Sunday, December 27, 2015

End of 2015, start of a new year

Well, this past year conspired against me. I rarely had an opportunity to get outside. 2015 was a hard year; wife left me, we have been down 2 people at work, causing a LOT of overtime, I made a decision to leave my pipe band that I have been with for 8 years now.
All of these things have pointed me to an inward journey. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my life, what I want out of it, where I should be, etc. I spent a lot of time, I guess, seeking a certain spirituality. But, as I normally obtain this while spending time outside, this forced me to, I suppose, examine myself internally-whereas, my time spent it the woods, I sort of achieve a state of non-thinking, akin (at least to me) to meditation.
I have never been a particularly religious man. Largely because, although I agree with the fundamental tenets of almost all religions, I simply could not accept the dogma of organized religions. There was something about it that simply rubbed me the wrong way. That, although they purport to be the words of their respective Gods-they are, in fact, human interpretations of these ideas and concepts. Which, of course, is an OPINION-not a fact. That has always struck me as wrong.
Take, for instance, the 10 commandments. One doesnt NEED to be instructed by their religion that stealing, murder, etc, are wrong. There are millions of people in this world who have no exposure to these 10 Commandments, and have followed them.
Are there many, many lessons, in, for instance, Christianity, that are good? Of course. I am not coming down on Christianity, nor ANY religion. In fact, even though I have no desire to be part of that, I will STRONGLY defend someone else's faith. Because, after all-who is the one being wrong, when one person chooses to live by the code of their religion, and another person chooses to make fun of and belittle that person for their beliefs?
Anyway, as I was in this sort of soul searching mode, I came across the writings of Thomas Paine. Specifically, his references to Deism. I decided to look into that. After some reading on this, I found that this sort of resembles how I feel. Let me explain:
Deism, to reduce it down to its fundamentals, is a belief in a higher power, but that higher power has little to no influence over our lives. Call it a supreme being, God, whatever. This supreme being is responsible for the universe, and all its constructs (or, the creation of it), and is not a conscious pseudo-person. More of a force, one could say. Honestly, the interpretation is a personal thing. But, the concept is that EVERYTHING around us is the result of a higher complex intelligent design-how you choose to define that is totally up to you. It is NOT atheism, which is a lack of belief. It is simply an acknowledgement of a supreme being, without the hindrances of "revealed" religions. If you are interested, feel free to look it up. Anyway, this allows me to segue into my next topic:
Freemasonry. This is something that I, like most Americans, are marginally aware of, but never really gave second thoughts to. Again, during my soul searching, I found that to make myself truly happy, I enjoy being a positive force in my community. During a motorcycle ride this summer, a family friend casually mentioned Freemasonry to me. I decided to look into that.
There is a LOT of false information out there. Like, far more than actual, truthful stuff. It takes a while to separate the chaff from the wheat. But, once you get a feel for who is who, you can dig a little further. My journey with this fraternity will begin on January 11, 2016, about 2 weeks from today. No, there is no world conspiracy regarding them. No, there is no New World Order they control. Masons work within their communities, being very charitable, and trying to make their fellow men better, by simply acting like moral, upstanding men. Something that, I think, is largely lost this day and age. If this is a journey you are interested in, and, I would strongly encourage men to at least look into it, I suggest going to a local Lodge, introducing yourself, and ask to speak to one of the Brothers. There is a LOT of misinformation on the internet out there, and, if you are just beginning your research, you MAY stray down the wrong path. Two sources I recommend, is a book by Chris Hodapp called Freemasons for Dummies, and the website Both of these are well vetted, and great sources.
Well, that is where I am, as of today. 2016 should be interesting, to say the least. Several things will happen, as a guarantee: I will become a Freemason. I will become divorced. I will continue on my personal journey. I will become a better person this coming year, than I was last year. I would like to say I will get outside more, but, to be honest, I dont know. I WANT to-it is my church-but, that really depends on my work schedule. I want to hunt. To hike. To bushbum. To fish. With luck, I will get to do at least some of that. We will see.
Until then, happy new year, and may this year bring you everything you desire.

