Cool link: Bankhar dog project

I've been obsessed with reading about overlanding recently and I just tripped over this wonderful story on Expedition Portal.

It's about the founding of the Bankhar dog project, attempting to maintain low-impact traditional nomadic lifestyles in balance with rare species. It's such a short overview, but there are so many things at work here, things this blog is about. Give it a read:



DYI: More shoe experiments/thoughts

I'm going to talk about several things in this part. A teardown of my Old shoes, and some new shoe ideas and thoughts.

Teardown of old shoesThese are the shoes I found I could actually backpack and hike in, the first (and only) success so far. Their primary flaw was that the heal stretched and I would step on the heal seam. This is a non-turn-shoe made as a simple 3-part moccasin:

DSC00811 DSC00813

It's interesting that the barge cement was still holding parts of the leather very firmly.Looking closely you can see it tore the surface off some of the leather - I glued that leather shiny-side down, and it seems that the shiny bit (That is, the grain in leather terminology) tore off.

You can see very significant stretching in the toe-box. This was expected and is part of why the shoe worked, but it's fascinating to take the shoe apart and actually see it.

The stitching was holding a lot better than I expected. Pulling this apart took a while and was surprisingly difficult. It had torn out around the heal. That spot had been stitched too many times already so I couldn't repair it again... the leather was too perforated, but besides that the shoe was still pretty solid.

New ideas 
Jess went to england and came back excited about the idea of a roman boot. This is a welted lasted turn-shoe with a center-seam sewn after turning. This makes the turning process far easier, which is exciting itself. Here's my sketches of the concept:


This is a lot to tackle and I wasn't confident I could get the toe to come out right at all. I wasn't sure how to last the boot either, so I decided to try mocking it out in canvas. Sadly I forgot to take photos before I disassembled it, but here's what I ended up with.


Note the upturn near the toe of the boot. When I tried it without that it just seemed too pointy if I didn't do some serious stretching of the leather. The upturn helps you end up with a rounder toe. on the other hand, the shoe would look more like this when done:


See how the sole pulls up on the toe? Given the shape of my demo fabric shoe above that would be a fairly sharp turn for the sole to make. It's already hard to get the conveyer soles I've been using to stay attached to the boot, and this makes it worse, so I tossed the idea out.

Jess is going to pursue this idea. I'm really curious to see how it goes, but I think I'm going to go back to something closer to my first design for a boot. I'm thinking of taking the design I had so much success with and

  • Adding an extended tongue to make it in to more of a boot
  • Flipping the two components of the upper, so the forefoot is on the inside like a modern shoe
  • Making it as a welted turnshoe. This makes for only *one* seam around the outside edge where I ran out of leather last time. Just the one that holds the sole on
  • Using an insole of leather to cover up the seam resulting from the turnshoe
The goal with this design is an edge-season shoe. Something tough and light that qualifies as a "boot" and handles mud and snow well.

Not sure when I'll get around to actually making them, but the first step to any project is to actually get the details solid in your head so you understand what you're trying to make and how it will go together... and I'm getting closer!


DYI: Leather belt pouch

I've had the bag on the left for a long time. I used it as my wallet and "murse" ever since a generous friend of mine gave it to me back in 2006. It's been on my hip any time I've left the house, excepting only when I'm backpacking. In addition to money and cards it held my keys, albutorol inhaler, usually a knife or two, emergency whistle, and a pair of medical gloves. It lasted 10 years in this capacity... impressive!

Sadly though, even well made leather items eventually wear out. The stitching is STILL solid, but eventually the leather itself simple wore through. It's hard to see in the photos but there's a hole in the bottom of the bag, the straps have notches worn in to them going halfway across each strap, etc. In short, the bag is done. It is an ex bag.

What to do when one of your favorite items finally fails and you can't buy a new one (or even if you can)? Make one!


Since I liked it so much I traced the original. My leather is thicker so I knew it wouldn't bend the same way. I'm also sewing with heavy linen by hand, rather than light thread with a machine, so I can't get as near the edge as they can. I also wanted it a bit bigger if everything. So given that I added a significant extra allowance.

I first sewed the front to the side piece, inside out. I of cut the side extra long, so I could just line up one side, and sew across, then trim off the extra. Next I sewed this to the back. This time right-side in so the leather against my hip would sit flat keeping the pouch tight to me instead of floppy and giving a similar look to the original. I missed slightly and it came out crooked, so before I finished the second seam I pulled out a couple of stitches from the first seam, trimmed the front and side so it'd line up flat on the back, and then tied off that first seam again.

Finally (because I forgot to do it sooner) I stitched the straps on. You can't see it here but I did a "Z" pattern on the first set of stitches, like a lazier version of the "X" you see on backpack straps. Then I flipped the strap down and sewed the bottom down.

Lastly I pulled the button off the front and moved it over.

I'm really happy with the result, it's just a tiny bit larger, making it the perfect size. It sits a little higher on my hip helping compensate for the extra size. Also, it took about half a day to make. I don't think it'll last as long as the first one because the stitching is much more exposed, but I'm very curious to find out how long it does last.

Another raincoat experiment

In my continuing quest to find the perfect cheap raincoat that never wears out. I decided to try another experiment. I took my old 5.11 shirt that's nearly worn out, and got some otter wax bar for ~$12.00. I tried heating the otter wax on the stove first and brushing it on. That worked *okay* but it wasn't melted in by any means.

(Final result)

Next I tried folding it outside in, enclosing the shirt in a pillowcase (tied at the top), and running it through a dryer for 20 minutes. The dryer didn't get hot enough, so it didn't quite soak in, but it did do something.

Next I tried taking it to a laundromat, using their dryer (because the ones where I live now are pretty cruddy), and setting it on "hot". That worked better, but still not well enough.

Finally I used Angie's hairdryer with an air-director to get even more heat in one place. About 2 hours later I had it soaking in.

When I did it initially I ran out before making it to the back below the top flap, but I got the sleeves, the shoulders, the front almost to the waist, and the back down a little less than half-way. This should be enough to find out if it works. It's also not perfectly even. Otter wax sells a more liquid form, but I wanted to try the solid form first because, as I'd hoped, it didn't soak all the way through the fabric in most spots. This left the inside feeling less "waxy" and making it a little more wearable as a base-layer.

I'm excited to try it out. If it works there's a lot more experimentation to do. I'm sure it's possible to get the wax more even on the shirt, and in so doing probably use a bit less of it. Also, Otter was is supposedly made of all natural non-terrible stuff, which means there's a chance I can make something similar with some experimentation. I figure if their stuff doesn't do what I want, I can cut off a lot of that experimentation, and if
it does I have a clearer direction to go in.

