Wednesday, July 20, 2011

TNGA Double Fail

So, yesterday's ride made it abundantly clear that my body isn't much in the mood for riding the TNGA this year. I knocked off a meager 22 miles at Harbison and came home with my tail between my legs. It isn't fitness... my body just shuts down. So far the brightest minds in the local medical community can only confirm that I have solid lung volume (~6L) and that I'm devilishly handsome. My lawyers forced me to say that it is possible that one of those statements is embellished. I've been testing an Albuterol inhaler but it turns out that its really no help. Bummed... big time bummed. This must be what its like to wake up and realize that you're Lindsey Lohan. Wait... not that bad.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Failure = Success

I took a solo bikepacking trip this past Saturday night. It was a short local trip that covered 30 miles start to finish. To make a long story short, I pulled the plug around midnight for a few reasons. The interesting part is the amount of feedback I've gotten from friends and family implying that the trip was some sort of failure. I've given that reaction a lot of thought and here's why I think they're wrong:

  1. I had lots of fun. It was probably more fun than if I had hung out and left in the morning.
  2. I learned a few things about an unusual situation in the relatively safe local environment. I'll bail on a trip somewhere else without a doubt and I'll be better equipped next time around.
  3. Just like my rule for riding: If you don't crash now and then you're not riding hard enough, you're not getting better and you're not growing. Similarly, if you don't push your gear list to the point of determining that a certain piece of gear won't work you will never know where limits are.
  4. Did I mention that I had fun?

 Headed out... bike lanes in Lexington. Nice.

 My favorite spring board bridge... the return trip in the pitch black of night was fun. This bridge deflects 8-10 inches as you cross. Every time I go over I'm braced for it to let go and drop me in the canal.

A little off trail exploring on the way there... I'd pay for that on the way back out with an under-powered head lamp.

 The gear... it doesn't take much.

 Home Sweet Home
 A table for one... ramen & miso is a favorite of mine lately.

 I just can't stop staring at my bike... Molly was made for this.

 I keep coming back to the MSR HyperFlow filter for a reason.

I decided to call it a night around 9:30pm. I planned on staying up and out later but the bugs were driving me batty. I quickly learned that my bivy (even with the large mesh window around my head) was WAY too hot for a July night in South Carolina. Even with my quilt kicked to the bottom of the bivy I was baking alive. I zipped out and took a nap on top of the bivy for an hour or two. I eventually woke up to the familiar crunch, crunch, crunch of a campsite visitor. I flipped on my headlamp to find a fox about 10 yards from the edge of the tarp. Clapping, yelling and even throwing sticks didn't get him any further than 30 yards away at any given moment. OK, that's it I thought... I'm going home.

Packing up was easy but I was worried about visibility on the ride back. After some brainstorming I was able to hook my Kelty Triptease from my bear bag kit onto the back of my Camelbak to make me visible to cars coming up on me from behind. If you've pointed your headlamp at Triptease at night you know that its unnaturally reflective. I ended up choosing to take my Petzl E-Lite headlamp in favor of my Zebra mainly due to to the fact that its lighter and more comfortable. Unfortunately, its a notch below functional for effective off trail pathfinding and the following bike ride home in the middle of the night. It got me by and that's all it was designed for but I spent 15 miles of riding on the way home thinking of how much better the Zebra would be.

 I took a break on the ride home at a side of the road bait shop. The break was more to take in the night than to take a rest. Good times.

So what did I learn?
  1. Save the bivy for cool weather.
  2. Bring a decent head lamp. The e-Lite is only good around camp, honestly.
  3. Think about heading off trail and what that means if you have to get out in an odd situation. I'd do the same thing again but it worked out because I was lucky, not because I gave it good thought.
  4. Keep pushing. This was a good trip. How do I know? I'm smiling while I write this.

Friday, July 1, 2011

New Balance Minimus Shoes <=>

When I was a kid I always had to show mom & dad how fast I could run when I got new shoes. As I got older, it was a little tougher to find shoes that caused the same excitement. I have picky feet so fit is VERY important and I'm not very tolerant of breaking shoes in. I've always preferred trail runners over traditional hiking boots. I pack light and I hike with trekking poles so there's really no need for bomber boots in my opinion. Trail runners are more comfortable, lighter, dry faster if you poke your foot in the river and they're generally cooler.

I've been keeping an eye on the barefoot running fad for awhile now. The Vibram Five-Finger shoes are in every outfitter I visit. Most of the large running shoe companies have some variant of a barefoot running / free running shoe. Unfortunately, most of them have been relatively uninteresting to me until recently.

I was excited about the looks of the Merrell Trail Glove ... until I tried them on. The fit was just odd with a very tight midsole & enough room in the toe box that I wouldn't need a bivy anymore. That's only a slight exaggeration. If your feet fit in these shoes I'm not saying you're weird - I'm just saying you have weird feet.

Ultimately, I tried on the New Balance Minimus and liked the fit. They have a minimal sole without being moccasins, the construction appears to be durable and well thought out and best of all... they're actually comfortable.

So, what's the best test for your maiden voyage with new minimalist shoes? The rockiest, sandiest place on the AT - the Grayson Highlands, of course! This was my first experience hiking in the area. I know from mountain biking that trails in the Virginia mountains are famous for their rock. These trails took it to an extreme, though.

Caution - shoe & foot torture zone ahead!

I was honestly surprised. The trail left my feet a little fatigued at the end of the day but it wasn't significantly worse than when I hike in my favorite Brooks Adrenalines. The grip and stability was fantastic and water shedding was better than anything I've worn. The combination of the Minimus shoes and my rusty, trusty WrightSock CoolMesh II socks made for the fastest drying footwear I've ever had on the trail. I have a knack for stuffing my foot in water where ever I find it so its a feature that doesn't go unappreciated.

My feet are still dry here. Just give me a few seconds... I'll have a wet foot in no time.
I've been wearing them around town as well with similar results and I'm looking forward to my next hike on normal trails! Recommended!