Canadian Nationals – 1/5th Scale Offroad Racing

I’m a total newbie when it comes to RC cars. I’ve owned a couple toy ones as a kid but earlier this year, I saw some friends driving their 1/5th scale, gas powered RC cars, and took a liking to it big time. Before I knew it, I found myself owning a used and hugely beat up HPI Baja 5B SS 2WD buggy with a bunch of spare parts.

The outdoor, off road, racing community is pretty well established but needs some serious organization. There aren’t a lot of venues to race at and running an event takes a huge amount of work and lots of volunteers. Even just practice days takes a lot of effort by the land owner to make sure the track is in race ready condition.

A couple months ago, RC Acres finally opened for a practice day so off I went. Up until then, I was only running my buggy in the parking lot at my work trying to get down some basic driving skills. 2WD cars are the hardest to drive but that’s what I had and if I can get good with that, I can drive anything. The practice day at RC Acres was my first time driving at a purpose built off road track. I crashed a lot, broke some stuff, fixed the car and learned a lot. My next time out was the Canadian Nationals at Walton Raceway. I knew I was going to be way out of my league but hey…it will be fun. My goal was to just learn the track, work on technique and stay out of people’s way who have had years of experience doing this.

My HPI Baja 5B SS Buggy ready to race.
My HPI Baja 5B SS Buggy ready to race.

Friday was practice day and at first things went as expected…I crashed a lot and broke stuff. Easy repairs but there seemed to be an underlying issue with my buggy…It wouldn’t turn much. After some trouble shooting, it seemed that my steering servo was pretty worn out and it was time for a new one. Thanks to some help from Andrew at SkyCraft Hobbies, I bought a new servo and installed it. Then a new problem popped up. My receiver kept browning out. Tried different servos, checked the wiring, tried different receivers. Some of the most experienced drivers around were helping me find the problem and we were all left scratching our heads. In the end, it turned out the battery I was using couldn’t keep up with the load of my new set up. Once again SkyCraft came to the rescue and provided me a new battery. It looks the exact same but was made by a different company and problem solved…after 5hrs of troubleshooting. My Friday of practice was a write off and I only got 15min of track time.

Got hit by a Losi 5b Buggy and waiting for the ambulance.
Got hit by a Losi 5b Buggy and waiting for the ambulance.

Bring on Saturday. Time for practice, qualifying and some racing…but not for me. Since I hadn’t done any marshalling on Friday, I figured I would spend as much time doing so in the morning that I could. So when the first practice session started I went out on the track to marshall and I was the only one out there with about four cars were on track. That’s when things went wrong for me. A driver made a big mistake on a jump that I was standing near and his 5B Buggy came flying at me at well over 40km/hr. I had about half a second to react and tried to protect my ribs from the impact. My right arm and hip took the hit and it was a whopper.

I was helped off the track and the pain was intense in my arm. A huge thanks to everyone who came to my aid and tended to me and my injuries but it wasn’t long before they realized that I needed some proper medical attention and called an ambulance.

It wasn’t long before the paramedics showed up and they took me to a local hospital convinced that my arm and wrist were broken. The paramedics were great and so was the staff at the local community hospital 10min away. I spent half the day there waiting for x-rays and a final verdict from the doctor. The x-rays didn’t show any obvious brakes but they weren’t sure about my wrist. The choice was made to splint my arm & wrist and release me. The owner of Walton Raceway was nice enough to drive to the hospital to pick me up and bring me back to the track.

From here on out I was just a spectator, although I did still go out and do some marshalling, even though it wasn’t a smart idea considering the condition I was in.

The rest of the weekend was amazing…as a spectator. I couldn’t race and I couldn’t safely marshall, so I sat on the sidelines and watched. Buggys, trucks and…what the hell is a Horrman? Well it looked kinda funny but it won the 2WD class and the driver came all the way from Germany to do it.

We had drivers from all over Ontario, Quebec, several from Germany as well as the USA come to compete this weekend. Although I didn’t get to do any racing, I’m glad I stayed after I got hurt. It was a great weekend of camping, making new friends and watching some cool racing. I’ll make sure I’m ready for next year.

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It’s a Jeep Thing…and now I understand!

