Curling Towards Progress

Curl

The past few days my thoughts have turned to wide-open spaces. sagebrush valleys, lonely mountain ranges, dark clouds of thunderstorms, tiny shack burger joints, wild horses and coyotes. The open west really. While Colorado is technically the west, we have a lack of these things in the Front Range. It’s simply too crowded. That’s the big problem with living in the fastest growing area in the country. There are too many of us. We’re running out of space to roam, space to breathe.

I’ve come to realize that the things I like – easy access to mountains, plentiful jobs and a liberal base are things that a whole heck of a lot of other people like too. One salvation – I don’t really care so much about being near a metropolitan area. Sure, a good meal and movie is nice, but we could be perfectly content in a cabin at the base of that lonely mountain range, with empty trails to hike and fresh powder to ski and almost no people. And while I’m as liberal as they come, I’m also beginning to find a new tolerance as I grow older. Different strokes for different folks, so long as we respect each other. Truth is, some of the loneliest and most beautiful places are not liberal. At some point the pros of living in a bastion of open thinking is outweighed by the sheer number of people living here. Happy Valley is wonderful, but I doubt this will be our last hurrah.

In the meantime, we live. This summer is a bit of a big exhale. It’s not been a bad exhale. One of the highlights has been this nordic training group I signed up for. Roller skiing every Tuesday night. At the first session, I got my ass thoroughly handed to me. Literally left in the dust, stunned by my lack of fitness and suffering from hellacious allergies. It got incrementally better, but the allergies persisted most of the early summer. I’m pretty sure it was allergies because at one practice session it rained, hard. I felt cool and alive. All of the sudden, I felt back to normal, spry, good breathing and quick. The next week it was 98°, dry and brutal, and I was suffering.

Still, I’ve been working hard to break through. Part of that has been rest. This is the first year in many where I’ve consciously taken a day off per week. By doing that, I’m better able to train hard when I need to and also have time to plan the week. It’s finally starting to pay off. Today training was good. We did intervals today, and a little time trail. There is a guy who has been smoking me all year. Today, for the first time, I was able to keep up with him, bridge gaps and even win a sprint. I’m thankful to have somebody to push me, to make me improve. It’s the gift of competition and training groups. We elevate each other.

Tonight, back to my newest project, building these wooden skis. After an hour of fiddling with the spokeshave, I managed to get it just right. My technique is still rudimentary, but I did manage some nice curls. My goal is ten in a row without chatter and losing the curl. It’s not easy, but like everything in life, hard work yields results.

Review: Fjallraven Keb Gaiter Pants

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Fjallraven is a Swedish company that makes outdoor apparel and gear. While their best known product is the somewhat “hipster” Kanken day pack, they actually produce a full line-up of highly technical products. While I have not actually laid hands on one of their tents, they look like a dead ringer for Hilleberg tents, which are in my opinion the best in the business for serious cold weather expeditions.

Fjallraven makes some dynamite outdoor pants, but they are “old school” in many ways. They eschew Gore-Tex and other high tech fabrics for something called G-1000 – essentially a robust cotton with a slicker outside than your average t-shirt. The advantage of G-1000 comes from it’s breathability. Bottom line – cotton breathes well. Yet in the outdoors, some waterproofing or at least resistance is often needed. Fjallraven does this by promoting and producing something called Greenland Wax, which is an environmentally friendly paraffin. Waxing is simple – rub it onto the areas where water resistance is desired and then iron it in. Want more waterproofing? Put on more wax. Want less? Use less – or even no – wax. This method is cool because one can customize garments. I’ve always found certain areas of clothing get more wet than others – the shoulders, the bottom of the coat, the thighs, the butt, etc. Fjallraven says you can melt in your wax with your camp stove or over an open fire for field application. This method sounds slightly terrifying, but seeing how these pants are produced by Vikings I can see how they would recommend that.

The waxed cotton theory could be ideal for spring and fall in the Rockies. I do find that their pants are a little too warm in the dead of summer, which might have something to do with their origin – they are from Scandinavia where 90° days are rare. Also, I’m not sure I’d trust the wax as my only waterproofing solution in a super wet climate like Alaska, Norway or the Hoh Rainforest…for those locales I’d prefer Gore-Tex active or something to the like. That said, I need to test that and report back. It rains a lot in Sweden and these are the pant of choice for the outdoors over there. Theoretically using these in very wet conditions seems flawed – but theory and practical use don’t always mesh.  More on this topic as I get it.

