Sunday, January 27, 2013


The venerable and skookum Patagonia Puff.  

Last week I wrote a piece about how bad I smell and voila!, upon my doorstep arrives a package from a reader containing a couple new shirts and nice smelling hippy laundry soap.  Hell,  if I knew sponsorship was that easy I would have started writing disparagingly about myself years ago!

The truth is an old friend who spent several months living in sauna like Marine barracks with me in Okinawa a few years back knows all to well what I smell like on a daily basis.  Likely Kari felt bad for the predicament of my poor my wife and sent the gift out of sheer pity.  In any case, it got me thinking a little bit about the fact that a couple folks actually read my writing on a regular basis.  I mean some free shit showed up on my doorstep just because a wrote a little anecdote on the interwebs.  Who doesn't like free shit on thier doorstep?  

Maybe if I keep writing someday more free shit will show up on my doorstep? 

In honor of my first sponsorship, I decided that instead of jamming server space with more silly philosophical meanders about conservation, cutting my carbon footprint, and the environmental ethics of recreation, I should hop on the bandwagon of materialistic capitalism and review some of my favorite gear. 

Before I start anything even resembling a gear review, it is important for the reader to know that I am really kind of a cheap bastard.  Not cheap like skip out when it's my turn to buy a round of beers or "forget" to even up on gas money at the end of a road trip,  but cheap like wear the same shorts until my boss at school tells me they are no longer appropriate around children.  Waste not, want not I say.  

That said, when I lay down several hundred greenbacks for a piece of gear, it comes with pretty high expectations.  To me gear should have three qualities.
1)  All gear should function well.  That is, it should do what it is supposed to do.  Rain jackets should keep out rain, packs should carry loads well, stoves should cook your dinner as you wish and beer should give you a buzz without an unreasonable hangover.  It seems like common sense, but there is a ton of gear out there that is about 95% bullshit and 5% function.
2)  All gear should be versatile.  I like to ride bikes. I like like to climb mountains.  I like to ski down  hills in the winter and to climb easy splitter granite on warm sunny days.   I  like to go to the bar and have a beer or two at the end of the day.   My everyday life and the trips I enjoy on regular basis often combine these pursuits, and I need gear that will cover the range.  Gear with a single use is by definition useless to me.    
3)  Gear should be durable.  I might have slightly unreasonable expectations in this department, but to me quality gear should be darn near bullet proof.  When I lay down hundreds of dollars for a pair of pants, I want them to stand up to daily use and occasional abuse for several years.  Additionally, gear should be repairable at a reasonable price and have a quality assurance backed up by the manufacturer.

The Chinook Jargon word 'skookum' delineates a range of positive connotations, among them is useful, good, strong, best, powerful and durable.   I was raised up in a valley where the Jargon is native and I can remember my Dad using the word to describe things that were hard to break; I think I might like it a little more just because of that.
I like my gear to encompass these ideals; I want my gear to be skookum.

The Patagonia Puff

My buddy Darren's kid knows me as Orange Matt.  This came to my attention a couple of weeks ago when I showed up for a mid-week ski at his house and he commented on my once bright orange, now fading burnt sienna Patagonia Puff Pullover.

You've gotten some miles out'a that one, Darren said with the sincerest of strait-faced sarcasm.

Oh, this thing is just getting broken in, I responded with a smirk as I stroked the layers of patches and seam grip around the wrist of my jacket; the resultant impact of many close encounters with wide granite cracks and my camp stove.  

Apparently I wear the garment frequently enough that Darren's two-year old son Owen associates the color orange with me more than my charming personality or the fact that I play a mean game of follow the leader.  I suppose that is the best testament as to how often I wear my Puff, but at least Owen stopped calling me daddy.  

Being an unpaid, unsponsored,  and completely unprofessional gear reviewer, I am afforded the luxury of writing just what I want about any product.  I am therefore going to skip over a lot of the technical lingo that quite honestly numbs me a bit.  I am sure the latest Puff is made of the newest and greatest of plastic fabric on Earth.  You can check it out on their website if that type of thing turns your crank, but rest assured it will all end up concentrated in the food chain someday.  

I will however assure the reader of the following:

1.  The Puff has an excellent weight to warmth ratio.  
2.  The Puff will continue to insulate your body when wet.  
3.  The Puff can be worn as a shell or an insulating layer.
4.  The Puff will stand up to years of regular 'love & attention'.  
5.  The Puff patches easily.
6.  The Puff doubles as a decent pillow. 
7.  The Puff weighs less than my average morning grogan, and I am not rad enough at anything to worry about how much my jacket weighs.

The only thing that might make the Puff a little more versatile is strips of reflective tape across the front, back, and down the arms.  The night visibility factor would go through the roof for a bike commuting/touring piece.  But then again you might end up the guy at the bar wearing a hunter's safety jacket instead of a hip insulating layer, and that could could bit awkward depending on the bar you happen upon in your travels.    

I also recognize that Patagonia historically has an excellent customer service reputation and stands by their products.  Additionally,  the company is doing much more than many of it's competitors are to use their corporate power and influence to enact meaningful positive environment change on our planet.  It makes feel me better about my human condition buying their plastic versus someone else's I guess.  

In any case, more times than not when packing for work in the morning, a day running groomers, a bike overnight or week long trip to the mountains, my Puff finds itself at the top of my pack.  It is a skookum peice of gear and when the last remaining threads of mine fall from my body in a couple years, I will buy another.



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Truth Hurts

Occasionally people tell me that I smell bad.

