My Gear: Pacific Crest Trail 2018

This is a full list of the gear that I’ll be starting the trail with: https://lighterpack.com/e/cpvj52

Disclosure: I am extremely grateful for the generosity of #TheNorthFaceSG for their support these past 10 years.  Although I am no longer an athlete with The North Face Singapore, I am starting my through-hike with some gear that was provided to me at no cost.  

My thanks also to #Salomon USA and #OspreyPacks for supporting the 2018 P3 Program of the Pacific Crest Trail Association.  As my current gear wears out or is found unsuitable, I will probably be replacing them with gear from these sponsors.

Clothes

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My choice of clothes are setup to be layered.  My shorts and tank top are my base layer.  If it gets chilly, I’ll throw on my long sleeve shirt.  If it’s windy, my wind and waterproofs go on over that.  My puffy and thermal leggings are really just for around camp, although if it’s exceptionally cold, I could walk in those too.

My long sleeve shirt is an older generation model of The North Face Impulse Active 1/4 zip.  Unzip the neck, pull up the sleeves, and it vents well.  The thumb holes are great for keeping the hands a little warmer.   It’s a pretty flexible piece of gear for cooler conditions.

My puffy is The North Face Thermoball Hoodie.  I like its synthetic fill, as it gives a little extra safety margin over down in wet conditions, but it’s a bit heavy at 350g.  If you were buying a puffy specifically for the drier conditions on the PCT, you might also want check out the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, or one of the Montbell down filled jackets, for some weight savings.

I got to try the new Montbell Travel Umbrella in orange and dark blue (Thanks Saori and Chow!).  The orange lets a lot of orange light through, and it turned out to be quite distracting.  I also felt it was a bit hotter under the canopy than the dark blue one, so here’s a tip:  If you are buying this umbrella for shade as well as for rain, get it in dark blue.

I took about a month to adjust to the Altra Lone Peaks.  I actually put them aside after a few weeks because of issues I was having despite trying to get used to them with lower mileage.  I went back to my old shoes, but after a month in those, I developed other issues.  I then tried the Lone Peaks again, and this time, had no issues with them.  Go figure.  Anyway,  I’ve been training with them, and love them now.  The only downside is that the outsole does not grip well on wet surfaces.  The upcoming 4.0 version of the Lone Peak fixes this issue as it will be using Vibram MegaGrip outsoles which has good grip in the wet.

I like having 2 pairs of socks that are of slightly different thicknesses, so that I can accommodate for the swelling in my feet.

My cap is an old Salomon baseball cap.  I like it because the white top keeps my head cool in direct sun, and it’s black beneath the bill, which cuts the glare.  It’s also pretty light, and the whole thing is soft and crushable.

I only use a single trekking pole.  I lost the other while trekking in Nepal and running to get a photograph.  When I returned, the pole was gone.  I had the other one with me as it was dangling off my left hand.  Since then, I’ve not found a need to replace the missing pole.  A single pole works well for me as I often need one hand for the camera, and I also need one pole to set up my tent.

My glasses are Rudy Project Rydon with prescription inserts and the Photochromatic ImpactX 2 lens, which goes from very dark, to almost clear.  I’ve used this lens for ice-climbing in China and to mountain biking in Indonesia.  It’s very versatile.  I can also remove the lenses and just use the prescription insert with the frame.  Dorky, but it works.  In the interest of full disclosure, I got lenses, frames and prescription inserts from Rudy Project USA in exchange for one of my photos that was used in their catalogue.

My shorts are Speedo 16″ Leisure, and not the ones you see in the photo.  I was going to go with running shorts, when I chanced upon the Speedo’s.  They are very quick drying, have pockets and more durable than running shorts.  The downsides are that they are a bit heavier, and feel very coarse.

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I left one trekking pole by the side of this bridge while running to get this shot.  When I returned, the pole was gone.  I’ve been using a single trekking pole since.

Not shown:  Dirty Girl Gaiters.  I’ve not had good luck with short gaiters in the past.  They tend to give me some pain around my lower calf where they rub.  I will pick these up before hitting the trail, and hope they will work.