Monday, April 20, 2015

First woods walk without snow!!

Yesterday, after work, I went out for a walk in my local town forest. My original intent was to get some Tenkara fishing in, but it turned into simply a cross country walk (read: no trail) through the woods, in a giant loop.
Not really too much to report, other than listening to spring peepers, some turkey hen clucks, watching some wood ducks, and seeing both deer and bear sign.
As it was 70 out, I went out with just my sandals on. Mind you, my initial thoughts were to walk to a local stream, and simply fished. But, I kinda got sidetracked. So, what I DID do, was decide to see how well my luna sandals would hold up in early spring new england woods. Well, I put a little over a mile on them (according to my phone pedometer, about 6000 steps) , and the verdict is, they held up fine. Of course, with open sandals, in the woods, you deal with things like thorns, dirt, sticks, etc, getting between your foot and the sandal-but thats as simple as shaking it out. One thing I did notice, is I slow down-far more careful about foot placement. Although, was never concerned about the dampness of the ground. I crossed several streams (and walked through 2 swamps) with them, and they held up fine. So, anyway, here are a few pics I took:

There is still snow in the woods!!! Not much, just little patches that are in cool, shaded areas.

A TRUE New England sign of spring is the blooming of skunk cabbage!

When walking through the woods, in sandals, your feet WILL get dirty. And wet. And muddy. But, at least you dont have to deal with wet socks!!!

Also, cleaning them up is a breeze. Find a stream, insert dirty feet-problem solved!

New England woods look sparse before all the foliage. It makes for fairly easy walking during the shoulder seasons, as the ground is clear, and its FAR easier to choose a walking path. Even without trails!!

I found this while wandering. Something was searching for grubs!!! I had ran into a bear about a mile from here, as the crow flies, digging for grubs last fall. Looking at this rotten log, and the destruction, I'd hazard a guess this is from a bear.

Just a random, cool tree. Nothing special, it just caught my eye.

These little seed pods are all around the pine trees. I have seen them all my life, but am unsure what trees they come from. Any help would be appreciated in identifying them. The woods are predominantly pine. I would hazard a guess they are from birch trees? But am not sure.

The area I hiked was once a training area for the Army-specifically, training during WW2 and VietNam. There are still signs of old foxholes, and, in some areas, even whole trenches, that you can come across just wandering around.

This is an old trench line, mostly filled in with debris now.

The local river, which was my original goal-but, I took to wandering aimlessly instead :)

There is a lot of history with the Nashua River, here in Massachusetts. One largely of industrial waste, and the cleanup project that continues to today. Its the greatest environmental success story in New England, and maybe in the entire country. The Nashua was so polluted, the river changed colors regularly, depending on the dyes used by clothing mills and newspaper printers-we used to play games, as kids, guessing which color it would be. Today, its been cleaned up, fish and amphibians once again inhabit the waterways. Egrets, ducks, herons, turtles, frogs, and several species of fish have returned. As a result, predatory animals now inhabit the area too-fox, river otter (their hole seen below), and several varieties of hawks and owls now hunt the shores and waters of the Nashua. Even the fresh water clams have returned!

Anyway, that was my little trip for the afternoon. A well needed walk in the woods! I hope you enjoyed the journey!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Been busy

Sorry, I have been busy with work. To keep it short, we are very shorthanded at work, so I have been taking overtime, and I have had some personal issues going on, so, life has been a little hectic. All that being said....
We have FINALLY broken off the yoke of winter! And, what a rough one it was! We had record snowfall this winter, record low temps-and, it lasted a good 4 months! But, warmer days are upon us, so, more outdoors time for me!
I wonder if you have ever heard of geocaching. Geocaching is a sort of hide & seek game, where people hide things out in the world, and, through the geocaching website, you can plug in the coordinates to these, find them, and log them. I have been doing this since 2002. I stopped, for years, but, recently, have gotten back into it. I discovered a challenge on the site, called the "Massachusetts 351 challenge". What it is, is that you must find at least 1 cache in each of the 351 towns in this state to complete it. There is nothing other than bragging rights, but, it definitely gets you outside!
Yesterday, I knocked out 12 towns. I am trying to do it county by county, to make it a little easier. I'm currently working on Worcester county, and have 4 towns left, which I will get on my next outing.
I managed to take some pictures yesterday, while I was out, and will post them up at the end of this blog.
I hope to get out more this year, and get some more blogs in. Right now, I'm trying to figure out myself, as I'm going through a lot of personal stuff. So, I will post as I can. For now, enjoy these pics of my recent outings!

