A great weekend of running for Tulsa: Great Plains 10K, Snake Run

It’s been a funny year so far for me in terms of running. Yes, I’m still out there pounding the pavement and hitting the trails. But I haven’t been in a race since November, and frankly, haven’t been pushing that hard.

And that’s OK. As much as I enjoy being light and fast, sometimes it’s good to dial it back. Strength training has improved as the miles have decreased. Unfortunately, I’ve put on some weight, and not the good kind.

But if there was a weekend to get back into the whole race thing, last weekend was it.

First off, there was the Great Plains 10K, the first time for this race to be held in Tulsa. I didn’t run it, but I did work an aid station with a pretty cool group of volunteers.

The volunteers at the Great Plains 10K aid station where I worked. They were awesome.

The volunteers at the Great Plains 10K aid station where I worked. They were awesome.

The organizers of the race were kind enough to donate a portion of their proceeds to the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition if we supplied some volunteers, which we did. Twenty-one of us helped work the race, which saw 300 runners compete. For a first-time 10K, that’s pretty good. Race conditions were perfect – upper 40s to low 50s, no wind and overcast. Folks ran hard.

Great Plains wasn’t the only race that day, however. A trail race, the annual Snake Run at Turkey Mountain, was also going on.

I’ve run the Snake Run two times previously. The race has two events: the three-hour race and a six-hour race. The goal is simple, you just run as many miles as you can in the time given. I’ve done the three-hour event twice, topping out at just over 15 miles each time.

The races started at 9 a.m., so I was quite late getting there. But the race director, Ken “TZ” Childress, said those of us who worked the 10K could do a late-start walk-up entry if we wished.

I got there about 10:45, and by the time I ate a little food and got signed up, it was almost 11. The three-hour race would end in a little more than an hour. I wanted to get a good, slow double-digit run that day, but entering the three-hour race wasn’t going to do. So I signed up for the six-hour race.

So here’s the deal: Even though I ran in the six-hour race, I would not run for six hours. In fact, I’m not in shape to run for three right now. The longest run I’d done since November was a mere 7 miles. Even though I wore a bib for the six-hour event, I had no illusions about really being one of the six-hour runners. I figured if I could do three loops on the course and call it a day.

It’s amazing how free you feel without any pressure to perform, to climb the leader board, or to set a PR. Instead, I had time to stop at the aid stations and chat up friends who were working there. I paused to take some pictures. I got lazy and ran-hiked quite a bit. No pressure, just fun.

One aid station, as it turns out, was all booze. A guy named Jason Bement had several types of bourbon, including a home brew which was mighty tasty. I stopped there every time and ended up with a few shots throughout the race.

Jason Bement mans his bandit "hydration" aid station. I made a few stops here to sample the goods.

Jason Bement mans his bandit “hydration” aid station. I made a few stops here to sample the goods.

A friend of mine and a fellow TUWC member named Laurie also made sure I had a few swigs of beer at every stop where she was taking photos. We’ll just call that liquid carb loading or something like that.

I saw a bunch of friends on the course, too. Steve and Brooke, for example, both tagged 15+ miles in the three-hour event. That’s a distance PR for Steve, who just started running with Brooke on the trails last fall. Amazing progress.

Another friend of mine, an athlete named Trace, took third place in the men’s three-hour event, logging north of 23 miles. This dude has turned into one heck of an endurance competitor. His wife and three kids were there as well, cheering him on.

Another gal I know, Katie Kramer-Ochoa, defended her women’s three-hour title with 20+ miles as well. Katie is a regular on the podiums at a variety of road and trail races in Oklahoma, and is also last summer’s overall champ in the Midnight Madness 50-mile race. If you want to beat Katie, you’re going to have to dig deep. Really, really deep.

And another friend who has taken his running to new levels, a dude named Danny, busted off more than 16 miles in the three-hour race. This was his first Snake Run, but he’s already got a marathon and a 25K under his belt as of late.

It was awesome seeing all familiar faces hitting the trail that day.

Of course, more TUWC volunteers were there to help work the Snake Run as well. Colin and Erin, cyclists who have come to love Turkey Mountain, helped serve grub to runners at the start/finish aid station.

Erin Tawney, Colin Tawney and Laurie Biby near that start-finish line. The Tawneys manned one of  the aid stations and Laurie shot photos. All three are hard-working volunteers with the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition.

Erin Tawney, Colin Tawney and Laurie Biby near that start-finish line. The Tawneys manned one of the aid stations and Laurie shot photos. All three are hard-working volunteers with the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition.

