29 March, 2013

A Change is in the Wind

Though we've had the mercury crack 60 a time or two this season, you just knew it wasn't a true indicator of Spring. Here in Michigan, you're not safe until you're past St. Patty's Day. In parts of our State, even that wasn't true - some areas saw 20" of snow over just a few days the week after.

But today is different...

Everyone's just a bit more jovial. And the sun feels like the promise of Summer. I was talking to a fishing buddy on the phone this morning and we both remarked how we were ready to chase some smallies and strip streamers for monster trout. Nevermind that we're actually in the thick of the Spring steelhead run.

Me, I'm ready -- or well on my way. My road bike's gotten an awesome component upgrade with a full Shimano Integra set-up. My drift boat's Up North getting a fresh bottom treatment. And my skis are dried and stowed for the season.

Today just feels like a portent of the beautiful Michigan summer I hope is coming. I'm ready for that first 90 degree bike ride (WTF, why do I like a ride on a hot day so much?). And for the familiar tug of a nice smallmouth on a Huron river evening. Getting in a few miles on the mountain bike trails up at Island Lakes with Project Singlespeed. Or a pleasant afternoon on a sporting clays course. And, of course, for another of my favorite outdoor activities - Detroit Tigers baseball!

It's coming. Are YOU ready?


28 March, 2013

Product Review: Oakley Canopy Goggles

Being a skier who requires corrective lenses is a pain in a$$. I used to just ski in contacts. That worked out just fine, but eventually I decided the hassles and discomfort just weren't worth it. I've tried skiing with just sunglasses and found that without some eye protection my eyes just teared up too much for any visibility.

And over-the-glasses (OTG) goggles are godawful. Only about three models available. Almost no lens choices. And ugly as hell. Sweet. Some great options there.

Enter my longstanding fave - Oakley.

These guys just make the sweetest gear. Totally stylish. Wonderfully functional. I've got a ton of Oakley stuff and it's all da' bomb. Last Fall, I'm reading some pre-season ski porn when I spy the new Oakley Catapault snow goggle. Hmmm, those are pretty mammoth -- bet they'd fit over my glasses. A visit to the local ski shop proves this true. But the price -- ugh -- $160. Ouch. Turns out they've got a price with a little defect in the lens for half price. Score!!!!!

Mine are the Tanner Hall Signature model. Badass graphics, super-cool Fire Iridium lens. These are a truly stylish goggle.

Now that I've got a half dozen days in with them, I have to say I'm pretty pleased. Typically awesome Oakley optics, decent interface with the helmet, and no fogging issues. The frames are a touch large and press down on my cheeks, but this is inherent in OTG goggles, I think.

I love the look of the Iridium Fire lens, but when it's dumping  an inch an hour at Vail, they were pretty dark. Same for Sunday's flat Michigan light. Fortunately, on my last day in Vail, I scored High Intensity Persimmon lens -- much better. Herein lies my only criticism of these goggles. Lens changeout is a PAIN IN THE ASS. My hope is that it will get easier with time. The folks at Smith have it figured out. Oakley needs to follow suit.

Oh, and one last thing. You do look a bit like a bug in these bad boys. Check it below...

25 March, 2013

Product Review: Volkl RTM 84 Ski

Volkl RTM 84
As mentioned previously, I scored a solid deal on a pair of Volkl RTM 84's. Thanks to some nice storm action in NW lower Michigan, I was able to get out for a day yesterday. I'd expected a mushy, slushy Michigan Spring day that wouldn't tell me much. To my surprise cooler temps, cloud cover, and 17"of new snow in a few days, I got to find out more about my the skills of my new boards.

Any outing on a new ski is always interesting. The first couple of runs are always chaos. I usually find it takes me a half day to settle down and figure them out. But these bad boys didn't take long.

But first a few words on why I needed new skis. OK, maybe not needed...

In recent years the trend toward rockered skis has been described as a revolution. Starting with Shane McConkey's Volant Spatula, rocker was quickly found to be more than just a trick to float powder boards. Today you're seeing rocker in nearly every ski from beginner to expert models. This has had me thinking maybe an all-around ski upgrade was in my future for my K2 Public Enemies.

On a recent trip to Colorado, my buddy Dan is skiing a pair of the Volkl RTM 80's and raving about their performance in nearly every condition. After the fact, I discover that another friend has been on a pair of the same skis for a little over a year now and feels the same about his.

