TrainerRoad post #1

I just got done with my first actual workout on TrainerRoad and, since I have a feeling this is going to change a lot about how I bike, I’m going to track my thoughts and progress over the course of the 6-week plan that I’m following. I actually wish I would have written down some thoughts before I started the workout, because a a significant amount already changed during that hour on the trainer.

A big part of the idea behind starting this blog was about being 100% honest, both with other people and myself. Especially myself. And I really didn’t like admitting it, but I did not want to start that workout. Part of this was thanks to TrainerRoad’s Ramp Test, which, to quote their website, is set up to “give you the most accurate estimate of your current fitness and establish a benchmark for tracking progress.” I did the ramp test a couple days ago, and the number it spit out for me was 122. Divide that by my weight in kilograms, and I get a ratio (FTP, or Functional Threshold Power) around 1.93. In other words, low. On a chart containing ranges of “fair” to “world class,” that literally puts me on the line that goes from “fair” DOWN to a section called “untrained/non-racer.”

Okay, fine. I’m untrained. I’m not exactly a racer. That just means I have more room to improve, right? Well, that’s part of the problem. For a multitude of reasons that I’m not going to go into on this post, I have very little faith in my ability to improve significantly – and that made me very hesitant to start any sort of training plan. No matter what I told myself rationally, I was pretty much convinced that I would either be in excruciating pain for the entire experience, or literally nothing would change. Great – I’d be paying $15 a month just to prove that I’m a failure.


But I digress. I’d picked the base phase “Low Volume II” training plan, and since I completed the Ramp Test previously, that meant I started with the Ebbetts workout. Looking at it didn’t help my nerves. An hour? Of intervals? Made to push my specific limits? And did I mention it meant an hour on the trainer? I usually manage to get about half an hour on the trainer before the pain in my legs and my boredom both become so acute I throw in the towel. (Okay, if I’m being totally honest, the boredom usually tips the scale more than the pain.) Either way, the fact that all the rides in this plan were at least an hour long made me apprehensive.

I made one other change on this ride, and that was the addition of a cadence monitor. The hubby really wanted this – I thought it was essentially unnecessary.  After all, our trainer (Wahoo Kickr Snap, will review later) already tells us heart rate, speed, and power – how much difference can cadence make?

You bikers are shaking your heads at me, I can see it. It turns out, cadence can make a big difference, and this was the start of my evening revelations. The hubby had previously been listening to a playlist with 90 bpm songs to keep his tempo correct; TrainerRoad suggested I keep my tempo at 85 bpm or higher. When I started the ride and settled into what I thought was a decent cadence, I was biking at about 50 bpm. Oops.

To my extreme relief, the workout didn’t kill me in the first three minutes. In fact, it actually began at a far slower pace than I would have started myself, at 50% of my FTP, before gradually ramping up. (Hey, I actually did a proper warm-up!) By the time I got to the main intervals, I’d decided I could finish the hour – and I was already eleven minutes in! By the second interval, I’d figured out how to read the entire display, and over twenty minutes had passed. For perhaps the first time ever, I’d worked up a decent sweat on the trainer without fighting boredom.


It was around this time that I started to pay more attention to the tips on the screen.  I’d expected things like “pedal faster” or “go harder now.”  I didn’t expect the mix of tips showing me how to engage more muscles (“focus on pedaling horizontally for a while”), motivation (“Just be relaxed and make it look easy, and even YOU will begin to believe it”), and gentle reminders (“fatigue is never an excuse for poor form”).  Waiting to see what would pop up next, I forgot to focus on the seconds dragging past.  After countless hours of training alone with only my own , the commentary was a novel concept – and I loved it.

The other thing I noticed and appreciated is that TrainerRoad takes the mental aspect out of going harder.  There was no need to muster my willpower to do the sprints – the target power went up, and I matched it.  It told me when I could rest, but only at a certain level with a certain cadence for a certain amount of time.  While I can see this being annoying for more advanced riders, I’ve known for a long time that I’m bad at pushing myself.  I’d been curious to see if a preset plan would help or not.  Since it definitely did, I’m very excited to see what I can actually do with someone else setting the bar.

Writing this post has been another revelation in and of itself: every issue that has held me back previously has not been physical.  Confidence, boredom, and willpower are my biggest enemies, not the muscle or lack thereof in my legs.  In that context, improving doesn’t seem quite so daunting after all.

