Expedition Portal http://expeditionportal.com Sat, 30 Apr 2016 16:10:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Wild Teton Hearts http://expeditionportal.com/wild-teton-hearts/ http://expeditionportal.com/wild-teton-hearts/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 07:59:54 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=38252 I watch Sam’s face as I hit the high note of my rendition of Third Eye Blind, watching for a reaction as he narrows his eyes on the road. We’ve entered into Wyoming territory and there’s a massive dark blue cloud looming in the distance. We’re two weeks into our summer road trip at this point and have arrived at the “lets try and see how much we can annoy each other” phase. I’m not sure why we like to play this game but I’m thankful we’re far from anyone we know when I’m squealing mid tickle attack or growling at him with a verbal snap when I get tired of the millionth “nerd” joke I’ve heard this trip (yes, I like to read, I get it). Married life is fun when you’re trapped together in a metal box for weeks at a time. It’s the poor man’s couples therapy.

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We reach Jackson Hole just in time for Sam’s birthday. We find ourselves at Mad River, a rafting outfitter in town, where we squeeze into wet suits and meet our fearless raft captain. His name is John Wayne. I wonder if that’s his real name or his boat name but I don’t ask. A part of me wouldn’t want to know the truth if it wasn’t. We wade awkwardly through the water as we climb into the 8-man boat and begin making our way down Snake River. John Wayne talks to us about his aversion to desk jobs and his dreams of life on the raging waters after becoming enchanted with the 1960’s film, Wild River. The psychologist in me begins to wonder what all is beyond his bro-ish exterior but my thought gets cut off midway as we get blindsided by a wall of water. I see the good Lord in a wave capable of smacking us into yesterday only to swallow us and spit us out again.

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We are drenched and tired from laughter and the thrill. We take a break for a hot trout dinner where we shiver in our wet suits and the rest room is a tree. We talk through chattering teeth with a fellow Houstonian who happened to be on our raft. He recently experienced a layoff and had headed to the airport on a YOLO whim. Now here we are. I’m already shaking my head up and down uncontrollably from the cold but I go ahead and share my enthusiastic support for this life decision. Sam and I are away from our respective businesses for a total of three weeks. It was particularly hard for me to pull away from my work since I had only started my private practice a few months prior. When life ceases to slow down there never seems to be a good time to head out on the road for an extended period of time. Now that we’re in the middle of it I can clearly see that this was the right call to make. We get off the boat after a final glory ride and I laugh full heartedly as these three very cold Houstonians lead the pack on what feels like a mile long run back to our bus.

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We decide to take John Wayne’s advice for tonight’s camping spot and head out toward Curtis Canyon. I’m still trying to get the warmth of the Land Cruiser’s heater to reach my core. I’m ready to call off nature for the rest of the evening but then Wyoming happens. We kick up gravel and dust on a lonely road as we make our way back out to nothingness. Rolling hills surround us in a mossy green and the sky lights up in pink and blue. I’m suckered right back into the overland life in one fell swoop. It’s growing darker by the minute, which feels sort of scary when you’re venturing off on your own with only headlights to guide you. We soon find ourselves completely alone on a hill with an expansive view so epic it’s impossible to capture in a photograph.I put the camera down and take a deep breath in admiration.

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I think of the cramped camping spot we paid for earlier in the day at Yellowstone and wonder when we’re going to give up on car camping in the National Park for good. By this point we have found our overland flow as we setup camp and seamlessly divide our work tasks without a word. Sam starts the fire with locally bought wood, old park maps, and a butane torch because we’re rugged like that. I pull on work gloves that I purchased for $5 from the gas station and get to work unpacking the rooftop tent. This is not the easiest feat for my 5 foot 1 frame and soft writer fingers. Luckily, my yoga helps me compensate as I stretch and climb all over the truck and set up our home. We complete the night by pulling our folding chairs as close to the campfire as we dare and roast marshmallows over the flame. This is the kind of primitive escape that makes the overland life a good one for us. We have this secret key that grants us access to the less reachable places that get you in touch with a truly unique experience in nature. I experience a deeply soulful satisfaction in this moment with the sporadic intrusive thought of a bear lurching out of the absolute dark to eat us. I like to think I’m just neurotic enough for it to be cute but I won’t ask Sam to confirm that one for me. Every overland adventure we have I am reminded that the most fulfilling moments in my existence are found right at the edge of comfort. Sam and I sleep like bears that night.

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I let out a low growl as Sam tries to poke at me to get moving. The sunlight is pouring in but the comforter does an excellent job of blacking it out so I indulge for a few more minutes in my flannel cave. I eventually drag myself to my boots with squinty eyes and my lion head of hair to ready myself for the day’s adventure. We decide to take to the Bridger-Tetons with only “this way” or “left or right” to lead us. We reach a peaceful quiet and solitude that I’m thankful for after the previous days in bustling Yellowstone. We crawl through the dense woods in the Land Cruiser and reach the heart of grizzly country in Wyoming. We look around at the tree and brush through our lowered windows and reach a rare moment where Sam gets paranoid. “I can feel them watching us”, he says in a whisper. For once I’m not the neurotic one and I smile with great enthusiasm as though I’ve accomplished something. We stop the car in the middle of the thick forest and countless acreage of wilderness as we listen for any rustling of leaves. Nothing comes so we venture on with a suspicious eye gazing out our respective windows.

We come to a random opening and it appears we have stumbled upon a ranch. “Dinner 7-9” is written on a chalkboard as we slowly drive by this small group of cottages. I radiate in joy that I might be out of the job of playing chef tonight and Sam scoffs that it better not be $100 a plate knowing our luck and my taste. I laugh at his ridiculous paranoia until we sit down for dinner and drool at the menu that will certainly result in a $100 meal. Now I am really laughing. We have stumbled upon this gem in the middle of the woods with the Tetons as our landscape. It’s called Turpin Meadow Ranch and I’m trying to keep my salivation in check as we drum up an order of BBQ braised pork cheek to start. Sam would complain but he’s too busy falling under a food hypnosis as he reads over their farm-to-table offerings of fried chicken and salmon. I’m suddenly very aware of our overland appearance as I admire the luxurious ranch décor. I whisper to Sam with a cocked eyebrow: “do we look like we just came off the street?” “Umm, yeah”, he says, not taking his eyes off the menu. I give my hair a little fluff and drape my muddy coat around my shoulders with a grin that says, no big deal, we belong here in my heart. I notice that they have horseback riding so I get Sam to sign up with me while he’s mid fatty food-intoxication. Maybe it was all the food, I’m still not quiet sure, but we take the gal’s advice at the front desk and decide to sleep under the dark starry night by the creek. “Grizzlies are stupid” she assures us. “They don’t get near the water.” I think about the many images I’ve seen of grizzlies clawing salmon out of the water on NatGeo. I wave off any intrusive thoughts and set up our canvas tent like a happy little fool

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We don’t get eaten that night but I’m not sure I would have cared if we were after such a lovely meal and the sound of trickling water to sweep me away into Teton dreams. We walk to the horse stable where we meet Claire. She helps us on our horses like the newbies we are. Sam doesn’t quite understand my explosion of joy but he smiles at my excitement anyway as I live every southern girl’s dream. Claire leads us up through the valley and surrounding mountains on what turns out to be one of the best days of my life. The horses are on a farting frenzy as they trek up the hill and I laugh because it’s funny and I don’t care how old I am. Claire is working the ranch as her summer job. She’s a college student from Portland and I wonder why I never thought of this brilliant plan to escape to Wyoming on break when I was her age. She looks back at us from her saddle with her cowboy hat tilted slightly as we make our way up the range. You can see the light drain from her bright eyes as she imagines her life as an engineer in a traditional 9-5. We reach the top of the mountain and her cheery tone comes back as we enter the lush, almost rainforest like section of the trail.

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The ranch is full of people like Claire. Our ears get filled by young folks escaping to this beautiful part of the country as they seek their heart’s content. They tell us of their struggles as parents and friends warn them to get back to the paved road they came from. We recognize the fire in their chests and sunken expression as they battle life between two worlds; yet choose the path that speaks to them. Sam and I finish the day with a cold brew raised to these young, courageous pups that are wiser than they know. I smile wildly because I know it in that moment. The life scale won in Wyoming today.

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Two Wheeled Nomad: Let the Wave hit your feet and the sand be your seat http://expeditionportal.com/two-wheeled-nomad-let-the-wave-hit-your-feet-and-the-sand-be-your-seat/ http://expeditionportal.com/two-wheeled-nomad-let-the-wave-hit-your-feet-and-the-sand-be-your-seat/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 07:33:29 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=37979 Night had fallen with a crystalline clarity that made the chill intense. The stars seemed to press down in a way that I hadn’t seen before. The God of Winter was not about to relinquish its hard-won dominion without a tussle. Through the night, the rain froze on impact leaving the ground frigid outside the tent. Pulling the warm sleeping bag around my shoulders, I attempted to fend off the night’s chill breath. I’d slept without changing for the last few nights, my clothes seemed part of me, like thick folds of aged skin. With traces of the moon bringing some illumination, trickling light into the world, I peeled myself unwillingly from my cocoon. The damp night air raining with snow felt sharp in my lungs: today was the day.

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Rewinding a couple of days, in spite of my hot irritation of wrongly assuming we wouldn’t need our heated clothing by late March in the southern states, a sudden need to shiver settled in my flesh. The bracing air probed my riding gear with such icy fingers, I couldn’t help shivering shortly into the 75-mile motorcycle ride from Page in northern Arizona to Kanab, just north of the state line into Utah. Riding the last ten was no easy task with fingers beginning to stiffen like clubs from the cold.

The town’s welcome sign ‘Abra Kanabra’ manifested itself the moment we rocked up. “Hi, how are you?” a young waiter enquired with jovial eyes, replenishing The Rocking V Café’s outdoor dog bowls with fresh water. “COLD. I need coffee,” was my abrupt response. “Hey sure, we’ve got plenty of that—come right in and I’ll get you some.” Oh, that was nice, his respect quotient had gone suborbital when I’d shown him not a smidgeon of friendliness.  Five cups later, racking shivers had ceased to possess me and came only at sporadic intervals.

Offering to guide us to the Wave—let’s call the waiter ‘Jonny Hot’ to maintain anonymity—there was something the way he responded that waved a green flag in my mind. We’d known this guy a couple of hours at most but I was already comfortable to latch onto him, like a barnacle to a mangrove root. His quiet demeanour oozed reliability and trustworthiness. And Jason being classic Jason, wanted to reach the Wave before the sun’s first smile. Namely getting up at stupid o’clock and trekking hard for some steep, sandy miles up and down and over slick rock in the head torch beam, illuminating a smattering of snow. There was enough common sense from experience in me to know how outlandish rising from the dead of night would feel—I often wonder if I’m a Dolly Mixture short of a quarter.

