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Overlooked markets for Superfine Merino; assessed by a minimalist backpacker
Recently, while backpacking and volunteering throughout Central Australia and SE Asia, I found myself in some sticky and sweaty circumstances with lots of opportunity and little gear. If you travel minimalist as I do, then versatility of each item in ones’ pack is the name of the game. With this in mind I purchased several pieces of Superfine Merino (SfM) from Ice Breaker for my limited travel wardrobe knowing the obvious pros: light weight, comfortable, breathable, quick drying, no-stink, etc. Through some unpredictable events during my travels, I discovered several unconventional uses for my SfM.
One such situation occurred, when, at the last moment, I was invited to join a snorkeling expedition on the island of Ko Tao in Thailand. Though a rash vest would have been ideal for sun protection and as a barrier between skin and abrasive surfaces. I gave it a go in my SfM Crush Long Sleeve Hoody. Merino proved to be a viable solution when there wasn’t time to locate or funds to purchase ideal gear. Although natural fibers (in this case wool) aren’t quite as durable as closed cell synthetic materials (rash vests are generally made of neoprene), I found the wool held up well for a novice rarely making contact with rock and coral. Needless to say, the 50 UPF rating provided great skin protection against sun exposure. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that SfM, when submerged in water, feels just as comfortable on the skin as when sweating on land. Because the fibers don’t absorb water, the garment tends to move freely in the water and doesn’t weigh the user down.
In a limited wardrobe, having garments which are comfortable when wet or dry also proved to be an advantage while acting as a volunteer pool lifeguard in an Indigenous community out bush. Because conservative dress is of the utmost importance and the job demands frequently getting in and out of the pool, fabrics which dry quickly and are comfortable when wet are important. Garments which move well in water were also desirable while organizing and participating in competitions with children ages 2-14 years. Over long hours in the conditions described, a rash guard can be cumbersome, restricting, and unflattering. I found the Dart Shorts (150 ultralight) and the Zest short Sleeve Crew (150 ultralight) performed remarkably.
When traveling with limited gear, time and again, Icebreaker SfM proved to be a solution to my toughest backpacking predicaments and funds. Weather exposing my SfM garments to extreme ultra-violet rays, salt water, or chlorine in public pools, over the last 6 months these products have demonstrated superior performance in unconventional circumstances. Not to mention there durability; not fading or stretching after 6 months, and coming out cleaner as a result of the adventure at hand. I look forward to seeing how SfM will come through for me on future travel opportunities.
Preface: Recently, when servicing a garment with Icebreaker, in Portland, Oregon, on warranty, I was reminded of the superior products made from superfine merino, the many unconventional purpose they have served for me as a minimalist back packer, and the renew-ability of wool as a textile resource. I could tell many tales which attest to the reliability of merino in a variety of predicaments, the following is a cherished memory that wouldn’t have been the same without my Crush Hoody and Cascade Vest
When the suggestion of hiking to the highest elevation on the Australian continent was first proposed I knew merino would be the only suitable insulation choice. One late September afternoon on the retail floor in Canberra, the countries capitol and gate way to the Snowy Mountains, a co-worker and I began to plan our assault on Kosciuszko Peak, 2,228 meters. Admittedly, this time of year was a risky choice in terms of weather, but if the atmosphere wasn’t on our side at least our merino would be. Wrong time of year or not, I was getting ready to depart Canberra and continue my travels, this would be my last chance to nab Kosciuszko Peak and say I’d climbed to the highest point on a continent. Lucky for us, we were employed at Snowgum, a distributor of Icebreaker, and had intimate knowledge of what merino pieces would best serve the expedition. With our textile contingency plan in place, we confidently plotted.
Fast forward a week. The first thing I noticed when exiting our vehicle at the top of Charlot Pass, the furthest drivable point on our path to Kosciuszko, was how comfortable I felt in the strong gusts sweeping the tundra flat. It seemed I had chosen wisely with the three part layering system in which I had vested my chances for warmth. The first layer was an Oasis Long Sleeve Crew, followed by my all time favorite Crush Hoody, and finally the Cascade Vest. Each layer on it’s own had pours large enough for the wind to penetrate, however, in combination, the superfine weave seemed to over lap and although I wasn’t wearing a wind breaker or shell, the pieces accomplished a similar purpose quite well.
As we began our gentle climb over rolling hills with sheets of deteriorating crystalline cobbles and and alpine streams, my temperature never seemed to fluctuate. A few hours and many miles into our hike, when normally covered in perspiration, accompanied by shivering when stopped, with my body wrapped in merino, my internal thermostat seemed to regulate with greater ease. When we yielded to our tummies for lunch in an old shack atop the final saddle nearest the summit, I found my meal much more enjoyable without sweat laden garments chilling my back.
