Crossing the Mississippi

The Mississippi’s mighty. But it starts in Minnesota. At a place that you can walk across with five steps down.

Indigo Girls (Ghost)

I’ve lived in Minnesota for all but the first two years of my life. Growing up I was in Saint Paul, which runs along the Mississippi River. Yet, despite living here for four decades, and living near the mighty river, I’ve never taken the three and a half hour drive to see the headwaters at Itasca State Park.

Two years ago (in 2018) we decided to correct this oversight and we planned a 3 night trip that coincided with the Tour de Pines bike event. However, something came up (don’t even remember what anymore) and we postponed the trip till later. We ended up postponing the trip another three times before COVID came along and the DNR cancelled all reservations anyway.

So now, two full years later, we decided to actually follow through and take the trip. We arrived this afternoon, and of course the first thing we did after setting up camp was drive over to the headwaters to check them out. Sure enough there was a small stream flowing over some rocks out of the northern side of Lake Itasca. It was just like the pictures, and since I was wearing my sandals I waded right in.

The water was surprisingly warm, but I guess it shouldn’t have shocked me since the air temps have been in the 80s for quite a while now. I then proceeded to wander across the 30-40 feet of the outflow and claimed a river crossing on foot. The water never even really got up over my calf. I climbed up the beach on the other side and gazed out over the lake.

It’s amazing to think that something miles wide, thousands of miles away, starts and just a small bubbling creek. It’s truly awe inspiring to think that the same water that ran over my legs has a chance to flow all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Don’t misunderstand, it’s still just a creek coming out of a lake. There’s nothing physically striking about this particular outflow. It looks like many other lake outflows that head into creeks. It’s really more about what it symbolizes, the power of nature to persevere and shape its surroundings, and in turn shape history. Without the Mississippi, much of the country would not be like it is today. Rivers were highways in ages past, and hundreds of towns got their start because they had access to this commercial pipeline. Without it, there would be little reason for many of these places to exist.

Humans are drawn to places of movement and access. Rivers allow us to conduct trade, travel, harvest food, and so many other things. Just like how a few years ago people flocked to the Internet. It’s the modern day equivalent of rivers, carrying information, commerce, and shaping entire lives by it’s presence.

Yet, how we use these pipelines is up to us. Just like rivers can be polluted by muck and waste, so too can our modern pipelines get overrun with shit. It’s important that we think about how we want to shape our future online, as much as we thought about how to treat the waterways of the past.

Not sure how I got onto a diatribe about the Internet, but perhaps being near something monumental brings out the philosopher in me. For now, I’ll end by saying that if you live in Minnesota, it’s worth a trip to see the root of one of the most important features of our state.

Ginger Syrup

During the summer I love a good mule drink. Really simple vodka, ginger beer, lime, and ice. I’ve always wanted to make my own ginger syrup and so today I gave it a try.

I’m a huge fan of Greg from How To Drink, and so I followed his recipe for Ginger Syrup, starting with a full pound of fresh ginger.

The next step is to peel the ginger and chop everything up into medallions. This allows more surface area to let the ginger spice goodness seep into your sauce. I also grated a small bit, per the recommendation from How To Drink.

I added around 2.5 cups of water to the mixture, and also sweetener. I decided to use stevia sweetener since I wanted low calorie, but also sweet. The container that I have called for 2 tbsp of stevia for 1 cup of sugar. I mixed in 4 tbsp (for 2 cups) and stirred it together before putting it on the stove.

I then boiled/simmered it for around 30 minutes. I wasn’t sure if that was long enough, but when I tasted the mixture it had a fair amount of bite. I think in retrospect I could have gone longer than I did (and probably didn’t need quite as much ginger).

I then drained it and put it in jars before chilling.

I tried a little bit of it tonight on it’s own and it’s really got some serious bite. I don’t have any seltzer water, so I’ll need to wait to get some of that before I can truly try a mule.

From what I can tell it went well, and I’m pleased with the end result. Will I do this all the time? I’m not sure. It’s a lot of work to peel and chop that much ginger. However, if the flavor in a mule is as good as it is in my sampling, it might just be worth it.

Recipe

1 lbs Ginger

2.5 cups water

2 cups sugar (or equiv. alternative sweetener)

Peel and chop ginger

Bring to boil and simmer for at least 30 minutes

Drain and chill

Ginger can be saved for eating on it’s own.

The story of a toe

A couple of weeks ago I had an unfortunate run-in with a dumbbell. Not the kind currently trying to take over social media, but the kind that you’re supposed to use to lift weights. And before the jokes start about, “That’s what happens when you try to do strength training”, I wasn’t even using the dumbbell for it’s intended purpose.

