Making a list, and checking it twice!

One of the things I have learned in my few years of hiking and backpacking is the importance of a packing list. By making a good list, one can ensure the needed items are taken, unnecessary items are left at home, and (if the list is really good) have an idea of the weight of your pack before you even actually weigh it. There have been trips where I have forgotten something or something did not work just right. That is part of the adventure in backpacking.

I am making a “new” list, though. I am just 9 more days away from departing to my first liveaboard SCUBA Trip. The importance of such a list is very prevalent as one considers the consequences of forgetting something…. In backpacking, forgetting something may make me slightly cold, hungry, wet, or otherwise uncomfortable until the weekend is over and I return home. On this liveaboard, we will be miles from shore and not return to the dock once we leave unless there is a medical emergency. Forgetting something can mean the difference between having the trip of a lifetime and watching others having the fun. If I forget something or if an item quits performing properly the consequences may be I become be a spectator instead of a participant. IF the item is relatively unimportant, I may be able to repair or borrow the item from someone.

So, making a list, checking it twice, and seeing what backup items are needed or required. For readers that have traveled on the M/V Spree or other liveaboard SCUBA trips, are there any suggestions or commonly forgotten items?

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Busy times and the countdown has started!

Wow, the past 30 days has been nonstop! I have earned my Advanced Diver and Enriched Air Certifications in SCUBA, been on a work related weeklong trip to Ogden, UT as well as another work related trip to Ft. Bragg, NC (which I was preparing for in a previous blog). I have picked up an older model of the GoPro camera (lost and recoverd while using it on the first dives) and HAD to practice with it before an item on my bucket list! In fact, this video was shot just two days ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQAOoMpEe2M It’s not super duper quality, but I’m still learning….

I have wanted to learn how to SCUBA dive after watching Wild Kingdom MANY years ago. Although I’ve been certified since 2009, my diving experience has been fairly limited as I only have approx 30+ dives. Well, that is about to change! In 16 days I begin my journey to an item on my bucket list – my first liveaboard dive trip. On Wednesday of that week, I drive to central Florida to my father in law’s house. The next day we will drive to Key West to board the boat. This trip I will be traveling/diving with my Father in law as well as his friend that is a professional photographer. Basically, you live on a boat and dive in different locations over several days. Not only will the diving be amazing, but we should have plenty of pictures of our adventure.

We board the MV Spree on Thursday (31 July) at night, and dive all day Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Just to give you an idea, we will do about 20 dives on that trip. We are doing the “Wreck Trek” trip, so most of our dives will be on shipwrecks – either “accidently” or purposely sunk for diving. The Florida Keys has a Shipwreck Trail (http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/shipwrecktrail/welcome.html) and we are scheduled to dive on all nine wrecks on the trail during this trip.

So I’m starting to gather my equipment and make a packing list. 16 more days….

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Back to work and it’s odd…

After living abroad for over a year (work related and it wasn’t exactly a tropical paradise), I’ve been back to my “normal” job for about six months. It seems like I have finally readjusted according to my superiors.

On Friday June 25th I was informed I would be traveling to Ogden, UT on Monday June 28th to lead training during a four day period. Toward the end of last week, I was informed I would be leaving for Ft. Bragg, NC on Sunday, July 6th for another 4 day training session. There’s also a two week trip to Germany scheduled for September. I also have a much anticipated SCUBA trip planned at the beginning of August or I would be taking a work trip to Hawaii! So at least I don’t have to always sit in the office – which is a good thing. I also get to see parts of the US (and world) that I have not yet traveled.

But there is this odd feeling I have been experiencing for the past few days. Returning to Ft. Bragg will be a walk down memory lane, and not necessarily a good one. I was stationed there in the early 90′s and haven’t returned. I know it has changed, but many things will be the same. The reason it will be odd is that I was a different person then. I was young, in the military, and I’ll just say the life I was living wasn’t “ideal.” I am somewhat ashamed of my life during that point. In fact, other than my two children being born at Ft. Bragg, there wasn’t much positive in my life during that time.

