Friday, February 28, 2014

My Sense of Direction

The view from Fort Mountain, GA.
Locally, there are several trails I keep going back to hike again.  For some adventurers, this may seem boring.  For me, I keep looking for something I have missed before.  A bird's nest hidden in a tree, blooming wildflowers in spring or seed pods in the fall, the eroded riverbanks of a stream, miniature sand dunes swirled by the rain.
Sometimes the sounds are different.  Working in media has attuned me to the different strata of silence.  The sound of the wind through pine trees is much lighter and 'swooshier' than it is through oaks and hardwoods. The rustling you hear over there, is it a snake, squirrel, a wren or the wind?  Bamboo makes it's own hollow clinking tune in the wind, as do large open spaces and lakes have their own wind sounds.
The sky is also different with the type of local weather that day.  This can make colors seem brighter or duller, and can bring some colors out that you never noticed here before.  It reflects with a clear sparkle on lake waves or with bright blotches on streams under cloudy bright skies.  It allows you to see the different shapes of intricate spider webs, makes some blooms appear or disappear, can bring out the gnarliness of an Live Oak tree's bark or fade the reds of a wild rose.  Rain also changes color, sometimes cleaning the dust and pollen away, sometimes running the colors together like a water color painting.
In hiking these trails again and again, I don't have to pull out a map at the next junction, I just turn and go the right way.  I can pay more attention to the moment of now.  I know the car is in 'that' direction, or the spring is 'over there', because I have been here before and remember.  The overall locale is written to my awareness like a map, and I don't need to pull out a compass to find my way.
Hiking the same trails a lot also keeps me feeling comfortable in the outdoors.  I like being out in the weather and enjoy hiking in the rain, feeling the wind, and smelling the life.  There is usually no one else out there on the trail during the rain, so I often have the trail to myself.  It is nice to meet others along the trail, because they are also there for the peace.  But I do enjoy solitude.  Walking with my wife or a friend is good also, as they notice things I may miss and provide welcome company to share the moment with.
Even the paved trails are nice for a walk or a spin on the bicycle.  I watch for birds and turtles along the Seminole-Wekiva Trail, look for what is blooming in the back yards along the way and enjoy the overall quiet you get in nature.
I do have a photographic memory of maps.  It is like I am looking down from a high place and see the land below in great detail.  On a trip several years ago my wife and I had driven up I-75 to Fort Mountain in Georgia from Central Florida.  We wanted to watch the sunset, so we hiked to the old stone Fort and then took the trail to the western overlook, where the valley below and the sweep of the wild Cohutta mountains to the north spread out below us like a table.  The sun was about to set and the scene was beautiful, with clear skies to the horizon.  I was pointing out the the roads, courthouse and stream in the town of Chatsworth below that we drove through when my wife made the comment that I was reading the land like a map.  And I was.
When hiking, backpacking, bicycling or canoeing in a new place, I follow ridgelines in my mind, noting the contours of the topography, following drainages, or the flow of the river.  I notice the prevailing winds and the general types of trees and plants along walking paths and how they change.  This happens even when I have not been there before, but I still seem to know where to turn, and usually which is the right direction to go.  Some people think I have an unusually good sense of direction but it is really from constant observation, and by turning myself around in relation to the outdoors instead of turning the compass and map around on the ground.  I almost always look at maps before I venture out and seem to remember them in great detail, so that is what is turning inside my head as I change direction.  Don't get me wrong, I still need the security of a compass.  But once I have my general direction, I'm set and will follow the path to my next turn.
And that is what I like about the outdoors.  I belong there.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Body Glide Sized For Camping

