Homer's Travels: February 2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Well ... It Wasn't Food Poisoning

The Wife got sick on Sunday which resulted in her taking a sick day yesterday - a rare occurrence indeed.  I did my best to keep her comfortable all the while hoping it was food poisoning, a non communicable condition.

Last night I discovered that it was not food poisoning and, in fact, it was communicable.  Some sort of stomach/intestinal bug that gets you from both ends.

I feel a bit better today but I'm guessing I have another twenty-four hours before I really feel better.  Right now I have no energy and I am very tired.  I was supposed to get my annual blood test tomorrow morning but I think I will have to postpone.

And now that I've documented my illness for posterity, it's time to crawl back under the blanket on the couch, try to sleep, and suffer in silence.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Appalachian Trail: Food Planning

I'm not sure what is harder, walking 2,200 miles or figuring out what to eat as you walk 2,200 miles.  That is what I started to look at in earnest this week.

Now, to be clear, I am not planning all my meals for the nearly six months I will be walking.  That is an impossible task.  What I am doing is planning my meals for the first stage of the Appalachian Trail (AT) along with the meals that I will have to supply by mail.  This translates into roughly thirty-seven days worth of food or about 21% of the food I'll need during my hike.  The rest of the days will be food I find when I resupply in towns along the way.

Deciding what to take is an exercise of balancing several variables.  Calorie density, weight, and size are the three most important ones when hiking.  You want food that is high in calorie density, low in weight, and small in size.  It is not easy to balance these three variables and over the last week I have learned that I will need to compromise a lot.

My plan, which will probably go out the window very early on, is to pack for essentially three meals: snacks, lunch, and dinner.  Snacks will fill in for breakfast and between meal eating.  Lunch will be around noon and be a bit more substantial.  Dinner will be the meal made once you arrive at your daily destination and will be the only hot meal that I plan to eat each day.

Snacks:  For snacks I will be carrying eight ounces of homemade trail mix (pre-packaged into daily rations), four ounces of jerky (pre-packaged into daily rations), two full size candy bars (probably Snickers), five or six pieces of hard candy (for the sugar and to help fight dry mouth), two protein bars (Clif Builder Bars), and a packet or two of nut butter (peanut, almond, etc).  One possible addition would be a packet of hot chocolate for cold mornings.

Lunch:  I'm looking at two types of lunches.  The first is a Bridgford Ready To Eat Sandwich.  I've had these before during my camps.  They are tasty, have a reasonable amount of calories, and do not need to be heated to eat..

The second, which I once thought was going to be my everyday lunch, is a tortilla, a drizzle of olive oil, and a pouch of Tyson Premium Chunk Chicken.  The problem that I ran into when I started looking close at this meal is weight.  The pouch of chicken weighs seven ounces which is a lot.  To give you an idea, the Bridgford sandwiches weigh three and a half ounces.

Because of this weight issue I will be alternating the two meals for lunch to reduce weight.  The sandwiches have fewer calories so I may add a pouch of nut butter to my lunch to bump it up a bit.

Dinner:  Dinner will be my only hot meal (unless I have hot chocolate at breakfast).  I will be carrying two types of dinners: Mountain House dehydrated meals and pasta.   I will likely eat two days of Mountain House meals for every one day of pasta.

I bought fourteen varieties of Mountain House meals.  I've eaten several varieties of Mountain House Meals and they are tasty (though salty), easy to make, and fairly filling.  Each pouch has at least two servings which in hiker parlance means one serving.  They weigh, on average, five and a half ounces per pouch.

Camp Pot Cozy.
As a slightly lighter option I will be carrying dry pasta.  I will probably add a drizzle of olive oil to add calories and maybe some chicken if I didn't eat all the chicken for lunch.  The key is to have options to mix and match.

Making pasta usually uses a lot of fuel to keep the water boiling.  Since fuel can be at a premium you need a way to conserve it.  To reduce the fuel needed I made myself a cozy for my cooking pot.  The process is simple.  Put water and pasta into the cooking pot, bring to a boil (boil for a couple minutes), and put in the cozy to sit and fully cook.  The cozy will help keep the meal hot enough to fully cook the pasta.

I didn't have a cozy but, using the universal teacher (YouTube) as a guide,  I made my cozy out of duct insulation (ReflectixⓇ) and aluminized duct tape.  It was easy to make and fairly light weight. When not in use the pot, stove and fuel canister fit inside the cozy.

