Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Travel Insurance In A Package: Csa And Hth Travel Insurance

Two of the best known names in the travel insurance industry are CSA and HTH travel insurance. Both of these insurance companies have been around for a while insuring travelers. They both offer packages that will insure the investment that you have made in your travel package.

Travel Insurance
 Keeping your Money Safe while Traveling

When you are spending money for travel, you will want to make sure that the money is safe by insuring the travel plans. The more you spend on the travel arrangements and the riskier the travel arrangements, the more money the travel insurance will cost you. Both CSA and HTH are travel insurance companies that weigh risk of the venture with the premium. Not everyone gets the same flat premium for their travel coverage when they are using these companies. Nor do they get the same coverage. Everything depends on the type of travel that you are doing and the type of coverage that you desire.

Comprehensive Travel Insurance with CSA and HTH Travel Insurance

CSA is a name that is known to most travel agents and is one of the most popular travel insurance companies that is used. Many travel agencies will try to get travelers to get insurance when they are going on a trip, just in case of a cancellation or inclement weather that can prevent their enjoyment. CSA is one of the companies that will protect travelers against poor weather when they are going on a trip where they expect the weather to be good. The amount for which they offer insurance depends on the type of insurance that someone is getting and the likelihood of something going wrong. CSA is a company that will weigh out the risks of the insurance and balance it with the cost of the insurance.

HTH is another travelers insurance that specializes in medical coverage for those who get sick when they are on vacation. HTH also takes into consideration the chances of the person getting sick as well as the general overall health of the person being insured. The country of their travel destination is also considered when it comes to policies offered by HTH travel insurance. Both HTH and CSA will give broad packages for travel insurance that cover just about everything that can go wrong with the trip for one price. The price that someone pays for such a premium on travel insurance depends on the odds of something going wrong.

Quick and Efficient Service with CSA and HTH Travel Insurance
When it comes to claims, CSA and HTH both handle them quickly and effectively. If you get travel insurance and need to make a claim, you will need to have proof of a loss. You will have to present the proof of the loss to the travel insurance claims adjuster so that you can get money back. Neither CSA or HTH will insure a traveler based upon their enjoyment of the trip. Losses that are incurred during a trip have to be concrete losses that can be proven on paper when you are making a travel insurance claim at either CSA or HTH travel insurance companies. No travel insurance company will pay out on a claim for lack of enjoyment - all losses must be substantiated.

Monday, July 17, 2017

On the Road Again: Tokyo Bound!

I've been mostly home over the past month and a half, save for a few short trips here and there. But, the next couple of weeks will be busy ones, as I leave for Tokyo, Japan tomorrow morning and will return on Sunday, July 23 just long enough to do some laundry, collect my thoughts, and repack to travel to Outdoor Retailer on the following Tuesday. It's a grueling job, but someone has to do it. Right?

It is going to be a crazy schedule for sure, but it should be a fun one as well. But, it means there will likely be limited updates to The Adventure Blog while I'm on the road. I'll still keep an eye on some of the big stories that are developing – including potential summits on K2 – and I'll have some articles posted on the two days leading up to the start of OR, but otherwise news is likely to be scare through July 31.

But, I'll be back before you know it, and we'll resume our regular coverage of the outdoor adventure and exploration world. Until then, don't forget to schedule some time for a few adventures of your own. After all, that's ultimately what we're all about around here.

Back soon!

Video: Alex Honnold Interview on the Jimmy Kimmel Show

At the end of last week, rock climber Alex Honnold appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show here in the U.S., giving a large, mainstream audience an introduction to a man that many of us have been following for years. In the interview, Honnold talks about his recent free solo up El Capitan in Yosemite of course, but also how he got started in climbing in the first place, what his mom thinks about his exploits, and much more. Definitely worth a watch if you haven't seen it, as its nice to see Alex in a relaxed environment like this one.

Video: Footage of the Massive Crack on the Antarctic Ice Shelf Prior to Iceberg Breaking Away

Last week we shared the story of a massive iceberg breaking off from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in the Antarctic. The creation of the 1 trillion ton iceberg didn't come as a surprise, as researchers have been following a huge crack as it developed along the ice shelf over the course of the past few months. Now, we have footage of what that crack looked like as it grew and spread for miles, eventually giving way altogether. As you would expect, it is quite the sight. Check it out in the video clip below.

Kilian Jornet Wins Hardrock 100 with Dislocated Shoulder

By now, it's hard for any of us to be surprised at the things Kilian Jornet pulls off while training, competing, or climbing in the mountains. But this past weekend, the trail runner/mountaineer added yet another chapter to his growing legend when he not only one the Hardrock 100 trail race for the fourth straight year, but he did so with a dislocated shoulder.

Heading into the race, Jornet was once again the favorite. He as been running well this year, despite taking time off to travel to the Himalaya where he managed to summit Everest without oxygen within a span of five days, and set a new speed record in the process. But, it looked like his fourth title might be in jeopardy early on when he fell 13 miles into the race, dislocating his shoulder. Jornet says that he was able to pop it back into place on his own. Later, he received some assistance at an aid station, where the arm was wrapped in a sling, but he received no medication.

For most of us, such an injury would have been enough to put us out of the competition, but for Jornet it was just another challenge to overcome. In the end, he managed to complete the 100.5 mile (161 km) course in a time of 24 hours, 32 minutes, and 32 seconds. That was enough to finish ahead of Mike Foote, who shadowed Kilian much of the way, but ended up finishing in second place 23 minutes back.

The 2017 female champion at the Hardrock wasn't without her challenges either. French runner Caroline Chaverot finished with a time of 28 hours, 31 minutes, and 50 seconds, although she spent about 90 of those minutes lost on the trail. She had led for much of the race up until that point, but wandered off the trail in the dark. Eventually she found her way back to the route, learned that she was still in the lead, and was able to collect herself to get to the finish line ahead of any of the other women in the race.

After the race was over, Jornet indicated that he was in a lot of pain and that his shoulder was incredibly sore, but of course he wasn't about to give up. He said that he had suffered a similar injury in the past and knew what to expect. Whether or not the injury will have an impact on his competition schedule this year remains to be seen, but at the moment he is still the best mountain runner in the world, even with one hand tied behind his back.

See Kilian cross the finish line and conduct a post race interview in the video below.

Summer Climbs 2017: K2 Reminds Teams Why it is 'The Savage Mountain'

The Pakistani climbing season is continuing at a steady pace, with most of the attention now shifting to K2 as the end of the season creeps into sight. Most of the teams still climbing in the Karakoram have now shifted their attention to that mountain, and while some are preparing for the first summit bids of the season, they're getting a reminder of why it has been labeled "the Savage Mountain."

Late last week a major avalanche occurred high on the Abruzzi route of K2, potentially wiping out Camp 3 and the fixed ropes above 7315 meters (24,000 ft). It is unclear how much damage the avalanche inflicted, but the guides there believe that C3 may be completely gone. If so, they'll need to rebuild the campsite and potentially fix ropes once again before anyone can go higher. That also means shuttling gear back up the mountain, which can be an arduous task, even for Sherpas use to operating in those conditions.

