Metacycles of feet

Human endurance does not run at the pace of modern humans.  Our literature and schedules can easily grasp the seasonal and annual peaks and valleys which mind/body seem to necessitate, but the larger ways in which physical and mental development run are as yet poorly understood and too little spoken of out loud.

Take as a brief case study Philippe Gilbert, a pro roadie who last year enjoyed a rather legendary season, with a phenomenal run of dominance in March and April, as well as continued streaks of form throughout the rest of the year.  Thus far this year, he had been thoroughly mediocre.  Armchair quarterbacking anything is dangerous, and doing so with something as complex as human athleticism borders on the absurd, but the simplest explanation for Gilbert’s slow start is that he has yet to recover from last year.  Such feats (April, in this case) exact a high price, the paying of which could be put off (through June, July and even into September of 2011), but not foregone.

I’ve been doing long walks in rough country quickly for a long time, but a useful beginning might be the fall of 2002, when I trained for a ran a road marathon, and then a week or two later did a ~50 kilometer Steve Allen loop in the San Rafael Swell in  a day with Brad and Kyle.  Popping 3200mg of ibu a day to kill the pain in my knees ended up not being the best way to treat IT band problems, but that was the first in a long line (set back by 18 months of knee issues) of big walks which continue to this day.

In late 2005 I did a double crossing in the Grand Canyon for the first time.  In early 2008 I did the Coyote Two Moons 100k, establishing a personal best for vertical in 24 hours that I ought to get around to breaking this year.  In 2009 I did the Devils Backbone, Paunsaugunt Enduro, and a two-day northern circle in Glacier within four weeks.  Last year I did the Classic.  There are many missing, important steps here, but the tale of a logical, patient, multi-year progression is clear, as are the lesson it teaches: that the human body will over time acclimate to the point that amazing things will be routine, if you pay attention and give it enough time.

Today, I am convinced that this approach is paying dividends.  The story of this past August, September, and even October was that I just didn’t want to work that hard.  Well beyond the point of complete physical recovery I was left with no inclination to be all that ambitious, which is why I spent so much (very enjoyable) time fishing, and by extension getting fat.  The winter thus saw a slow start, bad numbers, a shitty run at the Whitefish Whiteout, and the usual and banal moments of self-doubt.  Walking up the stairs at work this afternoon put all those to rest.

M and I took this past long weekend to do our annual trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument.  Two weeks earlier than last year, and with much less snow.  As seen in the video above, the walking in Craters could scarcely get more absorbing.  Add in 10 liters of water in my pack at the beginning, and that I intentionally wore the XCountrys to up the training value and by the end of our 3 day trip my legs were hammered like they haven’t been since last summer.  And after the initial stiffness was worn of spinning in the work, they felt good as new.  So I now know I’m recovered from last summer, ahead of the curve based on last spring, and psyched to do some damage in the coming months.

I could have done a lot of the things listed above earlier.  Brad and I were talking about running Bighorn way back in 2002.  But I think that from a physical and spiritual perspective, it’s healthier to climb the ladder enjoying all the steps along the way, reasonable sure you won’t fall back down in the course of a too-forward looking leap.

It’s worth talking about minimal shoes and legs strength in the context of long-term athletic development.  Above is the sole of my XCountry after the first day of our trip, perhaps 15 miles virtually all off trail on lava of one sort of another.  Recall that it looked like this at the start of that day.  My intention when I bought those shoes last summer was to use them as a training tool, and to find out how minimal a shoe could be before speed over substantial distance and rough terrain was adversely affected.  Definitive conclusions on this matter are illusory, but I can say with certainty that for me, on that particular trip, the XCountrys became slower than (for instance) a pair of Crossleathers late on the first day, and remained that way for the rest of the trip.  I am almost as sure that anything beyond the Crossleathers would be superfluous protection and weight.  I enjoy the sensation of and mindfulness required using such a (relatively) soft shoe in such tough terrain, and in making sure I do so safely.  My feet and legs don’t just feel fully recovered right now, they feel actively loose and fantastic, more ready to go than this time last week.   Taking minimal shoes into challenging terrain, with a decent load, is a fantastic training tool, building strength from the arches all the way up into the core.  After last summer I am convinced that the secret to fast wilderness travel on foot is this kind of strength.  It would also seem increasingly likely that the minimal shoe envelope is only so beneficial, and that I may have found the ideal level of protection for my feet.

Of course, just as I intend to keep cultivating stronger feet and legs, so too do I intend to keep experimenting with minimal shoes.  New Balance and Inov8 continue to do great things.

My commute

I prefer getting to work on my bike.

