Articles about Travel

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.

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.

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.

The Teardrop Trailer Decision…

teardrop trailer camping

Two years ago today my wife and I were setting out to spend our first night of her birthday trip to Grand Canyon in a rented Teardrop Trailer. It was a small, bare-bones Little Guy trailer rented from a local guy who is no longer in business. The trip lasted 6 days and we had plenty of time with the teardrop to determine that we wanted one.

We’ve done plenty of camping together, sleeping in the car, sleeping in tents and couch surfing but we had just come back from a weekend at Overland Expo and the Teardrops had sparked our interest. We have looked at dozens of different trailer configurations and designs, some more “classic teardrop” than others. All had pros and cons that we discussed at length. Like, unreasonable amounts of conversation about this…you have no idea.

Domestic travel in the US has increased significantly in the last 5 years so it’s no surprise that campers, trailers and RVs are selling like crazy. Teardrop Trailers seem to be especially popular with their compact, efficient, lightweight design and nostalgic throw-back sensibility. With barely enough room for sleep space and storage, the teardrops encourage “outside camping” unlike the larger trailers with couches, chairs and TVs. The teardrop is a nice, seamless bridge between car camping RV camping.

It suits our style of travel.

Two years ago the process started. The idea was seeded in our imaginations and we fostered it diligently, letting it blossom into determination. This May we spent a cold, soggy, muddy weekend at  Overland Expo West meeting folks and checking out the newest Teardrops and compact trailers for more ideas and inspiration. The unseasonably cold weather and ankle deep mud turned some folks away as the Expo pushed on. Vendors huddled under their canopies and fought back the mud and rain to engage with the thinning crowd of outdoorsmen and travel enthusiasts. On our second or third pass through the vendors (likely on our way to get coffee) my wife spotted a teardrop vendor we hadn’t met yet and we stopped to say hi.

TC Teardrop booth - photo by Exploring Elements

TC Teardrop booth at OX2015 – photo by Exploring Elements

TC Teardrops had made the trek all the way from Wisconsin to show their products at Overland Expo West. They’ve been hand-building custom teardrop trailers since 2008 in a small shop in Wausau. Each teardrop is made to order, though they do occasionally have pre-loaded trailers for sale. The trailer we got to see at the Expo was nice, appeared to be well made, had all the amenities we had been looking for and none of the excessive stuff we didn’t need. It’s not the biggest, baddest trailer in town but it’s no bare-bones weakling either. The more we looked, the more we thought this might be a good option to consider so we asked about pricing. With base models starting out around $5k they are very reasonable and allow you to customize your way into something to fit almost any budget.

We left the Expo and my wife started doing her research.

Today, we put a down payment on our new Teardrop. TC Teardrops should fit us into one of their build slots later this year. I hope to keep everyone updated on the progress of the build, the options we chose and why. We are really excited about this new move. The trailer should allow us greater travel freedom and the ability/desire to extend our trips.

2016 will be the Year of the Teardrop.

Merrick Backcountry | Fuel for Your Adventurous Dogs

We’re not the kind of over-the-top dog owners that (unnecessarily) carry our dogs in strollers or provide a plate for them at the dinner table, but we do love our dogs as family and we treat them well. Part of treating them well is feeding them well and worrying about their diet and nutrition. We’ve struggled with maintaining Wiley at a decent weight, dealt with allergies and digestion issues. But these guys are super important to us so we do our best. When Merrick Pet Care contacted us to be a part of their Ambassador Program associated with the launch of their new Backcountry line of food products, I had to really consider how it would effect our dogs before I agreed.

Cattle Dogs exploring the river

Wiley has some food sensitivities that started causing problems with her skin and coat a few years ago. We moved her through a few products that our vet suggested and eventually landed on feeding her Wellness Simple diet dog food which is really basic and very expensive. But it worked and Wiley’s issues, for the most part, have gone away. She still seems to get seasonal allergy problems which, from part of what I’ve read, could be related to substandard nutrition. We’ve toyed with the idea of introducing a raw component to her existing diet…but just don’t know where to start.

Max also has some challenges. He was a rescue and had come in to the rescue with some injuries suffered after a “fall” from a moving vehicle. He was patched up pretty well, but he still has some issues with his jaw and damaged teeth. We spent a fortune making sure he got to keep his canines and now have to be cautious about what he eats and how much he chews on his toys.

Nutrition is so important for these guys. Not only for their overall health but as fuel for our play time at home and away. A friend said once, “Your dogs get more adventure than most people!” and he’s right. We often take our dogs camping, hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding, backpacking or on long road trips with adventure destinations in mind. We try to feed them well to insure they have the fuel to keep going as long as we do.

You can search #CattledogAdventures on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook to follow their adventures.

Merrick Backcountry dinner at Mono Lake

Merrick Backcountry Product Trial

Merrick Backcountry product

When Merrick Pet Care contacted us about trying this new line of food and being a part of their #Wild4Backcountry promotion I had some reservations and a lot of questions. With Wiley’s history of food sensitivities and Max’s teeth problems I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a waste of time having them try this new product. I asked about the ingredients, the processing, where the food was made and where the ingredients are sourced. My worry is always about food processed where regulations are loose and sourcing isn’t a concern. I also look for grain-free products after our experiences with Wiley’s reactions to other commercial dog food. Merrick was great about answering all of my questions and I was impressed with their answers.

