Category Archives: Hiking

Moon Cheese

I warned you there would be more posts about hiking and now they’ve arrived.

I’m super familiar with the phenomenon of crappy food tasting good after 8 hours of hiking; even the most disgusting of dehydrated backpacker meal pouches will be devoured. However, the real test for backpacker meals is if you like them outside of hiking.

These I picked up randomly on an REI run for other backpacking gear; partially because I love cheese. And then there was the name, Moon Cheese.

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Three flavours: Cheddar, Gouda and Pepper Jack. I snatched the Gouda and took it on a hike across Bandelier, New Mexico (we’ll get to that later). Before getting too far into the 22 mile return trek I popped open the Moon Cheese. They are basically a substantial and crunchy version of Gouda; the flavour is true if not a little more intense. This is probably what happens when you dehydrate cheese.

The resealable pouch contains 5 servings according to the nutritional info on the back. Ok, whatever. I ate them all in one sitting. 70 calories per serving, 350 calories, about the same as the vending-machine Doritos I ate the previous day, only with zero carbs.

Definitely a keeper in the backpacking food category. Hopefully I can sneak a few of these into New Zealand without the Border Agriculture Nazis confiscating them like they did my almonds.

Cincinnati | Far Ridge Trail

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When I visit Sister in Cincinnati invariably we wind up on some hike, be it urban or rural. This time we visited the Cincinnati Nature Centre and she recommended we hike the Far Ridge Trail. The Nature Centre has a dozen or so trails, all branded under the umbrella name – Rowe Woods. The trails vary in distance and difficulty. You can collect a map of the lot from the Nature Centre. Or you can download the map from the Rowe Woods Website. Far Ridge is one of the “difficult” trails but its relatively short, 1.5 miles. However, what they don’t tell you is that you’ll walk 2 miles to get to Far Ridge.

Condition
The Centre and all of the trails, benches, picnic tables and bird-watching ledges are in immaculate shape. There are ample, clearly marked signs everywhere directing you to trails (color coded even), all of them include distances, in case you want to double think before you venture down a trail that is too long for your time restrictions.

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Difficulty
The difficulty in hiking Far Ridge is due to a steep incline about half way through the outbound trip followed, naturally, by a steep decline on the return.  Personally I found the decline more difficult since it’s harder to see depressions in the trail surface coming from a higher angle of view, which makes your footing tentative.

Since the trail surfaces are in great shape you shouldn’t have to worry about navigating around dangerous spots. A few boulders and roots on the path are not stationary nor stable, as always,  test those out first before assuming. There is one stream crossing but there was so little water (in June) you could walk straight across if you don’t mind soggy shoes. Me, I did boulder hopscotch across to keep my feet dry.

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Duration
From the Nature Centre itself you’ll spend about 30-45 minutes walking to Far Ridge; more if you want to stop to take in the scenery. Really, its a beautiful setting filled with clear lakes and a wide variety of trees and flowers. In the lake just behind the Centre, I watched fish making depressions in the sandy bottom for what I assumed was egg laying.

Once reaching Far Ridge, you’ll want another 45 minutes to an hour to complete the circuit. In total, about 2 hour return from the Centre, stops notwithstanding.

Gear
You shouldn’t need much more than a water bottle and of course, your camera. You’ll want some shoes more sturdy than tennis shoes to navigate the boulders, tree roots and stream crossings; basic trail shoes should be fine. If you want but forget to bring snacks, water or an umbrella those are all for sale at the Nature Centre.

Fees
There is an $8 park entry fee for non-members however when we arrived there was no one there to collect the fee, so there’s that.

I can recommend Far Trail for anyone who finds themselves in the greater Cincinnati area and wants a beautiful, briefly challenging hike.  I’ll probably do the other Rowe Woods trails on return trips

Nexcon ES500 Solar Charger

Gadget Whore!

Yeah, I hear that a lot. But there is almost always a reason, almost. For the next couple of months I’ll be trying out and probably reviewing a few gadgets I’m accumulating for a 7-day hike. It’s funny but often my hiking gear has a place in my day-to-day. For example, this Nexcon solar powered charger / external battery.

Weight
I have  brick chargers I use when I’m on long flights or trapped in other locations without easy access to an outlet. But the concern with taking these on a hike is weight. My First gen Anker brick charger weighs in at over two pounds. The Nexcon – 4.5 ounces.

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Charging Up Battery
There are two ways to charge the Nexcon; light and USB. The charger, after being depleted, took about 24 hours of sunlight to fully recharge, or something near full. Not all of the sunlight was direct and I was surprised at how sensitive the unit was to picking up indirect light. Also, even under a strong incandescent source, it will charge. Through the USB cable provided, it took about one hour to fully charge. You can tell its charging by the green indicator light.

If you quickly depress the only button on the front you will see the battery level. There are 1-4 blue indicator lights to tell you the battery level.  Unfortunately you can only guess the exact level since the lights indicate range; one light = (0-25%), two lights = (25-50%), etc. Quickly depress the button to make the indicator lights go out.

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Using the Battery to Charge Electronics
On a full battery I could charge my iPhone, iPad and old-school iPod each (from 20% to 100%). The iPhone took 2 hours to charge, the iPad a little longer. When the unit is getting low on battery, it will shut itself off. This was one of the few units with 2 USB ports, in case you want to charge 2 devices simultaneously. The USB ports are hidden away under flaps that snugly fit into the side and keep the ports from dirt and moisture.

Durability
Its water resistant. Always a concern when hiking but considering I live in Houston and it ‘surprise’ rains here every afternoon in the summer, also a concern day-to-day. I clipped the unit to my day pack during a couple of rain showers and it still works. As you already know water-resistant does not mean waterproof, so if it falls into a river,  I  imagine its done.

Tandem to the ‘surprise’ rain, Houston is experiencing a major construction boom (don’t ask me why given the state of the oil industry). This has the effect of everything being covered in dust, including the Nexcon. No bother at all, everything functions normally and you can just wipe the whole thing down with a wet paper towel.

I’ve dropped it, backed it up against a tree, it even took a tumble down a flight of stairs. No damage at all.

Portability
Practically the unit has to be exposed to light almost all day to be useful so it can’t be tucked Nex-3away inside a backpack, it has to be on the outside. Luckily they designed the top to be a huge loop. All you need is a D clip for easy attachment to the outside of a pack.

Torch
I was surprised to find the unit has an LED torch. Its not very bright and I wouldnt want to use it often since it drains the power you’ve spent charging up all day. However, in an emergency its good to know its there. Activate by double-clicking the button on the front. Double click again to turn off.

Price
This unit was $24 on Amazon when I ordered it a few months back. For what it buys me on a multi-day hike, its totally worth it. If REI carried it, I would get it from them. Alas, they do not.

I’ll likely get another unit for the hike considering I have a bunch of battery powered items to consider. iPad for offline maps and reading ebooks while tented up. iPod for music breaks. SunJack light stick since there won’t be lights anywhere. Headlamp for those caves I might find. And most importantly the charger for my camera.