More to follow, as my phone doesnt seem to want to cooperate this morning!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A companion for my solo (stoves)

I was recently on a thread in a bushcraft forum, and there was some discussion regarding wood gasifier backpacking stoves and, if people bring backup stoves, in the event they cannot find fuel, there are burn bans, or, in some cases, you just want to light a stove and boil some water. So, me, being curious, and always looking for new stoves (we all have our addictions!), I started poking into potential backup stoves for my Solo. I came across the Zelph companion stove for the Solo/Bushbuddy wood gas stove. Well, intrigued, I sent a couple of messaged through the Bushcraft forum, and he responded, saying that he will send some goodies along as well as the stove.
So, in typical fashion, each day, coming home from work, I looked for the package. It finally arrived! I opened it, and, to my surprise, he sent me, not one stover-which I paid for-but 4 additional ones, to toy around with! This is what I received:

The top right one, is the one I ordered. The other four, are different sized ones, as well as two models of another stove he sells. Talk about customer service! Before I go any further, let me just say that, if you're looking for a quick, reliable, spill free stove, go to Zelph's site and order one. You will not be disappointed!
Now, in typical fashion, I wanted to test this stove out. I ran out, last night, and got some Methyl fuel antifreeze (generic brand). I wanted to do a test burn, to get an idea of how well this burned in a control environment. So, I did one in my kitchen, during a snowstorm (snowstorm outside, of course).
I used the following:
a generic bottle of gas line anti freeze, methyl alcohol

a measuring cup for the fuel, measuring out 1 oz

the Zelph companion stove
The Solo Stove
The Solo Stove 900 Pot
2 cups (.4l) of cold tap water

My GS5 as a timer, and camera

First, I wanted to make sure that the companion stove would actually store inside the Solo stove. I checked, and it did:

From there, I lit the stove, set it all up, and began timing it:

Then, the wait began. I wanted to test 3 different results: time to boil, time of useful flame (where its still licking the bottom of the pot), and time to burnout (where the flame is completely out). I came up with the following:
Time to boil, 05:44.10

Time of useful flame, unfortunately, I missed, as I was also eating dinner (multitasking), but estimate it to be about 10:30.

Time to burnout was 12:46.39. I took this pic (I turned the lights off, so I could actually witness the flames) right before it burned out:

So, in my controlled environment, this companion stove is well within the realm of useful gear to carry. I will do some real world testing with it, but, my initial feelings are that, yes, this will be carried, yes, it will be used for morning coffee, and, yes, it was a great investment on my end.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

