When Should You Get a New Mountain Bike?

new mountain bike
My current full-suspension bike – a Santa Cruz Superlight.

When is it time for a new mountain bike? If you’re the bike industry, the answer is "every time we come up with a new wheel size or standard" -- both of which they seem to be doing with ever-accelerating frequency these days.

If you’re a guy like me, the answer is a bit more complicated. Here’s what I mean by "a guy like me:" I go out on frequent rides and love nearly every damn thing there is about the bikes I’m riding. But I also know that everything has a limited lifespan, especially stuff that gets pounded by a 200-pound dude plowing over rocky terrain with -- let’s say not exactly the most deft of skills.

I want to start a fun conversation about how we decide it’s time for a new mountain bike. I’ll start off by talking a bit about my bikes and my impressions of riding them. It would be great to get your thoughts, and also to hear about your thought process for deciding to retire a mountain bike.

Bike #1 is a 2012 Raleigh XXIX that I built up largely piece by piece -- back in 2013, when I scored a killer deal on the frame and the previous iteration of the Gates Carbon Drive singlespeed drivetrain (that’s right, I don’t have CenterTrack).

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Riding the Tour De Scottsdale

After a more than 10-year hiatus from road-biking tour events, I made my return at the 2016 Tour de Scottsdale. In the meantime, I’ve ticked the box on some 12- and 24-hour mountain bike races. Why the hiatus? Road bike tours tend to have a rather mixed bag of skill levels -- and some of them freak me out (like the guy who crashed and slid shoulder-first into my front wheel at the Taylor House Century – how I didn’t crash, I still can’t figure out).

Anyway, that brings me to the Tour de Scottsdale. Here’s my rundown of thoughts and observations. Let me frame this by saying I ride once a week, either road or mountain depending on the time of year. The rest of the time, I lift weights, do hot yoga and various other odd exercise. I’ve done a few 12- and 24-hours races. When I’m solo or duo, the goal is to not be within 10 spots of DFL.

OK, onto the ride report. I didn’t get to pick up my race packet in advance. My wife ran a half-marathon the day before, and I didn’t want to cart the little person all over. I wasn’t able to get the pick-up point, so I figured I’d just grab my packet and stash it in my car.

Busing to the start line makes me furious.

Except that most of the parking was a few miles from the race start, and they were running trolleys. Fortunately, the nice people at the info tent were nice enough to let me stash my t-shirt (which I probably won’t wear outside my house, to be honest). That’s why I really don’t like busing to the start line – things can go wrong. I did find out that there was at least some parking near the start. Show up early!

Scrambling for my packet had another ill effect: I got stuck behind the 30-mile riders -- which included a multitude of fluorescent-yellow-clad people clearly from some sort of organization. They struck as some sort of group from a bro-y sort of church where the pastor wears a trilby and quotes the network TV version of The Big Lebowksi. They filled me with dread, and they demonstrated handling skills and a lack of situational awareness that fully lived up to my expectations.

tour de scottsdale

Once the yellow spazzes and others like them cleared, I was having myself a grand old time. I tucked in with a few smart riders, including this one older women with silky-smooth skills, all sorts of energy and the manner of a peloton patron (I was sad later when she broke off on the 30-mile course).

Let me diverge for a moment to talk about earbuds and headphones. They are stupid, stupid and stupid. That is stupid to the third power. So many riders cluelessly weaving along listening to Nickleback or whatever, absolutely oblivious to what was happening around them. My favorite was the guy with full headphones – his rear derailleur cage was pinging into his spokes, making it a very real possibility that he’d break a bunch of spokes, twist his derailleur hanger and blow the derailleur itself into shards. Do you think he heard? Nope.

Still, I was feeling great!


I screamed past the first rest stop. Then the second, even though it had Gu -- the crowd of 30-milers was a bit thick, and my groove was fully on. I turned up Dynamite, where another rider pointed to one of those electronic speed signs that was totally demoralizing us as we headed uphill into the wind. Near the top of the hill, we were rewarded with the third aid station.

But wait -- no Gu. Just bananas, pretzels and Gatorade. At this point, I barely had any of my Nuun-Skratch Labs mix in my bottles, though I still had a few of my own Gu packets. A twinge of concern lurked in my gray matter because Gatorade absolutely sucks – more accurately, it blows right out my backside after souring my stomach. I started kicking myself for not bringing a tube of Nuun and a boatload more Gu.

Back on the bike, things were still going swimmingly. We ripped down Nine-Mile hill, and then turned south to have the wind at our backs. Having the wind at my back and riding on the tops always makes me feel like a pirate ship – arrrrr!


I figured Aid Station Four would be the place to grab some Gu. I was still ripping it up, nearly 40 miles down at a pace I haven’t maintained before. I was feelin’ it!

Then, Aid Station Four. No Gu. I didn’t even bother stopping since my bottles were still pretty full, and I barely needed anything on the long descent.

The terrain started rolling, which seemed to just make everything even more enjoyable.


