Expedition Portal http://expeditionportal.com Wed, 01 Apr 2015 00:47:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Long Term Review: Honda XR 650http://expeditionportal.com/long-term-review-honda-xr-650/ http://expeditionportal.com/long-term-review-honda-xr-650/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 00:47:31 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=26702 What can be said about Honda’s XR650 that has not already been said many times over? Although arguably not the best bike out there, it is still one of the most versatile bikes available. Like the Swiss Army knife of motorcycles, it manages to always get the job done, no matter what that job is.

We have had our Honda XR650 for over a year now, and it has been ridden hard and put away wet and dirty way too many times. It started its life with one owner who rode it for about 400 miles then stuffed it in a storage unit for 3 years, hence the Lost XR.  The Lost XR was bone stock when it made its way into the shop, but we wanted to fit it with the best aftermarket parts available and ride it for a full year to see how these parts would last and what effect they might have.

 

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We started with a call to XR’s Only www.xrsonly.com and provided a list of parts we needed for the big red pig. The first item on the list was a new exhaust system. XR’S Only produce a beautiful pipe and muffler and it works great. Once installed, with a couple of changes to the jetting, the bike really came alive. The sound is outstanding and it really is a work of art with regard to welds and fitment.  It also trimmed a few pounds off the bike, which is not particularly light to begin with. Over the course of the last year, these components have shown very small amounts of wear and tear after 8000 miles of riding. We only missed 4 days of riding last winter because of ice so this bike gets ridden a lot.

 

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The next big item we installed was a rear disk protector, and it to is a beautiful component. It does not just bolt on like the factory one but also holds the caliper in place. This is one solid unit and it has taken many hits without any damage. The installation was a breeze and it has really does its job.

 

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The skid plate again is elegantly simple but stout. The welds are perfect and tough as nails. I have slammed this plate many times on rocks and logs with no damage at all. Installation took but a few minutes with no fuss.

I have been on bikes since I was 14 and I still ride hard today. This bike sees a lot of single track and very technical trails up here in Prescott. Because of that, Acerbis hand guards were a must and they have really taken a beating. We also added bar risers and the Renthal CR bars to get the stance a little higher. Rounding out the cockpit, we mounted a Lowrance GPS with preloaded topo maps. Heated hand grips keep my fingers nice and toasty on our cool mountain mornings.

 

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The stock foot pegs were a bit on the narrow side, so we used the XR’S Only wide foot pegs and the front sprocket cover. The wider pegs makes for a nice stable feel and I can move around on the pegs for the right riding position.

The factory lighting on them lights are about the worst of any bike I have ever ridden. I think I could do better with a Bic lighter, so we pulled all the lights off and went with LEDs all the way around. I am running a Baja Design head light right now and have seen that other drivers really pay attention to me when on the road.

 

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We also replace the tiny steel gas tank with a 4 gallon Clarke see through tank. This really added some extra time out on the trail. One of my riding buddies rides a Honda 450X and he seems to think that my bike now is his personal pit stop when he runs dry.

After three years hidden away in a dark storage unit, this bike has made huge changes and is now ridden regularly. The performance has drastically been updated with all the parts we have used, and the look has improved as well. This 650 will run for many years with very minimal maintenance, something that cannot be said for a lot of the bikes on the trail today.

 

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Like the old Swiss Army knife that many carry in their pocket today, the old 650 still stands out as jack of all trades in the dual sport market. It starts in the hot or cold, runs all the time, and can tackle the highway or technical trail without complaint. Be sure to take the time to dial in the suspension for your weight and add some mods that fit your needs and you can’t go wrong.

 

We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to XR’s Only for their help assembling this parts kit. Without it, this bike would still be good. They helped make it great.

 

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Jeep presents this year’s concept trucks at the Easter Jeep Safarihttp://expeditionportal.com/jeep-presents-this-years-concept-trucks-at-the-easter-jeep-safari/ http://expeditionportal.com/jeep-presents-this-years-concept-trucks-at-the-easter-jeep-safari/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 00:04:23 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=26641 Every spring the off-roading world descends upon Moab, Utah to celebrate one of the most important brands in the global 4×4 segment––Jeep. Now in its 49th year, The Easter Jeep Safari event has a number of key events, the unveiling of Jeep’s latest concept trucks chief among them. This year Jeep’s designers pushed the envelope presenting trucks as forward thinking as we have seen in years. This fleet of seven Jeeps reach as far into the future as they do the past.

Jeep Chief

A visage of the past, the 1970s inspired Jeep Chief borrows heavily from the classic lines of the original Cherokee. Based on a Wrangler chassis the Ocean Blue exterior white top and chrome bumpers front and rear give the Chief a timeless presence. A subtle beach theme graces the interior with a Rosewood passenger grab handle and tiki-style shifter. A Uconnect 8.4-inch touchscreen media console keeps the vehicle up to date, but this truck is all about classic appeal.

 

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Grand Cherokee Overlander

With a progressive nod to the future of off-roading, the Grand Cherokee Overlander confirms Jeeps appreciation for the direction of long-range travel. The most obvious callout is the color matched roof top tent. That tent is perched atop a heavily modified Grand Cherokee with a custom front fascia, larger wheels and fender flares, rock rails, and 18-inch wheels with BFG AT tires. The 3.0-liter V-6 Diesel makes this a highly desirable travel platform.

 

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Staff Car

The connection between Jeep’s civilian and military service is unbreakable. Paying homage to that legacy is the Wrangler-based Staff Car. The Sandstorm color scheme, and open-air sides give the Staff Car a no-nonsense presence, befitting of a battle hardened veteran.

The 16-inch wheels and 35-inch military inspired tires give the Staff Car a burly stance and the J8 front and rear bumpers offer maximum utility.

 

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Wrangler Africa

Being overlanders and prone to gravitate towards the classic vehicles of the African bush, the aptly named Africa concept truck really resonated with many of us. The simple steel wheels paired to the humble Desert Tan exterior and white roof make it appear to be one more workhorse from the Serengeti, ready for a day on the job. The 2.8-liter diesel is mated to an automatic transmission driving power to the Dana 44 axles. It’s a thing of beauty.

 

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Cherokee Canyon Trail

Although it came with considerable pushback, Four Wheeler Magazine’s 2015 Four Wheeler of the Year is none other than the Jeep Cherokee, a platform chastised as little more than a mall crawler. The Canyon Trail concept further assuages those opinions with a vehicle of impressive off-road aptitude. The Desert Tan paint looks ready for off-road travel and the rock rails, skid plates, and BFG AT tires prove its place in the backcountry.

 

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Wrangler Red Rock Responder

If you find yourself in a jam on the trail, and in need of rescue, this is the vehicle you want to see trundling over the hill. Based on a 4-door Wrangler platform, the Red Rock Responder was designed to accommodate all the necessary rescue and recovery tools needed to save people from the world’s harshest terrain.

The 37-inch tires and BFG Mud Terrain tires make for an imposing presence as does the large cargo compartment on the aft end of the truck. Fitted with a series of drawers and compartments the Red Rock Responder is not just about trail proficiency, but utility. Riding on Fox shocks this truck also has a cold air intake, rock rails and a Warn winch.

 

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Renegade Desert Hawk

The newest Jeep in the lineup, the Renegade is poised to bring Jeeps annual sales scores to all new highs. Aimed at the compact SUV market, the Renegade has been impressing critics and anyone who has been lucky enough to get behind the wheel. To further the off-road ambitions of the Renegade the Desert Hawk has been fitted with rock rails, skid plates, and exterior callouts that speak to the Renegade’s abilities in the dirt. The 2.4-liter Tigershark engine sips fuel and a Katzkin leather interior keeps the occupants in optimal comfort.