New WarBonnet RidgeRunner test hang, and initial thoughts

As you may know, I havent been a tent camper since about 2006. I was introduced to hammock camping about that time. I went through a couple of decent hammock setups, before I finally settled upon a WarBonnet BlackBird in about 2008. That faithful hammock served me for a great 6 years. I have camped in all kinds of weather-summer heat, -7 winter, wind, rain, you name it. Never once had an issue.
Then, I discovered the RidgeRunner. This is a different style hammock, a bridge hammock. The WBBB is a gathered end. I tried one out a couple weeks ago, and decided it was time for a change. I sold my WBBB on hammock forums (within 20 minutes), and immediately purchased a WBRR. Today, I got the chance to hang it in my back yard, to become a little familiar with it. So, here are my initial thoughts.
First, I am not a gram counter. There was a time when I tried ultralight camping, but, it just isnt me. I like to sleep comfortable. So, I dont mind a few extra ounces . This hammock does have aluminum spreader poles, which add to the weight. The entire setup weighs in the vicinity of 40 oz-which comes out to 2.5 lbs. Now, add a tarp, you're probably looking at about 3.5 lbs for your sleeping setup. For me, thats acceptable. Some, that may be too heavy. But, the advantage over this, in my opinion (hammocks in general), is that you have flexibility of setup. You can pitch a tarp tight to the weather, pitch one side up, so that you have a porch, or even choose not to pitch one at all. Additionally, a hammock can be pitched anywhere where you can hang it. No need for flat ground, no removing rocks that you are sleeping on-in other words, more convenient.
Pitching the WBRR is even easier than the WBBB. With the WBBB, you need to hang it correctly, based upon tension of the ridgeline. Now, after years of practice, this becomes second nature. But, there is a  bit of a learning curve to get it right. The WBRR, there is no ridgeline. You simply hang the tree straps, snug it up, and you're done. Its really that simple! The whole process takes about a minute. Seriously. 
For bottom insulation, I use a pad. I have a Big Agnes Q core inflatable insulated pad. The WBRR has 2 layers of fabric. Designed specifically for pads. Simply flip the hammock over, insert the pad, flip it back, and you're done. Simple.
The bugnet unzips on 3 sides, with only the foot side sewn in. This allows you to stow it away, when bugs arent an issue. When its being used, the bugnet has elastic string, and mitten clips, at each end-the head and foot. To use, you simply clip the head end onto the anchor point around the tree, and the foot end to the buckles. Done. When in the hammock, the bugnet is pulled well off your body, allowing plenty of room.
Getting into the hammock was a little different than what I am used to. You grab behind you, plant your butt in, then pivot into the hammock. Not hard to do. It does feel a little tippy at first-but, I think thats just because I am not used to it yet. I moved around quite a bit in it, and had no issues. I dont feel like I will roll out of it. 
Inside, there is plenty of room, the bugnet is well off the body. I dont feel squished, pinched, or anything. I only laid in it for a few minutes, but I doubt I will have any issues sleeping in it. There are saddle bags inside the hammock, which hold little items like a book, headlamp, etc. There is also a small storage area at the head, where you could also store small items.
All in all, this is a fantastic product and, my initial feelings are that I will be very satisfied with it. I will, of course, need a few nights in the hammock before I can make a long term decision, but, I thoroughly enjoyed my WBBB, and fully expect to get years of satisfied camping with the WBRR.
I took a few pics of the initial setup. Here are the few I took.

Initial setup, no spreader bars, no bugnet yet

Set up with spreader bars, bugnet, and my pad, which you cannot see.

View from inside, without the bugnet. As you can see, the view is great. There is no obstruction at all.

View with bugnet installed. As you can see, the clearance is amazing. The bugnet doesnt come close to the body at all-the foot end is the lowest point of the net.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

New Hammock

So, in case you are new to this blog, or were otherwise unaware, I am NOT a ground dweller. I discovered hammock camping early in 2006. I bought my first "real" camping hammock from DD hammocks, which are manufactured in England. It was OK, but a little finicky with setup. And, the bug net came ripped. The cost to ship it back and replace it was more than the hammock, so DD simply refunded me the money.
From there, I went to Hennsey Hammock Expedition Asym, and purchased a Supershelter from them, which provided under insulation. I also had modifications made, so that the mosquito screen could be zipped-allowing me side access (the HH models, at that time, had a bottom access into the hammock). This model served me well for 2 years.
Then, I discovered Warbonnet hammocks. My first foray was the venerable WarBonnet BlackBird. I purchased this in about 2008 or so, when they were still new. He was making them out of his garage at that time. This was a revolutionary gathered end hammock, with a shelf, a footbox-and a cult like following (that, by the way, still exists today). It was the end-all be-all for hammocks. And, I was an EXTREMELY satisfied customer! That hammock served me quite well, up until last weekend.
As per my previous post, you saw I was hammock camping. I had the opportunity to try the Warbonnet RidgeRunner, which is a bridge style hammock (I will explain the differences below). Well, I was sold on it. I wanted one. I got home, put my WBBB and the accompanying underquilt up for sale. I got it sold within 20 minutes. I immediately ordered a RidgeRunner. The site states that orders for these (I got a double layer) wouldnt be fulfilled until February, due to a backup for material. Well, a day later, I got notification it shipped-and got it this past week. Talk about fast shipping!
So, I look forward to spending many nights out in this, my latest acquisition from Brandon. I have his Superfly tarp, so I, too, and a cultist for them. But, the quality, craftsmanship, and attention to detail, are what sold me initially-and keeps me a customer. So, look for my initial impressions coming soon, and some trip reports later this year!

