Friday, March 28, 2014

Making a "Primitive" PSK

Recently, I spotted some nice tins at the craft store for a buck fifty. They were slightly larger than my ALTOIDS tin PSK [Personal Survival Kit], so I realized I could add a few extra items if I wished. I picked one up and decided to Japan it.

"Japanning" is an old Mountain Man trick that I learned at rondy years ago. Basically you just use tongs to hold a shiny tin in flame and it changes the metal to a rainbow colored effect.

I like to do my Japanning over the gas range...just be sure to have the fan on and good ventilation [it can set off the smoke alarms]. After it cools I rub some CRISCO or bullet lube grease into the metal and it is then both attractive and rust resistant. Incidentally, real "Japanning" was enamel work done by 17th century European artists to copy the cloisonne enamel work of Far East artisans.

"Japanned" tin 

 Contents of PSK

I like my trail gear rustic & primitive, so the Japanning was my first pick for a finish, but that sounds also like a great choice for a Tactical/Urban kit...a pocketknife, some first aid items, a small flashlight....those things easily carried and of great use in an earthquake or some other disaster event.

We're not talking about a 72 hour bag here...we are speaking of a small kit you can carry in a pocket at all times so you have means to perform a few tasks, such as making a fire to warm yourself, IF you were suddenly cast into a survival situation without ability to access a 72 hour "Get Home Bag" [which you should also have assembled and have in your car]. An example would be your car containing your 72 hour kit has been "pancaked" in a parking garage collapse.

Why would I want my gear "blackened you ask? Well, here are my thoughts... 

It's interesting to read accounts of the 18th-19th century, because so much of the gear and clothing was blackened or dyed to be non-reflective and match the environment. Their concern of course, was light reflection and detection by native peoples of that period who viewed the white men as intruders, might object to their presence, and thus relieve them of their possibles.

Of course, the same threat [robbery in a disaster/civil unrest situation...i.e. loss of "possibles" or survival necessities] does exist today in the way of gang-bangers, looters, and other bandits. In such a situation where Rule of Law is severely disrupted, I'll want to stick to "dead space"...darkened routes of travel that will conceal my presence and movement from potentially dangerous persons. To that end, I'll want my equipment non-reflective so it does not betray my presence. 

One other thought: Likewise, 21st century tactical gear shouldn't draw unwanted attention to the possessor.  I'm always amused by people who wear head-to-toe tactical garb, and carry tactical man bags with nametapes and morale's a sure way to draw attention to oneself. I rarely give everday folk or homeless folks a second look but such manner of tactical dress always commands my attention as does gangster dress. I can assure you, street thugs are very savvy and capable at assessing people, and can tell who may be armed or in possession of goods they may want to acquire [robbery].

To quote a good friend of mine..."You want to be "The Gray Man"... the person no one gives a second look."

Stay safe!



Saturday, March 22, 2014

Personal Safety for Trail Hikers...Preparation & Awareness

All trail hikers should practice personal safety on the trail. Potential dangers to the trail hiker are becoming lost or injured, venomous snakebite or animal attack, and violent assaults by people on the trail. In this blog post I'll discuss tips for having safe hikes. At the end of this article, I'm going to discuss strategies for coping with violent physical or sexual assaults in detail, because I feel this is a very neglected trail topic.

Trail Safety Tips

1. Make a Hiking Plan - Plan your outing in advance. Identify where you will park your vehicle, the trail(s) you plan to hike, entry and exit points, and any side trails you plan to take, time of departure and time of return. Write the plan down and make a sketch of the trails, and then leave the plan with a reliable friend who will call law enforcement if you fail to return. Leave a second copy inside your vehicle for Search & Rescue [SAR personnel] should your friend/family member lose theirs. Finally, don't deviate from the plan. If you become lost or injured, Search and Rescue personnel will be relying on your Hiking Plan for conducting their search. If you deviate from the plan you will hamper their efforts to locate and recover you. An excellent hiking plan is available here: Ojai Search & Rescue Hiking Plan

2. Hike with a partner -Whenever possible, hike with a friend. Cougars and criminals are much more likely to assault a person walking alone than a pair of people...there's just too much risk to their success. Both are predators...they look at a person and the situation presented and decide if the opportunity is in their favor. If it is not, they'll likely look for another target. A pet dog, especially a large dog, can be a good deterrent if you can't get a friend to come along on your hike. I was hiking recently and encountered a lady walking with two dogs. Even though our conversation was friendly and I kept a safe distance, I noted how her dogs actively maintained position between us. Just be sure to observe trail rules such as leash law requirements.

