Dave Creech is a successful business owner and entrepreneur based in Phoenix, Arizona. He shares his personal story and lifelong passion for travel and rugged outdoor adventure through his blog at WildernessDave.com. David’s focus has been on trip stories, gear reviews, Wilderness Medicine and a series of articles aimed at introducing Yoga to hikers and backpackers as a path to staying fit, healthy and injury free.

Forks in the Road – A Travelers Cookbook

Forks in the Road Cookbook

An argument could be made that eating is the backbone of travel. In my experience, most travel (road trips, plane flights, camping, backpacking, rafting, etc.) revolves around food. What food do you pack? Where do you eat? When should we stop to eat? What is the local food like? Who are we eating with tonight? And what do we have to bring to cook? Food, and cooking, is a huge part of our day to day lives and it’s importance is amplified when traveling. It’s no wonder, then, that a book compiling recipes collected while on the road and focused on travel cooking has surfaced…in fact, I’m surprised there aren’t more of them.

Forks in the Road – Overland Expo 2014

Overland Expo is a symphonic cacophony of adventurous travel stories. To get into the individual accomplishments of every Overlanding group becomes an ego driven exercise of carefully stacking the number of miles driven, countries visited, tires changed and officials bribed in a round-the-world pissing match. All in good fun, of course, as every storyteller is also an avid fan-boy of the next adventurer recounting the comedy and tragedy of their own epic sagas. Ultimately, it’s the not how far or how long your trip was that sets your story apart but the personalities involved and how they’ve shaped the journey that really matters.

This year at Overland Expo I made an effort to look past the dusty statistics and find something that really captured my interest among a whole collection of unique and interesting stories. The stories that captured my interest were the ones relateable to me, aligning with my own experiences as I begin to dip my big toe into the Overlanding lifestyle. I love all land south of the border including Mexico, Central America and South America and long to travel more extensively in that part of the world. I am also a cook, at home and on the road, and meal prep is a big part of our travel experience. Ask my wife, she’ll tell you that proper food on the road may make the difference between a happy road trip and a miserable meltdown.

Enter Life Remotely.

Kobus - Life Remotely

I met this trio for the first time as I walked along the dusty path between vendor booths casually assessing this year’s assortment of new products. I lingered at their booth eyeing the hand-made grills and metal Expedition Tongs sitting neatly on the edge of the table. I was drawn in further when I realized they were hosting some cooking demos I had already decided I wanted to sit in on. Immediately I was engaged by their outgoing front-man, a charismatic South African native by the name of Kobus who doubled as grill-master and crowd wrangler. He took a break from working the crowds to tell me a little about their new cookbook and introduce me to Jessica, the “token female” of the group and Kobus’s wife.

“This is a collection of recipes we put together during 19 months on the road through Central and South America…”, I don’t even think I let her finish the whole sentence before I said I wanted one. Jessica operates as the Navigator and, seemingly, primary income provider of the trio. Working as a photographer and graphic designer who successfully manages her business from a small laptop between internet connections, her income fuels the ongoing journey. Her brother, Jared, claims she is the primary reason there always seems to be a bottle of wine around to roll out fresh tortillas but she is also responsible for the beautiful photography featured in their book.  Just flipping casually through the pages and knowing they collected local recipes as they traveled in Latin America sold me on their book, Forks in the Road.

Jared is head chef of the Life Remotely crew, taking responsibility for almost everything they eat on the road. Throughout their 19 month trip, they’ve cooked about 80% of their own meals mostly planned an orchestrated by Jared with grill help from Kobus. Forks in the Road was his baby and while all three of them are listed on the cover, he is credited as author. I caught up with Jared as he was preparing empanadas for a Dutch Oven demo later that morning. He talked about technique and the importance of flexibility in recipes while traveling in foreign countries all while trading good-natured insults with his sister and brother-in-law. The finished empanadas were pretty amazing.

Life Remotely - Empanadas - Forks in the Road

Dutch Oven Empanadas - Forks in the Road

Forks in the Road – A Cookbook for the Road

Forks in the Road is specifically designed as a cooking guide for Overlanders by Overlanders. Jared chronicles the book’s authenticity ,

“Every recipe in this book was discovered, adapted, cooked, written, revised and meticulously photographed somewhere between Tijuana, Mexico and Ushuaia, Argentina. The first recipes were written mere miles from The Death Road in Bolivia. In the following months they were photographed on the coast of Chile, edited on a cruise ship in Antarctica, formatted in a Uruguayan hotel, and finally submitted for publishing from a rental house on the beach in Brazil.”

The book is a collection of local favorites and down-home comfort food with simplicity and minimal equipment in mind for ease of cooking on the road. It caters to the novice cook and experienced camp-chef alike with basic building-block recipes as well as complicated day-long, whole-hog roasting events. That’s what I think is so great about this book. If you’ve never cooked on the road before, these recipes will get you started. If you’ve cooked on the road for years, these recipes will still likely introduce you to flavors and techniques that are entirely new. These are recipes that bring a level of joy and comfort to your journey that it may have been lacking. Whether it’s Dutch Oven cinnamon rolls for breakfast, Chimichurri  Steak for dinner or a killer Caipirinha for an after dinner cocktail this book has you covered. Organized into sections with names like “Comfort Breakfasts”, “Eat Lunch Like a Local” and “I’m Tired and Dirty and Just Want to Eat Dinners” this book is made for travel but offers a nice change of pace for the home cook as well. Hell, even part-time road warrior and self-proclaimed “non-cook”, Val-in-Real-Life picked up a copy of the eBook for some less frightening culinary ideas on the road and actually put it to use on her 7-week Pacific Northwest Tour.

Aside from the recipes, Jared has presented well written stories and detailed techniques for finding food, fun and adventure on the road. Accented with Jessica’s photography my copy of Forks in the Road has an honored spot on our coffee table…that’s when it’s not actually on the road with us.

