Spring is here, so spring on your bike today!

The weather very definitely plays a big part in my own cycling repertoire.

I know true all-weather cyclists will laugh at me for saying this, but I only really like cycling when the weather is dry….ok, if I’m caught out in the middle of a rainstorm, then there is not choice but to battle on regardless.

Cycling in snow I don’t mind at all, having had years of experience in those weathers when I used to reside in London, UK and Ontario!

But let’s get back to the present. For the past few days, the weather has shown unmistakable signs of warming up, which was my wake-up call to get my ike cleaned up and ready for this year.

I have always been an avid cyclist, and as we speak, I have 5 bikes…yes, that’s the truth!

Three are road bikes, with curled over racing handlebars, one is a hybrid mountain type, and the last one is a full-blown mountain/trail only job.

I always get asked by so many people as to what kind of bike they should buy. In short, it mainly depends on a set of factors, namely how often you will be cycling, what kind of areas will you be using it in, and how much of a budget you have put to one side for it.

If, like many people, you will be using the bike mainly in town, but with occasional forays into hiking trails or rough ground, then I would suggest you go for a hybrid type.

This will be perfect for general around-town use, and will also be capable of handling all but the very serious trails.

Just such a bike is the MEC Midtown bicycle.

It is a home-grown design, so you can be sure that it has kept jobs and resources in Canada rather than overseas. Beginning with its tapered aluminum frame, all th way to the very high quality Shimano 9 speed gear train, this bike is easy to maintain, parts are available very easily, and comes with MEC’s Rocksolid Guarantee and Bike Service Agreement….which is unique as it means you can bring your bike to any MEC Bike Shop for free adjustments and minor maintenance for a year after purchase….isn’t that something? And at just C$500, with a saving of 23% over the regular price, you cannot go far wrong!

See it here….

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Valuable hints for being healthy outdoors people!

I know…everyone who reads this will be saying that this is supposed to be an outdoors blog about outdoors activities, not a health and fitness drop-in center!

And yes, I agree wholeheartedly! It is indeed is an outdoors blog…but..

If we don’t look after our bodies, then we’re going to be in real trouble sooner or later, for sure.

That’s where today’s post comes in…the info I’m posting is not new, but somehow we always always seem to ignore it..me inculded!

It’s a new way of looking at things, at how our diets are capable of switching certain genes, good or bad, on and off, according to what we eat. It’s called Nutri-genomics.

What our diet consists can totally transform our genes, it’s been found, so certain foods will turn the genes into nasty monsters, which enables inflammation, immune system disorders, dementia, diabetes, strokes, cancers and other lifestyle related diseases to obtain a foothold.

So, cut a long story short..what foods should we avoid and which ones do we need to eat? Read on…

EAT

Foods rich in B vitamnins..like dark leafy greens, legumes, nuts, chicken, fish, asparagus, whole grains and fruits…take a and B12 and folic acid supplement.

Eating these daily has shown to switch off genes activated by environmental pollutants such as BPA, which is a hormone disruptor present in plastics and the linings of all those drink cans and coke bottles we use every single day…yikes!

These genes once activated are responsible for miscarriages, childhood obesity, cancers and many more yet undiscovered problems.

Use canola oil, which is rich in long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids which turn off inflammatory genes in fat cells and turn on production of anti-inflammatory cytokines.

DONT EAT

Don’t eat too much carbohydrates, as these turn on risky genes. The maximum carbs you should eat should be no more than approx 30% of your diet..and even then these 30% should be whole grains, not processed.

Cut out as much saturated fat as possible…and yes, I know…that means all those yummy cheeses, cookies, pies and stuff! Well, I dunno…what kind  of a life is it where you can’t enjoy a good damn pi once in a while…so use your common sense!

There we have it! A short, sharp guide for healthy living and a long life!

You read it here first…lol!

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People ask why I’m always pushing MEC products!

Yes, it’s a fair question!

During most, but not all of my posts, I tend to make recommendations of equipment to do with hiking, climbing, walking etc.

