Monday, March 28, 2016

314 - Almost there (PCT d - 51)

314.8 lbs
At this morning's weigh-in, 314.8 lbs (142.8 kg). Can I lose two more pounds in the next two or three days? You betcha!

I'll be going swimming a couple more times before my gym membership expires at the end of the month, which means a 2 mile walk each time to get there, plus I'm going to an event downtown on Tuesday which entails a 2.5 mile walk each way.

Today's mystery photo is ...

I'd been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, and on Sunday morning it just happened:
Mystery photo
The answer will be posted in a few days time. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Next goal - 303 by the end of April

Full of ups and down - don't give up!
With five days until April 1st, there's still time to work towards the March goal (312 lbs), but I want to be at 303 lbs by the end of April. I would like to be able to properly wear my new Gore-Tex jacket, which I want to take with me on my hike in Oregon (see

I have a couple of friends who are struggling at the moment with the frustration of seeming to have stalled. They're doing the right things: eating well, doing the exercise, but they're not seeing the results at the scales. My chart (above) shows how progress goes sometimes - even if you're doing all the right things. Keep at it! Don't give up! You will be rewarded in the end. I had a few weigh-ins at the beginning of the month where I appeared to be going backwards (or upwards), but I stuck at it, and now I'm down to 317.8 lbs, and headed in the right direction again.

As I keep telling people: if I can do it, so can you!

Late sprint needed for victory (PCT d - 52)

After last week's epic 57,000 steps (well, it was epic for me!), this week will be another 50,000+ steps week.

** Sunday evening update: At 57,800, I managed even more than last week!! **

317.8 lbs, a new low
My week started with some terrible overeating on Monday (, which caused me to miss walking in the evening and to have to skip swimming too. I made up for it on Wednesday and Thursday with two 9,000+ steps days. Then, yesterday, I walked to Vans Thiftway and back, which is 3½ miles from my apartment. So 7 miles altogether, which made over 14,000 steps. If I go to Albertsons (1 mile away) later this morning, or to the movie theater (the Myrna Loy Center is 1.7 miles away), I'll easily exceed 50,000 steps for the week again.

Having so "easily" reached my February target of 321 lbs four weeks ago, it's been a struggle to shift any weight off since then. I haven't been quite as strict with the low carb diet, as I've been experimenting with backpacking food for my upcoming hiking trips. It's taken until today to hit a new low of 317.8 lbs (144 kg). If I'm to make my end-of-March target of 312 lbs, I'll have to be extra careful what I eat and extra focused on burning calories through exercise.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Principles versus practicality (PCT d - 55)

With 15 days to go until my overnight hiking trip to Bear Trap Canyon (near Norris, MT), I'm focusing on making my own "just add water" dehydrated meals that are suitable for the backpacking trail. When Birdie (my daughter) came over for a visit on Tuesday evening, we tried out a Knorr Pasta Sides dish (Parmesan flavor) and a Mountain House Chili Mac with Beef meal (Spicy sauce with macaroni, beef and beans). The former was okay, but the real surprise was just how good the Mountain House product was. It was very easy to make, still piping hot after 13 minutes of waiting, visually appealing, smelled good and was very tasty. Definitely rated 5 out of 5 stars (*****).

Homemade all-in-one meal
Using an ordinary domestic dehydrating machine, I had previously dried out some cooked ground meat and some vegetables (butternut squash, diced carrots and cauliflower). I bought some Safeway-brand stuffing mix, some Idahoan mashed potatoes (Loaded Baked® flavor), some Safeway gravy mix, and I cheated slightly by adding some 'real' butter.

The store-bought dry ingredients were carefully weighed and split up into 2-serving portions. The potatoes serve 4, so I split those into two. The gravy was the same. The stuffing mix serves 6, so I split it into 3 equal portions. Then I added a cup of my dehydrated mixed vegetables and a cup of ground meat. Normally, I might split the resulting recipe between two ziptop bags, and each person could add their own 1¼ cups of boiling water but, for testing purposes, I used 2½ cups of boiling water. The resulting mix was left to stand (rehydrate) for 10 minutes.

