Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Running shoes – my perspective

With the advent of Spring thoughts turn to summer activities, and for a lot of folks its running.  And, fortunately for me (job security) people seem to be pretty infatuated with running shoes.  Lately a few folks have made the mistake of asking me the innocent questions “what do you think of running shoes these days?” and “what do you think of the whole minimal shoe thing?”  and shortly thereafter looked for a place to hide to escape from my pontificating! 

My running shoe history dates back to buying sheets of waffle soles to put on my Nike Roadrunners:
in nineteen hundred and seventy-seven, to the far-superior LDV’s:

 a couple of years later,

to testing the very first Nike “Air” the Columbia:

the Air Max:
(which I hated; too squishy, and sucked all the life out of my legs)
and the Air Pegasus:
which I loved, because it wasn't too squishy (see the polyurethane in the heel, vs the EVA)....

and then I got a job at Nike, where I ran in pretty much every model they made for the next 5 years, which happened to correspond to the rise in the unfortunate genre of the “motion control” movement, with the introduction of the Air Stab:

and it’s Brooks counterpart, the Beast:

For years the shoe industry labored on, trying to convince runners that  really busy-looking shoes in silver, white, black, and blue (that looked exactly like their competitors’) with some sort of Flubber in the midsole was the way to a) run faster, b) not get hurt as much, without really doing that much research that supported either of these very desirable aspects.  While I was working at Nike a study was done with runners trying three different Air Max configurations:  1)  a full airbag, 2) a popped airbag, and 3) no airbag (with foam filling in the void).  We proved pretty conclusively that – at least on a treadmill – runners could NOT detect a difference. Needless to say, in the annals of published statistics, that little study was not included in any marketing materials!  And while I was at Saucony, I was tasked with taking their venerable “Grid” technology (a little injection-molded trampoline thing under your heel) and somehow exposing it on the side so it looked more like Air, Wave, Gel, Hydroflow, etc, with the directive of “just make sure it doesn’t hurt anybody!”  Inspired design indeed. 

And then it all changed. 

Several years ago I got a call from Tony Post, the president of Vibram USA, who said he had a cool little “kayak shoe” one of his Italian guys came up with that he’d like me to test.  That test never came about, but I was intrigued by the shoes with the funny little five-toe design, and thought indeed they'd be great for tight-fitting play boats.  Running?  Never even occurred to me, nor  - at the time - did it to Tony, who was a former national-class runner yet was completely innocent to the seismic shift those shoes were about to cause (one reason I love the Five Fingers: despite years of work and zillions of dollars spent on development and marketing, the running shoe companies didn't come up with The Big Concept: a boot sole company that didn't even make shoes did!) .  And then the book Born To Run came out, and I think it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that book changed the running shoe industry, if for no other reason than Christopher McDougall made all shoe companies squirm by pointing out that – despite 40 years of footwear evolution - not only had Americans NOT become faster runners (actually, slower) but far more importantly, running-related injuries had NOT decreased at all!

So the two goals of running shoes  - increased speed and injury reduction – had not been accomplished, despite a ton of effort.  And then along comes the concept of NO shoes, or at most, minimal shoes, with the soon-to-be iconic Vibram Five Fingers leading the charge of the latter.   Chances are good that if you are reading this you also read Born To Run, so I won’t go into the details of what went on there.  But now, a few years later,  what’s the status of the running shoe market today, and what of the minimal “movement”? 

As is probably well known by now, one of the most oft-cited studies is the Harvard Study that showed that shoes with a lot of heel “lift” (in new school vernacular: too much “drop”) had this weird blip in the stride where a hard heel striker came to a micro-second stop, which was not present when running barefoot.  As indicated above in the Nike airbag study, I learned while working there that even scientific statistics can be creatively/selectively delivered to enable your likely-predetermined and desired outcome (in the Harvard case, the study was partially funded by Vibram).   And the simple fact that it was on a treadmill in my mind makes the findings a little dubious (hats off to the participants who ran barefoot on a treadmill long enough to validate a study; I did it for 5 minutes on an Asia work trip and blistered the bottoms of my feet badly!).  But there is no doubt that the concept of spending more time barefoot – running or no – increases the strength of your feet, and like all muscle strength, that’s generally a good thing. 

