Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gossamer Gear Ceramic Coated Stakes

I tested a lot of new gear on my latest hike in the Grayson Highlands. One of my favorite gear additions is my new set of Ti V-stakes in ceramic hi-viz yellow from Gossamer. Its really  simple when you're looking at stakes:

1. Light & durable
2. Good hold & able to work in various soil conditions
3. Easy to find in ground cover / hard to loose

Bright, light & durable finish (no batteries required for day-glow finish)
Prior to this stake set, I used a pair of MSR Groundhog stakes to stake out the tarp ridgelines, four MSR Needle stakes for the four tarp corners and four generic Ti J-hooks to stake out my bug tent inner when I use it. This system has worked fine for a few years. I already had the yellow ceramic coating on them prior to Gossamer's commercial offering. My only real complaint is that the Groundhogs pack a little on the bulky side since they are y-stakes.

Ti V-stake taking on the Grayson Highlands concrete meadows

The V-stakes did very well in rock hard soil of the highlands and loamy soft soil that I found in the grassy meadow our second night out. The coating is day-glow bright - you would have to go out of your way to loose them. The ceramic coating is holding fast even with the hard, abrasive soil the first night out. The same coating on my previous stake set looks fantastic. It's significantly more durable and easier to see than typical hi-viz coatings.

Conclusion: GREAT STUFF!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Grayson Highlands Trip

Dad & I took a trip to the Grayson Highlands for a three day, two night walk. We started at the state park just over the Virginia line and planned a 25 mile loop. Our past several trips have been mileage intense so this walk was designed to take it easy. We were celebrating my dad's 70th & Father's Day so there was no need to pop off big miles.

The Highlands are famous for the ponies but the views are spectacular as well and are a great change of pace from the dense growth typical of the lower elevations of the Appalachians.

Great views constantly along the AT connector, AT & Crest Trail
Wildflowers everywhere

A rocky outlook at the AT - Crest Trail connection
More wildflowers
We walked out to the AT then to the Crest trail after an eventual (& unintended) detour on Spring Trail. We planned short miles and the walking was relatively easy so the extra miles weren't a big deal. Dad almost managed to become close friends with this guy. He was non-poisonous but it still gets your attention at that second you almost step on a snake.

The trails in the area aren't marked that well so we eventually found our way to the Crest Trail and our first night's camp after 10 miles or so. I learned that I'm not a big fan of walking trails that are dual purpose horse trails. The flies, pies and lack of sleep had me ready to sit down and relax. 

It wasn't long before we were greeted by the famous ponies. They were fun to watch and VERY curious thanks to all those before us that gave them snacks. We had to politely invite them to find another camp several times.

Prancing along... this is my meadow!
The ponies were certain that dad had pony snacks in his bag
Home Sweet Home
What we didn't expect to see came over the rise next - free range long horn cattle. There were a dozen or so of them. They were as curious as the ponies - just much larger and with lots more horn! They were determined that they were going to bed down right on top of us so we had to herd them back down the hill several times. Cows are stubborn but calm.

We woke up early the next day, took care of breakfast and hit the trail in hopes of missing possible storms. The walk from our camp to Wise Shelter on the AT was very short (~5-7 miles). After getting there it was exactly as expected - a little dirty, lots of flies and almost as many people. We decided to find a more comfortable camp site. After a short search we found a great spot in hardy grass under a tree. There were still a lot of flies but the pesky hikers were nowhere to be found.


