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At Home September 2019

20 Pounds Didn’t Do It
Occasionally sustaining a 4-mph (6.4 km/h) pace on easy trails, not just touching it, was an intention we set for the summer of 2019. A couple of trail mates in the desert can do just that, so approaching their swiftness was an appealing, next fitness goal. But by the end of June, Bill had lunged at the possibility of doing ultra-light weight backpacking at the Grand Canyon in the fall.

Being able to hike with 20-pound packs instead of our more usual 10 to 12-pound loads became the new, more pressing, challenge. Not surprisingly, our speed went down with each pound we added, particularly on the grades. We had about 3 months to adapt to the extra weight, making it an urgent accomplishment, unlike the ‘pie in the sky’ 4-mph pace.
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Load lifters on our new ULA ultra-light back packs.

We both had minor over-use injuries with increasing pack weights but achieved our goal of having done several hikes with 20-pound packs by the end of August. I was so impressed with the substantial increase in my core strength with this conditioning challenge that I vowed to add at least one hike with a 20-pound load to my monthly schedule to sustain the new capacity. It seemed like my best new antidote to aging. We also cautiously hoped that the new core strength would indirectly support our speed goal, but we were quite wrong.

Once back home, we made a single hike with a friend during our 2-week stay. Our schedule and the weather limited us and even that outing became an urban hike on pavement because of rain. Our friend set about a 3.5 mph pace, familiar territory for us, but we were both in agony by mile 9 of 17.

Only I had received the new ultra-light, ULA pack so we each carried it with 13 pounds for half of the hike, with the other pack being about 8 pounds. We were humiliated: an average pack weight, a familiar pace, and a common distance crushed us. We weren’t sure why: perhaps we struggled because we were only on the third day of jet lag recovery or because we weren’t at all adapted to the repetitive strain of flat terrain. It could even have been the different vectors of strain on our bodies produced by a pack that transferred much of the weight into the hip strap. Whatever the reason, there was no longer any illusion that carrying extra weight this summer had increased our speed. Being comfortable sustaining a 4-mph pace would have to wait for another time.

More Reality Checks
We followed through on our commitment to “Buy one, eject one” once home. We had ordered ultra-light sleeping bags, sleep pads, a tent, a ground cloth, and backpacks for the fall, so at least as many like items had to be passed on to others when we returned to our apartment. We opened the big box on the floor in the back of the oversized hall closet that had been sealed since about 2003 when we stopped carrying camping equipment while cyclotouring. Old bike panniers and front racks stored in other boxes were on the auction block as well.

Dispatching those items was planned as soon as we began purchasing new camping gear during the July sales. What wasn’t expected was finding an even older box with our cherished, cast iron, cheese fondue pot and my dozen assorted loaf pans. I froze at the sight of them and a wave of sadness immobilized my brain.
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Trying on a hip pack before passing it on to others.

I had been blindsided by our zeal to dig a little deeper and the grief was instantaneous and immense. I thought the emotional process of separating from these objects of our former life had been completed but I was wrong. Previously, I was always careful to psychologically prepare myself for the journey into the past that opening a box could trigger, like we had done with the camping gear.

Memories of the fun times sharing food flooded over me and mingled with the pain of their obvious obsolescence. We used that fondue pot so many times. I would make the cross-town journey to the Helen Bernhardt Bakery on a Saturday to pick-up my reserved loaves of divine, firm-crusted, sour dough French bread and Bill continued refining the mix of cheeses to please our changing palates. But wine, the only other ingredient, had vacated our menu 20 years prior, bread dropped away with going keto (ultra-low carb) 5 years ago, and dairy disappeared 6 months ago. Our fondue pot usage stopped abruptly, like so many things, when we became travelers and now it was in complete contradiction with our dietary needs. We had saved it and so many other treasures because we expected our stint as bike travelers to last about 18 months, not 20 years.

