Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Submitted Another Story


Hilobrow is holding another contest. They want a 250 word story about the apocalypse ... the catch? It has to be period specific.

Specifically between 1930 and 1935.

So, I popped the following up (and am one of about 20 submissions so far):

They didn’t call it the Dirty Thirties for nothin’. Droughts, depression, world-wide political unrest, rampant crime - it all made for dark times. But I guess it prepared us for The Fall.

It happened in springtime. Dark clouds rolled over the world like a terrible storm. A storm that didn’t go away. Food production halted overnight. Scarcity created tribal warfare the world over.

That was four years ago and we’d been running since.

But today we stop running.

For months we’d been sticking to the outskirts of small towns. Pillaging what we could at night. Lucky if we found tinned food, stored grains or farmhouse preserves.

Once we found bicycles, and for one week we held an incredible pace – smiling as we distanced ourselves from the starving packs behind us. Maybe we got comfortable, I don’t know, but they managed to catch up.

They found us camping by a starving river and came fast. All blind fury. They were more interested in our stores than us, making it easier to fight them off and escape downriver. We weren’t unscathed.

I held her close as we floated. Her eyes were closed. Her face a pale grey like the sunsets these days.

I carried her. Tended wounds. Suppressed fevers. Hoped. Prayed that there was still a god somewhere.

I thought we‘d make it, that I’d save her and we’d start again.

But I can’t carry her anymore. And I can’t go on without her.

We’ll know soon enough if god’s out there.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Great Day for a Hike!

This weekend I was fortunate to have my brother and his girlfriend down for a visit.

Most of the weekend revolved around great food (prepared by K), some beer and wine, and a lot of Wii bowling. Both my brother and I achieved Pro status.

But for me, the highlight of the trip was the hike we took to Luskville Falls in the Gatineau Park. We were introduced to this trail last year by friends. It’s a well used, and well known, trail about 30 minutes outside of Ottawa. Apparently there are many other older, lesser known trails out in the area.

Apparently, many of these trails have been forgotten over time. I’ve heard that there are a few old trail maps still out there, and I have decided to try and find them. I don’t know how, but I am going to figure it out. I have my first clue – there used to be a ‘Yellow Box trail’ near the area. It will be my first conquest.

But I digress. Back to the falls trail. We geared up and left in the afternoon after eating a great lunch (thanks again Kel, you are a fantastic cook and I am lucky). The sky opened up on the drive over, and the sun was shining.

When we got to the hill, the park was actually closed. I don’t think it officially opens for a while yet. But there were about 15 other intrepid parties there. We walked in and passed a few people leaving, but all in all, the place was pretty quiet.

At -5 degrees, we were shedding layers within the first 750 meters of the hike. It was brisk, and we needed gloves and touques for the first bit, but as we ascended, we steadily de-layered.

We passed the first stage of the falls and interrupted a mature doe above our path. She didn’t care about us at all. Just stopped eating long enough to give us a look and then went straight back to the nom, nom, nom. We tried to snag a picture, but she was hard to snap through the bush.

We made our first precarious crossing of the falls over an ice bridge. This effectively separated us from any other hikers as I think most people turned around at that point. But we were adventurers, not to be turned aside by the prospect of a chilly ‘soaker’. Onward.

We quickly made our way to the firetower and enjoyed some blueberry tea, homemade hummus, carrots and cukes (Kel makes fantastic hummus). It was a nice break topped off with a handful of Cadbury Mini-Eggs.

The trip down was fast. I practiced my parkour skills (which are admittedly quite low) and we all moved pretty quickly. As we moved down, we realized why most people had turned around at the first falls crossing. With the stream engorged, the usual route across the falls on the descent was gone. So, we had to muck around a while before finding a navigable crossing, which just happened to be at the very top of the falls themselves. It made for an exciting twist of events.

The rest of the trip down was pretty simple, which was perfect because knees and legs were starting to get a bit sore.

When we walked out to the road we only saw two other cars. It was nice to be one of the last groups to leave.

If you haven’t tried the Luskville Falls, I’d recommend it. It’s not terribly hard, and not very far. Just a little bit of perfect all around.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Prepping for the Perfect Backcountry Camping Trip - Clothing Optional?

For the second instalment of our Prepping for the Perfect Backcountry Camping Trip we’ll take a quick look at some of the clothing choices you can make. And I’ll include a short list of the clothes I would take on a late spring to early fall camping trip.

You clothing choices should obviously reflect the seasons and it’s always a good idea to prepare for the worst. Now, that doesn’t mean you should bring a down filled parka when you are hitting the woods in April, but it does mean you need to take time to ensure you will be warm and dry.


