Saturday, June 3, 2017

Driving the 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander

What do you do when you're in rural New York, have the keys to a brand-new car and a few hours to kill before a wedding? You drive! And then write about it. I've got the keys to a 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander SE for the next three days and similar to other posts, I always try to blog about my impressions.

This is actually the second time in the past few years I've piloted an Outlander. The first, was a white Outlander Sport that shuttled me all across Utah between five wild, national parks and a massive national monument called Grand Staircase-Escalante. Fancy sounding, right? That white Outlander Sport really impressed me for the ten days I had it. It was essentially everything I need in a vehicle to suit my outdoorsy, adventurous lifestyle I try so hard to live daily. Its all-wheel-drive system was excellent, it was fun to drive, got good gas mileage, wasn't overly complex with high-tech gadgets and just looked cool. Sure I guess you could call it a cross-over, a word a absolutely cringe at when I hear it spoken, but the Outlander Sport has way more off-road cred than the competition. Not once did it get stuck going through a few muddy stream beds in Capitol Reef National Park, struggle going up the infamous Moki Dugway in a windy thunderstorm or feel out of place when bombing down some bumpy, desolate roads that carved deep into canyon country.

But this Outlander I've been driving in Fishkill, NY is a complete shift away from the Sport model. It's not as 'off-roady' or adventurous like its little brother, rather more suited for on-pavement daily driving you accomplish in a suburban or urban environment. It's got three rows instead of two, front-wheel-drive, a sweet infotainment system, a bit more bling and chrome and loads of cargo space with the seats down. It also looks like a more traditional SUV rather than a lifted Lancer (which isn't a horrible thing.) But let's get to the basics.

Engine and Transmission
Power comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 166 horsepower and 162 lbs-ft of torque. Paired with a CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic that shifts fine, Upgrade to the GT model and you get a snarly 224, 3.0-liter V6. The Outlander isn't exactly the most fun SUV unlike its smaller Outlander Sport sibling, but slapping the gearshift over to the right puts it in 'Sport Mode' if you're really craving some spirited driving. I wouldn't call it a ruthless four-cylinder though. Loaded with five people and a bunch of luggage, the Outlander didn't hesitate to get up to highway speeds, felt worthy accelerating from a stop and even 55mph passes on the tree-flocked interstate were done with ease. The Outlander isn't fast but I also don't feel as if its slow thanks to the Mivec's peppiness. The EPA rates the Outlander with the four-cylinder and two-wheel-drive at 27mpg combined, 25mpg city and 30mpg on the highway. That's impressive, because during driving I observed very similar mileage numbers. At 60mph on the interstate with the cruise-control on, the dashboard's instant fuel economy continued to show 31mpg on our ride from the airport to our hotel. Again, that was with five adults and mulitple suitcases. There's also an Eco Mode button on the center stack if you want the Outlander to chill even more on the throttle and improve your green driving score, shoot for the stars! (You'll see what I'm talking about after paging through the vehicle information screens on the infotainment system).

Behind the Wheel
While I wish this seven-seat Outlander had the available all-wheel-drive, this front-wheel version isn't a complete disappointment. I was lucky to find a few stretches of very curvy roads that carve through some of the lush green hills near Newburgh. Throwing the gearshift into sport mode, the transmission lets you really ring-out the gears, revving high and not shifting into the next gear as you launch your way up and down and around empty two-lane roads. Handling was a positive surprise as the Outlander's steering felt responsive and fairy tight. There was plenty of feedback in the wheel to fill a gearhead's missing void of driving a sports car. Truth be told, I actually had some fun driving this SUV. Yes, I just said that. Overall the ride was smooth and the Outlander did feel planted however the occasional pothole bounced the vehicle around a noticeably. Apart from the faint occasional engine noise, the cabin inside was soundly quiet. Visibility was good all around except for looking far over your right or left shoulder towards the back of the car as that rear window is a bit porthole-ish small. A last minor thing I favored when driving around the Outlander was that from a driver's eye view, it looked like you were driving a bigger SUV rather than a dorky cross-over thanks to the Outlander's hood stretching tall and away from the front seats. Minor detail yes, but something I do appreciate.



Looks and Practicality
A few years ago when Mitsu completely redesigned the Outlander, the 2014 model had a somewhat awkward, boring and complicated front end. Its grille was just trying too hard and looked chintzy. Now they've done it right, with front LED running lights, a healthy dosage of chrome and nice black accents. Overall this 2017, rally red Outlander is a looker. It's sharp, clean and doesn't have too many obnoxious design cues throughout. Black plastic paneling lines the wheel wells and rocker panels and classy strips of chrome on each door at knee-level, greet you when approaching either side. I think Mitsubishi just did a thoroughly good job shaping this Outlander's exterior outfit. I would not be ashamed of backing it into my driveway for the neighborhood to see. The 18-inch, two-tone allow wheels pair perfectly as well. Inside, the cabin is simple, the way I like it. HVAC controls are buttons that respond quickly and are straightforward. Changing the temperature or airflow isn't a headache. There are plenty of storage compartments and under the armrest is a bin with two USB inputs. The dashboard and front cabin is wrapped in a combination of faux, stitched leather and bits brushed chrome. Shiny gloss black, almost piano-like, accent pieces finish it off. The bigger Outlander seats seven thanks to a petite third-row. I'm a skinny, 6'2 and while I was able to easily climb back into the last row, past the sliding second row seats, knee and head room were tight. So taller folks could sit in the very back, but I'd feel claustrophobic for any drive longer than an hour. With the third-row seats up, trunk space is almost non-existent, but I like how there is a third-row there that you can use if that time comes. Hauling five adults and all of our luggage with the third-row seat down was easy.  Folding all the seats and the Outlander will swallow a generous 63.3 cu-ft of cargo. I could easily throw a kayak in there, a few mountain bikes and all my camping gear. That fold-down process is cumbersome though, as you have to remove the third-row headrests, tumble those seats, and then go around to the second row and perform a multi-step procedure to flip the second row seat cushions up and forward, then the seat backs down flat. It's not the end of the world, but it's definently something Mitsubishi could master better. I'd rather pull one or two levers and have the seats all down flat, instantly. In my station wagon, I am constantly folding down all of my seats to transport stuff, if I owned this Outlander I think it'd drive me nuts having to do that process every single time. So please, Mitsubishi, fix this!