And most times, my recommendations come from my favorite equipment company, MEC.

Why do I recommend them? Well, it’s a little difficult to fully explain….reminds me of what my grandfather used to say about things he was comfortable with….”Son…it’s like an old pair of slippers…sure theyre worn out, but I feel comfortable in them…!”

So it’s not to say that I haven’t used other suppliers for my stuff, but I keep coming back to MEC time after time.

Not only do they supply a whole load of comprehensive equipment, and have been for coming up to almost 50 years or so now, but they have such enthusiastic people working there…often times, I get a whole lecture about whatever I may be into, be it walking, climbing etc. But that’s not to say the employees are over-bearing..far from it…they are simply enthusiastic, all of them being outdoors people themsleves, too!

And the advice I get is not over-the-top like in some places, where any fool can tell that the salesperson is out to nab a sale!

Then there’s MEC’s interaction with the community. And this for me, and countless others who use it, is the final decider.

It’s what is the core of MEC that brings a smile to everyone who finds out…it is a co-operative, which means that everyone who buys a share in the company is entitled a voice in the running of it. Like myself…I bought a share in the place because I like what they’re doing, which means giving back to the community as well, not just making a quick buck and running away!

So that in a nutshell are just one or two reasons why I use MEC and always heartily recommend them. Over the years, I hope to talk a lot more about the company and how it works etc, but for the time being, if you want to know more, click here to go to their website….and happy reading!

😉

Trees that can save your life in the wilderness

I have always had a fondness of all kinds of trees, ever since I was a little boy…would you believe me if I told you that I can still recall a time when my father picked me up to show me a big tree…when I asked him about that time, he told me I was about 3 years old…wow…I didn’t know human memories could go back that far!

Anyways, being able to identify trees can not only be a source of pleasure, but a matter of survival. If you become lost in the woods, trees are an abundant and easy-to-utilize resource, and can be used in a variety of ways, including as food, shelter, cordage, and materials for fire-starting and tool-making.

Below we discuss how to identify six trees that are particularly useful in survival scenarios, and the different ways they can be employed to keep you alive. Keep in mind that because many trees drop their leaves in the fall, it’s important to be able to identify them by both their leaves and buds, and their bark.

White Birch (Paper Birch)

birch

White birch is easy to identify with its distinctive, white, papery bark. The sycamore tree also has white bark, but it does not sluff off in thin, paper-like furls like the white birch. The sycamore also has large hand-shaped leaves versus the white birch’s smaller, oval-shaped leaves with a pointed tip. The birch leaf is also irregularly toothed. These grow almost exclusively in northern climates.

birch-leaf

White birch survival uses:

  • Sweet drinkable sap that does not need purification.
  • Containers can be fashioned from the bark (and even canoes – hence the nickname “canoe birch”).
  • Its papery bark makes some of the finest fire-starting tinder on the planet, which will light even when damp because of its resinous quality.
  • A fine tea can be made from the small twigs at the end of a branch or by shaving the bark from new growth. Toss a palmful of these elements into boiling water for a fresh, wintergreen-flavored tea.
  • The tinder fungus (chaga — a variety of mushroom that grows on the tree bark) grows almost exclusively on the white birch tree. The fungus is one of the only natural materials I know of that will take the spark from flint and steel. A piece of tinder fungus along with flint and pyrite to create sparks were even found on Otzi, the “iceman” who was uncovered in the Austrian Alps several years ago.
  • Pine tar can be extracted from the bark of the white birch by heating it over a fire. Pine tar makes an excellent natural adhesive, which indigenous peoples used for all kinds of purposes including securing stone points on arrows.

