Wednesday, December 11, 2013

So what's in my backpack for a 2,650 mile/4264km hike?

~ ultralight ULA Backpack
~ultralight Thermarest Ridgerest sleeping mat
~ ULA ultralight down sleeping bag
~ waterproof stuff sack for sleeping bag and sleeping clothes
~ smart wool sleeping clothes (thermal top and pants, sleeping socks, sleeping beanie, sleeping underwear)
~ space blanket x2
~ silk sack (to slip into inside the sleeping bag to make it 10 degrees F warmer)
~ 8 days supply of food : x8 dehydrated backpacking meals; x8 bars of various descriptions; large bag of muesli; hot chocolate x8; nut butter sachet's x8; trail mix (yes, I'm going to starve)
~ Big Agnes one (wo)man tent
~ Golite trekking umbrella (for sun and rain)
~ Ultralight trowel for digging toilet holes
~ Toiletry bag
~ Frogg Toggs (rain gear)
~ Clothes stuff sack with 2 pairs of extra socks; underwear; ultralight fleece top; ultralight down jacket; long sleeve running top; insect net; gaiters
~ Jetboil stove and fuel canister
~ water bladder
~ ultralight towel
~ compass
~ Katadyn water filter and water purification tabs
~ First Aide kit
(not pictured are the clothes that I start my hike in : skort and shirt; socks, trail runners; sunhat and glasses, as well as iphone, camera, solar panel charger, small video camera and Black Diamond trekking poles) 
So far this is what I'll be carrying to survive the trail. Laid out on the tarp it seems impossible to fit in, but remarkably it does. Dry weight is 10.2kg/ 22.44 lbs

Monday, December 9, 2013


Since completing my series of Prolotherapy injections, my life has improved dramatically. I am no longer in chronic pain and I have been able to go out there and run again, granted not elite fast, but definitely steady.
I ended 2013 with 4 races in 2 months which really makes me feel satisfied with my increasing fitness level again.
HMSA 30k, Val Nolasco 21k, Xterra World Champs trail 21k and the Honolulu Marathon 42k, all on the island of Oahu. I love living here, there are so many fit and dynamic people and there's always a race, fun run or training run somewhere.
 My overall sense of health and well being has skyrocketed, as well as my physical state of fitness and endurance and let's not leave out the calm zen like state of mind one gets from all of the above. I completed the Honolulu Marathon yesterday, came home and immediately signed up for the North Shore Marathon next year. I want to stay marathon fit for my big adventure coming up next year, in combination with a lot of hiking with elevation and increasingly heavier loads in my backpack.
 Bring on 2014!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

I joined the PCT Association

This weekend I joined the Pacific Crest Trail Association. It is one way of paying it forward for my wilderness home on the trail for 5 months next year. The trail is maintained by this amazing organization who also put out a wealth of information about the trail and how to survive on it.

From their website I found the following information:

Fun Facts about things I have to look forward to:
California section:1,698.8 miles/ 2734km
Oregon section: 456.8miles/ 735.15km
Washington section: 499.8 miles/ 804.35km...
Total elevation gain: 314,711 ft/ 95924 m
Climbs: 60 major mountain passes
Descends into: 19 major canyons
Passes: 1000 lakes and tarns, 3 national monuments, 7 national parks,24 national forests and 33 federally mandated wildernesses
Travelling at a pace of 20miles/32km per day will take me 134 days of hiking to complete the entire trail.

I've almost purchased all my gear and I'm doing a lot of research regarding food and resupply along the trail. I've pretty much decided to only have 10 resupply boxes mailed to post offices en route and the rest of the time I'm going to buy supplies in towns that I can hike down to. This supports the local economy and allows more freedom in terms of movement (the boxes are only held for 2 weeks and I might be hiking faster or slower than anticipated) and I might also not even want the food i pack into them beforehand. According to the information out there this is definitely  a reasonable plan to follow.
More updates coming on what I'm packing into my resupply boxes and what my gear consists of the closer I get to actually leaving. Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hiking the Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau Trail : Backpacking in Paradise

