11 April 2019

A Late Winter Rove

It's nearly mid April and most of the U.S. is enjoying the beginnings of spring, some of the country is starting to bud and green up. Sometimes I envy that, sometimes I don't.

Winter's skeletal grasp upon the neck of the north wood still has strength, though waning. Spring's rebirth is yet to come. Most days our skies are still steely and grey, the wind carries flurries and ice more oft than not. The sun does break through occasionally, but not regularly, it's usually a white orb behind the clouds. The balsam's needles sprinkle across the hard crusted snow. Shallow in places and knee deep drifts in others. Here and there a bit of bare ground emerges, having been covered since late November.

The mists rise in the forests as the air temperature is warming to above freezing. The snow begins to release its moisture and thus the mists come. When the wind does not blow the woods are eerily silent, quiet, still.

These conditions are sublime for drifting the timber with a longbow, with a long winter's worth of arrow crafting filling a favorite quiver.

Walking these woods during times like these has a calming effect, until ones boot breaks the crust and sinks to the knee in the frozen snow. Lurching back out of these unseen soft spots can be comical affairs. The step up and out often results in that leg sinking above the knee as well.

There are few things in life I enjoy more than the softly singing arrow as it speeds along its arc to a spot I've chosen. It may seem a trivial thing to some, that such a quick moment have any affect, but to the archer it is a moment in time where all else is vanished and nothing remains save the arrow's flight.

It is a culmination, a physical fruition if you will, of years of effort. The loosing of an arrow has within it, all other arrows before it. To shoot instinctively isn't instinctive. It is instead the result of countless other shots, over time the brain begins to 'see' the proper sight picture, geometry, trajectory. Each time an arrow is loosed the brain receives training. Over and over again, eventually the hair covered computer can calculate the correct hold for elevation and windage, and thus the eye sees the spot, the bow arm rises, the drawing hand finds the anchor, and the arrow speeds away.

For nearly fifty years I've sent arrows down range, in that time each arrow represented all that had come before it and would influence all that would come after it.

Instinctive archery is hardly instinctive, it is a lifetime of dedication and discipline.

I digress.

Recently I'd come by some wool blend material that I dropped off at Empire Wool & Canvas Co. I've known the owner for several years now and have had several of his products, both bought 'off the shelf' and made to order. I had enough material for a Boreal Shirt and a Grey Fox Pullover. Kevin's work is top end in every way, as is his customer service. He agreed to the build and recently completed them.

The material might be recognizable to some, it's the 'Wooltimate' material that was proprietary to Cabelas. With the recent acquisition by Bass Pro Shop, it seems some traditional lines that Cabelas had will no longer be offered. I happened to know a guy who was involved with the mill that produced this material and thus came to get my hands on some of it.

Kevin's design of the Boreal shirt left nothing out. From the pocket and inner pocket configurations to the hood and throat closures, ideally executed because of Kevin's experience and the feedback he's gotten from countless other outdoors folk over the years. I'm a huge fan of his work, it's always top end.

I enjoy the randomness of roving and stump shooting. Unknown distances, varied terrain, picking spots through openings in the brush. It's a good simulator for hunting shots. I've yet to have a bowhunting encounter where the shot opportunity mimics a static range.

I've written about stump shooting repeatedly in these pages, suffice it to say, if you're a traditional archer you owe it to yourself to go stump shooting. More fun cannot be had with a stick and a string.

Nonetheless, I do have a 'homemade' range. I've set numerous 3D targets in the woods around my home, some of them are your typical and some of them are not. In this case the rare Northern Velociraptor.

Picking my spot I sent the feathered missile through a small hole in the brush.

Not far beyond, a great Russian boar met a similar fate.

Spring is coming, though it is somewhat bittersweet, as I love the winter in the north woods.

At least I can look forward to the fact that Winter is Coming, again.

