My story in today's New York Times, "On a Roll in Wisconsin," covers road biking in Trempealeau County, Wis., a 20-mile-wide municipality with bluffs, farms fields, deep tributary ravines, and 382 miles of paved roads that some tout as the best for biking in the entire USA.
Here's the kicker: The emptiest of Trempealeau's roads see an average of only three cars per hour, creating a virtually car-less bike paradise for riders in the region.
I rode in Trempealeau for this story in late May, participating in the Arcadia Memorial Tour, the second on a circuit of five "Tour de Trempealeau" events scheduled for 2008. The noncompetitive group-rides tour the twisting and hilly two-lane roads of Trempealeau County, where ribbons of dark asphalt and concrete are laced over a wedge of bluffs that crash down at the Mississippi River valley in the west.
“We have a unique combination of unlimited scenic views, unlimited blacktop and very little vehicle traffic,” said Ron McKernan, a Tour de Trempealeau organizer.
Pastoral and hilly, studded with rock-topped bluffs and cut deep by ravines, Trempealeau’s topography is typical of the Driftless Area, a regional zone along the Mississippi River. The roads -- narrow and swooping, shouldered by deep ditches of grass -- felt like a private bike track on the tour, with riders elbow to elbow across half its width.
In this third look at the latest gear from the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show I have uncovered stylish sunglasses made for fishermen, water shoes that look like skate shoes, and a luxury rooftop cargo box from Thule that will sell for $800. . .
H. Toad Cayo
This techy T-shirt can take you "from trailhead to summit and taco stand to dance floor." That's according to ***** Toad, which commissioned this everyday shirt to be constructed with a proprietary fabric called DynoSoar that is made from 85% recycled poly Dri-release and 15% organic cotton. DynoSoar feels like cotton but has performance properties for wicking, drying, comfort and odor control. $54; available February 2009; http://www.hornytoad.com
Thule Excellence Roof Box
Advertised as "ultra premium," the Excellence rooftop cargo box from Thule has 18 cubic feet of capacity and touches like struts, stiffeners and a high-gloss two-tone finish. Its main innovation is in its looks, which Thule says can complement the lines of a higher-end vehicle, which is the market. Made for SUVs, crossovers and mid-size vehicles, the Excellence box is sleeker, lighter, and more aerodynamic than much of the competition. The box comes with a customized lid cover to shield from the elements during storage to help maintain a newly-purchased appearance for years. $799.95; available March 2009; http://www.thule.com
Marmot Wool Half Zip
Marmot cites the Half Wool Zip as offering "a glimpse into the future of base layers." That future apparently includes lots of sheep and a few coconuts. Indeed, with its unique combination of natural and synthetic fabrics the top employs the latest version of Polartec Power Dry with wool on the outside layer to keep you warm even when wet. The inside layer is polyester, which Marmot cites as being comfortable next to the skin and highly breathable. Last, the polyester fabric is fused with fibers derived from coconut husks to add odor management, wicking and sun protection. $85; available this fall; http://www.marmot.com
Gregory Diablo with Bio-sync
As part of a new line of eight lightweight trail packs with "Bio-sync suspension," the Diablo moves as your body moves, according to Gregory. Made for running, hiking, cycling and other aerobic sports, the Bio-sync suspension system uses elasticized attachment points at each shoulder harness and on the waist belt that the company says can mimic the wearer's body motion during activity. The pictured Diablo pack (called the Dipsea in the women's version) is a six-liter pack with just enough space for water, food and a layer or two. A notable feature: the "tube management system" is made so that after a drink your hydration hose will snap back into place on the shoulder harness automatically with the aid of a powerful embedded magnet. Just don't get your compass too close to that small force field. $59; available January 2009; http://www.gregorypacks.com
Inno Kayak/Canoe Locker
Load and lock down your kayak or canoe with this unique lockable strap system rack. Rubber-coated steel cable straps ratchet around your craft and lock with a key. Capacity is one kayak or one canoe and up to two wind-surfboards or up to three surfboards. $229; available now; http://www.innoracks.com
Made for fishermen, the Mogul comes in "fishing-specific" lens tints and is available with "polarchromic" lenses that shift when the ambient light changes outdoors. It has polarized glass lenses with a hydrophobic coating on both sides of the lens to keep splashed water from smudging your view. An anti-reflective coating is applied to the inside of the lens to eliminate backlit reflections from bouncing into the user's eye. Light-blocking temple arms and a distinguished chrome logo badge complete the Mogul look. $159 (polarized), $179 (polarchromic); available now; http://www.smithoptics.com
Borrowing more from the skate culture than the boating world, the Gnar is engineered to perform in the water. Features include a tacky rubber outsole for grip on slick stone, a closed-cell EVA tongue that absorbs no water, and mesh panels for drainage once you step out of the creek. $80; available in January 2009; http://www.teva.com
Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eleven U.S. newspapers; see http://www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold's work.
