Tuesday, May 29, 2018

MT Adventures: Holland Peak, West Face

MT Adventures: Holland Peak, West Face: Holland Peak, West Face, with ski tracks.  I skied the left of the two gullies. With the family out of town, I took a day off work to s...

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Best Seat in the House: Scheel-Mann Vario F XXL by Chris Cordes / May 16th, 2018

We evaluate a lot of gear here at Expedition Portal and Overland Journal. Tents, trucks, bags, fridges, and recovery equipment are regularly used and reviewed by our team, and normally the write-ups are pretty straightforward. We cover their specifications, talk about our expectations, and determine how well the product ended up meeting them. But today I find myself unable to follow this tried and true model. For the first time, I feel that my personal experiences are so interwoven with my opinion of a product that I simply can’t talk honestly about one without mentioning the other. So, with that in mind, I hope you’ll forgive me for being candid, and giving you the entire story of these Scheel-Mann seats.

An Unfortunate Beginning

Life has a way of throwing us curve balls. For a lucky few these unexpected roadblocks might just be small diversions from day to day activities, but for others, their entire lives might be turned upside down. Last year, I was unfortunate enough to be counted as one of the latter. There were many changes in my life during this time, but one of the most painful was a serious injury to my back. I had never thought that in my late-twenties I would be hunched over and having to receive help walking from friends, but that’s exactly where I found myself last November. Facing a decision between a cane or surgery, I opted for an operation, but my road to recovery was far from over.
After the procedure, and much to my dismay, I found the one activity that was guaranteed to induce debilitating pain was driving. Every vehicle I tried was troublesome, but my 2000 Excursion was absolutely unbearable. Even a trip across town would cause my sciatic pain to flare, and a long journey required constant stops, mountains of ibuprofen, and admittedly a few tears. I was beside myself. I knew that if there was any chance of me continuing to do what I love, I’d need to find a way to support my back, and thus the research began. I read articles and blogs, tried braces and cushions, and even considered a new vehicle, but nothing solved the problem. That’s when I remembered the orthopedic seats I saw in a Maltec Camper at Overland Expo East. They were from a company called Scheel-Mann, and after a little research I decided to give their U.S. office a call.

A Legacy of Support

Over the next hour on the phone I learned all about Scheel-Mann’s heritage from their U.S. representative, Toby. This company that I thought was relatively new, had in fact been producing high-end automotive seats for over 50 years, often for legendary manufacturers like Porsche and BMW. Their founder, Mr. Rolf Scheel, was an avid race car driver, and was dissatisfied with the flat seats used in the sixties. He wanted something that gave him better control of the vehicle, while also being more comfortable and supportive. After a few iterations, Rolf unveiled a revolutionary design with a backrest that closely matched the curvature of the human spine, which he then combined that with a lateral support structure which held the driver firmly in place while cornering. It was a smashing success. For decades, their small factory outside Stuttgart, Germany, continued to develop and improve the support of these seats, and eventually their products worked their way into almost every automotive category, including four-wheel drives.
I was obviously hopeful, and began to browse through their wide range of offerings. There were numerous shapes, styles, sizes and colors, with a variety of features and accessories, even some with removable seat bottoms for accessing the batteries in Defenders, but one line in particular caught my eye, the Vario.

The Seats

The Vario is based on the company’s legendary Traveler seat, and designed to promote good posture and back health for anyone who uses them, not just people with back issues. Unlike most automotive seats which take a one-size fits none all stance, the Vario is adjustable in 10 ways, allowing you to form the seat to your body for a perfect fit. You can adjust the seat bottom in and out in order to match nearly any leg length, and the upper bolsters can be tucked in or pushed out with the turn of a dial so that your torso is cradled to suit your driving conditions. The lumbar is also four-way adjustable, meaning you can not only push it in and out, but also maneuver it up and down to match your back height. There’s even an XXL model that is 3 inches taller! All of this translates to a phenomenal and healthy driving experience, in a seat that feels as if it were made specifically for you, regardless of if you’re 6’4” or 5’2.
I was beyond excited, but my optimism was also tainted with some concern. There was no guarantee that these seats would fix my problem, and at $1,900 each they represented a huge investment on my writer’s salary. After a lot of debate, phone calls to several Scheel-Mann owners, and a look at my physical therapy bills, I decided to make the jump. I ordered two Vario F XXLs with heated backs and bottoms along with the optional arm-rests, and had them shipped to Main Line Overland (MLO) in Pennsylvania, where I was headed for some additional projects. Two weeks later, I began the long and painful drive out to get them.