The miles ticked, and I started to feel a few little twinges in the legs. Nothing too big. Just that little electrical current-like feeling of muscles saying "Dude, you need to relax."

This morphed into a serious problem on the last incline before dropping into Fountain Hills. The small twinges turned into multiple “check engine” lights. My left quadriceps seized. I tried to come to a stop with dignity and not freak my right leg out, too. That required my to fall over on my side.

tour de scottsdale
“This is not good.”

It took a few minutes of smacking my leg to get it to bend again. And then I was off, fully aware that I was in for some hurt. I got to Aid Station 5 without further problems.

Guess what?

No Gu. That’s like deer camp with no whiskey. And I knew right than that what had largely been my happiest day on a bike in a long, long time was about to get shitty. I drank more of that god-forsaken Gatorade, feeling it clump in my stomach. I had no choice as I rode but to let some out -- so I stood up, let it fly, and both my legs seized.

Yes, you read that right. I farted so hard I fell down. This time, both legs were fully flamed out. I flipped onto my stomach and dragged myself fully onto the sidewalk to restart my engines. This involved whimpering, beating on my legs, whimpering, draining my bottles, whimpering, cursing the gods and whimpering.

tour de scottsdale
Can someone help me find my legs, pleeeeeez?

Once my legs were mobile again, I stretched out a bit and got myself moving up the hill on-foot. I figured a different motion for a few minutes would help. Meanwhile, my project finishing time ballooned like Baron Harkonnen at an all-you-can-eat buffet.


Fortunately, we had big downhills on the way! And the next few climbs followed downhills so big that I could coast up most of them. We turned onto Shea, and I was hitting 40 miles per hours without doing a damn thing.

Oh, hai, Aid Station 6! I can haz Gatorade? (Yes, I know I’ve been fustigating the very existence of Gatorade throughout this post. Well, it’s last call and I’ll take anything.) They had a few thimblefuls left.

Blessedly, they had Gu! Even the super-salty, sliver-of-the-Dead Sea Roctane variety! Praise be the Seven, the Red God, The Drowned God and anyone else listening! But where was the Gu when we really, really, needed it? (My wife, a far smarter and more experienced racey sort of person – this isn’t a race, of course – summed my dimmwittedness up with a sympathetic but probably exasperated "Never put your faith in them.")

And then we went up a hill I usually climb in my friggin’ big ring -- but now, I’m spinning my lowest gear and hoping my legs wouldn’t seize again. Sure enough, I got away with it! Then down the hill, and it’s all downhill from there!

Except it wasn’t.

Even a speed bump was an hors categorie climb. FML. At one point, I slowed down to massage my left quad into compliance. It was just good enough to coast to the finish. My legs were the only problem – I was clear-headed with no other aches or pains. I have to rue my bad decision making and how it affected what could have been a really awesome day in the saddle.

So just the other day, I was talking to a co-worker about events and how I can tell when organizers and volunteers know they’re stuff, and what a difference it makes. The Tour de Scottsdale makes me suspicious on this point. Consider the Tour of the White Mountain – this race has destroyed me body and spirit three times, yet I still love it. Part of it is the plugged-in volunteers and organizers. Every aid station is different, and tailor-made to the distance where it falls. For example, the last aid station always had boiled red potatoes that riders can roll in salt. Carbs, potassium and salt to stave off cramps – brilliant!

Tour de Scottsdale
My first-ever photo of myself at a road bike event!

Maybe Tour de Scottsdale skimps on quality sports drinks and Gu because of the cost. Tell you what – skip the t-shirt that I won’t wear much. Even skip the medals. Just fuel me right because I’m counting on you." Or if you (or more likely the participants) want to keep all the swag, say "Hey, we provide stuff -- but not much. Bringing your sports food/gels is own is a good idea, but we’ll hook you up with water and gels at every XXXth station."

I still like the event, don’t get me wrong … especially since this my depleted electrolytes area ultimately my fault. I’ll ride it next year. It was decently organized, and the volunteers were nice. The course was pretty fun, too. It just has the sort of problems that are part and parcel of larger events and tours (I’m looking at you, Spaz Riders in fluorescent yellow).

And I will show up loaded with a bandoleer belt full of my favorite hydration stuff and riding food. I suggest anyone outside the front of the pack do the same.

This ride taught me some valuable lessons. Some tweaks to my training and eating, and I started to improve yugely. Read this report of my latest Tour de Tucson to see how much better things are going now.


What Visitors From Abroad Need to Know About Los Angeles

Los Angeles
One of my favorite LAX landmarks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whenever I connect with travelers visiting the U.S. from abroad, there’s one destination that’s invariably on their itineraries: Los Angeles.

I like Los Angeles – probably more than most Americans. But it has some highly visible warts. And my foreign friends are so eager to see it that I cringe at the disappointment that can follow. I’d like to prepare them for the reality of Los Angeles with this list of observations gleaned from way too many visits to the area.

