Sunday, November 15, 2015

The fun of living with a Fitbit, part 2

Sunset at Austin Creek SRA
As I described in the previous post (November 9), I really like my fitness tracker (a Fitbit) -- and my friend Amy Racina and I entered into a friendly competition when we were hiking in very different places this summer. Amy was volunteering as Camp Host at Bullfrog Pond in Austin Creek Recreation Area. I was hiking the Camino Norte of Spain. We enjoyed checking in from time to time to share how many steps we had accumulated.
Amy: "I'm back from my campground, where 20,000 is easily in a day's work. It's 2,000 just to check the toilet rolls in the lower bathroom! I'm ALMOST in Barcelona."

Susan: "I had more like 33,000 yesterday, hee hee!" (After I sent my email to Amy, I saw that I had almost 39,000 and had to keep walking around the town where we were staying to get the step count up to 40,000).

Amy (from her home): "Well, I am most inspired by your 38,900 steps (but who's counting!) I myself was pretty tired after [a long hike] yesterday. And hard pressed to make a base level 10,000 today. I was reduced to toddling around the block from time to time, unwilling to make a major hiking commitment, but still seeking that minimal 10,000. 

Finally, at around 9 PM, her significant other said, "'Why do you keep going outside? What's going on?'"

"I explained my new passion.

"Hmmm. still only 9,510. I may have to go around the block one more time.
Sleep well and hike far!"

Amy (sent October 2): "For my birthday, yesterday, I hopped on a commuter bus down to San Francisco, with a fistful of dollars in my pocket, and an intention to do ANYTHING I WANTED! (And walk a lot of steps.) My spontaneous walking foodie tour took me first to Boudin Bakery at Fisherman’s Wharf, for cappuccino and a croissant, then two of my favorites, the Musee Mechanique, and the Pier 39 Sea Lions. 

"Next I hiked through Chinatown, touring the Chinatown Museum and finding a new favorite Dim Sum place: a little take-out, no English, no tables, super delish. and ridiculously cheap. From there I progressed to Union Square where I sprawled in the shade, ate my dim sum, scored a new chef’s knife and some earrings, and visited the iconic I Magnin marble bathroom in Macy’s. On to the Tenderloin, where I sampled (arguably) the best bahn mi [Vietnamese term for bread] in SF, then to Tommy’s Joynt, for house-roasted corned beef, finishing up at the Rainbow Grocery, a mecca for organic herb and international spice blends."
"Best of all, my lovely day nabbed me 26,000 steps!"

--Now that Amy and I are back home, most of our hikes are a bit more moderate, but we both still like to reach the recommended goal of 10,000 steps daily. I invite you to make a comment about your tracker fun.

Note: If you like Amy's writing, which I do, check out her book Angels in the Wilderness, which is the story of sixty-foot fall during a backpacking trip in the Sierra, her survival, her rescue, and her subsequent recovery from her broken legs. Click here to visit her on Amazon. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

The fun of living with a Fitbit

Steps added to the Fitbit in Spain
Whether it’s a Fitbit, Vivofit, Jawbone, Garmin, Apple Watch or another fitness tracker, you can have lots of fun with it. I’ve read that the many people give them up within a few months – if so, they are missing out on a device that can provide extra support for meeting their fitness goals.

I became interested in having a Fitbit when we went walking in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with friends early this year. At the time, I was having a problem with leg pain and feeling that I was getting nowhere training-wise. When our friend Deborah said that we had walked five miles going to and from the DeYoung Museum and a nearby restaurant, I was elated because that signified progress in my recovery. 

In certain respects, I am a Luddite. I have a cellphone, but it is a flip-open “dumb phone.” I use my computer a great deal, but I stick with the operations I am already familiar with. I love my new front loading washer, but I wish I had the greater control of the cycles of my former agitator model.  The point being, I don’t usually seek for new devices – especially electronic ones.

However, I have loved my Fitbit from the start. My husband Ralph bought one for himself soon after I started wearing mine. Immediately we were in fun competition about who could get the most steps in a day. Our niece Karen soon entered the competition. (I didn’t join one of the online groups, but I know many people do.) 

After my good friend Amy Racina jumped on the bandwagon with a new tracker, I received an email from her that sums up the feelings of those of us who are true believers.

