Tag Archives: off-road

His and Hers – A Love Story

This story was originally part of a series I wrote for another blog. Thought I would repost it due to a few questions I have been getting on smaller RC rigs. These little rigs are great to travel with and one of mine has almost frequent flyer mileage as I do.

I have had several Revos, Slashes, Rallys, and combinations, conversions, and off-shoots of these three. But by far the most fun I have had was building these two rigs with my wife.

A few weeks ago she showed an interest in an old buggy. Now she has always loved building and painting but driving was not so fun for her. I took an old slash and put a 23 turn motor in it and placed in training mode. In the privacy of our backyard track she learned to like it. Then last week for the Sweet 16 Rally we held here, we picked up a mini slash for non rc visitors to bash. She fell in love with the car when placed in training mode.

Her rig is stock and has the 12 turn Titan but soon to have a 23 turn HPI. That should give her longer run time and slower speeds

My rig has the Velenion brushless with Traxxas ESC, Traxxas and Integy aluminum, and run it on a Spektrum controller.

On neither rig am I overly concerned with having top shelf race parts, and use trickle down stuff from my prime rig…the Revo.

The Slash takes a lot of lip because of stability. My argument is that if you drive a car within its limits you don’t flip as much. We can go through several battery packs in an evening without ever being on our lids.

I’m enjoying our time in the yard with these rigs. I’m kind of anal about similar rigs running at the same time so its nice we are driving short course rigs at the same time.


Re Post: Babes in the Woods

Video: GPS for Confidence Building
I wanted to repost this since–my “Babe in the Woods” has been promoted to a cadre position on my team…


Lighting a fire in wet conditions, and not rescuing from the failures is tough…

I have never been a fan of the notion everybody wins. When coaching youth roller hockey in San Antonio, I had one of the few, and eventually the only program that still kept score in the YMCA portfolio of sports programs.

I believe that you need to give kids a realistic view of their performance, but done so in a way that you leverage their strengths in whatever evaluation you are doing. I don’t believe in sugar-coating the feedback, or playing with soft gloves. I also don’t believe in being harsh on them either.

In all my workshops, coaching endeavors, or training I do with kids, military leaders, new adults to the woods, etc is the same… I define the conditions and expectations, allow them to perform, allow them to self evaluate, and then provide guidance and feedback.

The other aspect is tough. I don’t rescue. I allow failure as long as safety is not compromised. Nothing is learned if I am constantly helping a participant to a point I am completing the task them.

Let’s discuss two situations where I have to guide a participant differently.

The first is a fire building scenario. The participant has a good grasp of the concept, understands how to use flint and steel, knows the type of tinder and has been highly successful in starting fires in the past. But this has all been in controlled conditions when it has been fair weather and dry materials.

Survival fires though are most often needed when conditions are wet and clammy. To really test skills, I have to put the participant into real conditions so they not only have the ability to start fires and get warm when most needed, but to have the confidence to do so.

Most fail in getting the fire started in these conditions. Many times, I fail. It is a difficult test to complete. But the real learning is through the debrief with the participant and allowing them to do it again.

Watching a participant unnecessarily expending energy to grab materials, using the wrong materials, standing by and watching the fire not start can be irritating and the desire to jump in can be powerful. But I have to let them fail. This is because the participant has acquired a level of mastery in controlled conditions that can lead to over-confidence which is just as dangerous as not having the skills at all. Here you have to have the tough love and not jump in, allow them to identify their own mistakes, and then provide guidance.

In the other situation, a participant who is new to GPS navigation. In this scenario, the participant is just learning, and allowing them to fail outright as they work to program coordinates, follow the gps to a target, and try to find the best path to get to the target can be overwhelming. In this case I will work closely with the participant and provide constant coaching and working them to success. I still use the same debrief techniques of “what, so what, now what” that I have discussed in the blog and podcast in the past.

Building a solid toolbox of skills is an on-going exercise. As a team, constantly work on our skills to either keep them sharp or learn new techniques. It is also what helps us in communicating with each other and building our team and our families to a tighter cohesive group.

I am not a fan of the everybody wins philosophy. In the back-country people die. There is no second place with mother nature, just a body bag.

Original article: http://waukeefamilyymca.blogspot.com/2011/09/everybody-plays-everybody-wins.html

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RC Sand Ladder Test


One of the reasons I love these small scale adventures is all the cool gear you can get that is funtional. Sure I like the ice-chest and tool box that bounces around in the back of my mini Wrangler, but to have items that really work like tow straps and winches are pretty awesome.

