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Gear Goodness

>> Wednesday, August 17, 2011

In the course of our summer we have picked up a few new camping toys that are good enough to merit mention.

First and foremost, the stoves.

On our trip with D to Follensby Clear, he wound up lending us his stoves because he said it was "too painful" to watch us waiting for water to boil on our ancient gel stove.  D has a couple of little alcohol stoves that he loves, and after watching him use them, I decided to invest in our own.

Here they are.

They are made from recycled cans, weigh an ounce or two apiece, burn anything from isopropyl alcohol, to the fuel line anti-freeze called "Heet", to drinking alcohol (though it would be a shame to waste good rum on cooking fuel).  They can be blown out in about the first minute they are lit with a lot of effort, but after that, they're impossible to blow out even in high wind.  One of them, the top hole burner, requires a pot stand.

The side burner doesn't - you can set pots right on top of it. 

They burn fast and hot.  They weigh nothing.  They're tough and sturdy.  And the best part?  They each cost me a whopping $6 on eBay.  The pot stand cost me an extra $15.  That's hard to beat!

We did learn a few things though that are good to know.  If you burn Heet in them, which is the recommended fuel, it is a mix of isopropanol and methanol.  But Heet can't be stored in bare aluminum - it eats it.  I haven't yet figured out how it doesn't eat the stoves themselves, but it doesn't.  It DID, however, etch right into the bare aluminum Sigg bottle when it ran down the outside of it.

In general, though, it can be stored in plastic-lined metal bottles, so the Sigg bottles work great (although they aren't idea to pour from).  It could NOT be stored in those little red "white gas" bottles that are commonly used for camping fuel - they are not plastic coated.

It's also good to have a bottle of water nearby.  If you accidentally drip fuel on the ground away from your stove without realizing it, you could start a ground fire.  We also found it felt safest to dampen a little patch of dirt before we lit the stove, just to make sure there wasn't anything flammable there.

Next new toy?  Primus butane lighter.

Dude, this sucker is a little torch.  I affectionately refer to it as "the dragon."  It's wind proof and can be used to light something volatile while keeping your hand at a distance.  It's supremely easy to flick on, and is quite durable.  Love it. 

Sensing a theme here?  I do like fire.

I need to balance my fire toys with a little water, though, and this just might be the best new toy ever.  It's an ultraviolet Steripen adventurer water purifier, and I'm in love with it.

Water purification in my early camping years always involved iodine, and then trying to drown the taste of the iodine in something, anything that would take the edge off it.  I went through a lot of tang and crystal light, but really, the iodine just made those drinks taste gross.

So we moved on to various other chemical treatments, but they all bear hazard warning labels, like this:

Yikes.  And I want to drink that why?

Most also take a long time to work, as well.  And when I'm thirsty, I don't want to wait 4 hours for my water to be safe.

My magic wand works almost instantly.  I admit it's a little fiddly - you can't remove any part of the wand from the water you're treating for even a split second or it shuts off.  This is a safety mechanism, so you don't accidentally weld your retinas by looking directly at the UV light.  The surface of the water, and nearly any other container you'd carry water in, form a protective barrier that is an effective protection for your eyes.  But, all you need to do to ensure your water is safe is actually focus for the 90 seconds it takes to purify a liter, and make sure you see the wand give you the magic green "all clear" light at the end of the treatment that indicates the water is safe.

We still carry backup tablets in case we ever run out of batteries or have some other malfunction in the wand, but I hope I never need them again.  It turns out that Adirondack lake water tastes amazing when you drink it unadulterated.  The wand doesn't filter out grit or insects, although we have little trouble with that on open lakes.  It also doesn't get clogged, like so many filters can. 

I could rave about that little wand for ages.  It was worth every penny of the almost $90 we paid for it.

And finally?  The hammock, which I mentioned in a previous post but which merits a revisit.  It's made by ENO, which stands for Eagle's Nest Outfitters, and it's a brilliant design.  The slap-straps that you hang it with are stupid simple and infinitely modifiable, so you can hang it from trees that are very close together or mighty far apart, and there's no tying or knotting or fiddling.  You can adjust the swoop of it, depending on whether you want to lie or sit in it.  It goes up in a minute, and it is incredibly comfortable.  I don't remember exactly what we paid for it, but I think that hammock and straps were maybe about $65.

They make a mosquito net for it, which I plan on purchasing.  Frankly, I also plan to purchase a second one, because I am suddenly inspired to try hammock camping (instead of tents) in nice weather.  I have a friend who does just that, and I see why.  It's way more comfortable than sleeping on a tent floor, regardless of the padding you put under your sleeping bag.

And, as I noted previously as well, Simon highly approves of it.


Loon Alligator

>> Monday, August 15, 2011

I associate loons with St. Regis Canoe Area because they are always there, and on my first camping trip with Sneaksleep there about 16 years ago we had an encounter with a loon that was positively magical.  As we paddled across Little Clear, we drifted up close to a solitary loon.  After a while, it dived, and swam right directly underneath our canoe.  Little Clear is in fact remarkably clear, and we could see the loon as it swam underneath us, with its wings open.  It was incredible to see, and I had never realized before then that loons open their wings under water.  That moment has stayed with me as if it happened yesterday.

I have always thought of loons as these ethereal, haunting creatures, beautiful and strange and solitary, and that moment on Little Clear certainly contributed to the magic. I still do think of loons that way, but on our recent trip to St. Regis I learned something new about loons that lends them a slightly sinister flair, too.

