The American Birkebeiner is an amazing experience and I will not soon forget it. It was only 4 years ago that I took up cross country skiing as a way to augment winter fitness/health. In that time, I have kicked those skis a few thousand miles, learning all I can about cross country skiing while racking up the nerve to ski the “Greatest Show on Snow”, also known as the Great American Birkiebeiner. Last year I finally got the nerve to sign up for the legendary race only to learn that registration had closed just days prior because the American Birkebeiner is so awesome that it fills up fast. So, this year, I signed up early despite the fact my knee was still in the early stages of recovering from an injury that has now sidelined me for the better part of half a year. So earlier this year when I signed up for the race, skiing was completely out of the question because I couldn’t even walk at that point. But I entered anyhow with the hopes that my knee would fully heal in the following few months. I really had no way of knowing if the knee would be good enough to ski on by race day or not, but I figured it would give it my best try. I did everything I could to help it heal, like wearing a brace all day, everyday, for months now, even at night when I sleep. I also remained somewhat optimistic that if the knee wasn’t 100% by race day, that my heavy duty carbon fiber “Don Joy” brace would be up to the task of holding the knee joint securely in place long enough for me to finish the race… Thinking about all the possibility’s in the weeks prior the race actually left me with a few nightmares of how ugly it could all turn out if my knee didn’t hold up and was re-injured, costing me more missed work, more missed future adventures, injury that increase the need for surgery, etc… I really didn’t know how it would workout and some of it actually scared me, but my stubbornness and desire to conquer the Birkie overwhelmed my desire to sit it out. Talk about pre-race jitters…
I couldn’t be 100% sure I would regret my decision to sign up for this race, but I was 100% sure I would always regret the decision to not try. I had recently re-injured the knee on several different occasions that resulted in me being unable to bear weight on it so I knew that what I was hoping for was somewhat of a miracle but I remained optimistic the knee would be strong enough in time. In the months leading up to the event, I was unable to ski anything other than easy tracks out on the flats because everything else resulted in pain and swelling. So in the months leading up to the Birkie I remained more focused on protecting my knee so it could heal, then training for what lie ahead. I knew that wishing for miracles wasn’t the best race plan, but it was the best I could come up with under the circumstances. Some of my thoughts leading into the race led me to believe the downhill sections would be the most problematic for my knee, but as it turns out, the opposite was true. Going up the hills proved the most challenging and I believe this fact had just as much to do with my choice of skies, as it did the fact I was skiing on an unstable knee joint held in place only by a brace…
I had brought two pair of skis with me to the race , one with wax and one with skinz… I thought long and hard prior about what ski would be best suited for the hilly course before making a bad guess. With temps forecast to hit mid-high forties I was worried I would have trouble getting any glide skiing klister/wax because I knew it might pick up all the crap left on the trail from the thousands of skiers that would be in front of me, killing my glide (my experience skiing Vasaloppet). So at the last minute I chose skinz over wax and I think this proved to be a huge mistake because within just a few short miles my skinz had no kick inside or outside of the tracks. My glide on the other hand was INCREDIBLE… I was able to double pole well on flat terrain but there was very little flat terrain on the course. Wasn’t long before it seemed like all I was doing was climbing. The downhills were very fast, resulting in a quick trip back to the bottom of another hill. I was forced to herringbone up hills that I would normally kick my way right up and this quickly took its toll on my knee. The downhills continued to be wicked fast, while the uphills were a complete icy grind due to no kick/grip.
The glide on my skis was incredible so at least I got something right. Glide was so fast that I had to use a lot of caution, waiting for others to clear out of my way on the downhills to prevent running right them right over. This was the fastest my skies have ever been. If it would have been flat to downhill all the way to Hayward I would have done well… I had no trouble passing lots people on the downhills, but then they would pass me going up the next hill as they kicked it hard while I was forced to herringbone and claw my way to the top. For every fun, wicked, descent came another long climb back up to the top and my knee was not holding up well to that all climbing without the aid of any grip/kick from the ski… There were a couple downhill sections where my knee briefly complained as I dug in the ski edges with everything I had, trying to stay on the trail through some steeper sections that had slight curves/turns midway down the hills that were way too fast to ride/hang in the tracks. But aside from just a couple times the knee complained on the downhill when I dug in really hard, most of what was bothering it was all the endless herringbone up those hills.
On some of the downhill sections it was all I could do to miss other skiers. The trails were loaded with people and many wiped out on the downhill sections. I managed to navigate around a few unlucky skiers that were sprawled out on the downhills and I count myself lucky that I was able to remain on my skis as I narrowly got around them. At one point, I had to yell at a guy, “either move or brace for impact”. He was laying down in the middle of the only part of the trail I knew I could hang on too as I rocked down the hill… I had no other options and was moving way to fast to stop. He rolled out of the way just as I flew by, narrowly missing being run over by me. It was a close call and had he not have heard me yell and looked up to see me coming down that hill as he rolled out of the way, the collision would most certainly have sent me off the trail and into the trees at a high rate of speed.
Not far from the start, I did became part of one pile up on the section of trail that parallels the power lines but otherwise I remained on my skis through all the challenging downhills. The pile up on the power lines was caused more by congestion then steep conditions. There were slower people in front of me on the tracks I was skiing when I noticed the far left tracks were wide open as I crested a hill looking down. One other guy saw the same opportunity as well and jumped over into the left tracks ahead of me and started double poling hard down the hill. I thought he looked fast enough and far enough ahead that I wouldn’t catch him and run him over so jumped into the same tracks and followed suit, grabbing as much speed as I could, hoping to carry that speed up and over the next hill but it didn’t go as planned. Because my skies had faster glide than his, I caught right up to the guy and was only inches from his skis when he somehow tripped and landed on his face only a foot or two in front of me. I had no where to go other then over him, wiping me out in the process and somewhat causing a bit of a cascading pile up with a few others who couldn’t miss and piled in. Fortunately, that was my only crash of the day and It caused zero injuries other than a slight injury to my now slightly bent pole…
Not sure where but at some point out there my knee started signaling me with some pretty hard/sharp pains that I could no longer ignore. It started becoming ever more obvious that my knee wasn’t going to tolerate much more of this. I was becoming more worried that these protests of pain would be followed with more pain and swelling lasting for weeks/months as it did before, leading once again to muscle disengagement and leaving me unable to walk/bear weight. In the past months of dealing with this injury, I have learned the hard way that the warnings leading to the point of not being able to walk are subtle and few. So at that point of the race I knew full well I was really pushing my luck. I have already lost weeks of work with this injury because I wasn’t able to walk, so going into this I had planned on bailing if the knee started giving off signs it couldn’t handle the race. So now here I was, knowing I needed to call it off, but none of the of those reasons I was calling it off made the decision to call it off any easier. Fact is, it was really hard to take myself out of the race. Part of me knows I could have crawled my way to that finish line… But at what cost…?