24 December 2018

Of Hares, knives, and Chaga

I haven't been procrastinating, I've just been doing other stuff, I thought to myself as I stitched the rabbit furs together in the loose form of mittens. This was the second and final pair, they are to be gifts for my daughters on Christmas, tomorrow.

As I was rounding the bend on the last curve, using a locking stitch, I heard the mail truck pull up outside. The dogs were sounding the alarm as usual. I came back inside with several boxes, one of which went to the top of the list for opening.

A pair of the newest Bushcraft USA knives. I'd ordered two as I wanted one for myself and I intend to give the other one away on the BCUSA forums. They set the rabbit fur mitts off, don't you think?

With the mitts done and itching to go outside I shouldered a new hybrid pack and frame I put together from an Alaskan Guide Frame and a Bundeswehr Rucksack. I'll do a write up in the future on this rig, for now I just wanted to go for a walk, make a fire, and drink some tea.

I walked to an area where I've been cutting some fire wood. Good spot to have a fire and a sit. Before I started on the fire fixins I took some shots of the BCUSA knife that I am going to keep.

From the Bushcraft Outfitters listing for these knives:

The Bushcraft USA Knife is made by LT Wright for us. The steel is 1/8" O-1, which is my personal favorite. The grind is Scandinavian. The blade length is 3.75" with a overall length of 8.25" including the Micarta handle and exposed tang. The spine of the knife is ground to 90 degrees for striking a firesteel and smoothing wood. A brown leather dangler sheath with fire steel loop is included. Handle options include OD Green, Natural Canvas, and Black. These will be available in small batches.
I ordered the OD Green and the Natural On a Friday and received them on Monday, during the Christmas rush no less.

So I set about gathering some dead standing wood, some birch bark, some low spruce limbs that were dead. I did baton some of the dead standing stuff into smaller pieces. While the blade on the knife is sub 4" it had no problem with this task. One just needs to pick the right wood to work with.

Shaving and feather stick making were also a breeze and quite enjoyable. I had no hot spots with the handle, was able to make fairing fine feathers as seen below.

These are bushmen knives, they do not have the refinements of burled scales, liners, coke bottle shaped handles. They are just as sharp though, mine would shave arm hair out of the box, the spine has one of the sharpest 90s I've ever gotten on a knife. It's a working bushcraft knife from LT Wright, it's a serious knife packing some serious capability into a light and small package.

As per my favorite method of fine making I used the knife's fine edge to scrap up a porous, fibrous, patch of fine birch bark. One slow scrape of the ferro rod on the spine of the knife and viola, fire was had.

With that out of the way I dug my kettle out and added some water. These days I just leave a chunk of chaga in my kettle full time. One chunk about the size seen in the kettle will make multiple kettles of tea. Just add water and settle over the fire.

Obviously this is not a review, just some thoughts on the knife as I received it. Some additional notes, the sheath the knife comes with is perfectly serviceable and good quality leather with a fire steel loop and dangler, it is well stitched and again, high quality. That being said I wanted to try the knife in the sheath I use for my Skookum Bushtool. Pretty much a perfect fit.

Speaking of the Skookum, the two knives are similar in blade length and design, obviously the handles, for those who know skookums', are different. The BCUSA knife is lighter in weight by a few ounces at least.

I'll be back with a more comprehensive piece on the knife in the future. I can say right now, there's nothing wrong with it, it's a great design made by a fantastic knife maker, it's very robust, very sharp, and handles very well.

More to come, thanks to for taking a look.

12 December 2018

godaddy rant for piss poor customer service

I spent nearly 8 hours in some form of support chat or call yesterday. A ridiculous series of escalations because the tech support at godaddy couldn't figure out an issue I was having.

Over and over again they'd come to the same conclusions which typically was to blame squarespace for a hosting issue, never mind the fact that squarespace isn't the host, godaddy is, or was.

At one point they blamed propagation issues and told me to wait 72 hours and the issue would resolve itself. Really? Even though the site had been function fine for over a year now, and only that morning developed redirection issues, it must in fact be propagation problems.

