The first snow of 2020

Sure enough, 2020 is being itself again. We’re getting record setting snow on October 20th here in Minnesota. It’s amazing and wild to see 6 inches of wet fluffy flakes while there are still some leaves on the trees. In fact, it was that dichotomy that got me to grab my camera and take some shots this afternoon. Managed to get some beautiful shots of the leaves, and then the birds digging through the feeder.

Enjoy!

Smugmug Gallery

Testing ESBIT Boiling

One of the main requirements of winter ultramarathons is carrying a stove so that you can boil water/snow and cook food. Most participants carry one of three different types of stoves, with one of them being an ESBIT solid fuel stove. I’m not going to review stove types in this blog, but am going to talk about different techniques to help use your ESBIT stove more efficiently.

ESBIT is a solid fuel stove that uses tablets of fuel to heat water. You simply place a tablet into your stove and light it on fire and wait. It’s incredibly simple to use, and works at any temperature that you can make a flame. They are lightweight, and easy to pack into a kit, which makes them very popular for endurance events. However, they’re not without their challenges.

Many people experience issues trying to get water all the way to a roiling boil with an ESBIT stove, because similar to a campfire, they are not controlled and contained like a liquid fuel type stove. However, with a few adjustments you can get great results. In order to demonstrate a few different aspects of using an ESBIT stove, I did some testing of different configurations, and timed how long it took to get the water to boil.

One note: A full boil is around 212°F (100°C) at sea level, and a boil should always be your goal when doing any cooking, especially with unfiltered water. However, according to the WHO, you can make food safe at lower temperatures, even down to 150°F which is quite easy to obtain with any stove. Having said this, I’m not a scientist, so please endeavor to do some research on your own, and make your own determinations.

For this test I performed 5 different scenarios.

  1. Uncovered pot, no heat/wind shield, 1 ESBIT tablet
  2. Covered pot, no heat/wind shield, 1 ESBIT tablet
  3. Covered pot, no heat/wind shield, ESBIT tablet broken in two pieces
  4. Covered pot, heat/wind shield, 1 ESBIT tablet
  5. Covered pot, no heat/wind shield, 2 ESBIT tablets

For each test I set up just inside my garage with an air temperature around 52°F (11°C) and very, very light wind. I used a stainless steel GSI Glacier pot, and 2 cups (16oz/472ml) of room temperature water.

Uncovered pot, no heat/wind shield, 1 ESBIT tablet

For this first test I wanted to set a baseline of the simplest setup. This meant that there was nothing stopping the wind from causing issues, and the heat could escape from the top of the pot unrestricted.

I started seeing small bubbles around the 3-4 minute mark, and larger ones by minute 8. The ESBIT tablet burned out at just under 12 minutes, and the water reached a final temperature of 190°F (88°C). This is just above the temperature required for “simmering” and there were lots of little bubbles rising to the surface for the final 3 minutes.

Despite not reaching a full 212°F (100°C) boil, I would still be comfortable using this water to make my meal, depending on the source. If I was taking it from a stream I’d probably grab a second tablet (or half a tablet) and keep the heating going a bit longer, but if I was using a well, or clean snow, I’d feel OK.

I’m not surprised that this test did the worst, as the heat from the flame was being lost all over the place. For all the remaining tests, I added in a lid.

Covered pot, no heat/wind shield, 1 ESBIT tablet

The second test was the same as the first, but with an aluminum foil top to the pot. Many pots come with covers, but since I was using a steel cup, I had to fashion one on my own. The design of the lid isn’t the most important thing, simply stopping heat from escaping is the key.

I noticed the smaller bubbles much sooner in this test, closer to the 2-3 minute mark, and the larger bubbles near minute 7. Although the water never reached a rolling boil before the 12 minutes were up, it did get to 202°F (94°C) which is pretty darn close. I’d feel totally comfortable using this water for my meal as it spent many minutes in a simmer with large bubbles escaping consistently.

It makes a lot of sense that a cover on the pot would help, as heat travels up and if you trap it within the pot you’ll stop that warm air from escaping and cooling your water prematurely.

Covered pot, no heat/wind shield, ESBIT tablet broken in two pieces

I had read somewhere that if you break an ESBIT tablet into two, and place it on it’s ends, it provides more heat and can make your water boil quicker, so I decided to give it a try. Right off the bat I could see that it was providing a larger flame. I was getting small bubbles closer to 2 minutes, and by 6 minutes the large bubbles were going strong.

That’s when everything stopped though. With the tablet broken in half, the ESBIT died just under 7 minutes into the test. That meant that my water never got above 185°F (85°C). That’s the lowest temperature of all of my tests, and given how short the duration was, I’d probably not feel too great about using this water for cooking or drinking.

