Friday, November 30, 2012

Gas Me, Gas Me Not

No more huffing and puffing, not even a little.

Wheezing. Coughing. Swearing. Choking.

More swearing.

That was me one July.

Gagging over a wood fire with smoke up my nose and tears in my eyes. Trying to blow life into a reluctant fire under my pot.

Simply heating water over an alcohol stove and dumping it into a ziplock bag of premixed food is my usual style. But I just had to try cooking this other way, using wood to save fuel.

Bad move.

Really bad move.

Finding a way to make it work sounded like a challenge. Sadly, I like a challenge.

I guess that explains my "Dumbnuts" tattoo.

Ray Garlington said "I inexplicably became inspired to try building a wood stove that would not require a battery and fan. I decided, more or less arbitrarily, that the stove would have to be very light (5 oz or less), would have to boil 1 quart of water, hold a simmer for 10 minutes, and be fun to use."

Clean burning, no moving parts, light, small, and dead simple. And even I could understand how to make one. WooHoo!

Take an empty steel can. Cut out the ends and put a grate and legs at the bottom. Add air holes higher up, and a pot support at the top.

Dump in some twigs, then some kindling.

Prime at the top with a few drops of flammable liquid and light it.

The fire then burns from the top down, converting unburned fuel into smoke as it goes.

Air sucked in at the bottom pushes the smoke up, into the flames. Vents higher up add oxygen, and it burns like crazy.

As long as the twigs are small enough, there are plenty of air holes, and the pot is at least two inches above the top of the stove, it's smoke-free.

Toward the end you've got a charcoal fire that cools down slowly and leaves only a tiny pile of clean ash.

With a metal shield or flat rock underneath and maybe a wind screen, you're all set. The fuel supply is infinite.

This is true.



Some places to go for basic, practical information:

The Garlington WoodGas Stove

Risk's WoodGas Stove

Penny Wood Stove

Zen Stoves (wood gas section)

For more technical info on how I did it, sift through my previous posts for the plans.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fill'er Up? Never!

Trail chow goes Hi-Tek.™

So then I got to thinking.

Water is everywhere.

The atmosphere is full of it (three quadrillion gallons, give or take a liter here or there, on an average day). Given the right technology and a bit of time, a person can fill a water bottle from atmospheric condensation with no problem.

And the technology isn't really that difficult these days. I mean, with the kind of 3-D printer available today you can make your own plastic sidearm and go rob a bank. If you want that.

And water is everywhere.

Mostly, even in dry country, you only need to know where to look. Once you can read the landscape you know where. If you know where, you find water.

And given the places that people go backpacking, like in the mountains, water isn't even all that scarce.

But food. Different issue.

You don't find food in any old ravine. It doesn't stream out from under melting snowpack. When the sky darkens, the wind rises, and the air chills, it isn't food that falls on your head.

So water is everywhere. And food isn't.

So maybe I solved the wrong problem.

Sure, you bet, a self-filling water bottle is going to be handy, but how about a self-filling food bag?

This is more interesting.

This is an issue that nano-materials and a solar cell can't solve on their own. I was forced back to first principles. And around here, at least on this planet, first principles means biology. Elementary biology. Really elementary biology.

If energy flows and matter cycles as the ecologists say, then food is actually everywhere, but mostly not in usable form. The trick is to recycle matter the right way.

And that matter is. . . almost anything organic.

Dust it off, kill the pathogens, rejigger it a bit, and you have food. Then add water, heat, and eat.

So now I've invented the bottomless food bag. I call it EverMunch™, and it's designed for backpackers like you and me.

The bag is made from a flexible fabric containing high-efficiency solar cells. It's odor-proof, waterproof, and impermeable to the teeth of critters.

Running low on hiker chow? Simply pop a few twigs, leaves, clumps of moss, wild berries, pinecones, or handfuls of pond scum into the bag and see that it gets six or more hours of full sun.

What comes out is kind of like tempeh. A bit lumpy and fungus-y but wholesome. Sit down, season to taste and you'll probably be OK.

Or wear the bag over your face using the handy built-in strap and graze while you hike.

You get all the protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals that you can handle.

In a pinch you can toss in dead mice, swatted flies, animal droppings - doesn't matter - it's all organic and it all comes out smelling sweet and fresh, if you like fungus, which actually is pretty wholesome stuff, considering what you get at the burger joint.

And what is the magic here?

Bacteria. What we're looking for on Mars, the basis for all other life. Bacteria, the overlords of creation.

They are infinitely capable. They can turn cow flops into sweet corn, air into fertilizer, toxic industrial waste into baby food (check the label next time).

Which is where all this is going. If anyone needs a way to turn everything into food, it's thru-hikers, especially untralighters.

