Expedition Portal http://expeditionportal.com Fri, 02 Dec 2016 14:38:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Expedition Portal’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guide http://expeditionportal.com/expedition-portals-2016-holiday-gift-guide/ http://expeditionportal.com/expedition-portals-2016-holiday-gift-guide/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2016 07:45:46 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=45518 It’s time again to make your wish list. Over the course of the last year we have found dozens of items which we believe are perfect gifts for the overlander. From inspirational books to trusty camp tools and everything in between, there’s something for everyone.

Travel the Planet Overland, by Graeme and Luisa Bell, $45

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If you frequent Expedition Portal, you have likely read one of the many features penned by Graeme Bell and photographed by his wife, Luisa. Their family of four has been on the road for several years, their home in South Africa long since in the rearview mirror. With a few continents under their tires, they’ve written two books, the most recent is an encyclopedic edifier of all things overlanding. If you have ever thought about hitting the road but lack the inspiration or confidence to push through your front door, buy this book. It also keeps the Bell family rolling and we overlanders love to support our own. a2aexpedition.com  – CN


Primus Onja 2 Burner Stove, $140

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Can a stove look cool? If so, I’d say Primus’ new Onja is on the right track, but while the stylish design and cool leather accents are what caught my eye, it was the product’s quick setup and durable construction that made me fall in love with it. Unlike normal stoves which require you to attach and detach a gas bottle and regulator for each use, the Onja’s two fuel canisters can remain in place at all times, allowing the user to simply pull it out and light the burner. This makes quick lunches and road side coffee breaks a breeze, even in the chill of arctic conditions. The construction is simple and stout with nearly all metal components, and opening the stove automatically shields the burners from wind while widening the base for stability. As a bonus it includes a solid oak lid, which doubles as a cutting board for picnics and campouts. Although slightly more expensive than your standard two-burner, we feel the quality and simplicity are worth the price, and will keep you happy for years to come. primuscamping.com – Chris Cordes

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Stanley Vacuum Steel (Beer) Stein and Growler, $35, $50

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Stanley didn’t include it in the title, but I will. This is a beer stein. Put coffee in it if you want, but that would be as wrong as wearing cowboy boots with your lederhosen. The classic flip top of the Stanley Stein doesn’t just keep bugs out of your Kölsch, it seals tight enough with the cam-levered hasp to contain your brew without losing any carbonation. If you have a beer lover in your life, this will be the gift sensation of the year. The Growler is one of the best on the market, the handle large enough to actually fit–a hand. stanley-pmi.com – Christophe Noel


Hanwag Patoja Mid Gore-Tex, $200

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It’s never easy to find a pair of boots suitable for the modern overland traveler. A good pair has to be weatherproof, supportive, comfortable, and further complicationg the criteria, it doesn’t hurt if they look nice enough to wear to dinner. With nearly a century of boot making experience behind the classically designed Patoja, it’s the perfect travel stomper. Curiously light due to carefully chosen materials and construction techniques, these boots are as much at home walking miles into the mountains as they are trekking across a hotel lobby. hanwagboot.com – CN


Victorinox SwissTool XC Spirit Ratchet, $140

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Earlier in the year I set out to test a handful of the best multi-tools on the market for a review in the Fall issue of Overland Journal. My personal favorite, and the tool that sparked the review itself, is the top offering from the legendary Victorinox brand. Overused as the cliche is, it is impossible to deny the Swiss their dedication to precision. The XC Spirit is not just full featured with 38 individual functions, it is exquisitely crafted, right down to the top-grain leather case. If you need to replace that tired and ugly tool you’ve had for years, this is the one to ask for. victorinox.com – CN


Dometic CFX-50 Refrigerator/Freezer, $775

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A long time player in the RV and marine industries, Dometic is a lesser known brand in the overland world. That is changing rapidly. With an updated line of refrigerators and a renewed marketing focus aimed at the off-road touring crowd, you will likely see more of Dometic in the years to come. Over the summer I used their popular 50-liter fridge nearly every day while on the road or chilling brews at home. I’m still using it today and I’m quite impressed. Although it has a rather large footprint for its internal size, it has proven energy efficient, well insulated, and easy to use with a few features not found on other units. dometic.com -CN


MSR Guardian Water Purification System, $350

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Released earlier this year, the MSR Guardian is the most advanced water treatment system we have ever tested. Using their proprietary hollow fiber filter technology capable of removing all water-born pathogens including viruses, the Guardian is remarkably efficient and can produce 2.5-liters of water per minute. Best of all, the water mavens in the MSR lab devised a mechanism that cleans itself as it is being used. The replaceable filter element can treat up to 10,000 liters making it an ideal solution for groups large and small. Easy to service in the field and built to withstand the roughest abuses of the backcountry, this may be the last water purifier you ever need. Read our full review of the Guardian [here]. cascadedesigns.com -CN


BioLite PowerLight Mini, $45

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If I had to pick a favorite product of the year this would be it. Not to say I don’t appreciate a flashlight or own a drawer full of headlamps, but the PowerLight Mini is better than all of them––by far. Part lantern, part flashlight, it is also a portable power pack you can use to charge other handheld devices. The rechargeable battery provides up to 52 hours of light adjustable from a soft glow to 135 room-illuminating lumens. Slightly smaller than a deck of cards, it has a built-in stand, charge indicators, and well, you just need to own one to fully appreciate it. Or like me, own several. bioliteenergy.com – CN


Yeti Hopper Flip 12, $279

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We have been fans of Yeti’s growing line of soft coolers since the release of their original Hopper a few years ago. The latest addition to that collection is the cube-shaped Flip 12. With a new and improved lid format and space efficient shape, it’s sure to be a big hit. As they name implies, the new lid format, still secured with Yeti’s burly and waterproof zipper, allows the top to open wide for easy access. Sized perfectly to fit a 12-pack of cans with room to spare, the Flip has all of the exterior handles and lash points of its bigger siblings. With Yeti’s proven ice retention performance and bomber construction, this cooler will outlast most of its owners. yeti.com -CN


The Activity Group A260 First Aid Kit, $233

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While many overlanders get distracted by the latest LED light bar, it is the core equipment that is often neglected. Principal to this is a proper first aid kit and the training (WFA, WFR, W-EMT) to utilize it in the field. Forget the typical bandaid and aspirin plastic box and invest in a true wilderness trauma kit like the A260 from The Activity Group. Not cheap, but it has almost all of the critical contents required, including a tourniquet, XGauze dressings, nasopharyngeal, compression bandages, shears, gloves, etc. Personally, I would add a few meds like an antibiotic and an Epipen, along with a travel needle and IV kit (for those 3rd world hospitals). The kit is extremely compact and designed to be mounted via a MOLE tear-away panel (I prefer the back of the DS headrest). Made in the USA by theactivityusa.com


Nemo Equipment Nomad 30XL, $199

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The winner of our most recent sleeping pad review, this luxurious camp bed is a whopping 6-inches thick, 30-inches wide, and more than long enough for even the tallest sleepers. Perhaps best of all it has a built-in foot pump. Comfort is subjective, but I can’t imagine anyone not getting their 40 winks out of the Nomad. The vertical sidewalls and subtle baffle shape feel more like a bedroom mattress than a backcountry bunk, and as plush as it is, it packs into a small bundle for easy transport. Sleeping pads have become hot gift items this season and the Nomad is the one to beat. nemoequipment.com – CN


Frost River Voyageur Backpack, $250-280

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As travelers we all need a means to portage our stuff from point to point. Sure, you could do it in a pillow case, but you would miss out on owning a hand-crafted product made of premium waxed canvas, fine grain leather, and brass hardware. The Voyageur Backpack from Frost River is perfectly sized for all types of travel and works as well for sorties across town as it does bouncing in the back of a Defender or stuffed in the overhead bin on a long flight. The timeless styling and impeccable construction makes this one of those gifts that will likely transcend a generation or two. frostriver.com – CN

 


Bubba Rope Gator Jaw Soft Shackles, $40

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Vehicle recovery is dangerous business. The portent of broken components and the threat of injury or worse is very real. One potential hazard is a broken shackle. Bubba Rope’s Gator Jaw soft shackles are an unlikely solution to reducing the risk of failure and come with a host of other benefits not found in the common metal connectors. Not only are they lightweight and easy to use, they pack small and even float. More importantly, they have a 32,000-pound strength rating that is surprisingly stronger than most steel shackles. Who knew? bubbarope.com – CN


Hanz Waterproof Tap-Knit Touchscreen Glove, $45

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Wet hands are cold hands. Unfortunately, few gloves backed with waterproof claims deliver on that promise. The exception are gloves made by Hanz. Their 3-layer technology combines a proprietary stretch MVT waterproof membrane with a wicking liner and a knitted nylon/Spandex outer shell. The result is a thin yet warm layer that seals out moisture, all of it. Anti-slip dots on the palms and fingers provide a solid grip and bolster durability while the two primary fingers have been modified to work with touchscreen electronic devices. Unlike most waterproof gloves which are thick, rigid and awkward, Hanz gloves provide unimpeded dexterity and comfort. Made in the USA and pressure tested for waterproofness, these are the gloves to have for chilly and wet adventures. hanzusa.com – CN


Alpinestars Toucan Gore-Tex boots, $499

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The winner of our Overland Journal motorcycle boot review, Alpinestar’s top adventure model is still one of our favorites. It has a near perfect blend of touring aptitude with off-road appropriate armor. Providing ample protection against injury, the waterproof and breathable liner fends off the unpleasant weather that invariably intersects with any motorcycle tour. Slender enough to fit under most pants, they’re built with metal buckles, stitch-down outsoles, and top quality materials which ensure a long service life. For extended days in the saddle, they are surprisingly comfortable. Whether dragging a foot in a rowdy turn, or strolling across the cobbled streets of an Ecuadorian village, these are the boots to have. alpinestars.com  – CN


Tepui Expedition Gear Container, $190

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Best known for their line of high quality rooftop tents, many people overlook Tepui’s excellent line of Expedition Series storage bags like their massive Gear Container. Made of heavy polyester canvas coated with a thick synthetic resin, this soft-sided case is highly water and abrasion resistant. The large #10 zipper is placed at the upper edge of the sidewalls creating a lid that opens like a trunk, not like a bag. Adjustable dividers and zippered pockets keep things organized and the exterior is festooned with handles, lash points, and even a set of wheels for an easy portage. My Gear Container is always at the ready, filled to the brim with mountain bike gear ready for a ride at any moment. When a bag won’t do and a hard sided case is overkill, the Gear Container usually fits the bill perfectly. tepuitents.com -CN

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Midland X-TALKER Two-way Radios, $79

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When deep in the woods and beyond the reach of cellular service, two-way radios can be a very convenient tool. Not every traveler has the need for a far-reaching HAM radio system or cares to acquire the licensing required to use it. Midland’s inexpensive and easy to operate X-Talker radios provide superb clarity and useful features to keep your group connected. With 36 channels and 121 privacy codes, they also have NOAA alerts and weather scan information. mildandusa.com – CN


Eagle Creek ORV Trunk 36, $399

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With as much as our team travels, we have had ample opportunities to test all types of luggage. Maybe we’re prone to pack too much or we’re simply getting older, but shouldering huge duffels is no longer an attractive option. We are after all big advocates of wheeled things like Eagle Creek’s cavernous ORV 36 trunk. Known for years as the go-to brand for adventure travelers, Eagle Creek has made strong plays into the overlanding segment as evidenced by the predominance of exotic trucks pictured in their catalog and website. Not just a branding strategy, their rugged haulers are up to the task of our type of travel. On a recent trip to Alaska, I packed all of my camping and camera gear in the ORV 36 Trunk and loved its many unique features like an isolated waterproof compartment for my wet boots. The robust materials, large diameter wheels, reinforced zippers, wide handles, and multiple lash points were able to endure the worst baggage handlers, and me, an oft ham-fisted overlander.  eaglecreek.com – CN


