Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Definitions: Bog Hole

(1) A bog hole is, of course, a typical bureaucratically-determined sleep feasibility site. Look for the telltale sign that says "Designated Camping Area". Prepare your bug defense perimeter. Accept the damp. Keep your official permit at the ready in case of a snap inspection.

(2) A bog hole is the preferred habitat of the plant known as bog myrtle, named after the famous and rugged (though some say mythical) female backpacker, Bog "BM" Myrtle, "The Honkin', Stompin', Stoopin', Poopin' Princess of the Backcountry", who had a soft spot for soft spots and also left liberally fertilized pocks scattered throughout each of the moist landscapes she traversed.

"BM" was the granddaughter of, and possibly gained some of her energy from, Josephene Myrtle Corbin, the Four-Legged Woman and noted dipygus dibrachius tetrapus, who was born in Lincoln County, Tennessee in 1868, and had two of everything from the waist down, including pairs of legs, but was otherwise pretty forgettable, though an intimidating square dancer in her day.

Not so for "BM". No. She was different in a different way.

"BM" had only the one pair of legs but she used them like nobody's business, though only outdoors. (She wasn't a great dancer.)

But she was big. And she was strong. She ate like a lumberjack, and possessed a fearsome speedy digestive system that kept her hopping at all hours.

Because of this physiological quirk she was unable ever to remain still and so managed to cover huge sections of trail in short order, setting several land speed records for foot travel during her short lifetime.

It could be that her unnatural hiking cadence did her in, or the toxic effects of the excess vitamins and minerals contained in her enormous lunches, or that, as is sometimes said, she was pursued one day too far into the wet, peaty, acidic reaches of a forb-infested quivering bog by pestilential clouds of savage biting midges, and was ultimately sucked deep down into the soft damp darkness, to expire there and at last find some peace.

No one knows, but to this day such landscapes are favored by bog myrtle ("sweetgale" or "myrica gale") a pleasantly-scented traditional enemy of midges and horseflies of all descriptions. Does that sound believable? (Say yes!)

(3) And finally, a bog hole is Town (any town), where zero days happen, where zero days form, collect, pile up, and spontaneously glomerate one to another, tending to mire and restrain you, the thru-hiker, from ever getting back on the trail and finishing anything, at all, ever, especially if there is ice cream. To go with your beer.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Definitions: Denier

Denier is a measurement of fuzz weight.

It is roughly a pennyweight, depending on the weight of your penny and the heft of your fuzz. How about that?

Fine, maybe, but we can go deeper.

First off, "denier" was the name of a French coin created by Charlemagne (the old French king dude guy) in the Early Middle Ages, which, compared to now, were pretty early and long, long ago, timewise.

People liked the idea of coins so much that they stole it for other European money systems. Charlemagne though was not an original thinker — he got his idea from the earlier Roman "denarius", which was worth roughly a day's wages.

In today's money a denarius would buy around 20 dollars of stuff. Back in Roman times the basic unit of stuffness was bread and the Roman denarius was about 20 dollars worth of bread. They were big eaters in the olden days.

But back to Charlemagne, also known as "Carolus Magnus", or "Charles the Great". He was a great guy in those days, in the sense that if he told someone to pinch your head off, it was as good as done. So Charlemagne's ideas were potent, and his coinage inspired the Arab and Yugoslavian coins called "dinars". Italians called theirs the "denaro". The Spanish? "Dinero". The Portuguese, "dinheiro". Even the Republic of Macedonia has its own version, the "denar".

Ah, yes then, the British. Now we come to the British. The British were a little different. Sometimes they are. In many ways.

The British equivalent of the denier was the "penny", though the British persisted in using the letter "d" to represent it, as you might expect from them. It took 240 pennies to make one British pound, which used to be a lump of silver weighing a pound.

Are ya still with us? Fine then. We'll eventually get back to fuzz, so hang in there if you have nothing else to do.

Then the British, instead of carrying around big lumps of silver, they, the folk of the green isles, learned to fashion each lump of silver into 240 "sterlings" beginning about the year 775 (or possibly 774 ½ — no one knows for sure anymore).

