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I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

- Herman Melville

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Adventure Travel

Mar 22, 2017

The TomTom Adventurer: A Watch That Saved My Life

Good gear can keep you alive in the mountains.

WRITTEN BY

Trivik Verma

I always carry a probe, a shovel, and an avalanche transceiver, but what brought me down to safety was a watch I had never heard of. Adventurer is TomTom’s latest addition to the world of navigation.

I met a group of skiers and boarders who were queueing up at the chairlift despite considerable avalanche danger warnings by the Gulmarg Ski Patrol. The top of Mt. Apharwat—4,200 m (13,780 ft) above sea level—was drifting in and out of sight, hiding behind massive whiteout conditions. I checked my backpack for all the essential life-saving equipment (probe, shovel and a transceiver) including some food and water, and followed the skiers.

TomTom Adventurer's lift detection makes it easier to study past runs
4 days of stormy weather didn’t allow for any warnings. Himraj Soin bent his ski poles on the chairlift when the ground wasn’t visible at all. The Adventurer has a lift detection feature that allows one to see the stats for the last run. Photo: Trivik Verma

I don’t usually go against my better judgement. When Luke Smithwick, Snow Safety Officer at the Gulmarg Avalanche Advisory, explained the snowpack the day before and issued the warning, he also mentioned that it was safe (similar safety norms are practised in the US and EU ski resorts) to be in the confines of the resort.

Following his advice, my analysis, and all of my excitement to be here, I was on my way to Mary’s Shoulder; an exit of the chairlift just below the top of Mt. Apharwat. The group of skiers disappeared just before I took the exit and the visibility reduced to barely a meter. Adding to my rising heart rate, the chairlift stopped. Nobody was on their way up.  

I have never been one to wear a watch. But there I was, standing atop a mountain, lost and scared, wearing the watch that literally saved my life. I boarded down through knee-deep powder but ended up in a bowl full of the previous day’s avalanche debris.  

TomTom Adventurer Data Analytics
A screenshot of the data analytics on the website of TomTom. A drop in the highest speed is where I flipped on my rear edge and ended up in an avalanche debris bowl.

The Adventurer has a trail exploration setting that pointed me straight down to the start of the chairlift. Half my worries were alleviated just knowing which way I had to tumble down to safety. The automatic lift detection feature showed me how much gradient I was looking to snowboard over and the 3D distance that remained between me and my home (as the watch called it). It did give me a boost to see all this, but the danger was real and I didn’t yet realise the elevation I had to descend to get back.

Sitting flat on my butt end, hoping to not hear any resounding noise (that usually only means one thing in such bad weather – an avalanche), I was flicking through the screens of the watch. There is an incredible feature called ‘altitude delta’. I was lost at 3351 meters, and the delta showed that I had started at 3080 meters at Kongdoori, the base of the chairlift. Great, about 200 meters to go.

TomTom's Adventurer has a great GPS system
Checking the compass just before making a descent through the stormy day to assess the location of the bottom of the chairlift. The Adventurer points directly to the starting location marked as home on the dial.

The Adventurer is a new entrant into a market dominated by other giants. It is simple, and frankly, I don’t feel terrible wearing a watch. There is no hassle of wearing a chest strap to get your heartbeat. Mine was translating from my pulse directly into the watch through an inbuilt sensor under the strap.

The watch is not as expensive as the other Garmin or Suunto counterparts and has packed in a new tool called the QuickGPSfix – something you bet a GPS giant like TomTom would have got right. The watch downloads the projected orbit of the satellites for the next 7 days, so it gives a more accurate reading on the GPS even if the signal is weak.

Pros

The TomTom Adventurer tracks all sports activities including skiing and snowboarding using QuickGPSfix. It has got a solid battery life that doesn’t die on you for about 18-20 days of monitoring sleep cycles, counting steps or calories. Unless you are using the GPS; then it is 9-10 hours. Hiking allows for a full day of GPS tracking because the watch sensors slow down to walking pace. The watch is water-resistant. My phone got buried with it in the snow, and only one of those survived. The data can be exported as a generic file that can be used across all sorts of apps that are meant for fitness and tracking. What I love about it is there is no more than 1 button. I keep my gloves on if it’s cold and move the tracker to get things done.