This past weekend was suppose to be the final round of acclimatization rotations on the Abruzzi, with some teams heading up to C4 before returning to Base Camp for a rest ahead of the first summit bids. But, once again poor weather conditions reared their ugly head, with high winds and heavy snow preventing anyone from going above C2. That means that now, a few days after the avalanche, it is still unclear how much of Camp 3 remains and how much was swept off the mountain.

At this point, all of the teams are pretty much ready to go, but they're waiting for a proper weather window. That could happen later this week, as the forecast calls for improved conditions in the days ahead. But, the upper sections of the mountain are still covered in deep snow, some of which may be unstable. Avalanches are likely to be common over the next few days, but hopefully things will settle after that.

Traditionally, summit bids on K2 take place in the last week of July and early part of August, so if the teams do begin their climbs this week, they are actually a bit ahead of schedule. That said however, the fickle nature of the mountain makes everything uncertain, even this late into the season.

Over on Broad Peak, Base Camp is now all but deserted. The Furtenbach Adventures team has either moved to K2 BC or has started the trek home. Other teams have also packed up and left, although Spaniard Oscar Cadiach remains. Bad weather has restricted him to BC as well, but he is holding out hope of a late season summit. If successful, he'll have notched his 14th – and final – 8000 meter peak.

It should prove to be an interesting week in a few days, but for now, the climbers sit and wait for an opportunity to move up. There chance will likely come soon enough, but until then they remain in a holding pattern. The real work will commence soon however, and K2 isn't about to give up its summit lightly. Stay tuned for more updates.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Video: A Sea to Summit Ski Expedition on Mt. St. Elias in Alaska

If you're looking for a great video that follows an impressive expedition, look no further. In this clip, we join Janelle and Mark Smiley, along with Jed Porter, as they travel to Alaska to climb and ski Mt. St. Elias. The mountain is known for having one of the longest vertical ski runs in the entire world, as the peak rises 18,008 feet (5488 meters) from the sea. On this journey, the trio actually skied more than 13,000 feet (3962 meters), which is an impressive amount of vert on a single run. Check it out below.

Mt St Elias - A sea to summit expedition from Mark Smiley on Vimeo.

Video: Sri Lankan Navy Rescues Elephant Swept Out to Sea

Here's an amazing video of a daring rescue conducted by members of the Sri Lankan navy rescuing an elephant that was swept out to sea. While elephants are excellent swimmers, this one was fighting currents and was having a difficult time making it back to shore, to an operation was conducted to make sure the animal survived. It's a pretty amazing story and great to see unfold. Hats off to the team that made the rescue.

Tour de France Recap Week 2: Ladies and Gentleman, We Have Ourselves a Race!

As we entered the second week of the Tour de France, it appeared as if there wouldn't be much in the way of drama. As has been the case for three of the past four years, Chris Froome was in yellow and his Sky Team looked like it was in complete control of the race. Froome's primary challengers – namely Nairo Quintana and Richie Porte – hadn't put up much of a fight in the first week. Quintana looked tired from his recent ride in the Giro and Porte was lurking right up until he crashed out of the race last weekend. It seemed another Froome win was almost a sure thing, provide he didn't make a mistake.

But things can change fast in Le Tour as we found out yesterday. That's when on the final climb up Peyragudes that we finally saw something we hadn't seen out of Froome before. The defending champ cracked, allowing Italian champ Fabio Aru to pull away and claim the Yellow Jersey for his own.

It was a surprising result that opens up the drama for the days to come. In fact, we saw the battle continue today, with Froome testing Aru on several occasions, and proving to the field that he is still the man to beat. Other riders who have been aggressive and riding well include Roman Bardet who now sits in third place behind Aru and Froome, and Rigoberto Uran, who is perhaps the surprise of the race so far, hanging in fourth. Dan Martin has also been racing incredibly well, and would be amongst the leaders had he not been caught up on the crash with Porte on Sunday. That account took a minute off his time, sending him down the rankings.

The next few days will be challenging, but the big mountains of the Alps that come next week will play a huge role in who wins the Tour this year. Aru, who leads by just six seconds, needs to take more time from Froome if he hopes to arrive in Paris in yellow. The final competitive stage for the General Classification will be a time trial on Saturday, July 22. Froome is a much better TT rider than Aru, and anything less than a 30 second lead will probably give the race back to defending champ. But, that is far from a foregone conclusion, which means week 3 should have some really interesting stages.

As far as the battles for the other jerseys go, Marcel Kittel has a commanding lead for the Green Jersey that goes to the sprinters, in no small part thanks to his five big stage wins so far this tour. He could win as many as three more stages before he's through, which would tie the record held by the great Eddy Merckx. Warren Barguil holds the Polka Dot Jersey as the Tour's best climber, and also has a massive lead. He took the stage win today on Bastille Day, doing his country very proud. Finally, Simon Yates wears the White Jersey to the best young rider, and if he continues to ride well should hold on to that honor heading into Paris.

I've stuck to my vow to keep my Tour de France coverage to a minimum this year, but the race is certainly starting to heat up. If your a fan, you're probably following it as closely as I am, but if not you may want to tune in. Next week promises to be quite the spectacle.

15 Great Pieces of Gear for Summer Backpacking

Looking for the very best gear to take on your summer camping, hiking, or backpacking trip? Your in luck, because Backpacker magazine has put together its list of the 15 best pieces of gear for use in the summer season with products designed to perform well, while also keeping us cooler and drier in hot weather.

You'll find a little of everything on this list, starting with coffee to get your day started and ending with a lantern to keep the campsite illuminated at night. In between, you'll discover Backpacker's picks for sunscreen, energy bars, shorts, shoes, hats, and more. You'll find gear from brands we all know and love, and a few that you may not have heard of before. You'll also find an excellent warm-weather backpack, sunglasses, and even a tripod for your smartphone, complete with a remote control.

Personally, I love the focus of this list, which not only says it has summer gear for use in our outdoor adventures, but delivers on that promise too. Many summer gear guides simply offer the best new gear being released during that season, but Backpacker's actually offers products that are highly functional for use in the heat.

Check out the entire list here.

Summer Climbs 2017: The Challenges of a Double Summit on K2 and Broad Peak

Over the past few years, we've seen an increase in commercial climbing in the Karakoram, most notably on K2, arguably the toughest most dangerous mountain in the world. Part of the strategy for many of the mountaineers who come to that part of the world is to first acclimatize on Broad Peak, make a summit attempt there, then jump over to K2 with an eye on quickly scaling that mountain too. But, this strategy has met with limited success, in part because of the unpredictable weather on K2, where the mountain can go several years without a single summit, thanks in no small part due to the high winds, heavy snow, and crazy conditions.

Alan Arnette has written an excellent blog post that takes a look at the history of mountaineers making double – and sometimes triple – summits in a single season. The article discusses what it takes to complete such a difficult undertaking, and then takes a look at both the Everest-Lhotse and K2-Broad Peak doubleheaders, with the latter being especially important as it is playing out at this very moment in the Karakoram.

