Wednesday, June 24, 2015

RockNBlog: Training for #RnRCHI

It's true, I'm back to training for the Rock 'n Roll Series Chicago half-marathon. I wasn't sure if it was going to happen, as the lower leg pain just would not go away. Actually, it still hasn't, I'm just dealing with it better. Some things have happened to help: new attitude, new training plan, and new shoes.

RockNBlog: Training for #RnRCHI
Don't forget to use the discount code!

Rather than beat my head against the wall by running until the pain became unbearable, I've decided that I'm not worried about "racing" this event and have stopped worrying about anything besides finishing. I've done some 14+ mile hikes in the last few months, so I know I can cover the distance. Now, rather than trying to run the distance, I'm going all in on a walk-run strategy. It's been a couple of weeks and I've been able to cover greater distances at a faster overall pace and with less pain most days, Score.

RockNBlog: Training for #RnRCHI

The other shining light is the pair of The North Face Ultra Kilowatts I received as part of an enormous TNFLocals box I received to help with my training. I was really hesitant to run in them, as they are pretty minimalist, but after a day of wearing them as walking shoes, I could not believe how comfortable they were. I figured it was worth a shot and it's worked out great - they really allow me to get a good underbody foot strike going, are incredibly light, and just feel right. So happy I gave them the chance.

Only 3 weeks or so out from the Chicago race and now, instead of dreading it, I feel like it's going to be okay.

How's your training going?

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Outdoors Dad Father's Day Gift Guide

Lagging in the numbers compared to Mother's Day, Father's Day is the stepchild holiday, a day to remember good old dad, that guy that brings home the bacon, has a beer or two, and hopefully tosses a ball around with you once in a while.  That's actually nothing like my dad, but I digress. Hopefully you're celebrating along with your father this weekend, but if not, there's still time to order the perfect gift to show him you're thinking about him. Without further ado, I share the Outdoors Dad Father's Day Gift Guide (Say that 5 times fast).

Outdoors Dad Father's Day Gift Guide

As a member of the TNFLocals, I was lucky enough to receive a literal boatload of gear recently from The North Face, primarily their Mountain Athletics line. I am a huge fan of this brand, even more so with this new gear. While some of their products seem geared towards the urban market, these are definitely made for the outdoors enthusiast. I've put some of the pieces through the wringer and they performed admirably. Also, they look damn cool. 


While geared towards surviving pretty much anything, products from Ultimate Survival Technologies are handy to have around even in non-emergencies. As a USTAmbassador, I am biased in my thinking, but every piece of gear I've tried from them has worked as promised, so it's not just me blowing smoke. It's not every company that can live up to that promise. Best of all, none of it is outlandishly expensive - fill a box with goodies for dad without breaking the bank.

Outdoors Dad Father's Day Gift Guide

I have a soft spot for Teton Sports. Not only are they the hosts of #hikerchat, a most enjoyable hour spent every week on Twitter, tweeting about hiking, yes, but so much more: bacon, drones, flamethrowers, burritos, but their gear is top-notch, designed by users for users, and priced amazingly well. They are also gear partners for Hell Hike and Raft - really looking forward to using their products in the backcountry of Idaho. Quality gear that you can actually afford - that'll get your dad outdoors!

Outdoors Dad Father's Day Gift Guide

Moving from the outdoors dad in the backcountry to the one in the backyard, preferably grilling. For proper food preparation, good knives are key. The Ergo Chef Crimson Straight Handle and G10 8" Chef Knives are a true pleasure to work with - they maintain their sharpness and cut easily through everything I threw at them. These are beautifully designed, with a fiberglass resin handle that mimics the beauty of rosewood but requires none of the upkeep. The balance of the knives make cutting more intuitive and easier, which made me feel chef-like while using them. While I though the two knives were very equal in performance and comfort, Laima preferred the more ergonomically bent handle on the G10. Get these for dad and inspire him to higher culinary heights! 

Outdoors Dad Father's Day Gift Guide

Not often that dad is attacked at the office, at least not my dad, nor in the rain, or at the casino. Whether he's more Austin Powers or James Bond, A Guide to Improvised Weaponry: How to Protect Yourself with Whatever You've Got is an entertaining look at turning everyday objects into defensive weapons. With the Zombie Apocalypse forecast for the near future, dads cannot be prepared enough.

Outdoors Dad Father's Day Gift Guide

So not every dad is a full-time outdoors dad, volunteering for Search and Rescue or whittling his own eating utensils, spending weekends backpacking or climbing mountains or any other outdoor activity in appreciation of nature. Most of us also enjoy sitting on the couch, maybe a beer in hand, watching such television fare like Les Stroud's Survivorman: no food, no shelter, no water, no tools and no camera crew. To inspire him to get off his duff and find some adventure on his own, get him one of these Les Stroud knives made by Camillus Knives, a respected knife maker since 1876. The 10" SK Mountain™ Ultimate Survival Knife comes with a belt sheath that also houses its own knife sharpener, paracord, signaling mirror, flashlight, whistle, and flint, all in one package. That should get him out of the house for a while.

Outdoors Dad Father's Day Gift Guide

Speaking of beer, how about the "Around The World Beer Bucket - 6 Beers" from Gourmet Gift Baskets? Fun beer from other countries, salty snacks to make him thirsty, this is a great way for dad to unwind after a tough day at the office or the struggle to get out of the hammock. Sitting outside on a sunny day in the backyard watching the kids play with this bucket in hand would be fantastic way for a dad or two to hang out. Dad not a beer fan? Don't worry - they have about a gazillion other options.

