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My Peruvian Misadventures

Some of you may have seen on twitter, but I had a partially disastrous trip to Peru. I developed High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). Apparently HAPE is really hit and miss. Could be genetics, could be I was a little sick and over compensated, could be my lungs were damaged from COVID last fall. Anyway here is my somewhat running journal of what happened.

I hiked a 15,700’ mountain pass in the Andes with High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and survived to make this description.

I’ve been planning an Andes adventure for a couple of years now with the trip postponed last year due to the pandemic. Finally got it set for first two to weeks of Sept. I trained by walking around the St Paul hills and lots of stair work too. Unfortunately you can’t train for altitude in Minnesota.

I arrived in Cusco (elev 11,000’) 2 days early, did some walking around and included a steep walk to a religious statue with a 700’ elevation gain in just over a mile. Did great. The first day was a drive from Cusco with an elevation gain of 3,000’ then a warm up hike of 7 miles all above 14,000. Did well, no ill effects. Some heavy breathing at steep parts but to be expected.

Things went bad in my tent at night. I had a constant nonproductive cough that kept me awake all night. Literally a short cough every 5 seconds from 8:00p to 6:00a. I slept, if at all, for maybe 20 minutes. Next day on hike I had literally no energy. I need constant breaks and while I was gasping in buckets of air, other hikers just waiting breathing somewhat normally.

After a beautiful mountain glacier lake we we headed up to a pass at 15,700 feet. I made it but a big struggle. Rest of the route was generally downward but some rises too. Overall 9.65 miles of hiking, all over 14,500 feet in elevation.

We checked my o2 sats at camp and I was hitting about 60 percent. 86 percent is considered pretty good at that elevation and I was given o2 to help. That night again the constant unproductive cough. And no sleep. So two days, 17 miles hiking in 14,100-15,700 elevations and no sleep.

Next day I was given remaining o2 but would now ride a horse as we had two passes at 16,665 that day. No way I was making it 9.95 miles without a horse. Camp that night at 15,700 feet. It snowed two inches on tent that night. I just hunkered in my tent from approximately 3:00p on. At one time my o2 sat was 58% and once I put boots on to pee outside tent, got back in sleeping bag exhausted. O2 sat was 50%. More o2 had to be taxied 3 hours from Cusco and then brought by horse another 20 minutes. It arrived at 11:30pm.

Next day another horse day but we would get to place where taxi could bring me back to Cusco. 7 miles of riding but I had to get off horse a couple of times because downhill was too steep to be safe riding. Taxi arrived at literally “mountain road ends at an Alpaca Hut.” But 3 hours later I was in Cusco hoping lower altitude would help. Unfortunately it didn’t help at all.

Next day Expedition company took me to clinic for Covid test (negative) and then for tests. Cat Scan showed lungs 30-40 percent compromised. Some docs thought Covid and was a big controversy. Finally the most senior doc said no Covid. But HAPE. Went to ICU with regimen of o2 and steroids. Numbers improved. Did hyperbaric chamber for 1 hour next day. But now docs being weird. They were ignoring me and expedition company thought they were going to try to milk my stay.

There were two other expedition events planned for Saturday and Sunday I was hoping to do. The sacred Inca Valley and Machu Picchu - both at lower elevations. No arduous hikes, sleep in city hotels. Alas Sacred Valley had to scratched. We basically broke out of hospital Saturday afternoon by insisting that I had a plane to catch back to US. My numbers looked good (enough) and I could survive. It took some cajoling but I was released.

Aside: I was in hospital 4 days, 2 in ICU and 2 in a private room. 3 hyperbaric chamber sessions, CT Lung Scan, blood work, etc. Cost: $1,650. Meds extra but less than $200. We have a serious medical cost issue in this country.

To make it to Machu Picchu for the last train of the evening we had to catch a taxi and rush through Cusco Saturday night traffic, a rock slide outside of town and police checkpoint. Lots of stimulation for a guy who just spent 4 days in hospital hooked to o2. Made the train by 8 minutes. But through some expert coordination was able to make it to Aguas Caliente that evening to meet up with the group for an early morning (5:30a) train ride the next day to Machu Picchu. Which is even at a lower elevation, roughly 8,200 feet.