Back to the Keb Gaiter Pants. These are probably Fjallraven’s most technical hiking/mountaineering pants. They feature G-1000 in all the areas where reinforcement is needed – the thighs, bottom of legs, etc, and a stretchy material on the more motion driven areas, like the butt and inner thighs. They work well and provide a great range of motion.

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These are zip-off pants. Zip offs are high in functionality and absolutely the pits in fashion. Is there anything more dorky than a zip-off? Well, believe it or not, Fjallraven did a good job with these. They don’t really look like zip-offs – they “almost” look cool. Compared to offerings from Outdoor Research and Kuhl…well, they are downright stylish! I chose the U.N Blue color, which looks spiffy. The only problem is my normal hiking ski shirt and hat are also blue, so it’s not hard to go out their looking like a smurf!

While they are maybe only quasi stylish, there is nothing quasi about the functionality. They are simply an awesome Colorado pant for the high country. Start the morning off in the cold with the pants fully intact, and when it warms up, zip ’em off and have a nice pair of shorts. My only complaint with the zip-off function is the seam near the knees is a little uncomfortable when they are in pant mode. Not bad, but they are not pajamas. I have sensitive skin and little things like that bug me, so for most it probably wouldn’t be a problem.

As I mentioned, G-1000 is a warm material, but fortunately these pants have a long, almost seductive outer thigh zip. This is a nice interim as the day is warming up (or you are exerting more effort) but it’s not warm enough yet for shorts. The ability to control the thermostat in the Keb Gaiter Pant is the best I’ve ever seen on any pant.

Another feature of these pants – that I admittedly have not used, is you can make them full-on Gaiters when they are zipped off. The lower part has a latch to connect to laces and the upper part of it has a draw strong cord to synch it over the calf. If one is serious about using this feature I would recommend attaching a little cord to the existing eyelets at the bottom of the cuff to create a strap under the boot.

The pockets on Fjallraven pants are the best I’ve ever seen. They are large and on the thigh, perfect for a camera, map, compass, food, dog leash, etc. This is one of the best features on the Keb Gaiter Pants.

Fjallraven sizing weird weird. They use a European system that is detailed on their website. Basically, I wear a 31 in the U.S. pants and a 46 in Fjallravens. I have a 32 inch inseam and the pants are the long version – they also come in regular. The long length seems to work well for me. They fit very well, although I must say they are a little snug around the butt. My wife loves it, but it’s a big difference from North American fits. It seems to be a trait on most Fjallraven pants, especially the Keb models. It’s odd, because the waist is perfect, if not even a little loose. I wear a belt with them, but I’m honestly not sure I need to. The fit is highly functional…it’s just different.

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I’ve been using the pants for about a month now on hikes in Indian Peaks wilderness. I pushed them a little bit by using them for a backcountry spring ski as well. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the cuff fit just about perfectly over my Dyanfit TLT-6 boots. There was no loose fabric to catch a crampon on…always a nice thing on steep snow climbs. Note however, that this doesn’t seem to work with the regular Keb (non-gaiter version). My wife has a pair of those and they do not fit over her TLT-5’s. This could be a size thing too…my boot is a 27.5 and hers is a 22.5. Best to test them out in the shop if you hope to use them for this application.

While I’ve only had them a month, durability seems outstanding. There is no piling or tearing or any tell-tale signs of wear. I also notice they dry very quickly…there is something to this G-1000 stuff. One application where materials like G-1000 works great is mid-winter nordic ski touring. Water proofing is nearly a non-issue in these conditions, but breathability is a big issue, especially if you move fast or run warm. I’m not sure I’d use the gaiter version for nordic ski touring – I doubt I’d ever want the zip-off function when it is 5° F in January – but I’d have zero hesitation using the standard Keb pant for a tour on the Asnes Nansens.

I’m a fan of these pants. I love the versatility, the look and the durability. I also think Fjallraven has a cool, environmentally friendly story. I’m going to give them 4.5 stars out of five, with the little deduction being a result of the tight fit around the butt. I’d say I could lose some weight, but I don’t have much to lose! They are a great option for somebody who wants a classic hiking pant with lots of versatility. For cold mornings and hot days they are hard to beat! And as the temperature gets a little colder in mid-August and beyond, I think they’ll be even better. They are not cheap – they retail for $225 – but I suspect the durability and functionality could make them an outdoor wardrobe staple for a decade. There are not too many outdoor pants out there that I can say that about, and the cost is actually comparative. While not cheap, they are a good value.

