Monday, August 17, 2009

Cowboy Coffee - a tough cup o jo

During my high school years I developed a love/addiction for two things that today is still present in my life: coffee and backpacking. These two things easy go together and compliment each other well. Enjoying a fine cup of coffee out in the mountains is very pleasant, however making coffee without a coffee maker isn't always so easy.

Over the year I have used various methods to brew coffee. There are many drip filters as well as fancy espresso makers, I have even used an old sock, but after years of testing and countless numbers of devices, I ended up with using no special "coffee maker" at all. Instead I simply bring coffee grounds and my cook pot.

Like one would expect from a cowboy of yesteryear's, there is nothing fancy about his coffee. Hot water and coffee is all it takes to make mug full of our favorite morning beverage. By coffee I do not mean freeze dried instant coffee either. That is an option in making a cup, however it takes extra for thought to purchase instant coffee when I readily have coffee beans at home.

Making cowboy coffee begins at home. Ideally you already purchase your coffee by the whole bean and have a small grinder. I know fresh grinding your bean every morning doesn't sound very cowboy like, but then again I never said I was. Grind your coffee finer than you would usually for a drip maker. Large coffee bean chunks tend to float, while finer grounds will settle. You do not need to grind your beans as fine as you would, as when making Turkish coffee; though Turkish and Cowboy coffee is very close to being the same thing. If you already buy your coffee beans already ground, no sweat just use that.

At camp bring a pot of water to a boil and dump in your grounds at the first sign of bubbles. Once the coffee starts rolling remove from heat. It's not rocket science, however prolonged boiling of the coffee will lead to bitterness. I usually boil just long enough to get all the ground wet. Set the pot on the ground. Ideally tipped slightly down towards the pour spout or side. The key to Cowboy coffee is to allow the grounds to settle. I have heard that a dab of cold water, egg shells and even egg yoke will help the settling. I don't do any of that stuff. A minute or two is all it takes to settle out the grounds. When pouring be very careful as to not stir up the ground. Do not pour the last 1/10 of the coffee pot. Once in your mug allow time for a little settling, but the temperature of the fluid usually takes care of that. And the same thing do not drink the last little bit of coffee from your mug.

When planning to make CC, I usually bring at least two cooking pots. A coffee pot and a cooking pot since I usually will have several cups in the morning. You will also inevitably end up with a few grounds of coffee in your mouth which you need to spit out. Some find this aspect of CC unacceptable. However for its convenience, you need to give up some thing, and a few grounds in the mouth is worth it in my opinion. Anyways it is called Cowboy coffee, not Sissyboy coffee.
Update: This morning the power was out and I wanted a cup of coffee. Being Saturday, I usually make coffee at home. I had two options, one boil water and run it through the filter of the coffee maker, or two: Cowboy it up!! Thinking of this post I opted for the later. I discovered that I left a few thing out in my initial post.
After the coffee settles for a little bit, you might notice floating clumps of coffee grounds on the surface. You might blow on them and it might sink. However it is best to scoop these grounds out before pouring. Being so close to a mug full of morning delight, I often rush and pour the floating mass straight into my cup. I mean come on, I read on some blog that the grounds were all suppose to settle out right. Wrong. This floating mass is made up of grounds that are light and large or for some reason do not sink. Taking the time and doing it right, I did not have a single coffee ground that I had to spit out. Ahhh Perfect!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Super Topo - Rock Climbing Guide

This morning I was pleasantly surprised with an e-mail from Chris McNamara. Well it wasn't from him directly but from his company SuperTopo. SuperTopo is a company that makes climbing guide, the self proclaimed worlds best climbing guide. What is unique about these guides are they are available completely electronically. Meaning you purchase the book/guide on-line and you receive a PDF file of the book. This novel approach (to selling books not climbs) allows you to print only the pages you need for the climb you are doing. Included is a printed copy of the book that they will ship to you so it can be neatly displayed on your book shelf, in pristine condition, and only used as a reference while recounting harrowing epics, at your next dinner party. This feature was not available when I first started using their service.

This mornings e-mail was a notification that a new edition of a guide I purchased several years ago, was now available. No he did not ask if I wanted to buy it , nor did he offer me a discount rate for the new book. Instead there was a link, a user name, and a password, so that I could download the new copy FREE!!! He calls it the "always fresh" program. I call "I will always buy Supertopo guides"!

A climbing topo is in fact not a topo at all. Instead it is a hand drawn map of the wall which you are to climb. A legend tell what each symbol on the map means.