 

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Editor’s Letter: Has Crowd Funded Travel Jumped the Shark?http://expeditionportal.com/editors-letter-has-crowd-funded-travel-jumped-the-shark/ http://expeditionportal.com/editors-letter-has-crowd-funded-travel-jumped-the-shark/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 07:23:44 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=26621 I have always been an independent individual. I attribute it to my midwestern upbringing. My strong work ethic and sense of responsibility were hammered into me at a young age. I also remember standing in a beat up telephone booth in Barcelona, Spain when I was in my early twenties and telling my dad I had just about exhausted my travel funds. Hoping, okay hinting, for a generous gift to keep my travels rolling, his response was, “That’s a bummer. Time to come home, I guess.” Under the shadow of a monument to Christopher Columbus, I wished I had my own King Ferdinand to be the benefactor of my wanderings. Instead, I found myself crawling into an airplane by the week’s end––headed home to work more hours, save more dollars, to buy more plane tickets.

If we all had inexhaustible travel budgets, I suspect a huge portion of our populous would give up a permanent address all together. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t how the world works, and travel is if anything––expensive. So, how do people afford to do it? Until relatively recently, most people worked and saved to fund their travels, but that has started to change as crowd funding becomes more popular.

 

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It would be safe to say Kickstarter was the flashpoint for modern crowd funding, and it has been an undeniable success. Following on the coat tails of Kickstarter is Trevolta, a site dedicated to crowd funded travel. Other similar resources have popped up like Go Fund Me. Are these legitimate avenues to accrue travel cash, or are they sophisticated tin cups extended via flashy web pages? Where does the line between harmless solicitation and flat out begging get drawn?

In the last few months, I’ve been asked to promote some of these solicitations here on the home page of Expedition Portal. Okay, I’ve been approached at least a dozen times to do so. In some cases, the queries are legitimate and the travels are genuine philanthropic endeavors to raise awareness for good humanitarian causes. Our recent feature of Flying High for Kids comes to mind, as does the Muskoka Foundation. These projects leave behind a wake of feel good as they wind their way around the globe, but what of the other requests, those not producing such a positive philanthropic product?

 

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Not long ago, two travelers contacted me saying they had been traveling for a many months and their vehicle had broken down. The repairs were expensive and rather than call it quits and head home, they intended to continue on. But there was a catch––they were broke. Their solution was to launch a Go Fund Me page and ask for donations. In return, they offered to post routine blog updates, something they had been doing anyway. But it gets more interesting.

Another individual contacted me with hopes of us featuring his Go Fund Me campaign. In his request, he mentioned that his young family had traveled extensively to remote locations far and wide, but they too had run out of money. With a plea to not deprive his children of more travels to lands exotic, he said he would be devastated if he had to break a promise to his kids. In my best effort to not sound judgmental, in a world where millions of kids don’t have their basic needs met, how concerned should I be that someone else’s kids will miss out on a luxury like travel?

 

With such examples becoming more common, I ask, has crowd funded travel jumped the shark? Have we taken it too far?

 

Within the spectrum of this discussion, many people are quick to point out that donation buttons on travel blogs are nothing new. I agree, and I too have clicked on those buttons to share my own cash. However, I look at those buttons like a virtual tip jar. I love a good martini and any bar tender who can make a good one, gets a tip. Likewise, any travel blog that entertains me, provides helpful information, or just retains my interest, gets a tip. A great example is landcruisingadventure.com. Coen and Karin’s website is packed with beautiful pictures, great editorials, hands-on information and much more. Is it worth paying for? Absolutely. But, they’re also travel and media professionals facilitating their travels through hard work, not handouts from the masses. The same could be said for Brad and Sheena of drivenachodrive.com. They went so far as to outline every penny they spent on their travels; money hard earned. Their donation button is presented under the header, “Buy us a beer.” It doesn’t say, “Give us money because otherwise we will be deprived the opportunity to sit on a beach on the Caspian Sea.”

 

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Ultimately, everyone has the right to ask for a handout. Everyone has the prerogative to give or to not give. What does it mean to travel in the long run? Are we eroding the spirit of travel by making it a forgone conclusion that we are entitled to travel, even if we have to effectively beg for the privilege to do so?

 

I know where my dad stands on this issue.

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Flying High For Kidshttp://expeditionportal.com/flying-high-for-kids/ http://expeditionportal.com/flying-high-for-kids/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 02:07:49 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=26593 I have two passions in life: Hot air ballooning and travel. I’m lucky enough to have my dream job of flying balloons in some of the world’s most beautiful places. Having always been an ambitious person, my all time goal was to drive around the world with a balloon and to fly in as many countries as possible. Not only that, but to do it for a good cause.

After selling my balloon company in New Zealand at the age of 26, I needed a new challenge and decided to move to Brazil to set up a new business. Sitting in my room on a cold, wet day in the south of Brazil, things not going so well, I asked myself, “What is stopping me from realising my goal?”. I couldn’t think of any reason why not, so I approached UNICEF New Zealand and asked what they thought of me travelling around the world with a UNICEF Balloon.  I have always respected the work that UNICEF does and balloons and kids seem to go together well.
After some time, they decided they would support the idea, but I would have to find the funding to do it. I didn’t have the money to do it, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

 

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I set about researching whether it could actually be done. No one had taken a balloon overland around the world before. There were so many things to research: Aviation laws, border crossings, vehicles, import/export rules, visa requirements, just to mention a few. At the same time I left Brazil and flew balloons commercially in France and Turkey.

After hundreds of hours of research, and some money saved up, the day came when everything came together. The plan was to drive a truck with the UNICEF balloon to over 100 countries, raising awareness and funds for various projects UNICEF are working on. I purchased a second-hand camper truck from a Dutch-Australian couple who had already travelled with it from Australia to Asia, Europe and Africa. It was parked up in Holland, and I got a local offroad motorhome manufacturer to do a few modifications so it would be able to carry the balloon. A couple of months later, once the modifications were made, the truck was shipped to Australia.

 

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At the same time, a balloon manufacturer based in the Czech Republic liked my idea and had kindly agreed to sponsor the cost of the balloon. Once made, it was shipped to New Zealand, and on the 9th of December 2013, three days after my 30th Birthday, the Flying High For Kids World Balloon Project was launched at a primary school in Auckland. The kids were so excited to have the balloon there and they asked lots of questions. A national TV station was there to capture the launch, and live crosses were made during their breakfast show.

 

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It was a moment of jubilation, though also bitter-sweet. My Father had died just two months before and he was always a big supporter of all my crazy ideas. I am sure he would like to have been there. I became very busy organising logistics. The balloon was air freighted to Brisbane, Australia a couple of months later and at the same time, the truck was arriving into Brisbane from Holland. It was a relief to find that the balloon fitted into the modified truck when both came together. I knew it was going to be a tight fit and there would’ve been a big problem if it didn’t.

 

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Together with UNICEF Australia, we decided on a few events along the east coast and I stayed with friends in Brisbane for a few weeks as final plans came together. Brisbane is Australia’s third largest city and has a vibrant feel to it. It enjoys warm weather year-round and there is plenty to see and do. The Brisbane River winds its way through the centre of the city and the popular South Bank area is a great place to enjoy a walk and soak up the atmosphere.

 

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The first event we had arranged was a balloon inflation at a secondary school in Brisbane. I received a warm welcome from the 400 teenage kids and 100 primary school kids from another school down the road.  I talked to them about what I was doing and the messages we were sharing. Using the balloon as a medium, the aim is to raise awareness about childrens’ right to education and inclusiveness of children with special needs. I also inspire kids to follow their dreams using my own story as an example. They make postcards for me and with these, I pass them on to children in other countries along my route, hoping to create a global community and show children a different way of life to their own.  Everything went very smoothly.

 

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The 300km drive to the rural town of Grafton was an enjoyable one. It was a great feeling of freedom to drive my truck on the open road at last. I love to drive in the wide, open spaces of Australia. You feel so small. There were a number of Eucalyptus forests along the way, along with rolling farmland. The road was easy and I made good time.

