Friday, March 23, 2018

13 Days until I fly to Kathmandu: Heroes, rest and sleep

I am putting my best foot forward to rest; it doesn't come easy for me.  My preference is to be on the go all the time.  Now, I need to fully recover and be as strong and healthy as I can be before taking off.  Thank you so much for following my preparation and eventual expedition.  Here are a few things that occupy my mind these days.

1.  A search for heroes.  The popular media wants to make everyone normal.  I'm normal - that much I know.  But even some of those that have superior skills and devote themselves to amazing feats of endurance get belittled to the level of mediocrity.  For some reason, we refuse to admit heroes into our lives.  I have a few who inspire me to keep going when the going gets really tough.  Hopefully you have a few too.  Here are mine:

Dag Aabye.  You probably never heard of him.  I'm sure he would find that fact quite comforting.  Dag is a young Canadian man (76 years old according to some) who lives in the Canadian wilderness and lives off the grid in the most marginal of ways.  To most, he would be seen as an eccentric old man.  I see him as a leader.  He lives how he wishes to live.  Not only that, he runs every day and is as fit as a person one third his age.  Do yourself a favor and watch this amazing short movie on Dag.  He doesn't know me and I don't know him - other than what I have read and watched about this man.  To me, a hero exists in our minds and not in the media.  Learn a little about Dag if you care to.  Heroes live their lives according to their own values.  Dag does precisely that and he obviously prospers.  Oh, if you want to know about his accomplishments in running, watch the movie.  As a teaser, he is the oldest person to ever finish the 80-mile ultramarathon often referred to as the "death race."

Sarah Thomas.  Heroes come in all forms and Sarah is one of my heroes.  She doesn't know it despite the fact that we are "friends" on Facebook.  I never met Sarah in person but read about her swimming feats for the past few years.  Sarah currently holds the longest known nonstop, solo swim (in a current-neutral body of water) - not that the last parenthetical bit makes one lick of difference.  She swam non-stop for 56and a half hours er...67 hours!  (Thanks Evan for the fact checking)  If that doesn't deserve some level of hero status, I have no idea what does.  I admired her tenacity for swimming for sure but my admiration grew steadily with her current missing.  Bad news befell her and her family; Sarah had a cancerous growth and is currently undergoing chemotherapy.  All the while, she remains optimistic about the outcome and longs to get back into the water.  Heroes come from not just sporting events but also emerge from life struggles.  A hero is someone who overcomes great odds and faces the dangers with a positive outlook.  Sarah matches all my criteria and I wish her well.  Hopefully one day our paths cross.

Aleksander Doba.  One of my students just emailed me a NY Times magazine article about a guy I never heard of before reading the piece.  He is one of my new-found heroes.  Why?  He - like Dag and Sarah - endures huge challenges with an openness to accept what comes.  I loved his self-deprecating statement "Nobody cares if you cross the Atlantic in a kayak."  He focuses on objectives that he desires - not just ones that others set.  I admire his focus and self-determination.  Moreover, he and I share the same attitude about aging where he said "I don't want to be a little gray man."  Heroism comes in many forms but Doba captures so much of what I admire in people that I could not resist putting him on my short list today. 

There are countless others who I omitted from this list.  Today, I am just full of appreciation for those who provided me some guidance and many of you know your influence in and on my life.  I can only thank you today but later I will provide greater detail about those of you who supported me through thick and thin.

2.  Rest.  I am in full recovery mode right now.  No training...just rest.  I found over the years that short bouts of rest restores my interest in hard slogs.  As March approached, I started feeling burned out from hours and hours of indoor training.  I knew I was fit but I kept pushing to squeeze out any last bit of endurance gains left in my body.  At some point, however, those pushes did not provide much and I keep pushing to realize anything.  That point is when I stop.  Well, the truth of the matter is that I don't always stop; I push for a little bit more until my sleeping, eating, and working patterns change for the worse.  I try to avoid that bad outcome now by resting more often and gaining as much as I can when I feel fresh.  Rest is the only way I know to solidify my gains so rest is what I do now.  I intend to rest for one or two more days and then resume my tapering down of workout intensity, load, and duration.   

