Monday, October 25, 2021

Family Reunions and (Terrifying!) Farmer's Markets

 All right, this is the second thread of my brilliant, but ill-fated, two-thread post that I eventually decided just wasn't going to work and had to break up into separate entities.

This particular, travel-bloggy, thread was originally differentiated from the introspective thread, by the font size and encapsulating the text as photo-captions. I've left the formatting alone here, mainly because it was less work and who among us isn't lazy, at least once in a while?

And fair warning! There weren't any real hikes involved and because I'm not inclined to plaster family details all over the web, this may a little more sparse than my usual offerings.

I skipped the family reunion last year because I was trying to be responsible, stay safe, and figured I'd have another chance next year (this year).

Well, because of vaccine hesitancy, too-early abandonment of safe practices, and the highly contagious Delta variant, that didn't work out so well. The hospitalization and mortality numbers are actually higher right now than this time last year. (last half of August) But it's been two years since I've been fact to face with her and since I'm no spring chicken anymore myself that means Mom is really no spring chicken! And unlike last year when there was none available, this year I, along with Mom and my siblings, am vaccinated, so I pulled on my big-boy pants, tucked my fears in out of sight along with my shirttails, and hit the road. 

The first week of this trip was spent lurking in The Brother's driveway helping him plan out the renovation of this vintage travel trailer he found rotting away in the weeds a while ago. (He's always making impossible, wonderful finds of cool stuff like this and frankly, sometimes it gets a little annoying to us mere mortals that get the majority of our blah, cookie-cutter crap from Walmart!) Though I should note that the planning was sandwiched in between runs to deliver a spare tire out to the shoulder of a busy freeway, (You should periodically check to make sure the lowering mechanism for the spare tucked up under your pickup truck still actually works!) failed attempts to get a classic green tractor started in order to turn over about 8 acres of cut hay that was laying out there waiting to be bailed, and the occasional mental-health break over at the nearby RC airplane flying field of which The Brother is an addicted a charter member.

Oh, and this photo isn't of his actual trailer but one like it I snagged off the net, not because his trailer is some big secret but because I just didn't take any photos.

Along with drawing up the new interior on SketchUP to fit his and his wife's travel needs we went over a lot of electrical stuff because he thinks I know more about that crap than he does!

Even though The Brother's place was recently reclassified by the cable provider from rural to urban, allowing them to take away access to RFDTV and GAC but still charge him the same, and the road out front has gotten much busier over the years, he and his wife live on 10 acres that don't feel all that crowded in on - yet.

Four or five laps around the perimeter in that morning gap between me getting up and normal people getting up would get me close to a couple miles of workout-hiking, though I didn't wear my loaded backpack while doing so for fear of being perceived as a homeless intruder.

The official family reunion was a long weekend in a campground up there near the top of Michigan's thumb.

Not my preferred style of camping, sandwiched there nuts-to-butts with other rigs, but it's a reunion. It's supposed to be a social affair!

By the way, that's my brand new, commercial-grade canopy there beside The Van, tilted at the moment against the hot morning sun, and since campfires are a nonnegotiable part of camping for some, no matter what the temperatures are, it still smells like smoke a month later!

Though more expensive than the usual consumer-grade EasyUP my hope is that the heavier frame and tougher canopy will be more durable and provide longer service. Besides, the vertical legs, as opposed to the splayed legs of the EazyUP, mean that I can leave the legs staked down as I raise and lower the canopy throughout the day to accommodate everything from moving sun, kicked-back lounging, stand-up activities, and hunkered-down-against-the-weather - which is really convenient.

One thing this campground does have is great sunrises. 

We have been holding these reunion camp-outs since I was a kid. You'd think we, especially my siblings and cousins, would be all talked out after all these years, but it seems that as we age it constantly opens up new conversations that we've never had before.

It's also humbling, reaffirming, and gratifying, to realize that I, the weird, seldom-seen Uncle-from-Texas, have accumulated wisdom and knowledge that some of the younger generation are eager to tap into. 

The downside of that is that since I rarely talk much most of the time (After 40 years together The Wife and I will often be up for hours before we say a word to each other. Usually about what's for lunch. It's not an angry silence - most the time anyway - it's just the way we are.) so I often end up talking my throat raw at these events.

Fortunately for me, tucked in behind the rental cabins at the south end of the campground is one end of a trail that snakes around through the back area away from the shoreline and comes back out to the lake at the north end of the park. One full lap through the woods and then back along the shoreline was just over a mile so two laps every morning while most were still sleeping was just what the doctor ordered.

Unfortunately for me those laps must have left me too relaxed. Otherwise I have no explanation for what the hell I was thinking Saturday morning when The Brother asked if I wanted to ride along when they went to the local farmer's market in nearby Port Austin and I said sure!!

What a nightmare that was! All these people wandering around maskless and jammed together, jostling in lines for kettle-corn and trinkets and smelling each other's armpits and breath-mints as if it was the olden days. You know, pre-2020!!

Oh sure, as soon as they were available I did the safe and morally correct thing, both for myself, The Wife, and the community, and got myself vaccinated just as readily as I was vaccinated decades ago for smallpox and polio to help stop those terrible diseases from decimating the community. But I knew damn good and well that here, in a state littered with an amazing number of yard-signs proclaiming "my Governor is an Idiot" because of her efforts to keep the citizens safe from Covid, that wasn't the case for everybody that was bouncing around between those stalls like demented bumper-cars!

