Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dave Canterbury: More To This Guy Than Just TV!

We've all watched the TV series Dual Survival.  This season the new guy (Joe Teti) provides the counter part to Cody Lundin, the barefoot, live off the land minimalist.  The show's not the same, and from my perspective most of its appeal has gone.

I respect Cody's ways though I choose not to follow his example.  There's just something wrong about going barefoot in rough terrain and bad weather when you don't have to.  Joe, on the other hand, is cut from a seriously different piece of cloth.   Lets just say his approach is strictly military, too over the top for me.

Enough on those two, my main point today is Dave Canterbury, the second banana who is no more.  I've been watching many of his huge library of Bushcraft videos on You Tube.  His approach to survival or living off the land is common sense, common man.

So how does this fit into life on the road as a Stealth Van Dweller, or any other means of cost effective travel?  Many of his methods and ideas easily transfer into the mobile lifestyle due to their compact size, cost effective methods, or redundancy in meeting your everyday needs.  More easily said, they just make good sense.

Recently I mentioned making 1 or 2 biscuits at a time in a makeshift oven created from 2 cake pans.  This is an idea I picked up from Dave's Cabin Fever series.  Simple, cost effective, and gets the job done.

Another of his tricks, when making 1 person meals, is to mix the ingredients in a zip lock bag to reduce the clean up when done.  I'm sure others have made presentations on similar ideas, but his are not only educational they're enjoyable to watch.  He does an excellent job of getting the point across in a way that makes you want to understand and learn.

Being raised in Northern Minnesota I never considered things I did, or picked up as a youngster, would be considered useful as survival techniques.  Things like using Birch bark, pine sap, and cattails as fire starters just came naturally.  Every kid I knew, at one time or another, burned the skin on their arm using the sun's rays through a magnifying glass.  I'm sure it's written down somewhere as a key step for hazing into the world of acceptance as a teenager.

Now I find out it all has a very useful purpose and carries the moniker of Bushcraft Skills.  Living and traveling in a van, or any smaller vehicle means making maximum use of your resources.  Space is limited as well maybe resources.  The best places to stay are away from civilization where often you need some extra knowledge to get by.  This is where Bushcraft skills can make the difference between when you're cold and uncomfortable.  I highly recommend watching what Dave Canterbury of the Pathfinder School presents.  It's a great way to improve your lot in life.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Eating On The Road Needs To Be Healthy!

With plans to be on the road for about a month real soon, my thoughts lately have been seriously centered around food.

About the worst thing I could do for myself, as I click off a few thousand miles, would be to pull into the nearest Mickey Dee's every time my hunger alarm went off.

Not to say all their food is bad for you, it's just that what I like certainly is, especially on a regular basis.

I need to watch my carbs, eat fresh veggies and lean meat, and stay away from processed foods to some degree.  The way to do that is good old subsistence cooking using basic staples.  I don't need to buy a whole loaf of bread when a simple biscuit or two would do as well.

To that end I will carry a small package of flour, and some cornmeal if I choose a corn fritter instead.  Baking soda and lard (because it's shelf stable).  Oh, another issue will be very limited refrigeration.  I've intentionally chosen a cooler just large enough to carry a half gallon of milk, a 2 liter bottle of soda, a dozen eggs, and of course my insulin.  Actually the insulin is the reason for any refrigeration at all. I figure if I must buy 5 lbs of ice every 3-4 days I might as well have a few other conveniences.

The big thing is with my confined space I didn't have need or room for some huge 5 Day cooler and a stock of perishable foods.  Instead I will rely on shelf stable products and making meals from scratch using only items that don't require refrigeration.

If I want bread, I will bake a couple biscuits in the small makeshift oven I've rigged up using 2-8"  cake pans held together with a couple spring clips.  Used as shown in the above picture may result in over heating them.  I plan on setting the cake pans on top of the empty cast iron frying pan to better disperse and control the baking temperature.

If I have a desire for a nice little pot roast with a real baked potato and some fresh veggies I'll also have my Road Pro 12 vdc portable oven with me as well.  Assemble my meal in a throw away loaf pan, cover it with foil, and plug it into the power port.  Head off down the road and a few hours later dinner will be ready and fork tender.

I've stocked up on a few food items that are geared toward convenience without being perishable.

