How to Prepare for Your First Century Bike Ride

Spring has finally sprung, and with it comes one of my favorite times of year: Century Ride Season. If you find yourself gearing up for a big bike ride this spring or summer—whether it’s a “true” century (100 miles), a metric century (100km/62 miles), or one of the shorter distances often offered at big bike events—here are nine tips to make sure your event is a success.

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1. Commit to a Training Plan

If you stay reasonably active year-round, you may think you don’t need to follow a training plan because you’re already fit. Personally, I fall into this trap often. You may also be turned off by training plans, because you think following one means you won’t be able to do the other activities you enjoy for eight to 12 weeks.

But, these plans exist for a reason. And, when you have a century ride on your horizon, it’s super important to find one—and stick with it. A quick internet search will turn up tons of potential plans. Look for one that puts you in the saddle for a minimum of three days per week, increases ride mileage and/or duration steadily each week, and leaves room for you to keep up with other physical activities. After all, activities like running and hiking are great for cross-training. And, as you don’t want to sacrifice strength training, either, keep your favorite boot camp or power yoga class on your schedule, too!

2. Hit a Spin Class (or Invest in a Trainer)

A lot of people love spin classes, but I also know many who can’t stand them. On one hand, spin classes help you mix up your routine and work on drills that are really good for you but that you’d never do on a real ride (I’m looking at you, Figure 8s). As well, you still get your workout in when the weather doesn’t cooperate with your plans.

On the other hand, I get it: riding in place can be boring. But, you know what else is sometimes boring? Century rides! Sure, the start and finish lines are always exciting. But, an hour or two into the ride, when the pack has dispersed, spectators are few and far between, and there’s no more music, you’ll need a strong mental game to keep going. Spin classes, and even trainer rides, are the best way to work on your focus. 

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3. Practice Fixing Flats

Most organized bike rides have a Support and Gear vehicle (often referred to as a SAG Wagon) or two on course at all times and bike techs at all the rest stops. Thus, knowing how to fix flat tires and make minor bike tweaks isn’t completely necessary. But, you should still know how to do it, and on the side of the road mid-century ride isn’t the best time to learn.

Practice fixing flats in your garage, so you can do it efficiently in the event that it happens on century ride day. Additionally, know how to handle chain issues, in case yours starts to give you trouble on the course. And, if you do end up having to perform a fix, be sure to have a tech at the next rest stop give it a once-over to ensure it will make it to the finish without any more problems.

4. Body Glide is Your Friend

Chafing may not be much of an issue when you’re just out on the bike for an hour or two. However, during a century ride, it can become a pretty big pain in the butt pretty quickly. Enter Body Glide, your new best biking friend (BBF). Before you ride, a quick application to high-chafe-risk areas—where the edges of your bike shorts’ chamois rub against your skin and upper inner thighs—prevents a lot of discomfort later on. And, if your feet are prone to blisters, Body Glide also takes care of that problem.

Courtesy: New England Parkinson's Ride
Courtesy: New England Parkinson’s Ride

5. Know Your Body

You’re going to be on your bike for a long time on century ride day. Plan for at least four hours, and that’s if you happen to be the fittest rider on the starting line. As such, it’s super important to know your body inside and out. Use your training rides to experiment with fueling options, so you know what foods and drinks your stomach tolerates the best. If you notice that one or both of your knees (or any part of your body) consistently hurt afterwards, take your bike into your local bike shop to make sure it’s properly fitted to you.

Do your hands get super sweaty while you ride? Bring an extra set of bike gloves to avoid palm blisters. More importantly, if you get to the check-in table and don’t feel like you can make it through a 100-mile ride, listen to your body, and ask if you can switch your registration to one of the shorter courses.

6. Know the Course

The influx of GPS-enabled watches and bike computers and apps like Strava means that even if ride organizers don’t provide course maps on their website—which is pretty rare these days—you should still be able to find a map of it somewhere on the internet. It’s good to know what kind of a ride you’re getting yourself into, especially regarding the elevation profile. Find out how hilly the course will be, and try to find training routes that are similar to set yourself up for success. If you live near the century ride route, or at least part of it, get out there, and train on the course itself! The more you know ahead of time, the more strategic you can be, since you’ll know where you can push yourself and when you should reel it in and conserve some energy.

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7. Know Your Gear

From the bike to your clothes and shoes to everything packed in your bike bag, there’s a lot of gear involved in 100-mile bike rides. Plan your outfit carefully, being sure to choose the bike shorts and jersey that will keep you the most comfortable for four to seven hours in the saddle. If you use clipless pedals, make sure the tension on them is set just right. Make sure you can click in and take off from the rest stops quickly, and get out of your pedals in a hurry, in case you have to stop unexpectedly.

Pack your bike bag thoughtfully, including a bike multitool, tire levers, spare tube(s), and a pump, in addition to anything else you may need, such as those extra gloves mentioned earlier or a travel stick of Body Glide, in case you need to reapply. Above all else, avoid using anything new—clothes, shoes, or pedals—on event day. Stick to the things you know and have been using during training to ensure a successful century ride.

8. Take Your Bike for a Check-Up

This one should be a no-brainer, but it’s one that a lot of people—myself included—often skip. Bring your bike into your local shop for a quick check or tune-up a week or two beforehand to make sure it’s as ready for the big day as you are. After all, while it’s great to have the tools (and necessary knowledge) to fix minor issues yourself, as well as access to rest stop bike techs, not worrying about having a mid-ride breakdown is even better.

9. Have fun!

Everything discussed above is important, or else, I wouldn’t have brought it up. But, perhaps the most important tip is to enjoy the experience. Most century rides are charity events, not races, so there’s no need to push the pace all day. Relax, make new friends, stop to take pictures, eat all the PB&Js you want at the aid stations, and just enjoy the ride—literally.

