First Time Down the Rogue River…Again…

On our first anniversary my wife and I flew to Hawaii and spent some time in Honolulu before hoping over to the Big Island. I was in the middle of a huge knee problem and could barely walk, which was just as well since all the NPS managed sites were closed. Still, not being able to get around very well, or sleep well, really put a damper on our trip. So as our second anniversary grew closer and I was once again plagued with some ridiculous recurring injury I knew I was going to be frustrated with the trip. But I’ll be damned if we’re not going to go. Suck it up, Buttercup…we got adventuring to do!

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This time around our plane dropped us off in less-than-sunny Oregon, Portland to be exact. A good drive from where I wanted us to be and, I imagine, a longer drive from where my wife wished we were headed. You see, a few years ago I joined Dave Wherry in Zion for a sweet day of hiking and while we were there he imparted a piece of married-guy wisdom on me that I took to heart. Dave shared a strategy that he and his wife had found successful when it came to deciding how to spend their anniversary. Each year, one of them would take the lead and plan the trip, the next year they would swap. This struck me as a brilliant idea and a sure way to insure that each half of the couple gets their fair share of their preferred type of anniversary trip.

Our first anniversary was to Hawaii. My wife planned that one, and it was awesome. Our second anniversary was my trip to plan and I really, really wanted to get her on some whitewater. I proposed the trip and she agreed…we would spend our second anniversary on the Rogue River.

We spent the first night in Portland after getting into town and meeting my sister-in-law for dinner. By freak chance she happened to be passing through Portland the same night we got into town. The next morning we tried to work out an opportunity to visit the Columbia Sportswear HQ, as all good Omniten do when in Portland, but it didn’t work out and we had a river to catch. So we headed south to drive the length of the state of Oregon and meet up with the rest of our salty crew in Northern California.

We made a quick stop for essentials in Grants Pass before driving the last leg into California before dark. Driving down the narrow and twisty curves of 199 I couldn’t help but notice how shallow the Middle Fork of the Smith looked. The canyon was boney with more rock than water, a clear indication of a dry summer season. As we swerved through the narrowest part of the canyon along the highway my wife spied a dog hiding in the brush along the narrow shoulder of the road. It was a bad spot, trapped between a curvy road on a blind corner on one side and a nearly sheer mountain cliff on the other. Either way you cut it, that dog was in trouble and neither one of us could let it stand.

We circled back and pulled into a turnout just up the road from where the dog was trapped. We waited in the car, getting a look at the dog without drawing too much of it’s attention. We didn’t want it to bolt into the road while cars where still whizzing by around the blind curve. We thought about what to do, how to approach the situation, but all prospects seemed to end badly when taken to their ultimate conclusion. Then I spotted a lull in traffic, at least I hoped it was, and I hopped out of the drivers seat hoping I could coax the dog to me easily since I was in no shape to chase it down. Luckily, the dog had similar thoughts as soon as it saw me open the door and was halfway across the road by the time I was standing by the car. She made it to us and we got her in the back seat without a fuss. Dog saved. Sighs of relief all the way around.

But now we have a dog. In a rental car. In the middle of a lonely road in Oregon. After dark. And we are running late to meet our crew to be able to get on the river the next morning. Great.

The reaction when we showed up at my buddy Scott’s house with a dog in the back seat was about what I expected, “What the fuck is that?”

A stray dog was a bad thing to have on your hands the night before a 5 day trip into the middle of nowhere. So I started making some calls. I used to live in the area and still know a few people here and there that live in Northern California. Luckily, a close friend of the family was willing to come pick up the puppy and take over the responsibility of figuring out what to do with her. We were in the clear! We had a quick dinner, got to visit a little with old river friends and meet the couple of folks I hadn’t rafted with before, and then got some sleep.