Hollywood – All the Grunge, Little of the Glamor

Los Angeles
Definitely an icon.

If you have dreams of Hollywood glitz, lower your expectations. It’s shabby and run-down with its best years decades in the past. I actually like the Sunset Strip quite a bit, but not for the usual reasons – the place is packed full of guitar shops selling some serious pro-grade gear. And you can walk from one to the other (perfect for a guy like me who spent way too much time playing in local bands), unlike my city where I could spend a day driving around and never find anything interesting. By and large, dining is pretty much focused on chains. I suppose things could get interesting if you’re interested in seeing where celebrities live or once lived – they have all sorts of tours for that sort of thing.

Los Angeles
Tanning beds not required at Muscle Beach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Beaches are Meh, But People Watching is Amazing

I know, I know – it’s sunny SoCal! The water should be warm and inviting, right? Nope. This is, year-round, some chilly water. Navy SEAL operators train just 120 miles away because the water is cold enough to test their endurance and fortitude. If you want warm, clear, sparkly water, you will not find it on a Los Angeles beach. You will, however, find absolutely epic people watching. Venice Beach, Muscle Beach, all the spots in Santa Monica -- I’ll just say to bring your camera. The fun part of Muscle Beach is watching people try their hands at some of the activities; my wife once saw an amazing wipeout on a slackline, and we both wished she’d been rolling some video of it.

Los Angeles
Have a mammoth time at La Brea Tar Pits. (Wikimedia Commons)

Natural History in the Concrete

My favorite place in LA is going to surprise you: the La Brea Tar Pits. Here’s the deal -- Los Angeles is a huge mass of concrete. Here, the earth looks completely static. But the La Brea Tar Pits are a reminder that the earth is alive, that it is moving and living right under our feet – even in a city that appears locked into its current form. You can watch scientists at work there, dredging up clues from the earth’s long history. It’s absolutely hypnotic, especially jammed into the backdrop of concrete, crowds and traffic.

Speaking of Sprawling

Travelers from abroad are often used to public transit. If you’re from Tokyo, London, Frankfurt or Seoul, there’s literally nowhere you can’t reach thanks to their world-class public transit and inherent walkability. You will not find that here. Just leaving Los Angeles International Airport is difficult. There is no Tube or Metro to zip you to the most-interesting parts of the city (compare that to Stockholm, where a sweet rail system can help you make the most of a 7-hour layover). There is allegedly some sort of rail system under construction. For now, you’re best-off making prior arrangements. You have taxis, but they can be hit-and-miss from a quality standpoint. I never thought about this before being a parent, but booking something in advance can make sure that you’ll have a car seat, adequate space, a knowledgeable driver -- all very important to get a trip started off well. I’d lean toward booking a car service from LAX.

Los Angeles
Hollywood celebrities and dignitaries at Roosevelt Birthday Ball activities in Washington, (left to… – NARA – 199317 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tons of Theme Parks

If you have kids that watch too much TV, chances are they’re clamoring for a visit to a certain rodent-fronted theme park. It’s here, it’s sprawling and it’s absolutely astounding in its ability to absolutely dominate everything about Anaheim. If you’re traveling without little people, you’ll find better rides at Magic Mountain Parkway or Knotts Berry Farm. But there are other theme parks and attractions, from paintball fields to racecar-themed parks. Los Angeles is pretty astounding that way – if there’s an obscure hobby, you can find people practicing it here.

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Five Ways to Make Your Vacation Photos Interesting

vacation photos
This photo is complete and total BS. It’s squashed from a wider shot to increase the relief. So don’t go to the Wind Cathedral in Namibia expecting to snap your own vacation photo like this.

I’m going to show you a valuable skill today: How to make your vacation photos interesting.

Now, many people these days use Facebook to show their vacation photos. This post assumes that’s your vehicle of choice. Still, even if you do something else, a lot of what I say here will apply.

Alright, let’s get this started.

Be discerning.

I don’t care if you took 7,351 photos. I don’t want to see all 7,351. If you want to make your vacation photos interesting, upload the absolute best of the best. Eliminate photos that are virtually identical. Keep group shots where you and a few people are saying cheese to a minimum. And honestly, far better photographers than you have photographed the world’s greatest landmarks – so seriously consider whether anyone needs to see yet another shoot-by-the-numbers photo of the Sydney Opera House. Pitch the blurry and boring. There. Now you’re down to about 84 photos (if you’re anything like me).

vacation photos
Just a shot of a cool moment. I could probably use a little bit of light photo editing to bring the colors out a bit … this looks a bit blue.

Say something about your vacation photos.

Like I mentioned earlier, far better photographers than you have shot the same place. Hell, some of your friends may have already been there. So say something about your experience, and what your photos will offer. DO NOT just name the place. You can be smirky and give your album an Upworthy-like clickbait name like "You Won’t Believe What Happens When I Go to a Thai Ladyboy Show!" Or you can play it straight – "Hiking in Jotunheimen, one of the coolest places I’ve ever been." Just offer a glimpse into what people will see in your vacation photos – and stay away from linear recitations of what you did that day. Nobody wants to read an itinerary.