“My new Garmin Vivofit doesn't have HR, but it has all the other features I wanted, including being waterproof. Now I am positively obsessed with it.  Who knew I could extend the morning’s grocery shopping into 3,000 steps? Or that it takes ten more steps if I go out the back door instead of the front? Or that a trip to the Salvation Army is worth 1,500 steps? Or ??? You will get the general idea. I think it’s a fairly healthy obsession, and I'm having great fun with it.”

When Ralph and I were hiking the Camino Norte route in Spain in September, Amy and I kept track of each other’s fun and games. After I sent word that a hiking day had netted me 33,000 steps while walking a trail through the countryside, Amy responded, “Impressive!  

I can see that you understand my obsession with my fitbit! Yesterday, I too explored a trail through the countryside with many cows, goats, pigs, and chickens. Actually, it was the train track from Healdsburg to Windsor, my favorite way to see the backside of this otherwise posh wine country area. It nabbed me and my fitbit 25,000 steps! I got a Vietnamese lunch, then caught the bus back.”

By the way, Amy is a true adventurer as evidenced in her book, “Angels in the Wilderness.” 

Meanwhile, I’ll be back in a day or two with more fitness tracker stories. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Transform water-thirsty lawns into drought-tolerant habitats

We're all hoping that El Niño will ease our water shortage this fall and winter, but we should have learned from our lengthy drought here in the west that lawns make little sense in arid climates. Here's an answer:

credit: CNGA. "California native grass purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra) in a garden setting in Woodland, CA"

Press release from California Native Grasslands Association:

Learn how to transform your water-thirsty lawn into an attractive landscape featuring drought-tolerant trees, native grasses, perennials and shrubs. The California Native Grasslands Association (CNGA) is partnering with the California Department of Water Resources to present “California’s New Front Yard: Creating a Low-Water Landscape,” a workshop that will give you step-by-step instructions on how to design, install, and maintain a beautiful low-water landscape. 

 The workshop will be presented at two locations in October. The first workshop, sponsored by the City of Fairfield and the Solano County Water Agency, will be in Fairfield on Thursday, October 1, 2015 at the Fairfield Community Center, 1000 Kentucky Street.  The second, sponsored by the City of Sacramento and Sacramento Water Forum, will be in Sacramento on Thursday, October 29, 2015 at Coloma Community Center, 4623 T Street. Both workshops are from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m and require advanced registration.  

A fee of $30 ($25 for CNGA members) includes morning refreshments, lunch and professional quality workshop materials. The workshop is suitable for both residential and small ranch homeowners, as well as landscape and ranching professionals. To register for the workshops go to or email for more information.

Morning presentations will cover site inventory and design; plant selection, location, and species highlights; lawn removal methods; and irrigation and long-term care. Afternoon sessions will provide hands-on demonstrations following the morning’s topics.

The day's activities are led by instructors who have decades of success in the design, installation and maintenance of low-water landscapes in residential and commercial settings. Speakers include Andrew Fulks, Assistant Director of UC Davis Arboretum; Sarah Sutton, Landscape Architect and author of “The New American Front Yard, Kiss Your Grass Goodbye!;” Emily Allen, Sales Manager of Hedgerow Farms; Chris Rose, Executive Director of Solano County Resource Conservation District; and Matt Forrest, Irrigation Supervisor, UC Davis Grounds and Landscape Services.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can sneak up on you

Our hike started out normally enough -- we were going to walk around Lake Chabot in Castro Valley, CA -- a 8.6-mile hike that we have done several times previously in the regional park. We hadn't known beforehand that the park district was working on the East Shore Trail, but the suggested detour seemed straight-forward enough. The detour, up Indian Cove Trail, did, however, climb fairly steeply and was totally unshaded. The unmarked downhill portion of the trail was well designed -- with switchbacks that allowed us to drop back down gradually to the East Shore Trail and beyond the work project.

The temperature was in the 80's and we felt that we were well prepared for a hike under those conditions. Ralph was experimenting with carrying an umbrella with a reflective surface. I was wearing shorts, top, and hat.

As we continued around the lake, the temperature continued to rise. We had started later than we had originally planned and so it was mid-day. We stopped for lunch; we had plenty of water and stopped to drink it when thirsty.

However, I began to feel a bit shaky and to notice a loss of energy. Plain water wasn't enough -- I felt that I could drink gallons worth, but it wouldn't restore my strength. We checked the outside temperature and it was now 102 degrees. We added electrolyte tablets to our water -- that helped somewhat, but the effect didn't last. Even though I started using the umbrella, the heat from the trail's surface seemed to be more intense than from the sky.

