Baja by Motorcycle | For The Love of Tacos…

This was previously published at the now-extinct Overland Junction website.

I am ill prepared for the cold.

We’ve been riding for what seems like an eternity already and I have forgotten how my hands are supposed to feel. Two numb chunks of ice are wrapped stubbornly around the handlebars of my also stubborn, and also cold, KLR 650. Not long ago the morning’s light emerged to shine on what should be another clear and sunny day in Southern California. But it’s November, it’s early and I’m still swiping at the whiskey tinted cobwebs that loiter in the corners of my brain.

“All will be better,” I think to myself, “when we cross the border and hunt down our first tacos.”

I had hatched a plan, a demand really, to ride my motorcycle through Baja California not long after I first started riding late the year before. I had cultivated fantasies of tacos and tequila, sunset beaches and desert dirt roads. The imagined warmth of those fantasies now lost in the chattering of my teeth inside my helmet as the road climbs higher, the winds fight harder and, in spite of the sun now hung low in the sky, it gets colder.

We skipped breakfast this morning, opting to fortify our traveling souls with hot coffee and high spirits instead of eggs and waffles. I can’t tell if it’s hunger that is creeping through me this early or if it’s just the penetrating cold. The bike heaves to one side as a gust of wind shakes me awake and I can’t help but think, a taco would fix all of this.

It would be dishonest to say my sole purpose in heading to Baja is for the food, for the tacos. I’m on this quest to spend some honest quality time with my motorcycle and my buddy J. I’m here to get a glimpse of a place I’ve never been to before. I’m here to push myself, spending more time on the back of my bike than I ever have. I’m here for the adventure of it. This has all the makings of a perfect trip. Even without the sweet, enticing promise of grungy roadside taco stands and magical warm tortillas wrapped around lyrical symphonies of meat.

My buddy J has been trailing right behind me most of the morning, still waiting for the caffeine to kick in. Having coaxed his motorcycle south along the Eastern Sierra from Northern Nevada the day before he’s already pushed through colder weather than this. His heated jacket and heated grips becoming the focus of much envy. We round another cold granite corner and J’s voice crackles through the headset to inform me we may have a place to stop soon, grab a coffee, manage layers and warm up.

Our stop isn’t much more than a postage stamp of a gas station, but they do have coffee and we manage to park the bikes in a luxuriously sunny spot. While I add another layer of gloves and try to soak up as much of the sun as I can, J works on soaking up as much coffee as he can. We talk of our impending border crossing, we talk of tacos, and we talk about the cold. I feel better knowing I wasn’t the only one feeling the chill of the morning.

Soon we’re off the main highway, lower in elevation and cutting through local twisty roads guiding us toward Tecate. It’s still cold but my KLR has finally warmed up and so have I. Every mile closer to the border is a mile closer to morning tacos, the first Mexican tacos of our trip, the first of many. We dodge through small towns, cut through farmland, the road unwinds itself before us for some time then with a quick left we make a beeline down the hill into Tecate.

Welcome to Tecate

I’ve crossed the border into Mexico many times, but this would be my first on the motorcycle. I’ve read conflicting stories about border crossings on a motorcycle. We brace ourselves for a dramatic song and dance –gesticulations, broken Spanish, shuffling of papers, inspections, questions and wasted time- keeping us from our tacos. In reality, we are the only ones at the border at this quiet hour. Our bikes roll up, a red light and a buzz gets J pulled to the side and I get waved through. I feel a twinge of anxiety as I hear J replying to questions through the headset. Then before I know it, before I can even find a good place to drop my side stand and wait, he’s through.

Now we can find those tacos. Or not.

A block away from the border the entire town is seemingly roped off for construction. The main street into town is completely torn up and not in that fun Mexican oh-look-it’s-a-dirt-road kinda torn up. The road and sidewalks have been ripped from the Earth as if by some act of God and replaced by a sundry of construction equipment. So we ask for broken Spanish directions and get broken English responses that may or may not have been accurate and useful…they were not accurate or useful to us.

We make a half-hearted attempt to locate the immigration office to settle our travel visa. Our two weeks in country and the fact that we are venturing to the southern tip of Baja necessitates paperwork, and fees, just in case a bristly Federale decides he wants to piss in our Cheerios. Tecate loses our business as we decide that Ensenada is not far away and, as the main port city, may or may not be a much easier place to locate the immigration office and our visas. And tacos.

So tacos have to wait, sadly, in spite of our being on the right side of the border. And hungry.

Alto. Tope. Alto. Right turn. Watch out for that truck. Alto. Tope. Dog on the left. Alto.

We quickly work our way through Tecate. A couple of twists and turns and we are on Route 3 heading earnestly toward Ensenada, still hanging our fortunes on the promise of warm tacos. Route 3, the Ruta del Vino, snakes lazily through the verdant Valle de Guadalupe…Baja California’s northern wine country. Rolling lazily through the countryside on our KLRs heading south it seems every twist in the road reveals another vineyard. Small or large, old or new, we thump past winery after winery and resist the urge to stop at each and every one for a tour and a taste. That will have to wait for another trip.

The occasional familiar waft of coffee or breakfast punches at triggers in my stomach and my brain reminding me that we still haven’t eaten. It has warmed up enough as we enter Ensenada that I am suddenly very aware of all the layers I put on in this morning’s cold. The density of cars on the road, the familiar smell of exhaust and the impatient staccato of honking reminds us that we’re entering a large city. J and I quickly fall into a rhythm of communication allowing us to stick together in the chaotic Mexican traffic. Tope. Alto. Pothole on the left. Red light. The headsets crackle back and forth.

Without knowing our way around the city of Ensenada we decide that our best bet for finding an immigration office is to point our wheels in the general direction of the city’s primary landmark, a gargantuan Mexican flag that whips and curls sluggishly over the bustling city’s port of entry. The Port of Ensenada, located in Bahia de Todos Santos, is an international deepwater port and the second most active port in all of Mexico. It is the main traffic hub for cruise and cargo ships as well as recreational vessels visiting Baja. The port, we gather, should have a place we can pay our fees and collect our visas. Tacos first or tacos later? We discuss this with strategic seriousness, weighing our options.

And the tacos will wait. Again.

Rarely does bureaucracy trump food in my daily life, so foregoing our lunch to fill out paperwork seems like misplaced priorities. But the uncertainty of where, and how, we’ll secure our visas means we need to handle it now, rather than later. Besides, it’s a scientific fact that tacos taste better when you’re not distracted by obligations and time schedules.

The tiny immigration office is a mix of locals securing paperwork and a motley crew of gringos looking to start, continue or end their own personal adventures. We bring another layer of entertainment to the circus sporting our riding gear and helmets. Another scraggly and disheveled gringo-pirate of Baja shuffles back and forth from window to window trying to nail down his own stack of paperwork related to bringing his boat into port. We look fresh, bright eyed and bushy-tailed by comparison.

The dance begins, we get in line. One window to show our passports and insurance, then there are forms. We step away to decipher the Spanish and fill in the blanks. Name, date, country of origin. Is the passport ID the same as the passport number? What did you put down for “destination”? Then back to the window, did we fill it out right? Another window, and another line, to pay our fees. Dollars or pesos? What’s the exchange rate, how good is our math? Dollars in, pesos out. Did we get the right change? Does it matter? Then back in line for the window to show our receipt, the forms are inspected again. Does everything match? Is the date right? Did you pay the right fee?

There are questions internally, misinformation or misinterpretation, a manager is called in. At least I think he’s a manager. My Spanish is still rusty, I pick up bits and pieces, are they really talking about the form or is this a social call? What bar are you going to after work? Who got drunk last night? Can I go yet?

“Es bien? Necesita mas informacion?”

Oops, I’ve interrupted them. Did I sound impatient? I just want some tacos.

“Su nombre es David?”

“Si.”

More chatter, business this time, they point and scratch their heads and then someone steps in with some authority and scribbles on my form. Stamp. Stamp. The paper is shoved back at me.

“Es bien?”

“Si.”

Saddle up!

We’re back on the bikes and the headset crackles with more excitement. We look to get past the main part of town, let traffic settle a little and then we’re scouring the route for roadside tacos. A juice stand, ice cream, fresh fruit. Still in the city, there are more sit-down restaurants than roadside taco stands. We waiver, maybe we stop at a restaurant, get a big meal. No. We are purists today, we will only accept street tacos.

