Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gear Review: Osprey Xenith 75 Liter Backpack

Osprey Xenith
Osprey Xenith

"Opening the Osprey Xenith backpack after it arrived to my door, I was reminded of the Two Towers. This is a big backpack. At 75 liters, mine is the smallest of the series (they also come in 88 and 105), but certainly much larger than the 50-liter pack I normally carry. I was slightly intimidated. Being a lightweight backpacker I wondered how I was going to fill it up. I accomplished this feat by packing books on solo trips, and carrying all the shared gear when I hiked with a partner. Even then, I only managed a pack weight of 35 pounds, and it was the easiest 35 pounds I ever carried."

Read the rest of my review at: 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hardscrabble Mesa

Arizona is a state with some very interesting place names. I've seen Bloody Basin, Horsethief Basin, Hell's Hole and Hell's Canyon. Seen towns called Happy Jack and Tombstone. It's all reminiscent of the old west heritage of the state, but I've also noticed that these places get those funny names for good reason. Hardscrabble Mesa is one of those places. 

Breakfast done right.
This trip was mainly for my friends Jim and Adam who wanted to scout a possible location for an Elk hunt. It borders the Mazatzal Wilderness, and is some really rough high-desert terrain dotted with juniper. What makes the terrain so rough is that the ground is covered in rocks and boulders. It caused us a bit of difficulty finding a good place to camp, as Adam and I were tenting it and needed a spot of land relatively flat and rock-free. After we spotted a few Elk hiding among some Junipers, we found a suitable spot and made camp. We spent the evening drinking beers by the fire (except Adam who doesn't drink), and chatting about the next day's hike. 

I had to break the news to the guys that I would be skipping the hunt next week. Since I started my new job at Amazon I've had to cancel several backpacking trips (including a 4 day Superstition trip) due to the really crappy schedule I have. It really sucks, and goes to show why I got back into college. I hate living for work. I hate not being able to do what I really want to do. It makes me feel like a slave.

 The next morning we hiked into the Mazatzal Wilderness. It was slow going because of the terrain. We talked about how difficult it must have been for wagons to cover this ground back in the day. This must be why this area was called "Hardscrabble". It was easy to imagine a lot of broken wheels, twisted ankles, and sleepless nights. We did see plenty of Elk sign throughout, and had a thoroughly enjoyable day despite all the beers we drank the night before. This area is just really pretty, with gorgeous views of the Mazatzal range throughout. I still haven't visited the Mazatzal mountains, but am eagerly awaiting the day that I do. From a distance they look so mysterious and foreboding and remote. I can definitely see myself backpacking there someday.

As I mentioned previously, I am missing the upcoming hunt. I have absolutely zero future plans for outdoor adventuring at the moment, which is quite depressing. On the bright side, this job is seasonal, and shouldn't last past January. I am going to need to do something epic to make up for the lost time.

Hardscrabble Mesa with the Mazatzal's in the distance.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Victory Dance

Just wanted to share an awesome contest that Mountain Gear is putting on. The grand prize is sweet. This is not a giveaway, it's a contest, so everyone has a good shot to win it. Get creative and have fun. Check it out.

From Mountain Gear:

We've just launched our #PersonalSummit #VictoryDance Video Contest. All you have to do is snap a quick video of you doing the dance you'd do when you achieve an athletic goal. Have fun with this! You just might win a full Arc'teryx Beta AR series - jacket, pants, & gloves. Enter via your mobile device or computer:

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gear Review: Mosquitno Insect Repellent Products

Rocking a Mosquitno wrist band.

Mosquitno (emphasis on the "no") is a family run company out of Kansas City that makes natural insect repellent products using citronella oil. Currently their 2 main products are citronella infused wrist bands and stickers that are easy to apply, reusable, and come in a variety of colors and designs. 

Lets be real here. When we talk about "insect repellent" what we usually mean is "mosquito repellent". Mosquitoes can be a total nuisance, and when they are swarming can turn any outdoor adventure into an exercise in misery. Mosquitoes can also carry a variety of diseases like West Nile Virus, Dengue Fever, and Malaria to name a few, so it's important that when we venture into areas with a mosquito presence we protect ourselves. That is where Mosquitno insect repellent products come in.

Unlike DEET (the chemical most commonly used in insect repellent), Mosquitno products use citronella oil, a natural insect repellent obtained from various species of lemongrass. The EPA lists citronella oil as low to non-toxic and says that citronella "will not pose unreasonable risks or adverse affects to humans or the environment." That safety factor is really what separates citronella oil from DEET. I know a lot of hikers (including myself) are hesitant about using DEET because of some of the risk factors involved from overuse or improper application, such as disorientation, dizziness, and even death in extreme cases.

On the other hand citronella oil is both a safe and effective repellent. It works by masking the scents your body gives off that would otherwise attract bugs like mosquitoes. In spray form, citronella (and other natural repellents) need to be regularly applied to remain effective, but with the Mosquitno brand products one band or sticker can last for hours.

Mosquitno products
Testing the Mosquitno products was somewhat of a challenge since the presence of mosquitoes was required. My first testing was done at home where it seemed like every time I went outside around dusk my feet and ankles were mauled by mosquitoes. I used the Mosquitno stickers (called Spotz), and just stuck one directly to the top of my foot. The Spotz are basically small round citronella infused stickers that will stick to pretty much anything. They are also easy to remove and last up to 72 hours. Since Spotz come in a package of 6 you are looking at 432 hours of bug protection in one package. Pretty cool! The best part is that when you go inside or the temps dip and the bugs disappear, you can reseal the sticker in the package to maintain effectiveness.