I had to sit and rest frequently as we continued to make our way around the lake. Eventually, the only way that I could continue was to lie down and hold a cold, wet bandanna against my forehead, my wrists and my legs until I felt okay to continue.

I got off easy; I did finish the trail and other than needing to take a nap when we got home, was no worse for wear. However, I am reminded that heat exhaustion and heat stroke can sneak up on you -- even for those who consider themselves experienced hikers. Even though my symptoms didn't seem to be severe enough to be diagnosed as heat exhaustion, I know that if we had not promptly addressed the symptoms I was experiencing, I could have been in serious trouble.

Some of the factors working that may have been acting against us that I have not mentioned are:

  • Exercising for long periods of time in high temperatures (over 98 degrees) is problematical. 
  • The big change in the weather. Temperatures in our area had been generally in the 70's for quite a while; I was not ready for temps over 100! It can take days or even weeks to adjust to such
  • Age--babies and children 4 years and younger; and adults over 65 are less able to handle heat. 
  • Medications--various medications can affect one's ability to handle extreme heat.
  • Hydration--I was drinking when thirsty, but not keeping up with the water I was losing from sweating. 

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke: 
Heat stroke symptoms may include: "High body temperature (104 F (40 C) or higher is the main sign of heatstroke. Altered mental state or behavior. Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and coma can all result from heatstroke. Alteration in sweating. In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel moist. Nausea and vomiting. You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit. Flushed skin. Your skin may turn red as your body temperature increases. Rapid breathing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow. Racing heart rate. Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body. Headache. Your head may throb."

Summer isn't over, take care of yourself. And if you, or someone you are with, shows symptoms of heat stroke, consider it a medical emergency and call 9-1-1.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Gaudi's work in Barcelona doesn't disappoint

Barcelona, the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia and Spain's second largest city with a population of approximately 1.6 million, is a great city for exploring on foot -- tiring of that, there is an extensive public transit system. Before husband Ralph and I arrived in that beautiful city on the Mediterranean Sea, I had drawn up an itinerary that was fairly dense, but also allowed time to just sit and people-watch. I expected the weather to be on the warm to hot side, so before we left I looked at a thrift shop for a couple of lightweight skirts that I could wear for our four days in Barcelona, but then leave behind to save weight for our hiking days on the Camino Norte (posts to come!).

Finished by 2026? Sagrada Familia 
Interior of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia: Order tickets from home!

A Gaudi rock tree in Park Guell 
Must see: Gaudi's Park Guell

Much to see free in Park Guell

We set out on our first full day -- with rain jackets. Instead of walking to Montjuïc, the hill on the southeast, to see the views of the city below and to visit the National Museum of Art of Catalonia (Museu Nacional d-Art de Catalunya), we decided to buy a two-day pass for a "hop on, hop off" bus. As we rode through the city, the rain increased and the canvas cover on the top of the bus proved inadequate. Water was soon splashing down on the seats and passengers started to move to different seats that were still dry. No one "hopped off" -- including us.

Panoramic view of Barcelona from Park Guell
Lame as it may seem to ride around on a tourist bus, we were tourists, and our crisscrossing of the city helped us get oriented more quickly than we would have if on foot dodging rain puddles (and we went to see the museum later).

Much of our focus was on seeing Gaudi's Sagrada Familia and his Park Guell and both were well worth our time. We had ordered our tickets for an orientation, tour, and a ride up in the Passion Tower (you walk down) of the church and that saved waiting.

We did not have advance tickets to the Park Guell and encountered long lines when we arrived late morning. We didn't want to wait two hours, but we learned that a large section of the park is open to the public for free and it's a treat to wander along the many paths past inspiring sculptures and amazing vistas.

Rather than repeat what has been said elsewhere in dozens of books, articles, and so forth, see if these photos inspire you to include Barcelona in your next (or first) Camino trip.