Okay, so why am I exploring this? If you've been following this blog you know that I've gotten frustrated with commercial plastic jackets costing a fortune and then wearing out. In addition I've been working towards a gearset that doesn't really use much plastic. My last couple of experiments involved linseed oil, but I got frustrated with both the performance and the smell and moved on. http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2015/11/linseed-oil-for-homemade-oil-cloth.html

In addition to the general search and asthetics, more practically speaking I've been using this same 5.11 shirt as my "light rain" coat lately, usually layered over my marino sweater, and then using a plastic silnylon poncho in pouring rain over the top. So far this has worked well for me, but it does mean soaking wet arms if I'm doing things in pouring rain. I also have to wait for the rain to slow a bit sometimes to pitch my poncho-tarp as a shelter, since I can't be under it while I'm pitching it. So good, but I'd love to make it better.

There are basically 3 traditional solutions non-plastic rain-coat solutions. A stiff plant fiber coat, leather, or the most modern coated canvas. The first is very effective, but not very mobile for backpacking. Jess has extensive experience (2'nd hand, but still) with home bark-tanned leather as a raincoat... several people and 21 days of continuous pouring rain in fact. So that's one clear option. Even made with a thin leather it's a bit heavy though, and it's a lot of work to make, so I wanted to explore the other option further, just to understand the whole space.

My 5.11 shirt certainly is part plastic of course, but I wanted something to experiment on that was the right material. It's ancient and worn out and about to be thrown away, so by doing it this way the experiment only cost me the $12.00 for the otter wax (plus dryer fees and electricity).


One more interesting bit of data if you're going to do this... It shrank quite a bit. It probably lost a half-inch to an inch across the shoulders. This shirt is already a very well worn garment. A 5.11 shirt near being thrown away, we're talking serious wear. It was well worn before Jess got it used in a park ~2010, she used it until we went on the road, then I got it and have used it very heavilly since since.. So, if you do this... make sure to start with an oversized garment. It's a lot of heat to melt in the was.

I haven't tried it in rain yet. I can't wait for a good rainstorm to give it a test. 


trip report: Boondocking near Ashville

My camera broke such that I didn't know it was working, so I don't have many photos, but I did take a few.

For my birthday, Angie and I decided to take a trip down to Ashville. Since staying in hotels is silly, we boondocked of course! My Jeep is no-where near as good for this as my old truck Jane was, but it worked pretty okay. On the upside it got us pretty far down a very rough road, farther than Jane could have.

Here's Angie eating a nice vegetable and tofu soup cooked over a small fire. To help the fire burn and make it easier to get the water to a nice simmer we stuck some stakes in the ground as a pot-stand. You can see in the foreground that we turned the sticks almost entirely to ash. When we left the next day we rubbed the ash into the ground and put the leaves back too for a little stealth camping. After next rain no-one will be able to tell we camped there.


It was a little on the chilly side. It dropped below freezing both nights. The morning after these photos were taken we went up the ridge a bit for a hike and pretty ice crystals were growing out of the ground. By my figuring it must've been ~25F or colder up there, so it can't have been too warm down where we slept.


A good sleepingbag and a warm hat will do wonders though. Once my fingers got a bit too cold too play more guitar we slept snug and cozy, using a silnylon tarp in a cave pitch to break the wind. The photo below isn't from this trip, but it demonstrates a (rather poor) cave pitch to explain what I mean for handling wind.


After our hike the next day we went in to town and wandered Ashville, then found a site off a rather easier to get down dirt road by a nice river. Sadly I took no pictures that evening. We had a similar dinner, and as we had an established fire-ring that night, played with the fire most of the evening.


Linseed oil for homemade "oil cloth" - further experiments

A while back I wrote this article: http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2015/04/diy-linseed-oil-treated-cotton-sheet.html

Since the tarp worked I decided to try some further experiments. I took this tarp and made it into a poncho. This involved adding a hood, and a way to fold up a flap of the fabric so it didn't drag on the ground, because the tarp is too long for my height. I then used a second sheet and made a new tarp. I planned to use the larger tarp as a shelter, and fabric to roll my gear in and tie to my frame. I'd then use the smaller one as a groundcloth and poncho. So, how'd it work out?

TL;DR Don't do it.

Making The Poncho

For the hood I approximately traced the hood for a silnylon poncho I have. It's a simple 2-piece hood, reducing the sewing. This is especially important because I hand-stitched the hood using full-felled seams. This is a method for making nearly water-proof seams in water-proof materials, by sewing a flat seam, then rolling it and sewing 2 more seams (so it's 3 lines of stitching for every seam sewn). Note how in the picture below the seam is not only full-felled but layered such that the water flows off the fabric rather than into the seam


This worked *fantastically* and I ended up with a beautiful perfectly fitting waterproof hood. I was very happy with the fit

To make it actually fit I also added some buttons so I could button up the flap in the back. By putting the loops in the middle of the fabric and the buttons on the end it would still be comfortable to lie on.


Sorry the photo is a bit poor, but the flap is folded down from the top of the photo and buttoned, you can see the button on the right edge, and the center. These were made from sticks by just carving a notch in the stick, and tied on using linen. The button "holes" are also linen twine.

This made for a fairly wearable poncho... not bad. It still smelled bad, but I hoped that would fade.

Making the tarp

The new tarp is made from a 600 threadcount sheet I found at target for ~$18.00 if I remember right. Goodwill didn't have what I needed. It's a thinner sheet and as such absorbed less of the linseed and resulted in a significantly lighter tarp per square foot. It came out ~10'x10'. This seemed like a good size to test with, so I didn't bother modifying it.

I then simply sewed some linen tieouts to the edges and called it done.

I finished the tarp about a month ago. I forget when I sewed the poncho but I think it was last winter. Oddly, between that time and now I have basically not been on a walk in the rain. There's been some hard rain, but there was no point in testing it in a *light* rain, I needed real rain to even bother with it. In a sprinkle I've been wearing my 5.11 shirt over my icebreaker sweater for a couple of years now, and it works great.

Well, this weekend Angie and drove out to the forest, knowing it was going to rain, and I decided it was finally time to put this gear to the test. It was late, but we and I found some sticks, used a knife to carve stakes and hammered them in with the Axe. A bit if nylon rope and we had pitched the tarp. You can just barely see the poncho ground-cloth peaking out of the end of the tent.


It wasn't raining yet, so we slept outside (partly to avoid the smell of linseed). Later in the evening though it picked up so we moved in. Overnight it was rain, but light rain. It worked fine and we were snug and warm, no problems. I touched the inside of the tarp and it was dry.

There was a break in the rain when we got up in the morning so we lit up a fire (on the 3'rd try... using a sparker some some plant fluff I gathered previously) just as the rain hit again, and cooked up a sausage for breakfast. After breakfast we decided to go on a hike.

Angie went to shift her sleeping-bag so I could use my poncho and discovered that it was wet where it had been touching the tarp! Not like condensation either. You could see that where the tarp was touching it, the tarp acted more like normal soaked through cotton. The treatment had stopped water from traveling to the underside of the fabric normally, but if something touched it and wicked the water away it would happily keep whicking water through the fabric, soaking whatever touched it. This is classic behavior for canvas, but I hadn't expected it given the dry feel to the inside of the tarp.