American Basswood

basswood

The American basswood (also called American linden) is a very common tree – especially in the eastern U.S. It prefers moist soil and is often found by creeks, streams, and ponds. It likes to grow several shoots from the base so it’s not uncommon to see the basswood growing in what appears to be clumps. Basswood trees have large, heart-shaped, coarsely-toothed leaves and dark red young leaf buds. One of the most distinctive features of the basswood is what I call the “tongue.” A tongue-shaped leaf (the small, light green leaf in the picture above) grows at the base of the regular heart-shaped leaves on mature trees. Hard, little, nut-like fruits dangle from the center of this “tongue” leaf throughout the summer.

basswood-cord

Basswood survival uses:

  • Delicious edible leaves – especially in spring.
  • “Bass” comes from the word “bast,” which is an old word for rope. The inner fibers from the basswood make some of the best natural cordage on the planet. In one of my wilderness courses, two adult men could not break a 1/2″ thick strip of basswood bark.
  • Basswood is my favorite wood to use in fire by friction setups. It is soft and makes a perfect friction firewood for bow drill spindles and hearthboards and for hand drill hearthboards.
  • Basswood is preferred by most wood carvers and chainsaw carvers because of how easy it is to work and carve.
  • Inner bark layer is edible and can be scraped off with the edge of your knife. It has a very sweet flavor.

White Pine

pine-tree

The leaves of the white pine grow in batches of five needles. Every fall the white pine loses all of its needles, except those that grew that year. Pine is an evergreen; evergreen trees keep some green leaves year-round, unlike deciduous trees, and have needle-like leaves. They also produce cones (pine cones) instead of flowers.

pine-needle

White pine survival uses:

  • Resin can be used as a fire extender when mixed with tinder material.
  • Resin can be heated and mixed with crushed charcoal to make a natural epoxy.
  • Resin-rich joints and stump pieces make incredible fire kindling.
  • Make pine needle tea from the green pine needles – very rich in Vitamin C.
  • Inner bark layers are edible.
  • Harvest pine nuts from the pine cones.
  • Pine needles make excellent fire tinder.
  • Pine needles make excellent natural insulation material for debris huts and survival shelters.
  • Green pine boughs are perfect for lean-to shelter roofs.
  • Green pine boughs are great for making a bed to protect from the cold ground or snow.
  • The lower, dry, dead branches of the pine tree (squaw wood) is often some of the driest fire kindling available. It is exposed to the wind and also protected from the elements by the year-round needle canopy above. I’ve also used these branches for making bow drill fire friction sets.
  • Very effective candles and lamps can be made from pine resin.
  • Pine resin can be used to waterproof seams in clothing or crude containers.
  • The very pliable surface layer roots make excellent (and strong) natural cordage. Use as a whole or split into smaller pieces.

White Oak

oak

White oaks have rounded leaf lobes instead of pointed ones like red oaks. Contrary to popular belief, acorns are edible. I like white oak acorns better because it seems they are less bitter and it takes less effort to leach out the tannic acid (which causes this bitterness) to become more palatable. An abundance of acorns in mid-summer makes the oak family almost impossible to misidentify. Oaks are some of the largest trees in the forest; I have many white oaks at Willow Haven that are over 100 feet tall and easily 3-4 feet in diameter.

White oak survival uses:

  • Acorns (after leaching out the tannic acid) can be ground and used as flour to make acorn bread.
  • Tannic acid (which can be extracted by boiling or leaching acorns and/or inner oak bark and twigs) is anti-bacterial. I’ve used it as an antiseptic wash before and have heard of it being used to quell diarrhea.
  • Acorns can be used as trap bait for squirrel and other small game animals.
  • Can tan leather using the tannic acid found in bark, acorns, and wood.
  • Oak is a very hard wood that is good for ax handles, digging sticks, and shelter frameworks.
  • When dried, the white oak flowers make suitable tinder bundles and can be found in great abundance certain times of the year.

