Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Occasional Definitions: Scroggin

  1. Gorp.

  2. New Zealand speak for chocolate, nuts and dried fruits mixed together and coated in sugar. The name may have come from the list of ingredients: Sultanas (white grapes, presumably dried, i.e., raisins), Chocolate, Raisins (as we would use the term), candied Orange peels, candied Ginger, Glucose (sugar), Improvisation, Nuts. And then again maybe not. Scroggin is probably a "backronym" created to explain the term "scroggin" long after it came into use (note that raisins appear twice, and that you can't eat improvisation).

  3. One of those little things that crawls around on your skin, under your clothes or in your hair, makes you itch, and is too small to find, but continues to drive you nuts. Cootie. Often imaginary. Fear of cooties stands in for fear of bears in those places where you know there are no bears.

  4. Anybody who has cooties, or whom you wish would get them. A pariah, an outcast, a former friend or loved one. This attitude can develop among the best of friends who spend too much time together in a proximity that is simply too close. Long distance backpacking trips are not recommended for honeymooners.

From: Fire In Your Hand

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One Tough Yellow Bird

It's dark -- early morning in winter. Out here, in the Pacific Northwest, things are different.

I'm from snow country, and there, in winter, it never really gets dark. When there is snow the ground is white. And winter is a time of clouds. Light bounces forever between white earth and white sky, no matter what late hour the clock displays. It never really gets dark there.

Not here.

In the Pacific Northwest winter is a different beast. A wet one. A dark one. Winter brings rain and not snow to the lowlands. With rain comes wet. When things are wet (the earth, the trees, every building, each dead fern and fallen leaf), they go dark. Any light escaping upward to the clouds is bounced back and thrown into the black earth where it dies.

Here winters are darker than dark. Everything swallows light. You never really know what is happening around you.

So that's my situation now. I'm walking to work along an old railroad bed that no one else uses. I start work early, so during winter I'm part of the darkness as I go in to work. And as I come home again.

But I have something. A new toy. A light. A small one. It is yellow. I want to try it. To see how good it is.

So I point it down the trail, into the blackness ahead, and push the button.

I am nearly blinded.

Damn. This is one good light.

It is a Pelican L1. I like it.

A few years back, when they were new and still rare, I took a shine to LED lights. Everyone is getting familiar with them now. They are more common and cheaper than ever. Still, these lights are light. They are tough, and they can be tiny. That's what attracted me.

Rather than generating a lot of heat and a little light, as incandescent lamps do, LEDs make light in a more natural, less 19th century way. Instead of heating up a piece of wire to the screaming point as they pass through it, electrons in LEDs express illumination by jumping up and down among energy levels. This comes more naturally to them. Because of this light comes more easily, and thus more efficiently, so you can have one of two things.

More light for the same energy or the same light for less energy. Either way, we benefit. Happier electrons, happier hikers. Good all around.

So Pelican.

A well known company. A U.S. company. With a guarantee: "You break it, we replace it...forever. (This guarantee does not cover shark bite, bear attack or damage caused by children under five.)" They make cases. For memory cards, for laptops, for tools, for whatever. Good cases. Hard cases. Indestructible cases. The kind you can depend on.

And lights. Eighty-two different lights. Some incandescent, some LED, but all built like their cases. Well.

The Pelican L1 is tiny. It is 2.6 inches (7 cm) long. With batteries it weighs 0.9 ounces (30 g). That's small. Light. You can hold one in the palm of your hand and have room for an orange. You can have the light in a black body if you insist, but I like yellow. No use testing fate on a dark night. Even out here, in winter, in the dark, I can find it on the ground. The yellow one.

This light is also over driven a bit.

They say that LEDs last 100,000 hours. Some say half that. Even so, 50,000 hours would be 25 years of work time, eight hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year. Either number is enough. But push too much voltage (or current) through an LED and you break it. Like a fuse melting when all the appliances go on. Push just a little too much (not enough to cook it) and you get an extra bright light.

LEDs are getting better. Some are really bright these days, but still expensive. So the cheap way to extra light is to shove in extra voltage. That's what happens with the Pelican L1. It uses four LR44 batteries, little button cells, instead of the three it ought to have. Maybe the LED won't last quite as long, but it works. With a vengeance.

