Thursday, June 28, 2018

A Hike and a Helping Hand

Duck Lake, Carson Pass Area, CA
Yesterday was a very blessed kind of day. My hiking buddies and I enjoyed a wonderful outing up at the Carson Pass area. We hiked from the Information Station to Duck Lake (shown above), on to Lake Winnemucca and then on to Round Top Lake. The weather was perfect and the views were beautiful. Things were pretty perfect.

On the return portion of our hike, however, we encountered a problem. Nearly a mile from completing the hike, we came upon four hikers. One of the hikers was in distress, draped over a rock, and suffering from a probable combination of dehydration, heat stress, some level of altitude sickness and insufficient food intake. She was responsive but not talking. The group asked us for water. Thanks to one of the ladies in my group, we had plenty of extra water to offer. We did what we could to make the hiker comfortable and stayed with the group until help arrived. Search and Rescue arrived first, assessing the situation, and then the paramedics showed up to finish things and to transport the hiker to a nearby hospital. 

I say that we had a blessed day, not only because of the good outcome, but because I learned some really important things by watching yesterday's events unfold. I think these things are worth passing along. 

1.  Be prepared: Whether you are taking a short walk, going on a longer hike, or even just a trip to the park, have the right things with you: water, food, clothes that shield the sun or elements, proper and well fitting foot gear, and a basic first aid kit. Have your identification on you as well.

2. Know your route: It goes without saying that a good map is critical. If you are just going on an established nature walk for example, then the map from the facility offering the walk might be sufficient. Anything else though requires more information. A map with elevation numbers, contour lines, and a key for distance is helpful. And do your homework beforehand. The hikers we encountered yesterday had no idea that the elevation where they were hiking was so high (or what that could mean). Their home was at 5000 ft and they were hiking at about 9000 ft. As this article states, altitude makes a huge difference. 

3. Drink (and bring) plenty of water, more than you think you want: We were told yesterday by one of the hikers that the woman in trouble hadn't drunk enough water. And in fact, after talking with them, it was apparent that they didn't have enough water between the four of them. My own experience with dehydration taught me that taking more water than you need is critical. Becoming dehydrated is insidious. It creeps up on you and by the time you realize it, it may be a little too late. I now carry electrolyte tablets in my pack (to add to water) and have added Aquatabs and an extra container in case I need to purify extra water. For a short jaunt in a city park, these things may seem excessive. For anything else, including a trip in the car, they really are necessary. 

4. Have your medical info. on your person: One of the first questions asked of the hiker yesterday was did she know what type of medications she was taking. She could only nod her head yes or no in answer; she couldn't speak. It came out that she had high blood pressure and was taking medication for that. (High blood pressure can be aggravated by altitude.) Although I carry my medical history, list of medications and surgeries, and contact information (including the number of my cardiologist) in my wallet, I realized that my hiking buddies didn't know this. And they wouldn't know where to look for it. I resolved to do a couple of things: get a medical bracelet, inform my hiking crew of my medical info each time I go out with them, and make sure they know where my first aid kit/medical info is in my pack. What if I couldn't speak for myself?

5. Be honest about your physical abilities: I learned this from first experience a while ago. Just because you used to be in shape or even if you do some physical activity every day, you won't necessarily be prepared for hiking. Even a hike listed as "easy" can quickly turn strenuous due to weather, altitude, physical condition, medical conditions, medications, lack of water or food, and any other number of things. Seasoned, well conditioned hikers have perished in the Grand Canyon due to heat exhaustion and dehydration. My own hiking experience is limited, but I can tell you that I have talked with more people who were very surprised that they were struggling on a hike. These are people that used to be in shape, have hiked extensively in the past, but who are now trying to get back to hiking. It's tough. My only answer is to be honest about what kind of shape you are currently in. Not how you used to be but how you are now. The comment from one of the hikers yesterday was that the downed hiker essentially bit off more than she could chew.

6. Inform your hiking group of any issues: One of my hiking buddies belongs to another hiking group and she told me that they all tell each other right at the start of the hike if they are experiencing any problems that day. Tiredness, hurt feet, a headache, or just getting over a cold. These are all things to let your fellow hikers know about. 

