Category Archives: Travel

A Complete Guide to Summer Camping (Guest Post)

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Today’s guest post if from Harsh Paul of the DeepBlueMountain website. In the post, he’ll tell you all about staying comfortable while camping in the summer.

Summer is everyone’s favorite time for camping. There’s not much chance of being uncomfortable due to cold weather, roads are clear, and nature is at her grandest. It’s no wonder that millions of people take to exploring the great outdoors in summer. 

National and state parks and private campgrounds are practically overflowing with visitors during this season. So while you’re out camping, here are a few suggestions that might come in handy. This guide will set you up with the essentials for camping in the summer and enjoying it to the fullest.

Essential Summer Camping Equipment

When you’re going camping, you must pay proper attention to gear. Though summer camping doesn’t usually require being overly thorough, you sure can add to your comfort. The favored form of camping for the modern camping enthusiast is car camping. 

In many cases, you might be able to take your car right to the campsite, or at least somewhere comfortably near the campground. This allows the luxury of carrying more gear and equipment than what a backpacker or hiker would take along. 

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

Since your car is doing the heavy lifting, you can be a bit generous with the things you take to the trip. Of course, there’s still the element of being sensible and not overdoing things. You don’t want a cartoonishly over-packed car. You may also want to enjoy a backpacking or hiking trip on the trails near the campground. Here are some essentials for your camping trip.

1) A Tent

It’s always worthwhile to get a quality, waterproof tent. You never want to be caught unprepared in rain – and this is where the quality aspect is important. Check the waterproofing of the tent and also see if the tent needs additional waterproofing and seam sealing. Depending on the specific tent, even new ones may need user intervention before they’re considered waterproof. 

Photo by adrian on Unsplash

The most important aspect, however, is ventilation. Summer weather tends to be hot and stuffy. Tents with poor ventilation are going to be hell to spend time in. Most summer or three-season tents come with a mesh body or at least a mesh roof. This helps ventilation, but there’s a limit on how much mesh you can expose before privacy becomes a concern. 

Tents that have vents, preferably at the floor and the roof are better choices. Make sure the windows and/or the door have no-see-um mesh that keeps bugs out.

2) Boots And Socks

There’s a good chance your camping trip will involve a fair amount of walking. Good shoes are especially important if hiking and/or backpacking are in the cards. You’ll need good boots that are strong, sturdy, and capable of handling rough terrain. Some heel support is necessary and waterproofing is very helpful.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Socks are also important. People often wear quality boots, but ignore their socks. If you’re going to spend substantial time on your feet, ditch the cotton socks. Socks with at least 30% wool blend are great. Performance socks made with synthetic materials and designed to offer foot support are better!

3) Emergency And Communication Devices

If you’re headed to a campground with a spotty or non-existent cellular network, think of other communication devices. A simple walkie-talkie can be sufficient for communication among your group. 

However, more sophisticated communication devices are necessary if you’re headed to a remote campground or trail. Depending on your budget, your options could be a satellite phone (expensive) or personal locator beacon (inexpensive).

4) Food And Utensils

Food, water, and utensils are an absolute necessity. If you’re carrying perishables, use them up within a day or two. Better yet, bring a quality cooler along so the perishables can last longer. Another benefit of a cooler is that it can keep your beverages cold for a long time.

Special eating utensils for camping may not be necessary if you’re car camping. However, backpackers and hikers should get specialized lightweight utensils for their travels. Don’t forget to carry along some snacks to munch during the day and to enjoy by the bonfire with the group in the evening.

5) Sleeping Bag And Other Necessities

Carry a sleeping bag and clothing that can keep you comfortable at night. Sure, we expect summer nights to be hot. However, a lot of campgrounds do see cool (and even cold) nights. Know about the campground you’ll be staying at and expected temperature so you can stay warm at night. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.

Other things you should have are a flashlight and a lantern with extra batteries. Necessary gear also includes sleeping pad, multi-tool, and duct tape. A small knife can be useful, but is optional.

Summer Camping Hacks For A Better Experience

1) Cooling Your Tent

There’s always a chance of getting uncomfortably hot during summer camping, so it’s useful to know how to cool your tent without electricity. A few simple ideas like selecting a shaded tent location and creatively using the tarp can help keep the tent more comfortable.

Many campgrounds don’t have electric access, so some careful planning can go a long way in ensuring a comfortable adventure without an electric fan or air conditioning.

2) Always Have A Change Of Clothes

Consider changing into different clothes at night. Clothes you wore during the day could be sweaty and slightly wet, even if they don’t feel that way. This can end up making you uncomfortably chilly during the night. 

Let your day clothes dry by removing them and keeping them inside your tent and shift into new clothes for the night. None of your belongings should be left unattended in a campground .

3) A Mosquito Mesh Is Your Friend

A tent with no-see-um mesh is necessary for comfort. With no-see-um mesh, you can keep tent windows or doors open whenever you wish, without the threat of getting invaded by bugs. However, some areas can be particularly prone to mosquitoes. In such cases, having a mosquito net or mesh will ensure a comfortable sleep.

4) Make Reservations

Modern campgrounds are busy and overflowing with visitors. Many popular locations are booked up to for six months in advance. If you’re planning a trip, make reservations. This stands true even if you’re going to a relatively quieter campground. A reservation ensures you won’t be far from home with no place to stay.

Summer is the most popular and common camping season. It’s ideal for exploring the outdoors, and this guide is intended to prepare you for the best experience. A few simple ideas and adjustments can make a world of a difference. 

Harsh Paul is an avid hiker, backpacker, and camper. When not exploring the great outdoors, he uses his time time completing home improvement projects. Currently, he’s self-isolating for a better safety and health approach.

Southern Colorado Lake

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On trips to Colorado, I’ve seen a lake on Highway 159 between Costilla, NM and San Luis, CO. There are no signs at the entrances on Highway 159 naming the lake, but from my research on Google Maps, it appears to be Sanchez Stabilizing Reservoir. The area around the reservoir is Sanchez Stabilization Park; it’s also a Colorado State Wildlife Area.

According to Wikipedia,

Sanchez Reservoir lies in far south-central Colorado, west of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Costilla County. Its inflows include Ventero Creek and the Sanchez Canal, a diversion canal that takes water from Culebra Creek and two other creeks…The reservoir’s earthen dam was built in 1912.

I took this photo of Sanchez Stabilizing Reservoir in March of 2020.

Brown signs labeled “Recreation Area” on either side of the highway are the only indication that the lake is on public land and not private property.

There are no signs about camping, nothing to say camping is either allowed or prohibited in the area. I’ve been of the mind that if there’s no sign explicitly prohibiting camping or overnight parking, then it must be allowed. (I find this way of thinking particularly acceptable in the U. S. Southwest. Results may vary in other areas.)

I took this photo of Sanchez Stabilizing Reservoir in the spring of 2017, probably in May.

According to the Colorado Birding Trail website, I was right about camping at Sanchez Stabilization Park. That website says primitive camping is allowed in the Park.

I’ve seen people seemingly camping at Sanchez Stabilization Park in truck campers and small-to-medium pull-behind campers. I’ve typically seen the area more crowded in the summer, but have noticed campers there in all seasons.

The aforementioned birding website also says,

Sanchez Reservoir is among the largest in the San Luis Valley, as well as among the most productive. The southern end can be frustrating to scan; most of the birds are usually on the north end.

The folks at the Colorado Birding Trail say the Reservoir is owned by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and is open all year. The recreation area does not provide accommodations to folks with disabilities, but for birders, some viewing is possible from one’s vehicle.

According to Uncover Colorado

Colorado has 350 State Wildlife Areas, covering more than 684,000 acres. With a valid fishing or hunting license you can access the properties for recreation, including hunting, fishing, hiking and wildlife observation.

I take that to mean that in order to camp at Sanchez Stabilization Park, you need a valid Colorado fishing or hunting license. However, I’ve never seen any notice of such a requirement on site.

According to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Website, a Colorado annual fishing license for a nonresident over the age of 16 costs $97.97. A one-day Colorado fishing license for a nonresident older than 16 runs $16.94, while a five-day Colorado fishing license for a nonresident over 16 costs $32.14. If you’re a Colorado resident over the age of 16, an annual fishing license costs $35.17. A one-day fishing license for Colorado residents over 16 costs $13.90. Colorado Parks and Wildlife says you can purchase a fishing license in person at hundreds of retailers​ or at a CPW location. You can buy a license by phone by calling toll free 1-800-244-5613​​, or you can buy a fishing license online​.