 

Did I miss something? If you have more tips for aspiring (or returning) century riders, let us know in the comments!

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5 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

Proposed by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1969 and first celebrated in 1970, Earth Day has grown from a small, grassroots movement of nationwide demonstrations and “teach-ins” to a global celebration observed every April 22nd with worldwide rallies, service projects, and conferences.

That first Earth Day led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. A multitude of environmental legislation successes also followed, including expansion of the Clean Air Act, amendments to the Clean Water Act, and passage of the Endangered Species Act. An estimated 20 million Americans had taken part, and that number grew steadily, eventually causing the event to go global in 1990, with 200 million people in 141 countries getting involved. These days, more than one billion people in 195 countries participate in Earth Day activities, and the Earth Day Network assigns a different theme to each year’s celebration. This year, the campaign is End Plastic Pollution. Here are five ways that you can get involved:

Credit: Katie Caulfield
Credit: Katie Caulfield

1. Join a Trail Clean-Up Crew

Check out organizations like the Access Fund, Appalachian Mountain Club, Southeastern Climbers Coalition, or whatever equivalent is local to you to see if they’re hosting a trail clean-up nearby, and join the team! Picking up trail trash—which is, more often than not, plastic—not only helps prevent said waste from leaching chemicals into the soil and water and endangering wildlife, but it also makes spending time on the trail or at the crag far more enjoyable. No local crews to team up with? Start your own! All you need are a few friends and some garbage bags. Just make sure you keep the trash and recyclables separated, of course.

2. Host a Teach-In

Get back to Earth Day’s roots and help educate your community! If you’re a teacher, set aside some time the Friday before to start a conversation with your students about the dangers of improperly disposed-of plastics and ways they can be part of the solution. Troop leader of your child’s scout group? Gather up the den, and make sure the kiddos understand the “Five Rs of Recycling.” Willing to teach but not sure where to find an audience? Check in with your local gear shop, climbing gym, or community center, and ask about setting up an information table or leading a discussion on the perils of plastic.

Credit: Edmund Falkowski
Credit: Edmund Falkowski

3. Take Personal Responsibility

For the most part, good things don’t happen on a large scale, unless you work to make them happen in your own little bubble first. So, if you want to see the decline of plastic pollution on a global scale, you have to first cut down on the amount you use in your daily life. You can start by signing Greenpeace’s “Say No to Plastic Pollution” pledge. Once you’ve committed to reducing your usage, make sure you invest in a good reusable water bottle to ensure your hydration levels don’t take a hit as you cut ties with single-use containers.

Consider leaving a heavy-duty tote bag in your car to use when you’re out shopping. And, the next time you shop for beers to quench your post-adventure thirst, try to steer clear of cans that come in those old-school six-pack rings. If you have no other choice, be sure to cut the rings apart before you throw them away.

4. Practice Leave No Trace (Always!)

Each of the seven principles of Leave No Trace (LNT) is important. But, it seems as though people have the most difficulty adhering to the third one: “Dispose of waste properly.” The amount of times I’ve picked up other people’s trash—primarily plastic bottles and food wrappers—on the trail is staggering. Yet, if more individuals were mindful of their actions, the amount of plastic pollution in our wild places and waterways could be drastically reduced.

But, don’t practice proper waste disposal just on Earth Day. Make sure you adhere to LNT every time you head outdoors and pack out your trash. And, if you want to rack up extra karma, get in the habit of designating a pocket on your pack or taking a small garbage bag on your hikes for picking up trash others have left behind.

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5. Get Involved!

Supporting the Earth Day Network’s campaign to end plastic pollution is a noble endeavor. However, it’s far from the only way to celebrate Earth Day this year (or any year, for that matter). Our open spaces, public lands, and National Parks need all the help they can get, if we want future generations to be able to enjoy the outdoors the way we do now.

If you have the means, consider donating to an organization, such as the Access Fund, the Nature Conservancy, or the Sierra Club. Short on money, but have a little time to spare? Look up volunteer opportunities with groups like Wilderness Volunteers, the Surfrider Foundation, or with the National Parks System’s “Volunteer in Parks” (VIP) Program. Short on time, too? Then, simply take a few minutes to sign any number of petitions that have been created to stop the destruction of our outdoor playgrounds. Protect Our Public Land and the Wilderness Society’s Keep Public Lands in Public Hands are good places to start.

 

How will YOU be celebrating Earth Day this year? Share your plans with us in the comments!


Loosen Up: 8 Yoga Stretches for Runners

Short, tight muscles don’t feel great, and when it comes to running (or hiking or biking or any sport, really), they can lead to imbalances and inefficiency. Foam rolling and massage are effective ways to relieve muscle soreness and boost recovery, but a good stretch session after each run will help lengthen your muscles, putting them in prime condition to crush your next one.

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1. Upward Salute

Most of our post-run poses will address the core and lower body, but your shoulders and upper back deserve a good stretch, too! Spend a few breaths in Upward Salute to stretch the shoulders, back, and armpits. You’ll be surprised by how nice it feels. Begin by standing tall with either your big toes touching or your feet hip-distance apart. Relax your shoulders and rotate the arms, so that your palms face forward. On an inhale, sweep your arms out to the sides and overhead, bringing the palms to touch. However, if that makes your shoulders feel too hunched, keep the arms parallel with the palms facing each other instead. Hold here for a few deep breaths. When you’re ready to move on, use an exhale to hinge forward into a standing-forward fold.

  • Variation: Add in some side bends to stretch your obliques. On an exhale, bend your upper body toward the right, keeping your pelvis facing forward. Inhale back to upward salute, and then, exhale into a left side bend. Repeat three to five times on each side.

