Bangkok – First Stop On Our SE Asia Odyssey

9 12 2016

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In November 2016, two friends from Portland and I began a junket to Southeast Asia that would take us to Thailand and Vietnam. Cindy, Kristi and I were to spend a couple of days in Bangkok to visit my friends Sakun and Yim, friends from the outdoor industry, then spend two weeks traveling in Vietnam.

This was my 8th visit to Thailand. I love Thailand – the people, the culture, the cuisine, the varied environments. From tropical paradises in the south, to the go-go capital Bangkok, the spirituality of Sukhothai, to the mountains north of Chiang Mai. It’s always had a special place in my heart.

For me, the primary reason for this trip was to see Vietnam. I’ve also been to Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Bhutan – and it was high time I experience Vietnam. But I couldn’t just go to Vietnam without visiting my Thai friends! I’d been in a business arrangement with them distributing kayaks and gear in the USA under the brand Feelfree. Sakun and his wife Yim are fine examples of the generosity, tolerance and hospitality Thais are famous for. I also have hosted them on their visits to my home town Portland, Oregon. And I was anxious to give Cindy and Kristi the experience of meeting them.

We arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport just before noon, seriously jet lagged but determined to stay awake the the entire rest of the day. We were very fortunate to be in good hands! Sakun and Yim had sent a van to pick us up! Once loaded we got to experience a Bangkok traffic nightmare first hand. The traffic crawled to a snails pace, but we eventually, through some crazy maneuvering, got to our hotel.

Checked in, it was time to get out and experience! First up, grab a long-tail boat to see, smell and just be amazed by a first-hand on-the water drama of life on a bustling SE Asian river and then check out Bangkok’s klongs (canals). Hopefully check out Wat Pho and get a massage after. To do that, we had to cross Sanam Luang. It is a park adjacent to the Royal Palace grounds, in between our hotel and the river. But three weeks before our arrival, the reigning King of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, on the throne 70 years and revered by every single citizen, died. The country was in a national state of mourning, with 10,000 people a day using Sanam Luang as a staging point to go pay respects to the King at the Royal Palace. Respectful attire was mandatory – black top and bottom, no flip flops, no baseball caps, no t-shirts. We all had learned about this before the visit so we came as prepared as possible.

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Mourners arriving at Sanam Luang

The streets surrounding Sanam Luang were closed to traffic and the area fenced off, with security checkpoints at entries. The guards were perfectly friendly to us. Inside, there was an unusual to us, but 100% Thai, phenomenon going on. While people were mourning the king, others were gladly volunteering themselves – time, goods and services – to comfort those mourning – some who’d traveled hundreds of miles. All wearing black mourning ribbons on sleeves.

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This adorable volunteer completely epitomizes the Thai friendly nature!

Food service companies donated food. Massage therapists tended to the weary. And cooks prepared food – all day – as volunteers – for those who’d made the trek. What an awe inspiring sight! We were offered food as well, but we felt very awkward about accepting it, considering the circumstances.

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Even the military and police from around the nation came and paid respects.

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Having crossed Sanam Luang, it was only a couple of blocks further to the river and a pier, where a long tail boat could be arranged. There was so much going on at once Cindy and Kristi were snapping tons of photos. The crazy motorbike traffic. The Buddhist monks.

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Motorbikes are one of the primary land transportation modes!

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Customizing your motorbike is serious business!

Upon reaching the pier, I was able to grab a long-tail boat for what would about to about a 90-minute trip across the river and through the canals. The Chao Phraya River, which runs through Bangkok, is practically as busy and seemingly chaotic as the streets. We loved it.

Back in the canals, known as klongs, it’s a mish mash of rich and poor, expensive homes with gazebos over the water, temples, riverside parks, and families who make their living right there, eeking out a living day by day. It’s not Amsterdam by any means. Standards of cleanliness and pollution are, well, perhaps ignored altogether. Still, it is an interesting place to visit. Many homes have spirit houses perched outside.

 

Once back on shore, we meandered toward Wat Pho. Wat Pho is famous because it contains the largest sleeping Buddha in the world. It lies east of the south wall of the Grand Palace. All along the way we pass hordes of mourners dressed in black. When we finally arrive at the gate, Wat Pho is closed for the day. And right at that moment, our luck turned bright. An entrepreneurial Tuk Tuk driver struck up a conversation with us, and we told him we were hoping to find a seafood restaurant for dinner. He says, “Jump In – I’ll take you to one.” Not knowing much of anything about Bangkok’s neighborhoods, we went along – it turned out to be a riverside restaurant on the edge of Chinatown. Of course, the tuk-tuk ride is always fun, especially for the uninitiated! A tuk tuk ride is a must for anyone visiting Bangkok.

