It's time to start thinking about gear for Outback Overflight.

Electronics. Well, naturally, I'm a geek. So. Tentatively, the list is:

  • Macbook Air 11-inch
  • iPad mini (used for backup in-flight nav, and general use)
  • iPhone (unlocked, will get a local SIM card when I get there)
  • Point-and-shoot camera. I have a small one from my trip to watch the Shuttle launch; it has decent zoom and image quality, and is about the size of a fist including the battery charger.
  • GoPro Hero 3+ video camera - possibly. Would be neat to get flight ops videos from Australia.
  • Satellite emergency GPS messenger.

Chargers for the above, of course. The iPad and iPhone can share one, the Macbook has one, and the GoPro and point-and-shoot have wall wart battery chargers. Couple this with Australian power adapters.

I've bought a SPOT 3 Satellite GPS Tracker. This isn't a beacon, but it will save your position and track data at preset intervals (5, 15, 30, 60 mins) and send them directly to the Globalcom satellite network. It has two message buttons - 'SOS' and 'HELP.' SOS is a 'real emergency' and if that button is pressed, your current GPS position is sent to the GEOS rescue coordination center. 'HELP' doesn't engage rescue services, but instead sends a preset email message to a list of contacts that you configure using their (apparently godawful) website. That way, if you're in trouble that's not life-threatening, you can request assistance without involving official rescue organizations. This device will quiet most of my paranoia. It's waterproof, shock-resistant, and about the size of a cell phone.

Next up: aviation. This is a bit more complex. I'd like to take my own headset - a David Clark H10-13.4, the standard light-green military-looking headset recommended for student pilots. It's rugged, has decent sound quality, and is familiar. However, it's not small or light, and I'm going around the damn planet. I might take the risk of seeing what headsets the rental place I'm sourcing the plane from has available. The other option is to buy a Clarity Aloft headset - rather than being big metal cans, they're in-ear connected by a light metal behind-the-head band, with mic boom. They're quite light, but they're also $525. Ugh.

Still, there are some things that I'm definitely taking.

  • E6B flight computer (the 'whiz wheel' - if you lose power, it's good to have.
  • Logbook. Maybe a blank paper one, maybe an iPad/phone app, unsure yet.
  • Protractor and drafting compass - useful for navigation on paper charts, and plotting range arcs.
  • Calculator.
  • iPad navigation app for Australia (OzRunways?)

I'll have to take a stack of paper charts that I buy there - it's a condition of the rental. Probably $300 worth. :-P Ah well. I'll have PDFs of important stuff - Australian flight regs, a Garmin G1000 handbook, etc - on my iPad and iPhone.

Personal gear. I have to take my CPAP machine and a backup mouthpiece - one that maintains jaw position in my sleep - in case I end up somewhere without power. That has its own carrying case, and it'll also take my medications and personal care stuff. Clothing is a bit of a poser. I'm going to be there a month-plus, and for two or three weeks of it I'll be without more than minimal facilities. Not camping, but not living in business hotels, either. Plus, I have to lug everything halfway around the planet, and once there, it's all got to fit in a small general aviation aircraft for three weeks. I'm presently planning on taking a Lowe Alpine Kinni 60 bag - a large carryon, softsided, with optional backpack straps as well as a shoulder strap and side handle. It has a large pocket which may handle all of my electronics as well as clothes. But what clothes? Well, huh, hm.

I've purchased (for testing) a pair of Ex Officio underwear. These have been recommended to me by two different friends - they're nylon/lycra underwear. Besides being light, antibacterial, wicking away moisture and preventing chafing (heh) they're notable because you can clean them in a sink or shower, roll them in a towel and they'll dry in a couple of hours. So having three or four pairs would probably be enough - one of my friends went two weeks on a hike with two pairs and said they held up great to wilderness washing. I'll be in Australia in winter, so I'll probably have to have at least one warm top. So it's looking like:

  • 3-4 pairs washable underwear
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 2 pairs of jeans (because they're harder to wash improvisationally)
  • 1 pair of shorts?
  • 5 T-shirts
  • 1 sweater or sweatshirt
  • 1 windbreaker/waterproof shell