I really felt like a complete looser for quitting, there is no denying that. I don’t like being a quitter and nothing stings more, no matter the reason behind it. At that point, my pride is hurt more than then my knee but It its been hurt before and I know it will get over it much faster then my knee. I made my way to the short bus with the rest of the wounded, and deep down knew I made the right decision. After all, this entire journey is supposed to be about my health and nothing benefits our health when allow our brains to override the pain, pushing through… I used to think that pushing through the pain somehow made me tougher, but today I know better. Listing to our body so we can live and fight another day is what makes us tougher…
I set out to see the greatest show on snow and this I did. I wanted to finish that course in the worst way, but it just wasn’t in the cards this year and not because I didn’t give it a good try under the circumstances. Next year will be a whole new story and I will conquer the Birkie. Mean time I will continue rehabbing this knee while planning more epic life adventures to keep this heart healthy. No matter the mental anguish caused by quitting, I remain grateful for this humbling life experience no matter the temporary mark on my pride and I will try again next year using the lessons learned… At the end of the day, with all this focus on my knee, I almost forgot how grateful I am for the strength of my once wounded heart… I will take a blown out knee any day over a failing heart…
For the better part of a couple years now, I have been baffled by inappropriately high heart rates that seem to bring with them, inappropriate fatigue, somewhat mirroring symptoms of running/training to hard. (over training syndrome). Initially when I started to notice these symptoms, my first reaction was to back off on the amount of running I was doing. But just simply cutting back the miles, and even slowing the pace seemed to produce no effect. So after going right down the list of possibilities, I started seriously thinking about the things in my lifestyle that could potentially bring about a higher than normal heart rate, accompanied with higher than normal fatigue levels. I completely re-evaluated my diet habits and failed to see how it could be the cause. A big fear of mine, and with good reason, was the simple fact that advancing heart failure could produce the same identical symptoms, if in fact heart disease were to ever rear its ugly head again. Not a lot of comfort in that thought, but a fact I must always consider and take seriously, given my cardiac history. Gave me lots to think about for sure…
As excellent as I think my aerobic conditioning should be
after 6 years of regular and consistent exercise that has included plenty of seasonal
periodization/recovery so as to not over do it, my heart rate has not followed suit aerobically speaking, but
instead, has taken the high road, always hanging on the high side of what works
out to be my aerobic threshold, even when running a very slow pace. Based on the
lower intensity exercise I have been doing the last couple of years, having a
lower aerobic heart rate, or lack of I should say, shouldn’t be an issue. But from
what I have been seeing with the limited heart rate data, I believe my heart
has been running 20-30 beats higher than it should be, and this seems to happen
almost immediately anytime I exercise. And this increased heart rate doesn’t just
gradually ramp up either. Instead, it ramps up really fast, and equally as strange,
upon ceasing the activity, the high heart rate will drop, almost every bit as
fast as it ramped up, but not before it feels as if its ramping up even higher
for about 30 seconds after the activity stops, and then just like that, the
heart rate will drop back down somewhere around 110-120, where it should have
been all along. Weirdest feeling…
For the past two years I have done very little anaerobic exercise, instead staying focused on increasing the fitness level in my lower aerobic zone by running much slower speeds. I thought my previous neglect/training in this lower aerobic zone, might be partially to blame for the higher heart rates I kept seeing. But, moving on, after two years of only working to condition in that lower zone, my heart rate still erratically races off, going higher than it should, any time I break into a run. The heart rate ramps up and down as if something is controlling the heart rate with an on/off switch…
I can drag/pull a light truck tire behind me while walking a
15 minute pace for miles and my heart
rate isn’t going to break 100-110. But,
drop the tire, and break into even the easiest/slowest of runs/jogs, and immediately
my heart rate appears jacked through the roof. Same thing comparing the data
from biking to running. The biking data always reads much lower/stable and
shows a consistently lower heart rate then running or xc skiing.
After coming to the realization this was happening, my immediate
thoughts were to question the settings on my ICD. But to further compound the mystery and create
confusion, as well as raising my anxiety level one call at time, each time I
called the pacemaker clinic and asked if my device was somehow causing this, I was always told the settings currently programed
into the ICD would not allow it to pace my heart in this range. They also told
me, that according to the history/data stored on the device, no pacing had
taken place. I really had no choice but to take their word(s) for it, since
they are the only ones who can actually see the data short of me filling out a
bunch of requests and pissing off everyone in the process, just so I can personally
view the data printed out on paper. Printing all the data out on paper was
actually the norm for my first ICD, as this was prior to remote monitoring such
as currently the norm.
On the last call I made to the pacemaker clinic less then a
month ago, I asked the tech to recheck the device settings since I still believed
I was being paced. As was the norm, the person on the phone at the pacemaker clinic
repeated the same mantra to me, of how there was a zero percent the device was the
cause of any problems. The tech went on to tell me instead, how the problem(s)
I was encountering, were most likely on my end, such as with the personal HRM I
was trying to use possibly being faulty, or, one of the more frustrating
responses, “maybe I shouldn’t be running…?” I was being treated like the problem was all
in my head, caused by running, or both. At least that’s how I felt by the time
I would get off the phone each time I made that call. Instead of the pacemaker
clinic people genuinely listening and hearing what I was saying/explaining, and then
helping me to find a solution by actively
seeking/searching through the available data that is recorded on my ICD/device,
(data only available to them, even though its stored within my body… weird hu…?),
they would instead leave me with the
impression they seemed to think it unreasonable, bordering criminal, that I would continually
question the settings/setup, and history
on the device, after all, isn’t that the doctors job…? And the doctor would
never make a mistake right…?
On one occasion, I almost went ahead and made the required
appointment necessary for a face to face with the electrophysiologist so I
could ask him about these problems. But
on past occasions he made it perfectly clear that he believed in no way, shape or
form, that my healthy lifestyle was too credit for my success at achieving such
remarkable health/recovery from heart failure. He not only made this clear to
me on several occasions, but while I was in the recovery room after having this
ICD installed, he stopped by the lobby to try persuading my wife, telling her
she should talk some sense into me, because anyone with my history needs to be
taking an assortment of medication since lifestyle modifications alone do not
work for people given my cardiac history…
None of his advice was solicited, nor did any of it consider
my excellent metabolic markers/health, lack of symptoms, and instead was an obvious
knee jerk reaction to the fact my medical chart contained no medications… His
advice was given purely based on his very limited knowledge, that I have a
cardiac “history”. He knows very little of the history.
This is also the same doctor who when asked how I could facilitate the remote monitoring of my ICD in the event my wife and I spent a couple years sailing the Caribbean, rudely responded by telling my wife that sailing off the grid would be the same as signing a death warrant for someone with an ICD, and that she better bring a magnet. What he meant about bringing a magnet, was of course so she would be able to turn my dead corpse “off”, that way she wouldn’t have to sit for days at sea watching my dead body twitch as my ICD continued trying to restart the heart. At that point, I didn’t know if I should get angry, punch him in the face a few times, laugh really hard, or cry over the sickened state of this current “for profit only” medical industrial complex everyone keeps referring to as health care. This is not health care… Sick care at best…
So after thinking about my previous experience with this board certified quack, I decided to not risk wasting the expense and hours required traveling and checking in for what is almost always a lengthy wait in the waiting room, followed by a 5 minute face to face with a doctor that would only end with some arrogantly made recommendation to stop running and take some medication. (I know… need to fire this quack and get another, or better yet, someone who isn’t a quack, unfortunately, few choices here in the Northland since our health care system was taken over and corporatized/nationalized).
In the two years leading up to this point, I had slowed down
the pace of my running, biking and skiing efforts to a crawl, staying focused instead
on slower/easier/longer efforts with lower heart rates, while keeping faster
efforts/higher heart rates limited to strides, or HIIT (high intensity interval
training) and limited to once a week at best. All of this, was in fact, just a
personal experiment to see if I could increase my overall aerobic base, and the
rate at which I can metabolize fat, (beta oxidation), to augment the keto
lifestyle/diet I have been following for almost the same amount of time. This experiment
took place over the course of a couple years and no doubt, I was becoming more
curious/excited to see how my body would respond if I reintroduced some faster
efforts after sticking with this slow approach for so long.
Since I do in fact feel a bit safer tracking the rate of my wounded
heart with a HRM when pushing the limits, I ordered up a new optical heart rate watch/monitor,
and a HRM strap, hoping to capture some heart rate data so I could see how my
heart would respond to the higher/faster paces. Unfortunately, after using new
HRM/strap only a few times, I became discouraged and disgusted by the lack of accuracy
in the data I was seeing. The data appeared very erratic as if my pacemaker was
producing interference with the HRM.
Every time I tried tracking my heart rate, the same thing would happen. My immediate thought, and rightfully so, was the possibility that the settings programed on my pacemaker were wrong, and it was causing the ICD to pace my heart, creating interference on the HRM. On several of the occasions this happened, I followed up with phone calls to the pacemaker clinic. On each occasion, the pacemaker clinic told me my pacemaker was not, and could not, be the cause of the inaccurate data I had been seeing on the HRM. After being told this repeatedly by the people who should in fact know, I became discouraged over the whole ordeal, and just stopped wearing the HRM out of frustration, instead, electing to run in the dark so to speak, as I was totally clueless what my actual heart rate was.
Then last week, my running coach was helping me get me ready for Wild Duluth 100K and said he needed to see some heart rate data from the training he had me doing, prompting another deep dive into this issue once and for all. So I went to work on the problem, reading everything google could come up with on the subject, before getting busy with some experimenting. Believe me when I say I tried every way known to man, that a heart rate monitor can be wore on a human body, such as on your back, your torso, etc… I tried different types/brands of monitors. I took readings while using different modalities such as tire drags, bike rides, before, during and after breaking into an easy jog/run. Many times along the way I stopped and took my pulse the old-fashioned way, comparing the real time data against the HRM data.
