Archive for category Adventure Travel

A Teachable Moment

A few days ago, I came upon a small softroader of some kind attempting a pretty challenging hillclimb on a dirt two-track just off the paved highway. No forward progress, lots of wheelspin. The car would occasionally get a bit sideways. I stopped to watch, knowing that a failed hillclimb can easily lead to a rollover. Didn’t know exactly what I was going to do but figured I might be able to lend some sort of assistance.

After a bit, I began walking up the hill toward the stuck car. The driver put her head out the window and very politely asked me if I was wanting to drive up the road she was currently blocking. I said I was there to see if I could help her out in any way.

We talked a bit and I suggested she try gently backing down the hill while I spotted her. We got the car down without much more trouble than a bit of wheel slip.

Turns out she works for an engineering firm that is doing an environmental assessment of a proposed cell tower site. Her goal was to drive to the site on the other side of the hill a couple of miles away and about 500 feet higher.

I confirmed with her that she had permission to drive on what I believe is private property. And I suggested that perhaps her car was not the best choice for that particular challenge. Then I offered to drive her to the site in my truck. She accepted.

Heading up the hill, I mentioned the benefits of low range gearing, bigger tires, and locking differentials. Also experience and training. I talked about how a more capable vehicle can tackle a tougher obstacle while minimizing impact on the land. I said that the reason I stopped in the first place was concern for her safety and possible damage to the landscape. I told her about Tread Lightly and responsible back country travel.

We found the cell site, she took a few pictures, we had a nice chat, and I drove her back down the hill to her car. I gained a couple new pinstripes but we never spun a tire.

All in all a nice experience and completely unexpected.

Would you have done anything differently?

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Put on the Uniform

How do you get ready for a presentation? A meeting with a prospective customer? A day exhibiting at a trade show? You probably double-check your materials, make sure you have plenty of business cards, and confirm the time and place. Do you put on a uniform?

Uniforms are a powerful tool, common to most cultures. Think about the person who delivers your mail, or packages, or a speeding ticket. They all wear a uniform. It gives them authority. Without the uniform, would you take a cop seriously? How about an airline pilot?

What’s the uniform in your field?

When I worked as a back country guide, our summer uniform was a green company polo shirt, desert or woodland camouflage BDU trousers, a company baseball cap, and a handheld two-way radio. In winter we wore black snow pants and a red and black snowmobile jacket. None of our guests dressed like that and it was obvious who was running the show.

Asked to speak at a presentation to visitors I thought I might dress up a bit better than my “work” clothes. So I pulled out a new polo shirt and some fresh khaki trousers. So did everyone else who presented that day. I looked just like every other talking head trying to sell something to tourists. I didn’t give much of a presentation and I doubt if anyone paid any attention to me at all.

The next week I went back wearing my field uniform, including a big knife and my radio in a pouch on my belt. All the other presenters still wore their khakis and polos, since that was their uniform. I stood out from the crowd and my audience listened to me.

More importantly, I was wearing my uniform rather than someone else’s. I felt comfortable and relaxed.

I had been afraid of speaking in public and it affected my performance. Now, in my comfortable everyday uniform, I could easily play the role that I was supposed to. I wasn’t a pitchman selling something. I was an experienced back country guide telling visitors about the beautiful scenery all around them. About the place where I got to spend 200 days a year. About the adventures I had enjoyed and wanted to share with them.

I felt like the hit of the party. It doesn’t matter whether that was true or not; I felt like it. My audience not only listened carefully and asked great questions, they wanted to hear more. To share in my adventures. To buy what I was selling.

As the last presenter finished speaking the audience broke up. Many of them came to ask me more questions; several wanted to book an adventure with my outfit. I pulled out my cell phone, called the home office, and made their reservations. Our company had been speaking at these events for years and had never before booked a trip right on the spot. I felt like the king of the world.

So the uniform worked for me. More importantly, it worked for my company and my customers. It helped them to decide to buy what I had to sell. Pretty powerful tool, no?

