Posts Tagged ‘gear’

Mom needs a kayak

May 12, 2017

Yup, you read that correctly: it’s your answer for the annual Mother’s Day conundrum — and you still have two whole days to shop (or procrastinate).

Freedom. Power. Shopping. Those are the reasons why you’ll buy Mom (or your wife or significant other — or yourself or your daughter!) a kayak this year. Let me explain (note: this is one of those kayak-endorphin inspired musings that revealed itself to me as I plied the windy waters of the St. Lucie River, which will make more sense as the explanation unfolds):

Freedom: The realization that she can’t do anything she wants and she can’t do everything the boys do is something that slowly and insidiously seeps into a young girl’s consciousness. The result is often a home-bound woman frustrated by her limited choices and afraid to step outside the boundaries that society and the media have created. Those boundaries tell her she’s too old or too weak or it’s dangerous for her to do something like kayaking.

Of course the first problem with kayaking is “I can’t lift one of those onto my car.” But this video (link below) shows plenty of ways to get around that issue, even for a small woman. Where there’s a will …

Think about this: As we age and grow, true freedom evaporates for girls. We’re in the kitchen cleaning up after parties and dinners while the guys continue drinking and watching the football game. There’s little choice in the matter. We’re constrained by expectations of appearance in dress and manner, further eliminating choices and options. By adulthood, because we’re working and nurturing others or doing free work at schools and libraries many women are too pressed for time to do anything for ourselves. We’re too concerned about smelling bad or looking disheveled to participate in anything athletic, so we turn to finding cute outfits and cooking or keeping house as our outlets.

But eventually the beast emerges, hungry for freedom and choices that aren’t satisfied by retail therapy. A woman who’s been saddled with raising children, toiling under an ungrateful boss, and frustrated by time passing will inevitably implode.

Unless she has a kayak and freedom.

A kayak is a vehicle that doesn’t need roads and signs; it carves its own path to adventure and happiness. Travel quickly or meander aimlessly, the kayak doesn’t care. She may look for fish, for birds, for signs of spring or fall colors — or nothing but peace and quiet.

A in kayak Pittsburg NH  Freedom. Serenity. Power.

Power:  Women are generally discouraged from building or using muscle. “Let me do that for you” is a frequent phrase we hear for everything from lifting groceries to moving furniture. Call the handyman when a job requires lifting. Get a man to do that. Well, I’m calling BS — start with a kayak and pretty soon she’ll be doing pushups like Ahhhnold.

The sore muscles are a badge of honor after a long paddle. They remind you that you did it yourself, you propelled a watercraft and succeeded. You tamed the wind and were challenged by the tides, but you survived. Pretty soon the desire to tackle more physical challenges takes hold and the sky is the limit: a 5K run? climb a mountain? anything is possible.

Shopping: This is the gateway, it’s one of the ways a woman’s mind works when her options are limited. Bear with me: If Mom/wife/daughter is used to handling the family shopping, she will love a kayak because it opens a new world of choices and decisions. Cruise through a scenic harbor and she’ll begin to imagine herself aboard a variety of yachts or looking down from the balcony of a chic townhouse (whether as a Bond Girl or maritime skipper, that’s up to her). Glide by some cute seaside shacks and she’ll consider the scenario of running away from responsibilities to make a new life without the SUV and 9-to-5. She may be immersed in the suburban lifestyle now while raising a family but things will change eventually and unless she’s got some inkling of her next step (through “shopping”) the transition could be rocky.

It’s liberating to enjoy sights and sounds and sensations that aren’t loading up the car, getting kids to school, or the same old power walk around the neighborhood. You might have let the genie out of the bottle, but that’s OK because she will escape one way or the other.

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Note to readers: if you’ve read this far, I have one small item of advice — DO NOT buy a tandem/2 person kayak. If she’s timid of the water then start on a quiet, windless day on a small pond in separate kayaks. Tandems simply accelerate the implosion that I warned you about.

Also, don’t buy a crappy $300 kayak. Spend the $1400 and get something above 12 feet with a bit of a keel. If she’s nervous about controlling it, get a rudder installed. Mom is worth it.