The problem with Born To Run and it’s application to the shoe market is that in the early stages of the “revolution” there were two concepts that were – in my notso humble opinion – inappropriately conflated:  1) the concept of “minimal” , and 2) the concept of taking down the “drop” (heel/toe differential).  For many years the standard midsoles (white foam between the rubber outsole and the upper) were >20mm in the heel and 10mm in the forefoot, and then all of a sudden the Vibram Five Fingers not only had virtually zero protection but also zero drop.  Both of these were Big Changes to what we had become accustomed to (has it been long enough for us to have “evolved” to this drop?) and making not only one but TWO big changes was a great recipe for injuries, which happened with regularity. We are not very good at moderation, so despite the salespeople’s admonitions to start really slow – like 10 minutes a day, or even less, for maybe a couple days per week, and work up very gradually - few people actually did that and instead went out for their typical 5-6 mile runs, which meant good job security for physical therapists!  And also resulted in a class action lawsuit against Vibram that is as yet unsettled.  However, even though it took a while, the manufacturers have recognized the value of lowering “the drop” – some to zero, some to 4-8mm – but have kept a bit of foam in place to enable “real” running and a more-reasonable transition to – perhaps! – a faster, more nimble stride.  In addition, the “barefoot” revolution has also pointed out to running shoe companies that many of their lasts (the footform that gives the shoe its shape) are too pointy, and that rounding the toebox enables the forefoot to more-naturally expand upon impact.

I do a lot of work with Merrell testing their products, and my testers’ reactions are commensurate with the popularity of their “Glove” line. The original Gloves were quite minimal:

 and it took pretty avante garde testers to really appreciate them, but lately the Gloves have taken on a bit more foam and have a minimal drop of 4-8mm:

and my testers have liked them a lot, including many who were surprised that they liked them.  The New Balance Minimus, the Saucony Kinvara, and Brooks’ Pure line have fed the mainstream, and fringe brands like Inov8, Altra, Zoot, and Newton have bet the bank on the “natural running” associated with zero drop and have experienced a lot of niche growth. 

Interestingly, Nike set a bit of a standard early on with its wildly popular Free series (5M pairs and counting!), but it seems to me that they have fallen victim to the pleasurable feelings associated with success, and haven’t progressed much past the Free (I’ve had a couple of Nike footwear folks tell me “oh, we addressed that minimal thing with the Free”, without – in my opinion – much acknowledgement that the Free is much more a fashion shoe – with its myriad of upper patterns and colors – than a performance shoe, per se). 

The Euro brands that are into trail running  - Salomon and La Sportiva, and to a lesser extent, Scarpa – seem to have been dabbling in the “revolution” with a handful of products, but having talked to those guys a bit myself it seems that they seem to take a bit of the Olde Worlde approach and are still doing shoes with more traditional drop and constructions and hope tht the "fad" wanes. 

There are two great things associated with this revolution:  the pressure to make shoes simpler and therefore much lighter (the average weight of a men’s size 9 running shoe has dropped from 12-14 oz’s to 8-10 oz’s) and the complete demise of the concept of “motion control” shoes.  I think most of the weight loss has been in the less-midsole and lower-profile and strategically-placed outsole lugs (rubber adds a ton of weight).  With regards to the stability/motion control shoes, I have had some discussions with Martyn Shorten, who ran the Nike Sports Research Lab back in the day and now is the lab-test arm of the venerable Runner’s World shoe surveys, and he told me about a huge military study that studied arch flexibility and arch height.

Plotting arch height (ie high vs low instep) vs arch flexibility (the propensity for the arch to flex downward under pressure), they found that us human beings are very evenly-distributed across this spectrum, as this very-quick graph shows:
The red areas are the extremes:  that is, people with high arches and no flexibility, or people with low arches and lots of flexibility.  Keep in mind that we ALL pronate when we run; we land outside and roll inside; it’s our gait, even for those who are full-on forefoot strikers.  Those who are in the red areas either don’t pronate enough or pronate too much – both of which can be injurious - and it was those people who were visiting podiatrists a lot with injuries.  The podiatrists, however, made the common mistake of assuming that this relative minority was representative of a larger population, and thus the concept of “motion control” shoes was born, and pitched to “pronators”, which as above, meant nearly everyone!  However, with the natural running movement came the knowledge that “motion control” was only a concept that needed to be employed by a very small percentage of the population (of my 300-odd testers, only a couple are in this camp) so thankfully this entire concept was essentially abandoned. 

So where does that leave us?  Generally the manufacturers have moved away from touting the next great midsole technology and are basically coming into a middle ground of simpler uppers (with more fun colors), lighter-weight, and less-drop, yet enough midsole foam to protect the feet from rocks, etc., and – importantly – a wider range of shoes for people to try. So there are tons of options, and in my opinion most are very similar to each other (many are made in the same factories by the same hands; the differences come in the recipes and the last, so if you find a brand that fits well, chances are good that the other shoes within that brand will fit well also).  Unfortunately, even though the shoes are now simpler, this change happened to correspond with the Asian factories' - both the manufacturing and the raw material suppliers - prices going up, so today's "simpler" shoes are more expensive than yesterday's more complex configurations. 

