Last weekend I took the Pathfinder Club on our annual spring camping trip. We camp four times per year, twice in the fall, and twice in the spring. Twice with just our club, and twice with the conference (camporees). Yes, four twices makes four, and I’m sure you can figure that out.

We had several goals for this camping trip. The first was to prepare for the competition at the upcoming conference camporee. We’ve been working on this during the last couple of meetings, but there were some parts that just had to be done on a camping trip.

For this competition, the kids are divided into teams. We will be fielding two teams. They are each given a series of compass headings, and if they follow them correctly, they will find their victim. The first order of business is to render first aid to said victim, who has suffered a simulated head wound, burned hand, and sprained ankle. Unlikely as that is, it could still happen.

While part of the team is doing that, another part of the team must build a fire and brew some pine needle tea (which is not bad!) They also need to build a shelter using a 6′x8′ tarp and not more than 25′ of rope.

Then they take down the shelter and use the tarp to build a make-shift stretcher, on which they carry the victim out.
They are judged by how well they do each task, not on how fast they do each task.

So we learned the first aid, navigation, and shelter building during the past three meetings. I saved the tea-making and stretcher-building for the campout.

I had seen plans for a DIY backpacking stove online and thought it would be perfect for the tea-making part. I asked the conference if it would be OK, and they said it would be, provided I sent an email out to everyone with a link to the plans (so it would be even). Here the link if anyone cares.

One of my friends works at a place where they build stuff out of sheet metal, and since I wanted a couple of these, I thought I’d build one, and ask him if he wanted to build one too. He passed the request to a co-worker who punched the plans into one of their laser cutters. Bingo, out came a dozen stoves. :-)

We tried it out over the weekend, and it worked remarkably well:

Stove in action

Stove in action

The advantage it affords over a DIY alcohol stove is that you don’t have to carry fuel – it burns pencil-sized sticks, and those are lying around all over the place. The disadvantage is that wood fires make a lot of soot which blackens the cookware. So we’ll need some bags for these.

A second goal was that we invited Peter Wannemacher from the Limington Lanterns (a Pathfinder Club in Maine) to join us for the weekend and teach us the Sign Language honor. He is an excellent teacher, and we learned a lot of ASL. I almost think I could communicate with a deaf person. The kids really enjoyed having him, and they learned an awful lot as well. Some of them already knew quite a bit which surprised me.

The third goal was for us to finish the Wilderness Living honor we started last fall. For that we needed to collect drinking water using two methods. In the past we have collected rain water from a tarp, and we have filtered water from a stream. But I like to mix things up a bit and try new things. Since I was a child I have known about the solar still technique, but had never tried it, so we gave that a go.

To make one, you dig a hole, place a cup in the center, and add a bunch of wet material around the cup. Then cover with transparent plastic, weight the edges of the plastic with rocks, and place one rock in the center of the plastic sheet right over the cup. The sun evaporates the water which condenses on the underside of the plastic, runs down the the weighted center, and drips off into the cup. I bought a nice, large piece of crystal-clear plastic for $4.00. We got about a fifth of an ounce of water. Yeah. $20.00 per ounce is a little pricey!

Maybe if it had been hotter outside it would have worked better. Too bad I didn’t take any pictures of it.

Thursday morning Beth and I drove up to Freeport Maine to attend the Northern New England Conference’s 34th Annual Music Clinic. I think this was Beth’s sixth time going (and my third). In previous years she participated only in piano, but this year she was in the choir as well.

I brought my work laptop with me, found a quiet place to hang out and worked Thursday and Friday while Beth attended her practices. She very much enjoyed the weekend, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t.

I was treated to three concerts – one Friday evening, one Saturday morning, and another Saturday night. We had Saturday afternoon off, so we decided to hike up Hedgehog Mountain, the tallest mountain in all of Freeport. Yeah, at 300 feet above sea level, it’s not quite a mountain.

There was quite a bit less snow on the ground in Freeport compared to our house, but the trail was still covered with it.

The trail is snuggled up alongside several stone walls.

The trail is snuggled up alongside several stone walls.