Choose Your Day

What stories do you tell yourself? This morning, because I’ve been paying attention, I’ve caught “I hate calling people,” “I’m such an awkward person,” and “today is just bleh.”

In other words, I’ve got a lot of excuses to do less than my best work and settle for having a “bleh” day. And while I can’t change the weather, the rest of that is all my decision.

What stories do you tell yourself? Do they push you forward, or are they holding you back?

You might not be on a beach, but you can focus on the positives.

Gear Hack: How to Carry Your Skis

Gear is expensive.  While a lot of what we own was either a present or purchased second-hand, it still adds up.  In fact, I’m kind of scared to know how much money we have sitting in our gear closet, made up of bikes, skis, climbing equipment, shoes, coats, bags, helmets, and other accessories.  Oh, the accessories.  Talk about the feather that broke the camel’s back!

Our big gear purchase this winter was skis and ski boots, which we’d budgeted for and have since used enough to “save money” by not renting the equipment.  What I hadn’t considered was how we were going to transport our skis, nor the fact that I am clumsy enough that I have managed to hit a door frame, drop a ski, and pinch my fingers between skis in the course of about two minutes.  (It was bad.  My husband stopped asking if I was okay when I yelped.)

In short, it didn’t take long for me to start looking into ski bags.  Fortunately, I found one I liked AND ended up getting it for Christmas.  Unfortunately, it was the end of November when I found this out, which meant I had half-a-dozen ski trips to manage without causing damage to myself, my skis, or my apartment walls.

I could have gotten through it without any sort of help.  I have made it through 25 years on the planet, after all.  However, it got a heck of a lot simpler when I realized that skis aren’t all that different from yoga mats in several key ways – and I already had a strap for my mat.

Would I use the strap now that I have a nice, padded ski bag?  Probably not.  But in the interim, transporting my gear became much simpler, all for the price of $7 that I’d already spent.  It even matched the colors on my skis.

So if you’re ever despairing the cost of an accessory, take a look around to see what else might work.  (Save this for the stuff your life doesn’t depend on.  A knock-off helmet or climbing harness can cost you a lot more in the long run.)  And if you’re looking for a cheap way to transport your skis and poles, this is the strap I have.  If anyone gives you crap for it, tell them you’re going minimalist – and enjoy having the extra cash to spend in the lodge when you’re done for the day.






I bought a necklace on a whim the other day, and while I normally rotate the necklaces I wear, I keep reaching for this one.  Somehow, the simple act of putting the word “fearless” around my neck makes me less likely to hold myself back.  And I love the fact that simply reminding myself bravery matters to me makes me stand straighter and tell myself, “you can do this.”



More Living, Less Chores

I’ve been getting frustrated with chores lately.  Not “I’d rather read a book than straighten up the kitchen” – my inner thoughts have sounded more like “if I have to touch another piece of laundry or dirty dish in the next year I am going to SCREAM.”

There’s no reason for me to be so upset.  Nothing has changed.  We’ve had a long-time policy of doing small batches of dishes after each meal so they don’t pile up, and (after growing up without one, this still doesn’t come naturally to me) I’ve gotten much better about utilizing the dishwasher.  Laundry has always been “my” chore, but since the hubby no longer works on Saturday mornings, he now helps me put the clothes away.

Apparently, none of that matters.  I’ve still just been pissed.

Then I found an old notebook while going through my desk at work.  Even with the majority of my personal and work life digitized, I’m still a sucker for notebooks.  There’s something so inviting about them, so promising.  They make me feel grand, like each page is my ticket to the perfect life, and all I have to do is pick up my pen.  So with nothing better to do on my lunch break, I wrote “Spend more time living and less time existing” at the top of a page and started jotting down ideas.

The first few were obvious – we’d discussed getting a maid to come in once a month after we move to our new house, and I’ve been toying with the idea of services like PrimePantry for a while.  Sure, they were all valid ideas, but none of them would change the problems that were bothering me.  And then, about four lines in, it hit me.  I’m not sure where the phase came from – some old Pinterest post?  a joke I heard in college? my frustrated brain throwing out a solution when I actually did something other than complain? – but it popped into my head all at once.

Buy more underwear, do less laundry.

I paused.  Ran the thought through my mind again.  Flipped it over and examined all sides for any evidence of tampering or sorcery or other things that you consider when something is maybe just a little too good to be true.  Nothing.

