Fall Hike/Gear Review Part 6

Cooking Systems – Save the best for last!

The short story: i have been converted and now cook with denatured alcohol. I got a titanium Caldera Cone (plus titanium floor insert) matched to my Snow Peak 600 Titanium mug and now my stove and pot weigh 5.95 ounces! A fuel bottle, filled with enough to boil 2 cups of water eight times, adds 4.75 ounces. This is a big weight and bulk savings compared to all my old kits. I can boil two cups of water, all i ever need for both rehydrating food (2/3-1 cup) and having a hot beverage (the remainder), in about 5 minutes on 1/2 ounce of fuel. (Tests performed at low altitude ~ 2,000 ft, but low temps ~ 15 F.) And it is super duper quiet!

Snow Peak no lid
Snow Peak no lid
Snow Peak with lid
Snow Peak with lid

I had to make two adjustments to the Snow Peak. I ordered an aftermarket titanium lid, and i added some silicone tubing to the handles so that they can be easily held while the pot is hot. I got both ideas from Jason Klass.

The Caldera Cone (CC) is really neat. It comes with an alcohol stove and a combo unit windscreen/pot-stand. All the elements of this design work together to maximize efficiency. Each CC  is sized specifically for an individual cooking pot so that the pot is held the best distance from the flame created by the stove, and so that the windscreen/pot-holder channels heat to the right places. I ordered the optional “floor” for the stove and am so pleased with that choice. I cannot believe that these are optional instead of mandatory! Not only does the addition of the floor help to reflect heat into the cooking process instead of it being lost into the earth, it is much safer.

Caldera Cone Components
Caldera Cone Components
Caldera Cone assembled with Snow Peak
Caldera Cone assembled with Snow Peak

The main reason it took me so long to try an alcohol stove system was a concern about safety. Denatured alcohol is clear and invisible, even the flames are nearly impossible to see. Some forest fires have been started by people using denatured alcohol stoves. Like any system, it can be used properly or improperly and there are a few things one can do to make it safer. Adding a drop or three of food coloring to your fuel makes it easy to see the fuel in liquid form (though the flames are still tough to see). I chose green because it reminds me of the Mr Yuck poison stickers of my youth. Using a floor is also a fantastic safety aid. Even being very careful, it is difficult not to spill a few drops of the fuel when you are going for the primer pan, as one does in cold weather. If you have your stove centered on a metal floor before you add the fuel, any excess will burn on the metal and not the forest floor.

The caldera cone and floor easily fit against the walls inside my bear canister. The stove fits inside my cook pot. This protects both items and provides a kitchen with a minimal footprint inside my pack. A full kitchen kit with fuel for at least 4 days at 10.7 ounces! Incredible!!

Old MSR Pot
Old MSR Pot
Pot/Stove/Fuel Canister ready for use
Pot/Stove/Fuel Canister ready for use

Here are some pics and stats on my previous kitchen kits. For the John Muir Trail in 2012, i carried an old MSR pot, the MSR pocket rocket, and used canister fuel. This pot alone weighs 15.7 ounces. The pocket rocket weighs 4 ounces. And an almost empty fuel canister weighs 6.9 ounces. A full canister weighs 12.6 ounces. One of the many problems with the fuel canister system is that there is no way to accurately gauge how much fuel is left in a canister. At re-supply points, you have to decide: do i go to the next resupply point hoping that this canister has enough fuel to get me there, do i buy a new canister, do i carry both the old canister and the new canister, or do i leave a used canister with an unknown amount of fuel here for someone else? Another problem is that you are really not supposed to use a windscreen with a fuel canister stove. Makes sense. Do not trap and aim heat at your compressed gas canister that has a light torch on top. But that does make it take far longer to boil water in the field with these systems. This system weighs 19.6 ounces, or 1 1/4 pounds – without any fuel!! OH – and they are REALLY LOUD!

GSI Pinacle Soloist
GSI Pinnacle Soloist
Soloist with fuel can
Soloist with fuel can

I got this pot, the GSI Pinnacle Soloist because it is smaller, lighter, and a fuel canister fits inside of the pot! Pretty cool feature and not a bad system. The soloist weighs 8.4 ounces and it does still have way more capacity than i need on solo hikes, so i looked for another solution. I found another GSI pot, the Haulite Minimalist. This is a nice little pot. Weighing in at 6.45 ounces with all its accessories, it is not as light as Snow Peak, but it has a few cool features. The pot cozy is very convenient. It also comes with a pot gripper thingy so you can pick it up when it is hot. The pot gripper has a magnet inside it which is great if one cooks with fuel canisters because the pot gripper will stick to your fuel can and you will not lose it nor set it down in the dirt. The lid is pretty much trash. It is much heavier than it needs to be and it has a thick rubbery seal that extends past the edge of the pot, so that when you are cooking, it is difficult to not burn/melt the lid.

