Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race (PMBAR) 2018

Before you go any farther, realize that this isn’t your typical PMBAR race recap post. No way I’m fit enough for that event. I did volunteer to run the Sassafras Gap checkpoint for the race, however. The checkpoint was far enough “out there” that I needed to camp at least on Saturday night, and then pack out on Sunday morning. I opted to camp Friday night, also, since I’m not so much of a morning person, and I wouldn’t have to get going at 4am to be at my checkpoint by race start time.


Open this map full screen.

Considering the location, I had 2 main access options. Shortest would have been to hike down from the Blue Ridge Parkway (bikes are not permitted on trails in Parkway land). I could have hiked my bike through, but it would have meant dealing with some of the steepest and chunkiest terrain in that area, with a loaded bike. Meh, no interest in that. Hiking that route was the better option. The more bikeable option was to park at the bottom of the Laurel Mtn Trail on Yellow Gap Rd. and ride up. It’s over 5mi of fairly consistent climbing from Yellow Gap Rd., but the grades are much more reasonable, and the terrain is far less chunky. That was the option I went with, since I’ve been itching to bikepack in the area since I moved down here last summer, and this was a good excuse.

Unfortunately, all I’ve got from my ride out is my GPS track. My phone is on the outs, and I’ve been putting off buying a new one until higher priorities are addressed. So of course, my phone deleted all of my photos from Friday. Yay.

Sassafras Gap makes for a pretty nice campsite, fwiw. The site was marked well with orange flagging tape with the promoter’s logo on it, as well as a Marmot tent, check-in gear, and a first aid kit in the event that racers need some help. Sassafras Gap is pretty level with open forest, and a really nice, soft soil. It’s a great spot for ground camping, since there aren’t many rocks to poke you in the back. There’s a fire ring built there already, though I never bothered to use it.

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This was my first bikepacking trip, honestly. I learned a few things. For one, I think the Salsa Bucksaw works pretty darn well as a bikepacking bike. I didn’t want to fiddle with my suspension air pressures for this relatively short trip, so I totally locked out the rear suspension, and cranked down the compression damping on my fork. This kept the tires from rubbing on the bags (especially the Revelate handlebar harness) as the suspension compressed. Having fat tires for this was truly a godsend. Laurel Mtn Trail isn’t super chunky, but it does have quite a bit of smaller chunk, and the fat tires worked especially well for it.

The Bucksaw handled well with bags on it. My dropper post was off to Thomson for service (after 2.5yrs of flogging, it finally needed some TLC), so my only option was to run a rigid post. It’s honestly the best way with a bag that straps around the post, to avoid rubbing/scratching of the stanchion. I felt a little topheavy so my handling wasn’t perfect, but that is more due to the heavier-than-I-wanted pack I carried. A few reasons for the heavy backpack. First, I rode without a frame bag. I’ll probably get one eventually, but that’s a fairly high cost item relative to the amount of storage space it would actually give me on my medium FS frame. I had the Revelate Viscacha seat bag already, but I had to buy a handlebar harness for this trip as it was. Second, since I was going to be camped atop a ridge above 4,000ft all weekend, and I wasn’t sure how far away the nearest water source would be, I chose to pack 6L of water out for the whole weekend. And finally, I needed more storage space in order to fit the race organizer’s gear on the way out.

I slept in my ENO Doublenest hammock with Warbonnet bugnet and Guide Gear 12×12 tarp. At this point, it’s my strongly preferred lightweight sleep setup. The forecast did call for some storms Saturday afternoon/evening/overnight, so the big tarp was definitely part of my plans. Even though it’s bulky and has some weight to it, it’s really worth it when the weather is rowdy.

On race day (Saturday), it was mostly overcast, though the sun did peek out a few times early on. The first racers didn’t show up until just before 1pm, so I had several hours of mostly downtime beforehand. One guy hiked up the social spur trail nearby (racers weren’t permitted to use that one) looking confused. Turned out, he was meeting a buddy to hang out at a different checkpoint and he made a couple wrong turns and wound up at Sassafras Gap. Lots of extra climbing for him, unfortunately. I sent him back down the way he came in order to catch the key turn he missed.

Also saw a group of several backpackers heading down from Turkey Springs along the Parkway. This is the second group of backpackers I’ve seen carrying WAY TOO MUCH weight. This group looked like mostly teens, with the leader possibly younger college-aged. They were mostly carrying pretty large packs on their back, and a few even had pretty large daypacks hung over their chests, I suppose in part to balance the heavy packs on their backs. But holy smokes, I just couldn’t be comfortable with that. I think my first backpacking trip, I carried maybe 45lbs, and that was too much. I’ve since pared down to what I suspect is a sub-30lb total weight.

Speaking of which, I cut some weight on this trip with some adjustments to my water treatment. Ever since this ride, I’ve been wanting to add a light gravity filtration setup.

My MSR Miniworks EX works well when I have to pump from tiny sources, but it’s heavy and pumping sucks. When water is plentiful, I wanted a lighter, faster method. I never got to test the filtration part of it. I filled the new Platypus Hoser bladder (which will be my “dirty” bladder) with fresh water for my extra 3L for this trip.