And there I am, Machu Picchu, weary, woozy, kinda emotional, but breathing and enjoying the heck out of all of it. Fin.

Parentgood: New Phases

It's been a little while since we had one of these, right? And with school starting, it seemed an opportune time.

My family is moving into a new phase this year - all 4 of my kids are in full-time school, with the youngest starting Kindergarten. My oldest is in 6th grade, which is still Elementary where we are, so for this one year all 4 kids will be at the same school. We've been talking about this for 5 years, ever since Heidegger was born.

Philosofette has a part-time job at the school, in the classrooms, this year too, which should be excellent for the family. Or the rest of them at least. I'm all alone.

Anyway, it's been a real gut punch. I'm super excited for the future for all my kids, but also kids grow up too fast, and I don't want any more time to slip away.

Also, here's a sappy poem I wrote. Someone feel free to edit it to be better and more effective - emotionally I'm a wreck right now because my kids are growing up too fast, so I'm no condition to fix a poem about my kids growing up too fast.

To my daughter, now all grown
On the eve of school’s first day
To that happy girl whose beauty shone
Whenever we would play

I can’t believe you’ve come so far
So fast, the time has flown
My pride and joy you truly are
My love expanding as you’ve grown

This night before I sit on edge
I can’t believe it’s almost here
Now to leap from home’s safe ledge
The morn draws ever near

The doors will close, the bell will ring
Your attendance will be marked
While to the past your father clings
Your future now embarked

To my daughter, now all grown
As the time slips still away
Go out and make this world your own
And know I love you more each day

---------

Alright... everyone with kids older than me, tell me it'll be alright and how wonderful this next phase is too. While I wait for people to do that, I'm gonna go look at their baby books.

WGOM Fitness: Progress, but at a cost

As I've mentioned before I both refurbished my bike and was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Both events lit the proverbial fire under me in terms of getting the exercise I just hadn't been getting enough of.  Overall, its been a great success! I was in pretty bad shape as of 2-3 years ago and had plateaued after only losing about ten pounds. This summer, though, I've pushed that weight loss to over 50 pounds and am on the verge of dropping below 200 lbs for the first time in over a decade. I look and feel pretty amazing. I've been working up my riding to where I am doing about 80-100 miles per week, or so, although I feel a bit like I've plateaued on gainz there, the weight is still coming off. As a result, I am already off of insulin and I'll find out in a couple weeks how my A1C is doing. In short, biking rules.

My second reason for writing this, though, is something of a warning. Shortly after I got out of the hospital, the ring and pinkie finger on my left hand stopped working like they are supposed to. I basically can't move them towards the rest of my fingers. It makes doing simple things like tying my shoes difficult. At first I figured it might be related to the diabetes, but since it was only in my left hand was told that was not the case. I didn't immediately make the connection to the increased amount of cycling I'd been doing. Seems I've come down with a case of cyclsists palsy. I am almost certain I've been putting too much weight on my hands while I ride, so I am starting to look into getting a professional fit done to see if I can alleviate that. (and spreading copious amounts of NSAID gel on my arm). One of the hospitals in Madison does it, so I'm hoping it can be covered by the insurance.

Anyway, moral of the story is, biking rules but do it wisely. Building your own bike from scratch also rules, but you gotta be very cognizant of where you locate everything. Hopefully the damage to my nerve is not permanent, but take a lesson from me here.

(but also, seriously and holy crap, I've lost over 50 lbs and am working on getting to 60. I'm very impressed with myself, ngl.)

Women’s Hockey Whangdoodle: IIHF World Championships

Over the next 12 days, the best women hockey players in the world will convene in Calgary and play a 10-team tournament that will set the stage for the 2022 Winter Olympics.  In a fractured professional women's hockey landscape, this is a pretty rare opportunity to see the best in the world face off against each other in a way they don't often get to do.

Continue reading Women’s Hockey Whangdoodle: IIHF World Championships

Third Monday Movie Day: Up And Comers

Here's just an amazing thread on the staggering amount of talent (not limited to acting) that guest starred on Miami Vice of all shows:

What's one performance you remember, TV or movies, where you noted someone special, only to see them subsequently blow up?