These are the meals that I will be eating on the 21% of the days I will have total control over.  The other 79% is going to be a surprise.  The meals I will be packing into the wilderness will be the result of the scavenging I do in towns.  What I find will be determined by the stores that I find.  Many of the towns I will be stopping at will have grocery stores.  A few will have outfitters that will have camp food.  Others have walmarts.  All of them will likely have convenience stores.   This will make each resupply stop a challenge and a surprise.  I suspect I will be eating things that I would never voluntarily eat at home (Slim Jims anyone?).  Hunger, I suspect, is a great suppressor of taste.

Along with being resupply points, the towns that I will be stopping at will indubitably be gorging stations.  The meals I will be carrying will not provide enough calories.   I don't think I could carry enough food to maintain my weight so restaurants will have to make up some of the difference.  I foresee a feast in every town - I would guess at least two dinners, a breakfast, and a lunch (or two) along with a varied amount of in between meal snacking.  The hard part will be to pace myself so I don't make myself sick.  You hear stories of eating five or more burgers at a sitting then going back for more.  You also hear stories of people feeling sick from eating too much food and expelling it from one end or the other.  I don't want to be the subject of a bad story.

I am sure I will be posting about food along the trail.  Let's hope for not posting about being sick to my stomach.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Few Steps Too Far

Today is Trek Up The Tower, an annual charity event.  I've done it four times, the last being last year.  Also last year I did the forty story stair climb with one of the Wife's nieces.  You can read about my other Trek Up The Tower experiences here, here, here, and here.

I signed up for it again this year but, for various reasons, I will not be doing it.  My surgery, which is practically all healed up, stopped me from training for the last few weeks.  Being the competitive guy I can be, I knew I would not have a good climb time this year.

At the same time, the Wife's niece also had a good excuse not to do it this year too.  Her Group Improv students are going to All-State today and she will be there to support them.

I'm sure the entry fee will go to good causes and, I've been told, I can still get my T-Shirt, commemorative towel, and medal even though I'm not doing any climbing.

If everything goes well with the Appalachian Trail, I will be hella-ready to do Trek Up The Tower in 2018.  Can't wait.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Do You Have A Secret?

I have been a reader of the PostSecret blog for a long time.  For those unfamiliar with PostSecret, The author, Frank Warren, asks people to anonymously send in their deepest secrets on postcards.  He then posts them on the blog.
The PostSecret postcard.
Frank has been doing this since 2005.  He started by distributing postcards like this one around the Washington D.C. area and then waiting to see what would happen.  In the twelve years since he has accumulated around a half a million secrets on postcards and more via comments and emails to the blog.

Why I'm talking about it is because on Monday night I went to hear Frank Warren speak at Creighton University.

The presentation was about an hour and a half to a packed ballroom of mostly Creighton students.  Frank stood up in front of two screens and talked about his labor of love ... and that is what it is.

The presentation started with Frank reading a few postcards to get the crowd in the mood.  Then he explained how it all started, how it grew, and how it changed his life and the lives of those who mailed in their secrets.

After sharing some of his favorite secrets, both funny and heart wrenching, he opened the floor to allow the audience to share their own secrets. Only about five or six people were brave enough to share but the ones who did were moving and incredibly honest.  One of the sharers admitted that she was suicidal and that it was getting harder every day to fight the urge to kill herself.  She left the room after telling her secret and several people followed her out.

PostSecret collects money to fund the Suicide Help Line having raised almost $1 million.  It is very possible that many lives have been saved as a result of them sharing their secrets.  I would imagine it is a very cathartic act.

I came away impressed how one man's lark has grown in popularity and has helped so many people around the world.

Frank posts new secrets every Sunday.  Check it out.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Sunday, February 12, 2017

An Outing At Willow Lake Recreation Area

This weekend the Wife and I joined the Wife's Brother (and his family), the Matron of Honour (MoH), and the Best Man at a cabin on Willow Lake near Woodbine, Iowa.  The weekend would be full of laughter, drink, and lots of junk food.

We drove up Friday night.  I made several wrong turns even before I left Omaha which kind of set my mood for the next day or two.  When we arrived at the address that the Wife's Brother had given, we encountered a locked gate.  Unfortunately we did not have our cell phone so there was no way to contact him,  After driving around a bit, and exchanging a few choice words between us, we checked an old email I had that said the cabin was on the west side of the lake ... the only place we hadn't checked.  We ended up getting to the cabin nearly an hour later than planned.

The next morning I woke up grumpy.  Not a really good thing to be on a Saturday morning with fun people.  After downing some orange juice and a cinnamon roll I decided to distance myself from everyone so my grumpiness would not rub off on anyone else.

Sun reflecting off the lake ice.
When the outing was planned we all hoped for snow - cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding was on our list of things to do - but the weather was stupidly warm and usable snow was not to be found.  Even with temperatures nearing 50℉ (10℃), there were ice fisherman on the lake.  I decided a walk would do me good.