Next I pulled out the poncho and put it on... after 10 minutes with it on, before we even left, I realized my shoulders were getting sticky! Ick!  The poncho, even after hanging outside and curing for over week, and even where there wasn't too much linseed on it, near the center where it was just about right, had gotten sticky again when it got wet! DAMN! Given the behavior of the fabric on Angie's sleepingbag I was also convinced that it was unlikely to work anyway. All of this and both the tarp and the poncho still reeked of linseed smell.

Angie and I did go on our hike, I just wore my 5.11 shirt and sweater. It was actually raining, though not that hard, eventually my shirt soaked through and I was pretty wet when we got back. Not unhappy, but wet. We decided we'd learned a lot of what we had wanted to learn by coming out in the rain, and it was time to go home and work on how to make it more comfortable the next trip.

After the trip I was looking at the tarp more. The way it was pitched, with the middle low there was a band in the middle where it was a different color, here water was collecting and going through the fabric, then running down the inside... unlike the rest of the fabric. Also, we found a spot where there was a slight wrinkle in the fabric, and this was actually dripping slowly on to Angie's sleepingbag. Both of these are slow processes and not deadly at all, only allowing small amounts of water through very slowly, and steeper/better pitches will help... but I'm quite good at pitching tarps and I mean only a very very slight wrinkle.

Both pieces of fabric I've treated ended up with parts that stayed sticky and smelly even after a long time trying to get them to "dry". These spots are on the edges where the oil "flowed" to when it was hanging to dry. So, first up, if I ever use linseed again I'll paint it on, rather than soaking the fabric. This should help get a more even coat that dries properly and doesn't end up smelling as much.

Next, Linseed treated cotton is not usable in applications where it's *touching* something. It makes a usable tarp for shelter. The dripping noted above was extremely minor and I wouldn't hesitate to use down under something this waterproof in a multi-day downpour. That said, I'm fairly convinced that it would never make a very good poncho as it wicks water across the boundary. This is likely a property of most thin and lightly treated cotton fabrics, so it's something to keep in mind when figuring out the right fabric for any given application. Also, the smell and stickyness make it a non-starter for clothing in my mind.

I may try linseed again at some point, but I'm going to set it aside for now and try some other methods of treating cotton fabric that hopefully won't be as hard on my lungs, and won't stay sticky the same way.

71 miles in 72 hours

This was a weekend through-hike of the Massanutten, a short trail here in Virginia. This trail is 71 miles long, running on ridges virtually the whole way in a loop around Fort Valley. Parts of it are flat, but it is fairly rough trail, often steep, and usually very rocky. Jess and I thought it might be interesting to try and do in a 3 day weekend. We weren't at all sure we'd make it, but wanted to try.

This is a rather long post. I broke it in to the preparation and the trip. I recommend reading the whole thing if you are planning a through-hike of this trail. The prep section is also probably interesting to anyone doing warm-weather ultralight backpacking regardless of region.

It was supposed to be warm, but rain part of the trip, so it was the perfect time to finally rely on things I've been testing. Here's everything I carried but food, full skin-out. The following was written before I left:


  1. external backpack frame with belt, pockets, and water-bottle holders
  2. drysack for gear
  3. drysack for food
  4. string and grossgrain ties for tying the above to the pack
  1. Poncho-tarp
  2. heat-shrink groundcloth
  3. 50ft trip-teas line
  4. silnylon sack to hold the above
  1. 5F quilt (I don't own another option, pretty sure a sheet is heavier)
  2. drysack for the above
  3. 1/8" gossamer-gear sleeping pad
  1. compression shorts
  2. shorts (my compression shorts are too worn to wear alone)
  3. thin nylon long-sleeve shirt
  4. tilly hat
  5. 2 pair darn-tough socks
  6. runamocks (shoes I made need repairs first, so using these)
  7. Thin icbreaker skull-cap
  1. 2 plastic water bottles
  2. 0.9L titanium pot
  3. titanium spork
Little stuff
  1. belt knife
  2. headlamp
  3. salt lick
  4. polar pure iodine
  5. several "cheater stcks" for starting fires
  6. lighter
  7. sparker
  8. tinder and backup matches
  9. Pill bottle
  10. sewing kit
  11. perscription drugs w/ backups
  1. hiking poles
That's full skin-out. Right now I don't have a way to weigh this setup, but you can see that the pile just doesn't have that much in it.

Note that I could reduce the number of items I'm carrying fairly easily. For example, I could swap my water-bottle and cookpot for a steel waterbottle. Or I could not cook and just drop the pot. But that would be heavier overall, and this time my goal is weight rather than minimalism.

The quilt is silly, but I keep going over options. Good sleep makes a big difference. A blanket is definitely heavier, even a sheet probably only about breaks even. A sweater and long-pants are probably also heavier. A 40F quilt would be optimal and probably drop a pound off my weight, but I don't really want to push one around, so I don't own one.

You'll notice I have almost no insulation here. I'm counting on it being warm and on not sitting around outside my sleepingbag if it does chill off.

The sleepingpad has 2 purposes actually. First and foremost, we may end up sleeping in a shelter one night. Some folks can sleep directly on hardwood, but I'm not one of them. Secondly I would stick to the groundcloth really badly making sleep difficult. This gives a comfy layer to lie on under my quilt.

I rarely hike with hiking poles these days. That said, they were a godsend on the AT. Occasionally my ITBS flares up when I do something stupid like try and hike 71 miles in 3 days when I haven't been doing 15 every day. The hiking poles will hopefully stave this off a bit.

Much like the hiking poles I haven't used compression shorts in years. I can usually make it through a weekend trip these days, even a high mileage one like my last trip, without the compression shorts. But I usually come home a little sore from chafing. It doesn't get too bad and I figure this helps toughen the skin up for a trip like this one. So when I do wear compression shorts, I can be confident I won't have issues.

I *could* get away without the Ground-cloth, but my sleepingpad is not all that large, and if the ground is wet I don't really want to spend time dealing with that (e.g. digging through leaves looking for dry layers, or finding something dry to lay down under my quilt). Long days of hiking mean making camp at night, and I want to be able to go to sleep fairly quickly.

I'm not bringing stakes. I'm expecting I'll be in fairly dense tree-cover the whole time, so decently sheltered at least. I've discovered that it only takes a few seconds to make a serviceable tent-peg from a stick in most situations. So although I'll be doing it at night, I think this will be fine. I guess we'll see.


We had a 3-day weekend, so we arrived on Thursday night. Around 7pm and hiked out. Jess brought Beau along. Beau had a pack and radio GPS collar as she was still being trained.

We aren't sure of the exact mileage we covered any given day, but the plan was to try and get 5-8 miles in the first night. Leaving us ~21 miles a day for the next 3 days of hiking. Our first campsite was in known territory. We had a little trouble finding wood in the dark, but we found and enough small twigs, and by lighting it and immediately starting to cook with it were able to make our Lipton sides for dinner. The rain had hit early, and we were only getting sprinkles. Jess' gear was similar to my own and we each pitched our ponchos as shelters and went to sleep.