After dividing it into two equal portions, the result: it was certainly enough, volume-wise, for one person for one meal. The second half will be taken to work tomorrow for my lunch. The taste was actually pretty good. The squash was still a bit hard, but the carrots and cauliflower were good. The potato and stuffing mix were a nice consistency and the meat was good. Overall, a successful 4 out of 5 stars (****). The nice thing about it, too, was that there was zero added salt, unlike the freeze dried stuff which ends up having 1,500 mg of sodium per real serving.

Birdie said that she liked the squash as it was, a crunchy snack, without rehydrating. I didn't try it.

Normally, when I'm grocery shopping, I avoid the center aisles, which have all the pre-packaged "convenience" foods. My friends who know me well also know that I try to avoid products made or sold by Kraft Foods and Nestlé. The trouble is, so many foods that backpackers might take with them are made by these companies. Thinking about dry whole milk, for example (versus that nasty non-fat stuff), Nestlé's Nido brand is really popular, but I refuse to buy it or use it. A couple of alternatives: Augason Farms is stocked by a local store (Vans) in Helena, and Thrive sells freeze dried products through their MLM home distributor network. I'll be trying both of those in the coming weeks.

As well as avoiding Kraft and Nestlé products, I'm also torn between wanting to stick to my low carb diet, which has worked so well for nine months, and wanting to field-test my provisions for future backpacking and hiking trips, but they inevitably contain lots of carbs.

On our trip to Crater Lake in May, I know we'll have to carry an average of 1.5 lbs of food per person per day, which means 10.5 lbs each for the seven days that we'll be hiking (unless we mail some food to ourselves at Mazama Village, and pick it up at the end of day 4). With 5 lbs of water, and 25 lbs worth of other gear, we'll be toting 40 lbs on our hips for 100 miles. If "convenience" foods offer a way to reduce that weight, that may be the lesser of two evils (but there's almost nothing more evil than Kraft and Nestlé).

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Even Superman had a bad day sometimes (PCT d - 57)

As I was lying in my bed yesterday at about 7.00 pm, feeling sick and sorry for myself, the image below came to mind:
Superman is weakened in the presence of Kryptonite
Twice in the last few weeks I've bought cheese at the weekend, and twice I've succumbed to its temptations and eaten the lot within a day or two. It made no difference that it was Brie, or Camembert (interesting article at, or a nice aged Cheddar, I love cheese. I also overate some leftover chicken curry. So it was a miserable evening of acid reflux and self-loathing.

It affected me so much, I didn't go out walking, and I didn't go swimming in the evening. If somebody tells me that they overate, I'd be the first to say to them, "You know what? Tomorrow is another day!", and advise them to forget about that one (well, okay, two) lapse(s), and focus on being better the next day.

Veggie cup with Ranch dressing
I did actually make a healthier choice this morning. Instead of being tempted by scones or doughnuts or muffins, I chose a cup of veggies instead.

As I prepare for some backpacking trips over the next couple of months, I'm experimenting with freeze dried and dehydrated foods, which inevitably are not as healthy as I might like (high sodium content in some of the prepared "just add water" meals, for example). Even though my weekly step count is going up slightly, it's not going up enough to justify eating high calorie (high carbohydrate) foods - not yet.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Stepping up the steps (PCT d - 59)

I walked 57,000 steps this week, more than any other week in the last nine months. Actually, it's probably more than any single week in the past five years, maybe more!
Weekly steps measured using two Android apps, with a 3 week moving average
I've been steadily increasing my weekly number of steps, from about 25,000, through 30,000 and 35,000. Three times I've hit 47 or 48,000. Today was the first time past 50K, and boy did I shatter that personal best mark!

With less than 9 weeks to go until my Oregon adventure; less than 5 weeks until my 3-night Arches/Canyonland NP trip to Utah; and 3 weeks until I spend the night in Bear Trap canyon near Norris after a 9 mile hike, it's good that I'm able to step up my steps. Not only is the quantity of steps going up, but I'm deliberately tackling steeper terrain. It's still hard work. I'm still getting out of breath sometimes, but I don't stop altogether now. I might still take 15 to 20 seconds to catch my breath sometimes on the really steep parts and let my pulse rate settle down a bit, but I press on.