My Big 3

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My backpack is the Hyperlite Mountaineering Gear Southwest 3400.  I’ve been training with this pack for the past 3 months and I’m quite happy with it.  I’ve added 2 Z-Packs shoulder pouches for quick access to my phone and camera.  My sleeping quilt is the Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20, and tent is the Z-Packs Hexamid Solo Plus, with 6 Sonic stakes.  My mattress is the small Thermarest Xlite.  It’s too short to for full body coverage, so my backpack, with food bag inside, goes under my legs, elevating my feet slightly to help with swelling and inflammation.  I’ve a piece of Tyvek for a groundsheet.

Electronics and Tools

Most of my electronics is centered around photography.  My iPhone with the Guthooks app is my primary navigation tool, and I also carry a Moment fisheye lens for the iPhone for certain shots.  My main camera is the Sony RX100iv, which is a slightly older model.  I carry it because the bigger, higher resolution sensor over the iPhone allows for better dynamic range, more detailed files with less noise, and shallower depth of field in certain conditions.  I anticipate having to shoot plenty of selfies, so I’m carrying remote triggers, and an Ultrapod that I can attach to my trekking pole and use that as a selfie-stick, or makeshift “tripod” by sticking the spike into softer ground.

I bought the older Inreach SE (I wish I’d bought the Explorer instead as backup for my iPhone GPS), and you can follow my progress here when I start the trail on April 8th.

What’s missing?  No watch, I’ll use my iPhone.

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Kitchen

I’m carrying a small 500ml Nalgene bottle with me.  It’s a bit heavy at 87g, but I can use it as my coffee mug in the morning and the wide mouth makes it easy to mix drinks in the day.  If I put a sock over it, it becomes a hot water bottle at night, or a make-shift ‘foam’ roller.

1.5 liters is the normal amount of water I carry.  In the desert, or where else I might need more, I’ll just buy extra bottles and fill those up as I go.  The Nalgene is my ‘clean’ bottle, where I mix filtered water with drinks.  The filter screws directly onto my Smart water bottle, and ‘dirty’ water goes into that, and I squeeze to filter as I need.

My stove is the BRS3000T.  It’s crazy light, but poorly made, with poor quality control…  I bought it for $12 off eBay, and when it arrived, it didn’t work.  I opened up the valve, cleaned it, fired it up again, and then it worked.  But really, for that price, I shouldn’t complain.  Test it before bringing it out though!

The Lexan spoon is lighter than my Ti Spork, and it’s nicer to use.

The pot is a tiny Toaks 650ml.  It’s the smallest one that will accept a small fuel canister inside.  I haven’t figured out how to store the pot in my pack, so the mesh sack is coming with me.

Not pictured:  Bic Mini Lighter, fuel canister

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Miscellaneous

The rest of my gear is just my hygeine stuff, first aid and repair kits.

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The full list of my gear is available in my Lighterpack.  I’ll try to update this list at the end of the trip.  Check back to see what changes I’ve made, what worked and what didn’t.

Thanks for stopping by!

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Nutrition Supplements for my Pacific Crest Trail Through-Hike

Like everyone else, I want to make sure I’m taking care of myself by getting proper nutrition while out on the trail.  Beyond just packing on the calories, it can be a challenge getting all the micronutrients we need to thrive from packaged food, and so I have decided to carry some nutritional supplements for my Through-Hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018.

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Miriam Ueberall packing in some calories, before our Vacas Valley hike, Argentina

I prefer real, fresh, whole food to anything coming out of a package, but when I can’t get that, I look towards supplementing my diet.

Protecting Myself

First up on my list is Silver Sol – a broad spectrum anti-microbial that is proven effective against viruses, bacteria and fungus, like SARS, H1N1, Bubonic Plague, E. Coli and athletes foot.  It may also be effective in combating diseases like Norovirus and Lyme Disease.  This is different from the older ‘colloidal silver’ products, and has scientific proof it works.  When I first heard about it, I was highly sceptical.  I tried it out on an expedition to climb a remote mountain near the Tibetan border in China.  Everyone got sick (possibly from unclean food), except my wife and I, who were both taking Silver Sol.  Since then, this has been with me on every trip and expedition.  It’s been a great comfort to me when I can’t get immediate access to a doctor.

