Monday, February 3, 2014

Guerrilla Camping - Introduction and Table of Contents

About Guerrilla Camping

Guerrilla Camping 101 was written starting in September 2005, as images of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina flooded the airwaves. As most of the 9th ward lay submerged, I began writing after looking at a backpack sitting packed and ready to go by my front door. Unlike most people who have a bag packed with four days of food sitting next to the door, it wasn't meant for the end of the world. At the time, I was working two days a week in San Francisco, and spending the majority of my time living in a tent. 

Having spent quite a bit of time doing long walks, hitchhiking and "tramping" as the old timers called it, I was shocked to hear about people who had been unable to evacuate the city due to lack of vehicles, and felt it was important to share the knowledge I had gained over the years, both as a soldier and a hobo. Rather than your traditional backpacking guides, I wanted to focus on the realities of going off trail and travelling the roads, highways and railroads of the world. .

Published on GNN, the initial response was overwhelming, at one point garnering over 80,000 readers a week. In march 2006, my girlfriend and I walked out of the city to find a place in the woods to settle down. Lacking internet access, and only having access to a computer as resupply stops, the blog fell off, with only a few new articles being published as we homesteaded an off-grid 40 acre parcel in the mountains of northern California.

A lot has changed since then, the girlfriend is now my wife, I'm now a dad, and far from being the carefree vagrant I was in my youth, I am a "professional" working in the fields of sustainability and renewable energy. I still have wanderlust deep in my veins, and fully expect to begin indoctrinating my son into the art of gracious trespass this year. I still have hopes to get this mess published, but until then, here is a table of contents for you. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Thank you....

Thanks to everyone who continues to constantly comment and e-mail me about this blog. Please accept my apologies for being one of those people who pop up every two years saying, I'll blog more, I promise.

A comment from Theresa on "I wanna rock" made me realize what everyone has missed out on in my silence over the last few years,

You mean you haven’t gone camping or trekking since that rock incident? You must have missed out a lot of the activities. I hope you feel better soon.

 I certainly did not miss out on any activities, in fact, the activities have been why I don't blog anymore.

To sum it up in a cluttered rambled mess:

After wrecking my foot, I accepted a sweat-equity offer from one of the places we WWOOFed at. In exchange for keeping a 300 acre "nature preserve / off-grid e-commerce business / organic garden" running, I was offered a remote 44 acres and a dilapidated cabin to rebuild, along with the financial backing to do it.

In January 2007, we moved to an apartment near the property and began the slow process of rebuilding. I worked with dozens of volunteers from around the world, learned things like "how NOT to build an earthbag wall" and how to use bottle jacks to pick up and level a house. In 2008, eight weeks before our wedding, we moved into a 5th wheel camper on the property full-time and set to work. The gardens went in, we got married and (as materials became available) the cabin went up.

A year later, the cabin was wired, plumbed, leveled, windowed, painted, and roofed. All that was left was to finish the inside.

For most of my life, I have made it a habit to trust in others. If everyone held their word and trusted everyone else to keep their word, we would live in a beautiful world. That said, sweat equity is no equity unless you have contracts. Trust no one at their word when you have more at risk than you can afford to give away.

In 2009, after pressing to get our agreement in writing, I was "furloughed" from work on the "nature preserve" and it was made clear that it was time for us to go.

We were left without the land we had poured our souls into, but had gained an incredible and practical education, and what a journey we had. It was worth every moment, and had our time had ideally placed us within the community.

A year prior to the furlough, after many long talks with the deer, birds and lizards who frequently came to watch me work, I knew some human interaction was needed. I took a two day a week job as a warehouse worker at the local Farm Supply. When I asked the boss if I could come to work full time, he gave me a nice raise and told me, " Whenever you are here, you wander around and improve things. I want you to keep doing that." I did. We did very well as I moved up the ranks...

Since then, I have continued my travels in the professional world, with an intense focus on retaining and magnifying my ideals through the businesses I work for. I now find myself as director of the old "Real Goods Catalog". In 2002, I received a copy of the Solar Living Source Book, and it became one of my motivations to find a spot of land in the wilderness and make a go at having a fully independent lifestyle, something that led to the walk of 2006.

No, Theresa, I have not missed out on any activities. I spent my teens and twenties learning and living the lifestyle described in this blog, I've gotten older and slower, but I have continued to grow and learn. It's been a long trip.

With thousands of miles under my heels and wings, I'd venture to say that some journeys of a thousand miles stay in one place.


