Fear of Change

During a recent vacation, I was snorkeling, swimming through the shallow water of a beautiful lagoon with white sand at the bottom. The sun was up high and the sea floor  was bright. Then I approached a drop off where the shallow seafloor fell off to unknown depths. As I approached the edge, the scenery in front of me started to look a little scary and my heartbeat accelerated. Instead of bright sand right underneath me, I was now approaching a dark blue. My eyes, still460b3a6374b74b8d38a17f176892248a conditioned by the bright reflective sand, had trouble seeing any details in the deep, dark blue beyond the edge. Although I’m an experienced snorkeler and even scuba diver, I felt a little weary, not knowing what to expect. Then my eyes adjusted and I was able to see more of the details underneath me. As I held my breath and dove down to the seafloor 15-20 ft underneath me, I saw small blocks of coral and fish. While the deep blue initially created the illusion of a a lot of depth, I realized this areas wasn’t all that deep. After just a few minutes in this new environment, I felt very comfortable. This area was actually more exciting for snorkeling and looking back at the shallow lagoon, I almost felt silly for being weary about this deeper area.

Taking a step back, isn’t this how we all feel when it comes to dealing with change? We all have our home turf where we’re comfortable. We know our surroundings and are at ease. Then we head towards change. All off a sudden, things aren’t quite as clear any more and the unknown may make us weary and nervous. We don’t know what’s “out there” and we can’t discern the details yet of what we’re going to encounter. We react emotionally and with fear. But once we allow ourselves to be exposed to the new environment, we see it’s not all that scary and we may actually enjoy it. We get to see the details of our new surroundings and become comfortable. Looking back, we may feel silly about having reacted with so much unease. In the end, we extend our comfort zone and the formerly foreign territory ends up becoming part of our home turf.

So what can we take away from this? Fear of change is normal and some may argue even a hardwired response (think “fight or flight” reflex). But although in today’s world change may be unavoidable, there are a few things we can do to ease the transition:

  • Know that your response is “normal”.
  • Allow yourself to go through the readjustment process.
  • The more quickly you explore your new environment and become familiar with its particularities, the more quickly will you feel comfortable.

In the end, change is part of everyday life and we all have to deal with it. The more often we experience it, the sooner we realize frequent change is the new norm and while fear of the unknown is normal, going through it consciously and deliberately will hopefully take the edge off.

Why Your Photo Library is taking over your Computer

Like many of you have properly observed, your photo library is getting out of control. Every year, you seem to be taking more pictures than the one before and, oh by the way, the resolution of your cameras (point ’n shoot, cell phone, etc.) is getting higher and higher too.

As a little programming exercise, I analyzed my photo library going back to when I starting collecting digital pictures (for Mac users, check out your own photo library with this little program). Here’s what I found out:

  • Between 1996 and 2002, photo sizes were basically flat at 0.15 MB per picture.
  • Starting with 2003, the average image size increased by 58% on average annually (from 0.15 MB to ~3 MB per picture; and I’m not using super high-tech cameras, otherwise the sizes would be significantly higher)!
  • Over the last 10 years, the average count of pictures taken per year increased by 41% annually!
  • During the same time, the increase of total storage increased by 35% on average annually (without accounting for meta data, duplication due to editing, etc.)

 

ScreenShot2015-07-05at8.57.47PM
(The year 2005 is somewhat of an anomaly due to high-res, professional wedding pictures.)



Bottom line: total storage space required for pictures is growing exponentially. Although the number of pictures one can take per day is probably going to top out somewhere (hopefully somewhere below 1 picture for every minute of the day!), the resolution will keep climbing, at least for a while.
With the introduction of SSD drives, storage has become faster, but the cost per terabyte is still higher than for regular hard drives and capacity ultimately will have a hard time keeping up with the exploding demand, especially for the ubiquitous laptops. (If you’re working with a lot of videos in addition to images, all bets are off.)

