Friday, January 29, 2016

Creating a vacation hiking schedule

It's no secret that we like to plan vacations around hiking. My idea of relaxation is eating lunch on top of a mountain.  My planning approach for a vacation hike is different from my local day hike approach. I'm less familiar with the terrain and weather patterns, I'm more likely to do hikes in less than ideal conditions, and I'm not taking the next day off to recover with video games. So what am I looking for in my hiking vacation planning? This.

1) Write down twice as many hikes as you want to do.
Always list more hikes than you think you can do in a day. One guidebook's strenuous is another book's moderate. I never want to it to be mid-day and I'm still ready to hike but have no clue where to go. Each day of my vacation schedule lists one to two 'must-do' trails and then one to two optional trails depending on the day's condition and my condition.
Goats don't close trails thank god!

This is also helpful if one of your trails is closed due to weather or animal activity.

2) Plan hiking days in pairs
For every day of strenuous hiking, match it with a day of easy hiking. I recognize that I struggle to hike 18 miles with 4,000 ft elevation two days in a row. So if day one is hiking Half Dome, day two is going to the Tuolumne Meadows (true story). This gives me time to recover and take on another mountain on day three.
Up in the clouds day 1...

...down in the meadows day 2. Our legs thanked us.

3) Don't plan a day
My favorite vacation day is catch-up day. This day is left blank at the end of the trip for us to pick up any trail we choose. Sometimes it's a trail suggestion from a ranger or a fellow hiker on the trail. If we got rained out on an earlier day, then we use catch-up day to get in that hike. Mother nature never cooperates 100% of the time. As a result, I never plan 100% of the time so we can still get it all in. Remember all those extra trails you wrote down in step 1? Here's your chance to visit some of the favorites that got left behind.
Eagle View trail may not be popular,but it sure is beautiful. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The three tenets of prop making for cosplayers

Props with your cosplay are the icing on the cake. It helps to elevate the entire costume to the next level by bringing items associated with your character into the act. I personally find it easier to create photo posses when I have a prop and seldom cosplay without one. My prop becomes my security blanket.

Like a cosplay, a prop project can easily become a burden which is why I start all projects with three questions.

Can I make it light?

There are two things a con day is not: short and inactive. Once I arrive at con, I'm excited to see all the costumes, visit all the exhibit booths, and see most of the panels. I don't want to leave and I don't want a large, heavy prop literally weighing me down. So the first part of any prop I tackle is the materials. How light can I make it? How do I make that even lighter?
To make a light and cheap mage staff, I used expanding foam.

There are plenty of options available for light prop making: worbla, paper mache, a million types of foam, and lightweight paper clay to name a few. When creating my initial blueprints, I keep these materials in mind for how to make the prop light. The size of the prop tends to help me determine which materials is best.

Can I make it cost-effective?

Yes, there are plenty of material options for making props light, but can I afford it? Budget is a part of cosplay. Fail to plan a good budget and you can plan to fail to complete the project. After creating a short list of ideal materials, I start to plan the costs. I may want to cover my project in Worbla, but at $45 a sheet it's not cost-effective. 

I start a prop project outlining three materials and budget plans: unlimited, economical, and blue-light special. The final selection is often a mix of all these plans as you balance material cost. 

Can I make it with my current skills and tools?

I think this is the hardest question for cosplayers to face. Yes, you should expand your horizons and learn new skills, but not at the expense of picking projects that will cause non-calculable measures of frustration. The challenge is looking for projects that are a step or two above your current skills, not a leap of faith 10 stories up.

Equally important is having the right tools. Making gems requires the tools to make custom molds and then use those molds to create the gem. Foam requires a lot of sharp blades to shape pieces and tarp to pick up your mess. Worbal needs to be heated, molded, primed, and then painted. My mom always said the right tools make the job. Part of your prop research needs to include the tools required and the cost for those tools.

To learn more about how I made the mage staff in this post, read my series about Expanding Foam and You.

Kamui Cosplay literally wrote the book on prop making. Be sure to check her out!

I hope my rules of prop making help inspire you to greatness on your next project!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Gearing up for abroad - New Year, New Resolutions

At the start of last year, I swore I was going to blog again. Blog more! Blog often! But last year's miss is this year's opportunity. So with a new year, I'm trying to kick my butt into gear again. This time, I'll start with a hiking post about the challenges of going abroad.


We love to make our vacations all about hiking. Spending seven days in a national park is easy planning. My car is my base camp, I only wear hiking clothes all trip, and I have access to laundry. For our trip to Japan, we wanted to make it all about food and only hike a few days. In lieu of suitcases, we used our multi-day packs. Translation: space was a rationed commodity.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized two facts:

  • I did not want to carry Fuji hiking gear for more than the day I needed it
  • I could not be the only person who wants to hike Fuji and doesn't have gear
The solution? Rent it! When I started looking at this route, I found there were online sites devoted to rental gear just for hiking Fuji. We could choose what we needed and have it sent to our hotel. I got us jackets (two layers), hiking boots, gloves, gators, hiking poles, and rain pants. You could have rented even more, if needed. We used our own base layers, socks,and headlights for the trip. 
Ricky sporting his rental jacket and gloves. So warm!
Our backpacks thanked us for the saved weight and space.  We were thankful to have gear made for the mountain. At home in Georgia, we have gear for rain and gear for cold but not gear for rain AND cold. From 6th to 8th station, the rain went from a sprinkle to a downpour. Visibility dropped drastically along with the temperature. The gear we rented was airtight. Not a drop got in and I never felt uncomfortably cold. 
We had two jackets - a fleece for warmth and an outer layer for rain.
Returning was just as easy. We threw everything in a pre-paid bag and dropped it off at a post office. Nothing to wash. No dirt in our bags. It was gone as magically as it had appeared.

After renting gators, I had to buy some when I got home!
The only difficult part was sizing. Americans tend to be larger than Japanese so we went with 'size O' on everything. Some items were on the tight side (pants), but it was better than nothing at all. 

So if your trip has you visiting a foreign country and hiking is only a part of your agenda, I highly encourage you looking at rental gear. The money spent was well worth the space saved!