No one wants to talk about resolutions this year. I think it’s because many people have made them and promptly broken them. People who work out at clubs can tell you that for 3-4 weeks beginning in January the places are jammed, but then, thankfully, all the newbies go back to their normal inactive lives.
The brink of a new year makes us think about ways to improve our lives. We imagine a leaner, healthier, more creative, happier new year. We make goals and begin to follow through on them. And then we just forget about it until next year. Why? Don’t we really want to have that life that we envision for ourselves? Then why don’t we do it?
I’ll tell you: all these resolutions are actually activities. Activities take time. You cannot just do more without giving up something that presently takes your time. So, every resolution has to have a positive and a negative; that is, they have to say what you will do more and what you will do less! Let’s try it out…
In 2014, I resolve to exercise for at least 30 minutes 3x per week AND shop for great deals at TJMaxx not more than 1x per month.
I do think it is unrealistic that you’ll give up entirely something useless that you do enjoy, but you get the idea. I think the resolution has to have 2 parts and then you probably have to hold yourself accountable with a chart that lives in the car. Record the date you went to the store for that month so you don’t forget. Also make a written record of your workouts. It does reinforce that you are being successful.
I also think that when people make too many resolutions they are dooming themselves to failure. You are not going to quit smoking, lose weight, start exercising, learn to cook healthy, stop yelling at your kids, and clean the house more all at once! I suggest picking 1 that you’d really like to conquer. That will be a huge accomplishment when you really incorporate it into your life for good. Pick the one that you’ve been wanting for the most time. Once you get that one under control you will have started a snowball to attempt the others one at a time.
I’d be interested to know how your resolutions work out this year, especially if you use any of my suggestions! Peace and prosperity, health and longevity, love and learning for all in 2014!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Yesterday we did our first training hike for our next adventure. Part of the training is getting the shoulders and back to strengthen for the weight of the pack. Mine will be about 20 pounds which figures out at about 14% of my body weight. This is a significant load for my spinal column, it’s associated musculature, my hips, knees, and ankles too. With some training all of these structures can rise to the occasion by becoming strong enough to handle the load without injury. The guys at the outfitting store amaze us when they tell us that often customers are in the store to buy their backpack for the trip they are leaving on tomorrow. The folly of this boggles my mind.
Last year, when training for the Tour du Mont Blanc, we trained for the most part with rice-filled bags in our packs just for the weight. This changes the way the load sits in the pack because each bag is so dense. In reality, the items I carry all have different densities, sizes and shapes. So this year I decided to mostly pack my bag the way I do for the trip and train that way. In the photo you will see most of what I am packing. There is a little bit art to this task. Heavier items in the bottom and up against the back, lighter items fill in around. That’s the general rule, but you also want easy access for items you want to retrieve often so those tend to go more outside or on top. Clothing rolled and secured with a rubber band works well to keep it as small as possible. Already yesterday I weighed two pair of rain pants. The new ones save me 6 oz. so the pants from last year have lost their slot! Every ounce is carefully considered as to necessity and if there is any way to make it lighter by changing the item in some way.
The first training hike went well but today I am a little sore in the low back. This tells me it was a perfect first day. I will continue to increase the time that the pack is on my body eventually wearing it even to walk the dogs around the neighborhood. This will be time and effort very well spent.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Have you ever noticed that the things that require discipline become a pleasure if you stick with it? When I got a dog I started taking 2 mile-long walks per day. It is not always pleasant. In winter or when I have an early appointment it still takes discipline to get out there early and in the cold to get the dogs walked. Later in the day, when I’m tired, I’d rather get horizontal on the couch. But a little secret of being committed to something is that there is great satisfaction in completing the task, even when taxing. I really enjoyed our morning walk today with the absolutely perfect weather. Even in the bitter cold, though, there is delight in conquering that mile in blowing snow! Over the years of owning and walking dogs I have literally walked thousands of miles that I otherwise would not have walked. This is no small thing for my body and mind.
I have noticed this idea transfers to other activities. Learning a new language is wickedly difficult! But what fun it becomes when you can actually communicate with someone from another country. For little kids learning to read can be laborious, and then they can discover how a book can suck you into a different reality! Keeping up with maintenance of something like a car or appliance – there is just nothing like the feeling of being on top of things.