I don’t know if I want to drive by my old housing, barracks, or other places I visited while I was stationed there. It will be bittersweet to say the least. We are training literally blocks away and there is a good chance we will pass by even if I don’t plan it. Emotionally it will be trying as that is a part of my life I try to put behind me, only to have it force its way to the surface in the most unlikely set of circumstances.

So wish me luck and I’ll see you in the future between the trees or under the surface!

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What a GREAT Father’s Day Weekend!

At a later date I will have to provide an update with pictures (and video if possible).

This past weekend was awesome! For Father’s Day I was certified as an Advanced Diver and Nitrox – I’ve had my “basic” or open water diver certification since 2009. For the non-SCUBA people, the Advanced Diver certifies you to go past 60 ft. in depth (the max is 130 ft) and exposes/fine tunes some other skills – some of which are selected by the diver. For my advanced certification I selected Peak Performance Buoyancy, Underwater Videography, and Search and Recovery. The Deep Dive (another blog post soon) and Underwater Navigation are mandatory dives as part of this certification.

The Nitrox certification allows you to use air with a higher percentage of Oxygen. The “normal” air is approx 21% oxygen and Nitrox allows you to go up to 40%. The most common is 32%. This exposes you to less Nitrogen (the bad stuff in SCUBA) but also affects your max bottom depth as well as too much oxygen CAN be a bad thing (go figure, right?) so this course teaches all of this.

We did a total of 5 dives in various conditions and had a GREAT time! I also played with my new GoPro camera which I will discuss in a longer post as well.

So this time of year, I’ll either see you between the trees or blowing bubbles….

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Thankful for listening to someone else

I’m a “glass-half-full” kind of guy – especially when it comes time to spending time outdoors. For example, if there’s a 40% chance it WON’T rain (instead of a 60% chance it will rain) I’m all for still going on the adventure. I refuse to be a “fair weather camper” and give those that are some friendly banter. That is one also of the benefits of having quality gear that has been tested as I know I will be protected in less than ideal conditions.

A prime example of my “glass-half-full”/stupidity is this past weekend. The men from my Sunday School Class had an overnight canoe trip planned on the Buffalo River in Tennessee. Although thunderstorms and rain were in the forecast, I was still “all in” on going through with the trip. One by one, less couragous (my opinion) men were backing out and I actually sent an email stating that “I wasn’t afraid of a little water.” To semi save the weekend, we agreed to meet for breakfast. I packed my gear in the car just in case someone wanted to follow through with the plans at the last minute.

At breakfast, we agreed that we could reschedule for a couple of weekends away. I was slightly bummed because I love the adventure regardless of the weather conditions. We did agree to go on a short day hike to at least spend SOME time outdoors. Of course, it was sunny and we remarked several times that it was perfect weather for being on the water. A great time was had by all.

Then Saturday night arrived as well as the “slight chance of some rain.” As I watched the weather on TV from the comfort of my home as thunder shook the house, I was REALLY thankful I listened to someone else. If it was up to me, I would have been out in the weather hanging between two trees on the riverbank. I am confident that my gear would have protected me from the rain, but I doubt I would have slept very well with the storm raging overhead. My gear would not have protected me if the trees were uprooted by the strong winds or debris flying through the air, though…. Maybe there would have been a great story from the trip, but I was just as happy to be inside.

I am blessed, alive, and the the adventure will continue another day. After all, the woods and river aren’t going anywhere!

Posted in Hammock Camping, Report | 1 Comment

Cook kit review

I recently overhauled and replaced nearly everything in my cook kit so I thought I’d do a review to show you what I’m currently using. Here is a picture of everything I now use.