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Something Green

Green drinks claim to be nutritional powerhouses.  With a diet low in fresh fruit and vegetables, they are a safe bet for most vitamin and mineral needs with a few exceptions – minerals like magnesium and calcium are usually insufficient, as is vitamin B12.  Most of these drinks are somewhat of an ‘acquired’ taste, so it’s important you find one that you can stomach.  My choice is Novaforme’s CytoGreens.  It has a good amount of spirulina, a little protein, no probiotics, but it has enzymes and pre-biotics.  If you are vegan, or on a limited budget, I’d just get a green drink and skip the rest.

Something from the Land

Desiccated liver tablets have been a mainstay of the bodybuilding world for decades.  They are a protein source with a complete amino acid profile, full spectrum of B vitamins (including B12), bioavailable heme iron for blood building (red blood cells are apparently destroyed from all the foot pounding we do as hikers), and some mysterious ‘anti-fatigue factor’, which is supposed to improve endurance in a study done on drowning rats (Source).

Something from the Sea

Fish oil is rich in Omega 3 essential fatty acids and has many uses.  It’s anti-inflammatory, and protective of the heart, brain, eyes, skin and many other organs. When I was climbing Everest, I had a small bag of pills with me, but the only ones I could swallow were the fish oil and liver tablets.  Maybe my body knew which ones were actually good for me.  I made the summit, but at the end of the trip, I had a little bag of pills, minus all the fish oil and liver ones, and lots of sachets of protein powder, which I just could not stomach.

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Climbing Aconcagua, Argentina, with my little bag of pills.  These are just the ones I took with dinner! I rarely take any pills now, and prefer whole food type supplements.

That’s what I would take to just about any trip around the world.  For the Pacific Crest Trail Through-Hike, I’m taking along some extra items, like evaporated coconut water for minerals and electrolytes, chia seeds (another nutrition powerhouse), and ghee/MCT oil for fat/energy.  I made a list at iHerb for easy reordering along the trail.

TRAINING TO THRU HIKE THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL: PART 3

I’m pretty happy with the progress of my training.  I started cautiously by hiking just 1 mile with no load, nursing some injuries and progressed to walking 22 miles (35 km) with a 22 lb (10kg ) backpack.  I feel strong, and I am optimistic as I have been hiking injury free for the last couple of months.  I have lost 5.5 lbs (2.5 kg) of muscle mass during the last phase of training, and I am hoping to put some of that back as I enter the end phase of my training which takes place in the final month before my through-hike – Peaking and Tapering.

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“Don’t Hold Me Back!” Juliette, a Google employee, tries to pull me off my feet at The North Face Outdoor Training conducted for Google Asia.  Photo courtesy of The North Face Singapore.

Peaking (1 week)

The idea behind peaking is the culmination of a gradual buildup of volume (distance) and intensity (load), and not a sudden, panicked rush to train in the final weeks leading up to a through-hike.  That would be foolish and could lead to an overuse injury down the line.  If your training has not been sufficient, the safer option is to just continue to gradually build up til the last week, and maybe back off a bit, so you don’t arrive at the start exhausted.

For me though, I like to use my peak training like a test run of the first week of the through-hike.  Ideally, peaking would take place about a month before my start date, and I would use the opportunity to go on a 3 to 7 day backpacking trip to test out all my gear.  Unfortunately, I live in a place where this is not possible, so I will do what I can and link up 3 consecutive training days, hiking about 15 miles each day, carrying 22 lbs (the average weight of my pack for the first week).  Why 15 miles?  Although my longest training hike has been 22 miles, at longer distances, I felt I was pushing it and needed to rest, or do some other activity, the following day to avoid overuse injuries.  15 miles is a distance that I am comfortable hiking for, at least, a few days continuously.

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Thunderstorms covering much of Singapore!

Things don’t always go according to plan, and on the the 2nd of the 3 continuous days.  I got about 5 miles in, when thunderstorms rolled in, so for safety, I bailed.  I got the 15 miler the day before, and I continued with the 15 miler the following day.  But I want to adapt my training the following week by carrying a heavier load (up to 25 lbs) for shorter distances (up to 15 miles) for a total of 50 miles over 5 continuous days.

