An Axe to Grind

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During my chainsaw recert I felt the re-kindling of the desire to have a nice axe. I have several already but they’re all your run-of-the-mill big box store-type axe. Last year I started thinking about more of an heirloom axe. I want something that will not only last me a lifetime but also be something I can pass on to my son and it’ll last his lifetime also.

I finally took a leap and ordered my first hand-forged, Swedish axe. It’s a Wetterlings forest axe with a 26″ hickory handle and about a 2 pound head. Right out of the box I knew it was going to be an axe to enjoy.

The fit and finish of the handle was superb. The head is very nicely forged and it had a keen edge. It wasn’t quite sharp enough to shave with but I don’t think it’ll take much to get it there. I haven’t taken the stone to it yet but I hope to work with it some over the weekend. I didn’t have any gaps in the head as I’ve seen in some online reviews and the handle grain is straight and tight. You can see in this first image that the handle has a hole through it in the event you wish to use a lanyard.

The sheath that came with it is nice and fits well. I’d read some reviews saying it had a cheap magnetic closure but mine is a tight snap fitting.

The axe arrived with a nice, small pamphlet attached to it which talks about how the axes are made and of course how to use and care for it. It’s interesting that Wetterlings has been forging axes for 100 years and the company has only 9 employees.

It seems to be very well balanced and while I have yet to actually use it in the field I’m expecting it to be a dream to use. It really is a beautiful axe and I’m looking forward to getting some long use out of it.

Where Does the Time Go?

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I can’t believe that my last post was September of last year. I guess I got so caught up in trail maintenance and the holidays that I really let things slip. I wish I could say I’ve been out on the trail for recreational purposes but those moments seem few and far between.

I did take the opportunity last weekend to finally renew my USFS chainsaw certification. Since we rarely (if ever) have the need to fell a tree the current certification only covers bucking and limbing. Rather than taking the course in Osceola Natl Forest again I headed south to Ocala. We had some great instructors and a great group of students. I’ll post separately on that.

Something I’ve been thinking of for a while which was further solidified during the chainsaw course was the desire to obtain a quality axe. Today my first hand-forged axe arrived in the mail. I actually have another arriving Tues. I tried to cancel that one because it hadn’t shipped yet but then it shipped before they cancelled it. Oh well. If I don’t like it I’ll stick to the plan of returning it.

On Feb 22 our FTA chapter will be hosting its annual IDIDAHIKE. If you’re in the North Florida area we’ll be hiking a 9-mile section covering both Camp Blanding and Gold Head Branch State Park. There is some really nice scenery in this area so I encourage you to join us. The cost is a $20 donation plus the $5 park entrance fee.

This weekend we’ll be out doing our final maintenance of the trail in preparation. I’ll have the DR mower loaded up tomorrow and I’ve already checked out the chainsaw and sharpened the chain. I’m looking forward to finding some trees down that I can buck off the trail. :)

Well that’s a quick catch-up. Time to get back into gear on reviews etc. Happy hiking!

Time to Get Back in the Woods

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It feels as though it’s been a very long time since I stepped foot on the trail. This past weekend I managed to get a small taste and this coming weekend I’ll be diving headfirst back into the fray as we kick off our maintenance season. The bulk of my journeys along the Florida Trail have been focused on the north and central sections. Over the weekend I got to explore a little of the panhandle section around Appalachicola.

My Wilderness First Aid certification expired at the end of July and I needed to renew it before leading folks back into the woods with manual and power tools. The FTA scored a great opportunity with Landmark Learning to host three regional WFA courses. Landmark is the Southeastern rep for NOLS/WMI. I was really looking forward to getting a WMI perspective compared with my prior Red Cross certification.

I left work Thursday and headed west to St Marks, Florida. My accommodations for the weekend would be the St Marks Volunteer Center. While there was a very nice bunk house provided, it was the perfect opportunity to finally get back into the hammock after a much-too-long hiatus.

St Marks Hammock

I arrived around 7:30pm and found a USFS guy that had been working there for the summer. After setting up the hammock we talked for a while. He was a bird and waterfowl guy and had some great stories about how he captures ducks for tagging. I think there are a couple of methods I’d like to try myself. :) We headed down the road for dinner where we were joined by another USFS (both contractors actually). He was a mechanical engineer working on bridge inspections along the Florida Trail.

I had most of the day to kill Friday since the CPR portion of the course didn’t start until 6pm. Since the duck commander had departed in the morning I tagged along to find a bridge. We spent a couple of hours hiking the trail and didn’t find it. We tried a spot a little further down the road and found it in 5 minutes. Oh well. It felt good to be on the trail again. I’m glad he decided it was too large of a bridge to do in the time we had. The skeeters were eating me alive and the Deet didn’t seem to have any effect.

