Bringing a Little of the Great Outdoors Home

I like to unplug, go off the grid, and camp near a stream. This is my blog persona and it isn’t a fantasy. I can go on and on about the outdoor life and sleeping peacefully under the stars rolled up in a toasty sleeping bag. Cooking on a campfire is the epitome of the experience. Try fresh coffee in the morning and some bacon and eggs you prepare yourself with the iron frypan. You will soon understand my idea of heaven. You don’t have to have any particular talent. It is a very democratic experience. I try to prolong my adventures by adapting my abode to camp style living. I call it bringing a little of the great outdoors home. Fortunately, I have a large backyard and patio so I can bring some of the fun of outdoor cooking to my immediate midst. I decided to go all out and top off the area with a large grill and a fire pit. Yes, I do like to sleep in the yard alone or with friends. Given that I added a kegerator (one of these: to the space, everyone can enjoy the best brew in town. Burgers and beer are my entertaining style. I have left nothing out. Friends accept my invitations with glee. Okay, we can’t have a real campfire due to neighborhood regulations, but we can as close as we can to ersatz camping. I am called the oddball of the neighborhood. I could write a book about camping but instead I have a blog and Facebook. I go for the traditional type and eschew too many modern conveniences like generators, outdoor lighting, and tents. Camping is about coping with the environment no matter the circumstances. It could rain or shine and I will be just fine. I prefer a bit of the wilderness rather than a tourist hotspot with RVs in a tidy row. You won’t ever catch me in a motorhome. Well maybe when I retire. I may opt at that time for cabins, sports facilities like a lake with canoes, or a nearby compound with food and bathing. For now, I am going native and keeping it real. I am not a big hunter or fly fisherman, but the idea of getting my own food appeals to me. For now, at least I make it. You probably think that installing an outdoor kegerator at home is pushing things to their limits, but I am not trying to compare my home to nature. Thus, I can add a few amenities for myself and friends. Campers who fear the real experience and would rather not light a match will come to my house for a taste of my idea of the good life in a safe environment. We have yet to see a stray bear. I have persuaded them over a long period of time by touting its many advantages, among them the grilled food and ice cold beer.

Camping can be Hard on Your Vehicle

I love my car. It has taken me to many great places, particularly the local campsites. But lately, I feel that it has seen better days. As much as I love sleeping out under the stars and eating from a tin can, I hate when my car starts to accumulate signs of wear and tear. A lot of it comes from the rugged terrain of the camping area. If you go to a popular campsite, people park close to you and ding your door or back fender. They are oblivious, but what can I say? I get loads of dents from driving over rock-laden dirt roads myself. Plus, the sun and rain are tough on paint. My shocks are shot. Sometimes I feel like bashing someone else’s vehicle and ask a friend to drive, but this doesn’t seem fair. They get it right away and decline the invitation. It would be nice to have someone tag along, but they have seen my wreck. I suppose it doesn’t matter if your car is trashed if you use it primarily for recreation, but I also take it to work and out at night. It doesn’t make a very good impression and I'm sure it's been the topic of conversation on Facebook for my friends before. People ask if I kick the car in anger. What? It isn’t a real person. When I take the car to a carwash, they try their best; but they can only tackle the grime and dirt, particularly that caked on the tires. I like that they at least clean the interior where I have had many spills. I have a cooler for drinks but I sometimes want one while driving and it can take a tumble. Plus, there are telltale signs of lunch in the back seat or evidence of a rogue racoon. The carwash has a canister vac which works very well for this purpose. You can’t lug a heavy upright model around the place. If I wash my car at home, I don’t get nearly the results, so I decided to look at a web site called The Vacuum Challenge to help me make the decision of which canister vacuum to buy. I won’t stop camping because it takes a toll on my car. Don’t be crazy. It is part of my life by now and it will continue to draw me into its realm. There is nothing like the outdoors with scenic views and crisp, fresh air. Add fishing in a stream and hiking up a hill and you have the recipe for the best recreation. Given the feast for the eyes with all its picturesque beauty, I take a digital camera along to get prime photos. I may use my cell phone and send images to friends showing them what they are missing. The rest go on Instagram or Facebook. People know by now that they can regularly expect my photos. I get their vacations at the beach or skiing in the mountains. We all have our preferences. I will try other pastimes, but give me camping every time.

