Sunday, July 6, 2014

July 4th weekend on Galveston island what could have been a total letdown became a beautiful evening!

Now I know nobody in their right mind goes to Galveston island for the pristine clean beaches. Folks that don't know any better might, but Galveston's beaches, even though they are technically tropical, are not exactly Chamber of Commerce photo quality if you know what I mean...

Now when I venture onto the island, it is typically for fishing, or for a FAST trip when just any beach will do. Now I am not saying Galvestons beaches are toxic dumps like you see all too often in other parts of the country, they just aren't wide expanses of clean white sand kissed by blue waters with waving palms gently swaying in the breeze....

No Galveston Island's beaches are a thin strip of typically tan / yellow sand, slogged by murky / muddy waters stirred up by the spew coming off of the Mississippi river and flowing westward along the coastal bend, thankfully heading back out to sea and wafting off typically before it gets to Padre Island, but that is a story for another blog entry....

The beaches on Galveston's Gulf side are typically crowded with urban / tourist bustle jammed up on them, overflowing trash can that apparently my county property taxes are just not enough to keep emptied, and stone jetties that have the saving grace of being some fair, but not fantastic spots to fish. Hey if they were fantastic, I wouldn't be telling anyone else where they were now would I?

I digress yet again.... Funny how that happens.

So anyway, I have been avoiding the island as of late due to a BIG, overwhelming problem, that isn't going away any time soon...

Seaweeed. miles, and miles of seaweed has washed ashore, bringing with it unfortunate inhabitants of the seaweed community that in turn once washed ashore and out of the water either become easy pickings for the flocks of seagulls that is ever present....

Oh, not those guys? Sorry...

I meant the ever present shore bird kind, not the bad early 80s pop band... Well like I was saying, either the little critters became food for the seagulls, or crabs and whatnot, OR and there is no shortage of them, they simply died off and rotted in the Texas summer sun...

Did I mention there are MILES and MILES of this stuff along the beaches in coastal Texas right now?

The stench is something awful. You figure the parks department would dredge this stuff up and haul it off right?


Nope, they are taking earth movers with giant bucket rakes and simply raking the stuff out of the main part of the beach, and building huge piles. I know the intent is to build and compress the mounds, sand them up real good, and build basically artificial sand dunes to further help protect the island, it's inhabitants, and points further inland from the devastating impacts of the next hurricane which is sure to come.

Mind you, we live in the evacuation zone, so I fully appreciate and am grateful for this effort they are putting into damage control, but boy it messes up that beach...

The giant mounds stink like giant heaps of what it is. Rotting seaweed and dead aquatic animals...

I am in no way overly sensitive to smell, but boy this is offensive...

The view from Seawall BLVD southward you can clearly see the
seaweed collecting at the surf line.

The giant stinking piles at the edge of the beach just before the

So with the stench driving us off of the east side of the island, we head west, toward the inter coastal waterway, and pull off the side of the road to a good fishing spot closer to the Galveston causeway, and enjoy just watching the setting sun play over the water and all of the sudden, the Chamber of Commerce moments come out in watery abundance!

Google Auto Awesome did its thing to this photo, but honestly
I can't see how any processing could have made the view any
more beautiful! What a view!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Shivering shinbones it's cold out there!

I probably don't need to remind folks it's still February, and it's just downright cold in most of the continental United States. But with winter comes winter sports, and unsurpassed beauty through much of the continent. But how do you keep warm, especially when trying to sleep in the cold?

The process isn't as complex as it might seem, but it also isn't without effort, or expense... They are...