On the last stretch of grading, a few feet from the summit now, flowers lining the trail, the sun began to break through the clouds which had loomed since leaving the parking lot. As I slathered my face in SPF I shed some layers. Leaving on the Oasis Long Sleeve Crew, I was grateful to know I would be protected by the 50 UPF rating which comes with every Icebreaker garment, no liquid film required. Although exposure atop the peak forced the replacement of all layers previously removed, it was little inconvenience compared to uncomfortably sweating in a shell or shivering in most breath able outer layers. Greeting a Raven as we reached our destination, I wondered if Merino had ever grazed these grassy knolls called mountains. They weer there with us in spirit, on our backs. Summit captured, comfort achieved, gear chosen wisely.
In extreme exposure I remember why I consistently choose merino. Not only are the insulatory properties of wool an ancient anthropomorphic technology, it is backed by thousands of years of evolution by an animal living in harsh and unrelenting geographies. Better yet it’s renewable. Although late winter isn’t ideal for pleasant whether in the high lands of the Australian Capitol Territory, thses proved prime conditions for merino to show case it’s versatility.
I was lucky enough to join Jen at her internship/work for Southern Cross University on the day that she helps clean the tanks at the university aquarium! Here is a taste of some friends I met there! Also, we went for a morning stroll on the beach just behind the school and found an “egg” from a Crested Horn Shark in the picture above (it seems quite brittle to have come out of female body parts…..).
Some of the most amazing parts of Christmas this year were:
1. My cousin Kris becoming engaged to the lovely Marinelly on Christmas Eve. Kris, you were like a brother to me growing up and I can’t wait to give you and M giant hugs upon my return to the US. It was great to see you on skype if even for a moment. I love cous.
2. Enjoying the overcast whether of Canberra on Dec. 25th-reminded me of home. The sunny days sprinkled with bike rides (I had a massive accident and cheese-greated my hand on the pavement just in time for my Great Ocean Road 5 day hike as well), yard work, yoga and ciders with old work mates by Lake Gininderra were a nice lead up.
3. Kicking it with Waldo. I don’t really know any celebrities and he is really down to Earth. Not what you would expect at all. Pleasantly surprised.
4. Watching Cami at her first Christmas. Such a treat.
5. The amazing dinner Momma and Papa Losik put on complete with Turkey! It was Momma Losik’s birthday and she still put out a massive effort and a really good show. What a lady.
5a. The great presents the Losik and Bulkeley family anointed me with. In no particular order: Briliant tea pot for one and chocolates (Sharon and Luke), Gorgious collectors mug with a paining of my favorite Auss bird, the Blue Ferry Wren (Momma Bulks), Super awesome waighted pen with case to encourage me to write more (Momma and Papa Losik), and girlie-smelling lotion so I can stop being a Tom Boy (Kat and Adam). Def a Chrissy to remember. There gifts made the printed photos I gave out seem a bit rubbish. What thoughtful folks.
6. Whaching all the big kids break the toys Cami got for Chrissy, namely the bubble rocket which was just so tempting to test the pressure loading on…. got to practice better impulse control next year.
New Years 2013 brought a few surprises! The least among them was getting to join the Marsh Family, of Sunbury Australia (outside Melbourne) at the Hofbrauhaus for festivities. The greatest surprise was having such a ball with the Marsh’s I missed my early New Years day flight to Tasmania! The Marshes sure know how to show a girl a good time. With high lights including pork nuckle, party hats, champagne, dancing, fire works, and lots of laughs, it was a night I won’t soon forget. In the famous words of new Aussie friends: We drove it like we stole it.
The icing on the cake was the fenom arvo cook out we had at St. Kilda park after a long sleep in. Played my first round of “backyard” cricket (even caught an out), got to work some magic on the grill, and enjoyed the gorgeous birds and brilliant flowers in the park. The cook out reminsed me of all the BBQ’s Dad has hosted over the years and that any cooking skills I have on the coals I owe to him. Miss you pops and your smoker.
When will I get to Tassie you say? Better get on that right now… Photo’s from The Great Ocean Road soon to come.
Dearest Bulkeleys, how lucky I am to have you as a second family. To think my alternative Christmas would have been riding the train for 3 days form Perth to Melbourne on Christmas Eve and Day. It seems the lone wolf has found a pack at the bottom of the world. Or maybe the pack found a lost wolf. Whether you all found me or I found you I don’t know. What I do know is some of the most gorgeous memories of my life have happened in the past 7 months in your company and around your country. And now, in response to the many questions I have received thoughtfully begging “just how did you get to Australia?” And, “how did you meet your roommates?”, I will now recount the legendary story of how the Bulks met their lost wolf…
It was a dark but not stormy night at the base of a 3,000 ft. rock face in the infamous Camp 4. Brian, my former partner and I were already at the site eagerly awaiting the additional mystery couple that would be joining us. As the camp gets quite cramped at this historical landmark, strangers are provided an opportunity to become familiar. And out of the whispering distant epic story yarning and crackling fires in the distance came two voices. To our delight, as the voices approached, it was evident they weren’t American and they were from some other far away land which embraced pleasantries and cheery salutations. After we introduced ourselves, we quickly bonded over a poached shower, stealing of fire wood from some emo-teenie-boppers, broccoli spaghetti, and a concern for the parasite which claimed Sharon’s intestines as a home. I recall thinking to myself “wow, that Sharon is really something! Getting rescued off a hike in a stretcher, what a bad ass.” I vowed to be just like her when I grew up. And soon it was time to say good-bye, but not for long.