Campfire Cooking Tips

I am a big camping fan and it is no surprise that friends ask me for tips on what kinds of accessories to buy, where to go, and how to build and cook over a campfire. I am happy to share my knowledge. It is not difficult to promptly start a fire and to make great outdoor meals. You start with an ideal site for this indispensable outdoor tradition. If there is no designated fire ring, you can make your own where permitted. You can call the forest service in advance to find out what is allowed. When you arrive, make sure your site is sufficiently away from branches and debris. You know about embers and wildfire so you will dismantle your pit as soon as you are done. It goes without saying to clear all flammable materials. Most people cover their fire rings with sand or gravel. To start the fire, gather tinder, kindling, and larger pieces of wood that will help the fire keep going as long as you like. Don ‘t cut branches from live trees. Now you can build either a teepee, log cabin, or upside down pyramid style. The teepee is made from loosely piled tinder in the center of the ring. Add logs as needed slowly. Two large pieces of firewood make up a log cabin. They are placed parallel to one another with room between. Place two smaller pieces on top perpendicular to form a square. Amble tinder goes inside. Add layers making them smaller and smaller. Finish with kindling and tinder. The spaces allow the fire to get needed oxygen. Finally, for the pyramid construction, use three or four of the largest logs placed side by side. Add a second layer of smaller ones and continue getting smaller as you go up. Now you are ready to prepare a delicious meal. I, for one, loved fresh grilled fish. You may bring all the ingredients with you if you want to get fancy. Use cookware designed for campfires and water to douse the flames when the meal is over. Who doesn’t want to end with s’mores? During the preparation process, I like to wear a welding jacket as those roaring flames get pretty hot. I do this particularly on cold days as it keeps me warm while it protects me. It pays to wear something that is flame resistant. I can’t tell you how important this is. I have seen the results of inattention. A welding jacket is not hard to find on the Internet, especially with the help of Twitter, and will generally sell for under fifty dollars. It’s a great deal for the safeguarding you get. Plus, there are usually inside pockets for storage. I always seem to misplace my cell phone and car keys somewhere in the dirt. Ensure that camp guests and children never get too close to the campfire. For s’mores, they can use a very long stick. Taking caution by spending a few dollars on the right gear pays off in the end.

Good Friends, Good Weekend

If you are an outdoor junkie like me, no doubt you have been camping dozens of times. There is nothing like the exhilaration of being outdoors and testing your survival skills. I don’t always go deep into the wilds; I like the traditional places just fine. I enjoy boating, hiking, cooking dinner over a roaring fire, and singing songs while drinking beer late into the night. Then it is time to retire in your tent or sleeping bag with the stars as your ceiling. If you adore fishing, it will be one of your primary activities. Give it plenty of time. There is nothing more contemplative and relaxation. Plus, dinner will be sublime. Some of my friends like to come along and fishing is not their thing. When this happens, I bring a soccer ball that I picked after reading a post on my favorite magazine's Facebook page and we play around for hours burning off steam. Then you can fish or relax as you wish. A walk by the lake is scenic and fun. Just remember the location of your campsite. I select one that has enough adjacent space to play soccer with six people. Most of my friends enjoy the game and getting to play makes for a great weekend. The sport is so popular now that sites like are popping up to provide coverage to fans. In the US, fans are developing daily and finding an alternative to baseball and basketball. It is one thing to watch your favorite teams and another to play soccer for enjoyment and athletic toning. I find it ideal for a trip by the local stream. You can’t very well play baseball or basketball. It is easy to kick the soccer ball around in an open area. You will want a campsite that doesn’t get too crowded, of course, and I know some secret places that are not often frequented. Soccer is challenging and dynamic, but most of all I like the camaraderie of the team. I select my camp mates accordingly. I like a little competitive spirit but without fanaticism. This is true for any sport. People in tennis, for example, who throw down their rackets in anger are anathema to me. I don’t like cruelty, brutality, or bad language during my recreational athletic time. We had a participant once a while back who took winning too seriously and it spoiled all the fun. It is never good sportsmanship to be overly invested in any game. For me, a camping trip punctuated by a few games of soccer is all about blue skies, fresh air, good friends, and exercise. If you like to go solo to sleep outdoors, I will count you out. If you are game, you will find that I like to set the ground rules right before we play so that we come to a consensus. To warm up, I like to jog a bit around the camp area. The last requirement for campground soccer is to get a treat after a while. Who doesn’t like a wienie roast? We remember them as kids. Grilling hot dogs is a great way to end a rousing soccer match.

I Have Skills!

