Category Archives: Offroad

Dinner In The Woods

Forget candle-lit dinners in snooty restaurants, give me a slightly burnt steak in the woods.

A few days back, my boyfriend, dog, and I ventured into Pike’s National Forest for dinner. It was a decent drive on the dirt paths winding up the mountain, and one we’d taken before. We finally stopped near the top of one very high hilltop, deep in the woods, where few people go.

We set up camp, including a tent I purchased second-hand from Rocky Mountain Recyclers. Mostly, we wanted to test it out. It set up quickly (and later, came down quickly) and appeared as though it would serve us well. Boyfriend sprayed it down with a water-resistant coating to protect it, while it was up.

Although we brought the tent and set it up, we had no intention of actually staying the night. We only wanted to test out a few things, and see what we might need later. For one thing, we didn’t have a bear canister, or any means really of avoiding attracting animals. As a result, we didn’t bother to bring a number of things we’d typically need for an overnight stay (although we do have emergency packs, just in case.)

Setting up a fire was easy. The boyfriend had called the ranger station earlier that day to confirm that there was no fire ban and find out what rules were in effect. The woman on the phone said that it was preferable that we use an existing fire site (not necessarily an artificial fire pit, but somewhere people have burned before to avoid further environmental impact.) There was a large ash pile near where we set up. It looked like someone had a large bonfire there. But there was too much ash for that site to be any good for cooking, and it was full of shell casings and broken glass.

However, we quickly found another fire site nearby where it looked as though someone had buried a small fire pit. It was perfect. We cleared the layer of dead plant matter, made a rock circle, and collected dead, dry pine needles for tinder. There was some trouble getting the needles to stay lit. It was probably an oxygen issue. We’ll try making a teepee of small twigs and placing needles around it next time to encourage more air flow. This time, however, I took some dryer lint from my emergency kit (I had earlier poured a very small amount of lantern oil on the lint before packing it) and placed it under the needle bundle. It worked quiet well and we were off. We had no trouble keeping the fire going after that, as there was no shortage of dead, dry wood about. Boyfriend employed his ax, but I found little need for it.

Once the fire had been burning for a while and we had some good coals, we set up my small, metal, campfire grill. This was actually the first time that I’ve been able to use it since I bought it. It was sturdy where it stood, but next time, I think we’ll sink the legs into the dirt a bit more. The steaks cooked beautifully (the boyfriend saw to that.) I like mine juicy on the inside, and crispy on the outside, and that’s exactly what I got (my steak was even on fire a little bit.)

I tried a few experiments. Before we left home, we prepared two baked potatoes wrapped in heavy-duty tin foil. We placed these directly on the coals. It was taking forever to cook. At one point, we put the foil bundles on top of the grill, but then quickly moved them away from direct flame (a few sticks I placed earlier caught larger than I intended) when we remembered the relatively-low melting point of aluminum (about 1200F, if I recall.) It might have worked better if our tin foil bundles hadn’t leaked. I had to keep adding water. Next time, I think we’ll double-layer the foil. Still, what we eventually got was delicious even if the potatoes were a bit firm and bacon pieces a bit burnt.

The lazy bannock did not work so well. Somehow, I got it in my head that I could just use biscuit dough. I tried some wrapped around a stick, and some rolled into balls and placed on the grill. It all just melted.

My last experiment involved an aluminum water bottle from the dollar store. I wanted to see if I could boil water without melting a cheap water bottle. The outside of the container did blacken, but didn’t melt. I was able to safely boil water without any problem. Next time, I think I might be able to boil the water farther away from the fire to avoid charring the bottle. In any case, it’s nice to know that, in an emergency, I can boil water in a sturdy container that only cost me one dollar.

Molly was pleased with the whole trip, it seemed. I placed a blanket on the ground for her, and put food in water in her folding doggy dishes. She was more than happy to take our leftover potatoes and steak. A few times, she wandered a little ways into the woods, which worries us as there could be dangerous animals around, but she always returned to us quickly when called. She doesn’t much like to be alone anyway, and was probably just following a smell and didn’t realize how far she’d gotten. Eventually, she happily settled on her blanket.

