lessons learned during an 8 week trip

Posted by: garrett

lessons learned during an 8 week trip - 07/17/07 08:55 PM

Sorry for the length, I just can't help myself.

My current job in the Marines is a tester. I just got back from an 8 week weapons test where I worked in the field in literally, every climb and place. Sorry, I canít really talk about the test or what we tested. We tested in the beach/swamp area of North Carolina, the Mojave Desert and the mountains just north of Yosemite.

This gave me a great opportunity to try out a few things that I have made/bought over the past couple of years. It also drove home lessons I have had to relearn each summer. Some of you are going to be saying things like, "man he's stupid" or "he should know better" and you are correct. I wanted to give a snapshot of how things did and different things I observed/messed up on so you can learn from me!

Background: When I was in the field, I was living out of an SUV. We were in the field for about 50-60% of the time, the rest of the time was transit between sites and maintenance time. I had plenty of water and food and I did not have to go looking for either, although I did keep on the look out for both. My EDC was a Spyderco Native III, a fox 40 whistle and Photon Freedom, lighter, and handkerchief as well as a PSP and Swisstool RS in my pockets. I had a camelback MULE on my back in which I had my larger PSK, FAK, collapsible saw, compass, 55 gal drum liners, sponges, surefire 6P, maglite and extra batteries all around. In my truck, I also carried my Maxpedition Jumbo with a Garmin Rhino 120, Nalgene bottle and cup, smaller PSK, junk food, Blackberry (comes with the job) and cell phone, along with power cables and emergency chargers, sunscreen and bug spray. Oh yeah, when I was in the field, I also had on a helmet and flak jacket most of the time.

The Camebak was great as expected, and the Jumbo did well in the field, although I didnít carry it much there. Where it made its money was in the airport. I had all I needed in a small bag which fits right under the seat in front of you without block your foot room. As a side note, I carry this as EDC with my SA 45 XD and other daily use items and it carries great.

I carried my PSP daily through the 8 weeks. It is great as an EDC item as it is flat and I didnít notice it in my cargo pockets at all. One thing I noticed was the pencil lead began to wear down, covering much of the contents in graphite. Also, due to the heat of the desert, the duct tape roll began to leave adhesive on the interior of the pouch. Neither is a big deal, but I am going to take out the pencil and cut off the sharpened end to prevent the dust from getting much worse.

Most of us know this, but for those who have never driven 200 miles cross country a day in an SUV, you will burn a tank of gas a lot faster than you will on the road. I managed my fuel pretty well for the most part, but there was one day I had a close call. We did not have any spare fuel tanks for unleaded for the test. Driving this much is painful, literally, and boring to boot. Give it a shot, and let me know what you think.

I donít want to hit on the bugs too much, as the NC mosquitoes are notorious, but I will comment on Africanized Honey bees (killer bees) which are prevalent through the Mojave. They will come running to any water source PERIOD. If you pour water into a canteen or camelback, they will be there, with their friends before you can close the lid. If you spill water in your car, they will swarm your car. A simple way of dealing with them is to keep your area dry, and place a cup or bottle of water about 30 feet away from your vehicle as bait to keep them away from you. One thing I have learned in dealing with mosquitoes is to buy a head net and wear it, along with ear plugs, at night. This counteracts the mosquitoís natural psychological warfare talent.

Nalgene bottles stink in the desert. Most of us know this, but they have no insulating value at all, even in the shade. The PVC (white) bottles do better than the lexan bottles, but not by much. Freezing them the night before works great as it will give you hours of cold water to sip on, but again, the condensation will bring the bees. Meanwhile a USGI canteen seems to do better retaining some temperature. I had my bottles in pouches or in my cooler to avoid drinking warm or hot water. Some of the Marines put their bottles in socks and soaked the socks in water. This did cool their canteens and bottle a little, but not much.

A Shmegah (sp?) is invaluable, IMHO. During dust storms, large dirt devils, or sleeping at night. Mine has been with me in my Jumbo or pack since I before I went to Iraq two years ago.

You can never drink too much water. I averaged over 2 gallons a day in the desert and the mountains, and my urine was still dark. Eating MREís doesnít help, but the latest meals are very good, although most of the condiments donít seem to be well thought out (i.e. blackberry jelly with fajitas)

If you are like me, you are pale and pasty, and sunscreen is your friend. The first day I was in the field in NC, I was burned very badly. Not being able to go home to soak it in cold water made it worse. Sand adhering to my skin from helicopter ops made it worse still. I know how good sunscreen is, I am just too lazy to put it on. From a survival standpoint, blistered skin on your neck will only make you more miserable. Sunglasses are key as well.

In the desert a compass and map is good, but a GPS is better. I had both, and I am proficient with both. But if you have never been to the desert, one mountain may only look a mile or two away, but in reality, it is ten or twelve! Having two methods of land navigation is key.

Physical Fitness is key. I am in shape, just not great shape. I went from sea level, to about 1000 feet ASL to 6900-10000 feet ASL. At 6900 feet everything, like walking, carrying a pack, especially if itís heavy, or running is hard. If you do much camping in the mountains you know this. But if you have never gone from sea level to 6900 feet, you have no idea how bad it can be. It was a wake up call for me to get my butt back in shape. At times, we were up to 12-15 miles from base, which would have been a long walk home compounded by dramatic temperature shifts (45-100 degrees).