Forks in the Road

Forks in the Road – Bringing in the Crowds

So, how do you cut through the chaos and bring in the crowd in the middle of a noisy, fast paced event like Overland Expo? Easy: Feed the people!

Yup, the Life Remotely trio executed the perfect PR stunt by spending 6+ hours Saturday morning during the peak of the Expo fire roasting a whole 40 lb lamp on a home-made spit over an open fire. Continually basted in a chimichurri-like marinade the enticing aroma of garlic and roasting meat whipped by high winds attracted huge crowds all day Saturday with the tantalizing promise of a free tasting when it was done. As the designated hour approached hoards of sun-baked, dust-covered, hungry Overlanders began to gather sensing the time was near. A long, haphazard line quickly formed as the meat was removed from the spit and laid whole across a table while Jared and Kobus stripped it clean and processed the meat into bite size pieces for the eager crowds.

Life Remotely Forks in the Road-2

Life Remotely Forks in the Road-5

Life Remotely - Forks in the Road

Life Remotely Forks in the Road-8The lamb roasting event was a big hit as Life Remotely took the opportunity to work the crowds and talk about their book. Jared, Jessica and Kobus put on other demos and tastings throughout the weekend sharing recipes and techniques they’ve experimented with on the road. The Dutch Oven empanadas, a mud-baked whole chicken and chilaquiles from home-made tortillas rounded out the weekend’s demonstrations. With every demo you could tell that they’ve learned to work together and manage minor frustrations without letting them get in the way. The trio’s time on the road has truly made them a team.

Jared talks about finding balance. How important it is to strike a happy medium between chaos and comfort to stay sane:

“It turns out that much of this world is full of dirty bathrooms, noisy campsites, inaccurate maps, understocked grocery stores and horrible road conditions. It also has a fair share of excellent accommodations, spectacular scenery and very friendly people. Not knowing which to expect as you roll into the next town is one of the best, yet most difficult parts of traveling. Finding the balance will help you deal with these uncertain circumstances without turning grocery shopping and nightly meals into a burden.”

Simplicity, flexibility and a willingness to experiment seem to be key factors in keeping sane on the road. Especially when it comes to food. It appears the Life Remotely crew have found their balance and it’s a pleasure to watch them show it off.

Check out more of their adventures at LifeRemotely.com and I encourage you to grab a copy of their book, Forks in the Road, by clicking here.

 

Camp Food – Wife’s Favorites

Car camping with my wife has been a lot of fun and a huge learning experience.  I am so accustomed to camping alone and only worrying about my own comfort that I let a lot of things pass just because they’re not priority.  One of the biggest things that changed when my wife and I started camping together was the camp food.  I had come into a habit of treating food like a necessary evil when camping or backpacking, making it as painless, lightweight and worry free as possible.  I would do a couple of nights in the desert with some oatmeal, trail mix and a big bag of beef jerky.  That kind of thing won’t fly when we’re camping together.

First of all, my wife is a vegetarian.  So the beef jerky staple is out and she’s not much for dried fruit, so I have to think about fresh ingredients when possible.  Car camping with the cooler makes it relatively easy to manage, backpacking is a little more of a challenge.  But I promised my wife plenty of snacks in our wedding vows and that means making sure she is fed well even when we’re out in the middle of nowhere.  Luckily, there are some easy go-to dishes that have become her favorite camping meals when we’re on the road.

Grilled Cheese and Veggies

Grilled Cheese

This sounds easy, but there’s some thought that goes into this.  The right bread, the right cheese(s), grilled veggies to add…you gotta get it right! My wife’s running favorite is white cheddar, goat cheese and grilled sweet potato on wheat bread.  If I’m feelin it, we’ll add a few jalapeno slices for some spice.

Grilled Veggies

Remember in Cub Scout camp-outs wrapping veggies in foil and tossing them over the fire?  Yeah, that still works.  We’ll slice up some sweet peppers, squash and mushrooms then add a pad of butter and some seasoning.  Wrap the whole thing in foil and grill over an open flame.  For a little extra punch I’ll add some jalapeno mustard to the mix.

Sweet Potato Pancakes with Berries

Breakfast is usually oatmeal (we make it a little extra watery so we can add powdered peanut butter to it – AWESOME!) but once in a while I’ll make pancakes while we’re at camp if we have time.  On one of our trips to Grand Canyon we got up early so I could shoot the sunrise.  When we came back I put coffee on and started on a big breakfast.  I had some sweet potato pancake mix to which I added powdered peanut butter and blueberries.  I cooked them in my fancy new contraption from Snow Peak and they were amazing!  So good they didn’t need any syrup.

Pancakes in Snow Peak Clamshell

 

Bonus Camp Cooking Tip:

Even if you’re eating prepared, freezedried or leftover food from home, always bring a few fresh ingredients to add some dimension to your meal.  I generally bring a lime, at least one jalapeno and an apple.  Dice the apple and add it to oatmeal for some fresh, sweet crunch.  Add diced jalapeno to pasta, rice or chili dishes for some fresh spice or add slices to sandwiches and eggs.  Lime juice goes a long way to freshen Thai dishes, Mexican dishes or even eliminate that weird flavor we often get from filtered water.

Snow Peak cutting board

For more Camp Food tips, tricks, ideas and recipes check out the Sierra Trading Post Social Hub post about Food for the Outdoors.

 

Rediscovering Trail Running

The hard part about getting back into running after a long time away is the shortness of the runs.  It usually takes me a mile or so to get into sync and find my rhythm.  Another mile of decent running and I’m starting to feel fatigued and tired enough that I have to really pay attention to form.  These short distances usually mean I’m doing quick, boring loops on the streets or at the park in my neighborhood.  I miss being able to run 6-8 miles on an average run and really get to see some stuff, vary the route, make it interesting.  That’s what I’ve missed about trail running.

