I drank the Kool-Aid, or maybe I just like doing extreme things.

Bikram yoga sounded like a stupid idea. I tried it anyways and have nothing but positive things to say about it.

I don’t like exercising indoors. I like running around outdoors. When I hit the treadmill in February, all I can think of is that I’m working hard but literally getting nowhere. I also can’t stand fitness classes. To me, they seem like forced enthusiasm for becoming less sedentary, like taking a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

So of course, I don’t like the idea of yoga. It’s hippie-ish and fad-ish. It targets 20 to 30-year-old white females who may also be Zen Buddhists. It markets itself as exercise but involves a lot of sitting down and staying still.

So of course, I already hate the idea of Bikram yoga– yoga in 105-degree weather. Ugh. I am the person who bikes in shorts in 40-degree weather. The only thing I hate more than sweating is sweating when you’re not supposed to, and in my mind, you are not supposed to sweat when you are barely moving.

Well, I attended my first Bikram class (and my fourth ever yoga class) at the Hot Yoga Spot in Albany, and there is a lot more to it than you might think. You know I’ve drunk the Kool-aid when I’m pretty much convinced that the inventor, Bikram Choudhury, is a fricken’ genius. Bikram yoga is practiced at 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% humidity to replicate the environment in India, and all Bikram sessions consist of the same 26 poses.

A lot of people say that the heat revs up your metabolism and allows your muscles to work more effectively/efficiently to achieve the correct poses. Another idea is that sweating helps flush out toxins. I don’t buy that. Your metabolism will speed up at a certain point beyond our physiological temperature range, but you will also be hindered from accomplishing strenuous exercise by the fatigue and despair that accompanies heat or cold. The temperature range at which human metabolism increases beyond 37 degrees C is also very narrow, because after that we tend to die. And peeing, not sweating, flushes out toxins.

In my (amateur) opinion, the REAL reason heat is so beneficial is that it functions not as a metabolism-booster, but as a psychological aid in achieving focus and form. I may be wrong, but this is what I observed from attending that class:

1. Each Bikram class consists of the same 26 poses, so the Bikram philosophy clearly emphasizes achieving proper form and attaining perfection. Unlike Vinyassa, which is movement-oriented, Bikram focuses on still poses. Each motion is carried out with deliberation until the final pose is attained and held. The heat and humidity is so pervasive that it forces you to focus on perfecting your poses. I am a very easily-distracted person, so focusing on holding a pose would normally bore me. Bikram, however, simplifies the task– either focus on the heat and suffer, or focus on the pose and survive. The end result is that your mind ends up somewhere in between and you end up dissociating a little (that’s the best description I have). I remember holding a one-legged squat and realizing that both the heat and the muscle pain had faded to a buzz. I was aware that there was heat and pain, but I felt that I could almost choose not to feel it. It was very weird.

2. This may or may not apply to all forms of yoga, but Bikram in particular emphasizes self-awareness. The air is so heavy that every breath you take must be controlled and deliberate. You are physically not allowed to pant or become out of breath. There is also no instructor to imitate, so every movement must be conceived in your mind before it is synthesized by your body.

The purpose of heat is not to speed up your metabolism or warm up your muscles, it’s to slow your mind and body down so you can concentrate on perfecting your pose.

I am a convert.

I highly recommend that everyone who is young and healthy try Bikram yoga at least once in their lives. Just remember to drink a lot water beforehand.


I have too many hobbies.

At a friend’s graduation party, I spoke to a guy who happens to be an avid snake enthusiast, and was reminded of my obsession with birds back in middle school and high school. I sort of dropped birding in college. I birded Normanskill Saturday morning sans binoculars, and I can confirm that I’ve gotten bitten by the birding bug again.

The birding bug starts with, but doesn’t end with, birds. No no no. It starts with birds and purchasing a pair of binoculars. I’m looking at the Celestron 71332 Nature DX 8×42, which is $125 on Amazon. I’ll eventually want to get a spotting scope to look at shorebirds and hawks (probably $300). I’ll eventually include mammals and reptiles/amphibians. I’ll want a way to document everything, so I’ll want a camera– probably a DSLR ($500+). Now comes the question– do I want to try taking pictures from a distance, or focus instead on macros. The answer is: both, of course– birds at a distance, and herps up close. I’ll start with “digiscoping”– mating the camera with the spotting scope to achieve high magnification, but eventually I’ll want a real telescopic lens ($$$) to get real quality pics. I’ll also want a macro lens ($$$) to capture the fine details on the snakes and salamanders I plan to find. I’ll want to photograph other things too, so I’ll start looking for flowers, fungi, and bugs as well.

