Product Review: Wingnut “Splitback” Hydration Pack

After the severe back pain I experienced at the Lock 4 six-hour race a few months ago, I decided to try a Wingnut pack (specifically, the Splitback model). They’re designed to sit lower on your back, distributing the weight of the pack across your hips rather than up on your shoulders.

First off, you are going to pay more for one of these packs than you will for a traditional “camelback” style pack. They also don’t include a bladder.

However, after just a few uses, the cost has been more than justified with me. I’ve been on multiple 4+ hour rides since I purchased it, and I haven’t experienced any back pain (I’d originally thought that bike fit/saddle/general fitness might have had something to do with my pain, but apparently not). The construction is excellent- it’s lighter than most packs, but handling it, you get the sense that it will last forever. My favorite part is the side pockets- they’re roomy and really easy to get to while you’re riding (I even manage to get to fish stuff out while wearing heavy winter gloves).

The capacity of the Splitback is excellent- it can easily hold a 100oz bladder and whatever else you want to pack in- when I’m out for a long time on the trail alone, I usually carry food, a small camera, phone, folding saw, extra gloves, multi-tool, emergency blanket, lighter, pocketknife, waterproof shell (if rain is in the forecast) and still have room to stash a layer or two if I remove one while I’m out riding. Unlike some other packs that can hold this much (530 cubic inches), the Splitback only weighs 13oz. Salomon makes a comparable one (weight/cost wise) that’s slightly larger but doesn’t feature the “lowrider” system of the Splitback.

I know I sound like a total shill here, but with the humongous improvement I’ve had in my ability to ride for hours without pain, I can honestly say that this is one of the best (if not the best) pack available.

Get one!

2010 Race Schedule

Here it is! (starting with March). Road events are in green & MTB in orange

3/7: Rouge Roubaix
3/14: Hell’s Kitchen (maybe)

3/28: Ouachita Challenge

4/10-11: Mississippi Grand Prix
4/24: Cohutta 100 (first 100 mile MTB race!)

5/1: Syllamo’s Revenge
5/15: Dirt, Sweat, and Gears 12 hour

5/29-30: West Feliciana Stage Race

6/5: Mohican 100 (Ohio)
6/12-13: Tour de Louisiane
6/19: MBSN Gran Prix (Memphis)

7/3-4: Oxford Crits
7/17: Breckenridge 100 (Colorado)
7/31: Wilderness 101 (Pennsylvania)

I’ll likely pick one of those two since they’re both a long way from Memphis

8/15: Fool’s Gold 100 (Georgia)
8/21-22: Oak Ridge Omnium

9/5: Shenandoah 100 (maybe- depending on if I need the NUE series points)

I’m sure I’ll throw in the random XC race here & there, and I’m likely to add/subtract some of these, but this is the plan for now.

Roadtrip Rebound

So my between-semester winter break was officially over yesterday (faculty meeting), and classes start tomorrow.

I’m having a hard time coping.

After several road trips, random adventures, meeting new people, going new places, etc, now that I’m back to “normal” life, everything seems really, really boring, and it’s a little depressing.

*sigh*

At least Southern Cross got rescheduled- it’s going to be on the 23rd… which is good to combat the boredom, but is also going to keep me from going to the TBRA CX race on that day. Right now, I’m ahead in points for the series, but the gal in 2nd is going to be getting really, really close now if I don’t make an 8 farking hour trip to Johnson City for the last two races of the season.

On the plus side, I’ve made a tentative plan for my 2010 race season. It’s shaping up nicely, and it looks like I’ll be able to strike a good balance between mountain and road events. I wish summer would just hurry up & get here.

Eastbound Days 3 and 4- Unicoi Gap and Back

Not long after I took those pretty photos Friday morning, a couple of hikers (Kyle and Bart) showed up at the hostel (after hitching rides from the Appalachian Trail a few miles away). They’d parked their car at Unicoi Gap and been shuttled to the Southern end of the AT and had planned on hiking back to the car. However, when the snow and ice came through, their progress had slowed, and they weren’t going to make it back to their car in time for Bart to catch his flight home on Sunday.

