Out the Door

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The hardest part of starting an adventure is getting out the door.

I spend a lot of time reading about other people’s adventures in books, magazines and social media. I also spend time researching gear choices, identifying the latest and greatest to be used on my own explorations. Rarely, however, do I take that knowledge and actually go on an adventure. There’s always something that seems to get in the way: work, family obligations, the weather, wondering if I have the right gear…the list of excuses is endless. I’ve even loaded up my pack and bike to do ‘practice trips’ while stopping short of taking the actual trip.

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This weekend I changed all that and actually left the house and had a S240 micro adventure. A micro adventure is a short (often less than 24 hours) trip with the intent of getting out to explore and spend the night out. It can be planned or spur of the moment, usually local, and shouldn’t require a lot of gear or technical experience.

My S24O came about when a colleague  mentioned that he was looking for a place to hike or camp this weekend. I’ve done a fair amount of day hiking, so I started describing nice hikes and provided a map for a local fire tower hike. I was really glad to share the information and, at the same time, it provoked me to take action on my unfulfilled camping aspirations.  I promised myself not to let the weekend go by without doing a S24O.

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I had just the route in mind, a short loop in Harriman State Park that would take me to a mountain-top shelter that also has tent sites. I knew from a previous ‘practice hike’ that I could complete the trip comfortably, not have to worry about water, and could bail out if I had to and be back at the car within about an hour.

The plan was to be packed and ready to go at the end of work on Friday but Dorian intervened with high winds and threatening rain and, as such, I postponed my departure until Saturday. A micro adventure is meant to be fun; no point heading into a heavy storm. I packed up Saturday morning, prepared some real food for the trip and left just after lunch. The drive to the park took about two hours. I made relatively quick work of the ascent to the shelter and proceeded to locate an unacceptable site for my tent, whereupon I fussed with it for 40 minutes before giving up.

Experienced Northeast hikers will recognize the problem with the tent site pictured above. The lovely, mossy spot that I pitched upon is actually a slab of rock! And it’s gently sloping toward the left. I had a hard time placing the stakes and the slope made sleeping very…..dynamic. I loved the site despite this shortcoming, so I made do the best I could.

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One of the things I obsess about thus keeping me from actually doing anything is food. Freeze dried camping meals are either (1) good but expensive or (2) absolutely awful for you because of all the salt they contain. I chose to prep some real food at home in the morning and bring it with me. Pictured above: grilled brats in some ramen (don’t use the spice package). I’ve done a pretty good job of getting my base pack weight down and so I packed a can of beer as a guilty pleasure. Delicious real food.

The tent held up despite high winds and one stake that was kind of sketchy. I rarely get a very good night’s sleep in the tent and this weekend I determined why: it’s like lying in a coffin! It’s a nice tent, just not for someone who is very tall and tends to roll around a bit. I’ve also concluded that my inflatable pad is too narrow for my carcass. I would have known this sooner if I actually went on trips. Experience is the best teacher.

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I rose a little after 6 am, packed up, hiked out and was on the way home by 7 am. I got home in time to cook breakfast for the family. I didn’t get the best night’s sleep but I got out. I had an experience in the outdoors. I learned something about my gear, practiced my outdoor skills and— I hope–broke the chain of excuses that have prevented me from spending nights out in the woods.

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Label Me a Wahooligan

IMG_0480Six years ago I wrote my most viewed post sharing my utter dissatisfaction with my Garmin bike computer and Garmin products in general. Based on the responses I received, I was not alone in thinking the company had made a habit of letting its customers down. I ditched my automotive devices many years ago after smart phone technology made having a dashboard mounted GPS unnecessary. I pitched my cycling computer into the trash about a year ago when the battery gave up the ghost.

I’ve been rolling with my smart phone as my primary navigation device on the bicycle since December using a Quad Lock mount on the stem as pictured below.

