Humility only a mountain can give.

At the beginning, the trip was designed with the best of intentions. Ultimately though, it was not meant to happen on that day. After planning and arranging a camping/biking trip, I instead was reminded by the mountains that it was ultimately their domain, a place where foolishness was not tolerated and could be dangerous to the point of being deadly. However, considering my age-related, cautious demeanor, I, at all points, had a solid backup plan: turn around and go home to try another day.

Working up to the trip, small challenges arose regarding schedules, bike mechanical or two, and weather that finally led me to turn around and go home. First, the rig I planned to do the trip with wasn’t completely built yet, due to issues with parts vendors, followed by my daily rider suffering from rear hub failure. Luckily I was able to remedy the rear wheel situation and provide myself with a rig, although I questioned the terrain I would be entering for the first time …in November…at 4000-5000 feet. So, there were still some questionable variables.

This trip was intended to be a preliminary scouting trip for an eventual through-ride of the Palomar Divide Fire Road, a route I am trying to develop. The weather at the peak had been a steady mix of highs in the 60s and lows dropping between mid-40s to high 30s at night, similar to New England spring/fall conditions. I brought my 15 deg synth sleeping bag figuring that, even if it was weak from age/use, it would still be able to function fairly comfortably (I usually sleep in base layers and pants when backpacking/camping) in the upper 30’s, with some wind. I was unfortunately, frigidly, and miserably wrong.

Whenever I plan a trip, I always start a gear/food list a few weeks prior. This gives me an ample amount of time in which to think critically about what to take, what needs to be fixed, what needs to be replaced, and where all my damn AAA batteries are (They were right there in that little clear container, I swear).


This time, I did not do this.


Instead, I ended up running around two different stores with various combinations of USB micro chargers, mandarin orange segments, a 20-count pack of batteries, tire tubes (the bike I wanted to bring was tubeless, the one I DID bring wasn’t), and Peanut M&candies (not a typo, just not sure of infringements). This was by compounded by my not having done laundry, meaning that I wouldn’t have the gear I needed until the morning of the trip (working Thanksgiving week backlogged some habitual tasks), backing up my departure time to much later than I had intended.


I ended up getting to the campground just as the sun set, leaving me to set up camp by the light of my headlamp. The temperature was swiftly dropping without the warmth of the sun, so I began to boil water for food, raise my tent, and attempt to start a fire in the fire ring for some warmth (I usually have a couple pieces of firewood in my car…not sure if that’s weird). The last task proved to be the most difficult. I was able to get my food cooking and the tent assembled, but the fire was proving to be a challenge. Using three pieces of pine, some newspaper, a pocket knife, and lighter, I was finally able to get it started, and things seemed to be looking up. You can see in the diagram provided what the build looked like and the small video edit right after I had finished the fire (the process of finishing the fire was kind of profane so I left that part out) showing the results along with my joy of finishing.

Fire assembly

The blue is the fresh air feeding the flames, grey is smoke. By moving the top 2 logs closer I could protect the flame, but had to be careful not to choke out the flame by blocking the path of the smoke

After cooking, cleaning, and roasting the traditional mallow’o’marsh, I decided to hunker down for the night. I discovered as I packed my sleeping bag, that I had left my pad with my other bag from an earlier trip. Cursing myself for not adequately planning, I got out my bivy and used it as a ground cloth to prevent leaching of my limited body warmth into the earth.

Wrapped in fleece, base layers, mid layers, a several-seasons-old “15 F” sleeping bag, and a fleece hat, and using my puffy down as a pillow/hood, I thought I would be in the comfortable range of my gear. Unfortunately, after heavy use over the years, my bag was no longer up to its labeled rating (it’s closer to a 2-season now), so while I was not comfortable, I was still well in the survivable limits of my gear. The main environmental factor seemed to be the winds (due to elevation), as the ambient temperature was around 37-39 F/ 2-3 C during the coldest parts of the night.

I had planned on getting up early to ride along the Palomar Divide Fire Road to the fire-lookout west of the observatory, and watch the sunrise. When I awoke at 4:25 AM, five minutes before my 4:30 alarm, needing to relieve myself but unsure where freezing to do it would be ideal, I decided to consider my options prior to moving forward with a plan:

  • I had a map, compass, phone, and adequate lighting, but no actual experience on this particular terrain/trail.
  • It was still dark out, with about 1.5 hours till daybreak and 2 hours before sunrise, and the temperature with the wind-chill was in the 20’s, but when riding would probably feel colder.
  • I had slept poorly and awoke exhausted/sore from cold.
  • At best, I make it to the peak before sunrise; at worst, I lose the trail early (because of my lack of experience/natural light) and become disoriented and lost.