GSI Minimalist
GSI Minimalist
GSI Minimalist assembled
GSI Minimalist assembled

This is my primary backup pot and the one i will use when taking other folks (who do not have their own gear) out backpacking with me. My dad and i are planning to hike the AT through Shenandoah National Park in January and this will probably be his pot for that trip. Given that it is still a very useful pot, i am going to order a new lid for it from the good folks at four dog stoves!

If any of this is unclear or you would like more information, do feel free to ask questions! I have made my first official youtube video, and may begin adding some video components to future blogs and gear reviews. Ideally, i will wait until i have moved this blog to its new hosting place and can directly embed video, but if my multitude of readers have burning questions that only a video can answer, things could go another way…

JMT Day 11 and 12 – June 11 and 12, 2012 – VVR Part 1 – The Staff!

Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) – Two Full Zero Days!

VVR on Facebook

7900 (+/- 0) – 0.0 miles

Free Maps Online – Day 11 and 12 – Map 10

Photos Open to the Public on Facebook

Let me just say, I love VVR. We ate a ton of good food. We drank many a fine beer from the incredible selection of fine beer there. And we met so many fantastic folks.

I developed deeper connections with more of the staff than I did with most of the other hikers – probably because the staff is there every day, Jake and I were there for at least part of 4 days, and most hikers were there for a day or a day and a half. These are my VVR peeps! (I don’t think I missed anyone, but if I did – Big Sorry!)

Marie, Olive, Kevin, Jim, Vicky, Gary, Randy, Rene, John, Robert, Mark, Joe, Roy – and the 4 leggers, Feather, Emma, and Stella.

Marie helped us get settled-in, took care of our many requests with a smile, and we had some nice chats about life and school. One of the amazing parts of her brain allows her to remember everyone’s name, trail name, nickname, and who is with who. Marie gave me a little notebook that I used the rest of the trip and to which I have referred often while writing this. I fall at least a little bit in love with almost every waitress. You give me a super cute one named Marie and it is Game Over. From my previous super-cute-waitress-Marie-love-experience, I was already playing some tracks from Harvest Moon in my head when Jake leaned over at breakfast one morning and sang quietly, “I used to order just watch her float across the floor.” Jake and I both had a big Marie Crush, and I would imagine many hikers leave there in a similar state. We could not find Marie to say goodbye to before leaving for the ferry and were sad about that until we saw her come running down to the lake (cue the music!) to give us farewell wishes and hugs!

Olive is a unique and wonderful lady that I enjoyed both sparring and actually talking with. We talked about life, school, travel, books, dogs, people, and many other things. There are tons of fantastic Olive moments and I will put one or two down here to give the flavor. One day, many non-hiking folks showed up around lunch time. There was a table of college-age looking guys near our customary spot at the outdoor bar. Olive came out, looked at us, and said (rather loudly) “I am so tired of pretending to be nice to people!” I think that put those dudes on their best behavior. One of our greatest and most public sparring sessions was at breakfast one morning. The room was not full, but there were at least 6 other folks eating breakfast at the time, and Olive started talking about how gross milk is. We went back and forth a bit, with me taking the side that milk is natural and no weirder than pretty much anything else about eating. Olive maintained that it is different and gross and weird because it is special food made for babies. Out of the blue she changed tactics and asked, “Would you drink a woman’s breast milk? Would you drink Marie’s breast milk?” In a rare fit of self-control, I kept the first two or three things I thought of in my head and only responded with a smile, “You are just sweetening the pot here Olive.” The room responded with joyous and approving laughter. Olive made one final attempt to regain her footing by approaching a distinguished looking hiker and trying to recruit him to her side. Grey Wolf was smiling and shrugged saying, “I agree with everything he just said.” Oh man, we had fun. Good Times. Olive and I have stayed in touch and i look forward to our next chance to visit one another!

