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The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.

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News

Nov 27, 2018

When the Road Ends for Your Tesla, it’s Just Beginning for Rivian’s Electric SUV and Truck

Ten years in the making, Rivian vehicles are beautifully designed and will take us places that Tesla cannot, but how far can they take us without the infrastructure that they demand?

WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

On November 14th, The Outdoor Journal was invited to Rivian’s factory based out of Plymouth, Michigan on one condition. They demanded that we keep all details of our visit under wraps. We were held to an information embargo on everything that we were to see and hear. Fast forward to today’s LA Auto Show, where we find Rivian headlining and the end of the embargo. The tiger is now out of its cage. 

In Plymouth, we enter into a Google esque environment, or perhaps a scene best suited to a James Bond villain’s HQ. We find a clearly very talented team working heads-down in a pristine space, with pockets of clean white mechanical equipment hidden behind big doors. Like building a nuclear submarine, assembling the world’s first electric adventure vehicle, shrouded in secrecy, is serious business.

The full version of the video above can be found at the bottom of this article.

All we know is that we are about to experience the unveiling of a new electric vehicle. We are also aware that we represent a very particular group of people – the outdoors community –  not the petrol heads that make up the vast majority in attendance. Less concerned with the inner workings of the vehicle, our interest – aligned with our readers – is what the Rivian will enable us to do. How can this new technology help to benefit nature and our ability to interact with it?

“ENABLE”, “ENABLE” “ENABLE”

We are welcomed by the CEO and Founder RJ Scaringe, who earned his Master of Science and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from MIT before founding Rivian. The first thing that strikes you is RJ’s likeness to Clark Kent – mild mannered, friendly and well spoken. The passion that RJ has for this project, along with his team, is obvious. One can only imagine how it feels to have put so much into something for so long, before finally seeing the fruits of that labour. 

We were fortunate enough to sit down and speak with RJ a few weeks later. You can read “Meet RJ Scaringe. The Founder of Rivian, Changing the Way We View Transportation” here.

“to be used, to get dirty”

Of course, the world is going to draw comparisons with another brand in this space of electric vehicles. The obvious “T” word, “Tesla”. Not skirting the issue, RJ deals with it straight away. He reveals how Rivian is different to many other automobile manufacturers who have switched to producing fully electric, or hybrid vehicles such as Tesla. The audience is presented with a diagram, a little like the one you can find below;

Yes, the new Rivian vehicles were designed to be aspirational, just like a Tesla, Jaguar and Mercedes, but they’re also intended to differentiate themselves by being invitational. They wanted to inspire their customers to get outside and explore the world. As RJ put it, he wanted Rivian to “enable adventure”, “enable activities”, and “enable you to go places”. The company is building vehicles that are designed “to be used, to get dirty”. It’s a great goal and as a collection of people who enjoy all these things, it’s something that gets us revved up.

“STARTING WITH A CLEAN SHEET”

RJ then pulled back the curtain and revealed a Rivian vehicle for the first time, the all-electric pickup R1TTM . In addition to the truck, they have also be working on the all-electric SUV – R1STM which is a little bit further behind in development. Both were to be unveiled for the first time at the LA Auto Show, with deliveries of the R1T begin in late 2020 and the R1S begin at the start of 2021. The price will begin at $69,000 for a base model, excluding shipping and before a $7,500 U.S. tax credit that is available. However, The Outdoor Journal understands that it would be very easy to instead spend approximately $100,000 with extra’s that include the size of your battery.

redefine expectations through the application of technology and innovation

With over 600 employees in 5 locations, the Rivian vehicles have been in development for 10 years. This means that they started working on their products before the release of the first iPad, before AirBnb, before Snapchat, before WhatsApp and before Instagram. We’re under no illusions that starting a brand new car company is not an easy thing to do, but it puts into perspective the amount of effort that has gone into these vehicles.

very importantly, being capable of driving long distances on a single charge.”

Rivian CEO and Founder, RJ goes on to explain that “I started Rivian to deliver products that the world didn’t already have – to redefine expectations through the application of technology and innovation. Starting with a clean sheet, we have spent years developing the technology to deliver the ideal vehicle for active customers. This means having great driving dynamics on any surface on or off-road, providing cargo solutions to easily storing any type of gear whether it’s a surf board or a fishing rod and, very importantly, being capable of driving long distances on a single charge.”

