Italia!

by Emily Wednesday, August 29th 2012

It all started when a customer walked in the store for something simple--I think it was sport beans or vitalyte for a cycling event--and told me about L'Eroica. His eyes got that faraway dreamy stare as he told me of this long ride through Tuscany on historic white gravel roads called the "strade bianchi." Three routes ranging from 45 miles to 127 wind through vineyards and orchards, the aid stations are stocked with traditional stew and salami and Chianti wine, and the bikes have to be steel frames with suicide shifters on the down tube, made before 1987. It sounded like the perfect blend of fun and hardship, a tribute to the pedal giants of Italy who became world-class racers training on these roads. This customer, whose name I don't even know, spun this beautiful story for me and then left. I haven't seen him since. And sir, if you're reading this, I just want to say thanks for that day. The story sparked a passion for both me and my boyfriend Logan, and for three weeks in September to October we're going on a bike packing tour of Italy, from Rome to the coast to Florence to the Alps, and in the middle we're stopping in the tiny town of Gaiole in Chianti to ride the longest distance (hopefully) of L'Eroica.

 
My 1968 Raleigh Super Course, along the dirt roads at Cochise Stronghold.

Part One: In Purgatory, Counting Ounces and Cents

I used to think ultralight backpackers were a little crazy. Is it really necessary to cut off the handle of your toothbrush? Or spend $70 on a titanium cook pot when you could get one for $20 in stainless steel? But desert backpackers are hedging against the weight of their water, and a 1 liter stainless steel M.S.R. Stowaway pot weighs nearly a pound; the Evernew Ti Non-Stick Pot is only 6 ounces. 10 more ounces of water for the pack.

I knew all this in theory, but it finally hit home after we found and restored two beautiful vintage bikes, a 1968 green-bronze Raleigh Super Course for me, and an early 1980s Raleigh Competition G.S. for Logan, which he repainted in silver (one of its original colors) with blue accents. Steel frames, especially my older mid-range model, are much heavier than modern bikes, and after adding a rear rack and panniers, I was chugging to work like the Little Engine That Could with just my lunch and a change of clothes. The idea of throwing in camping gear, nice around-town clothes and camera equipment and setting me to work on the giant hills of Tuscany made me think I'd wind up on the side of the road crying on the first day. Which might still happen. But we started analyzing more seriously what to pack for a trip like this: three weeks in mild weather, with rain likely, hosteling and camping, with a great need to keep weight and space and expenses to a bare minimum. This is what we came up with.

  
Our bike-packing gear, all spread out.

Shelter setup: Terra Nova Adventure Tarp (1 lb 3 oz, $50) with an All Weather Blanket (12 oz, $17.75) for our ground tarp. Logan came up with this duo in a stroke of genius. The tarp is big enough that we can get our bikes underneath and still have good coverage for fairly heavy rain, or just set it up for a lounging sun shade. The blanket is large enough for the two of us and will reflect some heat so we can carry lighter sleep gear. It's a setup that's durable, inexpensive, and lightweight; a rare and magical trio.

Sleep system: Lafuma Warm N Light 600 down sleeping bags (1 lb 6 oz, $119.95) with Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Liners (9 oz, $54.95); underneath we'll have Exped Airmat Basic UL sleeping pads (13 oz, $89). With the all weather blanket underneath, we can skimp weight by bringing uninsulated pads for the mild weather. The sleeping bags are only rated to 40 degrees, but the liners warm them up considerably, and can be used separately when we're hosteling. This was the hardest area to try to cut down the cost. There are less expensive pads out there, but they're bulkier and heavier, and this being a vacation we decided it was worth it to invest in sleeping well.