Kevin is a wonderful Chef and a great guy. He cooked us many fine meals and seemed to enjoy the challenge/variety of cooking for vegetarians. He busted out his cookbooks and capped our great string of meals with some fantastic fried eggplant! I don’t usually enjoy eggplant, fried or otherwise, but this was super. He and I spent part of several evenings talking about cooking and travel and life. Before we left, Kevin realized that we were going to tell everyone we met how awesome VVR is, how awesome the food is, and that there were quite a few #6 breakfasts in his future. Kevin rode over on the ferry with us on our way out on the last day.

Jim, Vicky, and I talked about VVR, hiking, dogs, the VVR website and marketing, as well as other lighter stuff. They were both gracious and welcoming and maintain such a friendly vibe at their place.

Gary and I talked for a long time every evening sitting around the fire and covered a ton of topics.

Randy and I talked about skateboarding, growing up, mentoring kids, and hiking.

I got to spend less time talking with the others, but enjoyed the time I did share with Robert, Rene, Mark, John, Joe and Roy. I did get to watch John training Mark on the ferry and he seemed like a good and patient teacher. One day I heard Marie saying that she wished there was a way she could open the sliding glass door with her foot as she came outside with many plates of food in her arms. I thought that i was the only on that heard her. But, within an hour, Joe was there with some cut-to-fit angle iron and affixed it to the door and now she can open it with her foot! These are all great folks dedicated to doing a good job and helping each other. It was a joy to witness.

Feather is a lover and will accept love from anyone. I got some nice dog time in with her.

Emma seemed more selective than Feather, unless you wanted to throw her ball. We played ball for about an hour one day.

Stella is more discerning. I got to pet her a few times, but did not make it into her inner circle.

Stay Tuned for VVR Part 2 – The Hikers!

A La Carte

I may actually get back to some more regular posting. Things are beginning to mellow out a bit on Bumblebee so i will have more time to both collect and share my thoughts. And, i will have more time to get into a few projects.

Sunday Morning on Bumblebee 1
Sunday Morning on Bumblebee 1

Today is the 28th day on the new meds for Lucas and things are really going well. He is drinking a normal amount of water again, he has been doing more running in the park, and he has tried to engage a few dogs in play. He is still an old guy, but he is getting some increased mobility. I don’t know if that is due to getting off of the Phenobarbital, a positive side effect of the new meds, or just the result of feeling better in general. But he is beginning to do some of his old dances and i expect to see him do his happy little skip thing any day now.

Sunday Morning on Bumblebee 2
Sunday Morning on Bumblebee 2

His appetite is also more normal now. He doesn’t seem to have that extreme craving for food that he has had most of the past year as a result of chemical imbalances due to the Cushings. I just switched him to dry food without yogurt in the mornings, and a bowl of yogurt without dry food in the evenings. His digestion has settled back down and his routine is much more like it was a year ago than the roller coaster ride of the past 4 months or so.

Snowy Dog Park
Snowy Dog Park

I will keep the Lucas updates coming, but now for something else – FOOD!

View of Mingus Mountain from the park
View of Mingus Mountain from the park

I love to cook and have made a ton of food since i came out to AZ, but i have primarily made the same three to four dishes over and over. With some of the hardships behind us – i can focus on some new recipes and varying our menu. So i plan to have some more cooking tales for you. Dovetailed with the cooking tales – shopping tales. My favorite place out here has to be the local Safeway. I always leave that place with a big smile and a story or two. The vegetable section is pretty good, but we did just get our very own Trader Joe’s which should be able to supplement any ingredient holes that Safeway cannot fill.

Friday's Breakfast
Jalapeño cheese grits, black beans with veggies and spices, crunchy tortillas and O.J.

Some of these i already have good recipes for and some still need some research:

Sushi – i have some skill with this using Nori, but want to try my hand at going Nori-free.

Egg Drop Soup – good suggestions for adjustments in the comments!

Hot and Sour Soup – also here

StirFry variants with noodles instead of rice

Fried Rice variants

And an awesome Thai style peanut butter noodles and veggies fry-up my man Raven turned me on to a few years back

Saturday's Stir Fry Prep
Mung bean sprouts, broccoli, radishes, purple cabbage, cubed and fried tofu, baby bells, green bell pepper, grated ginger, chinese snow peas, carrots, red onion, celery, garlic and spices
All together
All together
The Big Salad
The Big Salad

Stay Tuned…

Another Step Forward in Vegetarian Life

A little Veggie Background:

I quit eating meat in the Fall of 1993.  I did the Vegan thing for about a year and a half 94-95.  I am technically a lacto-ovov vegetarian since i eat of the cheese, eat of the breads made with milk and/or butter, and eat of the egg.  My relationship with the egg comes and goes. There may be years at a time where i am turned off by eggs.  And other years where i will have omelets or 2 eggs over easy every morning.  (Eggs are really fun to cook.)

