Sunday, August 26, 2012

I'll meet you at the lake.... A vacation memoir, with photos

Into town we rode, the four of us. "Town" = Mammoth Lakes, CA, 8000 or so feet above the sea-level climes we are used to, and a fine place to get ready for some mountain hiking. "Rode" = flew from Philly to Vegas to Reno, even, for a brief period of time, until an out-of-town event got in the way, planning to have lunch with a famous Reno paleo dude -- next time, my friend, next time. "Rode" further meant driving a rented Dodge Grand Caravan minivan from Reno to Mammoth. Don't buy that vehicle. It is unimpressive in every way, except, in interior roominess, which, I suppose is why we got it, so I should shut up with the complaints.... "We" = me (50 y.o.), my son Kevin (21 y.o.), my son Sean (18 y.o.) and our buddy Will (62 y.o.). I give you the ages so you can properly place the context of all that follows.

The point of all this, generally, was a lot of hiking. More specifically, it was to hike Mount Whitney, which I have told you about in great detail already.

So what's the point of all *this*?

Really, I have no idea. There'll be some pics, a few tales, and, yeah, that's about it.

Vacation wrap-up, greatest-hits-style. Let's go....

--Paleo/primal was mostly adhered to. Yeah, there was a little whisky, after day five, once we were acclimatized to the altitude. There was also a little Ben & Jerry's from the actual B&J store in town, because that meant ready accessibility to the otherwise dead (but magnificent) flavor entitled CoffeeCoffeeBuzzBuzzBuzz. But, every day we cooked (generally, Kevin on breakfast, me on dinner) paleo-friendly meals that looked like this:

That's a frittata, filled with sausage and vegetables, topped with avocado, and sitting next to bacon and fruit. We win.

For the next pic, there is no explanation needed. We win again:

-- Base Camp Cafe. We ate two breakfasts out in two weeks. Both of them were there. We were hungry from all the energy expended doing big hikes, and so we blew the minds of the wait staff by ordering a lot of food. This two-plate extravaganza, already half-eaten by pic time, for instance, is representative of what Sean, Kevin and I each ate the second time there, although I think it is specifically Kevin's meal:

--The only other place we ever ate out during the whole two weeks in Mammoth was the Whoa Nellie Deli, located inside a Mobil station at the junction of U.S. 395 and CA 120 in Lee Vining, CA. It is both perfectly situated for post-Yosemite-hiking chow *and* the most amazing little gas-station restaurant you have ever seen. They ain't peddling microwave burritos. We ate stuff like this all four times:

-- "Manuel, do you know what a coward is? A coward is a man who calls the police when there is trouble instead of solving the problem himself. America is overrun with cowards, Manuel." This, and other profundities from the Ted Nugent School of Etiquette and American History, were accidentally bestowed upon us by our downstairs neighbor in Mammoth, who got drunk one night and loudly "taught" his Mexican friend about America. Oh boy. Good thing it was cool at night and we were gonna close the screen door anyway. No pic for you on this one. Sorry.

Oh, all right.... Ted, not the neighbor:

--"More coffee, buddy?" Also...."What?!"
Our buddy Will is a little deaf. But he makes great coffee and is a hell of a great hiking partner. Every day, he would make pots of java for us. He would also ask us to repeat almost everything we said. We love Will. Despite his facial expression in this pic, Kevin does too. No, I am not entirely clear what was going on here. I just take the pics. I don't ask questions.

--That road to Black Point, Mono Lake. Six miles, over half of it one lane, rutted. Yes, cars came from the other direction. It was, er, tight.

-- My portion of the biggest hikes (Whitney, Kearsarge Pass, North Dome) should have been sponsored by Gu energy gel. It's magic, I tell ya....

-- Oh, and peanut butter.... Not a lot of almond butter in the Mammoth grocery store. Not paleo. But very effective for hiking.

-- And electrolyte powder. Also not paleo. Also very effective for long hikes.

-- Arches are cool. Always. Indian Rock in Yosemite NP, about a third of the way on the trail to North Dome:

--Idiot hikers -- fortunately, a small subset of "hikers" -- say things like this: "Wow. Look at those rocks. I should have been a geologist." Yes, a dude we met from San Diego said exactly that.

This caused us to say, quite a few times later, "Look at _____. I should have been a ____." For example, "Look at that car accident. I should have been a surgeon." "Look at that restaurant. I should have been a cook." My god, we're funny....

-- Kearsarge Pass is effing beautiful. My favorite ten-mile day hike ever? Could be. Could be....

-- The Onion Valley Road (partially pictured here -- yeah, that serpentine way below in this pic, the one that looks like an amusement-park ride -- is nuts. 13 miles of mostly hairpin turns to get to/from the trailhead to Kearsarge Pass.

--and here is another pic from the Kearsarge Pass trail, just for good measure. A mountain lake (above the trees) draining into a mountain lake via a waterfall, under cloud-enveloped peaks. That will do, pig. That will do.

-- There are comedians everywhere. Although this is real. From U.S. 395, just north of Independence, CA, through a bug-encrusted windshield (sorry):

--We hate Vegas:

-- Previously-revealed secret: the most beautiful place on the Mount Whitney Trail is not the summit. It's Trail Crest. . Trail Fucking Crest. So great that it warrants three pics:

-- The summit is nice too, though. Sean thinks so:

-- Not a meteor was seen by me while night-hiking with a headlamp.... Except for the single just-beginning streak visible in the upper right of this pic, taken at first light on the Mount Whitney Trail from just below Trail Camp. Who knew? Not me when I took the pic.

