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.


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