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2. Cross-Leg Forward Fold

After spending a few breaths in a regular forward fold, return to standing just long enough to cross your right leg in front of the left. Fold forward again on your next exhale, reaching your fingers to the floor. Spend a few breaths like this, and then, repeat with the left leg in front. Adding the leg cross is a great way to stretch the outer hamstrings and address tight hips and cranky IT bands.

  • Variation: If your legs are too tight to bring your hands to the floor, use a stack of books or a couple of Nalgene bottles to rest them on.

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3. Figure Four Chair

The glutes are a key muscle used in running, and without good balance, runners would just fall all over the place all the time. The best part of this stretch is that it helps with both! Start by standing with your feet somewhere between hip- and shoulder-distance apart and with your hands on the hips. Keeping your weight in the heels, lower your butt toward the floor. Peek down at your toes here; if your knees aren’t blocking them from sight, you’re good to go! Once you’re as low as you can comfortably go, shift your weight onto the right leg, and pick the left leg up, bringing the left ankle to rest on the right thigh. Keep your hands on your hips if you like, or reach the arms overhead. Hold for five to 10 breaths, and then, switch sides.

  • Variation: Use a wall or chair to help keep your balance if you need a little extra stability.

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4. Squat

Hitting the road, trail, or track for miles at a time is a lot easier when your legs function with a full range of motion. And, an easy way to stretch and increase (or maintain) your legs’ range of motion—front, back, inner, outer, and from ankle to hip—is by spending some time in a “yogi’s squat.” Begin by standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart, and lower into as deep of a squat as you can while keeping your heels on the floor. If the heels won’t stay down, try placing a rolled-up towel under them. Bring your palms together in front of your chest, and use your elbows to gently press the knees away. Hold for at least 10 breaths, and then, bring your hands to the floor and step your feet back to come into a plank.

  • Variation: If your hips could use a little bit deeper stretch, spend a few breaths slowly rocking side to side before moving onto your plank.

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5. Plank

There’s a fun little saying in the yoga world that “the pose you don’t like is the pose you need,” and the proof is in the pudding—er, plank. I’ve never met anyone, runner or otherwise, who enjoys holding plank pose, but the benefits of this simple-looking exercise are so vast that it’s one we should all probably be doing every day. Runners can use plank to build strength in their core, glutes, and legs all at once—not to mention mental strength, which some runners may argue is just as important as physical strength.

On the off-chance you’ve never done a plank before, here’s the deal: The goal is to create a long line from your heels to your head. Keep the wrists directly under the shoulders, gaze down-but-slightly-forward to maintain neutrality in your neck, press back through your heels, and don’t let your butt sag or stick up too high. Keep your core engaged by “pulling” your belly button toward the spine. Hold for as long as you can, and then, use Downward-Facing Dog or Child’s Pose to rest.

  • Variation: There are so many! If a traditional plank is too intense, lower your knees to the floor, or try a forearm plank instead. If you want to spice things up a bit, play around with leg lifts, “running planks,” or side planks. Want to stretch the obliques some more? Lower to forearm plank, and do a few rounds of hip dips.

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6. Lizard Pose

Everyone wants a “tight butt,” but for runners, tight glutes are no bueno—especially when you’re trying to nail your hill repeats and speed workouts. Use lizard pose to give your glutes some post-run love, as well as to stretch the hip flexors, hamstrings, and quads. From your plank, step the right foot up to the outside of your right hand. Lower the left knee to the floor for a little less intensity, or keep it lifted for a deeper stretch. If it’s comfortable, lower down to your forearms; if not, continue pressing into the floor through your hands. Stay here for about 10 breaths, and then, switch sides.

  • Variation: If it feels okay, gently roll onto the outer edge of the front foot to open up the hips and stretch the groin and hamstrings a little more.
  • Variation: Add in a deep quad stretch by lowering the back knee to the floor and bending the leg, reaching back to hold onto your foot or ankle with the same side hand.

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7. Toes Pose

Whether your dogs are barking because you suffer from plantar fasciitis or simply ran a little too hard today, it’s important to stretch out the soles of your feet. Begin on all fours with your toes tucked so that the balls of your feet are on the floor. Keep it here if you can already feel the stretch through the bottoms of your feet; otherwise, start to walk yourself back toward a kneeling position. If you can bear it, sit all the way back on your heels with a nice, tall spine and hold for up to a minute.

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8. Legs Up the Wall

If you only have time for one yoga pose after a run, make sure it’s this one. Legs up the wall not only feels amazing, but it also gently stretches the hamstrings and lower back, helps reduce swelling and cramping in the feet and legs, slows down your heart rate, and can boost circulation. Start by sitting with one hip as close to a wall as possible. In one semi-fluid motion, roll your upper body down and swing your legs up, so that you’re lying flat on your back with your legs, well…up the wall. You can control the intensity of the stretch in the backs of your legs by shimmying closer to or farther from the wall. When you find the sweet spot, close your eyes and rest for as long as you want—you’ve earned it!

  • Variation: If your hips and inner thighs could still use more stretching, move the legs into a “V” shape for a wide-legged legs up the wall, OR bring the soles of the feet together and use your hands to gently push the knees toward the wall.

7 Reasons You Should Take Your Running Off-Road

There’s no denying that road running is a great workout. It’s perhaps the most convenient way to exercise, but it’s not always the most enjoyable. There are cars to contend with, it can be jarring to your body, and running the same few loops through your town eventually just gets boring.