"Sterlings", in case you were wondering, were silver coins based on those used by the Saxons, some early German refugees who had skipped westward across the North Sea in search of greener pastures. Some of these Saxons later got bent through various accidents and wars and things and became angled, or "Angles", which, due to interbreeding, which was common even then, is where we got the Angled Saxons, or Anglo-Saxons of today, who are now best known for the things they do involving tea.

If one of these guys had to pay off a really big gambling debt he did it in pounds of sterlings. Since they were lazy just like us, they later shortened this to "pounds sterling", and then, getting even lazier, to "pounds". And now they've gone decimal and things have gone totally to hell, though decimal numbers are easier for pocket calculators to figure out.

The original silver penny though, that was introduced by King Offa of Mercia in middle England way back when. He copied Charlemagne's denier and his coin contained about what we would call 1.5 grams of silver, to make it worth something. That amount of silver equaled a fair bit of fuzz back in the day.

So fuzz already, you may wonder, eh? Shetland cows are the cutely-kinky furry ones, with the bangs and the bushy coats and all. Also from the British Isles.

The story we're sticking with here is that intrepid knitters, during silver shortages, were able to make do by fashioning penny coins from cow fuzz, and getting them just good enough to pass as currency. King Offa's wife Cynethryth may have kicked off this trend. Let's call her "Cynthia" and avoid a bunch of lisping, which is hard to do without the guidance of a professional tutor. Cynthia it is, then.

This particular Cynthia was a wicked mad knitter, she. The weight of her fuzz coins, if she used dense fuzz, was about the same as the silver ones, which was handy, and after the conversion of the world to the metric system (except for Liberia, Myanmar, and the United Arfing States), the pennyweight became standardized at one gram. Handy.

OK for weight, but since fuzz no longer comes in tight, hefty wads and most of us have trouble running out and grabbing a cow whenever we need cash, how much is that in yarn then? We use yarn now, you know. To measure our fuzz. It is said to be a more civilized way.

Well, that would be for your 9000 meter length of yarn. (That rounds up to an even 5.59234073 miles, by the way.)

So now one denier is no longer a coin but a number representing a piece of fiber (or thread, or yarn) 9000 meters long and weighing one gram. A U.S. nickel coin is about five grams. One slim yarn there, folks.

Not tough enough all by itself to make backpacks from.

Some fabrics used in backpacks are woven from 500 to 1000 denier yarns, which means they're pretty heavy, which they need to be, to make durable-enough packs for use by clueless idiots. Stands to reason. Get your fabric heavy enough and it's even bullet proof, though everyday stuff is not 500 to 1000 denier, but around maybe 50 to 100 denier.

Thread count is another thing entirely, in case you were wondering about that. Thread count is a measure of how coarse or fine a fabric is, measured by counting the number of threads contained in one square inch of fabric, regardless of each thread's weight. (Did you notice how we just fell right back off the metric system? And landed back in the English system? Didja? We did.)

Fine quality bed sheets for example start at a thread count of 180 and go up to 250 or more threads per square inch.

So if Romans measured stuff in units of bread, then how did the British measure value in their society? (Since we seem to be stuck with them.)

Well John Heywood, a 16th century British poet once said "I shall geat a fart of a dead man as soone as a farthyng of him."

A farthing was ¼ penny, so that means a penny was worth four farts.

Who was it said that Roman civilization was the degenerate one then?

Yeeg, the British.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Customize Me, Pleez

When I was a little kid, shoe stores had x-ray machines. True.

You don't remember this because I'm older than you are, but I remember. Sticking my feet into the machine and watching myself wiggling my toes around inside a potential new pair of shoes was the best part of buying shoes.

The idea was that customers could check the fit, see it for themselves, and be sure that everything was A-OK, but I liked to see the wiggling bones. That was the part I liked. This was before TV, and almost better than TV was when we got it, years later. Watching your own feet move around inside your shoes was almost better than seeing 30 minutes of Howdy Doody squirming around with Buffalo Bob's hand stuck up his back.

Almost. X-rays were a modern miracle of merchandise marketing, and the time I spent looking at my feet was definitely a loop of time forever unreachable by the intensely (creepily) unsettling Clarabell the Clown. I still don't understood why a man in a terror-suit was named Clarabell, and what the hell his connection was to Howdy Doody, and I don't want to know. Not today. Tomorrow, ever. He/it be dead now forever, we hope, and gone.