Recently I got to tag along with teammate Chris for a day of Off-Roading. The Sheppard Run was catered to the newer 4×4 driver who wanted to learn some new skills and techniques when taking the road less traveled. Okay, it wasn’t a road at all…more like a rutted out, muddy trail hell bent on making a mess of everyone and their 4×4’s. The day was hosted by the Ontario Federation of 4WD Recreationists and headed up by their instructor Chris Muir. Chris is also the team mechanic here at Chronicles of Adventure so getting a chance to tag along with him was an opportunity not to be missed as he guided a group of new 4×4 drivers through the paces of the trails.

The day started way too early when I was woken at 6:30am from my slumber, curled up in my sleeping bag. Chris brought along his two bed camping trailer and neither of us were eager to face the chill of the morning air. The group of Trail Guides finally loaded up into their shinny 4×4’s and we headed off for breakfast and some much needed coffee. As I slowly sipped at my cup of Java, I looked out the window of the breakfast cafe, and as the sun began to rise, one thing stood out…Chris’ 4×4. Everyone else had a heavily modified Jeep but Chris and I would be spending the day in his wife’s Nissan XTerra (his Jeep was out of commission). With no real modifications, other than a set of 32″ off road tires, the XTerra looked absolutely tiny parked beside the Goliath Jeeps belonging to the other Trail Guides. If those Jeeps were what would be needed for the trails we would be doing today, then we just brought a knife to a gun fight.

Once done with breakfast, we all headed off the the official meeting place to gather up all the newbie drivers and the spot where Chris would give his morning speech covering what they could expect throughout the day as well as what he expected from them by covering off the rules. His anecdote about someone once being flung out the door of their truck and landing in a seated position, just as they had been while seated in their truck, as their truck slowly drove away, drove home the importance of wearing seat belts.

DSCF4118Eventually all the drivers were split into groups (based on experience and the modifications to their vehicles) and assigned to various Trail Guides who would lead them throughout the day. As for Chris and me, we would be leading the group with nearly zero experience and zero modifications. Lets face it…we had the least capable vehicle!

After Chris’ drivers briefing, eventually all the groups headed off to the trail heads where everyone could air-down their tires. As a road safety specialist, I always impress upon people the importance of ensuring that their tires are properly inflated for the road. Although today we weren’t going to be on the road, and to avoid getting stuck every 50m, everyone lowered their tire pressures to a meager 15psi. Lowering the air pressure in the tires is quite important for off roading so that the tires can better grip the rocks, branches, mud and dirt that we would be driving through. Obviously though, everyone would have to re-inflate their tires again at the end of the day for normal driving.

Although it took a while to get everyone’s tire pressures lowered, we finally hit the road, errr…trail! Slowly our caravan of 4×4’s lumbered though the forest and it didn’t take long before the importance of having an experienced Trail Guide who knew the trails well became clear. If you picked the wrong fork in the trail, you could end up on a trail that would surely get you stranded or suffering serious damage to your vehicle. This was no place to get stranded and there wasn’t a chance in Hell that you could even get a tow truck in here. If you got stuck here on a Sunday evening, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t be found until the following weekend.

We lumbered over bumps, potholes and logs that would have snapped the wheels off a normal car. We traversed deep puddles that quickly covered us in stagnant muddy water that smelled so bad that I was certain that there were rotting animal carcasses in them. To say it smelled foul was an understatement. Chris grabbed the mic of his CB and advised the group “Sorry guys…your Jeeps will never smell the same again. Whenever it rains, you will remember this moment.”…it was that bad. Some puddles were quite deep and thanks to the murky brown colour, it was impossible to gauge just how deep it was. I felt confident in Chris though. With his many years of off roading experience, he was very good at umm…guessing…just how deep the puddle was and whether or not he could just take it head on, or when it was better to skirt the sides of it as much as he could. I thought it was strange though that he would always take a line that put me closest to the water line, risking a torrent of water coming in my window. He explained though that the engine air intake of the XTerra was on his side and he needed to be kept out of the water as much as possible. If that gets flooded, it could result in hydro-locking the engine and that would not only be an end to our day but also an end to that engine.