In Grafton, around 500 primary school and kindergarten kids came to see the balloon. It was a bit windy, so I could only inflate the balloon for a short time. After the inflation, I spoke to a number of classes. The youngest kids were the most interesting to speak with. Some of them just wanted to tell me something about themselves; like that their Father was a teacher for example.
It will be interesting to see how many new balloon pilots there will be around the world in the next 10-20 years, as many kids have told me after events that they want to be balloon pilots when they are older.

 

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The drive to my final event, participating in the Canberra Balloon Spectacular, was again an easy one. The east coast of Australia is largely green with mountains running down a good part of it. Driving is easy as the roads are long and straight. I stopped off in Sydney along the way for a couple of meetings. Even after visiting Australia many times before and living there for a couple of years, it still gives me a thrill to see the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. They are magnificent pieces of architecture.

The Canberra Balloon Spectacular is a weeklong balloon festival held every March. There are not many countries in the world that you are allowed to fly a balloon over a capital city, but Canberra is one of them. Over 30 balloons attended and it was a great week of floating over rooftops of government buildings, foreign embassies and other institutions. Canberra is famous for its layout, designed by US architect, Walter Burley Griffin. It was created specifically to be the capital of Australia and was built from scratch after 1911. The city is very green with plenty of open park spaces. The Burley Griffin Lake is enjoyed by many of its residents.

 

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It was back into action after the festival, as the balloon and truck needed to be shipped to Malaysia for another balloon festival less than two weeks later. I returned to Sydney, and within a few days the balloon was being air freighted and the truck shipped to Kuala Lumpur. I managed to get some sponsorship from a large logistics company and they handled a lot of the paperwork. This took a lot of stress off me as it can get quite involved. I had arranged a carnet de passage for both the balloon and truck. A carnet de passage is similar to a passport for exporting goods and takes a lot of hassle out of the temporary import/export process.

I arrived into Kuala Lumpur a couple of days after the balloon did. There were no problems with paperwork and the balloon was all ready at the balloon festival site in the government district of Putrajaya, located just outside of Kuala Lumpur. Similar to Canberra, it was also purpose built to be the administrative capital of the country. The roads are wide and the city feels new.

 

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The flying area was small as the international airport was quite close. It was a fun four days of flying over the built-up area of Putrajaya.  The weather was nice each morning, though hot and humid. I even managed to win the competition at the event, so got a nice trophy to take with me.

There was the third and final balloon festival to attend straight after the Putrajaya festival, this time in The Philippines. Once again the balloon was packed and shipped to Lubao, just north of Manila. Around 40 balloons attended from all over the world and the event lasted five days. The area was full of rice paddies, so we had to make sure we landed in an accessible place so our ground crew could get to us. On landing, many kids would come from the nearby villages and want to meet us. They would help to pack the balloon and it was a real joy to meet them. Filipino people are generally very friendly and happy.

 

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The fun of ballooning is that you never know where you will exactly land, so every flight is different.

After the four day event, it was back to Malaysia to wait for my truck to arrive from Australia. I spent two months in Malaysia, preparing for the South-East Asian leg of the project through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. The following countries is where the adventure really began….

 

You can follow the project at www.flyinghighforkids.com or www.facebook.com/flyinghighforkidsproject.

 

The Flying High For Kids Project is a self-funded project and the Project Creator and Director, New Zealand balloon enthusiast, Andrew Parker, gives his time for free.

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Two Wheeled Nomad: Gigantic squiggles and serious giggleshttp://expeditionportal.com/two-wheeled-nomad-gigantic-squiggles-and-serious-giggles/ http://expeditionportal.com/two-wheeled-nomad-gigantic-squiggles-and-serious-giggles/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 04:33:01 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=26573 As our wee Cessna soared a dizzy height over the Peruvian desert, just a couple of hundred miles southeast of Lima, the dull pale sameness of the rocks and sand organised and changed form. Distinct white lines gradually evolved from tan and rust-red. Strips of white crisscrossed a desert so dry that it rains less than an inch every year. Banking equally hard to the right and then left, the landscape transformed as lines took shape in simple geometric designs: trapezoids, linear lines, rectangles, triangles and whirls. Some perfectly straight, many running parallel and others intersecting, creating a grand geometric profile spanning a 37-mile long plain sat between the Inca and Nasca Valleys. These are the renowned Nasca lines—subject of mystery for over 80 years. So how were they formed? What purpose did they serve? Was extra terrestrial life involved?

Against a background of cloudy cerulean sky, some of the swirls and zigzags started to develop into an assortment of distinct shapes: a hummingbird, a condor, a whale and a 1,000-foot long pelican. Amongst other beasts and engravings etched on a giant scale, which can really only be appreciated from the sky. The viewing towers do little to ascertain a strong vantage but give an inkling of perspective. Even if I did spend the 30-minute flight in our cigar shaped tube on the cusp of bringing up breakfast, while Jason battled furiously with his irrational fear of flying. Amusingly opposite experiences; I couldn’t have cared less about dropping out of the sky in fear of chundering over four unsuspecting passengers whereas Jason’s stomach gave rise to only butterflies. Titillating his insides as we oscillated through a slightly fractious air space.

 

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Incredibly, there are over an imperceptible 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures and 70 animal and plant designs, which are called biomorphs. All curiously carved into the Peruvian desert by ancient Nasca people, so scientists have us believe, of whom flourished from around AD 1 to 700. Some of the neat streaks run up to 30 miles, while the biomorphs range up to 1,200 feet in length, as large as the Empire State Building.

The lines are technically known as geoglyphs—drawings on the ground made by removing rocks and earth to create a ‘negative’ image. The rocks that cover the desert have oxidized and weathered to a deep rust color, and when the top 12-15 inches of rock is removed, a light colored high contrasting sand is exposed. Certain areas of the pampa look like a well-used chalk board, with lines overlapping other lines, and designs cut through with straight lines of both ancient and more modern origin. Because there’s so little rain, wind and erosion, the exposed designs have stayed largely intact for a couple of millenniums. Mmmn, so what we’re looking at is just 2,000 year old graffiti.

Discovered in the 1930s post the advent of the aeroplane, American professor Paul Kosok investigated the Nasca lines, looked up from his work to catch the sunset in direct alignment with a line and called the 310 square mile stretch of high desert “the largest astronomy book in the world”. Johan Reinhard, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, adopted a multidisciplinary approach to the analysis of the lines and urged folks to “Look at the large ecological system, what’s around Nasca, where were the Nasca people located.” In a region that receives only about 20 minutes of rain per year, water was clearly an important factor. “It seems likely that most of the lines did not point at anything on the geographical or celestial horizon, but rather led to places where rituals were performed to obtain water and fertility of crops”, Reinhard hypothesised.

 

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And you might also find merit in Anthony Aveni’s concurring theory, a former National Geographic grantee that the trapezoids are big wide spaces where people could come in and out. The rituals were likely involved with the ancient need to propitiate or pay a debt to the gods, probably to plead, pray and dance for water. After all, spiral designs and themes have been discovered at other ancient Peruvian sites. Animal symbolism is common throughout the Andes including those found in the biomorphs drawn upon the Nasca plain: spiders are believed to be a sign of rain, hummingbirds are associated with fertility, and monkeys are found in the Amazon—an area with an abundance of water.

“No single evaluation proves a theory about the lines, but the combination of archaeology, ethno-history, and anthropology builds a solid case,” said Reinhard. Add new technological research to the mix, and there’s no doubt that the world’s understanding of the Nasca lines will continue to evolve. So even they and others with credibility in their field, including one woman, Maria Reiche who devoted 40 years in study of them, still have no conclusive evidence as to how and why the Nasca lines came into existence.

The plain – interweaved by a network of these giant lines with many forming rectangles – has a striking resemblance to a modern airport. Perhaps they had been built for the convenience of ancient visitors from space to land their ships. As quirky as it might be to subscribe to this theory, the desert floor at Nasca is soft earth and loose stone, and wouldn’t support the landing wheels of an aircraft but mayhaps it would a hovering flying saucer.