And then they took all the x-ray machines away. They were called "shoe-fitting fluoroscopes", according to Wikipedia. Buggers. All gone.

"The bones of the feet were clearly visible, as was the outline of the shoe, including the stitching around the edges." Yep. That was it. Including "two other viewing portholes on either side [enabling] the parent and a sales assistant to observe the child's toes being wiggled." And then they took all the x-ray machines away. Up to then the early 1950s had been a lot of fun.

And what if "there was not enough data to quantify the level of risk until atomic bomb survivors began to experience the long-term effects of radiation in the late 1940s"? They survived, didn't they? But the machines disappeared anyway. What's a little radiation burn here and there? Kids grow out of stuff all the time, pretty quick too, mostly.

Well, a few years later television came to town, and the rest is misery. Until then I ran around outside, played baseball, fed peanuts to squirrels, watched ants crawl around on peonies, and entered grade school. Very few if any of my toes fell off, and my shoe fit didn't seem to suffer the loss of x-rays, but I missed the scientific method as applied by gimmicky machinery to an annual footwear purchase ritual.

Choice matters.

Especially for older merchandise consumers, like adults. Especially cranky ones like me. Especially cranky ones carrying backpacks around and grunting inside clouds of flies. That's why custom packs are a good idea. There's a custom pack to fit the hump of every grump. Because. That's what custom means, doncha see?

I tried last year about this time. Heard good things and contacted Mr. Sam Jepsen of JepPaks. He got confused. And backed away. Now if I try to go back to the JepPaks web site and see what he's up to, I get only "Website Expired. This account has expired. If you are the site owner, click below to login." So I guess that's over. No more Sam, no more JepPaks.

This year I contacted Mr. Christopher Zimmer of Zimmerbuilt. Sounded good. Got a positive response. He's even made a pack that was sort of vaguely related to what I want, the "ZB2 - Gowler". So I figured he'd be open to trying to do something off the beaten track and back in the bushes about half a mile, which is what my design is like — odd but very simple to make. So I pulled together my specs and dug up a bunch of photos of my original self-made pack, and. Haven't heard a damn thing back from him.

Two possibilities: He's either otherwise occupied, with illness, a vacation, his real job, a crisis in the family, or whatever, or he's blowing me off by playing dead.

"Effort or effit." That's my new motto. I'm not going to whine and beg, so effit then. I'll find a way to make the pack I need, maybe next winter. Meanwhile, I've got a pack on order from a real company, a Mountain Laurel Designs "Prophet". It's close enough to what I can put up with to work for me. I can fudge a little, find a way to stiffen it, add capacity flexibly, add compression. Its relatively generous design should let me move the furniture around, depending on which party I'm headed for.

Hey, I did set off in the summer of 2013 on a 12-day, no-resupply trip carrying a North Face 26L "Verto". And came home again. It can be done. With some fudging. Though that was not fun.

What I did was to customize it. Get the drift here? Customize.

I sewed on two ginormous side pockets which together equaled about a third the volume of the pack bag. Then I added another pocket in front (confusingly, the "front" is the side of the pack that's way out back). This contributed another big boost to the pack's volume. And then I started off carrying my hammock, tarp, and under-quilt in a largish stuff sack lashed on top. I probably had about 45L to work with in the modified pack, and even more in the stuff sack, and stowed more and more things back inside the pack bag as I ate my way through the trip's provisions.

So things can be done.

Also, mistakes were made, lessons were learned, pain was encountered. Such is life among those living desperately.

Which is why I want to get back to where I left off, with a really good and really custom pack. And it looks like I'll have to do it all myself. Such is life, period. OK, fine. I'll do it then. But not at this moment, I guess, because I don't have materials here, or time, or a sewing machine. Right now.

