I’ve always viewed a winter get-away to warmer weather as a bit of a luxury, but this year with the exceptionally harsh and unrelenting cold, it feels more like a life line. With a ten day trip to the Yucatán Peninsula (Cancún, Isla Cozumel, Tulum) planned and booked at the end of last year, anticipating the vacation became almost as important as actually getting there. With the extra time to prepare, my packing became more thoughtful, more streamlined and more precise. This trip I got a few things right for once and I’m happy to share what I learned. —AJ
His name has been mentioned on this site before, but it bears repeating: Dana Gleason. He founded Kletterwerks in the 70s, then created (and eventually sold) the infamous backpack behemoth Dana Design. Since 2000 he’s been designing and hand-building backpacks in Bozeman, Montana under the name Mystery Ranch. They are the best packs he’s ever made and arguably some of the best packs available for purchase. Decades of research and experience go into each model and they are all absolute workhorses. Every Mystery Ranch pack is designed specifically for the unique tasks required of soldiers, firefighters, rescue professionals, hunters and mountain climbers.
This winter I bought a Mystery Ranch ASAP daypack for steelhead fishing in the Northwest. I stared into my closet full of canvas totes, weekend duffels and clever work briefcases and realized I had nothing that was suitable for hiking and bushwhacking into coastal steelhead streams with enough room for a day’s worth of extra layers, a lunch, a first aid kit, fly boxes and other fishing tackle. After a bit of research I landed at Mystery Ranch. What sold me on the ASAP was not only the waterproof 3-Zip design, but also the internal pocket configuration that takes the guess work out of accessing gear when it’s open. It has a built-in large hydration port, a grid of PAL webbing for lashing on an additional rod case and comes in 3 standard sizes and 4 colors options – multicam, black, coyote and foliage.
I’ve taken it out fishing once already and it’ll be put to work again this weekend. My initial impressions are in line with what I already knew about a Dana Gleason built pack: it is rugged, ingeniously thought out, and the fit and finish is meticulous. And while we all love to pack a nice weekend bag for a couple of days in the city, a Mystery Ranch bag makes packing for a weekend trip to the woods equally exciting. – AJ
Arriving to Thanksgiving dinner with a well-chosen bottle of wine is simply the right thing to do. It’s doesn’t have to be pricey or geeky, just take a little extra time to pick out a bottle that will work well with the food. No matter who’s cooking, the staples that make up a traditional Thanksgiving dinner – turkey, gravy, stuffing, potatoes, green bean casserole, etc – all land on the salty end of the flavor spectrum. Even when piled high on a plate, they don’t have the wherewithal to stand up to a big red wine (Cabernet, Merlot, Barolo, Chianti, Shiraz) which all contain significant tannins and high alcohol levels. In this case, bigger is not always better. What the savory flavors need, particularly in the case of turkey, is acidity and crispness to balance out the saltiness and brininess. Luckily there are lots of ways to achieve this balance with both New World and Old World wines that are widely available. I like the way food and wine blogger BrooklynGuy approaches his wine picks for the holiday, “Keep it refreshing and lively, try to keep the alcohol to a minimum.” His logic being that family gatherings can already be teetering on the edge, no reason to pour gasoline on the fire.
There are few things that make me long for summer camping trips and weekends of trout fishing like my Snow Peak Hozuki Lantern. Its ingenious and elegant design immediately brings to mind the soft internal glow of a dome tent, slugging down tumblers of rye around the campfire with friends and reading late into the night tucked into my little camper van. It’s a product that actually inspires me to plan a trip simply because I get such a kick out of using this smart little piece of gear. This connection falls directly in line with Snow Peak’s brand promise as the “natural lifestyle creator.” Their tools and gear truly inspire a life lived in ease and harmony with the outdoors.
These days it’s hard to find an actual musical underground where something new is truly discovered, as virtually every release gets some amount of exposure from writers online and in print. There is a lot of good music out there, it just takes time to wade through it all. So after ten months of wading, these are some of the best, and by that I mean these are the albums that have staying power; the ones that I continue to come back to over and over, the ones that are solid from front to back, the ones that made me actually feel something, the ones that didn’t lose steam or relevance after multiple spins. Like everything else on ACL, these releases are judged on quality, durability and style. Shouldn’t those always be the deciding factors, even with music? Everything listed below is available on download and streaming services, but also at your local record store on LP. – AJ
If you want an unflinching view of present-day America, look no further than Magnum photographer Alec Soth and writer Brad Zellar’s self-published LBM Dispatch Series. Drawing from the tradition of Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley and Kerouac and Frank’s The Americans, it is a serial journal of photos and writings that unfolds state by state, telling the stories of how we Americans are living today; how we get by, how we chase dreams, how we gather together and connect. As a photographic newspaper or travelogue, the LBM Dispatch bridges the gap between the immediacy of a blog and the beauty and permanence of an art book with each edition edited, laid out, printed and shipped just a week or two after the trip is completed. Empathetic, genuine, humorous and inspiring – the LBM Dispatch is a reminder that America is richer, sweeter and more nuanced than pollsters and cable television pundits would have us believe. Soth and Zellar were kind enough to answer a few questions for ACL about how the project came about and where they plan on taking it.
ACL: I assume that the newsprint format that you use for the LBM Dispatch was a discovery you made with The Last Days of W. What is it about newsprint that feels right for this project?
Alec Soth: Yes, that is true, but there are differences. The Last Days of W. was never a fully-fledged project. In that case I was digging through old photographs and wanted to make something that was modest and impermanent. So newsprint made sense, but it wasn’t actually constructed like a newspaper. With a writer and photographer going out telling stories, Dispatch is much more like a newspaper. And the immediacy of the form also made sense. But the project is much more ambitious than Last Days. That is partly why, in fact, we no longer print on newsprint. The first two issues were done that way, but the quality was just so meager —particularly in the dark values— that we switched to offset printing. This made the whole process much more expensive.
ACL: I love the idea that the LBM Dispatch is inspired by local newspapers. I grew up in a rural logging town in Oregon and our local paper takes itself just as seriously as say The New York Times, which I think is great. I feel like you guys approach the work in the same way. How does this idea or framework of being reporters help propel the stories and trips along.
Brad Zellar: It’s certainly the key to the whole thing. Although we don’t represent ourselves as reporters, our approach to the work is still very much a hunt for newsworthy or interesting stories and characters. I worked at my own local daily newspaper in a small Minnesota town, and the things that interested me way back when —the profiles of local people and the search for colorful or poignant yarns and haunted history— are still the things I tend to look for.
AS: I’m prone to self-indulgence. I’m much more likely to daydream or ponder my own neuroses than investigate the world ‘out there.’ One of the reasons I was interested in joining the photo agency Magnum is that I figured their tradition of doing documentary work would help keep me honest – keep pushing me out into the world. But I go back and forth. My last project, Broken Manual, was definitely inward looking. Afterward, I realized I needed to balance things out. But doing editorial work was increasingly unsatisfying. So Brad and I started our own paper. While it isn’t a conventional newspaper, having that as the backbone of the project does keep me from doing too much navel gazing.