Honestly though I feel stopping at local markets en-route will be my main source of food.   The likely hood of meeting my dietary desires at any given moment will be best served that way.

Most important to me is a varied diet that is easy to prepare.  Even with a micro-kitchen that's hinged out the back end of my van I should have no problem serving myself some serious good eats.

It's a simple plan that should keep me out of the restaurants and away from the truck stop buffets.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Reality Bites

He was almost horizontal, reclined back in a comfortable position.  Outside the open window he listened to birds chirping while they enjoyed the warmth of the morning sun.

She leaned over him, studying his face.  He looked up, into her eyes.  Soft dark sweet chocolate orbs, they followed his every move.  The contrast of the whites increasing their intensity.

Her rich dark hair, black and shiny, glistened in the morning light, as it fell softly down over her shoulders.  The soft velvet curve of her ear, accented by two small diamonds.  Glistening in the morning sun, as the golden rays peeked over her shoulder.

He was curious who her ancestors were, was she Italian, maybe Spanish. The tone of her skin made him wonder, she might possibly be from South America?

As he lay there, pondering every curve of her face, a voice on the other side tried to gain his attention.  The young lady was of Irish decent, soft red hair cascading down her back. Muted freckles giving hint to her back ground.

Suddenly he snaps out of his trance like state.  The soft voice in the background finally coming through, “You might want to hang on, this might hurt a bit.”

The shrill whine of the drill revved to a high pitch.  A fire like stab of pain brought tears to his eye as the steel bit drove itself home. His body went rigid, his hands gripped tight around the armrest.  Impressions of his fingers left as permanent evidence of the discomfort he endured.

It was a bittersweet moment, that trip to the dentist.  As usual with anything sweet there is a painful price for the pleasure.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Spiritual Magic Of The North Woods

Two avid snowmobiler’s,  miles from civilization, deep in the wilderness.  It was late night, or more correctly early morning.  The week's work delaying departure until evening, the 40 mile drive to the cabin meant  arriving well after dark.

Weekends like this were special.  Friends through high school, now in their early twenties they were closer to adulthood.  Having the freedom to head off into the woods on a whim was just normal at this age, for those raised in northern Minnesota.

You’re immortal at that age, adventure was part of everyday life.  In the summer it was camping, canoeing, or waterskiing.  The Boundary Waters Canoe Area still being open to any activity, many trips for days at a time kept them occupied through the summer months.

Winters were no different.  Snowmobiles could take you dangerously far into the deep woods in the most brutal of conditions.  This outing was no different.  Though the sky’s were a clear black and blue, and the nights stars glowed so bright you could almost reach up and pluck them from the sky, it was still -35 below.

Mechanical failure of any sort would be life threatening.  The year was 1973, just last week in the crystal clear memories created as young adults .  Driving to the cabin was a process.  Spring months had the road deep in mud with almost impassible ruts.  What took hours that time of year went much faster in the winter when everything was frozen hard.

They arrived at the cabin with two snow machines in the back of the pickup truck.  Good weight for plowing, the driveway into the cabin was deep in snow.  After 20 minutes of pushing back and forth,  the truck was unloaded.  Layered in  heavy snowsuits and sorrels boots, the two plodded down the hill to the cabin.

The cabin was cold, left unheated when vacant.  The first task being to light the fuel oil space heater, and getting a fire going in the massive river stone fireplace that was the centerpiece of the living room.

There would be no instant gratification of warmth, it took many hours before the building would be warm enough to remove outerwear.  True comfort wouldn’t be attained until the end of the weekend when it was time to pack up and go back to civilization.

After a simple meal of beans and franks a normal person would be ready for bed.  Not this pair, the night was still young.  After all it was only midnight.  The best time of day, or night in this case, to head off deep into the woods.

Temps now hovered around -40 degrees.  The two John Deere sleds sprang to life.  In the high pitched wine of 2-cycle twin engines, they headed up the road, and turned north toward Canada.

The border was 150 miles off, though you wouldn’t know it by your surroundings.  Everything looked the same, with nothing but dense woods from there north, well into Ontario.

One of the pair of men was fresh out of the service.  Four years taken from their friendship due to the Vietnam war.  The other had opened  his own business, a John Deere dealership.