I was in the basement looking for a particular box. For some reason I had a 10 lbs dumbbell sitting on the table next to the boxes I was digging though. As I shifted one of the boxes the dumbbell rolled off the table landing squarely on my toe. Thankfully I was wearing some sandals at the time, so there was some cushion, but it still hit hard.

Almost immediately I knew it wasn’t good. However, I never cried out in pain, or heard anything pop or snap. I finished grabbing what I was looking for and then proceeded upstairs to asses the damage. I laid down on the couch and took a look, and sure enough it was already starting to go purple. The pain was starting to increase a lot as well. I checked out all of my toes and could tell not to go near the middle one. A light touch was all it took to realize that it had taken the brunt of the impact. The other toes around it seemed to bend and move just fine, but the middle one was in a heap of trouble.

I called the nurse line to get some advice, and they suggested that if I wanted to get an x-ray and make sure nothing else was wrong, to head up to the local orthopedic urgent care. So we hopped in the car (the wife drove) and headed over. As I slowly limped into the waiting room the pain started to get more intense. Thankfully, I had taken some anti-inflammatories before we left.

The athletic trainer took a look at it, and after a quick consult with the orthopedic, I got sent to x-ray (they were deciding if they should do the whole foot or just the toes). They took some pictures of my toe, and sure enough, the middle toe had snapped right at the tip. The x-ray showed a beautiful picture of the tip of my toe, completely separated from where it was supposed to be.

Then I got the bad news that it would be 6-8 weeks for it to heal, and until that time, running was a no-no. Part of the reason I wanted to get it x-rayed was to confirm a break vs. anything else. If it was just soft tissue damage, I could let it heal for a week and then live with any residual pain while it continues to get back to normal. With a broken toe I need to be careful to let it heal and not re-fracture it with a hard running strike. If I re-fracture it, I’m back to ground zero and the waiting time starts over.

Yet, it’s not all bad news. Biking has been working just fine. I just needed to be careful about how I set my foot down when getting off the bike or coming to a stop. I don’t need to push with my forefoot on the bike (if I don’t want to), so I was able to start biking almost right away the next day. I even managed a great 50 miler today.

Walking has been really slow to come back. My first attempts to go for a walk were painfully slow as I hobbled down the street. I kept it very simple for the first few days before slowly extending my walks further and further. I’ve been walking in very stiff-soled sandals which has helped a lot. However, I was anxiously awaiting the day when I could get back to feeling some more normalcy while walking, even if I couldn’t run for a while. That day was today.

It’s been 16 days now, and each of my morning walks has gotten better and better. I’ve been slowly getting back to my normal walking pace, and my walking form is completely normal again. So this morning I set out for a long walk. I still have things I want to do this Fall, but to do them I need to keep training, and building up stamina. Therefore, even if I only can walk, I need to start upping the miles and putting in the endurance work. I headed out, not sure how exactly how far I’d make it, but I knew it wouldn’t just be a simple walk around the park.

My son joined me, and we headed out on a route that would give him a bail-out point if he wanted it. However, he opted to stick it out with me, and by the time we got back home the watch was at 6.5 miles and I felt fine (well, a couple blisters I need to deal with). We even managed to keep up a really strong pace, and my overall average was under 18/min per mile. I’m really, really happy with how well it went, and I think I might be able to get back to the type of mileage I want rather soon (albeit slower than normal). I’ll probably stick to flatter surfaces for another week or so, just to be sure.

Some of the events coming up that I want to do will involve a lot of walking, so in many ways this is still really good training. Not quite the way I wanted to get my miles in, but I’m happy as a clam to at least have an option. Plus, being able to supplement with long bike rides, helps with all the cardio endurance I need as well.

That’s the story of my toe. It’s broken, but getting better. I’ve also managed to not let it break me.

Quick Review: The Outer Worlds

I’ve wanted to lose myself in a video game lately, and recently saw that The Outer Worlds was now available on the Nintendo Switch. It reminded me that the game existed, but the initial reviews of the Switch port were somewhat mediocre. So, I opted to pick it up on XBox One, which worked out in my favor since it was on sale on that platform.

The Outer Worlds is a first person RPG in an expansive set of worlds in the distant future. You’re awoken from cryo-sleep after being adrift for longer than intended. You wake up into a world where corporations control everything, and the colony you were destined for is struggling to survive. There’s not much time to figure things out before you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, trying to survive.

The gameplay is typical for titles in this genre. You have typical first person shooter controls and weapons for battles, but it’s augmented by a deeper interaction system, as well as a robust skill tree system. You can travel around and interact with the environment in an open-world format, learning more and more about where you are, and why you’re there. You meet companions on the way, each with a backstory that you can delve in to and explore.