Jetboil Genesis Base Camp System, $350

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Leave it to the forward thinkers at Jetboil to reinvent the two-burner stove. With a design carefully engineered to maximize storage space without compromising performance and usability, the Genesis Base Camp System is perfect for overland travel. The two burners connect via a robust hinge mechanism allowing them to fold together in a tight clamshell package. The stove then nests inside the large 5-liter pot. All of it, including a ceramic-coated fry pan, then slips into the heavy-duty nylon carrying case. Made of stainless-steel and aluminum, it is a high quality product and over the last summer earned a spot as one of our favorite new gear items of the year. Read our full review of this system [HERE]. jetboil.com -CN


Lightforce 180 LED Driving Lights, $405

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I’m going to go ahead and say it. Many LED lighting systems, particularly light bars, just don’t fit the aesthetics of some vehicles. Fortunately, Lightforce continues to produce up-to-date LED options for the round-light inclined. Their 7-inch lights, sold in pairs, combine 20 individual high quality CREE LED elements to provide flood and spot beams. As we have come to expect of the brand, they have an IP68 rating for waterproofing and impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses for front mount durability. lightforceusa.com


EnerPlex Kickr IV Solar Panel and Jumpr Stack 9 Battery Pack, $129, $119

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Travel long and far and eventually you will run out of the juice needed to power your many electrictronic toys. Keeping topped off is often a tricky prospect unless you can tap into the power of the sun. EnerPlex is a leader in solar technology with a series of flexible panels packaged in award-winning products. The Kickr IV panel generates 6 watts of electricity with direct USB charging access. When paired to the 9,400 mAh Jumpr Stack 9 battery pack, you have a charging station that can recharge most phones, tablets, and cameras multiple times on a single charge and indefinitely with dependable sunlight. I have used this combo all over the world with superb results and never leave home without it. enerplex.com – CN


Giant Loop Fuel Safe Bladder, $139-$169

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I remember the moment the engine cut out and I coasted to a stop under the pounding sun of Baja. Running out of fuel stinks, but so too do many of the available solutions for carrying reserve petrol. Regulations imposed on fuel containers are strict, but Giant Loop found a little latitude with those rules. The result is their one-gallon Fuel Safe Bladder, available as a stand alone or kit complete with attachment straps and filler spout. It would have served me well on my Mexican romp. Unlike hard sided containers, when not in use it rolls up into a small bundle. Robustly built with reinforced lash points, this is not a long term storage tank, but rather a convenient means of adding a little extra reach between gas stations.  giantloopmoto.com – CN


ARB Tire Pressure Monitoring System (External), $314

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Everyone is well aware of the importance of proper tire pressure, and we’re all guilty of not checking our inflation levels as frequently as we should. ARB has come to the rescue once again with their TPMS kit available as internal or external kits. The latter can be installed in less than 15 minutes. The compact display plugs into any 12V outlet and has several user-selectable audible alerts for low pressure, high heat, and sensor charge levels. The plug-and-play convenience is only bested by the accuracy, which by my tests, is spot on. arbusa.com -CN


Warn Heavy-Duty Epic Recovery Kit w/ Backpack 

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The Epic Recovery Kit is a brand-new product from off-road icon Warn Industries.  Available in a Medium Duty Kit intended for winches rated up to 12,000 lbs, and a Heavy-Duty Kit rated for winches up to 18,000 lbs, it is now easier than ever to choose the right tools for your needs. Each pack carries two forged ¾” Epic Shackles, an Epic tree trunk protector with forged end loops, an Epic snatch block, a WARN premium recovery strap, and Kevlar reinforced winching gloves. For resistance against wear and corrosion during extended field use, all the metal components have been finished with a heavy grey powder coat, which also happens to look seriously cool. The finishing touch is a modular backpack made from ballistic materials, which keeps your gear separated and organized reducing wear. – Chris Cordes warn.com

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Toy Run to Uncle Tom’s Cabin http://expeditionportal.com/toy-run-to-uncle-toms-cabin/ http://expeditionportal.com/toy-run-to-uncle-toms-cabin/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 08:41:42 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=45592 As Old Man Winter blankets fall color with fluffy crystalline flakes, our thoughts gravitate to snow runs, sipping coffee by a warm fire in a rustic mountain cabin, and for many of us, Christmas. If this vision finds you reaching for your keys and a thermos of steamy joe, we suggest you turn your wheels toward historic Georgetown, California, and join Overland Journal for the 3rd annual El Dorado Jeepherders Christmas Toy Drive. After dropping off toys at the Jeepers Jamboree headquarters, we’ll make our way up Wentworth Springs Road, the original route to the Rubicon Trail, through sleepy logging towns to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an iconic 150-year-old outpost from the Gold Rush. Once at Uncle Tom’s, the Jeepherders will be firing up a mountain-style barbeque and the morning will wrap up with a raffle.

Our Editor-in-Chief Chris Collard will be leading a group of overlanders from Auburn, California, up to Georgetown to join the trek to Uncle Tom’s. If conditions are right it will make for a great high Sierra snow run (make sure your rig is equipped with proper winter safety and recovery gear).

Date: December 10, 2016

Meeting place: Auburn California, McDonalds, 1-80, Foresthill Road exit

When: meet at 0700, depart at 0730

What to bring: new toy (minimum $5 value; with batteries if required), non-perishable food item (can or box)

Registration: Preregister or do it on site. Form link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-blG5k9GusNUWFET0pITDNfT3c/view

Communications: 151.625 (Weatherman)

Contact: chris@overlandinternational.com916-952-3630

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Kawasaki’s Versys-X 300 Might Just Be What Adventure Riding Needed http://expeditionportal.com/kawasakis-versys-x-300-might-just-be-what-adventure-riding-needed/ http://expeditionportal.com/kawasakis-versys-x-300-might-just-be-what-adventure-riding-needed/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 08:09:17 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=45635 If you’re looking to travel overland by motorcycle, the options have never been more plentiful, but they’ve never been more expensive either. And as the adventure segment continues to grow, the bikes also continue to grow. It’s not unusual to see a 500-pound unloaded machine with a seat height fit for only a giraffe gracing the Starbucks parking lot.

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With a huge segment of riders not skilled enough—or quite simply not tall enough—to handle the massively tall and heavy adventure bikes coming out these days, a lot of people have been left in the dust wondering when they’ll get a reasonable bike for them. Luckily, the last year has seen a variety of new small-displacement, lighter-weight bikes launched, details here. The latest is Kawasaski’s Versys-X 300 with a few common-sense features other smaller bikes lack.

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Reality is a hard pill to swallow, so let’s start off with a few thoughts. A lot of people can’t afford the bloated prices of new adventure bikes, and a many more might not place technical off-road capability as high on their list as you’d think—even if it looks great in the brochures. Kawasaki’s combination of a 19-inch front, and 17-inch rear spoked wheels perfectly mirrors this, giving riders the option to head down some rugged roads, without the hindrance of a larger front wheel when the road gets twisty.

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Kawasaki is careful to not call this an off-road bike, using the term ‘rough-road’ instead. I like that—it’s honest, and it sets the tone for the Versys-X. The problem is that through clever marketing, adventure riders have somehow convinced themselves they need a Dakar-ready bike to cruise down a dirt road or park in front of a taco shop in Guatemala. The best adventure bike in the world is the one you’re riding, and if you’re not on a caviar budget, the Versys-X 300 has the right ingredients to get you where you need to go.

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What I’m most excited about is Kawasaki’s use of their Ninja-derived 300CC parallel-twin engine. Small displacement bikes have long been plagued with a terrible case of the vibes on longer highway stretches. I’d argue this is one of the major things leading riders to larger, multi-cylinder bikes. The 300CC’s engine puts out 39 horsepower, only a couple fewer than Kawasaki’s proven thumper in the KLR650, all while weighing almost 60 pounds less. It’s even rumored to get upwards of 70MPG, and when you add in the 4.5 gallon tank, that equates to a range of roughly 300 miles. Impressive.

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It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Kawasaki the most-authentic adventure motorcycle brand on the market; and that’s using the term in the broader sense. They may not sell a model competitive to the likes of the biggest, baddest offerings from BMW, KTM, or Triumph, but Kawasaki has had the KLR650 in their stable since the 1980s, enough said. If you want a reliable, affordable, cheap-to-maintain motorcycle to ride to the Southernmost tip of South America, the KLR650 has always been the logical choice.

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The Versys-X 300 has the chance to continue the spirit of the iconic KLR650 for a new generation of motorcyclists who value their time on the rugged backroads of parts unknown as much as available conveniences like ABS. It continues Kawasaki’s trend of accessible, down-to-earth adventure bikes. It has the right functional look, hard-case panniers, and there’s even an available factory crash bar with fog lights. The biggest thing going against it will be the three numbers at the end of its own name—300.

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Finding Adventure with Defenders, Snowboards, and Sailboats http://expeditionportal.com/finding-adventure-with-defenders-snowboards-and-sailboats/ http://expeditionportal.com/finding-adventure-with-defenders-snowboards-and-sailboats/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 13:00:11 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=45583 As four-wheel drive enthusiasts, we tend to focus on the vehicle aspects of overlanding most. We review various accessories, discuss the merits of different trucks and suv’s, and of course showcase some the many great trails you can take them on, but not every adventure should confined to the driver’s seat. It’s important to remember that getting out and experiencing the world around you is the most important part of any trip, and you should seek out new experiences whenever possible. In Forrest Shearer’s case, that meant driving, sailing, surfing, and snowboarding in one of the few places on earth that has all four, Iceland.

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Overland Alaska: Whitehorse, Skagway and the Rush for Gold http://expeditionportal.com/overland-alaska-whitehorse-skagway-and-the-rush-for-gold/ http://expeditionportal.com/overland-alaska-whitehorse-skagway-and-the-rush-for-gold/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 07:01:10 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=44596 Overlanders often say, it’s about the journey, not the destination. I’m here to say, that is not always true. Ask many overlanders headed to Alaska where they are going and they’ll often say with squinty eyes and a determined smile, “Deadhorse.” Query them why, and they’ll reply with less confidence, “Well, because it’s way up there.” Indeed it is. As far north as one can drive, and if not for its unique geography no one would bother to go there.

I’m not saying that isn’t a compelling reason to embark on such journeys. The ends of the Earth have an irresistible allure, the kind of power that has sparked many an epic odyssey. Those same overlanders, in a fevered dash to get to Alaska’s northernmost point, speed right by a place known for one of the last great overland adventures of the modern era––Skagway and the Klondike Gold Rush.

 

There was a time in our history when simple survival was exciting enough. As the early days of the Industrial Age got underway, our lives became less perilous, more predictable, and even a bit mundane. By the year 1897, most men itching for adventure had missed out on the wildest days of the West, the California Gold Rush, and the big grab for free land in Oklahoma. When news arrived that fat nuggets of gold had been found in the Canadian Klondike, and that it was free for the taking for any man brave enough to go and get it, the race was on.

Like many of us today with a penchant for adventure, the men headed to strike it rich in the Yukon where not all scruffy prospectors. Many if not most, were normal citizens and a few like John W. Nordstrom, were already successful. They just wanted to participate in the last great boondoggle of the modern era and gold was reason enough to pack a bag.

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The summit of the White Pass leading from Whitehorse to Skagway offers endless vistas. It is a beautiful road worth the drive all by itself.

 

For the overlander headed to the Alaskan interior, the town of Whitehorse in the Canadian Yukon is a landmark stop. Not just because it offers the conveniences of a small modern city, but because it sits on the banks of the mighty Yukon River, one of the key players in the Klondike story. Just south of Whitehorse is the town of Carcross and further beyond, Skagway, two more historic sites in the Gold Rush narrative. Although only two hours south of Whitehorse, few bother to make the trip off the Alcan, which is a pity if adventure is the name of the game.

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It is true, today’s Skagway is hardly the same boomtown it was in 1898 when thousands of gold seekers flooded its muddy streets. Not to say the boom has gone bust. Despite a small population of just 1,000 people, Skagway is the fifth busiest cruise ship port in the world. Arrive there on a summer’s day with five full-size ships tied to the docks and you’ll have to weave your way through as many as 10,000 bobble-headed tourists. If like us, you roll into town in early October, long after the ships have sailed and the seasonal workers sent home, you’ll discover a quiet and serene little community, one steeped in rich history.