I love the hard-charging spirit of the three-hour competitors, the mellow resolve of the six-hour elites and the grit of the rest of the field in doing their best. I’m always in that last bunch, competing against myself, though not this year. Either way, the Snake Run is a fun race.

A three-hour runner gets ready to finish off one last lap.

A three-hour runner gets ready to finish off one last lap.

Here, a six-hour runner throws down in the middle of that race.

Here, a six-hour runner throws down in the middle of that race.

It’s probably time for me to get a little more serious about my running again. I’d love to get back to the point where I was marching up the standings, reaching new goals and getting ready for hitting the peaks later this spring and summer. I’ve had my fun. It’s time to get serious.

But more importantly, what a great weekend of running for Tulsa. It sure seemed like the Great Plains 10K was a success, and TZ put on another great Snake Run. People got to enjoy the trails at Turkey Mountain, and thanks to all the runners, their efforts will help future endeavors to preserve and promote one of the city’s greatest assets.

It’s a little reminder of how great our running community is and can be.

Bob Doucette

As prime hiking season nears, a list of ‘first’ mountain adventures

Great views like this are the things that make people want to go to the mountains. Here's how to get started.

Great views like this are the things that make people want to go to the mountains. Here’s how to get started.

Many people are looking for new challenges these days, and a big chunk of that crowd looks to fill that urge outdoors. For me, that always pointed me toward the mountains. Something about the high country just exudes an energy of adventure that is hard to find elsewhere.

Is this you? Yeah? But where to start?

Well, you’re in luck. It just so happens there are a number of places you can go in Colorado and New Mexico that will fit the bill, even if seeing the world from a mountaintop is something you haven’t done before.

We’ll break it down into categories, based on what your interests are, locations, and a bit more for those of you looking to take the next step in your alpine adventures. So here goes:

FIRST MOUNTAIN, CLOSE TO DENVER

There are several to choose from, as a bunch of high peaks are within 90 minutes of the Denver metro area. If you’re looking for something that doesn’t require a long drive, you can expect a busy trail during the peak hiking season. But you’ll still have a good time.

Mount Bierstadt and its Sawtooth Ridge.

Mount Bierstadt and its Sawtooth Ridge.

My choice: Mount Biesrstadt. It’s close to the Interstate 70 town of Georgetown, with easy access to the trailhead and a straightforward route. It’s a hike, and the round-trip route is about 7 miles. Standing at 14,060 feet, you’ll need a good set of legs and lungs to get up there. But you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Bierstadt’s Sawtooth Ridge as well as a host of nearby peaks. There are some boulder-hopping on the final stretch, but nothing too demanding. The trail is also dog-friendly, and you’ll likely meet a lot of other altitude seekers along the way.

Route info

FIRST MOUNTAIN, COMFORTABLE OVERNIGHT STAY

I’ve got one in mind here that’s close to Breckenridge. If you’d rather forgo the long drive from Denver and still have a comfortable place to stay before and after your summit, then the Breckenridge-Quandary Peak combo is for you.

Quandary Peak.

Quandary Peak.

Like Biesrstadt, it’s an easy-to-follow trail that goes right up the mountain’s east ridge and to the top. Again, about seven miles round-trip, topping out at 14,265 feet. Quandary Peak has incredible views of the nearby Mosquito Range as well as some of the high summits of the Tenmile Range. Again, this will be a busy peak during the summer, but a memorable one as well.

If you have more time and energy, go ahead and check out the loop that includes Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln and Mount Bross, all nearby 14ers in the Mosquito Range. Or just relax and enjoy some time in Breckenridge.

Route info

FIRST MOUNTAIN, MORE SOLITUDE

If you can get further away from the bigger cities and find time on a weekday, Huron Peak near Buena Vista, Colorado, is my choice. In fact, of all the first-time peaks on my list, Huron Peak has the most bang for the buck.

Huron Peak.

Huron Peak.

The mountain is deeper in the Sawatch Range, and if you ask anyone who has been there, they’ll tell you it has the some of the best views you can find. At 14,003 feet, it has commanding vistas of the nearby Three Apostles formation, three dramatic 13,000-foot peaks that make for excellent views and stunning photographs. Because it is farther away from any cities of size, it will also be less travelled than Bierstadt or Quandary. The route is just under seven miles from the four-wheel-drive trailhead, and just over 10 from the two-wheel-drive trailhead.

Route info

FIRST MOUNTAIN, BACKPACKING ADVENTURE

There are a lot of choices all throughout the Rockies, but my pick here is in the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico. Head into Red River, and then to the Middle Fork Trail parking lot for a trek up Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico at 13,159 feet.

Summit view from Wheeler Peak.