Where does all this leave us? I believe that ultimately the solution will be to store all these pictures not on your hard drive, but in the cloud. Photo management software will eventually need to adjust and store only a subset of your library on your drive, maybe in the form of thumbnails and meta data (Apple’s new Photos app is already moving in this direction). For viewing and editing of your pictures, the originals would then have to be downloaded on the fly. All of this not only requires a fast internet connection, but also trustworthy, reliable and affordable online storage. At the end of the day, few us will be able to store our own photo libraries on our own systems any more. The software (and storage) vendors will have the challenge to make this experience seamless and reliable. But in the end, that’s probably the only way to make photo storage sustainable.

The Walking Dead and LOST

I’ve been watching The Walking Dead from day 1 and I’ve mostly liked it from the beginning, but starting with the latest season (5), especially since episode 10 (“Them”), I’ve been noticing echoes of and similarities with my all-time favorite show, Lost. The parallels are not too obvious or strong, but bear with me and tell me if you can’t see it as well.

WalkingdeadANDLOST

Here goes:

  • Rick, cop, versus, Jack, doctor. They lead the group and like to fix things. Both have a dark side and sometimes lose control.
  • Token Asian guy(s), Glenn and Jin (& Sun).
  • Black religious dude who’s a little cray cray: Gabriel and Mr. Ekko with a dark past.
  • Both groups are lost in their own way and it’s less about island mysteries and walking zombies, but about people, relationships and people finding themselves. Both are seeking redemption from past lives and deeds.
  • Carl ~ Walt?! And then there’s Rick’s baby and baby Aaron.
  • Aaron shows up who – without hiding it – happens to be an “other”, just like Ethan Rom.
  • Alexandria and “Otherville” – a bunch of dirty, raggedy survivors are shocked to find a seemingly quaint, normal, “modern” oasis with houses, running water, electricity and a community life that seems to defy the world around them.
  • Rick, now part of this community, is planning to challenge and maybe overthrow this new community. Isn’t that a little bit like Jack scheming against the Others while held on Hydra Island and later Otherville?
  • Like the outsiders live in Alexandria amongst the original inhabitants, the Losties lived amongst the Dharma initiative in the 70s during time travel days. Until certain evens bring about conflict and fighting.
  • Deanna, a smart, maybe deceitful, woman is leading the new community. The actress reminds me of Isabel, judge of the Others, although in a way she may otherwise compare more to Ben.
  • Darryl, a person at the edge of society, kind of an outlaw and very good with bow and arrow, may be a cross between Kate (on the run from the law) and knife man himself, Locke.
  • Episode titles, hello!? “Them” and “One of Them” (Lost season 2).
  • The show is an long, convoluted journey for a group of people with a lot of main characters losing their lives eventually.
We’ll see how The Walking Dead develops over time. Maybe the parallels are temporary right now, but at least for now I’m seeing them more than ever in the past.

Working out 7 Days a Week!?

If you’ve read my earlier post about losing weight, you’ve already heard about the boost to my workout routine. At this time, I’ve been working out 7 days a week for – I’m not even sure – 2 years or so (apart from 1 day, as far as I can remember). Yes, you’ve read that right: 7 days a week! No matter the weather, rain or shine, whether I’m traveling, domestically or internationally, vacation or work days, sick or not. When I’m on the road and my day daily routine is off, I make it happen, even if it’s at 5 in the morning or 10 at night.