Features
The base trim, front-wheel-drive Outlander ES starts at $23,495 while higher-end, fully-loaded, all-wheel-drive GT trims sticker at $31,695. I had the SE model, which for $24,495 comes standard with heated cloth seats, power everything, 18-inch alloy wheels, push-button start, a backup camera, dual-zone climate control, LED running lights, Bluetooth audio and hands-free phone, steering-wheel audio controls and keyless entry. Despite having all these standard features, there are a plethora (I counted thirteen!) of sad-looking, blank buttons, reminding you that you could have paid more for a nicer equipped model with more options. why not just cover up these blank buttons with trim? Come on... This Outlander does have the new Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which effortlessly connects to your smart phone via a USB cable. In essence, it turns the 7-inch, touch-screen display into a smart phone and it's wonderful. The system is responsive, quick and understands scrolling gestures. Gone are the days of frustratingly attempting to pair a smart phone device with your car's infotainment system. Just hook up your phone and you're good to go. Even with my ages old iPhone, I was able to quickly able to bring up all of my music, use Google maps, make calls and view and respond to text messages. It was so, so easy and I'm semi-depressed my 2005 Saab doesn't have Apple CarPlay. The stock stereo in this trim package needs work though, as it sounds scratchy-lame compared to the optional, 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate premium stereo. There isn't leather seating, a roof rack or power trunk lid (oh well) and the ES trim level lacks many of the advanced safety features like blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist like you get on the on GT model. But then again, do I really need any of that? Maybe just the roof rack and more bumping audio.


Bottom Line
So I loved the Outlander Sport I drove a few years back because of it's unique appearance, off-road capability, size, simplicity and sportiness. When we picked up the Outlander, I had some pretty high expectations. Now that I've had seat time in the more tame, bigger seven-seat model, I've been able to experience a different approach to the Outlander family. The pavement-bound Outlander SE I drove is am attractive, practical and comfortable vehicle that  has a few gadgets and gizmos I really love, like the Apple CarPlay. I like that you have the flexibility and convenience of a third-row, even if its tiny. The Outlander is somewhat fun to drive too and gets decent gas mileage. There's a cavern of cargo space when you make all the rear rows of seats disappear and its climate controls, infotainment system and even cruise control don't require a Doctorate's degree to figure out and don't require you to shield your eyes from the road for too long to adjust one setting. Of course, I'd still rather buy a fully-loaded, smaller Outlander Sport for the sake of my active lifestyle and hobbies, but if and when I have a family with kids and need a vehicle that can reliably make weekly trips to the grocery store, or hardware store, or for morning drop-offs at school, I'd probably consider this bigger, seven-seat Outlander. Similar vehicles like the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V and Ford's Escape flood the roads. There are just oo many of them and they're all particularly boring in my opinion. Plus, Mitsubishi's ten-year, 100,000 mile powertrain limited warranty is a huge selling point.

Cheers,
Robby

Learn more about Mitsubishi's 2017 Outlander here.
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Friday, May 26, 2017

My Advice for Those Abroad? Get Lost on Purpose.


The other night at my local climbing gym a few of us bid farewell to a friend who is embarking soon on a trip across the world to live abroad for awhile. In conversation about her upcoming travels I could tell she was nervous, excited and straight-anxious. I would be too if I were packing up everything I owned and hopping on a plane in a few days. I wanted to give her one piece of advice that I always try to follow when I'm in a new country, city or state: get lost. I tell this sole piece of advice to just about anyone I know who goes abroad for an extended period of time because it's such a treasured, important suggestion.

When you arrive in a new place for an extended period of time- you're trying to do everything in your power to acclimate and assimilate. What clothes should I wear? What social cues and habits do I need to learn and master? Where do I buy my food? How do I ride the public transit system? Should I bow in a gesture of thanks every time I enter a room? You ask yourself millions of similar questions in an effort to settle your excitement and nerves.

Back in 2011 I lived in Vietnam for four months while studying abroad with Loyola University Chicago. It was a special opportunity, as we were the first group of American students permanently studying abroad in Vietnam for a long duration of time, according to the U.S. Consulate a few blocks down the road from our hostel/dorm/Vietnamese government-sponsored housing. I remember the weeks, days and the minutes leading up to arriving in Saigon, being just astronomically stoked to be half-way across the world in South East Asia for the next four months...but also crazy nervous too. I was a skinny, 6'2 tall snowman from Wisconsin that didn't know more than "Hello" or "Thank you" in Vietnamese. I was going to be living, working and going to school in a country where there were very, very, very few other Westerners. I luckily met a somewhat healthy handful of Europeans and Australians but I saw almost no other Americans from January till May (truth be told, I was okay with that). I couldn't read Vietnamese, didn't know the currency or where to go to do what or get what. This was going to be a full-on, cultural immersion and shock. Bring it on, I thought when grabbing my suitcases and getting into a white, air conditioning-less Vinasun taxi cab. I had been wearing for the past twenty-two hours wrinkled dress pants, black dress shoes and a button-down blue and white-striped shirt. It was in the mid 90s, humid, and dusty. The air thick from a combination of motorbike exhaust and industrial smog.

But none of that scared me. If anything it gave me fuel to get out and explore that fascinating, incredibly beautiful and wild country that is Vietnam. I've always had a sense of adventure growing up, being in Vietnam was the chance to really unleash it fully, with no boundaries or limitations. One of the frequent ways I broke-into adapting to life in Vietnam was on days where I didn't have class or working at an NGO (non-government organization relief organization)- I would pack a daybag (with my camera, water bottle, cheapo travel phone, a few Vietnamese dong and my Lonely Planet guidebook), leave our residential compound, past the usually drunk, armed security guard and just go for a walk around Ho Chi Minh City (formerly called Saigon, which is what I still refer to it as). Ho Chi Minh City is a sprawling, never-ending, constantly growing metropolis. It's a loud, fast-paced, busy and urban jungle home to nearly ten million people. All living within about 809 square miles of each other. But it wasn't just a walk. I would purposely set-out to get lost. I'd think to myself, "I'm going to walk straight for twenty minutes, than take a right, keep going for ten minutes, take a right, than a left and then a right....etc, etc..." It was so much fun. For hours at a time, I'd just be walking around the biggest city in an entirely new country, on a completely different part of the globe taking in the surroundings, talking to people and learning what life is life over here first-hand. It was absolutely wonderful. I'd carry a journal with me, jotting down notes and thoughts or observations. Snap photos on my obnoxiously large Canon Rebel DSLR. I'd throw-down a few coins at a petite iced coffee shop, indulging in gloriously good iced milk coffee as I watched the world go by outside in front of me. On some turns I'd walk down a quiet alley lined with shops selling everything from knock-off, black-market iPhones, whicker baskets, clothes, motorbike parts, foods of all sorts and colors...you name it. On some turns I'd walk along a stream, polluted with mysterious colors and smells- with tin-paneled huts on stilts perched above. Some turns I'd walk straight into a roundabout, buzzing with buses, taxis honking, and the endless whirring and crackling of motorbikes dancing around it in circles. It was like it was all in perfect sequence and harmony.

Sure there were plentyyyyyyyy of times I was definitely lost and had no clue at all where I was. But that was the fun of it. It was that adrenaline rush of being in a foreign country, not just one that you're visiting but one that you're actually a resident of and calling home. Yeah, I was lost and not really knowing how to speak proficient, accurate Vietnamese, there would be times I felt kind of hopeless. But those were the times where you really figure out just how capable you are on your own. I'd look for landmarks or towering skyscrapers of glass, shed my shy shell and just attempt to ask for directions or advice in bits of broken Vietnamese mixed with hand gestures or dive-in to my Lonely Planet guidebook that was littered with scribbles of notes and underlines, paging to the back for maps. I never once, got lost to the point where I couldn't get home. You just have to breathe, smile, realize where you are and go forth to make the best of it.

