Look at the beak on that thing…

Hammock camping is fun in good weather, interesting in mild weather, but can get a bit finicky in really nasty weather. The biggest problems are rain (the bane of every camper) and wind. Wind is a bit more of an issue for tarp campers and hammock users because in a tent, people are surrounded by cloth. But in a hammock or just on the ground under a tarp, usually the ends are open.

  • As an aside – I use the word “tarp” loosely. A lot of hammockers call them “rain flies” instead, but generally you think of a rainfly as something attached to the top of a tent over the netting, to let air flow, but keep rain out. But what I use is more of a pitched tarp all by itself. But it’s not to be confused with those blue-on-one-side, silver-on-the-other-side $15 lawnmower tarps from WalMart. This thing is made of Silicone-impregnated Nylon and costs around $150. It’s thin, light, and keeps out the rain.

Sure, you try to set up the tarp across the wind so that it doesn’t blow down the length of your hammock, effectively rendering your insulation useless, but sometimes it doesn’t always work. Usually you can set up everything just right, and right about bedtime the wind shifts and you’re stuck in a wind tunnel.

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So, looking down the length of my tarp and hammock setup, you can see the issue. I’ve pulled the walls in close like I might on a windy night or one with rain in the forecast. Nice walls on two sides, but if these are my only tree choices, I could be laying in a wind tube all night.

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Of course I wouldn’t wear jeans in the woods, duh… This is my back yard, I’ll dress like I want.

I started researching how to make doors for the hammock tarp, but the more I looked the more it seemed others had already done the work.

Specifically, people were telling me to abandon research and development, and just go with a “Grizz Beak”. Grizz was a hiker using a hammock during a bad rainstorm. The rain started blowing under his tarp at night, getting everything wet. So, he wrapped a poncho around the end of the tarp, which formed sort of a beak-looking structure. It kept the wind and rain out of the end, and by the next morning, his fellow campers were saying, “Great work, Grizz! You should sew some of those and sell them!”

So that’s what he did. For the cost of what I could have purchased in R&D fabric, I went online and purchased a Grizz Beak. They make them to order, one at a time at their house.

  • Another Aside: People whine about other people buying online and not supporting small businesses. Not every business online is a huge chain. There are LOTS of small specialty vendors online. If you own a small business or if you just work in your garage making unique stuff, and you’re not online, you’re only hurting yourself.

Unfortunately the Grizz Beak only comes in three colors – brown, green, and camo, I think. I originally wanted a deep purple or something. Something different. But – brown it is.

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It doesn’t look all that beak-ish in it’s present form, its more of a wedge, designed to go straight down from the peak of the tarp, and wrap around the sides. I immediately improved mine by adding two feet of tie-off rope to the little rings at the corners. I had set up the hammock on a hill, and one corner didn’t completely cover the tarp because the ground stake wouldn’t reach.

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From inside, you can see the cloth overlaps to provide a good bit of rain and wind coverage, yet it lets the hammock suspension go through. There is a small gap but 95% of the space is closed off.

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The Grizz Beak also offers the hammock user a modicum of privacy, something we don’t usually get, being completely exposed to the world from the ends. If you’ve never tried to completely change your clothes in a hammock, covered by only a thin blanket or your thick sleeping bag, you’re missing out on a unique, swear-word filled adventure.

But like all things camping, the likelihood that your Grizz Beak will be placed on the end facing other campers is much less than the likelihood of the rain blowing from the opposite way.

The beak wads up to the size of a baseball, and weighs less than half a pound. Mine weighed in at 6 ounces with the tie-out ropes in place. Its like rain insurance. Most of the time I hope not to use it, but I’ll carry it just in case. On a recent trip, while it didn’t rain, the wind was cold, harsh, and incessant for three days. A “beak” would have been nice.

Now here’s and Idea – Since the original Grizz Beak was a repurposed poncho, if they built this Grizz beak with some snaps and made it a little longer, you could have a combo Beak and Poncho in one, thus eliminating the need to carry a separate raincoat. Food for thought, Grizz.

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There’s 1/10 inch of maybe freezing rain coming, close the schools!