Ok, a quick note about materials. Cotton, polyester and wool tend to be the main materials that can be found in good camping gear. Both the wool and poly blends wick moisture well, are very good insulators and will continue to do so when wet. In suport of, poly - it'll dry quicker.

Cotton on the other hand won’t dry as quickly and does not insulate well when wet. But I certainly find it more comfortable than some of the other fabrics.

Therefore I suggest a mix of fabrics depending on the activity you intend to undertake.

The List
The following list covers the clothing I would bring for a 5 day interior camping trip.

Hiking Boots/Shoes
I often just wear a pair of beat up trail runners – they dry fast and have good grip. But you’ll want to wear something that you feel comfortable in, especially if you are hiking and not simply canoe-camping. You may also need the kind of support that hiking boots/shoes can provided. Again, it’s personal choice.

I always bring a mix of socks. I bring thin cotton socks and merino wool socks to keep warm.

Long Underwear
Not always a necessity, but on those cold nights, you’ll be happy you have them.

Regular Underwear
Pretty obvious eh? And I guess it's optional.

I like to bring two pairs of pants if I have the room. I bring a heavier cotton pair with a lot of useful pockets and another pair of quick drying pants. If I am pressed for space I go for the quick drying ones. I don’t bring any heavy shorts as I just roll up my pants for the same effect.

You just have to have a belt. Not just to hold your knife/multi-tool etc., but it makes a great tie down for firewood. Just bundle up your firewood, zip that belt around it and amble on back to camp in style (or with your free hand holding up your pants).

Shorts (or swimsuit for the ladies)
Now you can roll all skinny-dip style, or you can retain some modesty and hit the lake, river or spring in a swimsuit. It’s not necessary if you have boxers, but among mixed company, shorts are always a nice touch.

2 wicking t-shirts will keep the moisture off your skin, but you may want a cotton T too.

Button up shirt
I like to bring at least one button up shirt with some good pockets. It’s an extra layer to keep you warm, and the pockets will come in handy. Guaranteed.

Dip it in the lake water and put it around your neck to cool down. Use it to scrub your pots. Use it to filter the big stuff out of your water (before you filter with a good filter system). It’s a sling for a broken arm. In a pinch it’s a good bandage. So many uses … and you can just tie it to the outside of your pack. Simple.

Polyfleece or Wool/Polyester sweater
This extra layer is extremely useful for those chilly nights and frigid mornings before the fire kicks in. I’m currently rocking a poly army sweater. It’s black, so it attracts heat from the sun and it has … wait for it … pockets! Great for layering. And a poly product will keep you warm when it is wet and will dry quickly.

Rain ponchos
Obviously, it’ll keep the rain off you. Not so obvious uses include keeping gear dry, covering firewood, or even acting as a makeshift tarp when necessary.

A hat (with a brim – baseball, or otherwise)
Keeps the sun off your face when it’s warm. Keeps your head warm when it’s cold. You can use it to gather water.

Ok, so that's the quick and dirty on clothing. And as mentioned, you're going to have to find the mix of gear that works for you. Maybe you like the UtiliKilt? Maybe you like full on army surplus gear. It's all up to you. Just make sure you dress for the climate you're heading out in.

Good luck.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Prepping for a Perfect Backcountry Camping trip - Shelter/Bedding

One of the most important things you’ll need to work out is how you want to sleep. A good night’s sleep is the key to having a worry free trip. That means you have to stay dry, warm (or cool depending), and comfortable. So, we've got a few key items and some key considerations.

The Tent –

It’s worth doing your homework here as there are many different tent styles for different climates. The casual camper won’t need a $500 mountaineering tent. You’ll need to determine how big your tent should be. We carry a small rig with us. It weighs just a few pounds and takes up very little room in the packs. It’s big enough to comfortably house our bedding, bags, and the dog (who usually ends up sleeping on my bag anyway).

Things to look for:
  • Tub floor (raised sides).
  • A vestibule. This is like the 'mud room' or front hallway of your tent. It's a sheltered area where you can take off your boots, lay down some gear, and banish the dog to when he eats your gorp.
  • Good ventilation. You’ll need good air circulation regardless of season. Keeps you cool in the summer, and helps prevent frost from condensation in the winter.
  • Gear loft – this hanging mesh ‘shelf’ is great for stowing items that you need easy access to. Flashlights, glasses etc.
  • Tent Footprint – I never used to think the tent footprint was anything special. And on dry sunny days, you don’t really need one. But if you are going to make sure the top of the tent is waterproof, why not pay the same attention to the bottom? Here’s why you need it -condensation tends to form under your tent floor, and can stick to the bottom of your tent’s floor – a process that will degrade the material quicker over time. The footprint is just another way to keep the moisture on the outside and extend the life of your tent (and in a bind, that footprint can be used as a tarp to keep the rain off gear etc.). Keep in mind:· That the footprint doesn’t have to be a custom fit, but should be smaller than the actual tent (so that water doesn’t run down the sides and then pool on top of the footprint.). · It can just be a thin plastic sheeting that covers the area your tent will rest on. Vapour barrier, poly tarps, or custom made footprints will all do the same thing as long as they aren’t permeable.