Sugar Maple

maple

The sugar maple is one of my favorite trees and probably one of the most abundant in the Eastern woodlands. Its beauty is on full display when the leaves change each fall into bursts of red, orange, and yellow. The leaves usually have five lobes, and the tips are pointed. Young maples have smooth silvery bark. The unmistakable “winged helicopter” seeds are a tell-tale maple tree indicator. The sugar maple is the source for maple syrup; this tree is preferred because its sap has high sugar content. It takes 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.

maple-tap-bucket

Sugar maple survival uses:

  • In late winter/early spring when the sap is running, the sugar maple is an excellent source of drinkable water (sap) that needs no purification. Maple sap is nature’s version of an energy drink – rich in sugar and nutrients. I’ve filled a 1-liter canteen in as few as 15 minutes before. Maples don’t have fully developed (or any) leaves during this time of year – hence the importance of being able to identify in all four seasons.
  • The seeds inside the little helicopters are edible, just like edamame. I just boil them and lightly salt. They can also be fried or added to stews. Remove the outer helicopter.
  • I almost always use maple branches for wilderness cooking. Whether it’s a spit roast, a hot dog stick, or utensils, I can always find a maple branch suitable for the task. Maple branches naturally have a lot of forks, which is great for pot holders and other wilderness kitchen uses. I also use the leaves to wrap fish or other small game animals when cooling in an earth oven.
  • Young maple leaves are also edible. Toss them into a salad or boil them down with other spring greens. They get bitter and rough as they mature.

Willow Tree

willow

There are tons of different willow varieties, but every willow I’ve seen has a similar leaf shape. The leaves are narrow, lance-shaped, and grow in great numbers along the branches. Willows must be in moist areas to survive. If you’ve found a willow, then there is a water source nearby.

Willow survival uses:

  • Willow bark contains a chemical called salicin, which is similar to aspirin. I can personally attest to its effectiveness in relieving headaches and inflammation. Just chew on a few small green twigs and swallow the juices.
  • In spring and summer, willow bark will peel away from the wood and makes excellent cordage that can be used for a huge variety of tasks.
  • Young willow branches and saplings are very flexible and can be used to weave a variety of different baskets and funnel traps.
  • I’ve used dried willow wood on many occasions for friction fire sets – both hand drill and bow drill.
  • Willow saplings make excellent frog and fish gigs.

What’s the best stove for camping?

We’ve covered this subject before here, but this article goes to deeper lengths discussing almost everything there is to discuss about stoves!

The question of how to choose a camp stove sometimes ends up being a discussion with the rancor of a religious debate. Ultralighters, basecampers, and everyone in-between has an opinion. So let’s explore the different options, and maybe we can come to an ecumenical agreement.

There are many stoves on the market, and almost all have unique features that give them their niche. Ultra-light, ultra-small, ultra-blowtorch: they all have functions that serve a certain kind of purpose on a certain kind of trip. The “best” stove is the one that’s best for you, when it’s best for you.

Stoves are usually divided up into two main categories: liquid fuel stoves and canister stoves. They are often further divided into basecamp and portable stoves. Let’s take a look at some of the features and drawbacks of the various stoves in each grouping.

Basecamp Liquid Stoves and Canister Stoves

Advantages: Higher heat output. Pot stability. Capacity for larger pots.
Disadvantages: Bulky and heavy. For canister stoves, the heat costs a little more.

I lumped the basecamp stoves into one category as they are more or less identical in their functions. These are the large, two-burner (or three) stoves you recognize from when you were a youth. They’re big, they put out a lot of heat, and they’re great for recreating conditions that rival the home kitchen. In fact, we’ve been known to use our nostalgically green body with red tank Coleman two-burner for cooking french fries on the porch to keep the kitchen from becoming a franchise of McDonald’s with all the attending grease and none of the profit.

I also have a flat propane-fueled basecamp stove that fits nicely into spots where the Coleman would be a squeeze.  It doesn’t throw off the BTUs of a Coleman, but it’s quiet, clean, and quite a bit lighter. So what if your coffee takes eight minutes instead of six?  You’re outside, enjoying a lovely view, not at Starbucks.