3. Be Aware! - Walk with your head up and be aware of your surroundings. Wearing an iPOD or similar personal music system with earphones will inhibit your ability to hear someone running up on you from behind. Always have your head on a swivel and watch your back trail...attacks from 2 and 4-legged predators are most likely to come from cover, from the side or, more likely, from behind. Scan your environment and watch for strange behaviors such as persons who appear to be following you or loitering on the trail ahead of you. Being aware of everything around you will greatly minimize your exposure as a target. 
Isolated trails can be aware!
4. Plan to spend a night or 2! - GOOGLE search "Lost hiker" at any given time and you are likely to find a recent news report of an ill-equipped lost or injured hiker who spent a cold night on a trail. Anyone can step wrong and twist or injure an ankle on a trail or start a late hike and become lost in sudden darkness. In March 2014 a pair of hikers in Santa Barbara, CA became injured when they were caught on a trail after dark and suffered falls. One sustained 2 broken ankles, and the other died from injuries sustained in a fall while going in search of help for the injured hiker. Always carry the essentials of basic survival in a day pack...a space blanket, extra water and food, a First Aid kit, a pocketknife, a means of making fire, a flashlight and a whistle. These items weigh little and will allow anyone lost or injured to care for themselves, avoid hypothermia, and signal for rescue. Also, make sure you label all your gear with your name. It's very common for lost hikers to lose or ditch gear. Marking equipment with your name aids searchers and clues them they are on track.
Essential trail kit displayed on a  Space Blanket.
5. Use "heavy-traffic" routes – Trails that are popular and heavily trafficked will offer greater safety for you. Again, Cougars and Crooks don't like to take risks. They will select isolated locations, areas with concealment, such as a brushy section of trail or an isolated side trail that will offer a vantage point and concealment to watch for a victim, provide privacy for their acts, and have few [if any] witnesses.
6. Watch for suspicious people! - Be alert for people who appear to be following you on the trail, people who approach and are overly-friendly or who are loitering on the trail or in a trail head parking lot.  Obey your instincts. We all have a "primitive brain" that reads and signals potential danger. If the hair on the back of your neck stands up, there's a reason! Turn around, go back, but whatever you do obey your instincts and take actions to protect yourself.

7. If you are confronted on the trail - Cougars: Do not run...this will trigger the cat's prey instincts to attack you. Several years ago a trail runner fought off a cat attack, but was attacked a second time and killed when they started to run away. Face the cat, open your jacket and make yourself appear large, and yell at the cat. Back away slowly and NEVER turn your back on the cat.  If you have pepper spray, use it. Aggressive humans: Assuming you aren't able to run, walk away, or otherwise avoid the person, be assertive! Stand your ground; be loud, aggressive, and indignant. Yell at the person, "WHAT DO YOU WANT!" You need to communicate that you are not going to be an easy target. DON'T turn your back on them. DO maintain distance between you and the assailant. If possible, move to position an object such as a car or bench between you and the assailant. Scream, shout for help, and draw attention to yourself. It may be enough to deter the suspect from attacking you.

8. If the suspect grabs you on the trail - Only you can decide what you can or can't do in that situation, based on the totality of circumstances you are presented with. You may decide not to resist OR you may decide to fight. If you do fight, think in terms of applying "Strengths to Weaknesses". Select soft, vulnerable targets like the eyes, throat, and groin for jabs, grabs, punches, kicks. Use personal weapons such as teeth and nails. Fight dirty, break free and run. Again, most suspects are cowards and want easy prey. Your nails may collect tissue and/or blood evidence from the assailant [i.e., DNA evidence useful for later identification], so do not wash your hands following an attack and go directly to the local law enforcement agency, file a report and ask the officer to have a technician collect the evidence from your nails.