7. Be brutally honest: Having experienced this myself, it's embarrassing to have to tell someone that you don't feel well and are struggling. It's also really frightening to realize it and accept it. It definitely feels like a chink in your mortal armor. The sooner you do it, however, the more likely you are of getting help. We learned yesterday that the downed hiker had been struggling for awhile. While it would have been disappointing for the other hikers to turn around early, that may in fact have been the best solution for everyone. People are wonderfully patient and forgiving. Even if you are in the midst of embarrassment and maybe want to cry a little, people will help you. And you won't die from the shame or attention. 

8. Keep calm and talk in a normal voice: The experience yesterday was a first for me. I have never seen anyone in distress like that. I watched everyone closely though to see how they were handling things. It's different of course for the people directly experiencing the crisis. People who are helping, however, have a unique opportunity to help to calm others down. Quiet, soothing tones are a good start. Reassuring words work. I watched my hiking buddy gently place her hands on the downed hiker, reassuring her and talking to her soothingly. What a miracle of kindness to witness. And in the end, the hikers all thanked us for being so calm and helpful. There were lots of hugs too. In this day and age where you can't touch anyone anymore, it was reassuring that maybe the human touch is still welcomed in some cases. Still needed. 

I learned some other things too yesterday. People are willing to help. They want to. I watched my hiking buddy pull one thing after another out of her pack, trying to find some way to help the downed hiker. I also learned that we are better as a group. Being an individual is fine. We are all taught to be strong, to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, but honestly sometimes you need other people. There is strength in numbers. And there is no shame in that. I also realized (finally!) that just like baseball, soccer or basketball, hiking is a sport. It isn't walking. It's an activity that requires conditioning, practice, fine motor skills, the right equipment, and a very large dose of humility. It is a very mental endeavor. When faced with physical limitations, such as sucking in large amounts of air going up a hill, you mental state can quickly plummet. Resilience is the key to survival here. 

And did I say it was a blessed day? Yes, I did. Not blessed because things ultimately went well but blessed because of all of the pieces of the puzzle that came together to make the outcome a good one.: trained first responders, thoughtful individuals with extra supplies who were willing to share, optimal weather, and dare I say, a force beyond any of us moving quietly in the background. Yes, a blessed day indeed!


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Get Outside!: A Perscription for Hiking and How Far is Too Far?

Round Top Mountain and The Three Sisters-Carson Pass area, CA
This past week I went on a lovely hike up highway 88, near the Carson Pass area of California. There is still plenty of snow though much of it has melted. People are hiking, boating, kayaking, and generally enjoying the cooler weather afforded by the higher altitudes. I had a wonderful time with my hiking buddies walking up and down hills, checking out wildflowers and being rewarded at the top of the ridge with a view all the way to Lake Tahoe! At the end of the day, I was tired, happy to get home, a little keyed up but very peaceful.

It was a coincidence then that the next day I happened upon this article in a magazine. The premise of the idea sounds very familiar! Have you heard of the term ecopsychology? I hadn't either but the idea of it is probably familiar for many people even though they may not know about the formal field of study. Ecopsychology studies the relationships between humans and the natural world using both principles of psychology and ecology. The idea is to reunite people with their environment in order to create closer connections with others, to foster a sense of personal well being, and to hopefully bring about practices that support a more sustainable way of living in the world. Though we are surrounded today by technology, we evolved in the natural world. This field of study seeks to emphasize the connection between how we evolved and how we currently live.

Fascinated? Me too. I learned through another article that some doctors have begun participating in pilot programs that advocate getting out in nature as a prescription for physical or emotional illnesses. The doctors write an actual prescription that tell patients in a sense to "connect with their environment." Imagine walking into a doctor's office, maybe with a mild injury or maybe just feeling disconnected and disjointed. The doctor sums up your situation and prescribes you time outside. It's a wonder to me that a doctor could actually advocate for and order you to spend time at a park or in your garden or maybe out on the trail somewhere. Amazing!

Please consider reading the above two links that talk about ecopsychology and what an activity, such as hiking, can do to help your mental and physical health.