Loading up for the trip

Morning on the Rogue River

Early the next morning, just before first light, we got out of bed and started the process of packing for the trip. Most of the heavy lifting had been done the day before by the local segment of the crew and we were left to sort out our own personal gear and extra supplies. Then we were off, back up 199 and toward the put in at Grave Creek. The long drive up was uneventful as usual and putting on the river was the same carefully orchestrated chaos it always was and soon we were on the water. Happily. Thankfully. Blissfully.

Morning on the Rogue River

In my early years on the Rogue River we would complete the 34 mile trip from Grave Creek to Foster Bar in 3 days, pushing through pretty quickly. Later, with my dad learning to enjoy the river as a whole more than just the whitewater, we stretched the trip to 4 days. The guys I raft with had stretched the trip again since the last time I had rowed the Rogue to a luxurious 5 day trip. Running 34 miles of water in 5 days is a very relaxed pace, especially on the Rogue. We would get up, have breakfast, hit the water and by lunch time we were breaking out snacks and making camp. It was a lot less time in the boat that I am used to and a lot more time to think about Blossom Bar, the technical class IV toward the end of the trip. This was played up quite a bit, as usual, as we all talked about all the things that could go wrong at Blossom if we didn’t make “the move” at the top. This went on unnecessarily for 4 days before it was actually time to run Blossom.

Rogue River

The up side of such short water days was the additional time at camp casually sipping a cold beer, snacking on various goodies, visiting with old friends and telling stories. For Merelyn this was what I had hoped for, some time to get to know these people who shaped much of how I perceive the world and view adventure. River friends become so much more than just friends, they’re family. And even though I don’t see them nearly as often as I like, when we all come back to the river it connects us deeply. These were also people deeply connected to my father and there was a piece of me that really wanted Merelyn to get to know him a little better, through them. I know she felt the same way and took every opportunity to listen, sometimes requiring effort, to their wild and winding stories about my father on the river.

Rogue River camp

Important as the people were to this river trip, I also wanted Merelyn to get to know the river. I suffer from an unquenchable love of rivers and the primal feeling of running it’s current. I have wanted to share that experience with the woman I fell in love with for a long time. It’s only fair to bring my two loves together so they can acquaint themselves with each other and come to an understanding. I think I was successful. The river was beautiful and generous with us, the low water and the slow pace of the trip made it an easier run for a first timer and even though I’m sure Merelyn would rather have been on a pristine sandy beach in Hawaii, I know she came to enjoy the river as well. The river is a relentless seductress and it is impossible, given enough time, to resist it’s sensuous melody. Toward the end of the trip Merelyn turned to me, possibly begrudgingly, and admitted that the Rogue River made for a good anniversary trip. Good enough that it could be repeated whenever it was my turn to plan our anniversary.

That’s good enough for me!

Merelyn on the Rogue River

Dave on the Rogue River

Dave on the Rogue River

It was absolutely impossible to run the Rogue River again without thinking about my #Omniten friends. Our guided trip together last year down this same stretch of river was a memorable trip and I miss those people tremendously. As much as I really love running a private trip, in control of my own raft and my own oars, I still had an amazing time with Columbia and the whole crew in Oregon last year. Maybe some day I’ll be able to get some of them out on this river under a private trip. That would be incredible. As it was, this trip seemed like it was half-sponsored by Columbia Sportswear anyway since a ton of their gear made it down the river with us. My wife was head-to-toe Columbia most times at camp with Omnifreeze shirts for the day and Omniheat baselayers at night, Drainmaker Shoes, and a puffy. I also had my Drainmakers, various Omniheat gear and the killer new Turbodown puffy jacket. Killer gear makes it on all the trips and Columbia stuff is always with us.