There is a freshness and honesty to street tacos. Generally cooked on a griddle or grill right in front of you, made to order, simple and clean –meat on tortilla. Corn or flour. Toppings are ala cart. How do you dress your taco? Red or green salsa, guacamole, pico de gallo? Maybe sliced radish or pickled onions? Are those fresh roasted jalapenos? Yes, please!

What kind of tacos are we looking for? Do we have a preference? Carne asada would be nice, carnitas might be better. It is Ensenada, should we be looking for seafood? Pescado, camarones, langosta? We quickly decide it doesn’t matter but seafood ends up low on the list. We look, we call out options on the headset, we have options.

First Stop for Tacos in Ensenada

Parking becomes the deciding factor. We cruise through a busy intersection and see a taco stand with easy parking a few paces away. We swing the bikes to the side of the road and park against the curb, hop off the bikes and try our best not to sprint to the taco stand. Tacos el Chente! Bienvenidos Amigos!  Luck is on our side, as it proves to be throughout the trip, and this particular taco stand is everything we could have asked for. His specialty is al pastor, by far my favorite.

Tacos al Chente

Tacos al pastor are special. Thin slices of sweet and spicy marinated pork are stacked with onion and pineapple on a vertical rotisserie called a trompo and slowly flame-roasted, shawarma style, until skillfully carved off and served in a warm, soft flour tortilla with finely chopped onions and cilantro. Arab and Lebanese immigrants filtering into Northern Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries introduced this style of cooking. It has since become an iconic part of Mexico’s flavorful food culture.

There is an especially high concentration of Lebanese immigrants in Northern Baja, so it is fitting that tacos al pastor be our culinary introduction to this part of Mexico. Our new friend deftly carves sweet juicy meat off the spit and finishes it on a hot griddle. We wait patiently, sipping on glass bottles of Mexican Coca-cola and testing the structural integrity of the ubiquitous red plastic patio chairs.

Al Pastor Tacos in Baja

 

I have just enough time to make sure my cell phone is working on this side of the border before our plates are ready. Dos tacos al pastor and a fresh, fire-roasted jalapeño served on parchment paper over old plastic plates wrapped in a thin plastic sleeve. It is my happy place. I’ve been waiting for this moment all morning, or all year depending on how you look at it.

Our ride through Baja was a long time in the making. It’s difficult for some of us to take two weeks out of our busy schedules, even harder to convince others to go with us. But I did it, and now a good friend and I are riding our motorcycles…in Baja…for two weeks. And even if we don’t know where we’ll be sleeping tonight, at least we have tacos.

sunset in Baja

Innova Kayaks | Your Summer Adventure, Inflated

Summer is coming on hard here in the Southwest and with the heat comes a focus on water adventures. When the sun is beating down and the trails become unbearably hot, it’s time to break out the kayaks.

A while back I started thinking about inflatable kayaks.  I grew up on the river and spent many a summer paddling or rowing all sorts of water across the Pacific Northwest. I loved the water and missed it terribly when I moved out to Arizona. My wife and I have made an effort to include river and lake activities into our travel, but that involves either hauling a big, heavy kayak around or renting something wherever we end up. Those aren’t always great options, so I started looking for something more convenient.

Dave on the Rogue River

Space is always at a premium when we travel, so looking for a solution that would be compact, easy to use, reliable and lightweight-ish would be key. I remember having an inflatable kayak as a kid. It was one of the cheaper plastic models from the early 80’s and didn’t hold up well to abuse. My brother and I destroyed it after only a couple summers of river trips. Cheap inflatables are everywhere, you can usually grab something inexpensive at Walmart but I’d be lucky to get a single season out of it. That’s just not going to work for me.

What I was looking for was something that could travel well, but put up with some abuse. My days rafting big rivers in big boats made me very aware of how easy it is for inflatable rafts to break down or tear apart in rough terrain. So aside from packability and lightweight, I wanted to make sure I found a durable boat that could handle regular abuse. I wanted something that could handle whitewater as well as it could handle flatwater. Finding the right solution would mean maximizing our summer outdoor fun no matter where we go.

During my search, I was introduced to Innova Kayaks.

Innova Kayaks are one of the first inflatables I’ve seen that have all the high-end production options as the big, expensive professional inflatables but without the price tag. All their kayak hulls are made of Nitrylon Lite™ (NL), a rip-stop polyester fabric, rubber-coated on the interior for air-retention, and Teflon®-treated on the outside for water repellency and stain resistance. This offers durability similar to what you get from the big commercial boats. I was also really impressed to see a commercial-grade valve system on these boats. This is pretty key, considering valve failure is one of the most common problems with inflatables. I have the Innova Swing I single-person kayak which retails right around $600. That’s a pretty good price for any kayak, let alone an inflatable with this level of quality construction (compare that to the NRS inflatables that range from $1000-$2000). Most of the Innova Kayaks also have a heavy-duty rip-stop urethane-coated deck material with zippered access to close in the boat deck. This allows for some good protection that a lot of other inflatables don’t have as well the ability to add a spray skirt ($50) for whitewater kayaking. Another feature of the Swing I is the removable tracking fin for greater stability and control in flat water.

The Innova Swing I is a nice-sized, single-person inflatable kayak. It’s versatile enough to take on just about any kind of water and small enough to be packed into any location. The Swing I rolls up into about 18″x10″ and weighs around 25lbs. Innova makes a drybag backpack to make carrying your inflatable easier.

Inflating the Innova Kayak

Innova valve system

Having an Inflatable Kayak opened up some really cool opportunities for me. A friend reached out to me last Fall about a possible trip, but it would require packing our raft gear several miles down a side canyon to the Colorado River below Lake Mead. This would not have been possible without an inflatable kayak. We met at the take-out and drove to the trailhead that would lead to our put-in. After a moderate hike down to the river, we were able to toss out our gear, pump up both of the boats, and head down the river in less than an hour. We spent two days paddling the easy flatwater of the Colorado River, camping on a spit of sand attached to the deep rocky canyons. The Swing I performed beautifully on the river and even made for a decent bed at camp that night.

Innova River Trip B-1

DCIM101GOPRO

Lower Salt Paddle-7

Since getting the inflatable kayak, I have found fewer reasons to pull out the old, heavy, plastic kayak I used to paddle around. Now, trips down the Lower Salt River, Verde River, or paddling around the local lake reservoirs is easier and more comfortable. The Swing I is lighter, more manageable in the water, and packs smaller than any other kayak I’ve had.

If like me, your summer trips revolve around water you need to look into Innova Kayaks. For the price, they are one of the best options on the market for inflatable kayaks. I’ve been really impressed with the overall quality and durability of the Swing I. Check out the full boat selection from Innova Kayaks on their website.

 

Disclosure: I was provided the Swing I in order to test and review the kayak for performance and reliability. I have done my due diligence testing this product extensively in various environments, conditions, and purposes. The above information is my own opinion of Innova products and inflatable kayaks in general based on my own experiences.

Gear Review | Mosko Moto Scout 25L Pannier Kit

When I got my KLR I immediately wanted the classic hard metal panniers…you know, the RTW traveler type with stickers from all the awesome places you may or may not have been. The kind that say, “I might be traveling internationally by motorcycle…or maybe I’m homeless.” You know the ones. They’re big, clunky and are supposed to let everyone know “I DO ADVENTURY THINGS”.

I got the panniers and I liked them. They are very big, way more room than I ever really needed. They are also loud and rattle more than my poor old KLR on fresh washboards. But at least I looked “adventury”. Right?

HUCalifornia2015-57

I had gotten used to the rattle and clank of my old Happy Trails metal panniers. Every trip with those metal cans on my trusty KLR was a vibrating, rattling, noisy, lovely ride. I had tried a few soft bags but they hung poorly on the bike and flopped in the wind. Nothing really felt secure or rugged enough to take a beating. The more time I spent on dirt, the more I wanted soft luggage. But I just couldn’t find something that felt right on the bike. When I finally got to see Mosko Moto luggage up close and see it on a bike, I knew I wanted to give them a try. Then I managed to get a set of the Scout 25L Panniers from Mosko Moto.