Cons

None except the app is still coming up to par with what other devices offer.

Price: $349.99 (INR 25,999)
There is a limited offer at RunningHub.in – Use promo code: TTOJ5, get up to 20% off! Click here to know more.

The Outdoor Journal + TomTom

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Adventure Travel

Jul 04, 2018

Become the Bear! Tackling Middle Aged Life the Bear Grylls Way.

This story originally featured in a print issue of the Outdoor Journal.

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WRITTEN BY

Jamie East

You can subscribe here.

Bear Grylls is probably one of the most famous adventure celebrities in the world. Aside from all his adventures, Bear also shares his survival skills with anyone ready to pay for it. One such chap was our middle-aged writer Jamie East, who usually preferred watching other people take risks from the safe distance of his television. Until he decided to go out there himself and get dirty.

Well, there’s something liberating about jumping into a freezing, fast-flowing river with all your clothes on. It’s the kind of thing that, as a child, you told yourself you’d do all the time once you were big enough and your parents couldn’t tell you off. Yet staying on the precipice at age 39, all I can think of is, “Is this jumper dry-clean only?”

This is what life does to you. It sucks the adventure from you quicker than a Dyson in a bag of sawdust. Before you know it, you’d rather sleep than live, drive than hike, sink into the sofa than swim.

I suppose this could be classified as bare survival. You exist but don’t live, and I’ve decided enough is enough. What would the 12-year-old Jamie, who got sent home from school for falling down a ravine he thought he could clear in one leap, say to me if he could see the 39-year-old me? “Man up!” probably. “Your clothes are stupid?” most definitely.

Bear Grylls is the man we all aspire to be. Hard as nails on a mountain ledge, soft as grease at home with his kids. The fire in his heart burns brighter than Krypton being destroyed, and he’s harder than a 60-foot working model of optimus Prime made from diamonds. He also embraces the outlook on life we all wish we had time for had those damned IsAs, smart phones and creamy pasta sauces not gotten in the way. Thankfully for those of us with a terminal case of lazy-itis, we can see how the other half live over at the Bear Grylls survival Academy from the bleak Scottish Highlands or the luscious surrey forests in England. Run by Grylls and his team of ex-paratroopers, the survival Academy is an ideal introduction into a world of skills and endurance we think we’ll never need. Be honest; how many of us truly believe that there will come a time when we will be skewering a rat for dinner or navigating a 23,000-acre highland with only the stars to help? But these are skills that used to be second nature to us humans. If there weren’t people like Grylls to show us the way, there are a lot of people around the world who wouldn’t have lived to tell the tale of the time their car broke down in the Australian outback, or when they had to make a snow cave that provided those few vital hours of warmth on a mountaintop. Whether we like it or not, the knowledge could prove life-saving.

A tent set up for participants during the 5-day Survival in the Highlands course in Scotland.
A tent set up for participants during the 5-day Survival in the Highlands course in Scotland.

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The Academy offers several options tailored to your needs. You can opt for a 24-hour experience in Surrey either alone or with a family member older than 10. Although only 10 minutes from the motorway, such is the Surrey countryside that you could be in Montana for all you’d know. The dense forest makes for a real wilderness experience. The deep rivers you’ll be crossing, the rabbits you’ll be gutting, the trees you’ll be stripping to make shelter, and the ravines you’ll be shimmying across really do give you a feeling of being alive. A 20-minute run is considered a “big thing” in my house, so spending days in the real outdoors felt invigorating. I felt alive!

I’m not an all-rounder though. I found some of the requisite skills completely beyond me, navigating by starlight was one. My brain is just not wired to untangle that kind of data.

I used to think I could point out the north star in a heartbeat. Nope. The north star isn’t the brightest one. Nuts.

“The North Star is, in fact, the one perpendicular to blah de blah de blah babble babble wibble waffle.” That’s how that sentence sounded coming from the instructor’s mouth: just a stream of nonsense about ploughs and bears. It doesn’t look like a plough. If it looked like a plough, I’m pretty sure even I could find it. But it doesn’t. It looks like a slightly wavy line of stars that is buried among 200 billion other stars. It makes finding a needle in a haystack look like finding an elephant in an eggcup, so if I’m stuck anywhere in the world (and I mean anywhere: La Rinconanda, the Kerguelen Islands or just past the BP garage near my house) without Google maps or a TomTom, you may as well kiss this writer’s sorry ass goodbye, because I’ll wither away in a puddle of my own dehydrated tears.

