Dear Brooks Running

I am on my last pair of Brooks Running PureGrit 2s, and as I raise miles, they are quickly disintegrating on my feet. So here’s a plea to my favorite running shoe manufacturer. Please bring THIS show back. I’ve tried all the subsequent versions of this shoe and yeah, you had a good thing and borked it.

Royally borked it.

You’ve got all my wishes and most of my love, please do me this one kindness.

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Instinct

Yesterday, I went for a slow paced trail run at Island Center. Nothing special, I’m working on building aerobic efficiency right now which means I’m trying to keep my heart rate below 136 BPM (more on that later).

The sun was out. The sky was an azure blue seldom seen this close to the dirty air of Seattle. The dense trees cast their shadows over the trail before my feet. I’d left my sunglasses in the car, and I have a horrible time with the glare, so I’d been squinting and tripping as I covered the ground.

Then out of nowhere, I noticed something and my body stopped. Of its own accord. I drew up short before a garter snake laying in a pool of leaves, stones, and sunshine. I stood over the snake and watched for a good long while and while I did I realized that something in the back of my brain had fired. I’d just had a very primal experience.

https://www.strava.com/activities/725951284/embed/3eb4f07b5c7e502cd3e0920cf103a9d990902a21

My unconscious mind had seen the snake before the rest of my gray matter could even bother. Apparently, somewhere in my genetic history is the hereditary understanding that it’s a bad thing to step on serpents.

Beyond this immediate recognition is the understanding that there is power here. If you’re trying to push your body toward the health of your ancestors it’s imperative to find and leverage these bits of knowledge.

Stand Back, It’s Tele Time

“My-my-my-my gear makes me so hard makes me say oh my Lord.” Yeah, you’re going to have to give me a good long minute or two because I just came across this binding.

It’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a boot interface. Most of you are like, “What?” What you don’t understand is that secretly I’m a free-heal fanatic. I love to telemark. Between declining health and lack of pow-pow I’ve stayed off my boards for a couple of years now.

Add to this, when I lived in Crested Butte and up sloped every morning I’d already switched over to an ultralight, AT set up. I carried more in skin weight than bindings on those runs and I loved how light everything was despite the binding pinning my heal to the plank.

With cables, this bad boy comes in at 500 grams! Moonlight Mountain Gear. This! So much this!

RaidLight Olmo Ultra Raid Desert 30L + Health Planning

If you love trail running and fastpacking as much as I do, right now is about the time acute gear envy will set in. As I said in the unboxing video above I’m back out on the trail again, and that means improvements to my kit.

First up, is the RaidLight OLMO Ultra Raid Desert 30L pack.

First Glance

This pack weighs in at a measly 710 grams (1.6 lbs) and much of that appears to come from subdivisions inside each of the main compartments. The pack has seven (7) sealed nylon zippers with metal toggles which probably add a fair amount to the overall weight of the pack. The pack’s eighth zipper is inside the main compartment and is just the right size for a passport and other important documents. Most of these are relatively short travel which shaves off some of the bulk. Relative to other rucks on the market RaidLight has managed to do a fair job of keeping the weight down. Ultimate Directions FastPack 30L weighs 700 g (1.5 lbs) and lacks many of the organizational features RaidLight has crammed into the same space.

I actually like the color (mine is white, gray and orange with black trim) although I admit that when combined with my blue, charcoal, red, green and orange running togs it’s going to really complete’s my trail-side clown motif. C’est la vie.

Construction looks solid despite any double sewn seams. High-stress points are reinforced with tape and probably fabric glue. When I run my fingers around the inside of the main compartment I can feel the toggles for the draw cords because they run all the way into the seam. That’s good news since a failure at any one of these points could spell disaster on the trail.

A pair of water bottle holsters is positioned perfectly for hands-free sipping underway. Plus, even when loaded the bottles miss tender nipples saving all that uncomfortable pain from chafing. Both holsters have mess pockets for stuffing goo and snacks into. In addition to all this functionality up front, trekking poles have a stowage location across the front of the water bottles. I particularly like this because it means I can on or off-load my poles without taking the pack off.

The pack is well balanced does not wobble or irritate. The harness is well-padded conforms to my shape. There is an unpadded channel that runs up your spine to the shoulder harness which will allow sweat to escape, although I anticipate a wet spot on the back of my short after long, hot runs. The chest belt is easily four or five centimeters away from your chest which means that it won’t ever rub. The hip belt, designed to be worn loosely, comes with a sock over it. The sock is constantly falling off and without it, the belt will likely chafe. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this particular feature.

Details

Headphone Extension

A headphone extension has been provided in the pack. This is supposed to connect your iPod or phone to your earphones from the right waist pocket and I think it’s a great idea. However, the cordage is heavy, difficult to remove and/or replace, and potentially unnecessary.

olmo_1olmo_2

Don’t get me wrong, I really like the idea of having a hookup for audio books and music while I’m running, but this is probably going to be the first thing I change about the bag. I’ve checked and a pair of old Apple headphones is just about the right length to make a similar journey and easily half the weight. With a little fishing around I can get a good pair of earphones to complete the job and shave off some unnecessary mass from the kit.