The next day after maybe a mile of hiking Beau bounded by in front of us with no pack on! SHOOT! The harness the pack mounted to was still on her, but the pack had fallen off as Beau ran through the forest. The pack had contained the spare leash, her water bowls, and all of her food. We considered the idea of Jess bailing and taking Beau home, leaving me to do it it alone, but after taking stock of our food decided we would try running a little thinner on our food and letting Beau eat our food too. Suddenly our food was barely sufficient for the trip. To make her a water-bowl I cut up my spare water-bottle I'd intended to use as a bladder to make it through the longer runs... hoping I wouldn't need it.

We passed a bunch of runners. It turns out they were running the marathon that day, where runners run the entire 71 miles in <24 hours. They were near the beginning when we met them, only maybe 20 miles in, and a few even chatted with us a little as they ran by. We ran out of water, badly, up on the ridge, before we finally dropped down to a valley where we were able to get more. I was getting sick and light headed and so was Jess. We didn't have enough to spare to give Beau a whole lot either so she was starting to suffer from heat exhaustion. It was a slog, but we pushed through. Once in the valley we ate dinner by the water, sucking down water and cameling as much as we could for the next stretch. We then hiked into the night finally camping up on a ridge. We were getting near the northern end of the trail. That night I looked at my compression shorts and realized they had a big hole on them on the left side. I was near bleeding in that spot. I pulled out my sewing kit and repaired my shorts.

The next day we dropped down off the ridge at the furnace. At the northern end of the trail you have to cross between ridges so there's a lot of up and down for a while. Some of that trail is very rarely traveled so it's some rough going (the roughest spot we'd actually done the night prior though). Eventually though after quite a bit of climbing and dropping again we dropped down on to a smooth crushed gravel road. My feet were hurting a LOT by this time. The rock trails had bruised my feet up pretty badly in my minimal shoes, and every slightly poky rock hurt to step on, crushed gravel being no exception. We met a few hikers through here, and happily got more chances to fill up on water. After the previous day we were pretty paranoid and cameled at every water-source we passed.

We then climbed up the ridge and ran down the ridge for a long time. We'd been discussing what to do about this section for a while. As you're probably starting to notice, water is a problem on the Massenutten.  We knew it was a likely problem, and that there was a drought on, but as it turned out the drought was bad enough that a lot of springs that are normally running were dry, same for small streams. So far we'd been on the west-side of the trail, where the stretches between water aren't that bad. Looking at the east side we estimated a potential for 30 miles without water.

Our solution was to drop off the ridge. So that night we took a side-trail and dropped off the ridge to where there should be water. This was extremely rough trail, really more bushwhacking than trail, but at the bottom we found a stream and a fire-ring. We cameled up again and cooked dinner, then hiked onwards. It wasn't until later that I learned that the mosquitos had been feasting on us and I was covered in bites. I was too tired and hungry to care... I wasn't miserable to be clear, my feet hurt, but I'd been having a blast so far, I was sore, tired, and hungry, but happy. We then proceeded with the plan, which was to walk down the dirt-road in the valley for a miles or 2, and then ride back up to the ridge. We were going to "blueblaze" as Appalachian Trail thru-hikers call it. That is, hike a side-route instead of the primary trail for a short time. The total distance was still farther than hiking the Massanutten the whole way, but it let us get water with only about a 1-mile side-trip, instead of the full 2-miles it would've taken had we gone straight back the same route.

That night as I was sizing up how I was doing I looked at my thighs. My chaffing was terrible, my left thigh where the hole in my shorts had been was healing, but I was soaked in ichor along where my thigh meets my butt-cheak, along the back and into my crotch. I had a line of swelling along each side. My feet were fine, just the normal blister I get on my forefoot where my toes meet. But my thighs were bad. I resolved to go without compression shorts and hope that worked better.

The third day was *grueling*. Some very nice folks in the 4-wheel park actually drove off and got us water from a spring they knew was still running about a mile downhill. Very sweet of them. They also told us that the Massanutten is sometimes called "the ring of fire" by locals, due to how little water was on it. Even with that water we were having to carefully ration. I started to get heat sickness. At one point I even started to feel aggressive/violent. I sat down and let myself cool down for a bit, and drank more water than I had to spare. My core temperature was too high, I *felt* hot and I like I couldn't cool off. The ridge we were on at the time was low with a higher ridge guarding it from wind, so the air was completely still, there was just no way to dump enough heat. Eventually I felt somewhat better and stood up... when we hit a stream I was so happy.

My highs were far better, not wearing compression shorts had resolved my problem. I'm still not sure if I would've been better not to wear them at all, I suspect I would've had other chaffing problems. In the future though I'll keep my eyes out for that problem. Otherwise though My feet hurt, I was walking awkwardly due to chaffing, like a bowlegged cowboy. Wincing every time I stepped on a rock slightly wrong.

Oddly though, after we dropped into a valley and went up the next ridge, we both felt... fine. As the temperature fell and we got near the golden hour, suddenly home seemed near. I hurt, but I was having fun again. The last 6 miles still hurt, but it was a happy hurt. We finally hit the car at about 7pm, the same time as we'd left on saturday.

This was a blast. It was at the edge of what I could do, and I used a lot of skills and tricks to make it work. Had I not known how to start a fire in the rain, known how to ration my water carefully, how to keep from getting hyponatremic, had the skills to walk on rough terrain in minimal shoes, had at least a clue how to manage my chaffing, known my gear well and just what my body could do, this trip probably would not have worked, and we would've ended up bailing. As it was I had fun almost the entire time, despite being sore, tired, and hungry, there were probably 6 hours or less when I was miserable and just pushing forward anyway.

I felt like a wimp actually when I was done, some people did this entire loop in 20 hours, on the same weekend I was hiking it! But always remember that other people are not you, just because another person can do more takes nothing away from accomplishing something yourself.


old post: Cut up a tree by hand

This is an old post that for some reason I never published. I don't even live at that house anymore, but I think it's a pretty interesting post particularly for anyone considering cutting wood by hand:

A while ago in http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2014/11/cutting-wood.html you might recall that I felled a tree with an axe, and was bucking and splitting it for firewood using only hand tools.

Well, I finally finished today. This tree was oak, dead but not rotten, and mostly heartwood. The standard way to measure a tree is diameter 4' off the ground, and by that metric this tree is probably about 2.5ft. In short, it's a pretty damned big tree.

