Posted June 16, 2016 in Oxx Tales by Jim Markel
Due to the constant changes in travel along with my current state of physical decline, I am now seeing the light on being a minimalist. While not all trips allow for cutting back on the kit, some leave quite a bit of wiggle room. Recently I made of couple of quick test runs to South and Central America. With each trip I decided to travel with less than my normal contingent of gear. Owning your own travel bag company does have some perks depending on how you like change. Whether it’s a new piece of manufacturing machinery or a trade show, I’m constantly experiencing change.
The latest happening here at Red Oxx is that 2016 marks our 30th year in business. You’d think that with all of our designs we would have just about every conceivable configuration covered. But alas, there are more ways to skin an Oxx than previously thought possible.
Of course ideas abound and finding the capacity to create new products is something we’ve embraced in our new factory 8 location. The added capacity allowed us to trim lead times and bring out some new smaller style carry-on luggage.
So I’ve started combining a few of the newer items to ease my transition to minimalism. I’m also seeking counseling due to Air Boss separation anxiety. But seriously, I tend find comfort with knowing exactly what bag I’m taking and how it will be packed.
My friend Patrick Mavros was the first one to request a smaller version of our Air Boss. At the time we simply scaled it down. While exactly what he wanted, it did pose some problems. Cramming all those zippers and dividers into such a small frame cut way down on storage and the weight was a bit disproportionate.
So we went back to the drawing board and through a series of changes we were able to simplify down from three storage compartments to two and added a hanging laptop sleeve. With that, the Mini Boss was born, ready to take charge and carry out the plan of the day… or days. Harare to London no problem. Now how about a quick trip to Argentina?
Traveling south during the winter is pretty much a requirement for having a nice weather during the winter in Montana. While I haven’t gone full snowbird yet, I’m tempted by the palm trees and verdant fields as well as a scorching desert or two. These climates really trim back the need for clothing and that equates into traveling light. Some interesting things occur when you’re cutting back on what you’re deciding to take along. My thoughts come around to some of the basics like hygiene and keeping the elements at bay.
The packing cube concept goes back to my days as a Marine. The corpsman would come over to the para loft asking for ways to organize their emergency medical supplies. In the beginning these custom pods were all made of recycled military issue 420 denier nylon. We never wasted much and a scrapped out parachute would live on in many reincarnations as accessories or bags. Eventually the idea to start color-coding for easy identification was implemented. The vibrant colors of our packing cubes are a continuation of this innovation.
While I’m constantly changing up my travel bags, one thing has remained a constant. The Red Oxx Tri-Fold Toiletry Kit has been a perennial fixture in whatever bag I’m running with. So again, it was time to leave behind an old friend and try something new in the form of our Hedgehog Extra Small Packing Cube.
Normally I’m carrying enough just-in-case items to open my own roadside bodega, but in the spirit of minimalism I decided to really pare back. I would be wearing my closed-toe shoes onto the plane and packing my flip flops into our elongated packing cube known as the Meerkat.
Reflections on travel in 3rd world countries
For shirts and shorts I went with our Bushbaby Medium Packing Cube and kept it to the bare minimum. That left the Armadilla for socks and underwear and one of the PackTowl "original" travel towels for drying off. I’ve found it necessary to travel with a good lightweight towel. I have encountered too many mildewed and scratchy pieces of fabric "claiming to be towels" to count in my travels.
Slipping my Kindle into the laptop sleeve and tossing the Mini Boss onto my shoulder I was certain I’d forgotten about half of my gear. I could get used to traveling this light and as long as I wasn’t being invited to a State Dinner dress-up, it shouldn’t be an issue.
One of my favorite tips is to wear the dressier clothing onto the plane and have it laundered upon arrival. You’re set for the return trip and if anything comes up you have at least one outfit for going to the ball.
All packed and ready to fly, I decided to bring along another "personal item carry on" with my new eyeglasses, ear buds and some snacks. (This Red Oxx product is still under development). With slightly less than a week on the ground in Argentina, we’d have time for some wing shooting and day or two at the pool.
Our annual Christmas bag design competition here at Factory #8 produces prototype bag development. This contest is to see who can dream up the coolest "Red Oxx" gear not currently available. The crew breaks out into small design teams while they work on making the world’s best Christmas present. After the competition, we then make a small run for friends and family.
The Bull Roll was the overall surprise winner that came out of left field. It seems that Oxx has a secret off-roading JEEP society, nearly all of which are women.
