Monday, August 31, 2009

sometimes you want to indulge without breaking the bank

A food review seems slightly off topic, but hear me out...

Most of us active types find ourselves consuming quite a few energy bars and gels. Sometimes I make mine, sometimes I get a little more creative with my snacks and go the non-bar route, and sometimes I just want to grab a bar and go.

Then there are the days when I just want (need?) some chocolate.

That's when I'm super thankful of my discovery of the Clif Bar Z-bar in the chocolate brownie flavor. Yeah, they're technically targeted at kids. That generally doesn't stop me, and certainly doesn't here.

With 120 calories, 3 grams of fat, and 12g of sugar they don't break the caloric bank. Compare that to a Snicker's bar which packs 266 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 28 grams of sugar. To compare to something similar, one of the Luna bar chocolate flavors has 180 calories and 6 grams of fat. Plus they're made of organic ingredients, don't have any high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils, and etc. Seriously good stuff!

More importantly, they TASTE good. They satisfy the chocolate craving without being overly sweet, but are sweet enough to pack a chocolate punch. One afternoon I thought I'd push my limits and eat two in a row and it was actually too much!

I might try the other flavors at some point, but for now I'm just going to hoard the good stuff.

Editor's note: They do make an adult-sized chocolate brownie flavor, but it does not taste the same!

Friday, August 28, 2009

not so funny

I used to make fun of convertible pants. They were, to my eyes, unfashionable and downright dorky. "You'll never catch me wearing something like that," I smugly told myself.

Then one day, I rediscovered what I love most (spending as much time as possible in the dirt, or anywhere but inside a formal building). I quickly found my wardrobe shifting from "That is weekday and this is definitely only weekend wear" to "Wow my weekend garb is so comfy (and just as expensive as those fancy jeans!), maybe I can just wear it Mondays and know, Transition Days" to "You mean I have to take them off? But I don't wanna take 'em off until I'm throwing them in the washer!"

I thank the folks at prAna for the abnormally rapid transition.

I bought their convertible pants in an army green and honestly didn't look back. They are, for one, so incredibly durable. I proved this with much butt-sliding on rocks, and a few head-first tumbles, on our Smokies trip. A klutz like me NEEDS durable.

They also zip to a nice "knicker" length, which for me hits just below my knees. I'm not really a fan of shorts unless I have to wear them for practical purposes, so this gives me cool summer ventilation without sacrificing too much on that front. They boast a very flattering fit in the pants or knickers length: a lot harder to achieve than I initially thought! I tried on many, many pairs before deciding these were perfect. If I'm going to wear them that frequently I want them to look good.

And unlike my North Face convertibles the bottom portions actually fit over my boots when I decide I want to take them off in the middle of a hike. (Those North Face do not, so you have to decide pre-boots if you're going long or short. For me, anyway.)

And finally, the cargo pockets are spacious and forgiving. I often cheat on my backpack weight by shoving last-minute items in my pants. I often push the limit of what they can hold, and so far so good with that strategy!

I've given my prAnas some pretty heavy wear and they're holding up beautifully.

Grade: A+++

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How'd I Ever Live Without It?

I stumbled onto the most versatile piece of my first-aid kit quite by accident: It came home with me after surgery. Though I used very little of it for my surgical aftercare, after seeing the wonder the leftovers did for blisters and hotspots, I have a roll of 3M MediPore tape in every first aid kit I own.

3M MediPore tape comes in ten-yard rolls of varying widths. I like the two-inch width because it’s wide enough to wrap completely around the biggest of toes yet narrow enough not to have to spend a lot of time cutting it down to size. It’s perforated for easy tearing every two inches.
It’s porous and stretchy and magically adhesive, even through days of trail grime and boot sweat. Properly applied to a clean, dry skin surface, it will last the duration of an entire full marathon. Best of all, it's somehow achieved perfection in design, in that it's gentle enough to do no harm yet strong enough to stay firmly in place. Plus, it’s easily removable in a warm shower without further damaging injured skin or leaving a nasty sticky residue like duct-tape or those super-expensive advanced healing blister repair pads.

I don’t hike without it. I carry it with me in a Ziploc during long races. Before strenuous treks or runs I use it to pre-tape places where I have a propensity to develop blisters and hotspots – especially toes prone to chafing and toes already without nails.