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Situated on the Colorado Plateau, the Wave is a series of sandstone buttes, which sit at the bottom of Utah’s Grand Staircase, Escalante National Monument and the upper section of Arizona’s Paria Canyon—part of the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness area. Scores of travellers gravitate from all over the globe with an unyielding desire of experiencing the Wave. Although ascertaining a permit is on a par to winning a Willy Wonka ticket. We just happened to get monumentally lucky.

Famed for its gallery of implausibly twisted sandstone resembling: uncannily American pancake stacks, deformed pillars, textbook-perfect cones, domed mushrooms and other unfathomable creations. As part of the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone, the Wave is notorious for a handful of fatalities each year. People often undertake the hike in summer armed with sunglasses and a litre of water or less—get caught royally unawares, heinously lost and succumb to dehydration.  Around three litres per person: check.

Subjected to an intense blizzard en route, I prayed hard in Jonny Hot’s clapped out old truck that the dirt road would stay passable and free of destructive precipitation. Voluptuously muddy in the pouring rain, we’d been told under no uncertain terms to ride our motorcycles there in the wet: southern Utah’s mud reaches claggy heights with which no other region can remotely compete.

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Jonny Hot amazed me. A sure-footed mountain goat, he seemed to think about every step before he took it, every placement of his hand—deftly—as though taking care not to inadvertently hurt any of the tiny spirits that filled the world around him. He wasn’t hiking the same sandy slog I was, he was gliding effortlessly in a way only seasoned backcountry explorers of these parts can. I loved his different voices, one so far out of the South that it seemed to carry the whole of Louisiana with it. How could a relative stranger kindle such warmth and fondness within me?

Only on our way out of the iconic buttes did I notice the landmarks we passed on the way in; visuals Jonny Hot had used to keep us on the jackrabbit-laden track. Such as the vertical crack, a sizable slick rock mountain; the twin buttes near a slick rock bowl where a wash was encountered; and multi-coloured domes on the opposite side of the wash amid juniper trees. In fact, the whole area was awash with an exquisite combination of depth, diverse widths, length, complex layers of rock colour and an ethereal beauty. It teetered on abstract perfection.

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A subtle humour in those warm brown eyes revealed much and more. “Can you keep a secret?” With identities protected—“Of course!”, I assured him. “I had sex with a hot girl, right there,” pointing to a spot on the Wave. Belly laughter erupted unbidden from deep down and out of my mouth. Concerned about any passion-induced grazing on the slick rock, Jonny Hot alleviated my kill-joy worries by explaining they were cushioned by a soft bundle of clothes.

Unlike Jason who, overwhelmed in true photographer’s haste—instead of mastering slick rock scrambling in positioning himself for one of his long exposures—slipped and landed clean on his elbow instead. Crunch. Cracking the bone. A bellow of pain ensued that seemed to start deep within his soul before it burst, like a train from a tunnel, into a crescendo of utterly, sheer, gruelling pain. Unbearable agony of him rolling around like a dog covered in Alabama ticks was captured on the photograph.  Plain unlucky or prone to dyspraxia, I’m not sure, may be a bit from option A and a bit from option B.

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Snowflakes big as pound coins continued to gently fall from the sky and eddied around the chasm, blanketing the rock in patches of white. Deposits of iron claim some of the responsibility for the unique blending of colour running like rainbow candy stripes through the mineral-rich rock. Creating a dramatic flow of ochre, burnt oranges, corals, deep pinks and blood reds. Never have I seen such intricate geological patterns like it, although I hear the vicinity is choc-full of similar features in the landscape.

I felt spiritually drunk on the dune field, its unspoiled and sacred magnificence. So delirious on the rock strata that lay before me, a flying saucer would not have been unexpected. Surely, that much elation would logically attract an answering happiness from across the stars. Walking around the high desert dusted in snow was the icing on the rugged cake, akin to descending upon an alien planet. Stunning but strange. As weather erosion goes, it was perhaps the most perfect confluence of wind and water, symmetrical and perfectly formed. What a remarkable natural phenomenon. A truly hidden treasure with a unique twist.

 
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Bikepacking: Five MIPS Equipped Helmets to Protect Your Mellon http://expeditionportal.com/bikepacking-five-mips-equipped-helmets-to-protect-your-mellon/ http://expeditionportal.com/bikepacking-five-mips-equipped-helmets-to-protect-your-mellon/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 07:12:10 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=37189 Over the course of three decades of cycling I have owned countless helmets. From my first race-legal leather Cinelli, yes I’m that old, to the latest models with active brain-saving features, my head has worn them all. Today’s offerings are a marvel of engineering and are light, comfortable, and well ventilated.  They also have protective properties none of us would have dreamed of just a few years ago. The most recent development comes in the form of a proprietary technology called MIPS, or Multi-directional Impact Protection System.

Founded in 2001 by five biomechanics specialists from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, MIPS is a simple yet potentially life-saving breakthrough. Their product was developed to mimic the protective layer of fluid surrounding the brain by replicating its properties within the inner layer of a helmet. Their thin plastic MIPS liner is affixed to the inside of the helmet with floating attachment points allowing the helmet to rotate slightly against the head on impact. This greatly reduces the harmful forces that cause brain injury.

Now that MIPS has become ubiquitous, more people are retiring their old lids for new models fitted with a MIPS liner. With so many choices, we thought we would take a closer look at some of the more popular offerings to see how they stack up.

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Smith Forefront MIPS, $260 

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You can count me amongst the many people not surprised when Smith Optics released a bike helmet. With several years of experience within the snow sports segment, their transition to wheels was a short hop. What immediately impressed me about their introductory helmet was the level of innovation injected into its development. The most interesting attribute of the Smith Forefront is the use of their proprietary Aerocore in-molded liner wrapped in a carbon fiber reinforced EPS outer shell. All of those advanced materials are made visible throughout the helmet adding to its futuristic, Tron-like appearance.

The Aerocore liner is unlike anything I have ever seen but I must admit, I was initially skeptical of its performance. Not that I doubted its ability to absorb 30-percent more impact force than EPS foam, but it looked like it could stifle air flow, and to some extent it does. The Aerocore liner has the appearance of a thousand drinking straws glued together. Despite the outer shell’s extremely large vents, air must flow through those small air channels to get inside the helmet. Although it works well to allow heat to escape, it seems no amount of wind speed can effectively force cool air into the helmet. As such, the warm weather performance of the Forefront is not stellar, but it isn’t a deal breaker either.

The other elements of the Forefront, like the two-position adjustable visor, dial-assisted retention system, and full coverage shape, cement its place within the rarified air of premium lids. The quality of materials and construction is superb, which it should be given its MSRP of $260. The fit is accommodating of a wide variety of head shapes and feels like it has deep and complete coverage of my head. The overall weight at just 331 grams for our medium sample is impressively light. All of this combines to make the Forefront one of my favorite helmets on the market.

 

www.smithoptics.com 

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Pros:

  • Great aesthetic design
  • Low weight
  • Excellent fit and comfort
  • Adjustable visor

Cons:

  • Poor air flow in warm temps
  • high purchase price

Scott Vivo Plus, $130 (Value Award)

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I didn’t expect to like Scott’s new Vivo Plus as much as I did. After two months of time in it I now believe it is one of the better helmets and values in the MIPS range. With slightly less coverage than Scott’s Stego, the Vivo Plus still offers complete head protection without compromising airflow. There are 17 vents in all with 8 of them dedicated to expelling warm air from the aft end of the shell.

I am prone to nitpick and visors are regularly the subject of my derision. I loathe a flimsy visor as they seem to go missing all too often. The Vivo’s visor is attached at four steadfast points and although it isn’t adjustable, it isn’t going anywhere. The adjustment dial at the rear of the helmet is well positioned and easy to use, although it might be positioned too low for some users. The overall fit is spot on making this one of the more comfortable helmets I’ve worn in several seasons. It could just be perfectly mated to my cranium, but after soliciting other opinions, the fit does seem to work well for many head shapes.

At 346 grams it is one of the lighter helmets in the test, and it does feel light, well balanced, properly ventilated, and above all––protective. The quality of materials and construction belies the modest asking price and the MIPS liner is nicely integrated into the helmet’s interior. Lastly, the red color-way is vibrant and hard to miss in the dappled light of a shaded trail. I like other trail users to see me coming. If there is one element of the Vivo Plus that I wish were slightly better, it would be with the ventilation to the brow area. Most mountain bike helmets suffer this same weakness. Maybe it’s just me, but my forehead can get toasty.

 

www.scott-sports.com

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Pros:

  • Excellent ventilation
  • Full coverage
  • Sturdy visor
  • Extremely comfortable
  • Great value

Cons:

  • Limited color choices
  • No camera or light mounts
  • Fixed visor

 


Lazer Oasiz MIPS, $160

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The Oasiz is the top-tier mountain bike offering from Lazer with perhaps the exception of their new Revolution model designed for more aggressive riding. The Oasiz, with its XC-inspired design, has been around for a few seasons and recently received the optional upgrade with a MIPS liner.

Pulling the Oasiz from the box, it is hard not to take note of its edgy and angular form. The front is not unlike many helmets, but the back doesn’t have a single curved edge giving it a striking appearance. Aesthetics aside, there is much to love about the Oasiz, namely the refined fit and excellent ventilation. At 395 grams, this is one of the heavier helmets in the mix, but that extra weight is not noticeable. With 21 large vents, it was also a top performer when the mercury pushed north of 85ºF.

Like all of Lazer’s upper echelon helmets, the Oasiz employs the brand’s unique Rollsys fit system with the adjustment knob located at the top of the helmet. It seems like a curious place to put an adjustment dial, but it places the retention mechanism out of the way and it’s easily tuned on the fly. The crest of the helmet includes a hard mount for a GoPro or one of Lazer’s clever accessory lights, a feature we’re seeing on an increasing number of helmets. Not to belabor my issue with visors, the Oasiz has a stout sunshield mounted at multiple points on the outer shell.

As I have noticed with other Lazer helmets, the depth of the fit seems somewhat shallow, but I don’t sense I’m sacrificing coverage or stability. Those who don’t like the feel of a deep helmet will like the fit of the Oasiz. Rear protection is good without feeling clunky or compromising ventilation. The fit is snug and doesn’t bobble around when bouncing through choppy trail. One of my favorite features of the helmet is the magnetic Magic Buckle on the chin strap which eliminates the fiddling that comes with a traditional fasteners.

