2 night winter camping trip – Day 1

I went on another winter camping trip.

Why? Ya i’m not really sure either. I think winter trips are just a bit more fun because they are more of a challenge to stay warm and just comfortable. Before I get into it, there are two things I learned on this trip:

  1. I need a pillow, like no joke. I cant sleep at all in a tent with no pillow.
  2. Related to number 1, don’t ever feel like you aren’t a real camper because you have to bring some comforts with you that more hardcore campers feel is cheating. Camping isnt about being hardcore or being more rugged than the next guy, its about having fun and making memories. And hey, I love no sleep as much as the next guy, but I have a lot more fun when I get at least an hour of sleep. So the point is, don’t worry about being made fun of or judged. If you need to bring a home comfort to make the trip more bearable, just do it. You do you.

Now on to the trip.


We walked into the woods through the two track, 5 of us on day 1, to make camp next to pigeon lake for the night. There had not been snow for days before our trip despite the freezing temperatures, so the ground was covered in a hard crust of snow that made it more tiring to walk into with our packs on. I had packed a little differently than I do for most trips, as I planned on doing some bush crafting on this trip. For 30 minutes we hiked in, mostly down hill through snow to get to our overnight spot.


As soon as we arrived, we felt the harsh wind hit us from the south. We soon realized that because of the valley the lake was in, the wind was tunneled right to our spot. We immediately set to starting the fire. Before I set up my tent, I wanted to warm up my hands and possible even some tea. Brandin and I decided to make a fire up the hill about 30 feet, mostly too stay out of the wind a little more.


I’m just too cool to look into the camera. (PC – Thea Near)

Well we quickly realized what a dumb idea that was. I mean who wants to walk 30 feet up a snowy hill every time they want to go by the fire.  So instead we started a fire down the hill closer to our tents. (awesome GIF provided by my dad).




After Brandin had built the fire, we went to setting up our tents. The first night we only needed one tent since the rest of the group was not there, so we quickly set up the tent and went immediately back to the fire. We decided that since it was about 4 that it was dinner time. Luckily I had planned way ahead and bought some good steak with Italian bread, so we fried up the steak with some potatoes and toasted the bread for a filling dinner on the first night.



Dinner came and went, and it was time to clean our dishes (because I am weird like that and cant stand dirty dishes). So we dug out some snow and started boiling some water in all of our pans.



After that, Brandin and I spent the bulk of our time cutting wood to keep the fire going. The pictures down below show the valley we were in, with the lake in the middle giving us absolutely no protection against the howling wind rushing into us. This meant our fire was burning hot and rapidly, causing us to have to constantly feed it wood. Factor in that with the fact that the only wood we really had access to was dead, dry jack pine, it meant that Brandin and I were getting more wood every 20 minutes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


(From day two, notice there are three tents instead of two)

One thing Ive learned from this trip is that since it’s winter, dark falls early and it starts to get cold and boring quickly. We sat around the fire for a little while and talked but at around 9 I was ready to go to bed. Which was a mistake. I had no pillow, just my sleeping pad and mummy bag, which made for an uncomfortable and FREEZING night. I may have gotten 1 hour of sleep total that night, because it was much less sleeping than it was me in the fetal position trying not to die.


Overall the first day of the trip was a lot of fun. Winter camping is a mix of relaxing with busily moving to stay warm and keep the fire going. Next Friday I will be posting Day 2 of the trip!



Winter Camping in Manistee National Forest


It pretty much sucks. I live on the west side of Michigan not 10 miles from the lake, so you can imagine the kind of snowy weather I see throughout the winter. In years past I have pretty much gone into hibernation whenever the snow hits, I get home from work and cozy up to my computer and put away the camera until spring. This year I have decided to push through and persevere. After all, one of my New Years resolutions was to be more adventurous and deliberately put myself into uncomfortable situations.

New year new me right?

I find myself always trying to be comfortable and shying away from the slightest discomfort, which has made me less outgoing. So what did I do? I decided to go hiking overnight in the middle of winter at Manistee National Forest with some friends.

I woke up early on Saturday morning at 7, frantically making sure I had all my gear ready. I had spent the entire night prior packing and repacking my pack to make sure everything fit in perfect. We had planned to rendezvous at my parents house at 10:30 am, where we were borrowing some of my dads equipment and then setting off on our hour drive up to Manistee National Forest.

When we arrived we started packing up everything, making sure we had our food packed away. Because I was the only one with a sleeping pad, we grabbed a piece of foam from my parents camper and tied it to Freddy’s pack in the least ridiculous looking way possible. (Still looked hilarious though). At this point I wasn’t sure how 3 grown men were going to share 2 sleeping pads, but I figured we would improvise once we got to that point. At 12:30 we set off into the woods to start our ~2 mile hike to the Bowman Bridge campsite.