3.  Circadian Rhythm Shift.  As I got older, I found it increasingly more difficult to overcome jet lag.  If you think a cross-country trip gives you jet lag, then try a 12 hour time shift - the same time shift that comes with a trip from the east coast of the US to Tibet.  The 12 hour time difference often leads me to getting sick and feeling really lethargic.  To prevent these untoward outcomes, I decided this year to slowly shift my time zones by 30 minutes each day.  My typical sleep-wake cycle during training puts me in bed by 9pm and up at 5am (and then out of my hypoxic tent at 6am after some breathing exercises).  Last night, I went to bed at 1:30am  and tonight I crash at 2am.  When I say crash, I mean crash.  My eyes barely stay open during the last 15 to 30 minutes of my day.  By the time I am ready to leave Virginia for Kathmandu, I will be going to bed at 8am and waking at 5pm.  The truth of the matter is that my day will be completely wonky when I travel but I have been known to sleep just about anywhere.  Once, while flying to Australia, I slept almost 12 hours without interruption in the center seat in the center aisle.  Yep, I can sleep standing up.  So this shift in my sleep-wake cycle will help me adjust to the time difference right away with the real aim to reduce the stress on my body.  Stay tuned to hear how it works out.

Thanks for following along.  I have two more posts about my gear and intend to submit them no later than by Sunday.  Time is growing dearer by the day.  Stay tuned for a few more insights as I pack my bags, eat my favorite foods, and prepare myself mentally for the challenges ahead.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

19 Days Remain: My torso gear and a quick update

Inside 3 weeks and I cannot keep still.  The anticipation is just killing me.  I have a few thousand things to do before I leave but those will be in my rear view mirror in short order.  A few days ago, Alan Arnette asked me if I would like to be interviewed and I readily jumped at the opportunity.  Alan chronicles Everest climbing every year and offers readers wonderful insights into the ground-level happenings on both sides.  Aside from being a climber himself, he is also a delightful guy.  We met several times in Kathmandu over the past few years and I always enjoyed chatting with him.  Needless to say, I felt incredibly grateful that he would have any interest in me or my climb.  If you are curious about his website, I encourage you to explore it.  Also, feel free to donate to his cause for Alzheimer's research; he takes nothing from the donations and gives back to the world ten times over.

I resume my coverage of gear by moving ever so slowly up my body.  Today, I discuss my torso gear.  I discuss each article moving from my base layers outward.  So, without further delay, here goes....

Base Layer

I rely on my X-Bionic base layer top for warmth and recovery. 
My favorite base layer - the X-Bionic top
This base layer is really tight but made of some stretchy wool - similar to most Merino wool tops but way warmer.  I wear this for days on end against my skin without fainting from the smell.  No kidding!  These tops resist getting smelly.  Brendan will thank me for wearing this instead of some technical shirt.  Speaking of technical shirts, I do wear one every day but mostly when I am in my tent.  These "tech" shirts get really smelly in a hurry.  I wear them to give my warm base layers a break and let them air out.  Also, I tend to run warm so wearing a short-sleeved shirt in the tent suits my internal body temperature.  

A typical tech shirt

I often bring about 5 or 6 of these tech shirts because they are light, take up no space when compressed, and get smelly quickly so they need to be either recycled or discarded in my bag of stinky clothing.  I also wear them every day so I need to have a few changes while I climb.  Many days when the temperature reaches 30F (2C) or higher, I wear these shirts and a light top so they are quite versatile.

Mid Layer

Long-sleeved tech shirt
I typically wear one fleece on and off throughout every expedition.  My fleece is really light - equivalent to a sweatshirt but much warmer when wet.  I also wear a long-sleeved tech shirt as a mid-layer over my base layer to just add another layer of warmth.  The tech shirt is something like the one pictured to the right.  Nothing fancy but it fits the bill nicely when I need just a little more warmth without any additional weight.  I also wear a puff down jacket as a mid-layer under my hard shell top.  My puff jacket has no hood but is warm and light.  Once wet, however, a puff jacket is useless so I try to use it only when I know I will either not sweat much or there is no chance of rain.  On Everest, the likelihood of rain is remote at basecamp or above; below basecamp, however, rain can be a problem.
My puff down jacket - used as a mid-layer or just as a light outer jacket

