Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wilderness Getaway

New River Mesa
Backpacking in the wilderness for a few days is a nice way to escape the anxiety of modern life. Its also a great way to renew your appreciation for the comforts and increased survivability modern life affords. When you are completely on your own with nothing more than what you can carry, you quickly realize that civilization and modern technology have their advantages.

One of the biggest reasons people get into trouble in the wilderness is they get themselves lost. There are no street signs in the wilderness. Having a topographic map and compass is a must if you are going into a remote area, but just having them isn't enough. You need to learn how to use them.  Here are two good videos to start you off: Compass Use & Navigation.

Be very careful when bushwhacking. Its easy to start off in a direction thinking you know where you're at and find yourself hopelessly lost. I make sure I turn around every so often and look back at where I've been. This helps me remember what the way back looks like. If you don't do this the path will look unfamiliar when you try to backtrack. Another method to help find your way back is to place visible markers like these.

Don't Out Hike Your Water.

Another big mistake people often make is underestimating the amount of water they will need. Water is an especially limiting factor in the Sonoran Desert. Water weighs 8.35 lbs per gallon and you can use 3 quarts or more a day. I personally can only carry up to about 50 lbs comfortably and I use the word comfortably loosely. If I used only the minimum 3 quarts per day (That means I didn't sweat much) 5 days of water would weigh 31 lbs. That doesn't leave much payload capacity for gear or food, So you better know where the streams or springs are if you plan on being out there for more than a few days.

Tonto Creek

You also need to contend with the weather. If you pack for warm weather and it turns cold or a sudden violent storm occurs with flash flooding you could be in big trouble and, keeping in mind the previously mentioned payload capacity, you obviously can't pack for every contingency.

Technology Can Be Wild.

Ironically enough, technology can actually make your escape from modern life a little easier. New lightweight materials for making tents and heat retaining sleeping bags can keep you dry and warm without weighing you down. High tech water filtration devices can make bad water drinkable. There are also many high tech electronic devices that are a valuable resource for making your get away from civilization a bit more civilized.

Some of the electronic devices that are nice to have include GPS navigators, pocket weather stations, altimeters and pedometers. One of the most valuable and versatile electronic devices you can have is your cell phone. If you need help and your in an area that's close enough to a tower you can call for help. Coincidentally many cell phones now have many of these other nice to have devices built in. I use a Casio Ravine 2 with G-Zone software. It has a compass, GPS with marking functionality, Sunset/rise times, tide chart, pedometer and thermometer. Its also ruggedized to withstand  a lot of abuse. In addition most phones today have a camera which is a great way to take pictures for your blog.

Mogollon Rim

I try to make sure I match the equipment I carry to the type and duration of the hike. On most hikes lasting more than a few hours and going more than a couple miles from my car, I carry a first aid kit and usually some emergency shelter equipment like a bivy tent and pocket sleeping bag with heat reflective foil. Additionally I make sure I have at least two methods for starting a fire and two methods of purifying water. Its also a good idea to carry some form of protection, even if its just bear spray and a buck knife.

Tonto National Forest
On my 2-3 day hikes I like to carry the same as the day hike but with a thicker bed roll, some dried food and at least 1 gallon of water per day I plan to be out, unless I know there is water where I'm going. I also make sure I have a jacket, beenie and scarf or shemagh for the cold night air and of course a compass and topographic map. Additionally its a good idea to have flashlights and a radio to hear weather reports. I have one that operates on hand crank and receives NOAA broadcasts. It also has a handy USB plug so I can charge my cell phone.

The More You Know The Less You Need.

Aside from good equipment the best thing to help you survive in the wilderness is knowledge. Being aware of how much water you're going to need, understanding what the clouds and wind are telling you about the coming weather or just having enough sense to know where and where not to pitch a tent, these skills are a must before leaving the safe and familiar urban environment you're accustomed to. You will also find the more you know, the less you need to carry.

