Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Gear Review: Ultra-Light, Collapsable Day Pack

Even when I’m not hiking, it’s good to pack a backpack, one that’s small, light, waterproof and very collapsible. It’s perfect for carrying a water bottle, rain jacket, lunch or snacks and other items if I decide to rent a bicycle in a city, or do some light hiking. It works to carry a book, umbrella, hat, or sunscreen if I’m strolling around town, visiting museums and shopping. I just discovered a backpack that fits these criteria. The Backpack FreeFly16 is produced by Matador. It’s so small when rolled into its storage bag that it fits into the palm of your hand. (Because I don’t check luggage, this backpack easily slips into my carry-on.) It barely weighs five ounces. The shoulder straps are breathable so you don’t feel sweaty in summer heat. And even in a drenching downpour, it’ll keep the rain out. It has one main zippered compartment, and a much smaller one that's ideal for a notebook, pens and other ancillary items.

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

Product Review: Spa Treatment from Northern Europe

Typically, when I choose a product for a gear review, it’s not a skin care product. I’m making an exception this time because it does involve a product I heard about when I had traveled to the Northern European Baltic countries, especially Estonia. Recently, someone sent me a sample of this product, which I admit not having thought about in a long while. This is peat mud, which is sourced from bogs in these countries – though it’s found elsewhere in the world. Peat mud comes from decomposed plant life, typically that means shrubs, mosses and sedges, and it’s long been espoused for its rejuvenating and therapeutic properties. It’s used in Nordic spas who claim it improves metabolism, stimulates blood flow in the skin, smooths wrinkles and much more. While I’m all about scientific-based evidence, when I was sent a sample of a peat mud mask (from Sphagnum Botanicals), I decided to try it as part of a staycation spa treatment that might help my skin condition. (I’ve long been plagued with facial seborrheic dermatitis.) The pitch black mud has a neutral aroma and a thick, creamy texture. I applied it all over my face that I had already rinsed and allowed to remain wet, and then I Ieft the mud on my face for five minutes until it was quite dry, then rinsing it off thoroughly. I was surprised to find my facial itching, scaling and redness was dramatically diminished after even one use and this relief lasted for a few days. Additional skin benefits: my skin felt moist and any blackheads were easily removed. Clearly, this is no scientific study. It’s simply my experience. But I’ve used it once a week since for its moisturizing and skin cleansing properties as well as for some relief from my dermatitis symptoms.

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Sunday, August 4, 2019

A Five-Star Accommodation for Garden Lovers

I have a love affair with botanical gardens or actually gardens of any sort. That's why finding a boutique accommodation in Madeira, a Portuguese island, that's enveloped by blooming flowers and other verdancy was a surprise. No matter where you walk on this property, whether one of two swimming pools, any of the restaurants or cafes, or your accommodation, you'll have garden views. To find out more, check out my recent article for Forbes on Estalagem Quinta da Casa Branca.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Dealing with Blisters when Traveling

Blisters can ruin a hiking trip. That’s what almost happened to a friend of mine who tackled a 10+-day hike in northern Spain. He developed a very large blister on the sole of his foot. I ended up giving him blister tips via WhatsApp that allowed him to complete his trip with minimal discomfort.

Basically, once a blister forms and becomes quite large, it needs to be pierced, so that the fluid can drain. However, he was doing this with a sterilized needle, but it wasn’t working. I determined that the reason was that the gauge of the needle was too small to allow adequate drainage. And also that a callus formed over the blister as he repeatedly hiked on it day after day. (It was the body’s way of protecting the skin.) I suggested he find a pharmacy that sells manicure supplies, including a small cuticle clipper. Then, after adequately cleaning the skin with soap and water and also cleaning the clipper with alcohol, he could ever so gently make a nick in the side of the blister, which would allow the fluid to drain. He did this and it provided some relief but there was still pain -- from the overlying callus tissue. So I suggested that, again, after carefully cleaning the skin and the clipper, he gently attempt to debride the callus to reduce its thickness and size. After that, he would need to protect the area, either with a little foam donut or with a gel pad, such as Compeed, or with a dab of Aquafor. And this all worked!