It hardly seems worth it to drive out to a trail for a run if I can only pull off a couple of miles.  But I finally started to get some strength back and the knee is holding up really well.  I’ve been (very) slowly adding on distance to my runs and bike rides.  Saturday, I decided I wanted to get a little bit of a longer run in and thought that hitting the trail would be the way to do it.  Getting out on the trail I would have more to look at, a chance to vary the route if I wanted to and I would be away from the familiar “track” I usually run.

Trail Running Trail 100

I drove out Saturday morning and lucked out to find one spot left in the tiny parking lot at the east end of Trail 100 through the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.  As I got my stuff together and got on the trail I was disappointed to realize I forgot my headphones.  Running on pavement I usually have music and had planned listening during my trail run.  As I began running though, I remembered that I gave up music on the trail a long time ago.  Sound is one of the big draws to trail running for me and I almost ruined it for myself out of thoughtlessness.  I really enjoy hearing the crunch of rock under foot, the chirp of birds and insects, the wind blowing through rocks and trees as I run.  Most importantly, I rediscovered, is the importance of hearing the mountain bikers coming up behind me so I can move off trail for them.

I also forgot about how trail running effects pace, especially out here in the rocky, thorny desert trails we have.  Settling in to a slower pace allows me to go further and enjoy the run much more.  Rather than running on a long flat surface where I can get distracted and complacent about my run, the trail is varied and interesting with hills and washes, obstacles and debris, wildlife and scenery.  I can run more naturally without feeling like I am over-thinking the mechanics of running.

A runner friend encouraged me to run by feel, not paying attention to the “data” as I run.  Trail running is where this makes the most sense to me.  I am out for the joy of the run and the beauty of the trail, I should be worried about pace, distance or calories burned.  I wanted to get 4 or more miles in on my run this Saturday but I didn’t want to pay attention to the GPS.  I wanted to just run a comfortable run at an enjoyable pace.  I actually ran a little under 4 miles, so I didn’t hit my goal (unless you include the short warm up walk).  But really, I felt the run was successful and comfortable and it felt great to get back out on the trail.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve Trail 100

My Tips for Enjoying a Trail Run

  • Lose the Tunes – Connect with the outdoors and the trail by losing the music and allowing yourself to experience the sights AND the sounds of the trail.
  • Slow it Down – Be OK with the fact that you probably won’t run the same pace on the trail that you do on pavement.  It’s a very different experience, adjust accordingly.
  • Just Run! – Running on the trail for me is more about the trail and less about the performance.  Get the run in and make it fun without the constant GPS obsession.

 

Trail Shoes

I recently picked up some new shoes for running as most of my other shoes are old and beat up from before my injury.  I had just purchased a new pair of running shoes before I broke my foot, but didn’t like them and gave them away so I was still in need of new shoes.  I picked up some light trail shoes from Columbia to try out in hopes that they would do the job.  I really liked the Conspiracy Outdry trail shoes I got from columbia but they’re a little bulky for running so I ordered the lightweight Conspiracy Vapor.  They are a low profile, lightweight, multi-sport shoe with well thought out reinforcing and a nice low 3mm drop.  I was starting to run in zero drop shoes before my injury and I do like the low angle of the Vapors.

Columbia Conspiracy Vapor Trail Shoes

Like the other Conspiracy shoes I’ve worn, there were pretty comfortable right out of the box, although they don’t have the same awesome shape of the original.  I liked the wide toe box on my original Conspiracy’s and they felt great, the Vapor was narrower through the toe box and took a little time to break in.  The weight is nice and about 9-10 oz. per shoe and the tread has a nice grip to it.

I’m not terribly happy with these shoes when running on pavement.  Unfortunately, I can’t really explain why.  They just seem to be harsh on my feet running on pavement compared to other running shoes (I have been running in my Altra Zero Drop shoes as well).  Once I got the Vapors on the trail, it was a different story.

Columbia Conspiracy Vapor Trail Shoes

On the rocky, dusty desert trails around here the Vapors performed great.  The sole/midsole assembly is rigid enough to protect my feet from the sharp rocks on the trail, but flexible enough to be agile on the technical terrain.  They breathe well and the reinforced outer provides some nice protection.  I was pleasantly surprised at the difference in how these shoes felt on the trail vs. the pavement.  They are a “trail shoe” and not a true running shoe and it shows when I run in them on different surfaces.

I just started using them so we’ll see how they hold up.  If the other Conspiracy shoes are any indicator, they’ll do fine and at $80 they’re cheaper than any running shoes I’ve ever had and most trail shoes I’ve purchased.

SOCKS!

I also wanted to add a note about the socks.  I have been using a variety of socks over the last couple of years to try out new brands, styles, materials and fits in an attempt to find a great sock.  I have a few brands that I really love including Point6, Ausangate and Smartwool.  The first gear review I ever wrote was for the Smartwool PhD hiking socks that I wore for a month on the Colorado river in 2007.  I was really impressed with how the socks held up to daily abuse in and out of water day after day.  Smartwool recently sent me the socks shown above to try out as one of their Fan Field Testers.  They are the NEW and improved ultra-light PhD micro running socks and I love them.  They quickly reminded me of why I was so enamored with Smartwool in the first place.  The socks fit well, hold their shape and take a ton of abuse without the slightest whimper.  The only other socks I have that have held up as well are my Point 6 socks (which I really do love) but the PhDs are much thinner which I really like for running socks.

Committing to be Motivated…

getting back in shape

For anyone who hasn’t followed my blog (ever) I’ll recap the last 14 months or so.  The last race I ran was the Tillman Run in April 2013.  I shouldn’t have run it as I was dealing with some serious foot pain but, you know, “muscle through it, pansy!”  The next week I tried a hike (painful) and some sprinting (really painful) and by the end of the week was in to the doctor where I discovered I had been trying to push through a double stress fracture in my foot.  Fast forward a few painful months and I was finally able to walk on my foot but as soon as I started trying to get back in shape I busted my knee.  Before the knee completely recovered I injured it again, sidelining me completely for a good long time.