Fig Spring
Much of this knowledge can be gained by reading books or listening to those who have experience in wilderness survival, I recommend reading any books by Cody Lundin, but you really do need to practice these skills and build up your physical stamina as well as your mental and emotional tolerance to being truly on your own before you attempt to venture to far from civilization.

Hiking in the mountains of central Arizona or whatever unspoiled land is near you is good physical exercise and mentally refreshing. It is a great way to get away from civilization and find some peace and quiet. A place where there's no email, no honking traffic, no smog and no obnoxious advertisements. However, If you're going to enjoy it and be safe, you better make sure you have the right equipment and know what you're getting yourself into.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lazy Gardening

With the recent crop failures and drought here in the United States food will soon be getting more expensive. In addition to this you may have noticed the declining quality of produce at your local market. These are very good reasons to begin a garden.

Gardening can be a lot of work, but it doesn't have to be.  Of course I'm not saying you're going to get something for nothing, like anything else in life the more you put into it the more you get out of it, but there are many things you can do to make it easier.

Lazy Gardeners Look for High Yield Crops
As a lazy gardener I look for plants that require minimum attention with maximum yield. A few plants that seem to fit this category are potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic and swiss chard. Swiss chard has been particularly successful. It doesn't seem to mind either the extreme heat, over 100° in the summer, or cold, below freezing in the winter. It literally grows like a weed. The second best is the sweet potatoes. I've been able to produce enough to overfill a five gallon bucket from one small tuber in three to four months.

Another way to make your garden less labor intensive is to set up drip and soaker hoses with automatic valve controls. I started with a twist timer that I would just turn as needed. It would flood the garden for an hour and shut off. This was nice because I would often turn on the water and then forget to turn it off. However getting a programmable timer is much better. Now I don't even have to think about it. Of course you'll still need to check your garden periodically to check for pests and weeds as well as making sure your watering program is set to what the plants need.

Work with Nature, Not Against It
I try not to use chemicals to control insects. After all I could buy produce from the store with petrol chemicals on them. Fortunately I don't have a big insect problem where I'm at. I do however have a bird and varmint problem. One thing you can do to protect from these is to build a cage to protect plants they most like. Another thing you can do is get a cat that can hunt. I had rodents all over the place until I got a good mouser. She got rid of the them all in about four months. For organic insect and weed control one solution would be to let chickens periodically roam through your garden. Keep in mind you don't want them to be there too long or they will start to eat your crops. They will eat the bugs first then look for leafy greens, these could be weeds or your lettuce seedlings. 

Plants also need nutrients put back into the soil. As with pest control you are way better off doing it the natural way. In fact this is probably the best principle to take away from this post: Work with nature and not against it. Working against nature is inefficient and usually ends badly.

Manure from the nearest barn yard herbivore is the best. I like to use goat since that's what I have. I usually don't even need to compost it. I just scoop it straight from the pasture and bring it to the trees or vegetables. I can work it into the soil or even leave it on top for mulch and moisture retention. Some manures like chicken are so rich in nitrogen they need to compost some before they can be used or else they will burn the plants.

One other excellent and inexpensive fertilizer, and I might add soil conditioner, is coffee grounds. You can probably get the old grounds from your local coffee shop for free and it adds valuable nutrients such as magnesium, potassium and calcium. Add to this any of your table scraps and you'll be replenishing the soil with more than just the nitrogen and other major nutrients found in chemical fertilizers. Using what's available and keeping it simple that's lazy gardening at its best.

Gardening Takes Time To Learn
Gardening takes time to learn and is very specific to your area. What works in my area where the weather is warm and dry and the soil is alkaline will not work in an area with cold, wet weather and acidic soil. This is one of the reasons you can't just pick up a gardening book and after reading it expect to be a successful gardener. You have to try different things and use what works for you. Keep in mind you will have many failures, but look at these as learning experiences rather than evidence that you can't do it.

Aside from the benefit of eating great tasting nutritious food, gardening can be very good for you physically, mentally and emotionally. Its good exercise, a nice break from the hustle bustle of daily life and it feels good to produce something from nothing but water, dirt and a little seed. Its actually what humans were designed to do - Gen 2:15.