Helly Hansen Ask Weather Jacket

By Christophe Noel

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Even the most bluebird summers are visited by periods of rain and foul weather. Depending where you live and travel, the inverse may be the norm. When I lived in Haines, Alaska my typical summer could see continuous weeks of liquid sunshine punctuated by teasing moments of actual sunlight. We lovingly called those breaks in the clouds, sucker holes. Needless to say, in those environs a technical jacket was like second skin and even now I rarely leave home without a proper rain layer. Over the years I’ve found plenty of jackets to keep the rain at bay, but few have impressed me as a proper travel piece. That is until I met up with the Helly Hansen Ask Weather jacket.

The eponymously named Helly Hansen brand was founded in 1877 providing sea farers and land lubbers of the Pacific Northwest with protective garments made of fine oiled canvas. This is to say, they’ve been at it a very long time and it shows. Time and technology have advanced in lockstep and Helly Hansen now provides adventurers worldwide with an extensive array of weather ready options for all seasons. The Ask Weather Jacket is their answer to those in search of a lightweight, fully featured summer rain layer. I think it’s brilliant.

The first thing to catch my attention was the soft hand of the Helly Tech® Protection fabric. Unlike other jackets, the Ask Weather isn’t stiff and noisy. It’s supple and light, tempting me to doubt it’s ability to fend off even mild precipitation. Dubious in my advancing years, I find myself proven wrong with increasing frequency. The Ask Weather has kept me bone dry throughout several months of storms. Not to dismiss it’s primary purpose to keep me dry and happy, it is the Ask Weather’s many other features that have made it my favorite shell layer.

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If I were to distill my impressions of the Ask Weather to one word it would be – pockets. It has lots of pockets. I’m not a chronic organizer, but I do have an affinity for a fine assemblage of pockets, and the Ask Weather has plenty. Four bellowed pockets swallow keys, phone, wallet, and more with ease. The two lower pockets are backed with zipper-enclosed secondary pockets and an internal Napoleon pocket keeps critical items tucked safely away. The draw string waist pulls the jacket in close and the stowaway hood creates a tall collar capable of protecting my neck from blowing wind and spray. Reflective accents at the cuff and neck pay homage to the nautical heritage of the Helly Hansen brand, but serve a practical purpose when out and about in the low visibility of a rainy night. One of my favorite aspects of the Ask Weather jacket its trim and tailored cut. Many rain jackets fit like a spinnaker wrapped around a busted mast, to use nautical lexicon. The Ask Weather is sleek and lean. No bat wing sleeves or boxy torso, it’s a sharp looking jacket.

Summer may seem like an odd time to review a jacket, but not all summers are sunshine and sunscreen. You may not Ask Weather to bring you buckets of rain, but rain it may. When it does rain, I know which jacket I’ll reach for.

www.hellyhansen.com

Arizona to British Columbia on a Super Tenere

By Ray Hyland

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Many thoughts go through my head at the beginning of a long ride. First and foremost on this one was, “What the heck am I doing here? Why am I sitting on a motorcycle, struggling with a 40-knot crosswind, when I could be in an airplane at 30,000 feet, sipping a cocktail, and zipping back to my home and family?”

The answer of course, is that this was a trip I had never done before. And as an overlander, a trip you haven’t done is a bit like a climber coming around a corner, and seeing a big beautiful rock wall in the distance. The temptation is almost irresistible.

Now I should add a caveat here. I was riding between Arizona and British Columbia, a drive I have done at least seven times previously. The difference was that on my previous trips I was either driving a Land Rover Defender 110 (with an efficient but slow, small-displacement turbo diesel) or I was driving a Land Cruiser LJ78 (with another efficient but slow, small-displacement turbo diesel).

This time I was on a completely different animal, a Yamaha Super Tenere motorcycle. With a 1200cc, liquid-cooled twin, the bike was anything but slow. The other big difference was that this time I was alone. Usually I have my family along when I do this trip.

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I’ve always enjoyed this drive; the winding diagonal route means that almost the entire trip is in mountains, and what mountains! From the dry, crumbling landscapes of the Nevada high desert, to the vibrant young peaks of the Northern Cascades, the trip is a mountain-lover’s playground.

The trip started ominously. The riding gear I planned to test didn’t arrive on time, delaying my departure from morning to late afternoon. To make matters worse, when I was about to leave I discovered I’d left the key on earlier in the day, resulting in a dead battery. Trust me, pushing a 650-pound loaded bike through the parking lot to bump-start it is not the most fun way to start a long ride.