Seeing the loaf pans didn’t stab as deeply as the fondue pot, but it set off its own series of reverberations. My beloved “Nutty, Fruity Tea Loaf” instantly came to mind with the sight of the smallest pans. Baking it was an annual holiday tradition for me for over 20 years and I still have the now brown-paged “NY Times” paperback cookbook with the recipe.

The assorted, standard-sized pans were for other favorites, like a toasted wheat germ cornbread and zucchini bread. The most senior pan of the group was more than 40 years old, from the time when I was first setting-up my kitchen. The hearty vegetarian soups I made to eat with the breads drifted through my mind as well. The unexpectedness of seeing these kitchen accessories triggered a profound sense of loss, not the joy that they had brought at the time.

Bill helped me walk the well-worn path once again: “They represent who we were, not who we are. We can’t eat like that again—it’s just the way it is. It was fun, but none of it is right for us anymore. We are living in the world differently now. We will again be good stewards of our possessions and pass these objects on for others to enjoy as much as we did.”

And indeed, like the camping gear that was dispatched matter-of-factly, the emotionally more entangled fondue pot and bread pans flew off of the lobby table in our apartment building that doubles as a donation center. The manager hates the messiness of it, but we only put our items out on the weekend when she is away. This time, there was nothing to remove on Sunday night.
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Just enough room to setup our new tent.

20 Year Celebration on the Calendar
Culling our excess is a semi-annual tradition for us. For years, during each home stay, we’d stand in front of the wire shelving system stuffed with boxes, bins, and loose items and force ourselves to detach and let go of something, anything. The last few stays, it had gotten easier.

Over the years, we’d moved out many of the most emotionally laden items that had blocked our ability to proceed. Now when we returned, like this year, specific items were already in our sights and we were emotionally prepared to move them on. By the end of this hurried two-week stop-over, there was enough vacated space that we could get serious about rearranging, which would speed the exit of even more items, but we didn’t have the time needed to embark on organizing that project.

I was so excited about the prospect of finally taming our stash, of being in control of it instead of it controlling us, that I had difficulty keeping my hands off of the stored items. Shortly after getting out of bed many mornings, I’d stroll into the side room and stare at our collection and often select a little loose item or 2 to discard. But it was a risky indulgence, time was precious and there were other tasks far more important, things I needed to do to get to the first appointment of the day on time.

On our departure morning, as we exited through the glass double-door entrance of our apartment building, I suggested that we plan a celebration for ourselves when we returned in the spring. Coincidentally, it would be the 20-year anniversary of the launch of our traveling life. We could set the intention now to approach tackling the jumble of stored items with new excitement, exuberance, and a sense of accomplishment in April. We would view the cull as a rite of passage.

As if to plant a seed for the project, the night before I’d carved out a space for our new Instant Pot. Though we’d be taking it with us in the trailer, when we returned it now had a place reserved for it—it wouldn’t be playing musical chairs with other items competing for a place to be on the kitchen counter. Perhaps our new vacuum sealer could sit alongside of it, dual symbols of our new lifestyle. This would be a new beginning that didn’t require ashes from which to emerge.
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“A place to call home” for the Instant Pot.

New Successes
We felt like we had a gun at our heads for the first 9 days we were at home. It was a 14 day stay and the calendar was packed tight. Three acupuncture appointments were added to our usual line-up of commitments in hopes of quieting my hypertension. Spending 2 hours a day driving was common to make the rounds. The need to avoid heavy traffic resulted in booking appointments tightly in the middle of the day. Mercifully, by the end of the 10th day, it was clear that we’d make our departure deadline, perhaps in unusually good style.

Day 10 was devoted to hauling all of the donation table items out of our apartment; using all 4 of the washing machines in the building to catch-up on laundry since arriving home; and hauling loads and loads of clothes and supplies to our stored trailer. The hauling was the easy part; the hard part was that nothing was ready to go at the start of the day.