I went through 8 weeks of physical therapy once the doctors decided I had healed enough to do so.  A lot of ice and a lot of ibuprofen later and I was finally ready to start using my knee again.

I’ve been on my bike, slowly building up muscles I haven’t used in a long time.  I’ve been practicing yoga, gaining balance, core strength and control of my breathing.

But I’ve been afraid to run.

I’ve dealt with a lot of pain and injuries in my life, but this last year was amazingly miserable and I have to admit that I am scared to be in that position again.  But I can’t afford NOT getting back in shape.  I have gained weight (weight I have already worked hard to get rid of), lost muscle, lost confidence and lost the lifestyle of outdoor exploration, hiking, climbing that I had been enjoying.  I hate the risk of re-injury but life without the risk is no way to live.

So last week I made a commitment to run several races, signing up for 3 races all at once to give myself something to train for.  I’m shooting for a 10k in November, a half marathon in January and another half in March.  I may look at other, smaller races in between but those are my big ones.  Those lay the groundwork for the goals I must achieve.  Now I am motivated to get out and do the work.

This morning I ran for the first time since April of last year.  I expected it to feel as miserable, slow and painful as it did when I first started running 4 or 5 years ago.  I expected to feel like I was completely starting over…and it didn’t.  The biking and yoga I’ve been doing as part of my rehab has helped me build up enough that this run actually felt pretty good.  Still slow, but not nearly as slow or painful as I expected it to be.  It was a confidence builder.

I feel like I can do this.

My Plan for Staying Motivated:

Commit to Something!

Signing up for a race gives me a firm goal and a reason to set up a training program and stick to it.  I have committed to 3 races so far, two of them half marathons and the other (the first one) a 10K.

Find a Partner

Having a friend who is willing to sign up for the same race is perfect.  Training with someone who has a similar goal allows you to be accountable to each other to stay on course.  My wife will be a great running partner once I get in shape, she can run circles around me now.  I also have a friend signed up for the half marathon who is closer to my level and we’ll train together when we can.

Announce your Intention

I’m telling everyone!  My goal is to run a half marathon by January and the more people that know it, the better I will be at holding myself accountable.  I’ve written this post, shared my race goals on Facebook and encouraged friends to sign up for the same races so there’s no way I’m going to allow myself to fail.

Don’t Over Train

When I get into training I tend to push too hard and go too fast.  I want to avoid injury so I can make it to my goal, I will focus on getting my rest days in and cross training where I can so I can stay on task.  I will take my rest days and use yoga, swimming, biking and hiking as cross training components to avoid overuse injuries and over training.

 

Overland Expo 2014: What do you mean it’s not about the gear?

Overlanding is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal. Typically, but not exclusively, it is accomplished with mechanized off-road capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping, often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and spanning international boundaries.

This was my fourth year visiting Overland Expo.

It’s easy to get caught up in the show.  Every year Mormon Lake finds itself swarming with giant shiny vehicles, classic overland rigs, and custom monsters designed solely to roam the Earth in style.  It’s hard not to get excited about all the chrome, steel, grease and rubber promising adventure and travel like you’ve only imagined it could be.  From restored off-road classics to bright and showroom-shiny marvels of technology the Overland Expo definitely focuses on the vehicles.  But this is no car show.

Range Rover-1

If you’ve got the vehicle, well there’s always the specialized gear to go with it.  You can’t have an off-the-beaten-path adventure without the right field-recovery kit, or high-powered winch, or maybe you need a bad-ass light kit, roof rack or gnarly new bumper.  If your rig is settled, maybe it’s the camping gear you need?  Rooftop tents, pop-up adventure trailers, fully integrated camp kitchens with pressurized hot and cold water and a solar powered refrigerator.  As a gear-head I get it.  I want to see the newest improvements in technology and the bright-and-shiny “best of show” on display so I can picture myself aggressively throwing sweaty handfuls of money at the vendors praying that I’ll get to take it home and love it and pet it and name in George.

Vehicles of Overlanding-4

Maybe you’re not in the market for anything in particular.  Then it’s simply the spectacle of the Overland Expo that pulls you in.  Everywhere you turn there are massive land-crawling monsters of mechanization decked out with every impossible combination of equipment reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic-Mad-Max-sci-fi thriller.  If you should happen to witness one of these massive lumbering beasts in action, growling with every movement and belching diesel-drenched awesome from it’s battle-blackened exhaust pipe, I dare you not to stare in wide-eyed child-like wonder.

Vehicles of Overlanding-2

But there’s another side to the Overland Expo, the real side, the soft pink underbelly where you’ll discover the human element that tells the real story.  People travel from all over the world to converge on the little wind-swept patch of dusty grass outside Mormon Lake to be a part of a unique community that gathers here to celebrate global travel and human culture.  When you venture past the noise and gleaming metal you’ll discover a common theme in the stories of the sun-baked, trail-tested, road-wise representatives of this community.  They are people who laugh easy and place high value on friendships, good cigars and a well crafted story.

Overland Expo 2014-1

The gear becomes less and less important as you realize the human side of the equation wholly eclipses the mechanical.  People that have been away from home, friends and family for months, maybe years, at a time in the holy name of adventure.  In some cases it is a permanent lifestyle change wherein every material possession is sold, donated or abandoned to make life on the road a full-time pursuit.  Others save for years, or sell assets to take extended leave from the day-to-day drudgery of an old career and escape.  Others, usually the younger Overlanders, have found ways to work on the road in fields that don’t require a desk, a chair or a brick-and-mortar storefront allowing them to make enough money to keep moving from one adventure to the next.  The underlying subtext that permeates every story is the urge to experience the larger world first hand, face-to-face, to see it, smell it, taste it and make it a part of themselves.

