Paleofantasy: a book report

Paleofantasy

What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live

by Marlene Zuk

Published Feb. 2013 by W.W.Norton & Co., 328 pages

paleofantasy

 

 

 

 

 

When I was in high school, first learning about genetics, things seemed fairly simple and straightforward.  Blue eyes, a recessive trait, required two genes, one from each parent, specifying blue eyes.  Otherwise, the eyes would be brown, being from a dominant gene.  Since then, with the explosion of scientific knowledge of molecular biology and the analysis of the entire human genome, the world of genetics and evolution has, well, evolved, to put it in the phrasing of Dr. Zuk, a professor of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota.  But it is as if we have just dipped our toe in a vast and unexplored ocean, which was previously unknown.

I picked up this book at my favorite book shop in the U.S., Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, while on a ski trip in February.  The title captured my interest.  There is a huge “Paleo” movement at present, based on the theory that our genes adapted to life of the paleolithic time, that is, from about 2.5 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago.  This covers a lot of time, from when earliest human-like creatures developed, to the development of modern homo sapiens.  A search on Amazon for books with paleo in the title yields 2,719 titles, very few of which have to do with actual paleontology.  They are almost all about eating paleo, living the paleo lifestyle, and there was even a paleo cookbook for your dog.  The concept is that humans evolved before the era of agriculture, caught their meals in bursts of speed chasing down animals, gathered vegetable food from nature, and walked and ran barefoot.  Thus, the argument goes, we are best suited for this type of food, and life, and that our genes are ill equipped to handle crops such as grains, non-meat sources of protein, and running long distances, especially in shoes.  There are also devotes to various concepts of how stone-agers lived in family units, or groups, how they coupled up and reproduced, and whether there was pairing for life versus multiple partner life.  The purpose of devoting oneself to a paleo lifestyle, then, is to be in harmony with ones nature and genes, to be healthier, leaner, fitter, sexier, have less immunological problems, and presumably, to be able to run injury free.

Dr. Zuk starts off with a brief description of human evolution.  She explains some of the complexity of the evolutionary process, that many human ancestor lineages were changing in different ways, that we share an enormous percent of our genome with earlier species right down to bacteria, and that evolutionary change is not always change for the good.  She points out some of the complexity of genes being favorable or unfavorable for survival.  For example, if a trait is unfavorable, and results in loss of that trait, other genes will be lost along with that  trait due to their being linked together.  She gives specific examples. She also documents that there was not just one paleolithic lifestyle; there were many different routes taken along very different paths.

Her second major point is that evolutionary change can happen quickly or slowly, and may occur without any type of survival pressure.  An argument of the paleo adherents is that our genes were fixed back in pre-modern times, and that the last 10,000 years is too short a time to allow for adaption to new foods, and new ways of living.  She rebuts this with specific examples of changes that have occurred in that relatively short period.  Blue eyes, mentioned above, came about in the last 10,000 years.  Lactose intolerance seems to have a lot to do with where and how one’s group survived, and is also very recent.  It has the complex nature of being caused by a lack of a gene to inhibit built in turning off of another gene which inhibits lactase production as one matures, lactase being the enzyme required to digest lactose.  She mainly discusses genetic changes which are changes in gene expression, as opposed to major gene alterations such as occur with mutations.  In other words, she’s not talking about how we got to be human, but rather how our genome is modified over time to adapt to our surroundings.

The following chapters deal with diet, food procuring methods, exercise or physical activity including running, sex, monogamy versus multiple partners, family structure, child raising, susceptibility to diseases, and how we protect ourselves from disease.  Her discussions of these topics are backed up with scientific studies, and she cites the literature from which she makes her arguments.  She also points out where the science does not support the claims made by paleo adherents, thus the “Paleofantasy” of the title.  In many ways, she does not try to say that the “paleo” approach to diet or exercise is harmful, just that it is not based on real scientific reasoning.  As with any devoted scientist, she includes a lengthy bibliography which she used to form her arguments, as well as a notes section and an index.

Her writing style was an interesting, and sometimes to me, annoying mix of sound scientific argument with a conversational tone that seemed unnecessary.  It was like watching a really good Nova TV show on a particular topic, and then having a few lines from the sitcom “Cheers” thrown in.  She uses the word “well” a lot, as I used it above in the first paragraph.  I enjoyed the humorous touches, though, and I think she would make a very entertaining teacher in the classroom.  The title of the book is clearly meant to titillate, listing sex as the first major topic, when it’s really primarily about diet.  She got most of her information regarding the paleo lifestyle from the internet and popular books, which makes sense, since it’s not a scientific discipline, but it does make comparisons of real research with what paleo advocates consider perfectly logical thinking a bit one-sided.  This is not meant to be a book for scholars, but for the lay public, and I think she has accomplished that very well without sacrificing the scientific complexity which makes this topic so interesting.