There were, by far, way more of those Idiot signs against the blue governor in the blue state of Michigan than there are Trump 2020 signs still up in the very red state of Texas!

Meanwhile, back at the farmer's market, I managed to keep myself somewhere just shy of a total meltdown with a constant, internalized but still shouting, mantra of  'get away from me! get away from me!' accompanied by the most inhospitable glare I could come up with, interspersed with 'I'm an idiot! I'm an idiot!', and dodging into any little free-space I could find, which wasn't many.

But after a couple weeks of incubating that malodorous cloud of exhaled pathogens with no discernible effects I was ready to admit that I apparently survived my idiocy unscathed.

Don't let this idealistic kayaking scene right out in front of my campsite fool you.

Canada is about 50 miles away there over the horizon 

 and just off-shore of this campground we're staying at is the highest concentration of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. There's a small museum there in the lighthouse complex at the park that mostly features bits and pieces from shipwrecks, and between the lighthouse and where our campers are parked is where a life-saving station used to sit. And in addition to the ship's crews, not all the life-savers came back alive either.

I spent the week after the campout doing some more driveway-lurking, this time at the house of The Sisters.

No, this isn't their house!

This is the former home of the Booths (Which happens to be my paternal grandmother's name, and just like George Booth, she also originally hailed from Hamilton Ontario, though we know of no direct connection.) who in the late 1800's early 1900's ended up owning the major Detroit newspaper as well as much of the rest of Michigan's press making them a crap-load of money. With a humanitarian conscience (notice that 'con'  in Spanish translates to 'with', so conscience is 'with science'!) the Booths created a foundation to advance the arts and education and also turned their home into a public space which is now the Cranbrook House and Gardens as well as headquarters for the Cranbrook Foundation.

While I was driveway-lurking at their more modest residence one of The Sisters took the day off and we grabbed Mom up from her fortress-like community, which has done an amazing job of keeping the residents safe through this pandemic, and visited the gardens around the Cranbrook House.

Because of the pandemic the house itself wasn't open for tours, just the grounds. But after the all too recent horrors of that farmer's market free-for-all that was fine by me!

Yep, still the Booth's home at Cranbrook Gardens. There's enough value in the copper gutter system alone to build a normal person a whole house!

The Sisters live in one of those normal-people houses - a modest abode in a small subdivision and it's definitely a more urban setting than The Brother's.  Back in the 60's a park was established across the road from their subdivision and is pretty overgrown and wild now, but it does offer a confused network of unsigned trails (I used the Guia App on my phone to keep myself oriented.) and a decent space to get in some miles on foot early in the morning. Though with the perpetually busy freeway nearby, an airport flight-path overhead and the cheek-by-jowls nature of suburban living (Car door slams, watch gets checked. Oh, Carl across the street is home from work 15 minutes late tonight!) I was never able to forget that this is a pretty urbanized area by my standards.

But surprisingly I didn't find it intolerable, in fact it wasn't all that bad, and The Sisters, Mom, and I had a good week of visiting before I headed on down the road again to wrap up the trip.

I know, I know, looking east towards Canada this is a sunrise photo and not a sunset, but but after stealing the only sunset photo for the previous post, it was the best I could come up with to finish this one.

And speaking of endings. As is often the case, I wrapped up this trip by trying out a few new roads on the 1300 mile drive back home and mapping a few more to check out next time.

Because there will be a next time.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Forced Out Into The Real World and Rebooted as a Result.

Originally I wrote this post with two different threads woven together.

It seemed like a pretty ingenious idea at the time! But eventually I had to admit that, even though each thread had its own unique font-size and format, this clever bit of literary brilliance just made it difficult to keep track of each of the related but separate threads. So I have just taken a cleaver to the post (See what I did there? Clever and Cleaver??  No? Oh boo-hoo. I thought it was pretty good word-play myself! But then again I thought a multi-threaded post was a pretty good idea too - - -) and turned it into the two separate posts it was meant to be.

This first one, a largely introspective post, will be followed next week by a more travel-bloggy post about the trip that triggered this inward look.


Every time I go up (to Michigan) for a family reunion I don't expect to be writing about it. (As is usually the case for these reunions this was the latter half of August) After all, it's not like I haven't done the trip before - lots of times - and it's mostly family stuff, of which I'm not about to plaster too much of all over the web due to privacy and potential security issues.

But as is often the case, at some point something about the trip strikes me and I end up writing about it anyway. This time it was a sort of personal reboot, or at least the realization of that reboot.

Hopefully I'll explain that a little better below.

At the tail end of this particular trip, when I was only four hours from home, (But 13 hours from the previous night's stop, so that was far enough.) I was sitting at a nearly indestructible concrete picnic table in the rest area that was my overnight stop when the thoughts start to flow.

It's not quite sunrise yet and though I've been up long enough to brew a cup of tea I'm taking my time about drinking it in order to let the clock run so as to avoid rush-hour when I skirt around the edges of the city later.

