Saturday, March 30, 2013

How missing my grandma's last Easter motivated my weight loss

Easter 2009 I was living in Albuquerque, where I had moved to be closer to my Grandma Fay, and I was too fat to fly back east to my mom's house with her for a special family portrait. Here's an outtake of the photo shoot where they made a HUGE space for me in the back row so they could Photoshop me in later. It would be her last Easter. Not one to wallow in regret, missing this moment was a HUGE motivator for me to lose weight and get healthy. I owe so much to this moment.

That HUGE hole in back was for me, but I was too fat to fly home for Easter
I'm feeling lonely tonight as I face spending Easter - my favorite holiday - alone, without my family or friends. But tomorrow I'll be hiking the Del Agua Trail for a long overdue visit with my Grandma Fay. A few years ago when my grandmother passed away, I was too fat and lazy to hike the trail as her ashes were scattered there. When she sees me there I know she'll be so proud!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pedestrian Fear Factor vs. Train Like a Pedestrian

Successful pedestrians stick to a common set of rules, not the least of which is this: Avoid death at the hands of others. You need to be fit if you plan on getting around on foot, bike or public transit. If there weren't enough good reasons to get and stay fit, add this one to your arsenal of motivators.

Train like a pedestrian - urban core fitness with medicine ball workouts!
Since I've recently been forced into pedestrian life - No, I did not get a DUI! - I decided I can no longer ignore the mush that's become of my core over the winter. A flabby core means reduced reaction time, which can lead to disaster while biking or trying to avoid reckless drivers while crossing the street. We've all seen similar headlines to this: "Motorist mows down biker on morning commute!" Well I don't want to be a statistic no one remembers.

With a strong core I know I can avoid getting creamed by a driver who doesn't know how to check his mirrors or is talking on a cell or texting while driving. The drunk drivers might take more than a strong core to avoid, but being able to control the bike from my core will be crucial in most emergency situations.

Hiking was keeping my core in shape last year, but as hiking season puttered out - when I should have been returning to my core workouts of pre-hiking days - I was enjoying some time off, accompanied with ice cream, cookies and peanut butter.

So I'm back at it. I love my old medicine ball workout, but I'm developing a new one that builds on my old routine to give me some variety and add spice to my workout. Also, I'm looking into a way to blend medicine ball and yoga. Anyone have any ideas? If so, please leave a comment below.

To see a video of me using my 12-pound medicine ball, check my YouTube channel.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Broken-down truck ushers me into a pedestrian life (at least for now)

My truck broke down near the trailhead yesterday after a late afternoon hike with my dogs. Now I'm waiting for it to get fixed, which could take a while. Meanwhile, I've very quickly had to adapt to life as a pedestrian.

This is a good thing. A very good thing. But it's also a complicated thing. I'm currently working freelance, and I attribute my ability to get work every day to my flexibility. Bound to the bus, it limits my options. Bus plus bike, though, is totally doable. I'll need to dedicate a couple of hours this weekend to finding paths to employment that are within biking distance - or at least are convenient on a one-bus routes from the downtown bus station, which is a quick bike ride from home.

Yes, I'm fortunate that I own a mountain bike. But to be honest, it's a rarely-used mountain bike, because I'm not always confident the parts will hold up in transit given my current weight. Most commercial products are only guaranteed to stand up to at most 250 pounds, so it's a valid concern. But today I had a couple of errands to run and I was able to get everywhere I needed to go on bike and by bus. So I just have to pray that my bike holds up until I can take off another 30 pounds.

My first road bike, 1981, which I rode for miles on country byways
On a side note, I've dreamed of living the pedestrian life ever since I got my first road bike, in 1981. While we lived in the country, I remember visiting my grandmother in D.C. or my aunt in Hoboken and seeing lots of people on bikes, carrying grocery bags on their handlebars or in a basket on the front. Later, I was a roller-blading pedestrian in New York and Miami. And I've been a public-transit commuter lots of times. But I've never been a true cycling pedestrian. So the way I see it, now's my chance!

The best part of this whole thing is the health benefits of not being bound to a motorized vehicle. By being forced to adapt to a car-free lifestyle, exercise will be injected forcefully into my daily routine, thereby speeding up my metabolism while at the same time reducing the available of excuses not to exercise. And because it will take me longer to get home, I'll need to plan and prepare my meals ahead of time just so that I won't starve - convenience foods do not sit well with me when my body's being called to service with exercise. It will just be a matter of packing as if I were to spend a day on the trail.

It is likely that I will be truck-less for at least two weeks, if not more, which is perfect. They say habits are formed in two weeks, so I'm betting that even once I get the truck back, the benefits to my body, mind and spirit will far outweigh any benefits of convenience so that I won't want to go back to the way it was.

The only big complication I was thinking of was being able to get to the mountain for hiking on Saturday. Well, a friend emailed me out of the blue today and invited me to go hiking with her and her friend - ride included. So that takes care of this weekend. And even if I didn't have a ride there are still ways to get to the trails via public transit. In fact, I plan on writing more about that on my other blogs, so stay tuned if you're interested in how all that works out.

