Sunday, August 21, 2011

sorry for the lack of updates

It's been a while since I last wrote anything on this blog. Here's a quick and dirty update:

My mother's Honda Civic died on me back in June-- the transmission had had enough, I guess. I ended up selling the car to the guy who towed it: he's an Armenian who runs his own combination gas station, used car lot, and towing service. Nice guy. He gave me $2000 for the car, which is about what I'd been hoping for.

At my brother David's suggestion, I got myself a used Honda Fit from a local dealer; it's a 2008 model and runs quite well. Given my scarily long commute to work (90 miles, round trip, every day), I've already put over 4000 miles on the car, which had only 38,000 miles on it when I bought it. Well, "bought" isn't exactly the word: I'm financing the car through Capital One, and I've had to upgrade my insurance to full coverage, so it's more like the car bought me: I'm a slave to it. The Fit's not perfect, either: all of its tires need changing. I'm hoping this doesn't become a safety issue before I have the money to change everything. The last thing I need is to plow into a ditch at 80 miles an hour because of a popped tire.

My job has been good to me: I'm happy with my bosses and coworkers, and have gotten more or less used to the strange 3-on-1 tutoring format (three students and one teacher, with each student being of a different grade and working on a different subject). Most of the kids I teach are pretty good, and I've enjoyed an expanded summer schedule. Unfortunately, the job doesn't pay nearly as much as I need to be paid to cover my expenses, so I've been gunning for a new job at Manhattan GRE, a company that pays $100 an hour to employees who teach GRE prep. You can't work for MGRE, however, unless you're able to score at least a 730 on the Verbal and an 800 on the Quantitative. I took the GRE in July and scored 710 on each (along with-- to my delight-- a 5.5 out of 6 on the Analytical Writing section, which put me in the 94th percentile). Just to put my scores in perspective: a 710 Verbal is 98th percentile, but a 730 would be 99th. A 710 Quant is, alas, barely in the 80th percentile: even a perfect Quant score is 94th percentile. I guess most GRE test-takers are generally better at math than they are at language.

This coming Friday, August 26th, I'm taking the GRE again, and will try yet again three more times this year if I can: you're allowed one try per month, up to five times a year. In the meantime, since I can't spend months waiting for test results, I'm hanging out my own tutoring shingle. To that end, I've created a website called Time, Effort, and Focus; it's still a work in progress, but you can see the About page here. My hope is to make some extra money through private tutoring.

I also recently renewed my apartment rental contract. All of these things-- the car trouble, the job, the tutoring, the apartment, etc.-- they all point to the fact that I won't be going on my trans-American walk anytime soon, not unless one of my readers is a multimillionaire with several thousand dollars to spare! So stay tuned, but don't expect much walk-related blogging for the next few months. Until I get my financial house in order (and this is taking longer than expected), I won't be moving forward with the walk. At this point, I'd say I won't be walking until sometime in 2012, at the earliest. My finances come first. I'm sure you understand, and I thank you for your patience.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Sorry for the lack of updates here, but life's been stressful, especially over the past week: my car decided to die on me, so I'm currently in the process of acquiring a new (used) car, and am driving around my buddy's sedan while he and his family are on vacation in their SUV. Would love for the skies simply to rain $100 bills for about an hour or so; that would solve a lot of immediate problems! But this is the real world, so the solutions available to me are messy and arduous. More on this drama as it unfolds.


Friday, June 10, 2011

a good resource

For those trying to stay current with new developments in brain cancer research, I'm happy to note that the news website Science Daily ( has a section devoted entirely to that very topic. I'll be bookmarking this.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

over the fence

Many thanks to old family friend Jin Kang for his $150 contribution to the cause. I was previously $50 under my goal of $800, and now I'm $100 over.

In the ensuing weeks and months, I'll be writing more about the progress toward establishing a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, but for now I just want to say thank you to all the people who have contributed money. Monetarily speaking, I can now successfully file for exemption status, but there are still a few things I need to do in terms of paperwork and administration (a 501[c][3] is supposed to have a board of directors!).

So stay tuned.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Marissa's miracle

Marissa blogs about her recent experience at Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center here. In a week or so, a followup MRI will be done, and the team will see where to go from there.

It's not irrational to hope that she's in for a long-- perhaps indefinite-- reprieve from the ravages of this monster. She's at a point where it's conceivable that she might be one of the lucky few who get to walk around essentially cancer-free for years and years. I do so hope that's the case.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

$50 from the goal

Many thanks to Maven, who very kindly mailed me a money order for $100. We're close. We're close to a point where I can fill out some paperwork and really get this 501(c)(3) thing rolling.


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

short week

Last week was a short week for me, since I didn't have any classes to teach last Wednesday, but this week is also short because we were all off on Monday. Feels a bit unreal.

In other news: I'm still trying to figure out how best to market my speaking gigs. Perhaps the best thing to do is to hit up the local Korean community and start there, but I suspect that the primary audience for a talk about glioblastoma and the need for proactive patient advocacy will be found elsewhere. So as the marketers would ask: who's the target demographic? If you've visited the eBay listing, you know that I took a stab at what I thought the target market was: friends and families of GBM victims. But even though GBM is the most common of the various types of brain cancer, it's still fairly rare in terms of the entire US population. I can't possibly expect to gather those scattered folks together for a series of speaking engagements.

Maybe the focus should be more on Mom and the walk. Instead of aiming directly at affected families, I need to take the personal angle-- put a face on GBM by describing Mom and what we've gone through, then talk about the walk that I'm hoping to do. Up to now, I've been assuming that the approach should be to mention the walk only at the very end of the presentation: "Proceeds from tonight's talk will help fund the upcoming walk, and will be placed in the [future] 501(c)(3), etc."

In any event, I'm looking at another short week, which means tighter-than-usual finances.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

I hope she's OK

I find myself thinking a lot about Marissa Parks today. She went in for her first major brain surgery yesterday (Friday), and I'm hoping to hear from her father sometime this weekend. Because I know how draining this process is, I'll understand completely if he doesn't want to talk. I probably wouldn't want to talk, either.

Marissa's story hasn't followed the same path as my mother's. Normally, when it comes to GBM, debulking (i.e., the removal-- surgeons call it resection-- of the major part of the initial cancerous mass) occurs at the very beginning, very soon after it's been determined that the mass is in fact a glioblastoma. One reason for this is to relieve intracranial pressure; another is to get rid of as much of the cancer as possible. My mother's own path through treatment followed this standard pattern; in Marissa's case, however, it was determined that the location of her initial mass would make excision of the tumor difficult. Marissa went right into the standard one-two punch of radio- and chemotherapy, and there were, last I heard, some positive results from all that. Still, GBMs are persistent, and the latest MRIs showed evidence of neoplastic tissue (i.e., new cancerous growth). This turn of events, coupled with the fact that corticosteroids haven't been helping with the intracranial pressure, is what necessitates the current surgery. Luckily, Marissa chose MD Anderson. Smart lady.

I've never met Marissa or her parents. I've corresponded with her, briefly, and have read her blog, on those rare occasions when she sits still enough to update it. I've talked to Marissa's dad a couple times by phone, and have emailed with him quite a few times. The picture I have of Marissa is that she's a young, strong-willed, independent lady, bursting with life. She's a doer; sitting down to write updates for a blog cuts in on the time she'd rather be spending with friends, or fundraising, or just living life. I hope she has the chance to keep doing this. I hope she has years ahead of her. None of us knows when the Fates will snip the threads of our existence, so it's important to live in appreciation of every moment we have.

My heart goes out to Marissa's parents. I imagine their daughter is in the ICU, resting after her surgery, and looking as if she's just been in a fight. I know what it means to hold vigil over someone in a bed, hooked up to monitors and tubes; I know what it means to interpret every twitch of the recumbent person's form as if it were filled with meaning. I know how it feels when that person starts to wake up, when you squeeze her hand and she finally-- finally squeezes back. And I know what it means, after the person wakes up, to be flooded with those conflicting emotions: the angel on one shoulder that says It's going to be all right, now, and the demon on the other shoulder that whispers, Yes, but just for now. Just for now. Only for now.

Some of my readers know exactly what I'm talking about. It's hard to experience such a situation and to take something good from it. To my mind, the only good that comes out of such vigils is the keen awareness of the passage of every single moment, the drip and pulse and breath of life in all its harmony and rhythm.

For now, we wait.

I sincerely hope Marissa's OK.

UPDATE, Sunday, May 29, 2011, 10:29AM: Almost an hour ago, Marissa tweeted this:

happy :)

UPDATE 2, 5/29/11, 6:33PM: Marissa wrote me to say the surgeons got "100%" of what they were looking for. The fact that she's well enough to be writing messages (and using emoticons) is a great, great sign.


Friday, May 27, 2011

just another $150 to go

Another $150, and I'll have the means to start this 501(c)(3) process in earnest. Maybe I need to sell more stuff on eBay...


Monday, May 23, 2011

official weigh-in

As it turns out, I broke the rules for induction yesterday and the day before when I mindlessly gobbled some Costco-bought hummus. Today's weigh-in still counts as official, though; I feel I've done enough in doing nearly two weeks of practically carb-free living.

First, the news on how I look: I look exactly the same as I did two weeks ago. No change at all when I see myself in the mirror. Even if I had managed to lose over 20 pounds (which I haven't), I'd still look the same. Experience has shown me this every time I've attempted a diet: it takes a few decades of pounds before I can see a change (and feel it in my waistline). This time around, I need to hit the century mark before I can feel truly healthy. Getting down to 200 (from about 300, pre-Atkins) is the goal. It'll make hiking a lot easier, keep me more focused, alert, and energetic, and improve my life in all sorts of other ways.

