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.

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!

 

Sampling the AZBDR and The Art of Being in the Moment

You guys know me by now. I share most of my adventures with the public either here or via social media. I have made myself a deliberate advocate of traveling for travel’s sake and spending time outdoors to connect with nature. As with a lot of people these days I tend to get caught up in recording my excursions, sometimes to the detriment of the trip itself. I’ve found that often the act of stopping to take a quick snapshot to share on social media really disrupts the moment, it imposes on the natural flow of the experience, pulls you out of it and makes you a spectator instead of a participant. With my focus on photography I am especially guilty of this and some experiences are diminished because of it. There is something to be said for simply letting an experience happen, enjoy it, immerse yourself in it.

This would be the lost art of Being in the Moment. I recently took a day trip that was such a rich experience, for me, that I didn’t want to interrupt it. I only took three pictures in 6 hours of riding and they were all at natural stopping points, natural lulls in the experience where the action didn’t become an imposition. My mind and body were immersed in the experience and it was a wonderful feeling.

“If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.” – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

AZBDR – Just the Tip

Last weekend I had been planning on a multi-day trip but things didn’t come together and I settled for a Saturday morning ride to explore on the motorcycle. I woke up early before the valley started warming up with the morning sun, packed my camera equipment, loaded the bike and hit the road toward Payson and cooler temps. With a shiny new copy of the Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route (AZBDR) map in hand I figured I’d first check out Fossil Springs Road outside Strawberry, then see if I could find myself on some section of the AZBDR to see what it was like. After finding Fossil Springs Road closed (apparently it’s been closed for a long time due to road conditions) I turned up 87 cruising past Clint’s Well and joined the AZBDR on FSR 95 near Blue Ridge Reservoir. But not before a little detour.

When I first moved to Arizona in the mid 90s I did a decent amount of hiking and solo camping in the high country. One of the first big hikes I did was an overnight backpacking trip above the Mogollon Rim in Coconino National Forest. I had decided I wanted to hike a couple of the drainages that led to a little blob on the map called Blue Ridge Reservoir. I made it to the reservoir at it’s most southern tip and I vividly remember the water was a bright, algae-thick green and the sheer canyon edges hemmed in the water so severely it looked as though you couldn’t climb out. I thought to myself some 20 years ago, “this would be a great place to bring an inflatable kayak and explore.”

That was my first, and last, glimpse of Blue Ridge Reservoir until last weekend.

AZBDR on KLR Blue Ridge Reservoir

I have been riding without the use of a GPS or my phone maps. It’s helps me to get better about remembering my routes and it’s also led to some cool accidental discoveries. I took the wrong road off of 87 looking for 95. I saw a sign that read “Blue Ridge Reservoir Access” and mistakenly took that for my turnoff. I kinda knew I had taken the wrong road. Even as I cruised along on the smooth, redish dirt road I knew it was wrong but went anyway just to see what I could see. The road I did turn on, FSR 751, turned out to be a very nice dirt access road to an unexpected boat ramp at the northern end of Blue Ridge Reservoir. I found myself stopped above a large parking lot busy with kayaks and canoes fanning out in all directions from the narrow boat ramp at the water’s edge. I continued past the ramp and through the parking lot to a continuation of the road on the other side. This section was now more technical single-lane width, rutted and rock strewn that hugged along the edge of the wooded cliffs plunging into the reservoir. The road leads to the dam, but is gated and closed to public access, so I went back the way I came having enjoyed the detour immensely. The reservoir looks very different now, from the north end, 20 years later.

Back on pavement and a short cruise further up 87 put me at the road I was looking for. After double checking the map to make sure I was on 95 I soon found myself kicking up dust and zooming along on the KLR through the forest completely alone.

I could feel the grin on my face getting wider with every turn in the road. The scenery is spectacular through this area, something that would normally have me stopping every few minutes to haul out the gear and grab some pictures. But I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to stop moving, to break from the road, it felt like I would be interrupting something important. There are a few quick views of Clear Creek as the road descends to the narrow bridge which crosses at the confluence of two deep canyons. I considered stopping at the creek, it is absolutely gorgeous at the bottom, but there were a few small groups of people fishing there and I chose to move on.