What I'm looking for is an all-mountain ski that I can use most of the time in Michigan and take out West for an annual trip. It should do a reasonable job on Michigan hard-pack (be honest -- nothing short of a full-on race ski handles ice and I'm just to old for that shit). It should also handle crud, and be able to make the occasional venture into some powder - I've got my Line Prophet 100's for the truly deep. I won't ski bumps anymore, so that's not an issue. And I'm finding that what I truly enjoy is high-speed cruising with long, swooping GS-type turns. I want speed, smoothness, and easy turn initiation.

I got all that. And more. By mid-day, I'm rocketing down the steepest things I can find, linking effortless turns. Smooth, fluid, and completely in control. This is really something I was looking for in a ski -- the ability to ski fast without thinking about it. The Volkl RTM's deliver this and more. I opted for the wider 84 both because I was looking for a wider ski (personal preference) and because I thought this would give me some advantages in fresh snow. I was a bit concerned I might sacrifice some manueverability, but that doesn't seem to be the case. The titanium in the ski seems to really help it hold a solid, chatter-free edge, even on boilerplate.

While gathering my thoughts about these skis, I thougth I should really say something about the integrated Marker iPT WideRide 12 bindings. So, ummm, they're pretty. And, uh, they're integrated. Seriously, over the years I've owned a lot of the "hot" bindings of the day - Marker MRR "turntables", Look's, Salomon 747 Equipe's, Tyrolia 390RD's - and they're well all just fine. I've really never found much that made a binding either exceptional or poor for me. Are they easy to click into on the hill after a yard sale? Do they stay on when I want them to and release when I don't? Cool. I'm good. These Marker's do what they should, and look cool doing it. 'nuf said.

I'm looking forward to many more days ripping up the mountains of the West and the molehills of Michigan on these sweet boards. Highly recommended.


21 March, 2013

Go To Gear - Part Deux

Simms Waderwick Base Layer Bottoms

If I'm wearing waders in anything but the hottest conditions, these are under them. In Winter they're a great first layer that transports perspiration away and provides a nice level of warmth when worn under fleece pants of some sort. In the Summer they keep things from getting clammy (I've always found the concept of a "breathable" wader a bit of an oxymoron). Mine are the older model with the stirrups - which are a nice feature. But I'm sure the new ones without are just fine. They weren't cheap (though cheaper than Patagonia), but they're worth every penny when you want to be comfortable.

FiveTen Impact Low Shoe
Yeah, yeah, I know -- clipless pedals are where it's at. And for road biking I agree 110%. But on the mountain bike there is just no friggin' way. Tree roots. Rocks. Run-off channels. There are literally hundreds of opportunities to cease forward motion and have an intimate encounter with physics. I've fallen clipped in on the road bike. And it SUUUUUCCCCCKKKKKKSSSSS!. No way, Jose on the mountain bike. But an aggressively studded Sun Ringle flat pedal and a pair of these sticks like glue! In fact it's often a bit difficult if I try to adjust my stance. The Impacts also provide a sturdy sole and upper provide tons of protection. Five stars for these bad boys - although they do look a bit like orthopedic shoes...

Old Town Penobscot Canoe
I'm on my third season with this one and I love it more all the time. At 58 pounds, I can easily car-top it solo. And that light weight makes it a true pleasure to paddle. It tracks super straight, even when paddled solo from the stern -- a light J-stroke and it's straight as an arrow. Nimble, comfortable and basically perfect. I picked mine up gently used on craigslist. Always tons of canoes out there -- but hunt for one of these.

A Good Knit Hat
As I've become increasingly follically challenged (that is, balding...) I've found that my head gets cold - FAST! But I've found a broad range in the simple knit hat. A lot of them suck, for one reason or another. Fleece is worthless -- ZERO wind protection and the windproof ones don't breathe and pretty much wipe out your hearing. A simple knit is the best solution. And one you can pull over a ballcap is a WINNER. I have three favorites just now - an older Simms with an awesome fleece band inside, an Oakley (both of these are synthetic material) as well as an Ibex wool one. The Ibex is awesome, but it's only for the very coldest of weather - this thing is like a toaster for your head. The Simms is by far my favorite. Though it's wearing well, it's a few seasons old. When it finally gives up the ghost, I may have to plan a proper ceremony and a respectful burial. Yeah, I like it that much.

Simms Windstopper Fleece Gloves
I've had a lot of people ask how I keep my hands warm when Winter steelheading. The first answer I usually offer is exposure -- when you're out more, your body adjusts. But on those really cold days that just won't fly. In the past I rocked a pair of fingerless generic fleece gloves (way too slippery and not especially warm), then some fine Cabelas neoprene fingerless models - picked up for 7 bucks on clearance. When the neos finally blew up, I tried on the Simms Windstopper fleece in fingerless. Pretty spendy, but warm hands make all the difference - sold! This season I added a pair of the full-fingered variety. These are the ideal glove. Warm, without being bulky. Great feel. Whether running a centerpin, fishing an indicator, or whatever I can do my thing without fumbling. And, most key - they don't seem to absorb water. Awesome. Just buy both the fingerless and full-fingered variety now.

