Picking the Best Boots for Winter Adventures!!

One of the most important pieces of gear for winter adventures is a good pair of boots.   Regardless of what winter adventure you’re doing, if your feet get cold , it could be a miserable experience and even dangerous if your out for extended periods of time in the backcountry and  frostbite sets in.
Keeping your feet dry and warm in the cold winter months can be a challenge and takes some experimenting to find what works best for the type of activity and terrain you’re in.  You can find tons of information on the web, but it can become overwhelming at times and even a little confusing.
The best thing to do, is to spend some extended periods of time in the elements, even an overnighter, to understand the different cold weather conditions and how to control moisture.   Your feet WILL sweat or the weather can warm up, creating wet snow conditions and how you manage that moisture is what will make or break an adventure.
A lot of times when I’m out snowshoeing or hiking in the winter months I wear my Gortex running shoes with some Smartwool sox and a pair of gators.  If I’m only out a few hours and I’m moving that entire time, I don’t have a problem with cold feet even when they get a little wet.   Sometimes i’ll carry an extra pair of sox to change into if needed.   If i’m out on a longer excursion with some stops or if I’m doing  an overnighter, I’ll be sure to get into a good pair of boots or mukluks.
I’ve tried several pairs of boots from different manufacturers, some good and some not so good, the price of the boot won’t necessarily guarantee a good fit  for your activity.
As I stated before the best thing to do is get out and spend some time outdoors in different conditions and for different lengths of time.   If you live in the midwest, an expensive mountaineering boot might not be the best boot for you.   It’s important to know what your activity is and how long you’ll be spending outside in the elements.
Talk to friends who have experience and ask what type of boot they use and what works best.   My friend Matt has spent weeks in the backcountry of Northern Michigan and Canada in sub-zero temperatures and has experimented with many boots until he found the best system.   Matt’s been a valuable resource when I’m looking for the right boot for a winter adventure.
Another good way to try different boots, is through renting.   You might not find many outdoor gear retailers that rent boots, but many winter festivals or races that have gear sponsors, will have boots for trial.   The gear sponsors want to sell their brand and the best way to get you to buy is let you use their gear.   I’ve tried several pairs of boots at the Ice climbing festival in Munising Michigan.   I was able to wear the boots for the entire weekend, snowshoeing and ice climbing.
I came across this article by Michael Blair from New England on a hiking  blog that I follow, and thought it was worthy of posting here.
Don’t let cold feet ruin YOUR winter Adventure, find the right boot and enjoy the Winter months!!
JJ

Below treeline hikes often require less technical winter boots

Every season there is a lively discussion among those that hike and backpack in the winter about what the “right” pair of boots are. The problem is that the correct answer is “it depends” on what you are doing and where you are going.

You will likely need different boots if you hike above tree-line, hike below tree-line, or do overnight trips. That and the characteristics of any given  trip ( always moving or a lot of standing around), terrain (steep vs. flat), conditions (temperature, slush, snow, ice, etc.), and personal factors (circulation or “always cold”), are also factors that influence boot selection.

Below, I write about the winter boots I have seen work on the trails here in the Northeast, mainly New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. There are volumes written about this topic so I am only hitting on some of the high-level issues that I tell people new to the winter hiking scene.

I would also encourage you to do more research using the links provided below.

Types of Winter Hiking Trips

Many of the hikes that we do in the Northeast involve steep icy terrain both above and below tree-line terrain so you will probably need winter boots that are designed to handle these conditions.

Descending Mt Lafayette and Franconia Ridge in Winter

Descending Mt Lafayette and Franconia Ridge in Winter

Intermediate-level trips that climb peaks often require hiking for 8-10 hours in winter conditions in cold temperatures with slush, snow, and icy trail conditions. In New Hampshire, some examples of below tree-line winter hikes are the Hancocks, the Kinsmans, and the Osceolas. Above tree-line hikes include Franconia Ridge and the Presidentials. Overnight trips usually involve both above and below tree-line travel.

Types of Winter Hiking Boots

The boots you wear on a summer trip are not usually acceptable for use in winter because if they get wet, they and your feet will freeze. Besides being painful, frozen feet can result in disfiguring frostbite injuries.

There are basically three types of winter boots:

  1. Single layer uninsulated boots
  2. Single layer insulated boots
  3. Double layer insulated boots

Within each type there are multiple sub-types and different configurations. For example, there are double layer insulated boots that consist of rubber/leather outers with removable felt liners, rubber/leather outers with removable thinsolite liners, or plastic boots with removable thinsolite liners.

In addition, winter hiking boots should be:

  • waterproof (rubber lowers and leather or plastic uppers)
  • well insulated (400 grams or more of insulation, rated at least to 20 below zero)
  • snow shoe compatible (make sure your snowshoe binding works with your boots – in advance)
  • crampon compatible (if the sole is flexible you need crampons that are also flexible or they will break)

Make sure your winter boots fit with all of your "traction devices"

Make sure your winter boots fit with all of your “traction devices”

Matching Boots to Weather Conditions

Below Tree-Line Hikes

Before last year, I used Keen Summit County winter boots (rated to -40) and had no problems hiking to any of the highest summits in New Hampshire or Vermont, even above tree-line. They were warm and worked well with light traction (MICROspikes and Hillsound Trail Crampons), snow shoes (MSR Evo Ascents), and mountaineering crampons (Black Diamond Contact Strap – modified with a flexible leaf spring).

Last year I started wearing the Garmont Momentum Mid (-15 degrees) boots because the Keen boots were out of stock and I got a good price on them  – I have been very happy with them too. For even colder temperatures I have a pair of Garmont Momentum GTX boots (-50 degrees).

Above Tree-Line (or steep icy) Hikes

I have used the Keen Summit County boots with no problems when going above tree-line but only for a short time. If I am going to be above tree-line for an extended period of time, I prefer to use a boot with a rigid sole since I will likely be spending a lot of time either wearing crampons or kicking steps into the slope.

If you have ever tried either of these things with flexible soles you know why it is easier with a more rigid sole. Last year, I got a great deal on the La Sportiva Nepal boots and while they are not really insulated they are very warm: I have used them in cold and steep conditions in the White Mountains and up in Maine’s Baxter State park without any problems.

Overnight Trips

If you plan to do overnight trips,  get boots with removable liners so you can put them in your sleeping bag to dry them out and keep them from freezing at night. I haven’t done any winter overnight trips but the boots that I hear the most positive things about are listed below.

You may want to consider renting some from REI or EMS before buying them to make sure they’re right for you.

Try your boots on with multiple sock combinations to get a good fit

Try your boots on with multiple sock combinations to get a good fit

Buying Winter Boots – Return Policies Matter

When buying winter boots, especially more technical mountaineering boots which cost can cost between $250 – $600 per pair, do yourself a big favor and buy them from a retailer like REI or Eastern Mountain Sports that have a 100% guarantee, no-questions-asked return policy. No matter how much you wear a technical boot indoors, you won’t be able to predict how well it will fit until you use it outdoors, try it with many different sock combinations to dial in the fit, and actually hike with it for a few hours on snow. Buying the wrong pair of boots can be misery, not to mention financially ruining.