As it grew later, the temperature began to drop. My boyfriend wandered over to where he’d rested his gear against a tree, and retrieved his sweater. Just as he pulled the sweater over his head, Molly stood and growled. She lowered he head and body slightly and her hair stood on end. She crept forward slowly, towards the direction where my boyfriend was standing. Immediately, my boyfriend grabbed his shotgun and aimed it into the woods. I flipped the knife I was holding. We still aren’t sure if Molly saw or heard something threatening in that direction, or if she was just growling at the boyfriend because something about the sweater bothered her (she once threw a barking fit the first time she saw the boyfriend with shaving cream on.) We assumed the worst and were on high alert for a bear or mountain lion or possibly a hostile human, possibly attracted by the food or by us. However, we never saw anything.

As it began to grow dark and cloudy, with the temperature dropping and with starting, followed by some light rain, we packed up quickly, fearing a storm. I was amazed at how quickly we got everything back together, even though we didn’t really have much. The fire was thoroughly out (Boyfriend poured something like two gallons of water on it, and it was never a big fire anyway,) and our tent was down, our food and chairs were stowed in the Pathfinder in no time. Then we drove down the mountain, pleased with how well the roof lights my boyfriend had installed were working.

It was a smoky, dirty, a bit of work, a bit out of the way, imperfect, exciting, and fun outing. It was a great way to enjoy dinner.

Molly The Mountain Dog

Yesterday, we took Molly on a nice hike in the mountains. This wasn’t the first time we’d taken her on a dayhike. We took her to Garden Of The Gods and wandered the trails in the woods before. It made for a great, though short trip. The only problem was keeping her attention. We weren’t the only ones on the trail. There were hikers, joggers, and it was clear that horses had been through as well. Everything was a distraction so we had to hold her leash short.

We had no such issue this time, as we took her up onto some trails in the mountains where we like to go offroading. Yesterday, there was no one around. Molly was just a delight, she stayed on the trail and listened to every command. She didn’t even try to chase the squirrel that she saw. She had a blast, trotting ahead of us a few yards, her nose to the ground the whole time, then stopping to look back at us over her shoulder as if to say, “Hurry up, slowpokes!” She’s a smart dog, never wandering too far ahead. If she went around the corner and could no longer see us, she’d come bounding back. A few times, my boyfriend and I would just suddenly stop walking and be very quiet, only to giggle at how the dog would immediately stop and look over he shoulder to make sure we were still there.

She has small paws, and trimmed claws, and seemed to have an issue with traction. So did I, in my military issue desert boots. Off the side of the trail you have the slope of the mountain, which is rock covered by a layer of dirt and some fallen vegetation. The ground tended to slip away under you if you strayed from the trail too much. But it was the bare rock outcrops that worried me. Molly liked to prop herself up on them so she could peer over the edge. It was hard not to worry about her slipping off. She wouldn’t fall far, it’s not as if we were on a cliff face, but I don’t want to see anyone get hurt. Thankfully, Molly minded her step.

As we got climbed higher, we encountered more snow, and Molly went nuts. This dog gets so excited around snow. I don’t know if she really loves snow or if the cold makes her want to move more for warmth, but she wagged her tail like crazy and charged all around, only stopping to bury her face in the powder. My boyfriend managed to snap a picture of her with snow on her nose. We had a good laugh when he put it on his facebook page with the caption, “Retired drug dogs have some issues.” He might have a somewhat twisted sense of humor, but so do I so we’re a great match.

Eventually, it did come time to leave. It was getting dark and we knew snow would be rolling in soon. We stopped our truck a few times on our way down the mountain. Once to take a picture of a shot up sign, another time for BF to adjust his lights. At one of these stop, I noticed Molly, who was normally very still during car rides, and twisted her seatbelt harness around herself. As I was correcting it, I noticed that her paw was bleeding lightly. The poor thing ripped her dew claw again, as she had done the day prior. As before, she didn’t limp or whine or give any indication that she was bothered at all. As my BF had brought his medic bag, he quickly patched her up and now she’s doing just fine. I do worry about dew claws. I’m not convinced that a surgery to remove them is worth the risks or the stress to her, but I am looking in to dew claw protectors.