Rogue River Columbia Drainmakers

It’s always hard to say goodbye to old friends knowing that you’ll likely not see them again for a long time. Especially when a river, a few boats and a handful of campfires are involved. I’m glad that Merelyn got to get to know them on the river where they are most purely themselves. That’s the funny thing about river people, you don’t really ever get to know them until you know them on the river. They aren’t the same when they’re not on the water. After our 5 days on the Rogue we were running out of time and had to make quick work out of our goodbyes and hit the road. With handshakes, hugs and heart promises to do it again soon, we drove our dusty little rental care out of the takeout and up over the mountain toward Grants Pass. We grabbed some dinner in town and hammered through a week’s worth of missed emails and messages and high-tailed it up to Portland again where we spent WAY too much money on a hotel room and crashed for the night.

The next day we woke up and headed downstairs just as the Portland Marathon was wrapping up. That explained why our hotel room was so expensive. I headed down to the parking garage to grab the rental car and discovered it had a dead battery. It took nearly 4 hours for us to finally get a new vehicle so we missed out on a lot of sight seeing that morning around Portland but we did manage to make arrangements to meet a friend from Columbia for a late lunch. Daniel Green carved out some time on our last afternoon in Oregon to meet us for some food and beer at Base Camp Brewery. Brew was pretty good (I sampled just about everything they made) and Daniel was great company. Even if we didn’t get to make it to the Columbia HQ while we were in town, getting to see Daniel almost made up for it.

Tastings at Base Camp Brewery

On our way to the airport we had another freak coincidence as we noticed a couple of very close friends of ours checked-in on Facebook at a restaurant in Portland. They had come into town to celebrate their anniversary as well and were flying out the same afternoon. We managed to meet them for a few minutes at the airport before we had to head through security. It’s small world, especially when one travels often. It’s fun to know that we have friends everywhere and there’s always a pretty good chance we’ll run into someone. For me that’s especially true in Oregon.

It turned out to be a great trip, even if I was partially laid up and in pain. I have a hard time finding any way to complain when I get to be on the river. Merelyn had a great time too and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to get her out on some whitewater. Hopefully next time I’ll be able to get around a little better and she won’t have to work so hard. No matter what, we’re definitely doing this again.

Blossom Bar-

For those of you who have not run much water, class IV rapids can get ugly pretty fast. We talked about it a little on our Columbia trip, how technical Blossom Bar could get and what we needed to do to avoid a bad day. Not long before this trip, someone had had a bad day at Blossom Bar and the evidence was still there as we went through. Just to show you (especially YOU, Omniten), this is what a bad day looks like at Blossom Bar if you don’t make “the move” at the top.

 

Rogue River Blossom Bar

…About that Dog-

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After we had left, our good friends Pam and Steve contacted a local that had expressed some interest in the dog. They left the puppy with her on the condition she’d follow through with the vet, check for a microchip and, if all came back clear, take care of her. Later that first day after getting the dog, someone recognized her from posters that had been left around town. It turns out the dog was in Northern California getting specialized training. She was a Belgian Malinois, a prized pure bred related to a German Shepherd and just as trainable. A Canadian family had bought her from a special breeder and had spent a decent amount of money to have her trained in the states. They had flown in to pick up the dog, her name is Aspen, and drive her home to Canada. Somewhere along 199 before Grants Pass she somehow got out of her crate and was either thrown or jumped from the back of their truck. She had been out there at least a few days before we found her.

Once the local woman who had taken her realized what she had, she made a phone call and Aspen’s family was on the next flight out to come get her and bring her home. Aspen is now at home with her family.

Gotta love a happy ending.

Columbia #OmniGames: Supporting Storylines…

Columbia Omnigames

Dog sledding

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

Columbia OmniGames

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

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

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

Columbia Omnigames

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

Making fire exciting

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

Columbia Omnigames

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

Columbia Omnigames

I can’t be everywhere

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

Columbia Omnigames

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

Archery in the snow

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

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

Columbia Omnigames

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

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

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

A little something about #TryingStuff…

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The Columbia Spring/Summer 2013 #Omniten set out on the Rogue River in southern Oregon this Summer in the spirit of #TryingStuff.  A grand time was had by all and I wrote about my experience a little bit, and some of you may have seen the pictures and read posts from the other Omniten about the trip.  Amazing group, amazing time, all with a truly amazing company.

