Dom Alhambra

a hobby travel and landscape photo blog

I met up with a couple in a Cancun hostel to head down to Tulum and find a free beach to camp on for a week or two. They were a huge asset: They knew a good amount of Spanish after bumming around South America for a few months. This was the last few weeks of their travels before going back to New Jersey.

We got into Tulum after dark and called up a taxi cab. The cab driver recommended we go to a local beach north of Tulum by a few miles. There are a lot of beaches taken up by resorts and private residences, but this was one of a few that was open to all. We arrived and it was a little windy, but the weather was still in the 70s, so even though we struggled to set up our tents, we were comfortable in our efforts (maybe I only think of this as I write during the winter, during which the Mojave Desert is cold and windy).

We stayed on the public beach for about 10 days. Every few days we would walk to a nearby grocery store a few miles down the street for food and wine. During these walks were when I am reminded that people like this couple are not just conduits for adventure, but their own people struggling with their own personal issues. After 6 months of traveling, they are wary to see it go; the stresses of coming back to “real life” were compounded by their tendency to take out their stresses on the other. The fights were not loud or extended, but quiet and short. I appreciated being an afterthought to their entire experience; they led me here on convenience coincidence, and I enjoy living life in serendipity rather than full intention.

On the 10th day, the local police guided us out of the public beach (kicked us out, but they were nice about it) to a paid tent camping spot not far at all. It was only 5 dollars a night, and had some fire-making amenities. So for a couple more days, we celebrated the new location and spoke with the owner, who had owned the land for decades and was finally getting some use out of it by charging tent campers.

The couple left, but I stayed. I moved on to a hostel in Tulum after a few days of aloneness on the beach. I don’t know how to make friends on a beach in a foreign country, especially one that is only populated by locals.

Overall, my trip to Cancun and Tulum was instigated by sadness but floated on the quiet beauties of nature and good-natured people. It was a pleasant experience to meet up with these New Jersey-ans and see a part of Tulum that I wouldn’t have if I stuck to my English-rooted rails of tourism. I wish I remembered your names! reporting on a University of Washington study:

… Yellow fever mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti) fly toward specific colors, including red, orange, black and cyan, but they ignore other colors, such as green, purple, blue and white.

I’ll consider this when purchasing shelter gear. I’m planning to use a white heavy duty tarp for rain protection because darker colors only exacerbates desert heats. This helps seal the deal.

Dramatic photo of Tuesday, the dog.

Dramatic photo of Tuesday, the dog.

Sosa at the valley of Alcove Spring Trail.

Sosa at the valley of Alcove Spring Trail.

Cady Hill in Vermont.

Cady Hill in Vermont.

Darrin looked up the Sunshine Slabs on Mountain Project and found that the routes were bolted by climbers from Colorado Springs in late March. The worst offender, a route called “Peaches,” weighs in at a hefty 5.3. Jeez, kind of pathetic to illegally bolt a 5.3 route!

Darrin, part Native American, told me that he “pulled all 3 of them down. I thought about leaving them up for the sake of reporting them. But I just couldn’t leave them up, religious reasons. It was my duty.” He later said, “I still have the photos of the first time I went out there 14 years ago of that panel. Never would have noticed it if you hadn’t told me to look for it.”

As a skier once said after being told that backcountry skiing activities were endangering the local bighorn sheep: “Well, the sheep have had these mountains for 10,000 years. Now it’s our turn.”

Let’s hope this situation continues to be an exception, not the rule. Or nip it in the bud and make the Sunshine Slabs a locals/invite-only climbing area—an area exclusive to those who might actually care.

I grew up north of Seattle for a bit, and always thought about the city for three reasons: Pike Place Market, Trader Joe’s, and REI Co-op. The flagship REI had a rock-climbing wall, mountain bike path for testing, even a tiny restaurant on the first or second floor. REI turned the outdoors experience into a Rainforest Cafe-style fantasy land of shopping, and I loved it as a kid. In fact, I would seek out REIs in cities I’m visiting just to see what they’re like. I didn’t realize that REI Seattle was an exception, not the rule.