I've lost track of the hours spent cutting this tree. The upper branches were rotten and useless, so I only chopped up the trunk, which is actually the hardest part. From the trunk I'd estimate that I got about a half-cord, though I burned some before I was done, so I don't know for sure. That trunk took about 15 cuts to buck in to 18" logs for our fireplace. If you're careful about your fenceposts that comes to around a 25 foot log, which sounds about right. Earlier I said it took about 30 minutes a cut. Optimally cutting time ought to be proportional to the surface area of the end of the e.g. piR^2, in reality it's a bit worse as the log grows, because saws work most efficiently on narrower cuts (this is why a saw with more bow to the blade is almost always a good thing, mine has fairly little). At the time I measured I was cutting the narrow end, on the wide end I'd say it probably took more like 1 hour. So. lets call it 45 minutes per cut. Add in 10 minutes to split, 5 minutes to futz and shift things, and we get about 15 hours, add in 4 hours to drop the tree, 4 hours to drag the tree around and get it off the drive, probably another 4 hours spent rolling the thing around to position it for cuts, 4 hours sharpening the saw, and we get something like 30 hours total. That's still ignoring all the breaks I had to take. Those are all vague numbers, just to try and get an idea. So order of magnitude is probably about 40 hours, or about a week of work.

Overall that rate of cutting isn't bad, but way below what the old guy across the street from me said he accomplished in the CCC. In the process though I've gotten to the point where I can actually buck and split 2 rounds a day without hurting myself. This means that given a week at ~3 hours a day I might be able to cut 1/4 of a cord. That's okay, but not going to cut it if you live in Maine. I'd say that people just used to work really hard, but somehow they used to pull this off while feeding their families and without hurting themselves. So, I'm sure that I'm still missing something that could make me hugely more efficient. So what could that be?
  • One major issue is that I'm cutting a dead log. Cutting deadwood is MUCH harder than cutting green-wood. Each stroke of my saw is pulling off a few fibers, where each stroke of a good bucking saw on green-wood pulls out long beautiful strips of wood. I'm pretty sure this is the largest factor.
  • Another problem is almost certainly that I'm still learning to sharpen my saw. I know that I under-sharpened it because I was nervous and didn't want to wreck it. Next time around I hope it comes out a bit better. For dead oak I think I need slightly more aggressive fleem angles so it digs in more, and for sure I need to make sure there are no flat spots. Undoubtedly learning how to properly microbevel this tooth pattern would also help. 
  • I grew up splitting and wood, and learned to fell fairly young. I did some bucking as a kid, but working entirely with very dull saws that I didn't know how to sharpen. I think overall my bucking skills still have some way to go to catch up with my splitting, for example.
  • I'm cutting a pretty big tree, and using a single-man saw. 2 man saws are significantly more efficient especially on larger trees.
Regardless of all of that though, I'm convinced that bucking will continue to be the bulk of the work related to cutting by hand. I find that was pretty interesting. Splitting is easy, and felling is only slightly more work than one bucking cut, maybe twice as much.

I'm not going to quit cutting wood by hand. I want to keep getting better and someday be able to actually cut a full winter's wood. But, that said, the next time I really need to cut a large quantity of wood I may give in and use a chain saw. It feels really good to cut wood by hand, but it's hard to say that feels better than being able to cut all the wood you need by yourself.

The settlers dropped trees like this all the time, but there's a reason the crosscut saw had nicknames like the "misery whip". No-one likes crosscutting. It's hard hard work. American Indians simply wouldn't cut a tree like this, if they had to they'd burn through it. That's how much harder larger tree are to cut than smaller trees. Over about 6" across they just get really really difficult

Still... It's great to finally have that tree completely off the driveway and know that I did it all with tools available 200 or more years ago.

Moving and stuff

I know I haven't posted in a while. I'm in transition right now, with a lot fewer opportunities to get out and do neat things outside. I moved out of my cool house in the woods because I didn't want to sign the lease for another year, so I'm temporarily living in an apartment in Waynesboro VA while I look for an awesome place to live. I did get a good test of my trailer on the move, and I found that I really like it.

Although I haven't been getting out as much as before that's not to say that I haven't been doing anything. I'm dating a wonderful girl. The two of us went backpacking last weekend, and covered a LOT of mileage. I estimate at least 18 miles saturday and again on Sunday, and another at least 12 on Monday. We didn't bring a camera though so no post is coming. I'm also planning a blitz of the Massanutten trail for weekend after this one, it'll be interesting to see how that goes.

A couple of weeks ago I helped a friend who owns a small meat farm slaughter and butcher a bunch of chickens. That was pretty interesting. This is a very small family operation and we of course did it as quickly and humanely as possible. Butchering any animal for sale was new to me, and it was interesting to learn what people care about.

Moving into a new place is always a bit of an adventure. There's all sorts of little things you need. I needed a shower curtain but just couldn't stand the idea of getting a plastic one. But I had part of a cheap canvas drop-cloth I bought a while ago for my MYOG backpack experiments. So, we hemmed it while watching a movie and hung it up with some rings from home-depot.


The rings cost cost ~$8.00. A plastic shower curtain would be cheap, but this makes me so much happier. And when I throw it away it'll actually decompose.

I also wanted some large S-hooks due to how the closet here is set up. S-hooks this large were ~$3.00 each at home-depot. That's just too silly. So I picked up a coil of wire instead. I then drilled a hole in a dowel I'd purchased as a curtain rod. Sticking the wire in the hole in the dowel I rolled the dowel along the floor (this is actually a lot of effort with wire this thick), using the dowel as a mandrill to make rings. I learned this trick originally from Lizza, who taught me how to make chainmail. Hat-tip to Jess for suggesting drilling the hole.


I tried using nippers and sadly put a giant dent in the jaws of my nippers. Damn, Luckily I got them for ~$3.00 at a garage sale or I'd be more upset. So I broke out the dremel and used the cutting wheel instead. Once I had the "spring" free I then used plyers to open up the last coil on the spring into an S-hook. Then used the cutting wheel to cut it off the the Spring. Repeat. I found it easiest to do about 6 at a time, just because the spring was an easy to work with size that way. The wire was ~$10.00 for the roll, and I've used a tiny portion of it. Though I probably used up another dollar or two worth of dremel cutting wheel.


So, life is moving along. Always learning and playing. I hope to report some good outdoor adventures in the not too distance future!


Buckskin shorts

If you recall, a while back I finished tanning a deer hide. http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2014/05/brain-tan.html. That was actually the second hide I started, I did some of the work in parallel, but I only just smoked the first hide I started maybe a month ago. This hide required something like 14 days of water-soak before I could scrape it, and (admittedly not knowing what I was doing) it probably has 10 days or more of working the hide trying to get the glue out. This was an extra-ordinarily dense hide.

So, this hide is perfect for making in to a pair of shorts!


About 3 days total of work, and I have a pair of wonderful shorts. I had an antelope hide that I tanned using a slightly different method as part of a class a while back, it's full of holes and not very useful so I actually cut the lacing I used to sew the pants together out of that.


To make these shorts I started by tracing a pair of commercial shorts I have that fit me well. I particularly wanted to something with a comparatively snug fit, given buckskin's tendency to stretch. This pattern had a gusseted crotch, which I generally like, so I figured the pattern had the best chance of working if I just went with it.


