This blog is serving as a tool in Christie's on-going attempts to have the best life she can despite the limmitations and challenges of a serious illness. It is a collection of observations, discoveries and questions she is collecting to help her design the life she wants, despite the limmitations and complications of this illness.




Monday, November 03, 2014

Equiptment Evaluation and Plans

One of the clearest things I am finding about horsepacking with a disability is that the "perfect" equiptment makes all the difference. Further, I am looking for most of that equiptment not from traditional horse packing suppliers, but from backpacking stores such as REI. What I need is the lightest weight, smallest and easiest to manage gear avalible. This tends to mean the kind of equiptment made for backpackers who have to count every ounce of weight they carry. After a fun fall season of trips, I have a pretty good idea of exactly what I need. I am going to begin making notes of what that is and of the research I am doing to find this equiptment.

SAFETY GEAR:


  • GPS and Text:   So far I have used my smart phone to text Dave and keep him updated on my GPS coordinates throughout my trip. Our agreement is that I text him once every 24 hours with an update of where I am. If I don't manage to do that, he assumes something has gone wrong and comes looking for me.

    Here are the options I have tried for this purpose so far:
(TRIP PLANNING/TRACKING APPS for my phone -  [REJECTED - not the correct technology for this purpose] )
    • Backpacker Magazine (Trimbleoutdoors.com) Navigator program - $30 per year for Eliete version.  [REJECTED]

      This uses GPS signal to track my movements on a map as well as allowing me to explore maps of the US and all its wilderness or back-country areas from home and plan trips and explore trails and routs. It allows me to download maps onto my phone so that I do not need a cell signal to view my planned routs or the maps of the area I am in. It uses GPS satalites, not cell signals, for tracking me, so it is very rare that it is not able to follow my progress and keep the map of my location and movements current, even if I am not in range of a Cell signal.

      I love this program and use it extensivly for planning trips, finding my way and making sure I don't get lost. Orignoally I just gave Dave my loggin information and hoped that he could log onto their website and see where I was. However, it turns out that the program only shows my present trip after I have closed it and uploaded it via Cell signal, and this often can't happen until I am home. Thus, while this is one of my primary tools for horsepacking, it hasn't solved the safety issues we wish to solve.
    • My Tracks (google) - Free [REJECTED]

      This is not specificly an emergency program, but is made for planning and keeping track of your routs, and thus is a lot like the Navigator program mentioned above. It has fewer featurs (you can't view maps if you don't have a cell signal, though it will continue to track you with a GPS satilite - you'll just see a blank screan rather than a map. It has the same problems in the safety arena - does not show anything real time and you need a cell signal to upload data to a website.
    • Everytrail (everytrail.com) - Free [REJECTED]

      Again, this is a planning and trip recording program, not an emergency program. Same issues as the above programs My Tracks and Navigator in the emergency department.
    • Columbia's GPS Pal (gpspal.columbia.com) - Free [REJECTED]

      Again, this is a planning and trip recording program, not an emergency program. Same issues as the above programs My Tracks and Navigator and Everytrail in the emergency department.
(GPS BASED PERSONAL SAFETY APPS for my phone -  [REJECTED - so far I've only found apps of this type which work in areas with good Cell signal coverage - great for cities, not for wilderness trips.] )


    • bsafe App (getbsafe.com) - Free [REJECTED
      I tried this for three trips and decided it will not work well for my needs. Its a neat ap that allows you to connect with friends or family and send them texts of your GPS coordinates, a map to track your movments or an emergency request for aid with GPS coordinates. Though it uses GPS satilites to track it seems to need a Cell signal to stay signed in. Thus, every trip I took it on, once I had spent any significant time in an area without Cell coverage (which is every trip) it logged me out and did not allow me to log back in until I had cell coverage again (was home). It may be a great app for safety in the city but it doens't work in the back country.
(SEPERATE DIVICES MADE FOR THIS - [GOOD OPTIONS] )

As much as I hate to carry anything extra, I have finally come to the conclusion that the best option for this need is going to be a seperate device made specificly for this purpose. So far I have been researching a few such devices that look good. I have not yet determined which is better, but will probably be going with one or the ohter of these.

