Let's Take a Walk

Walking is great for opening one’s mind to think and to dream. Walking is great with a friend and leads to wonderful conversation. Walking is a great way to explore. Walking takes you places. Let’s go Walking.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Walk up Wheeler Peak – A Trail Less Traveled

On Sunday October 6, I walked solo up Wheeler Peak.  It is the highest peak in New Mexico at 13,161 feet (4011 meters).  There are two trails to take to the peak: The Bull or the Woods Trail and the Williams Lake Trail.  Through a bit of serendipity, I took the trail less traveled.  I was very happy that I did.

A View from Wheeler Peak looking toward Mount Walter
The Bull of the Woods Trail is the trail less traveled.  I took this trail because it started from the parking lot of the Alpine Village Suites in the Taos Ski Valley where I was staying.  It is the longer of the two trails by about 2 miles and start about 800 feet lower in elevation.  On the day of my walk, everyone else decided to use the Williams Lake Trail.

There was a point about three-quarters ways up the mountain that I realized that I was the only person on this trail today.  I was walking on a series of switchbacks up to the ridge that would lead to the peak.  It provided a wide open vista.  I could look back and see the entire area I had been walking through all morning.  I could look forward and see the ridgeline to Wheeler Peak.

The View Looking Back
I was alone in this spectacular wilderness.  It was dead quiet.  The wind was calm.  There was not a cloud in the sky.  The sunshine was filling me with warmth on this chilly day.  I felt serene and peaceful.  I had a sense of euphoria knowing I had this beautiful place to myself.  It was a spiritual experience.   It is not often one gets away from everything and can just enjoy being in the moment in nature.

The Bull of the Woods Trails offered other gifts.  It is the more scenic of the two trails by far.  During my first rest stop an hour into my walk a pair of Gray Jays flew and dance around me before they landed on the opposite end of the log I on which I was sitting.  Near the half way point, I came across a flock of long horn sheep on a sloping field.  They were about 300 yards from the trail.  I got a good view with my binoculars.  About a half mile further, a coyote crossed my trail about 200 yards in front of me.

I was a bit bewildered as to why there was no one else on this trail on such a beautiful day.  It was only when I reached the summit that I would learn the answer about the trail less traveled.

At the end of my walk I had a euphoria that lasted weeks.  I also had a pint of Oktoberfest beer at the Bavarian Lodge.  A perfect day!

The Details:

My walk started at 6am, an hour before sunrise.  My first 30 minutes were in darkness.  It was like walking through a tunnel made by the forest.  Only the light from my headlamp provided illumination.  I was alone in a void.  I was a bit anxious,

By 6:30am the first twilight was visible.  The void was changing into a forest.  10 minutes later I could turn off my headlamp.  Sunrise was at 7am.

At 7:15 I took my first rest stop on a log.  I was no longer alone.  A pair of Gray Jays danced around me. They landed on opposite side of the log I was on.  I was able to take their picture.  The morning started out dark and cold, 26F degrees, but with the daylight and the company of the gray jays I was starting to feel warm and happy.

I was still in the shade of the forest and the mountains.  It would be another hour before sunshine would touch my face.  It really hadn’t been too cold in the area yet this fall.  The small pond I came across had just a glaze of ice on it.  This was at the Bull of the Woods pasture.  The ice would probably be gone later in the day.

Past the pond I climbed a hill that lead to a ridgeline.  On the ridgeline I had a view of the Red River Valley on the left and the Taos Ski Area on the right.  This was also the first point on my walk where the sunshine shone upon me.

Past the ridgeline I came to more woods.  On the other side of the woods there was an open sloping field.  On the far end of the field was a flock of big horn sheep grazing.  Unfortunately they were too far away to get a good picture.  I just sat in the field for a few minutes to watch the sheep.  I took out my binoculars for a better look.  I was in full sunshine and the suns warmth felt good. 

I continued on.  The trail then went over a hill (Frazer Mountain) and down the other side.  At this point it started descending into La Cal Basin.  Near the beginning of my descent I saw a coyote cross the field about 200 yards in front of me.  He seemed oblivious to me which suited me just fine.  I watched him for several minutes until he went out of site.  He looked like a magnificent animal with his golden coat and easy gait.

Going down to La Cal Basin took me back below the tree line and along a stream.  Going downhill was not what I wanted to do since I was past the halfway point to the peak.  I also had thought I somehow took a wrong turn.  It was however a good change of pace and it wasn’t long before I started climbing again and above the tree line. 