We had a great photographer on the trip by the name of Mark Going who took some cool footage and interviews with the group.  This is the resulting video sent to us from Columbia.  Toward the end there’s a peak at me doing a little bit of a back flip.  Good fun.

Rogue River with Omniten

It’s pretty awesome.  The Winter Omniten has been selected and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for them!

Crossing paths on the Rogue River…

Rogue River Rafting Trip

“We don’t meet people by accident.  Each and every person that crosses our path does so for a reason.” -

I’ve never been a believer in the deterministic universe, that everything happens for a reason, but sometimes it’s hard to dismiss.

When Columbia announced that our #OmniTen trip would be on the Rogue River I laughed.  I’ve only been on the Rogue a couple of times since my dad passed away but when I was younger we did regular trips down the Rogue and I know the river well.  Columbia was going to take us to my old stomping grounds and I knew it would be emotional for me.

Then the fires started.

The fires closed down the river.  Some friends of mine put in on the last day they allowed anyone on the river and they pushed to get off the river as soon as possible because parts of the valley were so choked with smoke you couldn’t breathe.  This was 2 weeks before our trip and every report estimated the river would be closed for at least 3 weeks as fire crews struggled to get the Big Windy fire under control.  Columbia was scrambling to come up with plan B.

Several days before we were to converge on Oregon for our adventure, the word got out that the river was going to open back up.  Plan A was back on schedule and we would be floating the Rogue.  At the same time, this meant a scramble for the outfitter, Rogue Wilderness Adventures, to grab some last minute guides for the trip.  Aaron DeSilva was one of those guides, setting our paths on a collision course.

I wasn’t planning to be on Aaron’s raft.  I had intended to grab a spot on the other boat, but ultimately ended up in Aaron’s crew and as others traded spots throughout the trip I stayed put.

Aaron is a local guy and grew up running the Rogue, and other rivers, with his dad.  Even though I moved away from the area to pursue a career, we shared similar stories.  We both grew up playing in the larger than life shadows of adventurous fathers, learning to live a life of actions not talk.  We both grew up on the river, developing an appreciation and respect for the river and the outdoors.  We both developed close friendships with our fathers in our adult lives, something that doesn’t seem to happen as often as it should.

So when I found out that Aaron had lost his father I understood, all too well, what kind of impact that had.  It was later, when I accidentally walked across him having a private moment with the river, that I started feeling that our meeting was intentional.  Walking back from the river’s edge he smiled and shared that he was scattering a handful of his father’s ashes in the water, something he had been doing on all his trips since losing his dad.  This hit home hard and I mentioned that I had done the same with my father.

Aaron DeSilva on the Rogue River

This was right above Blossom Bar, one of the most technical runs we would deal with on the three day trip.  Blossom can be tricky, and if you don’t nail it the consequences can be severe.  Aaron had been looking for his good luck charm, the Bald Eagle, all day.  He was nerved up as we float toward Blossom.  Only a couple hundred yards away from the top of the rapid he spotted a Bald Eagle resting in tree leaning out from the canyon wall.  We quietly floated past, Aaron never took his eyes off the bird and it returned his gaze until we had passed it by.  Aaron’s mood changed, nerves seemed gone and Blossom went by without incident.  Good luck charm indeed.

Later that afternoon we ended our river trip and piled into the shuttle vans.  Everyone randomly grabbed a seat and Aaron and I ended up in the same vehicle.  Due to road closures because of the fire, we had to take the long way back to Grants Pass which meant a long detour south into California…right along 197 and the Smith River.  This had already been an emotional trip for me, but it was going to get worse.  Not only would we be driving right by my parents’ old house, but the accident that took my dad happened along highway 197.