I know from past disappointment that when the thoughts start to flow like this, no matter how obvious and memorable they seem at the time, I need to capture them right now because later I will have probably lost most of that profound, intracranial-conversation to the muck swirling in the bottom of that pool of untagged-memories. Ever since smart-phones I do this with my phone's audio recorder app. Of course, when revisited later most of those thoughts are - well, to put it in fancy terms - crap - but you never know.

By the way, it may have been coincidence, or could be that the sound is what triggered my thoughts in the first place, but behind my voice on the recording, like an exquisitely appropriate sound-track, you can hear the distant, lonely call of a train working it's way southward somewhere off in the woods.

No matter how blue the sky, the thing about traveling in the heat of the summer is that it's hot, it's dusty, the colors are faded, bleached to an almost monochromatic grey by the relentless sun, and there's just a touch of desperateness to it all as bug-spattered cars cycle through hot, crowded fuel-stations and jockey for the closest parking spot at tired rest areas populated with half-dried weeds struggling up through cracked pavement.

But despite all that, despite two weeks in Michigan without air-conditioning during record-setting heat, as I sat there on that dew-damped concrete bench accompanied by the background rumble of idling truck engines, that distant cry of a train, and the occasional tire-whine of a passing vehicle out there on the highway, I found I was actually feeling a little melancholy that the trip was effectively over, but I was also feeling pretty good because a kind of peace and contentment had snuck in and settled firmly into my belly. ( At first I thought maybe it was just the tea, but I was wrong - - - )

There, with my elbows braced on the table-top, the grit under them crunching slightly every time I raised my cup for another sip, the realization struck me that this, where I was right now, is the real world.

The real world isn't one of those highly choreographed sit-com sets The Wife and I peer at through the window of our TV some evenings. It's not the bucolic, predictable but comforting story-line of a Hallmark movie, or the carefully crafted word-pictures of the latest book I'm reading. It's not even, especially not even, our familiar and isolated little homestead with it's perimeter fence keeping the rest of the world at bay.

The real world is steamy, gritty, a little chaotic, confusing, often plot-less, and sometimes scary.

I have spent much of my life feeling as if I am outside looking in. The guy that is perpetually standing out on the snowy sidewalk looking through the brightly lit window, past the tantalizing stocking-leg lamp, at Ralphy's Christmas. And sometimes that makes me sad, even though I know being on the inside would be uncomfortable for me and I would be looking for the first opportunity to escape back outside anyway.

Yet sitting there under the cold, almost blue light of the newfangled lampposts strategically dotting this fairly new rest area, I realized that I was actually glad to have been forced from the isolation of the introvert and be reminded that I can survive mixing with the real people once in a while. The experience has been a palette-cleanser that allowed me to reset my perspective of how I actually fit into this world.

Not as an outsider as some, especially those who can't understand not being 'normal', would have me believe, but more of an outlier helping draw the defining lines around 'normal'.

Note that in the painting at the top of this post the lone figure is positioned towards the left side and facing out of the frame rather than into it. That wasn't a conscious choice, it's just how the image turned out when I initially sketched it up. But, despite the art world's "rule" about having figures look into the painting so the viewer's eye isn't directed off the edge and away from the artwork, I thought it was a good representation of how my mind works and how I navigate the world, so I left it that way.

The Oxford dictionary succinctly, pretty much dismissively, describes the introvert as "a shy, reticent person", but they are wrong. Egregiously wrong!

Those more knowledgeable about this trait often describe the introvert as "characterized by being reserved and thoughtful with a tendency to be inwardly oriented and to gather strength or energy from being alone rather than from the company of others". Although highly simplistic, this is at least a slightly more comprehensive and informed description - but is still wrong.

Introverts aren't gathering strength and energy when they are alone but rather they're stopping the drain of strength and energy it takes to be around and interact with people. 

Everybody, in fact all living things with even rudimentary brains, have a Reticular Activating System, a RAS, which is a bunch of neurons located in the brain stem, that lizard-brain that is involved with the baser functions like heartbeat, breathing, and other reflexive actions that keep us alive.

Simplistically, the RAS part of our lizard brains regulates our "awareness" level, or the amount of information we are processing at any given point in order to be cognizant of and able to deal with any dangers around us.

Evolution has dictated that our personal RAS be turned up or down depending on the level of external stimulation, although we actually have no conscious control over the level anymore than we do our heart-rate. (Yeah, I'm ignoring the handful of Yogis out there that can make their hearts do whatever they're told.) This automatic adjustment of RAS levels is predicated on the simple, basic fact that the more external stimulation the more opportunity for danger so internal awareness levels need to be higher.

From a scientific perspective introverts are the 15% or so of the population with RAS's that operate at a higher base volume than the rest of the population and the need to isolate in order to process and regulate the constant flood of information this creates before our heads explode is what drives us to the 'introvert traits'. (Conversely, extroverts have a low RAS baseline level and tend to use social interaction to amp things up.)

The problem is some, and based on my level of introvertism I surmise that my RAS is turned up pretty dang high definitely making me one of the 'some' in this case, can take this to the far end of the spectrum. Which, while it seems to me a pretty normal place to hang out, is often classified as odd (To put it gently, though other, more graphic and derogatory descriptions have drifted their way to my ears on occasion.) by non-introverts. 