Summit view from Wheeler Peak.

The trail takes you five miles into the Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area. At Lost Lake, there are a number of dispersed, primitive campsites. This is not the most heavily traveled route up the mountain – that is on the other side of the mountain near Taos. What you’ll get are great campsites, alpine scenery and plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing (I had bighorn sheep walking through my campsite when I was last there). Get up the next morning and hike the remaining three miles to Wheeler Peak’s summit.

If you’re going to break into high country backpacking, I can’t think of many other places that will top it.

Route info

FIRST SNOW CLIMB

Late spring still means there’s going to be now on the mountains, which a lot of hikers seek to avoid. But if you’re looking to try your hand at traversing and ascending snowy slopes, a good starter route is the Angel of Shavano Couloir on Mount Shavano.

Near the top of Mount Shavano.

Near the top of Mount Shavano.

Mount Shavano is near Salida and Poncha Springs, and the southernmost of the massive Sawatch 14ers. It’s a hike all the way, but below the saddle between Shavano and a neighboring peak is a gully that fills with snow during the colder months. That’s the Angel of Shavano Couloir.

If you’re itching to learn skills using an ice axe and crampons, this is one of the better places to start. The Angel melts out fast in the spring, but if you hit it at the right time, the couloir links up to snow fields on Shavano’s summit cone that will take you all the way to the top. Learn how to use these pieces of gear, and if possible, go with someone who has done a snow climb before. Mount Shavano is a good introduction to these types of skills.

Route info

FIRST MOUNTAIN TO KICK IT UP A NOTCH

When you’ve got to the point where you’re ready to graduate from the walk-up peaks and do a little climbing, some interesting options come to mind. My pick means taking a bit of a drive to southwestern Colorado, but it will be worth the trip. Few peaks have the beauty and challenge in combination with accessibility than Wetterhorn Peak.

Wetterhorn Peak.

Wetterhorn Peak.

Two-wheel-drive access to the Matterhorn Creek trailhead will get you to great campsites, and the route to the top is a little over seven miles. It’s all hiking until you get just under a formation called the Prow, and that’s where the climbing begins. Also called “scrambling,” a Class 3 route (Classes 1 and 2 are hiking only, with varying degrees of difficulty; Class 4 is more difficult unroped climbing, and Class 5 is technical climbing using ropes) will involve using your hands and feet to ascend. It is unroped climbing, but the rock is solid and getting to the top is fun.

The catch: The top section of Wetterhorn is pretty airy and if you’re intimidated by heights, this could be a challenge. But the best way to overcome those fears and push yourself to new levels is to tackle them head-on. Wetterhorn is a good peak to do just that.

Route info

So there’s a list you can check out and use to make your spring and summer plans. My guess is that after you do one of these peaks, you’ll want to do more.

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain update: Simon Group takes a standing eight-count, delays presenting updated plans

A more detailed plan of Simon Group's plan for an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain. Note just one entry and exit on a two lane road (traffic nightmares), and at the bottom of the map, you'll see that the site butts right up to a ravine. No thanks.

A more detailed plan of Simon Group’s plan for an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain. Note just one entry and exit on a two lane road (traffic nightmares), and at the bottom of the map, you’ll see that the site butts right up to a ravine. No thanks.

If you’ve ever followed the boxing, you know what it looks like when a confident fighter meets a buzz saw. Back in the day, that was Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas. Everyone assumed the champ would dispatch poor Buster in three rounds or less, but we all know that didn’t happen. Iron Mike knew what he had going for him. He just didn’t properly see what was coming at him on that night.

Surprise!

Surprise!

Last month, the Simon Group showed up en masse to a Tulsa Planning Commission meeting and told those who were there a couple of important things concerning the outlet mall they plan to build on the west side of Turkey Mountain. First, they said they’d built more than 80 retail developments around the world, and that we should trust them. And second, they told us to just look at what they’d already done here in Tulsa.

OK, I’ll bite. They told us to trust them. Trust, as I see it, is something that comes with concrete plans and verifiable facts. What we’ve received thus far is a plan that is a little vague on important details, most important of which is how this mall, which would overlook the Westside YMCA kids camp, would affect that camp and the rest of the woodlands in terms of drainage, litter and light pollution. Many of us have no doubt the impact would be negative, and we have yet to see anything concrete that would ease those concerns.

