To build a fire

It may be September, but summer is still hanging on strong in Florida. It had hit the mid 90’s again that Saturday and the usual afternoon rain hit heavily. So, of course, around 8:00, I decided it would be a great time to start a fire.

Yep. High temps and ungodly, sticky humidity just cry out for camp fires.  No?  Actually, you’re right.  This was an act of complete lunacy.

Ok. It was crazy, but not that crazy. I did have a reason for doing this.  I wanted to test myself and see if I could get a fire going without using a lighter or matches.

For a few years I’ve been watching those “survival” shows as well as various camping shows on You Tube. (Kennith Kramm is great!  So is A lone wolverine 1984)  And I can’t forget my WordPress campers.  (Lookin’ at you, Girly Camping)

This let to gear gifts. I put tons of items on my wish list as well as buying many things outright.  I don’t know about you, but I hate the idea of having all this money spent just to let it sit around and collect dust. Uh-uh.  That’s not gonna happen!

IMG_20140914_102634

I’ve been playing around with a fire-starter that consists of a ferrocerrium rod and striker. You shave the ferro rod with the striker which gives off extremely hot sparks.  The rod is thicker than the one glued to a metal magnesium bar found at Wal-Mart, but is smaller than the ¼” diameter that Dave Cantebury uses.  I’d scrape the rod with the striker of the back of my pocket knife just to see the sparks fly.  It was easy to tell that the back of my knife did a much better job at creating sparks from the rod than the striker did.

I also had some shavings lying in my hat. (Part of a project from Bushcraft USA forums) And then there is the clothes line wrapped up in a spool sitting next to my router on my desk.  That should be good tinder.  Along with this is a nice bucket load of dry kindling sitting quietly in the garage.  This will work.

But can I make it work?

My idea was to start a fire using the clothesline and shavings, and then building it up with the kindling before adding on the very wet wood.

I cut off two pieces of clothesline, each an inch long. Then I separated the outside weaving from the inside and shredded the outside weave while opening up the inside. Tossing it in the hat, I took the supplies outside to the fire pit.

One minor problem here. The pit is so deep that if I place the shaving bundle and shredded rope into the middle, I’m going to be stretching really far to get that spark going.  If it was dry, I’d place it all on a palm frond.  Since they’re soaking wet, I cheated and placed it on a sheet of newspaper.  I figured since the paper is just for support and transport and would not be used to start the fire, it was ok.

Now I was ready.

I took the striker and pulled the rod against it. You’re supposed to pull the ferro rod against the bottom of the striker so that you don’t accidentally knock the kindling bundle away.

One. Two.  Three pulls.  Sparks flew lightly into the air, but nowhere near enough needed to get this thing going.  I set the striker aside and pulled out the knife.  I have seen some people use the sharp edge of the knife to strike the sparks, but I didn’t want to ruin the sharp edge I worked so hard to get on this.  I used the back spine of the blade instead.  Gripping tight, I pulled again.

One! Oops!  The bundle spilled into the pit. I had held it so tightly that when the knife pulled away from the rod, the hand holding the rod moved forward and knocked the bundle away.  I quickly grabbed the bundle off the wet soil and put it back on the paper.  During the move, I could tell that the moisture in the air is getting wicked up into the bundle.  It felt moist in my hands.  Not damp, mind you, but definitely wetter than it was when I brought it out.  I needed to get this thing going.

With this added urgency I took the inner part of the cotton clothesline and pulled it to open up its fibers.

One more strike.

Fhzzzzt!

Sparks flew heavily in a shower of light and catch of the mix of cotton and wood. A flame started immediately and started to consume the small bundle with alarming speed.  The fire is started and it’s hungry!  I quickly placed the paper holding the fire into the pit before throwing some very small splinter thick pieces of wood on it.  While those were consumed, I started to build a teepee around and over it with my kindling of dried palm frond stalks.  (Dried palm frond stalks and leaves are wonderful for fires!  They have natural oils in them that burn very hot.  It burns similar to pine, but without the fumes or odor.)

After building that up came the next challenge, using wet wood. The fire wood has been sitting uncovered for a year now and that wood has been rained on constantly over the summer.  Besides the rain in the afternoon, it had rain water soaking in it throughout the week.  Only one day out of the seven did it not rain.  This wood is beyond wet.  It is soaked.

Pulling the thinnest branches out, I started to break them into proper lengths. Some parts bent rather than broke.  Other thicker pieces just crumble in my hands.  They were so wet that they were rotting!  Placing these on top of the kindling, I worried the fire might not be hot enough.  The cure for that?  More palm stalks.  Dead palm fronds stood in easy reach.  The problem was that they were wet from the rain, just like the wood.  Would they work?  I grabbed a few from the palmettos and was instantly sprayed by the water that had collected in the pockets of the frond leaves.  This was going to be interesting.  Six fronds later and I was ready.