But regardless, I find two solid weeks of social interaction uncomfortable and exhausting, yet I realize, as I'm sitting here about to wrap up the trip, that I'm actually feeling pretty sanguine about being "forced" out into the real world. (I know! I know! Sanguine is a pretty pretentious, nose-in-the-air, Champaign-and-caviar kinda word coming out of someone that doesn't even drink beer, but it's not often I get to properly use a word like that!)

The experience has "rebooted" my perspective on the world and helped me recover my understanding of where and how I fit into it. Which also has the effect of reminding me there's no need to beat myself up over being an introvert - that's just how I'm wired, even if not everyone understands. (To be fair, I don't understand the life of an extrovert either.)

Sure, if I had a choice I may not have chosen this particular set of personality traits for myself and lived a different kind of life closer to the center of the bell-curve, but I am what I am and, despite spending my entire career thought of as "weird" by my colleagues, I'm actually, at this moment in time anyway, fine with that.

OK, so I stole this photo from next week's post and now I have to come up with a new coda-photo for that post.

This is sunset at the southbound I57 rest area on Rend Lake in Illinois. (If you ignore Chicago and East St. Louis it's not a bad state at all!) One of my favorite overnight stopping places.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Living (well) With The Lowly Poncho

 Recently, when the failure of my traditional rain-suit forced me to fall back on my even more traditional poncho I was reminded all over again - because apparently I tend to forget - of just how versatile and effective this simple garment can be.

In fact the poncho is so versatile that I decided not to spend the money on replacing my rain-suit and just use the poncho I already carry in my pack instead. 

(Just for grins, to highlight the 'versatile' part of that statement above I've numbered the different uses and configurations of a poncho as I talk about them throughout the text below, and I've only covered a handful of the many possibilities here.)

Yeah Yeah, I know, the poncho is hardly a fashion statement and it won't get me a modeling gig for the LL Bean fall catalog or an invite to join the 'in crowd' at the trailhead, but hear me out.

If you still want to scoff after reading this post then go ahead and scoff away.

Now I'm not talking about the barely there bit of whisper-thin plastic that you can bunch up in your pocket to the size of a key-fob and buy off E-Bay for $14 per 10-pack!

If you get caught out by a sudden downpour one of these single-use ponchos might be fine for getting from the Mall, where you've been buying the latest designer tie and a $10 coffee, to your nearby Beamer (Better be nearby since you cruised the parking lot for 15 minutes trying to snag the closest possible slot!) without ruining your $800 suit-jacket, but it has no place out on the trail where your survival may depend on it.

I'm talking about a proper military style poncho like this that does an admirable, if basic, job of keeping the rain off. (One) 

Mine weighs a full pound and even carefully packed is still the size of a well-stuffed file-folder, in part because of the durable fabric generously sized to completely cover my arms and drape well down my legs, and partly because of the 8 metal grommets, one on each corner as well as another in the middle of each edge, (notice the grommet by my hand where I can use a finger-loop through it on windy days to keep the rain-coverage in place Although I can also just pull my arms inside for even more protection. (Two)) and metal, double-sided snaps installed every 8 inches or so down the two sides. These snaps not only allow me to securely close the sides, but can be used in other ways too, which I will get to in a moment.

My one immediate complaint about military-style ponchos is that the hood is sized to fit over a tactical helmet. This may be fine for weekend militia members and guys and gals with 50's-style big-hair, but it is way to large for my stubble-covered skull where it flops over and covers my eyes - which, you know, is kinda bad when you're trying to hike - but I get around that by wearing the hood over top of my hat.

Or, if I decide the rain is light enough to go sans-hood and just rely on the weatherliness (Not a word? Should be.) of my Tilly, then after putting the poncho on I pull my arms inside, reach up behind my head from inside, pull the hood down through the neck-hole, and leave it nestled between my back and the poncho. This keeps the loose hood from filling up with rain and giving me an unpleasant dowsing when I'm not paying attention later.  (Three)

A major advantage of ponchos over rain-suits is the poncho's ability to protect your pack as well as you, because let's face it, even on the most expensive of our packs those fancy little rain-covers tucked into dedicated pockets on the bottom are seriously lacking when it comes to real-world functionality. (Four)

This photo is worst-case scenario with me wearing a pack fully loaded to 30 pounds for some proper over-nighting and you can see that I still have some serious coverage going on here for the backs of my legs. With the same pack loaded to a less bulky day-pack status the back-of-leg coverage gets even better.

A common complaint with ponchos, actually all truly water-proof rain-gear, is that it is HOT! But then again, if you're hot then hypothermia is not much of a concern and rain is just water after all so if it's that hot I'm inclined not to bother trying to stay dry anyway, but there are other strategies that can be used with a poncho to combat the heat short of complete exposure.

Easiest is to just undo the side-snaps and let the front and back flap free as you walk, creating far more ventilation than the fancy vent-panels sewn into those expensive rain-jackets could ever provide. (Five) 

If that's still not enough another trick I have useed is to thread some cordage (You are carrying some bits of cordage along on your hikes aren't you?) through the grommet near my hand, down to the grommet in that same front corner, across through the grommet in the center of the front, through the grommet in the other corner, and finally back up to the grommet near my other hand. (Which takes less time to do than it sounds.)