I left the cabin for a walk around Willow Lake.  When I started walking the icy mud was starting to thaw.  The trails weren't that muddy but you did have to watch where you put your feet. The lake is roughly shaped like the letter 'J' and the trails took you up and over two short ridges.  The views were surprisingly nice for a small park surrounded by farmland.  It was a bit overcast and blue sky only peaked out a few times while I walked.  I ended up walking around 3.5 miles (5.6 km).

A view from the top of one of the ridges - a little blue is peeking through the clouds.
Despite there being only a little bit of sunshine, the walk did pick up my mood a bit and I rejoined the people in the cabin.  In the afternoon we drove into nearby Woodbine.  It wis a small town dominated by a metal worker.  The metal worker shop was sadly closed this day but you could see the pieces of artwork up and down main street.  Everywhere we looked there was something cool made of metal.

We all scored some treasures at an antique store and a ... not sure what to call it but it had a mix of everything both normal and weird ... before and during our visit to the Corn Palace bar.  The bar had an odd odor and the dour bartender who never cracked a smile the entire time we were there.

That night we had burgers on the grill (the only non-junk food I ate all weekend).  A fire was lit in the fire pit but, for some odd reason, would not stay lit.  The wood was probably too damp.  In the cabin games were played.  I'm not much of a game player and I felt a bit rundown so I layed down on our bed and napped to the sound of raucous laughter (The game they were playing was Watch Your Mouth).  I did play a game of Scrabble with the Wife, MoH, and one of the Wife's nieces later in the evening.

It was a fun weekend despite my sour mood and the fact that few people were sick and hacking most of the weekend.  We'll see if the Wife and I have stayed clear of that.  I hope to go back to Woodbine sometime to take pictures of some of the artwork.  Maybe sometime after the Appalachian trail.

A few pictures I took along the trail can be seen in my 2017-02-11 Willow Lake Recreation Area Google Photos album.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Sad ... But Very Artfully Done

Seen on my walk today.  Usually the lost pet signs have a bad photocopy of a picture and only a few details.  The owner of this poor lost feline obviously has an artistic flare and a sense of humor.  I hope he/she/it is found soon and reunited with their owner.

Sad ... but very artfully done.

Monday, February 06, 2017

I Went For A Walk Today

Thinking that I'd recovered enough from my minor surgery, I decided to test this theory out with a short walk in the Benson and Keystone districts of north Omaha.

I'd hoped for some sunshine but the clouds that were supposed to come in after noon came in early and the entire way was a bit overcast.  It wasn't winter dreary because the cloud layer was thin and there was still quite a bit of light making it through.  I just wished for some blue.

The walk went well.  I did a relatively short 5.69 miles (9.16 km) and I held up well.  It seems my body feels better when I'm moving.  I'll have to keep that in mind.  I think my recovery may be complete in three to seven days - right on schedule.

One highlight of the walk were some new pieces of public art in the Benson area.  Here is an example of a three dimensional sculpture hanging on a block wall.  The art is tucked into a small alley and easy to miss if you weren't looking.

"Angles on Red"
My name for it, by the way, no official name that I know of.
(By @BarrettRyker)

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Appalachian Trail: Special Weather Gear

Over the last few weeks I received some special weather gear for my Appalachian Trail (AT) hike.  Two of these items will be needed near the beginning of the hike, another will probably be needed the entire way.  Both add substantially to the weight of my backpack.

Cold Weather Gear

I will be starting my hike in early April in northern Georgia.  Temperatures during April for the starting point range from 47℉ (8℃) to 69℉ (20℃).  As I head north the temperature will probably drop a bit and it will surely drop as I gain altitude in the mountains.  To counter this I will be carrying the following:
  • A medium weight set of Cabela's base layers (top and bottoms).  I have worn an older pair of these for years during Nebraska winters.  The newer ones I purchased this year are lighter and tighter fitting but just as warm.  This will be under my clothes on the cold days and will probably be my pajamas to enhance the warmth of my sleeping bag on the cold nights.
  • A My Trail Co. Light Down Jacket.  My Trail Co. used to be GoLite.  I bought two Camino backpacks from GoLite and I was eyeing their down jacket for the AT before the company went belly up.  The resurrected My Trail Co. doesn't sell the same critically acclaimed jacket that GoLite did but I figured it would still be a good jacket.  So far, after some initial inspection and use, it seems to be just what I need.  It's light, warm, and easily packs into it's own internal pocket.  I bought it in a nice Lagoon Blue - this is an irrelevant fact.
  • A pair of Seirus Hyperlite Ultra Thin Form Fit Winter Cold Weather Gloves.  I've had similar gloves from Seirus.  The are warm, water and weatherproof, and lightweight.  This pair is lighter than the ones I've worn before.  I also have a pair of Icebreaker Merino Wool glove liners for those times when a little extra warmth is needed or they can be worn when a full blown glove is not required.
  • A balaclava and/or knit cap.  I haven't decided if I need both of these.  My last camp in November was pretty chilly at night and the balaclava/hat combo was quite warm.  My jacket does not have a hood and the balaclava would work well to keep my ears and neck warm.  The knit cap would be more useful (and stylish) when it isn't that cold.  I could see me wearing both in the morning when I leave camp and stripping off the balaclava once I'd warmed up from exercise or sunshine.  Another option would be using my buff as a balaclava though I suspect it wouldn't be as warm.
This winter gear is going to add substantial weight to the pack [2.1 lbs (963 g) all together], especially if it turns out not to be as cold as average.  This winter in Nebraska has been unusually warm so I'm wondering if some of this is overkill.  I will always have the option of boxing some of it up and shipping it home early.