So, eventually they said they would escalate my issue to advanced troubleshooting.

I got an email this morning, screen shot below.

When a company begins to determine their issues are solved because they lost a customer, how long before said company implodes?

So what should they have done besides being able to resolve the issue in the 8 hours I spent trying to get the issue resolved? Were I still employed in the positions I held before I retired I'd recommend setting up a customer save team that the technical support team pitches customer to, that have elected to transfer away after a failed attempt to correct a problem. Said save team reaches out to save the customer.

At least make the effort, because patting yourself on the back for losing a customer isn't going to keep you in business in the longer term.

08 December 2018

What's In Your Parka?

Living, working, playing in the depths of winter? By winter I don't mean anything north of zero Fahrenheit. The winter I'm referring to commonly has temperatures well below zero and wind chills in the significant double digits below zero. Skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, hiking, or working for a living in extremely cold environments can put a person in a bad place if not properly prepared.

*While I do carry my main gear in my pack, it is possible to become separated from it. As a result I carry immediate need survival equipment in my parka pockets.

The Parka

Empire Canvas Works is the company that produces the parka (Permafrost Parka) I've been using for several years. They're also fellow denizens of Northern Minnesota, and they've been producing solid winter expedition quality gear for a long time. I've been very pleased with mine and have come to rely heavily upon it when I'm spending time outside in the depths of winter.

Before we get into the specifics of the gear let's cover a few important aspects of the parka itself. It's is the primary piece of kit within the system.

A parka in my mind isn't some huge bulky insulated single garment. That's a coat you wear to the mall. A parka for true winter use is a shell that breathes, keeping you from getting cold from perspiration. Blocks wind which is the single largest warmth robbing monster you'll have to deal with. Cold without wind is just cold, cold with wind is an ice demon hell bent on freezing your soul. It should have plenty of easily accessible and roomy pockets. It needs to be able to be cinched down, at the hem, at the waist, and around the hood.

Speaking of the hood, the fur ruff around the hood isn't merely for style points. Wind removes heat from your face by convection, and the faster it blows, the more heat it removes. When the wind hits a solid object, a boundary layer is created in front of the object, inside which the wind slows down. The larger the object, the thicker and more insulating the boundary layer.

In 2004, a research team from the universities of Michigan, Washington and Manitoba quantified this boundary layer effect using a heated model of a human head, thermocouples, a wind tunnel, and a variety of hoods. As expected, the most effective hood by far in slowing heat loss had a sunburst ruff. It was particularly superior to other hoods when the wind was blowing from the side.

Beneath each armpit on the parka there is a delrin loop, these are for cording your mittens off. I like being able to keep my mittens where I need them when my hands are not in them. I frequently remove my hands when nimble fingers are required and simply drop the mitten, it'll hang just below my waist via the dummy cord to the delrin loop.

What's in the pockets?

There's a lot going on in the image above, let's simplify by focusing on the four pockets. There are two chest pockets and two cargo pockets.

Top Right Pocket

 On the parka's upper right pocket there is a wool triangular cravat (15 Uses of a Triangular Bandage), under the cravat there is a Bushcraft Outfitter's Signal Panel. I cannot say enough good things about this thing. It's a signal panel, a bag, a pad, a pillow, scarf, fire prep pad, and tons of other uses. It weighs less than 4 ounces, is 29" square, the material is 70d waterproof ripstop nylon. Blaze on one side, multicam on the other..

Top Left Pocket

The other chest pocket holds my camera and or phone, and a pair of revision photochromic ballistic goggles. I prefer those over a dedicated pair of snowmobile or ski goggles. I also carry a small bottle of Ops Drops anti-fog and a cleaning cloth.

Lower Right Pocket

A red zippered bag made by Foxlite Gear holds some basic goodies. The bag slips easily in and out of the pocket, and there's room for more gear if I need to add to it.