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My reasoning for this was based on not wanting to purchase another Garmin device ever! I carry my cell phone with me pretty much everywhere and rely on Ride with GPS for all of my route planning and navigation needs. Even when I had the Garmin, I would create the route on my computer and send it to the device, so eliminating the middle man bike computer seemed like a good idea since there’s a perfectly functional Ride with GPS smart phone application. If you haven’t tried the app, you should. It’s great and provides turn by turn navigation and audible prompts. Best of all, you’re not held hostage by Garmin’s map subscriptions or quirky firmware updates.

The Quad Lock mount and the associated phone case are excellent. It holds the phone securely and attaches to the stem or bars in a matter of moments. I did a number of rides with it and was perfectly happy with its performance. I’d recommend it if you are doing a ride where being able to view a large scale map route on your phone is important or if you need frequent access to a browser or some other feature of your smart phone during the ride.

Depending on the size of your phone, however, this arrangement can take up a lot of cockpit real estate . On my bike, the phone took up the entire stem and partially limited access to the stem cap, which also serves as the on/off switch for my dynamo light. Additionally, having your phone attached to the cockpit makes it vulnerable to theft or damage while riding. I don’t worry too much about theft when riding, but I did become concerned about what would happen if my phone were damaged in a crash or fall; I’d have no way to call for help (which is the whole reason I carry a phone while riding).

And so I began thinking about alternative bike computers about a month ago. I kept seeing Wahoo devices on the bikes of people I follow on social media and began the deliberation process. I settled on an Elemnt, placing my order literally 18 hours before they announced their latest model, the Roam!

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I’m completely satisfied by this device. It does everything I need a bike computer to do: track speed, mileage, time etc, and provides turn by turn navigation by synching to the Ride with GPS app on my phone safely stashed in my bag or pocket. It took about 40 seconds to set up and does not require a map subscription or computer to manage its contents. It’s everything a Garmin should have been if Garmin actually paid attention to the needs of cyclists. Oh, and it’s cheaper than a Garmin.

Now critics will say that the maps on a Garmin are more detailed and they’d be correct. But I don’t stare at the map when pedaling. All I need is a prompt to turn and the name of the street to turn onto and the Elemnt does that. If I need a detailed street or topo map I’ll pull out my phone or a paper map. The interoperability with Ride with GPS is perfect as far as I can tell. Great battery life. Software updates that don’t render the device useless. Clear, detailed screen. It’s everything I need and nothing extra, and about a third the size of my phone.

Count me in the camp of Wahooligans.

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Flats

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Call me old, or call me sensible. Maybe I’m both.

Today I added flat pedals to my 650b all road, gravel, go-anywhere bike. It seemed like the next logical progression in my riding style, which has drifted from fast club rides to more utilitarian undertakings in the past couple of years.  Lately I’ve been using the Seven to go shopping, scout hiking and camping locations and just generally tooling around. Not exactly high performance activities justifying the use of cleats and dedicated shoes.

A couple of years ago, I removed the clipless pedals from my mountain bike. I’ve always been a little bit wary of falling over when clipped in on technical terrain. I immediately experienced an increase in confidence when I made the switch, and was more likely to roll over an obstacle that I normally would have avoided. Mountain biking became fun again. Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I took my young son for what was supposed to be a pleasant trail ride in Orange County, NY. The trail was significantly more difficult (for our skill levels) than the guidebooks and map caused us to believe. We spent a fair amount of time walking and pushing the bikes across rocky sections of trail. I really appreciated the flat pedals on that ride.

The past two weekends have been spent scouting a rail-trail based route for an overnight bikepacking trip in Westchester. There are some options to hop off the bike to buy groceries if needed and to hike in the park where I will camp. There’s also the issue of whether to bring camp shoes. More and more situations pointing to the convenience of riding in a regular shoe on flat pedals. Don’t get me wrong, cleats have their place in the world but for rides that involve walking, hiking, going in and out of buildings and such, flats seem to be the answer.