After a hot, humid afternoon, a riverside restaurant, with its cooling breezes, was welcome. As was the views of boats going back and forth!

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Cindy Kristi and Rod end a successful day 1!

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Dig in!

Hunger satisfied and tired after a very full day we head back to our hotel. Tomorrow we’d view some more Buddhist temples and then grab a massage – followed by dinner with Sakun and Yim!

 





MSR’s Hubba Hubba NX Tent – Review

15 03 2015
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The Hubba Hubba NX with the Gear Shed

I’m the proud owner of a brand new Mountain Safety Research – MSR Hubba Hubba NX ultralightweight backpacking tent! With 27-year-low snowpack in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, I couldn’t wait to try out my new tent. I also bought the “Gear Shed” attachment for the tent. So, I headed up to Clear Lake near Mount Hood, Oregon to set up and sleep in my new tent.

The MSR Hubba Hubba NX is a super light two-person tent – only 3.7 pounds! But any tent I’m going to be pleased using has to be easy to set up and durable. And on warm summer nights I like to set up the tent without the fly. This allows for star gazing and cooler sleeping. But some tents have a very shallow “bathtub” around the bottom, allowing breezes to get through, and onlookers to see you when you’re dressing. I like tents where the “bathtub” is a bit higher.

As a backpacker and kayak camper, I also want a tent that’s easy to set up in the dark. No complicated setups. I also like tents with reflectors so at night I can shine a light on them and see it from far away. Gear vestibules are also super important. I want my shoes and gear to stay dry even if it’s outside my mosquito-lined sleeping area. For windy days tents need to be guyed out. There must be ways to secure the tent to the ground, so it doesn’t blow away.

So with these needs / wants in mind I set about testing and setting up the MSR Hubba Hubba NX. Unpacking it from the bag, I immediately noticed thoughtful touches. The bag kind of cinches up like a cradle. The bag has outside straps enabling it to be scrunched down like a compression sack.

I set out the tent footprint and then laid the tent on top of it. I staked out the corners. Right away I noticed a clever detail where the attachment of the tent to the stakes takes place. A sturdy cinchable strap-to-stake attachment point. Nice!

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The tent pole goes thu this grommet. But you can tighten the strap to the stake. Thoughtful!

I unpacked the tent frame. On the MSR Hubba Hubba NX there is only one frameset where all the pieces are connected via shock cord. It’s made of DAC Pressfit aluminum. Light and durable. But you need to be careful and deliberate about connecting. I fear splitting a pole end if I am in a hurry.

msr hubba hubba nxI laid the frame on top of the staked-out tent.

The next step is to connect all four corners and the top center piece to the frame. It’s a little challenging do do alone but with practice it will be easy.

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Frame connected and ready for clips

OK. So now, the next step will be snapping the clips to the frame.

It’s here I notice another thoughtful and durable touch.

The clips are shaped to fit snugly around the poles, but there is more. The load of the clip is spread between two attachment points on the tent. This reduces stress points on the stitching on the tent.

msr hubba hubba nxSo far, I’m delighted with the thoughtful, clever details of this tent. And all for 3.7 pounds! Next step is to connect the clips. Once done I’ll have the full volume of the inside.

msr hubba hubba nxThis is how nights under the stars will be. This is how I like things – there is a good view of the sky above, and ample ventilation – but the bathtub walls are high enough to shield occupants from wind and from onlookers.

Next, the fly. A fly should be able to keep rain out but also allow for ventilation – and especially bonus points are awarded for flies that can be unzipped without rain dripping into the tent.

msr hubba hubba nxVoila. with the fly attached, and the vestibules stakes out, there is actually a lot of acreage to store packs and shoes out of rain’s way. Two tent mates each have a vestibule and exit for themselves. Inside the tent, on each end, there are tent-wide gear pockets. Enough for most any backpacker’s needs. Up above, there are attachment points so you can sling strings – from which you can dry your stanky socks. Unfortunately two things are lacking – Firstly, a distinct shortage of attachment points for guy lines and secondly, no reflective piping.

But let’s say you have need for even more room. You have a disagreement with your tent mate. Or perhaps there is a 3rd soul needing a place to rest for the night. Or you’re car camping with executive camping gear and you’re needing extra storage space. For that, the MSR Hubba Hubba NX offers a solution: The Gear Shed.

The Gear Shed doubles the available storage space. Or can be used to accommodate another camper – or a Man’s Best Friend? If you have the MSR Gear Shed, you have options.