Freddy and Mark unpacking the car


Mark looking psyched up for the hike



I don’t even know


The hike in itself was pretty uneventful, it was just an hour and a half of trudging through the snow. When we got to the campsite, we decided to not set up at one of the actual camping spots, but instead set up in the woods where we felt it would be a little more rough camping.


Our campsite

Once we arrived we rested for a couple minutes, and we began to gather sticks for the fire. I wanted to try a new firestarter which was wine corks soaked in alcohol but they were either too frozen or it just doesnt work. Freddy took over fire duties and had a real hot fire going within 10 minutes.


It didn’t take long before Mark noticed we had no way to sit around the fire without sitting directly in a snow pile, so he went on hunt for some stumps, of which he somehow found exactly 3.



Freddy likes to help


Mark was kind of cold

Freddy brought his fishing pole and decided to walk down to the river and try to catch dinner (don’t worry we brought back up food!). After about a half hour he decided to stop since he had no bites and his line kept freezing up. So instead we threw the steak and potatoes on the fire and let them cook for a while. If you are wondering, I use an old aluminum cook set which i think is army surplus. I am in need of a new one because I am pretty sure aluminum is not good to cook and eat off of.



We seasoned the steak with just garlic and salt.



As night fell we stoked up the fire and tried to stay as warm as possible. I definitely underestimated just how cold it would get, as we did not get any sleep at all since we were all in the fetal position trying to stay alive. But somehow night passed and morning came. We ate oatmeal in our tent since we were too cold to go outside, and unfortunately I was so cold and focused on oatmeal I forgot to get my camera out!



Freddy started another fire so we wouldn’t freeze to death


Our messy tent after sleeping

After breakfast Freddy made another fire so we could stay warm while packing up. We packed up fairly fast and were able to start hiking out  by 10:30. As we were hiking out, Freddy realized that since our hiking trail crossed 56th street twice, that must mean that we could skip the 2 mile hike and just walk straight up the road to our car. Tired as I was, I was all for it. We hiked about 3/4 of a mile up the road and found the trail head where our car was parked. It sure beat walking 2 miles up and down hills in the cold morning.

All in all this was actually one of the most fun trips I have ever had. I was with good friends and unlike summer camping, this was actually a real challenge to us. Sometimes summer camping can feel like its just too relaxing, you just go out and cook food and relax in the sun. Winter camping however, is much more of a struggle, and somehow there is a lot of enjoyment in the struggle. I will definitely be going winter camping again very soon, if only it didn’t cost so much to buy a whole other set of camping gear for the cold!



My Tattoo…

I was always against tattoos. Growing up in a baptist church taught me that tattoos were unprofessional and gave you a bad image to other Christians. As I grew though, I realized I didn’t really care what they thought anyway. My tattoo to me was a way to remind myself of what I thought was important and what my goals in life were. With one simple picture I can constantly remind myself what is really important.



So for my first tattoo i decided to get a sailboat, although I do like sailing, my primary reason for getting it was for what it represented…Freedom. I have lived in the same general area of Michigan for almost my entire life, and I’ve never actually left the continental United States. Every time I look at my tattoo, it reminds me that i want to leave America and see the world. Sometimes at night I stay awake and look at it, imagining I am on a boat far away, going somewhere new and escaping everything. My tattoo sums up everything i want in one simple drawing.

So if you want a tattoo, but don’t know what to get, just think about what is most important to you, and place it somewhere that will constantly remind you what you are here on this earth for.

Making Your Own Survival Knife – Part 1

I have always been fascinated with creating things, whether its writing, graphic design, YouTube or Photography, i love creating things myself. There is a certain feeling of accomplishment when you can make something beautiful out of nothing. I have always loved knives, so I decided it was time for me to learn how to make one myself. I started with a 5/8 inch thick steel sheet, and cut it into what I thought would be a good block for my knife template.

From there, I grabbed my grinder and just started grinding away steel until I had a shape that roughly resembled what I wanted the knife to look like.


After a lot of filing to get the excess metal shavings off of the corners, I proceeded to grind in the bevels. Of course I don’t have access to a big belt sander like most knife makers do, so I got my hands on the next best thing. A hand held belt sander. The problem with this is its hard to make any kind of rig to control the angle of the bevel. So I had to eyeball the angle, fortunately it came out close, but there were differing angles as you went up the blade, it really didn’t look too bad but it wouldn’t have passed quality control.