Caption your vacation photos, already!

I have this one photo I took in Vík í Mýrdal. I love the little white church, the towering green mountains and the sunlight filtering through hazy air. But the most remarkable thing about it? I snapped it 10:45 p.m. That boggles the minds of people from lower latitudes. And you’d never know this without a caption – the right caption adds context, humor, information -- something.
Look, we all get lazy and skip the caption. I get it. But captions can make all the difference.

Look for Moments, Not Places

The bucket list mentality equals photos that suck. Tourists file like little ducklings to their destinations, snap their photos and herd themselves back onto the bus when the guide tells them to. They get the exact same photos because they’re thinking about places, not moments.
Let me give you an example -- I was just walking around in Hanoi, and I took a little bridge out to a Buddhist temple in the middle of a small lake. People were praying and bowing before an alter. Incense curled into the air and interacting with the light just perfectly, and I got this cool shot of people praying. This isn’t a landmark like Ho Chi Minh’s tomb or the Cu Chi Tunnels. But there was a perfection in that moment that made a far more interesting photo than you’ll usually get snapping a major landmark. There are ways to be creative with shooting landmarks, though. I’m not much good at this, so maybe you can pitch in with some ideas.

vacation photos
It took just a little bit of editing to compensate for not getting my camera settings perfect. But I resisted any urge to exaggerate the colors.

Stop editing the hell out of your vacation photos

Excessive photo editing ruins travel. The Internet overfloweth with jokers who use High Dynamic Range and Photoshop to turn photos into cartoonish versions of reality. And you get excited, book the trip, arrive and then find out it’s not truly a rip in space and time where every color is vivid and every sunset is the color of orange blossom honey.

Edit photos to make them closer to what you saw with your eye, not to exaggerate. Here’s the truth – my photos sometimes need help because I am a hack photographer. Once in awhile, I get lucky with an image like the one I snapped of Elijah on his horse. That came straight out of my camera with not a single adjustment to the colors. This is pretty damn rare for me, especially since I often shoot in challenging light. The thing is, reality is just fine without being turned into a caricature. Nature doesn’t need you to make it awesome. And all that tinkering is a lie. So stop it. Tell the truth with your photos.

Essentially, everything I’m saying is … tell a story. With your photo choices. With your captions. With your album names. What would you add about making vacation photos more interesting?



What’s Brazil Like?

What's Brazil like?
World Cup crazy in Brazil – just as you’d expect.

If you’re wondering "What’s Brazil like?", I have a small part of your answer. It’s a big country, and I was only in one city – Curitiba – for seven days. But I’ll give you some ideas for at least a segment of any future trip to Brazil.

Brazil in a Word: Stylish

From the way people dress to the architecture to the dining, Brazil – if it matches Curitiba – is stylish. There’s a European flair to the architecture and streets with the occasional outburst of wild modern architecture and abundance of cool cobblestones.

What's Brazil like?
Nighttime in Curitiba, Brazil, overlooking a tony mall (right, lit up in red) and one of the fancier urban areas.

You’ve probably heard horror stories about slums in other cities. Well, I don’t know what is going on in Curitiba, but it also has a prosperous flair and a very safe vibe. I roamed the streets all hours of the day. People aren’t as quick to make eye contact or say hello as in, say, Australia. But they don’t bother each other, either.

You can get some detailed notes about Curitiba in my earlier post about the city. It’ll tell you all about some great highlights like the craft beer scene (I’d go as far as to call it the Portland of Brazil just based on the regional craft beer).

What's Brazil like?
I wish I’d gotten more into the wild areas. But this reclaimed quarry was all I had time to find.

Things to Remember

Just one city in seven days makes me even less-than-qualified to answer "What’s Brazil Like?". But I can say with authority that Curitiba has a lot going for it. It makes me think Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo are getting too high a billing as Brazil’s highlights.

Before traveling to Brazil, you might want to think about hepatitis B and typhoid vaccines, but I skipped the yellow fever vaccines since it wasn’t recommended for travel to Curitiba at the time.



Why I Turn Down Guest Blogging Offers

Every week, I get several requests for people who want to do guest blogging for my site. I turn down nearly every single one of them. It’s been close to a year since I let someone guest blog here, aside from someone I sought out for a cool Halloween-related post.

Let me tell you why. If you’re into guest blogging, take notes!

You Lie Your Ass Off

Nearly every guest blogging pitch starts with flattery and, often, an  entreaty about why the writer is interest in guest blogging on my site. These are from actual pitches:

  • Your blog ““is by far the most interesting I have come across in the recent past, hands down!

  • I am keeping an eye on your blog since long and found your content very unique and informative. I guess you are working hard enough to get such an awesome content.

