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August 31, 2011

VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail First Impressions Review

Shortly after running last fall’s Firetrails 50-miler, I had an extended e-mail conversation with the US Operations Director for VIVOBAREFOOT about the Evo shoes I wore in that race. In particular, she was gathering feedback about how the shoes performed, and how future models could be modified to specifically address the needs of long-distance trail runners.

What follows is an excerpt from our exchange – heavily edited, of course, because you know I can get carried away when talking about this stuff sometimes …

VB rep: When you were discussing the section of the race with downhill, large rocks and loose footing you mentioned it was the trickiest part for you in your Evos. What features would you like to see us incorporate into our footwear to assist with this terrain?

Me: I'd love to see an outsole with a more aggressive tread pattern, perhaps with some shallow knobs like other minimalist trail shoes on the market. Another outsole feature that's really effective is angled lugs in the heel region, directed forward to help braking upon impact, which occurs when trying to control your speed on those steep downhills.

VB rep: Hmm … this is very interesting, and the requests you have made fit with our new styles launching Fall/Winter 2011. We have several exciting prototypes in the works.

Flash forward 10 months, to when a box from VIVOBAREFOOT arrived on my doorstep a couple of days ago. I knew what was inside, and I was excited to try it right away.


It was the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail, the company’s new model specifically geared towards trail runners. They had told me it was on the way, and honestly, I couldn’t wait to get my feet on them.

I also couldn’t wait to report on them, so I’m going to review the shoes here in two parts: a first impressions post now, and a more in-depth review after I’ve logged some serious mileage on them. For the purposes of this post, everything I’m reporting is based on my initial “unboxing” observations and a single 12-mile trail run the day after they arrived.

The first thing I thought when looking over the Neo Trail was that it just looks like a trail running shoe. From 10 feet away, I imagine most people will have a hard time distinguishing it from something Vasque or Montrail would make. From an aesthetic standpoint, this is kind of cool – and I suspect it will dramatically reduce the number of “Hey, what are you wearing on your feet?” comments that I got at ultras last year in my Evos. Instead, these shoes will just blend right in with the crowd.

Whether that’s a good development or not is up to you, I suppose. I think this is generally a positive thing; my ideal “end point” of this whole minimalist revolution would be for minimalist shoes to be accepted as just another style preference, rather than being marginalized as the domain of freaks and idealists.  In that regard, the Neo Trail represents huge step in the right direction.

Aggressive outsole lugs

Obviously, I was eager to see the outsole, and I have to say that VIVOBAREFOOT went all-in as far as making it trail-ready. The entire surface is covered with 4mm lugs … and they’re angled! Forward in the heel, backward in the forefoot, just like I would have done if I were designing it myself. I’m curious to see how durable they are … but by appearances, the Neo Trail jumps right to the head of the pack when it comes to outsoles that can handle gravel, mud, snow, or any kind of technical terrain. Needless to say, I’m going to have fun testing these.

Insole in top shoe, removed on bottom

The lugs sit on top of a 2.5mm base outsole, which makes the total standing height of the outsole 6.5mm. There’s also 3mm of insole height which is removable – so your total standing height is either 6.5mm or 9.5mm. This is higher than either the Evo or Neo, which each have a 4mm outsole plus a removable insole, but that’s the tradeoff of having super knobby lugs.

Natural flexibility

The entire shoe is still super flexible, allowing your foot to move naturally in any direction it needs to. However, a more substantial outsole also leads to more substantial weight: the Neo Trail weighs in at nearly 13oz with the insole, or 12.5oz without. (Note: these specs are according to the website, but I’m almost certain that they’re wrong, because the shoe doesn’t feel nearly that heavy. I’ll get this spec confirmed and report back.) (**UPDATED:  the weight is 10.5oz with the insole, 10oz without.)  By comparison, the Evo is 8 oz, and the regular Neo is 9.5 oz. Unfortunately, this is an aspect where being comparable to Vasque and Montrail definitely isn’t a good thing, and if the weight spec is accurate, it would be my biggest disappointment with the Neo Trail.

Closed mesh uppers

One other drawback is that the closed mesh of the upper isn’t as breatheable as I’d like. It’s a hydrophobic material intended to repel water, but from my experience, it’s impossible to avoid water while trail running, and I much prefer something that gets wet easily but dries easily as well. I suspect the Neo Trail will be great for cold winter trails, but not as comfortable for drainage and drying after stream crossings on hot summer runs. Obviously, this is something else I’m anxious to test.

From a comfort standpoint, the Neo Trail felt great on my initial run. A bit of ground feel is sacrificed with the rugged outsole, but because the overall flexibility is maintained, I still felt like it was easy to keep proper form and run gently. The fit of the last seems slightly wider in the heel region than the Evo or Neo, and my VB rep confirmed that this is indeed a different last. Otherwise, the feel of the upper against your foot is the same as other VIVOBAREFOOT models, and would be equally comfortable with socks or bare skin.

Needless to say, I have to put a lot more miles on the Neo Trail before coming to any definitive conclusions about their overall merit compared to the ever-expanding category of minimalist trail runners. I have high expectations for this shoe, which clearly appear to be met in some ways – primarily the design of the outsole – and lacking in others such as weight and ventilation. I’ll report back here later in the fall once I’ve given them a proper, thorough testing.

In the meantime, the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail is now available for $130 from the company website. If you decide to get a pair or if you’ve already tried them out yourself, feel free to share your opinion in the comments below.

Related reviews:

VIVOBAREFOOT Evo running shoe

VIVOBAREFOOT Evo II running shoe


*Product provided by VIVOBAREFOOT
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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Recharge Sports Drink Mix Giveaway Winners

I'm keeping this very quick so I can finalize my primary post later tonight ... but let's get to the results of the Recharge Sports Drink Mix giveaway contest.

I'm happy to report that my ploy to stack the odds in favor of XC teams worked!  So Eddie, Robert, and The Masseys: shoot me an e-mail with your contact info - you've won the contest!  For everybody else, thanks for playing, and keep your eyes peeled for another giveaway next week.

Regular programming to follow shortly.

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August 29, 2011

Civil Obedience

Quick reminder: only one more day to sign up for my Recharge Sports Drink mix giveaway. Get going!

