Author Archives: ecologicalfitness



Completed over 200 miles and 80,000 feet of gain and loss. Completed time spent in order of importance and in order of difficulty.

1. listening to one another

2. accepting difficulty as part of the process

3. accepting that difficulty is…difficult

4. acceping tears

5. enjoying eachothers company, thoughts, abilities and vulnerabilities


1. accepting difficulty

2. embracing difficulty

3. recognizing that most difficulty is not in the moment

4. recognizing that the moment is usually pretty awsome


Run slow-together


for the past week my daughter has been asking to go with me and my sister on our run. It’s a short relativly flat outing which I think she can handle. But I have some concerns

My daughter is nine, and I know that body image and health consciousness are important to her. This raises an inherantly complex issue. Of course I want to support a healthy and integrated lifestyle and her paticipation is integral to that.  However,  I also don’t want to promote what is a common and natural anxiety about health and fitness, especially in young girls. In other words, I want her to exercise becuase it feels good, not because she is concerned about not being good enough. I don’t think there is a simple solution here, and really her thoughts are probably no different than most adults. But isn’t that another rub? Why is she thinking like an adult at nine? Is my focus on fitness contrubuting to this thinking? Is it just a fact of our current cultural moment?

We went for a run, it was super fun to be out on the trail with her. I talked with her  about athletics for their own sake. I talk about body image and insecurity. We played basketball and shot hoops. I hope I’m talking about the right things. I hope I’m doing the right things.

What is ecological fitness

is as new as farming, gathering, hunting- Not new at all. Lift a little more, carry it a little further, feel colder in the morning, and get the warmth your movement created. It has been called everything from life, to country livin or mountain living, back to the land. I think there is a twist. The twist for today is that I’m speaking to those of us whose lives are not ecologically integrated. I can’t imagine that is not each of us. Even some solar powered chamie shined anarchist living on bed bugs drove to the “land” they bought with a bond extricated at the top of time. Forget shame but dont sham we are historically situated (I’ve been told this is so). We have so much delivered to us by near slave labor.
Ecological fitness begins where we are. It doesn’t require leaving, and understands we are “in the country” right now, always. So, as much as being a fitness program, this is an attempt at re conceptualizing our articulation with and of the environment. How do we move in our environment? What is both the internal and external milieu, How is it supporting us and we it. Are we it distinctions useful?
What might some basic tenants of Ecological Fitness look like? If you have a wood stove, your workout is getting firewood. If you can carry one piece, that’s your workout. If that keeps you warm, an integration has happened. If your still cold, you might continue to collect more firewood, developing fitness in the domain of staying warm. Perhaps you need help getting firewood. Your neighbor might help you. That neighbor has now integrated fitness again, now bringing community and perhaps even caring into the equation. She is now stronger, both of body and whatever name we apply to those other domains. Simply Country living? Perhaps you are hungry in the city. You walk to the corner store rather than drive. Now, instead of conceptualizing this simply as a fitness regime, it is extended. You see your neighbors, they see you. A child sees you talking to his mother and his world is changed. Perhaps on the way you notice some litter. Tomorrow you carry a small bag and pick up a piece of recycling. An integration has occurred. Neighbor(hood)s are connected, body is strengthened, and those other domains, the ones with names like mind and spirit are altered. Ecological fitness is a recognition that the world and ourselves are always already in a natural state. The idea that city and country are somehow qualitatively discreet is dismantled or ignored. The belief that we and our world are either natural or industrial is recognized as the convenient construct that it is.
Might ecological fitness be a movement? Sure. We can create workouts. An example goes something like this. I imagine you can be far more creative. Carry your neighbors groceries home two blocks, or, if you need it, let your neighbor help you. Perhaps talk with one and other en route. Advanced workouts? Boot camp becomes a month long volunteer project in your neighborhood. Do the labor. Feel the labor. Rather than simply trying to get the work done, re conceptualize it. It is making you stronger, it is integrating you ecologically.
Clearly many are and have always done the workouts. As I said up front, this has gone by many names. Most of all I’m trying to create a new conceptual framework around fitness. This new model will include variable long valued and promoted. The only novel idea is that fitness is not only about the the movement of mass over time. It begins to employ or be made up of a more complex set of variables.
You might argue that there is no need for this. It is fine to continue to define each concept in narrow terms. Fine to let fitness be about mass over time, and leave the other stuff to concepts of community, faith, love etc. One argument in favor of integration relates to time. If there is value deemed in community and love and faith, why spend not integrating those concept into our life. Why not integrate?


light and warm

light and warm

how warm is down

So the basic ideas driving our clothing choices are high function and low weight with multi-use when possible. Notice above there is really no piece of clothing that comes close to down in terms of weight to warmth. The Feathered Friends Hyperion pictured offers the loft similar to the most puffy jacket on the graph and is even lighter!