Buy more underwear, do less laundry.

So I wrote it down – the pen didn’t break, the notebook didn’t catch fire – took a picture, and sent it to my husband.  He responded immediately: “OMG yes.  And more dress shirts?”

Fair enough.  I’d been meaning to get him more shirts ever since he started his new job this fall, now was as good a time as any.  Feeling thoroughly out of my funk now, I ran through all the specific reasons laundry has been driving me crazy.  Thanks to our record-breaking lows of the past month, I’ve been wearing my thickest sweaters on repeat, all of which require air-drying at the very least.  Same with our wool socks.  Unless I hire a weekly maid/housekeeper (not happening any time in the near future) or figure out a laundry service (now I have to talk to someone to get my laundry done? and deal with their schedule?), laundry will never be done for good.  But I can get rid of the parts that annoy me the most.

That was when part two of my epiphany hit.  Growing up, laundry was a long task.  We air-dried everything on clothes lines strung up along the porch of our detached garage, so the process included hauling the loads up and down the path, wiping off the clothes lines, shifting the clothes pins so you didn’t end up with creases in your favorite shirt, and keeping an eye out for rain – and we did this every Saturday.

I’d already done away with most of the process, thanks to the in-unit washer and dryer in our apartment.  Why not change the rest?  Just because my parents wash their clothes weekly doesn’t mean it’s a requirement for me.  Duh, honey.

I looked up the brand and type of my sole tumble-dry-low sweater and bought it in three more colors.  (Bonus: it’s sale season for sweaters!)  The hubby picked out some button downs that aren’t blue.  He got more underwear.  I ordered another bra.  I even found some machine-dry camisoles, although I haven’t convinced myself it’s worth the price yet.  Pulling out the drying rack isn’t that bad, after all – as long as I don’t have to find room for half my wardrobe on it.

We’ll see how much the changes help.  For now, I’m feeling a lot more optimistic.

Kitty wins for enthusiasm at chore time.

Do you have any “more living, less chores” tips?  What has made the biggest difference for you?


Lame, Lame, Lame…

In more than one sense of the word!

So I managed to hurt my back. Not doing anything cool. Not even doing anything. No, I hurt my back with a combination of a spare room bed, an old work chair, and lying on the couch with bad posture for too long. Reading. Not biking or running or skiing or climbing – I hurt my back reading. I’m somewhere between disgusted and unimpressed. The hubby is 100% unimpressed, and having a great time giving me crap about it.

It’s been 5 days and the good news is I’m almost back in commission, paying more attention to my posture, and have an exercise ball for my office “chair.” The bad news? We had to cancel our weekend ski trip to Afton Alps and I’m not taking any chances biking outside, given there’s a non-zero chance I’ll hit a patch of ice and end up hurting myself even worse. So my handlebar mitts have been discarded in the corner for the moment and the hubby went off to ski on his own this weekend. Luckily we got a new bike trainer recently (Kickr Snap, more on that later), meaning I haven’t been totally regulated to the couch.

Since the trainer is in front of the TV, I’ve discovered that watching animals attempt to eat/avoid being eaten makes biking for 30 minutes feel easy-peasy by comparison.  Plus, the cat is even more interested in BBC Earth than I am.  He might even be disappointed next week when I head back outside.



Kitty watches Life on BBC Earth with me.


To Be or to Blog

If you haven’t noticed (and I’m sure all none of you have), I’ve been MIA for a month and a half or so.  Part of this is because my alter ego writes novels and I was wrapping up one of those for publication.  But partly, I’ve been considering something that I’ve wondered about off and on for years: is it better to pull back and reflect, to document and share and preserve?  Or is life – and the type of experiences I write about here – better experienced all in?

In short, do I want to spend time blogging when I could be on the bike trainer or getting gear ready to go skiing or spending a bit of time snuggling with the cat on the couch?  Do I want to step back and look at my life through a literary lens (or a camera lens, as the situation was when I first considered the question) when I could push farther into actually creating new experiences and stories to tell…. someday.

And oh yeah, we’re skiing now.

Kitty tries to snuggle with the ski gear, too.

After about a week of thought, I realized that all of my posts here have a nice moral and I felt like they had to do so, or else why would I write them?  Well, perhaps because that isn’t always fun, and it isn’t an accurate representation of my life.  Perhaps I can capture the stories while on the go – and if they aren’t beautifully crafted, deep, 700 word essays, at least I can write them on my phone while sitting my a campfire or taking a break someone out in the woods/mountains/back country/middle of REI where I spend way too much money and time.  Or, if nothing else, I can write something in fifteen minutes on the couch while still petting the very-cute-but-very-demanding cat.