I learned a lot reading this book, about evolution and current thought about genes and molecular biology.  I think she makes very sound arguments that, while living a paleo lifestyle may not hurt you, you won’t necessarily be any better off for it.  She successfully defends her thesis, that the paleo movement is based on fantasy, not fact.  Reading the comments about her book online, there were obviously many adherents of the paleo life who were not only unconvinced by her arguments, but found her book essentially sacrilegious.  In fact, a number of commentators remarked that they would not read the book. For me, it was an exciting look at topics which are themselves changing rapidly as new research is done in the areas of evolution, genes, reproduction, disease, disease prevention, fitness and longevity.  I think anyone who is interested in these topics will find this book fascinating and a good read, as long as you can, well, ignore some of the style issues.

Vlad Averbukh, 29, a follower of the paleo diet, eats raw meat along the Hudson River in New York in 2010. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Vlad Averbukh, 29, a follower of the paleo diet, eats raw meat along the Hudson River in New York in 2010.
Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Why I Didn’t Run in Hawai’i (part three, the final part)

Hawaiian Islands

Hawaiian Islands

We finished our boat tour of the lava flow into the ocean, full of awe at the spectacle of being so close to flowing melted rock.  Rather than head back to Kona, which would be a two hour drive, then return again the next morning, we decided to spend the night at a bed and breakfast close to Volcano National Park, which would be our next big adventure on the big island.  This also meant skipping the Saturday morning run with the Big Island Running Company, which I had planned to do before realizing how tightly packed our itinerary would be once we got here.

We stayed overnight at the Aloha Crater Lodge, in Volcano Village, close to the entrance to Volcano National Park.  This is a small Bed and Breakfast in a converted house within the rain forest, with very reasonable rates.  They have five rooms, each with room for three to four occupants, and the breakfast is provided in-room, with a coffee maker and a small refrigerator stocked with milk, juice, cereal and fruit.  Being in the rain forest as it is, the room was very humid, but the bed was nice and comfortable.  Close to the lodge there is a lava tube, which is a large cave-like tunnel created by the flow of lava.  They give tours daily of the lava tube, but we decided not to participate, since we would be seeing the same thing on our bike tour of the national park.

Aloha Crater Lodge

Aloha Crater Lodge

We arranged for a tour of Volcano National Park with BikeVolcano.com, a company which offers several different bicycle tours of the park, although not every tour every day.  They require a minimum number of people signed up to do a tour, and one needs to sign up at least 48 hours in advance.  They also will ride rain or shine, since it rains often on this side of the island.  We were able to sign up for their shorter tour, although we really wanted the longer one.

Like any other national park, there is a nominal fee to enter.  We drove up to the visitors center, and had some time before our tour started to look at the exhibits and browse the gift shop.  Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park extends from the summit of Mauna Loa to the sea, with Kilauea being the active volcano.  Our bike tour company pulled up with their trailer to the parking lot.

Jaggar_sign_crop688

Photo obtained from national park service web site.

Naturally, the first order of business was for all the participants to sign a waver saying we wouldn’t hold them responsible if we fell into a volcano, or any other mishap.  We were driven up to the Jagger Museum, where we would see the giant caldera of Kilauea, which has its own name, the Halema’uma’u crater.  Thomas Jaggar was an M.I.T. geologist who started the study of volcanoes scientifically here in 1912, in response to the eruption of Mt. Etna in Italy in 1908, which claimed 125,000 lives.  The caldera is very wide, and has an enormous pool of lava churning in a central pit.  There is an impressive time-lapse video on the park website of the glow from Halema’uma’u as the sun sets, revealing the glow from the central lava lake.

vapors from Halema'uma'u

Vapors coming from the central pit of Halema’uma’u crater

At the Jaggar museum, overlooking the Kilauea caldera.

At the Jaggar museum, overlooking the Kilauea caldera.

Along the edge of the caldera is a hiking trail.  The tiny white dot in the photo is a sign warning hikers to not go off the trail.

Along the edge of the caldera is a hiking trail. The tiny white dot in the photo is a sign warning hikers to not go off the trail.

We had some time to peruse the exhibits on volcanology at the Jaggar Museum, learning about the difference between a shield type vs. a cone type of volcano, how volcano activity is monitored, how geologists collect lava samples (which can be tricky, and dangerous as we saw), and what makes up the airborne emissions from volcanoes  We were then directed to the parking lot and were assigned a bike.  The bikes were Sedona hybrid bikes, made by Giant.  They were adjustable to match our own frames, did not have toe clips, and were equipped with three front rings and seven gears in the rear.  They were set to the second ring in front, and their was a briefing from the tour guide regarding how to shift.  We would be riding on paths and roads around the park, and there were a few hills involved.  We got a chance to practice riding around in the parking lot before we set out.  Our guide was well equipped to give us our tour, as he was a graduate with a geology degree, and he had a special interest in volcanoes.  He also seemed to be very laid back, with long hair and a bright, easy-going demeanor.

