Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"When you live in Alaska, you have to be ready to deal with the weather"

1222 Well Street Fairbanks

Louis Garneau Neo Protect brand
Biking shoe booties 

If you are reading this in Fairbanks, I don’t have to tell you it has been a whacky spring. As I write this it is 24 degrees outside---not exactly tulip weather. But it is bike-riding weather for those of us who signed up for races months ago with the reasonable expectation that winter would be over.
    I am competing in a triathlon in Anchorage on Sunday and training for the bike portion has been tricky with the weather.  Alaska has taught me that foul weather is a factor you are better off accepting and accommodating for rather than letting it thwart your plans. “This is Alaska, man, you just go,” a friend told me years ago when I was balking at starting a hike in a cold rain.
    Last night, my weather-nerd husband was brimming with the news that his meteorologist buddies are forecasting a big dump of snow in Anchorage Friday or Saturday. The triathlon is on Sunday. Snow or not, it is going to be chilly.
      I will start the biking portion of the race sopping wet from the pool swim. I know people in other climes hop on their bikes fresh from a swim all the time, but riding a bike wet in Alaska is like skiing in shorts. You likely won’t die, but it’s not going to feel good.
     My feet have been my main concern. I frostbit my toes a year and a half ago and they have been quick to get cold ever since. My bike shoes are triathlon shoes, so they consist of a lot of mesh. They are great for letting water out and keeping your foot nice and cool---not what I am looking for right now.

     So it’s Fred to the rescue---Fred Raymond of Raven Cross Country Sports. He is the sole proprietor and employee of the shop that sells all things biking in the spring and summer and all things skiing in the fall and winter. It is the ultimate Fairbanks specialty shop; it is simple and it is quality.
   Determined to start training outside a couple of weeks ago, I walked out of his shop with a pair of black neoprene booties to fit over my bike shoes. You slip the water and wind-proof booties over your shoe and cinch them together with Velcro. They work like ski booties, but are tighter and more streamlined. This pair is a bargain at $20.

     The first day I wore them it was 29 degrees and I was nervous. For the ride I wore a pair of chemical toe warmers attached overtop my wool socks and the neoprene booties over my bike shoes. My feet stayed warm through the ride, letting me concentrate on the curious lack of oxygen reaching my lungs as I labored up the hills. By the end, my feet were downright hot. The toe warmers were overkill.

     For the rest of my training rides I have ditched the toe warmers and the booties have done the trick. I have experimented with and without them on rides and have reached the decision that if it’s below 45 degrees, I will rock those booties on race day. Donning and shedding them have become part of my triathlon training. I can get those babies on over my bike shoes in four seconds flat.

    I hope I never have to use them in a race again, but am so thankful I’ve got them. When you live in Alaska, you have to be ready to deal with the weather. These little booties help. As Queen sings, “get on your bikes and ride.”
Fred, the knowledgeable and friendly owner of
Raven Cross Country. Bike shop in the Summer; Cross Country
Ski Shop in the Winter. What a treasure in Fairbanks, over on Well
Street, off of Phillips Field Road.

There's no webpage or Facebook page - just stop by the store!!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Gear Girl, two dogs, and a Woolly Rhino...

250 3rd Street Suite 6 Fairbanks, AK 99701 Phone: (907) 452-4774
Summer: Mon.-Sat. 8-9, Sun. 10-6 Winter: Mon.-Sat. 9-8, Sunday 10-6

Visit their website

Patagonia Nano Puff Vest

For a little writing inspiration this morning, I pulled on this week’s Gear Girl item: a Patagonia Nano Puff Vest in tailored grey. Suddenly my two labs are all over me, jumping up, trying to lick my face, whining. My dogs love this vest. I have worn it every time I've exercised in the last three weeks of this schizophrenic spring. And now, as tiny flakes of snow fall like a rainstorm outside, my dogs recognize it like they do my running shoes and fully expect we are going on an adventure.
     It’s a humble piece.  The color is a very light gray that looks more like off-white,  100 percent polyester with PrimaLoft, weighing in at 7.5 ounces. 