Our quaint, cozy little village of Carmel Valley is fortunate to have a quaint, cozy little marketplace specifically for the locals:

Along with just about everyone else in town, our family is dependent on this place; if we can’t shop here, the nearest big grocery store is about a 15-minute drive from home. The market is perfect for grabbing a loaf of bread to go with dinner on the way home from work, or for those times when you get halfway through the breakfast recipe before realizing that you’re out of buttermilk.

The owner and employees are about as nice as you’ll ever encounter, and they get along with everyone in our little community. Like any long-term relationship, the goodwill between store and community has been tested at times – especially during one rocky period several years ago when the store was sold to out-of-towners who tried to turn it into an upscale gourmet boutique. They did away with the coin-operated kiddie rides out front, and even got rid of the cigar store Indian that represented everything rustic and quirky about our little town.

They were aiming for sophistication – and predictably, our little village revolted. Locals took their business down the road to the big grocery store, and the Carmel Valley Market eventually ran into hard times. The new owners stopped paying their mortgage, and ultimately closed the store down entirely before hightailing it away from our village and leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces.

Thankfully, new local owners stepped in to re-remodel the store back to the small town fixture everybody loved. They returned the inventory to regular fare, and returned the Indian out front. The return to “old management” even included the original owner, well into his 80s by now, who came back to work in the produce department and serves as the de facto goodwill ambassador for the shop.

Today, the community and the shop are friends again, and that goes for me and my family as well. There’s only one thing I find depressing and objectionable about the market – one that hits me in the face every time I walk through the door.

To save you the trouble of enlarging, I’ve cropped the sign on the door here:

It’s your fairly classic No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service sign, complete with a reference to a health department standard which doesn’t exist. There’s also a mention of safety, on the off chance that I’d cut my foot on a stray tortilla chip and decide to sue them; I guess we can blame the lawyers for that one. But considering that our village and the neighboring communities have one of the highest per capita rates of tie-dyed California hippies anywhere outside of Berkeley or Haight-Ashbury, such a rule runs completely against the communal goodwill that the market worked so hard to re-establish.

To many barefoot advocates, such a sign is offensive, suggesting an underlying premise that having naked feet is somehow offensive. For others, a sign like this is a call to arms (or, um ... legs, or feet - something like that), triggering an immediate effort to reverse the policy through educating the ownership and dispelling commonly held misconceptions about public barefooted-ness. The most hardcore crusaders will argue that the sign is nothing short of discrimination, and campaign to overcome such injustice through public relations or boycott attempts.

As for me, here’s what I do: absolutely nothing.

I don’t feel offended by the sign, I’ve never asked the owner to justify it, and I don’t deliberately take my business elsewhere. Rather, I keep a thin foot cover – typically a pair of Sockwas – under my car seat for anytime I have to throw something on my feet to comply with the rules of the house. And when I return to my car, I slip them off and continue driving barefoot (which also isn’t illegal, despite what you might hear).

In the grand scheme of things, the footwear policy of a small village market isn’t something that will keep me awake at night. I’m not opposed to picking some battles here and there – for example, if my daughter gets kicked out of P.E. class for wearing VivoBarefoots – but this particular cause isn’t a war I feel compelled to fight. It’s not a major inconvenience to slip something on my feet, and I like the market too much to go stirring up any sort of controversy. If that makes me a sellout to my fellow barefoot brethren, so be it.

If this was your neighborhood, what would you do? How about if this was your market – would you let people walk around barefoot? If so, is there a difference between barefoot and bare-chested? I think I’d be a lot more repulsed by some big fat pasty hairy dude walking around shirtless than by a granola-looking dude with grungy feet. Do you consider this a cause worth getting worked up about? I may not be stirring up controversy (at least, not intentionally), but I’m curious to hear what you think in the comments below.

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August 27, 2011

REI Clearance Sale; Vibram FiveFingers Closeout Sale; Marathon Bar Winners; Random Shots of Beauty*

*Boy, these post titles are getting long ...

Lots of odds and ends for this weekend's post, so let's get right to it. In keeping with recent tradition, here's a rundown of cool sale opportunities for some of my favorite gear:

First up is REI. It should tell you something that even with the amount of complimentary gear I get for product testing, I still shop at REI on a regular basis. They're probably the most dependable source for almost all basic outdoor gear; if I need it, they probably have it. And this week, they have it at a discount. Check out REI's Labor Day Clearance Sale taking place from now until September 5.

Next is Vibram, or more specifically, Vibrams from TravelCountry.com. I mentioned this week that they have stock of the FiveFingers Bormio and FiveFingers Trek LS from the Fall 2011 line - but they also have a decent selection of 2010 Vibram FiveFinngers models available at closeout prices. They don't have every model available, but there are a couple of great deals to be grabbed, such as the men's Bikila for $65 and the women's KSO for $65. It's pretty unusual for Vibrams (real Vibrams, that is) to be available at significant discounts, so check out the links above to see if something catches your eye.

Thanks very much to everyone who entered the Marathon Bar giveaway contest, and as a side note, never underestimate the power of free chocolate to drive traffic to your blog. Anyway, we've got some winners to announce, so ... Andy, Chris (New Mexico Trail Runner), and Diana - e-mail me your contact info. You've won the Marathon Bar prize packs!

Finally, two more reminders to pass along: you've got a few more days to enter the Recharge Sports Drink mix giveaway contest, and a little more time to submit proposals for a Running and Rambling guest blogger post coming up in September.  Go on, take your chance!

OK, I think we're caught up for now. I'm not sure what it says when my introductory stuff is longer than the actual post. On to the Random Shot of Beauty:


My son and I ride our mountain bikes in the Fort Ord Open Space, which is adjacent to the famed Laguna Seca Raceway. Every now and then we make our way beyond the Fort Ord boundary, and if we pass through the right fences and cross the right bridges, we actually end up on the inside of the racetrack.

Since there are all manner of race cars and motorcycles doing test laps there on any given day during the summer, our inside access gives us scenes like this:

(Click to enlarge)

Tranquil MTB fire roads on one side of the fence, and world-class auto racers on the other. Just another one of those uniquely Monterey County sights.

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August 25, 2011

Recharge Sports Drink Mix Review and Giveaway (XC Runners: Pay Attention!)

Admin note: Thanks very much to everyone who has written me regarding the potential guest blogging spots I have up for grabs. If I haven't replied to your e-mail yet, give me another day or two - I'm gradually making my way through them. And there's still plenty of time to run your suggestion by me, so feel free to drop me an e-mail soon.

Also, you have one more day to enter the Marathon Bar giveaway contest. Tick tock!

