Thursday, May 4, 2017

TruckVault Vehicle Storage System

A few years ago my wife and I were planning a business/pleasure trip to Yellowstone Park in our new Toyota 4Runner. The plan was to loop through Montana and visit some of my suppliers in Bozeman and Twin Bridges before heading south into the park. Being a fly shop owner and former professional photographer there is a lot of expensive gear that normally follows me on any adventure so I was concerned about keeping all that stuff safe during the trip. 

I had been introduced to the TruckVault brand of secure vehicle storage at the local gun club where I shot sporting clays. Many of the shooters there had TruckVaults for their expensive firearms and since many of those guns surpassed the value of my first home, I figured that was a solid recommendation of the brand. I should note that this particular gun club was probably the safest place to leave your vehicle unlocked in the entire state of Oregon, except during zucchini season. Unless of course you love zucchini.

In any case, after deciding on the configuration of the TruckVault I wished to install by using their on-line design feature, I contacted the home office in Sedro Woolley, Washington and was put in touch with a local representative. Since this was a new model year of the 4Runner the gentleman actually came by my place of business and double checked the measurements and placed the order. In a few weeks a freight truck rolled up to the house and delivered the first upgrade build item for our new fly fishing adventure vehicle, the TruckVault.

With just a few days before our trip I set about figuring out the best way to organize my camera and fishing gear in the two drawers. I had chosen the two drawer offset configuration with the plan to switch the fishing gear and camera gear between the two based on the emphasis of the adventure. Fishing trips might require more fishing gear and photo safaris may need more camera storage space. In the end, I settled on each drawer being dedicated to its specific activity.

To simplify the organization of the camera drawer I took the foam insert out of my Pelican 1600 series case and plopped it in the drawer. This left room for a single TruckVault divider to keep my tripod from rolling around. There was even space in the very back of the drawer for an ARB tire repair kit and a few misc. infrequently used items.

Overall, I’ve been very happy with the build quality of the TruckVault and the added security of the optional combination locks. The unit is very solidly made, a fact that is reflected in the weight. While I haven’t placed the unit on a scale, installation was done with one extra body and would have been tough alone. TruckVault lists the weight between 130 and 265 LBS depending on configuration. I’m guessing mine tips the scales around 150 pounds. The location of mounting hardware matched up nicely with the Toyotas factory tie down points and turnbuckles secured it in place so it doesn’t bounce around while motoring off road.

On one occasion I found myself in the neighborhood of the manufacturer and stopped in to see how the unit was made. A brief tour verified the quality of the build and the attention to detail in the finished product. While a relatively small operation, they function at high efficiency making turn-a-round times reasonable. Since all orders are custom with options ranging from drawer faces, carpeting, locks and basic configuration, production efficiency is a consideration when making a purchase. With years of experience and thousands of satisfied customers in law enforcement and the private sector, TruckVault is a proven leader in vehicle storage systems. 

The last few years have been spent searching for the perfect combination of foam and dividers to store my ever changing collection of gear. Nothing was perfect until I discovered the TrekPak system. While reading forum posts on center console organization I came across a mention of the product and tracked down their website. Soon I saw the possibilities for organizing my Pelican cases and my TruckVault. Another search and I learned that TruckVault now offers TrekPak kits for their drawers. I had to try it.

The kit arrived and was relatively complete. It included the required panels, joining clips, a custom cutting tool and a sticker proclaiming to the world that you’ve finally had a storage drawer epiphany. The only thing missing was any design ideas for the ultimate storage system, but that is the beauty of this system, it’s totally custom.

While every user will have their own requirements, the combination of the TruckVault and TrekPak make safe storage of your valuable equipment easy and adjustable. I started by deciding what items I wanted fast access to and place them near the front of the drawer. By prioritizing each piece of gear or placing it together with like items I soon had a layout to work with. I also thought about future additions of equipment and how they could be added in with simple adjustments to the layout. Then I started cutting the panels.

I would caution everyone to take the time to really think about how you will use your equipment when you decide where to place it. I would also repeat the old adage, measure twice, cut once. If you spend time with the initial layout you will avoid frustration down the road. Fortunately for me, I had over two years of using my TruckVault drawers and could easily see how I wanted things laid out. The install took less than an hour and I love the finished product. Not only does it safely transport my expensive gear and keep it safe, it’s increased the storage capacity of the drawers and ease of access to each piece of equipment. It even looks like I now have space for another lens or two.