I wonder if we are valuing discipline less. I work with adult students and I’m always amazed when they complain that it is hard to learn something. Yes… that’s part of learning and when you develop perseverance in yourself by refusing to give up you discover the joys of learning and becoming proficient in something new. Most Americans are used to a pretty easy life, but easy can translate to a boring and lackluster life. If you’re not struggling with something, disciplining yourself to keep at it, then I propose you find a challenge. There’s nothing like it!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
1. Get your boots early and start wearing them immediately. If anything isn’t right about them abandon ship and get a pair that is supremely comfortable. If using boots you already have, get out in them and double check they still work well. You do not want brand new, untested boots on this trip. Also make sure they are waterproof; put them on and walk into water to test. You will be crossing water on the TMB and wet feet inside boots spells trouble. Also, socks are obviously equally important. Sort out what works best for you early on.
2. Get a functional backpack that you can wear with 20-25 pounds in it for at least 6 hours. Don’t assume you know how to fit a backpack. Go to a qualified outfitter who can fit you and find pack choices that work for your body size and shape. As soon as you have your boots and pack get out in them as often as possible even for a half hour. It is wise to get your body accustomed to the equipment on it while moving.
3. Check out the equipment list at REI and think carefully about everything listed. We did not take gaiters because we did not go early in the season when snow would be more likely, but you should decide if each item would be important for you to take. It is comforting to look at this list from people who did the hike and know that you didn’t overlook anything.
4. Get a scale and start weighing everything that goes into the pack. When deciding between two similar items because you only need one, weighing them can be the deciding factor. If you are training regularly as described in #1 and #2 above the genius of this will be self-evident because even 20 pounds is dang heavy! Ounces become very important because ounces turn into pounds.
5. Realize that no matter what time of year you are going you must be prepared for emergencies. Weather in mountains is often unpredictable and severe. Cuts, scrapes, blisters and hurt joints can happen. You will carry items for these possibilities even though you may not use them. We didn’t use our rain gear at all. Seeing a day-long downpour in the mountains, however, I’m glad we had it along in case we were up high and needed to hike to get in. I threw in a cheap dollar-store knee brace as a last thought, however, and this item proved indispensable to my husband when he hurt his knee. Prepare a small first aid kit and make sure that gets packed to come along.
6. Memory foam. Get a few small hunks (buy a cheap pillow and cut it up) and bring along. Tucking these under your backpack straps can be a shoulder-saver! I brought 4 hunks and the extra 2 went to a hiking mate who was eternally grateful!
7. Get trekking poles, a set of 2. Figure out how you will get them there. When we went they were not allowed in carry on luggage. So we got a bag long enough for them (even collapsed they were pretty long) and checked that one bag. In Chamonix we left that bag at the first hotel and retrieved it right before leaving when we checked it again to get the poles home. Hotels there are very used to this and have a place to store bags. Go on the airline website to find out the current rules for items such as this. That multi-tool you want to bring along probably isn’t allowed to be carried on either. And if you buy any of the wonderful Opinel knives in Chamonix to bring home (great gifts) you will have to check them also.
8. Consider your camera. How important is photography to you? If at all important, don’t rely on the camera in your phone. This is some of the most beautiful scenery you will ever see. My best camera which I would have loved to bring along is pretty bulky and weighed in at a whopping 2.5 pounds. This was just unacceptable, but I didn’t want a tiny point-and-shoot either. So I decided to invest in one of the more compact SLR-types, going with a Sony. It saved me 1 whole pound and a lot of bulk. I considered this well-worth the cost especially since this camera is now always my travel camera.
9. Take time to pack everything in your backpack before you go. How will you arrange it? Once you have everything spend some time working out how to use the bag efficiently. Put items used daily on top where they can be easily retrieved. Plan to keep things used hourly on the outside of the bag. My camera bag attached at my hip belt because it was out so frequently that made the most sense. Find a good place for the guidebook and maps because you will want to refer to these often. Temperatures and wind conditions change quickly in the mountains so having places to stow and retrieve jackets and fleece is something to plan for also. It’s nice if you don’t have to actually take off the pack and open up the main compartment every time you want your jacket.
10. Relax about the equipment! You will not be totally away from civilization. If you forget something or if a piece of equipment works really badly, you are not completely stuck. The towns on the TMB cater to hikers with excellent equipment shops. See my post about how I bought trekking poles in Champex. It was fun and makes a great story, the hardships of a trip always make the best stories!
