Head First

This post will focus on some of the pre-trip preparation for a hike called the Long Range Traverse in Newfoundland. When I sat down to write this post I had a momentary gasp realizing that we did that hike in 2012… 9 years ago… which is very close to 10 years…. which is a long time for something that I can still vividly recall. It’s similar to that feeling when you look in the mirror and gasp at all the grey hair you have that seemingly appeared over night (but really it was always there).

As I mentioned, this post will be about the preparation for the Long Range Traverse. I’ve got a longer more in depth post planned for the hike itself that will be released at a later date, and possibly in multiple chapters since I can literally talk about sweet outdoor activities all day long and I will likely get lost in the photos and memories from this trip for quite some time during the writing process. This particular hike is located in the backcountry of western Newfoundland the begins at the eastern most point of Western Brook Pond and finishes in Gros Morne National Park. This hike is a multi-day backcountry hike that is self supported and requires that you utilize skills of route finding as there is no defined / marked trail. You are required to check in with park officials and complete a quiz to confirm you possess the necessary knowledge of map and compass navigation prior to departure and you are required to check in after the hike. You are also required to carry a tracking device with you which would aid search and rescue if needed (if you are late by more than a day they will come looking for you). It’s common for this area to be completely socked in with fog or rain for days on end which would greatly increase the risk of getting lost.

During the planning process for the hike one of the main obstacles was to ensure we were prepared to navigate the terrain with map and compass (we would also have a GPS as backup but did not want to be solely reliant on a battery powered device). Past experience told us that the best way to learn a new skill such as this was to dive in head first (hence the title of this post). Our version of diving in head first was to sign up for an adventure race / orienteering challenge hosted by the Halifax Regional Search & Rescue called the Eco Endurance Challenge (E2C). The E2C had two different durations, an 8 hour challenge and a 24 hour challenge. The 24 hour challenge started at 12:00 p.m. and ran until 12:00 p.m. the following day. Naturally being young and naive we signed up for the 24 hour challenge even though we had never participated in such a competition before. Our logic was that the 24 hour challenge would help simulate the experience of being multiple days into a difficult hike in the East Coast backcountry, being tired and possibly cold / wet and needing to rely on our orienteering skills to safely finish.

The E2C proved to be the perfect learning ground and our approach allowed us to maximize the learning in a short period of time. We read a book on navigation with map and compass the days leading into the competition and made a deal with ourselves that we wouldn’t worry about our placement and that we would just focus on practicing the necessary skills and finding as many controls (checkpoints) as we could. I can still recall the feeling of “navigating” our way to the first control wondering if we were even close to being on the correct bearing. Imagine our surprise when we located it on the first try! Our first 8 hours went really well and we were finding a solid number of controls both with map bearings and magnetic bearings (a very important distinction and easy to forget when you’re exhausted). After the first 8 hours was when things started to get difficult. At one point we were all feeling quite exhausted, it was getting dark and we had a moment of realization that maybe we would need to go back to the car and rest a bit… but we were 14 kilometers from the car as the crow flies… and we had dense East Coast forest complete with windfall zones, lakes and swamps between us and car.

At first, when hiking back to the car for a couple hours of sleep, our resolve remained strong and we were still trying to find controls along the way. As the night wore on even going a couple hundred meters out of our way to find a control was out of the question. By that point we were somewhere between 12-16 hours into the competition and utterly exhausted and there wasn’t enough Mike & Ike’s in the world to keep the spirits up. I will admit there were a few moments, sitting on a mossy log for a rest, where I was questioning all of my life decisions. But we finally made it back to the car and grabbed a couple hours of sleep. The next morning we got back out on the trail but realized that bushwhacking through 50 plus kilometers of uneven terrain the day before left our muscles and joints utterly destroyed. We got out for the last hours of the competition, hobbled another 10+ kilometers but only picked up 2-3 more controls.

At the end of the competition we placed somewhere in the bottom of the pack in the 24 hour recreational category. This is a category that allows use of a GPS (which we brought as a backup) but we ended up using the map and compass the entire time which was our main goal. We picked up about 85% of our points in the first 8 hours of the competition which was a solid lesson in how much more challenging navigation can get when you are exhausted and when it’s night time (as it turns our night was a good simulation for dense fog since you couldn’t see land marks or unique geographic features). It was an extremely physically and mentally challenging experience, we hiked over 60 km in 24 hours, but it served it’s purpose wonderfully. By the end of the competition our navigation skills with map and compass had increase significantly and we felt much more prepared to take on the Long Range Traverse.