20150312_153922What’s the verdict? Well, although I love this tent and gear shed setup, it’s not 100% perfect. Somehow designers left out reflective materials. At night I bumped the corners more than once. And I have to wonder about its ability to hold up in the wind without lots of guy line attachment points. Still, I love the MSR Hubba Hubba NX and it’s a keeper. I can recommend it!





Kayakers Rejoice! Kokatat Re-Invents the Dry Suit – The Idol

24 01 2015

This week I was one of a few privileged souls to witness a revolutionary development in the kayaking world: The unveiling of the Idol dry suit by Kokatat, Inc. Why is the Idol dry suit revolutionary? Answer: The Idol is the first dry suit in history that can be zipped into two pieces – and each can be worn independently.idol-drysuit-leaf-small

Why Own A Dry Suit?

A dry suit is an expensive proposition. A top notch Gore-Tex drysuit from Kokatat or Sweet Protection can set you back $1,100, and that’s not chump change. So, what is the big deal? Your life. If you exit your whitewater or sea kayak in 50-degree water, and you don’t have a wet suit or a dry suit, you are a goner in short order. So, you ask, why a dry suit instead of a wet suit? There are several reasons. Suppose you are paddling and the water is 45 degrees. You’ll need a wetsuit north of 10mm to be safe if dunked more than 30 minutes. And you must get wet to even get warm. When dry, that wetsuit is useless. Wind goes right through it. Now, imagine paddling with that. With a Gore-Tex dry suit, all you need is a dry, comfy fleece layer under that dry suit. When out of the water, you’ll be warm and dry. It shields you from wind. The Gore-Tex will move your perspiration out of the suit. If you do take a spill, this doesn’t change. Even under water, Gore-Tex moves your sweat to the outside environment.

Dry Suit Trivia

Are dry suits something invented for 21st Century adrenaline junkies? Nope. Dry suits have been the immersion wear of choice going back to ancient times. Fact is, Arctic Inuit hunters invented dry suits centuries ago. They discovered seal intestines had the ability to pass sweat in one direction and keep water out. They used dry suits in their whale hunting exploits.

What is the big deal with a two piece dry suit? Well, for one thing, in a one piece dry suit you are stuck when needing to relieve yourself. Manufacturers have come up with rear zippers or front zippers. But still, kayakers have to wear this garment with neck and wrist gaskets even when it’s warm outside. Always a source of irritation. And it’s all or nothing because it’s one piece. Garment makers offered Gore-Tex pants or Gore-Tex tops. But if you are capsized, either meant total immersion in icy water as water enters at the waist. Therefore, for many years, the vast majority bought a one piece dry suit.

The Challenge – A Zipper That Can Do the Job

The Holy Grail was to somehow make a two-piece dry suit. And one that can be three garments in one. A dry top, dry pants, and a total dry suit if zipped together. The challenge has always been a waterproof zipper capable of the job. Metal zippers when worn around the waist are just unforgiving and uncomfortable-after all, a spray skirt has to fit over the zipper. The breakthrough is an upgraded T-Zip plastic zipper, and its SwitchZip technology and Ringseal closure. The plastic zipper is waterproof and much more flexible than a metal zipper.

idol dry suit,kokatatThe Kokatat Idol drysuit can be split into two separately worn pieces. The top can be worn as a standalone dry top. The pant can be worn as a waterproof breathable pant-with included waterproof breathable socks. That means on warm days, kayakers can launch their boat completely dry and paddle comfortably without having to wear the whole dry suit. So while the Idol drysuit costs $1,100, it replaces two additional garments! Not only that, it makes relieving oneself in the great outdoors so much easier. Whether you need to go #1 or #2 you can separate the pants and perform the duty much easier than performing the whole machinations necessary with a one-piece dry suit!

OK, I Wanna I Wanna! How Can I Get My Mitts on One?

To order one of these amazing products, you must visit a Kokatat retailer. In Portland, Oregon, visit Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe. Kokatat says the Idol will be available in the 2nd quarter 2015. But you can order today.

Here’s a Kokatat Video on the Idol Drysuit





Christchurch New Zealand

11 02 2013

IMG_0088Today we were in Christchurch, New Zealand, where we were to meet with Oscar Manguy and Yurira Hernandez, two Mexican kayak guides I had met during the Loco Roundup Kayak Symposium in 2011. I’ve been Facebooking with them ever since. They work with National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), guiding in Alaska during the northern summer and New Zealand in the southern summer. Not a bad life! When in New Zealand, they live in Christchurch.