The view from the top was very nice, but not spectacular. After all, we were only 300 feet up. We still enjoyed the view.

View from the top

View from the top

On the way back down we saw this weird pool.

An odd pool

An odd pool

It took me a little while to put my finger on it – the bottom of it is covered in ice. Ice is less dense than liquid water, so when it freezes it floats to the top. That’s why ponds and such freeze from the top down. They do not freeze from the bottom up. If they did, fish would have a very difficult time surviving New England winters. In fact, it might not be possible for them to survive at all.

And yet here it was, a pool with an ice floor. I’m pretty sure that the way this came about was that the pool was not very deep when it initially froze, and it probably froze solid, gaining a death grip on the ground underneath. Then as spring arrived, the surrounding snow pack melted and flowed in on top of it, burying the ice in a foot of water. It was pretty cool looking, and I was really glad to have seen it.

The hike didn’t take much time, so we headed back to the school. Most people were still gone for the afternoon. Beth decided she had not played enough music yet at the point, so she went up on the stage in the empty auditorium (save me and one other person) and played all the non-clinic songs she had brought. The set was still lit up on the stage, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to get a photo without interfering with a program.

Beth plays during some downtime

Beth plays during some downtime

It wasn’t long after this that Va arrived for the evening concert which was pretty awesome. I had saved us a pair of seats, so we weren’t stuck in the back as in years past.

The concert finished up around 10:00pm, we got in our cars and drove home arriving around 12:30am.

It was a long weekend, but it was sure worth it. I’d do it again.

We are in the middle of another major snowstorm, and the snow is falling fast. I went to the office this morning as I had a fairly important meeting to attend. Jonathan went to UNH because he was having a quiz. They closed the campus at 12:40, 10 minutes after his quiz. At work, we were told to be gone by 3:00, but I bailed at 1:40.

Jonathan and I both made it home OK, but it was harrowing. I drove past our normal exit and went up to the next one because the hills are less formidable that way. I had great difficulty with the first one off the interstate though, since I had to stop at the bottom of the exit ramp and then try to climb the hill from a stop. I didn’t make it. I ended up turning around and going back towards town (downhill). I turned around at a gas station where there was plenty of level ground so I could get a run at the hill. That did the trick. I got home sometime after 3:00, but I’m not exactly sure when. Jonathan was home already, his car stuck in the middle of the driveway. He was running the snowblower.

I figured he’d need to back up and get a run at the little hill just below the garage, but my car was in the way. So I took the snowblower and clear a path to my parking space, took a run at it, and managed to get it up the little hill to its spot.

Then we worked on getting Jonathan in the garage. I had to push him, and we needed to put the floormats under the tires twice, but he got it in there. Then I pulled the snowblower back into the garage and closed the door.

Va was brewing some much-appreciated hot chocolate. I had a cup and rested for half an hour (no more!) Then I thought I should take a few photos, but I had left my camera in the car. I suited up again, braved the elements and fetched it. Penny came along. Here’s the haul:

The House

The House

Penny in the driveway

Penny in the driveway


Penny is looking for a stick no doubt. They are harder to find under the snow, but somehow, she manages.

30 minutes of snow and we got about three inches.

30 minutes of snow and we got about three inches.


In this shot I’m standing in a spot where I had cleared down to the driveway 30 minutes before. I think that’s about three inches of snow covering my feet. In thirty minutes!

Penny wants me to shovel (so she can attack the snow)

Penny wants me to shovel (so she can attack the snow)


Penny desperately wants me to use the shovel. Sorry Penny. Maybe later.

The sidewalk to the front door

The sidewalk to the front door


It’s time to go in now.

At least a foot more on the deck

At least a foot more on the deck


Here’s a shot out the back door. That’s a foot of new snow on the deck.

This is supposed to continue until midnight. I expect we’ll get more than the 12 inches they have forecast since I think we have that already.

I have been wanting to go snowshoeing pretty much all winter, but things have seemed to conspire against me. Either I didn’t have enough snow, or I didn’t have enough time. Today, I had enough of both, so Penny and I set out for Sandogardy Pond. I don’t know when I was last there, but I do know it’s my first time since taking a new job in NH in November.

