Packing the Small (and important) Stuff

While preparing for an upcoming backpacking trip, it dawned on me that I dread packing the little stuff. Preparing the big items like sleeping bag, tarp, and clothing is fun and fast, but there’s something tedious about going through tiny items to be sure they’re in place.

Since this is a pesky task, I decided to make a post for future reference if I need to be reminded of what to pack. I spread the small stuff out for a photo to share before tossing into a ziplock bag. I’m sharing in hopes that others have ideas on how to save weight and still have what I need out on the trail.

Let’s start with the first aid kit. I’ve always found first aid items annoying because they’re never used. Then, on a recent trip, an expert backpacker suffered a burn from boiling water. We were both glad to have our first aid kits and some past training. Pouring a container of cold creek water sitting close by over the burn helped reduce damage that continues after initial contact with boiling water. His Ibuprofen and my gauze reduced pain as we walked out to a pickup point. My wife drove us to an emergency room for proper treatment. We hesitated to walk out but learned that burns can be more serious than they may appear at first. Don’t take them lightly. From now on, I’ll just be thankful for the unneeded first aid items I carry.

Small single-use antibiotic ointment packets are perfect for backpacking and easy to find. After my experience with the burn, I added single-use burn cream. I never carried QuikClot until after a “Stop the Bleed” training I attended. It’s a worst-case item, but weights little, and one person in a group should have it.

Repackaging saves bulk and weight. The items below are repackaged in small containers in the above illustration. On one of my early backpacking trips I noticed someone carrying a tube of toothpaste. I knew he wouldn’t use that tube in a month of backpacking trips, but seeing that taught me a good lesson that I’ve tried to apply across the board.

The next little ziplock holds my personal care stuff. I’ve tried tooth powder and a toothbrush, but eventually downsized to floss at night and a twig in the morning. I also like to carry one “go-between” brush in case something stubborn gets stuck between the teeth.

I add place one wet wipe for each day into an old container used only for backpacking. I consider these luxury items but it sure feels good to sleep clean.

The repair kit is important and will vary depend on the equipment you carry. The lens cleaners are for my glasses and camera. Tenacious Tape is essential to me for many applications. The patch kit is for my air pad I sometimes use for winter trips on top of my foam pad.

As always, I’m just sharing what I do. If you have ways of handling the “small stuff” that works well, please share! I love to swipe good packing tips from fellow backpackers.

Here’s my backpacking list that is probably going to be revised in the near future.

Mother’s Guitar: Calling Our Best Self

After six coats of finish

Watching this guitar take form has given me a new appreciation for those who dedicate themselves to a craft. Looking at recent photos sent by luthier Clayton Pledger, I thought of something poet Amanda Gorman said in a recent interview. “Poetry and art means showing up with your best self, whoever that might be, and that in itself is beautiful.” 

Those who create art in any form do their best work when their “best self” shows up. I’ve had the experience of my “best self” playing percussion and, on occasion, my “not-so-good self.” Whoever shows up is evident in the performance or product. A benefit of making music, or art in any form, is learning to call on your best self when needed.

My mother gave her best self to her family and teaching. Reading her journals, I realized she felt inadequate as a teacher. This surprised me because many have commented how much she meant to them as a teacher. Her peers said she was the go-to person if something needed to get done. At my last high school reunion, a friend who is now a doctor and leader in his community told me her class made medical school a possibility for him because she helped him increase his reading speed and comprehension.

Mother’s journal taught be a lesson. I think maybe part of bringing our “best self” to any task is the courage to continue doing a hard thing in spite of inner doubts. I need to remember this when I get frustrated trying to learn something new on guitar.

Clayton did multiple coats of finish on the back, sides, and neck recently. He’ll be spraying coats of finish onto the spruce top, then doing the final sanding and polishing later in the week.

Sanding to level off the finish on back

After the finish on the back is leveled, he’ll spray two more wet coats, level that off with 1500 grit wet sandpaper, then polish it under a buffing wheel. As beautiful as these photos are, the finish isn’t complete.

I knew there were many steps in building an instrument, but following the process gives me a better understanding of the skill and work involved. Clayton said, “It’s always exciting getting the finish done, but once it is, there’s still a lot to do!” I thanked him for putting his “best self” into the work of making this special instrument. Seeing it take form is exciting, and I look forward to playing this musical symbol of the gifts Mother shared during her life.

