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    Product Testing - Whale Watching with a Wee One

    We test our gear on a variety of levels. Our athletes and ambassadors are responsible for putting the latest designs and fabrics through the paces before we'll add a new product to our lineup. But just because something reaches our shelves doesn't mean testing is over. Once a new item shows up in our catalogs, our Customer Service staff gets busy ground-truthing the latest offerings. They know the questions our customers will be asking, and turn that attention to our gear.

    SamPmorning Product Report: Synchilla Marsupial, “O” Web Belt, Women's Sender Capris, Kids’ Sky Serpent T-shirt, Baby Synchilla Cardigan, Baby Puffer Vest and Kids’ Trucker Hat
    Activity: Camping and Whale Watching, Northern California
    Tested by: Michelle L., Patagonia Web Team

    As I’ve gotten older my lack of sanity manifests itself in different ways. Fifteen years ago my friends referred to me as the wild one since I was always up for partying, loud music and any adventure life would throw at me. Long gone are the days for too much partying, but nevertheless I will never let go of the adventure. This time, I decided to take my very newly potty-trained 3.5 year old son on a camping trip and to go catch the gray-whale migration out at Point Reyes in Marin County, California, all on my own. My husband was going to stay home and peacefully recover from oral surgery.

    I know the area well, as I grew up in Mill Valley, California. Samuel P. Taylor Park, outside of San Rafael, is a beautiful campground with lots of amenities set in a gorgeous Redwood Grove with Lagunitas Creek running right through it. The forecast was exceptionally good. Even at Point Reyes Station they called for 77 degrees and clear skies. I was so excited to enjoy some warm spring weather, the scent of the ocean, to bond with my son, and give him lessons about the wonders of nature and how we need to protect it.

    Marsupial We arrived at the campsite, and my son was thrilled that he had logs to climb on, “caves” inside of the trees to explore, and was on the lookout for skunks. I broke out a Fat Tire from the cooler, realizing that recently my bottle opener had disappeared from my keychain. No problem! I had my “O” Web Belt on. I love this belt, but actually using the bottle opener is a bit of a challenge. I laughed a couple of times as there were people witnessing me unleashing my belt (with a small child around no less) in order to open a beer. Nevertheless, it does work. That evening I was joined by some old friends with their kids and I ended up taking a pretty good spill on top of a pile of logs next to the campfire and, much to my surprise, my Synchilla Marsupial got a little dirty but it didn’t rip. I would’ve expected it to. But the true field testing was to come the next day, out at the point.

    Observing We packed up our lunch the next morning after breakfast and Zachary put on his Kids’ Trucker Hat, with the Live Simply whale design on it. “I want to see whales!” he proclaimed. The air was still and we hopped into the car. As we drove over the hill through Inverness, I spotted an old nemesis. “Damn!” I whispered softly to myself. I could see the fog bank sitting out on the horizon. But having grown up in Marin, I also realized that it could be burning off, but I was wary. Fog and I go way back, and the relationship is a turbulent one as I am a sun worshipper.Kids trucker

    The drive was beautiful and we saw plenty of deer, cows, chickens and the views were spectacular. I could see that the fog was burning off as we plowed further out onto the peninsula. Our first destination was the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse. Zachary had downed some juice by that point, and my first priority was getting him to the bathroom. The only toilets at the lighthouse trailhead are pit toilets, and he told me several times he did not need to go. Being the naïve first-time mother that I am, I believed him. We started our little .25 mile hike up the trail. We enjoyed the songs of the white-crowned sparrow, and admired dew on the leaves of the ice plant that the fog had just left behind. The sun was warm, but there were blasts of cold as the bank was still burning off and sitting right on the water. My car gauge had read 59 degrees. I had Zachary in his Kids’ Sky Serpent T-shirt and his Baby Puffer Vest, and I had on my Sender Capris (Ed note: Our closest currently available equivalent is the Inter-Continental Capri) and my trusty but dirty Synchilla Marsupial. We were both comfortable when Zachary announced he needed the potty as the stream poured out the bottom of his pants. We were 50 yards from the toilets (with running water) at the top of the trail. We did at least walk to the end where the lighthouse steps begin (300 of them) down the cliff of the point. We could see the ocean but the fog had not burned off enough to see any distance so I turned him around and we decided to head to Chimney Rock.

    Zachy hat As we reached the end of the trail, I noticed that the visibility had grown worse, and the temperature had dropped considerably. The fog was re-generating itself with the warmth of the sun hitting the water. The gauge read 52 degrees at this point.

    I got Zachary changed into dry clothes and put his Baby Synchilla Cardigan on under the Puffer Vest. I will say the Baby Synch Cardigan is the most versatile garment you can own for your kid. I have used this jacket for just about everything, including snow-play and I will never go anywhere without it! And he loves it. The hood is essential, and became extremely important. The wind was growing intense and that old nemesis, those icy-cold fingers of fog that used to plague me as a kid were causing me to flashback to the '80s. I would ride my Honda Elite scooter overlooking Muir Beach on Panoramic Highway with OMD playing on my Walkman while freezing my hands off. Nevertheless, Zachary still wanted to see whales and was up for Baby synch more walking. I threw my Houdini on over my Marsupial, and the battle ensued. The temperature reading now was 48. When we got to the Chimney Rock trailhead it was obvious at that point that the view would be no better than the lighthouse. I decided to veer left, where we could walk into the cove to Elephant Seal Overlook. The wind was brutal. Zachary’s face was red and chapped as we pressed on to the outlook. Not far into the trail we could hear the barks of the elephant seals.

    “Listen, Zachary, those are the seals burping!” I announced. That was all I needed to do to jar his interest, and immediately he started giggling. “They’re burping!” he squealed. We got to the outlook, where the fog was dangling over the cove, but we were able to see the seals playing with each other in the water and sunning themselves on the beach. The belching became louder and every time a seal made a “burping” noise, Zachary squealed with delight and demanded that everyone around us join in on his fun. His laughter was contagious in the face of the bitter damp wind and the growth of the fog bank that was closing in on us. “That is totally awesome!” another sightseer told me in response to Zachary’s laughing fit.

    Seals We stayed awhile but then scurried back to the car as fast as we could, with me cursing the old nemesis under my breath. As I buckled Zachary in though, I could see the wonder in his eyes and the smile was still present. Having been battered by harrowing winds and walking around with soaking wet pants had not seemed to faze him. My lesson was to take in his wild spirit and remember my own, and relish in the adventure rather than what made us uncomfortable for a mere few hours.

    [Photos, top to bottom - Morning at Samuel P. Taylor Park - Spying for gray whales along their regular migration route - Investigating a gray whale skull on display at Point Reyes National Seashore - Elephant seals along the Northern California Coast. All photos: Michelle Lesseig]

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