I have not had any milk to drink nor cook with since about 94, and I have avoided ice cream for the same period.  I have not even purchased butter for my kitchens since about 2003.

I do still love the yogurt! I quit buying sour cream around 96 and just use yogurt.  The few times i have had sour cream, i don’t even like it anymore.

I am largely at peace with my diet.  I do have to pay attention to make sure i eat enough fruit.  I just never got in the habit.

For years i have been looking to replace most of my leather items. Over the past 3 years, and with some help from friends, i knocked down the big three.  I found great no-animal sandals from Birkis – a splinter company from Birkenstock.  I found a great no-animal belt at REI.  And my last lady friend gave me an awesome wallet made from Tyvek!  Before Mexico, i also bought a small, velcro, no-animal wallet from EMS.  The only downside to the Tyvek wallet is that after it expands to accommodate all your stuff, it does not snap back into shape and if you carry less than usual, items fall out.  I did not want to have my 500 grocery store member cards and 6 bank/credit cards and all that other stuff along to Mexico.

One of the last two areas that have been nagging at my brain – cheese and vitamins.  I have known all along that most of the inexpensive cheese i buy as well as the mainstream vitamins probably contain some kind of animal life.  In both cases, probably sea creatures. Fish bits are used in lots of processed cheeses, and shellfish are used in many vitamins.

Cheese is going to take me a little longer to conquer.  I know how, but it is more expensive, and i believe that it takes a committed household – something i do not have at the current time.

But, i was very pleasantly surprised the last time i checked out Vegan vitamins and found a great source and saw the prices.  These are now the same price or cheaper than ‘standard’ vitamins.  My first order arrived today!

Supplemental Veggie Goodness

I have been taking Vitamins since i turned Veg.  Exactly what i take varies, but generally it has been: Centrum, C, E, B Complex or just B12.  About 6 years ago i started taking Calcium also.  About one year ago i started taking Chondroitin/Glucosamine.

I did some research and settled on this set for my first transition:


Healthful Helpers

They are all Vegan.  Glucosamine (Chondroitin has no non-animal counterparts, but this is formulated to work well without it), Multivitamin, C, and E.  B complex and B12 in particular are very important to vegetarians/vegans, but the folks who make these know that and one multivitamin pill has over 100% of the daily recommended amount.  The multivitamin also has loads of C and E, but i take extra C to help avoid sickness in the colder months and around other people.  I take the extra E, sometimes twice a day, for my skin – particularly my hands.

Anyway, i am pleased to have crossed this bridge and we shall see whether or not i can tell a difference as time passes.  This shipment should last 90 days.




Post Mexico fill-in Update #1

January 10, 2010

– – I do intend to finish the travel journal, and without too much delay.  There will be some other content mixed in, and hopefully I will be too busy with the job hunt and the work of my new job to spend much time on this each day.

I am trying to adjust to being back in the states, back in the cold, back at my parents’ house, and back at my parents’ house while my grandpa is here too.  When my grandpa is here, he gets the suite we (my grandpa, dad, and I) built in the basement and I “move into” the living room.  I am trying to channel the feelings i have about this situation into motivation for the job search instead of – other places.

There are good and bad elements of being “home”.  Being with my dog Lucas is nice.  Having a kitchen and creating good vegetarian food is nice. I made potato soup, stir fry, beans and rice with two uncommon red beans, a giant green salad, and a variety of lovely breakfasts.  Seeing my family again is also nice.  Having to drive again is not as nice.  I miss the Collectivo and may look into the bus schedules around here.

Being around a vast sea of Americans is not as nice, and I am back to spending 70-90% of my waking hours with the headphones on.  This actually started on the 5th in Tulum before I even left there for Cancun…

January 5th – Tulum

I woke up at 6, read for an hour, then packed and cleaned up my room.  I walked to the ruins and got there just as they opened at 8 AM.  It was nice to get to see them.  They are less visually impressive as buildings than some other sites, but if you take in the complex as a whole, the remaining jungle, the protected beaches, the view from the cliffs, and think back on what life would or could have been like here hundreds or thousands of years ago – it was pretty cool.

