Essential Skills: Garment zipper replacement

Replacing a zipper, generally in a full zip jacket, is one of the most common and thus, most essential serious gear repairs you’ll do.  Serious in this case being roughly defined as requiring more than tape or glue to manage.  The zipper on my 4 year old Haglofs Pile hoody recently died, providing a good tutorial on how to effect this repair.

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The first step in any repair is preventative maintenance.  With jacket zippers, the first step here is to buy garments made from good materials.  #5 YKK zips are a good place to start (# refers to size, bigger meaning larger, and the number can generally be found on the back of the slider, bottom stop, or both).  #3 zippers are in full zip jackets a invitation to a short product life.  Zippers fail when the materials wear, so keeping the teeth clean and not yanking too much both go a decent way towards maximizing function.  When separation begins to occur (see above), often a worn slider is at fault.  The metal of the slider wears ever so slightly, enough that it doesn’t fully engage the teeth when pulled up.  Engage the zipper, and bend the two halves together with pliers (this page has good photos).

With my jacket, this did not get the job done.   Wear to the plastic teeth, combined with fraying on the bottom stop, prevented things from seating properly, making total replacement the only option.  As I outline below, this isn’t too difficult or time consuming, but it is also not the most basic repair.  Companies with good warranties and repair policies (e.g Patagonia) will replace zippers, often for free.  Companies with mediocre policies (e.g. OR) will usually send you a new jacket).  Companies with less good policies (e.g. Arc’teryx) will often give you the run around before replacing the garment.  For me repair is both better style and better for the environment.  Knowing I wanted to put a beefier zipper into this specific jacket (packed size and weight not being a concern), I ordered up a #8 YKK coil zip as a replacement, and got out the knife.

Haglofs did a good job making the zipper both well sewn in an fairly easy to remove.  The strip of grosgrain is the key here: remove the little bartack on either end, cut out a few inches of stitching on one end, and at this point the thread is thin enough you can just rip the rest of the stitch line in a good yank.  The zipper itself is sewn directly to the fleece with another line of stitching, similarly slowly cut out a few inches with a knife or seam ripper, then give it a rip.

The only tricky part of sewing the new zipper on is the tendency of fleece to stretch, especially if your machine doesn’t have a walking foot.  Pins aren’t a bad idea to prevent this, or use stitch lines in the garment as reference marks, sewing 3-5 inches at a time and making sure the fabric doesn’t stretch.  If you let the fleece stretch, the zipper will get longer than it should, and the fit will be weird.  Once you’ve stitched the zipper in on either side via a plain seam, and in this case reused the zipper flap, again via a plain seam, flip the garment back right side out (top photo) and top stitch through the folded seam to lock everything in place.

Simple, easy, and now you can fix your own stuff.  Once practiced this is a ~20 minute job.

The Maah Daah Hey

The US, and I imagine the world, needs more trails like this.  Strictly speaking the MDH has national park caliber scenery, as it passes through two units of a national park.  Theodore Roosevelt is an obscure national park, getting as many visits in a busy year as Glacier does in an average June, and probably wouldn’t have been designated at all had it not been so intimately associated with the most important conservationist in American history.  And that is the point.  The terrain of the Little Missouri badlands is subtle and immensely nuanced.  It is an easy place to overlook, and as the huge increase in gas pads and roads between this visit (in April 2019) and my first visit (October 2005) indicate, an easy place for the wild mind of the nation to forget, and by extension, neglect.  Long, immersive trails in other such locations would go a very long way towards fostering appreciation of and interaction with the many wild places that are still left, sandwiched between civilization.

That trip two years ago was a big deal.  It was an idea that had been rolling around in my head for over a decade, and is still unfinished.  It was the first big trip after a difficult winter acclimating to life as a parent of two kids, rather than one.  Due to fitness, I elected to walk rather than bike, and that slower pace, in theory less stylistic, made for a slower and more contemplative journey.  There isn’t much flat on the MDH, but even so the walking is easy and relaxing.  Floating the Little Mo is similarly simple right up to the edge of dullness, and thus all that trip I had hours to look and think, even more than usual on a solo backpack.