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High Intensity Crossfit Prowlers. Photo courtesy of Laura Liong.

Tapering (3 weeks)

Ideally, at the end of my peak training period, I would taper by gradually reducing my training volume and intensity, so that I arrive at Campo on my start date well rested, and ready to go.  Generally this means stopping strength training at the end of my peak training period, but maintaining high-intensity training for the first 2 weeks of my taper while reducing the total volume, and for the final week of taper, I would eliminate all high-intensity training and reduce my hiking volume even further.  I had to adapt my taper to just two weeks, due to the weather, so we will see how that goes.

It may not absolutely necessary to do any strength or high-intensity training to do a through hike.  I just like to do it because, after putting in the required hiking miles, I feel it gives me an extra margin of safety, and I like to feel strong and in the best shape I can be for anything unknown that may crop up.

I personally feel that many of the injuries that take people off the trail are overuse injuries that may have been prevented by proper and adequate training.  Keep in mind that while this approach has worked for me in the past, it might not work for everyone. However, I hope it gives you some ideas on how to approach your own training and preparation.

Best of luck to anyone starting a through-hike!  I wish you guys a fantastic journey, and hope these training posts have helped.

“Every battle is won before it is even fought” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

 

Training To Thru Hike the Pacific Crest Trail: Part 2

The first part of the training phase took longer than I expected.  It surprised me how weak I’ve become since climbing Everest.  My muscles and connective tissue were not conditioned and I needed to give them time to adapt.  I had to heed the warning signs of joint pain, which meant I had to back off, and so it was not until mid-January that I was  able to fully load up my pack and train for a few days in a row without pain or fear of injury, and thus, to start the Building phase proper.

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Hiking the Vacas Valley, Argentina.  Nope, nothing to do with the PCT.  Just a nice hiking photo 🙂

Building (3 Months)

Where the goal of Pre-Training was injury prevention, the goal of Building is to acquire the fitness and strength needed to hike the trail.  However, injury prevention is always the main goal of this training, and anytime I feel pain, I’ll back off and have it looked at.  It might just need a day’s rest, or it might need more attention, but training through pain is just plain dumb.  The time spent in each phase is just a guideline.  I took as much time as needed.

Types of Training

There are basically 2 types of training:  Sport Specific and Non-Sport Specific.

Sport Specific Training for hiking just means going out hiking with your loaded pack, preferably with the shoes and backpack you intend to use, and where possible, hiking similar terrain and conditions to what you will find on the PCT.  I aim to spend most of my time (about 80%) on Sport Specific Training.  Most people are looking for shortcuts.  There aren’t any.  The bulk of my training for the PCT is just to go out with my pack and walk.  And walk.  And walk…

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Back when I had legs!  Pre-Everest training, I think.

Non-Sport Specific Training is basically everything else.  This includes lifting weights, running, yoga, Crossfit, swimming, yoga, etc.  I aim to reduce my time spent on Non-Specific Training to 20%.  Non-Sport Specific Training can be valuable, but we only have limited time and energy to spend, and so have to decide where best to spend it.  I spend some time on this type of training to prepare for the unknown and the unknowable situations: like being able to swim across a swollen river, having to run to meet a deadline, or having the strength to push a trail angel’s car out of the mud.

Principles

Cumulative Fatigue (Micro Cycle)

One of the key principles is to train for cumulative fatigue.  I find I can train for 3 consecutive days before I need a day off.  The idea is that the body does not get complete recovery after each day.  This week, I rock-climbed for 3 1/2 hours on Monday, hiked 12.6 mils (20.3km) with a 22lb (10kg) pack on Tuesday, and hiked 10.5 miles (16.75km) with a 22lb (10kg) pack on Wednesday.  I was pretty beat, and took a rest day on Thursday.  That would be a Micro Cycle for me.  At the end of every fourth Micro Cycle, I will take an extra day or two off, for more complete recovery.