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Mother’s Day Mountain

May 15, 2015

Mount Greylock, at 3,491 feet, was a mountain I had to see. Nevermind that the hike was scheduled for Mother’s Day, when my family would be day drinking and talking about … our childhoods? … yeah, that made the hike nearly irresistible!

So we had a great international group with a lot to chat about, which was great because it took my mind off the initial ascent that was nothing if not straight up Thunderbolt, a ski run masquerading as a hiking trail. And of course I’d done my usual amount of research (none) about the trip before signing up, so I only had a vague idea that it was going to be a full day, 12 mile, double-summit hike.

not sure how accurate the blue arrows are but it's a reasonable facsimile of our 12 mile route

not sure how accurate the blue arrows are but it’s a reasonable facsimile of our 12 mile route

One lovely diversion were the numerous wildflowers along the way. In places the forest floor was blanketed with tiny white blossoms, in others the “hobblebush” (white flowers like hydrangea) were taller than us.

tiny yellow lillies

tiny yellow lillies

trillium, a.k.a. stinking benjamin -- looks good but don't bother sniffing

trillium, a.k.a. stinking benjamin — looks good but don’t bother sniffing

hobblebush, said to be a favorite snack of moose (unlikely here)

hobblebush, said to be a favorite snack of moose (unlikely here)

It’s always interesting meeting folks for the first time and spending an entire day with them as we all get dirtier, smellier, cranky, hungry, tired… such a lovely day out! But seriously, there were folks from Ireland, Costa Rica, Mexico, France, Germany and… average Americans, which offered lots of opportunities for interesting conversations about travel, hiking, occupations, and of course, what sort of gear storage you have (mine is basically the trunk of my car).

what is going on here??

what is going on here??

One of my fellow hikers really broke the ice for all of us when she started to overheat before we’d even tackled the first significant hill. The problem was she had long pants on and hadn’t considered the 80 degree day that was just warming up. So our resourceful leader quickly produced a multitool with scissors and reduced her problem to short pants. (No more whining, right? I wish!)

going up thunderbolt

going up thunderbolt

The ascent up Thunderbolt had us all warmed up in no time. It was steep. And yet the summit wasn’t the end of the road. In fact, the summit was was just the beginning of the hike.

the 93 foot tower on the summit

the 93 foot tower on the summit

great views for lunch

great views for lunch

After a little refreshment the serious hiking began. We went down Overlook across the gorgeous ridge and eventually found Moneybrook Trail. We stopped again at Moneybrook Falls (lovely, if a little paltry on the “falls” side), and the day was about halfway done! We’d entered the Hopper, a glacial bowl, and the only way out was up. Then up some more.

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moneybrook falls

moneybrook falls

It really was a damned long day. Somewhere along the way I’d forgotten the reason I ‘had to’ do this hike: Frigging Henry David Thoreau, the bearded bard. When he was in his late 20s, the original hipster built his cabin at Walden (on somebody else’s land) and set fire to a neighbor’s property, burning about 300 acres. That probably caused a little stir in old Concord. So being Thoreau, he walked away — a long way. He walked all the way to Greylock, climbed to the summit and spent a night up there covered by a few boards for warmth. He then continued to meet a friend in New York and went to the Catskills, probably hoping the neighbor’s angst about the fire had cooled by then.

the original shiftless hipster

the original shiftless hipster

No, I’m not just trashing Thoreau for fun, he’s in our new book and when I make presentations on it I talk about his long walks and his enjoyment of mountains and being outdoors, especially his night on Greylock. Penance for his bad deed? Maybe, but what sticks to a guy who’s basically 27, jobless and wandering around like a modern stoner living in his mom’s basement? Maybe the cold night outside had some effect: he became a better writer, published more … let’s just hope my book sells more than “Walden” did — he had 500 copies printed but 450 ended up in his little cabin by the pond because they didn’t sell during his lifetime!