So go get lost, on purpose, walk and wonder for as far as you can and as long as you can. Do it alone, too. Take it all in and don't be scared, each foot step you take in unfamiliar territory is only helping you grow and appreciate the vast, diverse world we're apart of. I did the same thing, getting lost on purpose, while in Reykjavik, Iceland this past fall.

Cheers,
Robby

P.S. Stay tuned, I'm going to be re-publishing all of my blog posts from when I lived in Vietnam in 2011 on the blog soon.
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Monday, May 22, 2017

Life Update: Getting Over the Plateau

Greetings, hello and howdy all- It's been quite a long time since I've posted anything on my blog so I wanted to put together a post updating you all on what's been going on in my life.

First thing, I moved! I'm now living in an apartment (with an abundance of hardwood floors) in a neighborhood north of downtown Milwaukee called Shorewood. After living in rural Ozaukee county for a few years, it was about time to move down to the city to be closer to my best friends, family, hobbies and just that 414 life I miss. And to my benefit, my apartment is within a quick walk of two beer gardens, a great county park and the Oak Leaf Trail which I can't wait to start biking and (err) running on. I'm about 99% moved-in and unpacked and finally have working internet. Time to get some trips planned out pronto, I've been slacking. Fun fact. the storage unit in my apartment is monstrous, therefore I don't need to feel guilty about accumulating more outdoor gear. Second and probably the most exciting news is that I'm starting a new job! I recently accepted an offer for a journalism job at a magazine. Starting June 5, I'll be the Assistant Editor at Scale Auto Magazine, a super-cool publication that covers all things model and die cast cars. I've been aching to find a 'real job' and get back into a career that allows me to use my college degree everyday. Now that's going to happen and I am so, so stoked. The third great thing is that my mother just finished her last chemotherapy treatment which marks the end of her second fight with breast cancer! I'm so proud of my mom for again being such a strong person through these past few months. It hasn't been easy on her or our family but we pulled together and she finished like a champion. And when big life changes happen, I like to reflect and write about them.

Let's talk about Steve. So when I interviewed for this magazine job, one of the questions I got asked was "Tell me about the best boss you've ever had and why?" Honestly, I knew instantly who I was going to talk about- Steve . Here's why. When I decided to jump and take a seasonal job out in Colorado for six months, I was nervous, unsure but also excited. I was literally breaking out of my comfort zone, 100%. I was ready for a fresh start and fresh challenges. When I arrived at YMCA of the Rockies, Snow Mountain Ranch in the town of Granby home to 1,808 I was given the opportunity to work on the Y's dogsledding team, under the direction of head musher and Chaplin, Steve Peterson. True, I was terrified of dogs up until October 2014 when I unloaded my station wagon and moved into the Fraser Valley for this job...but something nudged me that I had to give this a shot. That's when I met Steve and his nineteen Alaskan huskies. Steve is one of the hardest-working, most dedicated and compassionate people I have ever met. In between wrangling a dogsledding team, all the religious-based programming and services at our YMC and his own growing family, Steve keeps his head held high. I've seen him straight-exhausted, stressed, tired and angry- but I've never seen him shy away from being compassionate towards one in times of need. Whether it be a phone call, quick talk over chili and beer or inviting me over to him and his wife's log cabin for a home-cooked meal. Steve always, always makes himself for other people. He listens, counsels, strengthens and brings calm when it's needed. He taught me the importance of teamwork, patience and trust. He taught me the importance of having a faith and maintaining it. I owe so much to Steve, who has not just inspired me but helped push me through many quests and challenges in both my personal and professional paths of life. It's an upmost honor to call Steve a close-friend. Yes, that's a true Colorado bluebird sky you see when you're living at 8,000ft of elevation.... and yes I'm that tan.

I'm glad I rolled the dice in my twenties. Okay, so I'm twenty-seven and my twenties are still far from being over...but now that I'm returning to an actual adult career life, I'm reflecting back on the past few years and the choices I've made. My littlest brother Jamie, graduated from University of Wisconsin- Madison with a journalism degree last weekend. His commencement speaker? Legendary comedy writer and winner of nine Emmy awards, Steven Levitan who stressed the importance of 'rolling the dice in your twenties' to a crowd of 7,000 graduates. I blogged awhile back about chasing passion versus a salary, where I discussed how I gave up a pretty good, well-paying, white-collar office job in Chicago to follow my passion for outdoors. For almost three years, I worked at different seasonal, contracted jobs teaching outdoor education at YMCAs or diving head-first into the outdoor recreation field on the government side at our state parks. There were some awesome memories and I'm beyond grateful I got to do things I never would have pictured myself doing back in May 2012 when I walked across the stage in a maroon robe to collect my Advertising and Public Relations degree. Sure my yearly pay depressingly dropped to a crazy low but gosh I had fun and had so much time to figure out what I want in life, what I want to do and what I need to do differently. I had no real strings attached. I could bounce around from seasonal job to seasonal job, living out of my station wagon as I learned new things and met tons of new people. It was fun wearing flannel shirts, steel-toed boots, harnessing huskies in the Colorado mountains, teaching pond science to groups of elementary school kids, eating gross and questionable cafeteria food and living for dirt cheap in community housing. I'm glad I had the chance to try out living and working the seasonal jobs lifestyle. It was so much fun and a chapter of self-discovery that I really needed after getting burnt out from my first job post-college. That first corporate-y job ruined my taste for getting another office gig, but I needed to give it another fair shot down the road. I knew at some point, I had to get back into the real world. I was tired of busting my butt off, making only $9.45 per hour and having to worry every six-months if my contract would be renewed. It's fun working in parks and recreation but when the state pays you less than what one could make hourly at a fast food joint or as a grocery store bagger, it's a huge, comical slap in the face. Especially when you're put in charge of managing all of a state park's accounting and financing yet the second you go into overtime- you're at risk of being terminated. But this past fall, I felt like I hit a plateau...and it was a long, long, long plateau. It was like, boom, as soon as I returned from Iceland I had a wake-up call and realized I needed to make some big, big, big changes in my life ASAP.