I just spent an hour talking myself out of dropping $125 on the binos. What starts out with looking for birds can very easily (I know myself) lead to a zillion other expensive hobbies, which I don’t have time for. It’s almost as if my need to pursue these follow-up hobbies transcends my desire to do them. It’s very weird, but I know myself. I have no self control.

My current hobby list includes:
-riding road bikes (Spring, summer, fall. This is the major time consumer.)
-riding mountain bikes (seasonal, between road biking and running season)
-fixing bikes (constant)
-running (I sort of do this when I put the bike away in the fall/winter. It’s seasonal, so not a problem!)
-collecting shells (also seasonal)
-fossils (on occasion)
-reading and blogging (constant. Well, blogging is new.)
-cooking and baking (constant. I keep cooking logs now.)

I’m planning on adding guitar to this list at some point– maybe as a winter thing. Ugh. I have too many hobbies.

Recycling bike tubes

I carry a brand new bike tube in my saddle bag (along with a glueless patch kit) when I go for a ride. I put a second spare in my jersey pocket for trips over 50 miles long. When I get home, I always patch my flat tubes. Several people on club rides have given me shit for this. “Life’s too short– get a new tube.”

Well, first of all, if a patch is done right, it is permanent. Just make sure you use the ones with vulcanizing fluid- not the glueless ones. I have several tubes with 4+ patches on them. Why waste money and resources on a new tube when you can just patch it? (Soapbox time. Cycling is about getting fresh air and outdoor exercise, enjoying nature, efficiency, sustainability, and environmentally-friendly transportation. If we enjoy filling our lungs with clean air every time we ride, then maybe we should adopt lifestyles that make it possible for us and future generations to do so. Reuse, reduce, and recycle- in that order! Ride your bike to work (but don’t be a dick about it). Ride your bike to group rides. And follow traffic laws. If we want to be respected by motorists, shouldn’t we apply the same laws and standards to ourselves?)

Second of all, if you are getting a lot of punctures in a short period of time, there is probably something wrong with your tires.

There will come a time when your tube invariably fails and cannot be patched. Broken valves, leaks near the valve stem, and leaks from bad patches means your tube is useless. But don’t worry! There are plenty of things you can do to recycle your unpatchables!

1. Rubber bands can be fashioned by cutting the tube into rings. This works better with wider mountain bike tubes.

2. Bike lock. Cut off the section that contains the stem, and slip a chain (or an old bicycle chain) through the resulting hose. Get a padlock and you have yourself a bike lock!

3. Balloon pump. This one is a little silly, but was instrumental in filling my PI’s desk with balloons on her birthday. Cut off the stem of the tube and trim as much material from the area as possible. You will be left with a rubber donut at the base of the stem. Stick the rubber end in a pen cap, stick the valve end in a bike pump, and you have yourself a balloon pump!

20150403_221840   20150403_221950

4. Rubber spacers/protectors for bike accessories. Wrap a section of rubber around your bike as spacers or to protect the paint when you stick panniers, fenders, lights, etc. to your frame.

5. Bungees, when used with caution.

6. Stretching bands.

7. I’ve heard that some people have fashioned wallets, clothing, and jewelry out of their old tubes.

Ok, this is getting silly now.

Note: I have tried making patches out of old tubes and rubber cement– I had no luck, unfortunately.

Friday Adventure Run and the Sunk Costs Effect

I gave blood last Tuesday. While I’m not completely incapable of giving blood, as I’ve never passed out or gotten dizzy, I am a relatively small (5’3″) woman. So, being a pint short causes me to be groggy and a little out of breath on the stairs for a few days.

Since I’ve also gotten pretty fat this winter, I decided to use that Tuesday as a landmark date for getting back into shape. There are probably no real health benefits to working out after giving blood. My body is already producing a lot of erythropoietin to compensate for the loss of RBCs, so I highly doubt that intensive exercise after giving blood will have the same effect as altitude training, in which you are stimulating EPO/RBC production by stressing your body with low-oxygen conditions. What I mean is, there is probably a “cap” on your body’s rate of EPO production.

With this in mind, I decided to use this period to do what I call “Suffer Training” and “You’re Fat Reminder’s”, which provide purely psychological benefits. This is when you put yourself in a bit of pain to a) get used to the feeling, and b) remind yourself that it would hurt a lot less if you didn’t stress-eat all those cheesecakes last month.