-- Black Velvet Coffee in Mammoth Lakes is amazing. Their "cold brew" is the best coffee I have ever tasted. Really. The place is all modern/stark, etc. I dig it:

-- Rock formations, in the woods, on the trail to North Dome in Yosemite, particularly ones that look a lot like a big gorilla with a baby gorilla perched on top, are awesome. We stumbled across this. Never saw a mention of it anywhere in a guidebook:

--Half Dome looks amazing from North Dome (Yosemite N.P.):

-- Hiking back-of-the-van chaos rules:

-- Lakes, part one (hint: the good part). We did a great job of timing our hikes. We would alternate asskickers with lake hikes. You know.... Do a tough Big Hike one day, a lake hike the next. The lake hikes usually involved a bit of vertical to get there -- these are mountain lakes after all -- but nothing like the Big Hikes. Lake-hike days are restorative, peaceful and amazing. And, if you know me in real life at all, the mere fact that I have reached a point where I can appreciate the simple Zen joy of a lake hike -- juxtaposed against a Big Hike, mind you, but still.... -- is a proof that change is possible. Heh.

Some great lakes....

Mono Lake, from Black Point:

Gardisky Lake, from partway up Tioga Peak (more on that soon):

Elizabeth Lake, Yosemite N.P., with drummer in repose:

Middle Gaylor Lake, Yosemite N.P.:

And one more of Middle Gaylor Lake, because it is maybe the most beautiful of the lot:

--Lakes, part two, a.k.a. "I'll meet you at the lake."

So there's this trail. It goes whammo straight uphill, at about 900 feet per mile, to Gardisky Lake. When you get there, you have the option of going up this...Tioga Peak:

It is no steeper than a lot of summit trails. The difference is there's no "trail." The mountain is just a giant pile of scree -- loose rocks between the size of a softball and a basketball. You find your own path, up and down. It is annoying to go up, but really doublefuckingannoying to go down. You slip and stumble and fall.

Kevin, Will and I did this hike. Sean had opted for a lazy day back at the condo.

But, as would be expected, once we got to the lake, Kevin got ahead of me, and I got ahead of Will. As we all parted, Will said the words that would haunt him for the rest of the trip: "I'll meet you at the lake."

Well, not so much....

The weather got really ominous-looking. Kevin was just yards from the summit when I called up to him from a ways below: "Look above you at that storm. I am headed down."

Lightning shows up in fast and furious ways in the high peaks. I headed down. Kevin hit the summit and then headed down too. I was stupid slow about it, stumbling and cursing and crabwalking at one point with my poles looped through my pack, and somehow I lost a pole. This did not improve my mood. Eventually, Kevin and I made it to the lake.

Will was not there.

As a matter of demonstration....Happy people at a(n admittedly-different) lake, sans Will:

"Excuse me, sonny. Have you seen the lake?"

Or, the alternative possibility -- since no one knows what really happened -- "Heh. I *like* lakes."

Or, the third possibility -- which, a review of the facts seems to determine is what, indeed, occurred: "Nomnomnomnomnom. I will stop here and eat lunch. How can I miss them?"

He missed us.

It seems that SeƱor Willie stopped on his way down the scree pile to eat lunch. It also seems that we took an entirely different way down said scree pile and beat him to the lake. We waited. We yelled his name.

He is pretty deaf. We love him, but he is pretty deaf.

We started "figurin'." This is a bad idea.

We "figured" he must've beaten us down to the lake, because we were way higher up on the mountain when we turned around.

So we went downhill to the car.

He was not at the car.

We waited about 30 minutes. OK, 45 minutes.

We made cannibalism and rabid-bear jokes with the fisherman dudes in the car next door.

Kevin went back up to find Will. I took a nap.

Kevin found Will. At the lake. He has, and I quote, "no idea how I missed you guys."

He missed us guys.

For the rest of the trip, whenever we split up *anywhere* -- on a trail, at the supermarket, at the post office -- someone (often, to his self-deprecating credit, Will) said, "I'll meet you at the lake."

It was a raging mofo of a vacation. We had a blast.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

And so the vacation ends....

We are busy packing up, cleaning up and getting ready to drive to Reno tomorrow for the flight(s) home. A big wrap-up post will follow, I swear....

Bye, Mammoth Lakes and the whole damn Eastern Sierra. We love you.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Squats and deadlifts rule, a.k.a. "Is that a bunch of Gu packs in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"

We did our last hike of our California trip today, and it was a doozy. Maybe the highest amazing-view-to-effort-expended ratio of any hike I have ever been on. It was beautiful.

Kearsarge Pass sits at an elevation of 11,760 feet and it rises above the Owens Alley floor in dramatic fashion. Best of all, the trail there is direct and to the point -- either 8 miles round trip if you believe that link, or 10 miles if you believe the sign at the beginning of the trail, or the trail description that I read first in a completist volume entitled "California Hiking" from Foghorn Outdoors.

The trail does a steady series of switchbacks for 4 or 5 miles to a beautiful crest at a ridge that overlooks Kings Canyon National Park. Much like the vaunted Trail Crest on the Mount Whitney Trail, although not as drop-dead beautiful as that lovely spot, Kearsarge Pass gives the hiker a glimpse into The Land That Time (or more, precisely, Development) Forgot -- a roadless wilderness able to be glimpsed in full only from lofty heights.

And, just so you know just how effing happy it made me to be there, here is a shot of me at the crest of the pass next to the sign that tells the hiker that he or she is about to enter Kings Canyon NP.

But that happy pic is not the point of this post. No, once again, I am going to tell you how eating clean and lifting heavy shit has improved my life.

Yawn. Yeah, I know....

In all seriousness, this hike -- or some portion of it, most likely the downhill -- would have buried me a few years ago. I was 30 pounds heavier and not very strong, and it all would have added up to an OK ascent, and a punishing descent. My feet and legs would have been killing me by the end. They were most definitely *not* killing me today. I finished strong and happy. I even dare say that I *enjoyed* the long descent.

A couple of years of paleo/primal eating and CrossFit, particularly squats and deadlifts out the wazoo, has made me ready to handle the thumping and pounding of a long mountain downhill walk with a pack on my back. I also have tried to take my cues from all sorts of smart paleo sites, and have realized that how you eat directly affects athletic performance. So yeah, like on my Mount Whitney hike, I downed a *lot* of food today, some of which was a fair amount of (gluten-free) Gu energy gel, some of it caffeinated. And it kept me going. ("A fair amount" = one pack per mile (or so... heh)). Good, non-gluten, easily-digestible carbs are amazing for endurance-type activities.