If you’d rather pay for a hunting license, a nonresident small game one-day license costs $16.75 and an annual nonresident small game license will set you back $82.78. For Colorado residents, a small game one-day license costs $13.90 and an annual small game license runs $30.11. Colorado Parks and Wildlife says you can buy a hunting license in person at hundreds of retailers​ or at a CPW location.  You can buy a license by phone by calling toll free 1-800-244-5613​​, or you can ​​​buy a license online​.

As I was researching this post, I found some references to a Wildlife or Habitat Stamp. At first it seemed that a camper only needed a Wildlife/Habitat Stamp in order to spend time in a Colorado State Wildlife Area such as Sanchez Stabilization Park. However, in a May 5, 2020 Hiking Bob column by Bob Falcone in the Colorado Springs Indy, I learned

…in an effort to make sure everyone pays equally to use SWAs, CPW will be requiring all users to purchase a hunting or fishing license, effective July 1 [2020].

Hiking Bob goes on to say

The least expensive option for Colorado residents would be to purchase a single day fishing license, for $13.90 per day, and the required Habitat Stamp for $10.13 per year. A yearly fishing license can be purchased for $35.17, however senior citizens (over age 65) can get the annual license for $9.85 and are also exempt from the Habitat Stamp requirement.

There are two entrances to Sanchez Stabilization Park from Highway 159. You can take each entrance to several parts of the recreation area. The dirt road leads to the pit toilet restroom at the front of the area, to the tree-lined dirt road where the picnic tables sit in the middle of the recreation area, or to a series of dirt roads that go around the lake.

Pit toilet restroom at Sanchez Stabilization Park near Highway 159. The entrance to the toilet is on the other side.

When I’ve looked in at the pit toilet restroom on a couple of occasions, I’ve always found it fairly clean. Someone is sweeping out the building housing the toilet. There’s usually graffiti on the walls, which is typical in a building that’s probably not attended daily. I must admit, I’ve never lifted the toilet’s lid to find out if anyone is scrubbing down the risers or wiping the seat and lid. While I have seen toilet paper in the restroom, I suggest travelers stay prepared by carrying their own stash of TP.

If the toilet ever gets a thorough scrubbing, whoever does the cleaning must truck in water or haul some from the lake, because there’s no faucet or spigot on site. Again, I suggest preparation if you plan to spend time Sanchez Stabilization Park. Plan to carry in your own water for drinking and washing. I don’t know what might be running off into the lake water, so I don’t know if it’s suitable for washing dishes or the human body. I certainly would not drink it.

While there are no signs saying not to eat fish caught in the Reservoir, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife webpage about Sanchez Reservoir SWA says

Anglers should take note of [the] warning issued by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment regarding mercury levels in fish caught in this reservoir.

Another view of Sanchez Reservoir State Wildlife Area. Photo taken March 18, 2020.

(When I clicked on the link in the above quote on the website, I was taken to an empty link, so I don’t know exactly what the warning says. You can get more information about the Health Department warning in particular or Sanchez Reservoir in general by calling the area Colorado Parks and Wildlife office in Monte Vista at (719) 587-6900.)

These picnic tables at Sanchez Stabilization Park are built to last and resist theft. The benches don’t look comfortable, however.

There are about a half dozen picnic tables in the part of the recreation area between the restroom and the lake. There are stone fire rings near some of the picnic tables,and I’ve never seen signs prohibiting campfires. If you decide to build a fire in this recreation area (or anywhere!), make sure there is no fire ban in effect and please follow Smokey Bear’s Campfire Safety Rules.

There is a line of trees between the picnic tables and the dirt road running behind the picnic area. The trees provide a little shade. Whenever I’ve stopped at Sanchez SWA, I’ve always parked near one of the trees and escaped the sun.

I have seen people camped on the beach next to the lake. After reviewing my photos of the lake, I see that the only trees in the area are the ones near the picnic tables. People camping on the beach don’t have the benefit of the shade trees provide. I bet it gets hot out on that beach in the summer.

This photo was taken from the opposite side of Sanchez Reservoir and shows the line of trees near the picnic tables. I believe this photos was taken in September 2019.

I’m not sure how soft or wet or loose the sand on the beach is. I would be very careful about driving a car on the sand, much less a motorhome. If I were going to pull a rig onto the sand, I would be careful about that too. Before I drove my rig out there, I would walk over the area that sparked my interest and survey the conditions in order to determine if my rig could handle the terrain.

I usually park in the shade of these trees.

Since I haven’t spent a lot of time at Sanchez Stabilization Park and haven’t spent the night there, I’m not sure if bugs are bad out there. They may be worse in the summer (as bugs tend to be). Again, I suggest visitors arrive prepared to keep bugs away.

The lack of signs also mean there’s no indication of how long one is allowed to stay at the reservoir. I looked online, but could find no rules on camping limits at State Wildlife Areas. The upper limit of staying on public land is usually 14 days, so I wouldn’t plan to stay for more than two weeks at Sanchez Stabilization Park.

I don’t know if I would buy a fishing license and Habitat Stamp for the sole purpose of camping at this reservoir. If I liked to fish and didn’t mind throwing back what I caught, it might be nice to spend a week or two here fishing a little and enjoying the peace and quiet.

There’s another way to access Sanchez Reservoir. The Colorado Birding Trail website gives the following directions:

From the intersection of CO 159 and CO 142 in San Luis, head east on the continuation of CO 142 (CR P.6) about three miles to CR 21 and turn right (south). From here it is about five miles south to the SWA.

I took all the photos in this post.

10 Essential Items For Kids On A Road Trip (Guest Post)

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While now is not really the time to take a recreational road trip with or without children, we can dream, plan, and scheme, right? If you will be traveling with children sometime in the future, today’s guest post from Cristin Howard of the Smart Parent Advice website will help you decide what items to pack to keep the little ones happy on the road. When the kids are happy, the parents are happy, and this blog post will help keep the entire family feeling good.

Planning a family road trip can be intimidating. As you prepare for your trip, your head will be swirling with packing suitcases and wondering how to keep your kids happy and comfortable for hours upon hours.

Let us help you get organized by assisting with your packing lists! Here are ten items to include in your arsenal to help make your road trip a pleasant experience for the whole family. 

Window Shade

One of the most essential road trip items for our family are window shades. Nothing makes children more upset than having the sun shining directly into their faces. Putting a shade on their window helps to dim the harsh rays of the sun while still allowing the sunlight to brighten up the car. 

Rest Stop Entertainment

Pack a drawstring bag with simple outdoor items, such as frisbees, bubbles, and a soccer ball. Any time you need to pull over to use the bathroom, encourage the kids to run around in the grass for ten minutes. This will allow them to use up some of their pent up energy.

Snacks

The day before you leave on your trip, pre-portion the snacks you want your kids to eat during the ride. This will save you from having to dig around in bags and pour and potentially spill goldfish all over your van floor. 

You can use plastic food storage containers for easily smashed snacks such as crackers or soft cookies. Plastic bags are a great choice for pretzels, veggies cut in thin strips, or their favorite dry cereal to munch on. 

Hydration

Make sure each child has a sippy cup within reach and that you encourage your child to drink regularly. You may be risking more bathroom breaks, but there is nothing worse than starting a family vacation with a constipated toddler. Staying hydrated will help their bodies to stay working efficiently despite the long hours of sitting. 

Comfort Items

I highly recommend having your child’s favorite stuffed animal and blanket handy so that when they start to whine and become uncomfortable, you can hand them their comfort items and offer to sing to them. Let them know that it’s okay to miss their beds and you’ll be there to keep them safe.

Books

While your little one isn’t likely to know how to read much yet, books can still offer hours of entertainment while they’re sitting in a car seat. In a sturdy tote bag, pack picture books for your child to look through as well as activity books.  

Some examples of activity books geared for young toddlers are: lift the flap books or any book with buttons to press (as long as they aren’t exceptionally loud for the driver). For kids preschool or kindergarten age, some great choices would be “spot the difference” or “look and find” books. 

Toys

Having a large bag full of entertaining toys is a must when traveling with a crew of little ones. I have found great success with letting my young kids offer ideas of what to pack so they can start to gain excitement for their road trip activities!