Look for EverMunch™ bags in 2015, about a year after the self-filling water bottle comes out.

You could do worse. You probably have already.


Scientist takes inspiration from natural world to create self-filling water bottle

Does success spell doom for Homo sapiens?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

When Critters Attack

Mind your mice.

When Hieronymous Hickaboo took up hiking, he didn't expect things like this. "You know, I kind of crawled out of my tent one morning and went to put on my boots and they were full of diarrhea or something. Definitely excrement. I had to walk home in my socks."

If you think this sounds unusual, you're right, except that incidents of this kind are occurring with increasing frequency as more and more people take to the out-of-doors.

Just last week, for example, Jayde Higgins, enjoying a brisk morning walk in a suburban park, took off her headphones and set them down on a rock. Within seconds, a mongoose came "like, almost from out of nowhere I guess" and attacked the cord. "He musta thought it was a worm or something, maybe a snake. I dunno," said Ms Higgins, 38, of Swiffer Valley.

Although mongoose are not native to this area, the attack definitely is consistent with reports flooding in from all over.

Nature has taken the offensive.

"Well, you know, you reach a certain tipping point, and then the system will try to rebalance itself," said Dr Fritz Farnsworth, professor of ecology at Upstate University, speaking from his office on campus. "Obviously, we've encroached too far on nature, and now we're paying the price."

And at that very moment a barred owl swooped in through an open window, snatched Dr Farnsworth's toupee from his head, and flew out a second window, leaving behind a small cloud of feathers and a startled -- and badly scratched -- academic.

But what really is the root of these incidents, and more importantly, what can we do about them?

The answer may, possibly, be known to Rudy Trud. Mr Trud calls himself a "mouse whisperer", and as the title implies, he knows a lot about mice.

Mice, in fact, are by far the biggest problem, evidenced by such happenings as the giant swarm that overwhelmed the picnic at Cooberville's Backpacking Faire last summer. No one is certain of the numbers of mice, but estimates reach into the millions.

"This is not so difficult," says Mr Trud. "First you get to know yourself. Then you get to know your adversary. Then you discover that you are not so different after all. Understanding is the foundation of any true solution."

How does this apply to backpackers huddled in a tent miles from the nearest road while an onslaught of mice bounces like furry hailstones off the rain fly?

"Be humble," Mr Trud says. "Take a few snacks for the mice. Share. Show some respect. Talk to them quietly. We and they are more alike than different. Be patient too. It all works out in time."

Mr Trud was interviewed for this piece from his hospital bed, after being badly injured by jealous beavers while sharing snacks and partying with mice.


Aggressive owls attacking people at local state parks

Thursday, November 8, 2012


For those too stupid to make it alone.

OK, then. You all remember when ultralight backpacking came along, doncha?


Too young? Too dopey? Don't give a fat rat's nose hairs? Ignorant?

All the same. Is OK.

Now there is hope for you. Your crumbly old genes can still be passed on to future generations, so those same future generations can point at your descendants sitting in cages while fiddling with Kelty Tiogas and stainless steel cooksets and oiling up their mid-calf hobnailed hiking boots.

After all, there is something called heritage, and you may be it, however pointless.

The National Science Foundation, the Centers for Stupidity Control and Prevention, and the DumNuts-Is-Us Foundation are teaming up to collect genetic samples from the most hard-core, pointless, ignorant, and irredeemable traditional backpacking population with the intent of cloning select specimens so that people of the future will know just how bad things used to be.

You may, if you belong to the current generation of light, ultralight, or super-ultralight backpackers, be totally clueless about the past, recent though it was.

Backpackers of the "classical" era, when the motto was "Sure, take that too. You never know if it'll come in handy," thought nothing of loading packs to the 80-pound/36 kg level for a weekend trip. Gear was steel, leather, canvas, wood, and only much later, welded aluminum with nuclear-grade nylon webbing.

Those backpackers who didn't die outright lived to pass on their genes, and so the cycle continued. All seemed good.

These backpackers lived in the best of all possible worlds, with packs large and strong enough to carry any quantity of canned goods, ensuring a continuation of the life force while out there in the bush.

However, as the pessimist asserts, the best of all possible worlds may be pretty crappy overall. And perhaps this was true. The numbers of classical or heavyweight backpackers dwindled.

Some were lost to exhaustion. Some stumbled and fell over, remaining on their backsides flailing madly like helpless stranded turtles until starvation or mice (or both) did them in. Others just came home one last time, went down to the basement, and were never heard from again, even by their families, who locked the upstairs doors, sold the house, and moved far away.

So it is within this context that science has decided to step in.

The few remaining specimens from the era of heavyweight trail grunting will be captured, caged, and have their cheek pouches gently scraped to acquire enough genetic material to make some decent clones.

