So on Monday, I geared up for another outing. Laced up my boots, grabbed a rain coat and some other gear I might need for the day’s work. I was going to my old stomping grounds.
This was going to be different, though. Instead of hitting the trail or bushwhacking through wild underbrush, I was going to explore something different that nature had wrought. I was going to report on what Monday’s tornado had done to the town where I used to live.
It’s not often I stray off topic on this blog. In fact, I think this is the only time I’ve done so. But this week’s events warrant it.
I lived in Tecumseh a little over 10 years ago, in an older neighborhood surrounding Barnard School near downtown. As I drove into town, I parked near where I used to live. And then I started walking.
To my left was the first house I lived in when I moved here, near Second Street and Main. Unscathed.
Upon walking a little further, I ran up into the second house I lived in here, just off Jefferson Street. The home was undamaged, but there were a lot of tree limbs down all over the property. Both homes have storm shelters (I’ve taken shelter in both), and I’m sure the people who lived in these places now took cover when the tornado came through.
But the rest of my old neighborhood, as well as the one directly south, didn’t fare nearly as well.
One home, owned by Shirley Bryan, had a corner of its roof smashed in by a neighbor’s carport. Nearby, a trailer home was toppled. The smell of natural gas was in the air.
To get to the worst of the damage, I had to get off the streets and head down the alleys. They were chocked with debris from fallen trees, remains of buildings and downed power lines. Needless to say, I’m glad I wore my boots.
After a few minutes, I’d made my way to Highland Street, a residential thoroughfare on Tecumseh’s south side. The tornado pretty much followed the east-west route of the street as it tore through the neighborhood. Here, whole homes were destroyed. People wandered around, checking in on neighbors. Others sifted through the remains of the places where they used to live.
One home, owned by John Moore, was a total loss. In describing the tornado’s approach, one of Moore’s daughters, Samantha Starry, nervously said “It was scary as hell.”
She then pointed out her car, buried beneath the limbs of a fallen tree.
Moore kept his humor about him, making light of the situation even though his home was wrecked.
“We couldn’t get the air to work,” he said. “Guess I don’t have to worry about that now.”
I don’t get down to Tecumseh very often anymore, but the two years I lived there were pretty good. It was a bit surreal to see the place where I once drove, jogged and lived in such disarray.
My heart goes out to the folks who lost so much in my former hometown. Being there again reminded me of good times I had living there. Seeing the suffering of those who live there now reminds me that for all of the beauty and grandeur nature offers us, it can also be a malevolent force, one that can destroy property and take lives in an instant. You don’t have to be in the backcountry to learn that.
I was recently remembering a time, back when I was a teen, when I went fishing in the Rocky Mountains and came across one of the most beautiful streams I’d ever seen. My brother-in-law and I were fishing for trout in the streams and beaver ponds near the Continental Divide in July, but aside from our fishing gear we didn’t have much in the way of gear or supplies.
The sun was out, and we were working pretty hard in terms of bushwhacking and fording various creeks.
One particular stream stood out. It was crystal clear, somewhat deep, and the stream bed was lined with blood-red rocks. It’s an image seared into my memory, one that likely won’t fade until I lose my mental faculties.
It looked so good. And I was thirsty. Lacking a water bottle or any other source of clean water, I threw caution to the wind, knelt down and drank deeply out of one of the most pristine stretches of water I’d ever seen.
I consider myself pretty lucky. Why? Because I didn’t get sick.
In the industrialized world, our bodies have become accustomed to clean, treated water. Natural water sources, like streams, are contaminated with various microbes. Even the purest of rivers will have their fair share of microscopic organisms that may disagree with your digestive system.
Nothing can ruin a trip faster than a bad case of gastro-intestinal illness. It can make you miserable, and in more extreme circumstances, it can be dangerous.
So what do you do? It sounds like a simple question: Just bring your own water, dummy! That’s the warning that should have been given to me. But the problem of water in the backcountry is a little bigger than just having a couple 16-ounce water bottles in your backpack.
If you’re really out in the bush, or if you get lost, there’s a good chance you can exhaust the water supply you brought in from civilization. And you’ve probably heard warnings about how long the body can go without food versus how long you can live without water. After three days of dehydration, you’re basically done for.