  • I am a freelance writer looking to gain more experience and boost my portfolio by contributing to blogs and sites such as yours,  . I loved the articles on your site and would love to be able to contribute some of my work!

Now, when I run across a blog I like, I comment. I give some love. It might even be worth a tweet or a Facebook post. If I don’t recognize the name, I doubt that I’m getting the truth in all the flattery. And notice how two of these look like form letters? That’s an extra sincerity points deduction.

Here another funny one: Sometimes, people sign their emails with names that don’t match their byline. That’s a "dishonest guest blogger" red flag, right there, it surely is.

You Want Me to Lie, Too

A for-real example, and hardly the only one of its kind:

I am working on the SEO campaign for a travel agency, and I’m interested in finding out if there is any possibility of having a sponsored post on your site I can provide the content, but the live article can’t be labelled as ‘sponsored / guest post’ or marked in any way that indicates that it was paid for.

No. No. No. Nyet. Nein. Dishonest. Unethical. Wrong.

You’re Guest Blogging to Build Links

Businesses hire people who do "guest blogging." The idea: Offer "free" content in exchange for links back to the companies who foot the bill for their efforts. So you’re not really interested in building your reputation as a writer or boosting your portfolio. You’re just building links – and worse yet, treating me like a rube who doesn’t know what you’re up to. There are many bloggers out there who are green enough to foot the bills for hosting and maintaining their sites -- and will still let you take advantage of them. I’m not one of them. Jog on.

You Don’t Show Your Work

When I apply for a job, whether full-time or freelance, my prospective employer/client wants to see what I can do. I even say on my site that anyone interested in guest blogging needs to show some work. I can’t believe that people get even this simple step wrong.

You DID Show Your Work, And It’s Awful

If someone links to their work, I’ll read it. And often regret the misspent minutes of my life. So much guest blogging is generic to the point of depressing ("Have you ever thought of a holiday in beautiful Cypress? This post will tell you all about why it’s one of the most enchanting destinations in the world" -- bleh!).

Your Pitch is Weak

I admire people who speak and write multiple languages. People who can’t master one earn my ire. Guest blogging pitches are often petri dishes for passive voice, run-on sentences, tortured punctuation and so, so many other writing problems. Quality is most important.

Or maybe you asked what I want them to write about. If I have to think of a topic for you, I’m better off writing the post myself.

Why I Hate Being Like This

This all makes me mistrust every guest blogging offer I receive. They’re guilty until proven innocent. Guest bloggers like Rutger, who wrote this super guest post about SCUBA diving, deserve better from me. Quit spoiling it for them.


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Electrolyte Drinks – Summer Exercise Help

electrolyte drinks
I don’t roll without electrolyte drinks.

During summer, I go through electrolyte drinks at an unbelievable rate – I once joked that nobody’s gone through white powdery substances so fast since Van Halen toured with The Scorpions. But seriously, electrolyte drinks let me exercise and not feel miserable the rest of the day. I had to put some thought into electrolyte drinks when my old standby added Stevia to it’s formula. I thought I’d share what I’ve found out lately for anyone who could use some help to stay hydrated during summer exercise.

First of all, what is an electrolyte drink? It’s a drink that replenishes what you sweat out. As far as I can tell, the most important of that "stuff" are sodium and potassium (Note: I am not a scientist or physician – just a guy who has exercised in heat for a long-ass time). Too little of either, and you’re the mayor of Dehydration City and the emperor of Cramp Town. There are many other electrolyte compounds, but salt and potassium seem most important.

Since I gave Cytomax the boot, I’ve tried a few other electrolyte drink mixes and some electrolyte tablets. Here’s what I’ve found out:

Carborocket 333 Half Evil Endurance Fuel

This is one of the hardest-hitting electrolyte drinks I’ve ever seen. Mixed at full-strength, Half Evil packs a big calorie punch along with a big dose of electrolytes. At 333 calories per serving, you might not need bars or gels on long rides. But man, this stuff tastes strong even diluting to half the recommended level. I halved the recipe for the lemonade flavor -- and it was tasty! I also felt pretty solid after my ride. Impressive considering I used it on some of the sunniest, hottest days of 2013 so far. And on some demanding trails.

CarboRocket takes pride in using natural ingredients for its electrolyte drinks. Have a look at its FAQ page for some other interesting info.

electrolyte drinks
See what happens when you don’t replace your fluids?

Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix

Skratch Labs is a new-to-many name. I tried a few single-serving containers and liked it well enough to buy a bag. Like CarboRocket, Skratch Labs favors natural ingredients. They’re loud about the fact that users can pronounce all the ingredients (an impressive feat considering tri-geeks use it!). I got a few laughs out of the Skratch Labs video about its natural ingredients.

Of all the electrolyte drinks I’ve tried, Skratch Labs is by far the lightest tasting. Even with two full scoops in a 24-ounce bike bottle, the flavor is subtle. I usually include half a Nuun tablet to boost the flavor. I’ve been very happy with the way it works. I’ve finished many of my recent night rides stronger than I started.

