Sunday, May 28, 2017

Campers of the Storm

The man who goes afoot, prepared to camp anywhere and in any weather, is the most independent fellow on earth.
-H. Kephart

Clark and I had been planning the overnighter for weeks but the weather reports suggested any sane person would stay of course we went. It was pouring rain when we got to the parking spot and we had at least an hour's hike to our secret spot. We had the right gear, leaving the only issue to be lightening strikes and falling tree limbs. Apparently the Lord protects fools, drunks, and adventurers because five minutes into our hike the rain and wind stopped and the lightening moved away. The storm had dropped the hot, humid air down to a comfortable mid-70F, unexpected for this time of year in Texas. The internet weather was saying our location was going to be pummeled repeatedly over the next 48 hours...which meant the woods would be ours and ours alone.

We raced to the campsite, expecting a new deluge to start at any minute but the only "rain" was water dripping from the tree leaves. Honestly, it was perfect....and it stayed that way.

Setting up our hammocks. I had the subdued, tan tarp while Clark goes bright orange.

Scenic Camp

There was a lot of lightening and few were closer than we liked, but the rain held off. The wind had picked up a little but just enough to keep the mosquitoes away and it barely ruffled our tarps. Because the Clarkettes had a swim meet that day we didn't leave Houston until 5pm but by 7:15pm our camp was set up and it was suppertime! Clark had his usual sandwich of Polish meats while I went with the simple and filling "boil in the bag" Chata Cochinita Pibil pork and Spanish rice wrapped in a spinach tortilla.



The sun set but almost continuous flashes of lightening kept the sky well lit. Even better, these flashes drew responses from lightening bugs dancing across the water. I need to figure out how to get pictures of the lightening, both sky and bug form.

At 2:30am a major storm blew in with pounding rain, wind, and more lightening. It was violent enough to wake me (a rare occurrence when I'm sleeping in the woods) but the hammock and tarp worked perfectly, keeping me and my gear safe, warm, and bone dry. It didn't take long for me to drift back asleep even in the tempest.

I didn't wake up until 8:30am the next morning which is probably the latest I've slept without being sedated in possibly decades! The sky was gray with fast moving clouds and the air was cool. The weather prediction continued to call for thunderstorms but it wasn't raining. No mosquitoes, either which was pretty amazing. I boiled some water for a freeze-dried breakfast, then got out my fishing kit...and fed small fish my bait. The bobber got pulled under a lot but I couldn't manage to set the hook. The water there was murky so I couldn't see what was taking my bait. Considering I was using my smallest hook it was probably just some of the minnows that were thick along the shore. Watching them chase the water-stridder bugs and other foods ended up being fascinating. I actually spent almost two hours watching the minnows eat a small bit of tortilla. It's amazing how easy it is to be entertained in the woods!

I had brought a book along but just watching the minnows, the clouds, the waving trees, the ripples of water...I never got around to being bored enough to read the book! At one point Clark and I took a walk around the pond where we were camped and I found goldenrod, amaranth, pine needles, horsemint, wild bergamot, toothache tree, wood sorrel, smartweed, and assorted other wild edibles...and two Walking Stick bugs having sex!

The birds do it, the bees do it, and the walking sticks, too!
Bug Sex

A view from across the pond.
Scenic Camp

Eventually it was time to pack up and head home. From putting the first item back in my pack to rolling into my driveway took exactly two hours, and this included hiking for five minutes in the pouring rain again as we approached my truck. I guess that was just God having a little fun with us because all it did was makes us think how absolutely grand the weekend was and how glad we were that we didn't let the weather reports scare us off.

I was worried this small stream would be raging water on our return but it was nothing.

Looking back, the first post of this blog was May 17th, 2005...such a long time ago! Back them Clarke and I probably would have just sat home, griping about the weather. Over the years, through trial and error, we've reached the point where we feel we can handle just about anything nature can through at us. Whether or not this is true I suspect we'll find out some day...

Adventure! Excitement! Experience!

Road Food: Eggs

So to recap, after 18 years in the oil industry I got laid off along with 80% of my coworkers back in August of 2016 due to the low oil prices. I was almost immediately snatched up by a consumer chemicals company where I've been expanding their product line. It's a great job, perfectly suited for me and the coworkers are awesome. The only real downside is the morning commute is over one hour and coming home in the evening takes almost two hours. This means getting up at 5:15am to try and beat the traffic across Houston, which is too early for Miniwether to get up and cook me eggs like she had been doing every morning. :-(

I love eggs...fried, scrambled, boiled, poached, and any other way they can be served. I don't have time in the morning to have eggs anymore...or do I?! Being a scientist/inventor I figured there had to be a way to keep eggs on the menu. I like boiled eggs...I have assorted insulated travel mugs...hmmmm.

Trial 1: Boiling water + egg + freebie travel mug
Blog Egg

The raw egg and boiling water were placed in the travel mug and left along for one hour and fifteen minutes to mimic my commute. The water wasn't very hot by the end of this time and the egg was only soft-boiled. Considering it had been sitting for who knows how long under 140F I decided toss it out was the safest thing to do.