If you’ve found yourself tending toward the “hate” end of your love-hate relationship with running lately, it might be time to try taking your runs off-road. Trails are a lot like roads, except they’re a little more challenging and far more enjoyable. There are plenty of reasons it’s worth switching from pavement to dirt, starting with these seven:

1. It’s a good excuse to slow down

Sure, running fast has its benefits—and getting faster is often a runner’s main goal—but slowing down every once in a while is good for you, too. The road, however, has a sneaky way of making runners feel like they constantly need to push their pace. When you hit the trail, the roots, rocks, uneven terrain, and steeper inclines naturally force you to run slower. In fact, expect a pace anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes slower than your typical rate. But, you’ll never feel guilty about it.

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2. There’s no traffic

If you enjoy the smell of exhaust, horns honking, doing that silly jog-in-place thing road runners do at intersections, and the risk of getting hit by a car, then by all means keep pounding the pavement. But, if you’re looking for a way to get away from all the noise, fill your lungs with fresh air, only stop when you want to, and not have to worry about being pancaked, it’s time to hit the trail. As a bonus, the animals you’ll see will generally be alive, instead of mangled in the middle of the road—just be sure to keep your distance from them.

3. The scenery is way better

Every once in a while on a road run, I’ll pass by a building or house that looks cool enough to make me slow down and stare for a second. Most of the time, though, there’s nothing truly fascinating or beautiful to look at when you hit the streets. Trails, on the other hand, are much more aesthetically pleasing, from the colors, including lush greens in spring and summer, bright reds and yellows and oranges in the fall, and enchanting crystalline whites in the winter, to the way the sun shines through the trees to reaching scenic vistas and overlooks. Nothing you see on the road will ever beat the magic of the wilderness.

4. You’ll develop greater proprioception

In addition to being a fun word to say, proprioception is hugely important when it comes to running. After all, without awareness of where your body and its parts are in space, you wouldn’t be able to run without looking down at your feet the entire time. With all of the extra obstacles trail running presents—things like rocks, roots, fallen trees, and water crossings—your proprioceptors get as good a workout as the rest of you. In turn, this leads to better stability, balance, and the ability to better judge when and how to adjust your stride whenever you encounter one of those aforementioned obstacles.

5. It’s easier on your joints

There’s a reason people refer to road running as “pounding pavement.” Paved roads are hard, and every time your foot strikes down, a shockwave runs through your body. Of course, our bodies are designed to handle this kind of stress, and for the most part, they’re really good at it. But, over time, it can lead to trouble, especially in your knees. Running on trails reduces some of that stress. Particularly, the ground is softer, allowing your foot to slightly sink in when it lands and absorbing some of the shock before it makes its way up your leg.

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6. It’s a better workout

Running on the road is an incredible workout. It builds strength in the legs, increases cardio fitness, and burns a lot of calories. Running on a trail does all of that, in addition to naturally incorporating lateral (side to side) movements by forcing you to avoid obstacles, improving balance, and potentially burning even more calories.

7. It makes you faster on the road

Because trail running offers a better overall workout—especially if you do your hill repeats in the woods, which generally have steeper, more sustained inclines than paved hills—your overall running fitness and economy will improve. Don’t be surprised when your road running paces start to get faster as you spend more time on the trails.

 

Now you tell me: Are you a trail running convert? What made you switch? Or, are you sticking it out on the road (and why)? Leave your thoughts in the comments!


MntnReview: 'Meru'

Meru_PosterwebThere isn’t a “wrong” time to watch Meru. But, the best time may be after a trip that didn’t quite go as planned.

Maybe you were a half-mile shy of the summit when a massive storm rolled in and turned you around, and torrential rains made the descent a little spicier than you’re used to. Maybe your day at the crag got cut short after a whipper left you too shaken to get a good grip on even the juggiest holds. Or, maybe you had to call it quits and head into the lodge while your friends kept skiing because you tried to make a jump and ended up snapping one of your skis (but thankfully not your leg) in two.

These kinds of days are best for a film like Meru. You and I both know that, even though your luck didn’t hold this time, it’s not going to stop you from trying again another day. And, that’s exactly the point Meru so beautifully proves.

This mesmerizing 2015 documentary, recently released for streaming on Netflix, tells the story of one of the toughest first ascents in climbing history. In 2008, Conrad Anker and Jimmy Chin—two of the world’s most notable expedition climbers—attempted to summit the Shark’s Fin route of the Himalayas’ Meru Peak with up-and-comer Renan Ozturk. However, the trio ended up stranded in their portaledge for four days. Snow pummeled down on them, and their rations became low.

When the weather finally broke, they set out, determined to summit before depleting their remaining food supply. Yet, they bailed 100 meters from the top, because each of the men were totally spent. It’s funny how that happens when you try to make seven days’ worth of food last for more than two weeks. And, completing the route would have also required bivvying at 20,000 feet—a risk they were unwilling to take.

When the weather finally broke, they set out, determined to summit before depleting their remaining food supply.

Three years and several less-ambitious-but-still-badass trips later, the team agreed to try summiting Meru again. However, on a video shoot in the Tetons with snowboard legend Jeremy Jones five months out from the trip, Ozturk suffered near-fatal injuries in a skiing accident, while Chin watched helplessly. Four days later, once Ozturk was stable in the hospital, Chin returned to finish the project, only to get swept away in a 2,000-foot avalanche. Miraculously unscathed (physically, at least), Chin took some time off from adventuring before ultimately concluding that “the idea of not skiing and not climbing and not being in the mountains was too much to imagine.”

Somehow, despite two-thirds of the team coming face-to-face with mortality mere months earlier, Anker, Chin, and Ozturk managed to return to Meru in September of 2011. While team members had not fully recovered and may have suffered a stroke halfway through the expedition, they successfully summited the Shark’s Fin this time around.

