A night in the bivy

In preparation for my first winter ultra I decided to try and sleep outside last night in my sleeping bag and bivy. I wanted to see what it was like, and what I needed to change. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it all night, as I did need to go to work today, but even a few hours would be a huge benefit.

Here was my equipment list:

  • Eureka Lone Pine 0 degree bag
  • Outdoor Research Helium Bivy
  • REI Flash inflatable sleeping pad
  • Two layers of clothing on the bottom, three layers on the top, heavy wool socks

I ended up being outside from 8:30pm to 1:30am. The only reason I got up was that I had to pee. If it wasn’t for my middle-aged bladder I would have slept longer. I could have crawled back into the bag, but decided that I could call it good and go inside, since I had been out there for a solid 5 hours.

So what worked and what didn’t?

First, my bag was amazing. The air temps last night were in the single digits, so it was right in the range for what my bag was made for. I was probably overdressed on top and could have shed a layer there. If anything I could have used another thin sock on my feet. My only complaint about the layout of my bag is that the storage pocket is in an awkward place on the inside roof. I wish it was closer to the side as I felt like my phone was in the way when it was in the pocket.

The bivy sack did it’s job and kept all my heat inside. It actually got to be a bit too warm and I ended up venting the opening a bit, despite it bringing in cold air. The main issue with bivies is the condensation. When I woke up at 1:30 the top of my sleeping bag was a combination of wet and ice crystals. The entire inside roof of the bivy was coated in water as well. Thankfully, it wasn’t dripping on my face or anything, thanks to the pole that holds up the bivy over my head. However, getting my sleeping bag wet isn’t ideal.

Bivies are also somewhat claustrophobic. They’re small cocoons that aren’t much bigger than your body. There were a few moments when I bedded down where I had a brief moment of anxiety, but it passed quickly. It also helped when I vented the bivy as it allowed me to see the outside a bit more. In the summer I could use the screen closure instead of the solid one which would help a lot more as well.

The final piece of gear was one that I wasn’t that pleased with. I love my REI Flash pad, and I thought that its R-value of 4 would give just a bit more insulation below me. However, I tend to sleep on my side which means that my hip compresses the pad completely in a small area. That also meant that my hip got colder than the rest of me. It wasn’t terrible, but I think for my race I’ll grab a foam Z-Pad instead.

Finally, I should have cleared out my sleeping space better. I just plopped everything down and crawled in, and that meant that the snow was a bit more uneven than it could have been. I could have made things more comfortable if I had patted things down with my boots a bit more before laying down the bag. Not a big issue, but something to consider for another time.

Despite a couple of annoyances, I’m incredibly happy with how the evening went. In a winter ultra context, I’m never going to be bedding down for longer than a few hours at a time anyway. Getting 5 hours of sleep, like I did last night, would be a luxury in a race. If I were to go winter camping, I wouldn’t do it in a bivy, but would instead bring along a tent, and additional equipment to make things comfortable. Therefore, I’m counting last night as a huge success. I have a couple things to adjust, but otherwise I feel in good shape for Tuscobia.

Taking the plunge at Tuscobia

I’ve gotten very involved in the winter ultramarathon scene, including putting on our own winter ultra. One of the reasons I started a small 40 mile race is because I wasn’t sure if I could handle doing the longer distances myself, and I figured there were others out there in the same boat. However, being the race director of a race means it’s hard to actually compete in the event yourself.

However, last year our dear friend Randy Kottke passed away from his battle with cancer while we were all up at the Arrowhead 135 race. Being among everyone up north, celebrating Randy’s life, was powerful. When I attended a small remembrance gathering for him there was a board where you could put up a note, saying what you would do to remember Randy. I decided that I would take the plunge and attempt the Tuscobia 80 mile race.

This morning I signed up and put my money where my mouth is. This one’s for you Randy.

