Monday, February 27, 2006

The Shelter Challenge

At the beginning of last week I had to miss work because I had severe back pain. The weekend before I went climbing, did some moving and played basketball. All this was after not exercising for more than a month. So it was with nervous excitement that I drove south Saturday morning to test my survival skills.

I met up with five other guys on some property northeast of Bloomington. Our challenge was to each build a shelter without tools out of things found in the forest. The type of shelter we all built was a debris hut. It is one type of shelter that you can make that can keep you warm with just your own body heat. Think of it as a giant sleeping bag.

A shelter like this takes a little wood and a TON of debris like leaves and other ground litter. Before we started, we discussed whether we should build our huts apart or close together. The benefit of being apart is that you don't have to compete over resources. The benefit of being together is that you can more easily socialize, communicate, share a fire, and help each other out. In the end we decided it would be cool to all be together especially since the resources were plentiful. They were so plentiful, in fact, that I never had to go more than 30 yds. to find materials.

We next walked around a ridge looking for a good shelter location. Because there was a 5-10 mph wind, we chose a spot a bit downhill from the top. It was a lot less windy there which ended up being a big benefit throughout the experience.

My hut is at center in the picture below. As you can see, the frame was one long ridgepole supported by some "Y" sticks. Over the ridgepole, other sticks called ribs were laid. On top of that, smaller twig-like sticks were laid for the purpose of holding the debris up. At this point my frame was basically complete which meant I was about 15% done.

The bulk of the time was spend gathering leaves. This was the part I was worried about for my back. There is basically no way to gather leaves without using your back a lot. To minimize this, my technique was to use my feet like a rake. It really helped to have size 14 shoes! After foot raking four huge piles of leaves onto my shelter, it looked pretty much like this.

As you can see it takes a lot of leaves to insulate your hut. My debris pile was about 2 1/2 feet deep. Besides the leaves on the outside, I also stuffed a bunch of leaves inside. The whole process took about 4 hours. To make the challenge more realistic, we decided that we wouldn't eat any food until our shelters were finished. In a survival situation, the sacred order of survival needs is shelter, water, fire, food. We weren't completely hardcore because we did keep ourselves hydrated.

Here's the gang. From left to right is Darin, Dewey, Rob, Kevin, me and Michael. My debris hut is the one on the right. It is nearly finished in this picture.

As the day continued the temperature kept dropping. We all had a laugh when we looked up and saw four geese flying directly south. It was as if they decided they migrated north too soon and were getting the hell out town for the night. Before sunset we got a fire made and started eating. Around 10:30 I crawled into my hut and had someone plug up my entrance tightly with a couple armloads of leaves.

I had high hopes for my shelter as I started the night with just normal clothes on. I wore an undershirt and a long sleeved cotton shirt with pants and socks. It didn't take long before I put my hat on and moved the fleece that was my pillow down to become my blanket. This allowed me to go in and out of sleep till about 3:30am when I emerged from my den.

It was interesting because Kevin also emerged at the same time and we both spent 20 minutes gathering more leaves with head lamps on. I stuffed about four more armloads of leaves into my hut to plug up gaps and to generally fill up the inside. Then I crawled back in with my fleece and hat on.

Despite patching up more holes I still felt cold air on my face. I covered my face with my scarf but after awhile longer, I emerged again. I finally got in my sleeping bag and wiggled into my hut. I was able to sleep the rest of the night although I was still a little cold.

In the morning our water was frozen. The low temperature was 17 degrees not counting the effect of the wind. Although I wasn't comfortable and warm inside my shelter, it was WAY better than 17 degrees and windy. It was probably around 45 degrees inside. I made it through the night with the shelter I built and without a shelter and fire I could have possibly died in 17 degree weather.

We talked about our experience and the lessons we learned which were many. Before packing up and leaving we went on a walk exploring the area. It was still in the 30s but after living through the night it felt warm. If I had slept at home in my bed and then gone outside I would have thought it was a cold day and worn a coat.

The number of things I learned this weekend are too numerous to list. I am still on a natural high from the whole experience. It is hard to not think about it. Starting work Monday I felt like I just came back from a week's vacation.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

New Bow Grip

I put a new grip on my bow tonight. I also gave it an arrow rest. This along with the nock bead will help keep my shots consistant as the arrow will always rest in the same location each time. Here is a picture of it.

At top left is the arrow rest and you can see the nock bead on the string on the right side of the bow.

On saturday I drove to Mooreland, Indiana to pick up 19 staves of wood from a person whose ebay auction I won. I won them for only $30. Often you could pay $30 or more for just one stave. I got a good deal. Here is the picture from the ebay auction.

I'll have to let these pieces season for a year before I work on them, but it's safe to say I won't need to buy any wood for a long time.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Skill: Firebow

I finished my firebow. To finish it up I smoothed the surface by scraping it with a knife and sanding it. After that I wood burned a freehand bear design near the handle and also added detail to the carved bear head tip. I then stained the whole piece. The last step was to wrap the handle in some leather strips.