Once I got going, all the stress of departure melted away. Nothing to do now but enjoy the ride. Unlike driving a car or truck, on a bike I don’t even answer a call with my hands-free kit. I just turn the phone off, focus on the road and the scenery, and settle down to get intimately familiar with the bike I am riding.

This bike belongs to Touratech USA, and I had collected it from them at the Overland Expo two weeks earlier. It came with all the kit I could want: big aluminum panniers for my gear, skid plates, crash bars, extra lighting, wide pegs, a lowered seat, higher handlebars, and a tank bag. The only thing I didn’t have was a GPS. The bike was set up with a large bracket for a Garmin Montana GPS, but the actual GPS unit was back in Seattle. No matter, five minutes with an Allen key and the bracket was in a pannier, tucked in my shoe to avoid rattling. The tank bag had a big clear map case Velcro’d to the top, so I photocopied a couple of pages from the Hema road atlas, and tucked them into the map case.

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I figured the first night I would camp somewhere along the shores of Lake Mead just outside Vegas. I had a little Eagles Nest Outfitters hammock in the panniers, and if I could find a tree or a fence post for one end of it, the bike on its center stand would do for the other end. Since I had left so late I decided to stay on the interstate and make up some time.

If you’ve ever travelled Interstate 40 through Arizona, you’ll know that the speed limit is 75 mph, and the slower traffic is doing about 80-90. When I turned off the interstate in Kingman and started north on 93, I never noticed the big bold “65 mph” sign. (Driving an old diesel Land Rover or Land Cruiser, there has never been a need to pay attention to speed limit signs, as I never seemed capable of reaching the speed limit anyway).

So when I rocketed past an Arizona Highway Patrol cruiser on the roadside, I promptly slowed to 75 and waited to see if the lights came on. To my chagrin, they did, after he’d followed me for a few miles at a steady 75 mph. Once I’d pulled my helmet off, the conversation went something like:

Officer “Do you know how fast you were going?”

Me “80… ish?”

Officer “84.”

Me “Oops.”

Officer “Do you know what the speed limit is here?”

Me “75?”

Officer “65.”

Me “Oops.”

Officer “Are you on a cross country trip?”

Me “I’m testing the bike and some gear for a magazine.”

Officer “Which magazine?”

Me “Overland Journal.”

Officer “Really? I love Overland Journal!”

The conversation quickly became a discussion about bikes, camping spots, overlanding in Arizona, and my route to the Pacific Northwest.  I was sent on my way with a stern warning to pay greater attention to speed limit signs when I was on something that could in fact exceed the speed limit.

The rest of the evening was uneventful. It was pretty late when I crossed the Hoover Dam and I didn’t feel like sorting the hammock out in the dark, so I got a cheap $17 room in Vegas and was asleep before my boots hit the floor. The next morning I was up early and headed up Hwy 95 towards Death Valley while the air was still cool.

While the scenery was gorgeous and I was enjoying the view, the bike was running on knobby tires, and it would be a shame to spend all my time on pavement. But since I was riding alone and there was not a chance of picking this bike up by myself if I dropped it, I felt the prudent choice was to stay near the asphalt. After another hour of pavement I hit on a solution. The fence beside the highway had an ATV track running alongside it, that the rancher would use for inspecting his fence. Gravel, packed sand, exposed bedrock, and the occasional drainage ditch meant a little excitement, and a nice break from the highway. I had more than a few cars slow down to see what I was doing, as I stood on the pegs, dodging the occasional cactus or empty beer bottle, with a big grin on my face. I am sure they were thinking, “Why is he over there in the dirt? Can’t he see there is a perfectly good road right over here?”

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All good things come to an end, and within the hour the little track disappeared. We strongly adhere to Tread Lightly principles at Overland Journal, and the lack of an established track meant that I was forced back onto pavement, just as I came upon the sign pointing the way to Mercury.

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I’d never been to Mercury so it was tempting to go check it out, but then I remembered that Mercury is 48 million miles away, and this bike doesn’t have an extended-range tank, so I decided to leave that detour for a day when I had some jerry cans, although as I got a little further down the highway I came across a place where I probably could have picked up all the supplies I would need for an interplanetary trip.

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The Tenere has a decent-sized tank, and I expected it to go between 200 and 250 miles before needing a top up, but I’ve learned in the past that even with half a tank, sometimes it’s good to top up when I can. Case in point, my map showed an intersection of two good-sized roads, and I remembered an old road-atlas having a gas station marked there. But since I needed to stop for a coffee and a bio-break, I topped off my tank early. Good thing too. When I reached the intersection, it was obvious there hadn’t been any fuel there for a long time, although it looked like other enticements to stop may have outlasted the gas station.