As of last year, many REI and EMS stores began accepting returns of boots even after they had been used outdoors if they didn’t fit. Don’t misuse this generous return policy, but if you make a mistake, return the boots and try again.

Final Thoughts

I know there are many other opinions and people have had success using other boots so keep that in mind – do your own research and get what works best for you for the types of hikes that you plan to do.

I hope this helps answer some questions, but I am sure there are still more. In any event, don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you have any more questions that Philip, myself or other more experienced winter hikers can weigh in on.

About Michael Blair

Michael has been hiking since 2007 and runs one of the largest and most active hiking groups in New England – the Random Group of Hikers, with over 2500 members.  Michael is a four-season hiker that enjoys taking people out on both day hikes and multi-day backpacking trips anywhere in the Northeast. When he’s not leading trips he is a volunteer field instructor at the various Appalachian Mountain Club Outdoor and Mountain Leadership Schools.

Written 2012, Updated 2013.

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Backyard Winter Adventure!

Find YOUR Winter Adventure!!

It’s only a month into the winter season, with short days, freezing temperatures and limited sun, it’s enough to get some people into a funk.  Don’t let the weather get you down and keep you indoors waiting for spring, grab your snowshoes and head to a local park or woods!!  You’ll be amazed at the adventures you can find right in your backyard!

Traversing one of the deep ravines near the Grand River at one of Ottowa County Parks "The Ravines"

Traversing a deep ravine near the Grand River at one of Ottowa County Parks “The Ravines”

After every winter adventure, I ALWAYS feel exhilarated and yearning for more winter fun!   I not only get in a great workout, I discover new sections of woods that are too overgrown in the summer months, I spot more wildlife than I would while running, or mountain biking a trail.

Spotting a massive Eagle's nest!

Spotting a massive Eagle’s nest!

Standing under the Tree looking up at the Eagle's Nest!

Standing under the Tree looking up at the Eagle’s Nest!

Heading down to the River!

Heading down to the River!

Awesome Hill Climbs to build the legs and lungs!!

Awesome Hill Climbs to build the legs and lungs!!

If you don’t have snowshoes, try renting a pair from your local outdoor gear store, or head to park for some cross country skiing.    If you want a little more excitement grab the sled or toboggan and bring out the kid in you!   Whatever the activity, you won’t regret it and you might just get to like winter a little more!

Get out and find YOUR winter Adventure!

JJ

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Snowshoe Series – Getting Started!

As we get closer to the holiday’s, with the temperature dropping and winter  approaching, it’s that time again to prepare for the snowy winter months ahead.  Don’t let the cold weather and snow force you indoors, there’s plenty of winter adventures to be had!!   

One of the easiest Snowshoeing is one of the most enjoyable and inexpensive outdoor winter Sports, the perfect way to stay healthy and happy through the winter months! 

Snowshoeing the grape vinyards with "Nature's Fitness"  Renting shoes is a great option

Snowshoeing the grape vineyards with “Nature’s Fitness” Renting shoes and going with a group is a great option for getting started.

VIDEO  –  FIRST TIME GUIDE (SNOWSHOEMAG.COM)

One of my favorite winter sports is snowshoeing and here’s MY top 5 reasons why:

 

1.  It’s relatively inexpensive.   I put this one on the top of my list,  since my budget is tight and I don’t always have the disposable income needed for other winter sports that are gear intensive, such as downhill skiing, snowboarding, fat tire riding or even skate skiing.  Aside from the proper layering of clothing, you can get into snowshoeing for $60 to $400 dollars. 

2. It’s a great way to take a break from the other sports to – and have some FUN.   snowshoeing on average burns twice the calories of walking and depending on what type of snowshoeing I do, I can get the same cardio that I would from running the trails in the summer, plus when I use my poles I work the upper body, all while having fun and finding adventure!

3. It’s easy and convenient.    I keep my snowshoes in my car all winter so I can get in a quick workout, enjoy the beauty of some local woods and de-stress.   In less than 10 minutes I can be out enjoying nature at it’s finest!   There is virtually no learning curve when it comes to snowshoeing, if you can walk or hike, you can snowshoe and it’s something that the whole family can enjoy.

4. I can explore new areas of local parks and woods.    In the summer months there’s typically a lot of underbrush and growth in the areas off the beaten path or trail.  In the winter, with the snow cover, I can explore areas that I normally couldn’t get to during the summer months.  The same park or woods that I frequent in the other seasons, now offers a whole new adventure!

5.  It keeps me in the outdoors.   I know that not everyone likes the cold weather and snow and many dread the long months indoors, running the treadmill, spending more time at the gym, or even plopped on the couch in front of the tv, basically waiting for spring to arrive again.   I can’t spend too much time indoors, I avoid it like the plague and do whatever I can to spend time outdoors.  Snowshoeing offers me that opportunity all winter long, day or night, to get some exercise, meet new people and enjoy the winter months.

Snowshoeing the Roads and Trails in UP Michigan!  Renting Shoes from a local sporting goods store!

Snowshoeing the Roads and Trails in UP Michigan!  Renting Shoes from a local sporting goods store!

Where to Start?

With the internet today, it’s easy to”Google” Snowshoes and get all the information that you could possibly ingest, even to the point that it could start to become confusing.   

Just like biking, kayaking, skiing or any other outdoor sport, there’s a bike, kayak,  ski and yes, SNOWSHOE, for every type of terrain, or style of that particular activity.  

So whenever people ask me what type of snowshoes they should buy or get started with, I always respond by asking  a few basic questions:

 Have you snowshoe’d before?

What type of hiking  do you want to do on snowshoes?

Where do you want to go?

Most people typically respond by saying that they just want to go locally with their spouse or friends, get in some exercise and have some fun outdoors in the snow. 

I usually tell people starting out, not to spend a ton of money on their first pair of snowshoes if they just want to get out to enjoy walking in the local parks or woods, for some fun and fitness with friends and family. 

  • For those just starting out snowshoeing, I  suggest renting  a pair OR borrowing a pair from someone you know and get out in your backyard or local park and try it.    Borrowing or swapping snowshoes with  friends, is also a great way to try different brands of snowshoes, that might have different bindings or cleats so you can better understand what works best for you.  Joining a  group that offers hikes into some local parks as well as providing the snowshoes is, to me, one of the best ways to get into the sport, meet some new friends and discover some backyard adventures that you may have otherwise known about.   Two companies that offer this service in my area are EcoTrek Fitness and just to the South, Nature’s Fitness
  • Some prefer to buy a pair right away, in that case, you can find package deals at Sam’s Club, Costco, or other discount stores, that include  snowshoes, poles and carry bag for  around $60, sometimes less through a sale.  Most of the discount stores carry Yukon Charlies, which in my opinion offers a  perfect starter snowshoe that have descent, easy to use bindings and will last years if you only get out 5 to 10 times a year.   Craigslist is also a great option for finding  lightly used snowshoes from people who are cleaning out closets.   I’ve seen some great deals on high-end, quality shoes on Craigslist for a steal.  If you buy used, just be sure to give the shoes a good inspection before buying, most times the shoes will be like new.  My favorite pair of snowshoes, I bought used from and outdoor retailer that was selling their rental shoes for a fraction of the price that I would have paid for new ones.    

