Posts tagged hiking

Bathing Al Fresco

Ah, nothing like the wilderness to make you reevaluate your relationship to material goods. This past weekend, I arrived on the trail as the clouds and fog lifted from atop the mountains I was entering. A man told me it had been raining for three days… not good news (or so I thought) in the flash-flood prone desert. But it turned out, hiking after the rain was like a hidden secret ritual for many, who avoided the 100+ degree weather by following a storm through the hills. It was beautiful.

Superstitions after Rain

My hiking buddy and I set up camp by a lovely spring-fed stream in the heart of the wilderness. Barely any signs of humans passing through the area in decades, so the water was about as clean and refreshing looking as any can be. I wanted to go for a swim in the natural rock pools and then bathe in the open sun. But when I pulled my shampoo bottle out of my bag, and then looked in the water at the bullfrog tadpoles and other life, I couldn’t bring myself to use any unnatural products in such a pristine place.

Of course, I wouldn’t have thought twice about using that same shampoo at home, though it all ends up in the same water somewhere downstream. Conversely, I wouldn’t have touched water that had a tadpole in it at home, no matter how clearly I could see the bottom. As I said, sometimes it takes a little unfamiliar scenery to make up evaluate our own habits without colored lenses. So I chose to forgo the bath and simply enjoy a swim. Lovely.

When I arrived home, I was determined not to let this happen again, to find myself a potential life-killing polluter in one of the few places not already actively under attack by humankind. So I started researching natural soap, remembering something about “soaproot” from somewhere back in 5th grade when we studied the pioneers crossing the great American plains. Turns out, there are SEVERAL “soaproots”, and had I known what I was doing, there was likely one of them within fifty feet of the proposed bathing locale.

Ever found yourself in a similar bind? Here’s the skinny on natural soap:

Soaproot2

Indian Soaproot, Bouncing Bet, Soapwort

“Wherever Poison Oak grows chances are you will find Soap Root growing. You can harvest Soap Root anytime of the year and it looks the same year round, except for having tall flowering stalks in the spring. The part to use is the bulbous root, so you will need to dig it up. Usually one bulb is all you will need. Peel off the brown, furry outer covering until the white layer underneath is exposed. While using, keep it in a plastic bag to keep from drying out.” – naturalfamilyhome.com

This is the most commonly known of the soap-producing plants. It produces a nice lather for washing both body and clothes, and according to legend, it was also used by the Apaches to catch fish by putting it in the water. It has the most “bang for the buck” of lathering plants.

Yucca

The yucca plant comes in a wide variety of species, but all share the potential for lather. Some people recommend using the root for bathing, but using the root kills the plant. For a small task like bathing, you can simply pull off one leaf from the plant, shred the leaf into strips, and rub them back and forth in your hands with water until a lather forms. (Incidentally, this is also the first step in making yucca twine, another useful thing to know in an emergency!) Use this mix like a pre-soaped washcloth. This plant is so common in the Southwest, you can find it everywhere from ornamental gardens to the untouched National Parks. If I had known, I’d have had a yucca bath that day.

Wood Ashes as Cleaning Agent

Wood Ashes

In an emergency situation, you can wash your skin or pots and pans, etc with ashes from a campfire. It’s important to use clean ashes and not to leave them on your skin too long… ashes are caustic, as they contain lye, an ingredient used in making store-bought soaps.

Buffalo/Missouri Gourd, Mock Orange, Callabacilla

Small triangular leaves and a very spreading habit, this vine has small, orange shaped and sized gourds and a thick taproot that can be up to five feet long. The gourds can also be used as sponges. There is less lather in this plant than others.

Soapberry Trees

These grow in the Southeastern and MidAtlantic states, and are one of three varieties. They have small berries which lather when crushed in water.

Wild Lilac, Myrtle, Buck Brush

Grows in the Western states, covering the land with blue and white flowers in the Spring. The flowers can be used as soap, and are very fragrant, leaving the body perfumed.

Southern Buckeye

A Southeastern plant that is best for washing clothes and fabrics. Like the soapwort, it can stun fish when thrown in water, though this is illegal and should be reserved for survival situations.

