Perfect Things 2012: This We Like
2012 Editors' Choice
Class III rapids and perfect-fit ski boots. Gourmet s’mores and cheesy resort-area bar bands. Anoraks, endorphins, sporks, grilling in the snow, and go-light booze. Our outdoor pleasures are a mix of the good and the guilty—so we made a list. Plus: the killer comeback tale of Lolo Jones.
1. Burly rubber boots
All the Alaskans we know wear Servus’s Xtratufs ($129).
2. Cheap coffee mugs
Like the one with the perma-stain and the lid you never lost because you tethered it to the handle with that bit of now filthy P-cord.
3. Dutch ovens
Not everything tastes better in the backcountry, but cinnamon rolls, lasagna, and apple cobbler sure as hell do. GSI Outdoors’ Hard-Anodized Dutch oven cooks almost as evenly as cast iron but weighs a third as much ($110).
Ice shanties. Treehouses. Stone alpine huts. Totally safe for work.
5. USA Pro Cycling Challenge
The throngs of fanatical fans atop our favorite Colorado mountain passes. Levi Leipheimer’s win. The star-studded field. Just listening to Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett talk about how much they love Vail and Aspen. We could go on.
6. Falling dams
Back in September, the National Park Service began removing the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams, monsters that had been plugging up some of the best whitewater and salmon habitat in Washington’s Olympic National Park for a century. Then, a month later, they blew a hole in Condit Dam on the White Salmon River to the southeast. These three removals—the biggest in American history—give us hope that the four dams on the Lower Snake River, currently blocking the Northwest’s once epic salmon runs, will fall before long.
7. Honey Stinger Waffles
An energy food that tastes good with coffee. Finally ($1.40).
8. Via Ready Brew
Speaking of, Starbucks’s instant coffee really is as good as everyone keeps telling you it is. $4 for a package of three.
9. No cell service
There are only a few spots left on the map. We cherish them.
10. A simple bike
Without shocks or disc brakes or any derailleurs. The kind you can fix yourself without really knowing what you’re doing. Example: Linus’s Roadster Sport ($639).
11. Cam straps
The only addiction that’s good for you.
13. Not feeling invincible
Like when you’re hiking or swimming in places where there are big, scary animals.
14. Photochromic, polarized sunglasses
You don’t need to understand the fancy technical terms—or worry about a thing, really. All you need to know is that they lighten or darken depending on the amount of available light. Try Smith Optics’ Chiefs on for size ($219).
15. Bad Dogs
Every time I see a dog lunging at the end of its leash, teeth gnashing, owner braced like a tug-o’-war champ, I think of my rotty-shepherd-Doberman-chow-wild-boar mix, Minnie. Lil’ Mins was rescued from the highway, a quaking, stick-limbed runt with a glossy black coat and horned ears, and I promptly enrolled her in obedience school. She was just as promptly kicked out after jumping on the instructor, a mirthless woman who defended herself with a plant spritzer (a little too zealously, in my opinion).
Minners went on to a bright career in terror, snapping at kids, former friends, countless Texans. Once, while I was skiing, she ram-charged a speeding snowmobile and got smacked ten feet into the air. Another time, on a walk with my elderly father, she yanked him off his feet and dragged him along a gutter before he could let go of the leash.
The Puppy Diaries? Rin Tin Tin? Please. Min’s biography would be called Snarly and Me. Still, I’d take my rez dog over your hypoallergenic designer hybrid or preening American Kennel Club show pony any day. I know that inside her beats a little golden heart that, no matter how misguided, really wants to be good. Whenever Minoozers and I go hiking or biking; whenever she’s perched next to me in my pickup truck as we sail silently through a midnight blizzard; whenever she curls up at my feet, patiently awaiting her next barking paroxysm or cat mauling, I think, warmly: I would take a bullet for that mutt.
And one day I probably will. —Nick Heil
You pull out your fancy energy bar. Your buddy pulls out a king-size Snickers. And you think, damn, I shoulda brought one of those.
18. Industrial-strength sleeping pads
Bed down like rafters do: NRS’s Paco pads are puncture-resistant, redonkulously thick/heavy/big, and completely awesome ($200).