I love this time of year. Facebook becomes pure comedy gold when winter weather is approaching.
You see, I live in the south, and the presence of even the slightest amount of snow, ice, sleet, or freezing rain causes utter panic and dismay in the populace, especially in the segment of the populace that for the most part has to have someone else dictate their every move for them.
“Oh my God! It’s going to snow. What do I do? Will the Government bring me food? Will the government provide shelter for me? Will someone tell me what I’m supposed to do and where to go?”
I blame the helicopter parents of the previous generation, because for the most part these people seem to expect someone to show up at their doorstep with an instruction manual whenever anything outside the norm happens. It happened to a friend of mine’s wife. Foot of snow on the ground, and the power goes out. She’s freaking out. “All the food is going to spoil in the fridge!” He thought for a minute and said, “Look, there’s a foot of snow on the ground. Take the food outside and bury it in the snow.”
You would have thought he was Einstein, to hear her talk.
So, when there’s the slightest chance that it might snow, sleet, ice, or have freezing rain, people take to Facebook to express their concerns, ask questions, or sometimes just to show the world that they are complete morons. The best thing about Social Media is that anyone can make their voice heard. The worst thing about Social Media is that ANYONE can have their voice heard.
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Every time bad weather (of the winter sort) is predicted, people flood school district pages, often with “You should do X”. They blast the school officials for not making decisions soon enough. They blast them for making decisions too soon. No matter the decision, its going to be wrong to half the people. You can boil most of the posts down to a few categories:
Typical Facebook “Winter Weather” posts:
1. Close the school! (Posted by students often using such horrid grammar and spelling that it is very obvious that the school district should do everything possible to stay open)
2. They won’t close the school because they don’t care about MY child! (Typically posted by helicopter parents who blame everything on the school and nothing their child does is ever wrong)
3. They better not close the school because I have to work! (Typically posted by parents that see the school as a free government supported babysitting service)
4. The school was closed and nothing happened! (Typically posted by people who probably don’t have a meteorology degree and find nothing wrong with criticizing people after the fact)
5. The school wasn’t closed and it snowed so I had to get off work and get my child! (Combination of 4, and 3)
6. You should do _______ (typically posted by those who want it done their way and think they know better what should be done)
7. Y’all should have ______ (posted by people that, whatever the decision, disagreed with it)
Throw in a lot of people with Facebook Meteorology Degrees* and you get things like:
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“You should close the school. It’s going to start bad and get worse!”
Really? Because the Weather Channel says maybe a little freezing rain first thing in the morning, and then 40 degrees with regular rain, so anything frozen will melt.
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“No one will be able to drive on these bad roads!”
It was 45 degrees today. They’re forecasting a tenth of an inch of freezing rain. Thats barely past the first little line on the ruler. The roads will NOT be impassable. It takes a few days of near or below freezing weather to make the roads cold enough for a tenth of an inch of rain to stick. Your trees may be glazed over, the grass will be icy, your windshield may need a little extra defrost time, but this is not the Great Blizzard of 1978. The roads will be fine.
Thankfully, a few people have a brain, can think for themselves, and realize the school districts do the best they can with difficult situations.
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* Facebook apparently offers many different degree programs. The Meteorology Degree is a lesser known program.  A much more popular program is the Facebook Law Degree.
People with Facebook Law Degrees apparently have many options. The most popular being Criminal Law, since so many people know exactly how to get out of tickets, how some people shouldn’t be allowed bail, how “justice” should be served, and how to get away with committing various crimes. The second most popular form of Facebook Law Degree is Business Law. Especially with Crafting Moms who start their own Etsy Businesses. Because every states has the EXACT same business laws, it’s easy for a crafty mom with a Facebook Business Law Degree to tell every other Crafty Mom how to run her business, 1800 miles away.
Finally there is the Facebook Criminal Justice Degree – apparently everyone on Facebook knows a whole lot more about how to be a police officer than real police officers. Why spend 8, 12, or 24 weeks at a Police Academy, when you can get a Facebook Criminal Justice Degree in only days?

The trials and tribulations of planning a group hike…

I got into hiking through a group on “meetup.com”. It sounds like a dating site, but it is not. It is a web site for people who have similar interests that just want to get together and do things and plan events.

After going on a few hikes, I thought it would be fun to plan one myself, and I was blessed by one of the leaders with “planning rights”. I almost wish I hadn’t. Planning stuff is really kind of a pain in the ass sometimes. It is a lot of work trying to find a good place to go, set dates, and arrange transportation like shuttles or key swaps or whatever. There seem to be a whole lot more go-ers than planners, which makes the planner’s job harder. Sometimes you just want to show up and ride along without worrying too much about the details.

So, in every hike planners life, you will run across certain types of people:

The “Let’s do it this way” person. This person thinks they are helping, and may be trying to help, but often times their helping just adds extra work to the planner. I’ve been guilty of this one myself. “Instead of the North route, why don’t we try the South route, we’ve never done that one before.” Well, because the planner had a reason for the North route, and changing the entire hike three days beforehand is really going to screw up the whole thing. This could be helpful, however! “Why don’t we try the south route, because it rained a LOT the past three days and that stream crossing on the north side might kill us.” Now THAT is information the “Let’s do it this way” person should share.

The mystery person. This person may have just joined the group, or may sign up for every event, then back out before it arrives. Their profile is almost completely blank or they have no experience with the group. Then they sign up for a four day hike in the middle of nowhere. So – are they just news to the area looking for friends, are they such an ass that no one in their old groups will let them go anymore, or are they a serial killer? You never know, because Mystery Person is an enigma. Better to let Mystery Person stay on the waitlist, or at least give preference to experienced members.

