Saturday, August 9, 2014

Backpacking in the Summer Desert...How to Prepare

Living in Las Vegas has taught me a lot about hiking and backpacking in the desert.  Where previously most of my excursions took place in the beautiful (and wet and cold) Pacific Northwest, these days you are more likely than not to find me--yes even in the summer--hiking in the desert.  And it can be done, but not by amateurs and not by those who don't heed the simplest of warnings.  Unfortunately, each summer sees a number of fatal and near fatal events because people either don't prepare or don't prepare enough to make hiking in the desert safe (note, even experienced athletes can underestimate the desert and die).

Here are ten tips to make your next hike into the summer desert safer:

  1. Plan ahead.  Check out trail reports, make sure there are no closures where you plan to hike, make sure there are no wildfires where you plan to hike, and, most importantly, check out websites where others have commented on conditions recently so you can get an idea of the environment and special challenges of the place you plan on hiking.
  2. Work your way up to desert hiking.  For those brand new to hiking, deciding to head out on a ten mile day hike in any kind of environment will make for miles of misery if you aren't in pretty good condition.  Increase this x10 if you head out to hike in 100+ desert temperatures.  Before you decide to hike in the desert, you will want to condition yourself in both mileage and terrain first then do this at higher temperatures.  Ideally you will be hiking year round then as summer rolls around acclimate yourself to hiking in higher temperatures.  
  3. Gather knowledge.  There are reams of information on desert hiking online.  Read as much information as you can about desert hiking and tattoo the basics about desert hiking into your memory (like hiking in the early morning or early evening, not during the heat of the day, carrying more than enough water, not hiking when there are extreme heat warnings, etc)
  4. Go with a group.  Although sometimes solo hiking and backpacking can't be avoided, if you are new to desert hiking it is best to go with a group.  Not only does this improve safety (others can help you in the event of an accident or notice if you are becoming dehydrated) but you will also learn a lot from these folks.  Our local area has a bunch of hiking clubs including this one and this one.
  5. Know the dangers.  While you are gathering knowledge (above), be sure to study up on the most common dangers you will find in the desert and how to avoid/prevent them including heat related problems (dehydration, heat stroke), animals (rattlesnakes, etc), the possibility of flash floods, and desert terrain that could cause accidents (the terrain can be slippery rocks and scree which can easily cause falls).
  6. Heed the warnings.  Even if you are in great shape and well experienced at desert hiking, pay attention to specific warnings where you are going.  Areas can be closed due to extreme heat, the news may tell you that rain and subsequent flash flooding are possible during the time you had planned to hike, rangers may give you specific warnings...all of these warnings are for your benefit so take them seriously.
  7. Take more than you need.  On the one hand, you don't want to over pack so much so that your pack weights more than a medium-sized child, on the other hand, you don't want to underestimate your needs and bring less water/food/clothing than you need to survive.  In desert conditions, always opt to bring more than you think you will need just in case.
  8. Learn primitive skills.  Before all of this technology that we currently use, there were desert dwellers who survived just fine in the American Southwest with only the knowledge they had.  Learning some of this knowledge can benefit you greatly if you intend to hike in the desert during any time of the year.
  9. Get a Spot 3.  On the flip side, the latest in technology can be a lifesaver in certain situations, especially if you will be hiking alone.  Consider getting a GPS emergency signal device (like a Spot 3) to use during an emergency.
  10. Change plans if necessary.  Finally, don't be too proud (or arrogant, or stupid) to change plans if necessary.  Whether there is a flash flood warning that derails your plans or you just decide that hiking in a hot, dry, rocky area with 100+ degree temps aren't your thing, there are always other options.  In the case of the Las Vegas area, desert hiking (short, early morning) is fine in the summer but if I want to cover some distance and not roast like a pig on a spit, I head for the nearby higher ground of Mt Charleston where temps are lower and it's more enjoyable to hike in during mid summer.
And some links:

Sunday, August 3, 2014

10 Travel Tips

Just back from vacation and thought I would share a few travel tips that I often use:


  1. Pack light.  One small backpack carried on the plane with you will hold more than enough stuff for a multi-week trip.  This saves checked baggage fees and your sanity.  Info here.
  2. If at all possible, get into the TSA's Pre Check program.  This saves loads of time and hassle at security check points.  Note that frequent travelers can opt into this program while regular travelers are randomly drawn to participate.
  3. If you qualify, using USOs at airports around the country and around the world is a great way to kill time in airports.  Similarly, airport lounges for frequent fliers is also a great benefit for travelers.
  4. Be sure to download apps that are pertinent to your travels (like local transit routes, maps, weather, etc).
  5. And don't forget to put some important phone numbers on your phone such as a number for the local taxi service, your hotel, etc.  Note, you should also carry a written list of a few important numbers in your wallet in case of the theft or death of your cell phone.
  6. While you can Google questions about your travels and destinations, the quickest and probably most authentic way to find pertinent information on your travels is the subreddit for your destination (example here).  Note that redditors are also good at coming through in a crisis for those in need.
  7. The best place to find flight tickets/compare prices?  I always use Google flights (and since Southwest Air is one of the few not covered by this search program I check their website as well).
  8. Five items I never travel without: an Asus T-100 tablet/notebook, my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 cell phone, good walking shoes (I prefer Brooks), a Sansa Clip MP3 player (it saves the battery on my cell phone), and acidophilous (takes care of all stomach ailments quite nicely).
  9. We are fortunate to live in an area with a great library system so before (and while) I travel, I download a dozen e-books from our local library--all for free--onto my Kindle app on my cell/tablet.
  10. Bring more cash than you think you will need.  Most travel problems can be fixed with cash.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How to Disappear...An Update

I was contacted by a friend of a friend of a friend a few days ago.  Seems this young lady needed to disappear from a domestic violence situation and needed to do so quickly.  Although I am pretty much out of the helping business these days, these situations seem to pop up occasionally so I do what I can...

First they get the analysis.

What are they running from?  Can less nuclear options be used than a total disappearance?  What resources do they have available?  How serious are they?  What are they willing to give up?  What extenuating circumstances could make this more difficult?

Sometimes a short-term disappearance to let the situation calm down will work.  In other cases, nothing short of a complete disappearance will avoid things such as a psychotic, murderous ex or a family bent on an honor killing.  This situation fell towards the later.

Then they get the lecture.  It goes something like this...

  • A restraining order is worth jack in most cases (but serves the prosecution AFTER a crime has been committed).
  • If a person has enough time, resources, and dedication, they will find you.  Eventually.
  • Disappearing for good will be a difficult, rather expensive, lonely, and permanent endeavor.
  • Unless you are part of a WitSec program, the difficulty and expense level will grow ten-fold.  You will still be lonely.
  • If your life is depending on your successful disappearance you will need to give up EVERYTHING.
  • In some cases, while disappearing for good sounds like the best idea, extenuating circumstances may make this the less desirable way to go (ie: disappearing to avoid legal repercussions or debt is dumb, you made the problem, you fix it.  Disappearing with kids is infinitely more complicated and can change your perfectly legal disappearance into a crime). 
That being said, this is how you disappear.
  • You take your passport, driver's license, cash, Social Security card, and birth certificate and walk away.  You don't change your daily routine, you don't tell anyone your plans, you do stash as much cash as possible, you don't look up things on your computer that could point to you disappearing.  You pick an opportune time and walk away.
At which point people say "WTF???"

