Saturday, June 25, 2011

How Toxic is your County?

Hey guys!  A colleague of mine passed on an interesting link to me the other day.  You can input your zip code and it shows you a review of how toxic your little county is!  Is ignorance bliss?  Or would you rather know, and try to change something?  The choice is yours :) 

I was sad, but not surprised, to learn I live in a city that "ranked among the dirtiest/worst 10% of all counties in the U.S. in terms of total environmental releases" in 2002, and my guess is it hasn't gotten a whole lot better.  And we're the #9 Worst County in the state.  But at least we're not so high when it comes to dumped toxic waste... we're in the worst 40% though... still worse than average. 

As for air?  Well, here's an email I received from the City health department last year:

Take a deep breath!  Notice anything different?  For the first time in well over a decade, Cincinnatians are breathing air that meets the Federal Government’s Air Quality Standards for ozone... New, even-stricter federal ozone regulations take effect in 2011.  So enjoy that breath of federally approved air.  It may not last long.

 Hm, well, I guess that's something!  I don't tend to think federal regulations are all that strong, but hopefully they're getting closer!!
From Chris Madden website
And water?  Heh, well, when my friend visited from Washington with it's beautiful crystalline blue waters... she was disgusted by the murky brown that runs though the state!  Yep, that lovely Ohio River that I drive past every day for work - brown, dirty, and smells awful when it floods up closer to the roads!  So, no suprise that we're averaging in the top 10% for worst water, too!  As the semi-joking saying here goes: stay out of the rivers, or you may come out on the other side with an extra eyeball!

You can look at total environmental releases, and then look at the individual toxins ofwhat your county is dumping into the air, water, land, animals, etc.

How does your home town look?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mountain Madness

Hi guys!  

I've been trying, unsucessfully, to upload pictures and a post about eating healthy while traveling.  It was to be the lovely counterpoint to the previous post about coffee overload!  But, as I have been complaining about Blogger before, I'm having frustrating issues with it.  Hence, I have been moving old posts over to now instead!  It's been fun reviewing old posts!  I hope you'll pop over and check some of them out again :)

So, in the mean time - here's the third post I wanted to share about my Seattle trip!

Hiking up a mountain.  I was so proud of us for tackling this adventure, and coming out smiling!  I felt like I really achieved something by doing this!  I debated using this post to share pictures, and pair them with information about the benefits of clean air and of the dangers of pollution; or types of exercise; or the role of pumping blood in carrying oxygen and nutrients to your body... but instead of preaching, I decided I just wanted to tell about our trip :)

It all started because of the late snow Washington received.  While they are used to cold winters, having snow dump late in May is not so common!  So the roads for many harder trails were blocked off due to this weather.  Our precious hopes of hiking the Gothic Basin were buried with the trails, under the white blanket.

I told Jen to simply choose some other "tough" hike for us to do!  I wanted a good work out!  After perusing through her hiking books, she settled on Mount Si.  It was rated a 5 out of 5 for difficulty.  Sounds good!

But fate would throw us a random comment that changed the course of our adventure.

While enjoying our food at Red Robin, we began talking to our server about all the fun outdoor activities the area has to offer.  We had not mentioned our hiking plans to this young man, yet he happened to tell us,

"I won't hike Mount Si.  It's overrated and everyone does it.  It's cliche."


I turn an evil eye to Jen.  "You were going to have me hike a 'cliche' trip!?  Where's the excitement in that?!"

In mock surrender, her arms fly up, "I didn't know!  You wanted a tough hike, it's a level 5!"  Humph.  "Fine then, I'll give you some from my binder to read over, and YOU pick a hike!"

We both laugh, and I am satisfied.  And our dinner continues.

That night, we return to her home, and she passes me several descriptions.  They all sound fun, but I immediately discard those with a rating lower than 5.  After all, if "everyone" hikes the Level 5 Mount Si, why would I want anything easier?

Then I come across this tantalizing description:

"Wimpy hikers, turn the page. This trail offers nothing for you but pain and heartbreak. If you think you've got the goods to scramble up more than 1000 feet per mile, read on. Mailbox Peak brings a serious burn to the thighs of even the best-conditioned athletes, but the rewards make it all worthwhile...

