Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hiking in the Rain

Sometimes the Cypress Trees ARE looking back at you!
My wife and I used to hike more often, way before the kids and jobs took over our lives.  Still, we can get out and enjoy life together.
Sunday was one of those days, where my wife wanted to record some peaceful outdoor videos for her web site and I also needed to get out on a short hike at the same time.  We drove to Spring Hammock Preserve which is nearby, after we had lunch and the morning rains had ended.  Temperatures were in the mid 70's and it was very cloudy.  I wrote about the old Cypress trees at this county park as More Big Trees last October.  We parked the car and walked a few yards to Osprey Trail, the road to the famous "mud walk" for elementary children living in central Florida.  A couple passed us on mountain bikes, but it seemed there was no one else at the park, it was so quiet.  The children from the mud walk were all gone from when we were here for a short walk last week.
Along The Boardwalk In The Rain.
We stopped at a bridge over the slough (called a "sloo" around here) by Osprey Trail and shot a minute of quiet video in between the jet planes passing overhead.  More video was shot at the next slough crossing also.  We hiked on down to the wetlands area and followed the boardwalk to the left through a mixed hardwood swamp to a wonderful view of Lake Jesup.  With the low clouds, splatters of rain, and bird calls, the view was gorgeous, but it was too dark for good video.  The ancient Cypress trees along the boardwalk, with swarms of Cypress Knees around them were awesome.  I had not seen the many Cypress Knees the last time I was here because the water was over a couple feet deep then.
A Forest Of Cypress Knees.
We decided to return along the Limpkin Trail which follows Soldier Creek back to our parked car.  This section of the trail needs much maintenance work and we teased about the trail being closed, and that we didn't know about that.  While shooting video of the creek the sky opened up with rain.  My wife took the umbrella from my pack and I put on my hiking rain coat.  We have always enjoyed the solitude of walking in the rain, the peace and quiet, and the different perspective nature gives you when she is wet.  We then slipped and slid our way along the muddy trail to get to the way back to Osprey Trail on the Cypress Tree boardwalk.  The Limpkin Trail was much like hiking in the Smokey Mountains with all the roots and the up and downs and the greased mud slickness during the rain, back when we went there twice a year to escape the Florida heat.  The two mountain bikers we met at the trail junction were also slipping and sliding and pedaled back through the mud along the creek trail.
The rain eased off, but not until we had shot another video with the peaceful sounds of nature.  My wife was very pleased with the rainy hike on the trail.   "The rain just made it better", she said smiling.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Backpacking Repair/Backup Kit