The game is structured around completing an every expanding series of quests that helps unfold the story. You spend time going back and forth between different locations (and different planets) fulfilling tasks that slowly build upon one another. However, your path through the story is unique to you, and your choices allow you to craft your adventure in a way that you see fit. You may decide to be a lone wolf, or maybe you want to be a jerk to everyone. You’re given options to go into situations with guns blazing, or try your hand at diplomacy. Although I haven’t finished the game yet, I’ve been told there are multiple endings that you can achieve. It reminds me a lot of Deus Ex (the original) which ushered in this genre of gameplay and storytelling in a FPS context.

In terms of issues with the game, the combat system is pretty simplistic (at least on normal difficulty). I miss not having thrown weapons, but thankfully it’s never left me feeling like I can’t overpower a situation. The time dilatation mechanic is cool, but sometimes feels tacked on. I also wish there were more options for getting up and down surfaces, instead, many places are simply blocked with a wall, and you can’t do anything about it.

None of this detracts from the engaging story though. I’m really enjoying learning more about this world, and interacting with it. The writers have done a great job in crafting an engaging place to play, and I’ve found myself staying up way too late following clue after clue. One of the best compliments of a game (in my mind) is not wanting to put it down, and sacrificing sleep to play more and more. The Outer Worlds delivers on this engagement front, and I’m anxious to see how the second half finishes out. When I bought it, it was on sale on the XBox store, but really, any platform you play it on should be fine, since the story is what’s key.

Seeking more health improvements through plants

Most people who have known me for a while know that I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs when it comes to general health (not any specific ailment). After my divorce I put on a lot of weight (I wasn’t terribly healthy before either), and found myself in a place I didn’t want to be. Back in 2010 I made some hard choices and overhauled how much food I was eating, and took up running. The difference was amazing. I lost around 40 pounds in 6 months and was running a half marathon by the end of the year.

Since that time I’ve kept the running going, added in biking, and generally managed to maintain a mostly healthy lifestyle. But despite all of that a few of my numbers haven’t ever been that good. In particular, my cholesterol tests has consistently shown me in the elevated range (over 200), or just right below it. After some issues earlier this year, I was sent in for a CT Angiogram. In this test they put you in a CT scanner and inject you with radioactive dye to get a clear mapping of your arteries and heart.

When I got the results back, I was told that I had a calcium score of 11. Now on a scale of 1-300 that’s not bad. However, with years of high cholesterol tests, it put me solidly in the “mild” category, and the with it came the recommendation to start a low dose statin. Not the words I wanted to hear.

Don’t get me wrong, I know statins have worked well for many people, but I really don’t want to start a drug that is basically considered a lifetime drug. I decided that it was time for some radical shifts in diet, to see if this is something that I can get under my control. I opted not to start the statin, and instead have embarked on the journey of a plant-based whole-food diet.

We picked up a subscription to Forks over Knives meal planner (review coming in the future), and for the last few weeks I have cut out meat and dairy almost completely. The meal planner made this a lot easier than doing it alone, but it’s certainly been a big shift in our eating habits. I went from a pretty big meat eater, to a 99% vegan.

However, the one thing I can’t complain about are the results. When I started this diet I started tracking my blood pressure and weight every day, as well as journaled a few thoughts on how it’s been going. One other marker that had been inching a lot higher in recent years was my blood pressure level, so I was hoping this might have a positive effect on it as well.

When I started this my blood pressure was averaging around 125/76. Not bad, but the American Heart Association considers this “elevated”. In the most recent 15 days I’ve dropped that to 110/72, which is solidly in the normal range. In addition I started this journey at 177 lbs, and this morning weighed in at 165. That’s a HUGE result just over 20 days in.

On top of it all, I’m enjoying the food we’re eating. Some recipes have been flops, but we’ve found so many that are really solid, that I haven’t missed my old eating habits as much as I thought I would. In fact, what I pine for most often is “convenience”. I miss the idea of just opening a tasty bag of chips and scarfing that down, instead of doing the work of making something that is just as filling, but healthier. This certainly takes more work, but along the way we’re finding lots of things that bring back some of that ease.

The real test will be in August when I go back for a cholesterol test. If I am not showing any signs of improvement on that test, then I’m probably headed for a statin. However, if it looks like I’m making solid progress, then I’m going to keep going, and keep getting my lipids tested every three months for the next year, possibly going in to get another CT Angiogram at the end.

It’s full steam ahead on a change that is hopefully what my body has been asking for. And don’t worry, I’m not turning into an evangelist. I’m just looking for what works right for me, and right now, this seems to be what’s getting me results.