I now found myself in the wide open area going back and forth on switchbacks that would take me to the final ridge going to Mount Walter and onto Wheeler Peak.  It was at this point looking across wide open country that I realized how alone I was.  I could see a long way back.  There was no one else on the trail.  It was such a beautiful without a cloud in the sky.  I thought surely there would be someone else on the trail.

Being alone in such a beautiful place also gave me a feeling of freedom and serenity.  I had escaped the world and its problems.  I could just enjoy the moment looking out at the world’s beauty.  It is transcending moments like this that make going into the wilderness a joy and provides refreshment for the soul.

I pressed on.  I passed a mountain lake.  I came across 100 yards of trail with snow on it.  I finally came around a turn where I could see Wheeler Peak in the distance and the last push up the trail to Mount Walter.

On Mount Walter I finally saw other people coming up the Williams Lake Trail and then turning away from Mount Walter to make the final climb to Wheeler Peak.  After being on the trail for 4.5 hours by myself, it was good to see other people and my final goal in sight.  I walked down the trail into the saddle between the two peaks, past a large cairn where the Williams Lake Trail intersects and onto the final climb to Wheeler Peak.

I met many people on the peak.  I spent about thirty minutes up there.  I took some pictures.  I had someone take a picture of me.  I took some pictures of others.  After a snack and some water, I started back down.  I decided to take the Williams Lake Trail back.  It was the trail everyone else took.  It was shorter and more direct: the reason everyone selected the Williams Lake Trail to get to the peak.  As a bonus, the Bavarian Lodge was near the trail head.

The Williams Lake Trail descended directly into the Taos Ski Valley.  There were mountains on both sides.  It didn’t have the wide open vistas like the Bull of the Woods Trail.  It was much rockier.  There were many people to see and talk to.  It was a far different experience than the Bull of the Woods Trail.

About 2/3 of the way down, the trail goes near Williams Lake.  I took the 5 minute side trip to see the lake.  It was worth it.  From the lake one can see Wheeler Peak and people going along the Williams Lake Trail. 

From the lake it was a little over 2 miles through the woods to the Bavarian Lodge.  When the lodge came into sight I had sense of accomplish and a warm feeling one only gets from a day in the wilderness.  I rewarded myself with a pint of Oktoberfest at the lodge.  It was a great day and still early enough to do something else.  Total time of my trip was 8 hours and a distance of 14 miles.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Biotechnologically-Improved(-altered) Foods (a.k.a GMO) - Label Them

I want to see foods containing GMO ingredients labeled.  To take personal responsibility for the food I eat, I need to know what is in it.  I do not like that the foods companies, aided by the federal government, can hide the fact that GMO ingredients are in the foods I buy.  It seems un-American and anti-democratic to suppress information about the foods Americans eats.

The ultimate goal is to have foods with GMO ingredients labeled as such and provide choices of GMO or GMO-free foods.  Although some state governments are starting to act on making GMO labeling mandatory, it may be a long time before the federal government will do so.

One action among many I am doing about GMO food is to write to food manufacturers, retailers and restaurants about my desire to have verified GMO-free foods.  When writing to companies I like to pick particular products since this makes the inquiry more focused.  I have done this recently for two products: Quaker Old Fashion Oatmeal and Cheerios. I just submitted my request through their websites.  I got some interesting responses almost immediately.  These companies have obviously thought about GMO foods a lot.

Quaker Oats, which happens to be a division of PepsiCo, stated in their reply email:

None of the oats, wheat or barley used in our products -- across all brands -- are grown from genetically modified seeds. In fact, genetically modified seeds for this/these crops are not currently commercially available in the U.S.”  …
“When it comes to safety, the FDA has determined that foods developed through this process [GMO] are no different than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.”

I do not trust the FDA determination on GMOs since they were under great political pressure to approve GMO crops despite reservations.

General Mills, which makes Cheerios, refers to GMOs with the term ”biotechnologically-improved crops.”  That is great marketing spin.  I suppose it tries to convey the impression GMO crops are better than conventional crops so don’t worry.  I would use the term biotechnologically-altered crops” because I think it is more accurate.  General Mills also stated that 

“ … the FDA does not require special labeling for it [GMO]. However, if food has been significantly altered in composition or nutrient content, or if biotechnology introduces allergens into food, special labeling is required. None of our products requires special labeling. Accordingly, we do not test them for the presence of this material.”

Hey, we see no problem with GMO food ingredients so we don’t to check for it.  Further

“Because of the growing use of biotechnology by farmers and the way that grain gets commingled in storage and shipment, it′s certainly possible that some of our products may contain ingredients that have been improved through biotechnology.”