After over two solid years of use I have no regrets with my original purchase of the TruckVault. It has provided a sense of security when traveling with expensive equipment and kept it from damage. While nothing is ever totally safe from theft, having a secure lockable out of sight location is a good place to start. The unit has held up well to constant use and shows no signs of wear. With the newly added TrekPak system the organizational possibilities are endless, which adds to my overall satisfaction with this storage solution. It’s like falling in love with the TruckVault all over again.

Secure, safe storage for a wide variety of equipment.
Easily customized with TrekPak or provided dividers.
Well made in Sedro Woolley, Washington.
Competitively priced.

Possibly heavier than other systems out here, but not by much.
Some rattling of drawers in wash board driving situations. (I solved that issue with felt strips on the leading edge of the drawers.) 

Shipping costs are a bit expensive, but that’s to be expected. I have seen shipping discounts offered on occasion from TruckVault.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Off-Grid Engineering Dual Battery System

I’ve recently added an Engel refrigerator to the collection of stuff I carry with me in the 4Runner and felt the need to provide it with its own source of power. Call me silly, but a dead battery alone in the middle of nowhere is not my idea of a good time. Yes, I know that in theory the Engel will not draw the battery below enough charge to start the vehicle, but theories have to be proven to become facts and I’m not willing to risk it. I also tend to like redundancy in systems that allow for a safe and uneventful completion of my outdoor adventures. Perhaps that trend started after I drove two hours to fly fish the Deschutes River and broke the only rod I had with me while simply stringing it up. Now I don’t leave the house without at least four rods, even for a day trip. 

My first step in the process of adding an extra battery under the hood was to talk to the guys at my local 4x4 shop. The quote they gave me seemed reasonable, but didn’t include many of the parts I would need to complete the project. I would have to supply a battery mount, a replacement washer bottle and misc. kits to move various engine components to different locations. Basically, they would provide a few parts, labor and expertise. 

Digging deeper into this project I discovered that if I continued with this piecemeal approach the costs would nearly double. I decided to do a little additional investigating and perhaps handle the install myself.

One of the many advantages of owning a popular vehicle like the 4Runner is that there are a plethora of aftermarket parts and custom shops available to help you outfit and explore. One such shop popped up on my social media feed and after some additional on-line research I reached out for more information.

The best I can tell, Off-Grid Engineering is a one or two man operation in Colorado that designs, tests and builds duel battery systems for the Toyota Tacoma and 4Runner. Matt Carter, the man behind the brand seems to be a bit of a perfectionist if a close inspection if his work is any indication. With email back and forth completed I was sure that I was going to be happy with his system and placed my order.

In a few weeks a packaged arrived and I immediately put daily work requirements on the back burner and cracked it open. From the beginning I was impressed. All of the parts were carefully package with protective wrapping, with nothing bouncing around loose in the box. Upon inspection I found that my initial thoughts on the lack of complexity of the install were correct. While the install instructions were simple, they left nothing to the imagination and included a photograph for those more visually influenced.

The install took me about two and a half hours, with some of that time spent dodging rain squalls. With my James Baroud tent on the roof, the 4Runner doesn’t fit in the garage all the way, leaving me to wait out the downpours before installing the cockpit switch. All of the engine compartment work was done in the dry and was fairly straightforward. Installing it myself saved me about $400, half the cost of the system. While my local 4x4 shop didn’t get the install business, I did purchase my new batteries from them. 

As mentioned, the attention to detail in the wiring and other components showed the unmistakable signs of an OCD engineer, which in this case is a good thing. All wires are supplied cut to the proper length, with beautifully attached fittings and braided coverings. The battery mounts and switch bracket are engineered to utilize stock mounting studs and pre-tapped mounting points. Installing the secondary battery mount takes only minutes and it is very sturdy. 

The Off-Grid Engineering duel battery system includes a Blue Sea 500 amp, dual voltage sensing relay and pre-wired management switch for in-cab installation. These combined with the aforementioned pre-cut wires makes the install simply a matter of disconnecting the main ground and hooking up the wires to the relay, secondary battery before reattaching the main ground. 

I do have one or two install tips after fighting the wiring passage into the cabin on previous projects. Remove the switch from the harness, photographing the location of the wires beforehand. Then cut off the clips. Feed the wires into the body of a ballpoint pen and use the pen to feed the wires through a small cut in the weatherproof rubber seal on the firewall. Once the wires are run through the firewall, reattach new clips to the wire ends and reinstall on the switch. Note: the pink wires are common so their location is not as critical as the rest. Also, some modification of the switch blank area is required. I used a Dremel tool to enlarged the area and press fit the switch into place. 