Small And Lightweight Repair & Backup Kit
Over the past few months, I have put together a small and lightweight repair and backup kit for backpacking and hiking.  It contains the following:
4 safety pins (pinned to the inside bag label), 10 Micropur water purification tablets (purify 1 liter each), 45 feet of 2 mm reflective EZC2 line, a backup mini flashlight, lens cleaning cloths (for my glasses) and extra zip-lock mini bags.  In 2 more small zip-lock bags are a book of paper matches, and some dryer lint for fire starting.  There is also a traditional, lightweight, waterproof backpacker match case, a P-38 military-style folding can opener and 2 four-inch strips of double-sided Velcro.
The rest of the repair kit is kept inside of a small zip-lock bag.  It carries 4 three-inch mini zip ties, 3 plastic clothes pins, 2 feet of duct tape rolled onto a cut drinking straw, a one inch and a two inch square piece of Tenacious Tape (for tent leaks), 3 wire ties and 6 rubber bands.
I used plastic drinking straws cut to fit for both the small roll of duct tape and the sewing kit needle-holder, since it is so lightweight.  Rubber bands are a great lightweight option to hold several of my camping items rolled-up until I need them, so spares are necessary.  The Velcro strips are great for attaching items to the outside of my pack and for holding items together.   The mini flashlight is temporary - I plan to replace it with a smaller and lighter weight Princeton Tech Pulsar II LED flashlight down the road.
Kit Contents - Safety Pins And P-38 Are Inside The Bag.  The Sewing Kit Is On The Bottom, Lower Right.
The mini sewing kit contains two needles poked into a cut piece of drinking straw (so you won't get stuck).   The needles are sized to hold the 2 feet of dental floss for secure sewing wrapped around the drinking straw, plus 4-6 feet of gray thread kept inside the straw.  I put this small sewing kit into a super-mini zip-lock bag to keep the pieces organized.
All my backup parts are kept here: backup fire (2 backups for my mini Bic lighter); a backup mini flashlight for my headlamp; and Micropur tablets to backup my water filter for 2 days.  I do not carry a backup knife or stove.  It all fits into a plastic-coated Eagle Creek small zipper bag that was leftover from my traditional backpacking days.
In my mind, I have just about everything covered for a typical weekend backpacking trip, mostly just to fix something so I can get back home.  In case I need more, there is also first aid tape in my first aid kit, my shirt came with 2 spare buttons sewn in, and there is more dental floss in my health kit.  For a through-hike I'll need to carry more repair items like zipper parts and specific pack parts that my tools and parts cannot repair.  I carry this kit for day hikes also.  Be wary of the weight of commercially available repair kits, as most are not meant to be made for ultralight backpackers.
What is most important here isn't just what is in your is what is in your mind on how to use what is in your kit to get out of a jam.  If I can't fix it with what I have, I'll have to drag it home, or get rained on, or do without.  I can open a can of beans with my single-blade pocket knife, but for 4 grams more weight, I can open that can cleanly with my P-38 can opener.  4 grams is about the same weight as all the labels on my clothing, pack and quilt combined.  I can purify water for two full days if I have to, and I can strap or tie most anything onto my pack.  I have sewn torn pack straps back on, taped holes in my tent and lit fires with my third tier of waterproofed matches during a storm.  I have had those experiences, and with some ingenuity, I should be able to fix most anything else.
The individual weights of my repair kit are:
Eagle Creek small zipper bag with 4 safety pins       1.0 ounce    26 grams
2 Velcro double sided 4-inch strips                         0.1 ounce     4 grams
Mini flashlight                                                          0.5 ounce    12 grams
P-38 military-style folding can opener                      0.1 ounce      4 grams
10 Micropur water purification tablets                      0.3 ounces     8 grams
Waterproof matches in case                                     0.5 ounces   14 grams
Dryer Lint                                                                Less than 1 gram
45 feet of 2 mm reflective EZC2 line                        1.3 ounces    38 grams
Paper Matches                                                        0.1 ounces      2 grams
2 Lens Cloths                                                          Less than 1 gram
3 Clothes Pins                                                         0.4 ounces    12 grams
2 foot Duct Tape Roll                                              0.1 ounce     4 grams
Rest of Repair kit items in bag                                  0.3 ounces    8 grams
Sewing kit                                                                Less than 1 gram
Remaining zip-lock bags                                           Less than 1 gram
Total repair kit weight                                               5.2 ounces    148 grams
There's room to carry more items inside the bag, if needed, since my repair needs seem to vary over different trips.

Friday, February 15, 2013

REI Store Comes To Jacksonville, FL

REI is expanding it's outdoor sporting goods stores into Florida with the first store to open here on Friday, March 1, in Jacksonville!  The store opens with a complete bicycle shop and provides paddle sports, outdoor clothing and gear and equipment rentals.
Store grand opening festivities include a free continental breakfast served Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, March 1-3 before the store opens.  They also have early shopper gifts with free gift cards inside, a free REI T-shirt for new members who signup there, and daily sweepstakes (drawings) over the weekend.  More REI information is here.