We don’t know what’s GMO and what isn’t so how can we label it?  Finally, they stated if you want GMO-free just buy organic food.   Oh, by the way, we sell that too.

General Mills also believes in providing consumers with a variety of food options. Toward that end, we do offer organic products that, by definition, do not use ingredients that have been improved through biotechnology.”

Food manufacturers are aware that many people have concerns about GMO foods.  However, they generally would rather not label their food products as GMO or GMO-free.  But foods companies will also do what they think is in their best interest.  If enough people demand to know if their products are GMO-free, the food companies will eventually provide that information.

I encourage you to write to food manufacturers, restaurants and supermarkets to let them know that you want GMO-free food.  It’s easy through their websites.  Just find their contact page.  Simply state “I like your brand X, but I also want to be informed about what is in my food.  I want to make sure my foods are healthy.  One thing I want is to avoid foods with GMO ingredients.  I would like to see a variety of your brand X that is verified GMO-free and labeled as such.”  There is no need to go into a polemic about GMO food.  The food companies probably know more about the pros and cons of GMO food then we do.  We just need to say I want GMO-free food and GMO labeling.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Stray Dog

This story has a happy ending.

During the month of July there was a stray male German Shepherd roaming my neighborhood.  He seemed to be a friendly dog although a bit skittish.  He was almost one year old.  I would see him sometimes in the morning when I went for my run with my dog.  The German Shepherd liked my dog.  Eventually this helped me make friends with the German Shepherd.  He would definitely make a good companion for someone.

Many of my neighbors had seen the dog around too.  I learned that a few neighbors even put out food for him (not a good idea because the food can attracts rats and other varmints).  But as far as I knew, nobody tried to take him in or called the city animal shelter to have him picked-up.

I was doing yard work on a Saturday morning in late July.  The dog came wondering down the street.  I called to him and to my surprise he came to me.  He let me pet him.  He even jumped on me in a playful way.  He was really friendly.  The question now is, what to do with him?

What I did was to use my cell phone to call my wife and asked her to bring out a leash.  Once I got the leash on the dog, we called the city shelter to pick him up.  The animal control officer arrived about 30 minutes later and took the dog away.  Before the animal control officer left, he had already checked the dog for a chip (there was none) and took his photo.  The photo was immediately placed on PetHarbor.com.

There were many reasons I had the dog picked-up.  I couldn't keep him.  I already had a big dog who was a former shelter dog.  Socializing the dogs would have taken a lot of effort. There is the additional cost of providing for a second big dog.  The German Shepherd was severely under weight.  He needed food and water.  Distemper was going around in a few animal populations in the area.  He was un-neutered so he could breed more strays.  There were the general public health issues with having stray dogs roaming the streets including rabies. He needed to be off the streets.

The animal shelter holds dogs for four days to see if an owner will claim them.  After four days, the dogs becomes city property and he can be adopted.  Unfortunately, a dog can be put down if they are not considered adoptable and the shelter needs room for more dogs.

The shelter has a program for sponsoring pets for adoption.  Basically, the sponsor pays the adoption fee allowing the pet to be adopted for free.  A neighbor and I sponsored the dog.  Sponsoring the dog gives it’s the best chance for adoption since the shelter can immediately get the dog neutered and make sure his shots are up to date.  The dog is ready to leave the shelter as soon as someone wants to adopt him.  Sponsoring also means the dog will not be killed by the shelter.

The good news is that 10 days after being picked up, the dog was adopted.  I don’t know who adopted him but I hope is has a good family now.

There a few things I need to say. 

My neighborhood uses an email list and the Nextdoor.com message board for neighborhood communications.  I used these services to get the word out about what was happening with the dog.  Many neighbors had seen the dog and had taken a liking to it.  I thought it was appropriate to keep my neighbors informed.  I also hoped it might help get the dog adopted.

One neighbor commented that I given the dog a “death sentence” when I had animal services pick him up.  The dog was already underweight and had nearly been hit by a car.  Keeping the dog on the street was not exactly a way to give him a long life.  At least at the shelter, he had a chance to be adopted.

The problem is not with too many dogs at the shelter forcing the shelter to put down dogs.  The problem is with irresponsible people who don’t get their pets sterilized and let them run around, escape or abandon them so the can breed.

I learned much about shelters including the fact that my city shelter has an adoption sponsorship program.  Sponsoring a pet can greatly enhances its adoptability. 

