Best watch for outdoor activities

I’ve gone through a lot of watches in my 35 years of watch wearing. In the good old days I used to have to remove my watch whenever I wanted to go kayaking, surfing or anything to do with water. I remember being stoked when truly waterproof watches came out, however even these failed to live up to my expectations. If the water-proofness didn’t fail the battery would.

I remember drooling over the sexiness of Navy SEAL watches. to wear the watch of an elite sailor assassin was a such a powerful draw. But those were just too damned expensive, and they weren’t digital, which is something I really wanted. So, in a nutshell I wanted a waterproof, tough, long-lasting digital watch…

The Casio G-shock

I finally found the perfect watch. I’ve worn it now for many years without having to change the battery. But when it eventually does run down it can be replaced for a reasonable price and the batteries are easily found.

This watch has seen some serious abuse. From whitewater kayaking, to rafting the grand canyon to taking the full force of  a mountain bike fall, to the rigors of sub-zero powder skiing. This things indestructible, completely reliable…and it’s digital.

It has all the functions I want: stop watch, timer, time zones, indiglo lighting, the day of the week and date. The only thing it doesn’t have which is something I liked on my last watch is the ability to track past times. For instance keeping track of your last 10K run time. This is something I used and miss with this watch, but that’s my only complaint.

I love the feel of the watch too. it’s heavy and feels solid on my wrist. it’s not unattractive either.

I’m not sure if the wrist band’s removable. I’ve never wanted to remove it because it’s functional and comfortable. I’ve had similar wrist bands but this one’s lasted much longer than any other of its kind, and it looks great to boot.

The Casio G-shock fits all my needs and won’t break the bank. it’s the best 41 bucks I’ve ever spent.

Grand Canyon Raft Trip: An Adventure

I just got off a Grand Canyon Raft trip and it was an awesome experience. I’ve done the Canyon a number of times but haven’t been there for over 20 years.

Mouth of Havasu Creek
Mouth of Havasu Creek

My previous trips were much easier. I was a kayak instructor/guide holding intermediate kayakers’ hands as they made their way down the giant ditch. We had motor-rig support, so when there was a flat water section we simply latched onto the side of the motor-rig and blasted through to the next great rapid.

We’d get to camp late, often pulling in just when hors-d-oeuvres were being served. I didn’t have to deal with the camp scene: no setup, no cooking, no cleanup, no packing. I’d simply eat their food, sleep, and kayak. Easiest river trip ever! I had no idea how good I had it.

This trip, on the other hand, was a private raft trip. I couldn’t get the entire 16 days off, so my 2 sons and I hiked into Phantom ranch and joined the trip on it’s 8th day. The hike in on South Kaibab trail was arduous to say the least (especially with a messed up ankle) but the real work didn’t begin until I joined the trip.

Don’t get me wrong, saying it was work doesn’t mean it was negative. This is good work, much more rewarding than desk work. But the a Grand Canyon raft trip isn’t a walk in the park. My buddy said it best, “this isn’t a vacation, it’s an adventure.”

 

Our adventure was in late June into early July, right on the leading cusp of the monsoon season. It was 113 degrees in the canyon the day we hiked in…brutally hot.

The mornings start early. It’s light at 430 in the morning. there’s no sleeping in, once the sun’s up the temperature rises quickly. If you haven’t gotten breakfast done and things packed up before morning sun hits, you’re going to regret it. By  the way sleeping in 100 degree weather is hard. I used a bed sheet and even that was too much.

You’re on the water early, but  if you want to hike any side canyons you need the extra time. The side hikes are numerous and integral to the whole experience. But these hikes aren’t  what you’re used to; most are arduous, some downright dangerous. You’ll need lots of water, decent footwear and some climbing skills.

On the river you’re faced with huge waves and holes that can flip an 18 foot raft like a child playing with a boat in the bathtub. Every rapid requires constant vigilance. Letting your guard down even for an instant can result in carnage.

After the rapids you’re faced with long, sometimes miles long, stretches of flatwater. But the term flatwater is deceiving, because it’s not really flat. Every tailout portion is filled with swirling eddies and sideways currents that mess with rafts.

You think you’re done with the rapid until you’re suddenly thrust into an eddy spending every ounce of energy you have trying to bust through the eddy line to rejoin the downstream current.

The other rafts blast by knowing you’ll be struggling for the next 20 minutes but knowing you’re on your own. They’re only feet away but riding the main current, seemingly worlds apart. They’ve gotta keep going, there’s miles and miles before camp.

When you get to camp, depending on the time, you must get to work unloading, setting up the kitchen area and your individual site. Choose wisely, always remembering the weather can change in an instant. That cozy little spot you’ve chosen could turn into a swirling mass of dust if and when the wind kicks up with a passing micro-burst.

