Kenya: Tech on the Road
There were two pieces of tech, cameras aside (and I’ll talk about them in a separate post), that made my work in Kenya last month possible: one was the Goal Zero Sherpa 100, the other was the DeLorme InReach, a satellite communicator.
Power has been an issue on past trips, and this time I picked up an option that will go with me on similar trips from now on. Already a fan of Goal Zero (I have two of their larger battery packs, which are heavier and more powerful than I needed for this trip) I picked up a Sherpa 100 kit with a 100w battery pack, folding solar panels, and cables that would allow me to charge this pack with solar (no shortage of hot, bright sun in northern Kenya), or from a wall (helpful before and after the trip, but not a chance of from-the-wall power on this trip), or from the 12v of the truck as we drove.
The kit weighs about 5lbs, has 2 outs for USB, a 110v inverter, and, if you don’t use a Mac, an out for a laptop. Using solar it took about 8 hours to fully charge, and that charge would do iPhones, and several camera batteries, as well as most of a laptop charge. Bring 2 sets of solar panels, daisy chain them, and the charging time would go down, I assume, by a half. In a year I’m shooting an assignment in Lesotho and it’ll be equally remote. I’ll be bringing two of the Sherpa 100 battery packs and 2 of the panels. If you work remotely, and need to recharge batteries, take a look at the whole Goal Zero line. Excellent products and good support. Each time I’ve called they’ve been really responsive.
The second itch I wanted to scratch was communications with home. I carry an Iridium satellite phone, but it has two disadvantages – it’s expensive and it’s frustrating enough to make me want to pitch it into the nearest river once in a while. So when I saw my friend John Marriott using a DeLorme inReach Explorer at Cape Churchill this year, I was pretty sure I’d found my solution. My inReach Explorer was with me at all times, kept track of movements, elevation, and – importantly – kept me in touch with home so far away.
The inReach pairs with my iPhone (ipad or iphone, Android too, I believe) and allows me, through an app, to easily type out 160-character texts to mobile numbers, email addresses, and even Facebook and Twitter, and with that goes my GPS coordinates so friends can see where I am. I also gave my family a password-protected link and they could log on, to my DeLorme site, see where I was at any time, and send messages from their browser (or they can repy to the email or SMS on their phone, etc). I don’t need the iPhone, it works on it’s own, though it takes longer to type a message, choosing one letter at a time, and the battery seems to do quite well. Being well out of network range for most of the trip (and even when I was it was costly) the inReach allowed me to stay in touch with home, post to FB a couple times (text only) and return to a complete track of my journey on my page of the DeLorme site.
We had a couple days of a weird service outage, but other than that it worked really well and it’ll be in my bag, or my Jeep, on future adventures. You can buy the inReach Explorer at places like Canada’s MEC, or on Amazon, and activate it from home, choosing one of a few reasonable service plans, and those plans can be put on hold for something like $5/month if there are stretches of time you don’t plan to travel. Lastly, there’s an SOS button that calls in the calvary. You’ll be pleased to know that I had no reason to test it this time.