An eight year old scab was quickly torn open as we drove along 197.  Knowing Aaron would understand I mentioned what I was feeling and shared the significance of where we were.  It was then that I learned just how raw and recent things were for Aaron.  While I had lost my dad almost 9 years ago, he had lost his only 9 months ago.  It came together, Aaron is the same age I was when I lost my dad and the closeness of their relationship had left him adrift.  No one understood the depth of what he had lost and he couldn’t communicate it even to his wife.  And here I was, eight years ahead of his position and understanding exactly what he was going through.

We had an emotional exchange as we drove along 197, the rest of the bus quietly gave us the space to talk (either out of respect of awkwardness).  I offered understanding, I offered advice, but most importantly I offered proof of the healing nature of time.  Strangely enough, this exchange brought me a measure of closure.  I really, really hope it brought Aaron a measure of relief as well.  I remember that first year and I would have given anything for some true understanding.  It was a very lonely time.

The Rogue River was fantastic and Columbia puts on a hell of trip.  Rogue Wilderness Adventures and their guides do a bang up job providing way more comfort than most of use are used to outdoors.  And having Ninkasi Brewing along was some seriously tasty icing on the cake.  All in all an unforgettable trip with some really genuine and amazing people.

After the trip I received a message from Aaron, he had found me on Facebook and reached out.  He had found some of the articles I had written about my early adventures with my dad.  He mentioned he had enjoyed our talk and asked if I had written more stories about my dad, so I sent him some links.  I told him that writing had eventually helped me work through some of the loss.  For Aaron, the river is where he finds peace.

In chatting back and forth after the trip I learned a lot.  His father, Tom, had been running the Rogue River since the 70s.  Everything Aaron knows about rafting and the history of the Rogue (which is extensive) he learned from his dad.  They also shared a love of flying and sky diving.  Aaron’s description of his dad reminded me of my own, “The rogue is one of his favorite places in the world. On day two you could always find him sitting in a lawn chair in the middle of mule creek with his feet in the water and a cold one in his hand. My dad was always my best friend, father, mentor, roommate, coach and most of all my true hero.”

Blossom Bar in particular holds a lot of significance, and dusting the river with his father’s ashes upstream of the rapid Aaron had been looking for guidance.  I’ve done the same thing myself.  Aaron and his father, with their love of flying, have always told each other that if they came back they would want to come back as a bird.  Aaron looks for a Bald Eagle on every trip now, thinking of it as his father watching out for him.  To Aaron it was no coincidence that the Bald Eagle appeared as we approached Blossom Bar and he felt the strong, reassuring gaze of his father that morning.

Hopefully I’ll get to see Aaron again one of these days, maybe share another trip on our favorite river.  But I can’t shake the feeling that so many events came together for us to cross paths.  I just can’t help but think it was not an accident.  Even if we never cross paths again, we connected at a pivotal time that made big ripples in our own little ponds.

Well played, Universe….well played…

The #OmniTen effect…

Columbia OmniTEN

I’ve followed the Columbia #Omniten from the beginning.

I remember reading blog posts from original #Omniten about their trip together, how it changed them…brought them all closer together.  It was the kind of trip that inspired life long friendships.  The unique experience of that trip changed the careers, lives and relationships of those who were there.

I wondered if our group would develop that bond.  I wondered if I would be changed by the experience.  I wondered if the first #Omniten was unique.

I’m not the type of person who makes friends easily.  As an introvert, I will tell jokes and make superficial conversation to avoid making true connections with people.  Usually.  The outdoor community is different, the people are different.  Meeting people from the outdoor community face to face for the first time is a lot like visiting old friends you haven’t seen in a while.  Easy, comfortable, comforting, exciting, fun and mixed with a lot of laughter.  Meeting my #Omniten family for the first time was like this.

I will write more in the next couple of weeks about the trip and share some photos.  This was “the adventure of a lifetime”, as Eric put it.  For me personally it was a homecoming, it was emotional.  I’ve always dreamed of being able to take a group of good friends on a whitewater trip and show them why I love the river so much.  Even if I wasn’t the one guiding the trip, this really felt like the trip I’ve dreamed of.  I give credit to Columbia for putting together a stellar group of people and not just the #Omniten.  The people from Columbia that joined our adventure were all truly great people and added tremendously to the enjoyment of the trip.