It also doesn’t seem like Simon has taken the traffic issues as seriously as the rest of us do, especially the people who live along 61st Street and Elwood Avenue, which is right next to where Simon’s mall would be built. Their plan calls for using a tax breaks to widen the 61st Street bridge over U.S. 75 and a little bit of the road from the bridge to just east of the development. But anyone in the know would tell you that traffic along all of 61st Street and Elwood Avenue, that hilly, curving two-lane ribbon of asphalt, would increase dramatically. The road is simply not built to handle traffic from such a large, high-traffic development like an outlet mall. Traffic going in and out of the mall parking lot would also be congested, as there is just one planned entry/exit.

So just from an eyeball test, the mall is going to create a traffic nightmare. Trust is, they say. Sure. Trust, just don’t verify.

On to the next point: to look at what Simon has already done here in the Tulsa Market.

I’m aware of two projects. One was the Eastland Mall in east Tulsa. When it opened in the late 1980s, it was a pretty great place, but it didn’t last long. All accounts showed that Eastland began failing not long after it opened.

It’s still open, but not as a shopping mall. Instead, it’s a repurposed property with offices (now under different ownership), a few restaurants and a tiny bit of retail. So as far as this part of Simon’s track record in Tulsa, I’d call Eastland Mall a swing and a miss.

But then there’s Woodland Hills Mall. Now this has, indeed, become a serious retail success story in Tulsa, anchoring a retail area that has become the most powerful commercial engine we have in the city.

But also, just look at it. The traffic there is as heavy as anywhere else in the city. The number of street lights between Memorial Drive and U.S. 169 on 71st Street rivals what you might see in the block-by-block traffic control downtown. It’s a sea of big-box stores, chain restaurants, strip malls and other buildings orbiting the mass that is Woodland Hills Mall. Just the thing you want to see plopped in the middle of the city’s top urban green space, right?

Oh, and let’s just take a look at the pictures of what the property around Woodland Hills Mall looks like…

woodland1

woodland2

woodland3

Imagine that loveliness hovering over the Westside Y. I guess we could teach kids the value of hard work by assigning them to daily litter patrol, right?

Needless to say, the skeptics go well beyond me and other trail users. Greater Tulsa YMCA officials have expressed their concerns on two different television news interviews, and members of the Tulsa City Council have expressed very public and blunt doubts about the outlet mall plan’s viability at the location Simon proposes. Many people are also not wild about subsidizing a multi-billion-dollar corporation’s plans for the mall with public funds via a tax-increment finance district.

(It might also be noted that there has been no public opposition to competing plans in east Tulsa and Catoosa.)

A wood-lined section of Turkey Mountain's Ho Chi trail during the summer. The scores of miles of trails here offer some of the most challenging trail running and cycling trails you can find.

We’ve got plenty of places to shop in Tulsa, but not very much of this.

The argument that preserving the land as it is – wild, forested hills – has become the consensus preference for the people who actually live here as opposed to the suits at Simon’s Indianapolis corporate headquarters. People like the idea of maintaining a spot where they can hike, ride a bike, run or take their horse as opposed to yet another shopping center. We’ve got a lot of those already.

So Simon asked for a time out. Company representatives were to appear at a Planning Commission next week, but asked for a one-month continuance. Translation: After getting battered by bad press, turning public opinion and open doubts from the people who have final say on the mall’s approval, Simon is taking a standing eight-count in their corner of the ring. I guess these things happen when your plan isn’t very good to begin with, and that’s not a surprise, given how poor the site is for a mall, and the other weaknesses I’ve already noted.

That doesn’t mean this issue is decided. Far from it. But it does mean there is a growing chorus of opposition to a mall at Turkey Mountain, and that people in power are listening. That’s a trend I’d like to see continue.

There are things you can do. Here are some ideas:

If you haven’t written city council members and the mayor, do it. Encourage dialogue. Write respectful, concise and well thought-out letters and emails, but plainly state your case. And don’t just write your councilor. Write all of them. Get their contact information here.

If you live in District 2, or anywhere else in Tulsa, go to the public meeting Councilor Cue is hosting. Be there, bring your neighbors, and let your voice be heard. Turkey Mountain is important to all Tulsans and beyond, but it specifically affects her and her constituents. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. March 17 (this Tuesday) at the Marriott Tulsa Southern Hills, 1902 E. 71st Street.

If you haven’t signed the online petition, do so. It’s more than 7,600 signatures now. Numbers matter. Be part of that growing list. Go to the petition here.

Volunteer to be a part of the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition. Turkey Mountain and other vital outdoor green spaces in the area are the things this group is trying to protect and promote, and the group does good work. More great things are in the future, including continued advocacy for the greater Turkey Mountain area. Learn more about TUWC and how to join here.

Turkey Mountain is an asset as it is. Its existence has been noted as a serious draw for people inside and outside the city, and is a great tool to recruit residents and businesses who care about quality of life issues. Building an outlet mall there would only degrade it. So stand up and be heard. Folks are listening.