That day, Saturday, a day we expected to be on our first backpacking outing, was suddenly the only dry day in the forecast before the end of our 2-week stay. Vivid memories of loading gear into the trailer flooded back: pushing our squeaky orange cart of precariously balanced boxes and sacks in the rain to the parked truck; loading them in the back seat and truck bed; squeaking our way back to the building getting wetter and wetter; and loading it all into the trailer while our dripping clothes made a mess on the trailer floor, raising the humidity in the rig.

This Saturday, it was a frantic scramble for hours to gather our gear together and get it inside the trailer on this warm, sunny, glorious day. We recalled more details of the many wet moving days when we opened the trailer doors and rolled out the awnings to the warm afternoon air. We could take our time loading and unloading. We could open a box on the truck tailgate to look for a missing item. We didn’t have as much hoped-for time to put things in their proper places, but it was all inside and it and the trailer were dry. Our spirits soared at the end of the stressful day and we further savored our victory with the sound of the overnight rain. It looked like the predicted 1/2” of rain was likely but it was over 1” that night that pounded the corrugated carport roof below our bedroom window.
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Success with the new vacuum sealer.

The unpleasant time-pressure of rushing to get as much gear out of the apartment and into the trailer delivered several gifts to us. Suddenly, the shrinking amount of floor space in our little apartment opened up for our neglected exercises. There was a premonition of the slight echo that returns when we lock the apartment door on our way out to start a new traveling season. We were buoyed by the possibility of being more thorough, more complete in our preparation and having a little more time for cleaning that often doesn’t make the cut. We also still hoped that there was enough time to spare for organizing our trailer before our departure, though that hope quickly faded.

The bonus space made by the bonus time had a regrettable origin: Bill’s back muscles were in a relentless cycle of spasms making ‘the chores of daily living’ taxing for him. The combined strains of the long urban hike and cowboying big boxes out of the closet had been too much for his chronically vulnerable back. There was no way he could have backpacked and slept on the ground when our bed was hostile territory for him. No damage, nothing of long-term concern, just weeks of biting spasm which had him contorting his body and making ugly faces. Fortunately for me, he worked at suppressing the auditory expression of his pain.

Through a Different Lens
Bill made a startling comment after my medical appointment one day: “Perhaps you’ve always been overweight—for your genes.”

I’d always lamented that I didn’t get my share of my father’s “super-lean” genes. I’ve always had to be attentive to my weight, believing that I was a latent obese person. Several times, I quickly loaded on an extra 10 pounds that were hard to shed. I considered 125 pounds my upper limit, the ‘go’ button to lose weight, and spent decades right at 125.
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All of this & I still was losing weight.

These last 3 years, when we were doing 100-mile hiking weeks while in England, we both shed pounds quickly towards the end of the 3 weeks, only to regain them and more by the end of the summer. This year was different, however, as 3 stays at one hotel made clear.

We stayed at the same London area hotel when we arrived from home in May, a month later after completing the Coast Path walk, and then 2 days before our flight home in September. The hotel had scales inside the fitness room, a hefty one for luggage nearby, and the 2 devices registered within a pound of each other.

According to the 2 hotel scales, I dropped 4 pounds in the first month overseas and 3 the following 3 months. I was inhaling fatty meats and butter in England and I staved-off further losses at the end of the summer by measuring a 1000 calorie chunk of butter to be eaten by me alone each day (about 1/4 lb).

I dreamed of food all night; I woke up ravenous. Chronic gut problems prevented me from gorging at most meals, though sometimes I could. Bill laughed and said: “Where does all of that food go?” I’d eaten all of my subcutaneous fat and my vessels rode on the surface of my muscles. I dropped to 115 pounds; previously my lowest adult weight was 117 pounds when I was a freshman year in college.

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Trying to curb the conditioning losses on our Maxi Climber.

In mid-March while in the SW, I had gone dairy-free and was quickly convinced that I was allergic to milk proteins because of my many health improvements. Testing in April confirmed that I was allergic to both casein and whey. I’d been dairy-free 6 months when Bill made the “overweight” comment.