I consistently set very high standards for myself and if I'm not meeting them, I have to move. For months, I felt as if I was foolishly wasting my time, not bettering myself professionally, not challenging myself. Life was 'too' easy. It was discouraging and my motivation was plummeting, affecting other parts of my life outside of work. You should never compare yourself to your best friends but at times it's very hard not to. But after a while, I realized this wasn't a comparison, rather encouragement to step it up. Seeing some of the closest people in my life rise to the top professionally and personally gave me that fuel and drive to do the same. I had to catch up. Had to. Not for their sake or approval, but for my own self. I needed to be proud again of who I am and constantly have pride for what I do everyday, on- and off-the-clock. That's why I knew deep down that I needed to get back into a career field that I know and one I'm really good at. So I started applying to various marketing, advertising, public relations and journalism jobs. Those are all things I went to school for and proudly earned a degree in. I remember in all the classes I took in the School of Communication at Loyola just killing it. Acing projects, papers and exams. Even after college and in my first journalism job... that skillset, knowledge and experience put me at my peak performance and I've been craving to get back into that 'young professional' lifestyle ever since. I'm not ashamed, nor embarrassed for taking a few years off from a 'real' career. Yeah, I tried out a different career path for a while, thinking it would build me up and help me shine in a different spotlight but realistically that wasn't the case. I wasn't meeting my standards for personal growth and it was driving me absolutely nuts. But I credit that risky life-move if anything, because it helped re-direct me towards my strengths and point me in the right, best way to better myself professionally. I'm glad I just bit the bullet and decided to turn things around in a completely different path. For years, people have told me I have a gift for writing and I should make a career out of it. After blogging in Iceland and seeing how much people enjoyed reading my travelogues, it clicked that that was where I needed to land a job again- journalism. My immediate goal was to get back into a full-time journalism job in a continuous effort to become the best writer I can be. Now I have that golden opportunity. It's hard to explain fully the emotions I have about starting a new job in a career field I've missed so much and a field I'm good at. I get to write every day!!!! I'm insanely proud to be starting a job at a print magazine. I'm really, really happy to be using my Loyola degree again (it actually makes me smile when I think of it). I'm pumped to get more into photography and editing. I'm stoked to dress in business casual and have a normal work schedule with weekends off (Yes! Yes! Yes! A real social life! More travel!) I'm relieved to finally collect a paycheck that allows me to live comfortably and enjoy some of my hobbies to their finest and fullest extent.

I'm ready to own this job and be the very best I can be.

I've reached the end of that plateau. Let the climbing begin.

Cheers,
Robby



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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

How to Make Every Day an Adventure


We need exposure to the outdoors, every single day. It makes us happier, keeps us active and allows for busy minds to turn-off and find peace.

Sure, come January I like to sit and hash-out trip plans for upcoming weekends or week-trips proposed for months ahead, but I also do everything I can to throw some adventure at my normal weekly routine. It’s not always easy or convenient and sometimes it may feel rushed- but a tiny, quick bit of adventure added into your day or week is better than no adventure at all. After a long, tiring day at work mixed with a disgusting amount of commuting in rush hour, bumper-to-bumper traffic (cue this hilarious opening scene from ‘Office Space’)- I sometimes just crave an escape into the outdoors. Here’s are the four things I do to make it happen:

Have a Go-Bag in Your Car
In the back of my station wagon is a good-size duffel bag that I commonly refer to as my 'Go-Bag'. Inside is a dopt kit with tolietries if I spend the night somewhere, gym clothes and running shoes, an extra uniform for work, a change of clothes for going out and most importantly my hiking boots. Say I want to go hiking quickly after work, or before meeting up with some friends for drinks- anywhere I am, I can just pop the rear hatch, swap some clothes for outdoor adventuring and slip-on my hiking boots. It saves me an extra trip to having to go back to my apartment, just to change for a hike. Inside that actual go bag is a small, probably less than 20L daypack from Gregory that cinches at the top and holds plenty of gear goodies. Relevant outdoorsy things in that lime-green daypack  include a Nalgene water bottle, insulated REI down vest and pretty much everything I have on in the photo above. Flannel shirts for the win. Always. I also keep a small journal and a few pens inside my hiking backpack as well as a headlamp (for those epic, sunset hikes) and even a compass.

Make Time for it and Make it a Priority
Take a look at your schedule for the day and determine, key word, determine a time to get outside. Maybe it's on you commute into work, or in between that doctor's appointment and when you have to drop your car off at the shop. Or maybe your lunch break, where you can trade an office-break room for a picnic spot at a local park.  Or maybe just on your way home from your job. I do the vast majority of my adventuring after work because it's such a good way to unwind after those eight hours of punching-the-clock. There are days where I'll tell myself as soon as I wake up and am pouring a cup of coffee "Today I'm going to go hiking after____ or before____". Make it happen once and then build it into your routine. When I move on Saturday to a new apartment just a few minutes north of downtown Milwaukee in Shorewood, I'm aiming to try and go for a little morning walk, mug of tea in hand, before starting off my day as often as possible.

Know Your Hood
Study-up and do your homework. Figure out where on the map the closest parks are. Maybe there's a state park or forest only ten minutes away from your office? Perhaps there's a super cool county park with some awesome hiking trails by your daily go-to lunch spot. If you're driving somewhere out of the norm, maybe to go pick-up something or run an errand or traveling out-of-town to a wedding or meeting, head to the interwebs and see if there's a park near you. There probably is and it's probably spectacular. I keep a state parks guide book and a few county park maps within reach, in my door pocket of my wagon for those times I get out of work and have some time for a quick adventure. Come up with a list of like, five parks close by to you that you can always rely on getting your nature fix at. Shuffle through those and add a few new ones in every once in a while too.

Always Be Planning for the Next Big Adventure
Focus as much of your attention and excitement on those quick, spontaneous adventures- but don't be shy to dream about the big trips. I constantly daydream at work, in the car commuting to work and elsewhere about grand adventures I hope to one day do, well, scratch the hope...will one day do. Like mentioned earlier, at the start of every new year, I make a list of places I want to try and explore over the course of the next twelve months. Get your rough, brainstormed, bullet-pointed list of spots you're craving to unleash your wanderlust at and go from there. In the midst of all these routine, quick little microadventures I hope you do, try to pick a few big adventures off that yearly bucket list and plot dates on the calendar. It'll give you something to look forward to, work towards financially and train for physically. You can do it at home if you're hanging indoors while a ragging thunderstorm roars above or if you're stuck at work  four-hours past close if you need a break from cramming away at that second-last item on your coffee-stained to-do list on your desk. Do it on your lunch break, that's what I do. Even if it's just ten minutes a day at lunch piecing together details and itinerary ideas for that trip in four months to (insert incredible national park here), that'll keep your motivation sparked and high. And chances are, all that planning will sway you to get outside for more adventures even more until that departure date.

So I hope after reading this you make that strong effort to throw some adventure into your life, every single day. I know I am, today after a meeting at work I plan on lacing-up my Timberland hiking boots and hitting the Scuppernog Trails in the Kettle Moraine State Forest: Southern Unit. Ahhh, sixty-degree temps, a bluebird sky and fresh pines await.

Cheers,
Robby

On the iPod...
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Monday, April 24, 2017

The 13 Best Places to Go Camping Near Milwaukee

May is almost here! The beer gardens across the 414 are opening and so are the nearest campgrounds! The weather is getting nicer and I'm craving some tent time. I'm not the only one feeling this way, as I've had a decent amount of people reach out to me asking where some of my favorite places to go camping close to Milwaukee. Currently I'm in the process of moving out of my apartment and into a new place down in Shorewood next week. I'm excited both for a change of pace and scenery but also to be done living out of cardboard boxes, especially those cardboard boxes that have all of my outdoor gear packed away in them. Needless to say, as soon as I'm unpacked, I'm hitting the road and going camping.