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Mr. or Mrs. Insistant comes in right before the event and begs for a spot. They may even just show up the morning of the event and hope to squeeze in. Or, like the above post, they scoff at the idea certain events might have limits, and even though they are the fifth person on a waiting list, they ask for a spot. Why is there a limit of only 8 people going? Because shuttling 4 cars back and forth for 16 people is a pain in the ass, 8 is much easier.

The scary person.

The scary person comes in several forms. The first is The Jerk. The kind of person you don’t want to be around for some reason. As a planner, it is much better to be aware of The Jerk beforehand, and deal with them then. Dealing with The Jerk 30 miles from the car on the first day of a 3 day hike could be quite stressful. Much like Internet Trolls, this person lives to cause pain and strife. Thankfully The Jerk is someone you deal with very seldom. However, The Jerk is often tied in with Scary Person type 2:

The Substance Abuser. Look, I don’t mind if people want to have a drink or two in camp. They can even get a little tipsy if they want. But no one wants to deal with an angry drunk or a sloppy drunk 10 miles from nowhere (or even 3 miles from town). By getting drunk they risk illness and injury and it falls to everyone else to save them from their own actions. The woods have enough physical obstacles for the sober, even more for the inebriated. The other side of the coin is the illegal Substance Abuser. The places I hike, marijuana is still illegal. I don’t care what side of the debate you’re on, right now it’s illegal. So if you’re hiking with ME, don’t bring weed. Some hiking trails seem to be developing a party atmosphere. You’re two days hike from town, what cop is going to be sitting around in the woods waiting for you to toke up? So people do it because they will likely get away with it.

Another leader once told me, on one of my first planned hikes, “Hey, that guy that just signed up, on our last hike he pulled out a pint of vodka on the road and was drinking in my car. Then at the rest stop he was smoking marijuana. The trip was awful.”

Often “The Jerk” and “The Substance Abuser” merge, but neither one is good to have on a trip. With a tight knit group and concerned fellow hikers, this one is pretty easy to weed out after the first time.

The last type of Scary Person is the “Danger to Themselves” person. Any one of us can fall under this category. New gear, untested gear, gear failures, they can all push us from “normal hiker” into “Danger to Themselves” for a night or two. But some people excel at the process, and much like “The Substance Abuser” they need to be carefully screened.

An example from my own experience:

I was a new hiker, brand new to a certain group, I had my pack and sleeping back and hammock, and signed up for a three day AT hike in North Carolina in February. I was “The Mystery Guy” to this group. They didn’t let me go, because they were unsure about my gear and scared of my lack of experience. It turned out they were right. I didn’t have the stuff I needed. I would have been a big Danger to Myself and them. When I switched to an alcohol stove, the first 4 or 5 times I used it I was a Danger to Myself, the Woods, the Shelters, and anyone around me. But I’ve worked out the kinks.

So – sometimes planning is just a pain in the butt. The more I do this, the less I want to plan for newbies and just invite my core group of good hiking friends. And that is unfortunate, because we were all newbies once.

 

It’s Finally OVER

I’m so glad the “Holiday Season” is finally done. It’s such a long and exhausting period. And I’m not just talking about Christmas or Xmass or whatever you call the “Winter-Solstice-Based” holiday itself.

It starts with Halloween, of course. That’s the great run-up to the events of Late-October to New Year’s Day. It’s like the gunshot beginning the Boston Marathon. You know you’re in for a long haul.

There’s the decorating and the pumpkin cutting and the costumes. There’s dusting off all the candy you didn’t eat last year, still sitting in the bowl on the top shelf of the book case, so you can hand it out THIS year and hope its gone by the end of the night.  Then there’s Wal-Mart, because by the week before halloween they’ve completely given up on Ghosts and Goblins and they’ve already put out the fake trees and Santas.  Halloween hasn’t even happened yet and it’s already forgotten.

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As soon as Halloween is over, by the time the decorations come down, its fall and there’s leaves to rake and plans to be made for Thanksgiving. Who is going where, what are we doing, and then it’s time to start the cleaning. And of course, there are various levels of cleaning based on who’s coming over:

Cleaning Level 0: This is for those relatives who are about six boxes away from appearing on an episode of Hoarders. Throw out the trash bag with the bad meat in it and flush the toilet, and you’re done. Merry Christmas.

Cleaning Level 3: For those relatives you like to pick up for, but who still “know you” well enough to realize the way you normally live. The relatives that may stop in for a bit here and there, the ones living close by. Putting the dishes away, picking up clothes, maybe a light sweep here and there, but otherwise, not much work.