Outer Layer

Finally, we get to the most outer layer covering my torso.  I rely heavily on my big parka.  This jacket is so warm it can keep me toasty in the coldest temperatures.  I wear this as soon as I get into camp after climbing all day, crawl under it when I sleep on cold nights, and lounge around in it at basecamp when I get a chill.  Think of it as a sleeping bag with arms - not quite the coverage as my summit suit but it covers my torso and head nicely.  
My down parka

The other article I rely upon when climbing - almost daily - is my hard shell top.  I purchased this top almost 8 years ago and patched it, resealed it, and tortured it for that entire duration.  When I climb, I typically wear only the bare necessities under this top.  I find a tighter, wind-stopping outer layer allows me to stay warm while I climb.  Stopping for long periods requires more insulation so if you plan to climb with minimal layers, keep moving!

My hard shell top
These are the few items I intend to take on my upcoming Everest expedition to cover my torso.  Most of my choices come from many years sorting through gear that I found both useful and necessary.  Each of these items fit those criteria and can be used under the conditions I expect to encounter on Everest this year.  

I have two more areas of my body to cover - well, three.  Over the next few days, I intend to cobble together more pictures of my head and hand wear.  My final post on gear includes those articles that cover my entire body.  There are not many articles of clothing that do that job but there is one in particular that I rely upon heavily for summit day.  So stay tuned for more gear.

Thanks for following and a huge thanks to Alan Arnette for interviewing me for his blog.

Friday, March 16, 2018

23 Days Remain: Gear sort resumes with my legs

As promised, I am detailing my gear again - resuming with my legs.  I noticed as I gathered up all my gear that I really do not have much to cover my legs.  Actually, that point is not true.  What I do have in gear covers my legs just fine but I do not have many articles.  I guess that is a good situation.  More gear is not necessarily better.  Below, I sorted my leg gear by layer starting with the base and moving outward.
Trusted Ex-Officio Underwear

Base Layer

I have three pieces of clothing for my base layer.  First, I have underwear (an obvious and rarely overlooked item) and that underwear is made of synthetics so I can wash them out quickly when the begin to stink.  I tried Merino wool before but they tend to be too hot and, while the stink a lot less than the synthetics, they are difficult to wash/dry when needed.  Underwear is an essential item that takes up little space in my pack and is the one item that I wear continuously throughout the climb.  Mind you, I don't wear the same pair - that would not sit well with my climbing mates.  The second layer I have on for most of the climb is my long base layer pants.  Several years ago I stumbled across these base layers and I doubt I would ever return to the constantly sagging Merino wool or synthetic base layers.  Here is a good picture (on the right below) of my X-Bionic base layer pants.  They offer both compression and warmth and can be worn every day for a month and never stink - I promise.  Even after a hard day of climbing where I sweat many liters, these things just seem to take in all my wonderful smells and turn those smells into something much more pleasant.  You'll note that when I discuss base layers, I will constantly harp on smell.  Expeditions produce rather ripe individuals and I am no exception.  Best to have many redundant base layers and be prepared to clean them when your climbing mates start looking at you with the evil eye.
Compression pants (R) & base layer (L)
Another important layer is my compression pants.  These pants help my legs recover after a long day of climbing; they really work - at least for me they do.  I put these on in place of my X-Bionic pants.  Compression pants do not offer much insulation but boy do they help my legs feel like new the next day.  I love wearing these compression pants in my sleeping bag at night after a long, hard day.  Talk about creature comforts!  