Bridge Check

Let me just take a moment to say that there really must not be anything to do around St Marks National Wildlife Refuge. I say this only because I can’t come up with any other reason someone would build giant paper mâché animals in their front yard.

Mastadon

Duck

Friday night rolled around and I met up with about 15 other students at the St Marks NWR Visitor’s Center. I have to say that our tax dollars provided a very nice educational facility. We spent the next three hours going over the latest CPR techniques and had a good time. After a nice evening in the hammock (though I wish the trees would’ve provided a little protection from the full moon’s spotlight on me) it was time for the WFA portion.

Saturday was spent learning the patient assessment system which includes doing a full head-to-toe exam, running through a SAMPLE, and providing long-term care while waiting for help or prior to making the decision to evacuate. We covered emergency and evac plans, spine and head injuries, shock, and wound management. This was a much larger class than before with about 30 students. The instructors did a great job of managing it, though, and I don’t think it caused any problems aside from perhaps reducing the amount of time we had for scenarios.

I'm a Patient

Classroom Scenario

After reviewing the material we’d learned in the morning, we split into two groups: victims and rescuers. The victims headed outside and waited for fate to befall them. Soon, with capes billowing in the wind, The Mighty First Aid Warriors swooped into action.

Field Scenario

Sunday kicked off with more wound management and covered blood and bones. We learned about athletic injuries, fractures, dislocations, and heat illness. We practiced splinting each other with items found in the average backpack. The ability to improvise with the gear you have is crucial to properly managing wilderness medical emergencies. In this picture we fashioned a leg splint with a foam pad, spare clothing, some cravats, and an Ace bandage.

Leg Splint

After the practical exercises were done we continued on with cold injuries/altitude illness (granted, not something we deal with much in Florida), lightning (definitely a possibility), anaphylaxis, and dealing with medical patients opposed to trauma patients. The 16-hour course came to an end and I think we all left feeling better equipped to face potential injuries we might encounter on the trail.

The majority of the students were involved with trail maintenance. We ranged from trail coordinators like myself to section leaders, activity leaders, and maintainers. Any time you take on the responsibility to lead a group of people into the wilderness I firmly believe it’s incumbent upon yourself to be equipped to provide for their needs. This may mean you carry a little extra weight in the way of water, gear, or first aid supplies but I think it’s part of wearing the “leader” hat. Many times we find ourselves with new hikers or new maintainers that perhaps bit off more than they expected. It’s our job to ensure that they still have a safe and fun experience.

One regret from this weekend is that I didn’t get to spend more time exploring the refuge. At 68,000 acres it would be quite a daunting task to cover even a small portion during the time we were there. I am glad, at least, for the opportunity to take in some wildlife right around the visitor’s center itself.

Baby Gator

Pygmy Rattler

While I was talking to a couple of people in the parking lot a young fawn wandered out. Then later down the road I saw a family of turkeys. I decided that although it meant a little more driving deeper into the refuge I wanted to see one last landmark. Behold, the St. Marks Lighthouse…

St. Marks Lighthouse

In closing, I hope to encourage you to do two things. First, take some time out of your schedule to learn first aid and CPR. It doesn’t have to be wilderness-specific. Just get out and learn. The more people on the street that are trained the better. Second, take some time to enjoy the vast outdoor opportunities that are found all over Florida. You might even want to start at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge!

FTA Annual Conference

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While many of you were celebrating the luck of the Irish, others were gathered in Micanopy, FL just outside of Gainesville at the YMCA’s Camp McConnell for the Annual Conference of the Florida Trail Association. The event was scheduled from Friday evening until Sunday morning with the bulk of the activities occurring throughout the day on Saturday. I chose to get up early and head down Saturday morning since I was a speaker and already registered.

The drive was just shy of 2 hours and I arrived in plenty of time for my 10:30 show time. I was scheduled to be speaking at the campfire area and it’s a good thing I took my hammock stands since the trees weren’t where I needed them. I wasn’t thrilled about putting all my gear out around the ash-covered ground but fortunately I’d thought ahead and brought a moving blanket to lay everything on. As you can see I had quite a spread prepared. The tally was six hammocks, four tarps, two underquilts, two top quilts, and a selection of suspension types and other miscellaneous hanging gear.

