The dark times are nigh. Winter is upon us. Mauling, gnawing, choking us down its gullet. Daylight has burned to char and its ashes tossed to the wind.
Not really, though.
I’m trying to grow a beard. For no reason. So far I’ve managed an angry snow-dusted thorny thicket. I don’t know if this is going to work out. How do people do this? On one hand, I at least want to last a month. On the other hand, I look forward to the feeling of getting this thing off my face.
I was pretty active this past Spring and Summer. I got it in, y’all. I kayaked, paddleboarded, cycled long distances, mountain biked (and night biked and night bike hashed), indoor rock-climbed, caved/spelunked, hiked. Sometimes multiple activities in the same day. This is all in addition to training at Underground Athlete two to three or four times a week.
Somehow I also gained weight. What the….
The outdoor action season closed with two adventures of epic proportions. In a week’s time I paddled up the Potomac, charged through the woods at night on a mountain bike, hiked and scrambled up into the clouds, and then scrambled down into and plunged (okay, was lowered slowly down a rock face) deep into the earth.
OLD RAG & WHITING’S NECK
I hiked Old Rag again for the third time. In the daytime for once. No cramps, better prepared for the changing conditions. I managed to get a few decent photos but not the ones I wanted. That’s the thing about Old Rag.
1. It’s a crucible. Whatever issues you have, it tends to bring them out. Physical weaknesses, phobias and insecurities, social hangups. It’s all there in a not-too-far-away, conveniently packaged, epic day hike.
2. It makes you want to come back. For one reason or another. There’s always a reason to do it again. You want to do it faster, or when the weather is better, when the view is better, to get better photos, to try the other bit of scrambling, to do it in reverse, to bring someone who you think would love it, to see sunrise/sunset, to see it in the Spring, to see it in the Fall, to rock climb the summit. There’s always a reason.
The weather was a mixed bag. There were beautiful views along the way but the summit was a wall of clouds and fog. It was like the Twilight Zone. Like someone had erased the entire world except for the mountain. No sky. Nothing in the distance. Nothing below. Just the path in front of you and behind you.
You get to a section standing on the boulders alone and you look around and there’s nothing. There’s no one. Just a veil of gray-white. Like purgatory or limbo. Like a dream that you know will only have questions and no answers.
Fast forward one week and I was in a cave. Descending at the end of a rope on a rock face lit only by head lamps. Caving/spelunking last week made me realize just how complex caves are. I mean, I knew that conceptually but seeing it for yourself is mind-blowing. There are a warren of levels, layers, twists, turns, dead ends, claustrophobically tight squeezes and then sudden open rooms and natural cathedrals. And a deep, dark-beyond-understanding absence of natural light. Talk about character. That’s where some of our ancestors lived and thrived(?), though. In complex underground mazes. At least as far as the light of a fire or torch would allow them.
After googling for images of Whiting’s Neck Cave I spent a day seriously stressing out about some of the tight squeezes. Seriously. There’s one called a keyhole because you have to figure out a series of moves to wriggle through it. Didn’t see that one. Not upset about it one bit. Not that it would have stopped me but once we piled out of the van the guides told us during a brief orientation that any super tight spaces were optional. Yes, I was relieved.
I’d like to go in some time and take better lighting for the camera. Well, then again it’s so damp and dusty with fine grains of silt floating in the air that I’m lucky the camera I took is still functioning at all. Just a stubborn dial. It was a bad, bad camera climate. Should have taken the Nikon 1 AW1. It’s waterproof and shock proof but the sensor is smaller than the Sony a6000.
Turns out that maps of caves aren’t common or commonly shared. Spelunkers don’t want to encourage the general public to go wandering around. There are also a lot of property issues since caves tend to be on private property. Also, because caves are so complex there’s really no way to map all of that in an intuitive way. If you do see a map of a cave it’s not going to look like you’d expect. You’d need those laser mapping things from “Prometheus” for that. Some kind of drone-based LIDAR.
I was not expecting that we would have to climb up the rock face we rappelled down. We were belayed on the way up (so you couldn’t fall but you had to do all the climbing). I still don’t know how we all managed to make it up 30 ft. of rock covered in a thin layer of silty, clay-like mud. That was not easy. It was a blast, though.