Some say I have a one-track mind about camping and fishing. If you knew the pleasures embodied in these sports, you would agree. There is nothing as wonderful as sleeping under the flickering stars and cooking fresh fish over your campfire. I could go on and on. Today, however, I have a different agenda. I need to consider buying a router table from, an item that is essential to my woodworking shop. Frankly, I have gone way over budget for miscellaneous expenses this year. It is all due to new camping gear. Mine was getting worn out and I also want to try some of the latest innovations in collapsible tents. I also bought a small portable generator which was a real splurge. It will power my night lights, coffeepot, and laptop, leaving me in the lap of luxury while out in the wilds. I think the router table is going by the way side. But I am not giving up hope. I will build my own version. I have skills, or I wouldn’t have a workshop. A table router combo is a powerfully accurate system. It will make my work so much easier and the results so much finer. If I do it myself, I can make it user-friendly and include everything I need in one package. I’ve got the lumber and the woodworking knowledge, so let’s get started. I want a long-lasting router with a 1 ¾ horsepower motor. It must be robust enough to work through even the heaviest wood. I want over 300 square inches of smooth working surface, so I can customize the table just the way I want. I can buy the tools that come with the prefab tables. I know what to get to make my work clean and accurate. These are key words when it comes to quality woodworking. I will make sure I can quickly adjust cutting depths and lock to even microfine levels. The fences are going to be adjustable as well, and extendable, too. I am so excited. I have always craved a router table combo to complete the existing items in my woodworking shop. So here is my list of requirements: a router, a collet, wrench, table, fence, dust guard, two feather boards, a miter gauge, three insert rings, and all the necessary hardware. Attaching all the accoutrements to the table I make will be the last stage of the project. If I complete the router table on time, I will reward myself with an extended camping trip to my favorite lakeside destination. I will take a couple of friends to join me on hikes and help setting up. The weather will require my new tent and some insulated sleeping bags. We will fish as always and cook it up fast at night. You can’t get more fresh than that! I am working hard on my table and the prospects of finishing it soon look good.

What Makes a Good Campsite?

Some people are under the impression that a good campsite really depends on the person, but those people probably don’t camp often. There are definite things that are necessary in order to be a good site for camping, and here is a pretty good list of them:

  • Don’t camp downhill. This one should be common sense but most people don’t think about it until it starts to rain and all of a sudden their tent is an island. Or they overlook the rocks that fall from the cliff their tent is pitched under until one falls and hurts someone or trashes the tent.
  • In the same vein, don’t set up camp too close to water. Water can attract animals, which will be unexpected guests, but also to prevent source contamination.
  • Put your tent up on a flat, durable surface like rock or dirt so you’re not damaging the plant life that was happily existing there until you showed up. You don’t want to destroy the very nature that you’re out there to enjoy. If you’re in a rocky area, do yourself a favor and check for snakes before setting up camp. Another free tip: long grasses are a poor choice because chances are stuff is already living there—like ants, chiggers, ticks, and other things that will bite, sting, or otherwise annoy the heck out of you.
  • Don’t camp near a lone tree, a tree that looks like it might be dead, or with heavy branches directly over the tent. You don’t want to attract lighting or your own death with a fallen branch.
  • In mosquito prone areas, keep windward if you can. Mosquitos don’t fly well against the wind, which will help you from becoming a blood donor.
  • Utilize your surroundings. Boulders or rock outcroppings will protect you from the wind if you put your tent up accordingly. A tent that gets some sun in the morning will warm you up and dry off any dew/moisture that occurs overnight. A tent that gets sun all afternoon will be a sweatbox when you are trying to sleep.
  • Don’t set up your tent too close to a fire pit, and especially don’t put up a tent right downwind of a firepit. Most of your gear is supposed to be fire retardant, but it will still burn (and smell). Here is the more important part to remember: you are pretty flammable. Don’t become a human s’more. Stay far enough away from fire pits. Also, be sure you can even light a fire before you do so. And only light them according to the rules of where you are staying, and make sure they are completely out before you go to sleep or move on. Let’s not burn the whole place down, OK?
  • The idea is to make it look like you were never there when you pack up. Bring all your crap with you when you leave. Make sure to leave the site intact so that the person after you can enjoy themselves, too.
The best thing to do is only camp at an already-established site, but there are times where that isn’t feasible. Be courteous, be respectful, and be safe. You’ll have an awesome time.

