Friday, July 24, 2015

Attack of the Back

Late last January something happened. I was playing catch with a football in front of the house during halftime of a playoff game. James threw a deep one, and when I stretched out to make the catch on the run, I was stabbed in the hip with a bolt of pain. Since then the pain has gotten progressively worse, despite weeks of physical therapy.

My days have been beyond miserable. I wake up in pain. Everything I do hurts. My back has grown severely crooked. Standing is hard. Walking is agonizing. 

Thankfully, my bosses and coworkers at work have been very understanding. I was allowed to work in a light duty capacity. This was enough at first. Despite the terrible amount of pain I was experiencing by the end of the day, at least I could work. That isn't the case anymore. As my back continues to spiral downwards, I can no longer work. I don't expect this to last much longer.

Why am I telling you this dear reader? Because my 2015 thus far has been wholly uneventful as I battle this injury, and I want to apologize for the lack of new content on my website. I wanted to explain to you where I am in life, so that you could better understand my position.

The MRI I took last week said that I have a blown out disk, which is crushing the nerve endings that run from the spine into my left leg. Based on my doctors recommendation, and the fact that physical therapy alone wasn't working, I am starting a pain management program with steroid injections directly into my spine. The idea is that if I can relieve the pain and become mobile again, I can start taking the necessary steps to permanently fix my back. If it fails, my doctor said the last option in surgery. I hope I don't get that far.

Despite this, I remain ever optimistic. As bummed as I am about a summer ruined, I don't dwell on it. I dwell on the now. I dwell on the future. My back will be fixed eventually, and I will be back to work, and more importantly, back to adventuring. In the meantime I will be working on my novel, which is nearing completion. If this pain management program works, I'll start getting outside again, but I'll keep it small. 

Anyway, thanks for reading and stay tuned.

Staying positive at the doctors office. Crooked back and all.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Gear Review: Nemo Astro Air Lite 20R

Nemo Astro Air Lite in The Grand Canyon
The Dirt:

What is it? Ultralight sleeping pad.

Comes with: Pad, stuff sack, compression strap, repair kit.

Size: 20 x 72 inches. 3 inches thick. 3 x 8 inch pack size.

Weight: 14 ounces.

Insulation: Air (R-Value near zero).

Price: $109.95 at REI

The Nemo Astro Air Lite is one of the lightest options on the market for an inflatable sleeping pad. The 14 ounce weight puts it at just 2 ounces heavier than the current ultralight favorite, the Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite. What separates the Nemo Astro Air Lite from the competition however, is the shape. The Astro Air Lite is a true rectangle, unlike the NeoAir or Exped Synmat Hyperlight, which are both mummy shaped. The rectangular shape gives the backpacker ample room to roll over in the middle of the night without sliding off, and provides near unrivaled comfort for the weight. This could really come in handy if you don't use a mummy bag.

Indeed, it is this combination of weight and comfort that impresses me most about this pad. Most ultralight pads sacrifice comfort in order to achieve that absurd light weight. Not the case with the Astro Air Lite. Not only is there ample space, but the pad itself is 3 inches thick. Simply put, it's comfortable, and the horizontal baffles prevent that feeling of sleeping on a swimming pool floaty. The top baffle at the head is also larger than the rest, making for a decent pillow when combined with a balled up down jacket or fleece.

Horizontal baffles
Another impressive aspect of the Astro Air Lite is how small it stuffs into the sack. The 3 x 8 inch pack size is smaller than any comparable pad on the market that I know of. It's ultralight, but packs so small it will easily fit into my pack.

By far my favorite thing about this pad is that in over a year of owning it, I've never woke up to lost air. After suffering through two previous pads that developed micro leaks, that is a big deal to me. I love going to sleep with the confidence of knowing I wont wake up to a giant rock digging into my ribs in the middle of the night. It's one reason why I find myself going with this pad over foam more and more.

Nemo Astro Air Lite in stuff sack
Now, this pad might not be for everyone for the simple reason that the Astro Air Lite is non-insulated. I find it works for me year-round in Arizona in 90% of the conditions I use it in. I've never woken up cold on this pad, even cowboy camping in October, or tarp camping in December. But if you live up north and routinely backpack in freezing temps, this pad probably isn't for you.

Finally, I have but one complaint; the valve. Obviously, this pad inflates by lung power. Although it only takes a minute or two to completely inflate, the valve can be stiff and difficult to manipulate. On several occasions I've lost air after inflation due to complications with the valve. Sometimes, it just won't close properly.

The Nemo Astro Air Lite is a sweet pad with a reasonable price. If you're looking to shave some weight but not comfort, I would definitely give it a look. If you are a cold sleeper, or camp in colder conditions, then you may want to look elsewhere.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Return to the Honey Hole

The Honey Hole

What amazes me about the Honey Hole is that I never see anyone else there. It's as if the place is some great secret. Maybe that's why I was sworn to secrecy about its location in the first place. Jim and I fished many holes in the low lying area between Bartlett and Horseshoe that day, but only the Honey Hole produced. That entire area down there is teeming with wildlife, and feels like one of the wildest places in Arizona that I've been too. The Honey Hole is not easy to get too either. A 4X4 will get you close, but eventually you'll have to do some bushwacking.  

The water in the Honey Hole is only a couple feet deep max, but the size of the bass we pull out of there is pretty amazing. In that shallow water, bouncing plastic worms off the bottom seems to do the trick. Sometimes you can see the fish hit your lure it's so shallow.

Delicious Bass
What really made this trip special was a new piece of kit that I brought with me. A new beer koozie by YETI that kept my beers ice cold despite the sweltering heat. Check back later for my review.