Read more about soap plants here

Survival outline that includes a few more saponin-containing plants

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Into the WILD: remembering your journey

A broken wireless internet card has been all that’s between me and a few postings here lately. So this post will be a little down & dirty on formatting. But it’s been a busy few days nonetheless. Yesterday, I found my journal from the wilderness trip that I did in college, complete with a grocery list of the food supplies that thirteen of us carried into the woods for two weeks. For your enjoyment, I’ll reprint that list below. Besides the obvious humor in peeking back in on my newly minted adult mind (I left home for the trip on my 18th birthday), I truly enjoyed refreshing the inspiration for what eventually led me down the road to this blog. You see, even though it was a very important time in my life, it wasn’t until I read my old words that I remembered the daily excitements of it, no matter how hard I’d tried to remember. Reading ten pages of foods I wanted to eat when I got back to civilization, listed as I sat alone in a field of blueberries on my two-day “solo” at the end of the trip, was as entertaining and revealing as any life lesson I could hope to relate from the experience without aid of a book.

What does this have to do with off-grid living, you ask? By keeping a journal of my progress throughout that trip, I created a living document that I can return to multiple times in life, that others can also use, should they have the opportunity, to inspire and learn a lesson or two about the experience. Of all the myriad papers I wrote in college, this first one, the one I wrote for myself, is the most relevant and important to me. When you start your walk away from the grid, or even just a new project along the way, you have a prime opportunity to keep a journal of your activities. It’s easy to wonder why you bother when taking time from your day to write something down that already happened. This is normal. The gem of journal writing is best recognized after that journal has sat in the back of your closet a few years, and you honestly can’t remember who your inspiration was when you were (insert age here). That’s when the refresher course can save you having to make mistakes over again because you’ve wandered off your path.

Solarious is my off-grid energy journal, which doubles as a repository of great ideas and inspirations I see along the way. No doubt, I’ll be looking back at this great experiment in alternate living one day with similar emotions as to the trip in college. Of course, this is a different forum from an 18 year old’s diary, and personal details are necessarily a bit more brief here. But the point is that when you have that day (and you will, we’re all human) when you wonder, “How the heck did I get here? Why is this so important to me that I’m willing to forgo thirty minute showers, an Escalade, and Big Macs?” you’ll be able to go back and talk to yourself from a more rational mindset and check yourself back into the program. Unless you’re superman and you never have doubts or forget anything, in which case, stop reading now and start saving the world. The rest of us hapless humans need people like you on the case!

Here’s the grocery list (for 13 on a zero-impact trip of 2 weeks) from Project WILD: (1=can, mostly)

1 sweet peas
1 maple syrup
1 butter
2 tuna
1/2 bagels
Bag rice
3 blocks cheddar
1 strawberry jam
2 spaghetti
3 tomato paste
1 lima beans
2 bags prunes
1 smoked eel
1/2 bag peanuts
2 blocks monterey jack
Bag cous cous
Bag refried beans
3 boxes graham crackers
2 packs pesto sauce
4 cans tomato sauce
3 bags pita bread
Bag veggie chili mix
Bag grits
Bag animal crackers
Bag oatmeal
2 beanie weenies
11 bags cocoa mix
Bag banana chips
1 pineapple
Bag macaroni
Bag granola w/ raspberry
1 fishsteaks
2 pinto beans
1 mayo
Bag tang
1 soy sauce
Bag cream of wheat
Box rye crackers
1 english muffins
7 oranges
2 bags dates
1/2 bag raisins
bag pancake mix
1 apple butter
1 sardines
1 hot sauce
1 black beans
3 cans carrots
1 peanut butter
1 can mandarin oranges
bag jell-o
1/2 bag apple rings
1 spice kit
Bag pretzels
1 dijon mustard
1 green beans
13 pop-tarts
Bag plain granola
Bag mashed potato mix
1 onion
Bag apricots
1 marshmallow fluff
1 “mystery can”
11 packs spiced cider
1 vegetable oil
1 honey
1 honey mustard
3 slices bread
Bag powdered milk
Bag tortillas
Bag fruit punch mix
Bag lemonade mix
Bag brown sugar
2 cans corn

And iodine for water

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