At around 9am or so, when I was making my breakfast and coffee, I heard quite a commotion in the brush behind me some distance. I turned around and stood on a log for a better vantage, and looked for a few minutes to try to identify the source. Turns out, a smallish black bear was the source of that crashing. First I only caught a glimpse of black behind some trees, but it eventually came out into a more open area where I got a clear view for a fraction of a second. It was absolutely hauling ass. I like to think it caught a whiff of my BO and ran for the hills. No time even for a picture attempt. It’s the first bear I’ve seen in the area since moving here (but it’s definitely not the first black bear I’ve seen in the woods).

That sighting kept me on my toes regarding food security for the rest of the weekend. I brought my ursack with OP saks, and it turns out, that may have been unnecessary. When the racers started showing up later in the day, I noticed that they were dropping a lot of trail mix and whatnot while they fueled up for the next leg of their race. At that point, I really felt like my own attempts to keep my food secure were kinda moot. I don’t think I had any other visits from large wildlife over the weekend.

Aside from those few events, I got pretty bored while I waited for the racers to show up. I had grand plans of bringing a small solar-powered radio along, so I’d have some tunes. But during my gear checks before leaving, I learned that the solar panel was dead. The hand crank worked to give the radio a charge, but I wasn’t going to spend all day cranking so I could enjoy some music. And I didn’t want to bring my ipod and portable bluetooth speaker, since I was pretty sure I’d drain the batteries before the day was over, and I didn’t really have a good way to keep them charged long enough. A small, portable solar panel would be useful in situations like this…but how often would I be using it? Infrequently enough that I have a hard time justifying the purchase.

So, I wound up taking quite a few pictures of wildflowers and insects and such. Of course, my phone deleted a bunch of it (including some recordings of bird songs I wanted to revisit for identification when I got home). So only a few made it.

Bloodroot

Black cohosh

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The first several racers into the checkpoint were pretty serious bidness. Check in, quick bite, and back on the course. As the day rolled on, racers lingered a bit, and I started seeing some gaps between teammates, as one rider was stronger than the other. Those teams definitely lingered longer, so that they could recover a bit before getting back on the course. Later teams also spent a bit more time strategizing about their approach to their next checkpoint(s). Maps came out, conversations ensued. Some teams made questionable decisions with race-brain. You can read a pretty entertaining account of one team’s race here. I get an honorable mention near the end of Part 1 of their race recap.

Most of the riders hit the Sassafras Gap checkpoint between probably 1:30pm and 2:30pm, with teams coming in at a trickle after that. The last team rolled in right as I was boiling water for dinner at 5:30pm. Makes me curious how they finished.

Right after the last team left and I got my food rehydrated, the rain started. It was kinda light and steady at first, but then became spotty for awhile. It got a touch cool out, so I climbed into my hammock early, mostly to get out of the rain. I browsed my bird field guide (iBird Pro Android app) trying to identify some bird calls for awhile before I got sleepy enough to nod off. I was awakened sometime in the middle of the night by occasional thunder and some heavier rain. I stayed pretty cozy in my hammock, but it took me awhile to fall back asleep.

It was pretty brisk when I woke up in the morning, but it was clear and sunny and the birds were pretty active. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning. None of my pics can do it justice.

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After breakfast and coffee, I started packing up camp. It took me awhile, because I had some extra gear to deal with. I found a millipede “friend” while collecting my things.

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I had to organize things a little bit differently this time. Instead of 6L of water, I was down to about 1.5L-2L. Most of my food was also eaten, so all I had from that was some fairly light (but somewhat bulky) trash. But instead of those things, I had a surprisingly bulky tent, extra first aid kit (I ride with one of my own), clipboard, and timing chip scanner. The organizer’s tent didn’t fit very well in my back, so I wound up packing that in my handlebar harness along with my sleeping pad. My down quilt (which was on the harness on the way up) ended up going into my pack with the clipboard and trash. Hammock kit went into the seat bag, same as before. The extra couple pounds on the handlebar harness seemed to make the bike handle a little more balanced.

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Being largely downhill, the riding was pretty easy. I still had to walk some of the weird rocky seep sections because I was topheavy, but no big. It was a super relaxing morning ride. It was incredibly beautiful out there that morning.

The overnight rain, if anything, improved trail conditions. They were pretty dusty on Friday on my ride up, and the racers continually mentioned that the dustiness made the trails a touch sketchy on Saturday. The rain made the trail surface just a bit tacky. Spots that were muddy (around seeps) on Friday were still muddy, and the rain didn’t make anything muddy that was dry on Friday. Just a perfect amount of rain, IMO.

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Again, the bike handled great when loaded. Being a little more familiar with the handling, I rode quite a few more technical spots that I walked on my climb up Laurel. Log-overs were super easy. It was just a great ride. There was a couple about to climb up Laurel when I reached my car at Yellow Gap. I let them know the condition of the trail, and informed them that I cleared all the spiders off going all the way to Sassafras Gap. I think they were appreciative.

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Overall, I had a great time volunteering for the event. The racers all had great attitudes throughout the day. I brought a little bit of food for handups, and the racers were pretty appreciative. It was just about enough, and in light of that, I’m glad I was running an optional checkpoint instead of a mandatory one. If I was mandatory, I’d have probably needed twice as much food, I think. If I do this again, though, I think I’ll put some more effort into finding friends to hang out in camp with me, rather than sitting around solo all day Saturday.

Offseason Maintenance Projects

It’s getting close to the “offseason” for many outdoor activities.  Or, at least, the shorter days and holiday business tends to reduce our enjoyment of some of these things.  It also happens to be a good time to take care of any maintenance you might need to take care of.  Several years ago, I made use of the winter offseason to sew a couple of down quilts.