REI has been my provider of choice of outdoor gear since the early 1980's.  They were a family destination when we lived in Colorado where my children learned to climb in safety on their in-store climbing walls. I still buy backpacking gear there online, including some company label lightweight packs and clothing.  When you go, check out the REI Flash 18 and the REI Flash 45 lightweight backpacks for day hiking or extended backpacking trips. While I have not yet tested the 2 pound, 4 ounce Flash 45, it appears to have the light weight and features I need for future through-hikes.  I love my 9.7 ounce Flash 18 and use it on all of my day hikes and to carry my lunch to work.  You can read about my use of the Flash 18 on my blog here.
The new REI store is located on Jacksonville's southeast side, just off Butler Boulevard.  Driving from Orlando; go East on I-4 and north on I-95.  Outside of Jacksonville, take the I-295 bypass east and exit onto Butler Boulevard, highway 202, going west.  Turn right onto Gate Parkway North and then right onto Town Center Parkway.  Turn right at the second turn and REI will be just to the left.  Check the map here.
REI is also very connected to the outdoors in the markets they serve and they provide highly organized volunteer work for trail maintenance and ecological projects around the area.  If you have the time and inclination to volunteer outside, I can say my experience volunteering with them in Denver was very positive.  Check here for the next volunteer event at Hanna Park.  They are also reported to be a great place to work.  Don't forget about REI Travel and the in-store outdoor training classes.  The Jacksonville area is lucky in this regard.  I plan to be at the REI store at some point over the grand opening weekend to look around and to actually touch the Flash 45 backpack, something that cannot be done online.  If you go, please drive safely and have a great time!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tent Stake Tool

It all started with an idea for a MYOG project...a tent stake tool.  For those times when the ground is just too hard to push the tent stakes in by hand.  For just 17 cents at Home Depot, I bought one half-inch PVC 'T' connector meant for a home irrigation system.  
I used my drill to make a small hole in the neck of the 'T' and tied a knotted cord through it to make the tool be twice as useful.  This tool weighs about 0.5 ounces or 16 grams with the cord attached.
The tool weighs just a little more than my blue aluminum tent stakes.  I have found blue to be the best color for not losing your tent stakes in the outdoors.  Forget about yellow, red or orange.  Try finding those stakes on the ground in the Appalachian mountains during the fall.  Blue just doesn't disappear as easily.  For those wondering about multi-use, these stakes are also good for cat hole digging.
The tool and stakes will travel in my backpack in this recycled Tyvek mailer. I have found rubber bands to be incredibly useful and very light weight for backpacking.
So, when pitching the tent while camping...
...I can use the tool to push the tent stakes into the hard ground...saving wear and tear on my hands...
...And in the multiple use department, I can also use the tool to pull the stakes out when taking the tent down...
My tent is an Alps Mountaineering Mystique 1.5, pitched here in my back yard for demonstrating how the MYOG tent stake tool works. 
The tent body weighs 24.5 ounces, the tarp 23.0 ounces, red poles 10.4 ounces, blue stakes 0.4 ounces each or 2.4 ounces for 6, or a total of  3.77 pounds using no stuff sacks.  Not quite ultralight, but lightweight enough for weekend camping trips.
It is spacious inside for one person with the convenience of  two vestibules and two entrances, and with the tarp on, it is very water proof in heavy rains and high winds.  The tent is also bug-free for us Floridians.  With the short end of the tent pitched into the wind for aerodynamics and the aluminum poles supporting the tent to prevent it from flexing in high winds, this is a very secure and stable, small tent.  Most nights camping, I have left the tarp doors open for ventilation and views.  It is also tall enough to sit up to dress or read in.
A tent stake tool like this one is an easy and simple MYOG project for anyone to make.  It has multiple uses and is lightweight and very inexpensive.  It took me longer to charge my drill battery than it did to actually drill the hole and tie the cord.  It is really good for places like stone-free Florida and for those hard forest floors, wherever you may find them.  
By the way, this is the second week of February, winter storms are hammering the north and we have a temperature in central Florida of 82 degrees today.  What's up with that?