READ: Trekking the 414: Best Places to Hike in Milwaukee

Lucky for us Wisconsinites living in the brew city, we have thirteen (!) options of places we can easily drive to to camp for a spontaneous night, weekend trip or week-long vacation. The following is a list of places-- both state and county parks-- that offer car camping sites, all within about an hour drive of downtown Milwaukee. If you're feeling even more backcountry adventurous, try the epic backpacking sites scattered throughout units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. The Lapham Peak Unit in Delafield has an incredible, remote backpacking site, call the park office to book it.

Expect to pay anywhere from $12 to $20 per night for a non-electric site, $20-$30 for one with electricity. Make online reservations in advance at ReserveAmerica.com for state parks and here for Waukesha County Parks. All county and state park campgrounds listed below do require a daily or annual admission pass. Support your public lands, yo!

  1. Pike Lake Unit, Kettle Moraine State Forest (pictured above)
    Distance from Milwaukee= 50min
  2. Mauthe Lake Recreation Area, Kettle Moraine State Forest
    Distance from Milwaukee= 1hr and 3min
  3. Harrington Beach State Park
    Distance from Milwaukee= 39min
  4. Naga-Waukee County Park
    Distance from Milwaukee=  30min
  5. Long Lake Recreation Area, Kettle Moraine State Forest
    Distance from Milwaukee= 1hr and 7min
  6. Kohler-Andrae State Park
    Distance from Milwaukee= 1hr and 5min
  7. Menomonee County Park
    Distance from Milwaukee= 37min
  8. Ottawa Lake Recreation Area, Kettle Moraine State Forest
    Distance from Milwaukee= 46min
  9. Mukwanago County Park
    Distance from Milwaukee= 40min
  10. Pinewoods Campground, Kettle Moraine State Forest
    Distance from Milwaukee= 41min
  11. Richard Bong State Recreation Area
    Distance from Milwaukee= 43min
  12. Big Foot Beach State Park
    Distance from Milwaukee= 58min
  13. Whitewater Lake Campground, Kettle Moraine State Forest
    Distance from Milwaukee= 59min
Cheers,
Robby


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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Gear Review: Coleman Butane Stove

Cost=$18.99 

Last week the lady and I took a camping trip to a state park property close-by for a quick, one-night getaway. When packing and pulling all of my gear together, I realized I had a ton of backpacking gear which is great for....well, backpacking trips and backcountry adventures. Backpacking gear isn't exactly the most efficient or useful for classic car camping which we'd be doing at beautiful Pike Lake Unit nestled in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. We'd be cooking a pot of chili and garlic bread for dinner and then cheesy eggs and bacon the following morning. There was no way my little pocket-size backpacking stove was going to cut it for two-people meals.

For years, I've said to people looking to get into camping and hiking, that mega stores like Walmart and Target sell excellent basic outdoor gear. And it's so true. So I headed up to my local Target the night before we left to find a real, actual car camping stove that you can cook on. I ended up spending under $20 on a Coleman 1-Burner Butane Stove.

This was a super familiar sight, having come across loads of these when camping throughout Iceland this past fall. They're reliable, crazy easy to set-up and use, compact and cheap. At nearly every campground I stayed at across the land of fire and ice, travelers bundled-up in down jackets like myself fired these little stoves up to cook a hot meal out the back of their 4x4 or tent. Iceland tried and proven so I had no hesitation buying this. So let's get to the details.
The stove itself is powered by a 8,8-oz butane cylinder, which costs around $3. You'll need to purchase one as the stove does not come with one included. It's remarkably easy to use. Flip the side lid open, slide in the butane cylinder which then clicks into its holder. Shut the lid and flip the vertical switch down to the locked position. You've now got gas safely and reliably flowing into the burner. Turn the dial all the way down to the left until you hear a click- and the stove lights up. The dial is easily adjustable for desired temperature control. At high power it'll burn for almost 90 minutes at 7.650 BTUs of cooking power. A circular grate surface above the burner holds up to a 10-inch pan. Hardware is made of aluminum meaning it's very lightweight yet very stable too. It's also easy to clean post-meal. A plastic carrying case comes with the stove also doubles as a windshield. Sorry spring wind, you sure are nice but I want to devour some morning eggs before a day of hiking.
So for $18.99 (and another $3ish for a butane cylinder) you've got a perfect, easy-to-use stove for car camping or even tailgating delicious meals! Go pick one up and add it to your gear rack. It's clearly a victorious purchase.

Cheers,
Robby
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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Newport State Park, WI

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Photos by Jake Rivard.