Here are a few ideas of what to include in your travel toy bag: magna doodles, puzzles, reusable sticker books, magnetic playsets, interactive steering wheels, or a variety of their favorite cars and realistic plastic animals so they can engage their imaginations.  

Gallon-Sized Zip-top Bags

You may be wondering why gallon-sized zip-top bags are a necessity on road trips. Many kids end up feeling car sick during their travels. When you suspect they are starting to feel unwell, assist them in holding an open zip-top bag and let them use it to throw up into. You can then toss the bag away at the next gas station. 

Media

If your vehicle has a built-in DVD player, you are set up for success. Kids love to watch their favorite shows, and it will make the time pass quickly for them.

If your car does not have a DVD player, you don’t need to worry. Grab some CDs full of well-known kids’ songs, and your family can sing your hearts out as the miles pass by. 

Podcasts are another great option for your kids. Sesame Street, Paw Patrol, and Story Time are entertaining, age-appropriate podcasts for your kids to listen to.

Backpack

Even though you will have bags full of car entertainment for the kids, it will make your life easier if each child also has their own toddler-sized backpack within reach. 

In the front compartment have tissues and napkins so they can help clean up their messes as they snack in the car.

In the large back section, have them choose a favorite book, a special toy, and their most loved stuffed animal. Having these items close by will allow them to have some independence during the road trip.

Don’t Stress The Little Things

Your family has been looking forward to this well-needed vacation. Don’t let the stress of having children in the car keep you from enjoying the road trip. Keep them fed, entertained, and above all, love on them as best as you can in those cramped quarters.

Cristin Howard runs Smart Parent Advice, a site that provides parenting advice for moms and dads. Cristin writes about all of the different ups and downs of parenting, provides solutions to common challenges, and reviews products that parents need to purchase for babies and toddlers.

Fort Garland, Colorado

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In the days immediately before we began our strict social distancing in March 2020, The Man got a job in southern Colorado. He was hired as a part of a very small crew remodeling a house. I drove him out there, and when the work week was over, the boss drove him all the way home. When he wasn’t working, he got to stay in a small camper on the property.

I had been so busy helping The Man get ready for his time away from home, I forgot to pack a snack for myself. By the time I got to Fort Garland, it was lunchtime and I was hungry, so I pulled into one of the town’s gas stations.

According to Wikipedia,

Fort Garland is a census-designated place (CDP) in Costilla County, Colorado, United States. The population was 433 at the 2010 census.[3][4]

The town is called Fort Garland because there’s actually a fort there! The Museums of the San Luis Valley website offers some information about the fort.

Established in 1858 in southern Colorado, Fort Garland, with its garrison of over 100 men, served to protect the earliest settlers in the San Luis Valley…Fort Garland was built after Fort Massachusetts proved vulnerable.  The Capote band of Utes occupied the southern end of the valley at the time of the first contact. 

(If you want to know more about the history of the fort, read “The Story of Fort Garland: 1858 – 1883.”)

The actual fort in Fort Garland is now a history museum. The aforementioned Museums of the San Luis Valley website says,

…you are invited to walk the parade ground of the fort and tour the adobe buildings, which feature a re-creation of the commandant’s quarters during Kit Carson’s time.  Rich in military history, Fort Garland also highlights the folk art and culture of the Hispanic community in southern Colorado. 

Admission to the Fort Garland Museum is $5 for adults, $4.50 for people 65 years old and older, $3.50 for youth 6 to 16, and FREE for anyone under the age of 6. Admission is also FREE to History Colorado members.

The Fort Garland Museum’s regular hours of operation are as follows:

March 1st – October 31st, 9:00 – 5:00pm daily 
November 1st – December 31st, 10:00-4:00 Wednesday – Saturday
January 1st – February 28th – CLOSED

If you want to call the museum ahead of time to make sure it is open before you head out that way, the phone number is 719-379-3512.

I did not visit the Fort Garland museum the day I passed through the area. For one thing, I did not really want to lay down $5 to look at military history, although I probably would have enjoyed learning about the “folk art and culture of the Hispanic community in southern Colorado.” Secondly, I was pretty tired of driving and really wanted to get home to rest. Third, Jerico the dog was with me, and I didn’t think it was fair to leave him in the truck while I took my good, sweet time enjoying a museum. Finally, although I (obviously) wasn’t totally practicing physical distancing at the time, I knew the less contact I had with (possibly COVID-19 infected) strangers, the better off I was. So I skipped the museum, although I do wish now I had stopped long enough to take a photo of the exterior or the sign or something.

I also skipped the post office. I really wanted to stop in to buy a roll of postcard stamps, but…COVID-19. The number of COVID-19 cases was already quite high in Colorado by then, so I decided I was better off not going into the very small post office. I did take a photo of the mural painted on the outside of the post office.

“Los Caminos Antiguos” mural on the north outer wall of the Fort Garland post office.

According to Waymarking.com,

Los Caminos Antiguos (“The Ancient Roads”) from the Rio Grande to Fort Garland is the best route to follow through the region of the upper Rio Grande – the northern outpost of sixteenth century Spanish territorial expansion.

“I bet the altitude isn’t the only thing high around here,” I joked on Instagram.

I could find no indication of who painted the mural or when.

I did go into one of the gas stations to use the restroom and buy some snacks. None of the workers at the gas station were wearing masks, but of course this was in the days when the CDC was still saying we didn’t have to bother with masks unless we knew we were sick. I tried to avoid the other customers in the convenience store, and I only talked to the clerk as much as I had to in order to complete my purchase.

My snacks were tasty, but they did leave me feeling a little queasy.

There’s not much more I can tell you about Fort Garland, CO. After eating my snacks and taking a few photos, I started the truck and headed home.

I took the photos in this post.

Physical Distancing Is Still Important

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Are you still practicing physical distancing? Although many states are beginning to “open up,” physical distancing is still important to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to the New York Times, the Trump

administration is privately projecting a steady rise in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths over the next several weeks. The daily death toll will reach about 3,000 on June 1, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times, a 70 percent increase from the current number of about 1,750.

The projections, based on government modeling pulled together by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, forecast about 200,000 new cases each day by the end of the month, up from about 25,000 cases a day currently.

The numbers underscore a sobering reality: The United States has been hunkered down for the past seven weeks to try slowing the spread of the virus, but reopening the economy will make matters worse.

So yeah, it looks to me like things may go from bad to worse in the next few weeks unless folks continue to practice physical distancing.

You may wonder what exactly “physical distancing” (also know as “social distancing”) means. According to the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center and Los Angeles County Department of Public Health,

Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

Physical distancing means staying home, avoiding crowds and staying at least 6 feet away from others whenever possible…

The less time that we spend within 6 feet of each other, and the fewer people we interact with, the more likely we are to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The aforementioned website gives the following advice for practicing physical distancing:

* Avoid any places where a lot of people are together such as gatherings, parties, worship services, and crowded parks.

* Work or study from home, if possible.

* Do not have visitors over or let your children have playdates.

* Avoid health care settings – unless you need services.

* Cancel non-essential health care appointments.

* Avoid non-essential travel.

* Avoid public transport, if you can.

* Avoid close contact with people – instead of shaking hands, come up with other ways to greet people that don’t involve any touching.

I know some of these recommendations are difficult for nomads to follow, especially working from home if we typically pick up odd jobs, seasonal jobs, or house and pet sitting jobs. Avoiding non-essential travel is difficult for us too, as non-essential travel is what we live for!

According to the CNN report “This Is Where All 50 States Stand on Reopening” by Alaa Elassar,

Stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders around country are being lifted in some states.

However, please don’t take this as an indication that it is safe to go out in public and carry on with life as it once was. As Colorado governor Jared Polis warned people during a press conference the day the state’s “safer at home” order was modified (as reported on the aforementioned CNN webpage),

It’s not going to be life as normal.

Many states that are opening up still require nonfamily members to stay at least 6 feet apart. In many places, retail establishments must limit the number of people inside. Please, if you are going back out into the world, follow these requirements, and be cheerful with the employees who have to enforce these regulations.

If you are in a group that is more vulnerable to COVID-19, please consider staying home (whether your home is a sticks-n-bricks, a van, an RV, or some other rig) even if the state you are in lifts its stay-at-home or safer at home order. You are safer at home, even if the state doesn’t mandate that you stay there.