Our guide in red, and fellow cyclists at one of the stops.

Our guide in red, and fellow cyclists at one of the stops.

We were taken by steam vents, down old roads partially destroyed by lava flows, and to other crater formations within the park.  One particularly interesting phenomenon is the lava tube.  These are long cave-like channels through the ground which are conduits for flowing lava.  They can be a few hundred yards long, or several miles.  They provide insulation for the flowing lava so it remains molten as it travels through the tube, eventually draining their contents out onto a lava field or into the ocean.  One of the most famous of these is the Thurston lava tube, named after the Honolulu newspaper owner who helped Jagger get his start studying volcanos, and who personally discovered this tube.

Looking into the Thurston Lava Tube.  Note the flat floor, from cooled lava, and the lava level marks on the side walls.

Looking into the Thurston Lava Tube. Note the flat floor, from cooled lava, and the lava level marks on the side walls.

We walked through a portion of this tube, about 100 yards, and exited up through a vent whole.   It is located within dense jungle growth, with steep crevices and sharp rocks all around.  We were told this tube goes on farther, but that section is closed to the public.  A side crater of Kilauea, Pu’u O’o, is the source of the lave we watched flow into the ocean, and it travels there through tubes like this one.

Typical of the ground around the lava tube, it is all crevices and rock with jungle-like overgrowth.

Typical of the ground around the lava tube, it is all crevices and rock with jungle-like overgrowth.

Discovering this lava tube originally would have taken some fearless exploration.  We also cycled to see a steam vent, where steam, not lava vapors, were coming up through a crevice in the ground.  Unlike the vapors from the lava, which contain all sorts of harmful airborne particles and gasses, this steam was just water vapor.  Interestingly, many people treated this crack in the earth like a fountain, and threw coins into it, I suppose, to curry favor with Pélé, the goddess of volcanoes, whose home is Kilauea.  It is considered tabu and a serious crime against Pélé to take anything such as volcanic rock away from Hawai’i.  A popular story told to us tourists is that the main post office in Hilo has a collection of rocks sent back by visitors who took them away, then suffered Pélé’s wrath.

We finished our tour on bikes looking at several other impressive craters, such as the “Ever-Smoking” Crater, with its numerous vents of smoke rising, and the Kilauea Iki crater, near the main caldera of Kilauea, where an eruption in 1959 reach heights of 580 meters (1900 feet) occurred.  A USGS film documenting the eruption was made, and is available in four parts on YouTube.

At a stop along the way, on our bike tour of the Hawaiian Volcano National Park

At a stop along the way, on our bike tour of the Hawaiian Volcano National Park

After finishing our bike tour, we headed back to the gift shop, naturally, where I picked up a refrigerator magnet showing lava flowing into the ocean, and a book on volcanoes, called “Volcano Watching, Revised 2010 Edition”.  It is short, but filled with well-written explanations about the science of volcanoes.  We then headed back to our car for the two hour drive back to Kona, along the southern perimeter of Hawai’i.  We stopped for lunch at a well known bakery and restaurant called Punalu’u Bake Shop.  It is known for its sweet breads, and for excellent sandwiches.  We also stopped along the road at an old cemetery, which had grave stones present from the late 1800’s forward.  The grave sites were notable for many above ground or partially buried stone containers of the caskets, presumably due to the difficulty of digging into rock.  Since there were a number of family members visiting relative’s graves here I did not take any photos.

Arriving back in Kona, we went to our hotel, for a bit of rest before our repeat trip to see the amazing dancing manta rays.  Sea Paradise, our manta ray tour company, has a guarantee (with asterisk) which states one gets a second opportunity for no extra charge if manta rays are not seen.  We were determined not to allow the letdown of the first trip discourage us.  Again, we headed back to the check-in office to sign the usual release forms, and to get our wet suits.  We then drove back to Keauhou Bay, waiting for the boat to load.  We had a beautiful sunset and also watched canoe racers practicing turns around a buoy.

Canoe racers practicing in Keauhou Bay.

Canoe racers practicing in Keauhou Bay.