As an aside, we enjoyed the challenge of the competition enough that we went back the following year to compete in the same category. We took the same approach of navigating the entire time with map and compass and planned our route so we would circle back past the vehicle sometime during the night for a couple hours of sleep. We also planned our route such that most of our travel after dark would be on dirt roads we could see on the map which helped compensate for how difficult it is to navigate with map and compass after dark. The second time around we placed mid-pack in the category which was a significant improvement on our previous attempt.

For us there were many benefits of competing in an orienteering challenge like the E2C to learn this new skill. The E2C is run by a professional search and rescue operation, there were a large number of other teams out in the woods at the same time and there were checkpoints you could stop at if you got into trouble. This also added a lot of enjoyment to the process of preparing for the hike. As I have said before, the planning process can add months of enjoyment to a trip that may only last a week. Once you start adding in experiences like a competition, regular training hikes or just getting out for car camping or short hikes to test your equipment you will be even more prepared and a single hike can turn into an entire summer of fun outdoor experiences.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have had a similar experience were you dove in head first to learn a new skill I would love to hear about it. Feel free to send an email or reach out through our contact page. Your story may even be featured in a future blog post!

Happy Trails,

Dave T

Weekly Adventures

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the routine. Work all week, crash on the weekend only to feel that Monday came too quick once again. What did you really accomplish on the weekend? I guess that hike you’ve been meaning to do will get pushed out another week, or two.

Recent Prairie Mountain hike

I think we can all relate to this feeling. Before you know it your weekend has slipped away. Something I have been trying to do this past year is to commit to a weekly adventure. Some weekends this has been as simple a nice walk along the Bow River here in Calgary or taking a couple hours to go hike Prairie Mountain in Kananaskis. Other weekends it’s an overnight mountain bike trip into BC with lots of “braaaps” yelled into the wind, a few cold post ride beers around the camp fire and lots of chuckling about your buddies epic (injury free) crash earlier that day.

While I often find myself longing for the next big adventure it is these small weekly outings that really keep me going. I would encourage you to commit to one adventure per week. If you can’t find anyone to go with then find something safe, simple and go alone. Just make sure to leave your trip plan with someone you trust if you are venturing out into the mountains. If you are feeling uneasy about going solo pick a trail that is known to be heavily trafficked and schedule yourself so you won’t be the last one on the trail.

If you have started committing to weekly adventures I would love to hear about them. You can send me an email at 118degreeswest@gmail.com or drop a quick note through our Contact Us page.

Happy trails!

Dave T

Economical Adventure Upgrades – Custom Car Camping Window Screens

The 2008 Subaru Outback (the Sube) was a great adventure rig for many years. One of my favourite parts about the Sube (aside from it being a 5 speed manual) was the fact that it was a station wagon. I could haul all kinds of materials and gear in the back and it also had ample space for simple car camping. This post describes one of the upgrades that made sleeping in the back of the Sube much more comfortable.  Custom screens are a simple project that is very cost effective.

Custom screens with magnetic inserts

It started with a roll of standard screen from Canadian Tire for around $10.  I taped the screen onto the car to get the outline and sizing needed.  Once trimmed I used a roll of fabric ribbon and thread from Michaels for around $5.  The magnets required a few iterations.  I started with magnetic tape which wasn’t strong enough.  Next I used a 10 piece magnetic disc set from Princess Auto for about $8.  I spaced each magnet equally and the final product worked perfectly.  The total price is about $23 for the whole setup.  I used a hand sewing kit which we already had around the house.

I paired this simple setup with my sleeping pad and sleeping bag to make for a very comfortable sleeping arrangement.  Considering the standard rooftop tent runs $2500 CAD or more this is an extremely affordable way to start camping in your car.  The screens allow  you to keep your windows open for a nice cross breeze while keeping pesky mosquitos from feasting on you while you sleep.

This post ties in very nicely with one of my main goals at 118 Degrees West.  I want to show people that you don’t need to spend a fortune to start exploring the world around you.  All you need is a creative mindset and the desire to get outside. Along this theme, keep an eye out for a future post about the custom sleep platform, with drawers and storage cubbies, I built for the back of my 2000 Toyota 4Runner for less than $400. There’s also a sneak peek of the 4Runner setup on the 118 Degrees West Instagram page for those interested.