Throughout high school they would spend winters on snowmobiles, always belonging to the oldest of the two.  Through his generosity, the other was always included.  Together they would head off on a single Skidoo, the younger riding on the rear.  Wearing oversized Army surplus artic boots known as Bunny Boots, he was obviously from a lesser economic level than the other.  They were friends, that’s all that mattered.

Out the driveway of the cabin they roared.  It was always full throttle as the two machines hurtled at breakneck speed toward the trail access point.  Old long abandoned logging roads took them 10 miles into the dark forest in a matter of  minutes.

The lights and noise of the city long gone, the silence only pierced by the two noisy tracked contraptions.  The trail was narrow, that long deserted logging road.  Wide enough for truck loads of logs to wind their way back to the main highway, then south to the paper mill in Cloquet.  Abandoned many years back, it had been allowed to return to its natural state.  A few more years, with no help from mankind, it will be absorbed completely by the pine woods of northern Minnesota.

Tonight it’s an avenue, a way to rapidly enter the realm of those lost in the last century.  Logging trains, timber crews, native Chippewa.  Many generations long passed on.  This is their land, a quiet peaceful place, where nature is in control.

It’s said, when the night’s still, you can hear the wail of a train whistle.  Reported to be the ghost logging train that sank in the swamp, back when the great white pines were logged off.  Supposedly the tracks from this train, to this day, enter the swamp and disappear into the bog.

All that remains is the lonesome wail of the steam whistle.  Echoing through the pine forest like the moaning wind.

These two riders, on their steeds of steel, rode on.  As the trail narrowed, and became deep in fresh snow, there progress slowed.  They crested a knoll and pulled up to take a break.  Shutting off their snowmobiles, the total lack of sound was quickly overpowering.

Ahead was a gradual downhill slope, a clear open trail with dense pine forest on both sides.  Overhead the sky was crystal clear, the stars looking like diamonds glimmering brightly above.  They laid back on the seats of their machines and stared into the heavens.  Watching the swirling colors of the Northern Lights swim throughout the galaxy.  It was one of those truly spiritual moments when you realize how small humans are in the grand scheme of the universe.

Suddenly it happened, like a spirit from those who passed this way eons ago.  From behind, a loud swoosh and a flash of white passed over them.  Adrenalin surged through their bodies causing them to sit bolt upright on their snowmobiles.

Swooping from high in the pines behind them, a huge Snowy Owl had flown just overhead and glided off into the darkness of the night.  Following the narrow trail, it mysteriously disappeared into the mist toward the bottom of the hill.

These were special moments.  Two young men enjoying the time of their life and totally lost in the beauty of the wilderness.  Close friends who’s companionship would be sadly short lived.  Unknown at that moment, one would meet an untimely end within a very few years.

Gone but not forgotten, the memories of those times live on.  Vivid in the mind of the other, as if this adventure took place last weekend.  Instead it happened 40 years ago.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Cellphone Only Makes Phone Calls: That's OK By Me!

Cell phones, if you believed all the hype you would think humans would evolve to have one permanently implanted to the side of their heads.

For well over the past 10 yrs I've toted a wide variety of these electronic monsters with me on a daily basis.

I call them monsters because in reality there presence means you're on the clock and available ANYTIME!

I don't know about you, but there are times when I just don't want to be available...To Anyone!

That said, they do serve their purposes.  In the past, my job was made easier if I carried a phone with me.  Circumstances would change throughout the day, and keeping in touch  with the office made my day more productive.

Another time, internet access was part of my work life, so being able to retrieve email anywhere or time was a benefit.  I'd be lying if I didn't say the fact that it was a business write off  tipped the scales for me in making the decision to upgrade.

So now I'm retired.  Do I really need that fancy pants do everything phone that was costing me nearly $100 a month?  Not hardly, I dropped my service at the end of the contract and went with a much simpler, and dirt cheap, option that dare I say would serve 95% of those who use cell phones just as well.

They call it a PHONE for a reason people, it's primarily for making phone calls.  Though I don't really want to receive that many phone calls, aimless chit chat on the phone has never been my forte, I do need to occasionally contact people.

Heaven forbid, I down graded to a simple TRACFONE!

It's a flip phone, small and doesn't take up a lot of pocket space.  It makes phone calls and most importantly it has an OFF SWITCH!  When I don't want to be bothered, it leaves me alone.  When I go to the cabin alone, it lets me check in with home.  Verifying I haven't somehow caused great bodily harm to myself doing some ridiculously dangerous activity.