I’m looking forward to getting back, sometime.

Packraft forecasting

It is that time of year; orders for straps and the guidebook start increasing, as do emails about trip planning.  Those messages generally involve a ~7 day hiking and packrafting loop in the Bob, and almost always revolve around attempting to plan well in advance and hit a reliable flow window.  This is especially tricky for something like the South to North Loop, which for less experienced packrafters requires balancing enough water on the North Fork of the Sun with not too much on the South Fork of the Flathead.  

I provide guidance on flows in the guidebook, as well as guidance on when those flows are most likely to happen, but for a specific year doing specific research is invaluable.  The main Snotel page is the place to start.   I like to use the percentile compared to POR option in the interactive map, and especially the water year chart for individual Snotel sites.  These charts reveal both how water is accumulating relative to the historical average, and when over the span of variability total snow water equivalent (SWE) peaks and, thus, meltoff begins.  In short, big snowpacks can make for big and or late flows and or sustained streamflows, but how the spring months (starting now) play out is almost more relevant.  Temps cold enough to have April and even May storms fall (above 5-6k) as snow can make a below average winter into an exceptional spring and summer.  

The next step is the streamflow pages, specifically the monthly averages.  This gives you a good sense of the potential for variability, something that you can then go back and correlate with past snotel graphs, which is the best way to cultivate a depth of context.  The North Fork of the Sun, for instance, has a reliable period when it is floatable, and a reliable period when it is not, without a massive amount of variation.  What variation there is directly correlates with overall low snowpacks  (eg 2016).  The South Fork of the Flathead, by contrast, has a similar degree of predictability when the low limits of floating are concerned, but much more variation when higher flows are concerned.  My standard threshold for when the lower White River ceases to be good floating is 5000 cfs on that South Fork gauge, and when that boundary gets crossed (usually in July) is highly subject to conditions.  The trick here is that there is not a snotel site within the main South Fork headwaters.  You’ll need to look at places like Badger Pass and Noisy Basin and extrapolate, again based on specific comparable instances from the past.  

Flow planning such as this can make taking a trip in early July versus late July an easier choice to make, when the choice is being made right around now.  Closer to the date of a trip, say a month out, possible flows can be more reliably forecast, making it possible to (for example) route from something like the White over to the Danaher if flows will be lower, or to plan on portaging the lower Youngs Gorge if flows are higher than a group might like.  These two tools can also be used in other locations, though local idiosyncrasies* will always throw in curveballs.

*The only gauge on the Middle Fork of the Flathead is 50+ river miles downstream from relevant wilderness sections, with the highest altitude headwaters (Park, Coal, Nyack Creeks) coming in below the wilderness bits.  In July and August the wilderness Middle Fork is consistently lower than the gauge would suggest.

SWD Big Wild by the numbers

It is tough for me not to be effusive to the point of utterly lacking objectivity about this pack, which Superior Wilderness Designs sent me (for free) to evaluate.  Design and construction are polished, clean and professional without being showy, and represent the absolute best of the burgeoning made in the US cottage backpack industry.   And if that weren’t enough to stir my heart, this particular model is largish, burly, simple, and versatile.  It is where I’ve wanted ultralight packs to go for over a decade, and seeing what is likely the first fully realized incarnation of that, at least that I’ve seen in person, is exciting.  So I’ll be holding off on substantive impressions for a while.  What follows are the facts for this prototype.

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50.8 oz fully equipped; main fabric is X50

3.1 oz of straps

5.1 oz belt

43.75 inch top circ  (11 inch back, 12.75 inch front, 10 inch sides)

40 inch unrolled height

36 inch bottom circ (11 inch back, 9 inch front, 8 inch sides)

The numbers don’t tell the full story, as the shaping of the main bag is sophisticated and involved.  It is also worth highlighting how many, fully modular straps are contained in that 3 ounces.  An adaptable compression system that is durable, quick to use, and strippable without leaving a rats nest has long been an ideal.  Time will (shortly) tell how many of those boxes the Big Wild checks.

In summary. I haven’t been this excited about a backpack in a long time.

