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D.A.D. Patrol


There’s a multi-decade stage of life, after mortgages and before dentures, when the demands of kids and career steamroll the pursuit of kicks. For those whose lives revolve around the two-dimensional poles of profession and family, obeying the boss at work and The Boss at home results in the great withering of 'play' days.

Adding a third, recreation-oriented dimension to life—a dimension improving perspective, balance, and skiing opportunities--often hinges upon creative tweaks of time. In winters past, I've engaged in dawn patrols a few times a week: Rising early, I've climbed for several hours, skied off a peaklet, and been seated at the word processor by 9 a.m., feeling smug and righteous. During the summers, I've switched to dusk patrols: Arriving at a trailhead in late afternoon, several of us have mountain biked into the evening, and returned home at an hour when no chores could be expected of us.

These have been useful sanity salves but about a year ago, as I sat unproductively at the word processor, I realized I missed the aesthetics of sleeping in the mountains. I missed that cycle of watching the sky darken, the stars brighten, the stars darken, and the sky brighten. I missed knowing the stages of the moon. I missed the sensation of birthing one’s self out of a warm sleeping bag into a cold morning, the visions of meadows sugared with frost, the first rush of warmth flooding through the body when sunlight finally cracked the dawn’s horizon….

Overnight trips seemed unlikely on Saturdays when the weekend chauffeur’s schedule and ‘honey-do’ list were longer than my climbing rope. Still, devoting one night a week to the stars seemed not only desirable but obtainable. Why not combine the week’s shorter evening or morning outings into one, super-sized Dusk And Dawn Patrol? The notion of DAD Patrol was born.

I pitched the idea to fellow Stepford husbands. I reminded them of bygone days when we spouted nonsense like ‘Skiing is life,’ or ‘A bad day of biking is better than a good day of work.’ I refreshed their work-deadened memories that ‘We work to live rather than live to work.’ I warned them that when we spend too much time with 5-year-olds (or 15-year-olds) we act like 5-year olds (or 15-year-olds). I told them it was impossible to love one’s family every hour of the week—and that we should budget those unloving hours to playing. I suggested that if the truisms ‘like father, like son,’ were true, then we must practice the form of delinquency we desired for our children. A few low-achievers bought into this drivel and we started drinking from the DAD Patrol chalice every week or two.  

Our self-determined rules of engagement embraced ultralight travel. Regardless of whether the adventure of the day involved backcountry skiing, mountain biking, or hiking, to our normal day packs for that pursuit we added extra energy bars, an extra quart of water, a two-pound sleeping bag, a bivy sack, an additional warm shirt, and a group tarp. Then off we went carrying packs that were only some six pounds heavier than our normal day packs.

We would reach a trailhead around 4 p.m. and ski, pedal or walk as the sky pinkened and then gradually purpled over. Eventually the headlamps would be donned for extra hours of travel. Sometimes in starlight and sometimes by storm, we pitched our tarp near the summit of a peak before burrowing into sleeping bags.

Some six hours later we would re-ignite the headlamps, mechanically chew energy bars, and shuffle off to tag a summit. Then, as the sun’s orange crescent cracked the eastern horizon, we would descend our mountain on boards, wheels, or foot riding this tide of new light.

Typically we would reach the car around 8 a.m., and drive to work stinky and sweaty--perfectly groomed to disgust colleagues. For me productivity soared once I was back at work—until early afternoon, that is, when my eyes would roll closed and my head would slam onto the desk.

Matt, a Forest Service stiff and my most frequent partner, had his own post-patrol syndrome, “When I get to work after an outing I’m initially bummed, yet I’m amazingly productive for five or six hours. By late afternoon, I’m bummed again because the next patrol is a week away.”

I’ve discovered the benefits of DAD Patrol transcend the participant’s personal need for play, perspective, and balance. Recently in the shoulder season between skiing and biking when DAD patrols were on hold for several weeks, I bumped into Matt’s wife. “He’s been insufferable without his weekly outing,” she complained. She pressured me not to delay in starting things up again. Her plea was strangely familiar, “I can’t love him seven days a week, you gotta take him one of those days.”