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This is where I encountered the crazy crosswinds I mentioned at the beginning of this story. The high plains of northern Nevada are notorious for wind. As one friend remarked, “I remember riding sideways through Nevada.” I decided to get off the plateau and into sheltered valleys.

Crossing into California, I followed a series of winding little roads through the Cascade forests towards Mt. Shasta. The immediate difference in climate and topography was dramatic. Suddenly I was surrounded by giant evergreens, riding through dappled sunlight in the fresh and cool mountain air.

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I decided to pull off next to a little stream to drink some water, and immediately I was in the most serene place I’ve been in months. Singing birds, big bumble-bees, and colorful dragonflies surrounded me, as I watched trout flit through the shallows of the babbling brook. Downstream I could just make out a lone fly fisherman casting a line. I could have spent the whole day there, but hunger made me press on.

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The road eventually took me to the little town of Mt. Shasta, where I ate and then turned north towards Oregon. After all the dust and heat it was nice to be close to the coast, and everywhere I looked I was shocked by the giant trees, vibrant flowers, and great coffee.

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As I rode up the coast it was great to be surrounded by water, boats, and bridges again. Being in the desert for a few months always makes me appreciate the seaside.

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Eventually I crossed into B.C., turned east on the Trans-Canada Highway, and headed for home. Our cabin is in the mountains, and as soon as I see Mt. Outram in front of me, I know I am home.

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It took a few extra days, and there were no in-flight cocktails, but I’m glad I did the ride. I was able to stop and appreciate little details I’d never noticed before, and the rhythm of the road was very different on a bike. It felt like a trip I’d never done before, but then again, I guess it was.

 

Epilogue – While obviously not a trail bike, the Super Tenere is a solid all-rounder, able to cover thousands of miles effortlessly, explore moderate trails with the right tires, and even keep up with a couple of whipper-snappers in the mountains.

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Drift HD Ghost: The Perfect Point Of View Camera?

By Christophe Noel

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As my friend extracted himself from beneath his twisted mountain bike, dust yet to settle, he popped up and screamed, “Did you get that?” He was of course referring to the camera perched atop my head. In our media driven landscape it seems our experiences are only validated by our digital witnesses. If an event isn’t captured on an SD card, it didn’t happen. Point of view photography in the form of still images and high definition video has allowed us to share our experiences in ways we could have never imagined just a few short years ago. Within the realm of POV cameras, few rival the sophistication and ease of use of the HD Ghost from Drift Innovation.

New to the market in 2013, the Drift HD Ghost is setting new standards in POV technology. Never before have so many features been packaged in such a small unit. I have had the rare opportunity to use the Ghost over the span of several weeks and could not be more impressed.

The key features to the Ghost include a vibrant built-in 2” LCD display protected beneath durable Corning® Gorilla® glass. The replaceable seven element lens provides supreme optical clarity and can be rotated 300? for perfect shot set-up. The texturized camera body is secure in hand and waterproof to 9 feet without any additional housing. A two-way remote gives the user recording feedback via two LED lights which illuminate in four different colors depending on the status. Four buttons at the top of the camera body toggle through the very intuitive and easy to navigate menu settings and the removable battery can hold a charge for up to three hours ensuring you never miss the shot. The entire camera is a masterpiece of design ingenuity.

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For the action videographer, there is one feature that truly sets the Ghost apart. One of the challenges with recording action video is making sure you record only what you want, when you want. The Ghost features video loop-tagging. In tagging mode, the camera is constantly recording, but not saving any of the video being captured. A quick press of the remote saves video for a chosen duration, up to five minutes before and after the remote was pressed. With video tagging, there’s no need to sift through hours of video during the editing process just to find the few frames you want.

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In all reality, few of us frequently want to capture the moving action of a scene. In an age of social media and email, we prefer to share still images. The Ghost’s 10x digital zoom, self timer, and remote control ensure you never miss the shot you want, all at an impressive 11 MP. The Photo Burst mode can capture up to five frames per second and the time lapse mode gives a fresh new twist to sunsets, snowstorms, and anything else your imagination dares to make your muse.

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As if that isn’t enough to occupy the time of an avid photophile, the Ghost can communicate to your smartphone via the WiFi enabled Drift App for iOS. (Android App coming soon.) The Drift App allows users to view playback, adjust settings, and aids in shot set-up. For my testing, the Drift App proved an excellent tool that made using the camera easier than expected.