No matter the pace, the warmup, etc…, every time I would start running, the heart rate data would immediately jump to a very high anaerobic rate before quickly becoming scrambled/indiscernible. Weirdest part of it all, I could pull a heavy tire up and down the road for a couple miles at a walk and my heart rate would barely hit 100-110 despite the same exertion level an easy run should produce. But disconnect from that tire and start running, or better yet, let’s use the term jogging to describe what I was doing, (hate that word haha), and even at the very slowest/easiest of paces “jogging”, my heart rate would immediately ramp up into the 140’s-150’s… Weirder yet, doing a threshold run/walk, I could feel my heart rate elevate, and stay elevated, for about 30 seconds after I would slow to the walk portion of the exercise. This felt really strange… so strange in fact, that I had been searching/reading/looking for an explanation behind this. Anyhow, it was at this point I figured out that motion, not effort, was to blame for the high heart rates and scrambled data. At this point, I knew my ICD was the cause, no matter the repeated assurance from the pacemaker clinic to the contrary, I believed what I thought should be just plain common sense.
So this time around, instead of calling the pacemaker clinic like my previous attempts to solve this mystery, I instead called a friend, who called a friend, who put me in touch with someone, who put me in touch with someone over at Medtronic who knows a thing or two about that ICD embedded in my chest that’s connected to my heart. After less than a 10 second explanation of the problem, this person knew of a potential cause, telling me my ICD has what is known as an “activity tracker” that when turned on, would indeed induce pacing, not based on heart rate, but simply based off movement, as measured by the accelerometer built into the device. After thanking the guy from Medtronic for the info and hanging up the phone, I immediately called the pacemaker clinic back, and once again asked they check the settings, specifically checking to see if the activity tracker was turned on, or off… I was put on hold for a short time while they checked to see what the settings were and after a brief time of listening to really horrid/crappy elevator music, the tech came back on the line and told me the activity tracker was in fact turned on.
Many thoughts started racing through my mind that point. I was happy to have the cause of this problem known so as to be able to have these settings corrected to put this problem behind me, but also I was immediately concerned for both the device and my heart, knowing the device had now been wasting its battery power needlessly pacing my otherwise completely healthy natural intrinsic heart rate and in the process, potentially over working/punishing many of metabolic processes required to support the increased heart rate. Most disturbing to me, the metabolic possibility(s), potential(s), but these would take a much longer blog to touch on so will save all that for another time. All these facts just further undermine my already diminished confidence in this medical industrial complex.
Some doctors will
quickly argue that it’s completely harmless to pace the heart, stimulating it with
electrical impulses that elevate it above the body’s naturally selected intrinsic
rate. I did in fact read a few studies showing some metabolic advantage(s) of motion/sensor/based
pacing, but these studies were only done on people who had a very low, already compromised
intrinsic heart rate. The subjects in these studies who were shown to benefit
from pacing would not otherwise be able to get their heart rate above 100bpm without
The studies I mentioned above clearly did not take into consideration, or apply to anyone with an otherwise perfectly healthy intrinsic heart rate who is running marathons with ease, and is already able to hit a max heart rate heart rate of 187bpm, far above what is even considered to be an average/normal heart rate for a soon to be 53-year-old male. These same studies that where showing benefits of pacing people with low heart rates, showed no advantage to pacing anyone with a natural heart rate above 120bpm.
The studies showing what happens when you run marathon distance and longer while your ICD continually shocks your heart because of improperly programmed settings, forcing the heart to beat faster as the ICD overrides the body’s natural intrinsic rate while determining the rate-response based off nothing more than an accelerometer built into the ICD, an algorithm built using data from compromised people unable to get their heart rates above 120, along with a few other corresponding settings, all programed by an electrophysiologist who never ran further then his refrigerator for more of the crap food he so obviously eats as highly evident by his hormonally skewed pudge factor, (spare tire syndrome) …? haha… These study’s do not exist. I am the guinea pig…
I had this current ICD installed after my first ICD suffered premature battery failure after less than 8 years of use. The reason for the premature battery failure was because unknown to me at the time, the device was pacing me at night due to improper settings. Like this current problem, it took a long time to figure all this out, and even longer to have the ICD settings corrected. Those incorrect settings not only screwed up a lot of my sleep, they also caused me to go under the knife for the replacement 2-3 years earlier then I would have otherwise needed… Wrong on so many levels…
So, when I was about to get this new ICD installed, I was very specific about what device, and what settings I wanted. I put all of this in writing and had the discussion upfront with the electrophysiologist/surgeon. My gut feelings at the time told me he was going to screw up the settings somehow just based on his know it all attitude. He already knows so much, that he must figure he doesn’t need to listen to anyone. Wish I would have listened to my guts instead of his arrogant double talk. It was clear from day one that I was obviously the first patient of his ever who was running marathons with my ICD, and asking for the specific settings needed to accommodate this lifestyle. He seemed to take great offense to me asking for specific settings, telling me more then once that I need not worry about any of the settings on my device, and even going as far at one point as to tell me I should stay off Google, as if I was an idiot, parroting what I read there…
I hope my heart forgives
me for overstimulating it with electrical impulses over the course of running so
many miles. The tech who corrected the settings and turned the “activity tracker”
off was quick to try minimizing everything like it was just another groovy day
at the pacemaker clinic. She was quick in pointing out that I had been paced
less than 3% of the time and therefore didn’t think this was in fact a big
Pacing the heart 3% of the time might sound trivial to someone used to working with people who are paced more often. But consider that what constitutes that 3% of time I was being paced , is the same 3-4% of my time spent running the almost 3000 miles that I ran during the same time period. In other words, the 3% of time I was being paced, accounts for about 99% of the time I was running.
I do my best to maintain the healthiest of balance between running and maintaining my once weakened heart. I started running late in life, only 4 years after my heart gave out, and at that point and time when I got started, my sole reason for running was only to see if could help improve my low heart function. Back then I hated/despised running and thought everyone who ran must be an idiot. But somewhere over the course of those 7,000-8,000 miles ran since, the reasons behind why I run have all changed.
Today I run because I love to run… Nothing more, nothing
less. I love the way it makes me feel. The way it clears my head out, giving me
the clarity needed to remain sanely focused when viewing/engaging this modern
world and all its pitfalls (like this current pacemaker pitfall)… A nice run
seems to just melt away all that stress and tension this world sometimes creates.
I no longer run because I think running will somehow magically create a healthier
heart (I believe there is great potential for the opposite effect if overreaching).
Instead, I run because I love the way it makes me feel. I will run as long as this body remains able.
If in fact I could not run without being paced by my ICD though, I would seriously reconsider any amount of running altogether. After very little time researching/reading about “known effects of pacing”, such as pacemaker syndrome, I came across enough published science on the subject to draw a very clear understanding of the fact that pacing the heart with electrical stimulation can potentially lead to many other types of heart problems, such as arrhythmia, lazy heart syndrome, disturbed sleep patterns, ejection fraction, etc.… And aside from all the effects on the heart, think of the metabolic hell being placed on the rest of the body in order to support the metabolic requirements of those higher heart rates being artificially forced by electrical stimulation to the myocardium. Consider also the fact I have heart failure. WTF were these pacemaker doctors and technicians thinking…? Obviously, they weren’t.
To successfully and safely navigate this “corporatized/nationalized medical industrial complex”, aka as the “sick care system”, known to the uninformed masses only as the “health care system”, you dare not leave anything to chance by turning a blind eye to even your doctor. You must learn to be your own best advocate because no one else will. Iatrogenic death remains the 4th leading cause of death in this country. Not surprising to anyone paying attention…
Hopefully not turning into one of those people who bores everyone else with never ending post’s chronicling every little detail of every workout. (To many fitness post’s by any one person flashing across my feed sometimes drives me nuts so I understand)… The reason I am always so motivated to share however, is for a few good reasons… First and foremost, my goal is to show others what is possible when they put their heart and soul into it, no matter what others, or the so called conventional medical wisdom of the day tells them. I cant imagine letting what I am doing go to waste by selfishly keeping it too myself if sharing it might help motivate even one person to effectuate change in their life, that positively effects the outcome…? How many people are currently succumbing to the effects of a chronic disease, not because they can’t make the same changes that worked for me, or lack the willingness, but instead, because they have been led to believe through what ever medium that lifestyle changes will not change the direction of their course…? Fact of the matter is, if you are suffering from a chronic, supposedly incurable, progressive disease/condition, and have been led to believe that you cant get better, you wont… I know, because I was once one of those people. However, I remain optimistic, and would like to believe that for some of these people, seeing someone else that was able to succeed at something they once thought was impossible, might alter their perception, allowing them to turn their dreams of once again living a full life, into reality. Chronic disease will win every time if you let it… But if you fight hard, fighting with all your might to learn and live a fully optimized lifestyle, one that promotes only the best of good health habits, all bets are off…. Health is a gift, a gift free for the taking for those willing to do the work.
