Only 12 downhill miles left through the Desolation Wilderness, but they are a brutal 12 miles. I don’t mind the first half of the day. I don’t even mind when two chipmunks harass me at my morning break, begging for food like puppies. I especially don’t mind walking past alpine lakes set in the granite landscape, and passing walls of boulders that look like they’ve been frozen mid-avalanche. The landscape is one-of-a-kind, so the uneven ground and loose rocks don’t bother me too much. But once I pass Lake Aloha, the day hikers and weekenders come out in droves. The descent is a slow and painful game of which-rock-should-I-put-my-foot-on-next and I find myself stopping every 30-90 seconds to let groups of brightly clothed hikers, smelling of laundry detergent and sunscreen, pass me going the opposite direction. What gets me through is the hope that the trail will bring me close enough to Echo Lake that I can jump in. Finally, with one mile left between me and my car, a faint path appears through the bushes down to a rope swing and a small beach below. I barrel down, not caring that my legs get all scratched up, and submerge my body in the water. I let the lake wash away all the dirt from my legs and dunk my head under. After this I am a new person. Ready to take on the final mile of this 170-mile loop. Upon reaching the crowded parking lot I stop briefly at the store to buy a cold iced tea but am too nervous to drink it. Images of broken car windows float through my mind and I fear for what may have become of my Subaru after all these nights alone with the bears. A 50-foot climb brings me to the upper lot where my car is parked. It is untouched, sitting perfectly, precisely where I left it. I breathe a sigh of relief, touch every window gratefully and open the trunk. There I sit, happily drinking my iced tea, content to be still in the last moments of the adventure.
In true high Sierra fashion, today is centered around the pass to be climbed. A long and gradual approach winds me through forests and across creeks. I meet a couple of nice TRT Clockwisers who tell me about a great campsite, just over the pass, next to a creek in a field of flowers. At the top of Dick’s Pass I can see layers of barren, rolling mountain tops, sprinkled with pine trees and splotches of snow. When I reach the creek and field of flowers on the other side I see no such campsite. It’s all rocky and steep. I gather water and hesitantly keep meandering down the trial in search of a flat spot. I dare not go too far, for down in the valley bellow is the Bear Who Knows How to Break Into Cars and Tear Apart Ursacks. I don’t have a bear canister, just a Ursack, and want to do my best not to contribute to the bear’s human problem. Finally I see some terraced rock formations to the side of the trail. I lay my pack down, eat two dinners and set up just my bug net to sleep under. I spend a long time just starring at the stars before falling asleep.
I wake up early today because I need to stop in Tahoe City to get some snacks. It’s 8 miles into town and I arrive by 9:30, hit up the grocery store and am back on the trail by 10:30 - sooner than expected. There is nothing in town that calls to me more than the trail. As the day warms up, I find myself in Ward Canyon, a place I can only describe as lower in elevation than I’d like to be. It’s brushy with little to offer in terms of inspiring views. I try to stop for a break once during the 2000-foot climb back up to the rim, but there are too many flies. So I just keep climbing. At the top I collapse in some shade and realize that I’m almost at the junction with the PCT and this gives me all kinds of feelings. Moments later I’m cruising down the PCT wondering where exactly on the trail I am. It winds along the edge of a mountain for miles, and I don’t recognize a foot of it. Suddenly, I round a bend and know exactly where I am. This is where I’d planned to camp. A ‘great campsite’ according to all my sources. This is where I’d planned to camp tonight but also the second night of my trip in 2015. And in 2015 I took one look at it and decided to keep going. Something about it just didn’t feel right. So tonight I do the same. There’s something about being compelled to keep moving forward that feels more valuable than slowing down sometimes.
I find a perfect spot that passes the gut-check several miles later and happily settle down for the night.
The rain never came. Due to only hiking 9 miles, I couldn’t fall asleep last night. Despite my late night, I wake easily in the morning, rush to pack up amidst mosquitos attacking and hit the trail by 6:40. It’s an average day and I follow my same routine of coffee, music, lunch, audiobook. This brings me all the way through a logging area at which point the heat of the day finds me predictably wiped out. I’m ahead of schedule though, and a few texts from friends cheer me up. Though I’d planned to camp at Watson Lake, when I get there it’s too early in the day. I collect a few liters of water and keep going. I find a cozy spot high in the woods 5 miles later. Five miles closer to Tahoe City, to the PCT junction and to the Desolation Wilderness, which promises not to disappoint.
Town chores all morning. I don’t want much in the resupply box I sent myself. Except maybe the vegan Mac and cheese. I send home almost all my Lara bars and head to the grocery store. By about 1:30 I’m back on trail, walking an epic ridge line with views for miles. After a while I notice I haven’t passed anyone in a few hours. It’s just me and this cute little thunder cloud rumbling off in the distance. By the time I get to camp the cute thunder cloud has grown a bit more ominous, so I set up my tarp fast and do the best I can to pitch it perfectly against the potential rain. Then I add my bug net because the mosquitos have come out full force. I can’t complain, though. I’m camped at a rad little spot hidden in the trees right beside a spring. The view over the lake and towns below is worth it all.