Still much work to be done

Previous posts #2: Mother’s Guitar: A Work in Progress

Previous post #1: Mother’s Guitar on the Builder’s Bench

Next post in the story #4: 4. Mother’s Guitar: The Fretboard, a Lifetime Project

My Personal Trainer

Hiker-dog at the beginning of the bike trail after a good run.

Sometimes Hiker-dog fills the role of personal trainer for me. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon. I had already done my rowing machine and spinning on the exercise bike, so I was enjoying guilt-free rest in a warm house. Hiker began barking at the door. I opened the door to invite her in, but she backed up and continued barking. She only barks when she’s communicating something. She was giving me her “let’s go” bark, so we went to Lake Alma and did a brisk walk in the cold. She did her typical running, and I enjoyed pushing my knees in the cold temperatures.

I’ve seen great improvement in my knees. I’ve been spinning more, doing stretches, and added 1,500MG of Glucosamine Sulfate. I don’t know which one or more of these strategies did the trick, but I’m not stopping any of them. I have to keep my knees strong, so I can keep up with my personal trainer.

Most weekdays, we take our walks in the morning after my rowing and spinning. A benefit of walking early in the winter is the chance to see frost flowers. They sometimes form in moist areas after a freeze. You have to get out early because they melt away at the first touch of sunshine.

Morning frost flower on January 9, 2021

Mother’s Guitar: A work in progress

Clayton Pledger, Luthier, sent several photos of the continuing work on the guitar that is a gift from my mother, Elsie Warnock. I tell how this little project came about in my previous post, Mother’s Guitar on the Builder’s Bench

Mother made journal entries from time to time. I noticed one entry that mentioned my interest in music generated many gift ideas when I was a teenager. Back then, it was all about drums. One time she selected drum sticks for me only to learn that they were neither balanced nor straight. The sweet owner of the music store, Rebecca Roberson, let me return the sticks and make another selection. Mrs. Roberson enjoyed watching me roll drumsticks across the glass display case until several straight sticks were collected. Then I dropped them lightly on the concrete floor until two rang with the same pitch indicating they were close to matching weight.

I did this stick selecting ritual until my senior year in high school when my percussion teacher, Gary D. Cook, told me about Vic Firth sticks that came from the factory straight and balanced. I’m still using Vic Firth sticks today.

After Mother’s experience picking out my drumsticks, she gave me gift cards for anything musical. I think she would enjoy knowing that an instrument is being created by hand as a keepsake of her memory.

Using a laser to align the neck connection structure.
Guitar neck in early stages.
Some neck shaping and the ebony fretboard in place.
Continued shaping of the neck and headstock
Headstock and fretboard in process.
Slotted headstock taking shape.

This photo gives hints at the future beauty of this instrument. The emphasis is on sound, but this guitar will also be a work of art that would make Mother proud.

Below is a short video from Clayton Pledger’s website.

The story continues at the following posts:

3. Mother’s Guitar: Calling Our Best Self

4. Mother’s Guitar: The Fretboard, a Lifetime Project

Silent Night on guitar

I’ve always believed we should share our learning at whatever stage we find ourselves. I’m a novice on guitar, but sharing will help me get better. Recording this short Christmas song was a good exercise for me.

I’ve been taking lessons remotely from Randy Soller of Fayetteville. Clunker notes are mine alone and should not reflect on Randy’s patient instruction. Merry Christmas!

Sochi’s YoYo on the OHT

I’m pleased to share an inspiring accounting of an Ozark Highlands Trail thru-hike. Hiker-dog and I were out for an overnighter from Cherry Bend to Lick Branch. We met exactly one backpacker over those two days, but he was a special encounter.

After my short visit with Ethan Gehl AKA Sochi, I was several minutes down the trail before it dawned on me what he meant by yoyo on the OHT. He had already been to Woolum at mile 164 and was returning to his beginning point at Lake Fort Smith State Park. I would later learn that he finished his hike that day with fifty-five miles. To my old fella knees, fifteen miles is a long day and fifty-five unimaginable.