Clothing: Here's where it's easy to pack way too much. We decided to bring one nice outfit each for going out on the town, and stuck to solid muted colors and classic cuts that are comfortable enough to wear every day, so we each have light dress pants that can be worn with our nice shirts or with the long sleeve sun shirts we'll be cycling in (For him: Mountain Hardwear Justo Trek Long Sleeve T; for me: Icebreaker Bodyfit 150 Long Sleeve. Both are rated UPF 50 for a high level of sun protection, and since mine is merino wool it won't stink). We'll carry one extra pair of bike shorts, underwear, and socks. For warmth I'm layering a Patagonia Synchilla Fleece Vest (8 oz, $79) and my rain jacket, the super light Marmot Crystalline (6 oz, currently on sale for $129.99) will double as a wind layer. If it gets colder we'll go into town, or wrap ourselves in our sleeping bags. Last accessory: a Wool Buff (2 oz, $27), which functions as a neck scarf, dust cover, balaclava, and thin beanie that fits under my helmet. When I'm not wearing it I keep it wrapped around my camera.

Personal hygiene: In addition to the run of the mill toiletries, there are some secret solutions I'm bringing along. The lightest weight laundry soap ever might be the Sea to Summit Pocket Laundry Wash (1/2 oz, $3.95), which is biodegradable, rinses clean super easily, and will wash a full sink of clothes with one dry leaf. It can also be used as a body wash, and they make a Pocket Shampoo with conditioner. The Fresh Foot Stone (2 oz, $3.99) is just a smaller version of the Thai Crystal deodorant stone, which I've used for years; it's essentially just a block of mineral salts that inhibits bacteria growth that create stink. It's odorless and doesn't leave residues on clothes, and as the name implies, you can use it on your feet too. The last and most important thing: Chamois Glide (1/2 oz, $5.99). Saddle sores absolutely happen on this kind of endeavor, and this little stick gives an awesomely thin and not-messy layer of protection. You can also use it on feet, inner thighs, or any other place that chafes.

Security: As in any major city across the world, theft is high in Rome and Florence, and thieves are always getting smarter. Now there's a way to steal your information from credit cards and your passport without actually taking them, by scanning with an RFID reader. Inside our money belts we'll have everything tucked in PacSafe RFIDsafe 50 sleeves (1 oz, $19.99) that block scanning.

After cameras, first aid kit, and bike tools, my rough estimate is that we've got 10-12 pounds of gear on each bike. Which, when I did the math, sounds pretty impressive and hits right on the mark for a respectable, recommended bike packing weight. It still felt heavy crawling up Mount Lemmon.


Bikes packed and ready to ride!

 More on that ride soon. Stick around!

Gear | Trips

Building a Better First Aid Kit

by Emily Tuesday, August 7th 2012

I recently went backpacking in Aravaipa Canyon which, if you haven't been there, it's crazy beautiful and a requirement for southern Arizona residents, like a smaller accessible version of the Grand Canyon. My friend who came with me was pretty reactive to bee stings. She got stung once on a river trip and her ankle swelled into a cankle (calf + ankle, when it swells up so big you can't tell the difference) for over a month. I on the other hand have virtually no reaction to bee stings--no swelling at all, and not a lot of pain. In building my first aid kit, I would not have thought to put bee sting treatments in there; after all, I've never needed them. But it's a good thing I had the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight .3 kit with us on the trip, because my friend got stung by two bees, and luckily the AMK folks threw in some antihistimines for me. She took them right away, we carefully pulled out the stinger with precision tweezers, and she swabbed the stings with After Bite, which is really mostly ammonia, a base, that neutralizes the acid in the poison. The pain went away immediately, and her hand only swelled a teeny bit. I was kind of impressed and happy to have the tools to avoid minor tragedy in my med kit. But I was missing one key first aid staple, and that was duct tape. I had moleskin for blisters, but when you're hiking through water for three days in sandals that rub just a smidge, nothing will stay on your feet and protect your skin better than duct tape.


An ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure in this tiny little package: Adventure Medical Kits' Ultralight / Watertight .3

It got me thinking about how functional first aid kits can really be. I once saw a simple band-aid and some antibacterial ointment heal over a feud on a trail when two dog owners had their pets off leash and one got a tooth puncture on her hand from her dog as she pulled it from a scuffle. She was furious at the other owner for having the bigger dog off leash, but being able to patch her up softened her fire a little. So often I've thrown my kit in my pack as that random accessory I'll never pull out, and so often I've brought it out for simple, helpful things. What if there were actually some useful things in there? So here's a little checklist of some of the things I've found to be practical additions to a stock first aid kit.

