Monday, October 6, 2014

Scout The Wonder Dog And The Last Trail

There will be no pictures with this post, save the one at the top of the page. There will be no report of the trip as Scout is on a trail I can not yet tread upon.  I can only report that Scout The Wonder Dog stepped off from the Trailhead in his sleep sometime Saturday night. Cause of death was complications of old age. About a month or so ago, Scout was bitten by a snake and when I took him to the vet it was explained to me that while he would survive the snake bite with treatment, his days with me were coming to an end. It could be weeks, months, or days.  The vet assured me that he would be in no pain, that he would simply stop breathing, and that's what happened.

Scout was born in October of 2002, one of a litter of seven born to Punkin The Wonder Dog, an Akita mix, his father a Border Collie mix known in the neighborhood as a lady's man. In coloration and hair, he resembled his mother, in size he was like his father, with a few wisps of black hair (that became more prominent with age) being the only contribution made to his appearance. He was raised in the yard of the Prairie Bungalow by his mother and three other female dogs, Annie, Libby and Serenity whom we called his "maiden aunts" even though there was no blood relation. Early in his puppyhood, just after the soft fur phase,  my late wife and I were getting to dogs together to get them inside for the night and the puppy was no where to be found. We did a search but to no avail.  Round these parts, if a dog is left outside at night, its pretty much a given that he's going to become coyote food and we resigned ourselves to that possibility.  By early afternoon of the next day, we regarded that fate as a certainty. But around 3:00 he came running into the yard to be greeted by his mother and maiden aunts. From that moment on, Scout never ventured very far from the homestead.

Scout was never needy or hyper. He didn't bark much unless he thought there was a real danger, and he was never mean to people or other dogs.  Scout never started a fight, but I've seen him finish several of them. He was a good friend, a good listener, and as mellow as an Autumn sunset.  He was also the best trail dog I've ever had or known.

What makes a good trail dog?  He always takes the lead.  He sets the pace---he doesn't pull your arm off dragging you down the trail and he's not so slow he gets tangled in your feet. He knows the difference between a trail and a wide spot between trees with no underbrush. He doesn't stop unless its necessary (and you should respect him enough for that to allow for the fact that sometimes sniffing a bush is necessary). He enjoys being on the trail, and being on the trail with you. He carries his own food and water without complaint.  In short, a good trail dog has the same qualities as a person you'd want to walk the trail with. 

Scout was all this and more.  In camp, he didn't crawl under my tarp and hammock so that I could protect him.  He stationed himself outside and as far as his tie out would let him so that he could be on guard.  He knew what his pack was and knew that when it came out we'd be going camping, so he'd sit by the car until it was time to go. He didn't bark, even at strangers, but his eyes never left them.  That picture above was taken by a fellow camper who offered to take some pictures of me and my set up.  He took several and in every one of them, Scout is looking directly at the camera---or to be more precise---directly at the man holding the camera.  That picture is how I like to remember Scout, standing by me on a misty morning in the woods as I sip my coffee, his only concern being my well being and protection.

More important than being a good trail dog, Scout has helped me understand some things about God.

Grace is a concept that is incompletely understood by many Christians, and by even more non-believers. The shortest definition is "unearned favor", and if you believe, as I do, that God is Creator of the Universe we are covered by so much"unearned favor" that we don't even notice it. Because He created the Universe and all that's in it, this "unearned favor" extends to every living being, human or otherwise, Believer and Non-believers.  Matthew 5:45 tells us  

44 But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, 
do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you,45 that ye may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven. For He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
When I prayed to God last night I thanked Him for sending me a dog I didn't deserve and begged forgiveness from him for any acts of commission or omission I may have made since He sent him to me that may have caused him pain or distress. God's Grace is evident to me just by the fact that Scout the Wonder Dog was in my life, in my life for so long, and truly enjoyed being with me doing the things I enjoy doing the most. Like God, Scout's love was unconditional and constant, and was given to me when I needed it most and deserved it the least. And like God, Scout was protecting me and I didn't even notice it---not until I saw those pictures and realized he never took his eyes off of the stranger taking them.  
There's a popular notion in our culture that "all dogs go to heaven." To my knowledge, there's nothing in scripture to support that idea.  But I do believe in a Loving and Merciful God and I would like to think that when I take my first steps down the trail that Scout is on now, he'll at least be there at the Trailhead waiting on me to either go the trail with me or to make sure I get on mine properly before taking his own.