Climbing out of the canyon, 95 cuts deep into the forest and, again, my bike and I crunched over the loose gravel road taking opportunity to open up in the few straightaways. The forest closed in a little more along this section, the roads appeared more well traveled and it was here that I finally shared the road with someone, for a short time. I quickly out-paced the SUV on the tight corners and rutted out road. Those roads are perfect for a motorcycle like the KLR.

The AZBDR route continues from 95 east on Rim Road 300 to eventually catch up with HWY 260 that runs between Payson and Heber. 300 sees a lot more weekend traffic as the main access road for all camp and recreational sites above the rim, but it still isn’t a busy road and is dirt almost all the way back to 260. It’s called the “Rim Road” because it literally follows the edge of the Mogollon Rim offering spectacular views of it’s rugged cliffs and the verdant valley below.

I came around one corner on 300, well before really seeing any other vehicles, and spooked a small group of some of the biggest, healthiest Javalina I’ve ever seen in Arizona. I tapped at the brakes as they bounded out of the wash and across the road to disappear into the thick forest. Riding on the motorcycle certainly reduces the opportunities to sneak up on wildlife, so the javalina encounter was an unexpected treat.

The weather was coming in on me and I knew I had a race on my hands if I expected to make it home before a monsoon caught me on the road. I stopped at the visitors center where 300 meets 260 for a breather and to stretch my legs. I needed to clear the euphoric clouds from my head before getting into traffic. I had originally wanted to document my first foray into part of the AZBDR with some great photos to share the experience. But I realized that some experiences are better, richer, when they are savored and consumed selfishly, gluttonously alone. It might sound stupid to some, but this ride was mine and I feel good about allowing myself to be in the moment and enjoy it. For a few blurry, sun-soaked hours I was completely free.

If this was any indicator of what the rest of the AZBDR looks like, I’m in…hook, line and sinker. I’ll be back for sure. Next time maybe I’ll actually pull out the camera so you guys can see what it was like. Or, better yet, come with me and see for yourself!

Ultimate Summer Dog Adventures

After our old Boston Terrier passed away, we started taking Wiley everywhere with us because we were worried about her being lonely. Then, when we adopted New Max we were really excited by the idea of showing this poor abused rescue dog what a good home is like. So now we travel with two cattledogs who love the outdoors and take on any adventure we throw their way. Taking our cattledogs on summer adventures in fun outdoor areas is a big focus for us as traveling dog owners. We often specifically plan trips around dog friendly locations and climates, which in the summer means getting out of Arizona.

Every summer we take a trip to Lake Tahoe to get away from the desert heat, soak up some mountain air and enjoy the beautiful lake scenery. Lake Tahoe can be challenging with dogs (it’s not a super dog friendly place), but if you do a little looking around and plan accordingly it’s manageable. We had been debating whether or not we would do the trip this year, and if we really wanted to take the dogs. Then we were contacted by Merrick Pet Care about being a part of their Backcountry Dog Food ambassador program. As part of the sponsorship not only did Max and Wiley get to try out their new food (which they really love) but Merrick also set us up with some extra funds to take the dogs on a trip.

This is their Summer Dog Adventure…

WARNING: Ridiculously adorable dog pictures ahead, totally NSFW if you actually want to be productive.

The Long Car Ride

Dogs in the Car

We took Wiley to Lake Tahoe on Merelyn’s birthday last year and had a great time. Wiley did really well hiking and swimming and was surprisingly quick at learning how to Paddleboard. Ever since bringing New Max into our family, we’ve wanted to get him out to Tahoe as well and see how he would do. It’s about 13 hours of road time between here and Lake Tahoe, mostly through the lower deserts of Nevada. There are not a lot of good places to stop with the dogs because the summer heat can be brutal. So our trip up north started with WAY too much car time, more than Max has had to deal with. He made sure his boredom was well documented.

Overall he did great, eventually settling in for the long trip but he took advantage of every opportunity to get out of that car. His relationship with the Car has been changed forever.

