July 9th 2014

This is my 4th week of volunteering for Rio Coco in Utila, Honduras. Next week I will be heading to Vero Beach, Florida. So far, in the 23 years of my life, I have never had plans change as drastically as they have this year. Right now I am supposed to be in West Virginia hiking to Maine on the Appalachian Trail raising money for AmberFund Scholarships. One of my greatest passions is hiking, enjoying the beauty of creation, and today as I sit on the back porch of my current residence I am overwhelmed by the view. A vast body of water of which I live right next to. I have had the joy of snorkeling, swimming and paddle boarding on the clear waters of the Caribbean for nearly 4 weeks now. During which I have had plenty of time to ponder. During the months of March, April and May I felt as if my life was on hold. My knee was ruining one of my greatest dreams. A dream that I had been thinking about everyday for almost 2 years. I am not a person who gives up and for one of the few times in my life I felt as if I had been beaten. I was injured and was put on the bench until further notice. X-rays showed nothing wrong with my knee. My MRI showed nothing wrong with my knee but lo and behold when I hiked 3-4 miles with ascents and descents the pain started and to continue forward was a battle I knew I couldn’t face, especially for 5 months on the Appalachian Trail. So my starting date of April 15th passed by. With no clue where to go from there I applied to 5 ministry jobs. 4 of which I got called back for interviews and 1 of which I was offered. I applied out of a feeling of lack of purpose. Once I realized that a ministry job in the states could be a reality I prayed for direction. To my dismay I felt sick to my stomach about taking any of these jobs. There was no peace. 1 month later I found myself still in Vero Beach, Florida. While hardly making any money I began volunteering at a “Humanic” Coffee Shop. Rio Coco Beans. The first I had heard of Rio Coco had bean an early morning in college over 2 years ago. I woke up to the smell of my roommate making coffee. He offered me a cup. I noticed the words, “Rio Coco” on the bag of coffee beans, drank the coffee, and went to class. Who would have thought that just 2 years later I would be overseas volunteering for that very coffee shop.

This has been a tough few months for me. However, since my time here I have realized a few things.

1. Purpose is not found in a well paying comfortable job.  Yes, logically I know this is the truth. That purpose is found solely through Jesus Christ. I’ve known this for quite a while. However truly applying it to ones life is a different ball game. Knowing its completely safe to jump off a bridge with a bungee chord attached to you versus actually jumping off that bridge with the chord is much different. Intellectually understanding that purpose comes only from Jesus is one thing but Mentally applying it to your life is another. It requires you step off that bridge. Which can be terrifying.

2. I am not as flexible as I would like to believe. I grew up in a church with the Acronyms COP which stand for Cathedral of Praise. All of those heavily involved knew they stood for something else, “Change Of Plans.” I’ve always assumed that I am very flexible because of the practice of change I received from my home church. I was wrong. I learned how to be flexible with things that aren’t of high personal importance. Such as changes in music, messages, chair arrangement, meeting times, etc.  These things were never truly changes in my plans but changes to a group of peoples plans. When my personal plans of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail went out the window it was very difficult for me to cope. No one could really tell but inside of me was a overwhelming theme of, “unsureness” which threw my mind into chaos.

3. Sometimes what I want is not what God has for me. Some of the greatest advice I received was from one of my worship pastors back home. When I didn’t know what God wanted me to do with my life I went to him and asked for his advice. I told him I had prayed and prayed and prayed but had not received an answer. He said to me, “Nick, what do you want to do? Because when you are close to God, his desires become your desires.” I took that advice a little to far. Staying close to God and reaching for my desires while rarely asking him for direction. I still think this is great advice however I would add that sometimes it is the wrong advice. Sometimes what God has for you is not what you want for you. God knows me better than I know myself and I wonder that if I would have truly sought God on the decision to hike the Appalachian Trail in one go if I would have had a peace about it. Asking for God’s direction, staying close in a relationship with him and chasing healthy desires both mine and his are all vitally important.