Why on earth would I do this? Well, it was part of my effort to increase my regular calorie burn. But that’s not all. Exercising, which I normally do after work, helps me refresh and reboot myself after a long day at work and I always feel better afterwards. It’s become part of my daily routine. Without it, I feel cranky, my muscles are tense, and my mind feels tired. Nowadays it’s just part of what I do. Period. Side benefit: coming home from work, my focus is to get out and work out as soon as I can which makes me only eat a quick and light dinner or even replace a meal with a nutritional shake. That makes it much less likely to overindulge on dinner and consume too many calories.
534988_567713383276425_1780417856_nOkay, you might say, but is working out every day healthy? Doesn’t the body need time to recover in between workouts? I thought so too, but I can honestly say that I feel great and energized. I don’t feel my body screaming (or whispering) for an off day, no fatigue or overuse (as far as I can tell). It may have to do with this: If I can help it, I never do the same thing more than 2 days in a row; ideally I do a different form of exercise every day. My main stay is Tae Kwon Do (usually Tue/Wed/Sat). If I’m not in the Tae Kwon Do studio, I go running. If I’m not running, I play tennis. If I’m not playing tennis, I hike or swim laps. In winter, I might be able to work skiing in. Key is I do something at least moderately intense and work up a sweat. Since each of these workouts emphasizes different muscle groups and varies cardio/anaerobic, strength, stretching, etc., I can get away without fatigue and overuse.
Yes, on occasion and injury can occur (I sprain a joint or muscle, etc. – hey, Tae Kwon Do is a contact sport and I’m not 20 any more). Then what? Well, I’ve always been able to work around it. If the knee problems come back that I’ve had since I was 16? I go swimming. Calf muscle is acting up – hiking usually works better than running. Back sore? I’ll find a way to do something that doesn’t aggravate it further. There’s always an exercise I can do, despite my injury.
One thing that did help was changing my running style to that of a minimalist runner. Yes, removing cushioning and going to a mid-foot strike has actually helped me reduce stress on my knees and allowed me to run longer and with less impact. Kind of ironic. Despite the thin soles on my shoes, the changes to the biomechanics greatly reduce joint impact. (For more info, check this out!)
It makes sense that if you challenge your body with a diverse set of different sports and exercises, you’ll obviously increase your overall level of fitness, but without the fatigue and overuse that comes from doing only one or a small number of different exercises. I’m not sure how long I can keep this up, but for now I feel good and am motivated to keep going. It’s what I do.
If anyone else out there has had similar experiences, I’d be curious to learn more. Do tell and leave a comment!

Uber Disruption

I like Uber. As a customer, it makes my business trips easier. I get from A to B in a timely fashion and even have pleasant conversations with the driver from time to time. I don’t have to worry about whether the driver takes credit cards and there is no tipping.

jp03Ride2-articleLargeBut I also like Uber as a business, despite recent blunders by their management. I like them because they are disruptive. For too long has the taxi industry (if one can call it that) been somewhat of a monopoly and there were no other choices to get to, for example, the airport (assuming limos are too expensive and shuttles too inconvenient). Uber has managed to disrupt this old business model and challenged a number of key aspects: the cars are in much better shape, the drivers more professional and courteous, integration of state-of-the-art technology and no tipping or exchange of cash. Uber is now forcing the taxi industry to wae up, rethink their model and compete for the first time. And we all know that competition is good.

Of course, the critics say that Uber drivers (Uber X folks that use their personal vehicle) aren’t properly licensed and safety and insurance are an issue. But I have to ask: if licensing is supposed to make things safer, how come taxis are usually in terrible shape, with worn out, under-inflated tires, creaky ride and drivers often don’t even care to wear their seat belts, are over-tired and usually grumpy? Do I feel safer in a cab? Absolutely not, just the opposite! More often than not, I wonder how my cabby manages NOT to have an accident considering the way he drives.

I hope Uber management gets their stuff together and gets rid of some bad apples. Hopefully all the lawsuits result in more reasonable laws instead of putting disrupters like Uber out of business. I just enjoy too much the convenience of this great model and how they kick the cabbies’ asses! At the end of the day, the better and most cost-efficient experience should win and with that the customer. Right now that means bye-bye taxies!

The Scale of the 21st Century

As you might know from previous posts, I’ve been religious about weighing myself to track progress. That’s probably why my scale died. Consequently I was looking for worthy replacements. I recalled seeing the Withings Smart Body Analyzer in the Apple store and ended up ordering it from Amazon.