Heavy exercise of any type is not a requirement to receive this gift. Even people who have no interest in working out can claim this same gift of optimal health as their own, and can spend it on their life, anyway they want… Maybe the last thing they want to do is exercise anymore then they have too… That’s perfectly ok… Please remember, what I am doing in the fitness area, is considered above and beyond anything necessary to gain optimal health, and definitely considered over the top for anyone who graduated from cardiac rehab… It is a RESULT of my health, not the cause of my health. Whatever your dreams, exercise related or not, optimal health is your best chance of turning those dreams into lasting memory’s. Not sure about you, but by the time I die, I hope to have turned all my dreams into reality/memory’s…
I want to be extra clear, making this point again, because so many are confused into thinking that working out is somehow the cause of my remarkable transformation. Please make no mistakes here, without my health, I would not be working out. Again, its not the cause, its the result. So don’t be lulled into believing that you somehow need to run marathons or something to achieve your optimal health, because exercise at a higher level is in no way a requirement. My health is a product of the lifestyle I am living… The gift of health that I have been so blessed to be currently living/witnessing, is there for the taking, free to anyone else willing to do the work, even if they are already suffering chronic disease as I once was… (I’ll save the work entailment for another time, but it doesn’t involve hard physical labor)…
So at this part of the journey as I train hard, building up some fitness to help me conquer Wild Duluth 100K, I am going to share the journey/training, and show the world what someone in heart failure, with a history of heart disease, heart attack, sudden cardiac arrest, spontaneous coronary heart dissection, and once upon a time ,type 2 diabetes, can do with this “gift of health” I keep talking about.
Last but not least, for the few keto peeps following along that keep asking me “what I eat everyday”… I will start taking some pictures of the one, sometimes two, whole foods, keto meals I eat everyday, and will post them here, along with a picture of the workout I usually scribble on the board out in my garage/gym. In order to keep people from getting tired tired of seeing a new fitness/food blog flash across their feed everyday, I will just continually keep updating this blog by adding a picture of the workout, along with a picture of what I ate that day… Stay tuned…
In 2008 my education into the medications conventionally used to treat heart disease along with some of the side effects of those medications began. Statins were on the top of my medication list. 80mg of Lipitor was being used to lower my cholesterol numbers. Within a year or so of being treated, I had developed a lot of unexplainable body aches/joint/muscle pain. Two years into the treatment, I had excruciating back pain that would flare up for no discernable reason, lasting for days and making it hard to stand, walk, and at times, even sitting hurt. I remember riding my Harley one day, a once enjoyable activity, only now it made my upper back/shoulders hurt so bad I could no longer ride if for more then a short time before spending the next couple days in pain. By year three, I couldn’t even handle sitting in a pedestal boat seat for more than an hour or two because of the pain doing so caused. Never thought I would see the day that I no longer wanted to fish, but I just couldn’t get comfortable, short of lounging around doing nothing.
So began the most inactive period of my life. This was the part where I topped out at 280 pounds. I felt bloated, weak, was in constant pain, and I was pretty sure I was losing my mind on top of it all. I started becoming very angry, having a very short fuse on top of the chronic depression I had been dealing with and my memory continued getting worse, not better. By this point, I needed to take notes if I wanted to remember something important because my short term memory was fried. According to the doctors, the memory issue was caused by the sudden cardiac arrest I had experienced. I somewhat believed this until the condition failed to improve, and instead, continueally got worse.
Up until this point, I had no idea the statin medication I was taking could be the cause of all this, and apparently, neither did the three or four doctors that had been made aware of these intense symptoms/pain I had been experiencing. On many occasions, I complained about these symptoms to the doctor, only to feel like I was being brushed off. I think I heard it all… “You’re just getting old” … “Heart failure can do this”… Actually, the best one, “this could be a side effect from the combination of meds, (I was taking 13), but hopefully, it will pass once your body adjusts… If you stop taking these meds, many worst things may happen so just hang in there…” At some point, I was prescribed a muscle relaxer and an anti-anxiety med (because the pain was possibly just all in my head… 😊 ). In the future, I will write more about all the mental fog/memory/anger/depression problems experienced through all this.
Little by little, I had been reading, researching, trying to relearn what I had previously thought I knew about ways of improving my health. I wanted to reduce my dependence on all that medication but it seemed like an uphill battle I couldn’t win since I was counseled on most doctor visits about the importance of taking my pills as prescribed. Any time I asked questions of the doctors about the stuff I had been reading on my condition/meds, the conversation would usually end with me being told to “stop googling stuff” and to “stop questioning the doctor”, and I always seemed to get that lecture about how “You will need to take these pills for the rest of your life…” Thankfully I kept reading…
One day I came across a book that seemed to precisely nail down everything I had been experiencing. The name of the book was “Lipitor the Thieve of Memory” by Dr. Duane Graveline, a former astronaut, aerospace medical research scientist, flight surgeon, and family doctor. I followed that book up with “Statin Nation”, then on too “The Great Cholesterol Con”, followed up with, “The Statin Damage Crisis“, followed by a few books I forgot, and last but not least, a few years reading all the stuff that comes up on statins in the database of the National Health Institute, (PubMed.gov). I read all I could on the subject of statins for the better part of a few years and learned a lot in the process. First and foremost, I learned that Statins not only inhibit the chemical transformation of HMG-CoA to mevalonate (crucial step in synthesizing/producing cholesterol just like they are intended to do), they also inhibit the production of CoenzymeQ10, a Coenzyme that is critically/directly important for many functions including cardiac/heart function, brain function, and mitochondria function to name a few. It was around that time I threw my statins in the trash against my doctor’s advice and started supplementing with CoenzymeQ10.
Getting started at taking my health back was a little bit of a science experiment because none of the doctors I was seeing wanted to get on board with the hypothesis that CoQ10 deficiency could have anything to do with my problem. Instead, I was urged to reconsider going back on my statin and to try tolerating the side effects. I asked on a couple of occasions if the doctor would test my CoQ10 level, and both times I was scolded with the “stop googling your condition lecture”. About this time I gave up on my doctors. What they were doing clearly wasn’t working…
So just winging it like I sometimes do when faced with no other sensible options, I tossed my Lipitor in the trash where it belongs and started supplementing with 200 mg a day of Ubiquinol. I quickly learned this had a tremendous effect eliminating some of the muscle/joint pain. The symptoms came back a few occasions when I stopped the CoQ10, so I believed it to be working. About a month after starting, I upped my dose to 400mg. This amount seemed to keep me 80-90% pain-free. After about 4 years I dropped my daily dose back to 200mg and I continue to supplement with this amount to this day. After throwing the statins in the trash and beginning to supplement with CoQ10, the muscle pain slowly went away, taking the better part of 4-5 years before being completely gone. My mind seemed to come back a bit slower, taking 5-6 years before I no longer needed to write stuff down if I wanted to remember it. In total, I took 40mg of Lipitor for the better part of 3 years, before doubling up to 80mg for about two and a half years. In my personal experience Statin damage does not just cease upon cessation of the medication as so many doctors seem to believe.
At this point based on everything I have learned going down this rabbit hole, more than ever I believe we should question everything, especially when your told not too… Everything I learned the hard way in my case is actually information that was already out there somewhere, floating around with all the data on the subject. The problem is, most doctors don’t always see this information. Much of what your doctor is seeing, is based on what the drug company wants them to see. I believe the fact I was never once told to supplement with CoQ10 is a perfect example of this fraudulent disconnect. 10 years ago when I started this journey, never once was I told to supplement with CoQ10, and never once was I tested to check those levels. Yet tons of evidence-based info says this is a good idea. In my experience, turns out to be a game changer. Today, more and more docs are finally recommending that people taking a statin also supplement with CoQ10, but still, many doctors still do not.