Inside the bag I have what you see in the image above. A tin of caffinated chocolate, Scho-Ka-Kola, medicated chapstic, two cliff gel shots, each equals 100 calories. Couple packs of gum from an MRE along with the TP. a small compass, a Petzl e+Lite, a tin with a fire kit that includes hurricane matches and other goodies, a flannel handkerchief. Incidentally, do not by Scho-kakola from Amazon if you're looking for it. It's three times as expensive through Amazon as it is buying from Varusteleka. Seriously, $3.99 a tin vs $12.99 @ Amazon!

Important parts are energy and caloric.  Your body requires fuel to burn in order to make heat, surviving extreme cold on low energy and low or no calories is very difficult. Besides the calories, the caffeine in both the gel shots and the chocolate help keep me alert and energetic.

Lower Left Pocket

There is a white FoxLite Gear bag in this pocket that has a pre-built pocket 'Super Shelter'. If you're not sure what a Super Shelter is, it is the creation of one Mors Kochanski, one of the most well know Bushcraft and Survival instructors on earth. Author of Bushcraft: Outdoor Skills and Wilderness Survival. This particular version is a prebuilt shelter, it needs only a ridge-line in order to set it up. Here's a video showing the pocket super shelter in action, averaging a 50 degree increase in temperature over ambient outside temps.

Also in that pocket is a small pouch from Centerline Systems. Within it I have a titanium whistle, a Exotac Titan Light, a ferrocerium rod, a compass and a signal mirror. Also attached is a PSK blade.

I practice with this gear regularly, and some of it I use as a matter of course in my activities. There are a number of people who die every year while enjoying winter, some of them because they were not prepared for the unexpected. Snowmobiles break down, run out of fuel, getting lost happens, injuries occur, you might face a night or two before search and rescue locates you or you may be required to effect self rescue. Being prepared isn't hard or that expensive, however, the price for not being so may be the ultimate one.

19 September 2018

Road Gear; The Air Armor M240

It was a dark and stormy night, the highway was empty, black and wet. The double yellow vaguely illuminated by the headlights, a ding sounded twice, the low air warning flashing on the dashboard. The right rear tire was under inflated...

It was a cold morning, the sun hadn't cleared the horizon, he could see his breath on the air as he walked to his car. "Crap" he said as he noticed the flat tire...

He saw the hazards flashing in the distance and began to slow. The car was pulled off the road onto the shoulder and a woman was standing at the rear of it with cell phone in hand. He pulled off behind her and noticed she had a flat...

He had driven the old logging road earlier that day, heading to his favorite neck of the woods. After spending the day afield with his best dog he returned to the truck only to find he had a flat tire...
After spending a day on the water and the sun sinking behind the mountains the couple pushed their boat towards the docks.

Their faces red and windblown, smiling but tired. With the boat waiting at the ramp to be loaded on the trailer they found one of the trailer tires flat...
You don't have to be a hard core off road enthusiast to appreciate the ability to air up a tire without needing roadside assistance or a gas station's air pump. Needing air in a tire is one of the most common occurrences motorists face on the road, and off.

I had been looking at various options for a vehicle based air compressor.  Some were mounted and others were not. Prices ranged from under $100 to over $600. Those over $250 were eliminated as they didn't fit my budget, and some of them which required mounting and plumbing of air lines were overkill for what I wanted. I'd come to the conclusion that I wanted a mobile air compressor, not overly large but still capable of inflating large tires.

After reading multiple reviews and recommendations for several products I finally decided to give the Air Armor M240 a go.

Here's the description provided on Amazon for the M240;

CONVENIENCE: The M240 12v air compressor powers directly from your vehicle’s battery and delivers air with a 25’ service hose. Included is a box of tire parts, tools, and accessories. All this in a tough as nails steel storage locker to have with you where ever you go.