Sitting in a car in traffic is not fun, and while too often a necessary evil, not especially healthy. This is axiomatic. To add insult to injury, it’s 2.5 miles from our house to my office, and a significant majority of the stop lights in Kalispell lie in between. We also have, in my jaundiced opinion, excessively egregious traffic for a city so modest. Where does it come from (that no one who works in Whitefish lives there)? If we had good food, I could put up with traffic, but the number of decent eateries fits on one hand, and thus when faced with car commuting I despair.

Occasionally I have to drive to work, but as often as possible I try to ride. Yet in winter, my commute becomes rather unpleasant. Most of it can be done on quiet back streets, with many detours down urban singletrack for variety, but on one stretch a golf course sits between a four lane highway and a river with no alternatives but the shoulder of the former. Sans snow this is fine, but once the shoulder is plowed in that 200 meter stretch of hogging a lane removes a lot of the mentally and spiritually productivity of riding to work. Back in December I resolved to find an alternative, and after too much searching in the wrong spots found an unlocked gate which allowed a sneak across the golf course, and opened up an infinitely more enjoyable route, to which the Mukluk is at the moment ideally suited.

Riding to work and riding back home isn’t a very sexy adventure, but many days during the week is all the outside time for which I have space. It’s nice to be able to make it count.

Best of 2011, part 2

2011 has been an extraordinary year.  If the mission of this blog is to explore the cultural consequences of personal development as driven by outdoor adventure, this should have been a good year for blogging, which it was.  This time last year I wrote that day trips were bullshit, and that the packraft made further gear commentary superfluous.  Today I write that in 2011 I spent more nights in the wilderness than any other year in my life to date (excepting 2003 and 2004, when I was paid to be out in the woods).  I also write that last years use of the packraft to deepen my wilderness appreciation has grown enormously in 2011, and in new ways.

But that is the topic for next post!  This evening I write about gear.  My work at BPL has given me a new perspective, a more objective one.  Having half a dozen or more of a given product at your disposal is invaluable when assessing strengths and weaknesses.  And embarrassing though the excess of riches may at times be, not having any reason to be attached to a given item fosters clarity.  That being said, while I’ve used a lot of good gear this year, these days of reflective angst and (in my case) fantastic feedback remind me that the most enlightening physical things in my possession have not been the ones associated directly with trips.  They’ve been the tools of exploration and explication which have made this such a good year for blogging.

So first, the traditional gear of the year:

Werner Shuna: an amazingly utilitarian and aesthetic tool for packrafting enjoyment.

Haglofs Ozo: close to the perfect rain jacket, and in my world today rain jackets are important.

Rab Boreas: what I expect to be the most-worn garment of 2012.

Surly Karate Monkey: this bike is older than this blog, and even as my cycling interests change the Monkey evolves right alongside, with nothing lacking.

LaSportiva Crossleather: my opinions have not changed in over a year of use, and I made it through the Wilderness Classic with one blister.  They’re not perfect, but more than good enough.

And the less traditional, more abstract or tertiary items; just as worthy:

-Canon S90: far from perfect, but took a lot of good photos which were always satisfying to post here.

-The sewing room: what perspective on gear I may have is due in large part to the hours I’ve spent right here.  I haven’t made too many things, ever, with which I’ve been happy, but every one has been a fantastic learning experience.

-The Flathead: living in the drainage of one of the greatest river systems in the lower 48 is neither luck nor coincidence.  The benefit of doing so has been most of the trips written up here.

-Ya’ll: too bad there’s no less-colloquial neuter plural in Engrish.  Thanks everyone.  That I’m having the useful impact on people I know and those I’ve never met has been the most satisfying experience of the year, bar none.

And last on the gear front, a hint of the future.  Still a few things missing, but not for too much longer.

Best of 2011, part 1

If I was like that I’d make a logo and shit, but I’m not.  Part 1 is a review of our corner of the internet, part 2 will be gear, part 3 my year in review. Operating standards are mine: originality and integrity of purpose garner high marks. As this is the public domain of the internet, the efficacy of communication is of utmost importance.

Best video: 2011 Summer Wilderness Classic; Luc Mehl

Maybe being there makes it impossible for me to judge well here, but for me a tight, full portrayal of such an exacting and esoteric wilderness experience is the ultimate.  It is also the future.

Runner up: This is My Winter

Best trip: Yakutat to Gutavus bikerafting; Roman Dial, Mike Curiak, Eric Parsons, Steve Fassbinder, Dylan Kentch

Not necessarily the gnarliest or most epic, but among the more creative and perhaps will prove to be the most influential.  I’m a supporter of using your work to do greater good, and on that note this trip succeeded wildly.

28k vimeo views and counting!

Runner up: Life on Ice; the McKittrick/Higman clan.