Finally, I visited the dog shelter where the dog was taken.  I saw many wonderful dogs and cats there.  They would make good companions for most people.  If you are looking for a pet or know someone who is, the best place to start are your local animal shelters.  The PetHarbor.com and Petfinder.com websites are also good places to find adoptable pets and shelters in your area.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Getting the Fat Out

Besides my regular workout routine every day, I am trying to continue to improve my diet.  I cut out added sugar years ago (e.g. no more soft drinks or sports drinks and added more fruits, veggies and legumes).  Now I am working at reducing fat.  I avoid processed food.  I cut meat and dairy way back, reduced oil in cooking, eliminated salad dressing and no fried foods including French fries.  I now consume a mostly a plant based diet: fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains and nuts.  I eat small amounts of meat and cheese four or five times a week.  I now must work to reduce my favorite fat sources: dark chocolate (75% fat), avocados / guacamole (67% fat) and nuts (67% fat).  Getting the fat out is hard.

I have been working hard to reduce fat from my diet. It is not easy. Fat seems to be everywhere. No wonder we have cardio-vascular disease and cognitive decline as we get older. However, I am having success if the reduction if my recent cholesterol numbers is an indication (down 24 points from my last check and way south of 200;  I have never been over 200.).

The big things are greatly reducing meat and dairy consumption plus eliminating all fried foods. Salad dressings are a no-no since they are mostly fat. One must also avoid added cooking oils. Of course, processed foods and junk foods are also a big source of too much fat. This leaves mostly a plant based diet. However, some plants based foods contain high levels of fat so ones needs to be careful not to eat too much of them. These high-fat plant based foods include dark chocolate (my favorite), avocados (guacamole), olives, nuts and seeds (even flax seed is over 60% fat).

We need some fat in our diets.  The “Forks Over Knives” doctors, T. Colin Campbell, Caldwell B. Esselstyn, recommend a diet with only 10% fat.  Their diet is a 100% plant based diet.  A 10% target may be appropriate if you have a cardio-vascular disease.   I think a reasonably target is 20% for healthy people.  This allows me to enjoy some dark chocolate, avocados and meat occasionally.  The “Vegan Before 6” approach Mark Bittman wrote about in a new book might be another way to reduce fat in a diet.   What I am sure about is the 30% to 40% fat in the typical American diet is way too much and is due mostly to the big meat portions, processed foods and not enough fruits, vegetables and legumes.

Good luck getting the fat out.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Walk in the Woods

It was a great day for a walk in the woods with my dog.
Going down this path gave a boost to my spirit.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Walking Meetings

Nilofer Merchant has a great idea regarding walking and meetings that is good for your health and good for your meetings.  Hear her explain it in this Ted Talk (3.5 minutes).  
I think walking with a friend, family member or colleague is great anytime and always leads to good conversation.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Best Place to Exercise – Outside!

I like to walk, run and bicycle outside.  I like to be active.  But, I don’t like going to a gym or exercising inside.  I simply find it much more enjoyable and convenient to exercise outside.  I don’t think of it as exercise at all.  I think of it more like play or exploring.  As it turns outs, people may enjoy outside exercise better going to the gym and may be more likely to stay with an exercise routine.

A recent article in The New York Times’ blog, Well, explained the benefits of exercising outside.  
In comparing walking inside, on a treadmill or track vs. walking outside the article states:

“In virtually all of the studies, the volunteers reported enjoying the outside activity more and, on subsequent psychological tests, scored significantly higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem and lower on tension, depression and fatigue after they walked outside.”

I concurred with their findings based on my own personal experience. 

I enjoyed doing things outside since childhood.  I would simply run around or ride bicycles with my friend.  It was always enjoyable to play a pickup game of softball, basketball or tag football.  In high school, I was on track and cross-country teams.  We always did our workouts outside.  Running with my teammates during practice was not just a workout but a social activity.  On long training runs, there is a lot of conversation and friendships are built. 

Running, walking or bicycling outside still gives me a sense of freedom and independence.  I can vary my route or turn down a different street.  I don’t have to drive to a gym first.  I often try to discover new paths, parks and places to go.  Being outside and going to new places breaks up the monotony of exercise and keeps it fresh. 

It’s easy too.  I just put on my exercise clothes appropriate for the weather and go out the back door to start my run.  When I walk, I can usually just go in whatever clothes I am currently wearing.  I take my dog with me, because he is always ready to go for a walk. 

So if you want to start exercising, my best advice is to step outside and start moving.