Good stuff -- all of it! More coming soon!

18 March, 2013

Road Bike 3.0

My trusty Giant OCR 3 is about to undergo some MAJOR changes. I'm pretty excited as this will be like getting a new bike - without spending $2,500 or more! I'm calling this Road Bike 3.0 as it's really the second major overhaul. After maxing out the stock wheels, which we evidently not created for a 200-pound gorilla, I had Steve Sauter at Great Lakes Cycle & Fitness build me up a new, stronger set. Shimano 105 hubs, with DT Swiss spokes, and Mavic rims gave me a light, stiff set of hoops. Huge difference and they've remained arrow-straight ever since.

Since getting this bike I've had one main complaint - the triple crankset. I never use the granny gear, and asking the front derailleur to cover that range makes for some pretty piss poor shifting. Not the that stock rear Shimano Sora derailleur is exactly a high-performance component.So, I guess generally the shifting sucks on this thing.

Enter my buddy Josh, who's upgrading his Trek Madone 5.2 with a full gruppo of SRAM Red. If you haven't seen this stuff, it's pretty incredible. Beautifully made, ultra light, and super-strong. The rear cassette is ONE MACHINED PIECE! Yes, you read that correctly.

So, Josh offers me a great deal on his current components - all Shimano Ultegra. Sweet! A component upgrade that eliminates the triple, gets me far better levers, and way more. On Saturday we meet up at Aberdeen Bike & Outdoor (great shop -- check it out if you haven't been there). As we chat with the service manager about my swap and how I'd like it done, Josh mentions he doesn't want his bars and stem either. The service manager turns to me and says, "So basically we're keeping the frame, fork, wheels and seat/seatpost...". Uh, yeah, actually that's about right.

In a couple of weeks, I'll have a righteous ride - with custom wheels and a full Shimano Ultegra gruppo. Needless to say this have me VERY motivated for the upcoming cycling season!


16 March, 2013

Swing a Big Stick

Great video featuring some of Michigan's top (and coolest) guides fishing the new Scott T3h two-hand rod. Check out Jon Ray, Brad Petzke, and Kevin Feenstra fishing this cool new stick. Great work capturing it on film comes from Erik Rambo of Snap-T Productions.

15 March, 2013

Do You Ever Work?

WARNING: Rant Alert!

A friend shared a great OpEd piece written by the former CFO of Lehman Brothers. This really sums up a big part of my philosophy of balance.

I get tired of people who say, "Do you ever work?" in regards to my outdoor activities. My reply - "Damn sure do -- pretty hard, too". That's a bit more polite than the answer I want to give.

Reality is that I run a small business, spend time with my family, do my part to keep my household running, and more. Sure, between this blog and Facebook, I share quite a bit. But that's because I enjoy it, and I've heard from a number of online friends how much they enjoy some of the things I do and places I go.

So before you make a snarky comment to me, or someone like me, consider a few things:
  • I seldom watch TV. I've had at least a half dozen people ask me in the last week if I had Netflix. Or if I watch Breaking Bad. Or some such other nonesense. Other than the worst parts of the Winter, I rarely watch more than a couple of hours of TV a week. And, usually I'm doing something else. So, while you're parked on your a$$ watching Curb Your Enthusiasm on Netflix, I'm learning how to tie Intruder style flies, or doing the laundry so I can ski on Saturday.
  • I don't have kids - so all that time you spent standing on the sidelines at the soccer field? Do you work?
  • I'm very efficient and plan my time well - I know what I need to get done in order to get outside. And I get it done to ensure myself free time.
  • I work to live, not the other way around. I get what needs to be done - and then some - done.
  • Time spent in outdoor pursuits recharges my batteries, helps me focus, and calms me. I know it's important to keep my mind sharp and my energy high.
  • I don't golf. An incredible commitment of time and I have no interest. But, I have managed to turn hunting, fishing, skiing, and shooting into tremendous opportunities to strengthen relationships with clients, partners, and others.
And, for the record, yes -- I find those comments highly irritating. I'm truly sorry if you can't find the time to do things you love. It isn't always easy, but I can.


13 March, 2013

Product Review: Marmot Treeline Jacket

For the past couple of years, I've wanted to upgrade my skiwear to a more stylish look. When you're in your 40's and no longer hucking off cliffs or skiing bumps, you gotta' stand out somehow. Otherwise, might as well go for the Carhartt and Camo look. While my black Marker GoreTex shell is functionally great, it's visually dull. Time for some color. But there's no way I'm paying the going rate - this gear's gotten pretty spendy.