One option could be to use tongs and swap in more half-tablets, but that seems like a lot of work.

Covered pot, heat/wind shield, 1 ESBIT tablet

Finally, I got to the test I was most looking forward to. The issue with any stove in winter is that the air surrounding the cooking vessel and the stove itself is cold. Heat dissipates quickly, and by having so much surface area exposed to the open air, you lose tons of efficiency.

For this test I fashioned a simple wind and heat shield out of aluminum foil, and made sure it was high enough to not just cover the stove and protect it from wind, but also provide a heat barrier around the pot itself. The rationale is that by trapping heat around the pot, you diminish the energy loss of the system overall. This means your tablet provides way more heat in a lot less time.

The test proved this perfectly. The small bubbles appeared on schedule between 2.5-3 minutes, and the large bubbles were going strong by 7. However, by 9:10 I had a FULL rolling boil going with a temperature of around 210°F (99°C). Because I’m not at sea level, this is about the temp I needed for a full boil (also accounting for thermometer inaccuracies).

Because of how efficient this system was, I could actually boil water for a full two minutes longer, until the ESBIT tablet died. That means that any worry about contaminants was long gone, and there are no issues using this water for any purpose. This test ended up being the gold standard of all of my tests, turning in the best result by far.

However, I still had one more test that didn’t end up going quite to plan.

Covered pot, no heat/wind shield, 2 ESBIT tablets

For the final test I wanted to see what two ESBIT tablets would do, without a wind/heat shield. I loaded up my stove with two tablets and started the test. Soon I noticed that the flames were getting really intense. There were large licks of red and yellow making their way up the side of the pot.

I reached the small bubble phase between 2-3 minutes, but then I noticed a problem. The bottom of my ESBIT stove has holes in it for ventilation, and the ESBIT tablets were starting to melt through these holes and onto my workbench. I started seeing flames coming from under the stove and decided that this test was over.

I quickly extinguished the entire fire with some room temperature water (ESBIT’s die really fast in water) and carefully set the stove on the driveway to cool. My workbench had a couple scald marks, but, thankfully, seemed no worse for wear. I got everything cleaned up and decided I wouldn’t repeat this test. At least not with the current ESBIT stove that I own (pocket stove).

Even if you could fix the fire hazard, I don’t see a lot of advantage of this method. The flames were shooting everywhere, which is just wasted energy that isn’t helping heat your pot. The biggest issue isn’t the amount of heat, but the level of heat dissipation. Controlling that aspect is the key to success with a stove like this.

Conclusion

As you can see, the best method is to use a wind/heat shield, and a pot lid, to keep all of that energy contained where you want it to be. ESBIT tablets burn hot enough to get the job done, but you need to be cognizant of your environment.

Additionally, there are a lot of different options for stoves and pots that can do a better or worse job. ESBIT has a whole host of different options on their site that use different material and designs. Additionally, many camp meals don’t require a full 16oz (472ml) of water to cook. Often you can get by with a lot less water for simply eating food which is a lot quicker to heat.

I hope you found this testing informative, and maybe inspiring to try a stove method that you may not have worked with before. ESBIT’s are a great option in frigid cold, and can help keep you alive in the dead of winter. Plus, simple aluminum covers and wind/heat shields can be fashioned cheaply, and are very lightweight to carry. Add to this the really economical cost, and ESBIT stoves have a real advantage over some of the other stoves out there. Especially when dealing with the frigid cold of a January night in Minnesota.

The first flakes

I decided I wanted to go for a bit of a longer walk for coffee the other day, and so I set out early, wearing my puffy jacket for the first time this fall. The air was crisp and cool, and the sky to the west looked somewhat foreboding. I wasn’t too concerned and proceeded on my way.

I made it to the coffee shop and ordered my drink and started my walk back, when I was suddenly struck in the side of the face by something wet. I looked around to make sure there wasn’t a cheeky bird flying overhead and was greeted with another drop of wetness on my nose. Within moments the sky opened up and white flakes started descending upon me.

The air was certainly cold enough, but I wasn’t quite expecting to see this quite yet. I know many people who dread the idea of the first snowfall of the year, but I look forward to it. In particular, if we’re turning the corner into deeply frigid temperatures, I’d rather we cover the ground with snow as well. Without snow it’s just drab and cold. I’d much rather have a coating of white, and the ability to play in the snow.

As I walked, the small blizzard picked up its intensity, ever so slightly. Because it wasn’t quite winter yet, the flakes became more akin to sleet, but it still looked enough like snow for me. I stopped at a park shelter to take a quick video, and savor in a peaceful moment (except for the construction trucks backing up a block away).