The quality and sturdiness of these bags, the construction and materials, is absolutely top notch. I’ve spent a lot of time running whitewater in boats that constantly took a beating against rocks, sand, and regular abuse for decades that don’t feel as bomb-proof as these panniers. That’s how I see these bags. The kind of bags that can take unreasonable amounts of daily abuse for decades and keep on going. These feel like the kind of panniers you can spend years with before they just start to feel good and broken in. I’ll be putting them in my will…so, get on my good side and they might be yours someday.

mosko moto scout panniers

The Mosko Moto mounting system is flawless. Adjustability, flexibility, and insane sturdiness. When these bags are mounted they are truly a part of the bike. They mount securely in place and lock down easily and do NOT move once on the bike. I actually had one of my metal panniers rattle loose and come off the bike while riding in Baja…the Mosko Moto bags would NEVER do that no matter where I take them. Pretty sure the bike would rattle to pieces before the bags come off.

The strategically placed MOLLE webbing allows for nearly infinite customization. Adding extra storage or accessories allows for all sorts of configurations. The top-loading bags also make it easy to access the contents on the go. The 25L bags are the smaller pannier option, but there’s still plenty of room (for most). I did a 500-mile two-up trip with my wife using the 25L panniers and the 30L Duffle and we had plenty of room. On that same trip, we rode almost 150 miles of our return trip in the pouring rain. We were soaked, but everything in our bags was perfectly dry. The waterproof materials and simple roll-top design absolutely work to keep all your stuff dry in ANY weather.

mosko moto scout panniers on KLR

 

Scout 25L Panniers on KLR

I really couldn’t be happier with my Scout Panniers. They are the perfect companion to my KLR and I can’t imagine going back to anything else.

Mosko Moto is one of those companies that is constantly looking at how they can improve their products. They approach each product with a fantastic design aesthetic and a desire to solve problems, create versatility, and build a product that can stand up to the most rigorous use. This is soft luggage, but it is not meant for soft use. This is hardcore motorcycle gear designed and built by hardcore motorcycle riders with extreme travel in mind.

All of that makes the investment well worth it, in my opinion.

Our Teardrop Trailer | Introducing Wilma…

What is the perfect Adventure Travel rig?

There is no real answer to that question, not in the general sense. The answer to that is different for every person and for every adventure. Since we started looking several years ago, there have been dozens of new companies making teardrop trailers and the designs all vary on the central and classic theme of the iconic “teardrop” design. The idea is to stay light, fast and agile as you travel and the teardrop trailer offers that. It may not be perfect for all things, but the teardrop trailer is damn near perfect for us, for most adventures.

In the Beginning…

My wife and I got married in late 2012. In 2013, as we began taking trips together across the southwest, the conversations about camping began to take on a new tone. What would we need to make longer trips easier and more comfortable? My wife was tiring of sleeping in a tent on an air mattress that refused to stay inflated throughout the night. As much as I love camping and roughing it, my nearly 40-year-old body was telling me that sleeping on the ground for extended periods of time might not be in my future either. So we started exploring the options. For my wife’s birthday that year, we decided to rent a teardrop trailer and head up to the Grand Canyon for about a week. It took a little adjustment but, ultimately, went incredibly well. On the way home from that trip we began scheming about how we could get a teardrop of our own.

My wife made a new hobby out of shopping for trailers. New, used, antique, state-of-the-art, big, small…all were in consideration. It led to extended talks about our future. How would we use the trailer? Would we take the dogs? Would we ever have more than two dogs? Would we have kids? How long would our longest trips be? What vehicles would we be towing with? What kind of camping did we want to do? How self-contained should we be?

TC Teardrops at Overland Expo

The rabbit-hole was deep and the research went on and on. We’d been looking for a couple years when I talked my wife into coming to Overland Expo with me in 2015. Maybe we’d find something there that would suit our purposes. If nothing else, it would allow her to get a real-world idea of how these trailers could work for different purposes. That’s when we stumbled on to TC Teardrops. After some discussion with Carol at TC Teardrops about options and pricing, my wife and I settled on our trailer order decision with the options we thought we’d want/need. We placed the order and the custom build began. By October of 2015 we had our trailer.

The Naming of a Teardrop…

We couldn’t wait to take our new toy out for a spin. But first we had to get things set up. We got the battery hooked up, tossed in some bedding, outfitted the storage box with some basic gear, stocked the kitchen and made sure we had everything in working order. We wanted to squeeze as many nights into our first trip as possible so I loaded the trailer on the back of the Subaru that evening, picked my wife up from work and we headed north as the sun disappeared. A couple hours later, in the dark, I awkwardly backed the trailer into a spot at Dead Horse Campground in Cottonwood for our first night with the new teardrop. We were both grinning from ear to ear under the very impressive Foxwing Awning, sipping on steaming mugs of some tasty adult beverage. It rained that night. It rained hard. We slept like babies.

first night with trailer at dead horse state park

It was still raining the next morning, but there was no wet tent to put away, no muddy tent footprint or soggy rain fly, no damp sleeping bags…it was nice. Close the doors, stash the chairs and fold up the Foxwing and we were ready to hit the road. It rained off and on that day as we headed further north and east into the high country. We made a couple of muddy stops for photos and snacks.

teardrop trailer camp

teardrop trailer kitchen

teardrop trailer

My wife has named all of her cars, including the new Subaru. So it was not a shock when she started asking what we should name the teardrop. After tossing around both boy and girl names, we decided quickly enough that it was a girl. This narrowed the playing field. Our initial teardrop trip, the one that started the whole thought process, started out with a slightly creepy night in Bedrock City. This inspired some Flinstones-themed name options for our new trailer. Dino and Bam-Bam were in the lead before we decided she was a girl. One of us suggested Wilma. It immediately seemed to fit. It had a classic, throw-back feel to it…like the teardrop trailer itself. We agreed, she would now be called Wilma.

We visited, and stayed in, three separate state parks on that first trip in November with Wilma. We added two more on another trip later into southern Arizona. We have also taken her on a few short, bumpy, muddy trips into the backcountry and a fast-paced 5000+ mile cross country tour through 14 different states. Plenty of time to figure out what works and what doesn’t and make some adjustments.

teardrop at Homolovi state park

Our cattle dogs have become very fond of Wilma. They both know that when we start packing Wilma, a trip is coming. The older of the two dogs, Wiley, has a special relationship with Wilma. It’s her favorite place to be, it’s her home away from home, her happy place. I’m pretty sure she’d rather hang out in Wilma than anyplace else. She’s the first one asking to go in at camp and the last one up in the morning. We often joke that Wilma is the most expensive dog-house we’ve ever seen.

Wiley's favorite spot in the teardrop

Wiley's happy place

Getting Dialed In…

Now that we’ve had Wilma on the road off and on for the better part of a year, we made some adjustments and improvements to the set up. You can read about the initial build order here.

Since we’ve started traveling with Wilma, there are a few things that we thought were pretty important additions to the original build. Our original setup had no water storage. We would routinely buy a couple of two gallon water containers on our way out of town and use the melted ice from the cooler as wash water. It wasn’t ideal. So we started looking at storage solutions and settled on the low-profile Rotopax cans that we could mount directly to the side of the trailer. We now have three 2-gallon containers of water and one 2-gallon container of extra fuel mounted to the side of the trailer. Though a little pricey, I like the way they are stowed out of the way and well secured while traveling. I also appreciated that the mounts were not difficult to install. TC Teardrops is a Rotopax dealer and can install them if you order it when they build out your trailer.

rotopax mounted on trailer

We are also storing an extra 5 gallons of water in our Road-Shower mounted to the roof rack. The road shower is extra water storage AND can be pressurized allowing us to use the attached hose and nozzle to shower, hose off the dogs or spray gear clean. The black, powder-coated tube heats the water inside during the day when the sun is on it. I’ve seen the temperature of the water get into the high 90s which is plenty warm enough for a decent backcountry hose-down before bed.

Road Shower on trailer

After the first couple of nights in the trailer, my wife wanted a little more privacy. She picked up some material from a craft store and after much swearing and cursing (and the purchase of a new sewing machine) created curtains and door covers for the trailer. I installed the rods and now we have an easy and attractive way to get a little privacy when our camp neighbors are a little too curious.