The drill getting into the boat was the same as last time.  We had to take off our footwear and place them in a container before boarding the boat.  We had a different crew this time, but they were just as energetic and confident as the last crew.  The captain, a young handsome guy who appeared to really enjoy his job, was back at the helm.  As we motored out to the viewing area, we were treated to the now familiar talk on manta rays, what they eat, how they are attracted to the plankton, and how the plankton are drawn to the lights.  We were offered tea or juice on the way out, and masks and snorkels were handed out.  Once at the viewing area, we pulled on our wet suits and prepared for the dip into the ocean.  I was a bit concerned that this would be another hour spent breathing through a snorkel in the dark, with nothing to show for it.  We marched down the ladder into the ocean, Kathleen and I, along with about twenty five other people.  This time, I was stationed at the end of the long floating device with the attached lights, next to one of the crew at the very end who helped keep the float in the proper spot.  I started my vigil.  Yes, the plankton, true to their nature, were amassing under the light.  I could see some fish swimming around in the deeper water, and under them were large lava rocks.  Time was passing.  Not wanting to miss the first glimpse of the undersea marvels, I kept my head down, listening to my breathing sounds as my breath passed through the tube.  One becomes consciously aware of one’s breathing in this setting, and instead of it being automatic, one starts to think about it.  I found myself needing to actively initiate inhalation, then exhalation.  Still, the plankton swam about but no manta showed his or her wide wings.  The crew had moved the barge around to the front of the boat, perhaps hoping, as I sometimes do while fishing, that by changing location we’ll get lucky.  I started to look for ways to distract myself, since I was getting cold, and my right shoulder, injured the week before in a fall in San Diego, was starting to hurt.    I started to name the plankton.  There’s Susie, Fred and George, there goes Samantha and Robert, and look, it’s Kealea and Hunahuna, native Hawai’ian plankton.  I followed the path of my little friends as they swirled and scurried about.  I noticed people had left their posts at the barge, and had made their way back to the boat.  Apparently, I was one of the last to hold out hope of seeing a manta that night, along with Kathleen, who, no doubt, was also determined not to give up.  The two of us, though, came to the same conclusion, no mantas tonight.  We swam around to the stern, but as we swam we noticed, no, not mantas, but a huge school of needle fish which were swimming all around us right at the surface of the water.  They made the trip worthwhile.  They have iridescent colors, swim within inches of one’s face and arms, but never come in contact.  They were quite a marvel, and we stayed in the water a bit longer to enjoy them.  We then got back in the boat, stripped off our wetsuits, gave back our masks and snorkels, and sat down for the return to the dock.  The hot cocoa provided on the boat was very welcome, as I was shivering.  We were disappointed, but not overly so.  Again, you can’t command these creatures, you can only try to lure them, and I know our crew did the best they could for us.  After getting back to our car and changing back to clothes, we drove back to our hotel.

The following morning was our last in Hawai’i.  Unlike many trips, the flight out doesn’t leave until late, in our case, 10:00 PM.  So we still had a full day to enjoy just wandering around Kona, not needing to get anywhere.  Kathleen got her henna tattoo freshened up.  I went for a swim in the cove in front of our hotel, with a rented mask, which cost only $5 at the beach side equipment rental.  I saw myriad numbers of incredibly colored fish, with patterns one might think were made up by Dr. Seuss.  In the afternoon, we went looking for a bookstore, the Kona Bay Bookstore, which was difficult to find by walking, as it was tucked into a semi-industrial area, as we later found.  Instead, we found ourselves at the Kona Brewing Company, where they give tours of their brewery and a free beer tasting.  The last tour that day was at 3:00 PM, and they had two spots left.  We signed up.  The brewery, which was started as a very small operation by a father and son in 1995, has grown to major proportions.  The brewery in Kona now only produces kegs, no bottled beer, and distributes it only to the other Hawai’ian islands.  They also sell beer for growlers (two liter bottles one brings to get filled) at their brewery and there is a restaurant on premises, which looked very busy while we were there.  They have partnered with breweries in Oregon, Washington and New Hampshire to produce the beer in bottles sold in the U.S. mainland and other countries.  After our tour, our group sat around two large round tables in the restaurant.  Fortunately, the tables had umbrellas, since it was raining, although we hardly noticed.  We had a great afternoon, sampling five of their various brews including a coffee stout made with Kona coffee, and chatting with our other tour mates.

Across from our hotel, the start and finish of the Kona Ironman Triathlon Championships.

Across from our hotel, the start and finish of the Kona Ironman Triathlon Championships.

Hawai’i has attracted numerous famous visitors, from all over the world.  Mark Twain traveled as a correspondent to Hawai’i, known then as the Sandwich Islands to non-Hawai’ians, and recorded his thoughts in letters back to the mainland.  Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, Amelia Earhart, and I’m sure, many other famous people, in the era before modern airfare (not to dismiss Amelia Earhart’s accomplishments), traveled the long journey by steamship to visit the Hawai’ian Islands.  Today, it is still a long trip to get here, but definitely worth the effort.

We left Hawai’i that night, having had an incredible adventure and a lot of fun.  I would enjoy going back to do many of the things we didn’t get to do on this trip, such as see sea turtles, do some volcano hiking, and maybe, just maybe, see a manta ray.  I also might go for a few more runs on my return.  We found the local people of Hawai’i to be very friendly and helpful, and they take very seriously the ecology and care of their island.

Aloha Nō!

Hawai'ian sunset, Keauhou Bay.

Hawai’ian sunset, Keauhou Bay.