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From left to right top row: 4 oz fuel bottle in ziploc bag, bandana (pot grabber), mini scrub pad, mini Bic lighter, and Refletix Cozy

From left to right middle row: Snow Peak 700 Trek modified lid, Snow Peak 700 Trek (Titanium) pot, wind screen, and Mini Ring of Fire with attached Fireplug gravity feed.

Bottom: Sea to Summit Titanium long handle spoon and cuben fiber stuff sack from ZPacks (http://www.zpacks.com/accessories/stuff_sacks.shtml).

As you can see above, my cook pot of choice is the Snow Peak 700 Trek in Titanium (Ti) (http://www.backcountry.com/snow-peak-trek-700-titanium-cooker). My one and only utensil is the spoon (http://www.backcountry.com/sea-to-summit-long-titanium-spoon) but I do carry a small knife. It seems like the Snow Peak 700 Trek and spoon from http://www.backcountry.com are out of stock at this time.

I did a small modification to the lid. I cut off the large “tab” on the lid and used a piece of wood from the yard and a screw to attach a knob for the lid. I filed the edges down so there were no jagged edges.

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I’ve had a canister stove for several years that has served me well, but I wanted something newer (and lighter) in the never ending quest of the perfect gear. Alcohol stoves are very light, but I didn’t want the standard soda can type stove. After much research, I chose the Mini Ring of Fire with integrated Pot Stand from smokeeater908 (http://www.outdoortrailgear.com/featured/mini-ring-of-fire-alcohol-stove/) as well as the Fireplug gravity feed (http://www.outdoortrailgear.com/cottage-industries/smokeeater908/fireplug/) for extended burning time. As with any alcohol stove, a windscreen is needed. Smokeeater908 makes some very high quality stuff and I don’t see having to ever replace this stove. You should check out his Youtube channel for all of the details. In addition to the four oz bottle that is shown above, I also have a one ounce bottle that is not included in the picture. I haven’t yet decided which one to take, but I’m sure a lot of it depends on the length of the trip. I also carry a Campbell’s Soup “On The Go” that weighs 1.15 oz and is carried in my food bag that is used for coffee/hot drinks that also didn’t make the picture and is not included in most of the weights as this is an optional (but appreciated) item that is carried in my food bag.

So, how does this stove perform and what is so special about this stove? Other than the amazing quality (think solid metal – aluminum I believe). This stove has the unique ability to easily switch from high heat to low heat (or the other way – low to high) just by rotating the stove in the pot stand. Below, the high heat is on the left and the low heat is on the right.

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I tested this stove outside by heating a 16 oz bottle of water straight from the refrigerator to a rolling boil. While on high heat the entire time, this took just under 14 minutes to achieve. While this is a rather extreme example or test, some of the mountain springs where I spend a lot of my time contain water that is cool (if not almost cold). Also, I normally don’t achieve a rolling boil as my food takes too long to cool down. My “normal” temp water was achieved in about half of that time (7 minutes).

I love how small this stove breaks down. When everything is cool and clean, I disconnect the fuel bottle and store in a Ziploc bag separately from the stove for added protection (spillage). I then put the bandana inside the Snow Peak 700 Trek, followed by the windscreen, the stove with the gravity feed still attached and then the lighter. In the picture below you can see how much room is still left in the pot.

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I then put the mini pot scrubber on top, top off with the edges of the bandana, and put on the lid. The filled cookware with cozy then go into my stuff sack with the spoon along one side. This is everything except the fuel and coffee cup.

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I don’t think that’s too bad – all but fuel and coffee cup comes in at 14.2 oz. Including approx 2 oz of fuel (that’s all I have available at the moment) and coffee cup the total weight climbs to 18.1 oz

Overall, I really like this stove and believe with a little practice and fine tuning this could be an awesome addition to my kit and replace my heavier canister stove. If you have this set, questions, or comments please feel free to send them my way!