Remember when the iPhone forced you to rethink what you knew about what a phone was and does? That’s close to how this little miracle device made me rethink what a scale is supposed to do. This thing measures

  • WithingsscaleWeight (duh!) –  in 0.1 lbs increments
  • Body fat % (through induction – at lease directional, but probably not super precise)
  • Heart rate
  • Room temperature and CO2 in 1-hour increments.

After you’re done with measurements, it transmits the info via your WiFi network to a web service whose data you can access via the Withings Healthmate web site or an iPhone app. The latter integrates with Apple’s health app as well as MyFitnessPal. Suffice it to say these services provide you with all the tracking and graphics you could ever hope for – and more. Did I mention the scale automatically recognizes all your family members who can have their own accounts?

This sleep device has worked seamlessly so far and not only made my life easier (no more manual logging of weight etc.), it has also provided additional data and made tracking all this information extremely convenient.

Overall, I’m quite impressed so far. This is what a scale of the 21st century is supposed to do. This makes me curious to see what other companies will come up with disruptive ways to rethink what the electronics and machines around us should really be and do…

 

I’m Mixing It Up

I’m mixing it up, starting Monday. After several weeks of careful consideration, I’ve decided take on a new role in my current organization, but in a different department/business unit, with different organizational scope, different subject matter and responsibilities. I’ll be building out a new function and I’ll be the first guy on the ground. The function itself is new and only time will tell if it’ll “stick”. I’ll be traveling more. And instead of spending most of my time with people on site, face-to-face and only some time on the phone, it’ll be the opposite. Not everyone “here” will understand or like my move. The word “risk” definitively crossed my mind. But then my more rational side took over. I’ve been in the same department for 7 years although with increasing responsibilities and titles in an ever-changing and dynamic organization. Still, it’s in essence my comfort zone. How much do we, as professionals, really grow if we don’t expose ourselves to new stuff, challenge ourselves with new things that are beyond our comfort zone? Sure, I could “stick around” and still learn and grow, to some extend. But when I look back at it 2 years from now, what will I really have to show for the extra time spent? What will people reading my resume think? Are things getting a little stale and I’m just not that aware of it? When it comes down to it, the comfort zone is seductively smooth and “easy”. Maybe it’s a false sense of security it creates. When I speak to and read about other successful leaders, I usually see more “movement” in the course of their careers, not slow, linear progression.
As described in the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, we all build certain routines and habits. Once established and refined, our brain is able to follow these routines with little incremental effort. Been there – done that. Run a certain meeting – check. Present to certain group of people – check. Solve an issue in a given area – check. We’re able to maneuver the day by flowing from one established habit to another without pushing our brain much.
That’s what I’m mixing up: I’m forcing myself to do new things, learn new skills, build new relationships, challenge myself and make my brain hurt again. I know it’ll be rough at first, but that’s the price one has to pay for stretching oneself beyond the comfort zone. I’m sure there’ll be days, where I’ll regret this. But then – I’m hoping – in the long-run it’ll help me grow and expand as an individual and professional. And according to this great article (If You Do These 20 Things Every Day, You’ll Become Smarter), I’ll even end up being smarter because of it… 🙂
Just the other day, I saw this image and the words resonated with me:
 nottakingrisks

Weight Loss for Creatures of Habit

I’ve never seriously considered losing weight, even though over the years my weight slowly increased by a pound a year and my waist size was up 2 inches from where it used to be. At 5’10” with 213 lbs at age 42, I thought I was okay. Hey, I exercised 5 days a week (including intense martial arts, running and tennis), ate decently and was overall pretty healthy. So my weight was probably due to muscles, right?