Number Case?

olmo_3Honestly, I’m not even sure what this is for, but just behind the shoulder harness is a pocket made of clear plastic. I’m guessing that it’s for holding a race number, but if that’s the case then there’s a number of problems. First, when the shoulder straps are anchored properly to the top of the pack this pocket will inevitably be scrunched down. Also, if you put a number here it’s always going to be obscured by your head making the number impractical at best. “Look here,” he says bowing low so that the aid-station people can see.

I suppose you could mount a map here, but duh, why? You’d have to take the pack off to see it. So yeah, I’m not sure what this is for. And without any documentation (even in French which I could noodle through) your guess is as good as mine.

Easy Access Pocket

olmo_4Again, another spot on the pack where I’m left wondering. On the exterior of the main compartment is a tab with an icon I’m unable to puzzle out. The icon seems to indicate that there is easy access for something, however, what is anyone’s guess.

isobag-housse-isothermeAdditional clues: There are two zippers, one at the top of the pocket and one just above the easy access port. Near the top of the pocket are a pair of velcro loops and a water bladder port (clearly marked).

All of this seems to line up and or reflect RaidLight’s ISOBAG/ISOTHERM water bladder stuff, but why you’d ever want to load 2 liters of water as far away from your back as possible is beyond me. Especially when there is a port that runs next to your body. Maybe on long stage races crossing hot, arid deserts more water is needed?

Gear Attachment Points and Cinching

olmo_5olmo_6The main gear compartment is cinched down via a network of cords woven into the sides of the pack. You can operate this feature from the bottom of the ruck and it’s pretty straight forward. It’s nearly impossible to do this with the pack on so keep this in mind when you reach into the bag and pull out your raincoat or flashlights. If you’ve made space in the bag you’ll want to pull the cord before you put the ruck back on your shoulders.

Extra gear can be affixed to the ruck using four (4) gear attachment points on the bottom of the bag. Your sleeping bag and mat will need their own container and straps to be mounted outside the main compartment.

On The Trail

Yeah, so it’s not all confusion. Last night I took this ruck for a round in the forest. The run went off smoothly and while I wasn’t toting a full load I padded so there was some weight.

https://www.strava.com/activities/710338582/embed/9e120c0f245faee6ee1288794456fa60ce9ea1c9

I took my poles on this dash through the woods too, and my arms got a workout as well. The shoulder straps stayed out of the way and my arms cleared the poles when I stowed them up front.

Silent Celebration

Good grief! Twenty-five years ago I was sitting atop a pile of lumpy scree in the Flat Tops Wilderness. I had, in fact, previously dumped the greater portion of the contents of my backpack — a huge Lowe Special Expedition approach ruck which must have weighed six or seven pounds all on its own — at a trail head along the South Fork of the White River. Beyond some very basic things, I wasn’t carrying too much. I was easily trekking 35 miles a day, sometimes a lot more.

I can recall sitting on top of that mountain, listening in on campground hosts as they negotiated how many bog rolls needed to head to Trapper’s Lake and where they would all meet for dinner, while looking at a map. I was marveling at the distance I had traveled and staying off the transmit button on my radio because I’d dumped the extra batteries along with all the extra stuff.

My foray into MYOG and ultra-light backpacking started on that trip and I became aware of what it meant for me on this afternoon twenty-five years ago, today.

The Spread: Gear laid out for last week's bikepacking trip.

The Spread: Gear laid out for last week’s bikepacking trip.

Today, I spent the morning in physical therapy, working my back and legs in the hope that I’ll be able to return to that sort of life. So many decisions, in my life, have been predicated on this singular realization that is now a quarter century old.

My mind stutters at the implications.

Yesterday, most of you were shooting off fireworks and blowing things up. Yeah, ‘Merica! I could smell the smoke from the beach far below our deck, so don’t try and deny it. I kept on returning in my mind to the long climb up W Mountain while snow blew in my face and lighting flashed on the Hog Backs many miles away.

Somewhere, on a back burner of my brain, simmers the idea that I’ll be able to return to this sort of existence. A living in which celebrations are only in the moment and never extend beyond the bounds of your own perception. A wild grin on a dusty trail, a welcome rest on top of a stormy mountain.

My biggest challenges at this switchback are finding ways of enticing A-bear toward this lifestyle and figuring out how to capitalize my efforts as well. I have ideas.

If you’ve been watching my Strava feed you’ve noticed that Aral has been walking/running/biking with me on my regular “workout” trips. His willingness to participate varies, but I’m finding that the more I engage him this way the more likely he’ll want to come along. My struggle here is dealing with his slowness compared to my own pace and occasional fits along the way. These are both artifacts of his age and conditioning through repetition will reduce their frequency.

A friend recently suggested that I stop writing science fiction and instead focus on writing stories from my past. Turning all that history into something I could sell has merit, and apparently I’ve done some crazy things that have a certain appeal. I’m not certain I’d necessarily need to stop writing SF, but yeah, penning some of those experiences as stories, memoirs, or even trip guides or write-ups has potential.

The more I think about it, writing about blending hiking with children and ultralight philosophy has exceptional potential. I’m noodling.