 

  • If you want to get into the history and art of making traditional snowshoes, take a class from your local nature center or state park, both usually offer classes at the beginning of the season.   My first pair of snowshoes,  I built and used for two seasons.    Granted, the snowshoes of today are made from much higher tech materials, with  dependable, durable and super easy quick release bindings, but there’s something spiritual about getting out on a pair of wooden snowshoes that YOU crafted with your own hands, like the early explores and Native Americans did, years ago.   I highly recommend taking a class, it fun!!!

The main thing when starting out, is to just get out and try it and later on if you start climbing up mountains or hilly terrain, backpack through the deep northern backcountry snow, or start running trails, then you’ll want to spend some money on more specific snowshoes.  For most terrain, especially here in the midwest, a basic package deal of a shoe is perfect.

 I’ll be posting more on specific types of snowshoes including running snowshoes in the next weeks.

The links below offer some good advice on how to choose the right Snowshoe.

First Timers Guide To Snowshoeing.

ORS Snowshoes Direct – choosing the right Snowshoe.

REI – Expert Advice on find the Right Snowshoe.

 Don’t spend this winter indoors, instead get out and find YOUR adventure, Snowshoeing!!!

JJ

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Kodiak 100 and my first 50 mile adventure!!!

It was just after midnight and I’m sitting at the top of one of the toughest climbs of the race, located in the San Bernardino Mountains, shivering uncontrollably.   I’m at mile 38 on the Kodiak 50 mile trail run, with the hardest part of the course behind me,  I sat down to eat some hot soup and decide whether or not I wanted to continue on.  It didn’t take me long that I decided I was done.   My feet were trashed, it was 36 degrees at the top of the mountain, I didn’t have any warm clothes, and my motivation faded.  Yes, DNF is what you’ll see after my name in the results of the Kodiak 100 and 50 mile Ultra distance trail race, my first attempt at a 50 mile trail run!

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The Kodiak 100 staging area

The Kodiak 100 staging area

At the start of the race I was estimating that I’d finish around 15 hours, worse-case scenario I’d finish within the 24 hour cut-off and quitting wouldn’t be an option.  Fast forward 18 hours, sitting at mile 38, I was changing plans.  As I stood up from the chair, shivering and hobbling on my broken feet, I realized that I may have underestimated the climbs on the course, could have trained a little harder, and taken foot care more seriously, whatever the reason, I called it quits and didn’t finish.  I was disappointed that I was quitting, but at the same time felt satisfied with the adventure. 

Racers at the race staging area

Racers at the race staging area

If it would have been any other 50 miler I don’t think it would have been as big of a deal, but this was my friend Paul’s race and I wanted to at least finish.  Paul not only put together a spectacular race (as expected), he’s a master of endurance, and has been an inspiration and motivator for me since I first met him.    

Downtown Big Bear Lake

Downtown Big Bear Lake

I’ve done several marathons and a couple 50K trail races in the past and always finished respectably, so I set my goals to run a 50 miler to bump up the stakes.  This year, my friend Paul put on the Kodiak 100 mile ultra-distance trail marathon that included a 50 mile option.  Paul has been trying to convince me to come out to Big Bear California for years and since he was putting on this race and I wanted to run a 50 miler, I couldn’t think of any reason not to make it happen.  When I first knew about the race I had plenty of time to train and put in the miles. 

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake

As time drew nearer to race day, I was feeling pretty fit and healthy, but my training mileage was less than optimum for a 50 mile race, with my longest run being 28 miles, not the 35 miles I wanted.  I told Paul I’d be glad to come out and just help out with the race, and skip running it; Paul’s response was “You’re signed up already to run, just come out early and you can help out and acclimate, before you race”.   I was committed!  Now all I needed to do was to plan my trip out to Big Bear Lake.  Typical of me, I waited to the last-minute to get tickets and figure out my transportation.

Beto's Jeep at the Cabin

My friend Beto, from Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, was signed up to run the 100 mile distance of the race and he would be driving up from Ensenada to Big Bear Lake.  I could hitch a ride with Beto, but he wouldn’t be passing through San Diego or Ontario until later Thursday evening, my flight was scheduled to arrive early Thursday morning. 

Beto Ready to run!

Beto Ready to run!

Beto lives in Ensenada, is a good friend of mine and one of the best people I know.  Beto has so much passion for life and adventure, I get inspired every time we connect!   Beto is the owner and operator of Baja Elements, which offers the most amazing, unique, custom experiences into the backcountry of Baja California, Mexico.   I’ve been on a couple of trips with Beto and Baja Elements, gaining experiences that no other guide could offer.  

Big Bear Lake with Mountain in the background that the course crosses

Big Bear Lake with Mountain in the background that the course crosses

Since my flight would arrive in LA in the morning and I didn’t have to meet Beto till 9 p.m., I’d have the whole day to check out the beach near L.A. and even get in some surfing.  I found a great deal on a one day car rental from Dollar Rental, which I’d pick up at the LAX and drop off at the Ontario airport, where Beto would pick me up.  As it turns out, every other person travelling to Los Angeles found the same great deal.  My first sight as I stepped off the shuttle bus and into the car rental office, was that of 100 people snaked across the lobby like you’d see at a popular ride at Disney, all waiting to get a car.  I took my place in line with the other cattle, waiting for my turn.  An hour and a half later I was on the road, heading to Malibu.  It was a beautiful California day!! 

Malibu Beach from the Pier!

Malibu Beach from the Pier!

I lived in California for 4 years when I was younger and spent most of my time on the beaches of Southern California, either swimming, surfing or diving, but I never made it up to Malibu Beach.  I was excited to finally visit Malibu and experience the beach and smells of the Pacific Ocean again.  The one thing that I miss the most about living in California is the Ocean.  Since there wasn’t much surf, I went for a swim out to the end of the pier and back, followed by some epic Thai food, it was a perfect day.

 100_3292

Pier at Malibu Beach

Pier at Malibu Beach

Walking out on the Pier at Malibu Beach

Walking out on the Pier at Malibu Beach

After swimming eating and hanging out on the pier watching the fishermen, I decided it was time to head out to the Ontario airport to meet up with Beto.  I took the canyon road east to Hwy 101 heading south.  I didn’t think about the time, till I found myself at a dead stop in 4 lanes of traffic.  I realized then it was close to 5 o’clock and I was in the thick of LA traffic.  It took me 2 ½ hours to travel 27 miles, at which time traffic started to move a little faster.  Luckily I gave myself plenty of time to meet up with Beto at 9 p.m.  Beto was right on-time, we met up at the airport exit where Beto followed me to return the car.  It was good seeing my friend again.  We caught up on the latest as we started down the road to Big Bear Lake.

Fishermen on the Pier

Fishermen on the Pier

Not much surf!