Least favorite way to have an egg.
Blog Egg

Well, that didn't work. The system lost heat too quickly. Obviously this'll take the big guns!

Trial 2: Boiling water + egg + Yeti/Arctic insulated tumbler
Blog Egg

Yep, the Yeti clone tumbler did the job, the egg was perfect. Eggs are back on the menu!

Adventure! Excitement! Science!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Office Bushcraft

A plethora of raw materials!

My office and laboratory are situated in two trailer house...excuse me, "modular facilities" at the far edge of the chemical plant where I work. Outside my window is the loading dock where truck after truck filled with 55 gallon drums of chemicals come in and leave all day long. Everything is cement, steel pipes, forklifts, and chemical tanks...not exactly the sort of place where one would think "bushcraft".

But my modular facility butts up against the plant's security fence and on the other side of this fence is small ditch then the road. The ditch disappears into a cement culvert under the loading dock and pops back open about 90' away. Surprisingly, this muddy ditch in the middle of manmade hell is loaded with all sorts of wild edible plants....but it's also filled with minnows, frogs, and crawfish. I have no idea how the minnows got there. The nearest pond or stream is 1/2 mile away. Yet, there the minnows frolic. I like to watch them on my lunch break.

After watching them for a week the idea of seeing if I could trap a took hold of my mind. The bush crafting internet is filled with all sorts of fish traps made of all sorts of materials, both wild and manmade. They all boiled down to some sort of wide tube with a funnel-shaped entrance. Fish swim in but they can't easily find their way out again. The concept seems easy and thanks to my coworker's addiction to Diet Dr. Pepper and my own occasional spurge on non-Yaupon holly tea, our recycling bins had just the raw materials needed to make a minnow trap!

I get no advertising kickback for this picture. :-(

Once I had the two bottles all it took ways a few minutes with my little pocket knife, some tape, a binder clip, and a length of paracord. To bait this crazy creation I sacrificed a bit of instant oatmeal from my daily breakfast.

The top of the Dr. Pepper was cut off and inserted into the bottom of the ice bottle to make the funnel into a container. Small holes were cut in the tea bottle to let out bits of food as bait. Paracord was attached to the trap so it could be placed and retrieved easier. The binder clip allowed me to attach the paracord to the security fence.

I still had 45 minutes left of my lunch break when I placed the trap in the ditch.

I figured it'd be best to just place it there and then walk away rather than watch it. I went back to my desk to read but after 30 minutes I just had to check it. Pulling it up I was thrilled to see not only three large minnows but also to two small and two medium sized crawfish!! Woohoo!! I brought my catch into the office to show my coworkers and they were amazed... Apparently the previous R&D manager didn't use trash to catch things from the nasty ditch out back.

The catch transferred to a beaker.

Alas, lunch was rapidly coming to an end and I had just enough time to return the creatures back to the drainage ditch they call home. I can't wait to take this trap on my next adventure to try and catch some bait...or additional protein for my meals!

Adventure! Excitement! Bushofficecraft!

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Handline Fishing Kit

I like fishing but I hate carrying around fishing poles, especially while hiking. Growing up, I was enthralled by my older brother's Ronco Pocket Fisherman but even that's too big for daily carry in my woods kit. Over the years I kept coming across stories of handline fishing and was intrigued by it. So finally, I made my own handline setup and it actually worked!

A fish!

Handlining involves simply wrapping your fishing line around an old Coke bottle, large pill bottle, piece of PVC pipe, or even a custom, hand-carved piece of exotic wood. It is a bobber/sinker/hook/live bait form of fishing where you unroll some of the fishing line from whatever it's wrapped around and toss it into the water as far as you can away from wherever you're sitting. This usually isn't all that far...maybe 10' with a bit of practice. Then you wait for a fish to take your bait. Reeling the fish in consists of just quickly rewrapping the fishing line back around whatever is your spool.


For my spool I used a "New Whey Protein Drink" tube. These are made of thick, heavy duty plastic with a screw-on, watertight lid. Small swivel snaps were attached to both ends of 20 yards of 8 lb fishing line. One end of the line was held in place with a section of bicycle inner tube and the rest of the line was wrapped around the New Whey tube away from the bit of inner tube. A second piece of bicycle inner tube was then added to keep the working end of the line & swivel in place. A wine cork was cut into a rectangular slab into which were stuck hooks of assorted sizes and styles. Assorted other bobbles, sinkers, and lures that fit into the New Whey tube were added along with some scented fake "live" bait stored in a small pill bottle. Finally, a hole was drilled in the screw-cap cap of the New Whey tube and a bit of glow-in-the-dark cord was tied through it to make a wrist strap. I didn't want to lose my new creation!


What's in the tube? All this stuff!

Stinky artificial bait...

Moments before catching the nice sunfish.

This crazy creation actually caught fish! I have a couple of these tubes so I'll be making a few more to stash in my truck and assorted hiking kits. Getting the right swing on the line during casting took a little experimenting and I wish I could fit a bigger bobber in the tube but so be it. Here's a link to my Amazon store with everything in the kit except for the wine cork.

Adventure! Excitement! Fish!