The World’s Greatest Online Magazine Presents The Half-Baked Podcast: 08.5: Quarter Baked

Okay, so the first half of this podcast is still in the shop. We talked about the Wild and their future in that part, and hopefully we can get that fixed up soon.

The second half, which did survive unfortunately, was all about the Twins. Oh, and we feature some songs from the Summer Mix (which is soooooo good).

The World’s Greatest Online Magazine’s 2021 Summer Mix

Hey, gang! I know I say this every year, but I think the mix turned out pretty great this year. Like last year, the easiest way to consume it is to look up WGOM on your favorite podcast app (except the spotty one). I'll set up a link shortly to download the full file if that's your thing.

Anyway, here's your mix!

Music Band - Heat
Visioneers - Ike’s Mood I
Angel Olsen & Sharon Van Etten - Like I Used To
Julien Baker - Hardline
Orchestra Baobab - Sibam
Los Master Plus con Caloncho - Vengache Pa'ca
Diamond Rio - Poultry Promenade
George Benson - Give Me the Night
Billy Stewart - Summertime
Bosse - Augen zu Musik
Miss Grit - Dark Side of the Party
Car Seat Headrest - Something Soon
Cory Hanson - Angeles
SZA - Good Days
Iceage - Shelter Song
La Santa Cecilia - Mar Y Cielo
Waxahatchee - Can't Do Much
Ozuna, Doja Cat, and Sia - Del Mar
Mint Royale - Show Me
Translator - O Lazarus
Mannequin Pussy - Drunk II
Yola - Diamond Studded Shoes
Rostam - 4Runner
Dr. Hook - Sharing the Night Together
Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive

Basic Bar: Spirits

Introduction

Building up a personal bar can be a delicious voyage of self-discovery. It can also be pretty flipping expensive, particularly if you develop a taste for vintage spirits or specialized cocktails (Tiki, for example). The good news is that there's been a lot of thought put into various schemes for stocking a nascent bar or for dealing with limited space for your cocktail ephemera.

I'm going to tip my hat to the various discussions of 9–12 bottle bars that were in vogue a half-dozen years ago or so. Like building a starting lineup and bench in baseball, it's good to have a few stars supported by several quality players who have positional flexibility. I'm going to divide the basic bar into three categories — spirits, liqueurs, & augmentors — with dedicated posts. That's where this conversation starts; where it ends is basically determined by a combination of your desire to explore, your palate, and your wallet.

One thing to remember: the marketing arms of every distiller & distributor on the plant expend a great amount of money & effort trying to convince you that you need to stock their bottles, which has both credible (the company has lasted forever) and dubious (the equipment/formula/technique to produce the spirit or liqueur has changed over time) claims to longevity. Beyond that, you'll be assailed by every claim of exclusivity & intangibles you can think of, and probably many you couldn't. Follow your tongue — the best bottle for you is one that tastes good and that you can afford to keep on hand.

Spirits

Unless you know from past experience you don't like one of the distillates below, you should probably plan on having a bottle of each of the following in your bar:

  • gin
  • rum
  • tequila
  • vodka
  • whisk(e)y

With these, you'll have the base ingredient for most classic cocktails & quite a range of modern ones. My personal bar varies here because I don't drink whiskey often, but I love brandy, which I think most folks outside of the state where I reside view as a luxury spirit, if they think of it much at all. More on brandy, which actually figures significantly in both the classic and pre-classic cocktail eras, in a future installment.

Let's take each spirit in order, looking at the styles within, and good options for stocking a bar. I'll provide some selections at the Rail (~$20/bottle) and Call ($25+/bottle) level.

Gin

Rail: Aviation, Beefeater, Citadelle, Knickerbocker, Tanqueray
Call: Ford's, Junipero, Hendrick's, Plymouth, St. George Terroir

Gin can be pretty divisive. Some people like feeling as if they're drinking a glass of conifer juice, and some people really don't. The good news is, there are balanced and even juniper-neutral gins available. You probably already know whether you like a strong juniper taste in your gin, but if you don't, purchasing a couple single-serving bottles of options below and mixing up a Gin & Tonic will orient your preferences.

