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Sweaty in Svaneti Lord Nerd Beta

Sweaty in Svaneti Lord Nerd Beta

08/15/2016 | Tbilisi, Georgia

At first, the best part about planning a trip to Georgia is the confusion which happens without fail because apparently Georgia-the-country is on nobody’s mind.

Sweaty in Svaneti Lord Nerd Beta

I II III IV V VI VII VIII IX

I Prospectus

At first, the best part about planning a trip to Georgia is the confusion which happens without fail because apparently Georgia-the-country is on nobody’s mind.

 

  • Hey mom, how’s it going? Yeah, things are cool I guess, or whatever.
  • Yeah.
  • Nope.
  • Yup, they played this weekend, won 4 to 1, coach says Otto is the real deal and Oliver saved a PK.
  • Oh wait, you know what, I’m actually pretty excited about planning the next Dead Reck. We’re going to Georgia. They got horse peoples, towers, hot-pockets and the mountains are big-as-fuck, like glaciers and shit.
  • Wait what, no, no, nonononononono, the Appalachians don’t have year round snow, that’s not what I’m saying.
  • Listen, Mom, the other Georgia, the fake-Russian one with the cool flag and the Caucasus.

 

But then, after weeks of similar exchanges, it gets tedious and you think wow, this is a problem. I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking you can’t say that about Georgia, you can’t call it fake-Russia. You’re like, dude, that’s racist or xenophobic and/or possibly just callous and inconsiderate. First of all, lighten-up. I was on the phone with my mom and I was trying get her thinking about the right continent—which that brings up two other issues which are: on which continent does the former Soviet Republic lie, Europe or Asia?, and is Eurasia a continent or a notion? Second of all, saying Georgia is fake-Russia is as good as saying it’s the real Georgia. So boom.

 

More importantly, a year ago we had a choice to make. We knew that in the late summer/early autumn of 2016 we had one more international once-in-a-lifetime ride to plan. And as I’m sure you’re aware, the world is a pretty pretty big place. Antarctica was out for obvious reasons, though apparently you can fix your bike to a packraft and drag it while skiing for days/weeks/months through a featureless whiteout, which dooooes sound exactly like the kind of riding we’re into. Africa was also out, but only because of snakes and lions. Also, Africa, let’s talk, I’m sure we can work something out but seriously those mambas are a buzzkill. Lions I can work with, I’ve seen The Revenant. Australia and New Zealand, been there done that. South America, same. And Europe—we have a friend (Marko!) in Slovenia, that would have been easy—has soooo many rules and designations, just like America. Boring. At any rate we had a short list that went like this:

 

  1. The Canol Heritage Trail in the Northwest Territories (Canada). Between Ross River and Norman Wells. Mostly riding but lots of packrafting too, and bush planes. I’m sure it would have been EPIC. I’ve been to Norman Wells and it is, literally, the proverbial end of the road. But also, more bears than people and not exactly the birthplace of culture.
  2. Iran. Right! We were so into it. Kyle was SO INTO IT. But you still need a guide (at all times), at least legally. And it’s still not the best place to take peculiar photographs which, as you likely know if you’re here, reading this, are kind of our favorite photographs to take.
  3. Kashmir. For so many reasons we wanted to go to Kashmir. Here’s the thing. We know a guy. For various reasons that will soon become clear, we need to protect his identity, but for the sake of the story let’s give him a name, how about Dave, David Marchi? Anyway, “Dave” has been there several times leading back-country Alpine ski expeditions. That’s what he does, Dave is a guide. Anyway, he’s been there several times and he’s got it all figured out. Where to go, where to stay, how to not accidentally ride into Pakistan or Afghanistan, or any of the other ‘Stans. But here’s the other thing. Dave almost killed Kyle and I once in Northern California. And I mean, dude, if you can almost get your company lost and dead from starvation in Northern Fucking California, what trouble are you going to get them into in a border dispute conflict zone in space at the top of Himalayan Mountains where you don’t speak the language–not even kinda. In spite of all this, most of the way through the year, Kashmir was clearly in the lead. But then we piled timing and scheduling difficulties onto this problem and Kashmir lost its luster.
  4. Georgia. I don’t know why. Georgia was my idea and I don’t (really) know why. I mean, I think it must have something to do with the mountains, the Caucasus range. And the Olympics in Sochi. And Google image searching Black Sea beaches. And Anthony Marra’s A Constellation Of Vital Phenomenon, wherein (spoiler alert) eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in a midnight raid, accusing him of conspiring with Chechen rebels. And, finally, Bike Magazine’s Kazbegi trip. Also, come on, it’s the Alpine intersection of everything. Russia to the north. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran and Turkey to the south. To the west, the Black Sea. The east, the Caspian Sea. It’s in, when you think about it, a magical spot.