Here is the finished piece.

In a short term survival situation, you're probably not going to take the time to make one like this. You would just grab a sturdy stick nearby. You might, however, make one like this if you are in a long term survival situation. There are a couple nice things about this stick. First, the cord length can be quickly changed without having to tie a knot. In fact, you don't ever need to tie a knot. This is handy since it can easily adjust to different spindle diameters. Second, it has a comfortable handle which is good to have when cranking away at a coal.

Here is the detail of the bear. I first sketched the design with pencil based on a picture I found and then burned over it. I like how it blends in with the grain as if the tree grew that way naturally. Also you can see the hole where you can feed or take up slack on the string.

Here is the tip after wood burning and stain.

I can't wait to bust a coal with this thing!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Firebow coming soon

It's been awhile since my last post. Since then I've spent more time than I'd like to admit playing video games. That's not all I've been doing though. I've also been working on making a firebow. That is the bow used in making a bow drill fire. The material I'm using is one arm of the bow I broke. You can read all about that tragedy here. The picture in that post actually shows the limb I'm using.

It is taking me a long time because I'm trying to make it real fancy-like. To give you an idea of the detail I'm putting into it, here is a picture of the tip. I was trying to make a wolf head, but it turned out to be a bear.

I've still got more work to do. I'm planning on woodburning a design into the limb. I'm thinking some kind of flame design would be appropriate, but I don't want it to look like a hotrod.

I'm also going to woodburn the bear head to put some shadows on it. Hopefully I don't mess it up. I'll show pictures of it when I'm done. It should be pretty sweet.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Urban Scout Class: Sign me up!

Today I received a wonderous phone call! I was informed that I was enrolled in the Urban Scout Class in June. For those who don't know, last summer I went to the Scout class at the Tracker School. A link to the school web page is on my main page. Here is the class description:

This course recreates the Apache Scout experience and gives participants an opportunity to live as the Scout did, travelling away from his tribe, with few tools and equipment, gathering information from tracks and sign, and hiding from his enemies. This is a true high adventure experience that teaches participants to survive and observe as did the Apache Scout - the greatest survivalist of all.

Here is a picture of my group camoed up before a raid. I'm bottom right and my brother is bottom left. It was one of the greatest classes I've been to.

What makes the Urban Scout so special is that this summer is the first time they're doing the class. That means that I could be in a class with people that have been through the advanced and expert levels which are invite only. It's also likely that this class won't be held again for a few years and possibly never. Of course the topic also makes it special and hopefully more applicable to everyday life. Here's the class description:

The Urban Scout course is intended to cover the application of the traditional Scout skills, techniques, principles and teachings toward our modern day lifestyles. We will work (play) with in the variations of information gathering, teamwork and invisibility applied to the everyday modern world.

The bottom line is you don't get many chances in life to spend a week with a group of people going on raids and missions. I can't wait till June.

My office is like "The Office"

Earlier this week, I was in a meeting at work that had me thinking I was on the show "The Office". I'll have to assume you've seen this show. I am a member of the Safety Team at my office. We are all CPR and First Aid certified and we are basically in charge during fire drills and the real thing. I've been begging for a sash, but no luck so far.

The Team is comprised of a sampling of the company. We've got an old lady, an overweight lady, a women my age who has a mean streak, some middle aged guys, and my friend and I who are pretty laid back. There were lots of different conversations, but one of the funniest was about panic buttons. Unbeknownst to me, there are several panic buttons in our building. Some are hardwired and some are ones you can carry around. We argued about the usefulness of them, and who should get the mobile buttons. If someone pushed one on the weekend when the office was locked up, could the police even get into the building. Would they break the door down? If they got in could they even find the button presser? The answer came in an important email the next day:

FYI - here's the update on panic buttons - police could get in building but wouldn't know where to go.

We also talked about our AED which is a shocker you use to get someone's heart going. One of the ladies got upset when someone mentioned we'd be taking it to our new building when we move because she would still be working in this building. We decided we'd all go up to the 4th floor to take a look at it. As we were all riding in the elevator together, my friend and I chuckled as we pictured the elevator breaking trapping the whole safety team inside while some disaster happens. After checking out the AED, our Dwight Shrute-like member showed how the blood pressure checking device worked on one of the ladies. He couldn't get it to work. After someone made a comment about it, he snapped back in a pissy voice saying they could give it a try. A couple of us had the wide-eyed look of "what the f was that all about".

At some point during our talk of AEDs, someone asked about how the other tenants in our building would be able to use it. The mean women said, "Who cares. They're not our responsibility."

After that we all took a tour of the mechanical room to see how to shut off the air handlers in case of a hazmat incident like a truck carrying tanks full of fart gas jackknifing on the expressway next to our building.