Nail clippers: It may seem a little prissy to bring nail clippers into the wilderness, but it's a handy cutting tool that can snip things off close to the skin, like hangnails and peeling callouses--those run of the mill annoyances that can become full-on sores in the backcountry. Plus, if you're a nail biter you won't want to be doing that with dirt under your nails; clip 'em off.

Precision tweezers/forceps: Most kits come with these, but if they don't, quality tweezers are a must and they're probably the most oft-used tool in the desert. They remove cactus spines, splinters, insect stingers (always be careful of the poison sac), and they can help you pull out ticks by the mouth parts, limiting your chance of infection.

Alcohol wipes: You get some in a standard med kit, but never enough. I stock mine with several extra, because any situation that requires a first aid kit will also require clean hands.

Super glue: It's not made of the nicest chemicals to put on your skin, but super glue was used for emergency sealing of wounds during the Vietnam war. In a pinch, it's useful for stemming bleeding and keeping bacteria and debris out of a clean cut when nobody's around to stitch you up. Its FDA-approved counterpart, Dermabond, is a lot more expensive but much better on skin; run-of-the-mill super glue can be irritating. Please note: I'm not medically trained in the least, and some medical professionals would definitely NOT recommend this advice. I'm speaking only from what has been handy in my experience.

Extra butterfly closures: Most med kits stock you with two of these, but these are especially handy for mountain bikers, who tend to get deep cuts from falling off bikes into sticks, getting pedal-chopped in the shins, or taking a chainring to the calf, all of which I've done. Sometimes you just need to close two flaps of skin together, and if you've got enough butterfly closures you can zip up a wound temporarily without having to glue yourself together (see above).

Classic Swiss Army knife: Though the other tools are handy, I keep this mostly for the scissors. Several times I've needed to bandage a deep cut with a smaller piece of cotton dressing than what they give you in the package, and scissors are really the best tool for that.

Chlorine tabs: In the book "Born to Run", author Christopher MacDougall describes going on a run with a group of people in Mexico; two of the runners got lost, ran out of water, and were found dazed and delirious drinking out of a putrid mud puddle under a rock. After I read that scene, I figured there was no reason not to keep emergency chlorine tabs in my med kit; I need a back up for my water filter anyway.

Emergency whistle: It's a small thing that I would forget to bring otherwise, so I keep one in my med kit. If you needed to drum up some help getting yourself or someone else out of the backcountry, it could be a way to signal for help without having to leave the injured person alone.

Extra ibuprofen and acetametaphine: Both these medications are handy because they perform in different ways. Ibuprofen relieves pain by reducing inflammation, so it's effective for injuries. Acetametaphine is not an anti-inflammatory, and instead blocks pain receptors, making it the better choice for headaches. Both will reduce fever.

Duct tape: The most universal fixer-upper known to man. It will stick to skin even through hours of sloshing through water, so it's a good blister-preventative and band-aid cover inside sweaty boots or for sandaled feet in Aravaipa. It also doubles as an emergency patch kit for for tents, rain jackets, packs, and sleeping pads. I used to make a little roll sticking it to itself, until a few hot days welded the layers together and it became useless. Now I take Lucky Duct, a little section of tape on a paper backing, available for 99 cents.


Standard contents are on the right; my useful additions and extras are on the left. Amazingly, it all still fits.

All these extra things fit in my Ultralight Watertight Medical Kit .3, a small enough kit that there's no good excuse not to carry it, which is important for me; I could build a kit that would be more inclusive, but then I might talk myself out of bringing it on small day trips. The best med kit is worthless if it's sitting in your bathroom cabinet while you're on the trail. This one I bring every time. 

Gear

8000M Challenge & Big City Mountaineers

by frank Thursday, July 26th 2012

Each year, a team from Summit Hut joins about 150 of our closest outdoor friends for a heart-pounding, 38-mile day hike! The goal is to summit 3 of the tallest peaks in Southern California in under 24 hours. It's an incredible physical challenge, but it's also an amazing experience. The camaraderie between stores that are otherwise competeing against eachother is a reminder of why so many of us love the outdoor industry.