Here's another peek at new and to-be-released gear, gadgets and apparel from the convention center show floor, bike shoes, 1-gram tent stakes and carbon-fiber kayaks included. . .
Confluence Watersports Concept Boats
These carbon-fiber/fiberglass hybrids took cake as some of the coolest products at OR this year. Available next spring in limited quantities, Confluence was calling these boats "concept designs," meaning the company was flexing some of its design muscles to show the potential of what they can do with the right idea. Lift one of these boats -- as I did in the booth -- and you won't believe the weight: The whitewater concept is a floaty 19 pounds; the sea kayak, a full-length schooner that'll purportedly be priced around $5,000, tips the dial to a feathery 35 pounds. Available spring 2009; http://www.confluencewatersports.com
The absurdist's dilemma of trying to find the lightest-weight tent stake on the market just got even more absurd. U.K.-based Terra Nova -- formerly known as Wild Country -- sells titanium tent "skewers" that weigh just one gram apiece. They stand about 12cm tall and are as thin as swizzle sticks. But company testers claim they keep in the ground through wind and rain if placed correctly in the turf. Available now in six packs for £15 at http://www.terra-nova.co.uk
In the hope-you-never-use-it category, Z-Medica Corporation's QuikClot product has a hemostatic agent designed to stop high-volume bleeding, including arterial and venous incidents. The small first-aid packets are filled with a granulated mineral substance called Zeolite, which comes encased in a porous surgical sponge. It works by removing the liquid components from blood, allowing the platelets to clot rapidly. According to Adventure Medical Kits, which will distribute QuikClot in the outdoor retailer sales channel, blood from a wound can take up to 30 minutes to clot. But QuikClot, the company touts, can clot a gusher in about three minutes. QuikClot is currently used by the U.S. military, and the creators credit this product as saving 150 lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Packs start at $9.99; available now; http://www.adventuremedicalkits.com or http://www.quikclot.com
The Swerve can almost guarantee you'll be seen 100 percent of the time from behind on your bike at night. A pair of half-watt LEDs dance and flash on this bike-seat-compatible light. A clicking toggle switch turns the unit off and on and shuffles through its two visibility modes. The company says diffused and focused lenses send wide and narrow beams of light that are easier for cars to see from a distance. $29.99; available now; http://www.princetontec.com
The women’s and men’s Mountain Masochist shoe was designed for trail pounders who might tick off 20 miles on any given Saturday morning. The shoe -- which also will come in a Gore-Tex iteration -- is advertised for the off-road runner "who wants exceptional fit, performance and breathability." Tech specs include a triple-density midsole with “Vapor Response” EVA foam; a flexible full-foot plate for protection; "Gryptonite" rubber on the outsole for traction and durability; and a lightweight upper with hydrophobic mesh and a gusseted tongue to keep dirt out. Weight hovers around 10 ounces per shoe in average sizes. $90 ($115 for Gore-Tex model); available in spring 2009; http://www.montrail.com
Designed for the Swiss Raid Commando, a semi-annual military training event organized by the Swiss Special Forces, this "black on black on black" watch has a black rubber strap, an anti-reflective matte-black stainless steel case and a black dial. Orange or green markings glow subtly for nighttime visibility. Watch features include a tachymeter for measuring speed over a known distance and a 12-hour chronograph that displays elapsed hours, minutes and seconds. $425; available now at http://www.wengerna.com
As a new take on the belay device, the lightweight (82 grams) and inexpensive ($30) Mammut Smart has a locking feature that makes catching a hard fall easy and safe. The device works by forcing the rope into a pinched-off position when weight is applied, effectively locking off the belayed climber in a fall or when he or she needs a rest. The device is suitable for all ropes from 8.9mm to 10.5mm in diameter. Available spring 2009; http://www.mammutusa.com
The closed-toe and clipless-pedal-compatible Springwater is among a line of cycling products to come from KEEN next spring. The company touts the shoe as having "the same comfort and performance on the bike and off." Features include a cleat cap plate, a non-marking rubber outsole and a removable footbed. $130; available in January; http://www.keenfootwear.com
The Outdoor Retailer trade show is a twice-annual gathering in Salt Lake City where journalists and buyers preview the latest in outdoors gear, gadgets and apparel. I just returned from Utah, spending three days trekking the show floor. Here are a few items that caught my eye, a preview of what's to come in outdoors shops circa 2009.