Not living in a mountainous region of the world, and planning a mountain hiking trip like the Tour du Mont Blanc, I relied on information about trekking poles on the web. I found a lot of conflicting information. Some sites said absolutely, get them, it makes you virtually a 4-legged creature instead of 2 which gives a lot of stability and eases the pressure on the knees. This made sense, but then others said you don’t really need them. Being a massage therapist I liked the idea of giving my hands and arms the fortnight off. We did own 1 set of poles we got at a REI rummage sale of returned merchandise for a song. We decided to take the one set along and share them. This way we’d have a little help, but we wouldn’t have to use them.
Pretty rapidly I was given the nickname, “La Tortue” (the turtle) due to my slow progress. Our friends had their poles and clipped along claiming I would be much faster with 2 poles. I was very skeptical about this.
Then Bill hurt his knee. Something sort of snapped and then he hobbled. He took my pole, my just-in-case knee brace, and some ibuprofen. This worked for him, but now I had nothing and I really noticed the difference. I was even slower.
Ok, I thought, a nice set of poles would be a great souvenir, my favorite kind, something really useful that I’d appreciate every time I’d use them. We found a great outfitter in Champex, Switzerland. The new poles are light, easy to change length (and the very helpful sales girl who had lived in the mountains all her life taught me the right length for flat, and then for uphill and downhill. Changing the length for conditions makes a big difference and on the TMB it is easy to do because the terrain tends to stay up or down for awhile at a time.)
The result? I became “La Mouton” the mountain sheep, sure-footed and swift! I was put in the lead and didn’t hold anyone up! I was amazed at the difference of having 2 poles. It was significant. I moved much more gracefully which, of course, saves energy and makes everything more comfortable. Additionally, a nice extra is that my hands never swelled up like they often do hanging at my sides during hiking. The straps on the handles are so well designed that I hardly have to grip at all so my hands and forearms are really still pretty much off-duty.
Bottom-line advice? Get 2 poles, you will be glad you did! The TMB is strenuous enough, anything that aids in your comfort while doing it is worth it.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
A stop for lunch at the Refuge les Mottets on the Tour du Mont Blanc is a good idea. You still have a lot of hiking, a lot of uphill (up-mountain) hiking to do to reach the Col de la Seigne where you pass into Italy. This is the only day I cried on the TMB! From this point on it was so much uphill and I had marked a spot in the far distance where the pack mules had turned around a corner. It looked like the highest point so I (stupidly) thought, “When I make it to there I will almost be at the Col.” My group had left me in the dust. I was alone save for the other hikers passing me up regularly! I finally reached the mule-turning spot just as 2 fairly elderly people came trucking by and quickly passed me up when the trail turned and what did I see? More uphill to go!! Yep, a few tears were shed because I was bone-tired, and ready for the downhill that would surely come after the Col.
Ah, you know what, that’s ok, because a little cry can clear out the cobwebs and give you some new perspective. I dug down deep and kept going. What else could I do? And as far as the people passing me? Well, they obviously grew up in mountains and had been hiking in mountains all their lives, so I was comparing apples to oranges!
The Col was actually not that much farther. So when I got to the pillar that marked the border I was relieved. My group was waiting for me and we had a little picture time and rest. It is amazing how just a little rest can make all the difference.
There is no border protection at these hiking crossings. I guess it’s too grueling to get there for criminals! One thing you’ll notice is how windy it always is at the top of a Col. It’s like a big funnel for the air moving around the mountains. The views are always spectacular. And of course, now the downhill does start, which comes with its own problems. Even gentle downhill becomes painful after a few hours of it and in the mountains it can be hours of one or the other, uphill or downhill. At first, though, after all the struggle to get up here, the first 1/4 mile feels so good and easy! Yes, it’s only about that far before you realize this is actually going to be harder because you are jamming your joints with each step fighting the pull of gravity rather than muscling up against it. At least here you are now heading into the last stretch and you know a shower, meal, and bed are waiting. For us it was at Rifugio Elisabetta which was quite a treat.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
We decided to take a rest day on our hiking trip Tour du Mont Blanc in the lovely town of Courmayeur, Italy. So we were eager to get there and put our feet up in a hotel. I was hoping for a “tube” (pronunciation for bathtub!) to soak my weary bones in. I’ve never taken baths in hotels before this trip. Every time I could get one I soaked!
