Gear: Skin 4 Hydration Vest

As the summer runs get longer (and hotter) I’ve picked up a new bit of gear to assist with the ever-present runner’s dilemma: hydration.

I don’t think I need to write too many words on the subject of why water is important to … um … being alive, but certainly the effort of carrying enough fresh water (or other fluids that both fuel and hydrate) on a long distance run is a complex challenge for anyone who is out there on the trails.

Water, of course, is heavy and clumsy.

A bottle in the hand is something that needs to be carried, balanced, and on the trails two free hands are more useful than one might realize. On a short run taking a small bottle along is just fine, but an hour into a longer run the last thing I want to be carrying is a half-full plastic bottle that’s sloshing around in my hand.

I’ve used water belts in the past, but sloshing along with a couple plastic containers on your hip is a moderate inconvenience. And I have yet to do a race a not see multiple dropped belt-bottles littering the course, usually in the first five hundred meters of the race when someone’s carefully planned hydration plan is now just garbage and an obstacle for the next hundreds of people who run by.

I’ve tried a couple hydration packs in the past, the key differences from a hydration vest being the kinds of shoulder straps and the location of pouches. A pack is basically a light backpack with a water pouch. And my biggest problem with my previous pack solution was that usually within ten kilometers into a run I was running with my thumbs hitched up under the thin straps to limit the whole apparatus from that chafe-inducing jostling that was already well underway.

Last week I pried open my wallet and ordered myself what is probably the sports-car-equivalent of hydration solutions: a Salomon Skin 4 Hydration Vest, a snug fitting, light-weight, multi-pocket four-liter backpack-slash-vest designed to hold water bottles, a water bladder, gel packs, cell phones, car keys, and whatever else a distance runner might need quick access to while on the trails.

The new pack arrived yesterday and I wore it for our regular Wednesday evening adventure run.

The advantage of this pack, or so the logic of the purchase goes, is that it is snug. I have no honest comparison, but I assume it’s a little like wearing a sports bra overtop of a running shirt. This tight fit is both deliberate and a feature. It keeps the whole system from moving, shaking, jostling, and rubbing, and is meant to wear comfortably and securely for hours of running while keeping the hands free for trail navigation.

Our adventure run took us deep into some rolling river valley trails, the kind of terrain where your legs are slapped by branches as bumble through the trails and as you scramble up over steep dirt paths, grabbing onto tree stumps and protruding roots. I only carried a bit of water, as it was a short sub-ten kilometer run, but a set of car keys, my wallet and an iPhone tucked neatly into the pack and

… well … success!

I barely noticed the pack after the first few minutes.

A better test will come this weekend, as temperatures creep into the mid-30s Celsius and our distances move into the longer-than-a-half-marathon slogs through that same heat. I can’t say I’m not nervous about both the heat and the mileage, but at least now I’m pretty certain I won’t die of thirst.

*This is gear I've purchased for myself and not a paid endorsement of this product.

Dog Days of Summer

It’s officially summer here in Edmonton where I live, and the days are marked by a sharp increase in temperatures and an equally sharp decrease in my motivation to move with any sort of speed … yes, even when I’m running!

Also, it’s been a long, dark winter … at least sixteen months if I recall … and this summer seems more welcome than any of us can put into words, I think.

With the arrival of summer, the re-opening of our world (locally at least) following a long, exhausting pandemic, the end of the school year for my daughter, and the wrapping up of a huge project I’ve been involved with at my real job, I’ve been eyeing the arrival of July with no shortage of excitement.

I’ve been writing this blog for nearly six months, every day, and making it a daily exercise has not only resulted in one hundred and seventy plus blog posts since January, but has given me great motivation to go out into the world more openly, explore more deeply, cook and eat more adventurously. Six months is not long, but it has been long enough to kickstart a respectable quantity and tone of articles that I’m (mostly) proud to have online.

Of course I never wrote about how I intended to keep blogging every day, well … forever. Because… to be honest I didn’t intend that. I intended to write daily for as long as I could manage to keep it interesting for myself and for my readers, and (more importantly) for as long as I wasn’t trading the living of my life for the writing about it.

Summer is short and definitely for the living of life, and with all those simultaneous moments approaching with the first of July, I am in the important moment and existential position of asking myself if I’m following that very rule: I don’t want to sacrifice adventure to the publication cycle of a blog.

You may have also noticed that more than a few of my articles lately have been a bit … um … navel-gazing? Bland? Space-filling? I’ll be the first to admit I’ve phoned in a few posts this month. Gak!

So, here’s the thing…

I’ve decided that I’ll be switching over to a summer schedule for July and August.

