How To: Waterproof Your Own Topo Maps

There you are – out backpacking, biking or touring in “sub-optimal” (read WET) weather and need to pull out the map for a quick direction check.  If you are using a non-waterproofed map it’s pretty much game over at this point.  Soggy maps and folding do not mix, and before long your trusty lifeline back to civilization is deteriorating before your eyes. As a backpacker, splitboarder, backcountry skier or mountain biker, if you haven’t been there yet, you will.

A ton of maps come in durable, waterproof versions, and National Geographic makes “Adventure Paper” to print your own, but there are still many maps that are not.  Key among these are the standard USGS topographic maps that are key to anyone who ventures off the beaten path.

The solution: DIY waterproofing.  Here’s how to do it:



TIME REQUIRED: About 1 hour to apply, 72 hours for full drying


COST: $6-12 depending on size of sealer product purchased (plus an ~$8 map)


The first step is to rig up a hanging apparatus for your map.  Mine consists of two twist ties tied to two paper clamps tied to the chandelier.  Get creative and work with what you’ve got.

Layout your map on a flat surface, gently stir the map seal and quickly brush on a thin coat using the provided applicator (some versions have a foam brush which is much easier to get an even coat). Make sure you cover the map evenly.  It can help to have a light shining at an angle to easier see where you have and have not applied the sealer.


After applying a coat, hang the map up using the clips and ties or clothes pins for about 5 minutes.  Once tacky, repeat the procedure above on the SAME side making two coats. Again, hang to dry, this time for about 30 minutes.

After the first side is dry, repeat the process with the back side by applying one coat, hanging for 5 minutes and then applying a second coat.  Finally, hang the map making sure it does not contact any other surfaces or fold over on itself (it will stick) for at least 72 hours before using it.


Once complete, not only will your map be waterproof, but much more durable and foldable.  Now go get out there and use it.



Changing Gears … (reluctantly)

After another record breaking hot day here on the front range, even the 2″ storm that is in the forecast for the local mountains is failing to excite me.  The trees are all in bloom, the rivers are rushing and the trails are clear and smooth… yuck!

I think I’m going to call it: The snow season that never was is officially OVER!  After months of dissapointment, this is my attempt to get things moving toward the positive: Climbing and biking season is here… um… yay…. I guess.

Love this section!

Took a quick trip to a local favorite trail (Betasso Preserve) for a ~6.5 mile loop on a nice warm sunny day last week to try to get me back in the mood for warm weather sports.

Making it work at Betasso

Getting back in the saddle

Sunshine is nice

Honestly, it was a lot of fun.  I missed my bike and getting out for a good ride felt good for the soul.  Even the dogs got to go enjoy:

At least the dogs are digging the weather

Really, there isn’t much to complain about. The true beauty of living here is that there is always something awesome to do. 14er season will be here soon, backpacking and camping up in the Indian Peaks, biking, climbing, fishing, ect ect ect.

I won’t say that I won’t be back on the snow (in fact I just went up to A Basin on Friday) but my super optimistic thoughts of powder may just be over.

Freaky Cold French Creek Camping

It’s not like I knew it was going to be freezing cold.  When Ryan tells me the temperatures outside I usually respond with, “So… does that mean it’s JEANS weather, or SKIRT weather?”  Little did I know it was going to be 5-Layers of Long Sleeves weather.

Jess spent most of the month of November soaking up the sun and warmth in California, so what better way to reintroduce yourself to the Northeast winter weather than to spend 3 days 2 nights camping out in subfreezing temperatures!?  It was actually Jess’ idea, believe it or not.  As a small celebration to some new found freedom (“Smeagol is Freeee!”) and a WHOLE weekend to work with, we made a trip to French Creek State Park for a car camping trip.

Day 1 – Trip up and first night in camp

After picking up all the camping gear from storage (having assumed we were done for the year) and packing it in the car, we hit the road on Friday afternoon to make the hour long drive out to French Creek.  Well, it was supposed to take an hour.

And, if I may propel this blog entry off on a tangent, herein lies my disdain for Philadelphia:  I like the city, most of the time.  But, I just cannot get myself to agree with spending 2 hours in traffic in order to do something that brings me such an immense amount of excitement and joy.  If I wanted to spend most of my time fighting traffic, I’d move to Los Angeles where at least they get traffic with sunshine.  I know there exists a place where we can do things we love, like camping, hiking, and mountain biking, with ease.