The reason for my ramblings this time around is actually not because I think everyone on a statin should throw it in the trash and supplement with CoQ10, but rather I am concerned with all the talk of censorship that’s rampantly consuming Facebook these days between provaxx-nonvaxx sceptics along with other medical info that doesn’t fit the official narrative brought to us by Big Pharm. I am concerned because a lot of the same info being targeted as “misinformation” is some of the same stuff that led me down this rabbit hole and helped me learn how to save my life. Drug manufacturers have a long detailed history of fraud and deceit and this is well established/documented. Since I spend a good amount of my time reading/researching things of the heart, I come across lots of examples/evidence of the fraud and deception drug companies routinely employ through the act of omission…
This morning in a group of people damaged by statins that I belong too I came across these abstracts from the US Patent Office that someone included in a discussion. I was a little floored at first as I read through these and realized that back in the early 80’s not only did they know back then that statins were causing these same problems, they also knew some of the reasons behind the problems. So why the disconnect…? Why did my doctor not discuss any of this with me…? Why are so many doctors still not telling people about reductase inhibitor-associated muscular/skeletal myopathy, (as labeled by Merc), or about the evidence pointing at CoQ10 supplementation for people frying their liver and lowering their natural CoQ10 production, right along with their cholesterol…? Thankfully I had access to information that pointed me in the direction of some truth. Labeling that information as “fake or misleading information” and then censoring it will be the last nail in our coffin… I want to see all the data, so I can decide for myself what to believe…
I showed up for this race hoping to lay it all out there, seeing just how fast this heart of mine could ski a 10K on hard/flat tracks, but the ski gods had other plans and must have felt I needed more work on my passing skills and tolerance for slower people blocking the tracks/trail.
After parking in Washburn by the finish line and getting registered, we caught a ride on the bus over to the starting line in Ashland. Originally, I had signed up for the first wave, but at the last minute after temporarily losing confidence in my technique/ability, I decided to start in the second wave so I wouldn’t get left too far in the dust. I think this “shaken confidance” might have been mistake number one and was somehow tied into mistake number three… Lesson learned, “No matter your skill level, never sell yourself short. Always start as close to the front of the pack as possible…”
Then, mistake number two, instead of warming up my heart like I should have been doing prior to the race, I decided to get in line at the porta johns with only 15 minutes prior to race time. After standing in line for 10 minutes it finally occurred to me that maybe I should do the math… 20 some people in front of me and less than 5 minutes to the start gun with the average person spending upwards of two minutes in the john…? The math wasn’t working out in my favor but thankfully about that time I spotted a couple cedar trees out behind the tent that weren’t being used… Lesson learned, ” look for a tree prior to getting in line for porta johns at any major sporting event…”
Mistake number 3 was getting to the start chute way too late. By the time I arrived after my trip to the cedar trees, there were thousands of people standing between where I was, and where I should have been. I have never had so many slower people in front of me at once. Only four sets of tracks and thousands of people standing in them blocking the way to what I had hoped would have been my fastest 10K ever… There was no way of busting through that blockade of people for the first mile or so. It was total gridlock in slow motion. It was hard work keeping my track/road rage in check while I skied on top of one person’s skis after another in slow motion. I am proud to say I managed stay sportsman like, even though during the first mile of the blockade, the thought of full contact xc skiing crossed my mind more than once. Lesson learned, “instead of being blocked by others, show up on time and get a proper starting position towered the front of the pack so you can be the one doing the blocking…”
With barely enough room between the tracks to pass, I lost count of how many times I was hit by someone’s poles as I squeezed my way past. Thankfully I was able to stay focused on getting through the blockade without tackling anyone in front of me. For the better part of 2 miles I just kept double poling my way between the tracks, passing hundreds of people in this fashion… Those first couple miles I never got in the tracks other then crossing them to go around people.
Somewhere around mile 3, people in the tracks started thinning out enough that I was able to get in the tracks and stay in them, finally realizing a little speed between jumping from track to track as needed to get around the few blockers that remained. By mile 5 I had passed thousands of people and finally had clear tracks to do what I had come to do and that was to go as fast as my heart would push me on those skis.
I think the last couple miles may actually have been a couple of my fastest miles on skis yet but we will never know because Garmin decided race time was a good time to update my watch so I have no splits to review… When I turned the watch on at the starting line it went into update mode… Thanks, Garmin… This is the third time I have not been able to use my watch for a race because you decided it needed updates at the starting line…
All and all this was a really fun race, and more importantly, my heart never missed a beat or came close to running out of steam. Despite mistakes made leading to the slow start of this race, my heart was still able to land a finish in the top 20% of the few thousand skiing this event. I call that a win for my heart on any day, a loss for heart disease, and a testament to the effects a heart-healthy lifestyle has on chronic disease. The lifestyle we choose determines our health…
One of the reasons I started living the ketogenic lifestyle, was because I was tired and ashamed of the textbook picture of medication-induced gynecomastia that my chest had morphed into since being diagnosed with heart disease. Believing the changing shape of my chest to be hormonally caused, I spent a lot of time reading about hormones, and found the science and data on the effects of hormonal imbalances and how they can affect the progression of heart disease, disturbing. Even more disturbing, was seeing/witnessing this progression in real time using my own physiology. Being a pretty heavy guy before my heart failure diagnosis, (6’2” 240#), I carried a solid/strong, upright chest with only a moderate amount of flab on it. However, in the years following that heart failure diagnosis, the ratio of muscle to flab drastically upended, most of the muscle being replaced with toxic visceral/subcutaneous adipose tissue. Some of the heart medication I had been taking actually listed fatty breast tissue in the handouts as a possible side effect. I believe those medications, along with physical inactivity brought about by a failing heart had set the up the perfect hormonal storm. I needed to stop it… Or at least slow it down.
Fatty/flabby male breast tissue and fatty abdominal tissue is a sure sign of metabolic/hormonal problems and is not just a sign of normal aging like so many men my age want to believe. For someone like myself who has been diagnosed with heart failure, shedding any fat is one of the biggest things within our personal power to do, that will result in better chances of a long and healthy life…
Interestingly, 5 years of rigorously following a plant-based diet did not produce favorable results in this area despite all the anecdotal data I had read saying otherwise. I did, in fact, lose a ton of weight after switching to a plant-based diet. In fact. I lost over 100 pounds, going from 280 pounds at my heaviest, (this was what I maxed out at while being conventionally treated for heart disease with 13 medications by the doctor), all the way down to 169 pounds. But guess what…? That abdominal fat didn’t budge an inch, so at the end of that weight loss journey, I ended up a 169 pound “skinny fat” weakling that still had the breasts of a girl. I worked out with a personal trainer for the better part of a year at one point, working in the gym really hard, but fought for every small gain made. I did get stronger, but nowhere near my pre-heart attack strength levels and the toxic fat remained.
During that 5-year plant-based diet experiment I also got very busy getting some cardio in. According to mainstream dogma at the time, if I ran far enough, I would lose that toxic abdominal/breast fat no matter my diet. So, I got busy and made running my life. At first, I couldn’t even get through a mile without stopping to rest, but I was determined to stick with it, and in a matter of a few years I had worked my way up to running 26.2 miles, even stepping up to the 50K distance on rugged/steep trails a few times. I ran every chance I had and even went as far as hiring a running coach and nutritionist to see my goals through, but despite running well over 1000 miles a year throughout a five year period along with eating only so-called healthy plant food choices, the fat not only remained, it was getting worst.
Thankfully for me, throughout that time following a plant-based diet, I never stopped researching/reading about other heart-healthy lifestyles, and the keto science that was slowly emerging onto the scene had my attention, but it wasn’t until I had been following an organic whole foods plant-based diet for the better part of 5 years, before I decided enough was enough and followed suit to see if keto would work for me. So after 5 years of following a plant-based diet, I took the keto plunge… From a low-fat high carb diet, to a high-fat low carb diet, I got busy changing my life again…
1.5 years have passed since making my keto transition. The results speak for themselves and are nothing short of astonishing, surpassing anything I previously would have even thought remotely possible for this well used 52-year-old body and the results just keep coming. At the start of keto, I weighed 210 pounds, and wore a 34-inch waist pant snuggly. One look at my chest at that point and gynecomastia would have come to mind. My chest contained breasts that were saggy/pointy and frankly probably should have been in a bra at that point. My overall body composition despite all the running and plant food, was slowly becoming that of a marshmallow. Within a few months of switching to a keto diet all that started to change… Slowly at first, but accelerating as I went along, to the point of where I am today, and the results keep rolling in.
Today I need a belt to keep my size 32-inch pants from revealing any “plumbers crack” despite the fact my weight has increased to 215. The amount of physical strength I have gained this past year is incredible and nowhere is this more evident than my work in construction, or in the gym. At this point, my strength is at its highest level in this lifetime. Those once embarrassing saggy/flabby breasts no longer resemble that of a woman, and the dangerous/toxic fat around my midsection has regressed to the level it was in my 20’s, as it continues melting away leaving a hard lean body composition in its place.