The black flies prevented me from channeling my inner Thoreau on the hike, but living like that doesn’t especially appeal to me, so BUY MY BOOK! If I were going to rate this hike alongside others in the book, it would be right down there with the solo slip-n-slide on Kinsman Ridge in the snow. But I have to give Thoreau his due, the guy could walk. Strolling from Harvard home to Concord was nothing to him, and he was a frequent visitor to Wauchusett and Monadnock just for the heck of it, certainly logging more miles than his old leather brogues were intended for. He didn’t have the option of Vasques or Tevas, poor guy.

the book, the reason for this hike

the book, the reason for this hike

available on www.michaeltougias.com

A cold climax

March 29, 2015

Today I went for a nice 5 mile hike in the snow. I know, that’s not everybody’s idea of fun, but this particular route offered some interesting opportunities.

One was to celebrate the end of the plague-like sickness that has strangled my breathing for more than a week. The other was to do a winter hike … in spring … before a few warm days make the trails slushy and impassible.

And the real attraction: winter waterfalls.

The circular route is called Arethusa Falls, off Rt 302 near Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. Although there was “only” about 1200 feet of vertical gain,  on such a short route it meant some significant huffing and puffing in the first two miles. Unlike my previous solo winter hike (which wasn’t the best idea for reasons including insufficient preparation and underestimating the distances involved) we pulled on extra traction in the first half mile and were good to go.

the first half mile was not too exciting, but there was a bridge.

the first half mile was not too exciting, but there was a bridge.

we didn't need a lot of the gear we had in our packs.. wait, no, we didn't need ANY!

we didn’t need a lot of the gear we had in our packs.. wait, no, we didn’t need ANY!

The trails were so packed that we didn’t need snowshoes. But each of us still “postholed” a few times (stepped off the packed trail and instantly sank thigh-deep in snow). That worried me just a little, thinking we might need to evacuate an injured hiker off the mountain in the snow.. so maybe solo hiking isn’t so bad because I wouldn’t be responsible for anyone else’s misstep? When I commented about the possibility, one of my fellow hikers said “Naw, we’d just cut you up into little pieces and each carry part.” Okay, that makes me feel better.

Aside from the dark humor, I enjoyed the realization that there are other people in the world who like hiking enough to go out on an “iffy” (snowing) winter day and actually enjoyed it. I’m not the only one!

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Arethusa is on a spur trail that's steep and narrow but definitely worth taking.

Arethusa is on a spur trail that’s steep and narrow but definitely worth taking.

To understand the proportions, the guy in the photo is at least 6 feet tall. Others were busy sliding down a little slope on their butts. Children.

To understand the proportions, the guy in the photo is at least 6 feet tall. Others were busy sliding down a little slope on their butts. Children.

Other winter hikers have done this trail so many times (on snowshoes) that it looked like someone had driven a snowblower on the trail.

Other winter hikers have done this trail so many times (on snowshoes) that it looked like someone had driven a snowblower on the trail.

The five mile route took about four hours without any long breaks. We stopped for photos a couple times (how many pictures do you need of yourself standing next to a trail sign? I guess it matters to those who are crossing peaks off a list.) — and of course at times our thoughts turned to the snowshoes hanging on our packs. Nobody was comfortable with the way they catch on overhanging brush or, as in my case, clipping them to the pack was imperfect and lopsided. So do you get a new pack with optimal snowshoe hanging clips for that one hike a year when you may carry the shoes instead of wearing them? I think not. It’s a pain in the neck to carry — yet never need — extra warm gear like socks, a down jacket, water, first aid kit and … hell, I can’t even remember everything I put in that pack “just in case.”

not a boring trail, there were also great views from its 2350 peak. This is looking down Rt 302 toward Bartlett.

not a boring trail, there were also great views from its 2350 foot peak. This is looking down Rt 302 toward Bartlett.

there were a few places that were so icy and steep the only way to descend was the "butt slide" technique.

there were a few places that were so icy and steep the only way to descend was the “butt slide” technique.

Arethusa gets the attention because that’s the hidden gem, but in winter I have to say Frankenstein Cliff was very impressive. It’s at the end of the trail when you go clockwise, and it’s worth the price of admission. Just gotta watch for chunks of ice cascading down from the climber at the very top. A direct hit would most definitely leave a mark.