Sleeping bag –

There are as many sleeping bags out there as there are hairs on the back of my hand (I should mention that this number increases with age). And each one is perfect for someone. While K likes a warmer bag, I like a smaller, lighter bag (mine is rated for -5, and squishes down to the size of a loaf of bread). Again, the type of bag you need will be determined by the conditions you camp in. Winter campers need a bag with lots of loft, while summer campers just need something to cut the night chill a bit.

Things to look for:

  • Mummification – Get a mummy bag, you won’t regret it on cold nights.
  • Synthetic filling – Some like down (and claim it is warmer) but I like synthetic. If synthetic gets wet, it’s going to be warmer than down, and easier to dry out.
  • Zipper compatibility? Sometimes, when boys and girls like eachother, they might want to zip their bags together to make a big sleeping bag … for the added warmth of course!
  • Sleeping bag liners are fantastic. They add a little warmth, and are more comfortable on the skin than the poly shell of the bags. Some sleeping bags now come with integrated liners.

Sleeping Pads –

For the longest time (from the age of 15 to the age of 31) I did not believe in buying an 'expensive' sleeping pad. For those 16 years I had the same closed cell foam underpad. The thing is, that blue-foam pad only cost 12 dollars, but probably cost me hours of lost sleep. While the foam kept me off the cold ground, it did little to smooth out the rocks and roots. So, just before an annual trip last year, I bought a good quality air mattress … and I don’t think I will ever look back. The prices aren't terrible (I picked on up for under $10 for my brother, while mine was $60) And they roll up smaller than the traditional foam pads, and keep you warmer.

Things to look for:

  • Look for a self inflating pad (even though you’ll have to blow it up anyway). That has foam built into it.
  • Get the right fit. Blow it up and lay out on it. Do the shoulders fit? Is it long enough? Is it comfortable?
  • Don’t buy the ¾ or ½ pads. The full pads are the most comfortable, and a ¾ or ½ pad isn’t that much smaller than the full, so treat yourself.

A Pillow –

Ya, I know, I know. A pillow? Is a pillow really necessary? For me, it is. I bring a small inflatable pillow (meant for airplane flights) and inflate it about half way. I’ve been known to use my bag, and extra clothes, but nothing matches that little pillow. And the best part is that it weighs nothing and takes up the same space as a deck of cards. I know pillows aren’t for everyone. And if you can sleep with your head on a rock then all the power to you, but for me, I like a little awesome under my head.

Keep in mind:

  • While the dog seems like he would make a great pillow (fluffy, warm, immovable etc., ) in practice, he is much less comfortable than imagined. And he smells … a lot.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Prepping for a Perfect Backcountry Camping trip

Over the years I’ve worked hard to get the right mix of gear for my camping trips.I’ve tried the ultralight camping – leaving behind things like pants and soap, in favour of ensuring a lighter load – and car camping – where we brought coolers, lawn chairs, multi-burner stoves and our weight in beer.

For each of these trips I’ve compiled lists upon lists. Each trip means a different gear list gets written. And because I am disorganized, I lose the lists, or keep too many lists, or forget where I put the list. So this exercise is more about me than it is about you. I’m collecting the perfect list, and I invite you to take a look and share your thoughts and comments on it.

I’ll post gear from 8 categories including:
- Shelter/Bedding
- Clothes
- Personal Hygiene
- First Aid
- Cooking gear
- Random Essentials and
- Keeping the dog alive

Stay tuned, and toss in some comments if you see fit.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Winterbiking article in the Globe and Mail

Finally, some interesting Canadian press on the subject of winterbiking.

This short article is written by the paper's CityDesk journalist and mainly focuses on the perceptions other people have, as well as the unique experience that the activity presents.

Some intersting excerpts include:

A recent survey showed that just 10 per cent of Toronto cyclists ride through the winter. Even among "utilitarian" cyclists - dedicated types who use their bikes for practical stuff like getting to work and going shopping - the figure rises to only 15 per cent.


It's liberating at any time of year to avoid the restrictions of driving or public transit and set out on your own, a free agent of the street. In winter, with the sharp, fresh air on your face, it's exhilarating. You begin and end your day with a little adventure.

You may remember our own little piece on winterbiking - Join the Winter Biking Militia - that comes to similar conclusions.

The best line from the article comes when Gee describes his winter biking ensemble - "I look like a safety-conscious ninja assassin"