, and I was falling out of the boat, got one, and called it good so I could finish on a high note. 

Over the last couple of weeks all sorts of people have paddled my boat and I no longer have the seating correctly arranged for my short stocky body. My boat is weather cocking even more than usual, a consequence of having my seat so far to the front. One of my issues in rolling my boat is that I have a short torso – I'm short overall – and it is a huge stretch for me to get my upper body out of the boat far enough to roll. If you see a picture of me in my boat, you'll see that I look as if I have been swallowed up. Doug, with his longer body, is much more easily able to get his torso out to the side of the boat. On the contrary side, I find my boat more stable than Doug (even though we have identical boats) as my centre of gravity is so much lower in the boat. 

View south to Yorkeys Knob

Before heading north we paddled up Moon River as far as the bridge on Reed Road. There is a whole marina and upscale housing development up here that we had not seen before. We are trying a new tow-rope system and so we tested that out in Moon River as well. We paddled back out on a falling tide to Half Moon Bay and continued north. 

We stayed in close to shore, but I didn't really see much in the way of bouldering on the south end of Trinity Beach. We pulled the kayaks in and while Doug stretched and swam, I walked up a mixture of path and slabs to an overlook and a couple of memorial plaques. The rock would be good for climbing if the slabs were angled up about 90 degrees. Continuing north we passed a fortress at the north end of Trinity Beach with big fences, at least a dozen “private property/keep out” signs, motion cameras, and various other security devices surrounding a pricey home in a fortress-like compound right on the beach. Clearly, the more you have the more you have to protect yourself from all the “have-nots.” I'm not sure I'd find the waterfront home worth the paranoia. 

 Looking north past Taylor Point to Double Island

Taylor Point has some granite slabs above water line, but, they were overhanging, smooth, greasy black, and again didn't look great for climbing. We paddled around Taylor Point where a squatter is living on the beach and was waving at us frenetically. Pulling in to Cook Bay we took an old vehicle track up to an overlook above the granite slabs of Taylor Point. I half expected to find a couple of manky old carrot bolts on top of the slab but there was nothing but broken glass.  We had a light northerly wind on the way home, but my boat was so poorly trimmed that it was weather cocking even with the wind virtually behind me.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Princess And The Frog

Long ago and far away, on one of those never ending death marches that used to be the hallmark of all true mountaineering trips which you just sucked up and did regardless of overly heavy ill-fitting packs and boots, aching shoulders, sore knees, bad backs, extremes of weather, and the flatulence of your tent companions and which, if asked, you would always say was "not too bad," I remember having a conversation with a very well known (and sadly now deceased) mountaineer about the “new generation of climbers” who were coming of age on a steady diet of easily available overly itemised route descriptions, GPS tracks, guide-books that depicted routes with pictures, track notes, and pitch by pitch or even move by move itineraries, long-range weather forecasts, cell-phones, satellite phones, walky-talkies, and every other piece of gimmickry that you can imagine. My companion was lamenting the lack of skill exhibited by the new generation who couldn't read maps, plan routes, route-find on a macro or micro scale, and seemly to be successful by simply following overt route descriptions that very quickly became yak tracks up all the popular mountains/routes.

 Morning SUP to Haycock Island

At the time I wasn't old or curmudgeonly – I think I was only in my late 20's – and we didn't think of more experienced mountaineers, such as my friend, as cranky and gruff. We might have considered them somewhat eccentric, definitely strong of character, and outspoken but, after a few trips bashing around the mountains with them, we soon came to view those supposed “character flaws” as essential for their success. These old mountaineers aren't what I call “shiny happy people” and they didn't have what Will Gadd refers to as the “Barney world view.” If you screwed up, they would tell you about it. And screwing up covered a wealth of ground. You might be too slow on skis, or in the transitions between skiing and step-kicking, you might whimper for a belay on ground they considered easy, make route-finding mistakes, not break your share of trail or carry your share of the gear, fall over while roped skiing, be inefficient at step-kicking, not be up for one more climb on an already long day, or whine about the weather, the terrain, how heavy your pack is, how sore your feet, hips and back are, how tired you feel, or how scared you are about what the next day will bring. 

 Three craft on Haycock Island

Now we live in the “me-generation” where, if you didn't post about it on Crackbook it didn't happen. We are all above average, and our fairly puny exploits are followed by legions of loyal fans who, no matter how much we screw up, are standing by to pump up our self-esteem with “bad ass dude” comments and thumbs-up emoticons, all despite the fact that the trip took three times as long as it should or was a total failure, involved countless navigational screw-ups that we didn't recognise, skirted close to the edge of disaster on multiple occasions, required heavy use of all kinds of accessory tools, belays and devices that aren't really necessary but make up for a continuum of poor skill, we came DFL or was just generally average. 

