Friday, June 29, 2012

Mmmm, breakfast! Oat bran with chocolate, almonds, and coconut

I recently picked up some oat bran from the supermarket so I could see how it compares with normal rolled oats as a breakfast cereal. After all, oat bran has more protein and fiber than oats, and fewer calories per gram. After having it several times over the past two weeks or so, it's safe to say that oat bran is going to be kept in stock in our pantry.

It could be argued that oat bran is more highly processed, less "whole", than rolled or steel-cut oats, but I'm not going to let that dissuade me from eating it.

So far, my favorite way to prepare oat bran is with cocoa, almonds, and coconut. It has a taste and texture that falls somewhere between candy bar and cake batter. But of course, it's much better for you than either of those things.

  • 1/4 cup (a little bit heaping) oat bran. You can get this in bulk at Sunflower (cum Sprouts, anon) or other health food stores.
  • 3/4 cup water. It's best to use imported distilled artesian well water. Just kidding. Use the tap.
  • ~ 1/4 teaspoon salt (about 4 or 5 good shakes)
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 oz. raw almonds (about 24 pc.), coarsely chopped. Also available in bulk.
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded coconut. I use some kind of organic, unsweetened, reduced fat stuff, so, you know, I'm sure it's really good for you.
  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses.
  • 1-2 teaspoons Truvia or other sweetener, to taste.
  • ~ 1/4 cup almond milk

Put the first three ingredients into a fairly large soup/cereal bowl. Cook in a microwave on high for 3 to 3.5 minutes. The oat bran and water are actually measured since it only takes one measuring cup, and if you do the oats before the water, the measuring cup is clean when you're done. Also, if you get the ratio wrong the result will either be too pasty or too runny. As always, everything else is usually just kind of eyeballed, though I did measure that stuff out too one time, just to make sure my estimates are close to accurate.

Mix in the remaining ingredients except for the almond milk. Once everything else is well combined, add just enough almond milk to smooth out the texture. This also has the effect of cooling everything off so that you don't burn your mouth trying to eat the piping-hot oats. Because obviously waiting around for it to cool on its own is out of the question.

You may have noticed that this recipe follows much the same pattern as my fudge brownie oatmeal. That's not surprising or coincidental. I love the flavor combination of blackstrap and cocoa. And I don't like doing anything complicated like turning on a stove when I first wake up in the morning, so if a hot breakfast isn't coming from the slow-cooker, it has to come from the microwave. That's unpopular in gourmet circles, but I'm much more the pragmatic type.

I hope you enjoy, if you give this a try, and that it will fuel some kind of awesome adventure. Or at the very least, give you a nice happy feeling before going about your daily grind.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Was that Stupid or What?

Somehow I grew up without ever learning how to ride a wheelie (or manual, for those pedants out there) on my bicycle. I've decided I need to correct that particular oversight. So on my ride to work, while on one of the somewhat secluded sections of path, I've been trying to practice a little bit.

Usually I don't pull up hard enough, so the front wheel rises a little and drops right back down to the ground. Obviously the corrective measure is to pull harder. So I pulled harder. So hard, in fact, that the bike went over backwards, and I didn't make the bail-out. The result was a predictable case of road rash.

Road rash.

I'm not very spry, graceful, or good at things that require balance, so I knew this was going to happen sooner or later. It's probably why I didn't learn to do this as a kid.

In the days since I took that spill, I've had a number of people ask about it. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Them: "Did that happen on your bike?"

Me: "Yeah."

Them: "Were you just being stupid, or ..."

Me: "Just horsing around."

I know they're concerned that I may have been hit by a car or something, and I do appreciate that. But it gets me thinking about the alternative. Is a one-person accident necessarily the result of being stupid?

I say that in general, there's nothing stupid about trying to do something you've never done before. And a lot of times trying comes with a certain amount of risk. So you're going to take a hit now and then. Does that mean that the pursuit isn't worthwhile? I don't think so.

This incident came hard on the heels of another small scrape I got while bouldering. I got myself into a position where I had to put a knee down on the rock to make it up onto a bit of a ledge.