Once installed, the Off-Grid Engineering system looks like it was designed by the factory as an option for the serious enthusiast and works without worry. There is no need to manually switch anything, unless you need to compensate for a dead starting battery and want to draw on both units. It is suggested that both batteries in the system be of the same type to avoid issues of one trying to override the other. I chose to replace my stock battery and went with two Odyssey PC1400 Group 35 batteries based on Matt’s recommendation. This system was built around that particular battery, although other batteries will work. Some people have had no issues running non-similar batteries in their vehicles, but since I’m not an expert I chose to go with the recommendation offered by Matt. So far, I have no complaints whatsoever.

If you’re rolling down the trail in a Tacoma or 4Runner and are looking for a little extra power to keep those beverages chilled, this system makes it very simple to add that second battery. While Off-Grid Engineering is a very small company now, I hope to see new stuff from them in the future. They’ve got some quality products to build on and at least one very satisfied customer. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Jame Baroud Explorer Evolution Roof Top Tent ~ First Impression Review

While I’ll never admit to feeling my age, the years do catch up on you and at some point things are not as easy as they once were, like folding yourself up into your 4runner for a good night’s sleep. When I carried only a cooler and gear bags the 4runner seemed to have more room, but with age comes required stuff and I carry a lot. To stow my cameras, fly fishing gear and camping accoutrements I have added a TruckVault and custom cooler/stove slide/sleeping platform to the rig. Even with my custom sleeping platform things are a bit tight in the back of my Fly Fishing Assault Vehicle and headroom for sleeping is minimal. Getting into bed is a lot easier that getting out and tucking in at night requires planning. You only want to do it once.

I’ve managed a few excursions over the years on the back roads of Oregon before deciding to upgrade my off-the-beaten-path sleeping arrangements and researched RTTs or roof top tents. While a travel trailer would provide more living space during explorations of Oregon and beyond; I wanted to be able to tow one of my boats and still get a good night’s sleep. Sleeping off the ground was also a requirement I added to my list, as was ease of set up and take down. I wanted to be mobile, but comfortable.

With more enthusiasts seeking the creature comforts too heavy to pack on their back, Overlanding or vehicle based camping/travel is becoming extremely popular here in the US. To surf the wave of this popularity manufacturers around the world are going mainstream with equipment once only sought out by outback bush guides or safari hosts. It’s become quite common to see SUVs, trucks and even compact cars rolling around town with tents mounted on the roof as they head for their favorite camp spots. While I’m sure some of the “Mall Crawler” crowd might not even know how to deploy their mobile hacienda, most RTT owners are trying to drive the cost-per-night down by camping at every opportunity.

The growing interest in this form of camping brings competition and with that too many options for the average brain to sift through. It is easy to be overwhelmed and confused by the claims of makers and resellers. At some point you have to just go with what feels right to you.

To start my search I listed the things I needed. A place to sleep in comfort, meaning dry, bug free and away from rattlesnakes. Then I looked at set up and take down time. Many of the fold out tents have a larger footprint for more family room, but do have extra steps that must be taken before climbing into bed. Rain covers, door and window flies sometimes need to have rods and supports installed before the tent is ready to occupy. This is not a big deal, but it was something to consider. The other thing I looked at was aerodynamics. Being an ex-amateur race car driver I know how the shape of the vehicle effects the way it drives. Starting with a 4Runner that is just slightly more aero than a brick, I didn’t want to reduce it’s slipperiness by adding an additional brick to the roof. Thus, the stage was set for a “hard-top” tent.

Now, it gets interesting. With the line between cheap off-shore junk and quality equipment separated by a few thousand dollars, it would be easy to say, “Oh, I’m sure they’re all made in the same factory.” Then buy the cheap one. Well, I’ve been in retail long enough to know you get what you pay for. When visiting a regional RTT dealer I overheard a conversation about the warranty issues on the models they carried and decided to steer clear of the imported “Custom Labeled” units produced in China. While providing a significant dollar savings, the features and quality issues make the money spent on a better tent seem very reasonable.

Two brands popped to the top of the list after research on customer satisfaction and build quality, Autohome (made in Italy) and James Baroud (made in Portugal). Both offered promises of comfort and durability, but in the end my decision was based on features that seemed innovative and added value. I went with the James Baroud tent.

Initially I placed an order for a Discovery Extreme in black based on my desire to minimize set up and take down time. Most of my travel is done solo and added space is not a requirement. I just wanted a dry, soft place to sleep. This model only required releasing two latches and deploying the ladder before calling it a night.