Ok, as I previously stated, there are, essentially, 2 different types of hammocks-both have many people singing the praises of each-its like a Ford vs Chevy debate. Nothing wrong with either-just depends on your taste!
A gathered end hammock is, essentially, exactly as it sounds. The ends are gathered, and tied, and the suspension is rigged from there. Gathered end hammocks normally require a diagonal lay, to lay flat. Some hammocks make this easier than others. The ideal way to lay in them is to imagine a line running from the head to the foot of the hammock, dividing it in half, the long way. To lay as flat as possible, your head would be on one side, your feet on the other, thus, laying diagonally. Some hammocks work better doing this than others-and, in my opinion, Warbonnet has nailed this process down.
A bridge hammock is a little different. I am new to this type, but familiar with the design, overall. a bridge is, in essence, a rectangular piece of fabric, which has its suspension coming from the 4 ends-not gathered in a knot like a gathered end hammock is. The 4 corners are normally spread apart via some sort of spreader bar-be it tent poles, hiking poles, etc. The result is somewhat like a suspension bridge. This method results in a flatter lay, and, for people like me, a flat side lay too. The trade off is usually in weight. These types are typically heavier, due to the use of spreader bars.

The choice between the two is solely dependent on the end user. Some swear by gathered end, some by bridge. This is my first foray into the bridge hammock, and, I no longer have a backup, so, I'm hoping I made the right choice!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A weekend winter freezing hang!

