Friday, August 29, 2008

Good Gear: Ode to the A-III

My Eagle Industries A-III pack and I have logged a lot of miles together. When last I checked (and because I’m a huge geek, I actually did check), it’s been to at least 15 countries. It’s traveled by car & van, helicopter & HMMWV, jetliner & puddle-jumper, speedboat & subway - to say nothing of my own two stinky feet. It’s been beat up, abused, over loaded, slept on & stepped on, dragged & dunked, and it’s never skipped a beat.

It looks basically just like the day I bought it five years ago for $99 - that is to say totally unremarkable and plain black. The Cordura nylon has softened a bit with wear, and the brass hardware has lost its black coating. I keep wondering when I’ll have to test Eagle’s lifetime warrantee.

Add to its ruggedness that it blends in perfectly in the sea of black bags in any airport, precisely meets the dimensions for carry-on luggage, and has extremely comfortable straps. If I can’t fit it in the A-III’s ~ 2,600 cubic inches, I usually don’t need it. The AIII pack has proven to be a perfect companion from tent camps to five star hotels.

Eagle Industries’ AIII pack:

But they’re cheapest here:

Monday, August 25, 2008

Paying for Burgers

The Cost

It turns out that JB neglected to mention two things about today’s hike until we were well into it.
  1. Apparently it’s common practice to add a mile to the distance estimate of a hike for each 1000 feet of elevation change. So when he said, “It’s 9.6 miles round trip. Is that cool with you?” what he meant to say was, “It’s 9.6 miles round trip, but there’s 3000 feet of elevation change on each leg. So that’s the equivalent of walking 15.6 miles. Is that cool with you?”

  2. When he’s training for a race (like now) this is a path that he RUNS on light days away from the weights and bike.
I believe that both not-so-accidental oversights were attempts to avoid intimidating my flabby citified self. I don’t think he needed to bother. By mile 3, my mind was much too focused on respiration to bother with intimidation.
Maxed out heart rate and all, the trip was more than worth it.

The Reward

In need of serious refueling and hydration, we made a beeline for a joint on JB’s must-visit list: Billy’s Giant Hamburgers.

Now I can’t say for sure what impact the afternoon’s exertions had on my opinion, but Billy’s might just be serving a perfect burger.

This admittedly isn’t rocket science, but it’s remarkably hard to find a place getting it right. Billy’s is one of those places. Their half-pound chuck patty is gently formed and tastes like grilled beef – not liquid smoke, not some “secret blend” of spices, but simply good quality well prepared BEEF. The cheese actually adds flavor instead of just fat. Nice fresh tomatoes and iceberg lettuce provide texture contrast. Just a shmear of mayo helps hold things together with a hint of richness. And finally, a bun robust enough to avoid falling apart without getting in the way. This is a truly great hamburger.

Note: The beer also apparently contains an analgesic called CH3CH2OH that works remarkably well on large muscle groups inflamed by high altitude exertions.

Billy’s Giant Hamburgers
55 N Cache St
Jackson, WY 83001

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Good Fuel

Something that I’m learning - climbers and bikers and others who willfully engage in sweat-producing activities? They need food. They like food. They like good food. Since there are so many of them out here, that means there’s LOTS of good food.

Our arrival at the trip's notional final destination drove this home as JB struggled to sort through which must-try eating options we'd be able to fit into our limited time here.

On our first night here, we drove over the pass from Victor, ID into Jackson, WY to grab a meal at Rendezvous Bistro. Sitting at the bar, we had full access to the impressive dinner menu.

Starters were:
  • Coriander encrusted ahi tuna with jicama & napa cabbage slaw, and jalapeno mignonette

  • Grilled spicy octopus on a salad of arugula, fennel, olives, and piquillo peppers

Mains followed:

  • Venison medallions in a chimichurri with haricot vert and a sweet potato-chorizo hash

  • Grilled chili rubbed pork chop with chipotle cream corn topped with a mango-cabbage slaw (we were fighting over this )
All of this was well executed and full flavored. The stand-outs were probably the octopus salad and the pork chop. In both cases, the kitchen was not afraid to use assertive spice to complement (NOT overwhelm) the main component. The amount of high end tourist dollars flowing into the Jackson area clearly allows for the import of quality ingredients (not a lot of local octopus I’m thinking) and the skills to use them. Excellent, excellent food.

Rendezvous Bistro
380 S Broadway
Jackson, WY 83001
(307) 739-1100

Everybody Knows Dick

Arriving into Victor, ID we park the faithful 13 year old Toyota 4Runner that has carried us the 2100 miles from Chicago (with the check engine light on for the last 500 or so). It lacks the umph required over the coming days to carry us repeatedly back and forth over Teton Pass.

In its place, we mount the 1999 Suburban that JB keeps here. Gray, hulking, and unsubtle, it is universally known to denizens of the area as “Dick". Given the Vice President’s nearby home, the Cheney-suggestive double entendre is part of the vehicle’s charm to all.

Sure enough. No sooner have we ridden Dick over the pass than ML, a local guide and friend of JB’s, swerves around us at high speed tooting her horn and waving “Diccccckkk!!!” Within minutes more Dick sightings have prompted calls to JB’s cell phone. “We saw Dick go by! Are you in town? Want to go climbing?”

Amazing. Everyone really does know Dick.

Crossing the Divide

The terrain out here seems bigger and bigger with every passing mile, but the world of human relationships shrinks in parallel. Example? Well . . . crossing the Continental Divide this morning, we stopped to take a photo.

Of course the other car pulled over at this random spot in a steep mountain pass just happened to be filled with two of JB’s old friends and their children. More greetings and hugs and excited questions about when he was coming to stay with them, when they were all going climbing, etc.

It’s a small big world out here. And it seems uniformly peopled by individuals bent on responsibly enjoying all that the environment has to offer. To them, “RunBikePaddleClimb” is the common one word response to “what are you going to be doing?” They revel in every bit of it.