There are 49 state parks in Wisconsin but there’s only one that offers a true backcountry experience. And that’s Newport. Located way up along the eastern tip of Door County, Newport State park is home to 2,373 acres of pure wilderness nestled along eleven gorgeous miles of Lake Michigan coastline. Clearly, after reading the previous line of text you should already be planning your next trip. What set’s Newport apart from other state parks in mainland Door County like Potawatomi, Whitefish Dunes and Peninsula is its formal designation as Wisconsin’s only wilderness park. In simple terms, it has been and always will be minimally developed, allowing for nature and conservation to stride ahead without interruption. That sounds absolutely perfect to me. When the master plan was finalized in 1973, the following four objectives were set in place for Newport State Park.
  1. Keep all development simple and minimal
  2. Manage the park as a wilderness area.
  3. Implement a naturalist program.
  4. Encourage only low-impact recreation.
This concept of a protected wilderness park is something that truly fascinates me because it’s something we’re lucky to have and quite frankly, something we need more of in our park system. Newport attracts a different breed of travelers looking to recreate. A breed craving an escape into the outdoors and looking to fill their monthly wanderlust quota. A breed that would rather hike with a heavy pack on their back miles into the quiet woods away from noisy, developed campgrounds littered with RVs and pop-up campers. A breed that isn’t intimidated by the words ‘primitive’ or the thought of carrying-in your own drinking water. If this is you, you need to get to Newport.
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Four friends and I recently took a weekend trip up to Newport State Park, in the beginning of March to kick-off a new year of backpacking. We planned for weeks, chatting over the itinerary, where we’d camp each night, what meals we would eat and what essential pieces of gear would be in whose pack. When the time came, we put in for vacation re quests at work, loaded-up a station wagon and hatchbacks and headed north. This was the second time I had gone backpacking at Newport State Park. Something about this magical place left a very, very special impression on me three years prior, so I was stoked to return. This time with good company.
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We arrived Friday afternoon and after checking-in at the park office, we filled up with a night’s worth of water, strapped on our packs and hit the trail around 4pm. The plan for our trip was to camp at one site the first night and then hike around eight miles to another backcountry site in the northern part of the park the second. As the sun slowly started to set, we trekked on south along the Rowleys Bay trail towards camp one, backcountry site 12. It was like walking through a big snow globe with soft beams of golden sunlight trying to pierce through the thick, frosted pines above. If they were successful, patches of the trail we’d walk on put us in a brief, spotlight of warmth. It was mesmerizing. The trail continued along some 2.5 miles down the eastern shoreline of the bay and we eventually reached backcountry site 12. Out our tents we had wide views of both the sunset and preceding day’s sunrise. We all set up our one and two-person backpacking tents and as temperatures continued to plummet, getting a roaring fire going with whatever dry deadfall (fallen, dead trees or sticks) was a top priority. I walked a few feet away from our campsite towards the frozen shoreline of Lake Michigan. A sole trumpeter swan was floating around by nearby Vareny Point, almost camouflage with the surrounding snow and ice chunks. The sunset painted the sky with hues of vibrant orange, yellow and pink as it fell west. Sam boiled up some water and we were soon scooping once-dehydrated grub out of our bowls by the fire’s hospitable flames. It’s impossible to describe the stars at Newport. As soon as their backdrop goes black, millions if not, billions of bright, stars come out and dance away in a show up above. It is just, jaw-dropping. Newport State Park is currently in the works to be approved as a recognized. IDA International Dark Sky Park. It’d be the first and only state park in Wisconsin to have this designation, joining only a small list of other prized national and state parks across the world. While the pictures my friend Jake Rivard took to accompany this piece are nothing but breathtaking, you have to see it for yourself.
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Saturday morning was freezing, even despite the majority of us being prepared with an arsenal of solid down backpacking gear. We chatted over oatmeal, tea and dehydrated strawberries about how a temperature reading at one point overnight got to just two degrees, not including the bitter wind chill that had been weathering our faces for the past twelve hours. As last night proved, Newport is a gem of the Wisconsin State Park system. It was hard to write this post without wanting to shut my laptop off and just get back up there to experience it again. I plan to do so once Spring weather moves across the Midwest. After packing up our gear, we bid farewell to backcountry site 12 and began our three-mile hike back to the park headquarters where Mark, another close friend, would meet and continue with us to camp two located at site 16 about five miles away on the northern end of the park.
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After refilling with water, we cooked up a quick meal of rich, gooey macaroni and cheese in the parking lot out the back of Mark’s Honda CR-V. The five of us followed the Europe Bay trail north, along the frozen shoreline of Newport Bay and out along craggy, Lynd Point which provided elevated views of the chilly chaos in the water below. As we approached the point, we stopped in our steps, amazed at the rows of ice sheets stacked up against each other like big pieces of broken glass. I had never seen anything like it before and we all took turns picking up square pieces of perfectly intact ice, peering through them like windows. Jake captured a few slow-motion videos and high-speed pictures of us shattering the thin panels of ice with our gloved fists. We pressed on and headed inward from the lake in an effort to avoid the increasingly strong, bitter winds. At one point on the Europe Bay trail, the path carved through a maze of tall, rock. Almost like a slot canyon, covered in snow with a canopy of pines above. About 3.5-miles into the hike, we stopped to take-off a few layers and hydrate. Backpacking in ankle-deep snow with a loaded pack on your back while you’re suited-up in puffy down jackets and liners can be straight exhausting.

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We finally reached site 16 and set up camp two for the night. The site was gorgeous, atop a sand dune with beach access just steps from our fire pit. We kept an eye on the forecast throughout the day and were prepared for wind, but when we arrived at our backcountry site, the gusts were treacherous, dropping the already-low temperatures down even lower. Instead of setting up our four tents atop the sand dune ridge, we found a clearing below the pines just below a steep hill that would help to block out the harsh gusts blowing west off the lake. Soon camp two looked like a small town of small, colorful backpacking tens all in a circle. We secured our tents to the ground as best as we could and sought out whatever big pieces of fallen trees or branches to place at the base of our tent vestibules, in a continued effort to minimize any frigid blasts of wind that would penetrate through into our tents as we slept.
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The sun began to fall and after dinner, we decided to craft a makeshift fire pit by our tents, at the base of the steep hill for warmth. Starting a fire up above near the sand dune ridge was impossible due to the ferocious wind. I walked down towards the water with Jake who had setup his tripod and was experimenting with various long-exposure settings on his camera. The moon was blinding bright, reflecting off sharp pieces of ice resting up against one another near the shoreline. but once again we were treated to a front-row star show. Standing there looking up at billions of stars, you’re reminded of just how small we really are in such a big universe. Cliché, yes, but when you go there and look upwards, you’ll agree. Seeking the flames, we headed back up the dune to camp to join the others. For the next few hours we all sat close around the tiny fire, passing around dehydrated apple slices and a flask of cold Jose Cuervo. We talked about the stars, the wind bashing the trees together up above, future trips, life outside the backcountry and all things in between. The winds continued to pick up and we headed to our tents. Some read by headlamp, others crashed right away burrowed deep in their down sleeping bags.
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The next morning, I heard my watch beeping somewhere in the abyss of my down sleeping bag. I scurried to find it, its orange glowing face read 6am. I called out to Jake that I was getting up to go down and see the sunrise. The wind was still aggressive and temperatures were only slightly more bearable than the night before. Opening the tent door to grab my boots out of the vestibule which was flapping rapidly I looked over at one of my Sawyer water filter pouches which had frozen overnight. I climbed the path up the hill and headed towards the shoreline, hoping to catch the last few minutes of a never-disappointing Door County sunrise. I stood there, completely awestruck. Once the others awoke, we boiled up some water for a final feast of oatmeal and dehydrated fruit, tore down camp, erased the area clear of any of our trace and strapped on our packs for the return hike back. We were already joking about craft beers and butter burgers for lunch at the closest pub we could find.
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Jake delicately set-up his tripod for a group photo. Our five faces weathered, tired, crusty and smelled like thick smoke- but we all wore a sentimental smile signaling the completion of an epic winter backcountry adventure.

Cheers,
Robby

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Monday, April 3, 2017

The Blog Gets Some Spring Cleaning

Greetings and happy Monday!

You may have noticed that this blog has changed drastically! Call it a little bit of Spring cleaning. I've been getting way more traffic to the blog the past few months and thought it was overdue for an upgrade. Some of the posts that used to be on here aren't appearing anymore because I'm either re-wording and re-formatting them or just deleting them all together as they may just be irrelevant to the blog's goal. I'm also going to be re-posting a lot of my writing and photos from when I lived in Vietnam six years ago. Content and throwback posts from my Guatemala and Mexico trips will come soon after. Getting my hands tied-up with HTM coding and CSS design is like learning some abstract foreign language for the first time, so with patience will come exciting things on here!

Quick-update on life outside the blog. I turned 27 the other week! Whoa! It was a wonderful few days celebrating with all the best important people in my life. People I am so grateful for. I rang-in the start of a new (birth) year with knee surgery last week. This past summer while on-the-clock at one of the state parks I work at, I got hit by a car while walking to our contact station. An SUV blew a stop-sign at around 20mph, I flew up on the hood and slammed on to the ground- destroying my right knee. The driver got a ticket and admitted to both blowing the stop sign and looking over his shoulder-not forward. That happened in June of 2016. My doctor and I spent months trying injections, shots, different medicine...everything but surgery which I did not want to have for a second time. But cracks in the bone, bruising on the ACL and damaged cartilage to name just some of the damage needed more than just a temporary 'band-aid'. So I had surgery last week and it sucked, but I'm slowly getting better and soon I'll be off crutches, in PT and back to actual fun physical activities. Do you know how sad it was to cancel two rock climbing trips? The surgery is supposed to help eliminate much of the bone and cartilage pain issues, but the damage to my knee is permanent unfortunately. Thank God for worker's comp.