Big Agnes Slide Mountain Series
Campers tired of tightening rain-fly guy lines gone loose might be intrigued with Big Agnes' incorporation of the Boa Lacing System into a new series of three-season tents. The company has added Boa knob-based tensioning -- a feature often found on footwear the likes of snowboarding boots -- to enable campers to create a taut rain fly from inside the tent. Just reach up from your sleeping bag and twist. Tiny cables connected to the fly pull the fabric tight as you reel the line back onto a spool. Slide Mountain tents start at $499.95; available in spring 2009; http://www.bigagnes.com
Mammut Verglas jacket
The Swiss-designed Verglas jacket, a soft shell made for all-around use, is one of several new pieces to feature a finishing treatment from Schoeller Textiles purported to make dark colors feel lighter than wearing white. Called Coldblack, the treatment reduces heat build up and keeps the wearer cool while offering protection from the sun’s harmful rays, according to Schoeller. $279; spring 2009; http://www.mammutusa.com
Brunton calls BrewFire "the world's first portable, duel-fuel coffee maker." It's just like your coffee maker at home, but this one is fueled by the same propane or butane cartridges used in camping stoves. Just put your coffee grounds of choice in the filter, add water, turn the knob and flip a switch. In ten minutes you have eight cups of steaming hot java. The double-walled, vacuum-sealed stainless steel carafe keeps your coffee hot for 2.5 hours, the company says. $99; available in February 2009; http://www.brunton.com
Injinji Rainbow Toe-Socks
Reviving the classic rainbow toesock, Injini touts these COOLMAX-fabric toe huggers as "retro fun in a smart, high-performance sock, ideal for active outdoor adventures." The Rainbow toesock incorporates Injinji’s patented construction, which recently received the American Podiatric Medical Association’s Seal of Acceptance. $14; available in February 2009; http://www.injinji.com
Metallurgically, I may be a bit inept. But if it means anything to you, these Bilt bottles are made with a "premium food-grade Korean type 304 stainless steel containing 18% chromium and 8% nickel." I think that's good. The company says this material was chosen for its consistent quality and performance characteristics of not leaching chemicals, staining, corroding or rusting. Bilt bottles are available in several sizes, shapes and colors, starting at $16. http://www.bilt.ca
Light & Motion Seca
Touted to be "the first LED bicycle lighting system to make good on the promise of besting the top HIDs on the market," Light & Motion's Seca line of LED bike lights will provide models with output up to 700 lumens. VERY bright, in other words. And at that output Light & Motion specs five hours of burn time between battery charges. (Burns times up to 20 hours are achievable at a lower brightness setting.) Multiple light pattern modes let you put the Seca's beam right in front of your wheel or blast a ray of powerful light down the trail, piercing the darkness up to 200 feet ahead, according to Light & Motion tests. Three Seca models will ship next year, with prices starting at $349; http://www.bikelights.com
Yakima LoPro Skybox
At 15.5 cubic feet, this cargo box was made for consumers with tall vehicles, low garages and/or those looking for a low profile, space-saving solution. But here's the kicker: This cargo box has a built-in solar-powered light that automatically illuminates the SkyBox when opened for better visibility inside. $649; available at retail by Jan. 2009. http://www.yakima.com
Crazy Creek Beach Backpack Chair
Advertised as a "super-comfy, lightweight outdoor seat that can be carried anywhere," Crazy Creek's Beach Backpack Chair has padded backpack straps for transport. Nice touches include height and length adjustments, a swiveling footrest pad, adjustable headrest, and a drink holder.$99; available in early 2009; http://www.crazycreek.com
Patagonia wool base layers
Wool for warm weather is the premise behind Patagonia's spring 2009 collection, called Wool 1. The company is pitching the line as "officially the lightest wool baselayer on the market today." Made from 63% merino wool (16.5 micron fiber) and 37% recycled polyester, this soft, stretchy fabric combines wool’s natural odor control and insulating properties with polyester’s durability, stretch and speedy dry time, the company says. http://www.patagonia.com
Pop it in your bike bottle and wait for it to fizz. Then drink. That's all there is to downing the electrolytes and other athletic enhancers in ZYM Catapult, a new hydration product that includes 100mg of caffeine and B12 vitamins. The result, the company claims, is a concoction that "fights off dehydration, fatigue, muscle pain, and lactic acid build-up." 10 tables cost $8.95; http://www.drinkzym.com
For a different type of adventure story last month, I wrote a piece for Travel+Leisure.com about the “World’s Scariest Roads,” a list of 10 crazy drives found around the planet.