Stacking

Stacking is a term I used while training for Everest.  For me, it loosely means the arrangement of one type of training over another, either in the same day, or during consecutive days.  I train the activity with the highest neuromuscular requirements first, and the the one with the lowest, last.  That means that I maximise my performance as I fatigue.  For example, I might have a soccer game on Friday evening, which requires high neuromuscular involvement, and hike some hills with a loaded backpack on Saturday, and then just go on a long hike on Sunday.  On a work day, you could go for a run in the morning before work, lift some weights during lunch, and hike back home after work with your backpack.

Training Goals

In general, I’ll set a goal if there is a target to reach, but in the case of thru-hiking, it is so long that the training really continues into the hike.  I’m going to try to end my Build phase with 3 hikes of 15 miles (25km) carrying 22 lbs (10kgs) over 3 consecutive days.  That should be a comfortable distance for the first few days of hiking, and will enable me to reach Hauser Creek at the end of day one without overextending myself.

In general, I’m pretty happy with the way my training has gone.  I’ve come a long way from when I started in September walking just one mile and carrying nothing.  My foot pain has gone, my knee pain has not reappeared, but I know it’s lurking, and I have to be careful.  Some ankle pain showed up recently, and I’m not sure if it’s the shoe or the insole.  I changed both and for the last hike, had no issues.

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The Southern Ridges Trail in Singapore, with a couple of nuts who thought this was going to be fun!  14.5 miles (23.25km) with a 20lb (9kg) Pack

Some Exercise Suggestions

Building on the Squats and Deadlifts that I suggested in the Pre-Training Phase, I added some locomotion specific exercises: Single Leg Squats and Pistols, Single Leg Deadlifts, and Walking Lunges.  When you are ready, one great way to end a workout with some high intensity is JC Leg Cranks (Watch her form!  Thighs parallel to ground on squats and squat jumps, back leg touching or near the ground on lunges).

Happy Training!

Training To Thru Hike The Pacific Crest Trail: Part 1

I’m not an expert on thru-hiking, as the upcoming PCT will be my first long thru-hike, but I am very familiar multi-day hikes, and with training and training methods.  I’ve been a North Face athlete for the past 10-years in Singapore, and I’m on their roster of Outdoor Trainers, and my specialty is training for hiking.

These are the steps I’m taking.  You may find them useful to guide you on your own journey, but please keep in mind that the opinions expressed are my own, and while I do my best to provide accurate information, I urge you to use your discretion, and check all facts, before using any of the information I present.

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Killing two birds with one stone: hiking training and walking the dogs

Planning to Train

The first things to do are:

1. Take stock of your current physical condition and limitations.  If you are overweight, have heart issues or other serious physical conditions, you should seek a doctor’s approval before starting any training program.  For myself, I bike and climb a few times a week, so I’m pretty fit, but I don’t hike.  My body isn’t used to walking and needs to the trained for that.  I have some injuries which I broke down into ‘Priorities’ and ‘Limitations’.  Priorities are injuries that need to be fixed before starting my thru-hike, and for me, these are tendonitis in my elbow and a stress fracture on the ball of my left foot.  Limitations are long-term injuries like a torn disc in my lower back, which won’t heal and have to be managed – like making sure my core remains strong.

2. Determine how much time you have til the start of your thru-hike.  I had 6 months til the planned start of my thru-hike in April, and I broke that up into 3 training phases:

  1. Pre-Training (*2 months) – toughening connective tissue, joints, bones and skin
  2. Building (3 months) – gradually ramping up training volume to build endurance and strength
  3. Peak and Taper (1 month) – maintaining intensity and reducing volume to finish strong!