One lazy afternoon of our trip, several of us were gathered on the shore of the lake.  A Common Merganser swam by with her brood of 5 half-grown babies.  All cute as a button.

As we watched the babies, I noticed a disturbance in the water off to the left.  It emerged slightly a few times, enough to recognize it as a loon.

Then it went back under, swimming through the water like a creepy alligator on the prowl.  Then it disappeared. 

C said, "It will resurface about 100 feet to the right". 
My husband said, "But that's where the baby ducks are." 
I said, completely joking, "Maybe it's going to eat the babies."

Then, in the midst of the baby ducks, the loon erupted from the water like some kind of demon Leviathan, wings open and snapping greedily at those fuzzy babies. 

For their part, the ducklings fled like Satan himself was after them, running across the water for their little lives. 

The loon dove again, and emerged again, in hot pursuit of a fuzzy quacking snack.

The loon did not happen to get any of that particular group of baby ducks, at least not at that moment, but several other times in the course of the weekend I notice groups of baby ducks running across the surface of the water at full tilt.  I suspect the loon predation is a regular occurrence.

During my subsequent swims out in the lake, I did give occasional thought to the possibility of getting bitten in the butt by one of the loons, although thankfully they're smart enough not to confuse me with baby ducks.  But now?  Loon calls are still haunting and beautiful, and they are still graceful and solitary.  But now I think of them as the hunters they are, too.


Lazy Rainy Sunday Afternoon

>> Sunday, August 14, 2011


More Adirondack Bliss

>> Friday, August 12, 2011

It has been far too long since I have posted, mostly because I've been too busy to post.  Most of the busy has been good busy, though, including last weekend's Adirondack camping trip.

Sneaksleep, who is my best girlfriend from forever ago, and I decided we needed a camping trip in the Adirondacks.  She and I had had a trip to St. Regis Canoe Area together something like 16 years ago, so it was high time to repeat it.  This time, we managed to convince her "little" brother C (far, far taller than I am) to come with us all the way from California, and Sneaksleep's husband M joined us as well.  It was M's first ever wilderness camping trip.

We all took 2 days off work, and Sneaksleep's gang drove up from New York City, and Spouse and I drove from CNY with the pups, and we all met at the Little Clear parking lot early Thursday afternoon.  Little Clear is one of the gateways into the St. Regis Canoe Area.  We quickly put the canoes in the water, all brimming with excitement (although admittedly M may have been feeling more apprehension than excitement).

This picture is badly underexposed but somehow it's a cool effect.

We paddled across Little Clear, then portaged all our gear over to St. Regis Pond, which is way bigger than its name makes it sound.  See map here.  There are several wonderful things about St. Regis, including the utter lack of motorized anything, and the way the sites are few and very far between.  After a whole lot of paddling around the lake to find an unoccupied site (it's a popular area and a number of our favorite sites are now closed to let them recover), and with our arms feeling a bit gelatinous from all that paddling, we finally found a nice spot at site 8. 

Our view:

It was an idyllic few days, through and through.  We had beautiful weather.  And Sneaksleep and Co. are perfect camping companions.  We were all so very, very mellow, hanging out, occasionally paddling around the lake in canoes, swimming, eating an obscene amount of good camping food, laughing, catching up, and just enjoying each other's company. 

Just before our trip, I had taken inspiration from our friend D and picked up a hammock made by ENO.  Holy Hannah - that thing rocks!  We found a spot for it right next to the water, and all took turns lounging in it.  C even spent the better part of one night sleeping in it, and would have spent the whole night in it if I had had a mosquito net for it.  I shall soon be purchasing one.

It turns out Simon was a big fan of the hammock as well.

While I dearly loved the hammock, there is one place I prefer even to that - the lake.  I swam long distances around that lake, among different islands and our site.  I calculated from the topo map that I swam more than a mile and a half in the course of the weekend.  I know that's not all that far to most triathletes and swimmers, but for me it seemed like a looooong way.

If you look carefully, you can spot me in the middle of these.  To give you an idea of how far out I was, my husband took these with the 200 zoom.

Sneaksleep and my husband each spent lengths of time with me in the water, although I was definitely the water rat of the group.  I think that's one of the very best things about the St. Regis Canoe Area - the lack of motor boats means no fear of getting run down and injured while swimming.  I can think of nothing more mediative and seductive than floating out there, in the very middle of the lake, lying back and looking at the tree lines and the clouds and the mountains in the distance.  It makes me feel as much a part of the Adirondack wilderness as it is possible to feel.

Having Sneaksleep and C along for the trip meant some great canoeing instruction time, too.  Sneaksleep and C are both highly accomplished wilderness adventurers, having spent weeks at a time in remote places in canoes and tents.  Both have canoed and camped in the Arctic, and C very recently went on a whitewater Arctic adventure for a film shoot he did.  My husband is rapidly becoming a good canoer, but it's quite new to him, and even newer to Sneaksleep's husband.  So C kindly spent a long time teaching a class for the husbands, instructing them in all sorts of paddling strokes and tips.  I've done a fair bit of canoeing and even some whitewater, but I learned from the lesson, too.

The ONLY down side to the entire trip was that it had to end far, far too soon.  I could have happily stayed out there for days and days and days...

I think this is the most incredible shot.  My husband scooped up the camera and shot a quick photo when this fellow landed on my finger.  It's breathtaking.

Some poor blue jay sure became a meal:


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