Inflatable Summer

Our adventuresome summer is nearing an end as the last day of August brings that calendar page flip into sharp focus. The final third of the year is upon us once again, a time when the days turn shorter and crispier. And as hoped my writing and posting reprieve has given me a healthy backlog of blogging fodder which I’ll be dishing out over the next month or so.

Case in point: for us it took an unexpected turn into the summer of inflatable adventures.

Early summer, we bought two inflatable kayaks.

Mid-summer, we received just one.

Therein is a whole other story about the modern state of the supply chain and the demand for recreational equipment these days which I am mostly unqualified to write about. But if you’re reading an adventure and lifestyle blog, more than likely you are already familiar with the undersupplied market for bikes, skis, PFDs, things that float, things that grill, and all manner of consumer sporting goods.

We managed to snag one kayak from that panic, so for that I am grateful because the kayak we did receive quickly became a driving fixture in our weekend and holiday plans, stuffed in the back of our small SUV and pulled out at a dozen opportunities, both planned and emergent.

We inflated that bright yellow tandem boat beside multiple lakes, lakes in the mountains or on the prairies, out on open beaches, or pebble scattered shores, or on the grassy, wasp-swirled picnic areas while picnickers looked on curiously.

We bought the dog a floatation safety vest and she seemed to have found a curious comfort nestled between my knees as we rowed across the still waters of many random lakes.

We bought life vests, paddling gloves, and started talking seriously about things like paddle length and water clarity.

That first kayak has turned out better than I had hoped when I held my nose and clicked the “buy” button. After all, I had been comparison shopping kayaks for a few years, weighing the pros and cons of higher-end inflatables versus simple hard shells, comparing costs, transport and storage realities, quality, price, and a hundred other little things. The first kayak was us settling for something “cheap” because of those supply chain issues I alluded to earlier. We took what we could get.

The second kayak, the one for which the stalled shipping status never did change to a tracking number (and is still sitting in a vendor fulfillment queue somewhere!) is a kayak of marked superiority in both quality and function at least compared to the basically-a-toy rubber first kayak we did receive.

Yet the first kayak has brought us a heap of entertainment over the last month or so. I still check the delivery queue for the second almost daily, even as the days get colder and the kayak opportunity dwindles alongside the wait, but I’m all-but resigned to the one we have.

If I have learned anything of note from the experience of “settling” for a lesser product (and I don’t intend for that to sound entitled, merely that putting good money into bad equipment has always sat poorly with my frugal mindset) not getting the one you thought that you wanted after a couple years of thinking, planning, saving and eventually buying something, it is this: mediocre equipment is better than no equipment.

It is better to be sitting upon the water of a gorgeous mountain lake rather than standing on the shore watching. It’s better to have that inflatable summer than not.

Backyard: Fire

In recognition of yet-another-local-lockdown due to the ongoing pandemic, I'm doing a week of feature blog posts about living in the backyard. From May 10th through 16th, my posts will be themed around life outdoors but as close to home as possible, a few steps out the back door.

It’s been about a month since I settled on my backyard firepit solution but I haven’t said much about the pit itself save for posting a few photos of the results of my outdoor cooking efforts.

My upgrade from a simple steel fire bowl was an effort to find a backyard firepit that answered a number of questions:

How much was I willing to spend?

My initial research had led me to a company out East who build custom iron fire pits. I corresponded with their sales guys for about a week back and forth, negotiating a price, but at the end of the day I wasn’t going to be able to get what I wanted AND have it shipped across the country without spending well over a thousand dollars. I’m all for good quality, but knowing that I also needed to spend some money on firewood and other supplies, that was pushing the budget into the neighbourhood of $1500 which was substantially more than I wanted to spend. I landed on something on the slightly-fancy end of the box-store firepit selection.

How much of my yard was I willing to convert to a permanent fire pit?

A couple months ago I was still debating the question of whether or not to install a permanent firepit in the yard. Given fire regulations and safety considerations, there were a couple candidate spots in the middle of my lawn that were possible locations for this… but only a couple. I was really deciding on what was more important out my backdoor: a fire pit or an open lawn. The compromise was a firepit that could be relocated, moved, or even stored. I have the sense that it will stay in roughly the same space for the rest of this summer, but going with the portable solution avoided major landscaping efforts and converting a part of my yard into “the firepit” forever.

Could I cook on it?

I dug around the internet looking for solutions to my cooking dilemma. I found tripods upon which I could hang a camp oven. I read the reviews of wire racks and iron grates. I contemplated the effort to build a stand-alone spit that I could pound into the soil and from which I could suspend my culinary creations. Ultimately, the firepit I discovered was a single unit that was a cylindrical fire bowl with a notched holder for two included demi-circle cast iron grill attachments. One of those grills is a grated grill, while the other one is a solid half circle of smooth cast iron joy. These both provide direct cooking surfaces but also as somewhere to rest a pan or Dutch oven above or near the fire.

A month after bringing home and setting up my new fire pit I’ve stoked at least five backyard cookouts, seasoned my grills, and begun to seriously dabble in open fire cooking… right in my own backyard.

And oh man, are the neighbours ever getting jealous.

Reminder: Blogs are not a replacement for professional advice. Please read my note on safety and safe participation.