Pre-Training

One of the key elements of ‘pre-training’ is to strengthen the connective tissue (ligaments, tendons, fascia), and to get the body ‘ready’ for training.  My muscles can adapt to training stresses perhaps over 3 months, but training connective tissue can take up to 6 months.  Long distance hikers are prone to overuse injuries like plantar fasciitis, shin splints, ankle, knee, hip and or other issues.  Usually, it’s a case of too much, too soon.  For example, it’s easy for a fresh, undertrained thru-hiker to push more miles out of Campo than his training should dictate, and if the hiker doesn’t take an early zero day or two, the body doesn’t get a chance to recover.  I’m prone to overuse injuries (that’s how the current situation with the tendonitis in my elbow developed).  I climb and bike a few times a week, so I’m fit, but I don’t walk a lot, so in that sense, I’m starting my program off as a noob hiker.  Here’s what I did and what I suggest doing:

  • I started hiking trails (without a pack at first),  with the shoe and sock combination I plan to use.  This not only builds up connective tissue strength, but also toughens up the skin on my feet for blister prevention.  It also trains up ‘foot-eye coordination’, so trails are better than pavement.  I killed two birds with one stone and walked my dogs at the same time.  I also threw in a few short 1 mile-ish trail runs.
  • I added a light 9 lbs (4 kg) pack when I felt I was ready, being careful with my lower back issues, and added 6.5 lbs (3 kg) on the second week.  I don’t train with hiking poles, and prefer to let my stabilizer muscles do the job.
  • I didn’t go long.  1, 2, 3 miles… whatever was comfortable.  The key is consistency.  A little every day is better than belting out a big one over a weekend which could leave me sore and require more time to recover.  I added some simple bodyweight exercises to warmup with or at the end of the hike, like 10 bodyweight squats, 10 back extensions, 10 knees to elbows, 10 pushups and 6-7 pullups.
  • I was progressing well, and added some strength training.  Walking Lunges, and Wall Balls to start.  Then also Barbell Back Squats and Dead Lifts toward the end of the training phase.

*Pre-Training for me took 2 months.  After a month, I was able to hike 3 miles with my base weight about 3 times a week.  After 2 months, I slowly transitioned to the Build Phase of training because lingering joint pain forced me to either scale back, or take a rest day.   I’ll cut down my biking and climbing to about once a week for each activity, and do a scaled down Crossfit session once a week, and/or a strength session once a week.  Eventually, the goal is to train 3 consecutive days, then taking a rest day.  The condition of both my ‘Priority’ injuries have improved, and I’m feeling good and ready to start the ‘Build’ phase of training.

*Edited Jan 26 2018

Pacific Crest Trail 2018

When I was eighteen-years-old, I made a three-week solo backpacking trip into the backcountry of Yosemite National Park.  Being a wide-eyed, big-city boy from Singapore, I had little outdoor experience.  I was slowed down by a too-heavy backpack; and from the blisters caused by a pair of stiff, new leather boots that were probably a full size too small.  The ultimate humiliation came when a French girl who had started the trail with me offered to carry my backpack for me, and share her stash of weed!

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One night, about halfway into the trip, it rained and I didn’t have a tent. I was cold, wet and miserable.  Fortunately, I was near Tuolumne Meadows, and bought a $5 tube tent from the grocery store there. While waiting for my gear to dry out, I signed up for some rock-climbing lessons with the Mountaineering School there and began a long love affair with climbing.  Despite everything that went wrong, that trip was a very positive experience.  It shaped and changed my life forever.

I’ve decided to attempt a thru-hike of The Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 to revive those positive feelings.  At 4280 km long, it’s a significant challenge.  Only about 20-25% of people who start the PCT thru-hike, actually finish.  To put it into perspective, it’s like starting from Singapore and walking to Lhasa, Tibet, and then continuing on to Kathmandu, Nepal, without reaching the full distance of the PCT.  The trail also climbs a total of more than 149,000m, or the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest from sea-level, almost 17 times.   If all goes well, I’ll start my hike in early April, 2018, and I’ll be home sometime in September.

I wanted a challenge, something outside my comfort zone, with an uncertain outcome.  I think I’ve found it.

Yeah baby… I’m stoked!

Biking Bromo

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Batu, East Java.  One of the trails we rode on this trip.  Photo by Nina FiztSimons

I made a second trip to Mt. Bromo, Java, Indonesia last week.  Unlike the first trip, where we went at the end of the wet season/beginning of the dry season in April, this trip was made smack in the middle of the dry season.  Although the trails were dry, the tradeoff was the dust, and that Bromo Classic trail, which rides across the sea of sand, was too soft to ride.