100_3278

 On our way to Big Bear, Paul texted us saying he had a cabin for us to stay at, but the office was closed.   He told us we could sleep on the floor of the rec room and check in the following morning.  He sent an address that we only briefly looked at.  It was my first time to Big Bear but Beto had been there, spending time with Paul many times before.  He was confident that he knew where it was at.  When we arrived at the office we didn’t see a car in the parking lot and it looked like the place was shut down for the night.  We walked around the building looking for that open door, which we found in the building next door.  It was a small cottage that was set up as a conference room office, the computer was on and the place was warm.  We were tired and ready to get to sleep so we brought in our bags and made ourselves at home. 

Beto preparing for the race!!

Beto preparing for the race!!

The next morning we noticed a car pulling into the office parking lot.  Beto and I looked at each other and almost simultaneously said “let’s get out of here, just in case this wasn’t the right place”.   Just as we were rolling up our bags, Paul texted “where are you guys at?”   I told him we were in the office packing up and heading to his house in which he replied “???”  Turns out we may have been trespassing.  Oh well, aside from taking a few almonds from the dish on the table, we left the place just as we found it.  I knew then that this was going to be an awesome adventure!  After we left the office, we made our way to Paul’s house, which turns out, was 2 blocks down the road. 

Paul in action!!

Paul in action!!

Paul is the most gracious host, as was evident by all the people staying at his house.  We had the cabin because there was literally no more room at Paul’s house.  It was 8 a.m. and the place was bustling with racers just waking up, neighbors and friends cooking up breakfast and volunteers coming and going as they prepared for the race.  Paul as always is the epicenter of high energy.  That’s what I’ve always loved about being around Paul, it’s contagious!

The 100 mile race started at 6 p.m. that evening and after helping out at Paul’s for a couple hours Me, Beto and Sully decided to head to the cabin to get some rest and gather their race gear before 100 mile start, which was in the downtown   After a few hours, a short nap and some food we headed to the start line of the 100 mile race.  Racers were waited anxiously for the start of the race as they made all their last minute preparations, taking inventory of their packs.  I made my way around to all of the vendors that were promoting their products and took pictures.

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As the racers lined up I wished Beto luck on his run, then ran ahead to get some pictures of the start and again as he and the other runners came back around the 1 mile start-lap.  After snapping some pictures, I headed back to the cabin to take one last inventory of my gear and nutrition, for my 50 miler, starting at 6 a.m. the next morning.  I didn’t spend too much time going through my gear as I felt confident I had everything that I needed and as usual, much, much more.  I had more nutrition and water and weight than I needed, and it would catch up with me later on the run. 

racers lining up for the start!

racers lining up for the start!

As I lay in bed trying to sleep, I was starting to realize that this race may be a little more than what I trained for.  Most of my miles were on the North Country Trail in Lower Michigan and I think the biggest climbs were 200 feet in elevation and maybe ¾ of a mile in length and I skimped on total miles each week.  I tried to talk myself down and convince myself I’d be fine, holding a steady 13 minute mile pace and to keep moving forward. 

The 50 mile racers were instructed to meet up at the race start by 5 a.m. Saturday morning to catch the shuttle to a campground on the other side of the Lake, which would be the start of the 50 mile run.  Naturally it wasn’t until 3 a.m. that I finally fell into a deep sleep, getting in an hour sleep before the alarm went off at 4.  When I woke, my stomach was killing me and I felt nauseous.  I kept telling myself that it was only my nerves and it would go away.  I had some coffee and loaded my stuff into the truck and drove to the start/finish line.  After parking, I walked to the shuttle area and grabbed the last spot on the “heated” bus, heading to 50 mile start.

Kodiak course

Kodiak course

We arrived at the campground at 5:40, leaving 20 minutes to wait before the start.  The shuttle ride was pretty quiet, but as we got out and mingled waiting for the start, the level of energy began to rise.  It was cold and the racers were stretching, bouncing and moving around to keep warm.  Paul was there to send the racers off.   To make it official, volunteers strung a Start banner across the dirt road that we were standing.  At 6 a.m. exactly Paul sounds the start!  All at once we fell into motion and filed down the road.   I was still not feeling the best but at the same time excited to begin!

The dirt road that we were starting out on was the same road that we just travelled, on our way into the park.  We followed it for a half mile or so before taking a right onto a single track leading into the mountain park.  Once on the single track, I started to feel better as my nerves settled.  The trail continued for a few miles before leading us onto the PCT trail.  The section of the PCT Trail that runs through the mountains near Big Bear Lake, offers some gorgeous panoramic views of Big Bear Lake and great running.  I started into a great rhythm and began to enjoy the trail and the mountains.

The first water stop was around mile 15 with not only plenty of water, and supplements, but fresh cooked bacon!  I’ve never seen bacon at a water stop before, but after smelling it from a mile out on the trail it was the first thing I wanted when I arrived.   I filled my water bottles, a few more pieces of bacon and headed out.  I was feeling great so far.  

After leaving the first water station and a few miles out, I approached the first tough section of the run that headed up 6 miles of steep fire road.  Starting out I was trying to run for 5 minutes followed by walking, but soon I found myself doing more walking than running.  It was at this point, I started to feel blisters forming on my feet.  I was right on my time schedule up till this point, halfway up the road I slowed to a 25 minute mile, and started to feel the heat.  Finally after 3 hours I reached the top of the long climb and the second water station.  I walked up to the table and to my surprise saw coming out of a van my friend Cyril.  Cyril is a world class adventure racer from Los Angeles, who’s won races around the world with his team “Dart Nuun”.  I met Cyril almost 10 years ago at a Michigan Adventure Race, the same time I met Paul.  Cyril, like Paul is a master of endurance and a machine on the mountain bike and just about every other discipline you find in adventure racing. 

Cyril talking with Sully, one of the favored 100 mile racers!!

Cyril talking with Sully, one of the favored 100 mile racers!!

Cyril is a great guy, but when it comes to training and racing he’s all business and totally focused, which makes him a natural leader.  When I crewed for Team Sole in Michigan I was in awe watching these masters methodically crush all of the competition.  Cyril is the epitome of discipline, when it comes to endurance.  Cyril is also the owner of Feed The Machine, an online distributer and source of all information of supplements.  I highly recommend “Feed The Machine” as a resource if you want someone who truly knows the business.  As we briefly talked, I filled my water bottles, grabbed a couple gels, and raved about how awesome the course was up to this point.  Before I arrived at the water stop I was feeling some pain, but just talking with Cyril for those few moments somehow energized me again.  I was feeling good!

The climb wasn’t over yet, but leveled off some moving forward.  I had another 4 or 5 miles to go to reach the next aid station at mile 28.  From the water stop the course continued up the mountain for 3 miles to a campground, eventually heading back down to the next aid station.  The last mile before reaching the aid station, I could feel that my feet were seriously blistered and starting to hurt.  I tried to run as much as possible but it was becoming difficult.  I walked in the last ½ mile.

When I arrived the first thing I did was to find a seat and take my shoes off.  The volunteers working the aid station were amazing; one woman brought me a hot hamburger, while the medic worked on my feet.  In total I was there for almost an hour, during which I contemplated dropping from the race.  I might have dropped if I didn’t feel I had the energy, but my only problem was my blistered feet, which were feeling much better.  I decided that I’d get back out on the course.  One of the volunteers told me that the next 10 mile section was the toughest and once I committed to it, there was no support for the next 10 miles and it was the toughest climb of the race.  I wanted to continue on, so I thought I’d head out for a mile or two and then I’d make the call to continue on or turn back. 