9. Weapons - If all else fails, you may have field-expedient weapons [pens, keys, etc.] and/or environmental weapons [rocks, sticks] at your disposal for self-defense. Having a walking stick or a bottle of pepper spray in hand is a great tool to add to your personal safety kit. Having it in hand allows the potential assailant to get a look at it and weigh the risk. Personal safety alarms can be useful. They attract attention, which crooks don't want. I do not recommend knives and guns. They require specialized training and in a worst case scenario you could be disarmed and have them turned against you, not to mention legalities of carrying a concealed weapon.

10. Take a Personal Safety class - Personal safety classes are available from a number of local sources, such as SARP Center of San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly, and private vendors as well. They will teach you several skills, including both verbal and physical skills to use if accosted by a stranger. Any skills you can add to your personal inventory will help you avoid being a victim, whether on the trail, or on a public street.

11. Carry a Cell Phone - Carrying a cellphone is wise, as it allows you to notify law enforcement and summon assistance if you encounter an aggressive animal or human. A few years ago a Game Warden friend told me about 2 people hiking in a local State Park who reported via cellphone that they were being stalked by a Mountain Lion. Unable to reach them soon enough, he requested a CHP helicopter to respond. The helicopter crew located the couple, moved in closely, and frightened the cat away. Have local law enforcement numbers programmed into your phone's speed dial. In the case of aggressive humans, immediate notification of law enforcement is especially important to increase chances of apprehension, so do not wait until you are safely home to make a report.  It may help prevent further crimes from occurring or it may provide a lead needed to solve an open case. Some people believe that law enforcement is ‘too busy” to be bothered. Nothing is further from the truth...they are never disinterested in your report. They may have other priority calls to respond to and be delayed in getting to you, but they do want to hear from you and will respond as soon as possible. 

Trail Tools...Cellphone, flashlight,
Pocketknife, Pepper Spray, Matches and Whistle.
12. What if the assailant is armed? – Again, only you can decide what you can or can't do in that situation. As I've stated previously, most suspects don't want to draw attention or alert anyone to what they are doing, and they may only be bluffing with the weapon to coax you into cooperating so they can commit a sexual assault. On the other hand if the subject has threatened to harm you, you may have nothing to lose by running for your life. As you do so, scream, yell, and draw attention to yourself from other hikers in the vicinity.

13. If you are sexually assaulted - I highly recommend that you notify law enforcement immediately. You will be assisted with accessing medical care for injuries and specialized post-sexual assault care. It is your choice whether you cooperate with a criminal investigation; however it may help protect others if you share some details such as attacker's description and method of operation. You will likely need support, and possibly long-term counseling, and law enforcement can help connect you with victim support advocates from the SARP Center [SARP Center, 51 Zaca Ln. Suite 140, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 FAX: (805) 545-5841 E-Mail:].

Violent Assaults on the Trail

Compared to incidents involving lost or injured hikers  and animal attacks, violent criminal assaults against hikers are relatively rare. However, strange things do occur, even in communities that are considered safe and free of violent crimes. An example of such an aberration occurred locally in October 2011, when a 63 year-old man hiking a trail on Cerro San Luis was bludgeoned to death and possibly robbed according to police investigators.  Again, the purpose of this post is to offer some personal safety tips for trail hikers [especially ladies] and hopefully increase awareness of potentially dangerous situations one could encounter from "two-legged predators" on the trail.

I also want to stress that, regardless of environment, time of day, or season of the year, the key to personal safety is awareness and preparation, not paranoia. Personal safety awareness should be a part of every person's daily practices. I served 34 years with a law enforcement agency and investigated hundreds of assaults and other crimes and can say with confidence that the majority could have been greatly minimized, if not avoided altogether, if only some simple preventative measures and personal awareness had been practiced

Personal Awareness - a natural gift

Before I discuss specific tips, I want to discuss personal awareness in greater detail. All of us possess an Amygdala; a portion of the brain that processes emotion. It triggers emotion faster than consciousness, in part to protect you from harm. It does this by interpreting subconscious hints of danger to trigger lightning fast responses. This is why you get that “hair standing up on the back of your neck” sensation; your Amygdala is signaling you that something is being perceived dangerous [Precognition – a defense response mechanism]. 