This summer we have some mountain vacations planned, some technology-free camping trips in the north country to do, weekends at the lake or on the river to enjoy, and a whole of lot of intention to get away from our screens as much as possible. I will still be posting here, probably more regularly than I should, but look for my posts to be a little more scattered over the next two months as of the first of July.

Expect your daily dose of cast iron guy goodness to resume to full daily schedule in September, and with any luck I’ll have a long list of stories to catch you all up on.

Haskap

Four large lush bushes occupy various spots in my backyard. I planted these shrubs about eight to ten years ago as worked to fill my garden beds with as many fruit-bearing plants as could reasonably live adapted to this crazy northern climate zone.

Lonicera caerulea is also known in some parts of the world as honeysuckle or honeyberry, but in Canada we tend to refer to this bush and it’s fruit as a haskap.

My haskap bushes started to bear ripe fruit this past week and I’ve been eagerly plucking as many as I can before the robins eat more than their fair share. I don’t mind, but I do like to have a few of the tart-sweet berries before they all become bird food.

I don’t know much about the haskap itself. For a few years a nearby university known for their horticultural work breeding plants that were slightly more adapted to surviving the long winters seemed to be mentioned frequently around greenhouses as I and my fellow local gardeners bought and planted each a few of the adapted shrubs. The work of that same university is responsible for the breed of my backyard apple tree which is now at least fourteen seasons growing in it’s current spot and has easily produced tens of thousands of apples. This is not a climate where anything that hasn’t been winter hardened will grow much past September, and only the best adapted of trees and shrubs survive our minus forty winters. The haskap, on the other hand, seems to thrive in these parts.

The haskap is a little more subtle than my apple tree though.

My metre-wide bushes usually produce only a cup or two of the elongated blue-purple treats, right around this time of the year, and by the time we graze our fill there is rarely anything left behind but scraps for the most persistent of the local avian population.

I have a few varieties of berries in my backyard, yet these haskap are the ones that draw the most curiosity from visitors… but only those lucky enough to stop by during the short couple weeks when their colourful, oblong orbs dangle ready to be tasted.

Bread, Un-Servable

We had a small get-together in our backyard over the weekend.

Because as the number of new infections drops and more people get vaccinated locally, the restrictions have been eased and we figured a few people over for drinks and food was now not only possible, it was lawful.

Of course, I baked a loaf of sourdough as part of my contribution to the potluck.

I mixed up a nice blend of that local rye flour and some white, rested it in the fridge for an extra-long, extra-souring first proof, overnighted it on the counter so I could bake it the morning of the party as to ensure maximum freshness and…

How am I going to serve this thing? I thought.

My guests and I had been particularly careful in organizing everything to make sure all the local health guidelines were, if not followed to the letter, nodded to in respect.

We had carefully sanitized and bundled out bunches of wrapped utensils.

There were single-serve plastic gloves so everyone could dish up.

The main dishes were brought by the guests and picked to be you-touch-it-you-eat-it type foods like fried chicken, pizza, and samosas.

The beverages were all canned, and single serving.

And even the birthday cake (it was a birthday party) was individual cupcakes where we sat in a big circle and sang to the birthday gal and she blew out the single candle on her chosen treat.

But then I had this loaf of sourdough I had proudly baked. I suddenly didn’t feel comfortable serving it. I’ve been baking loaves of my sourdough for so long, and yet just for us to eat, that I didn’t even consider the high-touch, social nature of this bread.

Usually at a party I set out a loaf of bread on a cutting board with a bread knife. Guests can cut their own slice… but that created a situation where lots of people were interacting with the whole loaf and the knife.

Occasionally, I cube the bread into generous chunks for dipping either in something like a spinach dip or oil and vinegar, but a dip seemed like the kind of communal eating situation we were deliberating steering clear of.

Sometimes I’ll slice it just before I serve it, which would have probably been the best option, but even then I’m the one who is touching every slice and exposing the bread to the air and our house and…

I was being overly cautious, I know, but we’re right now in this moment of time when people are just starting to trust shared spaces again. The metaphor is something like slowly slipping into a icy mountain lake a little bit at a time, or clearing out the clutter of a big mess one piece-by-piece. The road back to normal is slow and careful. And that’s where I am: not quite ready to serve a loaf of bread because I didn’t think anyone would feel safe about eating it.

So I didn’t feel right about serving it. Friendships are built on trust and respect, and when people come to your space put their trust in you to serve them food, to me respect is putting aside your ego – even the pride of a perfectly delicious loaf of freshly baked bread – and sticking with the agreed upon party plan.

On the up side, I do have a lot of leftover bread.