It’s funny how events in my life unfold sometimes. At times they are foreseen and well-planned. Other times they fascinate me and I get a little laugh to myself because they catch me totally off-guard. I have learned that some of my most treasured experiences come from fleeting moments when I am in a place that I did not anticipate being in, when I am a stranger in a strange land. When something cannot fail my expectations, simply because I honestly don’t know what to expect.
Scott Brady has a knack for dreaming up ways to become a stranger in a strange land. And I have realized that he can pick some really good ones. Once he puts his mind to it, it’s a done deal. So when he approached me about this Arctic adventure, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. This is an opportunity for me to learn about a lot of things that I may have never bothered with. Things like young ice, grey ice, and old ice, the rise in sea levels along the Beaufort coast, the auroral oval and tracking it in real-time, and the Inuit people. For me, this might be like a visit to another planet. I am filled with wonder and cannot wait to get going.
Inspiration for wild landscapes here at home in Prescott
I really don’t remember when my fascination with remote places started, but I think it was pretty young, backpacking with my dad or getting lost in Utah in an old Jeep with Uncle Dave. In reality I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t filled with wanderlust.
However, the desire to visit the inhospitable and extreme ends of the world did develop later, probably when I was freezing on the top of Humphrey’s Peak (12,600′), in Winter. Most people (normal people) climb it in Summer, when it is actually fun to do, unlike clawing up a scree field at 10 degrees only to be hit with 40 mph winds and snot frozen to our faces at the saddle. Somehow I figured it was fun, and worth doing again, only at one of the coldest places on earth, The Arctic Ocean.
I am lucky to have a friend like Chris, for many reasons, but when it comes to things like expeditions, it is a perfect team. First, he doesn’t laugh at all of my harebrained ideas, and secondly, he is great with details, like making sure we don’t freeze to death… And here we are, a month away, the truck is in pieces in the garage and I have a big list of stuff to do. Thanks for reading!
Lots of work on the website today, and Chris and I dialed in an instant messenger to communicate quickly. It is fantastic to see how technology assists the adventure traveler now, from sharing our stories to capturing images and video of the things we experience.
It also brings people together and provides a much smaller world and access to like minded people. From the advice on expeditionportal.com to ease of searching information on the internet, it makes these undertaking that much more feasible.
Speaking of technology, I picked up two lithium batteries for the Canons today. Hope they will last a few minutes longer in the cold. I guess that is my biggest concern overall is how the cameras and video equipment will perform in the extreme conditions. Hopefully more research will quell my fears.
Meet the underdog.
I have been using a very expensive Moonstone Mountaineering down-filled sleeping bag with an additional down snap-in liner and DWR exterior for many years and it has served me well. And I will bring it on this trip for the versatility that it provides. However, it is only effective to about 0 degrees F. I know we will be sleeping through many sub-zero nights on this trip, so I decided to get a sub-zero synth. bag. I came across a sale at Sierra Trading Post for an ALPS Mountaineering -20 degree poly bag. With the specifications listed, I was surprised to see it priced at less than $50. A quick internet search yielded some various personal reviews from people who had purchased prior-year models with great results. I decided to give it a shot. My reasoning is that because I will not have to pack this item on foot, I don’t really care if it is bulky and weighs a lot. All I care about is staying warm inside the Eezi-Awn tent. We will have supplemental bedding if required, so I’ll have some “backup” if needed.
It has arrived and I am impressed so far. It is quite a monster. The interior works great with ample room for my feet and shoulders and the bag has an elasticized effect, so that turning on my side, rolling over, bending the knees, etc. is very easy with the bag giving way for movement and then springing back to hug whatever position I am in, eliminating large voids. There are two zippers to allow bottom venting, and a fully insulated hood with draw-cord. There is a zipper baffle but no neck baffle. This trip ought to provide some nice field testing for it, so wish me luck! I’ll be meeting Scott in a little while to do some work on the Tacoma today, so check back for an update on that.