Best gear write up: Tarping with the Grace solo Spinntex .97; Joery Truyen

A terse, complete, candid overview of the item in question, which addresses the relevant applications and techniques at large, and is accompanied by bitchin’ photos. We should all aspire to this.

Runner up: Big River Fishing: Why Tenkara Beats Western Methods; Ryan Jordan

I have seen the future

..and it is Cold.  Tonight was the second evening of the Banff Film fest World Tour, and like last year we only made it to one of the two programs.  Whether by trend or chance, this years selections were much better than last.

Last year I wrote that portraying the psychic content of adventure, i.e. that which is interesting about it, would be the greatest challenge of film making in the youtube era.  I’ve also written here, on numerous occasions, that the great benefit of digital adventure media is that the doers have become the tellers, and that the great challenge will be to rise above the incestuously parallel realms of adventure music video and outdoor porn.  Cold did all of this is spectacularly poetic fashion, mixing authenticity with sophisticated presentation.

It’s too bad the entire 18 minute film isn’t online.  A third of the films we saw tonight were, and Banff will find it increasingly challenging to be relevant.  I hope they stay ahead of the curve.

Spoil is entirely online, and worth checking out, though it has all the good and bad of a NatGeo special.  The 16 minute Banff edit of Solitaire was good too, though I’d like to see their expressive repertoire expand beyond slow motion (which made up 98% of the film, no exaggeration).  Other stuff was good too (esp. Sketchy Andy), but Cold points the way to the future, and I’m glad I saw it.


Luc is full of crap

Not because of his videos, they are all like this one uncannily good, but because he seems to think I and you drive traffic for him. Absurd, all his videos have like, 1000+ views, while mine have about 87. That could be because his don’t suck, of course…

The Bechler

“He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.”

-Thoreau, “Walking”

It’s autumn.  Eh.

The kids know what this time of year means, not the crystalline leaf-spangled trails of us old folks, but back to school!  Work the last month has been hopping, such that I made a deal with myself Wednesday night: if I got the subpoena I was expecting I’d testify Friday and get on with it.  If I didn’t, I was going to Yellowstone.  I hedged my bets, packed my pack, and loaded the iPod with podcasts, but didn’t buy food or fuel.

I got the subpoena Thursday morning, but the public defender called a few hours later to cancel it.  The hearing was postponed (again).  Suddenly, I felt a bit ill (and not just at the glacial pace of the criminal justice system). By 4 pm I was headed south.  I needed some quiet time to reflect, be alone with myself, and get things back in perspective.

It worked.

Old Faithful, at 7 hours distant, is for all intents and purposes a state away.  I rolled into the Rainbow Point campground north of West Yellowstone around 1030 and stepped out of the car to the calls of a Barred Owl and coyotes.  I fell asleep on the pine needles under the full open arms of the milky way and slept well.  Woke up in the chill of pre-dawn, found coffee and a huge breakfast in an empty cafe, and got shut down buying an on-the-trail Guinness with my early grocery run (you can’t buy beer in MT between 2 and 8 am; which has dented many a well-started fishing trip).  On the trail by 9am.

Rainbows for dinner, Saturday.

I was out for three days, caught three different species of trout in three major drainage systems on both sides of the continental divide, and returned home late Sunday unscathed, but not unchanged.  As it ought to be.

A Question of Scale

Paige emailed me today asking about the progress of the Alaska move. The real and only answer is that I’ve been thinking about it, a lot. She did attach her and Luc’s argument in the affirmative.

(I heart Ronald Jenkees.)

That argument, in more prosaic terms, is that Alaska has big wilderness of a kind the lower 48 categorically does not, and that given my increasing fascination with anything less, not moving is just denial. Everything else; the isolation and darkness of winter being the most salient objections, ought to fall by the wayside given that I’ve let proximity to the wild filter every decision relating to employment or residency or school since I left undergrad.

Except that year when we moved back to Iowa for M to finish school. For while location and the spiritual and recreational resources it provides are my first priority, they are not my only one. I’ve tried, on several occasions, in different ways, and at different times, to make the outdoors a vocation. It was never ultimately satisfying. I’ve built a career, and at the moment have a very happy job, doing what I think my moral position as a human demands of me. I find it fulfilling, and would not stop or substantially alter it even if I became rich off the lottery ticket I’ve never in my life purchased. This career, and any job I can see having while pursuing it for the next ~35+ years, will require me to work pretty close to full time. The human side of it, driven as it is by relationships, demands it.

So then, given these life choices, does it make sense to move to Alaska when my primary enjoyment of it would be in 2-3 day chunks? Or it is better to stay in the lower 48, with its easier access and the resultant abundantly weekend-sized pieces of terrain, and fly to Alaska for vacation?

That is what I think about when thinking about moving to Alaska. That and the phat dance music.