Columbia OmniTEN

I haven’t floated the swirling currents of the river in over 5 years.  It felt good to drift along in the fickle current, to ride the eddie lines, to slide down the broad green tongue at the top of a rapid and bounce along the frothing, white-capped wave train.  I’d almost forgotten how much I love the sounds of the river – the trickling of waterfalls, the roaring of whitewater, the creak of the oarlocks and soft dip of the oar blades into the quiet, flat water.

I miss the river already, but I just might miss my new friends a little bit more.  I now know first-hand how the other group felt when they had to say goodbye at the end of their trip.  It’s bitter-sweet and filled with adventurous opportunity.

I hope to see you all again soon!

Gear Review: Columbia Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket…

I’m going to keep this one short and sweet – I really dig this jacket!

Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket from ColumbiaThe Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket is one of the pieces Columbia Sportwear sent this season’s OmniTen.  I remember when it first showed up I immediately put it on and liked the weight and fit.  It’s perfect for light use like hiking and running and compacts down to nothing making it easy to stow.  It weighs in at about 7 oz and packs into it’s own chest pocket to about the size of a softball.

It doesn’t rain a whole lot here in Arizona, but when it does it’s pretty serious about it.  I’ve been caught in a few rains now where I’ve been able to use the jacket including a monsoon here in Scottsdale, a storm at the Grand Canyon, a rainy afternoon at Mono Lake in California and a monster thunder storm on top of Mount Graham.  In each, it performed well – kept me dry and comfortable without being stuffy.

The Omni-Wick built into the jacket makes it a breathable jacket.  I put it side-by-side against a lightweight packable rain shell from Sierra Designs and it performed WAY better.  The Sierra Designs jacket didn’t really keep me dry and was a sweat box – maybe I’ll use it when I am trying to cut weight.

Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket from Columbia

All in all, a really successful weindbreaker/rain jacket for hiking and running.  I now pack this thing with me every time I go out if there’s even the slightest chance of rain.  The only thing it needs is a good base layer.  When I’ve worn the jacket in colder rains without anything more than a t-shirt it can get cold real quick.  When the rain gets on the jacket, you feel the cold through the thin material.  But a simple base layer to insulate against that direct skin contact makes a huge difference.  Here in AZ, the rain doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cold out so I like not having an overly warm rain jacket with it’s own insulation.

Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket from Columbia

At $90 retail, I think it’s a good deal.  I hope the jacket holds up over time.  I haven’t really tested it’s durability in tough terrain so I’ll have to update this review later after I’ve abused it more.

OmniTen…

Check out other OmniTen opinions on this jacket…

Eric seemed to like it, “Columbia claims omnishield keeps out ligbt rain… I can tell you from a serious testing that it keeps out heavy rain as well.”

 

Testing Columbia’s Omni-Freeze Zero…

Being #OmniTEN has it’s perks.  One of the awesome parts of this experience has been the opportunity to dig a little deeper than usual into a brand’s technology.  Usually, I get to test one or two pieces from a company and give my opinion.  Columbia has sent us a pretty wide sampling of pieces hosting a collection of technologies.  The big focus for us, as Spring/Summer Omniten, has been on the Omni Freeze and Omni-Freeze Zero fabrics that are featured this year.

Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero Technology

Omni-Freeze Zero Products I’ve used…

Between the products that I’ve received as part of the OmniTEN welcome package, pieces I’ve asked to test and a couple of pieces I’ve purchased I have quite a collection of Omni-Freeze Zero products.  Here is the list of what I’ve worn:

Omni-Freeze Zero Technology…

Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero TechnologyOmni-Freeze ZERO is the culmination of a four-year development effort including Omni-Freeze, the short lived Omni-Freeze Ice and now Omni-Freeze Zero.

