Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mosquito Loop at Long Hunter

This post ought to be titled Attack of the Vampire Swarm. Yesterday, I hit the Long Hunter Day Loop with tackle in tow, intending to fish some of Percy Priest's shoreline. Turned out that the mosquitoes were so bad that I just kept going. Thank goodness I remembered to spray down with some 40% DEET before I left the parking lot. I wasn't bitten, but every time I'd stop to take a picture, a mosquito swarm would envelop me. In one picture, you can even see the flash reflecting off a couple of the blood-suckers. One couple, out to walk their dogs, turned back before they'd even gotten a half-mile. Guess it's going to be a bumper mosquito crop this year with all the rain and flooding. When I got back to my truck, the flying vermin were so bad that I quickly tossed my pack in the passenger floorboard and slammed the door shut. Of course, my Camelbak tube flipped out as the door was closing, and I snapped the Hydrolink coupling. Cha-ching. There went $12. At any rate, I made good time around the loop and covered the four-miles in under an hour, fifteen minutes. Wildlife sightings included four deer and a rabbit, all high-tailing it away as I passed. The trail was grown up in spots, and next time I hike it, I'll probably wear long pants and maybe even pack a machete. I'll definitely spray with DEET.

Long Hunter Loop

Monday, May 23, 2011

Weekend at Ethan's

Click pictures to enlarge.
I'm proud to count Ethan Becker as a friend, and this weekend, I had the pleasure of camping at his spread on Half Moon Ridge over in eastern Tennessee. Ethan is quite the character. From 1976 until just recently, he was the steward of the seemingly ubiquitous Joy of Cooking which has been in print since 1931. In addition to that job, Ethan has long been an outdoorsman active in designing equipment, from backpacks to survival knives, all marketed under the Becker Knife and Tool brand. He is a man who wears many hats and wears them well, and he's just as comfortable sharing time around a campfire as he is cooking in the kitchen.

My company for the weekend included people who are users of Ethan's outdoor knives, the Becker line currently made and sold by the longstanding Ka-Bar company. As such, these folks all have outdoor interests that run the gamut—camping, hiking, paddling, fishing, mountaineering, outdoor survival, primitive skills, conservation, you name it. Also in attendance was Jeff Randall, who runs a a well-known survival training school and who designs and markets his own line of outdoor knives under the ESEE brand. Any time you get Jeff together with Ethan, part of the fun is watching the insults fly back and forth. They're competitors but also close friends, and it's always about trying to get the other one's goat. There's rarely a dull moment.

In addition to trading barbs most of the weekend, we did share and practice a little in terms of wilderness skills. Jeff demonstrated an ingenious rope tension system that can be tightened and loosened with the pull of one rope section. My buddy "Moose" provided instruction on simple but effective knife skills and on bow-drill fire making. Ethan gave a primer on camp cooking and served up some tasty chili Saturday evening, and Derek followed suit with a steak-and-potato breakfast the next morning. I also had a great time talking kayaks with Randy and Kay, and I hope we can get together for a couple of paddling trips in the not-too-distant future.

For our accomodations, Ethan had already cleared a spot on one of his hilltops, put in a four-star outhouse, stacked a pile of firewood, hauled up a giant water reservoir, and dug an impressive fire pit. All that was left was to pitch a tent or sling a hammock. Hammocks were by far the more popular choice, and I finally got to try out my new Hennessy Explorer Ultralight. I was quite pleased with how easily it sets up and how well it sleeps. With a ground pad under me, I was plenty warm, and I slept soundly into Sunday morning until Ethan motored up the hill on his John Deere Gator and people started stirring around. In addition to the Explorer, I also picked up a Hennessy Expedition, and I'm looking forward to a few hammock trips with my son this summer and fall.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gear Notes - Hydrolink Filter Adapter, Sea to Summit AlphaLight Long Spoon, Pelican Mini Flasher, GSI Flasks, Jet Scream Whistle, Panasonic DMC-TS2

Following the precedent of a previous Gear Notes post, below I offer up thoughts on more outdoor gear that I've accumulated. Each image, when clicked, leads to an enlarged photo.

Camelbak HydroLink Filter Adapter Kit

At REI recently, I came across this handy gadget, the Camelback HydroLink Filter Adapter kit which allows for a retrofit any Camelback hydration system. With this set-up, the bite valve becomes easily detachable, and the kit includes an adapter for a water filtration system. Thus, I can now hook up my MSR MiniWorks filter directly to any Camelbak reservoir with the connector and pump filtered water directly inside. This rig eliminates the need to open the reservoir at the top and lessens chances of water spillage and/or contamination.

Sea to Summit AlphaLight Long Spoon

If you've ever eaten any freeze-dried dinners in the aluminum pouches (my favorite brand is Mountain House), then you know that most cutlery is too short to reach the bottom without cramming your hand partially into the pouch. Enter the Sea to Summit AlphaLight Long Spoon. Over 8" long, the spoon gives a backpacker the reach to snag that last little morsel without getting sticky hands. Even better, as the name attests, the spoon is light at only .4 ounces (12 grams) because it's made out of an annodized aircraft aluminum alloy called 7075-T6. No fancy metallugical descriptions are really necessary though. It's a spoon. It's long. It works.