Anyhow, that’s the idea, and I’m going to see if it works better than the previous model I was using.  And to bring this up to speed since I wrote last, here’s a few of the bigger things that happened this fall:

  • I got LASIK!  This has been a dream of mine ever since I read Halfway to the Sky (not sponsored, just a great book even if it is for 9-12 year olds).  It’s about a girl who runs away to hike the Appalachian Trail, which I immediately wanted to do.  I’d just gotten contacts, though, and was struggling to put them in when standing in a well-lit, perfectly clean bathroom.  The idea of spending 6 months on the AT with contacts?  Impossible!  I suppose this means I need to start planning a backpacking trip.20181021_090222
  • The hubby completed a 150 mile gravel ultra (his first – read his guest post here).  It screwed his knee up pretty badly, so between that and my instructions to keep all dust out of my newly 20/20 eyes, we cut back on the biking quite a bit.
  • I ran two 5k’s and had fun even though I didn’t exactly train.
  • We started biking again, slowly.  Turns out that ski helmets are pretty awesome for biking in the cold!
  • We started skiing (or rather, I skied and hubby snowboarded).  Then the hubby hurt himself on 2/2 snowboarding trips (collarbone and ribs, luckily nothing broken!  We’re pretty sure the ribs were only bruised, not cracked…)  Thanks to another lovely REI garage sale, hubby picked up a pair of ski boots at a great price, we found him some skis online, and he’s made it down the black run at the closest ski hill already.  *For those of you who ski in Iowa, a black run here is about the equivalent of a steep green run on an actual mountain.  Maybe a blue.
  • I think we may have corrupted hubby’s little brother and his girlfriend.  We have skiing buddies now!

That’s all for now, folks.  Hopefully I’ll have more to share soon!

Spotted Gravel Post Race Report

Note: This is a guest post by Jen’s husband, who is most likely cooler and definitely tougher than she is. Also, potentially insane. For proof of all three claims, keep reading.

I managed a smile despite the cold

Doing an after race report seems to be what the cool kids are doing. They are also part of what helped me mentally prepare for the ultra. So, here is my entry.

Short Version: It was wet and cold. I brought more clothing than I thought I would need and used all three changes of socks. My knee stopped working at mile 120, ibuprofen revived it and I finished.

I started my gravel riding career with the Spotted Horse. Yes, started with it. Why? I wish I knew. Going into this ride I knew it was going to be hard, I had read the other reports and was well aware of the course creation preferences of one Sarah Cooper – a name I had to look up because I kept seeing it. Her course designs are BRUTAL.

The morning started okay. By okay I mean wet, rainy and dark, all of which was to be expected. The starting temperature was around 54 degrees, the high was around 54 degrees and the low was around 48 degrees. So I figured if you planned well you wouldn’t need a change of clothes the whole day. But just in case I brought two changes of socks and a change of gloves. I knew going into this that I was over-preparing compared to some people who can apparently bike 150 miles on two water bottles and a Snickers bar in 10 hours. Thankfully, I did not think that would be me and therefore planned accordingly.

6:00 am: Mile 0 – Cold but not yet wet. It was dark but everything is fully charged so I should be good for a few hours. I knew from biking to work in the morning that the sun comes up around 7. Great, one hour of gross and we should be good. Oh yeah, and it was raining and 54 degrees. Not quite enough to be dangerous, just annoying.

7:00 am: Mile 11 – The sun came out! Well, the clouds started to brighten up enough that I could turn my lights down and then eventually off. The rain has slowed to a heavy drizzle by then, but still isn’t fun. In fact, I still don’t know where the fun was supposed to start . I talked to a lady named Michelle and she said a “couple good hundred mile days” is usually adequate training. Yeah, I should have done that, I guess. She also asked what kind of navigation I’m using – Garmin, Yahoo? Of course, only the best – a sheet of paper I had written on. But it is waterproof paper, so there’s that.

7:15 am (approx) – first bike rider broke her derailleur. On the gravel road. Katherine, how?

8:00 am: Mile 22 – Making decent pace. The goal was 10 mph and I’m making about 11-12. The riders have started to get more spread out and the tail lights and the headlights that I can see get thinner.