I'll blog more, I promise.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Guerrilla Homesteading 101: Let it Rain

They are predicting drought here this year, and it finally spurred us into action on setting up rain catchment to assure our garden gets water without pushing any rationing limits. Since our town is on a number of small municipal wells, water quality can greatly decrease if the aquifers run low, increasing the concentration of things like boron and sulfur.

A few days before a predicted storm, I had a couple of days off, and set out to start saving the rain. 

I began by acquiring two used plastic barrels from the local cookie factory. Given that they had previously contained organic molasses, a decent garden nutrient, I opted to not even rinse them out, as the trace amounts that find their way into the water will actually be beneficial for the plants.

The next step was to level out the ground where I wanted the barrels. I used cheap cinder blocks as risers, and actually leveled it so the barrels would lean slightly towards each other. When full, these barrels will weigh 350lbs each. The idea of them crashing down on my dog does not appeal to me.

I gathered the tools I needed. A drill to modify the barrels, a tape measure and level to get the right size of cut out on our down spout, and a step drill bit for placing the next fittings. I did not have a normal hack saw, so I originally intended to use the sawall here, but instead opted to use an angle grinder, as it would give me a cleaner cut. You, of course, can just use a hack saw.

In the back, you can see the box for the rain diverter I got. I got an awesome deal on it, so was happy to get such a nice one, as it normally sells for around $80. You can easily make your own with an open system, but this closes off the barrels to avoid mosquito problems, keeps dirt out of the water and allows the downspout to be used as normal when the barrels are full.

The Rain Reserve diverter came with everything I needed to set up one barrel. Even the spade bit to place their fittings in my closed top barrels. The system also comes with a nice sticker to advertise their company while warning people not to drink the saved water.
My diverter kit was for one barrel, so I was going to get creative on the connection of the two. I acquired three 1/2"  flanged rubber grommets from the local hydroponics store and the matching barbed irrigation fittings. The 1/2 tubing I bought at the hardware store, as it was much cheaper. The connection will run from the bottom of the first barrel to the top of the second, and the clear tubing will allow me to easily see the water levels inside, though I suspect I will have to scrub it out each year, as algae LOVES growing in clear plastic tubing.

The Rain Reserve diverter came with everything I needed to set up one barrel. Even the spade bit to place their fittings in my closed top barrels. The system also comes with a nice sticker to advertise their company while warning people not to drink the saved water.
The next step in set up was to drill the inlet hole in the top of the first barrel. The manufacturer included the proper rubber grommet and insert for this, though it was a bit difficult getting the grommet through the barrel as it was a cold day and the rubber was not very flexible. Forewarned, I put the remainder of the grommets in my pants pocket to warm them up before I needed them.

Next up was cutting the existing downspout. I followed the measurements given in the manual, but double checked by measuring the gap between the inlet and outlet. 

If you are renting, accept that you are going to spend $15 to replace the cut downspout if you plan to take your rain barrels with you. Most are a continuous section, and those long enough to be made up of multiple sections will almost never have the gap in the right place.

The Rain Reserve divertor in place!
I chose to place the divertor rather low. This way, the downspout can serve as my overflow once my barrels are full.

While I could have placed it higher with no ill effects, the sag of the pipe will serve as an sediment trap during the first rain of the when moss and a dry summer's worth of dust are sent rushing down the drain.

After the first downpour, the capped outlet to the left was half full of dirt.

The next step was where I left the manual behind, opting for my own method of connecting the barrels using the aforementioned rubber grommets and clear tubing.

getting the grommets in place proved to be more difficult than I expected as they are meant for a 5 gallon bucket, and the 50 gallon  barrels were about 4 times as thick.

Side view of the grommet

In order to the grommets to fit, I lubricated the flanged end (with spit, use oil if you must) and then pushed it into place with a flathead screwdriver. Wear gloves for this step, I could have easily stabbed my hand if I had slipped.
The Grommet in place

The barbed fitting.

When you place the barbed fitting into the grommet, it pushes out on the edges of the hole, making the connection water tight. Once placed, wiggle the grommet back and forth. An improperly placed grommet will just pop out. (I won't admit to how many times it took me to get this one set, but the rest were easy once I realized how it worked.)

I'll skip the barrel drilling pictures, but I placed a similar fitting on the top of the next barrel and connected the two sections with clear tubing.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Have You Seen This Man?

An old buddy from the GNN days was seeking a picture. I decided I would post a few. While going through it, I found this picture:

I'm the pale kid in camofluage in the picture, which was taken a few days before I walked out of the city. The big guy in the picture is "Papa", a vietnam vet who lived in the door way of a closed down drug store near the corner of 7th And Market in San Francisco. I lived a block way in a cavernous basement beneath 6th and Market and When walking home from night shifts papa and I gradually grew to be good friends, spending many late nights and sunny afternoons discussing life and slinging stories.