Speaking of creature comforts, I often wear my puff pants around camp when it is cold and windy.  These pants are like walking around with a sleeping bag on my legs.  I wear my compression pants under them and these on top as I stroll around trying to recover.  Nothing beats a good pair of puff pants for creature comforts.  You can just feel the warmth coming from these pants, right?  
Puff pants (MH)

Finally, I have my every day hard shell pants that just work.   There are many different styles to choose from but these pants work and they put up with a ton of abuse.  Hard shell pants are a climbers best friend.  Don't worry about spending money on the "top" pants.  Try them on and look for some critical features such as 1) full-length zips on each leg so you can take them off without taking off all your footwear, 2) water proof enough to keep you dry from the outside and not soaking wet from your own sweat, 3) rugged material that withstands a beating on snow, ice, and rock, and finally 4) low profile suspenders that do not cause you to have chafing marks while climbing with a pack.  I purchased these GoLite pants about 6 years ago and have patched them about 20 times.  They are tough and still hold out most of the water.  I ski, climb, and sail in these pants - they are that versatile.  Once you figure out how often you use a piece of gear, I strongly recommend you consider the cost per use.  A good pair of hard shell pants may run you about US$250 but over their lifetime, you may spend US$1 per use - at least that is what I figured I would spend.  These hard shell pants come in handy on most climbs and will be on my legs until I put on my summit suit.  
GoLite Hard Shell pants - a necessity for all climbs
Well, that is about it!  I have a few things that I rely upon almost daily and they keep my legs warm and ready for another day.  

Given the short time before I depart, I intend to catch up a bit and post every two or three days.  Sometime this weekend, I plan to cover my upper body and then full body gear.  There might be a few omissions simply because I am starting to feel rushed.  Soon, I must pack all my gear - well, at least pack it after I check it, check it again, check it a 3rd time, and then figure out where it might be best packed.  In the meantime, I thank you for following along with my adventure.  

If you are wondering what I am doing these days with respect to training, I am tapering off my training schedule and focusing more on recovery and healthy living.  With a little over three weeks before I depart, I have a ton of things still left to do.  Wish me well and see you shortly....

Monday, March 12, 2018

Under a month to go (27 days)! A few minor hiccups during the final stretch but ready

I left off promising more climbing gear descriptions but I got bogged down in work, preparation, and recovery.  Here is what is happening....

1.  Getting sick again.  Over the past few days, I came down with another ear/sinus infection so that I have that wonderful experience - sleeping in a hypoxic tent with a clogged head and a blasting headache.  Oh the fun!  

2.  Climbing plans remain unsettled.  We are still working on getting Brendan's Tibet visa; mine apparently has not run into any problems (I hope).  Brendan works in China and apparently he must give up his Chinese work visa if he obtains his Tibet climbing visa in Kathmandu.  Yeah, I know, it sounds very odd but nothing is surprising when it comes to Everest.  Every little problem just costs a little extra - often US$1000 here and there to make things right.  Brendan and I still have no firm plans on how to meet in Tibet before we climb.  We might just end up meeting at Advanced Base Camp after about 2 weeks of climbing.  I sure hope not.  My preference would be to meet way earlier - perhaps in Kathmandu - and enjoy the entire experience together.  Regardless, these hiccups are hardly a major concern.  We just need to sort them out.

3.  Recovering means NOT training.  I reached a point where my body and brain said ENOUGH!  My body and mind are ready to climb and more training will only serve to make me sick or lead me to lose more weight (more on that point later).  I am at a perfect climbing weight (176 lbs or 80 kg) and I do not want to lose any more weight.  Recovery entails weight training, running, and some additional weight training using a weight vest on the elliptical.  I don't plan to workout any longer than 2 hours each day and most days will be easy - around 90 minutes.  That workout time includes stretching, breathing, and warming up so don't think I am going crazy here.  

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen, Broad Spectrum Spf 45, 3 Fl. Oz., Pack Of 2
4.  Last second purchases are done!  There are always little things that I need to purchase at the last second.  The timing often is important because what I purchase expires (e.g., sunscreen) or I don't know I need it until I finalize my packing.  Based upon a rather thorough gear sort, I purchased the final pieces to my entire climbing kit.  I checked and re-checked all my gear to ensure it is in fully functional order.  I'm ready to pack...but not so fast.