We’re in agreement, if RJ is serious about adventure vehicles, the last point is an important one and it’s something that we will keep returning to. In addition to Rivian, and all the other examples, there is one more poignant thing that wasn’t widely available 9 years ago, GPS on your phone – an ironic coincidence considering the importance of GPS to the Rivian vehicles. The digital and technological experience is crucial to the enjoyment of driving, but the knowledge it represents is key too. With its battery in mind, Rivian told The Outdoor Journal that their vehicles can calculate and advise exactly how much further adventurers can travel with advanced sophistication. When enabling adventure, this is a core area of required competency. How far can I travel? Is the battery reliable? Can I be sure that I won’t get stranded? With a listed range of up to 400+ miles (depending upon the battery pack that you go with), we have a good starting point.

The green bar of lights on the exterior illustrate the battery life within the vehicle whilst charging.

Rivian appears to really understand the importance of this competency to their target adventure market. They’ve invested in Adaptive control algorithms that“learn driver behavior, optimizing user-specific battery management for maximizing battery life, reliability and second-life reusability.” What does this mean? The system knows how much power you have in the car and how far away you are from the nearest charging station. If this works as well as Rivian says it will, you won’t have to worry about getting caught in the middle of nowhere. 

This is partnered with tough protection and an important cooling system, given the impact that temperatures can have on battery life. They hope that this will give us “confidence to go further, regardless of terrain or temperature”, whilst the charging system enables approximately 200 miles of range to be added in 30 minutes of charging.

Now is a good time to foray into the petrol head side of the Rivian vehicles. First of all, a stat that we’ll all understand, the Rivian Truck and SUV are capable of 0-60 mph acceleration in a very impressive three seconds. They’ll also reach 100 mph in less than 7 seconds. 

“game-changing from a dynamics perspective both on and off road,”

The vehicles are built upon something that is referred to as a Skateboard Platform that sits in it’s entirety beneath the wheel arches. This is a huge blessing to outdoors enthusiasts like kayakers and surfers, but before we get onto that, we should mention that the Skateboard Platform supports Rivian’s quad-motor system. A system that delivers 147kW and precise torque control to each wheel, which is great for high-speed handling, but also becomes a huge asset when rock crawling. Finally, with 3,500 Nm of grounded torque per wheel (14,000 Nm of torque for the full vehicle), the Rivian truck (“R1T”) has a tow rating of 11,000 pounds.

“The beauty and elegance of our quad-motor setup isn’t just about brute power, this architecture provides instantaneous torque with extremely precise control at each wheel, which is completely game-changing from a dynamics perspective both on and off road,”, shared Executive Director of Engineering and Programs, Mark Vinnels.

MORE SPACE THAN EVER BEFORE

With the entirety of the technology required to propel these Rivian vehicles sitting below the wheel arch, the realm of possibilities above is dizzying. With a trunk that doesn’t require an engine, and further ingenious features, Rivian advertises that “The R1T leverages the vehicle architecture to deliver more lockable storage than any other vehicle in its class.”

Our favourite storage feature is the lockable Gear Tunnel that hides behind the rear seats on the R1T. Wide and long enough to fit a surfboard, snowboard or your stroller, it’s one of those things that seems obvious once you see it, but would have been missed by a less diligent company. That same diligence is again so clear to see when evaluating the doors to the Gear Tunnel. It again seems obvious, but you can stand it to reach the top of the vehicle, use it as a seat to tie your boots, or pull of a panel that you can use to change out of your swimwear and leave the sand where it belongs, outside the cabin. 

Other smaller features include hollow seats in the back – representing further storage – two integrated bicycle locks and a camera that will notify the owner should there be any movement. This is in addition to racks on the truck that can be used in partnership with a range of 3rd party equipment such as tents, travel containers and bike/ski racks.

The storage capabilities within these vehicles are surely unparalleled.

A PREMIUM, YET RUGGED INTERIOR

Whist we might not be the best to comment on what’s under the hood, or in this case the 4 electrical motors, we can give the interior our best shot. Whilst the premium luxury is of course obvious, so is the durability. As per RJ’s commitment elsewhere, the interior of the Rivian truck and SUV is designed to be used. There is nothing within the interior that you would be worried about damaging, with the same thoughtfulness applied throughout. Any spills can be wiped off and the sustainably sourced wood looks great.

