Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On the trail with distractions

I have recently started trail running, and spend at least 3 days a week on the local trails.  Fortunately, I'm usually there during lunch and don't come across many other people on the trails. 

When I used to walk or run on the street or sidewalk, I would often take my iPod with me.  I felt ok wearing them in that setting because the sidewalks were wide enough where if anyone needed to pass, they could easily do so.  If I was on the street, I would generally be facing oncoming traffic and would see any vehicles coming at me, giving me plenty of time to avoid them.  

My first time on the trail, I brought my iPod along, but quickly realized that the trail was very narrow and oncoming traffic was obstructed by the vegetation and growth along the trail.  Additionally, I would not be able to hear anyone coming from behind me, and they would probably not see me until they were right on top of me.  Because this is a multi-use trail, hiking and biking, I felt very uncomfortable wearing my iPod and not being atuned to my surroundings.  

Why write this?  I've seen a lot of posts on this topic.  Most deal more with the eco reasons for not wearing an iPod.  Don't you want to hear wildlife on the trail?  Do you want to miss out on the peacefulness of being one with nature?  I, too, feel that while in nature, you should avoid wearing the iPod.  But trail running in the city doesn't hold the same aesthetically pleasing surroundings that the Grand Tetons do, so I'm ok with it from that perspective.  

My issue is more a safety issue.  Since my first run, I've left the iPod at home when going on the mixed-use trails for my safety and the safety of others on the trail.  Today, on my run, I quickly came around a bend and came nearly face-to-face with a person talking on their cell phone.  They were totally oblivious to me coming.  I heard them, but they didn't hear me.  I thought they were going to have a heart attack.  

This didn't have much of a chance of causing much damage to myself or the other person, but had one, or both of us been on a bike and not heard the other one coming, it could have been extremely dangerous.  So, for safety sake, please leave the distractions at home when on any narrow, mixed use trails.  Always be on the look out and listen for others coming.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Please... Buy gear that works!

I just got home from a camping trip with my son's boy scout troop.  We had a really great time, despite the weather.  The plan was to camp Friday night, canoe Saturday and come home Saturday night.  The rain came in about 3am Saturday morning and came in droves.  It rained buckets until around 11am.  We cooked breakfast in the rain, ate in the rain, did some service work in the rain and hiked in the rain.  

By lunch time, almost everything and everyone was soaked.  However, I noticed something.  The one's whose stuff and persons were soaked the most were the ones who had skimped on their gear.  They had bought the big, cheap family tents.  Their rain gear was the $9.99 plastic jackets and pants from the local sporting goods store.  They had no water shoes, so they were wearing their tennis shoes.  Cotton shirts, shorts and socks were the name of the game.  My self and my son and all are our gear, bone dry!

Now, I'm not one to splurge and buy the most expensive and highest tech gear that rolls onto the shelves at REI.  Well, not all the time.  I troll Steep and Cheap, Campmor and the REI Outlet looking for good deals on quality products most of the time.  What I look for is functionality and performance.  

With the amount of camping that we do with the Boy Scouts, Indian Princesses and Guides, and our Family Campouts, I ensure that we have proper rain gear and solid tents.  Everyone has at least a couple of pairs of wool socks, some good water shoes, quick dry shirts and quick dry shorts.  

It doesn't take a whole lot of money to ensure that you are properly prepared for various conditions.  If you are going to be spending any time in the outdoors, you need to BE PREPARED.  I have posted on my site, an Essential Gear List, along with recommendations.  When looking at options for certain gear, think about how often are you going to use it and what are the consequences if I don't buy something that will work?  Also think that you won't know it doesn't work until you need it to work.

For tents, I use 'em on pretty much every campout, so I wanted something that would serve my purposes for weight, size and configuration.  Price was a consideration.  I didn't want to spend $600 on a 2-person tent, but I also knew that something at the local sporting goods store for $75 probably wasn't going to cut it.  I did a bit of research, whittled my list down to 2 or 3 choices and then looked for reviews.  I ended up going with my favorite tent, the REI Half-Dome 2HC.  It's fantastic!  I've camped in snow, ice, rain, wind, heat and cold.  It's performed in all conditions.  The one or two times I've had issues like condensation, it's been because I didn't guy it out properly... Operator Error.  I think I paid $189 for it or something like that.  It wasn't the cheapest, but it also wasn't $300 like the MSR Hubba Hubba or the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2, both of which were finalists in the Canyon Man tent sweepstakes.  I took on a bit more weight for $100.