Through all of this, I am so thankful that my feet haven't given me any significant problems. My Moab Ventilator walking shoes (got mine at The Base Camp) have performed really well. I'll probably end up buying a second pair, so that there's a seamless transition when the first pair inevitably wear out. The only fault I can find with them right now is the laces that came with them both broke after just a few months. If I had to give them a rating out of five, it'd have to be ***** five stars. They are a solid, reliable piece of gear for me.

Speaking of reliable gear, one of the very first pieces of gear I bought, back in October 2015, was my trekking poles ( They are a very lightweight (80% carbon fiber/20% aluminum) set of an unknown brand ("Flyingbird" is woven into the hand straps) for $50. With the exception of an occasional tiny slip of the locking mechanism (easily fixed), these poles have performed amazingly well. You can still buy them from my favorite online retailer ( Today, I had to replace the rubber "feet" at the ends. The old ones hadn't quite worn out, but I was beginning to hear a metallic-sounding clank from time to time as the tungsten-steel tips hit the paved road. I expect that, later this summer, I'll invest in an upgrade  to a pair from Black Diamond or Leki. For anyone looking to get into using trekking poles for the first time, I would certainly recommend these (***** 5 stars).

About ten years ago, I bought a Berghaus (European brand) 20 Liter day pack for little local hikes around the Berkshire countryside in England. It served me well at the time, and I brought it back to the States with me the following year when I moved back here. Then the plastic buckle broke. I contacted Berghaus, who didn't reply, so I more or less stopped using the pack. Today, thanks to Bob at The Base Camp, I not only have a new buckle for that, but also an extension for the "fanny pack" that is the lid of my new 60 Liter Osprey Aether backpack. That worked out really well, and for under $5 each.

Speaking of my Osprey Aether backpack, I was surprised that the hydration bladders were as reasonably priced as they are. I got the Osprey brand 3 liter reservoir for $36, although I doubt that I'll ever fill it all the way to the top. Now I'll have a way of carrying, say, 5 pounds of water (5 pints) on my back without any bulky bottles. I'll have a separate 16 ounce "dirty" water container for use with my Sawyer Mini filter, and a re-purposed Gatorade bottle for my immediate drinking needs. On the Oregon trip, at the end of May, there are plenty of lakes, and the streams will still be flowing with spring runoff (melted snow). The dry season won't be for a month or two after I've been there.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Already looking ahead to 2017

I recently purchased a map from the Missoula-based Adventure Cycling Association ( covering the Lewis & Clark Trail from Great Falls, MT to Clarkston, WA. It's the first half of my ambitious plan to cycle from Helena (or wherever) to Portland, Oregon, in the summer of 2017.

This evening I started to watch a few YouTube videos on cycle touring. The average of about 50 miles a day is in line with what I had imagined I might do next year. If I want to ride 700 miles, it'll take 14 days - definitely doable. To make it more "interesting" I want to ride it on a tandem, which will require one or more riding partners. My inclination is to think that it'll take place in September, after the blazing hot months of July and August, but before the snow and cold of October make conditions too unpleasant.

The Adventure Cycling Association is promoting June 3rd through 5th as "National Bike Travel Weekend", so I'm thinking that would be a good time for me to start - the week after I get back from my Crater Lake adventure! I wonder if my legs will be in fit condition to do it?

Four miles around Bompart Hill (PCT d - 62)

I took advantage of the lighter evenings, now that we're back in Daylight Saving Time, to walk for two and a half hours after work on Wednesday:
Route around Bompart Hill in the South Hills of Helena
The elevation gain was about 510 feet - a good workout.
Elevation profile
Given the name of this blog, "Eat Right, Get Out Of Breath", I was thinking to myself that I'm certainly getting out of breath during the uphill sections of the hike. I was carrying 21 pounds of weight in my backpack too, close to the kind of weight I'll be carrying in Oregon in nine weeks time.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tai Chi for better balance

After my post a few days ago about "something primally satisfying about beating the sh*t out of a 80 pound sand-filled canvas bag" (boxing), I was reminded that another thing that I had looked into was Tai Chi. There's a project for me to work on this spring and summer.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

From humble beginnings (PCT d - 70)

I may have mentioned previously that it's been almost two years since I first joined the Capital City Health Club, in an attempt to get my healthy sorted out. When I first started going, I was in such poor shape that I had trouble walking to the end of the driveway at home, or walking to the end of the street.