Fall is my favorite time of the year in Skagway, a town I once called home for a few years. The autumn colors are in full glow, winter’s chill has yet to take hold, and the forest retains enough verdant green to keep things lush and colorful. Our first stop during our visit, and one everyone should make, was to the tidal flats of Dyea located just seven miles away. Dyea was a popular off-loading area for gold stampeders, a place now reclaimed by nature. The site of a bustling tent city during the Gold Rush, one choked with tens of thousands of people, it is now peaceful and placid. There are still a few vestiges left from the Klondike days, namely a small cemetery and a few scraps of old buildings, but it has largely been returned to its natural state. For the traveler passing through, Dyea also has two large campgrounds managed by the Klondike National Park service.

After a short tour of Dyea, and like most visitors to the area, we settled into our chairs at a local watering hole to sample local beers and get our fill of fish and chips, a stalwart offering in the state. Skagway in the fall doesn’t have a lot of distractions, or much to do, so we took the opportunity to unwind from long hours in the truck with a casual walk around town and a lengthy hike in the forest.

There is no substitute for a long walk in the woods. It lends perspective and scale to a landscape that seems impossibly large and infinitely small all at the same time. A consummate tree hugger and nature lover, my eyes were constantly drawn to the immensity of the mountains and then to the minuscule features of tiny plants, mosses, and lichens. We were glad we resisted the temptation to keep driving onward, ever further, and slowed down long enough to see Skagway with our own eyes and not through the dirty glass of a windscreen.

Skagway is many things to many people these days. A portal to riches and adventures more than a century ago, today it is either a busy tourist trap or a quaint Gold Rush era town. Much depends on the time of year you visit. Even in the height of summer, it is a worthy destination and it’s fun to think of how many brave men and women made the journey north, all in the name of big adventure. – CN

 

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The Red Onion Saloon is an important part of the town of Skagway. Build during the peak of the Gold Rush in 1898, it is still in operation today, as popular as it was back then. With it’s noticeable list to one side, the building leans just as the patrons do after several cold beers.

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The temporary port of Dyea in 1898 looks remarkably different today although the pilings for one of the original docks is still evident. (below)

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You’ll have to forgive my pushy opinion, but if you go to Alaska and you don’t spend considerable time walking in the woods––you’re doing it wrong. What lies beyond the road is often a scene ripped from the pages of a fairy tale. 

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Size and scale are lost on this image. This mushroom, still clinging to the last days of autumn, was the size of a dinner plate. The forest in Skagway is part of the 35,000 square mile Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rain forest in the world. Lush and alive, it was a welcome change for our group of high desert dwellers.

 

Skagway and the Klondike Gold Rush

It was the last great overland adventure of the modern era.

Shortly after George Carmack and his partner Skookum Jim found gold on their claim on Rabbit Creek in 1896, the news made its way of the discovery to Seattle and beyond. Headlines went wild with embellished tales of hillsides littered with gold free for the taking. Within months more than 100,000 stampeders were headed to Skagway on steamers. It’s impossible to know if many of them knew what they were getting into, but Skagway would be just the first in a long series of points on the map they would have to attain. Once offloaded in Skagway, or the neighboring inlet just over the hill at Dyea, the Klondikers would begin the real work of traveling 500 miles to the gold fields in the interior.

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Referred to as “The Golden Staircase” an image still depicted on the vehicle license plates for the state of Alaska, it was the final stretch on the arduous Chilkoot Trail. Tens of thousands of hopeful gold seekers made the climb multiple times as they ferried their ton of goods into the mountains and onto the Klondike. For most, gold was not the motivation to make the journey. The prospect of adventure itself as the main reason people went into the Klondike.

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Before the stampeders could strike it rich, they first had to walk 30 miles up and over the now infamous Chilkoot Trail. Making that challenge more imposing, the Canadian Mounties atop the pass on the border mandated that every person entering the Canadian territory have with them all the necessary supplies required to survive a winter in the north. That list of supplies was a very specific inventory that included everything from nails, rope, and wool socks, to bacon, blankets and coffee. In total, it weighed 2,000 pounds and was forever known as the required, Ton of Goods.

Once the stampeders ascended the Chilkoot Trail with their supplies, a feat that took months to achieve, they then had to descend the other side, build a boat, take that boat down a network of rivers and lakes, eventually arriving at the gold fields. In most cases, that was adventure enough and a vast majority of the stampeders headed home, no gold to cash in, but a great tale to tell.

 

Today, the town of Skagway and neighboring Dyea, are part of the Klondike National Park. The Chilkoot Trail is still a popular hiking destination frequented by thousands of visitors every year.

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Unmistakeable as a waterfront town, the small boat harbor was at peaceful rest during our visit. Nothing save for the extended docks in the distance suggested this tiny hamlet had the capacity to host hundreds of thousands of cruise ship passengers each season.

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With only one side road leading out of town to the tidal flats of Dyea, there aren’t many places to drive to. The one gravel road did give us an opportunity to spot harbor seals, eagles, a sea otter, and a surprisingly large number of jellyfish on the water’s surface.

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In the summer months the century old White Pass narrow gauge railway is a popular attraction. It does offer spectacular views of the White Pass and a fun peak into the history of the area.

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During the peak years of the Gold Rush, the White Pass railroad was constructed to carry stampeders into the Yukon. Unfortunately, as quickly as the railroad was built, it wasn’t completed in time to serve the gold rushers. Today the narrow gauge railroad makes unimaginable revenue portaging tens of thousands of cruise ship tourists to the top of the White Pass, just 20 miles from town. It is a beautiful trip and worth doing. 

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Colossal 2016 http://expeditionportal.com/colossal-2016/ http://expeditionportal.com/colossal-2016/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2016 08:00:53 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=45258 There are 4 different weather websites that I frequent to obtain the most accurate prediction of the skies before heading out on a journey. Not that one has proven to be more accurate than the others, but somehow I seem to favor the one showing signs of clearer skies. As if 3 of the 4 predictions are wrong and there really is a glimpse of sunlight to be had for Colossal 2016. It’s something I can irrationally average in my head to make it seem like it’s going to be better than I know it is. The mind is funny that way, always trying to outsmart itself and I’m just along for the ride. Regardless, the forecast wasn’t looking too(very) dry and I was worried that Colossal 2016 would be an epic, wet, soggy bust.

All mental averaging aside, this year’s destination resided in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia around some of the most remote mining territory of(from the) late 18th Century. A region quite familiar to me having grown up in the stunning Kootenay valley of Nelson, BC. It’s an area I often encourage my Alberta counterparts to explore on their own time, knowing what a gem it truly is – the natural beauty, the culture, and the peacefulness. Colossal has been happening for 6 years now, although officially dubbed last year, and it felt right to bring it home. It’s the last camping trip of the year. The last weekend to fold out the RTT’s and sleep in the fresh air. The last glimpse of fall before we are forced into hibernation (or ski season!) for the year. But, most of all, I think of it as the last escape – leaving work stress and deadlines behind it’s an excuse to get as deep into the backcountry as possible, disconnecting from our modern world using our trusty Toy’s.

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Departure day had arrived. This year would be slightly different – full travel disclosure and locations would not be granted prior to departure. Not sure why I chose to do this and realistically it’s something I still would like feedback on. I guess in my eyes; I see the unknown as the necessity of adventure. Not actually knowing where we would be travelling to in the weeks of anticipation prior to this day seemed like a novelty I was willing to enforce.

Emails, phone calls, face-to-face meetings, and text messages had been exchanged for weeks pertaining to vehicle preparation but no details were given on the primary location. Included(mandatory) vehicle and camping requirements had us all bustling to prepare our trucks in time for the trip. (Ask me how much sleep Jeff and I got the night before departure…) Wipers on full, I headed for the rendezvous point just outside of Calgary to gather with the group. Greetings exchanged and the clock ticking we hit HWY 1 Westbound for Revelstoke, BC.

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The drive flew buy as chatter on the radio kept boredom at bay and the od(d) hooning stint kept us alert. 10pm passes the Rogers Pass avalanche tunnels with 14 Toyotas sure brings a sense of calm, or was it abruptly loud RPM bouncing acoustics? One of the two. A pit-stop in Revy for fuel and a few choice words with(from) an enthusiastic member of the local Tinder population and we were bound for camp.

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We rolled in late with the rain still trickling over our windshields. It looked like my optimistic forecasting method wasn’t working out so well. Regardless, the group was all smiles as we rolled into our large campsite around 11:30pm. Nothing but turning birch trees, the scent of wet pine, and a backdrop of darkness to set our eyes on. Camp quickly deployed and out came the awnings and beverages to help keep us dry/warm. We had an early start to get to our final destination within a reasonable hour the next day, but without a warm dry bed this night, we figured a night-cap was the least we could do.

Waking up the next morning was easy – simply rely on your fellow travel companions to alert you of sunrise via the gentle and rhythmic panging of camp cookware as they prepare a breakfast feast for sunrise. All sarcasm aside, the view from our campsite made an early morning justifiable. What was a blanket of darkness the night before appeared to be an epic view of Upper Arrow lake from our campsite. A pebble beach and large moss covered rock bluffs sank into the clear waters of the lake.

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Low lying clouds wrapped our company as we took in the mysterious views and prepared for departure. We shook the water off our tents as best we could, folded up camp, and raced towards Galena Bay to catch the 9am ferry crossing. Cutting it close for time we made forward progress at speeds suited for smooth pavement; not bumpy, rutted, narrow, gravel logging access roads! Our group eagerly drove up to the ferry gate as the first cars in line were already boarding. Arriving a moment later and we would have (been a moment too late)missed the ferry!

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Our group made form and rolled onto the D.E.V Galena as onlookers pointed at the posse of modified Toyotas. The stern deck raised and we started our journey east across Upper Arrow Lake.

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The calm waters and peaceful 20min ferry ride allowed us all to stretch our legs and finish our morning coffee. As we sailed East, the sun’s rays began to burn off the blanket of cloud, illuminating the basin with dramatic visuals. Anticipation was growing in the group, as they still did not know where we were going. Soon I would reveal the area of interest, but first I pulled out the map and reviewed our route once on the opposite shore, towards one of the area’s great mining boom towns of the late 1800’s.

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Day 2

The ferry bumped the dock on the opposite shore as the convoy of Toyota’s turned over. The journey quickly turned North once off the ferry onto the desolate highway. Not a single car in either direction as we made the 30 min journey along the mountain’s base to the silver boomtown. Asphalt quickly turned to gravel, leaving us some good tack for more hooning with the still-damp road winding in front of us. It was if God himself had preserved this road specifically for our travel – the smoothest, non-rutted, assortment of earth particulates that I have yet to travel.

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After enjoying a combination of scenery and pure driving pleasure, we pulled over for a brief driver’s meeting before dropping into the small village. Relics of the long past mining era were visible in all directions: small log huts from the turn of the century and rusted mechanical equipment resided in the awkward mix of more modern amenities. The old western-style hotel looked like it belonged on a movie set for Hollywood’s next great western. Raised home foundations, tin roofs, and the scent of wood burning stoves made the remote location and (an inevitably) abundant winter snowfall evident.

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The jewel of the town though was the functioning gravity-fed glass gas pump. Our crew rolled up to the pump as the owner looked in surprise down the line of heavily modified Toyotas. I believe he may have met his monthly fuel quota after topping up all of the thirsty rigs. We took turns watching the owner hand pump the fuel from the main tank and up into the glass holding cylinder, before gravity feeding back down to the truck. Now topped up with fuel, we hit the road and headed up to the proposed trail location.

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The road was supposed to wind high up into one of the neighboring mountain ranges, giving us some exceptional views of the surrounding granite peaks. This area is known for not only it’s rich mineral resources, but also its massive granite spires. Unfortunately, the area is known particularly for its ATV trails, not necessarily 4×4 trails. Something that would pose as a challenge for the entire trip ahead.

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The optimism we felt with the sun shining on us during our earlier ferry ride began to fade. Rain clouds had embraced the landscape and it was now raining heavily as we navigated up the road. Many branches of trail headed off in all directions. Even though I had a map in front of me, I had the group led into several dead ends before stumbling on to what looked like a promising lead. It was a fairly tight and rocky trail that appeared to lead up in the direction of our final destination.

