Ryan C. Jerz

Thoughts, adventures, interesting stuff

An experiment with(out) alcohol

One quarter of a year. I am finishing up a span of thirteen weeks without having alcohol. I am not here to preach a booze-free lifestyle at all. I really don't know if I'll drink again (I probably will), but that's not the point. I wanted to see what improvements I could make while doing all of the hard things I do while also making sure to take slightly better care of myself in the process.

Ostensibly, this project began with the idea that I would be training for a multiday climb of Mount Shasta. I would be embarking on a twelve week program for training, and I thought it might be better to do this run without drinking at all. I would have support within the house, as Christy had also ceased drinking several weeks before I did and was reporting decent things back. So, I started it in earnest on February 14. I hadn't had anything since that past Friday (the 11th), but the program began that day, so that's what I'm counting. Here are a few things I have found.

Do you know me? Then you have probably heard me talk about my watch. I bought the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar in October 2020. I had been an Apple Watch wearer prior and had no complaints. But with Covid doing its thing, I had been forced to train on my own after years of working with a coach and group that I love. I wanted something that could help guide me and offer me the tools to track everything I could about my body. So, I went with what I consider the gold standard of fitness watches. Now, this isn't a review of the watch, but I highly recommend it for anyone who 1) knows enough about what I am about to go over to properly use the watch, 2) can find it on sale (I did), and 3) cares even one half of what I do about the data produced during training.

When I made the decision to go alcohol-free, one of the main reasons was what I had seen several months earlier when I tested positive for Covid-19. I tested in late September and came out of quarantine on October 2. My watch, which had been to that point only used as a workout tracker and part-time coach, suddently thrust itself front and center in my day-to-day. A few of the features that I had found gimmicky and mostly not useful became really useful and things that (relatively speaking) could be important tools in how I treat myself. For instance, a feature called Body Battery was something I had used mostly just to make jokes. If mine got down to 20, say (think of the "battery" as a charge from 100% to zero, with a corresponding number), I would remark about how close to death I was or something to that effect. Not funny--just the kind of thing you say to a spouse. Well, during my Covid stint, my Body Battery was telling me that I was about as run down as was humanly possible, according to the watch. While a normal day might have me waking up with a number in the 90s, I was waking up with a number around 25. The degree to which this metric was corresponding to real life was undeniable. Even if the numbers were off in their precision, the relative closeness to what I was feeling seemed like something I should pay attention to.

In addition to Body Battery, my watch tracks sleep, resting heart rate, and stress as determined by the actions of your heart. Aside: the heart stuff is tougher to understand, but there are some real world things that happen to me that make me trust this as well. It took a few weeks, but holy crap did everything start to come into focus for me. Below is a graph showing my average stress level by week over the past year. Again, this is not self-reported, but a measurement of how my heart is acting throughout the day. This stress level also informs the Body Battery metric.

*Stress Picture*

As you can see, stress was much higher in the months prior to Feb. 14. After Feb. 14, the averages stabilize much better at a relatively consistent level. Differences might mean a tougher workout week (periodization will do that) or a particularly busy week at work or something like that. What you don't see are the jumps and sustained higher levels. I believe those were due to drinking. You'll start to see a pattern emerge here. I would drink one week, then decide that had been a bit too much, so I would take a week off. It was pretty common for me to do that! So you see that in the jumping up and down late last year. You might also see sustained higher levels of stress. Those are the weeks I didn't take off.

In addition to stress, my watch tracks sleep. It tells you how much you got, the stages, etc. It also gives what it calls a Sleep Score. That score (again) is on a scale of 1-100. This one I have less data on. It was draining the battery on my watch a bit more than I liked, so I hadn't turned it on until I got Covid. So, the data begins there, but does contain several months of my drinking.

*Sleep picture*

A pattern emerges again. You can see that my sleep was incinsistent from weeek to week. Drinking more in one week compared to the next, etc. The particular things I can tell you about sleep and alcohol are as follows: 1) deep sleep is scarce after having a couple of drinks, 2) stress levels are measurably higher after a couple of drinks and they contiunue longer into the night/early morning, 3) sleep scores are considerably lower when drinking. Those aren't necessarily reflected here because they are metrics that Garmin doesn't provide in nice screenshottable formats like these others.