Yup, there are only so many ways to say this: nutrition, clean eating and lifting heavy things will help your performance at all sorts of casual athletic endeavors.

Now go have fun having fun.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

An open letter to the national GOP from the (theoretically) undecided voter

Although I don't blog about politics very often, if you read this beast with any regularity, you likely know that I lean reasonably hard in a libertarian direction. Not on everything, mind you. I am more environmentally left-leaning than most libertarians, and I really do think government has valid roles to play -- just not in nearly as many areas as my Dem friends do.

But, events of this week being what they are -- you know, that cretinous fuckstick Republican candidate for the US Senate in Missouri (who I refuse to name because he doesn't need his name in print ever again) who said ... not hinted or intimated or maybe got misunderstood about, mind you; nope, he *said* that women who get "legitimate[ly]" raped will biologically terminate the pregnancy with some super-secret girl trick -- I have to make one thing really clear. So hang on.

Hi there, national Republican party. You actually *could* get my vote sometimes. Whether it be for president, NJ governor, US Senate or US House. I am not a liberal on all things. I am not a conservative on all things. I believe, very generally speaking, that freedom and liberty -- in other words, letting people make their own choices in life without government interference as long as no one else gets hurt -- ought to be paramount considerations in every single law that gets enacted. Indeed, I think there are just way too many freaking laws on the books, and I would welcome higher-ups from any party who would take a stand that we need across-the-board legal reform, and, yes, that includes the tax code.

As Penn Jillette says (and I am paraphrasing), "No one in this country knows for sure if he or she is a criminal, and that is ridiculous."

So really.... You could get my vote sometimes. I truly am not all wound up about the tax rates that millionaires pay and I really do agree with you on many economic-liberty issues

Except, you never will. Not, at least, until you, from the highest, loftiest points of your party, make it really clear that said cretinous fuckstick and his ilk are not representative of your party's views on personal liberty.

I don't like government in my bedroom or my wallet, but when the chips are down, I will exercise my Second Amendment rights (you know, the one amendment *all* of you support no matter what?), even faster to defend my bedroom than my wallet. Why, oh why, do you have to have in your *national* platform an anti-choice stance that is just fucking Byzantine?

See, I could even tolerate -- not support, but tolerate -- if, on a national level, you just said that choice related to abortion rights is a state issue. Roe v. Wade is, to say the least, an imperfectly-written decision that, from my lawyerly perspective, reaches close to the right result for muddled, nearly indecipherable reasons. It is not The Finest Moment of Constitutional Scholarship in the history of our republic. If that were your position, I would then, at least, not think that you were all champing at the bit on every level to invade bedrooms.

But, for godsakes, why does your *national* platform on this issue -- which really is a fundamental issue of personal liberty, whether you want to admit it or not -- claim to support a nationwide ban on every single possible abortion?

I hope you get the point of all this: at least theoretically, I could be your Undecided Voter. I could be that guy who fits in that very very small percentage of people who haven't decided if they are voting for Obama or Romney.

But then there is that Missouri fuckstick, and his stupid mouth, and the fact that what came out of his stupid mouth is in complete agreement with your platform.

You lose me. Immediately. I can't vote for your party at a national level while this complete disrespect of personal liberty continues. You go on and on and on about economic liberty -- and I often agree with you when you do -- but when you want to invade all of our bedrooms, the deal is off. Completely.

Come back when you have a new idea on that front. I can't even consider voting for one of your national-level candidates until then. You are backwards thugs who threaten my freedom, and the freedom of all of us.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Book review: "Big Day Coming. Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock"

My own personal relationship with the music of Hoboken's own Yo La Tengo began, er, inauspiciously.

I thought they sucked.

It was 1987 (I think) in Philadelphia (I am sure about that part). I also think it was October, but don't hold me to that, and it was a two-gig (for me) day. I definitely remember that part.

First, I went to the Chestnut Cabaret to see Sonic Youth with Live Skull opening. SY were in a Sister/EVOL state of mind and Live Skull were (I believe) sporting *both* Thalia Zedek and Marnie Greenholz at the time. Yeah.... *intense* is a good word to describe it all.

Then, minds blown by distortion, we wandered over to JC Dobbs to see Tim Lee and Bobby Sutliff of the Windbreakers -- an '80s janglepop indie band that I was all revved up about at the time. Opening were Yo La Tengo. I actually had heard of YLT, but I thought at the time that they were one of those bands that writers start when they are bored at the moment of the life of a scribe, but fully intending to get back to the main writing gig relatively soon. You know.... a "fun" thing. I think I knew of Ira Kaplan from his days at New York Rocker. I certainly, as a Trouser Press devotee who was still reeling from the 1984 demise of *that* fine mag, knew the difference between the only two Iras I had ever heard of (give me a break... I grew up in an Irish Catholic family near Philly.... we didn't have Iras. We had Joeys and Billys and Mikes) -- Robbins and Kaplan.

Anyway, perhaps it was a little unfair to try to watch anything as quiet as 1987 YLT right after the sheer shrieking scrungosity of the SY/LS dynamo.

But I hated them. OK, "hate" is a strong word. I was bored. Yeah, bored. I wondered why the drummer appeared to be just tapping along and singing backups but I couldn't hear her vocals at all. I wondered why the bass player looked like he wanted to be somewhere else. I wondered why the writer dude up front was mumbly. I dubbed them the "Velvet Mumbleground." I could hear a pretty obvious VU influence, but they didn't seem to be wielding that particular talisman very deftly. Their dynamics were not very dynamic, at least in comparison to what I had just witnessed, and I just kinda wanted the Windbreakers to get onstage in their various configurations of the time. (As I recall, Bobby Sutliff and Tim Lee were playing separately, but then a little together and then Tim and the rest of the band were taking it from there. True story: I liked 'em plenty that night, as I recall, but I haven't played a Windbreakers record in twenty years).