ALPS Mountaineering -20 Bag
Big freaking hammer (BFH) to fit the BFG’s
Today was productive with a trip to a new outdoor store in Prescott called Manzanita Outdoor, a locally owned business with high quality gear. Chris and I are trying to decide on the best approach for pants and jackets, but we are leaning towards lots of layers and a high tech (but thin) outer. The main benefit is to not spend a bunch of money on something we won’t use very often (living in Arizona).
But the big challenge for the afternoon was fitting the tires on the truck. Not just being able to drive down the highway and pose at the SEMA show, but fit a 34 x 11.5″ (295/75 R16 BFG AT) tire on the Tacoma with full travel range. Not an easy task.
- 1. Washer fluid bottle: Tire hit the cover and was threatening to rip the hose out of the pump. So, we rotated the pump and the hose to the other side and trimmed a bunch of the plastic cover away.
2. Bumper contact: On full stuff, the tire hit the ARB bumper. First use of the BFH.
3. Flare: After a full lock to the frame, the tire needs to travel back out in the opposite arch, which would catch the lip of the flare and try to rip the whole thing off. We cut the flare and hammered (second use of the BFH) the flare bracket back slightly. We got lucky and that worked.
4. Seam weld. Final use of the BFH, hammering the seam weld flat and even back into the footwell a 1/4″.
Now the tires fit!
We also started the installation of the new, custom valved coil-overs from Donahoe. More on that tomorrow and a new box of goodies from Columbia and Brunton…
I revised the planning calendar this evening.
We had a good weekend. Pasquale (Desert Dude Video & Music) came by and we had a little videography workshop while we were in the midst of working on the Tacoma. The time to start filming is now, so Scott and I have begun documenting little tidbits of preparations and thoughts leading up to the trip.
We finished removing the wheel spacers (rear wheels too), clearancing the driver-side wheel well for the BFG tires, and installing the new Donahoe extreme-weather plated coilovers. We also took the Engel fridge out of the double-cab (we may not take it, as refrigeration won’t be an issue for the majority of the trip), and removed some unnecessary items. Scott began fabricating some brackets that will utilize factory bolt locations to suspend a gear loft from the ceiling in the back half of the truck. We also got out the Thule gear bags and began hashing out our plan for how we are going to stow and store things inside the cab. The Thule bags are incredible. I didn’t realize just how cool they were until I started really playing around with them. They’ll be perfect for this trip. I came up with an idea for a sliding tray that will securely house a Jetboil stove kit so we can heat up food and water for coffee and tea while we are on the move. We’ll see what happens with that, but I think it will work out.
Hopefully you’ll hear from Scott regarding the Columbia and Brunton stuff soon…
It is amazing how much I get done when I am in the office… However, it feels like the calm before the storm with dozens of critical milestones converging in the next few weeks. Lots of good updates:
The front suspension is ready, with the new Donahoe Racing coil-overs with high corrosion-resistant plating. We also inspected everything and sprayed on a fresh coat of rubberized undercoating.
Lots of work on storage and lashing. Chris had the great idea to install a gear loft, so we could easily stash jackets, hats, gloves, blankets, etc. in the cab without cluttering everything and making them easily accessible. So I designed a bracket off of the rear seatbelt mount that allows a carbineer to hook in and support a 4′ x 2′ Networks mil. spec. net.
We also removed the Engel fridge (not going to need that where we’re going) and have been test fitting a few storage solutions from Thule. These Load & Go boxes are great and fold completely flat. We are going to store food/snacks and light equipment we need easy access to.
Under the Load & Go soft boxes will be three duffles, all color coded for identifying personal gear. These are part of a set Thule sells called the Go Pack Cube, which includes four duffles in different colors. The black one has mesh panels for airing out wet gear. They also fold up into themselves for storage (like the blue one on the left).
And one of the most important mods, the Stationary Glass Container Opening System. This one came all the way from Belize and is ready for years of campfire action.
I revised the planning calendar again this evening.