So how realistic is it for a climber to summit both peaks within a few weeks of one another? According to Alan's article, it has only been done four times in the past, as compared to 84 successful summits of Gasherbrum I and II in the same season. What makes it so difficult? Arnette goes into detail on that topic too, listing the weather, the timing and schedule of the expedition, as well as the fitness and attitude of the alpinist attempting to pull off such a feat.

After reading the article, it is clear that we shouldn't expect too many of the climbers who summited Broad Peak a few days back to also pull of another summit of K2 in the days ahead. Some may actually be able to do it, but historically speaking it is a long shot.

Speaking of K2, progress is continuing on that mountain as teams prepare for the summit push ahead. A few days back we learned that Camp 4 had been established on the Abruzzi Route, and now we have an update from Česen Route as well. That's where Himex has set up shop and has been slowly but surely working away as well. They have been able to build and supply Camp 3 at 7200 meters (23,600 ft), but as usual, the weather has not been an ally. The team has set a departure date from Base Camp for August 4, so there is still plenty of time on the schedule however.

For now, we wait and watch. The climbers are putting in the hard work, acclimatizing, and preparing, but it remains to be seen if the mountain will cooperate. We'll know soon enough.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Video: Wild Kimberley of Australia

Travel to Western Australia in this video to visit the Kimberley region, a vast stretch of wilderness that has few inhabitants, only a handful of settlements, and miles of open territory running from the Indian Ocean to the very heart of the continent. This timelapse clip shares glimpses of some of the striking landscapes that can be found there, including some impressive shots of the night skies.

Wild Kimberley from Juergen Freund Visuals on Vimeo.

Video: Mountain Biking Through an Abandoned Mine

What do you do if you discover an old, abandoned mine while mountain biking through the backcountry? Why, explore it by bike of course! That's exactly what Kilian Bron and his friends did when they had that exact same scenario present itself to them while out on a ride recently. The result is a great video that follows them into the depths of the Earth while on their bikes. Check it out below.

Gear Closet: Lowa Alpine Pro GTX Hiking Boots Review

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Lowa boots, having tested and reviewed several of their products in the past, including the awesome Renegade Ice GTX. With that in mind, you can imagine how excited I was when I recently received a pair of the new Alpine Pro GTX models to try out as well. This boot is Lowa's new flagship product for use in alpine environments, and promises to deliver a new level of performance for the company, which already has a legacy of fantastic footwear for use in the mountains.

The Alpine Pro GTX was designed to be a minimalist mountain boot, which is to say that it is built to be lighter and more comfortable than the competition in this market space. But, we're still talking about footwear for use in rough and tumble alpine conditions, so a pair of these shoes still tips the scales at 3.6 pounds (1650 grams). That may sound like a lot for anyone who doesn't venture far off the beaten path and usually walks in trail running shoes. But for serious trekking that is a fairly lightweight boot, and it shows out on the trail, keeping your legs and feet happier on longer excursions and remaining nimble while scrambling over rough terrain too.

Lowa has armed the Alpine Pro with a Vibram Alp Trac outsole that provides excellent traction and grip on a variety of surfaces and offers an expanded climbing zone for those tough descents. The lugs are aggressive, but not overly large, and offer a self-cleaning profile that helps to keep mud and other debris from collecting along the bottom. As with most boots however, that only goes so far, and thick, dense mud will still collect on the boots if conditions are particularly nasty.

The sole also offers a lower profile when compared to other boots of this kind, which is particularly helpful for getting a good feel for the ground underneath. Personally, I prefer a boot that allows me to feel more connected with the trail, as it helps me to maintain footing and remain safe when passing over difficult or dangerous terrain. These boots deliver that feeling quite nicely, making them a good choice for mountain excursions.

Inside the boot, Lowa uses a carbon fiber insert that provide rigidity and support, while also allowing for a good anatomical fit. The boots were snug without being tight, and didn't allow my foot to move around too much, avoiding nasty hotspots or blisters in the process. A shock absorbing heel with a comfortable insole also provides a nice level of support, while a Gore-Tex liner keeps moisture at bay.

Lowa says that it developed this boot with the help of its team of pro athletes and it shows. The attention to detail found here will be much appreciated not only by those mountain professionals, but amateurs like you and me too. For instance, the boot has been designed to allow the toes to have some flexibility and connection with the rock, making it easier to maintain a good toe-hold while climbing. Meanwhile, a removable interior pad found along the tongue and roof of the shoe provides extra padding and support as needed, but can be taken out if conditions warrant it. The footbed is also comfortable and soft while still maintain stability too. This goes a long way towards providing a sense of security no matter what the conditions are like under foot.

As you can probably tell, I'm very impressed with these boots. They are lightweight, comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, and offer excellent traction on a wide variety of terrain and surface conditions. They are also quick to break-in for a boot of this type and offer plenty of support and stability too. In short, they are pretty much everything you could as for in a light-duty mountaineering boot, that could also serve you well when backpacking or hiking through difficult environments.

Priced at $425, Lowa is clearly going for the high-end market here. That price will make anyone who doesn't need this level of performance wince of course, but for those who do venture up into challenging alpine environments, it is pretty much par for the course. In my mind, these boots are worth every penny to the right person, delivering on their promise of providing a minimalist alpine boot that doesn't compromise on performance in any way. If that sounds like the type of footwear you need for your mountain adventures, the Lowa Alpine Pro GTX is going to make you very happy indeed.

Japanese Blogger Further Discredits Amelia Earhart Photo

Remember that photo that was revealed last week that purportedly showed Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan on a dock in the Marshall Islands after the famous aviator went missing? A few days after it was revealed, experts immediately began poking holes in the story, but now it seems that it can be put to rest once and for all. A Japanese blogger has discovered the image in the national archives of his country and according to his findings, it was published nearly two years before Earhart embarked on her fateful flight.

According to National Geographic, Japanese history blogger Kota Yamano wrote a post on July 9 on his search for answers regarding the photo. Apparently he visited the National Diet Library and did a simple search for "Jaluit Atoll," which is the only text that accompanied the photo when it was found in the U.S. national archives. Yamano says that “The photo was the 10th item that came up,” in the search results, which showed that it was published in the book The Ocean's "Lifeline": The Condition of Our South Seas, which was published in October of 1935. The caption of the photo mentions the lively port and the ships that often stopped by there.

This should put an end to the speculation of whether or not it is Earhart and Noonan in the photograph, although they mystery of what happened to them remains. The History Channel probably wishes they had done a bit more research before creating a special on the Earhart story that centered around the photo however. That program aired this past weekend, with the main assertion being that the two missing explorers fell into Japanese hands and died while in custody, something that the Japanese have denied on more than one occasion.

According to Yamano, it took him less than 30 minutes to find the photo and learn more about its origin. I guess the lesson here is that we should all do our homework and a bit of research before racing toward a conclusion that we already think we know. Meanwhile, the search for Earhart, Noonan, and their missing plane will no doubt continue.

Christian Maurer Wins 2017 Red Bull X-Alps

That crazy adventure race unfolding in the Alps that we've been following for the past couple of weeks isn't over just yet, but we do have a winner.