And running fully barefoot?  For me, I’m out.  After a whole summer of going barefoot as much as I can my feet are almost calloused enough to withstand just walking around and a bit or running in the park on grass, and for sure it’s super fun; you feel so light, fast, and nimble that it’s worth actually running for 15 minutes in the park.  For trails, some folks can go super minimal on rocky trails, but I still need a bit of protection from rocks.  If I ran more on super-buffed trails like Portland’s Wildwood, I’d be on shoes that barely have any lugs (and therefore weight).  And if I did that, I might be tempted to use the super minimal shoes like Vivo Barefoot , Tony Post’s new Topos: , or the Modaliti-designed B2R’s:, or even the whackjob “Barefoot” Ted’s running sandals:

And whither the other extreme, the mighty Hokas, that seem to be dominating the ultra scene despite their awkward look and high price tag? 

Everyone who has them loves them. Full suspension bikes and fat skis for the feet.  Blast down technical trails with impunity, yet still light enough for long climbs.  Save your quads on those big early-season descents.  They are awesome. Yet interestingly, despite their puffy nature, they actually seem to have zero drop, so you kinda get the best of both worlds of enabling a more-natural stride yet providing the ability to rock descents.  When Born To Run author Chris McDougall visited SLC a couple of years ago I took advantage of the Q&A session to ask him what he thought of the maximal running movement, aka Hokas.  He respectfully demurred, saying he didn’t believe in it, but hey, there’s something for everybody.  However, Golden Harper, CEO of the McDougall talk-sponsoring Altra ( scoffed a bit and decried their lack of trail “feel”, and then closed the conversation with the statement:  “Those are just for going fast!”  Ahhhh, right.  Going Fast.  Don’t want that, do we?  (though I do have a pair of Altra Lone Peaks that I like).   I must say that in an industry rife with knockoffs (I’ve literally done work for competing companies that have knocked each others’ products off!) I’m a bit surprised that no one has done their own version of Hokas, despite the fact that these puffies seem to rule the true ultra market (note that they are soon to be delivering a new model that is slightly-less puffy and also fits a bit narrower than the current models). 

As ever, there’s a ton to choose from, and the good/bad news is that now there are a couple more important metrics to consider in your purchasing decision.  But generally speaking, I think the lighter weight and the less “control” that new school shoes have over your ever-strengthening feet is a good thing, and to fulfill that there’s tons of exciting options. 

Based on a referral by Mike Hales I just got a book called “Tread Lightly”
that I’ll be reading on our road trip next week, and perhaps I’ll be changing my tune after I read it! 

As if this isn’t enough and you’re bored and need more, here’s a follow up article that I saw in a recent Outside Magazine (not that I would admit that I read Outside Magazine!) that is a good couple-years-later follow up to the minimal revolution:

and one of these days I'll go off on my standard rant about hiking "boots" and the conspiracy theory I have of a megacorp singlehandedly putting people in inappropriate hiking footwear for the last 45 years.....

Monday, May 20, 2013

Grandeur Peak Fun Hammerfest and the Mighty Bear

Saturday was the annual Grandeur Peak Fun Run, which is always a good time.  It starts out with a bang:  from the Parley's trailhead it goes up the west ridge for 3300 or so feet in a couple of miles.  Then a frenzied descent on a moderately technical trail, 2+ miles of flat trail blasting, a quick steep climb over a low pass, another (more) technical descent, and a final blast back to the trailhead for the slowest 10 mi race I have done.  And Saturday's rainy weather made it that much more interesting than usual. 

At the "gun" the indominable Jason Dorais  - celebrating a birthday (a day or two late) - led us all up the only runnable section of the climb and then we hit the steeps where it became a painful march.  I chose to use the BD carbon trekking/running poles due to the potential for mud, but it turns out that in the rain that climb is rocky enough that there wasn't too much slippage (that came later!).  But givin'er with your arms on those steep climbs seems to help a bit.    As we climbed into the mist Jason literally walked away from the rest of us, pausing only long enough to yell back once with a token "C'mon Tom!" Oh right, here I come; I'll just turn my pacemaker up to 220!  Soon enough, even his hunter-orange shirt disappeared into the cloud.

I summited sitting in 4th place right at my fastest time ever and started charging down, knowing that a) I couldn't catch Jason, b) I might be able to catch Christian and the other guy 20 or 30 secs in front of me,  and c) the fleet-footed Derek would be raging down the descent wanting to mow me down.  Soon enough I moved into 2nd, but not long after hitting the flats I got caught by yet another guy who provided incentive for me to keep up the tempo to keep him in sight.  We hit the "Bambi trail" to do the final climb, which we all thought would be a grease-fest in the rain, and sho nuff, it was.  I re-engaged my poles, and between those and hauling up on the stout scrub oaks was able to grovel up the trail, all the while feeling bad that I and all my compatriots were doing months'-worth of damage to the trail in about 20 minutes.  The steep, twisty, gully descent on the backside was treacherously wet and slick as well: I had gone flying after greasing off a rock in there the prior afternoon.  But I thought I was doing ok in there despite the slickness; that is, until Derek pretty much rear-endered me as he was going at least twice as fast!  He kindly refrained from honking, flashing his lights, and yelling "slow traffic keep right" for a bit longer, 'til I finally moved over and watched in awe as he blasted down the final greasiest, gnarliest section at least twice as fast as I did. 