Backcountry: About the Product

The food industry for a long time has agreed on the benefits of freeze-dried foods. It is a way to create shelf-stable food products without overprocessing or bastardizing the ingredient. The Merrick Backcountry RAW Infused dry kibble has good sized whole pieces of freeze-dried meat. We opted to try the dogs on the Game Bird Recipe kibble which is made with turkey, duck and quail and has freeze-dried whole pieces of chicken. It’s grain-free (no corn, soy or wheat), processed and packaged here in the states, has 38% overall protein, no artificial colors or preservatives and has nothing sourced from China (seriously, why is anyone eating anything from China?).

We also got to try a variety of the wet canned food options available in the Backcountry line. These include some different meats than normally seen in dog food like rabbit and venison. I was especially impressed with the Chicken Thigh Stew recipe that actually includes whole bone-in chicken thighs, cooked to make the bone safely digestible for the dogs so they can get the additional nutrition it provides.

The Backcountry kibble products are available in 4, 12 and 22-pound bags and range from $19.99 to $69.99 per bag which is comparable to what we were paying for the Wellness Simple Diet we had the dogs on before. The 12.7 oz cans retail at a competitive $2.99 per can.

Some of the Benefits:

  • Merrick Backcountry recipes include healthy ingredients that make dogs healthier and happier companions.
  • Quality proteins support growth and development in dogs and lead to increased energy levels.
  • Grain-free ingredients avoid issues like gluten intolerances, chronic skin conditions and stomach distress.
  • Fats and amino acids contribute to a healthier skin and coat.
  • This nutrient dense formula allows for smaller servings and helps to optimize weight management.

Merrick Backcountry on the road

Max and Wiley have never really been casual about feeding time, they love to eat. But their excitement level has definitely gone up a couple of notches since we put them on the Backcountry product. Wiley (our oldest) is much more energetic about meal time and Max is much more focused and attentive. They are pretty crazy about their new food and they both have done well on it.

The transition from their old food to Backcountry was pretty quick, we’ve seen no negative reactions in them and they seem very satisfied. We expected to see Wiley show signs of some reaction within the first few weeks if it was going to happen, but she is doing great.

We’ll continue to watch both dogs for reactions or sensitivities to the food. But so far, we are happy to keep them on the Backcountry food from Merrick and the dogs are pretty happy about it too.

What others have had to say:

“Dogs need high-protein foods to repair muscles, and foods dense in calories – specifically fats. The Great Plains Red Meat recipe has a whopping 38% protein and 17% fat. This is an optimal ratio for hard-working dogs. This particular recipe also includes 1200 mg/kg of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate – two ingredients I’ve found help my older dog from getting too sore after a day in the field.  A thoughtful addition.  These fats and amino acids also contribute to a healthier skin and coat – which I noticed within one week of switching to Merrick Backcountry.” – Lowell Strauss

“My once slow and picky eater (Yuri) is finally finishing dinner every night. Just showing him the food is enough for him to go flying to his food bowl. We even had to swap him to a slow feed bowl because he is that excited.”Jillian Bejtlich

“I scoop a half of a can onto her dry food for breakfast, and she is *literally* besides herself with joy. It even led to a new phrase in our household: All I have to say is, “Tals, do you want some Beef Stew?!” and it’s game over. She will launch up, run downstairs and stand by her food bowl, prancing and leaping in circles. She even throws a few 360s and a shoulder slide in for good measure.”Heather Balogh

“Labs are prone to hip dysplasia and I’m doing what I can to help Sprocket maintain his mobility for as long as possible. Backcountry promises 1200 mg/kg of (Glucosamine & Condroitin) which is a 200% increase over his previous food.” – Beth Lakin (and Sprocket)

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Disclosure: We were provided product and compensation by Merrick Pet Care for this review. But, as always, I wouldn’t endorse, support, or write about anything I don’t love. All opinions are honest, unbiased, and mine (and the dogs’) alone.

Gold Point: Photographing a Ghost Town

Known originally as Lime Point, this area was first settled about 1880. The early camp was abandoned by 1882. In March 1908, a silver strike brought a new camp into existence. Called Hornsilver, it flourished for about a year, boasting about 800 residents, at least 11 saloons, a post office, telephone service and a newspaper. Most of the businesses closed the following year. After a number of small booms and busts, the town was renamed Gold Point in 1932. Two local residents eventually served in the Nevada State Senate, Harry DeVotie and Harry Wiley, whose wife, Ora Mae served as postmistress from 1942 until 1967. The post office closed in 1968, and in 1979 stabilization of the town was started by Herb Robbins.

The town of Gold Point currently claims a population of 27…

Gold Point Ghost Town

Street view of Gold Point main road

Gold Point Ghost Town street sign

desert scene with old outhouse in Gold Point

old rusty antique truck wreckage in Gold Point

Old gas station pump and yucca at Gold Point

Rusty bathhouse at Gold Point Ghost Town

abondoned house in Gold Point Ghost Town

old skull and rusty junk at Gold Point Ghost Town

front of abondoned home in Gold Point Ghost Town

old gallows with noose at Gold Point Ghost Town