CategoriesAdventuresFitness

Arizona Mountain Biking Trails – Grading the Governments

Phoenix Mountains Preserve - Piestewa Entrance...
The city of Phoenix is pretty solid when it comes to maintaining its mountain biking trails. (Photo credit: Al_HikesAZ)

THIS POST IS BADLY OUTDATED. I WILL REFRESH IT AT SOME POINT IN THE FUTURE. PLEASE READ THIS ONLY AS A SNAPSHOT OF VALLEY MOUNTAIN BIKING IN 2013. THANKS!

Awhile back, I graded a bunch of my local Arizona mountain biking trails. Now I want to turn the focus to the local governments that plan, build and maintain trails in the metro Phoenix area. So I guess I’m not just grading cities – the Maricopa County government is also responsible for a good chunk of trail, along with the State Land Department.

Now that we’ve agreed to put semantics aside, let’s fill out the report cards.

Arizona (state government) – C
The State Land Department is responsible for a good hunk of singletrack in North Scottsdale. These mountain biking trails, known as the Pima & Dynamite trails, are the work of a few generations of off-road motorcyclists. Call that a blessing and a curse: The trails wouldn’t be there otherwise, but folks who are heavy on the throttle make a mess.

And the state doesn’t do much to help. State workers signed many of the routes, which is nice. But the trailhead box that says "Maps – Please Take One" is often empty. Many of the trails could use maintenance. Technically, you need a permit to use the trails -- and state officials make it hard as possible to get a permit. It’s 2013, yet you can’t get a permit online.

Arizona mountain biking - pima and dynamite
Notice the deep, sandy scree and the bike it caught? Bad trail building.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park – D
There are lots of mountain biking trails in this 19,000-acre park, both in the Competitive Loop area and the rest of the park. Call it just short of 50 miles total -- none of which mountain bikers love. It’s hard to believe the same designer responsible for the Comp Track at McDowell Mountain Regional Park is responsible for this sandy, flowless mess.

How dire is the situation? A bunch of rogues built Fantasy Island North Singletrack, their own bike trails southwest of the park. And did a far better job than their government-sanctioned brethren.

Goodyear – C
Goodyear has no mountain biking trails of its very own. Maricopa County manages the Estrella trails, and the Fantasy Island North Singletrack network is on private land, where volunteers plan, build, maintain and manage. If the Goodyear city government had a lick of sense, it would offer a fair market price for the FINS land: If it ever becomes more profitable for the developer to sell the land, it’s gone – guaranteed. Goodyear could be heroes for outdoor lovers of several stripes if it ponied up.

On the plus side, the West Valley Trail Alliance posted on its Facebook page that Goodyear has in its hands a proposal for a bike park; the plan includes dual slalom, skills and pump track areas along with a little something for the kiddies. Watch Goodyear take a giant leap forward in grade if it okays the project.

arizona mountain biking fantasy island north fins
The city of Goodyear didn’t build FINS – but they should tap the experts who did.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park – A
A pump track, a competitive track, singletrack trails for all skill levels – there’s not much missing from this gem of a county park. A few years ago, there were whispers about a flow trail. Nothing has come of it yet. But be patient. This is the park that gave Arizona its first pump track on public land and the first land manager-sanctioned night rides. The staff also adds new amenities often, from bathrooms to new trails.

The 15-mile Pemberton and the 9-mile Long Loop are the park’s biggest slabs of trail. But there are connectors galore, and ample opportunity for fun. And there’s no local mountain bike venue that hosts more race events. There’s a good reason for that. This is desert-flavored Arizona mountain biking in all its variety.

Phoenix – B
South Mountain Park and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve are both in city jurisdiction. That means Phoenix can claim the National Trail, Mormon Trail, Desert Classic Trail and Trail 100. Oh, and the center-of-the-city mountain bike oasis of Papago Park where so many local riders got their start. Not too shabby, Phoenix! The city has also added some new tails on the west side of South Mountain in recent years.

McDowell Mountain Arizona mountain biking
The newly rerouted bit of the Pemberton Trail has some nice new rock scenery.

But, it lags on some of the newer features more progressive organizations embrace. Like a pump track – ample room for one at Papago or South Mountain, but I guess there’s too little funds or initiative.

Scottsdale – D
This is a city that just doesn’t know how to build a mountain biking trail. Every trail it builds is fine for hiking. But its planners can’t seem to build a cool trail system that will make the city a destination for mountain bikers. Case in point? The new trails that snake away from the soon-to-be-opened Brown’s Ranch Trailhead. Too wide, too slick on the surface, no berms, terrible in the corners.

The slightly older trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve also thrill few mountain bikers. They’re OK just for being there. But riders from other parts of the Valley don’t make a point to visit.

Tempe – D
There are not many trails in Tempe’s jurisdiction, just the southern parts of Papago Park. It’s almost a good thing it doesn’t have more: Its idea of trail improvements include widening trails and lining them with rugby ball-sized rocks (which never stay put, by the way).