If I now pull on the two ends of the cord like a draw-cord, drawing the grommets up on the inside, between me and the rest of the draping poncho as I've done in the photo, to just below my chin before looping the cord behind my head and tying it off I'm still largely protected from steamy vertical rain  and more importantly so is my pack, but there is also plenty of ventilation going on in this configuration.  (Six)  Admittedly it does look pretty goofy so it's a good thing I'm not a fashionista. (see previous comment about not getting into the LL Bean catalog)  

Using that improvised draw-string I can also draw the grommets up on the outside to somewhere between my belly-button and my nipples then loop the cord behind my head and tie it off.  This creates a pouch, a wheel-barrow of sorts, for collecting leaves and other bulky but light stuff to be used for making fire-starter or insulation. To make the pouch less leaky snap a few of those handy double-sided snaps together to close up the pouch-sides. (Seven)

OK, so both a rain-suit and a poncho will keep rain off of you, but by this point you can clearly see the poncho is a little more versatile than a rain-suit - but the versatility doesn't end here so I'm not done yet!

Another really handy and simple thing I can do with a poncho but not a rain-suit, is sit down on a rock or log with my pack sheltered between my feet and pull my arms and head inside the poncho. I call this the squat-and-turtle and have used it frequently. Just make sure the hood either lays so it both covers the neck opening and won't fill up with rain, or if it's windy and the hood won't stay put, pull the hood's draw-cord tight to close the neck-hole.

It may look strange, but there's enough completely sheltered room under here for me to poke through my pack, study the map, eat lunch, read a book, sit out a bad squall, or just rest out of the weather for a while, be it wet, wind, cold, or any combination. (I don't have any first-hand experience, but I wouldn't recommend smoking under there!) I find it works best with a brimmed hat on to create a little 'umbrella' space around my head. If it's windy I can sit on and/or tuck under my feet, the edges of the poncho to keep everything in place. (Eight) 

Back in basic training we were taught to pair up with someone else, snap two ponchos together and build a nice little tent with a few stakes and a couple poles. The resulting shelter is actually quite roomy, especially since military field strategy dictates that one of you is always outside and alert while the other sleeps - two hours on two hours off.

Since I never did that beyond basic training I'm am not counting it as one of the uses here, but a single poncho can still make a decent shelter.

The first thing to do with making most poncho shelters is to draw the hood-cord up tight to close the neck-hole. (There's at least 7 common shelter configurations for a single poncho, but I'm only going to cover a couple simple ones, because simplicity matters.)

The most basic poncho shelter, and the one I've had the 'opportunity' to use second only to the 'squat and turtle' method, is made by opening up all the side-snaps, laying the poncho out flat, dirty or wet side down, lay your sleep system on one half, then slide in, zip up, and starting at the bottom, fold the free half of the poncho over everything, snapping the edges together as you work your way up to the top to create a full length poncho-taco! Now lay back, pull the top edge of the poncho up over your head and get some rest. (Nine) 

If you got caught out without your sleep system, which includes the all-important ground insulation/padding, you need to lay the poncho over an improvised pad to keep yourself insulated from the ground.

My first choice for this pad is a layer of green Spruce boughs. If Spruce isn't available than any short-needled evergreen will work. Both of these resist compressing under your weight and maintain that all important insulating property. If neither of those materials is available then a mound of grasses and leaves will work. Or at least be better than nothing.

Neither the grass nor the leaves have to be dead and crunchy, but they do need to be dry to the touch, and mixing in some dead and crunchy stuff will help absorb some of the water-vapor that comes off the green stuff, improving the insulating qualities of your handy work.

Once your poncho is laid down over this insulating pad, line it with your emergency blanket, shiny-side towards your body for maximum warming power, put on all the clothes, socks, gloves, hats you have with you, (In the military we even kept our boots on when doing this.) and again, climb in, pull the emergency blanket over, then as you pull the poncho over and snap it from the bottom up start stuffing the rest of that big pile of dried grasses and leaves you collected earlier in between the blanket and poncho to maximize insulation. Finally, as before, pull the edge over your head and get some rest.

Notice I didn't say sleep. Actual sleep may be hard to come by under these circumstances. Just accept that and lay still to allow your body as much rest as possible. I find that focusing on relaxing all the muscles in my face (There's something like 30 of them!) helps settle my mind and also has the infectious result of relaxing my other muscles as well.

I know, I know, laying awake all night without moving is boring as hell, and every passing caterpillar sounds like a prowling wolf-pack there in the dark, but just try to relax! As it has for a few billion years, morning will come and you want to be in the best possible condition for the day ahead.

 As hinted at already, there are other shelter possibilities too, but beyond the squat-and-turtle or poncho-taco, even the most basic shelter needs a few accessories.

This is my stake-bag which I always have in my pack, even when just day-hiking.

Strictly speaking, the stakes aren't necessary. I can always take the time to hunt down suitable sticks and fashion stakes or toggles out of them with my knife, but the little aluminum stakes I carry don't weight much at all and anything that makes building an emergency shelter, which by definition is done under already challenging circumstances, a little easier is worth the weight in my book.

