Krupikachu and Geargal, together at last

Kyle Skaggs (L) and Krupikachu headed for the podium after co-winning the 2008 Red Hot 50k.

Anton Krupicka (kru-pitch-ka, the nickname comes from a hilarious Irunfar interview) is the most influential ultra and mountain runner in the United States.  And not so much for his race results, which though impressive leave you wondering if you’re seeing the next Tom Danielson; someone who’s massive talent is only rarely on full display.  Rather Krupicka’s importance is due to both the breadth and depth of influence his image and thoughts have had on the sport.

I refer you to his blog, which showcases his dedicated training, lively writing, and freakish physique.  Skinny, long, tanned, hairy, and congenitally incapable of wearing a shirt above 40F, Krupicka was born to run and born to sell in the age of back-to-the-roots barefoot minimalism.  He is also the rare cutting-edge athlete capable of articulating to a wider audience subtle aspects of product design.  My hope, driven by my own desire for entertainment, is that in his latest more technical mountain running phase Krupicka has found a way to stay injury-free and motivated for years to come.  Because if he does it will be a sight to see.  Smooth trails are for mountain biking, anyway.

Recently the real Alaska Jill wrote a piece about “expert” gear reviewers which got me thinking about just how rare a creature Krupicka is.  Most of the upper-echelon athletes I’ve known have been among the least technically savvy folks I’ve met, because they’re out doing things rather than thinking about them.  Even rarer is the person deep enough into the practice of something to gain a reasonable amount of understanding, and who is also able to meaningfully synthesize and express that experience.  The paradox here is that all too often the most experienced practitioners are not the ones driving the development of the things which will make them better/faster/more efficient in the future.

As I’ve mentioned before: thank goodness for blogging.  Once the novelty of facebook finally wears off and attention spans mount a comeback, the ability to co-journey with people like Krupikachu will get the credit it deserves.  All gear reviews are subjective, but not merely subjective, and some are a helluva lot more subjective (i.e. the writers’ subjective base is more myopic) than others.

Exit question: are outdoor gear bloggers/writers who don’t take pictures of their trips, and don’t write trip reports, trustworthy?

10 responses to “Krupikachu and Geargal, together at last”

  1. Yes, if they are actually out there gettin’ it done. No, if they’re doing more writing about testing than actually testing.

  2. You are so right. Both about the paradox of gear development (so much mainstream gear is so obviously for the neophyte and/or dilettante it’s painful to look at) and the toxic morass that is facebook. I hope you are right about that going away someday as well.

    A gear “test” is not really ever an actual test, it’s just going out and using the thing and then writing about it. Real “testing” is done by developers and designers and the final product is built as much by profit margins as it is by engineering. If something’s super amazing awesome but won’t make much money, it doesn’t get taken to market, while oodles of useless silly crap gets pushed out to an endless ticker tape parade of hype and makes boatloads of profit. Go figure. I fear we’re stuck with that cycle.

    But wait. “Smooth trails are for mountain biking?” Honey, we have to talk.

    1. The other Alaska Jill (now the international mystery Jill) called you that first.

      I like to think that over at BPL we do some actual testing. I haven’t been hosing down packs (and weighing them) and walking around in soaked jackets (and weighing them) for nothing…

      1. Well I walk around in soaked jackets all the time but mostly it’s just cuz I get rained on. “Better” or “good” or “bad” are always subjective notions, yes?

  3. I saw Krupikachu in my reader and had to click on your post right away. I think that joke can originally be credited to one of those YouTube meme videos called “Shit Ultrarunners Say.”

    I don’t have a strong opinion about gear reviews, but I do think, as a semi-serious blogger who also does some writing professionally, you’re selling yourself short by discounting social networking altogether. It takes almost no effort and is currently the most effective way to disseminate information. It’s similar to the current (and yes, sad) state of newspaper journalism: Long-form articles still bring the revenue, but it’s up-to-the-minute quick online updates that keep readers coming back. Long-form journalism and the blurb stream can and will co-exist from here on out.

    Facebook has been wildly popular for more than five years. That format is not going away anytime soon. And I think it’s the best way to target a specific audience and release information. I still don’t get Twitter; it’s like shouting into a crowded room. Unless you’re shouting at a specific person, it’s a crapshoot who actually notices. Yes, there’s a lot of vapid shit flowing through both streams, but the same can be said for any medium.