 

At any rate, the deciding factor was some miscommunication about dates. The details are boring. The bottom line is this: a month before our trip, in a mild panic, we booked tickets to Tbilisi, the capital city. We figured that in time, the rest would work itself out. We had no guide, no route and no plan, just plane tickets. Also, no internet access or time to properly plan the trip for another two weeks. Which, when you do the math means this: we did all the planning for our trip (from scratch) in the 14 days leading up to our departure. Maybe that sounds easy to you. Maybe it is easy, who knows? But it stressed us out, like big time. I mean, we can and do run loose sometimes, but this felt egregiously, maybe even gratuitously, loose. But it worked out; here’s how it all worked out,

 

  1. With Kyle’s help we called Joey Schusler, an adventurer, photographer, and videographer who was integral in pulling together the Bike Magazine Kazbegi project. He told us about Rooms Tbilisi. Soooo good. Thanks, Rooms Tbilisi.
  2. We found this site and emailed its author. He responded, we skyped, he was SUPER helpful. We could have done it without him, but only because his site is so detailed and accurate.
  3. Kyle found a guide in Armenia, who put us in contact with Tamaz aka Tazer. Who, really, when it comes right down to it, made so much day-to-day shit either easier or just plain possible. He was a wealth of historical and cultural insight. Also, side note, this is the first time we’ve ever travelled with a guide; in the past that piece was always built-in in the form of a friend or friend of a friend. But Tamaz was 100% an unknown quantity. He was tough and he can ride. But we brought him a bike. This was his first time bikepacking. Maybe that’s irrelevant and/or maybe it at least adds a little dimension to an already dimension-full experience. You be the judge.

 

Regarding Georgia, one more thought. My whole life, I’ve been fascinated with intersections. And incongruences. Intersections should be obvious, that’s where things meet, duh. Have you ever sat on a corner and just watched shit? I mean, you have, right? Comings and goings, goings and comings. Language, fashion, culture, trade, spices, whatever, all of it, it’s all coming together at intersections. Now look at a map. Africa meets the Middle East meets Western Europe meets the Mediterranean meets Russia and Siberia and the Baltic meets Asia (India, China, Japan, Korea, et cetera et cetera) in Georgia. So, I mean, if I’ve got a thing for 14th and Everett in NW Portland, you can only imagine how I feel about Georgia. Incongruences is harder to explain. I think I like shit that’s confusing. And you know what, intersections ARE inherently confusing. And double you know what, Georgia is a confusing intersection. It’s in the middle of everything and has been since forever which means it’s seen its fair share of comers and goers. As such, and not surprisingly, many (maybe most) parts of it have been conquered several thousand times by everyone from everywhere, while other parts of it have never been conquered not once by nobody. And those parts, the parts that have never been conquered are, no surprise, in the middle of a frosty plate tectonic fortress called the Caucasus Mountains. Which is exactly where this story takes place. So yeah, Georgia, it’s amazing, let’s talk about it.

II Welcome to Tbilisi

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When you have your mouth agape, it's a sign that you are either A) stunned B) just stupid or C) finally on the ground after traveling for 30 hours. Also, what's up with that sweat shadow? Alsox2, Brian doesn't seem to be too shocked. #differentstrokes
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This sparkling water tastes like it's had shrimp floating in it. Tazer said that Georgians call it shrimp water. It's gross. But we kept drinking it. Maybe we experienced the Stockholm Syndrome of taste.
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Did you know that our friends at Poler are making these special high end Orange Label bags? Well, now you do.
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Did you know that Yonder Journal is making special high end Dyneema Composite (FKA cuben fiber) pouches, dopp bags, and musettes? Basically little high-end hot pockets made out of future materials and featuring zippers? Well, it's true. At least that's the plan.
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If Brian Larson were to put out an album it'd be called, Knoll, Droll, and a word with Nick Kroll.

III Building Bikes in a Courtyard, Again
The Dead Reckoning crew performs a bicycle construction play in the courtyard of Rooms Tbilisi, a hotel currently under construction. #meta

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I mean, that's a good-ass packjob. So tight, so compact, so heavy.
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Tazer showed up in the dopest kit. Did he know it was gong to match his bike? This kind of thing doesn't happen by accident. This is a worlds-colliding, prophecy-coming-true, decree-of-God kind of thing. I mean, how can it not be?
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Some of us rode our bikes before this little adventure. And some of us didn't. No judgement.
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You have to start somewhere.
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Locusts. Next stop, darkness.
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Darkness.
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This bunny lives in the courtyard. I don't think they have a lawnmower. I think the bunny does it. Pretty cute idea.