First Impressions

By the time I arrived at the MLO shop, I could barely stand upright without wincing. The trip had been miserable, and I resolved that if the seats didn’t work I would sell the truck and fly back rather than drive it again. I unboxed the two gorgeous Varios and gave Toby a call. He walked me through the installation on video chat, and I was quickly assembling and installing the seats with the help of the MLO crew. The entire process was easy and straightforward, with just a bit of wiring for the new heating elements. The only part that would have been difficult was dealing with the factory airbag sensors, but I was lucky and the 2000 Ford didn’t throw a single code. By midday, my new seats were in place, and with great anticipation I lowered myself onto the driver’s side for the first time.
It was heaven.
If you’ve ever been standing so long that you’re utterly exhausted, and then feel that immense relief when you sink into a chair, you’ll know what sitting on that Scheel-Mann seat was like. I was absolutely blown away. I quickly made my adjustments, and set out on the road to try out my new toys like a kid on Christmas. The head rest actually contacted my head in the proper position for the first time in my life, the lumbar was placed exactly where it should be and provided the perfect amount of support without trying to break my spine, and for once the seat bottom was actually the right proportions for my long legs. It was a huge win, but only a long drive would really determine if these seats were the solution I had been looking for.
I decided it was time to go big or go home. I entered Goose Gear’s California address into my GPS for yet another project, and set off for a coast to coast trip. On the first day, I drove 15 hours while only stopping for fuel, and to my amazement, ended the day with no pain. Day two was just as good, but did reveal some soreness in an entirely new area—my rear end. As it turns out, driving with the support of the Scheel-Manns is sort of like adjusting to a new bike seat. If you go all out on a long drive right away, you might find yourself with a sore behind. It takes some time to adjust, but by day three all was well, and my back still had no pain. When I finally did reach my destination, I stepped out of the truck, stretched, laughed, and almost cried with relief. They actually worked.

Enjoying the Journey Once More

Over the next several months and thousands of miles I tested the Vario Fs in all sorts of environments and conditions. Snow and salt got on them as I pushed through the mountains, sand from the California coast filled in their cracks, and heavy Oregon rains soaked their fabrics, but they still cleaned up to look like new, and never faltered in their support of my spine. I fell in love with all of their adjustments, and the heating elements were able to soak my back in warmth even on the coldest of winter nights. The lower bolsters on the F model made ingress and egress of the vehicle a breeze, and although it might sound vain, I’m sort of obsessed with how good they look.
I could go on and on about the range of fabrics and leathers they come in, or how many people compliment me on them, but truthfully, none of that matters compared to the core experience of driving in a Scheel-Mann. I’m now able to enjoy the journey and focus on what’s around me rather than thinking about the throbbing in my back. I feel like I am planted and in better control of the vehicle than ever before, and best of all, I’m able to hop out and experience the destination in full health rather than exiting the vehicle hunched over and in pain. This experience isn’t just limited to me. Other people who ride along find they are less fatigued after a long day on the road, and often realize an hour or two into a drive that they aren’t sore or shifting around like they usually do.
Of course, no product is perfect, and ironically the only gripe I could find come’s from the seat’s quality. All of the adjustments are very precise, so it takes a lot of turning knobs to make big changes. This isn’t usually a problem, as you tend to only make big changes the first time you use the seat, and then fine-tune from there. There is one exception though. If you’re on a long drive and your partner wants to lean their seat all the way back to nap, they have to turn the adjustment knob for what seems like an eternity to lay the Vario flat. This obviously isn’t an issue for drivers, but it could still be annoying.
Now I have little doubt that many of you are wondering why the price tags on these seats are not listed as another issue, and I don’t blame you. They are certainly expensive, and there is no doubt that their cost is a big drawback, but I cannot overstate the difference that they have made in my life, or the improvement they’ve created in my journeys. When I compare their expense to the cost of lost experiences and time on the road, there simply is no better bargain.
At the end of the day Scheel-Mann seats aren’t for everyone. They won’t make your truck faster or taller, give it better grip, or help you get out of a ditch when you botch a line. What they will do is give you better control and comfort on and off the road, provide your body with the healthy support it needs, and best of all, help you enjoy every mile of the journey. If you have ever experienced discomfort while driving, suffer from chronic back pain, or simply want an amazing set of new seats for your vehicle, I implore you to give Scheel-Mann a call; you’ll be happy you did.


If you are contemplating purchasing a set of these seats, and need to experience them for yourself, stop by the Scheel-Mann booth at Overland Expo. Toby will have a variety of seats to test and enjoy, and once you’re done, you can head on over to the Overland Journal booth to try out the heavily used seats in my Excursion. I think you’ll be amazed by what you find.