If you’re on the cook crew, you have little time to relax. Water needs to be pumped (if the water’s silty you’ll have to let it settle before pumping) the toilet needs to be set up; there’s always something that needs to be done. Of course it’s also 110 degrees out.

Once camp’s put up for the night it’s time to crash, but good luck sleeping, the temperature might dip down to 103…perfect. If sleep comes, you’ll wake in a pool of sweat, your body sticky and gritty from the inevitable, ever-present sand.

Sounds great doesn’t it!? It is, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Rafting the Grand Canyon is awesome, but know going in, it’s not a cakewalk.

Though it can be miserable at times, the sheer beauty, the amazing whitewater, the incredible side hikes, far outweigh the misery. The canyon is such a treasure, and rafting it is by far the best way to maximize the experience.

Grand Canyon Rafting: What to Pack

I just had the pleasure of spending 8 days on a Grand Canyon rafting trip. Why only 8 days you ask? Well, I was invited on a private raft trip, but didn’t have enough time to do the entire 16 days, so I joined the trip already in progress.

Grand Canyon Rafting
Grand Canyon Rafting

My boys and I hiked into Phantom ranch and met the trip on their 8th day. The logistics were somewhat hectic, but it all worked out perfectly…with one exception: I packed way too much gear...way too much.

To  be clear, the trip was in late June early July, things will obviously be different at different times of the year, but if you’re planning a grand canyon river trip during this time frame, here’s a tip: you don’t need much.

 

It was embarrassing how much stuff I brought, my dry bag was one of the biggest of the trip. That’s hugely embarrassing for an ex-river guide.

So, here’s a list of everything I used on the trip, and just for fun a list of everything I didn’t use, but first, day to day items I used:

  • Sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag (once, briefly)
  • Pillow
  • Tarp
  • 2 bed sheets
  • 2 pair surf style river shorts
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 pair of Sandals
  • Wide brimmed sun hat
  • 1 Sarong (wetted down constantly) Since i’m a dude, we called it a schalong.
  • Toiletries (tooth brush, paste, lotion, floss)
  • Sunscreen (lots of it)
  • 1 tent (will only bring rain fly next time, the tent was an oven)

Things for Kayaking:

  • 2 polypropylene tops (one heavy, one light)
  • Dry top paddle jacket
  • Kayak helmet
  • Nose plugs
  • Booties
  • Life jacket (must be in top condition, the rangers check them at the put-in)
  • Rescue throw bag
  • Paddle (we had one extra on the trip)
  • Spray skirt
  • Baseball hat (worn under helmet)

Things I brought and never touched:

  • Multiple t-shirts
  • 2 pairs of long pants
  • 1 pair of sweat pants
  • 1 sweat shirt
  • 1 rain gear top (have a hard time not bringing)
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • Hiking shoes (not a bad idea, but never used them)
  • Flannel pajama bottoms (honestly have no idea what I was thinking)
  • 1 warm hat (WTF?)
  • Deodorant (what’s the point?)

Lots of stuff I never used yet hauled 225 miles down the Colorado river!  All the extra stuff was bulky, making my dry bag ridiculous. Ah well live and learn.

Portable Toilet Cleaning

The worst part of a whitewater river trip is the take-out. Typically it’s where the entire world seems to congregate at the exact same time to load up for the trip home. It’s hot, dusty, and no one wants to be there.

rocket box
20mm rocket box containing an eco toilet

To make matters worse, there’s a job that needs to be done that can be downright nasty. Remember that nice portable river toilet you’ve been joyfully pooping into for the past couple of days? Yeah, it’s full of the entire trip’s poop, and it needs to be cleaned…guess who’s been elected for that job? YOU!

Scat Machine to the Rescue

Fortunately, this nasty chore has gotten much easier with the advent of scat machines. Most popular multi-day river trip takeouts have these little gems of engineering marvels.

Gone are the days you had to transport your poop over the pass to your home town hoping the methane build up in the toilet system wasn’t getting to explosive levels. (I’ve seen someone almost lose their arm when they flipped the latch and the can exploded…nasty)

You no longer have to drive around town hoping to find an RV dump site that will allow you to dump your can of shit. Now the whole dump and cleanup can be done at the takeout. It’s easy, fairly sanitary and best of all, your done, done, done.