Why I Didn’t Run in Hawai’i (part two)

Hawaiian Islands

Hawaiian Islands

When I last wrote of this trip, we had returned from an unproductive trip waiting in vain to see manta rays.  This was the first reason I didn’t get more running in while in Hawai’i.  The Big Island Running Company, the running store in Kona, has group runs Tuesday and Thursday at 5 PM, and Saturday at 6:30 AM.  I had plans to do the Thursday run, but in order to get to our manta ray trip, I had to skip it.   Their usual run is about a six mile run, typically around an 8:30 pace.  The guy in the shop told me an option was to run with him and his friends for a five mile warm up, then hill repeats, and a five mile cool down.  I laughed, and said that normally I would take him up on it, but being on vacation I didn’t want to work that hard.  It was not an issue anyway, since we needed to get to our manta ray trip.

The next morning, we were heading to the other side of Hawai’i for a zip line tour.  There are a number of companies running zip lines in Hawai’i.  We selected Skyline Eco-Adventures, because we would be able to zip over waterfalls, and because they were the original zip line company in the U.S., at least according to their web site.  They also have a commitment to being “carbon neutral”, and ecologically friendly, which are all good things.  They are located on the other side of Hawai’i from Kona, near Hilo, so we would need to rise early in order to drive the two hours to get to the start on time.  Fortunately, our breakfast buffet started at 6 AM, and we were there a few minutes after that, fueling up for our adventure.  There are just a few ways to drive around the island.  There’s the southern route, which is the long way to get to Hilo.  There’s Saddle Road, which is the shortest route from Kona to Hilo, but a crazy drive.  We were heading to Akaka Falls State Park, which is north of Hilo.  So we took the northern route around the island, through Waimea.

View of Mauna Kea, with observatories visible at the summit, along route 190 heading toward Waimea.

View of Mauna Kea, with observatories visible at the summit, along route 190 heading toward Waimea.

Waimea is home of the Parker Ranch, which is a cattle ranching operation started in 1847 by John Palmer Parker.  Early on, the ranch covered 250,00 acres, and grew at one point to 500,000 acres.  It is now run by a trust, but still is an active cattle ranching company.  Also in Waimea are the support facilities for two of the large telescopes atop Mauna Kea, the Keck Observatory and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope.  We stopped in Waimea for a coffee at Starbucks.  While it seemed practically sacrilegious to buy Starbucks in the home of Kona coffee, I was pleased to see a long line of locals waiting to buy coffee, recognizing, probably, the high cost of the local product.  As we drove eastward along the northern part of Hawai’i, the climate changes significantly, going from arid conditions on the west of the island, to the rain forests of the eastern side.  We had some rain and fog along this part of the drive.  As we got to the turnoff for Akaka Falls, though, the rain stopped and the sun was peeking out.  We turned off route 19 to Honomu Road, to the staging office of our zip line company.

Office of Skyline Eco-Advenures, near Akaka Falls State Park in Hawai'i

Office of Skyline Eco-Advenures, near Akaka Falls State Park in Hawai’i

The office is a small, humble one, part of an old building with the other half unoccupied.  They seemed very professional and confident, though, so we were not concerned.  They have a large tackle box in the office which they call their lock box, and in which one can place items like keys and wallets.  It would be unfortunate if items like that slipped out of one’s pocket while zipping a few hundred feet above a gorge.  Of course, a clever thief could make off with the whole box, but fortunately, that didn’t happen.  The first thing, of course, was to sign the waver holding them blameless for any fate that should befall us.  Before heading out, our group of eleven intrepid explorers were fitted with our harnesses.  This set of thick nylon straps is the method by which we would be suspended from the zip cable.  A few warnings were given.  Don’t let your fingers get up to the contraption which has the wheels that zip along the cable.  The fingers will go missing.  Make sure any items one carries are secured to your person.  We were provided with a water bottle (very nice one, by the way, a 700 cc BPA-free bottle with a screw cap, which we attached by a carabiner to our harness.  Given the warmth and humidity, the water would be needed.

Kat, strapped in to her harness.

Kat, strapped in to her harness.

We then piled into a large van for our trip to the starting point.  The drive there was an adventure itself.  It was primarily over rough dirt roads which climbed through old banana and sugar cane fields.  While the bananas are still a viable crop, the sugar cane production is down significantly from it’s peak in the late 1960’s.  We had two guides, which is necessary for zip line tours, since you need one to get you going and the other to stop you at the other end.  Both of our guides were graduates of agriculture programs in college, and were able to provide us with a wonderful amount of information about the local flora, both native and non-native, and give us samples of local berries and flowers that could be plucked and eaten.  Our first zip line was a training line, to get us used to the action.

The training zip line, a little zip before moving on to the long ones.

The training zip line, a little zip before moving on to the long ones.