I’ve been working on a master’s degree the past few years and so I haven’t had much time for winter gear projects, but I did give the shocks on my mountain bike some maintenance a couple years ago.

This year, I think I’m going to give my mountain bike some bearing TLC.  I’ve got some squeaky suspension pivots and since it’s been several years since they’ve been replaced, it’s probably time to do it again.  While I’m at it, I’ll be taking a look at my BB, hub bearings, and headset bearings.  They are all cartridge bearings, so I’ll be getting my hands on a bearing extractor and a bearing press to do all this work.  I’ll probably spend more on the tools than on any replacement bearings, but the tools will pay for themselves over time.  Eventually.

Yeah, I know my actual service intervals are WAY off of the manufacturers’ recommended service intervals for this stuff.  But honestly, I think the manufacturers are a little overzealous in their recommended service intervals for a lot of things.  That, and I’m not all that hard on my stuff.

I am also going to try to get the woodwork on my canoe sanded and varnished.  One of my paddles also has some wear that could use a bit of TLC to keep the water out.  I doubt I’ll be doing that one in the deep of winter, though.  I might get the wood sanded, but  I’ll probably wait until it starts to warm up again to varnish it so I can get some ventilation and warmer temps to help the varnish dry.

What are you planning to do as your winter gear maintenance project this year?

Making Transparent Maps for your Garmin GPS with GPX2IMG

I have had a number of questions from readers about how to get some certain trail data onto their GPS. That answer is complicated, because it depends on the trail data and it depends on the GPS you have. If the trail data you want to use is a simple track from someone’s previous ride, you can load it directly onto your GPS. Fitness GPS receivers (like the Edge models with mapping) can do a Virtual Partner based on that file and do performance comparisons and whatnot. With a mapping handheld, you get a basic navigation (it warns you if you deviate from the trail, but not much more). If that .gpx track has more track points than your GPS receiver’s track point limit, you have to reduce the number of points in the track by simplifying it (some programs allow you to do this) or by converting it to a route, which will prompt you to turn (best used on roads where turns occur at intersections, than on trails where turns often occur dependent on terrain).

A better way for navigational reference purposes would be to turn your .gpx files into a Garmin .img file (transparent) that can be overlaid on your basemap (like the topos). This process doesn’t require you to have a fancy new Oregon or eTrex 30. This can be used on one of the original eTrex Legends with a serial cable as well as the new fancy ones. I’m going to use some trail data that was part of a recent Ask the GPSGeek e-mail inquiry, the Coconino Loop. The .gpx files I used can be found by going to that page, or by going directly to their repository at Topofusion.com. This trail is problematic to load as a .gpx file for a couple reasons.

First, the main Coconino Loop file has over 15,000 points, which exceeds the max limit of any GPS I’m aware of (the highest I’ve seen is 10,000 points). Second, there is an alternate route available: the Mingus Bypass, which has over 500 points. This route is technically a network of trails, albeit a simple one (one big loop and a single trail bisecting the main loop to form a second smaller loop). Many urban trail systems are much more complicated networks with dozens of intersections that make the GPX2IMG method even more important. There is also a POI file (waypoints) involved. While the 51 points in this file shouldn’t be a problem for most GPS receivers, you could if you wished

After downloading GPX2IMG, simply load the .gpx files you want. I am using the two trail segments simply because the free version limits you to two .gpx files.  There are ways around this.  You could use Topofusion’s Network utility to merge all intersecting trail segments into a single .gpx.  However, if you’re working with multiple non-intersecting segments you want as a reference on a map, you’ll have to pay up for a license for GPX2IMG.  In this case, it’s not a problem.  In some cases, you may really wish for the waypoints to be basemap POI’s.  In other cases, you’ll want them as .gpx waypoints so you can easily navigate to them and modify them on the GPS.

Go to Preferences in GPX2IMG and name your map in the “Map Name:” field.  I’m calling this one Coconino Loop.  It would be a good idea to change the “Target Directory:” also.  The default is GPX2IMG.  I gave mine the same name as the “Map Name” minus spaces.  Also make sure the “Install Generated Maps in Mapsource” option is checked.  If you don’t have Mapsource, GPSFileDepot has a useful tutorial with the links you need to install it.

If you click the “Track” tab, you can assign names to each GPX file and assign different symbology to each segment within the file.  In this case, each file has one segment.  However, if you were to use Topofusion to merge multiple files into a single Network, you’d have many segments within one file.

Once you have everything how you like, click “Convert (2) Checked Files”.  The free version of the software makes you wait 15sec before you can click okay on the following dialog.  Afterwards, you are given a dialog describing how to find the map you just created in Mapsource.

Open Mapsource and follow the instructions from GPX2IMG to find your map.  It will appear here under the “Map Name” you assigned to it in GPX2IMG.

If you look at the very southern end of the map, you can see the Mingus Bypass we added in GPX2IMG.  You’ll also notice some watermarks.  The “Map Created with http://cgpsmapper.com” mark is there for good.  GPX2IMG uses a shareware version of a DLL file from CGPSmapper, which requires the watermark.  GPX2IMG’s FAQ explains that in more detail.  You can get rid of the “Map Made with GPX2IMG” watermark by paying for the software.  For $20, it’s worth buying this program, and if enough folks buy the software, the other mark might be removed in the future.

