Don’t kill the messengers; invite them on a trip

Kelty Saunter bag ($80)

Sometimes a messenger bag can be just the ticket when you want to travel with something quick and simple. Unlike a backpack, there is only one strap to contend with and usually one or two simple fasteners to open and close the bag. Taller and thinner than a duffle and easily swung from side to back, a messenger lends grace to a walk down an overcrowded bus or airline aisle, or a quick hop onto two-wheeled transport.

 Kelty Saunter at an ancient ring fort in Ireland
Kelty Saunter at an ancient ring fort in Ireland

Kelty has a line of such bags, and earlier this summer I took one along on a two-week hosteling trip through western Ireland. Called the Saunter, the bag blended into the trip marvelously, and along with a sheep’s-wool sweater, I didn’t feel like such an obvious tourist. Well, at least not until I opened my mouth to order a pint. 

While the Saunter wasn’t my only bag for the trip, it served well as a carry-on for the flights and an overnight bag for the hostels. One thousand cubic inches of capacity and two main pockets carried a change of clothes and a sweater, toiletries, and a few other miscellaneous items. Two smaller front pockets (covered with the the flap closed) easily held business cards, pens, and small electronics.

Kelty Saunter bag in Ireland
An old cemetery along the Ring of Kerry

The bag material is made of sixty percent recycled polyester fabric with a TPE coating and looks and feels remarkably like cotton canvas. The sewn-on flap straps, small pocket edges, and wear-patches on the bottom corners are all made of vegetable-tanned leather. The retro-metal hardware is solid aluminum and the shoulder strap webbing is recycled polyester. There is also a nifty little tote bag (also recycled polyester) that stuffs into itself and hangs from a small clip inside the Saunter. Easily carried in the palm of my hand when compressed, I unclipped and deployed it often on sorties to local markets for picnic supplies.

Bumming around Dublin
Bummin’ around Dublin 

The bag held up well to rough handling on the trip, and all summer for that matter. The appearance of the bag is no worse for the wear after hanging from fenceposts and being tossed about, from Irish pastures to all manner of floors, sidewalks, seats, car trunks, bar stools, and the like. One detail I’m not so crazy about is the use of Velcro for the buckle straps and main flap. No fault of the bag really, I’m just not fond of Velcro. I might reconsider if it could do its job silently, be impervious to grime and water, and not stick to non-Velcro fibers. Despite the TPE coating and tidy, strong stitching, the bag isn’t waterproof. It held up fine to minor splashes and spits of rain, but some seepage occurred when I purposely tested it by pooling water on the threads. After using and abusing it all summer I can report it’s a very sturdy bag and considering the classic appearance, you’d never guess it’s made with recycled plastics; a nice bonus. 800-423-2320

Not in the desert anymore, Toto

Crossed the beautiful Missouri River at Cascade, MT, and headed into the backcountry to visit a private ranch and logging camp at the invitation of friend and Overland Journal subscriber Doug M. As you can see we hit an early winter storm. Even the Montanans were griping! Set a new record low for the date — even the trees had no time for fall colors. We enjoyed Doug’s hospitality, including lamb tacos (fresh from the ranch) and chocolate and bourbon to keep us warm. This morning the rear doors on the Jeep are frozen shut. The Jeep is performing very well in ice, snow, and mud — and temperatures in the teens.

– Posted from my iPhone

Wyoming bound

Jonathan and I left this morning for Crowsnest, where we are teaching a conservation communications workshop for the Alberta Conservation Alliance. En route through central Arizona we met up with Graham Jackson of Overland Training. Here is Jonathan and Graham in front of the 2 Overland Journal Jeeps, on loan from Chrysler. Graham’s “Overland Edition” debuted at Overland Expo.2009. Our version is the magazine’s longterm test to showcase an “out of the showroom ready to overland” model. We will return via Wyoming for some backroads exploration, putting the Jeep through its paces as part of the test.

– Posted from my iPhone

Overland Chef: Summer 2009 menu

The Menu:

Starters & Drinks ~ Icy cold Tecate and limes, fresh vegetables and salsa dip

Dinner ~ Tacos made from dried ground beef, on flour tortillas with black beans, squash, cheese, and cabbage

Dessert ~ Seared watermelon


Tacos (made with dried ground beef; see Summer 2009 issue for method)

Serves: 4-6 | Time: 30 minutes | Equipment: large cast iron or other type fry pan, and one large saucepan | Recipe adapted for camp by Roseann Hanson


Simmer three cups of dried meat in three cups of water, covered, for about 20 minutes (keep testing until meat is tender; you may need to add more water). While the meat is simmering, chop up a two or three cloves garlic, an onion, and several small squash or zucchini (chayote travel well) in small dice and saute in light olive oil until al dente. Add a can of black beans, season with salt and pepper. Season the meat with salt, pepper, maybe a little chipotle powder or curry for bite. Serve on warmed flour (or corn) tortillas with salsa and chopped cabbage, and if you can find it, queso seco, a dry Mexican cheese.

Seared Watermelon

I found this recipe in a magazine ages ago (possible Sunset?) and I’ve made it with varying degrees of success. The key is that the watermelon slices (rind removed) need to be sweet and very dry. Sear over a grill or on well-oiled cast iron – serve with a little honey.