Many of these items were received for review purposes - all opinions are my own.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Hiking Nachusa Grasslands

Hiking Nachusa Grasslands

When I first heard about the Nachusa Grasslandsin the winter, I was immediately intrigued. Bison in Illinois? Close to Chicago? I had to find out more, so I started planning a visit. The Grasslands are a project of The Nature Conservancy, a private non-for-profit whose mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

Much of northern Illinois is agricultural land, worked for many years, sometimes with respect for the environment, sometimes not. In every case, however, the farming replaces the native environment, which consisted primarily of tall grass prairies and oak savannahs, as far as I know (I should know more, but unfortunately I never studied Illinois much, thinking we weren't staying here very long - my mistake on both counts). For the last 25 years, the Nachusa Grasslands have been undergoing restoration, with bits and pieces added as available - it now extends nearly 3,000 acres and is home to a total of 700 native plant species and 180 species of birds.

Hiking Nachusa Grasslands

As part of the restoration process, the Nature Conservancy is reintroducing bison to this area. Why bison? Bison were native animals so are well adapted to the weather and plants available for grazing and, unlike cows, don't need much assistance from humans to survive. Bisons create wallows, shallow depressions they use to roll in - these wallows create shallow puddles that allow amphibians a place to reproduce and open areas for annual plants to grow without direct competition from the perennials surrounding them. This should help create a wide diversity of plants and animals, a boon to any environment. The bison is the largest land mammal in North America and once roamed much of the United States - wholesale slaughter led to a small remaining population that luckily was saved by preservationists. The bison currently live in their own fenced area and are doing well - a calf, believed to be the first born east of the Mississippi River in the last 200 years, arrived in April. The bison will be introduced to the larger area open for hiking in the near future, possibly this fall - I can't wait to walk in the grasslands and see the bison unencumbered by a fence between us!

Hiking Nachusa Grasslands

The Grasslands are in a quiet area, surrounded by farm fields, small towns, and not much you'd notice if driving through. The hiking is a blast, as there are some mown trails, some dirt roads for the maintenance vehicles, but otherwise one is free to roam across the open grasslands in any direction one desires. Small lakes and a stream add some water features to the rolling landscape. There are so many different types of flowers I stopped trying to catalogue them after a while. Venturing off the trail, I was excited to come across a small patch of prickly pear - the second time in as many weeks. Turns out that a strain of prickly pear can be found in all 50 states - shows how much there is to know and how little I actually do know. That's the fun of exploring.

After wandering around for a few hours, covering maybe half the open area (maybe), it was time to find the bison. Driving in, I had seen them in their fenced in enclosure, but opted to wait until after hiking to see them, reasoning that, in the future, it would be chance if I saw them while hiking. My patience was rewarded, as the herd was still relatively close to the road. Easily spooked, the herd kept moving as I approached the fence. While not terrified, the bison seemed leery of my presence, so after a few photos and some video, I headed back to the car, ready for lunch and the drive home.

If you want to visit, the grasslands are about two hours west of Chicago, off Interstate 88, so easily accessible. While visitor amenities today comprise of a small dirt parking lot, port potty and information board, plans are afoot for a more formal center, possibly sometime next year.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

How to Make a Survival Bracelet

How to Make a Survival Bracelet

A true lifesaver, the survival bracelet is not just a pretty piece of jewelry. People have used paracord as tourniquets, slings, climbing aids, and even fishing line (don't ask me if it really works). This weekend, while shopping at our local Army Surplus Store for AirSoft Pistol accessories (belt, holster, etc.), we noticed some paracord bracelets for sale and, on the wall behind them, a large array of parachute cord (AKA paracord) for sale, with buckles sized for children and adults as well. Gaga looked at each other and agreed to give making survival bracelets a try. Turns out it's not that difficult (but don't tell anyone).

If you've macraméd before, you'll have no problem making this version (turns out there's more than one way to skin a cat and the same for survival bracelets). We used two differing colored paracords for interest and to add some much-needed excitement to our lives (I kid, I kid). We went with the buckle option, though it's not necessary if you don't like the look.

Steps:
  1. Threading the paracord through one end of the buckle, you end up with four hanging threads - you'll be working with the two outer threads while the middle two just sit there and take up space.
  2. Taking one of the outer threads, bend it over the two middle cords, like you're making a European number 4 (second photo from left below).
  3. Taking the other outer thread, cross it over the "4's" perpendicular (non-loop) end.
  4. Then, taking this same outer thread, poke it UNDER the two middle threads and then up and out through the loop (third photo from left below).
  5. Pull on the loose ends while sliding it up to create a tight knot. 
  6. Taking the same thread originally used to make the "4" (now on the other side of the middle threads), repeat steps 2 - 5 until bracelet is desired length, dependent on wrist size.
  7. Run loose threads through the other buckle part, tie off with knots.
  8. Cut off any of the paracord that remains loose, then singe ends with a lighter, fusing the ends and preventing them from fraying.
  9. You are finished!

How to Make a Survival Bracelet

This is definitely only one way of many to make a survival bracelet - there are plenty more on the Internet, easily found. We thought that this might be one of the simpler ways and we were right; even Munchkin at 8 years old had no problem at all (though he unexpectedly balked at using the lighter, guess he didn't inherit my pyro tendencies). Fun project for a rainy day or to get psyched for  an upcoming weekend of adventure!

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