Today marks the first flakes of the end of 2020. I was glad I was able to experience them first hand.

Trying out air frying

As I’ve done more exploration into the plant-based eating lifestyle, I’ve encountered a lot of people who talk about the healthier benefits of air fries over traditional deep frying. I’ve talked to friends who’ve picked one up, and so tonight I finally decided to take the plunge myself.

I went with the Instant Pot Vortex Plus, a nice simple model that came recommended to me. In addition to air frying it also dehydrates as well as baking. I got it set up and decided to try some frozen french fries to see how well it works.

I found a few different methods online, and decided to try the one that used the rotisserie function. I loaded up the basket with some frozen fries and set it to 17 minutes. The only other step was pressing the rotate button to get the rotisserie spinning. Seventeen minutes later I had fries.

I made more than I needed for an evening snack so I dumped some off on the child before digging in myself. I added no oil to these, and I was surprised at the light crispiness that they had. They even nicely browned on some of the edges. I think I could have gone closer to 18-20 minutes to really get them crispy, but this was still much nicer than just baking in the oven.

My next adventure will be fried tofu. I love the tofu that I get on some asian takeout dishes and would love to be able to put something crispier like that on things that I make at home. I can’t wait to give it a try.

Review: Salsa Muluk Deore 11 (2020)

A couple years ago I finally got myself a fat bike so that I could keep pedaling through the winter, as well as do some off-road singletrack type riding. I wasn’t sure what to get at the time, so I picked up something used off Facebook Marketplace (Framed Wolftrax) and ran it through a couple seasons.

How Jamison buys a bike… again…

The Framed was a nice solid bike, but there were a couple things that drove me to want to upgrade. First, it was just slightly too big for me. Last year I picked up a shorter stem, and that helped, but it still didn’t fix the overall stack/reach problem. I always struggled to feel fully in control of the bike because of this size issue, and I knew that my next bike had to be focused on a better fit for me.

Secondly, I wanted some better components than what the Framed came with. I could have easily upgraded the Wolftrax, but that wouldn’t have fixed the size issue. Therefore, it was time for an upgrade. I decided to focus on two other Minnesota brands that I really like, Salsa and Surly. I spent some time testing some bikes last winter before the season ended, and really found myself enjoying the Surly Ice Cream Truck. Last year’s color was a really bright pink, and I just wasn’t in to it. Nothing against pink (or bright colors), but it just didn’t fit me. I also tested out the Salsa Mukluk and Beargrease, and between the two, I liked the more relaxed feel of the Mukluk.

Fast-forward a few months and the pandemic hits. The entire bike industry is thrown for a loop as more people take up biking to avoid public transportation, and spend more time outdoors. On top of this, the production lines were hit hard and manufactures simply couldn’t produce enough product to keep up with demand. Suddenly, my plan to upgrade this fall hit some major snags.

In mid-August Salsa released their 2020 lineup of fat bikes, and immediately the new Salsa Mukluk Deore 11 caught my attention. I’ve never been a fan of the feel of SRAM shifters, and seeing a basic Shimano set on a mid-range fat bike had me intrigued. Add to this, the color was a beautiful forest green, which when paired with the 5” tan sidewall tires looks incredibly sharp. The problem was that I still wanted to see what Surly was going to drop for their Ice Cream Truck refresh, so I decided to wait.

In the meantime I headed out and did some test rides of the Mukluk, a Beargrease, and a Surly Wednesday. The Beargrease I tested has Shimano SLX and was a dream to shift, but I knew I wasn’t going to drop $3200 on a fat bike. The Wednesday was OK, and about on par with the Mukluk. However, the Mukluk came with Dillinger 5’s (60tpi) stock, which was a big plus for the $1600 price tag. Even though Deore doesn’t feel quite as nice as SLX, I knew I could be satisfied with the Mukluk.

Then, in early September, the news dropped that Surly wouldn’t be releasing their new Ice Cream Truck until mid-December. That pretty much killed any hope for me to be able to compare it side by side with anything else, since bikes were flying off the racks. After spending some time talking with some trusted bike friends, I decided to grab the Mukluk now, and if I want to evaluate the ICT later, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

Wow those sidewalls look good

This was only the first part of the purchasing adventure though. I picked up a Mukluk in a size medium, after being convinced by the bike shop folks that it was the best size for me. I’m right on the edge of Salsa’s sizing between medium and small, at 172.7cm. The small goes to 175cm, and the medium starts at 173. I brought home the medium and went for a couple small rides around the neighborhood with my wife. Within a couple of miles I knew the medium was a mistake. It felt just like the Wolftrax and I knew I needed to go back and exchange for the small.

