Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Amazon Rocks, UPS Sucks

I found a really good deal on a TV at Amazon.com right before Thanksgiving.  List price $1,019.99, my price $497.  I ordered it on November 25, shipped UPS, scheduled arrival, December 2.  I'm a UPS Tracking junkie so, November 27 package leaves Amazon in Carlisle, PA and gets to the UPS center in Laurel, MD on the same day.  The next stop is usually my house on the next day.

December 2 comes, no TV.  December 3, no TV, call UPS, "Oh, you can't inquire about this shipment because it's still in our system, you need to call Amazon since they are the shipper."

Amazon says wait until December 7 and then they'll either send me a new one or refund it.  The 7th comes along, Amazon refunds it because they have no more in stock.  I'm upset because I lost a good deal.

December 15, Amazon sends me an email with all these TVs they have in stock.  Hey!  There's the TV I ordered that wasn't in stock!  This time it's on sale for $597.

I called Amazon and they said no problem, we'll give it to you for $497.  Can you throw on free two-day shipping?  Sure!

Second TV ships from Carlisle on December 16, in Harrisburg on the 17th, and out for delivery in Cumberland that day.  Wow!  I'll get it a day early!

Package shows as "Delivered," but wait, there's no TV on the porch and it says delivered to Frostburg, MD, fifteen miles from me?  Called UPS, yes it was delivered but to the wrong house.  No problem, they'll send the driver to get it and bring it to my house.

Three hours later, still no TV so I call UPS again.  Of course the person I talk to knows nothing of my problem and I have to explain it three times until he gets it.  This phone call took an hour.  Finally the guy calls the house where it was misdelivered, guy there says yes, a package came, wrong address, but it's not on the porch anymore, someone must have picked it up.  The local UPS center says no, we have no record of a driver returning to pick it up.

UPS is conducting an "investigation."  Hopefully I find out something tomorrow.  This is driving me crazy.  I'll never have UPS ship something of value again.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Merrell Barefoot Shoe Review 2

About a year ago (11 months to be exact), I posted a review of the Merrell Tough Glove Barefoot shoe.  It's been one of my most popular posts in recent memory, so I thought I would post an update/long-term review.

In summary, I read the book "Born to Run" and decided I wanted to try "barefoot running."  Before jumping into it, I thought I should get some daily work shoes with the zero heel drop so I could test them out and strengthen my feet in preparation for running in barefoot shoes.

I bought the Merrell Tough Glove, one of the few decent looking barefoot shoes that I could wear to work and still look respectable.  It's been a year now and I'm still wearing the Tough Glove.  I even started wearing the Merrell Flux Glove for running and casual wear.

First for the Tough Glove - awesome shoe.  It's a shame that Merrell stopped making them.  I have worn them every day to work for the past year.  They have held up incredibly well.  Occasionally the leather will start to show some wear and look less brown, but I hit them with some Kiwi Outdoor Wet Pruf (water repellent leather protection) and it makes the leather look almost new again.

In terms of comfort, these shoes are tops.  It took some getting used to, but after my feet strengthened up a bit, walking all day in these shoes is a breeze.

I liked them so much, I bought my second pair of Merrell Barefoot shoes earlier this year.  I got the Merrell Flux Glove for running and general casual wear.  So basically, I'm wearing Merrell Barefoot shoes all the time.

I put a good number of miles on the Flux Gloves, running 3-6 miles a day, a few times per week.  At first, running in them really worked my calves.  The first couple times I ran in them, my calves were sore for days.  Now I can run long distances with no problems, sort of...

After running in the Flux Gloves for a while, I started getting some pain in my left heel.  It was only light pain while running, but after resting for a while, it was somewhat painful to get moving again.  The back of my heel was also sensitive to touch.  I think maybe it's Achilles tendinitis.  I don't think it's entirely from the shoes, probably more from just running too much, because my running partner started to get them same pain and he wears regular running shoes.

I've scaled back on running and started doing stretches and exercises to focus on my calves and Achilles tendon.  The pain has gotten better but I'm still not at 100 percent.

