The Titanium Hiking Staff Project

I like to hike in the woods. A stick comes in handy on steep sections of trail, and it gives my arms something to do.

At first, I improvised a hiking staff from a five-foot rake handle. I frapped a section with string for a grip, and shoved on a rubber cane tip from the drugstore.

But I wondered- if I had a light metal tube, could I pack it with survival gear and first aid supplies? Aluminum would work, but what I really wanted was titanium. The price was a deterrent, but I finally ordered a five foot length of one inch welded titanium tubing from Online Metals.

While I was waiting for it to come, I started picking up things to put inside: a space blanket, fire starters, a small compass, a tiny roll of duct tape, water purification tablets, a whistle, fishing line and hooks, a first-aid booklet, triangle bandages, surgical gloves, chewable aspirin. Total weight, about 250 grams, or just over eight ounces.

Step One: Paint. The titanium tube arrived with the specs stenciled all over it. I’m not 20150521_115059Csure other hikers want to meet a large man with a metal pipe in his hands, so I primed it with red oxide and applied a faux wood-grain in chocolate acrylic glaze. I used a nubbly rubber glove for the graining, and the overall effect is a dark brown grain like teak. I applied a clear-coat to protect it.

Step Two: Ends. A one-inch rubber cane tip for the foot. These have steel discs inside, so the metal tube does not cut through them. For the head end, I wanted something versatile. I chose to fit the top with a broom-handle thread so that I can attach different tips. I used a lathe to turn down the handle of a SOG Spirit for this purpose, and epoxied it into the tube with the threaded portion sticking out. I found a wooden paint-roller handle that is threaded to take a broom-handle for painting ceilings. I cut it down and rounded it off to make a knob for everyday hiking. It has a decorative metal ring that looks nice on the staff.

Step Three: Frapping. The one-inch tubing is a little small for my grip, and slippery. Paracord would be best, but the closest I could get locally was some polypropylene braided cord with a 200 pound breaking strength. I wound about forty feet of it around the staff at elbow height in two layers. To do this, I mounted the tubing on a dowel spindle so that I could turn it easily. I started at the lower end, wound my way up for about ten inches, then tightly back down again. Then I tied the loose ends with a tight reef knot and fused the ends to the metal with a lighter. The knot is almost invisible. Unwound, the cord could be used in a myriad of ways, from building a shelter to suspending food from a tree.

Step Four: Packing.

Hiking Staff

Contents. I did get the space blanket more compactly rolled after several tries.

The space blanket was the biggest challenge. Although it was folded into a compact rectangle not much bigger than a deck of cards, rolling it into a slim cylinder was harder than I expected. The key was to refold it into a larger flat rectangle of the right length, squeeze all the air out, roll it tightly around a welding-rod spindle, and draw it tight with adhesive tape at regular intervals. The blanket came with an added bonus; it’s bright orange on one side and printed with diagrams showing how to use it for shelter and so on. It went in first, and slid right up to the head end. Next up, all those loose items. I rolled the first-aid booklet up tightly and taped it like the blanket. I packed some of the loose items into little ziploc bags, then I used heavy duty aluminum foil to make a pair of cylindrical torpedoes filled with the odds and ends, and slid them in. That prevents the contents from rattling or shifting and jamming. Plus the aluminum foil can be used to fashion a cup or a reflector. The last items in were the ones I thought I might need in the biggest hurry; the first-aid supplies. Repeated attempts to roll the triangle bandages into a neat cylinder were pathetic. Finally I just used a chopstick to stuff them in, tied together like a magician’s kerchiefs. The safety pins and the tiny scrap of paper with sling and bandage diagrams went in with them. When the staff was nearly packed full, I squeezed in the whistle and the surgical gloves, and left the tail end of the triangle bandage right at the end where I could grab it and pull it all out. Then the rubber cane tip went on.

Empty, the titanium staff is lighter than the wooden rake handle, and would likely float. Fully loaded, it is just over a kilo: 1070 grams (or 2lbs, 6oz). I find it a comfortable weight. You may have noticed that I carry water purification tablets, but not any kind of water container. Emptied of it’s other contents, the titanium staff will hold 650mls of water, about right for one tablet.

PVR 7.0

Once a week or so, I get only half a night’s sleep. Last night was that night. I got up and went down to the deserted coffee shop to read on my Kobo. It was oddly quiet between 0300 and 0600.

