First, a big thanks to The Older Brother for putting up three thought-provoking posts that generated a lot of good discussion. Those three posts match my output for … what, maybe the last two months? I was, of course, going a little nutty trying to finish the film version of Fat Head Kids in time to premiere it on the cruise.
I didn’t quite finish, so premiere became preview. We’re still working on some of the animations, and I want to add a lot more sound effects and some original music. I had to settle for a quick-and-dirty sound mix, with the careful mix to come later. But it was certainly close enough to final for a good preview. I’ll put up some clips from the film on YouTube in the upcoming weeks. I’ll also return to regular posting now that I’m not facing a hard deadline.
Anyway, on to the cruise report …
Wow, what a cruise. After nine years of Caribbean cruises, the Low Carb Cruise committee decided to mix it up for the 10th anniversary and head to Alaska. I was delighted. Even before I started giving presentations for the low-carb cruises, I’d been on several Caribbean cruises during my standup days. I’m kind of over the Caribbean. I don’t even bother going ashore on port days. Rather than see Cozumel or whatever for the sixth time, I stay on the ship and sleep late, catch up on my reading, etc.
Alaska is another story. Sure, I did two Alaskan cruises during my standup days (and it was great to have the cruise line paying me instead of the other way around) but I could visit Alaska a dozen times and still not take all the excursions that strike my fancy.
So while I was still aboard last year’s cruise in the Caribbean, I signed the four of us up for Alaska to take advantage of the on-ship discount. Then I called home from the airport to see if the Chareva and the girls actually wanted to go. I was a bit surprised when Sara said she wasn’t sure. Going on the Alaska cruise would mean missing the last few days of school, and thus missing her eight-grade graduation.
It’s not a good idea to try to push Sara into a making a decision she doesn’t want to make, so I offered a fatherly observation instead: I don’t even remember my eighth-grade graduation. It’s really not a thing. In fact, most adults I know can’t remember their eighth-grade graduation. But I’ll remember Alaska forever. The scenery is stunning, and pictures just can’t capture it.
She mulled it over and said, “You’re right, Dad. I should go to Alaska.” Now that she’s been there, she has no doubt she made the right decision.
We flew from Nashville to Seattle on Thursday. Even though my work was more or less done – meaning I had a copy of the film on my laptop, another on a thumb drive, and a third burned as a blu-ray disc – I was still in go-go-go mode during the flight. I’d had that internal engine cranking for 18 hours or so per day for so long, it didn’t want to shut off. Plus I’d been up late the night before rendering the film, and up early to burn the disc, then back up all 300 gigs of data to a drive we could leave with Chareva’s parents in case the house decided to burn down. We dropped it off at their house on our way to the airport.
Go-go-go mode continued when we landed in Seattle, because the pre-cruise dinner was scheduled to begin 30 minutes later. We caught a shuttle to the hotel, checked in, dumped our bags in the room, and went downstairs just in time to join the line at the buffet.
Consequently, I didn’t start to feel truly relaxed until we were boarding the ship the next day. In the photo below, I’m the one with the shiny head.
In the ginormous dining room later, we met our dinner companions for the week. If you’ve never been on a cruise, let me describe the food options at dinner: Name it. With all the appetizer, soup, salad and main course options, you can easily eat low-carb, vegetarian, gluten-free, whatever. The waiters quickly learn your preferences. Our waiter, in fact, brought me an extra lobster on lobster-dinner night, even though I’d already eaten a lobster and a small steak.
On cruises, there are port days and at-sea days. The at-sea days are when we all pile into a conference room for the presentations. I won’t try to describe all the lectures – that would require a book. If you want to see the list of presenters and the topics, Jimmy has them listed on this page. He’ll also post the lectures online at some point.
I will, however, briefly mention three that stuck with me. Dr. Lucia Aronica of Stanford works with Dr. Chris Gardner, the lead investigator on the now-famous A-Z study. That’s the one that compared people on four diets and found that people on the Atkins diet lost the most weight and showed the greatest overall improvement in health markers. (The low-fat Ornish diet didn’t fare so well, by the way.) But those results were the average. What fascinated Gardner was the variability among subjects. Some people seemed to do better by cutting fat, while others did much better by cutting carbs. So Gardner’s team, including Dr. Aronica, has been looking into the reasons some people do so much better on one diet vs. another.
One of the factors, as it turns out, is genetics. Actually, as we learned during her lecture, it’s a combination of genetics and epigenetics. In other words, different diets turn different genes on and off in different people. She mentioned a specific gene (sorry, I don’t remember what it’s called) that affects how much or how little insulin is required to slam the door shut on fat cells, which of course makes it difficult to burn away body fat. People who do particularly well on low-carb diets are those whose fat cells are locked up by small concentrations of insulin.