Jamie had to eat maggots (crunchy and nutty), drink from a muddy river and set traps and eat rabbit he skinned with his own bare hands.
Jamie had to eat maggots (crunchy and nutty), drink from a muddy river and set traps and eat rabbit he skinned with his own bare hands.

But there are things that must have been festering in my subconscious all these years, like a coiled snake ready to unleash, on an unsuspecting world. For instance, I could light a fire that is neither at the end of a cigarette nor underneath a pile of half-frozen burgers. I mean a real fire created by nothing but flint and dried bark. It’s a panic-inducing task, and I’m not ashamed to say it took me nearly 40 minutes. As my instructor, Scott, told me, it’s all in the timing. Put on too much too soon and you’re buggered. Too little too late and, yup, you’re buggered.

Instructions for making a fire without matches or anything a sane human would have within arm’s reach
You need the slightest feathers of bark piled up like Candyfoss. You need your spark. Mine was from the flint on my Rambo knife. The very second that spark takes hold of one of your bark feathers, blow very gently. If all goes well, that will turn into a largish smoldering lump of smoke. If it doesn’t, go back to the beginning. You now need to start throwing on more feathers of bark, a fraction larger than the one before, before moving onto dried-out twigs no thicker than a hair on a baby’s ear. Eight hours later, you have a fire that could singe your eyebrows from 183 m. Well done!
Soon to be survivalists learning how to free rope traverse - a basic zip-line technique that can be used for water crossings and emergency evacuations.
Soon to be survivalists learning how to free rope traverse – a basic zip-line technique that can be used for water crossings and emergency evacuations.

So, if ever I do go missing near the BP garage by my house, just look for the massive fire right next to the petrol station. Well, I may need to think that through a bit more.

The Scottish Highlands course that is offered is similar to this, apart from a few key points. It goes on for five days and takes place in one of the most remote places in Britain. It’ll probably pour down with ice-cold rain for the entire trip, and you’ll have to eat rat and cross a river in your underpants. Apart from that, exactly the same.

Spending time with this team baked common sense into my brain. The lessons easily transform into mundane, everyday life. The buzz phrase of the trip is “Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance.” out in the highlands, this means, “If you don’t prepare well, you will likely starve and die.” At home, this translates to, “Use a tape measure, or your shelf won’t be even.” The sentiment is still the same. Don’t judge me.

You should know what you’re getting into, of course. This is a Bear Grylls branded experience, after all (and all the equipment says as much). You won’t be expected to drink your own body fluids, squeeze drops of moisture out of elephant dung, or decapitate a rattlesnake with the sole of your boot, but you will feel as though you could if you were the last man on Earth. I did eat maggots (crunchy and nutty), drink from a muddy river, set traps and eat rabbit I skinned with my own bare hands. And do you know what?

I’ve never felt more alive or more connected with the world I selfishly pillage on a daily basis. I’m not alone, either.

People the world over have sought out the Grylls way of life. Upon his return to the US, my fellow survivor Caleb said “my hands are shredded, my nose is stuffed, my throat is raspy and my body is tanked, but I am alive now more than ever. It was everything I hoped for: an empowering learning experience.

Crossing a freezing river in Surrey during the 24 hour family course.
Crossing a freezing river in Surrey during the 24 hour family course.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. After the aching had subsided, and the clothes were washed, the niggling feeling that I was approximately 3 percent more of a man than I was before I began, just wouldn’t leave me. It still hasn’t.

I didn’t imagine that sleeping rough, eating worms and swimming in rivers could possibly have this much of an effect on my psyche, but it really has. I’m not saying I could rescue someone hanging off a cliff, or survive in the jungle for more than a couple of hours. But if you get the chance, breathe in the air, sharpen that stick and venture out into the big, wide world. Just remember to take a compass with you. I swear those stars are out to get you.

Photos by Discovery Channel, Jamie East & The Bear Grylls Survival Academy.

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