Although the water came close to coming in the window many times, it didn’t. Well…until it finally did! I’m pretty sure he did it on purpose! It was a nice deep puddle so I was leaning out the window with my camera and I fully believe that he decided to have a little fun at my expense and drove a bit faster than he should have. By the time I realized I was about to get soaked, there was no time to do anything about it. Water splashed and poured through the passenger window covering the inside of the door, the passenger side of the dashboard and of course me in this nasty smelling, muddy brown water. “Oh come on! You wanker!”

IMG-20141018-00171IMG-20141018-00172

IMG_0236Well…I saved the seat anyway. Well…mostly. We had to stop for a little break so that I could clean up a little bit. Thankfully my jacket was waterproof and I brought a towel so I was able to at least clean that off but my jeans were a different story. While I was wiping myself down, various people in the group came to take a look at the mess in the truck and lots of jaws were dropped.

Karma can be a bitch though and after our lunch break, it was Chris’ turn for a nasty bath. We came across a rather massive puddle and unknown to Chris, the right side of the puddle was rather deep. I had learned my lesson though and just as we got half way through the puddle, I quickly raised my window. It was a good thing I did too because his line right through the middle turned out to be a really bad idea. The right side of the truck sank into a hole that would have totally swallowed a Honda Civic. We got stuck and a wall of water splashed through the driver side window and soaked Chris and the other half of the interior of the truck. I could only imagine what his wife would say about her truck when he brings it home!

IMG-20141018-00173Getting soaked and having even more nasty water flood the truck wasn’t what fazed Chris though…it was the fact that we had come to a stop and the engine was under water.

Quickly he grabbed reverse gear and floored the gas pedal. It was a very good thing that the driver behind us knew better than to follow someone into an obstacle before first ensuring that the other person clears it. Chris freed us from the hole and we stopped for a bit so that he could clean himself up but he was now just as soaked as I was. We didn’t realize until we started rolling again that things had just gotten very serious; The Voltage Warning light was on and we both knew what that meant.

“That’s the Alternator, right?” I asked.
“Probably ya” he replied.
“Shit…so we’ve got what…20-30 minutes to get out of here before the engine dies?” I asked.
“If that” he replied.

Things had just gotten real. He grabbed his CB and called back to one of the other Trail Guides “John, I need you to take the lead. We blew the alternator when we got swamped and we need to get out of here fast.” and that’s when Chris put his head down, turned off all the accessories, hit the gas and got to work. I thought back to his morning briefing and remembered when he said “If any of you watch the Baja 1000…that is NOT how we drive here! If you don’t want to crash…drive slow.” but in this moment, driving slow wasn’t an option. We needed to get out of there before the battery died, or at least get as far as we could before it did. Having to be towed out of the trail by another 4×4 isn’t exactly easy and often leads to more damage. Chris has been on both the receiving end and the towing end before so he knew just how serious the situation was.

We blasted along at some serious speed and we were both being tossed around like rag dolls inside the truck. We bounced over the bumps and branches and blasted through the water holes with walls of water splashing over the roof of the truck but at least both windows were now closed, or we would have been drinking the stuff. Chris was going Hell for leather. I haven’t bounced around like that in a truck since back when I was in the military but I was in good hands with Chris. When it comes to off roading…damn that guy can drive!

After about 15 minutes Chris said “It doesn’t feel right.”.
“What doesn’t feel right?” I asked.
“The steering. We won’t last much longer.”

DSCF6007At that moment we thought it was it was the battery finally drying up. What we found out later was that Chris’ ‘spirited’ driving destroyed the steering box. Well ya…no wonder it didn’t feel right! Luckily, we arrived at the staging area just as the engine started to sputter. So there we were…stranded with the hood up, twiddling our thumbs. Turns out though that there was another Nissan XTerra in one of the other groups and they just happen to have a spare alternator. Talk about luck! About an hour later, the other 4×4’s started trickling in and while everyone re-inflated their tires, Chris also pulled out the jumper cables to add some charge to our battery. Welcome to off roading. Of course had we had a Jeep we wouldn’t have fried the alternator because it’s located on top of the engine and on the XTerra, it’s located at the bottom. Not that I can be too hard on the little Nissan; Chris pounded on it pretty hard after that and the only thing that broke from being driven so hard was the steering box. So overall, its a pretty tough little truck. Although…none of the Jeeps in our group had any issues, even the stock ones…just saying.