Hanakapi'ai Beach 2 miles into the trail
As part of my preparation for the Pacific Crest Trail next year, I decided to try something local (neighboring island) and hike the out and back along the Kalalau trail on Kauai.This is a stunning cliff (pali) hugging trail that extends for 11 miles in each direction and provides the only land access to the beautiful Kalalau Beach and valley along the Na Pali coast. Due to time constraints I planned to hike in one day, camp overnight and hike out the next, which according to friends and acquaintances who had done it before would be quite strenuous but that was fine with me as I also wanted it to be a training and conditioning experience.
A glimpse of our destination

My hiking partner was my 20 year old daughter, Sian who had never done anything like this before and she proved to be the best possible trail buddy ever. I learned so much about her during the hike and it was awe inspiring to discover how fit, nimble, sensible and how strong in both body and mind she is. That's what being in the wilderness can do for one, it can bring out the very best in people.
Best hiking buddy I could imagine

The first 2 miles of the trail is a very pleasant route used by a lot of day hikers to Hanakapi'ai Beach and waterfall. We hit the trail at 7am, so there were not a lot of people on it yet. We did not linger at the first beach and kept going at a good moderate hiking pace, I carried the heavier pack with the tent and most of the food and the very bulky although light weight sleeping pad which we decided will have to be exchanged for something more compact in the future.
Me in my element

The trail goes up and down towering cliffs through five lush valleys before reaching the Kalalau Valley and there is a camping site at the halfway point at Hanakoa Valley, which lies adjacent to a waterfall and forrested area with camping spaces, old stone walls which were apparently used as terraces by Hawaiian taro growers and then coffee plants in the past, wild fruit and plenty of mosquitoes.
Ancient rock terraces at Hanakoa

 Historically the trail was first built in the 1800's, linking ancient Hawaiian settlements and was redone in the 1930's. Many people opt to break up the hike by spending the night camping at Hanakoa but we continued on and from here on out the trail became noticeably steeper, narrower and had sheer drop off's along most of the remainder of the trail.
That middle section of rock wall is where the trail is

Then we arrived at "Crawler's ledge"...well this experience actually starts before the ledge on the steep, dry, loose gravel switchbacks that lead up to it. I was concerned for Sian's safety as she was wearing worn out running shoes with no tread on them. I had my lovely new Salomon trail/hiking boots on with excellent tread and I found myself slip sliding down the switchbacks, sending small avelanches of loose dirt over the edge of the sheer dropoffs. Added to this was the fact that the wind was blowing stiffly and buffeting our backpacks.
One of the gnarliest sections of Crawler's ledge
Crawling along the ledge

I found myself scooching down the switchbacks on my butt in places because I didn't trust my balance and did not feel like plummeting to my death at this moment in time.

One false step and you plummet to your death

It was here that Sian took control and took my heavy backpack, she then proceeded to calmly take the lead along Crawler's Ledge and didn't even break a sweat. I, on the other hand was clinging to the cliff face for dear life and shuffling along, one step at at time, bracing against the wind and feeling as though one false step would end it all due to my moderate fear of heights. Once we reached the edge of the ledge and climbed over a huge boulder, ducking down to lessen the impact of a wind gust, Sian said to me " Do you want to continue or not? I think it's just going to get worse from here because I don't think that that was even Crawler's Ledge". Well if that wasn't the ledge then I don't know what could be! There was absolutely no way I could turn around and go back along that ledge right now and we decided to just continue on and deal with whatever we had to when it occurred. We soon found out however that we had passed the most difficult section and that it was the ledge, much to my relief. Sian had in her mind's eye a skinny trail with sheer dropoffs on both sides, so what we had just done was not too bad in  comparison to her expectations! Oh man, the psychology of it all. Nothing like facing your fears head on and conquering them, it definately puts the rest of life's little problems into perspective. Now we only had 3 more steep miles to go.
The start of Crawler's ledge (the ledge is around the corner)

On reaching the sign saying that we were entering the Kalalau Valley we were elated, We came to quite a fast flowing river which we had to wade across and past the remnants of an ancient Hawaiian Heiau.