The trail leaves the road and turns near vertical, climbing ever-more steeply over the next 2.5 miles--the first 0.5 mile of road walking gains only a few hundred feet of elevation, leaving about 3800 feet for the last 2.5 miles. That means you'll be climbing about 1500 feet per mile, and most hikers consider anything over 1000 feet per mile to be steep!

...The trail climbs with ruthless focus--to get to the top in as direct a line as possible. As you move above 4000 feet, the forest falls away, the views open, and all pretense of switchbacks disappears. You'll now be scrambling up steep, open hillsides.

...Finally, after one last scramble through the rocky crown around the summit, you're there, standing beside the battered mailbox on the top of Mailbox Peak. After you catch your breath, pat yourself on the back--because if you're on the summit, you've conquered perhaps the most difficult hike in this book!"

This mountain, called Mailbox Peak because someone has indeed lugged a mailbox to the top, offers a 4100-foot climb to end at an over 4900-foot elevation!

I am SOLD!  And I have NO idea what I'm getting us in to!  But I am excited!  So early the next morning, we head out! 

There's a gentle rain in the morning, so we make sure to pack rain gear.  It's an intense hike, so we make sure to pack water and cool layers.  It goes up through the clouds and into snow, so we make sure to pack warm layers and trekking poles.

Quite a bit to carry, but for a day hike, it's not too bad.  We're anticipating a 4 hour excursion.

We park, and begin to climb a gentle hill.  We can feel our muscles waking, and our conversation becomes somewhat labored from the breathing.  But all in all, this is good!  We're pumped and confident that this will be a good trip!  After about 10 minutes... we realized we've just now come to the trail head.  We weren't even ON the trail!  Just the little gravel road to get to the trail.

Well, ok, so it was a good warm up.  Onward!  Into the trees we go!  And it is amazing - much like the rain forest, it is lush and green, with plenty of unique plants and a trickling little creek.  Then, as described in the guide book, "The trail leaves the road and turns near vertical, climbing ever-more steeply over the next 2.5 miles."  Our pretty little trail and gentle switchbacks disappear, leaving us with no trail, but figuring out our own way to scramble from white marker to white marker.

This is the best we could do with the camera to try to capture the steepness of this "path."

And this went on ad nauseum. me following Jen.  Our chipper conversation gave way to Jen sarcastically muttering "Katie picked this hike... I hate Katie, I hate Katie... no! No!  I love Katie, right?  yes, I think so..." until she turned back to look at me with a twinkle in her eye.  "Hey, I think YOU should lead, so I can burn holes in your back with my glare!"

I used what breath I had to laugh a snorting, panting laugh.  "Yeah, and perhaps knowing you're behind, ready to kill me for picking this one, will keep me moving fast!  Can't let you try to poke me with that giant spork you bought!"

We end up stopping multiple times to let faster hikers past, and to catch our breath.  We decide that speed is not our goal - we prefer to enjoy the hike, enjoy the scenery, and keep our jovial banter going.  After a while, we have to strip off a few layers, grab a handful of food, sip some water, and pull out the trekking poles - these babies are going to get us up there! 

About and hour and a half in, as we climb higher, we realized a fog was setting in.  While it didn't impede our trail, we could no longer look out at the amazing views below - we were pretty limited to the trees.  Then, all of a sudden, we looked around and saw that it was clear again!

Confused, I turn to gaze out at the valleys below... and understand where the fog came from!  It wasn't fog, but a cloud!  We had hiked through a cloud, and were now above the cloud line!

This gives us both another surge of energy, seeing that we've broken that high, and it looks like snow is starting to appear up ahead.  That means we must be getting near the boulder valley!  And near that will be the red trail markers - indicating a mere 500 vertical feet left!

By this point, most conversation has lulled, leaving us in the companionable sound of little more than our gasping and wheezing.  Oh yeah, and some wildlife critters, if you can hear that above the sound of your own heart hammering away.

We push each other on - well, more aptly - Jen drags me along... and finally, finally I see that precious red trail marker!  Two and a half-hours of non-stop exercise, burning my muscles and testing my lungs... We are nearly there!!

And that guide book comes whispering again.  "one last scramble through the rocky crown around the summit." 

What they neglect to tell you is how bloody difficult that last scramble is.  We have to cross over some of the rocks to continue on the path.  Thankfully, they are dry rocks, and stable for the most part.  It is tiring, but the view is amazing.

