Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Definitions: Convection

(1) Being carried away.

May be confused with the word "conviction", which means about the same thing, but in a less peace, love, and free will sort of way. One which often entails the deliberate and forceful application of handcuffs.

So, different, 'K?

(2) Being carried away in the other sense.

To be wafted along, gently, perhaps almost imperceptibly, lovingly, to a pleasant conclusion, as might be experienced by a sip of wine as it is taken up between the lips, slides over the tongue and down the throat, to find a warm welcome in the stomach, where it can reside in peace and comfort.

But only for a while.

Everything is only for a while.

Eventually even the finest wine is converted to a sort of irritable sleepy grumpiness and is squirted back out as urine and then forgotten. This happens with so many things.

Like rain. Or hail, which is the end product of rain with an anger management problem.

But before rain is ejected from the clouds and falls onto your head, possibly accompanied by high winds and lightning strikes, some of which may kill or stun your companions, is convection, which tenderly raises dewy filaments of moisture heavenward on wisps of warmness. And not just one or two filaments.




And more.

So many that they cannot even be comprehended, let alone counted, tallied, or given cute pet names.

And once in the sky these wisps swirl and twirl and spin and tumble and coalesce and combine into clouds that sail the skies without any cares at all until they meet more and stronger currents of convection, warm shafts of air soaring into the highest reaches of the sky where those uncountable myriads of moist hazy aerosols meet and conjoin to form mists and whorls of nearly weightless droplets, and then drops, and, flung even higher into the heavens they freeze into tiny ice crystals which rise and fall upon the currents, and thaw and freeze again, gaining layer upon layer of fresh, hard, crisp ice until the air no longer has the strength to support them and they begin to fall, and then are caught by fearsome downdrafts and are hurled toward the ground with supreme force, and this is what bonks you on the head and makes you swear like a sumbitch.

(3) The thing that happens in your cooking pot when the water gets hot.

After a while, after it gets just so hot, water can't stand it any more and begins jumping for the top of the pot, hoping to escape.

This is called boiling, and means that the water is hot enough to do some serious cooking, and it is powered by convection wherein the heat at the bottom of the pot makes the water excitable, peevish, pettish, petulant, testy, and generally disagreeable to the extent that the two of them just can't get along anymore and begin trying anything they can think of to put some distance between themselves.

Instant rice, couscous, bulghur wheat, and many other common hiker foodstuffs are extremely effective at smoothing things out, like a good arbitrator (meanwhile becoming cooked), and so now, during the boiling situation, is the right time to dump that food in there and get on with dinner.

And turn the heat down too.

Don't be a dumbass and burn supper, hear?

(4) There are other, more boring definitions of convection that center on meteorology, which sounds like it's this cool class you can take to find out about meteors and stuff, and maybe flying saucers and the real truth that is out there somewhere, and maybe ray guns and aliens are involved somehow, but then you have to sit in an old stinky chair that was made in some factory back when there were, like serfs and all they had was candles for light and rocks for tools and try to stay awake while some professor dude talks about vertical transport of heat and moisture and updrafts and downdrafts and atmospheric instabilities and weird boring kinds of clouds you have to memorize and identify by their shapes, but dry convection sounds like a little bit of fun since it happens without any clouds but then you realize you can't even see anything while at least with visible convection or moist convection as the professor dude calls it you get clouds, even if they are weird and have strange names and are tedious and basically annoying anyway.


As always, Effort or Eff it. No sniveling.

Source: How to talk in the woods.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Definitions: Brush Fire

(1) A fire found in lightweight perennial vegetation such as bushes, shrubs, and scrub growth. A brush fire may not be as large or intense as a forest fire, but you can't really bet your life on that.

(2) Also, fire in a brush recently used by a backpacker fresh off the trail.

This brush may have been used on the head, but more frequently on another part of the pelt (backpackers are known for growing excessive amounts of unduly long body hair).