I always like to take pictures of Cross Brook (or as I prefer to call it, Little Cohas Brook).

Cross Brook

Cross Brook

Penny was afraid to cross the bridge, so she started making motions to swim the brook. I called her off, but she really thought I was going to cross and didn’t want to be left behind. I attribute that more to her being a dog than to anything special about me. ;-) I told her to sit, and she did.

Penny waits obediently

Penny waits obediently


I took another shot or two of the brook and then turned around and came back across to her. She seemed relieved.

I didn’t notice this at first:

Stray paddleboat

Stray paddleboat


It’s a paddle boat. It’s owned by some people who live on the pond, but I’m not sure exactly which house they live in. Also, I didn’t see an easy way for me to rescue their boat without risking hypothermia, so I let it be. Maybe someone with an ATV or snowmobile could pull it out.

This hike was very much needed, both by me and by Penny who has not had a decent hike since at least November. I’ve been busy with so many things. One of them was this:

Ship in a Bottle

My Pinewood Derby entry


My Pinewood Derby car. Yes, it’s a ship in a bottle. Lots of people asked how I got it in there, and I told them I had a shrink ray and that it was a real boat. I had shrunk it smaller than that so I could fit it through the mouth of the bottle and then put it in reverse and tapped it a few times. It didn’t unshrink the bottle though, because the bottle is glass and the ray would just go straight through it.

But the real answer is that the mast folded down (towards the stern). It slipped in fairly easily with the mast pushed back, and once it was in there, I pulled it up with the rigging. I tacked the thread to the jib-boom with s dot of super glue (which sailors of old surely lacked).

The sails are made from a tea bag, and the ship is set in the bottle in wax. Once I had the boat inside, I shaved some wax, dropped it in, and set it on the stove until it melted. Then I set the boat in position and let the wax harden.

Nothing to it!

The Pinewood Derby was the last part of a very long day. It started with our annual Pathfinder Sabbath. We did a “Newscast” from Jericho in the time of Joshua. The kids did a great job, but the whole program was plagued with technical difficulties. After that we had a potluck lunch, and then went into the Bible Bowl, which is like a quiz show. This year the material all came from the book of Joshua (which is why we selected that for our newscast).

Then we had supper followed by the Pinewood Derby. All-in-all, I very much enjoyed the day, in spite of the technical difficulties.

Tomorrow at work we are having a Super Bowl Potluck. Or as I prefer to say, a Superb Owl potluck. Here’s what I’m bringing.

Superb Owl

Superb Owl

For the past month or so, our Pathfinder Club has been working on the Model Hot Air Balloon honor. We’re simultaneously in the middle of shooting some video for a production we’re working on for Pathfinder Sabbath next month. I chose Hot Air Balloons because we can take a couple of kids out at a time to shoot their portion of our video, while I work with the rest of the kids on the balloons.

The balloons are made from tissue paper – we bought the kind you’re supposed to wad up and stuff into a bag when you don’t feel up to wrapping a gift. I guess.

Anyhow, the balloons are not that hard to make, and each kid has been working diligently on their own without needing too much help from the adults.

Yesterday we were ready to launch a few of them. We used a hot air gun to fill them:

Filling it up

Filling it up

I did some calculations and estimated that these balloons are a little more than 260 liters in volume (about 70 gallons). I did some more calculations and determined that if it was about freezing outside (0°C) and we were able to pump the balloons up with air on the order of 40°C (about 100°F), they should have about 40 grams of lift. So as long as the balloons were 40 grams or less, they should rise.

I didn’t measure the temperature or weigh the balloons, and both of those are likely to be wildly off. But none the less:

We have lift off!

We have lift off!

They achieved buoyancy. Not much though. We tethered them with fishing line, and in the photo above, I’m trying to get away from the heat gun and not get tangled in the fishing line.

Recovery!

Recovery!


This particular balloon did pretty well. None of them stayed aloft for very long, and I think that was because they lost their heat pretty quickly.

So now I’m thinking I might like to build another using a Mylar emergency “space” blanket. They weigh 85 grams (or so I have read), but they should reflect all the heat back inside, and therefore, stay aloft longer.