That done, we headed on to the next line.  Each zip line was longer than the last, and higher above the ground.  Along the way we got to sample some of the local banana crop, which are primarily the Williams and Apple type.  These, until recently, could not be shipped to the mainland due to fruit flies which might travel with them.  We were able to pluck them from the tree.  They are smaller, and quite a bit sweeter, than bananas back home.

Observing the banana trees along the zip line route.

Observing the banana trees along the zip line route.

We learned how to control our position on the zip line.  Rotating the clamp holding us to the rollers to the left would cause us to rotate to the right, and vice versa.  That way, we could get a look at all the great views under us as we went zipping by.   We crossed one set of waterfalls which was very beautiful.

A smaller falls.  The big one was yet to come.

A smaller falls. The big one was yet to come.  Kat goes zipping along the cable.

We also found that stretching out flat allows for a faster ride.  Between each zip line, there were seven in all, we walked from station to station, examining interesting plants and tasting the odd berry or flower with the urging of our guides.

Kat and Frank, clearly enjoying the zip experience!

Kat and Frank, clearly enjoying the zip experience!

When we got to the last of the zip lines, we needed to climb a tall, tower-like structure to start.  This was the longest ride, about 3300 feet, and it would take us over Akaka falls.

The tower for the last zip.

The tower for the last zip.

Kat preparing to take off over Akaka Falls.

Kat preparing to take off over Akaka Falls.

This would be a long ride, and would have some nice views in the middle.  One wouldn’t want to progress too slowly, though, and get hung up midway along the cable.  That has happened, according to our guides, and they had to use a special device to go out along the cable and rescue the poor lug.  So the word was, keep your speed up, enjoy the view, and we’ll see you on the other side.  I readied my camera to capture a picture of the falls as I went over it.  Dangling from a cable, twisting, wanting to keep my speed up, I wasn’t sure if I would capture much of a photo.  As it turns out, I was able to get a pretty terrific shot of the falls.

Akaka Falls as seen from the zip line.

Akaka Falls as seen from the zip line.

We had a fun group, and everyone was fearless from the start.  I would not have minded continuing on for several more zips, but unfortunately we had come to the end.  We boarded the van for the ride back to the office.

Our intrepid group of zip liners.

Our fearless group of zip liners.

Heliconia bihai, or Macaw flower, non-native to Hawaii, but introduced long ago, before the reign of King Kamehameha I

I think this is Heliconia bihai, or Macaw flower, non-native to Hawaii, but introduced long ago, before the reign of King Kamehameha I

After leaving Skyline Eco-Adventure office, having retrieved our valuables from the secure lock box, we headed off toward Hilo, the county seat of the island of Hawai’i, and the oldest city of the Hawaiian Islands.  On the way, we took a scenic detour along the Old Mamalahoa Highway, and found a beautiful view of Onomea Bay.

Onomea Bay seen from the Old Mamalahoa Highway.

Onomea Bay seen from the Old Mamalahoa Highway.

The dirt path down to the bay was accompanied by these signs:

DSC_0259a

We chose not to venture too far down the path, not out of fear, but because we were heading to our next adventure, the boat ride to see molten lava falling into the sea.  We stopped in Hilo for lunch, and found a delightful small cafe called the Puka Puka Kitchen, apparently a favorite of the locals.  After lunch, we walked around town a bit to familiarize ourselves with Hilo.  It is very much a working community, as opposed to Kona which is very much tourist oriented.  The University of Hawai’i is here, as are the Tsunami Museum, and the headquarters for the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation.  We then headed south, to the southeast point of Hawai’i, at Isaac Hale park, to meet up with our boat which would take us to see flowing lava.  The drive was not short, but went through some older communities, with a few papaya plantations along the way.  We stopped at Pāhoa, which seems to be where all the hippies from the sixties found a place to their liking.  It probably hasn’t changed much in the last 40 or so years.  I got some prepared mahi mahi to-go at the local supermarket, for dinner later, and some Maui Bikini Blonde lager, in cans.  We made it to Isaac Hale Park with time to spare.  This is a park near the water, where there is a small beach, and grassy picnic areas with rest room facilities.  A local motorcycle club was wrapping up a get together when we arrived, and other families were enjoying the barbecue grills and playground equipment.  We had made reservations with See Lava, a tour boat company we found in “101 Things To Do”, the big island edition.  We were surprised when our boat pulled up into the parking lot, on a big trailer.  The boat was not small, and was an open air boat with school bus style seats, and two big outboard engines in the rear.  They warn you ahead of time, expect the ocean to be rough!  Once we had signed, again, the obligatory waver that we would not hold them responsible for any mishap, we were allowed on board, which meant climbing up a rickety ten foot ladder, like a painter might use.  My wife and I took seats towards the rear, which, we were told, would be a little less rough than sitting towards the front.  The truck hauling the boat maneuvered it back towards the boat ramp at Isaac Hale park.  Several small children were swimming where the boat was to be launched.  They must have been through this exercise before, since the truck driver just kept heading to the ramp, and the children swam to the side as the boat slipped into the water.  Our engines were started, and we were on our way.