While my body has been changing to a much harder composition, my mind has gone from a semi-depressed state living in a perpetual fog, to one that’s highly focused with the brightest of clarity. Positive emotions sometimes bordering on euphoric is now my brain’s default, completely replacing the anxiety and depression that once completely consumed me. A plant-based diet did not have this effect on my mental health. In no time during my life have I experienced mental sharpness/clarity/focus like what I am experiencing today on keto. At this point, depression and anxiety are just bad memories. Keto is better then any of the anti-depressants I was once prescribed.
So many good things have happened since I took the keto plunge. I will be writing about more realized benefits soon, so stay tuned, but before signing off, let me leave you with one more keto benefit I am enjoying… NO HUNGER… That’s right… No longer hungry/hangry if I miss a meal. Going all day without eating is now very easy… No crash or bad cravings required. Just steady focus and energy that remains constant throughout a busy day. The benefits of intermittent fasting are numerous and discussed in-depth throughout the scientific literature. Intermittent fasting feels easy and natural when in ketosis. Who wouldn’t like to eat less and workout less, while gaining a harder, more muscular body composition without being hungry/hangry or tired…? Keto makes it easy…
How many have read about the Pottenger Cat Study…? I find it interesting and thought I would share this article as I revisited and read through it again tonight. By sharing, I am in no way suggesting we as humans should eat only raw food since I could make arguments for both raw and cooked food, and also understand our physiology is not the same as a cat.
Some of the nutrient’s humans require are in fact absorbed better after cooking, while some nutrients and enzymes are ruined by heat. Therefore, I personally believe a combination of both cooked and raw food is needed for optimal/outstanding human health.
What I find most interesting about Pottengers study isn’t the difference between raw food and cooked food, but instead, the way that for each subsequent generation of cats, their health became more compromised and this fact manifested in not just one, but many different types of chronic disease, even though the cause was the same. The cats died from many different diseases, including heart disease.
I wonder if we as humans have a very similar thing going on, except our problem isn’t the difference between cooking the food or eating it raw, instead, our problem is we are eating “fake” food instead of “real” food…?
By fake food, I am talking about foods that have been stripped of their nutrients during the different phases of growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, shipping, ect. Pasteurization, toxic sterilization techniques such as radiation along with herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, growth hormone, antibiotics, genetic modification, and so on…
Soils stripped of nutrients by greedy corporate farming practices, leaving the soil heavily laden with synthetic/chemical fertilizer instead. So much of the food the world is eating today is dead. Dead, in that most of the nutrients have been stripped away or killed, leaving behind transformed substances toxic to human health.
The number one thing anyone can personally do to improve compromised heart function, or any chronic disease for that matter, is too make sure they are eating real food. Know the origin of your food and know/read the ingredients. If you do not know what a certain ingredient is, look it up. Eat organically grown, or grow your own if possible. Farmers markets/small local farmers are also a great place to find real food. The food you eat is responsible for the state of your health.
Every time I buy groceries, I am in fact voting with my grocery money and I will always vote for the healthiest most nutrient dense foods possible. If everyone bought only real food, together, our grocery money would change the world…
Ten years ago today, (10-26-2008), I was in Afghanistan having a heart attack. The damage from that heart attack forever changed my life, but not in ways I would have expected. Having a heart attack in a remote third world country in the middle of a war zone didn’t do my heart any favors and I was left with permanent damage.
Less then two weeks later, my first day back on US soil, I dropped to the floor dying, my heart in ventricular fibrillation, unable to pump blood to my soon would have been dead body. I will never forget that day I died even though I remember very little about it. I can remember falling towered the floor. In the couple seconds it may have took before hitting the floor as the lights were going out, time seemed to slow down. I was falling, and the floor was getting closer, all as the lights seemed to be dimming out in slow motion. Those couple seconds before contacting the floor, time seemed to stand still. Seconds felt like minutes as 42 years of consciousness was shutting down for what would have been the last time.
Lucky for me, I was in good company that day. Eric Honkanen, (an Eagle Scout with a CPR badge), and Nick Vukilich, kept me alive by pounding on my chest/heart while breathing air into my lungs until the ambulance arrived and took over. Thankfully, the ambulance attendants were able to jump start my heart with a defibrillator and get me ready for a helicopter ride to my regional heart/trauma center, where I under went a lifesaving procedure.
That was the beginning to a very long journey through through the health care system. By the end of that first year my health problems had only escalated despite everything my doctor(s) could recommend. At this point I was on 13 medications and my life seemed centered around doctor visits, hospital visits, and medical/surgical procedures. It wasn’t long before other health problems/side effects slowly crept up as my health continued to deteriorate. I was repeatedly told by doctors through all this, “that everything I was experiencing was normal for someone in my condition”, and that, ” I needed to except all of this as my new normal”. I long lost count of how many times I was told “I would need to take medication(s) for the rest of my life”, or that, “my heart would not improve”. According to the doctors I was seeing, medication was the only way to slow down this free-fall of cascading health issues, and slowing down the progression was the best anyone could hope for. Many times, I sat and listened as doctors lectured me about excepting all this as “my new normal”. At one point I even had a doctor tell me “the terrible side effects I was experiencing from medication(s) was better then what could happen if I stopped taking any of them”. None of this painted a nice picture of my future and I felt like my life completely depended on that big box of medication I was forced to take everywhere I went.
Thankfully, listening to the doctor was never one of my strongest suits, so despite all the discouragement from the same doctors who had initially saved my life, I continued doing everything I could to improve my health by using every opportunity available to learn everything I could on heart/health related topics. I made lots of changes inline with what I was learning/re-learning, and Little by little, my heart started getting stronger and healthier. As I began seeing results, staying the course became easier and easier, and at some point just became my “new normal”. 10 years out and I remain 100% medication free with non of the heart disease/failure symptoms that once ruled my life. Today, my heart is stronger then what the experts led me to believe was even possible.
Never sell yourself short based on what the experts think you should believe. While modern cardiac/trauma care is nothing less then miraculous short term, healthy lifestyle habits provide the best outcome long term. You are the one in control your health, not your doctor. The food you eat, the amount of sleep you get, exercise, fresh air, sunshine, stress management, the environment you choose to live in, even the people you choose to surround yourself with, all part of the equation making up your current bill of health. 10 years out and my life ROCKS… Heart disease has nothing on this lifestyle…
Isle Royale, (the largest island in Lake Superior), is over 45 miles (72 km) in length and 9 miles (14 km) wide at its widest point. The park is made up of Isle Royale itself and approximately 400 smaller islands, along with many submerged reefs within 4.5 miles (7.2 km) of the surrounding islands. Isle Royale National Park was established on April 3, 1940, then additionally protected from development by wilderness area designation in 1976 and declared a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve in 1980. The park covers 894 square miles (2,320 km2), with 209 square miles (540 km2) of land and 685 square miles (1,770 km2) of surrounding waters. The park’s northern boundary lies adjacent to the Canadian Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area along the international border.
Isle Royale is the largest Island on Lake Superior, Making it the largest Island, on the Largest freshwater lake, in the world. The Island is very remote and completely off grid this time of the year. During the summer months, Isle Royale boast a steady turnover of tourists coming to hike, fish, view the wildlife and magnificent scenery, and to camp on the Island. There is a ferry boat that shuttles people up from Copper Harbor Michigan, or down from Grand Portage Minnesota, to the Island. The ferry(s) run three times a week during the tourist season, typically from around the middle of May, until closing the first week of October. There is also limited seaplane service available to and from the Island, with a sea plane dock both in Rock Harbor, and Wendigo Harbor.
During the tourist season there is a lot of people hiking/camping on the Island, as well as boaters and a full staff of rangers from the park service, so the Island somewhat loses it “wilderness feel” during the busy season. But once the services are all shut down at the end of the season/late fall, there is nothing and no one for miles around. This time of the year the place takes on a whole new ambiance, giving you a true feeling of what it’s like to be fishing off grid in the wilderness. No cell phone coverage, no/limited radio coverage, and no one to flag down in the event you experience trouble. You are completely on your own this time of the year, so you must plan accordingly. Because Isle Royale is so remote and uninhabited this time of the year, lots of pre-planning goes into this trip. I go over my boat with a fine-tooth comb in the weeks leading up to the trip. I do my best to plan for most contingency’s, packing lots of tools and spare boat parts. My boat is an awesome craft, but at 20 years old she is showing some of her age and requires constant maintenance and repair. I have come to realize the true meaning of “BOAT”, (“bust out another thousand”), and this year proved no different. Upon inspecting the lower units only days prior to departure, I ended up rebuilding the lower drive on the starboard motor and replacing another one of my cannon downriggers, along with spending another few hundred dollars in misc. spare parts, pieces and chemicals/lubes. Thankfully the folks over at Aronsons Marine, in Tower, Minnesota, where able to help me get that lower unit fixed quickly. They had all of the knowledge and most of the parts needed to get that lower unit working again. They were really busy but made time to help me out. The parts not in stock, they provided only two days later. Great service. Thanks, Aronsons.