ZERO SUM: NON-LINEAR PROGRESS
So back to what I was saying. I friggin’ gained weight. I tend to hover just slightly above 200 lbs. My goal is to get to 190. In my dreams, 185. I stepped on the scale a few weeks ago and I was at 208. Ridiculous.
I started logging calories and activity using MyFitnessPal again. I dig the barcode scanning of food packaging. Nutrition tracking is much easier than before, by the way, since Apple’s iOS 8 Health app syncs up the nutrition and activity logging from MapMyRide and other things.
I still can’t figure out how the heck I’m supposed to eat 200g of protein a day. I feel like I already eat too much meat and I’m not even close. I’m lucky if I get to 100g. The protein supplement I have “only” has 24g per serving.
I gave up sugar mostly for about two weeks but that didn’t work out. Something in my brain got low. Low low. I’d rather be fat than do more of that. Morning coffee with the caffeine and sugar seemed to help regulate whatever that is.
Anyway, logging my nutrition made it pretty clear why I didn’t lose and then gained weight. It also showed how imbalanced my diet is and how few micronutrients I eat. All of that points to one thing: not enough fruits and vegetables and variety. I’m practically starving myself, nutritionally speaking. I just happen to be overeating during the process.
I’m on track now, though. I do well on training days. Other days when I’m sedentary I’m not burning those calories, y’know.
Turns out that all I need to do to maintain (and hopefully lose) weight and work out some of those glitches (I’m looking at you, lower back) is, um, everything all the time. I just have to do everything constantly and keep it up throughout Winter and I’ll be good.
Socially speaking I lost ground. Don’t get me wrong. I did get to spend quality adventuring time with good people over the past few months. I’m not even sure how that happened but I’m glad it did. I live for that. It was the best. The best, Jerry! Went on a few eye-opening outings with interesting and inspiring strangers, too.
In that respect, this Summer was a confidence booster. I can have an amazing time with just about anyone (who is awesome in their own right). I needed that. I even got some unilateral dating practice. You know, when you’re spending time with someone having fun but it’s not a date but it’s close enough for jazz for one of you. Again, it’s good practice for me. It made me think that, hey, maybe I could date and actually enjoy it and not repulse women.
But with the highs come the lows.
I know it seems like I was social butterflying and all but that’s not accurate. Two hours a week at the gym plus three or four on a weekend and that was it. Even over the most active weeks of the Summer, I still went days at a time with no social interaction, isolated and bored out of my mind. Literally 48 to 72 hours without seeing or speaking to people. Not on purpose either.
It’s amazing what a difference one good friend can make. Seriously.
My FB page is action/adventuring propaganda. Or advertisement. I want to get people excited and interested in being out and about. I want to inspire people to do these things. I’m not REI or an outfitter, though. I don’t do it for altruistic reasons. I do it because I want to spend time with good people. I want to make friends. I want to get to know people. I want to share in the adventure. I’m creating them for myself as much as other people, in other words.
I mean, honestly, socially speaking, I don’t have a niche. I’m out of my element on a Mancation or at a KB competition.
It’s usually the photography aspect that excites me about social situations. It’s a powerful motivator. It’s fulfilling when it comes off right but — you know. Few people are comfortable in front of a camera and they need to be able to do their thing and relax without having one in their face.
I’m not really into identity politics or grouping. I was looking on meetup.com for something new that seemed like it could lead to a social circle. I was intrigued about a few black people adventure/outdoorsy groups. But … like, I normally wouldn’t join something like an all-men group. Or all-between-5’5″-and-5’8″-tall group. That doesn’t really appeal to me. I’ve never gotten that identity group validation. Who knows, though. Maybe I’d be less other-species in that context.
So I make my own activity-based niche. It’s a one-off. It’s functional.
I suppose a clean slate or blank canvas has potential.
Winter is here
It is not going to stop me. Not this time. I’ve got layers (and REI has my money). Just bought my first tent and sleeping bag (even though the event in question I was preparing for looks like a no-go).
There are cold adventures to be had.