The only other thing that was uncomfortable when running in the Flux Gloves was running on or near gravel.  I do most of my running in grass but sometimes next to gravel roads or on blacktop roads.  When you land on a piece of gravel in the Flux Glove, you feel it.  The sole provides some protection, but you still feel the road under your feet.  To compensate, I just be careful where I'm running and look out for lone chunks of gravel sticking up in the way.

Other than the heel thing, the Merrell shoes are awesome and I still wear them every day.  I've been looking at buying new pairs to replace the ones I have, but Merrell's current lineup is a little weak.  For casual shoes, they have nothing that looks as "formal" as the Tough Glove.  They have the Jungle Glove, Tour Glove, Reach Glove and Radius Glove, but I don't think any of these look as good as the Tough Glove.

I think the best option for work wear might be the Jungle Glove, but the suede looks a little too casual.  I used to have a pair of Jungle Mocs though, and these were my most favorite shoe ever back then.  For that reason alone I'd like to try the Jungle Glove.

For running, they no longer make the Flux Glove, but the Trail Glove looks like the same shoe.

So I'd like to get two new pairs sometime in the future.  My current pairs still have lots of life left in them though, so I may have to wait a while.  Most of the Merrell Barefoot shoes cost around $100 a pair, so that makes buying new ones a little hard to swallow.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Home Away From Home

I'm looking at options for shelter while on the AT hiking trip and here's what I have.  I own a Eureka Zephyr one-person tent (right) that I have had for at least 10 years and change.  It doesn't get that much use, but when I have used it, it has always worked out quite nicely.

It's free-standing, easy to set up, roomy, relatively waterproof, and durable.  The one thing I don't like about it is it's somewhat heavy.  I have always used it for bike touring and other types of camping where I wasn't actually lugging the thing around over long distances.  It weighs in at 4 lbs with all the parts.  That's about twice what a modern lightweight one-man tent would weigh.  So I think I'm going for another option.

I also have an Outdoor Research Basic Bivy.  I have used it before on a bike trip and it seems to work OK.  For those who don't know, a bivy is basically a waterproof sack that you put yourself and your sleeping bag into and zip it closed (think fancy body bag).  The OR bivy gives you the option of just zipping the bug screen if you want to breathe a little, or zipping the whole thing closed if it's pouring rain and breathing becomes less important.

I liked using the bivy, but the time I used it, it was pouring rain and you can't store gear in there and there's no room to sit up and stay dry at the same time.  So I purchased an Equinox Egret 8x10 tarp that I will carry along with the bivy.  That way I can set up the tarp in any number of configurations (see video below for an entertaining demo) and use the bivy inside the tarp if I need bug protection or extra warmth.

I got the tarp in the mail today.  It looks pretty nice, ripstop material of some sort that looks coated and waterproof.  The 8x10 version weighs 1 lb 11 oz, a lot lighter than my tent.  The bivy weighs 1 lb 3 oz, so together I'm still lighter than the tent option.  I still have to add the weight of some stakes and 550 cord but I think I'll still be about a pound below the tent.

I plan on setting up the tarp sometime this weekend.  I'll take some pictures and let you all know how it turns out.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dueter ACT Lite 65+10 Initial Impressions

I swear I think I'm the last person on my UPS driver's route.  I won this Deuter ACT Lite 65+10 backpack on eBay on Thursday.  The guy finally shipped it on Monday and lucky me, it arrived today, Tuesday.  But it was not until after 6 pm.  That was a killer wait, especially while checking the tracking number every 10 minutes to see that it was still on the truck, ready for delivery.

First a little background on the auction.  It was up for sale by a guy who had zero feedback.  The pictures, on the left and at the bottom, were fuzzy and difficult to read.  The description was "Lightly used for a season, fully functional, and clean."  That's it.  It was a "Buy It Now" auction for $82 plus $9 shipping.  The pack retails for $200.  So I was a little afraid to buy it.  No feedback, fuzzy pictures, "thin" description.  But what the heck, for $82 I thought I'd give it a shot.

I contacted the guy as soon as I bought it just so I could make sure he would respond and give me some peace of mind for the wait.  He responded right away and said he's ship it that day, and oh, by the way, he found a small hole in the mesh pocket on the side.  Oh great, here it goes.

