Monday, October 13, 2014

Alchemy Follow-up, Packing List and what we forgot

For next year, and/or for Euphoria (another regional burn in May, which is smaller), we are looking at taking Damian and making a family-friendly camp. The current discussion is to camp with some friends from church who are going, and possibly combine with the camp who makes mead.
I adore my Team Bad Idea campmates, but I think that a burn would actually be a good environment for the Wolfcub to grow up seeing.
The 10 Principles are definitely things I want him to grow up understanding.

So here's what we took-


  • Tent (we took the REI Kingdom 6, which was fantastic for the 2nd room, but I think I like C's teepee tent better)
  • Open-sided pavilion
  • Camp chairs
  • Firepit that doubles as a grill
  • Firewood (bring more next year!)
  • Sleeping pad of some kind (we ended up taking a queen air mattress)
  • Sleeping bags (we always buy 2 of the same kind so we can zip them together, but REI has some double sleeping bags. We also took a third-extra- sleeping bag to layer UNDER the air mattress to help stay warmer, since air mattresses are giant heat sinks and will freeze you to death outside, especially when there's FROST on the ground Sunday)
  • Tarps (we used these to create walls int he pavilions for when the sun, wind, or rain got obnoxious- we need more caribiners next time to hang them more easily)
  • Pillows
  • Lamps of some kind that can be hung from the pavilion (we took some IKEA hanging solar patio lights, but I think next time we'll get some actual bright lanterns and hang them from the pavilion peaks)
  • TP & Wet wipes
  • MOOP (trash) bags 
  • Weather-appropriate clothing and comfy boots (I don't really dress up)


  • Cooler (we took dry ice, layered it in the bottom, then added food/drinks and regular ice)
  • Firepit grill (see above- this was important enough to get 2 entries)
  • Cast iron pans and Korean (ceramic) dutch oven
  • Bamboo cooking utensils
  • Camping plates, bowls, silverware, etc (next time we will bring reusable, this time we brought flammable paper to avoid moop or the need for doing dishes)
  • Trash bags
  • Some way to wash dishes- salt for cast iron, something to use as sink, biodegradable soap, scrubby of some kind
  • Cast iron teapot for large pots of tea
  • Corkscrew
  • Can opener (we didn't take cans, but someone else borrowed it)
  • Something for quick-lighting fires in the morning. We used quick-start charcoal and then added wood.
  • Our titanium sporks which can be clipped to belts


  • Water drops to make water palatable since I don't like it plain
  • 4 5gal containers of water- one per person per day, PLUS some for washing/dishwashing
  • Breakfast food
  • Lunch food 
  • Dinner food
  • Tea bags, instant coffee packets, sugar (in a small s'ch bag but next year a tupperware), small jug of milk
  • Snacks- you'll probably want them 


  • A mug that can be clipped to my belt (people will offer you drinks. Part of Radical Self-Reliance means being able to accept them without someone else having to scrounge up a cup or create MOOP with disposables. I have this one, which was great, but I also like this one that can be used to cook and has a lid you can get to go with it)
  • My belt first aid kit for Ranger shifts
  • Ear plugs
  • Ambien/benadryl because it gets LOUD
  • Method of lighting self up at night (el wire is very popular)
  • Burn belt (not necessary but awesomely useful. I clipped my camping spork, my mug, my first aid kit, to it, and then put little things of pepto, tylenol, etc in the pockets to give out. 
  • Usual first aid kit (includes sunscreen, bug spray, etc- you will want both)
  • A few lengths of rope/cord
  • Extra tent stakes

Notes for what worked and didn't this past year:
  • We need to camp farther from the sound camps. Ouch. 
  • Old bucket, plus 2 lids. One solid lid, one with a 'seat' cut out. Add ashes and water. Use as chamberpot for 2am potty runs. Add ashes from fire every morning and evening. Dump in a dumpster en route home. 
  • We need a better method for securing tarps to the pavilions. Caribiners and zip ties would likely be better (caribiner to pavilion top rail, zip tie up for breeze, cut tie to let down, then zip tie sides together along pavilion corners)
  • How the hell did I get through the weekend without a knife of multitool?!?!
  • Foam tiles for the tent floor. 
  • Something to create shelves for storing all the things, OTHER than the floor
  • Warmer sleeping bags if another night in the low 30's is predicted. YEESH THAT SUCKED!
  • Clippy-plate for food we kept being offered
  • Many camps serving alcohol or in the red light district (such as the sex dome) require ID. Rather than carry it around, we photocopied ours, then used packing tape to attach it to our cups. This awesome idea came courtesy of other burners, so don't credit it to me :)
  • Gifting is a thing. If you create anything, whether it's friendship bracelets, granola bars, or rides in a human pony cart, Gifting is a fantastic thing that people share. Find your expression of how to gift. In my case it was always having tea or coffee available for people coming by.