19. Terrible cover bands
Especially the ones found at the bar at the base of your favorite ski resort starting at about 3 P.M.—sporting Hawaiian shirts, gyrating their hips during extended guitar solos, and tearing into Billy Joel and Don Henley with reckless abandon. We salute you, Saturday afternoon heroes.
20. The other black ice
The hard, smooth, strong kind that miraculously forms on small lakes and sheltered coves and makes for ideal ice skating, hockey, or just slip-sliding around.
21. Portable booze
The stuff that’s as drinkable as it is packable, like Clif Family Winery’s 1.5-liter Climber Pouch ($17).
22. Riding in the back of a pickup truck
23. Versatile, indestructible canoes
You can load up Old Town’s Tripper 172 with kids and dogs and lunch and cruise around the lake. You can strap in several weeks of supplies and run whitewater rivers. You can wrap it around rocks in the middle of rapids, drag it across shallows. But try as you might, you can’t really destroy one ($1,590).
24. Topo maps
25. Extra-plump rockered skis
We’re especially fond of Salomon’s Rocker 2’s ($935).
26. Studded tires
Unless chains are called for. Then chains.
27. GoPro's Hero 2
Because your P.O.V. huck looks sooo much gnarlier when played back on the slo-mo setting ($300).
28. Leaving the camera at home
Because that same huck looks even better in your memory.
29. Jumbo-tired mountain bikes
Hossing through the snow on one of these fat boys is absurdly fun.
Because following them has led me to the most incredible finds. The width of a roadside, the age of the trees around it, the plants growing along it, the rock layers within it, are a Rosetta Stone, unlocking the story of a place. Neatly mown grass roadsides, something Aldo Leopold lamented even in the 1940s, are an abomination. People that anal won’t let anything wild remain.
But a nice shaggy ditch? It means interesting folks are around. I’ll cruise it, looking for flashes of blue or yellow from blooming native plants. True, most roadside vegetation is of the noxious-weed variety, but tracking the rare wild survivors, following tufts of Indian grass like bread crumbs along back roads, has led me to some of my favorite places—a forgotten drainage canal full of threatened species, a private trout stream hidden in the alders, a goat prairie never touched by a plow. Last summer, a burst of purple on a neglected shoulder led me to a strip of rare plants, including a mass of endangered gentians just a few feet from the road. When I rolled by a few months later, they were gone, the mower’s tracks still cutting through the gravel. —Jason Daley
31. British Columbia
32. Barefoot running shoes
More than anything, they helped us realize we’ve been running in too much shoe.
34. Dependable flasks
Like Stanley’s Classic ($20).
35. Familiar crossroads
Whether we’re heading to Salt Lake City (440 miles west), Jackson, Wyoming (430 miles northwest), or Montana (400 miles north), we always find ourselves refueling at Love’s Travel Stop, on the south side
of Cheyenne, guzzling bad coffee in good spirits.
36. Scraggly, asymmetrical Christmas trees
The kind you cut down yourself. On national-forest land. (With a permit.)
37. The thalweg
In science-geek terms, the thalweg is the line connecting the lowest points along a riverbed or valley, thus marking the natural direction of a watercourse. In river-rat terms, the thalweg is almost always the line of fastest flow in any river.
38. Badger Balm
Works just as well in the tundra as it does on diaper rash ($8).
But only when the term is used correctly, like when Jeb Corliss wingsuited through a cave in China last September on live TV.
40. Bulleit Rye
The one with the green label. Years of trial and error have led us here. Without it, this list wouldn't have been possible ($28).
41. Double Chairlifts
In terms of intimacy, a high-speed quad chair is more Vegas buffet than candlelit table for two. Trams? Aerial cattle cars with hoppy beer farts. Although they’re much maligned and slated for extinction by profit- and vert-maximizing ski execs across the country, the double chair is skiing’s perfect lift.
Part of this has to do with the social dynamic the double chair demands. On a quad it’s easy to pull up your hood, hunch into your little corner, pretend not to hear. On a double, going silent isn’t just awkward, it’s an effrontery to the social contract, a slap in the face to a fellow skier.