Testing out the Mukluk

After my sizing dilemma adventure I took an afternoon off of work to do the exchange, and then went right from the bike shop to hit some trails. First up was the Luce Line crushed limestone trail that heads west out of Plymouth, MN. The Mukluk Deore 11 comes with 5” tires, and I knew that it would have no problem with the very buffed out rail-trail. I wanted to open it up on a straight path and get a good feel for the bike, and watch the large tires eat up the ground.

Looking pretty on the Luce Line

With a 30t crank in the front, paired with an 11-51t in the back, I wasn’t going to set any land speed records (the Beargrease comes with a 10t in the back as the smallest cog by comparison). However, the mid-range of the 11-51t was smooth and comfortable, and I found myself able to accelerate to cruising speed smoothly and efficiently. I managed some solid speed on the straightaways (14-15mph pretty easily), and the tires absorbed every bump and imperfection in the crushed limestone. First test… success.

11-51t in the back

Once I got back to the trailhead (after 10 miles or so), I packed up the bike and went to find some food before heading to the Elm Creek Singletrack for the second adventure of the day. I’m a complete noob when it comes to singletrack so I wanted to get there in the middle of the afternoon before it got crowded and my self-confidence got crushed by constantly having to step aside and let the experienced riders pass me.

I was running out of time for the day, so I opt’d for the 6-7 mile loop. The Elm Creek Singletrack hits you with some challenging hills and terrain right from the start, but by mile 2, you get a nice break and can try opening up a bit on some flowy prairie sections. It was while riding on this trail that I realized how much of a difference the size small bike made in my confidence level. I no longer felt like the bike was pushing me. I was in total control and even got myself out of some sticky spots without a single foot touch. It was a huge confidence boost.

One of the most noticeable differences in between the small and medium Mukluk is the bar size. The medium is where the bars jump from 760mm to 800mm, which is the largest they get throughout the entire line. If I had decided to keep the medium I would have certainly needed to cut those 800mm bars down to something more reasonable for my wingspan. I honestly don’t even know how I would have gotten those bars through some of the tight singletrack areas.

Out on the singletrack

With the size dialed in I managed to push through the rest of the singletrack with little issue. The Dillinger 5’s were amazing, and I found myself able to trackstand in tricky situations without much effort at all. I was able to slide through the lower gears with ease, and never found a situation where I had to hit the 51t, all the way the bottom. However, some of the harder parts of the course were after I turned off to head back, so I’m sure I’ll find a use for it sometime.

The Mukluk isn’t going to win any singletrack races (at least not with me piloting it), but it felt incredibly capable, and when I got to the final roller coaster section of trail I was having some of the most fun of my life. The alternator dropout allows me to extend the chainstay from 440 up to 457, which I might try for some winter trails, but the 440 felt great and responsive on the flowing trail.

The hydraulic brakes never let me down and felt smooth and clean on every turn. I know some people rag on the Tektro line, but until my skill level allows me to go a heck of a lot faster, these brakes are rock solid. This is actually my first hydraulic brake set, so I now get to learn how to do bleed’s and fun stuff like that. Another skill to add to my toolset.

What are the things I’d want to change on the Mukluk Deore 11? I could certainly see myself upgrading to Shimano SLX at some point. The smoothness of SLX just can’t be matched at the Deore price point, but for now it serves its purpose. The Volt saddle is adequate, and comfortable enough. I’m not terribly picky about my saddles though. One thing I might change sooner is the grips. I’m trying to get used to the Salsa File Tread Lock-On grips, but of all the components, these might be the first to go. I’m going to give then a few more weeks, but they feel a bit harsh on the hands if I don’t wear gloves. Of course the simpler solution might be to actually wear gloves…

Green on green in the woods works for me…

The Mukluk has a bunch of mounting points, including a 3-pack on the fork, and 3 different frame/bottle mounts. There are no rear rack mounts so you’ll need to use a seat post clamp if you want to go that route. All the cables are internally routed which is a nice touch, and they even include routing channels for a front derailleur and a dropper post. The Dillenger 5’s come ready to be studded and go tubeless, but you’ll need to do that yourself or get your LBS to do that for you.

Am I happy with my purchase? Yes. The Mukluk is a very capable fat bike, with a nice relaxed geometry, decent drivetrain, solid brakes, and great tires. I’ve got about 40 miles on the bike now, and am enjoying every ride I take. Sure, I might check out the Ice Cream Truck when it drops, but for the money, the Salsa Mukluk Deore 11 is a great bike. I’m incredibly happy, and can’t wait to get more opportunity to get it out on the trails both before and after the snow flies.

If you’re looking for a great midrange fat bike, and can find one in your area, this is a great choice to get you out there and riding the dirt.