None of those imperfections really mattered however, because the next step was heat treating the knife to harden the steel. A plethora of YouTube videos made it look much easier than it was. First I tried using a large propane torch and shooting the flame into a brick where the knife sat, this did not even get the metal close to hot enough. So I decided to go a more traditional route and cover the metal in charcoal. I spent about 20 minutes heating up a mound of charcoal until the metal was red hot. ( I didn’t test it with a magnet, my first mistake).


I pulled it out of the coals with my tong and proceeded to dip it into peanut oil. Unfortunately it seemed that the charcoal had stuck to the metal, and through the quenching had fused into the metal. This not only bent and ate into my steel, warping my knife, but it fused a mount of charcoal remains onto the metal, which was NOT easy to file off. Needless to say, the end product looked like this. Back to the drawing table…..

Realizing What Is Important In Life…

Last weekend I spent some time at Ludington State Park to relax and spend some time away from the rest of the world. Truth is, I have been struggling with some relationship issues for the last month and I needed to get out of town to spend some time with some good friends and reflect on my life.

If you are like me, you struggle with letting go of things whether its stress, relationships or just problems in general. The only way I can really let go of things is to just spend time away from my phone and computer, sever contact with the outside world and just spend time with good friends and once again realizing why I should appreciate my life. I let the problems of my life halt me in fear so much, it stops me from being happy. I haven’t been really, truly happy for the last 10 months, and hopefully this was the start of my healing process.

Sitting there, by the fire having good conversation while surrounded by people who love me and care about me really helped me realize what I should be focusing on in this life. Not fear, not the stresses of my job, not damaging relationships, but family and my own personal emotional health.

If you haven’t been truly happy with your life for a while, I encourage you to focus on whats truly important in your life and let go of those things that constantly drain you emotionally. It is a hard process, I am still going through it, but it will be worth it in the end.



DIY Fire-starter For Your Next Adventure!

One of the most important parts of camping is having a warm fire to cook food on and warm up by, and if you are like me, sometimes you have a hard time actually starting the fire. While there are plenty of products you can buy that will help make your next fire much easier to get going, there are also a myriad of great DIY methods. One of the best ways, is Char Cloth, which is cheap and very easy to make!

Having a flint and stone out in the woods can be a huge start to getting a fire started, but from my past experiences, sparks can be a  fickle way of starting a fire, so its important to have something that will light on fire at the smallest spark. Thats where Char Cloth comes in. The Art of Manliness says that “Char cloth is created through a process of pyrolysis, which Wikipedia tells us is the ‘thermochemical decomposition of organic material at elevated temperature in the absence of oxygen.’ Basically, char cloth is created by combusting an organic material in a way that releases its gasses without burning it up completely”. This makes a material that will combust at the slightest spark, making it the ideal method of starting a fire in a survival situation.

What you need: 

  • Altoids mint tin (or any enclosed tin)
  • Small pieces of cloth
  • An open flame



The first step is to place the cut up pieces of cloth into the tin can as flat as you can ( I placed them in all clumped up and they didn’t char as evenly as they should). Next poke a small hole into the top of the can for the gasses to be released and place into an open flame.


As you can see, I messed up my first batch and had to switch tins, so don’t be scared to mess up, you can always retry. The process of pyrolysis can take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, but generally you just want to wait until you cant see any gas coming out of the vent anymore. Once the gas is not coming out, that means the cloth is ready.


Open up the can once it is cooled down and your cloth should be completely black and feel more brittle than it did before. Test it out by using a flint and steel to spark it, it should light up very easily.


Once you have perfected your process, repeat as necessary. Make sure you bring with you on any camping trips for the next time you might have to make a fire and have no other methods available to you.

Know of a better way to make it? Comment below!


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Dealing With Stress and Anxiety

I started this blog with a mission in mind, exploring my issues of anxiety and depression and the effect that facing my fears and taking adventures would have on them. I’ve found that spending time in the outdoors away from the distraction of work and technology, i have time to stop thinking and focus on the moment.

These past two weeks have been especially difficult for me in terms of stress and anxiety. I have had bad anxiety attacks twice the last couple of weeks, and had difficulty sleeping almost every night. I decided this weekend that going camping, even if it is at a campground and not out in the woods, would be beneficial for me.


The moment I got out of real life and into the campground and sat in front of a fire, it was like all of my anxiety and worries just disappeared. So next time you feel overwhelmed with life and cant handle life, sit in front of a fire and try to let the calmness of nature take your worries away.