The Foxwing Awning is one of my favorite parts of our setup. I absolutely love how fast and easy it is to use. It’s out and set up in seconds and it doesn’t take much longer to put it away. In fact, we recently got caught taking down camp in a crazy rain storm and I really gained an appreciation for just how quickly the Foxwing gets put away. Rino-Rack (which makes Foxwing in collaberation with Oztent) also makes a floor covering cut to match the “winged” design of the awning. We saw TC Teadrops using one at their display for Overland Expo 2016 and decided it was much better than the cheap outdoor rug we’d been using, so we ordered one. The Foxwing is also open on all sides (as you can see from the pictures) which is fantastic except when the wind is up and I’m working in the kitchen. So we also ordered one of the removable sidewalls for the Foxwing so we can close off any one of the sides if we want to. We figure this could help as a wind block, a rain block or simply to create a little more privacy. It can also be used as an extension of the awning, offering a little extra shade.

Relaxing in the backcountryThe next things on the list are mostly little items that will help make our trips run a little smoother. I will be installing a couple of floor mounts in the galley so I can strap down the cooler while we’re driving. Right now it’s loose and has a tendency to bounce and shift when the roads aren’t perfect. I’d also really like to figure out a way to drain the cooler as the ice melts without lifting the entire thing out of the galley.

We are also looking for new camp chairs. The ones we have are OK and they pack up nicely, but they are very poorly made and started falling apart pretty quickly after we bought them. I like the design, I just wish they were built better.

We’ve toyed with lighting options, but in reality, we don’t need much. We like to let it get dark and enjoy the night. Headlamps work for getting around outside and there’s plenty of light inside. I wouldn’t mind a little more light at the galley when I’m cooking late (or making late night cocktails) but it’s not necessary.

I’m also very much considering another stove option that would give me some more cooking flexibility. I like to cook. I cook a lot at home and I like to have fun cooking on the road as well. The little Camp Chef stove works well for basic stuff, but I want something that will allow me to do some fancier cooking. I’ve got my eye on the Skottle from Tembo Tusk. They’ve been at Overland Expo the last few years and I’ve seen the cooktop in action. I think the skottle would be a nice kitchen addition.

If you have any more questions about our trailer setup, TC Teardrops or any of the accessories please leave me a comment and I’ll try to answer what I can. If you have a teardrop, or are ordering a teardrop, feel free to comment and let us know what you’ve done to dial in your trailer. 

 

2015: Best Places I took my Motorcycle

Yeah, yeah…it’s the end of another year. Seems like everyone NEEDS to do some sort of round up of their favorite photos, stories, places, gear, beer, food…whatever.

I get it. It’s fun to look back and reflect on your year and there is usually some desire to quantify it. Well, 2015 was my introduction to motorcycle travel and I fell in love with my trusty KLR as we had a chance to bond on the open road over the last 12 months. I’ve taken her apart and put her back together, replaced just about every road weary part on her tired old frame and we’ve had a grand time together.

So, since you guys have already seen enough of my dogs for the year…here’s my photo journal of the best places I took my motorcycle in 2015.

Baja California, Mexico

Baja California Motorcycle trip

motorcycles in Ensanada

Motorcycles in the desert in Baja

Catavina motorcycles

Horizons Unlimited – Mojave, Eastern Sierra, Yosemite

HUCalifornia2015-1

HUCalifornia2015-49

HUCalifornia2015-53

HUCalifornia2015-57

HUCalifornia2015-63

 

Overland Expo 2015

Getting to OX-1

Getting to OX-11

Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route – Mogollon Rim

DCIM101GOPRO

AZ BDR Ride-42

AZ BDR Ride-46

Bush Highway and the Apache Trail

Bush Highway April-2

Cloudy Superstitions-5

Cloudy Superstitions-13

Cloudy Superstitions-15

 

Heber and Overgaard, Arizona backroads

Motorcycle Heber-1

Motorcycle Heber-8

Motorcycle Heber-9

 May your 2016 be full of the best, twisty, scary, long and lonely roads in far away places…

Thanks for a great year! 

Stand Out Gear: Choice gear for moto travel

my gear setup for moto travel

Choice Gear for Motorcycle Travel

Sena Bluetooth Headset

Sena Bluetooth Headset

For the first 6 months or so of riding I liked the “quiet” of being in my helmet without distraction. I approached it sort of like hiking, I don’t like to distract from the sounds of everything around me. Once I started getting longer rides in my thoughts on it started to change and I started looking at headsets. Most of my riding is solo but I also knew that I’d be riding, eventually, with more people. So I started asking around about headsets and communication while riding. There are a few options out there but SENA clearly dominates the market and after getting, and using, the Sena SMH10R I can see why.

The SMH10R is super compact and low profile on the helmet, which I really like. It has very decent battery life, good connectivity via bluetooth and pairs easily with other headsets. During our 2 week ride through Baja, J and I both used our headsets continuously allowing for maximum communication as we traveled. We found it significantly useful in cities dodging traffic or looking for hotels and food as well as hugely beneficial tackling off-road conditions. During the long stretches we played with the Sena’s music sharing capabilities.

On our ride through the varying terrain of Baja we were able to fully test the range and obstacle limitations of the Sena setup. It truly works well in line-of-sight conditions up to about a quarter mile. After that it gets fuzzy. Without line of sight though, the intercom is fairly weak making it a little difficult to communicate in tight curves or rolling hills. In those areas we just learned to stick closer together. All in all, the Sena turned out to be one of the most useful and important pieces of equipment we had on the trip.

Rev’It Riding Gear

I am really a new rider. I rode motorcycles and scooters a decade ago or so, but never really got proper gear back then. This time around I was much more serious about getting outfitted properly but I took my time with it. Initially, I bought what I considered to be the bare minimum: a jacket and a helmet. I later got a pair of riding pants, but it was all fairly haphazard and ill fitting. I ride in Arizona mostly and deal with warm weather more than cold, so when I did start researching and looking for some real riding gear I wanted something designed with good protection and fit, but also good venting. I spent a lot of time shopping around and comparing gear features, prices, sizing, etc.

I picked up the Rev’It Cayenne Pro Jacket first in the hopes that it would fit my needs. I like the styling of the jacket and, being desert adventure designed, it definitely seemed suited to my type of riding. The jacket runs pretty small, so I ordered up a size from what I would normally wear and that worked well. I like the fit of the jacket and it has enough adjustability to dial in the fit really well. The protection the Cayenne Pro series offers is really nice, using their SEEFLEX level 2 CE protection at shoulders and elbows. The chest is fully vented with Schoeller-dynatec mesh panels for maximum breathability.

I liked the jacket enough after putting about 2000 miles on it that I ordered the matching Cayenne Pro pants for my ride through Baja. They didn’t show up until after I had left so I had my wife bring them down so I could swap them out in Cabo halfway through the trip. I was a little worried they be too tight with the European styling and sizing of this brand, but they actually fit really well and I fell in love with them right away. The same mesh panels are on the thighs for venting in warm weather and the knee protection is almost 3/4 shin length SEEFLEX that cups the knee very comfortably at the top. Between the knee armor and the boots, my entire lower leg is well protected. The pants have pockets in all the right spots and nice adjustment at the boot so it can fit snugly.

This was a gamble for me, but it turned out to be a great choice and I really felt comfortable riding in the jacket and pants for hours on end, every day.

Forma Boulder Boots

11085202_1455272664764511_757717436_nI love these boots! I was really worried about getting a boot with good protection that wouldn’t kill my feet. Also really wanted a boot that didn’t look like some robo-cop, track-racing, tech-rider. I wanted something that, when the pants are brought down around the boot, looked like normal-ish footwear. The Forma Boulder dual-sport boots are perfect! They felt comfortable pretty much from the first use and broke in even better, they offer great protection and have a no-nonsense styling with a simple full-grain leather finish that weathers beautifully.

I’ve had these boots on in the rain, snow, sand, mud, dust and everything in between and they have kept me dry, warm and safe the entire time. And they’re comfortable enough for regular walking around in. For $250 they are well worth the investment.

Hydroflask

You all know already what a big fan of the Hydroflask I am. It’s no wonder this product is also on my list. Staying hydrated is incredibly important, especially riding in the desert. It’s also really easy to forget to stop and drink often enough on the motorcycle. When I started riding I immediately started looking for a way to strap my Hydroflask to the bike where it would be accessible and out of the way. I found a small cottage company called Blue Ridge Overland Gear that makes an insulated pouch with molle straps for the 40 oz Hydroflask. This allowed me to easily find a place to strap the Hydroflask to the bike and offered quick access whenever I needed it. This was a great addition to the bike setup.