I placed them strategically in the fire and watched in amazement as they lit up. The oil in the palm fronds really helps out.  I relaxed as I watched the soaking wood dry out and catch fire.  Plus the mixed sound of sizzling water and cracking fire was such a treat.

Finally I pushed the limit and threw in a decent log. It was four inched thick and over two feet long.  The fire would have to dry it before cutting it and then dry it again to consume it.  Would it work?

fire

Yep.

So I succeeded in my experiment. I was able to get a fire going and was able to burn very wet wood.

Was it a true test of wet weather fire building? Definitely not.  I used dry tinder and dry kindling.  I didn’t try to carve out dry wood from the inside of logs, nor did I forage for dry inner bark of pine trees.

Did I start a fire in somewhat adverse conditions? Yes!  It was dark when I started the experiment and very humid.  The tinder was absorbing moisture very quickly and had a limited time of use.  I think I did well.

Did I accomplish my goal of starting a fire without a lighter or match. You bet. Even if I hadn’t gotten the wood to take, I had built and lit a small starter fire with nothing but a ferro rod and a knife.  That was cool.

Do I recommend using a ferrocerrium rod over a lighter? No way! Lighters are so much easier it just makes sense to use them.  This was a test of a new skill and an experiment to see what I could learn from it.  It was fun to do, but in an emergency I would rather have a lighter.

I had a great time with this experiment and when I was done, I was sweaty, smoky and smelly. I was also proud of my accomplishment.

My wife just thought I was crazy.

A writer doesn’t write always.

Hi.  How are you?  Nope, I’m not dead.  (Nor is this blog.)  I’m sure you’ve been wondering where I’ve been.  I wish I could say I was swimming the Nile, hiking the Appalachians, or restructuring the entire Formula One racing series, but no, my reasons are more mundane.

My time and creativity have been usurped by family matters and a relentless growing season at work.

There were two deaths in the family and the memorials were two weeks apart.  They were for my Grandmother and my Mother in law.  I wish you had met them.  While completely apart in style, both enjoyed life and were honest about their opinions and observations.  One traveled a lot while the other stayed home, yet both of them believed that family mattered most.  They loved when everyone would come over for the holidays and reveled in cooking up a storm.  They were both modern and traditional at the same time.  I’m so glad I was able to share so much time with them.

Work, on the other hand, was a mess!  We didn’t have a lot of rain this year, but wow did things grow!  Trying to tame the wildness left everyone wet and worn out.  The humidity was so high (still is) that in the first half hour you are drenched in sweat.  It got so bad this year that I was actually entertaining the idea of going to Las Vegas just to see if their dry heat was really worse than our damp.  Then I remembered that they have no grass there, so it wouldn’t matter anyway!

Even my daydreams were stunted this season.  Normally I can come up with three or four ideas each day while at work.  Most of them will fade away by the time I get home, but I’ll still have one that is good enough to post.  Not this time.  I was lucky if I got two in a week.  I was suffering a drought of creativity.

My motivation had disappeared too.  It wasn’t just in writing.  I had planned on doing some hiking and even a little overnight camping this summer, but the heat and humidity just destroyed that notion.  I had no desire to walk around like I had been in a wet t-shirt contest, and I sure didn’t feel like sleeping in what would feel like a steamed up bathroom.  Nope. Rain check please.

But the good news is that there are some things I do want to talk about.

Remember how I longed for a travel/adventure magazine that was designed around realistic choices and not extreme buildups?  Well, I found it!

I also recently purchased Dave Cantebury’s new book “Bushcraft 101” and am looking forward to telling you all about it.

The sun is setting sooner now and a cool breeze can be felt on my skin.  Summer’s still here but I feel a changer coming.  As a writer, we might suffer from unspeakable times of creative drought, but that doesn’t mean we stop all together.  Take this time to sort things out and take a look around you.  Without even trying you’ll find something that will sew new seeds of creativity.  Then, just as quick as the drought hit, creativity and motivation will rain upon you again.

Keep the faith.

Mascots

A yellow car sits parked at the edge of a precipice.  Worn mountains cross the horizon as a thin ribbon of green meanders across the desolate field surrounding it.  At first glance, you could easily mistake the scene for a commercial, but you soon realize that the car is a toy and the scene is another achievement for a mascot.

Torchbug from Jalopnik

Mascots seem to have a curious life in the United States. Their popularity rises and falls like the tides of the ocean.