  • I am reminded by a loved one: pack the whimsical in favor of the practical any time that a choice must be made between the two. 

Alchemy OMG

Have you ever heard of Alchemy?
It's a regional version of Burning Man.
Never heard of Burning Man?
Clicky da HERE

TL;DR version? It's a huge tent city built in the desert full of art and expressions and amazingness, after which the main effigy is burned down in a symbolic rite (what exactly the symbolism is, depends on what you need it to be. I personally take it as, 'the impermanence of our efforts.'). It's a huge, week-long festival in which every single participant is expected to be utterly self-reliant (as there is NO buying/selling on site of anything), while caring for one another, expressing yourself, and leaving no trace when you leave.

Alchemy is a regional version. This year was my very first time attending any burn, so I was a little apprehensive about what to expect.
I'm normally almost an ultralight camper, but since one of the Principles is Radical Self-Reliance, I packed a LOT more than usual so that I wouldn't be That Guy who forgot something important. Thank Goddess for our truck, and the fact that Logan went up very early Thursday-day in the Ural with ours and M's tents and set them up for us, because M and I got there late Thursday night (9:30pm or so), I had to work until 3:30, and then wait for her to get off work. Thankfully, not onyl were our tents already set up, but our camp-mates had already made dinner so there was some for us. Pecan's hubby brought his Big Green Egg and a generator so he smoked amazing meats all weekend long, and my weekend started out with smoked pork butt and rum.
Yes, please!

I didn't wander as much as I probably should have, but I found myself getting overwhelmed a lot. I wandered during the day but stayed close to camp at night, except for the effigy burns. 3000 people got very overwhelming, even scattered across the whole farm (about 50 acres?).
Next year I plan on making myself venture out more at night. 

Our camp was wedged in between the sex tent (a big geodesic dome covered over and full of carpets, mattresses, benches, and baskets of condoms) and the BDSM dungeon tent, so there were some interesting views. My personal favorite was the guy in his late 50's, completely naked, who asked to use our firepit/grill to make sausages one morning. That man had bigger balls than me, to cook sausages in an open pan while naked. 
There was also a little brown-as-a-nut boy playing on the hill with a water fountain and moving rocks to cover the water, completely naked as well. He was adorable. A friend of mine set up their GIANT teepee tent on Silent Hill (no amplified sound or light), and I think i am going to camp there next year. Being just behind Circus Combustus (which is exactly what it sounds like) was rough. 

Friday I wandered a little with the MOOP Fairies I hooked up with- MOOP means Matter Out of Place and is what burners call litter and trash on the ground. (LNT- Leave No Trace- is taken very seriously. Theme camps get shamelessly trolled and lose out on placement options for next year if MOOP is found after they leave) MOOP Fairies are volunteers who walk around on what would be 'litter patrol' anywhere else. But instead of being PITAs like they are in 'default camp' (the real world), people all hugged the MOOP fairies, thanked them, and offered them drinks and food.

Friday night, Father Time (one of the effigys) burned, and there was a moment of hilarious irony as the arm holding the clock refused to burn through and fall like it was supposed to.

Saturday, I wandered a bit more. I saw where friend of mine set up drop boxes all over the farm where people could put in letters and packages to anyone else and he'd deliver them on his bicycle. He was also part of a huge theme camp called Brownie brothel that brought dozens and dozens of brownies and gave them away to people.

I cried hysterically on Saturday night when the main effigy burned- like, literally fell down I was crying so hard- and a random stranger came up and cuddled me and took care of me, and then when I was en route back to my camp, I was hailed by a group of people who cuddled me in front of their fire until I felt better. The best part? None of these people pushed their care-taking on me. The first man knelt down next to me, touched my shoulder gently, and asked if I needed cuddling or to be left alone. I couldn't speak at the time so just leaned into him and sobbed.
Rush, I miss you. You were supposed to be there. 

