Gear Meltdown!

21 11 2009

Gear Meltdown…

This morning I got a text from my wife that read:  “Call Matt M right now:  312-504-…”  To which I replied, “Why?”  Finally she writes back, “He needs some gear guidance ASAP.  He’s at REI having a breakdown!

Intrigued, I picked up my hot chocolate at the Coffee Studio and called Matt right away (Click on his name – he’s a great friend of ours and an amazing writer who has a witty and inspiring blog about fatherhood).  He had just left the Lincoln Park REI and was as frustrated as I had ever heard him.  His mission was to find a winter cover for their B-O-B running stroller and some winter running gear.  His frustration stemmed from the fact that he could find neither.

Let me start with the stroller.  If you have ever been to the Lincoln Park REI, you would know that walking in to that location is what I imagine would be the result of a B-O-B stroller factory explosion – I don’t know if B-O-B has the amount of inventory in their own warehouse that the L.P. REI has.  For the young, crunchy and yuppie couples of Chicago, this place is paradise; apropos since in the same building is an exclusive daycare and the surrounding area is full of families with our similar fear of fleeing to the suburbs to raise kids.  All of this to say that I would have bet my life on the fact that this particular REI would certainly have the stroller covers…and they did not…

Not having kids or any on the horizon, I had little to offer in terms of quelling his frustration.  Sorry buddy!  So I turned to his other issue of winter running gear.  Now cold weather gear can be found everywhere but because of Matt’s schedule (and utter disdain for running indoors), he runs in the evening, and by that, I mean in the dark.  His frustration was that most of the gear he found at REI was either black or otherwise dark in color.  That, and the selection at REI was limited at best.

Two thoughts immediately came to mind.  First of all, there is a running store in Andersonville (a northern neighborhood in Chicago) called The Runner’s Edge.  My wife and I were walking around the neighborhood a couple of weeks ago and stumbled in to the store and they had cold running gear that I haven’t seen anywhere else.  I fell in love with the store.  High-end and expensive but completely dedicated to running in this area only.  I will be buying my next pair of shoes there and plan to do a review post afterward.

My second (and more insightful) thought was to look in to cycling gear instead.  Cycling gear is, of course, designed to be used in the midst of traffic and is usually made in vibrant colors or with reflective strips, etc.  The idea and design is basically the same and my advice was to look at a bike shop or in the bike section of REI if he could stand going back.  There may be some slight design differences but he actually might find them helpful.  For instance, cycling jerseys have pockets in the back that he could utilize on longer runs for Clif Bars or hand warmers.  Tights and tops are basically interchangeable from running to cycling (i.e. triathlon transitions) so I immediately thought this may work.

He doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to ask him to contribute what he finds.  Even if he decides against going with cycling gear, there may be someone else with a similar predicament that may find his solution helpful.  I (or he) will post how he was able to abate his frustration and find some “flashy” cold weather running gear.

Stay warm and visible!

PS – Matt’s call this morning is what this blog is all about!  Please feel free to call or email me at any time if you have questions or concerns about gear.  This is the stuff I love and if I don’t have an answer, I know how to get one for you.  Thanks Matt!  Email: Phone:  312-401-9304 – DR


Packing. What do I need?

17 11 2009

FYI – I plan on starting a new series on packing for travel of all kinds.  I have recently been asked by a few different people to add some content on this so it should appear soon.  I have asked some friends to help and as you read, if you would like to add your own thoughts or would like me to cover certain topics, please feel free to let me know.  I will gladly include your thoughts or if you would like to make an entire post that you author; just let me know…I want this blog to become a compilation of work by others as well.

Peace, Danno

Are we talking BBQ or Gear?

11 11 2009

I’m originally from Texas. I’m proud to be from Texas and there are plenty of things that I identify with from Texas – and plenty more that I don’t. I don’t really get homesick for Texas anymore since I have created a new life (or new lives) since leaving but there are some things that make me miss home like nothing else. One of those things…Bar-B-Que…and not just any BBQ, but BBQ…BEEF! Give me a brisket that has been slowly smoked for 12 hours, a foot-long rib that falls off the bone, smoked sausage smothered in sauce (tomato not vinegar) and I’m as fat and happy as they come. And among the best BBQ that I remember from my childhood came from Uncle Dan’s in Waco, TX. I couldn’t tell you how many times I ate there and I feel confident saying that I can’t remember a time that I left unsatisfied or disappointed. And, being an “Uncle Dan” myself, every time my niece and nephew call me that, it brings back good memories…

Uncle Dan's in Waco, TX

Uncle Dan's BBQ in Waco, TX

So why am I talking about BBQ on a gear blog? Well its not really about the BBQ, its about Uncle Dan’s. Chicago has its own Uncle Dan’s…Uncle Dan’s – The Great Outdoors Store.

Uncle Dan's in Chicago

Uncle Dan's in Chicago

I discovered Uncle Dan’s because they used to have a location in Evanston around the corner from the Whole Foods Market that we shop at. The moment I walked in, I felt right at home. The old store in Evanston was small and cramped with inventory shoved into corners, hanging from the ceiling with that pungent gear store smell that I have already described and so love. It was perfect! I walked in and immediately thought, “I want to own this store.” It reminded me of some of the small mountain town gear stores that I used to frequent as I was first cultivating my love of gear and gear stores.

