This trip to Canada’s north and around the world is the adventure of a lifetime.  We want to savour it and document it.  Below you will find the results of my research in tracking down the right technology. 

Please note that the gear discussed below has been tested on our week-long shake-out trip down the Coulonge River in May 2007.  So far so good! 

   

Step one:

Research research research.  What’s best? What’s necessary?  What’s small/light enough?  What has worked for others? 

Step two:

Hunt, hunt hunt (locally and online)

Step three:

Wait, wait wait, with bated breath by the mailbox. 

Step four:

Test test test and test again. After all this, it better work!!!

Grey hair and a half-melted Visa were the collateral damage, but we are finally ready…for anything.  

  

Solar Power 

Compact. Convenient. Functional. And reasonably priced? I must be joking! But it’s so true, even if it was a long road to find it! I worked with Laura Griffin at Backup Power in Oakville (http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/app/ccc/search/watcher.do?language=eng&portal=1&estblmntNo=234567093142&link=http://www.backup-power.ca). I can’t recommend Laura highly enough. The service was sensational. Laura worked with me every step of the way to make sure my system worked.

I didn’t want to have to charge my devices (ipod, sat phone, camcorder, camera) directly from the solar panel for two reasons:

I don’t want to leave my devices in the open on the deck of a canoe to charge them. When not in use, they belong snug in their pelly cases when we’re on the water!

I didn’t want to have to buy car adapters for everything – very expensive and very bulky.

Answer: a two-component system: a solar panel and a battery!

  • Battery Solution: the XPower PowerSource Mobile 100. ($149, 1 lb, approx. the size of a paperback book) (http://www.backup-power.ca/catalog/item/3947635/3710156.htm) This little gem is a battery that will either charge from the wall or through a car adapter hooked into a solar panel. The battery has two types of plug-ins for your devices to charge from: the regular 3-prong (like a wall outlet), and a USB plug (for ipods). I believe this would save a few hundred dollars on buying adapters alone. Money AND space savings? We have a winner, ladies and gentlemen.  When it is fully charged, it will charge approx. 2, 120 minute camcorder batteries. Not bad! It will take most of a good sunny day to fully charge it from my solar panel (I think), but the real test of this will come in the next few months. We can charge our devices in our tent at night. 
  • Solar panel solution: I don’t really care if it takes a long time to charge the battery. I would rather save the money and the weight/bulk of a bigger solar panel. Our power needs are really not that great.
    • What didn’t work: I tried the PowerFilm rollable solar panels (http://www.backup-power.ca/portablesolarstore.html), both the PowerFilm 600, 9.2W ($250) and the PowerFilm1200, 18.4W ($450). Powerfilm rollable panels are supposed to be identical to the Brunton solar panels (PowerFilm makes solar panels for Brunton). I really can’t tell you why, but neither of them worked. The PowerSource battery just wouldn’t charge.
    •  What worked: the Sunlinq 12 watt folding solar panel. (http://www.backup-power.ca/catalog/item/3393232/3676689.htm) It’s tiny! (the size of a trade paperback novel, and FLAT!), it’s a great price! ($229), it’s super light! 0.7 lb and ….wait for it….it WORKS!! Like a charm. The Sunlinq 12W and the Powersource Mobile 100…power couple of the year! (har har)

  

Photography and digital photo storage

  • Canon digital SLR. Film was going to cost more than this little jewel, so we took the plunge.
  • CF cards and ipod: 1G and 2G (3G total), with a 30G ipod for photo storage, with its little camera connector thingy. It is a “camel and internet oasis” approach. We hope to have enough memory to carry us between internet terminals of sufficient speed to upload pictures to Flickr. Putting pictures from the camera onto the ipod is slow but very functional – a few seconds/picture.

  

Camcorder

  • Used Sony camera, non-HD. The HD/non-HD debate almost killed us. The awesome picture quality of high def is truly tantalizing, but it’s just not practical yet until high-def DVD burners exist for the non-uber-riche.
  • Media: MiniDV: it’s cheap, available everywhere, and we don’t have to download to a computer. We will fedex the tapes home once in a while.
  • We also have a microphone with a wind sock. Rumour has it it’s breezy on the tundra.

