Astral Footwear

For several years, Astral has been making a couple pairs of kick-ass paddling shoes.  I’ve owned a pair of Brewers for a year and a half now, and I love them for fall/winter/spring paddling.  If we didn’t live in Eastern NC where summers are 100+ degrees, I’m sure I would love them for summer paddling too.  Never one to meet a “perfect” piece of gear, there are a couple things I would change about these shoes.  But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Astral Footwear is working on overhauling their brand right now – complete with many new options for shoes.  Our friend Spencer at Effort Media (yes, the same one that hooked us up with the sweet Cannon paddles I wrote about a couple of weeks ago) sent us a couple pairs to try out.  When we saw the press release for the new Loyak, we were stoked.  The shoe is more flexible, lighter duty, and lower profile than the classic Brewer/Brewess – it seemed like the perfect solution for us!

This is just a glimpse of the new Astral Footwear line.  I’ll only go into detail about the models we tested, but the rest of their lineup looks pretty awesome as well!  Check it out here.

So what are we going to do with all these paddling shoes?  We plan to wear our Brewers as our paddling shoe on the thru-hike.  We will be paddling in rocky areas and may need to portage the boat in several places.  The loyak is light and flexible enough that we’ll be carrying these the entire trip as our camp shoe.

So, without further ado, here are our thoughts on the new Astral Footwear models:

M Brewer (2014):

I’ve owned these for over a year now, so I’ve had PLENTY of time to give them a really thorough test.  Until this year, the “W” Brewer was the same as the mens, in burgundy and grey.  These are a closed paddling shoe that target themselves as whitewater paddlers, or anyone having to get out of their boat a lot to portage or walk around.  The soles and upper are both pretty stiff.  Mine have a marking sole to give them more traction on slick rocks.  They have LOTS of drainage holes.  Because of how stiff they are, I prefer to wear them with a lightweight (quick dry) sock, which is why I don’t like them during the summer.  These hold up better and dry more quickly than a sneaker.

I mentioned there were 2 things about this shoe I would change.  First the marking sole.  I understand that having marking sticky-rubber gives better traction, but it marked up the inside of my pretty canoe.  Fortunately, Astral has already taken care of this – the 2015 models of the Brewer and Brewess now have a non-marking but just-as-sticky sole!  The second is the height of the heel of the shoe.  These are cut just a touch too high for me, and the opening of the shoe rubs on my ankle and achilles.  I get around this by wearing socks with them.  Again, this has already been addressed by Astral.  They added a true women’s version of this shoe for 2015, the Brewess.  The new Brewess has a lower cut on the opening and a narrower heel cup, both of which should alleviate the rubbing issue.

Loyak:

I was REALLY excited when I heard about the Loyak being released.  They came with this cool diagram of the features, so I will let it do the talking:

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They’re lightweight, low volume, and more flexible than the Brewer.  Andrew and I both have low volume feet, so finding a lower volume shoe is always nice!  They also sport a lower profile than the Brewer, so they can fit down inside a kayak a bit easier.  They drain well and dry quickly due to the drain holes in the front and back.  They have an integrated tongue, so there is no chance of the tongue slipping off to one side.  I’ve stepped in plenty of muck getting in and out of the canoe here on the Tar, and we’ve had no issues with them pulling off our feet.

Overall, we really like this shoe for Eastern NC or warm weather paddling.  It is fast becoming our go-to paddling shoe.

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Further thoughts about the M Brewer (2015) to come, once Andrew wears his a few more times…

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Cannon Boost Canoe Paddles

Its always a great day when Lindsey and I get new gear in the mail.  A couple of weeks ago, our friends at Effort Media sent us some of their new Boost Canoe paddle.  We’re really excited to have Effort and Cannon Paddles on board as sponsors for our grand adventure!

The Boost Canoe is a shorter version of Cannon’s Boost SUP paddle.  It has the same swept blade and the same blade shape as the Boost SUP.  It also has a standard SUP grip.  We got two with carbon shafts to use as primary paddles, and a third with an aluminum shaft to keep on board as a spare.  Last week, we finally made time to take the new paddles out on the Tar for a couple of hours and test them out.  Here are our initial thoughts:

Pros:

We liked the weight of the carbon version – they’re barely heavier than our wooden Bending Branches paddles.  We thought the swept blade was an interesting concept, different from anything I’ve used canoeing (or rafting) before.  It feels like it will be more efficient than a straight blade when paddling on flat water over a long distance.  I was initially concerned that the shape would affect my J-stroke, but I was able to guide the canoe just fine.