My friends from Knotley Crewe (A group who do shibari, the decorative rope bondage) suspended people from their geodesic dome and gave them their first experience 'flying', and 2 of them had their amazing steampunk pirate ship (a heavily modified golf cart) stolen by locals and trashed, and Logan and I are going to repair it while Lacey, the owner, is in Japan. 

I worked a shift as a Ranger and went 2 hours over my shift time directing traffic when the same assholes who broke Lacey's cart hit several vehicles in the parking lot and law enforcement had to come on-site to investigate. I had to tell people they couldn't go out to their cars yet, but most people thanked me for helping out even though I was giving them bad news, and offered me water and snacks.

Note: I didn't take any of these pictures. They came from a variety of albums on the Alchemy Facebook group
 Tent City

 Effigy burn, Saturday night

 Totally want this Vardo
 Pieces of the effigy- the entire thing is volunteer-built

 Main effigy burn

 Father Time
 Writing inside the effigy, hopes and wishes to be burned

 Random artwork people took for no reason other than to have it there

 Steampunk Pirate Ship!
 Effigy Build in process
 Father Time burning
 One of the temples set up
Logan on the Ural with a passenger,

I am still processing the whole thing, but it was seriously amazing. Pictures to follow in a minute :)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Follow-up: Packing list for Motorcycle Camping

Let me start this by saying, that I'm an ultralight kinda girl.
But I'm also a serious hedonist, and I don't do discomfort.
People asked me, over and over, how i could camp with so little 'stuff'.
Well, here's what I took:

  • Two sleeping bags with compression bags (I detest WalMart but they had decent ones for $25/ea)
  • Two hammocks, one of which was the Eno OneLink, which claims to have enough room for 2. (It lies) It does, however, come with its own rainfly and mosquito net. 
  • Water filter- I used the Lifestraw Family, which was harder to get itno saddlebags due to being hard-sided, but made filling it easier. 
  • Hiker's food, dehydrated meals we just stuck boiling water into
  • A pocket stove and fuel cells, which fitted neatly into our cookware kit, along with our pair of sporks. (Fuel cells do double-duty by making excellent firestarters)
  • We also took two 6x8' tarps, one for a rainfly for my hammock, one as a 'spare' (which I don't usually do, but boy was it handy this time! Next time I think we will do a 10x12' and a 6x8' though)
  • Spare set of socks, underwear, and shirts for each day, plus some workout shorts & sportsbra so I could feasibly get into the creek if needed/wanted. 
  • Water flavoring, since we weren't sure how the water would taste once it was filtered. I expected it to be gross, but the koolaid was surprisingly good!
  • We took regular water bottles, but next time I'll just take my collapsible bladder as it packs down smaller. 
  • Pack of 100' of lightweight cotton rope we didn't mind throwing away/burning after using
  • Pack of assorted bungee cords
  • A couple of tea bags and some very small baggies of sugar and dry creamer
  • Next trip, we'll remember a hatchet

Some hacks we discovered:

  • A used, rinsed hikers food bag makes a great water carrier for 'dirty' water from the creek, as one full bag is right at a full load for the filter.
  • If you sleep in a fetal position, you'll sleep fine in a hammock. If not... well, try napping in it a few times first. 
  • The pocket stove takes TWO fuel cells, NOT 1 like it says. Two. Otherwise, it'll never boil. Also, let your dehydrated food sit longer than it says. I know you're hungry. Do it anyway. 
  • On that note, take enough fuel cells to use 2 per meal, PLUS extras for fire-lighting. We were able to fit all of ours into our cookware, as well as the sporks. 

Memorial Day Camping

Ready to go... or so we thought. We ended up repacking my bike.

We left a lot later than I wanted to... you know how it is, the doctors appointment runs late, Max gets off work later than expected, we had to get gas and stop by to replace our sleeping bags. By the time we got on the road it was nearly 6pm, and darkness would creep up on us soon.

We rode purposefully up 400, until it turned into 115, then onto 52 toward Helen, and I eyed the little shops and farmers market with regret and promised myself a meandering ride home and to figure out some way to bring home the muscadine cider I saw advertised near a rental barn whose owners I knew long ago.