DSCF6009After getting back to the campsite, Chris got to work on swapping out the busted alternator with the one his buddy gave him and after a couple hours, the truck was running just fine again. Nothing could be done about the steering box though. Hmm…now why is the tire flat?? Yup…now we had a flat tire and after adding some more air, you could see the air bubbling back out through the bead with the rim. Oh come on! After closer inspection, it was pretty obvious that wood debris had gotten jammed in the bead causing the leak but fortunately after a bit of picking at it, the pressure in the tire got to a point where the leak sealed itself. Ok…we can live with that but we’d have to keep an eye on it for the trip home.

All in all it was a great day even though things didn’t go perfectly. At least we didn’t need to get towed home.

I feel a lot more confident in my choice to get Jeeps for our upcoming expeditions. If you own a Jeep…you already understand…but maybe it’s just a Jeep thing. 😉

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Damn Bugs! Sawyer Products has Insect Repellents to get them to bugger off!

sawyer_productsSo how did a company that’s known for specializing in water treatment products end up selling insect repellents? Well I touched base with my rep at Sawyer and asked her directly and the response was brilliant! “We actually had our insect repellents as part of our product line before we added the filters.  Our CEO started the company hoping to help solve the world’s two leading causes of death which are malaria from mosquito bites and bad water.” said Stacey Hammerburg of Sawyer Products. Well that’s pretty cool really and here I thought maybe it was to avoid being eaten alive while collecting dirty water from streams, lakes or puddles! Boy was I wrong.

Sawyer Products provides four different options for insect repellents and which one is best for you depends on your own needs. I decided to try out their Maxi-DEET and the Ultra30 Liposome Controlled Release. The first chance to try the stuff came up when my friend and her sister took off for a week to a cottage near Tobermory, Ontario. If you’re not familiar with the forested area (start of the famous Bruce Trail), the bugs up there in August can make your trip miserable if you aren’t prepared. So off they went and I sent them packing with both the Maxi-DEET and the Ultra30 to try out. Well move over Muskol and OFF Skintastic! The Sawyer repellents were nothing short of amazing! Don’t take my word for it though, take it from my friend who tried the stuff.

IMG_8935x1“My sister and I (both with Lilly white English skin) decided to hike around cypress lake in Bruce Peninsula Provincial Park in August. I have a disproportionate reaction to Mosquito stings and within seconds I blow up like a peach where ever I am stung.

I have tried nearly every product on the market over the last 20yrs and thanks to my friend Shaun’s insistence, I decided to try Ultra30 by Sawyer. We headed out on an overcast day with some sunny breaks without putting on any mosquito deterrent. While we were on the move I became aware of the presence of those pesky mozzies. We stopped for a moment for some water and I was bitten three times on my leg. I took the Ultra30 from my bag and applied it to every bit of exposed skin.

I have to say the cream was easy to put on and smelt unusually pleasant. Certainly better than any other product I have used in the past.

It is an excellent product and after hiking the 10km around the Lake with some paddling in the water, I had not sustained a single extra bite or sting. I continued to use the Ultra30 and reapplied it daily and was not bothered by Mosquitoes, or anything else for that matter again. I would definitely highly recommend this product and will continue to buy it. My sister tried the Maxi-Deet also which was equally effective although it didn’t smell as nice.” -Fiona

It should be noted that the Maxi-DEET is 98% DEET and designed for conditions where you are simply being swarmed by flying biting insects with large appetites. The Ultra30 is for less extreme conditions. For parents who are concerned about exposing their kids to high levels of DEET, there is a 20% Premium version. All these products implement a slow release system that can keep you protected for 10-11hrs. The final product they offer is the Permethrin Premium Insect Repellent, which is a pre-treatment spray that you can apply to your camp clothes, sleeping bags, or even your tent before you go camping. Just let it dry and you’re good to go. Once treated, your gear will be protected for up to six washings or 42 days of sun exposure. Now I haven’t tried that product yet but you can be sure that it’s on my shopping list!

If you want to learn more about Sawyer or check out their other products, be sure to check out their website at www.sawyer.com

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Algonquin Park – August 2014

Ever get the feeling that no matter how simple your plans are, that Fate is just hell bent on throwing them out the window? Well I sure do.