Cons:

We haven’t done any technical paddling yet, so we will see how they perform in a more technical setting.  Lindsey prefers a traditional T-grip, so the grip on this was a bit thicker than she likes.  It didn’t affect her paddling at all.

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Earth Day

Ok, I know this is a little bit late.

For Earth Day, Pamlico Tar River Foundation (PTRF) hosted a river cleanup on the Tar.  There were groups in Rocky Mount, Tarboro, Franklin County, Greenville, and Washington pulling trash out of the river and cleaning up the river banks.  My shop (Great Outdoor Provision Co Greenville) sponsored this cleanup.  We provided trash bags, gloves, snacks, and water for participants.  We also helped to publicize the cleanup.  Plus, we donated 2 gift cards that were given to participants (drawn at random) to thank them for their help.  We also have 5 staff members come out and help!

Between all 5 groups, 169 volunteers pulled over 3000 lbs of trash out of the river!  In Greenville alone there were close to 100 volunteers and we collected over 1200 lbs of trash.  I’m glad I was able to be part of this project to make Greenville and the Tar River a more beautiful place!

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Finally Paddled the Canoe!

For those of you who don’t know – Andrew and I help to organize GetExporing! Greenville, a free Meetup group here in Greenville.  The aim of the group is to get people outside more.  The group is open to beginners and advanced explorers alike, and we are no drop!  We host primarily paddling, cycling, and hiking events.  If you’re in Greenville, check out the site here and come explore with us: http://www.meetup.com/GetExploring-Greenville/.

This past Saturday, Andrew and I led a paddle at Dismal Swamp State Park.  The park has over 20 miles of canal open to paddling (as well as hiking/cycling trails, a paved cycling path, a very educational visitor center, and an orienteering course).  The canals were originally dug by slaves with the intent to drain the swamp and use the land for agriculture.  The land wasn’t suitable for agriculture, so it was heavily forested.  Now, the trees are back and we get to enjoy the beauty of the area.

We planned to paddle 3 miles up the main canal, then around one of the side canals and back to the boat launch – for a total of about 8 miles.  The radar showed that we had about 3 hours after we started until storms started to roll in.  The area is prone to severe lightning, so we wanted to be sure we were off the water by that time.  The canal was pretty wide, and the water was very calm.  The main canal is open to all kinds of boat traffic, so several times we had to pull over to the side to let a much larger boat pass.  We did have some rain while we were paddling, but thankfully no storms!  We had trouble finding the side canal we planned to paddle, so we ended up just paddling 6 miles – to the end of the State Park on the main canal and back to the visitor center.

Andrew and I chose to paddle the new canoe (obviously!).  This was the first chance we’ve had to get the canoe in the water.  It paddled so well!  It is a little bit heavy to paddle solo, but moved beautifully with two paddlers.  Andrew is a much more experienced canoeist than I am, so I am looking forward to spending more time on the water this spring and summer to learn to paddle better!

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Smartwool PhD Run Socks

Andrew and I are picky about socks.  We have about a zillion different types of socks in our drawers, but we certainly have our “go-to” styles that we use regularly.  In the past, Smartwool’s PhD Run Socks have never been my favorite.  I really like the way they fit through the arch of my foot, but the toe box is a little loose for my taste, and I can often feel the seam across the toe.  I have a couple pairs from another brand that I LOVE, so I was excited when I heard Smartwool was giving their sock a makeover.  This sock did what Smartwool has always done well – great temperature regulation and reliable moisture wicking.

Ok, that was a really long-winded way of saying we were excited to try these new socks!

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The run socks come in 2 levels of cushioning – ultralight and the new light elite.  Light Elite feels like its somewhere between ultralight and the light.  The ultralight is not enough cushioning for me, so I was hoping it wouldn’t be TOO much lighter than the old light cushion!  After wearing, I’ve decided this is just enough cushioning.  It still feels just as soft as the old run socks.

Other than the level of cushion, it looks like the biggest change is to the ventilation zones in the sock.  They

Smartwool keps their 4-degree fit system, to keep the sock fitted around the ankle and arch.  This has always been one of my favorite things about their socks, so I’m glad they kept it.

Now for the big negative (and I understand this is a personal issue):  the design of the ventilation zones on the women’s sock.  They look like flowers.  As a woman who is into male-dominated activities, I have always HATED pink and purple and flowers on my gear.  It drives me CRAZY to have these stereotypes in my face all the time.  I understand a pink or floral option, but this design is on every pair of their women’s socks.

