Archives for the month of: February, 2013

In 2001 I was working at a food distribution warehouse in
Calhoun county in South Carolina. Calhoun has the distinction of
being the second poorest county in the state but also sharing
borders with two of the three richest counties of South Carolina.
The disparity of income is obvious in homes and businesses. My
company had received tax breaks for locating there to help the
local economy. The building is located on a dead end frontage road
beside I26. There is a rest stop on the interstate about a hundred
yards past the driveway to our building. The area is otherwise
deserted. No homes or businesses for miles; just scrub pines and
sand. Each weekday we opened for inbound receipts at 6AM. One day I
could hear a dog barking in the parking lot. Loud and constant –
bark, bark, bark. It stopped about lunchtime. I figured it to be a
trucker’s dog. Many over the road truckers who make long hauls keep
a dog with them for company. The next day was a repeat: bark, bark,
bark. I got to see it, though. It was a sheltie, and very nervous.
It barked at trucks, at people; at noises and at any movement. It
also barked for reasons I could not determine. Bark, bark, bark.
Then around noon – silence. After a third day it became clear that
a routine was established. The barking shift started work at 6AM
and knocked off for the day at noon. No one was allowed to get
within 50 feet. She didn’t ease away; she ran. Guys were tossing
food from the vending machines out in the parking lot but she never
came close enough to get any while there were witnesses. I tried
not to get involved. I have a soft spot for animals and knew the
danger: I had a dog at home; I didn’t want another dog. Dogs are a
lot of responsibility. About a week after it first showed up James,
a mechanic’s assistant told me he would like to give that dog a
home but he couldn’t catch her. “Say no more – I will catch that
dog for you,” I promised him. You cannot catch a dog who has been
eating hot dogs and honey buns by using dog biscuits. Day one –
fail. This dog recognized a wire dog crate and wouldn’t be bribed
near said crate with mere hot dogs and honey buns. Day two – fail.
On day three of ‘I will get that dog for you’ I came armed with a
pot roast. I went to the grocery store bought a pot roast and
cooked it – solely to lure this canine to me. She (I could see that
it was a she when she approached the man peddling ambrosia)
actually took some from my hand. A few tidbits later and she
followed me over to the wire crate. A dozen tasty bites later and I
tricked her into leaning too far into the doorway and I shoved her
in. I am treacherous, I am. James backed out of his verbal
commitment to the dog as fast as any weasel could ever hope to
squirm. The facility manager had a sheltie of 11 years who had died
only three months prior – too soon. He couldn’t stand the idea of
another dog yet. So I did what a guy should do when he traps a lady
with a pot roast. I took her home with me. One trip to the vet
later and I knew she wasn’t chipped. Posters went up. No responses.
I had a dog. She fit in very quickly. She was subordinate to my
other dog and he trained her about yard and house manners in short
order. He passed away several years ago but she has remained a good
companion since she agreed to eat my cooking on that fateful day.
Twelve years later and I still have a dog.

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Saturday after we finished up volunteering with Animal Warriors four of us drove over to Juniper Springs to hike and camp.

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It was a late start, Florida is too hot for this crap, we smelled vaguely of manure, and hiking in “sugar sand” always just plain bites. Perfect for a shakedown hike.

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Whenever you plan to use minimal equipment for an extended period of time such as, oh I don’t know – say, hiking for 6 months with only what you carry on your back, it’s a good idea to have a reasonable degree of comfort with that equipment BEFORE you get started. That also has to be balanced against wear and tear. You don’t want to overuse something and have to deal with it being on its last legs when you need it to be in prime condition.

So, given that we are fairly comfortable with our gear we put this off until last weekend.

The hike started off with confusion. The ranger had to cancel our park admission and rerun the transaction. For the record hiking there costs about half of a day use pass. Weird.

We got out on the trail soon enough and spotted a campsite within 100 yards of the road. Nice if you were hiking the FT and wanted to use park facilities.

After about 1/4 mile I started pushing out ahead of the group. I wanted to stretch it out a bit and to get some alone time as well. Outrunning the group was win-win for me.

I hit a large succession area after about another mile. This was caused first by hurricane damage and followed up by wildfire. The newer vegetation was all under 10 feet with the occasional tombstones of old burned pines reaching for the sky. This area was pretty hot with the sun beaming down and nothing to intercede on our behalf. I actually got out my hat.