One of the hardest things for modern humans is to recognize and obey that danger instinct. For example: A friend of mine was walking on a street in San Francisco one evening when they saw a man walking toward them. My friend said they instantly experienced the sensation of "the hair standing up on the back of their neck", however they decided to ignore the signal and continued on. As they drew abreast of the man he suddenly, and without warning, wheeled and sucker-punched my friend for no apparent reason. The lesson here is clear: OBEY your natural instincts and do not get sucked into rationalizing, denial, and thus inaction.

I also want to take a moment to discuss the "Nature of Violence". Just like a Cheetah assessing a herd of Gazelles on the African Savannah, human predators perform the same target assessment; who is slow, weak, ill, and vulnerable? Is the scene safe to carry out an attack? What will be the benefits versus risks?

 On the other side of this equation, the “prey” animal has the natural gift of “Fear”, a natural process that readies the body to survive by triggering physiological changes like adrenal dump to enhance fight or flight, blood vessels constricting and pouring blood into core organs, and cortisol releases to facilitate blood clotting of wounds and injuries.

In the natural world, all predator animals have binocular vision; that is, their eyes are located on the front of the head to permit judgement of other words, "Range to Target". Consider where man's eyes are located. Coupled with our intelligence, we were able to become savvy, cunning, hunters and rise to the top of the natural world's food chain. 

Union of Awareness & Preparation

Staying safe is accomplished by a union of 1.) PREPARATION - developing an inventory of personal safety skills...mental, physical, verbal, and technological tools [i.e., pepper spray, TASER's, etc.] and, 2.) by increasing AWARENESS of developing situations and then taking ACTION [and not being lulled into INACTION] on perceived threats, by obeying instincts and practicing the "OODA Loop" - OBSERVE [spot the threat], ORIENT [what are my options, what avenues can I take to evade harm], DECIDE [select course of action], and ACT [put plan into motion].

For example:

OBSERVE - You are hiking a trail section and, being aware of your back trail, notice a strange man that you think is following you.

ORIENT - You spot a group of hikers resting and taking hydration up ahead of you.

DECIDE - You make a decision to stop and chat with the hikers and take hydration.

ACT - You stop and engage with the hiking group.

By using the OODA process, you disrupt the man's plan and force him to change up his plans. He can either pass, fall back, or stall nearby, at which time you begin the OODA process again, essentially keeping him off balance and unable to enact his plan, because he is forced to respond to your change-ups.

Developing an Inventory of Skills

In many communities, personal safety courses are offered through private vendors, public organizations, and local colleges and universities. It is important to start learning skills for dealing with potential situations and developing a set of personal skills.

Each situation is different and all are dynamic [evolving moment to moment, sometimes rapidly] and training should cover all levels from avoidance strategies, to include communication skills, personal weapons/physical combatives, and possibly tools such as pepper spray's or TASER devices. Lethal weapons such as knives and guns require great skill and extensive training to deploy safely, use effectively, and retain. Losing retention of a knife or gun can result in the lethal tool being turned upon you, so I strongly caution against them for defense.

Often personal safety training is done through role-playing, and in this way the student can develop experience and thus have a "Mental Schematic" of sorts for coping with that situation were they presented with it again. Role-playing also acts as a form of "Stress Inoculation" by exposing the student to a stressful situation in advance, so it is less disabling if they encounter the situation in real life.

Finally, I would like to stress that it is equally important not to live in a perpetual state of paranoia or unwarranted fear. Constant, self-created fear [worry] is extremely injurious to your natural warning erodes and decays it to such degree that there is no signal left when a perceived threat is real.

In conclusion, I would like to state that here in the local San Luis Obispo County area, we live in a very safe community, and you are much more likely to suffer a fall or injury on a trail, or spend a cold night disoriented, than you are to experience and attack by a cougar or aggressive human. Enjoy our trails and outdoors by planning your outings, communicating with friends, carrying survival basics in your pack, and being aware of your environment. Develop personal skills, tactics, and strategies for dealing with aggressive animals...both 2 and 4-legged!