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About 5 minutes after entering the track, I pulled around a corner and was confronted by a Ford F350 with a camper over the box. A man stood outside of the cab, looking into the interior. It was pouring rain and as we approached, the man’s line of sight did not falter. I looked at my co-pilot with a “WTF” look on my face. After about 10 seconds of us sitting there awkwardly in the truck, the man turned and saw us, looking startled. I rolled my window down and said hello with a smile to help initiate friendly conversation and break the ice. I asked if he’d been up the trail before and he responded “Ya…..” Again, more awkwardness. I then asked, “Is this the [xxxxx] trail?” The man answered “No….” before starting to walk towards the cab of my truck. He obviously wasn’t too keen on sharing any information with us which made the situation feel rather uncomfortable as he approached. With no filter, the man came right up to the truck and asked what we were doing up here. A little on the defensive, I responded politely (like a Canadian would) hoping to ease the situation but almost ready to make an evasive maneuver if it became necessary. Somewhere in the awkward dialogue that came next he glanced back and saw the line of Toyotas behind #Doug. He instantly came around and smiled, asking “Are you guys a Toyota club?!?!” “Sort of” I said “we are just up here doing some 4×4 exploration in the area and looking for a specific trail.” He was suddenly relieved and excited all at the same time. “I have a gold claim up here” he said “I thought you guys were trying to poach my claim.” My co-pilot and I laughed to ease the tension and we chatted shop with him for a few moments before he turned us around to what he thought was the trail we were after. He asked if he could grab a photo of the group as we left and we obliged. We started to scale the trail in the new direction. As I looked out the window the man was flying down the bumpy logging road that we had just departed, his camper barely hanging onto the truck. He stopped and ran up the bank, nearly slipping several times, to reach a bluff where he pulled out (the very first cell phone with a built in camera) his 1990’s cell phone and began snapping photos of our posse. No harm done, but I still wonder what he was up to and am not really confident in the legitimacy of his story. I can honestly say I’ve never met a man who was able to use the F-bomb with such enthusiasm. Maybe he was afraid of us stumbling onto something he didn’t want us to find? Like Canada’s largest maple syrup conglomerate or the super-secret Canadian bacon factory, or our Prime Minister taking selfies? I’ll let you decide.

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We carried on for a while, again finding out we were on the wrong trail. Getting slightly frustrated as it was well past noon, we put some of the puzzle pieces together and started to make progress again on a new track. The trail was progressively tight and overgrown. It became an exercise of self-control as to not let the sounds of branches clawing at the paint bother us. Having a white truck, it’s not so bad, but I truly felt sorry for some of the members with darker colored paint, and newer rigs. Everyone took it well though, hoping that a good power polish would take care of the mangled clearcoat.

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The trail continued to rise in elevation but we were eventually pinched off – again reminding me that this area was known for ATV trails not 4×4. Luckily, we were stopped in an area that was easy for us to turn around and the low lying opening we sat in showed spectacular views of the surrounding mountain peaks. Larch trees provided beautiful orange contrast to the familiar green pines. The rock peaks had been lightly dusted with snow, providing even more contrast to the scene.

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It was truly beautiful and made it easy for us to justify a flight with the drone while we ate a late lunch. We captured some unbelievable footage while flying our drone, “Goose”. A small mishap led to a 3rd Gen T4R with a smashed rear window and a dented tailgate and somewhere in the mix another 4Runner with a flat tire. The day was truly becoming a test of our patience and perseverance. With full stomachs we thought it best to make for camp and attempt a good fire to turn our spirits.

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The descent was uneventful; everyone just wanted to get back through the gauntlet of branches as quickly as possible. The rain had subsided but the clouds still congested us so we just pushed hard for camp. Once back into town, we had a half hour jog along the lake’s edge. More high speed gravel and we hit the primary destination for the night.

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The crew crossed the short wooden bridge before spotting our campsite: a large clearing both on the shore of the lake and tributary. The rain was now coming down hard and camp was deployed in record time. The campsite was great other than the lack of thick coniferous to keep us sheltered. Fortunately for us though, there was one old growth cedar which had a firm grasp on one corner of the campsite. It must have been 4’ across at the trunk. Its branches dominated the airspace and also provided us with a 15’ canopy of shelter that kept the rain almost at bay. A large fire was ignited under the natural shelter. Laughter, craft beer, and the flame’s warmth began to bring us all back from the dead. One by one we retired as the long day took it’s hold and we climbed to our elevated shelters.

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The weather was out of my control, and I had accepted that… but it’s still hard not to feel responsible for what, in my opinion, were shortcomings of the journey so far. Weeks of planning, coordination, and genuine commitment from all the attendees; there is always a slight amount of pressure to deliver on the promise of epic views and adventure. Despite the group being some of the (most) positive and happy individuals I could ask for, I still lay in bed praying for clearer skies and wider trails.

 

Day 3

I slept like a rock. A rock that woke up feeling like it had fallen from the top of the mountain and broken into a million pieces. I had a headache and some serious brainfog, although I’m not specifically sure which beverage caused it.  Too much sugar from all that Tropicana we were passing around most likely.

I crawled down the ladder of my RTT to find the ground still wet under my feet. After rubbing my eyes to rid the sleep that still plagued them, I was surprised to find the campsite engulfed in a blanket of fog. Although not the dry and warm campsite I dreamt of, this was definitely an improvement. I hustled to Doug’s tailgate and began prepping breakfast and a much needed press of Stumptown’s finest roast. Within the hour, the veil of fog had begun to dissipate revealing nothing but the pure blue sky above. As we packed up camp, Chase and Peter of the Tamarack crew, grabbed the drone for a few rounds of the lake and campsite. Our damp tents and accommodations stayed out until the end to let the natural warmth of the sun do its work and dry our gear. While it magically worked, we walked to the bridge near the camps entrance to check out some of the freshwater salmon who were spawning below. Looking onward, the lake was like glass, displaying duplicates of the surrounding natural contours in its reflection.

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After a few more rounds of photos and a sketchy flight of the drone under the low hanging bridge, we scurried back to camp to clean up our now dry tents. The day was looking promising indeed.

Several members were forced to depart at this time. Due to it being a Sunday and not able to sneak an extra day away from the office, they had to head home to be back for the Monday morning grind. Regretfully we said goodbye, feeling truly bummed they would miss this sunny day in the ‘Koots’. The remainder turned focus to the task at hand: more high elevation exploration. We were within 5kms of another local trail that has been documented to climb to some of the most amazing glacial till and ice in the region. The variable again was if our trucks were too fat for the challenge.

We quickly found the trailhead and climbed what was definitely the right trail – a small sense of affirmation after the multiple turn-arounds the day before. We carried on at a good pace, following the river’s edge while gaining elevation only slightly. The clouds remained at bay as we progressed further into the valley. A couple tight sections left for some interesting maneuvers to avoid falling into the river, but it was nothing to keep us discouraged.

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We hit our first obstacle about 30 mins up the trail where it had narrowed and then a portion of the perpendicular bank had sluffed across the trail with a few accompanying stumps. I made a quick effort with the rear locker engaged but found the passing too narrow with the Tundra’s wide girth. The good news with me upfront, is that if my truck can make it, then anyone can behind me. Instead of risking the narrow crossing, we opted for the smart choice of a little manual labor to clear the washout and widen the path. We made quick work of the dirt and only struggled slightly with the haggard roots against our axes. With a quick spot to ensure I didn’t take a tree root through the passenger door, I was through and carrying on up the trail with the rest of the group following closely behind.

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We pushed onward, soon discovering the next washout in our path. This one significantly larger, steeper, and less stable. We scouted the area for a bypass but to no avail.

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We were on the right trail but even after attempting a little dirt work, we made the wise group decision to bow down in favor of well… not dying. This was a difficult decision; we were getting shut down again to what would surely be some of the most amazing views imaginable. It gnawed at me to walk away without a clear victory but it was the right decision.

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We quickly back-tracked down to the trailhead as I tried to clear my head and come up with an alternate plan to salvage the rest of the day. As the last truck rolled back onto the smooth gravel connector, we stuffed our faces with some grub and aired up. I knew the area better than most, but thought this time I was going to play the odds.

There was a trail I had done before within a 45 min drive. It had proven views and a couple challenges on the way up, but I had only attempted the trail in the summer. At an elevation over 10,000 ft and it being the first weekend in October, we were definitely pushing our luck in terms of weather and snow. Regardless, it was our best shot and I knew it could be completed, given good conditions, in about 4 hours round-trip. It was about 2:30 as we headed for the trailhead.

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With the hammer down, our crew reached the base of the mountain and turned the tires upward. The ascent was slow and tedious with constant washouts eliminating any constant forward momentum. It was late afternoon and the sun was still shining. I felt refreshed and positive that we would reach the top – I was even thinking we might be able to catch the sunset from the lookout. Switch back after switchback we climbed in tight formation. The views increasing in beauty with each bend.

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The trail narrowed and got more technical but our progress didn’t falter. This particular climb seems to never end. The dank forest grew more fluorescent as the green moss covered an increasing amount of surface area. Temps were dropping quickly and suddenly I had a nervous feeling in my gut.

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Still running lead, I was the first to round one of the switchbacks and be confronted with our first dose of the white stuff. It quickly stopped me in my tracks with my tire pressure still at ~23psi. Out came the deflators and another 13 psi from each corner. The ARB compressor breathed some life into my rear differential and Doug clawed up the snowy switchback. Everyone else followed suite and we continued to climb against the resistance of a growing volume of snow. Somewhere along the line, the switchbacks became so steep and tight that it was hard to make the corners in a single pass. This effort combined with the need for momentum in the deep snow meant we needed to tackle each rise one truck at a time. Sliding backwards down each section of climb were possible so we needed to keep our spacing should something, unfortunately, go wrong. I made a few switchbacks before radioing down for the next member to start climbing before continuing onward.

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The next climb rose steeply infront of me but this climb was also longer than the rest. I kept the rear end locked and encouraged more speed. The Toyo’s fought their way up the slope and by the time I had reached the switchback (which luckily had enough space for 3 or 4 trucks to fit and stage for the next ascent) I had lost almost all traction and momentum. I rolled over the lip of the hill with a deep exhale as my co-pilot expressed his concern for his life (lol). Sliding backwards would be devastating, but any lateral movement would have us skidding right off the side of the mountain. I quickly turned around in the space at the switchback to hear David’s 80-series winding-out as it clawed up the incline. I hand-gestured “more speed, more speed…” until he had rolled over the safety net and into the parking space. We quickly got on the radio and advised the next member to also keep his speed up and not to let off until he had crested the top. Dave and I then stepped aside for a brief discussion regarding the next plan of action.

After our pulses slowed enough to normalize, we looked north to see the view we had been searching for. The sun was just setting and we could see the peaks of dozens of the Purcell’s finest mountains glowing against the sun’s setting rays. It was literally magical.

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The sky began to turn shades of orange and pink with the contrasting Larch trees and snowy peaks. We admittedly got lost in the view until we heard the hum of my father’s Tacoma coming up next. We quickly realized we were about to run out of room on this incline to park more rigs and that stopping mid-hill would only result in disaster. One of us grabbed the radio while the other encouraged my father up safely to the top of this rise. We were nearly pinned now. The sun was setting and temperatures were about to quickly drop off, leaving the wet snow that we had just fought to come up, turning into a sheet of ice for the ride back down. Continuing up the next switchback was possible but it really wouldn’t help us get back down safely. By the time we had confirmed radio communication back down to the rest of the group, we had one more 4Runner squeezed at the top.

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Even though only half of us had made it to the viewpoint, we had to share this victory with the whole group. The rest of the group below was encouraged to find a safe place to park on the trail and quickly hike up to see the last remnants of the sun before it set. Within 10 minutes the whole group panted on the ledge looking out over the spectacular view. The fare was worth the price. Quickly reality set in and now we really had to get back down. And get back down quickly before the tracks froze.

 

Day 4

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The walkers departed in a group to work through the challenge of turning all the rigs around that they had left parked below, while the rest of us planned the best course of action for our descent. We busted out the shovels and broke notches into the snow that revealed the dirt surface below. This would allow some braking traction as we started the steepest initial part of the descent, in an effort to maintain control and not lock up the brakes. A mix of anticipation and nervousness filled the air. The consequences were quite dire if the vehicle were to lose control and slide down the track – trees on driver’s left, and mountain’s edge to the right.