Towns without People

One of our few Day 1 stops to let our two and four legged passengers stretch their collective limbs was a small ghost town in the Nevada desert. Gold Point is a working town with a population of a couple dozen semi-permanent residents. Even so, there were no people to be seen while we were there and we had the entire old western mining town to ourselves. Luckily it wasn’t too terribly warm there as we were starting to gain some elevation, so the dogs got to walk around with us for a while sniffing at old wreckage, cows skulls, dead snakes and abandoned buildings all while trying to avoid random bits of broken glass. There were a couple of old rickety houses they seemed especially interested in sniffing around the front porch and front doors, but I’m sure the only scent they were getting was rodent.

Dogs in a ghost town

Dogs in a ghost town

Camp Bug Bite

After a LONG, less than exciting day in the car we finally made camp just above Mono Lake at the edge of treeline. Wiley and Max were overjoyed at the prospect of some actual freedom and immediately set about exploring their new territory. The gnats were pretty thick and the longer we hung out, the thicker they got. We all got doused with a generous dose of bug spray (pet friendly stuff) and tried to go about our business cooking dinner, setting up the tent and sniffing random logs (we each had a job to do). The dogs got their Backcountry dinner then we took them for a nice walk to burn off some energy letting the dogs sniff and explore on their own while we waited for sunset to color the darkening sky.

Mono Lake Camp with dogs

Mono Lake Camp dinner

Dog walk at Mono

Mono Lake Camp with dogs

Sunset was no disappointment and both of the dogs seemed very at home following me as I wandered around in the fading light with my camera. I really enjoy watching our dogs play with their natural instincts in nature. Without the restrictions of home, civilization and city life they get to experience being free for a while. They get to play, run, jump, sniff, scratch and chase without hearing “NO” all the time and we’ve found they’re both really good about coming back to us with not much more than a little whistle or name call. Wiley was finally showing that relaxed, contented look she gets when we travel and spend time outdoors, we’ve come to refer to it as Wiley’s “Vacation Eyes”. Vacation Eyes are the sure sign that we are finally settled in to a trip and doing things right, we adore Wiley’s Vacation Eyes.

As much fun as we all had at camp, the bugs were still thick and we noticed both dogs were taking a pretty good beating around their ears. So we socked in early and hid in the tent. Max has grown very fond of the tent and will often ask to be let in early…probably to claim HIS spot before the rest of us get in there.

The New Kid Visits Tahoe

Max at Lake Tahoe

The next morning we finally reached Lake Tahoe and the very first thing we did was get the dogs on one of the few dog friendly beaches. Reagan Beach is where Merelyn and I got married and it also happens to be a decent little dog friendly beach, so that’s where Max got his first introduction to Lake Tahoe. Being a rescue, we have no idea if he’s ever even seen water like that, so expansive you can’t see the other side. He definitely acted like it was a new thing to him and he was bounding through the small waves joyfully and barking at us to play with him (as he often does when we aren’t playing right).

Sticks at the Lake

We set up camp at Fallen Leaf Lake Campground and then hiked up the road to check out Fallen Leaf Lake itself. Colder water, rock beaches and small driftwood sticks everywhere made this lake a bit different than Tahoe. The dogs had less interest in swimming and running than chewing every piece of wood they could get their mouths on. Max has a toy fixation that we avoid by not having a lot of toys around for him, we have to keep him occupied in other ways. But this was an entire beach covered in tasty toys and he was a little out of his mind. Every time I would pick up a stick, or take one from him, he would target on it with laser focus and bark at me if I didn’t throw it soon enough. He gets a little mouthy at times if you’re not playing the way he wants you to.

focused on sticks at Fallen Leaf Lake

Merelyn Fallen Leaf Lake-9

New Dog, New Tricks

We had a lot of activities planned with the dogs but the big one we were looking forward to was paddleboarding. Last year Wiley proved to be an amazing paddleboard partner and my wife has been obsessed with SUP since. We were dying to get our new guy out on the water and see how he would do. He doesn’t swim well in the pool, but was enthusiastic about swimming in the lake so we got him a life jacket and picked up our rentals.