As a believer in every lesson being a learning experience, I decided to be humbled by the mountain and not push my luck. I had taken a few lumps and could always try again (next time showing up during daylight to get a sense of the area, and arriving with a better sleep system); however, to go forward in the less-than-ideal conditions was just not intelligent. I found relief from the cold in the camp restroom, where they maintained a temp of about 40 F/4 C to keep the pipes from freezing/bursting. After landing on the decision to return at a later date, I packed all of my gear, waited for my car to warm up, and headed down the mountain. As the sun began to rise, I decided that while I could still go on a ride when I got home, the colors and the mountains in front of me were too beautiful not to capture. Enjoy, and see you out there. #dontdie




Palomar mountain camping in November video edit

Endurance meal planning: pt. 1 of 2

One of the greatest challenges I have ever faced is trying to figure out what I would STILL want to eat after hours of sweating, laboring, and working core muscles during an endurance feat. Several factors must come into place:

  • How much room do you have to carry food and water?
  • How long of an event is it (a few hours or a few weeks)?
  • Do you run the risk of being stranded without rescue for an extended period?
  • Are there resupply points along the way or is it you, nature, and that Lifestraw you laughed at when your mom gave it to you “in case”?
  • How much do you REALLY like peanut butter?

Okay maybe not that last one (even though PB spread is one of the better calorie banks) but you get the idea, You must consider the trip before you can look at the nutrition. Currently I am planning a series of sub24 to four day bikepacking trips, and between the two ends of that short spectrum, my planning changes a fair bit.

Small differences in conditions can make big differences when planning

To give you a visual, HERE are two lists of my meal planning for two separate events, One being a “short” 10 hour race with 14k feet of elevation over 16 miles and the other being a 4 day/ 3 night backpacking trip.

Both require a fair bit of experience to complete, but as you can see, the 10-hour race nutrition set-up consists mainly of sugar-based, carb-heavy snacks, a few pieces of jerky, maybe some electrolyte drink, and water (lots of hot, plastic bladder-flavored, mud-coating-your-mouthpiece water). The backpacking trip, on the other hand, is based around the assumption that water sources will be available to replenish supplies, through potable or filtered sources. This allows you to carry the same volume water as the short trip and can afford you more room for food, BUT be careful not to underestimate how much water you need. Worst case situation for bringing too much water on a hike is you stay hydrated and experience the “call of nature” more frequently. Worst case situation for not enough water is…you know…being dead, so, water it is!

When looking at the image of the backpacking meal plan, the lack of sugar-heavy items should be evident and the presence of more “savory” food items should be visible. Items heavier in proteins, lipids (fats), fiber, and foods containing other nutrients (vitamins and minerals) your body requires to sustain, repair, or construct muscle and bone during times of extend stress, will be featured more prominently in other meal plans and preferably at the lowest possible moisture content available, casually known as the processes of dehydration or freeze drying. Freeze drying uses a freezing process to force water into expanding beyond the limits of the cell walls that food is compromised of; then once set under a vacuum seal, the free water is evaporated through sublimation (solid to gas). Dehydrating, on the other hand, requires a higher temperature and can alter the flavors and textures due to higher heat used in the drying process. Either way, these will alleviate several challenges that are presented during extended trips: How do I get more stuff in the same amount of space, make it weigh less, and be more resistant to spoilage? The answer for all three is take out the water.


You want your vitamins. It’s just a fact. If I was lazier I would leave it at that but I like to be thorough; my friends say I just over-explain stuff till it’s dead. Every chemical reaction your body undergoes is due in part to vitamins: allowing you to see, move, metabolizes amino acids properly, not poop like a rabbit or a dog that ate trash, you get the idea. Some vitamins can be dissolved in water and the rest are fat-soluble. The water-soluble ones are the B vitamins (there are a few if you’ve never looked at a box of cereal and they can have alternative names such as Niacin and Folate) and Vitamin C (FA’ THA’ SCURRRRVY). These water-soluble vitamins, unfortunately, have little storage within the body and need replenishment daily.

lemon pirate

#display stock photos and ms paint

The fat-soluble ones, A, D, E, and K, are able to be stored within the fatty cells of the body (hence the “fat-soluble” designation) and are not as easily depleted as the water-soluble vitamins. This knowledge allows, with proper advanced planning, the ability to find foods that can have reduced moisture while retaining some amount of vitamin content.

With any type of preservation technique you will lose some amount of vitamins, so if you can find fresh food along the trip, it’s generally advised to save your freeze-dried corn for when you’re stuck under an overpass and have so time to kill in a thunderstorm. Eat fresh foods whenever you can, and take fruits and veggies as many as you can afford or fit in free spots. IF you feel the need to supplement with some type of multivitamin, a powdered type that is mixed into a liquid and dissolved completely MAY absorb more efficiently than some gel-coated or other type of pill which requires the digestion process to be absorbed. According to the US Pharmacopeia, pills must dissolve within 30-45 minutes after ingestion or risk not being fully absorbed by the blood stream.

If you noticed my ambivalence about the topic of multivitamins, cool, it’s due to the fact that eating a varied diet to meet your nutrient and caloric needs is the BEST option. Adding a potential bomb of large doses of vitamins in addition to/in replacement of that varied intake usually does not end in the intentioned way and can increase the chances of reaching a vitamin’s point of toxicity (most vitamins have a point where too much is a bad thing).