Our naturopath tossed out the observation during my September appointment that some of her patients had lost weight when they stopped eating an offending food, usually gluten. Unlike me, they usually had been trying hard to lose weight. That was her explanation for my relatively drastic weight loss. Bill’s theory sprang from hers: that the chronic inflammation from the dairy allergy was interfering with my “super-lean” genes and with the dairy irritant gone, I was experiencing full gene expression. Kind of crazy but very intriguing.

I expected to be scolded for my unintentional, 6% weight loss by our naturopath, who had in the past admonished me not to let my weight drop, and massage people who also had opinions about body weight. They only smiled when I told each the long story. “No worries” seemed to be the unspoken consensus even though Bill and I were still reeling from my new “super lean” gene look.

We have chuckled since we went keto 5 years ago that the high fat diet, and more recently, my ultra-high, saturated fat diet since being dairy-free, was more like my father’s diet than what I had been eating my entire life. Bill enviously believed that I was now eating what I should have been eating all along, the bacon & eggs diet and fatty meat menu of my father, not my revered low fat, plant-based cuisine.

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Bill iced his back while I exercised.

Bill had joined me in my gluttonous, high saturated fat diet this summer and testing once home revealed that his LDL and cholesterol had shot through the roof. My cholesterol rose to the ‘red line’ but that is actually where the naturopath wants those values for both of us. Other, less commonly used lipid parameters indicated that there was no CV risk for me, despite the standard pitch. So, after looking at his specialty NMR Lipid Panel results, Bill ate salmon with olive oil for dinner that night while I had my usual 1/2-pound ground pork patty with 20% fat and a couple of tablespoons of butter on my green beans.

We take being lab rats seriously, even while our diets continue to diverge. A year ago, Bill found being low carb (150 grams/day) was better for him than our 50 gram/day keto diet. His lifelong, temperamental gut felt better and his lipid numbers that were elevated on keto dropped nicely. However, if he drifts to 200 or 250 grams of carbs per day, his weight and hunger shoot up. Interestingly, those amounts of carbs are at the lower end of the carb consumption on the Standard American Diet.

With his latest round of dietary experiments over the summer, Bill sadly determined that his genes didn’t position him to be a lipid numbers star on saturated fats, which are the fats recommended by the keto crowd. (The keto researchers maintain that saturated fats aren’t problematic for heart health in themselves, only when in a diet that is also high in sugar and carbohydrates).

We’ll both be watching: Bill will retest his lipids in about 3 weeks, expecting them to reveal a reassuring, rapid dive; I’ll be watching to learn if 115-117 pounds is my body’s notion of my ideal weight or if 123-125 pounds is where it wants to settle. But before the answers to these questions were in, Bill ran the numbers and discovered that our daily caloric intake had drifted up to 3,000 from the 2,500 per day target for last 20+ years. Older, leaner, and eating a lot more calories isn’t the norm by a long shot, but it was clearly our new normal.

Like Never Before
With each departure for the season, we aim to have it be our best ever effort, and like the last, so was this one. “Nice to do” projects, like sending off my passport off for renewal and experimenting with our new vacuum sealer for dehydrated foods, were completed. We didn’t meet our goals of organizing our trailer before we left town or doing deeper cleaning, but we were still pleased.
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Trying to be the best we can be: Bill laughed & said “Lined up like Terra-cotta Warriors” when I gasped at the sight of him sitting with 7 months of supplements. Soon, a handful of warriors were in the mix.

We luxuriated in the sense of having both enough time and presence of mind to be more thorough, to follow-through more completely, to take that extra step that always seemed too hard in the moment but would make it easier the next time. It was deeply satisfying to feel that we were getting slightly ahead of the constant pressure of too many things that needed to be done. Our improved position in the bigger picture gave us each a new sense of calm in managing this, the adult side of our lives. It would make the more child-like play ahead of us even more fun; the lingering sense of unfinished business wouldn’t be as burdensome.

