Rob's Blog Archive

October 4, 2015











My outdoor adventures have an annual cycle.  Before I got dogs, winter was skiing---skating, Telemarking, and backcountry.  Summer was climbing.  Skiing extended into spring and climbing extended through early fall.  November was usually the only month that drew a blank. 

Once I got dogs and moved to Montana, I spent most of my outdoor time with my dogs.  What little remained has mostly been either skiing or on my bike.  I’ve done far too little climbing, but that’s the way life is.  What I have done is ski local trails and ride both bike paths and dirt roads near my house.  I haven’t travelled much for the non-canine adventures.  I suppose the reason  for this is with multiple drives along the Alcan in winter with my dogs, additional traveling is a bit less appealing.

There are, of course, other annual cycles.  My aspen are peaking in color—it’s turning out to be a great year for them.  Soon it will rain, then rain and snow will alternate, finally we’ll get more snow than rain and nights below zero and a snow pack that will remain until March.  I still stay on my skis as long as I can.  I haven’t taken long hikes to snow, but I have walked across plenty of bare spots between poor ski trails.  Once bare spots become continuous, I start riding my bike regularly.  Typically, there are still a few snow patches to walk my bike across.  It only takes a couple of weeks, however, for these to disappear and me to be on clear roads and trails.  I’ll stay on these until I again start running dogs. 

While my life as an outdoorsman has been dominated by outdoor cycles, there are indoor cycles as well, sales.  My first exposure to this was with REI and their fall sale.  I’ve been around long enough to remember that REI used to have only one sale a year and it was in the fall.  I got my first pair of cross-country skis at a fall sale in Seattle.  It was a pair of Fischer Step skis---the first and last pair of waxless skis I’ve owned.  I got boots too.  They were rentals REI was getting rid of and I paid twenty dollars for both.  It cost me another ten to get poles---these were new.

In time, REI added a spring sale to the fall sale.  Most recently, it’s a sale every five minutes, give or take.   Still, I learned from that early experience to keep track of seasonal sales.  The best time to buy skis is the end of February.  Sales to reduce inventory begin then.  Prices will drop over the next couple of months, but so will the selection.  It doesn’t hurt to check back in March, but if I know what I want, late February is a better bet.  For winter clothing, April or May typically work.  I bought a new parka this past spring and paid about 60% of retail. Similarly, a lot of summer gear and clothing goes on sale in late July and August.  Among sellers, Patagonia has a regular sale starting then. 

While REI no longer has a meaningful fall sale, it doesn’t mean that that season is devoid of buying opportunities.  In recent years, the one I’ve taken advantage of the most is at Costco.  At least once every year, I head there and buy from their stock of winter clothing.  Costco being what it is, gets items in and then sells them in one fell swoop.  Usually, these are high end items at very deep discounts.  Two have particularly caught my attention.  They have great merino wool socks and cases of handwarmers.  With the way that they stock these, it’s critical to hit the store shortly after the items hit the shelves, typically early fall.

So, this past Saturday, I set out on my annual buying spree.  First, actually, was Lowes where I bought and had cut roofs for eighteen dog houses---3/8” 4’ x 8’ cut into 30” x 37”.  With their saw, this took ten minutes and only 12 cuts---they cut two boards at a time.  Costco was the second stop.  There, I stocked up on socks.  I use these socks for everything and I’m going to wear them out.  None will ever go to waste.  With this, I bought four four packs---I was down to three pairs and I really needed to restock.  Each four pack ran 12 dollars.  Unfortunately, they didn’t yet have the handwarmers.  Means I’m going to have to head back in the not too distant future. 

From Costco, I headed across the street to REI.  It wasn’t a sale---well there was a mini-sale, but I ignored it----but I am looking toward using Hydro-Flask vacuum bottles for water while I’m on the Iditarod trail in 2016.  In the past I’ve used a combination of insulated buckets or jugs and vacuum bottles.  The problem is that the jugs aren’t that well insulated and on very cold nights they freeze up.  Vacuum bottles may not keep hot water hot if the night is really cold, but they should keep water liquid.  I’d add that the half-gallon Hydro-Flask I bought weighs just an ounce more than the one quart Stanley vacuum bottle I had on the Iditarod trail with me in 2014.  I already found a very wide mouthed vacuum bottle by Thermos that I plan to use as a bowl and to store hot liquids in.  At 24 oz., it will hold a packet worth of Knorr soup.  I also figured I’d browse REI and check out their clothing.  Ends up they had an REI brand balaclava liner, something I was keeping my eye out for, and I bought that along with a one quart and a two quart Hydro-Flask vacuum bottle. 

From REI, I headed to Walmart for the more mundane part of the tour.  I needed to stock up on various foods that I can’t get in Seeley Lake or are much more expensive there. 

From Walmart, I went to Cabela’s.  I found the wide topped thermos bottle at Cabela’s, so just checking them out struck me as a good idea.  I also did want to see what they had in the way of heavy duty fishing swivels.  My current plan is to put together a lightweight dropline using these, a trick I learned from my mentor, Bob Chlupach. 

Cabelas didn’t have any heavy duty swivels in stock but they did have a Cabela’s brand softshell pant, very similar to REI’s, and thirty bucks cheaper.  Given that, like socks, softshell pants are a go-to for the winter, buying a pair to at least try out made a bunch of sense. 

Finally, I hit Sports Authority.  It ends up that getting gloves that fit is an incredible pain for me, but that Manzella mediums seem to fit my hand better than anything else and Sports Authority has the best selection of their gloves.  Once again, I wear through these annually---handling snaps always wears out the thumb and first finger of my right glove---so buying a pair is a no-brainer. 

I also browsed through their clothing---found nothing---then their shoes.  There, I struck gold.  It ends up that Alpine Design has a pair of lightweight zippered pack shoes that are waterproof.  These cost seventy dollars, but the low price would not have mattered much.  They have already become my go to for a lot of what I do in the yard with my dogs.  Their beauty is how fast they go on and off.  With this, the time it takes to go from dogyard to house and back to dogyard with shoes that are “marked,” something inevitable and frequent, drops a ton. 

Having done my share to boost the economy, I drove home.  I had eighteen roofs cut to size.  I had a ton of new socks.  I had the vacuum bottles I wanted. And I had the yard shoes I had always dreamed about.  Buying gear is a far cry from using it, but until there’s snow, I’ll just have to make do. 

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