Beginning the Journey

Whatever it was, in January of 2013 I read something about fitness apps and tracking exercise and calories. On a whim, I downloaded MyFitnessPal and put in my data. I set my target for 200 lbs, which resulted in a daily calorie limit of about 1,800 calories or so. Then I started tracking everything I ate as well as my exercise. Being anal and a little OCD, I quickly became obsessed with making sure all my information was entered properly at all times, including a daily weigh-in. It didn’t take long to realize that 1,800 calories a day isn’t a whole lot. I figured out a number of changes I had to make as far as my diet:

 

  • Cut out the morning OJ to reduce sugar/carbs.
  • No more Gatorade after my workouts – I found a sugar-free substitute (Sqwincher Qik Stiks).
  • Generally reduce the carbs, even whole wheat variants
  • Watch portion size even more than I already had.
  • Switch to a uber-healthy and low-calorie 9 PM snacks

 

When I worked out hard, it gave me “calorie credit”, which allowed me to eat a little bit more. So as an admitted creature of habit, I decided to bump up my routine and exercise 7 days a week, even if that meant getting up at 5:30 on Fridays to go running before work (I usually work out at night). 7 days a week sounds harder than it is and with the right routine is quite doable. I thought my body needed rest days, but it adjusted quite well to working out every day. Tracking everything with MyFitnessPal was immensely helpful and educational. It helped me fine-tune what I was doing and identify little mistakes and areas of improvement. With this app-induced awareness, I was able to start dropping pounds quite consistently.

Getting on Auto-Pilot

Routine – in my case – is the key. I tend to follow the same routines and patterns and they become second nature. In order to really be effective and put my diet on auto pilot, I came to the realization that if I just changed my old routine and established a new one, I could get into a mode of sustained weight loss without having to fight too hard for it. Sticking with it is easiest for me if I don’t have to think about it too much, just follow the established routine.
Example: I used to eat at Quizno’s most weekdays. Even their turkey bacon guacamole sandwich had 700-800 calories. This seemed to be okay before, but thanks for MyFitnessPal, I learned that this wasn’t all that great, I So I changed my routine and started going to Subway almost every day, where a ham sandwich with healthy ingredients and no mayo was in the 400-calorie range. I had read the book Change Everything earlier and two key elements helped me:
  • Identify critical moments where I am most likely to go off track and figure out how to avoid falling off the wagon. In my case that was free food catered for meetings at work. So I learned to either walk away (not always easy, especially with free pizza in the lunch room) or reduce the portion size and fill up mostly with salad and just have a little bit of the “bad stuff”.
  • Visit your “default future”, which means envisioning myself and what I would look and feel like if I didn’t do anything about my weight. Not always a pleasant thought. Reversely, I started liking to envision myself “ripped” and with a noticeable 6-pack.

 

After about 2 months I had fine-tuned my understanding of the foods I ate and the exercise I did on my calorie budget. With my new habits, I stopped tracking food and exercise, but still held on to the daily weigh-in. Due to the heightened overall awareness and knowledge I had built, this didn’t negatively affect my weight trajectory.
As the months were coming and going and my weight was consistently dropping, I kept reaching and surpassing my goals. 213 lbs became 200, my original target. I kept going and reached 190. Nice! How does 185 sound? Doable. But at 185, I figured 180 is a nice round number. At 180 I was stoked. I recalled being at 175 lbs when I was in my late 20’s with a 32” waist. So I kept going and made it to 175! And I still kept going. Since everything happened so automatically and without much effort, it was almost easiest to stick to my routing and the weight would drop by itself.
At this time it’s pretty easy to just keep going and I’ve managed to drop to 173 lbs, which means I dropped 40 lbs (19% of my original weight) in about 18 months, which far exceeds all goals I’ve ever set. I am happy to now have the six-pack and noticeable muscle definition in my core I always wanted. And my waist is down to 31”, even less than in my 20’s.
It’s annoying to have to buy new pants and smaller shirts, but it is rewarding when people come and ask whether I lost weight or comment that I look good or thin.
How long will I keep going? I haven’t figured it out yet, but in the mean-time it’s easiest doing what I’ve been doing and seeing where these new habits lead me.