Bob Doucette

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A lesson that ‘House of Cards’ taught me

"House of Cards" is a great show, but the lives depicted in it are not for me.

“House of Cards” is a great show, but the lives depicted in it are not for me.

 

After all the hype over the release of the third season of “House of Cards,” I finally gave it a whirl. You know, just to see what the fuss was about.

For the record, the show lives up to the hype. It’s that good. Kevin Spacey channels LBJ in a way I’m not sure many other actors can.

But something else I got from the show was a sense of “homecoming,” I guess, in that I recognized so many of the places filmed in the show. Those row houses in Georgetown, the lesser-known parks and greasy spoon cafes, and the Capitol office building cafeterias — all those Washington nooks and crannies that most folks don’t think about because the times they’ve been there were to see Capitol, or take a picture of the White House, or view the exhibits at the Smithsonian. The show includes the out-of-the-way places, and it was fun to pick ‘em out.

I know a smattering of such locales because there was a time that I was certain I was going to be having a career there.

Funny how things turn out.

Back in my college days, I was all about finding a way into public service. I studied politics and government, learned about other countries, and dreamed of working for the State Department, or perhaps the CIA. Maybe I’d spend some time on the hill as a legislative researcher, or become a high-powered advocate for a  think tank or something.

But my time there, while making quite an impression on me, was limited to a summer as an intern at the Capitol, working for a Minnesota congressman by doing mostly benign administrative tasks. By the time I wrapped up college, I was snapping up the best available job I could find in media, with hopes that maybe one day I’d find my ticket to D.C. by being sent to a Washington Bureau. Or something like that.

Ah, the Capitol. Great place to visit. Not sure I want to live there.

Ah, the Capitol. Great place to visit. Not sure I want to live there.

Obviously, none of that ever happened. No stint in the diplomatic corps, no long nights at Langley, no big stories as part of the fiercely competitive D.C. press corps. I had to find work in a small Oklahoma community, and I had to do it right away – keeping a roof overhead and food on the table squeezed out far-flung dreams.

So life took me to other places. At first, small towns writing about football games and small-time crimes, then frying bigger fish for bigger outfits.

On my own time, I got to travel some, sometimes abroad. And of course, there was plenty of time hiking and running trails, climbing mountains and driving across the country finding — and making — stories far more dear to my heart than anything I could have done slaving away in the middle of the Capitol Hill  boiler room.

I’ve been back to Washington a couple of times since those intern days, and I must say it’s a fantastic city. So much to do and see, and filled with smart, dedicated and talented people. I have incredible memories of that place, but usually they have nothing to do with high-stakes politics or important figures. More often, it’s about meeting who was then my brother Steve’s future wife, playing softball in after-hours beer leagues and getting to know normal people doing normal things in one of the most extraordinary cities on the planet.

There are times when I wonder if I missed out. Had I not been so hard-pressed to find work instead of going to grad school — getting that doctorate, learning a foreign language, or doing whatever else it took to break into one of those sweet federal gigs — could I have somehow cracked that inner circle? Some of my college friends did.

Or what if I’d really put my media career first, gave my ambition a shot of steroids, and really gone for broke on joining the Washington media circus? Could I have done it?

If so, what sort of life would I have?

Here’s what I do know: When you’re working in high-stakes careers, the job comes first. Everything else comes second. Rare is the man or woman who can put their family, health or whatever before their profession in a place like Washington. I’m sure the same could be said in many New York circles, too. Power and riches come with a price, one partially purchased by your undivided attention. Other costs pile up, too.

And I guess you could predict that you might have to sacrifice other things in a “succeed at any cost” or “ends justify the means” sort of way, but I don’t accept that as a given. I know it’s common (or even expected), but I don’t think it’s automatic. Maybe it just seems like it is.

I believe that had things gone according to “plan” I might have had a shot at some or all of those scenarios, but I think I would have lost out in many other ways. How many friends would I have never met, or distant lands would I have never seen? Would I have bothered to ever return to the Rockies, except as a drive-through tourist tethered to a lodge? Would I have ever seen the expansive views from a high summit in the San Juan range if I were chasing political stories all day?

Would I have already died of a heart attack?

I'm pretty sure there is no view in D.C. that can come close to this.

I’m pretty sure there is no view in D.C. that can come close to this.

Life takes funny turns. I’m sure I never would have been a Francis Underwood-type politician (I hate the nasty side of politics too much), and I barely got out of German with a passing grade, so you can kiss that diplomatic career good-bye. The whole CIA thing was probably a pipe dream, too. Ditto for the Washington press corps.