Classic, Juniper-Forward Gin

A London Dry or any of the modern, New World Gin descendants of that style will suit this preference. The classics here are Beefeater and Tanqueray; Beefeater is almost always considered a good value buy. The more modern takes — Junipero or St. George Terroir, for example — will set you back about half again the price of the bottle of Beefeater, but if you like this style, they're available as a treat.

Plymouth, both a brand and a wholly distinct style of its own, has juniper notes that are bit softer (and to me, more nuanced) than London Dry. It has fruit & spice components; I generally prefer it if I'm making a cocktail with a "classic" gin. Plymouth is a bit spendy, so I chose my drinks carefully and alternate it with Knickerbocker (see below) as my rail gin. There's nothing quite like it.

Contemporary, Juniper-Balanced Gin

Given the relative recency of most gins that foreground botanicals other than juniper, there aren't many archetypal spirits that are going to be available in all markets. The most ubiquitous is probably Hendrick's; Aviation has been around for a while and seems to have some distribution legs behind it at this point. I happen to really like New Holland's Knickerbocker, which balances citrus & spices, and Suntory's Roku, which adds six (thus the name) Japanese botanicals to the traditional mix. Ford's gets a lot of love for a gin that mixes well in a variety of cocktails. Citadelle — which is one of the older "contemporary" options, dating back to 1989 — is a bit more budget-friendly and was one of the pilots of the move toward contemporary gins that heavily emphasize botanicals other than juniper.

Rum

Rum is a spirit you could spend decades exploring, and people develop strong affinities to countries of origin, particular houses, or production methods. It definitely is not an archetype — forget what you know about rum if most of what you've tasted comes from one producer in Puerto Rico.

Strictly speaking, you could make any cocktail calling for light or silver rum with an aged rum and have a delicious drink on your hands. So you don't strictly need two bottles here, particularly to start. I'm skipping the Overproof/Navy Strength, "dark," and spiced types here.

A note: below I recommend rums produced under the Plantation label. Plantation is produced in Barbados by Maison Ferrand, a Cognac house. Due to the colonialist, slave-holding implications of that name, Maison Ferrand committed to renaming the rum following Derek Chauvin's murder of George Floyd. The new name has not yet been announced.

Light/Silver
Rail: Appleton White, El Dorado 3-Year, Flor de Caña Extra Seco 4-Year, Plantation 3 Stars
Call: Caña Brava Rum Blanca, Rhum J.M. Agricole Blanc, Ron Diplomatico Planas, The Real McCoy 3-Year

Plantation 3 Stars is such a good rum at such a nice price that I can't see a real reason to get anything else here unless you have a very strong preference for a particular country of origin, mode of distillation, or flavor profile. There are plenty of variations within those three areas to explore, so you should cycle through until you find one you particularly like. I'll admit this is a category where I've pretty much found what feels like the sweet spot to me.

Aged (5+ years)
Rail: El Dorado 5-Year, Flor de Caña Gran Reserva 7-Year
Call: El Dorado 8-Year, Plantation Barbados 5-Year, Ron Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva, The Real McCoy 5-Year

A bottle in this category should serve you for both mixing cocktails and sipping on its own, straight or on the rocks. I'll admit to keeping multiple bottles of aged rum in my bar — right now I have Plantation Barbados 5-Year, Ron Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva, & El Dorado 15-Year (sipping only), plus I recently finished a bottle of Real McCoy 5-Year. Rum, like whiskey, is a spirit that invites a lot of exploration between countries of origin, distillers, production methods, spirit ages, and more.

Tequila

As with rum, if you’re starting out, you really only need either a blanco/plata or a reposado. With a budget in mind, I’d go with the blanco unless you’re sure you’re a tequila drinker.

One thing to note with tequila is that there's an additional environmental consideration that doesn't factor into most other spirits (mezcal excepted). Agave takes significantly longer to grow than grain crops — seven years until it's ready for production, and twelve years to reach maturity. Buying one bottle isn't going to destroy the planet, but if you develop a taste for tequila, supporting makers that produce the spirit with ethical, sustainable practices is a very good idea.