Disclaimer: While all the information is presented as fact, based on tested, repeatable, results, any personalized meal planning should be done with your personal health professionals that you have a history with. The data presented is a broad overview lacking in personal specifics for an individual reader which can greatly change an outcome of a diet on someone (for example someone with Diabetes SHOULD NOT use the meal plan I use, but someone who is wheat-free is safe to eat everything.)


Next post. Carbs versus Lipids, and the subject of Fiber: how to poop in a hole.



Nutrition Comparison Spreadsheet

#Display All products listed were purchased, at discounted prices when possible.

Click here to view a PDF of my nutrition comparison spreadsheet



Natural Mediums: A review of Tensioned-Leather Saddles


Why Leather Lasts

In both a sense that a properly broken-in and treated leather saddle can outlast many plastic saddles, and that the style has continued with a few manufacturers still producing, tensioned-leather saddles have continued to outlast the boom of synthetic saddles. One reason is due to the fact that a properly fitted saddle will break in with time to parallel your sit bones, reducing pressure, friction, and with that: heat. In addition, with tensioned-leather saddle not requiring closed-cell foam or similar material for cushioning, it allows heat to dissipate instead of acting as a mitten, capturing the heat with insulation. Leather can also be repaired in the field with an awl/needle and thread/fishing line (I usually carry a basic gear repair set for emergencies). In high heat, technically demanding, drier climates, leather is the ideal.


still can hold a small gear bag on the steel frame, while steel bag tabs allow it to use larger classically design gear bags that use straps instead of hook-and-loop systems

Personal Choices

#Display I am currently living in such a climate and “The Wolfwood”, designed in collaboration with and being built by Growler Performance Bikes, is using a Brooks England B17 Imperial for all of those reasons. After working with Wheels, owner/builder at Growler Performance Bikes, trying to figure out the best options for my region, The Wolfwood was born with durability, capability, and comfort. With the intent for full-disclosure, I was chosen to be one of several Brand Ambassadors for Growler. With the Wolfwood still being built (and paid off, because not everything is free) as of this post, I will go over a full review after adequate testing #Display. In other situations where the climate is colder, there is more moisture, or if the owner can’t/doesn’t want to care for the saddle, then leather can react poorly and so synthetics are far more practical. Imagine though, you have just been spinning your way up 12km (~7mi) and 1300m (~4000ft); it is also a bluebird day at 10am and temps are rising with the forecast hitting upper 20’s C (~80’s F) on the ridgeline fire road. Now imagine the heat rash and saddle sores you have while setting up camp because you were sitting on a mitten for 6-8 hours of spinning.

How it works?


a view of the nose mounted tension bolt as well as some of the cords tightening the base

When the leather is new it has been treated to become very stiff through a series of processes to remove water from the hide and prevent it from breaking down (the whole process takes over a week at least) prior to being used to make any product. Once formed into a saddle the leather isn’t being tensioned by the frame, but as the leather begins to break in and become more supple it will require additional tension and support. The saddle is designed to assist in this through a nose positioned tensioning bolt and string tensioning points on the sides of the saddle. As the leather gains slack the frame of the seat can tension it more, allowing the support to remain constant. Additionally, there are creams and treatments that can be used to expedite this process but first-timers are warned to avoid over-conditioning leather which would make the leather supple sooner, would also shorten the lifetime of the part as once the bolt is fully-engaged the saddle can not be tensioned any further.

Learning from ways of the past

The saddle of a bike is one of the areas that truly is underestimated in how it can change a ride. With saddles only being mass produced using synthetic materials since the early 1970s, all earlier quality-made bikes used tensioned-leather (leather tensioned to create a hammock-like support) as the medium to make bicycle saddles (other materials were used as well but were more often found stuffed or just leather-on-wood found in early model “dandy horse” and “penny farthing” bicycles . When plastics became more cost effective to produce, getting exposure to a larger percentage of the population became the priority and so the bicycle industry focused on producing a large range of saddle shapes at a fraction of the cost. The tensioned-leather saddle remained the favorite of some though, such as cycling guru Sheldon “Hidebound” Brown and others in select biking tribes (I’ll go over the tribes and how Fat/Plus Biking is one of the oldest but smallest in a future article).

Is there a perfect seat?


Newer versions and styles designed for female frames feature perineal cutouts

To stop the search, no, there is no perfect solution. I’m not the first to have that sentiment and I know I won’t be the last, but the question will still present itself in a search for the saddle that cradles you the best. The huge network of nerves and capillaries in your nethers give each rider and each riding style a new combination of factors to consider. Even in tensioned-leather saddles, there is a spectrum of styles and cuts, from wide, coil-sprung cruising saddles to narrow racing saddles, some with perineal cutouts and others without. Like any other piece of clothing or equipment, some fits will work for some people and not for others; it’s all about finding the brand and style that works for you and your situation. If I am ever riding in winter climates with a lot of snow I can assure you I will be using synthetic, but for now classical, tensioned-leather is the form that I choose to use in these harsh deserts.


Well treated and maintained this saddle should out last many of the other parts on this bike.


western skies calling

western skies calling

image is property of James G Smith Feb2011.