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Dispatches

You Should Be Eating G.O.R.C.

There’s nothing quite like the look on your postal carrier’s face when she hands you a container reading “Caution, live insects” and you squeal, “Oh, my snacks!”

I’d ordered 100 crickets in an attempt to make a better trail mix. A few months ago, I’d realized that, while I’d never use my grandfather’s backpacking tent (it’s a good 40 pounds), or his hydration strategy (wine!), I still relied on his tried-and-true raisins-nuts-chocolate combo for mid-hike nutrition.

Clearly my trail mix needed a bit of a remix. Not only are nuts heavy to carry, they’re kind of naughty from a sustainability standpoint—according to a Mother Jones story, it takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce just one of my beloved almonds. So eating them by the handful—the way I tend to do on a long, hard trek—isn't really viable.

But bugs are a different story

“There’s no reason we shouldn’t be eating bugs,” says Daniella Martin, author of Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet. “They’re incredibly nutritious, they have far higher levels of vitamins like zinc, B-12, and calcium than most animal meat. The slaughtering and processing process are very humane and they can be raised and slaughtered much closer to urban areas than other meat can."

Plus, they're lightweight. A cup of roasted crickets weighs about an ounce, while the same amount of peanuts tips the scale at more than a quarter of a pound. For those of us trying to lighten our loads—both in our packs and on the planet—these little arthropods are a pretty attractive snack.

Of course they’re attractive in concept only. I’d imagined the critters would look something like the cartoon crickets of my youth. When I opened the container and saw their hairy back legs and spindly antennae, I had a true moment of revulsion. Jiminy Cricket, when did you get so heinous?

According to Martin, the biggest hiccup with eating bugs (aside from having to put bugs in your mouth) is that we don't have good insect-eating infrastructure in place. "In Thailand, you can go to the equivalent of Costco and buy a bulk-size bag of frozen crickets," she says.

In the United States, you usually have to order your crickets from a supplier. On Martin's advice, I ordered my crickets from Flukers, a Louisiana-based bait company. The five-week-old variety is the best for eating, and 100 isn't as many as you think—if you're making a big batch of trail mix, spring for 200. The crickets arrive alive and the most humane way to kill them is to transfer them directly into the freezer. Twenty-four-hours later, they're ready to cook.

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"There are companies that sell 'human grade' crickets," says Martin, but she adds that most reputable suppliers' bugs will be perfectly safe for consumption. If you're concerned, ask what the crickets are fed—if it's dog food—the gold standard of cricket food—you're good to go.

When cooked, crickets taste something like a cross between a pumpkin seed and an almond. They're crunchy and salty with just a hint of sweetness. And unlike peanuts, when you pull out crickets mid-hike, you're less likely to send your hiking partner into anaphylactic shock—although, it may send them into another type of shock. But that’s not your problem, is it?

Here are two recipes for a cricket-centric trail mix, courtesy of bug-eating advocate Daniella Martin.

G.O.R.C. (Good Ol’ Raisins and Crickets)

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100 frozen crickets
1 tsp. olive oil or canola oil (for the pan)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Healthy pinch salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. (You can skip the foil, but know that the crickets will shed some legs and antennae in the baking process. For me, as a first-time cricket cooker, it was really nice not to have to scrub stray cricket appendages off my baking sheet.) Lightly grease the sheet with the oil.

Remove your crickets from the freezer and rinse them thoroughly in a colander. The crickets will have produced an amazing amount of cricket poop in transit so don’t skip this step. 

Place the crickets on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and cinnamon. Bake in the oven, checking them in five-minute intervals. Keep a close eye on the crickets, as they do burn easily. However, it’s better to err on the side of overcooked than undercooked. When undercooked, their abdomens squish rather unappetizingly in your mouth (voice of experience here), so medium rare is not something to strive for. Mine took about 12-14 minutes to cook fully.

Once cooled, toss the crickets with the golden raisins and chocolate chips.

Aztec Trail Mix

Martin first ate bugs in Mexico where chapulines—or seasoned grasshoppers—are a popular snack. This mix uses authentic-to-Mexico ingredients (except the goji berries) to create a cricket-based snack.

1 cup frozen crickets
3/4 cup pumpkin seeds (often called pepitas)
1/2 cup goji berries (can be substituted with dried blueberries, cranberries, or raisins)
1/4 cup cacao nibs
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne
Olive or canola oil for the baking sheet

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Lightly grease the sheet with the oil.

Remove your crickets from the freezer and rinse them thoroughly in a colander.

Place the crickets on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and cayenne. Bake in the oven checking them in five-minute intervals. Keep a close eye on the crickets as they do burn easily. However, it’s probably better to err on the side of overcooked than undercooked.

Once cooled, toss the crickets with the pepitas, goji berries and cacao nibs.

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Poison Yourself—It's Good for You

By now, it’s become a given: your multivitamin is useless and the right amount of stress, even in our recovery obsessed world, is good. So what, if anything, do we gain by clinging to our antioxidant supplements?

Very little, according to an accumulating body of research. We don't need massive doses of antioxidants, we need stress to compel our own bodies to create antioxidants. 