On our trip to Colorado, two of the guys rented demos from Christy Sports in Avon. Very nice shop with lots of the latest stuff. While I'm waiting for them to get set-up, I wander up into the outerwear section and find a 35% off sale in progress. Now we're talking! After a few moments, I find a really sweet Marmot Treeline jacket in my size, at a great price. SCORE!

Only one small problem. Earlier that morning, I've given buddy Dan a fair bit of shit over looking like a Smurf in his bright blue Karbon jacket. And, yeah, I'm buying a very similar color...
This jacket is lightly lined with synthetic fill for a nice moderately insulated weight. Proved a little too warm for all but our last day in Colorado. If it's over 30 degrees, leave this one home. But it will be perfect for a 20 degree (or a 5 degree) Michigan day!

GoreTex is rapidly encountering some serious competition. And I would rate the Marmot MemBrain system as nearly its equal. On our last day, it dumped at least 6" of snow at Vail. With wind gusts easily over 30 mph, the day was blustery, to say the least. But I'm toasty and dry in my new gear.

An adequate number of well-placed pockets is key to success in any ski jacket and this one succeeds admirably. Two inside pockets (one with headphone cord routing for my iPod Shuffle) are great for delicate items like phones. Two stacked chest pockets hold miscellany well and secure. And a cavernous inside mesh pocket is idea for sunglasses, glove liners, etc. But the best pocket is on the left wrist - the perfect place and size for an RFID lift ticket!

Best of all - a hood! I won't buy a ski jacket without a good, well-designed hood anymore. A little chilly on the lift ride? Up goes the hood and problem solved! This one's cut large enough to cover a helmet, but not so large it becomes a sail.

Of course now my brown tweed-ish Columbia ski pants need an upgrade. I'm thinking something the neon lime green accents of my Marmot Treeline!

Looking for an insulated jacket with great performance? This one's worth a look!


11 March, 2013

Technology Advances

Plenty to come on last week's ski trip in Colorado; but in the meantime a bit on gear. In the past decade or so the ski industry seems to have hit two major innovations that have really had a huge impact on even the everyday user. The first were shaped parabolic skis. From my first time on shaped skis the difference was astounding. I went from a 207cm Kastle to a 165cm Fischer RX9. I got better turn initiation without sacrificing high-speed stability.

In the past few years, "rockered" skis are all the rage. What started as a trend for powder during the Shane McConkey/Volant Spatula days became a widely adopted trend in nearly every new ski. Everyone I've talked to touts the advantages - easier turns, better manueverability, and great float in loose snow.

While in Colorado, my buddy Dan raved about his Volkl RTM 80's. Dan's a gear geek like me, so that endorsement carried a lot of weight. Another guy in our party rented some Volkl RTM 84's. Later I find out that another friend has been on the Volkl RTM series for a couple of years. The universal response has been, "These RIP!"

The quiver - trusty Line Prophet 100's
and new Volkl RM 84's.
I've been thinking about upgrading to a rockered ski for the past year or two. I've actually never owned any Volkls (strangely -- seems like I've owned nearly every other longstanding brand). But these endorsements, as well as some online research led me to the conclusion that these were the ski for me. But the price - in a word, OUCH! With the integral Marker bindings, a set of these goes out the door for just over $1,100. Yikes. Dan picked his up off-season for about half that.

On Saturday I'm bouncing around town running some miscellaneous errands. I love REI for its breadth of offerings, so I tend to just stop by regularly. If you don't check the Garage Sale area of your local REI, you're missing out. Lots of cool stuff at really good prices.

But, what is this? A pair of 171cm Volkl RTM 84's with the Marker binding? For $450? Are you freaking kidding me??? I'd originally been planning on a slightly longer pair (176) but I check in with Dan and find out he's on 171's. We're about the same height - he's a stronger skier, and I weight a bit more so the 171 sounds perfect. A quick chat with the REI ski guy and it's a done deal -- these are the ski for me! These should nicely replace my K2 Public Enemies with a ski that's better suited to both Michigan and Western conditions.

I doubt I'll be able to get out on these new boards this year (it was 65 degrees here yesterday -- goodbye snow), but look for a review very soon! I'm pretty excited.

08 March, 2013


Been a bit absent from these parts lately. But lots has happened to me in a few weeks. Four days skiing in Colorado. Two Winter steelhead trips with some of my favorite fishing buddies. Bought m'self a drift boat. And I've tied up some cool flies.

Lots of fun stories. Stay tuned...