That will require about an 80° temperature rise, but honestly, we might have had that already with the tissue balloons. As I said, I didn’t weigh the ones we have.

Anyways, this was a very fun project. I might be hooked!

Tradewater near my parent's house

Tradewater near my parent’s house


Earlier this week my wife shared a message with me which she had received on Facebook from an old friend of ours. I won’t go into the details, but she had found my blog while looking for photos of the Tradewater River which runs through our hometown. Then she figured out who I was, and asked me to post something about the railroad tunnel. So here you go. :-)

I have no idea when this tunnel was made, but it goes under route 672. My brother Steve, a few friends, and I would sometimes go through the tunnel on the way to Bandit’s Cave, so named because the name “Jesse James” had been carved into one of the rocks there. I have no idea if it was carved by the man himself, but that is a real possibility. And now that I have introduced Bandit’s Cave, we’ll have to explore that tangent before getting back to the tunnel.

The cave itself was very high (maybe 100 feet), very wide (again, about 100 feet), and not very deep (maybe 30 feet). It was more of a scoop out of the side of a bluff than a cave, but it was leaned over such that its interior was sheltered from the rain. One time when we went there, we scrambled up the hill to get to the top of the bluff and were tooling around up there when some other kids we knew arrived. It became fairly apparent that they were pretty stoned, especially when one of them came tearing down the hill towards the edge of the bluff in a full run. As he neared the edge, he did not slow down. When he did get to the edge, he extended an arm, grabbed a tiny 4″ diameter pine tree, and swung out over the edge, landing again on the other side of the tree. It would be an understatement to say that I was somewhat alarmed by this antic. Right up until he grabbed that tree, I was sure I was witnessing a suicide. We decided we would leave before something else crazy happened that we a) did not want to get sucked into, and b) did not want to witness.

And thus ends the Bandit’s Cave tangent, and we can get back to the tunnel. Once again, Steve and I were in the vicinity of the tunnel, although this time, it was not on the way to or from Bandit’s Cave. I think we were visiting someone on Route 672, but I don’t remember anymore. Not having a car, we had ridden our bikes to the tracks, stashed them, and then walked the rest of the way there, first by going down the tracks to the tunnel, and then climbing the hill that the tunnel went through. It wasn’t far by foot, if one were willing to climb the heavily wooded and very steep hill through which the tunnel had been dug. By road it would have been a very long bike ride, and there’s no way we’d want to haul a bike through the thick woods up that hill. Not to mention that it would have been no fun to try crossing the Tradewater (via the railroad bridge) with bikes in tow.

On the way home we decided to go through the tunnel. Going through the tunnel was exciting because it was risky. It was, after all, an active railroad track, and if one were caught in the tunnel when a train came through, one would not likely survive. It was just big enough to let a train through. We were always very careful to listen for a distant train, and we would even press our ears against the rail to listen for one before entering the tunnel. Then we’d dart through.

Now these woods on the hillside were so thick that it was impossible to see the tracks from the road above. You just had to know where they were, and we pretty much did. We picked our way through the woods down the southwest side of the hill, hoping to come out on the east side of the tracks. When we got to the bottom, we could still not see the tracks, but since we were east of them, we knew that we should go west to get to them. Only we were already west of the tracks.

That was the densest, most thorn-infested patch of Creation I have ever laid eyes on. On top of that, it was also pretty swampy. It was quite the bushwhack. We kept going, and going, and still no tracks. Then we’d come to an impenetrable barrier of green briars and have to go around them, only to hopefully pick up in the same direction again on the other side. We did OK (except for getting farther and farther from the tracks). After a while we figured out that we had come down the hill on the wrong side of the tracks and were headed away from them, but the thought of backtracking through that tangle was unthinkable. So we pressed onward. After about an hour of bushwhacking, we broke through to the other side and found Montgomery Creek, which feeds into the Tradewater pretty close to where Route 672 crosses it. We followed the creek to the river (and bridge), and then followed the road to where we had stashed the bikes. Then we rode home.

Talk about going the long way around Robin’s barn!

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