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Striving for mediocrity

I’ve been looking for a way to say this for years, and my friend Bob nails it beautifully. Thanks Bob!

Bob Schoultz's Corner

I use this title partly in jest.   ‘Mediocrity’ is, almost by definition, that which is not ‘praiseworthy.’  And yet in my comments that follow, I hope to point out that what appears to us as mediocre does not automatically warrant derision or embarrassment.  There is an important place for mediocrity in this world, and often there is much to be celebrated in the mediocre. And I’m proud of my contributions to that great sea of mediocrity that sustains us all!I recently presented myself to my Toastmasters club as ‘the Prince of Mediocrity,’ declaring that I am mediocre at more activities that anyone else I know.  My comments were partly in jest – one evaluator accused me of false modesty, and described my presentation as an example of ‘overstated understatement.’  And yet it is true – I have chosen the path of being just OK, or at best, ‘pretty good’ at a…

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The Great White North, new adventures in life part 1.

2012 has already proven to be a year full of adventure.  I was exploring the backcountry of the Tetons working a NOLS winter ski course over new years, and after a day back home to do laundry, my wife and I packed the skis up and took a quick trip to Alaska.  The Alaska trip, while just a weekend blitzkrieg, held a larger purpose.  We have both been to Alaska in the summer, and there isn’t much to dislike about those adventures, even the mosquitoes, apparently known as the Alaska state bird can be managed.  But the Alaskan winter holds a reputation of cold and darkness that can crack even the toughest of people.  My wife was applying for a job in AK as the NOLS Alaska Director, and we wanted to be sure we knew what we were getting into if it came to fruition.  A weekend trip is really only a brief glimpse into what Alaska is in the winter, but it seemed better than nothing, and given the shallow and remarkably unstable snowpack in the lower 48 states, the record snowfall in AK was an appealing lure for our ski hungry psyche.

Nordic skiing in alpine glow, below Hatcher pass AK.

Our amazing hosts showed us the local food scene at Turkey Red in Palmer, an outstanding bistro.  After lunch we had an invigorating nordic ski adventure at the base of Hatcher Pass.  Cold (very cold) weather pushed us to classic skiing, at which I do not excel at all!  I had  a blast chasing Don and Donna around the hills and forest, and the short downhill parts were really exciting on those little skinny skis.

The next day we spent skiing the wind slab at Arctic Valley, a small Anchorage ski club run area on the Fort Richardson Army base.  Apres ski entertainment was provided by the local band Hot Dish in which our friend Dan plays banjo.  We went to Dan’s house for a moose roast that evening.

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Our last day in AK, we made the reasonable drive out to Girdwood to ski Alyeska ski resort, passing some mountain goats along the way by Beluga point.  The skiing at Alyeska was great, a mix of fresh and cut up powder and nice groomers.  We skied all afternoon and into the night, skiing the well lit trails until a few hours before our flight home.  We packed at the car rental return and began the trek home, once again proving that in Alaska you can do more in 48 hrs than you would in the lower 48, no matter what the month!

As you may have gleaned from the house for sale post Janeen got the job and we are moving to Alaska in April!  I’m looking forward to the drive up the ALCAN highway and the blog fodder it should provide, stay tuned for more.

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It’s springtime and change is in the air.

It’s springtime and change is in the air.

homesweethomelanderwy

FOR SALE: 384 South 2nd Street, Lander WY

We are moving to Alaska and need to sell our beloved home in Lander, WY.  Built in 1908, our craftsman style home sits on two city lots on the corner of Popo-Agie and South 2nd.  We are sad to leave this amazing town and fantastic home but it’s time for the house to live it’s next chapter with a new family.

The following is a description of our home with photos.  The house is priced to sell at $212,000 and it is move in ready.  For more information contact me at: janeen.hutchins@gmail.com or 307-438-0264.

Our three bedroom, one bath home features wood floors throughout, an open layout, newly renovated kitchen, brand new stainless steel appliances, fresh exterior paint, large deck, hot tub, mature perennial garden, insulated and heated two car garage, large fenced in yard with trees and the original carriage house…

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Happy New Year

I’m off to teach back country skiing for a week or so.  I hope everyone is able to find some fun and adventure in the start to your 2012!

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Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays!

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Modular AVY Pouch Prototype

When Mike St. Pierre from Hyperlite Mountain Gear was hanging out at my house this summer I was throwing out ideas for all kinds of things when he playfully mentioned that it’s not the ideas that are the hard part of gear design.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of business or marketing experience, which I think is what Mike was alluding to.  Still, I threw out the idea of an ultralight ski pack, perhaps based on the Windrider pack they already make, and Mike seemed intrigued.  After reading that I had been taking the Windrider out on some ski tours, Mike suggested that his new Porter pack might be a better fit for skiing.  After a brief email exchange where I told Mike about some upcoming ski courses I would be working for NOLS, he sent me out the Hyperlite Expedition, the big brother to the Porter, and I agreed that I would prototype an Avy pouch that would attach to either the Porter or Expedition.