Recently, I've posted a few updates on the Red Bull X-Alps, which I find to be one of the most unique competitions on the planet. In the event, racers trail run and paraglide across Europe, starting in Salzburg and ending in Monaco. Over the course of the race, they must pass through a series of checkpoints, by first running to the top of a mountain, then deploying their paraglider, sailing from the summit and traveling as far as they can, before doing it all over again. While in the field they must also be completely self supported, carrying everything they need to survive on their backs.

Today, the first two competitors crossed the finish line, with Swiss racer Christian Maurer arriving in Monaco first, followed a few hours later by French athlete Benoit Outters. It took Maurer, who has won this event in the past and was clearly the man to beat all along, 11 days, 23 hours, and 23 minutes to cover the entire course, which is 1138 km (707 miles) in length.

One of the more unique rules of the X-Alps is that after the first 48 hours, the last place racer is eliminated from the event, with another to follow every 48 hours after that. This has the effect of whittling down the field and giving the competitors an incentive to keep moving and staying ahead of everyone else. The race also has a tight cut-off for the finish too, which is at 10:53 AM tomorrow morning, local Monaco time. Right now, there are four or five other athletes who are scrambling to try to beat that cut-off, but it is unclear how many of them will actually make it. As many as six could cross the finish line, which would be a record for the event.

Congrats to Maurer for claiming victory in Monaco. You can learn more about the Red Bull X-Alps, and follow the remaining racers live, on the race's official website.

Looking Back: June

June is a transitional month, one of warm days and long nights. It is a month where your 5 am run is barely even in the dark. It is a month of planning days and weekends and weeks in the future.

Running: Although this was not my highest mileage week, it was a monumental one, in which I finished a 100 mile race near Bryce Canyon in Utah! In the past several months, I was starting to get a bit worried that I wouldn't be able to do it. However, in the weeks before, and definitely once I started the race, I knew I was going to see that finish line by hook or by crook. I ended up the month with 196 miles, 100 of them due to the race, and I climbed about 30,000 feet.

Reading: Due to a bit of travel as well as an increase of audio book time, I ended up reading 8 books in June. Many of them were just so-so, but there were a few standouts, such as Small Great Things, which is about racial issues, and To the Bright Edge of the World, a story about Alaskan exploration.

The Bones of Paris ***
The Aviators Wife ***
Small Great Things ****
Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? ***
To The Bright Edge of the World ****
American Sniper ***
Minding Frankie ***
Evicted ***

Travel: I feel like I was barely home in June, as I spent two weekends in Santa Cruz and one in Bryce Canyon. The Santa Cruz trips were full of visiting and walking and seaside views, while the Bryce trip was hot and sweaty and beautiful in an entirely different way. I will let a few photos do the talking for this.

Holy hot, batman! Bryce, UT (photo credit: E.V.)

Willis Creek, UT (photo credit: C.A.)

Fall Creek, Felton, CA

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Etc.: What else is happening? Not much! The garden is growing, but the yard is not mowing itself unfortunately, so most of my spare time has been spent just barely keeping things from looking like a hillbilly lives at my house!

Purposeful cucumbers and volunteer tomatoes -- mid June

Plums! Mid June

Tomato Jungle and volunteer squash -- Mid June

Corn, I hope. Beginning of June

Radish! Get out the salt!

Tomato Ladder, beginning of June
What did you do in June? What was your favorite book? Have you done anything new or exciting lately?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Video: The Joy of Free Climbing in Yosemite

There is no question that Yosemite is the premiere destination for rock climbers the world over. In this video, we travel to that amazing valley to join Jorg Verhoeven and Katha Saurwein as they take on two epic routes there, all the while sharing their thoughts on what it is like to climb in the most iconic place on Earth. This short documentary puts those feelings in perspective.

Video: A Mountain Bike Descent in the Dolomites

Take a scary and exhilarating ride with three mountain bikers as they make a fast and wild descent down through the Dolomites in Italy. It is a highly technical, nail-biting affair, that will most likely leave you very happy that you're watching it at home and not from the seat of a bike. Crazy stuff.

Gear Closet: Casio Pro Trek WSD-F20 Smartwatch Review

Last year I had the opportunity to test and review Casio's WSD-F10, a smartwatch designed with the active outdoor enthusiast and adventure traveler in mind. Although I am an Apple Watch and iPhone user, I came away impressed with all of the features the WSD-F10 included out of the box, and the way that Android Wear operates to deliver a smooth, easy to use experience.

Fast forward to 2017 and both Casio and Google have refined their products further, delivering an even better experience for users. Recently I've been testing the new Casio Pro Trek WSD-F20 smartwatch as well, and have found it to not only be a worthy successor to the original model, but an impressive and powerful device in a class all its own.

Like last year's WSD-F10, which remains in the Casio line-up, this new watch was built for use in the outdoors. It is rugged, durable, and can take a lot of punishment without fear of it getting beat up. My test model easily shrugged off everything I threw at it and came away completely unscathed. This helps to provide a nice sense of security and confidence when wearing the WSF-F20 in the field where you won't have to think twice about whether or not it could get damaged. This level of ruggedness is much appreciated of course, but it does make the watch bulkier and heavier than most other wearables on the market and gives it an undeniable "outdoorsy" look that will make it bit less versatile when wearing it in other environments.

The latest edition of Casio's outdoor smartwatch received a number of upgrades, including the ability to run Android Wear 2.0. This introduced such features as stand alone apps, a redesign of the interface, built-in Google Maps, Google Translate, and direct access to Google Assistant. There are even customizable watch faces giving users the opportunity to customize their wearable devices further. This alone makes the new Pro Trek a major upgrade over the previous generation, delivering a lot more power and versatility to the wearer's wrist. The inclusion of these features helps to make this smartwatch a lot smarter.

But easily the biggest upgrade to the WSD-F20 is the inclusion of onboard GPS tracking. While this is common functionality on most outdoor watches, it was omitted from last year's model simply because of the challenges associated with having GPS on a smartwatch with already limited battery life. Since then however, Casio has found a way to include a low-power GPS chip on its latest offering, allowing it to track location, distance, speed, and a number of other variables without the need to be paired to a smartphone. This update eliminates the biggest criticism of last year's model and makes the WSD-F20 much more attractive to the active outdoorsman.

In addition to built-in GPS, the smartwatch is also equipped with a number of other sensors, including a barometer, magnetometer, accelerometer, and more. Each of these pieces of technology work in conjunction with one another to help track movement, altitude, shifts in weather, and so on. All of that data is fed into the watch's custom apps that track activity in a wide variety of sports, including running, cycling, hiking, and even fishing.

Like its predecessor, the WSD-F20 uses a special dual-layer LCD screen that is designed to improve battery life as well. When in its basic mode, the screen displays time, date, and a variety of customizable information in a monochrome, non-backlit fashion. But, when using some of the watch's more higher level functions, such as maps and tracking, the screen shifts to a full-color mode that is much higher resolution, with crisper and more clear graphics. Unfortunately, that screen still gets a bit washed out in bright sunlight, which is perplexing for a watch designed for use outside.