Another lecture I enjoyed was delivered by Erynn Kay, a physician’s assistant who works with Dr. Jeffrey Gerber. She spoke about the importance of feeding our good gut bacteria – a topic I don’t believe gets enough attention in low-carb circles. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors weren’t gathering bacon, after all. They were gathering plants with fibers that feed the gut microbiome.
I also enjoyed Dr. Adam Nally’s lecture on diet and testosterone … partly because the information was interesting, and partly because Dr. Nally is a gifted speaker who fairly crackles with energy and works a lot of humor into his speeches.
Chareva and I sat in the back of the room at a table, where we sold and autographed copies of the book.
Dr. Eric Westman, gracious man that he is, brought his copy by our dinner table later in the week and asked the girls to autograph it as well.
Speaking of the girls, they didn’t attend most of the lectures, but managed to keep themselves occupied during at-sea days. The pool was heated, in case you’re wondering.
Saturday was the first formal night. In the picture below, I’m the one with the shiny head.
We also previewed the film that night after dinner. I gave a brief talk beforehand to explain that it’s not done, but close. Chareva and I both answered questions at a Q & A afterwards.
Given that I was working feverishly on each section for several weeks, it was actually the first time Chareva and I saw the thing beginning to end. I was already trimming little bits here and there in my mind while watching. Chareva was already re-drawing a few sections in her mind. We don’t need to return to pedal-to-the-metal mode, but we’ve definitely got some work to do before calling it done.
Our first port day was in Juneau. For our excursion, we visited a salmon hatchery and then the Mendenhall Glacier. One photo of that excursion is at the top of the post. Here’s another:
I saw this sign at the visitor center:
Yup, the glacier has been receding for more than 200 years … that is, since the end of the Little Ice Age. So clearly, it’s all caused by humans driving cars and using light bulbs.
One of the biggest pleasures of the low-carb cruises for me is meeting people I only know from emails, comments and podcasts. The guy with me in the picture below is Brian Williamson. I was a guest on his podcast show last November and again in April. I’m pretty sure I spent more time hanging out with him on this cruise than anyone else, largely because he has a wicked sense of humor that caused me to label him a “bad, bad man.”
Two of the women who work with Brian have lost an astounding amount of weight: 109 pounds for one, 199 for another. This was after years of failed diets. (So according to the internet cowboys, what happened was that by pure coincidence, they finally accepted the physics of calories-in vs. calories-out around the same time they switched to ketogenic diets and stopped eating too much. Or something like that. I’m pretty sure Dr. Aronica would disagree.)
Of course, I also spent time in the karaoke bar with Jimmy, who generated his own karaoke fan club during the course of the week. I also did some duets with Dr. Westman, who enjoys singing almost as much as Jimmy.
The second port day was in Skagway. It was the big excursion for us. We started by watching a presentation on the sled dogs who compete in the Iditarod. The presenter has taken teams of dogs along the 1,000-mile race six times. He was great, very informative and quite funny.
The dogs were amazing. When the presenter brought out a sled for a quick demo run around a training area, the dogs went nuts, jumping up and down in their cages and howling, as if to say “Pick me! Pick me!” When six of the dogs were hooked to the sled, they could barely contain themselves. One kept attempting to leap forward and get things moving before the driver was ready. At that point, the presenter told us that people from PETA somehow manage to show up at points along the race and hold up signs protesting the “torture” of the dogs.
“Now, I’m asking you,” he said, gesturing toward the dogs, “does it look like these dogs want to run or not?” Uh, yeah, they want to run. They’re athletes and don’t like sitting on the bench.
After the sled-dog demonstration, it was time to pan for gold. I believe the girls scored nearly $11 worth of gold between them, so I can probably cancel that college-savings program.
The last part of the excursion was a train ride 24 miles into the wilderness. I’ve said many times that pictures can’t capture the scenery in Alaska. That’s true, but here are some pictures anyway:
Chareva did a bit of shopping afterwards. Remember what I said about our bag being confiscated because someone thought it contained scissors? So scissors aren’t allowed. But Chareva was allowed to bring this souvenir onto the ship:
Now, I’m asking you: if you wanted to cause serious damage to a guest, would you rather have a pair of scissors, or a big, sharp, curved blade with a handle? Go figure.
For the second formal night, some formal-looking Vikings showed up. That’s Debbie Hubbs, one the Low-Carb Cruise organizers, with her husband Don.
I slept in the next day, but the ship made a morning stop near another glacier. No problem. I saw it twice during my standup days.
Same goes for Victoria in British Columbia. It’s a beautiful city, but I’ve been there twice, so I elected to stay on board and just chill. Chareva and the girls walked around to see the sights.
If you haven’t been on a low-carb cruise yet, I’d encourage you to join us one of these years. It’s a great group of people (more than 300 this year), the lectures are excellent, and there’s always a lot of after-dinner fun on the ship.
And if you’re not into after-dinner fun, you can just enjoy some quiet reading time in your room.