Sunday, July 29, 2007

Gorse in Full Bloom

The hillsides of Wellington's bush are a deceptively cheerful yellow these days, thanks to the flowering of New Zealand's most visible weed - gorse. Gorse is not just an eyesore, it's a thorny, dense shrub that makes bush-bashing next to impossible, creeps out onto tracks to poke at passers-by and strangles out the lovely native shrubs and grasses that once covered these bush areas.

As with most of New Zealand's pests, early European settlers are to blame. I can't imagine a world where people would look at gorse bushes and say "Hey, these would make a nice hedge. Let's take some seeds overseas with us." And though my imagination fails me, that's precisely what happened just under 200 years ago.

Gorse is a uniquely talented weed, producing around 8000 seeds per bush per year. And if conditions are not great that year, well those seeds can hang around for up to 30 years before they decide to take root.

Anyway, gorse was a constant companion on Saturday while G and I went on a short day hike in Belmont Regional Park. It was not a great day for hiking - overcast and drizzly. But it was still good to get out and work our winter-weary legs a bit. We didn't have any spectacular views since the clouds were hanging low around the hills, but we did come across this lovely lounge suite made from the stumps of felled pine trees. Complete with armchair, ottoman and side tables!
In fact, there was an entire hill covered in pines, I assume planted originally as a forestry crop, many of which had been cut down and left on the hillside. This is happening in several places around Wellington, where pines were planted because they are fast-growing and prevent the hills from eroding. But now those pines are getting old and becoming unstable, so they are a worry in areas with a lot of walkers around. Hence the cutting.

So there you have it: a walk through one of Wellington's regional parks, surrounded by non-native thorny shrubs and non-native unsafe trees. Don't you just love getting into nature?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Retail Eulogy

Most outdoors enthusiasts have a favourite shop. That place where you can browse around even when you don't actually need anything. Where the staff know their products and back them up. Where they choose what to stock based on what they would want to use, not what provides the biggest profit margin. The place where you never make a bad purchase, but maybe one or two unnecessary ones!

In Wellington, Mainly Tramping played that part for many ardent campers and kayakers for 23 years. It was a family-run shop that carried a few trustworthy brands, and gave out a lot of excellent advice. They experimented with expansion, opening a store in Wanaka on the South Island, and a second location in Wellington. Perhaps that was their downfall in the end. For Mainly Tramping closed their doors last month.

The outdoors industry is increasingly competitive. There are more manufacturers and retailers trying to get a slice of the pie. Many chains are getting more 'vertically integrated' by selling their own lines of clothing, packs and other gear. Manufacturing has increasingly moved to China and other cheap labour markets.

Mainly Tramping's main store was located in a hub of outdoor retailers in central Wellington. Within one block there were 5 other outdoor gear shops. Add a couple more blocks and there were 7. How they all survived together for as long as they did is something of a mystery. Someone had to lose, and the first to go was Mainly Tramping. Who will follow next? Most of the other retailers are part of larger chains, which are more resilient to a slow season or an unpopular line of gear.

So I wanted to mark the passing of a local, high-quality retailer. They are fewer and fewer these days, especially the family-run shops. The world will be a poorer place when big-box chains are the only option. So long and thanks for the boots!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Shouldering The Burden

Bigger person, bigger pack
When couples go backpacking, often the guy gets slightly shafted when it comes to carrying extra gear. This is usually not a big deal, but followers of a strict lightweight regime tend to find it irksome that they just can't keep the weight down if their woman is coming along.

Most often this is because of the need for a larger tent, and more food and fuel. With those few additions aside, the rest of his gear should really be the same as it is on a solo trip.

So are men getting a raw deal? Are the girls playing the 'weaker sex' card when it becomes convenient?

One factor to keep in mind is relative weight. The woman is usually lighter than the man in the couple. The weight you each carry really should be in proportion to your body weights. If one person weighs 25% more, he (usually it's the he) should be carrying 25% more gear. That's actually equality at work. If that's the only difference between your pack weights, then you've got nothing to complain about as far as I'm concerned.

On the other hand, someone recently posted on a forum that he carries up to 80% of the weight when he goes backpacking with his partner. That seems a bit excessive!
Is he exaggerating? Maybe not. I've seen couples out for the weekend where all the woman is carrying is her clothing and sleeping bag. The man is carrying everything else! According to him, this was the only way to get her to do the trips, and he's fine with it. I expect that it makes him feel more macho, taking care of his fair lady.

On the other hand, I know lots of tough women who have no trouble carrying their share of the load. Now that there are packs out there that actually fit women properly, it's become a whole lot more comfortable too!

So my take on it is this. Relationships are all about give and take, and finding a balance. Your balance may be a 50/50 sharing of the load, or maybe it's 80/20. But you'll have to work it out between you in order to make sure that you are both having a good time on your backpacking trips. And guys, whatever you do, don't try to save weight by leaving behind some of the chocolate!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sticks and Stones

There's a widely-used saying that states "There's no such thing as bad publicity." It's not a statement everyone agrees with, especially if their business has been sunk by a scandal or they've ended up in prison. But overall, it does seem to hold true.

What does any of this have to do with me? Well, it seems that the official blogger for has taken exception to my book. A book that he admittedly has not read, and has no intention of reading.