Also tucked into the stake-bag, and actually more important than the stakes themselves, is a couple-three lengths of cordage and a half-dozen or so pre-cut-n-tied cordage loops. (again, anything to simplify the process)

Using the cordage, which can be tied end-to-end in order to reach if necessary, I locate a couple of appropriately spaced supports and stretch out the cord between them at just about waist height.

I'll tighten this ridge-line later, but right now I need some slack in it

so I can pull a loop up through each of the three grommets along one edge of the poncho and secure them there with one of my stakes or a site-scrounged toggle. (Which is just a fancy word for a short bit of stick I found laying on the ground!)

Once all three toggles are in place I pull the corners away from each other to get a taut edge, and finally I can tighten up the ridge-line. (I use a trucker's hitch for this because it's extremely quick to tie, even faster to untie, and easy to adjust, including snugging it up very tautly.)

A slight more complex alternative to ridge-line-looped-up-through-the-grommet-over-a-toggle-and-back-down-through-the-grommet is to use one of my pre-formed loops to create a Prusik Knot around the already taut ridge-line, slip the free end of the loop through the corner grommet and secure with a toggle. (here I've used one of my stakes instead of a scrounged stick.) then do the same with the other corner. The Prusik Knot can then easily be slid along the ridge-line to tighten things up but when you let go it will stay put as long as there is lateral tension on it.

Some claim that Prusik Knots work best if made from a smaller diameter cord than the ridge-line itself but I can't be bothered and use 550 para-cord for both with success.

At the other edge of the poncho, the one that will be closest to the ground, I slip one of my pre-made loops through each of the three grommets

stake out the poncho,

and create a decent little shelter. (Ten)

A slight modification of this shelter can make it even more livable.

Once staked out in the lean-to configuration thread a length of cord through the neck-hole and tie it off around the middle of one of your hiking sticks, or you can use a scrounged branch as well, just make sure and smooth the nubbins on the branch so they don't abrade your poncho.

With the stick parallel to the ridge-line stake out or tie off the other end of the cordage to create a bit of a "peak" and make the inside of your shelter a little more roomy. (Eleven) 

Just make sure you don't pull it out so far or high that you create a rain-catching pouch between the neck-hole and the front-edge of the shelter. Unless, of course, you intend to collect some of that rain  to replenish your water supply.  (Twelve)

If caught out without a sleep-system or adequate clothing this type of shelter is only appropriate in mild weather unless combined with a carefully crafted and controlled fire out front, which is beyond the scope of this post. But even in the mildest of weather, the earth is one huge heat-sink so the next step would be to put down a thick, improvised insulating layer so that you're not laying right on the ground and being slowly sucked into hypothermia even on a warm night.

So there you have it. Without even trying, a dozen useful and practical reasons for reverting back to the lowly but versatile poncho and away from those expensive, stylish, but single-purpose, rain-suits.

OK. As promised, you can now scoff if you must.

Monday, October 4, 2021

So How Can a Fat Ass be Bony?

Some of you may have noticed that lately I've taken to carrying an inflatable sit-upon when hiking.

I didn't always used to bother, but it turns out I have developed a bony ass and sitting on my folded up poncho is great for preventing swamp-ass, but as far as comfort it just isn't cutting it (or should I say padding it?) anymore.

Now you might be wondering how a fat ass can possibly be bony - Well there could be a couple answers to that.

First - It could be genetic. After all, Dad had a flat ass, and Mom - well frankly we're not even sure Mom has a 'you-know-what' anymore! (Hey! That's my Mom we're talking about!) So what other kind of ass could I expect to end up with?

Second - It just might be that my ass isn't quite so fat as it used to be anymore.

OK We have a winner!

You see - all my adult life, at least since my 30's, I've claimed I was just born to be a 200 pound man. Once in a while I would get down below that number, but never for long as I always seemed to bounce right back up there to the double century mark.

And if I'm really going to be brutally honest about it, since my 50's even that, the 200 pound claim, was largely self delusion.

NOT wearing a fat-suit

Our capacity to self-delude is fascinating, but also pretty dang scary.

When Kirstie Alley was preparing for the filming of her semi-reality show Fat Actress she honestly thought she was going to need a fat-suit to pull off the I-need-to-lose-weight concept and I must have been standing right there in front of that same mirror with her, because what I saw in that mirror was what I thought I looked like, not what I really looked like.

But the hard truth of the matter was that I was spending more and more of my time north of 200 pounds, with 220 being quite a popular, and well-padded, neighborhood to hang out in.

This Jabba-the-Hut-neighborhood is where I was dwelling come the last quarter of 2018 when, with a half year or so to go before I hit 65, that magic Medicare threshold, (magic for those funding their own expensive-but-crappy medical insurance anyway) I found myself reflecting more and more on what I wanted the rest of my life to look like.

I know that for many at this juncture of life the prime concern is longevity. But I don't want to be greedy and frankly I've lived a charmed and productive life that I'm happy with, so if my time were to run out now I wouldn't regret the life I've lived. Sure I'd be disappointed - OK, probably pissed off - that there wasn't more of it, but I think I'd be content with what I've done with the time I had.

Besides, let's face it. Unlike the compassion and love we show the animals in our care when dealing with end-of-life issues, when it comes to grandpa we regularly use today's medicines and technology to keep a body going long past when it should have been allowed to quit, long past the time there's any decent life left in it, sometimes beyond any remaining hint of the person that used to dwell inside the body, and frankly the thought of that just makes me shudder. Even if my mind is gone to the point where I don't know how horrible my existence has become, what about the people that care about me? (I DO SO have people that care about me!!)