So, yeah, my take on YLT that night was just sort of meh. I just assumed they were a one-album band, and I wasn't going to be quick to buy the album.

Not surprisingly, their second record passed me by. I remember reading a review of the third one -- President Yo La Tengo -- and there was a bit of a buzz that, at least for part of the record, they had turned up the amps and begun to rock more. I want to say that NC writer Fred Mills wrote that review, but it may have been someone else with whom I tended to agree at the time. In any event, not being the sort to hold a grudge, and liking the reviewer, I refiled YLT in my brain as "maybe worth checking out again."

The boredom had changed to, uh, an uncommitted "maybe?"

But, honestly, I was really slow to get back to them.

I think it all changed via a Fred Mills review again, in 1995. He called Electr-O-Pura the best album of the year.

Really? Yo La Tengo? I didn't really believe the *degree* of the praise, but I respected Fred Mills a lot so I figured there was something going on there worth checking out.

I bought it. I liked it. I did *not* think it was the best album of the year, but I genuinely liked it. I found cheap, possibly used, copies of May I Sing With Me? and Painful. I liked them better, particularly parts of them. I thought "From a Motel 6" was one of the coolest damn things ever. I think I even bought, and liked a lot of, President Yo La Tengo.

But true love takes time.

I bought I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One in 1998 (yes, the year *after* it was released; I wasn't in a hurry) and there was, once again, much, um, like. I remember thinking, at the time, two thoughts: (1) "I am really starting to dig this band," and (2) "Despite the remembered horrors of eleven years earlier, I might need to go see them live sometime."

Then, I remember reading a review of the band's New Year's Eve ('98 into '99) show in Philly. They opened it with "New Day Rising" by Husker Du.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" I remember thinking. Apparently all the mumblyjumblies from 1987 were gone, because no one -- no one-- would dare do New Day Rising as a gig opener unless it were a full-throttle onslaught of awesome.

Added to my feeling of despair from having missed this performance was that, at the time, I had been across town seeing a New Year's Eve show by Son Volt.

Son Volt.

A New Year's Eve show by Son Volt is like every other show by Son Volt.
Sorry if they are your thing. They were actually still sort of *my* thing at the time, although entirely based upon the then-fading hope that Uncle Tupelo would someday get back together, but let's be serious: I missed awesome for A Confederacy of Dullsville.

And yes.... Oh the irony: the band that delivered awesome that night (YLT) were the ones I had thought were dull in 1987. A karmic fuckstick, I tell ya.

My position had morphed into: "The next chance I have to see Yo La Tengo live, I am *on* it. I am on it if I have to go see them myself. I will go to New York or Hoboken if necessary. I need to see this band."

Apparently true love just required a Husker Du cover.

Then Matador Records threw a 10th-anniversary party in NYC featuring: Yo La Tengo, among others. Indeed, to stretch the karmic fuckstick to the nearly unbreakable point, the same night that YLT headlined that show, Thalia Zedek's band Come was on the bill.

Digest *that* one.

(Apparently, for me, all entries (or exits) from the YLT universe-o-sphere must be made with an earlier appearance by Ms. Zedek).

Anyway, YLT were wonderful. The set featured some NYC horn players who made it all jazzy and jammy at times, and it was a perfect re-entry into the zone from which I had made so nonplussed a retreat so many years earlier.

I was hooked.

And, so off I went: a Philly gig a short time later at a crazy round theatre at UPenn that my memory banks swear included a "(Straight Down to the) Bitter End" as an opener (but a certain book that, I swear, I am going to begin reviewing soon, seems to imply that the band didn't play that song live until much later) and that I *know* included an "I Heard You Looking" that made me think: "Oh, they have *so* nailed that VU thing"; a NYE ('99 into '00) gig at Maxwell's that was, I believe, the first show my now-wife Jamie and I ever attended as a couple, and which began -- I shit you not-- with the band wearing gorilla suits, playing T.Rex's "20th Century Boy," and got even *better* from there. And those gigs were relatively "normal" in the grand scheme of what followed.

Over the ensuing years, I saw them at Hannukah shows at Maxwell's, with the likes of Ray Davies and David Johansen jumping onstage to do, respectively, Kinks and New York Dolls songs that had me grinning ear to ear ("Who Are the Mystery Girls" particularly stands out as a double-grinner). And there were Philly shows that not only involved various cats from Sun Ra's Arkestra joining the band to turn already amazing versions of things like "Little Honda" into skronkified wonderfests, and there was even the time I still can't believe Georgia didn't punch me, or tell me to fuck off.

Jamie and I were eating dinner in a Thai restaurant near the Trocadero, the site of the gig that night, and I saw Georgia waiting for a table. And I was polite. I am always polite when approaching a band, but still.... This was dinner, and I had a lot of fucking nerve interrupting her.

Me: "Hey, I don't wanna be The Guy Who Bothers Bands in Restaurants, but is there any chance you guys could do 'Borstal Breakout?'"

Georgia (laughing....*Laughing*, not punching, mind you): "Yeah, sure, we can probably fit that in."

I thanked her.

In case you are not hip to what I was requesting. Sham 69's punk-shouter anthem is not what you would expect from YLT, but I had read somewhere that they did it previously. I really love that song. Cut to one of the encores.... Ira says, "Someone asked for this one," and, after an instrument switch, they did a ridiculous, thrashy, goofball, joyous version of BB that had me laughing and shouting along.

Double true love may require a Sham 69 cover.

I was double-true-love hooked forever.