It was a simple enough idea…load up the motorcycle (a Russian Ural with a sidecar) and go camping for a few nights. I packed up the bike with my usual camping gear and a bunch of those dehydrated food pouches for my meals and headed off to Algonquin Park. I left on a Sunday afternoon and was expecting to return home Wed afternoon. Not a huge trip but I figured it would be nice to get away for a few days.

As usual, the trip up to the park was beautiful and the weather was amazing. You really couldn’t have asked for better riding conditions. Sure it was hot but at least there was no humidity. Traffic was light and I made good time (thanks largely in part to it being a Sunday afternoon and most of the traffic was heading back towards the city while I was heading away from it).

misc 03As I neared Algonquin Park, I decided to drop in and visit one of my sponsors ‘Algonquin Outfitters’. This was a last minute trip so I hadn’t made any arrangements to test out any equipment from them but I did need some more bug repellant (usually Algonquin Park is infested with mosquitoes in Aug and it can make camping absolutely miserable if you aren’t prepared for it). With my bug repellant in hand, I pushed onward into the Park and found myself pulling into one of the more heavily wooded campsites just off HWY 60 at Canisbay Lake. After getting checked in and finding my spot, I quickly set up my little tent and rode back out to the main road so that I could touch base with people and let them know I was there safely…and my phone battery dies. That’s ok, being out of touch for a few days, especially while camping isn’t really a bad thing. I was pretty tired but so far, everything was going fairly well. Well…until it came time to make dinner.

I had never actually used those dehydrated meal bags before (I usually bring in normal food that I would need for the trip, or if it’s just a 24hr trip I would simply rely on meal bars) but this time I decided to have a go at it. I wasn’t expecting it to be gourmet cuisine or anything close but having never tried them before, I figured I would give it a try now. Fire up the Primus OmniFuel stove and lets boil some water! Now the instructions are simple enough…boil 650ml of water (for this particular bag anyway), remove the oxygen absorber from the bag and pour in the boiling water. Stir well and leave to sit for 13min. Easy enough. So easy in fact that I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was doing and I FULLY blame that on being so damn tired. Well that’s my excuse so don’t give me flack about what happens next. I really was very tired.

misc 04So in goes the boiling water and I stir it up. Then I reseal the bag and start mixing it up…by shaking it and tipping it over. And that’s where I went wrong. Some of you can already guess what happens next.

POOF! The seal bursts open and my scalding hot food pours all over the table, the ground and of course my leg. Did I mention I’m in bear country?? DAMNIT! Now I have a problem and if I don’t clean it up, I can expect a visit from one of the local Black Bears in the area. Sun light is already beginning to fade and now my only focus is on cleaning this mess up before dark. Sigh…and I was just enjoying my first beer of the night and it would be an hour later before I got to finish it.

Eventually, I get things cleaned up as best I can but I can still smell it (and if I can…so can the bears). I’ve slipped into a of shorts as my freshly rinsed (and still soaking wet) pants hang from a tree branch well away from the campsite so they can dry out. I’m thinking to myself “I really should try again and eat something” but my appetite was pretty much gone now. misc 01Instead of cooking another meal, I open my 2nd beer and focus on getting a fire started. At least that went off without a hitch. Well…until I reached for my headlamp and wouldn’t you know it…dead batteries. Oh come on! Thankfully I had a spare set in my backpack. They say bad things come in threes right? Well lets hope that’s the end of it.

Late into the night I sat by the fire listening ever so closely to the sounds of the forest. Beside me sat a can of bear spray and a bear banger flare….just in case. Every 15min or so, I heard what sounded like the start of rain fall in the trees all around me but not a drop of water fell from the sky. Then it stopped and started up again all night long. You could almost set your watch by it, it was that regular.

misc 02Eventually it was time to break up the fire and head to sleep but it wasn’t exactly one of my best nights in the tent. I was keenly listening to the sounds of the forest for worry that I might be visited by a bear during the night. I figured if my pants (which I left drying in the trees) were gone in the morning, I would figure I had a visitor that decided to run off with them. Bear spray and banger flares stayed close by my side all night (along with my headlamp with fresh batteries).