Sharon and Luke would come visit us in our new home in Bend, OR, renting a car and driving all the way from California, just before Luke was to win his rookie of the year award for facial hair at a Thanksgiving competition. Sharon was so proud. We wined and dined at the best Bend has to offer, hikes next to the Deschutes, soaking in the Turkish style pool at McMinamens, enjoying Bud Wheat beer, and Sharon taught me how to prepare pumpkin risotto.
Fast-forward two years and several huge life changes for the Collins crew, now 1, and the Bulks crew, now 3. I was unsure whether to take this kind couple up on their offer to visit such a distant country. But they insisted that they liked lost wolves, it would be no imposition at all, and that I should catch the soonest flight.
When I saw Canberra for the first time, I was floored. Rolling hills, suberbs hidden in the shade of valleys, a market in each community, an intricate network of bike paths connecting everything, world class museums, pristine lakes for recreating, and people I would rank amongst the lovliest in the world. Staying with Sharon and Luke in their home was an absolute treat. Would you beleive that Luke acctually squeezed orange juice for the house nearly every morning? There was never a loss for a bike even if I had a flat, Sharon taught me the art of taking a hot water bottle to bed in the winter, Cami’s midnight cries always made me feel at home, I found a love for massaman and other curries, and the office episode nights are some of my favorite memories. Sharon helped me with my resumes, Luke and I dominated Nav Sheild together, and they both let me build the recyclops (my bike) on their gorgious slate floor in the kitchen. While I didn’t expect the cold of winter to be so cutting in Canberra, the warmth of the Bulkeley house hold was every bit as warm as anticipated. How lucky I am to know these people and their family. Sharon, Luke and Cami, I love you guys!
It seems the loop bike ride around Lake Burley Griffin was the perfect endeavour as I prepare to exit Canberra once again. The lake, aptly named for the puppet master who executed design of the city, Architect Walter Burley Griffen, is the center piece to an already stunning capitol. While riding, I recounted some of the events of the last 6 months…
While away, so many changes have occurred in the US publically, politically, and personally. Wreaking havoc on anything in its path, the largest hurricane on historic record, Hurricane Sandy hit the United States East Coast in late October. Killing 196 people and causing $62 million dollars in damage, expenses exceeded those of Katrina. Although I was largely away from televisions at this point of my Australian journey, I followed Hurricane Katrina news quite diligently, a resident of Mississippi at the time, and can only imagine the multiplied damage. Only last week a 26 people were killed in a school shooting in Connecticut. What should I say to Australians when I am asked why America has such liberal gun laws? Freedom? I am just as surprised to find myself a representative of a nation as I am to find that in other countries they frown upon common access to assault rifles and concealed weapons. My country re-elected President Obama. For fear of controversy on what is meant to be a peaceful platform, I will leave it at that.
That covers publicly and politically. What about personally? The 50k ride in and around the lake wasn’t quite enough time to address this question. I will have to continue my assessment as I hike The Great Ocean Road outside Melbourne just after Christmas over New Years.
What an epic hike! Kosciuszko Peak, highest point in Australia, did it, thanks for coming!
Cassie King is my super inspiring, amazing outdoors woman, pumped up nurse, stellar climb slayer, and generally extraordinary friend I met early in my climbing and college career who just graduated nursing school. Cassie is also arguably in love with Oregon and mexican food as much as I. Reunited 10 years later and not a thing has changed, just more adventures and bigger numbers for our recent birthdays. I am hoping to keep the high energy fun flowing during our Reunited-after-10ish-Years-Post-Christmas-Adventure in early January when we take on Tassie, also with the lovely Shelly, featured in the pink bra in the slide show above. If you weren’t totally sold on collinsrosks previously, I think the Tassie trip could really get the viewers numbers up. I have also pledged to bring my lap top along and be far more diligent about updates- so stay tuned. Sneak peaks of our outlandish inappropriate public behavior include breaking into dance this evening during Skyfall, the new James Bond movie as well as numerous impromptu a capella renditions of Bruse Sprigsteen (guess what my theme song is in Oz…) and Cindy Lauper songs. My one request is that you don’t judge kindred spirits when they are doing good work. I hope everyone thrives on awkwardness as much as I. Shout out: Cassie, you are the best.
I love riding the train because you always meet friends!