Triple Aught Design Huntsman Henley

A couple months ago the awesome folks at Triple Aught Design reached out to me and offered to shoot me some premium gear. I’ll talk about the infamous Shagmaster and the top-notch Lightspeed Backpack later. For the 2 weeks in Baja I took along the TADgear Huntsman Henley as my main base layer top under all my riding gear. This would be a huge test of the durability and functionality of the MAPP (Merino Advanced Performance Program) fabric they use. When I first got the shirt, it had a little of the typical wool scratchiness, but that quickly went away after the first wash. On the trip, this wool base layer was assaulted daily with hours of sweat, dust, dirt, chaffing and rubbing under riding gear that would send most under garments whimpering in defeat. The Huntsman Henley not only survived the 2 week torture test, but allowed me to survive it as well. It kept my temp regulated in warm and cold weather, didn’t turn south when soaked with sweat, and never really picked up that typical something-died-in-the-men’s-locker-room aroma most base layers get.

The TADgear Huntsman Henley is pricey at $100, but if you need something that can take a beating for days or weeks on end then it’s well worth the investment. It was good enough at it’s job, that I bought a second one.

Green Chile Adventure Gear

Green Chili Gear

Green Chili Gear

I took the hard luggage on this trip into Mexico partially for security reasons and partially for storage. Turns out, I really didn’t need all that much storage (except after visiting the tortilleria in San Ignacio). My usual set up, even with the hard luggage, is to have my daily cloths and toiletries in an easy to grab water-proof bag strapped on top of the seat. I started doing this for smaller rides where I just need the one bag and part of what has made this so convenient and versatile is the Uprising Soft Rack Luggage System from Green Chile Adventure Gear. When I was getting the bike outfitted I reached out to the guys at GCAG and asked if they could whip together a one of their Uprising Kits for me in a custom color. They could, and they did, and it’s awesome.

Give them a look and check out the system. It’s the single most versatile luggage strap system out there and it’s incredibly robust, using the same webbing and cam-straps that outfitters use for whitewater rafting trips. You can, quite literally, strap anything to your bike and make it secure. My rack stays on my bike all the time and has proven useful over and over again.

Gear that I was not happy with…

Scrubba Wash Bag

Sadly, there was one piece of gear that I had high hopes for but was sorely disappointed in. The Scrubba Wash Bag claims to be a travel-friendly way to do your laundry on the road. It is supposed to allow you to keep up with your laundry pretty much anywhere as long as you have a little soap and water. Ideal for a trip like this, right?

In theory, yes. But in reality, the quality just didn’t pan out. The dry bag itself, which is supposed to serve as your washing machine, had construction problems and did not hold water. This was a manufacturers defect due to it just being a poor quality bag. Then the valve, which is supposed to allow you to release air so that you can scrub your clothes in the soapy water, popped off the dry bag the first time I tried to use it leaving me with a gaping hole in the side of the bag. I tried to muscle through it and see if I could at least make the scrubbing surface work. So I took the bag into the shower (where the mess wouldn’t matter) and tried to use the bag’s scrubbing mechanism but the rubber backing meant to give you traction on a surface while you scrub didn’t really give me any traction and the bag just slid around on the floor.

In the end, I found it much more efficient to just wash my dirty socks in the hotel sink instead. The bag still functioned as a bag and I was able to use it to store my dirty laundry on the return trip…otherwise though, it was a bust.

 

Turning 40: As good as it gets…

I don’t normally like to make a big deal out of celebrating my birthday. I have even less concern for the number attached to it.

But turning 40 is kind of a big one.

Within a few months of my 39th birthday I began thinking about my 40th. Not with resistance or trepidation, I have no fight with growing older. I welcome it. But I wanted my 40th to be something well beyond ordinary.

On my wife’s 40th birthday I asked her what she wanted to do, where she wanted to spend her 40th. “We can do whatever you want”, I told her. After some thought and discussion, she decided she wanted to gather a few close friends and head to one of her favorite places…Lake Tahoe. She has fond memories of Tahoe and fell in love with the area when she lived in Reno. We started our relationship up there, we got engaged up there, we got married up there. It was no surprise that she picked a place so close to her heart to spend her 40th birthday. So we rented a house not far from the lake in South Lake Tahoe and invited people to join us. We drove up with our dog, Wiley, and met her best friend Cortney for a great week of hiking, sunning, eating, drinking, paddleboarding and kayaking at the lake.

Wiley Kayaking, Paddleboarding, Beer… #cattledogadventures #MerelynTurns40

A photo posted by Dave Creech (@wildernessdave) on

Not many of our friends made it up to Tahoe, but it was still a great birthday. It suited my wife perfectly and made her very happy.

I wanted the same thing, a birthday custom fit to me that would suite my desire for adventure and excitement…and make me happy. Once I figured out what that would be I’d open the invitations and hope to get to share it with a few close friends that would appreciate it as well. I just had to figure out what I wanted to do.

Somewhere in March I finally got my motorcycle running again and began putting in some miles. As my motorcycle day trips got longer and longer I found myself day dreaming at what kind of big motorcycle trips I would like to do. I’ve talked about riding down from Alaska, I’ve looked at long desert rides in the southwest, I’ve thought about riding up to the Pacific Northwest to visit family. Pouring over ride reports and looking at trips there were a couple of things that kept coming up that caught my attention, and they were in Mexico.

My wife and I both love Mexico. We have fond memories of trips to Mexico with friends and family.

“Why would you want to go to Mexico!? You’ll get killed! Or end up rotting in a Mexican prison! Mexico is dangerous!”, says every person who has never been to Mexico, regurgitating what they hear in the media.

Mexico is amazing!

I began to grow fond of the idea of riding my motorcycle through Mexico. The questionable roads, the amazing people, the culture…the tacos! I also really wanted it to be an adventure, which made me want to visit a part of Mexico I’ve never seen before and knew very little about. As the dream of motorcycle trips into Mexico began to take real shape in my mind I was suddenly very excited about the prospect of what my birthday could be. As it came together in my head it seemed obvious to me who I would talk to about coming along as my riding partner.

It was only just last year that I bought my motorcycle and began riding. It only made sense to go to the guy who basically introduced me to Adventure Motorcycle Travel. So, sometime in late Spring I reached out to my good buddy J Brandon and asked, “What do you think about doing a 2 week motorcycle trip in November on our KLRs through Baja California?”

J took some time to see if he could pull it together on his end and I started inviting a few other folks who I thought might be able to meet us in Cabo. While nearly everyone else found excuses not to go, J came back with a near absolute confirmation. In September we met up in southern California and rode to Horizons Unlimited in Mariposa together. I’ve traveled with J before but we’d never really ridden together and Baja would be two weeks of riding, so it was a good experience to get a feel for how each other rides. It would make for a long two weeks if we found out that we were completely incompatible as travel partners. I’ve known J for a handful of years now, though, and we’ve spent a lot of time talking about travel, adventure and what it takes to do it right. I was fairly certain we were both on the same dusty and tattered page about adventure travel, and probably drinking the same awesome-infused-kool-aid when it comes to the role motorcycles play. A few hundred miles, a bottle of whiskey and some tacos de buche later and we were pretty sure our travel styles were compatible.

After that trip, we were both pretty set on making Baja work.

J and I spent a lot of time talking about routes and stops and mileage, but ultimately we both wanted an open trip where we could figure things out as we rode through the country. A trip without a real plan. Our only real timeline would be arriving in San Jose del Cabo in time to meet up with my wife and family that made the trip out for my birthday. The rest of the ride would be all about trying stuff, figuring it out, taking chances, exploring our options and enjoying the freedom of just riding. I wanted maximum flexibility to shape the trip on the fly.

November was creeping up on me fast and before I knew it, it was time to go. I had spent October getting the bike ready for what would be a 3000 mile road trip. I had to replace the tires I’d worn out riding to Horizons Unlimited, front and rear brakes, chain, sprockets, doohickey and headlight. I also added a new skid plate and a couple other pieces of protection. Then cleaned the air filter and changed the oil. When it came time to leave I felt like I was riding a whole new bike. Amplifying that feeling was knowing that I was essentially going to be living on that motorcycle for the next two weeks.

  Baja bound! #roadtrip #Mexico #discoverbaja #advmoto #motochat #ATQA   A photo posted by Dave Creech (@wildernessdave) on

I set out on the loaded bike in the early morning sunshine the Sunday before my birthday. I would need to be in San Jose del Cabo by Friday afternoon. Once I fueled up and got on the road, I immediately felt a sense of freedom and happiness that would end up lasting the whole trip.