So in the course of my holy-crap-I'm-mortal! musings as I approached Medicare the one thing that kept popping up to the top of the list of what I want the rest of my time to look like was not maximum years, but maximum quality of life.

Now I realize that quality of life means different things to different people.

I know some that are perfectly happy to roll out of bed in the morning, grab a king-sized bowl of  cereal, plop down in front of the TV, and stay there, with the occasional resupply run to the kitchen, until it's time to roll back into bed that night. And that's fine - for them. But for me quality of life is centered around being as active and independent as I can for as long as I can. 

I want to be able to keep sowing my wild oats right up until I run out of thread - not gas. I don't want to drift, whimpering and helpless, backwards into my grave, I want to slide in sideways in a cloud of dust saying 'wow! what a ride!'

In other words, I want to stay active and mobile, and maybe a little crazy, right up until my ticket is punched, the rug is pulled out from under me, until I kick the bucket, or as the phrase goes in Columbia, right up until 'estoy colgar los tenis' (I hang up the shoes). 

And according to the overwhelming preponderance of available data the best approach to achieving that goal would be to get serious about taking care of my ongoing physical health.

Of course the only guarantee in life is death. After all, ssooo many things have to go just right to keep an organism alive, (If you don't want to know how tenuous life really is stop reading science and medical journals!) and at any given moment I have, at best, only 5 minutes left to live, I just reset the timer every time I take a breath. But I can at least take an active part in improving the odds of taking that next breath.
Speaking of active - I was already active, more active than some by all accounts. When not camping and hiking I have a constant stream of projects that keep me moving in the barn or out on the property pretty much every day.

But the science on physiology is clear. For the vast majority of us just doing our everyday stuff is not enough, even if our everyday stuff is reasonably active. In order to maintain the best overall physical conditioning and mobility we also need to spend a solid 150 minutes a week on some sort of dedicated workout crap.

But even that is no problem for me because I have something inside me that has allowed me to maintain a regular workout routine of  some sort for decades, (See what I meant when I say I have a charmed life?) right up to and including now.  (Remember the Canadian Armed Forces Fitness Test? Did that for a while in my younger days. Or Billy Blank's kickboxing workout tapes? Yep, did those through the VHS years too.)

This workout has morphed and adjusted over time to better address the needs of my aging body and now, in addition to the usual strength training, has a heavy emphasis on flexibility, joint-health, balance, and stamina. So the exercise side of things also seems to be covered.

That's all the good news, the bad news is: that only leaves me one area to work on in order to improve and maintain my physical health - - -

Yes - after years of living with perpetual heat-rash under my sagging man-boobs, (Hey! It's not a dad-bod, its a father figure!) it has come down to this!

If I was serious about taking an active part in how the rest of my life looks, how ever long that may be, the only thing left for me to do was finally admit that maybe there was something to all these clearly ridiculous medical studies that claim a man my age and height should weigh in at something equivalent to carry-on luggage!

And since I was already doing everything else I was supposed to, the only way left to reduce the poundage was to - oh man, this even hurts to write it - cut back on the caloric intake.

But I'm not a fan of so-called "diets", (Technically we're all on a diet all the time. It might be nachos and beer while sitting on the slightly sticky brown Naugahyde sofa through the entirety of baseball season, but it's still a diet!) because unless you are willing, and able, to make a lifetime commitment to one of these so-called, and sometimes unpalatable, (Mmm Yummy! Another rice-cake snack!) weight-loss diets instead of the far more common approach of grind-it-out-just-long-enough-to-reach-your-weight-goal-before-getting-back-to-your-real-diet, it is nothing more than a short-term panacea designed to make you feel good about yourself for a little while, (while often extracting extra money out of your pocket in the process) then when the almost inevitable rebound happens, even worse about yourself until the next purge. (Holy Crap! Talk about a run-on sentence!)

I figure I have spent a lifetime figuring out what I like to eat, what works for me in terms of nutrition and satisfaction. In other words, the kind of diet I can stick with long term. Fortunately that diet borders on being somewhat healthy, heavy in fruits and vegetables and low in sugars, (OK, low-ish in sugars) and even lower in red-meat. (Notice that I'm ignoring the fats. Oh the fats! Mostly from dairy since we go through butter and cheese around here like it is the major food-group!) So in order to lose some of these extra belly-rolls I keep pinching in my belt when I cinch it up carelessly I was just going to have to eat less of my normal stuff.

Now eating less of my normal stuff sounds pretty simple, but maybe not so much when you live with The Wife.

You see, she is a die-hard food-enabler who will chase a cat around the driveway with a plate of food until the poor overstuffed, waddling creature finally gives up, plops down, and reluctantly eats. Who, at the end of a meal, inevitably says, "you couldn't eat that last spoonful?". Oh, she does it in a loving sort of way, but also with an undercurrent of  accusation and just a dash of I'm-disappointed-in-you. And by the way that "last spoonful" is half a casserole dish of Parmesan-mayonnaise topped creamy smashed potatoes ("More butter" she calls out urgently as she attacks the bowl of freshly boiled potatoes tucked under her arm with a big masher.) toasted golden brown under the broiler. (That first mouthful will make your eyes roll back in your head in an orgasmic swoon!)

