Cabin Fever

This has not been a particularly cold winter, but it has been extremely icy. When I was commuting to work every day, I rode my bike regularly, even in icy weather. Nowadays, there’s less incentive to venture out, so I haven’t been biking as much. I still get out about once a week, and I’ve substituted with other activities like running and climbing, but in general, I’ve been home and indoors a lot this winter, and am getting a tad stir-crazy. My treadmill desk helps to keep me sane, as it gives me a great option to get exercise while working, but on the flip side, it’s a further disincentive to go outdoors. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, though: spring is around the corner, and I may get to start returning to the office later this year (fingers crossed on that one). When the weather warms a bit (or the ice melts), I’m hoping to do more kayaking this year, and I’m also considering trying out solo top-roping. More on that later, I’m sure.

It’s getting to the time of year where I start thinking about spring maintenance on my winter beater bike. I checked last week and found that it was in need of a new chain. I try to be pretty good about replacing chains before they wear out, because it saves money in the long term by extending the life of my cassettes and chainrings. This is really important with an expensive drivetrain like the GX Eagle on my MTB. Parts are a little bit cheaper for my winter bike (an old 1993 Specialized Rockhopper), but can be harder to come by due to the bike’s age, so I try to squeeze as much life out of them as possible. I’ve had the same cassette and rings on the Rockhopper for a number of years, so I looked at them closely the other day, and it appeared that they might be worn out. So, I contacted my LBS for a new cassette and middle ring. To my surprise, they had a 7-speed SRAM cassette and a 38T Hyperglide chainring in stock — both of them exact matches. I bought both of them for a sum total of about $28. I brought them home and compared them to the old parts, only to find that the latter weren’t as worn out as I had thought. The thing with these components is that the teeth aren’t perfectly symmetrical (I think it’s to improve shifting performance) and to an untrained eye, this can be mistaken as wear. So, I can get some more life out of the old parts, and when the time does come to replace them, I’ll have new parts on hand.

Anyhow, once I’m done with the Rockhopper, I’m going to move on to the MTB, which needs a good tear-down and cleaning. It’s been a horrible winter for mountain biking, so I really haven’t ridden it much in the past couple of months. I’m hoping that this year will not be as wet as the second half of 2020.

Foot-Healthy Climbing Shoes?

I’ve been exclusively wearing “foot healthy”, minimalist footwear since mid 2017, and it has been life-changing. Since 2015, In 2019, I started climbing regularly, after thinking about it for several years. Initially, I looked long and hard for a climbing shoe that fit my definition of “foot healthy”, before eventually concluding that such a beast didn’t exist. I was caught in a catch-22: if all climbing shoes were bad for my feet, how could I enjoy climbing without worrying about foot problems? It turns out that I was overthinking things, but as with everything else, it took awhile before I came to that realization. Here’s what I’ve learned after doing this for a couple of years.

  • Feet are amazingly tough and resilient. After wearing foot-healthy shoes regularly for awhile, your feet will get stronger. Eventually, they’ll get strong enough to tolerate climbing shoes. Keep in mind that climbing shoes aren’t meant to be worn for long periods of time — just while on the wall. That being said, if a shoe is so uncomfortable that your first instinct is to take them off right after you get off the wall, it’s probably time to shop for a different shoe.
  • Many climbing-related foot injuries are due more to poor footwork than bad shoes. Climbing successfully is all about balance, and as a beginner, I often found myself lunging and slamming my feet down onto holds. Uncontrolled foot movements can lead to “hotspots”, metatarsalgia, nerve pain, and any number of other foot ailments. When moving to a foothold, know exactly where you want to place your foot, and make sure every movement is careful, quiet and precise.
  • Not all climbing shoes are uncomfortable. I love my La Sportiva TC Pros. They may not be as wide as my Lems Primals or Altra Escalantes, but I feel like I could wear them all day if I wanted to. My Scarpa Force Vs are not quite as comfy, but are easy to slide off between climbs. When shopping for my first pair, I found it helpful to go with a stiffer rubber and size up a little bit. You don’t need super-aggressive shoes to climb effectively (at the same time, of course, you don’t want your feet swimming in the shoes, either). If the shoe is comfortable and doesn’t hurt your feet when you climb, then chances are, you’re not going to get injured. Try on lots of shoes until you find something that works. And then, focus on footwork, footwork, footwork. Can’t stress this enough!!

