Sunday, September 30, 2012

Trust Fall

A simple quick way to build trust between two people is the Trust Fall. This is part of a Low Ropes Initiative that facilitators can use to get people past the physical barrier and build trust prior to entering onto the elements. Its also a fun activity for family members. With the right positioning, kids can spot for adults and start to shift their perceptions of how they can support their parents. Parents learn to depend on their children in a way that may be new to them and help develop a deeper connection to them. Communication is key to the Trust Fall. A typical transaction would go as follows:

Spotter says, "Faller, are you ready?"
Faller responds, "Faller ready."
Spotter says, "Fall on."
Faller responds, "Falling."

The positions are equally important. The faller needs to be a straight line, with arms and feet tucked tight like to picture above. The entire body is in a straight line as well. The spotter will stand behind the faller with their palms cupped and held against the shoulder blades. This activity occurs several times with the spotter putting thier hands slightly farther away from the faller with each fall thereby building up trust.

Try it with a friend or family member!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Paracord Bracelet - SOOO many functions!!!

Paracord is a lightweight nylon rope. It was first used by parachuters during WWII which shows you how strong it is. Once the paratroopers were on the ground, they found all kinds of uses for it such as shelter construction, attaching equipment to harnesses, securing camoflage nets to trees or vehicles, and so forth. When threaded with beads, paracord was used as a pace counter to estimate ground covered by foot. The core (commonly referred to as "the guts") can also be removed when finer string is needed, for instance sewing thread to repair gear, or to be used as fishing line in a survival  situation. The cord can also be used as a boot lace. It was even used by astronauts during the second Space Shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope!

Due to its nylon construction, the cord is very pliable making it ideal to make bracelets such as the one above which I made this morning. There are a lot of designs out there but this is the quick release version which can be put together in under five minutes and taken apart for use in under ten seconds. The bracelet creates an easy way to keep this handy cord with you at all times since you never know when you'll need it. This bracelet is made up of ten feet of cord and fits nicely around my wrist. Thats a lot of cord in one little package!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Basic Survival - Water

In any survival situation, water is going to be a key component. For a family, if the tap suddenly goes dry or there is some sort of contamination in the water and you are no longer able to use city water, than a back up source will become critical within the day. Just think about how much water you use in just one day. I start the day with a glass of water and then start up a pot of hot water for tea. After that I fill a jug for the day's water to make sure I'm getting enough. Then the trip to the bathroom I use at least another gallon to use the toilet, wash my hands and brush my teeth. I haven't even hit the shower (where I'll go through another ten) and I've already gone through at least five gallons of water. But that's when I'm not forced to really think about how much I use. When I was in Mongolia, water had to be carried in from the river and boiled before being able to do anything as simple as brushing your teeth. The inconvenience of it alone was enough to make you conserve and then you realize how much waste there truly is. Really all one person needs for drinking and food preparation is a gallon a day. Another half gallon for sanitation purposes. So for a family of four, about five gallons per day.

The picture above is a great way for a family of four to collect and store water. The system consists of two five gallon buckets placed on top of each other. The buckets need to be food grade otherwise the plastic will leach into your drinking water. The top bucket contains a doulton ceremic water filter which is so efficient you can take water straight out of any water supply and have clean drinking water from it. It takes about two hours for the system to purify about a gallon of water so water that is placed in the top bucket will be ready to go by the next day. Add a spicket to the bottom bucket and its easy to get access to the water. This is a system that has been used successful by travelers around the world and it is an ideal addition to any family's preparedness list.

This system is one of the items that I sell or teach individuals to put together themselves. It can be a hassle gathering all the supplies up but you will save a lot of money by doing it yourself.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

CERT Training

I am almost complete with my CERT Training which is Community Emergency Response Teams sponsored by FEMA. The CERT Program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community as well as large-scale emergencies within their state.

The training took place over three full days and has prepared me for taking an active leadership role in my community should a disaster strike. It has been a great way to meet other emergency professionals and create links between our agencies. The information I have gained in my CERT classes will be a great addition to the information that I am already sharing with clients wishing to learn about urban survival knowledge/skills.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

San Banno (Hello in Mongolian) to My Friends I Met in Mongolia!

One of the great things about the Steppe Camp is that you have the opportunity to meet and eat meals with fellow adventurers from around the world. At the top, Katayana from Germany followed by Emily and Tobey from the UK and finally Rebecca from Australia. I had a great time getting to know them over meals in the common eating area. Also a big hi to Matias from Germany and Dave & Becky from the UK - hope you enjoyed the rest of your trip on the Trans Siberian Train through Mongolia and into China!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Horseback Riding in Mongolia

The best part of the whole trip to Mongolia was definately the horses. They are slightly smaller than the breeds I am familiar with in the U.S. but also have a wild edge to them. Dundok's horses were very well cared for and you could tell there was a very special relationship between him and the horses. They responded to his commands instantly but they always wanted to run and if given the opportunity, they will open up and really stretch their legs.

