A little documentary work

My wife decided to do a tour of regional park reserves, and set about planning a 3 day, two night, bikepacking trip to visit them all. She set out this past weekend and I spent the time filming the endeavor in order to try my hand at making a mini-documentary. It’ll probably be a while before this comes out, but wanted to briefly talk about the challenges I worked through getting footage.

We began filming the night before with a staged interview setup in the garage. I had just taken delivery of some new LCD lights and this was a good chance to give them a try. Overall, I really like the look I was able to achieve, with a nice high-contrast side light, and a subtle gel on the bike tools in the background.

The next day I headed out with her to start her route, and I brought my fat bike along to get some action footage. I got some nice shots of her riding by, and some good b-roll before I did something incredibly stupid. I was riding next to her on a hill and used my right hand to hold the camera. She started slowing next to me, and I instinctively squeezed the brake… the front brake… hard.

Before my brain could tell my hand to stop being stupid, I did a full end-over-end with my face hitting the ground and the bike flying over me. Needless to say, that was not a lot of fun. Thankfully, nothing was broken except the front reflector on the bike, which I was planning to take off anyway. I did end up going in for an X-ray on my right hand, but it confirmed that it was just bruising, nothing fractured.

The rest of the day I was a lot more careful, and I still managed to get some good footage. The second day I wasn’t able to follow along, and had to settle for some b-roll when I got to the park she was camping at that evening. However, on the third day I was able to get a lot of great shots as I had more time to be on the trail with her, and was able to pick the best locations for backdrops along the route.

For all of the onsite filming I decided to go with my iPhone 11 Pro. It’s small and portable, and the video quality is really good. I debated using the Sony a6000, but with the rolling shutter, I felt like the iPhone would handle the fast moving action better. One downside to the iPhone was that I wasn’t able to use my nice portrait lens out in the field. I might need to go back out to one of the parks to get some nice focus-transition b-roll with the Sony.

In reality, I probably should have had both with me, and used each one for different situations. Since this is my first time doing this style of filming, I am still second guessing myself and probably not making perfect choices every time. That’s how we learn.

Now it’s time to start combing through footage and putting my storyteller, and editor, hat on. Lately I’ve been using Davinci Resolve, and for the most part I like it, but it has one flaw that really bugs me… no audio ducking. In order to do ducking you need to set up side chained compressors, and then fiddle with the attack and release. It’s really futzy, and I don’t like it. I’m considering grabbing either Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere and giving them a try. For something like this with lots of transitioning between music and dialog, I want better controls over the volume keyframes.

I’m hoping to be able to release something in the next couple months. I really want to take my time and make this the best that we can make it. Right now everything is caught up in the euphoria of the event, and I want to come back with a level head and decide what the story is that we want to tell.

Some diet updates

It’s been quite a few months now doing the whole plant-free diet. My weight has stabilized around 152 lbs. which puts me well within the recommended BMI limits. My body is getting used to it’s new normal, and I’ve had to deal with purchasing some different clothes. I was already wearing a belt on all of my pants, and this weight loss pushed me over the edge into needing to size down.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that despite craving things like cheese, if I end up accidentally having some dairy, my gut rebels. The other week I ate out and had what I thought was a simple plant based item, but in retrospect it probably used egg as a binder, and sure enough the next day my gut rebelled. Based on that reaction, I’m curious if it really has always been a dairy issue for me. Maybe someday I’ll try a little bit of meat and see if that causes issues.

For now though, I’m still really enjoying a lot of great plant based meals. Friends have sent me some killer recipes, including one for a “comfort mac” that really hit the spot the other week. I’m also learning what “substitute” products I like, and which ones aren’t worth the effort. Sometimes it’s best to not try to recreate something, and just look for something new and different.

It feels like an adventure, and I’m happy that it’s working out for me. It’s not always easy (especially when traveling), but I can’t argue with the results.

Review/First Impressions: REI Quarter Dome SL2 backpacking tent

Full photo gallery of the tent in various setups

After my recent bike packing trip, I decided that I wanted to invest in a light weight backpacking tent. The one I used for bike packing was 5.2lbs, and I knew I could do better. It’s fortuitous that right before the trip I received an email from REI about their big Labor Day sale. Never wanting to pass up giving money to outdoor equipment stores, I did a bunch of research and decided to take the plunge on the REI Quarter Dome SL2. Thanks to the sale I managed to pay $244+tax, plus another $38 for the footprint.

It didn’t take a completely straight path though, as I first decided to try out the SL1 (1-person) version. However, when I got it home and set it up in the living room, I realized that it was far smaller than I was comfortable with, so I brought it back and got the SL2.

It’s worth noting that the SL series is different than the Quarter Dome series from a couple of years ago. Many of the YouTube videos I watched were reviewing the older model of tent, which is significantly different than the SL line. The older model was a free-standing tent, whereas the current SL is a semi-freestanding shelter. Additionally, the non-SL models were slightly bigger than the current editions, but also heavier. I’ll mention these changes as we move through the review, but the suffice it to say, make sure you’re reading the correct reviews for the tent you’re looking for.