The pack arrived today, packed very nicely, as if he'd had the UPS store box it (he didn't make money on shipping, that's for sure).  It definitely looks well used for a long season, some abrasions, scuffs, a couple of cosmetic stitches loose, and of course, the small hole in the side mesh pocket, but not just one, both side pockets, same hole, same location.  I wouldn't call it "clean" though.  It's a little grubby, some grime visible.  I had to wash my hands after messing with it.  Also had some dirt inside that I shook out.  But hey, it's been used so I'm OK with it.  I want to wash it really well when I get a chance though.

After inspecting all the zippers and buckles and finding everything was indeed functional, I loaded it up with some gear and paraded around the basement.  It surely is big enough for everything I want to take for a long hike.  The pack itself is pretty light.  I like the pockets and compression straps, and the like.  Pretty simple pack, sleeping bag storage that can open into the main compartment, lid that has three pockets, two mesh side pockets, one hip belt pocket, plus bungee straps across the back.  Overall, a very decent pack.

The Air Contact Lite harness is also very nice.  I had to adjust the "Vari-Quick" shoulder harness adjuster to

fit my torso, but once I got it set, the pack felt very nice with a light load.  I was a little worried about the Vari-Quick shoulder strap attachment after seeing it in action on YouTube videos.  I thought maybe the load would pivot or sway too much around the centrally located attachment point, but it doesn't.  Once you have everything buckled and the straps cinched, the load feels very secure and the pack like an extension of your torso.

Overall, my first impressions of the pack are positive.  This one just needs a little cleaning and light mending and it should be ready to hit the trail.  I'm half hoping for a snow-day at school tomorrow so I have time to run up the mountain behind the house and try it out (even if it means running around in sleet and freezing rain).

Tomorrow I'm expecting another package.  A new Equinox Egret 8x10 tarp that will become part of my shelter system.  My next post will be a summary of my shelter plans.  Until then, cheers!


Monday, November 25, 2013

Letting Go

Waist deep in preparations for my AT trip.  Since this requires the acquisition of a few new pieces of gear, I switched to sell mode before moving to buy mode.  Anytime I want to buy something, I first look for something I can sell to raise the money.  As a man of many interests, I usually have something laying around the house that I can sell.  Case in point; to buy my new pack, I quickly sold on eBay my old pack, a pair of snowboard boots and bindings, a kayak rack for a car, and a pair of lederhosen (don't ask).  That easily made enough money for the new pack and some other items.

In the process of selling though, I started looking around and thinking I have a bunch of junk I should sell.  I have things that I've collected over the years and I started wondering why.  Why am I saving these things?  What is the psychology of saving things, collecting, and clutter?  As a proponent of  Buddhist philosophy, should I have any sort of attachment to all this junk?

A few things that I thought of getting rid of come from my hat collection.  I have a bunch of odd hats that I picked up throughout the years.  All of the hats hang from a wall in my basement bar.  They are fun to look at and occasionally wear, but do I really need them?  There's a East German army dress hat, a Soviet army ushanka, a Soviet navy hat, my old Army Dress Blues hat, an Afghan Pakul, various Middle Eastern shemaghs, an assortment of baseball caps, my old MP helmet liner from the 287th MP Co, a Sherlock Holmes hat, a desert pith hat, a knit pom-pom hat from Bosnia, a German army medic beret, etc.

Why am I keeping any of those things?  All of them have some sort of memory attached, but won't I still have the memory with them?  Psychologically speaking, I don't think I'm at the point where my collecting and clutter are a "problem," but from a Buddhist perspective, isn't all of it just unnecessary attachment?

I think I'll sit on this for a while.  In the meantime, expect a "first impressions" pack review for the AT trip tomorrow.  UPS says it will arrive tomorrow!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

AT Hike Details

OK, so I mentioned my Appalachian Trail hiking  trip in my last post but didn't get into any of the details.  Here they are...

My friend, we'll call him "Max," decided he wants to hike the AT.  He's not going to hike the whole thing, but half of it, which is still a heck of a long way.

He's planning to start in Harpers Ferry, WV and start walking north to Maine, 1,165 miles.  He'll start in June 2014.