But enough dithering. The results of the official weigh-in:

289.5 pounds (131.6 kg, 20.68 stone), down from a starting weight of 296.

That's my lowest weight in a while. Not much of a loss, given the previous two days' stumbling (I bought the hummus this past Saturday), and the gaffes I'd made early on in induction (e.g., eating too much, eating only at night-- the latter not being a gaffe so much as the result of my work schedule). So for two weeks on the Atkins Diet, I have almost 7 pounds of weight loss to show for it. I'm barely-- just barely-- in the 280s, and have another 80 pounds to go.

I don't plan on restarting induction, and I do plan to reintroduce carbs to my diet. But I've learned that I can live a low-carb existence without going crazy, so even though I won't be formally pursuing Atkins from this point forward, I'll be eating more moderately and keeping the carb levels down. I'm also going to start exercising again; this has traditionally been my most effective weight loss method (Atkins has never totally sat well with me; any diet that says "no fruit for two weeks!" is at least partly insane). So wish me luck. We're shifting gears.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

you go, Marissa!

Marissa Parks is celebrating her very own special day: Marissa Parks Day, officially May 21 in the great state of Georgia. I've written about Marissa before; she's a young lady in her mid-20s who was diagnosed with GBM a few months ago. She's chosen to live her life to the fullest extent possible, and from what I hear from her father, she's a bundle of energy, fiercely independent, and a woman with goals. One of them, at the moment, is for her to participate in an upcoming walk to raise awareness about brain cancer. Marissa and her dad are both amazing fundraisers and boosters; I could learn a thing or two from them.

Marissa has chosen to stick with the good docs at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. As she notes in her latest blog post, she'll be undergoing a second surgery-- it sounds as if she'll finally be having the "debulking" that was denied her at the outset. It's unclear whether this will be a partial or full debulking... then again, no surgery ever removes 100% of the cancerous tissue: GBM tumors tend to be "fuzzy" at the edges, which is why it's dangerous to try to remove them completely: a surgeon risks taking out functional brain tissue as well.

I've had exchanges with Marissa's intrepid father, Brad, on several occasions. For privacy's sake, I don't want to comment here on what we've said to each other over the phone and via email, but I think Marissa's lucky to have such a father: he's proactive, decisive, aggressively inquisitive, and very much in his daughter's corner. One thing Brad and I agree on is that no one knows when their time will be up. In that sense, cancer or not, we're all in the same boat. There's no harm in wanting to live as full a life as possible, and Marissa's doing just that. I admire her attitude, and her dad is very proud of her.

My hat is off to the whole Parks family, as well as to Marissa's wonderful friends, who provide her with so much support.

Happy Marissa Parks Day! (Someone needs to write a Wikipedia entry about you, M!)


Monday, May 16, 2011

official weigh-in

After one week on the Atkins Diet, I've gone from 296 pounds to 291.3 pounds. That may simply be what folks colloquially refer to as "water weight," but at least it's something. As mentioned before, there seems to have been little or no ketosis (the strip did change color, ever so slightly, when I peed on it), but it may be that ketosis, for me, may take longer than it does for others.

I haven't started exercising yet, and don't plan to start until after the induction period is over. There ought to be more weight loss once I begin walking and lifting (the apartment complex has a gym that I haven't used even once since moving in). Keep those fingers and tentacles crossed.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

stay tuned

Upcoming posts in the "lessons learned" series include:

7. tents versus bivy sacks (and how not to lose your damn tent)
8. traffic, narrow road shoulders, and me
9. weight, conditioning, and knees
10. shoes, blisters, and weather
11. food, drink, peeing, and pooping while on the road
12. protection from the sun, wind, rain, and cold
13. whether REI is just for elites/snobs with money


Saturday, May 14, 2011

little to no ketosis

So I used my first ketone strip a few minutes ago, and the result isn't very promising: as far as I can tell, there's been little to no ketosis over the past five days. I also weighed myself, and noticed that I had gained weight in the past day or two: the scale said 295, a net loss of a single pound. This comes as a disappointment after what seemed to be a steady loss since Monday (OK, I admit I peeked and checked my weight earlier).

So what's been going wrong?

I know that my adherence to the diet has been scrupulous in terms of what foods to eat and what to avoid. There have been no sweets aside from those expensive Atkins bars and shakes (which are permissible on the diet, though not in great quantities). The proteins have all been of the permissible kind-- no processed meats or anything pre-sauced or pre-crusted. The vegetables have all been either leafy greens or crucifers like cauliflower and broccoli-- no carrots or tomatoes* or anything else verboten.

All I can think is that my eating schedule is a problem, and possibly the quantities I've been eating. The first night, Monday night, I sat down to two chicken breasts plus a pork rib-- all merely salted and peppered and then pan-fried-- plus a large load of broccoli and cauliflower. I was stuffed by the end of that meal, but the following morning I saw I had already lost a pound. The second night was eggs and broccoli soup; again, I woke up and discovered, to my delight, another one-pound loss. I didn't buy those Atkins bars and shakes until Wednesday, and never ate more than two bars per day (which, come to think of it, may be a violation of the rules for the induction process; it could be that the bars are there to replace meals, not act as between-meal snacks). On Wednesday night, I had ground beef done up burger-style, plus spinach. On Thursday, I had salmon and chorizo (I checked the chorizo ingredients list and nutrition facts before buying: only 1g of carbs per serving) along with my spinach. Yesterday, Friday, was shrimp plus the rest of my broccoli soup from earlier in the week.

But each night, I was eating until I was stuffed, and I also had hunks of Monterrey Jack cheese waiting for me during my non-meal hours (essentially, the hours between 11PM and bedtime, which is usually around 3:30AM).

It could be that a bad eating schedule, combined with the huge portion sizes, and possibly also the introduction of those Atkins shakes and bars, have contributed to a near-lack of ketosis. I may have to get stricter about portion control, and may also have to avoid the temptation of the Atkins products. The latter won't be hard to do: they don't taste very good, and they're far too expensive: imagine paying $7 for a four-pack of 11-ounce "chocolate" shakes. That's nearly two dollars for about two swallows of ersatz milkshake. Not worth it.

I'm doing induction for the full two-week period, and my "official" weigh-in for this week isn't until Monday morning, but right now, things aren't looking good. It may also be that my body reacts differently to Atkins than my brother's does; I vaguely remember this being the case the last time I tried Atkins, years ago. For me, the best results have typically come from huge amounts of exercise coupled with smaller portions. That's what thinned me out when I lived in Switzerland: all the hiking.

But we'll see. It's too early to jump ship. I can't do much about my eating schedule, as I mentioned before, but I can reduce portions, avoid the Atkins products, and keep eating those diet-friendly proteins and vegetables. As my brother pointed out, not everyone can see results after X amount of time; some of us just take longer.

*While allowed on Atkins, tomatoes can only be eaten in very small quantities.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011


After two days on Atkins (Monday and Tuesday), I can already feel something of an improvement: no pre-diabetic headaches or blurred vision, and while it's premature to say anything about this, I suspect that a very tiny bit of weight loss has already occurred. I don't want to fall into the psychological trap of daily weigh-ins, so I'll wait until next Monday to report an "official" weight.

Tonight, when I'm done with work, I need to buy some Atkins products-- shakes and the like-- as well as more vegetables and proteins. With the sweet tooth I have, I'm already craving chocolate. I'm also going to have to curb the amount I eat at night; the first night, I think I ate way too much. Here are the previous two nights' meals (remember: I don't eat before work, so my only meal of the day happens around 11PM):

Monday night: 2 chicken breasts, a couple chunks of pork (all seasoned with only salt and pepper, and fried up in a skillet); a steamed mix of broccoli and cauliflower, seasoned with salt, pepper, and a dusting of garlic powder, and fortified with a bit of butter.

Tuesday night: soup made from frozen broccoli and leftover spinach, with butter and cream cheese added for robustness, seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, and a dash of paprika. For protein: scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese.

All of the above is very nice, but the sugar demon trapped inside my head is screaming that I need to eat six Lindt chocolate truffles right now.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

no RSVPs

Thus far, not a single student has RSVPed about the May 20 meeting. I'm beginning to think that my brothers and certain blog commenters are right: asking high schoolers to volunteer for this sort of work (i.e., helping me plan my upcoming walk) may be asking too much. I'd rather not believe that; most of the students I tutor are sharp, motivated, and creative. Some even have quite an activist bent. Why wouldn't that demographic want to help out with a project like this?

Part of the answer is, I suspect, timing: summer's coming soon, and students are thinking about vacation. Volunteering for a massive project now, when the year is effectively coming to an end, may simply feel like more work to the kids. I also heard from one student that his mother won't allow him to participate. This makes sense: many of those sharp, motivated, creative kids are being told by their parents to keep their focus on their studies; anything else is a mere diversion. (Tiger Mother, anyone? No drama class, no sports, and no musical instruments other than violin and piano!)

Unless someone pipes up this week-- a few someones would be better-- I may just scrap the May 20 meeting and try this again in September. Stay tuned.


Happy Buddha's Birthday!

For those who celebrate Vesak (known in Korea by various names, such as Seokga Tanshin-il, or Bucheonim Oshin-nal, or Bultan-jeol), I wish you a Happy Buddha's Birthday! Seong-bul hashipshio! May you attain Buddhahood.

