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…

Failure on Mount Graham…

Two years ago I made a trip out to Mount Graham in eastern Arizona to see the Perseid meteor shower.  On that trip, we arrived late as a storm had rolled in and set up camp in the rain.  It rained all night and was a soggy mess in the morning, but we hiked, bagged some peaks, got in trouble with the feds, took a few pictures, slept through a second night of rain and clouds and came home.  I never got a chance to see the meteor shower, or much of the night sky at all.  Bummer.

Since that trip, I’ve become much more serious about photography and really, really wanted to do a night sky shoot.  With the meteor shower reaching a peak this weekend I wanted to get back out to Mount Graham and try to not just see the celestial event but capture images of it.  So I packed up some basics and headed out Sunday morning to make the 4 hour drive to Mount Graham.

Mount Graham and the Pinaleno Mountains are one of the Southeastern Arizona “Sky Islands”, a collection of isolated, high elevation peaks that are throwbacks to Arizona’s ancient past.  As the climate has changed and the Ponderosa Pine forests have been pushed higher in elevation these mountains have become the island homes for many species that can’t survive the desert.  The Sky Island Alliance has boasted, “the region harbors a diversity exceeding anywhere else in the U.S., supporting well over half the bird species of North America, 29 bat species, over 3,000 species of plants, and 104 species of mammals.”

Mount Graham photography view

These mountains also have pretty crazy weather.  At nearly 11,000 ft they tower over the desert floor and clouds tend to pile up against them and then let loose.  This is what caught me two years ago.  And this is what was in store for me this weekend.  A perfectly clear pleasant afternoon soon hinted at a cranky, grumbly storm as I drove up the twisting mountain road to camp.  I stopped to take some pictures as the storm approached and built up steam.

Mount Graham photography camp

Just as I reached camp and started to set up, the storm bullied it’s way over the mountain and let loose with a massive downpour.  The camp host said it hadn’t rained for a week or so but the last time a storm came over lightning struck a tree at one of the campsites convincing the temporary residents to pack up and go home.  This storm rolled right over the top of camp with thick walls of rain and hail, lightning striking so close I could smell it and thunder that seemed to crashing right between my ears.

Luckily I had the light rain jacket from Columbia to keep me dry as I scrambled to set up camp.  I got the tent up in a hurry then decided I didn’t want to be stuck in the tent and set up the tarp I normally reserve for hammock camping.  This allowed me to set up a nice little dry area where I could cook, hang out and watch the storm.  The storm blasted camp for a good two hours, causing torrents of runoff to carve a path through camp.  I took a stick and dug in a channel next to the tent to divert the drainage around the tent instead of under it…it helped.

Mount Graham photography camp

Once the rain had stopped, I pulled out the camera to see if I could get a few post rain shots during the sunset.  I didn’t get much and what I got seemed off but I didn’t know why.  I waited out the sun busying myself with other camp duties.  The moon would set around 9PM offering a nice dark sky for night shooting.  I got the camera out and set up to do some long exposures and catch the Milky Way while I waiting for the meteor shower.

Mount Graham photography night shotsThis was my first attempt at night shooting, my first attempt to do open shutter captures…and I couldn’t figure it out.  It took me close to an hour to figure out how to lock the shutter open on the damn camera (I know, I felt like an idiot).  Once I finally got it to work, I was having a really hard time capturing anything.  Even keeping the shutter open for 3 or 4 minutes and with the ISO pushed up I was having no real success.  Then I noticed that when I did get something in the viewfinder it looked weird.

Everything, and I mean everything, was wet from the storm.  The storm had dropped so much water that as it got cold there was not a single dry surface anywhere…that included the lens!  Dammit!  I have been struggling to get these long exposure shots and all I was doing was shooting through a foggy, wet lens.  After some necessary swearing, I finally found a cloth I could try to clean the lens with.  I hoped I could get it clean and then get some shots.  The problem was, the shots would take anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes to shoot and the mist would collect on the lens in less than 2 minutes.  Ugh!

Mount Graham photography night shotsBut I tried.  I would set up the shot, clean the lens, open the shutter…wait.  I would also have to hold my breath when setting up the camera because the steam from my breathing would fog the lens immediately.  So I would hold my breath, set up the shot, clean the lens, open the shutter, then scurry far enough away to exhale and take a breath.  Seriously….?

It was about the time I got this system down that I realized my battery was dying and eventually wouldn’t let me take a shot.  How the hell did I take off for two days of shooting without charging the battery??  Good thing I had a backup.  I swapped the batteries and, nope, that one was dead too.  GOD DAMMIT!!  What the hell?  I could have sworn I had charged the batteries after my last trip…but I guess I hadn’t.

So, dead batteries, wet lens, battery going dead on my headlamp and the cold starting to get to me…I put the camera away just as the meteor shower was supposed to get going.  At least I will get to watch it, even if I can’t try to shoot it.  I waited.  1AM…not much to see, a couple of streaks but not much of a show.  1:30AM…still nothin.  Peak show is supposed to be from 1AM to 3AM…where is it?  2AM…Do I have to buy a ticket?  Is that why I’m not seeing much of anything?

At about 2:30AM I got frustrated that I wasn’t seeing much.  I was cold, tired, wet and my foot was killing me from stumbling around camp all night.  I called it and went to bed.

With the good camera useless, I decided to pack up and head home instead of doing a second night.  If my busted foot wasn’t feeling so sore I might have stayed just to hike around the mountain a little bit.  It’s a beautiful place.  But I had come out for the photography and my equipment was shot.  The upside was that I did get to use my new Induro tripod and I really liked it.  So much lighter and easier than my older tripod.  Very impressed with it.

Mount Graham photography

 

Mount Graham photography

The next morning I walked around a little with my smaller camera and tried to shoot some of the scenery in the morning light.  There really is an abundance of stuff to shoot in the mountains.  Especially for late Summer, this is the place to find some amazing plants and animals to capture.  I really wish I been better prepared and in better shape to hike around the mountain this weekend, but I will go back.

That’s two failed trips to Mount Graham…one of these days I’ll do it right.  I promise!

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 OmniFreeze 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.”