 

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Regardless of which camp you may sit, to my mind, as fascinating as the figures and lines are, couldn’t have been made without somebody in the air to direct the operations. You simply can’t see anything from ground level! Who would go to that kind of effort without ever being able to see it? For now, an unanswered mystery that’ll have to remain up in the air.  Still, touring the desert by air is a, if not thee best way, to hopscotch over Nasca’s relatively big distances and see the scale of these intriguing forces that shape the bleached and thirsting land.

With our rear view mirrors flirting with the Freddy Flintstone hills of Puquio, we tootled towards our next stop: Huacachina, entertainingly pronounced ‘Whacka-cheena’. Built around a small natural lake in the desert, 185 miles south of Lima, it’s known as the ‘oasis of South America’. Legend holds that the lagoon was created when a beautiful native princess was apprehended at her bath by a young hunter. She fled, leaving the pool of water she’d been bathing in to become the lagoon. The folds of her mantle, streaming behind her as she ran, became the surrounding sand dunes. And the woman herself is rumoured to still live in the oasis as a mermaid. How whimsically unromantic.

 

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Why the detour? We fancied a spot of sanding around. And what better diversion to spend 40 Peruvian soles ($13 US) and immerse oneself in the warm, silky stuff than by taking a buggy ride on dunes that stretch up to 150 metres high. Transporting us deep into the desert, Manuel our driver (from Hostel Huacachina Sunset where we lodged), set us in store for a white-knuckle thrill ride and a half.

In a grinding and grizzly low gear, high range and foot firmly on the gas, we unreassuringly climbed our way to the top of the first dune, inching our way towards the sky. Every nerve atingle, emotions were a jumbled bag of fear, excitement, nervousness and heart-in-your-mouth ‘Is this guy for real?’ Mingled with anticipation and the thin-lipped tension of grim purpose. ‘I don’t wanna die!’ every fibre in my body screamed. Pinned in by a life-saving harness barely able to breathe, ‘Don’t stop and don’t turn the wheel’, I prayed, ‘We’ll roll like a melon!’

Tension tightened around my chest like an eagle’s talons. We peaked at the summit of a giant dune. Having floored it all the way up, Manuel stopped abruptly cresting a dune, smiled placidly having long mastered the subtle skill of momentum. We had all somehow avoided a coronary arrest. A sudden silence hung above the buggy as passengers prepared for the stomach-churning descent. Around me stretched miles of golden dunes rolling in waves to every horizon, like a scene from Lawrence of Arabia. I was in the heart of a great sand sea.

Before you know it, your stomach is left behind but by no means forgotten. My vision swims but I notice the synchronised sway of us all moving as one. Speed increases by the second, hairdryer wind tousling our hair as we accelerate down the dune in what felt like a vertical plunge. Waves of sand crest over the hood as we plow an avalanche that gains size and momentum, vibrating and growling, as we lick up speed. The wheels are adept at careening over the boisterous bumps, I however, am carted above like a ragdoll being swung in the arms of a six year old.

 

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Twisting, looping, corkscrewing—what feels barely in control—Manuel’s ingenuity is tested at every turn but tackles each manoeuvre with composure. As we wind a snaking course through the dunes, I glance at the terror flashes in everyones’ eyes and grin a nervous smile at Jason. Whooping with a tremor invading my voice, Jason winks encouragingly at me before his head jolts in keeping with the movement of the bouncing buggy. I begin to chuckle, quietly and apprehensively at first but after a couple of snorts, laughter simply starts tumbling out. There’s a backward logic to feeling ecstatic and uneasy at the same time. An occasion that is utterly thrilling to be so unreservedly terrified.

We stop for the tenth time atop a skyscraper tall dune, aiming sharply down. I feel like a 20-pound trout on a five-pound test line. The sand buggies busying around below are the size of Tinker Toys. The downhill screams in unison make this the scariest rollercoaster I’m ever likely to ride. Including those that fly you through space at Gravity force 3, or necessitate 24-hour beacons to forewarn low flying aircraft. Excitement rushes through my body like raging rapids in a river. Head spinning, I climb out of my seat, legs akin to quivering jelly. I love and loathe the experience, my face having assumed dubious and dreadful expressions when in a state of self-induced terror.

Manuel left us caked in sand, sweat and suncream from matted head to toe. We periodically stopped to sand-board increasingly steep dunes on our bellies, braving ourselves and daring each other to keep our feet lifted up so as not to brake and diminish speed when whizzing down. I’d skinned my knee but having capped, cornered, glided and skimmed over the dunes, flew over them air-borne at every given opportunity and teetered on tipping up—roll-cage ready to rock—my whole body wrung with having a complete hoot.

We’d created our own nifty Nasca lines of incised swirls and punctuations in a thin veneer of sand, albeit none were quite so uniform or unique but they—like the ancient shapes and streaks—left us reeling in their wake just the same. With sand castles in my hair, ears, pants, up my nose and goodness knows where else, I became a human sand pit and felt like a four year old again who just didn’t care: intent on fiercely good fun. We were out on our desert tour for two and a half hours when we’d paid for only one. Insides churned up more than the sand, I’d bruised like a peach post the belly boarding but you can’t knock the value-added craic.

Throughout the day, sand-boarders and hikers appeared on the slopes of the dunes, trudging up in staggered lines. Reaching the top, their toil gave way to pure pleasure. Only one appealing option stared blatantly back at me—running downhill with wild abandon, high kicking my way to the bottom in a ‘Zebedee’ sprung-loaded style, laughing hysterically, while others took their pleasure in sand boarding, rolling or slip-sliding, all in their own avalanches of apricot sand.

Deep inside the desert’s folds, it almost felt like uncharted wilderness whose expanse, for all practical purposes, became our personal desert. On our last evening, with every ounce of strength remaining, I forced my feet to plod forward as they shished on an upward sand ridge. I was scowling and didn’t know why. There wasn’t a single thought in my mind that might bring a scowl to my face just then. ‘Being royally unfit for the sandy footslog may’ve played a role’, I mused as my ragged breathing sawed the air.

We stopped and settled on a lofty dune at dusk.  And reached an astonishing view—in a tawny light, towering dunes pitched down to the oval oasis of Huacachina. It was an epic landscape with cinematic beauty. By dusk, most of the day-trippers had trundled away leaving footprints dimpled in the sand. It was then we were treated to the sunset of all time whose shafts of fiery orange and intensifying rays deepened over the dunes, so bright they hurt my eyes. We saw the final visitors climbing the ridgelines of the tallest dunes, tiny figures silhouetted against the disappearing russet red sun emblazing the landscape in such improbable colours, even Hollywood couldn’t make them up.

There was no wind that night, no hordes of people, no sounds. Scooping up some sand, I let it trickle through my fingers while I studied the way the grains glimmered and hoped these sun-reddened dunes would dance in my dreams, beckoning me. I rocked back and watched an ocean of ethereal sky turn velvet orange, peach and pink and the silver spray of the Milky Way appear, serene in my own private Peru.

 

 

You can follow Lisa Morris’ offbeat travel tales at www.twowheelednomad.com

 

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Where is Your Sense of Adventure?http://expeditionportal.com/where-is-your-sense-of-adventure/ http://expeditionportal.com/where-is-your-sense-of-adventure/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 07:11:48 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=26565 I blame my Dad for my adventurous side. “Where’s your sense of adventure?” he would say to the doubters. He never had to say that to me. I was his little sidekick, sleeping under the sails on moonlit nights after calling my mom from south of the border somewhere to tell her that our afternoon sail got a bit extended. I scared him about to death up some mountain the time his dirt-bike broke down and I was ahead of him on my own bike, doing 30 mph until he couldn’t hear me any more. I was seven years old. I eventually came back, and we both lived to ride another day. We had all kinds of fun together, and some close-calls too.