There are usually a small handful of moments on these outings that define the trip. Moments that become memories and stories to tell our friends as we grow older and cherish our life’s experiences. This was definitely one of those moments and even the most experienced drivers could not deny the magnitude of this obstacle. Mark was the first to descend in his low and wide 3rd Gen 4Runner. I observed him scrubbing speed just enough to not lock up the brakes. He did it with great finesse but every few feet we witnessed the tail of his rig getting excited and stepping to the side. Like a real pro he jabbed the gas pedal to catch the wheel speed up to that of gravity’s request, which would allow him to again gain control. Within a couple dozen seconds (seconds that felt like minutes) he was out of sight, around the next switchback. His example only proved that it was quickly getting sketchy. We shovelled a bit more as my old man expressed his nervousness and lack of experience with these kind of maneuvers. We engaged in a technical discussion and I urged him to remain calm at all costs. “Your better to go too fast down the hill and let your gearing do the work, than to panic and hold the brakes. It’s just like sledding when you were a kid”, I said as a jest. My brother hiked up at that very moment. Chase is a nurse who works with an outreach association who deals with addicts and the homeless population on the streets of Calgary. His experience and leadership in tense and critical situations was welcomed at that moment and he quickly volunteered to coach my father down. Chase sat on the edge of the trail out of harm’s way as he walked alongside my father in his 02’ Tacoma. Not being able to hear their conversation, I could only imagine the tension that was there. With only a few ‘butt-pucker moments’ they had successfully made it through the hardest part and were continuing on. I was up next. Seeing my Dad slip around a little did not help my confidence but I still had a good handle on the driving dynamics in this type of situation. Not to mention, this is where the lower gearing really shines! I kept the truck in Low and modulated the brakes. After doing a bite-test, I quickly found the limits of my traction. Luckily for me, the 4.56 Nitro gears allowed for the perfect wheel speed to enable traction without going rogue. I was able to make the descent with very minimal braking effort and Doug tracked down the mountain perfectly. Back on the radio behind me, I could hear things getting a little dicey as one of the factory geared 4Runner slipped its way down. Adam, on his first Colossal trip this year, handled the adversity like a pro and kept his cool. He managed to navigate his near-new 5th Gen down the slope without incident. Now in pitch darkness we radioed down to chat with the group who had hiked up the trail. They were all turned around after some tricky trail maneuvers. We urged them to head down to the trailhead and then proceed into the location I had designated for tonight’s camp. They obliged and headed down at their own pace as our second group stayed within radio range and slowly picked our way back down the mountainside. My brother Chase, who had helped coach my father down had now stood on the side of the trail and jumped in with me. We both looked at each other with a smile, happy that the tension in the previous hour had blown over without issue. These critical situations often teach us something valuable and worth remembering, but it had been a long day and we were ready for social hour.

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I rolled into camp with Adam (5th Gen t4r) and Dave (80-series). We were the last guys off the mountain. As I pulled into the large group spot my Baja Designs LED’s lit up the night and provided a good perspective of the camp site. I knew the site well, as my wife and I had stayed here previous in our own travels, but the rest of the group had only just seen it tonight for the first time. In the darkness it almost didn’t look like much but a clearing with some trees scattered around. I knew the best camp spots and gave some general direction to people on where to park for the optimum morning vista. We stacked our rigs up alongside one another and began to unfold camp one last time.

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That evening we sat back and put our feet up, it was like we could finally exhale. The day had built up to some tension in our objectives and what we had conquered. The rains had fled and left us with nothing but this gorgeous night under the stars with not a reminder of the chaos of the daily grind in sight. The evening was still as we ate like the last supper and the sounds of our laughter emitted from the fire as a bottle (or two) or Bourbon was passed around.

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I realized, as much as I/we love to hit epic terrain, scale massive mountains, and see some of the most remote wilderness that Canada can offer, the fellowship is paramount. This trip, and the many before, have proven to be stomping grounds for excellent conversation, perspective, laughter, and wisdom. I have built some of my greatest friendships through this “hobby” and the nights spent around a campfire. This night was no different and we drifted late into the night with joyful remorse that tomorrow, we would pack up and head for home.

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I continue to learn that the uncontrollable is, in reality, the essence of adventure. The shortcomings are not shortcomings at all, but unique identifiers of the experience and memories that the journey will forever have imprinted in our minds. The unpredictability, the unknown, and the discovery are the sole reason why we’re out there. Another lesson learned and another adventure on the books, my mind is already wandering to Colossal 2017.

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The Widening World of Mountain Bike Wheels http://expeditionportal.com/the-wide-literally-world-of-mountain-bike-wheels/ http://expeditionportal.com/the-wide-literally-world-of-mountain-bike-wheels/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 07:22:00 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=45435 If you’re thinking of shopping for your first mountain bike, or the first in many years, you might find yourself a bit overwhelmed with choices. There are so many options on the market it boggles the mind, and I’m not talking about materials, suspension formats, or components, I’m simply referring to wheel sizes. Only 15 years ago all mountain bikes rolled on 26-inch wheels. Today the available sizes include 26, 27.5 and 29-inch wheels fitted with your choice of skinny, chubby, or fat tires. I often have one of each in my garage and when asked which one is best, I tend to deliver my standard, and much learned answer, “Yes.”

 

I know, that doesn’t help, does it? Like all hard questions, there are no easy answers. I think the first thing to do is to understand a couple of basic wheel concepts. Let’s start with wheel diameter, rim width, and tire size.

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Wheel diameter and why it matters

Remember when you were a kid and your skateboard hit a tiny rock and you fell flat on your face? The same thing happens when your mountain bike wheel hits a boulder the size of a beer cooler. However, ride your mountain bike over the same tiny rock that stopped your skateboard and you won’t even feel it. In other words, the bigger the bump, the bigger the wheel you need to easily roll over it. This is the concept that launched the 29-inch wheel. A larger wheel has more mechanical leverage. So why aren’t all bikes rolling big hoops?

 

We all know bigger isn’t always better and there are drawbacks to larger diameter wheels. They carry more rotational mass which can degrade handling performance, particularly in situations where snappy and quick steering responses are needed. Plus, they can be slower to accelerate. By how much is debatable and the cause of many trailhead brawls and broken friendships. One thing is for sure, the vast majority of riders over the last decade decided bigger was better and the smaller 26-inch wheel is all but dead. Then came the new contender, the 27.5-inch wheel.

Splitting the difference between big and small, the 27.5-inch wheel (also known as 650b) was created to offer the leverage of the big circle, without the drawbacks of the small one. The end game was a wheel with quicker handling and acceleration than a 29er without sacrificing rolling efficiency. If asked to insert my expert opinion, I would agree it works as advertised. That doesn’t necessarily make them better for everyone. More on that later.

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The Specialized Awol is a drop-bar mountain bike designed for swift touring on mild terrain and is packaged with narrow rims and tires. Read about that bike here: [Specialized Awol]

 

Tire width: skinny, chubby, and fat.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that a big tire has a big footprint. More surface area in contact with the ground makes for better traction and more floatation on soft surfaces. A bigger tire also provides greater shock absorption for a compliant and controlled ride. More rubber can even lower rolling resistance in certain conditions.

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The advantages of a big contact patch are easy to comprehend, but the downsides are obvious. Big tires carry lots of rotational mass, can significantly increase rolling resistance in some conditions, and tend to have sluggish handling and acceleration properties.  As it happened with wheel diameters, a middle option was needed and one more category was created called plus, or mid-fat. Those tires fall within the 2.8-inch to 3.2-inch range. To recap, we now have diameters of small (26), medium (27.5), and large (29) and tire widths in skinny, chubby, and fat.

That makes it sound like there are more options than actually exist. Not every diameter of wheel is available in every width. Fatbikes with 4 and 5-inch tires are exclusively paired to 26-inch wheels, albeit of varying rim widths from 65mm to 110mm. There are no fat-tired 29ers as that would be a bit absurd. There are however plus sized wheels offered in all three wheel diameters.

 

But, what does it all mean?

 

The reason it’s not possible to pin one wheel package as the best is due to the fact it depends on the rider, the terrain, and a myriad of individual preferences. Where you ride, how you ride, and what you want out of that ride will steer you to a particular wheel format. To refine this to the most general overview, below is a breakdown of the available choices with pros/cons and considerations.

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I once poo-pooed fatbikes as travel platforms. I thought they would be too heavy and slow to cover the miles of a long journey. For some trips that might still be true, but for routes with varied and unexpected surfaces, those big feet pay big dividends. Not always the fastest format, it is virtually unstoppable.

 

26-inch (650b)

The wheel size that started it all is darn near extinct. It was never chosen as the ideal size when mountain biking was invented, it was just available. Those first bikes were a mishmash of parts borrowed from other platforms and 26-inch beach cruiser wheels made for good all-terrain hoops. Today, the 26-inch diameter is most commonly used in the fat bike world, which has become as mainstream as any style of bike. Beyond that, not even downhill bikes use them.

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One way to radically improve the performance of a potentially heavy fatbike wheel is to use a carbon fiber rim like those from Whisky Parts Co.

Do these tires make my butt look fat? The difference between Fat and Full Fat.

No, I’m not ordering a latte, those are terms for the two distinctly different sizes of tires and wheels used specifically within the fatbike world. A “normal” fatbike is often paired to tires within the 4-inch range and mounted to rims between 65mm and 80mm in width. That moderately fat width does well in dry conditions for year round riding, and reasonably well in snow if it’s hardpack. Full fat is the big boy. Those are 5-inch, or slightly larger, tires mounted to rims as wide as 110mm. The largest of the two fatbike wheels are often reserved for soft-surface riding, primarily snow.

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The Rocky Mountain Sherpa was designed specifically for bikepacking and as such was built around 27.5-inch wheels paired to 2.8-inch tires. It tackles all surfaces and rolls effortlessly. Read about the Sherpa here: [Rocky Mountain Sherpa]

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This new diameter has largely supplanted the 26-inch wheel as the most widely used across a growing swath of applications. From downhill and cross country racing machines, to off-road touring, and general trail riding, the 27.5-inch wheel has become extremely popular.

When fitted with plus sized tires and wider rims, the 27.5-inch wheel has roughly the same outside rolling diameter as a standard 29er, but with a bigger contact patch and more tire volume. Popular with bikepackers, the 27+ as it is referred to, is a great choice for adventure riding as it does seem to conquer all terrain with aplomb.

I’ve spent a great deal of time on 27.5 in the plus sizes, and I have to say, it just might offer the best of most worlds. Does it make you a better rider? I’m going to say yes. It has the leverage to roll over the big obstacles, the a giant contact patch for superior traction, and the enlarged tire volume allows for a greater range of inflation to accommodate surfaces from hard to soft. If I’m going to tackle a technical trail with a band of hooligans I know will push me to the upper limits of my fitness and skill level, I grab a 27.5 plus bike, usually with suspension front and rear. That’s a formidable combo.

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This titanium Hayduke from Advocate Cycles is built with 45mm wide carbon fiber rims and 2.8-inch tires. The perfect combo for technical terrain and long hours in the saddle. Like many bikes available today, it can also be fitted with normal width 29er wheels offering more versatility to the rider. 

 

The truth about rolling resistance

There has been extensive geekery performed in laboratories the world over to quantify rolling resistance in various wheel and tire combos. I won’t open that can of worms here, but will simply interject one basic principle. The surface on which you ride has a tremendous impact on the rolling resistance provided by your wheel diameter and tire volume. Imagine a tiny hard rubber wheel on an office chair rolling over a polished marble floor. It rolls pretty well, right? Now roll that office chair down a trail with rocks the size of baseballs. It won’t work. Likewise, a fatbike will conquer all sorts of terrain, but your better choice for riding 100 miles of glass-smooth pavement would be a skinny tire jacked up to a high PSI. Matching the wheel, tire, and air pressure to the terrain will provide the least rolling resistance and optimal efficiency.