For as much knowledge I have about sports nutrition and the benefits of proper hydration, I have one peculiarly bad habit: I’m not big on drinking plain water.

It’s not that I don’t hydrate well; it’s just that usually I need something with some taste to it. I choose low-calorie options like green tea or Diet Pepsi or different flavors of sparkling water or even more Diet Pepsi … anything to make the situation in my mouth a little interesting. (Yes, really.) That’s why I’m always interested to try new options for low-calorie hydration, and I appreciate them even more if they lend themselves to convenient use.

One new option my wife and I have been testing this summer is Recharge Natural Sports Drink mix from the R.W. Knudsen Family company, which is the subject of today’s giveaway. And if you win this one, you’d better be thirsty – because you’ll be getting a whole lot of this product.

First, the rundown: for several years R.W. Knudsen has sold a bottled all-natural recovery drink called Recharge, which is essentially flavored with fruit juices and a tiny amount of salt. This summer the company introduced a recovery drink in powdered form under the same name, although the formulation is slightly different in mix form than it is in the bottles.

Recharge drink mix comes in four flavors, all of which are sweetened with Truvia, an herbal extract of the stevia plant. I’ve tasted a few other stevia-sweetened drinks over the past couple of years, and I find that the sweetener does have a noticeable aftertaste; not particularly bad, just ... noticeable.  With the Recharge mix, the aftertaste seems (to me, at least) more prominent in the grape and tropical flavors than the lemon and orange flavors. The formulation still includes fruit juice, and is still 100% natural, but there’s definitely a different taste than the same brand in bottled form.

Certainly the most attractive aspect of the mix is that it comes in pre-packaged “sticks” that are perfect for stashing in your car or workout bag. The instructions say to dissolve one packet in 17oz of water, but for convenience sake I typically diluted them in a 20-oz water bottle, which makes for a nice, mildly sweet taste.

Dissolution of the powder proved to be a small annoyance for my wife, who likes to mix it into a tall glass of water at home after a run. Even with prolonged stirring, a small portion of the powder remains undissolved. The instructions say to pour the mix into a bottle and then shake with the cap on, which is a much more vigorous way of mixing the powder and appears necessary to ensure that it all dissolves properly.

The nutritional benefits you gain from Recharge are electrolytes – primarily sodium and potassium – as well as small doses of Vitamins C, B6, B12, and Niacin. Each stick contains only 10 calories and provides you with additional incentive to take care of your hydration needs either immediately after a workout or at any time during the day.

Perhaps the coolest part of this whole promotional launch is that the R.W. Knudsen Family is being extremely generous in distribution of its Recharge mix to those who can benefit from it the most. To mark Military Appreciation Month last May, the company donated 200,000 Recharge sticks in care packages to American troops via Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit military support organization. Those guys and gals probably don’t have any of the little quibbles with the product that I do – which is one of many reasons the troops have my utmost respect.

And then there’s the bloggers – or more accurately, blog readers. Here are the contest details: Recharge drink mix is normally sold in boxes of eight single-serving sticks which retail for $3.99. For this giveaway, three winners will each receive a CASE of all four flavors – as in, twelve 8-stick boxes, or 96 sticks of each flavor. I’m no mathematician, but 4 x 96 seems to equal a heck of a lot of Recharge powder. Like enough for your entire running club or cross-country team.

In fact, since cross-country season is right around the corner, and because this is my contest and I get to make up my own rules, I'm going to stack the deck in favor of cross-country athletes.  If you're an XC coach or runner this fall, tell me the name and location of your team, and you'll get four entries in the contest.  Everyone else gets just one entry per comment.  (Take that, smug football jocks!)

Leave your entry comment below this post before close of business on Tuesday, August 30, and I’ll pick winners at random and announce the results in a separate post on Wednesday the 31st. Very big thanks to R.W. Knudsen Family for sponsoring this contest, and good luck to everybody!

*Product provided by R.W. Knudsen Family Company
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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New Vibram FiveFingers Bormio and Vibram FiveFingers Trek LS Now Available at TravelCountry.com

This isn't the "official" post for tonight, but I wanted to pass along an announcement I received from my rep at TravelCountry.com. If you're one of those people who loves getting products right off the initial production line, you'll be interested to know that TravelCountry.com currently has the new Vibram FiveFingers Bormio and Vibram FiveFingers Trek LS available for purchase. As far as I know, they're one of the first vendors to have full stock of these Fall 2011 models.

Vibram FiveFingers Trek LS

The Bormio is something completely out of the ordinary for Vibram: a casual boot molded with the unique toe-glove platform. Boots aren't really my style, and I don't plan to review this one, but it's very interesting, to say the least. The Trek LS is one I've had my eye on for a while, and one I'll review in depth as fall approaches. You can read full descriptions on either of these from the TravelCountry pages linked above.

That's all for now ... regular programming to resume shortly.

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August 23, 2011

Giving It Away: (Possible) Guest Writing Opportunity at Running and Rambling

Administrative note before today's post: You've got two more days to take advantage of Patagonia's cool summer clearance sale. Go get yourself a bargain, people. Also, if you haven't done so already, leave a comment on yesterday's Marathon Bar contest post for your chance to win a sample pack.

“Give it away, give it away, give it away now –
I can’t tell if I’m a kingpin or a pauper.”

- Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Give it Away” (video after post)

I know that I promised each post this week would give something away, but in this particular case I’m not sure I’m actually going to go through with it. It’s something that’s in the “just thinking about it” phase, and furthermore, the thing I have to offer isn’t really anything tangible.

The short version is this: I’m thinking about giving away space on my blog. For the longer version, read on – and stick around at the end for the audience participation segment.

Over the past year or so, I’ve probably been approached dozens of times with inquiries about whether I allow guest posts on my website. Every single time, my response has been the same: I haven’t really thought about it. So I’ve progressed from not thinking to thinking - which is never a bad thing, I suppose – but suffice it to say the question is far from settled.

What’s driving this whole issue is that fact that I’ll be out of the office – WAY out, as in no online access – for a full week in the middle of September. Yes, I’m terrified. However, I thought it might help to slightly diminish my withdrawal seizures if I knew someone was taking care of this space in my absence. Because my blog might get lonely without me around. Or you might get lonely without my blog around. As sad as it is to admit, these are things I tell myself sometimes.