In an extreme circumstance, you take water pretty much any way you can get it, even if that means putting yourself at risk of illness. But a little preparation can go a long way in helping you get the amount of water you need and do it safely. Some ideas:
Iodine drops. This is an easy, lightweight way to help purify water on the spot. This generally won’t help you in terms of purifying water for cooking or providing water for large groups. But in a pinch, this is a good way to go. Iodine purification kits can be found cheap at just about any outdoors shop.
Boil your water. If you have a stove with you or if you can build a fire, you can put natural water or snow in a pot, get it boiling for a few minutes, then let it cool. The heat will kill microbes that can make you sick. To do this, though, will require a good heat source and a pot. So this may not be workable in some circumstances.
Manual water filters. This is the best alternative, in my opinion. You can get water filters that operate with a pump (like my MSR Miniworks, about $85) or others that operate like a squeeze bottle (Katydyn makes a good version of this, $45). My filter screws into the top of a Nalgene bottle, and I like it because you can filter as much as you need. This is ideal when you need to supply a lot of water for drinking and cooking, like when you’re with a group. Thirty minutes by a water source can net you gallons of pure water. The squeeze bottles are good for scooping up water on the fly and sipping as you go, like when you’re hiking or otherwise on the move.
In survival situations, you may not have any choice but to drink what’s available. Keep in mind that natural water sources, like those in lakes and streams, will have decomposing matter (dead plants and animals) in them as well as animal droppings. So while you might see people in survival TV shows slurping away from a stream or pond, what you’re not seeing are the antibiotics they have to take afterwards. If you’re forced to drink unfiltered water in the wild, a visit to the doctor might not be a bad idea when you get home.
Some news and notes from the outdoors…
A new Wichita Mountains climbing trip report
This one, courtesy of the Organic Climber blog, outlines a recent trip down in the Wichitas to do some technical climbing around Voodoo Wall. It looks like the writer’s group battled some of the same elements I faced when I was down there recently. Some pretty good information and photos.
For more on that trip report, check out this website: http://organicclimber.com/?p=975
Rails & Trails program via Amtrak
Want to learn more about the natural world around southern Oklahoma and north Texas? Read this bit of information, courtesy of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area:
Park Superintendent Bruce Noble is pleased to announce the 2010 season for the Trails & Rails program aboard Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer. “Trails & Rails” is a partnership between the National Park Service and Amtrak to provide on-board education programs. The program is coordinated through the Volunteer-In-Parks Program at Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur.
Volunteers act as tour guides and provide Amtrak passengers with information while aboard the Heartland Flyer. Passengers will be introduced to topics including the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Oklahoma and Texas; the history of the area; the geological story of these areas; descriptions of the Oklahoma and Texas landscape and its animals and plants; the economic story; and the role of the railroad in this region. Volunteers board the Heartland Flyer in Norman and are available for information and questions along the route to Fort Worth, Texas, and return. The following dates have been set for the Trails & Rails 2010 season:
Reservations and information on the Heartland Flyer can be made by either calling 1-800-USA-RAIL (872-7245) or www.amtrak.com. More information on the park’s Trails and Rails program can be found at nps.gov/chic/planyourvisit/trails-and-rails-program.htm
Jordan Romero back at Base Camp; summit bid to start soon
Finally, an update from 13-year-old Jordan Romero, who is trying to be the youngest person to ever climb Mount Everest.
The team has done its acclimatization climbs and is back at Base Camp to rest and wait for the weather to cooperate before making the push to the summit. Here’s the latest dispatch, courtesy of jordanromero.com:
The team has descended from the higher camps back to Chinese base camp. We had a great hike back down and this is totally part of the operation and the acclimatization process.
Everyone is in great spirits and doing well. We’ll be down here for a few days resting, eating lots and waiting patiently for our window of opportunity. Some of our Brazilian friends coming up to base camp to meet us and we are excited to see them. Jordan is working on his homework and finishing up some algebra.
At this point, it’s all about the weather.
The next move is the “big one.”
Even though he’s in the Himalayas, he’s still a teen, still having to do his homework. I thought that was an interesting anecdote as this kid attempts to make a little history.