As with any outdoor or smartwatch, battery life is a key component. Casio says we should get a day of normal use out of our WSD-F20, depending on the features that are used. For instance, running GPS at all times will drain the battery dramatically faster, cutting down the usage time significantly. During my testing, I found that I could usually get through a full day with a bit of a charge left over, which is solid for a smartwatch, but a bit annoying for one designed for use in the outdoors. That means that in order to keep the watch functioning during extended trips, you'll need to find a way to keep it charged each and every day. That isn't too much of a problem when staying in hotels, but while traveling in the backcountry it becomes a significant hurdle to overcome. That challenge is made even more difficult thanks to a proprietary charging cable.

 I tested the WSD-F20 with both an Android device and an iPhone, and as you would expect the experience is better when paired with another Google-powered gadget. Still, thanks to Android Wear 2.0, the watch does offer more functionality with an iPhone over the previous generation. No matter where your allegiances lie however, its easy to get use to receiving notifications, phone calls, and text messages on your wrist. That is a level of convenience brought by pretty much every smartwatch, but it is nice to have for sure.

The WSD-F20 delivers a lot of features and functionality that outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travelers are sure to love. It is tough, durable, and versatile, and puts a lot of excellent and useful features right on the wearers wrist, not the least of which is GPS tracking and maps. All of that technology comes with a $500 price tag, which may be price when compared to other smartwatches but is highly competitive with other outdoor timepieces. That makes this a good value, provided you don't mind recharging it often.

Buy now at REI.com.

Massive Iceberg Finally Breaks Off of Antarctica

We've been talking about the possibilities for months now, but it has finally happened. A massive section of the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica has broken off and plunged into the sea, creating one of the largest icebergs ever recorded. According to reports, the giant chunk of ice weighs in at about one trillion tons and covers an area of 5800 sq. km (2240 sq. miles), which is roughly the same size as the state of Delaware.

Climatologists first warned that this large section of the ice shelf might collapse late last year, when a huge crack was discovered in the Larsen C region of the Antarctic. As researchers monitored the situation there, the size of the crack began to grow, and pick up speed. Even now, during the austral winter, the speed of grown was astounding, to the point that a few weeks back it seemed the collapse was imminent, and now it has happened at last.

It is unclear what will happen to the iceberg now. It will now move at the whims of the currents in the Southern Ocean, and will most likely begin to break up over time. It could add to the risk of ships moving through the area, as it is large enough to cause massive damage to vessels not reinforced against such hazards. Scientists say the ice could remain in the waters off Antarctica for decades, while other parts will drift north into warmer waters and eventually melt.

Of larger concern is what the loss of this chunk of ice means to the health of Antarctica. The ice shelf has always served as a barrier against the warmer waters of the ocean, protecting the ends of glaciers. Now, that barrier is gone, and we're likely to see the glaciers there begin to retreat at an accelerated rate, with more ice calving off into the Southern Ocean, which could eventually lead to higher sea levels. Climate change has already had an impact on that process, and now it is probably only going to cause that to happen at a faster clip. The loss of this ice alone has reduced the Larsen C Ice Shelf by 12%.

It should be noted that researchers are quick to point out that temperatures continue to rise in the Antarctic, but that future collapses like this one still seem to be years away.

Summer Climbs 2017: Nanga Parbat Search and Rescue Debrief, Focus Turns to K2

The climbing season continues to unfold in Pakistan, where the focus for some teams has begun to change, while others remain firmly in place waiting for a weather window. And, we get an interesting debrief on a search and rescue operation that continues to unfold.

We'll start today's update on Nanga Parbat, where Alberto Zerain and Mariano Galvan went missing a couple of weeks back. The duo were attempting a summit along the difficult and exposed Mazeno Ridge route when their home team lost contact with them back on June 24. It is believed that they were hit by an avalanche while making their ascent, although no trace of the two men has been found, despite knowing exactly where their GPS tracker turned off.

Immediately after Zerain and Galvan were declared overdue a rescue operation was organized and helicopters were scrambled to the mountain to look for the missing men. As indicated, they found no trace, and further efforts were hampered for several days due to poor weather conditions. Now, we have a detailed "boots on the ground" account of how the search unfolded from Alex Gavan, who was on Nanga Parbat and helped in those efforts.

The search and rescue debrief was submitted to Explorer's Web and is quite lengthy. It shares the timeline of Alberto and Mariano's climb, when they went missing, the details of what followed, and the lengths that the search and rescue team went through to try to locate the missing men. Alex talks about the challenges of getting the SAR effort up and running, including navigating the logistics of working in Pakistan, As it turns out, sorting out the issues of payment and insurance would delay efforts by several days, which are of course crucial in these types of situations. It is a story of frustration, hope, despair, and grief that is worth a read from top to bottom to get an idea of how these situations unfold.

As a side note, Alan Arnette is reporting that another search operation is about to get underway, despite the fact that Gavan says such an effort is “irresponsible and only endangers more people’s lives." At this stage, there is zero chance that the missing men are still alive, but the Pakistani company Karakorum Expeditions is moving ahead nonetheless.

Elsewhere, with successful summits on Broad Peak over the past couple of days, teams are now starting to turn their attention to K2 instead. Furtenbach Adventures led the way on that final summit push, and most of that squad is now down from the mountain and moving on to their next objective. Grace McDonald is going with them, while Spaniard Oscar Cadiach remains on BP, waiting for another weather window.

On K2's Abruzzi Route, the ropes have now been fixed all the way up to Camp 4 at 7400 meters (24,278 ft). The team installing the lines ran out of rope at that point on the mountain, and the weather started to take a turn. They've now returned to Base Camp to wait for better conditions before heading back up to continue their work. All of those means that the K2 season is on schedule, with potential summit bids to come later in the month.

That's all for today. We're still keeping a close eye on things as the season continues to develop. More to come soon.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Video: A Trip Down Coastal Oregon

The wonderful coastline of Oregon takes center stage in this lovely video, which gives viewers a chance to see just how amazing this part of the world can be. You'll discover a number of breathtaking locations from both the air and the ground, with towering mountains, crashing waves, and dense forests all on display. Sit back and enjoy this clip. It is a good one.

Clearly Coastal - Oregon 4K from Taylor Gray on Vimeo.

Video: Kiteboarder Hits Humpback Whale

We've seen some videos that feature close encounters with wildlife before, but this one just might take the cake. It shows a kiteboarder zipping along on the surface of the water before he encounters – and hits – a humpback whale. I can't imagine how surprising it must have been to glide right over the back of the giant mammal. That's one obstacle you don't expect to have to dodge while out on the water.

UNESCO Names 21 New World Heritage Sites

Travelers looking to add new options to their bucket lists should look no further than the latest editions to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The organization is charged by the U.N. with deciding which locations around the world deserve the "World Heritage" designation based on both natural and cultural factors and this year it has added 21 new spots to the constantly growing list. These destinations are often favorites with world travelers, who often go out of their way to see these often outstanding locations.

National Geographic has put together a great slideshow of the latest edition to the UNESCO list. Each entry includes a description of the place and a wonderful photo to help readers visualize the place. Handy travel tips are also provided, giving anyone interested in making the journey to any of these places some idea of what it will take to get there.