Guest posting is definitely a loaded subject around the blogosphere, for reasons I don’t have the time or energy to go into right now. There is some very reasonable upside to it, however, and I figure that a couple of posts would be enough for me to get a sense of whether this is something that feels right. So that’s the deal I’m offering: one blog post to two different writers during one week in September - free of charge to the right person. If you’re interested, contact me and I’ll throw your name in the hat.

I’m open to proposals from all comers: if you’re thinking about starting a blog and want to get a taste for it; if you have a small blog and are looking to grow your audience; or if you already have a huge blog and want to pull some new traffic your way, make me an offer. If you’re chosen (and if I actually go through with this), I’ll include your name and a link to your webpage, and invite comments from readers just as I do with any other post. That’s not exactly good news, by the way.

But before anyone starts blasting me with e-mail, here are some ground rules …

*  Your subject has to be a good fit with my typical website content, and something that would be of interest to my regular readers.  However, don’t write to ask me what kind of topics my readers would like; if you’re familiar with this website, you know the answer already.  Also ...

*  You're not me - so don't try to write like me.  I'm not looking for another me (God forbid.)  You be you.  Let me be me.  That sounds like an after school special, but you get the idea.

*  Your post has to be an original submission for my website; it can’t be your favorite post from your own site that nobody commented on, or a great article your friend wrote for the running club newsletter last year. But if I end up deciding not to go through with this whole idea, you’re free to publish wherever you like.

*  By submitting an article, you give me full editorial freedom to revise, cut or otherwise modify the content as I see fit. However, don’t rely on me to be your spell check or grammar consultant; if your submission is full of errors, it’s automatically bounced.  My hope is that I won’t have to exercise this particular stipulation – remember, I’m trying to do less work here, not more.

*  Your article must be submitted in its entirety by September 15, 2011.

So those are the guidelines, and I also reserve the right to add more ground rules as I think of them.  (Can you tell that I haven't entirely thought this through yet?)  If you want an opportunity to post here, send me an e-mail with your proposal, and let me know why I should pick you. If the response is strong, I’ll whittle the entrants down to a final handful before notifying the winners. If I don’t get anything I like, I’m scrapping the whole project. But I have high hopes for you all, so go ahead and dazzle me.

Now for the audience participation part: Is this a terrible idea? Do you have strong feelings one way or the other about guest posts on this website? Any words of wisdom or caution for me? Like I said, this whole post is something of an exploratory effort, so I’d love to gather as much feedback as you’re willing to share in the comments below. Be honest - I can take it.

If nothing else, the subject at hand gives me the perfect rationale to play one of the most memorable tracks – not to mention one of the craziest videos - from one of the absolute best albums of the 1990s.

Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Give it Away” (click to play):

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August 22, 2011

Marathon Bar Review and Giveaway

Administrative note: I'm in a giveaway frame of mind lately, so the next few weekday posts will all include some kind of giveaway offer. As luck would have it, today's post involves two.

Just before this post went to press, my contact person at Pearl Izumi wrote to ask if I could help spread the word on a killer cycling gear contest they have going on this week in conjunction with the US Pro Cycling Challenge, with a grand prize of $2000 worth of Pearl Izumi gear.  Awesome, right?  The whole thing is being conducted through PI's YouTube channel, which is where you need to go for all the details. So check out the PI contest over there, then come back for the Marathon Bar contest here.


Back in June, I was invited to stop by one of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon events to check out the new versions of Marathon energy and protein bars. The bars have been around for a while, but the company has stepped up its involvement in endurance sports this year, becoming an official sponsor of the entire Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half-Marathon series taking place at multiple venues across the country.

However, thanks to ultrarunning, my own participation in road racing events has diminished quite dramatically over the past few years, and it was going to take a lot more than the prospect of a snappy marketing spiel and a few free samples to get me to attend a Rock ‘n’ Roll race. When I politely declined the invitation, the Marathon rep offered to send me a gift package anyway, and agreed to provide the same thing for a few lucky readers.

Obviously, that kind of partnership is a lot easier for me to support. So let’s run through a brief review, with a giveaway contest to follow once we’re finished.

The Marathon Bar product lineup includes five flavors of energy bars, and two flavors of high protein bars. I received samples of two energy bar flavors – crunchy dark chocolate and crunchy honey and toasted almond – as well as both protein bar flavors, caramel nut rush and chocolatey nut burst. The energy bars range in calories from 150 to 220 each, and contain 10 to 14g of protein. The high-protein bars have 21g and 290 calories for chocolatey nut, and 20g/280 calories for caramel nut. All of the bars are low glycemic index foods to help provide sustained energy, and contain essential vitamins to enhance their nutritional profile.

From a taste standpoint, my preference was for the energy bars, which have a crisper texture as well as some non-chocolate flavors. (Here’s a strange thing: I love chocolate, but typically don’t like chocolate-flavored energy foods, gels, or anything else I might consume while active. I have no idea why.) The protein bars are both quite chewy, with a taste and texture that isn’t very far removed from a candy bar – basically, they’re like better-for-you, nutritionally fortified Snickers bars.

In our household, the standard for energy bars has been set fairly high: as I’ve described in several posts, we’re an entire family of CLIF junkies. Using that comparison, there wasn’t anything from a taste or performance standpoint about the Marathon energy bar to make me switch from using regular CLIF Bars, and there wasn’t anything to make my wife switch from her Builder’s Bars to the high-protein Marathon versions. However, we recognize that our individual preferences may vary from yours, which is why it’s nice to be able to offer a few samples you can try for yourself.

Actually, the giveaway includes more than just energy bars; Marathon Bar will provide three winners with a prize pack (see below), including a tote bag, a tech fabric shirt, and a cool little portable chair that’s great for taking to the beach or youth sports games. You’ll also get the same samples of energy bars and protein bars that I tested for this review.

To enter the contest, just leave a comment below this post; on Saturday, I’ll randomly select three winners to receive a prize package from Marathon Bar. If you happen to be at one of the Rock ‘n’ Roll events this year, you can stop by the Marathon Bar booth for samples, or if you want more information about their involvement in the Rock ‘n’ Roll series, check out their Facebook page.

Thanks very much to Marathon Bar for sponsoring this giveaway, and good luck to everyone!

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August 20, 2011

Patagonia Summer Clearance Sale; Random Shots of Beauty

In similar fashion as last weekend, I'm leading off the customary RSOB post with an announcement about a very cool sale. Who knows - maybe I'll evolve into the Groupon of outdoor gear one of these days.

