Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: SteriPEN Classic Handheld UV Water Purifier

My friend Mark has a drinking problem. His problem is that he often forgets to drink enough on our various back country adventures. Today, on our latest trip to Rattlesnake Mountain, this wasn't a problem because I appealed to Mark's love of gadgets. "You can use my new SteriPEN and I'll take pictures and write about it for the blog," I told him. As you can see in the photos below, Mark joyfully accepted this assignment.

The SteriPEN is not a filter, it's a device that purifies water by using ultra-violet light to disrupt the DNA in the various microbes that might be lurking in the water. If the water is cloudy, you'd want to use a pre-filter to get the large gunk out (I plan on using coffee filters for this), but in the case of a clear running stream like this one, the SteriPEN and a bottle is all you need.

The SteriPEN Classic weighs about six ounces and is about the same size as an electric toothbrush. I'd contemplated getting the smaller, lighter SteriPEN Adventurer but it uses CR123A batteries. I decided that the Classic was more practical for me since it uses 4 standard-sized AA cells.

The really great thing about the SteriPEN is that it is fast and simple to use. You take off the protective cap, press the button twice for a 0.5 liter bottle or once for a 1.0 liter bottle, wait for the green light to flash and then push the bulb into the bottle. The nose of the SteriPEN wedges into a small mouth bottle or you can use it as a stirrer in a wide mouth bottle. You swirl the water around while the light zaps the nasty critters that may lurk in the water. The entire process takes 48 seconds for a half-liter or 90 seconds for a full liter.

Unlike chemical purifiers, there is no long wait and the taste of the water is unchanged. At a minute and half per liter of water, the SteriPEN is faster than any filter I've used. Again, if the water is murky I will use a pre-filter, but the SteriPEN is quite handy. And being able to drink that cool, mountain stream water within a couple of minutes of coming to the creek is a priceless joy.

To really do things right, you should carry some kind of pre-filter and be careful to keep your lips off the "unclean" outer portion of the bottle. And in case of battery or other electronic failure, I carry a small stash of Chlorine Dioxide MicroPur Tablets.

My bike headlight, my camera and now my SteriPEN all use AA batteries. I've been using Rechargeable Hybrid NiMH Batteries for the past few years. There are various brands and things are moving fast, but cells of this type will be labled "precharged" or "ready to use." The important thing is that these cells have a low self-discharge rate and I look for the ones that have the highest capacity as measured in mAh.

My devices don't need to have their batteries charged every day but I since I may be away from power outlets for days at a time, I've added a couple of
UltraLast Green Solar 2 AA Chargers to my stash of gadgets.

These small chargers sit in my kitchen window at home, soaking up the sun and charging the batteries that I then swap into whatever device happens to be running low. On my back country trips, I pack the chargers in clear Dry Pak cases that I strap to my pack. Even though it may take a couple of days to charge 4 AA cells, rotating batteries through the various devices and the chargers lets me I keep my gadgets running without the need for wall current.

Returning to the SteriPEN, both Mark and I have been favorably impressed with the ease and speed of the device. Mark pointed out that the protective cap for the SteriPEN's bulb could be easily lost, so I'll be making a small leash to keep the cap attached to the SteriPEN and its neoprene case.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson

Monday, February 15, 2010

One More Kid On A Bike

Saturday, a woman and a boy of about seven years old came into Bike Works. Our shop sells used bikes and the young fellow was looking for a bike. "Preferably something with multiple gears and hand brakes," the woman said. Our supply of refurbished kids bikes is unfortunately a bit low at this time but I did have one simple, used, blue BMX bike with a coaster brake that I showed to the woman and the boy. I explained stopping with a coaster brake to the boy and he nodded.

"He's just in town visiting for a few days and he wants to go riding," she explained. "His bike at home has hand brakes and multiple gears. You don't rent bikes, do you?"

"Sorry," I explained, "We don't and I don't know anyone in town who rents kid's bikes."

"That's what I've found as well," she said, glancing at the $25 price tag on the bike.

"We don't rent bikes," I said, "but he's only in town for a couple of days. I'll loan you this bike." I adjusted the seat to the right height for the kid and loaned him one of our helmets so he could test ride it. He understood the coaster brake right away and came back with a big grin on his face.

"We'll bring the bike back on Tuesday," the woman said.

"Perfect," I said.

"I need to buy him a helmet," said the woman. I helped the boy try on helmets and he picked out a blue one. He also found a light that he liked and the woman said she'd buy it for him. As I was ringing up the sale the woman said, "We'll bring the bike back on Tuesday, but I'd like to make a donation as well." (Bike Works is a non-profit and our main mission is getting kids on bikes and teaching them how to fix them up). "Add another forty dollars to our total."

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Past The Gate

The gate is less than an hour's ride from my house. Not far past the gate, the pavement ends. The road goes up. A bit further on a creek has washed away a chunk of the road and the way across involves balancing on the rocks, using the bike as a crutch. I scramble up the other side.

My friend Mark, who has been with me here many times but not today, has told me things his GPS and computer have told him. The average grade from here to the ridge top is 7 percent but there are tenth-mile sections of 15 to 17 percent and some that are much worse. I have a map with dense contour lines and a compass and legs and lungs and bicycle that tell me these same things in other, non-numeric ways.

My map and compass comfort me and affirm the instinct that tells me to take the rougher road, the one that heads higher.

The roads are here because the towers are here and the towers are here because this is a mountain and these days we mark our mountains with towers to cast our words and pictures and bits and tweets and American Idols widely into the world.

I crawl up these roads, roads where I only ever see white service trucks go. And I bring my own bits, stamping photons into electrons, images into memories, pictures from the wide, high places squeezed into silicon circuits, bits acquired trudgingly to be blasted back at light speed, through wifi and 3G and gee-whiz, bounced back up off towers and blogged and tweeted and interneted in a web that never quite captures...

What it's like to pitch a tarp just as the light is fading, just as the rain is starting.

The rain falls and the wind tugs at the tarp but these are the things I have come here to test. The goal is not to recreate every warm comfort of the civilized world, 3,000 feet below. I'm here to learn if I've brought just enough comfort, if I'm comfortable with enough.

The rain doesn't last as long as the night. In the morning I leave the bike and hike higher. There is snow in the high country.

A lake shines in the distance. I won't hike there today. I've come far enough, for now.

I return to camp, pack up and roll back to Issaquah. It's not quite right to say I'm rolling home, it is more accurate to say I'm rolling through home.

There is more home to explore and I will keep rolling.