     I have to be honest. Initially, I was not overly excited about reviewing a vest. They are usually priced about the same as a jacket, which I figured was unreasonable since you don’t get the sleeves. Thus, the only vest I have ever bought is the type you wear canoeing and we all know how much fun those are.
     I also worried about the color as I tend to wear a sample of whatever food I’ve eaten during the day.  I haven’t bought anything in white since my wedding dress.
     And yet. I am smitten by this light miracle worker and it has come to be my most relied upon piece of outdoor gear.  The vest has been the perfect piece over a couple layers of long underwear tops for running or skiing.  I would like to report that I’ve worn it biking, but I haven’t been brave enough to face the icy roads.
     Being windproof it has kept my torso toasty during this crazy month of nutty temperatures and brisk winds.  I have only been too warm in it once when I was wearing a couple of layers underneath and running hard.  But one of the vest’s sweet features is it stuffs into a little pouch about the same size as your hand, easier than tying a jacket around your waist.

     As for the color, it has worked surprisingly well because it matches everything.  And its been tested. Because it is so comfortable I find myself wearing it when I’m cooking dinner, throwing it over my pajamas in the morning while I start my coffee and stoke the woodstove. Somehow it has remained clean.
     No doubt I will continue to test this wundervest through this spring and on cool summer nights… and in the fall and back to winter.
     The vest runs true to size and sells for $149 at Woolly Rhino. 

Here's the Nano Puff in its original home in the store. It is so light,
and look at that cute inner color!

Woolly Rhino is to the right when you walk in Frontier Outfitters.
Here's a shot of the ladies side of the store. There slogan is 'Where quality,
style, & warmth co-exist'.

Locally owned and operated. They have a shoe section, bags, sunglasses
and lots of performance apparel for the Alaskan woman. 

                                                               Check out their website                                                 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Winter Running with Goldstream Sports - Gear Girl gives it a go!

                         Gear Girl visits Goldstream Sports
Visit their website

    Icebug running shoes: All grip and no slip
      It’s that time of year. The roads and parking lots become obstacle courses of glazed iced making walking, let alone running, feel like you should be suited up in football pads and a helmet.
     My go-to winter running shoe are banished to the closet.  The last time I ran on them, the rubber tread had frozen and when I hit the black ice on Cushman Street I did a Three Stoogesesque slip in front of a row of cars stopped for the light.  I did not slide under a car; everyone got a good laugh, but I was spooked.
     I figured I was doomed to run on a treadmill until the ice melted. Then my favorite running store, Goldstream Sports, gave me a pair of their studded Icebug running shoes to demo. They are a darling fuchsia, water resistant and have 34 small metal studs protruding from their tread.  Goldstream Sports carries several different models.

     I take the Icebug Pythos2 for a spin on my hilliest running route, climbing an icy road up a long steep hill, over some rolling hills on mushing trails and back down on a road covered in hard pack.
    Even the dogs are slipping on the icy road and I slow down to a shuffle in anticipation. No need. The cleats dig into the icy crust covering the snow and I power around the curve. No slip, not a whisper of a slip. I don’t feel the spikes through the shoes and they are as light as my summer running shoes.
     I start down a long hill on black ice, still no skid. It’s hard to get my mind to trust the information coming from my feet and I find myself still holding back. Overriding my survival instinct, I open up my stride and run freely.
     These shoes are hot-pink miracles. I land sure footed with each shoe’s small metal spikes digging into the ice and giving me extra force as I push off. I feel I am running faster now than on bare pavement.  It feels a little naughty---like racing on a bike without a helmet---and I love it.
     By the end of my run, I am convinced that every runner in Fairbanks should own a pair of these.