IV Touring Tbilisi
We walked, we did sweats, we viewed.

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There is this really cool James Bond Villian Lair on the outskirts of Tbilisi. My guess is that the dude who lives here is plotting to take over the world by launching a horde of sentient bots to manipulate public perception with social media in order to cause chaos in the global financial markets. #tooreal
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If you're not careful, Georgians will mug you in the street. This kid found out the hard way.
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Guy Fawkes masks in a BMW. Is it a mixed message?
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V The Road to Mazeri
It was a long drive to Mazeri. We started early. We got there late.

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Who's ready for a car ride?
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Daniel wandered the streets for a bit while the gang got started on the Australian Technique.
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Precisely.
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We had $10k worth of bikes. We had them upside down. And we had them padded with cardboard. However, Brian knows a bunch of knots. In the end, things worked out. As much as Tazer's face here says otherwise.
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Did we mention that Brian had a cast on the whole time? He did. And it was real.
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Capris are still a very popular menswear item east of the Greenwich Mean. We don't get it.
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One of these dudes claimed he was James Bond, I forget which one. But they all wanted to know if we had "experienced" any Georgian women. These dudes were pigs. They were funny. But they were pigs.
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$7.37 US.
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The watermelon stands were endless.
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Yep.
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Double Yep.
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< Bomb bay doors open. >
bzzt
< Begin refueling. >
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We all agreed that this dude was very interesting to look at. So after drinking our coffee and discussing his look, Daniel made a move and asked him if he could take his picture. Fortunately he agreed, the world is a better place for it.
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There are cows everywhere in Georgia. They're like bed bugs or something. You are constantly swerving around them and their shit. This is compounded by the fact that they DO NOT GIVE A FUCK. They are either stupid or apathetic. I'm leaning towards the former.
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We arrived at the Grand Hotel Ushba and WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW. And at this point we haven't even tried the compote that goes with the breakfast yogurt.
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Sweaty Svaneti Roster
→→→ Scroll right to meet our crack squad. →→→
Brian Larson, @bclarson/@missionworkshop: Scientist, Marketer, Knots Man, Trooper, Enthusiast, Mission Workshopper.
Kyle von Hoetzendorff, @newantarctica/@yonderjournal/@manualforspeed: Writer, Problem, Problem Solver, Ennui Antagonist.
Tamaz "Tazer" Tamak Tikanadze, @N/A (because Georgia): Georgian, Advocate, Guide, Translator, Special Ops.
Daniel Pasley, @yonderjournal/@manualforspee: Founder, Photographer, Producer, Writer, Polymath.

VI FYI

  1. The Caucasus Mountains are no joke. They are glacier nurseries. Climbers die on them all the time. They are insanely beautiful. Be prepared.
  2. In mid-August the temperatures in the Svaneti are nice, bordering on too hot. We suggest that you come prepared with a rain jacket and some cold weather clothes. But plan on sweating—a lot.
  3. Water is readily available on this route. But so are cows, so be sure to bring a filter and use it.
  4. There are many hostels, trekking lodges, and guest houses on this route. You should come with back up food, but the right move is to plan on eating in the towns along the route.
  5. You need to keep and eye out for Turs (the local big horned mountain goat), the Georgian Sheepdogs (these things are massive and it’s obvious that they can inflict danger), and Delica drivers who are in a hurry.