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the uniform was in helping me get over my fear of speaking in public. Before, I had been a guy doing something I didn’t want to do and knew I wasn’t very good at. After, I realized that I was actually playing a role. Out on the trail, where I wore my uniform every day, my guests expected me to be an expert guide, confident to lead a trip, and experienced in handling whatever the back country threw at us. And I was that person. I did that job every day and I was good at it. When I wore my adventure travel guide uniform, I was in character. I was ready to play the role I had signed up for.

So what’s your uniform? Is it the right one for what you need to do? Does it send the right message to others?

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Got an iPad? Enjoy Pyramid Lake

Richard Misrach's photo as seen on the iPad

Richard Misrach's photo on the iPad. Wikimedia Commons image by Glenn Fleishman

How ’bout that iPad, eh? And how ’bout that beautiful background photo? That picture is of Pyramid Lake, in Northern Nevada. Serene, eerie, beautiful.

The default background screen on Apple’s iPad is called “Pyramid Lake (at Night).” It was taken by Richard Misrach, of Berkeley, California, in 2004. It is part of his series called Desert Cantos, an ongoing study of the American Desert landscape begun more than 35 years ago.

More on the photo, and Mr. Misrach, from the Reno Gazette Journal. And a very nice version of the original image, from Artinfo.

Enjoy the image, and your new iPad.

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Lessons From a Dry Lake Bed

Sail Magazine has just published an interesting article on an experimental wind-powered vehicle that does its job amazingly well. And is also extremely ugly.

Background: “Common wisdom” shows us that a sailing vessel, when traveling directly downwind, can only move as fast as the wind that powers it. A well-designed sailboat, or landsailer, or iceboat, can move significantly faster than the wind on other courses, but not directly downwind.

So a bunch of really smart folks began debating in online forums about whether it would be possible to design a craft that could sail downwind faster than the wind blows. And while the debate was raging, some of them actually went out and built the thing. They thought it might go perhaps twice as fast as the wind.

In March, at the annual meet of the North American Land Sailing Association, on the flats of Ivanpah Dry Lake, near Primm, Nevada, it achieved 2.5 times the wind speed. The team is now shooting for three times the wind speed. They’re sponsored by Joby Energy, which develops airborne wind turbines, and by Google, which does everything.

So the thing works. And it is insanely ugly.

Lessons learned:

  • Sometimes, what we all think to be true, isn’t.
  • Really smart people are all around us. So are really obnoxious people. People who can get their ideas across without being obnoxious get listened to.
  • There’s a big difference between talking and doing.
  • Anybody can shoot off their mouth on the internet. Sometimes they also shoot off their foot.
  • Form-follows-function is nice. Purpose-built is nice. Ugly machines are still ugly.

Here’s a couple of samples of some of the debate that got this whole thing going. It gets a bit uncivilized in places:

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Get Your Team on the Same Page

“I just wanted to make sure we’re on the same page.” When was the last time you heard that? Or said it? Are your team members on the same page?

When I worked as a backcountry guide we started every trip with a short orientation meeting. This set the tone, outlined the plan for the day, and gave everyone a chance to ask questions. The first item I talked about was always safety. I explained that I was fortunate enough to have a good safety record with no serious injuries to date and that I planned to continue that safety record on our trip today. I asked for everyone’s agreement to strive for that goal and for their help in achieving it. My clients always agreed to that goal, we had good trips, and never saw any serious injuries. Everyone was on the same page.

In his excellent Vehicle-Dependent Expedition Guide, Tom Sheppard explains the daily plan that he has developed and still uses on his many explorations into North Africa. Mr. Sheppard’s team members wake up 30 minutes before dawn, have breakfast, check their vehicles, pack up, and hit the trail, all within an hour. They stop for the next night’s camp at least 90 minutes before sunset. Each team member has assigned tasks and gets right to them, camp is set up, the evening meal is prepared, chores get done, and the team sets up for another early departure the next morning.

This could only work if everyone is on the same page.

It might be a tired metaphor, but it is useful. Even if you’re not leading a group of trucks across the Sahara.

Sportsmobile vans in Baja

This team is on the same page

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