Part of planning a trip like this includes estimating/guesstimating gas consumption for the days we were planning to be out on the water fishing. Since we were planning on fishing an extra day this year, I strapped an extra 30 gallons/190 pounds of gas up on the bow of the boat just in case we needed to supplement the 250 gallons/1575 pounds of gas already in the tank. On top of the 1765 pounds of fuel aboard, Tony and Nick brought along what I’m going to guestimate as another 1000 pounds of camping gear, coolers, and health food/snacks. At this point, the boat was loaded right down to the wire of what I consider a safe loaded weight for traversing/crossing the rough waters between the mainland and Isle Royale. The rear scuppers and their relationship to the water line are somewhat a telltale sign with regards to overloading the boat, and by the time Nick and Tony were done loading their gear aboard, the scuppers were barely an inch above the water line. Originally, I had planned on shoving off for the island early Thursday morning, but gale winds the night before had whipped Lake Superior into a white, frothy, frenzy with occasional waves peaking at 26 feet. As Thursday morning came and went one of the offshore meteorological buoys was still pegging wave peaks at 18 feet. With the boat so heavily loaded, I felt no choice other than to wait for the lake to lay down a bit. Thankfully, by around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the winds off the Rock of Ages light house/meteorological station (ROAM4) had died down to a steady 15 knots, occasionally guesting to 20 knots from the west/southwest, and the closest off shore NOAH meteorological buoy (45006) was pegging the current offshore waves at 8 feet. I knew from experience that with these winds, the wave tops could be a little higher out by the Island then what buoy 45006 was registering almost 40 miles to the southwest. Not wanting to deal with potentially large waves in the dark, or wanting to deal with setting up camp in the dark, I decided to shove off, steering our fully loaded boat towered the big swells we could see rising and falling out across the horizon. The ride across the open water was better than expected. We were somewhat quartering into the waves off our 2 o’clock, and they were a couple feet smaller than I what I initially thought they would be.
By the time I could see Rock of Ages light house 5 miles or so off the port side, the waves had pretty much subsided into giant swells, making for an enjoyable and easy ride across the open water. This was my tenth time making this voyage and I have learned a lot during those trips. One of the lessons I learned early on was to avoid Rock of Ages light house by a large margin anytime the wind is blowing. Depending on the winds and wave direction(s), this can be a treacherous area. I have boated through this area with the lake whipped into a frenzy on several occasions and can say from experience the wave frequency here becomes very tight, building waves so steep they appear straight up and down. I have watched waves/moguls rise up out of smaller waves that became taller then my boat in a matter of seconds. You cannot read these waves/water as they just seem to rise up at random in this area. I have taken a few of these waves right over the top of my boat three different times. Trust me when I say waves coming over the top of the boat is not for the faint of heart. I nicknamed this area the “washing machine”. If you watch the types of waves your washing machine produces on the “agitate” cycle, and then super-size the image, making the waves peak higher than the top of the boat, you begin to get a picture of what the area around Rock of Ages looks like when Lake Superior gets angry. Staying at least five miles off shore in this area seems to avoid some of that agitation and makes up for the extra couple miles incurred by somewhat decreasing the overall travel time to the cans off Siskiwit Bay/Point Houghton.
Our normal routine on this trip has been to tie up/dock at the Siskiwit Bay campground dock. This place has a very heavy-duty concrete dock positioned behind a small rock break wall that protects the boat well in most winds. This campground has what I will term “Adirondack shelters”, built by the park service for people to camp in. The “Adirondack shelters” are three sided structures with a roof, fully screened in on the fourth/open side. They provide a dry, bug free camping experience for those who would otherwise be camping out under the stars. In the past, Nick and Tony have always used these shelters to sleep in. This time of the year the shelters are invaluable to anyone camping since most nighttime temps are well below zero and rain, sleet and snow is common. Personally, I don’t need a shelter or a tent because I sleep snug as a bug in the cuddy of my boat. The cabin/cuddy on the boat is super comfy and warm, making a great place to camp. It has plenty of space for just me, (or me and Heidi), but unfortunately for Tony and Nick, its a little cozier then I what I care to share with them, so they rely on the park shelters for a place to sleep. Our initial plan had been to arrive at the Siskiwit Bay campground in time for Tony and Nick to set up camp before it got dark. The Siskiwit Bay campground is approximately 10 miles from where we usually begin the search for those big fish and Siskiwit Bay campground is the closest, safest, dockage in proximity of this area that also provides a campground equipped with shelters. There are other places around the Island we could dock, (such as “Hay Bay”), but they do not provide camping shelters.
In just a little over an hour and a half, we had made the 50 some mile boat ride, from Grand Portage, Minnesota, to the Siskiwit Bay campground on Isle Royale. Not bad travel time for bumpy seas and a boat heavily laden with fuel and camping equipment. As we were coming down that final stretch in Siskiwit bay somewhere the last couple miles before the the campground, I noticed a turbo propped Cessna Caravan on floats coming at us from the end of the bay. I stayed somewhat focused on the plane, watching it lift off the water before it flew directly over us as it climbed out steeply to the Southwest. I was surprised to see a float plane out there for several reasons but none the less was even more surprised when I turned my attention to the dock and realized there were a few boats tied up that were occupying the only sheltered section of dock, forcing us to tie up on the very end of the dock out in the wind. As we continued getting closer, I also noticed there were quite a few people hanging out, sitting on the dock down by the other boats. As I guided the boat alongside the windy end of the dock, Tony and Nick jumped out of the boat onto the dock and held the boat steady while I went about digging out some docking lines and bumpers. Before we even had the boat tied off to the dock, two park rangers who appeared dressed for battle, wearing side arms, tasers, and militaristic/utility type uniforms, had walked down the dock to officially informed us that the campground and dock was OFFICIALLY closed to the public. I hope the days of Smokey the bear dressing like a park ranger are over. I really don’t want my child hood image of Smokey the Bear ruined by seeing him dressed for battle and carrying armaments in this fashion. These park rangers today look more like soldiers then park rangers.
I had made a lot of plans based on using this camp site. Those plans included everything from the amount of extra fuel we had brought, to telling my wife and a few others what campground we were planning to stay at so they would know where to start the search if we didn’t return. There was no way to call any of these people at this point. We were really being thrown off guard since Nick and Tony would also need shelter for the night at whatever place we found safe dockage for the boat. I couldn’t help myself from becoming somewhat irritated. It was now pushing the last couple hours of daylight and we were being told to go somewhere else. Somewhere happened to be a long way away, across unfamiliar water, using unknown anchorages/docks, with night quickly approaching. I tried hiding my frustration despite all those thoughts going through my head and did my best to act polite and show respect while the ranger on point continued to interrogate us. The ranger on point seemed very interested our life story’s and didn’t seem to have any concern that he was holding us up as the sun continued to go down. I couldn’t help but become more agitated as he pried on. Something about someone wearing all that weaponry while brandishing such a standoffish attitude that really strikes a sour note with me. Apparently, there was a mix up with our paper work, (or lack of), and whoever the nice lady was that Nick had called the day before to secure the park permit for our stay was unaware Siskiwit bay was going to be closed the following day, or at least she never informed Nick of such. I asked the ranger why the campground was closed, and he said the reason was “confidential/secret and couldn’t be publicly disclosed”. At this point, hopefully the Park Ranger didn’t hear the accidental F-bomb muttered under my breath. I didn’t mean it. It just slipped out once the pieces started coming together and I began to figure out why they were out there, and why they had closed this campground down.