    Also, my Twitter name: I’d change it if I could. I resisted signing up until I the 2010 Alaska Press Association conference, when I attended two new media discussions where the presenters insisted as freelance journalists we needed to be on all social networking sites. “Alaska Jill” used to be the number one search engine hit for my blog, so that’s the reason for that. If I continue to be lucky in life, maybe someday I’ll be a real Alaska Jill again.

  4. Dave and Jill, you raise some great questions.

    Pictures and trip reports add credibility and improve the quality of an individual product review, but they aren’t a requirement for a review to be “good”. Your question basically asks if the reviewer, the person, is real or not. My response is no: A good reviewer must have trip reports and images that ground his/her existence in reality and establish a backgound in the subject matter. There are some review sites out there that aggregate reviews from elsewhere in an attempt to make one “better” review and, though this can be useful, the aggregator is usually a person with no knowledge of the product. And they might reside in Bangalore… The more you do the activity the product is designed for the better. Ditto with the more you know about materials, and- most importantly in my opinion- the more similar products you’ve used. I couldn’t agree more with your point that the ability to “meaningfully synthesize and express that experience” is important in testing gear. I also agree wth Jill that all reviewers are inherently biased to some degree. The good news is we can identify our biases (I favor bright colors for example) and we can work to reduce the impact they have on our reviews.

    “The paradox here is that all too often the most experienced practitioners are not the ones driving the development of the things ”
    Many outdoor companies involve their athletes or ambassadors in the design process, but unfortunately their feedback might not be the most valuable because: they’re sponsored by a company and are afraid to say a product totally sucks, they’re with one sponsor for a few years then another for a few years and consequently aren’t familiar with the current state of the market (if they primarily use one brand’s products during their sponsorship), and they aren’t familiar- often before, during, or after their sponsorship- with features and innovations from other companies, especially those in other markets (for example, why would an athlete buy any of the latest softshells from Millet when they get all of Patagonia’s for free). There are exceptions of course. Another thing: I’ve found the the hardest users doing the hardest, boldest, and badest things are often good enough to “pull through” with just a good product. They don’t need the best to succeed and can, therefore, view the product as nothing more than a tool to get the job done (as is with the case with many professional mountain guides, for example). Very few people NEED the best product but many people want it. If you’re going to spend lots of money you might as well get the best product, or the best value product, absolutey. But too often I find that people want the best outdoor gear for the wrong reasons. Beginners feel uncomfortable in the outdoors– it’s a foreign environment and they need to know that the tent they’re spending the night inside has worked well for someone in extreme conditions. This a large digression from your post. Nonetheless, the question “how much does gear matter?” is interesting. And to answer it we must ask “what are our motives for outdoor recreation?”

    1. “How much does gear matter?” I was JUST discussing this here (if I may)

  5. I’ve always loved the idea of how much gear matters. Back when D was biking a lot and my bikes were not as spiffy as his and he’d ask if I wanted a lighter or better component (clip-less petals, etc) I’d always joke that I wanted the least functional bike possible, so I’d have to exert more effort to go as far, and therefore be stronger. When he mocks me for wearing heavy Chaco’s hiking, instead of the insane light shoes he wears, I retaliate “I’m training”.

    At the end of the day there is skill, strength and stuff, and if you’re new, and you’re low on skill and low on strength you want to feel like you make up for it with your stuff. That even if you make a stupid route-finding mistake, off trail, your gear is warm enough to get you through the night and you won’t die before it gets light again and you can find your way (or your GPS can find your way).

    Silly Psychology rules the day in all matters of human endeavor…

  6. I think Facebook has finally begun its terminal downhill slide. At least the tech blogs I read seem to think so. I can hardly wait. There’s a lot about social networking I like and find useful, but Facebook is all the things I hate rolled into a single platform.

    Design is a big sticking point for me. If a review shows an understanding of how design affects use, I’m more likely to trust it than if the reviewer simply has a lot of pictures and documented experience. Of course, in my observation those things tend to run together, but not always.

  7. Tony K doesn’t use gear at all. He runs almost naked and uses tiny tent stakes for ice axes.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s