Take A Hike! (For National Trails Day)

National Trails Day is today!
American Hiking Society

The American Hiking Society has declared today National Trails Day across the U.S. in an effort to encourage all of us to get outside and visit our favorite trail. This annual celebration of the outdoors serves as a reminder of the fantastic natural resources that we have around us and how important it is for our general health and well being to connect with nature on a regular basis.

With more than 200,000 miles of trails across the country, the U.S. has one of the best trail systems in the entire world. No matter where you live, chances are there is a great trail nearby just waiting to be explored. Many of those trails even offer mixed-use access, so even if you’re not a fan of hiking, you can go mountain biking or horseback riding along the route. There are even plenty of popular paddling trails too, giving kayakers and whitewater rafters a chance to join in on the fun.

In celebration of National Trails Day there are events scheduled to take place in all 50 states. Those activities include guided hikes, trail running events, group rides and much, much more. There are also numerous opportunities to join a volunteer group conducting trail building exercises. Those activities will repair damage to existing trails and conduct work on building new ones.

Whether you take part in one of these organized events or simply stroll a favorite trail through your neighborhood, the important thing to remember is to just get outside today. Turn the cellphone off, leave the iPod behind and spend a little time enjoying nature. It won’t cost you anything and chances are you’ll feel a whole lot richer for the experience.

Intoxicating Bend, Oregon

bend, oregonWho wants to move to Bend, Oregon, with me? Oh, I know what you’re thinking. I already have a perfectly good place to live. Why would I need to move to a small city in Central Oregon? If you’re asking yourself this question, you’ve probably never been to Bend, because it’s one of those places that gets under your skin. Drop by for four or five days, as I did earlier this month, and you can’t help but envy those who call this place home.

Bend makes it onto a lot of Best Places to Live lists, particularly the ones you see in Outside, Men’s Health and other publications that value recreational opportunities and craft beer, rather than career climbing. I was fully prepared to be disappointed by the place, but instead I was seduced. The weather was perfect with sunshine, temperatures in the 70s and clear blue skies and vistas of snowcapped mountains in every direction. And everyone we met, even those we encouraged to tell us something bad about Bend, told us the same thing: we love it here.

My first I-Want-to-Move-to-Bend moment came on a hike to Dillon Falls, just minutes outside of town. We were hiking on a path alongside the cool, rushing waters of the Deschutes River. The sun was out and it was perfectly quiet, save for the melodic rush of the powerful rapids. I watched the river flow and couldn’t help but view it as a metaphor for how quickly life goes by. It’s too short not to be in a place you love, right?

Before you quit your job and move to Bend based upon my half-baked advice, I should admit that it isn’t perfect. The unemployment rate is 11.3 percent and that number doesn’t even accurately reflect how bad the economic situation really is, because there are also lots of people who have only part-time work or full-time McJobs with wages so low that they are forced to drink mass produced beer. (Contrary to popular belief, you cannot use Food Stamps to buy craft beer in Bend, at least not yet.)

Bend experienced one of the country’s steepest boom and bust real estate swings, before and after the Great Recession, and though the price of homes has gone down, it’s still far from cheap. And although the climate is sunny and dry, it can get quite cold in winter. So there you go. Bend isn’t perfect. No place is. But even if you don’t want to move there, you at least have to visit. Here’s why.

The Great Outdoors

In Bend, you don’t even have to leave the city limits to enjoy nature. Whatever you like to do: ski, hike, cycle, kayak, rock-climb, white-water raft, you name it, and you can find it close to Bend. I’m into hiking and I highly recommend the Dillon Falls section of the Deschutes River Trail, the Lava Lands Visitor’s Center, Smith Rock State Park, the Peter Skene Ogden National Scenic Trail, the West Metolius (River) Trail, right next to the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery (a free and interesting site itself) and Pilot Butte State Park, which is right on the east side of town. Also, the trails at the High Desert Museum are perfect for a stroll and the fact that you can learn about the region’s history and wildlife on the premises makes this place a must-visit while in Bend.