Once over the small boulder path, two options lie ahead of us.  Mounds of snow or more piles of rocks?  We watch some people climbing the rocks, and they look to be having a difficult time of it.  So we opt for the snow.

With each step, we thrust the poles deep for stability, and kick with our boot to try to flatten a little stepping place.  Up and up, I can't help but wonder how on earth we're going to get back down.  The rocks seem difficult, but the steep slickness of snow seems sickeningly precarious.  Though not normally bothered much by heights, I couldn't help but feel humbled by what was now probably nearing 3700 feet above the local area.

We are both beginning to slump, when Jen shouts out, "I see it!  I see the mailbox!  And people!  We're almost there!"  Thank goodness for that little boost!  We climb and clambour through the last part of rocky terrain, and make it to the peak.

Or, as Jen puts it, We Bagged A Peak.

I guess that's what it's called when you reach the summit of a mountain?  I am a climbing novice, so I just took her word for it!

Hot and sweaty, we plop down on the snow in our cooler layers, not affected in the least by the fact that it's a snow-covered cap.  Jen is so excited, that she kisses the mailbox!

I am too tired to try to lean all the way over with my face, and just opt to pat my new friend.

We chat lightly with some of the other climbers, take pictures for each other, and then pull out our snacks.  I check my watch - it's been almost 3.5 hours.  Given that we thought we'd be done in about 4, we hadn't packed very filling lunches.  I enjoyed about half of my trail mix, a Lara bar, and more water.  Jen finished off her trail mix and shared some of mine.

The other hikers said goodbye as they began their descent, and we waved them off on their journey.

Soon, the thought that our mothers may worry and the cold both began to settle in, and we decided we couldn't enjoy the views too much longer. It was time to figure out how on earth to get back down!

We gingerly made our way back down the rocky crown.  About 250 feet down, and we saw a lone gal making her way up.  Refreshed from our break, we exuberantly greeted her.  "You're almost there!! You can see the mailbox just around the next bend!" 

Then a thought occurred to me... this young lady had probably just spent the better part of 2 to 3 hours trudging up this mountain alone, and was going to get to the now-vacant peak with no one to photo her with the mailbox!

"Jen!"  I shouted ahead.  "She needs someone to take her picture!"  As tired as I was, I thought for sure we could make that last little bit again in order to help out a new friend.

With her infinite energy, Jen swiftly turned around and began bounding back towards me.  "Sure!"  She dropped her bag by me, traded it for my camera, and joined the new traveler.  "We'll be right back!"

Hmmm, well, I had planned to go with them, but I was not about to argue with the idea of sitting on a nice, flat rock and getting to take in the sight!  It was my own little meditation time!  I just enjoyed feeling the wind rush by, seeing the foggy cloud moving in, and listening to a few of the small creatures moving about.

Fifteen minutes later, Jen and our new companion are back!  We begin to pick out way across the rocks as we continue down.  Jen, the little monkey she is, has sure footing from years of hiking and rock hopping.  She's bounding down ahead of us.  I hang back with Kristen, and we move more cautiously.  Another hiker and his dog are heading up, and we say hello - promising him he's almost to the top!

On and on.  It seems going down the boulders is even slower work than hiking up the snow had been!  But the slippery snow is still scary to me.

Until we see the man and his dog coming back down.  He deliberately sits on the snow, shifts around a little bit, and pushes himself off!  Down and down he slides, whipping past us, and easily slowing at the bottom, no where near any drop offs.

We all exchange glances.

Instantly, like giddy kids, we make our way off of the boulder towards the snow, now moving laterally.  Jen, of course, is there first, and drops to her backside, and down she goes!!!  Kristen and I eagerly follow, laughing and whooping!

...and then we run back up and do it again!  Ahhh, renewed vigor!

Here's a small clip!

The rest of the descent was pretty standard.  We made it back to the trees, and had to very slowly make our way down.  While it burned the muscles to make the big steps up, it tested the knee joints cushioning the impact on the way down.

But, thankfully, it wasn't the same type of work to come back down.  We were breathing relatively easily, and so we were able to have a good chat with Kristen about where she's from, her hiking excursions, and sharing our stories.  We laughed and joked, inspired by having defeated this mountain.

Six hours from the time we started, we finally reach the trail head again.  Cheering and exhausted, we take a last picture, exchange email addresses, and head back to the cars.


So that's our story!  I hope you'll go out and create your own challenge!  It's a thrill to complete it!