This past weekend, my hammock camping group, NEHHA (New England Hammock Hangers Association) had their annual winter hang. We have a get together several times a year, but, the one most of us look forward to, is the winter hang. Being in New England, you cant always predict the weather. We have had snow, rain, 60 degree weather, and, this weekend, sub zero (literally) temps. My sleeping gear was as follows:
Warbonnet Blackbird hammock
Warbonnet Superfly tarp
CCF sleeping pad
Reflectix pad (for additional warmth)
Wiggy's FTRSS sleeping bag system, rated to -20.
I also sleep with a medium weight long underwear system, for heat management.
So, first, lets discuss the comfort range of the sleeping system. Was I warm? Well, thats kind of debateable. I wasnt uncomfortably cold. BUT, here's the deal. The FTRSS system consists of 2 sleeping bags: a +20 bag, which is the inner bag, and a +35 bag, which comprises the outer bag, when they are zipped together. Each bag has 2 sets of zippers: and inner one, that closes that bag, and an outer one, that mates with the other bag. Now, here is where the issue arises. When the bags are on their own, the oversized draft tubes work fantastic. They block the air coming through the zipper, and dont allow you to inadvertently come into contact with the (cold) zipper. However, when the bags are mated, the draft tube is JUST big enough to cover the zipper, with minimal overlap. Now, here is something that isnt taken into account: Sleeping in a traditional tent, one can reasonably assume that you are flat. In a hammock, you arent. You will, even in the BEST hammocks, lie in a somewhat U shaped position. Combine that with a lack of leverage when moving (in a hammock, when you move, you more slide to a new position, sometimes contorting yourself, rather than just move), and you can compromise this tenuous defense against the outside temps. In short-you end up byassing the draft tube, and touch the zipper. Which is COLD. So, even though the bags are rated to -20, when combined-this takes into account that you are a ground dweller. And, as such, dont resort to contortions and poor adjustments. My ratings for this bag? It got down to -7 one night, and I was comfortable, except for that issue. So, I would say that I would rate this ideally at a -10 system.
Its important to note that I was NOT cold anywhere else, except along the zipper line. My bottom insulation was fine. But, on to the trip.
So, the first day, I arrived about 2, and set up my gear. I wasnt the first, by any means, but I did want to get there before dark. I got set up (I took my time), and then proceeded to hang out with friends, new and old, by the fire. Coincidentally, the fire is kept going pretty much all weekend, as its our only source of heat for the weekend. We spent the afternoon catching up, welcoming new members, and shooting the breeze. Before long, it was dinner time!
About food: we have pretty much come to a perfect solution. As our camp is a drive in, and no need to walk any real distance, we do pot luck for meals. We generally do dinner, and breakfasts, and leave lunch and snacks up to the individuals. You will NEVER leave hungry. The first night, we had soup, a crockpot chicken stew, and some hot sausage with onions. All done over either the fire, or camp stoves. We ate like vikings!
Then, later that night, we had a special treat. My friend Joe is an amateur astronomer. He brought his telescope for all of us to look through. So, we spent some time looking at stars, galaxies, and planets. Where we are, there is no light pollution, and the sky was clear, so we had a great view. After that, we all pretty much went to bed.
Waking up in -2 weather, is rough. I had a rough night, as I did, what came to be called, the "zipper dance", which I alluded to earlier. So, I was up, and cold. I quickly got dressed, then sat by the fire. Once warmed, I was fine. Then, the breakfast feed was on. Again, a communal feeding, with enough food to feed twice as many people as were there-but, we ate it all!
After breakfast, we pretty much were on our own. I went for a nice hike around the pond. The frozen pond was a nice, WARM contrast compared to the relative cool woods. The sun reflecting off the snow was nice. When the wind blew though, that disappeared instantly-the wind chill was in the -20s. I had on an anorak, with a fur ruff, which was a godsend. With a wind chill like that, your sinuses freeze up, causing pain. The ruff creates a nice little micro environment right in front of your face-essentially a warm air cushion.
So, that evening, we had some venison stew that was AWESOME. We also had some cowboy stew, that was venison and boar meat, that was ALSO awesome. Basically, we ate like kings, again. We also tried to make a Swedish Torch (by "we", I mean Tim), but, it failed. I think that this was due to wood selection more than lack of trying. We used hemlock, which is a fantastic hardwood-but doesnt make a good fire log, as it smoulders, not burns. We also had a raffle, which has become traditional for our hangs. We had plenty of awesome donations from local vendors, and all proceeds went to the local Boy Scouts. We raised over $500 that night for them! We then went back to camp (we used a building for the raffle) where we ate, told stories, and went to bed.
Night 2, I had my sleeping system largely worked out. It was a better night, even though the night lows were colder, at -7. I heard coyotes calling across the pond, and, at one point, was woken up by a barred owl screeching. Normally, I detest being woken up. But, theres something about being outside, and hearing nature do its thing, that has NEVER bothered me!
Next morning, got up. Had another amazing breakfast, then began to break camp. I said my goodbyes, and drove home. Most people at work think I am crazy for opting to sleep out in negative temps. I dont even try to explain it anymore. If your heart is in the woods, its simply a calling. You learn to dress, you adapt, and deal. Its really that simple. I had a weekend of cameraderie, good food, plenty of laughs-and even tried out a new hammock, that I then ordered as soon as I got home. Yes, I'm selling my WBBB, which I have had since 2008. But, I tried a bridge style hammock ,and feel that, with this type, I can alleviate the zipper issue, due to the way the lie is in the hammock. So, I will be doing a test night within the next month, with a new hammock, to try it out! Look for a blog post regarding the Warbonnet RidgeRunner coming soon!
Last, as usual, I will leave you with some pics from the weekend!