9:00 am: Mile 33 – cold, wet and miserable. I was unsure if the shoe covers are just cold or if water has been getting into the cover. Turns out, water had been getting in, likely from my leggings dripping down to my shoes. I HATE wet feet and only a few hours in, that’s what I had to deal with.

9-12 pm: Miles 30-60 – Uneventful for the most part. I settled into a rhythm. People were pulling further ahead and falling further behind the whole time. Eventually I ended up leap-frogging with the same 4 people as either they or I stop. It was comforting. I didn’t know them even in the slightest but I knew they like biking and are out of their minds, so that was comfort enough for me.

This was supposed to be funny. It scares me.

I made one bigger stop around mile 50 or so to wring out my socks and my gloves. My right foot had gone so cold that I couldn’t feel my toes moving. At that point I still considered that something worth stopping for. The main reason was my right hand had gotten so cold that shifting was no longer possible. Since I couldn’t feel the level or the clicks or really my fingers at all it because a not fun game of “pick a random gear”. After failing to climb a hill due to this, I called it and finally stopped.

12 pm: Mile 57 (approx) – first group of volunteers. I can not thank them enough for being out there with candy and kindness.

12 pm: Mile 60 – First check point, in the form of a convenience store. I bought four candy bars, a gallon of water and a box of ten trash bags. Yes, trash bags, because if it rained again and if I got even more wet and cold it would have been the end of the day for me. So, trash bags to cover the cold parts. I took three and stuffed them into my bag, gave some other guy one and then handed the box the volunteers who appeared rather perplexed at the gift.


Also, as I was about to leave some guy in a white van showed up, started yelling at us and the volunteers lost their mind and ran over to van. I turned around to see them handing this guy a sign to take his picture. In the moment this was the funniest thing on earth. Looking back at it – still funny, how did they even make that sign? If you haven’t figured it out, this guy was with the volunteers, doing what he does. Which is apparent drive a white van and yell at people, then hand out candy. Very nice guy.


Preface – I knew of the devious course designs by Sarah in the past. Up to this point I had thought “Hey, this isn’t so bad. Maybe everyone is just pushing harder and/or likes to complain.” Oh, I was wrong. So, so wrong. I don’t remember how many hills there were exactly, but this is the best I can do.

12:30 pm: Mile 65 – the mud began. The nice gravel road took a left hand turn to a Level B road, which is a soaking wet clay mud road for those of you that aren’t familiar with the term. So I started walking. After the crest of the hill I rode down the back side past a lady (Michelle) who was in the middle of the “road” inspecting her bike. She had broken a derailleur. I lost track of the next couple hours because we – me and the other people near me – traveled a whopping 5 miles in two hours.

We got to the top of the second mud hill and find ride-able gravel! I rode it another quarter mile or so, very excited, and then crested another hill to find MORE MUD. This mud you couldn’t even walk around because the design of the road. I made it about 40 feet and got stuck. Yes, stuck. My bike was nearly too heavy to lift, my shoe covers had nearly been ripped off the front of my shoes and I was getting barely any traction. At this point I gave up on the shoe covers. My shoes were wet; the covers were doing nothing. By now the two new friends I’d made had caught up with me. I learned something new here – my tires absolutely love picking up mud. Their bikes were perfectly clean and mine looked like I just dug it out of creek bed. Whatever. We kept walking.

Then the drone came. Yeah, someone had a brought a drone to document our misery and the feeling was just one of utter defeat. But we kept trucking on. Surely there wouldn’t be the much mud. Right. I don’t remember for sure if it was one more hill or two, but there was more.

After this section of mud there was a nice lady who happily greeted us with “Hello! Welcome to the halfway point! I have some water to clean off your chain if you need and a scraper to clean off the mud. The next checkpoint is three miles ahead on gravel.” Well, I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to lighten my bike by twenty pounds of mud. Now I’m not sure if she said she was sure there were no more B roads or if she said she knew there weren’t anymore till the checkpoint, but….

SHE LIED EITHER WAY. This lady was like an actor in a haunted house: planted there to give misdirection and break your soul. Now, if this was planned out, props to the coordinators for making the most soul crushing stop in the middle of the worst mud section in the middle of the worst gravel ride. Seriously, even if this was an accident – and given her peppy demeanor I suspect not – this is why Spotted Gravel has the reputation it does. It’s made to break your soul and this nice lady with a camera was PERFECT for that.

