Sunday, November 30, 2008

Take On Camping Bites the Dust

I'm officially a victim of the recession! Last week my contract for writing "Take On Camping" was turfed, along with the entire "Take It On" series. Publishers, like everyone else, are looking to slash costs - and apparently how-to books aimed at women are on the chopping block.

On the bright side, I can now spend less of my spare time writing about camping, and hopefully more time actually doing it!

Sympathy gifts of free camping gear or alternate book contracts are welcome ;o)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Are you staring at my widget?

I added a new widget down the right-hand column of this blog today. It's a little counter that shows you how many other people are currently reading the blog, and what countries they are in.

I just thought it was kinda cool...

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Bit Like Home

Last weekend the weather was a bit unpredictable, but rather than stay inside all day we took a walk on Sunday in part of Wellington's awesome urban green space.

We decided to walk the Ngaio Gorge Track, which follows the Kaiwharawhara Stream through the suburbs, in a narrow park between steep hillsides. (Maori place name pronunciation guide: Ngaio = n-eye-oh, Kaiwharawhara = k-eye-far-ah-far-ah.)

It reminded me a bit of Toronto, where I used to live. Toronto has no mountains or major natural landscape features (except for Lake Ontario, which is not good for hiking!) but what it does have is lots of ravines.

Most of the urban trails in Toronto wind along through the bottoms of ravines. Many are interconnected with cycling paths, picnic areas and other conveniences. They aren't exactly remote, but they do a surprisingly good job of making you feel removed from the city.

The Ngaio Gorge was a short (a couple of kilometres each way) stroll with not much to challenge the hiker, but it was a pleasant enough path through regenerating native bush, with reminders that this ravine has formerly been used for a number of different things including factories, and national defense!
There are a lot of sewer-related constructions which take away that "back to nature" feel a bit. However, you can't ask too much of the urban trail.

All in all, it beat the hell out of sitting in front of the TV all afternoon.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

When You Can't Escape

The best laid plans... on hold.
Just when I thought we were on the verge of getting back into the wilderness, backpacks and all, G. has had a bad flare-up of the tendons in his arm. That puts any kind of hardcore activity on the back burner for a couple more weeks at least.

I've had my own challenges with injuries that took tramping off the menu for weeks at a time. A few summers ago, just after Christmas, I injured my foot while we were taking a casual stroll through a vineyard! Little did I know that what I thought was an ankle sprain was actually a small stick embedded in my foot and causing infections galore.

So what do you do when you're stuck at home with an injury? What's the substitute for getting out there and being active?

Here are my suggestions:

Shopping - This is one I've been doing a bit too much lately. New sleeping bag, new tarp, new hydration bladder. But even just window shopping for gear, or catching up on the latest gear reviews, can keep your head in the camping world while you're unable to participate.

Planning - Take out your guide books and maps, and start deciding where you are going to go as soon as you are able. What new areas have you been meaning to check out? Which of your favourite routes have you not done for a while. When you get the all-clear to head out, you'll be ready to roll.

Armchair Travel - So maybe you're in no shape to climb Everest at the moment. But you're more than capable of renting the DVD of "Into Thin Air"! Other armchair classics for the outdoors include Touching the Void, Grizzly Man, Deliverance, Into the Wild, and if you feel like extra cheese, The Blair Witch Project. After seeing so many trips turn out badly you'll be glad you're stuck at home!

A Good Book - Whether it's Bill Bryson's attempt at the Appalachian Trail (A Walk in the Woods), or Caroline Hamilton's all-woman expedition to the South Pole (South Pole 2000), you're sure to find a paperback adventure to keep you occupied for a while. I particularly enjoyed A Blistered Kind of Love, the tale of a young couple walking the Pacific Crest Trail written in alternating chapters by both of them.

Social Networking - The buzzword of the decade! The number of outdoors forums out here in interwebby-world is astounding. Get interactive, join a conversation about something you're interested in. Or just lurk in the background checking out other people's discussions. Heck, if you're really desperate you could read people's outdoor blogs! (I mean, um, anyway...)