As for now, I have 1 week left here in Utila. There are so many people here that I connect with. These people are backpackers. They come from all over the world. New Zealand, Australia, France, Israel, Chile, Argentina, United States, Canada, England, and many other places. Their stories are riveting and sometimes shocking. Many of these stories I am trying to grab on film to show the world. I have 9 days left and would like at least 3-5 more interviews. So if you are reading this pray that God intervenes and brings to me people willing to share their stories so I can share them with you.

 

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UltraLamina 15 Review

This is a review of the Ultra Lamina 15 degree bag from Mountain Hardwear.

UltraLamina pic #1

UltraLamina pic #1

I have used this sleeping bag a lot. Most of you can tell just by looking at the pictures. It is starting to look sorta pitiful. It has seen multiple section hikes and when Im not using it someone in my group probably is. Its been compressed a ton and has until recently been my go to bag.

UltraLamina pic #2

UltraLamina pic #2

Im going to be honest. I do not like this Sleeping bag. There are to many things I dislike about it to give it a good review. However I want to discuss the good things first. This bag has a great hood. Cinches really good and is very comfy through the night. I have the six foot version. I am 5’6. It is plenty roomy for me. I can sleep on my back, side or stomach without feeling restricted. It’s a nice looking bag. There are no cold spots in this bag. The insulation is consistent throughout the bag. I love not having to fret about the bag getting wet. One night on a section it got wet because I had the bright idea to put a trash bag around the foot area to keep water from getting to it. I woke up and the lower half was a little more than damp. It dried fast, kept its insulating properties and didn’t lose its warmth.

UltraLamina pic #3

UltraLamina pic #3

Another great thing about this bag is it packs down crazy little. I have yet to see another synthetic bag pack down this small. Its crazy. People say down packs down smaller than synthetic and that is very true. But this bag brings the competition between down and synthetic closer. That said I just purchased an EE Revelationx 30 from Tim at http://www.englightenedequipment.com and that quilt packs down 1/2 the size of this bag. You may be thinking, ” Yea but it is rated at 30 and the ultralamina is rated 15 so that makes sense that it packs smaller.” Wrong. The UltraLamina is not a 15 degree bag. It is more like a 25 degree bag. Here is were I begin the negatives of this bag.

UltraLamina 15

UltraLamina 15

I have never experienced such hate towards such a small object. A zipper. When I have to urinate and the zipper of this bag refuses to let me do so it is terribly irritating. When the mice in an AT shelter get at my hiking bag and I cant get out of my sleeping bag to get at those little peckers it is terribly irritating. When I wake up in the morning and it takes me 5-10 minutes to get out of my bag because of the zipper it is terribly irritating. Point made. The zipper is terribly irritating. It gets worse. I thru’ed Georgia’s AT in May 2013 and stayed at mountain crossings. I slept using this bag but it was warm in the hostel. Maybe high 60’s and due to the fact that the zippers (which are on both sides) only zip down 1/3 of the bag my lower body was super hot. Why couldn’t they use one zipper and make it 2/3 length rather than having 2 zippers at 1/3? It gets worse. this bag says its rated at 15. This is not true. Its good maybe to 25. I sleep just slightly warm when I have enough nourishment and when I used this bag in the teens my feet were frozen. March 1st 2013 near blood mountain temps dropped to about 18 degrees. I wasn’t terribly cold but I wasn’t warm. Yes, I used a pad. Yes, I was in a tent.

Conclusion: I give the Mountain Hardwear UltraLamina 15 a 4 out of 10. I do not recommend it. I have retired it. And I probably wont sell it. Its not versatile. It’s not warm. The bags temperature rating is at least 10 degrees off. However it is somewhat light 2lbs 10oz and packs down pretty small. Its definitely not worth the 260.00 it sells for. Do yourself a favor and buy a different bag. Last thing. This is not a Mountain Hardwear issue. They make great gear. I have another bag made by them that is exceptional and a rain jacket that is top notch. This particular item though, kinda sucks.