Expect the ocean to be rough was an understatement.  For the next 45 minutes, our craft pounded along through the waves, with a shudder and a spray of sea water on everyone with each crash over a wave.  The fellows managing the boat seemed perfectly comfortable, though, and there was island and volcano themed music coming through the on-board, water-resistant speakers.  They had advised everyone to fix feet under the bars, and hold on to something for the trip.  It turned out the advice was unnecessary, since not doing so would get you bounced out of the boat.  As we approached the viewing area, a sense of awe came over us, as we could see billows of steam rising from where the cliffs met the ocean.  Getting even closer, we could start to see the glow of the lava.

Getting close to the billowing vapor from the lava hitting the ocean water

Getting close to the billowing vapor from the lava hitting the ocean water

The source of the lava is the volcano Kilauea, which has been erupting continuously since 1983.  The lava rises and falls, and we were fortunate to see it now, while it is at a high point of flow.  It didn’t only flow directly into the ocean.  It has caused some serious damage to small towns in the path of the lave flow, completely destroying one subdivision called Royal Gardens, and cutting off access to a town called Kalapana.  Many homes and businesses are buried under 80 feet of lava.

Getting closer to the lava, one could start to hear the hiss and snap of the steam

Partial view of the boat that would bring us closer to the lava flow

We really started to move in closer to the action

We really started to move in closer to the action

The closer we got, the more the water was churning,reacting to the flow of molten rock

The closer we got, the more the water was churning,reacting to the flow of molten rock

In some areas the lava flowed like a river, in others, it fell as if from a lava faucet

In some areas the lava flowed like a river, in others, it fell as if from a lava faucet

As the lava flowed into the ocean, big chunks of solid rock form which were crackling and popping as they floated around us, trapped air keeping them afloat.  The crew hauled a bucket of sea water into the boat so we could feel how hot it was.  Indeed, it was very hot, almost scalding.

We were reminded by the crew to put down our cameras and just look at this marvel

We were reminded by the crew to put down our cameras and just look at this marvel

After spending about forty five minutes observing the lava flow it was time to head back.  Looking high on the overlying shelf we could see about fifty or so people who had hiked out to the cliff edge to observe this phenomenon from high up.  They were taking a risk, as the shelf of lava which forms from the flow periodically breaks off, and a few hundred acres can go crashing into the water.  Of course, if that were to occur while our boat was nearby, we would probably be boiled alive, too, but, fortunately for us all, we lived to talk about it.  This current lava flow reaching the ocean has been active since January of this year.  It could redirect, or turn off at any time.  The US Geological Survey keeps very detailed records of it’s activity, and updates are published on a daily basis.

After a smashing, wave crashing ride back to Isaac Hale Beach, we were hauled back up on land by a waiting boat trailer, the driver of which expertly collected the boat out of the water without a hitch (bit of nautical wordplay, there).  We then, with shaky legs, had to descend that same aluminum ladder we used to climb in to the boat.

Our next adventure was to be a tour of the Volcano National Park by bicycle, the next morning.  Since we were already on the side of the island with the National Park, it didn’t make sense to drive all the way back to Kona for the night, only to drive back here again the next morning.  We found overnight lodging in a small house turned bed and breakfast, called the Aloha Crater Lodge, located in Volcano, Hawai’i.  That will start part III of our big island tour.

Running in San Diego…what a trip!

San Diego is a beautiful place to run.  Along the coast, the cloud cover is present until around noon, but go inland a few miles and the sun breaks through early.  The temperature is usually fairly moderate, even in the summer, and it never gets too cold in the winter.  Staying in San Diego for my daughter’s graduation, I had the opportunity about two weeks ago to do one of my favorite loops, a ten mile run which runs from her apartment, around Balboa Park, down hill to Harbor Drive, along the paved walk along Harbor Drive, then back up to Balboa Park, along El Prado, and finishing past the San Diego Zoo and back to her apartment.

Ten Mile Loop in San Diego

Ten Mile Loop in San Diego

This loop starts about a mile from Balboa Park.  Running along the edge of the park, there is a steep downward path leading to a bridge over highway 163, then a steep climb back up to the park level.  Along 6th Avenue, there is a lot of room on grassy areas for early morning yoga classes and other fitness trainees using the free access to the park to their advantage.  The usual park dwellers, also known as homeless, although they consider this their home, also hang out here.  Their daily activities are set by the timing of the park sprinkler system.

Tree in Balboa Park, near the favorite spot for ultimate Frizbee.

Tree in Balboa Park, near the favorite spot for Ultimate Frisbee.

The route then turns westward down Laurel Street towards Harbor Drive.  I do mean downwards, too, as the drop from the park to the harbor is about 300 feet over a mile.  Laurel Street passes the San Diego International Airport, also known as Lindbergh Field.