If you’re familiar with loading maps onto your GPS from Mapsource, you’ll understand the rest of this process.  If not, you need to be aware that you have to select ALL of the maps you want to load onto your GPS at once.  Use the “Map Tool” (the yellow bordered polygon icon) to select map segments.  Note that with the map you created in GPX2IMG, each .gpx file you’ve inserted into the map has a segment and you’ll need to select each one.  In this case, with 2 .gpx files, there are two segments on the Coconino Loop map I’ve created.  If I also want a topo basemap, I have to switch mapsets and select the tiles I want from that mapset. You’ll see that I’ve added 4 segments from the Arizona Topo mapset, also.  To switch mapsets, simply hit the dropdown, select the new mapset, and then select the tiles you want.

Once you get all your maps selected, you can go ahead and get your GPS plugged in and load the maps.  Once your computer recognizes your GPS, go to the “Transfer” menu and then “Send to Device”.  If you see your GPS in the “Device” field, check “Maps” (if you have other data like maybe the waypoints to send, you will have to load them into Mapsource first), and then click “Send”.  You’ll get a status window that will tell you if the data gets sent successfully.

Disconnect your GPS, and finally you’ll be able to see your maps.  I’ve included a series of screen shots next so you can see exactly the sort of thing you’re dealing with.  You’ll see that the watermarks in the free version of GPX2IMG don’t ruin the usability of the map.  In fact, they look worse when you view the map in Mapsource than you do when viewing the map on your GPS screen.



You can get quite advanced with this method.  This is the quick and dirty way to do it.  You can get it done without watermarks using all free software.  GPSFileDepot has a very in-depth tutorial over that process that just can’t be beat.  That process is extremely flexible so you can put whatever data you like into your map.  If you wish to make your trail maps routable on the GPS (think turn-by-turn directions), you will have to pony up $700USD for the routable version of cGPSmapper.  You might get lucky to find that this has been done for the trails you want.  The My Trails mapset is just one example.  High zoom levels on the AZ Topo map (higher than that displayed in the above screenshots) show an awful lot of trails, also.

Ticks, Ticks, and more Ticks

It’s well into tick season and for many, getting outdoors means dealing with ticks.  Not only are they annoying little creepy-crawlies, they are also vectors for many different diseases.

According to the CDC, the following disease/tick species associations are notweworthy in the United States (they are not necessarily exclusive to these particular tick species and there are likely to be more diseases, too): Continue reading Ticks, Ticks, and more Ticks

Upland Island Wilderness

I’ve been planning to visit the Upland Island Wilderness for awhile.  I ordered a map from MyTopo for this area last summer and I’ve been trying to get out here since.  On the 4th, with the wife out of town, I figured I’d go hike in the Upland Island Wilderness. I wanted to see the longleaf pine savannas and the spring-fed bogs at the exposures of the Catahoula Formation and photograph some of the carnivorous plants.

The trip didn’t work out how I had hoped. The trailhead area was pretty dilapidated. Something public isn’t available, but I don’t know what.

Dilapidated Trailhead

Trail Registry Box
 

Apparently, I’m supposed to register here. I opened the box, and what did I see?

Trail Registry Box

Definitely nowhere to register. Maybe this is what’s not available.

This trailhead is not immediately at the start of the trail, either, which was odd. I had to walk down the road a ways, past someone’s house that sits less than 100ft from the Wilderness boundary before I got to the trails.

Last minute route-checking, and setting the requisite parking waypoint.

Gear

As I set out from the parking area, I saw quite a large and striking grasshopper.

Young Nymph Lubber Grasshopper

Looking it up after I got home, I found it to be a young nymph stage of a lubber grasshopper…quite common. Still, the yellow stripes are quite striking.

The trails here are something of a disappointment. The one I used to access the area was an old closed-off county road. And it was still wide enough to drive a vehicle down because it seems the staff keeps the encroaching trees trimmed. I have no idea why they maintain a trail tread that’s at least 6ft wide here. You can see where trees have been cut from the edges as well as from the centerline between the old tire tracks. There’s no reason for such wide trail here. Singletrack tread should be sufficient for all permitted users in Wilderness, even horses. The first couple miles were a gradual climb to the top of the ridge. You could see the progression of the vegetation from the bottomland hardwoods (I parked near a creek) to the longleaf pine and occasional oaks.

My first goal of the day was to hunt for the Catahoula Boulders geocache, which hadn’t been found since 2009. When I reached the trail intersection I needed to take, I stopped for a photo break and some lunch. I have to say, I packed a tasty lunch.

Lunch!

Canned chicken, some lettuce I packaged into individual servings, an avocado, and some chipotle mayo on some flatbread. I also brought myself an orange (not pictured) because IME, oranges pack well for awhile and can handle being buried in a pack.

After lunch, I began my downhill approach of the geocache. I chose to depart the trail in some true savanna, which was pretty clear from underbrush so the going was pretty easy. I spotted GZ easily enough (the cache was located SOMEWHERE near the big boulders which are in a pretty isolated area) so I dropped my pack and camera and set off to find it. It took my GPS a little while to settle on the coordinates, but it led me to the cache in very good shape with a dry logsheet. I signed the log and decided to take another photo break because the rock outcropping was very photogenic (and there are supposed to be seeps with carnivorous plants nearby).

Catahoula Formation

Boulders of Catahoula Formation Sandstone

I had read up on the High Dynamic Range photo technique and decided to try to apply it on my hike. Here is the result of using the technique on the above scene.