Icy Run

After two days cooped up inside, I had to get outside this morning. We haven’t gotten around to clearing our driveway yet, so driving somewhere was out. It wasn’t really cold enough for mountain biking (32° — trails likely to be a big slushy mess). That left road riding and running as my two options. I decided on running because I was due for a run, and it would get me out the door faster, as I still need to put the rear studded tire on my winter bike, which takes 15 or 20 minutes.

We have a couple inches of snow on the ground with a crusty glaze of ice, so I knew that running with my usual Vibram FiveFingers was going to be out. I decided to wear my waterproof Altra Lone Peak trail shoes with Yaktrax. This combination worked out OK, although compared to VFFs, it felt like my feet were encased in blocks of cement. That said, the Yaktrax give pretty good traction, and was able to run confidently without worrying about slipping and falling. I managed to slog through 5 miles at about a minute off my usual pace, which is not too bad. Just a few months ago, I would have been happy to run 5 miles in any conditions at all. Next time out in these conditions, I may try my Altra Escalantes, which are somewhat lighter than the Lone Peaks. It also may make sense to look at different styles of cramp-ons, as I don’t think the Yaktrax I have were designed specifically for running. Again, not ideal conditions or gear, but happy I got out.

Snow Day Musings

We’re getting our first real snow in these parts in about two years. Looks like 3 or 4 inches fell yesterday, and it’s been snowing off and on for most of today. Not a big snowfall by historic standards (I can still see the grass blades sticking through), but a lot by recent standards. In normal years, this would probably be a snow day, but now that everything is remote, it’s a normal work day for me and school day for the kids. Along the same lines, I used to ride my bike to work in almost every weather condition imaginable, but there’s much less of an incentive to go out and brave the weather when I’m telecommuting. That’s where the under-desk treadmill (which I’m using as I type this) is coming in really handy. Without it, I wouldn’t be getting any exercise on days like this. Of course, one could argue that the treadmill provides an additional disincentive to going out in the snow, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m happy as long as I can get my exercise in one way or another. I may try to get out on the mountain bike tomorrow or Wednesday morning. It will be a learning experience, as I’ve never ridden in the snow before. I’m sure enough people will have been out by then that the trails will be very well-packed. Should be interesting.

My lower back is still not quite 100% after I tweaked it a week and a half ago, but I think it’s getting to the point where the injury itself is mostly healed, and I’m mainly dealing with residual muscle/fascia tightness and soreness. Activity in general doesn’t bother it, but I find it stiffening up on me after an hour or so on the treadmill. I have a rather large arsenal of home remedies for it: exercise, yoga, ibuprofen, Voltaren gel, CBD oil, foam roller, heating pad, somatic exercises / pandiculation, inversion table, and a few I’m sure I left out. I’m very new to using an inversion table, and thus far, it has been eye-opening. I was lucky to score one for free, as my parents were getting rid of their Teeter. I have some occasional issues with positional vertigo (BPPV), and as such, was worried that inverting would make me dizzy and nauseous. Well, it did, for the first couple of times I tried it. Then, I got used to it, and now I can tilt back to 60º for several minutes at a time with no ill effects. The keys seem to be to avoid doing it immediately after eating, and to tilt gradually to allow time for the inner ears to adapt. I’ve been getting into the habit of hopping on the inversion table right after getting off the treadmill, when my back is a little stiff, and I have to say that after inverting for 5 minutes, my back feels great. The spinal decompression that you get from inversion obviously has some therapeutic benefit. The one thing that I don’t really like about the table is the ankle retention system — I just do not find it all that comfortable, even after adjusting it several different ways. Teeter sells a gravity boot adapter kit for the table, which looks like it may be a good investment if I decide I want to continue using the table long term. It could also just be that my ankles need some extra time to “adapt”. I’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.