I picked up my first set of sand ladders just before my first G6. For under $20 I had a set of MaxTrax sand ladders like my big scale rig has. They were used within the first 15 minutes of the start of the G6 in Bend, Oregon when after working our way through a maze of mud and sludge, we had to climb over a few ruts that was giving other drivers fits. I pulled the ladders off the roof rack of my little Jeep and Abby and I glided over easily where others were getting stuck.

I had noticed at the starting line at that first scale adventure how many different types of ladder systems there were. Many had been home built, while others were definitly manufactured. All had something in common, there were all longer than my set.

Over the next week I struggle to make a set of my own. They either looked great and were non-funtional, or were perfect bridging devices that looked like a sixth-grader’s shop project gone wrong. I went into my second G6 in Sparks, Nevada with my MaxTrax.
I used them a few times either alone to bridge or decrease an angle of attack or to help with my winch on an obstacle. They were fine until We went into the night course, which had a route that took us through a parking lot. Going off the curb….no issues. Going up and over a curb, my little orange bridges were too short and I wound up following another driver up his home-made bridges that were twice as long.

The following week I ordered a set of Siege Ladders from DS Pro. Twice in length and slightly less expenseive, and regionaly made from a great guy over in Oregon. I decided to test them right away.
They areas tested:

1) Scale Look – Here I think the MaxTrax wins without question. This is probably due to the fact I have a set for my big rig. They look like the actual ladders in production. With that said, since MaxTrax is also made in blue, black, and grey there should also be options for the other colors. The DS Pro looks good, and I hate to down grade it here, and as you will see in a moment…form does not discount funtion.

2) Durability- Before I comment, I have to give huge props to DS Pro here. In transit my ladders showed up warped. Probably happened in the mail along the way. Within 48 hours DS Pro not only had a new set to me, but was looking for ways to help me salvage the other set. I have had issues with other RC accessories and service has been hit and miss…DS Pro takes care of its customers.

Because of the geometry of the MaxTrax, there is less space for flex, especially when under stress of bungee cords. In addition, they use a concave shape to help strengthen overall load. They also have reinforcement on the long-axis of the ladder. There are small cutouts along the edge for mounting with a bungee, and under minimal stress, have either torn or stretched out of position.

The DS Pro ladders are longer and more suseptable to flex. They have smartly placed reinforcement along the two outer edges so there isn’t hardly any flex when under load. They have also been on the rig as it took a 30 foot tumble down the side of a rocky bank and did not break or bend, eventhough they protrude beyond the roof rack. I would like to see a slightly different plastic formula used since it is suseptable to bending like it did in the mail. I am curious as to what it will do in the summer. It does not seem at risk of snapping in cold weather. I drove today for about 6 hours in temps ranging from 29° to 36° and used the ladder for testing…no cold temp issues.

3) Usability- This is tough. Most likely, each has its specific place that shines, but here is where the Siege Ladders shine. The ladders not only long enough to bridge large gaps and provide a much better angle of attack, but are long enough that you can shove them deep into soft dirt or sand and they will stay in place as you transition out of the rut you are in. I will carry both sets, but if I had to pick one, I would most likely use the DS Pro product based on this alone.

4) Traction- for both sets, tracting was an issue, though the dimples on the MaxTrax were only slightly better. Only slightly, because with the siege ladder you have more options for angle of attack. Change the angle so you aren’t trying to drive as steep out of the sand trap. If there was some grip on the DS Pro ladders….outright awesome.

5) Overall Satisfaction- Again, if picking one…DS Pro. I really like the look and the ease of mounting of the MaxTrax, but for the reason of needing a ladder for urban and rocky environments, I would have to use the longer ladder. The other reason is simply the company taking care of me. I work hard for my RC gear and I hve to do it for Abby and Melissa as well (not always same brand- just same option), and when a company steps up to take care of me, it means allot.

With that said, I am sure RC4WD has some fine folks working there. But with our winch projects, I have already seen a lack of insight, like putting screws to mount the winch to the bumper in the packets or at least telling me up front I would need them. Still, they have a history of making great products.

You can’t go wrong with either set. MaxTrax look great and will do most of the work. Siege Ladders, best all around and will be my go-to set when I am stuck.

Be sure to check out our Facebook page for the video of these guys in action and be sure to tune into our podcast for more info on these and other adventures.









