Hike to Tunnel Falls

Apart from a 3-hour meander along the Salmon Creek Trail in Mt. Hood National Forest, the 13.5 mile hike to Tunnel Falls three weeks ago was our first real trekking foray in the Portland area. It was a gorgeous, warm, and sunny weekend that could not be wasted.

We drove our Ford Focus rental car north along Highway 84 to the Eagle Creek Trailhead, where we circled the lot twice before finally parking in a dubious spot. With the requisite Northwest Forest Pass hung securely on the rearview mirror, we hauled out our largely unnecessary packs and commenced the hike.

Trail Detail

The trail was surprisingly popular; popular, at least, in comparison to the trails in New Zealand. While I’m sure that a much higher proportion of the New Zealand population hikes regularly, the NZ population is so much smaller to begin with that even the most favored trails are still less crowded. The Columbia River Gorge is a gorgeous area with seemingly endless hiking opportunities, and I’m eager to explore more of it in the months to come.


Tunnel Falls was not exactly a beginner hike; though there was little elevation gain, the sometimes rocky narrow and rocky trail — not to mention the distance — meant that we did find it challenging. That didn’t deter people with tiny teacup dogs from trying to hike it, though.

The popularity dropped slightly after we came to our first bridge outage. Having never encountered so much as a stray branch in New Zealand, seeing the downed bridge was a sad reminder of America’s lack of investment in public parks. Also very American was the dude attempting to cross it.

"Hey, watch this"

Moss, frothing rivers, and verdant vegetation were plentiful. The plethora of bridges kept it interesting, as did the numerous waterfalls along the way. When impatient, I would point to the nearest cascade and claim that it must be Tunnel Falls, but as every hiker knows, you’re just about to reach your destination when all hope is lost.


And here it’s appropriate to wax lyrical about the benefits of living on the West Coast, where 13.5-mile hikes are possible in April and there’s no snow, salt, or ice to destroy the exterior of your car and shoes. In fact, back in January when most of the East Coast was incapacitated by a blizzard, we were outside in Sellwood Park playing tennis.

In Bloom

But back to the hike at hand. Several pack-bearing dogs later (the permutations on bikes, dogs, and baby carriers are endless in Portland), we reached our destination: Tunnel Falls.

Full height

To be honest, I expected to be disappointed after being exposed to the New Zealand terrain. But Tunnel Falls is exciting enough to maintain a sense of the primordial; the sheer volume and velocity of the water is enough to remind you of your mortality.

Drip zoom

After 7.5 miles of walking, the mist billowing out from either side of the falls was downright refreshing. And passing through the tunnel behind the falls (you can see where the name comes from) wasn’t a let-down, either.

The Tunnel of Tunnel Falls

Luckily, in reading about the Tunnel Falls hike, I had discovered that Eagle Creek Falls lay only 1/4 mile further down the trail. These falls were more conventionally beautiful, but still nothing to scoff at. They were also quieter and a good place to eat lunch.

Eagle Creek Falls

Any time you want to feel insignificant, just spend some time around waterfalls.


After our food break (always necessary when hiking, as your blood sugar may drop dramatically, causing moodiness and disagreements about whose pack is heavier), we turned back around and marveled at Tunnel Falls some more.

Misty pool

As always, the return trip seemed quicker, and we realized, much to our surprise, that no one had passed us during the hike. I mean, when we stopped to eat or paused to take a photo of the busted bridge, sure. But not when we were actively walking. We couldn’t believe it; Kiwis of all ages passed us regularly in New Zealand. Slightly-below-average fitness in New Zealand = above average fitness in America. In total, it took us six hours to complete the Tunnel Halls hike.

At the end of the hike, with the sun setting in the Columbia River Gorge and not thrilled by the idea of driving back to Portland only to fall asleep and go to work the next day, we drove down to the remarkably pretty town of Cascade Locks, where we lingered until dusk.

Columbia River Gorge

But return we did, sated for the time being, and full of hiking schemes for the future.

All photos by Greg. 

5 Healthy Changes: Fitness

As mentioned briefly in my last post, over the last couple of years I’ve made several healthy changes and am now probably the fittest I’ve been in my entire life (minus one short-lived season on the junior varsity tennis team in high school).