I've often wondered if the hubris expressed by the new generation of skiers, climbers, paddlers, mountaineers is a product of the “self-esteem” generation, which has, by all accounts been an abject failure. Some people certainly think so. If it weren't so annoying, it would be funny hearing people talk about how impassioned they are about something they've done half a dozen times when the weather was perfect, how much they are giving back to the community by going out climbing/skiing/paddling, what an inspiration they are to others, or some other shiny, happy, feel good, Barney drivel. 

Perhaps we should all admit that none of our essentially egocentric activities does anything to make the world a better place or to inspire another individual long-term. Those people who want to climb/ski/run/paddle will find their way to whatever activity they enjoy, and those who need outside stimulation/inspiration will last only as long as the next fad. We climb/ski/paddle because we want to and, contrary to what we want to believe about ourselves, 90% of us are not above average, we turn around when we get scared, we quit too soon or too easily, we make dumb mistakes that by dint of our own incompetence we don't even recognise, we seldom reach beyond our comfort zones, we are rarely, if ever, making truly “life and death” decisions, and we never make our decisions based on rationality or real evidence. 

Sadly, despite what your Crackbook friends have told you, you're not the Princess in the fairy tale, you're the frog.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Workout Fail

In most people, nutritional ketosis causes a reduction in appetite, sometimes quite profound. It's relatively common for people to eat only once or maybe twice a day. However, in that shortened eating window, for best performance, you really need to eat your daily requirements of protein and fat. If you are in nutritional ketosis, you probably believe the adage that there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate, which is why I don't include carbohydrate in what you must eat everyday. Some people seem to be able to manage to eat a few thousand calories in one meal, but I just can't do that. Consequently, I sometimes find myself having gone a few days in a row without eating enough protein/fat/calories. Generally, I don't suffer any ill-effects. I have consistent energy and feel clear headed. 

Michael cruising the roof

This morning, Doug and I cycled down to the gym and I started my Stronglifts workout. After failing on the past three work-outs to get 5 sets of 5 reps of a 40 kg bench press, I was slated to deload to 37.5 kg. I did a few warm-up sets and then loaded up the bar with what I calculated at the time to be 30 kg, and started a few more warm-up reps. But, the bar felt wickedly heavy. Thinking I didn't want to tire myself out on the warm up reps, I quickly stacked on enough extra weight to add to what I thought was 37.5 kg, but was in fact 47.5 kg. Amazingly, I managed to squeak out a couple of sets of 3 reps. 

The benches felt frighteningly hard at what I presumed was 10 kg under my normal bench press. I thought that I must somehow not have recovered very well, possibly due to a calorie/protein deficit – “finally” I hear you say, “a link to the first paragraph” - so I cut short my workout, did a bit of rowing and about 50 kettlebell swings and called it quits. I'll admit to feeling a bit frustrated as I hadn't felt fatigued or over-trained and was anticipating a reasonable showing at the gym. It was only after I got home, after riding about town in the rain – again – that I realised I had miscalculated my weights and was, in fact, lifting reasonably well. I didn't even have carbohydrate induced brain fog on which to blame my poor mathematical skills.

Yesterday afternoon, the rain stopped long enough for us to ride down to the Esplanade to boulder. It happened to be Tuesday afternoon, which is the evening that Top Knot Climbing runs the bouldering program at the wall for Cairns City Council. Michael, the only other person I consistently (ever) meet at the bouldering wall had been encouraging me to come out on Tuesday evenings and join the group. But, churlish as it may seem, I prefer to boulder alone as I go for a workout not a chit-chat session and I find that when you get a group of people together, unless they are all super-motivated – which is surprisingly rare - a fair bit of time is spent talking, not climbing. 

It was fun however, to meet new people and work some different routes. I managed to climb the roof again using a different sequence of moves and find myself feeling a lot stronger than I did when we first arrived in Cairns. Too bad we can't take both the gym and the bouldering wall on the road with us when we leave Cairns as both activities certainly improve your strength/body composition/flexibility. By the time we finally reach the premier climbing areas of southern Australia next fall, we'll likely be completely de-trained.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Progress To Process

Just as my days in Cairns lately have lacked focus, so will this blog post. The heavy rains of the past couple of weeks have interrupted my normal Cairns routine. I haven't been out rolling the kayak, or, in fact kayaking at all since the SUP/kayak paddle day two Sundays ago. That was also the last day I went bouldering. Weight lifting, of course, is unaffected by wet or dry weather and rain cannot be used as an excuse not to push hard. 