On another note, I'm moving in less than a month to Shorewood! On Milwaukee's north shore. Can't wait. Stay tuned on here for a some pretty sweet posts coming live within in the next few weeks.

P.S. is anyone else just craving a trip to Glacier National Park in Montana? I am. That'll probably be the destination for my big annual solo trip I take in the fall.

Cheers,
Robby

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Tower Hill State Park, WI

New adventures! 'Tis a little gem of our state park system, Tower Hill is. So you guys,  I've been so intrigued by this park and been wanting to check it out for a really long time. Now I have!

Outside the town of Spring Green and located along the banks of the Wisconsin River is seventy-seven acre Tower Hill State Park. You drive through Frank Lloyd Wright country, passing many of his architectural masterpieces like Taliesin. I was crazy excited because today, I finally got to explore it as it's been on my adventure bucket list. Similar to my fascination for National Park Service properties that showcase important pieces of history, Tower Hill does the same for Wisco history by means of a preserved shot tower and melting house where lead shot was made in the mid-1800s.

While Tower Hill is open 365-days a year, the main gate is closed during off-season (Columbus Day to mid-May), so you'll need to park by the park office and walk down the road a minute or so to enter. Once you're in the park, you'll make your way through the small campground with the majority of its sites along a clear creek or the bluffs above. There are eleven basic, non-electric, non-reservable sites and a pit toilet. I'm super stoked to return here come summer time and camp out, being a big advocate of smaller, rustic campgrounds rather than ones littered with massive RVs sucking-up electricity. Campsite 3 is nestled on the Mill Creek, which is perfect for launching a canoe or kayak just feet from waking up in your tent. Warm temperatures cued for dreams of paddling up and down the creek and then connecting onward to the Wisconsin, stopping at all the sand bars with a Lenienkugel Summer Shandy in hand. When you get past site 13, you'll see the trail the starts taking you up the hill towards the shot tower and smelter house. It takes about fifteen minutes to reach the base of the super-cool 60ft wooden shot tower, in which you continue climbing some steep steps towards the smeltering house above. Don't forget to look out to your left too! The panoramic views are breathtaking.

Lead mining was huge here during the 1800s. A lead miner from Galena, IL named Thomas Bolton Shaunce with the assistance of Malcom Smith started digging a 90-ft long tunnel from the riverbank's finishing house, into the hillside to 120ft-deep shaft that rose upwards through the sandstone cliff. Construction halted in 1832 when the nearby Black Hawk War came about and Shaunce and Smith joined the fight. After the battles, the sixty-foot wooden shot tower, visible today was complete, making the total shaft length a whopping 180ft deep. 75-lb bars of lead from Galena and Mineral Point were brought to the top smeltering house to be melted. Then, the melted lead was filtered through a ladle with holes in it. The hot, melted droplets of lead chilled tremendously as they dropped some 180ft down the shaft in the side of the sandstone cliff to a pool of water below. Workers would then remove the lead from the pool and draft them through the 90-ft horizontal access tunnel to the finishing house, where they'd be prepped and put on boats to be shipped east. When production was in full-kick, some 5,000 pounds of lead were dropped through the tower resulting in only about 800 pounds at most, being usable. The unsuitable rest of the lead, was then hauled back up to the top of the hill, melted again and thrown down the tower once more. Just incredible history here. Make sure to read all the complete history about the process here.

When we reached the top, I lit my backpacking stove, brewed up some water for two mugs of tea and soaked-in the jaw-dropping views. It was so, so, quiet. A peaceful break from the daily grind. We continued on down the Old Ox Trail towards the base of the hill, where the trail carves alongside the creek to the access tunnel. I rubbed my hand along the porous, vibrant sandstone cliffs as we approached the start of the tunnel which like mentioned above, extends some 90ft back into the rock. A bat hanging from the ceiling was our indicator to turn around as it was becoming pitch black. Neither one of us felt like getting rabies from a napping bat's bite. We followed the fairly challenging, winding trail back up the bluffs towards the park entrance. I kept gawking at just how cool it was to see the restored shot tower protruding from the rock and the amazing scenery off on the horizon. For years I've declared the Driftless Area to be my favorite part of Wisconsin and places like Tower Hill only prove it to be more and more true.

So load up your car, pack a lunch and go travel west to check out this hidden gem of a state park. While you're at it- get lost at the trippy 'House On The Rock' a few minutes away.


Cheers,
Robby

*Tower Hill State Park is a state park located at 5808 Cty Hwy C, in Spring Green, WI 53588 just 1hr and 58min from downtown Milwaukee. Admission fees are required (daily or annual). There are two-miles of hiking trails, a small campground with non-electric sites, a boat launch along the Wisconsin River, preserved historical buildings, fishing spots and a picnic area. The park is open year-round, even if the gate is closed during the off-season (campground closed then).*



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Monday, March 20, 2017

Takeaways From The 2017 Milwaukee Auto Show


Traditions! Cars! The 2017 Milwaukee Auto Show came to town a few weeks ago. I usually go every year with a few of my best friends who also like me, geek out excessively over cars. To be honest, I lost a lot of interest in anything new-car related awhile back but have recently spurred up an insanely strong new liking for the industry. Each month I'm finding a new issue 'Motor Trend' or 'Car and Driver' magically appearing in my apartment's mailbox which leads to hours upon hours of reading, attempting to get caught-up with the new car market trends. Like I've said before, yes RobbyAroundTheWorld is a travel blog where I post crazy amounts of outdoorsy, nature, travel-related content...but I'm also a ridiculous gearhead so that's why I'm not shy to blog about cars on here. So let's talk about some the cars pictured below going down the line:

  • 2017 Lexus LC500  
    Mother...of...God this car is stunning looking. Lexus has quite a handful of eh, boring cars in their lineup that I think all look the same thanks to the abundant hour-glass grille seen on everything from their luxobarge LS sedan to it's full-size off-roader, the LX. But finally there's a model in the Lexus family that I can drool over. AND it's got rear-wheel-drive. You can buy the LC in a Hybrid variant that makes a combined 354-horsepower and hits zero-to-sixty mph in just 4.7 seconds! The gas-powered LC500  has a 5.0-liter V8 making 471hp, 398 lb-ft of torgue and sprints to sixty mph .3 seconds quicker. Lexus killed off its heavenly, screamer V10-powered LFA supercar a while ago and I was sad....but the new LC500 re-ignites that awe I once had.
  • 2017 Lincoln Continental
    Last year the exhibit area for Lincoln was located on the first floor of show, where historically all the premium, high-end luxury brands hangout. It deserved that location  change and does again this year specifically for its brand-new Continental. The easiest way to describe Lincoln's new large flagship? Superb. Inside and out. What was even better was this year, I was actually able to sit in a production unit. The Continental nameplate hasn't been around since 2002 and now it's back. The car is undeniably classy and consistently sophisticated everywhere you look and touch. It's the small hints, like the door handles integrated into the chrome beltline. A few photos down, you'll see a photo of the backseat controls. Yep, both passengers get heated, cooling and massaging seats. America has long needed a big, classy "I've made it" car with mega boss appeal that people want to work hard to park in their driveway. Cadillac has tried too hard. Lincoln now makes that car and it's called the Continental.
  • 2017 Jaguar F-Type
    The little cat doesn't need a whole paragraph just these two things: it's sex on wheels and sounds terrifyingly brilliant. Enough said.
  • 2017 Toyota Camry
    Do I lose my car geek, gearhead credentials if I admit I like the new Toyota Camry? The Camry has always been a tremendously simple, easy and reliable car. My family has owned two of them, both proving to be bullet-proof and such stress-free daily drivers. The 2017 Camry gets a make-over inside and out, It's exterior appearance seems longer, lower and somewhat more appealing. Nice work, Toyota, though I'd much rather own a unbreakable 4Runner, like the blue pictured below for all of my outdoor adventuring. 
  • 2017 Toyota 86
    The sister car of the Subaru BRZ loses the Scion branding and gets a refresh for 2017 bearing the name 86 under Toyota now. Being a semi-Japanese car nerd, I was excited to see the rebirth of the 86 name, which throws back to the 1980s, rear-wheel-drive AE86 that's a benchmark in classic 1980s Japanese car nostalgia and drifting subculture history. A car I remember reading about in comic books growing up. Power is up a tad this year too, with the boxer four-cylinder now chugging out 205 horsepower. I drove a first generation Suabru BRZ years ago at launch and it was like a go-kart on ecstasy,...just perfect in every fun driving way.
  • 2017 Chevrolet Bolt
    This car is going to be legendary for Chevy, I don't second-guess that claim at all. EVs (electric vehicles) have been out on the new car market for years now. You've got Teslas, Volts, Nissan Leafs, plug-in Hybrids from Ford, Toyota and even Kia. But a lot of those pure-electric or combination electric/gas vehicles are uber-expensive, have limited range or are just ugly. That's why there's the new Bolt. Prices start at $37,495 but an almost $7,000 federal tax credit drops to under $30,000 for a fully-electric car that will go an EPA-estimated 238 miles on a full charge. Other rebates and even dealership discounts are dropping the price down lower, into the mid $20,000 range. Buyers out in California even get an additional $2,500 rebate. Incredible. The Bolt looks and has the practicality of a traditional hatchback and is loaded with tech inside and out. Sign me up. I want one now!
  • 2017 Jeep Compass
    The Jeep's smallest vehicle gets a redesign for 2017 and looks eerily similar to the much-bigger Grand Cherokee. I like that. The Compass has always been kind of the laughing stock for the Jeep brand, but this new Compass actually looks like a quality, capable vehicle. There's even a spirited Trailhawk model for off-roading junkies. Let's hope people sway away from the Renegade and start buying these.
  • 2017 Dodge Challenger SRT 392
    It's lime green, has big wheels, a six-speed manual transmission and so, so, so much muscle car heritage. The Challenger still remains my favorite new car out on the market and currently holds the trophy for being my dream car. The four-door Charger Hellcat nearby would be my family car. I mean, it's got the vibes and usage a family car would but with a boisterous 707-horsepower, supercharged V8 that justtttttt screams. Oh, and there's a Challenger Deamon coming out soon......I'm pretty sure it's engine noise and exhaust note will cause earthquakes. You've been warned.
  • 2018 Kia StingerSooooo, fun fact- I saw this car as a concept back at the Chicago International Auto Show in 2012. Now we have the production model hitting the streets very soon. And it looks gorgeous. This is Kia's first, rear-wheel-drive sports sedan or 'Grand Touring' car. Thanks Kia for putting the Stinger on a rotating show pedestal because I looked on in awestruck at every waking unique, crsip detail the production Stinger has. Its exterior has literally every stereotypical, customary sports car or sports sedan exterior design feature. I love it. You'll be able to buy the Stinger in rear- or all-wheel-drive and have up to 360-horsepower on command from a twin-turbo V6.  Tuners are going to tweak those turbos and I can guarantee you'll be able to squeeze close to 500-horsepower out of a Stinger. Yes, this is a Kia and my gosh I hope people look past the name badge and consider this for a fun car. Kia has been building some pretty high-quality, impressive rides the past few years so I don't doubt the Stinger will be a flop. I cannot wait to get behind the wheel of one.
  • 2017 Nissan Armada
    Anyone who knows my taste in cars. will tell you that I really like big, bold SUVs. So when I finally got to see the new, redesigned Armada up close, it was a good moment. The last generation Armada was embarrassingly outdated, having gone through no major redesigns or changes in nearly 12 years. That's wayyyyy past a car's typical model run cycle. The new for us Armada is actually identical to the bad-ass Nissan Patrol, that's been ferociously roaming other countries around the globe. The new Titan pickup truck, parked next to the Armada also gets two big-thumbs up, especially due to its Cummins diesel engine option and sharp styling.
  • 2017 Genesis G90
    Hyundai decided to spin-off a premier luxury brand called Genesis, with two models available: the G80 which starts at $41,400 and the grander G90 stickering in at $68,100 starting MSRP. The two mentioned models were once Hyundais, the Genesis and Equus but were yanked from the lineup, redesigned and given new names under a completely new brand. The cars look super sleek and high-class. Even their website mimics the feels one would get from say visiting BMW, Audi, Lexus or Mercedes's domains. But here's the problem and something I worry about...there needs to be a vastly larger separation and distancing from parent brand Hyundai. I mean, come on, if you're going to promote and attempt to show-off a new luxury brand image don't put your cars and booth right beside Hyundai. People are still going to think your G80 and G90 have the slanted, italicized H badge on it. A smart consumer might be able to spot out familiar design cues inside and out from Hyundai products when looking at the new Genesis duo. So what we have here is an identity crisis. I really hope Genesis succeeds because I think it has the capability to do so after seeing all their marketing efforts and vehicles up-close. Toyota did it with Lexus, Honda with Acura and Nissan with Infiniti, will Hyundai follow suit? Maybe, but for starters, put your Genesis brand on the first floor alongside other premier luxury brands.
  • 2018 Ford Mustang
    "Nooooooooo" I said to my friend as we walked towards a new 2018, drop-top silver Mustang. Ford gave the mustang a mild refresh and I'm not a fan of it. The 2017 design was so good all-around, but the slightly changed 2018 looks like the Mustang lost a lot of its aggressiveness up front. The classic 70s Mach 1-esque tail lights and panel still looks sporty and the interior per usual was splendid but move to the front and have a staring contest. Maybe you'll win but I couldn't keep looking at it and lost in disappointment. Perhaps I'll need to see more Mustang variants out on the road to warm up to this new redesign, but right now I'll still opt to rock a new Challenger or Camaro.
Cheers,
Robby


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