Stay aware, stay safe, and happy hiking!


Monday, March 17, 2014

Making personal trail gear

One of the things I like to do is to make some of my own trail gear. I have found that using handmade gear makes my outings even more special for me, especially when I want to do a very minimalist outing and move quietly, such as when tracking and observing wildlife. Leather is my material of choice as it is rugged, supple, and quiet. In the photo below, I have a photo of my basic primitive kit for a day outing:

Primitive kit

Making your own gear is not as difficult as you may think. The gear depicted above was made using a Swiss Army Knife, a ruler, an Ice Pick and leather mallet, leather glue, wooden clothespins, sewing needle and kite string. The steps are simple:

- I make a full-sized cardboard or paper grocery bag pattern of the pouch or belt bag I wish to make.

- I go to a leather store and dig through their scrap bin and select inexpensive leather for the project I have in mind [Usually costs no more than $5.00 for leather]. I take the cardboard pattern along with me to be certain I get the right size leather for the job.

- I cut the leather pieces out; I advance sew any difficult inside seams before gluing and sewing main body together.

- Bag/Pouch is glued together and allowed to dry overnight using the clothespins to hold pieces together.

- Next day I use the ruler to mark sewing holes, then punch them with ice pick.

- Pieces are sewn together using polyester kit string [cheap and very strong] using a large needle.

As a final touch I sometimes use a wood burning tool to smooth/fire burnish edges and to add petroglyph art, like the snake, which holds special meaning for me, as you will see in the following photos [I will also show close-up's of how I assembled these projects].

In the next three photo's I've shown my self-made Elk hide belt pouch. The hide was a gift from an old friend. It was sewn inside out then turn right side out to hide stitching. I used an old coin to make the button, using a ball peen hammer to concave the coin.

Elk hide belt pouch - exterior

Elk hide pouch - interior
In this photo above, you can see a pocket was built into the flap. I often use this pouch to carry a 1 pint USAF pilot's flask of water, and a couple of small snacks in the flap pocket.

Finally, here is the rear of the pouch showing the belt loop details:

Elk hide pouch - rear 

In the next photo, my PSK [Personal Survival Kit] pouch (left) and Firemaking porch (right) are shown:
PSK and Firemaking pouches - front view
Rear view of pouches
Each of my creations is a one of a kind. Sometimes I don't even take a pattern to the leather shop...I'll just buy a piece of leather and let it "talk to me" and see what it becomes. The Firemaking pouch was exactly done like that. Here's an interior view of the PSK and Firemaking pouches:

Inside view of pouches

And here's a gear dump of the contents:

Gear dump

The PSK is a tin that's been "Japan'ed"...held over a gas flame to produce a color-case hardened effect. the red pouch is a laminated glass U.S.N. MK III signal mirror, one of the best ever made. Firemaking pouch holds a match safe with waterproof and Storm matches, a lighter, tinder stick and swatches of cotton cloth.

I also carry a LEATHERMAN "SUPER TOOL 200":

Leatherman tool

Incidentally, I  didn't make this knife sheath. My Dad made it around 1974 and wore it every day of his life, carrying his CASE folding hunter in it. I inherited it when he passed, and so he goes along in spirit when I go out woods trekking.

Some people like ornately tool leathercrafted work. I do not. I like my gear simple and rugged. I don't want to be afraid to use it or to get a scratch on it. I also like my leather gear to be simple and primitive in it came right off a Mountain Man or Native Americans belt.

To conclude, I have attempted to show here that you don't need fancy leather crafting tools to make pouches and bags that are rugged and will serve your needs. A few simple tools, your imagination, and your time is all that is necessary. I think you will find making your own belt pouches personally satisfying and a means of enriching your outdoor experiences. Don't be afraid to try and if you make a mistake, big deal, learn from it and use it anyways!