When leaving the event, by chance we run into Larry Parker, the Director of Design at Rivian. Larry introduced us to his “Inspiration Table”, a collection of items that have been collected from around the world on multiple research trips. This process appears to have ultimately paid dividends, with overarching synergy across the interior design.

We have already mentioned the importance of the digital and technological experience. The relationship between the driver and the important knowledge that this experience represents is manifested in the display. It is yet another example of a feature that could have been neglected, but instead was treated to great diligence. 

A MATTER OF CONFIDENCE, IN THE FACE OF BATTERY LIFE ANXIETY

Despite impressive stats and a thorough design, a global concern abides, is this a car that is only built for adventurers based in the United States, who might enjoy day trips or weekend getaways in close proximity to the charging points?

50% of our readers live outside of the USA, 25% live in in Asia and the remaining 25% live in Europe, whilst the vast majority of you love serious adventures. Perhaps this car has just been built for a US audience, who enjoy weekend camping jaunts?

Would we be happy to jump in a Rivian and drive off into the Himalaya? If in the Nordics, could we take an excursion up to the Arctic Circle? Would we have the confidence to drive away from major infrastructure and down through Central America? It’s a tough one, and during the unveiling event in Plymouth, we are shown images of the climate and terrain within which the vehicle has been tested. All of those images are US based. When at an event in the US, but also when trucks and SUVs are the most popular vehicles in the US, perhaps Rivian could be forgiven for this acute focus. Perhaps the US is just their target market?

Global charging locations by country. Data courtesy of Open Charge Map.

The United States leads the way regarding charging locations, with over 17,500, Germany has over 11,500, and the Netherlands almost 8000. These countries are well equipped to host adventures in a Rivian, however at least to a certain extent, some things are out of Rivian’s control. One of the adventure capitals of the world, India, has just 17 charging points, whilst Sweden, despite being towards the top of the list with almost 1500, has very disparate locations as you head further north. It’s worth mentioning that Norway fares much better. Meanwhile, you might be okay heading south from the US into Mexico, but you’ll struggle to go any further.

At least to The Outdoor Journal, this question feels like the elephant in the room, so at the risk of boring all of the American-based engineers and car journalists in attendance, we step forward and ask the question.

THE INCEPTION POINT?

RJ’s answer is clear, despite the images used in the presentation, these vehicles are built for global climates and terrains that can be found around the world. They have consulted adventurers from every continent and can cater for all the demands that are associated with all regions. RJ also spoke of an Inception Point, where it’s only a matter of time before the number of electric cars exceeds petroleum-based vehicles. This will naturally mean that far more charging points will appear, and you would assume that Rivian is timing their approach into the market well, as they expect to begin delivering in 2020.

The new Rivian vehicles will sell, they’re beautifully and thoughtfully made to serve casual adventure seekers who like to go away for the weekend. However, if the company wants to tap into the real adventure travel market then they will need to instil confidence and awareness of how possible it is to travel to the most remote locations around the world using an electric vehicle. This will perhaps happen with time, but an effort to demonstrate this ability would go a long way to supporting that development.

Are we excited about the New Rivian R1T and SUV? Absolutely. Would we like to have one in our garage, to as RJ put it, “to be used, to get dirty”? Absolutely. Would we be ready to drive off towards Ladakh, up into the Artic Circle, or down through Central America tomorrow? Not yet, but with time, nothing would get us more excited and we believe that Rivian could very well be the company to take us there.

Pre-orders and more information are available at www.rivian.com.

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Reviews

Apr 04, 2019

Film Review: Constant Thought, PTSD and a Veteran in the Outdoors.

Unpredictable adventure doc follows one enduring soldier’s challenging journey towards health and family. We gave it our take, before interviewing the man himself.

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WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

A deadly force accompanied Brandon Kuehn home from Iraq. His wife and son, and a seemingly idyllic life awaited him in Umatilla, Oregon; but Brandon still faced a danger lurking in the corners of his mind.

Upon returning home, most medically discharged soldiers struggle to adapt to new physical limitations such as missing limbs. But Brandon’s injury was invisible. Civilian life imposed a crushing weight of anxiety, depression and anger. After attempting to take his own life in 2014, Brandon finally identified his new enemy – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Through unrelenting trial and error, Brandon discovered outdoor therapy as a means to heal his PTSD.

Brandon in action on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Constant Thought follows Brandon’s attempt to walk the 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. In addition to psychic and spiritual healing, Brandon seeks a connection to the land he fought to protect, literally crossing America from Mexico to Canada.