My advice for blisters is to prevent them from getting getting so large. When I find a hot spot on my foot, I immediately apply Aquafor to reduce friction. And to prevent blisters in the first place, I wear Merino wool socks that wick away sweat and that have no seams nor do they bunch up. Two companies that I love are Smart Wool and Feetures.

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Sunday, July 21, 2019

Gear Review: Wool Underwear for Hot Summer Temperatures

With temperatures soaring above 90 F in large swaths of the U.S. this summer, many people may be surprised to learn that I’m perfectly comfortable wearing Merino wool underwear. Yes, you read that correctly: wool underwear. This natural fiber easily wicks away sweat, keeping you perfectly cool, dry, and comfortable, whether you’re running for a bus or hiking a strenuous trail. I prefer SmartWool undergarments because they are a Colorado-based company with the garments made in America. They manufacture a select variety of underwear styles for men and women: bikinis, bras and boxer shorts. These undergarments don’t retain odor and they dry rapidly when washed. The fibers also stand the test of time. (I have two pairs of underwear that I bought more than five years ago, and they still wear well despite being repeatedly washed.)

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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Gear Review: Multi-Functional Tool

I believe in always being prepared. So, it's no wonder that I'm always on the lookout for multi-functional tools that are small, lightweight and are allowed in my carry-on. I recently visited an outdoor gear trade show and found the Mullet, a Gerber product that fits on a key ring and provides more than half a dozen tools that I might need whether I'm on a bike trip, hiking, staying at a hostel, driving, going on a photo shoot, or preparing a picnic in the forest. It's only three-inches long and weighs a little over half an ounce. There's nothing pointy so it won't be confiscated by airport security when I put my carry-on through the scanner. Among the tools it includes is a bottle opener, hex wrench, a couple of screwdrivers, and a wire stripper. Of course, don't expect this to be something for every task that should come up. There's no nail file, or ail clipper,  and, of course, no knife. But it's inexpensive, light and small. And Gerber is a company that has a history of high quality tools.

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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Photos: Turks and Caicos

The islands of Turks + Caicos are renowned for snorkeling, scuba diving and, of course, expansive white sand beaches. Yet, I explored plantation ruins, nature reserves, salt ponds and small restaurants, including one with an offshore conch crawl. Curiously, most visitors never make it to pristine Middle and North Caicos. These images offer a window into the personality of Turks + Caicos beyond the beaches.


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Saturday, June 29, 2019

Photos: Fiji

Fiji is almost solely known for its stunning white sandy beaches, perfect for sunning, swimming, diving and snorkeling. But on my recent trip, I found numerous other sights and activities, including hiking trails coursing through the Colo-i-Suva Forest Park. One trail allows access to numerous swimmable pools with waterfalls and also provides bird watching opportunities. I also found an eco ethic at many of the resorts, including Castaway Island, Fiji, a resort on a private island. Given that this and other waterfront resorts depend on healthy coral reefs that are home to a variety of different fish and shellfish species, it’s no wonder that conservation efforts are underway to restore coral that have died as a result of climbing water temperatures. These photos show some of the numerous sights and vistas I discovered in Fiji, including Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, Nanuku Auberge Resort, and Castaway Island’s North Beach that’s the focus of the myriad water-based and many other activities, including a massage table set up on the golden sands at the end of this beach where, at low-tide, you can walk around the rocky point to yet another and more desolate beach. (You can also kayak there.)

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Sunday, June 23, 2019

A Must-Do Hiking Trail in Spain

Each hiking trail has a personality. Some are majestic, taking trekkers to high altitude where the summits seem to touch the clouds. Others wander through dense forests where the hiker feels enveloped by the foliage, hardly ever passing a village during their journey. As a hiker, I favor trails that allow me to connect with the land and its people, without having to risk life and limb to complete the journey. I recently journeyed to Spain's northwest corner where the province of Galicia is a treasured expanse of lighthouses, quiet coves, fishing villages and vast farmland. My journey took me along the Lighthouse Way (Camino dos Faros), a trail that may very well be my favorite trail in the world. To find out why, check out my recent article for Forbes on hiking the Lighthouse Way.

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