Nuun Active Hydration electrolyte tablets

I don’t like taking in calories for exercise less than an hour long. But in this heat, I still want to bring in some electrolytes even if I’m just doing a 60-minute run or a hot yoga class.

Nuun is my favorite way to make electrolyte drinks without many calories. I usually dissolve a tablet and a half into a 24-ounce bike bottle, and I’m ready to go. I prefer the Kona Kola flavor. It’s just plain tasty.

Coconut Water

After exercising I recommend you add coconut water to your electrolyte drinks arsenal;. Apparently, the electrolyte composition of coconut water is similar to the human body. It also has about 70 calories per serving, so it helps top off your tank after exercise. I also like the taste – for some extra fun, ask your favorite barista to make an iced americano with coconut water instead of regular water. You’ll love it, I promise (and it’s way better than the boxed kind).

One Last Tip

Mix your electrolyte drinks about 12 hours in advance, when possible. Pitch them in the freezer to keep them from turning into hot electrolyte tea.




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Travel to Australia: An Adventurer’s Itinerary

Travel to Australia
Morning on Sandy Billabong – just hours from the Northern Territory city of Darwin.

I get a lot of questions about travel to Australia. So far, I’ve helped a few friends craft itineraries – from hanging out on beaches to my preferred style of adventure travel.

I thought some other adventurous people could use some tips for travel to Australia. Here’s what I have for you.

A Quick Pre-trip Briefing
Question 1: "When should I travel to Australia?" September, for a few reasons. First, if you’re headed outdoors -- you’ll want to know that salt-water crocodiles won’t be rampant. This is the dry season, so outdoor guides will know where crocs lurk. Also, the Brisbane Festival starts in September. I wouldn’t miss Riverfire, the monster pyrotechnic display that launches the weeks-long festival.

Kuranda Cairns Australia Queensland Travel to Australia
A view near Kuranda, just west of Cairns.

Arrange air travel between different phases of your trip. It’s a big country. Qantas offers great deals for inter-country travel if you book an Aussie AirPass.

Onto the main itinerary!

Phase One: 1-3 days
I recommend flying into Brisbane, the overlooked city of Australia, rather than Sydney (the departure/check-in queue in Brisbane is unwieldy). You’ll arrive early in the morning. Get some rest to banish jet lag. Then you’ll be ready for Riverfire revelry.

I enjoyed the Queensland Museum and the Queen Street Mall. Brisbane is very walkable – and great for biking and running, if that’s how you prefer to beat jet lag.

Phase Two: 3-6 days
If you travel to Australia, Queensland is a must. You’ll find the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Forest, Port Douglas, Cape Tribulation and the Atherton table lands. I recommend renting a car.

Travel to Australia
What’s cuter than a baby wallaby? Nothing, that’s what.

I spent a few days each in Cairns and Port Douglas, plus one night in the small town of Yungaburra. Suggested sites: The Venom Zoo, Cape Tribulation Exotic Fruit Farm, Mungali Creek Dairy, the town of Kuranda. Also, watch for walking tracks – Queensland is a great place to spot kangaroos. You might also catch sight of a cassowary. I also recommend a guided night hike in the Daintree Forest.

Phase Three: 4-6 days
If you’re adventurous  go to Darwin on the very northern tip of the Northern Territory. It might be the highlight of your travel to Australia. You’ll spot wildlife from salt-water crocs to wallabies. You can find guides to run you out to Kakadu National Park and other Outback destinations. My trip took me to Jim Jim Falls, Twin Falls and the Corroboree, White Lilly and Sandy billabongs.

The possibilities are mind-boggling. Figure out what sites you want to see, and find a good guide company. I wouldn’t recommend renting a car and doing it yourself. It’s easy to get lost or stuck in the Outback.

When you feel like relaxing, check out the Wharf Precinct and the Parap Village Market. A quick note: Accommodations in Darwin are pretty expensive.

Sydney from Darling Harbour Travel to Australia
Evening in Sydney

Phase Four: 3-6 Days
Your travel to Australia wraps up in Sydney … the Sydney Opera House, the beaches and a lot of nightlife and shopping. I’d also recommend a trip to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. It’s a bit cooler – and extremely laid back. You’ll find plenty of hiking.

Back in Sydney, I wouldn’t leave without a visit to the Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe. You’ll find plenty to do near Circular Quay and Cockle Bay, too.

Otherwise, I don’t need to tell you much. This is Sydney, probably the biggest reason you wanted to travel to Australia. Pick a direction and walk. Grab a water taxi. You will, if you have any innate curiosity, find something to do. Sydney is cosmopolitan and hip, yet also friendly. It’s as lively a city as you’ll ever see.

Wrapping it Up
Well, you’re about to head back home. I hope you found some great experiences during your travel to Australia.

Have you been to any of these places, whether after taking my advice or just by coincidence? If so, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Tell me all about it!