“It’s hard in this really complicated way. [It’s] defeated so many good climbers.”

During the 90-minute film, Jon Krakauer describes Meru as, “Not just hard. It’s hard in this really complicated way. [It’s] defeated so many good climbers. It will probably defeat you and me. It will defeat everybody for all time. That, to a certain kind of mindset, is an irresistible appeal.”

Meru is an extreme example, of course, and is out of the question for most of us. But, those of us who routinely heed the mountains’ siren song indeed possess Krakauer’s mindset, even if it is on a smaller scale. Whether you’re a weekend warrior tackling a 4,000-footer or a team of professionals scaling a previously unsummitable 21,000-foot peak, adversity is part of the game. And, it just so happens that it’s the part that appeals to us most. Specifically for us, there’s nothing more satisfying than defeating the obstacles that try so hard to defeat us first.


Senior Superlatives: Valentine's Day Adventure Dates

Whether you’re looking to slide into romance, hike into their heart, or tie the knot this Valentine’s Day, consider one of these awesome outdoor-inspired trips to stoke the adventurous spirit—and the passion—between you and your special someone.

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Most Likely to Make Your Date Feel Like Royalty: Ice Castles, Lincoln, NH

Treat your significant other like the king or queen they are by surprising them with a trip to the Ice Castles in Lincoln, New Hampshire. If you tour the castles early, you can finish the day toasting to your relationship at Seven Birches Winery at the RiverWalk Resort less than a mile away. If wine tastings aren’t your thing, spend the day shredding the gnar at Loon Mountain instead, and hit the Ice Castles at night to see them all lit up. Once there, check out a fire dancing performance, and stay warm with cinnamon buns and cocoa.

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Best Place for a Romantic Outdoor Getaway: The Berkshires, Western MA

No matter what your winter sport of choice is—skiing or snowboarding, snowshoeing, hiking, or cross-country skiing—there are plenty of places to do it in the Berkshires. So, make Valentine’s Day last an entire weekend by treating your beloved snow bunny to a little bit of everything this winter wonderland has to offer: ski under the lights at Jiminy Peak on Friday night, hike Mount Greylock on Saturday, and then, spend a few hours Nordic skiing on trails designed by seven-time Olympian John Morton at Hilltop Orchards. And, be sure to end the weekend on a high note at Furnace Brook Winery while you’re there. Accommodations in the area range from quaint Rockwell-esque bed-and-breakfasts to lavish five-star resorts, making it easy to find the perfect place to turn up the romance (or just recover from the day’s activities) each night.

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Most Likely to Earn You a Gold Medal in Dating: Olympic Sports Complex, Lake Placid, NY

Much like the Berkshires, Lake Placid is basically a winter athlete’s paradise. In addition to world-class skiing and so many great winter hikes that it’ll be hard to choose which one (or two) you want to tackle, this cold-weather haven nestled in the heart of the Adirondacks takes it a few steps further with some of the best ice climbing in the northeast, miles and miles of fat biking trails, and, of course, the Olympic Sports Complex, where you can take a run in a real bobsled, take a biathlon lesson, or ice skate on the same rink the 1932 USA Men’s Speed Skating Team made history with a gold medal sweep. If a date here doesn’t get you a podium finish, nothing will.

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Coolest Date (Literally): Guided Mt. Washington Trip with EMS Schools

Bring your Valentine to the top of the world, or at least of New England, on one of the literally coolest dates ever: a winter ascent of Mount Washington with the EMS Climbing School. Bundle up and head to North Conway, New Hampshire to show the “world’s worst weather” that you’re not afraid of it. Because even if the snow is falling and the wind is blowing, it shows you can weather the storm; you’ve got your love to keep you warm.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Best Way to Warm Their Heart: With a Big, Fancy Rock…Climbing Trip in the South

Even people who truly enjoy winter eventually reach a point in which they’d like to escape it for a few days. If you and your honey are tired of the cold, use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to head south (or southwest) for a warm-weather climbing trip. I’m someone who is typically so anti-Valentine’s Day that my mom sends me a Halloween card every February 14th, but the year that my now-husband took me to Horse Pens 40 for a mid-February bouldering vacation was the best Valentine’s Day I can remember. In fact, I almost surprised him with a Vegas Valentine’s weekend to climb at Red Rocks this year, since we both loved climbing there so much last spring. If you’re into grand gestures, a trip like this is perfect…and even if it’s not the rock she was hoping for, I promise she’ll love it.


Stretch it Out: 7 Yoga Stretches To Do After a Day on the Slopes

I love a proper après just as much as the next person. But, after a long day on the slopes, a good stretch can be just as satisfying as a good brew. Throwing in a few yoga poses before getting hydrated not only helps the body recover from the runs taken that day, but it will also help build strength in all the right places, so you’ll be as ready as ever for your next ski day.

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1. Reclined Child’s Pose

Skiing and snowboarding both ask a lot of your feet and ankles. So, let’s give them a break for a few minutes by lying down. Then, hug the knees in toward the chest, and slowly roll your feet around a few times in each direction to give the ankles some love. Your hips have also done a lot of work, so go ahead and “draw” circles in the air with your knees (one at a time or both together) to relieve some of the tension there, as well. If you’re still not quite ready to come up yet, take some time to gently roll back and forth for a nice little back massage first.

  • Variation: If hugging the knees toward your chest is uncomfortable, try guiding them toward the armpits instead.

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2. Downward-Facing Dog

There’s a reason yoga classes typically involve so many down dogs. Well, actually, there are a lot of reasons. For skiers and boarders, some of the more relevant benefits of this “basic” pose include stretching and toning hamstrings and calves, working the small stabilizer muscles in the feet and ankles, and strengthening the muscles in your back and core.