At the time, I was keeping a journal (diary) of sorts. Here is an extract of what I wrote at the time (April 5th, 2014).
"So, I arrived at the club at about 5.20-ish. I was lucky enough to find a parking spot close to the building. After 4.00 pm, you're lucky if you can even park within sight of the club, it's so full. At that early hour though, there weren't that many other fools about. I checked in (they didn't have a key fob with barcode for me on Monday). I went in to the changing area and put my 'stuff' in a locker. After an obligatory shower (more like a lick-and-a-promise), I walked into the pool area. The floor was very slippery, especially with wet feet.
My first destination was the therapeutic pool. Unlike the lap pool, the water is warmer and they have a neat little circular area where the 3½ foot deep water current flows in a clockwise direction. The idea is that you walk counter-clockwise and have to overcome the gentle resistance of the water. It felt really good to be in the water after such a long time.
The first thing, before any walking, was to let the water carry my weight and to just float for a minute. The water came up to my neck. It was so warm and felt so good. My shoulders began to relax right away.
I started walking my laps around the circular pool. The current wasn't very strong. Eventually, I figured out that the jets were in the outside wall of the doughnut shape, and that walking along the outer edge produced greater resistance. I didn't count the laps. I had to keep my eye on the small clock to make sure I wasn't late for work.
After a while it was time to try the hot tub. At first it was quite hot but I quickly got used to it. The heat on my arthritic knees felt really good. I sat there for about five minutes before heading back to the therapeutic pool.
By now, the hard-core early swimmers were leaving and I was almost on my own. There was a wall with water jets and bubbles coming out of it. I sat in front of the jets for a couple of minutes. The tiny bubbles would get trapped in the hairs of my back and chest, and would tickle when they eventually escaped. That was fun. After a few more laps around the doughnut it was time to get out and head to work. When I finally got onto firm ground again, my legs felt really heavy for a moment, like an astronaut who has been in space so long, his muscles have started to atrophy. When the astronaut first lands back on Earth and is subject to gravity for the first time, he can't even hold up his own body weight and has to be physically carried out of the re-entry capsule.
I didn’t say anything about how it felt to walk through water. With the water depth being 3½ feet, it comes up to your elbows. If you hold your arms up you can keep your hands out of the water, which reduces the ‘drag’. Either way, with the increased resistance of the water compared to air (where we normally walk), I felt like a big T Rex or Godzilla, with the bulk of my weight in my lower half. On Wednesday, my second day, it was slightly different. Then I felt like a robot, with very angular movements, not smooth and fluid; and certainly not natural-feeling. After that, it simply felt like I was a little bit drunk, with mostly straight and forward movements but the occasional sideways falter.

I figured out an easy way to keep track of how many laps I did of the doughnut-shaped therapeutic pool. Every time I passed a certain point, I’d use the tip of one finger to wet the concrete edge. On the fifth pass, I’d use my whole hand to make a print; like tally marks on a sheet of paper. It was then easy to see when I’d reached 20 laps. I counted the steps in each lap – 40 – so I knew that I’d walked the equivalent of 800 steps. Even with a reduced stride length of just over a foot, say, that would be 300 yards. Those are some tangible, measurable numbers that I can use as a baseline to measure my progress. On a typical morning I can comfortably repeat the 20 laps three times.