So what new places were added to the list of World Heritage Sites for 2017? The latest additions are numerous and live up to the high standards set by the judges at UNESCO, with destinations like Taputapuãtea in Tahiti and the ancient city of Yazd in Iran making the cut. The former of those earned its spot for its spectacular natural beauty and the fact that it is home to a historic Polynesian site of worship, while the latter is a place that dates back to the 5th century and holds important religious significance to a number of different faiths, including the Zoroastrians. Other impressive sites include the English Lake District, the Gelati Monastery in Georgia, and Kujataa, an early agricultural site in Greenland.

Whether you want to visit remote locations in wilderness areas, or tour incredible manmade structures closer to civilization, the World Heritage Site list has something for everyone. At the moment, there are 1073 total destinations that have earned this designation, including the 21 new additions. In other words, if you want to see them all, you'd better get traveling.

Check out the new locations here.

Summer Climbs 2017: Summits on Broad Peak

Patience and persistence has won out on Broad Peak, where teams have now nabbed the first summits of the season, while on K2 work continues as squads begin eyeing their first potential summit bids of the year too.

After a long weekend of bad weather on Broad Peak it looked like there might not be any successful summits on the 8051 meter (26,414 ft) mountain. Deep snow and high winds prevented anyone from going above C3, with most dropping all the way back to Base Camp, and some even deciding to pack their bags and head for home. But, what a difference a few days can make. Bolstered by a forecast that predicted calm conditions, a few teams – led by Furtenbach Adventures – headed back up the mountain and were able to top out at long last.

Furtenbach posted the news to its Facebook page earlier today, indicating that the team did most of the trail breaking and rope installation on the way to the summit. This resulted in seven members of the team reaching the summit, including the head guide, three Sherpas, and three clients. The note also indicated that three more teams followed close behind, although it is unclear exactly which other squads were able to complete their climbs as well. The report indicated that although meteorologists predicted windy conditions, it was a calm, beautiful day on top.

Meanwhile, over on K2 things continue to progress nicely. Fredrik Sträng reports that he is back in Base Camp after depositing gear at Camp 3 yesterday, and is now preparing for a weather window that will allow his team to launch its summit bid. It may take some time for that to happen however, as he also indicates that conditions above C3 are treacherous at the moment, with unstable snow potentially leading to a high level of avalanche activity.

Other teams on K2 are currently moving up and down the mountain as they take advantage of good weather to acclimatize further. Most have been spending some time in C2 as they allow their bodies to get accustomed to the thin air, but as of now, no one has gone higher than Camp 3 due to the danger. Traditionally, summit bids on K2 come late in the month of July and the first week of August, so there is still plenty of time for things to stabilize.

Yesterday we reported that summit bids had begun on Gasherbrum I and II as well, but today we learn via Alan Arnette that those climbers have abandoned that bid. Alan reports that Juan Vallejo, Mikel Zabalza and Alberto Inurrategi have returned to BC after finding too much snow above Camp 2 on GI. They will rest, recovery, and reassess the mountain before giving it another go. The plan is to summit GI first than traverse to the top of GII afterwards.

That's all for now. More as things develop.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Video: A Field Guide to Losing Your Friends - Dealing with Grief in the Wild

Back in 2010, Nate Henn was killed in a bomb attack that took place in Kampala, Uganda. This devastating loss sent his friend Tyler Dunning down a dark spiral of grief and anger, which he eventually began to pull himself out of by setting a goal to visit all 59 of the U.S. National Parks, where he eventually began to find some solace and healing. This video takes us along with Tyler on that journey, as he learns to say goodbye and embrace the world around him again. This is a powerful and moving short film that is well worth your time. If you watch one Internet view today, make it this one.

A Field Guide To Losing Your Friends from Chad Clendinen on Vimeo.

Video: Recapping the 2017 Western States 100 Ultra

The 2017 Western States 100 ultramarathon took place a few weeks back, and as usual it contained more than its fair share of excitement and drama. To celebrate this amazing event, our friends over at Altra have put together this fantastic video, which recaps all of the top moments from the race. It is a beautifully shot homage to one of the toughest ultras in the world and a great look at what goes into finishing a race of this magnitude.

Gear Closet: Five Ten Camp Four Mid and Approach Pro Reviews

Outdoor shoe manufacturer Five Ten is probably best known for its impressive line of climbing and mountain biking shoes, two areas where it has earned a reputation for creating some of the best footwear on the market today. But, it turns out the company makes fantastic options for other outdoor activities as well, most notably in the hiking space. Recently, I've had the opportunity to try two different pairs of shoes from the Five Ten outdoor line-up, and as with its other footwear, I came away very impressed. 

Five Ten Camp Four Mid
Staying comfortable on the trail during the summer months can be just as challenging as during the winter. Part of that challenge starts with keeping your feet comfortable, as big, bulky, and warm boots are not meant for use in hot weather. Five Ten's Camp Four Mid is a good option for those conditions, thanks in part because they are relatively lightweight, offer good breathability, and are downright comfortable on your feet. They also offer fantastic traction on a variety of surfaces as well. 

Made from a DWR-coated Nubuck leather, the Camp Four Mid has an upper that provides solid protection from water, while still managing to remain fairly breathable in steamy conditions. While my feet did get warm on an intense summer hike, they never got so heated up that perspiration caused blisters or hot spots. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, I felt the boots performed very well in this regard, particularly considering the excessive heat and humidity that comes with where I live. This leads me to believe that these shoes will make an excellent option for all but the most extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. 

Five Ten has given the Camp Four Mid an aggressive sole that sports the company's proprietary Stealth S1 rubber. This is a derivative of the same rubber that is used in its climbing shoes, and while it's not put to the same use here, it does provide plenty of grip, even on wet surfaces. I've worn these boots scrambling over rocks and mud, as well as through small streams and rivers, and have been very happy with how well they performed. To say the sole is very "grippy" would be an understatement, as it essentially clings to a surface in a surprisingly strong manner. Oversized lugs also lend a bit of assistance in this area too, and while I haven't had a chance to try them in snow, I'm guessing they'll perform admirably on winter hikes as well. 

The Camp Four Mid comes with a durable toe-cap to provide extra protection on the trail, and the ankle support is a welcome addition to this model too. Inside, an Ortholite foam sock liner brings an extra level of comfort, and there is plenty of padding underfoot to help cushion the blow during those long days on the trail. A synthetic, weather-resistant, toe box helps to keep feet dry when splashing through puddles and streams, as does a design that cuts down on the number of seams, giving water fewer places to seep inside. All of this adds up to a boot that fits nicely, looks great, and can shield the foot from a number of external threats that could make your hiking trip much less enjoyable. 

This boot is an excellent option for not just day hikers though. It makes a great approach or backpacking shoe, and could even work for peak bagging and light mountaineering duties. Its versatility is one of the things I like most about it, as it is an all-around great performer in a number of different areas. I also appreciate that its size and weight allowed me to still feel nimble on the trail. That isn't always the case with hiking footwear, which can sometimes feel overly bulky. 

I also happen to really like the price. The Five Ten Camp Four Mid runs just $165, which is a great pice for a shoe that performs this well and can be used in a number of different environments. If you're in the market for a new pair of light hiking boots, you'll want to have these on your list. They are not only top tier in terms of durability and dependability, but they are very affordable too. 