Rocks in HDR

I’m thinking the scene where I used it wasn’t quite right for the technique. It looks to me like it mostly took away some of the depth from the shadows, which is one thing I really appreciate about the first shot. It seems like there wasn’t much (if any) overexposed area in the first photo for the HDR technique to improve upon. Maybe I needed more bare sky in the picture? If that’s the case, there wasn’t really any opportunity for that kind of shot on this trip. You just don’t get many scenic vistas in this part of Texas.

After hunting this geocache, and coming up empty for springs and carnivorous People used to live hereplants, I decided to try a north-facing slope. This area was on the south side of the ridge, so it would get more sun. I thought a shadier area might be more productive. That meant hiking back where I came from and then going off-trail. On my way back up, I found an old 8-track tape along the trail (old county road).

So it wasn’t TOO long ago that people lived here. Doing some searching, it turns out the area was designated in 1984, certainly within my lifetime.

I reached the top of the ridgeline easily enough (back to the spot where I lunched) and took the other fork in the trail. This corridor is obviously not maintained much (if at all). It appears as though this also used to be an old road, but it doesn’t get the trimming the other paths get. It was nice in a way, but my old topo doesn’t really reflect how much this section has been allowed to be grown over compared to the others. I had to leave the official corridor several times to go around thick brush (mostly yaupon) or blowdowns.

I eventually reached the saddle in the ridgeline I was looking for to make my descent down the northern aspect of the ridge. Down I hiked and I found the streambeds soon enough and the apparent sources of the streams…which were all dried up. No carnivorous plants were visible here, either. I continued to follow the streambeds downhill to see if I could find any exposures of the Catahoula Formation.

Pine cone reflection

 
 
 
 

Nothing. Hmmm…interesting. According to geological maps of the area, the Catahoula Formation makes up the entire top of the ridge.

 
 

Why are the boulders exposed in the vicinity of the geocache, but not in a similar topographical position at the other side? This is giving me some good questions to ask for an Earthcache I hope to develop out here. I didn’t find what I was looking for on this trip, but it does raise some interesting questions about what I did find. I have my ideas, but I’m not sharing them here because I don’t want to give away the answers to possible logging tasks. I think this one will take at least one more visit to check out some other locations that look interesting on my maps before I can set up this Earthcache. But if I have any hopes of getting photos of springs and carnivorous plants, I think I’ll have to come back when it’s cooler and wetter.

 
 

In the midst of my search for springs and outcroppings and carnivorous plants, I stumbled across yet more evidence of human habitation here…an old stock pond. It was a welcome sight. It was a hot day and I was thinking about making camp somewhere nearby. I took the opportunity to filter some water for dinner. The filtering didn’t go so well. My MSR Miniworks kept clogging on the superfine silt suspended in this water. The water was pretty still and yet there was still sediment suspended in it. No amount of settling was going to fix that. Still, I scooped some out with my Kitchen Sink and let it settle for awhile as I took pictures.

 

 

The dragonflies were especially photogenic.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonflies

After my photo session, I tried to filter the water, but didn’t get very far before my filter clogged and I couldn’t get any water through it. Disassemble and clean. Filter a little more water then clog again. Disassemble and clean. Filter a little more water then clog again. Disassemble and clean. You get the point. After about an hour of this, I think I only got a liter filtered and then I started hearing thunder. I looked up and saw a storm cell looming through the trees. I couldn’t tell exactly where it was going or how fast it was moving, but I knew I didn’t want to be near the top of a ridge at a clearing next to a pond, so I packed up and began moving downhill, looking for places I could safely hang my tarp to ride out the storm and maybe hang my hammock for the night.

As I checked my progress on the GPS, I saw that as I moved on (unable to find good sites for hammock hanging free of both brush and snags and widowmakers) that I was not terribly far from the car. Considering my water situation, I decided it was probably a good idea to call it a training dayhike and head back to the car. The last bit was tough going. My map said there was another trail/old road in the area, so I headed for it. I found nothing. This area was in the bottoms and the forest had completely retaken this roadbed. I couldn’t find it anywhere…not even at the stream crossings. The last mile-half mile was pretty rough. I was getting dangerously close to bonking. I stopped to eat a granola bar and finish my Hydralite electrolyte drink I mixed for the day. That gave me enough punch to make it back to the trail, and at that point the going got MUCH easier.

Lessons learned:

  1. DSLR photo gear is heavy…even with a carbon fiber tripod and especially when carrying a 300mm lens.
  2. Avocados are yummy on hikes.
  3. The heat is pretty manageable here if you have enough water and you keep your pace down.  If either of those variables changes, it gets nasty quick.
  4. I wish I hadn’t forgotten my trekking poles at home.
  5. “Trails” as shown on topo maps in the Wilderness areas here can mean anything.  They can be roads wide enough to drive on…or they can be nothing.  The forest doesn’t put out maps any better than the MyTopo map I ordered for the area, either.
  6. When ordering MyTopo maps for hiking purposes, don’t get them rolled/laminated.  Yes, they’re durable that way.  But they’re also ungainly.  Rolled/laminated maps are better for hanging on the wall.  Next time, buy the folded ones.
  7. Do this trip in cooler months when the springs are more likely to be flowing and you can find water that won’t clog your filter or find a burlier prefilter that can actually handle the superfine silt that won’t settle out of the water.  Maybe filter papers from scientific supply places?