Anyway, it's no secret to anyone around here that I'm a huge fan of the Patagonia company. They make the highest quality outdoor gear imaginable - including both the shirt and shorts I wore at my 100-miler this summer - and have higher standards of social and environmental responsibility than any company I'm aware of.

Here's one example, courtesy of this month's Outside magazine: after last year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Patagonia sent 7 teams of 10 company employees to the Gulf region at various times to assist with the cleanup effort. They paid the costs of travel, living expenses, and one week's lodging for all the relief workers, and even paid the employees their regular salary while they were there. (If you can come up with a better story than that, I'd love to hear it - share in the comments below.)

Anyway, you get the idea ... Patagonia rocks. The only drawback to their apparel is that it's often considered a bit pricey - although when you consider the fact that it's top of the line stuff that typically stands up to many years of high-demand use, it should probably be considered something of a bargain. Regardless, for the next week you have an opportunity to get some amazing prices on Patagonia goods, as the company is having its annual clearance sale.

Basically, they're blowing out their spring and summer inventory, so the sizes and color options will vary depending on the item. I managed to find a couple of great shirts, and hopefully you can find something to suit you as well. You also get free shipping if your order exceeds $75. The sale is good through August 25, so click over to Patagonia's summer clearance sale and see if you can grab yourself a bargain.


For this weekend's Random Shot of Beauty, I didn't have to travel very far from home:

A cigar store Indian outside our local neighborhood market - a relic from a time when cigar stores still existed, and the term "Indian" wasn't considered improper. I actually have a stand-alone post about this location; not the Indian, but the store itself.  It's one of those things I keep hoping to get to, but never seem to sit down and write. Maybe this post will serve as my own reminder in the next week or two.

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August 17, 2011

Nathan Endurance Vest Hydration Pack Review

If nothing else, the existence of Nathan’s Endurance vest reveals two important yet seemingly contradictory traits about the company:

1) They’re not afraid to do a little innovation, even with their most popular products, however …

2) They’re smart enough to leave a good thing alone.

How can both of those things be true? Consider the words of my Nathan rep in regards to the Endurance: It started out as a modified 020, but we soon realized we had an entirely different pack.

Nathan Endurance vest

The 020 she’s referring to is Nathan’s omnipresent HPL 020 hydration vest, an industry standard that happens to be my favorite vest for long training runs. (You can see my original HPL 020 review here, and an updated HPL 020 review here.) The 020 has top-notch pedigree – it was developed by legendary ultrarunner Dana Miller – and has become wildly popular among ultrarunners over the past several years. So you might wonder why Nathan felt the need to revamp it.

Fortunately, at some point in the redesign process, the company had the good sense to realize that they were better off introducing a completely new product rather than changing something that works so consistently well for so many people. The end result is the Endurance, which has enough new design aspects to distinguish it from the 020, but enough similarities that if you’re accustomed to the 020, you’ll find the Endurance just as easy and functional to use.

That was certainly the case with me; I received my pack about two days before my pacing duties at this summer’s Western States 100. I had no time to get accustomed to the pack – I literally strapped it on for the first time that afternoon, and ran 40 miles with it through the night. It felt just as comfortable as my favorite 020, with almost no adjustment period needed. It rides the same, performs the same, and has the same material construction as the 020, along with a few nice additions that are mostly upgrades. I have a couple of minor gripes – but then again, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be a very good reviewer, right? (That’s what I tell myself, anyway.)

So what’s so different about the Endurance? It’s mainly the arrangement of its cargo containers, which result in slightly greater overall storage capacity, a little better ability to compartmentalize, and a different method of accessing a couple of key areas.

Endurance on left, HPL 020 on right (click to enlarge)

From the front, the two most noticeable changes are the different mesh used on a the larger pockets, and the addition of two small pockets: one is an elastic pouch on the left strap that’s perfect for used gel wrappers, and a waterproof pill pocket on the right that’s intended for electrolyte caps or any other small items that need to stay dry.

Otherwise, the size and configuration of the larger pockets is identical, with closed mesh used instead of the more porous mesh of the 020. This is actually a very nice change for me, as the right-sided bungee pouch is where I typically carry my camera. Every now and then my Canon gets gummed up with dust on the lens opening, and the closed mesh of the Endurance is much more effective at keeping excess dust out. In similar fashion, this material would improve protection for smart phones, GPS, or any other tech gadget you may be carrying.

Endurance on left, 020 on right

On the backside, the location of the external storage pocket is moved from the top of the 020 to the middle of the Endurance. I wasn’t crazy about this change, as I had become pretty adept at reaching over my head to unzip and access the top pocket on the 020 without breaking my stride, but I’d have to be some sort of circus performer to accomplish that with the Endurance.

External pocket with key clasp and inner elastic pouch

Aside from the location, this external pocket is pretty much identical on both vests: there’s an elastic internal pouch, a key clasp, and the same storage capacity. There’s a bungee shock cord below the main pocket that can be used for stuffing a jacket or securing other large items to the outside of the pack.

Dual vertical zippers and Velcro flap

The major change on the backside is that the reservoir compartment is now accessed by dual vertical zippers with a Velcro flap instead of a single semi-circular zipper. The website copy states this change was intended for rapid access, but I have to say that this was the biggest discrepancy I found in my testing.

You may recall from my pacer report that I was feeling a bit rushed getting in and out of the aid stations while trying to keep up with Gretchen; at many aid stations, part of my difficulty was accessing the reservoir quickly for the volunteers to top me off. I found it more cumbersome to undo a Velcro attachment and two zippers compared to the simplicity of just tearing one arched zipper open. This may have been a factor of my being unaccustomed to the pack that night, but even in my continued testing afterward, the dual zipper system is definitely less efficient for me.

Breathable mesh with rectangular, contoured back panel

The interior surface of the Endurance looks very similar to the 020, but there are a couple of subtle differences. The same lightweight, highly breatheable mesh is used, but on the Endurance the “footprint” is more rectangular instead of oval, and the back panel is somewhat contoured to the natural curvature of your back. I honestly couldn’t notice a difference in overall comfort, but that’s probably because the 020 is already so comfortable as to be almost unnoticeable. Weight of the two vests is quite similar as well, with the 15.2-oz Endurance slightly heavier than the 14-oz 020.