I was even *still* double-true-love hooked when I wrote to the band in 2004 when the Swing State Tour was coming through Philly, and I requested "Shake Some Action" by the Flamin' Groovies and Ira said they would play it, and I stood outside the venue pre-show and *heard* them rehearsing it at soundcheck, and then they.... forgot to play it. Ira at the merch table afterwards when I asked him: "Oh SHIT!!! I don't know what to say. We forgot."

And so I kept going to a YLT Hannukah show most years, and catching them when I could otherwise, and being dazzled by the Random Awesomeness of It All.

And, let me be clear, the post-Heart-Beating albums have been a little hit and miss for me. There is always something that lives in that loud/soft world -- that I love oh-so much -- for me to latch onto on those ones, whether it is "Cherry Chapstick" or the loud alternate version of "Today is the Day," or the hilariously titled (if you know how often their name has been misspelled) "Story of Yo La Tango" or the smoking noise-groove of "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind." But I haven't *always* dug every bit of The Quiet(er) Years and I would be lying if I said that everything YLT touches is gold for me even now.

But, really, what other band brings the sheer level of genius/encyclopedic knowledge of the awesome portions of The Canon of Rock (and their own catalog, for that matter) to the table with the possibility of such extreme levels of payoff at a gig? Whether it is the aforementioned Special Guest Appearances or the chance that they will let loose on, say, "Mushroom Cloud of Hiss," a YLT gig can make you laugh and cry and rock and wonder like, well, maybe no other band at this point.

Which brings us -- after thousands of words of babble -- to the point of all this blahblahblah. Jesse Jarnow has a book -- a wonderful book -- called, "Big Day Coming. Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock."

It is encyclopedic, like the band it covers. It is thorough, addressing with as much details the "lean" years -- even, apparently, referencing that 1987 Philly gig that made me not much a fan early on (spoiler: the band liked the crowd as little as I liked the band that night) -- as the "potent" ones. Even the pre-lean years are in here, when Ira was a critic more than a musician.

Best of all, it perfectly captures the singular combination of joy and workmanship with which this talented band approaches its craft.

And it all makes me love this band even more. You learn how jealously YLT guard their privacy, yet how open they are with their fans and their art, inviting friends to join them on tour playing instruments that said friends don't even really play all that often, and, always, hitting the hidden gems of restaurants along the way for high-quality Road Food.

Hell, it even makes me commit myself to re-exploring every note of the albums that make up The Quiet(er) Years, because I have learned from YLT and Jesse Jarnow that sometimes pushing the musical envelope is a virtue unto itself.

This is a hell of a book. I just devoured it on a trip to California in between hiking among majestic peaks and shimmering lakes. It was perfect. And, really, you should buy it if you are a YLT fan like me, or just a Hardcore Music Dork Devoted to All Things Rock. Oh, and, speaking of things to love for us Hardcore Music Dorks, at least the Philly ones like me, YLT are playing Philly in less than three weeks.

Maybe they'll even do "Shake Some Action."

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

August 16, 2012, 1:30 a.m.

"I will tell you that, as we pull into an already creepy rest area in the middle of the desert near Independence, California, at 1:30 a.m., where there is one -- count it: one -- car in that rest area, what I really didn't need was for this song to be playing at this moment. We are all going in together and leaving together." -- Will Haines

"Hey, isn't that the same kind of car Ted Bundy drove?" -- me

"Shut up, Steve." -- everyone.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Mount Whitney in one day. How to make it easier.

Yesterday, with my two sons, ages 18 and 21, I hiked Mount Whitney, elev. 14,497 feet (4419 meters). It was my third time to the summit, each time on the Mount Whitney Trail (as opposed to one of the more technical routes) and I never felt better doing it. This is not to say that the experience was not a pulverizing, potentially soul-destroying event, but, overall, I felt pretty good, and the aches and pains of today are pretty minimal considering the effort we put in and the sleep deprivation that the whole start-to-finish endeavor imposed upon us.

However, before you think it all was, so to speak, a walk in the park, I also have a trip to the supermarket at the very very top of my list entitled Most Difficult Things I Will Do Today. Yeah, today we are, likely for the only day of our trip, except the airplane days, in a hiking-free zone.

But I began to think (look out when that happens) and summit #3 on the big MtW taught me some pretty important things about how to really do this hike right, so I figured I would pass them on. Probably there is a book or seven on the same subject, but I can't say I have ever seen *all* of these recommendations gathered together in one place. So let's go....

Initial considerations:

This hike is, endurance-wise, a pretty formidable undertaking -- about 22 miles round trip, beginning at 8300 feet (2530 m) above sea level. 6200 feet of elevation gain in one day is difficult. The trail is not terribly steep -- following a generally Western-US-style "let's use switchbacks instead of just going whammo up the incline" approach -- but it is long. It is really long. Your feet (and legs and hips and back and everythings) will take a beating. Make sure you really want to do this. Also, make sure you are a hiker. You know, make certain that this is not your first hike. That may sound like obvious advice, but I have read more than one account of a Whitney adventure that discussed the fact that some members of the party were on their very first hike ever. Dumb. Double dumb. Understand, on a smaller scale, what it means to go stomping through the woods and up and over and back down rocky things before you try to do a hike this big.

Physical preparation:

Be in shape. The more you are in shape, the better. Duh, huh? Specifically, the *stronger* you are, and, for that matter, the more flexible you are, the better. Even more specifically, figure out at what weight you get the most bang for your buck strengthwise, and then get really strong at that weight. Aerobic endurance is a good thing as well. But the sheer pounding that your body takes on the uphills, and, especially, on the downhills is formidable. I was 25-30 pounds heavier and much weaker the first two times I did this hike (nine years ago and three years ago). Yet my aerobic endurance was at least as good back then because I was running a *lot*. I felt much better yesterday than on those first two Whitney hikes. The strength and positive body-composition changes I have gotten through CrossFit and paleo/primal eating made an enormous difference in how my body responded to the beating of the hike. I am sore today, but I do not feel -- in contrast to the first two times -- like I was put through a wringer. Heavy squats and deadlifts -- do them. Paleo/primal -- do that too.