Happy Trails,

Dave T

Trip Anticipation

One of my favourite parts of a trip is the planning process. You can get months worth of enjoyment from the planning and anticipation of a trip. We started planning our trip to the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island a least 4 months before the trip itself began.  Lunch breaks at work were spent reading articles, reviewing maps and planning meals. We even got to the point of dehydrating all of our own food for the trip which was challenging and fun all in one. Putting this level of research and planning into a trip also helps you enjoy the trip more and ensure you are able to let go and fully enjoy the moment. Additionally, spending this time in advance allows the experience and details of the trip to stick with you for years after the fact (at least that’s how it has worked for me). I find I am able to relive special moments of past trips just by looking at pictures to trigger the feeling of freedom I had in those moments. Take a peek at a few such photos below from the West Coast Trail!

As with most popular adventures (at least the backcountry ones) you will likely have to book things well in advance in order to increase your chances of securing a booking and catching opportune weather. I would recommend that you start planning your trip from the time of booking if you haven’t already started. This will allow you to develop a solid plan and while leveraging the time to build anticipation / excitement for the trip.

Another recommendation that has proved true for my own adventures is to avoid planning out every moment of each day. Yes the goal is to have a solid trip plan the ensures travel logistics work out and that you have the right gear, the right amount of food and the appropriate amount of time for the adventure. That being said, don’t stress yourself out trying to create the perfect most detailed plan. It is important to allow buffers or to be prepared if and when things don’t go as planned. This is all part of the experience and having the right mindset can make a little hiccup or a little side excursion one of the most memorable parts of a trip.

Trip anticipation can be equally as exciting for a small outing as it is for a larger trip. I find myself scoping out hikes or bike rides for the next weekend using various 3D maps available online (google or FAT maps) and being super excited all week leading into the weekend. I will also take pictures of ridgelines or peaks that I want to explore so I can stare at them longingly when that last meeting of the day starts to run over time… again. I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it. Looking back through my West Coast Trail pictures brought me right back there again with the massive trees, moist air with a dash of salt, laughs with a good friend and afternoons laying in the sand by a bon fire, listening to waves crashing on the shore.

Happy Trails,

Dave T

Start Simple

As I have mentioned, my main goal here at 118 Degrees West is to inspire people to get outside.  An adventure doesn’t always have to be a strenuous hike to the top of a mountain.  An adventure can be as simple as going for a walk along a nearby stream or river (see image below).  Often times when thinking about getting out for a hike or planning a weekend camping trip we can get overwhelmed.  It can seem like a lot of work if you start to worry about every little detail.  Where will we camp?  What trails should we hike?  Will it be busy?  What should we bring to eat?  As we ask ourselves all these questions planning a trip can become it’s own mountain to climb.

Recent Friday evening walk in Fish Creek park in Calgary. After a long work week the short drive and fresh air was most welcome.

The idea is to start simple and to get comfortable with the gear you will bring on a hike.  If you have new boots make sure to wear them around the house or on short walks in the park to get them broken in.  Maybe try wearing the gear you would wear on a hike to the gym for a workout.  How does it hold up once you get sweaty?  Does it wick away the sweat and dry quickly? Does the clothing bind up if you are in a deep squat or lunge?  This is a good way to figure out what will work and what won’t in more strenuous situations. This is also a good way to remove some of the planning effort with weekend adventures. If you know what gear you will use for an activity and you have tested it out ahead of time then that is one less thing to worry about. Quick side note, I always pack clothes to change into after a strenuous activity. A pair of cotton boxers, dry socks and a nice light cotton t-shirt can be almost as satisfying at the post activity refreshments… almost.

When choosing a hike I always recommend you start simple.  Pick up a local guide book, or utilize one of many available apps, and do one of the lower rated hikes if you are an inexperienced hiker.  If you find it too easy then step up to the next difficulty level but plan accordingly.  If you want to start with the most difficult hike right away make sure you consider the safety precautions, pack appropriately and leave a trip plan with someone who will notify the right people in the case of an emergency.  When leaving a trip plan with someone it is a good idea to specify a window of time when you expect to return and allow a buffer so that if a hike is longer than you expect you don’t end up with people out looking for your while you’re enjoying a well earned treat from the local coffee shop.

Happy trails,

Dave T