The pedals pictured above came from One Up Components They are plastic. Yes, plastic! To my eye they are very durable, and to my feet they provide a very stable and secure platform for thick rubber-bottom shoes like FiveTen Guide Tennies or the like. The pedals have good user reviews on multiple sites and at $50 USD seemed like a good option for when cleats and cycling shoes aren’t the best choice for a ride.

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Cowboys

Today we were cowboys, riding our steel horses picking our way through the pines,exploring long forgotten places.

In a break from the frigid cold, we capitalized on the near 50 degree weather to extricate ourselves from the couch, surrender the game controller and disconnect from the work email to go outside and move. On a day that most people stayed indoors to prepare for the Superlative Concave Vessel football game ( the real name is subject to licensing fees that I won’t pay!) we chose to be bold and explore the woods.

My job now, as a parent, is to let him lead. I offer occasional advice, such as to go harder up a hill, but I let him determine the route and pace. I let him determine when it is time to snack…

I thought he’d want to head back after the snack but he kept riding, finding his way to the more challenging side trails that had rollers and jumps.

Time in the woods on a bike is refreshing. To spend that time with your son is priceless.

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Scattered

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I have been all over the place the past few months. Scattered, really.
My seemingly insatiable appetite for learning new things took me down a rabbit hole into the world of archery with the grand hope that I’d hunt and harvest my own game. I practiced my socks off, even purchased the necessary tags and doo-dads for calling deer. At some point, however, I realized that no amount of practicing archery would transform me into a hunter. There’s a lot more to hunting than pulling a trigger or releasing an arrow, and reading about it is not the same as developing the skills to be successful. As fall approached, I realized that I hadn’t made the necessary social connections to find a partner/coach/buddy to mentor me. I wasn’t about to walk into the woods and sit for hours not knowing for sure what the hell I was doing, and I certainly wasn’t going to climb into a tree stand by myself. Last but not least, my family was less than enthused about me bringing home wild venison.

I slowly drifted back to the one or two things that have always been there for me: cycling and hiking. I’ve always found peace on the bike or walking in the woods, and neither require any particular skill or additional equipment. I’ve been happiest lately on the mountain and fat bikes, cruising around local and not-so-local trail systems. I still love my road bike, but the proliferation of motorists staring at their cell phones has been discouraging to me to the point that I’d rather avoid automobile traffic.

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Today I explored some new trails in Connecticut. It was good to get off the long island and see new terrain. The trees provided shelter from the cold, biting wind. My 10 plus year old Moots still gets the job done with its 29r wheels rolling effortlessly over obstacles.

And I’ve been hiking. The whole family can join in this activity. We recently visited the High Peaks region of New York, arriving with the first significant snow of the season and nearly freezing our asses off!

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I love being outdoors. I love being outdoors with my family. Nature is a blessing. It always resets me when I’ve allowed myself to become stressed or scattered.

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Making Progress

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In February I wrote about dipping my toes into the archery space with the grandiose plan of using the skills to harvest turkey and deer. I was frustrated with my inability to find a quality lesson. I realize now that offering lessons isn’t really in the business plan for most archery stores; lessons represent lost time compared to selling merchandise to customers. And, for some shops, the goal is to get potential customers shooting well enough to make a purchase knowing that they may never see the customer again.

I hit the jackpot when I found Flying Arrow Sports in Carmel, NY. They spent the time with me to get my shot sequence squared away and instill some much-needed confidence that I could actually “do” archery. I subsequently returned and purchased a Mathews Halon. The selection process was thorough and un-rushed: I shot five or six different bows before settling on the Halon, which literally spoke to me in the smoothness of the draw cycle. I should add that finding a store that keeps 6 different lefty bows in stock is uncommon according to some social media research I conducted, so Lady Luck dealt me a particularly nice hand when I found Flying Arrow.