The system i’m most familiar with is the scat machine. It’s a large contraption that’s built in the unlikely town of French Glen, Oregon by the French Glen Blacksmiths. The operation is simple and only requires 1 dollar to operate. (I spend an extra buck and do it twice)

The directions are posted on the machine itself and are pretty self explanatory. I have a few tips though:

  1. They want you to strap down your box to the cleaning surface. The straps you use are in the cleaner when you close the door and come out wet. I don’t think those straps are sanitary after that. So my suggestion is to use specific straps for the job, the poop straps. 2 footers work great. 
  2. Wear a pair of rubber gloves during this entire process. When you open the contraption after the washing, you have to reach in there and unstrap your can. Everything is dripping wet, it makes me feel better to have some rubber between my skin and the wetness.
  3. Spend an extra dollar and send the pooper through the cycle twice. This assures you get every last drop of pooh. Spend the extra buck to avoid any tenacious bits.
  4. Be sure you have dollar bills packed somewhere on your trip. There aren’t generally cash machines at river takeouts and the scat machine doesn’t give change, only dollar bills and quarters are acceptable.

These machines truly are great. They make the whole poop cleaning ordeal much easier.

Camping Games

There’s no shortage of fun when you’re camping and the fun is off the hook when you’re camping near water, but here’s an additional  camping game that’s sure to please.

 

The trick is to use items on your trip for the games, this way you’re not having to pack a bunch of space consuming toys.

Ammo Can

Ammo cans are great for river trip storage.
Ammo cans are great for river trips

One of my favorite river trip games is called, “ammo can.” It’s a game of skill and balance.

The setup is simple: pull two ammo-cans from the raft and empty the contents. Fill half the cans with wet river sand. (You want wet sand for the added weight).

Now place the cans about 15-20 feet apart in a flat sandy spot. Push the cans into the sand an inch or 2 (any more than that is cheating.) Be sure the cans are surrounded by sand not rocks or other obstacles that will hurt your feet.

Get a long length of soft nylon  chord that’s at least twice as long as the ammo cans are apart. For example: if your cans are 15 feet apart, your line should be 30 feet long.

In bare feet stand on the ammo can with the end of the line in your hand. Your opponent will be in the same position. The rest of the line slack will be in a pile between the competitors.

When someone says, “go” pull the slack as quickly as you can. The more line you get the more you have to work with. Now it’s a game of trying to pull the other person off the ammo can.

You’ll quickly learn that brute force doesn’t work. If you give a mighty yank, all the other person has to do is release some line and you’re pulling against nothing, you’ll lose your balance and fall off the can backwards. It’s a game of skill and balance…super fun.

The other way to win is by pulling the line out of your opponents hands. So if you’ve pulled most of the line and the person is hanging onto the end, one well timed yank may be all you need to win, but be careful, they’ll be expecting that.

A word of caution: use gloves to save your hands from nasty rope burns. The line should be soft, but if it’s zipping through your hand and you’re in the heat of the moment you may not notice the pain until after the game. Use gloves, or risk rope burns.

Here’s a short video of the game. Notice how they have the cans broadside? I much prefer having them turned long ways so my feet are positioned in  a more athletic, natural position. Also, being in bare feet helps with the balance.

Game Tip: Bend your knees and stay low for better balance.

 

Camp Coffee: Melitta Style

You’re on a river trip, or  a camp trip, everything’s wonderful. All the logistics and planning are done, all the chaos is behind you and now it’s time to be in the wilderness enjoying yourself.

Steaming cup of Coffee
Steaming cup of Coffee

The first morning you pull yourself from your sleeping bag and wonder where you’re going to get a cup of coffee. Will it be cowboy coffee? instant? Will there even be coffee? Yes there’s coffee and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had.

Just because you’re in the wilderness, doesn’t mean you have to suffer, particularly if you’re on a river trip. Rafts can carry a lot of gear, some of that should be reserved for coffee brewing.

I’ve seen all sorts of ways people brew coffee in the wild. Through much trial and error, the way we do it produces the best cup of coffee.

This is the best way to brew coffee on a raft trip!

Coffee Melitta
Coffee Melitta

We bring a large coffee pot, a large pot to boil water, a ladle, a Melitta, filters, and fresh ground coffee beans (very important to grind the coffee before the trip).

here’s the routine:

In the morning we fill a large pot with fresh water and put it on the stove. If you have a jet burner, that’s the quickest method, but a good old standard camp stove works too, just takes longer.

While the water’s coming to a boil, place the melitta on the coffee pot with a number 4 coffee filter inside. We like our coffee strong so we put a lot of coffee grounds in the filter, not too much though, you don’t want an overflow.

When the water’s at a rolling boil, carefully scoop with the ladle and pour over the coffee grounds. you’ll hear the satisfying drip, then the rush of a steady stream as it starts filling the coffee pot. Keep at it, adding more water as the level allows.