Gear Spread

The seminar was basically a progression of my experience with a few curveballs thrown in. For the most part, though, I explained where I started and what led me to where I am today. Though not my first hammock (one of those curveballs I mentioned) I started with the Grand Trunk Ultralight since it’s a basic, entry-level hammock.

Grand Trunk UL

The reason I’m so passionate about doing these seminars is that I truly believe that hammocks have vastly improved my outdoor experiences and I want to share the adventure with others. I also realize that many people may be overwhelmed by the plethora of choices and options that are available and I hope to level the playing field and give them an edge when making their own gear selections learning from my trials and tribulations rather than enduring the heartache on their own. I have a lot of information to put out and I try to do my best to explain every critical detail.

Explaining the Knotty mod on the Lite Owl hammock.

When you leave my seminar I want you to feel that no matter what experience level you were at when you arrived you walk away having learned at least one thing. I’ve realized that someone has come up to me each time I’ve given this presentation and said that I provided them that one key point that they were struggling with. That makes it all worthwhile.

Ridgerunner

Discussing the use of the hammock as a camp chair.

Nano Buginator

Explaining add-on gear like the BIAS Nano Buginator.

Insulation

Demonstrating top and bottom insulation.

Ring Buckles

Contrasting various suspension methods (showing ring buckles here).

Audience

Addressing the audience.

Even after the seminar is over I try to make myself available to answer any questions. I provide additional information through this site specifically for those that attend. I also make my contact info available and let everyone know that they can feel free to stop me throughout the day if they have follow-up questions.

Post-Seminar Questions

I hope that I can continue to have the opportunity to do these seminars in an effort to fully evangelize the outdoor community on the benefits and techniques of successful hammock camping/backpacking. In closing I want to say a big Thank You to my friends at BIAS for providing a hammock for our raffle. Thank you for your continued support!

Another Hammock Presentation

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I’m sitting here at lunch working on tweaks for my next hammock presentation. This weekend I’ll be speaking at the Florida Trail Association’s Annual Conference at Camp McConnell near Micanopy, FL. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to engage some more people in discussions about the benefits of hammock backpacking. I hope I can cram all of my information into 1 hr 15 min.

Yesterday afternoon I broke out my Turtledog hammock stands and set all of my demo hammocks up so they’re pre-adjusted. I may have trees available (I’ve been offered two locations to hold the seminar) but I wanted to be prepared in case I don’t find them suitable. Right now I’m looking to use five of the hammocks in my lineup.

Insulation won’t be difficult to cover but I’m a little concerned about how easy it’ll be to put the tarps up. I think if I anchor the stands it’ll be ok. I just don’t want them moving/shifting around while I’m trying to tighten the ridgeline. I was very pleased that the guys at BIAS were able to get me a nano buginator before they left for the Ozark hang.

Well, time to wrap it up. Stay tuned for the after-action report! If you’re in the area come out and join the fun at the conference!

Trail Training

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One thing I have been envious of our Georgia neighbors is their availability of quality trails education. It seems that every time I turn around I’m seeing something about a new series of courses geared towards training the layman in trails-related curriculum. While it’s my understanding that Florida actually gets more funding through the Recreational Trails Program it seems that Georgia does a much better job of putting it to use.

As luck would have it, though, I was forwarded some information on an upcoming series and it looked like my schedule was actually clear. Even better was that the Florida Trail Association would fund the training out of the trails budget. Friday rolled around and I was headed north. Seven hours later and I arrived outside Atlanta at my hotel in Buford, GA.

Saturday morning I headed about 20 miles further north to the Gainesville campus (actually located in Oakwood) of the University of North Georgia. The class was full with 12 students from a variety of backgrounds. Florida was well represented with 5 of the 12 seats. Other students worked in parks & recreation, were self-employed arborists, SORBA volunteers, etc.

Saturday was the first of the three-part series: trail design and layout. The courses were taught by Walter Bready. The morning session was very educational as we covered a variety of topics. The presentation was provided by IMBA but the information is, for the most part, universal regardless of whether the user is on foot, on wheels, or on horseback. Following lunch we met outside and Walter had flagged off three spots on a hill in the woods. We were divided into groups and each group had a flag on the bottom and top. The goal was to use our clinometers to first get a grade of the hill and then map a path to the top flag following the half-rule.

Shooting Clino

In the picture above I’m shooting a line up the hill to my partner. Prior to starting the exercise we had to “zero” the clinometer to our partner. As we worked our way up the hill we all took turns shooting and re-shooting the grade to make sure we all understood how it worked. The pink tape is ours. The orange belonged to team 1.