There was a group of people that rented horses for a few hours at the Steppe Camp. Over lunch they told me of their adventure and one lady warned, "Don't take your jacket off while on the horse. They scare easily." She learned that the hard way. She had no more than unzipped her jacket and the horse spooked and started to take off on her. It was quite a ways before she reined the horse in but I remembered that warning when I got on Dundok's horse.

There is so much wide open space in the steppes that its more natural to want to run the horse. No fears of twists and turns, just vast prairie like areas in-between huge hills. I had spent a full day with Dundok on his horse so he knew I was comfortable with riding at any pace by the end of the first day. He didn't feel the need to check up me (before that it was quite common to hear, "you okay, Shannon?" Anything more than "okay" he didn't really understand so it was good that it really was okay. Towards dusk we headed out to visit the shepard's ger and on the way back home, Dundok wanted to race. He came up behind my horse and swatted it on the butt and yelled "Choo!!!" which the horse knows is "GO!!" And my horse went from a jog to a full out run. And it was exhilerating! Dundok and I were neck and neck as we were racing back towards his ger and both of us were urging our horses on faster and faster. At the top of the hill next to his ger, his wife Iona stood waving her hands in the air yelling "Naadam, Naadam!" which is the Mongolian festival where you can see horse races as well as wrestling and archery. Well, I really wanted to win the race and I could tell Dundok was a having a ball and wanted to win too. There was a slight incline right at the end and I hesitated just a bit not knowing if I should go full out up hill. Dundok had no fears and shot ahead and past his wife. I jumped off my horse as Iona came to grab the reins and rushed up to Dundok and gave him a huge hug. We both babbled at each other in own language (me telling him how absolutely wonderful the whole experience was and what a fantastic rider he is and congratulations.....etc., etc.) and smiled at each crazily. By the time I had calmed down it was dark and time to eat supper and have some tea.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mongolia - The Food

Let me just say that if you visit the Steppe Nomad Camp, the food there is exceptional. But if you want a real Mongolian food experience, you have to leave the camp. And this experience way by far the best part of the whole trip. Dundok took me to his ger where we stopped to have lunch. There I also met Trudi from Germany (who has been visiting Mongolia on and off for five years) and Gunbaatar who was visiting from Western Mongolia where he has been reintroducing the wild horse to the Gobi desert. Dundok had prepared a sheep for our arrival and his wife brought out freshly made bread prepared in a wood stove. Needless to say it was quite filling.

Later that day we visited a shepard's ger. As is the usual custom, tea was offered immediately as was aaruul. Aaruul is curdled milk dehydrated and thoroughly dried in the air and sun. The remarkable thing is that it has an almost unlimited shelf life...much like our dehydrated foods here which can last anywhere from 25-30 years. Unfortunately, I think aaruul is an acquired taste. One nibble was all I was able to get through.

The next day, Dundok invited me to his parents ger in a neighboring town. Communication was limited to a lot of smiles and thanking them for the generous portions of food and drink per the usual custom. Dundok's mother prepared Tsuivan, a stew made from fresh mutton (which Dundok had provided), potatoes, carrots and freshly made noodles. All of it was prepared in a large caste iron pot placed on top of the wood stove that sat outside the ger. We all ate outside on benches surrounding the wood stove. The food was wonderful and filling but its nearly impossible to convince your hosts that you are full. Seconds will always be offered well before you've polished off the first bowl.

Due to the nomadic lifestyle and harsh weather conditions, you will find that Mongolians are exceptional with their hospitality as it has been the custom since the times of Ghengis Khan. Mongolians relied on that hospitality to get through the vast plains and huge expanses of land in the Gobi desert. That hospitality is a wonderful thing to experience!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mongolia - The Land

The landscape of the Gun-Gulaat Nature Preserve is very barren but immensely beautiful. Pictures do not nearly do it justice simply because the beauty lies in its vastness.The steppe terrain is rugged and dotted with steep hills and rocky ravines. The frigid climate and lack of vegetation meant that it was only through domestic animals that life on the steppe became possible. It was therefore ‘survival’ that forced a certain way of life on the people; a nomadic lifestyle. This in turn meant that they were naturally superior warriors- physically hardened and masterful on horseback. Since the horse was key to their survival, Mongolians honor the fastest with a traditional burial. They bury the horse under rocks and place the skull on top. I came atop this one at the top of the hill just outside of the camp.