Max learning to paddleboard

Max was very anxious about paddleboarding at first. He wasn’t sure why we were all separated and wanted to swim between my wife on the paddleboard and me and Wiley in the kayak. This proved difficult until we showed him that we weren’t going to be very far apart. He still fidgeted and paced back and forth anxiously most of the time on the board and did only slightly better in the kayak with me. But we were able to happily spend the better part of an entire day on the lake with small breaks at the shore occasionally for the pups. This also proved to be a lot of adventure for one day and once we made it back to camp, both dogs sacked out next to the campfire for the rest of the evening with little interesting in anything but their dinner. They both have really become great camp dogs and settle in well without the need for restraints or constant commands. It makes traveling and camping with them so much more relaxing for us as well.

Max learning to kayak

Running Water

Our stay in Tahoe at Fallen Leaf Lake was awesome, it’s a great campground and we managed to get a spot that was on the edge so we backed up to forest land and had quiet neighbors. We left Fallen Leaf Lake having (luckily) never encountered the bear they said had been using our camp site as it’s access route from the forest. We headed down into Nevada to visit with some good friends and spend the night there. Finally some other dogs to play with! Running, playing and lots of introductory sniffing before settling down for the night. It was a great visit for dogs and humans alike.

The next day we took a new route home after chasing down some more Backcountry food from the local Petco in Carson City. Knowing we had another long drive ahead of us we took our time, made plenty of stops and let the dogs out as often as we could. We found a nice quiet road-side river stop off of 395 where we had a good time chasing sticks in the current and digging up river rocks, dunking our heads to pull them up. Lots of action along the river with bugs to chase, water to splash in, sticks floating by and lots of new interesting sniffs.

Dogs Exploring River

Dogs Exploring River

Along the way we explored some back roads in the Inyo National Forest and Max and I hiked to a couple of cool spots while Wiley and Merelyn hung out at the car pouring over maps and discussing our route home. Then we moved on to check out Mammoth Lakes since we were so close and none of us had ever been through that way. I don’t think Max or Wiley had near the level of appreciation we did coming into Mammoth. The lakes are gorgeous and the mountains up there are amazing. They look to have an extensive, well maintained trail system around Mammoth and a lot of camping options. We’ll have to do our research about how dog friendly it is there, but I could see Mammoth becoming our Lake Tahoe substitute on occasion.

The view over Twin Lakes

We found some great dispersed camping on the way home but heavy summer storms kept us moving through the evening. We finally had to call it quits outside Vegas and rolled into a campsite on Mount Charleston around 11PM. We quickly set up camp in the dark and everyone crashed in the tent, wrapped in our sleeping bags, weary from a very long day on the road. We woke to a very non-desert view of pine trees and granite. Mt Charleston is one of the Sky Islands of the southwest, unusually high with an isolated ecosystem nothing like the desert that surrounds it. Who knew you could spend a night at nearly 10,000 ft surround by high alpine vegetation within an hour of Las Vegas?

Waking up in the tent

Home

We returned home to the heat and the city, summer dog adventures were over…for the time being. Max and Wiley were momentarily happy to be home and out of the car for a while where they could harass the cat and cuddle in their comfortable beds. Both dogs slept soundly, beat from a week’s worth of fun in the outdoors and ridiculously long car rides. Traveling with our cattledogs brings us a tremendous amount of joy. Even though it limits our vacation options a little and can become a hassle at times, they are so worth the effort and we know they appreciate the time with us as well.

We always expect some recovery time after a trip like this one, so much time in the car you’d think the dogs would be content to sit at home for a while. But the next day both dogs shot outside and jumped in the back seat of the Subaru with that “Where to now?” look on their faces. I guess it’s time to start planning the next trip.

- – -

This trip was partially sponsored by Merrick Pet Care as part of their #Wild4Backcountry campaign. To read more about Merrick’s Backcountry line of dog food, check out our review.

Essentials for Summer Microadventures

Thank you to Stanley Brand for sponsoring today’s post and encouraging me to get outside this summer with the perfect camping tools!