When I decided to head to New Zealand, I contacted Yurira and then, when I had definite dates, we were able to coordinate a visit! It was GREAT to see them on the other side of the world!

I hoped to paddle with them, but it seems the kayak facilities they use are not in Christchurch. So we’d spend time visiting in Christchurch and then figure out what to to. Elwin and I were curious about a city called Akaroa, which is on the Banks Peninsula, south of town. But Elwin, Angelique and myself really didn’t know much about Christchurch itself. So we would spend part of the day in downtown Christchurch.

Christchurch, founded in 1850, with about 345,000 people, is the 2nd largest city in New Zealand, and the biggest on the South Island. You wouldn’t know it by looking out from the central city – because the area is pretty flat and the buildings are not so tall. The fact is, Christchurch spreads out a lot. It’s got a wealth of cultural attractions, fine beaches, ample city parks and gardens, and heartbreakingly beautiful churches, which were devastated by two 2011 earthquakes.  It suffered a devastating 6.9 magnitude earthquake in February 2011 and a major aftershock six months later. I talked with some locals – they said one earthquake caused sideways shifting, while the other seemed to jolt upwards.

We first met for lunch, and then took a stroll around. The central business district was simply devastated. And much remains rubble, as building codes are to be updated before reconstruction can begin in earnest. Much of the old downtown was built on ground that was subject to liquefaction. Worse, many older classic buildings and churches were built of brick or stone. All around Christchurch once lovely churches lie in varying states of rebuilding process.

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Seats still inside this theater!

 

We checked out a central business district shopping mall made of shipping containers. This was an interesting way to try to drum up some economic activity!

IMG_0091We passed a theater and what must have been a lively restaurant / bar district. Today, these buildings lay in various states of ruin.

Still, the city is vibrant and moving on. There are lovely walkways and gardens everywhere. If only I had pictures of all the lovely parts of Christchurch!

We’d reached about 2:00 in the afternoon…what would we like to do next? Let’s head to the Banks Peninsula and check out Akaroa. We’d heard it’s a beautiful, warm, with a French flair. So we piled into the Camry and headed over there! More next blog post!

 

 

 





Holiday Season in New Zealand

3 02 2013

The first part of my New Zealand trip was to be five days with my friend Paul Lepper and his family, in Palmerston North. This would be a great introduction to Kiwi life. For the first part of my trip, I would spend time with 100% Kiwis – people who live and work in the heart of the country. My flight left Portland, Oregon – to Vancouver, British Columbia. There, I’d catch an Air New Zealand flight to Auckland. Once there, I’d hop on a 60-minute domestic flight to Palmerston North. Total trip length? Two hours to Vancouver and 14 hours from there to Auckland, plus layovers. Total was about 22 hours.

Preparation for grilling!

Preparation for grilling!

I have known Paul and his wife Liz for seven years. Paul designs kayaks for Feelfree Kayaks. I was a USA Brand Manager for Feelfree Kayak USA, which distributed Feelfree in America. I’d worked with Paul on many occasions – in Bangkok, where they are manufactured, or at the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City, Utah. We’d trained sales reps. We’d worked on design tweaks. We’d discussed where the market is going. We’d talked manufacturing schedules. We’d shown boats to countless dealers. We’d tipped more than a few pints in Bangkok or Utah. But I had never been to New Zealand! Paul had told me many times I have to come and visit. The timing was right this time!

View from Paul's house

View from Paul’s house

I arrived December 28th – Liz met me at the airport – and I was surprised that it was maybe 10 minutes to their house! It was SO nice to see her!

 

Cows out back

Cows out back

They live on 40 acres, have 44 cows, two dogs, several sheep. The house is crescent shaped, partly to deflect wind. It’s a one-story house, so it kind of sprawls to account for the rooms. There is also a view of Mt Ruapehu. Once arrived I went to work tending the cows! This was a good thing for a jet lagged soul. I donned gum-shoes, and set about moving the cows from one paddock to another. The property also has a fabricating facility – and it is there that the kayak designs come to life. I did not take any pictures in there!

Liz and Anthia

Liz and Anthia

I met Paul’s daughter Anthia a and son Glen. Paul has done well for himself. Everyone is so nice and made me feel comfortable. Essentially I was made to feel part of the family. I had a room, and anything I needed don’t ask just grab, whether it be a beer or something from the refrigerator.

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Something very down under!

The next day I joined Paul, Anthia and Liz on a journey to the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Hastings/Napier to see Paul’s dad. We would also visit a mountain with a terrific view, and a winery! Anthia lives in Melbourne, Australia and was home for the holidays…she had lots to say about Melbourne!