Not surprisingly, Jason didn't let a little goo get in the way of him shattering my year-old course record by 7-odd minutes, clocking 1:37.   On a dry day I'm sure it would have been at least a few minutes faster, if not more than a few.  For both of you who might possibly care, my splits were approximately 25ish to the cutoff trail, 47:45 to the top, 1:07+ to pipeline, 1:20+ to rattlesnake, and about 1:48 to the finish. 

When I was running competitively on the roads, track, and golf courses long ago I remember wishing that there were more "adventurous" races to do, and now having such a great one that starts only 3 miles from my house is a special treat (not to mention we had good Northwest-esque mist, pouring rain, dripping trees, and mud!).  And the fact that it's a bandit race that has no entry fee, finishes with a great pancake feast, and has some folks who throw on extra "laps" both before and after the race is a testament to a great community.  Many thanks to Erik Storheim and others who make this (non!) event happen. 

Sunday I was psyched that the Scotsman, Andrew Reich, and Zack Beck were keen to rally up to take advantage of the recreational releases on the mighty Bear river up in southeast Idaho, some of the best class 4-4+ whitewater in "Utah"!  The lack of good whitewater in our fair state and loss of pards for a variety of reasons has meant a lot less paddling - especially of anything challenging - and even though it's May most of us - except Zack, who had been up there a few weeks prior - we had to shake the spiders out our boats before hopping in. 

there's been far too little of mounting up the boats lately!
They turn the spigots on at 10, and we were there with the shuttle done ready to give 'er a go. 

I was psyched to see that longtime SLC paddler Rolf was sporting the original CFS shoes from that I did for Patagonia, circa 1997:

Rolf mentioned that he was psyched that they fit his low-volumed feet; it's quite a "coincidence" that they also fit my low-volumed feet quite well too!

And I had a pair of the follow up Play Boots:
these fit a little wider.....

and here is the latest/greatest - 15 years later! - from Five Ten:

a good adaptation
The Bear has a ton of fun class 3-4 boulder gardens, and like all "good" runs has one rapid that's a good step up from the rest.  BooBoo is a fairly-stompin and longish rapid that has an unusually-munchy guardian hole at the top.  A few years ago I didn't treat the hole-avoidance move with enough respect and was quite humbled by the ferocious thrashing I got before finally exiting sans boat to take my lumps in the mayhem that lies below.  A few of our crew portaged, and a few gave it a go.  Two made "the cut" just fine but Rolf didn't quite give'er enough, and the hole proved that the last few years has not made it any less sticky.   Fortunately the ensuing swim was about as short and painless as can be hoped for there. 

Given my rustiness and the lack of desire to get my confidence hammered I portaged down to just below the hole, where I found a nice place to slide in and go from zero to 60 instantly in the heart of the rapid, which worked out fine. 

If you're lucky and efficient, it's very reasonable to get back up to the top of the run and fire another lap.  We were both, so were able to paddle the section again well before the spigots got twisted shut.  Upon arrival at BooBoo I debated the options, and decided that despite the lack of paddling lately that my head was in it and I was ok to make "the move":

the hole is just downstream of my tail.  I'm givin'er hard to move looker's right to avoid it, and still caught the corner  
It was interesting to have such a distinctly-different set of intensities from Saturday to Sunday:   grinding up Grandeur with a heart rate at a barely-sustainable level, trying to really motor on the flats despite legs protesting hard after being asked to climb and then descend at top speed, and trying not to crash on greasy descents were all pretty intense sensations, but pulling out of the eddy to fire down a rapid for one minute was just as intense as a 2 hour effort. 

trying to focus!
Thanks again to Zack, Andrew, and T. Scotsman for being willing to do an outing that is right on the edge of the drive-fun time ratio! 

and then in between these fun little outings we were able to celebrate the birthdays of two of our favorite people, Scott and Rachel:

The Bula Headband makes yet another appearance!

 with a great posse:

An awesome weekend of yuks galore!

thanks to Steve, Rachel, and Camille for the pics. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Beauty of The Beast

If you are reading this, chances are you own at least one bike, and it’s probably a pretty nice ride.  Full suspension, 29er, 650B, SRAM, DuraAce, compact drivetrain, 1 or 2 by 10, Carbon, Aero, Italian, XTR, light, stiff, etc.  There is no doubt that the simple bicycle has evolved to become a dizzying amalgam of extraordinary technology designed to propel us along roads and trails at extraordinary speeds.  However, since many of us see our bikes as simply tools to create fitness, it is sometimes easy to lose track of the concept of the bicycle as a transportation and/or utilitarian device for hauling ourselves and our gear around town.  With gas at $3.50/gallon and many cities – including SLC – taking many steps to accommodate bicycles, there’s lots of opportunities to get around town under your own power.  Which brings us to….the beauty of “The Beast”.