 

Yet for all the wild living and crazy stuff my dad did, he still managed to teach me to be steady and devoted to the family, or maybe that came from my mom. However it happened, I have been caught in the middle ever since. I never hopped on a motorbike with fifty bucks to my name and rode off to wherever, like I’ve always dreamed of doing. I’ve always worked steady jobs, I got married at twenty-two to the girl I dated since I was fifteen, and seventeen years later we have four amazing kids. On the other hand, I have traumatized my three-year-old daughter by taking her on off-shore boat runs up the west coast of Vancouver Island in our Zodiac, and I’ve tied two kids to my waist and one on my back because I just had to climb a mountain because “the baby is already ten months old now, he has to see the great outdoors, right?” I hope I am getting wiser with age.

 

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Its important to me to instill the same sense of adventure in my kids as my dad did with me, but I’ve got four kids and he only had two. He spared my sister on account of how much harder it would be to explain to my mom that she fell overboard, or rode off into the sticks never to be seen again.  The point is, I keep dreaming up grand adventures but not doing them.

 

Not to say that our life is not an adventure. We live in a tiny community seven miles by boat from a tiny town, which is sixty mountainous kilometres by logging road from another tiny town where the asphalt begins, after which it takes another hour to get to where we buy groceries. Our kids take a boat to school every day and we spend the summer another twenty miles up the coast running an outdoor adventure program from our outpost camp. So, I suppose I can’t say we don’t do any adventures, but I had always hoped to do a big one, like sail to Hawaii, or drive from the Arctic Circle to the Equator, or row an open boat down the inside passage… that’s all doable stuff, right? It’s not like I’m asking to drive around the world or something.

 

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My chance came this past fall when we were given a three-month sabbatical from work. My wife and I were both starting to burn-out and we needed some time away. We work for a non-profit organization and have never had any real disposable income or time, so holidays and stuff have never been big. This year we happened to have sold the house we built down the coast in Tofino, BC, which put us in the unusual position of having money and time at the same time. This was the chance to have an adventure.

With both my wife and myself not in top form, I knew we had to do a trip that would fill both of our cups. The trip could not be more stressful than life at home, so those big adventurous ideas of mine were out. We couldn’t just blow it all on a Euro holiday either, and we didn’t want to spend the whole time just being couch potatoes. So we had to come up with a good family trip plan that would be just as good for the teenage girls as for the five and seven year old boys. Since I’m the Dad, it had to be adventurous.

Some generous friends offered us a few days in their timeshare in San Jose Del Cabo, Baja Sur.  I said, “Lets drive there!” And in one sentence, we had a plan. Then Hurricane Odile hit and we learned that the condo had been heavily damaged, so we had to reconsider our plans. At first, we thought of doing something else, but after seeing pictures of the devastation we cried for the people and felt a resolve to go there anyway. Not with some great mission or purpose but just to be in solidarity with the people who had lost so much. Even though we would be just another truck-load of gringo tourists we hoped our tourism dollars might be appreciated.

 

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Now the question was, how do we do this? A family of six, camping with surf gear, small children and teenagers. It’s a long ways to drive through cities and wilderness, not including the gravel, sand, pavement, and mud. We had to be efficient. I went into overdrive planning different setups for our new truck – a four-by Nissan Titan Crew Cab. We needed racks, jacks, compressor an ARB bull bar, and of course we needed a winch with an anchor for sand, or did we? I was totally dreaming, but I managed to get my head back together and we ended up with a pretty practical rig with two rooftop tents and no unnecessary weight hanging off the bow. We brought a small solar setup for long winter nights in camp, way too many surfboards, and some climbing gear that never came out of the bag. Most importantly, we had a happy family of six people on board.

 

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We drove over 11000 km round trip sticking to the coast from our western Vancouver Island home through the US on the PCH and then went east to enter Mexico at Mexicali taking the long rattly road across the mountains to meet Mex 1 near Santa Rosalita and carry on south to Los Cabos.  As we traveled I started to realize that we were actually kind of special. You don’t see a family of our size traveling the majority of the length of a continent through three countries crammed on bench seats in a truck with tents bolted to the roof. We met over-landers in Man-trucks, snorkelled Sprinter-based Wohnmobiles, KLR 650’s, and even a beater astro van that had come from the Yukon, but they all housed couples, no kids. The only families we met were locals, or perhaps a small family in a camper from So-Cal. I began to see that the real adventure in doing this was doing it as a big family.

The adventure is what we were looking for in the first place, but now we were experiencing it. When I think of the cool stuff we saw, and the things my family will never forget; like meeting Coco at his corner and having a coke, or the steep sidecut road to Agua Verde – which the girls enjoyed but never want to do again, or trying to sleep on top of a truck with thirty-knot Santa Anna’s trying to blow the tent off, or how nice it is to be back in our rooftop tent after a few nights in a hotel. All these things add up to make a great trip. (Except maybe taking my wife to the hospital in Cabo with every bug in Mexico brewing in her stomach.) The important thing is, don’t forget the little concessions like a little Baja, a little Palm Springs, a little wilderness – and let’s hit up Disneyland on the way back, because not everyone in the family wants to drive a thousand miles on sand.

Sometimes my sense of adventure seems to compete with family life and responsibilities, but I think this trip brought the two together in a way that instilled the values that it is possible to live your dreams and do your adventures. They can be even better when you consider everyone. I feel especially blessed when the kids ask me when are we going camping again. I don’t think it would be that way if I was off doing it on my own all the time.

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Day-Use Permits Proposed for White Rim and Elephant Hillhttp://expeditionportal.com/day-use-permits-proposed-for-white-rim-and-elephant-hill/ http://expeditionportal.com/day-use-permits-proposed-for-white-rim-and-elephant-hill/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 17:27:46 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=26558 If you had your ear to the ground this past week, you probably heard the collective grumbles as thousands of overlanders bemoaned the portent of more land access restrictions, this time in Utah along the White Rim and Elephant Hill trails. Utah is a frequent battleground for access issues and since these two areas are amongst the most popular in the state, the thought of losing them immediately raised hackles. The interesting twist this time around isn’t relative to mining rights, environmental impacts, or other hot-buttons, but mostly centered around the quality of user experience.

These two areas, positioned just a stone’s throw from Moab, have been increasingly visited to the point of concern. Getting reservations to camp within the few designated camping areas is becoming more difficult as competition for those spots swells. This means more visitors to the area are committing to a hearty one-day push to traverse these trails. For a bicycle rider, the 100 mile loop along the White Rim is arduous, but possible. For a motorcycle, it is a long day, but a comfortable one. Even in a truck, the trip isn’t all that bad. Where the problem arises is with the throngs of one-day users, and perhaps more noticeably, those traveling in large groups. The proposed solution is to limit the number of people who can access these trails on any given day.

Sparking the discussion to impose day-use permits are reports of huge groups swarming the trails. It’s becoming more common during peak months to see groups of two dozen motorcycles or even trains of up to 30 trucks plying the narrow trails along these once solitary landscapes. For those who were lucky enough to have secured a reservation for a campsite along the route, the sight of hundreds of other travelers bumbling across the dusty horizon must be disheartening.

Day-use permits are nothing new and as more users venture into our wild places, will be more common. Places like the Grand Canyon have relied on strict permit allocations for decades, the benefits of which are measurable and oft lauded as the primary reason why the experience within is so magical. Others clamor that such restrictions go against the ethos of public lands entirely. This begs the question: Is visiting the White Rim Trail with bumper to bumper traffic true to the essence of the experience?

 

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If you have an opinion, you have an opportunity to express it before April 14th, 2015. From the NPS:

 

Date: March 16, 2015
Contact: Kevin Moore, 435-719-2120

The National Park Service is seeking public comment on a proposal to require permits for all motor vehicle and bicycle day use on the White Rim and Elephant Hill roads in Canyonlands National Park.