Lindbergh Field's runways seen from Laurel Street.

Lindbergh Field’s runways seen from Laurel Street.

The planes landing at Lindbergh Field fly right over the buildings of downtown San Diego.

Plane coming in to Lindbergh Field for a landing.

Plane coming in to Lindbergh Field for a landing.

Once one reaches harbor drive, it is a nice flat run to the south along the pedestrian way.  There is a marina specifically for sailboats at the base of Laurel Street.  Maneuvering past the navy ships in the harbor may be a bit challenging, but then one can sail to the Coronado Islands, or Catalina, or perhaps down to Baja California.  I got a chance to sail with my college friend, Keith, back a few decades ago, on his father’s sailboat.  We took a trip out to the Coronado Islands, a group of four islands off the coast of Tijuana, and owned by Mexico.  We were followed by a group of dolphins the whole trip, and I suppose they were expecting something, although I’m not sure what.  Applause, maybe?  The islands have an interesting history and I’ve included a link to the Wikipedia article.

Sailboat Marina in San Diego Harbor at the base of Laurel Street.

Sailboat Marina in San Diego Harbor at the base of Laurel Street.

From the marina looking south along Harbor Drive towards downtown San Diego.

From the marina looking south along Harbor Drive towards downtown San Diego.

Running along the pedestrian way, one passes the San Diego Maritime Museum, a collection of historic ships which are restored and operational.  It includes the oldest operating sailing vessel in the world, the Star of India.  Farther down is the USS Midway aircraft carrier, commissioned in 1945, seeing action in Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm, and then decommissioned in 1992.  It can be visited, and is also a popular spot for private events, as it is huge and can accommodate a few thousand wild party goers.

USS Midway aircraft carrier in it's permanent berth in San Diego Harbor

USS Midway aircraft carrier in it’s permanent berth in San Diego Harbor

The last mile of the five miles out on this loop goes past the Seaport Village, a touristy shopping and restaurant area conveniently close to San Diego’s hotel and convention center area.  At my turn-around point, I had a nice view of the Coronado Bay Bridge (different Coronado than the islands mentioned above), and people flying very large and complex kites on a point of land extending into the harbor.

Coronado Bay bridge, and kite flyers

Coronado Bay bridge, and kite flyers

I then turned around and headed back towards Laurel Street, following the dictates of my Garmin.  I reached Laurel, and began the climb back up towards Balboa Park.  Still at sea level, going past the airport, I had the misfortune of taking a wrong step.  I think I was a bit beat by the fact that the sun came out early this day, but I clearly wasn’t paying attention.  Either that, or the sidewalk in front of me magically rose about an inch, and I hit the lip of concrete with the toe of my right shoe.  I took a quick fall, in kind of a rolling fashion, and I can still remember going down.  I knew it would hurt, but when I hit the sidewalk with my right shoulder, it seemed to hit with a great deal of force.  A shock went through me, and I lay face down on the sidewalk, slow to recover.  My first concern was that I thought I must have broken my collar bone.  I slowly rose to sitting position with a great deal of pain in the right shoulder.  I ran my hand over the collar bone, and didn’t feel any change in the contour, or bone fragments sticking out through the skin.  I tested my range of motion, and found that I could still move my arm around in a circle.  So, I decided it wasn’t broken.  Next, I stopped my Garmin, which may seem obsessive, but perhaps my running friends will understand.  After another few minutes on the sidewalk I decided to get up and see if I could still run.  While the shoulder hurt, I was still able to run, so I headed back up the hill for the long climb to the park.  Oh, and I restarted the Garmin.

Reaching Balboa Park, I headed straight along El Prado, crossing the Cabrillo Bridge.  This bridge was built in 1914 for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915 celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal, and was the impetus for building many of the buildings in Balboa Park.

View facing south from the Cabrillo Bridge, over Highway 163, the Cabrillo Highway.

View facing south from the Cabrillo Bridge, over Highway 163, the Cabrillo Highway.

Continuing over this attractive bridge, one enters the part of Balboa Park with museums, restaurants, and a very beautiful botanical garden.  The Spreckles Organ, a large outdoor pipe organ pavilion is nearby, and was also built for the 1915 Expo.

Looking past the central fountain towards the buildings of El Prado in Balboa Park

Looking past the central fountain towards the buildings of El Prado in Balboa Park

I then finished the run heading back to my starting point, taking me past the San Diego Zoo, and back to my daughter’s apartment.  My shoulder was  hurting pretty badly by then, so I took some aspirin, and told my family about my fall.  They were concerned, and quite sympathetic, although I detected a note of “you should be more careful”.  I think I was just thinking that myself, and they really were quite sympathetic.  I felt foolish, but thankful I still had an intact clavicle.  I downed a lot of aspirin the next two weeks, as the pain gradually subsided.  It didn’t get in the way of me enjoying my Hawai’i trip, though, and for that I’m very appreciative.

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