I think the consensus among the Florida participants is that we all would have liked more information on wetlands design. I know this is an area that’s very critical to my success due to the large number of boardwalks and bridges throughout my area of responsibility. Regardless, we all learned something and have skills that we can apply as we return to our respective FTA chapters.

Day two was the really cool stuff: trail construction. Following the layout of the previous day we started with a morning classroom presentation. We covered the critical aspects of bench cutting the trail and ensuring you avoid potential erosion issues through proper design. Again, with much of Florida being flat I’m not sure how much the specifics will play into what we do but I still think we all learned some good practices to follow.

The afternoon field exercise was to cut a section of trail as a connector on the existing bike trail. There were numerous bikers and runners out while we were doing both field portions and this trail was planned for the kids to use. Walter had already rough flagged the trail and our job was to cut it in after a pin flagged it. This gave us the lower edge of the trail to follow and we had been told to cut a 3′ tread.

This shows the trail after it was pin flagged and before we started working on it. In addition to the leaves and other debris we also had to remove a number of rotting tree sections.

Clearing the Duff

The first step of the process was to remove the top layer of organic material (leaves, etc) until we reached good mineral soil. We used the McLeod and shovels to rake away the slough. Loppers also proved invaluable. They made it very easy to remove roots from the proposed tread without displacing a lot of soil that would have to be fixed later.

Clearing the Duff

As the organic layer was removed we used the McLeod and pulaski to cut the trail into the hill. The McLeod works particularly well at this since it’s got a wider head. It was also the tool we used to estimate our 5% tread outslope to promote proper runoff.

Cutting the Trail

As we cleared the section the organic layer was thrown uphill. It would be used later to cover our work and blend it in to make it look more natural. The dirt was dispersed on the downhill slope. Here are some of my fellow Floridians demonstrating the proper way to remove a small tree. A pruning saw was used to cut the top off with about 3′ being left above ground. This provides a handle to grip and move back and forth while another person uses a pulaski to cut around the base through the root ball. Once the root ball is cut the makeshift handle also makes it easier to lift and remove the stump.

Clearing Small Trees

Looking at the following image you can see several things. Down the middle of the image you can make out the gentle backslope we cut. You can also see how the McCleods have compacted the tread to create a more durable surface. What isn’t shown in this image is how the organic debris would be spread out to the right of the flags to cover the mineral soil that had been dispersed during the cutting process.

Finished

Overall we had a wonderful time and walked away with a number of new skills. I think we’re all excited about getting out on our own sections and putting these skills to work as well as sharing them with our trail crews. We’re hoping to start doing some of these workshops locally. Only one person stayed for the final day of crew leader training. It’ll be interesting to hear how that went.

@REIJacksonville

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REI Jax Storefront

It’s finally a reality. Tomorrow morning marks the beginning of a new era in Jacksonville and NE Florida. The first REI in the state of Florida opens at 8 am. It’s been a long time coming and the outdoor giant is finally here. So how will REI change the area? From a retail perspective REI gives us a choice. A better choice. And more choices. Beyond the selection, though, is the expertise. Aside from the smallest outdoor stores (of which there are but a handful) you won’t find the hands-on experience needed when making gear decisions. Today our only choices are big-box stores like Dick’s and Gander Mountain along with mass retailers like Target and Wal-Mart. The odds of finding people that can truly fit the gear to you and your needs are slim to none. That will all change with REI. And if it’s not right they have a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

More than the retail side, though, is REI’s commitment to community and the natural world we enjoy. The doors don’t open until March 1 but they have already provided thousands of dollars in grant money to local outdoor groups. The staff has already completed a service project at Hanna Park. And this is just the beginning. As they conduct classes and begin their outreach in earnest I think we’re going to see a very positive impact on the local outdoor community.

I don’t think it would be fair to write about it without sharing some pre-game pics…

REI Goods 1

REI Goods 2

I was surprised to see things like the Biolite stove there. Heck, I didn’t even know there was a grill available for it. Trust me when I say that it took a lot of willpower to not walk out with the Soto Muka stove. :) The hammock selection wasn’t quite what I’d hoped but it’s a start. Right now you can pick up a Hennessy or ENO. We’ll have to work on that.

REI Goods 3

I’m proud to say that I made my first (of many, I’m sure) purchases. I really wanted a new daypack but didn’t really have the time. I was there to meet and greet local outdoor folks and not shop. That was just an added bonus. So here’s my meager haul. I’ll be back this weekend. :-D

REI Goods 4

So there you go. Your insider look at Jacksonville’s newest outdoor champion. Get out there this weekend for the Grand Opening and support them as they support the community!