The is no hardship in a reasonably paced and reasonably long ride; in our case, an hour and a half of slow looping turns, old farmsteads, and brief cold blasts of creekbed air. Parts of it made me wish to stop and put on my sweatshirt, but the sun sets earlier in the mountains than on the piedmont and I didn't dare risk stopping. Max rode behind me, easily in sight of regular checks in my mirrors, and at every red light and country stop sign we would check on one another. Finally, we reached 348 and it's tight curves, through which I pushed us a bit faster than was likely wise, excited to almost be there.

The area was full when we pulled in, prompting me to a mental groan of realization. Saturday evening on Memorial Day Weekend? What had I been expecting, an empty stretch of forest? We passed my preferred campsite with a sigh of regret on my part and journeyed onward, pushing our reluctant bikes along the slick mud - and - gravel road until we reached the deep trough where the creek crossed the road. Max wanted to push the bikes across and keep going, but here I demurred as nerves and experience failed me... I ride rarely enough on rough ground, I was unwilling to try to cross a 2' deep and fast-moving stream that was easily 12' across. Instead, a gentleman whose camp lay just off the road beside us suggested that we would be welcome near them and we gratefully agreed to explore the area. His little setup, fortified by an electric fence, 'to keep out bears,' included two tents, chairs, rugs, and a grill. I could only giggle, while still appreciating his generous spirit since many campers prefer others as far away as possible.

Ten minutes exploration netted us an excellent spot a few meters up the trail, mostly private and with trees ideal for the hammocks. Setting up the hammock tent was a bit of an adventure- we didn't test the new equipment beforehand like we should have, and it was a race against time to set up shelter and a fire pit and food and a rain - fly in case of the possible showers tonight.

We managed, albeit barely, and there's no way I would have been able to get it all set up myself. Here, Max's superior knowledge of knots and his mechanical mind saved the day. We did the minimum needed to set up, boiled water for our dinner- chicken a la king out of a hikers good pack, which was surprisingly good, and gratefully collapsed into bed.

Camp, all set up!

Collapsed being the key word... despite blithe assurances that it was meant for two, our Eno Nest was NOT comfortable for two people to sleep in. After a frustrating half hour of shifting and figuring, full of muffled laughter and elbows in bladders, we have up and I moved to the other hammock and left the Eno to Max. With a rain fly and a sleeping bag it was comfortable enough, but at 3am one needn't be on the ground for the earth's cool fingers to chill you. I slept deeply when I slept, and spent much of the rest of the night cursing my inability to sleep in my jeans, as my legs and feet were the coldest parts of me.
I woke to birdsong and the sound of Max extricating himself from the other nylon prison, and we agreed that today would involve a run to Helen and the purchase of a tent and sleeping pads.
With light on our side this time, gathered enough firewood for the day, and Max set up a cheerful little campfire of mostly pine to keep away mosquitoes while I made breakfast- more hikers food, strawberry granola with milk. Again, surprisingly good. A round of tea followed- Early Grey is surprisingly good made over a campfire, and the smoky flavor lent itself well to the bergamot.

The new water filter seemed to work well... we had bought two water bottles en route up, and used one to fill the water filter from the creek and the other to move filtered water to the fire and the mini-stove. A bottle of water flavoring drops made for surprisingly good mango - pineapple 'juice,' and once all was established we settled in with our books and enjoyed the gradually-warming morning.

Later, we cleaned up the camp and headed into Helen to replace Max's ripped jeans and play tourist. The ride in was much more leisurely, knowing now that not only did we not have a time limit but that Max wasn't bored by my (lack of) speed. Long, slow curves and gentle turns, dappled sunlight and the ever-present scent of honeysuckle and water. The river lay to one side of the road for a mile or two, giving glimpses or green and silver and shivers of water-borne zephyrs.

The road into Helen was slow, as always, but I couldn't argue the opportunity to keep looking around. Finally, on the recommendation of the carriage driver, we tried a little restaurant tucked onto a side street called BodenSee. Lunch was excellent- garlicky wurst, house - made by a chef with a predilection for meat. Max's chicken schnitzel with grilled onions was also excellent, and our Sacher torte was phenomenal. The cafe was a definite win, and we will be eating there again.