I read two other articles this week that I would like to share. I mention them because as a trying-hard-vegan and a consumer and a realist, I feel my choices are based in part about how I feel about living in the world. Am I impacting the planet in an adverse way and what really can I do to minimize that impact? Do my choices matter and can I really make any difference? Am I doing enough? Many of the choices I make involve me considering the energy required to produce and deliver food. Fossil fuels, their procurement and distribution, are very controversial topics. These two articles speak indirectly to energy production and its consequences. 

1. The Valve Turners: Many people would argue that extreme issues call for extreme actions. Yet breaking the law to bring about change isn't everyone's cup of tea. How far can a person go and will their actions really reverse something that seems irreversible? The link is to a good (but biased) article in the New York Times Magazine about a group of people called The Valve Turners. Protests and protesting are very much in the news these days. Read on to see where you stand.

2. Propping Up Power Companies:  And here is the other side of the coin; the reality of policy in the US with regard to certain types of energy production(fossil fuels) and the supposed risk to our national security. The attempt to manipulate the types of power that we use can have wide spread consequences. The link to the article in Bloomberg is here

I hope everyone has had a good week. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Can I get a Cuppa?

Cowell Creek, Arnold Rim Trail, Arnold, CA
This last week I was on the hunt for some decaffeinated coffee. Easier said than done, apparently. For many years now we have bought our coffee at Costco. I haven't even looked at the coffee aisle in a regular grocery store in a very long time. Because of this, I have missed some important trends in the coffee industry. In a nutshell, a consumer's choices are now endless. Looking at all of the tiny little packages was nearly stupefying. I felt under equipped to choose, given my lowly BA degree. A person needs some kind of PhD in Coffeeology to even figure out what is what. 

I got home from the store and wondered what the hell had happened. I did a little research and turns out it's those damn Millennials again. In an article by Forbes here and another miscellaneous article here it's easy to see why there are so many choices at the grocery store. Nearly gone are the larger cans of basic coffee. Replacing them are these smaller 12 oz bags of highly specialized coffee: ground or whole bean, flavored, light roast or dark roast, you name it. And don't get me started on K cups. Then there is the issue of Fair Trade. And organic. Have workers been treated fairly and been paid a living wage? Is the coffee company giving back to the community from which it takes the coffee? What about the rain forest? (It's a big deal. Shade coffee versus coffee grown in the sun can make all the difference in sustainable land management.) It's just not possible to buy a can (or teeny tiny bag) of coffee without freaking out. And try finding decaf. Even though there is still a demand for this type of coffee, there doesn't seem to be many choices. Honestly. I just want to do the right thing which is apparently a choice equivalent to the size of a Trenta cup of iced coffee from Starbucks. 

So what then is the relationship between the beautiful photo shown above and my rant about the coffee? None really except if you can imagine cutting all of that beauty down to plant coffee plants then you might see why I have some angst about buying the right coffee. Choices really do matter.

I thought I might offer up some other ideas that I came across this week. Check below for some thoughts and links.

1. Family Cloths Speaking of being behind on trends, did you know that many people have ditched their toilet paper and have turned to something called "family cloth"? Nope, me either. I decided to give it a try since I love the trees and all. I am not totally in just yet but am doing things in a partial way. Enough said.

2. What Life Was Like Before Vaccines: This is a great article from The Berkeley Wellness site. It's one woman's perspective on what life was like before vaccines. (This topic is a loaded one so this article is only meant to provide one historical narrative.)

3. New Questions About Alcohol's Benefits: Another article from the Berkeley Wellness site, this one casts some doubt on something I think many of us took for granted: alcohol (wine specifically) in moderation can be good for you. 

4. Exercising For Older Adults: Are you (or someone you love) fearful about exercising and possibly getting hurt? Worry no more! This article proposes that the benefits of exercise for older adults almost always outweighs the risks. The usual caveats about existing medical conditions and checking with your doctor apply, but there is almost no downside for an older adult who continues to exercise. 

Despite feeling like a curmudgeon this week because of the Coffee Episode, I still had a nice time. A great hike, beautiful weather and some solid peace and quiet really helped. Hope everyone else enjoyed themselves as well. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Perfect In My Imperfection!

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