In hopes of testing out the tent before the snow blew into the Northwest I ordered the tent in September with the idea of a late fall fly fishing excursion to the east side of the state. I didn’t take into account that Portugal takes all of September off and that would delay delivery significantly. When finally I received a call from Adventure Ready saying my tent was in, Santa Claus was just packing up to head back home. The tent arrived in the New Year.

Even then, the arrival was somewhat in question as our area was hit with a little snow storm that paralyzed the city for a week, shutting down most of our local delivery services. Add to that the call from Tom at Adventure Ready informing me the tent I ordered was not in the shipment from the east coast distributor. He kindly offered an upgrade to an Explorer Evolution. While more tent than I originally wanted, the dimensions and weight are very nearly the same. In addition, both models feature a molded in cargo area for gear that you don’t want, or won’t fit inside the vehicle. This was a feature I wanted as I currently carry TREDS, water and gas on the roof rack.

Mounting the Explorer EVO is relatively simple, if you have four fairly tall, strong relatives. I don’t, so a call was put out to my customer base and a group of volunteers arrived for a “tent raising.” I had previously mounted the removable crossbars from my Gobi Rack to the track on the bottom of the tent. This minimized the encroachment on my friend’s free time and allowed me time to customize the mounts. The tent mounted up perfectly and with a little adjustment was square to the vehicle.

The mounting brackets for Baroud tents slide into a track on the bottom of the tent. These brackets can then be bolted to a variety of racks and crossbars. As mentioned, my 4runner has a Gobi Stealth rack with removable crossbars which I hoped would facilitate easy mounting and removal of the tent. These bars are round and the brackets for the tent were designed for flat or square crossbars. A quick trip to my local TAP Plastics with an idea and a $20 dollar bill improved the mounting stability and raised the tent 1/2 inch to allow for easier mounting and removal of my CVT awning to the Gobi Rack. It is my belief that without at least a 1/2 lift on the tent brackets the tent will bang on the Gobi Rack itself making for an unnerving racket while bouncing off-road. 3/4 of an inch might even be better. Much depends on the crossbars your rack has.

My first impressions of the tent are very favorable. No damage occurred during shipping as the tent was well packaged. In addition to foam padding and plastic wrap, it was shipped in a “dust cover” that can be used when storing the tent to keep it looking new while awaiting it’s next adventure. The tent seems to be very well made throughout and attention to detail is evident in the solar powered fan and removable/rechargeable LED light. While these items do not in themselves justify the additional costs over an off-shore manufactured tent, the materials and workmanship do. This seems on first impression to be a very well made and engineered tent. Time will tell if that holds true.

Deployment of the tent is a simple matter of releasing the four latches, allowing the struts to lift the tent. Once the ladder is removed from inside the tent, you can climb up and fully extend the struts with a simple push. Set up time is measured in seconds. This is a key feature in hard-top tents and should not be underestimated.

As mentioned, my original order was for a James Baroud Discovery model, but after crawling into the Explorer EVO I’m pretty sure I will be happy with the extra room. Especially when my wife joins me on the road. The tent feels very roomy and is nicely appointed on the inside. There is a ceiling net for shoes, clothes and other gear, plus mesh pockets for cell phones, alarm clocks or whatever else you wish to have handy in the night. The mattress is firm and comfortable and features a removable cover for easy washing. Interior lighting is handled by a rechargeable LED light that can be used to find your way to the cooler for a late night snack. I will admit that the feature that drew me to the James Baroud line of tents was the solar powered fan that is designed to vent the tent while traveling. There are intakes on both sides of the upper shell that allow “filtered” air to enter the tent and be exhausted through the roof mounted fan. This helps in keeping the tent from getting musty while it is closed and baking in the sun. The fan blades can be swapped out to draw air into the tent while camped to provide additional cooling. The solar power/battery unit is said to run the fan for 24 hours when charged.

Ventilation isn’t a problem when the tent is deployed since most of the wall panels can be opened and are meshed to keep bugs at bay. When all the doors and windows are zipped closed the dark interior allows for sleeping well past sunrise and provides excellent privacy.

The Explorer EVO is slightly more complicated to pack away then the Discovery model because you are compressing two ends of the tent instead of just one. My first solo attempts to pack away the tent was not what I would call easy. With time and practice, in short order I have developed a system and it has gotten progressively easier. I would suggest checking out the various YouTube videos out there for tips on stowing the tent. Even then, expect to practice a few times before you master it. I’m sure you will come up with the system that works for you and your vehicle.