Upon some research, I learned that this was only one of four locations that they have in Chicagoland. In a metropolitan area of this size (3rd largest in the country) it makes complete sense. This is a diverse area; what applies to one side of town, or even an adjacent neighborhood, may not apply in another.  One of the important things that Uncle Dan’s understands is who makes up their clientele. The Evanston location is in the back yard of Northwestern University and in the downtown area of a pretty wealthy suburb. Therefore, having a bunch of whitewater or Everest-quality mountaineering gear isn’t necessary. They have a great selection of what I call “crossover” gear – that is gear that is designed and made for the outdoors but can be worn to work, out to dinner or walking the dogs. (For instance, I have a Patagonia soft shell that I got at Uncle Dan’s that I wore up Kili and on most days at home when the temps are <40.) They also have the requisite TNF Denali Fleece selection and daypacks (book bags) for the rash of high school and college age kids that flood the area. They also have an equally wide and quality selection for men and women, which many gear stores lack. And, in the spirit of knowing their clientele, they also have a pretty healthy selection of clothing for children (for all of the yuppies who want their kids to look cool and crunchy like mommy and daddy).

The location that I frequent most is the Evanston store. They moved down the street from the original store and have upgraded in size and improved the overall look of the store. It was probably a good move and I’m sure they made the move in an effort to grow, etc., but I have to say, I loved the old place. It had all the charm of a small but serious gear store. Now don’t get me wrong, the new place is really nice. It is certainly larger and not as cramped and they did a great job on design and layout. What I really appreciate about this location is that the store is always well staffed. There is almost always someone to greet you at the door and the employees seem to know what they’re talking about.

I’ve been to the Lakeview store a couple of times and it still has some of the gear store charm that the original Evanston store had but with the chic-ness of a Lakeview boutique. I don’t remember being blown away by the staff but I liked it nonetheless. I have also been to the Highland Park location. This store seems larger than the others but it could be because of the layout – I don’t make it a habit to pull out a tape measure and figure these things out. The thing that stuck out to me at this location was the massive inventory. They had a lot of everything! I walked through at the end of October, so the winter stock was in full effect. They had so many different jackets from so many different makers that I can’t imagine that someone could go in and not find something they wanted. The store is really nice and in a great northern suburb location. My only complaint was that I was not impressed with the staff at all. I went in around noon on a weekday, so there were quite a few people in on their lunch breaks.  Although there was plenty of staff, they seemed pretty inattentive to the shoppers – changing displays, working at the cash register computer, teasing one another. And, being a bit of a gear snob, they didn’t seem like the most gear-savvy folks. I could be wrong because no one really talked to me while I was in there for about 10-15 minutes, but this was my only complaint about this location. I’ve not been to the Wrigleyville store, but I’m sure it’s great…

What I like the most about Uncle Dan’s is that it is a serious gear store but non gear heads can go in there and not feel intimidated or lost. They’ve got you covered on clothing, footwear of all kinds and plenty of camping and backpacking gear. Their pack selection is great and (at least in Evanston) there is someone who knows what they are talking about to get you fitted correctly. One thing that they do well that some other gear stores don’t is outfitting you for travel. They’ve got travel packs, rolling suitcases and duffels that can often only be found online. In fact the morning that Amanda and I left for Kilimanjaro in September, we made a mad dash to Uncle Dan’s (link to blog) to grab some last minute stuff before we flew out.

Finally, you know I love gear stores. REI is like Disney Land to me. But one of the tenants that Amanda and I try to live by is supporting local small businesses. This is among the first of many gear store reviews that I want to do around the country (and hopefully around the world). I hope that eventually I will review one that is close to where you live or that you will visit any of their websites (including Uncle Dan’s) and give them your business. I fully endorse these guys and encourage you to check them out next time you’re in need of some gear…or if you are like me and aren’t always in “need” of gear but you have to have some to get your next fix…

Shop well, Dan

The Gear You Can’t Live Without

8 11 2009

I haven’t asked this of many people but I’m often curious.  I have a feeling that many gear heads or athletes are a bit like me and there is that one piece of gear that they can’t live without.  Maybe it’s a hat that fits just right such that it would only sit on your head without looking funny.  It could be that paddle that you have used to navigate the class V rapids successfully so many times.  Or maybe it’s the lucky Capilene underwear that you have on when you toe the start line of all your races.

For me, its my trusty old Smith Empire Sunglasses that are dangling from the strap on my neck if they’re not on my face.

I’ve been addicted to my sunglasses since I was a rafting guide back in college.  Before that, sunglasses were never something that I wore or thought much about.  At 8,000 feet with clear skies and water beneath you all day, sunglasses become a necessity as much as a fashion statement.  And, unless you didn’t mind buying a new pair every week, a sturdy strap to keep them around your neck and prevent them floating away after a flip is imperative.

For me, the Smith Empires seem to fit my face just right and have been a part of me for the last three years.  Yes, that’s right, the same pair for 3 years!  It’s not a minor miracle, it’s the strap.  After returning home at the end of the summer, I never took the strap off my sunglasses and it has kind of stuck.  Now I kind of feel naked if I don’t have them with me.  They have become as much a part of my routine of walking out the door as putting on my wedding ring, watch and sliding wallet, keys and cell phone in my pockets.  They have also become a bit of a calling card.  On many occasions I have had clients remember me as the guy who always has the sunglasses around his neck or ask where they were if for some crazy reason I didn’t have them.

Good Ole' Smitty's

Good Ole' Smitty Empires

I’ll write a review one of these days about sunglasses but that’s not what this post is all about.  What can you not live without?

Later, Dan

If you need more proof…

3 11 2009

It’s troubling that some people need more proof of global warming. Interestingly, Mt. Kilimanjaro is an incredible microcosm of the larger issues. Here are two stories published in the last two days about the dramatic pace with which the glaciers on Kili are literally disappearing…

New York Times


Sadly, D