My kids are young enough to be impressed by the smallest of injuries. If I come home and they show me a skinned knee, the first thing I ask is, "Did you get that while doing something awesome?" Likewise, when I come home with a patch of flesh missing from my leg, they want to know all about it. I tell them that it's just part of going out there and doing certain things, and that just because I got a little hurt while doing it doesn't mean that I didn't have fun. Maybe I'm not the best parent, but I do try to instill in my kids a sense of balance between safety and risk acceptance.

My friend Jim says that you're allowed to suck at anything for the first year of doing it. I think I like that perspective a lot better than "Getting hurt while trying new things is stupid." And Jeff Atwood recently posted something on Coding Horror that may well be my new mantra:

Go read the article. It's short, but in shorter, he states that "The only thing preventing us from being awesome is our own fear of sucking." His advice is
  1. Embrace the suck.
  2. Do it in public.
  3. Pick stuff that matters.
I'm not sure that the things I'm currently sucking at really matter, but they sure are fun. And I'll probably continue to practice my wheelies when nobody is looking.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

West Ridge or East Ridge? It's not a Quandary.

"So here's the plan. We take a day off work so we can wake up at 3 in the morning, drive for a couple of hours, and be at the trail head around sunrise. There's an easy, straight-forward way up this mountain, but I found a much more difficult route we can take instead. Are you in?"

I know what you're thinking: when you put it that way, who could possibly say no? How, you're wondering, did you miss your natural calling by becoming a software engineer instead of a salesman?

Or maybe you're not thinking those things at all. But I'm lucky to know a few people whose personal sense of rationality meshes with my own reasonably well. And so the scheme was hatched for Jim, Shawn, and me to climb the West Ridge of Quandary Peak near Breckenridge, Colorado.

Quandary is known as one of the easiest of the 14ers. Its standard route, the East Ridge, is just a 6-mile hike along a gentle trail from the parking area to the summit. But as with my recent outing to Audubon, the path less traveled is often more rewarding. So we opted to ascend the West Ridge, which is 2 miles shorter but takes probably twice as long. And it's at least an order of magnitude more fun.

View 2012/06/14 06:30 Quandary in a larger map

Wednesday night, I didn't sleep very well. Maybe it was excitement. Maybe it was the knowledge that my alarm clock was going to go off in just a few hours. Maybe it was the steel-cut oats in the slow-cooker downstairs calling my name all night. But I woke up feeling good, had a quick but filling breakfast, and was out the door by 3:45 and at Shawn's house by 4.

We arrived at the rendezvous point - the Safeway in Frisco - a bit before Jim. The mountain air was a crisp 45 degrees, and I was smiling ear to ear as I went into a gas station for something to drink while we waited.

We left Jim's SUV at the main trail head, then rode together to park my truck at Blue Lakes. We geared up and hit the trail around 6:30.

We made our way up the gully above Blue Lakes toward the ridge.

Along the way, Shawn and I donned traction aids and pulled out our ice axes to ascend one of the few snow fields left after a winter of very little precipitation. Jim went around the snow and easily beat us to the top of that section. But as long as the two of us were hauling axes, we wanted to get a little use out of them, however superfluous.

Once we gained the ridge, the view to the north was spectacular.

It is also at this point that things started to get really fun. Pictures will do more justice to the experience than any words that I could craft.

Up and over via that scree-filled gully. One at a time to avoid rock-fall.

The climb up this section felt adventuresome.

This down-climb was more memorable than the climb up out
 of the notch which is considered the crux of the route.

Jim and Shawn at the bottom of the crux,
with the wall we just descended behind them.

Three intrepid hikers (and some other dude) at the summit.
When we arrived at the summit, there were several other hikers who had come up the East Ridge. They were the first people we had seen since parking the truck. The remainder of the hike down the standard route was pretty well populated, despite it being a week-day.

Looking back toward the summit from the East Ridge.

I was very gratified to see some mountain goats on our way down. Somehow I've missed them on all of my previous high-country hikes.