About 2 and a half hours of traffic later, we ended up in a nearby town where we hit up a grocery store for some provisions.  This mostly consisted of whatever junk food and easily campfire cookable foods we could get our hands on.  With all of our emphasis on eating healthily throughout the year, we always splurge the most when we go camping.  But we also end up having some of the tastiest creations you can imagine, all without any kind of utinsiles or dishes and all cooked over an open flame.

You wouldn’t think that eating only meals that can be campfire baked in tinfoil or sizzled on a stick would be “luxurious.”  Oh, but it is.  It most definitely is.  Spend the season backcountry camping and you’ll quickly learn, as I did, to appreciate the luxury that is tin foil!  I’m so thankful that I’m not a Paleo Purist in times when we go camping.  I mean I had a cinnamon roll and even a S’more – I FREAKIN LOVE CAMP FOOD.  Plus, doesn’t the body use up more calories while you’re shivering in freezing temperatures?  I think I learned that on a documentary about climbing Everest!

We made it up there after dark, got a fire going and set up camp.  We cooked up some hot dogs and downed some snacks before heading into the tent for our first round with nightime sleeping arrangements.  Jess and I slept in our individual bags and rogue just floated around trying to get warm with her blankets but overall I think the cold won the first one.

Whoa, whoa, whoa – let’s backtrack because the description “Jess and I slept in our individual bags…” is a bit of an understatement.  *I* did not sleep.  Some of us had to fight toe-tingling pain from feet that get too cold while others got to snuggle up in a warm and cozy zero degree DOWN sleeping bag.  (But, I’m not pointing fingers.)  And the poor dog barely made it through the night – I had to cuddle her closely to make sure her floppy ears didn’t fall off from frostbite.  The cold gave us a beating.


Warming up in the magic bag by the fire before night 2

Day 2 – Boy Scouts & Geocaching

Of course, our alarm clock Rogue woke up as soon as there was a hint of light outside and whined and licked faces until I got up and let her out.  I got the fire going again and started breakfast which consisted of campfire pinchbread and grilled kielbasa sausages (yum!).

Like bite size cinnamon rolls cooked on a campfire... yum!

It was a nice peaceful relaxing morning by the fire until about 1100 when this group of boyscouts came convoying in to move into about every site surrounding us.   They were nice and all but boy were they loud.  It was amusing watching them all try to set up tents but the giggling and funny noises they were making contrasted a bit with the crackling fire and rustling leaves.

I didn’t complain (out loud) about the incessent yelling across 4 campsites to talk to fellow scouts because, at the end of the day, I think it’s GREAT that tween boys are outside, learning to pitch a tent and trying to start a fire.

To get away from the noise, we decided to fire up the GPS (not to be confused with putting fire on the GPS – that would really hurt Ryan’s feelings) and go hit a couple of geocaches in the area.  I found the first one (it was easy) and then Jess found this little gem that was much harder.

Oh, Ryan!  You’re too generous… it was FREAKIN’ 100x harder!!  We almost gave up and started heading back to camp.

Overall, we ended 2 for 2 and made it back to camp in time to make a delicious dinner of campfire sliders!  They were amazing!

What was most amazing about these Sliders was that we cooked them all on a campfire using nothing but tin foil and a titanium spork!  I am most proud of that!  If Mom could see us now!



Night 2 – Finally!  We Sleep!

After the first cold night, we knew we needed to make a couple of changes to the sleeping situation for night 2 in order to get some good rest and stay warm.

The first night was so miserably cold, in fact, that we contemplated getting in the Kia, driving 30 minutes away (with the top back, windows down) to a Target store to stock up on Hot Hands hand warmers.  BUT, OH, THE FAUX PAS!  We are a backcountry breed!  Car camping is such a luxury for us as it is, so to DRIVE to a TARGET to buy “warmth”??  Oh, no, no, no.  We had to come up with a better, more genius, more “Rarrr, tough it out ’cause we’re so hardcore” solution before nightfall!

So Jess took our bags and unzipped them and then turned one inside out and the other upside down so we could zip them together to make one gigantic sleeping bag that we could both fit in.  (I’d like to point out that I did this with glove-less icicle fingers since gloves really blunt my dexterity.  It took me 5 times longer (conclusion: frustration) but we got it!) While she was doing this, I got some water heated up and poured it in a couple of Nalgene bottles to put at our feet in the sleeping bag.  Result – TOASTY!  Almost too toasty, had to remove the water bottle half way through the night since our feet were practically sweating.  We slept great and will definitely do the zip together thing again next time.