Growing up, I was never particularly athletic and, for the most part, hated PE and team sports. But after packing on the freshman 15 plus another 15 pounds during my last two years of college, when my diet consisted of pasta with cheese and 365 vanilla sandwich creme cookies, exercise was maybe a monthly occurrence, and I was lucky to get 6 hours of sleep a night, I spent about a year feeling pretty miserable about how I looked and felt before finally implementing a few simple changes. Here’s what I did.

1). Accepted that exercise is necessary

Believe it or not, this was a big barrier to overcome. I’d always thought that only those who were naturally athletic, or actual professional athletes, needed to exercise on a regular basis. Spending a year in New Zealand had a HUGE positive impact on my thinking in this regard. Kiwis are super into fitness and the outdoors, and the prevailing attitude is that exercise is something you do as part of everyday life, not to mention a great way to engage with nature.

In contrast, Americans act like exercise is torture: you go to a gym, feel miserable lifting weights for half an hour, shower off the sweat immediately, and then brag about your biceps to your friends. No. That’s a thoroughly unhealthy approach and unsustainable in the long run (at least for me).

Start of the Abel Tasman Great Walk
At the start of the Abel Tasman Great Walk
FOOD! 5-day hiking trip, Abel Tasman
5-day hike food supply for two people

My first forays into fitness were, appropriately, hikes in some of New Zealand’s beautiful parks and forests. I worked my way up gradually, starting with a 2-hour hike on mostly flat terrain, to shorter, more intense hikes going uphill, and finally to a 5-day hike through Abel Tasman National Park carrying a 30-lb pack the whole way. Hiking is a great way to build up leg strength & endurance without incurring the panting and sweating that accompanies more high-cardio forms of exercise. In other words, I think hiking is the perfect beginner workout.

2). Likewise, recognized that moderate exercise is just as valid as high-intensity workouts

Expanding on the typical American attitude to fitness, many Americans seem to believe that there’s no point in exercising unless you feel the pain. You know, all those stupid motivational t-shirts that say “pain is weakness leaving the body” and “suck it up so one day you won’t have to suck it in.” Again, I can’t think of an attitude more unhealthy, more insistent, or more discouraging!

Not every workout has to result in sore muscles and drenched clothing. In fact, it’s better if they don’t! The second form of exercise I adopted, after hiking, was good old yoga. I’d been doing yoga on and off since high school, and I have to give my mom and a fantastic yoga teacher at the local YMCA credit for helping me see through the mumbo-jumbo pseudo-religious nonsense that clouds the activity. Never mind the prana energy and the inner heart chakra; it’s all meaningless when disconnected from its origin and mildly infuriating when regurgitated by a wealthy white yoga instructor. If you can ignore that side of it, though, yoga is an amazing form of exercise.

Yoga Time

I kicked off my reimmersion into yoga by doing the 30 Days of Yoga challenge on the Yoga with Adriene YouTube channel. Apart from a few to-be-expected ridiculous asides, Adriene is a great instructor with well-planned, well-filmed videos. Best of all, the videos are free, meaning no gym membership required. If you’ve already been doing yoga a while and crave more challenging content, then I’ve amassed a playlist of my favorite videos on Adriene’s channel here.

3). Started running again

After I’d been hiking and doing yoga for a few months but wasn’t losing weight as quickly as I wanted, I decided to start running again. This time, though, I wanted to do it properly; in the past, I’d typically never run more than a mile at a time, and it was the only form of exercise I’d do. Now, I stretch before and after every run. Adriene has a Warm-Up Yoga Sequence for Runners as well as a corresponding Cool-Down Sequence. As you would expect, I’ve found that stretching before and after running helps to minimize soreness, and I haven’t sustained any injuries so far, which is great.

Trusty Asics
Trusty Asics

In addition, instead of trying to run a mile immediately (as I’d done after running lulls in the past), I started off doing interval running. I wore a watch and timed the intervals. My first workout went something like this:

Run 30 seconds; walk 30 seconds
Run 45 seconds; walk 45 seconds
Run 1 minute; walk 1 minute
Run 90 seconds; walk 1 minute
Run 2 minutes; walk 1 minute
Run 90 seconds; walk 1 minute
Run 30 seconds; walk 2 minutes

This ends up being a 15-minute workout, which is pretty good. I did intervals the first 3-4 workouts, gradually increasing the running intervals over time. And from there, I built up my distance slowly until I was running 4 miles without stopping. I also try to do a mixture of distances, and ideally would do one long run on a Sunday afternoon (ca. 4 miles) with a shorter midweek run as well (ca. 2-2.5 miles). I suppose my eventual goal is to run a 10k.