Then I got the call- Eddie and Namrita (the Southern Cross race promoters) had tried to go to the race venue (Camp Wahsega) and were unable to because of the ice on the roads. They were going to have to postpone the race.

By then, it was a little after noon. I decided that I’d stick around the hostel for another night and head to Chattanooga for some “normal” CX racing Saturday morning since the Big One was called off. That evening, bored with sitting around the hostel watching CSI reruns, Bart, Kyle, and myself decided to head to town for dinner. I found out that they’d called a taxi service to pick them up in the morning and drive them to their car about 45 minutes up the road… to the tune of eighty bucks! Always up for a little adventure, I offered to drive them up there for the low, low cost of dinner and a tank of gas.

The scenery out to Unicoi was gorgeous! At the parking area, the trees on the hillside were still frozen in snow and ice, and the sunlight coming through them was amazing.

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Kyle, Bart, and their car
Kyle, Bart, and their car

After dropping them off, I headed back to Chattanooga. Along the way, I drove past Brasstown Bald, site of many an exciting race finish during Tour of Georgia. Eventually, I made it to Booker T. Washington State park- just in time to change and head out for a quick lap around the MTB trails to loosen up my legs after a couple of days of doing nothing. Luckily, the race promoter had reserved the bunkhouses at the park for anyone who wanted to stay there, so I had some dinner & bedded down.

Today (Sunday), I’m hoping to finish my road trip off with a decent CX race.

Good Morning…

Looks like we got around 2 inches yesterday/last night. The roads are pretty covered, so I’m sticking around the hostel for a while (especially since the driveway here is really steep, really slick, and has a ravine on the other side of the road…

Back porch of the hostel
Back porch of the hostel
The chickens have a heat lamp in their coop, but they're huddled together outside
The chickens have a heat lamp in their coop, but they're huddled together outside
The toaster's first snow
The toaster's first snow

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The driveway- if you look close, you can see where I inadvertantly slid a few times walking down
The driveway- if you look close, you can see where I inadvertantly slid a few times walking down

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Eastbound- Days 1 & 2

I’m currently tucked away in the Dahlonega Hiker Hostel watching the snow fall. So, here’s my trip so far…

Yesterday, I left Memphis around 8:00 and drove to Chattanooga. With snow in the forecast, I didn’t want to be making the 5.5 hour trip to Dahlonega for Southern Cross in failing weather. I had just enough time to make an afternoon lap around the Raccoon Mountain trails. After “roughing it” on Syllamo trails, the groomed singletrack up there was pretty enjoyable. The rock gardens on the expert trails were especially cute. Here are some random shots from the ride:

RMoverlook

RMground

RMtree

After my ride, I headed out to a friend’s house in Hixson to crash on their futon for the night. This morning, I packed up & headed South to meet up & preride some of the race course. After checking in to the hostel, I headed to Camp Wahsega to meet the O’Deas.

As Namrita & I started out, a few flurries were floating around. By the time we were about 6 miles up the initial climb of the course, there was a solid layer of snow on the gravel. It was awesome to ride in, but we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to drive out from the camp once we were finished, so we reluctantly turned around and headed back.

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SnowRoad

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NOsnow2

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Luckily, we made it back before the snow made the gravel roads slick or stuck to the paved roads. I picked up a pizza at a local place in downtown Dahlonega then headed back to the Hiker Hostel. This place is really, really awesome. Here are some photos, including the chickens, front porch, the three dogs that live here, and a wall of thank-you note photos of hikers at the northern end of the Appalachian Trail…

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Eastbound

Just a quick update before I hit the road…

SouthernX is this weekend!!! It’s back again, and it’s longer and much colder. I’m leaving today so I can make stops along the way & enjoy some local trail riding. Just like last year, I’m heading back to Chattanooga on Sunday to get my *ss kicked by Kim F. at Cross-a-nooga.

Updates to follow!

Training Camp ’09- Days 5 and 6

Yes, this is a combo post- yesterday I rode, packed, and skeedadled out of Mountain View so I could get back home to Memphis before bedtime, and had a bunch of stuff to do once I got home, so I didn’t feel like updating.