On every return to San Francisco, I look for Papa. I haven't seen him since this picture was taken five years ago. If any of you know his real name, his whereabouts, or can contact him, let him know Sean from San Francisco would love to share another cigarette and has a much warmer place to spend the evening.

Papa was a fixture at Seventh and Market, a man who many protected and who protected many in one of the grittiest parts of the city. A disabled vet who lost his right leg in Vietnam after leaving his family hog farm behind, his decline to the streets was inevitable, given our country's definition of "supporting the troops". While I have spent lots of time hanging out with homeless vets from every war since Korea, Papa was one of the wisest and kindest of all. While I'd occasionally help him, he helped me much more than he may ever know.

There has been much recent talk about percentages. Let me assure you that papa is the 1%

He is the 1% who gave his life for his belief in this country. While he did not die, his life was so changed by his wounds that he was left destitute, to fall between the scracks of society as he slept upon the cracks in the street.

He is the "bottom" 1%, disregarded by those who ordered him to a foreign nation for reasons still argued upon by historians and political scientists.

He is the top 1% who, though he has nothing, gives the world to everyone around him. His presence and arbitration in the sixth and market district of SoMa calmed tensions, settled disputes and gave consolation and consultation to others who society had feigned to swallow whole.

He is stronger than 99% of us, who would wallow and consume ourselves in self pity at the lot we were dealt, but who instead still took every day as he could, once explaining to me that he had a good day because somebody had stolen his crutches, and in an hour or two, friends had found him a better set and padded em out real nice so he was able to walk to the Chinese restaurant on the corner for some $1 chicken legs.

Hanging on the closet door behind me is a small nylon American flag that Papa gave me for Veterans day in 2005. He thanked me for serving when he gave it to me. Someone had been through the tenderloin passing them out to homeless vets, and he said he was excited to get it because he wanted me to have it.

I'm not sure what that flag means. Perhaps it is to remind me how small my sacrifices were. Maybe it is to recall the things that are possible when we continue to believe in the fight even when it maims us. I like to believe that it is to keep me thinking of all the things that flag means to so many people around the world, a thing to burn, a product to sell, a symbol of freedom or stamp of oppression. This flag, gifted to me by Papa, simply makes me think.

So, Bigato, there is my pic. I'll post another soon.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I wanna rock.

As the weather changes, old injuries come out to haunt. A couple of dislocated knees commiserate with a pair of shoulders who shared their fate. Tingles and pops remind of awesome, decade-old stories, but the fame shines on a point just at the ball of my right foot, where cold weather becomes searing pain and taunts me with the notion that I may have crippled myself away from the very freedom I once swore by.

Yes, five years after the infamous rock in the dark that ended my cross county hike, I still enjoy frequent pains from that damned foot.

An update for those of you just tuning in, Stocked for a 72 mile trek up the rails aside the Eel river, I turned 220 lbs of pack and body weight onto a upturned rock in the middle of the night, and destroyed the inside half of the right foot behind the big toe. Live long lesson learned: Yes, "hiking boots" use less calories to lift than mountaineering boots, but even civilian roads can occasionally call for heavy soles and steel shanks.

I want that rock.

It's probably about two inches long, an inch or so at the bottom and half an inch on the business end, and if you look carefully, you might see shards of shattered dreams left across the narrow end. I collect odd mementos. I am willing to trade my deer molar for this one. Consider it a bounty and a mission.

Friday, October 14, 2011


Real life is oft a sledge hammer to my promises to write more. Thank you to everyone around the world who continue to send messages of encouragement, particularly those who see the bits that only get posted for a new minutes and who e-mail words of encouragement from the four corners of the globe.

Its not that I don't have tons to write about. It's just that I'm not a nomad anymore. I'm a dad. In seven years, I will attempt to conquer the final stretch to complete California by foot, and we'll see if my boy wants to knock out Oregon and Washington with me in the following years.

But you guys jumped on for my backpacking adventures, which I lack now. My passions lie in gardening and self sustaining systems now. I've been back to the 9-5 world for a few years now, and have been doing well enough (considering the current depression) that my wife and I joke about our outmoded and stereotypical gender models. Our boy is beautiful and we struggle to find domestically made toys for him, bought from local merchants.

I still religiously pick up hitchhikers in hopes of someday repaying the karma that drivers heaped on me from 19-31, so I try to keep my ear to the ground. But I'm going to have to expand my horizons if I continue to post. I'm sorry if you are a long time follower and disappointed by the taming of BlackPacker.