A mystery classic

I didn’t even write about this one two years ago which, on reviewing and editing the footage, was serious restraint.  One of the better alpine and packraft loops in the Bob, easily doable in 3 days.  See if you can guess what and where.

Retirement

A few months ago I spent a day snowboarding.  It did not go as I had hoped.   The reversion to being a kid, and flailing on and off the lift and down the hill, was immediate.  I slid into trees, off on slope angles to where I did not want to go, caught an edge and crashed off of tiny rocks, and had the liftie run over and ask if I was ok, twice.  Whatever I’ve learned over the past 3 decades of mountain biking, climbing, skiing, boating, and backpacking blunted the fear of novelty and let me be aware of exactly how and why I was struggling in the moment, but it did not accelerate the learning process, at least not on day one.  Perhaps I’ve watched too many Jeremy Jones movies.  After a few days contemplation I made the decisive, and I think not hasty, call to retire from snowboarding after one day.  It took me long enough to feel competent skiing, and I am not exactly swimming in free time.   And for me, abundant time has always been requisite for learning any physical pursuit.

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I made the snowboard into a lawn couch, using some skis, cedar 2x4s from an old fence, and some juniper logs.  I’ve become especially enamored with the tight, kaleidoscopic grain of the Rocky Mountain Junipers which dot the ponderosa forests around here, and whose sandy, recalcitrant poise so easily echoes the same trees and their cousins, the Utah Juniper, down on the Colorado Plateau.  For aesthetic reasons, and because I was short plain boards that were long enough, I split one particularly tall and straight juniper log in half and built it into a shelf which now sits in the renovated mudroom, and holds a stack of totes which in turn hold the vital parts of our gear arsenal: climbing hardwear, ropes, and cooking kit in three bins on the floor, then a bin each for tents, pads, drysuits and bags, and then two bins each crammed with backpacks, before a final row of larger backpacks up against the ceiling.  It’s proved a expedient arrangement; get home from a trip, explode gear to dry and clean in the aisle between the shelves and the shoe bench, then put it all away without taking more than half a step.

I belabor this because, especially now as a family, we have a lot of interests, which means a lot of things which in the interest of efficiency need to stay separate but interlocking.  Car camping requires much of the same stuff as a week long backpack hunt; an overnight float trip many of the same things as a chilly afternoon at the bike park.  Flailing to find the right drybags is bad enough prepping for a solo trip.  If the small people are reluctant enough to get out the door, spending 20 minutes to find that tiny pair of black rainpants is simply not acceptable.  Time then isn’t just given over the skill building within the activity itself, the organization and logistics which make all of those activities possible requires a considerable, and ongoing, investment.  In this world new things do not come cheap, and the money to buy the stuff is, measured over years, the least of the concerns.

My mom recently retired, in the conventional sense, from over 40 years of being a psychotherapist.  They also recently closed on a house down the road, and are deep into conversations about what boat(s) will be required for this next phase of life.   It has been quite a few years since this trip, and my postscript summary has not changed; given the combination of ideal scenery, challenge, and execution, I cannot expect to ever have a better backpacking trip.  I could likely replicate the route, or the satisfaction, even the seamless experience on such all-encompassing terrain, and I have done all of those, quite a few times, but I don’t expect to outright exceed it.  At the time I wondered, rather idly, if I might retire from backpacking with satisfaction.  I’ve reached similar positions in climbing, mountain biking, and canyoneering, with a much reduced degree of mastery, and have been content to let them go.  In outdoor pursuits knowledge and experience persist, but fitness and the sharp edge which comes with submersion do not remain.

Perhaps it is that backpacking is the ur skill for all backcountry disciplines.  Perhaps it is that walking is so basic, and physically the area in which I am most gifted.  Perhaps it is the gift of circumstance, that in the Northern Rockies backpacking is the best thing to do, particular when skiing or packrafting or hunting are spread on top.  Most likely it is that backpacking is the most fun of all of these, not in the whoop adrenaline sense of gravity power, but in the less common, enduring sense of variation beyond human determination that, for this reason, is never subject to boredom.  Having gone beyond mastery, and to a large degree beyond novelty, I find myself as much concerned with style and with monitoring the passage of time, revisiting old favorites, as I do with anything else.  And of course I have people around who need to see certain things.