“Everybody thinks oxidation is bad, and that antioxidants are good,” says Dr. Philip Hooper, an endocrinologist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “That’s bogus. A little bit of poison is good.”

That poison can actually come from plants, especially those that have survived harsh conditions. 

In this Nietzschean diet principle know as xenohormesis, foods that have survived harsh conditions make us stronger by stressing our bodies, not because they’re rich in antioxidants.

As the science quarterly Nautilus explains, plants have developed an arsenal of chemicals to help them ward off insects and grazers. These “antifeedants,” when ingested by humans, trigger the body to release proteins and activate genes that “produce antioxidants, enzymes to metabolize toxins, proteins to flush out heavy metals, and factors that enhance tumor suppression.

Plants prepare your body to handle toxins much as exercise prepares you to race—by stressing your body. And supplements, says Dr. Hooper, interrupt this pay-it-forward biological sequence.

“These antioxidant supplements are like a Trojan horse,” continues Dr. Hooper. They say, I’m a good guy. You guys go to sleep and while the defense is asleep the antioxidants get rid of any oxidation. It puts the defense-system’s army to sleep.” 

Just as wearing a testosterone patch lowers the body's production of the hormone, relying on supplements reduces the body's natural production of antioxidants.

While Dr. Hooper acknowledges the benefits of vitamin E for muscle cramps and macular degeneration, he scoffs at the idea—as have many others lately—that it improves one’s physical performance.

“We’ve thrown so many millions of dollars at this,” he says. “It’s a misconception and it’s naïve.”And he suggests that athletes in intense contact sports such as soccer and football benefit from trauma. “Players have to be hit with pads on Tuesdays and Thursdays in order to compete on Sundays—they need that actual trauma,” he says.

“Everything in our society is geared toward, 'How can we reduce stress?'” adds Dr. Hooper. “When it should be just the opposite. We need stress. Stress is good.”

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The Medicine Ball Wednesday Workout

If you’re going to have just one piece of fitness equipment make it a medicine ball. Nothing provides as much versatility or challenge. This short med-ball session targets all of your muscles (OK, most of the major groups), but with the bonus of having you fight through the pain when they’re zapped—to give you the muscular endurance to finish any ride or run.

Time: 25 minutes

Equipment: Medicine ball

Body Parts Worked: Upper, lower, and core

How to Do It: Complete as many reps as you can of each exercise in 1 minute. Rest 20 seconds in between each move.

Pushups: Do them with your feet on the ball.
Side slalom jumps: Lateral jumps over the ball.
Ball slams: Raise the ball over your head, then slam ball down to the ground in front of you (best used with a soft ball so the ground absorbs the force and doesn’t bounce back).
Alternating lunge presses: Press the ball above your head while rising from each lunge.
Mountain climbers: Do them with your left hand on the ball for 30 seconds (and right hand on the ground), then your right hand on the ball for 30 seconds (and left hand on the ground).
Squat throws: Holding ball at chest level with both hands, throw it straight up as you explode up from a squat.
Ball crunch: Perform a regular crunch while holding the ball straight up over your head. While crunching up, keep the ball pointed toward the sky.
Slow squat: Hold the ball over your head. Take 3-5 seconds to lower yourself into a squat and 3-5 seconds to stand up. Keep the ball over your head for the entire minute.
Throw and chase: Hold the ball between your legs with both hands. Hinge at your hips to squat and thrust up, tossing the ball underhand as far as you can. Run after it and throw from the new spot.
Pushups: Do them with your hands on the ball.

About this Series
The Wicked Wednesday Workout is designed to help you break up your week with a high-intensity, total-body workout of strength and endurance that uses minimal equipment—to help better prepare your body for the randomness of your weekend at play. 
Ted Spiker, who has designed and led backyard and neighborhood workouts for his friends for the past three years, is a journalism professor at the University of Florida who specializes in health and fitness writing. He recommends you pick up a scrap truck tire to add more variety to your workouts.

About this Series
The Wicked Wednesday Workout is designed to help you break up your week with a high-intensity, total-body workout of strength and endurance that uses minimal equipment—to help better prepare your body for the randomness of your weekend at play. 

Ted Spiker, who has designed and led backyard and neighborhood workouts for his friends for the past three years, is a journalism professor at the University of Florida who specializes in health and fitness writing. He recommends you pick up a scrap truck tire to add more variety to your workouts.

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BASE Jumpers Aren't (All) Crazy

Crazy Adrenaline Junkie. I heard this label a lot as a bomb technician returning from Iraq, and movies like The Hurt Locker only reinforce the stereotype. It is dangerous work, true, but the characterization is generally unfair, especially compared to the exploits in Matt Higgins’ new book, Bird Dream. Next to BASE jumping and wingsuit piloting, bomb defusing work can look as risky as knitting.

Bird Dream is about the techniques and history and tragedies of the sport, culminating with the 2012 race between Jeb Corliss, the famous American with a bevy of endorsements, and Gary Connery, the British out-of-work stuntman without two quid to rub together, to be the first man to land without a parachute. Recently Higgins and I spoke about what drives these men and women.