VII Bike Setup

Sweaty in Svaneti Lord Nerd Beta
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Specialized Fuse Pro
  • 1. This might actually be the most adventurous of adventure bikes.
  • 2. 27.5" wheels are stable and consistent when loaded, fast and grippy when unloaded, and don't take up nearly the same amount of space that standard Fatbike Tires do.
  • 3. SUSPENSION FORK!!! Buds, we admit it, we're late to the suspension fork on our adventure bike game. Like any born again, we are now unrepentant believers. Especially when the terrain you are covering is made up of centuries-old herding trails.
  • 4. CUSTOM PAINT and STICKERS. So we thought, "Hey, we're going to Georgia and after all that their people have been through, what with the Soviet Union and the most recent incursion's from Russia, we should really do our part to impart the wealth and ideals that are fundamental to the USofA. Namely GOLD. What's more, we couched the gold in a matte black canvas. Because if gold ultimately represents the sun, giver of life, then matte black represents the eternal black void of the universe. This is the dichotomy that is an integral to the USA psyche and one we felt must be shared. (Thank you Brian!)
Mission Workshop Hauser
  • 1. Numero Uno importance on this trip was the Hauser's ability to carry a big pouch of water. And this water gets to your food house via a long rubber straw. Genius, PURE Genius.
  • 2. So comfortable. Here's the thing: you don't want to wear a backpack; but if you do, it might as well be comfortable. And look cool.
SRAM Eagle
  • 1. Any normal drivetrain would just be mentioned as part of the bike. But this is SRAM EAGLE! I mean just look at the size of that cassette! Its medium pizza-huge. AMAZING.
  • 2. GOLD, so GOLD. It matches, it definitely matches the vibe of the whole bike.
Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion
  • 1. Stable: it has a girder system that stifles any bag sway.
  • 2. Dependable: we've used these on SO SO SO many trips.
  • 3. Spacious: because the material is like Navy SEAL approved or something, you can stuff to your heart's content into these bags and not worry about them ripping. Go ahead, go to town.
Porcelain Rocket Frame Bag
  • 1. Made for our fatbikes. It turns out they fit this frame pretty well.
  • 2. Roll top means that there are no zippers to break. Just one big clip to hold everything in place.
Revelate Gas Tank
  • 1. So small yet so essential. We had our phones, wallets and passports stashed in this little deal. By which we mean our life. When you have your life stashed in something, it's doing a really important job.
  • 2. Easy to access. I mean it's right there, it's the closest thing to your face.
  • 3. It's not a knife or an axe head, neither of which you would want so close to your face.
Porcelain Rocket MCA
  • 1. If my Sea to Summit stuff sack, filled with our tent and dry clothes, were a mental patient with superhero strength, there is no doubt that the MCA would still hold it in place.
  • 2. It also has this little coin purse deal on the front of it that you stuff bars, mini tools, toothpicks, and gum into for easy access.
Flowers
  • 1. We were told that if we ate the pedals of these flowers on the morning after a full moon, we would be able to locate a secret door in the mountains—a door to another kingdom. One of music and dance. Unfortunately, we missed the fully moon by 2 days. Otherwise this could have been a very different story.

VIII Van Setup

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Bikes on the Roof
  • 1. Since Yakima can't be imported into the Republic of Georgia due to certain tariff and trade issues, Georgians employ the time-honored Bikes in Australia Technique.
  • 2. By which we mean the bikes act as if they're in the Upside Down. It takes a little training, but can be very effective.
Brian Larson
  • 1. Ex-Scientist, Current Marketer, Future Shaman.
  • 2. Brian has the gift of both the left and right brain.
  • 3. He also broke his hand a week before the trip.
  • 4. Pugnacious and determined he filed his cast down to work on his bike. Did he give us any lip? Not once.
Tamaz "Tazer" Tikanadze
  • 1. Georgian MTB guide/diviner.
  • 2. If you go to Georgia you need a Tazer.
  • 3. If you don't have a Tazer you'll never ever EVER get the full Georgian experience.
  • 4. Basically without Tazer we wouldn't even have had the chance to ride in this trolley bomb.
Mitsubishi Delica AKA The Trolley Bomb
  • 1. It is INSANE that the Delica was never imported into the states.
  • 2. Yeah I know, you can get them now, but they're used and right hand drive. Point is someone, somewhere fucked up. Simple as that.
  • 3. In Georgia they convert these things to hybrids that run on both propane and gasoline.
  • 4. That giant canister there? That's the propane tank.
  • 5. Scientists like Brian will probably tell you that having a huge propane tank as your rear bumper is about as safe as having a tank of gasoline as your skid plate. But that's the kinda next-level thinking that scientists have been cooking up for ages. Like electricity and super glue. Sometimes you just have to put your faith in science.
Paracord
  • 1. Pretty nice stuff. Not only is it useful for parachutes, it's useful for securing bicycles with the Australian Technique.
Hired Driver/Weekend Warrior
  • 1. I thought I wrote this dude's name down, but now I can't find the note.
  • 2. Anyway, if you want the bomb trolley to work, you need a bombardier.
  • 3. And this dude was RIGHT for the job.
  • 4. He power drank coffee and energy drinks while texting and praying for the entire length of our drive.
  • 5. Did he subject us to off-brand Neil Young and some harrowing vehicular maneuvers? Yes, of course he did.
  • 6. Also, obviously he's got driving shoes on.
Rooms Tbilisi
  • 1. If you go to Tbilisi, you have to stay at Rooms Tbilisi. And I'll tell you why.
  • 2. The breakfast is unreal. It's a fantasy breakfast. The kind the witch would set out for Hansel in order to fatten him up. And no one looks down on you for going back three or four times to restock your plate. And they just keep filling your coffee.
  • 3. The staff was so accommodating. Even when we performed a play about a bicycle hospital in their courtyard they didn't get upset. They even ordered their porters to carry all of our props down to the courtyard.
  • 4. Go here. Don't let yourself, or us, down.