 

www.lazersport.com

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 Pros:

  • Rollsys adjustment is a nice touch
  • Excellent ventilation
  • Good value
  • Excellent quality of materials and construction

Cons:

  • Aesthetics are hit or miss for some users
  • Felt slightly out of balance with the weight positioned at the back of the helmet
  • A little on the heavy side

 Giro Montaro MIPS, $150

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New to the Giro lineup, the Montaro has understated styling and the complete head coverage commensurate with a trail-worthy helmet. With 16 large vents, it has excellent air pass-through at speed and the large ports at the crest of the shell allow for heat to escape even when not moving. For low speed climbs and hike-a-bike sessions, small details like those can provide welcome relief from sweltering heat.

Weighing in at 425 grams for our medium sample, the Montaro is on the heavy side, but it feels well balanced. The Roc Loc retention system suspends the helmet off the user’s head to help augment air flow and provides a snug, uniform fit. I was impressed by how well the MIPS liner is integrated into the inner shell, carefully sculpted as to not impede the vent performance. If I have one quibble, it is with a lack of padding at the top of the helmet where it rests against the head. It seems like a curious oversight although it doesn’t feel uncomfortable.

Available in three sizes, the range of fitment should accommodate most riders, although those with XL noggins may need to look elsewhere. As I have come to expect of helmets in this category, the Montaro comes with an adjustable visor with positive detents to secure it in one of three riding positions. I found I could substantially increase airflow to the forward aspect of the helmet by lifting the visor up two notches.

Additional features include a removable camera mount at the peak of the outer shell and a detachable goggle retention strap at the back. The vents at the rear of the helmet also have raised rubber bezels to help retain a goggle strap. Like many Giro helmets, the overall shell thickness is relatively thin so the Montaro doesn’t have as large a presence as some helmets. At $150, the Montaro is of high quality, full featured, and worthy of the ask.

 

www.giro.com

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 Pros:

  • Best visor in the bunch
  • Excellent ventilation
  • Excellent quality of materials and construction

Cons:

  •   Heavier than most in the category
  • Would benefit from more pads in the liner

 Bell Stoker, $95

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For the last couple of years, Bell’s Super 2 helmet has been a popular choice and frequently seen at trailheads everywhere. The Stoker was released to offer similar performance, but at a much lower price point. In fact, the Stoker clocks in at more than $50 cheaper but retains many of the features of the brand’s top tier helmet.

Designed to meet the demands of the all-mountain or enduro rider, the Stoker still has excellent ventilation and comfort for all day rides. With full coverage of the temples and occipital lobe at the back of the head, the Stoker offers maximum protection. It may be more than many riders want or need, but those inclined to buy into MIPS technology are likely aware of how nasty brain injuries can be. Better safe than sorry, right?

With 13 large vents, the Stoker remained cool on even warm days of testing, but there is a compromise made with this much coverage. Surprisingly light at just 358 grams, the Stoker is well balanced and the dial-actuated retention system keeps it securely positioned with a nice uniform contact all around the circumference of the head. The mulit-position visor is a nice feature although it is a little flimsy. The ventilation to the front of the head via the four brow vents is better than expected and the padding feels sufficient and well placed.

As to be expected of a helmet at a lower price point, the in-molded foam is exposed at the inner edge of the shell requiring a little extra love and care as to not damage the helmet in transit. The only other foible might be with the thickness of the shell. If you have a big mellon, the Stoker won’t do much to make it appear any smaller. For less than a Benji, the Stoker is a great entry point into MIPS technology. It is a nice looking helmet, is available in four sizes and three subtle color choices.

 

www.bellhelmets.com

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Pros:

  • Great value
  • Maximum head coverage
  • Surprisingly good ventilation
  • Available in four sizes

Cons:

  • Exposed foam at the edge of the shell
  • The shell thickness makes for a large overall size

 


 Conclusions

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If you have been shopping for a new helmet lately, and one fitted with MIPS technology, you know that there are far more than just five options available. There are actually––dozens. The first company to break into the MIPS bike helmet category was POC and I have raved about their popular Trabec model. I’ve logged thousands of miles in that helmet, and still recommend it highly. For this particular set of five brain savers, I am hard pressed to pick a personal favorite, and even less inclined to make an outright claim that any one of them is better than the rest. Fit and personal preference will drive your final selection.

 

That said, I still think the Scott Vivo Plus is the best value in the bunch. The Smith is the most unique and aesthetically pleasing. For those who want a shallow fitting, well ventilated helmet, look no further than the full-featured Lazer. The Bell Stoker offers a great level of protection without breaking the bank, but not everyone will want that level of coverage. Lastly, Giro’s latest helmet is one of the nicer models they have ever produced. They are all great helmets providing superb defense against the much dreaded brain injury.

 

 

 

 

 

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And they Said it Couldn’t be Done http://expeditionportal.com/and-they-said-it-couldnt-be-done/ http://expeditionportal.com/and-they-said-it-couldnt-be-done/#comments Tue, 26 Apr 2016 07:31:03 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=38194 “It can’t be done.” The challenge in these words has motivated adventurers since the dawn of time. But the earth’s poles have been conquered, Everest has been scaled, and the seas have been sailed. What remains to quench the thirst of modern man for grand achievement? For Bill, in the absence of a Darien Gap between Oklahoma and Arizona, it is Mills Canyon.

The high plains of northeastern New Mexico hide their secret well. In the infinite sameness of grass and antelope, what would lure the traveler away from rapid forward progress on a fine strip of asphalt on the way to somewhere else? Visually, nothing. But Bill and I had heard rumors of Mills Canyon, and it draws us off the highway on a voyage of discovery 60 miles west of Clayton.

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The promise of treasure keeps us moving, though the landscape doesn’t change as we drive south in our Tacoma to the ghost town of Mills. A few abandoned houses and a windmill surround a post office that appears to be occasionally operational, perhaps on a Brigadoon sort of schedule. There we turn west on a dirt road that takes us through the same rolling prairie we’ve been seeing for miles. Although unaware of it, we’ve begun to descend.

We’re now within a 78,000-acre section of the Kiowa National Grasslands, an expanse of shortgrass prairie amid large swaths of ranch land. A few miles west of Mills, the rim of a canyon appears, obscured by the ocean of grass until we’re nearly on its edge. A rough road winds steeply down into the canyon through stands of ponderosa pine, oddly out of place. At the first overlook, we stop to gawk. Below, 600 feet lower than the rim and 900 feet below the last paved road, the Canadian River snakes through the valley, flanked by a broad plain and soaring walls of red sandstone, channeling southern Utah. White streaks of limestone make it evident we’re on the western edges of the geology of the Caprock Escarpment of the vast Llano Estacado. Ruins of a stone building stand alone on the canyon floor, demanding an explanation. The presence of this place is hard to grasp.

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Had we been among the stagecoach passengers who traveled this road in the late 1800s, we would have seen thousands of fruit and nut trees filling this 12-mile section of the Canadian River canyon. Here businessman and legislator Melvin Mills established a flourishing farming operation, including a two-story ranch house built in 1881 which served as a stop for a stagecoach line running through the canyon. A massive flood in 1904 wiped out the enterprise and Mills never recovered from the devastation. Remains of a few buildings, including the ranch house, and some of the trees have survived. The mansion Mills built in nearby Springer still stands; he is said to have died there penniless, allowed to spend his last days in the house because of the generosity of new owners.

On the canyon floor, we explore as far as the truck will take us, camping near a row of large Bois d’Arc trees on the south end. Someone went to a lot of trouble to build a table here, balancing a huge rock slab on a Jenga-like stack of stones. Spring rains on this first visit in May mean the river is high, so we don’t attempt a crossing. Walking south along the east bank, we watch the sun’s last rays set the canyon walls aglow. Other than the coyotes and the deer and critters unseen and unheard, we have the canyon entirely to ourselves in a night of glorious isolation. Our curiosity about the place is piqued. How much can we explore? The idea that a stagecoach road crossed the canyon suggests the other side of the river is a place we must go.

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But we’re on our way home to Oklahoma after a trip to Arizona and Utah.  More exploration will have to wait. Bill makes another stop here on his motorcycle mid-summer and queries locals. Is there a way to access the canyon from the west? “No, you have to go in and out from the east.” Does the stagecoach road go through? “No, you can’t get through, the road is no longer passable and all the land on the west is private ranch land.” This only whets Bill’s appetite but the river is still high and he’s on his way to Idaho.

That fall, we return to Mills Canyon in the truck, on the way to Colorado but with time built in for a more leisurely stop. Before we head to camp that afternoon, we find we’re able to cross the river on a low-water bridge. On the other side we spy a rocky trail that looks suspiciously like an old road and begin to follow it in the truck. It winds back and forth, twisting up the canyon wall. “This must be the old stagecoach road,” I tell Bill.

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The trail becomes narrow, boulder-strewn, and precipitous. Just the way Bill likes it. A growing belief that this must be the stagecoach road strengthens his determination to reach the top. I prefer to be out of the truck at these times, “taking pictures,” and Bill supposes I have something more to offer by spotting him. I guess that’s true, I don’t want to see him tumble over the edge, so I run ahead and try to direct his track. At one point we reach a pull-out and I foolishly urge him to turn around, which only serves as encouragement for him to keep going. Bill admonishes me to continue taking pictures, no matter what else happens.

Finally it appears we’re about to reach the western rim. “Do you realize what we’re about to do?” Bill says, gesturing toward what appears to be the terminus. I pray there isn’t some abyss or a giant boulder to challenge him further or, God forbid, turn us back to have to drive back down after dark. Otherwise he’s right, we will have done what they said was impossible.

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No obstacles present themselves and soon the canyon is conquered and the stagecoach road traversed. But the sun is getting low in the sky — where will we camp? There’s that whole “private ranch land” problem. Bill says he wants to camp here on the western rim but keeps driving, having decided to look for a way through. Tonight.

The road peters out, becoming a sometimes barely visible trail, sometimes multiple paths, sometimes nothing. We are certainly on ranch land, the cattle are a dead giveaway. We stay alert for “Keep Out” or “No Trespassing” signs, prepared to turn around if necessary. There are gates but none are locked and we make sure to close them behind us after we pass. Eventually we find a public road that spits us out onto Highway 120.

It’s nearly dark as we drive east through the broad, spectacular Canadian River Canyon on the highway. We intend to return to the east entrance of Mills Canyon and drive down, setting up camp and fixing supper in the dark. But Highway 120 takes us to the village of Roy, New Mexico, and on its north end we pass the Mesa Hotel. We’re out of town before we pause to consider — what if we just stayed there? Not camping often feels like a failure but as long as we didn’t actually plan to stay in a hotel, couldn’t it still be part of the adventure? We convince ourselves that it’s okay and turn back. The place has a Bates Motel sort of feel. Just the edginess we were seeking.