Below, he begins by telling of an earlier OHT attempt that didn’t accomplish what he intended, but he returned strong in October of 2020. Some great photos accompany his post. We’ll look forward to seeing Sochi in the Ozarks again in the future. Sounds like he’s smitten by the same beauty that attracts us to this region.

That one time back in 2016 when I tried to set an FKT (Fastest Known Time) with literally no physical training or logistical plan. “That sounds like fun,” I thought. And it (sorta) was. Finished 126 (of 164) miles in 53 hours before the chafe, blisters, and sheer exhaustion bested me. Not what I’d hoped, but still a personal best. Then I came back a couple times in the following months to close out my section hike and do a little scouting for my next speed attempt. Somewhere during that process, I fell in love with this trail. I’ve since completed a 2020 yoyo hike and still have plans to speed hike it in its entirety at some point. Something about it keeps drawing me back in. Continue reading… Sochi OHT 2020 YoYo

Mother’s Guitar on the Builder’s Bench: Beginnings

Me around a year old with my mother and father

I usually walk with a song in my head, especially on long trails. Since music is an important part of my life, I’ll exercise a little personal privilege in this first of several posts that will follow the journey of one guitar.

When I was three years old, my mother took out a small life insurance policy. I can just picture my 28-year-old mom making those quarterly payments of $15.24 in an effort to protect her family’s future. She and my father never made huge salaries, but they saved and planned carefully. At their passing, we were not left with expenses because they had planned and avoided burdening their children. My sister and I were surprised to receive notification of this small life insurance payment resulting from mother’s long-ago paid-up policy.

Mother always encouraged my interest in music. As her health declined, I would sometimes sit in her bedroom and play my guitar quietly during the night while thinking about her life and commitment to our family. I decided to put the small amount of money from her policy along with a death benefit from her teacher retirement toward purchasing a guitar as a keepsake to remind me of her life.

While listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s winter concert, my cousin, Sue, and I were impressed with the sound of one of Mary’s guitars. I found out that the builder was John Greven and emailed him to offer praise for his beautiful work. It was at this point that the thought of having a guitar built entered my mind. I was disappointed to learn that health and age had conspired to put a pause on John’s guitar building. He said it hurt for him to say he couldn’t build a guitar for me.

When I asked if there was another builder he might recommend, he had high praise for luthier Clayton Pledger, who had been his understudy years before. I visited Pledger’s website and listened to recordings there and at other locations before deciding to contact him.

Several large companies and shops build excellent guitars, but I determined that Pledger Guitars were excellent and competitively priced. Having a personal connection with the builder was important to me for this instrument. Clayton had just begun working on a cutaway OM-13 (Orchestra Model) with the qualities I wanted. Since an OM-13 connects the body with the neck at the 13th fret, I decided a cutaway would be best for reaching the upper range. My guitar teacher, Randy Soller, has been helping me learn to play up the neck as opposed to only using a few chords at the low end.

Clayton sent photos from his shop in Portland, Oregon. The Sitka Spruce top and Madagascar Rosewood back had just been cut. I loved seeing wood chips on the workbench surrounding the beginnings of this instrument that would become a reminder of my mother.

A few days later, scalloped Sitka Spruce bracing was in place and the top and back were firmly bound to the rosewood sides. I was pleased with the subtle ebony binding along the edges.

I look forward to Clayton Pledger’s next steps as this guitar takes shape. Below is part of a poem I wrote while thinking about how difficult it must be for John Greven to stop doing this work he loved for so many years. I’m thankful that he was a good teacher and that I’m getting to work with one of his excellent students.

The rest of this instrument’s story can be found at the following posts.

2 Mother’s Guitar: A Work in Progress

3. Mother’s Guitar: Calling Our Best Self

4. Mother’s Guitar: The Fretboard, a Lifetime Project

Two Extremes: Tarp to Truck Camper

Backpacking is a favorite way to travel, and I enjoy the challenge of reducing the pack weight. At the other extreme (for me) is traveling in my Four Wheel Truck Camper. I definitely eat better with the benefit of Becca’s meal planning. I keep wondering if there’s a way for her to cater our backpacking trips!