IX Packing List

Category
Food
Item
Qty
Suggested
Freeze-Dried Meals
1/day
Mountain House (Mexican Rice and Chicken a la King are good, get the Pro Paks if you can.)
Instant Oatmeal
2/day
Quaker Oats Brown Sugar and Maple
Bar #1
2/day
Clif Mojo
Bar #2
2/day
Clif Kit's Organic
GORP
3oz/day
Bulk, from the co-op
Jerkey
3oz/day
Teriyaki, Hot and Spicy, or Mangoes
Candy
3oz/day
Haribo Gummy Bears
Chips
2oz/day
Kettle Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper (compressed to reduce volume)
Tortillas
10
Flour, large taco/fajita size
Coffee
3 units/day
Stumptown, ground for pour over (or bring a grinder)
Category
Clothing (Worn)
Item
Qty
Suggested
Bib Shorts
1
Specialized SWAT
Stretchwoven Overshort
1
Mission Workshop Stahl
Gloves
1
Specialized BG Ridge
Cycling Cap
1
MFS!
Socks
2 pair
Outlier or Swiftwick Merino Wool
Shoes
1
Specialized Recon
Helmet
1
Specialized Airnet
Shell
1
Mission Workshop The Meridian: Phase
T-Shirt
1
Mission Workshop The District (unbuttoned basically the whole time)
Category
Clothing (Camp)
Item
Qty
Suggested
Underwear
1
Icebreaker
Long Sleeve Baselayer
1
Icebreaker
Puffy
1
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer (probably not required on a warm trip like this unless you run cold)
Camp Hat
1
Pink Poler Rayon Hat (go look at the photos, you'll see and you'll want it)
Camp Shoes
1
Luna Sandals for efficient river navigation
Camp Shirt
1
Mission Workshop The Sector
Camp Shorts/Swim Trunks
1
Poler Men's River Chino Shorts
Category
Gear (Bike)
Item
Qty
Suggested
Seat Bag
1
Porcleain Rocket Mr. Fusion
Frame Bag
1
Porcelain Rocket
Handlebar Bag
1
Porcelain Rocket MCA
Top Tube Bag
1
Specialized Burra Burra
Mini Tool
1
Specialized EMT PRO MTB
Patch Kit
1
Rema, of course
Tubes
2
FRESH ones only
Tire Levers
2
Specialized
Bottles
As many as you can
Go deep into your personal library to find something weird.
Mini Pump
1
Specialized Air Tool Flex
Mechanic Stuff
1 (can be shared)
Multi-tool, Leatherman w/ pliers, tubes, patch kit, tire boots, tire levers, pump, spare chain linkes, shifter cable, nuts and bolts, derailleur hanger, zip ties, Gorilla tape, whatever else you can think of
Category
Gear (Camp)
Item
Qty
Suggested
Tent/Shelter
1
Snow Peak Fal 2
Sleeping Bag
1
Mountain Hardwear Phantom 30°
Waterproof Stuff Sack
A few
Sea to Summit EVAC (minimum one for your sleeping bag)
Sleeping Pad
1
Therm-a-rest NeoAir XLite
Knife/Tool
1
Leatherman Wave (preferably one your brother gave you fifteen years ago for Christmas)
Headlamp
1
Snow Peak Mola (with fresh batteries)
Cup
1
Snow Peak
Spork
1
Snow Peak #sporklife
Bandana
1
MFS, YJ, or something with a cool map on it
Teeth Stuff
1
Whatever your personal program is
Book
1
JA Baker's The Peregrine
Lighter
1
Bic (in Ziplock)
Sunscreen
1
Max SPF, waterproof
Sunglasses
1
Oakley Frogskins
Repair Kit
1
Needle/thread, sleeping pad patch, Tenacious Tape
Sharpie
1
Wrap it in Gorilla tape
Wet Wipes
1
Soft pack
Category
Gear (Camp, Shared)
Item
Qty
Suggested
Water Filter
1 per 2-3 people
MSR Sweetwater
Soap
1
Dr Bronner's Almond
Stove
1 per 2 people
Snow Peak Gigapower Auto
Fuel
2/week/stove
Snow Peak Giga Power (bigger size)
Cord
50ft
Paracord
First Aid Kit
1 per 2-3 people
Homemade
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