  1. You, and your equipment should be dry. Water is an excellent conductor, and conversely a lousy insulator. You do NOT want to be wet unless you want to be cold!
  2. Be properly dressed. Light shorts, no socks and a shirt or not might work in the summer, but could be a recipe for hypothermia in the winter... I like to wear sweats to bed when camping in the winter...
  3. Keep your tent size small in the winter! The smaller your tent, the more heat will be retained inside the tent. Don't go so small that you can't sit up and get dressed, but don't go any bigger than you have to. The small tent size in winter also relates to...
  4. Keep your tent ventilation to the minimum possible. You want to be able to draw your rain fly and vestibule is close to reduce drafts, while still allowing for moisture given off from respiration to escape effectively. While camping as a couple, Outdoor Dave, and Deb like to use a 3 person backpacking tent, specifically a Sierra Designs Sirius 3. This model has been superceded but remains a primary tent for our usage.
  5. If possible, leave the air mattress at home. Air mattresses are large chambers that effectively move heat away from the body. They are nice in the summer for comfort, and thermal help, but in the winter they are not worth the risks. We use self inflating sleeping mats, and for extra cushion and insulation, we tend to try to use a nice fluffy pile of leaves or pine needles under the tent floor to keep us comfy.
  6. Sleeping bag choice is critical. The closer to the body the bag stays, the warmer the sleeper stays. Likewise the less air movement the insulation allows, the better off you are for warmth. Now Outdoor Dave is a big man, and he tends to toss and turn in his sleep. With movement you need space, so you'd think that a suitable mummy type sleeping bag would be impossible to find. Sadly sleeping bag manufacturers change up their models from year to year, so keeping up with current models is next to impossible, but fear not, chances are there will be an effective bag for you on the market! The sales people at the sporting goods stores may look at you funny, but TRY OUT the bags. Slide into them, and see if you are comfortable with the amount of room. I found Slumberjack, and Coleman sleeping bags to be best suited to me. However there are many excellent options out there! Pick a bag rated to the coldest you will be exposed to, and even if you pick a rectangular bag, pick one with a pull tight hood to keep your head warmth inside the bag...
After you have all of this squared away, you might find yourself still cold in your sleep, you could try the following to stay warm as well..
  1. If you are camping with a partner, seriously consider a sleeping bag for two. The shared body heat will keep both of you warmer longer...
  2. Bring a shaggy dog with you, they put off lots of heat...
  3. More seriously, try heating up water and filling a hot water bottle to toss into your sleeping bag. I have done this in below freezing weather with a 40 degree rated bag and been comfortable while I sleep..
  4. Chemical heat pads. We have specifically used the Hot Hands brand hand / body warmers when the weather turned foul on us unexpectedly and were extremely grateful for the warmth. They kept us comfy when an unexpected storm got us wet and our bags weren't as sealed as we thought they were...
  5. This next item should NOT be taken frequently, but eat a rich, fat heavy meal for dinner. The fats generate heat during digestion, and can help keep you warm at night... This however is a VERY poor idea for cardiac reasons. Check with your doctor!
  6. When all else fails, there are portable tent safe heaters. None of the MFGs I am aware of recommend their use for when sleeping, there is a serious risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. I have used mine to warm the tent prior to going to sleep, turn it off. If woken up by the cold, it will usually be at 5 or 6 in the morning. Fire the heater up for a few minutes to bring the warmth back up, then shut it off and finish your nights sleep, or if you are hunting that day, use the cold as an alarm clock, turn the heat on to make sure you don't freeze when you change to get out to the blind!
Now that you know how to keep from freezing in the wild, the only thing left to do is to go, get out there, and find your own road less travelled.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Mobile phones in the back country. Starting to look into the issues, and solutions...

While available time has me unable to dig into the chuck box project with all the gusto I would like to, I am giving some thought to cell phone use in the back country.

Our mobile devices, particularly smart phones, have available an array of valuable tools, not the least of which is the ability to make calls, and provide GPS locations in case of emergency. But due to the lack of cellular repeaters in many areas, relying on smart phone voice or data connections could be a lethal mistake.

While things are coming along admirably with cellular technology, the fact remains that many parts of the planet, in particular many of the parts of this planet that my intended audience likes to spend time, are simply not covered by cell signals due to physical obstruction (mountains, trees, whatever...) or just plain old distance to the tower.