Some more dispatches from Team Jordan, which is doing its prep work for Jordan Romero’s climb of Mount Everest. Jordan is 13 and is trying to become the youngest person to ever climb the world’s highest peak.
These excerpts are taken from jordanromero.com:
A visit with Chinese climbers, plus observations of their Sherpas…
Before we get into details of the last trek, one of the highlights we wanted to mention was when we met the Chinese team at ABC. One night Jordan was invited to be a guest of the very prestigious Chinese team for tea. You’ll have to wait for the memoirs for all of the details, but let’s just say you would not have expected the formality and the respect given to Jordan, while here at a dinner tent 21,000ft. It was a spectacular event and the beginning of a long relationship without a doubt. These men are absolute gentleman and showed the highest respect to our team, as we now do to theirs.
Another highlight….well, let me back up by saying our Sherpa’s are all stars. 9 Everest summits between the 3, countless other 8000m summits, and some mind blowing rescue stories made for the big screen. I say this to give all the respect due. I came into the dining tent to find Jordan about 2 hours into having tea with Lapka Gelu Sherpa. Not a household name you might say, but here’s what others say. He holds the world record for base camp to Summit of Everest and back. That’s right, world record and he’s here going for his 14th summit. A man with the softest smile and a voice you can’t imagine. After giving 3 truckloads of advice to our team and Jordan, he offers his personal help should our Summit days coincide. This is like Michael Jordan walking into your gym, when you’re a freshman in high school, and offers to personally coach you before the big game. Ok, not the perfect metaphor, but dang close. What an experience…
What the team is doing now…
Team has descended off the shoulder of Everest. Regrouping at ABC, will go all the way to base camp in a few days to wait for that BIG window of weather we hear comes in mid may. Photo and much blogging coming soon to J’s site. Jordan report is: a tad tired and in need of sleep before we make the biggest climb in the world, but strong as expected.
To follow the team, check out jordanromero.com; you can also find pages for Jordan on Twitter and Facebook.
Best of luck to the team.
So my recent camping trip gave me some thoughts on car camping. Most notably, going camping and using your car as shelter.
Don’t scoff. People do this all the time. Backcountry skiers, mountaineers, hikers, etc. These people are filled with stories about driving all night, parking at a trailhead and hunkering down in their cars.
It got me to thinking. When you’re car camping, how does a car compare with a tent?
Yep, these are the things you think about trying to get to sleep in an all-night rain storm.
So my comparison will pit my car versus one of my tents. And whatever you do, don’t take this too seriously…
Car: 2003 Nissan Murano.
Tent: Kelty Teton 2.
Capacity: The tent sleeps one comfortably, two more snug. And I mean snug. The car, with its back seats down, sleeps two comfortably, provided the people aren’t too tall. More can fit, but it’s a long night. Advantage: Car.
Weight: The Murano weighs about a ton and a half. The tent about four pounds. The car’s weight is not a problem as long as you’ve got a road and a place to park. But you can take the tent anywhere. Advantage: Tent.
Storage: The tent has a vestibule and a small attic for storing some personal belongings. The car, well, you’ve got the whole back area. For just about everything you can haul. Advantage: Car.
Cost: The Murano, bought used, was just under $15,000. The tent, bought on sale, was about $110. ‘Nuff said. Advantgage: Tent.
Weather resistance: The car is made primarily of metal, plastics and glass. The tent is made of nylon. It’s a good tent and has never leaked, but… Advantage: Car.
Environmental impact: The car burns gasoline. The tent does not. Advantage: Tent.
Intangibles: Going camping and sleeping in your car is an automatic deduction of outdoor cool points. A real outdoors person not only sleeps in a tent, but knows how and where to set it up and can do so unassisted. But let’s face it, if it gets too chilly, you can just fire up the car and turn the heater on. Or just turn the ignition one click and listen to the radio. And unlike tent walls, the body of a car won’t rip if it gets stuck with a stick.
So if you’re picking one, I guess it’s really a battle of practicality vs. aesthetics. The true outdoorsy types will turn their noses at those who take shelter in the back of their car. But sometimes practicality wins out. If you’re car camping, that is.