Steel, biopace, 7 speed, fixie, retro, rigid, single speed, tall bike, cruiser, trailer, toe clips….these are the keywords for the old/new genre of urban assault bikes.  No matter if you are a racer or a weekend warrior, there’s no reason to not pick up one of these simple Beasts to be your loyal steed to weave you and your groceries/gear efficiently through neighborhood streets, and it’s never been easier to find appropriate bikes.  The DI, garage sales, Craig’s List, and even your neighbors’ garages are full of 80’s-90’s bikes that are eager for another life as “townie”, and the prices are extraordinarily low.  A few years ago – after giving away my former steed while on a developing-country bike tour – I was able to buy a biopace-equipped, steel Raleigh “mountain bike” for $90 that already had slicks, and I think even $90 was possibly too much relative to what I could have found with a bit more diligent and patient shopping.  I ended up giving that bike away as well, and then found a pretty sweet beast: 

a 15 year old Fisher Gitchee Gumee.  I paid $250 for it, which seemed like a lot/too much, but it literally still had the little hairy things on the tires (ie it was unridden) and with a spare set of tires I was sold.  Ash’s bike was a fixy that we converted to a commuter/tourer:

that has proved itself to be amazingly versatile and impervious to a lot of abuse and too-little upkeep! 

A couple of years ago I had an opportunity to unnecessarily add to our fleet of bikes with this one:

which technically doesn't fall into my category of Beasts, but rattling around Sugarhouse sitting pretty much straight up on this thing with it's "full suspension" seat (it's most definitely not a "saddle!") ringing the bell, and throwing down the kickstand is pretty much happiness on two wheels, and I love it.

Ironically, it can be the accessories – rack, panniers, trailer, etc – that end up being more expensive than the Craigslisted bike itself, but after adding those key ingredients, you’ll have a bike that you:
a) Are ok leaving outside the store unlocked
b) Can ride in the winter without paranoia of ruining your expensive components,
c) Can use to comfortably carry anything from your laptop and your lunch to hauling loads/gear you wouldn’t believe are possible
d) Can use to keep your saddle sore callouses nicely tuned throughout the winter

I keep seeing roadies who are clearly commuting to work  - only in nice weather - wearing their kits and with backpacks on, and I am tempted to tell those folks: “It’s ok to let it go:  riding a Beast with normal clothes and shoes is ok; your roady friends won’t recognize you without your kit and Oakleys anyway, and you’ll be able to ride more because you won’t have any excuses – like inclement weather that might soil your $7000 speed demon – to keep you from additional riding.    In fact, Ash found an awesome website talking about bike commuting that is way more clever than I could ever hope to be: (our favorite line:  “Also a fact: Human sweat is comprised of more than 90% fecal particles, which is why you smell like a hog confinement instantly after you start exercising.”)

We’ve all seen those crazy pictures on the internet of the extraordinary loads that industrious people in Asia have managed to put on their bikes, but in our convenience-oriented society, we don’t require that level of ingenuity; simple panniers can carry much of what we need, and a Bob, Burley, or Chariot trailer are amazing at what they can hold.  Even if you have a Chariot for your kids, think about what you could put in that if you just took it empty to the grocery store!   

As cyclists, we all hate auto traffic; imagine what our lives would be like if there were no cars?  While this is an unrealistic goal – even as gas prices get even higher – we can enlist the help of neglected bikes throughout the valley to simply “ride more and drive less”.  Investing a couple of hundred dollars to buy and create a “Beast” will be that much more incentive for the city and the state to maintain their momentum on making the Salt Lake Valley a more bike-friendly area.  I was in Portland recently, and the concept of a “critical mass” of cyclists is there on such a large-scale basis because there are so many cyclists of all shapes and sizes riding their Beasts on a daily basis that the city was pretty much forced to accommodate them, and motorists are forced to be that much more attentive to the presence of bikes on the streets due to the large numbers.   

As I’ve started trail running more over the last couple of years I’ve also learned to appreciate the concept of riding to the trailhead to run; with a Beast you can be ok with  locking it to something at the trailhead (or not! Odds are quite good that a Beast won’t be too appealing to all the potential bike thieves who lurk so ominously at all trailheads), you get a good warmup and cool down to your run, and “driving to go exercise” is sorta silly, at least in SLC when so many good trailheads are well-within riding distance. 

