Sunday, December 31, 2017

Memories of the Year

This weekend we will mark the passing year in celebration with friends and family each of us in our own way. Reflection on the year fading and hope for the new one to come are the focus of this celebration. There are images in our hearts that will define 2017 when we choose to recall them from memory. New friends, adventures, milestones and accomplishments mix together as we write another chapter in our lives. The image above is my memory of the year. A small Trout in a small stream and the journey to find it were a highlight that will never fade.

My photography has always been the log book that allows me to revisit old chapters and refresh faded memories. Sometimes those images are too painful to view, a reminder of something lost. Others bring back the light of youth or an adventure that added to the story that brings me to where I am today. While some may write their tale with pen and paper I find more than a thousand words in each image. They hold the story for me until it can be written or left to fade away like the year passing.

May the New Year be filled with love and adventure for all of us.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Peace Returns to the Canyon

The canyon is quiet this time of year. Most anglers have turned their attention elsewhere as winter rolls in. There are still fish to fool, but only the dedicated wade these waters now. It's cold, wet and too far from home and hearth. Other rivers call and it will be months before their siren song releases them to return.

Now the wild things take over and come down from their perches high on the canyon wall. The warmth and water of the river draw them to feed undisturbed in the shadows of the canyon. My fascination with these creatures brings me here to photograph and simply watch them dance on the basalt stage. The stillness only broken by the sound of tumbling rock and clicking hooves.

These days are far too short and the light fades early here in the shadows. The camera cannot capture all that I see. My eyes are left to record the last images of the day and hold them until I can return.

He's Just a Bird

The ospreys have headed south and left the eagles to fly alone over the river. They must fend for themselves now or dine on leftovers from the feasts of others. Trout still watch the skies for danger, but the eagle is not as an efficient angler as his winged cousin. Forays to the surface to dine on winter hatches are slightly less fatal with the ospreys on vacation.Their absence brings a silence to the canyon normally echoing with their haunting calls as they ride the unseen currents. In contrast, the eagle now sits silently above the river taking in everything. He rules the quiet canyon and few pay him much attention. He is a symbol around the world, but here he is just a bird. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Watching the Flames Flicker

The flickering flames of a campfire replaced the digital stimulus that has become far too encompassing. Three days off the grid this time of year has a way of putting things in perspective and breaking them down to the simple essentials of life: warmth, water, food and Steelhead, plus a few friends to share the experience with.

I was the guest and designated photographer for a John Day Steelhead adventure with my good friends, Marty Sheppard and Brian Silvey. I tagged along in my drift boat as this Dynamic Duo guided our guests down the upper reaches of the river. While Steelhead encounters were limited, the beauty of the canyon, the wildlife and the shared experience will undoubtedly remain a fond memory for years to come for all of us.

It will take awhile for the affects of the campfire flames to burn off so my productivity this morning is suffering a bit. It has nothing to do with rowing out against a frigid upriver breeze or being pelted by icy sleet as I put the boat on the trailer. Advil took care of the physical discomfort for the most part, and I awoke this morning far earlier than normal to make sure this Thursday tradition was completed. I'm just finding it harder to focus on the task at hand and have a strong desire to build a fire in the fireplace and just stare at it for awhile.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Power of Nature in the Land of Fire

This morning I wake under a moonless sky in the heart of Yellowstone Park. Business was the call for the front half of this journey, but today will feature no PowerPoint presentations or roundtable discussions. The power of Nature will be on full display here and the day is mine to explore.

The droning sounds of crowded conversations have been blessedly replaced with the call of raptors circling overhead while the earth hisses and bubbles. My early morning habit serves me well and I will not waste a minute of this day, or those to follow. While I am unable to share all of the images of today I will do so when I return to home and hearth. For now, adventure awaits and I have an adventurous soul.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Outfit and Explore

I tucked myself into my roof top tent on Saturday night in southern Oregon, grateful for the Pendleton wool blanket and heavy sleeping bag I carry with me as the temperature dropped to chilly. The down pillow was a nice touch too. I've become increasingly accustom to comfortable in my old age and wouldn't label my traveling kit as "light." Sure, in a pinch I can do without the cast iron dutch oven, but why?

I've moved beyond "travel light and fast" and find myself firmly intrenched in the "fully equipped and not in a big hurry" phase of life. Deadlines and a calendar filled with commitments drift away when you're on the water or exploring a new place. Cameras to record memories become as important as the fishing gear that inspired the trek. The realization that fish play only a minor roll in these adventures comes with time. I find myself turning down roads just to see where they lead and what lies hidden around the next corner. We all know that something special is always just around the next bend. Go see it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Life of Wonder Below the Surface

Beneath the mirrored surface is a world of life and wonder. It is hard not to stop and lose oneself in the drama playing out in the shallow pools among the rocks and seaweed. Minuscule crustaceans of many shapes and sizes scurry to hide as shadows pass overhead. Sea anemones wave their flower-like tentacles, filtering unseen nutrients from the falling tide pulled by the moon. An armored Mollusk slowly makes its way through this natural diorama of life in the sea nibbling on a garden of green and brown.

Distractions are everywhere in this environment for the angler raised on the cool waters of the mountains. Caddis and Mayflies are foreign here, replaced with a myriad of creatures whose place in the food chain is displayed in flashes or surface splashes as resident salmonids and pinnipeds dine on the abundance. It is a world of violent peace ever changing with the tides and seasons. A place where everyday is an adventure for the residents of this watery world and for interlopers like me.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Looking for a Needle in a Haystack

A year ago I set myself a goal to find and photograph a West Slope Cutthroat Trout in Oregon. While this was not an impossible task as proven by the image above, it nevertheless involved plenty of research of the historical range of this special fish. The many miles of travel and the hours spent studying maps and satellite images of mountain streams finally paid off this holiday weekend. The stars aligned, the conditions were perfect and my goal was triumphantly attained.

While this accomplishment will forever have a place in fond memory, the adventure itself added to my confidence for solo travel on the back roads of Oregon. Again, pushing myself out of my preconceived comfort zones and expanding my respect and love of our great state. We truly live in a remarkable place; a place filled with history, beauty and glimpses of the America we all remember in every small town along those back roads and dusty trails.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mountains to the Sea

Water that fell as a snowflake in Montana is slowly making it’s way to Astoria joining the bubbling currents generating from British Columbia, Alberta, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Washington and of course, Oregon. Our local waters swell with pride as they become part of this annual migration from mountain tops to the sea. The melt-off is well underway as we flirt with summer, yet our mountains still wear white.

This bodes well for our summer angling adventures and brings hope that our anadromous friends can rebound from the recent hot dry years. Time will tell that tale, but for now we set out to explore waterways that flow with plenty of clean, cold water. This is a refreshing change for all, paid for by the endurance of those wet grey days of winter and spring. Those days fade rapidly into memory when the sun hits your face and your boots hit the water.

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.