    • Spot Gen3 GPS Messenger - at REI $149.95 (half off through Jan. 4, 2015)

      weight - 4 ounces
      power - 4 AAA lithium batteries, last 3 months when on, 3 days in SOS mode, 3.5 days in tracking mode, sends 350 messages in check-in mode
      size - 3.4" x 2.5" x 1"
      waterproof - yes
      off-grid connection - some. Needs a clear view of the sky.
      sends text messages - can pre-program 10 messages to send
      SOS - yes, manual
      automatic reports - yes, 10 minutes - 4 hours, share location and pre-programed message
      connects to phone - yes
      extras - this can be used like those trip planning and tracking programs as well as an emergency GPS. On-line planning tools, are avalible and you can input info about your trip as you go, but you can't see any maps or use it to find your way in real time.
      membership fees -
      notes -
    • Spot Global Phone -

      weight - 
      power -
      size - 
      waterproof -
      off-grid connection - 
      sends text messages - 
      SOS - 
      automatic reports - 
      connects to phone -
      extras - 
      membership fees - 
      notes - 
    • Spot Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger

      weight - 
      power -
      size - 
      waterproof -
      off-grid connection - 
      sends text messages - 
      SOS - 
      automatic reports - 
      connects to phone -
      extras - 
      membership fees - 
      notes - 
    • Spot Connect

      weight - 
      power -
      size - 
      waterproof -
      off-grid connection - 
      sends text messages - 
      SOS - 
      automatic reports - 
      connects to phone -
      extras - 
      membership fees - 
      notes -
    • ACR Electronics ResQLink + GPS Personal Locator Beacon - at REI $289

      weight - 5.4 ounces
      power -Lithium 5 year life till replacement
      size - 4.5" x 1.9" x 1.6"
      waterproof - yes
      off-grid connection -
      sends text messages -
      SOS -
      automatic reports -
      connects to phone -
      extras -
      membership fees -
      notes
    • ACR Electronics ResQLink 406 GPS Peronal Locator Beacon - at REI $280

      weight - 4.6 ounces
      power -Lithium 5 year life till replacement
      size - 3.9" x 1.9" x 1.3"
      waterproof - yes
      off-grid connection - yes, 100% global coverage through Iridium satelliate network
      sends text messages - yes, you can type them as you go and recieve messages if you pair it to your smart phone
      SOS - yes, manual, allows text communication
      automatic reports - yes, 10 minutes - 4 hours, share location, track info
      connects to phone - yes
      extras - none
      membership fees -
      notes -

    • DeLorme inReach SE 2-way Satellite Communicator - at REI $299.95 ($50 off through Dec. 2014)

      weight - 7 ounces
      power - 2 AA Lithium or other batteries, 100 hour life with clear view of sky and 10 minute tracking mode
      size - 5.8" x 2.4" x 1"
      waterproof - yes
      off-grid connection - yes, 100% global coverage through Iridium satelliate network
      sends text messages - yes, you can type them as you go and recieve messages if you pair it to your smart phone
      SOS - yes, manual, allows text communication
      automatic reports - yes, 10 minutes - 4 hours, share location, track info
      connects to phone - yes
      membership fees - yes. from $12/month to $100/month + annual fee of $25
      extras - none
    • DeLorme inReach Explorer Satellite Messenger - at REI $379.95 ($50 off through Dec. 2014)

      weight - 6.7 ounces
      power - 2 AA Lithium or other batteries, 100 hour life with clear view of sky and 10 minute tracking mode
      size - 4.5" x 2.46" x 1"
      waterproof - yes
      off-grid connection - yes, 100% global coverage through Iridium satelliate network
      sends text messages - yes, you can type them as you go and recieve messages if you pair it to your smart phone
      SOS - yes, manual, allows text communication
      automatic reports - yes, 10 minutes - 4 hours, share location, track info
      connects to phone - yes
      Extra - this can be used like those trip planning and tracking programs as well as an emergency GPS. On-line planning tools, downlaoded maps, waypoints, etc.
      membership fees - yes. from $12/month to $100/month + annual fee of $25

    Saturday, October 18, 2014

    Letter to my Dad from the Trail



    (View to my right from where I stopped to rest yesterday)
    Oct. 9, 2014 (morning)

    Dear Dad,

    I'm sitting here enjoying the sound of the creek and the warmth of the sun as it finds its way through the trees. Thought I'd write this journal entry to you, as I have been thinking this morning about your concerns about my latest endeavor to learn horse packing.