When I was in College we first started using ST's. In fact I think that my roommates used some of the first "beta test" version of the guides. More than just a route map, the books contain detailed approach directions, maps of the area, photos of the mountain/rock/wall, as well a local camping and travel information.

Still not sure ST is the guide for you. Well go on their website. Chances are they have a free topo for the next climb you want to do, and thus are able to test out the guide before you have to make a commitment to buy. Funny how for climbers the moves might be committing, but nothing else in life is.
Thanks again Chris for providing beta on so many of the fun climbs I have done, and look forward to many more!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Epic boot Failure - Trezeta double mountaineering boots

There use to be a tire commercial on TV (Michelin tires I think), where they say that there is less than an inch of material between you and the pavement. Then followed by their famous slogan, "Cause so much is riding on your tires." Well the same or more can be said for your shoes. The soles of your shoes are your connection between the earth and you.

As someone who spends alot of time on this feet in the wilderness, I have developed a certain fondness for boots. The fondness actually grew out of a necessity, for having the proper footwear for the proper conditions, can make the difference between a good trip and a bad one. This last weekend on a mountaineering trip, the importance of your footwear became very obvious as my climbing partner had an epic boot failure, which almost caused an unsuccessful summit bid.

Many years ago a pair of Trezeta Double Mountaineering boots was purchased (8 or 9 years ago). They were a double boot, meaning they had a separate inner boot, and a outer shell. This was a true mountaineering boot which would have given the equivalent performance as a plastic boot. Because the owner does not mountaineer much, these boots only saw action once every few years, when they are call to duty. And this last weekend they were.

Hiking the approach to our climb I hear a complaint about the boot making a funny clicking noise. A few minutes later I was turned around by a loud, "ohhh SHIT". What I found was a rather comical site. The sole of his boot had ripped off entirely. Our laughter soon turned to serious humming, as we tried to figure out a solution to this situation. The sole of boot was going to be very important on this trip. Not only does the crampon we were going to be using attach solely to the sole, but the 5th and 4th class route climbing was also going to require a good bit of rock to human connectivity. We both searched our packs for some lose straps we could use to bind the boot together. Using a bike toe clip strap, and a friction buckled strap, the sole was secured to the body of the boot. A cinch around the instep, and a strap around the heel and ankle was enough to secure the boot till we got to camp.

In my many year of boot owning/using/and observing, I have never seen a failure such as this one. Sure I have seen a sole begin to peal off, but never just fall off. It appears that the sole was purchased by Trezeta from Vibram. Then they used some molten rubber injection method to sandwich the plastic mid sole and a full shank steel bar. This rubber is then bonded to the leather/Kevlar upper boot, which extending high enough to act as rand protection. It was this bonding rubber that completely failed, and simply fell apart.

Who's fault is it? I would ultimately put the blame on Trezeta. However other factors should be considered and evaluated. The age. Do boots have a self life? Is 10 years approaching the life limit of a pair of boots? I would think not, having many a boots that are much older and still kicking. The boots were bought at Sierra Trading Post, a discount retailer of older or blemished gear. This should not have any effect on the quality of the product either. As a manufacture of goods, one should not allow a product they know will fail when put in use, to leave their factory door. It is one thing to have a scratch or an off color, another to have the sole fall off. Therefor STP did not know that they were selling defective items. Exposure to degrading elements. Maybe the boot sat in a vat of sulfuric acid? This in fact could be a possibility. Though not acid, maybe some other household agent. Maybe the boots were exposed to extreme heat from the trunk of a car on a hot day, or a campfire. However possible, one would think the ill effect would transpire upon both right and left with equal vengeance. The owner also never remembers subjecting the victim to any harsh treatments which would be considered out of the ordinary.

Once at camp I dug through my "first aid" kit to see what kind of repair items I might come up with. It was examine time and my fix it skills were being tested. The heel and the center portion of the boot was fairly secure with the straps rigged earlier. The toe was of primary concern. Duck tape was a last option. I could only imagine wrapping lengths of tape around the sole and the body of the boot. I knew I did not have enough tape to wrap as many times as I would have liked, and I did not want to decrease the traction by covering the rubber sole with tape. My first attempt was thermo Glue. I carry a small packet of glue used to repair Therma Rest Inflatable sleeping pads. Boil the packet for about three minutes to soften the glue then apply. This attempt did not work out for various reasons. A collection of zip ties however yielded a solution. Three holes were pierced in the outer sole, which the zip ties were threaded through, and fashioned into loops. The three loops where then connected to form a basket to keep the toe in place. In conjunction with the two straps, this seems to keep the boot together. When crampons where installed, an additional strap was used around the instep to further insure the crampon would not fall off. In the five pitches of ice/snow climbing, the crampons required to be readjusted only once.