Garmin Oregon 450

Yeah, I’m not new to the game here. This GPS has been reviewed all over the internet already.

But, I decided that the Edge 705 wasn’t really for me. Here’s why:

  • I hated the little joystick on the etrex series, and I didn’t like it any better on the Edge.
  • I only used the heart rate monitor a couple of times, and never when riding the trails.
  • I never really made much use of the speed/cadence sensor. I only ever used it on the trainer. Never on the trail.
  • I didn’t care for the start/stop functionality of the Edge. I am used to and prefer the technique of the handhelds where you erase your previous tracks and trip odometer data before use. The fact that the GPS auto-stopped without me knowing a couple times also bothered me.  I also occasionally forgot to start it after turning it on.
  • I never used Virtual Partner or any of the workout functions.

I had been leaning towards the 62s, but a few things swayed me towards the Oregon 450.

  • The Oregon 450 is small enough to use on the stem of the bike (and there is a mount that can attach it there).
  • It is also still large enough for handheld use.
  • The touchscreen makes data entry (waypoint names and descriptions) MUCH easier than with the arrow pad of the GPSMap series (which is better than the joystick from the Edge and etrex models).
  • REI put the Oregon in its Labor Day Sale announcement for $250.

I appreciate that the Oregon can take a HRM or cadence sensor if I really would like to use them on the trainer in the future, but they’d be separate accessory purchases, not necessarily bundled with the GPS.  I’ve been VERY interested in the custom mapping feature ever since Garmin introduced it in a firmware update.  I’ve already played with it, and in a word, it’s truly an outstanding feature.  Garmin hit a home run with it, and it’s not talked about enough, in my opinion.

I really appreciate using Garmin Custom Mapping with Topofusion.  Topofusion makes the whole process so much easier byautomatically sizing the tiles appropriately and automatically navigating to the Garmin device to save them.  It’s mentioned in the Topofusion help file, but I believe it’s worth mentioning here: with Garmin Custom Maps, you may include any number of trails into the .kmz file and they will appear on your basemap on the GPS.  This is probably the best way to include a whole network of trails on your Garmin GPS.  With the soon-to-be-released Edge 800 hitting the market soon, I think a lot of mountain bikers will be exposed to this feature for the first time.  They’re not “navigable” the way they would be if you loaded a .gpx or .tcx file, nor are they “routable” the way some trails are on Garmin’s 24k software.  But many sources are starting to provide files that show a whole trail network, and now you can include those onto your basemap.  Plus, with Topofusion’s “Network” algorithm, you can create your own trail network and load that onto your GPS so you can always find your way out when you’re on a confusing network trail system.

Draw times for these raster images is slower than for vector maps (I also have the Texas Topo 24k vector basemap from gpsfiledepot loaded), but not unreasonably so.

I’m curious to use the paperless Geocaching features on this GPS in the future.  I don’t cache a lot, but I do appreciate the utility of not having to print cache details for every cache I want to look for.  In the past, I have carried a PocketPC PDA with Cachemate with the details on it, and it was somewhat of a pain to go back and forth between that and my GPS sometimes.

By the way, I do like the rail mount that Garmin is using on its handhelds right now.  I got a couple bike mounts and the

mounting system feels so much more substantial than the Edge’s mount.  It also stays out of the way and doesn’t require extra cradles like the bike mount for the GPSMap 76CSx I used a number of years ago.  The attachment point on the GPS is also aluminum, and there are no flimsy tabs asking to break off when I’m tired and clumsy.

I do feel the need to put a screen protector on the GPS before I get into the woods with it.  I have scratched or nicked the screens of 3 portable devices before I got smart and started using screen protectors.

I plan to be using this as my all-purpose outdoor GPS rather than as a dedicated use receiver like the Edge is.  It will be going mountain biking, hiking, geocaching, and even paddling with me.  I’ll be selling my clunky but trusty GPSMap 76CSx because I just don’t need that sort of redundancy.  I just bought my wife a Forerunner 205 for running workouts, and I may get myself one if the 76 sells well enough.  I don’t think this receiver will be small enough to carry on a 5k, to be completely honest.

Osprey Talon 22 Initial Review

I combined my REI dividend and 20% off coupon to grab a new pack. I really didn’t have a GOOD daypack for hiking, and I needed something I could mountain bike in for longer days. What I have works for short rides, but can’t carry enough gear well for an exploratory day.

The Osprey Talon 22 looked like it would fit for my needs. The M/L size is about 1300 cubic inches, which compares well to my Camelbak MULE at 600 cubic inches and my REI Lookout (more of a long day/light weekend pack) at 2700 cubic inches.

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The Talon 22 doesn’t come with its own hydration bladder, but it’s got a sleeve for one. That’s okay because I have a Camelbak bladder that will fit just fine.

Upon fitting it after it arrived, I was able to get a much better fit than with most other daypacks I’ve used previously because not only does the pack come in two sizes, but the back panel is adjustable by a big velcro sheet to fine tune each size so you can get this thing to fit nearly perfectly.

Padding on the straps is minimal, and accomplished by simple dense CCF foam in the shoulder straps and hipbelt. The foam has large cutouts to keep ventilation at acceptable levels and prevent clamminess. The fabric around that foam is mesh for breathability. The pack uses foam of the same density on the backpanel for minimal padding, and it’s got a semi-rigid framesheet to give the pack some shape.