 

Don’t allow anyone to pour themselves a cup until you have a full pot (beat them back with the ladle). If you pour prematurely, that person’s cup of Joe will be very strong, but everyone elses will be weaker.

As the water drips through the melitta it seeps the nectar from the grounds, so each time the water picks up less and less coffee. It seems obvious but i’ll say it anyway, the first few ladlefulls of water will be stronger coffee than the last few. If you allow the process to continue uninterrupted, the super strong will mix with the weaker and you’ll have a perfect cup of coffee. Be patient, and ruthless!

If you have a big pot of coffee to fill you may have to replace the coffee filled filter with another before you’re done brewing. This is controversial, but there’s a wonderful way to tell when your coffee filter needs to be re-done.

When you’re ladling boiling water into the melitta, you’ll notice the coffee grounds will start to change. At first they float and bubble as the water drips through, then they get saturated and things go along wonderfully.

But eventually the water will take longer to percolate through. You’ll notice the grounds will become almost solid, melted together. You’re getting close to having to start over, but the way to truly know is when the water takes on a glassy, calm lake look.  There may be a bubble that forms. This is a sure sign it’s time to start over. If you continue, you’ll be adding minimal content and almost clear, very weak coffee that takes an age to drip through.

The plusses to this method:  you’ll have a very good cup of coffee…that’s a huge plus.

The minuses: it takes awhile (the person in charge is tied to the job until it’s done), If you didn’t start the process before people have woken, you may have to fight them off until it’s ready. Plan to wake at least 20 minutes earlier than everyone else to allow enough time for a full pot.

I’ve been on lots of river trips and seen all kinds of coffee making methods but I believe for the best cup of coffee, this is the best method. It takes some time and effort, but it’s well worth it in the long run…besides, you’re on the river…what’s the rush?

Prevent Mosquito Bites

One of the basic truths about any kind of camping, including river trip camping, is the presence of bugs. Particularly those pesky little critters that make us miserable, mosquitoes.

mosquito bite
mosquito bite

I’ve been on many camping trips where I’ve been forced into a tent or had to bathe in insect repellent to avoid their pesky little bites. How many times have you laid awake slapping at your face as mosquito’s high pitched buzzing kept you hopping?

Besides the obvious repellents and mosquito nets, the best way I’ve  found to avoid mosquitoes, especially on a river trip is so simple you’ll laugh: stay out of the woods.

That’s it, that’s the big secret, avoid the shady woods. Set up your river camp on the beach near the river. You’ll effectively cut down 95 percent of mosquito activity.

When I was river guiding, clients would constantly choose a nice looking sleeping spot up in the woods above the river. Even though we’d counsel against it, for some reason (maybe it’s human nature) they wanted to be as high as possible…searching for the high rent district I guess.

 

It wouldn’t be long though, before  those campers would be moving back to the beach sometimes in the middle of the night, forced from their chosen spot by the constant bites and buzzes of mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes hang out where they’ve got the most chance of scoring a meal. In the great outdoors the woods are full of mammals. The rivers’ edge doesn’t have nearly the opportunities. Also the heat of the day is easily avoided in the shady woods. The occasional human camping near the river isn’t enough to warrant a move from the forest.

Of course if you’re sleeping outside near the river and you turn on your headlamp for a bit of reading, you’re going to attract all kinds of bugs including mosquitoes. That’s why I always have an inexpensive mosquito net in my bag. They’re light, easy to pack and will keep the dive bombing  moths and mosquitoes out.

You won’t find nearly as many mosquitoes on river trips as you will on back packing trips because you’re not in the woods. Some rivers, however, are swampy with stagnant water. Those kinds of rivers are going to have mosquitoes wherever you go. When it’s like that…Deet’s the answer.

Kayaking Flooded Bear Creek: Medford, Oregon

The Winter of 2014/15 has been a dismal one as far as snow-fall in the mountains. It’s been abysmal, even worse than last year in regards to snow pack. However, there has been plenty of rain here in the Rogue River Valley.

 

In mid February there was a significant rain event sending the local rivers up to and in some cases, over their flood lines. The Rogue river down near Agnes, Oregon got to 100,000 CFS. To put that in perspective, the Rogue usually flows at a sane level of around 2000 CFS. 100,000 CFS is a lot of water.

Bear creek, a normally tiny creek that I talked about in this post way back in 2010, got to the highest level I can ever remember seeing…6000 CFS.