And even if you’re not a skier, take the ride out to Mt. Bachelor and continue on the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway (parts of this byway are open only in the summer) for some glorious alpine scenery.

Beer

When it comes to good beer, there’s an embarrassment of riches in Bend. I have no clue how 10 brewpubs and three breweries (with more set to open soon) stay in business in a city of 80,000, but as a visitor, you can only benefit from the stiff competition. I visited seven brewpubs in four days and felt like I had just scratched the surface of what must be the best craft beer scene in America.

My favorites were McMenamins Old St. Francis Brewery, for its killer English Brown Ale and its atmospheric pubs, Crux Fermentation Project, for its tasty Marzen beer and its patio, and 10 Barrel Brewing Company, because I love their fire pit and indoor/outdoor bar. But all of Bend’s breweries are worth a visit, and if you manage to hit them all and collect stamps to prove it, you’ll get a nice little souvenir mug from the visitor’s information office.

Eats

For a city of its size, Bend has a remarkable array of good restaurants. I didn’t have a single bad meal anywhere. I had a carnivore’s pizza at Deschutes Brewery that was out of this world; some very memorable oatmeal cookies at Lone Pine Coffee Roasters, a stylish little café in an alley location in downtown Bend (thank you, Anna Brones); and some surprisingly outstanding New England Clam Chowder at Parrilla Grill. My colleague Pam Mandel sent me to the Sparrow Bakery for breakfast and I quickly became addicted to their vanilla and cardamom spiced ocean rolls (see photo below).

But the Bend restaurant that I’m still dreaming about, a week after returning from Bend, is Big Island Kona Mix Plate, a casual Hawaiian-style place in the Old Mill District. I had the mixed plate with bulgogi and spicy chicken and couldn’t remember the last time I tasted anything so divine (and affordable at $10 a plate with two sides.)

Dreamers

When Cate Cushman, a real estate broker we met, moved to Bend in 1976, the town had a population of less than 15,000. Cushman, a Georgia native, had been traveling across the country in a Winnebago with her first husband when they fell in love with Bend and decided to stay. Nearly 40 years later, she’s certain that she made the right move.

Bend’s population more than doubled in the ’90s, and continued to rise in the last decade, from 52,029 in 2000 to 76,639. Much of the population gain can be attributed to Baby Boomers from California moving to Bend to retire, but you don’t have to look very hard in Bend to find young people who have moved there as a lifestyle choice. Some call Bend a place to experience “poverty with a view,” but I think that, for many who move there, the point is to step out of the rat race, slow down and enjoy the finer things in life.

Take Sibel Edmonds, for example. I met Sibel at the Bend Brewing Company one afternoon this month and she told me that she looked all over the whole world for the perfect place to live and raise her daughter, Elle, and settled on Bend, thanks to its natural beauty, cultural offerings, good schools and sunny, dry weather, among other things. I don’t know if Sibel is right or not, but I like the idea of being in a place with so many idealistic people who are looking for their own little utopia. Bend may or may not be a good fit for us, but I got enough of a taste of Bend’s good life to know that I want more.

Outdoor Rise Festival Brings Adventure To New York City

Outdoor Rise comes to New York City
Outdoor Rise

Residents of New York City who are looking to put a little outdoor adventure into their lives will be pleased to learn of an upcoming event that aims to help them do just that. The first ever Outdoor Rise festival is scheduled to take place June 17-23 and will offer a full week of competitions, classes, lectures, films and more. Best off all, the event is scheduled to take place across all five boroughs and will be absolutely free.

Outdoor Rise is sponsored by Discover Outdoors, an organization that is dedicated to improving the “quality of life through meaningful outdoor experiences.” With that in mind, there are some big plans for the upcoming festival with events such as daily yoga classes, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding opportunities on the Hudson River, bouldering in Central Park and organized hikes along a variety of trails. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There will also be photography workshops, guest speakers, adventure films and more. For a full schedule be sure to check out the events calendar on the Outdoor Rise website.