The basis of the technology is to use the sweat (moisture) we produce during exercise or in extreme heat to cool the fabric.  Omni-Freeze Zero fabric is embedded with thousands of little blue super-absorbent polymer rings that trap up to 300% more moisture than normal fabric then use that moisture to physically drop the temperature of the fabric for an extended period of time.

Excerpt from Popular Science Magazine about the technology:

“The human body already has a highly efficient cooling system: As perspiration evaporates, it draws heat away from the body. Wicking fabrics facilitate this process by distributing sweat evenly over the fabric, so that it dries more quickly. Despite devising cheats, such as menthol-like chemical coatings added to fabrics, companies have never actually improved upon the body’s natural cooling process. Designers at Columbia Sportswear have now made a fabric that does.

Omni-Freeze ZERO shot with a thermal camera

image taken with a thermal camera that displays, when it was moistened with steam, darker blue areas signify colder temperatures

The wicking polyester base of the Omni-Freeze ZERO T-shirt is embedded with thousands of 0.15-inch hydrophilic polymer rings (a men’s medium has more than 41,000 of them). As the base spreads sweat, the rings absorb moisture and expand into three-dimensional doughnuts. In order to swell, the rings require energy, which they gather as body heat. In tests, the shirt was up to 10 degrees cooler against the wearer’s skin than shirts made from any other material.”

Typically coupled with complementary technologies like Omni-Wick EVAP and Omni-Shade, these new garments are tailor made for adventures in the heat.

Omni-Freeze Zero Performance…

It’s hot in Phoenix, there’s no getting around it.  A clothing product that can cool itself sounds like a desert dweller’s dream.  So when Columbia sent me the first batch of Omni-Freeze Zero stuff I was anxious to try it out.

I decided to do the first test mid-day on the bike with a brisk 20 mile ride in the Trail Dryer Hat and Freeze Degree 1/2 Zip long sleeve shirt.  I didn’t sweat.  This told me two things: I need try harder and the light, breathable fabric with Omni-Wick kept me pretty dry.  Halfway through the ride I poured a little water on the headband of the hat and did feel some cooling, but it wasn’t significant.

Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero TechnologyLater, I took the Terminal Zero shirt out for a hike.  It was over 100 degrees and I did 6 hot miles on a rocky, exposed trail to work up a sweat.  I could tell that certain areas where the sweat was accumulating I could sense the cooling in the fabric.  I never really built enough sweat to get larger sections of the shirt to cool so I sprayed some water on my neck, shoulders and arms to give the fabric a little boost.  BAM…there it is.  Initially, there’s the immediate natural cooling effect you would feel in any shirt when you splash it with water, but then the fabric cools down and goes well beyond anything water would do alone.  Even spraying it with warm water, the fabric cools below the temp of the water.

There is a tipping point where the fabric saturates enough to activate the cooling of the material.  I decided to see if more water meant more cooling and later put on the Freeze Degree Long Sleeve shirt and jumped in the pool.  It was well over 100 degrees in full sun.  I got out of the pool and sat in the sun with the shirt on.  The shirt didn’t seem to significantly cool until it had dried out a little, then the technology kicked in and I felt a significant sensation of cooling where the shirt was touching my skin.  This cooling effect slowly dissipated as the fabric dried out.

Coupled with complementary technologies like Omni-Shade (50 SPF UV protection) and design features like a vented back panel (in some shirts), the clothing performs well outdoors.  I do feel like I was more comfortable on my warm weather hikes in the Columbia clothing I tested.  Like most technical fabrics, it doesn’t take much use to build up some stink, there’s something about tech fabrics that really amplifies body odor. The Omni-Freeze Zero materials are best used next to the skin so wearing something underneath defeats the purpose.

Room for improvement…

I’ve heard some complaints about Columbia having inconsistent fit and sizing with their garments.  That makes it difficult sometimes to order things online especially when you’re sort of in between sizes like I am.  I don’t think it’s so much that the sizing has been inconsistent as much as they sell different cuts and some styles are more fitted than others.  I found most of the sizing true to convention.