Overland Expo 2014-6

Spending long months, or years, traveling the globe and living with, around and in your vehicle is a unique experience that may be difficult to relate to if you haven’t been there yourself.  It can be difficult among your “normal” friends back home to find a sympathetic ear for your story about blowing out your suspension in the middle of the African desert on a lonely, rutted dirt road.  It’s hard for the non-traveler to find context with your fear, anxiety and ultimate triumph in that situation.  Finding people to relate to, and who can relate to you, is an important piece of belonging.  For all it offers, the most important value of the Overland Expo is the ability for these people to gather as a community and share their passion with like-minded, similarly-experienced people.  The more unique a community is, the stronger it’s connection and the Overland Expo has the feel of a family reunion where everyone is the crazy uncle with the good stories.  It is, for the most part, a community that doesn’t care if you travel by motorcycle, car, truck, van, Earth Roamer or 1993 Mercedes-Benz UNIMOG U-2450 UNICAT.  The important thing is that you travel, experience the world, get off the beaten path as much as possible and see the world with your own eyes.  If you can make that leap and be brave enough to drive a road that makes you nervous, visit a city with a name you can’t pronounce and have food you don’t recognize with someone who’s language you don’t speak…then these are your people.  Come out next year, say hi, and ask them about their latest adventure.  You won’t regret it.

Overland Expo 2014-2

 

 

Hiking Havasupai – My Successful Return to Hiking

Havasupai Falls Hike Arziona

Forgetting the ibuprofen was a bad idea.  It was a rookie mistake and I was paying the price for it.  I sat down heavily on a concrete and rock wall next to several other sweaty, dust covered hikers taking advantage of one of the last shady spots left in the rocky canyon.  I pulled the hat from my throbbing head and wiped the sweat from my brow, eyeing a line of horses kicking up dust on their way up the steep switchbacks toward us.  I wanted to stay ahead of the horse pack but I was loosing steam.  As I caught my breath and waited for the aching in my knees to subside I made idle chit-chat with the guy next to me.  There was probably less than a half a mile left, but it was the hard half mile…and my body was constantly reminding me that I was neither young nor in shape anymore.

The guy beside my made some comment, by this point I was barely listening, and I looked up to see the horses were right on top of us and moving fast around the bend in the switchbacks.  As the huge animals jockeyed for position they took up the entire trail squeezing out our lazy spot in the shade.  One horse cut the outside route with a gallop right toward me and I shot up and spun myself toward him and to the outside edge of the trail, just narrowly missing being trampled by the beast.

“Ha ha!  I thought you were tired!”, one of the other resting hikers was amused by my sudden agility.

It’s amazing what a little adrenaline can do for you.

Most anyone who reads here knows I’ve been struggling with injuries for the better part of a year.  Even though last year was one of the most amazing travel years I’ve ever had, the whole thing was a huge, painful struggle.  Last May I found out I had a double stress fracture in my right foot that sidelined me for the better part of 3 months.  As soon I recovered somewhat from that, I injured my left knee.  When I rushed to get back to training after the knee felt better I quickly re-injured my knee even worse and had to resign myself to doctor’s visits and physical therapy.  I had worked hard over the last several years to get into shape and be able to do the kinds of adventures and travel that I enjoy and this year of pain and frustration was a major setback.

Coming back from this many injuries back to back has been a frustratingly slow process.  I’ve had to accept a lot of limitations and come to terms with losing the fitness level I had earned.  It felt like I had thrown away years worth of work and effort.  But taking it slow was going to be necessary if I was ever going to get back anywhere near where I was.

Mooney Falls Havasupai Hike

 

 

Hanging out at Havasupai Falls

I think it was October or November when we decided we were going to hike Havasupai.  My wife and I have been talking about going for years.  I have hiked into Havasupai several times since moving to Arizona but she had never been and has been asking to go nearly as long as I’ve known her.  When her sister offered to let their oldest come out to visit us, my wife thought it would be a great opportunity to show off our state by taking him into Havasupai and showing him an amazing time.  Jason is 14, athletic and is active in the Boy Scouts so taking him on a sweet multi-day backpacking trip to one of the most beautiful places in the country was a great plan.  For Christmas we sent him an old National Geographic magazine with an article about Havasupai, writing in the magazine “April 2014, prepare yourself!”.

As April drew closer, I didn’t seem to be any closer to healed and certainly not healed enough to train for the hike.  If I was going to be able to go at all it was going to be right on the heels of finishing rehab, with no prep.  Goody for me.

Beaver Falls Havasupai Hike

Hiking Havasupai is an interesting experience.  I’ve done it several times and even though it’s close to 12 miles to the campground it’s mostly downhill on the way in.  The switchbacks are the first thing and they’re over quickly (and your’re going down so it’s not as bad).  Then it’s just a long canyon hike down a dry creek bed for the most part.  The hike out is something else entirely and first timers are often taken by surprise at how challenging it can be.  That long slow, easy downhill all the way in turns into an imperceptible uphill grind that saps your energy and then dumps you at the foot of a mile or so of switchbacks fully exposed to the desert sun.  It’s usually not something you do on a whim with no training or a good base fitness level.  I had neither.

Jason did great and his boundless 14 year old energy had him running circles around us for the most part.  I hope we were able to give him an experience he’ll never forget.  I felt like we could have done better had I been more physically prepared for the hike, but all in all we did well.  We put in over 30 miles of hiking that weekend, explored and swam around countless waterfalls, he slept in a hammock for the first time and got to see at least part of the Grand Canyon.  For me, I got to revisit one of my favorite places on the planet and show it off to my wife.  But more than that, I proved to myself that I have recovered from my injuries and can get serious about getting back to the kind of shape that will allow me to keep up with the serious hikers.