At the end of a day of mixed climbing and two days of hiking the repair job held and still had many miles and verticle feet left in them. However I belive that these boots will never see another outting. The last picture shows the boot at the end of the trip. Much of the bonding rubber had fallen off, yet the other boot remained in good shape. I have contacted Trezeta to see what they had to say about this failure. So far I have not heard anything from them and will update this post if I do. Products fail, that is a given fact. But these failures can be reduced with proper feild testing and consumer feedback. It will be interseting to see if Trezeta cares enough about their customers to respond to my inquiry. Aside from product quailty and performance, customer service is what often seperates a good company from a bad.
Oh yeh, I guess I passed my test.

Friday, August 7, 2009

2010 Ford Mustang - 45 years in the making

Since its introduction in 1964 at the New York's World Fair, America has been in love with the Pony Car. After 5 generations of Mustangs, it is the second oldest model still in production for the Ford Motor Company. Only the F-series pick-up truck has been around longer. I recently had the pleasure to test driving the 2010 Mustang V6 premium package for a ten day road trip. The car won me over, and further impressed upon me virtues of the Ford Motor company.

Unfair to the test subject, I had a negative impression of Ford as a company and Mustang as a car even before I had a chance to lay eyes on it. Growing up in the 80's and 90's, the Ford name was not the inspirational motor company it is today. The many negative acronyms for the company, were often too true to be even funny: Found On Road Dead, Fix Or Repair Daily, Fucked Over Rebuilt Dodge... The first Mustang I experienced was my uncles early 80's base model Stang that did little to impress. It was only after I got into cars as a teenager that I realized the jalopy my uncle once drove was in fact a Mustang. Later on in college, a friend bought a late 60's /early 70's first generation Stang. This car was rebuilt from the ground up, with refreshed suspension and four wheel disk brakes. After a few months he finally offer to let me drive it. Though in a straight line it was fairly quick, the handling was so horrid that I feared I would not be able to keep the car on the road or stop when needed. Though the previous owner was to blame for the poor handling, the event had cemented in my mind the impression that the Ford Mustang: looked good, drove bad.

All that was about to change when I first saw the test subject. All polished up, the midnight blue Mustang gave me that "hey baby" kind of look. I immediately felt guilty. With my loyal Z back home, I was about to make an adulterous ten day trip to my very own Argentina. What first grabbed my attention was the retro styling. A throwback to the original 1960's fast back. The unmistakable Mustang body lines, both timeless and modern. The slant back grill, the narrow rear quarter window which meets the top of the rear fender. A quick walk around, revealed an attractive hood bulge in front and a small deck lid spoiler in the back, both nice accents yet unobtrusive.

Opening up the door, I was welcomed by an impressive interior, and that feeling of guilt once again, as word "nice" sneaked past my lips. This would be one of the most beautiful interiors I have had the pleasure of driving in. Perforated black leather seats, metallic silver trimmed dash, the cockpit was very driver oriented. Ford spent some time and money updating the interior, which in previous models was described as "cheap". Though some of the materials used could have been of higher grade, namely leather instead of rubber (though I prefer the later), the finish of the interior was top notch. The instruments cluster consisted of two equally sized circular analog gauges, with a quad of half moon gauges center between them. The center console housed the gear selector, a flip covered cup holder area, and a rear facing storage bin. When in used, the cup holders took the place of the center arm rest, and interfered with the manipulation of the gear selector. OK on an auto transmission car, but would have been very annoying on a manual. The rear facing storage bin was not large, but adequate and contained a 12 power source as well as the aux stereo inputs.

The most noticeable feature was the center control area. It was shared by the Shaker stereo system, the HVAC, and Microsoft Sync controllers. The stereo provided good sound for a stock system, though I am no audiophile. The Aux input, MP3 format CD player, and satellite radio are great additions, though these days it seems like pretty standard equipment. This all inclusive control center would make it nearly impossible to add an aftermarket stereo. Thus it is reccommend that you choose the upgraded stereo, cause you will be stuck with it. One unique feature of the stereo was an USB input slot. I assumed that one could plug in a thumb drive with your favorite tunes on it and the stereo would play it. I however did not test out this feature for I did not have such a device with me. The USB slot could also provide power to certain devices via a USB cable, and avoid the need for a "car" charger. The feature I enjoyed the most was the blue tooth phone link. The caller's voice on the opposite end came in clear, and they never once asked if I was driving a tank, a comment often heard when using a blue tooth earpiece.

