Tuesday, 22 August 2017

In the great out doors

Walking with a pack is going fine. Body is holding up and in making good time for the sections. Not been really lost once yet. Getting the hang of the map, terrain and my walking speed. Cold nights though. No pushups yet, just wake with the chill.  So all good on day three.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Shakedown hike

Finally the body is all working and I'm able to get out and do a shakedown hike. Weather is also smiling on me - only a few showers forecast, but its mostly going to be fine.  Been lots of packing/unpacking, pondering - is this really needed, can I leave it out.  Pack weight keeps dropping. 

And now I'm out on the trail.

Monday, 31 July 2017


Arrived in Perth busting to get walking and within the first week come a gutser. After months of not being able to walk far, I rushed about to get gear ready and quickly ended up with sore knees. The next couple weeks, waiting for knees to heal, injured my feet. I had been sitting cross legged on a hardwood floor and the irritated the bone joint points on the outside edges of the feet that pressed into the floor. I stopped soon as it was sore, but the damage was done by that time.  Lesson: sit on soft things. Frustratingly, it seemed like all the fine days were drifted past as I waited for healing.  Eventually, went to see a podiatrist to check if there was anything I could do to heal faster as the feet were the worst problem.

First podiatrist was really bad.  With just a glance they could tell me that I needed an over $400 worth of X-ray and ultrasounds tests, that I definitely needed orthotics and a custom shoe fit.  All this was because in their words, my shoes were injuring my feet by rubbing on the sore spots. I had told them I hadn't been wearing shoes, and was always in sandals - that didn't touch the sore spots and hadn't walked in weeks because of sore knees.  Unhappy with that podiatrist and their diagnosis,  I went for a second opinion. Second podiatrist was much better. Video assessment of walking/running and the good news was all was good - no orthotics needed. The soreness, nothing to do but wait for that to calm down.  And obviously, don't do that again.

To round out the doctors visits - I also saw a physio about the knees and a shoulder.  Got some exercises to do. But the big take away from the appointment was - get active. But gently!  Don't over do it.  Listen to your body and give it recovery time. So started back into walking training.

Footwear is still a problem for me. Why are shoes made with narrow pointed toes, when feet are broad and boxy shaped? Why can't you buy sandals in winter? Why is it so hard to get a good fit?

I tried on so many shoe styles: running, hiking, walking , cross fit, gym, racing, and many more that I've forgotten. A big discovery was that I needed to move up a size or sometimes two depending on the brand.  Not so new discovery was that shoes are very narrow and made for uniform feet. I have very wide non uniform feet.

Left DIY soled. Right Merrell Siltwater Strap.
My DIY soled sandals worked, but the 2mm sole was wearing out. The low height also let a lot of debris under the foot when the track was anything but packed dirt.

I tried the pair of Merrell sandals I had, but it seemed like they were irritating the sore points. The edge of the straps pressed right across the swollen spots. Wearing them was to uncomfortable for anything more than a short walk. I didn't like to wear them at all.

After a time, I decided to stick to just wearing with a pair Vibram Five Fingers I had. They were good - well worn in and stretched.  Only problem was they were almost worn out. I added a shoe glue to the sole to extend their life a bit longer.  I wasn't going to replace them when they wore out, but in the end, failing to find another pair of sandals or shoes, and just wanting to stick to what was working, I ordered a new pair - exactly the same.

Seemed all sorted.

Old Vibram Five Fingers with Altra Instinct 3.5
Then Murphy's law strikes. Checking them for the first time - just before a shakedown hike they broke.  Lace strap stitching come apart. It looks like the tabs missed the sewing machine. Back to the seller with them. I would have replaced them then, but they are now out of stock. I had the last pair.

Tired of trying on shoes, and needing something asap, I went and bought the best option I found locally; pair of Altra Instinct 3.5.  Altra is known for shoes with a human foot shaped toe box.  Downside is finding a pair can be tricky.

With the old Vibrams, I was able to walk 12km days without a pack and feel good - foot wise - at the end of it.  First couple days in the new shoes and my feet were complaining bitterly. Not around the toes, but further back.  Its improving as they (shoes or feet?)  'break in', but I do miss sandals. Just put them on and adjust to comfortable. Adjust the velcro when needed - tight or loose.

A shakedown hike is coming up to test out my gear, and my body. I've been paring my gear down to just the essentials.  Helpfully its the wet season, so plenty of water about.  I won't have to carry a solar panel for the phone charging either with all the clouds and rain.

Looking forward to it.

Australian Slang:
gutser : a bad mistake or have an accident

Thursday, 6 April 2017

A brief catchup in time (part 2)

As part of the clean up of gear, I sold my stove.  The MSR Whisperlite International is a fine stove, but it was heavier than I wanted to be carrying.  My only practical alternative was an alcohol stove.  Gas I ruled out as its only possible to get the canisters in the cities. Wood fires attract too much attention.
I used this Evernew Titanium stove with pot stand for a while, but eventually I had enough of it.  The pot stand was a bit too small for my pot, and the pot slide on it easily, meaning you held the pot a lot or risked it falling off.  When the stove was warmed up, the flames would bulge downwards and almost scorch the ground around it. It needing a flame proof base.  Even with the fuel measurements stamps on the inside, it was hard to measure a small amount into it. There is fibreglass wool between the two walls, and this soaks up the fuel. Pour a small amount in, and it all vanished into the wool - how much is there? So you add more, till there is fuel visible in the bottom. The stove has to burn out - it isn't possible to blow or snuff it out. And it always kept the smell of fuel in it.  It did cook my lunch fast though.