It’s a sin that it’s not readily available at your local Walgreen’s. Though I’ve had some limited success finding in specialty medical supply stores, and it’s available on the internet for a slightly more exhorbitant price, sometimes I have had to resort to bribing my friends in the medical industry to get me some to replenish the Blister Queen Stockpile. But it’s worth the search and the expense, as it’s saved me on numerous occasions.

I got some big, honkin’ blisters on the first day of a four-day snow trek in the Andes last year that if I hadn’t treated with tincture of benzoin, applied an adhesive foam corn cushion, and then covered it with 3M, I’d have never completed the hike. And let’s not even start talking about what happened to my feet around Mile 20 of the Disney Marathon--Denise and EB'll tell you: It wasn’t pretty.

I don’t know why adventure travelers, marathoners, backcountry medics, and first responders haven’t latched onto the miracle of 3M MediPore tape and made it a household name. 3M is missing a golden niche marketing opportunity, seriously.

Grade: A+^Infinity

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Don't Be Caught Running On Empty

As Denise mentioned in her previous post, there are two of us currently in training for a full marathon this fall, so I hope you’ll forgive us as we barrage you with the failures and successes of our training.

Speaking of successes, I think I finally got this whole hydration thing down-pat. Or rather, Fuelbelt did, and I’ve latched onto ‘em.

I used to depend solely on the foresight of race officials to anticipate my water needs, but as my distance increased, so did my desire to drink whatever the heck I wanted to, whenever the heck I wanted to, not just at every other mile marker.

So I purchased the Fuelbelt Helium 4. I would like to say I did it after extensive research, but hey, in reality I picked it because it had my one requirement – it had four bottles - and it was blue. (Granted, the constant shifting and chafing of the small Camelbak I was using helped fuel this decision, as did a particular nasty bout of an intestinal bug I seemed to have acquired from a waterstop during the Atlanta Half a couple years back.)

In retrospect, after casing other waists at the starting line, I don’t think I could have done much better. The belt is comfortable; it neither chafes nor bites into my tech apparel, and it stays put. With the exception of a slight stretch, in the couple years I’ve had it, the elastic has so far withstood the test of time, as has the generous amounts of reflective piping around all the edges.

The belt is fitted with a small removable neoprene pocket big enough for a few gels or a spare key, and each bottle slides into a stationary elastic harness, which allows the bottle to bounce a little (reducing annoying slosh) while keeping it securely fastened. However, when I sit down while wearing my belt, say, at the starting line, I have a problem with the two front bottles hitting the tops of my thighs and popping out. I actually lost a bottle this way while making an off-trail pit-stop during an XTERRA. With all the adrenaline, I never noticed it was gone, till I reached down for it in thirst.

There are replacement bottles available if you misplace one, though, or if you unscrew a cap and find it irreparably corroded with mildew because you stored it while it was still damp. Not that I would ever do such a thing! ;-)

Though they aren’t advertised as being so, I’ve found the bottles are top-rack dishwasher safe, which is a big plus given the mildew issue.

Though Fuelbelt advertises its bottles as being ‘leak-free’ I have discovered that if I turn them upside down for longer than a few seconds, they tend to drip, and taking sips on the run is often a sloppy endeavor. Not so bad if you’re drinking SmartWater, but possibly worse if you’re slamming a cherry-red sports beverage while running in a white tank. And yes, I made this discovery before ever dishwashing them.

After using a Fuelbelt, I don’t ever see myself not carrying my own water for anything longer than a 10K. Carrying my own hydration has allowed me to tailor my own hydration needs and keep it consistent from my first training run to my race, whereas before, I was dependent on whoever the race directors partnered with for sponsorship, or whatever was left on the table by the front of the pack. (Not being a front-of-the-pack runner, I have often seen races run out of fuel before the last runners have had the opportunity to partake.)

If I were asked to redesign the Helium 4, I would include a larger pocket, big enough for a cell phone, and maybe a small tube of Bodyglide. And I would incorporate snaps normally seen on triathletes’ race belts, so that I could attach a race number without poking holes in it with safety pins, thus shortening the life of the elastic. (For now, I just wear my race belt underneath, and I’ve added a cell phone case to the belt.)

Four 8 – oz. bottles seems just about perfect for a 20-26 mile run. Despite the thickness of the belt, it’s still somewhat breatheable, and the stretchiness of the belt paired with its Velcro closure ensures I get a solid fit every run.

All in all, a worthwhile investment.