One thing about New Zealand is they are into sit on tops and there a lot of Feelfree Kayaks down there.





Hope Island, WA: Staff Kayak Camping Trip with Alder Creek

18 03 2012

I work at Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe in Portland, Oregon. I’m a sales consultant but I also guide and do instruction (ha ha, and even website content stuff). Every spring, the company pays for the staff to go on a kayak camping trip – a kind of pre-season employee bonding kind of thing. Most years, this trip goes to Washington’s San Juan Islands. Since Alder Creek offers guided San Juan Islands kayak camping trips every summer, this employee trip is traditionally a way to train new staff on these trips so they can work them and sell them. On this trip, it was myself, Paul Kuthe, Dave Slover, David Trageser, Chris Bensch, Jason Self, David Dalbey, and Alex.

This spring, we only had three days, which is not much time to travel from Portland, Oregon to the San Juans and back. So, we decided to do the trip to Hope Island in the South Puget Sound – only 2-1/2 hours from Portland. In the weeks prior to the trip, everyone was nervous about weather. Normally March in the Pacific NW is very volatile! It can be snowing, hailing – or sunny. You can imagine in our minds, we were thinking, “I have to do this as an employee. But sh*t. It might be snowing or raining and awful! I don’t want to commit!” I confess that I was looking for an escape not wanting to sit around a windy wet and cold campsite.

But all these trepidations melted away with the magic of luck and weather. In the 72 hours before our departure March 6th, the forecast was for three days of SUN! And little wind. Unbelievable, but true, and this was borne out during our three-day employee trip!

Our departure morning was sunny. What a break. We loaded the kayaks on the Alder Creek trailer – 8 of them. Food shopping was done the day before. Eggs, bacon, chicken, cheese, the makings of breakfast scrambles or breakfast burritos. Also stuff to make Reuben Sandwiches for lunches – bread, cheese, corned beef, sauerkraut etc. Lots of snacks. We also had a Caesar Wrap lunch – chicken, flat bread, Caesar Dressing, romaine lettuce…etc. There was a lot of fruit.

Boston Harbor Marina is a great provisioning and put-in spot for all South Sound trips.

Our destination for launch point was Boston Harbor, which is about a 20 minute drive west of Tacoma, Washington. The Boston Harbor Marina has an excellent shop – where we loaded up on some adult beverages.

We set the boats down on the beach next to the marina and set to pack up! I’m always amazed how much stuff we bring – and surprised we can actually fit the stuff in the kayaks.

Packing a kayak for a camping trip is an art. I won’t go into details, but for sure, you want heavy stuff like water as low and centered as possible. You want anything  you might want to reach during your paddle, or lunch, at the top!

Of course there is the mix of the safety, comfort and pleasure amongst the gear.

And some are willing to go to extra lengths to sleep in comfort even if it means carrying the pad on the deck!

Before we left, Chris and I were responsible for lunch – we prepared Chicken Caesar Wraps. These turned out to be darn good!

We ate whilst watching the snowy Olympic Mountains to the west. It’s a really pretty sight.

Hope Island is out there under the mountains!

We set off about one-o’clock. On this day, the water is smooth as glass, and we feel super lucky! Dry, windless and relatively warm.

All are in good spirits.

Paul naps with a nice view...

We reach the island in a couple of hours.

The site has a beach with a couple of picnic tables, and set behind there is an old orchard – tents can be set up on the periphery of the orchard.

Top priority of any group camping is the setup of the kitchen!

All the cooking gear and of course the afternoon snacks and dinner food is first priority.

Once tents and the kitchen is all set, it’s time to relax, have beers, throw the frisbee, check out the island, or not.

Sometimes, it’s perfectly acceptable to avail ones self of the best available rest spot, the hammock…

Well, as sunset approached, Mount Rainier got a beautiful Alpine Glow on!

As the day closed and early evening began to set in, it was time to get the meal going!

We actually had some great meals, carefully and not-so-carefully prepared. But at least here, our Martha Stewart kitchen looks very appetizing…

Some re-fried beans being opened. The first night is Mexi-Night…a hearty meal for everybody!

And time for some adult beverages consumed in a not so adult fashion!

Some serious bonding for the staff! The rest of this mis-adventure will just have to remain in our memories…or not?





KEEN Footwear to Move into New Building

29 02 2012

KEEN, Inc., a Portland, Oregon, based outdoor footwear brand and one of my sponsors for my non-profit We Love Clean Rivers, has announced it’s expanding to a new building in Portland’s Pearl District.

KEEN is a huge giver to the outdoor community – and is a valued contributor to the City of Portland. I wish KEEN well in its move!