Swimming hole on Stony Creek

Feeling a little stiff this morning after yesterday's Stronglift work-out, I cycled along to Stony Creek in Barron Gorge National Park and did the very short walk up to the old weir on Stony Creek. I expected the water to be muddy brown as it is everywhere else, but the creek was clear and there were lots of nice full swimming holes along the way. I couldn't find any information on the history of the weir on Stony Creek. There are lots of old pipes lying along the sides of the track and a bit of rusted old machinery up at the weir so I can only assume it was some kind of water source for the Cairns community. I was fully doused in layers of insect repellent expecting an onslaught of leeches, but I neither saw nor gathered any. There is a fair bit of Dengue fever about in Cairns right now which, if you are as attractive to mosquitoes as I am, necessitates wearing nasty repellent pretty much all day every day. Some days it feels as if it burning my skin off, but I guess I prefer a chemical peel to Dengue fever. 

As I was walking today I was thinking about how important it is to see our goals in life as a process and not an end-point. Learning to eskimo roll has taught me this more than any other skill I have tried to master in life. Unlike skiing or climbing or even weight training where getting better is part participating in the sport, eskimo rolling is not something you do for fun. You can learn to relax and not panic while you are head down in the water with your lower torso locked into a confined space, but you never really learn to totally enjoy the experience. When I first started out, I thought “I'll learn to roll the boat back up and I'll be done. Forthwith I can just get on with enjoying paddling." But, of course, there are good days and bad days and getting a bomb-proof roll requires continual tune-ups and seems to me, at least at this stage, a skill which you are never really “done with.” 

 Weir on Stony Creek

The New Year has spurned a lot of “get in shape” and “lose weight” resolutions among people but I wonder if all these folks realize that getting in shape/losing weight is another goal that has no real endpoint. You can't work out a certain amount and/or diet for a specified period of time reach a point and say “right, I'm done.” Instead you have to be active and watch what you eat every day of your life from this point forth. 

The goal is not really an endpoint but a process. Success relies on recognizing the essential nature of these types of goals. The easiest way, of course, to move forward in this process is to find enjoyment in the activities that move you towards your goal. Find a way of eating that controls your hunger and makes you feel good without feeling too deprived, and choose fitness activities that you enjoy participating in. It will never be a completely effortless road, just as eskimo rolling is not a fun activity. At the end of the day you still have to get up and make the right choices more often than you make the wrong choices and that always involves some sacrifice and determination.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Barron Gorge

There is very good river height data available for many of Queensland's rivers on-line, and I had been watching the height of the Barron River at Myola and downstream of Barron Falls at Lake Placid for the best time to revisit Barron Falls. The last time we walked down the board-walk to the lookout was on Boxing Day after we had stayed at Davies Creek National Park on Christmas night, just before my aborted attempt to walk back to Cairns via Saddle Mountain. On that occasion the falls were thin as we had little recent rain. 

 Barron Falls today

Over the last week, as I wrote about here, we have had lots of rain and the river had risen about 1.5 metres in the last few days. Sunday morning, we were out of the house early with a travel mug of coffee (Bulletproof for Doug) on our way up to Kuranda. I thought it might be busy up on the Tableland, and especially at Barron Falls with all the recent rain and wanted to avoid any crowds. A Sunday drive up to Kuranda seems very popular with Cairns locals. I suspect the gluten shops selling pies, pastries, muffins, cakes and other toxins do a good trade on the weekend pumping up the already high level of insulin resistance, overflowing wheat bellies and man-boobs. 

 Lower Barron Gorge

Barron Falls was impressive with big flows of muddy brown water pushing up steaming clouds of mist into the air that recirculated back over the upper river. After visiting the Falls, we went into Kuranda and walked as far along the river trail as high water would permit. Driving back down to Cairns, a steady stream of vehicles were coming up the Kennedy Highway.

 Surprise Falls

We detoured up to lower Barron Gorge above Lake Placid. I have been up this road a couple of times on the bike looking for climbing areas (go here and here). On those occasions the river was a series of small streams and larger pools, delightful for swimming in before cycling home. Today, it was a big torrent of muddy brown water. All the rock ledges I had hopped down before were inundated. Surprise Falls was also running with more water than in the past. The road was very busy with walkers, cyclists and runners (all either carrying too much fat or too little muscle. Why do people think running is a healthy activity?). 