This tiny creek running through the center of Medford, Oregon normally runs at around 120 CFS. It’s a small creek bed. With 6,000 CFS flowing through it, it was cranking. It came within a foot of overflowing it’s banks and flooding the mall. (oh man, I would’ve loved that)

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to get on it this time, a fact I sorely regret. But another local group of kayakers did. Of course, in this day and age no one seems to do anything without documenting it on a GoPro. Here’s the footage, enjoy!

Travel Hacks: For a River/Camp Trip

32 ounce Nalgene water bottle
32 ounce Nalgene water bottle

You’re tasked with cooking breakfast for the final morning of a 3 day raft trip. You decide on everyone’s favorite breakfast: eggs and bacon. But how do you transport eggs on a river trip without having them break all over your river cooler? There’s an easy hack and it doesn’t involve one of those  backpacking egg carriers…this hack is  easier, more effective and fool proof.

Most river people I know have a Nalgene water bottle somewhere in their gear. If you don’t, shame on you. Figure out what you do have and use it for the same purpose.

For this hack, I use a 32 ounce  Nalgene water bottle. It’s the correct size and it’s what we use every time.

Like most hacks this one’s easy:

  1. Be sure the Nalgene bottle is clean
  2. Crack a dozen eggs into the bottle (that’s all a 32 ounce water bottle will take)
  3. Screw the lid on…and you’re done!

The eggs are intact and unless you didn’t put the lid on correctly, aren’t in danger of spilling. A dozen eggs packaged neatly and securely in your cooler.

Now you don’t have to worry about breaking the damned things every-time you open the cooler. Since they’re safe in the bottle you don’t have to pack them on top either. Feel free to shove them all the way to the bottom of the cooler.

 

If you’re doing scrambled eggs, here’s a hack to the hack…shake the bottle of eggs vigorously until all the yolks are evenly distributed…wallah! the eggs are scrambled and ready to be poured into a hot pan for cooking.

If you’re doing fried eggs it’s trickier but possible. The eggs are in stasis in the bottle, the yolks intact. Carefully pour a few out, ready to break off when you see the whites have a separation. Have a knife ready to cut any hangers on, then carefully tip the bottle upright saving the rest for the next batch.

It can be tough separating them but I’ve found cooking the entire dozen as fried eggs gets the pan crowded fast. It’s tough to separate and flip the eggs if there are too many cooking at once.

There you go: a travel hack for  transporting eggs on a river/camping trip.

Remember: the river seasons almost upon us…stay hungry.

Igloo Coolers for Rafts Review

I have always used Igloo coolers in my raft setup for a couple reasons. The main reason is because the cooler fits perfectly in most raft frames.

I’m not sure which came first the cooler or the raft, but they seem to fit perfectly; like they were made for each other.

Igloo cooler
Igloo cooler

The other reason? They keep ice pretty well. But…not so well that i’m discounting all other coolers. In fact, the most recent Igloo cooler we bought has got me wondering if I should switch brands altogether.

Here’s the deal, we bought a brand new Igloo cooler last river season. We always get the one’s with the flat lid because they’re easier to deal with in a raft. The raised, shaped lids are a pain in a fully packed raft, so we get the basic flat lid without any of the special little openings. They’re actually becoming harder and harder to find (people love their gimmicks).

 

A year later; one river season later; this cooler looks likes it’s been to the barber. Both front latches have broken off, making it impossible to truly close it up tight. One side has completely lost the rope and wood handle. It’s gone, snapped off, leaving only the plastic anchor. The other side handle is half off.

Broken handle
Broken handle

So, this cooler is basically useless. It’s actually worse than useless, it’s dangerous. In order to use it we have to put a cam buckle strap around the side without a handle in order to carry it.

We pack our coolers heavy, so you can imagine trying to move it from the back of the truck to the raft. It’s hard enough moving a fully loaded cooler when both the straps are functional. It’s downright dangerous with a strap and half a handle. Every time we do it were ready to bail out if that half a handle breaks.

The thing that really galls me though, besides the fact that it’s fallen apart after only one season, is how expensive the replacement parts are. In order to fix that broken handle, which is simply a matter of replacing the side hinge plate, it will cost us 50 bucks. It’s just a bit of plastic and some screws.

Useless handle attachment
Useless handle attachment

Since we spent a lot of money on the initial cooler buy, I’m unwilling to pay for that part (I need two). I have no idea about the front latches, or even if you can replace them.

Now that the bulk of the river season is over, I’m not going to spend any more money on this damned cooler. I’m going to explore different options.

Broken front clasp
Broken front clasp

I don’t know what’s happened to quality of the igloo coolers. They used to be work horses, but now they seem fickle.

I’m impressed with the Yeti coolers, a friend of mine has one and they seem well made and worth the rather extravagant price tag.

Igloo has served me well for many years but now I think it’s time to move on.