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After another mile to mile and a half I ran up on a dry pond alongside the trail. Following it for about half its length I ran across a small open area that was too small for anything except the smallest of tents yet was still an open shaded spot where I could have a much needed break. I drank up the rest of my Gatorade, changed socks, excavated 1/4 ton of sand from my shoes and rested for 10 minutes or so and then pushed on. I was beginning to get worried about finding a good campsite – there had been nothing since before the succession area and the sun was definitely on decline. I thought we had about an hour and a half til sundown.

As I made my way through a treeline my phone rang. The group was worried that I might be too far ahead and we needed a campsite that everyone would reach before dark.

After some discussion I dropped my pack in the treeline and scouted ahead. Three hundred yards or so up the trail was a suitable area. My phone rang again as I made it back to my pack; the group had found a campsite that I flat out missed just before the dry pond.

We regrouped at that location and set up camp. Surprise! I left the tent pole at home. We improvised with pretty good results. Two trekking poles and a few feet of paracord later we were almost as good as if we had a pole. Tarptents are really versatile: Henry Shire makes a damn good product.
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Dinner was couscous cooked with water boiled over our Esbit stove.

The night passed with little drama. Started out too hot (Florida), started to rain, then quit (Florida), and I learned that my sleeping pad was defective. I bought a Thermarest Prolite XS which just lays under my torso. My bag goes under my feet and this helps me conserve space and weight. It also only takes a couple of breaths to inflate. And if the valve leaks it goes flat in a couple of hours. I reinflated twice and sucked it up the rest of the time. Pine needles are soft.

The next morning I made coffee and oatmeal while Jess packed. She cleaned dishes while I packed. We were ready to go with little time and no rush or confusion.

The skies were cloudy and the temps were cooler; the hike out seemed short and we reached the car by 9:30. Spirits were high and we all had a good time.

Before the drive home we stopped at the park facilities for a bathroom break and I checked out the spring – very pretty.

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We’re on our way home as I peck away at my cellphone to create this post.  I’m riding in the back of our friend’s Jeep and trying to correct all my errors as we bounce down I75.

We camped in Ocala National Forest last night.  Yesterday was a busy day.  We threw all our prepped hiking gear in the car and drove over to our friends’ house where we transferred it to the back of their jeep to ride with their packs. 

Then we drove up to Ocala to do volunteer work with Animal Warriors.  For yesterday we worked at Kindred Spirits, which is a farm animal sanctuary.   They give a home to a variety of farm animals rescued from vad situations.  The work for this visit wss routine but needed – we cleaned stalls in a barn.  Scrubbed walls kind of cleaned – not just replacing litter. 

After the work we fed out apples and carrots we brought in to the residents – a treat for us and them.  We finished up with a picnic style lunch put on for us as thanks.  It was vegetarian and I am not but it was still pretty tasty.  Chips, hummus, pita bread, salads and fresh strawberries.

With a little manure aroma to spice up the ride we parted from the other volunteers and headed to Juniper Spri ngs.  Along the wsy we stopped at an Arby’s where I deemed the stall in the Men’s room to be up to sanitary standards for me to change into hiking attire. 

I have special underpants for hiking.  After getting some serious chafing on some early hikes I researched and found it to be a common problem.  A swipe of antiperspirant on the areas likely to be affected does fantastic as prevention.  So does wearing wicking undergarments.  As my thighs have toughened I have found that I no longer  need to put on the antiperspirant.  One less thing to carry – yay.

So I changed in an Arby’s restroom.  Then we went to hike, which I will post about soon.

Yesterday we went on a fossil expedition down near Arcadia. There is a small company (husband and wife team) who take people out for a day of fossil hunting for a reasonable fee. What you get for your money: a location that produces fossils regularly, tools to excavate the fossils, and a guide who provides both of the above along with a plethora of information about your finds and generally good conversation during your expedition. You can find out about what they do by checking out ther website: http://www.fossilexpeditions.com/

Our group was not very large. There were nine of us, including a young kid who spent over half the day playing on his dad’s ipad instead of out in the creek. Oh, the creek. In the area we’re in you don’t find fossils in layers of rock. You find them in layers of clay. And the best way to get them out of that clay is to wash it away. Or to have access to a creek that is already doing that for you. Our guide has exactly the latter. The site we went to was on private property where no one else digs so our guide had a very good idea of not only where to set us up but also of what we were likely to find. After a fifteen minute or so briefing where he did some show and tell with some example fossils he set us out and let us choose from places he identified as good spots. As we got going in our various spots he visited each group and identified our findings, gave friendly advice and chatted us up a bit. All in all it was confidence inspiring.