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While this was fun for me in winter, it’s short and scenic enough that I think I can persuade others to hike in to see the falls during at least two of the three seasons that follow (I’ll skip an ugly scene by avoiding mud-and-black-fly-season).

The things we carried

August 24, 2013

It’s great to spend a summer with a person on the same wavelength:

“That’s a fishy looking stretch of river. Pull over and let’s take a few casts!”

“Oh, we’re going within 25 miles of that stand of pristine hemlocks I heard about, let’s detour over this mountain.”

“We’ve been driving for hours and it’s hot. There must be a swimming hole around here somewhere.”

On the other hand, being prepared for these and other mini-adventures means we’ve got to have some gear. Therein lies the rub. We don’t exactly travel “light and fast.”

not exactly light and fast

not exactly light and fast

How much gear is too much? Sometime several weeks ago we loaded the truck with a box of food, duffel bags and fishing gear, then strapped kayaks to the roof and bikes to the back. Things got a little ridiculous when we had to dive over the back seats to reach anything because we couldn’t open the rear hatch with the bikes on there.

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Almost immediately we reconsidered: how long to keep kayaks on the roof when they suck the gas mileage down to nil? How often will we actually use the bikes? After a week, we thought we could have gotten away with just bathing suits and fishing rods.

But bringing all that stuff along was good in many ways. We rode bikes when the weather turned too chilly for swimming. We took advantage of higher-than-usual rivers with the kayaks, logging more miles than anticipated. And we held one another to the pledge that we’d take any challenge, jump in any river, explore any back road. No excuses, no sitting on the sidelines.

without the kayaks we might not have seen some fabulously remote stretches of river

without the kayaks we might not have seen some fabulously remote stretches of river

We lived in quick-dry shorts and old, reliable water sandals (the sneakers, flip flops and -definitely- the pretty sandals were superfluous). While we had long pants for wading through fields and scratchy underbrush, they remained in the duffels as we successfully prayed that ticks would not be interested. Mike acknowledged that I’ve provided him plenty of breathable shirts but he didn’t bring any (per usual) and wandered about most often without any upper body coverage. No complaints here! My raffia sun hat got wet, squashed, dirty and lost under the stuff in the back of the truck. Then I dusted it off and put it back on. What an amazing $10 investment that has been. And, oh, the $5 CVS sunscreen is just as effective as the $15 stuff.

Of course this nomadic existence has had its downsides.

Getting a 10-foot SUP in and out of hotel rooms can be tricky. We apologize to the people in #510 who had the “Do Not Disturb” sign on their door the other morning. You can’t bend a SUP around corners unfortunately.

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One morning this week we awakened in the luxurious confines of a friend’s home in Orleans where we had use of a $1200 espresso machine (I only know because we had to Google instructions to use it — then nearly blew it up) and this electric commode that made me laugh: which button to flush vs getting your backside rinsed?

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Another morning we awakened in this houseboat on the Annisquam River in, let’s say, more rustic surroundings (yet fishing on a moment’s notice) … and a complete absence of plumbing.

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On another day we were in a library parking lot (he was getting ready for a presentation, I might have been changing my clothes from paddling) and a woman gasped when she witnessed “stuff” tumbling out of the back as I opened the hatchback. Suddenly I realized that there aren’t many people who would enjoy living like this. Homeless? Aimless? Funny, I don’t care what anyone thinks. There are a couple of weeks of summer left and I’m gonna keep it going as long as I can.

Rope Swing at swim hole

The big upsell works on me

August 17, 2013

It’s been a few years for me and kayaks. Not many, but a few. And definitely heavy usage the last couple years.

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Kayak skills lessons on the Kennebec River in Maine two years ago.

I never thought I’d enjoy them so much. And I didn’t think I still had a lot to learn about kayaking. It’s simple, right? Just a skinny canoe?

Today I had an epiphany. I was under a bridge, working hard (REALLY hard) to make headway against a combined incoming tide and the afternoon Buzzards Bay blow. Damned if I hadn’t just gotten sunscreen all over my hands, too, just enough to make them slippery on the paddle. It was very challenging to make progress toward open water while eddies swirled in front of me and the kayak I had felt like a leaf blowing across a lake. 