The three of us had a really great time. I’m hoping we can go once more before the weather makes that impossible. After today’s excitement, Molly was very much ready for bed. All she was waiting for was us.

Lessons Learned: 

  • Watch the dew claws. They could snag.
  • People aren’t the only ones who might need first aid so be prepared. I have a first aid kid just for the dog. On a related point, know what’s in the aid kid and where to find it.
  • Dogs seem to never look at the camera when you want them to. Somehow, they always know…
  • Remove the dog’s harness if it would absorb moisture. No one wants something wet on them when it’s cold out.
  • Dogs are not impressed by chess.

Fire Safety Lesson

Yesterday, I drove up to Rainbow Falls, where my BF and I sometimes go offroading, to visit some friends who were camping there. These friends of mine are soldiers that are also getting out of the Army on medical discharge, who were there with their significant others. One of the soldiers, who was having a birthday this week, had asked me to camp out with them. As my boyfriend was working and could not come and I would have felt bad camping without him, I answered that while I would not stay overnight, I would come and visit.

As I was driving my Aveo, one of the soldiers picked me up in the staging area. It was a fun ride in his jeep to where they were camping out. Once there, I was introduced to the SOs and regaled in the tales of what had missed. Apparently, the soldier who picked me up had to be rushed to the hospital last night after severely cutting his hand on a piece of metal he’d found on the ground, which caused squirting arterial bleeding. As this soldier was, apparently, the camp chef, breakfast the next day wasn’t that great. At some point, someone tried to fry beacon on a machete.

That’s something else that I noticed right away, the group was very well armed. The one who cut himself had with him a machete, an axe, countless knives, and probably a few firearms. Other soldiers in the group were also packing. Before lunch, the man with the cut hand tried to cut wood with his axe one-handed, much to the amusement of his companions who cracked jokes but didn’t help. Eventually, he got the wood split and made some nice steaks.

I asked them if they were allowed to have a fire, as there had been a fire restriction and there’d been a major fire north of the Springs lately, but they said it had been lifted. Of of the SOs was a firefighter and said she’d checked with the appropriate service.

Later, the one-handed soldier and I, and later a few others, searched the forest for more dead vegetation to burn. They’d decided to have a bonfire. I gathered a few large sticks while they cut up a dead, fallen tree. I helped built a tepee style burn pile, at the location they selected. I was very proud of our work and excited to light it. Although I didn’t think it needed it, one soldier sprinkled some gasoline around the base of the pile. He told me to light it by throwing in some paper, miming a trowing motion towards the fire as he spoke. As he flicked his wrist, the whole pile suddenly caught ablaze to the surprise of both of us. Apparently, the fumes from the gas caught from the nearby cooking fire.

The fire was much larger and hotter than we expected. We had to move some the the vehicles and a tent. As for ourselves, we all stood far back, about 20ft as it was too hot to get any closer. “Great, how are we going to cook now?” The laughing birthday soldier asked. The flames were so high that when the breeze blew, the flames can disturbingly close the to branches of a pine tree we thought we were far enough away from. We watched intently as the fire died down a bit to a more manageable size after about half an hour, relieved that no significant incident had occurred. Colorado is highly flammable.

Looking Forward (MOVED!)

Woops! This blog post has moved. You can find it at its new home HERE.

Finding North

Finding North is easy, if you know how. You don’t even necessarily need a compass. Of course we know that the sun sets in the west, so if it’s late in the day, one need only look about 45 degrees to the right. That’s probably one of the easiest ways to do it, and I can think of several more. Sadly, my BF and I had trouble with cardinal directions this weekend while playing with the pathfinder in the trails of Rainbow Falls. Oh sure, we found north. Trouble is, we were trying to find south. Funny, the one time we bring a usable map, we get lost.