I can’t imagine retiring.

Marin San Quentin tire clearance

It is not really possible to have too much tire clearance on a mountain bike.  Clearance adds versatility, with tires being the fastest and most drastic way to alter the performance of your bike, and especially in the mud, excessive clearance has little downside.  The one significant downside, the demand clearance places on chainstay length and drivetrain compatibility, has been decently addressed by machined chainstay yokes, 1x drivetrains, and wider rear hub spacing.   Sadly, the bike industry is governed by fashion rather than product longevity, with most bikes being designed for the minimum current trends deem acceptable.

Fortunately, there are exceptions.

Plus (read ~3″ wide) tires are a fashion that peaked and rapidly waned.  Tires this fat are a bit much for the manicured trails which have become the industries ideal.  As the San Quentin frame demonstrates, it is very possible to make a bike with plenty of tire clearance, short chainstays (425mm), that also works with the largest chainring you’d ever want to run (I bet you could squeak a 36t in there).  I wouldn’t have purchased the frame without plenty of rumors to this effect, but wanted to put up photos confirming it.  So here they are.

This is a Teraveil Coronado on the stock i29mm rims, set up tubeless and with a good ~week to stretch.  The Coronado is both truly 3″wide, and quite tall, especially on these narrower rims.  As you can see, seatstay and downtube clearance are good, and chainstay clearance is adequate.  It is possible that with such a voluminous tire one might run into trouble with wider rims.

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The San Quentin has truly come alive with these tires.  The stock Flow Snaps grip well, but have a very floppy sidewall, and the lack of both sturdiness and volume made them a big skittish and lacking in support.  I always wanted more, especially on the front, while creeping down steep stuff.  The Coronados, even in the supple casing, are nicely stout, and the tread pattern suits the volume well, gripping well enough and being quite fast.  I did flip the front for better braking traction.

It is also worth following up on my previous difficulties getting the Flow Snaps to go tubeless.  I never fund a sustainable setup, and went back to tubes out of annoyance.  After chasing a few issues with getting the Coronados set up, I can say that both the stock rim strips and tires were the source of my original problems.  The rim strips valve hole was too large to seal well with a Stans valve stem, and the Flow Snap sidewalls never stopped leaking a bit of sealant.  An unfortunate spec shortcut that could be frustrating for someone buying the base model San Quentin as their first mountain bike.

Old mud

In a recent interview, father of hellbiking Roman Dial said ( to paraphrase) that he became interested in wilderness biking because walking was too simple.  Off trails, cycling punishes poor route choices, while the speed and effort differences between good walking and bad walking terrain are exponentially less.  This is why the 1997 Nat Geo article will remain one of the most staggering, nigh uncomprehensible, and influential wilderness trips of all time.   Since my own mountain biking career petered out into hobbyhood a decade ago, I’ve been in denial about Roman’s insight, and semi-intentionally avoided reckoning with what it would mean to embrace what hellbiking would mean in the lower 48.  A lot of this is logistical; it being difficult to find public lands where biking is legal off official routes.  Some of it had to do with equipment; full fat bikes are great, but they’re often overkill for wild terrain and almost always too heavy for the extensive pushing and carrying.  But most of it was my reluctance to go all in on the ambiguity, on potentially handicapping myself massively on a route, and having an extensive learning curve before mistakes and failing ceased to be the default.

After building my new bike, and frankly after doing almost everything I ever care to do in backpacking over the past decade, I had no tenable excuses left, and no choice but to dive in.

The route was a version of one I’d been thinking about for years and years, so naturally with being new to the intricacies and having lots of guesses invested, lots went wrong.  For the first time since 2006, when we moved to Arizona, I ran out of both tubes and patches on a ride, and limped down the final hill stopping to pump up both tired every quarter mile.  So duh: if you ride in cactus country you need tubeless tires with an excessive amount of sealant inside.  I shouldn’t have had to learn that one again.  I was also surprised to find the big river still frozen over.  Not solid, but far to thoroughly to paddle, and far too slushy to walk across.  This both made the full loop impossible, and robbed my bail option, which would have been really nice when I got into the cottonwood bottoms already dangerously low on tubes.  Lastly, and most significantly for the future, I learned that overall moisture levels will in the future be vital for viable passage.  The wash riding here will be exceptional, when things are either dry or frozen and the gumbo is locked away.  As it was experience let me keep my drivetrain intact and derailleur hanger on the bike, but only just, there being about a dozen instances when a little more pedal pressure would have brought on terminal chainsuck, derailleur dismemberment, or both.