Which I then reply with:
  • Your life as you knew it is gone.  You are a new person.  Pick a new name and use it.
  • Dress in non-descript clothing (jeans, t shirt, tennis shoes...no Braves ball cap, no unique t shirt, no backpack with all of your regular clothing in it).  Hop on the city bus (pay cash) and get a reasonable distance away to an area where you are unlikely to know anyone.
  • Hit up the $1 Store, the Goodwill, Walmart, etc. and pick up everything you would need as if you were going on vacation...a backpack, a toiletry kit, clothing, underwear, a cell phone, a tablet or laptop...basically if you were to pack at home for an extended vacation, what would you pack? You need to buy all of these things.  WITH CASH.  Things to change your appearance may also be useful such as hair dye or make up.
  • Your cell phone is one of the easiest ways to track you.  Leave it behind. When you get a good enough distance away, walk into a busy store like Walmart or Target and pay cash for a new prepaid phone and pre-paid minutes card.  DO NOT associate this phone with your name in any way (like using your email address to activate the phone).  DO NOT call anyone you know with this phone.
  • Your laptop and/or tablet can also be tracked.  Leave these behind.  You can save all of your files on a USB drive but you will not be opening these files for a very long time (individual files can also be bugged).  Any important information you may need from your computer should be written down on paper and taken with you.  Remove the hard drive and smash it to bits and dispose of it on your way out of town (in a lake, spread among garbage cans, etc).
  • You may want to take non-descript jewelry with you but anything of extreme sentimental value should be left in a hidden cache (either secured and buried where you can later find it or in an anonymous lock box).
  • Realize that you will never use social media again.  Yes, when you get your new cell phone or laptop you can sign up for a new email address but you will never be logging into your social media accounts again and you will never be posting photos of yourself on social media ever again (facial recognition software is quite good these days).
  • Realize that you will never contact anyone you know again (family, friends, co-workers, school mates, etc...NO ONE).  You can drop a letter in the mail on your way out of town to a family member or friend letting them know that you voluntarily disappeared so they can call of the police search for you but this will be the last time you contact them.
  • You will leave behind anything else that can create a trail to finding you: credit cards, vehicles, etc.  You will never again use your: bank account (which you should have drained of all money anyway before you leave), credit accounts, etc.
  • You will also need to leave behind every habit you have ever had.  If you used to hang out at coffee shops, you won't any more.  If you had a pet, no more.  If you were bilingual in English and Spanish, you are now monolingual in English only.  Any habit that could be used to identify you needs to be discontinued.
  • You may want to change up your appearance.  Get a hair cut and dye job.  Dress differently than you did before.  Tattoos should be covered up then changed as soon as possible.  Depending on how extreme you want to go, spray tanning, shaving your head, and even plastic surgery could be options.
  • Dress to blend in with your environment.  You want to become as non-memorable as possible.
  • Utilize non-identifying means of travel, lodging, and working.  Travel on foot or by bicycle.  Public transport is another option as long as it doesn't record your identity (like flying or using a bus pass that is in your name).  CraigsListing rides and places to stay, Warm Showers, and Couch Surfing are other cheaper options for transport and shelter but your hosts will remember you.  Staying in hotels will require your ID and will leave an easy to follow trail.  No-tell motels may be an option.  Working under the table will be your only option at this point.  Camping, especially stealth camping, are good options when you disappear.
  • Note that having no safety net and living like a homeless person can have many added dangers you need to be aware of.
  • Note that you will need to become a consummate liar (obviously it will take a great deal of effort not to get tangled up in your lies).
  • Don't commit fraud.  Don't fake your death.  Don't use a stolen identity.  While disappearing is completely legal; doing illegal things will give the police a reason to hunt you down.
  • Obviously you will want to avoid law enforcement at all costs and security cameras if at all possible.
  • Eventually you will want to stop being on the run (how possible this is depends on the situation you are running from).  In this day and age, it is virtually impossible to get a new identity unless the government is helping you (ie: Witness Protection Program).  You can move far away and change your name and hope that the particular courthouse you use puts a low priority on digitizing their records.
Contrary to decades previous, completely disappearing and becoming a whole, new, never to be found person is virtually impossible these days.  You can do your best to stay hidden, "fly under the radar", and provide enough misleading information to give you time but you will always be looking over your shoulder.  You may make new friends (difficult when they always feel that you are hiding something from them) but you will never see your old friends or family again.  You will be lonely, stressed, possibly broke and homeless.  Only you can decide if completely disappearing is the option for you.

And some more resources: here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