Light Bike Travels

There was a time I was much more carefree in my adventures, and quite honestly the naivety could have gotten me seriously hurt.

I had just returned from Europe with a short detour through the middle east, mainly the hot spots of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, with a bit of Turkey in the mix. Life had smacked me with a recent divorce, the main culprit …. a woman who did not understand my adventurous nature and my unwillingness to be a stay at home couch potato. After being accused of nearly every sin in the book, I cast of my desire to conform with anything, except what the military deemed necessary to be termed “Good Conduct”.

Part of this rebellious streak included buying a motorcycle. My Suzuki Samurai had yet to be returned from the ex, and I was not going to wait around to travel the U.S. now that I was back. I had not been allowed motorcycles when growing up, so combined with the need to travel, soothe my soul, and the need to be far-away from post prompted my purchase of a 1983 Yamaha XT-250.

A barracks mate of mine took me down to buy it. I had some money saved up so we hit the local Yamaha shop. I knew I needed something small with it being my first bike. I also wanted the ability to travel off-road.

After paper work was signed, a small finance package from the dealer who was used to working (read “working over”) service guys, I drove my buddy’s car back to base and he rode my new bike.

I had never ridden a bike except around base camps in southern Turkey and Northern Iraq, so we set up in the parking lot, and I learned the ins and outs of motor-biking. Fortunately my friend was a motorcycle safety instructor for the post and I had great 1×1 instruction on the safety aspects of bikes. For a few weeks I limited my bike rides to our parking lot and on occasion the BX. Eventually through practice, I ventured off-base for a little more freedom.

At the time I was working 12-hour night shift with a three-on/ three- off schedule. I would get off duty around 0600, get a ride back to the barracks, shower and change out of uniform, and be on the road no later than 0700. I had all of Texas to discover in a few days, and packed with a credit card, small tarp for a tent, toothbrush, and change of underwear I was off and down the road with my little 250.

I knew nothing about chain tension, how to change a flat, or other minor maintenance needs of my bike at the time. In those early days I made horrible decisions about riding in rain, fog, and even ice. Looking back, I was gaining experience, simply by being lucky. Within the first three months, at the awe of the dealer, I had put over 12,000 miles on the bike. It wasn’t until I took it in for a negotiated 90 maintenance that I learned both of the need to change or adjust the chain and other preventative task for the bike. The dealer was blown away by the amount of milage I had made on such a small bike. If it had not been for some of my other obligations, a few short trips with lay-overs, etc I would have logged more miles.

While most of my trips had me exploring Texas, after the 90-day period (and a crash course from the mechanic on roadside repairs) I started exploring New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, and even a trip into Mexico. With more confidence in the bike and aversion to interstates, I made most of my trips on the older highways and backroads. While it was slower in ticking the odometer, I was more into racking up scenery and interaction with the locals more than I was about simply adding numbers to my stats.

What I learned about small bike travel has not only shaped my travels today (which is perhaps what drives my wife insane), but paid off several years later when she and I traveled all over Texas on a 250 Virago. Here is a basic outline of the lessons learned that I still apply today.

Rigid Flexibility: I had an idea of where I wanted to go, but I wasn’t afraid to meander, delay, goof-off, rabbit trail, or hang out. I never made the destination the priority unless it was getting back to post on time. I made sure to follow my curiosity. Not once did I book a hotel that I had to be at by a certain time, and never committed to a time of arrival for meet-ups.

Two-Thirds Rule: As far as time allocation, it ties in with the above. I would look at the overall area that I wanted to go to and plan from there back to my home how long it would take to get back using 2/3rds the time I had. Then I would use my rule of rigid flexibility to plan the first 1/3rd of the trip. Was never late to the first formation, and in fact, planned sleep time before showing up for my first shift.

Map Recon: This comes easy as I love maps. I would check out the general area I wanted to go to and during long and boring hours of guard duty I would commit the maps to memory. I would have others quiz me about the section I was going to be traveling in. This also (in one way or another) let others know where I was going. I knew in advance where gas stations, hotels, camp grounds, and even emergency contacts (friends and family of friends) were when I needed them.

Dress for the Crash: I put that bike down three times. Once was jumping it in a vacant lot, the other was avoiding the hood of a truck. The final time, I was over-loaded and entering the interstate outside of Weatherford, Texas. The bike had too much weight on the rear and as I accelerated, the front came up and flipped me backwards. All three times gear kept me safe.