“You survived for a reason, now do something with it!”

The central lesson of Constant Thought is that the best way to face a range of human trauma is to reach for literal, physical summits. By challenging himself on the PCT, and sharing his story, Brandon is raising awareness that immersion into the outdoors can start the healing process for a variety of mental health issues such as PTSD, while providing concrete coping skills.

As the film opens, Brandon awakes in a tent, in the pitch darkness, to his phone alarm – the military bugle call. Although he has returned to civilian life, Brandon still carries his military experience with him.

Close-up shots show Brandon packing up his gear that will help him hone new mental tools to cope with his PTSD, something he says, “can never be cured.”

Directed and produced by Palmer Morse & Matt Mikkelsen of Spruce Tone Films, a full suite production company, Constant Thought composes a POV experience, with Brandon vlogging the stages of his journey on the PCT (a noticeable change of pace from the mostly voice-over intercutting of the introductory chapter). Morse’s thoughtful cinematography is highlighted by a powerful establishing shot at the US-Mexico border.

Read next on TOJ: A Visit To “The Border Wall”: Here’s What I Found…

Notwithstanding the epic scale of the challenge to hike the 2,650 mile PCT, the filmmakers focus on mundane details of the journey to bring out Brandon’s personality. Everyday moments like filling up water bottles on route are intercut with cathartic moments like hitting the 100-mile marker.

“There’s always time for a tire swing.” Brandon has learned to relieve the pressure of PTSD by appreciating the small things, like the sensation of fun while riding on a tire swing, and connecting with his youthful self before his traumatic experiences.

Brandon’s playful personality shines through in the film.

At the middle point of the film, everything comes to a halt, and you question whether Brandon will continue. The filmmakers did something clever here. The audience hears Brandon’s voiceover commentary from the opening of the film in a distinctly new context. In the first instance, you’d think his comment “I don’t want to be here” reflects his feelings about being here on Earth, alive, but, not to spoil it, the second occurrence of the voiceover shifts its meaning. Palmer and Matt of Spruce Tone Films said that the doc went through several iterations of storytelling. That thoughtfulness paid off by yielding this chills-inducing moment.

With disciplined color grading by Kent Pritchett, and an introspective, original score by Ben Sollee that’s subtlelly uplifting, Spruce Tone Films orchestrates a solid documentary experience.

Constant Thought presents Brandon’s admirable journey to minimize PTSD’s effects on his daily life, for his family. Echoing a lesson taught by his father, Brandon leads an inspiring challenge to overcome a life-threatening obstacle: “If you don’t have a tool to help you complete what you’re doing, find that tool.” After struggling with survivor’s guilt through witnessing the death of his comrades in battle, Brandon has pushed passed his breaking point to forge a future that centers around devotion.

By Spruce Tone Films 

The Outdoor Journal connected with Brandon to discuss his personal battle with PTSD and his experience filming Constant Thought.

TOJ: How did you first learn about the PCT?

Growing up in Oregon, I had heard of it my whole life but it wasn’t until I met Hadley “Spinach” Krenkel that I really grew interested in it.

TOJ: Your wife describes your decision to hike to PCT as coming out of the blue. When did you first get serious about actually doing it?

I really didn’t get serious about it until I had a breakdown at my old IT job. We moved and I had time to think about how I could prevent more breakdowns like the one I had and all I could think of was to hike.

TOJ: What was your first step of commitment?

I got a job at REI.

The PCT is a long-distance hiking and equestrian trail closely aligned with the highest portion of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges.

TOJ: What gear and supplies did you need to complete it?

The gear and supplies were a year and half of trial and error – finding out what weight I wanted to carry and how little I needed. I used a Zpacks Arc Haul, Zpacks Duplex Tent, Zpacks 0 degree quilt and a Nemo Tensor Sleeping Pad. Those items I still use to this day and made up my big four, the most important items in my pack.

TOJ: What was your most important / trustworthy piece of gear?

The most trustworthy and important piece of gear I had was my Combat Flip Flops shemagh. I used this as my head wrap for hot, cold and wind protection, used it for a shade for siestas, and even as a towel.

TOJ: Can you describe your experience with PTSD?

It’s lead through depression, anger, alcoholism, pill addiction, violence, suicide attempts and loss of friends. But it has also taught me what is important family, friends and their future.