A snowshoe adventure

This February, Minnesota decided to show us what a good old snowmageddon feels like. With over 30 inches of snow in the month it became the snowiest February on record, and one of the snowiest months ever. All of this meant that people like myself who love playing outside in the winter have a magical playground waiting for them. In particular, this year was amazing for getting out the snowshoes.

There was one problem though… I didn’t own any. I hemmed and haw’d for weeks deciding what to buy until finally a couple of weeks ago I pulled the trigger on some clearance Redfeather Hike shoes from REI Outlet. The price was right, and as luck would have it, we had one more snow storm on track for the weekend after they were arriving. I would get at least one shot at using them before we turn into a wet mess.

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This past weekend my buddy Mike B. and I headed out to the Elm Creek Singletrack to snowshoe for a while. The snow had just stopped on Sunday morning and so we were the absolute first people on the trail. We headed out and I got used to the different movement that you need to make when wearing snowshoes. It’s a lot of quad work when lifting your legs higher, and made the entire morning feel like a slight hill workout.

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I need to work on my look. Mike looks way cooler than me!

We were breaking trail the whole way, but the shoes made it easy to stay on top of. We managed to cut a decent path that the bike groomers could use as a base later in the day. Our biggest issue was all of the low hanging branches that were collapsing under the weight of the snow. We had to stop far more often than we would have liked to shake snow off the trees, so that they would no longer bend down and block our path.

img_4166Despite this, the morning was amazingly beautiful. The sky was incredibly blue, and the temps were in the upper 20’s. We only had to wear light layers to stay comfortable, and at times I was even taking off my hat. In the end we did 7 miles in about 3 hours of hiking. My Strava showed that I got a decent workout through it all and I certainly felt the burn when I got done.

img_4167The one issue was that I was wearing my new Vasque Arrowhead boots, and it turns out that they are just a bit too big for me. I will most likely need to wear multiple layers of socks when wearing them in the future. However, I ended up with two very severe blisters on the back of my ankles where my foot was loose.

img_4169When snowshoeing your foot moves up and down a lot, and that meant that my ankles were constantly rubbing. About half-way into the hike I noticed the problem, but I had nothing with me to fix the problem, so I had to just soldier through and get back to the car. Two days later and I’m still in intense pain when they get rubbed. It’s time for some aloe treatments tonight to try and speed up healing.

Despite this issue, I absolutely loved snowshoeing. It was some of the most fun I’ve had out on the trails in a long time. I got to spend time with a good friend, on a beautiful morning, doing something amazing. You can’t ask for much more.

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Some fat bike adventuring

My wife has a side gig as a section leader in a church choir up in Anoka, and sometimes when she’s doing a solo, I’ll go up there to listen to her. Today I decided to make an adventure out of it by riding my fat bike the ~12 miles to get there. Normally, this is a nice easy route that passes through Coon Rapids Dam park, on some beautiful paved paths. However, it’s February in Minnesota, do that means snow.

img_4068Things went really well right from the start when I discovered that the trail that I use to get out of the neighborhood has a nice solid packing down. I was able to ride the entire trail section without issue before dumping out on to roads. The next part of the trip takes me on a bunch of streets until I get back onto a bike path that leads under Highway 610 and into Coon Rapids Dam park. However, this section of the trail was NOT plowed at all.

img_4070There was a small rut that I tried to ride, but after fishtailing off into the deep snow on the side, I decided it was better to just hike-a-bike and walk until the cleared section began again. This section was slow and painful, having to climb over snowbanks at certain points. I really wish they’d clear this section as it’s a really nice area and it would be awesome to ride through in the winter.

I might have been able to make a lot more progress in this section if I had stopped and lowered my tire pressure. I was running at 6psi, and if I had dropped down to 3-4 it may have helped me plow through. However, at the end of this section I was going to be on cleared bike path again, before dumping on to roads. I didn’t want to spend 4-5 miles on flat asphalt running at 3psi, as that would make things a lot harder than I wanted it to be. So, hiking the bike ended up being the better option.