The silicone wrist bands (called Bandz) work the same way. They come in adult and child sizes, and slip on just like a bracelet. The Bandz last up to 150 hours and can also be resealed. What I love about the Bandz is the convenience. Keep it in your pocket until the bugs show up. When the bugs are gone, just take the Bandz off, reseal it, and shove it back into your pocket. No fuss, no muss. No gunk on your skin. No funky chemical smell. No worrying about applying another coat or ruining your fabrics.

The only issue one might have while wearing the Bandz is that the citronella smell is extremely powerful. So powerful in fact that your hiking mates and camp buddies will smell it when they get near you. The lemon-like smell is quite pleasant to me (in fact citronella oil is commonly used in aromatherapy), but some may find it a bit much (like my buddy James last weekend for example).

Overall, I really think the folks at Mosquitno are on to something. I like the idea of NOT using sprays or creams, and am always on the lookout for safe yet effective alternatives to DEET. In my experience citronella oil repellents are most effective when the bugs are light to moderate, and Mosquitno Bandz and Spotz are ideal for those types of conditions.

Mosquitno Spotz on my foot.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received Mosquitno Bandz and Spotz for free from Mosquitno as coordinated by Deep Creek Public Relations in consideration for review publication

Monday, November 11, 2013

Tom's Thumb

Jordy is staying hydrated.
 Ever since I moved to Phoenix I've wanted to hike in the beautiful McDowell Mountains. which are visible to the east just about anywhere in the Paradise Valley/Scottsdale area. The McDowell Mountains are a nice change of pace from the Phoenix Mountains, as they boast humongous granite boulders and lots of interesting rock formations. The desert here is also higher than the Phoenix Mountains, and definitely has more of a "high desert" feel minus the creosote scrub-lands so common in low desert locales.

Climbing in the McDowell Mountains
Tom's Thumb Trail is a popular one that I've heard many people talk about, and for good reason. The area is absolutely beautiful. The trail rises gradually at first as it winds up the mountains, and eventually opens up to some expansive views after some steep sections. I'm not sure how long this trail is because every website I visited to find that information gave me a different answer, but I can say that it certainly feels short, but steep. From the high points on this trail you can see the rugged Superstitions, the mysterious Mazatzal's and the fabled Four Peaks. 

Tom's Thumb
Tom's Thumb
The mountains are extremely rocky, much more so than the Granite Mountain Wilderness that I visited a couple months back. The boulders are spectacularly gigantic. When I made it to the top and saw Tom's Thumb close up, I could not believe how huge it was! It looks like some kind of giant stone church standing sentinel-like on the mountaintop overlooking the vast desert congregation. It was pretty awesome!

See the arch?

Indeed, large rock formations like Tom's Thumb are frequent throughout Tom's Thumb Trail. Some of the boulders are as large as buildings. Some have faces in them. Some even harbor caves and crevices and good places to hide from the elements if one ever got stranded. It's pretty awe inspiring being so near such giant pieces or stone.

Face in the rock. Do you see? 
Overall it was an awesome hike. Even my nephew Jordy had a great time taking in the scenery and watching me bound up the trail ahead of him. Those Kelty Child Carriers are pretty sweet packs for getting the little-one's outside. For my money the McDowell Mountains (this section anyway) is by far the most beautiful hiking destination in or immediately around the Phoenix area. Other than Spur Cross in Cave Creek, nothing even comes close, and I can't wait to get out there again.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Embrace the Pain

Last week I started a seasonal position at the fulfillment center. Since my writing hasn't made me independently wealthy yet, and the guiding is so sloooow, I needed some supplemental income with the holidays approaching. The Amazon warehouse is like that warehouse in Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; gigantic and seemingly never ending. When I was hired in stow they told me I could potentially walk up to 20 miles a day. I was actually excited about the prospect. Ever since I was a kid I have loved to walk. All growing up, and even into adulthood, I had a reputation among my friends for just taking off on foot. If I was without wheels and there was someplace I had to be, I just "beat feet" or took the old "heel-toe-express". 

I don't know, maybe that's why I became a hiker, and because I'm a hiker, I actually thought that walking 20 miles a day wouldn't be so bad. Boy was I wrong! I couldn't believe how bad my feet hurt by the end of that first day. I thought my Merrell Moabs and merino wool socks would keep my feet felling tip-top, but instead they throb in pain. Well, since there isn't really anything I can do about I just grit my teeth and keep thinking, embrace the pain!

"Embrace the pain" is something my cousin Luke always used to say when he was in pain. The theory is that because stopping the pain isn't an option, you just embrace it. Become one with it. 

Hiking can be a mental game a lot of the time, especially on long days. I've said that axiom aloud to myself numerous times on the trail when my feet were screaming, or my shoe was rubbing on a giant blister on my heel, or my back hurt. It's about changing your thinking so you don't quit. So you don't give-up. There isn't really much worth doing that it isn't going to cause some amount of hardship, weather it's hiking or going to the gym, or even writing. If we quit every time something is hard, or every time we felt pain, then we wouldn't get anywhere.

I also keep in mind that pain is only temporary, and experiencing it is a requirement to accomplish my goals, just like the old saying "no pain, no gain". It helps to keep the endgame in sight, whether it's the mountaintop or the shift bell. 

So, next time your'e feeling like giving up because the misery is too much, embrace the pain, and you'll see it through.