VHF SOTA: Abajo Peak (W7U/SU-014) by Bob K0NR

While on a canyon country hiking/Jeeping trip in Utah, Joyce/K0JJW and I decided to do a couple of Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations. Abajo Peak (W7U/SU-014) showed up as a suitable target, being an easy-access drive-up summit at 11,360 feet, just west of Monticello. While the forest service map shows this as a 4WD route, it turned out to be a well-maintained road that most 2WD vehicles can handle.
The radio site on the summit of Abajo Peak
The map below shows the area. The only real challenge was finding B102 heading south/southwest out of Monticello. This later turns into route 0087, which swings south of another SOTA summit: South Peak (W7U/SJ-003) and up over Dickson Pass. (South Peak could be a second summit for a double activation.)

Abajo Peak is an excellent summit for VHF/UHF propagation with a good radio horizon in all directions. There is a substantial radio communications site on top which did create some local interference on 2m and 70cm. Moving a bit away from the actual summit caused the interference to mostly disappear.
I was concerned that we would not find enough activity on VHF in this rural location, so I put the word out to some of the hams in Utah and western Colorado with capable 2m SSB stations. Our equipment was a Yaesu FT-817 (all mode, 5W) driving a 3-element yagi antenna. We also had a 50W Yaesu FT-90 that can provide a bit more power out on 2m FM. And we had the usual collection of HTs.
The longest distance contacts for the day plotted on a map (click to enlarge).
Around noon, we started calling on 146.52 MHz and worked N7VWX in Nucla, CO (about 57 miles away). We switched over to 144.200 SSB and worked W0DSW in Cedaredge, CO (113 miles). Then we worked Bill/K0UK in Grand Junction (95 miles) on 144.200 SSB…not real strong but we made it. A bit later we came across KB7REB on 146.52 FM who said he was out hiking in a canyon and was surprised to hear anyone.  We also worked KB7TRA on 146.52 (I think he was mobile east of us). We also worked W0DBB in Montrose, CO. I kept beaming to the west looking for W7DHH and I eventually heard him calling on 144.200 CW. I tried getting back to him but he was apparently not hearing me. N7KMK (same vicinity as W7DHH) came on the air and I was able to copy him on SSB. He also had trouble hearing me, but for a few seconds the signals came up a bit and we made the contact. N7KMK was my best DX for the day at 154 miles.
Four contacts are required to get the SOTA activation points and we probably would have been successful just randomly calling on 146.52 MHz FM. However, taking along the SSB transceiver and alerting the 2m weak-signal crowd certainly paid off with some longer distance QSOs. It is always a blast to be working over 100 miles on VHF QRP.
73, Bob K0NR

Saturday, May 19, 2018

These 4 Tech Trends Are Driving Us Toward Food Abundance

These 4 Tech Trends Are Driving Us Toward Food Abundance: Technology is driving food abundance. If we could radically reinvent what we eat, and how we create that food, what might you imagine that “future of food” would look like?

Sunday, May 13, 2018

From SolderSmoke Daily News: A Construction Technique that REALLY "Nails it" -- But what do we call it?

Thanks to Rogier PA1ZZ (long in W6) for this.  I guess I have used a variation of this technique in some antenna tuner projects, and maybe in a crystal radio effort.   This also reminded both Pete and me of the electronic project kits that we were given as kids.  Those kits had little springs that were supposed to keep the components in contact.  They might have worked better with nails.  

This technique definitely provides an opportunity for an earnest young guy to make use of his soldering GUN.  I don't think a wimpy 35 watt iron would be up to the task.  

What should we call this technique?  We have "ugly" and "Manhattan" and
"Muppet Boards."   What do we call this? 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Leapfrogging Tech Is Changing Millions of Lives. Here’s How

Leapfrogging Tech Is Changing Millions of Lives. Here’s How: In developing countries, particularly African ones, millions of people are skipping the technological evolution process, leapfrogging over now-obsolete technologies and going straight to modern fixes. As a bonus, these often happen to be green, sustainable, and relatively cheap.

MT Adventures: Swan range, Clearwater traverse

MT Adventures: Swan range, Clearwater traverse: Great skiing in front of Fisher peak early in the traverse. I really only had one big must-do tour for the year, so when spring finally...

How to make an Emergency Comms Shortwave Antenna for Preppers using Ladders

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

3 Major Shifts Are About to Transform Manufacturing as We Know It

3 Major Shifts Are About to Transform Manufacturing as We Know It: We are on the verge of transforming one of society’s most fundamental building blocks: manufacturing. As new technologies enable manufacturers to customize everything, these same agents are quickly turning consumers into inventors. Following the agricultural revolution some 5,000 years ago, humanity made a huge breakthrough that allowed complex societies to flourish: we specialized. It made no sense for each …

MT Adventures: Little Tin Cup peak to creeks

MT Adventures: Little Tin Cup peak to creeks: Jeffrey climbing back to Little Tin Cup peak with the majestic peaks of the Southern Bitterroot in the background. With spring finally...