Next post: visits to a famous music hall, the Rambles, and Montserrat.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Enjoy Wilderness Adventure Day with Sierra Club's Sierra magazine

Press release: Sierra Magazine’s Wilderness Adventure Day

Head for the Sierra in June!
 SAN FRANCISCO — Sierra magazine, the official publication of the Sierra Club, is excited to announce its annual outdoor event, Wilderness Adventure Day, in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe. While the Sierra Club’s many programs inspire people to explore and enjoy our planet, this unique opportunity provides a fun-filled day outdoors that includes product demonstrations from Sierra magazine partners created to enhance the guest experience and inspire future purchase decisions. 

Beginning at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 6, families are welcome at the Sierra Club’s flagship Clair Tappaan Lodge to enjoy guided history trail hikes, wetland science walks, kayak clinics, yoga classes, product giveaways, gift bags, food, and live entertainment....all for FREE! Throughout the day, event sponsors will be hosting product demos and participants will be able to use the products on their outdoor adventures. Sponsors and products include: LOWA boots, LEKI trekking poles, Bergans of Norway packs and tents, Sea Eagle kayaks, Farm to Feet socks, and If You Care household products. Sierra is also proud to partner with Sports Basement, Gateway Mountain Center and Summit Lotus Yoga.

“Our goal is to capture nature’s magic by letting guests explore its beauty,” says Sierra ad director Ben Warner. “We created this consumer-facing event in support of the Sierra Club’s mission to get America outdoors to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet. Hosting it at the Clair Tappaan Lodge allows us to show our readers and supporters the beauty that nature has to offer while bringing our brand mission to life.”

To register, please log on to

Weekend food & lodging packages are also available at, or by calling 530-426-3632. The Clair Tappaan Lodge is located on Donner Summit near the Pacific Crest Trail in Norden, CA. Nestled in the mountains of Tahoe National Forest, the rustic lodge has been the halcyon home of countless adventurers, offering unparalleled access to lakes, hiking, biking, and rock climbing.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Parade -- on water?

Press release:
25 Years of Protecting San Francisco’s Bay

San Francisco, CA – San Francisco Baykeeper, known for protecting and defending the Bay from pollution since 1989, announces their 2nd Annual Bay Parade on Sunday May 31, 2015.  This celebration of the Bay is a high-energy event where participants swim, kayak, and row alongside SUPers, surfers, boaters, sailors and all Bay enthusiasts on a noisy, colorful parade from the Ferry Building to the ballpark.  The swim will be 1.5 miles, while paddlers will travel 3.5 miles.

According to Sejal Choksi-Chugh, Baykeeper’s Interim Executive Director, “Our annual parade is the Bay Area’s most unique celebration on the water.  It’s a celebration of the Bay – on the Bay – for the Bay.  People wear costumes, decorate their boats, bring noisemakers, and form team rivalries to make it a really fun event.”  In addition, Choksi-Chugh mentioned, “San Francisco Baykeeper is the sole on-the-water nonprofit dedicated to protecting San Francisco Bay from pollution. We are truly excited to bring this event to our community to help everyone be a part of the solution to keeping our treasure of the Bay safe to recreate in for generations to come.”


Date: Sunday May 31, 2015 – Parade 11:00 am – 1:00 pm  |  After Party 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
- Parade:  San Francisco Bay.  Short 1.5-mile course from Ferry Building to McCovey Cove.  The San Francisco Giants will feature the parade finale on the AT&T Park Jumbotron at the start of the baseball game. 
- After Party:  Anchor Brewing will throw a Bay Parade after-party to continue the celebration on shore.  The Party will be held at The Yard next to the ballpark.
Details: If you can swim 1.5 miles or paddle 3.5 miles, you can join the Bay Parade!

Aquatic costumes, decorated boats, and noisemakers encouraged.- Registration is $100, plus a fundraising commitment of $200. All proceeds to benefit the Bay.
Fantastic prizes for fundraisers.

Register:  Please visit for more details.

About Baykeeper
For 25 years, San Francisco Baykeeper has defended the San Francisco Bay from thousands of pollution sources. Protecting the Bay is our mission and passion.
Baykeeper is the sole on-the-water nonprofit dedicated to protecting San Francisco Bay from pollution.  We are comprised of nine staff with scientific and legal expertise, a cadre of experienced volunteers/directors, and a 24-foot pollution patrol boat that monitors and investigates pollution in the Bay.  Baykeeper’s vision for the next 25 years is a San Francisco Bay where the water is clean, the ecosystem is healthy, recreation is safe, and wildlife can thrive. 

Note from Backpack45: It would be fun to get in on this event while it's still in its infancy.