(If you’re wondering what groups are more vulnerable to COVID-19, William Kimbrough on the One Medical website lists the following groups as most susceptible to SARS-CoV-2:

* People aged 60 and older

*People with weakened immune systems due to chronic illness or medications, including people with autoimmune disease or transplants who are taking immunosuppressive drugs, people with AIDS

*People with serious long-term health conditions including diabetes, heart disease and lung disease such as emphysema and moderate asthma)

If you do decide to practice social distancing by staying away from people, what can you do to keep yourself entertained? Isolation is getting more difficult to deal with as we spend more time in one place, get less stimulation, and miss our friends and family. Here are a ten activities you can do alone to stimulate your mind and body and ward off cabin fever until it really is safe to be out in public again.

#1 Write a letter or a postcard. May 3-9 is National Postcard Month, so it’s the perfect time to write a card to a friend or other loved one. If you have more to say, go ahead and write a letter.

#2 Communicate by phone. If you don’t like to write, communicate with your friends and family by phone. You can call, text, or send photos on most mobile phones available today. Use video calls to take your communications up a notch; get recommendations from Dan Grabham‘s article “Best Free Video Calling Apps 2020: Keep in Touch with Friends or Colleagues” on the Pocket-lint website. Marco Polo lets you make videos and send them to the people you want to be in touch with, but you don’t have to engage in a live conversation.

#3 Learn something new or enhance your skills. In April I shared a huge list of “Free Things to Do While You Are Hunkered Down.” From learning a new language to learning to play guitar, this list is sure to give you some ideas of activities you can engage in to keep your mind sharp even if you you’re sitting home alone.

#4 Read up on life on the road. I put together “A List of Posts about Vandwelling, Camping, Boondocking, and Living Nomadically from the Rubber Tramp Artist Archives.” It’s a good place to find links to past articles that tell you everything I know about life on the road. You can also see what other people know about life on the road by reading their blogs. I give you some suggestions about blogs to read in my post “10 Blogs by Vandwellers, Nomads, Vagabonds, RVers, Travelers, and Drifters.”

#5 Keep a journal. You might feel as if nothing is happening in your life right now, but you might be fascinated to remember your thoughts and activities during this time of global pandemic one, five, ten, twenty, or thirty years down the road. Also, the Positive Psychology article “83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress” by Courtney E. Ackerman, MSc. says,

Journaling can be effective for many different reasons and help you reach a wide range of goals. It can help you clear your head, make important connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and even buffer or reduce the effects of mental illness!

Certainly we could all use those benefits in these trying times!

#6 Practice gratitude. According to the Psychology Today article “Gratitude in a Time of Pandemic” by Zachary Alti LCSW,

Gratitude practice is not only important for making you feel better psychologically during this crisis, it can also help your physical health in response to respiratory infection and in general (especially in older adults who are in a higher risk category for COVID-19).

Whether you write down the things for which you are thankful in a special gratitude journal, jot down gratitudes on your calendar, note everything you appreciate in your regular journal, or simply count your blessings in the morning or at night, being thankful will make it easier to get through these difficult times.

#7 Meditate. The Psychology Today article “Meditation and Mental Health” by Samoon Ahmad M.D. states,

There are physical benefits [of meditation] that appear to be backed up by clinical evidence. According to these studies, meditation can help individuals sleep better, cope with some symptoms associated with mental disorders like depression and anxiety, reduce some of the psychological difficulties associated with chronic pain, and even improve some cognitive and behavioral functions.

If you’re not sure how to start your medication practice, see the extensive list from The Awake Network, “Free Online Meditation Resources for Times of Social Distancing / COVID-19.” Many of these teachings, practices, and other resources are being shared at no cost.

#8 Practice yoga, which is beneficial to both the body and mind. The Thrive Global article “Yoga Poses for Stress Relief During COVID-19” by Lindsay McClelland says,

As COVID-19 continues to spread we’ve all experienced change and stress in our lives…there are things we CAN do when confined to our homes, and luckily yoga is one of those things. In addition to being a form of exercise that doesn’t take up much space or equipment, there are specific poses that can help reduce stress in the mind and the body.

If you find videos more helpful to learn how to move your body, try Daily Yoga Practice for Stay at Home Covid-19 Quarantine | Yoga with Melissa on YouTube.

#9 Spend some time in the sunshine. Even if you practice yoga or do other exercise inside your house, it’s important to get outside and get some sunshine too. In the article “Get Sunshine and Fresh Air While Sheltering in Place” on The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center website, author Whitney Christian, MD points out

Direct sunlight is our bodies’ main source of Vitamin D, which has been known to help fight off osteoporosis, cancer and depression. Even just a few minutes of sun exposure each day can help increase your levels of Vitamin D…Taking advantage of sunlight can help ease muscle aches and cramps, strengthen our bones and improve our moods…Spending time in the sun also can help you recover faster from an illness or injury. Studies show that those exposed to more natural light have quicker recoveries and experience less pain than those exposed to artificial light.

#10 Take a hike. If you can safely go outside, seize the opportunity. In the American Hiking Society article “Hiking Responsibly: Frequently Asked Questions for Hiking During the Covid-19 Pandemic” explains,

spending some time outdoors every day (we recommend at least 10 minutes) is an excellent way to take care of your mental and physical health always, especially now. 

If you live in a rural area, you might have abundant access to open space and trails. In that case, if the park or trail you want to use is open, not crowded, and within a quick drive of your home (so that you don’t have to stop for gas, restroom breaks, supplies, etc.), then, yes, visiting such places for a day hike is fine as long as you practice strict social distancing and are following the guidelines of your local government and the federal, state, or local land manager. However, right now, we can’t risk diverting emergency medical care to wilderness injuries, so we urge that you only take an easy day hike in the front country.

Avoid parks or trails that have become crowded, even if the area is officially open.  If the parking lot is crowded, there are already too many people there. Turn around and find another location or go home.  Not only does crowding make it impossible to follow social distancing, but it puts extra wear and tear on trails and other park infrastructure at a time when volunteer crews cannot be operating. 

I hope these suggestion help you continue to practice physical distancing as long as it may be necessary for you. Please keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Stay home until the danger has passed.

If you found this post helpful, I’d love your support! Hit the donate button in the toolbar to the right or go to Patreon to become my patron.

Hiking The Deepest Lake On Earth – Perils and Trials of Lake Baikal (Guest Post)

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Today’s guest post comes to you from James Redden of the hiking and outdoor gear review website TrekSumo. James recently hiked Lake Baikal in Russia and lived to tell the tale. In this post, he’ll tell the tale to you.

Cracks in the ice covering Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal, Russia. One mile deep and 400 miles long. Between January and March every year the surface freezes up to a metre (3.28 feet) deep. Explorers venture onto the ice as they seek to traverse the full length, or dash across the 50km (31 miles) width of this vast expanse of water.

This is Adventureland – what could go wrong? A lot. Let me explain.

My Love of Cold Places

I’m a former soldier with 13 years service under my belt. During my time in the British Army I came to love the Arctic training packages my unit attended every year. The journey from the UK took us across the seething North Sea, up the spine of Norway and into the Arctic Circle near Poersanger.

Brutal temperatures bit deep. At times the thermometer nudged -30C (-22F). But it was okay, our equipment was designed to keep us warm.

I was smitten.

After leaving the Army I spent some time finding my place in civilian life. Office work beckoned. Memories of Norway clung to me. After a couple of years, I decided to work on my neglected fitness. In what felt like no time I had completed ultra-marathons, several Spartan races, and many long hikes.

More. I wanted more.

The next steps were easy decisions to make.

North Pole – 2015

Not a full distance ski, but far enough to experience the thrill of a truly extreme environment. And appreciate what the world is losing. I joined a team and we spent two weeks skiing across the frozen ice cap, reaching the Geographic North Pole 16 days after my 44th birthday.

Norway Ski – 2016

Next came a trip to Norway. Covering 250km (155 miles) in 8 ½ days was hard work. High temperatures and unseasonal rain made progress slow and arduous. Over the course of the trip I lost a significant amount of weight and suffered the misery of extreme fatigue. 

Norway Ski – 2017

A shorter trip this time round. Only around 100km (62 miles) in four days, in part due to an injury received on the first day. A small tear in an abductor muscles left me in agony. 

Greenland Crossing – 2018

Success! No illness, just a 600km (372 miles) ski along the Nansen route that cuts across this gargantuan island sat halfway across the Atlantic Ocean. I joined 5 others, some of them former Army colleagues, and we skied into some of the harshest weather seen or experienced for about 10 years. The crossing was a joy – apart from my near-death experience!