Hydrapak reservoir and drink tube

Another big strength of this pack is something I’ve touched on in previous reviews: Nathan uses Hydrapak reversible reservoirs for their vests – in this case, the same 70-oz fluid capacity as the 020. I’m convinced that Hydrapak is the best in the business – yes, even better than CamelBak – when it comes to fluid reservoirs. They’re almost indestructible, super easy to open and close, and they can be cleaned and dried in a snap.

If there's been one problem with Hydrapak reservoirs, it’s that they haven’t quite perfected the bite valve, but the Endurance pack features the most recent version – with small plastic side flares for easier twisting – that’s almost comparable to the top of the line in this regard as well. And since the 020 and Endurance pack both utilize the same reservoir, this particular element isn’t really a point in favor of either model - but the use of Hydrapak soft goods is such a compelling feature that it was worth recognizing.

Shock cord for storage - same on both models

After a few months of testing, I’m not quite ready to say that the Endurance will replace my 020, but I can certainly say that it’s almost exactly comparable in performance, with an assortment of design tweaks that will come down to a matter of personal preference for most users. I guess my one-sentence comparison is that you gain a little bit in cargo space, and lose a little bit in operational efficiency. The Endurance also has a slightly higher retail price than the 020, but the extra five bucks you pay is certainly worth it if the styling strikes you as more attractive.

The Nathan Endurance vest retails for $84 from Amazon.com.

*Product provided by Nathan Sports. Affiliate sales support Running and Rambling.
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you'd like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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August 15, 2011

CamelBak Octane LR Hydration Pack Review

“That night, he wore a shirt and trousers in Desert Digital Camouflage, and carried a silenced Sig Sauer P226 pistol, along with extra ammunition; a CamelBak, for hydration; and gel shots, for endurance.”
- From Getting Bin Laden by Nicholas Schmidle, from The New Yorker

Before you get the wrong idea about things: the intro quote above doesn’t really have anything to do with the product review. I just thought the fact that the Navy SEALs used CamelBaks as part of their standard assault wardrobe was an interesting detail to note from the night Osama Bin Laden was killed.

Fortunately, my own testing regimen didn’t involve any sort of midnight raids or top secret assassination missions - it was more of the garden variety trail running and mountain biking that is well within my comfort zone. However, the New Yorker tidbit also highlighted another noteworthy fact about CamelBak: they are far and away the industry leader in hydration packs. They’re the first choice of the US armed services, they have a monopoly in every gear shop you’ll ever enter, and they’re easily the most common pack I encounter on the trails from Monterey County to Yosemite National Park.

CamelBak Octane LR

That doesn’t mean they rest on their laurels, though; from year to year, the company continues to innovate and advance its product line. This spring, they completely revamped the traditional 70-oz hydration pack with the introduction of the CamelBak Octane LR.

Fluid reservoir at bottom of pack

The most obvious difference between this pack and virtually every other hydration pack on the market – including CamelBak’s own Octane XCT, whose design was the starting point of the LR – is that the fluid is carried horizontally around the waist instead of vertically down the back. Realignment of the reservoir necessitates other functional changes as well – most of which are either improvements or equivalents, but a few of which are drawbacks. Whether this pack is an overall upgrade compared to the XCT will ultimately come down to your individual preferences for use. (And if you want a recap of the other pack, check out my CamelBak XCT review here.)

CamelBak Antidote lumbar reservoir

It all starts with this: a wing-shaped lumbar reservoir (or LR for short) that distributes fluid across your lower back instead of between your shoulder blades. The benefits of this placement for running are biomechanically obvious: the fluid weight is closer to your center of gravity, making for more efficient transport. It also decreases the strain on your back muscles during multi-hour outings, especially if you have a tendency to lean forward from the waist while running.

The reservoir also has a new feature for CamelBak: a Quick Link system that detaches the tube from the main compartment. It allows you to swap out the tubes if necessary and also makes cleaning a bit easier, although the overall cleaning of this reservoir is still somewhat difficult due to the wings; the best you can do is to stuff some paper towels into each side, because it’s almost impossible to get air flow into them. Otherwise, all the great features of CamelBak’s Antidote reservoir system are here: a wide mouth opening that easily locks shut with a half-turn, a Pure Flow tube, Big Bite valve, and HydroGuard coating to decrease bacterial growth.

Drink tube exiting pack at torso, and clipped to front strap

With the lumbar reservoir design, the drink tube exits the pack on the side of your torso instead of over your shoulder like on most packs. This is another of those personal preference things that some folks feel strongly about; it feels a bit strange to me when I'm running, but very natural on the bike. The bite valve clips securely in place on the front harness, so there's no issue with the tube flopping around during activity.

Diagonal zippers create flap to access reservoir

Two diagonal zippers create a lift-flap for accessing the reservoir. It’s very easy to use in your kitchen, but refilling fluids in the field could be problematic for a couple of reasons. Since the access point is on the bottom half of the pack instead of the top, you have to hold the entire pack sideways or upside down if you want to keep the reservoir inside the pack while refilling. Also, if you take the reservoir out to refill it, placing it back inside the pack might be difficult if you’re carrying a lot of cargo, especially in the side pouches. For training runs you might have time to work around these issues, but if you’re looking for a pack to move through aid stations quickly during a race, this is a major drawback.

Low fluid levels = hard to drink

Another issue I found with the lateral fluid distribution is that the fluid doesn’t completely drain into the drink tube opening when levels get low. Fluids sometimes get stuck in one of the side wing compartments without flowing to the center compartment (the one with the tube), and even if the pack is perfectly level, a small portion becomes inaccessible below the bottom of the tube entry point. By my estimation, the final 5-10oz of fluid in the reservoir is quite difficult to get through the tube without some significant manipulation of the pack – which is also something you don’t want to deal with if you’re in a hurry.

Large side zip pockets with key clasp on R

Other features of the pack will be quite familiar to CamelBak users. There are two spacious zip pockets on either side, one of which has a key clip inside. The air channel mesh on the back and underneath the straps maintains air movement between the pack and your body, and improves overall comfort. All the straps are adjustable to customize your own perfect fit. Overall pack weight of the LR is 12.6 oz, which is slightly heavier than the 11.2 oz XCT.

Since the entire bottom of the pack is occupied by the reservoir, CamelBak had to tweak the arrangement of the cargo storage areas for the Octane LR. In general, what they’ve done is a significant upgrade: total cargo capacity is 549 cubic inches, which is more than 2.5 times greater than the capacity of the Octane XCT. (However, I consider that XCT number a loose estimate, as it doesn’t account for stuffing clothes and small gear into the main reservoir compartment.)