And yes, this is really necessary. Necessary and normal. We're all different even in the midst of our seeming sameness. Last year I tried two different packs. Both worked. Both were wrong. The first was an REI "Flash 45" and it had all sorts of confusing little straps routing themselves here and there and beyond, and the shoulder straps made me howl in pain. The second was a Granite Gear "Crown 60". Tighter, lighter, bigger, better-designed, kinda, but the shoulder straps also made me howl in pain. And a pocket ripped the first time out. And the hip belt was permanently too big.

And I'm a good fit. If I buy clothes in my size, they fit. Like they were made right for me, you know? Pants, shirts, socks, underwear — all OK. Not so much with packs. I don't know. Something's off. If you can't fight 'em, can't join 'em, then effit, 's what I say. Eff-M-All, and make your own. Which I guess I'll have to do when I can, if I can.

Which brings us around to actual evidence. Because I'm not making up all of this. Not all of it. I have the U.S. of A.'s own Force d'Air on my side here. Right here. On my very own side. And them fellas is smart some of the time. "In the late 1940s, the United States air force had a serious problem: its pilots could not keep control of their planes." See? That's Step One, observe symptoms. "'You never knew if you were going to end up in the dirt.' At its worst point, 17 pilots crashed in a single day. The two government designations for these noncombat mishaps were incidents and accidents, and they ranged from unintended dives and bungled landings to aircraft-obliterating fatalities." Check.

Step Two is to locate the cause of said symptoms. This can be hard. "After multiple inquiries ended with no answers, officials turned their attention to the design of the cockpit." Hmmm. Maybe if we take sort-of average pilots, and measure the hell out of them, and average all the measurements, we'll be able to design a cockpit that will fit...all pilots, they thought. So. What? Then what?

Zero. "Out of 4,063 pilots, not a single airman fit within the average range on all 10 dimensions. There was no such thing as an average pilot. If you've designed a cockpit to fit the average pilot, you've actually designed it to fit no one." A true WTF moment, folks, sponsored by your tax dollars, or those of your parents, or your grandparents, depending, of course.

Step Three is solving the actual problem. Which for the Air Force was not the crashing planes (that was a symptom), or pilots that didn't fit the planes (that was another symptom), but the lack of understanding that "there was no such thing as an average person". And to solve the problem the Air Force had to actually do something. Because "any system designed around the average person is doomed to fail." Rather than finding hikers or pilots average enough to fit the ideal backpack or fighter-plane cockpit, the solution is to customize the hardware so it will fit actual humans.

As for the Air Force, "they were able to focus on fitting the cockpit to the individual pilot. That's when things started getting better...They designed adjustable seats, technology now standard in all automobiles. They created adjustable foot pedals. They developed adjustable helmet straps and flight suits."

As for the outdoor industry?

What. We have 16 different packs from one company, all made on the same basic plan, all in your choice of Medium or Large, so take your pick. You're sure to find a great fit, assuming that you like a three-foot-tall, six-pound, top-loading pack (empty weight) with two tiny mesh pockets outside, no noticeable compression, and a hip belt that fits anyone with a waist size from 32 inches to 48 inches. And you can stand shoulder straps carved from wood. And you think maroon and yellow go well with the outdoors.

And if you're a woman, well this year they're introducing a special model just for you. It's exactly the same as their real pack, except it costs more and has a tiny label over on the side that says "Designed Especially for Women".

Love it or effit.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: "By discarding the average as their reference standard, the air force initiated a quantum leap in its design philosophy, centered on a new guiding principle: individual fit. Rather than fitting the individual to the system, the military began fitting the system to the was a practical solution to an urgent problem.." Pretty good for government work, right?

Step Four Let's see more custom-designed and custom-made backpacks because I've got a body and goals and attitude that aren't exactly like yours, and I don't like being ornery out on the trail. Are ya with me or agin' me? (Hint: I don't really care what you think, though I'm not actually too scary in person most of the time, and not all that hard to get along with, and if you get bothered you can push me down and take my lunch money and make me cry, if that's what you like. True. So don't worry.)

Criteria (There are two.): (1) My pack has to fit me. (2) It also has to suit me: durable, comfortable, capable.

That's all then. Is this really, truly impossible? More difficult than building supersonic warplanes?


When U.S. air force discovered the flaw of averages

Review: Granite Gear Crown 60

Shoe-fitting fluoroscope

Desperate Living