But I did become a bit of a traveler. I got to see some great places on three continents. I somehow found a way to become a marathoner. I’ve even dabbled in mountaineering, which is every bit as cool as it sounds.

Could I have been all those things and had a big career in Washington? Maybe, but I doubt it. And given the choice, with hindsight as a guide, I wouldn’t choose any different. Quiet solitude on a mountaintop or breezing through the trees on a run just sounds way better than becoming a slave to the grind. When 2016 rolls around, or some new political or international crisis strikes, there is a good chance I could be somewhere much more peaceful and interesting than what my younger self envisioned.

A wise choice or serendipity, I’m not sure. But it certainly is a better fit.

Bob Doucette

Gear review: Kahtoola Microspikes

Extra traction for the snow.

Extra traction for the snow.

It’s not often I get to test snow gear out where I live, which is a real hindrance when I want to use such things in the high country. But every now and then, I get that chance.

A couple of decent days of snow in my part of the world gave me the opportunity to whip out a pair of Kahtoola Microspikes I own, which to this day have only been used for hiking purposes. But how would they do on a trail run? That’s what I wanted to find out. But let’s tackle the basics first.

SPECS

Microspikes are one of a variety of products out there designed to give you extra traction to what you already have on your boots or shoes. There are other products, ranging from screw-in spikes that go into the bottoms of your shoes to crampons, which are used in glacier walking and steep hiking and mountaineering ventures where snow and ice is involved. Crampons can be overkill in a lot of circumstances, and deeper snow can render screw-in spikes less effective. So that’s where Microspikes and products like them come in.

The basic design is a rubber upper that slips over your boot or shoe, with steel chains on the sole. The soles also have 10 to 12 1-centimeter spikes, depending on the size you require (10 spikes for extra small, 12 for small to extra large). Each pair weighs 12 to 15-1/2 ounces, again depending on your size. I wear a 10-1/2 shoe, so I wear the large size that comes in at 14.4 ounces per pair.

Microspikes are easy to put on your shoe — the flexibility of the rubber makes it to where no straps or tightening devices are needed, provided you get the right size. Each pair comes with a two-year warranty.

So how’d they do?

An easy fit over my shoes.

An easy fit over my shoes.

HIKING

My first test came during a late spring trip into the mountains where a lot of snow was present. The snow itself was soft in spots and deep enough for kickstepping. In terms of weight, I didn’t notice much in the way be being slowed , and because of the smaller size of the spikes, it was pretty easy to transition between snow and bare rock without losing too much traction. This would not have been the case with crampons.

On that note, getting that extra traction proved helpful, particularly as the snow softened throughout the day. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any slips (there were, mostly because of the softness of the snow), but compared to a plain boot, I’d say I stuck to those slick surfaces pretty well.

Overall, the Microspikes make a decent compromise when a bare boot is not going to cut it, but crampons prove to be more steel on your foot than you really need. Experience will dictate that.

TRAIL RUNNING

Let me start off by saying that the trail shoes I use for running have proved to be more than adequate traction for running in snow, even when inclines are involved. I tested my Salomon Sense Mantras in snowy conditions last winter and noticed minimal slipping. And considering how light they are, that’s a good thing.

But I realize that some people’s shoes just aren’t ready to tackle snow. So that’s where external traction comes into play.

I put mine on and headed out for a hilly, technical 4.4-mile trail run with about 3-4 inches of fresh snow. The conditions included anything from dense powder on less-traveled trails to packed powder on places that had seen some traffic.

The run started out with a climb of about 50 feet. It was moderately steep, so this was going to be a place where slipping was bound to occur. But that did not happen. The teeth of the spikes dug in and my feet gained excellent traction throughout that little uphill.

The same could be said of the downhills. I was somewhat conservative at first, but later tried to pick up the pace on any downward slopes and had no troubles with my footing. A great sign.

But there are a couple of things I noticed. First, I did have to readjust the Microspikes on my right foot near the toe, as they’d started to shift off-center. That only happened once, but you may experience times where you have to adjust the spikes so they give you optimal traction and the chains/spikes don’t get too loose underfoot.

Second, the weight on my feet was noticeable. I didn’t get any snow balling under my shoes, but that added 7.2 ounces on each foot makes a difference. So be prepared for that.

A look at the Mirospikes from the bottom.

A look at the Mirospikes from the bottom.