That’s when it occurred to me that trying to upsell people on better kayaks makes perfect sense. Not that you always need a really good one, but at times like those a more expensive kayak would perform better (thank God it was daylight and there was nothing at stake but finding out if there were fish on the other side of the bridge).

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The boat I was using is a basic, $300 model. In the store where I worked they were Pungos. Whatever. I think there’s a factory in China that turns out thousands a minute, all bright red and orange, which get different names according to who’s selling them. It’s about the cheapest kayak you can buy. And when I was employed in that business, we sold a LOT of them.

The conversation with the customer usually went like this:
Me: “So, where do you plan to use this kayak?”

Customer: “Uh, I dunno, around.”

Me: “Well, just so you know, this will be okaaay if you’re just going to muck around a lake once in a while or something, but if you encounter wind or plan to go any distance, you should consider one of these other boats that are a little longer and have a deeper keel, because they will track better.”

The customer’s eyes glaze over, but I continue:

“The cheap boats meander, you’ll spend more energy just trying to keep it going in a straight line and it will get frustrating. If you use it frequently you’ll be back here by next year wishing you’d bought a better one. Yada yada.”

Then they either buy the boat or not. Very often not, because they hadn’t really spent any time in a kayak before. They liked the idea of it, but refused to step beyond the store atmosphere to consider that I could be right.

The upsell was perfectly logical and people knew that, but few wanted to drop $800 or $1200 on a boat rather than $300. Because they only saw a boat. They didn’t see themselves in challenging or crappy conditions relying on a cheap boat.

Before I completely trash this little orange Streak let me say I have had some fantastic times in it. There’s nothing like bumping down the Ammonoosuc River’s “scratchy water” (Mike’s term) and not worrying about punching a hole in it. Or dragging it across anti-erosion boulders after a long paddle down the Battenkill because the damn thing is just about bulletproof. But today in Buzzard’s Bay? I would have gladly put up a few more dollars for a better boat.

Last spring my fabulous divorce house had a nice 12-foot kayak with a rudder. I’d carefully carry it across the street to the water and, stocked with all of the necessary gear, felt very comfortable heading out into open water alone. I caught more seaweed than stripers but feeling confident that the boat wasn’t a loser was a great first step.

That’s the connection I made today. I think I just upsold myself. Is Santa listening?

Going out cold

December 1, 2012

That’s what they always say, “go out cold.” It means not overdressing, but it’s really a moot point around here at this time of year.

Around now, we New Englanders chart our annual blood thickening process: in November, 40 degrees feels arctic but by February we’re running around in shorts when the mercury goes up that high. Early December can be tough, because our bodies are fighting the process, still remembering those hot summer days when the ocean’s 72 degree temps felt comfortably refreshing.

Mike and I dragged out the warm months as long as we could. In October we surprised ourselves by bodysurfing in Narragansett in just bathing suits, leaving the wetsuits in the car. I think I was the last to swim in his pond after a trail run in mid-October. Then on Veteran’s Day we were knee deep in the Atlantic, fishing and paddleboarding on the bayside of the Cape. We congratulated ourselves on how hardy we are, nobody else was near the water. Ha, how things change.

we bundled up for Borderland but still froze

we bundled up for Borderland but still froze

Yesterday’s hike at Borderland State Park was a different story. It was more than a little nippy. We were bundled up and trying to stick to the sunny paths for a little extra warmth as we trudged around the ponds. There were patches of snow on the ground that made it feel even colder, but the scenery was picture perfect. Amazingly, Mr. Warmblood was still cold when we got back to the car. This is the guy who hiked Mt. Hunger in a snowstorm without a shirt on (so he says, there were no witnesses). His is a severe case of Seasonal Adjustment Disorder, I believe (a syndrome of my own making, thank you). Another indication is that he talks constantly about our upcoming trips to warmer climates. I worry this psychological intransigence will interfere with his ability to physically adjust at all. God, I don’t want to start looking for the one other single guy who actually likes to snowshoe.