Stream Fishing Safety

I am not the guy that is going to tell you that you need a lifejacket to go fishing in a stream. You want to go on a boat and catch a marlin or something, yes—wear the lifejacket. But streams are a little different. Unless they are running high due to rains or ice thaw or you don’t know how to swim, I don’t think lifejackets are a necessity. However, if you DON’T know how to swim or you don’t know how deep the water is, then by all means, protect yourself from drowning. Basically—use common sense. Here are a few things that I have been taught and/or learned over my years of fly fishing in streams:

  • Although this should fall in the self-explanatory category, I’m not taking any chances. Don’t be in the water if there is a chance of lightning. That includes simply hearing thunder that sounds far away. Water conducts electricity, so if you want to stay alive, stay out of the water.
  • Don’t go in past your knees unless you actually want to be swimming.
  • Be mindful of water temperature. Some streams run very cold. You can get hypothermia on even a hot summer day if you aren’t wearing the right gear.
  • Speaking of gear, wear waders that will provide you with good traction. And use the belt. It’ll keep them on your feet, help you stay you drier if you fall down, and help you float if you start getting pulled downstream.
  • While they sell wading staffs to help you keep your balance, they won’t help when the water is traveling very quickly. Use your judgment. If the current looks strong, don’t fish there. Look for somewhere a little calmer. There will probably be more fish there anyway.
  • More information on currents: don’t wade with the current at your back. Your knees will buckle at some point and you’ll end up going downstream. Wade parallel to the current.
  • If you do fall down (or in), do not try to stand back up. Fight the urge. If there’s a current, it will just knock you over again or it could be too deep or slippery for you to get your footing. Instead, get into as close to a seated position as you can. This way, you can backstroke your way to calmer waters without worrying that you’re going to smack your head on anything and drown yourself.
  • When you want to cross the stream, go cautiously. Remember that banks can crumble and pitch you into the water. Avoid crossing near logjams or ice shelves.
Like I said, this list is mostly common sense. I know some people don’t have enough of that, though, so I thought they’d appreciate a list. Other people tend to panic and then common sense goes out the window when they get into a potentially dangerous situation, and they might need to read this too. The best advice I ever heard was that no fish, no stream, is worth losing your life over. Be smart, be safe, and there’s always fishing another day and another place.

Camping Disasters Happen to Everyone

We have a saying in our family--if nothing goes wrong, you didn’t try hard enough. I can prep all I want for my camping trips but something will always get the better of me. It’s just part of being outside in the elements and taking a chance. As a result, I’ve experienced some camping doozies and wanted to relay a few so that you don’t feel so bad about that time you pitched your tent too close to the stream and when it rained, half your stuff washed away. One time, I didn’t realize that a bag of hotdog rolls had fallen out of the bag and wasjust sitting in the hatchback of my car (or should I clarify that it was the car I had at the time, you’ll find out why I am making the distinction in a minute). It wouldn’t have been so bad if I had also remembered to roll the window back up after I went through the gate at the campgrounds but it was late and Murphy was on my side that night. Luckily I was not in bear country. Unlucky for my car, however, I was in squirrel country. It was my own stupid fault, but still. There is no amount of car detailing that is going to get the smell of squirrel piss out of car upholstery, let me tell you. I always keep an eye on the weather reports before I head out, but there was one time where the weather guy could not have been more wrong. It rained the entire time I was out there, and the road to leave was in danger of getting washed out. I spent much of that trip in the truck I traded in for the squirrelmobile. So much that I killed the battery in the truck and had to have somebody jump the battery in the rain so I could evacuate with everyone else. That was fun. But probably the best “disaster” I ever had was when my girlfriend—who hates camping and is literally allergic to the outdoors—decided that she was going to come along. She doesn’t like fishing and won’t eat fish either. I didn’t argue with her because she wanted to spend some quality time outdoors and I’m good with that. So she got some steroid medication from her doctor to help with her allergies and put on a brave face. Well, the steroids worked all right. She didn’t have any allergy problems. What she did have, however, was a serious case of roid rage. She got mad at me because I “didn’t bring her anything to eat” even though she bought and packed the food. She actually kicked the entire tent down. Then she broke a bunch of the poles and whatever wouldn’t break, she tried to throw in the stream. I say it’s funny now because she bought me a new, better, tent once she calmed down. I’ve got a million of ‘em: falling on my butt while fishing and getting drenched, losing a fight with a fish and having my pole break, accidentally forgetting some vital thing at home, touching some poison ivy in the dark while finding a place to do my business when I was drunk once; the list goes on and on. What about you? What’s your worst camping trip story?