This post contains a sponsored link.

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5 Tips to Make a Mountain Bike Video That Doesn’t Suck

santa cruza superlight, pima & dynamite, mountain biking, arizona, adventure bicycle company, wandering justin
My bike, ready to roll video at Pima & Dynamite.

Someone just posted a 17-minute mountain bike video on YouTube. It’s a painful slog through a trail – one camera angle The.Whole.Damn.Time. This sucks. And there is entirely too much of this visual colon exam brand of suck on YouTube, Vimeo and the rest.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I’m no film maker. I don’t even play one on TV. But I can tell you how to make a mountain bike video that doesn’t suck.

Tell a Story
Are you making a video just because you bought a GoPro Helmet Hero? Woah. Slow your roll. Think. Would you watch a movie because Sam Raimi or Quentin Tarantino just bought a new camera? Even if the answer is "maybe," you didn’t direct Army of Darkness or Pulp Fiction.

So before you pop that camera into a helmet mount, think. What about your ride could be interesting? First time on a particular trail? Your longest ride ever? A really cool race? Did your favorite trail just get a maintenance facelift?

Find the story … and tell it.

I'm ready for my close up.
I’m ready for my close up.

Vary Your Camera Angles
The video I mentioned above? One single solitary view: straight ahead. What a god-awful snoozefest. Whether the terrain is forest, desert, tundra or sewer tunnels, one viewpoint makes for dullness.

What can you do? Well, here are some of my go-to angles:
-Handlebar, facing straight. I always show a little front tire for perspective.
-Handlebar, facing to the side and showing hand and brake lever.
-Handlebar, pointing down to show the fork. Great for technical bits.
-Handlebar, facing rider. Always good to get a person.
-Seatpost facing rear. Awesome for passing people!
-Seatpost facing front. Definitely shakes things up.
-Have a friend with a helmet cam. Mo’ angles, mo’ riders, mo’ fun!

If you whine "But that’s a lot of work during a ride, and I don’t want to hold anyone up" -- then don’t make your movie during that ride. Go with some people who don’t care (every movie needs stars) about some delays. Yeah, it takes some time to move the camera around. Or you can have a bike with SRAM 9.0 instead of XO and maybe an X-Fusion fork instead of a Fox – that way, you can afford three Helmet Hero cameras and not have to switch so much!

Keep Each Bit Short
I rarely show one clip for longer than 10 seconds. I keep most clips at 3-6 seconds. I also try to vary the camera angle every 3 clips or so. This keeps it all from getting monotonous.

Just forkin' around.
Just forkin’ around.

Font Something Once in Awhile
Flash some text on the screen. It can be something informative, funny, insulting, whatever. It’s just a nice way to add something extra to the story you’re telling.

Shorter is Better
If you are guilty of making a 15-minute mountain bike movie with a helmet cam, do me a favor: Invite a bunch of random people over. Sit them down and make them watch your opus. Within 60 seconds, people will be playing "Words with Friends" on their smart phones, squirming in their seat and looking for rafters in your ceiling so they can hang themselves by their belt.

But if you apply all the rest of these tips and jam it into a sub-5-minute package, they’ll ask when the sequel is coming out.

Have you seen an amateur mountain bike video that you love? Link to it in the comments!

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Backpack Tips for New Travelers

backpack tips
Your backpack can be your best friend – or your worst enemy.

I saw a soon-to-be first-time traveler ask online about backpacks – specifically, which one he should take for a three-week trip. The question opens a massive can of live eels. Let’s see what I can do to offer some quality backpack tips.

1. What kind of backpack traveler do you want to be?

Your backpack can just be a suitcase you wear on your back from hotel to hotel. Ot it can signal intent to camp, ability to cook on the fly and a desire to go hiking a lot. So which are you? Be honest with yourself. If you’re the first option, you’ll have more room for extra shoes, evening wear and various fancy city shit. If you choose option 2, your tent, sleeping bag and cooking/eating gear will eat up space when you load your backpack. Plan accordingly.

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The Warrior Dash – Everything You NEED to Know

The Warrior Dash brings a lot of people here to Or more accurately, questions about it. I’ve looked through your search terms and written something from the most-popular questions about the Warrior Dash. This expands on my earlier post and tells you what you need to know based on my own experience:

What Should I Wear to the Warrior Dash?

If you splashed out big bucks for some Lululemon gear, you’ll hate yourself for wearing it during a Warrior Dash. The mud and other obstacles will do some damage. Wear something old and ratty, but still functional. If you have a pair of running shoes that are on their last leg, send ‘em to Valhalla with one last mission in the Warrior Dash.

warrior dash
You’ll be nice and clean before you start the Warrior Dash …

Now, you can also choose the costume route – which some people love for adventure racing. The mud and various other obstacles will place it in serious danger. I’ve seen everything from dresses to unitards to Greco-Roman getups. I’d love to find some photos of people who have done something really original, so speak up if you know of anyone.

What’s a Good Time?