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Sleeping Bag (MH Phantom 0)

This review is for the sleeping bag on the right of this picture. Mountain Hardwear Phantom 0 degree bag.

Phantom pic #1

Phantom pic #1

I’ve used this sleeping bag for only one section hike. I usually try to stay away from weather that would require me to use a 0 degree bag. I used this bag in the Himalayas. The weather never got lower than 20 degrees but I’d rather be safe than sorry. So I haven’t used this bag anywhere near its temp rating. All I can say is a was super toasty in the 20’s at night and have no doubt this bag would be comfortable down into the single digits.

Phantom pic #2

Phantom pic #2

This bag has 800 fill goose down, its a snug cut. I wouldn’t recommend this bag for a large build person. Rather Id push them to one of Montbell’s stretchy bags. This bag comes in at just over 2 1/2 pounds which is very good for a 0 degree bag. Mountain Hardwear really overdid it with this bag. It is a beautiful piece of gear. I enjoyed taking it out of my pack every night. Its just easy on the eyes. It takes some time for it to fluff up after being compressed all day but when it does the loft is quite impressive. However when compared to a Western Mountaineering bag or feathered friends I’d assume its not as high quality. Still, its a dependable, light, and warm bag.

Phantom pic #3

Phantom pic #3

In pic #3 you can see the hood. The hood cinches tight and the draft collar is very effective. I did not feel any heat loss from the bag through the cold nights in the Himalayas. I have yet to sleep in another sleeping bag that has as nice a hood as the Phantom does. The guys at Outdoorgearlab concur. They say, “The Phantom is equipped with the best hood design of any sleeping bag weve tested. Specifically, it was the only one that remained comfortable when the hood and neck baffle were fully cinched.” I have found these guys to give somewhat reliable reviews and couldn’t agree more with their opinion on this bag. Here is their review, http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/Sleeping-Bag-Down-Cold-Weather-Reviews/Mountain-Hardwear-Phantom-0

Phantom pic #4

Phantom pic #4

Here in pic #4 you can see the loft of the bag after it had been setting out for a while. The sleeping pad I was using with this bag was a Thermarest Ridgrest SOL. Nothing fancy. I only wore underwear to sleep. This is the regular version of this bag which is good for people 6 ft and under. Im only 5’6 so this was plenty for me. I was able to wiggle around, sleep on my side, stomach or back. I even tossed some clothes in the bag to keep it warm through the night so that putting close on in the morning wasn’t horrifying. It was not constricting to me at all. For a larger male this may be different. Now this bag is not cheap. The street price looks like it ranges from 380-580. I got this bag with a coupon on sale. I ended up paying only 240 for it.

Phantom pic #5

Phantom pic #5

Phantom pic #6

Phantom pic #6

Now to talk about the packed size of this bag. Its kinda huge. Like I wouldn’t be able to carry this in my Golite jam 50. I have to switch to my osprey Aether 60. Now I don’t really know What size is good for a 0 degree bag but the two pictures to the right show the size of this one. You can make up your mind if it is good or not. I’ve thought about selling this bag many times because I hardly use it. But I got it for so cheap and I know that one day I may need it again and wouldn’t forgive myself if I got rid of it. So for now, it sits in my closet. Hope this review helped you. As a conclusion I would recommend this bag to a friend. However I wouldn’t recommend it at 580.00 dollars. At that price one could buy a western mountaineering bag. I would recommend it for around 380.00 dollars. You just need to find it on sale.

Conclusion: I give this bag a 7 out of 10 only because it is so expensive. If you can find it for less than 380.00 then it is a 10 out of 10 bag. For 585.00 you can buy a kodiak MF from Western Mountaineering that will be better than the Phantom 0.

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