Then I heard something. It was like a Giant breaking large trees over his knee like we would break a small branch over our own. Each time the tremendous cracking was heard, it echoed throughout the forest. What in the hell was that?! In my foggy sleep deprived haze, I tried to rationalize what I was hearing. Whatever it was continued relentlessly for what seemed like ages. Crrrraaaaack…crrraaaaack…craaaack. It didn’t sound like a bear walking through the woods though. It sounded…bigger. Much bigger. Whatever it was woke all the birds. The Loons began their morning songs and the ravens started squawking, and once they get going…the whole campsite wakes up. Queue the noisy kids but at least the noisy kids scared off the ravens and I was able to get some more sleep. My best guess is that it was a Moose causing that sound of breaking trees. Ya…I’ll go with that…sure…just a Moose. Right?

After finally crawling out of the tent, I was in dire need of some coffee so once again I fired up my stove and after a couple cups of coffee…I contemplated making some breakfast. To be more specific…re-hydrating some breakfast (some eggs and bacon). Ok Shaun…don’t make the same mistake as last night. Pour in some boiling water, stir well, re-seal the bag and leave the damn thing alone.

misc 05After trying the eggs and bacon for the first time, I really wished that I hadn’t bothered. I would have rather been chewing on one of the old MRE’s that used to sustain me back in the day when I was eating in a trench. This stuff was nasty. Note to self…if you can bring real bacon and eggs and a frying pan…do it. Ok, it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve eaten but wishing that I was back 20yrs ago chewing from an MRE pouch…that says a lot. For those of you who have ever served in the military will certainly understand the benchmark that’s just been set. I decided not to finish it all and instead focused on making some more coffee to wash the taste out of my mouth. If I were a dog and able to lick my own arse…that would have worked too.

At least the weather was good and that’s what was worrying me now. I knew that some rain was on the forecast but I was unsure as to how much. Once again I reached into my backpack of goodies and pulled out my solar/hand crank radio and tuned into the forecast. It wasn’t looking good…it was looking really bleak actually. I had only been here about 18hrs and I was now about to pack up and head home. For the next three days, the area was going to be absolutely hammered by heavy rain and thunderstorms. If I didn’t leave soon, I would find myself stuck in my little tent, that I couldn’t even sit upright in, for the next 40hrs. Then I would have to pack up everything in the rain, just to ride home in the rain. Oh man…the idea of that was just miserable so I decided to start packing up and I left the park around noon. Fate seemed to really have it in for me this time (ruined dinner, serious mess to clean to avoid curious bears, some dead batteries, nasty weather coming) but it was far from over yet. Things were about to get even more interesting. This trip was certainly not turning out the way I had hoped. I guess this a second round of misfortunes…I wonder what number three will be this time? I would soon find out.

The ride home was absolutely beautiful…mostly. About 2hrs into the 3hr ride home, the bike started sounding really bad. Now keep in mind, this old bike has a lot of character and can be a bit cranky at times. If you ride for too long at a time, it starts sounding a bit…tired. But after a while, it was more than just sounding tired. The engine sounded sick…really sick. Oh come on…really?? I had this gut wrenching feeling that if I pushed it much further, I would blow the engine and not only would that be really expensive but it could also result in me sliding down the highway on my keester. I decided to stop in a tiny little town with a population of less than 500 people and call for a tow truck to get me the remaining 70km home. I just didn’t want to risk blowing the engine and being stuck on the side of the highway somewhere, or worse…crashing.

So I made the call for a tow truck. I was told I would have to wait up to two hours. Well…at least it’s not raining yet. I pulled my camp chair out of the sidecar and set myself up for a long wait in the parking lot of a small corner store & gas stop. Every once in a while one of the locals would stop and talk to me about the bike. The best thing about breaking down in a really small town…the locals. One offered to bring me a sandwich. I declined since I still had some munchies in the bike if I needed it. He further extended that should I need anything while I was waiting, his house was just down the street. Just walk on in. Another fellow offered to bring me a cold beer for while I waited. I declined that too but that did get me thinking…hmmm…I still have some in the bike. So there I was in a gas station parking lot, sitting in a camp chair, my feet propped up on the sidecar, drinking a beer, while waiting for my tow truck. Ahhhh…well…at least it’s not raining.

