Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Vagabonding at Home Challenge Update 1

It has been a few weeks since I posted about the Vagabonding at Home Challenge. In spite of a big road bump in the challenge (see True Tests of Your Character), I have made some progress with the challenge. First, I'll discuss how my clothing experiments have gone, and then I'll discuss some of the new gear I have tried out.

I love my Vibram Five Fingers KSO's. They are by far the best workout and running shoes I have ever used. My calves get an unbelievable workout when running in them, and they are super comfortable for wearing in the gym. Also, coupled with my size Large MSR Packtowl (which is still very small), I no longer have to bring a giant gym bag to pack my tennis shoes and normal sized towel. I now just bring a small backpack and all my workout gear packs in about 1/4 of the backpack. Like I said, I love these things.

However, I only wore them as my regular and only pair of shoes for a week or so. First of all, they make your feet sweat. And the thin layer of moisture surrounding my feet made them very cold while sitting in my air-conditioned office. My feet are actually much warmer barefoot or in sandals. Also, any slight puddle will make them wet and this is uncomfortable. Kept dry, they are a very comfortable shoe, and the sensation of feeling the texture of the ground below me is really quite amazing. However, this feeling is not enough to make me want to wear them everywhere I go. They are cold, and they probably will start to stink, although mine are not too bad yet. I have yet to try them with toe socks. They would certainly help with the coldness, but would kind of kill the barefoot aspect of the shoes. Also, they would look pretty dorky with socks. Nonetheless, a pair of sandals and a good pair of waterproof trail-runners are probably the best way to go for footwear. For now, I have my pair of Rainbow leather sandals and a pair of Vasque Blur SL Gore-Tex trail runners. These are pretty heavy and big compared to the running shoes I am used to, but should be good for a variety of conditions.

A single pair of convertible pants is probably doable, but most likely not preferable. They will start to smell a bit after 3 or 4 days without being washed, even without any serious physical activity. This can easily be remedied by hand washing them in a sink with some Dr. Bronner's liquid soap. However, if you get them seriously dirty, like I did on a 2 day, 1 night backpacking trip, hand washing is not going to do it. Well, maybe it would, but it would take a long time and some more powerful cleansing soap. I think probably it is best to have 2 pairs of convertible pants, washing them by hand every couple of days or so, and then every other week or so paying to get them cleaned with either a washing machine or a dedicated hand washer, which are very cheap and easy to find in most countries.

The 2 pairs of Ex Officio underwear have really been great. Every night I wash one of them and hang it to dry with my Rick Steve's Clothesline. I have only used my two pairs and have only hand washed them. They are as fresh as can be, and I do not see a reason to get any more at the moment.

I have not made much progress on getting the right shirts. I ordered a medium, large, and x-large Icebraker Bodyfit 200 Contour Crews from These were not really my preferred shirts but would help me to understand how Icebreaker Bodyfit shirts fit. Well, they all fit pretty awkwardly. I usually wear medium t-shirts but it was a toss-up between the large and x-large versions. I didn't like the fit of either really. I also tried out some other Icebreaker t-shirts, but again I did not like the fit. Unfortunately, REI did not have medium versions of the Tech T-Lite 150 shirt, and this is the one that I think my research so far will probably be the best for me. I will probably order some of these soon, although at $60 each, it is hard to convince myself to do it. There are several other Merino wool brands such as Smartwool and Minus 33. The Minus 33 products seem to be about 2/3 the cost of the others and reviews for them are pretty favorable for comfort and durability. The might be good ones to try. For now, I have just been wearing a couple of Hanes medium black crew t-shirts. I have not had any issues with smell, and they even look reasonably nice but I am pretty sure if I was in a hot area where I was sweating, these would get gross fast. The good side: they are only about $3 each. I also currently have several cheap synthetic, dry fast shirts on order to see how these perform and look.

I am starting to get a good idea of what my clothing will be for moderate to hot temperatures, but what about rainy and cold days? To get high quality rain and cold gear, one could easily spend $1000 or more. I want to find a good balance between cost and value. The most efficient way to prepare for a variety of cold, rainy, or combination of the two conditions is to use a good layering system. That means a good base layer (whatever t-shirts I get will do), a good insulation layer, and a quality waterproof shell top layer. I will start with the shell.