Dalma Daesa (Bodhidharma), First Patriarch of Zen Buddhism, is here to cheer us all on:


Monday, May 9, 2011

true start

We've already had the false start. Now, at last, I stand at the threshold of the Atkins Diet two-week induction period. No more spare food to worry about, so the diet starts now. Wish me luck. Official weight at start time: 296 pounds. If, after two weeks, I don't see significant weight loss, I'll have to rethink my strategy.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

lessons learned #6: traveling light

During my 2008 walk, my knees were vulnerable for a number of reasons, all of them weight-related. First there was the problem of my own weight: I began my walk at about the same weight I am now: around 295 pounds. Next, there was the variable weight of my backpack, which hovered somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty pounds, but fluctuated depending on how much water I was carrying.

On the assumption that my calves, if chopped off and set on a scale, weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 pounds together, I surmise that the pressure on my knees-- the weight pressing down on them from above-- was always around 300 pounds, i.e., about 150 pounds per knee. The situation was ripe for some sort of repetitive stress injury, especially on those days when I was walking more than fifteen miles.

Traveling light is important when you're hiking, but not always possible when you're hiking long distances. Although my walks were, for the most part, along roadways, distance is distance, and the stress of the miles adds up. There are various ways to travel light, and I'd like to spend the rest of this essay discussing mistakes I made during the 2008 walk, especially early on, and possible future strategies for the upcoming walk (which is looking more and more like something to do early next year).

First, let's talk about clothing. I had already hiked a long ways, from White Rock, British Columbia to Kent, Washington, when I met Rico Simpkins-- thinker, experienced hiker/traveler, REI employee, CouchSurfer, and all-around guru. He took a look at my pack and declared that I had brought along all the wrong clothing: there were sweatpants and sweatshirts made of heavy weave that simply shouldn't have been there. I ended up sending a lot of this stuff back home, but the pack contained other heavy items, like spiral-bound book-form maps to help me navigate the routes I was traveling. I had also thought about making money along the way by doing some art, so I had purchased and brought along a paint set. Other heavy items included heavy-duty tent stakes (which did, in fact, prove useful at several points along the walk), a set of large carabiners that I ended up using only once (and not for climbing, either), and a pair of boots. Many of these items got sent back to Virginia rather late in the walk, but as I reached the high desert, the pounds I had shed by sending back the heavy items were replaced by the extra water I had to carry.

I know better, now, than to pack so much stuff. The clothing angle is probably the easiest problem to deal with: avoid the heavier materials and stick with the lighter, hi-tech threads. I had done this with my pants, but not with my shirts and jackets. I also learned, while walking down the spine of Washington State, that it was fairly useless for me to wear a rain jacket: I sweated so much inside the the jacket that I still ended up soaked and cold. The remedy for that problem was and is an ancient one: keep yourself warm by continuing to walk. Save the jacket and other dry clothes for later, when you camp.

The map problem is also soluble: take along a smart phone and a decent power source, and you've got access to Google Maps. No more heavy paper maps that way.*

Footwear can be an issue; mountain hiking generally requires boots that can support your ankles, whereas road hiking-- which is generally devoid of tricky roots, boulders, and treacherously angled gravel paths-- requires only a decent pair of walking shoes. Rico took me to the REI flagship store in Seattle to hook me up with a pair of such shoes; I still have them.

Up to now, I haven't said much about actual camping gear, and that's because most of my gear is about as light as it can get. One thing I might change, however, is my tent: although it's a great little tent, it relies on stakes. This time around, I think I'm going to purchase a bivy sack. At two pounds, bivy sacks are slightly lighter than my current tent, and many of them require no stakes. The blow-away problem is worse for bivy sacks than it is for tents, but I've learned my lesson after my debacle in 2008.

Along with the weight-saving measures mentioned above, other measures are possible. The one I've been contemplating for a while is some sort of jury-rigged contraption that can be harnessed to me and pulled along while I walk. Commenters have suggested a pushcart, but I don't like the idea of walking without my hands free. The "wheeled travois," for lack of a better term, should ideally be collapsible, and light enough to store inside my backpack (or be strapped to its exterior) for those times when I either feel like backpacking or have to deal with wheel-unfriendly terrain.

The point of all of this is to minimize the pressure on my knees. Weight loss, the use of lightweight clothing and camping gear, the exclusion of superfluous travel items-- all of these measures will be essential if this new walk is to succeed.

*Some commenters have suggested that paper maps might not be bad a thing, but I recall one of my Army friends telling me that paper maps are a problem in anything but perfect weather. Once you factor in the cost and effort of laminating such maps (which would have to be cut down to manageably-sized panels), you begin to see how much of a burden they are.

Friday, May 6, 2011

thank you, Dr. Steve!

My long-time friend, Dr. Steve, recently sent in his $100 contribution to the cause.

Many thanks, man.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

many thanks to Anonymous

My PayPal total now stands at $554.64, thanks to the latest contribution.

All glory, laud, and honor to Anonymous!


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mom

She would have been 68 today, this little woman who meant so much to her family and friends. I'd be lying if I told you that the passage of more than sixteen months has blunted the pain of Mom's loss. I look at all these photos we have of her, and feel as if they had been taken just yesterday.

It was just yesterday-- when we all sat down to a Mother's Day meal at a super-expensive restaurant in northern Virginia, enjoying a rare extravagance; when we stood on the deck of The Maid of the Mist and got soaked by Niagara Falls; when we sat at a trestle table behind my French exchange parents' house in Carquefou, France, and enjoyed one of many family meals together; when we watched with pride as Mom spoke to a crowd in her capacity as Korean-American Women's Society president; when we listened to her tearful stories about the horrors she endured in the Korean War; when we were kids whom she helped get dressed for Halloween or school or church or an overnight with friends, running happily out of Mom's reach while she stood and smiled.

She would have been 68 today, and now all we have are these memories.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

$40 an hour

The cost to rent space at Woodson High School for the May 20 meeting is, according to the WTWHS activities director, $40 an hour. Yikes. I'm going to be filling out the form for the first meeting, but I honestly can't see myself meeting weekly and spending $80 per week to do so.

So the question is: does anyone live in a nice, big, sprawling home that might be usable by a motley group of planners (a group still of indeterminate size; no one has RSVP'ed me yet)? Or does anyone go to a house of worship in the Fairfax area-- one that would allow a group to meet for free? Don't be shy about leaving a comment or sending an email. We're going to need a regular meeting space.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

my apologies to the recipients of the first fliers

In reviewing the "Kevin's Walk" fliers I'd made, I found some embarrassing gaffes resulting from poor editing. Among them was an unintentionally funny line in which I said something like "I haven't fixed a date for our first meeting," immediately followed, on the very next line, by "the first meeting will be on May 20th." Whoops. I had arrived at a date while I was writing that part of the flier, but on the word processor, I had neglected to change all references to the lack of a meeting date.

The flier's been revised, and will be recopied and reissued to my colleagues to pass out to high school students. Sorry, everyone.


Saturday, April 30, 2011

this is nuts

The funds keep rolling in.

Stafford has sent a generous sum to my PayPal account. Humble thanks, man.

Not to be outdone by anyone, my buddy Tom, in Seoul like Stafford, has sent me $150 via PayPal, putting my total at $464.12. Again, without any fundraising action of my own, I now find myself more than halfway to my goal of $800 to be able to file for IRS exemption.

My thanks to both of you.


waiting to be used

These are the ketone strips I'll be using to measure my progress while on Atkins. No, I will not be blogging their actual use. As you see, they're made to be peed upon.


that to which I say goodbye

Here are some of things I must part with in order to do the Atkins Diet correctly:

First, we've got jjajang-myeon inspired by Hahna's recent post:

Next, we've got this bastardized Thai-esque chicken and shrimp concoction that would make any self-respecting Thai mad as hell:

Finally, there's the charoset I made:

I wipe away a tear.


false start

I was supposed to start the two-week induction phase of the Atkins Diet this past Monday.

And I did.

But I lasted only one day.

Strangely, this wasn't about lack of resolve. My first day on the diet actually came as something of a relief from the previous carb-bingeing, and I would have been glad to continue dieting.

Here's the problem: I realized, upon waking on Tuesday morning, that I still had a fridge full of perishable items that wouldn't survive either two weeks in the fridge or an indefinite period in the freezer. Rather than throw everything out, I thought it best to deal with les restes in the best way I knew how.

I'm not talking about leftovers like half-empty jars of peanut butter or zip-topped bags of raisins. Those items can be closed and stored, and they'll still be fine after two weeks. No: I'm talking about food like the leftover jjajang-myeon I had, or the leftover Thai(-ish) chicken and shrimp I'd made, or the gallon of milk sitting innocently on the fridge's bottom shelf. Freezing jjajang-myeon sauce or fresh-made Thai(-style) pasta toppers would have led to the ruin of both, and leaving both in the fridge for two weeks would have led to an even darker scenario.

So I've spent the week since Tuesday eating these things up, and while that slaughter has been going on, I've remembered that May 4th and May 8th are important dates for our family: Mom's birthday and Mother's Day, respectively. Right now, it seems better to wait until after May 8 to start the two-week induction: I've got no special occasions to honor between May 8 and May 22. If induction proves effective, I'll continue with the next phase of the diet. That, or I'll reintroduce a moderate amount of carbs and start exercising in earnest (you're not supposed to exercise during induction).

The false start is still my fault, of course: I shouldn't have begun the diet without having been fully prepared. On May 9, I will be.

In other news: I'm beginning to think that a September start date for the cross-country walk is too soon. It's also bad timing, because unless I decide on a southern route across the country, I'll be walking right into the teeth of winter in the Plains states.


thanks, Staf!