The model I test drove, did not come equipped with the 8 inch navigation display. The two inch display was very busy, and crammed with many bits of information. It took a extra long glance to withdraw the needed data from it. A standard Ford trip computer was displayed on the lower section of one of the large circular gauges, and the controls located to the left of the steering wheel. Thumbing through the screen I discovered the ability to change the mood lighting. The gauge back light and interior trim lights could be set from an ambient purple to rocket ship red and everything thing inbetween, yielding a seemingly endless combination. This feature was cool for about 10 minutes, but a total waste of time and effort on Ford's part. In fact I turn off the trim lights, which I found annoying at night and selected a white back lite for the gauges; yes boring me.

The eight way power controlled seats, an almost standard feature in today's modern cars, provided good driver positioning. The push button lumbar support was unique and much appreciated on a long drive. However more effort could have been spent on the seat construction. I am in favor of the isolated seat cushion type construction, which uses separate side bolster pieces, and allow the seat cushion the ability to conform to your rump. The Mustang's seat cover was stretched across the entire seat creating a taught hammock like perch. Some slight annoyances in the interior included the chrome trim around the air vents, which would often catch the light and cause an irritating glare. My co-pilot complained of the small windshield and hood bulge allowing a very small frontal field of view.

After my run through and inspection of the vehicle, I finally inserted the key and fired the iron block 4.0 liter V6 to life. Though it belched out a throaty gurgle from the three inch exhaust, and power was sufficient for most driving situation, the power plant is a bit lacking for what you would think would be in a legendary Mustang. At a max hp of 210 hp, the motor is nothing more than something they simply yanked out of a Ford Ranger and stuck under the hood. It is painful to see that the GT version of this car getting all the love of the Mustang design team, while the V6 model gets feed scrapes like a neglected step child. The five speed automatic transmission shifted smoothly, until you mashed the gas pedal. It would then transform from a gentle lap dog to an unruly beast as the tranny clunked hard into a lower gear, often downshifting one gear then harshly another as it hunted for the optimal gear. Shifts between reverse and neutral, and drive to neutral were loud and noticeable, when these typically are smooth transitions.

The greatest criticism I have of the car however lie within the the suspension system. The general make up consist of a solid rear axle and McPherson strut front end. Talk about out of date. The solid rear axle is limited by two trailing arms, a third link over the pumpkin, a panhard rod, and sway bar. Shocks and coil springs are mounted on the axle independently of each other. The front strut system is attached via a single pivot lower control arm, with a built in compression link, not even a true dual pivot A-arm. The right and left front wheels are tied together with a relatively stout sway bar. The ride of the car was pleasant and not overly stiff, and handled highway curves with confidence. When pushed however, the car pitched and rolled like a ship at sea. I did not get the opportunity to test the limits of the suspension, since I was traveling on open roads with the family. But the occasional solo errand found high speed curves satisfying, the suspension though soft for my sports car taste, compressed predictable and did not overly pitch the front corner, granted you eased into the corner. At lower speed corners the vehicle under steered like one would expect from a production car. Even though the suspension is very basic, it gets the job done, and is more sporty than most sedans. But one aspect of the handling was not acceptable. When taking on highway speed curves and a bump, such as a expansion joint on a bridge, was encountered, the car would skip to the outside of teh curve what felt like an inch or two. I suspect the rebound damping could be tuned so that this would not happen. This feature was especially exciting when traffic was heavy and the lanes were narrow.

On the open road the V6 powered Pony, strutted its stuff as a grand touring car. Interior noise levels were keep to a minimum. Power was sufficient for average passing, and it rolled into triple digit speeds with ease. Handling at these speeds were excellent, allowing sleeping passengers to continue doing so, while they unknowingly rocketed across the barren desert. With a two adults, a dog, trunk full to gear, averaging 80 mph with the AC blasting and the outside temperature above 100 degrees F, the car was able to yield a 25.5 mpg average. Close to the EPA estimated 26 mpg highway. This number however seems to be in need of improvement. If I was to sacrifice power with the V6, at least allow for greater MPGs.

My overall impression of the Mustang was positive. Would I go out and buy one: most likely not. The GT version of the car might in fact be one, but I would never classify the V6 as a sports car. Under that badge it would have faultier greatly. I was most impressed with the cars stunning good looks, and ability to turn heads. The car handled better then most sedans of its price range, and though diminutive in power output, pair with proper gears and a five speed transmission, it got the job done. 2100 hundred test miles later, I was reluctant to give up my humble steed. That in itself says good things about the newest of the Mustangs.