My favorite 8000M memory was starting up the second, and most daunting, peak, already feeling quite defeated. The first of the 16+ miles that take you to the summit of San Gorgonio has over 1,000 feet in elevation gain, and it doesn't back off much from there. I made my way up the first couple miles and had slowed to a crawl. Behind me came two chipper hikers, I recognized them as members of a competing retail chain's team. They came up behind me, encouraging me with every step. As they caught me, they offered more encouragement, but more importantly, they offered Oreos and Cheetos! The much appreciated snacks helped me along the way but were not quite enough to push me through the entire 38 miles. I ended up having to turn back due to some pain in my knee, but that story always reminds me of the reason we all love the outdoors. We may have varying objectives when we go outside - some of us are out to log as many miles as we can, some to have a feeling of peace - but more often than not, the hikers you come across are some of the friendliest people you'll meet. 

 
2009 8000M Challenge - Team Summit Hut  

This hike is supported by the outdoor team over at Jansport and is a benefit for Big City Mountaineers. BCM mentors under-resourced urban teens through transformative outdoor experiences to enrich lives, broaden horizons and instill critical life skills. This organization does amazing work with youth across the country, and for many of the children they serve, these programs offer their first experiences in the outdoors. If you're reading this blog, you have some sort of passion or interest in the outdoors, and you can almost surely remember the first night you spent under the stars, or the first peak you bagged. Those experiences are not only what spark the passion for the outdoors, they are what make us who we are. Please consider making a donation towards our efforts to raise money for Big City Mountaineers by donating online

Events | News

Merrell Mix Master 2 Review

by Korey Konga Monday, July 23rd 2012

Well folks, we just got the Mix Master 2 by Merrell in at Summit Hut.

Weighing in at 8.1 ounces, this is a great minimal trainer from Merrell's M-Connect line of shoes. Merrell markets the Mix Master 2 as a light-weight multi-sport shoe with minimal drop. “Multi-sport” meaning that the shoe should perform equally well on the trail as it does on the road (hence the name, Mix Master).

The Mix Master has a mesh upper with lightweight TPU overlays. The mesh upper gives the shoe that slipper-like fit and flexibility, while the overlays lock your foot down. It also features a bellows tongue which helps keep rocks, pebbles, and other debris, out of the shoe.

Merrell Mix Master 2 Top

The collar is very soft and comfortable, minimizing the chances of ankle irritation.

Merrell Mix Master 2 Back

The toe box is a little narrower than say, the Trail Glove, but it still provides a decent amount of room, more than most trail runners. There is also a rubber toe guard for protection on those super technical trails where the chances of smashing a toe are more than likely.

Merrell Mix Master 2 Top

The Mix Master sports a 4mm drop with a stack height of 9mm in the heel and 5mm in the forefoot (plus a 2mm EVA insole) and the EVA foot bed is treated with Merrell's antimicrobial solution to keep odors at bay. 

Merrell Mix Master 2 Side 1

Merrell Mix Master 2 Side 2

The outsole features lugs made with Merrell's “sticky” rubber. Hidden beneath the outsole is a flexible forefoot shock pad which protects your foot against rugged terrain and evenly distributes impact forces.

Merrell Mix Master 2

With all of these protective features you'd think that the shoe would lack flexibility, but it doesn't. It remains flexible and nimble, to ye minimalists delight.

Merrell Mix Master 2 Flex

Wear test and thoughts: In the last couple of days I took the Mix Master 2 on a few runs on various terrain. I took them on the treadmill, paved road, single track, some technical trails, steep climbs and equally steep descents.

Merrell exceeded my expectations with this shoe. The low drop and stack height made for great ground feel and definitely encouraged a mid-foot strike without sacrificing cushioning. The outsole is very sticky and the lugs are aggressive enough to handle some very technical terrain, but not so over bearing that you can't hit the black top. My foot didn't slip around in the shoe during descents, but didn't feel constricted in the toe box either.

I would recommend the Mix Master 2 as a daily trail trainer or a transitional shoe for someone who wants to switch to a minimal style, but isn't quite ready for a 0mm drop shoe.

Thanks for reading!

For more of my adventures and training visit: koreykonga.blogspot.com

Gear

The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!

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