2019 was a quiet year for me. A plan to solo to the South Pole was shelved due to lack of funding. Looking at maps in search of possible destinations, my mind was drawn to Russia. Lake Baikal beckoned.

The trip wasn’t expected to be too taxing. After all, I’d completed several tough expeditions – how hard could Baikal be?

The Journey to Lake Baikal

My flight left on the 14th February 2020. Valentine’s Day was celebrated 24 hours earlier. Landing in Irkutsk on the 16th February was a surreal experience. Monuments to Soviet heroes still dominate civic buildings, the city center has what felt to me like a harsh and alien vibe. How wrong I was.

I’d heard that many Russians are harsh, unsmiling characters. All those I came across were friendly, helpful (even if we couldn’t understand each other).

One night in a hotel.

My gear packed.

Pulka packed and ready to go. The Lexico online dictionary says a pulka [or a pulk] is “a type of sled without runners, pulled by a person or dog and used especially to transport equipment and supplies.”

An early start.

Crossing Lake Baikal – the seed of an idea – started a year prior to the 16th February 2020. But that time had flown by. I sat in a car, talking to Eugene (owner of A – B Tours, the logistics company that did the heavy lifting and administrative tasks required to get me to the start point) as we headed to Kultuk, the traditional starting point for the traverse.

A mild chill raced into the car every time a window was opened. Cold weather thrills me. The climate didn’t seem quite chilly enough for my liking. That was the first complacency.

2 ½ hours after setting off, Eugene helped me drag my 60Kg (132 pounds) from the back of his van and onto the ice. He took a couple of photos, wished me luck and departed.

Game on.

Before we move on, anyone planning a similar crossing of Lake Baikal should check out the post I wrote about my hike there with tips for hikers. All of the tips offered were learned during my 400 mile winter run/hike/ski traverse of this vast expanse of frozen water.

The Perils and Trials of Crossing Lake Baikal

You came here to read stories of man vs Mother Nature, of fear and uncertainty in an alien environment. So far, you’ve read a meandering, placid tale of one man’s journey into the wilds of Siberia.

Bear with me. We’re about to delve deeper.

Is It Possible to Haul Gear with Ankle Injuries?

60Kg of food, fuel and protection from the elements. Seems a fairly light weight when you’re traveling across ice. The task becomes infinitely harder when you start to pick up injuries.

Day 1, 10km (6 miles) out from Kultuk, the snow thinned. Movement was easy. Ridiculously easy.

I decided to jog, if only for a short distance.

My Merrell Moab 2 boots were ideal for this kind of work. Lightweight, with great ankle support, they gave me a sense of sure-footedness as I dashed across the ice.

Nature – or ill-luck – waits at every junction, in every pothole hidden by a thin cloak of snow.

We all know that feeling that something is about to go wrong. A sixth sense that predicts our, only our, misfortune.

Alarm bells rang. I fell.

Pain radiated out from my left ankle. Half a kilometre later, as night closed in, I hobbled to a halt and erected my tent.

For several days the injury slowed my progress. By day 5 the swelling eased off, and I felt ready to attempt an easy jog. Easy? The pace was excellent – nearly 6 miles per hour – and only mild niggling pain from my left ankle.

There was one issue. Compensation. To relieve the pressure on my left ankle my body had compensated – an invisible and instinctive reaction of which I was not aware – by shifting weight to my uninjured leg. My right shin and ankle ballooned.

Pain was a constant companion for the remainder of the journey. At times it was little more than an irritation, but on some days I had to take regular breaks to pop pain killers and rest.

Yes, it is possible to haul a pulka with ankle injuries. You just need to accept there will be pain, then ask yourself how much your journey means to you.

What could be worse than this? Well…

Filth. And the Effects of Mild Food Poisoning

5 years’ experience of hiking, skiing and trekking in arduous environments. That’s a good deal of experience in anyone’s eyes. My own back catalogue of adventures extends way back into my teens. That’s over 30 years of knowledge stored and available to me and anyone else who cares to listen.

Experience only matters when you pay close attention to the details.

6 days into the traverse of Lake Baikal, my right ankle grumbling in the dark cocoon of my tent, and a new sensation stirred.

I knew this one well.

In seconds, I had burst out of my sleeping bag, ripped open the flysheet zip and was outside relieving the pressure in my abdomen. Oh, the pain.

Some people revel in the details. Let’s leave those out of this tale.

Stomach cramps pulled me doubled over. The cold, normally my friend and constant traveling companion, multiplied the misery. Every step amplified the stabs of pain – the waistband of my pulka harness pressed hard on my abdomen.

For five days the discomfort and pain were all too apparent, only fading after I’d finished the crossing.

Looking back, I realize the most likely cause of the food poisoning was the interesting build-up of grey food under the rim of my thermo cup.

That was the most painful experience during my time on Lake Baikal, but what about the wildlife…?

He Who Doesn’t Dance with Wolves

Lake Baikal is home to a dizzying number of animals, in part due to the protection inherited from living in, or near, a national park.

Before heading over to Russia, I’d received warnings that bears and wolves stalked the ice. Planning how to fend off an attack was my initial response. “Would a bear take any notice if I started beating it with one of my hiking boots?” Unlikely.

Running fast seemed like a better option. I’m 48, but keep myself very fit. The reasoning in my mind was that maybe a dash across the ice, heading away from the bear would work. Ultimately, there was no need to test my theory as the bears were still hibernating.

Wolves are a different prospect, as I discovered.

Day 8. Clouds gather and darkness spreads. Nightfall shifts across the land. I’m trudging through deep now, my legs tired and my glutes a raging inferno. Soon it will be time to pitch my tent and cook up another evening meal.

Something catches my eye. A movement to my left.

Blurred shapes bounced and raced across the ice. At first, I assumed they were children from a nearby village, but soon realized the nearest habitation was about 8km (5 miles) away.

It was at this point I decided to move away from the loping shapes. As I moved off sounds rolled across the ice. I’ve seen wolves up close, but only in the zoo, and heard their bark-growl. A sense of urgency insisted that I move faster. Run, whilst dragging a 60Kg pulka.

After a while, I paused and looked back over my shoulder. The bounding figures were moving off in the opposite direction. They had no interest in me.

Meeting some of Baikal’s wildest inhabitants would have been a truly amazing experience. But I’m happy to keep those with very pointy teeth at a good distance.

And The Trials Kept On Coming

Lake Baikal is a beautiful and harsh mistress. Her icy embrace is a warning, one we would do well to heed.

I saw wolves, traveled nearly the full distance carrying ankle injuries and experienced the searing jabs of food poisoning. Yet there was more.

Temperatures of -20C (-4F), driven lower by the Siberian wind chill are a constant reminder that the extremities should always be protected. At times I was a little slow to heed that warning and paid a price…

Frostbitten thumb

At night the ice creaked and groaned, fractured as the immense plates pressed against one another. Periodically the ice would shift underfoot and sending me crashing to the ground, waiting for the plate to flip me over into the frigid waters.

Luck favored me. I remained dry for the entire journey.

Heat, or the contrast between hot and cold, was another unwelcome companion. During the day the sun climbed, beat down and forced me to remove layers of clothing in order to prevent overheating. Then nature spun the wheel, clouds gathered and the deep chill returned.

Clothes were quickly pulled on, but the cold had already found its way deep into my muscles. For a while, until my legs were once again warm, I shambled unsteadily over the ice.

Do You Want to Hike Lake Baikal?

Don’t let my story put you off attempting the 400 mile traverse. Lake Baikal is a place of mystery and beauty. Danger and thrills await intrepid hikers and explorers.

As a destination, I can wholeheartedly recommend Lake Baikal although I would give you one word of warning: seek guidance before you set off.

About the Author

James Redden is a former soldier in the British Army who now owns a technology company. In his spare time he travels to the most extreme and arduous destinations on the plane with the he aim to raise awareness and funds for mental health charities. When not working in IT, traveling and giving public talks James can be found working on his new hiking and outdoor gear review website TrekSumo.

The author provided the photos for this post.

A List of Posts about Vandwelling, Camping, Boondocking, and Living Nomadically from the Rubber Tramp Artist Archives

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It’s a tough time to be a nomad because we’re all grounded right about now.