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Fat tires make short work of soft sand. This 4-inch tire didn’t even depress the surface of the sand only leaving imprints of the knobs. A skinnier tire would have pressed deep into the surface creating tons of drag. This shot taken from the volcanic sand beaches of Iceland belies the weight of a 50-pound fully loaded bike and a 170-pound rider.

 

29-inch

The largest diameter wheel is still a fan favorite and like its slightly smaller 27.5-inch brother, is used in virtually every application of mountain biking save for fatbikes and aggressive downhill rigs. It is even available in plus sizes, although in that configuration the outside diameter is pretty massive. Like a wagon wheel, they aren’t the quickest handling, nor do they wrap up to speed in a hurry, but they roll over everything with ease. For that reason, 29+ is a big hit with the adventure touring set. Whether on pavement, gravel, or mildly technical singletrack, they just go and go.

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The 29+ wheel pictured above on this Salsa Deadwood was great for multi-surface touring. Comfortable and easy to keep rolling, it would be my choice for an extended trip. Read my review of that bike and the wheels here: [Three Days of Deadwood]

 

On the skinnier end, the 29-inch wheel is often paired to drop bar mountain bikes with narrow rims and tires for fast rolling efficiency over mild singletrack and rough gravel roads. When paired to slightly wider rims and tires, the 29er is still a formidable option for aggressive riding in highly technical terrain at high or low speeds. Needless to say, for fast racing and riding on milder trails, the 29er is still king.

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The Awol has very narrow 1.9-inch tires. When inflated to a high PSI, they glide across pavement effortlessly. On gravel roads, with a bit of pressure removed, that rolling resistance remains surprisingly low. On mild singletrack, even with a full load of camping gear, those wheels do surpassingly well. 

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The versatility of the 29er continues to win me over. For swift bikepacking on singletrack, the 2.3-inch tire paired to relatively narrow rims is quick, efficient and more than capable of tackling rugged terrain. If I want to ride more challenging terrain, or at a faster, more aggressive clip, I put different wheels on the Spearfish with slightly wider rims and a 2.3 tire with more aggressive tread. A little extra rim width, even as little as 5-8mm is enough to really change the rolling quality of a wheel.

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Another 29er, the Rocky Mountain Instinct BC pairs slightly wider tires and rims to longer travel suspension for a more aggressive platform. It is an excellent example of how small variances in tire and rim width can make a huge impact. From 1.9, to a mild 2.3, and a more aggressive 2.4, the ride attributes are remarkably different.

The Wrap Up

From skinny to fat, small to big, you would think the performance variances from one wheel to the next would be extreme, and to some degree they can be. What is most interesting is that if chosen carefully, even a fatbike can be swift and shockingly spry. A 29er on smooth trails can also be sluggish and slow if the chosen tire and wheel are not ideal for the conditions. How and where it is put to use also matters. A 29er with 2.3 tires might be a rocket on hardpack, but won’t budge an inch in fresh snow where the 5-inch wide fat tire excels.

The best size is the one that suits where you ride and––how you ride. Fortunately for us, some of the newer bikes on the market will accommodate a couple of different wheel formats, so you can swap between 27.5+ and fat, or 29-inch with standard tires. That sure beats popping for three different bikes, but don’t tell my wife. I like multiple bikes.

 

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Is the Scrambler Bubble About to Burst? http://expeditionportal.com/is-the-scrambler-bubble-about-to-burst/ http://expeditionportal.com/is-the-scrambler-bubble-about-to-burst/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2016 07:42:01 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=45126 For those of you who read Expedition Portal with any regularity, you probably know I don’t venture too far out on the spindly ends of the op-ed branch. Strong opinions are fun and make for great kindling for the comment box, but I am not generally predisposed to contentious editorials. It’s just not my style. However, I think I have an opinion to share.

It was about ten years ago when I saw my first modern motorcycle built in the now ever-popular scrambler style. I can’t remember what make it was. That detail is lost in the mental catalog of hundreds of other scramblers I have seen since. Suffice it to say, it had a flat seat, high pipes, wide bars, and knobby tires. If there was ever a means to best impersonate Steve McQueen, the hip scrambler is the best way to do it. And who doesn’t want to be like the coolest cat ever to swing a leg over a motorcycle? Maybe that explains why there are so many scramblers on the road. Which begs the question: Have we finally hit the saturation point?

 

I think so.

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The death knell of any fad is––general acceptance. The dirt-tweaked standard motorcycle has now been mass produced by nearly every major motorcycle company including all of the fashion forward brands like Triumph, Moto Guzzi, and Ducati. Custom shops the world over have cut, welded, and bent everything from BMW K bikes to Harley-Davidsons and Ninjas to fit the knobby mold. Do they look ridiculous? No, not all of them, but a few sure do.

Another reason I know this page is about to be turned is because we’ve been here before. Other trendy formats have come and gone like bobbers, choppers, and street fighters. Somewhere along the line the cafe racer became the thing to have. In the early 1990s, long before the cafe boom of recent years, I owned a Ducati 900 SS CR. The latter two letters referred to the motorcycle’s half-fairing and exposed engine, hallmarks of the cafe racer. It was perhaps too far ahead of the times. Most people simply thought I was a crash-prone squid who had lost my lower plastics. But, I digress.

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I would wager to guess the cafe craze fizzled because not many people fit into the racer motif. And not to put too fine a point on it, most of those bikes were strategically engineered to suck for rides exceeding the distance from one cafe to the next. Funny how that works. For those who liked the allure of those machines, but didn’t enjoy being hunched over like Quasimodo, the scrambler made sense. Plus, you didn’t have to dress like a hipster-doofus with a BSA leather jacket that matched your BSA motorcycle, which was actually a 1980s era Honda made to look like a Brit-bike. Fashion is hard.

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In defense of the scrambler, it has other benefits. For starters, it tells people you don’t need a damned paved road. If you want to tackle miles of gnarly off-road, you will. Okay, you probably won’t because with no suspension to speak of, a pair of wheels the size of pizzas, and no protective elements, getting in the dirt is scary and uncomfortable. But they don’t know that and probably think you are hell on wheels.

Some riders likely gravitated to scramblers for other reasons. Big adventure bikes are cool, but expensive. Dual sports are cheap, but would McQueen ride a KLR? On a more practical side of things, scramblers are easy to ride, and that is a significant reason to have one. A little slippy-grippy with the clutch, paired to copious amounts of duck-walk, and you can clear anything.

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As great as they are, they are everywhere and multiplying rapidly. Just recently Yamaha updated one of their larger standards, the SCR950 to offer the scrambler vibe. BMW modified their R Nine T with knobby tires, and I have to say it looks gorgeous. Triumph still offers a fully functioning scrambler, but in a twist affirming the old adage that history repeats itself, just released a new bobber as well. They cycle of cycles continues.

I’m not here to poo-poo the scrambler or say those who have or want them––shouldn’t. I just have to wonder if the sun hasn’t set on this particular motorcycle format, at least for now. And yes, I want one too, particularly that Ducati in the lead shot. Wow.

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Going Nomad http://expeditionportal.com/going-nomad/ http://expeditionportal.com/going-nomad/#comments Tue, 22 Nov 2016 11:38:45 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=45471  

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When John and Kristy Youngman lost their stillborn son, hitting the road seemed like the healthiest way to begin healing. “We had a lot to consider while he was still in my womb,” says Kristy. “We knew he had a genetic condition and would need surgery after his birth.” This specialized surgery was available only in Alberta, and so late in Kristy’s pregnancy, the couple put their house in British Columbia up for sale. “Our house sold the day we found out his heart had stopped.”  Without a home or a plan, and with hearts broken, John suggested they turn the page with a family adventure.
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John, Kristy, and their six kids headed out to find solace in the Canadian wilds. Kristy reports, “We started off in Okanagan, B.C., travelled up to the Yukon, came back to Haida Gwaii, and ended up in the Kootenays.” The family towed a hybrid trailer behind their Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4 for the better part of a year, finding a unique way to reweave their bond.

They’ve gotten to see some of the most beautiful and unique parts of Canada together. “Dawson City really captured my heart. Seeing the old, original buildings was amazing,” says Kristy. “Haida Gwaii was another amazing place. The forests were incredible.”  And the adventure had its share of much-needed humor: One night, as John and Kristy lay on the beach holding hands after the kids went to sleep, John saw a pair of glowing eyes staring at them. As her heart raced and she silently screamed inside, Kristy looked over and saw five more pairs of eyes appear out of the darkness. “Turned out it was otters!” Be careful of the night life.
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Sharing small quarters with eight people would seem like a challenge, but Kristy insists they have only grown closer. “Your family will form a bond like no other. You will see beauty wherever you go. Living wild and free is amazing!”   The Youngmans aren’t the only ones finding new life living on the road. A growing number of people are seeking to engage the world by kicking over the traces of convention and travelling for extended periods, or as in the case of the Silver family, indefinitely.

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Jen and Dan Silver didn’t originally intend on a permanent travel schedule when Dan got a buyout from work just as their oldest son was leaving for college. Jen says she “always loved travel but at that time, being fully nomadic wasn’t yet on our radar.” Things changed when they found a local homeschool co-op for their kindergarten-aged daughter, Ariana. Once the family was no longer tied to a rigid school schedule, the dream of becoming worldschoolers was born.

Worldschoolers are families that choose to homeschool their kids through exploring the globe. Children get to directly experience history, geography, natural science, current political realities, and other cultures firsthand. In so doing, they believe their kids get a much wider view of the world they live in, and foster an understanding and compassion for the many other humans that share the planet with them. The Silvers’ three youngest children have all been worldschooled, and Jen has become an admin for the Worldschoolers Facebook page, the largest community of international travelling families currently on the web. “There is a lot of support out there. People who were once asking [questions] are now providing answers for the newer members. [It is] a strong community of like-minded people. We will get it when everyone else thinks you have lost your marbles.”
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And this community has helped the Silvers succeed at travelling all over the world for over 9 years. In addition to spending 17 months touring the States in an RV, they have also explored Italy, Greece, Turkey, England, Wales, and Ireland. The Silvers have prioritized business ownership, which has allowed them to travel and utilize alternative education methods. “We have lived in an 8,000 square-foot mansion and a 100 square-foot  RV. We have been house and pet sitters. We have rented homes. We have slept on planes, trains, automobiles and cruise ships. We are also learning to sail and considering buying a live-aboard,” says Jen. Lately, they’ve gotten to visit the Sistine Chapel and Stonehenge, which Jen calls “a hauntingly beautiful and mysterious place that felt representative of humanity stretching back hundreds of generations.”
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Living mobile has also given the Silvers and their children chances to give back in life-altering ways. “Volunteering with Syrian refugees in Athens and meeting an Afghani refugee in Rome touched our hearts and changed us for the better.” Jen says that humanity itself has been the most stunning aspect of their ongoing journey. “I don’t see us stopping travelling anytime soon, if ever.” Families living on the road together as a way to bond, reach out to the world, and educate their children have become an expanding aspect of overlanding. But some who choose to go nomad take it on alone.
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Sarah Blessington’s dream began with a scooter. “I’m not sure I would have actually gotten a tiny scooter to do this journey with if I’d known about the wind and how hard it can be to ride with.” As it is, she’s glad she took on the challenge of riding a SYM HD200 scooter to wind her way across the United States. She thought about other options, but each just felt like it was throwing money away. Out for a beach ride in Hawaii on her 49cc Honda Metropolitan, she had her aha moment: “Why not a grand solo adventure across the U.S. on scooter?” She found one for a reasonable price in San Francisco, and at less than $3 to fill up a tank, Sarah couldn’t say no.

From California, Sarah has voyaged to Colorado and across New Mexico and Texas, with an eventual destination of Asheville, North Carolina, in mind. In New Mexico, she was able to travel empty backroads filled with awe-inspiring sights, and even Western Texas managed to surprise her: “While it was slightly stressful trying to plan gas stops, those worries quickly became worth it as a new kind of desert unfolded before me.”
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Through it all, Sarah says the best part of her journey has been the amazing and helpful people she has encountered. “This trip has transformed how I interact with people. At the beginning of this adventure, someone told me that unless I let people into my story, I don’t give them a chance to be a part of it.” She saw just how true this was when her CVT belt blew for the second time in the middle of Big Bend National Park in Texas. Sarah was able to call a nearby friend who offered up their trailer for the night, but she had no idea how she and her scooter were going to get to San Antonio, 350 miles away.