Requiring permits for day use on these increasingly popular roads will help the park better protect resources and the visitor experience in these wild and remote locations.
For the White Rim Road, a total of 50 day-use vehicle permits (including motorcycles) and 50 day-use bicycle permits will be issued each day. Group size will be limited to three vehicles and 15 bicycles.
A total of 24 day-use vehicle permits (including motorcycles) and 12 day-use bicycle permits will be issued each day for the Elephant Hill Road. Group size will be limited to three vehicles and 12 bicycles.
Each motor vehicle and individual bicycle will need a permit.
No fee will be charged for these day-use permits during the 2015-2016 seasons. Payment of the park entrance fee is required for day use and will be collected with permits issued online or at the time of entrance to the park for walk-in permits.Annual Passes, Military Passes, Senior Passes, and Access Passes will be honored for entrance.
Comments regarding this day-use permit proposal may be submitted electronically on the NPS Planning, Environment, and Public Comment (PEPC) website at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/cany_day_use. If comments are not able to be made via the PEPC website they may be sent to: National Park Service, Southeast Utah Group, Attn: Planning and Compliance Coordinator, 2282 S. West Resource Blvd, Moab, Utah 84532. Faxed comments may be sent to (435) 719-2300. The deadline for comments is April 14, 2015.
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Vanajeros: First Contact, First Portraits.http://expeditionportal.com/vanajeros/ http://expeditionportal.com/vanajeros/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 09:05:10 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=26539 We had turned off the highway miles ago, following what our Garmin claimed to be a road.  Piles of red dirt were tucked to the side of sandy path no wider than the van, waiting to be packed down—a project unfinished. We were still very new at this, having just left the U.S. yesterday morning, and we were the only gringos around for miles. A day in from the first border crossing of what would be eleven more in our casa-rodante, our car-house, we were looking for a campsite at a partially deserted beach on the Baja peninsula of Mexico. Shanties were sparse, and in the daylight, they didn’t look like places people could live. Later, when their lights winked in the dark, I counted five, spaced widely, leading north. I watched the lights and tried to picture who might be sleeping inside. I wondered if any of them would want to talk to us. We needed them to talk to us.

 

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The happy-go-lucky part of our journey was great: vanlife was fun. We were fresh off a successful crowd-funding campaign. In the U.S., we camped every night and spit our toothpaste out wherever we wanted. Friends met us in every city on the West Coast, and the National Parks were delightedly everything we’d seen in pictures. But an uneasiness loomed in the van that we didn’t want to talk about: when were we going to start our project? The money we’d raised was earmarked for a portraiture project that we had mapped out with the lofty goal of connecting with another culture on a deeper level than most do when traveling. To us, four post-grads of film and photography, it meant driving south–far south–with a small photo printer so we could give a copy of the picture to each person we photographed. We had enough gear and supplies to last us all the way to Ecuador.

 

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Northern Baja’s vacancy leaves room for thoughts to unravel and spread themselves into the desert for miles. There’s nothing else. The hours as a passenger in the van were also taking apart my head and what was obvious was this: I had no idea how we were going to do this. How the hell do we get people to trust us to photograph them? As strangers, as extranjeros? What should I say? Would they understand my broken Spanish? I was nervous in a way that made me brave, and I wanted to meet someone new ASAP. Tomorrow. I wanted to force the hand of whatever was going to happen so I wouldn’t be nervous anymore (turns out that never went away). When I woke up, I would walk down the unfinished red road, camera in hand, until I saw someone I could approach. I had no plan on how to discern who was approachable, but I ignored that part. If I had to go careening in to get this thing started for myself, so be it. Control wasn’t important.

But I wasn’t all guts. The next morning I took Aidan with me, who spoke better Spanish. The fog rolling in from the ocean tampered my feelings down the way fog does—everything was quieter.

 

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Alfredo stood outside his structure that was pieced together from corrugated plastic and pallets, shifting his weight back and forth and trying to be casual, but also looking at us again and again. I couldn’t imagine there were a lot of visitors out here, and he seemed uncertain. We smiled and said hello, and that was all he needed–we were immediately inundated in his story and invited to sit. His world was like this: gather rocks from the beach. Sell them to a middle man. Middle man sells them across the border for landscaping in the U.S.—as far north as Washington. Each shanty has their “territory;” they didn’t work together when they gathered, but they didn’t work against each other, either. He picked the stones up and showed them to us, running them through his fingers and onto the ground again. Workdays had a type of rock assigned to them: on this day, smooth black mediums. On another day, small yellows.

 

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Hot water was offered to us under a covered area in front of the structure where the rest of his family was milling around or finishing morning chores—a porch. As I spooned the instant coffee into my mug, my hand froze. Shit, the water, I thought.  It was too late, though. There was no way to politely hand back the drink that would probably-maybe-surely do its worst to my gringa stomach. I smiled at Alfredo’s wife, and took some cautious sips as if there were going to be immediate effects.

There was nothing smooth about our interaction after that. It remained friendly, but a script for explaining our project in a way that makes sense across languages doesn’t exist, and I’m pretty sure when people agreed to let us photograph them they didn’t really know what they were agreeing to. There was just no way of saying, “I want to make your portrait and give you a copy; I have a printer in my van, and I will be leaving in that van in probably ten minutes to continue driving to Ecuador from your town here in Mexico/Belize/Guatemala. Oh and also I’m traveling with three other people. All guys. They’re photographers, too.” I could see so many of their faces: Uh-huh.

Organizing a family photo is the same in every culture, though: someone’s looking off in the distance while one of the kids is crying, while someone else is blinking with what has to be all their might. With the seven members in Alfredo’s family, the odds of someone both smiling and looking at the camera was 2/7. Afterwards, I noticed Alfredo’s wife frowning at the copy of the photo in her hands. “Do you like it?” I asked, not really knowing what else to say. “Si…” she replied, and I realized baffling this encounter must have seemed to them.

 

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Alfredo couldn’t have realized how important talking to us was. When we walked down the road that morning, we were walking towards our fear, and letting it come out and bite us so we could get that part over with and see what happened afterwards: our first encounter was awkward, but it represented something to us that we carried with us for the rest of our project, and it left Alfredo’s family so bemusedly joyful in a way that we saw many more times as we traveled through Latin America. When Aidan photographed Alfredo’s daughter, Alfredo told her, “Now a little piece of you is going to the United States.” I had said control wasn’t important, and the amount of empathy I felt upon hearing his words spread through me as a physical reaction, making it hard to breath. I decided that figuring out the Great Significance of our project, right then and there, wasn’t going to happen. And it didn’t need to. We were new.

 

Read more from the Vanajeros [HERE].

 

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Field Tested: Good To-Go Dehydrated Mealshttp://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-good-to-go-dehydrated-meals/ http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-good-to-go-dehydrated-meals/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 07:47:50 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=26532 Few things can crush an appetite as quickly as the words dehydrated food. I grew up in the 1970s in a family of hippy backpackers and remember well the first backpacker meals containing curious particulates of beef that tasted more like tree bark than anything bovine. While much has changed, and dehydrated meals are far more palatable, none are really––yummy. That is until now.

No one would fault you if you hadn’t discovered Good To-Go meals as they just hit the scene last year. In that brief period, they’ve won a few awards, legions of loyal fans, and did well to adjust the culinary standards of backcountry meals across the board. The reason why most dehydrated foods are so ho-hum has little to do with the process of preparing the meals in their dry form; that science is pretty nailed down. It’s often the recipes themselves that are so bland, or just ill-concieved. So, what happens if you combine good dehydrating methods and premium ingredients with an award winning, nationally acclaimed chef? Awesomeness is what happens.

 

The founder of Good To-Go is Jennifer Scism, a name you may have seen on TV as she bested famed chef Mario Batali on the hit series, Iron Chef. She has also cooked in some of the country’s best restaurants including one with four stars to its credit. In short, she knows her way around a kitchen, and not just those adorned with stainless steel and a team of busied hands. Jennifer is also an avid backpacker and has cooked meals in the middle of nowhere, thus the impetus to start Good To-Go.