I was pretty beat up most of the time we were in the canyon, walking around sore and in pain.  But it was the soreness of muscles worked past their limits, feet sore and bruised from over-activity, NOT the pain of injury.  My knees held up well despite my lack of preparation and meager fitness.  Despite the soreness we pushed through to go see more stuff, jump off waterfalls and swim in the shallow pools.  I may have spent an hour with ice on both knees after hiking out of the canyon but I could still walk, I wasn’t crippled and that, for me, was a success.

Mooney Falls Hike ladder chain

I’ve left this year’s travel calendar almost blank, not knowing what I would be physically able to do.  But now I want to fill in the time with some of the adventures I’ve missed out on.  I had to pass up so many great invitations last year and take it easy on other trips where I wanted to do so much more.  This year will be about saying yes and pushing myself.  It’s time to start looking at all those summits, canyons, rivers and creeks I longed for all year.  Time to pull out the maps and start planning.  I think I hear Utah calling my name…

Columbia #OmniGames: Supporting Storylines…

Columbia Omnigames

Dog sledding

The raw excitement around the dogs was palpable and contagious as they yipped, barked and howled with anticipation in the falling snow.  While one group of riders split off and mounted their growling machines, I followed Beth, Justin, Katie and Derek through the thick snow to the sleds.  Snow swiftly swirled around us and the restless dogs as the winds picked up and visibility diminished.  The wirey dogs were quickly harnessed up and attached to the leads one by one, each of them seemingly bursting with excitement for the first sled run of the day.

Columbia OmniGames

Due to injury and lack of mobility, I would not be competing in the long anticipated games.  Nearly 40 outdoors enthusiasts and social media influencers from the past four seasons of Columbia’s #Omniten program gathered near Park City, Utah for a collective competition.  The competition would be a secret set of challenges, completed in teams, with a serious prize on the line.  Once the content of the games was revealed and the teams were chosen, I began my own challenge: To tell the story of the games through photographs.

The final challenge for everyone in the competition would be “Charles Dickens”, a storytelling challenge.  I knew the teams would be immersed in their activities,  in some cases fighting the clock, and there would be little time or opportunity for them to capture the images that could bring their stories to life.  In the highly visual mediums we have to portray our stories, images are invaluable and grab a reader’s attention quickly.  So my challenge, my contribution to the games, would be to capture the moments that would help support the narratives of the competitors to the best of my abilities.

I chose to start my shoot with the first dog sled teams, passing up an opportunity to follow the first snowmobiles to the archery site.  Everyone was excited about the dog sleds and I knew I needed to capture that excitement early while it was still raw, while the dogs were still fresh, while the apprehension was still visible.  I wanted to focus on two things at this station, the excitement on people’s faces as they readied for their first ride and the explosive energy of the dogs.  The dogs were much less cooperative than the #omniten but were the real stars, beautiful animals straining against their harnesses with incredible power.

Columbia Omnigames

The shooting wasn’t too difficult here, but getting around in a foot and a half or more of snow with a bad knee made for some sketchy moments.  A couple of falls and bad twists made things interesting and set a cautious tone in my head about being physically able to follow the games.  Still, I would do my best.

Making fire exciting

It was quiet once the dogs had run off with their sleds in tow.   I set off across the snow to find the other teams working on their challenges.  luckily for me the other events were clustered together, but they were up a hill…normally not an issue but this time it felt like an arduous trek.  I struggled up the snowy, uneven path to the Fire Challenge.

Columbia Omnigames

Each team had 25 minutes to light a fire and get a small pot of water boiling.  Not quite the excitement surrounding the dog sleds.  Looking for storylines I focused on the expressions of concentration,  I tried to capture the spark flying off the flint starter, and for those who were successful…flame.  I started to realize my background in graphic design and sequential illustration played in to how I thought about the photos.  During the Fire Challenge I really began to treat the photography like I was setting up a storyboard. I looked for “scene setting” images, “character” images and “action images” while in my head I stitched them together sequentially so I could visualize and capitalize on the gaps.  This technique of visualizing a sequential storyline helped get me through the next few events.

Columbia Omnigames

I can’t be everywhere

I really wish I could have covered everyone at every event, but it just wasn’t possible. The Dog Sledding was too mobile and the archery event was too remote.  Even the clustered events were difficult because I was having a hard time moving quickly enough through the snow to catch each team at each event.  Knowing I couldn’t do it all, I began to broaden the scope of the story I could tell.  Instead of focusing on individual stories, I realized I needed to tell the broader story of the games in general. I started thinking about the group story and how the individual stories would intertwine.

Columbia Omnigames

This released me from the idea that I had to capture everyone at every station. As long as I could cover different crews at each event I would be supporting the overall story. Still, the first day was a serious challenge.

Archery in the snow

I managed to grab a ride along on one of the snowmobiles later in day one. The weather had become more aggressive and our visibility was getting pretty tight when we took off. I remember thinking that this could make for some great dramatic images or it could ruin my equipment. I stored my gear for the ride out to protect it then set up once we reached the archery station.

Archery turned out to be some of the most dramatic imagery I captured on the first day. The wind picked up and the snow whipped through the frame while I narrowed in on the expressions of focus and concentration of our archers. Just the image of a drawn bow exudes tension, power and drama and has been used in imagery of warriors for millennia for just that reason. This was a pretty stationary event, like the fire building, so I worked my angles to capture a higher sense of action to support the narrative.

Columbia Omnigames

Day one of the #Omnigames wrapped up in whiteout conditions with the last of the #Omniten warming themselves indoors with bowls of fresh chili and hot chocolate. I found myself continuing to head outside even though the games were over just to enjoy the weather. Standing outside, wrapped in my warm Columbia gear with the wind and snow whipping around me I was able to have a little quiet time to think and appreciate where I was and how I got here.