5 Reasons Why You Should Have A Knife On Every Trip…

One of the most important tools you can have while camping is a knife, and not only for survival (Although we will get into that later in this post) but also for general tasks. The blog Eating Utensils states “From the early days of our race, the knife represented one of the first and most important tools that enabled rise of our technology, military, culture, science and all other things that brought us to this point of modern civilization. As a vital tool for survival, combat, construction and food preparation, the knife quickly became the most basic tool from which all other were born.” We can see that obviously the knife is one of the most important tools invented by man, and rightly so.

I myself have started carrying a small folder around everywhere with me for the last month and found that I use it a lot more than I would have thought. So without further adieu, lets get into the 5 reasons you should always bring a knife when hiking.




The knife is pretty basic right? Just a piece of metal with a sharp edge, but it serves many important purposes. One of the most important purposes a knife can serve is obviously cutting through packaging. When you are eating dry freezed food that is served in tough plastic packaging while on the trail, you need something to open it with, otherwise it will be a messy experience. And this goes not only for packaging but also for food. Sometimes when I go on shorter overnight camping trips I like to bring more unconventional food with me since I am not worried about weight, as you can see below. A knife really helped me cut up my vegetables (And even open my can of beans!) to get them cooked up for supper.




But of course knives are not only good for food and food preparation. A good knife can also be used for tasks like carving out a walking stick as I did when on top of the Appalachians, I realized I needed a support stick to get down the mountain. Not only can they be used for simple carving tasks like that, but they can also provide you with a tool for whittling, something to pass the time as you relax in the wilderness.


(This photo is from https://theadventureland.com/best-camping-knives/, which is a great post I would recommend reading.)

There is nothing so relaxing as sitting around the fire with friends and carving a piece of wood into a remotely noticeable shape.


First Aid

When you are in the woods anything can happen, and sometimes it can take hours for emergency medical personnel to reach you. While obviously you should always have a first aid kit on you with band aids, antiseptic and gauze pads, a knife is always an important tool to keep on you in case of a medical emergency. If you get a large sliver or need to cut Gauze or a tourniquet to bandage your wound, a knife is a great tool to have with you. It also helps that you feel a bit like Rambo when using a good sized knife to get out a little sliver.


(I can’t promise you will look this good, but get a knife that big and you just might.)


Self-Defense & Hunting

This may be the most obvious point, but it goes without saying that when it comes to self defense, a good knife may be the most effective and efficient tool in your arsenal. Now of course, some of you may say that a gun is more effective at stopping a charging animal that is wanting to attack you, but do you really want to lug a heavy pistol and ammo up a mountain with you for this sole purpose? No. When it comes to self defense in the wilderness, your best choice will be a good bear spray along with a sharp knife. It goes without saying that you will not want to rely on the knife solely for self defense, as none of us want to get close enough to a large predator to stab them, but if worse comes to worse and all else fails, its nice to have some type of last defense on you. A knife may also be used for hunting if your trip ever forces you to have to hunt for food. Although I don’t recommend hunting a grizzly bear with one.


(Ok, I know its another Rambo picture, but can you blame me?)


Utility (Splitting Wood)

Fire is one of the most important elements when using a knife to survive, and we can all agree that most hikers are not bringing an axe with them on a 5 mile hike. This is where a good (When I say good I mean high quality) full tang (More on this in a future post) survival knife can come in handy. Just use another piece of wood to push your knife blade through the other piece of wood and split it, thus creating smaller chunks of wood to warm both you and your food up.


(Just don’t try this with a pocket knife)


So there you go, 5 reasons you should always carry some kind of knife around with you (and make sure it is always sharp!). Have any other uses you find for your knife on your travels? Comment down below and make sure to like and share this post!



Hiking the Smokies: Part 2

Happy Sunday! I finally stopped slacking and finished my post on he second half of our Smokies trip. Enjoy!

We arrived at the Russel Field shelter at around 12:00 pm on Sunday, where we first made some lunch and then spent most of the day resting.


Thea sitting at the shelter

Unfortunately, we did not bring a water filter, so we spent most of the day bringing up water from the spring .2 miles away and boiling it 16 oz at a time. I would say we had to run down to the spring about 8 times to refill water so we could stock up water for the walk back down the mountain on Monday.


After about 3 hours, other hikers started showing up to the shelter from the Molly shelter to the east. The Molly shelter didn’t have any water, so many of the hikers coming to Russel Field had hiked 5 miles further than originally planned just to be able to have water and food.


We had about 12 people stay at the Shelter that night, 2 of which decided to stay in tents. We gathered some sticks and made a fire in the cozy fireplace within the shelter to keep warm through the night since it was forecasting to rain heavily all night.