Many thanks to Stafford for his contribution to the cause! My PayPal account now reads $314.12.


Friday, April 29, 2011

setting things in motion

As you know, I'm trying to recruit volunteers to help out with the upcoming walk's planning, fundraising, etc. One of my projects last weekend was the creation of a flier to distribute among high school students who regularly attend one of the tutoring centers where I work. That particular branch of my company is located across the street from W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia. Most of the high schoolers I tutor come from Woodson, in fact, and I'm hoping to rope some in.

Today, I contacted Woodson about the possibility of using one of their rooms for one or more meetings, and was transferred to the office of Mr. John Kenny, an activities director. He asked that I send him an email detailing my needs; I sent that off almost an hour ago, along with the MS Word version of the flier I've given to a few students. Because I sent it near the end of the school day, I don't expect to hear from him until early next week.

Meanwhile, I'm planning to impose-- gently-- on my colleagues at both of the branches where I teach, to ask them to distribute these fliers to their high schoolers (in fact, I've already approached two fellow teachers about this). I have no idea how many people might show up to the first meeting, which I've set for Friday, May 20, at 8PM, but I'm hoping that we have at least twenty.

Here's the text of the flier. Front side:

WOULD YOU LIKE TO VOLUNTEER? [Changed from "Thank you for reading this," which is on 40 copies of the first version of the flier.]

WHO: Kevin (C2 tutor, Centreville and Fairfax) and a group of committed volunteers—primarily high school students and any interested C2 faculty/staff

WHAT: Meeting to begin to discuss planning and preparation for a large-scale personal project: a walk across the Lower 48

WHEN: Friday evening, May 20, 2011, at about 8PM (details to follow)

WHERE: W.T. Woodson High School (specific room to be determined)

WHY: Cross-country walk on behalf of victims of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most common and most aggressive form of brain cancer

HOW: The “how” of this project is precisely what we’ll be discussing. Topics for the first meeting (which might run anywhere from 1 to 2 hours) will include:

-deciding on a walking route (very likely the American Discovery Trail, or “ADT”)

-deciding on a start date for the walk (either September this year, or early next year)

-discussing local fundraising opportunities and strategies

-discussing PR/marketing to raise awareness about the walk along the walk’s route

Can we make this happen? Would you be interested in helping out? If so, please read the other side for more details and RSVP as soon as possible to the following email address:

And now the flier's back page, which is much more detailed:

Greetings! Thank you for picking up this flyer, despite not knowing what it might be about. Long story short: I’m looking for volunteers who would be willing to help me with a massive personal project.

A bit of background:
On April 16, 2009, two days before I was to return to a cross-country walk that began in 2008 (I managed to walk about 600 miles as part of a personal exploration of American religious diversity), my mother exhibited symptoms of severe cognitive impairment. At first, we thought this might have been a stroke, and we took her to the ER. What we discovered, instead, was a significant mass on the surface of her left frontal lobe. This turned out to be glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the same sort of brain cancer that eventually killed Senator Ted Kennedy. For patients over 60, the prognosis is grim. Most GBM victims die within 11-13 months of diagnosis. An exceedingly small number of people manage to defy the statistics and live longer than two years; a very small handful of people has managed to survive 10-15 years with no recurrence of GBM after treatment. Senator Kennedy survived fifteen months post-diagnosis—two months beyond the upper threshold. My mother, unfortunately, died nine months after her diagnosis—two months under the lower threshold. She passed away on January 6, 2010, at 8:03AM.

That was how 2010 began for me and my family: with the death of my mother. Over the next several months, I remained at my parents’ house to help my father complete a renovation project that began before Mom’s cancer, and which was put aside during her illness. I moved out to my own place in November, having gotten a job as a TOEFL essay rater for ETS (the same company that makes the dreaded SAT, AP, etc. exams). This job lasted only a few months due to the “low season” for TOEFL testers; I switched to C2 this past March, and have enjoyed making the acquaintance of so many bright students and fellow tutors.

What I’m doing now:
I’m hoping to return to my trans-American walk—the walk that ended after only 600 miles in the fall of 2008. This time, however, I plan to walk on behalf of all past, present, and future victims of GBM, in an effort to raise money and awareness for GBM research. At the moment, I’m somewhat torn as to the start time for the walk. For personal reasons, I’d prefer to begin it this coming September, but I’m beginning to think it would be more practical to begin it early next year.

What I need from you, if you’re willing:
A project of this scale can’t be realized without help from all corners. A lot has to be done: route planning, equipment prep, PR, lodging arrangements, research into terrain and weather, etc. I need a team of committed volunteers who might be willing to help me with these tasks. Walking across the country means walking somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 to over 4,000 miles, depending on the route. I’m seriously considering using the American Discovery Trail, which is the only officially walkable route across the mainland United States. The trail has advantages and disadvantages; these need to be considered before I can finalize my itinerary. Discussing these things as a group would be a great help to me. (NB: students who need to fulfill community service requirements could probably use this project to do so!)

How this all begins:
I teach at the Fairfax branch of C2 on Wednesdays. The Fairfax branch is right across the street from Woodson High School, and I’m going to speak with the high school’s main office about the possibility of reserving a classroom—preferably one that allows for multimedia presentations and chalkboard/white board work—for a group of us to meet semi-regularly. So here’s the question: would you be willing to help me with this crazy project? If you are, please RSVP to this invitation by emailing me at If you’re a student (or, hey, even if you’re a colleague of mine), feel free to include your parents. Their help would be appreciated. I haven’t fixed a meeting date and time yet, but as I wrote, I’d like us to meet at Woodson High School. As for the meeting date, it would be in late May: Friday evening, May 20, probably around 8PM, to give most people time for dinner. If you email me with your RSVP, I’ll be able to email you back with more specific information as the meeting day nears.

High school seniors, who are graduating soon and will be prepping for college, will have to consider their summer schedules before RSVP-ing. So will everyone else (people travel during the summer), but in truth, the state of technology is such that we can all keep in touch from practically anywhere on the planet. In fact, I’m probably going to be making extensive use of my smart phone’s GPS and email/Skype/Twitter capabilities during the walk.

Pertinent websites and contact info:
My blog, Kevin’s Walk, was originally about the 2008 religious diversity walk. When I came back home, the blog switched gears to reflect the fact that I was recuperating from my knee injury and was writing about whatever came to mind—academic topics, sci-fi, books, and slices of life. In April of 2009, the blog shifted emphasis as I began to chronicle our family’s struggle with brain cancer. I did this in part to keep friends and relatives informed of what was going on with Mom, and in part because I felt it was my duty to remember this harrowing time in our lives. The blog is located at: I also maintain a Twitter feed at

If you, Dear Reader, happen to be local to Fairfax County and would like to be a part of this effort, please think about attending the May 20 meeting and send me your RSVP ( I'll be creating a mailing list and emailing everyone with the particulars once I find out the specific room we'll be using.

Also note that there's a chance that Woodson might not be able to provide a meeting space for that evening. If that happens, we'll switch gears and meet at a fallback location in the same general area. I'm anticipating about 20 to 35 people showing up, but would be delighted to see a crowd of 100 or more... although that might mean changing venues. Anyway, please RSVP within the next two weeks so that I have a ballpark notion of how many attendees to expect. Thanks in advance!


Thursday, April 28, 2011

..and now it's $300

Many thanks to Bolt, who added another $100 to my PayPal funds. I'm floored. Funds now stand at $290.40 (PayPal shaves off a small percentage of every transaction; this is how they make money), putting me only $510 away from my initial goal of $800. I may be filing that IRS exemption paperwork sooner than expected.

Again, if you're within driving distance of DC and would like to engage me as a speaker on GBM-related patient advocacy, you can do so. Email me first to find out about available dates, then click over to the eBay ad and purchase an "event." Thanks in advance!


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

a second contributor!

Many and humble thanks to friend and reader Brat for her $100 contribution to the cause! Man... I haven't even launched the speaking circuit yet, and I'm already getting donations. That's amazing.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

lessons learned #5: hotels and motels as a last resort

I had to stop my 2008 walk for three major reasons, all of which converged like a perfect storm. First, there was my injury, a stupid and preventable fall that occurred early in my walk, and which worsened over the next 300 or 400 miles. Second, as I tracked my own progress, I began to realize that I was going to hit the Rockies at exactly the worst time of year: my timing had been poor. Third, there was the money problem. It's not as though I was pissing away my funds on gambling and frippery; I was simply doing what any normal human being does: eating, resupplying, and sleeping. Unfortunately, when you're out on the road, these three activities cost a bit of money.

One of the ways in which I tried to stem the financial drainage was by using a service called CouchSurfing. The website,, is modeled after a dating website in that it tries to match a traveler with people who would be willing to host him for a time-- all for free. A traveler builds a profile on the site, talks about his interests and some of his travel experiences, notes his itinerary, then connects with people along his travel path who are also members of the site-- people with an empty couch on which a tired rover can spend a night or two before moving on. The subtext of all this is-- again, like a dating site-- social networking. You're crafting a web of friends and acquaintances, sharing experiences, seeing new sights and eating new meals.

CouchSurfing wasn't my own discovery; it was suggested to me by a number of people, and overall, it turned out to be a very good way to save money while traveling. The problem, though, is that most of the available couches are located in larger towns and cities. Once you're out in the boonies, CouchSurfing isn't nearly as easy.

What, then, are the alternatives?