Two of the volunteers led me to State Hwy 18, walked me to the other side and explained where I needed to go to pick up the trail heading through the Snow Valley Ski area, which would connect to the established Camp Creek Trail, leading down an almost 4 mile descent to Bear Creek.  I started out with a good pace, as I climbed to the top of a ridge overlooking the valley and  the mountain that I would be crossing.  It was dusk and the view was spectacular, but at the same time I was becoming hesitant as to whether I should continue on.  I kept moving forward at a slow pace trying to decide.  After a half mile descent, I made up my mind to go for it.  Just as I started to pick up the pace, two runners came crashing down the trail at a pretty good clip.  One of the guys I had just seen at the aid station, not doing too well and I’d thought he dropped from the race.  As he passed he said “come on let’s knock this section out”.  I dropped in behind them but after a short distance I fell off, feeling I couldn’t continue at the pace they were moving.  I slowed back down to a comfortable speed focusing on my feet which were starting to hurt again. 

At around mile 2 on the descent, I found myself all alone on the trail, as the sun was beginning to set.  I thought to myself, “This is going to be a long hike”.

siberia creek 4

 Just as I thought I was going to be alone for the next couple hours I heard some voices, coming from back up the trail.  Oh yes, I might have some company, unless they’re speedsters like the first two guys that passed me by.  I slowed some to allow them to catch up with me.  In just a few minutes I could see two people coming down the trail.  It was two women runners, one was running the 100 mile race and the other was her pacer.  As they finally approached, they introduced themselves and asked if I minded some company.  I probably answered “NO I DON’T MIND” before they even finished asking the question; I was elated to have the company.  They introduced themselves as Cheryl, the 100 miler, and Laura, the pacer.  I introduced myself and mentioned it was my first 50 miler. For a split second I felt a little guilty for still being out on the course, I mean I was 15 hours into the race and only at mile 31, but they were encouraging to me and didn’t think anything about it.

Siberia Creek trail runs up this mountain!!

Siberia Creek trail runs up this mountain!!

Fortunately, Cheryl was ok moving at my pace, we continued down to the bottom of the mountain to cross Bear Creek and begin our arduous climb up the newly cut and re-opened Siberia Creek Trail (literally JUST finished days before the start of the race).  Siberia Creek Trail is approximately a 6.8 mile trail with a 3000’ ascent, dubbed “Hades” by the race staff, which seemed eternal!!   As we climbed at a snail’s pace I fell to the rear and we talked some, bitched some at each log crossing and every time one of us would get stabbed from the tip of some arid plant that was chopped off with a machete.  I was miserable but thought “I can’t think of any other thing I’d rather be doing right now, what an awesome adventure!!”  

Top of Siberia Creek Trail

Nearing the top of Siberia Creek Trail

I couldn’t have asked for better company than Cheryl and Laura, they were both very pleasant to be with and, as I found out later, very humble.  As it turns out Cheryl was a competitive bodybuilder, turned ultra-runner and oh let’s see, did a few little events such as “Badwater” and “Double Badwater” and Furnace Creek and many other amazing distances.  As we talked on our way up the mountain, I was saying how I wanted to finish this 50 miler and do more ultra’s, with Cheryl saying “yeah I haven’t done too many 50 milers and I did some 100 milers but it’s been a while”, at which time Laura blurted out “did you know Cheryl just did a Double Badwater?”.   In case you don’t know the “Badwater” is one of the grand daddy’s of Ultra-distance racing, that’s 135 miles of desert running in Death Valley in tremendous heat, followed by a mountain climb in freezing temps to the finish at the top.   Ok do that twice and you’re a “Badass”!!  I said “I knew you were holding back”, with a laugh.  I think Laura just couldn’t stand hearing her friend NOT boast a little bit about such incredible accomplishments.

Cheryl at start

Cheryl at start

Laura just happened to crew and pace for Cheryl on those events and is equally as tough.  In fact Laura, with her fresh legs could have sprinted up that mountain at an 8 minute mile, or less, pace, I’m sure of it.  I knew that she was holding back in order to keep her runner on task with nutrition, water, and encourage her just enough to get to the finish line.   That sometimes can take some patience especially in the few cases when their runner is hitting a wall.  I think the Kodiak course was taking a toll on Cheryl this time, which can happen to even the best.  I was still in awe of her perseverance and mental toughness, as she kept moving forward at a steady pace.  The true sign of a world-class athlete.  You’d never know she was past 80 miles, and almost 24 hours into a race, she was as pleasant being around, as if we were out on a hike.   It was a beautiful night with a full moon and every so often Cheryl would stop, turn off her headlamp and look up in amazement at all the stars and constellations in the sky, or the cloud seen below, that was floating, 3000’ below, above lake Elsinore and illuminated by the light of the full moon.   That is a person who has a passion for life!!!

As it turns out Laura was scheduled to run her first 100 mile race in the next weeks (which she at this time has completed very respectably) and Cheryl was crewing for her.  They seemed to be great friends and it was Cheryl’s way of giving back to Laura to help Laura in her journey of accomplishing her own amazing ultra-distant runs.

We trudged our way up the mountain to within a mile and a half from the top, when I started falling back.  They would have waited for me but I told them to move on, I just needed to take 5 minutes to sit and get off my feet.  I stopped, but only for a minute because I couldn’t find a spot on the side of the mountain that was flat enough.  Everywhere I tried to sit I’d find myself starting to slide down the mountain.  I decided to suck it up and get to the top.  Every so often I could see the flicker of Laura and Cheryl’s lights, but only for a moment, before disappearing behind a rock or bend in the trail.  Finally the trail flattened out and I started to pick up the pace.  I was determined to catch up with them, but I imagine they were feeling the same relief and also picked up the pace.  I was all alone for the last 45 minutes, moving through the lodge pole pine forest, a little skittish of any noises I heard.

Finally, I could see lights through the trees coming from the water stop and aid station.   I was so happy to be close, I started into a slow run.  It was around midnight and the temperature at the top of the mountain was around 36 degrees, feeling even colder.  The first thing I asked when I got to the aid station was if they had seen two women coming through and did they continue on.  The volunteer told me that  someone picked them up when they arrived.  They decided to call it a race.   It was mile 88 for Cheryl, 50 more than I had and enough to gain my respect.   I sat down ate some soup and told the volunteers I was done.  The aid station was semi-remote so I waited, shivering for an hour, till I was able to hitch a ride back with one of the volunteers.  I couldn’t wait to get back to the cabin and lay down.  

Most interesting man in the world attending the Kodiak 100

Most interesting man in the world attending the Kodiak 100

100 mile winners and finishers!!

100 mile winners and finishers!!

Awards Ceremony

Awards Ceremony

Awards Cermony

Awards Cermony

100 miler  winners and finishers.  Winners get an awesome carved bear trophy!!!