We donated more out-of-service possessions than planned, relieving our bulging shelves and closets of excess pounds. Bill succeeded in shedding his family habit of believing that nothing is ever good enough and joined me in celebrating our successes, both of fully and partially completed projects.

I left town better than I arrived: my scuffs, bruises and bangs from summer hiking were largely healed. My ulnar nerve damaged on the bike back in early August still rendered a couple of fingers largely numb, but they were ever so slowly improving. My hypertension was still a worry for my internist, but given I can’t tolerate the medications, I was content to hope that further recovery from being dairy-free and intermittent acupuncture would eventually lower it enough to satisfy both of us. Bill was still on tenterhooks after sending some back muscles into spasm after our big urban hike and like my nerve damage, it would prove to be an unexpectedly long healing course. Our social life while at home was shorted because of our brief stay but that was an anticipated trade-off.
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Out of the pastureland & heading towards the red rocks.

Crossed the Line
South of Salt Lake City, perhaps an hour south of the itty-bitty town of Fillmore, which has the nice RV park where we overnight, we crossed the line into bliss, at least into our kind of bliss. The vegetation started changing as we drew nearer to the Arizona border: there was less pastureland and more scrub pine and yellow-bloom-covered bushes along the freeway.
We turned off of south-heading I-15 that we’d been driving for several days onto the southeast bearing connecter road #20 and then continued south on the narrow Hwy 89. Once you’ve driven in these parts, your eyes light up at the sight of “89” on the blue-backed signs. That’s the winding road into fantasy land, sort of a Platform 9 ¾ in the world of Harry Potter.

Soon, signs for Bryce NP, the Grand Canyon NP, Zion NP, and the lesser known Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park begin appearing. Then it’s the red and light yellow-colored sandstone cliffs etching with weathering lines that catch your eye, that mesmerize the mind. The sun suddenly feels hotter and temperature rises. We simultaneously relax and become excited. “This is it, this is the good stuff, we’re here!”
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Red rocks behind our Kanab RV park.

It would be another day of driving, #7, before we could stop and play but the journey was almost over. It had been nearly a month of serious adult focus: traveling out of the Italian Alps and to the Pacific NW; following a rigid calendar and navigating city traffic for 2 weeks after 4 months without driving; and then a week’s driving siege at freeway speeds posted as high as 80 mph. All very grown-up, all very serious, all necessary to shift us out of Europe 2 days before our visa expired and into the SW for the fall and winter before the rainy season consumed the NW. One more day and it would be back to our preferred lifestyle of serious play for 7 months. As a Swiss friend wrote, we had left our “excess baggage” behind.

Blue skies, low humidity, light winds, and red rocks—I was in heaven. The air temperature and our trailer temperature would cool enough even by our early bedtime of 8 pm to guarantee me the 7th night of good sleep in the last 7 days. Bliss.

And then a little bit of whiplash: in Kanab, UT, with its 4,700 people, the RV park host casually mentioned that we could download movies if we wanted to. My mind immediately flashed back to Bill’s earlier comment “The internet here is the worst of anywhere we go in the world.” We were at home, in our apartment, and it was 6 am on a Saturday morning when he said that.

Yup, service has always been hideous at our city apartment. The cell phone reception is generally better the last year or 2: we usually can make or receive a call now. The variability in connectivity that we experience is just crazy: sometimes we can be on a slope in the Italian Dolomites and successfully surf, like I did with vacuum sealers in July and yet we can be cut-off from the world in our living room. Being travelers is a life full of sometimes peculiar surprises.

On To Flagstaff, AZ
Like the last several years, our first major destination this fall would be the Flagstaff/Grand Canyon area at 7,000’ where we would spend 6 weeks. Hiking between the rims at the Grand Canyon, a few bike rides, and our first backpacking overnighters were on the calendar. The details of our stays however, would be defined by the resiliency of our bodies and the vagaries of the weather.