Look into the business end of this light, then switch it on, and you won't see much for a while. Just an afterimage. It's almost too bright to use around camp. You have to be careful. Using it ruins your night vision for a while.

The light's body is polycarbonate plastic. The switch is a rubber-covered button on the back end, and there is a plastic clip for attaching the light to a shirt pocket. Luckily, the light also has a lanyard hole in that clip, so you can hang the light around your neck. Too easy to lose otherwise.

The switch has two modes: temporary on, or full on/full off. You can use the light to blink a signal, or hold it in your hand and flick it on momentarily every few seconds as you walk. Having the switch on the butt end is awkward at times, and it is possible to pack the light away so the switch is depressed enough to turn on the light. Not great, but a bit of care helps, as with most things.

And as with most things the batteries are getting expensive, but if you buy a dozen or so at a time you can tone down the cost. Get them the wrong place and you'll spend $3 or more apiece. Be smart and you can come in under a buck. Your call, but you have to think ahead.

Besides using four LR44s, you can try two CR 1/3N lithium batteries. Much more expensive, but again there is the bulk purchase option. Maybe $10 each at a Radio Shack, or under $4 if you buy six at a time by mail.

Also, true waterproofing isn't part of the deal, though this light is water repellent. Normally you'll need a light only in camp anyway, when conditions are less demanding. But I've hiked along the coast before daylight, among wet rocks, surf, and seaweed, holding this light in my lips, protected by my hat, and it works. (I haven't graduated to headlamps, in case you haven't guessed.)

Is this my only light? No.

Is this my favorite light? No. Normally I use a Photon button light, and carry two. But this little gem is fantastic when I need lots of light, in a small package.

That's pretty good. And it's a nice, clean yellow too.

References:

Intro to LED Flashlights at Equipped To Survive
Pelican L1 at Equipped To Survive
LED Museum
Pelican L1 at LED Museum


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

56 Degrees of Latitude

"Where are we?" was their constant watchword.

Beginning on July 13, 2006 at Papallacta, Ecuador, and ending on April 28, 2008 at the southernmost tip of Tierra del Fuego, Deia Schlosberg and Gregg Treinish of Bozeman, Montana hiked.

Where?

"Our goal was to backpack the length of the Andes Mountain Range, in the mountains."

They did.

"To the best of our knowledge, having successfully completed the trek, after covering 56 degrees of the globe, trekking more than 7800 miles, we became the first two people to backpack the Andes Mountain Range, the first two to walk it through the mountains without relying on roads, and Deia became the first woman to have walked South America."

The fun began immediately. "The anticipation of what is to come combined with the accomplishment of actually getting to a place we have both dreamed of for a long long time was truly extraordinary. It may have been possible to enjoy that feeling for awhile too, if the path we were following at the moment wasn't comprised entirely of mud that sucked us in, often to our knees. They call the section of the Appalachian Trail in Vermont, Vermud; Vermud was nothing. At 12,000 feet, this quickly became the most difficult hiking we have ever encountered."

I haven't read all their journals yet, but you can. You can also download a podcast, or view their photo galleries, or browse through the large library of video files. They are working on books, which should be good.

Not to take an iota from the accomplishments of Appalachian, Pacific Crest, or Continental Divide trail hikers, let alone those who have hiked the American Discovery Trail or the single tramper of the Sea To Sea Trail (to date), but this is an entirely different level of accomplishment.

Think Marco Polo.

Think being in a country where the people you encounter have heard of but never actually seen a gringo.

Think of being effectively lost every day.

Think of being out there for two years.

Think of finishing.

"Though it was one o'clock in the morning, we had nowhere to be, nothing to do, we just were there in another foreign city. We didn't have to rush to the Internet to get updates done, didn't have to resupply to head out in the morning; it didn't matter, we didn't matter. Well, at least not like we have. No one here knows us; we blend in like we would in New York, like we would at home. We are not the center of the conversation, we aren't 'the walkers.' So much has changed in just a week's time since we first saw that lighthouse on Cabo San Pío. I am no longer on a mission, I am no longer moving towards one single point as I have been for nearly two years. I am free, I have no where to be. I am broke, I need to start work, I don't dread the thought."

Think of how you might tackle it.