Sleeping in the shelter was unlike any experience I have ever had. I have never slept in the middle of the woods in an open structure with 10 other random people I had only just met. The only things that kept me awake all night were the fear of  a bear coming into the shelter and the extremely uncomfortable wooden platform I was sleeping on. Needless to say I woke up with a very sore neck and back. Waking up was a great experience though, as the fog moved through the trees, the other campers were cooking their breakfast and I worked on starting a fire to warm us up after the cold and rainy night. One of the campers even took a shower in the water funneling down one of the valleys from the shelters roof. After about 10 minutes of making the fire, Thea exclaimed that she saw a bear, and all of the campers looked up in surprise as an adolescent black bear strolled nonchalantly through the campsite, stopped and looked at us, and then continued to walk down the AT. I only barely got my camera out in time to snap a picture of him walking away. It almost made me feel like i wasted by $50 on bear spray just before the trip.


After we had eaten breakfast we decided it was time to descend down the mountain back to Cades Cove, which was surprisingly just as hard as the trip up. The rain was off and on, but that meant that the roots and rocks on the trail (Of which there were MANY) were all wet and slippery. I was extremely happy that I thought to make walking sticks for Thea and I because we basically used them as a third leg going down the mountain as we twisted both our ankles about 5 times on the descent.


On the way down we actually came across a black snake, which coiled up and watched us, we had to wait about 5 minutes for him to calm down and slither away before we could pass. After that, we made it back down to the split in the path that marked just 1.6 miles before we were back to Cades Cove. The last 1.6 miles were a downpour, which is why I don’t have any photos of it. Thea came close to crying out of just being absolutely void of any energy.

This trip was one of the hardest trips I’ve ever taken in my life, and yet the most rewarding. The feeling of accomplishment I felt after making it up the mountain was something I don’t feel too often, as well as the opportunity to get away from all technology and communication with the outside world. If you ever want to go on a trip that challenges you and is something you will always remember, think about hiking up the smokies, you wont ever forget it.



Hiking the Smokies: Part 1

So to preface this post, we had our plans dramatically changed on our drive down to Tennessee.


Remember how I said I was a bad planner in a post a couple weeks ago? Well keep that in mind while you read this post. We were about 3 hours out from Cades Cove when we realized we still hadn’t arranged for a shuttle to pick us up after our last hike to Mt. Leconte. So we called about 3 shuttle companies (all booked up) before we called the Appalachian Conservatory and spoke with a representative. That representative told us he was a little worried since we wouldn’t arrive in Cades Cove until around 6, and it was a 5.1 mile hike up the mountain to Russel Field.


Since we would have to rearrange our first night and stay at a halfway point called campground 10, we wouldn’t even make it to Mt. Leconte when we had planned, which means we would have to route the trip so that we returned to Cades Cove on tuesday, a day earlier than we had planned.

Our new route was a hike up the Anthony Creek Trail about 2.5 miles to campsite 10, where we would stay for the night. The hike started out well, but I quickly realized that we packed too heavily and didn’t wear the right clothes. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After about 1.5 miles we were joined by another hiker named Cordell, who surprisingly was staying at the same campsite as us. He was relieved of course, because his friend who was supposed to hike with him had flaked out in the last second, so we were both a little happier having some company for the night.


Cordell told us he was from Florida, and he too had about a 10 hour drive to Cades Cove. He was more prepared than us however, as he had walking sticks and told us that they are a must have on a hiking trip like this, which we soon discovered was true, but more on that later. As we got to campsite 10 to settle down for the night, we tried to start a fire, but the wood was too wet. Instead we just tried to eat one of our dehydrated meals. We boiled up about half of the water that we had left, and poured it into our beef stroganoff. Right afterwards, we saw water spilling out of the package and discovered that somehow the bag had a 2 inch gash in it, so we ended up wasting an entire meal as well as 8 oz of water.

As the darkness fell, we tried to sleep, however the birds chirped all night. I don’t mean pleasant chirping either, it was extremely loud and annoying chirping. And remember how I said I was going to make a post on how to make the sleeping pads? Well that is being post poned, as we discovered very quickly that the ones we made were not at all comfortable.

The next day, we packed up quickly and started our remaining 2.6 miles up the mountain to Russel Field. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I guess I underestimated just how rough this trip would be, as the hike up the mountain easily took us 5 hours, which were 5 of the hardest hours of my life. Unfortunately I decided to put my camera away in favor of not falling down and breaking my leg while climbing the mountain. So I have no pictures of the rest of the way up.