Altitude acclimatization -- take it *really* seriously, and do it. And that does *not* just mean showing up a day early and staying in the campground at the trailhead one extra night, which is what some of the books mention. I am not a scientist, but I will brag that our method of altitude acclimatization works as well as any I have heard of. None of the groups I have hiked with has ever been huffing and puffing up Whitney. And every one of us has been from sea level or close to it. Here is what you do:

First of all, most acclimatization takes place by sleeping at a high altitude -- but not too high, or you won't sleep at all.

Stay in Mammoth Lakes, CA, about 100 miles north of Mount Whitney. It sits at about 8000 feet -- just high enough to acclimatize you well without completely freaking your body out. No other area town offers that altitude.

Stay there for five nights. Really. Drink a ton of water. Drink so much water that it makes you get up to pee a lot in the middle of the night. Do not consume even a drop of alcohol during that time. You will still wake up dry and dehydrated each morning, but a little less every day until, on day five, you have that "holy shit" moment. Why? Because you feel good. Really good. But it takes five nights.

During those days, go on the easiest high-altitude hikes that you can each day, a little higher each day. You are not trying to work hard. You are trying to get up to a high altitude *without* working terribly hard, so your body can start making lots of extra red blood cells, while simultaneously not having the crap kicked out of it. In Mammoth Lakes, or right outside it, a wonderful first-day hike is available on the San Joaquin Ridge at Minaret Summit. Hike in 2.2 miles to a spot at about 10,000 or so feet, and hang out for a couple hours as you gaze at the beauty of the Minarets. It's easy, right there outside of town, and very little work to get to.

Two other wonderful acclimatization hikes are available in Rock Creek Canyon, at the exit for Tom's Place off US route 395, a little south of Mammoth Lakes. The beauty of this place is that the trailhead (which is extremely popular, so get there early to get a parking spot) at Mosquito Flat is at 10,300 feet. Your first day there, walk on the fairly flat Gem Lakes trail that will get you up to 11,000 or so feet by the time you walk past lots of beautiful lakes to Morgan Pass. The whole hike is a simple 7 miles or so, and gets you maximum acclimatization for very little effort -- and some of the best scenery anywhere. The other perfect acclimatization hike, leaving from the same trailhead, but ascending on a path to the right after half a mile, is to Mono Pass -- elevation 12,600 feet, and *not* the same Mono Pass that is on the eastern edge of Yosemite National Park. 7.4 miles round trip, up into a beautiful, often-snow-covered moonscape. Like all these other hikes, stay there a while and make some more red blood cells.

Those are just three suggestions for warmup hikes. But they are three of the best in terms of maximum benefit/minimum effort. But you can pick others. Just, whatever you do, sleep for five nights in Mammoth Lakes. Get up to a little higher altitude each day on relatively easy walks. Drink a ton of water and eat a lot of good paleo food. Inflammation is not your friend. Acclimatization is.

By the way, this time around I also added to my normal vitamin/supplementation routine, 1000 mg of vitamin C, 600 mg of N-acetyl cysteine and 250 mg of alpha lipoid acid. You may recall that these are the same things I take for detox/rejuvenation if I drink alcohol. I have no idea whether it is a nutritionally sound theory, but I did it because I figured that the negative effects of altitude are a lot like a bad hangover. So I took the same stuff I use to ward off a hangover. That supplementation routine is not a suggestion for you, just a recitation of what I did. Do what seems right for you.

Mental preparation:

Be happy with yourself, by yourself, for long periods of time. Wait, what? Yeah.... This hike is long, done under stressful conditions, sometimes -- if your friends get ahead or behind you, or if you are flying solo -- on your own. Whether it is meditation or some other mindfulness/happiness practice/routine that you have, do it. Do it a lot. This hike is mentally taxing. And when it gets more physically taxing, it is also even more mentally taxing. So be ready for that shit. Because it is really hard to handle otherwise. And your mind can crush you even faster than your body.

The second part of mental preparation is to read everything you can about the hike. Know how many miles to each notable spot on the trail (I will make it easy for you: 2.8 to Lone Pine Lake, 3.8 to Outpost Camp, 6.3 to Trail Camp, 8.5 to Trail Crest at the top of the legendary 96 switchbacks, and about 11 to the summit). Know the steepness of the section that you are on. Everything you learn, and remember, about the details of the trail will help your mental attitude on hike day. Know exactly where you are and what is still ahead of you.

Hike day, the preparation part:

So.... you have your permit to do this baby in one day. You are acclimatized. You are a Zen beast with a sparkling, well-informed attitude. If I asked you, "What is the steepest section of the trail and how long is that section?" you would rattle off the correct answer and be able to tell me as much detail about the sections before and after that section. So, like, what's the plan?

First thing... Timing. You need to start the hike in time to get off the summit no later than noon, because of the risk of thunderstorms. Some days, the storms start sooner and risk the lives of everyone that is not off the summit by 10 am. You need to start early. You need to figure out how early. We started at 2:30 am, with headlamps on, and summitted in a respectable, but not by any means blazing, 8 hours or so.

This means that it would be helpful if you slept that last "night" near the trailhead -- like in the campground, or in Lone Pine, or in Independence, or even in Big Pine. Those places, except the trailhead campground, are all much lower in elevation than Mammoth Lakes, so don't count it as one of your five acclimatization nights if you stay in one of those. But they are close by, which is a big deal when it comes to getting enough sleep. You probably don't want to do what we did, which is stay that last "night" in Mammoth Lakes, about two hours (maybe a hair more) from the trailhead, requiring us to leave the condo we rented at 11:45 pm. Ouch. Then the drive home to Mammoth, post-hike, was a horrific drama entitled Way Too Fucking Tired to Properly Drive This Damn Car If There Were Ever A Need For Quick Evasive Action. Stay locally. If there is ever a Next Time for us, we will too.

Use hiking poles. They are wonderful for stability.

