Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Soyl de Hoy

So long pepper pot.

Sopa de frejól
Filete de pescado
Frutas con yogurt
Jugo de melón

That was lunch today. Two-fifty, even, at El Túnel, a little place around the corner. Open weekdays, twelve to three. I can pull on a pair of pants, be seated in less than five, and someone else does the dishes. Sweet.

Joe runs the joint. Eat there if you're ever here. Here is Cuenca, Ecuador.

I can't say when my next backpacking trip might be, but food on the trail is always a problem. You know that. I know that.

Decisions — you make them and live with them, like it or not. Often not.

First it's whether or not to eat. That's a quick one. Then whether or not to cook. Generally no debate there either. Food wins, and hot food wins.

So, either you throw cash at a case of foil pouches or roll your own, and still suffer inedibility.

So then what? Think.

Maybe you can eat without eating, and do it cheap. And not cook, and not mind. Maybe Soylent.

Maybe $3 a day. Maybe half that for a 3000-calorie day, when Soylent is available. Almost. It almost is.

Maybe this is nuts. Maybe not.

I do not enjoy grocery shopping, cooking, or cleaning dishes and I shouldn't have to. I do not like to repeat myself and I do not like having things that I do not need. No one asks me to make my own clothes. Why should I be expected to make my own food?


I hypothesized that the body doesn't need food itself, merely the chemicals and elements it contains. So, I resolved to embark on an experiment. What if I consumed only the raw ingredients the body uses for energy? Would I be healthier or do we need all the other stuff that's in traditional food? If it does work, what would it feel like to have a perfectly balanced diet? I just want to be in good health and spend as little time and money on food as possible. -- Rob Rhinehart, inventor of Soylent

Rhinehart has been at this for a year, mixing, eating, refining, repeating. He has $2 million in early orders and over $1.5 million in funding to support a business.

What's it really like? I don't know. You'll have to try it.

Early on, Rhinehart tasted a batch:

The first morning my kitchen looked more like a chemistry lab than a cookery, but I eventually ended up with an thick, odorless, beige liquid. I call it 'Soylent'. At the time I didn't know if it was going to kill me or give me superpowers. I held my nose and tepidly lifted it to my mouth, expecting an awful taste.

It was delicious! I felt like I'd just had the best breakfast of my life. It tasted like a sweet, succulent, hearty meal in a glass, which is what it is, I suppose. I immediately felt full, yet energized, and started my day.

Maybe it will start one of your own days before long. Out on a trail. Maybe? What?

Until then, I'll be holding down a chair at El Túnel most days.


Rhinehart: How I Stopped Eating Food

Rhinehart: The Whole Food Fallacy

Rhinehart: Two Months of Soylent

Vice: Soylent Passed $2 Million in Orders, Will Ship Next Month

Vice: The Post-Food Man: Drink Soylent, and You May Never Have to Eat Again

Soylent blog: Soylent 1.0 Final Nutrition

Soylent home: Soylent — Free Your Body

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Knife

Essentials for Wilderness Survival, Part 1.

Say you're out in the woods, then what?

Most of us, when we think of being in that situation, we think of survival. How about you? You too? Good.

So then what? How do you survive? Well, one way is to make a list, then take the list along. If you die, then there are only two possibilities.

  • You didn't pay attention to your list, or
  • You couldn't read your writing, or
  • You didn't believe what you wrote, or
  • Something else

In case you noticed that there were more than two possibilities, you're catching on. Reality has a way of rising up and biting your butt like a snake in the grass, so for all-around practicality, it's hard to go wrong taking a knife.

If you have a knife you can cut stuff. Cutting stuff is fun, and it relieves the boredom while you wait for the search party.

Then again, if the search party doesn't show up and you get really bored with cutting stuff, try shaving some animals. Animals are everywhere and most of them have way too much fuzz. Just put up a small sign offering your services in return for meat and you'll have more chow than you can gag down, while meeting some interesting critters.

Still not rescued? Hey, time for Step Two. Find a cabin, then use your knife to pick the lock. Once inside, you'll be cozy unless it gets really cold, so then...?

Use your knife to hack the cabin into firewood. When the cabin is all gone, look for another one.

But! (There's always a but, ain't there?) You need a sharp knife for this, and picking locks dulls knives like crazy, so get on it. Sharpening a knife is easy if you know how.

First, don't try sharpening the knife all over, only on the edge. Novices always try to sharpen the handle and then cut themselves when the next coyote shows up for a quick trim around the ears.

Save handle sharpening for later if and only if you need to drink your own blood to keep your strength up. Not now though. We get to that in the advanced course.

Well, say none of that works and you're kind of getting by, but it's only surviving, and not Surviving! What next?

Knives are shiny, right? So use the blade to signal with. Try signaling aliens — they have advanced technology and probably good food and stuff, though signaling them only works at night for some reason, so do it by candle light. It works great.