So there you have a few suggestions for the next time you're stuck at home due to an injury, illness or just a period of bad weather in your neck of the woods. If you have a favourite book, movie or time-killer that keeps you in the wilderness mood, let me know in the comments.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why? Why? Why?

Today I've been writing some of the paddling section of "Take On Camping" with basic info on canoe camping.

Today I have also been feeling like crap - sore throat, stuffy nose and sleepy - thus I am grumpy and going to take it out here with a rant of sorts.

What I want to know is why did canoe camping never catch on in New Zealand? Sea kayaking is relatively widely practiced, but there is basically one place in the entire country where it is common to get into a canoe and paddle down a river. (It's the Wanganui River, which is one of the "Great Walks", despite the fact that you don't walk it. Don't get me started on that one!)

At first I chalked it up to cultural differences. After all, Canada is far away from here, maybe canoes just never caught on in this part of the world. Then I realised that the people of the South Pacific have been travelling in canoes for centuries! The first people ever to reach New Zealand did so in an ocean-going canoe, and so did all of the settlers who followed. The waka is a major part of New Zealand culture!

So that leaves me saying - WTF??? Why can't I go to one of the many, many rivers and lakes that are used for all kinds of recreational pursuits in this country and rent myself a canoe? I don't mind if it's a Pacific-style canoe with an outrigger. I could deal with that. It would take some practice, but I'm sure I'd learn how to control one eventually.

But no, apparently there's no demand for that. So I can try to cram my gear into the tiny hatches of a kayak, or I can stay on dry land when I go camping.

Anyway, that's my rant. Thank you for letting me vent. I'll try to be more positive in future posts.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Summer Slumber

Another week, another new bit of gear. I really need to stop getting new stuff. But hey, the camera was a gift, and the Platypus was actually necessary. Well, pretty much. Anyway...

So today I finally made up my mind and bought a summer weight sleeping bag. As with most of my purchase decisions, it was based on the fact that the item in question was on sale.

As you may remember, I was undecided as to whether I should go with down or synthetic fill. In the end, I've gone synthetic. It's about 500 g heavier that the equivalent warmth in down, but I'm not really a lightweight backpacker anyway. It was a difference of a $95 sleeping bag vs a $230 sleeping bag. Both on sale.

The one I bought (pictured) is a Macpac Roam 150. Since Macpac are now selling through their own retail outlets, everyone stuck with their old stock is just trying to dump it and move on. That was the case at Bivouac this weekend, hence the $150 sleeping bag for $95.

It's rated to 10 degrees, so it's theoretically going to keep me warm enough if I'm sleeping in huts during the summer. For tent camping, I'll probably stick with my warmer bag unless it's really hot weather. The bag has a hood attached, so that should add a bit of warmth when needed. Also, G has lent me a cotton liner he never uses (since he bought a silk one) which will add another couple of degrees.

So hopefully this means no more sweaty nights in the huts! (And hopefully it doesn't mean shivering all night wondering what the hell I was thinking!) We still haven't managed to get away for a weekend this spring, but with a bit of luck we'll be doing that soon and I'll let you all know how the new gear works out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Platypus Evolution

No, I'm not talking about the bizarre Australian animals that look like evolution at its most surreal. I mean the hydration bladders.

I've been a Platypus convert since some friends gave me one for my birthday about 7 or 8 years ago. The idea of being able to drink water at any time during a hike without the need to stop and take my bottle out of my pack pretty much sold me on the spot.
My Platypus was a 2 litre big zip version, not quite like the one in this photo because the end opposite the hose attachment was a large zip-loc type opening. It served me faithfully for many years and many kilometres, but last summer it was showing signs that it was not long for this world. The plastic near the hose attachment end was beginning to tear, and it was only a matter of time before the whole thing had a structural failure.

So I've acquired a shiny, new Platypus, this time without the zip-loc as I found it sometimes hard to close properly. I was expecting pretty much an exact duplicate of my old one, but it seems that over the past 7 or 8 years, the Platypus has evolved a bit.
First of all, the plastic used for the bladder feels a bit thinner and more flexible. Hopefully it's just as strong. The old one was quite stiff, so it's kind of nice that this is more lightweight and bendy.