It took three hours for the tow truck to arrive and of course…he had little clue how to handle, load or safely strap down a motorcycle. Even one as easy as a sidecar rig. Well fortunately I’m very well versed in such matters. I used to tow and transport motorcycles for a living and towed up to 20 bikes a day, whereas this poor guy handled maybe 20 a year. He keenly followed my lead and learned a few things and before long we were on our way. An hour later and after much idle chit chat, he finally got me home. No sooner had we unloaded the bike and the rain started. I quickly unpacked the sidecar as the rain started falling and that was it…my day was done and my trip was a bust. Hey though…things could have been far worse in so many ways.

Ural Tow

Now for another beer and then it’s time to crawl into bed. Home safe and sound and dry. I’m not looking forward to the repair bill on the bike though but I’ll worry about that after I have the bike towed to the dealership. 18hrs later and the bike was on another flatbed truck heading off to get serviced. Although I’m looking forward to getting it back as good as new, I’m not looking forward to what it’s going to cost. Oh well. I guess it’s still better than blowing the engine and having to replace it and it’s better than waking up in hospital because the engine blew maybe resulting in a crash.

All in all…no matter how bad things go…they can always be worse.

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Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter – Review

Sawyer Squeeze Kit 2If you’re planning on spending any amount of time in the woods, you’re going to need a means of treating your water so that you can safely drink it. Sure if you’re going car camping, you can bring all the water (and other assorted beverages) you will need or want for a few days. However, if you like to camp via canoe, kayak, or go backpacking, you can’t carry all that water with you and you will have to find some along the way. Finding water isn’t usually a problem in the woods but you can’t just drink it without treating it first or you could get very sick. The problem isn’t just that the water may look dirty from silt or sand; the real danger comes from what you can’t see like bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera and E.coli as well as protozoa, such as giardia and cryptosporidium. That’s the stuff that will make you very sick, very quickly and could leave you fighting for your life while you’re in the middle of nowhere.

There are lots of products on the market to treat water and they all have their up sides and their down sides. Pump filters for example take a lot of effort, tend to leak, break easily and can cost a ridicules amount of money (from $60 to over $300). Gravity filters are nice because you can just fill the bag with ‘dirty’ water, carry it to your campsite, hang it up and let physics take over while you do other things around camp. They aren’t too expensive either at around $100 for a system, although they can be a bit bulky. You can also use purification tablets (like iodine tabs) and although they are cheap and take up nearly no space in your bag, they tend to leave your water tasting rather nasty and won’t filter out silt or particulates. Another option is a Steri or UV pen which will kill bacteria, protozoa and even viruses but once again, it won’t get rid of particulates and they require batteries, which will of course be dead when you need to use it. And lastly…you could always boil it. Yup…that will kill all the nasty stuff but you will still have particulates and you also require a fire, a metal container of some sort and a way to support it over the flames without burning yourself. Not to mention the  means of starting a fire.

If that wasn’t enough to think about, you also have to consider cost (costing more does NOT mean it’s better) with options ranging from $30 up to $400, as well as size and weight (especially if you’re backpacking). You also need to consider how many people are in your party and how much water you need to treat at once. If you’re looking at filters, you really need to pay attention to how small the filter membrane is and if it can it be cleaned/maintained (ideally in the field). Most filters can filter down to 0.2 microns which is fine because the smallest bacteria are only 0.2 microns in size. Some filters are only 0.5-0.3 microns so that doesn’t make them a great choice for backwoods camping but some filters are an impressive 0.1 microns and that can even stop some viruses.

Viruses from a river or stream water is’t really a huge concern in North America but if you’re traveling to Africa or parts of Asia then it would be a good idea to include a Steri/UV pen in your bag as well as your filter kit. If you’re going to get a Steri/UV Pen, don’t forget to pack extra batteries! As for chemicals or toxins in the water…that’s a whole other problem and nothing can really deal with that. If you think your water source may have been contaminated by chemicals, find another source. Filters won’t really help much, nor will UV treatments, iodine tabs or even boiling.

Well now that I’ve made deciding on what to buy seemingly impossible, let me simplify things a bit and introduce you to the Sawyer Squeeze.

