Category: Tips & Lore

What a 3-Year-Old Can Teach You About Wilderness Survival

Woods at top of Horn Canyon

Woods at top of Horn Canyon

In the first week of May this year 3-year-old Joshua Childers decided to go on a hike. His adventure lasted three days and two nights through a heavy rain and in 40 degree temperature in Missouri’s Mark Twain forest, 53 hours in all. When he was found by search teams what he wanted most was a glass of milk. According to doctors there was no reason he should have survived.

It’s unclear exactly what helped Joshua survive exposure. Young Childers didn’t say much, perhaps he’s not a good interviewee, or perhaps he’s got a book and movie deal lined up. News reports, however, reveal a couple of keys to his survival:

There are a few take-aways from Childers’ adventure. For one thing, parents need to be aware of the “only a couple minutes” disaster window of opportunity. Childers’ mother had been on the phone for just a few minutes and that was all the time it took for the child to wander off. Next, if you are going camping or to a park near an open space with young children, spend some time “woodsproofing” them. Finally, if you’re heading into the woods it wouldn’t hurt to learn some basic survival skills.

Things a parent can do to help a child survive being lost in the woods:

  • Teach her to hug a tree – and talk to it. This helps the child calm down and stay in one place. Most children are found within a one mile radius of where they were last seen. Talking to the tree can help rescuers and rescue dogs locate the child.
  • Make a nest. A hole in the ground and a blanket of leaves can help a child survive a long cold night in the woods.
  • Leave a mess. Matted down grass, broken sticks, piles of rocks – these are the things rescuers look for. Normally you want to teach children to “tread lightly” in the wilderness, but when a person is lost the more clues the better.

Know Your Knot

Handy guide tucks in your wallet

Handy guide tucks in your wallet

As I’ve said before, I can’t remember how to tie a knot to save my life. Maybe that’s why I don’t get invited to necktie parties.

Here’s a great tip from Make Magazine’s blog: wallet-sized knot tying reference cards to help you remember whether the rabbit goes over the fence or down the hole.

Another great resource: Knots, Splices and Ropework at Project Gutenberg.

Previously at Wild Rye: Animated Knots by Grog.

To Be a Good Parent, It Helps to Be a Slacker

Fitz Cahall of the most excellent Dirtbag Diaries, has a most excellent side project blog in connection with Steve Bohrer and Danny Maynor. Three dads working together to “keep the Stoke” through that long season we call parenthood. The Outdoor Parent is a different kind of blog…one that doesn’t tell you how to keep your kids safe. It tells you how to keep them alive.

(Note to fathers: if you’re setting a slackline for the first time, be sure and set it a little lower than the length of your inseam. Unless you’re quite sure that your family is the right size.)

Seating a Tire Bead with Flammable Liquid

Don’t try this at home kids! It appears that with spray of flammable liquid (starter fluid, carb cleaner, brake cleaner) you can reseat a bead and inflate an off-road tire that rolled off the rim in a matter of seconds.

Of course, it helps if you know hhow much flammable liquid to put in the tire otherwise inflation may not go as planned. And sometimes goes badly.

Seems like everyone (except me) has tried tire mounting by explosion. However I suspect there must be a dozen things that could go wrong mounting a tire with fire.

How to Survive a Cougar Encounter

TV Land's Cougar

TV Land's Cougar

Sooner or later it could happen to you. Might be in the backwoods of the Sespe. Might happen between the aisles at Trader Joe’s. Either way, it’s a good idea to brush up on your Cougar avoidance techniques.

A study from UC Davis examining 185 cougar attacks from 1890 on, seems to suggest that the conventional wisdom is all wet. Stand your ground and a mountain lion might just think you’re wounded prey. Run and the puma might think you’re fast food. Though as Rocky at the Goat points out, you don’t really have to outrun the cougar. Unless, of course, you’re hiking alone.

So where does this befuddling bit of news leave us? If running away is a really bad idea, but standing still is worse, I guess there’s nothing left except to make like a badger and get in the cougar’s face.

The First Cut is the Deepest: How to Skin a Muskrat

Photo by Preston Keres Washington Post

Photo by Preston Keres Washington Post

Where do you go after winning the Miss Outdoors beauty contest? If you’re Dakota Abbot, the 2008 winner of the Miss Outdoors crown, you go back to your first love – skinning muskrats.