I’ve been shooting the bow for a little over a month and cannot be happier. When I do my part by adhering to a good shot sequence, it does its part delivering the arrows to the intended spot. Just like sporting clays, the instrument is only as good as the person controlling it. When my process and form are correct, I can achieve results like those pictured above which might translate to several delicious meals. When I’m sloppy or distracted, the arrows go into the ground and burrow out of sight.

I’m fortunate to live within easy driving distance of a commercial indoor range and a public outdoor range. The outdoor range is in a wind corridor near the water and a parkway and, as such, I’m learning a lot about managing wind. Both ranges are close enough that I can scoot to them after work for a short session. The public range does not permit 3D targets (I’m not sure how they feel about 2D targets with animals on them like my Morrell bag pictured above!), so my next goal is to find a 3D range or participate in a 3D shoot to gain that experience in preparation for hunting.

Next up: locating the animals!

Posted in Archery, Fieldsports, Hunting, Photography, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More on Lessons and Learning Styles

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My journey continues. Along the way I keep asking myself, “In this age of the internet, where you can ‘learn’ anything on your own, are lessons even necessary?”

I was determined to get a proper lesson in archery after my first experience, which I wrote about in the last post. I like learning new things, have an interest in turkey and deer hunting and, for where I live, bow hunting represents the easiest access to those animals. I’m not inclined to just grab a bow from the big box store and hit the woods; I want to know that I’m proficient enough to kill not wound my prey. Proficiency requires the development of foundational skills and lots of practice. I know from my sporting clays experience that you can break targets with pure luck and not have good fundamental skills.

As such, I set out for another lesson, this time at a shop a bit further away from my house. I paid a social visit beforehand to scope the place out and get a sense of the personality of the shop. All seemed fine, so I signed up for a group lesson. I’ll mention here that I’m a lefty, so it took some pre-planning to make certain that the shop had a lefty rental bow. This will become important a little later on.

The “lesson,” it turned out, was actually pickup day for people who bought gear at the shop. We were a small group. Three of the other shooters had picked up their bows within the past week and this was their opportunity to get things adjusted and learn how to shoot. A lot of time was spent fiddling with sights, peeps, draw weights and so on. I’m pretty tall, so a fair amount of time was spent getting my peep aligned with the front sight so I could aim. It never got sorted out and I was basically shooting with an obstructed view.

The session was also my introduction to a wrist release. I’d read and watched videos on how to use it, so it wasn’t completely unfamiliar. However, it was not adjusted properly on my wrist to allow my index finger to reach the trigger. I asked for help but was told to just wiggle my finger to the trigger. But it wasn’t even close! At some point during practice I just decided to use my middle finger. While fiddling around with my fingers, I accidentally derailed the bow.

I was suitably humiliated, believing that I had somehow dry-fired the bow thereby destroying it. Luckily, derailing is not the same as dry-firing. It turns out that while I was fussing with my trigger fingers, I moved the string out of alignment with the cam and must have let off enough pressure to cause the cam to start moving. While this was all happening, the other customers were getting a few minutes of equipment adjustments and instruction on how to draw and anchor.

The bow, of course, was un-shootable and had to go into the shop to be re-strung. So about a third of my session was spent watching the tech stare at the bow, trying to re-string it. After about 25 minutes, he realized that it was a lefty bow and the cams were in a different orientation than he was accustomed to. While this was happening, another tech was hacking through a customer’s arrow shaft with a dull cut-off wheel. Accusations flew back and forth about who should change the cutting wheel. Total junk show!

This particular shop is widely regarded as “best” in the area by its customers. What I saw that day between the “lesson” and the behavior in the shop would not be characterized as “best.” I left wanting to give up.

I spent some time afterwards reading a bow hunting book and watching videos on YouTube. There’s a lot of crap on Youtube and there’s also some legitimate experts sharing information. I would read the book and then go to the web to watch video that was consistent with the book. If you are interested in archery, I think you’ll find John Dudley’s material to be excellent and, more importantly, correct. It’s one thing to be entertaining and good at presentation and another to actually be an expert at what you are presenting. As far as I can tell, his videos on technique are correct. I’ve used his YouTube videos to develop my basic skills.