I can't offer any good solutions for insuring your phone works everywhere you want to go, but I can offer some ideas to make the best of the situation, so your trail GPS app, or phone call for help has a better chance of actually working...

  1. First and foremost, keep your phone charged up. A dead battery means even if you have full signal, it won't matter. There are many different cell phone chargers that do not require 110V AC power to do the trick. If you are travelling by vehicle, perhaps tying into the 12V power port will give your phone the boost it needs. There are also hand crank generators, and of course solar chargers. Wildersport's own Outdoor Dave was given a Micro USB solar charger by a family member that, well bought an Iphone, so we will in the near future be testing that charger against my Samsung Galaxy S4.
  2. Get your phone up in the air as much as possible. The idea here is, even if you can't see the tower, you want an unobstructed view to wherever it may be. Try to get a line of sight between your phone, and, well whatever ridges, tall buildings, and yes, radio / cellular towers might be off in the distance. 
  3. Avoid containment. It might be warmer to carry on that conversation with your wife at home from inside the truck at deer camp, but chances are you'll pull a stronger signal sitting, or better yet, standing in the bed of that same truck. Unless you have gobs of signal, the deer blind or bunk house pretty much are a bad idea too!
  4. If you have signal issues at a permanent location that you frequent, such as deer camp, ranch, or cabin, seriously consider getting and installing a signal booster from your carrier. Many carriers are more than happy to extend their networks onto your roof for little to no additional cost to you. So what if the guys at the next deer lease over get a free boost too? You can make your calls, and get that all important hourly weather forecast to better plan your day!
  5. Consider switching carriers to one that has better coverage where you want to be. Your friends, relatives, and fellow sportsmen / women you go out in the wild with will be able to tell you if their phone network is up to par where you are going!
I know not perfect solutions, and we will be out there looking for more, and better ideas for you. Of course feel free to chime in and let us know what you think!

Armed with that little bit more information, you can now just a bit more comfortably...

get out there, and find your own, road less travelled.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Design and build of a chuck / patrol box. Part #1.

As I have gotten older, and more accustomed to enjoying a good meal instead of just gagging something down,
I have realized there is a huge difference in how I pack for caomp cooking now a days versus when I first started out camping on my own.

Flash back a good number of years, not going to admit how many, but I had a then old, Volkswagen bus at the time, you can guess...
I pull into a camp site, Thankfully I had the bus with the box over the engine compartment built out to make a whole bed,
so no need to set up a tent, but how to cook?

Oh yeah, one pot, one skillet, a grate to go over a camp fire, and if I was lucky,
I remembered to bring a fork to stir stuff at eat with.... I always had a pocket knife, and I was prone to whittling sticks down to a nice sharp point to skewer hot dogs and what not with...
And of course I had to have a separate cooler for the food because I wasn't going to give up an inch of space from the beer!

Yes, I spent a LOT of evenings roasting hot dogs / bratwurst over a camp fire for dinner. Come to think of it that sounds like a good idea right about now.
But I digress...

There are only so many instant oatmeal breakfasts, and skewered hot dog dinners that can be sustained, for health, and taste reasons. As time and wisdom marched on, it became obvious I had to elaborate the art somewhat.

As my camp kitchen grew, shrank, and finally got whittled down to a defined list of must haves outside of the food itself, I determined that I needed a way to organize it, and keep it handy to just toss in the back of the truck and go!

I needed to design a chuck box. Or at least build one. The first step to building one is to design it, and to design it, I need to know, what did I need to hold?

After years of camping, and whittling down the camping cooking supplies and accessories, I have it honed such that I have everything I need, and nothing more.

The Wildersport camp kitchen consists of the following items, most of which are well used, and either bought new on deep sale, or used cheap / hand me downs.