 Tower below Barron Falls

The day was looking promising for an afternoon bouldering session as we had only a little spit of rain the whole time we were out. However, not long after we got home, it began to rain again. I went down to the local school and did some all-out Tabata sprints and played about on the monkey bars instead. Right now, the marine forecast is looking good for our planned kayak paddle/sail north to Port Douglas on Tuesday, but we have had promising wind forecasts before that have eddied away as the day approached. 

 Fun for the whitewater paddlers

Friday, February 7, 2014

It's Raining Again

The monsoon trough lies from a low over the Northern Territory to another low over the southeast Gulf of Carpentaria, then across Cape York Peninsula and into the northern Coral Sea. Heavy rainfall associated with the monsoon trough has occurred between Cooktown and Townsville... further heavy falls are expected across the warning area in the next 24 hours, with local falls of 100 to 200mm possible.  

 The Coast Track during dryer weather

Today is the seventh day of consecutive rain. The outside clothesline is stacked with different pairs of shorts and shirts that have got wet on various bike rides and walks. I hate using an electric dryer as much as I hate using a car. Taken together, these explain the plethora of wet clothes hanging about the place. I haven't been bouldering since last Saturday when I had an afternoon session down at the Esplanade during a two day break in the monsoon rain. When we took this house sit in Cairns over the wet season, Doug was quite concerned that endless days of rain and inactivity would send me crazy, he could be right.

I managed the month of January reasonably well. The rain was not so continuous, or it fell at night, or it was relatively light. It was easy to go biking, hiking, bouldering, and kayaking. In the last two weeks, however, we have had almost 400 mm of rain. The ground is saturated and lakes of water lie everywhere. If you stop moving for half an hour, mould grows over your body. On the plus side, 25 degrees Celsius is a lot more comfortable than 33 degrees Celsius and 80% humidity. Under the latter conditions, you sweat just sitting still in the shade. 

In between gym workouts, walks, and bike rides in the rain, I've been spending a lot of time looking at maps and working out where we will go and what we will do when we leave Cairns – probably around mid-June. This is something I always planned to do, but never did when it was sunny. Rainy days are good for getting things done that you put off when the sun is shining and it's great to be outdoors. 

The gym is still moderately busy with the New Year's crowd but numbers are definitely declining. There must be half a dozen different personal trainers with varying clients who are still coming in, but I have yet to see any of them training their clients with weighted compound movements such as back squats or deadlifts. Not a single one has done so much as an air-squat, a push-up, or even a negative pull-up. Progress for the clients must be so slow as to be virtually undetectable so it is no surprise that people quit. I really don't get how these personal trainers can be so poorly educated and get away with basically wasting their client's time. A 30 minute session of weighted compound movements two to three times a week would result in immediate, measurable, easily observed improvements in the client's body composition and functional ability, which would surely encourage people to persevere with their resolutions. 

I've listened to a few Ben Greenfield podcasts during my walks/work-out sessions/rides which I have to stop doing as I am sure these podcasts cause my stress level to go up not down. Apparently, Mr Greenfield is some kind of endurance athlete/personal coach/health and fitness guru who, if you believe the hype on his various and numerous web-pages has done just about everything but walk on the moon. I am instantly skeptical of people who speak with great certainty about anything in our uncertain world, and downright distrustful of people who speak with the degree of confidence that Ben Greenfield exhibits when he talks about anything. If you want to see the Peter Principle at its most developed surf over to any one of this dude's websites or listen to one or two of his podcasts. Try not to make the mistake of conflating confidence with competence. Contrary to what you might think, the two are not inextricably linked.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Standup paddle boarding is the latest new thing, and I'm pretty sure it's not just pictures of Mark Sisson looking incredibly jacked at 60 years of age paddling the Malibu beaches that has triggered this latest sport. I'm also pretty sure that Mark Sisson isn't that ripped from SUP'ing alone. One of our Cairns friends has a really nice light SUP and kindly allowed us to take it out for a paddle on the weekend. The calm warm waters of tropical north Queensland are a pretty friendly place to try a new sport. After an initial wobbly minute, SUPing is really easy. Get on, paddle, that's about it. 

Three of us met up at Palm Cove and took three different craft south along the beach to Kewarra Beach, my sea kayak, a rental sit on top kayak, and the SUP. We all paddled all three craft for varying periods of time. 