Blanco/Plata
Rail: Cazadores Blanco, El Jimador Blanco, Espolón Blanco, Milagro Silver, Olmeca Altos Plata, 1800 Reserva Silver
Call: Don Julio Blanco, El Tesoro Blanco

Do yourself a favor — don't buy any tequila you heard of in college (unless you went to college in Mexico). Those spirits are mixtos — 51% tequila, 49% other stuff. A perfectly decent 100% agave blanco tequila will run you a few bucks more and will taste much better. Espolón was, until recently, an exceptional value — I regularly could get a 750ml bottle for under $20. I still stock it as my rail tequila, but any of these above would serve just as well. You don't want to go too pricey here, at least if you're primarily drinking tequila in cocktails. If you're interested in mixing in a bit of sipping, wait until a call bottle goes on sale.

Reposado
Rail: El Jimador Reposado, Espolón Reposado, Olmeca Altos Reposado
Call: Casamigos Reposado, El Tesoro Reposado, Herradura Reposado (or Double Barrel Reposado)

No need to go crazy here, either, although this is where you can verge into a bottle that does double-duty or is primarily a sipper with an occasional cocktail that calls for a reposado. I stick with Espolón and save my aged agave funds for mezcal or the occasional really nice añjeo tequila.

Vodka

Rail: Chopin Potato, Ketel One, Prairie Organic, Reyka, Russian Standard, Russian Standard Gold, Wheatley
Call: Belvedere, Beluga Noble, Chopin Wheat, Chopin Rye

You have a ton of choices when it comes to vodka. However, that doesn't mean that all vodkas are the same. Despite being a neutral, unaged spirit, vodkas can have distinctive characteristics, particularly when it comes to earthiness, minerality, oiliness, & spiciness. I've avoided a few of the big names — the regular versions of Abolut & Stolichnaya are perfectly decent, but I don't feel like rewarding their marketing departments. A well-stocked supermarket liquor department should have at least two of the options listed above.

Prairie Organic is based in Minnesota, made from 100% Midwestern corn, and uses zero-waste distilling practices. Several years ago I brought a bottle to as a host give a Ukrainian friend who put me up in Brighton Beach during an extended layover (involving La Guardia & JFK) on my way to Moscow — he gave it his seal of approval. If you're looking for a Russian vodka, you can't go wrong with Russian Standard, which is made from winter wheat and water from Lake Ladoga. (I also recommend Russian Standard Gold, if you’d like a little Siberian ginseng in your vodka). These are the two all-purpose vodkas I keep in my bar. I do enjoy drinking vodka neat, so I rotate others through as well.

As for the other rail options: Reyka is Icelandic, made from Scottish barley, Ketel One (Dutch) & Wheatley (Kentucky) are made from wheat, and Chopin Potato is Polish and made from what you would suspect given that information.

Whisk(e)y

Rail: Evan Williams Bourbon, Old Grand-dad Bonded, Rittenhouse Rye 100, Wild Turkey 101
Call: Dad's Hat Pennsylvania Rye, Elijah Craig 12 Year Bourbon, Sazerac Straight Rye, Wild Turkey Rare Breed (Bourbon or Rye)

Truth be told — I'm not the best person to ask about whisk(e)y. I enjoy a couple whisk(e)y-based cocktails occasionally, but I much prefer rum & tequila (or mezcal), whether for cocktails or sipping. I’ll admit that I only keep a couple bottles of whisk(e)y in my bar — a bottle of Elijah Craig 12 year old bourbon, and bottle of 116-proof bourbon made by a distillery near our friends' place in far-west Chicagoland do the heavy lifting. I would probably get a bottle of rye, were I likely to be mixing drinks for anyone favoring that type.

We'll skip Canadian, Japanese, Irish, & Scotch whisk(e)ys for the basic bar — these are worthy libations, and you could make many whisk(e)y-forward cocktails with them, but most of the time you'd be well-served with a bottle of bourbon or rye. Based on my visits to well-stocked supermarkets & liquor stores, there is a near IPA-level of hype & demand for American whiskey — bourbon having been ascendant for several years now, and rye following close behind. Follow your palate, ask people whose opinions you value, and don't get soaked on the purchase price.