In this post, I’ll give a quick tour of the truck camper. It’s a Raven Shell model which means it doesn’t have any of the internal options that more expensive and heavy models include. The Raven fits this short bed truck. I was tempted to get a Hawk model but it would hang over the rear by six inches. We like the shell because it gives us more space and we can add what we need when we need it.

Four Wheel Truck Camper Raven Shell

A favorite feature of the truck camper is that you camp wherever you can park. It takes about two minutes to raise the top, and you’re set.

A sleeping pad comes with the camper, and we’ve found it to be comfortable. Rather than bedding, we use a two-person sleeping bag that stays in place on the mattress when we lower the top for driving. The Little Giant steps are added to make it easy to climb into the sleeping compartment. The steps also double as a nice chair.

The empty shell gives you bench areas for sitting or using as tables. We’ve thought of adding a table but the cover of the 12-volt battery compartment on the back corner makes a nice table. There are charging ports there and the solar panels we already owned plug into a jack on the outside of the camper. We’ve used the built in LED lights and the fan without draining the battery over a couple of days.

View from the sleeping pad

With a roof vent, fan, and lots of screened windows, the camper works well in all but the hottest months in the Ozarks. When summer comes, it’s time to go to higher elevations out west anyway.

Options: A canopy adds living space that is protected from rain and sun. One person can set it up and take it down, but it’s easier with two.

You can order the truck camper with a built-in stovetop, but I opted to use a separate inexpensive Coleman stove for outside cooking. Definitely the right decision for us!

Another option was on-board heat. I opted for a portable propane indoor heater (Mr. Heater). On extremely cold mornings, I can fire it up for a few minutes, and the space warms up quickly.

Last, but not least, is the Thetford Porta Potti. We place it inside overnight to avoid midnight walks to the campground toilets. It has a fresh water pump for the bowl and empties into a storage tank that is easy to empty at dump stations or pit toilets.

Popup top down and ready to drive

To tarp or truck camp? It depends on how you want to travel. When traveling distance by foot, the tarp is my preferred shelter. The truck camper is a great option for us, especially with family. The goal is getting outside and seeing the beauty of nature. However you travel and whatever shelter use, get out there and enjoy!

Becca at the Bennett Springs flow in Missouri

Peeking inside my pack #3: My “library” and resources

I can’t make it through a day on the trail without reading and/or writing something, so these 3.5 ounces are essential to me. Even more important is having a map and any necessary trail notes. I like a physical map and compass (not dependent on battery life). I like writing on paper rather than trying to text into a phone. The physical notes from some of my trips have become little treasures that I revisit from time to time.

Included items:



Water-proof notebook, pen, and pencil

Pages for reading

I like visiting bookstores that sell used books, ideally in terrible shape. Paperback books with brittle bindings are the best. It’s easy to tear out a chapter and place it in your “library” for the trail.

On rare occasions, I’ll take my old Kindle if I’m not covering many miles and expect to have lots of time under my tarp. It comes in at a whopping 5.5 ounces, a definite luxury item! The paper pages from a typical chapter of text might weigh as little as .3 ounces, that’s less than one half of one ounce. As an added bonus, pages read sometimes become fire-starter.

A choice between .3 ounces and 5.5 ounces

Peeking in my pack #2: The all-important ditty bag

This little cotton bag weighs 12 ounces loaded. Those ounces are crucial to the success of my backpacking trips. My ditty bag includes the following in separate ziplock bags as pictured:

First aid stuff: medicine and/or vitamins / ibuprofen / Triple Antibiotic Ointment / gauze / bandaids / Quick Clot gauze / Benadryl

Personal care stuff: dental floss / foot cream / Blister Shield / emery board / deodorant / sunscreen / WetWipes (one per day) / toilet paper / small bottle of Dawn soap

Repair kit: Tenacious Tape / length of cord / lens cleaner / extra camera batteries / extra SD card / extra headlamp

To keep weight low, I use small containers so I’m not carrying whole tubes of sunscreen, first aid ointment, etc.

ditty bag items

It’s tempting to save weight and leave out something since some items are rarely used. I’ve sometimes felt this way about first aid stuff, but on a recent trip, a highly skilled fellow hiker spilt some boiling water on his ankle. We were glad we had first aid items.

If you have other essentials to include in the ditty bag, please let me know (as long as they’re not heavy).