To come into your Downward-Facing Dog, start on your hands and knees, with your toes tucked under. On an exhale, press through your hands, and start to lift the knees off the floor while keeping them slightly bent. As your spine begins to lengthen, start to straighten the legs, pressing your heels toward the floor and being careful not to lock out your knees. Keep in mind that they don’t have to touch all the way down! Then, take a few moments to “walk your dog” by pedaling through the feet, before you settle into stillness. As you do this, still actively press through the hands, working the heels toward the floor and lifting the hips high. Hold the pose for as long as you are comfortable, ideally up to two minutes.

  • Variation 1: With extra-tight calves or hammies, straightening the legs can feel not-so-great. Instead, try keeping a gentle bend in the knees to take some of the pressure off the backs of your legs.
  • Variation 2: If your wrists get cranky in this pose, practice Dolphin Pose instead by lowering onto your forearms while keeping the rest of your alignment the same.

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3. Standing Forward Fold

From Downward-Facing Dog, walk the feet up toward the hands on an inhale, keeping your feet about hip-distance apart and your knees as bent as they can stay comfortable. If possible, allow your palms or fingertips to rest on the floor. Otherwise, let your arms simply dangle, use the hands to clasp opposite elbows, or give yourself a hug by wrapping your arms around your legs. Spend anywhere from five to 10 breaths here to give your calves, hamstrings, and hips a well-earned stretch. This also makes it easier to buckle your boots or strap into your bindings without sitting down the next time you hit the slopes.

  • Variation: If your shoulders and upper back are asking for some attention, try my favorite variation. Wrap your arms around your legs, cross the wrists behind your calves, and hold the shins with opposite hands: right hand to left shin, and left hand to right shin.

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4. Chair Pose

I know, I know. You’ve basically been in this position all day, and now that you’re off the mountain, it’s the last thing you want to do. But, trust me. This is definitely a “hurts so good” kind of thing. By holding this variation of a squat, the entire leg, from ankle to thigh, gets stronger. Many sports injuries—and not just from snow sports—happen when muscles get fatigued and your form gets sloppy. The way I see it, if holding Chair Pose for 30 to 60 seconds now makes it easier to maintain proper form for an extra run or two on your next ski day, it’s worth the burn!

Come into Chair Pose from Standing Forward Fold by bending your knees and lifting the upper body, keeping your spine long and strong. Keep your hips as low as you comfortably can without letting your knees move past your toes. Ideally, your knees should be more or less in line with the ankles. So, try shifting your weight into the heels and lifting your toes to ensure all of the leg muscles are getting in on the action, rather than making your quads do all the work. You can reach your arms overhead, and bring the palms together at heart center. Or, if you haven’t already put them away, hold onto your ski poles for extra “authenticity.”

  • Variation: If you shredded the gnar a little too hard today and can’t possibly hold yourself up in this pose, do a wall sit instead. You’ll still reap the benefits of Chair Pose, but the wall will take out some of the work for you.

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5. Warrior I & II

The first two Warrior Poses are just about as common as downward-facing dog in a typical yoga class, and for just as many reasons. These poses have a sneaky way of working almost every part of the body—just like skiing and snowboarding. Not only do Warrior I and II stretch and tone your thighs, calves, and ankles, but they also strengthen your shoulders, chest, and back, work the psoas (deep-core muscles responsible for, among other things, maintaining good posture and stabilizing your spine), and help increase stamina.

To come into Warrior I, first settle into a high lunge by stepping your right leg back about three to four feet and bending into the left leg, so that the knee is over the ankle and your thigh is almost parallel to the floor. Once you’ve adjusted your stance and are comfortable, spin your right heel down, so that the foot is somewhere between 45 and 90 degrees, while keeping your hips and upper body facing forward.

  • Variation: Stay in high lunge with the back heel lifted, if taking it to the floor puts too much strain on the back leg.

Reach your arms overhead, and gaze up at your fingertips— only if it’s comfortable for your neck.

Hold Warrior I for five to 10 breaths, and then, transition into Warrior II on an exhale by rotating your torso to the right, opening your arms out to the sides and parallel to the floor, and resting your gaze wherever is most comfortable. Traditionally, this is over the left fingertips. Stay in Warrior II for five to 10 breaths, and then, repeat both poses on the opposite side.

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6. One-Legged King Pigeon Pose

You may not notice it at the time, but while you’re busy having the best day ever sliding downhill, your hips are working overtime—especially if you’re skinning or booting up the mountain to earn those turns. Now that you’re done for the day, it’s time to reward those hips for their hard work with Pigeon Pose. Start in Downward-Facing Dog, lift your right leg, and shift your weight forward while hugging the right knee into the chest. Then, set the right leg down, resting the right knee behind the right wrist and the right ankle near the left wrist. Press your palms or fingertips into the floor to keep the spine long, and rest here for 30 to 60 seconds to help lengthen your hip flexors, increase your hips’ range of motion, and stretch the hamstrings. Repeat on the left side.

  • Variation 1: If it feels okay, walk the hands away from you. Then, fold the upper body down to also work into the lower back.
  • Variation 2: If your quads could use a deeper stretch, bend the back knee, and reach for the foot, ankle, or shin with your hand.
  • Variation 3: If this expression of Pigeon Pose causes too much stress, strain, or pain anywhere in your body, try performing a Figure 4 stretch while sitting in a chair or lying on your back instead.

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7. Boat Pose

To wrap up your post-ski or snowboard yoga session, spend some time in Half Boat Pose to strengthen your core, including the psoas, spine, and hip flexors, and to stretch out the hamstrings a little bit more. Start by coming into a seated position with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Engage the core, and lift your arms out in front of you. Then, without rounding the spine, slowly start to lean back and lift the legs, until they’re in line with the arms and your calves are parallel to the floor. Hold for three to five breaths, release, and repeat one or two more times.

