Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Lure of the Outdoors

Have you ever wondered why the people who like the outdoors actually like the outdoors? Is it the freedom, the sights, the smells, a link to primitive roots, or does it just make for interesting conversation?  I have met several kinds of people, all of whom have different perspectives about nature and the outdoors.   Some people won't even walk off the edge of the sidewalk while at the other end of the spectrum there are individuals have such overwhelming conviction that they dedicate their entire lives to the outdoors and preserving the flora and fauna that inhabit her and conserving the same opportunity to enjoy a beautiful country for the generations to come whether or not they appreciate it or not.  John Muir was one of the pioneers for a movement of conservation, preservation and understanding of the great outdoors.  Basically, ole Johnny and some other folks made being outdoors cool! 

I sat down today and thought about why I love the outdoors so much?  Does everyone feel the same way? Is is weird or normal?  My answer to myself was its completely normal to like being outdoors to go fishing, hunting, camping, etc, but taking it just a step higher and going camping and living in the woods for almost 4 1/2 months may not be for everyone.  To tell the truth I can't get enough of it.  I wanted to see if there was an answer, if I could put it in writing why I love it so much and why other people like it in doses as well.

I like going really deep into the wilderness to places unknown or less-traveled far  far away from roads and civilization, away from my vehicle and other vehicles, away from cell phone reception,  the dimmest glow of city lights, and any noise except from the night and day naturally.  I want to be completely immersed in the circle.  When I go on trips I want to feel like a part of the environment not a visitor.  As weird as it may sound, its kind of nice to join the food chain and not be at the top.  It adds a sense of danger and adventure and really makes you feel a part of nature.  Please don't misinterpret this for stupidity like I want to get attacked by a bear or bitten by an alligator, it just keeps your mind sharp, clear, and focused.  It makes the experience vivid!  Sometimes people get clouded by comfort, complacency, t.v., drugs, alcohol on a regular basis and don't ever actually SEE anything worth seeing.  The senses are never  really stimulated naturally!  Its like fast food for the senses - its cheap,  fills you up for a minute, leaves you with no nutritional value and is shortly flushed down the toilet and out of your memory.  I have walked it the rain thousands of time in my life too and from a thousand places but I don't remember them.  None of the situations ever stuck out.  Sometimes the rain was warm, sometime cold, or sometimes in the middle.  It didn't matter because I still don't remember.  I'll never forget till the day that I die..., ( I even feel like if I get Alzheimer's, that this memory is so strong and vivid I still won't forget it), a day that it rained while I was walking through the White Mountains in New Hampshire.  It was a rather cool day, but shorts and a t-shirt were in order due to the pace and climbs expected for the day's plans which would most definitely keep the body warm.   Boomerang and myself were hiking up a peak a couple shy of Mt. Washington  when we started ascending through the some clouds that had set in.  A heavy set of "cumo numbos" (its what I like to call the rain clouds stemming from the scientific cumulus nimbus cloud). I remember not thinking too much about anything at the time nor could I see very much due to the cumo numbos we were walking in.  Dave "Boomerang" was a good ways ahead of me or behind me, I can't remember, but  all of sudden got this really strange feeling.  It was a feeling of overwhelming joy, peace, and calm elation (I know that sounds weird, but I don't know how else to describe it).  I had walked out of the clouds and I was looking down as they were rushing through the valley like they were being sucked through a straw and it began to rain and rain hard.  It was as the rain was coming right out the the clear blue sky.  Alot of times on the trail I didn't really want to be wet because it meant for a cold day, full of chaffing soggy feet, and walking in the mud, but this time it was different.....much different.  I felt like that very particular rain was just for me.  There wasn't anyone else around except Dave somewhere and there were no clouds it seemed to be coming from.  It was cold, probably too cold to just stand still in the rain with shorts and a t-shirt, but I didn't mind.  I looked up at the sky and felt the rain come down.  It was exhilarating.  It was like time slowed down and I could feel every cold raindrop hit my face and wander down only to get swallowed up by a parched  t-shirt.  Pretty soon I was soaked and had this ridiculous smile on my face and I couldn't get rid of it.  The kind of smile you have when you randomly run into a good friend you haven't seen in years after having a few drinks (That kind of smile hahaha). The kind that hurts your face after a while.  I had never "felt" the rain before or tasted it the way it tasted like I did during this moment.  The whole thing was cleansing  I couldn't understand it.  What was happening?  Was I dying or having an out of body experience?  I was so high on life. Simple as that.   My body felt light, I felt overwhelmingly happy and I didn't have a care in the world.  Every thing was right.....just right.....perfect.  That mountain was built just for me the clouds in the valley were put there just for me and the rain was there to stop me in my tracks and say "hey man, look around and see what was put here for you, isn't it neat?,  This is what it's all about..sometimes you just have to slow down, lift your head up and allow your senses to be open to the natural stimulation right here around you - It feels good doesn't it!"    It was a  It probably sounds dumb to a lot of folks cause most haven't felt it.  Some people try the cheap knock off way to get high with drugs or alcohol, but it can't be the same.  My senses and mind weren't dulled  or there was no neurological overload from some manufactured stimulant.  This high lasted!  Ever since that day, it has become easier and easier to get that high.  I now know how allow myself to get it and I know where to look.  