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We find the proprietor in the hotel basement cleaning up in a cafe, now closed. Clearly not a knife murderer, she kindly rents us a room ($45 with bath/$40 without) in the 1920s-era inn. We are the only guests but our room is clean and comfortable, the plumbing and heat work well, and we can enjoy that pinnacle of civilization, good WiFi.

Once checked in, we walk down the road to the local tavern. Dim street lights cast a yellow glow over the two-lane running through town and a neon sign indicates Scott’s Saloon is open. We’re thankful, having learned it’s the only place in town we can buy food this time of night. Indeed, they sell frozen pizza heated in a toaster oven and that’s our dinner, along with a couple of cold Coronas. We enjoy the friendly atmosphere — as we walk in, a man at a table full of locals offers, “Welcome to Roy.” No sense trying to hide the fact that we’re strangers.

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The next day we drive to Springer and locate Mills’ mansion. It still stands stately and looks solid and there’s a phone number posted outside, perhaps for tours. But we have someplace else to be, so we move on. A week later, we return to Mills Canyon on our way home to spend another night with the canyon all to ourselves. Next morning we cross the river and scramble on foot through a creek blocked from vehicle traffic to explore a ruin and walk into the northwestern reaches, looking for vestiges of the orchard. This place would be a paradise for hikers willing to bushwhack and maybe we’ll come back and do just that. Meantime, it still feels like our own hidden treasure, and perhaps Bill will be satisfied with having conquered that stagecoach road just once. But I doubt it.

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Home On The Road: Life in the So-Cal Teardrop http://expeditionportal.com/home-on-the-road-life-in-the-so-cal-teardrop/ http://expeditionportal.com/home-on-the-road-life-in-the-so-cal-teardrop/#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2016 15:49:39 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=37668 As light trickled in through the curtains, I woke from an amazing night’s sleep. Just outside the window, a beautiful sunrise was waiting to be enjoyed, but the warmth of the covers and the calming sound of waves rolling ashore were overwhelming so I sank back into the soft mattress for a few more minutes of blissful rest.

It was day one of our stay along the banks of lake Mohave, and the first trip where our little teardrop truly felt like home. We had settled into a routine, which in the morning began with hot coffee, cold fruit and yogurt, and a healthy dose of nature’s serene beauty. While I turned on the stove to boil water, I couldn’t help but dwell on how enjoyable life as a “glamper” was. There was no more digging through bags and boxes or pulling gear out of the car; no more pitching tents or setting up a table for meal prep. Our clothes were always folded and dry in the drawers, our food stayed fresh in the fridge, and we even had a heater to keep us warm on bitter cold nights. Trailer life was good. The sweet aroma of caffeinated heaven soon stirred me from these thoughts though, and I sat down in my chair to relax while watching the fish jump for their morning snacks.

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It has been a year and a half since we last checked in with our So-Cal Teardrop project, and since then it has covered thousands of miles across some of the West’s most beautiful landscapes. From the Mojave desert to the Texas hill country we put this trailer through its paces to see just how capable and luxurious it was, and what modifications could make it even better. The resulting build became more than just a project, it was our escape to a life on the road, and a place that we called home.

 

For the original article on this trailer’s interior comfort and features click here.

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Photo by Sarah Ramm

 

The build out

I am a little bit of a perfectionist when it comes to vehicles. If I see something that is good, I immediately wonder how I can make it exceptional. This continuous improvement process might well be the mantra for this teardrop. As those of you who read the original article will know, we had a great product to start with. It had smooth handling, a brand new stove, a well designed kitchen, and most importantly a great structure that would stand the test of time. For many people this would be more than enough, but trip after trip I would come back with a list of improvements until eventually I wound up with the versatile and capable piece of Americana you see below.

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Initial Changes

By the end of our first journey I had begun implementing a series of small changes aimed at making trailer more enjoyable and easier to live with. This began with swapping out the wheel on the tongue jack. As anyone who has pushed one of these things around can tell you, plastic wheels are awful for maneuvering. We picked up a pneumatic rubber model from AT Overland, and spent the rest of the year and a half thanking ourselves for such a smart decision. Seriously, it might be the best investment you’ll ever make.

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Our next modification needed to address our ability to work from the road. Since we would be depending on the trailer to run cameras, laptops, lights, and a fridge each day, the electrical system was due for an overhaul. We started by relocating the battery from the tail of the trailer to the nose box in order to improve weight distribution for the soon to be installed fridge. We then replaced it with a brand new deep cycle marine battery for longer life and durability, and connected it to a National Luna monitoring system to keep us updated on its status throughout the journey. I found the alarm on this monitor to be particularly helpful, as it could be heard from outside the trailer and saved our battery more than once from being discharged thanks to a forgotten light in the cabin. Finally we moved to the charging system. Although the trailer was already setup to receive power from the vehicle, we added two Goal Zero Boulder 30 panels to keep everything topped off during extended stays in once place. We found that these two hard panels could keep the fridge running indefinitely, while still allowing us to use the LED lights for meal prep and cleanup at night.

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The Kitchen

If you’re going to be living out of your vehicle, you really need to have a good kitchen that is easy to work from. I find that if it is difficult to cook from a trailer, we will usually end up eating out or snacking on unhealthy food to avoid the hassle. The first component of our easy setup is always a fridge, in this case an ARB 50 quart with plenty of room for meats, fruits, and vegetables. Now I know that we have reviewed ARB fridges before so I will skip over how great they perform, but I feel the need to reiterate my praise on one particular feature that should be in every brand sold, the drain. Due to the fact that our 50 quart is at the very back of the trailer, it tends to receive the brunt of any impact. On one particular occasion it was hard enough to shatter a jar of salsa in the fridge, and the ability to rinse it all out the drain was priceless. Trust me, spend an hour scooping salsa and glass from everything in your fridge and you will regret not having this feature.

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The second piece of our kitchen model is easy accessibility to dishes, pans, and spices. If they are hard to find or difficult to pull out, chances are they will be collecting dust in no time. For this reason we lined our drawer with TrekPak camera organizers shaped to our plates, bowls, and silverware. Although pricey, their ability to be molded to your gear and keep everything isolated in its proper place makes it well worth the money.

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After serving numerous meals from the back of this trailer I have to say that it is definitely one of my favorite setups thus far. The Partner Steel stove produces a tremendous amount of heat while sipping propane, and there is enough counter space for the cook and their assistant to work happily together. When preparing for a larger team, two latches detach the stove and allow you to cook on the fender while opening up the entire rear of the trailer for two other people. Still need more space? You can set a third person to chopping duty on the empty slide where the stove used to be. Have a fourth person who wants to wash dishes? No problem, just set up the Thule side table for drying and use the fender below it for dirty dishes.

Our only gripe with the kitchen occurred after our switch to a new suspension, which you’ll read about below. Because the stove and prep surfaces sit higher than the fridge, they tend to be a little tall for anyone of shorter stature. My girlfriend for example needs to use our trusty Alu-Box as a step stool, otherwise the pots and pans end up around chest level.

Photo by Chazz Layne

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The Suspension

The biggest changes made to this trailer were in the suspension. As you may have noticed it is no longer a leaf-sprung solid axle, but instead has been switched to an AT Overland fourth generation TAAS (Trailing Arm Air Suspension) setup. Although I had desperately wanted an AT suspension since I first set eyes on a chaser, the soft albeit low sprung system this teardrop came with had originally given me no reason to switch. The road manners were excellent, the dirt performance was smooth, and it seemed to handle everything we threw at it with ease, until we loaded it…

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On our first long trip from Prescott Arizona to Dallas Texas, we ran into a slight problem during a snow storm; the suspension collapsed. It turns out that the previous owner had opted to install a softer and weaker spring set in lieu of the So-Cal Teardrops standard setup. This of course explained the oddly-compliant handling during testing while empty, as well as the immediate sag after installing the fridge, battery system, and camping gear. Although it would have probably made more sense to just swap in a heavier spring from So-Cal, I took this as the perfect excuse to pick up my dream setup. Less than a month after failure the body was separated from the frame and work was under way. Several cross members had to be replaced and relocated to properly support the A-arms, and additional reinforcement was added per my request. Since the old internal wiring needed to be removed during welding, we went ahead and replaced it with an all new loom to match the battery setup we had already installed.

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Besides the improvement in performance, which we will cover later in this article, the TAAS system provided us with two big advantages. First, we gained several inches of height improving our ground clearance over rocks and water. Usually I wouldn’t even mention fording depth on a trailer, but remember that a teardrop is made of wood so, if water leaks into the cabin it’s going to cost you a pretty penny to repair it. Second, we could now adjust the suspension to match our load instead of the other way around. Few people think about what their springs are designed for versus what they are carrying, and an improperly matched combination can lead to a very harsh ride, or as we experienced a total collapse. With the independent airbags we were able to dial in the perfect ride height for each side, as well as adjust the Rancho shocks on the fly to different terrain types and diminishing loads as we drank water and ate food.

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There are a lot of benefits to having a teardrop trailer, but it also has some limitations. One of the biggest downfalls we found was its lack of living space. Don’t get me wrong, it is very roomy, but at the end of the day the interior is just a bed and nothing more. Being stuck inside during bad weather is all well and good when you have your significant other to snuggle up to, but chances are your camping buddy from college won’t appreciate the same gesture. To solve this issue, we called up ARB and placed an order for their 2000 series awning and attachable room. It not only provided us with an escape from weather and bugs, but gave us the perfect shelter for working on our computers and off-loading photos from our cameras. As a secondary bonus, the awning room doubled as a guest house on long trips, allowing family and friends to throw cots out and tag along.

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Another problem with the teardrop is the lack of “dirty” storage. This is for items like wood, muddy boots, and things you generally don’t want to throw on your bed. I loved the cage setup seen on some of the new So-Cal units, however I often find myself with odd shaped cargo and I didn’t want to be limited by the height of the lid. The solution was to run a bed-lined metal grate across the floor of the tongue with aircraft track tie-downs for securing the load. This versatile method allowed us to carry everything from logs to mountain bikes without an issue.

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The last upgrade was a Propex HS2000, a wonderful investment we purchased after a west Texas storm turned our little trailer into an igloo covered in a half inch of ice. I’ll start by saying these things aren’t cheap, but they do add a level of comfort and luxury that is hard to match. This is especially true on the teardrop platform, which is already well insulated making it ideal for retaining heat. We found that just five minutes of running our Propex on low would bring the interior temperatures up to a toasty level, and when things eventually started to cool, the automatic thermometer would kick the flame back on to keep things comfortable.

