'Tis the season of lists. Top 10 albums, best movie, car of the year, least intellectually offensive reality tv series. And the outdoors publications will have their say, too. The year's must-haves will be comprised of predictable stuff: Shock-resistant plastic, microchips, carbon fiber, and Goretex... all of it packaged with sex and slick marketing. In short, it will be the stuff after which you and I will lust, but probably never hang in our garages.
So, I propose that the "little guys" of outdoors blogging make our own lists. What is the stuff you use every day that puts a smile on your face? The stuff you can count on. The stuff that has taken on meaning over the miles.
Mid-90s Bianchi Reparto Corse Cyclocross
When I saw this bicycle on ebay a couple years ago, I knew it would be mine. As a frequent craigslister, I appreciate a well-crafted listing, and this guy had nailed it. New old-stock steel frame (handbuilt in Italy by Bianchi's racing department), lots of shiny bits by Shimano, Sugino, Nitto, and other "o" companies. It was not an informed purchase, and it could have gone horribly wrong. But this bike has carried me through 3,000+ miles and a season of cyclocross without falter. I swing my leg over at least twice a day and promptly forget about the bike. That's how you know you've got a good one, by the way.
My dad's old-ass Timex Marathon
It's been about a year since I rediscovered the run, a full eight months of which was done without solid-state electronics: Heart rate monitors, gps devices, or sharks with lasers on their heads. Regular readers of this blog (hi, Mom) know that I don't tend to pin my happiness on (or trust my well-being to) things that require batteries. But shortly after my first marathon last summer, I asked my dad how I could improve. "You need to run with a watch." Pssshaw. As if. "Here," he said, pulling the tired Timex from his dresser-top box. The old man was right. I wore it on my second marathon, paid attention to my splits, and ran a 17-minute PR. Now I wear it on every run (except when I know I'll be slow). It feels just right.
NEW(!) Pearl Izumi Shine Wind Mitt
Are you picking up on the vibe here? I don't buy much new gear. And when I do, it will be thread-bare and used-up before it's retired. Trust that you will have to pry these babies off my warm, dead hands. They're mittens when you need 'em, gloves when you don't. Genius! I totally couldn't afford this purchase, so I compensate by wearing them even when it's completely unnecessary. "Seems kind of cold in here.Be right back." C'mon... you do it, too.
Over a thousand miles of pavement will have passed underneath these shoes when I retire them after the holidays. That's a lot of mud, sweat, and beers. I always hear about people who toss their kicks every few months or few hundred miles. To them I say, you might be missing out on the best part. The part when the shoes slip on and lace up just right... quick, without fuss, like a NASCAR pit stop. The part where your foot becomes the shoe becomes the asphalt... becomes a joyful run. Yes, they're done. Completely cooked. Coming apart at the seams and soles. And yes, I think I'll have them bronzed.
I was pretty sure I'd hit the big time when Brooks Running sent me a new pair of Cascadia 4 trail shoes to test. Million-dollar endorsement deals would surely not be far behind. I promptly set out to try 'em on the proving grounds of the Puyallup River dirt... and then proceeded to not run trails again all year. But I have worn these beauties as my everyday shoe, well... every day. Call me an old man, but the Cascadia's have shown me the way of the practical, comfortable shoe. Maybe next year I'll buy the 5's and see if they can actually hold a corner on loose gravel.