It would be nice to see Columbia develop an Omni-Odor Block technology of some kind.  All of the tech fabrics in athletic wear seem to amplify body odor and these shirts are no different.

Other than that, I like the styling, fit and weight of the garments.  I do wish they made the Terminal Zero in a black or dark gray color but I seem to be in the minority lately about acceptable clothing colors…and I like the blue.  There’s not a lot I would suggest beyond what they’ve done.  I think Columbia does a pretty thorough job in designing clothing that works well in the outdoors.

Bottom Line…

It works.  If you’re like me and you don’t sweat buckets when you’re exercising, you might need to add a little moisture to activate the cooling but the fabric works.  We did get free samples to test as part of OmniTEN, but I felt confident enough in the products after using them to purchase more pieces with my own money AND buy some for my wife.  A little cooling help in Arizona means an extra month or so of enjoying the outdoors before even Omni-Freeze Zero can’t compete with the heat.

 

More from The OMNITEN…

For more Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero talk…check out the reviews from fellow #OmniTEN bloggers Kristie, Eric and Erika.

Kristie:

“I decided to put my long sleeve 1/2 zip top on myself and throw Rainy in my Freeze Degree short sleeve top.  We then took a dip in the water, and it was instant relief and disbelief for me.  I felt unbelievably cool in the water, but once I stepped out of the water (after dunking my Trail Dryer hat in the water), I stayed cool for a couple hours without going back into the water!”

Eric:

coming soon!

Erika:

“Here is the main reason I’m in love with this shirt, it adapts to the temperature of my body, avoiding those too hot, too cold, moments so common in spring. I can put the Omni-Freeze ZERO long-sleeve shirt on and wear it all day comfortably from sun to shade.”

 

Columbia’s #Omniten 2013…

#OmniOutlaw banner

This is the #OmniOutlaw graphic banner I created when the the first #OmniTen were announced.

My deep seated #OmniEnvy began in early 2012 when Columbia Sportswear launched the first #OmniTen campaign. Ten Social Media influencers in the outdoor community were selected to participate in a 6 month experiment with Columbia. Some of them I already followed on Social Media channels, the others I quickly followed so I could watch this new #OmniTen thing unfold. So began my #OmniObsession and the exercise of following, friending, stalking and generally creeping out the original #OmniTen…and so began the #OmniOutlaws.

I was not alone, the #OmniOutlaws grew into a small group of less-than-influential individuals on Twitter. The one thing that brought us together was a fondness for Columbia Gear and an acute case of #OmniEnvy. Columbia makes some great gear and it was fun to watch and interact with Columbia and their #OmniTen as they featured new gear and posted about their adventures. I have had the opportunity to meet and create friendships with most of the original #OmniTen and they are a great group of people.

Then the Winter #OmniTen were chosen. Once Columbia proved that they would be choosing a new set of ten for each season, envy turned to hope. It now looked like there may be a chance in the distant future for an #OmniOutlaw to turn #OmniTen.

Well it happened! Columbia has made my year by inviting me to the 2013 Spring season of #OmniTen! I’m still stalking the #OmniTen, it’s just not as creepy because I’m one of them. It is now time to lower the #OmniOutlaw flag and point my ship toward a new adventure proudly flying the #OmniTen colors.

There’s still a few people that haven’t checked in yet, but if you’d like to join me in following the adventures of the new 2013 #OmniTen I’ve provided links to their Twitter profiles below.  This is an awesome opportunity and I intend to make the most of it.  Columbia has promised it will be amazing!

#omniten invitation box

My #OmniTen invitation box…

Columbia #OmniTen Spring 2013

David (me!)
Adam
Aleya
Anne
Tori
Justin
Eric
Julie

more to follow!

You should also be following Columbia Sportswear on Twitter and the #Omniten hashtag.