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

Coincidence and water treatment systems

Coincidence is an over-used term, and in my opinion, is made a lot more common than we tend to believe. When something is forefront in our minds we will gravitate to finding relationships between it and other things we see around us as we go about our daily routine. I was actually thinking about coincidence last month as I strolled the streets of Dubai in the UAE on a sultry first day of Ramadan. What were the chances that I would find myself in the Middle East on Ramadan when earlier this year I had been contemplating a comment that Jonathan Hanson made regarding Ramadan in the Overland Training Cultures course? Jonathan’s measured and thoughtful comment about Ramadan is not the subject of this blog entry though, rather coincidence is.

The week previous to my stroll in Dubai I had submitted a lengthly technical article for the next issue of Overland Journal on water treatment systems. It is an article that takes a dozen systems, and measures them against each other using not just opinion, but real performance evaluations in lab tests. This is probably a first for any magazine, and certainly a large undertaking for Overland Journal.

‘I should write a blog entry on the water systems,’ I had told myself on the flight in. So this stroll in Dubai, on my last day in the Middle East, was as much for assuaging my curiosity about the town as searching for inspiration for this blog entry. I had considered the first day of Ramadan, but was short on ideas for how that relates to water treatment systems. A large poster proclaiming ‘Get a trophy life,’ didn’t seem to fit either. The heat was certainly in a more productive vein hanging in the region of 115°F with a humidity high enough to soak my coolmax t-shirt in very short order, but the link just wasn’t there. Yet.

Walking along the water-front after popping in on a luxury hotel’s beach, I came to a break in the shield wall facing the street and found a drinking fountain. Could I call that coincidence given my thirst? Well I could. I could also tag coincidence on the drinking fountain manufacturer: Helton who also makes the water heater I use in my Defender.

Helton water fountain

But as I moved towards getting a drink from the fountain, I saw a round structure on the incoming line. Normally I would have made a mental note of ‘filter’ and then taken a drink, but given my mission, I took a closer look at the filter first. Inspection removed my desire for a drink, and also gave me the perfect picture for this blog entry. Take a close look at the filter; if you have a filter in your overland vehicle that looks like that, I suggest you renew it with a new unit. Promptly. For more on water treatment systems take a look at the upcoming issue of Overland Journal. Sometimes coincidence works quite nicely.

A filter past its time

Overland Journal adds two more wheels.

I woke up this morning and realized that just a few days ago I had bought my first motorcycle, a well cared for 1988 Honda NX650!

About two weeks ago I received a phone call from a friend who knew exactly the type of bike I had been looking for. This was one of those friend of a friend of a friend deals and before the bike was ever formally advertised for sale I was lucky enough to meet the seller in person. He even threw in two nice Arai helmets.

The NX650 was only sold in the United States for two years, 1988 and 1989. Probably the most significant change from ’88 to ’89 was the addition of a rear disc brake to replace the drum but the bike has maintained a consistent design to this day as it is known as the Dominator all around the world except the U.S.

It has a reputation for being simple and dependable in design with an air-cooled, single cylinder, four-stroke, 644cc engine. You just have to love an engine that only uses one spark plug! It should make for a versatile dual sport, perfect for a first bike.

At 22 years old it is completely stock with no modifications that I know of. I plan to keep it this way except for a top box and eventually some panniers, hand guards and perhaps some armor. I would rather spend time riding than modifying so I’ll let my use of the bike determine what modifications are needed if any.

Here’s a little treat. In 1989 there was an event called the Camel Trophy Peru. The Camel Trophy with Honda NX650s instead of Land Rovers.

Next on the list:

  • Lessons (this week)
  • Licence (this week)
  • Riding Gear (hopefully this week)
  • Wondrous Adventures!


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.

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



Mountain lion tracking

Cougars, or mountain lions, are elusive and so they are rarely seen in the wild. When biologists need to find out information about their lives – even how many there are in an area, and how they move around their territories, which are very large (as big as a hundred square miles) – in the past the only options were expensive and invasive (for the animal) radio tracking collars. But 20 years ago a group in southeast Arizona started testing out tracking on Fort Huachuca, by Sierra Vista, as a way to learn more about lions, as well as black bears. It has been a successful way for biologists and land managers to compile information about the animals, and an even better way for “citizen scientists” to become trackers and help out conservation efforts.

On Friday and Saturday Jonathan (executive editor of Overland Journal) and I were volunteer team leaders for the 20th Fort Huachuca Mountain Lion Track Count. We have been involved with this project for 14 years off and on. It is one of the longest-running wildlife tracking programs in the country, and this was the final count, according to founder Sheridan Stone, the fort biologist. Sky Island Alliance, a non-profit conservation organization in Tucson that works on wildlife linkages throughout the American Southwest and northern Mexico, coordinated the event. We have taught wildlife tracking skills for the organization since 2000.
Our assigned transect for the weekend was only accessible by a difficult 4WD trail, so Sky Island Alliance asked us to ferry some of the trackers up the mountain. Our team of five piled into my Land Cruiser diesel and headed up at 6 am. Six teams in all spent the weekend surveying sections of trail for mountain lion and black bear tracks and sign; in all, 8 black bear track sets and 11 mountain lion track sets were logged. The data has helped the Fort get an understanding of wildlife numbers and movements over time. Here are some pictures:
On our 1.5 mile-long transect, we found sign of one lion – a set of tracks heading downhill for about 200 meters. The tracks were hard to see because the wind had been high all night, scrubbing the dirt and disturbing the tracks. In the photo, the track is hard to see; it is between the two and four on the bottom ruler – it is about 2.5 x 2.5 inches, a smallish lion, probably a female. Below is a track from another field session; the large main pad and three lobes at the bottom identify it as cat, and the size as cougar.

First adventure motorcycle ride

On Saturday I finally got out on my first real, long (for me) adventure ride with friends Brian (goodtimes) and Bruce (DesertDouglas). What a great day -

We started out at our house southwest of Tucson, in the Sierrita Mountains, and headed south around Stevens Mountain, crossed Caballo Loco Road, and then hooked up with San Juan Ranch Road (or Ryan Ranch Road, depending on which map you use), which took us all the way to Arivaca Road through gorgeous ranch country. Brian and Bruce were nice enough to slow wayyyyy down for this newbie, who tends to do everything at one speed – slow and steady. At least I didn’t crash!

We had a break at San Juan Ranch, a beautiful historic but abandoned ranch house, though there is a huge mesquite corral, which still is home to a nice herd of ranch horses. The Marley Cattle Company still runs this region, and they use traditional roundup methods – horses. Our iron horses met up with some of the real deal – it was fun. We were met in Arivaca by Jonathan, on his beautifully restored Triumph Trophy . . . no dirt for him! A great lunch, then back home via Arivaca Road and Highway 286 (boy, I’m still not comfortable on pavement – I much prefer the dirt!). Bruce had his first flat in many miles – mystery puncture for sure, as they never did find what did it.

The three guys got it repaired in short order, especially thanks to Brian’s tools and expertise. A great first ride guys – thank you!

The New York Times, late again

Once again, the New York Times trails Overland Journal in coverage of important events and news for overlanders. Today’s NYT edition has a story on the new Royal Enfield motorcycle:


The NYT story focuses on the C5, a slightly different model than our long-term G5 (see below), but using the same engine.