Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Pull my finger...

Clark and I work great together out in the woods. Quicksand? Not a problem! Feral hogs? We'll take them on! Deadly snakes? Perfect for a game of catch! Stopping the bleeding? Direct pressure and elevation! Lunch?

Lunch?

Um, okay maybe we don't match up perfectly on everything...

It was cold (for Texas) on our first adventure together. We had stopped along the bank of Spring Creek to eat. Being a nice guy I pulled out a extra container of Bowl Noodle for him. I think this stuff is great. Yummy noodles, dried bits of processed food material, and salt all in a disposible bowl!

Clark, well, he didn't share my enthusiasm. After politely declining my bowl of miracle food he pulled out his lunch: a slab of meatloaf on homemade herb bread, a well-padded peach, and a giant slice of homemade chocolate cake (with chocolate frosting) for dessert.

Since then I've watched him pack traditional Polish multi-course meals, assorted gourmet sandwiches, and muffins the size of grapefruit. Me? Noodles, noodles, noodles, and gorp.

Basically, I'm lazy (for a guy who considers a twenty-mile hike "reasonable"). I want my pack as light as possible and this means a minimalist cook set. My current set-up is a home-built batch-loaded, inverted down-draft gassifier stove.
Woodgas

This thing is great. I just throw in a large handful of 1" long twigs, light the top, let it burn for a minute, then let physics take over.
woodgas
The fire burns from the top of the pile down. Air is drawn from the side of the stove and down past the fire chamber. This heats up the air so that as it passes up through the wood it distills out the volitale woodgas which begins burning. This vaporous woodgas gets distilled from all the wood and the wood itself is converted to charcoal. This charcoal then begins burning after all the woodgas has burnt. The charcoal then burns down to nothing but a fine ash. The whole process takes about fifteen minutes and releases a tremendous amount of heat. I can have 24 oz of boiling water in about six minutes. The thing was made out of several soup and juice cans which fit snuggly inside each other. It weighs only a few onces and as long as there are some twigs around I don't have to lug fuel. An extra benefit is that once it's working it burns smoke-free, making it great for stealth meals (sidenote: Texas really needs more public wilderness).

Packed for travel:
packedstove

All the parts:
stoveparts

Loaded with wood:
stoveloaded

Ready to go:
stovechimney

The downsides to this stove are that it is a bit bulky and that it's only really good for boiling water. When I want a smaller setup I take my pop can stove. This fits down in my steel cup along with a small bottle of alcohol fuel and can heat up a can of chili or fry up Spam-n-eggs with heat to spare. If people are interested I'll write about it sometime.

Adventure! Excitement! Gas in the Woods!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Cabin Fever

Aaaarrggghhh!!

I've been working just about all weekend making slides for a class I'll be teaching at work. The tentative title is "Poking Potatoes with Copper and Steel: An Introduction to Corrosion and Its Inhibition"
work
The picture above is my representation on how a quinoline-quat chemisorbs onto the surface of steel using a chloride ion bridge. The electron-dense ring structures bind to the steel and the long tail works like a goalie's hockey stick blocking hydrogen ions from reaching the metal.

My boss will probaly make me change the title. The talk is supposed to be for our customers to teach them how acid corrosion inhibitors work. Acid attack on steel is an electrochemical process, just like in batteries. A potato clock is silly example of how batteries work. See, it all ties together, plus I get to talk about poking food!

I'm really sure my boss will make me change the title.

Meanwhile the whole wide outside is outside taunting me with areas unexplored. Sure, it's raining, cold, and windy but that doesn't matter. There's no such thing as bad weather, only wrong clothing choices. Miniwether and I spent an hour at Gander Mtn last night, but it just made the wanderfoot itch worse. :-(

No Adventure! No Excitement! No Exploration!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Making an Adventure Girl.

A tent, two sleeping bags zipped together and a teddy bear.
A moon overhead, full and blazing bright enough to read by...
Orion, the dippers, Mars, etc... slowly doing their nightly cartwheels.
An Adventure Girl in training, snuggled down between mom and dad.
A tent in the backyard, as good as one pitched in the Grand Canyon.
Adventuregirl
Adventure! Excitment! Quality Time!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

FYI

If you think combining two cherry cough drops and a packet of French Vanilla coffee creamer in a can of "Sam's Choice Diet Cola" will taste like a Cherry Coke/vanilla ice cream float you would be wrong.

Adventure! Excitement! Breakroom Exploration!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Macrame for masochists

I made a whip!!!
firstwhip

Pretty cool, huh? It's about ten feet long and can slice through a 1/4" pine branch with ease (and it stings like a SOB when you accidently whip your shoulder). It doesn't CRACK very well though. I've only managed to get a few good "pistol shots" out of it so far. One CRACK was loud enough to draw a neighbor out of his house, but when he saw what was going on all he said was, "Oh, I should have known." and went back inside.