Survival gear for the airplane. I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, better safe than sorry! On the other, I'm limited in what I can and want to haul from the US; I have the rescue messenger, and I'm limited by weight in the airplane. If I have to put this thing down in the bush, though, I damn well want more than what's in my pockets. So presently, I'm thinking (after advice from a couple people):

  • 2 Dromedary or Camelback 6-liter water carriers. These are light, easy to transport, and can be filled there.
  • 2 metal canteens. For personal carry, and because they're sturdier than a soft-side watercarrier.
  • Lifestraw water purifier for emergencies
  • First aid kit. If one isn't in the plane, we can get a small one there, ideally with relevant antivenins if necessary.
  • Matches and lighters
  • Signal mirror (GPS coordinates are great, but if you see a SAR aircraft, it'd be nice to be able to signal). Might be able to use cell phone surfaces, but this is a light and cheap option.
  • Paracord (general purpose)
  • Tarp for shelter
  • Knife of some kind. Not a MANLY SURVIVAL KNIFE a la John Rambo, but maybe a multitool and a straight-blade for emergency tool use. That I'd have to get there, or mail in advance. Probably easier to buy it there, I'll be in Sydney for a couple of days first.
  • Kit rations. 4 or 6 man-days of suryival rations for the plane.
Given that I plan on filing SAR plans whenever we're not with the tour convoy, and that we'll have phones and the satellite messenger, I can't see planning on more than 2-3 days on the ground.

This is the first draft of the plan. We'll see what happens.

"Have you called your mother?"

The short answer is no. The longer answer is hell no. I in fact managed to avoid all but one person urging me to make contact with my supposedly sainted maternal figure this year, mostly by staying at home save for a brief morning foray to the grocery store. Instead, I had brunch, I gardened, and I tried not to be too heinous to my extremely patient roommates.

Secondhand, the news I have on my mother is disturbing. She's in her second divorce, now, from the husband she married after divorcing my father. She's distraught and has had her anxiety triggered by the whole mess. This doesn't help her narcissistic streak, though, which is why about two weeks ago, I went to my uncles for advice around potentially re-initiating contact, and received the solid wisdom of "if it was a bad idea before, it's worse now". In his infinite wisdom, RS said something along the lines of "I hope you care enough for yourself to not do that."

So I'm not. I'm avoiding the histrionics, the guilt trips, the accusations of being less than human and heartless, and focusing on where my heart actually is: in the house I live in, with my chosen family, with the community garden plot I'm tending.

This weekend, I planted: one sungold tomato plant, one grape tomato plant, ten marigolds, a chunk of chives, another bit of dill, and another thyme plant. I've de-weeded about 150 feet of the 200 feet I have, and will hopefully have time this week to get some peas and beens into place before the temperatures hit the upper 80s. In amongst the weeds, I found some curly-leafed kale that self-seeded off a bolted bush I yanked out, and relocated that and some errant flowers to the edges of the bed. In the centre will likely go more tomatoes, and maybe another zucchini plant if madness seizes me.

My roommates and one of my other friends will be keeping things watered and weeded while I'm out. On Wednesday, I'm taking a long-anticipated road trip down to visit the Glare in Berkeley, where I'll be tending his garden during the heat wave. He resides in Palo Alto during the work week, which means he's not at home, mostly. Hopefully the heat doesn't nuke his garden.

Things are good. Life is good.

Mosquitoes hatch and dandelions bloom and thunderclouds roll in across a horizon strewn with grasping, naked limbs of trees which have yet to convince themselves that Winter's freezing touch has been dispelled, and with good reason. Out in the Rockies a foot and a half of snow has fallen and the cold front responsible will soon push away the thunderstorm and tornado spawning moist humidity from the Gulf. Hoodies will trade places with flip flops for the umpteenth time in this land where the only two true seasons are Winter and road construction; this land without Springtime.