There is no land ownership in Mongolia which is why you can see gers dotting he landscape with no sign of any fences. Herds of sheep, goats, horses, cows and yaks roam freely. If you watch them long enough, they eventually make their way to some source of water, the very heart of survival. Everyone in the region I was visiting relies on the Kherlen River for a source of water. Since its shared by everyone, animals and people alike, parasites such as Giardia are a concern. Giardiasis is a diarrheal disease caused by the microscopic parasite Giardia. A parasite is an organism that feeds off of another to survive. Once a person or animal (for example,  cattle, horse, sheep, or goats) has been infected with Giardia, the parasite lives in the intestines and is passed in feces. Once outside the body, Giardia can sometimes survive for weeks or months. Giardia can be found within every region of the U.S. and around the world. Having a good filter would be a good idea but since those aren't readily available in Mongolia, they do the next best thing which is boiling it. Once water reaches a boil, all you have to do is let it continue to boil for another minute and all the bacteria and parasites in the water should be killed. So feel confident partaking in the tea which will be offered by EVERYONE in Mongolia. I drank it for every meal with the water source coming straight out of the river and I did not get sick over my two week stay.

Most of my mornings began with a trek far into the steppes to get a feel for the country and the land that Ghengis Khan himself once road across. Because there would be no rescue team coming for me if I were to get lost or hurt, I packed a bag ready to overnight and start a fire if need be. This is truly an environment where you need to be confident in your own survival skills. I learned quickly that wood is very scarce on the steppes. Dry dung was the best source of fuel here and there was plenty of that. The dry grass was excellent tinder as I found when I lit a fire every night in my ger. But I took a candle with me just in case as few things can burn as long or steadily as a candle.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Best of Mongolia - Mongolians (Dundok & Tunga)

Most of my stay in Mongolia was at the Steppe Nomad Camp located in the Gun-Gaalut Nature Preserve. The camp is located about three hours north of capital, Ulaanbaatar. My flight from Korea landed just before midnight and I was met by a driver from the camp right outside of the arrival gate. For such a late hour, I was immediately surprised by how many people, dogs, horses and traffic existed on the streets. Few roads were completely paved. Most roads ended abruptly where they had been washed away and everyone veered effortlessly off to the grass or dirt to continue driving without really slowing down much at all.

My driver and I exhausted most of our verbal communication within the first few minutes and established only that I was from the US and we would arrive at the camp around 3:00 a.m. He turned on the local Mongolian station and sang along. It was beautiful and I probably would have fallen asleep had we not completely ran out of paved roads when we exited the capital and drove wildly on dirt roads veering around horses and cows waundering everywhere. He would occassionally shout out about some feature on the side of the road and I would dutifully peer blurrily into the night and wonder what it was. I made sure to drive back to the capital for my flight home to make sure I could see all the things he was talking about (boy was that the right thing to do! More on that later!)

The drive took us on long valleys sometimes on road and sometimes just on grass but always in complete darkness. I wondered how this driver could find his way. And then just before 3:00 a.m. (he was quite proud of himself for nailing the correct time) he announced we had arrived at camp.

Three people stood shivering in the cold at the entrance to the camp. It was hovering just below forty degrees and I could see the plumes of smoke coming from their mouths. Despite that, Tunga, the Operations Manager, greeted me warmly and another gentleman quickly grabbed my bag. I got a quick tour of the camp before being led to my ger. A fire had already been lit but it was getting low so more wood was added and within a few minutes, the entire ger was toasty warm. Heaven. I don't even remember lying down or falling asleep but I do remember waking up to the most beautiful sky I had ever seen. Day one of my Mongolian adventure was about to take place!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mongolian Adventure - the Ger

This past week I had the adventure of a lifetime. I traveled to Mongolia to stay at a ger camp and visit a Mongolian family to experience the traditional nomadic lifestyle that has remained the same since the time of Genghis Khan. The Ger, or as we call it, yurt, is the traditional dwelling in Mongolia. It is a round structure with a felt or wool inner lining that works fabulously well to insulate the structure. There is a wood stove in the center that when lit can warm the entire ger within a few minutes. The wind is a constant presence in Mongolia but the ger protects it's inhabitant very well.