I gave blood on Tuesday. To kick-start my return to caring about my body, I jogged/walked 2.5 miles in Washington Park on Thursday. Then I got my ass kicked by my sister on a run to Haymarket in Boston on Saturday. I ran/walked the 3-mile Normanskill-Delaware bridge route on Sunday. And on Tuesday, I went on a 5.75-mile road/trail run with Brett, my roommate.

He was also trying to get back in shape after the winter, so he casually threw out an invitation. I accepted with a vague idea that we were going to do 4-ish miles. The Normanskill farm-golf course loop that we did was pretty fantastic. Roads, no cars, dirt, steeeep uphills, crisp weather, the rising sun, the first hints of spring. Probably one of my favorite runs in this area. I didn’t realize how long this was until I mapped it out afterwards. I am a cyclist, not a runner. The most I’ve done in one sitting is 6 miles, and this is when I’m in pretty good shape. So this run was not only very fun, but also a confidence booster. I tend to smoke myself psychologically sometimes.

So now that I’m officially interested in running again, I played around with MapMyRide this week and came up with a route that went east on the Albany County Rail Trail, crossed a few closed bridges, went up Old South Pearl St, and returned via McCarthy Ave– around 5.8 miles. I decided to tackle this at 6pm on Friday afternoon, with one hour of daylight left. I made my way down Normanskill, past the small white church to the old Rockefeller Rd bridge. I accessed the rail trail via the steep dirt/gravel path. Going west takes you into Delmar, while going east takes you towards the Hudson. Both trails are unpaved and rough. (Another reason I’m motivated to explore the east trail is that I’ve heard that graptolites can be found on the Normans Kill.)

rail trail east run

The east trail started as dirt but quickly turned into chunky railroad gravel. Running this was not terribly fun or great for my shoes. After about a mile, I reached the old railroad bridge that crossed the Normans Kill. It was in worse condition than I expected from the map. The bridge had metal beams about a foot wide spanning the river. There were wooden planks 1 ft wide and 5-6 ft long in various stages of decomposition that were laid across the beams. The foot of the bridge was missing planks, resulting in a five-foot gap with the river 100 feet below. I really wanted to finish the trail, and I thought, well, I made it this far already– I’ll just cross this bridge and this will be the last time I do this route.rail trail east_bridge

I grabbed some vines and put one foot after the other on the metal beams until I made my way to the first wooden plank. I soon realized that there were these gaps between the planks. They weren’t wide enough for me to fall through– if I slipped, my butt would get stuck and save me from plummeting to my death– but it were still unnerving. To make matters worse, some of the planks had rotted. I got down and half-squatted, half crawled across the bridge, stepping on the planks where they were supported by the metal beam underneath. There was no rail. I made my way across, and the stupidity of what I was doing hit me. Holy shit. No one knows where I am. I haven’t told anyone I’m going running. This is an old railroad trail in the middle of nowhere. The sun is going down in 30 minutes. I am walking on rotting wood 100 feet above cold and who-knows-how-shallow water. I was halfway across when I noticed that there was a good five-foot section of bridge missing just up ahead. If I had a shittier week and were feeling reckless, I would have said, “well, what the hell”. Instead, I said, “nope”, turned around while suppressing feelings of panic, and crawled back.

Okay, I am a little scared of heights. Was this potentially very dangerous? Yes. Was I scared for my life? Yes. Was I actually in any danger? Probably not. A seasoned rock climber or mountain biker would probably skip across the bridge in no time. To paraphrase what a world-famous free solo rock climber (was it Alex Honnold?) once said, if you feel an adrenaline rush, then something has gone terribly wrong.

To the right of the foot of the bridge was a deer trail into the woods. It looked like there might be another way to cross the river. I trampled my way through branches and brambles (ouch) and came across a stream. I got my shoes wet and muddy. I realized that there was a wider section of river that the bridge went over, and that this was just a stream that had diverged from the main body. I felt a second wave of stupidity wash over me. I got back to the stony rail trail with waterlogged shoes and cuts from the brambles and retraced my route back.

As I reached the foot of the Rockefeller Rd bridge, I noticed that someone had placed a pair of shoes in the middle of the road. Placed, not thrown from a car. Placed with purpose. They were black Nike Freeruns with lime green interiors. They were exactly like the ones my running roommate owns. And they were burned. What the fuck. This is a scene straight out of Deliverance. As a weak, tired, short female alone in the middle of nowhere with ten minutes to sunset, I was a little creeped out.

I made it home without incident.