One example is in China’s Taihang Mountains, pictured below. This road, built in 1972 when villagers in a remote area of the Taihang Mountains chiseled a 3/4-mile-long tunnel through a mountain, is today a route just 15 feet high and 12 feet wide—a tight squeeze for vehicles twisting past the tunnel’s 30 “windows,” which provide views off the precipice and to an abyss below.
Mark Jenkins, a staff writer with National Geographic, in an interview cited the Karakorum Highway and the Stilwell Road, an infamous World War II supply line from India into Burma now closed to the outside world. But in 1996, while researching a book, Jenkins went unauthorized into Burma’s totalitarian regime on the road, trekking for two nights before facing a military arrest at gun point. “It’s not a road I recommend,” Jenkins said.
Another interviewee, Lee Klancher of St. Paul, Minn., broke his leg when he crashed his motorcycle on a weeklong expedition in the wilds of Bolivia. “We were 200 miles from anything resembling civilization,” Klancher said of the misadventure.
Read on to see the full list, my picks for the “World’s Scariest Roads”. . .
As most of you readers know, Critical Mass is an event held on the last Friday of every month in cities around the world, including Minneapolis where I live. It is a protest and a show of solidarity where bicyclists take to the streets en masse. Originally founded to draw attention to how unfriendly cities were to bicyclists, the event has featured arrests, bike crashes, brawls with motorists. . . and change in the way bikes are viewed (e.g., as viable city transportation).
Last month, reporting on a story about Critical Mass, I pedaled for more than an hour in the July 25th Minneapolis ride. It was an intriguing experience, with the entire spectrum of the cycling demographic represented, including moms and kids, commuters, messengers, a couple mtb’ers, male roadies (with shaved legs), and female anarchist types (with hairy legs). Oh, and we had 28 cops on bikes pedaling along with the pack to keep things in line. Squad cars were circling and revving their engines, honking, blocking off intersections for us when we pedaled through the busiest parts of town.
It was a bit odd, as the event started with some tension between the riders and the cops, but later everything eased. Bystanders and people in cars cheered more than they honked or yelled. The group blocked traffic as it tootled along at maybe 6mph, and after an hour the event, to me, began to feel more like a parade than a protest. That’s when I left.
Now, I’m not 100 percent cool with Critical Mass. “Don’t **** where you eat” comes to mind for me, as Minneapolis is among the most bike-friendly and tolerant cities on the planet to pedal two wheels. On the other hand, a couple hours each month to show some solidarity as cyclists who have a right to be on the road is not such a bad thing, either.
I’ll write a full story on the Mass experience soon. But today I leave you with the below sequence, a few screen shots from a video of a Mass rider treated wrong in New York on July 25.
According to gothamist.com, this scene—where one of New York’s finest violently shoves a cyclist off his bicycle, launching him through the air to the curb—happened at 46th street and Seventh Avenue.
Although a judge ruled in 2006 that the monthly Critical Mass bicycle rides could proceed without a permit, the NYPD’s stance remains somewhat adversarial, according to Gothamist. Police have been ticketing cyclists during the ride for such infractions as not having the required lights.
The report said the knocked-down rider, Christopher Long, an Army veteran who works as a grocer, was arrested, held for 26 hours, and charged with attempted assault and resisting arrest.
Fortunatly, it now looks like the police officer in the video—a 22-year-old man named Patrick Pogan—has been stripped of his badge and gun and the NYPD has “placed the officer on desk duty pending the outcome of a department investigation.”
The cyclist has not commented, but his lawyer said, “The video speaks for itself.”