100 miler winners and finishers. Winners get an awesome carved bear trophy!!!

My race was over!  At that moment I vowed I’d train harder and come back next year and finish!  I loved the amazing single loop course that Paul and Matt put together and would recommend this race to anyone looking for a world-class 100 mile race.  To me it was more than a 50 mile race, it was one awesome adventure!!

JJ

Paul, The director of the Kodiak 100

Paul, The director of the Kodiak 100

Matt, Director of the Kodiak 100

Matt, Director of the Kodiak 100

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Fall Training day on Lake Michigan!!

With the Michigan fall weather setting in, there’s nothing better than a day spent training on the shores of Lake Michigan!    Even though I’m only 15 miles from the Lake, I don’t get there as much as I’d like.  

Today I had Kirk Park all to myself and conditions couldn’t have been better.    The only thing that could have made it more than perfect, would be playing in the autumn  surf with my whitewater Kayak.  

Every season adds new backyard adventures, what was YOUR adventure today??

JJ

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North Country Trail Run…Newaygo

While living in Grand Rapids MI. , there’s no better place to train for long distance trail running than the North Country Trail in the Manistee National Forest.   I’ve been preparing for two events this year; one being a 50 mile trail run and the other is to complete, in sections, the entire Michigan stretch of the North Country Trail.   

Checking the map before heading out!

Checking the map before heading out!

I haven’t been diligent following my weekly training plan, but I do try to get in my long runs on the weekends.

NCT Trail Marker off of 40th Street

NCT Trail Marker off of 40th Street

This past weekend I was able to get in two days of running.  Friday I got in 10 miles starting from Newaygo, with a 5 mile out and back.   It was the perfect ending to a busy week at work, leveling me out, both emotionally and spiritually.

Mile 5 heading out!!

Mile 5 heading out!!

 I was in a total  zone, running solo through this quiet section of trail.   Fantastic run!

Sunday 8-25-13 ….15 miles starting south of the School house ending at Nichols Lake!

NCT Schoolhouse off of Feltch Ave.

NCT Schoolhouse off of Feltch Ave.

When I left the house I was planning on running solo again on this 90 degree day, but a mile from Dave’s house I called to see if he was up for a run!!

Trailhead

Trailhead

It was like Dave was waiting for my call, in 15 minutes he was dressed and ready for some adventure!!    

Signing in!

Signing in!

It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon when we hit the trail, just in time for the mid-day heat wave!!  It was a HOT and humid day!!

Trail Marker and crossing

Even though it was HOT, it was a perfect day on the trail!

North Country Trail

North Country Trail

Heading out with my Ultimate Direction Pack, loaded with plenty of fluids and nutrition.

Box with Trail Log

Box with Trail Log

We made sure that we signed in at every checkpoint with the trail log.

First Log Box Leaving Schoolhouse

First Log Box Leaving Schoolhouse

We signed in as Dave and Joe with find YOUR adventure!!

Dave setting the pace!!

Dave setting the pace!!

Dave starting out with a grueling pace but soon settled into a comfortable stride!

Beautiful Section with Ferns!!

Beautiful Section with Ferns!!

I loved this section of trail with the ground covered in ferns.

Signing in findyouradventure.wordpress.com

Signing in findyouradventure.wordpress.com

Checking the time and date before signing the log.

NCT creek at bridge 3 

I had been on this section of trail before but totally forgot out the three creek crossings….a welcoming site on this hot day!!

Crossing one of the 3 bridges on trail

Crossing one of the 3 bridges on trail

The first creek we stopped only to dip our hats for some cooling off.

Dave Taking the Plunge....a nice relief from the 90 deg weather!

Thankfully, Dave talked me into taking a rest and dip in the very cool waters!

Preparing for the last 3 miles!!

Preparing for the last 3 miles!!

Our 15 minute rest flew by WAY too fast!  I could have spent the rest of the afternoon soaking in the refreshing waters.

Checking the Map!!

Checking the Map!!

The trail is well-marked, I was checking my map for a distance to Nichols Lake!

 

Bridge Crossing

Bridge Crossing

The third and last creek crossing, we again dipped our hats for a refreshing splash.

Open Section south of Nichols Lake

We came across some mountain bikers coming out of this open section just South of Nichols Lake.  This is one section of trail where mountain biking is allowed.   I have biked this section of trail before and I highly recommend it!

Signing in!

Signing in!

Last log before Nichols lake.

Nichols Lake!

Nichols Lake!

Nichols lake was a welcoming site at the end of our run, as we ended with a swim.    We sipped our last drop of water before arriving at our finish.   We could have used another liter of water out on the trail, as we rationed the last 4 miles.  

Dave preparing to head out!

Dave preparing to head out!

We planted my car at Nichols lake, I’m dropping Dave back off at his car located at the starting point!   With the heat it seamed longer than 15 miles but it not only was a perfect run it was a great Adventure!!

For your next trail run, get out on the beautiful North Country Trail, you can’t go wrong.  

Get out and find YOUR adventure!!

JJ

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Finding Local Adventures through working abroad!!

Check out the Adventure’s of my Brother Dan who’s been working and travelling abroad for the last 7 years!!   Dan is not only working abroad, he’s travelling and writing about his “Local Adventures”!!!!

Artists at work, Tanzania!

Artists at work, Tanzania!

Over the last 2 years I’ve written many posts and articles about local adventures that I’ve found in my own back yard, here in Grand Rapids Michigan. Those little pockets of woods, a creek, river, or a private stretch of beach that one would only find if they live here. If I can find that many fun adventures my own backyard, I can only imagine all the backyard adventures that can be discovered in other countries. When I travel to another country, I make it a point to seek out those local spots. Even with the internet, today’s social media sites and travel blogger sites, it can be hard to find those special places.   When I was younger, I had the opportunity to live abroad while serving in the Military, where I was able to get to know an area and the people and explore!  Today I don’t have the luxury of living overseas and my trips are from 5 days to 2 weeks.   Whatever the time period I try to enjoy the experience.

Enjoying the sunset at a local Ottowa County Park!!

Enjoying the sunset at a local Ottowa County Park!!

Typically when travelling abroad, time is limited to two, three, or if we’re lucky, four weeks to see and experience as much as possible.     Trips are planned around the major cities and sites that are a “must see” while you’re there, such as Rome, while in Italy, Paris in France, Shanghai, China or London and Castles in the UK.   All of these places are great to see, I mean it’s what we’ve read about, and seen photos of throughout our lives.   It would be a shame not to see them, especially if we’re spending the time and money to travel that distance, right?    Personally I haven’t seen too many of the well-known attractions, or big cities overseas and even though they are great places to visit, I haven’t been convinced yet that I’ve missed much.  

Fishing in Kosovo!!

Dan doing some fishing in Kosovo!!