Not sure about that? Well remember, light travels at the speed of light — even if it's dim light, so those aliens could be parking their rigs in your meadow even before your candle gets warm.

And if it takes a little longer, build some yurts and open a resort. Call it something catchy like Al's AAA Alien Airpark-O-Rama and you'll probably have more business than you can shake your knife at, especially if you know how to make crop circles, which we'll get to later, after we have a few drinks.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


What keeps you up at night.

Tent, Definition One

A portable shelter of skins or cloths stretched over poles. Smaller, lighter tents use tanned rat hides, but that takes a lot of stitching and gets the rats mad. Larger and heavier tents use elephant hides, but again, those are hard to come by. (Problems related to acquisition include poking by tusk, trampling by stompy-feet, and criminal trial in international court, among other things.)

Tent, Definition Two

A synonym for tent is collapsible shelter, which, sadly, is true.

Tent, Definition Three

The main idea in the concept of tent is stretch. As in it being a long stretch to make something as improbable as a tent actually usable.

Then, once you have the concept down, you have to figure out how to make it happen. You can't make a tent out of just anything (rat pelts excepted). No.

Tents (the coverings of tents anyway) are tricky. They have to accept stress and thrive on it, no matter what direction it comes from, and tents have to be agreeable to being taken down, wadded up, and stuffed somewhere, sometimes for a long while, in the dark, with no air at all to speak of, until they are taken out again and stretched.

Tent fabrics must be light enough to carry yet impervious to wind and rain. This is so hard to do that most tents made for backpacking have two shells. These are called double walled tents, but that's only to make you feel safe.

No tent is like a wall in any way, but you get the feeling of security and safety with the idea of having two of something, so that's partly why it's done. The outer covering is waterproof and also impervious to bird poo, which is a pretty good thing as far as it goes.

Yes, these are great benefits in themselves, but there's more.

The inner covering (inner wall) is not waterproof, but mostly, though not completely, windproof, in a lot of tents. This means that you can have quite a bit of protection inside the two shells, both from wind and rain, without getting all wet from condensation (assuming that you do any heavy breathing at all), and also without suffocating.

The downside of not suffocating, of course, is that you have to get up the next day and do more backpacking, but some people (this is actually true) prefer hiking to dying peacefully in bed which requires no effort at all, and is also free from biting flies.

Well, back to the story...

The part of the tent that is not the walls is not especially important. It is a frame of some kind, though you can rig up a tent with no frame but using ropes pulling from the outside to the same effect. Or you can use mammoth ribs, sticks, or fiberglass hoops on the inside (or the outside, if you're a hinky bastard). They all work, these frames and ropes, but without the covering there isn't much point in having the frame.


OK, this is a stretch of another kind, but in case, just in case you do have a tent made of elephant hides, and the relatives of those elephants hear that you're in the neighborhood, they may stop by to mete out a little informal, wrath-based justice, so if you have a frame of some kind, like sticks or poles, you can at least poke back at them if they get all tusky on you, before they give up on the preliminaries and just do the stomping thing.

Well, truth be told, even if it is feeble, the poking back will give you something to do in those last few seconds of life, if you have a really short attention span and would get bored otherwise.

But. If your tent is made of rat hides – wo. Once the rats start their angry swarming all you hear (if anything at all) is a rustling, rushing sound about a half second before there's nothing left of you but a few scattered gnawed bones. So don't worry about boredom there – you're covered. In rats.

Until that happens you'll be dry and snug and feeling safe inside your tent with its imaginary sense of security.

Tent, The Postscript

But then the whole idea of tents is kind of sissy, since real men (in the olden days at least) were supposed to simply roll up in a blanket at night and shiver like crazy for hours and hours, which is why they got up a lot earlier back then, to make the shivering stop. And since you already had the horse, it wouldn't have been that big a deal to carry the required wooden poles and steel stakes and rope and the whole waxed canvas tent itself, but someone might call you a sissy for it. But if someone did call you a sissy for it, you just plugged them and got on with it.

Backpacking is different now. We walk a lot more, whine about horses instead of riding them, and the wax is only on our dental floss, which no one but heavy-weight backpackers carries any more. And no guns. We don't even get to carry guns and shoot these days. Unless we're in a national park, where guns are now legal. Heh.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Slippery Knottery

Tricky confusing cordage friends.

I'm not into knots. They confuse me. I can't remember how to tie them. I think that a part of my mind never switched on, the part that handles topology. (Hey – it's even hard to pronounce.)

But they are essential, knots. Truly. As in holding up your hammock, if you use a hammock, which I've been doing for over ten years now. There are lots of advantages and disadvantages to hammocks as shelters, but the overwhelming plus, for me, is that I can sleep in one without pain. I can't do that while sleeping on the ground, any more, so that argument is over for me.