  

Alternatives to bringing a computer

Again with the endless debates. Actually, we really didn’t want to bring a computer, but we put a lot of effort into how to substitute the functionality. In the end, we managed to find great substitutes for the two key conveniences of a computer.

Buy more memory for the camera (CF cards and ipod) instead of burning CDs of our photos and sending them home.  We set up an account with Flickr to store our pictures online when we get to a good internet site to upload.   

Use a palm pilot for journaling/blogging (more below): I admit it – we suck at keeping good paper journals.  We’re typers, not writers.  The Palm/Go-Type combo is small, cheap, indestructible and it runs on AAA batteries forever.  Hallelujah. 

  

Word Processing

I have to thank Bill Layman, an experienced tundra paddler and gear guru par excellence for his advice on this one.

  • Palm IIIxe ($25 on ebay)
  • GoType Keyboard ($12). It appears that those nifty fold-up keyboards really don’t hold up. The GoTypes are indestructible, I have it on good authority.
  • Cords and connectors: Hotsync cable ($3.99 on ebay) to connect to a computer (more compact than the hotsync cradle). The hotsync cable ends in a serial DB9 pin connector, so you also have to buy another cord to change the serial connection to a USB connector. ($30 at Circuit City). Buying all these connectors and cords was a drag, but it works, so I shrug my shoulders.  

Voila!!! Word processing for all your journaling and emailing needs. It holds 8 MB, which is a lot of text, and you can either hook up to a computer at an internet café to dump it and email the contents (you can either download the palm software from the internet, or carry a CD with it). You can also send an email via sat phone.

With the sat phone combo, you can send emails and can blog from whatever rock, snow bank or rice paddy you happen to be standing in.

  

Iridium Satellite Phone

It was never a question that we would have a sat phone for the Thelon. You’d be a little crazy not to, I think. Or at least an EPIRB beacon or other emergency device. Also, some past health issues made it non-negotiable to have telephone contact. For the same reason, we also decided we would need to bring a sat phone with us around the world.  As a result of our “truly global” needs, we had to purchase an Iridium instead of a Globalstar (Iridium is double the price. Ouch.) Globalstar is all you need for Canada. Check out their website to see their coverage.  It was also cheaper for us to buy than to rent. The interesting thing is, you won’t find any real bargains on these phones on ebay, used or new. I hope we can sell it at the end make some of the $$$ back.

It is possible to hook up palm pilots to BOTH Globalstar and Iridium phones. Iridium sent me instructions, and a friend of mine has done this with Globalstar too. Surprisingly, satellite phone technology has not changed in the past 10 years. These things are not fast, and they are not sleek and sexy, but they are reliable (I hope). Text messaging worked like a charm from our test run on the Coulonge River.

What you need to send emails from a sat phone with a palm pilot:

  • A data kit (http://www.infosat.com/services/iridium/iridium_data_kit.htm).
  • This gets a little convoluted, so bear with me. The data kit plug in is a female BD9 (i.e. 9 pin serial port). The end of the hotsync cord for the palm is ALSO a female DB9. Also, you need a null modem adapter to make the phone to act as a modem. Therefore, the perfect piece is a male-to-male DB9 null modem adapter. It was not easy to find, but they are out there. Here’s where I got mine: (http://www.startech.com/Product/ItemDetail.aspx?productid=NM9MM&c=CA) This is great because it doesn’t add any more cords. Hurrah! And it’s cheap – $10.
  • A dial-up ISP account

  

Blog and online photo storage

It wasn’t my goal to search high and low for the best-on-the-planet blog and picture storage website, but I think we did well.

  • Online photo storage: Flickr. I have gotten mixed reports about whether we will be able to burn photos at internet cafes around the world. However, I do know that once in a while you can hit some great high-speed connections. Flickr has some great features, it doesn’t compress my photos (most important feature) and it’s cheap to get unlimited storage (“pro account” – $25/year). Also, no matter what, your photos are never deleted, even if your pro account lapses.  Downloading in batches from Flickr is deliberately sucky. However, some people have written programs to help do this.
  • Blog: WordPress. It seems pretty flexible, lots of themes to choose from, good widgets, and not expensive to get extra storage. Also not bad to learn – good FAQ.
Advertisements