Once I got through this area I ended up dumped onto some groomed cross country trail This wasn’t where I wanted to be, but there were no other paths. I very carefully threaded myself in-between the classic ruts and got out of that as soon as I could. Once I was back on pavement I was able to pick it back up again and keep moving. I found one other groomed trail on the other side of the park that was about two car widths wide, with classic track on one side. The other side was covered in footprints so I decided to just bike through this instead of getting back on roads right away. Probably not the choice I should have made, but I don’t think I did any damage to the trail.

After this it was a lot of bike paths and city streets. The city of Coon Rapids made an attempt at clearing the bike path along Coon Rapids Blvd. but it was still pretty blown over with snow. It was in this section that I really learned what it was like to have a fat bike. I was able to handle a few inches of snow just fine until decided I was ready to battle traffic on the shoulder of the road.

Overall, it was a mostly uneventful ride. I learned a lot about riding in winter, and I’m slowly dialing in my gear. I got some Bar Mitts, and holy crap those things are nice. I can’t imagine riding in winter without them ever again. I still need to work on my footwear. I think for days like today just a solid winter, insulated, boot will work fine. I’ll need something more for sub-artic temps, but a 20 degree day like today is just fine. My core has been staying warm, and I have a nice pair of Marmot windproof pants that keep my legs comfortable (with a layer underneath).

img_4069One area of improvement though is that I need to figure out a better fitting helmet. The one I have keeps me safe, but it rides way too high on my head. This isn’t just a winter problem either. My head is shaped in such a way that it doesn’t ride right even in the summer. I’ll need to do some experimenting.

The ride today was tough, and my heart-rate stayed in the 140’s which is high for biking. There was a lot of challenging terrain to navigate, but I had an awesome time doing it. Once church was done my wife needed to get her run in, so I headed back out again and did a 6 mile run. Needless to say I’m completely wasted as I type this. It’s time for some beer and relaxing before tackling some house things that need to get done tonight.

I’m loving learning to bike in the winter. It feels freeing and I’m excited to do more of it!

A little dome running analysis

Sometimes in the winter months my wife and I decide to retreat to the comfort of running inside a fieldhouse dome. We love running outside in the winter, and the cold doesn’t bother us, but sometimes the conditions are just too severe. Often we’ll do a nice long run outside on Saturday, and then head over to a dome for a nice recovery run on Sunday. Or other times, if the trails and roads are too icy we’ll opt for as many loops as we can do inside a dome.

Thankfully, most GPS watches function inside domes, so you don’t need to resort to counting laps. However, not all domes are created equal. In the past couple months we’ve visited two different domes and have had a chance to see what they look like from a GPS tracking perspective.

First up is our favorite dome, the Plymouth Fieldhouse. This dome is just over 5 laps to a mile, and it’s a nice comfortable temperature almost all winter long. If you look at the GPS track, it’s actually pretty darn good. Almost all of the GPS lines stay within the borders of the building.

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However, sometimes their hours are more limited than we would like to deal with. There’s another dome down in Edina called Braemar Field. It’s just over 4 laps to the mile, and often has a wider range of open times.

However, there’s one slight issue with it’s GPS tracking.

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As you can see, it’s tracking is quite a bit off, but especially on two corners (NW and SE). What’s interesting is that on those two corners of the dome are their surveillance cameras. When you run past those corners you can see two little domed cameras hanging from posts. I’m not sure if they’re wireless or not, but I’m betting there’s something in there that’s throwing off the signals from the satellites.

Its not like the rest of the track is perfect, but it’s wild to see the deviation on those two corners on almost every lap. Overall though, it’s awesome to have these great resources available. Being able to toss aside the wool socks and jackets, and just run in a thin shirt, once in a while, is a ton of fun and a great change from the day-to-day of cold. I certainly wouldn’t want to do a marathon in here, but for a simple training run, it’s awesome.