Pelican 2130 LED Mini Flasher

Not that long ago, I read about a Georgia kayak fisherman whose vessel was overrun by a bass boat motoring out of a cove. The kayak fisherman barely managed to abandon ship and get clear of danger, and his kayak was mangled by the bass boat's prop. The lesson here? Carry a bazooka on the starboard side of your 'yak, and be prepared to use it. However, if you don't possess the necessary Terminator strain, you might be well advised to think about visibility on the water. Lots of bright, LED running lights are on the market, but I recently purchased a small flasher that can increase visibility even further. The Pelican 2130 Mini Flasher clips to a hat or PFD and emits a steady red flash that Pelican claims can be seen half-a-mile away. Two coin-cell batteries last 100 hours, and the light is sealed and submersible, making it a durable and valuable addition on the water.

GSI Flasks

After a hard day of hiking, a snort of bourbon or Scotch around the campfire is one way of easing tired muscles and facilitating a good night's sleep. For a long time now, I've thought about purchasing one of the flasks made by Nalgene, but I recently discovered that GSI also makes a quality plastic flask in two different sizes: a ten-ounce hip version and a longer eighteen-ounce version. Both are made of BPA-free resin and have a shot cap; moreover, they feature a non-slip insert over a thick-walled, clear body. These flasks are far and away better than the cheapies we used in college, even though the GSI versions are comparably priced.

Ultimate Survival Technologies JetScream Whistle

With a nod to my Irish heritage, I've taken up the tin whistle, aka the penny whistle, and have even managed to learn a dozen or more tunes. What does this have to do with the JetScream? Well, not much really. But tin whistle afficionados often refer jokingly to WhOA, or Whistle Obsessive Acquisition disorder, and apparently, I have the same disorder when it comes to survival whistles. One need only look at this page in order to be convinced. In my defense, however, I bought the Ultimate Survival Technologies JetScream because I needed to spend a few more dollars to get free shipping on an order. It is a good whistle though—compact and sleak and at 122 decibels, one of the loudest on the market. Its pealess design prevent clogging, and it fills an important slot in the oft-invoked "necessities" of outdoor survival.

Panasonic DMC-TS2 Digital Camera

I still have the iPhone 3G. What I'm trying to say is that I'm not one of those folks who camps overnight to get the latest and greatest electronic gadgetry as soon as it's out. I like quality electronics, but I tend to keep them as long as I can and get my money's worth. As such, I'm reporting here on a camera that is a generation old. The Panasonic DMC-TS2 has recently been superceded by the TS3. That means two things. One, if you must have the latest and greatest, you can stop reading. Two, if you don't mind an older model, you can get a really good deal nowadays on the TS2. I've had the camera about a year now, and I've been nothing but pleased. Its 14.1 megapixel resolution, Leica glass, and AVCHD movie capability allow for sharp pictures and videos. I also appreciate its crazy fast start-up time, a feature that allows you to get a picture quickly if the power is off. Even better, the camera is a tank. It is dustproof, waterproof to 33 feet, dropproof up to two meters, and freezeproof to -10 degrees Celsius—all features that make it an exceptional camera for outdoor activities. I must admit I'm intrigued by the GPS features on the brand new TS3, but for now, I'm going to stick with my current camera and wait for the reviews.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Flooded Priest Loop

Yesterday morning started with a dammit to hell. I was supposed to meet Jimmy at the lake around six-thirty. That's antemeridian, so I needed to be up by five-thirty to install my Thule racks, load my sea kayak, grab all my gear, and drive over to the launch at Smith Springs. However, when I checked the clock with one bleary eye, I saw 6:17. Bingo. A bonafide dammit-to-hell moment. Frenzied activity and a record-time boat loading ensued, and I'm proud to report that I did not forget a single item. Sure, I did not get a shower or have any breakfast, but I was pulling out of my driveway at 6:37, and I was at the boat ramp by seven, only a half-hour late.

By the time I got there, Jimmy had already launched. The water was even higher than Saturday's run out to Tick Island, and we were the only ones in the parking lot. Once I got on the water, we headed north toward the Anderson Road Recreation Area, where we toured the flooded picnic grounds. There, we saw some geese, baby goslings, and a rather sinister looking turkey vulture eyeballing the young birds. In the Everytrail GPS capture below, it appears we paddled over land, and I suppose we did. The land was simply under water.

In all, we made a 5+ mile loop on a quiet lake. Few fishermen were out because of the flooded ramps, but we did see a lot of great blue herons doing their morning fishing. On the return leg, a light rain and accompanying breeze kicked up, but by the time we got back to the parking lot, the sun had popped out. It was a good loop that we'll likely do again soon.

Flooded Priest Loop