For all this convenience I pay a lowly $7 a month, and with this cheap $14 phone I purchased, I get "DOUBLE MINUTES FOR LIFE".

No contract, no monthly bill, I just swing by Walmart once every 90 days and buy a $20 card that adds 120 minutes and 90 days to my service.

With all the ways that electronics have found to bleed your checking account dry Tracfone is one good way to keep some of your cash in your wallet.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

That Incessant Beep Was Driving Me Crazy!

Off to Walmart this afternoon, until that damn beeping started as I pulled out the driveway.  It was especially annoying because just when you thought it was gone, that single beep would go off again.

We checked all the doors, looked helplessly at the dashboard for a clue, but had no idea why the car was making a single beep noise about once a minute.

The gauges looked good, I even pulled over to recheck all the doors.  Nothing seemed out of place or nonfunctional.  This marvel of modern technology usually showed in plain English through the odometer  when something was amiss.  Just last week a beeping was accompanied by the "Rear Hatch Ajar" warning, clear as a bell.

I was totally perplexed why it was beeping at me with no indication of what was the matter.

We continued on our short journey with the single beep continuing to sound almost to the second of every minute.  Plans of a trip up the hill to the Dodge dealer tomorrow morning had already worked their way into my beginning of the week schedule.

I must say I was even more perplexed when I discovered the beep continued to sound even with the engine turned off and the key out of the ignition.  If you can call what's now provided a key.  The remote control fob is all plastic with the narrow end of it to be placed in a socket on the dashboard.  Turning this plastic device allows the engine to start.  Of course there's electronics involved, so the need for a keyed device with tumblers and steering wheel lock is no longer there.  Let me not digress off subject though, getting back to the infernal beep that persisted throughout our shopping trip.

As I pulled into our driveway, after we disagreed about the exact location of the noise, I opened the drivers door to exit.  At that moment the next beep seemed to be coming from behind us rather than from the dashboard area.  I vowed to investigate further, to find out if by chance, my remodeling efforts had somehow interfered with some unknown system in the vehicle.

Suddenly it struck me, an epiphany flashed through my mind, I instantly recognized the source of the beep.

If you look at the picture at the start of this article.  On the second shelf, over to the far right.  You see a white, circular object.

Last week when I removed the tin signs from the original Stealth Van I also removed 3 led battery operated lights to be installed in the new rig.  I also removed the smoke alarm/carbon monoxide detector.  Not having decided exactly where I was going to mount it, I just set it inside the chuck wagon kitchen box after installing what I thought were new batteries in it.

That irritating beep was the alarm telling me the batteries were depleted.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Making Privacy Panels And Finishing The Chuck Wagon Kitchen

It's been a busy couple days.  Antsy to get going on rigging out my new van, I packed up and headed to the cabin.  I had a picture in my mind of what I was going to make in the way of window coverings, and this seemed like a good time for that project.

With some old newspapers I quickly made templates of each window.  Next I cut out some panels from 1/4" Luan plywood.  I sanded the edges and after checking for fit I covered one side with some black soft fabric I bought just for this.  I wrapped the cloth around the edge and glued it to the edge and about a  1/2" around onto the fancy surface.  Trimming it with a sharp knife, I had panels for each window that from the outside looked like limo tinted windows.

The inside I coated with polyurethane, giving them a nice glossy finish.  Next I removed the tin signs from my old van and attached them to the wood panels with velcro tabs.

Fortunately there doors are shaped in such a way that the panels are held in place by the trim on the door.  The picture to the left shows the lower right corner as being the door panel that provides the method of attachment.

For the rear window a piece of the soft sweat suit material I used for the panels can be held in place by the rubber seal for the hatch door.  It will hang down behind the chuck wagon kitchen closing off the view from that direction.

Having hauled freight over the road in years past, I know that not only is there a need to keep prying eyes at bay but just as important is the need to darken my sleeping area.  Truck stops and Walmarts are very well lit as is most any residential spot I might consider safe enough to catch 40 winks on the sly.

I also started outfitting my chuck wagon kitchen since a good portion of my supplies were either at the cabin, or in my Bug Out Bag.  Bugging out, going camping, stealth van traveling, funny how when you get right down to it, they're all practically the same thing.