Morning view

Morning visitor

We wandered a bit after that, enjoying sun and breeze and the many tourists. Max found a puzzle box that stumped for almost 10 minutes- a record, I think- and I fell in love with a metallic dragonfly 3d puzzle. Only as we looked up and noticed patchy clouds rolling in did we realize that our sojourn- or its length at least- might have been ill-advised.

We raced 'home,' but were too late. The ride this time was far less pleasant as rain quickly soaked our jeans, dripped down the backs of our necks, and made me at least thankful for tall boots that allowed no drips to soak my socks. Rain-slick blacktop, and new blacktop at that, is a terrifying thing when you're cold and wet and in a hurry. The gravel road twisting along the mountainside inside the camp area carries its own warnings, and thin bike tires meant for asphalt are perilously slippery in gravel and mud. Still, I pushed our pace a bit faster than may have been advised, but not Max had no objections and was likely more comfortable with our pace than I was being the better rider.

On arrival, I all but leapt off of Skya, grabbing my saddlebags- which, I realized, I'd never fastened on properly!- and nearly running to our campsite to salvage what wood I could and get it under cover. With the addition of a few pieces of heartwood donated by the campsite next to us, we were fairly well set up for the storm that soon broke over our heads.

We layered both tarps over the Eno's rainfly, creating a big triangle of dry, under which we reslung the hammocks and stowed all of our gear, laying our soaked jeans over the rope of one of the hammocks so they could hopefully dry out some.

When finally the rain began to break, Max did the cooking this time- we found that my Ensi stove doesn't boil water with a single fuel cell like it claims, but that in the all-the - way open position with 2 of them, you get a decent little boil. The beef stroganoff was our least favorite, but was still eminently edible when allowed to cook for 15 minutes instead of the directed 10.

Snuggled down with books to wait out the rain

Visiting puppy who looks EXACTLY like my Noka

When the storm broke, we were pleasantly warm and dry in our respective hammocks, in dry socks, dry shorts, and in my case a sweatshirt, and snuggled in our sleeping bags with books.

We also found that our lifestraw family filter was basically perfect for our needs: while harder to pack into saddlebags, the hard-sided 'dirty water' container made pouring into it easier (something our water bottles and leftover hikers food bags were ideal for), and a bungee to secure the lower end of the filter pipe made using it a breeze once we figured it out.
If you're unfamiliar with them, they work like this- pour 'dirty' water into the big reservoir, turn the red tap and let water drain for a few seconds. Turn off the red tap. Turn the blue tap and use the bulb to pump clean water through the filter and put of the side straw. Voila! Clean water! It would drip on its own with the tap turned, or the bulb would pump it faster.

Lifestraw FTW!

Rebuilding the fire, post-storm

Not very successful attempt to dry out our soaked jeans

Our gregarious neighbor brought us the makings for s'mores, which was very welcome after an early lunch and early dinner- Max eats less when camping, but I eat quite a bit more. The rest of the evening was spent playing with the fires in Max's case, as he tended our neighbors during their run to the store and showed our other neighbors- a group of orthodox Jewish men and a bunch of kids- where to find the heart of pine from a downed tree, which burns fast and hot even when wet. In my case, there was a lot more lying in the hammock and reading my book.

We decided that next trip, a tent is in order, but we will have to figure out a way to keep from being cold and stiff the next morning. We will try the thermarest pads, possibly layered under an air mattress although I despise the things.

That night was rather more comfortable, as we both slept in socks and shorts and in my case, my sweatshirt again. The morning was still damp and early, and even an hour by the fire the night before and a night beneath our sleeping bags in the hammock hadn't dried out our jeans.

I woke before Max and wriggled into my cold and damp jeans, and started another fire and breakfast to let him sleep in a bit.

The bandito scramble was the least - good of our prepared meals, although the banana raisin quinoa we followed it with was quite good. We had our tea and spent most of the morning breaking down camp- really, less than an hours work but we were leisurely about it- before snuggling back up in the hammocks to laze about a bit longer and let it get warmer before riding back town town in still - damp clothing.

It was nearly noon, and one more meal (excellent chicken teriyaki) before we heard thunder and realized we were overdue to get out of dodge.

Camp, mostly broken aside from the hammocks

Everything packed up, aside from the hammocks

Ready to head home!