Where are you hunkered down during the COVID-19 pandemic?

If we’re not hunkered down at our home base, we may be staying with friends or family members. Some of us may be self-isolating in a still-open campground or while boondocking on public land. In any case, we’re not out and about as much, not able to see new things or visit new places.

Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast

If you want to be productive while you practicing social distancing, I’ve compiled this list of Rubber Tramp Artist blog posts of particular interest to nomads, vandwellers, vagabonds, rubber tramps, RVers, drifters, and travelers of all kinds. You can use these posts to learn about everything from safety on the road and how to prepare for disasters to how to deal when the weather is bad and how to train your canine companion for life on the road. Especially if you are just beginning your nomadic journey, these posts can help you prepare for a nomadic life.

So here we go. Browse this list to find posts you missed and posts you want to revisit so you’ll be ready when it’s time to get back on the road. (I’ll also include some photos from my travels for your viewing pleasure.)

Mountain, southern New Mexico

If you don’t understand what all the fuss is about with this coronovirus and COVID-19, check out the post Living Nomadically in the Time of COVID-19 for information about what the pandemic we are currently experiencing means to individuals and to all of us.

Red flowers, location unknown

Before you hit the road, familiarize yourself with the basics of living nomadically. From lingo to budgets and all the preparation in between, these posts will help you get ready to go.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

If you don’t already have a rig, these posts may help you choose the rig that’s right for you.

Lake Isabella, California

Many nomads are going to have to work, at least part time. These posts will offer you tips on getting a variety of jobs, from camp host to house sitter to human guinea pig.

Adobe at sunset, New Mexico

Staying safe is important to everyone, especially when driving a large, powerful rig or living alone. Check out these posts for tips on staying safe while living on the road.

Arizona beetle

Maintaining mental health is extremely important too. These posts will offer advice for staying mentally healthy while you travel.

Gate and Ute Mountain, New Mexico

Unfortunately sometimes disasters happen. Here are some precautions you can take to help you avoid disasters.

Pine tree on Dome Rock, California

It’s important to know what to take with you when you hit the road. Here are some of the things I recommend.

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

It’s also important to know what to leave behind before you move into your rig and how to organize the things you decide to keep. These posts can help you purge and organize.

Waterfall, Oregon coast

When you’re living on the road, you’ll find yourself dealing with the impact of the weather. These posts will help you stay comfortable when the weather is less than pleasant.

Tule River, California

Need help staying busy and connected while traveling? These posts will help you find things to see and do while you’re on the road, as well as help you stay connected to other people.

Rocky Mountain high, Colorado

If you’re traveling with a companion animal (or more than one!) or if you’re considering getting one to join your nomadic life, these posts may be helpful

Goose on the water

If you’re traveling in a travel trailer, these posts might be of special interest of you.

Giant sequoia, California

So you want to go camping…Whether you’ll be sleeping in a tent or boondocking in your van, travel trailer, fifth wheel, or motorhome these posts will help you have an enjoyable experience.

Mesa Arch, Canyolands National Park, Utah

Now that you know how to camp, I’ll tell you where to camp. These are campsites I’ve actually been to, most of which I have spent at least one night at. Many of these campsites are free.

Joshua Trees, California

If you want to learn from other nomads, check out these interviews, as well as the post all about blogs written by other vagabonds, nomads rubber tramps, and van dwellers.

Monument Valley, Navajo Nation

I hope this post helps you pass the time and sends you on your way to so much good information. If you read all of the posts listed here, by the time you come out of self-isolation you will be totally ready to hit the road.

If you found this post helpful, I’d love your support! Hit the donate button in the toolbar to the right or go to Patreon to become my patron.

I took the photos in this post.

Camping Basics

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When I asked for suggestions for topics for my Wednesday posts of special interest to vandwellers, vagabonds, rubber tramps, nomads, and travelers of all kinds, my friend Laura-Marie of the dangerous compassions blog suggested I write about the basics of camping. Good idea! Camping season is upon us, so today I’ll share the steps for finding a camping spot, setting up your equipment, having a great time, and packing up to go home.

#1 Decide where you want to camp. Do you want to camp close to home, or do you want to visit a different region? Do you want to camp in a campground or hike into the back country? Do you want to camp at the beach or on top of a mountain? Do you want to camp in a forest or in a desert? Do you want to be in a remote, quiet location or close to civilization? Answering these questions will help you decide where to camp. (If you decide to camp in a forest, desert, or on top of a mountain, see my blog posts “How to Stay Safe and Healthy in the Forest,” “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Dessert,” or “Managing in the Mountains” for more tips for a pleasant camping experience.)

If the mere thought of using a pit toilet makes you gag, this might not be the right campground for you.

#2 Decide on the amenities you need a campground to provide. Do you want to rough it in a place with no amenities or stay some place with running water, electricity, hot showers, and flush toilets? Do you want to stay in a yurt with real beds? Will you be pitching a tent or staying in your motorhome, travel trailer, or 5th wheel? Do you need to take a hot shower every morning? Do you gag at the thought of using a pit toilet? Do you want to hike, fish, or collect rock specimens during your trip? The answers to these questions will also help you choose the right camping spot for you.

#3 Do research online before you hit the road. If you want to camp for free, check out both the Free Campsites and Campendium websites. These websites list free and cheap campsites across the USA and include reviews from people who’ve actually stayed in those places. Many of these camping spots are in primitive camping areas on public land, so be ready to boondock and meet all your own needs. (Not sure what it means to boondock? See my post “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers.”)

National parks, forests, and monuments often offer developed campgrounds. You can get information about and make reservations for your stay at these campgrounds at Recreation.gov. National forest campgrounds typically do not offer showers but often do offer pit toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings. Campgrounds in national parks tend to be a bit fancier and may include running water, hot showers, and flush toilets.

If you want to camp at a state park, do an internet search for the parks in the state you’re interested in that have campgrounds. State parks often have amenities like hot showers, picnic tables, fire rings, flush toilets, and even visitor centers with educational exhibits. If you need some comforts of home while still enjoying time out in nature, a state park campground may be the right choice for you. (New Mexico has fantastic campgrounds in its state parks. You can read my posts about camping at Elephant Butte Lake State Park, Brantley Lake State Park, Rockhound State Park, and Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. You can also read my post about the New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass.)

Another camping option is a private campground. Some private campgrounds cater to Rvs while others have spots for tent camping too. Some private campgrounds prohibit car camping, so if you’re a vandweller, you may want to carry a small tent for just such occasions.

No matter what sort of campground you decide to camp in, make sure it has the amenities you need before you make a reservation or pay a fee. Get as much information as possible online before you make a decision.

#4 Pack everything you need. Where you camp will help determine what supplies you will need. If you’re not bringing an RV, at the very least you’re going to want a tent, food, and water. If you want even a bit of comfort, bring a sleeping bag. For extra comfort, bring a sleeping pad or air mattress to go under your sleeping bag. If you’re going to cook, you’ll need a portable stove, fuel for the stove, pots and pans, utensils, plates, ingredients, cooking oil, spices, etc. If you’re in a spot with no drinking water, you’ll have to bring your own. If there’s no water at all where you’re camping, you’ll have to bring water for washing too.

Other basic necessities: flashlight or headlamp with fresh batteries (it’s dark out in nature, even in a campground); tarp to go under your tent; rain gear (just in case); pillow (you can get small ones especially for travel and camping); strong stakes to help hold down your tent; small shovel, hand soap, and toilet paper if you are going to be primitive camping.

(For a very complete list of items useful for camping, see my Checklist of Things to Take on the Road.)

#5 Once you arrive at your general camping destination, find your campsite. If you’re staying in a campground, the camp host will probably assign you a site, or maybe you already picked your site when you made a reservation. Ask the camp host for help finding your site, check your reservation confirmation for your site number, or look for a placard with the name of the person who made the reservation on it. If you’re in a first-come, first-served campground, look for a site that’s not too close to the (possibly stinky) pit toilets and not on an obvious incline.

If you’re boondocking, find a spot that’s been camped on before. Look for a place where the groundcover has been disturbed or where there is a fire ring made of stones.

No matter where you are camping, you want a nice flat spot for your tent. (Creeping downhill all night because your tent is pitched on uneven ground is a special kind of hell.) Make sure you aren’t pitching your tent on top of bumpy tree roots. When you find a spot that seems workable, look up. You don’t want a branch falling on your tent in the event of high winds Once you’ve found a flat spot with no dangerous branches overhead, clear away any sticks and rocks. (Another special kind of camping hell is finding you’re sleeping on top of rocks, sticks, and roots.)