I ordered several shells including the Mountain Hardwear Typhoon, Marmot Oracle, GoLite Tumalo, and the least expensive option of the four, a Marmot Precip jacket. In the end, I decided to keep the Marmot Precip as it seems to be a good balance of weather protection, price, and weight. It also has a nice style which seems at home in the city as well as on the trails. I additionally picked up a pair of Marmot Precip Full-zip rain pants, although these may end up not really being necessary for me. My convertible pants are pretty water resistant, and I never really cared too much about my legs getting a bit wet anyway.

For the insulation layer, I have tried out several products including the Marmot Zeus Down Jacket, GoLite Cady 2477 Jacket, Arc'teryx Apache AR Zip Fleece Pullover, and the Patagonia R3 High-Loft Fleece Jacket. The Marmot and GoLite are down and synthetic stuffing respectively but their "shiny" outer fabric looks a bit too ridiculous to wear in the city. At least for now, I decided against these "shiny" fabric styles, although the Marmot Zeus, in particular, was very warm, light, and comfortable. The Arc'teryx was pretty warm, but not warm enough given the bulk and lack of compressibility. I ordered a large Patagonia R3 but this was a bit too large for me, so I am currently waiting on an exchange for a medium. This jacket is incredibly warm and highly compressible, although also, quite expensive. I also have a couple of other cheaper insulation layers from White Sierra just to see the difference in weight and warmth with the premium priced R3.

My gear quest is still very much a work in progress. It has been going somewhat slow as I wait on somewhat slow shipping, and the fact that I have been so busy with other things. I hope to have all of my stuff ready to go within the next couple of months. The backpack will be a very important part of this, and it is very tough deciding the best way to carry all my stuff in addition to a laptop and DSLR camera. Without the DSLR, I am sure I could pack VERY light, maybe even at the level of Tynan. Wanting to bring my DSLR though makes things a bit more complicated. Stay tuned for more updates on my gear and let me know if you have any suggestions!

True Tests of Your Character

It is very easy to preach one thing or another. It is totally different to follow through on what you preach. When faced with a decision which flies in the face of everything you have been talking about, this is when your character and principles must really be tested. It is easy to preach virtue and honesty, but much harder when faced with the option to almost effortlessly download copyrighted media online for free. If you really want to tests someone's character, there must be options available to them that go against what they say. It is easy to keep dating the person you are with when there is no one else around. But how is it if something new comes along?

I was recently faced with a potentially life-altering decision. I had a job offer, which to most people, would seem like an incredibly extraordinary opportunity. One in a million. Impossible to refuse. It was totally unexpected, and initially, I completely wrote it off as it flies in the face of everything I have been convincing myself of the past two or three years. The job offer meant I would have to postpone, for at least two years, my long-term travel plans and desire to work on my own projects. I specifically meant to NOT look into any job opportunities because I did not want to face any decisions or compelling offers. Sometimes life throws you curve balls though.

Despite initially thinking there would be no way I would take the job offer, I decided to not decline it right there outright, but just to sit on it for a bit. After thinking a little more and talking to my research advisor, I was able to work out a pretty sweet deal. I would graduate about 5 months earlier than originally planned and start at the new job almost 2 months later. Not only would I finish graduate school early, but I also had bought myself some time in between to travel and explore my own projects and ideas. But 2 months is very different from the 2 years I had imagined. This was DEFINITELY a compromise. However, for a while, I thought maybe it was one I could live with.

Everyone who really knew me could not believe I was considering the job offer. I have been quoted on saying ridiculous things such as "even if I got offered a job with a salary of $500,000 a year, I would still have to turn it down." I had spent the past two years proving to myself how little money I really need to live a complete and happy life. I had taught myself that time was your most valuable asset, not money. But here I was, faced with a clear option which went against all this. My character and values were most definitely being tested.

The next week of my life was one of the most stressful in recent memory. Going through in my head all the pros and cons of taking the job or not. Most of the time, I felt a slight leaning toward taking it, and then, in a moment of extreme clarity, I felt so ridiculous about the prospect of taking it. I knew it was not what I wanted. This cycle persisted.

In the end, I decided not to take the job and stick with my original plan to travel, take time off, and work on my own projects and maybe projects with friends. It is the MUCH scarier option, that is for sure. But it is the one that excites me. It is the one that pushes me to grow. My character was tested, and I had passed the test. The next time yours is, will you?