I spent a few hours reading reviews of archery shops a little outside my geographic area, trying to find one or two more shops to visit in search of competence and customer service. Watching the bow tech stare at the rental bow while his mate hacked through the arrow made me realize that I’d also need a shop that I can trust with my money if I decided to pursue archery. I even called a bow manufacturer to get a shop referral.

I drove up to Flying Arrow in Carmel as a last-ditch effort to find archery shop nirvana. Carmel is a solid 80 minute drive from my house, but the shop has excellent customer reviews for friendliness and customer service. I visited mid-week and was immediately greeted by a friendly voice that engaged me in an adult conversation about why I was interested in archery. Dave (one of 3 Daves in the shop), asked about my experience level and wondered why I drove so damn far to find an archery shop! I summarized my experiences and we started talking about lessons. Lessons are arranged by appointment, he told me, but he was willing to give me a few tips and a rental since I’d driven so far.

In the course of 15 minutes or so, Dave made sure the rental bow fit me, that the sights were aligned and the trigger extended properly to my finger. It turns out this is not rocket science, it just takes a few minutes and someone who cares about getting it right for the customer. He reviewed some set up and technique matters that were consistent with the Dudley videos I’d been watching. Fifteen minutes of detailed 1:1 instruction was all it took to get me shooting groups like the one pictured above**. I have to say, once you can see through the peep and use the front sight, archery is a lot of fun!!

{** Yes, I was aiming deliberately at that part of the target to see if I could consistently send the arrows to a particular spot}

For my learning style, quality outweighs quantity almost every time. Fifteen minutes alone (and proper set up of the equipment) accomplished more than the two previous lessons where I was either part of a group fiddling with new purchases, or with a youngster who was distracted and wanted to shoot for himself. Quality should be job one if you are in the education business or if your business involves teaching people how to use the things you sell. This is particularly important if the thing you sell is a weapon, like a gun or compound bow. I have a long way to go on my journey, but at least I feel competent to operate a compound bow after spending time at Flying Arrow. I can’t say that I felt that way after visiting the other two shops.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Your learning style will have an impact on your experience during a lesson. I, for example, need 1:1 attention to grasp the fundamentals then lots of practice. Group lessons or lessons where the instructor is distracted don’t work for me
  2. You can benefit from learning from social media and YouTube if you know how to filter out the rubbish and find the legitimate experts. Read a book, then spend some time comparing the book with what is on the internet to  validate the information. Take what you learned from the book and web back to a real human coach!
  3. Some things are not more complex than they seem. I went into this thinking that archery is some black art that requires hours of instruction. That was my preconceived notion based on my shotgun experiences. It’s not necessarily so. My last archery lesson concluded with the instructor saying “You don’t need more lessons, you need to practice and shoot.”
  4. Quality, engagement, customer service will get my money every time. I’ll gladly drive the extra distance to have a good experience

One more thought. There’s varying standards of instruction in the shooting sports world.  I bought a shotgun for sporting clays and no one asked me if I knew how to use it. I went looking for instruction. The same can be done for a bow. I’m terrified of the thought of bumping into someone in the woods who got no instruction, or lackluster instruction, when they bought their gun or bow. And I’m only talking about the mechanical operation of the weapon not taking into consideration the myriad ways you can accidentally kill someone because of poor fieldcraft. Even if you go in search of instruction, the quality and consistency is all over the place. Yes, there are hunter education courses but they do little to insure that you know how to safely operate your particular weapon. More and more I’m thinking that you should not be able to walk out of a shop with a gun or bow without first demonstrating that you can operate it safely.

And finally a last plug for Flying Arrow. The store is huge compared to shops on Long Island and the staff pay attention to the customers. The have a large indoor range and a Techno Hunt range. Yes, it’s a bit of a drive but it’s worth it.

 

 

 

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