My new stove would solve all these problems, make my lunch and clean up too.  I started making stoves againZen stoves  has a wealth of stove types and build information,  but google found other interesting stove designs.

After a several builds of stoves like the fancy feast (see flaws of this stove), and some other variations I decided I wanted something simpler.  Stoves that needed certain sized holes punched or drilled, precision cuts, carefull press fits or gluing ended up being too fiddly. When assembled correctly, they worked well, but I wanted simple and quick to make.  I also tried home build models with fibreglass wool wicks, stainless steel mesh tops like the starlyte stoves.  These decided that I didn't like not being able to see how much fuel was in the pot, nor the left over smell of fuel after using.  This might have been better if I had found a lid I could seal the stove with like the Starlyte offers.  Lots of hunting about shops for metal tins with fitted lids. Note: the website doesn't ship internationally.

In the testing, tea candle stoves seemed promising, but never held enough fuel to fully boil 2 cups (500ml) of water. It got close, but just not enough. Eventually I hit on the red bull can stove.  Find a red bull can. Cut the bottom off 25mm (1 inch) from the bottom. Done. Stove finished.

The stove would hold enough fuel to boil 2 cups water for a few minutes. Was easy to make, easy to fill. Able to see how much fuel was left. Didn't need to be filled to the brim. Is very light. Lighter than the titanium stove!  If a red bull can can't be found, a coke can will do, but I found the red bull was easier to gauge the fuel amount when filling.  After it burns out, it cools quickly, so can be refilled for a second burn if needed.  (Two burns are needed for dry baking.)

Simmering is accomplished by a piece of aluminium foil bent over the top. Adjust as needed for the flame size.  This can also be used to snuff the flame out.

A coat hanger bent into shape is my pot stand. Easy to make, robust and non slip.

By the time I arrived at this point in my stove testing, I was over stove testing.  So even though it didn't cook lunch nor clean up, I stopped experiments.

For the record, I did try using tea candles to dry bake with, but didn't succeed. I suspect it was because I was using (claimed) 9 hour tea candles. The heat was never enough for the number of candles I could get under the pot.  All that happened was the pot was blackened with a waxy residue  and after about an hour I would end the test with raw dough.  Two burns of the red bull stove with the simmer cover is enough to bake one bread bun.

Other items that went in the gear clean up was my kitchen knife; 160 grams was too much knife. 500 grams of Useful string. You never know when you need to tie something up, or lots of somethings. But I decided I didn't need to carry quite that much weight in string.  Tent pegs were culled from 30 down to a more sensible number, though probably still to many. Battery packs from three to one. Stuff sacks had previously been breeding like rabbits - down to just a couple. Clothing - less of it, no more spares of spares.  Dropped the two snake bandages that I've carried since I started travelling.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

A brief catch up in time (part 1)

More time has passed than I had thought. After the last post, 2016 can be summed up as 'lots of injuries and illnesses.'

I flew back to Sydney, with bits of my cart and stayed at a friends. Spent a lot of time waiting in doctors surgeries, taking tables, applying creams and ointments and hoping for a cure. I had a couple of skin infections from the tropics, but had three cases of bites (tick, leech, spider?)  that became swollen and infected also.  Besides losing some finger and toe nails, all turned out okay in the end.

I wasn't happy with the three wheeled pram, so had a period of building carts:

Two wheeler loaded for a trip to the op-shop.

One wheeler with practice weight

Another one wheeler.

There were many more. Some didn't get finished before it became clear the design would not work.  Most where one and two wheels.  A solitary four wheel idea never made it off paper.

Also was footwear experiments. Two of the wearable attempts:

The footwear kept me busy the longest.  Walking started out simple, but then became more complicated. What could be so hard - put shoes on and walk. Most of us have this sorted by year one.  For me, years of bicycle riding (without stretching), with a lot of pushing a heavy bicycle on cambered road edges, in sandals that were too narrow for my feet had left me with more than a few problems. 

Besides pain from my toes pressing together, my feet faced different directions - great for pushing loaded bike uphill, not so great for long distance walking. 

I bought a pair of Vibram Five Fingers.  Loved them at first. Then they fell out of favour because they don't dry out as well as sandals. Gradually, they returned, though I change to sandals in the rain or on wet paths.  Back to being very fond of them.  Love the way your toes can spread out. I credit them for solving the toe press problems.  Standing barefeet, all my toes have a gap between them. Some smaller than others, but coming from needing to put foam spacers between some toes to sleep at night, this is a huge improvement. 

I walk barefoot more and more. I'd like to be barefoot full time, but roadside edges are not friendly places for bare feet: glass, thorns and metal fragments. I'm not willing to risk lack of mobility from injury.  Stepping on a rusty tin can, hidden in the grass is not a bare foot feeling I want to experience.

The home made footwear making started as a search for an alternative to the Vibrams, that allowed my toes to spread out more. I found it hard to find sandals that don't cramp the toes.  Making your own footwear is interesting. There is more involved in it than it appears. The experimenting  continues - my current sandal is a combination of a commercial sandal that I cut apart with a different sole I glued on.