Camping Reviews:

MSR, Pocket Rocket, Aluminum, $39.95
The MSR Pocket Rocket is a bit of a staple in my camping collection especially for minimal speed hikes and bike camping due to it's tiny size, ease of use, and quick boil flame. Jena and I decided it was the only stove which we were going to bring on this trip which it would have been if it weren't for Mark and Ellen's generous gift of the CampStove acquired mid-way through this trip. Back to the Rocket. Coming in at 3 oz and 4x2x2 inches the rocket fits easily into a coat pocket or day pack side pocket in a simple plastic case. The only draw back is that it uses only MSR's Isopro fuel exclusively which makes it a difficult stove to bring on a long term hiking trip which may take you through area's without well-stocked stores. We had no problems finding fuel on this journey and we are on our third canister of Isopro after 9 weeks on the road cooking primarily with it for the first 4 weeks. MSR says the IsoPro's 8oz canister should burn continuously for 60 minutes which in our experience it seems to burn for a tad longer. The three pronged "wind-shield" platform is reasonably stable if the IsoPro is on a level surface, although with bigger pans you should be careful when stirring meals. The flame adjust knob is easily reachable and folds up in to the stove for easy storing. Overall the Pocket Rocket is a great stove for most applications involving one pan meals and packs conveniently away for easy storage.

Spenton, WoodGas Campstove XL, Stainless Steel, $72.50, buy here.

This stove was a late addition to our kitchen on this trip. Mark and Ellen ended up sending this gift to us out in Vermont at John and Leah's and we couldn't have been more thrilled, since we had gone through two of the MSR fuel canisters just in Canada. First off the basics. This stove is made by Spenton LLC out of Colorado and owned by an Eden Prairie, MN man by the name of James Becker and his two partners. The stove is made out of stainless steel and implements the use of wood gasification to create a controlled heating source with wood fuel. The stove is a cylinder with an open middle and hollow sides which allows a fan on the bottom of the stove to push air up through the sides to create a highly-efficient and high-heat flame at the top of the cylinder. (I included their graphic below)
Now the thick and thin of the product. The Campstove works really well if you have the right wood. What I mean by this is that if you wet wood which isn't birch bark you better have a lot of matches or lighters to dry the wood out first because you need to be able to start a fire before this stove will work. So before packing only this stove figure out if you are going to be able to get dry fuel for the duration of the trip (or decide to pack fuel pellets in a dry-bag). If you have access to birch bark you will be more then fine though even in wet conditions because as long as you can get a small fire started this stove will work to dry out damp wood quickly and still give you high heat. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you don't have a wind-shield with you it is hard to keep your fire going in stronger winds (10-15 mph or higher). Otherwise the two levels of heat which are controlled by the speed of the fan (high and low) are enough to cook camp food effectively and will boil 8 cups of water in less then five minutes if you have a good fire started. The width of the stove is a huge plus and provides a much more stable base then our MSR Pocket Rocket. The stove also works as a hand warmer in cold temps because the outside never seems to get too hot to the touch. Overall this stove is a fantastic stove for anyone who is sick of packing in gas fuel (although I would still pack a small stove like the Pocket Rocket to accommodate for the wet days on the trail) and is perfect for car camping as an addition to an open fire pit.

GSI Outdoors, Bugaboo Hiker, Aluminum and Plastic, $42.95
This was a new purchase right before we began our adventure and it worked for our purposes. How well it worked for what it was designed for was a different matter.
The compactness of the Bugaboo Hiker was definitely it's most attractive feature when we bought it and to this day I think it's still the most attractive. It was amazing to be able to store our entire kitchen sans stove in one bag 9x9x5 inches approximately cutlery and all. The size is obvious why it works for our purposes but also the ease of organization of our kitchen was immeasurable. Whenever it was time to cook, knowing that our bowls, cups, cutlery, and cooking dish were in one bag was perfect especially when camp was set up at night.
As a cooking dish the 8 cup pot is extremely versatile. We have cooked 8 egg, potato, onion, garlic skillets and 4 person soups easily in it's confines without filling it overly full. When it is full with food it gets a little tipsy atop the MSR Pocket Rocket but is incredibly stable over the CampStove or a firepit. The 2 cup bowls work well as dishes or cold drink containers as well as the warm drink cups do for their application.
The biggest issue we came upon was the lid. The lid is made of Polypropylene aka meltable plastic and when it is atop the MSR Pocket Rocket is more then useful for boiling water and straining water. The strainer is an amazing addition to the BH but easily could be done on a metal lid so others wouldn't run in to the same problems we did. The biggest issue was the first time we used it, not on the Pocket Rocket, was in a fire pit at Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario Canada and it started to melt even though it was up above the flames. The heat from the fire was just too much for the plastic when the heat surrounded the pot instead of just coming from the bottom. Luckily we caught it in time and we were just more conscious of it for the rest of the trip not using the lid with actual flame fires.
One of the yes and no features of the BH is the pot clamp. It has great little features which included being foldable, small, heat resistant, and a "locking" attachment. The size was great, we found no issues with the folding mechanism, we were able to leave the grabber on over a fire pit and still be able to touch the handle and it didn't melt. The biggest issue with the pot grabber was where it attached to the pot itself. Even though it seemingly locked into place, the designer allowed for too much vertical play in the handle which is a little scary when the pot is full. Also we ran into problems with the attachment not quite locking and giving you a false sense of security which ended with losing the contents of the pot. All in all the BH is a good idea with a couple problems which could be easily fixed with a little more Research & Development. Although if I hadn't had my discount, the purchase price would be a little high for what you get and I probably would have gone with some older used equipment which was a little hardier.