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Another one from Batu, East Java.  Photo by Ramang Kristian

This trip, most of the riding we did was cross-country, adventure-biking, done downhill style.  Short downhill sections, followed by a vehicle transfer uphill to a different trail.  After our 3 day trip though, we all felt that we spent too much time in the car for the amount of riding we did.

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5cm Trail, Mt. Bromo.  Photo by Ramang Kristian

Unless you like riding a lot of downhill and don’t mind spending time in the car to be shuttled uphill, a better way to do it would be what we did the first trip (see the video below).  We stayed in a primitive homestay at Cemoro Lawang (not recommended, try to find a hotel or upmarket homestay), and on some days, either started the ride from the accommodation, or ending there.  Transfers on the vehicle were far less than on this trip.  Best time to go would be the April-May, which is the end of the wet season/beginning of the dry.

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Stream crossing, Batu, East Java.  Photo by Nina FiztSimons

If you are wondering why there are so many photos of me, and none by me, it’s because the memory card on my Sony RX100 crapped out and I didn’t bring a spare.  Duh!

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Coffee, Java style!  Photo by Ramang Kristian

Here’s the video from my previous trip to Mt. Bromo:

Riding Mt. Bromo from Kenneth Koh on Vimeo.

PaddleBoard Krabi

KEN_0816_1Inflatable SUP in Krabi

Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) is the fastest growing watersport in the world and an is a fun an challenging way to get a full-body, core-centric workout.  It’s great for touring, since you can get great views standing at full height, and Krabi, with it’s warm weather and sea cliff scenery, is a great destination to SUP.

By Krabi, I really mean the Railay Peninsula.  The beaches of Railay East and West, Ton Sai and Phra Nang are great places to launch or stop for a break, or some food.  There are numerous little caves, inlets and islands to explore in the area.

Season
Best time to visit is after the New Year Holidays from January to March, although the dry season extends from December through May.  After the new year holidays, it gets a little less crazy, a little less crowded and a little less expensive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWading out to catch the long-tail ferry boat from Krabi to Ton Sai

Getting There
Krabi is the main airport to the region, although it is possible to take a ferry from Phuket. From Krabi Airport, depending on where you choose to stay on Railay, it’s either a long taxi to Ao Nang, followed by a 10 minute ferry ride to Ton Sai or Railay West; or a short taxi and long ferry to Railay West.

Where to Stay
Probably the best, and certainly the most expensive option, is to stay at the Rayavadee Resort, but that is outside my budget.  Second best would be one of the hotels on Railay West, which is also expensive, but it has a great beach, and great views of sunset.  Railay East is set amongst the mangroves, and has a range of accommodation and restaurant choices.  Ton Sai is the low budget option.  Unfortunately, your choices there are limited to the hotels closest to the beach.  Be aware that there is a wall running the length of Ton Sai which means that access to the beach is limited to either the Ton Sai Bay Resort or the Ton Sai Jetty end.  In any case, wherever you choose to stay, it is key to ensure your accommodation of choice is close to the water, and there is room to store your SUP.  We stayed at the Ton Sai Bay Resort, which was both close to the water, and had enough space in the room to store our inflated SUPs.

IMG_3656The Ton Sai Wall separates most of Ton Sai from the Beach

Bring Your Own Board
At present, I don’t know of any place on Railay that rents SUPs, so you will have to bring your own, and given the challenges of bringing a hard board over, the only realistic option is to bring an inflatable.  We bought our Naish One Inflatable SUPs and 3-piece paddles from Rachel at www.RachelCharis.com in Singapore.  It comes in a bag that also has room for the included pump, paddle and your clothes.

Other Things To Do
The are a few shops, massage places and pubs, but it is mostly outdoor activities Rock-Climbing, hiking, snorkeling, diving.  On this particular trip, we did bring our climbing gear as well, so I got a few days of climbing in.