I’m pretty sure I’ve been dehydrated for 3 days now. My throat is scratchy and my head fuzzy. I hit the trail at 6 am with 4 liters of water and a determination to drink it all by the time I reach the next source, about 20 miles away. Meanwhile, I have the trail all to myself and climb up to the most amazing views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains. I’ve already hiked 5 miles by my mid-morning coffee break and this only solidifies my hiker-high. The part of the day where I feel awesome lasts for almost 16 miles today. And then, heat. My legs become blistered from the sun. It’s so hot! Mercifully, there are patches of shade and there is an ice cold creek for me to refill my water. I stop and talk to a couple clockwise hikers and still reach the trailhead by 5 pm. Despite my impromptu town night last night, I still have to go into town tonight for my planned resupply. I hitch a ride with a lady and her 2-year-old Labrador. The Tahoe Rim Trail is full of dogs, thank goodness.
I take my morning coffee break at a creek, the last water source for 15 miles. As such, I spend an exorbitant amount of time there drinking coffee, gathering water, brushing teeth and I even comb my hair (!). A woman thru-hiker with a huge pack slogs past me while I’m doing this. She just started yesterday. Looks like she’s struggling, which somehow inspires me. I’ve been complaining to myself of the weight of my pack - too much food - but my pack is far lighter than hers and if she can do it, I can do it.
The cool, energetic morning transforms into a scorching, woozy afternoon. I reach my next water source, which happens to coincide with a 16 mile no-camping zone before 4 pm. With nowhere to camp within a reasonable distance, I wander around the picnic area like a lost mutt looking for reception. I’m surprised at how quickly one can adjust to the wilderness and become overwhelmed at the sight of a crowded picnic area. Temped by the road and a cheap hotel room all to myself, I make the decision to go into town for the night.
I sleep surprisingly well for my first night on trail. After 3 miles of hiking I stop for my absolute favorite trail ritual - the coffee break. Four women and two dogs pass by as I’m packing up and later I catch up with them. One dog is a German Shorthair just like Trigger, but she has a white body and a brown head. She is stick-obsessed and ‘a little neurotic’ as one of the women tells me. Sounds about right. The other dog is a fluffy chocolate lab. I measure my day by the game of leapfrog we play, passing this crew on the trail and them passing me when I take breaks. I promised myself I would try and stop earlier today to have some time to enjoy dinner and not rush into bed, but when evening comes there are no flat spots to be found. So I walk and walk until finally there’s a rocky mound with a patch of dirt between boulders. It’s a little slanted but it will do.
At the Echo lake parking lot I see shattered glass and food packaging strewn about the pavement, along with several cars whose driver side window has been smashed. Clearly the workings of a bear. This is where I’m leaving my car for 9 days. I pluck out every last crumb from my Subaru and hope for the best as I start walking down the trail. This section of the TRT is also the PCT, making today my third time walking through. I piece together memories and try to match them with exact locations as I pass by. I’m not quite done with this game of match by the time I reach the junction to leave the PCT. Time to make new memories. The second I step off the PCT the mosquitos come out. Lovely. Finally, with aching feet I reach Big Meadow trailhead where I plan to camp. I rush to do all the camp chores and crawl into my sleeping bag just after dark.
I’ve been asked what I think about the ketogenic diet more times in the last 6 months than any other question. Okay, well maybe second to what’s the best kind of peanut butter. Regardless…. Keto is taking over the minds of desperate dieters with its promise of rapid weight loss and curing diabetes. It’s also being recommended to patients by misinformed doctors who are lacking in sufficient nutrition education.1 Below you will find my thoughts.
The ketogenic diet was first researched as a treatment for children with epileptic seizures to lessen or control the seizures. Since then, it’s also been studied in relation to starving out brain cancer. There’s decent science to support that. But, for those who don’t have epileptic seizures or neuroblastoma, it’s a great way to get in the fast lane for a heart attack. It’s also a good idea for diabetics looking to make themselves appear not to have diabetes while allowing the disease to get worse on a cellular level. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to lose weight fast in an unhealthy way.
A ketogenic diet is a high fat, ultra-low carbohydrate diet that forces your body to start burning fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. The natural evolution of the human body is such that the preferred fuel is glucose from carbohydrates. Our brains, muscles and organs all run smoothly on carbohydrates. When you severely restrict your carbohydrate intake, your body thinks you’re starving and turns to an alternate fuel source: fat. Fat gets broken down into acidic ketones which then become fuel for your brain, muscles, etc. The result is rapid weight loss, less hunger and lower blood sugar (since you’re not eating any carbohydrates, obviously).
