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.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Backpacking 101: How to Get Started

If it's solitude and adventure you're looking for, away from bustling developed campgrounds, you're missing out big time if you haven't tried backpacking. Rewards you'll reap include a unique sense of freedom, constant adrenaline rushes, great exercise and a proud sense of responsibility when it's just you and your pack out in the wilderness. Spring is the perfect time to give backpacking a try and with the increasing number of state properties across Wisconsin offering remote campsites, opportunity abounds.

I took my first backpacking trip in February 2014, spending a few days in the backcountry at Menominee River State Recreation Area, on the border of Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It was freezing and I did it solo. Parking my station wagon at the trailhead, I loaded my pack, strapped on my snowshoes and hiked a few miles in knee-deep powder to a clearing on a bluff above the Menominee River. I set up my tent, cooked dinner and was soon stoking a roaring fire. The natural silence and serenity was unreal, disturbed only by howling wolves and the roaring river below as ice chunks crashed to the bottom of Pemene Falls.

Those few days in the frigid backcountry sent my appreciation for the outdoors skyrocketing. While none was life-threatening, I made mistakes that could have been prevented by proper preparation and research. I should have had an appropriately-rated sleeping bag to provide a cocoon of warmth when temperatures shot down to 18 below zero and I shouldn't have taken two big, one-gallon jugs of water that froze almost immediately after collecting my evening's quota of firewood. When I returned home, however, and reflected on what I should have done differently, I came up with a plan on what to replace or do differently in the future.