One would be camping. I camped in quite a few state parks, especially while moving down the western spine of Washington State. None of these places was free, however, although they were all cheap alternatives to paid lodging, i.e., hotels and motels. I was afraid to camp on people's property: I saw signs that said "PRIVATE PROPERTY! KEEP OUT!" and even "PUBLIC PROPERTY! KEEP OUT!" We live in an era where just about every square inch of ground is spoken for, and unlike other America-crossers, I wasn't willing to risk arrest by plopping down just anywhere.

Well, that's not entirely true. I did spend two or three days camping out at Exit 151 along I-84 in Oregon. I'm pretty sure it was PUBLIC PROPERTY, but it was also obviously a campground for fishermen, and there was no management office to which to pay a camp fee. I simply plunked my tent down there and rested my knee in the heat (see here). I didn't feel so guilty about potentially illegal camping when I was out in the boonies.

The problem with using hotels and motels is that you're nickeled and dimed to death over the long haul: thirty dollars here, fifty dollars there... it quickly adds up, and without any donations rolling in on a regular basis, the whole enterprise quickly becomes unworkable.

My feeling now is that I'll need to change a few things about my walking strategy-- and my personal outlook-- if I plan to use only a minimum of money during this walk. First, I have to be more willing to knock on random doors, if need be, to ask for a place to set up my tent or bivy sac. In 2008, I walked right through most suburbs (and past many farms) without ever trying that approach, despite its having been suggested by several blog commenters. Second, I may need to rethink my absolutism when it comes to setting up camp in a potentially illegal area. I'm not talking about the boonies, here: I'm talking about PRIVATE PROPERTY and PUBLIC PROPERTY in urban or suburban areas. Third, I need to continue with the CouchSurfing (CS). That was one of the absolute best ways of moving across the country. CS opportunities may be few and far between should I decide to hike the American Discovery trail, but (1) I'll at least be able to camp along much of the trail, and (2) the ADT does, in fact, run through many towns and cities, which means CS won't be irrelevant.

Even with the above shift in thinking, parks remain something of an anomaly. There are, for example, some national parks that charge visitors who arrive by car, but leave hikers alone, whereas other parks charge a "hiker/biker fee" to human-powered travelers. I may not have much choice as to whether I have to pay.

When I step back and take a larger view of this enterprise, I don't see that I'll be able to design a walk in which I pay for nothing. That's not a realistic strategy. Even if I minimize costs, I'm going to have to buy crucial items for my survival-- food, season-appropriate outdoor clothing and equipment, etc. So I suppose we should add a fourth change to the other three: an income stream. Asking for donations can only work if one markets well and aggressively; I hope to do a better job of that this time. But along with donations, I'd like to be able to earn income of my own-- and that's where the speaking engagements come in. Right now, I've got them pegged to eBay/PayPal, where the funds can be transferred either to my bank account or to the future 501(c)(3) account. I have a feeling that, if the lecture circuit idea catches on, it's something I could pursue even after the walk is done.

As for those hotels and motels-- well, they're still a possibility, but only as an absolute last resort. I need to exhaust all non-paying and minimal-paying possibilities first.


Monday, April 25, 2011

many thanks! $100 closer!

Many thanks to A Reader Who Shall Remain Nameless for plunking down $100 in my PayPal account, putting me that much closer to my goal of $800 to fill out the IRS exemption status paperwork. This means a lot.

(In case anyone is wondering where I'm getting this $800 figure from, see Wikipedia here, the section titled "Obtaining Status." Strangely, the site has a PowerPoint presentation on the subject, but it's a few years out of date and shows a figure of $700-something.)


now offering a GBM seminar in the DC-Metro area

It's been a while since I've posted anything here. Sorry about that; it was a busy weekend.

One of my projects this past weekend was to create an eBay ad for a lecture circuit as part of my effort to (1) raise money for my trans-American walk, and (2) raise money for GBM research. First things first, though: I need $800 just to be able to file the paperwork for the 501(c)(3) nonprofit. This situation puts the cart before the horse-- I need to raise funds before I can raise funds-- but as they say, it takes money to make money.

So: if you're in driving distance of the DC area, have $300 on hand for a lecture fee (this can be collected), and you've got the facilities for a lecture, please visit this eBay entry, read it, and consider helping me out. The first three lectures will defray the cost of the IRS procedure; after that, the money will go into the 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

This, folks, is one of the reasons why I asked my bosses at my current job to give me three-day weekends. I have Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays available for just this sort of work. If I could do three lectures in a single weekend, I'd leap the IRS obstacle right away, and whatever money I make after that could go straight into that fund.


Friday, April 22, 2011


Imagine being able to detect brain cancer early.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

coming soon

More in the "lessons learned" series:

5. hotels/motels only as a last resort
6. clothing (and the whole notion of traveling light)
7. tents versus bivy sacks (and how not to lose your damn tent)
8. traffic, narrow road shoulders, and me
9. weight, conditioning, and knees
10. shoes, blisters, and weather
11. food, drink, peeing, and pooping while on the road
12. protection from the sun, wind, rain, and cold
13. whether REI is just for elites/snobs with money

and another one:

14. on money


Monday, April 18, 2011

not this week, but maybe next week

Now that I know about the looming, $800 obstacle in my path to obtaining exemption status (itself a hurdle I need to jump to establish a 501(c)(3) nonprofit), I need to think about immediate ways to raise funds. To that end, I'm going to talk with some high school students at my places of work (I work at two different branches of a tutoring center) about fundraising ideas. I also hope to use the kids as resources for route-planning; as Stephanie at PNC Bank wisely noted, many kids need to fulfill community-service requirements. Alas, this week is spring break for many local counties, so it's the wrong time to go trolling for teen help. I'll try next week.


Sunday, April 17, 2011


So I went to the website and sat through the little PowerPoint training program for people trying to establish a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Guess what: I'm still going to have to shell out filing fees plus $800! I don't have that kind of money.

Looks as if I'll need to do a fundraiser before the fundraiser. To that end, I'm going to be slapping up an ad on eBay for speaking engagements at $300 a pop. I'll talk for an hour and have a 30-minute Q&A period. As I've noted elsewhere, lecturing isn't really teaching, but it's an efficient way to disseminate information. The topic of these talks will be primarily about how one's own family is the best patient advocate.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

two years ago

On this blog, I've never told the full story of what happened on the day my mother first showed signs of her brain cancer. This is that story, known to my brothers and my closest friends.

Two years ago, on April 16, 2009, almost to the very minute of this post's time stamp, I woke up and smelled something burning. I went upstairs to find a spotless kitchen, and my mother sitting quietly in her favorite corner of her new couch, watching Korean TV. My father was nowhere in sight.

I went to the kitchen sink and found the pot in which someone had tried and failed to cook breakfast. The pot was partly filled with water; its bottom was covered in the black char that can only happen when someone starts heating something on the stove, then turns away and forgets about it.

I called over to Mom to ask her what had happened. She got up from the couch and approached the kitchen with an open, childlike expression on her face. I asked her whether she had tried to cook breakfast, and she nodded, wide-eyed. The look on her face alarmed me: she wasn't herself at all. When I asked her what she had tried to cook, she said, "I tried to make some... some... some... chicken!" It had obviously been oatmeal, and my mind screamed aphasia. I asked Mom a series of questions-- the sort that a doctor might ask a patient with neurological difficulties: what day is it? Where are you? Who's the president of the United States? Mom's answers, and her continued demeanor, weren't reassuring.

I sat Mom back down on her couch and went to find Dad. He was in his den/computer room, typing away on his computer, seemingly oblivious to what was happening to his wife.

"Something's wrong with Mom," I said. Dad stopped typing.

"She was acting funny this morning," he observed quietly.

"She's aphasic and is acting almost as if she's having..." I couldn't say it.

"Could be a T.I.A.," Dad said. I asked what that was, even though I was pretty sure I knew the answer. "Transient ischemic attack. A mini-stroke," Dad whispered. And then he did something I'll never forget, because it was emblematic of how he handled the entire nine-month crisis: he leaned slightly toward his computer, bowed his head, and squeezed his eyes shut. I was witnessing denial. My father was blotting out reality.

"Shouldn't we do something?" I asked, feeling the urgency building. "Shouldn't we take her to the ER?"

My father-- a man with paramedical training-- said, "Nah, the ER won't take her. I'm going to set up an appointment with Dr. Reyff [not his real name]. His office isn't open yet. I have to wait two hours before I can call him."

"Why won't the ER take her if she's having a stroke?" I asked, incredulous.

"The ER won't take her," Dad said again, shaking his head. I was dumbfounded, and didn't know what to say to this. My father's shutdown was complete.

I went back downstairs and quickly emailed my brothers about the situation, including the fact that Dad wanted to wait for Dr. Reyff. My brother Sean called as he was rushing over to the parents' house; he and I agreed that waiting two hours for the doctor defied common sense: Mom needed to go to the ER now. My brother David came over as well, and it was the three of us-- with no help from Dad-- who persuaded Mom to stand up, slip on some slippers, and head out to the van so we could go to the ER.

We got Mom to Mount Vernon Hospital, discovered she had a mass on her frontal lobe, had her transferred from Mount Vernon to Fairfax Hospital, and left her there for her MRI. Some of these events are chronicled on this blog. What I didn't blog about, however, is what happened that night, after Dad and I got back home sometime after 1AM. I was furious at my father for his conduct throughout the day, and I let him have it.

"How could you insist on not taking her to the ER?" I demanded. It was the question that was foremost on my mind. "She could have been dying right there in front of you, and all you did was clean up the mess in the kitchen and go back to your computer! What the hell kind of paramedic can't tell when a patient needs urgent care? She never burns a meal! That didn't alert you that something was seriously wrong? You couldn't even recognize a cognitive problem like aphasia? All I ever had was a couple psych courses, and even I know what aphasia looks like!"