And that was the craziest thing I’ve done in a while.

Yuca and Plantains

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I went to Mr Pio Pio’s on Quail St and got this dish with assorted rotisserie meats and fried yuca and plantains. It was so good. The plantains were so good. The last plantains I had were the ones my sister made. She has since become a much better cook. No, really. Her cooking now rivals my mom’s. But anyways….

Last Friday I went grocery shopping before eating dinner. I was STARVING. This was reflected in my purchases, which included yuca, three plantains, seven tomatoes, a package of chicken gizzards, a bag of Chex mix, and an egg custard pie.

I almost never cook real meals. I also rarely eat out- when I do, it’s usually pizza or Subway, because it’s cheap and delicious. Usually, this means I eat a lot of crock-pot stews, non-fancy pasta, eggs, salads, and microwaved frozen veggies (I do a good job staying away from the frozen prepared meals.). I eat a lot of sandwiches and “leftovers” burritos. I eat things that taste like food and make me not hungry. I don’t think I crave things like most other people. I’ve done this for years and years and years. I am a creature of habit.

I also have a strange fear of cooking meat. I avoid buying meat besides eggs and occasionally chicken (which I cook in the crock pot until it’s dead). I’ve bought meat to make pulled pork and have had it go bad due to procrastination.

For someone who still eats cans of corn on occasion (mmmm), cooking real dishes is highly unusual. However! I am not only making “real” meals, but I am also improving my culturally competency in my culinary creations! I have made food from three cultures ever since last Friday’s ghrelin-induced shopping spree.

On Friday, I made pasta alla carbonara (for the first time) with spaghetti and turkey sausage.

On Sunday, I made stir-fried chicken gizzards and hearts (for the first time) with onions, garlic, mushrooms, ginger, spicy and mild green peppers, and sesame oil.

On Tuesday, I made pasta alla carbonara (for the second time) with penne, onions, turkey sausage, and broccoli. Getting a little better.

On Wednesday (today!), I made fried yuca and plantains (for the first time). They were pretty darn good, even if I say so myself.

First I chopped the yuca and plantains.


Then I boiled the yuca in water for 15 minutes until they were soft. I fried the plantains and yuca in vegetable oil at 275-300 degrees F. (The black plantains were added to oil heated past its smoke point.) I seasoned with sea salt.


The finished product! Mmmm.


We have shrews! I generally don’t hate animals, but I dislike mice. Maybe because it’s hard to love mice when you have to “sac” them for experiments and pull out zeir bones. Our lab isn’t even very mean to mice. All we do is put them to sleep. The mice in some other labs probably all have PTSD. No one likes being mean to their animals, but it is a necessary evil. If you like having insulin for your diabetes and treatments for your cancer, then you really have no say against animal research.

I don’t like mice because I work with them, they eat my food, and they poop all over the place. But shrews are cool! I saw movement in my grocery bag, and this little guy was chirping away, turning my bagels into bite-size pellets. He must have been pretty stoked. When he realized I was there, he left my bagels and just pattered away alongside the wall. It was more of a jog than a scurry. Shrews are not furtive at all. There do not hustle.

Or maybe they’re just slow.

I’m almost positive this one was a Northern Short-tailed Shrew. How can you not like these guys?

They are active all winter, which is hard to believe with all the snow that’s fallen. Well, it’s hard to believe how anything small can survive a winter. Part of me wants to wait until the snow melts to set up the traps, but the poop and the missing food is pretty gross…. Shrews leave poop in wet chunks, not in nicely compacted grains like the mice do. Anyways, shrews also use echolocation. When I picked one up yesterday, the little guy emitted a series of squeaks with a frequency that definitely went beyond our hearing range. That was a little painful.  ALSO, These guys are one of the only toxic mammals found here. Their saliva contains an enzyme that breaks down proteins, which is used to paralyze prey. I didn’t know this when I held one yesterday. Oops.

So I set up traps yesterday even though I think shrews are cool. (They are, when they are outside.) My roommate wants to get a cat instead of setting traps so that the cat can kill and eat the shrews. Unfortunately, pets are not allowed in this apartment. Also, letting your pet eat wild rodents is disgusting and probably not good for its health.

One of the traps grazed the shrew, but didn’t snap him. The poor guy was so disoriented that I could pick him up without any resistance. My roommate strongly insisted that I throw him outside so he could die “naturally”.

Live traps are just as lethal this time of the year, because where else are you going to relocate a small rodent when there’s 4 feet of snow on the ground? Maybe she just really wants a cat.