So the next time you go out to your garage to admire your fleet of sleek, shimmering, technologically-perfect, two-wheeled beauties, yet still ponder getting in your car to go to the store, to a barbeque, or even to work, consider the concept of getting yourself a Beast to do that instead; it’ll be well worth the $90. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Michael Pollan in SLC

On Tuesday night we had the opportunity to see Michael Pollan speak in SLC in support of his latest book,  “Cooked”:

I would be hard pressed to think of anyone “famous” who has ever had much of a lasting influence on me, but Michael Pollan is definitely one.   His seminal book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” firmly established himself as the Godfather of the Foodie movement (with Alice Waters  - of Berkley’s famous Chez Panise restaurant - probably being the Godmother) that  generally encompasses Farmer’s Markets, the concept of Eating Local (Localvores), the Slow Food movement, and Farm-to-Table restaurants that all have had explosive growth over the last few years.  We had seen him speak once before (at a $90/person luncheon at Sundance, only months before he came to SLC for only $10!  Took me a while to get over that one, though the lunch was scrumptious and I came away quite full…) and he is as entertaining in person as he is with his books. 

His “Botany of Desire” is a an incredible study of a few fascinating plants: the apple tree (and a great history of the real Johnny Appleseed – he did indeed exist!), the tulip (which got ridiculously popular and expensive in Holland in the 19th century), the potato (and its value/history, from the Irish potato famine to the McDonalds/Simplot unholy alliance), and marijuana/hemp.  The fact that I could remember those categories without looking up the book is a testament to its affect on me!  And although Ash reminded me that “Fast Food Nation” was really our introduction to the considerable ills of the factory farm (raised again just last week when a woman was nearly thrown in jail for filming pretty awful animal abuse right here in bucolic Draper! , Michael Pollan really drove the point home in Omnivore’s Dilemma.  I have said in the past that only one type of person should read that book:  those who eat food.  It’s an incredible (and very entertaining) look at all aspects of the food industry, and culminates in his quest to grow, forage, and kill all the food for a fairly major feast for his friends. 

His popular follow up was “In Defense of Food”, for which – by his own admission on the very first page – there should never have a reason to write/publish, because it was summed up in eight memorable, and seemingly self-evident, words:  “Eat Real Food.  Mostly Plants.  Not Too Much.”  But of course he was able to create an entire book around the concept of eating food that your grandparents would recognize, shop on the perimeters of stores, and avoid processed foods.  Again, a great read. 

Despite being the most famous food writer in America, on Tuesday he started his talk by saying that – despite his memorable final feast in Omnivore’s Dilemma that took days to prepare – he had been neglecting what may be the most critical component in the eating process:  cooking.  He himself didn’t really cook much nor apparently really appreciate it, and was apparently a bit sheepish about “missing” this critical component (and, likely, his publisher was pushing him to create a food-related follow up!) so he started digging in and apparently found plenty of fodder.  At the presentation he read an excerpt from his book where he chronicled he and his son’s experiment with microwave dinners that was both amazing and a little pathetic. 

It turned out that the microwaved dinners – that practically define modern, efficient life - took almost an hour to “prepare” and eat, because they can only be heated one at a time and need to be re-heated.  And tragically, because of the “process” that involved jumping up and down to address the oven and then eating at different times to keep their individual meals from being cold he and his family didn’t actually sit down and eat together; it was a very disjointed dinner.  But at least the food – that had very succulent-sounding names – was more akin to what is served on an airplane than to Real Food. 

According to Pollan, the corporate food titans are pretty determined to get between you and “normal” eating:  farmer’s markets, backyard gardens, Community Support Agriculture, (CSA’s), and eating local aren’t very conducive to the improving the corporate bottom line (though the fact that Americans eat – on average – 500 more calories today than in the early 80’s certainly helps offset that!).  They have recognized that the most effective way to create food industry growth is to promote “secondary eating” (eating while doing something else:  driving, talking on the phone, surfing the interweb, etc) versus “primary eating” (sitting down to eat a meal with your family).  He  argues that the latter is one of the fundamental building blocks of learning how to interact in society, and in a very humble way I think his mission is to inspire people to rise up and resist this strategy, simply by eating well.  And – though I haven’t read his new book yet, but will soon – apparently the ancient art of cooking is elemental to that process.  I don’t harbor any illusions that I’m going to be inspired to become an avid cook:  burritos, stir fries, tuna melts on Crumb Brothers’ bread, and grilling will still be my staples (but who am I kidding: Ash is a great cook and loves it, so I barely have to cook at all), but I’m keen to once again see Michael Pollan’s ability to weave great tales and personalities into something as elemental as eating (Real!) food. 