Yes, backpacking is more physically demanding than traditional car-camping at a public or private campground, but with the right equipment and research it can be done easily, safely and enjoyably. Before lacing-up those hiking boots, remember these three aspects of backpacking as you venture into the backcountry: gear, preparation and confidence.
The Right Stuff.
There are four essential pieces of gear when it comes to backpacking:
  1. Tent. Don't get thrifty on this buy. It is, after all, your home in the backcountry. A backpacking tent is smaller, more durable, lighter and easier to compact than a standard car-camping tent. Purchasing a three- or four-season backpacking tent with a vestibule allows for a covered place to store your gear outside the tent or to cook a meal if it's raining. It's smart to practice setting up and taking down your new tent before heading out on the trail. Home is where you pitch it, therefore I spend tons and tons and tons of nights each year in my Eurkea Taron2, which has been unbelievably reliable, effortlessly strong through stormy weather and set-up all over the world. I absolutely adore this tent.
  2. Sleeping Bag. The first thing to consider when buying a sleeping bag are the conditions you will be trekking in. If you're planning on fall and winter backpacking, a sleeping bag made of duck or goose down will keep you warm as temperatures plunge below zero at night. They're also lightweight and compress to a surprisingly small size, allowing for more room in your backpack. The downfall? Most down sleeping bags are pricey and you can't get them wet. For summer backpacking, a sleeping bag made of synthetic materials works great.  My winter bag, the Outdoor Vitals Summit is rated to zero degrees while my spring-summer-fall bag is an Alps Mountaineering Desert Pine 20.
  3. Sleeping Pad. Nobody wants painful aches in the morning that put a damper on the new day's hiking plans. Sleeping pads are essential for backpacking for two reasons: comfort and warmth. A sleeping pad will provide a full night's rest and keep you lifted off the ground to help retain your body's core heat at night. Pads come in two forms: inflatable and foldable. Both types have their pros and cons. For example, an inflatable sleeping pad, if not filled properly, could deflate in the middle of the night or pop if punctured. They also take time to roll out, inflate, deflate and roll back up again; yet, they provide a glorious, comfortable cushion of air. Foldable sleeping pads don't require inflation, are durable and quick to throw down and lay your sleeping bag on. However, they don't provide as much cushion, are bulkier and you'll have to carry them on the outside of your backpack. I use a Klymit Static V, it's not the most insulated for Wisco cold temperatures (there's an actual insulated version available) but it keeps you off the ground and comfy.
  4. Backpack. The pack is probably the most important piece of gear you'll buy. Backpacking packs are measured in liters. The smaller the capacity of the pack, the fewer number of days you'll be out on the trail. For example, those looking to do just a one- or two-night trip may opt for a pack that holds 30-50 liters, whereas if you're heading into the backcountry on a multiple-day excursion, strap something over your shoulders that will hold more than 60 liters. Don't run out to your local gear shop or online outlet and buy any pack, though, because you must get fitted first. Backpacking with a loaded pack that isn't fitted properly is like walking in a pair of shoes three sizes too big. Most major outdoor retailers have trained sales staff that will measure your waist size and torso length. Your backpacking pack needs to sit comfortably on your hips, not your shoulders. Once you know your size, shop around for desired features that may suit your needs. Some backpacking packs have camera pouches in the front hipbelt, others have built-in rain flies or bottom-access doors so you can easily pull out your sleeping bag. Exterior gear loops and straps to hang things like your tent or water bottle are other crucial elements to look for. My gear? the Gregory Baltoro 65, a 65-liter glorious backpacking pack that snagged a pretty prominent 'Editor's Choice Award' last year from Backpacker Magazine. 
Prepare For Success.
After picking out the right gear, the next step is to do your homework before hitting the trail. Backpacking requires planning, research and decision-making to be fully prepared. First decide where you want to go and for how long. If it's your first trip, aim for a state park or forest property close to home with an easy hike, say half-an-hour to an hour's hike to the backcountry campsite from the trailhead. With more experience, you can opt for farther state and national parks that require day-long or multiple-hour hikes, or even paddles on water to very remote backcountry campsites. Study maps and if you're in a large wilderness area, purchase a topographic map and learn how to read and navigate it with a compass. Look for nearby water sources and check to see if the trail to the campsite crosses precarious terrain. Plenty of helpful tutorial videos can be found on YouTube. Think twice about everything you pack and anticipate what you can make use of when you get there. Don't carry a bundle of firewood or gallons of water. Remember, water equals added weight. Consider purchasing a small, backpacking propane stove and a water filter. Learn and experiment with what you're going to eat and how to stow it into your backpack. Before heading out on a backpacking trip, I watch the weather reports closely and prepare a rough itinerary with set times for leaving from the trailhead, arriving at the backcountry site and returning to my vehicle post-trip. Make sure you share your itinerary and location with family members or friends so they're aware of your off-the-grid adventure. I also try to check-in before and after with the park office or ranger and ask them about conditions or any advisories of which I should be aware. Last fall, when backpacking in Canyonlands National Park in Utah, a ranger cautioned that black bears had been spotted nearby a few weeks before my arrival. You may also need to purchase a backcountry permit so make sure to inquire about that. Preparation doesn't stop once you tighten-up those hiking boots. When out on the trail, keep your head up and observe your surroundings. Watch out for wildlife, poisonous shrubbery and unexpected changes in terrain. Is that wall of dark, storm clouds approaching you? Do you have a plan if lightning strikes? Is your tent pitched in an area where there could be a flash flood? These are all things to take into consideration when out on the trail. Another important thing to prepare for ahead of time is your fitness. Find a local spot with a lot of stairs or a big hill and start walking up and down in your hiking boots. After a few visits, bring your backpack and add some weight or speed up the pace. You don't want to succumb to painful shin splints, three miles away from your vehicle with a 30-pound pack on your back.

Know Your Strengths- and Weaknesses!
You have assembled your gear and nailed down the details of the trip, but are you ready? Your first backpacking excursion will test how good you are at breaking out of your comfort zone. You'll probably be nervous, feel unprepared, scared or anxious to get out on the trail. These are all normal feelings but the fears will quickly erode. Be confident and believe in yourself. Trust all the preparation and pre-trip research you spent hours doing. Know your abilities, strengths and weaknesses. You might have tremendous strength to haul your gear to your backcountry site but your weakness is impatience. That won't help when trying to set up your tent in treacherous winds. Don't overestimate your skillset and knowledge by thinking you're invincible. Confidence gets you far while cockiness could get you killed. Don't lose that confidence when precarious situations arise, however, especially if you're by yourself. If you can't get a fire going or encounter a large wild animal, don't panic and get discouraged. Take a deep breath, keep your composure and brainstorm solutions. You'll be faced with many variables that can change in an instant. Your confidence and self-esteem are what can make the difference between a memorable expedition and a hectic nightmare.

We've covered what gear you should purchase, some basic steps in preparation for a backpacking trip and emphasized how important it is to be confident when outdoors- now get out there, have fun and be safe. And speaking of safety, invest in a personal locator SOS beacon to keep track of your trip's progress and activate a search-and-rescue if you run into serious trouble. I bring a SPOT Gen3 on every adventure I go on.