Initially I was shocked at the water temperature; has no one informed the creek that this is Florida? C-c-cold. After a half hour or so I didn’t mind the temp any more because I was getting the knack of it enough to really enjoy myself. I would get a shovel for Jess in her sifter and then get one for myself and we would work the material. We found shark’s teeth first. They are easy to recognize. Then we started identifying bone bits, and after a long while I came up with a fine old world horse tooth. It would be the best thing I found throughout the day.

Old world horse tooth found on 2013-02-20
In the afternoon Jess had enough and declared her session at a close. I stuck it out and used the added flexibility of working solo to move around a bit and try some different methods. I discovered that the guide had definitely put me on a spot that was rich in fossil material. I moved into slghtly deeper water following the vein of material. After removing shovel fulls I began using a ‘Florida snow shovel’ to rake over the area to see if I could pull up anything that may have been dislodged and just sitting around on the bottom. I wound up finding a lot of turtle plating that way and eventually a piece of alligator jaw. Good stuff.

We finished up after nearly five hours of excavating time and the timing was excellent. Despite having taken a small break for lunch I was flagging. We gathered around the vehicles and exclaimed over one another’s finds for about half an our and then we went our separate ways. A good day.

 

Fossils Found on 2013-02-20Forty or so shark teeth found on 2013-02-20

 

 

 

 

 

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We have been alternating between making trips to put packed boxes in our cargo trailer and taking loads to Goodwill. So far Goodwill is in the lead, and I don’t think that will change. It’s amazing how much STUFF people can accummulate. Note: I regularly wear a pair of shorts that were purchased in 1994. They could vote now – if they could actually vote. Which puts them on a par with the average voter, I believe.

This week we went through our hiking gear and decided what to pack, what to put in a bounce box, what to put in an ‘oh shit box’, and what to actually carry on the trail with us. It seems like a miracle, but our packs seem manageable. We haven’t added food and water yet, but we should still be ok when we do. I got to carry the pot that I think works best (not the lightest option) with little resistance, mostly because it goes in my pack, not hers. And I made a new pot cozy. I should explain that.

When cooking on the trail you want to do so efficiently. Common wisdom dictates that you achieve this by reducing the weight of the food to be consumed as well as the fuel that will be used to cook it. Reducing the food weight is easy: carry mostly dry foods with minimal packaging. Think – instant oatmeal. Even Miss Cleo could see lots of oatmeal in my future right now. Reducing fuel weight adds another twist: be able to cook your food by boiling some water (briefly). Burn just enough fuel to make water boil for each hot meal that you eat. A pot cozy is a way to make your fuel go further. As soon as your fuel finishes heating your water and you add the dry ingredients, and then you put the pot into the cozy to retain as much heat as possible to aid the cooking process.

We are using an esbit stove for our hike. Esbit fuel comes in the form of small rectangular blocks. They burn away to nothing and you get a certain finite amount of heat energyy from each one. So you want to be sure that one fuel tab does the job each time. The pot cozy helps quite a bit towards that goal.

I bought an auto window shade for my main material source (reflectix is the name) and used metal duct sealing tape to put the pieces I cut together. The finishing touch was a zipper pull for a lid handle. Viola, one complete pot cozy. It’s not really perfect in any way except that it gets the job done.

Today we went over to do some stuff with the cargo trailer. I say ‘do some stuff’ because it really does fit what our intentions and actions were today.

First, Jess needed to see the trailer. Pictures and phone conversations only go so far when you’re about to cram all your worldly belongings into a big box. You need to KNOW how much room you have to work with.

Second, we took over a few boxes to store, in case my determination that the trailer was ready for use not simply spouse-vetoed.

Finally, I had decided that the overhead vent needed to be replaced and the replacement I ordered in through Amazon needed to be installed.

One trip to Walmart and one trip to Lowes later and it was done. Well, not that fast, but still.

The screws in the old vent were completely concealed under sealant and each had to be individually excavated with a scraper. The heads were so filled with the sealant that I couldn’t even figure out which size torx bit should fit them. Eventually the old vent came off and I got the roof cleaned up, laid down some silicone and put the new vent on. Then I applied a can of sealant to the roof seams and got a bit over half of the seams recovered.

All in all not an exciting day but one where we got a bit closer to our goals.

Oh, and we didn’t murder each other either. That’s a plus.