Hyperlite Expedition Pack. Photo courtesy of Hyperlite Mountain Gear.

The Porter/Expedition packs are no frills ultralight packs in classic mountaineering style.  The packs are constructed from the same Cuben Fiber hybrid as the Windrider, but features a beefier (but not bulkier) waist belt and shoulder straps.  The packs can be closed in either drybag style – creating a loop at the top, or with the removable vertical straps for a clean top.  Along each side of the pack runs a vertical daisy chain, to about halfway up the length of the pack.  On the rear of the pack run another pair of daisy chains, framing the rear panel.

I spent an evening this week building a Prototype Avy tool pouch that should work well.   Overall, I am happy with how this “first draft” turned out, though it wasn’t without its trials and a few ripped seams.  I can’t seem figure out pattern making yet.  I find it helpful for conceptualizing and laying stuff out, but my sizing keeps coming out a bit off.  Easily fixed at the sewing machine though!   It attaches securely with 3/4″ side release buckles and remains quickly removable.  The pack has three compression straps on the sides which should allow ski carry in the A-Frame method, which isn’t my preferred way to haul skis around when they aren’t on my feet, so I’ll continue to look at ways to incorporate a diagonal carry method with the new pouch attached.  After some testing this winter, I’ll send the pouch off to Mike and we’ll see if he can adapt my “train-of-consciousness” sewing job into a refined Cuben Fiber product worthy of his pack line.

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First impressions – Hyperlite Mountain Gear

One of the best parts of working in the outdoors (other than the obvious joy of working in the outdoors) is the people that you meet.  I described my somewhat random meeting with Mike from Hyperlite Mountain Gear  in a previous post.  He recently sent me their flagship Windrider pack to test, and while it came at the end of the Wyoming hiking season, I have taken it out skiing a couple days to get a feel for it while I try to find some time to get down to the canyons or someplace a tad warmer than the Winds are right now.  This will be a long term test, so here are my initial impressions.

Windrider Pack:

The pack is definitely light. The websight has a claimed weight of 1.6lbs (25.5 oz.) and on my scale I found the actual weight of my size large pack to be only one pound, over a half pound lighter than claimed.  This is pretty remarkable, considering most manufactures understate the weight of their gear!

Brilliant white and really light. Photo courtesy of HMG.

The pack is a brilliant white and pretty loud out of the box and really loud when cold!  I’m not sure if the Cuben/nylon hybrid fabric softens up and will get quieter over time, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

The fabric is Cuben fiber laminated to a light nylon and feels very durable.  Shoulder straps and waist belt are built from Dyneema X or a similar spectra grid rip stop fabric with relatively thin spacer mesh at all contact points.    The exterior has  super spacious mesh pockets and hip pockets on the waist belt. An emergency whistle is integrated into the sternum strap.

The top compression system looks to also double as load lifters and this is actually really slick, most ultralight packs forgo load lifters, which severely compromises their ability to carry heavier loads at the beginning of a trip.  In addition to the load lifters, the pack has a foam frame sheet and actual aluminum stays that run vertically along the inside.  The stays are removable (awesome to shave even more weight – 2 oz. on my scale!), though the foam frame sheet isn’t, which I don’t think matters at all.

The pack has a velcro and roll top closure, providing excellent water resistance.  The roll top clips into vertical compression straps that pull the load down and towards the hips to further stabilize the load.  There are two additional compression straps made from lighter grosgrain webbing that lift the lower load into the small of the back.  Finally, there is the top compression strap which runs as a “V” or a “Y” (depending on how loaded the pack is) from the shoulder straps to just above the rear mesh pocket.  A neat feature of this strap system is that it has an adjustable side release buckle both at the base of the “Y” and at the top of one arm of the “Y”.  This allows easy acces to whatever you have lashed down on the top of your pack.  I can see this being very useful for those hiking in bear country with a bear canister, or for securing a packraft.

Keep an eye out for the long term review of this pack!

My solo shelter set up at a great friends wedding in Aspen, Co.

The shelter I’ve been playing around with is the Echo 1 system, a super (dare I say Hyper?) light tarp with slick modularity.  It is comprised of the Echo 1 tarp, an optional bug shelter/bathtub floor and the optional “beak” vestibule. One of the striking things about this shelter is the unique use of different materials.  The trap and beak are made from a lighter cuben fiber with reinforcements in appropriate places, while the bug shelter/bathtub floor uses a combo of lighter cuben on the sidewalls, and a more durable, but slightly heavier Cuban fiber on the floor with really light mesh for bug protection.  The bathtub floor is clipped to the tarp using shock cord, which allows the user to drop the bug net into the floor when bugs are not an issue, while retaining a full bathtub floor with high sidewalls.