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But something changed for me today: I believe the chilly hike tweaked my inner thermostat and I woke up with thicker blood. When I saw the snow falling this morning something inside me urgently needed to go out and run around in it. As I got ready I wondered why it can be so difficult to get out on a borderline warm day but when I know it’s cold and raw I can’t wait to go. Maybe it’s the ambiguity of the layering process: a warm day can mean the irritation of taking off the windbreaker and trying to run with it tied around your waist, or the jarring interruption of your running rhythm when you’re trying to run with an open jacket slapping against your thighs.

Then there’s the baseball cap vs knit hat conundrum. I hate carrying stuff that I’ve decided is too uncomfortable to wear. Maybe the problem is not the temperature at all, it’s that there are too many decisions to make.

When it’s winter I know just how to dress, and know I won’t need to peel off layers or run too hot. The windbreaker on the outside is my secret weapon, I know it will keep me warm despite the thin layers of polypro under it. Running tights are much warmer than you’d think, and they don’t bother me by slipping or twisting around my ankles. (And yes, Tim, I for one wouldn’t mind if men adopted them in greater numbers. For reasons of comfort and performance, of course.) Gloves are a must.

So, it happened: I am no longer dreading cold days. I’ve got my new area to explore by bike, board and foot, and I’m gonna be out there, cold be damned.

PS: The one thing that still left me cold today was the music. It would be nice if Pandora would cooperate and not cut out or change the station unexpectedly from hammering U2 to groovy date night R&B when I really need a push to finish the beach leg in soft sand. Kthnxbye.

I got a gearache

January 12, 2012

Where the hell is the snow? It’s January, and as much as I love my bikes, I miss my skis. When I’m out running or riding the trails, I find myself daydreaming about moving through snowy woods in a different, more graceful way. Getting out for hours, pushing through untouched powder and enjoying the snow’s blanketing silence refreshes the soul. But those skis are sitting high and dry this year.

Still, biking on 40 degree days in winter is nothing a New Englander dare complain about. We know worse. In other years, we’ve prayed for 40 degree days in April so we can break the bike out of the garage for the first ride of the year. In other winters, we wouldn’t be out running in a single layer of Techwick in January. Right now, it’s different: I’d love to retire the bikes and running shoes for a while.

When I’m able to set my bike aside for a few months of skiing, it’s like new when I go back to it. Sadly, it’s difficult to get excited about either of them these days. Familiarity breeds contempt: I chuckled at the irony of using a battleship chain-like Kryptonite cable to lock my 20-plus-year-old Cannondale up at the trailhead while I ran today. I could probably leave the bike leaned against a tree and nobody in this town would look twice at it, I thought. As much fun as they are, my bikes are best described as “classics” — more than a little dated, and showing some wear.

can't be too careful with this gem

My Giant has been a war horse on the trails for months longer than it really should without a tune-up. When is there time? It’s on the rack and back out for heavy use again and again, now with mismatched tires (I am not a purist) and other semi-malfunctioning-but-not-quite-broken components. In past years it was fun to bust it out midwinter to try riding on the snow (mixed success and some spectacular spills). This year, after adding so many more weeks to the usual riding season — as much as I love it — it’s beginning to feel a little like work.

January in New England shouldn't look like this.

I don’t mind the shoveling. A few days of snow might be enough to quench this need. Without snow, I don’t know what I may do. God help me, I could become a climber.

A little problem

July 25, 2011

My name is Alison. I have a gear habit and it’s gaining on me.

It started with socks. No joke. Once I got turned on to good socks, there was no going back.

Next, I needed new backcountry skis and boots. I learned the pleasures of powerstretch fabrics and I sank deeper. I needed a Thule hitch-mounted bike carrier, clip-in pedals, polarized sunglasses … the more I acquired, the more stuff I needed to feed my habit.