Just a few main ideas that could be useful know

We have decided on lightweight long sleeve shirts for UV and bug protection. This is a departure for me as I’ll still go with hiking shorts  with lightweight wind-pants for cold and rain.  although my wife will where long pants exclusively and the nine-year old will have a hiking skirt and hiking pants. Needless to say the pants are nylon or polyester. As added protection the nine-year old will have a pain of light rain pants, the adults wont.

Windshirts-ah windshirts. For those who figured this out, there is really no going back. A lightweight nylon or polyester hooded windshirt is perhaps the most important and useful piece of gear we will carry. At less than 4oz this piece of gear keeps out bugs, while regulating body temperature over a huge range. From warm and buggy to high pass sleet and wind the shirt is always close at hand. These silly little things are expensive and luckily we already have ours. Well, the nine-year old has outgrown her Marmot windshirt and replacing it is difficult. Nobody is making a proper ultralight kids windshirt?! I’ll let you know what we find.

Because the Sierra a relatively dry mountain range, but has the potential to be cold, we have decided on down jackets to supplement our sleeping and to wear in the evening.

Not sure yet which one they will bring although I’m set on my Feathered Friends Hyperion. We have reached to point where gear materials are so light that a super warm puffy down jacket (not one of those weeny down shirt/sweaters) only weighs 9-10 oz. This is because most of the weight for a down jacket is actually in the fabric, so adding more down costs very little in terms of weight.



Planning for a family three person thru-hike of the JMT

sierra tent

sierra tent

This is a brief introduction to the planning of our 2013 JMT thru-hike.

Overview: 1: Gear Selection 2: Resupply choices 3: Mileage per day

1: Gear selection will stem from what is likely to start as around UL which means base weight minus food, fuel and water less than 12 pounds per person. The nine year old will carry less than 12 pounds total and more likely less than 10 pounds. Remember, 86,000 feet of elevation gain and loss!

Without laying out all of the details yet, the 10-12 pound weight will be achieved mostly through the sharing of light weight gear, which over the years (and through slowing eroding her will) I have convinced my wife is a good idea.

The big three, as they say

Sleeping bags, tent, backpacks…and I’ll add in sleeping pads


Examples: Our sleeping bag, that’s right bag not bags, weights a hefty 2 Lb. 8 Oz. But there is just one, so we share warmth (I steal hers), are cozy under a massive 15 degree Western Mountaineering Badger. For now daughter will carry her own 15 degree Marmot Helium. Overkill but provides a margin of safety if it gets super cold.

Still, that is 3.5 pounds for three people. Not terrible.

Tent. Nope. Not quite. We take the middle road here, and for convenience, ease of setup and comfort we carry a first generation Tarp tent Rain shadow. We have not left this home in almost nine years. Not once. I would love a lighter taller pyramid. But this this thing just works. For 2.5 pounds it’s pretty nice. Probably a pound per person with stakes and guy lines

Sleeping pads: Old junky green z-rests that should be used as pot cozies. They are cut down and uncomfortable but less than 10 oz. and we have them. I’m not stoked on buying expensive stuff. If we suffer so be it. The goal is light. Also, it’s a good trial. If we hate it I will feel justified in getter a nicer pad for the next trip.


This was interesting. First, there appear to be no ultra light kids’ packs. The actual backpacking specific ones are super heavy and in my opinion way too big for what kid should carry.

I ended up getting her an Osprey for school that weighs about a pound. She loaded the heck out of it all hear, and never complained. We did several shakedown hikes with more backpacking specific bags and she griped and cried and I was annoyed and my wife had to shut up. Not good. When I loaded her school pack with backpacking gear, she said “its way lighter than my school bag”. Good I thought. We shall see

Wife: Golite Gust. Great bag if you need to carry a bear canister. Again, there are lighter and more sophisticated options now, but we have it, she has tested it extensively and it weighs 19 oz.! Nice

I’m having a difficult time. I have a 1 pound bag that works great for 20 LBs max. It’s an old vintage UL rucksack. The problem is, our pace requires that we cover a 13 day section without re-supply. With bear canister (cheap heavy Garcia) that puts each of the adults at 25 pounds of food.

I’m thinking of sending myself a 70L Jam pack. I don’t think it will like 35 Lbs. either, but it’s strong, cheap and big. So, call it about 2 LBS for my pack.