Columbia Sportswear has developed a culture built around pushing boundaries and exploring our limits. Their products are designed with this in mind and the “Trying Stuff” mantra is a corporate rally cry that echoes throughout everything they do. We were brought together by Columbia because we embody this message, we live the “Trying Stuff” lifestyle with everything we do. To me it is just that,  a lifestyle, a philosophy that permeates every part of our lives. It’s a personal commitment to accepting challenges and facing them with persistence and excitement…even joy.

Once you stop facing challenges, once you stop pushing your boundaries, you stop growing…you stop improving and learning. You stop living. I will always be “Trying Stuff” whether that means pushing my limits outdoors, developing my home and gardens to their full potential, learning new skills, or expanding my career. I was limited by injury on this trip but it didn’t stop me from “Trying Stuff”. I was able to explore my limits with photography and push my equipment, knowledge and skills to knew levels. Something that has me excited about doing more photography work in the future. At this point who knows where it will take me, but I’m excited to find out.

Review: Pronto Cafe Coffee…

Every once in a while a brand (or rep) will contact me about testing gear.  A lot of times it just doesn’t fit with what I do, sometimes it fits but I’m kinda settled with the gear I have.  Point being, I tend to turn away a fair amount of stuff throughout the year because I don’t feel like I can do it justice.  But when someone offers me coffee, I’m in!

I started working a little with Sport-Hansa after talking to them at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in January.  They’ve been a cool company to work with and represent and distribute several European brands here in the US.  I’ve been experimenting with coffee lately in the field (instant, French Press, Aeropress, Grower’s Cup, etc.) so when Sport-Hansa asked if I wanted to try a new lightweight, portable coffee brewing product I, of course, said “absolutely!”

I first saw Pronto Cafe mentioned at HikinginFinland.com earlier in the year.  Pronto Cafe is a French product with coffee roasted in Italy and packaged in Switzerland.  I didn’t expect to find it in the US, so didn’t give it much thought.  With Sport-Hansa now bringing the product to the US, I was happy to be able to try it.  Each package weighs in at only 8 grams and delivers about 8oz of fresh brewed Arabica coffee.  In the sealed package they are supposed to have at least a 12 month shelf life.  Pronto Cafe seems to be available in a 3 pack sampler (for $3.87) or a 10 pack box (for $12.29) which calcs out to a cup of fresh brewed coffee for about $1.25 each.

Pronto Cafe Field Test…

Pronto Cafe Coffee

Recently I had a chance to do a quick day hike with some awesome Twitter friends in the Superstition Mountains outside of Phoenix.  It was a cold, rainy weekend perfect for desert hiking and fun (dangerous) creek crossings.  As is my usual custom, I brought a Jetboil with me on this day hike so we could warm ourselves up with a hot beverage when we stopped for lunch.  Among the assorted beverages was the new Pronto Cafe packets.

Pronto Cafe CoffeeWhen we stopped I was able to offer up coffee, tea, hot chocolate and hot apple cider.  We tried several of the options including the coffee from Pronto Cafe.  The packets are pretty simple, a bit of ground coffee in a small brewing pouch with built in support arms on either side to allow it to rest at the rim of your cup while you pour water over the grounds.  The water seeps through, delivering hot fresh brewed coffee.  We set everything up and began to pour the heated water through but it poured through very fast not allowing much of a steep with the grounds.  As expected, this gave us pretty weak coffee and left me wondering if there was something that could be done.

Pronto Cafe CoffeeLater I decided to try it again, but this time I tried to compact the grounds a little in the pouch before pouring the water in.  I also deliberately slowed the rate of pour (previously I simply filled the pouch then let it drain out, filled again etc.).  I also made sure I delivered a measured amount of water so as not to dilute the brew.

This method seemed to deliver a better, richer cup of coffee.  The trick seems to be to create a little more of a condensed layer of grounds, then trickle the water through.  It still filters through quickly, but you do seem to be able to control the strength of the brew in this way.

All in all, not a bad cup of coffee for a single-serve lightweight option.  It certainly is lighter and creates less waste than many other brews I’ve tried for the backcountry.  Outside of bringing your own instant coffee, Pronto Cafe seems to be the most compact, lightweight and low waste product on the market.  Given the luxury of space and weight, I still prefer my french press…but this is a good alternative for those lightweight scenarios.

Gear Review: The Mini Mojo Load Out Bag…

In addition to being a gear guy, I can also be sort of a Tactical Geek.  I like the heavy ruggedness, versatility and modular nature of much of the gear designed for the military.  So when the guys at TopSpecUS.com reached out and asked if I’d like to review one of their utility bags I was more than happy to take a look.

Voodoo Tactical Mini Mojo

I’m a sucker for a good bag.  I especially like duffel bags with a lot of versatility in storage and carry options.  The Voodoo Tactical Mini Mojo Load Out Bag is that bag.  Don’t let the “mini” part fool you, this is a huge bag.  It’s a smaller, more manageable version of the full sized bag which, in my opinion, is too big to be usable for anything but light gear like clothing.  Once you start packing hard gear into a bag, you want a realistic size and the Mini Mojo is just about right.

Mini Mojo Technical Data:

Voodoo Tactical Mini Mojo Load Out Bag 15-9684 Features:

  • Available in black, olive drab or coyote brown
  • Measures 25″L x 15 1⁄2″W x 14″H
  • 11 exterior pockets for storage
  • MOLLE / Universal compatible
  • Plenty of “D” rings for attachments
  • Secure double-zip main compartment
  • Double compression straps on both ends of the bag
  • Removable, padded shoulder harness and backpack straps for comfortable traveling
  • Wrap-around carry handle feature

Mini Mojo Field Use:

I initially wanted to try the Mini Mojo as a range bag, but quickly found that it’s just too big for that.  Loaded with a couple of pistols and a pile of ammo the generous 24″ main compartment still had tons of room left, way more room than necessary for a range bag.  I would want an even smaller version of this bag if I were to use it for the range.