Ignition is often spontaneous, triggered by oxidation of natural body oils which can't be properly removed by simple bathing, or by bathing and diligent scrubbing. Or even by a trip through an industrial clothes washer, though some try this, and it can be a source of temporary amusement during a long, dull, rainy weekend in some random town.

Rooms in lodgings along thru-hiking routes normally come supplied with sturdy airtight metal cans for disposal of body hair and used brushes, but carelessness often results in tragedy when a hair-clogged brush bursts into flames deep in the night (anytime after 8 p.m.).

Remain alert!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Kindly Walking In Cuenca

One of the things I vividly remember after spending my first six months in Ecuador and returning to the United States was a brief episode in a Safeway parking lot.

I was coming out of the store and heard angry male voices. I turned my head. I looked. To my left were two men, deadlocked.

One was in a monster truck, one of those jacked-up pickups with the huge tires, so high off the ground that you need a stepladder to get into it.

The other was in a wheelchair. He was trying to cross what they call the "fire lane" from the parking lot proper to the store. Apparently, this disabled guy in his tiny, hand-powered sit-up bed was an offensive inconvenience to the other guy in his thousand-horsepower muscle truck, and they were having it out.

I felt threatened. I cringed. My soul hurt. I left.

A few days before, a man angry about the placement of a fence fired up a bulldozer and began ramming into things. Depending on which account you read, he destroyed two, three, or four houses plus a truck and a boat. He did "knock down a utility pole, cutting power to thousands". I know this last part to be true. I experienced it.

The cause? "A long-standing property line dispute between two neighbors." Resulting in violence.

Life as we know it. Life as I used to know it.

Things seem to be different in Ecuador.

Last week, for example, I was waiting to cross a busy street. On the other side were two men. One was on foot, the other on a bicycle. They were both going the same direction and came to their own private, two-person bottleneck. One had to yield.

They stopped. The man on the bicycle stretched out his arm, holding his hand palm-up, signaling that the other man should go ahead. He did, and the bicyclist followed. Problem solved.

No fights broke out. There were no threats. End of story.

Last year I came out of Good Affinity, a Taiwanese/Ecuadorian restaurant where I frequently have lunch. There was construction in the area. The city is building a light-rail system and many streets have been torn up for over a year. Wires were hanging loose from the surrounding utility poles. That happens here. Things are different. You have to deal with it.

Back to the story.

I saw several people in a car. They were trying to get past the hanging wires. A man was in the street. He held some of the wires, lifting them up high enough so that car could inch forward and get past them. Done. Problem solved. But.

Now the man who held up the wires had to get his own car past the wires. He got into his car and began to inch it along. Hmmm.

I'm not quick on my feet as they say. I'm better at analyzing things after they happen than while they're happening, but I got it right this time. I walked over to the car, bent down, and picked up the wires. I raised them above the roof of the car so the driver could get past them without getting any part of his car tangled in the wires. He crept forward until he was clear, and then I dropped the wires and went on my way. Done. The end.

Things are like that here. No one stood in the street swearing or throwing things or making threats to the sky. We just got past it.

Another story from this week and then I'll get to the point.

I was taking a late-afternoon walk. If I don't schedule some exercise, it's easy not to get much. I walk to lunch, and, well, I walk everywhere, but I usually don't get out before noon, and I don't go out after dark, ever, so late afternoon is my last chance to do some moving around.

Anyway, I was walking near the Tomebamba River, a small stream flowing through town, and came to a place where some construction work was going on. The construction was separated from the sidewalk by corrugated metal. There was a gate, a doorway, of painted plywood. The gate was open. A man was backing his pickup truck out, across the sidewalk, and into the street. I stopped, waited.

Then I noticed that the right side of the truck was barely clearing the door on my side. Then I realized that the truck's right-side mirror might be close to hanging up on the plywood door. Yep. I reached out and pulled the door toward me — away from the truck — as far as I could. This helped.

The truck cleared the door and then the sidewalk and I was able to resume my walk. Another problem solved through cooperation.