I did manage to nap a little before breakfast, and then Caroline suggested busing out to the Marina for our morning walk. That went well, the very first bus we saw was the right one. We strolled through the peaceful residential area surrounding the golf course, away from the big hotels.

I reverted to my old habit of scoping out the licence plates on cars. American plates included California, New Mexico and Utah. Mexican plates, besides the obvious Jalisco and Nayarit, included the Federal District, Agua Caliente and Guerrero.

Twenty five minutes into our walk, we reached the highway again. Rather than retrace our steps, we walked back to the Hilton, hiking along the highway past the Marine hospital, the Harbour Master’s headquarters and Wal-Mart. That gave us about an hour, and since we didn’t get properly started until nearly 1000, it was getting warm by the time we finished.

Right now, I’m waiting to pre-select our seats for tomorrow’s flight home.

Picks & Pans

We have a late check-out and an afternoon flight to Winnipeg today, so I have time to wrap things up. We walked a loop up one side of the Rideau Canal and down the other. There are tons of fit people in Ottawa. Caroline gave up all hope of redeeming her hair and wore it in a ponytail.

Here is a look at some of the best and worst of our road trip from Ottawa to Bar Harbor and back.

Restaurants

Caroline’s pick: Leunig’s Bistro in downtown Burlington, Vermont. Truly transcendent duck, cool location on the Church Street pedestrian concourse. Honorable mention to the Café Provence in Waterbury, Vermont. Her pan: Pizzeria Verità in Burlington, Vermont. The beet salad was all beets, no salad, and she didn’t like the pizza much, either.

Tim’s pick: the BUZZ in Ottawa, Ontario. Sure the food was good at Leunig’s, but it was crowded and noisy. At the Buzz, you could have delightful food and conversation. My pan: the West Street Cafe in Bar Harbor, Maine. I ordered the wrong thing, but if I was back in Bar Harbor, I’d go somewhere nicer to look for the right thing.

Hotels

Caroline’s pick: the Best Western Waterbury/Stowe in Waterbury, Vermont. Beautiful building with a conservatory for the pool and whirlpool tub, an arcade with air hockey and pinball and a truly amazing restaurant. Great staff, too, that helped with an internet problem and suggested walking options.

Tim’s pick: the Best Western Victoria Suites in Ottawa, Ontario. Wonderful suite that made it easy for me to blog at the desk in the front room while Caroline slept. Terrific location within walking distance of restaurants, downtown, and the Rideau Canal, helpful staff.

Unanimous pan: the Best Western Adirondack Inn in Lake Placid, New York. Lugged my fifty pound suitcase and all our other junk up a flight of stairs to discover a small, noisy room with a fridge in the closet and no desk. Older properties like this have so many challenges – drafty windows, small rooms, inadequate wiring – that it’s hard for them to compete with newer buildings. But they weren’t  gracious when we balked.

Towns

My pick for visiting again, Bar Harbor, Maine. Tons of places to hike and cycle, abundant seafood. My pick for moving to permanently, Ottawa, Ontario. I’m not a city person, but this place could convert me. My pan: Lake Placid, New York. I was hoping for the outdoorsy charm of Bozeman, Montana, but it’s tightly nestled in the mountains, more like Banff, Alberta, and that gives it a crowded, touristy feel, as if nobody is actually from there.

Caroline’s pick, Burlington, Vermont. Loved the ambiance of downtown and the Lake Champlain waterfront. Her pan would be Bennington, Vermont. It wasn’t hideous or anything, we would just try to stay somewhere with more to offer next time.

Walking

Our pick: The Carriage Roads of Desert Island, Acadia National Park, near Bar Harbor. Smooth enough to cycle, quiet enough to walk with weights, vast variety.

Our pan: Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Our hotel was awkwardly located, so we did an urban walk to Memorial Bridge and the adjacent park. If I went there again, I’d do more research in an effort to find something more tranquil.

Ticking Away

We started our day by sleeping in and then finding a wood tick on Caroline’s shoulder. We pulled it off and checked the internet for advice. I like to deal with all my health issues by consulting random strangers. They said pull it off, apply an antibiotic cream. Went for breakfast and a walk on the lakeshore, but this time headed past the old Kingston Penitentiary. This put us on the sidewalk of King Street for several blocks, so not as scenic and woodsy as yesterdays walk with squirrels. And ticks.