The Bull Roll started as a tool roll but I quickly picked up on it as the best way to get through those redundant security check points that seem to literally pop up at the end of the jet way. The interior combines our packing cube modules with the ability to open and close the bag fast and easy. All the while keeping your gear organized and not spreading out all over the customs inspection table. You can also suspend the bag vertically by hanging it from a nail by the remove-able hanging strap so as to easily access your belongings.
Now the best part; I was able to pack for a week and slip the bag right into the dreaded CRJ 200 overhead bins. I pretty much started laughing right there and I am sure my fellow passengers were a bit intrigued by my spontaneous bout of mirth.
I was heading back to Guatemala to visit our knot tying crew and to check on the status of our new Reflective Monkey Fist Zip Knots. Our original monkey fist knots came in a multitude of colors and we had a heck of a time matching knot to bag.
At the time it was decided to go with a nice neutral black and grey knot for all standard Red Oxx bags. With the launch of our color-coded packing cubes I wanted to carry the color theme over and add a reflective feature. We know that a lot of our bags are used to commute to and from work.
You can swap out the knots by simply undoing the half-hitch and reattaching your preferred color. The brightly colored cords provide high visibility for daytime location and the reflective threads bring another element of safety for those who are out working the night shift.
The pace of life in Guatemala is such a contrast to the somewhat laid back posture here in Montana. I’m on point once I get in country. Everywhere you look the activity level is off the charts, from the street-side markets to the never ending cycle of building. It all comes across as chaotic and in some ways the buzz is a bit intoxicating.
Of course being some wide-eyed rube in the mean streets of Guatemala City is not particularly safe for a multitude of reasons. I’ve established a few good methods for keeping out of harm’s way.
Never bring anything you’re not willing to lose or give away to the first person with a gun.
Pretty basic and goes without too much thought; time and place. Nighttime can cast a completely different pall onto otherwise safe and friendly neighborhood.
Zipping through the post rush-hour traffic, I made my escape from the big city to the great lake of Central America. Lago Atitlan has been called many things and has inspired generations of travelers and expats alike to visit its shores. For some reason it has also ensnared yours truly as well and I was looking forward to seeing my friends again.
My home away from home is Posada Los Encuentros and host Richard Morgan is a man on the move. He is a retired U.S. Army Colonel with a penchant for writing about the lake and the life that surrounds it. His latest book is Natural Healing: A Journey to the Mayan World of Atitlan. (Available on Kindle) It’s a great place to base out of and some living quarters even have a small efficiency kitchen and refrigerator. The town is full of restaurants and of course my office, which is actually located in the Crossroads Café.
Owner Mike Roberts and I have been hanging out solving the world’s problems for many years. I like to roast coffee and tell Mike how to run his business and he likes to wisecrack and tell me to mind my own.
The one thing about the coffee business is the constant change of which crops make it to market. Whether it’s blight or not enough rain, one thing for certain is that something will rise above the rest. Typically it’s some variety that’s only able to be grown in a small batch.
So you never know what he’ll serving up and how much of that black gold will ever leave the country. One thing is for certain, I was prepared with an XS Aviator Kit Bag. As negotiations progressed, I ended up losing my shirt and wristwatch to Mike. I’m not certain but I think he was an investment banker in another life. Half-naked and not knowing what time it was I hopped in a tuk-tuk rickshaw and made my escape back to the posada.
Our knot tying operation has been running smoothly for quite some time so we decided to throw them a curve. With the launch of our color-coded packing cubes I wanted to change up the zip knots to match the scale and vibrant colors. We moved down to the 3mm cord size to keep the bulk down and added in a reflective thread. The result is a new knot that can be retrofitted onto any existing Red Oxx bag or zipper that has a large enough opening in the pull tab.
In the past we have had many a boiled chicken with the crew at their workshop. I wanted to treat them to something special and thought they might be down for pizza. As goes most things, it’s sometimes better to ask than to assume.
As we gathered to head into town I could tell something was up. Kaqchikel is not a language I will ever be up on but it was plain to see the crew wanted to talk. Seems that stupid gringo was mistaken on where and what the crew wanted to eat.
They LOVE Pollo Campero, which is basically the Kentucky Fried Chicken of Guatemala. Simple enough. We herded the crew down the hill for some bad-ass central American fast food! One thing is for certain, the labor pool is overflowing. They even have a waitress taking orders with a wireless device.
I was blown-away by the efficiency and great service for such a basic restaurant. We spent the better part of two hours having lunch and catching up on all the latest marriages and new babies.
I can say with certainty that our continued patronage is continuing to transform lives through craftsmanship and fair trade.
Each and every knot has a story and it’s told with considerable gratitude and respect. Red Oxx thanks you for your ongoing support of our efforts here in Guatemala.
Jim Markel, CEO – Red Oxx Mfg.