Often when I talk to friends and relatives, who’ve returned from a European tour,  where they’ve  packed in all the sites into 2 or 3 weeks, they sound more relieved that they’re back home, than excited to talk about their adventures.   They sum up their entire experience in a few sentences that reflect distaste for crowded tour buses on tight schedules, tiny overpriced rooms, and rude people.   They snap a few pictures of the towers and streets and maybe a cathedral, all of which will end up in a file on the computer or photos in a box.   If I hadn’t asked how their trip was, I’m not sure they would have never brought it up, maybe they were disappointed or the trip didn’t live up to their expectations.    I always feel sad, thinking that they missed out on  experiencing the culture, food and adventures that truly represent the people who live there.   Sometimes it’s easier said than done, especially when on a timeline and schedule.

Market outside of Dar es Salaam!

Market outside of Dar es Salaam!

To me, the best adventures are those found off the beaten path, those small towns in the countryside, villages along the coast or even camping in a remote region, meeting the occasional rancher or fisherman.   It’s those simple relaxed experiences of being submersed into another culture, spending time talking with locals, eating the same foods they eat and enjoying those hidden local spots that are in their backyard.      Fortunately I’ve had the opportunity to see parts of the world, spending a few months living and working overseas, while I was in the Navy.

Land owner of one of the missions in Baja California and Wonderful Host!!

Land owner of one of the missions in Baja California and Wonderful Host!!

For the past few years I’ve been following my brother Dan, who is currently working in Tanzania, a country that I’ve always wanted to visit and hopefully I will have the chance, during the time he is there.    For the longest time, my reason for wanting to travel to Tanzania is to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, The tallest mountain in Africa. To commit to climbing Kilimanjaro, I’d have to take at least 9 days for the adventure, not counting the travel time to get over there.   After reading about my brother’s adventures , I’m debating whether or not I want to spend the time climbing Kilimanjaro, or spend the time exploring the country, and getting to know the people and culture.      I’m working with a highly recommended local guide and considering spending time on foot or bicycle, travelling across the countryside of Tanzania or around Kilimanjaro.    Whatever I decide to do, I know that 3 weeks won’t be enough.    I’ll keep you posted, for now I enjoy reading about my brother’s adventures while he’s working in the country.

If you’re spending any time travelling or working abroad make sure you take the time to find those “Local Adventures”!!

JJ

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The “North Country Trail” Unveilling of Murals and Thru-Hiker Luke Jordan!!

If you’re an outdoorsman and live in Michigan, more than likely you’ve heard of the North Country Trail or NCT as it is sometimes referred to.   The North Country Trail is one of America’s eleven congressionally designated National Scenic Trail systems and the longest.   It runs from New York to  North Dakota passing through 7 states and totalling approximately 4500 miles, Michigan owning 1150 of those miles. 

I’ve spent time on the North Country Trail within the Manistee National Forest in the Lower Peninsula and on the Superior Shoreline near Munising, in the Upper Peninsula.   Both of these sections of trail are spectacular and worth visiting again but they are only a fraction of the Michigan distance of trail.   One day I’d like to hike the entire North Country Trail as a thru-hiker, but that won’t happen till I retire, unless I can take a sabbatical from work (unlikely).   What I can do now is complete the trail in sections, starting with the Michigan Section of the trail.  

I’m putting together plans to complete the Michigan section of the NCT this year if possible, to raise money for the “Kids Food Basket” of Grand Rapids and Muskegon, Michigan.   The Kids Food Basket is an awesome organization that helps feed kids in the local community and one that I’m passionate about AND I’ve wanted to complete the North Country Trail for years, so it made sense to combine the two.   Since I’m starting a little late in the season, it may take me until next summer to complete the whole thing, due to the difficulty of logistics and early snows in the Upper Peninsula.   To help with my planning I decided to visit the trail’s Headquarters located in Lowell Michigan

North Country Trail Headquarters Mural unveiling!!

North Country Trail Headquarters Mural unveiling!!

It just so happened that the day I visited the Headquarters, there were two happenings going on that day.   The first was the unveiling of 3 murals painted by local students, that will be displayed on the outside wall of the Headquarter’s building.   The second was to welcome Luke Jordan, who’s currently attempting to thru-hike the entire trail and is close to the halfway point.   It was a fun afternoon, but not a good day to talk to the rangers about my plans.   I didn’t want to distract anyone from celebrating the  accomplishments of the students or Luke.  I snapped some pictures, ate some snacks and took time to congratulate the students and talk to Luke about his adventures! 

One of three murals

One of three murals

The students did an amazing job on the murals, it was great to see the number of people who came out to congratulate them. 

Artists and Luke Jordan in front of Mural

Artists and Luke Jordan in front of Mural

Luke received a lot of attention from the town people and the local newspaper.   Luke is from North Dakota and had a lot of good things to say about the friendly and helpful people, that he’s encountered on the Michigan section. 

Mural of NCT woods

Mural of NCT woods

I talked to some of the students that worked on the mural, they showed a lot of pride in being part of the North Country Trail!

Names of the Mural Artists

Names of the Mural Artists

It was a good time hanging out at Ellas of Lowell for some good eats!!  

Gathering after Mural celebration

Gathering after Mural celebration

I continue working  my plans for completing the Michigan Section of the North Country Trail, to raise money for the Kids Food Basket of Grand Rapids, hopefully starting in August.   I’m excited to get started on my adventure, exploring  Michigan, on the North Country Trail and helping to raise money for kids that might not know where their next meal is coming from.   Stay tuned, I’ll be posting more info on my plans.   For now, get out and find YOUR adventure this summer, on the North Country Trail!!

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Striders Sunset Series – Having fun running!!

Over the past 30 years I’ve run a lot of 5k races,  on road and on trails, over time I’ve lost count.    I can tell you that most of the races that I’ve run, were in the days when I was younger, when I was eager to race and set new PRs.   It seems  now that I’m older though,  I’ve lost the drive to really get out and “race” or try to achieve a new personal best in the 5K or 10K distance.     I’m in a constant mental battle with myself on this issue, as to why. sometimes I think it’s because I’m just too lazy to get out and train hard, more times I feel it’s because I’m getting bored with the same old thing when it comes to running a race,  what’s the point of being the fastest in my age group or beating my last PR anymore.   I need something new, something that’s healthy, fun and adventurous!!

Friends hanging out!!

Friends hanging out!!

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing to challenge oneself, trying  to improve, or compete,  I did it for years and I do love the energy surrounding the athletes, on those early mornings at the start line.   I’ve built many friendships around running and doing these events, it’s just that now I run for different reasons.   Instead of setting personal best’s in speed, I now think of personal bests in enjoyment! 

Hanging out for an evening with friends!

Hanging out for an evening with friends!

 Today, there’s no shortage of running races, in any city, or state, in any season and for the most part they’re well run events, but they can come at a price.   It’s not uncommon to see sign-up fees from $35 to $55 for a run with a shirt and some bananas at the finish.   When people are done, they wait impatiently around the timing trailer for the results to be posted,  before they speed off to a busy weekend.     As I look around at the start line the runners are checking their watches, heart rate monitors, and gps devices ensuring they’re all in sync, I ask myself what happened to the days when you showed up at a race, ran your fastest and had fun.    I have enough stress at work with deadlines and goals to meet, I don’t want to put more stress on myself by always checking my progress against a clock or worry about what place I ended up in my age group.  

Love to see the youngsters out having fun running fast!!