The only thing to do now is test this puppy out. Since we’re still dealing with winter here in the great Northwest, I plan on waiting a little before heading out for any overnight adventures. I intend to keep the tent mounted in the meantime so I can comment on the effects of having 175 pounds strapped to the roof for everyday driving. So far, there is only a slight hum at freeway speeds as the air finds new ways around the 4runner. I may make some adjustment in the fore and aft position to test the change in airflow over the tent. For now I’m designing a lift system in my boat barn to hoist the tent off the vehicle for storage when I don’t need it. That will be easier that finding four tall friends when I have a sudden urge to hit the trail.

UPDATE: We've survived winter here in the Great Northwest and I just returned from a hosted event on the Deschutes River. We invited friends and customers to join us for a weekend on the river to chase away the cabin fever blues and maybe catch a fish or two. I tested out the new tent and simply fell in love with it! Set up takes about 20 seconds and you're ready to nap. The mattress is very comfortable for both back and side sleepers. I tend to be both and was very well rested when I slid down the ladder in the morning. While designed for two campers, I love the spaciousness as a solo traveler. It will be cozy when my wife joins me, but it should be just fine.

According to the propaganda from the factory the tent has been tested in winds up to 70 mph. While I cannot attest to those wind speeds, the Deschutes canyon does get windy and hit gusts to 45 on my second night. The tent proved to be up for the challenge, so I rolled over and went back to sleep.

The solar powered ceiling fan kept condensation away in spite of temps in the 30s. I did not employ the insulation kit on this trip and didn't really need it. My sleeping bag and wool blanket kept me very comfortable throughout the chilly night. The two down pillows might have been over the top, but what the heck.

I've got about 5000 miles on the rig since adding the James Baroud Explorer EVO to the roof of the 4Runner so will speak here about the effects on highway driving. There is a little additional wind noise, but the 4Runner isn't a Royals Royce and the Gobi Rack alone adds significant wind noise. Now there is just a different tone at 70 mph. I just turn up the tunes and keep it pointed down the road. Wind buffeting is minimal compared to pre-tent driving.  Mileage has dropped about 2 MPG average on a mix of hwy/city driving.

I was going to add comments on the changes in driving characteristics with the added weight on the roof, but overlanding vehicles are normally carrying plenty of extra weight and are not expected to handle like a sports car anyway. Yes, the tent changes the handling characteristics of the 4Runner somewhat, but so does all the other stuff I carry with me. My 4Runner came equipped with KDSS and paired with my Stage 2 Icon suspension I have a very capable vehicle that fits my driving style and needs. Now I also have a very comfortable place to sleep with views that are ever changing as I Navigate the Northwest.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

DeLorme inReach Explorer ~ Don't leave home without it

“Adventure navigation is about knowing where you are and has very little to do with where you are going. The best discoveries in history were found by the lost.”
Trapper Bob 

While not knowing where you are going is at the heart of all good adventures, knowing where you are and in what direction home lies is at least comforting. When I plied the waters of the Pacific back in the 70’s, modern offshore navigation was in a transition period between LORAN A and LORAN C. While both systems were adequate in aiding mariners, they were nowhere near as accurate as the satellite navigation systems that followed, or the GPS systems we see today. 


When the US Government allowed non-military use of the GPS satellites circling overhead for civilian navigation the world changed. Now anyone could know where they were on the planet within a few yards. GPS or Global Positioning System is a network of orbiting satellites that send precise details of their position in space back to earth. The signals are obtained by GPS receivers and are used to calculate the exact position, speed and time at the user’s location. Most devices are handheld, but many vehicles now come equipped with GPS navigation. Chances are your cell phone has such navigation to help you find a Starbucks and that 6 dollar latte you crave.

Choosing the right GPS unit

With so many GPS receivers on the market choosing the one that is right for you can be daunting. The first question you need to ask is how will you be using it? Will you be hiking solo on the Pacific Crest Trail, driving across the country in the family truckster or crossing the Pacific in a 40 foot sailboat with a full crew? Will you be limited to paper topographic maps, road maps or carry a full array of other electronic aids, charts and monitors? In any case, somewhere out there is the perfect system for you. The task now is to find it.

For adventure travel the popular vehicle mounted GPS systems may leave you wondering where you are or have you looking for Satellite Road on Lopez Island. (It doesn’t exist, trust me on this one.) While they are great for navigating unknown neighborhoods or highways, they lack detail when leaving the pavement. Compact GPS models with built in topographic maps are great for hiking the trails or driving the back roads, but should be backed up with a compass and maps just in case the batteries fail. Trying to drive and look at a small screen is also a good way to drive off the trail to test your extraction skills.