But at the same time as he was slagging my book randomly, he also provided a handy link to the publisher's website and also mentioned this blog with another convenient link.

So as a result of this 'negative' publicity, I have several hundred people now visiting this blog who'd never heard of it before. (Welcome! Please browse around my older posts and see if there's anything you like. I promise to get back to writing about the outdoors shortly!) And I'm sure the publisher has had more than a few extra hits too. All in all, I'd have to say I'm pretty chuffed about the whole thing.

So it seems only fair that I should return the favour. Here is a link to their website. You'll notice, if you read the blog, that he really doesn't like much of anything, so I'm in good company.

You're probably sick of hearing me (well, reading me) going on and on about the book. I'll get back on topic with the next post if it kills me!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Wilderness's Words of Wisdom (AKA Marketing)

Wilderness Press, the intrepid publishers of Sex in a Tent have created a page on their website dedicated to my book. You can have a gander at it here.

If you had asked me prior to writing this book - just how many sexually-loaded words could you reasonably fit into a one-page description? Well, lets just say my guess would have been way lower than the impressive total racked up by the folks over at Wilderness!

Hopefully it will entice people to check out my "penetrating look at what really goes on behind the tent flap..."

This whole process of getting my first book from concept to bookshelf never ceases to surprise and amaze me. I hope to one day be so used to this stuff that I don't even notice any more. Next mission, collecting short reviews (based on a pre-press version of the book) to grace the back cover! Geez, I hope someone likes it...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Sex in Tents for Men's Health

Last week a reporter from Men's Health magazine called to get my input for an article he was writing about beach camping. You can check out my contribution at this link.

He even managed to include a picture of a hot chick in a tent. Sadly, it isn't me! Anyway, it's very cool to be quoted in a men's magazine, something I had never in my wildest dreams imagined would happen.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Water Your Preferences?

The phrase "hydration system" is ample proof that camping gear lingo has gotten completely ridiculous. What does this phrase really mean? Basically - water bottle! I suppose the fancier the name the more you can charge for it, right?

My "hydration system" started out as a simple, 1 litre Nalgene bottle. There's absolutely nothing wrong with keeping it simple! In fact, I still have the same bottle. They pretty much last forever unless you run over them with your car or something. The bottle worked fine, and held water just like I wanted it to.

Then a few years ago some friends of mine gave me a 2 litre Platypus water bladder. (Cue chorus of angels...) Suddenly I could drink without breaking my stride or occupying my hands. Some may call it 'fancy-shmancy', but I call it progress.

Then again, the bladder system isn't perfect either. Both bottles and bladders have their problems. This is how I see it:
Problems with water bottles:
  • You have to stop and fish it out of a pack or pocket every time you drink.

  • There are lids or caps to unscrew, which always manage to leap out of my hand into the muddiest part of the track.

  • The bottle continues to take up just as much space empty as it did full, which bladders don't.
Problems with bladder systems:
  • The tube can be hard to clean and get grimy or even mouldy.

  • The zip-loc style filling system on mine can be outrageously hard to close.

  • Somehow, when you least expect it, something will lean against the mouthpiece and open the flow of water all over your pack.

  • They cost a lot more than a water bottle.
For me, the convenience of hands-free water consumption is worth the negatives. I'm curious to see what others think about this - so please leave me some comments. Are you a bladder-sucker or a bottle-chugger?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Tenting for Two

Choosing your home away from home

If you're thinking of buying a new tent for your romantic camping excursions, you'll soon realise that there are an awful lot of them to chose from! Trying to narrow down your options can be a challenge, but if you're looking for a two-person tent to share with your partner there are certain features that are worth having. These are what I consider to be pluses for a couple's tent:

1. Double doors: if a tent only has one entrance, you're going to be climbing over each other if someone has to go out to pee at night. Lots of tents have a door on each side so you can slip in and out without disturbing your mate.

2. Roomy vestibule(s): If your tent is going to be a successful love den, you need to have a bit of elbow room in there. That means leaving your packs and other gear outside of the tent. Keeping your gear dry is much easier if there's a good vestibule area under the fly, and if your tent has two doors it may also have two vestibules.

3. Ventilation: Things can get pretty steamy inside your tent when you get intimate in there. Just think about what happens to car windows when you make out in the back seat! (If you remember those days.) Most tents have windows or vents, but check it out to make sure moisture can escape well enough when you're getting hot and heavy.

4. Quick setup: One of the top activities for starting a fight between a couple is pitching the tent. The longer this takes and more complicated it is, the higher the odds of getting into a tiff. Make sure you will be able to put your tent up easily in the rain, or the dark, to put yourselves under as little pressure as possible. And while you're at it, make sure you have lots of extra pegs and rope, just in case.

5. Pockets: Different tents have different configurations of pockets inside for holding your necessities. For a couple, you need a lot of stuff at arm's reach to make your lives easier. Not just your flashlight - but all of the things you use if you're having sex. That could mean condoms and lubricant, a towel to protect your sleeping bags, and any other goodies you like to have at hand. Plus anything you'll be needing right after to tidy up and get ready for sleeping, like tissues or baby wipes and a trash bag.

As you can see, there's more to consider when you're tent shopping than price and weight. In a sense you're buying a vacation home for yourselves, so take your time and really check out all of your options. If you choose well, you'll get more out of your camping trips than ever before!