MULTIPLE USES: You won’t be the operator caught dead on the road because you lost a part in the dirt - the M240 air pump has your back. Packed in the accessory box is an arsenal of 27 tire care and repair parts which includes a tire repair kit, 4-way tire valve tool, 2 gauges and an assortment of commonly lost or damaged tire parts like valve caps and cores.

EASY TO USE: At the core of the M240 is a 12-Volt, direct drive, high volume air compressor with a 10’power cord that clips directly to your vehicle’s battery. This 40mm powerhouse provides optimal performance in the critical tire inflation pressure range. Delivering 2.11 CFM you can inflate a full size truck tire in less than 2 minutes. Fully inflate a 35” tire from 0-35 PSI in less than 5 minutes. The system boasts an instrument panel with built-in air pressure gauge and type "M" style 1/4" air fitting to attach the unprecedented 25’ straight easy-to-coil air hose with lock-on ball foot commercial air chuck. Airing up has never been easier thanks to an extended 50% duty cycle and hose that reaches all 4 tires of even the longest wheelbase vehicles.

GREAT GIFT IDEA: The perfect gift for the rugged off road, outdoor enthusiast, Jeep owner who needs to air up and air down quickly and easily. A popular item with our Military and First Responder customers.

I purchased one on September 17th of 2017 and I've since used it countless times. A six week road trip exploring the American West in 2018, I used it every day. This was because I was airing down for a trail and then airing up again after finishing the trail. I covered over 6,000 miles on this trip, much of it off road in the back country of Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming.Early on in the trip I was in Idaho on a trail that would put me in Wyoming. The road started as a rough gravel washboard road and eventually turned into a dirt and rock goat path. I aired down and like an idiot, set the M240 on my trailer's tongue box and drove off. Three miles later I realized what I'd forgot, turned the jeep around and headed back. I found the M240 scattered across the rough gravel road. It had fallen off and hit the road at probably 25mph. The ammo box was separated from the lid and the components were scattered about. I wasn't hopeful.

I reconnected the lid to the box, hooked the alligator clips to the battery terminals and hit the switch. The unit fired right up and worked just fine! The images below are post fall.
Keep in mind that I wasn't just airing up four tires for this trip, each time I aired down I did so on my overlanding trailer as well. So each time I aired up I was airing up six tires!
How Quick?

I'm running 35x12.50s, these are some large beefy tires. Typically I'm running 37psi on the street and air down to 23-25psi on the trail. Super slow rock crawly type stuff and I'll air down into the teens. For most of this specific trip however, the lowest I went was 23psi.

The M240 has a claimed CFM (Cubic Feet Per Minute) of 2.11.  To be able to inflate a 35" tire from 0-35psi in less than five minutes. While nearly all of my re-inflation efforts were quick, I don't know if the 0-35psi claim is realistic. On average, to inflate from 23 to 37 took about 3 minutes per tire.  The speed can be affected by the battery the unit is drawing from and heat generation of the compressor. There are some other factors but they tend to be not as impacting as battery and heat. I'm sure elevation has an impact as well but I don't know how much of one.

The unit is durable, surviving a 25 mph impact with the road. The tools it comes with are all nice additions. I would recommend a high quality tire repair kit like Boulder Tools Tire Repair kit, additionally I'd recommend a good quality tire deflation kit if you're airing down regularly, the Boulder Tools Tire Deflator kit.

For the non off-roading type the unit is still a worthwhile purchase. The scenarios at the beginning of this article are common and could be resolved with a unit like the M240. A can of Fixaflat could potentially resolve them as well, however, there are a number of reasons you might not want to use Fixaflat. Tire Repair With Fixaflat-Use Caution lists the some of the reasons.

Having owned the M240 for a year, and used it extensively I can recommend the unit with a couple caveats.

1. If you're planning to use the unit to inflate tires larger than 35" you're going to have issues.
2. If you are inflating 35" tires it's likely going to take a little longer than the advertised times.

It's a quality product that fit my needs and performed as expected. Even exceeded my expectations when it comes to durability.

Happy Trails!