TOJ: When did it present itself, immediately upon returning home?

I did not realize and/or accept that I had PTSD until almost 3 years after I had gotten out of the Army.

TOJ: Is PTSD a universal experience amongst soldiers?

No, PTSD is not universal. Some have it and some don’t. Those that do have it, have it impact them differently.

The PCT runs from the U.S. border with Mexico, just south of Campo, California, to he Canada–US border on the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia.

TOJ: Does PTSD exist in the mind, the brain or the central nervous system, or all three?

PTSD for me hits me in every aspect of my being. It hits my mind, body and soul, sometimes all at the same time.

TOJ: Besides outdoor therapy, what other stress relief methods did you try to combat your symptoms of PTSD?

I have tried pills and general therapy but to no avail. I then tried road running and that started to help but only lasted a little after my runs. The trails were my way to combat PTSD on a longer timeline.

TOJ: How would you describe “survivor’s guilt” to someone with no military experience?

Survivor’s guilt is just that you feel that you should not have survived when someone else did or you feel guilty that you survived and they did not.

TOJ: Why do you still use the military bugle alarm to wake up?

The bugle alarm is just a mental reminder of the Army days and it was always a call to work. It is the easiest way for me to wake up.

The PCT weaves through California, Oregon, and Washington.

TOJ: How did you get connected with the directors and producers, Palmer and Matt?

Meeting Matt and Palmer all happened due to a cleanup day at the beach in Washington. I was with the Mission Continues and was introduced to Rob Smith from the NPCA and through those two I was asked to participate in a documentary called Hear Our Olympics that Matt and Palmer were producing.

TOJ: What made you willing to share your story with others by participating in this documentary film?

I was willing to share this due to an old squad leader from my Army days. He had told me “You survived for a reason, now do something with it!” Those words have stuck with me since then and this was a way to do something.

TOJ: Did you have any previous experience with film before?

I have had no film experience at all.

TOJ: What inspired you to join the military?

Joining the army was two-fold. One is that most of my male family as far as we can go back served, and second, I lost a few friends in high school who had deployed to Iraq, not the best reason to join but it was a factor.

Brandon’s military uniform.

TOJ: What drives you to spread this message about preserving natural resources?

It’s not just for us to use as a quiet space but also we need them for so many factors like clean air, animal life and food.

TOJ: How does it feel to know that by sharing your story, you will be helping other people, soldiers and civilians alike, to cope with their mental health issues?

The one thing that I told Matt and Palmer was as long as this spreads positively, that was all I wanted.

A behind-the-scenes look at production.

TOJ: What was your hardest challenge, or your most difficult moment on the PCT? 

The most difficult thing was getting back on the trail after my knee injury. I almost did not leave home to start again.

TOJ: Does hiking put you in a flow state that stops the thinking element of the brain and lets you just be in the moment?

When I get out there I just enjoy what’s around me and forget (or try to forget) the crap that is going on in my head.

TOJ: Do the physical sensations of hiking, such as burning pain in the legs, take over the mental ruminations?

The exhaustion is the best part. I get so tired I just sleep with no nightmares and sleep a full sleep.

TOJ: Did you set your mileage goals in advance or did you go day by day?

I had mileage goals but I also did not follow those. I way overdid it and when I go back I will be just going day by day.

TOJ: Did you celebrate mileage milestones along the route?

I took some pictures but never really celebrated, I should have.

PCT marker.

TOJ: Why was it so important to take on this route on a solo mission?

I thought solo was going to give me the best time to work on healing but realized that I needed others to talk to when I had those moments of weakness and doubt.

TOJ: How do you feel now about your decision to stop at 160 miles?

I am OK with stopping where I did but I will finish.

TOJ: How has your experience helped you succeed in other areas of your life?

The “failure” to complete the trail really has helped me put things in order in my life. Family, career, friends and enjoyment – those are my focuses now.

TOJ: You talk about “running away” in the film. What do you mean by this?

I had issues at home that I needed to deal with and I was running from those by getting on the trail instead of facing them. Earlier, I viewed my running away as my use of alcohol and pills to “run” from my issues and my pain.

TOJ: How are things going with becoming a Certified Forest Therapy Guide?

I have been slowly gaining the knowledge to become a Forest Therapy Guide and I plan on achieving that in the next five years.

Read next on TOJ: 3 Sons & A King: Documentary Film Review

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