Grade: A-

Sunday, August 23, 2009

simple and effective

We were in Seattle recently and stopped in at a local climbing/mountaineering store to check out what they had to offer. On my way out the door I spied a couple of variations on stretchy headbands, offered by prAna, and decided to snag two: a plain olive green one (much like what you see pictured above, except, you know, olive green) and a reversible one.

I promptly lost the reversible one, because I'm smart like that. However, the green one has barely left my sight since its purchase and I've since added a red one to my collection. (They come in several awesome colors, by the way.)

This headband is made of organic, lightweight, SUPER soft cotton and it is a pleasure to wear. I've had problems in the past with headgear that is either too tight or so loose it does not stay in place. Not so with this band: it stays neatly in place for as long as I want it to.

I already (immediately) knew it is awesome at holding my bangs back when I just don't want to deal with them. I hadn't yet realized how efficiently it catches perspiration until I did a little climbing last week without it and got sunscreen in my eye via a little profuse sweat action. Bleh!

Bonus points, they make a men's version too (in nicely muted colors). You can find them at our local toy store or, better yet, ATLiens can stop by our friends at High Country Outfitters to snag the highly attractive reversible version.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Because running hurts...

In case you have not figured it out yet from the abundance of running-related posts, two of the three Adventure Women are currently training for a fall marathon. I have been lucky this time around. With only 69 days remaining until race day, I am not yet hobbling around like an 80 year old woman without her walker from my training runs. Whether this is the surfaces I have been running on, my body's ability to adapt or sheer luck, I couldn't say. However, there was a time when I was not so lucky, training for my first marathon last fall...

Training for Marathon #1 was agony. For two months I had shin splints and walked around my office with ice packs tied to my legs under my pants (if you think I'm joking, it's only because you don't know me); then came the muscle tear in my calf after running the Silver Comet Half Marathon. For two months I continued to do training runs though my leg would occasionally buckle over and I was always in some pain. Let's just say I was not missing this race!

For awhile I ran with a brace over my calf when I could. Then a friend suggested the Stabilyx running tights from CW-X. They weren't the cheapest, about $80 on Zappos, but at this point I was willing to try anything to prevent falling on my face from my muscle's inability to support me as I ran (this happened a couple of times). (Caveat: Don't be an idiot. If you are injured, rest and let yourself heal. However, if, like me, you just plain are an idiot and you can't curb your running addiction to let a muscle tear heal properly, try these.)


1. They provide excellent support for key running muscles, knees, etc., so as to reduce the potential for injury and shorten overall recovery time. (See product description for specifics.) I did a couple of very long training runs (18 and 20 miles) with these on and experienced no new injuries and little soreness on a relative scale.
2. They act as a brace for your already mildly injured muscles. Simply put, they helped support the calf that was ailing me. They were not a perfect fix, but they helped.
3. They support abdominal muscles. This can reduce cramping, in my experience.
4. They are warm. These are great for cold weather running.


1. They are tight. I mean TIGHT. They are hard to put on. Out of the package, they look like they would fit an 8 year old. A small 8 year old. You also have to position them correctly to avoid reduced blood flow, which in my case caused mild ankle pain while running on some occasions. This pain was reduced/eliminated by adjusting the pants.
2. Attractiveness. Again, they are TIGHT. Muffin top is a possibility. Wearing shorts or a running skirt over them makes them less ugly. I advise it.
3. They are warm. I can't wear them for training runs in the summer.

All in all, while they have their cons and I can live without them, I like these tights. They helped me through a rough patch, they kept me warm on some really cold long runs and they may have even prevented some injuries (though who's to say). If you are training in colder months, wrestle with frequent leg muscle or knee issues or are just afraid of being derailed by such things in the future, I recommend these tights.

Grade: B

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

weighing the pros and cons

As I mentioned before, I learned to backpack with a Kelty external frame pack. I was envious of my fellow backpackers with their internal frame packs, so at the end of my course I bought a used Dana Overkill from one of my instructors. Fast forward, witness a few technology changes, and you find me trekking out to the toy store to see what's happened in the past 10 years in anticipation of 10 days in Yosemite and the High Sierras.

I tried on a variety of packs, weighted them heavily, tromped around the store for a few hours and ultimately settled on a Gregory Deva 60. Of the various brands and styles I tried on, this one felt the most balanced to me.

As it was explained to me, there are folks who want to go as light as possible. Then there are folks who want some extra cushion and suspension, and get a heavier pack for those creature comforts. That's where my Gregory comes in.