Kalalau Beach framed by the Pali

 Following a gentle foot path we came to Kalalau Beach which is a spectacular white sand beach framed by the incredibly beautiful, jagged pali (cliffs). At the far end of the beach are sea caves which are dry in low tide and summer conditions.
This is mostly how the second half of the trail looks

 We were aware beforehand of the "Outlaws" who lived in the valley, basically a group of people who had opted out of mainstream living and now lived a very simple existence off the land and sea in this isolated and difficult to get to part of paradise. They basically live off the fruit in the valley, fresh water from the river and waterfall and hunt wild goats and pigs and catch fish.A boat also brings tourists and supplies to Kalalau, so they do have access to things that can be bought.One of the outlaws we encountered as soon as we arrived there was a naked woman in her late 50's or so that came marching out of the sea towards Sian while I was photographing a cave, then she politely said "welcome" and marched into the cave and disappeared, Gollum style without asking us for her "precious".

Sea cave at Kalalau Beach

 We then saw a younger woman frolicking on the very far end of the beach in a flowing white dress and decided not to even venture there.
Walking back to camp with our water supply
Showering and washing clothes at the same time

 Now we needed to clean off and get water, so we found a fabulous waterfall that plummeted down from the mountain tops in a heavy stream and we took a shower here, washing our hiking clothes in the process. I asked one of the outlaws who was filling up their water bottles if they treated their water and she said no, so we decided not to treat ours either and it was the best water I had ever tasted in my life!
Kalalau Beach

It was now time to set up camp and we found a delightful clearing and I popped up my Big Agnes 1 man tent without any problem. It was big enough for 2 skinny chicks. Our neighbors were an awesome couple from San Francisco and we struck up a friendly conversation with them, trading some ibuprofen for mosquito repellent.

Solar cooking

 I had not brought a fuel canister for my Jetboil cooker, but is was so hot and the rocks along the beach were absolutely boiling hot, so I decided to just put cold water in our Mountain House freeze dried food and place the packets on the black rocks for a couple of hours and hey presto...we had a warm cooked meal! The same principle applied to our hot chocolate, by placing cold water and the packet contents into a bottle we had and placing it on the rocks, we drank lovely hot chocolate later.
Sunset on Kalalau Beach

 There is a composting toilet at Kalalau beach but these never smell too good. Basically whatever you bring into the valley, you need to take out with you. We slept on and off throughout the night, after watching a spectacular sunset and then doing some star gazing on a clear night of a trillion stars. We woke up at the crack of dawn to break camp and set off to beat the wind at Crawler's Ledge on the way out which proved to be an excellent decision as the ledge was far less daunting without the wind gusts.
My Big AgnesUL1

Throughout the hike we each had a 2 liter water bladder in our packs as well as 4 extra liters in bottles. I only had to use my water filter on the way back at the river in Hanakapi'ai and I used it with glee, as it worked so well, providing us with lovely clean, cool, uncontaminated drinking water. We also ate the wild fruit along the way including mountain apples and guavas. Sian got a few blisters on her feet and opted to hike barefoot for the last 4 miles...what a toughie! We had hiked for a total of 14 hours (7 hours each way) which included our stops to snack, purify water and take photos.
Contents of the pack: Sleeping mat, stuff sack with sleeping bag and sleeping clothes, tent, dry sack with food, multiple bars to eat, jetboil, water filter, water bladder, bottles of water ULA backpack, Salomom hiking trail shoes

Back at Ke'e Beach at Haena, we swam in the ocean and drank coconut water from a freshly chopped coconut whilst waiting for our friends to pick us up. What a feeling of elation and accomplishment. We had had an awesome experience and had learned so much about ourselves and each other in one of the most spectacular settings on the planet. I had learned a lot about my gear and I must say that I'm very happy with my ULA backpack, my Big Agnes tent, my sleeping bag, my water filter, my dry stuff sacks and the food selections I had brought with. I definitely need a new sleeping mat as mentioned and still need to try out my Jetboil....loving the learning curve!
On the trail heading back in the early morning

The Kalalau trail is extremely beautiful and rewarding. I would recommend getting the required camping permits to avoid the $500 fine you could get if you were caught without it. It is not an easy hike and I would not recommend it for people who have a strong fear of heights. It is rated #6 in Backpacker's magazine for being amongst America's 10 most dangerous hikes, but all in all if you approach it sensibly you will be fine. Live aloha, take photographs only and leave only footprints!
Ke'e Beach, the end of the magical adventure