More info: http://www.fjallraven.us/products/keb-gaiter-trousers

Working for a minute (or more) in the next three months

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There is a good gauge for fitness behind our house. It's about a two mile climb, and it is a hard run. It's steep, works the legs, and keeps the lungs moving to the max. After doing some quick calculations, I figured out I'm a little slower right now than I was last year right before ski season. About a minute slower over 13 minutes…not insignificant. I've certainly had some breathing and general fatigue issues since Norway and then getting sick, but I do feel like those are subsiding, and if this pulled tooth ever starts feeling better I think I'll start making nice headway. Today's time was 13:06. I'd like to see if I can chop that down to 12 minutes before snow flies. And if possible, even a little faster. 

I have a few limiters right now. First, I don't feel like my leg strength is where it should be. So it's time to start doing two minute tucks (eventually more) and lunges at work. Hiking with weight will help too. Second, I have done basically zero intervals, save for the frenzied jumps that Adam has us do at roller ski practice. I think I've been a little afraid of running this summer – probably because of the breathing issues – but it's time to get over that and start improving. Fear leads to stagnation.  One thing I realized today…I like running uphill and I'm decent at it. If I take a little identity with that, it's not the worst thing in the world. Sometime identity is important, and I have not had a ton of it lately. 

I have not been the strongest mentally this summer either. I worry too much. I've been a little bit prone to that since dad died. Worried about health, the future, getting older. Don't worry so much. What happens in life is beyond your control. You are still very healthy and young with a lot of good years ahead of you. I eat well, exercise religiously and am getting better with sleep. Don't let work cause too much stress…it's simply not worth it. Stay positive and have fun…life is too short for anything else. It was many years ago when coach Tim Davis made me say ten times on that hillside in Whistler, "I'm a good skier, I'm a good person." Keep doing that. You are a good skier (and runner, hiker, biker and everything else) and you are a great person. And I've got my dad at my side and the best wife in the world. Enjoy it…life is grand and the best is yet to come!

On the technical side of things, Mal cautioned against Mule kick while roller skiing. I don't think I'm doing it, but it's a good reminder to drive the knee forward, compress aggressively at the start of the stride, and stay dynamic and centered over the skis. 

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Bottom line…it's almost August. It's time to get serious. Just think…in one month the leaves will have started turning. In two months, we'll be in the peak of foliage. And in three months, the trees will be bare and the ground starting to freeze. And in four months, we'll be skiing. 

It's been a hot summer in Boulder. Too hot really. The mountains are the place to be, and I hope the crispness returns to the air tomorrow morning. 

I saw the Ouzel that woman was telling me about last night! I was sitting on the rock, petting Stella, and there it was, hovering over the rapids, diving its beak into the water sporadically in search of food (I'm assuming). And then, it flew over to our side, before rocketing up the stream, just over the rapids, like a missile in flight. I didn't see the nest, but I'll have to look more carefully next time! 

The Change Begins

I find the political season pointless. People place so much emphasis on it, and I guess to some extent it's important. As in, we don't the next Hitler to be our president. But the endless banter of political posts on Facebook is a real soul sapper. I wish folks would post more images of adventure and stories of life. Politics almost seems like real world entertainment, not unlike a sit-com or a sporting event on T.V. It feels staged and it seems to divide more than bring together. One thing I know – I doubt anybody has changed their mind because of a Facebook post!

Walk

Today I ran up the hill behind the house. It's a good ass-kicker. Short, steep and sweet. That hill has provided a lot of good times for me, a lot of salvation. When I moved away from this valley in 2009, that was the thing I missed most…the hill behind the house. In the summer I run and hike it. In the winter I ski it, almost religiously. It's to the point where I have a special set of skis just for that hill! It's a great place, and I hope when I die a few of my ashes are spread there. Arapaho Pass too, up by Diamond Lake…those are the two places I feel happiest and most at home.  Not that I plan on dying anytime soon. There are many adventures and experiences I will do…we're not even halfway done yet!

There is so much peace in this valley. We have our own micro-climate here. It's much cooler and wetter than Nederland. We have moss, deep forests, moose and fox cries echoing through the night. It reminds me of Alaska, Norway and much wetter places. This winter I want to measure snowfall here, as I suspect it's much higher than just a few miles east. That could be tough…how do snow stakes work in heavy wind? We shall see!