Once I had procured the SL2 version of the tent I set it up and gave it a quick test on the living room floor. It seemed to be what I was looking for, so I told my wife, “Hey, let’s find a campsite for a night and try it out.” So on a Sunday evening before Labor Day my wife, myself, and our friend Mike, all gathered at a campsite at Afton State Park for a night under the stars.

We all brought our own tents, in order for me to properly test out the Quarter Dome SL2 as a solo use tent. I wanted to see how it felt with just one person, plus their gear. It was a little weird, and funny, to have my wife bringing her backpacking tent as well, but honestly, it was kinda nice that both of us were able to spread out a bit more. We’ve both slept in her Big Agnes Blacktail 2 tent before, and it’s fine, but even though it’s heavier, the floor space is pretty similar.

Setup

The REI Quarter Dome SL2 uses a set of poles that are all connected through a central spoke. You simply unfold all of the sticks and you’re ready to go. When assembled, the pole setup resembles a triangle with two supports for the head of the tent, and one at the foot. Everything is color coded, so figuring out which pole goes where is simple.

Because there are only three pole connection points, this tent is considered semi-freestanding. What that means is that the foot of the tent only has one pole supporting it. You then extend the corners on to the stakes for the full width at the foot of the tent. Although having four supported corners would have been nice, I understand why REI changed this design from the previous version, as it required another spoke and more pole, which increased the weight.

You have a choice of setting up two ways; either as a tent with (or without) the fly, or as a fly/footprint tarp setup. No matter which way you choose, the setup of the poles is the same, as they provide the primary support and structure to both the tent and the fly. There is a link to a gallery of photos of all the different setups at the end of this post.

Once you’ve constructed the poles, you insert the ends into the grommets, and simply hook the tent to the poles with the attached hooks. It’s dead simple, and within seconds, the tent takes shape. Once the tent is secured to the poles, staking out the foot of the tent completes the overall shape and structure. There are then multiple stake points that you can use to secure everything firmly to the ground. The stake bag also contains multiple guy lines for setting up the tent in windy conditions.

Attaching the fly involves putting it over the poles, securing with velcro, and then connecting the bottom to the appropriate buckles. These snap-in buckles also can be loosened or tightened to make sure your fly is secured appropriately. The fly needs to be staked out on the sides to complete the dual vestibules. Having two vestibules is another advantage of the SL2 vs. the SL1.

One thing to note, the footprint is sold separately, but I was happy I got it. Having the connection points already placed where they should be, made everything easier when staking the tent down. The footprint has cords for all the relevant staking points, so you can ensure that it doesn’t get bunched up under the tent.

Features

Once the tent is set up, you’re ready to tuck in and start using it. Since this is a backpacking tent, weight is at a premium. That means that you’re not going to find a lot of bells and whistles on the interior. Despite this, there are quite a few nice touches provided.

There are four pockets in the mesh, two on the top of the tent, and two on each side at the head of the bathtub. The ones near the head of the bathtub are really big, and I was able to fit my phone and charger in them with no issue. It’s also a great place to store a headlamp for easy access at night.

There are also a couple of loops on the top of the mesh that you can use to hang things, such as a small light. However, this is a very lightweight tent, and the material is not meant to withstand a heavy load. I felt OK using my inflatable solar light, but I wouldn’t do anything much heavier than a few ounces.

That’s about it for the features inside the tent. Once you move to the outside there are dual doors and vestibules for gear/shoe storage. One complaint I have is how high the vestibule is off the ground. The gap at the bottom feels like it could let in a lot of water splash if it was raining hard. Of all the weight saving design choices, I wish this one had gone in favor of just a bit lower extension on the vestibule material. I haven’t had to use this in the rain, so it might not be a big deal, but it’s something to be aware of.

The overall size of the tent is perfect for one person. At 88 x 52/42 (head/foot) I had tons of space to spread out, and since I’m only 5’8” there was plenty of room for all my gear at the foot of the tent. Two people can fit as well, but at that point you’re dependent on the vestibule for gear storage. There is not really an option for storage inside, in addition to two people. However, a furry friend might work just fine, depending on their size.

One final feature to mention is a roof vent on the fly. Even just one vent helps to bring in more airflow to the interior. In the previous version of the tent, there was a zipper to allow access to open/close the vent from inside. However, that feature was removed in the SL change.

Quality

I’m not a tent expert, so take my opinions on quality as just my opinions. However, when comparing this tent to our other, heavier, backpacking tent (Big Agnes Blacktail 2), this tent feels like it compares favorably. The seams appear to be sealed nicely, and the overall feel of the material appears to be strong. When I first stretched out the fly, I needed to put some oomph into it to get it where I wanted it. However, it didn’t feel like I was ever in danger of ripping or tearing any part of it. Once I had it set up for an hour the fabric stretched a little bit and everything felt good.