#6 Pitch your tent. For a complete step-by-step guide (with pictures!) to setting up (and taking down) your tent, see the WikiHow article on the subject, but for your convenience, I’ll hit the high points here.

  • Practice setting up your tent before your trip. This step is especially important if you won’t arrive at your camping spot until after dark. This will also allow you to make sure all of the tent components are present.
  • Once you’re on your campsite and have picked a place for your tent, unpack and lay out all the items you will need to set up the tent. These items include the tent itself, rain-fly, ground cloth or tarp, tent poles, stakes, guy lines, and a mallet or rock for pounding in stakes.
  • Lay out the tarp or ground cloth where you want the tent to be. The ground cloth will help protect the tent floor from tears and punctures and keep it dry. This bottom layer should be as big (or nearly so) as the bottom of your tent.
  • Lay the tent over the ground cloth.
  • Assemble all the tent poles.
  • Put the poles through the sleeves on top of the tent. Beware: With some tents, poles of different sizes go into specific sleeves.
  • Once the poles are in place, the bottoms of the poles must be attached to the bottom of the tent. Look for pouches at the bottom of the tent the poles can fit into or metal pins attached to the tent that slide into the hollow end of the poles. As the poles go into place, the roof of the tent should lift off the ground
  • If the tent has clips used to hold its fabric close to the poles, snap the clips over the poles.
  • The bottom of the tent should have loops through which the stakes go. Put the stakes through the loops, then pound the stakes into the ground using your mallet or a rock.
  • Stretch out your guy lines and stake then down. You want your guy lines to be taut but not overstretched. Staking the guy lines will help the tent stand properly and will help the zippers slide smoothly.
  • Attach the rain-fly if your tent has one. You may want to leave the rain-fly off on a clear night, but if there is any chance of rain, put it on. Trust me, you do not want to go outside in a thunderstorm to attach your rain-fly.

#7 Set up your kitchen. Your kitchen will be one of the mostly highly trafficked areas of your camp. If your campsite has a picnic table, that’s a logical place for your kitchen.

If you’re camping in bear country, you’ll need to take some extra precautions. In the book Bear Aware, author Bill Schneider offers an entire chapter detailing camping in bear country. One of the most important tips he shares is to separate your sleeping and cooking areas. If food smells attract bears, you want them as far away from sleeping people as possible.

“The sleeping area and the cooking area must be separated by at least 100 yards,” Schneider advises.

Also, he says be prepared to “hang everything that has any food smell” or store those items (including trash, toothpaste, sunscreen, lotion, etc.) in bear canisters.

#8 Keep a clean camp. Food and garbage lying around can attract flies, rodents, raccoons, ravens, and bears. Of course, you don’t want to tangle with bears, but even smaller animals can create a huge mess by dragging food and garbage all over your campsite. Flies carry disease, and no one wants to get sick while they’re supposed to be enjoying trees and birdsong. For more information about dealing with wildlife while camping, check out the great article “How to Keep Animals Out of Your Campsite” on the Camping Cooks website.

If you’re in a campground, dispose of trash in garbage cans or dumpsters regularly. Be sure you close garbage containers securely. If you’re camping in a place with no trash containers, tie garbage bags and stow them securely in your vehicle until you can pack out what you’ve packed in.

#9 Once your camp is set up, you’re going to want to relax and enjoy yourself. Most campers love to sit around a campfire, maybe roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories. Of course, before this fun can begin someone has to build a campfire. If there’s already a fire ring on your campsite, use it. Otherwise, build one with stones. Do NOT start a fire on bare ground. Also, you need a source of water, a bucket, and a shovel on hand at all times during your fire building and enjoyment.

If you are allowed, gather wood from around your campsite. Sort your wood according to size. Even if you’ve brought firewood, gather small sticks and dry leaves and needles for tinder if you are allowed to do so.

Place some tinder in the middle of the fire ring. Use sticks less than one inch around to build a teepee-like structure over the tinder. Shove balled up paper in between the sticks. Once the framework is built, light the balled up paper. You need to start your fire small, then add larger pieces of wood. Once the fire is burning strongly, you can add larger pieces. You can get more information about building a safe campfire from Smokey Bear.

Had your campfire fun and now you’re ready to go to bed? Make sure your campfire is DEAD OUT. Any time you leave your campsite, any fires must be DEAD OUT. Smokey Bear can tell you how to do this too, but briefly, pour lots of water on your fire or stir sand or dirt into the embers to bury the fire. Smokey says,

Remember:
If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.

#10 When it’s time to go home, break camp.

Make sure any rain or dew on your tent has dried completely before packing. If your tent is damp when you put it away, you will have to set it up again at home so it can dry, or you run the risk of unpacking a stinky, moldy mess next time you go camping. Pack up the tent in the reverse order of setup.

Clean up your campsite. Practice the leave no trace rule of camping where you remove every hint of your presence. Pick up all trash, including microtrash. Put all trash in trashcans, or if none are available, pack out what you packed in. Don’t leave any trash in fire rings. Be a good campground steward and leave your campsite cleaner than you found it.

If you piled up rocks, sticks, leaves or pine cones before you set up your tent, spread those materials out over the big bare patch where your tent sat.

If you built a fire ring, take it apart after you have determined that the fire is DEAD OUT. Disperse the rocks and ashes so their presence cannot be detected.

Don’t leave any belongings behind. Get everyone in your party to do a final walk through of the campsite to make sure everything brought has been packed up.

I hope you had a great camping experience! What did you learn that I left out? Share your camping tips in the comments below.

There’s no way to imagine or prepare for every situation one might encounter on a camping trip. Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you or protect you from every danger you might encounter in nature. You are responsible for our own self! Research the problems you might encounter in the area you plan to camp before you get there. If you plan to camp on Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service land, call the field office or ranger station responsible for that place and ask about hazards in the area. Think before you act. If something you’re about to do seems potentially dangerous, don’t do it!

I took the photos in this post.

15 Tips for Staying Comfortable in the Heat

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World's largest thermometer shows  temperature at 91 degrees.

Summer is coming and depending on where you are, you may already be dealing with the heat. It’s important to stay cool whether you’re living in a tent, a van or other vehicle, a motorhome, a travel trailer, or a conventional house. Today I’ll give you tips on staying comfortable as the mercury rises.

Thanks to Laura-Marie of dangerous compassions blog for asking me to write about staying at a comfortable temperature.

#1 Wear the right clothing. Unless you’re at a nudist colony, you may have to wear some clothing, but you can increase your comfort by wearing 100% cotton garments. Cotton is a breathable fabric that lets perspiration evaporate. I refuse to wear polyester in the summer because it makes me unnaturally hot and causes my armpits to smell really bad.

#2 Don’t get a sunburn. Trust me, you will not be comfortable if you have a sunburn. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF on exposed skin, or (my favorite) cover up with lightweight 100% cotton clothing. The Lady of the House swears by sun protection clothing by Coolibar. According to the comapany’s website,

Tested more than any other brand, endorsed by experts worldwide and recommended by dermatologists – Coolibar guarantees UPF 50+ protection in our fabrics from the first day our product is worn until the day your garment is retired.

#3 Wear a hat. A hat intended to keep the sun from beating on your head can go a long way to increase your comfort in the heat. Again, I like natural fibers. I also like a wide brim to help protect my face, but even a baseball or trucker cap will help protect your head.

#4 Stay in the shade. If you have to be outside when the sun is shining, stay in the shade of an awning, canopy, tree, or umbrella. When parking your rig, try to put it in a position for optimal shade.

#5 Be still. Like a desert animal, you want to remain inactive during the hottest part of the day. Exercise or do your most physically active chores in the morning or evening when the temperature is lower. During the hottest part of the day, read, write, listen to podcasts, or nap if you can. In other words, take it easy during the height of the heat.

Grey air-circulating fan

#6 Fan yourself. When you’re awake, you can use a handheld fan to make a breeze for yourself. At night use a fan run by batteries or electricity (depending on your situation) to move the air. Especially at night, I need airflow to survive the heat.