The seams are simple welted seams (I considered other options but this just seemed best for my first pair). To handle the fly I sewed it halfway up the front. When I tried it on and fiddled I realized I'd end up with a bit of a "pouch" in the front, so I pulled that seam back out, cut off a bit more material and sewed it back up. That was my bit of custom tailoring :P.


Behind the lacing you see in the image above there is an extra triangle of fabric, made from a really thin part of the deer like an armpit. That fabric is sewn in such that the lacing holes don't actually go all the way through the pants. It's hard to describe but basically the edges of this triangle turn back inwards and are sewn to the main fabric.

DSC00766 DSC00767

This has advantages for modesty and comfort both, while still letting the pants open up enough to pull over my not insignificant rear.

Now, onwards to the technical details.

Working with buckskin is pretty interesting. It is very difficult to tear, and doesn't fray at all, but it stretches easily. I carefully laid it out so the rear was the thickest part, which on this particular hide is up near the neck area. The front is made from the rear end of the deer The gusset is made from a middling weight part of the hide. As mentioned above the extra flap behind the fly is an extra lightweight piece.

The lacing is cut about as thin as I could, from already thin bits.As mentioned earlier I used an antelope hide that wasn't otherwise super useful..That lacing was then wetted and stretched by squeegeeing out the water. This prestretches it so the lacing won't stretch too much once everything is sewn up.

You may notice looking at the shorts that there's a line of stitching around the waist, as well as a line around each leg. Since it's prestretched these lines keep the fabric from stretching out of shape so it doesn't fit right.

This is my first piece of buckskin clothing, so I got quite a bit of help and advice from Jess on various aspects like prestretching the lacing, using welted seams, etc.


Bantu / Baka Pigmy springpole foot-plate trap

I can't call this experimental archaeology, because the Bantu Pigmi and Baka people are using this trap today, as I write this post. So, I'm going with experimental anthropology ;-).


Everything I know about this trap I learned at Rivercane Rondezvous from Todd. Unfortunately, I forgot his last name, but he is the one who went to Africa and learned this trap from the Bantu. So, first credit for this trap goes of course to the Bantu and Baka. Credit for coaxing this information through too many translations, cultural barriers, etc. is well, the Bantu and Todd. I just made a crude replica and took a few photos ;-).

Sorry if I use a term which is not the most culturally sensitive. Since Todd talked with these people, I'm taking all of my cues from him. Todd taught this trap for the purpose of sharing it, and to protect the knowledge from loss in the event of a complete collapse of the Bantu and Baka. I figured the best way to honor that is to share it as widely as a can. So, this post is my attempt to share this trap more widely.

Note that if you try and set this trap the spring-pole is quite dangerous. Get down with your arm over as you're setting the trap so it can't spring up and hit you in the eye. This was very very important to the Bantu people who taught it to Todd, as apparently a number had lost eyes to this trap.

The Trap

So, there's a springpole (as in the first picture) with a piece of cordage running down to the trap itself. Here's a closup of the trip mechanism.

The cross-pole is pushed in to the ground on one side, and held down on the free end by a forked stick. One side of the fork is long and driven in like a stake, the other can be short. You can see in this photo that I accidentally split mine, but it was holding so I went with it.

That cross-pole is the basis to support the load of the spring-pole. Next we take something very slippery, bend it and stick it in just in front of the pole (held in place by it). I used greenbrier here, same as Todd did, but obviously they used something else in Africa. This supplies a slide/support for the cross-stick that acts as the actual trip for this trap. This is the end of the non-mobile components of the trap mechanism.

The cross-stick or trigger-stick is held in place by pressure from the toggle. The back side of the trigger-stick should be slippery as well, I removed the bark from that side in the trap pictured here.

That's the basics of the trap. Now we use that trigger stick and use it as the support for one side of a trigger plate built out of cross sticks (the other side is immobile). As pictured below.


In a real trap we would then cover this with some leaves and sticks disguise it up most of the way. Then as the next to last step we would spread the snare. I'm leaving out all the disguising in the following photo to make everything easy to see


The animal steps on the foot-plate, that slides the trigger stick down releasing the toggle. This allows the spring pole to snap up, closing the snare on the animals foot. Here's what tripping the trap looks like.


Lastly, here's a couple pictures of my very poor and rushed attempt to disguise the trap.


Any real trapper sets their traps over and over and over again, and thus practices making it look just perfect so nothing will suspect there's a trap there at all. If anything you want to make that spot of ground look like a slightly better spot to stick your foot than the areas around it.

The place he visited is a National Park technically, where these peoples are living. Hunting there is apparently not legal technically. Their societies (especially the Bantu) are living on the edge right now. Every hunter has secrets they will not share. Todd suspected that they never showed him one of their actual sets, because then they'd be giving away their trap location, and that means another person (frequently from the same tribe) could check that trap and steel their catch. This is one of two trap sets they showed him.

This set is used in favor of extremely large deadfalls that had been used previously, for trapping large game, as it is safer for the trapper themselves. In theory, if you could drive the pole far enough in, or used a well rooted tree it could keep the animal from breaking even relatively weak twine by being unable to shock the cordage. Todd believed that these peoples lacking sufficiently strong twine or a way to anchor the poles, but were good enough trackers that an animal with a pole hanging off it's leg was a done deal, and would simply track the animal down and kill it.

Note that I used a separate tree-branch, despite the anchoring advantages of a normal tree. This trap would be set multiple times. Todd explained that the dead tree-branch stuck in the ground won't take a set as badly as a standing tree would, thus using a dead branch stuck in the ground actually increases the traps working life. This is particularly useful since this trap will sometimes trip without catching an animal.

This is one of the most elegant traps I've ever seen. It's not as simple as a promontory peg, but it's only a little more complex than a Paiute dead-fall. Like a Paiute dead-fall it's extraordinarily easy to set. You can get very light set on it and still set the trap quickly and easilly without having it trip on you as you're working. In practice I would guess that because it's a foot trap you don't actually want a super-light set on this trap anyway, a little stiffness will help make sure the animal commits their weight to the foot before the trap trips. I didn't check with a scale, but I'd hazard that the plate pressure on the trap pictured here is a bit on the light side for a fox actually, if you wanted to get picky.

Like any primitive trap it takes making a few before it gets easy. I struggled to build this trap, but it is the first springpole trap or snare I've ever built. It's also the first primitive foot-plate trap I've even seen.


Green Brier salad

Food photos!
Everyone else does it, I guess I can't resist.

At the gathering Jess and I learned that the new growth tips of greenbrier are tasty in the spring. Well, on Friday evening I decided to try it. I went out and picked a bunch. Since I was picking greenbrier anyway I figured we could have it with some roadkill venison and have an all local gathered meal. This was our first time eating green brier in quantity, so we kept it as a side-dish.