The man had to get his truck into the street, and I had to get the truck out of my way. We worked together. Then it was all over. I don't know who he was and never will. Ditto for him. We just worked together to get past it. That's how it is here.

Now, last summer I saw something else.

Again, this was related to the endless light-rail construction, which should have finished last June, but shows no signs yet of coming to a conclusion. So anyway.

The street was torn up. You could walk on the right side or the left side, but down the middle was a muddy trench. This was fenced off to keep people out of it. At one or two spots down each block there was an opening in the two fences, and a plank-and-plywood "bridge" spanning the trench. That's how you got across the street.

These cobbled-up "bridges" were points of pedestrian congestion. You can imagine.

Right then, when I wanted to cross, it was busy. I held back a bit, unlike everyone else. People here don't stop and wait. They push ahead, rub elbows, bump into one another, jostle, work their way through somehow. I'll do some of that if I have to, but mostly I stop and wait. That works too, and I'm not so good at politely shoving others aside. I have yet to learn that art.

Right then, when I wanted to cross, things were busy. Especially so since an elderly woman was working her way up to the "bridge", supported by a walker. You've seen them. She and her walker took up two-thirds of the bridge's width. It was slow going too. One slight mis-step and she'd have been down, walker or no walker. But she had help.

Behind her and a bit to her left was a woman, guiding her along, steadying her, holding one hand against the small of the old woman's back. In front was a man, also guiding her and lifting the front of her walker over rough spots in the jury-rigged bridgeway. Eventually the woman was across. "Nice," I thought. "It's nice to see how people here care for their elderly relatives." You see a lot of that here. And a lot of extremely small children out walking with their parents too, all holding hands as they walk the streets.

So the way was clear and I began crossing the street too. And then I nearly lost it.

Once the old woman was safely across the street the man turned and walked away. So did the younger woman, in the opposite direction. They were not a family. They did not even know each other. They were three strangers. Two who were young and healthy, and one who was not, but who needed just a touch of help. So they helped, and that was it.

I had trouble crossing the street. You have to watch where your feet go but I couldn't. Because my eyes were full of tears. Just as they are now, yet again, remembering.

Things are like that here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Definitions: Air Pecking

(1) Pecking movements made by poultry or hikers at no obvious target.

It consists of repeated quick forward and backward head movements sometimes with nibbling. It seems not to be directed at anything but tends to have a specific direction.

This behavior often includes a rapid opening and closing of the beak, sometimes followed by talk of what's for supper.

(2) Urinating off a cliff. Catching air with your private waterfall while setting it free from a great height.

It's yet one more guy thing.

If done often enough, it will result in a pecking tan, which is usually only a byproduct. Deliberately trying to get a tan where none should appear is not approved behavior. Keep that in mind.

But if done at all, this procedure is most wisely practiced in isolated spots (preferably sunny of course if it's a tan you're after) where no roaming posse of Sunday school teachers is likely to tread.

Probably a hobby best pursued alone. And check for who might be walking by, down there, while you do it. Or you could get pounded.

This is never, ever, ever done with other guys unless you really, really, really mean it, and are under 10 years old, and immature for your age.

Sort of stupid though because you'll probably get your feet wet in the process or end up with a weird tan line along the zipper. If it's a tan you want why not go to a nude beach and get an all-over? Eh? Or buy a sun lamp.

Or something. Geez. What does this have to do with hiking?

Warning notice: Too much sun exposure may cause distinctive permanent skin spots known as "peckles". And how do you explain them?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Eats And Me

I'm not a fussy eater as long as the food is right. I guess that makes me a fussy eater. But maybe not.

If my food stays within broad guidelines, I can eat it, and I will. I don't get tired of food. If it was good enough to eat yesterday, then it's a good enough sort of meal to have again today. So I go for months eating almost the same thing every day. Even more so while backpacking.