Five Ten Approach Pro
The other shoe from Five Ten that I've been testing lately is the Approach Pro. As its name suggests, it is an excellent option for technical approaches, but the company also recommends it for descents and route setting too. I'll throw in another category as well: urban exploration. In fact, this is another versatile shoe that I could wear mountain biking or commuter cycling as well, making it a very attractive choice for a number of other light outdoor activities too. 

The Approach Pro is made from a canvas upper that is surprisingly durable and easy to clean. It is also equipped with a rubber exoskeleton that helps to give it a rigid and supportive shape, without adding much in the way of weight and bulk. A pair of offset pull tabs give climbers the choice of hanging the shoes from a pack as well, making them very easy to take with them just about anywhere.

Unlike the Camp Four Mid – which uses the S1 rubber, the Approach Pro has a sole made from Five Ten's C4 rubber instead. This option comes directly from the company's climbing shoe line and is lighter weight. It also doesn't have the aggressive lugs of the Camp Four Mid, which are better at tromping through mud and snow. That said however, the Approach Pro still offers outstanding traction and grip both on and off the rock. This nod to the company's climbing heritage will probably allow you to pull off some impressive climbs in these shoes alone, without ever having to switch to a dedicated climbing shoe. 

Relatively lightweight (9.7 ounces), the Approach Pro is very comfortable to wear, while still providing a high level of protection to the foot. So much so, that I've taken to wearing them around town while running errands or connecting with friends. Their subtle good looks have even earned me a compliment or two on my choice of footwear, which look like something you might find in the cool kids wearing in trendy part of town, without giving a single hint at their outdoor origins. 

Priced at $120 (currently on sale for $84), this is another competitively priced shoe from Five Ten that outdoor enthusiasts will love. They are comfortable, durable, and versatile, all of which are good qualities to have in your footwear. I personally have come to love how many different things I can do in these shoes, and I think you'll find them to be just as fun to wear as I have. 

Find out more at FiveTen.com

10 Travel Destinations That Deserve More Visitors

National Geographic has more fodder to feet our travel addiction today, this time offering up an article that provides 10 great travel destinations that deserve more visitors. Normally, when we find great places to visit, we want to keep them to ourselves, but in this case, these particular places could actually be better served with a few more travelers actually spending some time there. 

As usual with an article of this kind, I won't spoil too many of the entries, but some of the places that earned a spot on Nat Geo's shortlist include Lesotho in South Africa, Guyana in South America, and the island of Haiti. Those places are each heralded for their natural beauty, cultural significance, and the fact that few visitors venture off the beaten path to spend some time there. If you're looking to escape the crowds, you'll find plenty of solitude in these destinations. 

I've been fortunate enough to have visited several of the locations that earn a spot on this list, and can attest to much I love those places. Some of them require a bit of extra work to get to, others ask visitors to leave their preconceived notions at the door, while a few simply want any traveler making the journey to come with an open mind. All of the destinations will reward anyone who makes the trip with a lifetime of lasting memories. 

That said, there are a few places here that I wouldn't mind remaining off the radar to a degree. Part of their charm is that they are not on the well-worn travel path, but are instead hidden gems that not everyone wants to explore. Over commercialization can cause a place to lose its true identity, and I'd hate to see that happen to any of these places. So while they do deserve more visitors, lets hope its not at the expense of the things that we love about that place and drew us to it in the first place. 

You can check out the entire list here and start planning your next escape here. 

Summer Climbs 2017: Updates from Broad Peak, Nanga Parbat, and K2

At the end of last week I reported the several teams had launchd summit bids on Broad Peak, although things didn't go exactly as they planned. Over on Nanga Parbat, a pair of climbers did manage to top out however, while on K2 the teams have gone back to work once again.

We'll start the update on Broad Peak, where bad weather once again put a halt to climbing efforts over the weekend. Teams had hoped to make their final push to the top on Saturday or Sunday, but upon reaching Camp 3 at the end of the week, a storm moved in and dropped a meter of fresh snow above that point on the mountain. The fresh powder made it very difficult to break trail and increased the danger of avalanches exponentially. That was enough to send most climbers down the mountain and back to Base Camp, although a few stayed at altitude to reassess the situation. 

Reportedly, some of the teams have now called it quits for the season and are now preparing to head home. Furtenbach Adventures is not one of those squads however, as they have announced that their squad is heading back up the mountain on just one day's rest. They have already reached C2 and plan to head up to C3 today, before launching a summit push on Tuesday. This will be their last attempt on Broad Peak however, as once they're back down the team will move to K2 and concentrate their efforts on that peak instead. 

Speaking of K2, the weather has improved enough there that the teams have gone back to work, several of which have gone up to C2 as part of their acclimatization efforts. Rope fixing has also begun along the route to Camp 3 as progress continues. The recent spate of poor weather has dumped heavy snow on the upper portions of the mountain as well, but summit bids are still a couple of weeks off, so there is time for everything to settle provided conditions stay calm.

Last week we reported that two climbers were hoping to making ski descent of K2. Those men were climbing independently of one another, but shared the same goal. Now, ExWeb is reporting that Slovenian Davo Karnicar has left Base Camp and is headed home after taking ill. Karnicar also reportedly assessed the snow conditions on the mountain and decided they were not safe enough to ski. Meanwhile, Polish alpinist Andrzej Bargiel still hopes to make the first full ski descent of K2. He is currently in Base Camp. 

There was good news from Nanga Parbat at the end of last week. Korean climber Kim Hong Bin and Lakpa Sherpa topped out on that mountain on Friday after spending more than a week on the ascent. The duo set out on their summit push on June 30, but weather stalled their progress, keeping them in Camp 4 for from July 4 through the 6. They finally summited on the 7th and were back in C4 on the 8th before descending back to BC over the weekend. ExWeb reports that this is Kim's 11th 8000-meter peak as he closes in on the entire list of big mountains. 

Finally, the team of Alberto Iñurrategi, Juan Vallejo, and Mikel Zabalza have begun their summit attempt on the Gasherbrums too. The three men set out over the weekend with the plan of first topping out on GI then traversing the ridge to GII. Weather conditions look good for the next few days, so things are looking positive for this expedition at the moment. 

Other teams are also finalizing their plans on Gasherbrum II as well, with no fewer than three other squads currently assessing their situation and watching the weather. Things could get fairly busy on that peak in the days ahead too. 

That's all for now. More updates as the news warrants. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Video: Red Bull X-Alps Highlights

Several times this week you've seen me post updates from the X-Alps Adventure Race, an event that mixes trail running and paragliding. To get a better idea of just what this event involves, check out the video below, which shows some highlights from Day 5. You'll catch a glimpse of what these athletes are all about as they continue their race towards Monaco.