       Though they are designed for running, I have been wearing them everywhere. I feel invincible in them. I can sprint across any parking lot in town with a latte in hand and remain upright. Thus, I have expanded my initial edict: every person crossing a hard-packed road should own a pair of Icebug shoes.
     Some cautions are due. These are not indoor shoes.  They are slippery on tile, especially any flooring with a gloss to it. Also, they will mark wood floors, so definitely take them off before treading across anyone’s Himalayan cedar planks.
     Also, you aren’t going to sneak up on anyone in a pair of these. On hard surfaces like asphalt, Icebugs make a sound similar to a dog with long toenails clacking across a hardwood floor. I kind of like it.
     Finally, they are on the expensive side.  This pair sells for $165 and they are worth it. Investing in a pair of Icebugs is like buying insurance to keep you safe until the ice melts.  I think of my friend who I saw limping earlier in the week because she slipped during a run and sprained her foot. The first big 5k of the season is only two weeks away and it would be horrible to hurt yourself right before the season. The long days are here and calling us to come outside and run. These will keep you off your fanny.

Goldstream Sports offers free high-tech testing of your running/walking gait
so they can recommend the best shoe for you (the studded shoes will rip up the treadmill, so no video testing for those).

Ben captures video of your run on the treadmill
 with a neutral shoe to observe and analyze your
foot-striking pattern; then again with a recommended shoe
 to keep you running your best, pain and injury free.

Goldstream Sports offers awesome trails for testing out gear
 and for public use 'cause they're awesome!

711 Sheep Creek Road
Fairbanks, Alaska 99709
(907) 455-6520
Mon-Fri: 12-7 * Sat: 10-5 * Sun: Closed

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Gear Girl conquers the Ice Tower - Climb on!

    UAF Outdoor Adventures - Ice Climbing Tower

  I am climbing the ice tower at the University of Alaska Fairbanks for the first time and feel like a combination of Edward Scissorhands and Spiderman. The ice axes are light and quickly come to feel like an extension of my hands while the spiky metal crampons attached to the climbing boots work like magic Velcro to ice.
   I am stuck in a sprawl against a tower of ice. I look down to see how far I’ve come and fight a wave of panic. I’m about halfway up, maybe 20 feet off the ground and I feel like I’m going to throw up the blueberries and kettle chips I snacked on before the climb. I tell myself it’s only the adrenaline flooding my body and that I must make a move.
     My face is centimeters away from this giant mottled ice cube, and the coolness radiating from it calms my stomach. I take a deep breath and command myself to get a grip.  The sun is setting pink on the horizon and, up this close, the ice reveals swirling patterns of blue and milky white.  The fear fades, replaced by thrill as I reach my axe for the next crook in the ice’s fa├žade and I patter my feet into new holds.
     “Excellent pick,” yells Frank Olive, the assistant coordinator of UAF’s Outdoor Education Center and the most patient man on the face of the earth.
     “Good job, mom,” comes from my 14-year-old. My husband and a friend are also cheering.  I feel a little ridiculous but it helps. My inching gives way to a confident scamper.
      As I pull myself up on the next move, the ice gives way and a chunk of it hits my helmet as I fall off the wall. Frank is holding the rope so tightly, it gives only a couple of inches and I realize I’m safe before I had time to be scared. I reach up again and find a better hole to latch my axe into and continue on.
     Statistically, I am safer now than I was on the car ride over.  I have an expert literally watching every move I make. I am in a climbing harness attached to a thick climbing rope looped to the top of the tower and back to the belay controlled by Frank on the ground. The Outdoor Ed Center supplied all the equipment and the instructors tie the knots, do the belaying and coach climbers along.
     As I near the top, my hands and forearms start to cramp and I know I am making the rookie mistake of relying too much on my arms instead of my legs. Still, it is mentally difficult to relax the death grip I have on the axe handles. Before I started climbing, Frank told me the key to ice climbing is to keep the arms and feet arranged in a triangle so the legs are doing most of the climbing.  I am able to get the feeling of this a couple of times on my way up and it does make it much easier.
     When I reach the top, I shake out my arms and feel the elation of a kid at the top of a tree. Now I am having a seriously good time. Then I repel down and try a new route.

      This is the most fun activity I've tried this winter and if you live in Fairbanks, you have to try it. The instructors give thorough directions, make you feel safe and help you to the top. Climbing the ice tower costs about as much as seeing a movie and has the benefits of a massive endorphin rush and a strength workout like no other.
    The wall is open to the public Wednesday through Friday from 4 until 8, and Saturday from 12 to 4. ** See Spring Break hours below. Check in at the yurt next to the Student Rec Center and they will outfit you up. Dress as you would for a ski or run but bring a jacket for when you are waiting. Go soon because the wall closes when the temperature reaches 25 and above.