It weighs in at a hefty 5lb 6oz, which is a LOT for a petite woman's pack. (The REI Flash 65 is 3lb 2oz for comparison.) That means I've sacrificed luxuries like my good camera on more than one occasion to make room for other things like, you know, FOOD. This is my most hated part of the pack, honestly. It makes me work hard to hit my appropriate weight limit, which is fine if you're used to it but really challenging if you aren't. If you have the benefit of a travel partner who can take a bit more weight when you have a longer trek it works out even better.

Side note: I have always been and will always be a proponent of group packing.

The weight factor aside…I love my pack. I love the squishy way it hugs me like a good friend; it really moves with me on the trail and that is HUGE. One of the competing packs was actually pulling me backward as I walked or stood!

I love the durability of the fabric and the zippers. I love the arrangement of the pockets, and find it holds just enough stuff for a several days on the trail. It even has 2 fantastic pockets on the front of my waist belt that neatly hold my smaller camera and snacks.

I also love that this particular pack was designed for a woman, including the pivoting of the waist belt to angle just right for my hips. That kind of design tells me they're really thinking about their customers, and was a selling point for me. I'm not sure I'd recommend it to other super-petite women, since the weight can be such a factor and every ounce counts—I still say check it out with that in mind.

Grade: B-
(docking points for weight)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

like a second skin...

In my quest for warm layers for our wet caving adventures, I spoke to many folks who suggested I check into wetsuit and scuba gear. The way it works, so I've been told, is the horrifically freezing cold water gets into the suit...and then warms up and stays warm thanks to good old-fashioned body heat turning it all into an insulating layer.

I set out to my trusty toy store to see what they had available, and as luck would have it they were running a sale. Most of the stuff in my size was full price (boo), save for a lone pair of NRS Hydroskin Capris. I tend toward the shorter end of the spectrum—rather, I sit pretty firmly entrenched at the bottom of it with my staggering 63" of might—so capris suited me just fine.

They've turned out to be pretty perfect for caving AND kayaking, and something akin to "yoga pants for Other activities." The NRS specs say they've got a .5mm neoprene core with a 4-way stretch PowerSpan™ outer layer and some other fancy stuff (coating, lining, the works to ensure you have a quality pair of stretchy pants).

That puts them at just the right thickness to layer under other clothing so I don't ruin them in a cave when I drag my rear end across a breakdown pile, as well as perfect for layering under my shortie or just wearing over my bathing suit on a sunny day.

I LOVE THESE PANTS. They are comfortable, they are stretchy so I don't lose any range of motion, and they are pretty cute for neoprene pants—probably because they are capris. If you can nab them on sale, even better. I bet they'll last me for quite awhile, too. They really *are* like a second skin :-)

Another well-done product from NRS.

Grade: A+++++

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

We all need a little stability in our lives...

...I get mine from my boat.

The kayaking bug bit me on Memorial Day weekend. On Tuesday I was on Craigslist searching for a used boat. I found one a little under two weeks later, a gently used Wavesport Diesel 65 for $500.00. Other than some minor, primarily cosmetic scratches and the mild stink of sitting in a garage for awhile after my seller broke up with the ex he had purchased it for, it may as well have been a new boat.

When I say the kayaking bug bit me, I am not kidding around. I try to go every weekend, if not every other weekend, and when I can go both days, I do. Exhaustion, hangovers, neither are a factor. If I can go kayaking, you can be sure I will. The Diesel has seen the Upper, Middle and Metro Chattahoochee, the Cartecay, the Nantahala and the Tuckaseegee, some more than once, in the two months and four days I have owned it.

I am no expert, folks. I have run my share of Class II rapids, and a couple of Class III's, and I typically do not run them in the ideal way. But my boat has almost without fail refused to flip. I can be completely sideways in a rapid (or flat water, mind you, when I am goofing off or caught by a current), with my head under the water, and the Diesel will recover and put me back into an upright position. If you have read any of my previous posts, you know I am a complete disaster when it comes to coordination, so, really, it must be the boat. More experienced kayakers I have met have described the Diesel as "stable but fun", "forgiving", "a great beginner's boat" and fairly easy to roll, though I have not tested that final feature to date.

My advice to the many beginners I know who are thinking about buying a boat and feel like stability is an important feature, I highly recommend taking a test run in a Diesel. It has all the stability of a bigger boat, while still being small enough to maneuver and get the full effect of the rapid.