For my rain gear, we first stumbled upon the $9.99 cheapo specials at the local sporting goods store.  I pulled them out of the packaging and immediately felt that these were not gonna do it.  I went to my friendly, neighboorhood REI to check their stash.  Some things to think about with rain gear:
  • You are more than likely going to be around fire at some time or another while wearing it.  You will either be cooking or sitting around a camp fire.  You don't want anything that is going to be dangling around the flame, you want it to fit to your form.  
  • You want it to breathe, something the $9.99 specials don't do.  Look for features like pit zips, zippers under the arm pits which will let air in and out.  It doesn't do a whole lot of good to keep the rain out, if you're sweating under your jacket and the moisture can't escape.  
  • For rain pants, you want something that is easy to take off and put on without removing your footwear.  Zippers or some sort of way to expand the opening at the bottom of the pant legs are a must.  Think about it, do you want to sit down, take your shoes off in the rain or with wet ground, just to put pants on or take 'em off?  
  • Look at the zippers on ALL pockets and the front of the jacket.  You want zippers that are seam sealed.  It's hard to explain, but you will notice a distinct difference in a seam sealed zipper vs. one that is not.  Zippers are the easiest place for water to seep in.  
  • For the rain jacket and the rain pants, there's not much variety in price.  I found either you pay for the $9.99 specials or you pay around $50-$60 for pants and around $100-$150+ for the jackets.  But, after hiking and standing in rain, snow and wind in the Grand Tetons for a couple of days, you will be glad you dropped 2 Ben Franklins on good rain gear!

So, if you are going to be spending a fair amount of time in the outdoors, think about what you will use the most and what you need to perform the best.  Then, take your time, do your homework and buy good gear.  That doesn't necessarily mean spend a lot of dough, it simply means don't rush out and buy the cheapest thing at the sporting goods store around the corner.  Ask around, read reviews and try it out.  If you are dissatisfied and you bought it from a reputable company, they will often give a refund or exchange.  The reason I buy from REI, The North Face, Leki, Mountain Hardwear, Petzl and others like it are that they are gear nuts, just like me and they stand behind their stuff.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Knowing when to bail

Last night, we were to camp out in the Dallas area with my Indian Princess group.  We had our whole family, all 6 of us, plus one more.  My daughter was to graduate from the Indian Princesses and go on to be a Red Feather Princess.  We couldn't miss it.  I loaded up two vehicles with tents, sleeping bags and essentials for one night out.  It had been storming off and on for a couple of days and more was headed our way.  Again, we couldn't miss the graduation.  We got to the campground and all the kids began playing until the first big wave came in.  Everyone ducked and covered in vehicles and under the dining structures.  A short 10-15 minute heavy downpour came through and left.  Thanks to today's technology, we all were checking animated radar to see when the next one would come in.  

The storms looked like they were going to miss us for a while and it looked clear behind that.  My son and his friend were antsy to set their tent up, so I caved and my son, his friend and I started putting up our family tents (3 of them).  We got two of them up and decided we'd stop there and just see how it goes.  He was extremely proud of himself quickly erecting his home for the night.

By 5pm, it was time for the evening activities of food preparation for the tribe.  A couple of Braves and their Princesses were sent out to judge the food preparation and presentation of other tribes.  During this time, another 10-15 minute heavy downpour came through.  We fought our way back to our tribe to find everyone huddled underneath whatever structure they could find and enjoying eating the great grub prepared by the tribal chef.  There's not a whole lot better than eating outdoors, especially grilled chicken and pork chops.

After that storm, the Nation ended up cancelling the evening's events and graduation ceremonies.  It was at that point that my wife and I made the executive decisions to pack it in.  Most of the kids were ok with it, as they were soaked to the bone and the temperature was falling.  My two littlest ones were a bit dissappointed.  My wife has a great saying.  "It is better to leave wanting more than to stay and wishing it was over".  It may seem painful at times to leave, but sometimes you are better off licking your wounds and heading home.   We still had a great time while we were there and in the end, we were safe and warm at home, together.

While this was a simple car camping trip, this holds true in backcountry adventures as well.  Ask some of the extreme adventurers and mountaineers how many times they were within hundreds of feet of the summit and turned back for safety reasons.  If your gut tells you that it might be time to high-tail it out, you might want to listen.  The spot you were trying to reach will be there next time, wouldn't you really like to have the opportunity to come back and still have that desire to do it again?