The Echo 1 shelter is a solo system and as such is a tight fit.  I’m 6′ and fit perfectly but taller users may find it somewhat coffin like.  There is ample overhang on both ends of the tarp to provide weather protection, and the foot box of the bug insert is all cuben to prevent rain from wetting out your down quilt down there.  For more protection from the elements, you can quickly attach the beak, providing an extremely storm worthy shelter.

The Shelter sets up using trekking poles, it seems most ultralight backpackers really like trekking poles, so this makes sense for most users, I however have found that with such a light pack trekking poles are an extraneous addition to my system and I choose not to carry them.   This is a chronic problem for me with ultralight shelters, as most are designed with trekking poles in

The fly alone, note the modified trekking pole used for set up.

mind.  I’ve been building my own shelter support poles out of various broken and discarded poles at work, and this worked well for the Echo as well.  To save even more weight, you could pretty easily use a stick, flyrod case (though mine is made from a fluorescent tube protector and probably isn’t rigid enough – mental note to self, test this out!) or lengths of a four piece paddle.

I recommend that folks set up any new shelter at home prior to going into the field.  This helps you find the tricks to a proper pitch that is taunt and secure.  The Ehco is no different, and for folks more familiar with more traditional backpacking tents will be critical to field success. For me, I found it to be finicky on my first set up, the second time went smoother, and the third was easy and effective, now I can pitch the entire system in a few minutes.  The small foot print of the shelter will allow the ultralight backpacker to hide off trail and find optimal camping even in tight trees or high winds. Almost any tree or decent sized boulder will provide additional shelter from gale force winds in that unexpected mountain storm with this shelters foot print.

Integrated tensioners that are reachable from inside the shelter allow quick adjustment.

I’ve used the word slick a couple times in describing the Hyperlite gear, and this carries over for the shelter too.  The Echo uses slick tensioners in place of hitches, and unlike some of the plastic line locks found on other shelters, these are integrated into the shelter and work really well!  They are easily adjusted from inside the shelter, which means that you don’t have to brave the cold wet world outside if you need to adjust the tension in the middle of the night.

Stay tuned for long term reviews of both of these pieces, as I get more time in the field with them.

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Bus Loop Bites

Over two years ago our oven decided to experience an epic fail during a pizza making dinner party at our house.  My wife and I don’t bake too often, so it wasn’t a big deal.  We triaged that night by taking the pizzas, all ready to be baked to two separate friends houses who lived across the street from each other.  The stove top still worked (though we had to light it with a lighter) and really, beyond a couple of nights where it would have been nice to make a pizza or something, we hardly noticed.  A few weeks ago we decided to finally replace the oven.  It’s been a celebration of baking since then.

The snow has been falling for two days in Lander, and Sunday we went on a nice hike around the bus loop with the dogs.  I like to think I have some dog training savvy, though our Black and White Dog Luna (that’s what the vet said she is) has been a tough nut to crack.  She came to us a year old, with an unknown past, her defining characteristic is a remarkable ability to sneak into a tight cuddle in most any situation.  She’s proven to be unpredictable, particularly off the leash.  We’ve had some luck with the recall, in Baja we were able to call her back one night when she slipped her collar and bolted on the beach.  Still she is unpredictable.  Today we took her and our German Shepherd Dog Scout out to the bus loop, a local parcel of state land that is a great place to run, bike, and walk dogs.  She was off leash, though we rigged her up with Scouts E-Collar, since Scout is super reliable.  And guess what?  Luna did great!  She healed the whole way!

As a reward for her excellent work, Janeen went on a dog biscuit baking bonanza, and created her new line of Bus Loop Bites for dogs (they taste good to people too!) Just to illustrate the learning in this Blog, Janeen has not been much of a baker (historically speaking) though this weekend alone she has baked a kick ass mixed berry pie with a latticed crust, Challa Bread (say Holla!) and awesome pie crust cookies.  How might you ask did my hardcore outdoorsy wife learn to bake like Martha Stewart in two days?  A little Google-Fu and by trying something new and doing it!

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New sewing machine

I just picked up a new (to me) sewing machine.  A Singer 20u53.  I’m real excited to have a machine at home to continue building and developing gear, and to improve my fabrication skills. I got the tension adjusted and have whipped up a few “proof of concept” pieces already.

I also recently met a NOLS instructor, David Nyberg, who has made a lot of his own gear with excellent execution, an inspiration to be sure!

Keep an eye out for posts on the stuff I’ve built in the past, and for the things to come…

New to me Singer 20u53 sewing machine with table, yee haw!

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Game on!

Like most things I’ll write about on this blog, I’m new to this and figuring it out as I go. I hope that provides you with some inspiration on lifelong learning, some insight into me, and I suspect some humorous entertainment along the way.

I look forward to sharing my journey of trying, laughing, failing, succeeding and learning.

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