Two vertical pockets with diagonal zippers

The vertical pockets aren’t as tall on the LR as they are on the XCT, but they overlap each other diagonally, with one slightly longer than the other; I can fit my 10” air pump in the deeper pocket, but not the superficial one. Both side zip pockets are roughly the same dimensions, perhaps a bit larger, than they are on the XCT. There’s also a nice little pouch pocket on the front harness that’s big enough for a couple of gels or energy blocks.

Huge central mesh pocket for large cargo

Most of the increased cargo capacity comes from the large mesh pocket that sits above the fluid reservoir compartment. You can easily stuff a jacket or a whole assortment of small items in this pocket, which latches closed with a hook and elastic cord. The extra cargo capacity is especially useful when using the LR as an MTB pack – and like most CamelBak products, the LR has great crossover appeal for both activities.

So if you’re choosing between the LR and the XCT, here’s a recap of the primary differences:

*  LR has more comfortable and ergonomic fluid placement for running
*  LR is less efficient to refill and doesn’t empty as completely
*  LR requires side torso tube placement instead of over the shoulder
*  LR has significantly more cargo capacity

It’s also worth noting that the XCT I reviewed last year had a 70-oz fluid reservoir, and the 2011 version has a 100-oz reservoir, so based on current models the LR has a lower fluid capacity, but 70 ounces is pretty much industry standard for most hydration packs.

As I mentioned, it’s hard to make a clear call as to what version is best – ultimately the decision comes down to your own individual preferences and your intended use. I actually prefer the LR as an MTB pack, because I don’t typically have to stop and refill during a multi-hour bike ride, but during a run of similar length I typically replenish my fluids every few hours. Regardless of what style you prefer, you can be assured that either of these packs are able to handle whatever adventures you have in mind.

The CamelBak Octane LR hydration pack retails for $80 from Amazon.com, where you can also find the 2011 Camelbak Octane XCT 100oz-pack for $72.

*Product provided by CamelBak.  Affiliate sales help support Running and Rambling.
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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Check out the Running Life book for a collection of our most popular columns.


August 13, 2011

Killer Hydrapak Sale; Random Shots of (Geologic) Beauty

Before today's brief post, and equally brief announcement about a sweet deal on some awesome hydration packs ...

First, if you haven't yet heard of The Clymb, it's definitely worth checking out. Basically, it's a free membership club that offers periodic and very deep discounts on a small selection of outdoor gear and lifestyle accessories. You register with an e-mail address, and get a couple of e-mails per week alerting you to the current discounts. All sales are time sensitive, usually lasting only 72 hours or until all the stock is sold - which from my experience happens much more quickly than 72 hours.

This weekend The Clymb is offering 60% discounts on Hydrapak fluid packs, including the outstanding Big Sur pack that I reviewed for FeedTheHabit.com last year. While Hydrapak gear is far from my first choice for running, when it comes to MTB riding there's really nothing better, and the Big Sur pack is one of their most popular models. It normally retails for $90, but for this sale it's discounted to $40. I said the discounts were deep, right?

To get in on the sale, follow this link to The Clymb, register with your e-mail, and grab a great pack while they last. Which might not be long. The offer started yesterday and ends on Monday, August 15 at 9AM PDT.


As for this weekend's Random Shot of Beauty, it's one more shot from the top of Half Dome, taken during my recent hike with my son. I wasn't quite sure how to fit this one into the report, but for some reason I find it visually mesmerizing, in a geology-geek kind of way:

The striated rocks layers that stack upon one another to form Half Dome's summit ... each one of them smoothed almost completely flat on the front surface by ancient glacial shearing. Or something like that. I'm not really a geology expert - I just thought it looked crazy cool.

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August 10, 2011

Welcome to Existence: Half Dome Hike Report

“Welcome to the planet - welcome to existence …

Tension is here - between who you are and who you could be –
Between how it is and how it should be –

I dare you to move –
I dare you to move like today never happened before.”

- Switchfoot, “Dare You to Move” (video after post)

Somewhere in the middle of Yosemite National Park last week, a thought occurred to me: this trip had all the makings of a rite of passage.

Not long ago, my son turned thirteen – which is something of a milestone not only for its entry into the teenage wilderness, but for the dawning of what most grownups would call “real life”. Grades count. Relationships matter. The world starts keeping score. It’s the beginning of a whole new existence.

Coincidentally, he’s wanted to hike to the top of Half Dome for a couple of years now … and until this year, I honestly didn’t think he was ready. But he’s gradually become a strong kid, and at some point during all the hiking and mountain biking miles we’ve shared, it occurred to me that he was almost certainly capable. So we put a date on the calendar (and grabbed ourselves a permit – more on that later) which happened to fall shortly after his birthday, and finally made the pilgrimage to Yosemite.

In hindsight, our trip was a fitting adventure to mark the transition, because exploring Yosemite is about experiencing life at its most promising. It’s about leaving the everyday person you are at home for a while, and getting a glimpse of the kind of person you could be. It highlights the difference between how the world is and how it should be. And it inspires you to appreciate each day for the unique wonders it beholds.

But that’s enough dime store philosophy for one post, so I’ll just get to the report.

(As always, click to enlarge any photo.)

The journey we had before us was certainly daunting - an 18-mile round trip with nearly 5000’ of climbing - but one of our biggest challenges of the day was the very first task: getting out of our Curry Village tent cabins 90 minutes before sunrise. My son saw this one coming; in fact, it was one of my criteria for taking him to Yosemite in the middle of summer. There was no way I wanted to deal with the crowds or heat that both become insufferable in the mid-afternoon - and to my son’s credit, he didn’t protest at all when the alarm went off at 4AM. I took that as a good sign.

Fortunately, he and I had hiked the Mist Trail a couple of times before, so he wasn’t concerned with doing much sightseeing on our journey into the dark.

I’m skipping through the report on the Mist Trail up to Nevada Fall for a couple of reasons: 1) the majority of it was too dark for good photos, and 2) I’ve done two separate reports on the Mist Trail – one here, and the other here – you can read. However, I have to say that it was pretty cool making our way up the rock stairs and alongside cliffs with the roaring of the massive waterfalls in our ears; those falls don’t have to be visible to make their presence known.

Above Nevada Fall, we made our way into Little Yosemite Valley, which was a welcome sight because it’s the only flat section of the entire hike …

… and because daybreak was finally lighting the trail for us, as well as brilliantly illuminating our destination in the distance.