Once these procedures are finished the backpackers, some of whom have lost not only the desire to hike, but also the ability to speak, write, smile, or do anything but eat and scratch, will be inoculated, shampooed, and turned loose on a comfy nature preserve set up at an undisclosed location where they will be able to live out their remaining days mooning at the sky and grunting.

As for the clones, they will not be used to repopulate vacant habitat (pointless, doncha think?), but will be kept in zoos where they can be studied at length to determine why they are so vastly stupid.


Brazil To Clone Wild Animals In Danger Of Extinction

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Packable Power

Better living through buzzing.

I admit I'm partial to simple.

That may be why I started backpacking. You got a bag to put things in, and you got food to put in the bag, a knife, and whatever you want to sleep in, and a bit of something else to keep off the rain and that's about it right there.

I figure if you can't make it with a knife, can't fix it with a rock or a needle then you don't need it, probably.

I've been out days on end with no particular troubles and any I did have I fixed up quick with the tools I had on hand.

I don't fuss.

If you have it and don't need it you're pretty dumb and if you need it and don't have it you just cinch up your belt a notch and get on with it.

That's how it always worked for me, anyway.

Give me a pointed stick and a problem and the stick will come out on top, nine times out of ten. It is amazing what targeted poking can do, as long as you have a need.

So that's me then. I'm kinda from the old country when it comes down to stuff.

Some of the guys I went to high school with ran with the slide rules gang. Soon to become engineers.

They would be the ones to invent a steam engine for backpackers. You can imagine them staying up late on weekends, filing away at tiny brass valves and polishing gear teeth. "Only seven pounds. Warms up to working temperature in under 20 minutes. Runs on anything combustible. Needs cleaning and an overhaul only once a week!"

Well, you wouldn't need a power source unless you had a power drain, which a lot of people have now.

See, back in the old country they hardly had transistor radios yet. My dad had a portable radio from the 40s. Used tubes. About the size of a briefcase. Did not do GPS or talk to the planets, send or receive faxes, shine your shoes, or provide hot shooting action in full game color with stereo sound effects.

Steam nowadays is pretty sketchy. Too much tubing, too many flywheels.

Even using farts as fuel, you wouldn't really get a good ergonomic payback. Better to use farts directly to spin a turbine, but then of course you have to eat the right food, have terrific aim, and time to spare.

Some potential cleanup issues too.

Taking a step back, for a sort of head-mounted wind generator, there is the old propeller-equipped beanie, which however leaves you dependent on wind. And you don't want to even think about using this in conjunction with gusty farts.

Mice however, are plentiful at most backcountry locations.

Bring an ultralight hamster wheel (extra-large size), bait it, and let 10 or 20 frantic mice warm up your bathwater while trying to escape. Due to the clever wheel shape however, they only run in an endless circle and can generate up to 0.017 kilowatt-hours (AC) before exploding.

Mice however, are not only plentiful at most backcountry locations, they are completely renewable as well, so that's a plus.

Another option, usable either with or without wind, is shrubbery. A wind-whipped bush with a string tied on is just like a tide-powered pulse generator.

No wind? Still works, but not as well.

Pull a sapling down to the ground, tie a string on it, and let go. If done right this can generate current for an hour at a time, with a steady pull, until the tree resumes an upright position. It's like winding a clock, but more work.

So much more work that the effort of setting it up will not only warm you all over, but poop you out, to the point that you may not want to stay up late and see how good the TV reception is, now that you do have some juice.

But maybe the most promising power source is flies.

Right. Flies.

Smaller but more plentiful than mice. Present everywhere backpackers are. Completely mindless, and without those cute ears and soulful eyes.

Hey, when you burn out a bucket of flies you don't really care. Get more.

Mice you can get attached to, especially the hard workers. It can actually be emotionally painful to hear a final squeak and see your favorite of the pack go titsup.

Not so with flies. Death is too good for them.

And they have the numbers, so maybe the best route to electronic heaven on the trail is a fly-powered generator.

Good news is, someone is already working on this. Former high school buddy of mine. Check the store shelves in a year or two. You may be pleasantly surprised.


If you are one of the many who want to keep your backcountry experience free of gizmos and gadgets, please realize that a time may come when your time comes.

Like for Uncle Ed, who found an iPod on a trail once and mistook it for a bottle of hand lotion. "I aint never and aint gonna never use none a that stuff but then I found it wan't hand lotion and theres music inside," said Ed.

And that was pretty much it for him. Now wherever he goes, in all weather and over all terrain, he's got his Oompah Joe and the Hootie Girls, Papa John's Polka Parade, and, of course Two-Fisted Sam and his Beer Crackers.

Life. Sweet, eh? Just keeps getting better.


Steam Powered Battery Charger