This whip is made out of white nylon rope. Leather would obviously been much cooler, but I figured I wanted to give it a try with cheaper materials first. It turns out that a lot of the whips used by cowboys here in the Gulf Coast are nylon instead of leather. The humidity here rots leather away too quickly. Now that I've made this one I'll be taking what I learned and making another. Hopefully the next one will CRACK better. Then we'll see if the bulls, pigs, and wild dogs still want a peice of me!

Adventure! Excitement! CRACK!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

This time it was plural...

Wherein Merriwether and Clark learn the difference between meat and dairy cow herds as well as the importance of reading. Merriwether also obtains his goal of reaching the San Jacinto river on foot.

Geocaching: (v) pronounced "geo-cashing" A sport or hobby involving hiding and finding objects, using GPS data to log the location of the cache and share this data with potential players.

Geocrashing: (v) What happens when two guys with a new GPS head off into the woods seeking treasure without paying attention to details.

hiding
As I looked up from my hiding spot I noticed that the leaves of the trees above me made a lovely pattern of colors in the late morning sunlight. Nearby Clark was working on a book of Sudoku challenges. It was quite idyllic if you ignored the fact that we were hiding in the bushes waiting for the rancher pass on by, hopefully taking his numerous bulls with him.

I spent much of my youth working on the local dairy farms. Dairy cows are friendly, passive, and slow. A dairy farmer might have one bull though usually they just rent one when needed. Often the don't even use the whole bull. Poppawether used to work for a company which artificially...well, that's not really important to this story.

This weekend Clark and I learned that a) Texas cattle ranches have many, many bulls and b) one hould always read the details when searching for a geocache.

As usual, our adventure started many hours earlier in the dark. The night before, to be exact. Having received a great GPS unit for Christmas meant that Clark and I could add dabbling in geocaching along with all our other adventures. Geocaching is a game where you hide a box of "treasure" somewhere, then post clues/coordinates to the box on the www.geocaching.com website. Other people hunt your treasure, you hunt theirs. When you find someone's treasure you usually take a peice of the swag and leave behind a new bauble. Silly, but fun (at least theoretically). Geocaching.com can interact with Google Earth allowing one to easily find caches nearby. Sunday night Clark and I roamed over the digital earth looking for a cache we thought would be fun to find. Most were quite close to civilization and did not require much work to get to. Where's the fun in that? We finally spotted one which seemed pretty remote. Clark read off the coordinates and I plugged them into my GPS. Neither of us paid any attention to the big red words beneath the coordinates.

At 6am the next morning we drove out to the edge of town and in the dark began bushwacking our way through swamps, thorns, and...roads under construction?! None of roads/houses were on our topo map of the area. True, the map was made in the late 70's, but we were still caught off guard by all the new construction. We'd shred ourselves through 100 yards of flesh-eating plants and end up in someone's future back yard. This went on for a good hour before finally escaping this new neighborhood being built.

The sun came up as we entered the Goodson Gulley flood plain. It was a foggy morning and very beautiful. Mist and sun floated between oaks, sweetgums, and pines. In the current drought conditions the water flowing through Goodson gulley was little more than a trickle quietly gurrgling over rock and root.
morningfog

It was a very nice spot. Better yet, a small path lead from this area into the woods roughly in the direction of the cache. The path curved back and forth many times before ending at the edge of a buried pipeline easement. This easement shot like an arrow straight for where we wanted to go and we made good time along it.

morningsun
The sun was full up when we got to the gate. Beneath the gate the dirt road of the pipeline easment had been replaced with sections of large pipe. I recognized it as a way of keeping cattle from wandering out of an area and assumed Clark also knew what it was. His reaction upon seeing the cows ten minutes later made me realize he had not known the significance of the pipes. We hadn't seen any signs but we became nervous that we might be tresspassing. Neither of us have any big desire to call our wives from jail...

The fear of any Violators will be Prosecuted" dwindled when we saw our first bull and vanished completely when he looked up, saw us, and started snorting. Yep, there was no room for "jail-fear" when you are facing 2,000+ pounds of horn, meat, and mean. I tried my assorted pig-scarer tactics and suprisingly the bull lost interest and lumbered off into the woods. Relieved, Clark and I discussed our options. After coming this far neither of us wanted to give up on the cache. On the other hand neither of us wanted to swing from the horns of angry bull.

But, being adventures we threw caution, wisdom, and sanity to the wind. We had gone another 5-10 minutes down the path and were feeling cocky. We'd seen a few more cows but no bull.

Stupid, stupid adventurers.

The bull showed up again and this time he brought some friends. They came out of the woods about 50 yards ahead of us. All of them were snorting and glaring.

I was hoping maybe they were just my armadillo buddys in really good disguises (I told you we threw sanity away). Clark and I dived into the thick woods figuring the trees and shrubs would slow down any charging bulls. We bushwacked for what seemed like a long time then stumbled into someone's front yard.