Ok, there are the big three and you can see its light. I think that is about 4 pounds each if you divide it equally. Of course it does not quite work that way but close.

The nine year old carries her own sleeping bag; pack (obviously) pad, and clothes.





Walking slowly in the mountains…further

This summer my wife andd daughter have decided to put some of the rubber of ecological fitness to the road. Ok, they decided to go on a hike, and I decided it was in line with my theorizing mind and therefore “ecological fitness (trademark)”.  The two senior of us are college teachers, me in nursing and my wife in painting and printmaking. So what give up in salary we make back in time. Time would be on our side. Towing us along this summer would be our nine year old daughter. As I have said before, this is a tough littler kid, who hikes up ten flights of stairs to get to her cabin in the woods, is a blue belt in Tae Kwon Do, and an avid violin player and maker of fairy houses in fern grotto. Still, for all her abilities, hiking in the high Sierra is hard for anyone, including a tough kid.

Our hope this summer is to explore how to have a pretty significant adventure together. The issue is that, whereas an adult or even a couple can pretty much point to a section of map and begin pushing, children require more thought, and more sensitivity. Clearly we could go the usual route and rent a cabin. Everyone will have fun. We’ll get tan and relaxed and a little fat on beer and fresh produce. But that is not an adventure. We could go over- seas or overland. Both adventurous but not particularly conducive to fitness. All sounded great really, but when it came down to it, what sounded the most interesting and rewarding, and challenging, was a small thru-hike.

If I could distil the goal for me, and I’m sure my wife and daughter would say it more simply, it comes down to finding the correct balance wherein adventure is achieved for all, and yet each is still working within their own set of possible frameworks and abilities.

What are those frameworks? Well, for one thing we really were not sure. Our daughter is a strong and patient person, and she is nine. What is a nine year old capable of? What is a nine year old capable of day after day? Will barriers be physical, psychological, emotional? Will we, her parents, have the skills to navigate her issues as they arise? Will I have the skill to push but not push too hard? Will I find a way to support her in achieving her goals, and still have her feel like I’m trustable? Will my expectations change? Will I figure out how to enjoy moving what I imagine will be more slowly and will less physical stress? Can I chill out?

What are some other concerns? I’ve laid awake nights worrying about injury. I think that is pretty unlikely but it’s a possibility. What will I do if I break my ankle? What if someone has a severe allergic reaction? I’m very comfortable in the mountains, but bringing my daughter evokes some fear, if I’m being honest.

Mostly, will I be able to bail if it is just obvious that bailing is best? I’m a super non-quitter, so is my wife. Sometimes quitting is the right thing to do. Luckily I have a partner (two) whom I respect completely and I think together we can make these decisions.

The trip:

We decided on the John Muir Trail (JMT) as our adventure for a variety of reasons. First because it is beautiful beyond belief, second it is near home and not difficult to bail from (Austria and Cambodia are tempting), and third, we hiked  the trail when my wife was pregnant (unbeknownst to us). My wife had to go home early for feeling “weird” all those years earlier, so we thought now was the  time to  complete the trip.

So, two college teachers and a nine year old are planning to hike over 200 miles and over 84,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, spending about 23 days and nights out mostly over 10,000 feet. Should be fun…

Walking in the mountains, slowly


I like to walk-the further the better ,usually.

It is not at all clear why, to me anyway, that I’m not satisfied with a normal level of effort, exhaustion and discomfort. My wife says it best “you’re not having fun until your suffering”. You don’t sleep well unless you fall face down onto a pillow after an 18 hour effort” . I’m not bragging nor am I ashamed…Well maybe a little of each. Yes, I have issues, but so do you.

All this changed this summer when in my shadow, trekking and trucking along in front of me, up a rocky trail is an eight year old girl who is my daughter. How do I go out into the woods, up the mountains, at a pace and level that she and I can both enjoy, together.
What do I do about altitude, headaches, cold and bad food?

Last summer we backpacked together for the first time, and this summer we are planning more trips so I have thinking to do. I should clarify, we have been “backpacking together since she was 4 months old, (note picture above) taken at 10,000 feet in the Desolation wilderness, where her “sleeping bag” was my old Patagonia Puff-Ball jacket. But in those days she was on MY back and my ego was fulfilled by just being out there.

This summer was the first time I was not carrying her or her, and all of her (and our) gear. I’ll have more to say about it later, but the upshot is probably obvious to the sane among you, and I think it goes to issues of ecological fitness and general “togetherness”. Chill out weird drill-sergeant dad. Accept a radically different pace. I did and in only a short seven hours and with minimally wrecked feet, we were all able to “enjoy’. A start to be sure


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