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From a user’s standpoint I found the HD Ghost to be a nearly perfect camera. One challenge with point of view cameras is getting them mounted to catch your actual point of view. The GoPro cameras I’ve used in the past stood off my helmet by six inches like the proverbial “birdie” everyone is supposed to watch. The HD Ghost is sleek, low profile, and unobtrusive. The adhesive and clamp mounts are simple to use and adjusted for quick and secure positioning. All in all, it is a fantastic camera. So, the next time your buddy crashes his mountain bike in front of you, can say without pause, “Ya, I got that.”

www.driftinnovation.com

DCIM100DRIFT

2013 Northwest Overland and Touratech Adventure Rally

By Marianne Hyland

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The 2013 Northwest Overland & Touratech Adventure Rally saw roughly 500 overlanders convene in scenic Plain, Washington (27-30 June).

The weekend featured respected presenters and authors like Pablo Rey and Anna Callau (13 years traveling the world in their van and still going strong), Rene Cormier (5-year world rider), rider-training sessions by Puget Sound Safety Off Road, Kristina Hall (certified Land Rover instructor) and technical workshops by WARN, ARB, Just Differentials and Konflict Suspensions, to name just a few. Touratech and the Northwest Overland Society mapped and led many popular trail rides every day.

Of course, everyone’s favorite activity is always interacting with other overlanders and admiring each other’s set-ups. Present at the rally were Land Rovers, Jeeps, Unimogs, G-Wagens, Fords, Land Cruisers, Subarus, Suzukis, BMWs, KTMs, Triumphs, Yamahas and many more, each uniquely configured to meet the owners’ needs.

The presenting sponsor, Ex-Officio, welcomed all with cocktails as did rally partner, Touratech USA. A raffle draw was held each night with handsome prizes generously donated by vendors. Apart from those already named, other prizes came from Overland Journal, Expedition Portal, Mountain Khakis, Ortlieb, MetalTech, Filson, SOG, MSR, and more.

Folks left the rally happy with many already making plans to book their vacations for the same week next year to learn more, and re-connect with new-found friends.

We were lucky to have many photography-enthusiasts at the Rally who were willing to share their images with us. Below is just a sampling.

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Above Images: Derek Thom

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Above Images:Don Stephanian

Overland Journal: Fall 2013 Preview

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Seeking the Wild Places in Patagonia: Ron and Vivian Moon

 

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Border to Border via the Continental Divide: Bill Alpsich

 

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Crossing Europe’s Largest Glacier: Scott Brady

 

The Fall 2013 Issue of Overland Journal will also feature:

Ground Anchors: Chris Collard

Toyota Tundra Project Vehicle, part 2: James Langan

Highlights of the 2013 Overland Expo

and much more.

Business travel in the spirit of overlanding

We all have the same dream, it’s why we are here.

Sure it may look a little different for each of us, but the essence of it remains the same.

For overlanders, we dream of taking our vehicle, be it truck, car, unimog, bike, or skateboard, and traveling to distant locales. Having our vehicle symbolizes independence, the ability to go where we want to go, on our own schedule, and to try whatever we like. It also gives us a feeling of empowerment, to talk to local people not as tourists, but as travelers.

Alas, not all travel is overland travel. For many of us, much of our travel is work travel.

Usually work travel means you fly into a foreign city, get to meet the friendly local immigration officials, compare how efficient the baggage-claim is to other airports, find a car/bus/cab to the city, check into a hotel, and spend a few days in business meetings. Then you reverse the process, and find yourself back at home.

Of course, most of the time the local people you are meeting with will want to treat you to lunch and dinner and show you a few sights, but often you see the sights that they think you should see, not the places they would hang out at if they didn’t have you along; and you eat at the fancy restaurants, not the places where your local hosts would go for a quick lunch or a cheap dinner.

So you end up having the business-class-version of a package tour. And that is what overlanders usually try to avoid. We want to see the real country, not the one that is packaged for international consumption.

So how can we travel with the spirit of a overlander, when we are not overlanding? First of all, don’t be afraid to get a little bit lost, to ask directions, and to try things.

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It is easy to rely on a host to take care of us. But if we say “that’s ok, I think I’d like to walk around tonight and try some food on my own” – suddenly the entire experience changes.

Walking into a corner market, trying to order dinner with hand-signals when nothing on the menu looks familiar, and then trying to pay for it and figure out the local currency will often give you a better feel of the local culture and connection to the local people than a night looking at the local famous landmarks.