So Sarah took to the Internet. “I posted a picture of my poor broken-down scooter and shared a bit of my story.” Soon, her post was being shared and she received offers of help and places to stay while her scooter was being fixed. “The next day, I had a new friend rescuing me with a pick-up truck and taking me to another new friend’s house, who had Korean and Lebanese food waiting for me at 11 o’clock at night.” It’s an experience of kindness and friendship that Sarah says she is still integrating. “One thing is for certain—the adventure community is full of incredible humans, and I am lucky to be a part of it.”

All of these modern nomads have advice for any who are contemplating loosening the chains of a stationary life: just do it! “You can do it. You will grow in areas you never realized were even there,” says Youngman. And Blessington adds, “If you think even for a second that this is something you want to do, make it happen.” None of them would trade the occasional travail for a fully engaged life on the road. Silver adds, “Every day is wonderful. Seeing my kids roast marshmallows around a campfire, taking long walks with my husband, being more relaxed because our cost of living is so low, and the ability for all of us to pursue our passions rather than stick to a curriculum. It is all memorable and unique. I don’t take any of this for granted.”
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Follow the Silvers’ ongoing adventure at Silverlininglife.com and on Facebook at facebook.com/SilverLiningLife.

Sarah Blessington can be found at sarahblessington.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/timbermeginger, and on Instagram at instagram.com/SarahBlessington.

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From Sun Soaked Sands to The Great White North http://expeditionportal.com/from-sun-soaked-sands-to-the-great-white-north/ http://expeditionportal.com/from-sun-soaked-sands-to-the-great-white-north/#comments Mon, 21 Nov 2016 08:00:35 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=45034 The preparation was finished for the trip, bags were packed, and the FJ was filled to the roof with gear. We were off, myself and my brother Sutton left San Diego, leaving the beach behind and charging north towards Alaska. The first day was just us trying to get miles under our tires, pushing hard to make it north and meet up with Robert Rossi.

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After a day of hiking and exploring in Zion national park, we met up with Rob. Even after visiting Zion multiple times it still takes your breath away, seeing those steep red walls surround the green valley floor. After a relaxing evening by the fire, telling stories and catching up with Rob we hit the road, heading north.

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Taking I-15 north you pass by so many places you want to explore, but when the goal is as far away as Alaska is, you just have to push past them and keep on going. We had to stop at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and of course the world motorcycle speed trials would be going on. The Salt Flats are really someplace everyone should see. You don’t really get a sense of scale from the photos, it just goes on forever.

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Our plan was to go on to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, but due to wildfires we took an alternate route, back East a bit through Idaho. From what friends and fellow travelers have told me is that there’s not much in Idaho, but what a surprise we were in for. The first night was in the middle of Crater of The Moon national monument, setting up in a probably not so legal location we popped the tents and started cooking. The second night was spent just outside of McCall Idaho, camped by a natural hot springs. One lesson we learned here was always ask the locals. We were sitting at the bar in McCall and asked the bartender about local campsites, he really provided us with some good information.

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Here’s where shit hit the fan, we were driving up to Glacier national park, and I started hearing a weird sound. There was a ticking sound coming from the drivetrain, we pulled over and discovered my rear differential had lost a tooth. We rolled into Polson, Montana and called East Coast Gear Supply, who I had gotten my gears from before. They were able to overnight me a new 3rd member, and have it delivered on the Saturday before labor day weekend. That Saturday we were able to get the new 3rd member installed in an Auto Zone parking lot, in under 4 hours.

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Off we went, to one of our first big destinations, Glacier national park. This was one place all of us were looking forward to see, with the beautiful blue lakes and great campsites. This was our first few days in colder weather, and getting used to it was interesting especially coming from San Diego sunny and 80 degrees fahrenheit.

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We hit the road early, making it to Great Falls to meet up with my family. Then we were off to Banff and Jasper, while crossing into Canada I realized that I was really headed to Alaska. The area surrounding Banff and Jasper is a really special place with so many awesome hiking trails, jaw dropping landscapes, and unique campsites. I will definitely be back to explore this area more.

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For the next few days we just tried to get the miles behind us, along the way we were able to stop and see Liard Hot springs, which is a must see stop for anyone passing by. Being able to relax 24/7 in a natural hot springs is awesome.

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As we left Whitehorse we embarked on our first major stretch of dirt roads, which was the Top of The World Highway. The road between Dawson City, YT and Chicken, AK is mixed dirt and asphalt, but is overall an easy drive. We saw several smaller RV’s along the route, but we were excited to get off the asphalt and get some dirt on our tires.

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We made it to Alaska, it’s hard to realize how far away Alaska is from the lower 48. It’s just about 2,000 miles from the US-15 border crossing to the Top of The World Highway border crossing. Pushing through the last stretch of the Top of The World Highway we arrived in Chicken, AK. It’s one weird little town nestled away from everything, it seemed like it was a place people went to to escape the busy rush of the city. Our next stop was back in civilization, Fairbanks, AK. Our goal was to restock before the big push up north, we stopped for groceries and some of the last cheap fuel. The Dalton Highway started off easy, the first few miles are pavement and you think this isn’t so bad, then all of a sudden the pavement disappears and you’re driving in 2-3” deep mud with semi trucks flying past you. It had rained the few days prior to us starting the Dalton, the whole road was soupy mud, it was instantly time to engage 4wd and hope for the best.

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After about 5 hours of driving at 30mph we arrived in Coldfoot, one of the only towns along the Dalton. Since the road is so remote these towns can pretty much charge whatever they want for fuel, I believe coldfoot was about $4.70 a gallon. With a gap of 250 miles that would push my FJ Cruisers range we fueled up the trucks and extra gas cans, and headed towards the arctic circle which was our campground for the night.

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Waking up at the arctic circle is a bit strange, it hadn’t really set in for me yet where I was until we passed the arctic circle sign. We got an early start, knowing we wanted to make it to Prudhoe Bay and back down to the arctic circle in one day, which is a round trip of 500 miles of rough dirt roads. The road had dried out a bit overnight, but once we arrived at the brooks range it all changed, the Atigun Pass was covered in snow. 12 percent grades are not really that fun in the snow especially when the road is pretty slick, which is just what my Goodyear MTR tires struggle in. The climbs are the easy part, it’s when you start going downhill and your tires slide when you hit the brakes, that really gets your heart pumping. Now’s when I wish I had a set of Goodyear Duratracs like Rob’s, he had zero issues in the snow.

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After the pass the road slowly transformed back into dirt, and we were able to pick up some speed. I swear that the last 50 miles of the road were the worst, it seemed that the construction crews just poured 2-3” rocks on the road and called it done. Every time we passed a semi truck you flinch and hope that nothing hits your car. I made it about 10 miles and passing semi truck kicked up a huge rock, and of course it would fly right into my windshield.

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Prudhoe Bay, it’s a weird town completely run by oil, there’s no other reason why it’s there. You get to drive around looking at all the crazy trucks that are built to withstand the winters, with a record low of -62 degrees fahrenheit, they have to be prepared. Going as far north as you can legally drive takes you to a small pull off before a security gate, this is the top of the world. The last few miles of the road are controlled by the oil companies, you can’t drive to the arctic ocean unless you have special permission. But hey, we made it to Prudhoe Bay, we took our photos and went to the only store in town to buy some stickers, then drove south back to the arctic circle. People wonder why we drove up to Prudhoe Bay, and its pretty much because we can. Driving to the furthest point north you can drive in North America is pretty awesome to me.

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Driving back to Fairbanks was pretty uneventful, the roads had dried out, and we were able to go much faster. We arrived back in Fairbanks much dirtier, the trucks were covered in mud and rocks. I think we spent about twenty dollars each at the carwash, and I still needed more washing a few days later, due to the mud in my wheels throwing them out of balance. At this point Rob had to go back to California, and my brother met back up with the rest of my family (He was tired of the roof top tent). I spent a few days in Fairbanks, exploring the area, doing some maintenance on the truck and waiting for my girlfriend Stephanie to land on the 20th of September.

After her arrival we went south, heading towards Denali National Park, via the Denali Highway. We had planned to camp on the Denali Highway, but it was pouring rain the entire way, so we continued to drive to reach Denali National Park. Sometimes weather just doesn’t work out, and you miss out on destinations along the way.

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We decided to go out to the Kenai Peninsula, I’ve heard a lot of good things about the area and we wanted to go out and explore it. Our first stop was the Homer Spit, AK. Being able to pull up on the beach and set up camp was great, we ended up staying here for a few days.

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Our next stop was more inland, near Cooper Landing, we set up camp on the side of the Kenai river. We wanted to spend a day out hiking so we went up to the Russian River Falls. It was an easy hike but the views were what made it fun. We ended up stopping at the falls and watched the salmon jump upstream trying to make it above the falls.

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Since we had to be home on the 10th of October we started to drive a few more miles every day. We made it to Glennallen which isn’t a big destination, but we knew we would be far enough away from the city lights to see the northern lights clearly. We setup camp, made dinner, and waited for the show to start.

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Knowing we had to make it pretty far that day we got up early and drove on, trying to make it to Whitehorse, YT. An hour or so after crossing the border we noticed a car pulled off to the side of the road with a huge lens hanging out the side, and when you see that it’s time to pull over and see whats up. Once we stopped we realized it was a grizzly bear, about 20 yards away from the road, needless to say we got some awesome shots. If you have the chance, spend the night at a hot springs campground, being able to wake up bright and early and hop in the springs really gets your day started the right way. We spent the night at Takhini Hot Springs, just outside of Whitehorse.

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Today was a long day we wanted to make it to Hyder, AK. Not much happened along the drive, until we got to Hyder. Once we arrived to went straight up to the Salmon Glacier, it’s a pretty awesome glacier, you drive along the glacier as it wraps through the valley floor. On the way down we ran into our second bear, another grizzly that was down by the creek eating a salmon. This one was not happy we had stopped, it was showing its teeth and growling, so we got our photos and hit the road.

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One of the best things you can do while out on a trip is to talk to the locals. We were filling the gas tank just outside of Clinton, BC and I started talking to someone. He had mentioned how there was a trail that went around the back side of Highway 99, and dropped you back into Lillooet. We decided to give it a whirl, and it was so worth it. The trail wasn’t very challenging, just a long dirt road, but the views were amazing, winding through the mountains past huge farms.

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When you’re away from major cities for so long it feels weird when you have to drive through one, which is how it was passing through Vancouver. Being so close to the lower 48 we pushed on, trying to make it into Washington for the night. We ended up stopping in Dosewallips State Park, after visiting the Vanice Creek Bridge, a place I’ve wanted to shoot photos of for a long time.

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The next few days were a blur, we drove long days to make it to Bend, Oregon, where Steph had a few friends she wanted to see. Driving along the 101 there were so many places I wanted to stop and take photos, but knowing we were running out of time I kept going. I did manage to get a few photos in though. I will definitely be coming back to the Pacific Northwest to shoot more and explore.

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We made it to Bend, the last stop of the trip before we bombarded down the 5 highway all the way to San Diego. Spending a few days in Bend was much needed, there are great breweries, awesome hikes, and a one of a kind landscapes. The only hike we had time to do was up to Tumalo Falls, just outside of bend. If you’re in the area I highly suggest you go and do the short hike, and look for a smaller trail that takes you to the base of the falls.

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With just under 1,000 miles to go, we wanted to make it to San Diego, I drove a few long days and it was finished. 11,769 miles, 43 days, one busted rear differential, a broken windshield, and an insane amount of memories that will last me a lifetime. The trip was something special, I’d never been on a trip for that long. Some of the views will be with me forever, even without taking a photo I’ll remember them. Thanks to everyone that made it happen, and to everyone I met along the way. It’s time to start planning the next trip, south to Baja.

 

To see more on this awesome adventure, check out Basil’s video below. Be sure to follow his other journey’s on instagram HERE and his website HERE!