Fun, stable and forgiving are fine qualities. Now, if only Wavesport made men...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Not the greatest bargain

From time to time we will offer guest reviews from trusted folks. We're proud and pleased to present our first, from AOC trip leader Pam W. on her experience with the 2-3 person Greatland tent from Target...Survey says, not worth the bargain price :-)

I enthusiastically bought my tent at Target on the advice of my car camping friends. Their cheapie Target tents made it through many car camping trips unscathed, so I figured I’d be fine. I plunked down my $30 for my nice roomy tent and set off for a 3 day canoe camping trip. The tent was easy to set up, and the rainfly worked well. I got a little nervous in the middle of the night for a bathroom break when I had to struggle with the door zippers, but all in all, night one was good.

Night two. As I set up my tent in our new spot, I noticed the poles had a little more flexibility than they had previously. I remember thinking “That’s odd,” as I moved the poles into position. When I bent the pole to attach to the little metal foot thingy, I really bent the pole. I mean, it just made this slow snapping noise, and then… I got to see what was inside one of those poles. Nothing! Just this weird, fibrous plastic that seemed to weaken or dissolve in rain. Major design flaw. Luckily, I was camping with experienced campers who a) brought duct tape and b) knew how to use a twig to brace a broken tent pole.

I returned it to Target the next week. The twig was still attached. The clerk asked “Was it defective?” Oh yeah.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I have a huge J-shaped scar on my foot to remind me not to be an idiot by going barefoot in water, whether it be a muddy pond, a raging river, or a tiny trickle along the trail.

When I was a wee lass of nine or ten, my cousins and I, bored with our family picnic at a local park, went swimming in Lake Lanier in an area frequented more by picnickers and fishermen than swimmers.

Ah, youth.

My cousin carried me out of the water while I was screaming bloody murder, a trail of watery blood trickling out of a very deep gash in my instep. Somewhere between all the laughter and splashing and the joy of feeling the red mud squishing between my toes, I’d managed to find what were probably the remnants of a broken beer bottle in the murky depths.

I felt horrible: I blamed myself for ruining the family gathering, I had to get a tetanus shot, and I got to listen to the ER doc cuss under his breath about the toughness of my tomboy feet while he broke a few needles sewing me up.

Since then, I have worn some type of footwear while in the water, without fail, whether that be a pair of ratty sneakers, or thin, made-in-Asia watershoes of the WallyWorld variety.

Several years ago, while learning to kayak in NOC’s Rapid Progressions Program, someone handed me a pair of NRS Kicker Wetshoes, and I fell in love.

Whoever designed the NRS Kicker Wetshoe was most certainly a whitewater enthusiast who took great pride in developing an all-around water shoe adaptive to most any condition. I’ve worn mine canoeing, kayaking, hiking, tubing the ‘Hooch—heck, even fishing.

With an adjustable locking drawstring around the ankle and a sturdy Velcro strap around the midfoot, unlike the cheap made-in-Asias, they don’t fall off. In fact, they hug the foot. But because they are made of neoprene, which when wet is both insulating and pliable, they don’t blister or chafe. Also, thanks to the neoprene, unlike the times I wore my ratty old sneakers, my feet never get cold.

Because the shoe encapsulates the whole foot, I never have to worry about stubbing my toe on a rock or getting sand or other debris in the shoe, leading to discomfort. (I’m looking at you, Keen.)

The soles are made of a thick, grippy rubber (sort of like climbing shoes, but with tread) and provide great traction on a variety of surfaces – in your kayak preventing foot fatigue while bracing, on slippery rocks (both on the bank and underwater), on trail. The soles also wrap up around the toe and sides of the foot, providing both traction and protection for the tenderest parts of my feet. I have never loved my NRSes as much as when I’ve gotten my foot wedged between two river rocks, though I admit, on occasion, I’ve wished for more ankle protection.

I find them comfortable enough to wear all day, multiple days in a row. I recently took them on a four-day canoe trip down the Alapaha River, and while I brought other shoes with me, I never wore anything besides my NRSes.

Though they’re not that expensive to begin with at around $36 a pair, I am pretty tickled to tell you that I am still wearing the same pair I bought used for twelve bucks at an NOC gear sale almost ten years ago.
That they are still making them, with few discernible updates in design, is a testament to the shoe. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. (Seriously, NRS, don't go messin' with a good thing!)
Comfort, functionality, and durability - it doesn’t get much better than that, folks.

Grade: A+++++