DeLorme inReach Explorer

When I was looking for a new system to help me in navigating my way home after an off the pavement fishing/photography/overlanding adventure I looked no further that my trusty DeLorme Oregon Atlas & Gazetteer. There on the back page was a full color ad for the inReach Explorer, “The World’s first Satellite Communicator with Built-in Navigation.” That tag line got me interested. I spend much of my time traveling solo off the beaten path and being able to stay in contact with the home office is paramount. Knowing where you are is one thing, being able to tell someone else where you are is another.

After perusing the DeLorme website and doing a bit of Googling research I decided the Explorer fit my needs nicely. The final approval came when my wife looked into it and found that she would be able to follow along as I navigated across the Great Northwest as well as receive updates by text message when I was out of cell phone range. 

Setting up the inReach Explorer

As with any new electronic device, mastering the operation requires either hours of reading mine numbing manuals or a natural curiosity and a few test trips to get comfortable. Once I had figured out how to turn the unit on, the rest was fairly simple. I’ve never been one to read manuals unless I run into a roadblock and can’t figure out how to do something. The inReach Explorer is very simple to learn and easy to operate. The menu selection is intuitive and easy to understand and navigate. Delorme’s website also offers plenty of information on the operation of these units.

For my use I paired the inReach Explorer with my Apple iPad Mini and uploaded the Earthmate app. This provides a detailed topographical map that becomes more detailed as you zoom in to your location. While the accuracy of your realtime position will depend on line of sight to a satellite, most off-road travel does not happen at a high rate of speed making it possible to follow your track in and out of any location. While not all trails are visible in this app, you will be surprised how many are. There may be other apps that are compatible with the inReach Explorer and offer more detail, but I went the simple route to start.


When the inReach is powered up and paired to a tablet or phone via bluetooth your location is displayed on the screen of the phone/tablet. You can choose to have the screen be alined with up being north, or your heading. By touching an icon in the upper right corner your position is centered on the screen. Setting your device to remain on will allow for tracks to be followed  or waypoints to be located more easily. External power supplies should be used for your tablet or phone if using them for extended periods. 

In places where the trails are not shown, you can save tracks that you discover to your control panel on your home computer and share it with other adventurers. Marking tracks and waypoints is easily done on your control panel as well. Transferring that information to the Explorer is simply a matter of plugging in the unit and syncing it. Once these tracks or waypoints are synced to your unit they will show up on the menu and maps. 

When mounting your inReach Explorer remember that it works best when it has a full view of the sky. I have found that locating it on the dashboard works the best. If traveling in a deep canyon or heavily wooded area you may lose a signal until you move to a better location. If using it in conjunction with a phone or tablet a message will appear stating your last check in point was not noted.    


The communication feature of the inReach Explorer is the one that attracted me the most. Taking off into the boonies and being able to let my wife know I’m fine when I’m running late makes both of us happy. You can edit preselected messages to make checking in simple, or tap out a message using the same slow method you used to program your old VCR. Pairing to your phone or tablet makes that function much easier and less time consuming. I have a Zagg case and keyboard for the iPad Mini and that combination works great. I keep the iPad in the Ram Mount, but stow the keyboard until I need to send a text. Tapping out a note with a nearly full size keyboard is perfect for us old guys. 

The Share feature allows for people to track my progress if I want them to by following a weblink to a map that shows my pinged locations. You can also post your position and a short message to Facebook if you have to keep your posse up to date on your location. No, Instagram photos and other social media posts are not available with this device.


Another very important feature of the inReach Explorer is the SOS button. Hopefully, I never need to use it, but it is nice to know it’s there. By sliding a locking tab and pressing the SOS button a message is sent to a monitored emergency center (GEOS) that will respond and ask what your emergency is. This monitoring center is formally known as the International Emergency Response Coordination Center. When you send an SOS emergency message through your inReach device it goes directly to the IERCC. Running out of gas isn’t an emergency. If you are in need of medical attention or extraction the proper authorities are notified, and you are informed of their progress to your location until rescue is complete.

This feature alone is worth the price of the inReach Explorer and required subscription in my opinion. Think of it as a “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” unit for those of us who venture off the couch and into the great outdoors. World travelers may find this handy in the event of an emergency when far away from home.

Non-emergency issues can be handled by having preprogrammed messages that can be sent to a home base or friend who can call AAA or other roadside assistance for you when you are out of cell range. It always helps to have a contact that knows where you are going and can help out in the event of an emergency. 