But the deertrack and cowtrack and especially elktrack was sublime, especially that elk trail which hammered across a skinny ridgetop and surfed sandy rollers all the way down to the wash, each dip somehow just on the edge of butt to tire rideable.  The Marin, newly outfitted with 3 inch tires, performed perfectly, and when I can fix my technical mistakes and misunderestimation of the conditions, I could not be more excited to get back out there.

Returning

Last week, in The Atlantic, Ellen Cushing wrote that “…the only thing better than being a genius in a pandemic is being intellectually unencumbered by mass grief.”   This has become the cliche du jour, that (essentially) after a year of official pandemichood in the US, we have all been changed in ways that we are only just becoming able to understand.  I have certainly found this to be the case; as I reread last week’s post I couldn’t help but notice the unusual (even for me!) number of typos and instances in which my brain, separate entity that it often is these days, decided to switch track mid-clause.   As I wrote last week, we’ve gotten this far in the pandemic relatively unscathed.  I’ve actually learned quite a lot, and am confident I’ll look back on the past year with trepidation and fondness, once a bit more comfort of distance is mine.  I am also confident that the fog of anxiety, which was so all-consuming a year ago, when we were figuring out how this was going to work, and this past autumn, when we were waiting to see just how bad things would get, has altered my thinking and functioning in ways that will never be fully fixable.

Friday, March 13th, was the last normal day of school for us.  It had been a good week, a busy week, full of purpose.  A sunny week, until Friday, when it snowed.  I went skiing with a client during the 6th grade field trip, excited that this young lady, whose life had in the past month revealed itself to me as marked by islands on hope amidst a grey ocean of trauma, was moving towards being able to build herself, towards giving herself convincing and sustaining evidence that she would be in control of her life and herself.  After lunch, we rode the big lift to the summit of the mountain and she fought her doubt back down.  Another client would, a month later and over Zoom, reveal his arm in a cast, a fracture sustained on that ski trip which had gone undiagnosed for weeks.   I will always remember leaving school that Friday, jovially wrapped in the ignorance I had pulled ever more tightly around myself in the month before, as the Europe showed the western hemisphere what it was in for, and M filled our freezer with food and our closet with yes, toilet paper.

Here in our middle schools we just squeaked in under the 1 year mark, returning to a somewhat normal schedule this week.   Middle schoolers have not had an easy time of it the past year, perhaps, as a class, they have been the worst off.  This years sixth graders got all of the academic demands, and more, of the move to middle school with almost none of the structural support, and none of the social inducements.  Seventh graders, and especially, eighth graders, are all to aware of what they are missing, and have been deep in mourning for some time.  I have deep theoretical and policy objections to middle schools as such, but putting that aside leaves the pragmatic fact of this deeply awkward developmental period being, insofar as our public schools are primary agents of socialization, predicated upon peers and socialization driving the process.  Middle schoolers struggle to find school relevant absent social exposure, and not just because lunch and social time is the sugar on the medicine of math and writing and sex ed.

On the other hand, 12 year olds are blessed with both a more plastic sense of the world, and being not yet inured to bullshit in the ways adulthood demands.  They are both more capable of moving on with change, and less likely to pass poor reality into the background as something to accept by ignoring.  I’ve been busy this school year, and have now refined using unspecified anxiety and depression as COVID-specific, insurance approved diagnosis.  Many of my clients, especially the newer ones, do best with understanding just how and why their lives are not ok right now, and that they will find it simplest to figure out how to accept, for the moment, the unacceptable.