The goats ended up blocking the trail, and they were determined to stay on it. So eventually we had to circumnavigate their location so we could move on without herding them along the entire way. The remainder of the hike was pretty uneventful. We were glad to have two vehicles, else the 2-mile walk back up the road to Blue Lakes would have been a bit of a drag.

Back at the truck, we hung out for a while, enjoying a New Belgium Somersault ale on the tailgate. A couple more mountain goats arrived in the parking area, providing some entertainment by licking the tires of another vehicle that was parked nearby.

After Audubon and Quandary, I'm pretty certain that I'll have trouble being content with a Class 1 ascent of a mountain when there's a Class 3 or 4 available. And the entire experience definitely made the early start well worth it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Auf der Audubon

Mount Audubon is said to be the easiest of the 13ers in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. Part of the reason for that is that it is much closer to a trail head than most of the mountains in that area. The main reason is probably because there is a trail that leads right up its broad east slope, making it an easy class 1 hike to the summit.

That's cool, but when you combine accessibility with a bit more of a challenge, things feel a lot more awesome. There's a class 3 route along Audubon's southeast ridge, as described in Gerry Roach's Colorado's Indian Peaks, that ups the ante and makes you feel like you've actually climbed a mountain when you're done.

One week after returning home from my backpacking trip on the AT, I was itching to escape from civilization for a little bit, and the warm weather meant that the higher elevations should be mostly clear of snow.

On Sunday I got a reasonably early start from the house and drove up to the Brainard Lake Recreational Area. I was hoping that the road would be open by now, saving me about 6.5 miles of hiking, but that was not to be. Parking at the road closure, I set out toward the Mitchell Lake trail head around 7:45. The weather was perfect, but I packed some cold-weather gear in anticipation of colder conditions on the summit.

From Brainard Lake, Mount Audubon dominates the skyline.

Mount Audubon, viewed from Brainard Lake

Mitchell Lake is about one mile from the trail head, just past Brainard Lake. It was here that I left the trail and made my way around to the north side of the lake. The map said that there would be a gully with a stream running down into the lake, but that's a pretty loose interpretation of reality.

Mount Audubon, viewed from Mitchell Lake. The ascent begins on the talus slope at the center, with the southeast ridge going to the left.

A talus-covered slope leads up to the ridge. It was a fun way to start things out.

Looking up from the bottom of the talus slope

Once on the ridge, the talus gives way to larger boulders. It's a fun bit of scrambling, and the views from up there are stunning.

A view of Brainard Lake and Left Hand Reservoir from the southeast ridge

The most notorious feature of the southeast ridge is a notch, perhaps 30 feet deep, which has to be negotiated. It was by far the best part, actually putting the climbing in this mountain's ascent.

Looking back at the notch after down-climbing the gully to the left (north)

After working up the far side of the notch, the terrain eases up into more talus and tundra. I was beginning to feel the effects of the high elevation. My energy was waning, my head ached, and it felt like I should have already been at the top. But I was still having fun.

Nice views between the ridge and the summit

From the summit, at about 13224 feet (4030 meters), the views were great and the wind was whipping from the north. There are several wind breaks constructed from stone where I ducked down to rest and have a snack. It was 11:45 when I reached the top, and I was happy to have a jacket and warm hat in my backpack.

A view of the Indian Peaks and Upper Cooley Lake from the summit

From there, I took the trail back down. It was frequently doubling as a stream bed for the snow-melt. The trail makes its way through more wide-open tundra, and it was after 13:00 before I got below treeline.

Looking back at Audubon from the trail. The southeast ridge is on the left.

I saw several marmots among the talus, both before and after the summit. I have a pet cat named after the 17th-century Irish harper Turlough O'Carolan. I got to thinking that if I had a pet marmot, I would name it Thomas Talus. But I'm going to settle for giving that name to this one.

Thomas Talus, the Audubon marmot

It felt great to be hiking in Colorado's high country again. The Appalachians are nice, but this felt like home.

A cairn tells me that this where I'm supposed to be.

And of course, no discussion of Mount Audubon would be complete without some kind of word-play, so I'll leave you with this, which has been going through my head for the past few days.