Have a Nice Trip

Camping, when you do it right, requires a lot of planning and foresight. If you’re really going to be out in nature, there probably won’t be a store anywhere nearby so you have what you bring and that’s about all you’re going to get. If you pack smartly, you’re fine. Here are a few tips that I have learned—sometimes the hard way—over my many camping trips:

  1. Plan a shelter. You need somewhere to sleep. Bring a tent that’s big enough for the amount of people who plan to be in it. If it comes with extra poles or stakes, bring those too. You never know when one is going to accidentally (or intentionally) break and you’ll be glad you have a backup. A waterproof ground tarp is also good. Sleeping bags or an air mattress to sleep on/in, along with sheets, blankets, and pillows. If you’re bringing an air mattress, make sure you have something to blow it up with and a patch kit in case of air leaks. For sleeping bags, make sure it is rated for the temperatures you will be experiencing.
  2. Keep yourself safe. Research a little about the area before you go. Learn about any wildlife you may encounter and what to do if you if your path crosses anything dangerous. I bring printouts if I am not sure I will remember (is it black on red, I’ll be dead?) Bring a map and a compass or GPS. Trust me, your sense of direction isn’t perfect. Have plenty of water or the ability to filter/purify/treat it. Take a battery powered radio and a flashlight or lantern with you. Check to make sure everything works before you leave. The last thing you want to find is that your flashlight is dead when you’re in the tent and have to pee on the first night. Been there, done that! Matches, too. Just in case you need it. Have a multi-tool or pocket knife.
  3. Personal items are a must. Not just toiletries like a toothbrush and toothpaste, but other things like sunblock, chapstick, and bug repellant. If you take medications, bring extra just in case. If you are a fan of showers, you can get a camping shower and pump or a shower bag to stay somewhat clean. If you require more than that, you probably shouldn’t be camping. But you might want to pack toilet paper.
  4. I already mentioned water, but be sure to bring more food than you think is necessary. Store it smartly so that you don’t attract animals to your campsite. Have a way to cook that is permitted by whoever runs the grounds. Cooking on the hood of your car is not recommended. Bring firestarters or newspaper if you can light fires, along with your matches. Take cookware and dinnerware with you, preferably reusable so you aren’t creating a lot of trash. I personally always bring my fishing license and gear with the intent of eating what I catch, but I always bring enough food just in case nothing is biting. Hey, it’s happened.
Well, there you have it. A bare bones list of things to consider when you are packing for your camping trip. If you iron out these details in advance and pack accordingly, you should have a great time. Let me know if you found this list helpful. (more…)

My Lucky Fishing Pole

If you try a new type of bait, lure, or pole, you attribute your catch with the change. When you do something one way even just a single time and catch a fish, you want to do that thing the same way every time. Some people would call that superstition but I call it using every advantage. I don’t necessarily have to do things a certain way, but I do have a lucky fishing pole. My parents got it for me when I graduated from college. It’s a pretty simple carbon fiber pole—they don’t know all that much about fishing, I am sorry to say—but whenever I use it, I usually manage to pull something edible out of the water. But that’s not the real reason I call it my lucky fishing pole. Nope. I call it my lucky fishing pole because about a year and a half ago, my apartment was robbed while I was at work. I came home and the whole place was trashed. They took just about every single thing of value: my entertainment system, my camera, the cufflinks I inherited from my grandfather, my camping gear. They even took some of my clothes. And yes, they took both of my fishing poles. I was required to have renter’s insurance by my landlordso I was able to claim most of it and get some stuff replaced. Then I moved to a safer neighborhood. I bought one new pole with the money from the claim, a really nice Pinnacle. I used the new rod a few times and it worked really great. But I wasn’t catching anything. It wasn’t just fishing, either. It was as if the robbery had kicked off this huge string of lousy luck. My girlfriend at the time and I broke up. I was up for a promotion at work and didn’t get it. Things were looking kind of bleak all of a sudden. And then, out of the blue about two months later, I got a call from a pawn shop. The manager had found my name and number written on the grip of my fishing rod. It was faint, he said, like they had tried to wash it off. He’d had to guess on some of the digits in the phone number but he finally figured it out. He gave me his address, told me he’d already talked to the police about it, and I went over to pick it up. It was the fishing pole my parents had given me. To this day, it’s the only thing that’s ever been recovered from the robbery. The police think that whoever stole the rest of my stuff is either using whatever they took or they sold it in a different, untraceable, way. I’m not sure why they decided after all this time to pawn the fishing pole but I am grateful that they did. I went fishing with it just a few days later and caught a decent sized trout. I couldn’t believe it. Don’t you just love happy endings? And that’s why I call it my lucky fishing pole.