Dad's response was unbelievably lame: "I never took any psych courses, so how could I know that?" Was my father simply dodging responsibility, or was he genuinely that stupid?

My mother had often called Dad a "phony-baloney doctor." She may have meant it tenderly, as the sort of gibe a wife might use against her husband, but with her instinct for understanding people, she doubtless knew, even years earlier, that my father wasn't a competent EMT: he merely thought he was. On April 16, 2009, that incompetence could have gotten my mother killed.

Sean told me much later that, if I hadn't been home, Mom would have died on the couch. Maybe; maybe not. As it turned out, she hadn't had a stroke: her cognitive symptoms were the result of the edema arising from her brain tumor. Still, it's likely that my father-- who had revealed a shocking inability to step up and take care of his wife when she needed him most-- would have left my mother on that couch until she quietly slumped over. Had I not been there. Had I not been there to provide a sense of urgency.

My father's response to my furious questions wasn't I'm sorry, son; I fucked up. That, at least, would have been a man's response. Instead, all he did was deflect: "It's good that you can express yourself this way." Spoken with clinical detachment. The remark was so utterly irrelevant that all I could do was laugh bitterly.

"That's all you have to say? You think you're my therapist, now?" I was breathing hard, filled with a mixture of incredulity and fury. In a single day, I had lost almost all respect for my father, who had proved himself to be a coward in a crisis. The man who loved to brag about his EMT training, who so proudly wore a military uniform, had shown himself unable to rise to the occasion of his own wife's need. His role throughout the day had been little more than to fill out paperwork and to sit by Mom's side-- something the rest of us were already doing. He had shown not a single spark of initiative.

Our family had no idea what glioblastoma multiforme was when the day began, and if I recall correctly, we didn't even learn that term until a day or so later. But as the weeks rolled on, I was the one who did the research about the cancer; I was the one who guided the decision-making process as the cancer progressed; I was the one who cleaned up after my father's repeated mistakes in his care of my mother. What I saw on April 16 was that I was losing two parents, not one: my father had effectively left the building, passing off responsibility to his sons because of his own unwillingness to make important decisions or take decisive action.

What happened that day, and over the ensuing months, has had major repercussions for our family. And I haven't blogged about any of that until now.

Oh, yes: I was ignorant about strokes on the morning of April 16, 2009, but I researched them a day later, so now I can tell you this: if you think someone's having a stroke, then you've got about one hour to get that person to an ER. My father should have known that. All I had to do was use Google to find this out. Jesus Christ.

In case you're wondering: yes, many things went un-blogged during my mother's illness-- the truth about my father being the most conspicuous of those things. Friends advised me not to write about this at the time, but given all that's happened since my mother's death, I see no reason to keep this information to myself any longer.

ADDENDUM: So much credit goes to my brothers for keeping their wits that day. David was, ultimately, the one who got Mom to her feet: she had been resisting our efforts to persuade her to get in the car.

The tableau would have looked bizarre to an outsider: there was Mom, stubbornly curled up on her couch in the living room, with her three large sons standing over her. Every time one of us said, "Come on, Mom! We need to get to the hospital to check you out," she responded with an iron "No!" Her expression was a frightening combination of stony and desperate. When we shot back with a "Why?", Mom couldn't answer us-- more proof that something was dreadfully wrong. Mom wasn't the type to be at a loss for words, but that morning, all she could do was glare at us.

I remember briefly wondering whether she would struggle violently should we try to get her on her feet. David, who had more common sense than I did, didn't wait: once he saw that talking would be fruitless, he bent over Mom, slid his arms around her, and lifted her into a standing position. She didn't resist at all.


Monday, April 11, 2011

thanks, Stephanie!

I met with Business Banking staffer Stephanie today, at my local PNC branch, and she did a great job of giving me the lowdown on how to proceed with the creation of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The first thing I need to do is file with the IRS for an "exception status," and once the IRS sends back its approval, I'll be meeting with Stephanie again to discuss the next steps in the process.

I also learned that my idea of involving kids in my project is a good one: Stephanie noted that many kids, especially high schoolers, often need to meet community service requirements of some sort or other (due to involvement in a service-oriented club, for example).

So for the moment, it's going to be a matter of downloading forms, filling them out, and waiting on tenterhooks for a response from the IRS. Wish me luck as we get the ball rolling.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

501(c)(3) and subletting update

It's taken some doing, but on Monday at 11:30AM, I'm going to be speaking with a business banker at the local branch of my bank, PNC, about the creation of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The consultation itself may not be free; this wasn't made clear when I arranged the appointment.

In other news, a perusal of my rental contract shows that it may in fact be possible for me to sublet my apartment. The language in the contract stipulates that there can be no more than one occupant, and that if, at any time, the occupant is not a family member, occupancy can only occur with permission from the rental office.

So I'll be talking to my local bank and to my rental office about how this all might be arranged. I want everything to be aboveboard-- no surprises, no sneakiness. I'm hopeful that we can work all this out.

(Meanwhile, my thanks to the Parks family for suggesting that I talk with my bank.)


what the ADP FAQ reveals

I'm tempted to file this under "lessons learned." As it turns out, the American Discovery Trail is not bike-able along its entire length, as I found out while reading the FAQ for the ADT. Bikers must instead follow detours, and even then, there are portions of the ADT that are impassable by bike.

I also found out that the ADT is not clearly marked as the ADT along its entire length; each segment is managed by a different state, and not all states are on the same page. Complicating matters is the fact that the trail's routes occasionally shift due to maintenance or construction, and maps that were valid last year are no longer valid this year.

Most of these problems are minor annoyances, not major obstacles. The idea that a trail might not be clearly marked is, well, par for the course with most trails all over the world (unless you're in Switzerland, where all the trails are scrupulously marked). Still, it complicates matters now that I know that the ADT, despite having a "society" devoted to it, is actually a rather disjointed path.

That "society" bugs me, too. Far from disseminating free information about the ADT online, the ADT Society has taken the most current information about the trail and rendered it in paper map and book form. I wonder just how many maps and books I'll have to carry with me at any given time. I'd much rather use Google Maps (which employs satellite/GPS) to guide me than to carry around a few ounces (or pounds) of paper. (Of course, paper doesn't run out of battery power, but it can wear out, crumple, fall apart in rain, and do a bunch of other nifty disappearing acts.)

I checked to see whether the trail was marked on Google Earth. It's not, as far as I can tell. There may be random photos pegged to the maps on Google Earth, but they aren't readily searchable as part of the ADT. That's frustrating, to say the least, and the upshot is this: the only way for me to get detailed information about the ADT is to buy it from the ADT Society. Shucking fit. Doesn't seem fair. Then again, that's capitalism, right?

Speaking of capitalism, I think it may be possible for me to couple the ADT with the notion of paid speaking engagements. I'm thinking that I can tie this in with eBay, where people are allowed to sell services (no, you pervs, not those services): I can set my fee at, say, $300-$500 to speak at a local venue; the money I collect can go to mostly the 501(c)(3) nonprofit, with the remainder being used to help keep me on my journey.

Gears are turning.


Friday, April 8, 2011


My brother David thinks I should consider subletting my apartment, instead of raising money to cover the rent, as a way to lower the costs of the upcoming walk. I'm going to check into the legality of doing that, but I'm not hopeful.


on blisters

I didn't include blisters in my "lessons learned" agenda because my feeling is that there isn't much to learn about them. The literature on blisters tends to be over-cautious, in my opinion; some authors act as if it's of utmost importance to treat them right away, to slap on that moleskin and save yourself from miles and hours of pain.

My conclusion, which I reached very early in my walk, is that blisters inevitably form in the early stages, especially if you're a big guy with a heavy pack, and all you really need to do is walk through them. Sure, they can hurt, but they don't really hurt that badly, and when you're sweating from carrying a 50- to 60-pound pack on your back, they aren't at the top of your list of worries. Pop them with something sterile and move on. Mother Nature, in the form of physics and repetitive movement, will take care of the rest.

This isn't to say that blisters are easy to ignore; when conditions are cold and rainy, blisters form readily, even on feet that have traveled hundreds of miles; they can become as annoying as the constant, subtle buzz of your next-door neighbor's alarm clock. But "not easy to ignore" isn't the same as "impossible to ignore," and the fact of the matter is that blisters will never hurt you enough to make you roll around in agony.

So when it comes to blisters, I say, "Man up!" Or "woman up!" --as the case may be. Trust me: you can walk right through them, and your feet will be the tougher for it.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

interesting CNN link

My brother David sent me a link to a CNN article about headaches and brain cancer. In the linked article are two videos, the second of which covers new vaccine treatment for GBM patients. This news isn't exactly new anymore, but it remains a promising development, and the video illustrates very clearly how the vaccine works.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

stay tuned

Coming soon: a post, lessons learned #5, about using hotels and motels only as a last resort.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

lessons learned #4: the importance of water

If you're out in the desert and you're a big guy who sweats a lot, water is no laughing matter. My 2008 walk started off easy: it took me from the US/Canada border down the cool, rainy, western spine of Washington State, where water was never an issue. My path then broke eastward from Portland, Oregon along the south side of the Columbia River to Umatilla and Irrigon, then hopped back up into Washington to end at Walla Walla. Right about the time I hit The Dalles, Oregon, the greenery abandoned me and the world became brown. I had left the Cascades behind and had entered the high desert, land of rocks and mountaintop windmill farms. Even from a slowpoke walker's perspective, the change was rather sudden.