It depends. The fastest dudes finish in about 26 minutes, give or take. If you finish in 35 or less, I think you’re doing pretty well by any measure. Don’t get caught up too much in comparing yourself to others. Know where you stand, and just try to leave it all out on the course. It all depends on your lifestyle and any changes you may have made to it.

warrior dash
… and absolutely sloppy with the mud after. Dress accordingly

Can I Skip Obstacles?

I didn’t see anyone monitoring obstacles, so probably. But obstacles are the point of the Warrior Dash and just about any adventure race! Any able-bodied people who contemplate this option are lame-ass, 17 corndog-eating wheelbarrows of sadness. They’ll get horns and t-shirts, and will deserve neither.

Am I fit enough for the Warrior Dash?

If you can finish 5K race in about 35 minutes, I think you’re fit enough to run – not walk! – a Warrior Dash. Now, I get irate when people walk a Warrior Dash three abreast. If you can’t run the whole thing, at least be considerate and get to the right so faster people can pass you. I think organizers should get hardcore: Have a cutoff time to each obstacle. If you don’t make it, you get disqualified.

What to Bring

A towel. A travel bag (those soccer bags with the drawstrings are about perfect). A complete change of clothes. Some spending cash. A snack and a decent drink. You’re done. The Arizona edition had a bag check, which means others probably do, too. That’s where you should drop your bagful of gear while you race.



Camera Tips for Low-Light Photos

Long exposures gather the light and show your favorite low-light travel sights for what they are.

Using a camera in low light is a challenge for travelers. You might wind up in places like dense rain forests or – like in my last post – a lava tube deep underground. After I finished the last post, I realized it could also illustrate some good low-light photo tips.

Let’s say you’re headed out for an epic vacation, and all you plan to take is a camera. But you don’t want to miss a shot. Here’s what you need to know.

Pick Your Camera

You don’t need a pro-level digital SLR. But you need a camera with manual controls. You will absolutely need to maintain some sort of control of your shutter speed. I’d also recommend a camera that allows you to select ISO.

Live off the Land

You probably don’t have a tripod, so you’ll have to innovate. Look for a stable place to plop your camera … someplace flat and secure. You’ve just found yourself a “field tripod.”

Pick your spot for a makeshift tripod and make some photo magic,

Set Your Camera Up

The fun start now. Experiment with 5-, 10-, 20- and 30-second exposures. But even before you get there, set your camera so that it delays before opening the shutter. The longer you give yourself, the more time you have to compose yourself in the photo. Or keep it quick – 2.5 seconds or so – if you are just going for landscape. But do use a delay: If you just click the shutter, that can be just enough jiggle to ruin the sharpness of your shot. Hello, accidental and unwelcome blur.

A slow-shutter look at Majanngul Lava Tube

Get Ready for Surprises

You’ll get interesting effects from long exposures. I love the ghostly images of people walking through long exposures, especially against a sharp, focused background.

Stay Energized

Holding the shutter open can sorely tax your battery power. Carry lots of extras.

Don’t be a Flasher

A flash can work wonders used properly in a cave, a canyon or some other dark environment. Pro photographers and their gear and knowledge amaze me. But if you’re traveling, chances are it’s just you and your camera. Your flash will add harsh, unnatural light ot only the foreground of your photo. It will obscure everything behind. And isn’t capturing that cool background the whole point?


Rattlesnake Encounter – What Should You Do?

Photo by Tigerhawkvok/Wikipedia.

I’ve already written about how to deal with rattlesnake encounters. The folks from the Maricopa County Parks Department gave me some great advice.

Turns out, not everyone agrees with it.

I recently encountered a rattler curled in the shade of a creosote bush right alongside the Desert Classic Trail at South Mountain in Phoenix. Some other riders had stopped to warn people.

They were just warning people. Which is great for the amount of time they’re there.

What about the people who walk or ride by after everyone else is gone? Chances are, they’ll never see the rattler. And they might take that wrong step that results in one nasty, painful, dangerous, potentially life-threatening wound.

That was my logic behind tossing a few stones near the rattler, as I’d learned to do from the ranger I interviewed for my last piece about rattlers. The stones got progressively larger, but I made sure not to actually hit the snake. I was hoping to cause enough vibration to make it slither away. The snake wasn’t having any of it – too comfortable in the shade, I guess. And there were no sticks long or sturdy enough that I’d use to herd it.

"That’s stupid. You’re just going to piss him off," one other rider said, anthropomorphizing far too much. Anger doesn’t make a snake bite – feeling threatened makes a snake bite.

I told him that this is the advice I got from people who know what they’re doing. He rode away muttering about how much he knew about snakes. Probably not as much as a county ranger, I’d guess.

I tried my best to move the snake, but couldn’t. It didn’t even rattle or hiss. And I wasn’t willing to get any closer. Nor was I willing to kill it … it was just being a snake.

I felt we were at least responsible for trying to make the trail safer.

What do you think?