So much mud

So, after cleaning my bike, talking to the nice lady and climbing up a hill, what do I find?


It was at least two big hills of mud, if not three, which was worse. You get to the top only to see someone else on pushing up the next hill. The group of three other people that I was with chat along the way and that made it bearable for me. That section knocked out 3 people that I could see, which was only about 10 people total. Finally we got off the trail, and cleaned off our bikes. I have to use my backup water for cleaning as it was either that or risk ending up with a broken derailleur. The guy I was with handed me his mud spatula as he was going to be done at the next checkpoint. Given his recent knee replacement and hesitation in getting another one, I found that understandable. I got on my bike and my watch went off as it does every five miles. That five mile stretch took us 2 hours and 3 minutes. My brain could barely fathom this – I routinely ride five miles in around twenty minutes.

Check point 2 was cruelly placed right after this final section. Many people didn’t make it past this checkpoint and I’d be hard pressed to blame them. I stocked up on cookies and toffee, checked my tire pressure and headed out. Only 70 more miles to go to the finish, and 40 to the next gas station – Casey’s!

4-7 pm: Miles 80-120 – These mile weren’t too bad actually. I was beginning to get sick of Gu packet and candy bars. I would choke another Gu packet down just so I had enough mental clarity to navigate. I saw a hawk chase down a deer. A truck pass what seemed like a foot away from me at 55+ mph. Went through a SUPER tiny town in which all the vehicles appeared to be parked outside the church. The sun went down. My left knee started to feel strange. Good times. 5 miles or so before the Casey’s my water bag ran out. I had another liter in my back up bag, but since I had also blown through my emergency water bottle cleaning mud that liter was now my emergency supply. A half hour with no water isn’t yet an emergency when it’s cold and wet. By this point the Gu packets that I was having every 45 minutes were starting to sound like eating dog feces. I kept choking down whatever I could reach – snickers, Reeses bars, toffee, a cookie, but by this time I wanted anything but sugar. Luckily for me my favorite pizza place in the whole world was coming up.

I didn’t stay long at the last stop. A piece of Casey’s pizza, a gallon of water, gloves and new socks with fashionable trash bags over them and we were ready to go. Someone once told me that pizza might be bad on a bike ride this long. After biking all day, I didn’t care. I needed calories and wasn’t entirely sure I could have another *sweet thing*. After cooling down inside, the cold hit hard. The uncontrollable shaking was concerning so I threw on my arm warmers hoping I would stop shaking enough to warm up again. It took a few miles, but I got there.

7-11 pm: Miles 120-150

I made my way out of town, hoping to make good time on the remaining 30 miles. Maybe I could push it a little harder and get back a little earlier than I thought.


The knee was good until I had made my way out of town and into the pitch black of the Iowa countryside. Some light reflected off the low clouds, but that was hardly a comfort. Then the knee become increasingly painful to move until eventually I was trying to pedal one-footed and then finally just limping myself and my bike up a hill. I made a quick call to my wife to tell her I thought I was done, and she reminded me of the ibuprofen I had in my med kit. Now, I don’t use ibuprofen except in extreme circumstances, so this was a big deal – and it’s also for this reason that I don’t use it liberally. Miraculously, it worked, and it worked well. Yeah, the knee hurt, but I could keep going. In the last ten miles it started raining again but I could not have cared less by then.

My main tail light died – darn. My main headlight died – oh well, I have a backup. And then, finally, I made it to the finish line!

There she is! Sarah Cooper herself. I’ve heard she doesn’t acknowledge anyone who hasn’t biked 100 miles or more that day, no word on how true that is.



By the numbers:

17 hours, 7,300 calories, 650 training miles on my bike, 147 miles day of, 104 people signed up, 88 expected to show up, 56 started, 26 finished, one medal.

Why? I’m still not entirely sure.

Gear Review – MSR Hubba Hubba


The hubby and I bought a tent at the last REI garage sale, which meant that of course we had to try it out somewhere other than our living room. It’s hard to tell how a tent holds up in the wind when there are four nice walls surrounding it, after all – and since we got the tent for backpacking/adventuring, knowing how it performs ahead of a big trip is a must.

Even if that means purposely going out and camping in the rain.