MFP-screenshot-cropped​My weight over time

Fine-Tuning

There are a number of things I’ve been tweaking and experimenting with throughout my journey and I’m still tinkering with them.
Here are some of the changes and learnings:
  • Fill up with low-calorie vegetables and salads with vinaigrette dressing before hitting the main course. It’s easier to control portion size of “dangerous” items when you almost feel full already.
  • I try to “skip” one meal a day by replacing it with a liquid meal (e.g. avocado/soy milk shake or Glucerna drink) augmented with carrots, hummus etc. for extra volume and satiation. Something in these nutritional / meal-replacement drinks miraculously keeps you full longer too.
  • Not having a steaming meal waiting for me when I come home from work helps. An empty table is far less tempting and helps just reach for a shake and carrots/fruits.
  • Fruits are good, but know they do contain a decent amount of sugar, so don’t overdo it.
  • I don’t skip breakfast and usually have a light lunch. Instead I tend to “skip” dinner and go with a very light 9 PM snack. The body burns calories earlier in the day and not having much for dinner prevents calories turning into fat over-night. On the contrary, going to bed slightly hungry isn’t fun, but you don’t know you’re hungry when you’re sleeping.
  • After a light breakfast, I found out that mixing some whey protein powder into a glass of soy milk keeps me feeling full longer.
  • I snack on unsalted peanuts during the day. I eat way less if they’re unsalted and don’t have to drink as much. I also like Corazonas bars. Snacking on good stuff helps me not feel hungry throughout the day.
  • If you fill up with plenty of liquids, including water, you will feel less hungry.
  • Eating protein in the morning, e.g. egg whites, keep you full longer than carbs or insoluble fiber.
  • My family and I eat out on Friday and Saturday night and I drink lots of Diet Pepsi. I learned that it’s okay if my weight seems to go up over the weekend. Come Monday, I’ll be okay again and continue my slide down.
  • Since we go out for dinner Friday and Saturday night, I switch things on these days and try to skip lunch on those days (read shake). A grande, unsweetened Starbucks iced coffee with soy milk will help me feel full after lunch (and it’s a little reward).
  • I weigh myself at the same time every day to compare “apples to apples”, i.e. right before going to bed.
  • If you want to skip lunch, leave the office and go somewhere, walk around etc. It’ll distract you from the fact that you’re not eating.
  • Nuts and seats are your friend. As a matter of fact, you can turn chia seeds with a few oat flakes, raisins and soy milk into a cereal/snack.
  • Cheese sticks and turkey jerky make good filler snacks. Did I mention carrots yet?
  • Hummus is full of good stuff and low in calories.
  • (Greek) yoghurt is good for you, but watch the sugar.
  • Skip the rice, pasta and other starchy sides and just go for lean meat and vegetables.
  • Watch for rich sauces and dressings or mayo.
  • A little dark chocolate is good for you.
  • When watching TV, I started doing push-ups, sit-ups, crunches, planks, leg lifts, etc. Your body weight is sufficient to build strengths for most of your body – no fancy equipment is needed. (Only exception: biceps. Haven’t figured that part out yet.)
  • I just got a set of resistant bands and am experimenting with different arm and shoulder exercises – also while watching TV. A massage roller can also be a good way to change things up.
  • The more weight I lost, the easier the strength training goes and the longer I can run, which in turn helps burn more calories. This is a self-enforcing cycle in a way.
  • Running in the morning right after getting out of bed is tough on your body. Have a shake or yoghurt before you head out and start slow. My joints tend to ache a little until I stop to stretch 5 minutes into the run. After I start to feel better and my body has finally figured out that the warm bed is now history.
  • I’ve always had knee issues since I was a teenager, but switching to a mid-foot strike instead of heel strike running style paired with light, more minimalist shoes (<= 4 mm heel-to-toe drop, e.g. Brooks PureConnect or Altra “The One”) have helped me run longer and pretty much eliminated my knee issues.
  • Do different workouts and mix it up, so no one part of your body get consistently fatigued. While one part is recovering/rebuilding, the other is getting a workout. I do martials arts, run and play tennis every week. Where possible, I add hiking and swimming. Don’t slack off when you’re traveling.
  • I’d love to use a fitness tracker (Nike FuelBand, Jawbone Up, etc.), but since I can’t wear it during Tae Kwon Do, I’d always be missing out on my main workouts. For running, I like my iPod nano since running with music is more fun and it tracks time and distance. (I tried a heart rate monitor too, but hated the chest strap.)
  • Your weight will fluctuate based on meals, times of eating, how much liquid you’ve had post workout, and other factors. Expect little ups and downs of up to 1 lbs a day even if you “do everything right”. Week over week is a better for comparison purposes and gauging success than day over day.
  • This isn’t a sprint (despite early successes). This is a lifestyle change.
  • Read about working out and nutrition.
  • Get rid of clothes that are now too loose and baggy. It can be fun to get a new wardrobe and you’ll never need those big clothes again, right? If you toss them, you’ve mentally eliminating the “way back”. This should be a one-way street.
These are just my learnings. Your mileage will vary. Key is to figure out what works for you and stick with it. Be open to try new stuff.