Cleaning Level 7: The out-of-towners. For friends and relatives not seen much, or for certain personality types. This is MUCH more labor intensive than anything above a level 5 cleaning. A level 7 cleaning is a chance to really look at yourself in disgust and realize what a nasty lazy pig you are. This involves things like touching up trim work with paint (wait – last time I did the trim did I use oil paint or latex. Well, I guess we’ll find out), getting out noxious chemicals and scrubbing things like grout (yes its supposed to be beige, not black) and the inside of the oven. Taking apart the refrigerator shelves and scrubbing out the various colors and wondering for days just what WAS that thing in the box in the back corner.

Cleaning Level 10: This involves major work. Repainting certain parts of the house may be in order, steam cleaning upholstery, maybe even a trip to the furniture store to replace certain items. There better not be a SPECK of dirt on the floor. If required, a doctor and an ambulance crew could stop at your house and perform emergency surgery in your living room, and they would thank you for getting everything clean for them. When considering a Level 10 Cleaning, offer instead to meet the relatives somewhere, or maybe just set the house on fire and start over.

In any case, whatever Cleaning Level you force on yourself, it can be a good thing. For the next month or two your house will be cleaner than it has been in a long while. You’ll even try to maintain a certain level of clean after Thanksgiving, because you’re doing it all again in a month. Because after the turkey carcass has been dumped, and you’re eating your last turkey sandwich, its time to put up the tree.

Whether you go real or artificial, the results are about the same. It involves a large object taking up space formerly occupied by something else, involving in most cases rearranging a certain room in your house so strangers driving by can see that you have a pagan symbol adorning your living room, that you are a “normal” American and not one of those weirdo religions that doesn’t celebrate like the “normal” Americans do. You venture into the basement or attic or wherever you store boxes of lights, glass balls, and crumbling, wrinkled, terrible-looking ornaments your kid made ten years ago in preschool. Then comes the wrapping paper and boxes from last year.

If your family is anything like mine, you reuse boxes over and over until they are WAY past needing to be replaced. We have a Joseph A Bank gift card box that has gone around for the past three years and still looks good. When you’re given a gift at my house, open the box and examine the gift before you exclaim, “I can’t believe you gave me an iPad!”, when in reality the old iPad box contains a couple of books you wanted from Amazon.

So, after the evergreen (whether its made in China by slave children or cut in North Carolina by Immigrant laborers) is put up and the empty ornament boxes are stored, its time to go shopping, which means wrapping gifts. Which means the formerly clean den (especially at level 6 and above) will resemble an episode of Hoarders, from The day after Thanksgiving until Christmas eve. Because when the UPS guy comes a couple of times a week, and theres several trips to the malls to make, who wants to get out all the boxes and tape and wrapping paper over and over.

Shopping in itself is a never-ending nightmare. Just when you think you have it all, there’s someone you left off the list, or something else ON the list you haven’t found. I like to do everything online. The more I can do in my pajamas in front of the computer, the happier I am. But there are SOME things you can’t get online. Well, you can, but they probably won’t fit right. Food, Alcohol, and Clothes. We are pretty much restricted to actually having to leave the house and deal with crowds and traffic for those.

Then finally Christmas arrives. Four weeks of shopping, decorating, cleaning to various levels, moving that damn Elf (if you have small kids and got suckered into that), cooking, and cleaning up the wrapping paper. Its done. Our extended family is all over the place, and couple that with having two sets of divorced parents out-of-town siblings, and that’s a lot of people to arrange. Scheduling gets to be problematic. So opening and giving presents goes on for about a week, and then its over. It’s time for the “burning of the boxes”. All the boxes that didn’t make it through this year, the cardboard packaging from Amazon, the torn gift bags, all of it goes in the fireplace.

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Unless it’s like this year, when it was 78 degrees on Christmas. Look, we’re in South Carolina, not Florida. Its SUPPOSED to be cold here. Below 50 at least. Maybe not -5 like up north, but cold enough for a fire, damn it.

So now until it gets cold enough, I still look like Hoarders in the den, because all those boxes are waiting on the fireplace to come calling.

After all the giving and getting and unwrapping is over with, there’s a few days left until the new year. The tree has to come down, either back in the box if you go synthetic, or tossed in the woods behind the house or to the curb if you go real. Then the lights come down off the house, the oversized wreaths and such get stuffed upstairs, the re-usable boxes get packed away (and you start giggling about who you can give the iPad box full of socks to next year). Finally life starts getting back to normal.

Then there’s New Year’s Eve. It’s like a party just for adults, a celebration that you made it through from October without hurting someone or setting the house on fire. In the south we like fireworks, because we think alcohol and explosives are a good combination. And after midnight is over and the last drink has been drunk and the last fireworks explode, you can relax and really settle in for the winter.

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And sometime in April, you’ll go outside, and get the Christmas tree stand off the front porch.