Many of those days in the high desert saw temperatures over 90 degrees. On one particularly bad day, it was nearly 110 degrees out and I almost ran out of water about eight miles before Arlington, the town in which I had planned to stop. The sun's constant glare was withering, and I could feel myself slowing down. Rest breaks came more and more frequently, especially as my water supply dwindled (I used just about three gallons' worth), and in the end, a state policeman rolled up, told me I looked "bad," and gave me an eight-mile ride the rest of the way to Arlington. My knee was killing me; my mouth was dry by the time Officer O'Neill pulled up alongside me, and while I was still far from collapsing, I must have looked as if I were shambling like a zombie. My voice was husky, and I had begun to make bets with myself as to how many more miles I could do before needing to stop again. I ended up staying in Arlington for a week. That was probably the closest I had ever come to dying of thirst. Nature is an ass-kicker.

You've heard countless times that we humans beings are composed mostly of water. Evolutionarily speaking, our salty blood attests to the fact that we each carry a measure of the warm ocean, that cradle of life, inside us. This ocean needs to be maintained: lose too much water and salt through your sweat, and you may find yourself staring into the maw of heat exhaustion. On the day that Officer O'Neill showed up, I was edging dangerously close to that state. I still think I could have made the final eight miles on my own, but it would have been evening by the time I'd arrived, and my leg would have been useless.

So the lesson is obvious: in the desert, you've got no choice but to carry plenty of water, which means you've got no choice but to carry a lot of extra weight. I had a large CamelBak system with me, plus two large Nalgene bottles; my total capacity was close to three gallons. This turned out not to be enough for the twenty miles I walked in nearly 110-degree heat. Now imagine the same situation, but with no police officer pulling up, and no Columbia River close by if things got desperate.

The three primary practical issues related to water are carriage, storage, and potability. Carriage and storage are obviously related, but aren't exactly the same thing. Carriage is more a question of where you place your water physically on your person: do you hang it off your backpack? Do you hold a small bottle in your hands for those quick sips? Are you dragging your water behind you somehow? Basically: where are you putting all that water? Storage refers specifically to the containers used: will you be storing your water in milk jugs, camp canteens, Nalgene bottles, CamelBak drinking systems, or something else? These questions are more important than they may seem at first blush. When you're tired after ten or fifteen miles, regularly removing your 50- or 60-pound backpack to get at your water becomes a real logistical problem. Easy access while walking is important.

Potability, as a survival issue, subdivides into filtration and purification. As with carriage and storage, filtration and purification are related concepts, but not exactly the same. You always want to drink water that's been purified; it's not as important that water be completely filtered. A little grit won't harm you the way bacteria can. A good filter can take out a lot of that grit and can even work a little purification magic, but it won't necessarily kill every beastie that's in the water.

Which brings us back to storage. I made a discovery while walking along the high desert: if you filter some river water and put it in your translucent Nalgene bottles, you're creating a bacteria factory. The greenhouse effect ensures that the bacteria have plenty of light and warmth to go with their water, and in the space of an hour, the water in your bottles will be pretty much undrinkable. For me, this discovery took on a humorous cast: normally, when you're in a food-poisoning situation, one of the things you want to do is poop. On the day I realized that I was being attacked by my own water, I hadn't eaten for two or three days, so there was nothing for me to poop out. The consumption of some water didn't change that fact. It was a strange feeling, wanting to poop and yet having nothing to offer Mother Earth. I was, in fact, thankful that events went that way: I was able to recover from my queasiness once I had realized what was going on, all without suffering the consequences of diarrhea while on the road. That, friends, could have been disastrous.

The Katadyn filtration system that I had bought in Portland, Oregon served me well, as far as filtration goes. But as the above anecdote shows, purification is a whole different animal. It's probably not as much of an issue in the winter, when even the microorganisms are less active, but in situations of abundant light and warmth, something more than just filtration needs to be done. Two of the suggestions I received during that walk were (1) get a SteriPEN, and (2) buy purification tablets.

I'm going to avoid SteriPENs for reasons cited in a previous post: for your own safety, stay far away from any product about which no clearly positive opinion has emerged. SteriPENs are good in theory-- they emit UV rays that blast the genetic structure of microorganisms-- but customer and professional reviews note a few problems with them. First, there's the fact that the SteriPEN's effectiveness is limited if the water is even remotely cloudy. This has been a common complaint among hikers. Another is that the pen's battery isn't always the most reliable, which can mean flickering-- another crimp on effectiveness. Then, of course, there's the fact that the SteriPEN uses batteries at all, which brings us back to the power issue discussed in a previous post. Just how many different types of power source should I be lugging along with me?

Purification tablets (iodine and chlorine are the most popular) are probably the way I'll go. As Jason suggested in this long-ago comment, it's better to mix some Kool-Aid into the water (although this presents its own set of problems!) to blunt the foul taste of the purification process. I'll probably have some powdered flavoring on me for just that purpose. Purification tablets have been around forever; I used them when hiking in Switzerland years ago. They're cheap, they're light, and they don't need batteries. Coupled with good filtration, such tablets will get me through the walk.

On a somewhat sillier note, I'm also thinking of pinning a flag to my backpack that says something like, "NO RIDE NEEDED, BUT WATER WELCOME." Roadside charity would certainly save me from dipping too deeply into my own water supply. I'm also hoping that, if I build up enough of a following on Twitter, there'll be plenty of folks along the way who might zip out to my location and offer me an ice-cold bottle. God knows that, by Mile 15, water is something you think about constantly, desert conditions or no.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Monday weight check #1

295.7 pounds.

I was over 300 pounds when I started my new job. The loss of less than 10 pounds really signifies nothing, and when you're as large as I am, even losing 20-30 pounds does little to change your appearance. But if I can manage to lose 60 or so pounds by September, that'll be great, and my knees will thank me. To that end, God help me, I'm considering taking up the dreaded Atkins diet, which worked wonders for my brother Sean. I tried Atkins once, long ago, for about a week, and was left miserable, but part of the problem was my ignorance of the bigger picture, i.e., the full palette of foods available to me despite the draconian restrictions. Considering my current carb intake, though, I think Atkins would do much to steer me away from adult onset diabetes.

More on this as we go.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

portable food: a comprehensive review

(reprinted from November 6, 2010)

As promised, here are my reviews of a whole slew of food products I purchased through my REI store credit in an effort to feed myself on a shoestring budget over the past two weeks.

All of these packets of freeze-dried food require one to pour in either boiling or cold water. Stir, let sit for a certain amount of time-- usually somewhere in the 9- to 13-minute range-- then pour out (more like scrape out) and eat. As you might imagine, given the sameness of the preparation process, all the food looks like mush. In other words, when you're evaluating these packets, throw out texture and presentation as judging criteria.

It should be noted, though, that some of the packets contain dry elements that are meant both to enhance flavor and to circumvent the texture problem; you pull these packets of dry ingredients out before you pour the hot water into the primary prep bag. While the presence of these extra packets is a thoughtful addition, what you usually end up with, once you pour the hot food into a bowl, is mush with powder on top. If you fail to eat the mush fast enough, you end up having mush with mush on top. Please keep that in mind as you read these reviews and ponder your purchases: in every case involving dried, pour-on-top ingredients, time is a factor, and slow eaters will be punished for their slowness.

Now... we begin.

Richmoor Natural High Three Berry Cobbler
REI Item# 6525850019

Natural High Three Berry Cobbler rated a "so-so" when I tried it. The berry mush was a rich, dark red, and wasn't too bad, gustatorily speaking, but the visual experience of scraping the mush out of the zip-top bag evoked something primal, like the evisceration-by-spoon of a squirrel. Unfortunately, the addition of the chocolate crumble pretty much ruined the berries/viscera for me. I don't know who manufactures the chocolate for Natural High, but I suspect they're hunched, eyeless cave-dwelling beings bereft of taste buds and olfactory nerves, whose language consists of little more than sibilants and farting noises. The crumble does add a bit of crunch to the experience, but the gritty, near-flavorless chocolate is a true turn-off. My advice: if you have to buy this particular preparation, just consume the chocolate separately by stirring it into a mug of hot cocoa.

Richmoor Natural High Chocolate Fudge Mousse
REI Item# 5160010012

The same angry cave dwellers that created the aforementioned chocolate crumble undoubtedly had a hand (or claw) in making this awful, mephitic goop. Have you ever watched Bear Grylls, on "Man versus Wild," squeezing a huge lump of elephant dung to get at the water inside it? Just as you'd never reach for dung unless you absolutely had to, you shouldn't reach for this chocolate mousse unless you're truly desperate. It comes with almond sprinkles, but the almonds are little more than cardboard. While not quite vomitous, I'd rate this packet "barely tolerable."

Richmoor Natural High Fudge Brownies
REI Item# 6888350011

If I'm not mistaken, I wrote about these brownies before. The batter reacted well to the microwave, transmogrifying into a recognizable brownie in a bit less than 90 seconds. However, since we're dealing with Natural High's unnatural chocolate, the flavor was rather disappointing. I have no idea how the brownie mix would behave if cooked in a camp skillet or pot, per the packet's instructions; one can only hope that the heat of the campfire might induce some caramelization and work some alchemical magic on the brownie's taste. What I found bothersome about the instructions, though, was the assumption that a camper might be toting oil around with him. Or maybe my mistake is that I'm conflating camping and hiking. Plenty of campers bring all manner of weird items into the bush with them. My own mother, bless her, liked bringing along a hair dryer.