Most of this stuff is well known to us, even myself. But I wanted to use my experience and screw ups a reminder to all of us to think about the simple things (sunscreen, fitness, etc) before they become complications to an already bad situation.

Garrett
Posted by: OldBaldGuy

Re: lessons learned during an 8 week trip - 07/17/07 09:29 PM

"...blackberry jelly with fajitas..."

You have to love Uncle Sam's sense of humor.

I hear you re the altitude. A couple of months ago we moved from sea level to about 7200 ft. Less air here than we are used to, we felt pooped all the time for a while. An interesting side effect I had was the nose bleed from hell. We are not talking a drip here, I had a FLOW on one side for several HOURS. No telling how much blood I lost, but I was getting kinda light headed. Went to the local urgent care, they worked for two hours and could not stop the thing, so they sent me 70 miles to a hospital, where they used cocaine (no drug tests for me for a while) to stop the flow, then cauterized several spots. They said that it was a combo of the altitude and dry air, and had me start applying Neosporin to the inside of my nostrils a couple of times a day. So I have not added Neosporin to my FAK. Something to think about...
Posted by: Themalemutekid

Re: lessons learned during an 8 week trip - 07/17/07 09:33 PM

Thank you for the great post, garrett. OBG, I carry a small tube of
Neosporin in my EDC bag.It's a very good thing to have for scrapes and cuts, & since its petroleum jelly based it can double as fuel for fire-making. It takes up no space, so why not carry it?
Posted by: Doug_Ritter

Re: lessons learned during an 8 week trip - 07/17/07 10:03 PM

Good review and some good tips. One thing though
Originally Posted By: garrett
You can never drink too much water.

You can, indeed, drink too much. We lose a few folks every summer to hyponatremia. They take the caution against not drinking enough water to its extreme. Too much of almost anything can be a bad thing and in many cases, can kill you, even when it's a seemingly innocuous substance.
Posted by: LED

Re: lessons learned during an 8 week trip - 07/17/07 10:35 PM

Thanks for the tips. The shemagh looks useful for the desert. Aside from the color it looks similar (material/thickness) to a sarong. Found this website if anyone's interested in how to put one on.

http://www.surplusandadventure.com/shopscr2108981.html

Posted by: garrett

Re: lessons learned during an 8 week trip - 07/18/07 01:56 PM

Themalemutekid, I need to update my EDC FAK and I will remember to put some Neosporin in there. I never use it personally, but my wife is always reminding me that my cuts and scrapes would probably heal faster if I did!

Doug, you are correct, you can drink too much water. I guess I should have caveated that statement. Thanks for reminding me!

Garrett

Posted by: thseng

Re: lessons learned during an 8 week trip - 07/18/07 02:44 PM

Originally Posted By: Doug_Ritter
You can, indeed, drink too much.

True, but you really have to work at it, ie. guzzle a gallon of water in one sitting. Most of the time it seems to take a conscious effort just to drink enough water.

I would hate for someone to get dehydrated because they were studiously trying to avoid hyponatremia.
Posted by: Blast

Re: lessons learned during an 8 week trip - 07/18/07 03:52 PM

Quote:
"blackberry jelly with fajitas", try adding some Chipotle Tabasco sauce for a blackberry chipotle marinade.


Maybe it's the SlimFast talking, but that actually sounds pretty good!

-Blast
Posted by: thtimster

Re: lessons learned during an 8 week trip - 07/18/07 08:25 PM

I've heard that using too much chemical nose spray can dry your nose out to much & give you the bloody nose problems like OBG. Instead a saline nose spray (available in most drug aisles such as Walmart) can be used. It's mostly water so it can be used more often without the unpleasant side effects, & the saline helps dry out the mucus membranes. It can be used to relieve a broader list of discomforts from a dry nose to nasal congestion.

Tim B
Posted by: teacher

Re: lessons learned during an 8 week trip - 07/18/07 08:28 PM

Can I assume you are drinking some sort of sports drink as well?
Posted by: Glock-A-Roo

Re: lessons learned during an 8 week trip - 07/18/07 09:30 PM

Good stuff, Garrett; thanks.

Couple of points:

- hyponatremia can creep up on you more stealthily if you are drinking a not-ridiculous amount of plain water AND not eating enough. My wife got it bad in a desert environment long ago, not so much due to the absolute volume of plain water she drank but combining it with inadequate sodium intake.

- didn't know that about the killer bees & water; wow.

- a trick with the powerful nasal spray is to only use it in 1 nostril and alternate nostrils each day that you're battling congestion.
Posted by: cedfire

Re: lessons learned during an 8 week trip - 07/20/07 03:32 PM

Great post and tips! Did you carry anything like baby wipes? I've learned to love them with lots of traveling. They are great for the usual uses as well as wiping your face, hands, removing spilled coffee/food from your car seats, and the list goes on... smile

Somewhere (Target, in the travel-sized section I believe) I found some small tubes of waterproof sunscreen for about $1 each. This is a great reminder to hurry up and add them to my kits/bags.

Likewise, had no idea about the killer bees. That is pretty amazing.
Posted by: flashman

Re: lessons learned during an 8 week trip - 07/22/07 10:54 PM

I was in Cairo a few years ago and started to come down with symptoms of dehydration even though I was drinking ALOT of water. Then it occurred to me that I might be drinking too much. I lowered my intake and took it easy for a few days and got over it, now when ever I'm there (at least once a year) I drink in moderation and have never had the problem.