Since Mom and Dad are probably reading along, I would like to say, “No worries, Mom, we totally kept our clothes on.”  🙂  But, the rules of outdoor survival, as we all know, states that you and your friends should get completely nekkid and huddle together in the event of hypothermia.  Just so you know. But that thought never crossed my mind as it was far too cold to be taking any of my 5 layers off. Oh, and I slept like a BABY.


Day 3 – Rogue Likes Snow and Mountain Bikes

The last morning started with opening the tent flap and seeing snowflakes floating down around us… yeah it was cold.  Started up the fire again (see a theme here, fire is good!) and got our morning started with some more cinnamon pinch bread, some creasant rolls and pigs in a blanket cooked over the fire.

We relaxed in camp laying by the fire reading magazines and books while Rogue explored the woods and the neighbors in her never-ending quest for sticks and someone to throw them.

Chillin with my BC mag


Rogue and her sticks!


As the firewood ran out and Jess sucked out the last of the warmth that it could provide, we got on our bike gear to do a short ride on the surrounding trails.  I rode with Rogue once before and she eventually got the hang of staying back, but after about a quarter mile and one Rogue-caused crash, we realized that it’s just not going to work today.  I’ve got some work to do with that pup still before she’s ready to ride.

I’m never going mountain biking with that dog again!  Long story short:  I’m nursing a bruised crotch here, people.  An injured CROTCH. And, yes, that “crotch” part deserves all caps.

Rogue already getting in the way


After that, it was pack up and drive back.  I must admit that I was very impressed with Jess’ ability to hang in there with the cold.  I’m pretty sure she actually stuck her feet IN the fire on multiple occasions but she didn’t complain and I think she actually enjoyed herself.

Yes, actually, I DID enjoy myself despite being cold for 2 days straight and burning the wool in my Uggs boots trying to warm my feet up.  See, Ryan!  I can totally handle the cold (as long as it comes with a dose of sunshine!)

Now Rogue, on the other hand, froze her nub off and was all smiles when we finally got her home in her luxuriously warm dog bed.

Xterra Dirty Grizzly

It’s always interesting, that feeling on the Monday after a weekend that you’ve been anticipating for a while.  You don’t know whether to be relieved, happy, sad that its over or excited that you can move onto another activity.

This last weekend was one that I’ve been looking forward to for a couple months now, the weekend of my XTERRA race.   The XTERRA Dirty Grizzly was an offroad triathlon that included .5miles open water(pond) swim, 10-12 mile mountain bike and a 5k trail run.  I don’t really know why I signed up looking back, except that my calendar looked really blank and I didn’t have a training plan for anything going on, which just felt too weird.  Also, really, it was a good excuse to get back in the pool (which I really missed) and to motivate me to spend some more time in the saddle mountain biking.

My training plan consisted of Crossfit in the morning and a run/bike or swim in the afternoon, mostly using the CF Endurance style of high intensity intervals and time trial/tempos on CF Rest days.  I must admit, I had a blast training, especially with the mountain biking.  What made it the most fun though, was getting Jess involved (see our Dirty Grizzly preview post).

Alright, enough build up, lets talk about the race.  We drove up the night before and stayed in a hotel about 20 minutes away since the whole check in and transition stuff opened at 0600 and I wanted to not stress about making the drive that morning.  With this being my first triathlon ever, I was really learning as I went and admittedly copying a lot of the other guys around me.  Like, I had never put a number on my bike before and at first I was lost thinking “how the heck do I put this thing on, I didn’t bring zip ties or anything” but then I found the twisty ties in the swag bag and saw what the other folks did and I was good.  Here’s my set up for transition area:

After I set up my stuff, I went to go grab my swim cap and get my race markings which consisted of an assembly line of marker wielding chicks who wrote 59 super big on each arm and handed me a swim cap.  We had a bit of time to kill so we went and scoped out the swim start area which left a lasting impression of two words: “GOOSE S#!T”  The stuff was everywhere, which just grossed Jess out more than it bothered me cuz if it was this bad along the edge, the water must be just full of it.

After the prerace briefing it was time to get in the water.  Overall the water was super warm, too warm for wetsuits which worked well for me since I don’t have one, didn’t want to buy one or rent one and had never practiced in one either.  I was sporting just my pair of trishorts that I got for the race which was kinda ackward since it felt like I was just chillin in compression shorts in a huge group of people.  Weather was gloomy and cool, probably just making it into the high 60’s which would prove to be awesome later but was not too inviting for the start.  3…2….1… go!  What an eye opening experience, basically like trying to swim in a washing machine filled with rubber mallets.  Arms, legs, heads hands all smacking around looking for their own piece of pond to go forward, stroke, stroke breath to the right: Nope person there, stroke stroke breath to the left: Nope someone there too… hmm guess I’ll just keep stroking then.  Eventually things spaced out a little but I never really got in much of a groove on the first 1/4 mile loop.  Second loop started to space out and I think I was toward the front of the middle pack at this point.  I finished up the swim and started my trot toward the transistion area, and yeah I never even thought about the goose pooh.