Net/Net

Admittedly not everyone is like me. But in my case, building self awareness and creating new habits that become second nature were key to my success. Other people may not be as routine-oriented, but nonetheless, a lot of the things I’ve learned will be transferrable. I feel good (and hopefully look better), am healthy, have good energy, and am happy with the new me. I plan on keeping at it. After all, it’s hard to break with my habits.
Was this helpful? Please leave a comment, I’d like to hear from you…

Hike to Santiago Peak

Inspired by Arash Sayadi’s recent blog about his experience hiking up to Santiago Peak, my friends Jason, Tony and I made plans in December of last year to follow suit and attempt the same hike. After all, I have to stare at that mountain every day on my way to work and I had been wondering what’s it’s like to make the trek to the peak.

Our planning, apart from selecting a date that would work for all of us, revolved around what to pack and wear, navigation and how much water we should bring. After bugging Arash with some additional questions and utilizing his day hike pack list, we had most of the information we needed. I used an Osprey Stratos day pack with 34 l capacity which had enough room to store food, water, clothing and various supplies and emergency equipment. Water was probably the most important factor. Based on the 0.75 quarts per hour formula, I concluded that we had to bring close to 6 l of water each. The pack was able to hold a 3 l bladder and so I added 2 plastic bottles with water separately, with the total being 5.5 l. Quite a weight to carry!
Tony found a web site with current weather conditions at the peak, which was very helpful in planning what to be prepared for. When we started watching the site a few days before the hike, it had just snowed at the peak and temperatures were in the 30s with plenty of wind. So we knew we had to be ready for cold temperatures and hence brought several layers that could be shed in case it wasn’t as cold. Fortunately, as our target date approached, we saw that the temperature started to go up during the day as things warmed up.
Being concerned about navigation, I opted to buy a Garmin eTex (Vista HCx) GPS as well as 24k topographical maps for the unit. I didn’t want to rely on my iPhone and its MotionX GPS app because I had seen the GPS drain a full iPhone battery in about 7 hrs before and the phone was not going to do well in potentially low temperatures and/or moisture/rain. Not a cheap addition to my equipment, but the peace of mind of having a reliable GPS (and a sale at REI) helped.
On the day of the hike (February 18), we left Irvine around 5:40 AM since we wanted to start early and get going while it’s still cool. The weather forecast fortunately promised clear, sunny conditions and little wind. As advised, we took a high-clearance SUV and were able to get to the parking lot by 6:30, despite the “road” being quite bumpy and full of challenges a sedan would’ve found tough to maneuver.
IMG_6278We were the second car in the parking lot and started our hike around 6:40 AM. It was lousy cold with temperatures in the 30s and I was happy I had gloves and an ear band to wear. After crossing a creek a few times, we worked our way up to higher elevations and as we got out of the shady areas, it quickly warmed up and we dressed down to shorts and t-shirt within an hour of starting.
Since the water added quite a bit of weight to our packs, we – as planned – dropped 1l bottles after about 1.5 hours into the hike in the bushes next to the trail and marked the position on the GPS.
IMG_6297Once we transitioned from the Holy Jim trail to the Main Divide Road, we soon started encountering patches of snow and slush. As we got higher up, those patches become more frequent and the temperature dropped, especially in areas where the sun didn’t reach the ground. So towards the end we found ourselves wading though half a foot of snow or slush, which made walking difficult and sometimes slippery and wet.