The current menu is admittedly small, but the four flavors are delicious, nutritionally balanced, and if you’re one of those who feel gluten is best avoided, they lack that ingredient, as well as any meat. Some of my favorite things to eat are vegetarians, but my carnivorous inclinations don’t mind the lack of meat. The flavor is there, the nutritional content is spot on, and if nothing else, these are simply good meals.

 

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One of the things I really like about the Good To-Go menu is that every flavor is available in one or two-serving portions. I’m not a huge eater, but the one serving portion is perfect for me. The meals also pack down quite small and can be consumed right out of the package reducing effort and water (no clean up). With regard to the quality of the meals, you’ll just have to see for yourself just how delicious they are. How Chef Scism managed to retain the nuanced flavors of each individual ingredient is remarkable. The Thai Curry has just the right bit of heat, a twinge of sourness to back the sweetness, and the crunch of the broccoli and cauliflower belies the fact this is a dehydrated meal. The chili truly does have a smokey essence and the risotto is leagues better than the crunchy rice meals from other brands. For meals on the go, you just can’t do any better.

 

 

goodto-go.com

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Combat Flip Flops – Manufacturing Peace Through Tradehttp://expeditionportal.com/combat-flip-flops-manufacturing-peace-through-trade/ http://expeditionportal.com/combat-flip-flops-manufacturing-peace-through-trade/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 07:21:19 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=26507 Adventure can take on different forms. Whether it’s riding deep pow at your favorite mountain, exploring new backcountry terrain with bow in hand, or starting a business, it’s all about perspective. And for me, all of these things represent adventure.

From 2003-2005, I deployed four times to Iraq and Afghanistan with 2d Ranger Battalion as a Company Fire Support Officer. In 2006, with the reality of a growing family, I separated from the military and continued to support the troops through other avenues. A few years later, my work with Remote Medical International took me back to Afghanistan where I had the opportunity to tour an Afghan-owned boot manufacturing facility that was producing for the Afghan National Army. There, I saw a factory worker had punched a flip flop thong through a combat boot sole and it sparked an idea. With military drawdowns, manufacturing at this facility was bound to slow down. Why not supplement that with flip flops? Who doesn’t love flip flops?

 

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Over the past 3 years, it’s been a wild ride. There’s no guide book for doing business in a war zone and we’ve had to do a lot of problem solving on the fly. But for all of the challenges we’ve encountered, it’s been far outweighed by the good we’ve been able to do.

Currently, we make flip flops in a facility in Bogota, Colombia, known for its high-end leathers and shoe construction (among other things); sarongs and shemaghs sewn at a women-owned factory in Kabul, Afghanistan where the purchase of one puts a woman in secondary school for a week; jewelry from unexploded ordnance (bombs) that was dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War, with each piece purchased clearing another 3 square meters of UXO; messenger bags sewn in Washington which helps keep Americans at work with the decrease in military orders; and our newest product, the Cashmagh scarf sourced from 100% Afghan cashmere, also putting woman in school with each purchase.

 

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Because of the support we’ve received from retailers, customers and media members, the sales of Combat Flip Flops gear in 2014:

  • Funded 3 years of school for Afghan girls through Aid Afghanistan for Education.
  • Cleared 600 square meters of land mines in Laos through MAG International.
  • Sent 1 Special Operations Forces medic on a deployment to Guatemala through Team-5, treating 250 local patients.
  • Enabled us to be a major contributor to a fundraising effort for The Station Foundation to raise $50,000 for SOF Family Transition programs.

In 2015, we’ve set ambitious goals: 

  • Put 52 Afghan girls in school for one year.
  • Clear 2000 square meters of land mines.
  • Deploy medics on 3 Team-5 remote medical missions.
  • Fund 1 Crossing for a Special Operations Family through The Station Foundation.

 

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Like most people, looking back, I can now see that many of my past experiences have groomed me to take on this latest challenge. It feels good knowing that there are other ways we can help those affected by conflict. By using our dollars and making deliberate purchasing decisions, we can support economic stability and education in conflict areas, which I believe, (and I think our customers would agree), will affect change and lead to stability in these tough areas.

In 2015, we’ll be adding new flip flops styles and I’m sure manufacturing more peace through trade with new products. We couldn’t do what we’re doing without all of the support from our community of retailers and customers, so thanks.

 

Business, Not Bullets,

 

Griff

 

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Click on the image below for more information about Combat Flip Flops.

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Combat Flip Flops makes far more than just stylish footwear. Their Claymore shoulder bag is perfect for travel or daily carry.

 

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Field Tested: Helle Odelhttp://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-helle-odel/ http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-helle-odel/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 15:23:30 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=26465 Up until last year, I would have never considered myself––a knife guy. Then I was handed a Helle knife and that all started to change. There was something elegant about it that harkened to another time and place, something I couldn’t pinpoint. It felt old and new at the same time.

After learning about the Helle brand I became an instant fan, and before I could find the first thing to part in two with its razor sharp edge, I was already thinking of which model I’d procure next. I am now a genuine knife guy, if only a Helle knife guy.

Helle was founded by brothers Steiner and Sigmund Helle on their farm in Holmeland, Norway in 1932. Surrounded by fjords and mountains, life in this part of Norway was, and still is, all about the outdoors where a good knife is central to a day of hunting, fishing, or just enjoying the wild landscapes of the North. The Helle brothers having an appreciation for good knives started making their own and selling them at the local markets. The popularity of their knives swelled and before long they moved production to a larger facility where they could meet the growing demand for their product. They’ve been making their knives in that location ever since.

 

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The hallmark of a Helle knife is the triple laminated stainless steel blade. The core is comprised of a hard alloy steel that holds an edge better than most metals. The outer stainless layers protect the core steel from rusting or breaking. The result is a knife blade with a stunningly beautiful appearance, but with the utility of a proper field knife. As the Helle craftsmen say, these are heirloom quality knives, but intended to be used.

 

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The Odel knife from Helle is my new favorite, and speaks to the level of artistry that defines these knives. The handle is masterfully crafted from curly birch, antler and leather. It is a sight to behold when paired to the stainless blade and leather sheath. Unlike many sheath knives, the Odel has a smaller size with the blade just under 4-inches in length. The handle has a nice rounded feel with a pronounced thumb guard. The 45 different manual operations that bring each Helle knife to life are evidenced in the Odel. It is elegantly refined, speaks to the outdoor legacy of life in Norway, and if I know myself at all, will not be my last Helle knife.  $135.00

 

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Five States, Five Trails, Five Dayshttp://expeditionportal.com/five-states-five-trails-five-days/ http://expeditionportal.com/five-states-five-trails-five-days/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 07:22:35 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=26473 Motorcycle riders and travelers have always been the superstars I have looked up to.  My father had me riding a 50cc Honda before he even removed the training wheels off my bicycle.  I fondly remember seeing groups of Harleys rumble through our little one stoplight on the highway town I grew up in.  Leather clad, black machines, with weather worn riders with knives dangling from their belts would glare over at me sitting shotgun in a Chevy Scottsdale pickup emblazoned with Fox Racing logos. These guys were cool.

Now being closer to a responsible grown adult, my kids look up to me with this same hunger in their eyes. The motorcycle is a transformational machine.  With a kiss from my three year old, I handed him his bag of donuts and Josh and I rambled down the driveway to embark on our mission; to ride our GSs to five different mountain bikes trails in five different states and do it all in five days.  The highways and gravel roads would be our companions for the majority of the daylight that lived in a day.  The mountain bikes would be our reprieve from the 70+ mile an hour windshield time that we lived between yellow empty gas lights flashing on our dash boards.

