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.