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I happen to like minimal padding on my straps and such. Too much padding just makes a pack stiff and that inflexibility gives me sore spots and chafing.

It looks like my first chance to use this pack will be next Sunday on a group mountain bike ride. It’ll just be a local ride, which normally wouldn’t necessitate a pack of this size. But being that I want to test it out for stability, comfort, and breathability, I’ll be wearing it just because.

Four C Trail, Davey Crockett National Forest, Ratcliff, TX

I’ve been working on planning a hiking trip for this trail. Unfortunately, there’s really not many good maps out there. I found a SINGLE map, but it was just an image without coordinates in the margins. How is someone supposed to use a map like this? It’s really not a map if you think about it…it’s just a picture. You can’t even use a compass with it. But I suppose the folks who created want you to buy the real thing, but that’s still a bit dangerous.

So, I loaded that image into ESRI’s ArcGIS and georeferenced it against known maps. Once I did that, I proceeded to mark waypoints for several POI’s along the expected route. I marked the beginning and end trailheads, road crossings, and the most likely water sources. The trail traverses many ravines and drainages, but I only marked the ones that at least showed an intermittent stream on the topo maps. As such, what follows is the GPS data for the trail, presented in a Google Map, and also as a link for you to download. Maybe I should charge for the link to the download.

4 C Trail Waypoints

ENO Hammock Test Hang

Today’s a nice day, and I finished sewing loops in my tree huggers last night, so I did some test hanging.

I’m happy to report everything went off without a hitch. I hung the hammock from my newly built pergola. It uses 6×6 posts, and the short side is about 14′ wide. I figured doing it in a controlled setting like this would go off a bit easier than trying to find the right two trees in the woods at the back of the yard for a test hang.

I’m using a whoopie sling/tree hugger setup with a couple of SMC rings, too.

Here’s the basic setup:

Tree huggers with a marlinspike hitch. Toggles are pieces of a fiberglass reflector pole from Lowes. Also, whoopies.
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Whoopies then attach to SMC rings.
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Also attached to the rings would be the structural ridgeline, hammock, and drip lines.

Tarp suspension.
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Nothing special here yet. Guide Gear 12×12 tarp, continuous cord and tarp attached to the cord with prussiks and micro biners.

The hammock sag when hanging from these posts is about perfect, so I set my ridgeline length for this distance. I have plenty of length on all my suspension bits to hang between trees farther apart than this. In fact, my whoopies are cinched ALL THEY WAY down

The fiberglass rod bits seem to work well for toggles. I got some splintering when I made one cut, however, and I dipped those ends in plasti-dip to prevent the rod from splintering me later on. But I like the bright orange so I can see ’em if they fall into the duff on the ground.

The GG tarp is too big to hang on the diagonal here, however, so I couldn’t test it out completely. I found that I could set it up in a sort of ‘porch mode’ being that there’s no tie-outs in the middles of the sides. I still didn’t have quite enough room to stretch the tarp out like that due to the pergola’s structure. At least it can still be done. Looks like the MSR Groundhog stakes only do any good in the local soil if I push ’em in as deep as possible. The loose sand just moves around too much. I’d really rather not use bigger stakes unless I have to.

I find the ENO doublenest quite comfortable. I could totally sleep in it very easily. I think I’m going to like the hammock thing.

Hammock Suspension: Whoopie Slings with a Fixed Eye Loop

As I work out a good way to hang my hammock with a minimum of knotwork (that derates the cord and is complicated to tie, especially in the dark) and metal hardware (that’s heavy), I settled on whoopie slings. Grizzly Adams from Hammockforums has a nice video that does a good job of explaining how they work. SlowBro also has a pictoral on how to make the whoopie sling.

That’s great, but the whoopie sling is only one end of the rope! What do I do with the other end? Here I am back to tying knots…or not. I stumbled across the locked brummel, which is an elegant method to create a fixed loop at the other end of the rope without any knots. Since I have aluminum SMC rings at the ends of my hammock, I can use this fixed loop to attach to the rings with a prussik and then use the whoopie sling over a toggle on a marlinspike hitch to attach the whole mess to the webbing tree straps.

I set out to make my first one. No pictures here since it was an experimental affair. The whoopie part went well, so I cut myself a full length of rope to make one for real. Then I made my whoopie (whoops!) before I did the fixed eye loop. I learned the hard way that doing the whoopie sling first makes it harder to make the fixed eye loop. I can’t explain why unless you’ve done it yourself. Try it out and you’ll see why it’s tougher.

On my next one, I took pictures so I can better explain how it’s done.

First order of business, TOOLS! Yes, you’ll need tools for this one. Nothing expensive, mind you. But unless you’ve got a knitter or sewer in the household, you’re unlikely to have all of them.

  • Tape measure of some kind
  • A large needle.  The one I use is from a “Homecraft Assortment” of needles from Walmart, and specifically the one for Sacks.  Others use a “darning needle” or a piece of steel (not the wound stuff) guitar string.
  • Sharp knife or scissors.  Sharp is the key word here.  Amsteel cord is made of Dyneema fibers and it’s some really durable stuff.  You need a monster knife or good scissors to cut it.  Wimpy scissors won’t do anything to it.
  • Sharpie marker for marking lengths and identifying threads to remove from the ends of the cord to taper it.