Really though, this year was notable for the longevity and the severity of the grip of Winter. Regional meteorologist even discovered a fun new buzzword for us all to obsess over: Polar Vortex. On multiple occasions, the cold air mass that typically resides over the upper Canadian Shield was pushed down by active jet streams to center somewhere around Cleveland, Ohio. I recall reading many times that this was the result of Global Warming and that we should take cold comfort in knowing that the rest of the world was broiling in excessive heat. True Midwesterners simply sucked it up and reminded each other that this was how "real Winter" used to be in our childhoods.

All the same, as March rolled on, and the snowpack remained a foot deep in places in the yard, I intentionally delayed the sowing of cold-weather Brassicas in my basement by a week and then another.....and another. Is seemed that my concord grape vine had died from the extreme cold. I finally sowed the seeds which happily germinated and grew their first true leaves by April, about a month behind the normal schedule. Mid-April my hearty seedlings went out onto the porch to harden off during the days and then out into the virgin rows that I rototilled weeks before on the one day where the ground was between the frozen-waterlogged-frozen cycle.

Brassicas are fairly cold hearty. Even seedlings should withstand some light freezing depending on the variety. However within a week on transplant, we received two inches of mid-April snow and two consecutive nights in the mid-twenties. My seedlings were not happy. While few of them actually died, they were pretty much dissuaded from any real growth for weeks afterwards. I had also sown rows of beets, radishes, carrots, and spinach around the same time. In the old garden I tilled up four rows and sowed sweet peas.

Now it is mid-may and the beets germinated very sparsely and poorly. They are stunted pathetic little blips flipping me the middle finger centimeters from the soil line. Radishes are, however, doing very well and should be ready to harvest soon. Spinach germinated well enough as did the carrots which I recently rescued from being overtaken by purslane sprouts. Onion sets arrived in the mail and went into the ground when the chill some in the following week.

About a week ago, the god of the jet streams decided to shake things up and started hurling warm, humid air up from Galveston, Texas, spawning bands of thunderstorms as they collided with the typical cold Canadian air-mass eternally moving eastward. Tractors began to churn last years corn stalks underneath thousands of acres of familiar black earth. Driving home one sunny warm afternoon, I had the premonition, of increased urgency, and then I saw them by the side of the road. Seeders hooked up to those modern mastodons of the prairie, John Deere green and Husqvarna blonde. Seeders burdened with their payloads of corn and soybeans dependent on warm soil, lest the bank loan lies rotten and spoilt.

Home I drove, and tilled up the other half of the old garden and sowed sweet corm kernels into the rows there. In the new garden I sowed green bean seeds and okra seeds, and transplanted tomato, sweet paprika pepper plants and eggplants. The former nightshades I received in the mail only days before. The tomatoes, a mid-season variety called Rutgers which were shockingly large and too good of an opportunity to pass on, and a trio of Romas, I obtained from a local farmstand.

Sure enough, that night the storms rolled in which continued in bands for a day or two before rolling out to New England leaving warmer-than-typical temperatures, whatever that means anymore. Just like that, everything started to grow. Lawns turned green and lush with the cheery faces of hundreds of dandelions and white and purple violets heralding the beginning of lawn mowing season. Trees, which has already made a half-hearted effort to bud, began to spread misery-inducing tree-sex everywhere. Biting flies have begun to pester the dog, mosquitoes are sure to start biting in a week or two. Even the asparagus woke up, and in uniform fashion for once!

The farmstand that I obtained the tomatoes from really doesn't have shit anymore in April anymore. I stopped off at a different place a bit closer to work and found all kinds of nice seedlings in pots. I decided to bite the bullet and purchase eight "Marketmore" cucumber seedlings and two pots of "Millionaire" zucchini. Long-time readers of my gardening logs may recall all of my woes with cucumber beetles and squash bugs. I am hoping that taking last year off to starve that generation out has had the effect of braking the hold that those disease-ridden vermin had upon me.

Right now, it is more Summer than Winter, but cool weather is in the forecast. The kale, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower finally seem like they are interested in making something out of themselves. The beans and corn have not yet emerged but a little poking around in the dirt reveals good germination. Good foliage is on the raspberry canes and the strawberries are in bloom. It seems that the fruit trees may be taking the year off after last years superabundance. I am anticipating the sweet peas to flower soon. Everything around the yard is, well...SPRINGLIKE!

For the moment.

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