Anyway, on this hiking day we left big white-capped mountains behind as we came over this enormous grassy hill. We got excited when we could make out the town below. If we could see it, we would be there in no time, right?
Well, about an hour later we did see that it was closer, but still quite aways away. Occasionally a vehicle zoomed past us on this dirt track heading down so we decided to try to hitch a ride! We put beautiful Eva out near the road and, sure enough, the next jeep pulled over! We all ran out and thanked the man profusely as we piled into the back. Then we were amazed at how long it took to DRIVE to the town! Probably another 20 minutes at a pretty good clip. We kept congratulating ourselves for making this good decision, especially when we passed up some other hiking friends to whom we waved enthusiastically!
Then we got into the town, jumped out, and walked all the way in to find our hotels. What a charming place to land! We were delighted that we had the rest of the afternoon, evening and all day tomorrow to rest, relax and explore this town at an easy pace.
We found gelato (it’s always so good to be in Italy!) and a marvelous cheese shop. We had dinner here that was so good the first night we returned for our second night’s dinner at the same place. We had time to look around in little shops and write postcards. We didn’t buy anything much, though, because we had to remember everything is still on our backs and we were only half way.
This was the perfect and best place to take a day off because there were great and comfortable hotels to rest in as well as nooks and crannies to explore when and if we wanted something to do. We had access to restaurants, shops, bars, a post office, food store, specialty cheese shop, and laundry if we wanted it. A word to the wise, though, our friends took their laundry to be done and they were disappointed that good hiking clothes made of wool did get shrunk even though they were assured that they knew how to treat hiking clothes correctly. I always prefer the wash out in the sink method mostly because I’m a control freak and I don’t trust other people to value my stuff as much as I do!
We loved Courmayeur, Italy! We were very happy we took our day off right here.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The three main animals you might get to see on the 105 mile trek around Mont Blanc in the European alps are: the alpine ibex, the chamois, and the marmot. We were happy to see all three, although at quite a distance. The 2 photos above are ibex. The close-up on the left is used here by the courtesy of Charlie Posnick (thank you very much!) and the one on the right is mine. You will probably have to click on the photo to enlarge it on your screen to see the ibex walking along the ridge here above the refuge Bonhomme.
Above left, trust me, are 2 marmots we saw. (At the bottom of the ravine, about middle, and about in the upper right 1/3 of the picture, again, zoom in!) These rodents can reach 2 feet long and 14 pounds! They disappear into their holes pretty quickly so it was a thrill to see them even from such a distance. On the right was probably the most thrilling as 2 chamois ran playfully above us on this hill. Chamois are goaty/antelope- type animals with small curled horns. I was proud of myself that I actually retrieved my camera fast enough to get them at all. You can see the one against the blue sky at the left even at this size, I think.
Please note all photos on this site are either used by permission or are expressly owned by Mary McCluskey. If you wish to use one, please ask permission.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
What is the most important reason to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc? The mountains! You will be overwhelmed by them the first few days and then you have to remember to really look at them because they surround you all the time. You begin to get a sense of how big they really are when you hike for 6 hours upwards and you have only gone a bit around one! If you want to feel your smallness in comparison to the earth, hike into the mountains. It’s humbling and utterly unforgettable.
All photos on this site are used with permission or are the exclusive property of Mary McCluskey. If you wish to use one, be polite and ask!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Having a plant sale is a great way to get some exercise outside and do some gardening really early in the season. It motivates me to get the raking done, see which plants are already up, and do some dividing. For the last 3 years my dad and I have had a plant sale at his home. He sells off his many extra tomato and pepper plants he raised from seed and I sell off all my perennial divisions. Every year we are astounded at how much money we make. Last year was the most, I took in $350 and my dad did something like $250. This is in only 2 days! The pictures show my growing stock for sale. I started with cushion spurge and pachysandra because they were some of the first plants up and also my sister has asked for a cushion spurge.
Today I started organizing on trays because I now have more bleeding heart and a whole tray of lamb’s ear. At $1 or $2 per pot, the potential dollars are adding up and my garden beds are getting spruced up nicely as the nice days are beginning to be more often. I’ll keep you posted on my progress!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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