“Zeroing In” Your Bugout Bag, by SF in Hawaii

Last week my wife told me that another couple had gotten reservations at the cabins at Haleakela State Park for the Labor Day Weekend. We would hike across the crater floor, then down the Kaupo Gap. These are hard to come by and since we were invited, I felt we had to go. Great, a chance to try out my bug out bag. I gave my feet a liberal and prophylactic spraying of anti-fungal medication (a ritual I would end up doing every morning on that trip) and put on my Bug-Out Bag (BOB). Before we left, I unscrewed the aluminum pole from a mop, checked to make sure my backup knife would fit on it and now I had myself both a strong and lightweight walking stick as well as a spear in case a wild boar came too close. The BOB weighed in at 55 pounds. I’m 160 and with the backpack I was using it felt like a manageable weight. On the way there, the steering and brakes on the car went out. I hit the emergency brake and slowed down. The engine just turned off. Since it had power steering and brakes, when the car turned off, they went off too. Strange for a reasonably new car. It started up again so I figured EMP was ruled out. We drove up to about 10,000 feet, got our gear on and started hiking. It was a steep decline into the volcanic caldera/crater and within about 10 minutes I noticed a hot feeling in the heels of my feet. You see, as a sufferer of athletes foot, I tend to keep my shoes loose. Bad idea. Loose shoes make blisters. I stopped and got out the moleskins but I didn’t have a pair of scissors. Let me say for the record, a knife is not a pair of scissors. These are separate tools. There I was with my BAK (Big A** knife) trying to cut moleskin pieces. Not only was it the wrong tool for the job, but one slip and it would be a bloody mess.
To take the pressure off my heels, I walked native style (toe to heel) and this helped.
We hiked for the rest of the day through what can only be described at the surface of Mars and finally arrived at the first cabin. The manual pedometer gave me some lousy data. It was set for a 2 foot step/4 foot stride length but I forgot to take into consideration that stride changes with inclines and declines. When I got there I tried out my Zipstove for the first time. At first glance, it looked like something made in a high school metal shop class, and it’s a lot heavier than other stoves, but then again, I didn’t need to pack any fuel. It has a battery operated fan built in and get fires hot real fast. I hit my sparker into a cotton ball with some vaseline rubbed in and presto. I dropped the little ball of fire into the stove, and added a few twigs and turned on the fan. Wow. The stove worked great. In a minute or two dinner was on it’s way. I’ll be investing in their titanium version and perhaps I can swap out their metal fan for a plastic one to drop the weight. I was cooking in a titanium Titan pot and I was concerned that due to the rapid heat transfer of titanium I’d burn the food but it never happened. Another nice thing about cooking with titanium is that as fast as it heats up, it cools down too and less than a minute after taking it off the fire, the top was cool enough grab and move around. We sat around when the lights went out, lit some candles and played Hearts for a few hours. (Make note to get Hoyle’s Encyclopedia of Card games.) Before I went to bed I inspected my feet. Yup. Two huge blisters, one on each foot. These were the biggest blisters I’d ever had. Each one covered my entire heel. I also had burns on the backs of my hands. I was wearing nylon pants and a long sleeve shirt to keep out of the sun, and because we all know ‘cotton kills.’ I also had a cloth over my head which I kept in place by wearing a pair of sunglasses which had a retaining strap on them to keep from getting lost during activity. The strap around the back of my head kept the rag in place nicely and with the exception of a spot on my nose, I escaped the searing rays of Hawaii at 10,000 feet. What I didn’t think to cover was the backs of my hands. The were bright red and angry when I saw them. I cut squared of cloth off my head rag and placed on the backs of each hand. I held them in place (mostly) with rubber bands around my wrists. They kept me from getting burned any worse, but it was a constant annoyance repositioning them for the rest of the trip. (Make note, put tactical gloves in BOB).
The next morning after having some oatmeal, I packed up. I put on another pair of socks and this was helpful as with less wiggle room, my feet didn’t slip around so much and maybe I wouldn’t make any new blisters. My wife suggested that in her experience (She hiked the Thorong La Pass. I lance the blisters. (Make note to bring needle in first aid kit) I left the blisters alone. Personal preference. The other fellow on the trip I noticed had the soles of one of his shoes come off. He was wrapping cord around them to hold them together when I suggested he use the awl tool on his swiss army knife to stitch them back on his shoe. He liked this idea and it worked. (Make note, find that Speedy Stitcher and add it to my BOB.)