Besides, you’re missing out. I’ve argued foreign policy with snowboarders, talked about circling ravens with an ornithologist who rode shotgun, and discovered countless powder stashes thanks to locals all too willing to give them up to somebody simply willing to chitchat.
The double chair also gets the pace of skiing right. You feel like you’re part of the landscape instead of whipping through it. Skiing isn’t supposed to be about racking vertical. It’s about chatting quietly with your best friend or a total stranger as you scout your next line and appreciate the mountains in winter.
Even one kid-free lift up with my wife is like a flirty date night. It was on double chairs that my squally childhood relationship with my older brother became a lasting bond. As a prepubescent boy, I once sat hip-to-hip and thigh-to-thigh with my seventh-grade crush, just hours after glimpsing her floral waffle-weave long underwear on the ski bus. It was the one and only time I managed the courage to talk to her. It was frigid, as I recall, and I’d been shivering all evening, but for that one perfect ride on the double chair, I was burning. —Marc Peruzzi
42. Second Chances: Lolo Jones
Back in 2008, during the buildup to the Beijing Olympics, newspapers couldn’t resist the Hollywood headlines. The From Homeless to Hero (USA Today) tale of Iowa-raised track phenom Lolo Jones, for whom there was No Hurdle Too Great (Los Angeles Times), seemed right out of a screenplay: single mother, father in prison, six different primary schools, three brothers and a sister, beans for dinner, living in a church basement. Running was her one constant. She started racing in eighth grade, set Iowa’s 100-meter-hurdle record as a senior at Des Moines’s Roosevelt High School and was given a full ride at Louisiana State University, where she was an 11-time all-American. She arrived in Beijing favored to win the 100-meter hurdles. Read More
43. L.L. Bean
Because of its awesome return policy. Because it still sells hand-sewn moccasins and old-school snowshoes ($329). Because it has never cared about being cool.
44. Getting “inter-lodged”
A rare, maybe five-times-a-year occurrence at the adjoining resorts of Snowbird and Alta, in Utah, when there's so much new snow that they don't allow you to leave the lodge. Because when the avalanche danger is mitigated and the restriction is lifted and you’re once again free to leave, you'll be in powder heaven, with the day-trippers stuck on the other side of a closed road for a couple of hours at least.
45. Ski boots that don’t hurt
Or cause your toes to go numb after three runs. Achieving this level of comfort may require a boot wizard. Find one at bootfitters.com.
46. The U.P.
47. Fancy cycling bibs
Like all the absurdly expensive models made by Assos (from $180). They’ll change your whole undercarriage situation. Unless it’s really grim—then add the chamois cream ($20).
48. Neo-pagan rituals
We’re partial to those that prominently involve corpses (Nederland, Colorado’s Frozen Dead Guy Days, during which a revered body kept in a local shed is feted), a combination of ski jumps and fire (Crested Butte’s Vinotok), or five-story papier-mâché dolls symbolizing gloom (Santa Fe’s Zozobra).
49. Class III rapids
50. Grilling in the snow
Is it something about making fire when it’s cold? Or just the undeterrable love of cooking outside? Does it matter?
51. The North Face Base Camp Duffel
Super-durable and versatile (you can wear it as a backpack) (from $90).
42. Timing the Flow
I live where the West begins, on the cactus-and-yucca-studded rim of a rock canyon through which flows a pristine stream fed by thousands of springs. I am not, as you might think, describing a remote ranch. I live less than a mile outside the city limits of Austin, Texas.
The body of water is a little geophysical marvel known as Barton Creek. It is one of the very few crystal-clear streams running through the heart of a large American city and—when it rains hard enough—home to the best whitewater in Texas. The right conditions never last more than a few days. But as with a powder day or a massive ocean swell, the tiny, ephemeral window of opportunity is the whole fun of it.
Here is the way it goes: A violent thunderstorm unleashes a roiling wall of water through the canyons. I call a set of friends who have been running this stretch of Barton Creek with me for more than a decade, and we start plotting. The water soon recedes, and then thousands of springs, newly recharged, take over. Soon the creek settles and clears, swollen and rolling now at 300 to 500 cubic feet per second. Then I call in sick.