Josh rode a new GS 1200 that had all the bells and whistles one could imagine.  Cruise control electronically kept his bike at a consistent speed as he fiddled with his radio on his helmet.  Maybe Nirvana wasn’t cutting it, or maybe he was on the phone, but he looked at home behind the handlebar on that large machine.

I have never been a huge fan of liter bikes for dual sporting.  Maybe it is my affinity to dirt bikes, maybe it is me liking to jump the perfectly shaped drainage ditch on my commute to work, or maybe I just don’t want to spend the money.  My 2013 GS 800 has always been enough bike for me and remains nimble enough to get a little wilder off road when the calling happens.

 

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Pulling into the first gas station I knew right away we were onto something special.  A woman putting fuel into her Subaru noticed the bicycles suspended off the back of our road hogs.  Her excitement was contagious as she asked for us to have our pictures taken next to the bikes that perched upon our motorcycles. We off course obliged.  This would be the theme of every gas station along the way.  The conversations our bikes sparked encouraged people to that time long ago when they had a bmx bike that they jumped and crashed their way through childhood.  Or stories of a motorcycle trip that these individuals had taken in life that they have etched fondly in their souls.  People related to the journey we were on and the combination of motor bike and pedal bike made the differences between us as humans much less noticeable.

 

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Rain is a bitch.  No matter what you say it adds a level of complexity to motorcycle travel that is just a bear to overcome.  Highway speeds following a convoy of semi-trucks carrying empty tankers through North Dakota made the rain we encounter that much more complicated.  The highways are evenly covered with mud that was dragged from the side roads these diesel belching machines brought with them for the journey back to where they came from.  Slowing down was a must.

 

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The Maah Daah Hey trail on the border of North Dakota and Montana was the first stop and mountain biking destination on the trip.  A 26 mile reddish dirt road that had been recently graded and tamped down with the day’s rains guided us to our camp.  I ride TKC 80’s all year for this reason solely.  Letting the rear end dance a little in the corners made all that pavement worth the effort.  The colors from the sun that drained down into the landscape rinsed my soul and tightened the bond between Josh and me.

The mountain bike ride ended and the road trip to Sturgis began.  Hot sun, dry roads, and a more scenic journey led us to the Harley promise land.  The closer we got to our gated campground, the more motorcycles we encountered.  Strange looks and many thumbs up were directed our way as we passed folks with our bike on bike situations.  It also could have been our “space suits” that we were dressed in against the bikini clad ladies and shirtless men that clattered their way down the highways.  “Was this a good idea?” is the question that continued to repeat itself in my mind.

 

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We rolled into camp and the picture taking and storytelling continued just as before.  No one cared our bikes were made in Germany.  No one cared we wore “space suits” for riding gear.  Motorcycles were the common theme and we were all in one place to celebrate that.

I have actually owned a few Harley Davidson motorcycles in my day.  In 1999 I actually attended Sturgis on one.  Things have changed.  Many things have evolved.  I don’t know if it was the police pushing things out of town, if it was the bar owners figuring out how to live on the income of a month, or just the need for people to be able to park their enormous toy haulers and campers, but Sturgis felt more commercial than ever.  I don’t say that as a bad thing.  It actually was nice to go, park our bikes, and camp with a beer or two and to be able to do our own thing at our own time.  Meals, beers, and showers were all within our gates.  We were happy.  Well… until the town party goers came back to camp at all hours.  With their loud pipes announcing they were home.

 

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Day three’s mountain bike ride was just down the road 17 miles from where we stayed.  After another great ride with a little pushing, we headed south to Wyoming.  Curt Gowdy State Park houses some of the best single track we encountered on the entire trip.  The amenities were amazing with beautiful camping and hot showers close to the park gates.  Wyoming highways however brought a new level of pain to me.  Speed limits pushing past 80+ miles per hour blasted us through the state.  My wrist started to understand the real pleasure a cruise control could offer.  A sharp cramp developed in my forearm that radiated all the way up to my elbow.  Gripping was weak, and trying to control the throttle with my left hand was only attempted once before I realized just how bad of an idea that was at these speeds.  Or hell, any speed.

Coming from bikepacking, loading gear for the trip was easy.  The space two side bags gives you is amazing.  I added a duffel to the back just to keep my essentials in like clothes, TP, my tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, camp shoes, and a Jet Boil stove with a few dry meals.  The left side bag on the motorcycle consisted mostly of tools and tubes to change a flat or do on the road repairs.  Also a few lights for my helmet and for camping.  The right side kept all of my mountain biking gear.  Shorts, jersey, socks, shoes, helmet and hydration pack.  I kept a cable lock in my side bag to lock any loose gear to the bike that didn’t have a lock itself.  In more public areas that we had to leave our motorcycles, we actually took our duffels into the woods and locked them to trees that were well off the beaten path.  Josh had a two gas cans on his bike for the chance that I may have ran out of gas due to the size of my tank compared to his.  I relied on my iPhone for GPS and Josh used a Garmin.  It was nice to have both since one worked sometimes and the other worked other times.  The music however was a God send.

 

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The fourth day we awakened to horses neighing and folks getting ready to hit the trail.  We did the same.  This day was considered the tough one.  We had to ride 20 miles of single track in the morning, a ride on our motorcycles to Buffalo Creek, Colorado, and then another 20 miles of single track at night.  Big day!

In the middle of our ride to Buffalo Creek, we stopped in Fort Collins for a burger and cool refreshment.  Road 34 is a bike shop/restaurant that holds a fond spot in my heart so that is where we decided to refill our bellies.  While we waited for our burgers, I frantically called every BMW shop in the state looking for a cruise control.  Lakewood, CO just happened to have what I needed.

We left the shop and the rain continued down again.  Two hours to camp on wet and winding roads.  At this point I was a happy camper and pushed the bike to see what she could do in the rain.  Six miles down the muddy access mountain road was the official camp.  There were free camping spots all along this road that were completely filled with folks standing under tarps and hiding from the afternoon storm.  They cheered, they pointed, and they talked amongst themselves to the site of us soaked to the bone rolling through the mountain.

As we pulled into camp we also noticed the number of folks that occupied the campsites.  One pass through showed us no open spots.  Josh happened to see a smaller road and took off with fingers crossed to find us a spot.  One left!  We nabbed it and quickly started setting up a shelter to get us out of the rain.

 

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Not even 15 minutes later the sun peaked out and dried up all the rain.  I was scurrying to hit the trail but Josh wasn’t having it.  He wanted to sit and eat a little Backpackers Pantry dried dinners while taking a moment to relax.  I am not built that way but I obliged as I could sense the tension getting high.

We strapped headlights on our helmets and took off on our mountain bikes.  Footprints of wildlife kept our blood pumping and pace high.  All in a day’s work.

 

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The last day was upon us.  From west of Denver to central Kansas, we took off.  Having been born in Missouri, Kansas was always the flat and windy land that laid in the middle of the MO and CO borders.  However tucked away in Wilson Lake is a large number of mountain bike trails that do everything but stay flat.  The park ranger visited us with admiration of our journey and our set ups.

The ride was over and we were on the road to end in Kansas City, Missouri at Josh’s house.  A super moon light the four lanes of I-70 and made it a bitter sweet end to an amazing journey.

 

For more information on the mountain bike side of the trip please visit Salsa Cycles.

 

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Justin and Josh. Two fun havers.

 

About Justin Julian: I am lucky enough to be the General Manager of Salsa Cycles. I hail from central Missouri where the hills hide some of the most fascinating treasures. Moonshine being one of them, great singletrack being the second. Bikes have been an important part of my life from the ripe ol’ age of 3. I have raced, rode, crashed and enjoyed motorcycles for going on 34 years now. The bicycle has been a critical part of my motorcycle career (loosely used) in terms of training, enjoyment, rehab, and escape from the day to day. Both of these two-wheeled contraptions are the reason I exist. They are very much part of my life and being. Cycling and motorsports are also a strength and bond that connects my wife and two boys. Live to ride, ride to live!

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