OUTSIDE: You take great pains to explain that BASE jumpers and wingsuit pilots are calculating and not crazy. The rest of the book provides a mountain of evidence that challenges this claim. Do you come down on one side?
HIGGINS
: I've made a conscious decision to give BASE jumpers and wingsuit pilots the benefit of the doubt, as far craziness is concerned. I talked to psychologists and read research from geneticists and neuroscientists, and determined that, no, people who take tremendous risks are not necessarily nuts. There’s a genetic component to risk-taking, so wingsuit pilots and BASE jumpers are likely born with a predisposition for dangerous thrills.

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But even with this genetic predisposition, the risk tolerance of the elite pilots really varies. Jeb calls Gary’s plan to land in a pile of boxes "crazy."
There's a big difference between "crazy" in the colloquial sense, and in the clinical sense of the word. When we see something spectacular, or that defies our understanding, we're liable to call it crazy.

So I don't believe Jeb thought Gary was crazy in a clinical sense, although he didn't know Gary personally, and it was always possible that Gary was one of those rare, slightly unhinged folks who doesn't care if he's injured or killed. Jeb was probably having a hard time wrapping his head around how Gary planned to do something that Jeb had devoted a lot of thought to, and dismissed for himself as too dangerous.

In the BASE jumping and wingsuit culture, how much does a sense of competition, or a need to be famous, factor in?
Certainly there's a kind of drive, but we're talking about more of an internal competition, to test one's capabilities and see how far one can go. There have been few opportunities for actual competition. Recently there have been some wingsuit races created, and these events appeal to a small segment of pilots, usually the elite. Yet Jeb, who is certainly one of the elite pilots, has no interest in traditional sports and avers that he's not competitive. Gary has a competitive temperament; he was a competitive downhill skier and he takes part in grueling distance runs.

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The culture of BASE jumping has always shunned fame to some extent, and those who seek it are still controversial. BASE jumpers were actually expelled from skydiving clubs into the 90s. One BASE pioneer explained that jumpers learned that they couldn't tell people what they were doing or they wouldn't be permitted to do it. So secrecy became ingrained in the culture. Some of that started to change with the creation of small POV cameras and YouTube. Suddenly you could clip a GoPro to your helmet and produce HD video of stunning flight lines along mountain terrain and put it out to the public online. But the footage is still a difficult thing to monetize. Even if you pull off some incredible wingsuit flight, there's usually no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, probably only a 15 minutes of fame scenario. Jeb is the rare person to have transcended his sport and sustained a career as an athlete without augmenting his income with some other job. He no doubt enjoys the attention, yet he also must continue to pull of feats that attract notice to satisfy sponsors. Even people who fly are governed by some of the same concerns as everybody else.

Gary was a paratrooper in the UK Army, where he learned to jump. Is the sport full of ex-military guys?
I know that many skydivers and BASE jumpers have come from the military, but it’s worth noting that Gary clashed with the prevailing culture and his superiors. It was a BASE jump that finally precipitated his leaving the paratroops. I assume that if you're so single-minded that you're willing to attempt a wingsuit landing without a parachute, chances are you're probably too individualistic to thrive in the military.

The group that I was embedded with mostly came from civilian backgrounds. What bound them was that they all had achieved a high level of performance in another extreme or adventure sport. Jeb is an accomplished scuba diver. There were several skiers, racers, and backcountry specialists. One wingsuit pilot was a motocross racer. Joby Ogwyn is a high-altitude climber, and was the youngest to reach the world's Seven Summits. Roberta Mancino is a blackbelt in kickboxing and a champion skydiver. There were several experienced surfers. They all brought skills and a mindset honed in these other disciplines to bear as BASE jumpers and wingsuit pilots. 

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BASE jumping’s motto is "The only way to not die BASE jumping is to not BASE jump." This reminds me of our motto in the bomb squad, "Initial Success or Total Failure," but even more fatalistic. 
The motto remains. There are no guarantees, and unless you're prepared for the possibility of giving your life, don't do it. I heard that over and over again. Fatalities still occur regularly. There are more than 200 recorded deaths on the BASE Fatality List, which is not even a comprehensive accounting. In 2013, there were a record 22 confirmed wingsuit pilots killed -- that's BASE and skydiving. And so far this year I can think of four more wingsuit deaths, and these men were among the most experienced and talented fliers in the world.

Since the first and only successful landing, the wingsuit landing craze has generally faded. In the future, will we look back at this little era and wonder what people were thinking?
My editor suggested that there's something about the zeitgeist -- a possible combination of economic prosperity, a rise of technology, and maybe anxiety about the outcome of world affairs -- that will help explain the era in the book to future generations. I think of the 1960s counterculture, and having grown up with skateboarding, BMX freestyle, and snowboarding, I saw the X Games as my generation getting its Woodstock. BASE jumping and wingsuit flying just takes it to a further extreme. 

Brian Castner is the author of “The Long Walk.” Follow him on Twitter at @brian_castner.

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