Here’s a link to the hour-long Radio West interview with him last week:

and here’s an interview with him in the Salt Lake Tribune:

(as an aside, the whole “book tour” thing seems to have the potential to be pretty exhausting, bouncing from one radio interview to the next nighttime presentation in cities around the country, but at least you get plenty of practice delivering your message….)

Monday, May 6, 2013

cyclists and respect

Last week KSL TV ran a “news” story about “cyclists who break laws”, using what appeared to be an investigative effort on roadies in Emigration Canyon blowing by a school bus with its red lights on and the stop sign out:
 I was made aware of it by a Facebook post that decried KSL for doing so, and for sure it was classic local TV news that was a bit melodramatic and cheesy (and it’s worth watching the guy’s female cohort who clearly thinks it’s a completely asnine story).  Reading the FB thread of fellow cyclists’ comments was also pretty predictable:  KSL is lame, motorists are lame and should understand cyclists better, nitpicking at the details of the story, etc.  But no one acknowledged a fundamental  truth: ALL cyclists (not just virtually all:  ALL) knowingly break traffic laws - and most do it pretty flagrantly – yet expect to be treated with respect. 

 In other words, I can blow through every stop sign on my route, stop then roll through a red light, blast past a school bus with its lights flashing, ride in a wide peloton with my bros, and not make simple hand signals, but YOU GOTTA STAY THREE FEET AWAY FROM ME!  I would like to say I can’t really understand this hypocritical indignation, but of course I can; I’ve spent a good chunk of my life being hypocritically indignant.  But over the last few years I’ve been trying to be better, and try to keep in the back of my mind:  “if I want respect, I gotta show respect.”  And lord knows, we NEED respect!  A quick skim of just a handful of the 200 comments that came in to the KSL site before they shut it down shows that motorists who are not bicyclists do not understand cycling at all:  they don’t know that we are a social lot and we ride side by side so we can just chat, they don’t know that it’s simply a bummer to lose your momentum and/or stop because of the flowy essence of speed on a bike, they don’t know that we don’t need to unclip from our pedals to come to a full stop, they don’t know that we are already seeking out the least-controlled roads we can as it is, they can’t tell the difference between a fixy punk and a DUI guy on his Mongoose and a recreational rider and a commuter and a Cat 1 pro, they have no idea how vulnerable we are, and  - unbelievably – they think somehow that we don’t actually pay taxes that pay for the roads! 

But here’s the rub:  it doesn’t matter.  They don’t understand, and they won’t.  But they – like all of us - are simpletons and therefore they DO know what they see:  people on two wheels who flagrantly violate very simple, basic laws (that they themselves dutifully follow:  when was the last time you were driving your car and blew through a red light or past a flashing-red school bus?).  I’ve seen middle-aged fathers who chastise their kids for not politely saying “thank you” routinely blast through busy, controlled intersections and then scream something to the effect of “go fuck yourself!” at the motorist who calls them out on it.   I think it comes from the emboldened power associated with two components: a)  “the uniform” (I have this theory that wearing any  kind of a uniform - whether military, police, or the Canyon Bicycles team kit – is an automatic arrogance-catalyst) and b) the presence of our peers (in their uniforms as well).  But regardless, in the plaintive words of the late Rodney King:  “Can’t we all just get along?” 

So was the KSL clip a little over the top?  Sure.  And I’m the first to admit that I’ve got a lower respect for any kind of authority/rules than most.  But do they make a point that it is possible that we cyclists are partly to blame for the lack of respect that we get from motorists?  Absolutely.  And is it that big of a deal to at least be conscientous about breaking laws when lots of motorists are around to see us?  Maybe:  when I see headlines like “2013 is the Year of the Bike” in Salt Lake City and they just started a bike share program and we have a Mayor who is an avowed bike commuter and last weekend they had an “Open Streets” thing downtown where a busy street went car-free for the day and there’s a new City-sponsored bike website and the UTA buses/trains are being retrofitted to add more bike capacity and they are adding bike lanes and putting roads on diets and….and……these are done with public funds allocated by public officials elected by people who vote….motorists who vote! 

So even though – as one Facebook commentator pointed out – on the KSL clip “every cyclist they show is a newbie who wears pro team kits. Those cyclists are the worst!” (what an idiot!) I think that it would do our global cause some good to at least be somewhat respectful – maybe even just when there’s lots of eyes on – of the little rules that society has created so it can hopefully come back around to help us all (and don’t get me wrong:  I need to remember and exercise that myself!)

And as it turned out, a headline in the Tribune just the day after the airing of the KSL piece was “Citations for Cyclists Plunges”, so maybe we are getting it after all….

Friday, May 3, 2013

More good spring skiing

As I mentioned a coupla weeks ago, typically I don't post much about my skiing because most of it is not very noteworthy and I don't feel compelled to promote skiing much (vs bike touring, which I think everyone should do!  More on that later).  But in the last week my enthusiasm for spring outings was yet again renewed after a bit of time in the desert. 