Garmin inReach Explorer+ Satellite Communicator Orange5.  Communications still need to be sorted out.  I plan to use a Garmin InReach for communications while we are climbing.  The InReach is quite a nifty device.  I can send texts and updates along with links to a map where you can locate us.  The only problem with technology is that you need to set it all up at home before you depart or else it simply will not work.  I think there must be some rendition of Murphy's Law that governs the operation of technology but the only way to prevent mishaps is to get things sorted out.  Over the next few weeks, I plan to post several "tests" that you can either ignore or become familiar with the system while I familiarize myself with it.  Every day (weather and time permitting), I plan to send a message indicating where we are and how we are doing.  Usually, these will be in the form of a map link and a simple "Doing fine, will send a more elaborate update when possible" message.  Expect these tests to start in the next few days.  

I finally have pictures of all my gear so once I get the time I intend to piece together my gear sort - resuming with my legs and working up my body.  

Thanks for following.  Hope you are enjoying the beginning of a fine week.  Expect another update in a few days.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

33 Days Remain: Monster days on the AT last weekend

I spent the past few days in the great outdoors hiking portions of the Appalachian Trail.   For those interested in the trails I hiked, check out these links:

1.  Weverton to Gathland State Park (out and back).  I started from the parking lot in Harper's Ferry for a total round-trip of just a shade under 20 miles.  The terrain was flat initially and then offered a nice climb up about 1200 feet then continued along an undulating ridge.  Nice hike and certainly worth the effort and drive.

An AT shelter in the distance.

2.  Maryland Heights Loop (loop with great views).  I hiked this loop fairly quickly and enjoyed the scenery.  

The view from above.  Little, charming Harper's Ferry down below.

There were other trails but I decided to show you two of my favorites.  Lest you think I had a night off from my hypoxic tent...fear not!  I brought a unit and tent with me and slept each night at my prescribed altitude.  These were tough days followed by a great night sleep (at altitude).  Also, the weekend was a great adventure and offered me some good feedback about my preparation.  I have no doubt in my mind now, I am fit.  What I need to focus on now is getting my gear ready, finishing work projects, getting my study setup and ready to deploy, and resting.   Still having fun....

Thanks for following.  More gear on Thursday.

Friday, March 2, 2018

37 Days Remain: What am I up to these days?

My last post focused on my feet.  Today, or rather two days ago I intended to shift my attention just north to my legs.  That intention was met with reality.  Several things at work and some tough days of training kept me from taking pictures of my gear.  I promise to return to the gear posts on Thursday (6 days from now).  Yeah, I know I am out of sync with these posts.  Just trying to fit in as much as possible in the little time I have left at home.

What am I up to these days?

1.  Working (Having Fun).  I have four graduate students who are steadily progressing through their doctoral work.  Along with guiding them, I have several projects that occupy my days - perhaps too many projects that occupy too much time but I love the daily challenge.  Leaving for Nepal (and Tibet) in early April requires me to get caught up on all of these work projects well before I depart.  These projects also provide me with endless ideas about what to post on my Psychology Today Blog.  Work is fun.  Actually, I often say I never worked a day in my life.  With the exception of those days filled with meetings, I can honestly say I rarely work; I have fun.
Hard at my own sloppy way.
2.  Training.  I train most days for 3 hours except for rest days when I only train for about 1.5 hours.  The indoor training routine is starting to drag me down a bit.  I know I need to press through but I just cannot get enthused about training.  Perhaps this is a good sign that I am ready?  I don't know, but mentally I am ready to go.  Based upon my schedule, I have 17 more "hard" days of training before I begin my recovery period.  Those days will be difficult but I enjoy the challenge; I just wish I could get more pumped up for the sessions now.  Each day begins with some light warm-up exercises, core work, lifting, running, and then more cardio with my pack.  I wish I could just put on my pack and go climb.  Soon.....oh so soon.
My home gym - ready to be used for 3 hours
3.  Sleeping (barely).  Hypoxic sleep training starts off really fun/exciting and then progresses toward work - yes, work and I mean work.  Today, I woke up at 8.7% oxygen in my head tent.  What does that percentage mean?  I had about 42% of the oxygen that most of you had this morning.  That oxygen level is roughly equivalent to the summit of Aconcagua (23,000 feet or 7000 m).  Even typing that gives me chills.  I had tons of fun climbing Aconcagua with my friend Brendan.  He and I will be your tour guides this spring on Everest so stay tuned for an introduction.  For now, I struggle to sleep through the night.  I wake up almost every night at 2am after going to sleep at roughly 9pm.  From 2am until about 4am, I think about things to do.  After 4am, I may drift back to sleep but more often I just get up and grab a cup of tea.  For those of you more interested in my acclimatization, my spO2 ranges from about 65% to 78% on most mornings.  All in all, I feel great in the morning (perhaps less so this morning) and feel great while training.  Getting started with my training routine early is likely affected by my hypoxic sleeping (if you want to call it sleeping). 
The night-time arrangements where I may sleep (or not)
4.  Preparing.  The last few weeks before departing on any expedition tend to be the most hectic.  Everyone wants things from me and I only have about 15 hours each day to devote to these life activities.  Part of the preparation is packing, sorting through gear, checking each piece for integrity, and organizing lists upon lists to reduce the cognitive burden while I am climbing.  These preparations take time.  I am also ordering last-second consumables (e.g., sunscreen, body wipes, and such).  Taking stock of what I have and what I need is a full-time job that needs to fit into what remains of my day after I sleep, work, and train.  To add a little intrigue into the mix, I also have to prepare to collect data while on Everest.  I didn't mention this before but will explain the rationale in a future post.  So climbing and working preparations occupy my "spare" time when I am not working, training, or sleeping.

