Jason Heaton writes about adventure, travel, and timepieces, sometimes all at once, for leading print and online publications such as Men's Journal, Revolution, Gear Patrol, HODINKEE and Australian Geographic Outdoor.
Here's a sampling of some of his recent published work.
Gear Patrol, November, 2014
In the pre-dawn hours of a July morning, somewhere west of Kamloops Point, I awoke to the chirp of a text message and I fumbled for my phone, which had found a solitary bar of Canadian cellular service. A message, sent hours earlier, squeaked through: “Malaysian Air flight shot down over Ukraine. 295 dead.”
It was from my wife back in Minneapolis, sending me a news update in case I was checking. Then back to radio silence, like I’d received a lone missive from a distant galaxy picked up by a satellite. I rolled back in my cot and listened to the thrumming of the big diesels beneath the cabin. We were motoring east across the top of Isle Royale in the middle of Lake Superior, heading for a morning dive on the SS Emperor, a Canadian ore freighter that sank in 1947, taking 12 men to the bottom with her.
Old disasters, new disasters.
Down Under, Down Under
Australian Geographic Outdoor, September, 2014
The last thing I saw as I deflated my buoyancy vest and descended was a sleepy fur seal watching me with one open eye from its sunny rock perch. I looked across at divemaster Simone just as her head vanished under the water and I followed her down. Just under the surface, I lost sight of her, only the yellow of her tank visible through the freshwater haze, until five meters deeper, she came into sharper focus. It was as if I had suddenly put on a prescription dive mask. We exchanged “OK” hand signs and kicked deeper, into the eerie green depths.
Climbing the Volcano
Gear Patrol, July 2013
Unlike heat or cold or wind or fatigue, which had all made themselves unpleasantly known in raw physical ways, gravity was more insidious, creeping inside my bones, my brain and deep in my belly. Though I couldn’t see the 45-degree drop over my left shoulder in the predawn blackness, it was as real as a person whispering in my ear as I picked my way through the mixed rock and ice of the Disappointment Cleaver. I could hear the forced exhales of my rope mates, pressure breathing above me, crampons scraping on bare rock with a metallic clink and the wind whistling past my hood. The sounds were sharp, somehow accented by my heightened senses and perhaps by the thinner air, yet above it all was my own voice inside my head saying “don’t slip, don’t fall”. I craned my neck up until my helmet knocked against the top of my pack. A string of headlamps stretched far above me like Christmas lights. We had a very long way to go and it was impossibly steep. It was dizzying. I looked down, deciding to focus on the quarter-inch rope and each step in front of me.
Strapped for Time
International Watch, November 2014
“Someone once said that when you wear a watch, eighty percent of your wrist is strap and the other twenty percent is the watch itself,” says Nick Gabarro, a St. Paul, Minnesota-based watch collector and purveyor of straps. A visit to Gabarro’s office is evidence that he lives by those words. By rough estimate, eighty percent of his office is filled with straps—in boxes, in bags, on shelves—while the other twenty percent has a few necessities like chairs and a computer.
As watch sales continue to climb and interest in vintage timepieces grows, aftermarket straps are a way to individualize a watch and quickly and affordably change its look. New strapmakers seem to pop up almost weekly in all corners of the globe.
Bottom Time: IWC Aquatimer Deep Three
Revolution, May 2014
The bow of the dive boat was angling precariously close to the jagged rocks of Bartolomé Island and the big outboards strained in reverse as we clambered onto the gunwales. The combination of heavy dive gear and four-foot swells made balancing difficult. I checked my regulator one last time and then at the count of three, the four of us back-rolled in unison into the foamy water. By the time I bobbed to the surface, I’d already been swept in front of the boat and I swiveled around to find the others. Our guide gave the thumbs-down and we all deflated our buoyancy vests and quickly descended. The strong currents here demanded a lot of lead and I sank like a stone, equalizing my sinuses as I kicked for the bottom.
It Can Take a Licking
Tourneau Our Minutes, October 2014
Despite the efforts of hyperbolic ads to convince you otherwise, mechanical watches are nowadays viewed by most people as precious objects, ill-suited for life’s rough and tumble. After all, traditional timepieces are anachronisms in an age of smartphones and plastic digital watches that can tell if a storm is coming or how deep you’re diving. Even the burliest dive watches often get left in the locker-room at the gym or, ironically, the pool. But what people seem to forget is that mechanical watches were once state of the art, necessary instruments that were built to survive just about anything their owners can throw at them. And despite their relative obsolescence, modern mechanical watches are more robust than ever, built to very high standards with high-tech materials, lubricants and production techniques. Watch companies have developed countless devious ways to torture test their products during prototyping and production to make sure their watches will not only last but also stay accurate and reliable.
Don’t Underestimate the Whites
Gear Patrol, November 2013
"This is clearly the hardest part of the Appalachians, because you have to use your upper body”, Catherine Stratton says as we finish up dinner in the Galehead Hut on a perfect October night. Stratton is no stranger to hard trails, having through-hiked the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail four times, not to mention the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails. By her own estimation, she has over 40,000 miles on her 67-year old legs.
“Out West, the trails were designed with pack horses in mind, so they cut switchbacks up the mountains”, she says. “These trails in the Whites are some of the oldest in the country and they go straight up and down the sides of the mountains.”
Having spent two days on the trail already, I knew what she meant. This is full-body hiking. It wasn’t just my knees that were sore. My back, my lats, my triceps. What kind of hiking was this?
Diving to Aquarius
Hodinkee, June 2014
It was a choppy overcast day, with 20 mph winds and six-foot seas, sketchy enough that the topside crew from Florida International University, who was responsible for our safety, wasn’t sure we would be able to get in the water. But we loaded dive and camera gear on the boat, including a $75,000 RED Dragon hi-def video camera, and plowed through soaking swells for the eight-mile journey out to Aquarius. The presence of Navy divers onboard provided a measure of comfort and we were told that in the case where we wouldn’t be allowed to dive, the Navy guys would get the watches delivered no matter what.