Bring sunglasses. It is bright as hell above treeline.

Your footwear should be either hiking boots or, if you think something less can take the pounding, whatever that is. My kids both used trail runners. I would be dead or in the hospital if I did that. I use heavy Asolo waffle stompers every time.

Pack enough clothes (hat, gloves, waterproof stuff, etc.) that you could comfortably walk many miles in 30-degree (F) weather with howling winds. Yes, in the summer. We got lucky yesterday. The most I ever wore, in addition to a T-shirt and shorts, was a longsleeved tech shirt. But last time, in August, we were subjected to winter conditions, temperature-wise, from Trail Camp to the summit. Be ready, but don't overpack -- it is a balancing act, but err in favor of being prepared. Unprepared could equal hypothermic.

Bring a water filter and "enough" bottles, whatever that means. Up until Trail Camp at 12,300 feet, there are lots of spots to refill water bottles with a filter. After that -- other than *possibly* some water gushing down one or more of the 96 switchbacks -- there are none. That means you need enough water to last the 9+ miles from Trail Camp to the summit and back to Trail Camp. For me, that was four one-liter bottles.

Use an electrolyte-replacement powder in most, if not all, of your water bottles. You need it. Plain water gets me through CrossFit just fine. This is not CrossFit. This is endurance wacko stuff. Do it.

Somewhere, I read that the caloric demands of this undertaking are something like 8000 to 11000 calories. I am not surprised. Both of the first two times I did this hike, after summitting I bonked pretty badly. The descent was miserable, and, while some of that was caused by a lack of strength and an excess of body weight, some of it was a lack of sufficient nutrition as well. Back then, I would pack water and a bunch of sandwiches. And I rarely would finish the sandwiches. Why? Because at high altitude, real food tastes a little gross. The more you have to digest it, the worse it makes you feel.

So, what's the nutrition solution. Well, I stretched the concept of paleo/primal yesterday to one simple rule: no gluten. I figured the only non-paleo item that could really cause me significant distress would be gluten. That may or may not be true for you. So the rule as a generality is something like: straying away from paleo/primal is OK on hike day if it helps your performances and doesn't risk digestive distress.

Translated for me, that meant that I brought the following on the hike for food:

-- 30 100-calorie/25-g-carbs packets of Gu gel. My flavors of choice were a few Jet Blackberry that I had left over from a previous hike, eight packs of Chocolate Outrage -- the greatest-named Gu ever -- and 16 packs of 40-mg-caffeine-in-each Espresso Love.

-- about three pounds total of various lunchmeats and Dubliner cheese in baggies.

-- a jar of Skippy Natural With Honey peanut butter with a spoon.

Here's what I actually ate of all that:

--all but two Espresso Loves and one each of the other two Gu flavors, which means I steadily and methodically ate 26 packs of Gu. It is easily digested, and tastes like delicious pudding. It was perfect. 26. Yes. really. 2600 calories, 650 g of carbs and over 500 mg of caffeine all from Gu.

-- about half the jar of peanut butter. It was very good, and full of fat and some protein and even some carbs from the normally gross honey and sugar, but it sat in my stomach weirder than the Gu.

-- about two of the three pounds of meat and cheese. Honestly, I am surprised I ate that much, and it was a little gross. It is utterly essential to consume protein on a hike like this, but it was harder to swallow the higher we went.

I don't think I would change any of that next time. You know, if there ever is a next time.

Hike day, the doing part:

Everyone's one-day experience on Whitney is a little different, but after three successful attempts at the summit, and especially after feeling great, relatively speaking, yesterday, here is how I see the actual hike:

Trailhead to Lone Pine Lake (0.0 to 2.8 miles, 1595 feet elevation gain, 570 ft/mile). Easy. Really easy. Unless you are injured. I said that I did this with my two sons. But our buddy Will was with us at the start. He has an injured knee and even those first few miles were too much for him. He is a good dude, and realized the problem, and bailed. Thereafter, he spent his day solo-hiking some of the lower-elevation portions of the trail. So, this section is simple, but it is also a reality check if you are sporting an injury.

Lone Pine Lake to Outpost Camp (2.8 to 3.8 miles, 400 feet of elevation gain). The easiest section of the trail.

Outpost Camp to Trail Camp (3.8 to 6.3 miles, 1680 feet elevation gain, 672 ft/mile). It starts getting harder here, but this -- and to a slightly lesser extent, the sections that preceded it -- is the part where the headlamp hiking is wonderful. Your focus, because it is otherwise pitch black in the woods, except for star/moonlight, is just on the few feet in front of you when you have a headlamp on. It is forced Zenlike concentration on the task at hand.
If you proceed at our time, at our pace, you will see first light behind you over Death Valley during this section. It is spectacular.

When you get to Trail Camp, fill your water bottles, using your filter, as high up on the lake as you can. That is because higher up equals fewer people tainting it with their camping waste. Ew. Admire the sunrise over the lake.

Trail Camp to Trail Crest (6.3 to 8.5 miles, 1620 feet elevation gain, 736 ft/mile). One word: switchbacks. Some are long; some are very short. There are, by our count, 96 of them over the 2.2 miles of this section. (Some people tell you 97. Whatever, dude). If you are acclimatized to altitude, they are, very simply, not all that hard. It is the steepest section of the trail, but really, just put your head down and do it. Trudge, trudge, trudge. One simple, almost ridiculous, tip: count them as you go. This serves two purposes: it passes the time and, most importantly, it gives you a measure of how far along you are. Another hint: the last ten, particularly the last three or so, switchbacks are much longer than the others.

Get to Trail Crest and realize that this is one of the truly most beautiful places on earth. You can look behind you and see everything you have done, but, better, you can see what has been hiding behind the flip side of this mountain -- Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks. Whoa. The pics do not do it justice. It is, no lie, even better than the summit, viewwise, and, at 13,600 feet, your first taste of effing high up.