Sawyer Squeeze KitThe Sawyer Squeeze is an excellent light-weight water filtration system. Actually, considering the cost, weight and size, this is probably one of the best filters on the market for suiting the needs of one to three people. Sure, you can still use it if there are more people in your group, it’s just less practical since it will take a lot more time to filter all the water you will need. It can filter 1 Million gallons of water (enough for a lifetime really), comes with three different sized bags (16oz, 32oz and 64oz) and it can be cleaned/maintained in the field. Oh…and it only costs about $50-60 online and that includes the filter, three different sized bags and the syringe to back-wash the filter every once in a while.

Lets start by covering the specs; weighing in at only three ounces, you won’t even notice it in your pack and it fits in the palm of your hand so it takes up very little space. It’s also one of the few systems with a 0.1micron filter able to eliminate 99.99999% of all bacteria and protozoa and no matter how nasty the water is, the Sawyer filter will make it clear and tasting mountain fresh. The Sawyer Squeeze has no moving parts so there is really nothing to break and it works as quickly as pump systems, but without the physical effort. Just attach the filter to one of the bags (filled with untreated water) and start squeezing the bag. The treated water can then be squirted into a water bottle, pot, or directly into your mouth. This is a much better way to go than with pumps where you have to sit at your water source pumping water into a bottle. With the Sawyer, you just fill the bag from the source and walk away filtering it as you need it, on demand. You can also get or make some adapters to attach it as an in-line filter for the hydration bladder in your backpack. You can also easily attach regular water or pop bottles instead of using the included bags. 

Sawyer Squeeze Kit 3So what’s the downside you ask? It’s the bags. Earlier versions of the bags weren’t very durable and the seams tended to burst. The newer bags though are more durable but you could still burst the seams if you squeeze them too hard (ease up there Hercules!) and squeezing hard really isn’t necessary (try rolling the bag to squeeze the water through the filter). You could even rig up a way to hang it and use it as a gravity system leaving your hands free. The other problem is filling the bags. Unless you can fully submerge the bag and fluff it out a bit (blow into the bag first to fluff it out), getting water into the bag can be a bit of a pain. Collecting water from a puddle or stream that isn’t at least 6″ deep can be a tad frustrating.

It is expected that you regularly use the included syringe to clean the filter by back-washing it with clean water. This is especially important to maintain a good flow rate and prevent the filter from getting clogged. If you’re filtering especially nasty water, be sure to back-wash it right away with some of your freshly filtered water.

All in all, this is a great filter system that will last you years and filter more water than you could ever drink in your lifetime. Even if you destroy the bags, you could use a water or pop bottle with a standard sized mouth and full threading, or you can easily buy replacement bags online. With a little creativity, you can make it a gravity filter or, as said earlier, make an in-line filter for your hydration bladder or just buy the adapter kits to do so. Not only is this ideal for your camping needs but it would also make a great addition to your home emergency kit should your water supply become contaminated or should you no longer have a reliable water supply to your home.

Sawyer also offers a ‘purifier’ kit that will remove 99.997% of viruses should that be a real concern for you (and I do mean real concern, not just your own paranoia). If you’re traveling to Asia, Africa or India (or helping out in a disaster area) and there happens to be a Hepatitis outbreak, the purifier kit might be worth considering but otherwise, it’s probably overkill. They are a lot more expensive at around $200 online but the cost could be worth it if you’re in those types of places with an active virus outbreak. Like I said earlier though, viruses from your local lake, river, stream, or even swamp, aren’t really a concern in North America. If you really can’t shake that worry and it’s only occasionally, just filter your water and then add some bleach (3 drops per litre will do) and wait 30min. That will kill pretty much anything but now your water will taste a bit nasty thanks to the bleach. Keep in mind though folks…if your water is contaminated by chemicals or toxins, you’re not going to be able to treat that in the field.

No, I wasn’t paid by Sawyer to praise their products so highly. It’s just that good and gets a 10 out of 10 in my books. In fact…I bought three kits and I never go camping without at least one of them, even if it’s just car camping.

If you want to learn more about Sawyer, what they do globally with their safe water programs, or check out their other products, be sure to check out their website at www.sawyer.com

PrintHere’s a video from their Youtube page:

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