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Prolotherapy for my Hamstring Tendon Injury

My Family Practice doctor referred me to a new Sports Injury doctor and now I have embarked on a series of injection treatments to my hamstring tendon injury called Prolotherapy. He explained to me that a tendon does not have a very good blood supply and therefore heals extremely slowly. The thought behind Prolotherapy is to inject a benign substance into the torn tendon site which causes an inflammatory reaction in the area, causing blood and plasma to rush to the area, providing it with the necessary components to facilitate tissue building and faster healing and thereby also helps to reduce pain. This type of treatment is not covered by medical insurance so it is an out of pocket treatment which has not been officially recognized as being effective. However I thought it was worth a try. I was given two options, the first being the more expensive option of having my blood drawn, then having it spinned to separate the plasma from the red blood cells and then having my own plasma re injected into the injury site. This option would run into hundreds of dollars per treatment. The second option was to have a sterile dextrose solution injected into the tendon injury site, which would cause the same type of inflammatory response and would be significantly less expensive, so I opted for this choice.

The procedure consists of finding the tendon insertion site via ultrasound and then doing a guided injection into the injury site. I can say that being injected into the ischial tuberosity area is no picnic. The actual insertion of the needle is not painful but once the solution is being injected into the injury it is extremely painful and just awful and a weird sensation. My Sports Injury Physician told me to expect it to feel worse for a couple of days after the treatment and he was right, it was so painful that it kept me awake at night and I vowed after the first treatment that I would not go back for more but on the third day following the injection I woke up surprised to find that it actually was feeling a bit better. This scenario was played out two more times and I am going for my final treatment next week. I was instructed only to do light exercise during the course of the treatment and this week I have started at the beginning of an 18 week program to train for another marathon, which involves a gradual build up of miles.

In summary so far I feel that there has been some value to having received Prolotherapy as I have noticed a reduction in pain and am able to run again without the extreme discomfort I was experiencing before. After my final injection and once my marathon training program advances I hope to really reap the benefits of it. I would also like to add that it really makes a difference to have a doctor who is interested in helping his patients become well again so that they can resume an active lifestyle.

My final entry on this subject after my 4th treatment ( approximately 2 months after the first injection) is that my injury is significantly improved and I would recommend this as a treatment modality based on my own experience....time to hit the trails!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

From 4 miles to 150 miles "Racing the Kalahari": My story published in Marathon & Beyond magazine

Super stoked to announce that one of my running stories has been published in the 100th edition of Marathon & Beyond running magazine. It relays not only my account of participating in the 150miles/250km Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon but also the events leading up to it, starting with me feeling as though 4 miles was a 'long run'.

Story can be read from page 144-153

Friday, May 31, 2013

Planning to live out of a backpack for 5 months...

My PCT thru hike gear

One of the most daunting tasks of planning to hike the full 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail is deciding what to take. There are certain 'must haves' in order to survive it and the rest is all going to be food. One has to consider the weight of carrying everything for miles upon miles and from all the research I've done I've come to the conclusion that going light is the best choice.
List of essentials:
1) Shelter
2) Backpack
3) Sleeping Bag
4) Sleeping pad
5)Sleeping clothes
6) Stove and cook pot
7) Water treatment
8) Water containers
9) Compass
10) Maps and data book
11) Pack cover
12)4 layers of clothing:
 a) Base: poly ether thermal underwear
 b) Summer: hiking shorts/polyester shirt
 c) Warmth: fleece pants/ down vest
 d) Wind and rain: rain jacket/ rain pants
13) FOOD!!! 3000ca/day mostly dehydrated food items and light weight

So far I have the following and not in any particular order as I'll add them as I get them:

1) TENT: (my shelter for 5 months of sleeping on a wilderness trail).
I have decided to go ultralight and invested in a one person 'Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1' with only weighs 1lb 4oz

Manufacturer description:
  • Single hub pole assembly and plastic pole clips ensure a hassle-free setup; fabric loops along the ridge pole decrease weight
  • Lightweight and strong DAC® pole system with press-fit connectors and lightweight hubs uses an anodization process without harsh acids
  • Rain fly and seamless floor are made of high-tenacity ripstop nylon and are both polyurethane- and silicone-coated for waterproof durability
  • Walls are constructed of woven nylon mesh, providing excellent ventilation and 360° views
  • All seams are taped with waterproof, solvent-free polyurethane tape
  • Reflective guy out and reflective webbing on tent corners increase visibility at night