Love to see the youngsters out having fun, running fast!!

I miss the old days when you’d show up at a new trail race with 25 other people on some pristine trails, finishing up to a spread of hot chili and some garlic bread all for $15.   Sometimes it included a shirt and sometimes not.    It didn’t really matter, the important thing was giving it your best, and taking the time to meet new friends that love and understand the beauty of the sport.  

Spectacular cross country trails!

A mother and daughter enjoying the spectacular cross country trails!

The good news is that those days are not lost, thanks to runners that are in the business for the love of the sport and not just to make a buck putting on an event.   Striders Run store in Grand Rapids is one the best!   Steve and his family at Striders, truly run the business based on their love of the sport and when they put on an event, you can be assured that it’s going to be top-notch and it won’t break the bank.   Whenever I show up at a Stiders event it takes me back to the days of past, those days of shared experiences on new courses with a feel of being with family.   Truly world-class!!

Having fun!

Having fun!

This year they started up a “Sunset Series” of races that take place in the evening, followed by food and music, all for $30.   You can’t hardly find a 5K road race for that price.   The striders series includes the race, some great food, music, a free drink with friendly people who have a passion for life.    Oh yeah and on top of all that, they offer a tech t-shirt and cool awards for the one’s that run fast!   If you like hanging out running with some awesome people on a challenging fun course, then get signed up for the next “Sunset Series” of Races by Striders!!   Make it YOUR next adventure!!

                                                            More Photos  –     Striders Sunset Series – Fenn Valley 5K  

JJ

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Gear Review: Ultimate Direction – Adventure Vest

On my latest adventure out to the Grand Canyon, I tested  a new lightweight running, adventure pack.   The pack served me well and I can’t wait till my next adventure to use it again!  

The Pack is Ultimate Direction’s Adventure Pack.

Ultimate Direction - Adventure Vest

Ultimate Direction – Adventure Vest

 

 Over the years I’ve done a lot of long distance, self supported adventures, that required carrying my supplies, including water, in some sort of backpack.   The packs that I have and have used, work OK, but they’re not exactly lightweight and lack many of the features that I’d like to have when  fastpacking, or running out on the trails.  Understandable, considering they were either given to me or purchased based on price. (ok I’m cheap..what can I say)

To me, the most important features of any pack that I wear are, comfort, weight, water storage, and easy access pockets for supplements, phone and camera.   I don’t want to have to bother stopping and taking the pack off to access any of the listed items, or trying to contort my arms shoulders and body, trying to reach them.  

As far as carrying water, I’ve used the hydration packs with the bladder and hose, bottles carried in the main compartment, or taped to the shoulder strap.    I really don’t like hoses draped over my shoulder and sucking out of a hose and I certainly didn’t like stopping to dig a bottle of water out of my pack every time I was thirsty.  The best scenario was using the make-shift bottle holders that I had taped to the front straps.   It didn’t look the best and I was always tweaking it as I ran, which became very annoying in itself, so I finally decided it was time to get a real adventure pack!

I did a little research on lightweight packs with bottle holders on the front and the one that caught my eye and seemed to have everything I needed, was Ultimate Direction’s Adventure Vest.     Priced at $149, it’s reasonable, but I wasn’t sure I could swing it before I left for the Canyon.  In conversation one day I was telling my friends from work about the pack and how awesome it looked.     A week later, they sent me a meeting request, supposedly to talk about doing an adventure race together, to my surprise, the meeting was to present me with; you know it, a brand new Ultimate Direction – Adventure Vest!      I’ve got some awesome friends!!  

The Grand Canyon would be the perfect testing grounds for my new pack!

Running with my new Ultimate Direction - Adventure Pack!

Running with my new Ultimate Direction – Adventure Pack!

OK, here’s my breakdown on the Adventure Pack:

LIKES:

  •  Comfort – I wore this pack for 10 hours each day, utilizing about 1/2 of it’s 12 liter capacity and it fit me like a glove, the water bottles are placed such that there’s virtually no sloshing of water while running and at the end of the day I felt no pain or discomfort in my shoulders whatsoever.
  • Loading capacity – I was able to carry enough water supplements and safety gear to run all day in the Canyon and still only use 1/2 of its capacity.
  • Number and Placement of pockets – You can tell that a lot of thought was put into the number and location of storage pocket, and compartments on this pack,  I was able to access my GU packs, chapstick, phone and maps, and most important, water, with ease.  
  • Weight – When you put this pack on with nothing inside, it feels lighter than my shirt.    Now I need to focus on lighten up my gear that goes inside and of course myself.
  • Chest Straps – I like the fact that there’s no stretch in the lower strap so I could really cinch it down, the upper has some elasticity, which allowed  some movement, but not too much.   Once the straps were cinched tight they remained tight without loosening up as I ran.  This is really an important feature for me, because I hate have to constantly tighten my straps as I run.
  • Tie down bungee in the main compartment – I carried my first aid stuff and my food Items in large plastic ziplock bags.   Since i wasn’t using all the capacity in the main compartment, I was able to hold the bags in place with the tie downs inside the main compartment, to keep them from bouncing around.   Later when it warmed up, I was able to fit my fleece inside, without pushing the other items to the bottom of the pack.

DISLIKES: 

  • Length of front straps – I’m probably bigger than most distance runners and I have a larger upper body.  The length of the upper strap was such that there wasn’t much room for loosening, and with my fleece on it felt a little snug in the upper section.   Not a huge issue as it was right at the limit with my fleece, my concern is if I wear the pack in the winter, It might be too tight.
  • No  pocket for a camera – I’m not sure if most people who’d wear this pack, spend time snapping pictures as they run or hike, but I like to capture my adventures to share with my friends later.   There’s no pocket that will fit a camera and can be easily accessed on the go.   I ended up either carrying it in my hand or in the pocket of my shorts, neither one is ideal.   The last time I wore my pack though, I just took a fanny pack and it worked out ok.    

OVERALL:

  • Overall I loved the pack and plan on using it on my next adventures.   The capacity is more than I need most of the time, but this pack collapses down to a smaller size without sloshing around as I run.   I would recommend this pack to anyone that is out on the trails or mountains for more than 3 hours up to a full day.  I think I could even fit my tarp and bag in this pack for an overnighter,  GREAT job Ultimate Direction on developing an Awesome Pack!!
Manufacturer Ultimate Direction
Weight 12 oz. (17.5 oz. with bottles) / 340 g (496 g with bottles)
Gender Men’s & Unisex
Cubic Inches 61
Liters 12
Sleeping Bag Compartment No
Waterproof No
Other Features Fluid Capacity: 2 x 20 oz. bottles / 2 x 591 ml

Sizing At Chest (Unisex):
S/M: 28 – 36 in. / 71.1 – 91.4 cm
M/L: 36 – 40 in. / 91.4 – 101.6 cm
— Measure wearing the clothes you intend to wear
— A vest full of gear will fit smaller

DIMENSIONS
Height: 16 in. / 41 cm
Width: 9 in. / 23 cm
Depth: 4.5 in. / 11 cm

For YOUR next Adventure, try out an Ultimate Direction – Adventure Pack!

 

JJ

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