If you're not familiar with Scout The Wonder Dog and his Adventures, you can go to and search for the stories I wrote about he and I on the trail, I'm not going to clutter this post up with a lot of links. Scout is being cremated and some time in the very near future I will spread his ashes on the Lone Star Trail near the site of the first camping trip Scout made with me a few years ago.  Folks who wish can contact me through Facebook or Hammock Forums if you'd like to go along.  A portion of his ashes will be spread around the pond at the bottom of the hill here at the Prairie Bungalow where his mother's ashes were spread, and once I find a suitable container, a small portion will be hung from my pack strap so that he can be on the trail with me for whatever days God gives me to walk them. In Backpacking terminology, we call that "good weight."

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Introducing The Underwoobie

As Backpackers and Hikers we have certain requirements for our gear.  Those requirements can vary a good deal as gear is an intensely personal choice, but generally are based on Weight, Functionality, and Durability in varying degrees of importance on which we put each of those requirements. As Hammock Hikers, we further complicate things by adding the requirement of Functionality with hammocks to our sleep and shelter choices. As a mode of shelter that is somewhat outside of "mainstream camping" (but gaining in popularity almost exponentially), much of the gear manufactured specifically for hammock camping is provided by cottage vendors as large manufacturers do not yet see the profit potential in large scale production of items designed specifically for hammock camping.

Since the hammock camping cottage vendor community of necessity must address the needs of as large a group of individuals as possible in order to make their businesses not only profitable, but viable as well, this dynamic is repeated in microcosm.  The greater majority of hammock campers are weekend or long distance backpackers located on the East and West coasts, primarily in northern tiers of those states.  This means the majority of products offered are aimed at individuals to whom Weight is of the greatest consideration, and who can expect to use these products in climates that stay cool to cold with low relative humidity for the greater part of the year (Washington State being a notable exception as regards humidity).  Individuals south of the Mason/Dixon line, primarily those on the Gulf Coast, find themselves having to adapt or accept some products that were not designed primarily for an annual climate that is warm to hot  with a relatively high humidity (as well as higher rainfall intensities and frequencies).  Likewise, Expedition Hikers and Hunters who use hammocks as their primary shelter find themselves having to choose products with Durability and Functionality (and adaptability) that is less than what they would desire.

A post on Hammock Forums regarding using a Kifaru Woobie/Doobie as an underquilt is an example of the conundrum as regards Expedition Hunters.  It became immediately apparent to me that the Doobie would not be adaptable as an underquilt without a lot of DIY work as there is no provision on that product for a suspension or cinching of ends, and it lacked the edging and ties that makes the military issue Poncho Liner (which it emulates) so adaptable as a warm weather under or top quilt.  But I did see that a design I was working on could be adapted quite easily to achieve the desired results. I posted the following pictures of the quilt I was working on at the time to that post:

The original idea was to create a quilt that could not only be used as either a top or bottom quilt, but one where different thicknesses of synthetic insulation (Climashiled APEX) could be snapped together to increase the insulation value, and would mimic the functionality and adaptability of the military poncho liner for other uses.  Having been in the military for eleven years I was intimately familiar with the "Woobie" and its many uses.  My thinking at the time was to make a system with 3 under/top quilts and one lightweight top quilts that would address all climate conditions I might encounter in my weekend backpacking on the Gulf Coast.  Bruce Carter, who made that original hammock forums post was intrigued by the concept and we entered into an email exchange where I presented him with various options on materials and insulation, much of which was kind of over his head.  It wasn't until he gave me this description of what he needed that true inspiration struck:
I am packbacking thru the Alaskan wilderness hunting moose carrying a 14 day supply load in a Kifaru Timberline Duplex 1 pack with archery and lever 45-70 govt rifle for bear protection. My sleep system already weighs 10lbs. I know, I know...****! But that's my choice because I sleep warm and toasty even if I and all my gear is soaking wet. (Wiggy's Freedom Shelter bag). But the black Wiggys bag if worn poncho style might buy me a bullet from some idiot with poor eyesight thinking I'm a bear. So I am thinking "Okay...I don't wanna get shot by a gun hunter, what's a lightweight alternative that will serve dual use?"

Bruce wanted the kind of functionality that a poncho liner and poncho would give him for shelter in emergency situations, that could also serve as a blind from which to conceal himself for hunting elk, buffalo, and other big game that could also function as an underquilt.  I was designing a sleep system with the Gulf coast in mind.  That's how the Underwoobie came to be born.

WW2 Army Shelter Halves As A 4 man Shelter

WW2 USMC Poncho--Snaps All Around

Current Issue Army Poncho Liner

What I've tried to do is to combine the best feature of a shelter half:  adaptability as a one, two or four man ground shelter, with the water resistance of a poncho, and the insulation qualities of a poncho liner, with use as an Underquilt, Topquilt, or ground quilt.  Every noob who comes into a hammock forum will soon find out that a poncho liner can be quickly adapted as a warm to cool weather underquilt and DIY guides abound.  Its insulation abilities are limited, however, so I decided to use Climashiled APEX in order to have a quilt that will work in 90% of the weather one can expect. 

So here it is, The Underwoobie. 

In order to achieve the durability that Bruce was looking for with water resistance, wind resistance, and durability that Bruce demanded, outer shell: is composed of Duro Epsilon in a MultiCam pattern licensed to Duro by CryeNot only is it lightweight (1.5 oz/yd), it is extremely strong and abrasion resitant, but its soft to the touch and would make an excellent inner shell as well. It measures approximately 60" wide by 84" long, making it a full length Underquilt.

I made mine using 1.1 uncoated ripstop in MarPat .  Bruce wanted more durability in his inner shell, so his was made with a 1.9 DWR in Ranger Green.  Mine comes in at about 2 1/2 pounds with suspension, Bruce's a bit over 3 pounds.  The design mimics military shelter halves and ponchos in that any one Underwoobie can be snapped to another one to make a two person sleeping bag, or a one, two, or four person shelter.

There are three rows of snaps on each side, two on the outer shell, and one on the inner shell. This allows the side and end channels of the underquilt to be used as a storm flap when making a top quilt or sleeping bag

Grommets at the centerline of each side and all four corners allows the Underwoobie to be used as a one man shelter when used alone, or snapped together to make a two man shelter as a military shelter half would.

Since the Underwoobie is intended to have more functionality than just an Underquilt, it has a four piece suspension.  In addition to the normal shock cord cinching arrangement at the end channels, each side channel contains one length of shock cord rather than the loop found on most underquilts.  

Rather than adjustment at one end through one cord lock, adjustment is made on all four corners using a double cord lock.

When stored in the pack, or used as a shelter, quilt, or serape, each end of each channel provides for stowage of the shock cord

The 7 foot long Underwoobie hung beneath my 12 foot hammock.

As a top or ground quilt, it can be used with cinched foot box

A square foot box
Or folded in half to make a side snap sleeping bag

It can also be used as a serape in colder weather

And it does not interfere with using the hands and arms 
Temperature ratings for underquilts and sleeping bags are a very subjective judgement that is dependent on many factors.  I can tell you that as a 61 year old man weighing 215 pounds that an Underwoobie with a 1.1 MarPat inner shell is comfortable down to 40 degrees, and usable to 30, but that is based on my personal experience.  I have retained the ability of two Underwoobies to be snapped together to increase insulation effectiveness.