Travel Light: I learned the hard way (above) you can only pack so much on a light bike. It disrupts handling, and is just more stuff to carry. I opted to travel in style since I was on so many backroads, and since most of my “day-job” involved living in the field, I opted to stay in less expensive hotels. Having a pool is great for summer-time travel in southern New Mexico.

Imodium: still in every travel pack I own. At some point you will eat a bad burrito.

Pictures and Journal: Though I still have many of the journal notes, I really wish I had more pictures from this time in my life. Even if it would have just been the bike at a roadside stop or a scenic overlook.

My travels taught me and shaped so much of who I am today. While I long for independent travel still, I also realize that this was perhaps one period of my life, and I have made choices that prompt me to move along. For a young guy who was in the state I was in, it was great. Now with a family, others who depend on me in my company, and other obligations, I have shifted my focus to four-wheel travel. But I do believe that every man needs to have this Lone Ranger era in his life….

Now that I have introduced this period of my life, I will have to post some of the specific trips at a later point…

Desert Rat

Over the next few weeks you will see a shift on the Facebook page, the trip reports on the blog, and maybe a video of two on youtube with a concentrated effort on the desert. Honestly this is nothing new. We live in and on the border of some of the most facsinating deserts, I grew up in Arizona and then Texas- both famous for its deserts, I am drawn to notional parks like Big Bend, Zion, Canyon Lands, and other places where water is scarce, navigation can be difficult, and help is out of cell phone reach. Early on in my military careerI focused on desert survival and warfare when the trend was Soviet invasion in Europe. I love the desert for its beauty,its harshness, and its complexity.

For me, of all the environments, the desert is the most unforgiving. Here you better know your stuff and keep your head together. You may go out for a day, but should be ready to spend three. I have dirt biked and ATV’d in remote locations on hot days, only to have a sudden thunderstorm come in and make the trails home impossible. Blown radiator hoses, flat tires, and sink holes can extend your stay. Its difficult to navigate and at times possible to communicate. If you go out on Sunday, make sure your boss knows that if you don’t show up for work on Monday, you are in a jam somewhere. On the kitchen pass from your spouse, be sure to list where you are going and stick to the plan.

This last weekend we had the opportunity to visit Winter Camp. Thijs was a small homestead in the Bruneau Desert. After a 30-mile trip down a gravel road and then a few miles in on a not likely to ever be improved road, we were met by the land owners.

Many of the pristine homesteads still sit on working ranches and are only available through the cooperation of land owners. We went out with the Owyhee County Historical Society and the trip was led by Steve Silva. Steve has written a few books on the Owyhee area and is not only an expert in the history, but is an avid biker and knows every little trail from Eastern Oregon to Western Idaho, and for kicks, throw in Nevada as well.

I will do a more indepth trip report on Winter Camp after I have a chance to double check and verify my notes. I mainly wanted to point out the availability of these adventures as an opportunity to get out and explore….safety in numbers. I also wanted to provide some guidance before you venture out on what to take along.

Water. Those little bottles you picked up at the store are not enough. Don’t think in terms of ounces, think in terms of gallons.

Fuel. Even with a group going to a known destination I carry two 5 gallons cans of fuel plus I top off at the last known stop.

Small tool kit with extra parts. I worked with Carl from the local ATV club who has extensive experience on extended range travel in this area. Last month when we changed belts and hoses, I kept the old parts as spares. I also have two gallons of coolant and two quarts of oil with me. Jumper cables and tow lines are also their weight in gold.

Communication. Cell phones rarely work. I have a ham radio, cb radio, and aircraft radio. Be properly registered and qualified. In fact I highly recommend a ham certification.

Keep survival pack in the rig. As a rule I look at how many people (and pups) you rig will hold. Since I know I will max out at 3 people and two dogs, my kit will work for all of us for three days. I also carry my own personal survival bag in case I need to start walking and others have to stay put. Know how to use the stuff and train with it. In the next few weeks I will include this in one of my postings.

GPS is great but know how to read a map.