Stanley summer essentials

Summer is Perfect for Microadventures

When my wife and I first started seeing each other we lived in separate states, me in Arizona and her near Reno, Nevada. Managing our long distance relationship meant short trips to see each other that didn’t leave much time for real travel. So during my visits to Reno to see her we would often take time for small adventures out to the trails, the mountains, the lake or wherever. We spent many of her days off hiking, biking or hanging out at the beach around Lake Tahoe. Those hot summer days at Lake Tahoe have become fond memories. These days we continue our tradition of adventuring together and more often than not our summer adventures include quick trips to the lakes here in Arizona to kayak, paddleboard or hike.

Quick trips generally mean traveling light. No need to pull out the cross-country gear for a day at the beach, right? This summer we’ll be rockin’ out the microadventures with the help of the Stanley Brand Adventure Cooler and Adventure Camp Cook Set. They’re both light, compact and versatile and perfect for summer Microadventures.

Small Cooler with Big Value

Stanley summer essentials

Having a good cooler is essential for hot summer adventures. Our big cooler is overkill for quick afternoon trips to the lake or overnight camp outs at the river. But the 16 quart Stanley Adventure Cooler is the perfect size for keeping things nice and cold on those short trips into the outdoors. The Stanley Cooler’s double-wall insulation and leak resistant gasket help keep items cold for over 36 hours and is big enough for 21 cans of your favorite adventure beverage. It’s rugged construction and high-density polyethylene outer shell make it capable of taking a beating around camp and the sturdy clasps keep it closed tight through the abuse.

The Adventure Cooler is also designed with an adjustable bungee tie-down on the lid to secure other essential gear. It’s a great place to secure a towel for your trip to the beach or your Stanley Thermos for keeping your hot stuff separate from everything else. The adjustable tie-down is a cleaver addition to the cooler that I really like find pretty handy when having to carry a lot of gear back and forth.

Stanley summer essentials adventure cooler

Stanley summer essentials adventure cooler

Stanley summer essentials adventure cooler detail

Stanley summer essentials - Adventure Cooler

Cool Summer Night Camp Cocktail

A few year ago I was camping near Sedona with a friend of mine in late summer, enjoying the cooler temperatures and amazing scenery around Oak Creek. As night came on and the temperature dropped we pulled our chairs closer to the campfire. I decided I wanted something warm to drink and offered to make up some drinks for the two of us, I had cider and hot chocolate. My buddy agreed that a warm drink sounded good but was more in the mood for a cocktail so I told him I would see what I could come up with.

I decided to warm up some water and mix in the apple cider mix, a good dose of Bourbon and since the only fresh fruit I had was an orange I added a squeeze of fresh orange juice. Really, what could go wrong? Nothing! It was amazing and has been one of my go-to cool evening camp cocktails ever since. I’ve even made it with cold cider and served over ice for a cold cocktail, but I prefer to drink it hot on a cold night around the fire. You can use your citrus of preference (it is good with orange, lemon or lime) but I prefer using orange for a nice sweetness without too much sour.

Stanley summer essentials camp cocktail

Summer Hot Bourbon Cider

This is single serving, double this for two people.

  • 1 package Apple Cider Drink Mix
  • 6 oz hot water
  • 2 oz choice Bourbon
  • Squeeze of Citrus (use slice as garnish as well)

Heat up your water using the pot from your Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set then mix in the cider. Pour your 2 oz of Bourbon into each cup (hopefully you’re enjoying this with a friend), squeeze the orange into each cup, then fill the remainder of the cup with hot cider. Garnish with a slice of citrus if you want to be fancy. The insulated cups in the Stanley Cook Set are perfect for comfortably holding on to those hot beverages.

What’s your favorite Summer Camp Cocktail? 

Stanley summer essentials at the river

Stanley has been proudly producing quality gear supporting an active outdoor lifestyle since 1913. Stanley products are built to last through a lifetime of continuous use becoming treasured possessions handed down through generations. If you are ready to rock out this summer with some extreme #Stanleyness the Stanley  Cooler and Camp Cook Set are available through REI and could become an essential part of your Summer Adventures for years to come.