You might ask yourself, when do I eat?  I eat on the run.  I eat when I can.  I eat when I need to eat.  More on that later - I promise.  This morning, I woke up at 176 lbs (80 kg) down from 198 lbs (90 kg).  I am eating...again, I promise.  Between training, working, and sleeping, I can only eat so many calories to offset the weight loss.  Heck, I had a few pounds to spare anyway.  My weight is no concern right now.  Finally, I am able to run without feeling the pounding through my knees. 

My next post - probably on Thursday (March 8th, 2018 - 31 days remaining) - focuses on my leg gear.  After that post, I should be in the clear to post more regularly on both gear and last-second preparations/announcements.

Thanks for following. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

42 Days Remain: Gear sort starting with me feet...

Welcome back to my adventure.  Starting today, I intend to provide more details about my gear and trip preparation.  Believe it or not, these posts help me organize my thinking about the climb.  Nothing helps me more than to review my gear and climbing plan.  Over the next few weeks, I plan to cover both topics - first my gear - and to post about gear relevant to each of the major body parts starting with my feet and ending with my head.   Along the trip up north through my body, you will learn about the gear I plan to take and when I plan to use it.  Brendan (my climbing buddy) and I spent some time organizing a Google sheet with all our gear.  Care to see the entire list?  Well, here it is.  We have many items on our list and some may end up staying home.  Until we finalize the list, expect it to change routinely until we depart.

My Foot Gear

Travel footwear from VA to Chinese Base Camp (CBC):  My trusted flip-flops.  These OluKai sandals (and their ancestors before them) traveled the world with me.  
I may replace this pair with a relatively new pair.  Nah....
CBC to Interim Camp and perhaps Advanced Base Camp (ABC):  Approach shoes.  I intend to either use my GoLite approach shoes - the same I wore to the summit of Aconcagua - or a new pair of Addidas trail running shoes if they fit and I can break them in before I leave.  Bad idea to break in new shoes on a big climb.  Blisters just don't heal at 6000m (20,000 feet) and above.

These GoLite approach shoes are comfortable but they have seen better days.  I ran them through 3 or 4 washing machine cycles to finally rinse the dirt off.  They might not be up for the journey.  I might use these Addidas trail runners instead.  

No, I don't have them yet.  They are en route from (don't ask).  

Advanced Base Camp and above:  Mountaineering boots.  I have a nice pair of La Sportiva Olympus Mons.  Right now, they are drying out from today's workout but I can give you a quick glimpse of the outer shells and liners - they both stink from sweat but I can spare a second to take a picture and then run them back into the gym where they can stink up that place and spare my office. 

The outer boot is to the left and the liner is on the right.  I intend to wear these for long stretches - not the outer boots unless I am climbing but the liners.  Those liners are comfortable.  I might even s