#1. The heart of the camp kitchen is the stove. I started with a propane stove, but that got expensive to operate. We use a Coleman dual fuel 2 burner liquid fuel stove. It is kind of old school, but it works so well I have no reason to go back to expensive propnae!
#2. I must admit, I would be lost without my cofffee, and while I can tolerate percolated coffee, drip brewed is so much better. My Coleman Camping Coffee Maker does the trick very nicely. I have it stowed in a protective stuff sack, and the carafe is wrapped in a towel when not in use. I keep a ziplock back of unbleached coffee filters in the container, although I am considering changing out to one of those permanent filters to reduce waste.
#3. While I have very little nice to say about anything TexSport makes as I have had VERY poor experiences with their Tents that leak badly fall apart and flap like a hurricane in a slight breeze, I have to give kudos where they belong. I have an Ozark Trail (Walmart house brand) Stainless Steel Family Cook Set, which I discovered later on was made by / a relabelled TexSport. It is pretty simple, 3 descending size stainles steel pots, and one skillet that doubles as a lid for the biggest pot. They are all copper clad bottoms, and while the metal gauge is thin for weight reduction, they do work well. Yes you need to stir a LOT more than you would with cast iron cookware, or even heavy gauge stainless you would use at home, but for at camp this has been great! It also included but I don't think the new ones do, one of those little plastic drinking cups that doubles as a measuring cup. That piece works poorly as either and should not be bothered with...
#4. Coleman folding camp oven. Just like the coffee maker, this takes up a burner on the stove, but it is MUCH easier to pack than a dutch oven, and makes it super easy to make baked goods at camp. This is a great setup for those mornings you have to have those roll biscuits and gravy for breakfast!
#5. Nylon ladle, slotted spoon, spatula, pasta ladle fork thingy, wire whisk, and tongs. The pieces I have are odd, they are Pampered Chef hand me downs after we upgraded to their deluxe models for the kitchen.
#6. Large mixing bowl, medium mixing bowl. and collendar Plastic. These can be had cheap at the grocery store or even cheaper if you shop around at the resale shops and garage sales. Good for making pancake batter, scrambing eggs, mixing whatnot...
#7. This should probably be #1, but never, ever, ever, ever forget your CAN OPENER!
#8. Small acrylic cutting board. No brand name known. About 8.5x11 x .5: thick.
#9. Plastic plates, bowls, and drinking cups. 6 each. I use some cheap reusable plates, and bowls. The cups are 32oz insulated mugs with a sealable lid. Keeps bugs away a bit better.
#10. Silverware service for 6. I have some cheap Stansport I think nesting fork, spoon, knife sets that I have been gathering over the years. They are cheap and effective. They also take up little space.
#11. Garage sale kitchen knife set in home made canvas knife roll.
#12. Collapsible camp bucket for use as a wash sink.
#13. Double ziplock bag of scrubby sponge, and biodegradable dish soap. (Campsuds).
#14. Swiss Army knife to whittle those sticks!
#15. Lantern. I prefer the Coleman Liquid Dual Fuel model. And I use the soft side case.
#16. Extra lantern mantles, fuel funnel, and windproof / waterproof matches.
#17. Picnic table cloth because without exception, every single park picnic table I have seen is at best disgustingly unsanitary, and of course the stainless steel table cloth clips to keep the table cloth from becoming airborne.
#18. Small loaf pan, cookie sheet, and muffin pan to fit inside the camp oven.
#19. Pot holder, wash cloth, and dish towel.
#20. Coleman Pack Away folding camp kitchen stand. Does not need to go IN chuck box, but should be used with. Provides good amounts of prep space.

Now that we have identified what needs to go into the chuck box, the next step is to figure out how big everything is, and start sketching it up. For that we need to lay it all out, and get busy with measuring tape, pen and paper. But that is all the subject of another entry....

 Until then get out there, and find your own, road less travelled.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Wildersport Wagon is sick and needs attention STAT!