Wet Weather Gear

I have debated both in my head and in Homer's Travels about the proper rain gear.  There are many options like ponchos, rain jackets and pants, and rain coats.  I have decided to keep my rain gear to the minimum:
  • My main piece of rain gear will be a Ferrino Trekker backpacker's raincoat.  The coat is roomy like a poncho but zips up the front for easy access.  The coat has an extra hump on the back so it will go over a backpack.  The coat is well vented though I'm still afraid of it turning into a sauna on warm rainy days.The coat rides to about mid-calf though I suspect that it will ride higher with a pack holding it up.  The coat comes with a small stuff sack to store it when not in use but I have seen people hang the coat off of their backpack so they can just reach around, put you arms in, and pull the coat on the rest of the way when it starts to rain.  This is a trick I hope to learn quickly.
  • My backpack is waterproof and everything that could get wet will be in dry sacks.  I will not be packing a backpack rain cover.  The outer pockets of my backpack are not waterproof so I have to insure anything I carry in them can stand to be wet.  The whole pack will be protected by the raincoat as well.
  • I will not be packing gators.  I have never used gators.  I may change my mind somewhere along the AT but I will not start with them.  My shoes are not waterproof so rain will get in and will run out.  I do not expect to have dry feet on rainy days but I do expect my feet to dry off quickly when the rain stops.  On my second Camino I wore waterproof shoes which promptly filled up with water when it rained because the shoes would not drain.  Gators may have helped in that situation.   I hope that lightweight, water permeable shoes will work better.  The only situation that I dread is cold rain.  I will have three pairs of socks and liner socks so, depending on how much rain I hike through, I should have a dry pair of socks to switch into at the end of the day.  More than three days of rain may be an issue.
That's about it for rain gear.  The Trekker coat weighs in at 1.04 lb (470 g).  I expect to carry the coat all the way since there will probably be rain anytime between April and October.

That's about it for my gear.  I have sleeping gear, cooking gear, shelter gear, and other gear to keep me as safe and comfortable as possible.  Some of this gear will be shed along the way as they become unnecessary or I find them not to be necessary.  The AT, like all things in life, will be a learning experience.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Appalachian Trail: A Big Step Forward

Today I took a step forward for my Appalachian Trail (AT) adventure.  I bought an airline ticket and booked a hotel near the start.

Buying the ticket is always a big step for me. Those non-refundable tickets add a little motivation.  I remember when I bought my tickets for my first Camino I felt like I was jumping off a cliff. This time the cost is relatively minor because I used money that I already had spent.  My ticket to Montreal last November was never used but, when you cancel a non-refundable ticket, the airline gives you a credit for a year.  I used this credit to buy mi one way ticket to Atlanta, Georgia.  This still feels like a big marker on my way to the AT.

I followed this up with a hotel reservation in the town of Dahlonega, GA.  My original plan was to have a single night in Dahlonega.  Going over my packing list I realized I could not take my camp stove fuel on the airplane (I already was aware that I couldn't take my bear spray).  This prompted me to stretch my stay in Dahlonega to two nights.  The hotel is only 0.6 miles (1 km) from an outfitter where I can buy camp stove fuel and, possibly, bear spray.  This extra day will be for picking up these last minute supplies and packing/re-packing my backpack.

The last thing I will need to do is schedule shuttle service from the Atlanta airport (actually the North Springs commuter train station) to my hotel and a second shuttle to pick me up at my hotel and drop me off at Amicalola Falls state park where I will start my AT hike.

Only two months to go ... and one of those is the shortest month.  Time to start acting squirrely!