Video: How a Wrong Turn Changed This Ultrarunner's Career

After his honorable discharge from the Air Force, Jim Walmsley found himself fighting bouts of depression and doubt. To fight these dark moments turned to running, eventually becoming a premiere ultrarunner. This year, he entered the epic Western States 100, one of the toughest ultras in the world. It was his first 100-mile event, and for a time he was shocking the field and anyone who was following along at home. For much of the race it looked like Walmsley would set a new course record, but then at mile 93 he took a wrong turn, taking a very different path both literally and figuratively. Find out what happened in this video.

Tour de France 2017: Week 1 Recap

I promised I'd keep my Tour de France coverage to a minimum this year, and so far I've held to that vow tightly, despite watching each of the stages live so far. But, with the first week now in the books, it is worth talking about how things are unfolding so far and where we're going in the days ahead.

The world's biggest bike race got underway last Saturday with a time trial in Dusseldorf. That stage set the tempo for the race so far, with Team Sky rider Geraint Thomas taking the top honors and donning the Yellow Jersey before setting out on the first road stages of the year. Thomas was a bit of a surprise winner, but it has forced Sky to defend the jersey earlier than expected. He held on to the Maillot Jaune until Wedenesday of this week when the riders took on the first mountain stage of the 2017 Tour, which was won by Italian champion Fabio Aru, and put race favorite Chris Froome in yellow.

At this point, no one would be surprised if Froome kept that jersey all the way to Paris. He has shown that he is a more than capable rider in the past, having already won the race on three separate occasions. It will be a tough challenge for  Team Sky to defend yellow from wire-to-wire, but the entire squad is riding very well and look to be controlling the pace of the race as they have in years past. At this point, it looks like it could be incredibly tough for anyone to challenge them, or pull the jersey from Froome's back.

As for Froome's rivals, most lost time in the initial time trial and have struggled to make up anything ever since. Aru showed that he could be the surprise challenger, and is currently just 14 seconds back, but pre-race favorites Nairo Quintana and Richie Porte seem like they aren't ready – at least at this stage – to truly challenge the defending champ. Both will have opportunities in the days ahead, but as of now neither looks ready to go head to head with Froome, let alone crack him on a climb and take back precious time.

Of course, the biggest news of the week is the disqualification of Peter Sagan following the crash of Mark Cavendish on stage 4. A lot has already been said about this, and now the event is well behind us. But, I'm going on the record as saying that the DQ was uncalled for, and ended up putting not just one, but two of the sports' biggest names on the sidelines. The entire incident was unfortunate, by in my mind it was Cavendish that caused the crash in the first place by initiating contact with Sagan and trying to push through a line that wasn't there. I do believe that Sagan should have been docked points and time for his reaction, but a DQ was too harsh. There is nothing to be done about it now however, so as fans we just have to move on. Hopefully Cav will recover from his injuries soon, and we'll see both men competing with one another in the near future.

With Sagan out of the race, the fight for the Green Jersey that goes to the top sprinter is wide open. The Slovakian rider has had a stranglehold on that competition for the past five years, and will likely win it several more times in the years ahead. But this year, there are a number of contenders who can now take that title. Marcel Kittle looks like the leading candidate right now, especially with three stage wins in the first week. But, there is a lot of racing to go, and sprint points will be available for a number of riders to grab in the days ahead.

Heading into the weekend we have a couple of more mountain stages to get excited about. We should see just how well Froome is riding at this point and we'll have to watch for any of his rivals to make a move or falter. But, that said, it is still very early in the race, so I wouldn't expect too much to happen. I'd guess that we'll come out of the weekend and head into the first rest day next Monday, with most of the contenders in the exact same spots that they currently hold.

My biggest fear for the race is that it will be a boring ride into Paris. Froome has been so dominant in the past that hardly anyone has been able to push him. When you throw in the fact that most riders are very conservative in their approach, we could have two more weeks of riding without much in the way of drama. Of course, a lot can happen between now and then, so we'll just have to sit back and see how things unfold.

Thanks for indulging my TdF obsession. We now return to your originally scheduled adventure coverage.

Nat Geo Suggests 50 Adventures in 50 States

If you're still looking for some travel adventures to occupy your time this summer,  National Geographic is here to help. The editors over at the Nat Geo website have compiled a list of 50 adventures in all 50 states, providing readers with plenty of amazing suggestions of things to see and do no matter which part of the U.S. they live in or are visiting.

The list is presented in a slideshow format, with the states listed in alphabetical order. The suggestions offered vary greatly, with options for climbing, mountaineering, paddling, hiking, and more. Some of these adventures are fairly accessible, while others are extremely demanding, but each will give you a new perspective on the destination, possibly even changing your perception of a state altogether.

With so many different things to choose from it is impossible for me to spoil everything. But, I had to know what suggestions Nat Geo had for the different states that I've lived in. For instance, the recommendation is to visit the National Balloon Classic in late July and early August. Meanwhile, in Tennessee paddlers are encouraged to kayak the Caney Fork River Gorge in winter, while in Texas travelers should explore Monahans Sandhills State Park.

These are just three of the 50 adventures that Nat Geo has to offer, so there are plenty more to discover. Best of all, most of the ones that I looked at were not the first thing that came to mind when you thought about the state that was being highlighted. For instance, it would have been easy to recommend backpacking through the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, yet we got something completely different. That means that you may even find an unexpected adventure in a state that you already know well.

To find out what options exist in your state or ones nearby, check out the entire list here.

Experts Poke Holes in Latest Amelia Earhart Theory

Remember that story I posted earlier in the week about the newly discovered photo that purportedly shows missing aviator Amelia Earhart on a dock after she, and navigator Fred Noonan went missing? It is believed by some that the image indicates that the duo were captured by the Japanese back in 1937, and later perished in their custody. The theory is so compelling that the History Channel is even airing a special about it this weekend. Now, after a few days have passed since the photo was revealed, other experts are saying "not so fast."

According to this story from Gizmodo, even the National Archives where the photo was found are casting doubt on the story. “Despite the headlines, there is no confirmation on either a date or content in the photograph from the National Archives,” says James P. Pritchett, the director of public and media communications at the National Archives. “Our archivists have looked at all the materials filed with the photo in question and found no additional information about the photograph other than the caption that was marked on the image.”

For the record, that caption only reads: PL - MARSHALL ISLANDS, JALUIT ATOLL, JALUIT ISLAND. ONI # 14381 JALUIT HARBOR. As Gizmodo points out, it is unclear what the "PL" stands for, but the other text indicates that it was taken in the Marshall Islands at the Jaluit Atoll. Exactly when the image was shot remains a mystery, and there are no indications that it was captured in 1937. In fact, The Daily Mail claims that it was actually taken in 1940, although how they came up with that date remains unclear too.

Anyone who has looked at the image closely will tell you that it takes a few leaps of faith to reach the conclusion that the people in the photo are Noonan and Earhart. Sure, there are some resemblances, including a man sharing a smilier hairline as Noonan and what appears to be a woman with a short haircut and wearing a pair of pants. But even if you accept those facts, it is still a rather large jump to the idea that Earhart survived the crash in the Pacific and somehow made her way into Japanese custody and were spirited away to this dock. It also calls into question why someone didn't recognize her and share the info later.

Still, the enduring mystery of what happen to Earhart is one that continues to capture the imagination. We may never know what became of her and Noonan, but it is fun to speculate.