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Performance in the field

The 510XS is a big trailer without a doubt, but it handles itself remarkably well in the back country. With the new suspension it will cruise down dirt roads at up to 50 mph without stepping out, and most ruts and dips are absorbed into the Rancho 9000’s without protest. Performance on washboards was especially good with no signs of instability or swaying like you would see on stiff torsion axle trailers. In fact, after a year of use I have to say that the TAAS system is darn near perfect, but we did find one drawback in a rather unexpected way.

Photo by Ashlie Pollard

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Last October we took the AT Overland Flatbed Chaser out for a spin. Given that it had an identical suspension to the one on our 510XS, I had expected an equivalent ride with a little less stability due to width. What I found though was an astonishingly well mannered trailer that to my amazement had even better handling than our teardrop. The difference between the two was weight. While both were adjusted to the same ride height allowing for the same amount of suspension travel, the much higher pressure used to achieve that height on the teardrop lead to a firmer ride. This isn’t to say the TAAS system is harsh though, simply that a reduction in weight makes it even better.

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Photo by Chris Ramm

Although it may require you to be more careful, the 510 can still tackle the technical stuff when you need it to. The additional width gave it better stability than its smaller counterparts, and it provides the driver with a direct view of the wheels in the mirrors, making it easy to thread the needle in tight situations. Despite the disadvantages of a long tongue, the trailer’s ample clearance allowed it to skirt by boulders and ledges without issue. The electric brakes were strong enough to support the teardrop and 4Runner on a hill, and they repeatedly prevented the vehicle from being pushed forwards on obstacles.

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Overall the performance in mud and sand was satisfactory, however the extra drag caused by the wider track-width became a problem in very soft dunes. As you can see in the above picture, our Range Rover Sport became stuck near the Salton Sea after being dragged down by the teardrop behind it. Reducing the PSI in both the tow vehicle and trailer mitigated this issue, however it still decreases the fuel economy on long sandy tracks.

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The only real performance hurdles we ran into were due to the trailers width. Like many large vehicles, the 510XS is most at home on forest roads and two-tracks with plenty of room to maneuver. On narrow trails that were otherwise smooth, we found that it required us to slow down as the tires caught rocks near the edge of road forcing it to bounce.  We also had issues on very narrow ledges and tight switch backs. Negotiating a mountain road with any trailer can be difficult, but the combination of this model’s length, width, and aft axle placement made it especially prone to cutting corners and pivoting as opposed to following the vehicle. Even so, we regularly ventured far from the beaten path and were only forced to turn back once in two years of adventures.

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Final thoughts

The 510XS isn’t for everyone. While it is well suited to four-wheel drive touring over long distances in the back country, those who find excitement on technical trails and difficult terrain will certainly be disappointed. For them, a smaller and lighter trailer will best fit their needs. However, if your idea of adventure is a two track stretching as far as the eye can see, a secluded beach somewhere on a remote shore, or hopping from town to town on dusty forest roads, you will find this teardrop to be everything you were looking for and so much more.

For us this trailer inspired a different form of travel, one that focused on the journey and not the every day tasks. Instead of worrying about the weather at our destination we searched for cool things in the area we hadn’t seen. In the time we formerly spent setting up camp, we could now take a walk through a canyon or relax and watch the sunset. Even the slower pace we were forced to take with the trailer ended up being a good thing. We found ourselves less concerned with our time on the trail and more interested in enjoying the scenery surrounding us. For the first time we were taking the chance to absorb the small things. We stopped for flowers blooming on the side of the road, watched horses deep in the woods, and walked through the greenest fields I have ever seen. If you’re looking for more than just your everyday off-road trailer, I encourage you to consider So-Cal Teardrops. If you do, I think you’ll find that home is truly where you park it.

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A big thank you to all the folks who made this build possible. To find out more about them and their products, check out their websites below.

So-Cal Teardrops – http://www.socalteardrops.com/

AT Overland – http://adventuretrailers.com/

ARB USA – http://www.arbusa.com/

 

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Antartica2: A Girl and Her Tractor http://expeditionportal.com/antartica2-a-girl-and-her-tractor/ http://expeditionportal.com/antartica2-a-girl-and-her-tractor/#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2016 07:51:40 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=38152 For most people, a tractor is nothing more than a tool. They are slow, lumbering albatrosses that spend their days mowing down fields of corn or keeping you from getting to work on time. They look ridiculous, with their massive, monster-truck rear tires and front tires the size of a New York style pizza crust. They’re as impractical as they are ridiculous, and most certainly not supposed to be used for transportation. Right?

Apparently, no one told Manon Ossevoort this -and she’s better for it. Manon dreams big, much in the way that children dream of being astronauts. Or ninjas. Not only has she turned her dream into a reality, but secured an entry into the pages of the Guinness Book of World Records in the process.

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According to the Guinness Record Certificate, Manon and the Antartica2 team:

 

“left Novo Runway in Antarctica on 22 November 2014 driving a Massey Ferguson 5610 farm tractor to complete a 4,638 km round trip to the South Pole that lasted 27 days, 19 hr 25 min.”

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The Antartica2 team is the first ever to reach the South Pole in a wheeled tractor. Historians may recall that Sir Edmund Hillary once completed a similar trek on January 4th, 1958. Hillary however, used a set of tracks that wrapped around the existing tires creating a tank-track like traction aid. This subtle difference is what left the door open for Osservoort and her team to secure a separate record. Interestingly enough, Hillary also used a Ferguson tractor.

 

Antartica2 was 12 years in the making. Undoubtedly, much of this time was spent trying to secure the funds to embark on such a journey. Massey Ferguson, AGCO Finance and a plethora of other big ticket sponsors jumped on board to back her adventure. No matter how much one desires to do it on their own, it always helps to have the security of major sponsorship. Arguably the most import of her sponsors, Massey Ferguson, provided the driving force behind the trek, an MF 5610 tractor.

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The big red tractor faced some of the harshest conditions on the planet. From meter high sastrugi (ice waves) to massive crevasse fields and hill climbs, each meter promised new challenges. Despite -56 C° windchills, the tractor just kept chugging along, nipping away at the route inch by painful inch -for as many as 23 hours at a time without stopping. The only failure during the entire journey was a broken fan belt (without the ability to shut the engine off, I would be interested to see how they pulled this repair off). This is an impressive feat by any measure. Upon reaching the South Pole, the crew radioed in their achievement via satellite to the their millions of followers: “This is South 90 – as far South as anybody can go. It’s unbelievable – at the South Pole there is a red Massey Ferguson tractor! We are all ecstatic to be here and so proud to be taking our hero shots with the tractor that never gave us any cause to doubt that it would be up for the challenge.”

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With these words, Manon and her crew earned their place in history. If for some reason you find yourself compelled to get in on the action, so to speak, Massey Ferguson now offers an Antartica2 Special Edition tractor.

 

 

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Fast Facts*:

 

17 days, 2350 km

650 gallons of fuel

Avg temp -27 F°

584 hours of engine run time

Tractor model: Massey Ferguson MF 5610


*Antartica2 completed the entire round trip. These stats are for the trip to the South Pole and do not include the return trip.

 

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Overland Chef: Asparagus Pancetta Skillet Hash http://expeditionportal.com/overland-chef-asparagus-pancetta-skillet-hash/ http://expeditionportal.com/overland-chef-asparagus-pancetta-skillet-hash/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 07:40:52 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=38176 Colorful asparagus, hearty potatoes, and savory pancetta form this delicious spring inspired breakfast skillet hash that will have you saying, “I’d put an egg on that!”

It’s always good when we can incorporate some vegetables into our camping breakfast routine, and now with asparagus coming into season, it’s super easy. Few other vegetables have the resilience or longevity of asparagus, which won’t bruise and doesn’t require much refrigeration – if any – to keep fresh. We recently swung by the local market to pick up a bunch so we could develop this one pan cast iron breakfast skillet. 

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While egg-topped asparagus pancetta hash served in a cast iron skillet does have a trendy brunch menu ring to it, we promise it doesn’t take any more time or effort to make than normal potato hash. It’s just a matter of having the right supplies with you. So pick up some asparagus and pancetta before your next camping trip, and you too can enjoy this faux-fancy breakfast without having to queue up for two hours outside your favorite Sunday morning cafe.

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We cooked this meal during our stay at The Holidays in San Clemente, CA. To read more about this amazing vintage trailer camp community, check out our article about it here.

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Hungry for more? Visit Fresh Off the Grid for more camp meals made easy.

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Overlanding: Five things you might be doing wrong http://expeditionportal.com/overlanding-five-things-you-might-be-doing-wrong/ http://expeditionportal.com/overlanding-five-things-you-might-be-doing-wrong/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 07:34:32 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=25525 Over the last several years, the Expedition Portal team has watched as the overlanding audience has evolved, not just in the volume of participants, but with regard to how people travel overland. We have watched as countless newcomers become seasoned adventurers, their skills honed with the passing of every mile. There are however, some who still struggle. What are they doing wrong? Here are five things many overlanders don’t always get right.

 

Going Unprepared: This could be as egregious as not packing the necessary recovery gear for a difficult off-road epic, or simply forgetting to bring along enough water. Knowing precisely what to bring, and how much of it, is something best learned from experience, and hopefully not the hard way. The takeaway here is––bad things happen. The solution: Make a list. Dream up as many unfortunate scenarios as you can, then assemble the gear and skills necessary to overcome those setbacks should they arise. Start with the obvious elements like first aid and recovery gear. Then refine your list to how many cans of Pringles you’ll need for those snack attacks that hit mid day.

 

 

 

 

Taking too much stuff: If going with too little gear is problematic, don’t think for a minute that taking too much is a lesser offense. While it’s tempting to take the glamping concept to new levels, cramming every inch of your available storage space with the latest widgets does come at a cost, primarily fuel costs. A heavily laden vehicle consumes more fuel than a modestly loaded truck, something to consider the more protracted your journeys become. Copious amounts of gear also adversely impact handling and can even compromise the safety of the vehicle’s occupants. Lastly, setting up a camp replete with tables, chairs, shower rooms, solar panels, and all of the other trappings of a comfortable camp takes up more than just storage space, but a great deal of effort. Sometimes simple camp living is the way to go, particularly if you break camp daily. The solution: On your next trip, take an inventory of the things you think you could do without. You might be surprised you don’t need those things.