The benefits of basecamp stoves are obvious: more heat and more stability. If you can cook in a kitchen, you can cook on a basecamp stove.  But what they gain in convenience, they lose in portability.  Take one backpacking? Nope.  How about on a canoe or kayak trip? A canoe trip, perhaps, especially if you’re not portaging and if you’re cooking for a very large group (over a dozen or so). A kayak trip, well, they’re probably not going to fit through the hatches. Oh well.

Portable Stoves

Liquid-fueled

Advantages: Best cost to heat ratio. Good for air travel (if stove is clean). Perform well in cold weather. Option to burn multiple fuels. Usually field-serviceable.
Disadvantages: Can be fussy and require priming to start. Possibility of pollution is higher.

A venerable Optimus 8R

These are common and popular, as they can travel all over the world, many burning whatever fuel they come across. They are lightweight and portable, sometimes stowing inside your cook kit to save space. They are relatively simple little contraptions, so they are long-lived and usually field-serviceable. They are considerably less expensive per BTU as liquid fuel doesn’t come in canisters.

Oops. Flare-up.

However, liquid-fueled stoves have downsides. They are less convenient, as they usually require priming and can do a lot of flaring up before they settle down to business. They can be somewhat noisy, like my old Svea 123 that I’ve had for decades, but it’s a nice little putter, which I am told sounds like a very small V1 rocket. Probably not very comforting to someone who lived through WWII in London, but I like it.

Many of these stoves have interchangeable jets that allow you to use different fuels such as automotive fuel or kerosene. If you don’t change the jet, they’ll smoke like an Italian movie star and eventually clog until they’re cleaned out.

If you are considering air travel, your stove must be whistle-clean. A friend of mine who went backpacking in Tibet wanted to take his stove with him but was having trouble getting it clean enough for the airlines. I told him something like, “Look dude. If you can afford airline tickets to Kathmandu, you can afford a new stove. Make sure it burns kerosene and donate it to the locals when you come home.”

The biggest disadvantage is pollution—a very small amount of white gas or kerosene can pollute a lot of water (10,000 gallons according to the Leave No Trace people), so if you’re filling your stove on a sandbar and you spill a few tablespoons of fuel, you’ve just polluted thousands of gallons of water. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use liquid fuel stoves, they just require more care.

The Trangia Methanol Stove

Advantages: Simple. Safe. Dead quiet. Use non-petroleum based fuel.
Disadvantages: Lower heat output. Less control over heat. Fuel is less convenient and can melt your Swiss Army Knife handle.

There is one liquid stove that isn’t conventional, for fuel or for function: the Trangia stove. A Swedish stove that burns methanol, also known as wood alcohol, it’s very fuel-efficient. The Trangia is very stable and self-contained and can be used safely in areas where a gas stove may not work. It functions by burning alcohol in a small wicked cup, sort of like a Sterno but with more efficiency. It has one small vice, and that is it can take two to three times longer to boil water, as methanol is not loaded with the BTUs that you find in white gas or kerosene. That said, you just have to alter your camp set-up routine—get out the stove and light it up, and when you’re done setting up your tent, you’ve got your water boiling.

Fuel is usually obtained at a pharmacy if you want the highest quality methanol. If you have a friend who’s a chemist at the local college, even better.  However, the methanol is tough on plastic. Spill it on some plastics and they melt or at least get very sticky.

The nicest thing about the Trangia stove is its quiet nature. Sitting on a sand bar on the Wisconsin River, I’ve heard herons hunting frogs in the shallows a hundred yards away, and the only sign of a boiling kettle was the lid rattling when the water was ready for tea. That’s nice. And since methanol is a wood alcohol, it’s a renewable resource. Bueno.

Another great feature about alcohol stoves is the safety factor. A spilled stove is easily doused with water (try that with gasoline–nope). My son used one in Boy Scouts and the leaders loved it.

Canister Stoves

Advantages: Smaller. Super-convenient. Lightweight. No priming or flare-ups. Best control of heat for baking, simmering, or frying.
Disadvantages: Fuel is more costly and less available. Canisters must be packed out and you can’t fly with them. Less performance in colder temperatures.