My MLD Grace Solo & Caldera / Trapper combo
Dad prefers the Shires Tarptent Contrail
It didn't take long at all before a localized thunderstorm rolled in. It was a monster with HEAVY rain and reported 60mph gusts. One of the nice things about having a tarp is that you can invite a buddy to hang out in a pop up storm like this one so dad and I just hung out. One of the bad things about a tarp is that you're directly on the ground when heavy storms dump water so fast it runs across the top. It wasn't long before there was a 1cm deep flow running under the tarp. It wasn't a big deal but it was good for a chuckle with two 6ft 180lb guys huddled under a Grace Solo. As soon as there was a break in the storm we took all of our gear (except shelters) to the Wise Shelter to find 7 other people and a dog there. Eventually, it filtered down to us and four other people. With strong winds still in the area and having never actually used an AT shelter we decided to call it a night there. Honestly, I can't recommend it. Noisy people + stone hard floor + someone deciding that solar powered outdoor lights attached to their pack should burn all night (yes that actually happened) = a bad night's sleep. The best part? The lady who carried the lights was truly puzzled on how to lighten her load and make it to 10 miles per day for the next 21 days. This is absolutely no insult to her - just proof that UL walking needs more exposure! As a side note I was able to make it through this whole trip with no perceived need for three entire solar powered yard light systems. Maybe I don't know what I'm missing. ;)
The next day we walked out from Wise Shelter back to the park via the AT. Again, it was a pretty short day. We were out early since hard floors make for early mornings. 

Smiling because we ALMOST missed this connector with rain threatening
We did run into some NORMAL wildlife on this trip
There isn't a trail in the area that isn't littered with stones
We were back to the trail head by 8am (I told you it was an early start) and the 4 hour drive home went quickly. All things said, it was a great trip. I did a lot of new gear testing on this trip so keep a watch for those reports later this week.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Taking Perry for a spin

I took Perry out for a ride today. What a fun bike to ride... this is what drop bars should have always been. I'm searching for a track tha takes me down gravel roads and power lines here in Lexington. So far I've had a lot of fun searching but I can't claim success. What did I find today? Swamped out trail immediately after a hard right hand turn at the bottom of a fun downhill. I was hub deep before I stopped. 

I walked about 150 yards in the muck with Perry on my shoulder and was reminded that I haven't drilled drain holes in my Bonty shoes. That's now on my task list since I spent the rest of the ride with a gallon of water in each shoe. 

I finally found civilization and just got some (boring) road miles in. By the way, you may want to track down a Garmin Vista HCx if you don't have a GPS that you like. Garmin 'upgraded' the line so you should be able to find one on sale. The Vista HCx is great as a trip computer, navigator and post ride analysis tool.

This how a drop bar bike should look after a good ride. A little muddy and smiling from ear to ear. 

Just in case you were wondering, this is where NOT to go.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Long weekend ahead

A quick teaser of things to come...

 Coated stakes are in and they look GREAT. Thanks Grant & RD!!

 Prototype work on modular gear volume expansion for GoLite's Ion

Another view

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Hardest Bicycle Race In The World

If you missed it, the 2011 Tour Divide kicked off Friday morning. The TD is a 2,700 mile race from Banff, Canada to the US-Mexico border in New Mexico. The route has over 200,000 feet of accumulated elevation gain. That's the equivalent to summiting Mount Everest from sea-level 7 times! The riders cover the route completely unsupported. If you want to know more about the race check out 'Ride The Divide' ... its a fantastic documentary covering several riders as they struggle through the course (available on Netflix). This year's race features a record number of bikepacking racers so it should be an interesting year to watch. You can see up to date progress at Good luck to all of the riders!

Chris Plesko (current TD singlespeed record holder) - 2,700 miles in 19 days!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I'm still alive...

So, its been awhile since my last post. My son was born about 3 weeks ago so that makes a convenient excuse. Let's stick with that one. There are some cool things in the works, thought.

I got some new titanium v-stakes from I'm sending them off for the obligatory yellow ceramic coating tomorrow. I should have them back in time for the 3 day adventure in the Mt. Rogers area later this month. They're pretty sexy even without the ceramic, though...

I also have a set of Avid BB7 brakes that are ceramic coated in a tungsten color that I'll do a post on ground up assembly soon. They're going to look SWEET on Molly. Stay tuned...