I once planned to hike the full length of the AT, but as so often happens, my plans were put on hold by family responsibilities.  It's hard to take five or six months off when you've got a wife and kid.  Max, on the other hand, has kids who are graduating soon from high school and as for the wife... well, that's the catalyst for the sudden urge to drop everything and walk 1,000 miles.

As much as I'd like to accompany him on his trip, I still have a few years before my child finishes high school and as a result, my wife still has a lot of sway in my life decisions.  While I can't do the whole thing with him, I agreed to hike some part of it and/or go with him on a warm-up hike of sorts.

We decided to start with the warm-up hike over spring break in April.  I have five days off from work and he will be available as well.  My first thought was to hike the AT through Maryland, our current state of residence.  It's only about 40 miles, easily obtainable in about four days.  The trip would take us from Penmar, PA south to Harpers Ferry, WV.  Max didn't like this idea though, because his long trip will start in Harpers Ferry and go north, covering the Maryland section again.  He didn't want to do one section twice, so we decided to start in Harpers Ferry and go south for the warm-up hike.

A four day trip from Harpers Ferry south, averaging a little more than 10 miles per day, would take you about to Virginia Route 55 just outside Front Royal.  The actual distance is 45.7 miles.  I think it's doable.

And so the planning begins.  As I mentioned previously I am awaiting my new pack.  I also spent some time today making a beer can alcohol stove.  I have another stove so I'll post something on stove selection later.  I'm also looking at shelter options so that post will follow as well.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

New Quest, Pack Search

The ol' blog has been gathering dust again.  Time to revive it.

I have a new quest, a new challenge to conquer.  Previously I have  posted here about my long-distance bike travel.  Now I'm ramping up for some long-distance foot travel.

A very dear friend of mine has decided to hike a large portion of the Appalachian Trail.  He is conquering some personal challenges and has decided that the AT will help with that.  I don't have the time to commit to a "large portion," but I have agreed to accompany my friend on at least one warm-up hike to prepare him for the longer trip.

We have decided to hike 45 miles of the AT in April as preparation for his long hike starting in June.  So that means I am ramping up for the April hike.

I am a gear nerd.  I admit it.  No matter the hobby or interest, I love the gear.  So the first thing I did when the mention of a hike came up was to dig out my hiking and camping gear and take inventory.  Then came the countless hours of Internet research to learn that much of my gear is barely suitable and that I need to get new gear.  Let's start with my pack.

I had a Gregory Whitney (pictured above) that I purchased new from REI sometime in 2003 or 2004.  It is a HUGE pack.  It's 90 liters in volume and more than seven pounds in weight.  I bought it in preparation for a trip to Iraq where I needed to pack three months worth of stuff.  That's a lot of stuff but fortunately, I never actually had to carry it over any distance greater than 50 yards.  For our 79,000 yard trip, this pack surely wouldn't do.  It's way too big and could get way too heavy.  The "recommended" pack volume and weight for AT hikes is 50-65 liters and as light as humanly possible.  Of course that meant I needed a new pack.

Step 1: Sell the Whitney on eBay and buy a new pack.  Step 2: Do the countless hours of research on the Internet to find the perfect pack for AT thru-hikes.  The research led me to a few options.  My first solution was the Gregory Baltoro 65.  Same great manufacturer, same great comfort, top end of the size recommendation (good and bad), but that pack is heavy too.  It was a touch over five pounds, just two fewer than the big Whitney.

The lightest options... anything by ULA, the Circuit or Catalyst.  These are the packs of choice on the AT and other long-distance trails.  They are little more than a light rucksack; super light, on the small end of the capacity recommendation, but usually above my price range (which was whatever I could sell the Whitney for).

Other awesome choices... Granite Gear packs, specifically the Nimbus Meridian.  A superb pack, but over my range new and hard to find used on eBay.  Osprey packs, all great, lots of options in the 50-65 liter range, but again, sometimes too pricey for me.

Enter the Deuter ACT Lite 65+10.  Same great features as the others but just a little cheaper.  So I managed to pick one up on eBay for just $91, including shipping.  Great deal on a great pack.  But I don't have it yet.  I just won the auction the other day and it should be arriving in a week or so.  I'll be posting a review as soon as I try it out.