When we first arrived at the park, we had a bit of trouble finding the starting point on the map. We actually ended up driving right by it, passing through a camp area, before finally being encountered by a fence blocking us from private property. BF did find a small trail near the campsites that he tried to get on, paying me no attention when I told him that it was too narrow for our vehicle (it looked more like it was for ATVs and dirt bikes.) Soon, the pathfinder was quite slanted with me looking out my window and directly into the ditch. I figured if he rolled it, I could at least say “I told you so.” Eventually, he gave up and headed back.

We located the start point and picked a fun trail (no, seriously, the final leg of it was listed on the map as “fun trail”,) that was blue for moderate on our map, with a bit of green for easy near the end. It was a mostly easy trip. There was one area that was very steep with very loose dirt that had to be taken very carefully. I got out so I could help guide him as the path was narrow. More than once, the pathfinder continued to move even as brakes were applied. In another area, we were faces with a narrow gap between some trees. I got out to guide once again, but the rocks were loose and sharp and when I got cut up quite a bit when I fell.

We stopped a few times to explore in the woods a bit. BF never seems to like sticking to established trails. I usually like to stick to or at least near trails because a. they usually lead somewhere, b. I do less damage to the environment, c. I’m less likely to disturb an animal, and d. because it’s easier to not get lost. BF has a GPS system that tracks the route he takes so he can find his way back, but what if it breaks or dies?

As it got late, we decided it was time to go. The route we were on, according to the map, was supposed to eventually lead to a county road. However, we couldn’t tell how far as the route went off the map with an arrow. Eventually, BF decided to turn around. I found what looked like a quick, easy way back. We got to the trail I picked, and went on. I tried to use the map to mark our progress, but things weren’t adding up and there was only so much that I could blame on the map. Soon, we realized that although we had picked the correct path, we’d been going the complete opposite direction. We were going north, and hadn’t noticed. We needed to go south.

So we turned around, found a path, and headed on. Amazingly, we somehow managed to go north again. Wrong turn somewhere. It was sometimes hard to tell what path we were on as the path markers weren’t always clearly visible or present at all.  Now it was getting dark. We hadn’t intended to be out this late, but it was a good opportunity for BF to test the roof lights he’d just installed. Sadly, they weren’t bright enough for him.

I found a route back. It was supposed to be quick, a blue that turned to a green for a ways before finally meeting up with a clean dirt road. This time, we were sure we were on the right route and going the correct heading. This time, the map was wrong. Nowhere on that path did we encounter a single yard of trail that would have been green. Some of it seemed like it should have been red (difficult.) At one point, we had to climb a large, rocky hilltop. The ledges were huge and a few times the pathfinder got stuck trying to get up. It wasn’t equipped for rock climbing. I was worried we’d ruin a tire. At some point during that climb, the new roof lights stopped working. The relay went bad, it seemed. Well, something has to break every trip, right?

We hoped that things would be easier after that. It didn’t. What was supposed to be a moderate/easy trail was surprisingly difficult. We started contemplating turning around as we continued to encounter rough terrain. We wondered if we’d somehow left the trail or if we were ever on the right trail to begin with. Then, something weird happened. Seemingly out of nowhere, we saw a nice-looking sedan and wondered how the hell it could have gotten there. Sadly, there wasn’t a living soul in sight to ask. The path we’d come from was treacherous for us, and the continuation of the path, which we discovered was a narrow, deep, banked wash, wasn’t much better and was even harrowing for our Pathfinder. BF decided that the sedan must have been air-lifted in while I comforted myself with the thought “a wizard did it” as we finally found our way out and headed home.

So, lessons learned:

  1. Verify heading. Seriously.
  2. Bring actual food. Beef jerky and trail mix just wasn’t cutting it.
  3. Dress for hiking, even if I don’t plan on hiking.
  4. Bring a buddy vehicle. Off-roading alone = bad ju-ju.
  5. Don’t be surprised when the CB radio starts to make Star Wars sound effects. Seriously, WTF was that all about?
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