WGOM Fitness: Happy, But Not Satisfied

We haven't had a dedicated fitness post in a while, so I thought I'd kick one off.

I'd mentioned a while back that I've made some progress in the weight loss category. On January 4th I weighed in at (a holiday-inflated, late-in-the-day inflated) 236. That was the highest I've ever been. This morning I weighed in at 206. The weight loss has been pretty consistent - about a pound a week, sometimes less, sometimes a little more (30 lbs over 24 weeks - that math works out).

The thing is, it has really only been small changes that have paid off. A quick list of some of those changes/factors that contributed:

1. I have essentially given up pop.
2. I had Covid (lost a few extra pounds that week, post-covid parsomia contributes to not wanting to eat so much).
3. Far less snacking at night. I'm not quite doing intermittent fasting, but I suppose it is structurally similar. A little bit of leeway with myself keeps it from feeling oppressive.
4. Lunches from home. I've often gone through spells where I don't plan ahead and/or go home for lunch, and that often leads to eating something from the gas station kitchen, or one of the few restaurants in town, or stopping at the grocery store and grabbing something microwavable. Philosofette has been at home over the past 6 months, and that's enabled a lot more attention to my lunchtime diet.
5. Finding small activity. More walks. I took Aquinas kayaking a few weeks ago. I started a small amount of lifting 2 times a week. I'm making sure I'm playing ball or tossing around the frisbee with my kids more often. Etc. Just finding little things, instead of feeling like I need to go for a run.

Ultimately, turning 40 was a really good motivator for me. I knew that was coming up, so I had a good goal in mind and I was able to stick with it. Then, I quickly set another goal and I'm working towards that. Keeping the goals at the forefront has been what has enabled the other changes.

I genuinely don't remember the last time my weight was this low. Probably at least 10 years - I think I came out of law school over 200 (law school was very unkind to me weight-wise). But even though I weighed about the same 10 years ago, I know that weight sat a lot better - it was more muscle, less fat - so I'm aware of how much further I have to go. Essentially, I'm happy, but not satisfied. Because, when it really comes down to it, I think the goal-setting has been as important as anything else.

The Name is Collins, Tom Collins

Hot weather and cold drinks go together like biscuits and gravy. Beer is always a welcome refreshment when the mercury starts pole vaulting, it's easy to grab one from the fridge after work, pop the cap and slake that thirst. But sometimes you want something frostier, something on ice, and it's natural to look to the southern latitudes for inspiration. That usually means rum or tequila, and there's a wide variety of cocktails based on those liquors to choose from. But for me, one of the best choices for a cold drink on a hot day is the classic Tom Collins.

One of the things I like about cocktails, besides the tastes and the relaxing effect, is that they can be both a beverage and an historical artifact. Many of them have a story behind their origin, sometimes that story is muddled or shrouded in a little mystery, and some can even take on the trappings of legend. The Tom Collins is a good example. As the story goes, the drink is likely derived from the gin punches that were popular in London pubs in the 1800s. At some point a bartender named John Collins apparently attached his name to his version of the drink. But since Old Tom gin was the preferred brand of the day, customers started calling for a Tom Collins instead, and the name stuck.

It's wise to take a lesson from history when you want a Tom Collins and make sure you're using quality gin because the flavor is going to come through and there are few bad liquors worse than cheap gin. Other than that, the recipe for this country club staple is easy peasy. Simple syrup, lemon juice, gin, and club soda. Just double the ingredients as you build the drink in a highball glass with ice - half an ounce of syrup, one ounce of lemon juice, and two ounces of gin. Fill the rest of the glass with club soda (about two ounces), stir, and garnish with a lemon slice or wedge and a cherry if you like. If that's too much work for you, I've come up with a variation that's even easier. Substitute the simple syrup and lemon juice with Spring Grove Lemon Sour soda in equal measure with club soda, so two ounces of each ingredient. It's not an exact replica because there's more sugar in the mix, but if you have a sweet tooth, or if you're too lazy to squeeze a lemon, or if you've run out of simple syrup, it'll do in a pinch.