Tempe park crews also made a hash of putting in a pedestrian walkway, which screwed up the routing for the 12 Hours in the Papago race -- a very cool and unusual epic mountain bike race square in the middle of a major city. It could also find space for a pump track if it had the wherewithal. And only the outcry of local mountain bikers saved an ad hoc dirt jump area from getting flattened.

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CategoriesGear

adidas Boost Running Shoe – Gear Review

adidas Boost running shoes
Taking a little run in my adidas Boost shoes.

The most comfortable footwear I own is a pair of adidas Copa Mundial soccer shoes – or boots, to you Europhiles.

So it surprises me that in 10+ years of running, I’ve never owned a pair of adidas running shoes. I’ve gone by the recommendations of local running store staff members to find the best running shoes for me. They made me run in front of them, gathered info about my style and presented a few choices – mostly of a pretty neutral sort (apparently, my stride has no outstanding characteristics). I tried them on, run around a bit and picked the winner.

I’ve been in Nike, Saucony, Pearl Izumi, Brooks and maybe a few others. But never adidas. Why all the switching? Well, I’d what seems like the best running shoe for me … and then the companies would change something about them and I’d have to start the search over.

A few months ago, Sports Chalet contacted me about testing the adidas Boost running shoes. That happened just as my Pearl Izumi shoes were falling apart. And I was happy to get a shot to try adidas running shoes.

I’ve now put enough miles on them to have an informed opinion. Here are a few observations in no particular order.

English: Adidas Copa Mundial Football Boot Deu...
Black, simple, all business: Are the Boost shoes the running equal of the Copa Mundial?(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These are the lightest running shoes I’ve tried. They’re even lighter than the various pairs of water shoes I use to keep my feet cool in the summer weather. I noticed it from the first step. My feet felt like they moved just a tiny bit faster.

Along with the light weight, the adidas Boost is also a very well-ventilated shoe. Despite the black color, my feet always feel cool. And yes, that even means on today’s 5-miler in 90-degree weather.

Speaking of that black color – if Darth Vader took up running half-marathons, he’d approve of the styling. Unlike many of the garish running shoes for sale, the adidas Boost is the Copa Mundial of the running world. All business, but perhaps a bit more sleek.

I’m used to fairly cushioned shoes. The adidas Boost isn’t quite minimalist, but it’s a step between some of the new stripped-down, almost-barefoot shoes and some of the plush offerings.

adidas boost
A close up look … I had to shoo the cat away a few times to snap this photo.

The adidas Boost seems narrow. I have to unlace it pretty well to get my foot in there – and my foot is on the narrow side, too. The short laces add to the narrow feel. I have to be careful not to clamp down too hard on the laces. Another word on the laces – they’re pretty skinny. That made my instep feel a lot of pressure when I laced up tight enough. It’s a sensation that I forget about once I’m about a half-mile into my run. But I wouldn’t mind wider laces to distribute the pressure.

The fit impresses me. I don’t feel my foot roll around, and there’s no fore-and-aft motion causing my heels or toes to rub in an uncomfortable way.

Are the adidas Boost the best running shoes ever? It’s tough for me to say “best” about anything. But I’d buy a pair when I wear these out. I’d lean toward using them for 5- and 10k races … and probably opt for a more cushioned shoe for half-marathon distances.

Thanks to Sport Chalet for supplying a pair of adidas Boost running shoes for review. All opinions are my own.

 

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CategoriesGear

SixSixOne Helmet Review

SixSixOne Recon MTB Helmet, SixSixOne helmet
A close look at my SixSixOne Recon mountain bike helmet, sans visor.

A week before I picked up a SixSixOne helmet, I really hadn’t heard of this new-to-me mountain bike company. But then, I rarely think about my helmet much. Ride after ride, I plop it on my head and go.

Until that one day when I realize that the straps are crusted so thick with salt from evaporated sweat that they barely bend anymore. Then I take a look at the pads and realize they’re so squished that they don’t offer much comfort or safety. Finally, I start to see all the nicks and scrapes.

That’s when it’s time for a new helmet. I started to do a little research at the bike shops – I’ve worn a Giro mountain bike helmet of one variety or another for years. They’ve been great, but I have a soft spot for up-and-coming companies.

I found a few interesting helmets out there. The POC Trabec helmet from Sweden has a modern look to it. And POC also claims its design dissipates shock over a wide section of the helmet. The prices start at $150, which is a bit steep. I know, I know – it’s only my head. But one thing I’ve found is that extra money doesn’t always equal more protection. I also didn’t see any at local bike shops.

If you’re helmet looks like this, it’s time for a new one. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had visions of the Trabec in my head when I stumbled across the
SixSixOne 2012 Recon Wired XC/Trail Bicycle Helmet
at one of the local bike shops. And I always like getting a first-hand look at something. I liked the very solid look of the retention system that dials the SixSixOne helmet firmly to the head. And the shape fit my head well, which is always something to consider. It was about $100 at my local shop; you can also find a SixSixOne helmet online if your local bike shops don’t carry them.