Next time you go to the great outdoors, go and be a part of it, don't just visit.  Be cognizant of everything around you.  Walk slow, smell things and touch your surroundings.  Look at things that you normally don't look at.  Take in the landscape, the atmosphere, and the notice how it makes you feel.  Smell the grass and look at the veins in the leaves.  Everything has a purpose and is suppose to be there and so are you.  That's the best part!  You are a part of it all, even if only for a little while (maybe only a day or the weekend).  Let yourself feel good and wild.  Allow your senses to be overwhelmed.  It doesn't always take something huge to WoW amaze you.  Sometimes a million little things that you actually take the time mentally slow your mind down and appreciate can have the same effect as one huge amazing thing.  It is a fact that you can train yourself to get high like this and once you do, you'll be addicted and need it all the time, and think about it all the time, but the best thing about this drug is, is that too much is a GOOD thing, it doesn't cost a nickel, and you don't have to find a sketchy dealer to get it because its all around you for free! Remember, we don't live in this world, we live on it.  Take a look around  every once in a while at the good things on it too.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gear: Choosing A Backpack

I have had a couple of friends ask about packs in the last couple of weeks so I figured its as good a time as any to write a quick ramble on choosing the right pack to get the most out of your outdoor adventures.  As a friendly reminder, Most of this may be opinion, however, I am a seasoned backpacker with enough knowledge on the subject that you can feel confident in the suggestions and information given. 

One of the things I learned on my thru-hike that may sound dumb, but its not if you really think about it, was,  "Its not the gear you have that is going to carry you the 2,179 miles, but you who will carry the gear".  That sounds like an ancient Chinese proverb. (I should patent this phrase and forget about blogging and go into the Chinese fortune cookie and  proverb writing business....only kidding.)  When backpacking there is a constant struggle between weight and comfort.  I personally choose weight over comfort.  You may choose comfort.  Others find a happy median.  When choosing a backpack, you first must address a few important questions: 1. pack versatility  2. your backpacking/hiking preferences i.e. distances, length of trips, seasons for use etc. 3. Brand/Price range.  I will further elaborate shortly.  My #1 recommendation when choosing a pack is get one that is a little smaller than you think you may need ex.  your thinking a 70 liter, go with the 65, thinking a 35 liter go with the 30 etc.  What I have found is no matter what size pack you have you are going to fill it up.  All I needed on my thru hike was a 55 liter pack.  I didn't have a lot of money and got a 70 liter pack at an R.E.I scratch and dent sale and filled it to the max every time I used it.  I finally got smart and undid the 10 liter top and sent it home and used it as a 60 liter pack and had more than enough room for what I needed.  Many things come into play when choosing a size though.  I will try to be as inclusive as possible.  Forgive me if I leave anything out and please don't hesitate to ask questions.  I enjoy answering them.

Facts:  In no circumstance should a pack ever weigh over 40 lbs unless you are only hiking in to a location a couple miles from a trail head.  Anything above this takes away from your backpacking experience.  If you are distracted from the joy of your surroundings to think about back pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, or foot pain due to excess weight, that is not acceptable. 

Some people have to have all the amenities while others can deal with a little more discomfort, pack a toothbrush, tarp, and a prayer are on their way! Decide where you fall on this spectrum and what you need and what you can do without.