  • On warm cloudless nights the tent can be set up basically to view a trillion stars
    Perfect for one and a backpack
    Set up to withstand the elements

    2) BACKPACK:
    I decided on the ULA Catalyst, a tried and tested lightweight workhorse of a pack.
  • Main Body: 2,600
  • Front Mesh Pocket: 600
  • Side Mesh Pocket: 350 ea
  • Ext. Collar: 600
  • Hip belt Pockets: 100

    Total Volume: 4,600 cu in

  • Made in USA and assembled according to your specific requirements. I got the purple haze

    From various different sources I have decided that these are absolute necessities. Most of the trail sounds like it's easy to follow but there are some junctions that may cause confusion and other areas, especially in the high Sierras that may be snowed over. Due to their weight, you can only hike with one at a time and either have the others mailed to you to areas where you'll need them, or you can mail them in a bounce box that you mail to yourself along the way.
    The guidebooks I purchased have the descriptions and maps in them. The data book lists all the landmarks, water availability, mileage between landmarks, cumulative mileage and elevation.

    I bought this high tech, light weight combined stove and pot at the REI in San Francisco and haven't got the faintest idea how to use it yet....I'd better learn soon!

     I bought my sleeping bag along with my backpack from ULA. I needed something warm and the ultralight bag I had for the Kalahari adventure would have left me freezing in any snow or frost conditions. This did seem a little heavy, but I want to be warm when I'm sleeping. There are so many sleeping bag options out there it makes the mind boggle, so I went with this one and I'm sure it'll be worth the weight.
    Sharks Tail shaped foot box
    5 baffle foot box - 2 horizontal, 3 vertical
    Stretch baffles, below the shoulders
    3D Interlocking Draft Tubes
    ¾ length zip with guard
    Anatomical Hood
    Super Soft and lightweight liner.
    Lightweight breathable fabrics
    Neck collar to minimize heat loss
    Ships with large mesh storage sack


    20 Degree
    550 Down Sleeping Bag
    2.59 lbs
    84.5" x 31.5" x 21.
    This silk sleep sack makes your sleeping bag 10 degrees F warmer

    Extremely warm in this cocoon

    Sunday, February 17, 2013

    Planning for a BIG adventure ....The PCT

    I have a do the entire Pacific Crest Trail, a 2.650 mile (4264 km) continuous wilderness hike from Mexico to Canada which takes you through California, Oregon and Washington. The start of this extreme endurance "walkabout" is at the small border town of Campo on the California/Mexican border and ends at Manning Park on the Washington/Canadian border. I estimate that I would be able to manage backpacking 20 miles/day (32km/day) which would make the hike last 5 months, living completely on the trail with only what I can carry on my back. There are various towns one can hike down to along the way where you can replenish your food supplies by either purchasing them or having someone mail boxes to the postoffices and labelling them "PCT Thru Hike"...apparently they keep the boxes for at least a couple of weeks to be picked up by hikers.

    I don't know anyone personally who wants to do the entire trail in one go, nor anyone who has the ability to take 5 months off life, so I am embarking on this journey solo. Of course there will be times that I meet other hikers along the way and see people when I hike down into towns. Some friends are planning to meet up with me and do short sections of the hike with me, but the majority of the time I shall be in my own company , in the wilderness and I'm sure this is going to have a profound impact on my life. According to information I have gathered on the internet, about 300 people set out to do the "thru hike" each year and about 50 people actually manage to complete the entire trail in one go.  April is the time to start to meet optimal weather conditions as you start out and reach the different stages in the trail, most noteably, the high Sierras which are often covered in thick snow and ice which I am totally unfamiliar with since I have spent my entire life in southern Africa and on tropical islands. By rough estimation, I should complete the journey in September.

    Map of the PCT

    My preparation so far has been reading up as much information about the Pacific Crest Trail as possible and reading various books about endurance hiking, including the entertaining "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson, the compelling "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed and the hilarious "The Cactus Eaters: How I lost my mind and almost found myself on the PCT" by Dan White.