OVERALL

The Kahtoola Micropikes are a durable, rugged solution for the lighter-duty traction needs of hikers and trail runners who want to tackle the snow. You may get slowed a bit if you’re a runner, and be sure to weigh your traction needs when facing steep slopes that are snowy or icy — they’re good for overall traction, but are not a substitute for crampons when crampons are what you need. But less than that, they are great to have for any number of late fall, winter and early spring adventures in the snow.

Price: $64.95 per pair suggested retail.

Note: I purchased my pair with my own funds.

Bob Doucette

Snow day: Hitting the trails in the quiet of winter

On the east slopes of Turkey Mountain, overlooking the Arkansas River.

On the east slopes of Turkey Mountain, overlooking the Arkansas River.

It’s not exactly common for us here in the Southern Plains to get much snow, at least not anything worth mentioning. It’s infrequent enough that when it happens, schools close, grocery stores are raided and TV meteorologists go into full-on freak-out mode, something less than what we see during tornado season, but not by much.

Snow also sends some people outside, building snowmen, sledding or otherwise playing around in conditions that elicit a collective shrug to the people up north or in the high country. Most people, however, just stay in.

And that means my local playground empties out quite nicely. I run a lot at Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness, and when the weather is nice, I’m there with boatloads of other people. During a good snowfall, those numbers drop precipitously.

I try to make a point of going out there after a good snow, partly for the solitude, but mostly because of the beauty. Have a look at these shots and you’ll see what I mean…

It almost looks like an avenue of winter goodness. And it's soft underfoot.

It almost looks like an avenue of winter goodness. And it’s soft underfoot.

On the north end of the Ridge Trail, you get to see these boulders. They look a little different graced with some snow.

Framed just right. That's quite a scene.

Framed just right. That’s quite a scene.

Turning back south, you get a great view of the Arkansas River.

Chilly waters. But very pretty.

Chilly waters. But very pretty.

And then something you rarely see: Me in a selfie. I don’t do these very much, for obvious reasons. But at least you know I was there.

Yes, the beard ages me. But I did the pensive "not looking at the camera because I'm so rad" thing pretty well, right? Someone find me a selfie stick! GoPro superstar!

Yes, the beard ages me. But I did the pensive “not looking at the camera because I’m so rad” thing pretty well, right? Someone find me a selfie stick! GoPro superstar!

This is what I get to do in a place where I can’t ski. In any case, what I got out of the deal was a 4.4-mile run in the snow, a chance to see the woods in a whole new way and a little bit of solitude at a time when that’s been in short supply. It wasn’t the strongest run I’ve ever had (I’m not exactly in shape right now), but it was definitely worth the time and effort.

I’ve lived by the idea of embracing the elements, and what you see in those photos is a good reason why. It might be cold and wet, but it’s awesome in every way. Good things happen when you head outside.

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain update: Simon Group meets with Tulsans about mall plan, and the reception gets chilly

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There has been a lot of action on the plan to build an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain, with representatives of the Simon Group meeting with members of the community and city officials as the approval process grinds on.

Simon reps has been putting on a charm offensive just before going over their plans with the Tulsa Area Planning Commission, and they even met with members of the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition to discuss that group’s concerns about the mall proposal a few days before the Planning Commission meeting took place last  week.

I got a summary of how that meeting with coalition members went, and I attended the Planning Commission meeting on Thursday. Here’s a breakdown of what we’ve learned from last week’s meetings:

Simon claims to have plans for a five- to six- lane bridge and that the state Department of Transportation will allow them to replace the 61st Street bridge at their own expense. Simon intends to get a tax increment finance district designation from the city to reimburse them for this expense, which is essentially a tax break on things like property taxes to be repaid over time if/when property values rise and other revenues from the project come in (not a sure bet). That still does not address the traffic impact on the Interstate 44/U.S. 75 interchange. Coalition members showed them the problematic access issues with the dysfunctional service roads on both sides of I-44 as well as the short merge areas on U.S. 75 over I- 44.

Simon offered no answer for the public safety issue of the Elwood Avenue and 61st Street corridor to the east of the property entrance for their strip mall. John Dionis, with Simon, blames park users for making the road dangerous by parking on the sides of the road. It was pointed out that is the pent-up demand for recreation and green space.

Simon has no plan in place to deal with trash blowing from their property onto adjacent properties. This is something the actual permanent site management will apparently address once it is hired and placed on site. Adjacent properties include the Westside YMCA (which hosts summer camps for kids, among other programs) and wild land used by hikers, cyclists, equestrians and other people seeing time outdoors.

Simon appears reluctant to share any of its 2,000 parking spaces with trail users. Instead, the company plans to go to the George Kaiser Family Foundation (one of the property owners adjacent to the proposed mall site) and see if the foundation would mind tearing up its property to put an additional 50 or so parking spaces and trailhead access. It’s been communicated to Simon that trail users do not want to sacrifice even more wild land for parking.