After years of shopping at REI as an adult, I somehow know the stores so well that I recognize what they do and don’t have, whether in store fantasy features or products. This is when you know you’ve been around too long: I feel the sting of something missing, even though I have no entitlement to its existence in the first place. This is one of many petty things a shopper like myself will feel when we grow tired of that which was so inspirational. Like a fading romance, REI has turned into another chain store. But whatever, it’s still more fun than going to Academy Sports!

The Outdoor Gear Exchange in Vermont stood out for a couple good reasons: First, it’s not an REI. Second, it stocks a good bit of gear manufacturers that I’ve never heard of. Third, OGE has a basement of used gear and books. The used gear can be surprisingly high end (I guess it’s not a Goodwill, so why should this be surprising). I found a tan fishing shirt I’ve been searching for at a quarter the price. The book prices were very reasonable, and the selection is on par with an okay Half-Price Books (pretty good!), so I stocked up on winter camping and Alaskan memoirs.

This is the candy shop I’ve been looking for since those fateful days in Seattle. It feels nice that a store can have that small piece of “organic economics”—that used gear and book section. While the new gear shelves remain stagnant with the season’s staples, the used gear section remains a mystery at any given moment, during which small and unknown treasures might reveal themselves.

The proud consumer and new products

Proud consumers—the ones that will go out of the way to toil on their reviews and discuss on social media their views on purchased products—like turn their shopping into a story of discovery: For new items, they will spend hours or days over product reviews and YouTube videos to see if this items is truly for them. Once they are locked into the product, they will order it for delivery, or pick up in store.

If they go to the store, they might have half a mind to check out the rest of the store before they go straight to picking up their locked-in product. This decision is fueled by a few factors: 1) The locked-in product, feeling already “purchased” in the consumer’s mind, did not yet fully satisfy them with the purchase action. This gives them mental space to stack extra items on the same check out. The consumer’s reasoning behind this: “Since I’m here, I’ll scan the store’s products to remind me of what else I might need.” 2) The locked-in product, while tirelessly examined and studied prior to arriving at the store, can now be physically compared to the other items. Perhaps there was something the consumer missed in their research, and a better alternative, might be right nearby. The consumer: “Did I really make the right decision?” Once they turn into the store, they can also participate in the factor number 1. 3) They simply like going to the store, so might as well burn some time window shopping, even if they are fully locked-in on their pre-purchased product.

Used gear and the proud consumer

The proud consumer can also find a story of discovery in used gear. Used gear inventories are typically not posted online; this shopping expedition will be physical, into shops with used gear. The fun of used gear is that you don’t know what to expect when coming up to its racks and shelves: It might be a waste of time and full of frayed junk. Or it will have the exact size and fit and brand that you’ve always wanted. You just have to be there to see your success. The story of used gear discovery is journeying to the store, walking around, checking out unique pieces of gear and pulling out your phone to see what others might think about it. If it’s unique enough, and there’s absolutely nothing online about, you might find that it’s worth purchasing as a statement of fashion.

A used gear section adds unpredictability to a shopping experience that is typically painstaking and methodical. It rewards the consumer for entering your shop without having to dangle discounts and loyalty rewards. Whereas all the new products can be staunchly MSRP, the used gear section provides the consumer solace that they might find a good deal anyway.

Random suggestions for those with used outdoor gear shops.

Keep your used section away from the internet. Attract customers to your physical location because their wallet is much looser on-location. REI instituted this as a way to cope with the pandemic, but it’s no good local businesses. Every insight into your store is that much less foot traffic inside.

Provide notifications over your social media hinting at what additions might have come during the week; the consumer can be attracted by the brand, but they can’t feel entitled to the brand’s availability in the used section, and will just look for other items once they find that it’s gone.

I recently read about one major factor in Vilhjalmur Stefansson's pre-requisites for an expedition leader in the far north: “must have good circulation”.