And finally, we come to the part that matters most to me about all of this. It's the reason the two things above matter. That's how this affects my level of fitness. In addition to the weeks of no alcohol, I have also embarked on a regimented training program designed to elevate my fitness to being optimal for a climb like I am about to go on. One way I have always measured where I am fitness-wise is my resting heart rate. In addition to the stress induced nby drinking alcohol, or maybe as a result, your heart rate is elevated after a few drinks, and that can carry through the night while sleeping. A lower resting heart rate indicates both being fully at rest and a greater overall fitness level, especially when compared to one's self over time.

*RHR picture*

There are far fewer peaks and valleys with resting heart rate than with the other metrics, but the trend is unmistakable. Since mid-February, my resting heart rate has been on a downward trend, both because I am taking better care about what goes into my body, and I am training consistently and with intent. And here's the thing--I have been in good shape this whole time! My training, while not a specific and directed, has never stopped and I was consistently putting in 6-8 hours each week even during those higher average weeks. This difference is the booze. The correlation of all the things I have shown should make a pretty compelling case that drinking really screws with your body's overall health.

The RGJ's Diversity Project (to be updated)

I am cataloging the steps promised by the RGJ and USA Today for increasing diversity in their newsrooms and in their news coverage. This post will be updated periodically when new pieces of the initiative are announced.

August 20, 2020. It's a start, and I appreciate it.

Today, the USA TODAY Network and our own Reno Gazette Journal laid out their first step in a promised diversity upgrade, if you will, to their newsrooms and news coverage.

This piece was meant to show transparency in their staffing. The main thrust was a graphic comparing the newsroom to the community it covers. It's apparent that locally, and likely across the country, the newsroom is not nearly as diverse as the community it serves.

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Brian Duggan writes:

In the coming months, the Reno Gazette Journal will reset its coverage strategy to ensure we tell stories about all Northern Nevada’s communities — not just the ones that have most frequently appeared in our pages throughout our 150-year history.

We must — and we will — do better to tell authentic stories from communities of color — and not just when bad news happens. That means we will actively seek out more diversity in our sourcing.

One example given so far is the publishing of this column by Reno attorney David Gamble.

Duggan also mentioned that they will "regularly update" the newsroom diversity data. I'm glad to see this, and I will happily and critically follow the progress, as it is a vital piece in improving the way this country and this city deal with race.

Drone (UAV) laws in Reno **Updated**

I recently picked up a drone, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), and would love to fly it in areas I regularly run and hike for the purpose of shooting video and photos to document the trails, mainly because I love the style of overhead photography, but also because I love that just off the ground perspective that adds the 3-D element to the video as you make your way up a canyon or along a ridge.

However, I struggled to find a definitive place online that detailed where I could and could not fly the drone with regard to all applicable laws in the area. Searching turned up some information, some rumors, and a lot more people asking questions. My drone is small enough to not have to be registered, which makes life a bit easier, but all drone operators have to adhere to the basics. Here is what I found on This Is Reno:

Here are four regulations you may not know about flying drones:

  1. They must be kept under 400 feet.
  2. They may not be flown in public areas, such as schools or parks.
  3. They must not be flown within 5 miles of an airport.
  4. Users must have visible contact with their drone at all times.

Items 1, 3, and 4 are totally verifiable through Nevada Revised Statute 493, but item 2 was not. NRS 493 also has a few additional things in there that the general public should know, namely that flying over private property at an altitude of under 250 feet from ground level can be considered trespassing (just don't do that) and that you can't fly within 500 feet (horizontally or vertically) of what are considered "critical facilities" without written consent from the facility's owner:

NRS 493.109  Unmanned aerial vehicles: Operation near critical facility or within 5 miles of airport prohibited; exceptions; penalty.