 

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Destination-itis: Many overlanders get fixated on completing a big traverse, an ambitious circumnavigation, or some other travel objective. Although cliches are loathsome things, the trite phrase, “the journey is the destination,” does ring true. I recently spoke with an overlander who spent 15 days driving from San Diego to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and back. It was a commendable achievement, but he admitted he didn’t see much outside of the view afforded by his windshield. He conceded that with his limited time, he would have been better off exploring a smaller area of Alaska in more intimate detail. The solution: Just be aware that when connecting point A to point B, there are often many interesting things to see and do along the way. Things that might even be more compelling than the target destination.

 

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Having but not doing: We’re all aware of the scenario. An eager overlander spends all of their time, energy, and precious funds building a stunning overland truck, only to have it rot in the driveway. There is no denying that the build process is fun, and undoubtedly necessary for some travels, but should the process of creating the ideal adventure mobile come at the cost of the adventure itself, what’s the point? The solution: Put the experience of overlanding first. Buy what you need as you genuinely need it. For the price of a bumper you may not really need, you could travel for a week. Overlanding should be about experiences above acquisitions.

 

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Not going overlanding: It would be impossible to catalog all of the valid life challenges that conspire to keep the would-be overlander homebound. One of the more common reasons overlanders miss opportunities to get away is simply a matter of taking the time to do so. For some overlanders, they postpone trips because they’re waiting to finally install that next vehicle modification they always wanted. Others delay getting away because they’re saving up for that multi-week expedition they always wanted to tackle. The solution: Overlanding isn’t always about crossing continents. Take the weekend and explore your backyard. The more frequently you go, the easier it is to, well, go more frequently. Pack your gear during the week and be ready to charge out the door on Friday.

 

You could do a lot worse in life if the above missteps are the only things you’re doing incorrectly. However, if you heed these small unsolicited words of advice, you’ll find you will have more fun, come home more satisfied, and go more often.

 

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

 

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The Toyota EJ79 – The world´s first full electric Land Cruiser http://expeditionportal.com/the-toyota-ej79-the-worlds-first-full-electric-land-cruiser/ http://expeditionportal.com/the-toyota-ej79-the-worlds-first-full-electric-land-cruiser/#comments Thu, 21 Apr 2016 10:00:37 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=37071 Thomas Lermer, the owner of EXTREM Fahrzeuge GmbH, welcomes us with a wide grin to his workshop and the introduction of a very special Land Cruiser. Known mostly for his EURO4 and EURO5 conversions for the Land Cruiser which he´s developed in house, he´s now taken a leap into the future. “Everybody talks about clean energy and e-mobility, and as we were looking into developing a EURO6 conversion for the Land Cruiser”, Thomas Lermer explains, “we also looked further and wondered if it would be possible to convert a Land Cruiser to full electric drive”. “This was about the same time when we were approached by a customer with the request for an all-electric off-road vehicle for a game farm in southern Africa. His requirements were 40-60bhp and a range of 60-100km on a full charge.”

And this is just what we are looking at as Thomas Lermer leads us into the workshop: The Toyota EJ79.

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From the outside it´s a standard Bushtaxi and the only clue visible is the electric plug where usually the fuel tank cover would have been.

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On the inside there are no surprises either, just pure Land Cruiser simplicity.

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But turning the key in the ignition (yes there still is a key!) one realizes that this isn´t a normal Bushtaxi at all.
Instead of the accustomed sound of six cylinder engine there is……nothing! Really!
“Starting the EJ79 is a bit of a new experience” laughs Thomas Lermer seeing my puzzled look “but” he adds “just put in the gear and let´s go for a ride”

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As the electric motor is directly connected to the manual gearbox by an adapter flange you engage and shift using the clutch and drive it just like any other combustion powered car. 45bhp move the Land Cruiser forward and acceleration is nothing to be expected from this power output as it feels more like driving an old Land Rover Series 1. The top speed of this very first prototype is somewhere between 90 and 100km/h depending on the wind´s direction ;-) After a few miles through the villages surrounding the workshop we take the EJ79 offroad and are surprised by the agility of the electric drive.

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Okay, it could do with a few more ponies and it takes a little while for me to get used to the moment the electric motor kicks in when parked uphill, but Thomas explains that “there are two further vehicles being built with stronger engines and a bigger range of operation as these vehicles will receive 2 battery packs, thus giving them a top speed of 120-140km/h and a range of approx. 200km with about 80bhp from the motor.”

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This prototype was build exactly to the customers specifications for the use on his game reserve in Africa and the two new vehicles will be tested in an underground mining operation in Europe.

“This is exactly one of the fields where this electric conversion package really makes sense” explains Robert W. Kranz of Rallyewerk Automotive, who working with Thomas Lermer on this project. “Electric drive offers many advantages in critical environments, e.g. noise or atmospheric. Having a highly off-road capable vehicle with an operation range of approx. 200km is a great improvement of climate control in mining operations, e.g. underground salt mines, but also in operations in game parks and nature reserves, where the noise level emitted by a vehicle is critical to the wild life.

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As we come to a little creek in the forest the next question arises. With all the electrics added how does that affect the wading capabilities of the Land Cruiser?
“It doesn’t really, as the customer defines the grade of sealing for all electric components depending on his requirements” explains Thomas Lermer “this prototype, being built for a rather dry environment in Africa doesn’t offer great wading capabilities, but the electric motor and the battery pack(s) can be sealed to IP76 which leaves the question to how long can the passengers breath in the cabin when fully submerged!”

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Back at the workshop and a very comfortable drive through the northen parts of the Black Forrest the EJ79 is plugged back into wall socket and recharged. A full regular charge takes about 8hrs per battery pack and 2-2.5hrs on fast charge. For the next two vehicles being built for the mining operation there will be 2 chargers fitted, thus allowing the personnel to charge both battery packs fitted in these trucks simultaneously.

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With all this said, does this electric conversion make sense for overlanding? “It actually does,” replies Thomas Lermer, as we can easily fit 3 battery packs into the Pickup and depending on the batteries used we can thus store enough electric power for a range of 350-500km. Charging can be done while driving through Solar Panels or when stationed.”

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“Actually there are a few inquiries for just these packages” add Robert W. Kranz “one of them being a press team covering the Dakar Rallye in South America. They are planning to use a full electric off-road vehicle as their press car in the Dakar 2017 and recharge their batteries with fold-able solar panels while stationed alongside the track”

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“Another option would be fitting a range-extender” notes Robert “and here one can either use a multi-fuel combustion engine to power a generator or even hydrogen. Unfortunately hydrogen units are still to big for cars, as they still weigh above 120kg and are pretty bulky. So the former, a multi-fuel engine combined with a generator, could extend the range of the EJ79 considerably, e.g. 30 liters of diesel would produce enough electricity for approx. 800-1000km of electric drive”

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Thomas Lermer adds “the whole package is currently developed for the Toyota Land Cruiser but it can easily be adapted and fit into any other off-road vehicle like the Land Rover Defender, Mercedes G Wagon, Jeep Wrangler, or others. For the moment we focus on ´older´ models that haven´t got too much electronics, thus offering this conversion for example to customers who have old, much loved, vehicles which they can´t drive in the environmental exception zones of many cities anymore.”

Our Resumé: A very promising development and something we´ll watch closely next year. The next vehicle to be build will be fully road legal in Europe and thanks to the use of a 100V system the electrics are fairly simple and safe to operate, too.

Technical Data of the EJ79 Prototype


Engine:         Brushless Asynchronus motor

Output:         45 bhp
Torque:         160Nm

Battery:         Lithium-Ion

Voltage:        100V
Kapazity:      18kWh/battery pack

Load cycle:   8hrs regular / ca. 2hrs fast charge

Reach:          ca. 80-100km per charge
Gearbox:      5 speed manual

2WD/4WD

Offroad Red:1:2,295

Diff Lock       rear/front optional

 

Chassis:
L/W/H           5.235/1.770/1.955mm

Wheelbase    3.180mm

Bakkie          2.235×1.660mm

 

Tyres:           225/90R16

265/70R16 optional

Prices:

Base vehicle:          ca. 35.000,- Euro
Conversion              ca. 25.000,- Euro (e-Motor and one battery pack)

Battery Packs:         ca. 10.000,- Euro for additional packs (max 3 total

 

Contact:        EXTREM Fahrzeuge GmbH

Talstrasse 10

72477 Schwenningen

Phone: +49-7579-330010
web:   www.extremfahrzeuge.com

 

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Field Tested: Nemo Equipment Apollo, Moonwalk, and Escape Pod http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-nemo-equipment-apollo-moonwalk-and-escape-pod/ http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-nemo-equipment-apollo-moonwalk-and-escape-pod/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 07:52:44 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=38010 Designing gear for niche markets is tricky business and few do it as well as Nemo Equipment. They have engineered many first-to-market products for overlanders and motorcycle tourers, their personal experiences within those pursuits evident in their final productions. This is equally true of their new bikepacking system consisting of the Apollo 3P tarp shelter, Moonwalk sleeping bag, and Escape Pod bivy.

I can understand why it has taken so long for the outdoor industry to design gear purpose-built for bicycle travel. For years the consensus was that if you could put it on your back, you could pack it on your bike, and for the most part that is true. Like our boot-bound counterparts, bikepacking shelters and sleeping bags need to be extremely light, compact, and of course it would be nice if they were comfortable.

For many bikepackers, keeping our loads small and light has often mandated skinny sleeping bags and snug bivy sacks. If you happen to fall asleep in such a kit, particularly on a cold and rainy night, you’ll likely have nightmares of being shoved in a sausage casing. It’s not comfortable. Ask me how I know.

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At only 2,177 grams, or 4.8 pounds, Nemo’s three part system is undeniably light and meets the weight requirements for most riders, but it is not the lightest on the market. I do need to point out that by eliminating the stuff sacks, the total weight can be culled to just 4.6 pounds. By leaving the center pole at home, the weight shrinks even more to just under 4 pounds. If sharing the Apollo with two sleepers, especially three, the weight enters the featherweight category. But this is not just about gram counting. Other factors are of importance like versatility, storm worthiness, and creature comforts.

 

Apollo 3P Tarp ($250)

I am not unlike many backcountry travelers and rarely deploy my shelter, usually a bivy, choosing to sleep under the stars. When the weather turns ugly, the last thing I want to do is slither into my waterproof sack to wait it out. For this reason, I have taken to tarp shelters anytime I fear storms may intersect with my route. Tarps offer maximum coverage for a minimum of weight and the Apollo is spacious enough for three sleepers or big enough for one person to hold out a storm with their bike and gear tucked safely within.