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Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 :: News http://expeditionportal.com/chevrolet-colorado-zr2-news/ http://expeditionportal.com/chevrolet-colorado-zr2-news/#comments Sun, 20 Nov 2016 22:08:23 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=45490  

 

 

 

2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

The Tacoma has reigned uncontested for decades, any attempt at dethroning the pinnacle overland pickup a (mostly) pathetic attempt. The Toyota has always managed the perfect balance of reliability and performance, creating an unwavering fan club and massive aftermarket support. However, the competition knows this and several manufactures will attempt to challenge the Tacoma’s reign. While the Jeep Pickup is still a few years away, Chevrolet has taken a direct attack against the category champion with aggressive performance and an available Duramax diesel.

When we consider the needs of the adventure traveler, performance, capacity (payload), range, durability, and reliability all come to mind. In recent years, GM has significantly improved quality and reliability while also injecting some much-needed excitement into the brand. The ZR2 is not just an appearance package, but a complete segment-fighter with long-travel suspension, front and rear locking differentials, wider track, more clearance, and a diesel engine. Initial review looks promising, particularly with the Duramax. We tested a non-ZR2 model recently and consistently achieved mid-to-high 20mpg numbers.  This directly relates to range over long distances in remote areas.

We look forward to grabbing a test unit soon and reporting back on how the ZR2 performs. For now, here is the press release. . .

2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 --  Multimatic DSSV Damper
Original Press Release: 

The ZR2 is effectively a segment of one, combining the nimbleness and maneuverability of a mid-size pickup with a host of new off-road features and the most off-road technology of any vehicle in its segment. Compared to a standard Colorado, the ZR2 features a much wider track and a lifted suspension. Functional rockers have been added for better performance over rocks and obstacles, and the front and rear bumpers have been modified for better off-road clearance.

Class-exclusive features include front and rear electronic locking differentials, available diesel engine, and the first off-road application of Multimatic Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve (DSSVTM) damper technology.

As a result, the Colorado ZR2 delivers exceptional performance in a variety of scenarios – from technical rock crawling to tight two-track trails to high-speed desert running to daily driving.

“Our engineers have been incredibly successful developing Corvette and Camaro performance variants with broad performance envelopes,” said Mark Reuss, executive vice president, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain. “The ZR2 applies that same philosophy to off-road performance. You can go rock crawling on Saturday, desert running on Sunday, and comfortably drive to work on Monday. This truck can do it all, and do it all well.”

First off-road application of Multimatic DSSV dampers
To achieve this unprecedented balance of on- and off-road performance, the Chevy engineering team turned to a surprising partner in creating the ZR2’s dampers, which are the heart of any off-road truck.

Multimatic Inc., based in Markham, Ontario, is a renowned maker of high-performance Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve (DSSV) dampers as used in championship-winning motorsport vehicles, including recent Formula One winners.

The first volume production vehicle to use DSSV dampers was the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28. The 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 will be the first application of Multimatic DSSV damper technology to an off-road vehicle.

“From our experience on Z/28, we knew the performance advantages offered by DSSV dampers, “ said Mark Dickens, executive director, Performance Variants, Performance Parts and Motorsports Engineering, Chevrolet. “We also know that Multimatic’s motorsport development mentality would allow us to bring a uniquely precise and repeatable custom damper to market even more quickly than a traditional damper system.”

Compared to deflected-disk valving common on most dampers, the ZR2 employs spool valves that offer increased precision and manufacturing repeatability along with enhanced ride and handling performance both on- and off-road.

The Colorado ZR2’s DSSV dampers are position-sensitive. Their aluminum bodies each house two spool valves providing both compression and rebound damping optimized for everyday driving. During extreme off-road use, a third, piston-mounted spool valve delivers additional, uniquely tuned, compression damping. The front dampers also employ a separate rebound valve, which comes into play when the suspension approaches full extension.

“A traditional, deflected-disc damper only offers two force-velocity curves for tuning,” Dickens said. “The ZR2 dampers offer six tuning curves for the front, four at the rear. For the driver, this translates to greater confidence and control in a wider range of driving experiences.”

Design meets mud, sand and rock
Visually, the production version of the Colorado ZR2 closely resembles the concept shown at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show. Consumer response to that concept was so overwhelming, the team knew they needed to carry as much of the original design into production as possible.

“For both the concept and the production versions of ZR2, the exterior design was shaped by the desire to improve capability driving over mud, sand and rock,” said Rich Scheer, director of design for Chevrolet Truck. “The wider, more aggressive stance, modified front and rear bumpers, and even the bed-mounted, spare-tire carrier all improve performance driving over rough terrain.”

Compared to a Colorado Z71, the ZR2 has a more aggressive side profile, with the suspension lifted two inches for greater ground clearance. The steel-tube, functional rocker protectors will be standard equipment on the ZR2, and are strong enough to protect the body side while dragging the truck against a rock face.

The ZR2 also features 17 x 8 inch aluminum wheels, in a pattern exclusive to the ZR2, wrapped in 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac off-road tires for exceptional traction.

The front and rear track has been widened by three-and-a-half inches, with new cast-iron control arms for greater durability in off-road situations. As a result, the ZR2 offers greater wheel travel and stability while traversing steep grades.

The front bumper of the ZR2 has tapered ends, to increase the tire clearance when approaching obstacles. The bumper also integrates a thick, aluminum skid plate protecting the radiator and engine oil pan, while the transfer case is protected by an additional shield. Above the bumper, the ZR2 features a more aggressive grille and hood – with black insert – to complement the other exterior changes.

A bed-mounted spare tire carrier, seen on reveal vehicles at the Los Angeles Auto Show, will be available as an accessory. “The bed-mounted spare tire adds a rugged look to ZR2, and serves a functional purpose. By relocating the spare to the bed, ZR2’s departure is improved and prevents any damage to the spare when you’re crawling over obstacles,” said Scheer.

Class-exclusive electronic lockers, available diesel engine
The ZR2 also features the most sophisticated four-wheel drive system in the segment. With class-exclusive, electronic-locking differentials front and rear and Chevrolet’s AutoTrac transfer case, the ZR2 offers nine drive configurations:

  • 2WD
  • 2WD, locked rear differential
  • Auto 4WD
  • Auto 4WD, locked rear differential
  • 4WD Hi, locked transfer case
  • 4WD Hi, locked transfer case and locked rear differential
  • 4WD Lo, locked transfer case
  • 4WD Lo, locked transfer case and locked rear differential
  • 4WD Lo, locked transfer case, locked front and rear differentials

Extensive work was done to integrate the electronic lockers and allow them to seamlessly interact with the traction control, stability control, and hill-descent control. In addition, a new “Off-Road Mode” button, in combination with the traction control switch, allows the anti-lock brakes, traction control, and stability control calibrations to be tailored to different driving conditions. Off-road Mode also alters the throttle progression and shifts calibrations to give the driver better control and responsiveness.

The ZR2 shares its powertrains with the 2017 Colorado, and it will be the only extreme production off-road truck to offer the choice of gas or diesel engines.

The all-new 3.6L V-6, mated to a class-exclusive Hydra-Matic 8L45 8-speed automatic transmission, yields 308 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, while the class-exclusive Duramax diesel engine produces 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque and will provide excellent range to overland drivers.

Even with all of the off-roading upgrades over the base truck, the ZR2 can still tow up to 5,000 lbs. – enough to pull a camper, trailer dirt bikes, jet skis, snow mobiles and other toys – or carry 1,100 lbs. of payload.

As such, the Colorado ZR2 offers a distinct position in the market: Compared to other midsize trucks, the Colorado offers an unrivaled suite of powertrain technologies; compared to full-size off-road trucks, the ZR2 is about a foot narrower and 500 pounds lighter, enabling greater agility over obstacles and better trail access.

“It’s amazing what a difference a foot of width makes off road,” said Dickens. “The smaller size of the Colorado is a huge enabler for taking the ZR2 more places, and getting it through tighter spots than you could access with a full-size truck.”

New, off-road development track at GM’s Yuma Proving Ground
For the development of the Colorado ZR2, Chevrolet developed new off-road test areas at General Motors’ Yuma, Arizona Proving Ground.

The Yuma Proving Ground is located on 2,400 acres of land in southeastern Arizona. Opened in 2009, Yuma features a range of tracks, laboratories and courses.

The new off-road facility features a multitude of off-road simulations, including high-speed desert sand trails; low-speed, loose river rock crossings; and steep, technical hill climbs and descents.

Yuma Proving Ground’s new off-road course allowed the team to test multiple iterations of components on the ZR2 is a single day. These components were then tested a real-world facilities like Moab, Johnson Valley, and Rubicon to ensure the ZR2 is trail-ready right from the factory.

 

2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 – interior 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 – off-road controls The exterior of Chevrolet’s ZR2 Multimatic DSSV Position Sensi

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ARB Inflation Case http://expeditionportal.com/arb-inflation-case/ http://expeditionportal.com/arb-inflation-case/#comments Wed, 16 Nov 2016 07:53:19 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=44671 Any type of gauge with a dial indicator tends to be a delicate device -especially one that reads tire pressure. Working in motorsports, I quickly learned to keep my gauge by my side and to never let anyone else touch it for fear that it may become “adjusted”. I wasn’t just being OCD either. Drop it once, and it can easily be off by as much as 10 psi. That’s why I was stoked when ARB sent me one of their brand new inflation cases.

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This slick piece of kit is designed to keep a bevy of ARB’s pneumatic tools safely in place, but will gladly accept other brands. I packed away the budget of my favorite air tools into the six specialized pockets, and my spare valve stems and shrader valves into the small zippered internal pocket -perfect. This small pocket is also great for storing the items that come in ARB’s pump up kit (adapters for soccer balls [futbols], air mattresses, and a lock on tire chuck).
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Unzip the main YKK zippers and the case folds flat for easy access to your tool loadout. Two mesh pockets retain a pair of matching air hoses while four adjacent pockets, with hook and loop flaps, keep gauges and deflators organized and readily available. Just below the mesh pockets is a small zippered pouch and a single slot for a pen gauge. Once loaded up, I found the case perfectly fit the small cubby under the rear passenger seats in my Crew Cab RAM 2500.
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The simple exterior consists of abrasion resistant canvas with the company’s standard orange, topo-pattern livery and comes with a sturdy rubber handle. Two reflective bands wrap the exterior  just in case the bright color still eludes you at night. PVC piping spans the length of the outer seams providing a spot more abrasion protection and a finished appearance. The overall dimensions (16” x 9.5” x 5”) are perfect for storing the case in ARB’s proprietary Outback drawer systems. www.arbusa.com
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ARB Inflation Case Loadout -Sold Seperately

ARB605: Inflator with gauge braided hose lock-on

ARB506: ARB Air pressure gauge

ARB508: ARB Large dial tire gauge

171301:   ARB Air hose kit

171302:   ARB Pump up kit

ARB505: ARB EZ Deflator

ARB606: ARB Inflator wand

ARB607: ARB Inflator coupling lock on  

 

*Sidebar. I have noticed a few recent online posts where people have performed a side-by-side comparison of their tire pressure gauges only to discover they vary greatly in pressure readings. There are two reasons for these discrepancies. One, manufacturer tolerances; few (if any) gauge manufacturers do any sort of bench testing with their products. Thus, there can be vast differences in accuracy from gauge to gauge. Two, the gauge you are handling could have been dropped by a factory worker, shipping company, or you at some point. So what am I getting at? Tire pressure gauges should be checked periodically for accuracy to prevent over or under pressurizing your vehicles tires. This is important for tire wear, performance, and safety factors. This can be difficult since nearly every gauge you reach for is likely off by 20% or more. TPMS equipment, although not perfect, is fairly accurate and can provide you with insight as to the degree in which your gauge is off the mark. You can use this information to mark the gauge with a sharpie indicating that it is reading +2 or -3 PSI so that you can better measure pressure. Tire pressures should be checked when the tires are cold, ie. before hitting the road, and not when they are hot (unless you are working on a track car, then you will need both hot and cold pressures). Of course, there are tire pressure gauges that can be calibrated, but this procedure should be performed by a tire supplier at a racetrack, or an air tank supplier with the proper equipment. This is the only way to ensure that your gauge is displaying accurately, that is, until someone drops it again. No matter how you do it, be certain to protect and care for your delicate dial gauge equipment -your tires will thank you.

 

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