EDIT: I conducted another round of testing and did some fine tuning of the stove so it burned more efficiently. This time, I heated 16 oz of room temperature water to a rolling boil in 9 minutes. This was conducted inside where the air conditioner is set to 73 degrees F and of course, there was no wind involved. I used 0.7 oz (by weight) of fuel for priming and during the actual boil test. By my calculations, my small bottle will hold enough for 2.7 burns under these conditions. The small fuel bottle filled with fuel and with the cap only weighs 2.4 oz which will easily be enough for 2 burns in the woods, possibly even three as I don’t heat my water as hot as I did during the test.

I also cut down my bandana to 1/4 the size because I really didn’t need the whole thing. Now with the small full bottle of fuel, my cook kit weighs 16.3 oz. I was aiming for 1 lb. Maybe I can cut my pot scrub pad down or see what else I can modify to cut 0.3 oz….

I hope you enjoyed my cook kit, and I’ll see you between the trees!

Posted in Backpacking, Hammock Camping, Report, Testing | Leave a comment

Puerto Morelos, Mexico

I just returned from a quick trip with the Bride to Puerto Morelos, Mexico. We left Birmingham, AL early on Saturday morning and arrived at the Cancun airport by 3 pm local. We had already arranged for transportation to where we were staying and were in our room by 4 pm. This was my first stay at the Azul Sensatori and an “all inclusive” resort. Our room had a view of the ocean (through lots of palm trees) and was very nice – including a jacuzzi in the room (which we never used).

Our plan was to relax on Sunday, go SCUBA diving on Monday, more relaxing on Tuesday, and we were scheduled to leave Wednesday afternoon. We went mostly according to our plan, but we did have to avoid the rain showers every day. As it seems with most beach trips, the nicest day was the day we were leaving…. After living abroad in an arid country for a year, I was more than ready to play in the water so I took my mask and snorkel with me. I also took our point and shoot camera with me that is waterproof down to 60 ft to see how it would perform. I spashed around in the water in front of the resort and saw a sand ray, a small coral reef, many small fish, a Trigger Fish that kept swimming by checking on me.

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On Wednesday the bride and I went SCUBA Diving with Wet Set Diving Adventures in Puerto Morelos (www.wetset.com). I had arranged for a taxi the day before and it was waiting on us when we arrived downstairs. The taxi ride was approx 15 minutes away and we quickly filled out the appropriate forms and were fitted for gear. I have nothing but great things to say for this dive operation, but as a note I will probably bring our own gear next time. My wife had some difficulty finding a wetsuit that fit properly (we have one at home) and the fins were full foot fins and I prefer the ones I have instead. I’m not saying anything about the dive operation at all – they were great! We just prefer our gear that we know fits properly and we are comfortable using. I did like that everything was included in the price and the staff was very knowledgable, helpful, and I will use them again if I am in the area.

We did two dives. The first was a max depth of 60 ft at Grouper Alley (we didn’t see any large grouper) and the second was a max depth of 45 ft at Pez Quad. Wet Set uses a small boat as the dive locations are fairly close to shore (15 minute ride). There were six divers, 2 dive masters, and 2 personnel on the boat. We conducted a backward roll to enter the water and after the surface safety check, began the dive. We were diving in a Nature Preserve. That may sound odd to non-divers but underwater areas need to be protected as much as areas above the water. This prevents anyone from catching or harvesting any wildlife and the results are obvious! The lobsters were huge and plentiful! It was almost impossible to look and NOT see several fish. We saw many fish including an Angelfish, too many lobsters to count, a scorpionfish, and even a small spotted eel. Here are just a few shots taken from my little point and shoot camera.

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After diving we had lunch at the local authenic Mexican resturant, walked around the small village of Puerto Morelos and did a bit of shopping. After a busy morning, we were ready to take a quick nap before hitting the beach in the afternoon.

Tuesday and Wednesday went by very quickly and all too soon we were headed to the airport to go home.

I love this part of the world and plan on coming back soon. We have stayed in Cancun and Puerto Morelos. I think next time Playa de Carmen is on our list of places to stay.

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