I don't know if my physiology would fit the bill; within 20 minutes hiking in -15 to -30 degree weather, my toes and fingers would start to freeze under layers of socks and gloves and liners, etc. Even with a light glove with heavy, waterproof mittens on top, my fingers would not make their own warmth, so pockets and buttcrack use was a must to regain feeling.

However, I solved the foot issue. When I arrived to the area in December, the weather was holding out at minimum -10 degrees, many times cracking 0 by mid-day. During that period of relative “warmth”, my work boots—the fire-ready Lowa Baffin Pros—would start to freeze over in 30 to 40 minutes, which was acceptable. After working out on the trails for hours at a time, my toes got painfully cold to the point of cutting short excursions outside.

The utilitarian, unfashionable crowds of Alaska have concluded on two types of boots for weather below -10: Mukluks and Mickey Mouse boots. Mukluks appear to be a favorite for women seeking a mix of Ugg aesthetics and high insulation against negative temperatures.

The Mickey Mouse boots, or bunny boots, appear to be a staple among men that know they'll be in the cold for long periods of time. I've seen them on mechanics and dog racers and Wal-Mart shoppers. Bunny boots are military-style insulated boots and can be called Mickey Mouse boots because they are comically rounded and huge-looking for the wearer. The more authentic variants of bunny boots will have some odd airborne-optimized nozzle for air on the outer side of each boot.

The bunny boots were lent by a friend, and they were a lifesaver. I have never gotten cold feed with bunny boots. At worst, the lack of breathability for the boot can cause foot sweat to cool a bit, leaving lightly damp feet. At -33, I was still able to do a bit of work outside for two hours. My hands and face still got cold, but feet were unaffected. Another huge plus is that as a wide-footed person, I have troubles with foot cramps due to narrow constructions. Their rounded features help make the boot feel comfortable in any circumstance; I double-sock, so that might help cushion excess room I might have in the boot.

When I get back down to CONUS, I'll surely keep an eye out on a pair of bunny boots. They're probably the cheapest way to feel comfortable in sub zero temperatures. I think I've seen them in military surplus shops, but be sure to see if they are authentic.

I’ve visited Outdoor Gear Exchange a couple of times now, and am always impressed. The alternative brand and gear selections compared to the REIs and Dick’s of the world make it a place worth visiting just in case you want to see a bit of what’s on the other side of outdoor outfitting—those cottage industry brands that are mainly online or hide out in small quantities around a passionate climbing shop. 

Even better, I also haven’t found a better consignment gear shop (I am hoping Las Vegas’ Peaks and Pedals will continue to improve as they just started last year—the owner is extremely knowledgeable and has good ambitions for that shop), which appears to accept really quality—and hardly popular—pieces that are truly functional for one’s needs. There may be a snowball effect—customers see quality used goods in the consignment section and then add their own quality goods.

Similar to what I’ve seen in Salt Lake City’s Gear Room, brand samples are available in limited quantities, usually 50% off retail price. The Gear Room had Scott, Patagonia, and possibly Salomon (or else a big Salomon fans is dropping off goods over the past few months). I believe I saw Black Diamond at Outdoor Gear Exchange. Samples are typically cutting edge, technical pieces of gear that are outlandishly expensive, but at least some trailblazer will rave on about their discounted version.

Last year I wrote about The Gear Exchange and its use of used gear to attract people to the store, but also its ability to keep people around with useful and alternative brands to the usual “outdoor lifestyle” shop. My satisfaction with the shop hasn’t changed. However, my argument about the unpredictability of used gear became outmoded as REI instituted a returned product section in many of its stores—this didn’t solve REI’s issues with brand variety, but has added a notion of randomness to its shops—any day and you could find something that you might have been looking for but didn’t want to pay full price. I’ve found a few electronics and camp chairs using the initiative—the prices are exactly what I would pay for. The Gear Exchange continues to be at the top of mixing diversity and curation; shop owners would do well to learn from its successes.

The Moki Dugway near Cedar Mesa in Southeast Utah.

The Moki Dugway near Cedar Mesa in Southeast Utah.

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