The second day was excruciatingly painful. I can’t recall the last time I was in that much pain for that long a period. I now had pain along the entire bottom surface of my foot. There was no comfortable way to walk. I was very grateful for the walking stick! Sure I could have make one from wood on the trail, but it would have been much heavier and bulkier to be as strong as the cheap aluminum tube.
After hours of promising myself I would never go hiking again, we arrived at the second cabin. At this point the fellow’s second shoe fell apart. Keep in mind that both shoes were in good condition before we left. His wife was also having shoe trouble but she overcame it with a safety pin. (Make note, safety pins.) More cards and dinner and now the other people were complaining. No one else had a good external frame pack and their hips and backs were sore. For me, it was just my feet. Even though my pack outweighed anyone else’s there by a factor of 2, it was a good pack and now showing itself to be worth the high cost.
The third day we had to hike down from over 6,000′ to 1,000′. We’d already gone from 10,000′ to 6,000 the previous two days and left the Martian landscape. We were now in fog enshrouded hills and rain forests. The next 5,000′ would be a 30 degree incline though rain forests and meadows. I filled up my 4 steel water bottles with filtered water from my Katadyn and told my wife that with the condition of my feet, I wanted to leave a hour and a half before the rest of the group as I’d be going slow. I also wanted to hike in the morning to stay out of the heat . She finally agreed and we slushed though thigh high wet grass and we were both soaked in short order. It was about five minutes into the hike that I learned that not only were my hiking shoes too big, but they weren’t waterproof nor even water resistant. The cool dewy water was sloshing around in by boots for hours. It wasn’t just an annoyance either. When I took the map I got from the Ranger station out of my pocket, it was soaked and the pages were sticking together. Oh, did I mention that the trail I was taking was right along a crease on the map and due to the water damage it was totally illegible? (Make note, put Zip lock bags in BOB).
Although she didn’t say anything, I know she was pissed. Cold, wet and pissed but when she realized how hard the hike was getting, she looked at me. “I’ll just say it once and get it over with. I told you so.” She thanked me. We smiled and moved on. That extra time was great to have. I used an altimeter to guesstimate where we were on the map. I didn’t bring my topos with me, but it was a great psychological benefit to know how much longer you had to go.
My wife started complaining about her left knee under when we stopped at an old growth Koa tree. We snacked on ostrich filets (kept at 150 degrees in the oven overnight), peanuts and some chocolate. She wanted a Koa walking stick. “But that’s a heavier wood and look, no straight branches here darling.” Well, she wanted one anyway so I hacked her a walking stick, put a point on the bottom and cut away the bark where her hand would grip it. At about 4,000 feet I saw my wife walking backwards for a few seconds. I tried it and it was great. Although it was riskier, I couldn’t walk forwards anymore. Aside from the fact that my blisters were hurting, I now had somehow developed a pain in my left knee too. It only hurt when I walked forward, or sideways (yes I tried that too) so my wife and I walked backwards down the rocky and treacherous declines for miles. The trails were covered with golf ball and base ball sized spherical lava rocks that acted like ball bearings. It was hard going and nerve racking. I made us both drink like fishes and soon I was dripping with sweat and she was peeing like a racehorse. Every time my mouth got dry I drank and so did she. I wasn’t thirsty but I drank anyhow. Then the water stopped feeling good to drink. Dang, with all this drinking and sweating I was beginning to going hyponatremic. (Make note, put ORS packets in BOB). On the milder inclines I tried walking while dragging my left leg behind me to avoid having to bend it. It was slow going and again, my wife thanked me for getting us out early. We came across some ambiguous fork in the road and she lost it for a bit. I said that I thought both trails would probably work and let her pick the route. She picked and then got nervous. “What if it’s the wrong one?” She was starting to lose it again. “This trail is the correct trail.” I said forcefully and with more confidence that I really had about her choice. She seemed okay with that and we kept going.
We used the last of the water that everyone said I was crazy to bring just minutes before reaching the rendezvous point. One of the women in the group I later found out had a near nervous breakdown as she never knew how much farther she had to go. That altimeter kept my wife and I sane.
I’m finally home and writing this out before I forget. The blisters will probably heal in a week the knee, who knows. (Make note, put ace bandages and maybe even knee and ankle supports in BOB). I’ll be walking with a cane for a bit but no permanent damage, I don’t think. I will now have a dedicated foot first aid section for my BOB. Consider giving your BOB a test run. You may find things you want in it you don’t have now and some things you can do without. I think of my BOB like a gun now. If it’s all shiny and new but not zeroed in, you may be in for some nasty surprises. – SF in Hawaii