Locals were wearing windbreakers and even gloves. And ski-poles, but that’s an exercise thing, not a winter thing. I’m sure they thought I was scandalously underdressed in my jeans and Puerto Vallarta t-shirt, but I find 13°C quite comfortable as long as I’m moving.

Towards the end of our walk, we stopped in at a small pharmacy to get some antibiotic cream. The pharmacy staff were adamant that we should see a doctor. They referred us to a walk-in clinic and even phoned ahead for wait times for us. There have been a lot of ticks this year, and Lyme Disease is a small but significant risk.

Proceeded to walk-in clinic at the Cataraqui Mall. The forty-five minute wait was going to mess up our check-out time, so we called the hotel to get a one hour extension. Gassed up Mitsu while we waited, and then after Caroline settled in at the waiting room I visited the mall to find a replacement for my smartphone holster that I almost tore off my belt yesterday.

Caroline was issued one prescription that’s supposed to nullify Lyme Disease. Then we rushed back to the hotel to check out and grab lunch at Tom’s Place adjoining the lobby. We were not in a very good mood, so I’ll just say it was convenient, and leave it at that.

Left some of our excess cargo for the hotel staff. My makeshift walking staff, our little picnic cooler, some leftover disposable plates and cutlery. Thought of holding onto the cooler for today so that we could keep the last of the snack food cool, but then we would have had to deal with all of it at the car-rental return.

All this made us a little later than we had intended, and we considered making up time by taking the 401 to Ottawa instead of our country-road route through Smiths Falls. Turns out it would have saved us one whole minute, so we stayed true to our wandering hearts and went on the byways.

It rained, so I was happy not to be passing semis in the spray. Returned Mitsu to National unscratched, but with at least 3000km more than when we met her. More than doubled her odometer, actually.

I would drive a Mitsubishi Outlander again. Did not seem very eager to accelerate, but I think gas mileage was better than my Honda CRV. The fuel tank is the same size, and my impression was that we didn’t have to fill it as often. It felt solid and stable, and had many thoughtful features.

Glad I brought Dingbat. It was so easy to work with our familiar GPS. Missed my Sirius satellite radio. Technically, I could have brought it, but it’s kind of installed in the CRV.

Took a cab back to our hotel downtown, the same one we were in ten days ago.

Tomorrow I’ll do Picks and Pans for the trip: favourite places, walks, restaurants and hotels, and their counterparts from the dark side.

Tonight we get one last chance to eat out in Ottawa, and then tomorrow afternoon we fly back to Winnipeg.

Saranac Lake, NY to Kingston, ON

Kept our morning walk simple today, strolling along the sidewalks around Saranac Lake for half an hour and return. We could have completed a loop in something like fifteen minutes more, but Caroline’s knee was sore, so we retraced our steps.

Drove out of the Adirondack National Park today, stopping twice to allow wild turkeys to cross the road.

Dingbat got us lost in Watertown, because after we told him we wanted to stop at Five Guys for cheeseburgers, we forgot to untell him that we wanted to go to the center of the city. So he tried to do both. Five Guys Burgers and Fries, by the way, is the soul-partner of California’s In-N-Out Burger. Real beef, and they know where their potatoes came from today. They even had malt vinegar for the fries. Why do we always discover these places on our last day? Actually, there is one in Ottawa.

It was cloudy all morning and it started raining at lunch-time. This reminds me to mention that Mitsu has a nice feature: if you have the front wipers on, when you put the car in reverse, the rear wiper makes a couple of passes without being asked. Good thinking, Mitsubishi.

Before I forget: Coca-Cola – it’s not just for breakfast any more! Saw someone enjoying an ice cold one with her dinner and white wine. I don’t know what would taste worse, the wine or the coke. Maybe the dinner.

Crossed back into Canada at the Thousand Island bridge. Shortest border stop ever. No line up in lane two and our only purchases were the picnic cooler and a single bottle of wine. Usually we bring back more wine than our duty-free allowance, but we’re flying back to Winnipeg soon, so we’d have to pay extra baggage or shipping. Decided against.

I thought for sure we’d spot all of the Eastern US licence plates on this trip, but we never saw a Delaware. They must not get out much. We got all the others, and we even spotted some stray westerners like Oregon. And California – they will not stay home.