I keep two first aid kits, well three if you count the small one in my personal survival kit. Let’s focus on the two in the rig. The first sits behind the passenger seat. Its small and made for those little cuts and abrasions. Easy to get to and doesn’t require a medical degree beyond what mom’s do to take care off boo-boos. The second is a full blown EMT bag. Everything short of a heart by-pass is included in it. In addition, we are trained to use everything in the bag. I highly recommend the NOLS Wilderness Medic Course. This will train you to keep someone stabalized until either help arrives or you have to transport. I sent a few of us through both the NOLS course and the Red Cross course a few years ago. The Red Cross version was pathetic at best. Go with NOLS, theyare used to sending people into the back country on a regular basis….including third world countries where you just might be the best medic. Stay current on CPR and other courses, and check your kits. I do mine everytime we bounce between daylight savings and standard time.

That is probably just the start of it. As I set here in the desert, one of those storms is moving in and its starting to pour on me. I left this morning with a 20% chance of rain, and most of the day it has been in the 90s.

The last thing is join and participate in forums such as Expo Portal

There is so much to see out there. Remember to tread lightly which keeps the outdoors in good condition for all of us. If you get opportunities to visit private lands, be sure to thank the owners, respect their property, leave stuff alone. Never venture on to land you are not sure of.





Spinning Wheels


Bike Racing in Texas

From 1998 to 2007 I was a bike commuter. I did everything by bike. At one point I commuted 36 miles round trip to work. As a family we did our grocery shopping by bike. Riding 5 miles to the store with panniers, and bike trailers, we took care of our dietary needs. One trailer held Abby, the other a huge ice chest. We attended hockey and football games, the Fat Tire Festival, and took in some great movies- all a 30 mile round trip. I have hunted bear by bike, planned entire vacations, and even moved across the country to be in better biking conditions.

Riding in Ojanaga, Mexico...the crossing was...interesting

Bikes are simple and efficient. I believe in so many situations bikes are better than cars. Traveling around the world I have found that where more people have used bikes instead of cars, the environment seems to be a much better place for it. I have found that people are healthier in spite of other contributing factors to bad health. They are without a doubt more physically fit, and with the exception of the stress placed on them by cars, are mentally healthier.  

I often hear about cars complaining about bikes.  Not going to start a rant, but the fact is everyone benefits from fewer cars. Fewer cars mean less traffic, less pollution, and fewer  traffic deaths . Since I enjoy hunting, the pollution in my city has an effect on the woods I roam. I enjoy the beauty of the landscape and know I am doing my part to preserve it. If you don’t believe the effect pollution has on the woods, check out recent pictures of Shenandoah National Park now and what it looked like 30 years ago. Devastating.  To be a hunter means I am a conservationist, which means I care about the environment.

My journey through biking began like most, that first bike as a kid. This granted freedom, adventure, and independence. Later in high school I began commuting 15 miles each way. In between that commute I also participated in track, cross-country, and football. I wasn’t out to become a super athlete, I only wanted to avoid trouble on the school bus.

When stationed in Germany, my bike was often the most reliable means of getting to work each day. 12 KM back and forth with a 45lb ruck with all my gear for the day tucked in home-made panniers. My cars (yes plural) were always breaking down so I became proficient on the bike.

Several years later I was introduced into mountain biking by a boss and I instantly fell in love with it. I devoted hours to weeknight rides, weekend trips, and vacations that would include several weeklong treks in some of the most remote regions of the south and southwest.

 I took bikes with me on business travel so I could explore areas like Mobile, Tucson, Chicago, and other cites and country sides. I shipped my bike ahead of me and it was ready when I got to the hotel. For me it was much better to do some exploring along the Gulf of Mexico than hanging out and drinking in a bar.

The other advantage, I could eat whatever I wanted. I tipped the scales at a consistent 155, a weight I would love to be back to again.

In 2005 we moved to Boise to get closer to biking. The first year I commuted by bike for the majority of my work and week days. I was also really big into restoring old bikes, including a 1953 Columbia and a 1968 Raleigh. I was also building bikes for people who for one reason or another lost the ability to commute by car. I was in great shape and felt very complete. I also completed a season of bear hunting all by bicycle. With my longbow mounted to my handlebars and gear pulled behind me in a trailer, I peddled my way through April to June in search of a big brownie. I also hunted a deer season as well, at least until both bike and hunter were snowed in.

 I think it was during this time though I began to lose focus….and gain weight. I went through some staggering depression in 2006-2007 and after the initial weight loss gained 55 unwanted pounds. I lost motivation to build, repair, or ride any bike.

This last weekend, the desire to bike has returned. Once I get a rack built on my Jeep, I plan to trek across some of the most remote regions of Idaho. Already feeling better and dropping 20 lbs through swimming, going back to the bike is a natural step for me.