However you want to look at it, the van is coming along nicely.  I still have to rig my second battery and power inverter.  I'll probably pass on the microwave for lack of space right now.

I have a 12 vdc fan for ventilation and I need to be able to run my small laptop computer.  Not very heavy power requirements at this point, so I plan on going simple for now.  Now all I need is for the snow to melt and go away.

Not very likely for now, 3-5 inches are due to come tonight with more next week.  :(

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Building The Bed Went Quick

What do you do when a woodworking project is demanding your attention and outside it looks like Siberia.  Usually if I want to build something I have to do it outdoors.  Lack of a garage or workshop makes it hard to create a mess without completing the project and cleaning up, all in one day.

In town, it ain't going to happen but at the cabin, that's a whole different picture.  I loaded up with supplies and headed off to the country to trash the house.

The first part of the conversion, and likely the most important part, was to build the bed.  I wanted the mattress raised off the floor at least a few inches to make the height more comfortable for sitting.  The base I made also provides a small amount of storage space under the bed, a good place to stash an extra blanket, socks and underwear, or anything small I didn't want viewed by anyone coming up to the van.

A standard twin size mattress will ensure I sleep comfortably.  Centered on the floor, there's about 5" of space on each side of the bed.  I can store things there and at the side doors the space widens some.  I should be able to setup my house battery system with inverter in that space.  That can wait until the snow's gone though.

The headboard for the bed is the backside of the chuckwagon kitchen box.  It faces rearward, and opens to a work surface that can be used from the rear of the van.

Once again I messed up the dining room some, but that worked well since I didn't really know what I was doing anyhow.  Constructed of 1x6 pine and 1/4" Luan plywood, I started building with only a vague idea of what the end product would be.

I don't know if this is called "Design on the Fly" or "Fly By Night", but the process worked and I'm satisfied with the results.

Space was limited so the size of the box is 36" wide, 27" high, and 12" deep.  The top is 6" deep making the fold down door slope to match the slope of the van hatch door.

Inside there is 2 shelves and the bottom is sectioned off to fit certain items such as the single burner Coleman stove, a couple gallon jugs of water, and a stack of paper plates.

The rest will be figured out in the weeks to come.

For now the biggest part of the project is completed, and as I wanted, the whole thing can be slid out by one person.  Quickly returning the van to either passenger or cargo mode.

Now if Mother Nature would get with the program, I need some spring weather to get ready for my trip out east at the end of April.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Converting My Minivan...Part One, The Plan!

Look at all this glorious space!  A flat floor that will carry a 4x8 sheet.  Headroom that allows me to walk about, though bent over at the waist.  All this plus 25 mpg... This will be more than adequate for my new travel arrangements!

Step one was to pick up a piece of carpet at the local Menard's store.  Much easier to shake out a rug than try to vacuum dirt and grit out of the automotive carpeting.

Next I headed to Walmart to pick up a 4" memory foam mattress topper.  Nope, not today...Out of stock.  No matter tomorrow I'll be back at Menard's to load up on plywood and pine boards.  The mattress can wait for awhile yet.

I learned with the old Stealth Van that being able to quickly revert back to cargo carrying abilities is worth taking into account when laying out the interior.  For this build out I'm planning a twin sized bed that starts behind the front seats.  That leaves about 2' available beyond the bed at the back of the van.

By using the first 75" of a 4x8 sheet for the bed, the remaining 21" can be the base for a chuck box, or kitchen cabinet.  The whole works will be a one piece unit that will slide in and can be just as easily slid out for times the van needs to haul cargo.  The bed portion will be raised 6" giving generous storage space underneath  the bed.  The chuck box at the rear will be about 2' high and divided up into different cubbies sized to fit assorted items associated with cooking.

The bed will in effect be a box.  4'x6"x75" with a removable, possibly hinged, top.  The rear wall of the chuck box will drop down into a table position allowing for food prep, cleaning up, or what ever other task needs to be addressed.

The front wall of the chuck box will serve as the headboard for the bed.   I can mount a light on top that will act as a reading light when pointed toward the front and light the work surface of the kitchen when pointed aft.

All sorts of extra fixtures and conveniences come to mind to add versatility to the package but for this weekend it will be shopping for building materials.  Then a few days next week will be spent at the cabin creating the new and more economical Stealth Van.  Of course more pictures will follow...Stay Tuned!