Simon claims its retaining walls will be constructed of wood. At some point, the fill area to be contained by these retaining walls will be 70 feet high. Though terraced in 10- to 15-foot sections, this bears more scrutiny.

Simon is projecting 750 cars per hour transiting the mall site at peak times. A traffic study was mentioned at last week’s Planning Commission meeting, but it was not presented at that time. There is no way right now to examine how Simon got to that number. Regardless, this is pretty heavy traffic for a single entry-exit plan on a road that will taper to two lanes just east of the proposed mall site’s access point.

Coalition members explained they are concerned about contaminants in the stormwater runoff. Simon claims it has ways to address this, but other than describing use of a greenbelt and different kinds of plants and soils to absorb such runoff, those plans are still a little vague. During last week’s Planning Commission meeting, a Simon official basically said they’ve done scores of similar projects before and to just “trust us.” I hope that condescending brush-off did not go unnoticed by the Planning Commission. It certainly did not escape me.

Coalition members pointed out the sightline issue from the ridge to the east and how this ruins the experience for trail users. Simon claims it will have its architect meet with coalition members, walk the valley and western leg of Snake Trail and devise a way to make the view more palatable. This shows they likely have never walked this area, just the property they intend to develop. One might describe that as a case of disconnect.

Simon said there was no possibility of developing on another site or partnering with one of the other developments. A site between 61st & 71st, Union and U.S. 75 apparently had bigger site challenges than this site.

Simon fully believes it can have a widened bridge over U.S. 75 done, site work complete, and open for business in fall 2016. More than a few people find this hard to believe.

A CHILLY RECEPTION

The Planning Commission meeting went as you’d expect, but with a few interesting twists. After trying to butter up the locals with how much they enjoyed Tulsa barbecue, Simon reps presented their plans, answered questions, and then declined to talk to local media covering the meeting.

What was interesting to me was how many questions Planning Commission members asked, and how they specifically mirrored the concerns that me and many others have been driving home over the past few months. What that tells me is that they have been hearing the message from people in the community.

They’re not alone. Apparently, so have many Tulsa City Council members. In a story in Sunday’s Tulsa World, a good number of city councilors voiced displeasure at the proposed mall plan. One councilor, Jeanie Cue (whose district is includes Turkey Mountain and the proposed mall site) is going to hold a public forum to discuss it. At this point, only Mayor Dewey Bartlett and his staff seem to be for it. The rest of the council – which has final say in whether or not this happens – seems far less enthusiastic.

That tells me the message is getting through. As the public educates itself on the problems of the site, and what’s at stake, more and more people are souring on Simon’s plan. It’s not that people don’t want an outlet mall, they just don’t want one that eats into the city’s best urban green space – an asset prized and promoted by the city – and they don’t want one that looms over a great facility like the Westside Y.

It also tells me that councilors are hearing from voters, and they’re listening. Letters and emails keep coming. The online petition keeps growing.

I have no problem with Simon or anyone opening an outlet mall in Tulsa, just not there. More and more of you seem to agree.

WHAT TO DO NEXT

Clearly, this is not a done deal for Simon. Anything but. But stopping it from happening is also not a done deal. So here are some suggestions:

If you haven’t written city council members and the mayor, do it. Encourage dialogue. Write respectful, concise and well thought-out letters and emails, but plainly state your case. And don’t just write your councilor. Write all of them. Get their contact information here, and contact the mayor here.

If you live in District 2, go to the public meeting Councilor Cue is hosting. Be there, bring your neighbors, and let your voice be heard. Turkey Mountain is important to all Tulsans and beyond, but it specifically affects her and her constituents. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. March 17 at the Marriott Tulsa Southern Hills, 1902 E. 71st Street.

If you can, be at the next Planning Commission meeting. Public input will be allowed at this meeting, and the commission needs to hear your concerns. And you can bet that those accountable to voters – the mayor and the council – will be paying attention to what happens there. The meeting is at 1:30 p.m. March 18 at 175 East 2nd Street, 2nd Level, One Technology Center, in the Tulsa City Council Chambers.

If you haven’t signed the online petition, do so. It’s well over 7,300 signatures now. Numbers matter. Be part of that growing list. Go to the petition here.

Volunteer to be a part of the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition. Turkey Mountain and other vital outdoor green spaces in the area are the things this group is trying to protect and promote, and the group does good work. More great things are in the future, including continued advocacy for the greater Turkey Mountain area. Learn more about TUWC and how to join here.

Bob Doucette