When we chose to cut short our planned two-day stop in Lake Placid/Saranac Lake, we booked another night in Kingston. This will give us more time to track down some genealogy stuff for Caroline; we’ll be able to do it as a side trip tomorrow instead of fitting it in on the way back to Ottawa.

Bennington, VT to Saranac Lake, NY

Found our way to the One World Conservation Center in Bennington for a one-hour walk at the Greenberg Reserve. What began as a meadow walk had me wishing for my hiking boots and staff after we ventured onto the Woodland Trail.

The second stop of the day was Arlington, Vermont. Once upon a time, this community was home to one of Caroline’s ancestors, Jehiel Hawley, who founded the St. James Episcopalian Church there. However, he was a Loyalist, and most of his neighbours, notably Ethan Allen, were Patriots. Must have made for some lively block parties before he fled for Canada. Appropriated by the Patriots, his old house became the governor’s mansion for a time. Supposedly, one of the views from the house is featured on the Vermont state seal. Here’s the house.

Chittenden Home. Probably.

Chittenden Home. Probably.

Finding it was a challenge. After visiting the church and asking at town hall, we ended up consulting a historian at the library. (We just happened to be there on the right day of the week.)

A mixed bag of driving today. From Arlington, we headed into New York and onto County Route 61. Remember what I said  about having to turn a corner every ten miles yesterday, just to stay on the same road? Same deal today, but every mile and a half! We even saw a covered bridge in New York, as well as (ho-hum) a last example in Vermont.

Stopped for lunch, and the sun came out. Bonus. It was supposed to be cloudy all day. 20141014_111323Somewhere around here I got mayonnaise on the lens, because all the pictures I took after this are artfully soft-focus.

North through the Adirondacks on I-89, then small highways to Lake Placid.  We were hoping it would be like Bozeman, Montana but it’s more like Banff, Alberta, being more touristy than we expected. Our hotel was rustic and rather lacking in desks and electrical outlets. Moved on to Saranac Lake instead, where we have a larger, quieter, more modern room.

There are not a lot of restaurants here, so we may not stay two nights.

Waterbury, VT to Bennington, VT

The obvious place to go for a walk this morning would have been the cycle paths at Stowe. There are more than five miles of paved trail running along the river, and even a ‘quiet path’ for walkers and joggers only. However, we slept in and the eighteen minute drive to Stowe (each way) would have killed more than half an hour without a single step being taken. We chose to get back on schedule by sticking to the guest breakfast and walking up Blush Hill from our hotel. It was frosty this morning, but the early sun was shining. In twenty minutes, we were in farmland.20141013_065743[1]

Then into Mitsu to go over the hills and through the woods. The hills being the Green Mountains – we ran south all the way along Vermont highway 100. I feel a need to say that this is not a highway. It is string of country roads that  happen to share a number. Every ten miles or so, there is a right-angle turn at an intersection, just to stay on VT100. We programmed Dingbat with a couple of strategic waypoints so that he wouldn’t revert to the shorter route along the major highway, and I think we had to ‘detour’ him once or twice before he gave up and stuck to our winding road. Taking the country roads added about half an hour to the day’s run.

The sky turned cloudy early on, so although the fall colours were at their peak, they were not very photogenic. Parts of the drive through the Vermont countryside were lovely, and we saw two covered bridges, but did not stop. There were roadside stalls selling maple syrup. We thought it too cold for a picnic lunch and decided to have our first hot lunch since leaving Ottawa a week ago. The place we found at noon was a popular stop for tour buses, so we drove on a little longer to eat at the New American Grill in Londonderry. Eager to break out of our sandwich and salad rut, Caroline chose today’s special, a cheeseburger quesadilla, while I had the burrito with flank steak. Far from the cheesy grease bomb found in some Tex-Mex restaurants, this burrito was long on salad and black beans, easy on the rice and cheese. The restaurant had quite a good wine list, but we stuck to water. $10 off the price of bottle wine on Wednesdays, though!

Arrived in Bennington before 1500, but our room was already available, so we checked in. If it had not been, plan B was to do a side-trip to save time tomorrow, but the run from here to Lake Placid is not a long one, so we’ll visit Arlington on the way there. We have two nights in Lake Placid, so it’s not as if we’ll be pushing hard.

We have no reservations for dinner, or even a prepared short-list of restaurants. We shall see.