If you live in a place where you’ll pack a bunch of extra light gear to head to the range, especially an outdoor range, then this might suit you well.  The bag is certainly rugged enough to carry a ton of ammo as long as you can hoist it yourself.

Voodoo Tactical Mini MojoOne of the features that I really like about this bag is the removable (and hidden) backpack straps.  This feature alone makes me think this bag would be an excellent 72-Hour Bag (Bail-Out-Bag) to keep around for emergencies.  It has super strong, heavy duty handles and straps to carry a substantial load but with the backpack straps you can manage that load over greater distances in the case of an emergency.  We keep a couple of Bail-Out-Bags around the house and I loaded up the Mini Mojo with the gear we have to see how well it would manage our setup.

Voodoo Tactical Mini MojoI unloaded our existing duffel bag of supplies into the Mojo Mini including spare clothing, canned goods, cook kit, water, toiletries, first aid kit, flashlight, multitool, etc. and despite being smaller than our original duffel everything fit.  Not only did it fit, but I found I had extra room to stuff in 4 or 5 MREs.  With all the outer pockets I was also able to organize the gear better instead of it all just lumped into one compartment.  And I still had extra room.

Altogether the load weighs close to 50 lbs, considering it’s a Bail-Out-Bag, it’s not really tailored to be lightweight.  I really wanted to see how the backpack straps worked out under some weight so I tossed the loaded bag on my back, adjusted the straps and wandered around with it.  I can’t really say it’s the most comfortable backpack I’ve had on my back.  The straps do cut in and the balance of the load isn’t managed the way it would be in a traditional backpack.  Being as it’s NOT a traditional backpack, but the straps are just a carry option I can overlook this.  I’d much rather carry an awkward load on my back than have to carry it like a traditional duffel.

Voodoo Tactical Mini MojoThroughout the use and testing of the Mini Mojo I was continuously struck by just how much crap you could stuff into this bag.  Between the huge main compartment and all the outer pockets, it’s hard to fill this thing up.  I couldn’t imagine trying to load up the larger version.  I really like the pocket configuration on the bag and the MOLLE system on one side for adding your own modular components if necessary.

This is the kind of bag you could load heavy and toss around in rough conditions and not have to worry about the bag getting beat up.  It’s tough, rugged and versatile and would be good for any variety of conditions where you’d wanted a pre-loaded bag ready to grab and go.  The backpack straps are especially handy and I really like that they can be stashed away in a hidden compartment on the bottom of the back when not in use.  This is a fantastic option especially if you’ll be traveling with the bag at all.

You can find the Mini Mojo Load Out Bag for yourself at TopSpecUS.com for about $100.  That’s a pretty fair price when you look at comparable bags on the market.

A Year in Review (in photos)…

Despite fighting injuries that have severely limited my mobility throughout most of the year,  it’s nice to look back and see that I still had a pretty stellar year.  Between travel for family, trips with my wife and various Social Media events (including #Omniten and Outdoor Retailer) I have managed a hell of a lot of travel this year.  I owe a lot of that to finally living in the same city with my wife, thus cutting down on the travel time we spent just to visit each other.

Even though I’ve spent half of the year in pretty bad pain, I still consider myself luckier than the average bear.  The following is my Year in Review through the images that best represent each trip.  Now, where should I go in 2014??

January…

Eastern Oregon

Winter in Oregon - Oregon Trail

Salt Lake City with Everybody!

Snowshoe at Silver Lake Utah

Idaho with @TrailSherpa, @Wigirl4ever, @AColoradoGal, @Active_Explorer

Sunrise in Idaho- Photograph edited in Lightroom

 

February…

Chalk Canyon

Sunrise light at Spur Cross

South Mountain with @TheMorningFresh and @BananaBuzzBomb

Simply Adventure-South Mountain

 

March…

Haunted Canyon with @BananaBuzzBomb and @MountainMatron

Haunted Canyon- Superstition Wilderness

Skunk Tank with @WriterintheWild

Skunk Tank in Tonto National Forest

Lost Dutchman with @BretEdgePhoto

Photograph of the Week - Lost Dutchman and Four Peaks

Superstition Wilderness

4 - Boulder Creek-Superstition Wilderness

 

April…

Zion National Park with @DavidWherry

View of Watchman from the Campground in Zion National Park

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

 

May…

Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Big Sur

Photograph of the Week - Big Sur Sunset Final

Overland Expo 2013

Epic whiskey-Overland Expo 2013

 

June…

Apparently June was a quiet month.  I only have this image of a giant horn worm from my garden…

Monster in the Garden-Horn Worm

 

July…

Grand Canyon National Park

Desert View Hike - Adventure

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Mono Lake

Mono Lake-California

Pinetop

(photo credit goes to Mic Waugh)

Crossbows and beards

 

August…

Rogue River, Oregon with the #Omniten

Rogue River Rafting Trip

Sedona L’Auberge Resort

Oak Creek Hike- L'Auberge Sedona

Mount Graham

Mount Graham photography view

 

September…

We technically started our Hawaii trip in September…but…

 

October…

Hawaii

Grassy hills outside Waimea - diversity in Hawaii

Arches National Park

WD at Arches National Park

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

 

November…

Oak Creek, Sedona

Oak Creek-Fall Photography Trip

Death Valley National Park with @AmericanSahara and @valinreallife

Death Valley Sunset

Return to the Superstition Wilderness with @HikingTheTrail and @BananaBuzzBomb

Boulder Creek - Superstitions

All in all, I would say it turned out to be a pretty epic year.  I want to thank everyone who joined me and helped make this year’s travel possible, especially my patient and beautiful wife.  And a special thanks to Angela and Tracy for helping to watch our four-legged family while we are off having adventures.

I also started my virtual Photo Gallery this year and many of these photos are available as prints.

Happy New Year and may your travels be a little messy,  heavily spontaneous and never go according to plan!