While I personally looked at this unit as a navigation and communication aid, carrying it when I leave my vehicle on foot provides peace of mind in the event of a mishap. Being waterproof it is ideal for all outdoor activities. 

Subscription costs

None of these features are free. To navigate, send and receive text messages or use the SOS feature you need to have a subscription. Those can be purchased as needed in one month increments or as a full year. There are different plans to fit the needs of most adventurers that run from $12.00 to $100.00 a month. Freedom plans allow for shutting off the service when you are not using it. Those of us who venture out year-round will find it’s easier to just step up to a full year plan. If the costs of this type of communication capability scares you, price a SAT phone rental.

Other details

DeLorme makes two models in the inReach series, but the Explorer is a true GPS with tracking and waypoint features. The inReach SE is a satellite communicator and may serve your needs if you already have a good GPS.

The inReach Explorer retails for $379.95 and comes with a free copy of the Earthmate app for your phone or tablet. 

A full line of mounts and charging accessories are available including a solar panel charger. If you are using your inReach Explorer away from a vehicle for an extended period of time that may prove handy. Otherwise I have found the battery life to be several days. The unit will power down to save for an SOS when the battery gets low. You can still power up to get a fix on your location, but it will power down again. If using the unit in a vehicle it can be charged with the provided cable through a USB or 12v outlet.

While I still have much to learn about all of the functions of my inReach Explorer, I know enough to navigate myself back home or let my wife know I might be little late for dinner. As they say, better late than never.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

I Saw the Owl Tonight

I saw the owl tonight. He was resting atop an oak that had died many years ago from fire and age. His silhouette against the fading light emanated both wisdom and curiosity. “Who?” he asked.

 “It is I,” I replied. “A weary angler seeking a brief moment of private contemplation at the end of the day. I come here to the river’s edge to remember the day that is fading and to reminisce about friends and family that no longer walk this earth.”

 The owl moved his gaze away from the river and turned my way. “Who?” he inquired.

 “Far too many to name in one evening,” I told him. “It seems that as time and the river flow old friends pass into memory. I come here to remember them, to refresh my memories and brush away the dust that time has clouded them with.”

 The owl continued to look my way. “Who?” he insisted.

 “Anglers, poets and friends,” I answered.  “People that shaped my life. Elders that shared their experience and wisdom. Friends that shared a journey. All have come to mean so much to me yet time tries to fade their memory like the passing day before us.”

 The owl was silent. He understood my answer and turned to take in the last light of the day.

 “I look forward to the morning,” I said as I stood to leave.  “Another day on the stream and a chance to make new memories. An opportunity to share my gathered wisdom and stories with new friends.”

 “Who?” my feathered friend asked as he turned to watch my departure.

 “I’m not sure,” I replied as I started up the trail “we’ve not yet met.”

 I saw the owl tonight down by the river and we talked of anglers, poets and friends.

This was written in 2008 at the passing of my friend, mentor and ruthless editor, Bob Wethern. Bob was instrumental in getting me to put words on paper, or in this case on my computer. He helped me develop my style of writing and allowed me to grow as a writer. He is truly missed.

I attended an event last evening and someone came to me and told me how much this story meant to them, 8 years after it was written and published. It inspired me to dig it up and share it here. In reading it this morning, the memories flood back of those who have left us far too early. The fond memories of anglers, poets and friends. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Jerome Bonaparte La Follette 1831-1884

We all have a history that goes back to when the tale was told with languages now unspoken or motions of the hand in the light of a fire. Drawings on stone tell our tale as do the stones shaped into monuments that mark our heroes, our accomplishments and our passing.

Have you ever set out in one direction only to find yourself somewhere far away from your original destination? I set out on a simple journey, or so I thought, and now find myself unraveling a historical record of the La Follette family in Oregon, just to locate a patch of land and the creek that flows though it. What was all about finding and fishing this small creek on the old family homestead has become a glimpse into not only my family history, but the history of a large section of central Oregon.

My great-great-great Grandfather, Jerome Bonaparte La Follette, came overland to Albany, Oregon in 1862 from Indiana, with his wife Sophia and sons Thomas, John and Charles. In 1871, they moved on and settled a homestead on Camp Creek near Prineville, which at the time was simply called Prine. Later, they moved to a ranch on McKay Creek, with the family eventually having land holdings scattered across the county.