For two weeks J and I rode our motorcycles through Baja smiling broadly behind our full-face helmets and attacking every day like young kids on a grand adventure. And with every genuine mental or verbal exclamation of “Wow! This is amazing!” that I experienced I really did feel like a kid at times. I wasn’t running full speed toward 40, I was turning back the clock as fast as my KLR would take me. We eagerly soaked in so many great experiences like discovering the Pirate Hotel at dusk at the end of a dirt road in Camalu, stopping to help a group of locals get their bus running again in the lonely stretch of road near Catavina, meeting the talented women in San Ignacio making the best tortillas on the planet, watching kids play while stopped for coffee at an immaculate little shop in the mountains near Agua Amarga, pulling over to try local baked goods in Las Palmas, or leaning through the awesome twisty roads above Buena Vista. And don’t get me started on the tacos…

On Saturday, November 14th, I got up early like I do every day and quietly walked out of our hotel room trying not to wake my wife. It was still dark and no one else in the resort was out yet. I walked down to the beach in the winter chill of the early morning breeze and found a spot on the sand near the surf to wait for the sun to come up. I sat there with my bare toes in the cold sand, letting the rhythmic song of the surf wash over me as light gathered out to the east. I sat alone with my thoughts, taking time for a little introspective reflection in the first hours of my 40s. I smiled to myself and squinted at the horizon as the sun broke the surface of the ocean. “This”, I though to myself, “is exactly what I was looking for. This is how you welcome your 40s.”

Just then my wife found me and joined me on the beach, making the moment even sweeter. And so began my 40th year…sitting barefoot in the sand, with my beautiful wife, watching the sunrise on the beach in Cabo, having ridden my motorcycle for a week through Mexico with a good friend to get there.

  Lordy lordy my love is 40! Happy birthday @wildernessdave   A photo posted by @meclark9 on

I am thankful to Merelyn, Clinton and Mom for meeting me in Cabo for my birthday. I am sorry my in-laws had to cancel joining us due to injury. I am extremely thankful to J for playing hookie from his life for two weeks to join my adventure, it wouldn’t have been the same without him. If this is what turning 40 looks like, I promise to turn 40 every year from now on.

Gear | A Backpack for All Weather…

Outdoor Products recently asked me to take a look at their weatherproof backpack, the 30 L Shasta Weather Defense Backpack. They were kind enough to send me one of the packs so I could put it through it’s paces on the trail, on the water and in the crazy Arizona monsoons to see just how weatherproof this backpack really is.

The 30L Shasta Weather Defense Backpack

Arizona summers are oppressively hot and miserable with scorching temperatures reaching above 115 degrees in the lower desert. Most of the summer we avoid the heat and head for water or cooler temperatures. Instead of hiking and climbing as we do the rest of the year, my wife and I usually get an early start and head out to the lake for some kayaking and paddleboarding. On the weekends, we’ll head up north and hike in the shade of the pine forests or along canyon creeks. High country or low country, summer is also storm season and I have yet to have a single trip up north that didn’t rain on me at some point. What’s the common thread here? Wet. Kayaking, paddleboarding, creek hiking and rain storms all end up making it a challenge to keep our stuff dry.

Enter the Outdoor Products Shasta Weather Defense Backpack.

weather resistant backpack

I have a couple of dry bags from my whitewater days, and I’ve picked up a waterproof duffel for my camera gear, but we really didn’t have a casual backpack to handle short day trips with a high potential for getting soaked. Admittedly, the Shasta, at 30L, is a bit big for day trips. The Outdoor Products 20L version, the Amphibian, would be much more appropriate. The Shasta is deceptively huge and can carry a ton of stuff. For a beach day or paddleboarding morning it might be great with extra clothes, beach towels, snacks, etc. all stuffed in it’s generous roll-top main compartment.

The Shasta also has a convenient and sizeable front zippered pocket for quick-access items like a phone, map or sunscreen. The zipper is a nice weatherproof zipper that performed well keeping most moisture from contents inside the pocket.

The bungee cordage on either side, meant for carrying trekking poles, is handy for quickly strapping other items to the pack as well. We found it convenient to tie down wet shoes that we definitely did NOT want inside the backpack with our dry gear.

Dimensions: 20.5in x 10in x 10in / 1,654 cu in

  • Made from 420 Denier fabric with TPU coating
  • Welded seams
  • Watertight, roll top seal
  • Reflective accents
  • Articulated padded shoulder straps with sternum handle
  • Top carry handle
  • Front access pocket
  • Trekking pole holder
  • Padded waist belt

The Test Conditions

Poor Merelyn get’s all the glamorous model work when we have something like this to test out. After spending some time on the trail and on the water with the Shasta backpack she was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable it was to carry. Not loaded to capacity we didn’t really test it with a ton of weight, but with a moderate load it sat comfortably, rested well on the back and felt balanced as a backpack should. Even rock hopping in a wet and muddy creek the pack was stable, secure and kept things dry (and clean).

The backpack comes with a removable padded back support and adds some rigidity to the pack and would make heavier, bulky loads much easy to handle. It also comes with a removable waist belt. We removed them both to test out the pack, but they do offer up a bag that truly fits the backpack mold and isn’t just “another drybag”.

We spent an afternoon in the high country using the backpack for short hikes and playing along the creeks. I’ve had the backpack with me a couple of times as summer storms set in and was glad to have it. We also took it with us for our lake excursions where it stowed in the kayak, on the deck of the paddleboard and on Merelyn’s back as she paddled. We wanted to push the limits of the bag’s intended function to see how far it’s water resistance would go.

weather resistant backpack

weather resistant backpack in creek hike

testing weather resistant backpack on paddleboard

The Good, the Bad and the Wet…

The 30L Shasta Weather Defense Backpack is a really nice hybrid of a classic roll-top dry bag and a multi-use backpack. It has all the features one expects from both with little compromise. It’s roomy, comfortable and (when used properly) does a great job keeping the weather out. The TPU coated 420 Denier with welded seems essentially creates a waterproof bucket and it’s well made. This bomb-proof construction means there aren’t a lot of pockets that would require extra seems and there is only one way in or out of this bag. At about $80 retail, it’s a decent deal for a backpack of this size and comparable to a lot of similar sized drybags.

Being a roll-top bag it suffers the same limitations as any roll-top dry bag: it has to be full to work. Roll-tops require compression to work properly and make a strong seal against the elements. Like all roll-top bags, if you can’t roll the top tight enough and cinch it down, the roll loosens and water slips in. Being a 30L bag, we had to stuff a lot of gear into this bag to get the roll-top to close tightly. Sometimes, for a short while at least, you can trap enough air inside the bag to achieve a tight closure but it’s not an airtight bag and eventually you loose enough air to collapse the resistance you created. This is important to remember when choosing the bag size. Not a lot of gear, consider the 20L instead.

The outside pocket was impressively resistant to water. We had it strapped to the wet deck of the paddleboard as we bounced around in choppy water for a good 2 hours or more before the pocket showed any signs of letter water in. Splashing water and light rain didn’t make it through the pocket, making it a successful and secure weather resistant feature.

The hard part here is that the product description refers to the bag as “water tight” and it’s not. Not without a full load in the pack. Anyone who has worked with roll-tops would know this but many people may not. What it IS though, is weather resistant and and nicely designed and constructed. It serves it’s purpose well and, aside from the roll-top, keeps the water out effectively. I put this pack in my backyard pool, careful not to submerge the roll-top, and it successfully keeps all water out. I’d recommend this bag for paddling, canyoneering and backpacking in rainy conditions with complete confidence.

Just don’t treat it like it’s a sealed waterproof bag and you’ll be very happy with this backpack.

 

The Making of a Teardrop Trailer…

Our announcement a couple months ago that we had decided to order a Teardrop Trailer was a long time in the making. We started looking, researching and testing teardrops a little over 3 years ago. Now that we have committed to the purchase from TC Teardrops, we have a lot of decisions to make about how we want our build to go.