Okay so the truck we use to get out there for our own adventures has taken ill. After rebuilding the front end last year, upgrading to Moog Problem Solver lubeable ball joints, Rancho Suspension, PowerStop slotted / drilled rotors and heavy duty brake pads, installing new tires adding a winch and winch mount to get us out of trouble, keeping up with regular maintenance, and even adding a cold air intake to improve engine efficiency (hopefully translating to better MPG) and keeping the tune through the SCT Xcal tuner up to date, we are back into shop mode. It appears the transmission has caught a case of a fairly major leak. Thank God it happened after we came back from our vacation to the mountains around Hot Springs Arkansas (The subject of another blog entry by the way!).
The Rancho Quicklift Loaded lift strut assembly
I also replaced the ball joints with Moog Problem solvers.

Breathing better than stock! There is a K&N Filter
and SCT Tuner helping out here too!

Fresh tires, Pro Comp lights, winch mount,
and winch. Ready to go, I think...

Upon our return to Texas, the truck appeared to be running fine, although shifting was a bit, well... Odd?

For our wedding anniversary, we took the truck to Galveston Island to stroll the beach at Galveston Island State Park, and grab some Greek Food at Olympia Grill in Galveston on the Seawall. Upon our arrival to Galveston the truck was acting like the transmission was slipping. I managed to get into the Seawall Walmart parking lot and check it out. I was low on tranny fluid... So we bought as much compatible ATF as we could at Walmart, filled it back up and went on our merry way... By the time we got back home to League City though, the tranny was slipping again... And again, low on ATF. Filled it back up, drove home, and checked it out...

Bottom of the truck is covered in ATF. UGH... After pulling the inspection plate, it is without a doubt coming from within the bell housing. That can only mean either the main input oil seal and bushing, or the pump seals. Possibly the pump but not likely..

Not what I wanted to see!
I need to stop the bleeding!

So holidays happened, and we had to wait until after the new year to be able to come up with the funds. Mid January and the funds are there, we took a trip to Transtar Industries for transmission parts where I sourced up a transmission filter kit, pan gasket, pump seal, pump o ring, main oil seal and bushing, and just to be safe in case it is a slightly out of balance torque converter causing the problem, a new stock replacement (2850 stall) torque converter. I also decided this was a good time to add a drain plug to the transmission pan as like most modern automatics, this truck is not so equipped. I ordered the B&M plug kit from Amazon.

With those parts in hand, not to mention a stack of other service parts and fluids I have everything I need to fix the trnasmission, change the engine oil and filter, change the fuel filter, and change the fluids in the transfer case and both differentials...

Now the biggest problem. The facility to do it in... For that, I have family members with an auto repair shop that have volunteered the use of their lift, and some help with the process, once they get their truck off the lift... That has been a big hangup. If this remains unavailable, I will need to purchase a 3 ton service jack from Harbor Freight, and then source up a transmission cradle so that I can get this done. I also need 3+ ton jack stands. This truck is HEAVY... I am actually looking at the Harbor Freight 6 ton stands as they are substatinally larger / taller than the 3 ton models, meaning I can get the truck further up off the ground with these, giving me more room to work.

Once all of this work is done, I am sadly close enough to the 100K mark that I am going to do the 100K service on it to beat the rush. That means some ugly things.

#1. Spark Plug change on a 2004 Ford 5.4L 3V engine. The plugs on these engines are known to break off during removal. I have the procedure memorized, and don't expect a problem, but you never know...
#2. Change serpentine belt, idler and tensioner pulleys.
#3. Change hoses, flush out cooling system, refill with quality anti freeze.
#4. Change out brake fluid. Good thing this truck uses DOT3 fluid!
#5. Change out power steering fluid.
#6. Service my K&N drop in filter.

Once all of this is done, and I am hurrying to get this done before spring gets here, we will be able to get out and cover more of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas outdoors for you! Who knows? Maybe this year we can venture out further to the great American west and give you a report from Oregon or Washington!

But for now I have to work on the truck and get it ready so we too can do what we encourage you to do, which is...

Get out there, and find your own, road less traveled.