The sunrise/blue moonset was a really nice way to start the day:

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The ride was just a simple loop in the National Forest. I started out at Blanchard Springs on my MTB and headed up the mountain to Green Mountain Road. From there, I rode up a while then dropped back in to Gunnar Pool . It’s a gorgeous campground with a small lake, dam, and waterfall, but I didn’t hang around for photos because it was pretty dang cold. You’ll just have to take my word for it ;)

From there, I turned around & climbed back up to Green Mountain, tracked east, then headed south on Sandy Flat, which drops down quickly to a creek crossing then climbs again back to Green Mountain road. The entire loop was less than 30 miles and took about 2.5 hours. Each of the 3 climbs was between 500 and 600 ft of elevation gain, and I rode the rolling sections between climbs at a decent tempo, so I was happy to get back to the decent back to Blanchard.

Once I was back, I figured I’d take some photos of Sylamore Creek…

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Today, Ryan and I day-tripped the Columbia #1 cyclocross race. It was cold and reletively uneventful. Kim Bishop showed up and gave me a run for my money. My legs were wondering WTF I was doing. Not only did I put in nearly 20 hours worth of riding/hiking this week (my TSB is -38 right now for all you Training Peaks geeks), I haven’t done any CX-type efforts since the Outdoors race several weeks ago. Needless to say, I wasn’t really thinking about the usual cat 3 boy-beatdown that I liked to administer earlier in the season.

Tomorrow is supposed to be even colder, so we’ll probably venture out to the WRT for a couple of hours on the mountain bikes.

Random thought of the evening: Barleywine tastes like neither barley nor wine. Discuss.

Training Camp ’09- Day 4

The weather has been as damp as possible without actually raining, so the trails are staying soggy. I loaded a 50ish mile route into my Garmin and headed out on the Gravel Killer.

Everything was good until I got up the longest climb on Roasting Ear Road (no idea why it’s called that!) I heard a dog barking and saw on in a pen. Luckily, my instincts told me not to let my guard down. I picked up my pace immediately before I caught sight of a large, tan pitbull charging out of the yard of the house. CRAP! I floored it and made it past the next house just fast enough for the two large, shaggy dogs to join the chase with the pit. This was the first of seven dog chases.

Here’s a map of my ride- I put a red dot on the approximate places where I encountered loose dogs.

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The dogs weren’t the only unpleasent thing on the route. The gravel road south of Highway 66 was freshly graded. In theory, this sounds good, but in actuality, the grading process turns over new rocks and loosens the dirt, so it’s thick to get through and really, really rough. The eastern part of 66 heading in to Mt. View acted like a traffic funnel, too. As I was turning off into downtown Mt. View, a guy in a truck yelled at me and gave me the finger. So much for Southern hospitality! After getting out of Mountain View, the rest of the ride was pretty nice.

Like my other rides this week, I was feeling good even through the last few miles. I’m a little surprised since I haven’t been training quite as much as I wanted to during the fall. Hopefully the “slow start” will mean that I’m not feeling burnt out before the end of the season next year.

Training Camp- Day 3

Last night, even though the radar showed solid blue for several hours, this is what I woke up to this morning…

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I figured I’d take today to head out on the Bald Scrappy Loop (orange trail) and start working on the 4.5 mile section that I adopted (and hike the remaining 3 miles following that). The hardest part of adopting a section of trail is maintaining the corridor- a 3 foot perimeter around the singletrack. It involves cutting any small trees, overhanging branches, and underbrush. It was obvious that most of the trail hadn’t had such care in a while. So, I slowly made my way down the trail with a handsaw, stopping to cut something back or off every 10-50 feet. It took me 4.5 hours (giving me a total hiking time just short of 6 hours).

The inherent nature of trail clearing is both destructive and preservative at the same time. There’s also the beauty and solitude of the woods… it’s very zen-like.

Along the way, I took some photos of the icicles & whatnot…

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My favorite part of the trail is the section along the top of Cedar Scrappy Mountain:

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microforest

I dolled up Turbo’s already fabulous collar so that she’d look a little less like a deer or rhinestone-wearing coyote. She’s a wonderful trail companion- most of the time, she trots along a couple of steps behind me. I enjoy the company…

Turbo