Leaving early for a meeting, and figuring out how to take a city bus or train (or tri-shaw, or water-taxi) from your hotel to the office, rather than a cab, will suddenly give you a sense of connection to many of the people you are meeting with in the local office. And when the locals hear that you took a bus to work, or went to “that” market for dinner, suddenly they will look at you a little differently, and maybe they will decide to take you somewhere else, somewhere a little more local, for dinner that night.

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This is how connections are started, and how we can start to see the real city, not the prepackaged one, even when we don’t have our vehicle along.

Note – Images via creative-commons-licence.

Book Review – The River of Doubt

Book review:

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard

I recently completed the book The River of Doubt by Candice Millard – the story of Teddy Roosevelt’s expedition to descend and map an unknown river in the Amazon in 1914. I had never heard of it, but happened across it when I was browsing the “expedition” section at my local library.

Candice Millard is a former writer and editor for National Geographic, and you can tell when you read this book. She puts a lot of time into researching not only the individuals on the journey, but she also takes the time to give you a good sense of context for the book, so you understand the social and political implications of the events as they unfold.

She also spends a lot of time describing the jungle ecosystem that the team is traveling through, an environment where as she puts it the “men were more often prey than predator”.

The most fascinating thing I found when I read this book is that it is the opposite of the story I expected. Teddy Roosevelt is such a legend that it is almost unthinkable to portray him in anything less than heroic terms. And he is such a huge figure that anyone next to him automatically is in his shadow.

Yet in the book, Millard candidly talks about the personal issues that Roosevelt was facing and how that resulted in an expedition that was a textbook example of “how NOT to plan and execute an expedition”. Three men died on the trip, and it is sheer luck that they didn’t all die. Also interesting is how she portrays Colonel Candido Rondon, the Brazilian co-leader of the expedition, as the true driving force on the trip.

Many of us enjoy reading about epic adventures and famous historical expeditions as a way of learning about the world, and also for inspiration, and to learn best-practices for expedition preparation. Usually the men we read about who lead these expeditions have 20/20 foresight, always make the best decisions, and are prepared for anything they will encounter. This expedition is not like that.

In fact, I think I learned more from this book than many of the expedition-themed books I have read in the past, because it reads like one of those Harvard Business School case studies I had to read in college, you know the ones, they show you how a company was ill-prepared for the situation they found themselves in, and then made a series of bad decisions, which made the situation worse. You are supposed to learn from these case studies and not make the same mistakes in your own business. If you apply the same logic to this book, you can learn a lot about how NOT to plan and lead an expedition.

And throughout the book, you also get a good sense for the people involved. Roosevelt’s resolve and good character is very evident throughout. Some of the other members of the expedition do not come across so favorably.

So to sum up: Was it a riveting page turner? No.

Would I recommend it to anyone thinking of planning and executing an expedition into unknown (to them) territory? Absolutely!

Everybody needs a little adventure

When we think of adventurous travel, we often think of the “epic” trip, where we spend months planning, packing, preparing, and going on an overland trip to places we have never seen before.

And yet sometimes, adventures can happen unexpectedly.

I am lucky to live in a beautiful spot, a little house in the Northern Cascade Mountains, on the BC side of the border. It is a rugged area, with a mix of steep mountains, un-named glaciers, winding highways, and scenic trails. We are 20 minutes from the nearest town, gas pump, or grocery store which, having moved from the bustle of New York, feels a little like heaven.

But every once in a while mother nature decides to remind us that life in the mountains, while scenic, can also be unpredictable. Yesterday was a good example for me:

Having driven to Vancouver in the morning for a business meeting, I was driving home when I found out that a mud and rock slide had closed the highway that I normally would follow to make it home.

As the heater in my Defender had decided about 10 minutes earlier to only blow cold air, and with the outside temperature hovering around freezing, the thought of a winding detour through the mountains and valleys had less than the usual appeal.

Pulling over to put on my parka, consult my GPS, and confirm I had snow chains, shovel, air-hose, winch-controller and granola bars in the back of the truck, and grumbling at the inconvenience, I set out to find a “scenic route” home.

But a funny thing happened on the way home. After about 40 minutes of driving through little farms, over ancient steel bridges, railroad tracks, and quarry sites, I realized I was no longer in “commuter” mode. Rather than driving down the highway on auto-pilot, I was actively engaged in the drive, the truck, the road, and the scenery around me. And you know what? I was enjoying myself. And I continued to enjoy myself all the way home.

So the drive home took about 90 minutes longer than usual, and I got less work done in the afternoon than I’d planned, and yet, I found myself a little disappointed when I checked the highways-department website this morning and saw that the road was back open.

I guess adventure really is good for you. Even a little adventure.