Girl Walk All Day

April 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’ve been in Boston for work for the last week and a half and it’s been a surreal time to say the least. Between figuring out what to do with the arrival of 200+ people for a national training during a terrorist attack and reveling at the maturity of the response from everyone here in the city, I’ve managed to get myself a nice lil’ head cold and am home blogging and napping for the rest of the day.

*

The modern outside amateur activity today?

DANCE.

It’s tough being a modern animal when you travel and work a lot. Some parts of my day-t0-day already play nicely into staying active and on my feet (five day voter registration blitz, go go go!) but most of the time travel and time constraints necessitate more creativity than going on a lunch run or doing push-ups on conference calls.

Flash back to October of 2011; I was taking the BART in to San Francisco from Oakland for a meeting and listening to “I Am the Lion King” by PAPA on repeat, foot-tapping-knee slappin’, building up the jitters down to my bones to bust-up and shake-down. We pulled into Embarcadero and I walked with a swagger up the escalator .. that built up to all out fist pumping, joint popping  dance by the time I got to the street. I thought, Fuck it! This song is awesome!

So, since then, I’ve on and off given into the urge to just dance wherever I am; down the street, waiting for public transit, grocery shopping, whatever. All of it done with a bit of reservation and self-consciousness..

Enter Girl Walk All Day. Go watch it right now. I know, I know, it’s 71 minutes – but it’s fucking awesome! You should really go do that…

Okay done? Totally endearing and inspiring right? I wanted to dance all the time and what better place than Boston? There’s a level of anonymity that a city provides that makes this kind of all out dancing feel totally acceptable. In the last week, I’ve danced with 4 strangers on the T (once taking over an entire train car), am the star of at least 6 videos on people’s phones, and have been the happy recipient of dozens of smiles along the way. It’s a refreshing and active way to spend your commute and I can’t wait until it’s more commonplace.

Go forth and dance, hum-animals!

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Bike to Allaire, Part 3: Brainspace

April 8, 2013 § 4 Comments

Forced Mindfulness

I watched a TED talk awhile ago by Andy Puddicombe about mindfullness, being present in the moment. You can watch the whole thing here. This guy got so stressed out that he quit his degree and went to the Himilayas to become a monk, so you know, he seems pretty trustworthy.

It’s … about stepping back, seeing the thought clearly, witnessing it coming and going, emotions coming and going without judgment, but with a relaxed, focused mind.

He challenges his listeners to remember the last time they sat and did nothing for 10 minutes – not waiting for a train or trying to fall asleep, not traveling somewhere or accidentally zoning out, but actually not intending to do anything, just pausing and watching the brain move. It was an interesting thought, and I definitely couldn’t remember the last time I actively did this (have I ever..?) so I decided to give it a try.

It was past 9pm in the office and I was (clearly) distracted anyhow, so I leaned back in my chair and stared at the ceiling … my brain zipped back and forth, to the work I had to do, the people in my life, the errands I needed to run… but instead of trying to control it or streamline the thought to a solution, I just looked at it, recognized it. Hey thought! Yup, you’ve got a lot of shit to do. Oh, you seem to be stressed about that. Yes, you should call that person at some point..A the end of the ten minutes, I had a feeling of “welp, those are all just things.” I had a far better understanding of what was actually dominating my brainspace and the new feeling that just existing, that’s it, was okay.

It’s tough in modern society not be distracted, much less actually mindful. I’m an action person – what’s the problem? What can I do to solve it? What can I do to maximize this time right now? – and the iPhone, laptop, and iPad Mini combination is downright lethal to mindfulness (not to mention the cars and people zipping by my office window and the people walking in and out of the office randomly demanding my time). Having a moment of decompression, not even the full 10 minutes, can put the stops on whatever anxiousness or stress I’m feeling and help to direct my energy more efficiently and with more forethought.

This of course, was like two months ago. Before my bike ride, I’d reverted almost wholly back to my not so natural, but definitely dominant fast-paced, phone-checking self.

Enter nine hours of biking, 5 hours of walking, and three of staring at a fire. Here’s a sample of what totally unrestricted brain meandering might read like:

Get the Cliff bar… got it. This is delicious. I should get a water bottle holder thing. Right on Yellowbrick, right on Yellowbrick, nope not Yellowbrick. [daydream about hammocks on the beach]. This would be a good teambuilding activity. We should do more team building. [brainstorm teambuilding activities]. I’m awesome. This is awesome! I wonder if I’m going to get a sunburn. Mental note to read about skin cancer rates. Mental notes to get more books about science.

It’s not a novel concept, but I was just zenning out the whole time. There was nothing I could do about anything work related, so I had no reason to check my e-mail. I still had cell service, but I ignored work texts and used my phone only for directions. I smiled at the sun. I cursed the wind. I slumped next the fire and had to make hard choices about which stick I was going to burn next and whether I’d be happier if I got up to pee now, or in ten minutes. Other than the few moments of annoyance about my 2nd flat tire, having to hop a fence on our hike, and crazy New Jersey drivers, it was an entire weekend of mindfulness. An entire weekend of recognizing what my brain was doing, of just being, because there was nothing else but to be.