Pretty soon, my sleek little sportscar became a rolling gear locker. I never imagined that it would be full to the windows with camping stuff, biking stuff, water jugs to refill my camelbak and … firewood?? Sure, that was a rather frenetic weekend of camping and mountain biking and working (with luxurious spa-like bathing thanks to the sink in the ladies room at the store), but there’s never a day when I’m not dipping into the back seat for my running shoes, my comfortable after-sport flip-flops, some almonds, my bike helmet…

view of the back seat at the height of my addiction

And where would I have been that day early in the season when having my climbing harness in the car enabled the rescue of a loose halyard that had flown to the top of the mast on the sailboat? I’m sure that wasn’t among its intended uses, but when you don’t have a bosun’s chair handy, you make do. That justifies carting the stuff around, in my opinion.

To the kid who asked for a ride then had the nerve to sniff and say, “Mom, your car is starting to smell … sporty.” I say you should hope to have so much to enjoy about life in 30 years.

Now … I’ve had my eye on that Sprinter Stick to add to my hoard. It’s great for sore hamstrings, calves and even hip flexors. Question is, do I buy two: one for the house and one for the car? Hmmm…

the Sprinter Stick, my next acquisition

Cleaning the Garage

April 11, 2011

The children’s size snow pants are gone from the basement, along with soccer cleats and a lot of assorted kitchen clutter that was banished below ground sometime prior to the 2007-2008 renovation.

This weekend my task was tackling the garage. Like so many others, our garage is good only for storing crap, and the longer the stuff stays in there, the crappier it becomes. We’ve got broken bike helmets, rusting scooters, dried cans of boat varnish, and bicycles that haven’t seen daylight since the last time the little building was thoroughly purged.

Fortunately, I found myself on a ski slope instead of cleaning the garage. The sun was shining, the view was gorgeous, and I’d accomplished one minor part of the job (enough to rationalize being 60 miles away): I’d removed a whole bunch of gear to do a fun race.

the view alone was worth the sore muscles

The race, called the (inaugural) Up, Down, and Around Challenge, was set at Mt. Wachusett ski area in Princeton. It was comprised of running, biking, and skiing, all at an angle my legs aren’t accustomed to. It was steep. But more than completing the individual portions of the race, I had to figure out which gear to use and how to make it work most efficiently for me.

Unlike some people I know, I don’t have whole gear rooms in my house. I have one good pair of running shoes that would suffice for most of the race. I have one pair of 20-year-old downhill skis. I rode the bike portion of the race last weekend to check it out, and determined that my 12-year-old hybrid would be somewhat more efficient than my mountain bike (undetermined age) because the route didn’t require deeply knobby tires, and there was an opportunity to gain time speeding down Bolton Road near the end of the 8-mile route. However, the hybrid’s health is in question, and I frittered away last week without getting it tuned, so I went with the mountain bike (which has a better granny gear anyway, so important in this race).

Then there were the snowshoes. In confidence, let me tell you I hate snowshoeing. It’s a lot of work to do what I would rather do enjoyably on my cross country skis. I don’t really understand the people who come into the store clamoring for snowshoes, but I humor them because most of them need some motivation to get outside and keep moving in the winter months. Nevertheless, I had an inkling that the portion of the race that required hiking to the top of a ski slope in April would best be accomplished with snowshoes. And I was right.

Taking the snowshoes and poles were the best decisions I made. Others were trying to get up the slushy, sloppy ski slope wearing just sneakers or hikers — and carrying their snowboards under their arms. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was a tough climb, and sliding backward with every step was not an option. So the shoes fit fine over my sneakers, bit into the icy slush as I needed them to do, and the poles helped enormously to keep my momentum going as I passed insufficiently equipped competitors. Did I say it was a tough climb, especially after completing the first 10 miles of the race on foot and by bike? Tough. My calf muscles are still twitching.