75 Resources for Active Duty and Retired Military

I haven't updated this list in a couple of years so thought I would take a bit of time to share this useful information.  Here's a bunch of resources for current and past military members (and even a few for their dependents).
  1. Veterans Crisis Line
  2. Free Annual National Parks Pass
  3. Military commissaries
  4. Space A Travel
  5. Housing Services
  6. USO Centers
  7. TRICARE
  8. State Veteran's Benefits
  9. Red Cross Military Services
  10. VA Home Loan Benefits
  11. GI Bill
  12. Military Banks and Credit Unions
  13. Military Rape Crisis Center
  14. County Veteran's Services
  15. Veteran's Franchisee Program
  16. Veteran's SBA Program
  17. Veteran's Burial Benefits
  18. Veteran's Life Insurance
  19. Tax Prep Services
  20. USAA Financial Services
  21. Veteran's Pension Program
  22. PTSD Center
  23. Incarcerated Vets Program
  24. Homeless Vets Services
  25. BAH Housing Allowance
  26. VA Medical Care
  27. Military Campgrounds and RV Parks
  28. Free Legal Assistance
  29. Veteran's Employment and Training Services
  30. Minority Veteran's Services
  31. Service Member Civil Relief Act
  32. Disability Compensation
  33. Military Child Care Program
  34. Veteran's Scholarships
  35. Military Spouse and Family Educational Assistance
  36. Women Veterans Services
  37. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
  38. Native American Veterans Programs
  39. Military Transition Assistance Program
  40. Military Awards and Decorations
  41. Military and Veterans Records
  42. Military Lodging Facilities
  43. Military Reunion Center
  44. Federal Job Preference
  45. Military and Veterans Clubs
  46. Agent Orange Compensation
  47. Former POWs Services
  48. Voting Assistance Program
  49. Military Exchange Services
  50. Military Thrift Shops
  51. Military Fitness Centers and Gyms
  52. MWR Programs
  53. Walk Off the War Program
  54. Returning Service Members Program
  55. Veteran's Day Discounts and Freebies
  56. Memorial Day Discounts and Freebies
  57. Veterans County Tax Exemptions
  58. Wounded Warrior Project
  59. Armed Forces Sports Programs
  60. Wedding Discounts
  61. Apple Military Discount
  62. Family Caregiver Program
  63. Breast Implants
  64. Military Corporate Discounts
  65. On-base Veterinary Services
  66. Armed Forces Vacation Club
  67. In-State Tuition
  68. Cell Phone Discounts
  69. Gym and Health Club Discounts
  70. Community Military Runs
  71. Discounted Hunting and Fishing Licenses
  72. Military Spouse Career Assistance
  73. A giant list of military discounts
  74. Theme Park Discounts
  75. K-9 Adoption Program

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Concealed Carry vs Open Carry

If you haven't been over to the CNI website, you may have missed this Daily Insight link which gives a pretty good explanation of concealed vs open carry.  IMHO, here are the situations where concealed and open carry are appropriate:

Open Carry

  • When you are participating in an open carry event.  When lots of people are carrying openly at an open-carry event in order to make a legal/political point, you may see a boatload of firearms however the threat level from said firearms in very low.  And the public won't, in general, feel threatened.
  • When you are making a tactical point.  I found it at first surprising that many clerks at corner-type stores in high-crime areas in Florida carry openly.  After a quick pondering of this situation, it only makes sense that #1 the average robber will think twice about robbing these stores and #2 should the need for a quick draw arise, open carry will enhance the carrier's ability to do so.
  • In areas where open carry is part of the culture.  In many rural areas, open carry isn't that unusual.  An openly carried firearm is less a political point than it is a standard tool, commonly used for whatever purpose (ie: firearms during hunting season, open carry when working on the range, etc).
  • For advertising.  Oddly enough, one of the few young women I have ever seen--in an urban area--openly carrying a firearm was also wearing a polo shirt with the name and info about the shooting range she worked at.  It made a surprisingly good advertisement for said range.

Concealed Carry

  • When you don't want to scare the public.  This should be the default almost any time you are carrying in public these days, since, when the public sees someone carrying a firearm openly, they automatically think "mass shooter".  No need to draw that sort of negative attention to yourself.
  • When you want to keep a low profile.  Again, another default.  Personally I see no need to openly carry just to prove a point (yes it is my legal right to openly carry but why advertise to everyone that #1 I am armed, #2 I probably have a nice collection of firearms at home, and #3 I am to be perceived as a threat).
  • All the time.  Carrying a concealed weapon is a serious choice.  The carrier needs to get a concealed carry permit and needs to educate themselves on all facets of concealed carry (not the least of which is regular training with the weapon).  Then the decision becomes when you should carry and the answer, not surprisingly, should be regularly and often.  Having a concealed carry weapon is like using a seat belt--you never know when you will need it but when you do need it, you will need it NOW.  Note that you should never think "I need to carry my concealed weapon because I am going into a bad neighborhood/I am entering into a possibly dangerous situation/I may run into a person who is a threat to me.  If any of those situations arise, you should have the forethought to NOT put yourself into the situation to begin with.
And more info here:

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Another Day, Another Shooting

Really, what more is there to write on this topic that has gone from a societal anomaly to a nearly daily occurrence?

A few days ago we had a couple of police officers ambushed and killed while they were eating in a local restaurant.  Also killed was a good guy with a concealed carry license/firearm who tried to stop the shooters.  I don't know what the fuck is wrong with people these days.

And apparently neither does anyone else...