Ever see a horror movie where some sexy young people get lost and end up in the yard of some trailerhouse in the middle of nowhere? Well, we found that trailerhouse. Rusted cars, broken machines, and bullet holes decorated the yard. Clark and I exchanged, "What the hell's next?" looks then began sneaking through the piles of old equipment to the woods on the other side. Luckily, we made it to the woods without being shot, attacked by dogs, or sodomized. We don't know if anyone was actually there, but it was pretty obvious that the trailer's owner was even less fit for civilization than Clark or I.

At this point we again talked about quiting. The main problem was from here the only way out was back the way we came. This didn't seem like a smart(!) choice so we pushed on. We found another path which led us back to the pipeline easement. We were still afraid of bulls, but thought it was our best chance of reaching the cache. From there we figured there had to be a simpler way of getting home. I also revealed to Clark that my main reason for wanting to tag this cache was that it was very close to the San Jacinto river and I hoped I could finally reach that goal...

We were just about to step out onto the pipeline easement road when we heard the sound of a vehicle racing down this track. Clark and I dived once more into the woods. From our hiding spots we heard the vehicle pass and the sounds of people yelling to each other over country music blaring out of poor-quality speakers. We couldn't make out what they were saying as they zoomed down the dirt road but they didn't exactly sound like folks who would greet strangers on friendly terms.

The trees above my hiding spot were very pretty, but you already knew that.

After fifteen minutes we steeled up our nerves and got back on the pipeline dirt road. I was concerned that the people in the vehicle would quickly finish up whatever they were doing then spot us tresspassing along this easement, but our woods-diving skills had been nicely polished on this adventure and the hope was we could again make it into hiding if needed.

The area along the easement was beautiful, even through fear-strained senses. We came across several lakes that weren't on our map, each prettier than the last. Fish jumped and turtles plopped in the sky-blue waters. It would have been a great place to take the family except for all the bulls and psycho hermits...
lake
web

Clark and I were really jumpy and the slightest sound freaked us out. Several times were heard the vehicle in the distance. We had to cross one big, open area and you would have thought it was a minefield from the looks on our faces.

Our efforts to stay close to cover lead us off the path to our goal. I hadn't checked the GPS in a while so we didn't realize this. Up ahead was a barbwire fence and we ran for it figuring the other side HAD to be better. Boy, was I right, it was the San Jacinto river!! Woo hoo!!! We hoped over the fence and plunged down the bank to the sandy bank of the San Jac. Ahhh, sweet merciful public bull-free land!!!
SanJacinto

According to the GPS we were only about a third of a mile from the cache. We walked along the river laughing about the scares we had getting there. It took us a few minutes to recognise the sounds of ATV's racing around the ground between us and where the cache was. We saw a spot where the woods reached all the way to the river and used that cover to sneak by a group of people tearing around on ATVs. More thorns, more bushwacking, more crouching as we heard the machines approach, more sigh of relief when they turned away.

We made it. The woods opened up into a neat little clearing right where the coordinates indicated. There were several likely spots for a cache so we started poking around. After five minutes and no cache Clark turned to me.
"What were the hints given about this cache?" he asked.

"What?" I responded. "I didn't read that information. We had it up on your computer."

"Did you bring a printout? he continued.

"I have nothing. I didn't read it. I didn't print anything out." I had assumed Clark had taken note of the cache details. For some reason he assumed I had.

Crap!

Picture two adventurers staring at each other in the middle of nowhere after crossing miles of bulls, thorns, and backwoods people suddenly realizing they don't know what they were supposed to do once they got to this point.

Clark, in a funk, called his wife.
details

She quickly found the geocache log. Apparently in big red letters under the coordinates was a warning that these coordinates weren't the actual position of the cache. One was supposed to use those coordinates along with two other sets to triangulate the true position of the cache.

Clark was, ah, well hell, he was really pissed at himself. I figured it wasn't a big deal. The whole geocaching was just another reason for me to get out in the woods. We had a great adventure, I made it to the San Jacinto, the weather was perfect. No problems in my book.

However, it was getting late. Both of us had promised the wives we'd be home by noon and we still had the problem of being miles from Clark's truck. We were only a mile from Riley-Fuzzel though, so Clark called his wife again and asked her to load up the kids and meet us along that road in an hour. He hung up and we plunged one last time into the woods.

The undergrowth was sparse except for the occasional thorny vine. We half-heartedly dodged a few ATVers but weren't spotted. Forty-five minutes later we were entering the back side of a nice, new neighborhood. "Homes from $150,000 to $300,000!" proclaimed a sign. We got a few odd looks as we trudged by but no one called the cops on us. A long time ago I figured out that it was best to keep the big knives hidden in my pack...

We made it to Riley-Fuzzel exactly 55 minutes after Clark had called his wife. We stopped at Woodson Gulley and tossed firecrackers into its brown water while waiting for sign of their dark blue Tahoe. I also drank some gatorade (I had learned my lesson on the last adventure).

The Tahoe showed up. We rode back to Clark's truck. We drove it home. It was 11:30am.

No treasure.

No hero's return from the family.

Just this tale of two fools out on an adventure.

Works for me.

Adventure! Excitement! Exasperation!!