Ultralight protection
When I started using Body Glide on my feet a couple of years ago to prevent blisters, I used the 1.3-ounce size which is about the size of a container of roll-on anti-perspirant.   In addition to coating my heels with Body Glide, I cover the bottoms of my feet and toes.  So far I have hiked and backpacked blister-free. They also make a 2.5-ounce version which would last a bit longer at home. 
Soon after I found a half-ounce push-up version at REI to carry in my backpack, thinking that it was small enough to not add significant weight to my pack, but would give me an overnight/morning/emergency treatment option on the trail.  You can’t not be prepared to take care of your feet when walking is your main mode of travel.  I used that (0.45 ounces actually) half-ounce version up with my hiking, backpacking and overnight trips last year.  
Well, thanks to the marathon runners out there, I have located even a smaller package of Body Glide for ultralight trips.  The best size of Body Glide I found to carry with me while hiking are individual units of the “pocket-sized” 3-pack pictured above.  These individual units are a small “push-pop” design, so you keep your hands clean of the Glide lubricant and have something to hold onto when applying it.  At 0.07 ounces of glide each, these small sizes are perfect for a few days of backpacking, or maybe a week of walking travel.  And they are light enough to carry a spare (without noticing it).  Some people have complained that they should be filled more than just halfway, and I agree.  On my scale one unit weighs 0.2 ounces/6 grams. 
Each unit weighs 0.2 ounces or 6 grams
One stays in my daypack and I still have 2 spares to use as needed.  For long trail hiking, I think the 1.3-ounce version would be just fine with one of these 0.2 ounce ones in my backup kit as a spare.  I found them on a rack at my local Dick’s Sporting Goods where I have been buying my Esbit tabs for my ultralight stove.   REI carries them also and I’m sure you will be able to find them at a lot of athletic stores.  There is also a woman-specific formula also which has good reviews for comfort and application.
I also plan to save these push-up containers and re-pack them with Body Glide leftovers.  We’ll cover that process in an upcoming blog post.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Safe Water

REI Drop-Dispenser Bottle
Last weeks blog about Waves4Water got me thinking about how to purify water in the backcountry.  It is easy to gather water from any open source, purchase Aquamira, or Micropur tablets, follow the directions, and have a safe drink.  But these cost a bit and do have relatively short shelf lives.
But what if you are financially challenged, but still love to get outdoors?  Normal, unscented, household bleach will work just fine and costs about $4 at Target or Walmart for a 64 ounce bottle.  If you only use it for purifying water, that should last a long time.  Bleach is safely transportable as long as the container is clearly marked.  Remember that bleach has a shelf life too.
Many outdoor blogs recommend using bleach, but don't actually tell you how much to use, or how to use it. On the Internet, there are dozens of sites with information on how to use bleach.  The site I like the best is from the CDC here.  It is a PDF you can print and post at home.  I copied it below.

The hardest part will be waiting 30 minutes for the bleach solution to work, so I suggest doing this well before you run out of water.  In my experience, when one of my two water bottles are empty, it would be time to refill the first bottle before drinking the second one.
Carry one coffee filter or use a bandanna to filter water into a container.  Then add the bleach, seal the container and continue hiking along the trail, waiting to drink it for at least 30 minutes.
Going with the 1/8 teaspoon per gallon measurement, that would mean you would use 2 drops of bleach for each of your one liter containers.  By the way, 1 quart = 0.94635 Liters and 1 Liter = 1.05669 Quarts.
A small squeeze bottle like this 2 ounce one from REI should last a few days, if it was your only source of treating water.  Using a permanent marker, I would label this bottle with the words "BLEACH" and the "2 DROPS/LITER" you need for measuring it.  Keep It Simple.
My suggestion is to first use a water filter like a Sawyer Squeeze, but in case it clogs or breaks, back it up with bleach.
You can also use bleach during an emergency at home to purify water.  Water main breaks, loss of electrical power, hurricanes, or winter storms are times when my home water supply has been disrupted.  I keep 5 gallons of water or more in storage at home for drinking, just in case.  To treat 5 gallons of water, use 1/2 teaspoon of non-scented bleach.  Unscented household bleach should be on everyone's emergency item list.