 Doug heading south in dorky looking stinger suit

I really don't like sit on top kayaks, unless they are well designed surf skis paddled in surf. You are awash in water the whole trip and they are wretchedly uncomfortable to paddle. You can't pack them up for a week, or even a weekend away, and typically they handle like bathtubs. After only an hour or so on the rental beastie, my back was screaming. I wiggled forward, I stretched back, I tried paddling with my legs hanging off each side, I even tried recumbent paddling laying flat on my back. Any mental toughness I thought I had was pretty much destroyed by a session on that sit on top. I don't, however much it may seem that way, want to give a totally negative review of this rental kayak because it was actually fairly light and responsive, but the seating arrangement needs significant work.

After an hour or so paddling the demon sit on top I was begging for a turn on the SUP. Standing upright with a straight back was therapeutic and I found standing up to paddle offered a much better view than the low ocean view I get from my sea kayak. The problem I encountered with the SUP was steering. If you paddle on the right, eventually – and sometimes sooner rather than later – you'll end up heading way too far left, so you switch and paddle on the left, and, sooner or later, you end up heading too far right, so you switch to the right… and on it goes. I reached deep back into my mental prehistory when I had once paddled a Canadian canoe and tried various forms of J strokes all of which seemed to slow me down more than they steered me in the right direction. I even tried leaning the SUP up on one edge – which an SUP does not do well – like I do with my kayak, but that also did not seem to turn the craft in the right direction. Mostly steering is actually pretty easy, but if you get a head wind the right to left tendency seems to be exacerbated. The one section I paddled heading into the wind, I went right, left, right, left, like a demented Jane Fonda aerobics tape on fast forward. 

 Three craft ready for paddling

Near the end of our paddling morning, I finally got back into my own sea kayak and it was like sinking into a comfortable bed that, like three bears, fits you just right.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Multi Sport Saturday

Cairns has been hot, humid and still since Cyclone Dylan sidled by further south down the coast and we have resorted to a couple of hours of air-conditioning in the evening when the full brunt of tropical stickiness seems to settle onto your shoulders and the mosquitoes become as unbearable as the heat. 

This morning, we drove up to Palm Cove and met some friends for an easy paddle. I got to try a stand-up paddle board for a few minutes before we left. Much easier to balance on than you might expect and, as with all water sports, much easier if you stay relaxed and allow yourself to bob around in the waves than standing rigid. William Nealy, the cartoonist, mountain-biker, climber and whitewater kayaker, used to have a great cartoon in one of his illustrated white water kayaking books with a dude sitting rigid in a whitewater boat and flipping over in the smallest riffle. Stand-up paddle boarding is a bit like that. Too bad I no longer have the book to paste in the photo as it is pretty funny.

90 Mile Beach

After a few gusts out of the north, the wind all but died. We ambled out and around Scouts Hat and then paddled south down the coast to Yorkeys Knob. Along the way we met another sea kayaker – an extremely rare event (a first, in fact) in a beautifully built hand-crafted wood strip single kayak. More a work of art than a boat and we all duly admired it. I would be terrified of destroying such a fragile craft and much prefer plastic although certainly there is a real aesthetic appeal to such a finely crafted boat. It was so hot paddling in our dark coloured stinger suits that Doug and I rolled a couple of times along the way to cool off. I was too nervous about blowing my never very reliable roll and so used the bow of Doug's boat, but Doug just did a couple of sweep rolls.

At Yorkeys Knob, Doug got lumbered with the car shuttle again so I could practice my roll. In my last few sessions I have regressed to pulling on the paddle half way through the sweep and it took me quite a bit of work to correct that today. At the end of my session I got four in a row and thought “I should quit now while I am on a high note” and, of course, didn't. Blew the next two and ended up swimming with the boat in tow to shore. Interestingly, my quasi roll was slow enough I actually had to think quite clearly “I'm not going to make this roll, I should pull on the paddle,” which, of course, is exactly what you shouldn't do. Two things about eskimo rolling are completely intuitive and completely wrong: one is pulling on the paddle, the other is driving your head up. After owning my boat for a year, I finally wised up enough to move the thigh pads back (credit to Doug for that suggestion) which made a huge difference in my hip flick as I was no longer falling out of the boat. Sure wish I'd thought of that a year ago.

Finally, I cycled down to the Esplanade and bouldered for about 40 minutes. Cycling is about the only thing you can do in Cairns that doesn't cause you to sweat out several litres of fluid per minute as the breeze generated by pedaling keeps you cool, to a degree. The bouldering wall was swarming with kids, which I studiously avoided. Kids love to see adults playing and doing things that they do and will instantly glue themselves to you for the rest of the day. Usually, I'm cool with that, but when I want a quick efficient work-out, I just keep my head down. Otherwise, you'll soon have several dozen new friends for life.