Our “warm stuff” collection keeps growing. We are slowly but surely adding more and more parts and pieces. Insulated pants here, underwear there, gloves, sweaters, fleece, and the list goes on. Scott and I ordered some waterproof/breathable outer shells that should prove to be quite functional for us. We’ll post more info when they get here. Layering is the name of the game, so I am using mid and expedition-weight baselayers, fleece, wool, and synthetic mid-layers, goose-down insulation shell, and if necessary, a water-proof breathable shell that will fit over everything. My goose-down jacket is an old Mountain Hardwear parka that I bought many moons ago when they were a start-up company. A very well made and well thought-out piece of equipment with a DWR exterior. Did you know that they are now owned by Columbia Sportswear? Some silk liner gloves are on the way, as well as an insulated pair of mitts. I’ve been assembling an assortment of handwear as I want to be able to do different things while trying to keep my fingers from freezing. Everything from lighting a stove to shooting photos to driving to ice climbing.
We are continuing to add equipment that supports cold weather travel. We found the Brunton Sherpa on sale, which will provide wind chill, wind speed, air temp and barometric readings during the trip, which we will log daily in the morning. We will also capture altitude data and will maintain a perpetual travel track on the GPS. Combined with fuel consumption and travel speeds, it should make for an interesting study and resource for other travelers to the Arctic.
Our trip also coincides with the scientific efforts of the International Polar Year IPY.org, and we are beginning communications with their media dept.
Our Columbia shell gear also arrived and is first rate. With the liner I am melting in a few minutes in Prescott at 40 degrees, measured by my new toy below.
We have also partnered with Sirius on this trip. More updates on that in a few days.
More work on the truck today, including test fitting a few of the RAM mount laptop options and checking passenger comfort. I am planning on mounting the laptop RAM system tomorrow, which is a pretty exciting milestone for me, as this is the last remaining system for the Tacoma.
Next fall Thule will be introducing a new line of Thule snow chains to North America. Thule currently sells chains in Europe under their Konig brand. We are testing two solutions, both of which were custom built for our tire size in Italy (295/75 R16). The T2 No Problem and the Polar. The T2 is a HD chain with easy install, good for improved surfaces. The Polar is a heavy, welded t-bar chain for extreme mud and deep snow. The No Problem takes about 2 minutes per tire to install, and was an easy fit. Something we will be thankful for when the temps drop below freezing.
Only about 1 1/2 weeks left to go.
A little late, but I ordered my balaclava for the arctic today. After a bit of research I chose one that has been to the North Pole a couple of times, the “Gorilla” by Outdoor Research. Yea, I’ll look like Darth Vader, but I figure if it works well enough for Ben Saunders to keep using it (he has skied over 2000km on three north pole expeditions and is preparing for Antartica this year), it should work for me. Also, Scott mentioned that our trip coincides with the International Polar Year (IPY). You might be interested to check out a recent BBC article on it (be sure to check out the ice fish and the cold coral in the gallery.)
Image: Outdoor research
A busy weekend on the Tacoma with several modifications:
1. RAM Mount Laptop Installation: While working with RAM on solutions for my Tacoma, we discussed the option of using the FJ Cruiser / 4Runner mount in my truck. Though it is designed to use the front two seat bolt (on those vehicles), it worked perfect in my 04 Tacoma running 90 degrees from that position and tight up against the transmission hump. No modifications to the bracket were required and we used a thick piece of strapping as a backing plate. Their products are stout and good at isolating vibration (rubberized joints).
2. Prodigy Brake Controller: Brake controllers are typically very poor performers, especially off-highway and on slick surfaces. So I wanted one with lots of adjustability, boost options and inertia sensing capability. Which means, if you need to panic stop the trailer gets the same input. My Tacoma did not come with a tow package, so we needed to do the full install.
3. Interior Lights: Chris worked on mounting interior lights to the roof, which will allow light in the two front seats, inside the fridge, storage drawers, etc. These are super trick units the only require a light touch to the center LED and they turn on.
Tomorrow afternoon I will finish up the trailer wiring and then move on to the Sirius Radio install. With that, I think every gadget we could think of is covered 😉