Backpacking food can't be too fancy or too perishable or too expensive or too heavy. Because, you know — backpacking.

But between those bright lines, I still have a few slightly more restrictive and more general criteria, but not too restrictive. Here they are.

My backpacking meals have to...

  • Contain enough energy to keep me going.
  • Have adequate nutrients.
  • Taste good enough to eat.
  • Stay down once eaten.

That's about it.

I say energy instead of calories because calories are bogus. Calorie counts form an extremely rough guide, but they don't represent the energy that food provides. Calorie counts are generated by burning a bit of food inside a sealed container and measuring the heat output. This has nothing to do with what happens to food inside the human body.

Food is not burned, and heat is only a peripheral waste product of metabolism. The body digests food, circulates it, stores, it, retrieves it, and transforms it into a useful form of energy via complex chemical interactions. None of this involves burning raw food in an oxygen environment. Period.

The only way a person can tell if their food provides enough energy is to see how they feel. It's a vague sort of process, and can't be quantified. Either you are doing OK or you aren't. Count enough calories and eventually you'll learn what works and what doesn't, and by how much, the same as if you don't count calories. So I just dump stuff together, based on experience, and that's pretty close.

Nutrients are carbohydrates, sugars, protein, fats, and minerals. Fat is a great way to ensure getting enough energy. Sugar makes things taste better. Carbohydrates hold the other foods together. Proteins are chewy.

It's hard not to get enough protein — if you eat enough to keep going, then you're probably getting more than enough protein. Adding powdered milk or cheese guarantees it. Powdered milk and cheese also supply essential minerals. Going heavy on fat and lighter on carbohydrates means that your food load will be lighter for a given amount of energy, and that after eating it you'll likely not get hungry again so fast, because fats are slow to digest. Sugar gives a quick energy boost and works great as some kind of dessert or after-supper treat. Toss in a multivitamin every day or two and you're covered.

If I can eat my food and feel better after, then it's good enough. That's about it.

And if the food is OK, then it stays down, which is what I shoot for. So far I've never had a problem with this, but it's important to keep in mind, 'cuz if supper comes back up for a visit, and tries to get out and go running around, then the trip is over. Proper food sticks to one-way trips.

Here's something I like.


  • ½ cup quick-cooking (1 minute) oats
  • ½ cup "grape nuts" cereal (or the Walmart equivalent)
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • ⅔ cup powdered milk
  • ½ cup powdered butter *
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

Dump all ingredients into a quart-sized, freezer-weight ziplock bag.

To prepare, add 1½ to 2 cups boiling water to the bag, depending on what works for you.

Gently and carefully squeeze the air out of the bag and then re-seal it.

Hold the bag in one gloved hand while massaging it with your other gloved hand to mix and evenly wet all the ingredients.

Set the bag aside to finish "cooking" and to cool enough so you can eat it. If it's a cold day, put the ziplock bag inside your main food bag, inside a wool hat, or stuff it into a spare shirt or a cozy you've made up specifically for preparing food.

When the food is cool enough to eat, and if you like using a spoon, then open the bag and eat it from the top with your spoon. If you want to keep it simple, make sure you've got as much air squeezed out of the bag as possible, the re-seal the bag and check to make sure that the bag is sealed. Then check again, and again, and again.

Roll the top of the bag over so you're holding the top tightly closed (just to be super sure). Turn the bag 90° so one bottom corner is pointing up. Squeeze the food away from that corner. Carefully use your teeth to rip open that corner. Hold the bag in both hands while squeezing the contents into your mouth. When done, roll up the ziplock bag and drop it into your garbage bag. No cleanup needed, not even of your spoon.

Next time you're hungry, repeat.

* Minimum. Powdered butter is available in roughly gallon-sized (36 oz.) cans at Walmart under the "Augason Farms" brand. It's much easier to deal with than "real" butter, or any other fat or oil, and can be easily pre-mixed at home. (Ever open your pack to find that your pint of olive oil has leaked all over everything?)