Also, the new one has a hanging loop at the top, so you can hang it from a tree to make a shower. (I assume this is what they expect that to be used for. Perhaps there are other reasons to hang your platypus that I haven't thought of. Rinsing dishes maybe?)
The new hose has a right-angle attachment which may help to reduce strain on the plastic where it attaches to the bladder. And the hose is blue instead of clear. No idea why that would help anything, other than making it hard to tell if the water you're drinking isn't clear. I guess you'd figure that out when you fill the bladder anyway.

So there you have it - the evolution of the Platypus. Perhaps in several years' time I'll discover the next step when this one needs to be replaced.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Top Tarp

A while back, we discovered that our emergency plan to use an extra ground sheet as a shelter if necessary was deeply flawed. First, the sheet was too small for the two of us to really shelter under in a storm and hope to stay dry. Second, it was not really designed for that purpose, so it lacked grommets and loops in all of the necessary places.

After much perusing in outdoors shops, we realised that what we wanted wasn't really available here in New Zealand. We were after a lightweight tarp (or fly if you prefer) that was going to keep the rain off, cover two people comfortably, and not weigh enough to make us ever leave it at home.

We ended up importing a tarp from Mountain Equipment Coop in Canada. (One of my favourite places to shop when I'm home for a visit!) It's 2.1m X 2.9m, and weighs just 438g. Today we had a trial run at setting it up on our hike along Cattle Ridge in the Rimutakas. I can tell you it certainly worked better than our old ground sheet! We'd easily fit under there, along with our gear. The loops and grommets are placed in logical positions, and well reinforced. And while my knot-tying skills still need some work, we got it looking pretty sturdy in a classic A-frame shape.
Meanwhile, we had a lovely 4-hour (minus tarp-trying and lunch-eating) hike on a beautiful spring day. There aren't a lot of open views from the ridge as it is below the bush line, but we did have this look over the harbour.
And if you need proof that spring has arrived in New Zealand, check out the koru (baby fern leaves) unravelling in the centre of this fern. For New Zealand, that's pretty much like daffodils sprouting from the ground! Fingers crossed for a warm, sunny summer.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

New Toys

It was a good birthday for me this year! Among other wonderful events like dinner with friends and going to Samoa, I got a new camera (thanks G!)

My old Olympus decided to stop working properly after less than four years, which was rather upsetting. Whenever I turn it on, the camera zooms all of the way in and won't zoom back out. That makes it rather useless, and fixing the electronics in a digital camera is generally not worthwhile unless it's an SLR.

So here I am with a brand, spanking new Fuji Finepix 8000 fd, as pictured above. After debating an upgrade to SLR, I decided that the need to have two lenses for enough options, and the extra weight, made it unworkable for me. I need portable solutions!

So instead, I went for a point-and-shoot with mega-zoom. As you can see on the photo, this camera has a massive 18X optical zoom. That makes it a bit bulkier than my old camera (which had a 10X zoom) but hopefully the ability to take better wildlife photos is worth the extra size and weight. You know, if I see any wildlife...

Other good things about this camera include an upgrade from my old 4MP to 8MP (good enough for me!), and the fact that this camera takes AA batteries, so I'm not stuck trying to find a place to recharge if I'm in some remote spot.

One drawback, however, is that my old camera case wasn't big enough for my new camera. So I needed to do some shopping before I could take it along anywhere. Hence I went case-shopping today.
This is my new case - a Lowepro d-res 25, with all-weather cover! My camera just barely fits snugly inside, which is good. I didn't want to be carrying around some huge, lunchbox-sized camera bag somehow attached to my backpack. This one is still fairly compact, and has a strap on the back that attaches to itself with 2 separate velcro closures so it's unlikely to come off, even if it snags on something.

So now I'm all set for another season of outdoor photography. I'm sure you'll be seeing the results here on my blog. Hopefully it won't take me too long to get used to the new tools!