Do you remember Stanley?  You know, the little guy who usually wore a striped shirt and blue pants.  Someone would ship him in the mail to you and ask you to take a picture of him in some scenic place before shipping him out onto the next random person?  Well Stanley is one paper link on the long chain of mascots that have traveled abroad.

Flat-Stanley-St-Peters-Sq

Either before him, or around the same time, was the wandering gnome.  Unlike Stanley, the gnome was kidnapped.  Cruelly taken from his owners.  Then, after a ransom letter containing a picture of the beloved creature, the gnome was whisked across the globe. Pictures were sent back to the owners of their gnome skiing in Amsterdam, tanning on the beaches of the Caribbean, having coffee in Italy, and parachuting out of airplanes.  It ended well for the family as the gnome retuned one day with a peep or clue from his kidnappers.

Woody_London

The rule of the mascot is simple:  Send it to an interested person; Have that person take a picture or pictures of the mascot in an interesting place; Ship the mascot off to the next person.

The rules for the mascot are unspoken and more involved:

1.)  The mascot must be cute, quirky, or friendly in personality.  The mascot needs to make friends quickly with each new person it encounters if the trip is going to happen.  Otherwise the mascot will be quickly thrown into the trash and forgotten.  This is why little bears, gnomes, paper children, and “cute” cars are used frequently. A spoon, not so much.

2.)  The mascot must be small.  Shipping costs money and if the mascot is too big or heavy, the cost to ship it will severely reduces its chances of meeting the next person. (This is why even teddy bear mascots are usually six inches or less.)  Flat Stanley is the gold standard here.  Being made of paper, he could be folded up, shoved in a regular envelope, and mailed off anywhere for less than the price of a candy bar.

3.)  The mascot must be durable.  Think you last flight in coach was bad?  Imagine being squished through rollers, tossed into bins, having other boxes staked on you, traveling with no heat or air conditioning, getting tossed again by strangers, and finally being shoved into a mailbox until the recipient finds you.  Now imagine doing this over and over again.  Mail carriers take care of their deliveries, but people are people and mistakes happen.  The mascot has to be tough to handle these situations.

4.)  The mascot must be affordable.  Whenever one of these journeys starts, the owner of the mascot will be faced with the fact that they might never see their mascot again once it is dropped in the mail.  It may never even make it to its first destination.  With this thought burning in the owner’s mind, they are not going to invest heavily into the mascot.  Usually the mascot will cost ten dollars or less.  (Again, Flat Stanley was king in this area.)  You might find the rare person who will spend a bit more for sentimental reasons, but usually the mascot will be low cost.

Mascots are a great way to physically connect with your friends in a way that facebook, e-mails, and phone calls can’t.  It’s a way to share fun and happiness when you can’t be there in person.  It’s an act of faith while also an adventure on the cheap.  I see the ebb and flow of their popularity traveling forever.

Go mascot.

Sheep

 

Your basic truck

Along a twisting ribbon of asphalt, an old Dodge pickup rambles on; its 64 year old engine chugging dutifully.  As mix of patina and rust, the old Dodge isn’t doddering along a dusty country road, no sir.  It’s running hard and heavy against much newer iron on a full-fledged race track!

LeMons_Miller_Leaders-50Dodge

This is the Twenty Four Hours of LeMons; a race where cars of questionable reliability and near the end of perceived life expectancy are given a last chance for fame and glory.  The old Dodge is here running its first race.

Grumpy Cat Racing 1950 Dodge

Four months ago, the Dodge wouldn’t have imagined it.  The truck was lying derelict behind a garage in Denver.  The owner bought the truck through sweat equity in December2013 and started wrenching on it in January.  There he found it had been in an accident and that the springs were literally held on with bailing wire!

The owner, under the handle of wizard0ne0, tuned up the engine, replaced the radiator, replaced both front and rear axles, gutted the interior, replaced the floor pan, installed a roll cage, and put in a proper fuel cell (gas tank).

Return-of-the-LeMonItes-Winners-IOE-3

With six drivers pulling four hour stints behind the wheel, the truck that could did the impossible and became the first new to racing vehicle to not break down and complete the entire race with 149 laps.  (Very slow laps.)  Team Grumpy Cat racing might not have won the race with their old Dodge, but they did win the Index of Effluency award.

What amazes me about this truck wasn’t just the feat it had accomplishes, but that the exact same make and year of truck is the focal point for a man named John Jerome in his autobiographical book, “Truck”.

Truck-book

Through his writings, John describes in vivid detail the trials and tribulations of buying a 1950 Dodge pickup and rebuilding it from the ground up.  Not restoring it, mind you, but rebuilding it in order to make it better than when it left the factory.  “Supertruck” he called it.  From precariously hoisting the engine on a creaking barn beam, to finding out that the wheel bolts on the right side of the truck are reverse threaded for safety, John spends a year on his project before succumbing to reality and slapping the thing back together pretty much the way it was when he bought it.