SWIM: 12:04

First transition was good, I chewed down some chomps while I got dressed, I wasn’t trying to go super fast and kept it cool, threw on my gloves, finished my chomps and trotted out with my bike to the mount area.

T1: 4:55

Now the fun begins, the bike was really THE defining aspect of this race, as I knew it would be.  With the run and the swim both averaging less than 30:00 each, the almost 2 hour bike leg was really the bulk of the event.  Since Jess and I had previewed the course already, I knew what was in store and that I should really just pace myself and keep moving.  Well, the keep moving part sounded good in theory, but the one thing that I had never experienced in my training and preview was the traffic.  You could really tell out there who trained on their mountain bikes and who were the roadies and indoor trainers that were trying to take their skills offroad.  It was obvious because they would fly by me on any paved portions or double track only to get all up in my way on the singletrack.  This is pretty much how the whole of the first lap went.  Steadily climbing, I would get stuck behind folks in the technical sections and work to pass folks just to get passed by them cranking it out on the wide flat sections.  I was feeling pretty good and confident in my riding skills knowing that I didn’t have the legs of some of these guys, we played leapfrog all the way up the mountain.  On the way over the summit and down the gravel road on the other side I start to feel a little more of the rocks and bumps of the trail for some reason.  Then right as I reach a straight downhill gravel road that I would have just Bombed, I look down and see that MY REAR TIRE IS FLAT!!!  Bummer, all that work to climb and as soon as I could make up for all that slow stuff, I get a flat.  I pull off and start the tube replacement, watching all these folks I passed come flying by me at like 40mph.  I finally get my tire situated and start down the hill and back to transition for lap 2.

Lap 2 went much smoother, more room between competitors and no flat tires.  The course had a few technical sections and couple of fun twisty parts too.  There were 2 super steep parts that everyone was dismounting and walking up but otherwise it was a smooth ride back into transition.  Oh… except I almost forgot to mention my spill.  After cresting the ski hill on the second loop it was time for the crazy downhill section.  The course followed this gravel path across the mountain before turning straight down the ski slope and I was cruisin down this gravel path when I came to this somewhat sharp little turn in loose gravel, of course I was a bit fatigued and may not have been paying too much attention so I totally slid out and tumbled a little, no big deal just a couple scratches and bruises to make for a better story in the end.  I dusted off, clipped back in and moved on.

BIKE: 1:38

Transition here was pretty quick, I took a couple extra seconds to down some energy Jelly Beans just to make sure I didn’t bonk, changed the shoes and shuffled back out for the run.

T2: 3:15

The run was a pretty nasty 5k up the other side of the mountain.  We didn‘t preview this part of the course so there was no telling what was in store.  For the most part I only found and passed a few people on the run and was otherwise all alone for this part.  The worst part is about 4k out of the 5 was uphill with the last 1k being a steep downhill on a gravel road, none of which felt great with already spent legs.  I made the final dash down the hill with the rain starting to fall and the clouds keeping the sun off.  Came up to the shoot where Jess was waiting snapping pics and cheering me on through the finish line.

RUN: 28:51

TOTAL: 2 hours 22 minutes

Overall, I had a great time.  Treated it more as a fun challenging day vs a race which made it much more fun.   There was a good vibe out on the course with the other competitors, which was good since if I would have been trying to win, then there would have been a lot of frustration at people botching the bike in front of you and making you dismount and go around them, blown tire, ect ect ect.  Overall, it was what I had hoped for, a challenging fun time outside in the “mountains.”  

The Dirty Grizzly Preview

Ryan is racing in his first off road triathlon… actually, his first EVER triathlon!  I’m so, so, so excited for him and can’t wait to watch him rush through transitions this Sunday.  The last two weekends we went up to Bear Creek (it’s usually a ski “resort” in winter) to preview the course.  The first time we just walked the course with Adventure Pup, the second time we actually rode it on our 29ers.