  • Variation 1: Hold onto the backs of the thighs, instead of keeping the arms outstretched, for additional support.
  • Variation 2: If you’re up for more of a challenge, begin to straighten the legs into “full” Boat Pose.

Senior Superlatives: Ski Resort Bars

Winter is finally upon us, which means it’s time to dust off your skis or snowboard and head for the glorious, snow-covered hills. For the drinkers among us, it also means it’s time to reacquaint ourselves with some of New England’s greatest watering holes. As you plan your next ski trip, don’t forget to take into account the après scene at whichever resort you’re considering, and spend a little time thinking about the perfect bar for you.

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Bar most likely to have snowboarders pretending to be skiers: General Stark’s Pub, Mad River Glen

While the trails at Mad River Glen are available only to skiers, General Stark’s Pub welcomes boarders as well. Boasting some of Vermont’s best brews on tap, a view of the iconic single chair, and a rad old-school atmosphere that other resorts would die for, General Stark’s is a two-plank paradise guaranteed to convince snowboarders that “two is better than one” applies to more than just drinks.

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Best bar for a midday refueling: Onset Pub, Crotched Mountain

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Uh, isn’t every ski bar good for a midday drink?” And, the answer is “yes.” But, Onset Pub at Crotched teamed up with Henniker Brewing a few seasons ago to create their delicious signature IPA called “Rocket Fuel,” named after the mountain’s high-speed lift, the Rocket. Thus, this drink makes Onset the best bar for a lunchtime refuel. Just be careful, though. This super-smooth brew is 7% ABV and has maybe resulted in skiers calling it a day a little earlier than planned.

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Bar most likely to have skiers wearing jeans: Coppertop Lounge, Wachusett Mountain

I’ve often heard that Wachusett Mountain is one of the country’s most profitable ski areas. It sounds absurd at first, but then, you realize how conveniently located it is—30 minutes from Worcester, an hour from Boston, and just over an hour from Providence—and it all makes sense. However, Wachusett’s proximity also means that it attracts a large number of “I ski once or twice a year and don’t actually own ski pants” skiers. If you don’t notice them on the slopes, they’ll definitely catch your attention when you head into the bar for some après libations. They’re the ones rocking snow-soaked denim and looking miserable.

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Most fun bar name: Schwendi Hutte, Waterville Valley

I mean, does this one even need an explanation? If you’re not convinced “Schwendi Hutte” is fun to say, you’re probably pronouncing it incorrectly. Or, perhaps, you just need a second round.

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Best bar to leave your boots on: Paul Bunyan Room, Loon Mountain

Whether it’s the roaring fire, the stoked patrons, or its closeness to the gondola (and the accompanying lure of “just one more run!”), there’s something about the Bunyan Room in Loon Mountain’s Base Lodge that begs you to keep your boots on. Of course, it could also be that the 11 a.m. opening time has you seated at the bar well before après has begun, and there’s just no way you can call it a day so soon.

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Best spring deck scene: Wildcat Pub, Wildcat Mountain

In addition to having some of the best spring skiing conditions in New Hampshire, Wildcat is also one of my favorite places to après in the late season. While the deck itself seems small and quickly gets crowded, everyone there is undoubtedly happy—the aforementioned baller conditions may play a role—and the air is simply abuzz with stoke. From the deck, you can also get a great view of the slopes and prime seating for watching the action without getting wet on pond skim day.

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Best bar at a “family friendly” mountain: Black Bear Tavern, Smugglers’ Notch

Just because Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch has earned a reputation for being one of the Northeast’s most family-friendly resorts doesn’t mean it isn’t equipped with an awesome bar. The Black Bear Tavern, located in the mountain’s base lodge, offers a great selection of strong local Vermont beers. It’s perfect for drowning your sorrows after getting smoked by the kiddos on the region’s only triple black diamond run, Black Hole.

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Most likely to make you spend even more than the cost of your lift ticket: Castlerock Pub, Sugarbush

Vermont is renowned for many things: rolling green hills, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and, most importantly, micro brews. Located in the heart of beer country are Sugarbush Resort and Castlerock Pub. While Sugarbush’s Castlerock Peak delivers some of the resort’s best terrain, its namesake pub features some of Vermont’s best and most-sought-after brews, including iconic ales from producers like the Alchemist, Lawson’s, and Hill Farmstead. You can easily spend more time at the bar than on the hill, and more money at the bar than at the ticket window.

 

And, now, over to you, fellow ski beer enthusiasts: Which New England ski resort bar is your favorite and why? Tell us about it in the comments, so we can head there next weekend!


Gifts for Girls Who are "One of the Guys"

Whenever I do anything outdoors, I’m almost always the only girl in the group. This means I’ve had plenty of time over the years to figure out the best gear to help me either keep up or kick butt. So, if you’re shopping for a girl who often finds herself in the same situation, here’s a list of things I use to make hanging out with a bunch of dudes easier and more fun.

Courtesy: Ashley Peck
Courtesy: Ashley Peck

Climbing: Petzl Elia Climbing Helmet

I was tired of a helmet that only sat on my head properly if my ponytail was in just the right spot. The boys were also tired of waiting for me to fix my hair before or after each climb. A few years ago, I received the Petzl Elia as a gift, and this problem hasn’t been an issue since! Other companies “girl-ify” helmets by simply making them in prettier colors, but taking it a step further, Petzl developed a headband that actually accommodates a ponytail in multiple positions. It also weighs just 10 ounces and adjusts to fit any head perfectly. So, your climber girl will probably forget she’s even wearing it and will have an extra-safe hike back to the car after a day of cragging.

