Thursday 05/03/15

I remember when I was a small child; my grandfather gave me my first lesson in foraging for food. It was a cold winter afternoon on the beach and the surf was rough, but that didn't stop the men from fishing. After an hour of no luck, my grandfather looked at them walked over to me with an old jam tin in his hand and said "I bet you we can get a decent feed before any of them even catch a fish".

I wasn't exactly sure how an old man, a small boy and a jam tin were going to achieve this, but I was keen to find out. He took me along the shoreline where the waves washed onto the sand, and told me to look out for any stones the waves washed onto the sand. The next wave left behind a stone. I pointed it out and he told me not to take my eyes off it, not even for a second. I watched it like he told me to, and to my amazement, it upended and started working its way into the wet sand, then disappeared. My grandfather stood on the exact same spot and wiggling his hips and digging his feet into the wet sand. The more sand he churned up, the deeper he went. Like magic, that rock appeared on top of the sand; only it wasn't a rock, it was a pipi. He quickly picked the pipi up and dropped it in his can. For those unfamiliar with seafood, pipis are similar to a clam and about the size of a rock oyster.

He filled the can with seawater; then we continued patrolling the shoreline. The two of us dug up many pipis in a short amount of time. When he decided we had enough pipis he drained the water from the can and refilled it with more seawater. Using rocks, dry grass and driftwood he found in the sand dunes, he built a small fire, then put the tin on the fire to boil. When the pipis were cooked, he removed the tin and drained the water. We left the pipis to cool for a few minutes, then enjoyed our meal.

By the time we finished eating and cleaned up our makeshift campsite, the weather had turned foul and the rest of the afternoon's fishing was cancelled. The men returned home cranky and empty handed. I returned home with a full belly and a valuable lesson. Not long after this I learned how to safely remove oysters from rocks.

This might not seem particularly impressive for the average adult, but my grandfather taught me at the age of eight how to safely forage for food.

Thursday 26/02/15

If you were stranded and needed to attract the attention of your friends or a nearby search party, would you know what to do? Jumping up and down while yelling at the top of your lungs might appear to be the obvious answer, but there are better ways. With a clear head and a little forethought, your task is easier than it seems.

On a clear sunny day, highly reflective surfaces are your easiest option. Commonly available items include DVDs, CDs, the mirror from a make-up case, or the glass on the front of your watch (especially if it is one of the large watches that are fashionable at the moment). If you were desperate you could use one of the mirrors from your car.

To aim the reflected light at your target, hold your non-dominant hand out in front of you, forming a V with your index and middle fingers. Line the V up with your target and aim the reflected sunlight through the V. If it is safe to do so, try to get up high, such as on the car roof. This will help your signal stand out and be seen from a little further away.

Smoke is another option, but you must exercise caution in doing so. You don't want your signal fire to get out of control and put you in any more danger than you are already in. First step, build your campfire as I described a few weeks ago here. From there add; green wood or leaves, pieces of rubber, old sand shoes, ugly old Hawaiian shirts or any other flammable materials (even your sleeping bag if you are desperate). Exercise extreme caution when throwing this material into the fire, you don't want to burn yourself or set your clothes on fire.

Don't just rely on visual cues, use noise to attract attention. I always have a storm whistle with me. Trust me, you can blow a whistle for a lot longer than you can shout. Shouting quickly irritates your throat, robbing you of your voice.

What about night? Yes, darkness will present a challenge but it is not impossible. In this scenario, high ground is the key. The higher up you are, the further away your signal can be seen. Again, you must exercise caution while doing this. All you need is a chemical glow-stick and at least a metre of cord (about the thickness of a bootlace, or para cord). Thread the cord through the end of the glow-stick and tie securely. Activate the glow-stick, then quickly swing the glow-stick in a big circle in front of you. This will create a large glowing green circle that will be hard to miss.

These are just a few simple ideas that might help you out of a tight spot. There are many others, but these are the ones that have worked for me.

Thursday 19/02/15

The DIY industry has become big business in recent years. Home renovation projects and build your own furniture packs can be an interesting way to pass the time on weekends. The DIY that interests me most is when I'm presented with a problem and have to think my way out of it. This form of DIY has been given the inelegant name of kludging (or red-neck repairs). In recent years I've met an increasing number of people who won't attempt even the smallest of repair jobs without retrieving their extensive (and expensive) collection of tools.

It's great to see so many people willing to tackle projects with step-by-step instructions. There are many TV shows, magazines and books that can guide you every step of the way; and I've seen some great results (and a few disasters) from these weekend projects.

There is a downside to DIY, and that is a lack of creativity. With the availability of such detailed instructions, people aren't getting the opportunity to use their imaginations anymore. I've recently been involved in a few situations where imagination would have gotten people out of a jam, but instead turned into a big drama or a trip to the hardware store to purchase supplies for a temporary fix.

If you have that much time and money to spare, a trip to purchase specific equipment is fine. But what would you do if you had to make-do with what you had around you? Just being willing to have a go can make all the difference. You don't have to be an expert, you just have to try. Henry Ford once said "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right". That's especially true in kludging. You can take control of the situation and find a way to create a temporary fix for the problem. Or you can play the role of the victim and give up without even trying.

The reason I'm talking about this subject is because I have been unfortunate enough to experience equipment failures while out camping or hiking and had to think my way out of the situation. They would have had very different outcomes if I had chosen to give up, because I didn't have a replacement unit. A clear head and a willingness to have a go can see you safely through a lot of problems life throws at you.