When I’m standing at the ‘deep’ end of the therapeutic pool, there is a curious flotation effect on my stomach, and my swinging man-boobs touch my stomach in a way that they normally wouldn’t. Normally, gravity makes everything hang down lower. In a medium where everything feels four-fifths lighter, my stomach floats up, thus making my moobs touch my stomach. Weird! Sometimes, I can really feel the arthritis in my left knee. After swimming a few times, it felt swollen, as if I’d been walking many miles and it was wanting to be rested. No chance! It’s taken years to get myself up and motivated. A little discomfort isn’t going to stop me now. Of course, I also know I should pay attention when my body is talking to me. A five minute dip in the hot tub each morning was well received."
So, from those humble beginnings, I am now at a point where I'm contemplating walking 100 miles in seven days; a quarter of a million steps versus 2,500 or fewer. I'm walking to work regularly again. I've started hiking up hills and mountains. I've come a long way since 2014, and I know there's still a long way to go (sixteen more months until July 2017).

I'm grateful to all the people who have helped me along the way, some with tangible help, some with moral support and encouraging words, some with sound practical advice.

My heartfelt desire is to reach my own next important major goal (being 178 pounds by July 2017), then figure out how to motivate and inspire others to achieve the same kind of results. With two-thirds of the American population being overweight, and one-third being clinically obese, honestly, there's a fair possibility I'm talking about you. With sufficient will and motivation, YOU can do it too! I'm not that extraordinary, really. I just have a fierce determination to succeed this time, and I'm not going to let anything stop me!

I also want to learn more about "metabolic syndrome", "insulin resistance syndrome", or simply diabetes. Having worked in the British NHS (National Health Service) and seen what effect it can have on a person's life, I want to help people avoid some of the pitfalls of it and lead healthier lives. Perhaps there's a career change ahead for me? Who knows? Having been pre-diabetic myself, and come back from the brink, I want to help others do the same.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

No gym required (part 2) (PCT d - 71)

In another blog post ( I mentioned that: "It'll soon be the second anniversary of my joining one of the local gyms in town. .... As my contractual obligation draws to a close, I'm looking at ways of getting the same (or better) workout for free (versus c. $50/month at the health club)." If you weren't already into the healthy, outdoor lifestyle you'll find that it's an expensive business, equipping yourself with the "gear" needed to enjoy it more. Sure, you can try to do it on the cheap, with ordinary cross trainer shoes instead of sturdy hiking shoes or boots, for example. You might save $50 here or there, but it won't be as comfortable, or as much fun, and you'll risk injuries that you might not otherwise have sustained, had you been properly kitted out. So, I'm quitting my gym membership at the end of March, and using the money saved to offset some of those costs.

The only thing I'll really miss is the swimming. I love swimming. It makes me feel so light and fat-free because of the buoyancy in the water. Just like some people say they do their best thinking in the shower, I find that I do my best thinking in the swimming pool. When I feel the overwhelming need to swim again in the future, I'll pay the price (usually about $10 a day), and I'm okay with that.

Otherwise, I can get (need to get) my walking exercise out in the "real world", on proper terrain, with real undulations and ups-and-downs, and real obstacles. It might be colder and windier and wetter from time to time than walking/running on an indoor treadmill, but standing atop a steep hill or small mountain gives you a buzz and excitement that's like a drug. It happened to me when I reached the top of Buttercup Hill (the 200' hillock outside my apartment) for the first time. It happened when I reached the top of Mount Ascension last Sunday. It's a great feeling - and if you experience it once, you'll want to experience it again and again. The views over the Helena Valley are fantastic.

For my strength training, I have some resistance bands, and I have my 1 gallon Arizona Tea jugs, filled with water (8.5 lbs each when filled with water, 12 lbs when filled with sand. I haven't measured yet them with wet sand). I have some band exercise charts that I will publish soon, so that you can do them too, if you're interested.

Rocky training on the steps of the
Philadelphia Museum of Art
In my fantasy world, where I emulate Sylvester Stallone in the Rocky movies and run up and down the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (or whatever the Helena equivalent is), I optimistically bought myself a jump rope (skipping rope for my English readers). I was talking to a friend recently who tells me she enjoys boxing, which is not something I'd thought much about doing before, but I can imagine there's something primally satisfying about beating the sh*t out of a 80 pound sand-filled canvas bag. Add that (boxing) to my list of things to do in the next 12 months.