4). Exercised when I could

After I started working in November, I was afraid that I wouldn’t have time to work out and that the excess weight would return. I’ve always heard that exercising in the morning is better, and I thought that unless I woke up at 5:30 am to do a yoga video, there was no point in working out at all.

Then I read a couple of articles that pointed out that yes, although working out in the morning might be marginally better, what’s most important is that you work out, period. I took that simple advice, and now I work out as soon as I get home from work in the evening because that’s what works best for my schedule.

5). Combined strength training and cardio

Of all the bits of advice peppered throughout this post, this is perhaps the most important one. In the past, I’d done either cardio or strength training, but never both at once. And you HAVE to do both if you want sustained, healthy weight loss. Cardio, short for cardiovascular (aka aerobic exercise) is high-intensity exercise designed to elevate your heart rate. While excellent in terms of burning calories and keeping your heart and lungs healthy, it doesn’t do much in terms of building muscle.  In contrast, strength training (aka anaerobic exercise), is designed to tone and, as the name would suggest, strengthen and increase the size of your muscles. I don’t want to elaborate much more than that for fear of saying something inaccurate, but Wikipedia is always a good source on the difference between strength training and cardio.

Yoga is in fact a very gradual form of strength training, and I do that 2-3 times a week, along with the occasional BeFit or Ballet Beautiful video (some of my favorites can be found on my Challenging Workout Videos playlist). Running, biking, hiking, and tennis, my other most common forms of exercise, all fall into the cardio category for the most part. I am very careful now to make sure I combine both types!

Workout Schedule:

I aim to work out 5 times a week, and a typical schedule might be:

Monday: 30-minute yoga video
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Ballet Beautiful Swan Arms + Ab video
Thursday: Bike to/from work (ca. 6.5 miles), plus 15-minute yoga video
Friday: Rest
Saturday: 30 minutes of tennis
Sunday: 30-minute run

Mostly for myself and because I have an affinity for leather journals, I keep a written Fitness Log where I write down the exercise I do each day of the week. This helps me keep track of which yoga & workout videos are my favorite, whether I’m increasing my running distance, and whether I hit my goal of 5 workouts per week.

Fitness Log
Fitness Log

Hopefully none of this came across as unreasonable. All the workouts I do are free and, for the most part, fairly moderate. My goal isn’t to run a marathon or to build a 6-pack; I just want to sleep better, be able to eat more, and have more energy. Speaking of which, sometime in the next couple of weeks, I’ll be discussing the changes I made to my diet. Best of luck to those eager to undertake similar fitness changes, and feel free to comment with questions below or get in touch on Twitter. Cheers!

Literary Vittles: A New Focus

These past few months have been marked by another dramatic slowdown in blog content, and that is something I would like to rectify. I forget, sometimes, how useful blogging is as a creative outlet, and my desire to produce meaningful content has not diminished. Adjusting to a new city and a new 40-hour workweek (with a 45-minute commute at each end) has taken its toll, as has the absence of readily-available academic content to share with readers (i.e., I don’t work in a library anymore). As such, I have reconsidered what the focus of the blog should be, and have come up with the following broad categories.

1). Book reviews

Upcoming reads

Continue reading “Literary Vittles: A New Focus”

Looking Forward: Goals for 2016

We’re nearly through the month of January, so, in a typical show of timeliness, I thought it would be suitable to share my goals for the current year. I could supply a proliferation of excuses related to the 40-hour work week, a visit from my sister, and weekends filled with biking and stymied attempts to find comfortable, work-appropriate footwear, but I will spare you the details.

So, without further ado, here are my 9 resolutions for 2016. To keep it visually interesting, I’ve interspersed them with beautiful photos of Portland, all courtesy of Greg.

Finding the Meaning in Life

1. Start reading again before bed Continue reading “Looking Forward: Goals for 2016”