Acceptance is not the same as forgetting, nor is it a passive process.  I’ve learned this year that streaming Fortnite or Minecraft is a perfectly adequate substitute for in person socialization, if done intentionally.  The same games, and especially the less inherently social ones, can just as or even more easily be numbing.  Regression to the bliss of elementary school, and pruning down ones life to the basics, are in the pandemic entirely healthy, so long as self-awareness becomes involved at some point.  So too increased sleep, though the line here between self-care and avoidance is pencil-line thin.

Big people would do well to remember these lessons.  There will be lots of reasons to be tentative about our exit from the pandemic, and fear and failure and fear of change are, especially after a year spent swimming in ambiguity, just as reasonable as concern that lax behavior will bring about a resurgence in infections.

The B&P mentoring program

Donald Trump has shown, more starkly than almost anything else one could imagine, how deeply structural racial bias and discrimination has been and is, and how it remains in many or even most cases the pivot point for social power in the United States. After the past four years we know more about this, which is to say more about ourselves, than we would under any other circumstances.  Structural bias will in many cases erode away in the face of history, but very slowly, and with the potential for retrograde progress.  It is our responsibility to bend the curve of history, to help social justice along, in consistency and speed.

I’ve been guilty, for a long time, of thinking about wilderness ahistorically, as something which is a precondition for social justice.  I still think this is true, but all too often my assumptions have jumped from wilderness and wild pursuits being physically democratic, insofar as accessibility is concerned, to that accessibility being literally effective.  I grew up spending time outside with my family, going hiking and boating from a very early age.  It wasn’t until I started rock climbing at 12 that I felt ownership over my own learning in the outdoors, and that experience, supported by my family background (read; privilege) allowed me to move on and teach myself canyoneering, mountain biking, hunting, skiing, packrafting, and so forth.  Making the venue and information of and for a given wilderness pursuit accessible is one thing.  Making the self-certainty necessary to teach oneself out there in the wild is another.

That matter is something I would like to help address.

So I’m looking for mentees in 2021, for a small handful of people with aspirations for the backcountry whose background and situation will make achieving those goals more complicated than would be the case for someone like me.  I’m not placing definitive restrictions on the race, orientation, class, or ethnicity who I hope to work with here, but white men are not it.  Yes there has been a lot of attention given to minorities in the outdoors and to social justice within the industry, and a lot of that verbiage has been monolithic and cliched, but the broader point about social justice, that we are neither the agent or architects of the more profound influences on our lives, stands intact.  My hope and intention is to use my experience, something both created and expedited by the circumstances of my birth, to provide an analogous bit of assistance for folks whose place in history would not do the same.

What will this look like?  I don’t know, but am eager to go on a journey with a few folks and find out.  I envision folks having significant and extensive access to my time, over the phone or via Zoom, regarding their hopes, goals, and the personal and skill development they’ll need to get there.  If someone wants to climb the Grand Teton, for example, or packraft the Middle Fork of the Flathead, it is easy to write up a list of hard skills they’ll need to master.  It is less simple to even define the mental aspects and less tangible skills that will be equally essential.  Things like dealing with loneliness and fear; managing layers and bedding during a 48 hour rainstorm; finding a layering system that works to your tastes and physiology.  I envision my roll as having more to do with helping people figure out the most important questions, rather than the more basic process of defining answers.  Perhaps, schedules and COVID concerns allowing, some combination of us might be able to go on a trip, or a few.  If you are based in the vicinity of Helena, Montana, that convenience would allow for more instructional options.

So, if you fit the above criteria and have some adventure goals you think might dovetail well with my knowledge base, send an email to dave at bedrockandparadox dawt com, with Mentorship Application in the subject line, and tell me what your hopes are and how you think I would be effective in assisting you.  This last part is important.  Any reader who has been around a while should be quite familiar with my style, and I think I can assure everyone that my writing does a decent job of representing who I am as a person.  Like any teaching relationship, the person to person dynamic is as important as any more direct factor, and neither of us should waste each others time if it doesn’t seem like we would be a good fit.  That said, in applying I ask for no commitment save to me reading and you writing your words, each with care.

I have no basis for evaluating the interest, but I don’t envision the application period being open for long.  I will update in this post, and notify everyone via email.