There's a new exercise coach that started work yesterday at the state employees' health center here in Helena. As soon as he is settled in and finished his training/orientation, I will be making an appointment to see him and develop my exercise plans further.

The adventure continues! Stay tuned.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Dizzying heights and under 320 (PCT d - 72)

At the top of Mount Ascension on Sunday morning
Part of my preparation for the 100-mile hike coming up in ten weeks time is walking up hills. There are few bigger in the immediate Helena area then Mount Ascension, which I climbed for the first time on Sunday morning (thanks Ann!) To be fair, I didn't start from the very bottom, but it was still a good 1.6 mile round trip in 55 minutes. It was a bit windy in the exposed parts, and a bit muddy underfoot in places, but it was fun. I'm looking forward to exploring more of that area, using its extensive system of paths and trails. What an excellent resource we have, right on our doorstep! 

I was carrying my backpack, laden with 20 lbs of "stuff" (hammock and bug net, sleeping pad, heavy clothing, first aid kit, bear spray, solar panel charger and battery pack) to simulate the kind of bulk and weight I'll be carrying in Oregon. 

319.8 lbs (145 kg)
The exercise, and the continuing low carb diet, helped me get below 320 pounds for the first time in ... I don't know how many years, maybe five years. My target for the end of March is to be under 312 lbs. I have a good feeling about that. 

Friday, March 04, 2016

Elevation training - no gym required (PCT d - 75)

It'll soon be the second anniversary of my joining one of the local gyms in town. That will be the subject of another blog post. As my contractual obligation draws to a close, I'm looking at ways of getting the same (or better) workout for free (versus c. $50/month at the health club). With less than 11 weeks until my Oregon trip, I'm also wanting to get more practice at climbing hills. So, I have a route that I have walked a couple of times now that goes around my South Hills neighborhood,

2.4% average grade over 1.25 miles
up and over Buttercup Hill, right outside my apartment. The elevation goes from about 4150 feet up to 4420 or so, a good challenge. I've been carrying my backpack, laden with about 15 lbs worth of gear to begin getting used to the sorts of loads I'll be carrying on my 100 mile hike in May. Eventually, I'll increase that load to about 25 or 30 lbs in the coming month or two. So far, everything feels good.

This Sunday I have ambitiously schedule two different hilly hikes, including one to the top of Mount Ascension.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Prescription drugs (PCT d - 76)

I may have already mentioned that I had only briefly considered, and quickly dismissed the possibility of laparascopic gastric band surgery. For me, there are simply too many risks of complications. Far better to do it "naturally". "But what about drugs?", I hear you ask. Well, people who know me know that I dislike taking prescription drugs. There are a couple that I have to take simply to make my life better: warfarin for an inherited blood clotting disorder, and a proton-pump inhibitor, omeprazole, for persistent heartburn.

My long-term blood sugar level, measured by my A1c, had crept up to 6.4% when I was 405 pounds heavy. 
For people without diabetes, the normal range for the hemoglobin A1c test is between 4% and 5.6%. Hemoglobin A1c levels between 5.7% and 6.4% indicate increased risk of diabetes, and levels of 6.5% or higher indicate diabetes
As I started adopting a healthier lifestyle and losing weight, that value dropped to 6.2%, then 6.1%. I have avoided the diabetes precipice that I was staring into. But I'm still 320 pounds. I still have 16 months to go before I reach my 178 pound target. So, I was reluctantly persuaded to try metformin, at the lowest dose available. Hailed as the next "wonder drug", it helps people, particularly overweight people, lower their blood sugar levels. I really can't tell if it's the metformin that has helped bring my A1c down, or if it's the diet and exercise regime, but I'm going to continue to take it for the time being, especially since it's available for zero cost on my current health plan!

BP is back to normal again now.
I also recently started taking a low dose of an ACE inhibitor, lisinopril, to try to reduce my blood pressure. Having had really good blood pressure (120/80 mmHg) for most of my life, it had started to creep up to 130/85 or 135/90 - not terrible, but too high. After just two doses I could see a difference already. Now I've been taking it for a couple of months, and my readings are consistently good again.