    I hope I reassured you adequately that I am taking my safety seriously and not - as I have sometimes done in the past - plunging into something I want with no regard for the reality of my abilities or my limitations. It is not unreasonable, given my history and who I am, that you would hear my excitement about finally deciding to do some horse packing trips into the wilderness and immediately picture me dieing a horrible death alone, far from help. We both know that I get swept away by my passions and have a long history of not taking the limitations of my health seriously.

    But I want you to know that some of these aspects of myself are changing. Perhaps 42 years old is a little slow to be finally growing up in this way, but slow or not, I am growing.

    In some ways it is your fault, you know! It has taken me a lifetime to unlearn what you and mom taught me from my earliest breath. That life is wondrous and good (even when its not) and I am strong and mighty and that given the mystery and powers of creation - of God - all things are possible. So you see, my problem is just that I took that message too much to heart. And possibly one other: that I am never alone, that somehow I will always be supported by people who love me when I truly need it. (You taught me these things about life and so what surprise is there that I so often don't take danger seriously? After all, if a person truly believes these things, what is there to fear?)

    It is difficult for me to unlearn these things which were the basic nutrients of my growing years, as much as sunshine and food. But it does seem that, for whatever reason, God has chosen this life for me to learn a slightly - only slightly - different lesson. That there are some limits I cannot overcome. There are some things that even my passion and my faith cannot make possible. And that, perhaps, responsibility and reason (even moderation) need to balance my passion and daring a bit more than is natural for me to do.

    I have been learning bits and pieces of these lessons for the past 20 years, but I think it is only in the last year that I have begun to truly take them to heart. As traumatic as the whole fiasco was with my health last spring, it served, as nothing else has, to get my attention. That experience changed me and I no-longer see myself rushing blindly at whatever I want, expecting it to all work out or for others to pick up the pieces when it doesn't.

    I apologise for a lifetime of what my living this way has put you through. I think you know that it has never been my intention to cause stress for you, or to be irresponsible. That those actions came out of my great passion for life and my underlying belief that (despite all evidence to the contrary) the world is safe and good. Or that they came as much out of those parts of myself as out of the parts that tend towards ignoring details and being irresponsible.

    I think you know that I never meant my actions to cause you stress or unhappiness. But I apologize anyway, for all the times that they have.

    If my body could only keep up with what my spirit is, the whole world would be transformed in the wake of me. But, for whatever reason, God has chosen this life to teach me to accept limits rather than to be limitless. To walk slowly rather than to fly. My spirit would have been a good Whirling Dervish - but my body, not so much.

    So! I am using this journal entry to you to sort through the aspects of my new venture that relate to my safety, as I know this has been of Paramount concern to you.

    (Lady waits as I rest)
    MY GOAL: To develop a method of horse packing into the wilderness which takes into account my health limitations such that I can have a strong and reasonable expectation of safety while still participating in some way in this activity. AND (I might add) to do so without having to regularly disrupt the lives of others to come rescue me or bail me out of impossible situations.

    This trip has been a good test for that. It is the first trip that hasn't been entirely enjoyable, and in which things have not gone the way I planned. Which, in its own way, is perfectly useful in an enterprise in which I am learning largely through trail and error. (In this kind of enterprise, if there is no error, then the learning is severely curtailed, after all.)

    I went out on this trip, hoping to go 20+ miles over the course of 4 days and to end up at a friend's house where Kris or Dave said they would be happy to pick me and my horse up and drive me home. I had a good campsite with water for the horses planned for about 10 miles from home for the first day. But, as it happened, I got barely 5 miles out and my energy crashed. I had to stop by noon, unpack the horses and sleep. I realized by late-afternoon that I was not going to recover enough to get to where I had intended on the first night, so I packed up my horses and headed out to find the nearest water source where I might be able to camp. It turned out that all of the water sources I had marked from the map were dried up this time of year except one which ended up being a 6 mile ride away. I was aware all day that I may not make it to that spot - may not have the energy to go that far - and may have to stop in the middle of the trail to pitch camp, requiring the horses to do without water for the night. I just barely managed it, however, and got myself to the one area on this particular mountain which still has water this time of year. I knew, however, long before reaching it, that I was pushing myself far more than was healthy and I would not recover enough to be able to ride (or walk very far) for many days. I was pretty sure I would not be able to get myself home. And I also knew that the area to which I was headed had no cell signal at all. I would not be able to text Dave once I got there, nor would I be capable of walking or riding enough to get myself to a higher spot to send a message out every 24 hours, as Dave and I have agreed that I always will do.