The course is definitely technical for a beginner (ahem, ME.)  I “previewed” the course in an exhausted state of mind and body.  I now average about 4-5 hours of sleep a night and my coffee consumption has gone up more than 300%, it seems (read: I’m dehydrated most of the time.)  Saturdays are my only days off and I choose to spend it outside enjoying what little is left of Summer.  Add to that the fact that this was only my 3rd time on the new Motobecane and only my 2nd time clipless and BAM (!) instant frustration and astronomical amounts of disappointment and discouragement within the first mile of the trail. What little confidence I had quickly diminished.

And then the TEARS started fogging up my lenses.  ‘Cause in my world there is no “Well, you did well CONSIDERING you were exhausted.”  There is only “I can” and “I cannot” or “I did” and “I did not.”  And when I’m tired and I cannot, it’s pure disappointment.  I can’t perform without my confidence.  Just can’t.  Plus, I felt like I was slowing Ryan down and that is NEVER a good feeling for me.  BUT, by the end of the ride I was doing much better. I somehow managed to get my “line of sight” skill back and my “eye-bike” synergy was in full effect.

Ryan, unlike me, is going to TEAR up this race!!  I know it.  We grabbed some clips of us riding the easy parts of the course.  I was concentrating on not shitting my pants or trying not to fall off the edge of a tight switchback during the rest of it.  I wish I had more time to ride my mtn bike and develop more confidence.  I have the potential to be good at this – I can FEEL it.  I think that was what was most frustrating.  If only I had been on my bike more, I would’ve been better prepared.  But, whatevs, it’s not my race afterall.  :o)  Regardless, I’m glad I got to ride/walk the course with Ryan.  I’ll sort of know what he’s experiencing on race day and I kind of like that.

Gone Clipless

I went clipless this weekend!  After my first ride on the new 29er, I KNEW I wanted to be stuck to my bike on downhills.  There is something quite annoying about my feet flying off the pedals on a fast downhill.  So, I was determined to be clipped in by my second session on the bike.

I only “fell” maybe twice.  I fell into some thorns when I couldn’t get out of the pedals fast enough.  But, I was fully expecting to fall going into the ride, so I knew to expect it at one point or another.  I prepared myself for a fall by wearing tall socks.  ???  Don’t ask.  It makes perfect sense in my head.  Oh, and falling in slo mo while stuck to your bike is kind of scary.  AAAAH!!

Being clipped in has made a huge difference.  This time around I was able to just hop right over logs that tripped me up last time.  Now, if I could just learn to clip in super fast, I’d be 300% satisfied.

We totally jump right over HUGE obstacles with these bikes.  (Not really.  Well, sort of.)  I’m thoroughly amused with this picture of Ryan.  Bootay!

Not-So Itty Bitty Motobecane Fantom 29

So there IS such a thing as a 13″ 29er!  I didn’t think I’d ever be riding a mountain bike, much less a 29er mountain bike, because it is so hard to find a bike for people my size.  (Or, maybe I’m just not looking in all the right places?)  When I got my road bike, we had to have a bikeshop owner call up a friend in Cali and ship over a youth-sized Fuji velodrome bike.

It was pure DEEEE-LIGHT when my new 13″ Motobecane Fantom 29 arrived… and just in time for my birthday!!  When it comes to gear, especially gear that I am unfamiliar with, I have found that it works to my advantage to just have Ryan pick out everything.  He has fun picking out an entirely different set of equipment, and I just relax and wait for the finished product.

I don’t know what all he did but it involved switching out the pedals to Crank Brothers Egg Beater (I insisted on going straight to clipless riding), ordering a new straight bar and a flat RaceFace stem so that I could fit the bike a little better.  WHO KNOWS!  All I know is I got hooked up.

I about freaked when he put together the bike and I saw just how HUGE it was.  It’s like riding a bus.  Honestly, I might as well be riding a ginormous beach cruiser.  It was also harder to turn at first.  I swear, I’d turn the handle bar and lean but the bike just kept wanting to go straight.  I finally got the point that I have to be more aggressive with turns on this bike.  Ryan was saying it’s because the bigger wheel diameter makes it such that there is centri… centri… centrifugal force (?) wanting to keep my bike traveling straight when I want it to turn.  (Actually, I just now asked Ryan and he just replied, “It has angular momentum at the rotating wheel.”  Huh?)  All I know is:  It’s a big bike and i hit my crotch on the top tube once already.

Here I am giving it a test ride out in Pennypack Park.

Some detail shots… I have no idea what those parts are.  Eventually I’ll have to learn what they’re called and what they do.  But, for now I’m just enjoying learning to ride.