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Walking in the steps of the Ancient Ones

Today I awoke to a lovely, warm, Spring day and I decided to go on a hike through the Powell Property, a nearby undeveloped parcel owned by California State Parks. Starting into the property from the trailhead, one first encounters this nice little clearing with logs to sit on and ponder things:

Trailhead entrance

Walking in a short distance, I came across this little brush shelter someone had created. It seemed too small and open for a sleeping shelter, so I am inclined to think it was just built for shade:
Brush shelter
This is a nearby former volcanic peak called Hollister Peak. It's part of a chain of 7 such peaks in a line through this valley. They are known as "The Morro's" or also "The Seven Sister's". I was struck by this lovely view of our Earth Mother & Father Sky. We should all have feelings of profound awe and respect and love for the gift of nature that we've been given.

Hollister Peak
The recent rains made for some water in the little seasonal creek. The Willow grow here, and sometimes I harvest a piece for a project or to dry for a bow drill set:
Creek bed

This parcel was the site of a very large ancient aboriginal village. The village location is covered with middens...heaps of broken shells from many generations of native peoples processed shellfish:

The oldest dated human found hereabouts to date, was dated back 13,000 years. Many generations of ancient peoples harvested shellfish and shelled them here using stone and bone tools. They also buried their dead in these middens, so it's a burial ground as well and one should keep that in mind, respect those native peoples, and not dig or disturb the earth.

Large Sea Snail shell atop the midden

While exploring the parcel, I found some colorful rocks. The top right 2 stones in the photo below have some marks that indicated to me they may have seen use as tools:

Stones found along trail

Here is a closer view. I am thinking the left stone may've been a little scraper. It has some tiny flake marks along the leading edge suggesting it was worked. The Serpentine stone on the right has worn striations that look to me like it was used to sharpen bone hooks or some pointed tool:
Possible primitive tools
Kit for the day was simple. Handmade leather belt pouches. I love making and using my own personal gear. For me, it makes each outing much more special. In this photo below, the left pouch holds my pint USAF water flask and a few food items; the center pouch holds my LEATHERMAN SUPER TOOL 200; the far right pouch contains my PSK tin. at the bottom is a little neck knife a friend made for me from the leg bone of a deer I helped him field dress:

Traditional kit

I like putting the snake totem on my traditional gear. I run into them a lot on the trail, so I have kind of adopted them [or they me]. I used to be afraid of them but now, as a visitor to their home, I have realized I am the visitor, that they intend me no harm if I have respect for them and their role in nature. Native American people's consider the snake a powerful spirit animal, that represents healing and life changes. Snakes don't have eyelids so they are considered wise because they see everything.

I love walking here, knowing it was inhabited by generations of ancient peoples who walked that earth and I can walk in their footsteps.I don't move any faster than I can see, smell, and hear everything and silently place each footstep on the earth. It took 2 and a half hours to cover a mile today. But I heard bird songs, saw woodpeckers at work, squirrels running through trees, and beetles trudging in the sand. You have to become a part of it.

As always, show that respect to the earth and wildlife whose home it is and bring back more than you took in. I always carry old cereal box liners...super tough plastic and great for collecting litter. I easily got a pound off the trails while woods cruising:
Trail collected trash

When woods trekking and observing nature, you should walk slowly, with reverence, and allow all your senses to take in the beauty around you...don't rush through it...we do that too much in our modern world and it runs us. You have to let it come to you. Wildlife will also allow you to come closer if they sense you have a peaceful spirit and are not there to harm them.

The Navajo people have a prayer that's part of their Blessing ceremony that speaks to this, to let go and allow the beauty that surrounds us to come back to rejuvenate our tired spirits:

"In beauty I walk
With beauty before me I walk
With beauty behind me I walk
With beauty above me I walk
With beauty around me I walk
It has become beauty again."


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Central Coast Bushcraft "Spring 2014 Urban Ruck"

CENTRAL COAST BUSHCRAFT [Facebook:  Central Coast Bushcraft ], is a private bushcraft skills group located in San Luis Obispo, in the California central coast area. The group was founded on September 24, 2011, and though not *officially* affiliated, identifies closely with the goals and objectives of The membership is composed of persons interested in Bushcraft, Primitive Skills, Wilderness Survival Skills, and Self-Reliance.