But how do you keep the damn thing up all night, and then (almost more important), how do you get the hammock down again the next morning?

It's easy to tie a knot that will hold, but not so easy to tie one that is a snap to undo, which is why there is a whole minor industry around machining bits of hardware that obviate the need to tie much of anything resembling a knot, where hammocks are concerned.

I've never invested in any of this, but haven't ever been happy with my usual attempts at knots either. Until recently.

I think I've got it now, and it's too simple to believe.

First, a knot I can tie.

Second, a knot that I don't forget how to tie from one day to the next.

Third, a knot that is trivially easy to tie.

Fourth, a knot that always holds, and...

Fifth, a knot that comes undone with one pull.

Too good to be true? Yep. Except that it is true.

It's called just the slip knot, or maybe a slippery half hitch, and possibly some other names.

The trick is to use two of them, and pull them both tight. The first one holds the load and the second one locks the first one. Simple. It takes about ten seconds to tie both knots, and about two seconds (or less) to yank them both out again. And in between, they hold.

Now I use this knot not only to suspend my hammock but in guying out the rain fly, hanging my food bag, and for basically any other situation requiring a knot that has to hold, has to release easily, and might have to be re-done during the night in order to take up any slack that develops.

You could even tie this knot with your eyes closed, by touch alone.

Unfortunately, I'm not good enough with any software to create a decent illustration of this knot, but what I've got here probably gets the point across. The only key part isn't tying the knot but adding the second knot to lock the first one.

So far it works.


Good photo at The Ultimate Hang.

Good tying animation at Animated Knots By Grog.

Topology n. (1) The study of the properties of geometric figures or solids that are not changed by homeomorphisms, such as stretching or bending. Donuts and picture frames are topologically equivalent, for example. (2) A collection C of subsets of a set X such that the empty set and X are both members of C and C is closed under arbitrary unions and finite intersections. (3) In topology, knot theory is the study of mathematical knots. While inspired by knots which appear in daily life in shoelaces and rope, a mathematician's knot differs in that the ends are joined together so that it cannot be undone. In mathematical language, a knot is an embedding of a circle in 3-dimensional Euclidean space, R3 (Note that since we're using topology the concept of circle isn't bound only to the classical geometric concept, but to all of its homeomorphisms). <= See? Confoozling, right?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Heather Park Trail 02

Not all that bad at the top.

Yes, I did get lucky that day. What did I say it was? September 18? Right. After tourist season, after bug season, long after the summer heat, but before the winter rains. Not bad at all.

This short trip has been described as "a comfortable day hike of 8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 2,300 feet and an overall grade of 12%." It's that 12% that can bite you. It doesn't give up.

I did see Half-Way Rock on the way up. It was still there on the way down. I don't think it gets out much, but so many rocks are like that, and I didn't have time to stop and give it a pep talk. It could be depressed. You never know with rocks. I've never met a rock that didn't look like it could use at least a little therapy.

Sure the views are amazing. All views are amazing, when you consider the likelihood that you're there at all to see them, and think about the probability of a different egg or sperm getting together, rather than the ones that made you, and all the rest.

Then there's the evolution of the eye, and color vision, and business about grade school and high school and whatever else you had to get through just so you could become an adult and go wherever the hell you wanted to. And we're not done yet.

If you have a job, and/or a life, you have to figure out how to get away from it, and if you don't live right on top of Port Angeles, WA, then you have to get there, which isn't all that easy in itself, because whoever set up that city did a good job of putting it into an awkward and distant place, for most of us.

You know? And then there's the trail. Twelve percent, which is twelve times more than one percent, which is still enough to feel if you're going toward the uphill end of it, and there isn't much of anything to see until you are almost at the top anyway. Trees. That's about all. Just trees, and then, once you've gotten over that, more trees, all the way up.

No doubt, though, Heather Park itself is choice, especially because it has that nice little stream bubbling and bouncing along goofily, which makes that particular spot a great place to halt any remaining forward progress you may be making and sit down for lunch.

And after that – well, you never know. Things go back to being on the steep side of the fence, and you go back to panting, but the scenery opens up too.

And, well, you do never know. The top, the very top, is open. There is no place to hide, and you may want to hide – from the sun, from the wind, from that sudden feeling of being exposed, or, as happened the last day I was there, from aggressive clouds.

But if I've learned even one thing from life, it's that you never know nothin. Really. Ultimately, as John Cleese said, we're all six feet under, and until you get to that point, you never really know the least little bit about what is going to happen next, or why, or how it will work out.

Which makes me glad that I took my camera, because the clouds turned out to be friendly and playful, and posed for a whole fat bunch of portraits. Just for me. Not bad.


Heather Park (Washington Trails Association)

Heather Park (Trail Wiki)