“The first cut is crucial – you have to pinch the fur at the hind legs and cut straight into that meaty area there. You slice down and out real quick and just push your rat inside out,” said Miss Abbot according to the Los Angeles Times. Abbot went on to win the women’s junior championship for muskrat skinning at the 64th Annual National Outdoor Show. Her prize? One hundred bucks and a set of muskrat traps.

If you’ve got a hankerin’ to skin yourself some muskrats (and win the Miss Outdoors 2010 title?) let Dave Duncan show you how. It takes a special kind of man to skin a muskrat in his church shoes. Or you can watch this video of muskrat skinning on Youtube.

Greener Does Not Mean Safer: Poison Oak

poisonoak I’ve blogged about poison oak before but there is something I’d like to mention while it’s still fresh on my mind. So to speak.


Some people are under the mistaken notion that you won’t get a rash from poison oak until the leaves have turned red. Let me tell you today, it ain’t so.

Urushiol, the oil that causes allergic reaction to poison oak, is produced in all parts of the plant at all times in the life cycle. The oil can remain active even after the plant is dead.

In its green phase poison oak may be less oily than during the red phase, but you can still get a rash. You can even pick up the oils in the middle of a rainstorm. I’ve got the rash to prove it.

One other thing to watch for…bare sticks in the winter time. If you’re in a poison oak habitat be aware that bare sticks and twigs can be poison oak that hasn’t sent out new leaves.

Smoother Shifting: The GS Shifter Preload

gearboxFirst week I owned the Pig I found that I couldn’t shift it into first gear from neutral. I started freaking out but then I tried a few things. Wiggled the sidestand. Played with the ignition. Rolled the bike back and forth. Then magically it shifted.

 It turns out that this is a peculiarity of the BMW R 1200 GS…in the morning when the clutch is cold, if I roll the bike while it is in neutral I won’t be able to shift into first. What I discovered on my own was that I had to roll the bike backwards about 18 inches and then it will shift just fine. Somewhat tricky when you’re pointed downhill.

A friend tells me this might have something to do with a spline mismatch in the final drive. I’m not sure about that. (Later study says it’s the dogs in the gearbox.)

Consulting the oracle at Adventure Rider I discovered a helpful tip: preload the shifter. That means putting just a tiny bit of weight on the shifter before you depress the clutch. And I do mean tiny. Just touch the shifter with your foot. Don’t press it. Otherwise you wind up popping the bike into gear with the clutch open, lurching forward and killing the engine. Kind of embarrassing when you’re  at a stoplight hoping to impress the ladies in the VW convertible next to you.

Turns out this was a can of worms. Preloading. Some people feel that you should preload on the downshift to avoid the loud CLUNK that is characteristic of the GS. Others feel the CLUNK is part of the bike’s heritage. Some people feel you should preload when you upshift. But on the whole, a little light pressure on the shifter turns out to be a magic touch.

Riding with the Cycle of the Sun


Riding a motorcycle into the rising sun is like getting poked in the eye with a sharp red stick. You can wear a pair of Ray Bans but you’re still riding blind. Now I know why a lot of dual sport riders wear moto-style helmets with visors. I’d gladly swap my flip face lid for an AFX FX-37.

I know a couple of riders who tape their face shields with an inch gaffer’s tape along the top. (For those who haven’t used it, gaffer’s tape is stronger than duct tape and leaves no sticky residue.) This strategy helps somewhat in the canyons where you may be in the shadows one moment, and in the furious sunlight the next.

None of this will do you any good, not visors nor gaffer’s tape, when the sun is coming from below you. I found myself in that situation last week riding on the Camino Cielo ridgeline. When this happens all you can see is the sun. Target fixation being what it is, it’s near impossible to find the roadway, so you slow to a crawl, try to ride one-handed with the other hand blotting out the heli-arc that blinds you.

You can’t beat back the sun but you can control your ride. This means riding in harmony with the rolling spheres…and knowing when the sun comes up in the morning. The kind folks at the US Navy give accurate sun and moon data, tipping you on daybreak, actual sunrise, sunset and twilight data. A nitpick here, on their newly designed site you have to enter date on one screen and your location on the next screen. I found a sun and moon data widget that works just as well, provided you only want today’s data. Seeing that the difference in sunrise between one day and the next is only about a minute it works for me. For trip planning I’d use the Navy site.

It comes as no surprise, yet it still amazes me, that riding a motorcycle every day has made me much more aware of the world around me.