The Apollo’s five-point anchor design and single support pole give it a quick pitch and like all teepee structures, is steadfast in strong winds. The asymmetrical shape places the 58-inch pole offset towards the front creating more open space at the aft end. That pole has five detents allowing the lower edge of the tarp to be placed at various heights off the ground to either seal out the elements or increase air pass-through. Poles have always presented a packing conundrum for bikepackers, and Nemo had the foresight to include an aluminum pole that breaks down to three 19-inch sections, a length that easily fits in a bar bag, small pack, or along a frame tube.

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Unlike many of the uber-light tarps on the market, the Apollo is made with durability and longevity in mind with reinforcements placed at the pole interface. The materials are light yet robust.
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Moonwalk 30ºF sleep bag ($280)

Impressive as the Apollo is, it’s the Moonwalk that I was so eager to try.  As they’re prone to do, Nemo dismissed traditional sleeping bag conventions and created a true one-off. The most interesting attribute is its waterproof tub-construction that permits the bag to be placed directly on the ground, eliminating the need for a ground sheet. The waterproof bottom also contains a sleeve which accommodates a standard 20×72-inch sleeping pad and the upper is filled with 16-ounces of 700 fill-power Downtek water-resistant down. Before using the Moonwalk, I didn’t realize how annoyed I was with my efforts to stay atop my sleeping pad, so having it held securely under the bag has been a nice change.

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With its slightly tapered rectangular shape, the Moonwalk is a perfect solution for anyone who feels restricted by mummy bags and want more wiggle room. The 3/4 length zipper helps control internal temperature as does the adjustable draft collar at the neck. Nemo didn’t miss a trick including waterproof fabric placed atop the foot section, an area frequently saturated when bumped against the wet interior of a tent or tarp.

 

Escape Pod Bivy ($120)

As much as I have come to enjoy tarp living, my one quibble forces an embarrassing admission – I’m an entomophobe. I hate bugs. I have suffered my share of mosquitos, noseeums, and biting flies, but it’s the thought of scorpions, centipedes, and tarantulas that keeps this desert-dweller wide-eyed all night. The Escape Pod is the perfect antidote to my irrational fears of being consumed alive by nature’s worst creepy crawlies.

Unlike similar bug nets, the Escape Pod uses an inflatable hoop to hold the mesh aloft. A waterproof floor adds another layer of ground protection and the entire thing is held taught with four ground stakes. A large zipper provides easy entry and egress and a drawstring at the lower end holds the mesh tight against the bag. It would have to be one clever and determined little bug to work its way into the Escape Pod.

 

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The Moonwalk and Escape Pod fit together perfectly and fold several components and features together in one concise package. The details matter, like how the zipper of the Escape Pod is positioned along the upper portion of the bag, making it easier to reach and manipulate. There is also a small pocket inside the pod for stashing a headlamp, or other small items best kept close at hand. 
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The waterproof tub construction under the Moonwalk is another example of Nemo genius at work. The two zippers of the bag and bivy align for unrestricted entry and exit. The brightly colored zipper on the mesh panel is easy to see in low light.

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Notes from the Field

No matter how much I fiddle with products in my living room, nothing is more illuminating than real-world evaluations in the backcountry. I first used the Apollo when it was in the final design stages nearly a year ago. I’m pleased to see it has only gotten better since. On a recent trip with a cold wind howling, I was able to pitch the Apollo with the skirt of the lower edge pulled tight to the ground. It was a cozy sanctuary with plenty of room to move about. I continue to find convention little refinements to the Apollo. At one anchor point there is a small mesh pouch containing a length of cord which can be used to suspend the tent from a branch, eliminating the need for the center pole. There is also a nylon loop inside the tarp at its peak which makes for an ideal place to hang a small lantern, or in my case, cycling duds that needed a good airing out.

The Moonwalk has made a huge improvement to my sleeping comfort. I didn’t realize how constrictive my mummy bags were until I was able to let my tired legs move about. I find I wake up more rested in the Moonwalk, ready to tackle more miles with each consecutive night’s sleep. With an insulated pad and warm sleeping layers, I’ve been able to sleep in temperatures as low as 40ºF and maybe a tad lower. I have bones made of brass, so I admit I sleep colder than most. Because the lower aspects of the Moonwalk have no insulation at all, an insulated pad is a must in anything other than summer temps.

 

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Considerations, nit-picks, and the final verdict

Many product reviews obtain their objectivity by contrasting all of the positives against the negatives. Few products are perfect, but that doesn’t mean the designers made missteps, but rather choices worth consideration. For those in search of the absolute lightest and most compact bikepacking system, this is not it. The Moonwalk, while sublimely comfortable, weighs 2.2 pounds (965 grams) which, even considering the built-in ground sheet, is considerably heavier than most 30ºF lightweight bags. I can certainly suffer an extra 200-300 grams, but it is the packed size that may present the bigger issue. The Apollo does not pack small and consumes the entirety of my Bedrock Bags seat pack, a compartment that I typically fill with far more than just my sleeping bag. The packed size is not a deal breaker, but a compromise made in the name of blissful slumber.

I can’t say I found anything else I would file under nit-picks. I find inserting the pad into the sleeve of the Moonwalk takes some effort, but I don’t see how Nemo could have made that process any easier, so it is––what it is. I’ll gladly trade those two minutes of fussing for several hours of good sleep. Overall, all three components are well thought out, nicely executed, and a great first entry into bikepacking-specific outdoor gear.

 

On a parting note, just because this system was aimed bikepackers, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fantastic solution for all types of backcountry travel. This kit will inevitably work its way into my motorcycle panniers, and I’m sure it will be my go-to for backpacking and even a few car camping forays. Innovation is hard won anymore, but Nemo Equipment continues to lead the charge with advanced designs. I look forward to many cozy nights in Nemo’s latest gear. I’ll be warm, dry, and just let those bugs try to get me.

 

 

www.nemoequipment.com

 

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Five Decades in Baja http://expeditionportal.com/five-decades-in-baja/ http://expeditionportal.com/five-decades-in-baja/#comments Tue, 19 Apr 2016 07:11:19 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=38221 There are only a handful of names in off-road racing that merit the title of Living Legend. Though the criteria may vary depending on which campfire debate you eavesdrop on, everyone seems to agree that those whom have been playing in the dirt for 50 years qualify; even raised to near deity status. Back in 1967, Rod Hall, a young gas station owner and four-wheel drive enthusiast, heard about a new event while Jeeping with friend Larry Minor at Pismo Dunes, California. It wasn’t the normal gymkhana that he’d done before, but a 1,000-mile desert adventure in a land with no maps, few petrol sources, and even fewer towns. The two pooled their funds, bought a stock Jeep CJ-5, and mailed in a registration form for the National Off-Road Racing Association’s (NORRA) Mexican 1000.

Between the starting line in Ensenada and the checkered flat in La Paz, they dodged tire-shredding cacti, baked in the unrelenting Mexican sun, cleared hill and dale, got lost a dozen times, tossed there tools out (to much clanking around), and ate soggy sandwiches their wives had packed in a cooler. With only a whiskey compass and the sun to navigate by, they somehow made it to La Paz. It was the opening chapter of a carrier that would span five decades, many continents, a number of vehicle brands, record-braking winning streaks (35 straight, which still stands) and put its lead character in the history books.

2016 Rod Hall Bronco 006

Last year, Rod Hall pulled his championship Ford Bronco, which he won the 1969 Mexican 1000 in, from the Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame’s museum in Reno, Nevada, and sent it to Samco Fabrication for a full restoration. The Bronco, which was built by Bill Stroppe, has a past is as storied as Hall himself. After Hall and teammate Larry Minor drove it to an overall win in the 1969 Mexican 1000, it was sold, raced, resold, and then retired to a Barstow, California junkyard. Half buried in sand and nearly forgotten, it was discovered by a local race fan and restaurant owner, and put on display in front of a Denny’s. In 2003 it was donated to ORMHOF and found its way back to Hall.

On April 24th, Hall, who has achieved more podium finishes that any American off road racer, including 24 Baja 1000 Class wins and the only overall win in a four-wheel drive, will slip behind the wheel and again pilot his old steed down the peninsula in the 2016 General Tire NORRA Mexican 1000. It will be a monumental 50th 1,000-mile Baja race for Hall.

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I met with Rod in Reno to talk about his impressive carrier, the Bronco restoration, and the upcoming race. At 79 years of age he is in great physical shape, has relentless sense of humor, and is always looking forward. He is also one of the most modest and humble “famous” guys you will meet.

 

Watch the video below for an in-depth visit with Rod Hall, one of the living legends of off-road racing.  We’ll be posting updates during the race, or you can follow his race progress on the Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame Facebook page. www.ormhof.com


 

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Chris Collard, easily recognizable in his signature hat, stands with the team and the legend himself.

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Around the World in 800 Days: Driving on the Roof of the World – Part 1 http://expeditionportal.com/around-the-world-in-800-days-driving-on-the-roof-of-the-world/ http://expeditionportal.com/around-the-world-in-800-days-driving-on-the-roof-of-the-world/#comments Mon, 18 Apr 2016 07:38:45 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=38107 Many overlanders have a holy grail; some want to drive the Bolivian Death Road others the Road of Bones in Siberia. For us, the infamous Pamir Highway in Central Asia had been on the top of our list for some time.

The M41, as it is officially known, is the world’s second highest international highway; the surface is mostly unpaved. The road traverses the Pamir Mountains and travels through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan reaching an altitude of 4,655 metres. Part of the highway requires a special permit as it passes through the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan. The area is notorious for landslides, rock-falls, earthquakes, floods, high winds and frequent political unrest; all these factors rate it quite highly on the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Roads’ list. Traditionally the road formed part of the ancient Silk Road route linking trade routes from China to Europe.

Due to political situations, Ebola, terrorism and a whole multitude of other reasons, overlanding in Africa is becoming increasingly challenging and risky; many overlanders looking for alternative routes have started following their compass to Central Asia. This became glaringly obvious looking around the car park in the small guesthouse where we were staying in the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Landrovers, Mercedes and Toyota’s from England, Germany and Holland jostled for space amongst the adventure motorcyclists and cyclists.

Over a few beers we made friends, heard stories, gathered tips and collected information about the availability of diesel from the adventurers who’d just completed the route travelling in the opposite direction.

Small River Crossing Near Alichur River

Whilst in Osh we were reunited with our overlanding German friends Stefan and Annette from “My Beast Goes East”. Our paths had crossed previously in Cyprus, Turkey and Armenia and we’d formed a great friendship built on a mutual appreciation of each other’s vehicles and a love of off-road driving. Stefan and Annette were heading for the slightly higher Karakoram Highway in China and were keen to test their incredibly well prepped Mercedes G-Wagon at altitude.