Neat trick, right?
The problem I see with this diet is that there are very few healthy sources of fat out there. Avocados, nuts and olives are a few that come to mind. Most other concentrated fat sources come from animals. For example, heavy cream, butter, bacon, cheese. To mention the obvious, eating this high amount of saturated fat (and cholesterol) is strongly linked to clogged arteries and the number one killer of Americans: heart disease.2, 3 Secondly, what most people don’t know is that eating too much fat results in diabetes.5 Saturated fat is a primary cause of insulin resistance. We can’t keep blaming the carbohydrates without looking at the whole story. Saturated fat can build up inside our muscle cells and prevent insulin from functioning correctly, leading to high blood sugar and eventually diabetes.4
Thirdly, it’s a well-known fact that toxins accumulate in fat cells. As we ingest the concentrated fat of other animals we can be sure that we’re taking in a multitude more pollutants than if we were to eat lower on the food chain. For example, there’s a certain amount of pollution in the world that gathers in the air, falls in the rain, gets absorbed into the soil and has a baseline presence in grass and plants. As a cow eats that grass all day, toxins concentrate in its fat cells. As we either eat the fatty part of the cow or the dairy fat the cow produces, we then consume all the toxins from all the grass that the cow has ever eaten. Way more than if we’d just eaten the grass (or lettuce/kale) directly. The relationship between toxins and fat cells is even stronger for birds and fish. In following a ketogenic diet and aiming for such a high fat intake, we inevitably increase the amount of pollutants and chemicals we’re consuming.
Lastly, it’s hard to eat that much fat without also eating more animal protein. Most keto-ers are looking for super fatty cuts of steak, pork, etc. This comes with the risks inherent in eating a high animal protein diet: heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney stones, gallstones, early death and higher rates of all-cause mortality to name a few. 6, 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13 For this reason, it’s my opinion that recommending this diet to anyone who is not a brain cancer patient, a young child with epilepsy or anyone who is not fully informed of these risks is completely irresponsible, at best .
And though media coverage may have led us to believe that the dangers of saturated fat are unwarranted, it’s worth looking a little more closely at the science. The study that’s best known for making the cover of Time Magazine in 2014 with the subtitle Eat Butter has been widely criticized for mistakenly combining studies that cancelled each other out and led to faulty conclusions. Other poorly-designed studies have attempted to paint cholesterol in a less-damaging light as well. These studies are deeply flawed and are simply serving the interests of the food industry. 14
Interestingly enough, there’s a small group of people out there who have success on a plant-based keto diet. They eat a lot of avocados, olives, nuts, seeds and oil. They do not eat beans, whole grains, fruits or starchy vegetables. If one can do this while keeping saturated fat (coconut and other tropical oils) low, this would be the way to do it.
However, the health benefits of eating whole grains, beans, fruits and starchy vegetables are undeniable. A meta-analysis combining seven major studies revealed that those who ate at least 2.5 servings of whole grains per day had a 21% decreased risk of heart disease compared with those who ate less than 2 servings a week.15 Eating just 20 grams (7 ounces or a half can) of beans each day decreases one’s risk of death by 8%. 16 And eating just one serving of fruit per day can cut a person’s risk of heart disease by 27% and decrease their overall risk of death by 32%.17 For diabetics, decreasing fruit intake is not associated with better blood sugar control.18 No one ever got diabetes from eating too much fruit. With such staggering benefits from even the smallest amount of these healthy carbohydrates, imagine the health you could achieve if your diet was composed of mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
To those who say that carbohydrates are the problem, I say carbohydrates are the solution. Yes, cocoa puffs and white bread are not good for us. But if we take a step back and look at whole unprocessed foods, we find lentils, split peas, garbanzo beans, black beans, pinto beans, soy beans, quinoa, brown rice, steel cut oats, barley, corn, sweet potatoes, blueberries, raspberries, and apples. The list goes on.
Instead of looking for a fast way to lose weight or hopping on the next diet hack that all your co-workers are raving about, have a little patience. It’s not worth tricking your body into thinking you’re starving and need to burn fat for fuel. This is a survival mechanism, a last resort. It’s not the way our metabolism is supposed to function for months and years on end. We’re surrounded by beautiful, natural, colorful and healthy foods that grow on trees and in the ground and that our bodies are already adapted to using for fuel. We should eat those. Why not aim to lose weight slowly and in a healthy way that will allow us to maintain a healthy weight for years to come?
And instead of classifying our diet by macronutrients and looking at ratios and percentages, why don’t we just talk about food? What do the longest-living, healthiest populations eat? Minimally processed plant foods.18 That is what we should all be eating right now. So rather than vilifying one macronutrient, lets teach people about real foods, the benefits of getting enough fiber and how to eat the way our bodies have adapted to over thousands of years. The bottom line: love your body, don’t play tricks on it, and your body will love you back.
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