The La Follette family were farmers and if County Fair ribbons are any indication, fairly good ones. They brought fruit stock to the east side of the Cascades from the valley and shared it with the pioneers of what would become Crook County. They raised grain, cattle, sheep, chickens, pigs and fruit for trade and barter. Jerome also had a horse ranch near the Deschutes and took pride in raising strong stock to pull wagons and provide transportation for the growing population. Jerome was found dead on the road near the Tethrow Ferry on November 6, 1884, having fallen from his wagon as he hauled feed for the horses from his ranch on McKay Creek to his place on the Deschutes. La Follette Butte located a short distance from where he died is named for him.

This report was sent to the local paper.

Prineville, Or., Nov, 6, 1884
To the Editor of the SUN:
It is my painful privilege to report to you a very distressing accident which happened to Mr. J.B. La Follette, one of our most esteemed citizens, which has probably resulted in his death. Mr. La Follette left his place this morning with a load of hay, intending to go to his horse ranch near the Tethrow ferry on the Deschutes River; distance about 24 miles. When within about 300 yards of Mr. Tethrow’s house he from cause fell from his wagon, and is supposed sustained fatal injuries.
The team which he was driving was seen coming down the road at a slow walk by Mr. Jesse Tethrow, and seeing no one driving it he suspected some harm had come to the driver and started back up the road. When about 300 yards up he found the body of a man and some blankets and bedding laying in the road just at the foot of a steep little pitch or hill. Upon lifting the head of the body he saw the face was very pale or white, and that the man was yet alive. After taking a second look he discovered that Mr. La Follette was the person before him, and then asked him if he could speak, calling him by name. Mr. La Follette then moved his lips as though trying to say something, but could not articulate a sound. Jesse placed his head upon some of the blankets found with him and ran for his mother and sister to assist the wounded man, while he saddled a horse and went for other assistance. His sister, who had preceded him, told him as he came by the place of the accident on his way here that the man was dead. So he hurried on, notified parties near the accident. He arrived here at 7:15 this evening.

Mr. La Follette came to this country some 14 or 15 years ago, and by industry and fair dealing had gained for himself quite a competence and the confidence and esteem of the entire community. He was about 53 years old, but was in robust health, and seemed good for 20 years of life yet. His wife and children are near here on their home place on McKay creek. The heartfelt sympathy of the whole community goes out to his bereaved family. A good man is gone.
Respectfully, T.W.V.

While a good man was gone, a family lived on to helped shape Crook County and continued writing the history that would become my story. A story that was just waiting for me to open the pages and step in. Now in all fairness, much of the family history was passed down to me as living members of the clan tried to interest a very young man in the dusty tales of those times. In additions, books have been written of the La Follette linage providing a simple trail to follow as I try to connect to the past. Yet those did not provide me with the touchstone I was looking for to begin this project. I needed to visit Prineville and see it with the eyes of my family.

I had learned where the family final resting place was before making the trip east, so I spent most of the day searching records at the County Court House. I was looking for the location of the two ranches where they lived, worked and in some cases, fished. My research could have gone on for days as each document I opened offered some answers, but even more questions.

With miles to go and wanting to at least wet a line in the Metolius, I clicked off the county clerk’s computer and headed home. As I started towards the setting sun with plans to catch the last of the day with my boots in the river, something made me turn around. I phoned my wife Kellie and had her send me the address of a little cemetery just north of town. Soon I was turning between the gates and confronted with the monumental task of finding my family that now rested here.

The older gentleman in charge of the place looked like he would be more at home on a horse tending cattle, but pecked at the vintage lap top and noted the locations of the La Follettes. After consulting a map I followed him through the maze of stone until we stood with Jerome, Sophia and young son, James. A weathered Sagebrush pushed up between mother and son, but Jerome’s white marble marker stood alone and seemed out of place. I had known that the local historical society had replaced the stone many years ago when the original had become unrepairable. Over one hundred years in the rugged Central Oregon weather at taken its toll. At the time I had felt a loss that I didn’t understand, but standing there I knew why. This stone, while marking the memory of the man, did not resonate the love and respect his family had shown at his passing.

I had previously inquired as to the location of the original stone, but was unable to find anyone that knew what had been done with it. I had lost hope in ever seeing it and felt the emptiness of history lost. I asked my guide if he had any idea where it could have ended up. Soon his weathered hands fiddled with a large collection of identical keys trying to convince an old rusty lock to open. The gate swung open and the task seemed hopeless as I surveyed broken bits of ancient granite and marble showing through the sagebrush and dust. Something drew me to a particular stone that lay shattered in an opening in the overgrowth. There in the sun lay the touchstone I was seeking. Now the adventure can begin.