As it turned out Jess' brother was coming over, so Jess picked a bit more green brier and made some mashed potatoes to bulk it all up. I enjoyed the dinner greatly. Sadly, it seems that I gave her brother one of the tougher cut of meat, but he still liked the flavor. Jess mixed up a salad dressing with a bit of honey, olive oil, and vinegar.


I forgot to take a picture until we were almost done it was so tasty, here's Jess' plate. As a bonus Jess made the cup in the photo, and fired it in an open wood fire. The knife was made by a friend, acquired by trading a softened but unsmoked sheepskin.

This evening Jess wanted to try another dish using the greens as the primary bulk of the meal as she was craving veggies, since the side-dish went over well. she picked a bunch of green brier (I helped her pick just a little more). I went on a mountain bike ride today, so was a bit hungry so we bulked it up with some store-bought green-beans after picking out the easy to get to briers right here. Then we made my family's spinach salad recipe. We fried up some bacon, used some balsamic vinegar, sugar, and salt mixed with grease from the bacon, and poured that over the greens. We were quite happy with this for dinner, lots of electrolytes and vitamins.


Again I forgot to take pictures until we were almost done eating, but at least I remembered at all! The bowl in this photo was made by Kempy, a good friend of ours.

Backing up a bit, the challenge with wild greens is finding sufficiently *bland* greens that you can use them for the base of a salad. There are TONS of tasty greens, but most of them are too spicy, strong, bitter, or whatever to use as the primary base of the salad. Such greens are super delicious in small quantities, as a garnish, but you wouldn't want to eat a ton of them, you're likely to get too many vitamins to be healthy, and it's just not tasty. Green brier on the other hand is extremely mild, and a bit sweet, making it a perfect bulky base for dishes like spinach salad, where the greens are completely raw.



Rivercane Rondezvous

Directly after the SAR conference in southern VA, Jess and I continued south toward Georgia (stopping for a night to sleep at a nice trail-head in her truck Jane). Actually, as it happened we ended up in Damascus, a town neither of us has been in since we hiked through it on the AT in 2009, and hitched to and from 2 weeks prior to go to trail days, a big backpacker party held there every year. Anyway, it was nastalgic and fun to drop by again.

Anyway, onwards we continued to Rivercane Rondezvous. This is a primitive skills gathering, actually the oldest continuous running primitive skills gathering (this was it's 30'th anniversary). I went to it's sister gathering Falling Leaves in the fall, run by the same EarthSkills folks. I saw a couple of faces I know from the west coast gatherings actually, a lot more I met in the fall, and met plenty of new people as well.

(Two brave people start the main fire with a bow-drill in front of the whole camp)

As we've mentioned before, these gatherings focus around primitive skills generally with two different ideas in mind.

One is to understand how people used to do things, by trying to do them yourself. This is called Experimental Archaeology. If archaeologists often find tools and come up with theories for how those tools were used. Surprisingly these theories are rarely tested by actually trying to do it, and seeing if a) it works and b) it leaves the same marks on the tool or whatever the tool is used on as the historical artifact. People 10,000 years ago were no dumber than us now (probably smarter actually), so you can bet they found reasonable ways to solve their problems. This can be a pretty interesting aspect as people fiddle and around and try and figure out how things used to be done.

The other is simply to actually do them. Many people who come to these gatherings have an interest in gaining the skills themselves, keeping them alive, passing them on, and actually using them. I'm fascinated by experimental archaeology, but for me it's mostly a secondary.interest compared to understanding how I can actually do things now. The two naturally feed in to each other of course, if we can't get the tool to work the way we expect quickly and efficiently now, it's pretty reasonable to assume we've missed something, and chances are they had a good method so if we can figure it out I'm pretty interested in using it now.

Hickory day
I've made 2 bows in the past, both from bow-staves someone else cut and split out of a tree. The first class I went with was on felling and splitting bow-staves out of a tree. They had already dropped the hickory tree (something I've done before), but we talked about that some. Particularly safety, and how to choose the right tree both for the ecology of the forest so as to make the forest healthier by cutting, and for making good bows. We talked a lot about the way to split the wood so as to maximize the good bow-staves we get out of it, and then actually split them out.

There was some wood left though that was no good for bow-staves. So that afternoon I decided to use it. I went back. Using a folding saw and an axe I cut out two hickory splitting wedges. I then used those to split out some short tool handles for some hammer and hatchet heads I got at a garage sale a while back.


I'm letting those handles cure now, but there are few things more satisfying than going in to the forest with an axe and saw, making the other tools you need, and leaving with tool handles.

I also grabbed another hunk of tree to make a sledge. It's quite dangerous to hit metal with metal, and always better to hit metal with wood or wood with metal if that can get the job done. For this reason wooden hammers are really useful (also, they are free). So since I had a tree sitting there, I decided to make one. Here's a picture of my lovely friend posing with it (not quite complete) and a coyote fur.


Well, I had to pull the bark off the handle to make this, and hickory bark is extremely useful flexible stuff, so I took this and bent it to make a basket. After 3 attempts at this (and 3 chunks of mucked up bark) and a little advice from others, I finally got it to work. I then took some long pieces, peeled the outer bark off, them, and used the inner bark for rings inside and outside the top, too bind those rings in to place, and to sew up the sides. Sadly I didn't take a picture of it though, and I traded it away at the trade blanket the next evening, so here is a picture of a similar basket I found online... Sorry to whoever owns the photo.

If you haven't gathered this yet, hickory is a really cool tree, being a great wood for bows, handles, baskets, and bindings.

The hickory basket, the splitting, or the sledge could all be individual posts, and may be eventually. There's a lot to talk about there.

Plant walk(s)

We had a super cool guest come to this gathering, Samuel Thayer. Jess and I have long been fans of his edible plant books, and of the 5 or so books I kept while living in the truck, two of them were his, so it was quite exciting to go on a plant walk with him. We were both fan-girling and squeeing a bit OMG!

I learned a bunch of new plants. I wasn't aware, for example, that you can live off of slipper elm bark! Crazy! Green briar tips are delicious. Mulberry leaves are tasty when young. False nettle is delicious. The best part of bur-dock root is the middle third. Etc. We also bought some delicious dark maple syrup from him... awesome!


This is embarrassing to say, but I didn't know how to sharpen knives and axes before this gathering. I *thought* I knew, but the simplicity and speed with which a friend and instructor taught me to sharpen tools was amazing. I just ordered a new set of diamond stones, and I'm really looking forward to having all of my tools perfectly honed and stroped. Maybe I'll write a post about sharpening at some point. I screwed up while trying to split out some wedges for wedging handles in to tools and buried my wonderful gransfurs brux axe in the mud, UGH! He had it sharper than it was when I got it in about 5 minutes.