    (View to my left from where I stopped to rest yesterday)
    I was able to stay aware of all of these things as the day went by, so that I did not slip into one of my old habits of just forcing my way through an obstacle until I made it or collapsed. I sent Dave a text before I lost cell signal, telling him where I was headed so he would have some idea where I was if I didn't make contact again. I evaluated my situation a number of times through the day in terms of second-choice options if I could not make it to the campsite I had in mind and had a clear plan for what to do if I started seeing signs that I was not safe to continue to ride - if I saw that I needed to stop and set up camp where ever I was, even if this meant no water for the horses. As it happened, I got to that point about a mile before reaching my camp spot and immediately got down from my horse. However, by then I recognized the trail I was on and knew I was not far from my intended spot. With a little rest I was actually able to walk the horses the rest of the way, thus reaching a camp spot with plenty of water and grazing for the horses where I could have safely stayed for weeks if I needed to. This was also good because 1) it was where I had told Dave I would be, so if he didn't hear from me and came looking, he would be able to find me easily and without putting him through too much panic and 2) There was easy access from here to home by car or horse trailer if I needed him to come get me.

    (Stopped here to rest yesterday.)
    I always pack my camping gear with the understanding that if, at some point, my energy does crash unexpectedly, I will have enough extra food to stay at least two times the amount of time I had planned. I have enough warm gear to be safe out in the weather, even when it gets down bellow 20 degrees at night, and the dogs are very effective protection for me against any animals that might be around, so I don't need to worry about my safety that way if I am exhausted and sleeping for a few days. And Dave has agreed to come looking for me if ever he doesn't hear from me every 24 hours. So - worst case scenario - if Dave had to call out searchers to find me, I would be safe even if it took them days to do so (which is not really possible back here - I am sticking to well mapped roads close to home.) That worse case scenario would not meet the criteria about not disrupting other people's lives, but it is both unlikely to be needed, given that Dave could almost certainly find me easily himself where-ever I stopped, and a necessary fall-back position if it somehow came to that for any hiker or wilderness traveler to have, not just for me.

    I am in the practice, when I am out on my own like this, of coming up with a clear plan before I get on a horse each day of where I am going, plus a number of fall back plans if my energy crashes unexpectedly. I find it helpful to have these all spelled out so that I do not have to do any creative thinking if my energy does crash and my brain is not working well. On this day, once I realized I had stopped to sleep and decided I would not make it to my intended campsite, my ideal plan was to go to a spot less than a mile from where I was napping where the map said there would be water. My first fall back plan was that I could stay where I was napping. Beautiful camping spot with amazing views. Horses could go without water for the night if they needed to, but I would rest better if they had what they needed, so when I decided I was up for taking at least some time to look for a better spot.

    (Jana settled down to sleep next to me when I stopped yesterday)
    My second fall back position was to go to any of three other places near-by which I had mapped out as likely to have water, and my third was to go to the bottom of the mountain where the campsite was which I knew had water year round and where I had told Dave I was heading. My fourth alternative was to stop wherever I was and pitch camp in the middle of the trail, not worrying about food or water for the horses. Put up my tent, eat my dinner and sleep until the next day, then move on to find what the horses needed.