We put in just upstream from my house, at the start of a rollicking seven-mile run through several dozen sets of whitewater rapids, mostly in the Class II–III range. There is everything a kayaker could want: swirling holes, standing waves, ledges, undercut boulders, surfing waves, lovely crystalline water, and almost no sign of urban civilization as you run through sculpted canyons along banks dense with cottonwood, pecan, willow, live oak, and sycamore.
After a three-hour paddle, we end in the heart of the city, and a good thing, too—most of the whitewater will be gone in a few days, and it is time to get back to work. —S.C. Gwynne
53. Aleksander Doba
He is a 65-year-old Polish adventurer who last year paddled across the Atlantic in a 23-foot-long sea kayak. The 3,345-mile journey took him 98 days and 20 hours. Up next: the Pacific.
54. “Your Girlfriend Cares That I Tele” bumper stickers
55. Local ski hills
Like Jackson, Wyoming’s Snow King, where a season pass costs $150, one-tenth as much as the going rate at the town’s better-known resort.
56. Excerpts from gear reviews
Ones we didn’t have room to print, like this from legendary tester Dave Cox: “There’s an old saying in Wisconsin, mostly said by old Wisconsinites: ‘The only thing you can do with a pair of gloves on is pee in your pants.’ I thought about this while wearing Sierra Designs’ Transporter ($79) last winter. At some point while zipping up my bibs, it dawned on me: No way, I’m not taking my gloves off for this!”
57. Going for It
It was the summer of 2002, and my buddy Jake and I had just moved to Bend, Oregon. I was 20 and Jake was 19. I think that’s why we thought building a raft out of fallen trees and clothesline and floating an unfamiliar section of river seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea.
Each Thursday, Bend hosted a concert along the Deschutes River in a park downtown. The plan was to put in a few miles upstream and arrive in grand style, impressing all the young women in attendance. Half a mile from our start, however, the river began channelizing, the water speeding up through Class II–III rapids. Then a sign warned of waterfalls.
After some debate, we decided to abandon ship. Crestfallen, we watched from shore as our raft cartwheeled and splintered through Class IV–V rapids. We hiked back to the start and made our way to the show the same way everybody else did: by car.
It didn’t matter. After nearly dying on a raft you built yourself, talking to girls is pretty easy. —Jared Criscuolo
58. Guilty pleasures
Including, but not limited to: clipping ski tickets; grease bombs; yoga pants; rolling your own cigarettes on an expedition (the only time it’s OK to smoke); poaching hot tubs; big frickin’ bonfires.
No pumping or priming or bleeding or tinkering. Just put on your shoes and go.
60. The sun’s first rays
That amazing feeling you get when they finally hit you on a very cold morning at a campsite.
61. Swimming goggles
In every bag you ever pack. You never know when you might want to stick your head in a lake/tidepool/puddle and have a look around.
They’re back. Again.
63. The original wool Stormy Kromer cap
It’s a bit Elmer Fuddish, especially with the earflaps down, and you might see the occasional hipster rocking one. But so what? ($35).
Not Appearing On Our List
1. Absurdly multi multitools.
2. Tanner Hall’s Twitter feed. Sample: “THIS TUNE IS MAAAAAAAAD!!! CALI YA CRAZY WITH THIS ONE!!! DEM A BOSS MAN A DON DADA!!! INSPIIIIIIIIRED!”
3. La Niña. (We live in New Mexico.)
4. Energy-drink advertising pamphlets masquerading as magazines.
5. The Keystone XL pipeline.
6. Cobalt, azure, cerulean, aquamarine, and other words, often used in travel writing, that mean “blue.”
7. Saddle sores.
8. The Amazing Race.
9. International telephone numbers. (Why no dashes?!)
10. Kids on leashes.
11. Overdesigned water bottles, especially those made out of trendy materials or with complicated lids.
13. “Seggy,” “footy,” and any other abbreviations for film footage. And while we’re at it, it’s Indonesia, not “Indo.”