    My one and only real life mentor who has previuosly completed the PCT through hike is my friend Atomic (trail name). He very graciously sent me the guru's guide on how to do this in the form of "Yogi's PCT Handbook" which I am studying religiously. This book gives the hiker insight into everything from what gear to use, to the food you need, to hints and tips about camping, obtaining water and what to expect including the good, the bad and the ugly....which turns out to be nasty microscopic bacteria (giardia) in contaminated water sources.

    One of the other characteristics of becoming a PCT thru hiker is getting a trail name. This name can only be bestowed upon you by other hikers you encounter and is usually given for a specific reason such as a physical characteristic or part of your character or an event. I am interested to find out what mine will be.

    Part of the immense fun of planning is of course deciding upon and obtaining the necessary gear to pack. Bearing in mind that I am a 5ft 4in woman, I shall be going the "ultralight" route. Living in Hawaii certainly poses a lot of limitations on easy access to a lot of this type of gear, so I'm looking really forward to my trip to Portland, Oregon next week so that I can go and do some' backpacking shopping' at the outdoor sports megastore REI...this is going to be a really fun side activity to an already action packed fun week at the Portland Tango festival...a week of non-stop lessons and milongas in the  addicting art of Argentine tango. I'll be updating my blog on gear once I get back. Hoping to come home with an ultralight tent, ultralight 25 degree F (-3.88889 degrees celcius) sleeping bag and some ultralight cold weather hiking clothing.
    This author did the PCT in 2 sections, 2 years apart. I found the first half of the book interesting and then I lost interest during the second half. She hand sketches all the drawings in the book which is quite nice. Useful, but not riveting.

    Tuesday, January 22, 2013

    Volunteering for H.U.R.T 100 mile endurance race

    Giving back to the running community by volunteering at a race:
    What an inspirational weekend! I had the absolute privilege of volunteering the 'night shift' at the HURT 100 mile trail race at the awesome "Pirates in Paradise" aide station for the second year in a row.It was so fabulous being able to help make these incredible endurance athletes dream of completing this very difficult race become a reality. I am in awe of how wonderful the Hawaii ultra running community is, nicer people living the spirit of aloha you will not find. The dedication of the race committee, volunteers and aide station directors is commendable. Congratulations to everyone who finished the 100miles/100k and to all of those who attempted it. You all rock and I am extremely happy to have been a part of it in a small way.
    As one of my running friends stated, no-one actually knows what hard work and dedication is involved in volunteering for a race. As a runner, you appreciate it but you don't really understand what it entails until you do it yourself. I recommend that all runners volunteer at some point, it's a very rewarding experience.
    It was equally exciting to see the elite front runners smash records and their own personal bests as it was to see the other end of the spectrum with competitors struggling through their obstacles to make it just within the cut off time.
    I have to admit to feeling so inspired that the thought entered my mind that I may want to attempt this particular gruelling race at some point in my future. It certainly inspired me to desire to revisit the Peacock 100K in october.
    Out of the 131 entrants, 53 finished the 100 miles within the 36 hour cutoff, the fastest man (Gary Robbins) finished in 19:35, and woman (Hannah Roberts) in 25:41. A total of 46 men finished and 7 women. Many of the athletes were recognized for completing 100K (the fun run).

    One of the interesting observations I made while serving the runners food was the amount of requests I recieved from runners and pacers alike for vegan options. This was of particular interest to me as I follow a vegan diet myself and usually feel like I'm in the complete minority which obviously isn't the case any more if this trend was anything to go by.
    Aloha and ahoy there me matey!

    My 'Pirates in Paradise' volunteer outfit

    There is also a H.U.R.T (Hawaii Ultra Running Team) Cook Book newly available called "Eat drink run repeat".This is a compilation of recipes submitted by the HURT ohana (family) of runners, including myself.  Anyone interested can search for it on the HURT website.

    I'm also very happy to report that I am slowly getting my running groove back. My torn left hamstring tendon is gradually feeling a little more comfortable and I managed to run in the Honolulu Marathon again in december. I viewed it as a slow, catered for training run and had a lot of fun with friends. So here's to 2013 being a better year for me in terms of racking up the miles. I'm setting my intentions and building on what I have in a positive and constructive manner.