The book is hilarious and full of zen-like moments.  It’s also his most popular writing.

It’s ironic that over thirty years later someone decides to take the same type of truck he had and make it work in a way he never imagined with less work and angst that he endured.

If John was alive today, I’m sure he’d bristle at this young upstart so quickly building his project and accomplishing his goals.  John would then, just as quickly admire the man’s feat before heading out to the barn to admire the honest beauty of your basic truck.

1950 Dodge

If you know who wizard0ne0 of Grumpy Cat Racing is, please put his name in the responses so I can give him the credit he, his team, and all those that helped him deserve.

From Car and Driver magazine

 

 

 

The bridge

The dreams reached

The adventures achieved

The journey continued

Loved ones met

All because of me.

Now I need you to reach the other side.

Leanne Cole Photography

Thanks to Leanne Cole for her wonderful photo and inspiration.

http://leannecolephotography.com/2014/06/05/a-quiet-day/leannecole-kyneton-australia-abandonedbridge-20131002-8662/

 

May wishes for summer adventures.

It’s mid-May; what are your summer plans?  Many of you have suffered a long and vicious winter this season.  Being locked up inside must’ve kicked your summer plans into overdrive.  I’m sure you spent hours, if not days going over every detail of what you would do once released from winters icy grip.

Here’s your opportunity kick those plans in motion and let the world know what you are going to do this summer.

You suffered the cold, so reward yourself by making those plans come true!

With an itch to see some spruce, I am going up to Maine.  I will hike the trails and enjoy lobster freshly caught.  Many pictures will be taken and wonderful ideas will be hatched.

I will also be hiking the trails more often around my local.  There are many places close by that need exploring and there’s no reason not to go.

I’m also going to do my first solo camp.  It’s amazing that I’ve never done one before, but I always felt like I needed to include the wife on this.  She has no desire this time, unless it’s glamping, (just say no) and I want to do the rugged thing.  I have made a concession on where this will be done.  I wanted to try this at Deep Creek Preserve since it’s my go to hiking place, but she would rather have me camp at Oscar Scherer State Park.  (I might push for Myakka River State Park since it has primitive campsites available.)

I will also be posting about my daypack since gear is always popular to blog about.

So what are going to do this summer?  The days are warmer and the nights are warmer.  Hear the whispers in the distance?  Those are your adventures calling.

Illusions

Image from tampabay.com

“Never interview your heroes.  You will be let down.”

Those words echoed in my head as the podcast rambled on.  The ‘caster was relating a story he experienced back when he worked for a music rag.  One of his editors was begging him to interview a country star that she had become enamored with.  He warned her with those two lines before letting her go.  The result was almost typecast.  The “hero” she had built up so high ended up being just another human being.  Words that were written in form weren’t sagely divined, but manipulated to fit the need. The star’s aura was just the spotlight in the background used to highlight him on stage.  She had left empty and disappointed.

The truth is many have fallen for this trap; including me.  We watch our actors, performers, singers, sport stars, politicians, ect… trip the lights fantastic and think that is how they live their lives every moment of every day.  They float instead of walk.

The truth is they walk just like the rest of us.  The smart ones realize it.  They try to tell the truth.  Songs have been written about it.

“Grand Illusion”

“Fifteen Minutes of Fame”

“Ordinary Man”

“Ordinary Average Guy”

The real train wrecks come from the people who get lost in the hype. (Yeah, that person.  And that one, too.)   When those poor people hit the ground, they hit hard!  Some don’t make it back.

In complete irony I’ve found it easier to meet a celebrity I don’t care about than someone I do.  When it’s someone you don’t care about, you don’t care.  They are just another person on the street.  You might know their face and name, but it’s like knowing that guy or lady down the street.  You politely nod or wave hello, maybe say something nice about the weather and go on your way.  But if it’s a “hero”, look out!  Everything becomes a big deal.  “Am I dressed ok?  How’s my breath?  What should I say?  How the while the “hero” just wants to live a normal-ish life.

I think instead of trying to meet “heroes”, it would be better to meet compatriots.  (People who would have a baseline to create a relationship from.)  People like you.  I’d gamble that a good percentage of my readers are also bloggers.  Either way it’s a great way to get a conversation going. It opens up the dialogue. Questions and comments of finding inspirations and characters to describing where you come from and the influences from that experience are things that can be shared over a burger and fries.  There’s no invisible barrier between us.  Just two people discussing and discovering things.  It’s a more rewarding and realistic experience.

I’d rather meet with any of you over any “hero” any day.  There are no preconditions; just the chance to learn.

That’s the best meeting of all.