The hope is that that this event will not only provide a rare opportunity for outdoor adventure to the very metropolitan New York crowd, but also give someone the chance to connect with the outdoors in ways that they never have before. Many people who live in NYC might not even know that these opportunities exist right outside their door, and the dedicated team at Discover Outdoors wants to remind them of this fact. Along the way, they might even inspire them to bigger adventures.

Darwin Awards Contenders Foiled By Observant Cafe Customer

Darwin Awards
Four men who could have become strong candidates for this year’s Darwin Awards have been saved by a Good Samaritan who was enjoying some coffee nearby.

The BBC reports that a customer at a cafe in Oxwich Bay, Wales, spotted four men in a dinghy clutching onto a buoy and desperately trying to get the attention of those on shore.

It’s unclear if the men were consciously trying to win the Darwin Awards, given out every year for people who get killed in stupid ways and thus improve the gene pool of our species. Nevertheless, they proved their candidacy by setting out in an inflatable dinghy into worsening weather with no life jackets and no flares. Winds had reached up to force six on the Beaufort Scale by the time they were saved. Force six is just short of a gale, with waves rising up to 13 feet.

The person who spotted them alerted the coast guard, who sent out a lifeboat to save them. If it wasn’t for this observant coffee lover, these wannabe sailors may have replicated the famous “Raft of the Medusa,” being adrift at sea for weeks, slowly expiring from hunger and thirst until desperation led them to gnaw on one another to survive. It would have given a whole new meaning to the term “Welsh rarebit.”

If you must try an alternative diet, try vegetarianism instead. It’s far more benign. Also familiarize yourself with weather conditions before setting out and practice these sea safety guidelines. Now that spring is here and everyone wants to get out in the water, it’s important to know how to play safe.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Gadling Gear Review: ContourROAM 2 Action Camera

The ContourROAM 2 action camOne of the fastest growing segments of the consumer electronics market over the past couple of years has been in the action camera category. These small, super-durable video cameras are used to capture footage of everything from family vacations to the latest crazy extreme sport. The leader in this burgeoning market is clearly GoPro, a company whose name has become synonymous with the term “action camera.” But there are alternatives for the aspiring filmmaker who is looking for a high quality, fully featured cam that won’t break the bank.

One such alternative is the ContourROAM 2 from Contour. This unique and rugged camera has all the tech specs you would expect out of any action cam all wrapped up in a lightweight metal body that is designed to absorb all the punishment you can throw at it. The ROAM 2 features a 5 mega-pixel sensor for capturing solid, if not outstanding, still photos and it even includes a time-lapse mode to snap shots at a variety of predetermined intervals. But you don’t buy this type of camera to take still photos, as shooting video is where it truly excels. Contour has given the ROAM 2 the ability to capture video in full 1080p at 30 fps or 720p at 60 fps. A third, intermediate mode, shoots video in a resolution of 1280 x 960 at 30 fps as well, giving users a happy middle ground in terms of image quality and file size.

The ContourROAM 2 is far more than just a collection of video resolutions, however. The camera also features a custom glass lens that shoots in a wide 170° angle and can rotate up to 270° to catch just the right shot, even while mounted on a helmet, bike or other stationary point. The camera uses MicroSD cards to record the captured footage and Contour includes a 4 GB card in the box. That’s enough storage to get you up and running, but you’ll definitely want to invest in higher capacity cards when you get serious about using this device. The ROAM 2 supports memory cards up to 32 GB in size, which is enough to hold about five hours of footage when shot at the camera’s highest resolution.

The ROAM 2 is so simple to use that it is pretty much the epitome of “point and shoot.” A single switch on the top of the camera powers the device on and toggles it into video recording mode. The device is quick to start up and it rarely misses any of the shots you’re trying to capture, which is especially helpful when you’re taking part in fast paced activities or when faced with the opportunity to record an event that is fleeting. I was continually impressed with how quickly this camera was to power up and begin capturing what ever it was I was pointing it at.