We’ve had to take a close look at how we like to travel, camp and spend time outdoors together. Realistically, we could make do with the bare minimum…realistically, we could make do with no trailer at all…but going forward we know some things would make travel a little easier, offer greater options and allow us to comfortably spend more time on the road. And that, really, is the whole goal. Our decisions have been based around the kind of travel we like and what we like to do when we get there. We like to spend our time outdoors so interior options are pretty minimal and we don’t normally cook elaborate meals so the galley could be pretty straight forward. We are more concerned with being able to get it where we want to go, making sure it is secure and offering us power and storage options for our toys and gadgets (gotta keep writing and taking pictures!).

We also had to keep the bottom line in mind while sorting through the options. One of the road blocks we faced initially looking at other teardrop companies was price. We have a number in mind that we set as our ceiling and many of our decisions have been colored by this limitation.

In an effort to answer some of the questions about what we ordered and why we chose the options we did, here is the breakdown of our build order from TC Teardrops.

TC Teardrop booth - photo by Exploring Elements

Photo by Bryon Dorr – Exploring Elements

Our Teardrop Trailer Options from TC Teardrops

The Base

5x9 teardrop package

There are several base options from TC Teardrops for their trailers. They offer a 4×8, 5×8, 5×9 and 5×10 base trailer size and everything else is built off of this. So our first decision hurdle was deciding on the size of our build. We really wanted to keep the trailer as small as possible, while still being functional for the two of us, our two dogs and some of the base gear we already travel with. We knew the 4×8 was going to be too small…no question. We initially got quotes on the 5×8 figuring there was plenty of room for us and we could make do. However, once we really started looking at the specs we ran into an issue with the size of the galley in the 5×8. At 17.5″ deep it was going to be a really tight fit to get our 50 quart cooler from Canyon Coolers in the space. The galley on the 5×9 is a roomy 25″ deep and would fit our cooler with plenty of room to spare. The 5×9 also offer additional room in the cabin so I would feel like a sardine.

teardrop trailer galley

TC Teardrops 5×9 Galley interior – photo by TC Teardrops

TC Teardrops base package includes the following:

  • Custom-built Frame
  • Powder-Coated Sides in your choice of stock colors
  • 3/4″ Side Walls
  • 14″ Aluminum Wheels and Black Powder-Coated Fenders
  • Flat Front Storage Platform
  • 2″ Coupler and Wheeled Tongue Jack
  • 2200# Torsion Axle with Bearing Buddies
  • Aluminum Diamond Plated Roof
  • Hurricane Hinge and Spring Supports on Rear Hatch
  • Two tinted doors with windows and screens
  • Two tinted windows with screens
  • Recessed LED Interior Lighting
  • LED Marker and Tail Lights
  • 12V Dual Port Accessory Outlet in Cabin
  • Cabinet w/Sunbrella Fabric Doors and Velcro Closure
  • Insulated Roof with Wood Headliner
  • Galley shelving, slide-out stove shelf and LED light
  • Battery Box wired for 12V (Battery not included)
  • 2 All-Weather Passive Side Air Vents

The Options and Upgrades

Color

Surprisingly, color was the one thing we struggled with the most. It’s easy to pick a color when buying something already built and ready for purchase. Picking a custom color from such a large selection had us debating, oscillating, comparing and (sometimes) arguing. In the end, we settled on a pretty neutral gray/silver color that would allow us to make some decorative modifications later without too much trouble.

Front Storage

I wanted something up front for storage with a little more security and protection from the elements. And since we would have room for our cooler in the galley, we could upgrade to the 60″ waterproof diamond-plate lockable toolbox up front as for storage. This will house the battery and allow us to lock up a few odds and ends that otherwise might be difficult to store.

Wheels and Tires

We talked about doing a full-on off-road package on the teardrop but the more we talked about it the more it seemed unnecessary. For the most part, we wouldn’t be hauling the teardrop places our Subaru Outback couldn’t go so we were more concerned with ground clearance than “off-road” capability. The “Ground Clearance Package” offered by TC Teardrops includes a couple extra inches of clearance with an upgrade to 15″ wheels/tires and a 25 degree 2200 lb torsion axle. We also upgraded the spare to match (of course). Budget also played a roll here, if we were not worried about the total cost we might have elected for the off-road package just because. The price difference was about $1000.

They also have different fender options. My wife and I disagreed on what would visually be better but I won out for practical reasons. I wanted the squared off Jeep style fenders mainly because it creates a small “shelf” when parked and adds some utility. I also felt they’d be a little easier to wrench back into shape if we were to bump into something or someone bump into us.

Mattress

The base package does not come with a mattress, allowing you use your own or opt to save a little weight with an air mattress or sleeping pads. We decided to have them include a Verlo Queen size mattress and mattress cover that would permanently live in the teardrop trailer. A little more comfort for us and a little less hassle when packing up for a trip. It also offers a little more insulation to an exposure through the floor.

Roof Rack System

We have a roof rack on our Outback, so we almost didn’t opt for the roof rack on the trailer. But from a utility standpoint, it’s a good idea. If we set camp somewhere and take off in the Subaru, we may not want to haul kayaks, paddleboards or bikes with us everywhere. It might be more convenient to leave them strapped (and locked) onto the teardrop. Plus, any roof accessories we would want would require a roof rack and, as it turned out, we did end up adding a couple things.

Attached Awning

TC Teardrops offers the Foxwing Awning System which, when deployed, provides 270 degrees of coverage around the side of the trailer it’s mounted on. It’s quick and easy to set up and when folded in, it is surprisingly compact. Having the built in shade options, especially for trips here in the desert, saves us from lugging clunky pop-ups or rigging tarps to nearby trees.

Power and Charging

The trailers are all pre-wired for 12V power. The included LED lights run off of a 12V battery that we’ll supply when the trailer gets here. We also had them include a 15W solar panel to keep the battery charged up. We asked them if we could get a couple of USB accessory charging ports in the cabin and had them include the 110V Shore Power outlets in the galley for when we have the ability to plug in somewhere.

Interior Options

teardrop interior cabinet storage

To finish off the interior we selected their Honey Maple finish color and had them add Sunbrella fabric “cabinet doors” to the interior storage shelf. For ventilation and comfort we are having them add the zippered screen doors and a 12V directional ceiling fan to supplement whatever air we get from the included side vents and windows. Most of the other interior modifications we have in mind, we’ll do ourselves. Storage solutions and decorative decisions inside we’ll customize as we go based on use and need.

Other Options

Our teardrop will also have a 2″ receiver hitch with a 75lb limit for additional storage or rack options (if needed). We asked to include the small prep table for the galley area. We also asked about getting a custom made storage cover for the trailer since ours will end up having to spend time exposed to the elements when not in use. We are still debating getting a custom vinyl graphic done for the back lid (galley cover) but at this point I think we’re leaning away from it. Like choosing a color, trying to pick out or design a graphic for the back will likely cause more problems than it’s worth.

Putting this all together has been fun and Carol at TC Teardrops has been very patient with our order changes, revisions and questions. The closer our build date gets, the more excited we are about getting our trailer and putting it to use on the road. Time might be tight for a while, but we’re already talking about doing a cross-country trip with our new trailer next year. We can’t wait to add #TeardropAdventures to our social stream.

Have any questions about our trailer build, or the options we chose, feel free to drop us a comment. Any questions about TC Teardrops, their process or pricing go to TC Teardrops.com or email Carol.

Thanks to TC Teardrops for use of some of their photos.

Click here for an update on how things are going with the trailer now that we have been using it a while.

Tips for Buying Your First Stand Up Paddleboard…

Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) has been one of the fasting growing and most popular outdoor activities of the last few years. In a 2013 report by “The Outdoor Foundation” stand up paddling attracted 1.2 million people participating in 9.6 million outings, the most participants in an outdoor activity in the U.S. in 2012. This included all ages from 6+ with the most participation being seen in men and women between the ages of 35-44. Wouldn’t you know it, my wife and I are smack in the middle of that demographic so it would make sense that we now own a paddleboard.

Stand Up Paddleboard Tahoe

In the 1940s, surf instructors in Waikiki like the famous Leroy and Bobby AhChoy would take paddles into the surf and stand on their boards to get a better view of the surfers in the water and incoming swells. When Bobby was injured in a car accident that prevented him from swimming or kneeling, he would stand on his board and paddle into the surf zone offering tips and advice to the younger surfers. In the 1980s popular pro surfers like Brian Keaulana, Rick Thomas, Archie Kalepa and Laird Hamilton began using SUP as an alternative way to train while the surf was down and it picked up the nickname “beach boy surfing”.