So far, I have a handful of rides with my SixSixOne helmet. It hasn’t had to lay its life on the line for me. But saving you from crashes isn’t the only reason to wear a mountain bike helmet. For me, they’re great for keeping the intense sun off my head – and the protect my from flora that encroaches on the trail. The SixSixOne Recon has been more than capable – all while fitting well and being reasonable priced. My only change was to take the visor off, which is pretty standard with every one of mountain bike helmets. I took a ride with it first just to see if it would be any different, but no dice. Off it came.

If it’s time for you to get a new mountain bike helmet, check your local and online bike shops for a SixSixOne helmet.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

 

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CategoriesAdventures

Remember Peru – A Hint for the Adventure Traveler


A llama (Lama Glama) in front of the Machu Pic...
A llama (Lama Glama) in front of the Machu Picchu archeological site, Peru. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What does travel feel like?

Alright, it varies for most people. For some, it’s hot sand and being lazy on a beach. For others, it’s a round-the-clock buffet aboard a cruise ship.

And then there’s the active outdoor traveler: A video starring Peru captures the essence of travel for those who prefer adventure. The Remember Peru video taps into the mindset of a traveler who isn’t about luxury pampering – but it presents the message with a novel twist that I won’t spoil for you.

With Machu Picchu, high altitudes, epic volcanic landforms and wildlife (one word: monkeys!), Peru earns a place on my "must visit" list. As I write this, I have a friend trying her hand at mountain biking during a trip to Peru. Between her and two other friends who lived in Peru, I have enough information to plan a trip that fulfills everything I look for in a vacation. They can all expect some questions from me in the near future. Guidebooks are great, but there’s nothing like first-hand opinions from those who have been there -- especially when we share interests and preferences.

With the Remember Peru video, the country plays to strengths familiar to many outdoor travelers: It says yes, this is a destination for those who always travel with a pair of well-worn hiking boots, who take their cameras off the “Auto” setting and who think a few nights sleeping under the stars make a trip perfect.

And there’s another kind of adventure I could find in Peru: a chance to eat cuy and alpaca. The first one? That’s guinea pig. According to National Geographic, alpaca has a taste in the gamey family of buffalo – not as exotic as guinea pig, but still good for a few tales for the squeamish eaters back home.

What do you think of the video? How does it affect your opinion about a visit to Peru?

This post is sponsored by Marca Peru.

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CategoriesAdventuresFitness

Inside My Head – Fear of Heights

Looking into the crater - for scale, note the people in the left side of the frame.
Looking into the crater – for scale, note the people in the left side of the frame.

I wish I could stride along the rim of this volcano’s crater. After months of waiting, endless hours looking at photos of it, and then finally marching from the Rangipo Desert up the thick scree on its slopes, I’m here.

And I’m too afraid to appreciate it.

I find an off-camber lip. The wind pushes me toward the inner lip, and every rock seems to slip out from under my feet. The very ground under me frightens me -- it buttresses out
unsupported, ready to crumble and swallow everyone on the rim.

A wind-swept ridge.
A wind-swept ridge – with a steep drop on either side.

I don’t how to put my fear in a neat compartment with the right label. Am I afraid of heights? Hmm, I love to fly -- helicopters, airplanes, from a Cessna 172 to a 747.

No – it’s a fear of falling from a high place. And imagining the anticipation of hitting bottom.

Here at the summit of Mount Ngauruhoe, it nearly freezes me. I hunker down to lower my center of gravity. I grit my teeth through a few photos and then plunge down the slope – which is steep, but covered in cinders that won’t let me fall far or fast.

Just try finding a better view. Oh, and this is the start of the drop down the scary ridge.
Just try finding a better view. Just be sure you can enjoy it past a fear of heights.

I can count on this sort of paralyzing, stomach cramp-inducing anxiety at least once per trip. There’s always some sort of epic hike everywhere I go. And epic hikes usually mean some high place with lots of exposure.

What I felt that day in New Zealand has already repeated itself. On the Laugavegur hike in Iceland -- there are plenty of spots where a false step could send me sliding hundreds of feet down an icy slope with an 80-degree angle. Near Busan, South Korea, scrambling up a rope headed to the peak of Geumjeongsan. On the Besseggen trail in Norway’s Jotunheimen, the trail plunges more than a thousand feet in barely a half-mile. The hand- and foot-holds leave me little margin for error. Straight down, a rocky pitch. On either side? Two frigid glacial lakes.

I know this is something I’ll never master. My gut will clench every time I look down and envision possibilities that could lead to the last few moments of my life. I wish I could not only contain my fear, but also keep it to myself. But I also project it to my wife, who handles this sort of thing so much better than I do. As I worry for the both of us, it scrubs some of the shine from what should be perfect moments in life -- I anticipate these places so much. I think about them every day leading up to a trip, and the anticipation makes it hard to think straight or get any decent sleep the night before.

Like they say in Battlestar Galactica, all this has happened before and will happen again. No matter where I go, there will be a high place that waits for me, someplace where I have to just keep moving forward.

My goal isn’t to be free from fear. No, that’s too much to ask. All I want, all I will try to do, is to not let my fear ruin the moment.

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