The zippers are fine. Nothing notable about them; they seem to work as intended. I didn’t get any snags when getting in or out of the tent, however, you do need to use a little bit of caution at the top end of the door zipper. The zipper on the door angles downward slightly right when you get to the end of it on the top. When trying to unzip, you need to go slowly for a moment, and pull upwards to get over this curve. It’s hard to explain, but when you feel it, you’ll understand what I’m getting at. Not huge issue, just a little odd.

The stakes provided are really nice v-stakes, and have cords attached to them for easy removal. They all come with reflective material sown into the cords (all the cords on the entire tent actually), which makes them easy to see in a headlamp. A really nice little touch.

Finally, the poles are actually really nice. I appreciate the fact that the longest of the poles has a double cord running through it for added strength. Although light weight, I never felt like these poles were fragile, and in fact they felt stronger than most of the cheap car camping tent poles I’ve used in the past. In this area, REI did a great job.

Conclusion

Let’s start with what I like about this tent.

  • The weight is awesome at just under 3lbs with the footprint.
  • The material feels light, but durable (ripstop nylon).
  • Setup is simple, despite needing stakes to fully stand it up.
  • Just enough pockets to be useful.
  • Dual doors and vestibules.
  • Good poles and stakes.
  • Price.

Now, let’s take a look at my disappointments list.

  • Vestibule is high off the ground.
  • Not fully freestanding
  • Door zipper is a little odd.

Buying this tent on sale for $244 makes it a no-brainer as a good deal. Even needing to purchase the footprint separately isn’t that bad (it was also on sale) when you consider that most backpacking tents in this class start over $400. However, let’s put price aside and ask if this tent is a good tent?

Based on setting it up a couple times, and using it for a trip, I would say yes, this is a good backpacking tent. The weight is nice, the material feels solid, and the setup and design isn’t overly complex. The fact that it isn’t fully freestanding doesn’t bother me, as I’m always going to be staking my tent down anyway. The staking pattern makes sense, and two small stakes to get the full shape isn’t really a big deal.

There are a couple small design choices that I don’t like, such as the door zipper shape and the vestibule height, but I can live with those. Although I wanted to set price aside, it’s really hard to not consider it. The competition for this tent are things like the Big Agnes Copper Spur ($450) and Nemo Dagger ($430). Even at full price for the Quarter Dome SL 2 ($350), it still packs a tremendous value.

Obviously, time will tell how this tent holds up. I’m hoping to come back in a year or so and see if this tent is still meeting all my expectations. From everything I’ve seen and experienced so far, I’m happy with this tent, and I think most casual backpackers will be too. It does what it’s advertised to do, and was a comfortable shelter for sleeping outside. Although the sale is done now, it’s worth adding this to your list of tents for consideration.

Now, it’s time for me to start thinking about more adventures to really put this tent through its paces.

Full photo gallery of the tent in various setups

Fish Lake Trails at Cedar Creek Ecological Center

Haven’t done a photo post in a bit, and the other week we headed out to Fish Lake Trails at Cedar Creek. I decided to put on the telephoto which is a 55-210 (E-mount for a Sony a6000), however, I’m becoming more and more displeased with the results. Granted, I shouldn’t be surprised, as this is a budget lens. Might be time to start looking at an upgrade.

For now though, I did get some nice shots from the trail. https://swiftphotography.smugmug.com/Exploration/Fish-Lake-Trails-at-Cedar-Creek/

Summer’s final gasping breaths

This morning I awoke to temps in the 50’s, a brisk wind, and the smell of fall starting to creep into the air. I went for a short walk this morning, and as I left the house I was thankful for my warm hoodie, while simultaneously trying to defy the weather with my shorts and sandals. I don’t even think it got much into the 70s today, with even cooler temps predicted for the week ahead.

Season changes can be both difficult and refreshing. There’s a newness to the changing weather patterns and the different smells in the air. Gone are the bright vibrant blooms of summer flowers, replaced with the rustle of tall grasses, reaching towards the sky, achieving heights unheard of earlier in the year. There’s a beauty in the season between blooms and the vibrant colors of changing leaves. The green things are reaching their apex, the fulfillment of all that they could accomplish in a season. The strain of growing so hard and fast permeates their slightly duller and brown tinged hues.

The air itself struggles with its identity. As we biked along the river last night we passed through alternating pockets of hot and cold air, battling against one another along unseen battle lines. Every 30 feet the temperature would change 10 degrees, providing relief, refreshment, or comfort. Constant turmoil between what was, and what is to be.

In a few weeks the summer air will all be a memory and the comforting embrace of fall, with it’s warm spices, will be all that remain. It’s important to stop for a moment and savor what is before rushing into what will be. To look one more time at the tall grasses, and the remnants of green that breathe one last gasp. The sun is not yet low in the sky, and so we life our faces to it, and its warmth, breathing in the freshness of a summer gone by.

Soon, I’ll put away the sandals. But not quite yet.