From the base of Yosemite Valley you encounter a relentless climb through beautiful Sierra forests of the John Muir Trail …

… and finally branch onto the Half Dome Trail that marks the beginning of the dedicated ascent of the mountain.

Incidentally, by the time we reached this point, we had been on the trail for approximately three hours, and saw only two people: a pair of rock climbers making their way to the Snake Dike route up the southwest face. Earlier, I told my son that if we woke up early enough, we’d have almost the whole park to ourselves – and luckily, that’s just the way it worked out.

After 7 miles of mostly climbing, as the hike was beginning to take a toll on our legs, we got our first real look at the peak through the trees in the distance.

Seeing the top of the hill has an almost magnetic effect in pulling weary hikers closer to the final goal, which is a good thing, since the most difficult climbing still lies ahead …

… such as scrambling up over the shoulder of Half Dome, a steep grade where the trail eventually fades into a raw expanse of granite. As long as you’re going uphill, you’re headed the right way.

Cresting the shoulder, the sight of the curved dome and the cables is almost enough to take your breath away – and for my son, it also triggered a minor case of high mountain jitters.

We sat down at the base of the cables to put on harnesses, a safety decision that I planned long before arriving in Yosemite, but one I was especially happy to have made in light of the fact that someone had fallen off the cables and died a mere three days before. However, this was also one of the few moments where my carefully crafted plan faltered a bit.

On the whole drive up and throughout the hike, I purposely didn’t say anything to my son about someone dying very close to the exact spot where we now stood. But as we were at the base of the cables and I was giving him a lesson on carabiner use, we spotted a woman coming down the cables using the same kind of harness system. I pointed her out and told my son to watch how she alternated the clips as she went along. When the woman arrived at our spot, she started the following conversation:

Her: I’m glad to see that you guys are using harnesses.

Me: I figured we’d feel a lot more secure with them.

Her: Yeah, that’s good … because you know that someone died here this week, right?

And with that, I cut off the conversation and pushed my son toward the cables.

Thankfully we were the only ones on the cables, which meant that we could take all the time we needed. We inched our way through the first minor slope together, and by the time he was about halfway up, my son was managing on his own quite well – which was great for me, since I was having my own concerns about staying anchored to the granite on the nearly 45-degree pitch.

My son’s persistence was finally rewarded, and we made it to the top of the rock, with practically the whole summit to ourselves. By this point, the early morning wake-up call was a distant memory.

Apparently there’s some confusion about the name of this spot; in my previous report, I called it the Diving Board, only to find out that another location on the western slope of Half Dome has the same name. I think the official name is the Visor, but if this Google image search is any indication, that name has a long way to go before it sticks.

Incidentally, want to hear what my wife calls it? The “You guys are going to give me a heart attack” spot. But for some reason, that one’s not on Google.

Once we safely arrived at the top, we spent about an hour enjoying the killer views while munching on some trail mix …

… a healthy portion of which we ended up sharing with this marmot. True story: at one point when we were walking around the rock, I returned to find Mr. Marmot sitting on my backpack, right next to the pocket that he unzipped and the Ziploc seam he opened to get into my food. I suspect he’s pretty well-practiced at that sort of thing.

Two side notes about our footwear for the day:

1) My son wore a pair of Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves that the company offered when I was setting up an upcoming children’s shoe review, even though my son was too large to fit in any of the kids’ models. They were absolutely perfect for him, with the best outsole traction imaginable on Half Dome’s smooth granite … and the fact that Merrell stepped up to provide them even though I’d already reviewed the shoe tells you all you need to know about the company.

2) I wore the Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks that have become my gold standard for day hiking. For as common as Vibrams have become at trail races, they’re still very much a novelty among hikers. About 2 miles down the trail on our return trip, my son said “We should count the number of people who say something about your shoes” … and we both lost count somewhere in the 30s.

When we were finally ready to leave the summit, it was time to rope up again – a technique that’s probably even more beneficial for the descent than it is for the climb. On my last visit here, I didn’t use clips, and it didn’t seem like that big of a deal – but when there’s a kid involved, it’s absolutely non-negotiable. I can’t overemphasize how much peace of mind being clipped into the cables gave both of us …

… especially as the slope steepened and seemed to curve downward into the abyss.

It was only at the base of the cables that we encountered any noticeable foot traffic. My plan to be off the cables before the summer gridlock started was executed to near perfection. Have I mentioned the benefits of waking up early already?

(And for the record, yes, every single person on the cables asked about my Vibrams.)

A few people have inquired about the impact of this year’s new permit requirement on crowding, but because we got up and down so early in the day, it’s tough for me to assess this for sure. However, I can offer two observations …

Making our way down the shoulder, we initially enjoyed an open path, but encountered increasing numbers of people as we went further down the trail – so I suspect that if you’re on the shoulder or near the cables anytime in the middle of a summer afternoon, you’re still going to deal with a good-sized crowd. We also overheard at least a few groups making comments like, “maybe we can sneak past the ranger,” or “maybe the ranger won’t be there,” so the deterrent factor isn’t 100% effective.

As for the aforementioned ranger …

She was there, but not until sometime around 9AM. This photo was taken on our way down; when we passed this spot at about 8:15, there wasn’t anyone in sight. So there is definitely a ranger on duty, but apparently they keep something close to bankers’ hours – which isn’t too surprising, as I imagine the commute is a bit of a challenge.

We weren’t asked for our permit on the way down, so it turned out that we didn’t even need it; whether that’s the way it always works on every day of the season is uncertain.

What wasn’t uncertain was how expertly my son handled himself throughout the hike. His legs wore down a bit over the final miles, especially going back down the countless rock steps of the Mist Trail at the end of a 10-hour day. But through it all, he never complained, and never did anything foolish to get himself into trouble.

And I didn’t have to wonder very long whether he thought doing this sort of thing was the way he wanted life to be …

... because when we were less than a mile down the trail on our return, he pointed out Clouds Rest a few miles further (and 1100’ higher) into the wilderness, and said “That’s the one we’ll do next.” And we talked about the beauty of Yosemite almost the whole rest of the way down.

Appreciating the experiences we have, while looking hopefully to the promise of days to come: I’d say this kid is officially ready to venture into the world.

Switchfoot, "Dare You to Move" (click to play):

*See other photo tours under tab at top of page.

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