But if I was serious about taking this step towards my long-term health - and therefor improving my odds of maintaining the desired quality of life - I didn't have much choice.

So I committed.

And it didn't take long for me to identify my triggers, my food-triggers.

Like most kids of my generation I grew up with "clean your plate", which, over the years, my obsessive, overachieving-self morphed into "clean the table", so eating every last morsel in sight was one compulsion I had to break. (Even before all this started I had learned to buy things like cookies and crackers in individual serving packs rather than by the box; which I've been known to empty all in one sitting!) And let me tell you, it was quite a challenge, one I still struggle with on occasion, to push away with food still on the table!

It turned out to be equally challenging to sit down in the evening to watch a Spanish Telenovela as part of my language training (I just watch for the practice, honest - which is a very close cousin to- "I just read Playboy for the articles, honest!") without a calorically overloaded snack of some sort!

So "don't eat" became my mantra. And when that failed my backup mantra became "stop eating!".  Neither of which was, or is, always successful - - -

But I plodded on anyway.

I am a goal oriented person, and a birthday, especially a landmark birthday, seemed as good a goal-post as any, so I decided my target was to go from a 2018 pre-holidays 220 down to 185 by my 65th birthday.

I'm not sure why I picked 185 as my target since it had no basis in the medical studies I had been obsessing over. In fact, according to those annoying studies 185, while it would move me out of the screaming red, obese, part of the chart, would still leave me firmly mired in the clutches of the baby-shit yellow overweight category.

Maybe it was because I had been down there at 185 once before a number of years ago so that seemed like an obtainable number rather than a scary abstract.

So how did it go?

Well let's just say that if my goal had been monetarily incentivised there would have been no Christmas bonus for me that year - - -

But I did make 185 a month or two later!

And then a weird thing happened. - I just kept right on going.

I hadn't planned on that, it just happened all on its own. And by the fourth quarter of 2019 I was at 170 where I seemed to, without any effort or conscious thought of my own, plateau. Though I suspect that maybe it was a subconscious thing, because if I went one pound lower I would, for the first time in 40 years, officially be classified down there in that green, healthy-weight category. Granted, I'd be at the very top edge of the green, but still, how scary is that?!

Anyway, in the process of shedding a sack of potatoes worth of weight, especially during that cadaver-faced, hollow-bellied phase before my body caught up to the weight-loss and redistributed itself, I got bony, a little in the face, but a lot in the ass.

I couldn't sit comfortably on a canvas camp-chair for long let alone on the lumpy ground, or a stump, or rock, long enough for lunch while out hiking.

So, after a particularly uncomfortable series of hikes where I ate some lunches standing up I got on line, found an inflatable cushion, and added it to my hiking kit.

 At $12 my Klymit V Seat was far from the most expensive inflatable cushion out there, but this way I figured I could see for myself if something like this was worth hauling around on my back without making too much of an initial investment.

It weighs next to nothing and deflated then folded into quarters it slips into the same slot in my pack where I carry my poncho. (Most every decent pack has a similar outside pocket for things that you might not want inside the pack because they can get mucky.)

With two puffs of air, (One if you're into head-rushes and seeing black spots dance before your eyes) and combined with the pack leaned against a tree or a rock, it makes quite a serviceable, actually a really comfortable, seat. Even for bony asses. And, despite being squished between said bony ass from above and all different sorts of harsh and pokey things from below, it hasn't popped yet.

Which is good, since I've been holding within a pound or two of 170 for two years now without any particular effort on my part other than continuing portion-control and limiting snacking, so I'm hopeful that this, a bony ass in need of extra cushioning, is a long-term condition. (I've been holding off on publishing this post for so long for the same reason I haven't yet bought any skinny clothes. You know - to limit my public embarrassment just in case there was a rebound.)

OK, Be honest. Does this pack make my ass look fat?

Hummm. I've got another birthday coming along. Maybe I should go ahead and use that as an excuse to drop down to 165, down into that coveted green "normal weight" category.

Wait! I think I smell Parmesan-mayonnaise topped creamy smashed potatoes toasting under the broiler!

- - - Maybe I'll think about 165 tomorrow - - -  

By the way, a while back I wrote a post where, among other things, I pointed out that certain parts of a fat man's exercise is more of a workout than a skinny(er - ish?) man doing the same thing since the fat man is shoving more mass around. And I stand by that statement. So to compensate for my personal mass-reduction, in addition to upping my pushup-count from 50 to 70, I've been doing my laps around the property wearing a pack weighted down with 4 liters of water and  a sack of rocks to bring the combined package, me and the pack, back up to the 200-205 pound range. (No sense in getting too crazy about it and going all the way back to the 220 I started at!) I don't have any particular proof, but I figure that helps me maintain the stamina and power to get myself up those long hills on real hikes without triggering a medical incident along the way.

But now, it's time to create some new pathways in my brain (The other side of the "healthy" equation.) by watching some Spanish TV. Hummm, what sounds good tonight with my novela? M&M's or Oreos?

Dammit, Don't Eat!