Some racers had specialty packs with sleeves that hold a snowboard or skis on such a climb. I found one of my daughters’ old school backpacks that has loops on the outside. That would suffice to strap on the (heavy, huge, old) skis with bungee cords. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. The ski boots were inside, my awesome new ski helmet (by far the newest piece of gear I used!) strapped to the back. At the summit, I unlooped the bungees and swapped my running shoes and snowshoes for the ski boots, then zipped down to the start of the end: a giant slalom course that was the finale of the race.

spring slush dominated the ski portion of the race

Because this blog is authentic and honest, I can tell you I fell on my butt during the ski run. It was very slushy and messy and completely unfun. I didn’t have gloves on and that hurt (but I had my helmet on!). It probably ruined many of the gains I’d made on the bike and hike portions of the race, but whatever. At that point I wanted just to finish, to walk on level ground for a while and calm the screaming calf muscles with ice and beer and ibuprofen. And it was still better than actually cleaning the garage, which I will get to, eventually.

In closing, I would like to add SHUT UP to the guy who kept chatting me up about my old gear all day. I don’t care that you had a pair of Rossignols like mine in 1990. I don’t care that I wore rear-entry boots. In case you hadn’t noticed, dude, I was in front of you!

More Than New Gear Angst

June 14, 2010

The first time I rode my new mountain bike, I didn’t love it. I felt wobbly, the front tire had a little hop in it, the seat was weird, and I thought the brakes were probably rubbing. I felt terrible. After all, it must have taken some real effort for my husband to unearth this beauty on eBay, get it shipped, and hide it until the Big Day. He’d involved the kids, and everyone was *sure* I’d love it. I put it away next to the bike I’d ridden for months, the one I felt comfortable on. I wondered if eBay had a return policy because I wasn’t sure that all of the money spent on this new machine would be worthwhile.

Some people love new things. This may show my age, but I’m more comfortable with, well, the stuff I’m comfortable with. I was excited about the new bike, but worried that I’d be disappointed in it. I don’t need the latest and the greatest. Although I know that change is good and I embrace it whenever possible, there are some things that just don’t need to be messed with.

Take my sports bras.

Did you take them? Because I’ve been looking everywhere. They disappeared sometime around my trip to New York on Memorial Day weekend, and life just isn’t the same without them. Without revealing TMI, I’ve tried different configurations of support, hoping the old navy blue Champions would show up. I love those things because they’re dependable. I’ve had them for years and they’ve been amazing, holding up — ahem — under any sort of stress I put on them, stink and mud included. The importance of a sports bra can’t be underestimated. To wit:

Unlike muscles which can repair themselves, breasts connective tissue are made up of suspensory Cooper’s ligaments which, when unsupported during exercise, can stretch and lead to irreversible breast sag.

<<GASP!!>>

Last week I gave in and bought a new bra thinking something so basic couldn’t possibly be freighted with New Gear Angst. But yesterday I did a short run. Sadly, the newbie just doesn’t work for me. Instead of the solid hug I got from my Champions, this rather expensive model was tepid in a place where I just can’t allow any …. wiggle room … if you know what I mean. And I was so self-conscious. Were the dog walker’s eyes wandering, trying to figure out if I had guinea pigs wrestling under my shirt? The lower band was slipping a bit, and it’s not easy to make an adjustment on the run, hoping to stay focused on my feet while scanning nearby houses for potential witnesses. This thing isn’t equipped for anything more challenging than vigorous grocery shopping, I’m afraid.

My new Saucony running shoes have come under the same scrutiny. My old (and I mean 7 or 8 years old) shoes were fine, but I thought new cushioning would be necessary for my old knees when I started running again. Unfortunately, I’d never had the sort of PainFul(!) pinched nerve in my foot that I got after starting with these shoes. And even though running is second or third on my list of activities, I get a consistent IT band pain that wasn’t there before I got new shoes. I’ve known plenty of people whose running ailments have been diagnosed as Wrong Shoe issues, from hip to knee problems. Maybe I should start running barefoot, which the media appears to believe is a good idea? Then there’d be nothing to complain about, would there?

While I mourn the passing of my Champion bras (why both at once, God, why??) I can’t help but chuckle at their potential afterlife. What if they fell out of my bag when I was staying in my daughter’s boyfriend’s bedroom the night of the prom? Maybe he thinks the bras belong to her and he’s keeping them in a special place (a shrine perhaps)? They’ve certainly earned that sort of respect, but I’d love to see the look on his young face when he learns the truth. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!


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