Unfortunately, we were very overdue and the rain broke over our heads just as we finished loading the bikes. Joy.

The ride home was a misery... little in the world is more unpleasant than cold rainwater finding it's way into your groin, down the back of your neck, and trickling into your boots. I at least had tall boots, although they didn't protect me nearly as much as I'd like. Poor Max had ventilation in a few spots he'd rather not, as we hadn't replaced his jeans in Helen like we'd planned.

It's hard to enjoy the sights and sounds of rushing water and a world draped in emerald lace when your helmet fogs with every breath and needles of rain sting your cold, bare hands with every flurry of showers that passes overhead.

Nor did it help that after stopping at a gas station to check our bearings and reactivate the data on our phones, the bluetooth on my helmet went out, leaving me instead of music a teeth - grinding intermittent crackle. Even more frustratingly, this extended not only to my music but to my gps, meaning that my route back was 100% memory, and I hadn't been here in 2 years. Our ride was made longer by this, since I didn't dare try it from memory and run risk of adding 'lost,' to our list of adjectives on top of, 'wet, cold, and miserable.'

Reaching 400 felt almost like safe haven as we dropped altitude and gained warmth, so that even the ever-present cold wasn't as bad as it had been in the mountains.

A half-hour's stop at Gypsy's, a few miles south of the outlet mall, netted us warm and mostly dry clothes and steaming mugs of tea- you know you have good friends when you can show up on their doorstep and ask to use the dryer.

We still hit a few squalls before reaching the house, but finally we were able to unload the bikes, spread out our things to dry, and went to the apartment for long-awaited showers. It took two shampoos to get the smoke out of my hair, and little else compares to the joy of lotion after 3 days in the woods....Unless it's Damian's hugs when we went to pick him up, followed by gorging ourselves at Chili's (and indulging in a margarita) with Val and Wentzel.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A letter to my son

I wrote a letter to my son today.
I hope he never reads it.
You see, it's sealed and only is to be opened in case of my death.

My son is two.

His father died 4 months ago.

I have no intention of dying, but if I do he will be an orphan. He has other family, and plenty of people who love him, but I know from experience that nothing replaces your parents.

I wrote to him that I love him. I wrote to him about his father. I wrote that having him terrified me, and it still does every single day.
I wrote that I don't know how to be as good a mother as he deserves, but that I try every day.

I wrote that if he has questions about his father and I am gone, that he can ask his Aunts and his older brother.

I wrote that I love him. Over and over.

I wrote that I hope he understands one day that none of this was his fault.

I tried to give him advice, that I hope will be useful.

I wrote that nothing on earth could ever make me stop loving him. Not even death.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Getting there

My husband is dead.

My Rush died in September, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.
Ironically, it was an accidental shot.

Some days I'm okay.

Some days I'm not.

Yesterday, I walked into our son's daycare and, "You are my sunshine," was playing. I burst into tears right then and there.
Today, I forced myself to update my NSFW blog, and ran across an entry where I posted something sweet he'd said, and broke down again.

It happens. It keeps happening. It will keep happening.
The trick is, to quote the inestimable Mr Churchill, "When you're going through hell, keep going."

My dreams of a homestead are on the backburner in favor of survival right now.
My son and I moved into an apartment in a northern suburb of Atlanta, I started a new job (which makes alone nearly what Rush's and my combined income was), sold Rush's car and motorcycle, and replaced it with a sturdy little Subaru Forrester that's been good to us.

The Cublet is doing well. he hasn't forgotten his father, but he accepts that he's gone. His birthday is next week- he will be 2 years old. Single parenting is hard, but I'm blessed not to be doing it nearly as singly as most people. I have an amazing community around me, and a loving bunch of folks who have been there every step of the way to help me.

Next week, I have a meeting with a friend who's a lawyer to set up a trust fund in case of my death, and guardianship papers for who will raise the Cublet. No, I have no plans to follow Rush, but I am a single parent now and I cannot afford to leave such things to chance and the court systems.

My son is my salvation. My cuddle-buddy on the hard days, my reason to keep going when I want to curl up and give up. The responsibility for him is a heavy, heavy weight, but some days it's the only thing that keeps me anchored to the Earth.

I'm not okay. I'm not nearly okay.
But I'm getting there.