For those not familiar, Bushcraft is an umbrella term that covers the whole of outdoor activities [An excellent definition can be found at Natural Bushcraft ]. Bushcraft is also becoming popular in urban areas where urban surroundings insulate and separate people from nature. But even in the largest cities, parks and small pockets of open space can be found that allow some degree of practice of skills, hiking, and nature observation.
As March 9, 2014 was Daylight Savings, and the unofficial beginning of Spring, the group decided to kick off the new bushcraft year with a Urban Ruck through the streets of San Luis Obispo. The 10-day forecast called for 73/Partly Cloudy, and 0% chance of rain, so it seemed a good day to go forward with an outing. The morning broke beautifully. Leaving for the Spring Ruck, I caught the sunrise over the Santa Lucia mountain range to the east:
 Sunrise over the Santa Lucia Range

Four members of the group assembled at the old University Square shopping center, and packs were weighed. Each member was required to carry all items necessary to manage a night afield [food, water, shelter, cutting tool, and firemaking ability] but was given leeway on weight, and could carry as much or as little as they wished or was safe for their fitness level. Objectives were to have fun, get outside, condition with a packload, spotting and identifying any urban wildlife along the route.
Another stated goal was to spot and identifying resources that would be of potential use in an urban survival situation, such as following a catastrophic earthquake [a reality here in California]. We knew of Thrift Stores along our route and decided we'd look through their dumpsters for possible cast-off reources we could use.
The route across town would terminate at Laguna Lake Park, about 3.2 miles from our starting point. At Laguna Lake, those who wished to could make lunch using packed items and show off their field kitchen skills.
We noted that the City of S.L.O. has a 3" limit on open-carry blades, so members were cautioned that if they must bring them, `hawks and large knives should be discreetly stored inside their pack so as not to draw unwanted attention/detention from Law Enforcement Officers.
Donning our packs, we started down Chorro Street in the cool but comfortable 53F overcast morning. BUSHCRAFTUSA member JASONHCC [far left] had the heaviest ruck at 27#, while BCUSA member STRIKE3CYA [rear right] had the lightest ruck at 10#:

Starting out on the ruck
An interesting sight along the way was a piece of history in concrete; a 1940 dated street curb poured by FDR's Depression-era WORKS PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION, which was located at Chorro and Mission Streets:
Depression-era dated curb
Thanks to the recent rains we've had, San Luis Creek was flowing nicely. We enjoyed this view passing over the bridge at Chorro just before Peach Street:

San Luis Creek
I must say, except for hearing some bird calls, I did not observe any wildlife on this outing. We watched for potential resources along the way. It was amazing how many useful items we found discarded on the streets...buttons, books of matches, water-gathering containers, fruit trees, lost clothing:
Looking for useful resources
On the ground outside of a cafe, we found a bag of CHEETOS, probably discarded the night before. We judged the contents at about 80 calories. Some might laugh, but in a post-earthquake or similar urban survival situation where food could not be found, you'd be glad to have it. Behind a Thrift Store, we found a dumpster with many useful items including a sparking lighter that lit at least once:
Semi-functioning lighter
Urban survival is about using any available resources to assist you. If you could make fire even once with this lighter, you've conserved your own matches/lighter that much more. Watching for, and gathering, useful items while on the move is a wise practice. We also noted useful ground insulating materials that could be used sheltering or for building a pallet for insulation from the ground and preventing conduction of body heat by cold surfaces:
Bedding material: Clean, dry cardboard in a recycling dumpster
We took note of homeless person campsites as we passed them. Sadly, some homeless persons have long experience at urban survival and have developed know-how to find shelter and make the best of their situation. Many people with means have never spent a night out-of-doors and have little idea how to meet their basic needs for existence had they a need to do so:
Homeless person camp beneath overpass
Packs used on the outing varied widely from a COLEMAN hydration daypack, to a high-end MOLLE assault pack. One new members ued this 5.11 "Covert" daypack. It's a strong, well-made tactical bag designed to look civilian, and not raise any suspicions:
5.11 Covert pack
STRIKE3CYA had the lightest pack at 10 pounds. He's a dedicated minimalist that always hikes in FIVE-FINGER [toe] shoes:
Well-used REI pack
We arrived at the park after a 1:08:00 hike, average pace 2.6 MPH. Once there we decided to hydrate and take in some calories. This was a chance for me to try out my own designed homemade MRE, which I called the "MRE/N" - Meal, Ready to Eat/*Nearly*. Total cost of contents were about a dollar:

Homemade M.R.E.
I decided to brew up some Ramen and added pieces of Beef Jerky to fortify the meal. I used ESBIT fuel tablets in my gel fuel-depleted M71 Swiss stove for a boil. 2 tablets took around 10-15 minutes for a boil. The tablets store in the stove tin. It was a good way to re-purpose the stove instead of tossing it out:

Swiss M71 gel stove

Finishing up, we policed up our trash, re-packed our bags:
Packing up
Having loaded our kit, we then hiked over to a second vehicle we'd earlier dropped off nearby for the return drive to our staging location. Urban hiking is a great way to get started conditioning for the trail, and it can be done right in your own need not drive far into the country to practice skills and make nature observations. We had a great time and are already planning next month's outing. Our goal is to throw a hike or outing each month through next Fall.
Wishing everyone a great Spring 2014 outdoors!



Saturday, March 1, 2014

Urban rucking for fun and fitness

One of the things I like to do is what I have come to call "Urban Rucking"...basically, hiking city streets while wearing a day pack or rucksack.

Using a city street map, I plan a route which will provide the distance and terrain [flat or hilly] I wish to walk, and also that will take me past interesting sights. I also usually plan a lunch stop at a park with meal preparation in the field using a gel stove. Recently a friend and I made a 2 mile cross-town ruck:

Starting the ruck
We parked a vehicle at our destination and then drove across town to our starting point. a hospital parking lot. His pack weighed 17 lbs. and mine about 15+ lbs. Shown here are the contents of my pack that day:
This was the load-out for this ruck, displayed on my
GRABBER "SPORTSMAN" model Space Blanket
[heavy duty, with sewn-in hood and glove corners].
We began by taking streets to an open space trail across a hilltop.  Once atop the hill we had a great view of the community below, and some volcanic peaks in the valley outside of town:

These volcanic peaks are around 1300' elevation.
When active they were many times that height.
This is all that remains.

We hiked down the hill and then passed over a bridge that crossed over the Union Pacific railroad tracks. This community was the last place in California to receive rail service, because it took many years to carve a road down the steep grade north of the city:

Railroad yard and depot

It was a warm day, so I made a hydration stop:

Mixing a hydration beverage
It was probably approaching a sunny 80 degrees. I had brought along a little 1 pint USAF pilot's flask [about $3.00] and mixed some sugar free Hawaiian Punch drink mix in. Really good stuff for little money. The flask is handy so you can keep your main reservoir pure.

Heading to the destination, we passed through neighborhoods and saw parts of town we'd never noticed while driving. Hiking [walking] allows you time to notice thing's you otherwise would not see. The final obstacle was to cross over the Highway 101 overpass to a shopping center where we'd earlier dropped our second vehicle. As we did so, I spotted this lone person sitting under a tree beside the Freeway below:

Homeless person encamped by Freeway

There was lots of cardboard pallets scattered around and you could tell a lot of homeless folk spend their nights and days there, probably because its near the shopping center and resources [I spotted a young woman coming down a trail with a little backpack. It's so sad to see how these folks live...exist really. It reminds me to be thankful for what I have...some have literally the clothes on their back and little more].

The entire hike took us about an hour and a quarter. Along the way we made a game of pointing out potential resources that would be useful in an earthquake or disaster scenario, were we suddenly cast into a survival situation, such as places one could seek warm shelter, obtain water, scrounge food, or potential tools like discarded water bottles.

The point is, you don't have to drive out into the country and find a woodland trail to get exercise, practice self-reliance skills, and see interesting sights. You can do all of that on the streets of your own community and don't have to spend gas money to get there.

Give Urban Rucking a try!