3rd Annual Florida Hammock Hang

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Another year has come and gone and with the change comes our annual Florida hang. We gathered once again at Buck Lake in the Ocala National Forest taking advantage of the MLK holiday weekend. I can’t help but think that this is one, if not the, largest hang in the country. I haven’t counted heads in the group photo yet but I have to believe we had over 100 people. There were literally hammocks everywhere.

People started arriving on Thursday and continued to roll in through Sat. The food, fellowship, and activities were excellent. Dinner Friday night was a massive amount of wonderful pulled pork and a monster turkey as the main dish. The turkey was fixed with a most ingenious system. Tradition held true and Saturday boasted our famous low country boil and gumbo feast. Of course the dutch ovens ran steady putting out a never-ending stream of soups, stews, mountain man breakfasts, cheese grits, and desserts.

Turkey Roasting

Saturday is the main activity day. Several of us did a 7-mile hike from Alexander Springs to Buck Lake while others went for a paddle. We also had a number of educational opportunities such as land navigation, making alcohol stoves, and knife sharpening. These were followed by the group photo and our ever-impressive raffle.

Hiking Florida Trail

Knife Sharpening

Land Navigation

If you’ve been reading this blog for any time you know I’m a stove junkie. When I learned that Mr. Tattoo was going to be there I told him to bring a Mini Tattoostove for me. Boy was I in for a shock over the size of his creation. The milling is very cool and I love the design. You want a small stove? This puppy is it! Check out the weight of the entire package (minus alcohol of course).

Tattoo Package

I have to admit that I’m quite pleased with the raffle. The items this year were better than ever with several hammocks, two handheld GPS units, a variety of stoves/cooksets, and all sorts of other hammock/outdoor gear. Much to my surprise I ended up winning twice in the highest level!! I’m thrilled with my new gear! I’m now the proud owner of a 50° 850 down Flight Jacket top quilt from Paul at Underground Quilts and a Biolite Stove.

Flight Jacket

Shocked Biolite

Sunday was spent with most folks lounging around the campfire. The early morning paddle didn’t yield any participants. Following breakfast the activities kicked in again. The group area was bustling with action as people made paracord survival bracelets and worked on more land nav including calculating pace count and making/using Ranger beads. The kids weren’t left out, either. They had a great time with their own activities thanks to Old Dog.

Temperatures for this year were the warmest we’ve ever had. The low my digital thermometer recorded on Friday night was just 49.6°. This did give me a chance to try my new down booties, though. I only wish had been freezing or lower. Things warmed up even more on Saturday and I recorded a low of just 60°. Sunday afternoon was downright hot!

This was a superb event and if you want to really experience the hammock life be sure to catch one of the upcoming hangs. Don’t let your location stop you! This year we had people from CT, MI, KY, NC, and TN. The Florida Hang is America’s Hang! ;-)

Stocking the Gear Closet

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It’s been a busy month acquiring new gear to test for the upcoming season. As I wrote earlier I recently picked up a Lite Owl hammock from Wilderness Logics. Well, a deal came up that was too hard for me to resist and now a Snipe has joined it. The Snipe is nearly identical to the Lite Owl only it’s a single layer hammock so it uses a slightly heaver (1.5 oz) material. It’s very comfortable like it’s big brother and a couple of ounces lighter. Unfortunately the heavier material isn’t as luxurious as the 1.1 used by the Lite Owl so I think I may be leaning more towards the Lite Owl instead.

I’ve also upgraded my top insulation. I received an absolutely gorgeous Burrow top quilt from hammockgear.com. Adam and Jenny do such great work! This particular Burrow is a 40° quilt with an extra ounce of down. It’s a virtual playground of downy goodness! So far I’ve taken it down to 31° and been absolutely toasty warm. I’m looking for excuses to use it now. During tests in slightly warmer weather (mid-50s) it’s done good to keep the breeze off my legs. I usually keep my torso clear and only cover if needed.

Sub-freezing Burrow

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I have also added a new stove to the closet. I picked up a Packafeather XL alcohol stove. This is a very clever design that uses a steel cable assembly to open/close a ring around the stove. This controls the airflow and thus the size of the flame. I’ve only done a quick burn test (no boil) so stay tuned for more info.

Packafeather XL

I also got a small selection of some more Dutch gear. I got shorted a couple of quilt hooks but it’s no big deal. I have another order to place anyway. In addition to what’s pictured I also got some 3/32″ shock cord for some DIY projects.

Dutch Gear
I’ve been running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off this holiday season. Stay tuned for full reviews as I get a chance to piece everything together.