Trail Crest to the entrance, from the valley below on your left, of the John Muir Trail (JMT)(8.5 to 9.0 miles, 180 feet elevation *loss*). "Oh shit," you just said. "Downhill?" yup. Not for very long, but you go downhill for a bit. Not particularly hard, but you begin to realize how you must keep your wits about you up here. It is a very long fall to your left. It isn't hard to stay on the trail, but, I suspect -- having once averted disaster myself here with a well-stabbed-into-a-rock pole just as I began to trip and fall off a cliff -- it isn't all that hard to kill yourself here either. And that applies to the rest of the way to the summit as well. Be careful.

Oh, and when the JMT joins in from the left, keep going forward toward the summit. Don't be a dumbass like I once was, three years ago, and go *down* the JMT for 100 yards or so before realizing the mistake.

Entrance of John Muir Trail to summit (9.0 to 11.0 miles, 1011 feet of elevation gain, 506 ft/mile). Plain and simple: this sucks. I cannot adequately tell you how much this part sucks. Most, if not all, of the guidebooks tell you that the 96/97 switchbacks are the worst, as if it is just a little hop over to the summit on the back of a winged frog. Fuck them. They are so wrong. First of all, you are at very high altitude. Yes, you have acclimatized as best as possible, but very few people are ready for this part. The air from JMT on up is very thin. It messes with your resolve, your strength and your stamina. Secondly, the trail is rocky, and difficult, full of all those precarious parts that I just described in the preceding section. You don't want to fall here, and you probably won't. But it isn't all that hard to do. Thirdly, the summit is probably not what you think it is.

See, every time I see a "photo of Mount Whitney," it looks kind of like that pic at the top of this post. That is not the summit of Mount Whitney. The summit is off to the right, even higher. Really. It isn't all that spectacular looking from the valley floor. Those spire-looking things are much prettier. But the fact of the matter is that you walk from Trail Crest behind all those spires and then past a couple so-called "needles" and then up the really big slope full of rock that you now see before you.

Now, despite having been distracted by all those beautiful touristy pics of "Mount Whitney," and despite your likely previously-held belief that one of those pretty spires was the summit, you realize a simple thought, "I am walking up the tallest thing in the Lower 48. The only way that monstrous freaking pile of rock way over there is not the summit is if trigonometry is much more complicated than I thought." It's not. That enormous pile of rock over there way way way past all the pretty spires really *is* the summit. See? You can begin to make out the summit "house" structure from here.

God, I cannot overemphasize just how thoroughly awful these last two miles, particularly the last mile, are. I actually warned a father/son combo at Trail Crest about this fact. I will repeat the warning as best I can to you:

"All the guidebooks say that the switchbacks are the hardest part. And so people get to Trail Crest and feel all victorious, like the hard part is over and it is just a little jump over there to the summit. Get rid of that thought now. This next section is the hardest part, and it will suck the soul right out of you." I saw them again at Trail Crest, on the way downhill. They had made it to the summit, but the dad turned to me and said, "You were *so* right."


Gaze at this.

Sign the register. Get the hell off before the thunderstorms. You have a long way to go.


The top bit, you know... the awful part? Not so awful.

The uphill bit (JMT to Trail Crest) that was the annoying downhill bit before? Totally annoying, but, thankfully, short.

Trail Crest to Trail Camp down the switchbacks? Fine, but rocky. Keep your head. Don't misstep. Whatever you thought it would take to get down this part, it probably takes a little longer. you begin to realize how far it is to the trailhead. Refill your water bottles at Trail Camp.

Trail Camp to Outpost Camp? I find this to be preposterously annoying. If you are very surefooted when tired, you will likely leap and bound down it, but I am kinda stumbly when tired -- although much less so yesterday than previously -- and I find this part of the descent to be unduly irritating.

Outpost Camp to end? Trudge trudge trudge. It is terrible, only because you want to be done. But it really is easy, and, *if* you warmed up with the Mono Pass hike, and *if* you want a good positive Zen mental attitude, just tell yourself at Outpost Camp that you have nearly exactly the descent from Mono Pass to do in order to finish the hike. when you cross the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek, you have exactly half a mile to the trailhead/end.

You are done. Congrats. I truly hope this all helps you out. It is a monster of a hike, and good planning and execution, in all aspects, is the way to make it simpler and better and, most importantly, more enjoyable. Now get on it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Adjusting paleo for the occasional freakish endeavor

Sometimes, even the paleo/primal purists have to roll with the punches a bit.

As I just mentioned in the last post, we are doing a lot of high-altitude hiking in the Eastern Sierras over the next ten days or so. Most notably, we are hiking up Mount Whitney -- 22 miles total, elevation from around 8300' to about 14,500' and back down again, all in one day.

Standard-issue meat, veggies and fruit does it for me most days, but this Whitney excursion is going to require, glycolytically speaking, an ingestion of carbs and fat that would, quite literally, require me to carry way too much weight up that mountain if I were to attempt it with only real food. So.... In addition to a lot of lunchmeat (protein!) and water, what else, foodwise, is going into the backpack?

Gu. A *lot* of Gu. It is lightweight, gluten-free and it will give me a shot of much-needed carbs. Often. Some of the Gu is even lightly caffeinated. Nice.

A whole jar of peanut butter, flavored with honey. I don't normally eat either peanut butter or honey. But, almond butter is hard to come by where I am at (the grocery selection is pretty lame here.... No grassfed meat, for instance), and the ingredients list on the jar is basically just peanuts, palm oil and honey. Carbs and fat galore.

And, just to make sure I don't bonk, a few packs of that Starbucks Via instant coffee that you can mix with cold water.

No, much of it's not very "real" and I wouldn't normally eat this nonsense, but occasionally, when life throws you a huge opportunity to do something awesome, but off-the-scale in terms of its caloric/nutrition demands, you have to do the best you can and jump back on the paleo wagon as soon thereafter as possible.

I will let you know how it goes.

And yes, that really is the name of one of the flavors.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad