A Polemic Against Winter Riding

“It teaches you not to be such a softy.”
-Heinrich Haussler, on riding bikes in the winter.

Indeed, there’s something easily romanticized about long road rides in the height of winter-time shittiness. The smell of embrocation, the mid-ride stop for espresso and danishes, the camaraderie of a few riding buddies braving it out with you, the quiet roads uninhabited by everyday traffic, and feeling of warm water rushing down your back after you’re back at home and safely in the shower. These are a couple things that can keep riding in the wintertime sane and tolerable.

Of course, my ride today was none of these things. Convincing myself to leave the opiate-like comfort of my bed wasn’t altogether challenging because it was still dry and gray out (like so many typical days in Oregon), and some long, easy miles on the road were calling my name after a hard race Saturday in Sublimity, OR. The forecast called for rain, and I was well aware of this as I clipped a fender on over my rear wheel in anticipation for the ride, but leaving city limits and still being dry made me ponder the idea that maybe today’s weather report was wrong, as so many are.

Yet, without fail, it came. The rain, wind and cold greeted me like so many other days on the road – at this point in the year, I don’t know whether I should be hardened by three solid months of enduring the elements, or entitled to dry conditions after braving it for so long. Either way, it wasn’t so bad at first. I like the rain – at least when it leads to meditative moments resulting from long, tree-sheltered, solo climbs – but today’s ride was nearly pancake-flat and unsheltered in the abyss of the Williamate Valley. The only things keeping me company through the farmlands I’ve ridden ad infinitum on Coburg Rd. were an assorted mix of farm animals wondering what the hell some clown out in argycle spandex was doing on the road.

Oh, and some guy painting a picture of farm landscape outside of his car on a certain road rarely traveled by anyone not living on it. That was kind of cool. He had an easel, brushes, and everything.

I digress. The cold, wind and rain slowly waged a war of attrition on my psyche today. Slowly but surely, I started questioning everything: my legs, my preference for Campagnolo, damn near my own existence. Of course, this is exactly why I leave the house to ride in shitty weather alone – a little ego-bruising is good from time to time, and toughens you up for the racing season ahead. (I’m pretty sure if the self-flagellating Christian ascetic monks of the Middle Ages were around today, they’d be riding road bikes around in winter-time northern Maine wearing nothing but a helmet and bibs, and subsisting purely on scraps of white bread and unseasoned tofu.)

Everyone has their personal threshold for how much pain they can withstand, and analogous to this is the amount of time one can spend riding in the rain before being driven into the dark cave of hopelessness. For me, three hours serves as the dividing line between arriving home still somewhat happy and functional versus not having the circulation in my hands to grab the keys out of my pocket and open the door. Today’s ride was just under four hours – you can be sure I was ready to ride myself into open traffic on the interstate at that point.

So, was getting the miles in worth it? We’ll see come summer track and criterium season. I can definitely say that, when the hardest part of your day drives you into a pit of discomfort that most people don’t encounter excepting rare circumstances, the rest of the day goes by with relative ease. For now, I’m hoping for some notable results at Banana Belt and a return to the insanely satisfying feeling that a well-snapped road sprint gives.

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How to Make a Bangin’ Cup of Coffee

My history with coffee has been a typical one.

In middle school, I scrounged what little lunch money I had to get a frothy white chocolate mocha before school at Seattle’s Best. Espresso beverages were seen as an “adult” thing, Starbucks was beginning to catch on outside of Seattle as a legitimate way to spend $5 on a beverage that didn’t include alcohol, and my happy little heart was thirsty for the overstimulated pumping of a caffeine high. Of course, since the doctors were convinced I had “borderline ADD” (which I may indeed still have) and since Ritalin was being crammed down kid’s throats like pop tarts in the early-to-mid 90′s, I was no stranger to the rush stimulants provided. But there was something unappealing about losing my appetite, sex-drive and need for sleep in order to be able to focus on school work for a few hours (although I can see why amphetamines were the drug of choice for the professional cycling peloton up until the late 80′s/early 90′s – with no urge to eat, you can become a very, very skinny little climber boy).

Anyway, I digress. The habit of over-sweetened, over-creamed espresso beverages was inflicted upon me by my brother and dad. I mirrored what they did – hence, starting around freshman or sophmore year of high school, I started joining my dad around the Mr. Coffee machine in the morning for a premium cup of the finest beans on the market – Folgers (100% caffe arabica, even! Ha.) To say the stuff was rancid was an understatement – no wonder I diluted the hell out of it with cream until it was khaki-colored, and poured enough sugar in my mug to turn a healthy man diabetic.

Around that same time, I also started frequenting a little coffee shop before and after school near my school called Mojo’s. In time, I graduated to the downtown coffee circuit – endless loops between Portland Coffee House on Broadway, Anna Banana’s on NW 23rd and Northrupp (favored by us high schoolers back then because we could smoke hookah in the basement without consequence) and eventually Stumptown Coffee on SW 3rd and Pine. It was these places that introduced me to what real coffee tastes like – not burnt, not overly acidic and never needing cream to dilute that lovingly sweet taste down.

(Another brief digression – it was around the time that I was doing said coffee circuits that I discovered these quirky little things called fixed gear bicycles, which, placed alongside my shitty Schwinn 10-speed, both looked cooler and weighed far less. I gave in and bought the shittiest road conversion bike I could find, complete with a low bottom bracket height and 175mm cranks, for $250 off Craigslist mere months later. Now you know how I got started in the endless downward spiral of draining paycheck after paycheck into the mindless consumerist addiction of bike component purchase.)

Now, going back to Folger’s at home after being spoiled with Stumptown Roasting, Cafe D’Arte et al. on the road was no fun. It’s true what a coffee snob says – once you taste the good stuff, you can never go back. (Nowadays, I can’t choke the garbage water they peddle here on campus in Eugene down without at least a handful of cookies and crossiants to get that horrible acidic taste out of my mouth.) I was officially in the blossoming stages of coffee connoisseurship – a few years of visits to Stumptown to try a new cup of single origin coffee every day until I figured out the fine subtleties of a cup of Ethiopian coffee vs. a cup of Brazilian would further my journey later on. As such, I couldn’t see how people could waste all their money at Starbucks for an overpriced, underqualified product (until I realized the power of modern marketing and the desire of a nice ambiance, of course).

I also came to see the value of brewing with a french press over the ordinary drip-style coffee maker. It allows for a longer steeping time for the grounds to add their flavorful aromas into the water, produces a more full-bodied cup (read: thicker mouth feel), and won’t break your bank because the technology behind it is nearly 200 years old and consists chiefly of an ultra-secret tool called a “strainer with rod affixed to it”.

There are those who complain that a french press is messier – to them I reply, “nonsense”. Do you spend so little time in the kitchen that the act of rinsing out a glass of sediment and dumping it down the drain (or, in the absence of a garbage disposal, into your neighbor’s flower beds) considered to be a chore? Here’s a pro-tip – fill the thing a quarter-full with water, swirl it around like a wine glass and then dump the whole mess of coffee grounds down your drain in one fluid stroke – takes about 10 seconds, tops. Then rinse your strainer piece under the drain and you’re good to go – but never, ever put that thin, delicate glass french press into your dishwasher.

The same critics will henceforth reply that french presses also take longer – as if good coffee can be rushed. I’ll concede – a coffee maker that is synced to your alarm clock and automatically brews a cup before you wake up is a bitchin’ thing to have, and a nice example of how ingenious modern technology can be. But french pressing is like kindergarten in the grand scheme of things you can do in the kitchen – and if you can’t pass kindergarten, your only hope is marrying a competent spouse to take care of your sorry, dependent ass. All you have to do is stand by your press for a few minutes, stir it coffee halfway through, and then press and pour at the crucial moment.

So, without further ado – the actual point of my post: how to make a bangin’ cup of coffee. I am writing this while actually making a real, live cup of coffee, so I’d say my mind is in the right place.

1. If you skipped down a few paragraphs, you may have missed an absolutely vital point – you have to use good coffee beans to make good coffee (wait… shit, really?). For the most part, good coffee does not come from a grocery store (although that’s changing these days).

If you live in Portland, your choices are clear-cut – you have Stumptown Roasting as the behemoth – well-established, well-merited, and the largest of independent coffee businesses worth a damn in the area. You also have Courier Coffee, which, true to the name is delivered to coffee shops and individuals alike via a cargo bike. And then there’s Ristretto Roasters – to some, the best coffee roaster in town.

If you live in another metropolitan, chances are you have a coffee roaster doing as good of or better roasts than Stumptown. SF, NY, Seattle and Chicago come to mind as three cities with a healthy amount of these places.

2. In addition, you also need good water – stunning observation, I know. If your water tastes like shit, your coffee probably will. So go buy a water filter, dummy!

3. You want to keep the ratio of water to coffee proper – there’s no “strong cups” and “weak cups”, just “proper ones”. A good rule of thumb – one tablespoon of ground coffee to every 4 ounces of water. Works like a charm for me, but this is also dependent on the grind level you use.

4. If you’re a true snob, you own a grinder that cost more than my microwave. In this case, grind your beans to a rough, chunky finish. If you’re like me- a starving student – then you’re rolling with what was on sale at the department store. In that case, grind finer rather than rougher. In any case, waiting until just before you brew to grind your coffee makes a fresher cup, and freshness is what we’re aiming for.

4. You want the water hot, but not boiling. Tried and true method – let that shit boil on the tea kettle until it’s chirping like a bird, then remove from heat and let it sit for around a minute with the steam moving freely above the kettle. The classic sign of a shitty coffee shop – they use past-boiling water to make the coffee (which has been roasted past-burnt), then they store it at way too hot of a temperature and get sued by customers who accidentally pour the crap on their dicks. No joke.

5. So, you have your coffee grounds measured out, your water at the right temperature and you know how much water you’re going to use – now pour into your french press in a circular motion to saturate all the grounds. Get a timer and set it to 4 minutes – do not try to brew without a timer.

6. Halfway through steep time, stir the coffee to let the beans really saturate into the water.

7. After 4 minutes, you’re done. Congratulations – hopefully you didn’t fuck it up and doom yourself to a thin, watery cup.

All right, my brew is ready and I’m off for my second cup of coffee. Hope you enjoyed my 1,500 word thesis and remember – friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks.

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Random Thoughts from Today’s Race

-Sauteed sweet & red potatoes, oatmeal with raisins and honey, an egg, banana and coffee make for a pretty delicious, healthy pre-race meal. Not totally Paleo, but you gotta make exceptions when things like glycogen loading are on the line.

-Speaking of coffee, I had an epiphany during today’s race. I’m way too anxious and tense during the first hour or so of my races, and my habit of downing 12 oz. of french press en route to getting a triple shot espresso at the local coffee joint a couple blocks from my apartment are by no means helping that, and most definitely aggravating it. When it comes to performance enhancement, caffeine is one of the most tested, most reputable and most legal (unless you eat a box of No Doz) substances out there. I can honestly say I have less respect for bike racing amigos who can’t get down with a good espresso, or object to meeting at a coffee shop pre-training ride.

But my pre-race coffee binging habits most certainly result in a bunch of chaos, tension, horse-pissing (and subsequent sore bladders) and anxiety. Case in point – after downing that triple shot, I freaked out and packed half of my apartment inside a messenger bag to take to the race. Then, while airing up my tires, I pulled the valve stem right out of the tube – resulting in an instant-flat. When we made finished the drive to Sublimity, OR, I had to pee so bad I could barely walk. And when it came to race time, well, I couldn’t relax for the first half the way I like to on a good hill climb.

Luckily, I’m not considering quitting caffeine ingestion. The solution, instead, lies in drinking green tea.

Green tea, you say? Isn’t caffeine the same no matter the source? Not necessarily. The caffeine in tea is accompanied by a neat little amino acid called L-theanine. According to always-correct Wikipedia.com, reduces skip”mental and physical stress, and improves cognition and mood in a synergistic manner with caffeine.” In my (and other tea enthusiasts) experience, it’s the central reason why green tea doesn’t bring on the jitters like a good cup or three of coffee does. In any case, I usually shift between coffee and green tea in my daily life so as not to give my body a break from the shock of back-to-back espresso shots. In the future, I resolve to ditch the coffee before racing, and taper caffeine consumption a little bit in the days before.

-Racing is a hell of a lot more fun when people aren’t crashing. I don’t think there was a single crash in any of the fields today (although I could be wrong – an ambulance was seen near the parking lot at one point), and the cat 3 field didn’t have any close calls to boot. In addition, we weren’t riding like a bunch of first time races, and there was no accordion effect in the pack.

-I keep forgetting it, but holy shit, I am a salty sweater. When I can remember to put some sea salt in my water bottles (in addition to other electrolytes), I don’t cramp. When I forget – game over. I cramped bad near the end of the race, and nearly didn’t finish. A teammate handing me his Gatorade provided near-instant relief and kept me in the game to the finish line.

-Climbing is a slow, grueling test of mental character, physical strength, body weight and slow twitch muscle fiber. Sprinting, on the other hand, doesn’t discriminate by weight, doesn’t start hurting until you approach the 500m mark or have to repeat the performance 5 times in a race, and doesn’t give quite the same puke-in-your-mouth feeling that climbing does (unless, of course, you do a kilo TT on the track). Climbing is for the most part very safe in a race situation, with the worst thing to go wrong generally being an overlapped wheel and resulting 8mph crash, but a sprint gone awry can damn near kill you. I love the meditative aspect of climbing by myself in the rain, but I love the cocaine rush of a good mass sprint where everything goes right even more. For this reason, I can’t wait for the sprinter’s races to begin.

-Vodka and beer is definitely a good idea after a race. I bet you don’t see that shit after swim meets or cross country competitions. Thanks, S and A, for generously getting me buzzed off your post-race refreshments. The sun, drinks and crowd heckling really topped off my day after some quality road racing.

-No matter how hard you try, you will not satisfy the inevitable post-race raging hunger pangs. I don’t care how many 1/2lb. burgers you down afterwards, that raging hunger will swiftly return in a matter of hours with an even worse vengeance.

-Pro-tip on post-workout recovery food: it’s really, really hard to beat the sweet potato on a nutrition level. If you bake the shit out of it, it’s sky high on the glycemic index (which is exactly what you want after a hard workout), pretty loaded with vitamins/minerals/antioxidants and damn tasty with some sweet soy sauce and/or Sri Racha. Don’t forget to pair it with a fat source so that your body absorbs the beta carotene.

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Pros of Paleo

I’ve still been following the Paleo diet (albeit a little modified) more or less, and have felt pretty damn good lately. The main thing about how I’m eating now vs. before the transition is I’m getting in a lot more fruits, vegetables and roots now, whereas before it was more moderate. It’s worth noting that in any diet, no matter the underlying philosophy, the addition of more fruits and vegetables will universally guarantee better health and well-being. Dr. Joel Furhman, Ph.D definitely grasped this idea when he came up with his “Eat to Live” diet. His basic premise – health=nutrients/calories, sums up a paradigm that a lot of so-called gurus miss when they try to formulate such non-sense as fixed macronutrient ratios for well-being and rules like “no fruit after 12pm”.

Anyway, I digress. In my last post, I gave a critique of Paleo nutrition. Today, I’ll write about the pros of the diet.

1. Without the convenience of grains or beans, you’re nearly forced into eating more fruits, vegetables, nuts and tubers. This in turn means pushing towards a more nutrient dense diet.
This comes with a big “if”. If you can avoid the temptation of most processed foods, the exclusion of grains and legumes definitely mean you’ll get more calories from healthier whole foods. I do most of my eating at home – ergo, what I buy at the grocery store is what I’ll be eating. I’m a hell of a lot better at resisting chocolate chip cookies on the grocery shelf then I am in the kitchen pantry, so I abstain and if I have to, I’ll get one or two “guilty pleasure” items and limit it to that. Otherwise, since I’ve ditched the bread and pasta, I’ve filled up a lot more on raisins, dates, dried bananas, canned fish, yogurt and apples – all of which are much more nutrient-dense than whole grains. More nutrients means a better immune system, faster recovery from hard workouts, less risk of overtraining and better well-being. It’s hard to lose… besides having the occasional burrito craving. What I’ve found is this – if you tell yourself “I can never have a piece of french toast/burrito/chocolate cake again”, you’ll end up hopeless and eventually binge – big. Denying yourself readily available pleasures never works over the long-term unless you have monk-like sensibilities. The trick is to view things like grains and legumes like you would a rich desert – fine to have on seldom occasion – say, after you just smoked that performance evaluation or at your cousin Louis’s birthday, but not something to eat every day.

2. Modern diets are too over-reliant on grains, especially refined ones.
It’s true. Cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, spaghetti for dinner. Pretty standard American fare, right? The problem is, most people eating like this aren’t active enough to justify so many carbohydrates, and grains in general are pretty nutrient-sparse (not to mention hard to digest for some people). Add in white bread, white rice, and sugar, and you’re now in the red – your body is leaching nutrients to digest those things. It’s pretty easy to see how long-term, you’ll eat yourself tired, slow and fat that way.

3. Dairy is not a good option for many people. In addition, the modern factory-farmed dairy industry is among the shittiest.
Seriously – if there’s one food to buy organic, its dairy. Okay, “conventional” soft-skinned fruit like apples and berries get sprayed pretty heavily. Non-organic soy and corn is guaranteed to be heavily genetically modified, and non-organic chicken doesn’t taste anywhere near as good as organic free-range.

Either way, the factory farmed dairy industry is nasty stuff. I won’t go into the details – you can read some Michael Pollan to find out yourself.

My point is this – the Paleo diet functions on the underlying logic that foods which humankind has not had adequate time to genetically adapt to should not be in the diet. Grains and legumes, as products of the agricultural revolution, are the first to be put into this list. Processed foods shouldn’t even need a mention. But for many people – namely those of non-European descent, dairy is just not a good idea. Populations with no traditional consumption of dairy have the highest rates of lactose intolerance for good reason – you need those hundreds of generations of ancestors consuming it to be able to handle what is essentially baby cow’s growth spurt juice. In addition, it’s theorized that many people lose their ability to adequately digest dairy in their adult years.

If you can digest dairy adequately (read: no milk farts), I really think plain yogurt is a good idea. That doesn’t mean you have to eat it plain – add some fruit, nuts and honey if you want. My point is mainly that most flavored yogurts are candy by comparison – not whole food. Cheese, ice cream et al. however should be viewed more as very occasional vices – a lot like grains. Don’t drive yourself insane denying yourself a scoop of the good stuff at your next holiday dinner, but don’t eat it on a daily basis either.

4. Makes it easier to limit carbohydrates, if you’re trying to do that. On the other hand, with fruits and tubers in the diet, you can still keep your carbohydrate intake pretty high.
This drives back to my point earlier. If you’re a modern sedentarian, you really don’t need to be consuming much in the way of carbohydrates. If you’re like me and fancy a 4 hour bike ride before work as a nice way to spend the morning, you’re craving carbs left and right. Eating Paleo, you can have it both ways. Either increase your fruit/tuber intake for more carbs, or increase your animal product intake for more protein. Ancient Paleolithic man likely ate whatever was available, so don’t get yourself into a sweat trying to emulate exactly what s/he ate. (Yeah, don’t be like these geeks.)

To sum up, I think that while Paleo nutrition ideas offer a great guideline, they should by no means be considered set-in-stone dietary commandments. Don’t get overly strict, don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t turn down a slice of pie you really wanted if you’ll be beating yourself up mentally for the next two days over what you couldn’t have. Food is nutritional, but it’s also heavily social, psychological, and personal. The key is striking a balance between these diverging forces.

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Critiquing Paleo Nutrition

1. Certain groups of people have clearly adapted genetically to digest dairy products adequately.

Now, let’s make a few things clear. Dairy is probably the most controversial food group among nutritionists, and rightly so. On one end of the extreme, you have Weston A. Price followers who say all dairy must be served raw, non-homogenized, full-fat and fresh off the cow nipple (as well as body builders guzzling up to a gallon per day). On the other end, you have strict vegans who view dairy either as immoral because it relies on caging up cattle, or unhealthy due to casein, IGF-1 content, hormones/antibiotics in non-organic milk, etc. My position on dairy is this: certain forms are evidently very good, and certain forms are not. Cheese – for instance – culinary-wise, its delicious (and particularly high in opoid chemicals that make your brain feel pleasure and relaxation, incidentally). Nutrition-wise, it’s basically junk, save for a little calcium and protein (which is outweighed for the most part by the sodium and majority fat content). Some Paleo authors say cheese can be viewed as an occasional vice, while others condemn dairy altogether because it was only available in the very late Paleo period. Plain organic yogurt/kefir, however, can near universally be considered a good food. In populations studied who consume some form of fermented dairy such as yogurt (e.g., the Caucasus mountain natives) have longer lifespans than those who do not. The reasons are fairly simple – yogurt is a perfect vehicle for probiotic (i.e., healthy bacteria) delivery because of the high calcium content, which effectively buffers the acids in your stomach to ensure those good little critters make it into your gutty-works unharmed and ready to kick some ass. In addition, yogurt is already partially-digested thanks to said bacteria, and is therefore lower in lactose and more easily tolerated by those who can’t otherwise handle milk or cheese. Finally, yogurt is high in whey protein- and this has plenty of benefits for the athlete.

So, the logic of the Paleo diet follows this line of reasoning: eating a diet that our ancestors have adapted to over the span of millions of years will make you healthy, while eating a modern diet that man has not adapted to over 10,000 years (i.e. grains and legumes, the products of agriculture) results in many of the modern health problems we have today. Here’s the kicker: we know certain groups have adapted well to dairy consumption as a result of thousands of years of eating it. This stands mainly for Europeans. Many people of Asian and African descent, as well as native Americans, have problems digesting dairy (as a result of not having a history of ancestral consumption), and should therefore avoid it. So, my concluding message is this: if you are able to handle dairy consumption, reach for that plain yogurt and kefir (but keep the cheese as an occasional vice, and try to stay away from ice cream for the most part).

2. Omitting salt is not a practical guideline for athletes.
This is simple enough. Modern salt recommendations are based off the assumption that most people are sedentary. Athletes lose far more salt in a day than your average office-worker, and failure to replace this salt (as well as a few other electrolytes) leads to a nasty little problem called hyponatremnia. As a frequent salty-sweater and confirmed hot weather exercise wuss, I can tell you that hyonatremnia sucks ass. You feel like you’re floating (in a very uncomfortable, possibly PCP-like way), your hands and feet become clammy and your muscles feel useless and ready to cramp. Paleo authors restricting salt intake makes zero sense for the endurance athlete – those electrolytes need to be replaced, and fast! It’s almost universally accepted that the Paleolithic human was far more active than modern-day homo sapiens, and therefore had the problem of sweating out his precious bodily minerals. (Of course, if you’re an office worker and don’t walk more than the distance from your car to your computer chair, than by all means keep your sodium intake restricted.)

3. Do you care about being healthy or being Paleolithic?
This is a big one. Excepting morally-based veganism, the point of any diet is to improve your health – not fall into a seductive ideology that looks great on paper but doesn’t actually deliver (as happens with raw foodists and fruitarians, who are suffering from a dearth lack of logical faculties in thinking that their diet philosophy makes sense). In any case, following the Paleo diet can quickly turn into a slippery slope for some people. Just keep in mind when you’re eating what researchers currently believe constituted the diet of the Paleolithic man that you’re also (likely) using a refrigerator, oven, stove top, knives, running water and numerous other pieces of technology not available to the ancient man. In addition, you don’t have to run from hyenas and leopards on a daily basis, nor will you die if you don’t locate your next animal kill fast enough.

My point here is this: the Paleo diet is simply a reference point for what to follow. Becoming overly strict on the diet is not likely to end well. Paleo authors don’t wholly agree on what constituted the Paleo man’s diet. Give yourself some wiggle room. We’re trying to be healthy, not Luddites.

4. Leaves scarce room for condiments as a result of being overly rigid.
If one did decide to adopt a strict Paleo diet, they’d find themselves unable to eat a number of delicious modern condiments that make life and eating a lot easier – ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, Sri Racha (since they all contain vinegar and/or sugar and salt), to name a few. If you really want to be strict, the Paleo man didn’t have any oil (though animal fat was in full abundance), so no salad dressings or healthy cooking oils would be allowed either. And even something like almond butter would be pushing it. My point again is not to fall into the tempting slippery slope that the underlying ideology of the diet can foster. Make exceptions; it doesn’t matter how great a diet makes you feel – if it doesn’t also satisfy the essential taste-factor, you’re going to find yourself binging on chocolate cake and bacon doughnuts or later.

5. Advises to skip fatty cuts of meat, when Paleo ancestors almost certainly ate these cuts first.
Okay, I’m just picking straws here, but think about it – do you think the Paleo man, after stalking and slaughtering a wild game animal – politely declined a fatty slab of liver after being offered it? Hell no! If he’s anything like animals killing and eating other animals, he ate it first.

But seriously – modern fat-phobia is a very recent development. If you eat a diet high in unprocessed plants (as you should be on the Paleo diet), the fiber, micronutrient and antioxidant intake are negating a great degree of the negatives associated with animal fat intake. I’m not advocating to start chugging the bacon grease this instant – but don’t kill yourself so much over a little fat here and there. In addition, don’t forget to supplement with omega 3′s.

Another point worth making – our modern factory-farmed meat sucks. Like humans, cows were not adapted to eat corn over the course of millions of years – grass feed beef trumps corn-fed any day. Wild game animals were eating a variety of plants – lending to a variety of micronutrients in their meat. Eating it represented a concentrated source of nutrition – and according to archaeologists, one of the keys to our species’ evolution from Australopithecus, homo erectus and homo habilis into full-fledged homo sapiens. Can the same thing be said about modern factory meat, with its dearth absence of omega-3 fatty acids?

6. Extra prep time.
This is a con to any diet that has you eat more unprocessed foods. Get over it. You’ll save time and money in the long run.

7. Losing the convenience of grains.
Okay, let’s be honest. No bread means no sandwiches. That sucks. Pasta is nice from time to time, as is rice. But sandwiches are portable, and portable is nice.

Tomorrow, I’ll post a review of the upsides of the Paleo diet.

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Meditation on the Bike

There’s something very peaceful, quiet and contemplative about climbing long hills in the rain, alone. To the non-cyclist, this statement appears inane, if not irrational. Even to the casual recreational rider, it doesn’t look like a particularly desirable situation to find oneself in.

But the more I think about it, do it, and talk to others about it, the clearer it becomes: the self-inflicted asceticism of a long hill climb, coupled with the sensory harmony of the rain falling softly on trees, the road, and your body add up to something much greater than the individual parts involved. A good hilly road usually means you’ll be at least partially surrounded by the scenes of nature – greenery, ravines, wildlife, and the fruit of your labors in the view from the top. The pace is not too hard because you know intuitively how much effort you must hold back to make it to the top without blowing up, but at the same time it isn’t easy for the evident reason that hill riding causes you to step beyond a comfort zone.

Tomorrow I’ll wake up early, drink a cup or two of coffee, eat a few choice pieces of fruit, check the weather report and a couple websites, and then lycra up and head out for a ride before my first class. I can only hope for some rain and solitude to spark a few quiet minutes of clarity before trudging into the daily grind of obligations, errands and academia.

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The Platonic Cave

Some food for thought today.


(If you’d like to read the allegory firsthand, go here.)

Plato’s Cave is one of the great archetypal stories of Western civilization. It has been retold before and after the ancient philosopher’s time – in Gnosticism, in the Hindu idea of maya, hermetic philosophy, and in the Matrix, They Live et al. The beauty of the allegory is that it can be interpreted in any number of ways – mystically (freeing the bonds of the physical world to ascend to higher planes of being), politically (transcending the illusion of current events as they are presented on a surface level to examine underlying, hidden forces affecting their outcome), intellectually (the world of ideas being greater than the world of concrete reality), etc. Alfred North Whitehead remarked that all of Western philosophy was but footnotes of Plato – in no small part, it would seem, from Plato’s conception of reality as dualistic, with the idealized Forms separate from the imperfect real ones. The result has been an ensuing debate among the West’s greatest thinkers over the next 2,000 years about whether this is actually true or not, with idealists on one side and realists on another.

In the end, does it really matter? Sometimes, it seems like the study of philosophy can be summed up as an intellectual maze. But Plato’s cave does leave room to ponder and imagine.

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