For now, it's time to do some research about ABQRide and do some tuning up on my bike. Until next time!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Epic hike ignites dormant muscles, sparks spring fitness fury!

Today I went on one of my most epic hikes of recent memory. I don't usually go off trail, but I've been hiking the Southern Sandias pretty extensively since I got here a few years ago, and I felt curious today to find out where an unofficial trail would lead me. As a result, I ended up scaling a canyon wall, crossing an amazing high desert prairie-like landscape and crossing paths with a gorgeous, big blond coyote before finding a familiar trail I knew would take me back down to the trailhead. All in all, I'd say I hiked around four miles with an elevation gain/loss of more than 1,000 feet.

Sunshine + Mountains = Bliss

The best part of the hike is that I feel exhilarated, re-invigorated to achieve my fitness goals, and on fire for hiking and wilderness exploration once again.

Copper Trailhead with view of the U-Mound on the right
Starting off at the Copper Trailhead in Albuquerque's Southern Sandia Mountains, we walked around the west and north sides of the U-Mound and took the arroyo there that leads east to a whitewash, which is basically a dry waterfall with a white hue from mineral build-up, at the mouth of an unnamed canyon.

View of the whitewash, heading east through an arroyo
My friend and I had come to the same whitewash last week, but we came up from a trailhead south of Copper, so we hiked over the saddle, passing the junction where the south branch of the Eye of the Sandias trail joins the trail to the top of the U-Mound. I remember pointing out the south branch of the Eye of the Sandias trail to my friend, thinking we might take it sometime, as the Eye hike is one of my favorites, especially in the winter.

A look back from whitewash ascent at U-Mound and ridge up to the "Eye"
So we made it up to the top of the whitewash and decided to continue going beyond the whitewash. We stayed in the canyon and hiked up the arroyo, which in the New Mexico mountains is the name for an intermittent mountain stream. It has been very dry this winter, so the stream bed held no visible water today. It only became evident that the ground was slightly damp where an animal had dug into the canyon floor and turned up dark brown earth, a stark contrast to the typical light brown color of surface soil here in the western Sandia Foothills.

Typical gritty trail surface on the Sandia Mountains' west face
We hiked a ways past the whitewash, but I don't know if it was a quarter mile or half a mile or what, because at some point we came across a huge boulder, the size of a small bus, and we decided to head off trail and scramble up the wall of the canyon. The intense scramble took my attention away from estimating the distance we'd traveled. In fact, all attention was focused on my hand and foot positions, and all spare energy was directed to my legs, especially my quadriceps, which, once ignited, were called on over and over again to lift and push my 280-pound body up to another ledge, to top one massive boulder after another.

Ascending southern wall of canyon, from about 1/4 mile east of whitewash
Once we made it to the top of the canyon wall, we realized we were not too far from the south branch of the Eye of the Sandias trail. We would have to cross three deep-gully arroyos to make it to a saddle between two other prominent Foothills peaks. That's where we found the upper part of the south branch Eye trail. We sat for a moment to have a snack and more water. And just as I sat down and looked back up the trail I saw the gorgeous blond coyote come up the hill we'd just come up and run off into the distance.

It looks easier than it is! We had to cross three gullies to reach that saddle
From here we took the Eye trail back down to the trailhead. The Eye trail's south branch comes out underneath the set of electrical poles just above the saddle by the U-Mound. From the saddle we took the switchbacks on the south side of the hill to make it back to where we'd begun.

The Coyote headed up this trail as we headed back down to the trailhead
What made today's hike so epic is that it was one amazing workout for the body, but it also was a workout for my brain. I love maps, and I often pore over maps of the Sandias - the Southern Sandias in particular, because they are so accessible to central Albuququerque, where I live. So today's off-trail adventure helped me weave together my book-larnin' with actual on the ground experience. It's like those topographical maps have come alive in my head, and I'm more ready than ever to get out and explore some more!

Feeling exhilarated (and spent) as I walk into the sunset toward my truck
I'll be posting more great hikes in the Southern Sandias, as well as other New Mexico hikes, soon, on my blog HikeyHikey. (You'll also find hikes there, from the all over the United States, including New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Midwest and elsewhere in the Southwest and Southern California.)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Soon-to-be shorts weather hiking Sandia Mountains

Spring is in the air; the sun gets brighter as each day grows longer. The air is brisk but the sun's warmth and the heat of hiking make it shorts-with-longs-sleeves weather. Today, though, I was out in jeans, wearing a long-sleeve wicking layer, a thin cotton sweater and down vest, and I felt comfortable as well. I have days off next week and will plan my hike-wear accordingly as I explore the Southern Sandias.

Your blogger, Brian, descending a dry waterfall in the Southern Sandias
Today I hiked with a friend across a saddle ridge and down into a canyon that led up to a humongous dry white-walled waterfall, which we climbed. From the top I could see the up into the textured South Mountain side peaks. I took a few pics; below are two of my favorites. I'll share more, along with the story of how to execute this hike, on my blog HikeyHikey.

Trail leading northeast from Hilldale Trailhead to the U-Mound Ridge
Looking west toward the U-Mound, from halfway up dry waterfall