It's a tall order to design a world class mountain-biking course. I always knew that. Then I interviewed Greg Martin. He's the course director for the USA Cycling Cross Country National Championships that were held in Sun Valley this past July. He laid out the specifics of building challenging terrain for me. In short, it's more work than you think.
Here's the dirt on everything that went into this year's course in Sun Valley. (And next week I'll have an interview up with Greg—stay tuned.)
USA Cycling Cross Country National Championships By the Numbers
180,000 Lbs. of rock used to create the boulder gardens
The mere mention of it sends a quiver through the quads of Bay Area cyclists. The grades up this meandering slice of arcadian countryside on the north edge of San Jose reach 15 percent, with a 10 percent average over 3.5 miles and 1,700 feet of vertical gain. At this year’s Tour of California, Chris Horner capped Stage 4 by charging up Sierra Road in about 16 minutes. When I conquered it in early August it took me … longer than that. Turning onto Sierra from Piedmont, which skirts the blandly pleasant neighborhood of Piedmont Hills, you are confronted by a wall of blacktop. It’s the climb’s steepest point, and while it doesn’t last long enough to put you off, it does do a bang-up job of setting the tone. After the second turn, an empty plastic water bottle tumbled from my jersey, and I had to halt whatever momentum I had (not much, I can tell you) to retrieve it. At another point, perhaps a mile from the top, I stopped to shoot a “majestic” phone-cam pic of the entire South Bay, the dirty urban haze looming above it providing the source of those scare quotes. When I got home, that picture was nowhere to be found (believe me, no loss), but I did find these—a series of 13 pocket photos fired off as my phone jounced around in my jersey, the red and black fabric providing a Rothko-esque wash to pictures that at first glance appeared eminently deletable but on further inspection, through a series of inadvertent details—a skewed horizon line, telephone poles jutting up at odd angles, aloofly grazing cattle—offered a better account of that toilsome ascent than I could have myself. —SEAN COOPER
You want to have a little whiskey reward when you make to the lake. Or have some pinot noir along with your baked ziti on your next backpacking trip. We're with you.
Platypus Platypreserve: For vino, we've been, ah, pleasantly field testing these pouches for years. Cascade Design's Platypreserve collapsible reservoir lets you ditch the bottle and, just as important, squeeze the oxygen out and keep your drink in the dark (the two main environmental factors that make your wine go bad). The third, of course, is temperature. But how you keep it at a constant 52°F lakeside is your own issue. Available now, $10, cascadedesigns.com.
Polar explorer Jock Wishart and a crew of five are closing in on their attempt to row 450 miles to the north magnetic pole. It's probably worth getting this out of the way up front. The journey is to the north magnetic pole as measured in 1996, on Ellef Ringes Island. The north magnetic pole moves every year due to changes in the earth's core, and since 2009 has moved roughly 35 miles a year towards Russia. It's the point your compass references, and it can move over land. The geographic North Pole is the set point where all lines of longitude converge over the ice or water of the Arctic Ocean, or, for some of you, where Santa Claus lives.
If you tell people that you've taken teensy, just-born babies out on the water—be it in a raft, a sailboat, or a 15-horsepower runabout—invariably, the first question you'll get is, “They make lifejackets that small?” Yes, in fact, they do.
But not all infant PFDs are created equal. When our older daughter, Pippa, was a month old and traveled to Stony Lake for the first time, my mother rustled up some ancient lifejacket from the depths of the boathouse that looked like it’d been around since my infancy a billion years ago. It had surely been an adequate piece of flotation apparatus in its day, but its day was most definitely past. The chest and back flotation panels had faded from rescue-me! orange to rust-colored sepia, and the buckle on the crotch strap had to be re-threaded. We used it for a few weeks, and even cinched down to its tightest, most compact size, it still swallowed the baby. She was all PFD, no Pippa (exhibit A). Surprisingly, it didn’t seem to bother her that the zipper rode up to her chin and she could barely flap her little arms—swaddled in her lifejacket, she zonked out the minute we started the engine. But what killed the deal for us was the float test: When, a few weeks in, we tossed the PFD into the lake—sans baby, of course—it sopped up water like a sponge and listed ominously to port.
Exhibit A: Ouch
We were about to unearth another similar mini PFD from the mountain of lifejackets in the back hall when a cottage friend clued me into The World’s Best Infant Life Jacket, Period. Made by Canadian marine safety company Salus, the Bijoux offers a radical re-think on standard PFD design. Instead of a scaled-down, beefed-up adult jacket—zipping and buckling across the chest and securing with a crotch strap—the Bijoux is designed to go on like a mesh harness between the legs, and its one-piece front flotation panel buckles on either side of the neck. This gives it a snug fit without dreaded chin-pinch and ensures that the baby will turn face up in the water. Key!