A long-overdue expedition bicycle gets some parts

Now that my bionic knee is back in good shape, it’s way past time to finish building up the Thorn Nomad expedition bicycle frame my wife bought me too long ago.

I just put together the handlebar assembly I decided on. It’s based on a Jones H-Bar (the Titec licensed aluminum version; I couldn’t afford the $500 titanium counterpart), with Paul Thumbies and Shimano shifters, and Cane Creek brake levers to activate the CC brakes already in hand. Cork wrapping. Decent but inexpensive Alpha stem, because there’s a slight chance its rise and length won’t be ideal.

The Jones H-Bar is odd-looking, but way more comfortable than your average MTB-style handlebar. The wrist angle is much more natural, and several positions are accessible.

Jones Bikes

Next up: tires (probably Schwalbe Marathons for ultimate durability, which is what this build is all about) to go on the 36-hole Mavic XC717 rim/Shimano XT hub/DT Swiss-spoked wheels already built. Then I’ll mount the ultra-strong Thorn front and rear racks my friend Bruce bought me at the same time Roseann bought the frame.

The absent-minded Journal editor

For weeks now I’ve been plagued in my studio / office by the {highly} unpleasant aroma of something decaying . . . I had assumed it was a mouse that snuck in the open door one morning when I was airing it out, or perhaps had gotten in through some unknown hole in the roof (unlikely). We looked high and low, under and over, around and around – and we could not find the source, which seemed to come from higher up, and waft around in a frustratingly fickle manner. For at least five days it was impossible to even work there . . . I was not amused.

This morning I decided to air out the three motorcycle jackets hanging near my workbench – several from the Spring motorcycle jacket review. They seemed musty – and I didn’t like that smell either – so I took them outside, and Jonthan helped. He seemed preoccupied with one of them, the Barbour International. But he’s always preoccupied with jackets.
Just as we were concluding lunch, Jonathan said: “Um, I hope you enjoyed lunch with me today.”
“Of course! But why do you ask?”
“Um . . . it might be our last for a while.”
“Um . . . about three weeks ago I was riding home on the Royal Enfield and I found a just-roadkilled lizard . . . I thought it was a long-nosed leopard-lizard but wasn’t sure . . . so I, um, sort of put it in the pocket of my Barbour, so I could ID it when I got home . . . and, well, I forgot about it. 
“Until just now.”
Mystery solved. The Barbour jacket was hanging behind 4 other jackets, so the smell was ‘muffled’ by lots of fabric and explaining why we could not locate it. Twenty-five years together, I’m not surprised, and . . . of course, I should have guessed! 
{And yes, it was a long-nosed leopard lizard, quite lovely . . .}

Butler Bags customer service

When Overland Journal medical columninst Ed Beggy spied a Butler Bag in the Gear 2008 issue, you might say he fell in love right then and there. He ordered one and took it on a trip, and was dismayed to have the blue flannel lining dye turn his skin … smurf blue! Jonathan Curtis of Butler Bags quickly replaced the bag – an example of great customer service. But when the problem persisted, you might have expected a lesser company to back away . . . instead, this week Jonathan Curtis yet again stepped up to the plate, and explained to Ed that they had problems with the original flannel and have spent considerable time this past year sourcing all new flannel from North Carolina, and succeeded in producing 1000 bags with no problems – and again replaced the bag. We thought this was a great example of the type of service and quality Overland Journal looks for in the products we test and review.

Sedonafest 2009

Sugarloaf trail lineupOverland Journal sponsored the 3rd annual Sedonafest which took place in (you guessed it) Sedona, Arizona from June 5th to June 7th and raised over $1,000 for the Arizona Spinal Cord Injury Association. Formerly an FJ Cruiser-oriented outing, this year was open to all makes and as a result, a nice variety of vehicles showed up including Land Rovers, Nissans, Jeeps, an Isuzu, and even a neat little Suzuki Samurai (complete with a misting system to keep the occupants cool in the topless 4×4.) The campground was situated on the banks of Oak Creek, generously shaded with healthy Cottonwood and Sycamore trees while the weather was more than kind to us with cool breezes and plenty of sunshine. Registrants signed up in advance for organized outings to explore local trails in the area and a dinner party was provided by Sierra Expeditions on Saturday night. The following day, teams were off to find waypoints for a GPS challenge held by Expeditioneers. Brian McVickers of Overland Journal brought his family out to join my wife and me in support of the event, and together we had a great time out on the trails and met a lot of new friends. Many thanks to Heidi Van Camp and Mike McCambridge for their fine work organizing and running the event.

Amy McVickers attempts a red rock ledge on the Greasy Spoon trail
Amy McVickers attempts a red rock ledge on the Greasy Spoon trail

Harry's Nissan Xterra 
Harry’s Nissan Xterra

The raffle on Sunday
A crowd gathers at the raffle

The GPS challenge champs received a Red Rock trophy from Expeditioneers and a DeLorme PN-20 GPS from Overland Journal and DeLorme
The GPS challenge champs received a Red Rock trophy from Expeditioneers and a DeLorme PN-20 GPS from Overland Journal and DeLorme