#7 Wet your clothes. If the humidity is not too high, wetting your clothes can be mighty refreshing. If I’m wearing a long sleeve cotton shirt, I’ve been known to take it off and dip it in a basin of water. If no basin is available, I’ll pour water directly over myself. As the water evaporates, cooling ensues, especially if a breeze hits.

#8 If you don’t want to wet your clothes, try the strategic application of a wet bandana. A wet bandana tied around or draped over the head can be very refreshing. Sometimes I’ll put a wet bandana under my hat. On hot nights, I’ve draped a wet bandana over my naked chest and been comfortable enough to drift off to sleep. A wet bandana draped over the back of the neck also feels good when it’s hot out.

There are products available for purchase (or you can make your own) that are supposed to help folks stay cool. Cooling towels and neck wraps are marketed to athletes and are supposed to stay cool for a long time after being dipped in water. Other items have little beads in them that absorb water and are reported to stay cool for hours. (These beads are properly called ” Super Absorbent Polymer water absorbing crystals.”) These products are well and good if you have money to buy them and space to store them. However, I’ve had success with the cooling properties of a wet bandana or even a washcloth.

Feet wearing hiking sandals in water
My feet in a cold mountain stream

#9 Soak your feet. If you have a kiddie pool or even a small basin, try soaking your feet in cool water. If you have ice, put some to your foot bath for added cooling pleasure. If I can get my feet wet (especially in a cold mountain stream), the rest of me cools off instantly.

#10 Wet your whole self. Try submerging yourself in a lake, river, swimming pool, or ocean. Take a cold shower or bath.

I once lived in Texas in a house with no air conditioning. Sometimes during the summer I’d wake up in the night totally hot. I’d make my way to the bathroom without turning on a light, get in the shower, and turn on only the cold water. The jolt of coolness left me comfortable enough to go back to sleep.

#11 Drink cold beverages.  Staying hydrated is so important when the weather is hot. In the summer, I keep my EcoVessel bottle filled with ice and water, and I carry it wherever I go. If you need a little flavor, add some lemon or lime to your cold water. You can also drink juice, iced coffee, and iced tea (herbal or with caffeine) but water is your best bet for battling dehydration.

#12 Go somewhere cool during the hottest part of the day. Hanging out in the air conditioned comfort of a library, coffee shop, movie theater, or even a mall can make even the hottest day pass pleasantly. For a few bucks (or maybe no cost at all), you can take advantage of the cool air already being cranked out by someone else’s air conditioner.

#13 Cook outside. When you cook inside, the heat from your stove warms your living space. If you have a portable propane stove, take it outside to cook your meals. You can also cook on a gas or charcoal grill. If cooking outside isn’t an option, cook early in the morning before the day heats up or late in the evening when the temperature has dropped.

#14 Don’t cook at all. Use some of the tips from my blog post “What to Eat When You Can’t (or Don’t Want to) Cook.” Eating chilled fresh fruit is cooling and will help you stay hydrated. Hummus and guacamole are light, easy to prepare, and can be eaten cold.

Winding mountain road
Follow a mountain road to a higher elevation.

#15 Change your location. If possible, go up in elevation or visit a beach or seashore.

The mountains are beautiful in the summer. For every 1,000 feet gain in elevation, the temperature drops approximately 3.5 degrees. That means if it’s 95 degrees at sea level, it will be a cool 78 degrees at 5,000 feet. (For more information about mountain life, see my post “Managing in the Mountains.”)

If the mountains aren’t right for you (or they’re too far away), go to the beach. It will be easy to cool off in the water, and the seashore tends to have a nice breeze. Even a few days in a cooler location can make the heat at home easier to bear.

So there you have it—fifteen tips for staying comfortable when the weather is hot. How do you stay cool in hot weather? Please leave your tips in the comments section below.

Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety and wellbeing. Only you are responsible for your safety and wellbeing. If you are in a dangerously hot situation, please move to a cooler location Ask for help if you need to. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are real and dangerous, my friends.

I took the photos in this post.

Winter Emergency Kit (Guest Post)

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Winter isn’t over yet! That’s why when Gabrielle Gardiner approached me about sharing her article on preparing a winter emergency kit, I jumped at the chance. Below, Gabrielle tells you what you should have on hand to prepare for the worst should you get stranded in a winter wonderland.

Photo by John Salzarulo on Unsplash

Life on the road is liberating and exciting, but it’s not always easy. There are countless unpredictable challenges you can face, especially in the winter. Road conditions tend to be more hazardous. Frigid temperatures can interfere with the battery and mechanics of your vehicle. You need to prepare for the worst to mitigate your anxiety about potential emergencies while traveling alone in freezing temps.

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to prepare for being stranded roadside in the winter. The first thing you can do is read The Survival Mom‘s article “How to Survive a Blizzard in your Vehicle.” Secondly, it’s wise to pack an emergency kit to protect yourself, if only to put your mind at ease. When you learn survival skills and feel ready for anything, even the most inconvenient or dismal scenarios won’t seem so bad. Naturally, you should still opt out of traveling during severe winter weather conditions to avoid low visibility, icy or impassable roads, and an increased risk of accidents.

Don’t know where to begin to pack your kit? Make it easy for yourself and use a checklist so you don’t forget any essentials. Try this awesome winter car emergency checklist that you can download and print here.

Photo provided by the author

Just like taking care of your mental wellbeing while living a nomadic lifestyle is important, it’s crucial to empower ourselves through preparedness. In the following sections, let’s outline some of the most important tips to keep in mind as you prepare yourself for a safe and enjoyable winter season on the road. Pack the items into a big duffel bag or storage container and leave it in your vehicle all winter long. 

Food & Water Essentials

Packing a hefty supply of non-perishable snacks can be a lifesaver. Your emergency kit could include favorites like jerky, granola bars, and trail mix. When you’re stuck roadside in a pretty isolated area, the last thing you want to deal with is feeling miserably hungry. Keep in mind that whichever snacks you choose, be sure they don’t freeze easily. You won’t be happy trying to consume something that’s rock solid frozen with little chances of defrosting. Of course, water is another essential item to keep in your car kit. Again, to prevent it from freezing and being undrinkable, keep the water in a soft-sided insulated container and wrap that container in an emergency thermal blanket.

Snow Tools & Safety Items

If you don’t already have an arsenal of snow tools, you’ll want to invest in some for your kit. Buy a collapsible snow shovel so you’re always ready to dig your tires out of the snow, or in more serious circumstances, uncover your snow-engulfed car so it is visible to rescuers. Reflective triangles could help you become more visible, too. Plus, you’ll need ice scrapers to keep your windshield clear. A supply of basic tools in a toolbox could also come in handy.

Photo by amir shamsipur on Unsplash

When it comes to safety and staying warm, include an emergency thermal blanket as well as plenty of extra socks, gloves, and winter clothing layers in your kit. If your battery dies and you have to go without heat, you’ll be thankful you have the attire and protection to stay alive. You also can’t forget a flashlight, batteries, and matches for situations when you don’t have light or heat. Be prepared to treat your own minor injuries if necessary, and keep a first aid kit on hand as well.

Miscellaneous

One of the best ways to feel self-sufficient and empowered is to know how to jump your own vehicle. Otherwise, you have to rely on the kindness of strangers helping you out, or you’ll have to get a tow truck involved. If you’ve never jumped a car, you can learn how to do it. It’s not nearly as intimidating or complicated as it might seem. Take a look at the steps on how to do it here. Also, be sure to invest in some jumper cables before you hit the road.

Other key additions to your winter emergency kit: portable cell phone power banks, an emergency contact sheet (because no one memorizes phone numbers anymore), and kitty litter (even if you don’t have a cat.) Kitty litter might seem surprising, but it’s great for tires trying to gain traction in the snow. Or, you could also use sand, road salt, or snow mats to get unstuck.

To Recap:

Don’t forget to include the following in your winter emergency kit:

  • Water 
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • Snow shovel & ice scraper
  • Flashlight & batteries
  • Matches
  • Emergency thermal blanket
  • First aid kit
  • Toolbox
  • Reflective triangles
  • Phone charger
  • Jumper cables
  • Kitty litter

Living nomadically is incredible, but it can be a nerve-racking and unpredictable experience sometimes. You owe it to yourself to be prepared for anything. Hopefully, this guide to putting together a winter emergency kit can help you out this season.

Gabrielle Gardiner is a digital content creator who is passionate about developing helpful and compelling stories. She calls Manhattan home but loves escaping the big city to experience nature as often as possible.