Overall… performance is AWESOME, but the design could use some re-thinking.  I guess its a ringing endorsement to say that the floral motif isn’t obtrusive enough to keep me from purchasing another pair.  I like them more than the old run sock 🙂

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New Sponsor!

Exciting news!  We have been planning on printing custom cycling jerseys and tech tees for this thru-hike. In addition to wearing these jerseys ourselves for the duration of our trip, we’ll be selling them.  Proceeds from the sale of the jerseys will go to Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.  So you’ll get a cool jersey, and support a great cause!  We will post the jersey design when we get it finalized.  We’ll also keep you all posted about ordering jerseys or tees if you’re interested!

We are partnering with Ride Fast Gear to make this happen!  Ride Fast is a GREAT company – based right here in NC!  They print custom jerseys, cycling shorts, tech tees, you name it!  They have no minimum quantity, and have been a joy to work with so far.  Check them out here: http://www.ridefastgear.com/.

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Another New Ride!

Since Andrew and I decided to go on this adventure, we have been debating what kind of boat to take on the paddle portion of the trip.  We didn’t own tripping kayaks or a canoe, so we would purchase whichever one we decided to use.  The benefit of a kayak would be speed and comfort.  I am much more used to paddling kayaks, and it would be a faster, more maneuverable boat.  The BIG downside is storage.  It has been difficult to find kayaks that are maneuverable enough for the river we’re paddling and have enough storage for 8 days.  We discussed tandem vs solo kayaks – and for storage space we would have to paddle solo.  Canoes are a little bit slower and more maneuverable, but they are workhorses; they could carry all the gear we need plus some.  Plus, Andrew has a soft spot for canoes.

We settled on a canoe.  We’re paddling the Neuse River – which runs through Eastern NC.  There are a lot of farms in the region, so we worry about filtering water that is full of run-off from pig farms.  So we plan to carry our water with us.  This is the primary reason we opted for the canoe – the storage capacity.

Well, this past week we purchased our canoe!  We bought a Mar River Explorer 15 RX.  It is a 15ft canoe with a moderate rocker and shallow-v hull.  And we found one made of Royalex!  A moderate rocker will allow it to cut through waves/rapids easier.  The shallow-v hull will make it faster and more maneuverable.  The Royalex material is lightweight and durable, but isn’t made any more.  The canoe we purchased is a 2012 boat, but we found one that had never been used.  We have a few modifications to make – adding kneeling pads, re-mounting the seats, adding skid plates to the bow and stern, and adding deck rigging for storage nets.

We also purchased Bending Branches Expedition Plus paddles to go with it.  They’re wooden paddles, with a rockguard that extends 6-inches up the shaft and a fiberglass-reinforced blade.  Plus they’re pretty 🙂

Just to make it a week full of paddlesports – we went to a kayak roll session at ECU.  I got in a whitewater boat for the first time – and learned how to wet exit and started learning my hip snap (the first step to rolling a kayak).  Andrew was test paddling a play boat a friend of his is selling.  He decided to purchase that as well – so now we have a whitewater boat to go with our canoe.  With the weather warming up, we should have some good days of paddling ahead of us!

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Trek’s Driven By Adventure Contest

Andrew and I have decided to enter the Driven By Adventure contest through Trek Bicycles!  This contest is going to give away 3 all expenses paid bike touring trips and the bikes needed to go on those trips.  The trips are:

  • 520: 2x Trek 520 bikes and a classic bike tour from Portland to the Oregon coast
  • 720: 2x Trek 720 bikes and a credit card style bike tour through northern California
  • 920: 2x Trek 920 bikes and an all-road bike tour through the Virginia mountains

The contest entry was pretty involved.  The first step was to choose a travel partner – this was the obvious part!  We had to submit 5 photos, 2 written prompts, and a video lasting less than 2 minutes.  The photos were supposed to give an idea of our experience, style of adventure, and why we should win.  The written prompts asked us to describe our most memorable adventure, and tell why we should win.  The video was supposed to define our relationship, give a sense of our style of adventure, and help the judges understand why we deserve to win.

We put a LOT of work into the contest entry!

Our most memorable adventure was easy – our hike at Grandfather Mountain in July 2013.  That hike had temperature fluctuations of 30 degrees, a nasty thunderstorm that wasn’t in the forecast, and the treacherous terrain that Grandfather Mountain is known for!  When asked to explain why we should win, we talked about our passion for adventure, and helping other people experience the outdoors.

Just to round it all out, here are the photos we submitted.  We thought about which photos to submit to show the judges what we’re all about.