With our GBAO permits in place, together we apprehensively formulated a plan which included travelling down the Wakhan Corridor and along the Pamir and Panj rivers, which mark the Afghanistan border, via the market town of Ishkashim to Khorog. From Khorog we would explore the Shakhdara and Bartang Valleys.

Our journey started on a sunny July day from Osh where we filled up with fuel. For us, this included carrying an extra 80-litres of diesel due to the lack of availability en-route; for our German friends with long-range fuel tanks this wasn’t a problem. Travelling in convoy we headed south towards the first pass of many. The 3,615 metre Taldyk Pass reached by a collection of stunning switchbacks heralds the start of the high altitude driving. The more severe symptoms of altitude sickness tend to occur at altitudes of more than 3,600 metres. In hindsight we should have taken the steep ascent a little slower. For the first two days of our adventure the sudden change in altitude left everyone a little breathless and played havoc with our sleep. We also suffered from some pretty atrocious headaches and dizziness, luckily this passed fairly quickly as we acclimatised to the height.

The lack of oxygen also affected our vehicles, as we climbed the winding serpentines towards the pass our diesel engines began to kick out an increasingly large amount of black smoke. This continued throughout our whole time in the Pamirs until we dropped back down to under 2,000 metres.

The Wakhan Corridor Road

 

As we approached the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, just beyond the town of Sary-Tash, our ‘check engine’ light illuminated. Thankfully due to the age of our trusty Toyota and its lack of complicated computer systems ‘limp mode’ most definitely didn’t kick in and we chose to ignore the little red light on the dashboard. Thankfully as we dropped altitude the light went off, only to return on again as we climbed. Looking through the error codes I suspected the light was coming on due to the lack of oxygen affecting either the turbo pressure sensor or the air intake sensor. Either way the illuminated light didn’t hinder progress. To be honest, we were crawling so slowly in parts any automatic ‘limp mode’ may have gone unnoticed!

At 4,336 metres the border, one of the highest in the world, is a muddy, remote collection of shipping container cabins. In the harsh winter temperatures here drop well below -40°C, even on a sunny day in mid-July the air was a cool 8°C. Disconcertingly the border guards choose jeans, tracksuits and fashionable sweaters over “official” uniform, making the gun carrying even more unsettling. Like other borders we’ve encountered the various “departments” tried to extort negotiable amounts of money for sham services and taxes, including vehicle disinfection and a tax for tinted windows. Thankfully the information gathered from fellow travellers in Osh helped and after much light-hearted bantering we left the border paying nothing more than the official $25 for temporary vehicle importation.

Border Post near Khargush Pass

Once across the border we relaxed back into our seats and enjoyed the landscape, which was becoming increasingly lunar-like with every mile as we descended into a wide high altitude valley. A quick glance at the map indicated we were approaching the Uy Buloq Pass, from here the road skirts the border with China. A large chain-link fence ensures defection from communist China is not an option! Ironically a large hole in the fence meant Emma and I could stop the car and run across the border for a self-satisfying selfie (strict and very expensive rules on driving your own vehicle in China mean this is one destination disappointingly not on our agenda).

The high altitude lake at Karakul was home for our first night of camping. Often called ‘The Black Lake’, Karakul was formed by a meteorite 10 million years ago and despite being extremely brackish is frozen for most of the year. Unwittingly we ventured a little too close to the lake shore and encountered an unusual undulating crust of thick spongy grass that rippled but remained unbroken as we drove across it. In potentially hazardous situations like this we were thankful to be travelling with another vehicle in case we got stuck. We spent the evening watching the ever-changing light across the mountains whilst reflecting about the days driving. In total throughout the entire day we passed only one other 4×4 and 3 adventure cyclists, a fact that reinforces just how remote this area is.

The road south from Karakul climbs gently through some stunning landscape until it reaches the highest point on the whole highway. The Akbaital Pass is 4,655 metres high; just to put that into context the highest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis ‘peaks’ at a mere 1,344 metres. On the approach to the pass we overtook an old struggling Russian truck. The driver, unaware of us undertaking, had his head out the window as his vision through the windscreen was completely obscured by the open bonnet of his overheating truck. Along with crossing the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle crossing the pass was another huge milestone for us and marked the highest point of our trip.

Akbaital Pass 4,655 Sign

With a few great tips from fellow adventurers we decided to make a round trip down some of the lesser-explored valleys southeast of Murghab. Leaving the main highway behind we headed off-road through the high altitude desert plains in search of the famous Marco Polo Sheep. In this part of the world travelling independently by 4×4 allows you to reach places other tourists rarely get the opportunity to see. After a gruelling two-hour drive we found a stunning camp spot at the base of a mountain where the rare Marco Polo Sheep had reportedly been seen. A quick glance with the binoculars and we were instantly rewarded with a somewhat distant glimpse of this elusive creature.

At these high altitudes our vehicles had trouble starting in the mornings and required at least 15-minutes of ‘warming-up’ time before they had enough power to even move. The initial lack of drive is very disconcerting when you nail the accelerator and the vehicle doesn’t move. After the first day we learnt to park downhill and let gravity do the hard work before the turbo had a chance to kick in.

Heading towards the Uy Buloq Pass

Once our vehicles were ready to face the day ahead we returned to Murghab, a small dusty town were electricity alternates daily between the two ends of town. It is one of only two towns along an approximate 500-mile stretch of the M41 where you can buy diesel. Murghab has at least five small filling stations; these consist of a huge storage tank, normally removed from the rear of a truck, where locals fill 2-litre plastic Coke bottles with petrol. After trying all five it became clear that diesel wasn’t going to be easy to find. Our next stop was a small café where hordes of Chinese truck drivers were eating meat dumplings. With a little negotiating we found a driver who was willing to siphon some diesel from his truck, unfortunately he wanted to charge us premium prices. After a short discussion we decided to look elsewhere, one hour later we found ourselves bartering for 50-litres of diesel in a small wooden shack on the edge of town. With a little apprehension and a good funnel with a filter we re-filled our Jerry-cans. At this point I was beginning to wish I’d spent the money on a water/diesel separator. In total finding fuel and re-filling took about 3-hours.

Leaving Murghab we were stopped at one of many police checkpoints along the M41. Our passports and GBAO permits were inspected and our information written in a huge ledger; protocol left over from Soviet times, with many of these checkpoints utilising old concrete Soviet bus stops.

View Across The Hindu Khush Mountains in Pakistan

The road south from Murghab takes a sharp right turn and starts heading west towards the Neizatash Pass. At 4,137 metres the pass marks the entrance to the beautiful Alichur Pamir valley; the steep Northern Alichur mountains in the north flank the road whilst the Southern Alichur mountains offer great vistas across the open valley.

Our next off-road detour started at the tiny town of Alichur. A narrow dirt track leads 14-miles along a ridge high above the Alichur River before dropping down steeply into the valley below. The sheer descent required crawling in 4×4 low on rough loose gravel, the car slipping and sliding whenever we touched the brakes. Once in the valley basin we encountered several small water crossings from tributaries joining the main river. Again, travelling with another vehicle offered security and allowed us to travel across rougher terrain than we would normally risk alone.

Towards the end of the valley the lake of Bulunkul marked the point where we headed directly south to leave the M41 and joined the lesser-travelled, rougher, more remote route down the Wakhan Corridor.  Just one more pass, the Khargush Pass at 4,344 metres, and a strict border post (complete with tank and bombed out buildings) separated us from the narrow strip of territory in north-eastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. The corridor offers 220-miles of spectacular driving along the bank of the Pamir River, literally a stones throw across the water is Afghanistan.

When we reached the isolated border post we were greeted by two gun-toting friendly young soldiers who didn’t seem old enough to be carrying battered old AK-47’s. The obligatory information was filled into another huge ledger before we were allowed to cross into the district of Ishkashim. Our first glance of the river revealed a raging brown torrent fuelled by the recent snowmelt from the higher peaks. Few vehicles travel this route, as the main M41 is an easier, safer alternative; travelling at this time of year is especially hazardous due to frequent flooding and landslides.The Taldyk Pass

The road from the border climbed steeply overlooking the sheer valley below. Before long the road became a narrow, barrier free track clinging to the rock edge complete with gravity defying overhangs. A little unnerved we continued to travel in convoy leaving plenty of space between our two vehicles. Heroically we let out German friends in their G-Wagon travel ahead; disconcertingly the vibrations from their vehicle would start small rocks tumbling on the loose scree next to the road. Just 50 metres across the river life continues in Afghanistan, the locals blissfully unaware of how alien the whole experience is for us.

As we travel further down the valley we eventually leave the secluded stretch of road and arrive at the first of many small villages, from here traffic becomes more frequent and the condition of the road surface deteriorates from a relatively smooth dirt track to a truck laden, dusty, corrugated thoroughfare. It is at this point that the Pamir River merges with the Wakhan River and becomes the muddy brown Panj River.

Finally we arrived in Ishkashim, a small edgy town with an atmosphere charged with tension. From here we had planned to attend the Saturday market just one mile across the river border in Afghanistan. Unfortunately due to political unrest and shootings the previous night the market was cancelled and the border closed. Feeling slightly uneasy we made a plan to leave early the following morning, minutes before our departure the hotel owner where we’d been camping informed us that the road ahead was closed due to a large mudslide that had happened overnight. Travelling in this area you soon learn that alternative routes simply don’t exist. We weighed up our limited options and decided we’d chance the mudslide over Afghans with AK47’s. We headed north towards the larger town of Khorog, 25 miles north of Ishkashim we encountered the mudslide!

We left our vehicles at a safe distance and investigated the scene a little closer by foot. The recent rise in temperature had intensified the rate of snowmelt from the higher peaks resulting in a huge mudslide on the edge of the town of Kozideh. It had destroyed the solitary bridge out of town and narrowly avoided taking a couple of houses with it. Being the only route through the area the enlivened locals had wasted no time in clearing the debris. Using an ancient Soviet caterpillar they had bulldozed a rough path through 40 metres of mud and rock into the river, past a buried truck and out the other side. After several discussions with locals, Stefan and I established it was relatively safe. Our decision to cross was reinforced when we witnessed a battered old Lada Niva negotiate the new temporary crossing with ease. With lots of gesticulating from animated locals we engaged 4×4 low and entered the muddy bulldozed trench. Our German friends watched on waiting for us to exit before they entered. With relative ease we bounced and bumped through the mud and rocks into the river and climbed, wheels spinning, up the other side in a shower of mud.

From Khorog we said our farewells to our German friends, Stefan and Annette who were heading along the main M41 back to Osh before continuing to China.

 

Stay tuned for part two of Driving on the Roof of the World.

 

You can follow Andy and Emma’s adventures at www.aroundtheworldin800days.com or on Facebook.

 

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