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.

Thursday 12/02/15

Being in the dark isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, it can work to your advantage. How well do you know you own home? I'm not talking about the contents, I mean the floor plan. Do you know it well enough so you can walk around in the dark, without bumping into things? "Why would I bother doing that, when I can just switch the lights on?", I hear you ask. That's a fair question.

Being comfortable with the dark has several advantages. The obvious one is when you wake up in the middle of the night; you are able to navigate through your home without turning the lights on and disturbing the rest of your family. The same applies if you are unfortunate enough to experience a power outage at night. In both situations, it is useful to be able to safely and confidently walk to the nearest light switch or torch. It's a little embarrassing to witness adults panic about a sudden, temporary loss of lighting in their own home.

On a more serious note, if there is a fire in your building, smoke will rapidly reduce your visibility to zero. To escape, you will probably be on your hands and knees and have to crawl. Remember, smoke rises. The cleanest air is down low. If you can walk through your house in the dark, finding the exit during a fire shouldn't be too difficult. But what about holiday accommodation? Even when you are on holidays, it is imperative you know where your nearest fire exit is. After you put your gear in your motel room, go back into the corridor and walk the path from your room to the fire exit. Count the number of doors between your room and the exit. The reason for counting doors is so you know how far away the fire exit is when the corridor is full of smoke, reducing your visibility to zero. If you have to crawl, keep close to the wall with the doors, so you can touch each one as you pass it.

Another issue for darkness is home security. Usually, if you hear a strange noise at night, your first reaction is to turn on all the lights and hope it will discourage whoever is causing the noise. There may be an occasion where it is more advantageous to silently approach the source of the noise the dark and observe the situation, before you act. Darkness gives you the element of surprise, allowing you a few extra moments to make a decision; whether you choose to retreat, call the police, or take other some other course of action.

Darkness doesn't have to be a hindrance. Just like any other situation, be willing to work with your environment.