Think.


References.

Across The Andes site
Across The Andes journal
Across The Andes photos
Across The Andes videos
Across the Andes Podcast (choose listen on line or download)
Across the Andes Podcast (download)
At National Geographic Adventure



Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bacon Porn.

Let's say that today is Thursday and sunny. Let's say that things are going well. The day is warm, the trail is dry, and we're tooling along at a good clip.

Oh, sorry. I forgot about our location and bearings. We, you and I, are on a backpacking trip in summer. A long trip. Not foolhardy, but advanced, a little aggressive. We are about three quarters of the way through a 200 mile trip. One without resupply. We carry everything we need.

There is nothing special in this, except that most people won't ever do it, can't do it, couldn't imagine doing it. There is nothing special here either. Most people don't do most things, couldn't imagine them, and would never try. That is life.

But we, you and I, have been backpacking for a while, and we thought this might be fun.

It's a stretch, but not a huge one. We know what we're doing.

Going out for a couple of weeks is really nothing. There are hundreds of people who make more ambitious trips every year. Most of them, most of the time, resupply more often than twice a month, but over a summer they might hike thousands of miles.

We aren't doing that. We're having a little adventure. Long enough in itself, but not like a career move.

So, as I said, today is good. Things are going well. You and I are barely over the hump. This trip is far from over. We aren't far enough along to be in the home stretch, but we feel the pride building. We know we can finish. We know we will finish, in good shape, and this will be an accomplishment. Our plans worked. There is no reason to think we'll get into serious trouble.

But I'm starting to have recurring thoughts. The same ideas keep running through my head, all day, all night, over and over.

Things go like this.

Obsessive thinking. It's normal on a backpacking trip.

Sometimes it's songs I haven't heard forever. The melodies and the words, forgotten for years, but then. They come back and play themselves. I can't get away.

Sometimes it's the faces of people I once knew, in grade five. Day after day all I do is wonder what happened to them, and can't avoid seeing their young faces. Other times all I think about is a bathtub of hot water.

Right now, here, today, it's food.

I'm doing fine for food. It's all planned out. Everything tastes good, and I brought enough calories. I'm not in trouble, but food is haunting me like those long forgotten melodies.

On the trail you have to be careful about food. You need calories, and you need food that at least sort of tastes good. But you also need food that is portable, and quick to fix, and maybe most important of all, food whose smell won't give you away and cause trouble during the night. This gives you a lot of rules to obey, and you know what?

You have to leave out things you don't want to.

Food with strong flavor, food with strong aroma, perishable food, fresh food, exquisitely-flavored food, complicated food.

After a while it begins to gnaw at you. Your mind turns food into a game, and after a while you can't play any other game.

Take the bacon and cheese stuffed pizza burger.

Full of meat, full of cheese, huge, chewy, greasy, warm. Big enough to sit on. A meal like that could become a long term relationship. One that would keep you busy forever. Something that could take over your whole mind.

So you get home and before you can even start to think about fulfilling that fantasy of yours, you discover that someone has made a bacon and cheese stuffed pizza burger. And provided pictures. There is no recipe as such, but you puzzle that out from the photos.

So then you think, "Do I really want to go there?" And that's when you find out what you're made of.

Because.

Not everyone can handle this.

You need experience, and training, and a sense of adventure.

There is some danger too.

Bacon and cheese stuffed pizza burger:

Ingredients:
  • 2 frozen pizzas
  • 2 pounds bacon
  • fresh garlic
  • fresh onion
  • 3 pounds shredded cheese
  • 5 pounds ground beef
Directions:
  • fry bacon
  • mix garlic and onion into raw ground beef, adding salt, pepper, and any other seasonings
  • crumble half of the bacon and add it to beef
  • bake beef mixture in oven until done
  • top baked beef with cheese and the remaining bacon strips
  • meanwhile, bake both pizzas
  • lay one cooked pizza face up
  • shovel beef, cheese, and bacon onto pizza
  • top this with the second pizza
  • serve and eat
Approximate cooked weight: 9 pounds.

References:
The Bacon Cheese Stuffed Pizza Burger Howto
Desert: The Deep Fried Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Corn Batter Dipped Brownie
Home Base for big meals: SupersizedMeals.com