  1. A person shall not operate an unmanned aerial vehicle within: (a) A horizontal distance of 500 feet or a vertical distance of 250 feet from a critical facility without the written consent of the owner of the critical facility. (b) Except as otherwise provided in subsection 2, 5 miles of an airport.
  2. A person may operate an unmanned aerial vehicle within 5 miles of an airport only if the person obtains the consent of the airport authority or the operator of the airport, or if the person has otherwise obtained a waiver, exemption or other authorization for such operation pursuant to any rule or regulation of the Federal Aviation Administration. A person who is authorized to operate an unmanned aerial vehicle within 5 miles of an airport pursuant to this subsection shall, at all times during such operation, maintain on his or her person documentation of any waiver, exemption, authorization or consent permitting such operation.
  3.  A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor.
  4. As used in this section, “airport” means any area of land or water owned, operated or maintained by or on behalf of a city, county, town, municipal corporation or airport authority that is designed and set aside for the landing and taking off of aircraft and that is utilized in the interest of the public for such purposes.

That's pretty straightforward stuff. It also opens the door to flying within five miles of an airport with easily-obtained clearance from the FAA. I use a site called AirMap to obtain that authorization. I have asked for permission twice and received it immediately each time. Both times I asked I was planning to fly over my own house.

Where I was confused was Item 2 on This Is Reno's list: flying over parks and schools. Nowhere in the Nevada statute does it say that parks and schools are "critical." In fact, it names as examples facilities such as power plants and water treatment facilities, but not schools and parks, which I would consider important enough exclusions to warrant calling out in the law. So, understanding that state laws are often left a bit more vague in order for local laws to provide more specific detail, I contacted the City of Reno to get clarification.

I used the city's public records request page and sent them a question: What are the Reno-specific laws governing drones?

The response I got back told me that there are no documents responsive to my request, and that I should reference Assembly Bill 239 from the 2015 session of the Nevada Legislature. Assembly Bill 239 from 2015 became NRS 493, so according to the City of Reno, the only laws governing drones within the city limits are in that law. Again, no mention of schools or parks.

To be sure, I combed the city's municipal code Title 6, which governs vehicles and traffic, and Title 8, which governs Public Space, Safety and Morals to see if there was any way the response could be incorrect. I searched terms like "drone," "UAV," "unmanned," and "aerial" and there were no results that pertained to drones in any way in the code. I also did the same for Washoe County, specifically because Rancho San Rafael is a county park and I would like to fly at the northern edges there. Same result. Nothing at all that I could find.

With the exception of Section 24.4 of NRS 493, which prohibits flying over "heavily populated areas or public gatherings," it seems that flying in public parks is completely legal, as long as you follow the permissions granted by the FAA.

My apologies for the long post to basically say that the perception of some rules might be wrong, but I wanted to add as much context to my interpretation as possible. I am not a lawyer and I definitely struggled to understand a lot of this as I was researching, but I think I've come to the proper conclusion here. I welcome any additional context that either reaffirms what I've said or completely blows it up. I want to follow the rules and I definitely do not want to disturb anyone's time on the outdoors with my own activity, and I think following the rules along with using personal discretion is the best way to do that. If you know of something that is incorrect here, please contact me on Twitter (@mrjerz) or by email (ryanjerz@me.com) and I will rectify it.


Thanks to @geonv on Twitter for the tip, but I completely neglected looking at Washoe County laws when researching this. That's why I don't get paid to do journalism, I guess. Anyway, Washoe County Code 95.150 states:

  1. The use of remote/radio controlled, electrically-powered or gasoline-powered devices, including drones, is prohibited in all county parks unless by permit, in designated areas, or with the express written permission from the director or his/her designee.
  2. No person may operate any electrically-powered, gasoline-powered, remote/radio controlled device, including drones, in any county park in such a manner as to disturb the peace or pose a threat to public health or safety.

That pretty clearly says that all county parks are off limits. However, as @geonv also points out, there is an exception for Rancho San Rafael in one specific area:

Radio controlled aircraft, including “drones”, are only allowed at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park in the highland dirt lot (west end of park, near the off leash area). We ask pilots to please respect park visitors by only flying over the designated, unoccupied open space.

So, now we know.