These little beasts have really come into their own in the last few years. Ultralight freaks and backpackers drool at the tiny little titanium stoves from manufacturers such as MSR, Primus, Snowpeak, etc. They’re fast and easy to use, setting up in moments and burning seconds later.

These stoves are more popular now as the fuel mixture has been altered, using a hotter-burning propane-butane combination. They light more easily, and they work better at colder temperatures than the old straight butane stoves.

MSR Windpro, a favorite for precision.

The downsides are considerable for the traveler. Compressed gas cannot be transported on aircraft. If you try to sneak them through the checked baggage, prepare for a very hefty fine and a visit to the little windowless room at the airport. No kidding. And it’s a dumb idea anyway. Also, finding the proper canisters when you arrive at your destination can be tricky. If you’re driving, no problem. If you’re flying, problem.

They’re also expensive to operate over a long trip. If all you do is boil water, no worries: the cost differential is negligible. If you’re cooking beans and rice, that’s one expensive pot of flatulence. You also will have to pack out the canisters, which on a long wilderness trip is a consideration.

Whitney doesn’t burn the eggs!

Other than that, they’re wonderful. A very controllable flame means cooking non-blackened eggs is possible. If you bake with one of the new stove-top ovens, then a canister stove is definitely worth its keep. They are also safer, especially if you’re cooking in your tent vestibule (not your tent).

So Which One Do I Buy?

Optimus (Svea) 123R. 38 years old.

Ah, that’s not so easy. I have a bunch of stoves…an old Svea 123 (the pretty brass stove shown above that has served me since teenage years), an MSR Dragonfly liquid fuel stove for kayak camping, and a baby Snowpeak that I use for backpacking. My Trangia I use mostly for solo canoe trips where I want peace and quiet. I have an Optimus 111 that is a beast–the only portable stove that can boil a big pot of spaghetti for a group of eight without using a sundial to measure boil times. Then there are my collectibles brought back from a stove coma. They’re beautiful, and they work.

An Optimus 8R and 111B.

There aren’t really any bad answers, just compromises. Decide what you’re going to do first, and then choose a stove that matches your needs. Just like shoes, no size fits all, and people have more than one. If you’re going to start collecting things, you couldn’t do much worse than stoves, as they are relatively inexpensive and a lot of fun.

Advantages: Collecting stoves is a cheap hobby and a lot of fun.
Disadvantages: None that I can think of.

Years ago a friend of mine came over to the house for dinner, and we got to chatting about gear. Before too long the picnic table on the porch was humming, and the wives disappeared as the methanol, propane, and white gas flowed like whiskey.  It was what my wife calls a CGM (Classic Guy Moment) when she overheard us discussing the virtues of priming paste vs. alcohol in a dropper bottle.

We ended up spending a few hours puttering around with different stoves, timing water boiling, and just enjoying the blue flames reflecting on the screens of the porch.

BEST BUY stove recommendation:

MSR WhisperLite International Stove

Just $97 from any MEC store…click here for more details

 

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Now is the time to take those cuttings!

I know it’s only January, and most places have snow, frost, rain and heaven knows what else being pelted around the skies!

But this is the ideal time to take cuttings from your favorite shrubs, like Forsythia, Dogwood, roses, Viburnum, Philodelphus, and also climbers such as jasmine, honeysuckle, grape vines, as well as fruit bushes like gooseberry, currants and blueberry.

Choose this year’s growth and using a very sharp knife or secateurs, cut a piece about 20cm long, just below a bud with a clean cut….don’t leave any damaged wood as the cutting may not take and will rot off.

Once you have several cuttings, you have 2 choices…either propogate them till the spring in a greenhouse with previously prepared soil with compost added or plant them in pots, which have a mix of compost plus sharp sand mixed 60/40.

These cuttings will be ready to plant in the late spring/early summer.

Taking cuttings will act as an insurance against any losses you may make due to your valuable plants dying off or being damaged during adverse weather.

More on plants for attracting insects and wildlife coming soon….