Versatility:   You first must decide what the pack will be used for. Will the  backpack used for day hikes, overnighters, weekend, week-long, or long distance hikes.   Most people don't have an endless budget so they want one that can span as many of these options as possible, others may want their pack to serve an exact purpose.  I think packs can be lumped accordingly:  Day packs by themselves as they are only used to carry some snacks, drinks, and extra clothes.  These packs range anywhere from regular book bag style backpacks to more elaborate packs with several compartmeents.  They should fall in the range of roughly 20-35 liters.  Overnight and weekend packs can be lumped together also.  These packs can be a little bigger than normal since weight may not be as much of an issue due to the lack of day after day after day of hiking.  I almost always overpack on these trips due to the extra 12 ounce containers that almost always find priority on my packing necessities list.  I will warn you however, overpacking in conjunction with extensive miles in a recipe for a bad sore time and likely to steer away first time backpackers from the hobby.   Packs for overnight and weekends should fall in the neighborhood of 55 - 70 liters.  These volumes are set in an estimated window to consider different sized people: ex. someone who is 150lbs I would recommend to purchase a pack closer to 55 liters while, someone who may be 250lbs would need a litter extra room to accommodate some larger clothing, maybe a long sleeping bag, and most likely a larger food bag.  If considering a thru hike long distance hike where you will need to carry a week's worth of food at a time, packing and contents becomes paramount.  A 65 liter pack is the maximum volume for a backpack you will need.  When doing a long distance it is very import  I would recommend.  If you can't fit what you need in that size you need to re-evaluate your contents.  (I would be more than happy to help with that if it becomes an issue with any of you guys).  I would also recommend nothing smaller than a 58 liter pack unless you belong to the ultralight cult.  There is nothing wrong with that either, its just most people don't plan on carrying almost nothing and crushing 40 mile days. 

Brand:  The top two brands I will recommend when buying a pack are: 1. Gregory  2. Osprey.  I have used both and have been more than happy with each.  I thru-hiked with Gregory Baltoro and currently use an Osprey 58 liter lightweight pack that meets all my needs and may being seeing a thru-hike of the PCT before too long.   I submitted the attached photo to the Gregory website and they actually used it on their webpage! Other brands to consider are:  Granite Gear, Mountain Hardware (ok, but they make better apparel, sleeping bags and tents I think), Gosomer Gear for the Ultra-light guys (not as much support with these packs and not made to exceed max load - usually like 25lbs or so) and R.E.I. actually make pretty good packs.  All of the prior mentioned companies have excellent customer service and will replace, repair, or even refund in almost any situation in a timely manner.   I would steer clear of any North Face gear.  Unfortunately they have fallen into Abercrombie and Fitch market targeting frat boys and the image obsessed weekend warrior.  Their quality has compromised in gear with exception to their serious alpine gear.  Your backpack is often an extension of your personality so pick the design and color that you like best and fits your backpacking lifestyle.

Price:  Now the part that hurts....To get a good quality pack with lifetime warranty you may have to come off your wallet a little bit.  Remind yourself it is for a lifetime investment for a very healthy pastime.  I would suggest setting aside $150-$250 for your backpack budget if buying new from store.  R.E.I is a great place to buy from if you are a member, which is a mere $20 for a lifetime membership, will put a lifetime warranty on anything you buy in the entire store. often has good deals.  EBay is always a must check when you have narrowed down your specific choice.  Do not be duped by great deals for seemingly tough looking no-name backs here though, you will only be disappointed.  If you live near an R.E.I, they often have scratch and dents where they sell items that have been periodically returned throughout the year for various reasons.  These price of these items are reduced significantly sometimes only because it was not what the customer wanted (no defect).  I bought a $300 dollar brand new pack at a scratch and dent sale for $50 dollars due to a busted zipper on a very insignificant pocket, which I was able to repair myself.  There are also websites that sell used gear and have gear swaps.  This may be another great opportunity to get some nice gear at reduced prices. 

Fitting:  If the pack isn't comfortable you will have a miserable time. It is important to find a pack which fits you well. This is especially true for daypacks since they tend not to be adjustable. I have found that many daypacks are too short for my torso and become uncomfortable after a number of miles.  Besides fit, other factors which effect comfort include what sort of padding / ventilation the pack provides, what sort of shoulder strap / waist straps the pack has, etc. Another issue is what is the suspension like. Is it a frameless pack (which most daypacks are), have a foam frame sheet, stays, etc? Depending on what you are carrying the suspension could make a big difference in comfort. My best suggestion here is go to a local outdoors store and try on a number of packs which have been loaded an equiv weight / bulk that you expect to carry for your activities.

I could write a short book on packs and reviews, but I will save you the time.  If there are any questions whatsoever concerning choosing a backpack or anything else please feel free to comment (maybe someone else could benefit from the question too) and I will be more than happy to answer it or send you in the right direction.   Thanks again everyone for reading:

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