Change

On a walk the other night I saw the early signs of the changing of the seasons. The ferns (I think they are ferns) are turning yellow on their tips. In a month, the first leaves will be turning. In two months, we'll be entering the absolute height of autumn. And in three months, it will all be over, the trees bare, waiting for winter to hit. Time passes quickly here, and it's important to seize it as much as the body allows.

An old woman at the rock by the stream came up to me today and told me about the Ouzel nest. I have to admit, I don't know what an Ouzel is. You can learn a lot from your elders. They watch more, and are more patient. I'm always running around, pushing it, but sometimes I wonder what I fail to see – like the Ouzel nest. 

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Dog Days of Summer

We've moved out of the dreaded fire season and into something much more palatable…monsoon season. While the mornings are humid, the evenings bring cool air, rain, clouds, thunder and all the things that make summer life at 8,800 feet above sea level palatable. I'm not a summer person…never have been and doubt I ever will be, but the past week has been much more enjoyable than the previous month and a half. 

It's been a bizarre summer, in some ways a summer of waiting and reloading for future adventures. For the very near future, we plan a big one: either a hike of the entire Continental Divide Trail or, perhaps more motivating and inspiring, a hike north from home to very far northern terminus of the Great Divide Trail near the Yukon border. The former has been done before. The latter would be an expedition into true adventure. In the meantime, we wait. Little medical things to take care of, dental work to get done, a work place to keep running and optimistic. Life basically. I struggle with it, because I realize life doesn't last forever, but it's not a terrible fate. For summer in Happy Valley is downright delightful.

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We've done a lot of different activities. While May was spent for me largely sick after a brutal and hard ski season, June had copious amounts of mountain biking and hiking. We'd ride in on weekends, a 25 mile jaunt through the woods and dirt roads between here and 633 South Broadway. Elaine got some clipless pedals this spring and it's made a big difference in her progression. It's been a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to next week to get back into it. We're taking a NOLS Wilderness First Responder Class at C.U., and the schedule is quite conducive to bike commuting. 

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July this year has been a foray into trail running. Elaine's been heading out with Ester and Jill, and last week I finally got the guts to go run with her! I completed the longest run of my life last Wednesday, the 18 mile High Lonesome Loop. Truth is, running hurts the heck out of me, but it's good. I've been struggling with some breathing issues all summer, and I've noticed it gets worse in heat and when the pollen is high. I suspect it's allergies, and I'm looking forward to that season slowly, slowly dying off. Anyway, the run was great and while my legs felt like dead weights by the end, I was excited that I really never got too sore! We completed the look in 4:45, which I'm told is a respectable time. 

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We've also done a fair amount of roller skiing. We signed up for a Tuesday evening roller ski training group down in Boulder with Adam St. Pierre and it's been a real learning experience. At least half the battle for me is feeling comfortable on the darned things, especially on the downhills. They're scary! It's also hot as heck, as I'm just not used to exercising in 95° heat. Despite that, there has been improvement, and I'm looking forward to continued progression. We also got some classic roller skis and lately I've taken to skiing up Shelf with a small backpack and then hiking back down. It feels as close to skinning as anything I've ever done, except for that you don't want to get into the habit of a lazy kick! I enjoy the steady exertion up and the peaceful walk through the forest back down. 

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Work has been trying this summer. I don't want to go into details, but it's been a struggle keeping the team together and motivated. I put a lot of responsibility on myself and feel an obligation to the community to keep the store as iconic as it's always been. It's more than a retail store…it's a community gathering point. The personal struggle for me…stay optimistic at all times. I think I'm doing a decent job, but there is always room for improvement. 

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As is always the case, when life tosses lemons my way, nature heals. Be it a calm moment on the rock above the creek, or just standing in the forest listening to the aspen leaves rustle, or hiking to the overlook or lakes on the divide and soaking it all in, I find all the stresses of life slowly fade away and the mind reach an equilibrium. I really have nothing to complain about actually, for I live with a beautiful person in a beautiful place and get to do what I love for work, current challenges aside. Our health is pretty good and our fitness is building quite well for the upcoming winter. I'm cautiously excited to see where I'm at this winter. We're certainly putting in the work. 

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I started writing this again because I've been feeling like I have stuff to say, and I need an outlet. This was a nice intro. Writing feels good, and I think I'll do it more moving forward.