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DAD PATROL EQUIPMENT LIST

The guiding philosophy is to go ultralight and to enjoy the movement more than the camping. Unless the trip description states differently, don’t bring cooking gear, cookable food, heavy tents, much extra clothing, etc.
 
Skiing (Backcountry) DAD Patrols. A normal day kit for skiing would include skis (randonnee or telemark), boots, poles, skins, avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe, warm coat (e.g., down sweater), warm hat, outerwear (stormcoat and pants), gloves, lunch, and water. Likely you’d also have a ditty bag with a lighter, map, compass, sunscreen, TP, moleskin, duct tape, multi-tool knife, water purifier (iodine or Aquamira), and sunglasses.  Some outings might require ice axe, crampons, or ski crampons.
--Add to this: extra quart of water, 1 to 1.5 pounds of high-energy food (non-cook), sleeping pad, 2-pound sleeping bag (down), bivvy sack or plastic ground cloth to keep bag dry, headlamp, extra long underwear top and bottom (optional but heavy sweaters might want to sleep in this), toothbrush, ski crampons for spring tours on old snow.
--Group gear to discuss and work out: Who’s bringing the silicone-nylon (SilLite) tarp or floorless tent for the group (generally we avoid 4-season tents because they are so heavy)? Save weight: pack just one first-aid kit; ski-repair kit; and ditty bag with compass, sunscreen, water purifier, lighter, duct tape, etc.

Mountain Biking DAD Patrols. The normal equipment for an adventurous day trip ride in late spring/summer/early fall would include: bike, helmet, bike gloves, pump, spare inner tube, patch kit, bike tools, superlight rain shell, superlight rain or wind pants,  2 quarts water, energy bars, water-purifying tablets (iodine) or drops (Aquamira), map, minimalist compass, TP, lighter, duct tape, sunglasses, sunscreen, bandaids.
--Add to this: 1- to 1.5-pounds of energy food (non-cook), ¾-length sleeping pad, 1.5- to 2-pound sleeping bag (down), plastic ground cloth to keep bag dry, headlamp, long underwear top and bottom (to change into after cycling), wool hat, extra socks, lightweight glove liners, toothbrush. If water is available, purify as you go; otherwise, bring an extra quart.
--One system for carrying this: Shoulder a light day pack with about half the load (those items you might need to access). Strap a stuff sack with your sleeping bag, sleeping pad, ground cloth, and other camping items to a seat-post rack.
Group gear to discuss and work out: Who’s bringing the silicone-nylon (SilLite) tarp or floorless tent for the group? Save weight: pack just one first-aid kit; set of bike tools (everyone should still pack a pump and spare tube); and ditty bag with such essentials as a compass, sunscreen, duct tape, and matches. Mountain biking isn’t much fun with a heavy load—pare away every spare ounce.

Hiking DAD Patrols. The normal equipment for an adventurous day hike in late spring/summer/early fall would include: daypack, superlight rain shell, superlight rain or wind pants, warm shirt or jacket, 1 to 2 quarts water, energy bars, water-purifying tablets (iodine) or drops (Aquamira), map, compass, TP, lighter, knife, duct tape, sunglasses, sunscreen, first-aid and blister supplies.
--Add to this: 1- to 1.5-pound energy food (non-cook), ¾-length sleeping pad, 1.5- to 2-pound sleeping bag (down), plastic ground cloth to sleep on, headlamp, long underwear top and bottom (to change into after walking), wool hat, extra socks, lightweight glove liners, toothbrush. If water is available, purify as you go. Otherwise bring an extra quart.
--Group gear to discuss and work out: Who’s bringing the silicone-nylon (SilLite) tarp or floorless tent for the group? Save weight by bringing just one first-aid kit.