We picked Saturday night for our test run and decided we’d stick with it even when the sunny-and-seventies weather of the initial plan turned into rainy-with-a-high-of-46. After all, we reasoned, better to find any leaks now when we’d be less than half an hour from home. It would be a fairly simple matter to throw everything in the Subaru, admit defeat, and spend the rest of the night in our bed. I’d also picked up a sleeping bag liner at the REI garage sale and was interested to see if it would make my sleeping bag any warmer. But I digress.

Our tent is the MSR Hubba Hubba NX, which has 4.6/5 stars on the REI website (link here) but was returned because it “didn’t perform as expected” according to the tag at the garage sale. (This might be a good time to mention that this post is not sponsored by REI, or anyone else for that matter.) Having experienced several situations where an item was returned more due to user error or unrealistic expectations than any actual defect, the hubby and I were hopeful that would be the case with the tent.


Our previous tent was a Kelty Teton 4, and the first things we noticed were differences between the tents. The Hubba Hubba is considerably lighter at only 3 lb 7 oz (compared to 7 lb 8 oz) and packs MUCH easier. When we’ve used our backpacks in the past, the Teton took up half of A’s pack, if not more.  This time, we were able to do a test run of our packing list and backpacks as well, since the tent was small and light enough that everything we needed could feasibly fit in the backpacks.  We did end up bringing several “extras” (marshmallows, anyone?) but broke those out into a separate cooler.  In the event of a real backpacking trip, anything in the cooler would stay behind and we now know our bags can take everything we need for an overnight trip.  As it was, loading up the car to head out was still a breeze.

It was misting when we got to the campsite, with actual rain threatening.  Luckily, the tent was easy to put up.  One of the other tents we looked at recently had poles that need to go on a specific end, even though they look very similar.  It confused us on a sunny morning when we had all the time in the world.  In the rain, hurrying to get the rain fly on, I was very glad for the Hubba Hubba’s symmetrical design and overall ease of setup.  It uses a single main pole with V’s on each end, and a short pole in the center to hold out the top of the tent.  The poles are attached with clips, so they do not have to be slid through sleeves.  We had the tent set up in no time, and secured the rain fly even faster, thanks to color-coded straps that make it easy to align.

20180929_171953We dumped our bags under the vestibules – one on each side, so the bags both fit, another perk – and A started what would turn into a two-and-a-half hour ordeal of starting a fire with damp wood while I set up the interior of the tent.  The Hubba Hubba is the same width for its entire length, which made it easy to fit both of our sleeping pads, although there was no extra room on the sides.  Our pads are both 21″ wide – deluxe when they were bought in the late 80’s, but nothing fancy now – and I was glad they weren’t wider.  We did have a bit of extra space lengthwise where we ended up storing our headlamps and water bottles for easy access overnight.

With setup done quickly, we had plenty of time to make supper (Ramen bombs are amazing on a cold, wet day – I’ll make another post on those later), scavenge the surrounding woods for some partially dry wood, and roast marshmallows when the fire caught at long last.  It was still misting when we climbed into our sleeping bags to give the tent its actual test.

I had wondered if I would miss the additional elbow room in our 4-person tent, but if anything I liked the smaller setup more.  With the sleeping pads pushed together, there was nowhere for them to slide.  The smaller space also stayed remarkably warmer through the night – warm enough that I tossed aside the extra blanket I usually use with my sleeping bag on chilly nights.  For someone who is perpetually cold, being too warm on a 40 degree night was an exciting novelty, not to mention a very good sign for future backpacking trips.  If I don’t need to bring an extra blanket, no matter how much it packs down, I have room for something that would have been sacrificed before.

Drying Central Station – Spot the Kitty

Pack-up the next morning was easy as well.  The Hubba Hubba has a bag design I haven’t seen before.  It opens lengthwise instead of at the top, meaning the tent and rain cover can be folded up and laid in the bag.  The pole bag is then placed in the middle, and a drawstring tightens the bag down before two straps latch over the opening.  Playing around with this feature beforehand, I discovered that the Hubba Hubba can be compressed much more than the Kelty could without the use of a different stuff sack.  It also alleviated one of my pet peeves – the tent ballooning with stuffed air when being put away.  Of course, we had to unpack everything when we got home and the living room turned into Drying Station Central; luckily the cat got a kick out of this.

While a campground in Iowa may not push the Hubba Hubba to its limits, I’m happy with how it performed and excited to use it on more adventures.  Maybe next time we’ll even get some sunshine!