The least two miles of our ascent were probably the most strenuous. All the while we could see the huge antennas and they seemed so close and within reach, but the road kept twisting and turning and it took much longer than expected to make it all the way to the top. When we reached the peak, we had excellent conditions with lots of sun, little wind, and a great view all around. So we spent about an hour up there and refueled with plenty of water, energy bars, cheese and salami.
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As we descended the Main Divide road back down, we didn’t take it all the way back, but decided to use a smaller side trail instead, which we thouIMG_1239ght we had seen marked as Upper Holy Jim earlier. This trail was narrow and much steeper as it quickly serpentined down the hill. It definitely seemed to be a shortcut going back down. Due the steeper angle, it would definitely not have been a good idea to take this trail up, but going down was quite feasible. When this side trail finally connected back to the main road, we used the GPS to determine which way to go to return to the Holy Jim trail.
The rest of the descent was uneventful and for the most part seemed easier than going up the mountain. We definitely had enough of going uphill and our legs started feeling fatigued at this point. More than ever, I appreciated having hiking poles. Not only were they useful during the ascent and in the snow, they now took a lot of stress off my knees as we came back down.
With the help of the GPS, we located the spot where we had dropped off the water earlier (fortunately, it was still there!) and put the bottles back in our packs.
As we reached the point towards the end of the trail where we could’ve taken a little detour to Holy Jim Falls, we decided that we were too tired and continued back down to where we had left the car. As we reached the parking lot, we saw that it was now completely packed and had filled up with cars throughout the day. When we started off, the location had felt quite remote and desolate, but now it was more like the parking lot of Disneyland with plenty of people making it up the lower part of the trail (few of which – I surmise – would make it very far up the mountain).
In total, the hike took us around 7:45 hours, around 6 of which for hiking the 16.3 miles. So apart from the break on the peak, we must’ve taken around 45 mins of short breaks here and there. I consumed only a total of 3.75 l of water despite my load of 5.5 l. On a hot day though, I would’ve drunk more, if not all, for sure. I didn’t use all layers of clothing I had brought either, but as with water, you’ll want to be prepared for the less favorable scenarios and you never know exactly what conditions you’ll encounter.
Did it pay off to have a “real” GPS instead of just using the iPhone? I think the answer is yes. With its resistance to tougher conditions (temperatures and moisture), battery life of over 20 hours and independence of 3G/data connectivity, it’s definitely a better “fit” for outdoor adventures. Its GPS chip set is also providing more precise location tracking, so it came in handy when locating the water bottles we had dropped.
Driving back from the trail towards Irvine, we stopped at the renowned Cook’s Corner for a beer. I’m sure us three slightly limping, sweaty, and exhausted-looking guys in dusty hiking clothes fit right in with all the hardcore bikers and their leather jackets.
Looking back, hiking to Santiago Peak was definitely a worthwhile and rewarding experience and accomplishment. While I’m personally not inclined to strive for even more challenging hikes like Mt. Whitney, I’m hoping to explore more of the OC mountain trails in the future.
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Once upon a Time…

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away from here, I was a single guy and struggling, like everyone else, with dating. In the process of figuring out this dating thing, I started applying principles from business and science. And I started writing a book about it.

Then I got married and never got around to finishing the book. But I figured instead of letting this unfinished masterpiece never see the light of day, I rather put out on the web – for inspiration and entertaining.

So check it out: the Men’s Guide to Scientific Dating!

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