Even though stand up surfing with a paddle has a long history and has been popular in Hawaii for decades, interest in modern paddleboarding is relatively new outside Hawaii. SUP has grown considerably in the US mainland since it was transplanted from Hawaii to California in 2004 by surfer and Naval Special Forces veteran Rick Thomas. It solidified it’s place in the world of water sports in 2008 when the US Coast Guard officially classified paddleboards as a “vessel” (like a canoe or kayak) requiring use of a personal flotation device (PFD) when paddling outside of surf zones. The attraction is undeniable and the sport has near universal appeal to all demographics. There is something very seductive about the grace, strength and tranquility exhibited by skilled paddleboarders…even if reality for beginners is something very different.

My wife and I had our first SUP experience on the clear, blue waters of Lake Tahoe on her 40th birthday. That short afternoon on the water set the hook and it was only a matter of time before we invested in our own board. Having taken our time to go through the selection and purchasing process, I feel we can offer some sound advice to others looking to buy their first board.

Tips for Buying Your First Stand Up Paddleboard

1. Try Before you Buy


Once you’ve seen those sleek boards cutting smoothly through the water it’s hard not to want one. Before you run out and buy the next board you see, look for a good rental place to test a few boards out. There are multiple styles and sizes of SUPs and your ideal board will vary based on your style of paddling, your size, the type of water you’ll float as well as your skill on the board. Personally, I’m a big guy with a heavy upper body and an aggressive paddle stroke – I need a bigger, more stable board. My wife is half my size, has a Pilates-strong core and a relaxed paddle stroke. If I try to use the SUP my wife is comfortable on, I fall off pretty fast.

We rented several times trying out different board styles to figure out what we were comfortable with. Before we bought ours, my wife tried out a couple of different lengths to make sure she found the right ratio of speed, stability and manageable weight before we settled on the right one. Renting SUPs in most places is pretty affordable compared to other recreational options, so don’t be afraid to rent and rent often.

2. Do your Homework

Classic surf board construction is an art form requiring experience, skill and an instinct for hydrodynamic form. Modern paddleboards are an extension of that tradition and there are a variety of different construction methods used in making them. Just about everything out there will have an EPS foam core with sandwiched layers of fiberglass and epoxy. The number of layers and the quality of the construction materials are generally what will determine the cost of the board. Aside from the typical sandwich construction boards you will find pop-out production boards, made from mold injected polystyrene foam and heat treated epoxy and fiberglass. Pop-out boards are generally lighter and more durable and not a bad choice for the beginner. There are some really amazing custom-shaped, hand-glassed, hand-polished boards that would qualify as artwork and have the price tag to prove it. Since we’re talking about buying your first paddleboard, I would recommend going with something a little more economical that you wouldn’t mind getting a ding or scratch on.

Ultimately, you just want a board that you’re comfortable on and will hold up well as you learn to paddle. However, it is important to understand how construction effects pricing, maintenance and durability when selecting a board to purchase.

3. What Kind of Paddleboarder will you be?

SUP with dog

Stand up boards are used pretty much everywhere these days from quiet paddles on the lake to running whitewater. Different regions offer various SUP opportunities and your activity of choice will have some influence on the type of board you’ll need and how it’s set up. Many of the recreational whitewater SUPs look and ride very different than the sleek, thin boards designed for flat water. Even the paddles for whitewater paddleboarding are different. Having to carry your board into remote areas might lean you toward trying an inflatable version. Planning on boarding with your dog? You’ll want more stability and traction pads so your dog doesn’t slip and slide on the board.

Whatever you end up with should reflect the direction you plan to go with the sport. The activity defines the board type:

  • Surf: shorter boards that turn well and are naturally at home in the waves
  • Family recreation: durable boards with width for stability
  • Cruise: long boards, often with room for cargo; at home on flat water
  • Fitness and race: long, narrow boards built for speed in any water conditions
  • Yoga: wide, stable boards; often made with full deck pads for better grip in various postures

You’ll also need to make sure that your selecting the right sized board based on your experience and size. Longer, wider boards can be more stable and carry more weight, but might be too wide to paddle comfortably or too long to maneuver. Larger paddlers on smaller boards can find them pretty unstable. Think about who will be using the board and where to determine what size will work best. The chart below is a guideline used by many of the SUP dealers to determine proper board size for individuals.

Beginner Advanced
Weight: 120-150 lb.
Length: 10 ft. 6 in.-11 ft.
Width: 28-30 in.
Weight: 120-150 lb.
Length: 9 ft.-10 ft. 6 in
Width: 26-26.5 in.
Weight: 160-190 lb..
Length: 11 ft.
Width: 29-32 in.
Weight: 160-190 lb.
Length: 9 ft. 6 in.-10 ft. 6 in.
Width: 27-28 in.
Weight: 200-230 lb.
Length: 11 ft.-11 ft. 6 in.
Width: 29-32 in.
Weight: 200-230 lb.
Length: 10 ft.-11 ft.
Width: 28-28.5 in.
Weight: 240-270 lb.
Length: 11 ft. 6 in.-12 ft.
Width: 32-33 in.
Weight: 240-270 lb.
Length: 11 ft.-11 ft. 6 in.
Width: 29.5-31.5 in.
Weight: 280+ lb.
Length: 12 ft.
Width: 33 in.
Weight: 280+ lb.
Length: 12 ft.
Width: 32 in.

4. Budgeting for Accessories

As is the case with many sports, getting into SUP requires a small collection of specialized equipment. While the board itself is the most expensive item ($700 and up) it really can’t be used alone, so you’ll need to take into account all the other equipment needed when planning your budget. Many places will sell a board and paddle combo package, the bare minimum to get started, but you can’t assume your board will come with a paddle. A SUP paddle will cost somewhere between $80 and $250 with the average basic paddle somewhere in the $140 range. Other typical accessories you’ll need are a board leash ($30), a decent low-profile PFD ($80-$200) and a board bag ($150-$250) for keeping your investment protected. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have some good personal sun protection with a high UPF long sleeve shirt and a good hat, maybe even a wet suit if you plan to paddle in the winter. It adds up quick, just be prepared for it.

Once you’ve used your board for a while you might start thinking about other, more specialized accessories like a traction pad (if yours doesn’t have one or your dog needs one), gear storage, spare fins or a helmet (for whitewater).

5. Transportation

Stand Up Paddle Board on Roof Rack

Another logistic and cost to consider is how you plan to get around with your new paddleboard. Inflatables offer a nice, easy option as you can toss the rolled up board and pump in the back of your car and off you go. With a rigid board you’ll need to consider a roof rack setup, preferably with foam padding to keep the board from getting beat up. Long cam-straps work best for lashing your board down to the roof rack, look for padded cam-straps ($20 pair) to reduce the chance of scratches or gouges. If security is an issue consider buying cam-straps with an interior steel cable and locking cams ($90 pair). Having a good board bag also helps with transportation, guarding your new baby from scratches and road debris and keeping it out of direct sun.

6. Care and Maintenance

Luckily, care and maintenance on your new paddleboard is pretty easy and straight forward but there are a few key things you need to keep in mind when you’re buying a new board. Most importantly, do not keep your board in direct sunlight for extended periods of time. When you’re not using your board it really should be kept in a shady spot, or covered with a light-reflective material. The extreme heat that builds up inside the layers of your board when in direct sun can cause damage to the EPS foam core and delaminate the board. Many boards have built in valves to help mitigate gas buildup, but direct exposure should still be avoided. Extended exposure to UV rays can also ruin the finish on your board.

It’s important to wash your board after every use, especially when using it in the ocean. Sea water can corrode metal parts and break down plastic seals and o-rings. Be sure to rinse with clean fresh water paying particular attention to any metal or joints in your board and paddle. Even in fresh water it is still important to wash the board down so that you don’t inadvertently carry contaminants to other bodies of water. Lakes like Tahoe have suffered from the introduction of foreign algae from recreational watercraft brought to the lake dirty.

If your board does have a vent plug, it’s important to check it often to make sure it’s working properly. Get in the habit of loosening the vent plug when the board is not in use so the board can breathe. If you store your board in it’s board bag, make sure both are bone dry before storing. Any dampness in the bag can create an environment for mold and mildew which will wreck havoc on your board.

Following these tips should minimize frustration and set you up for maximum enjoyment in your new found sport. Find a good local retailer, get the board of your dreams and get outside!