Saturday started with meeting Charger (aka Jon Schofield, aka Juan Grande of the famous Juan Grande Productions: and his able sidekick cameraman Ezra to shoot a video for our local Epic Brewing (be sure to at least say you are 21 to enter the site!).  The idea was to have an Epic beer-specific ending to a series of edited clips of Jon's legendary ski videos.  So along with Christian and Betsy we acted like it wasn't 8:30 in the morning and were just finishing a fine day of skiing and toasting it with a few strategically stashed-in-the-snow bottles of Epic's finest.  Apparently it's against federal (not even Utah!) law to show people actually drinking alcohol in ads so we were supposed to be like kids playing volleyball in Budweiser ads and act like wow, drinking Epic means so much FUN! and actually would go to the trouble to bring Epic pint glasses to pour the 22 oz bottles into.  So with the bottles popped open, it seemed a shame to let it all go to waste, so we drank 'em.  And fortunately enough, Scott Martin came roaring down to join us.  I haven't seen the footage yet, but hopefully we weren't too contrived and gave Charger something to work with. 

In the meantime, Geoff Lane came roaring past in the Eurovan on his way to harvest some corn, so we hustled up to meet him and had a nice time shredding Toledo Bowl before it went to mush. 

Sunday I went out with Rando Racers Teague and Blake

Teague's helmet isn't really all that heavy!
and we charged up Tanner's, one of my favorite spring outings; it's big and wild, but is literally within sight of the LCC road.  If you're lucky you can catch it before the wet slides make it a debris-fest, and we were moderately lucky:

Teague comin' in HOT!

We also did a scratchy, but debris-free drop into the beautiful and expansive Broads Fork on the backside:

where I eyeballed the E. Face of Twin (more on that later).

It was borderline too warm on Sunday, and I figured Monday would be a no-go.  But when I was lying in bed at 6:15 Monday morn and Ash told me that the temp at the house was 43 degrees - within the realm of good cornage on a clear night - I leapt out of bed and started racing for Mt Raymond to ski the East slabs.  I marched as fast as I could on my little rando skis trying to get to the summit before it went to mush.  I got to the summit.....and turned around and walked back down.  I rarely have "a mission" and I sorta did that day, and as I debated my options I was trying to tell myself how and why I could get away with skiing the 40+ degree shot in deep mush.  But I gazed across the valley to Craig's slide path and was reminded of the far-more-compelling reasons to NOT ski it, so I headed back down. 

Later in the week a cool front came in and renewed the melt-freeze cycle, so we headed up to one of Ash's corn favorites (that is overlooked by many in the Wasatch), the Meadow Chutes near Solitude.  We were psyched that we had gotten a message from Brian and Liz and Megan, so we had a good posse.  The skiing was - as Ash correctly anticipated - as good as corn gets. 

For all of these outings we have been using our new toys:  the ski crampons, or "harscheisen" in Euro-ese.

 I've thought for years that it was better to either skin or boot, and that these were for that too-rare middle ground.  But after watching Teague and Andy waltz up the Provo Peak ridge on them and then having Ash and I desperately clinging to the normally-benign Flagstaff Peak last week looking at a 1200 foot zippy trip to the bottom I went out and bought a couple pairs of Voile's version.  Other brands are attached to the binding and are hinged so they flop up as you lift your foot, but Voile's theory - which I tend to agree with - is that when your heel pieces are in riser mode you don't push the crampon down into the snow very much, and when you need these bad boys, you NEED them, so just attach them to the ski.  Someone I saw on Flag said something about the "lack of glide" of them and I thought to myself: "when I got these things on I ain't doin' no gliding!"  They pretty much take desperate, slippy, clinging-to-ice skinning and make it a stroll.  I've used them every day since, and am fully sold, as is Ash.  Here they are, mounted on my skis:

and here's Megan and Brian "struggling" (not really; that day wasn't too bad due to a skiff of snow the day before....)

And me being all casual with my crampons:

and then this morning Scott and I did the long march up to the Salt Lake Twin Peaks to fire one of the nicer lines in the Wasatch, the E face/couloir that I had noted on our Tanners/Broads outing a few days ago.  My theory was (talking myself into it?) that the glide avalanches that are notorious for that area had already run, and the evidence sorta bore that out:

A nice three hour march - punctuated by a plaintive "Dawg, I'm sorta fucked here!" as Scott struggled a bit near the pass without his own nice pair of harscheisen! - brought us to the summit of the E. Twin:

 right as the 2000' E face was getting perfectly-softened.  Here's Scott on the probe:

 and scouting his next bite:

Which was pretty succulent:

I think it's pretty safe to say we were the coolest guys on the summit of the Twins this morn!
Despite ourselves!