 For more information, call (907) 474-6306 or check out the website:

Lots of gear in the yurt to fit you.
The guides will size you
and pick the right
gear just for you.

Frank Olive helped Gear Girl
 get a safe fit of all her equipment.

The professional guides rope
 you in and explain each step
so you feel confident and
knowledgeable about the process.
Geared up!

Nearing the top, first attempt!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Beaver Sports

Beaver Sports 3480 College Rd

 It’s 10 degrees below zero.  I am cross-country skiing and I am basically wearing a sheep. I have four layers of wool on top, two layers on bottom, a wool neck warmer, wool socks and a wool hat. My eyelashes are freezing together. It is a crystal-clear day, I am gliding through a birch forest in the subarctic, and I am not cold. I feel like bleating.
    I have been an adherent to the wool movement since ibex and Icebreaker started selling their wool products here in Fairbanks in the last decade. They are light, warm and durable. They are hugely versatile and I wear them year-round--- winter workouts, spring skis or summer camping.
   The only drawback is they are pricey. A top and pair of long johns will run you about $175.  I’ve hawked sale racks, bought them in off colors and weird sizes. I imagine if my house were on fire, I would stop and grab my tote of workout clothes before the computer.
    Still, my affair with wool had yet to extend to the most intimate of layers: undies and bra.  I’ve been curious, but they seemed too extravagant. Also, I think wool underwear suffers a bit of an image problem. To me the words conjure some monk in the Middle Ages pulling on a pair of thick, scratchy skivvies under his robe as he preps for a day of deprivation and suffering.
     But I am all for new experiences and new clothes. I was elated to try out ibex’s Balance Bralette ($55) and Balance Briefs ($25), both from Beaver Sports. Seeing that I’ve never spent more than $10 on a pair of underwear, I ventured into new territory.
     First, both pieces are super soft---no itchy-wool-sweater feeling. In fact, I forgot I was wearing them until midway through my ski when I felt a flush of warmth come up from my chest and remembered, ‘Ah yes, the wool bra.” Baaaaa.
    The briefs did their job remarkably: no cold cheeks after an hour-plus of skiing. Like my northern sisters, I am almost always a little cold in the derriere at the end of a winter workout so I was pleasantly surprised to finish with a toasty bum.
    Both pieces come in bright, fun colors. (I chose the “parsley,” because they looked so cheerful and it was an amusing name to be associated with underwear and bras.) They were both so comfortable that I didn’t want to take them off when I was done.
    Being a buxom gal, I would need to make some adjustments to run in this bra. It does not have enough support to keep the sisters from roaming and will need to add another bra on top. It’s fine for skiing and other low impact sports, though. Ibex does sell a more substantial workout bra for those interested in warmth and extra support.
    In the extreme cold, I would recommend ditching the briefs and going hardcore with ibex’s long shorts. They are like boxers and have a little thicker material than the briefs and really keep you warm. Alas, they don’t come in parsley.
    Bottom line, I highly recommend both products because they definitely kept me warm and happy. If you are going to be out in the elements for a long time, they are worth the investment.

Welcome to Gear Girl!

Gear Girl is your source for the gear and gadgets Alaskan women use to play in our extreme seasons. The Northern Alaska Environmental Center sponsors this blog to engage with our members and community who love to play in the wild places we protect. The Northern Center: Conserving and protecting habitats in Interior and Arctic Alaska for wildlife, culture, environmental health and future generations since 1971.
Gear Girl is partnering with many of the outdoor gear shops in the Fairbanks Community to highlight the gear they carry. A couple of times a month, Gear Girl will feature clothing, gear, gadgets, or services from local shops and offer you the female perspective and review to let you know what's available.
We have a fabulous local writer, Kristan Kelly, to entertain and educate you as we send her out on crazy and exciting adventures to test these products.
Keep checking back and let your friends know - it'll be fun!!