What’s Up With Coconut Oil?

ur1xx9qhopypxbtnp5shPhoto from Gizmodo: Please Calm Down: Coconut Oil is Fine

Should you stop taking Coconut Oil?  A recent article citing a 25-page study released by the American Heart Association say you should. The study itself doesn’t say much about Coconut Oil specifically, but rather looks at scientific studies from people who replaced saturated fat with other things in their diet, and how it relates to risk for Cardiovascular Disease.  The study states that if you replace saturated fat, like coconut oil, with refined carbohydrates, like white bread or pasta, you actually INCREASE your risk of cardiovascular disease.  Since I have replaced refined carbs, like bread, for breakfast, and substituting that for a tablespoonful of coconut oil in my coffee (aka, Bulletproof Coffee), this study was of interest to me.

Note that the study does not differentiate between ‘refined’ coconut oil, which is mainly used in countries like Malaysia, which is one of the reference studies quoted, versus ‘virgin’ coconut oil.

This article from Gizmodo takes a more balanced look at the subject. My own take is that since I am replacing refined carbs, like bread, for breakfast, and substituting that for a tablespoonful of coconut oil in my coffee (aka, Bulletproof Coffee), this is a healthier option.

How I Edit My Photos on Snapseed in 5 Easy Steps

Snapseed is a powerful, easy-to-use, photo editing app that’s available on both IOS and Android.  Best of all, it’s FREE!  Here are 5 easy steps that could benefit just about any photo, that you can easily accomplish in Snapseed in 5 minutes or less.

Below is the original image of me on a slackline captured on an iPhone 6 Plus by my wife, Laura.  It’s a great shot!  Laura captured the moment perfectly, but the image could use a little help from Snapseed to really make it ‘pop’!  Above is the final image after editing in Snapseed and uploading to Instagram.  Wow!  It only took me about 2-3 minutes, and in only 5 easy steps!  Here’s how I did it:

Step 1: Straighten and Crop Tools
Straighten the image using the Rotate tool if required, and then crop.  For this image, I cropped in tighter, removing excess ‘clutter’, kept the sun in the image, and had the end of the slackline run out to the bottom right edge of the frame.

 

Step 2: HDR Scape Filter
This is a powerful tool to adjust exposure.  You could adjust the exposure with more control using a number of different controls, but with just one step, this filter will brighten the shadows and bring back some detail into washed out highlights.  You can also brighten or darken the overall image.  Of the 4 settings: Nature, People, Fine and Strong; I tend to use Nature unless there are people in the shot.  But I’ll run through Nature and People to see which one works better.  Most photos can benefit from a little use of this filter, but be careful not to use overuse it, otherwise your image can come out looking too flat and fake.  In general, I don’t exceed 50% with this or any setting.  I used +40% of the Nature setting here, with brightness set at +50%.


Step 3: Drama Filter
This is where the magic happens.  Like the previous filter, Drama accomplishes a lot in one step.  Drama adds local contrast, sharpness or ‘pop’ to an image.  There are a number of different filter settings at the bottom, and clicking each will give you a good idea of what it does, but the default setting is way too strong and the saturation too low, giving the image a ‘gritty’ feel.  You can adjust to suit your taste, but for me, less is usually more.  I generally use Drama 2, but dial the effect down somewhere between +10 – +50%, and then I raise the saturation up until it looks normal.  For this image, I set the filter strength at +25%, and the saturation at -15%.  Toggle the before/after selector on the top right to see how far you have taken the effect.


Step 4: Selective Tool
We are almost done.  Go over the image and have a closer look at the details.  Faces are one area that require special attention, and in most cases, could do with a tiny bit of brightening.  I used the Selective tool to make a little circle around my face, and then I brighten it just a little.  In this case, I used +10% brightness.


Step 5: Vignette Tool
In most cases, I add a vignette to isolate the subject.  Some images look better with it, some look better without it.  In this case, the bright areas to the right are distracting, and I used a vignette and moved it over the left center of the frame.  The default Outer Brightness of -50 was fine, but I raised the Inner Brightness to +10.  You could use some of the other filters, such as the Lens Blur to do it as well, but that look is a little harder to pull off.

The final image, as uploaded to Instagram, is on the top the page.  I use these same 5 steps in about 90% of the images I upload to the web.  Below is another before and after example I shot with my Sony RX100 of Laura at the National Mountain Bike Championship.  Check out my Instagram feed for more examples!

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