Mongolians truly live off the land. There is no electricity and little to no wood found in the open steppe or mountainous regions. Fires, used for both cooking and heating, are started with dried grass and fed with horse or cow dung. Gers dot the countryside but are more often than not clustered near a source of water which is critical to the survival of their livestock as well as the people. Tea is a beverage drunk throughout the day and requires a steady supply of boiled water. Since the land has few if any fences and the livestock tend to waunder in and around the rivers and lakes, boiling water is critical for anyone wishing to drink from the supply. If you aren't able to boil the water, a water bottle with a purifier is critical. I met another traveler who drank the water without boiling or filtering and she was sick for weeks at a time.

Shelter Building

Shelter Building may seem like a pretty straightforward concept. Put a bunch of sticks together, throw some leaves on top and be done with it. But IF you want to actually stay overnight in the shelter you just took the time to build, there is a little more involved with it.

The Debris Hut shelter is a very basic shelter to make if you have access to a lot of branches and leaves. After choosing the location, the first thing you need to do is measure the size you need to make your shelter. Lay on ground and mark where your feet and head will go. Next, bring two sticks together to form the support "V" that you see in front in the picture above. You want the "V" to be just large enough to put your body inside of the debris hut. These sticks can be tied together with some cordage or other material. Stick them FIRMLY in the ground. Next, find a long stick that will run from where your feet were placed up to the top of the "V" where it will fit snuggly in place. The total length will be your total body length. Size is important as you are trying to insulate yourself from the weather outside of the debris hut. The more air that is left to circulate, the more miserable your night will be.
The next step is to find sticks to lean against that middle pole. The sticks will vary in size as the
pole runs from the ground up to the "V". Put them close to each other and do both sides of the middle pole. The next part is the really timely part but also the most crucial. Get a lot of leaves. I mean a LOT. You are going to pile them on top of your debris hut until it has at least one to two feet in thickness. The more extreme the weather, the thicker you are going to want this protective barrier. Finally, shove leaves INSIDE the debris hut as well. Remember, you are trying to eliminate any extra air circulation.

You are going to want to block off that open area as well. You can build yourself a door and stack leaves against it as well or use a backpack if you have one.

Remember, have FUN!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bow Drill Fire Making

The Bow Drill is a fun and VERY challenging tool to use to start fires. It consists of a bearing block or handhold, a spindle or drill, a hearth or fireboard, and a simple bow. When all of these parts work in cohesion or perfect harmony, fire is created. Creating this harmony with all these parts working in cohesion is the challenging part. Friction between the drill and the fireboard is what creates the sawdust that when placed in a tinder pile creates the fire. From beginning to end, it will only be a matter of perhaps sixty seconds until you have an actual fire.  The concept is simple and beautiful.

So if its so simple and straightforward, why aren't we all creating fires with these simple pieces? Because if you want to create fire using a Bow Drill, be prepared to dig your heals in and take the time to learn the proper technique and build up your upper arm strength.

So the basics....

The spindle, carved to reduce friction at one end and maximize it at the other, is held in a hole in the bottom of the bearing block, and at the other by the hearth (fireboard). The string of the bow is wrapped once around it, so that it is taut enough not to slip during operation.The usual position that a person assumes while operating the bow drill is as follows: the right knee is placed on the ground (assuming a right-handed operator) and the arch of the left foot is on the board, pinning it in place. The left wrist, holding the handhold, is hooked around the left shin and locked in place to keep it steady so it can generate enough downward pressure and speed; achieved by pushing down with the handhold and spinning the drill. The heat of the friction between the hearth and the spindle both creates charred, fuzzy dust and causes it to ignite - forming a coal or ember. The handhold is lubricated (I used ear wax) and the spindle is carved to about thumb thickness, usually 6 to 8 inches long.

An indentation and a "v" notch into the center of the dent is made into the fireboard and the spindle is placed on it. The notch allows a place for the dust collect while it is being abraded off the spindle and the hearth. Eventually, the friction generates heat to ignite the dust, which can be used to light tinder.

Now what kind of materials should you use? The hearth and spindle can both be constructed from any medium-soft, dry, non-resinous wood, and work best when both are made from the same piece of wood; however, with practice almost any wood combination can be used provided the parts contain little or no resin or moisture. The most important factor is whether the wood is dry enough to ignite, as wet wood will not work; Aspenn, Basswood and Willows all work very well. The bow should be stiff but slightly limber and around the distance from the users armpit to their fingertips. The bearing block (handhold) can be made of anything that is harder than the spindle. Bone, antler, shell and stone work best, as they can be easily greased, do not create as much friction, and do not burn; however, hard woods such as maple are quite serviceable and often easier to find and work. Some effective materials used to grease the bearing block include ear wax, animal and plant oils, or even moist vegetation.

I use the drill board for a morning or evening meditation as it makes me feel connected to the earth is a very simple way. Have FUN!