  • We submitted a photo of us on a road ride on our tandem bike.  We LOVE our tandem bike, and we thought this shows that we go on long rides, and it shows off our trek 🙂
  • We submitted a photo of us from an adventure race in Charlotte.  Adventure racing requires us to work together, think on our toes, and communicate clearly to achieve a common goal.
  • We submitted a photo of us from Grandfather Mountain.  We wanted to to show the hike we wrote about.
  • We submitted a photo of us from Elk Knob State Park this past November.  We chose this because you can see icicles in Andrew’s mustache, so it shows we are up for anything no matter the weather!
  • We submitted a photo from one of the partner yoga clinics we went to in Charlotte.  We think this shows our personality, and sets us apart from the rest of the field.

And here is the video:

We certainly think we’re #DrivenByAdventure!  Winners will be announced May 1, and we’ll keep you updated.  Wish us luck!

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Updated Itinerary, Clingmans Dome to Folk Art Center in Asheville, NC

One of the things that makes the Mountains-to-Sea Trail unique is that it is still being developed.  Each year, Friends of the MST adds several miles of trail to move the route off back roads.  Because we had to delay the hike by a year, we had to look at the changes to the route and re-work part of our itinerary.  Just like last year, we’ll post our itinerary in sections.

The MST was originally divided into 38 sections by Allen de Hart, the brains behind the trail.  The FMST is still using these sections to describe the trail.  The sections average out to around 27 miles each, although they aren’t all the same length.  The route from Clingmans Dome to the Folk Art Center in Asheville, NC covers sections 1-7.  This route has 2 options.  We’re opting for the southern route (the black line on the map) along the Tuckaseegee River because this is the route FMST would like the MST to take eventually.  This plan is exactly that – a plan.  It is important for us to be flexible along the way when something inevitable happens that we aren’t expecting.

So, here is the itinerary for the first 7 sections (Clingmans Dome to Folk Art Center in Asheville, 134 miles):

Friday September 18, 2015 – Day 1 (10.72 miles)

Begin hike at Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP)

Camp at GSMNP Camp #54

Saturday September 19, 2015 – Day 2 (9.38 miles)

Camp at Deep Creek Campground

Sunday September 20, 2015 – Day 3 (13.9 miles)

Leave GSMNP

Camp at Tuckaseegee Outfitters in Whittier, NC

Monday September 21, 2015 – Day 4 (10.1 miles)

Pass through Dillsboro and Sylva, Resupply #1

Camp at Pinnacle Park, Sylva, NC

Tuesday September 22, 2015 – Day 5 (20.36 miles)

Enter Nantahala National Forest

Camp at National Forest campsite (1st site in Nantahala National Forest)

Wednesday September 23, 2015 – Day 6 (17.42 miles)

Enter Pisgah National Forest and Middle Prong Wilderness

Camp at National Forest campsite (3rd site in Middle Prong Wilderness)

Thursday September 24, 2015 – Day 7 (19.64 miles)

Camp along the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP)

Friday September 25, 2015 – Day 8 (15.43 miles)

Trail begins to parallel Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP)

Camp at Lake Powhatan Campground

Saturday September 26, 2015 – Day 9 (14.8 miles)

Resupply #2 in Arden, NC, Mail Drop #1 in Asheville (28803)

Get off trail at US-74A, find a friend to stay with for the night

MST Sections 1-7

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Excited for Spring

Hey y’all!  So this was my first holiday season as a retail manager.  It was CRAZY!  Now that the holidays are over, and we have recovered, we have some more time for training and planning!

So let me catch you up on the last few months:

I took a group of girls from work on a 1-night backpacking trip back in November.  We headed down to the Neusiok Trail in Croatan National Forest – an easy 20 mile trail in Coastal NC.  It was my first time to this trail, and I appreciated having that first visit be not during the buggy season.  This was a first ever backpacking trip for several girls, so it was great to see them learn to love the trail as much as I do!

We’ve set the new start date for our thru-hike… Friday September 18, 2015.  Hard to believe its just 6 months away!  We’ve been looking at the new guidebooks produced by Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail, trying to finalize our itinerary.  There have been some changes to the route through the Raleigh-Durham area, so we have to account for that.  But it shouldn’t affect our timeline too much!

Andrew took me snowboarding for the first time back in February.  It was alright, very windy and very snowy.  I injured my knee in one of my many falls, and have been taking it easy in the training.  Last week I was able to start running again, and I picked up a pair of higher cushioned running shoes to take away some of the impact on my knee.

Andrew has also had his first triathlon of the season.  He did very well – his fastest swim and run times yet in a triathlon!  We’re both very excited for the upcoming season!

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