2013-03-30 12.31.51

Your eyeballs will be experiencing this and then some more stuff like this.

Here’s a snippet from the NYT on brain downtime:

The technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially productive. But scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.

My bikeride was a lovely detour from this day to day distraction filled existence and I clearly need to go out and do that more often, but I also realized that I need to make room for more mindfulness in my daily routine too.

Two minutes per minute

Did I mention that the whole endeavor felt like it was forever? In a previous post I wondered at how many posts I could write about this one weekend bike trip, mostly as joke, but it did get me thinking – I had so many new experiences packed into a day and half that it felt like it could have been a week. Week long bike tours to new places feel like a month. It’s the stretching perception of time as your brain works hard to take in a new or novel experience. From NPR in an interview with Neuroscientist David Eagleman of Baylor College of Medicine:

“…when you drive to your new workplace for the first time and it seems to take a really long time to get there. But when you drive back and forth to your work every day after that, it takes no time at all, because you’re not really writing it down anymore. There’s nothing novel about it.”

That may be because the brain records new experiences — especially novel and exciting experiences — differently. This is even measurable. Eagleman’s lab has found that brains use more energy to represent a memory when the memory is novel.

And it’s true – there were times on my bikeride to Allaire when I thought “man, this flat is going to have me coming in at sunset, I’ve been biking forever!” but on the way back, I subconsciously logged landmarks and scenery, but mostly wasn’t paying as much attention and felt like the whole endeavor took about the right time.

When people say, “wow, I feel like college was just yesterday” or “man, that was a year ago? feels like yesterday” I usually think, “maybe you should go do something different.” I can’t remember the last time I felt that way. More often, I think “that felt like a trillion years ago, I can’t believe that was just last year!”

In the last nine years, I’ve moved 14 times (I count a move as living someplace for more than a month) and lived with 33 different people. I was terrified to make a three year commitment to a job because it meant I’d have to really challenge myself to keep trying new things, to keep confusing my brain’s perception of time so that when I’m 80, I feel like I’ve lived to 200.

Touring Bike

Any new scenery is good scenery.

No turning back

Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine and peanuts at the ballgame – a lot of this weekend was downright hard. I hadn’t been on a fully loaded bike in awhile and spent the first ten miles freaking out about the chances of catching a pothole and a wayward breeze at the same time and being thrown into traffic. We got terribly lost on our hike, my ankle hurt like hell, and a member of our group was getting more surly at every mile. We couldn’t get the dog to swim across the river. I was starving and dirty and cold while I waited for my chili to heat up at camp. I was biking home trying to beat a rainstorm on day 2.

2013-03-30 16.24.27

Cookie saying, “nuh-uh, you’re going to have to find another way
home on this little bushwhack of yours
.”

The great thing about overnight bikerides? By the time it starts getting hard, it’s too late to turn back. It’s just you, your troubles, and your brain. Between the three of you, you have to figure out how to react to the situation because quittin’ aint’ an option.

It’s these moments that remind me that any thought that isn’t “this is how I’m going to fix it,” or “whatever, I’d rather be happy!” is useless.

So after my second flat, I just sat down and read my book in the sun until I felt like moving on. Whatever, I’d rather be happy!

2013-03-30 08.35.21

Me, my brain, and my troubles sitting down to read about germs
and eat a Cliff Builder bar.

Bottom line: The whole weekend was a wonderful reminder and testament to what our brains can do if we give them the time to do it.

Daily Weather Report

April 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

You’ll be soaked in sun today – put on your shorts and chacos!

Get ready for the major sunstorm by opening up all of your windows.

Sunsicles are already forming all over town.

We anticipate at least 80,000 feet of sun to accumulate over New Jersey today.

The sun will likely warm you down to the bones.

Feel free to take this sunstorm lightly – no lives will be threatened by it.

Offices and schools will remain open today as a sunstorm sweeps the city.

Sunmageddon, sunpocalypse, sunzilla, 2013.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING, GO OUTSIDE!

sun

View from my office window today. Can I just hang my head out of the window?

Bike to Allaire, Part 2: Routes, directions, and inadequicies of technology

April 3, 2013 § 3 Comments

It’s 2013 and although we don’t have hover-boards or teleportation yet, it has officially been ‘the future’ in my mind for at least five years now. One would think that in a world that now has echolocation hats, we would have more functional directional tools for cyclists.

Here’s what I’m looking for, in one cross-platform application:

☑ Comprehensive map with bike trails & relatively safe roads to bike on (or at least legal roads to bike on) – Google Maps, accurate enough check!
☐  The ability to take that map and put it on my iPhone with turn by turn directions – No such application exists, only on Andriod … WHAT!
☐  Same map – tracks my speed and elevation gain – Apps like this exist, but they don’t load a comprehensive map or give you directions. Even on Andriod they exist independently of the directions application.
☐  Same map with the ability to search for nearby bike stores, bike pumps, and campground. Again, this exists (not geared specifically for cyclists, but good enough for now) but it isn’t integrated into the same application.