    Before I got on the horse I mapped out one final alternate plan. If I ended up stopping at some random spot in the trail and then crashed more than I thought I would and couldn't ride or walk anywhere the next day or the next, I could wait as long as I needed for Dave to come find me as long as I had water for myself. I was carrying plenty of food and good warm gear, but only enough water to get me through about 24 hours before I would need to fill up my bottles from a natural source. This was the one thing that took me a while to figure out - if I crashed too much to get myself home, how do I find water for myself until someone comes to get me? I stayed where I had been napping until I came up with a clear plan for this. There is actually a lot of water around this mountain, it is just not very accessible. I was never actually 6 miles from the creek that runs year round - that creek was much closer if I could go there directly - a pretty straight shot down the steep side of the mountain through thick trees. The thing was 1) the horses couldn't get there that way and 2) if I got there that way I would never have the energy to hike back up such a steep mountain side, so I was not going to get back to the horses. I decided that if I ended up in a worst case scenario and just needed to hunker down a few days safely until someone came and found me, I could unpack the horses and let them loose. Horses can always find their way home and they know these trails back here well - it was unlikely they would not find their way home safely. And in any case, they could surely find their way to water and grass if they needed it enough. I would leave my gear in the middle of the trail so it was easy to see with sticks making an arrow pointing down the side of the mountain and a note (I always carry pencils and paper in my emergency gear) explaining where I was, and I would put my tent, sleeping bag and food in my back pack. Me and the dogs would skid straight down the side of the mountain until we reached the bottom where the creek ran through the dense woods. And I could stay there - with plenty of water, food and warmth - until someone came to get me. I could practically do this by sliding on my but most of the way, so even if I was exhausted, over the course of a day, I was sure I would be able to get myself to water if I needed to.

    So. That was my absolute emergency plan and all my in between. As it happened, none of the potential water spots panned out and I ended up miles and miles from being able to take a horse-worthy trail down to the creek. But I managed to ride longer than I thought I would and stay on the horse long enough to get to the creek after all. I spent the night there.

    (view from my ride here)
    This morning I woke up early and it is clear to me that I am too worn out to ride anywhere or to walk very far. I have no way to send Dave a signal about where I am, though I am in a well-known enough area that I have no doubt that I will see people driving or hiking here today and could possibly ask one of them to phone a message to Dave telling him that I am fine but have no cell signal and where I am. Still, I would probably not see anyone until late afternoon, as this area seems to be frequented mostly during after school hours on weekdays (last night after I got here, I chatted with two young teenagers out hunting for grouse and they helped me unpack my horses.) And I was technically due to contact Dave by noon today. I also know that, while this has been a lovely morning and I am feeling quite peaceful and grateful to be here, I would rather get home to my own bed than spend the next few days sleeping in my tent. (It turns out that I am getting a cold and I feel like hell.) So after I got my breakfast, I decided to try something. I wrote a note and put it in a zip lock bag, then tied it securely to one of my horse's halter. Very noticeable. Then I fed the horses, made sure they had water and led them to the nearest trail, swatted them on the butt and sent them running for home. My guess is that it will take them less than an hour to be back in our yard, waiting to be put in their pasture. They know these trails back here better than I do, and, as I said, horse can always find their way home from anywhere. The note gave Dave and Kris directions to where I am, and told them I was fine but would appreciate help getting home if they would bring the car to get me.

    If, somehow, the horses don't make it home, I am perfectly safe here for as long as needed, and if Dave decides to come looking for me, I am just where I told him I'd be, so he will have an easy time doing it and not have to stress too much. But the truth is, I would very much rather be in my own bed right now, so I am hoping they get my note. Who needs pigeons, after all, when you have "Carrier Horses?" (or is that "Homing Horses?")

    So, now I am just writing in the early morning sunshine. It is likely that Dave and Kris may not see the horses until evening, when Kris goes to feed, so I will probably spend the day sleeping in my tent. In any case, it will be a few hours at least. I am... wait... that's Kris!

    TWO DAYS LATER:

    (Kris carrying my tent to the car)
    The horses got home (healthy and happy) in less than an hour and Kris saw the note on the halter as soon as they did. He drove my car out to where the note said I was and loaded up all my stuff for me and drove me home. I have developed a nasty cold and have been pretty much asleep for two days and it is very nice to be doing that sleeping in my own bed. All is well. I feel like this trip has allowed me to solidify much of what I have been learning and I think I have a real handle on what I need to know to do this kind of thing safely. I am very excited about it, though I don't know that I will go out again this year - or at least not alone. But I think I learned more from this one trip than all the others combined.