Unlike most traditional consumer video cameras, action cams don’t always come with an LCD screen to help you see what it is you’re actually shooting. Because these cameras are often mounted on a mountain bike or snowboard helmet, such a screen is not all that useful to begin with. Contour has come up with a clever solution to help us shoot just the right scenes, however, as the ROAM 2 has a built-in laser that comes in handy for making sure our shots are level and that we’re actually aiming the camera in the right direction. It doesn’t completely replace a viewfinder but it is an effective approach none the less – particularly when the camera is actually mounted on something and not actually in our hands. Contour’s upscale model, the Contour+ 2 also ships without a built-in screen but it gives users the option to connect to a smartphone via an app, which then can serve as a remote display screen. This alleviates the issue of not having a screen in a very innovative way.

ContourROAM 2 action cameraWhile simplicity is one of the ROAM 2′s greatest strengths it also presents some challenges too. For instance, since it doesn’t have a built in screen of any type, users don’t have quick and easy access to configuration menus either. Instead, the camera must be attached to a computer to update various mode settings. That can be problematic when heading out into the field, as you’ll either have to lug a laptop along with you or keep the camera configuration the same the entire time you’re using it. Considering the fact that there are so few settings to choose from, this may not seem like a big deal, but if you decide to switch down from a resolution of 1080p to 720p to save memory card storage space, you’ll first need to connect the camera to a computer. Again, the more expensive Contour+ 2 gets around this issue by allowing the user to adjust settings via the mobile app.

The ROAM 2 ships with two different mounts that can allow the user to attach the camera to a variety of surfaces. The profile mount is perfect for attaching the camera to the side of a helmet for capturing footage while rock climbing, snowboarding, mountain biking or just about any other activity. Alternatively, the rotating flat surface mount serves as a do-it-all option for just about any other type of surface. Both of these mounts feel a bit flimsy but manage to get the job done surprisingly well. Contour also offers a wide variety of other options for just about every users needs, including specialized mounts for your handlebars, the dash of your car, a headband and many more. Each of those mounts allows you to capture high-quality footage from a relatively stable platform, often from unique perspectives.

I was impressed with how solid and durable the Roam 2 feels in your hands. Contour has built this cam to stand up to a lot of punishment, which is necessary for any action cam to actually try to compete in this increasingly crowded market space. This camera is even waterproof up to a depth of 1 meter, which may not sound like a lot, but it does provide good piece of mind in wet environments and allows the user to capture some underwater shots without the need for an extra case. That is provided they don’t go particularly deep on their aquatic adventures. If you’re a scuba diver however, you’ll certainly want to invest in a decent case if you want to use your ROAM 2 in deeper water.

Of course, all of these features and functionality doesn’t amount to much if the camera doesn’t shoot good video footage. Fortunately, the ROAM 2 delivers in that department as well, capturing crisp, clean images that look great at every level of resolution. For a sample of what this camera is capable of, check out the video below.

Audio is a bit more of a mixed bag. The internal mic does an adequate job of capturing voices and other ambient noises, but add a little wind to the mix and things start to get a lot more muddled. Once again, the more expensive Contour+ 2 can alleviate the issue to a degree as it includes the ability to attach an external mic. That improves sound quality greatly and it would have been a nice addition on the ROAM 2 as well.

For amateur filmmakers, the ContourROAM 2 video camera is an excellent entry-level product. It delivers great visuals and performs well in all kinds of difficult conditions. On top of that, it is built to withstand just about any kind of punishment that you can dole out. Its rechargeable battery is good for about 3.5 hours of shooting time, which is excellent for this type of camera, and all of the extras that are included in the box (memory card, two mounts, etc.) make it a bargain at $199.99. It is even available in four different colors for those who want to add a little character to their device. In contrast, the Contour+ 2 that I mentioned several times in this article costs twice as much, but does offer a lot more functionality and comes with built-in GPS capabilities, a waterproof case and even the ability to live-stream directly to the Internet. That camera is aimed at the more advanced user, but packs great value as well.

Either way, I think you’ll be impressed with what Contour has brought to the table here. They may not have the same name recognition of someone like GoPro, but their cameras are fantastic alternatives and do some things that even the competition can’t. If you’re looking for a quality action camera to capture your own adventures, it is extremely tough to beat the ROAM 2 – especially at the same price point.

[Photo Credits: Contour]