The limiting factor here isn’t technology and it certainly isn’t demand (see this NYT article from last May). I guess there just aren’t any touring cyclists who know how to program that have mustered up the gusto to tackle this problem yet. If you’re reading this and you’re a touring cyclist that knows how to program  … you have no idea how many beers I would trade you* ..

In the meantime, for shorter day trips like the one I took this weekend, I’m good with old school pen and paper.

bike map to allaire

As tedious as the the map was to draw up, it did mean that I practically had the route memorized by the time I actually hopped on my bike. It was still really nice to have my iPhone as back-up; I did miss a turn a time or two (as you can see, there were like .. A LOT of turns) and was able to catch it pretty quickly with GPS tracking. The iPhone also let me check out a different way back than I took there. Having a Solio Classic charger chugging away on my way out on Saturday meant that I had mostly a full phone battery by day 2.

Solio Charger on Bike

People have been going on adventures for years without all these gadgets and widgets, but I think my generation will be the last that remembers doing so (if I had a dollar for every missed-turn bike mile I’ve ridden and freeway I accidentally had in my route plan …) If the bike revolution is going to catch up with the future and engage the next generation of two wheeled adventurers, the technology is going to have to catch right quick, and I for one won’t be one to complain when it does.

*But seriously cycling programmer – I know you’re out there and if your’e reading this, just tell me what you want and I’ll make the trade, Tall, Tall Trees Alan Jackson style.

Bike to Allaire, Part 1: Injury

April 2, 2013 § 9 Comments

This weekend was spring! Like for real – so much so that I got a sunburn all over my face. It was awesome! I had been thinking about a weekend overnight bike trip for a few weeks and decided to take this one to bike from Somerset, New Jersey to Allaire State Park. My brain is packed full of thoughts on the experience (if one half hour run = one post, than how many posts does a 30 hour trip warrant? I guess we’ll see!)

Today’s thought: I’m getting old and my body just doesn’t do what it used to.

I know, I know, I’m just turning 26 this month – I’ve got years of living ahead of me if luck is with me, right? Probably true. But the ongoing theme of this year continues: I am not, unfortunately,  invincible.

For years, I’ve been able to go hard – like really hard – hike miles, bike for hours, drink for days, wake up the next day, rinse and repeat with feeling tired as the only ramification. I read training schedules that warned about the dangers of overexerting and “listening to your body” and wondered at what they were talking about. What’s overtrainig? Is that like, when I feel extra tired? I figured that stuff didn’t apply to me and just tried whatever seemed awesome.

Fast forward six years – same mindset, different body. Last Wednesday, I ran the farthest I’ve run in awhile (maybe ever) and ended it feeling great. A little tingle in my inner ankle, but for once my lungs didn’t feel like exploding at the end of it and I felt like I could go even further. A breakthrough! I was going into the weekend feeling strong, thinking nothing of the ankle twinge.

Friday night, I packed up my panniers and got ready for the ride. I pound out 50 miles at 9 miles an hour (7 miles on a flat on account of having already used my spare tire on the first flat I got) and get to camp feeling exhausted, but pretty good. A couple of folks came down from north Jersey/NY to join me in an afternoon hike and that’s when the trouble started…

We decided to just go do some good ol’ fashioned bushwacking and wander a bit in the woods – it was all good and fun until we couldn’t find a clear path back to the campground (thank god for Google maps on iPhones for general location identification). Four hours and probably 10 miles later, my ankle was sore at every step and bruised/tender to the touch to boot. I walked in some cold rivers and streams to cool it down and popped some Ibuprofen, but there wasn’t much else I could do – I had biked out to the woods and had to get myself back the next day.

2013-03-30 20.28.52

Saturday night Peeburr. Kickin’ and a gougin’ in the mud and the blood and the beer, as they say.

I got lost and added another 10 miles and some serious climbing to my route on the way back, and by the last ten miles I could feel my ankle somethin’ serious and my IT band was acting up too. I thought “Whats happening?? I didn’t run into anything or fall or get attacked by bears…! Why??”

I brought the problem to my almost-doctor friend, Ben, his blog here, and here’s what he said:

“What happens is that when you over-exert yourself, the muscles become exhausted and in order to move, the joint puts more and more of the impact into the ligament or tendon (which is what attaches the muscle to the bone where its anchored), but because those aren’t supposed to be weight bearing, you can develop tendinitis (inflammation of the tendon) and as you keep working on it, it builds up scar tissue which is brittle and even less elastic and forgiving than the original tendon/ligament. Really what you need is to stay off of it as much as humanly possible for at least two weeks, and then really slowly introduce dorky-looking physical therapy exercises to build up the muscle mass around it so that you don’t continue to aggravate it. There’s no ‘cure’ except for keeping muscle mass around it to protect it. A little biking is probably fine in a week, but nothing over 20 miles.”

Needless to say, it’s not much better today and my ankle is now on a strict R.I.C.E. diet. Dammit age! I lost so much stupid over the last 6 years, but I was hoping I’d keep the resiliency.

Alright, alright. I’m done complaining. Time for a beer.

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