Light My Fire Spork, Plastic, $2.00
At the beginning of this trip we decided to make our packing easy and invested in small, multi-purpose, camping utensils called knifoon's. Knifoon's are made by a bunch of companies but the cheapest we could find at Duluth Pack (awesome outdoor store/bag manufacturer in Duluth, MN) was a company called Light My Fire out of Sweden. Their product description is - "Our spoon-fork-knife combo brings a bit of civilization to the wild and a bit of the wild to civilization. Designed especially for Light My Fire by Scandinavian designer Joachim Nordwall. The Spork is perfect for your backpack, boat, picnic basket, lunchbox, purse or briefcase." and according to the website they are "extremely durable." Our experience was a little different. We started with two and our now down to 2/3rds of one. But before we talk about the breaking bits I'll give my experience's using the LMF when it was unbroken. The LMF Spork as a knife is useless on pretty much everything except maybe lettuce. It seems as if the manufacturer decided to add it as an afterthought because it's location (on the outside of the fork tines) is not properly positioned to give you an adequate hold to cut anything. The spoon is the most useful application of the Spork but would work better if you cut off the fork so you could hold it more ergonomically. The fork side is also a problem because the spoon completely interrupts your ability to "stab" into your food and use it as a true fork should be used. Now on to the breaking bits. One of them broke while Jena was extracting soft (and I mean 75 degree car for a couple days soft) peanut butter and the knife tine of the other one broke off while eating potatoes and veggies. Also LMF states that the Spork is made of "heat resistant material" but I'm not sure what heat level they are talking about because the spoon part of the remaining one has been melted thin and cracked in the middle which is unfortunate for a tongue which gets caught. All in all it's a good idea which was executed well enough. They do make it in a titanium version which would get rid of most of the longevity problems but probably wouldn't effect the ergonomics of the product. The only real upside of the LMF Spork is the price, coming in at a whopping 2 bucks it's definitely the cheapest out there but I would look for something else. Which we did but in Roanoke, VA the store didn't have a great selection but what we bought has been working so-so so far and we will update on it later when it's had more time in use with us.

BOOK REVIEW: "Hell on Two Wheels" by Amy Snyder

I'll keep this one short and sweet. A couple weeks ago I was gifted a book entitled "Hell on Two Wheels" from my friends Mark and Ellen and I just finished reading it a little bit ago but since I'm on the road and in and out of the woods I'm finally getting around to writing my thoughts. This book is a non-fiction narrative chronicling the 12 days of the 2009 RAAM (Race Across America) and some of the athletes who attempt to endure the pain that accompanies this race. The RAAM is a race covering 3000 miles from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland where the clock never stops and neither do most of the racers except for 1-2 hour sleep breaks a day. These ultracycling monsters push to the farthest reaches of their selves spanning the country between 8 and 12 days some with less then 9 hours of sleep. They are faced not only with the course in front of them which already puts them through deserts and mountain passes but also sleep fatigue, hallucinations, neck-muscle failures, pneumonia, heat-stroke, etc., etc and Amy Snyder is there to document the whole thing. The fact that this is a nonfiction book was a little hard for me to get around right away because although I have had my stints with nonfiction in the past - "Into Thin Air," "The Last River," and other adventure documentary writings - but had stopped searching them out. But I am glad this book was brought to my attention because the writing flows incredibly well, keeping me turning the pages not unlike a good suspenseful fiction tale. Snyder's attention to who the riders are and what drives them not just what they are physically doing is well-wrought and allows you to feel like you are struggling along with the riders and their crews cheering them on through 110+ heat and massive thunderstorms. This book is well worth the read cyclist or not but a word of warning to the cyclists because this book will make you want to attempt this race. And on another note if anyone out there wants to put together a four-man team for this event I'm game, let's start training and getting qualified to race.

MUSIC REVIEW: Tom Waits “Bad as Me”

I was in Toronto today – first big city I’ve been in for two weeks and the biggest city I’ve been in since Minneapolis and a couple awesome things happened. First it ended up being the Zombie Walk in Toronto and we got to see a ton of awesome zombie costumes (I have to say the Occupy Brainstreet Zombies were some of my favorite holding signs which read “Eat a Banker,” “Eat the 1%,” and other awesome “brainy” slogans). Secondly we were able to bike around downtown Toronto to a little pub for a beer and when we came out there was a wonderful little cd/record shop which was having a 20% off sale. This meant we were able to get the new Tom Waits Album on Vinyl and Cd for less then 20 bucks not to mention three days before it’s official release date. After listening to it 4 or 5 times through now I have to say I’m digging it more and more with each listen. Waits was able to employ not only his son Casey on most of the tracks but also Keith Richards and Flea on a couple. Right now the tracks which ring sweetest in my mind are Hell Broke Luce an almost violent, intense, anti-war track which hits hard with Waits’ guttural growl pushing his lyrical poetry in a gritty staccato over heavy bass, power chords, and machine guns. On a different note the tracks “Talking at the Same Time” and “Last Leaf” are beautiful and almost soft as Waits brings back his crooner voice, think more “Heart of Saturday Night” then “Blood Money.” So far the album is the best studio album he has put out since Mule Variations and I’m sure more of the tracks will pop out with more time which always seems to happen with Waits’ work.