Of course, it's possible to tote oil safely, even as a hiker: anyone who's eaten ramen knows that some noodle packages come with tiny packets of oil inside them. I imagine that such packets, or similar ones, are available in bulk at outdoor recreation stores.

Mountain House Neapolitan Ice Cream
REI Item# 6368970015

Ah, childhood memories. This stuff is freeze-dried ambrosia to me, but goddammit, it never lasts long enough. The Mountain House version tastes exactly like the astronaut ice cream I remember eating at the National Air and Space Museum. You could buy packets of ice cream at the museum's overpriced gift shop, and my folks often did.

Perhaps Mountain House offers a range of flavors, but all I saw was Neapolitan. I have nothing negative to say about this ice cream; each packet is 110 calories of pure, evanescent goodness. It's a great way to ponder impermanence; and with enough imagination, I'm sure you could incorporate this ice cream into some creative lovemaking. The way it reacts to moist body surfaces suggests a host of possibilities.

Backpacker's Pantry Cheesecake
REI Item# 6113800012

Although it initially looks like a bowlful of elephant semen, the BP Cheesecake congeals within minutes (xanthan gum? agar agar? I need to look at the thickening agent) to an almost recognizably cheesecake-y consistency. A separate packet of graham cracker crumble is there for you to pour onto the dessert. I didn't mind the taste at first, but toward the end, the cheesecake began to taste cloyingly sweet. Like angels' brains.

Richmoor Natural High Honey Mustard Chicken
REI Item# 5100300010

While not exactly awful, the Natural High Honey Mustard Chicken didn't have an obvious honey-mustard taste. The chicken was doubtless offended to be associated with this packet, which was edible, but uninspiring.

A word about dried meat reconstituted with boiling water: the simple fact is that, once the meat has been freeze-dried to the brink of mummification, there's no bringing it back. So don't expect your meat to have quite the same hearty, rib-sticking mouth feel that it used to have back when the muscle cells still contained water. Those cells have been raped and pillaged by the freeze-drying process; the addition of boiling water can, at best, produce a parody of the meat's original meatiness. I suspect that the makers of camp food are banking on the camper's being tired, hungry, and ready for a novel experience, since camp food isn't something you're supposed to eat every day (which is what I did, for almost two weeks, thanks to my REI store credits). For the rest of us, though, freeze-dried meat will always be a disappointment. Keep your expectations low, or stick with something more traditional, like beef jerky. We'll talk more about beef jerky later.

Mountain House Beef Stew - 4 Serving
REI Item# 7686880019

Having just complained about the lameness of freeze-dried meat, I now turn around and praise Mountain House's Beef Stew. The packet says it serves four (i.e., two Kevins); it did indeed contain a lot of food, once the boiling water was added. I ate this packet over two or three days, and can confirm that the stew reheats well. What's more, the stew tastes like a stew, although in my opinion it lacked some oomph. I supplied some extra heat by ejaculating sriracha all over it.

Mountain House Raspberry Crumble
REI Item# 6101860010

The Mountain House Raspberry Crumble-- essentially, Mountain House's version of the Natural High Three Berry Cobbler-- turned out to be excellent. As with the Natural High packet, there was a separate packet of Oreo crumble, but get this: it actually tasted like Oreos! Originally cringing at the thought of eating this dessert after the Natural High debacle, I was shocked to discover that this dessert was not merely edible-- it was tasty. Although dessert prep evoked the same squirrel-evisceration imagery as before, the smell and taste of the raspberry crumble more than made up for any aesthetic shortcomings. Highly recommended; very much worth your while.

Mountain House Spaghetti with Meat Sauce For Two
REI Item# 5101440013

Despite its place on this list, the packet of Mountain House Spaghetti with Meat Sauce was the very last main meal I ate before I ran out of camp food. The freeze-dried beef was what you might expect, but in this case, the texture worked well with the rest of the sauce. The noodles were laughably stubby-- imagine spaghetti with an Irish curse-- but by the time the packet was ready to eat, I didn't care. My overall impression was that this was great camp spaghetti. The sauce was properly tomato-y; the meat's crumbly texture successfully simulated bits of ground beef; and the noodles themselves were decent by the standards of camp pasta. In all, an excellent meal. Highly recommended.

Richmoor Natural High Strawberry Granola with Milk
REI Item# 5101120011

Did you ever see a B-grade Dolph Lundgren action movie called "I Come in Peace"? The movie was about Earth's encounter with a humanoid race of aliens; one alien was a cop, and the other was a murderer hooked on human brain chemicals. This dude spent a good part of the film grunting "I come in peace," then shooting flexible tubes into Earthlings' heads and sucking out their cerebrospinal fluid. Or something. My memory is fuzzy. Anyway, when the alien cop is shot in the gut by the bad guy, we see that his insides are composed of something milky-white and chunky, but of indeterminate texture. We never get a close look at those guts; it seems that these aliens vaporize when they die.

Natural High's Strawberry Granola with Milk reminded me of that alien's guts. The look of the food was white, chunky, and somehow wrong, and although the dried strawberries tasted fine when reconstituted, the granola itself tasted synthetic, as if it too had come from an alien world. In all, I found the meal just tolerable: edible, but not much more than that. I wouldn't eat it again if better options were available.

Richmoor Natural High Three Cheese Chicken Pasta
REI Item# 7952670011

As you can see, I've taken a rather dim view of anything that comes from the Richmoor Natural High brand, especially when it comes to chocolate. Their Three Cheese Chicken Pasta, however, wasn't that bad. It wasn't great, either, but with the addition of some salt the meal was perfectly passable. I'd eat it again with no complaints. Recommended.

Mountain House Beef Stroganoff - 4 Serving
REI Item# 7686890018

This was my only real disappointment from the Mountain House brand, but the reason for my disappointment was that, when I opened the package, I saw that it contained nothing but pasta: the stroganoff was completely missing. I'll charitably assume that this was some sort of assembly-line error, and not a deeper problem with the way Mountain House runs its operations.

I suppose I'll have to get back to you once I get hold of a proper package.

Backpacker's Pantry Pad See You with Chicken
REI Item# 7872520015

I was curious to see whether this dish would taste anything close to Thai... and it didn't. If anything, the overall effect was rather off-putting. One problem with dried vegetables is that they all start to look the same. The itty-bitty chunks of broccoli were recognizable, but they forced me to question the food's Thai pedigree. The sauce that was supposed to bind everything together merely added to my gustatory confusion, and I ended up feeling a bit like Geena Davis in "The Fly," eating that first revolting bite of teleported steak, and not quite understanding what made it so cellularly perverse. Say "see you" to Backpacker's Pantry's Pad See You. It was a weird, salty mess.

Backpacker's Pantry Shepherd's Pie with Beef
REI Item# 8012290014

Earlier, I said that we'd be talking a bit more about beef jerky. Well, this was the meal where the jerky came into play. Shepherd's pie is normally a layered dish-- kind of a bland version of moussaka. The camp version was-- as I noted at the very beginning of this blog post regarding all such food-- essentially mush. In this case, however, it was mush with chunks of beef jerky in it. Normally, I'd call the use of beef jerky a good thing, but the inclusion of jerky in the Backpacker's Pantry version of shepherd's pie made a salty preparation even saltier. I might even go as far as to question how safe such a dish would be to eat after a day of sweating and salt-depletion. The sudden spike in salt levels might kill a tired camper, for all I know.

The potatoes in the mix felt like standard, military-issue powdered potatoes. The vegetables-- whatever they were-- were forgettable at best. All in all, I wouldn't recommend this meal unless you're that salt-sucking vampire from "Star Trek."

Backpacker's Pantry Fettuccini Alfredo with Chicken
REI Item# 8012270016

This meal didn't cause any love-sparks or powerful erections; it was pretty much unmemorable. By that, I mean it wasn't memorably bad or memorably good. It was mediocre-- the Salieri of camp food. Recommended only as filler or routine-breaker.

Mountain House Beef Teriyaki and Rice For Two
REI Item# 5101300019

Mountain House did it again: this meal wowed me. While I can't say that it tasted much like a typical teriyaki preparation, it was quite delicious on its own terms. I took notes after every meal I ate, and for this one I simply wrote, "FANTASTIC!" It's true: it was one of the best examples of camp food I'd eaten, and I'd gladly eat it again.

Mountain House Chicken a la King Noodles For Two
REI Item# 5101350014

Although this wasn't the last camp meal I ate, I'm glad it's last on the list, because it gets the highest praise. I don't know what chemicals they laced this food with, but the effect was positively addictive, and I'd gladly gorge myself on this meal until I exploded, Mr. Creosote-style. Your mileage may vary, of course, but for me, the Chicken à la King was a more-than-pleasant surprise. Egg noodles were used for the pasta, and that turned out to be a wise move, because they cooked quickly when boiling water was poured into the sealable pouch. The cream sauce's flavor was superb, and worked well with the texture of the reconstituted chicken. The vegetables made their presence known-- subtly, so as not to make you feel too self-conscious about eating something nutritious.

As you can tell from the above reviews, I now lean strongly toward the Mountain House brand, whether we're talking main meals or desserts. Both Natural High and Backpacker's Pantry were disappointments overall; given the choice, I'd avoid them in favor of buying nothing but Mountain House.

REI sells a wide range of food products from all three brands, so these reviews aren't the final word. It could be that I just happened to pick a bunch of duds from NH and BP; then again, since I was picking blind, without knowing anything about any of the brands, one could argue that my sampling was pretty random. So take these reviews for what they're worth, but since Mountain House's price ranges are exactly the same as the other two brands, I'd recommend MH as having the best value in terms of taste and unit cost.