One of the things on our to-do list that we didn’t get to during the 30 or so hours Jess was in town was to pack all of our hiking gear up and just get an idea of how we’re going to balance out the communal items. We had a good split going during our last few stints out but since then some major items such as our tent and stove have changed. Time to rebudget the distribution.

I’m not a gram weenie, but I do care about weight. That makes it easy for me to get behind any ‘let’s get this – it’s lighter and does the job just as well’ idea Jess comes up with. (Most of my ideas are junk. Doesn’t stop me from trying them, but my track record on bright ideas is a wee bit lower than hers). Point is, I have gear on the brain, probably more than I should considering everything else that needs doing.

So I got restless and broke out the Esbit stove this morning. I needed to get some experience using it and to know what to expect before we had to depend on it. Thus reasoning my way into unwrapping it, I used it to heat water for instant oatmeal and cowboy coffee. I made sure to load the odds against it, too. Documentation says one fuel tab will boil one cup of water. So I used two cups of water – out of the fridge. It didn’t quite boil with that much of a handicap, but it was close. I’m satisfied with it’s capabilities enough to take it out on the trail.

If you don’t know what an Esbit stove is, and I assume that most people don’t, I will explain. (If you do know, skip on a bit). It is a small metal folding stove. When closed, it doesn’t take up much space and it’s pretty durable yet not too heavy. It weighs about 3 ounces. To use it, you simply unfold it, place a fuel tablet in the tray, light the tab with your handy bic lighter, and place your pot on the stand above the flame. It burns for about 12-15 minutes. It is good for boiling water, and not much else. I suppose it would also be great for starting a larger fire if you had reluctant fuel, but that’s outside the range of the uses we expect to need it for. The tablet is completely consumed by the burning process, doesn’t give off nasty fumes, and is generally very good for LNT (Leave No Trace) hiking. The tabs are inexpensive and available at most places that sell hiking gear. They are also easy to get from places like Amazon and are able to be mailed safely.

I learned that fine grind coffee isnot a good idea when making cowboy coffee. (see note about my track record on bright ideas) If you don’t know what cowboy coffee is, I will explain another time if I am still drinking it. Or you could google it. On the plus side, I was able to paper towel filter it and drink it. And it moved my bowels in 30 seconds – boy, do I gotta look out for that on the trail.

I took a pic of my glorious experiment to share. I’m trying really hard to get used to doing the blog 100% from my phone so it’s not trimmed up or anything. In other words you can clearly see that I used my dirty pizza pan on my dirty stovetop as the base under the Esbit stove. C’mon, admit that you aren’t surprised and let’s move on.

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It’s been tough for me to change gears. For a long time now I have been getting up very early in the morning and going to work. And I have been still waking up as if I need to go to work. Every morning at 4AM I pop up like there’s something I need to do. Then I regroup and face reality.

While I do have

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things that I need to accomplish and have been working on them, I don’t have crushing deadlines or impossible schedules to meet. Jessica has been out of town for a couple of weeks with exception of about 30 hours between Michigan and Hawaii, so she hasn’t been here to lend structure either.

Which has all summed up to me having a need to put some daily routine in place pretty quickly lest I go ‘feral bachelor’.

So far I have held up well. The dishes are washed with regularity, cat litters are scooped daily, the dog gets walked on schedule, there’s never enough dirty clothes for a load for more than a few hours and I still feel like I am drifting.

At the beginning of this week I bought (actually overbought) a cargo trailer. By my best guesstimation, we would need something roughly 6×10. So I planned to get a 6×12. New at a dealer the lowest out-the-door price I found was $2500. I found a used but good condition 7×14 on Craigslist for $2k. When I checked it out it was actually 7×16. The guy who had it was the second owner but all he did was buy the trailer, add shelves, and park it. Never even transferred the title. I bought it.

Today I went over to Nick’s so I could work on the trailer. It had shelves mounted on both sides and after a long committee meeting we (by this I mean the royal we) decided to leave the ‘better’ set in place and to remove the other set. After futzing around with my manual tools for a bit I borrowed his power tools. Before I used any of them though, we did some other things first. Pulled a motor out of the back field up to his shed, went to a salvage yard to pick up a truck, and grabbed a bite to eat. Then I got down to business working on the trailer.

The set of shelves that was coming out was actually a double construction. Someone built some small shelves and then built larger shelves around them. So pulling them out got interesting. But thanks to good tools and perserverance I got them all out and got home in time to walk the dog – on schedule.

We are one step closer to ready.