Photo Bonanza – Library of Congress Posts Public Domain Image Archive

WWII Truck Driver

If you’re looking for royalty-free public domain photos for your blog or other project, you’re in luck. The Library of Congress just uploaded 3,000 vintage photos to Flickr, like the photo above, free for the taking.  These pics are all first-class in terms of composition, lighting, balance and they look like a huge boon to historians and researches, not to mention penny-pinching bloggers.

[Courtesy of Lifehacker]

Getting Tough: Building Climbing Calluses

How do you treat raw skin and build calluses after a weekend of rock climbing?

My new challenge started a couple of weeks ago after I joined the local climbing gym. A few hours on the artificial walls and I’d peeled the skin off the palms of my hands in seven places. Three of the raw spots were each the size of a dime.

Mind you, I’m not a climber. I start getting week-kneed at heights of, oh about three feet. But I wasn’t making any progress on the goal I set two months ago to do a single chin-up. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

There’s a lot of conflicting advice about skin treatment for climbers. Dave Ayton believes that moisture is key to skin repair for climbers. He also recommends Climb On! salve, or even sunburn treatment.

One the other side of the coin is the notion that lotion is your worst enemy. Moisturizing your skin makes it soft and more likely to tear. This school of thought recommends rubbing alcohol for building hand calluses.

I’ve found New Skin helpful to repair raw skin between climbing sessions. I’m told Super Glue also does the trick. Tape seems to be the best short term skin repair while actively climbing. Tape can also be used to prevent tears while climbing.

Norah suggested that I try pickle juice, something she learned in ballet. Legend has it that Nolan Ryan used pickle juice to treat blisters. I can’t find any evidence to show that pickle juice, or its components (vinegar and brine) are particularly effective. My guess is that the brine would reduce lymphatic serum beneath a blister and the vinegar would reduce skin oils, possibly toughening the skin.

What seems to be working for me is to use rubbing alcohol before and after climbing and lotion at night. I’m thinking of packing a bottle of waterless hand sanitizer (essentially gel alcohol) in my climbing bag.

Now on to my next goal: being able to climb at least as well as a 7 year old girl.

Poison-Oak: the Itch You Can Never Scratch

Poison-Oak (toxicodendron diversilobum)

“Leaves of three, beware of me” is a useful rule of thumb for avoiding poison-oak. On the other hand this ditty applies quite well to wild raspberry. You could easily find yourself in a bushwhacking situation where you have to make a choice between galloping through one thicket or the other.

Tipping-toe through raspberries is a prickly affair but once you’ve cleaned the wounds you’re pretty much done with it. Poison-oak, on the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving. You get the poison-oak oil on your hands, then you get the oil on other body parts (which can lead to some rather interesting, if not utterly miserable, enlargement effects) and you can pass it on to your loved ones. I know someone who hiked for years and never came down with poison-oak. His wife, however, did. And she didn’t wasn’t even on the hike! She did his laundry.

The other thing about poison-oak is that the plant drops its leaves in the winter but you can still contact the oil from the bare stems. So where’s your helpful doggerel now? Here are some maybe more helpful tips for avoiding poison oak.

Scratch It and It Will Spread

Sort of. Fact is, once the rash appears on your skin a day or two after you touched poison-oak you’ve probably had a bath or two. In my experience it can take a couple of days for the rash to fully develop, which gives people the impression that the rash is spreading. Go ahead and scratch all you want. You might get a secondary bacterial infection by peeling away skin with your fingernails. But you won’t be spreading the poison.

Jewelweed and Other Remedies

They say that near every toxic plant there grows another plant that provides the antidote. Jewelweed is supposed to have such medicinal properties. But if you ask me, jewelweed looks too much like stinging nettle for it to be a trustworthy remedy.

Tecnu is supposed to be effective if you wash with it shortly after contact. A protectant lotion like buji Block can be a good preventive measure. I’ve heard that sunlight can help heal the rash, provided that you don’t add a sunburn to your woes and that you don’t have the rash someplace where the sun never shines.

Cortisone creams are about the only thing you can do once the rash starts. I prefer the five pound tube. And if you’ve managed to confuse a half acre of black raspberry with a half acre of poison-oak and decided to take the road less traveled, leading to zeppelin-sized facial features, then 10cc of cortisone delivered through and intermuscular injection is the only way to fly.

And that’s all I know about poison-oak. See you at the 25th Annual Poison Oak Show in Columbia, CA!