Chapter 1

A couple of years ago my Dad went on strike during the house remodel project and refused to come back to work until I changed my shirt.  As much as I tried to explain the virtues of living small and the resultant impact on my very limited supply of designated work cloths, a heartfelt "You smell like shit kid, change your fuck'n' cloths or ain't coming back!" cut my soapbox a tad short.

Chapter 2

I teach young children Physical Education for a living. As far as jobs go, it isn't a bad one;  most kids are psyched to run around for a half-hour and I get to wear shorts and a T-shirt to work every day.  I also have more-or-less turned my classroom into my own personal gym and often take advantage of the opportunity to workout on my lunch hour.  I had just finished up my last set of burpees when my buddy Kevin the Librarian waltzed in the gym.  He approached with a smile, but as he neared suddenly stopped short in his tracks as if he had hit and unseen wall.  His brow contorted as he raised his nose high; he took three quick sniffs rolling his head right to left, "Alford, it stinks in here!"

I summoned my inner Conan the Barbarian and retorted, "It is the smell of man, it is the smell of strength, it is the smell of power.  You would know nothing of this smell!"

"No Dude, it smells like a locker room in here."  He called over his shoulder as he turned and walked out.


Chapter 3

Winter mornings come hard to this Cascadian Commuter.  As much as I like riding my bike, the 6 am alarm never wakes me from my slumber at the 47th parallel with much enthusiasm about another spin in the dank drizzle of the Emerald City.  I hit the snooze button three times before I manage to drag my sorry ass out of the rack, get dressed in my commute kit of wool and polypro, eat my habitual cup of homemade yogurt with a dollop of maple syrup and get my life packed up for the day.

As the the winter has grown darker and mornings colder,  I have developed the habit of crawling back into bed with my lovely wife and snuggling in the warmth until the first hints of light grace the streets of my commute.

Yesterday I slipped under the covers, spooned close to Jen and wrapped my arms around her warm body. She groaned lightly half-asleep,  turned her head, kissed my bearded cheek and whispered softly in my ear, "Matt, your cloths really stink bad".

Three strikes and your out brother.

The upside is that Jen washes my bike kit mid-week now and she still thinks I'm cute; truly I am living the dream.

No hay mejor tiempo que el presente!


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

No Time Like the Present

The sun sank low in the western sky and set the Cascade Mountains pink afire across the sheen of a windless Puget Sound.  The three of us talked shit and traded sophomoric insults reminiscent of junior high school into the darkness of the winter night.   Darren steadied himself against the stone fireplace and raised the canteen of whisky high as we huddled around the ember glow of the fire;

No hay mejor tiempo que el presente!  rolled off his tongue quickly with a familiarity borne of a thousand inebriated toasts.  

My understanding of the English language is suspect, and I barely squeaked a C- out of High School Spanish; mas tiempo por favor amigo,  I managed as he passed the whiskey my way.   I tipped back a shot and let the burn settle in my belly; I always have spoken Spanish better a little drunk .

No hay mejor tiempo que el presente! Darren repeated quickly and translated,  There is no better time than the present!  

He went on,  

I learned the saying when I was living in Costa Rica several years ago.  It seemed like the national ethos of the country at the time, everywhere you go people would raise their glass and toast you with the phrase;  I guess it stuck with me.  Hanging out on an empty beach drinking around a fire reminds of that time.  

I handed the whiskey to Aaron, punched him in the shoulder and yelled to the cold night at the top of my lungs,

No hay mejor tiempo que el presente!

Into the darkness the banter and laughter continued until the whiskey ran dry and the fire faded cold,  calling us to the warmth our sleeping bags.  

It strikes me how quickly days turn to weeks, and the weeks into months; before we notice where the time has gone and what the hell we have done with it all, a new year is upon us.  A few good friends have checked in lately and inquired of the extended silence of the Front Door Adventures project.  I could bitch about how many soulless hours I have spent behind the keyboard the last three months typing mind-numbing expletives about what an extraordinary educator I am, or how it has drained my soul of creativity and inspiration; but nobody is here to listen to me bitch about my first world problems, no doubt you have a list of your own.  

Better though,  I could realize that going on a ride with a few buddy's and camping on an empty beach 10 miles from the city will make me much more productive than staring fruitlessly at a screen for another second.  I could be thankful for my bike, the health to pedal it, a clear December night and a perfect winter sunset.  I could get back to writing about the things that make me happiest and doing my best to live like the moment I am living is the only one I really have.  

Here is to the best of intentions for 2013.

No hay mejor tiempo que el presente!


An Erbeck, a Big Dummy and 737 headed for Renton.  Aaron rolling along the industrial Elliot Bay Trail.

Darren showing the Seattle Pedicab driver who is boss.

Perfect winter day in the Emerald City.   

The most advanced bicycle specific ergogenic aid available on market.  

The Contraption, Bainbridge Island, WA.  

Stewardship of the Fay Bainbridge Park was recently transferred from the State of Washington to the Bainbridge Island Metro Park and Recreation District.  A short ferry ride and less-than ten miles of riding on rural roads with friendly drivers make this the most excellent overnight bike escape from the city.  


and bullshit. 

I chatted up Kim and her husband when we arrived at the park and a half hour later she and her son Seth delivered us dry firewood.  Matches were offered but not necessary.

Not a bad place to wake up.

What an interesting concept.

The Strom's live here.

The Bloedel Reserve was created by Prentice Bodel as a place where people may find the refreshment and tranquility in the presence of natural beauty. 

We were ten minutes early for the ferry, and really, there is no time like the present.