Iguana Worshiping the Sun

By the time I was done and getting ready to leave, the first buses had arrived and while most of these tourists were poorly behaved (I guess it is a form of mob mentality) the Americans were the worst of the bunch.  (We’re #1!)  At almost every temple site, tourists look casually around, then step over the ropes indicating where we are not supposed to go, then they go there.  They climb the steps and jump on the roofs.  They mount the sacred shrines as well.  Once the guards see them and ask them to stop, most people do, but a few groups of people argue with and then yell at the guards.  Who are these people?  In every case, my country-men and women – Americans.  “We were not the only ones doing it, why don’t you yell at them?”  “There are not even any signs!  How were we supposed to know?”  Of course there are signs.  There are signs everywhere.  The entrance path is about ¾ of a kilometer for the sole purpose of hoping that you will read all the signs (it is really just two signs repeated many times – in several languages).  And, in addition to all the signs and warnings, there is a very clear path one is supposed to walk on.  The boundary of this path is a suspended rope.  What nimrod that managed to successfully board a plane and make it through customs and immigration without getting shot does not understand what these frackin‘ ropes mean?!  Guess what genius?  You and your kind are the reason we cannot climb the steps to the top of Chichen Itza anymore.  Thanks a lot for that.

– So, I resorted back to headphones before leaving the ruins in an attempt to keep old-cantankerous-bitter-“Get off my lawn you damn kids”-Nick in dormancy at least until the end of my vacation.  Those people were much less annoying doing the tourist ballet to ‘Kind of Blue’.

I left the ruins by an alternate route and found Santa Fe Beach.  This is one of the Northern beaches that my new friend Yuri liked as well as the beach recommended by one of the great people from Mama’s House, Ilana.  I walked along the beach awhile and enjoyed listening to the surf and just digging the different vibe of being on more of a locals’ and backpackers’ beach instead of the packed tourist beach to the south.  When it looked like the beach was about to turn rocky, I headed back to the jungle road and made my way back to Mama’s House.  I got back about 10:30 and had plenty of time to shower and change.  Ilana let me put my bags in the house while i went to the bus station to investigate going to Cancun.

I got a first class bus (these have a bathroom!) to Cancun for about 90 pesos.  It takes almost three hours to get to the ADO stop in Centro, so I bought a ticket on the 2:30 bus, hoping that would leave me time to catch R1 to the Hotel Zone and get set-up before dark.

Traveling Equipment Part 2 –

Footwear – I wore my super light running shoes on the plane and carried my crocs in the suitcase.  Having both of these was awesome.  At the Barcelo Maya! I was not sure that I could have gotten in to all the various restaurants if crocs were my only footwear.  Outside of the Barcelo Maya! I had some seriously long walks that were much nicer in a more supportive shoe.

Velcro – I bought a pack of 5 or 6, 5 inch velcro strips from Wal-Mart for various uses in backpacking.  I brought two of these with me and used them to carry my crocs around.  It was simple and quick to lash the crocs to my shoulder bag, freeing my hands while walking barefoot on the beach/in the surf.  This also worked as a nice means of bringing my crocs along on all day missions to the beach/town several miles from the hotel.

Clothes – here I did well.  I travelled in jeans and brought one pair of Dockers (again for the restaurant/night-life options) and used both of these to great effect.  I had one pair of  zip-off hiking pants along and they too worked out well (though I only zipped the pant legs on one time).  I had two long-sleeved shirts: one walking shirt with roll-up sleeves and one standard blue button-up.  Both of these were good choices.  There were enough cool-cold nights that having more than one long-sleeved shirt was nice.  I did bring too many handkerchiefs and socks.  Two of each would have been fine instead of the 4 or 5 of each I had along.  The four quick-dry shirts I brought were fantastic.  The area that needed the most improvement was shorts.  I had one swimsuit/running shorts combo, one pair of golf shorts, the aforementioned hiking zip-offs, and one pair of cargo shorts along.  I found the swimsuit/running shorts for 12 bucks at the nike factory outlet near my house before I left.  I wish I had bought 3 pairs and left the other shorts at home.  The nike shorts are super light and dry very quickly.  That would have been a nice improvement.