I used 7/64″ amsteel cord for my hammock. I’m not an especially heavy guy, so the smaller stuff is plenty strong for me. At most, you’ll need the 1/8″ stuff. It’s a bit stronger if you’re a heavier hanger or if you want to hang tandem. Also, you can find the 7/64″ stuff a fair bit cheaper I noticed. Please note that the smaller cord I used has fewer strands than the 1/8″ cord. My demonstration of removing threads at the end is for the smaller size. If you use a larger size, you will need to remove more threads. If you use 1/8″ cord, you should remove six strands instead of the four I remove. Follow the same pattern, of course.

Step 1: How long do you want your cord?

The way the whoopie sling works is that pretty much the entire length, the cord is doubled. So you kinda need to figure your maximum length FIRST. Mine are just shy of 7ft long in total (whoopie + fixed eye).

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The step I screwed up before, I should have done the fixed eye first. It works better this way. First, measure for your fixed eye loop. If you watched the video above, you understand how constrictors work. So I’ll spare you the explanations. You want to measure the length of your bury FIRST. 10″ is the recommended length, so that’s what I measured. Mark with the sharpie at 10″. Next, you want to know how much loop. I went with 10″ of loop as a rather arbitrary length. I knew I wanted enough loop in order to make a prussik. That’s about it. You could make yours longer or shorter, no biggie. I also measured a second bury length of 10″ because I use the needle rather than the guitar string so I know where my needle is supposed to exit the rope.

You also need to know how long your whoopie sling will be at this point, too.  That’s because you will use that far end of the rope at one point in making your fixed eye.  You’ll need to have that end cut if you are working from a very long section of rope.  For the whoopie sling, start close to the end of your bury for your fixed eye.  You could start farther away if you wanted your whoopie longer, but chances are you won’t need THAT much length.  Mark the exit point of the bury.  Since you need about 10″ of bury, mark the entrance of the bury about 10″ later.

Now you need to measure the ‘maximum’ for your adjustable loop for the whoopie.  I measured for a 5′ loop, so I added 10′ of cord (remember the rope doubles on itself).  Next, you need to measure for your bury again, so add 10″.  Finally, you need some extra to make the tail you will grab to make adjustments.  I added 6″ for mine.  Once you get this all measured up, you can cut it from the spool or your pile of extra rope.  It’ll now be a little easier to work with.

Step 2: Taper

The reasons for doing the taper are well outlined in the resources I point out above (video, links), so I won’t explain here.  But, since I used a needle, I need to taper now (to fit the end of the rope through the eye of the needle). If you use a guitar string, you can taper later.

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Measure about 2″, and then mark the strands of the rope like this. This is for 7/64″ cord. If you use 1/8″, you need 3 sets of strands.

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Pull the marked strands out, being careful not to split the adjacent strands.

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Now cut those strands off (this is where a sharp knife or scissors comes into play).

Step 3: The locked brummel

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Now, thread the end through the SECOND mark you made. Remember, the first mark is for the bury, and the second is for the loop.

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Pull the rope through until your first mark passes through. In this picture, the horizontal rope passes THROUGH the vertical one. The horizontal piece will be the short end. The vertical piece dropping down the bottom will be long and will be where you make the whoopie sling later.

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Grab the end of the longer piece and thread it through the FIRST mark (I tapered here already to fit the end into the eye of my needle. You don’t HAVE to taper here yet).

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Pull that long end through until it looks like this. The two ends go to the left in this picture. The long end is on top. The short end is on the bottom. The funky twist in the rope is because this stuff is sorta flat.

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Continue to pull on the long end, and also on the loop. You will see the other loop you created start to shrink.

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Keep pulling until that other loop disappears and your rope looks like this. Now it’s time to bury the short end of your rope to make it look clean.

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Get the short end and insert it into the rope as close as possible to the “lock” on your loop. You don’t want it to snag and pull the bury out (the bury helps hold this all in place). You can fit your needle inside because Amsteel cord is a hollow core rope. The pictoral I linked to above shows how to do this with a guitar string. I found it helpful to mark 10″ from this point (a THIRD mark) to show me where I need my needle to exit.

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Compress the rope to open up the core to fit your needle and the rest of the rope into the middle. The needle exits at the third mark, though you can’t see it here.

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Pull the needle through.

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Pull the tail of the cord through the length of the bury.

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Decompress the rope, or “milk” it to completely hide (or bury) the tail. Fixed eye loop complete!

Step 4: The whoopie sling

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Now for the whoopie sling part of this. Here you measure the bury you will need. Again, 10″ is the recommended length of the bury. The faint mark on the far left is the end of the bury for the fixed eye loop. Just to the right of that is the “exit” of the whoopie bury. Measure 10″ from there and mark the “in” for the whoopie bury.

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Take the tapered end of the cord and insert the needle into the “in” mark.

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Compress the rope and push the needle through to the “out” mark.

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Pull the needle all the way through.

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Pull several inches through. This end you’ve pulled through will be your finished end. If you like, you could put a small non-load bearing fixed eye loop here and attach it to some sort of a pull. I’ll show you a simple and lightweight way to finish the end so it won’t pull through that bury you just made. A couple inches from the end of the cord, mark an “in” point. Then, about 4″ later, mark the “out” point.

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Thread the rope back through itself. This process makes it too fat to pull back through the bury.

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The finished product. Since mine’s about 7′ long, it’s too long to show all the detail here. But, the whoopie sling extends to the right and loops back around. You see the bury, and you see the short, fattened finished end you can pull on to adjust your whoopie. The fixed eye loop extends to the left off the frame.