In my last post I talked about track aging, and how I wasn't as good at it as I wanted to be, so I decided to practice. I boxed off an area so others wouldn't step on it, then layed down about a track a day, tracking exactly when I layed down each track, and the weather. This way I could go back and stare at the tracks and try and set in my head what tracks of various ages look like after particular weather patterns, at least for this particular soil and vegitation. It was really really interesting. If you look hard you can pick out the ping tracking tape I tied to the sticks at the first print of each track. Each print was marked with a stick at the heal for the whole track, so I can find them again easily.


Tree Climbing
One of the instructors trims trees as a side-job sometimes. I happened to wander by and saw their climbing setup that was basically a mitchel rig using prussiks. I had to break out my frog rig using prussiks and share how that worked. He then taught me how to ascend into a tree using only 1 rope and no other gear at all.


One of the instructors had recently been to Africa, hanging out with the Bacca and the Bantu peoples. Despite problematic language and cultural barriers he learned 2 interesting trap sets that no-one in the US seemed to have ever seen before. One of them in particular is amazingly simple and elegant allowing these people's to live trap animals as large as deer without dangerous deadfall traps. It's elegance rivels the promontory peg or the Paiute dead-fall trap. Amazing!


This trap is based on a springpole. I don't think this information exists on the internet at all, so I'll try and do a write-up of this trap sometime soon, maybe I can make a set and take really detailed pictures of it. .

Shelter Building

I took a class in building a debris shelter. I was hoping to pick up more tips on sleeping out without gear in colder weather, e.g. below 40F. It turns out the instructor hadn't done this. Still, we built a debris hut and I picked up some tricks to help keep a debris shelter dry enough to really sleep in, like keeping the sticks you lean against the main limb from going above that limb, so they don't catch rain-water and funnel it in to the shelter. Sadly, I didn't get quite enough leaves on it to sleep in it in the rain-storm that followed as there were other things to run off and do by then, but I'd be a lot more confident trying it now..

In the evenings people would party, dance around the fire, and play music. I had my guitar and had a great time jamming with various folks. Jamming has never been my strong suit, but you've got to learn somehow! It took me a while to find the spots around camp with the right vibe, but it happened eventually. It'll be easier next year.Awesome awesome people.

Tree down, OH NO!
This hickory tree fell on a friend's camp, and on their tent, in the middle of the night! As luck would have it they were out of the tent right at that moment, and they weren't killed, but it was scary. Amazingly the tree looks perfectly healthy. The camp at large harvested the tree for wood and bark, as it was a wonderful... ah... windfall if you will.


Jess and I have some bark in the garage that we harvested off of it actually, for doing bindings on projects in the future. I'm really glad my friend was okay.

More pictures

Here's some folks carving bows from bowstaves

The big field near the entrance. That TeePee in this photo was made by the owner, who's also an instructor. She taught me a bit about TeePee Poles, and pitching TeePees.

Our camp, including my tarp made of a sheet and linseed oil, posted on this blog a little while ago. I only slept in it part of the time, as there was an ant mound far too close by.

A beautiful evening viewed from our camp as the sun set over the hill

This is only a tiny taste of the goings on at a gathering of this sort. Every time I go I learn new things, and more important I get inspired with a whole new set of ideas about what to try and go do, and how little it takes to live happily.

VA SAR conference

In the interest of understanding search and rescue in Virginia and getting an idea of which team to join I went to the Virginia Search and Rescue conference. I was one of 2 people not associated with a team, but they were welcoming and awesome regardless. The conference is basically 4 days of classes related to search and rescue. Also, they bring out all the cool toys.

I'm not sure which groups were involved (helicoptor groups are usually not directly part of volunteer search and rescue, but work closely with them), but they did a demo/practice of a couple of water pickoffs by helicoptor. Below is a photo of a litter (with a person on it) that they lifted up out of the boat below.


That shiny picture though has nothing to do with what I actually did at the conference. Though each time I watch a helicopter work it teaches me something about how to interact with them should I ever be involved in a helicopter rescue.

Lost person behaviorI spent the first 2 days learning "lost person behavior" from Robert Koester  who literally the author of the book on using statistical models to predict where to look for missing people. The book is creatively named "lost person behavior" .

The idea is that he, with the help of a lot of organizations and people has, and is continuing to gather a huge database of where various people are found and in what conditions. He can then take this data and split it up in to various groups like altzthiemers walk-aways, children under 4, downed airplaines, fisherman, etc. The statistical models tell us, for example, how likely someone is to be near a "linear feature" (e.g. a road or a river). How far away from the Point Last Known they are likely to have gone, etc. If you can bucket a person properly you can then use these statistics to help guide your search efforts and find people faster.

That was a pretty cool class. It's dry material, but fascinating. The book is available online, but it's not something you'd read for fun, or even read at all, it's intended as a reference guide to help search base direct a search. http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Person-Behavior-search-rescue/dp/1879471396

TrackingI spent most of the rest of the time taking some tracking classes from the pre-eminant tracker in Virginia. This is man tracking, for the purpose of trying to save people, and came in form of tests. In the first test we were given 4 basically perfect shoe prints in sand, a set of 20 2 foot boxes, and 2 hours. Each 2 foot box had either one of the 4 shoe prints in it, a different shoe print, or nothing and we had to identify which. We started by looking at the 4 shoe prints. Once we moved over to the 20 boxes we weren't allowed to go back. So this is a matter of recording the shoe prints so you (or other people) could identify the shoe reliably, and then trying to actually do it.


This is a nice easy to identify shoe, you can pick it out pretty reliably by a single lug in many cases. I managed to lose my measuring tape though frustratingly enough, and one of the shoes he used in a tracking box was this same pattern but in a different size.. so I missed those 2 boxes. Otherwise I actually did really well. Well enough that I'm thinking I might be worth pursuing becoming certified as a tracker for search and rescue.

We also did track aging. We were given 5 sets of tracks (around 8 or 10 steps long), and asked to identify how old each set of tracks were. We were also told they were less than 72 hours old. I did okay, but not well. I was consistently off by about 10 hours, and got one just completely and utterly wrong. This exercise was done on vegitation actually, and I realized I'd never practiced aging on vegitation (having learned my tracking in California and the Sonoran desert), so that's something to work on.

Lastly, we did less totally SAR related stuff... identifying what made various marks. Still, understanding that those 4 holes in the ground is dog sign, that funky track that's a little too close together is actually from a tractor, or that the sand configuration indicates that it rained recently can be extremely helpful.

I also went on an edible plant walk and learned a couple of new things, which was pretty cool.

Other stuff
I also did a little navigation refresher, and in the evenings I nerded out with folks on radios and the like, and we generally had a good time. I'm figuring out exactly what to do about joining a team, but I think I'll have it worked out in not too long. Virginia really really has their act together compared to most states. The training to become a basic ground pounder is standardized across the state and the next one is this fall, since I can't be active until that, there's no reason to push too too hard, but I want to figure out what team I'm joining in the next few weeks and start courting them.

Generally it was a blast. The people were great, and I learned a lot. Jess spent the whole time off with the dog people training Beau, who's making great progress. I'm really excited to work with the groups here.