In recent years, the wolf population on the Island has been dying off and according to the purported experts, one of the reasons are the inbred genetics of the current wolf population. These experts feel the moose population also needs predators to keep the population at healthy levels, so they plan on building a stronger wolf population by relocating 20 or so wolves to the Island. This was the second wolf relocated, not counting the one they accidentally killed in the process. Personally, I am against the entire plan. Not because I have anything against wolves, but more importantly, because I am fiscally conservative, and see tens of millions in tax dollars being spent in a way that provides very little return for the tax payers. I do not believe they are doing nature any favors either, since both the wolfs and the moose population are not even indigenous/native to this island and in fact have inhabited it for less than 100 years. The park service adding wolves on the Island is no more natural to Isle Royale, then the local zoo adopting elephants. To see those expensive government owned boats and airplane, not to mention all those people at the campground who were on the government payroll overseeing and facilitating this government biology/science experiment, really helped me put in perspective just how expensive it must be to relocate wolves. All this for just one wolf…? I am going to guess the cost of all this to be somewhere in the tens of millions since they are planning on bringing an additional 20 more wolves to the Island. I can’t help but think how many poor people we could have helped with this tax money. I personally know plenty of elderly/retired people struggling just to afford food, medications, and health care after spending their entire lives working hard and paying taxes. Shouldn’t we help these people before we help the wolves…? As far as trimming down the moose population, there are plenty of people that would be willing to harvest the moose for food. Why couldn’t the park service offer some moose hunts to the highest bidders with provisions included for the meat to be donated to a local food shelf to help feed the less fortunate. Many, me included, see spending millions in tax money to build a wolf pack on the Island as a “reckless” use of tax money at best. Something the park service press releases on this topic never mention or discuss, are the potential unintended consequences. According to some wildlife biologists, one of the potential possibilities of building up a strong wolf pack, is that it could quickly change the balance of predator and prey, leaving more wolves then moose. There are many possible variables that will be at play here and some of the possibilities create disturbing possibilities for the Island. No matter how it turns out, it’s an expensive science experiment at best, and the overall beneficiaries do not seem to be the hard working tax payers who are working hard to pay for all this.
Thankfully one of the park rangers did in fact turn out to be very polite, professional, and helpful without needing my life story, and she also seemed to hold her posture in a manner that didn’t brandish the weapons she was wearing, the way her counterpart did. Her name was Emily and she was very polite, not abrasive and mistrusting like the other officer seemed to be. She offered to show us some of the lake charts/maps she had in her boat to help us identify another anchorage option for the night. According to the chart Emily showed us, the closest dock with any camping shelters was another 10-12 miles down Siskiwit Bay, next to a seasonal ranger station at a campground known as Malon Bay. I had never personally never personally been to this dock, but had read accounts from other boaters who had stayed there only to complain about the dockside swells that roll in during a Southeast wind. A Southeast wind was forecast to blow for the next couple days so part of me was seriously questioning the idea of using this dock, but with the sun going down so fast and no closer docking/camping options available, we pushed off and set course for Malon Bay. I crossed my fingers in hopes Tony and Nick would get situated into a campsite before darkness settled in. The sun was just setting beneath the trees as we pulled up to the dock in Malon bay. The camp ground turned out to be the better part of a ½ mile from the boat dock, with the trail connecting the two, full of deadfall blocking the trail, most likely blown down in the gale force winds the night before. Nick and Tony had been planning on camping in the Siskwit Bay campground shelters that were next to the dock when they packed all those big plastic totes full of camping gear along with that great big heavy-duty Pelican cooler. Here at Malone Bay, there was no way they could carry all that camping gear they had packed down the 1/2 mile trail full of fallen trees before dark. Lucky for them for them, there was a nice log cabin right next to the dock with the door wide open. Not sure what the cabin was for or who owns it. There were no signs saying who it belonged too, and no signs saying we couldn’t use it, so Nick and Tony took shelter in it for the night, avoiding a trek down that trail to the camping shelters.
That night the winds picked back up as the temps dropped down into the middle/upper 30’s. It rained/sleeted hard on and off all night. Several times during the night I was awakened to the sound of the bilge pump turning o to eject the rain water out of the boat. As I predicted, the dock offered very little protection from the SE winds, and the boat was getting tossed pretty hard all night. This made a good night’s sleep difficult at best. The winds continued picking up throughout the night and by morning it was driving 1-2 foot swells straight into the dock. The boat had been tugging on its dock lines so hard throughout the night, that I was somewhat worried they might break, letting the boat drift onto the same rocks those swells were crashing into. Upon getting up that morning, I closely examined all the docking lines for any damage/fraying, and added a few more redundant lines. Looking out across Malone bay, I could see all the way across Siskiwit bay to the outer islands that separate Siskiwit bay from Lake Superior. Looking straight across the bay at Menagerie light house/Island, I could see large swells rolling in across Lake Superior from the southeast that were crashing on the rocks of Menagerie Island in spectacular fashion. These waves were much bigger then what I wanted to spend the day fishing in, so we decided to do a little sightseeing/hiking on the island while we waited for the winds to lay down. After cooking some breakfast in that cold wind driven rain/sleet, we headed up the hiking trail headed north out of Malone Bay. We hiked a couple of different trails, seeing Siskiwit Lake and the falls/creek coming out of it that lead to Superior. No moose were seen, but there were plenty of moose tracks on the trails. Siskiwit lake was beautiful and well worth the short hike from camp. By the time we were back to camp, my feet were wet. My Solomon hiking boots had failed me, and my feet were now soaking wet. Thankfully I had a pair of dry running shoes in the boat. The rain/sleet was still coming down steady, and the wind was unrelenting. At around 5pm that evening, we finally saw a fleeting glimpse of the sun as it peaked out for a couple minutes. After seeing that fleeting glimpse of the sun, I tuned in for the latest “NOAH Marine forecast and latest observations” using the Marine radio in the boat. Thankfully they were calling for the winds to switch direction and lie down, but not until early the following morning after blowing steady throughout the night.
Saturday morning arrived and the winds switched to the Northeast before laying down as predicted. The sun was periodically peeking out through the dark clouds. Even though it was only in the middle 30’s, now that the wind had laid down and the rain/sleet stopped, it felt much warmer then the day before. I was really excited at this point to finally get out on the big lake to look for those big fish. After all, this whole trip is supposed to be about the BIG fish. Everything else is secondary. As we made our way across the bay, headed to the big lake, large swells could be seen rolling in and crashing on the rocks of the outer islands, but there was no wind pushing them. We had hurriedly left camp, even skipping breakfast to get on those fish while the winds were laying down. The weather had already cost us a couple days of fishing, and the forecast for the following day wasn’t looking very stellar either. As we rounded Point Houghton and made our way through the navigation cans, there was no wind to speak of. Even a few miles offshore, the only waves we had to contend with were large gentle swells still rolling in from the southeast. There was no wind driving these large swells at this point and the sun was still occasionally peeking out at us through the clouds. Within the first couple minutes of getting some fishing lines in the water we were rewarded with a nice lake trout. Through out the day, we managed to pull in fish, but the big ones we had come looking for managed to avoid us. Even on the boat’s sonar, I failed to see any big fish/marks. Throughout the day we continued catching fish, but nothing trophy size. Sometime in the early afternoon I again tuned into NOAH weather radio. They were now forecasting another change in wind speed and direction for later that night, predicting waves heights in the 12-foot range the following day. Hearing this forecast completely ruined my plans of looking for big fish the following day. Besides being very hard to fish in those conditions, the boat ride back to the mainland would take 3-4 hours with waves that size/direction. Since we only needed one more fish to make a full limit, we talked it over and decided to catch one more before calling it a weekend and heading back to port. Within ten minutes that last fish was brought aboard, and we headed back to Malone bay to load up Nick and Tony’s camping gear before heading to port. The ride back to Grand Portage from Malone Bay was easy and uneventful. We were traveling the same direction as the lazy 2-3 foot seas for most of ride, and the entire trip back took less then and hour and a half. As I backed the boat into the garage later that night after very long day 18 hour day, I couldn’t help but reflect back on it all. We didn’t catch any of the trophy fish we were hoping for as in all years past, but it was still an awesome adventure hunting the big lake for those trophy fish. As Tony and Nick will tell you, a bad day of fishing is still better then a good day of work…
I am excited to report the foot injury that kept me from running most of the summer is on the mend. I managed an easy/slow 6 miles this morning without issue and was even able to crank up the pace a bit on my last mile without the foot becoming angry… Nothing makes my heart feel stronger and happier than being able to charge up that last hill while holding onto a 7:45 pace for the last mile… It felt so GOOD… Wish I could share that feeling with everyone. I am headed off grid first thing in the morning for my annual Isle Royale fishing adventure. (Isle Royale Adventure 2117)Hoping to get a short trail run in while on the Island… Of all the national parks here in the USA, this is one of the most remote, least traveled/visited, and by far my favorite. This late into the season, there are zero services available on the island along with zero cell phone coverage. Its a 70-mile boat ride with a lot of big water and places to fish between the mainland and the campsite.
Running in remote locations like Isle Royale make me GLAD to have a Medtronics ICD… Another cardiac arrest out there in the wilderness would be the end of me without this thing for sure… 🙂 Stay tuned for MORE BIG fish pictures along with a trail report from Isle Royale Adventure, 2018…