Hiking and Camping: GoGirl Female Urination Device

I wouldn’t say I’ve ever wished I was, um, “built like a man.” But, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous of how much easier it is for my male hiking partners to heed nature’s call when we’re out on the trail. If the lady hiker on your list has ever complained about popping a squat in the woods, treat her to a GoGirl this holiday! Not only does it have a fun name (if you ignore the medieval-sounding “Female Urination Device” part of it), but it also helps level the pee-playing field and virtually eliminates the risk of getting poison ivy in unfortunate places.

Courtesy: Ashley Peck
Courtesy: Ashley Peck

Biking: CamelBak Women’s L.U.X.E. Hydration Pack

It might just be that my husband and his friends are crazy people, but they hate taking breaks during a bike ride. If I start to get hangry while we’re mountain biking, they’ll cave and let me take a quick food break. However, I wouldn’t stand a chance of staying properly hydrated without my Camelbak Women’s L.U.X.E Hydration Pack. If the biker chick on your list has to keep up with the boys, or if she’s the ambitious one who doesn’t like to stop, make sure she stays sufficiently watered out on the trail with this super-comfy pack that holds enough fluid to ride for hours on end.

Skiing: DryGuy Green HEAT 2-in-1 Heater

Just because the weather gets cold that doesn’t mean the outdoors-woman will stop adventuring. It does, however, mean she might need some extra help staying warm. Whenever I’m skiing, snowboarding, or winter hiking with the boys, it always seems like I’m the only one whose hands are freezing, no matter how nice my gloves or mittens are. Hand-warmer packs help a little, but the DryGuy GreenHEAT 2-in-1 Heater is the BEST. It’ll warm your snow sister’s hands instantly, recharge her phone (or headlamp), and help the planet by reducing hand-warmer waste—making it a win-win-win.

Courtesy: MTI Adventurewear
Courtesy: MTI Adventurewear

Paddling: MTI Moxie PFD

Don’t let your water woman settle for any ol’ life jacket. She may have to wait a few months to use it, but when she unwraps a made-for-her PFD like the MTI Moxie this holiday, she’ll be happier than a seagull with a french fry. What makes the Moxie so comfy is its Adjust-a-Bust fit System—certainly giggle-worthy every time she and her guy friends get on the water. It’s truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Courtesy: Mountainsmith
Courtesy: Mountainsmith

All of the Above: Mountainsmith Sixer

If all else fails, the Mountainsmith Sixer is always a safe bet. For a girl who’s one of the guys, you can be sure of one thing: Beers are a staple of every adventure. And, if the mountain maven you’re shopping for is the one who supplies the cold brews at the end of the day, she’ll always be the boys’ favorite bro.


MntnReview: 'Where You'll Find Me' by Ty Gagne

“Do you own a PLB?” my mom asked out of nowhere one afternoon this summer.

Embarrassingly, despite spending a decade of my life working in outdoor retail, I had to Google it to know what she was talking about. It’s a personal locator beacon, duh.

“Like, for skiing?” I asked, trying to put off telling her that I do not, in fact, have one.

“Like for any of the crazy stuff you and your husband do!”

[*eyeroll emoji*]

Eventually, I learned why she was suddenly so curious. She had attended a presentation given by Ty Gagne, author of Where You’ll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate Matrosova, and had convinced herself that I would die on top of a mountain without one.

I remembered being equal parts sad and annoyed when the stories about Matrosova and her ill-fated hike of the Presidential Traverse first came to light in February 2015.

When Gagne’s book was finally released about two months later, I came home from work to find a copy sitting on my front porch—courtesy of my mom. I held off on reading it for a few weeks, however. I was in the middle of a different book at the time, and I remembered being equal parts sad and annoyed when the stories about Matrosova and her ill-fated hike of the Presidential Traverse first came to light in February 2015. And, I wasn’t in a hurry to revisit those feelings.

Kate Matrosova
Kate Matrosova

But, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.

Roughly the first half consists of Gagne meticulously piecing together what happened as Matrosova attempted to complete the northern section of the Presidential Traverse (from Madison to Washington) in one day, by herself. Throughout, Gagne tells Matrosova’s story in incredible detail—and without judgment. Data gleaned from her Suunto watch and Garmin GPS, in addition to Gagne’s own exhaustive research, puts her journey together. While he factors in the broader psychology of risk analysis and decision making, he further makes it clear how easy it would be for any confident, hyper-motivated hiker to make the same mistakes.

It further reminds you that, no matter how prepared you may be, how much experience you have, or how detailed a game plan you’ve created for yourself, when you head into the mountains, you are at their mercy.

The book’s second half reconstructs the search and rescue (SAR) effort. Specifically, this pertains to the timeline from the minute NH Fish and Game received the call about Matrosova activating her PLB to the moment the rescue teams returned to the trailhead with her body. Among my personal knowledge of the area, recognizing some of the rescue crew (shout out to Charlie Townsend, a former EMS Climbing School Guide), and Gagne’s ability to explain the entire SAR process in such great-yet-easy-to-comprehend detail, the story gets especially compelling.

As winter approaches and hikers begin to think about their seasonal objectives, reading Where You’ll Find Me should be at the top of your to-do list. Not only is the book a quick and easy read, but it further reminds you that, no matter how prepared you may be, how much experience you have, or how detailed a game plan you’ve created, when you head into the mountains, you are at their mercy. Oh, and if you happen to have a super-motivated but PLB-less hiker in your life, don’t be afraid to “mom” them and give them a copy of Where You’ll Find Me as a hint gift!