Archive for the ‘Research’ Category


Lions and Tigers and Bears!

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Oh, my!

What do these three animals have in common? Well, among other things, all are much larger than any wild animals that we’re likely to encounter in Scotland, thankfully. We’ll have a blog post later about the larger and perhaps more interesting animals, but for now I’d like to go smaller:

Much smaller.


This is a highland midge, a small mosquito-like insect that apparently will swarm around us as we walk, regaling us with insightful comments and beautiful ballads of our progress (unfortunately, these will be in Midge, which none of us speak).

Oh, and drinking our blood.

Much like North America’s mosquitoes, midges are annoying pests that need a meal of blood to properly incubate their eggs, and so the females will bite mammals that travel near their nests. Anywhere forested (such as a large portion of our route) is fair game — but no worries! With modern conveniences such as DEET and mosquito netting, we’ll be perfectly…

…wait, did I say “modern conveniences”? Shoot.

Okay, next thought — when I was a kid, to keep the mosquitoes away we always had citronella/lemongrass candles; mosquitoes don’t like the smell of the oil, so they stay away. And the lemongrass article on Wikipedia says that it’s from the Old World — which includes Europe! We’re golden!

Lemongrass, growing in its native habitat: Malaysia. Sigh.

… Or not, apparently. It’s native to southeast Asia, specifically, among other places, which unfortunately do not include Europe. Double-shoot. (I didn’t even look at Eucalyptus.)

So — what was next? Adam’s suggestion was to, and I quote, “man up”, and while that may be the end result I’m hoping to find a better alternative that results in fewer itchy spots (and I’ll just let Adam test his theory)!

We’ll hopefully be testing these theories next summer, on our own mosquitoes (which are similar enough that most commercial products are suggested for both) – the most likely candidates are cinnamon oil, castor oil, made from the castor bean (which is apparently the most poisonous plant on Earth — only four seeds is enough to kill people!), and peppermint oil.

What would you rather smell like? Or would you, in our place, go with Adam’s suggestion and just grin and bear it?


Base Camping

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When you think camping, what comes to mind?

For many people it’s bonfires with roasting marshmallows, big nylon tents, swimming in a lake and maybe some hiking.  Some people make it relaxing with a good book; some people portage with a canoe through lake- and river-filled regions and come back home pleasantly exhausted.  Some bring air mattresses and some think it’s not camping if you don’t wake up with the impressions of branches on your back.

I am, personally, not much of a camper – I prefer beds to the ground, showers in the morning, and a hot breakfasts and cold drinks.  I thoroughly enjoy my creature comforts.  But as soon as we decided to do the Quest as, well, a quest, I knew that my usual requirements for a good camp weekend – regular runs to the corner store, for instance – would be impossible.

And so I started to think about what we would be using to camp.  Certainly not the easy-to-build, easy-to-carry tents that we can buy at any major outdoor store; no air mattresses, no propane stoves, no coolers full of ice.  We would have to balance old-school materials like canvas or leather with considerations for weight, since we will be carrying everything everywhere distributed over the six of us.


Walking Scotland Legally Part 2

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So after trying to make time between my classes, my work, and admittedly my overall laziness I can finally say I have some results. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code answered a lot of my questions. Walking the trip as we’d hoped should be doable. The access code is long and lists a few restrictions for safety and non forest fire starting reasons, but much to my surprise it looks like we’ll even be able to build campfires in most of the out of the way places.

Hunting is an entirely different matter. Bow hunting and crossbow hunting is illegal in the United Kingdom. If I were being honest, I would say I found this to be a bit of a relief. It was something we had considered, but remains something that most of us aren’t very inclined to do.

Fishing surprisingly doesn’t seem to actually require a license. However some of us are skeptical about whether we’ll be staying anywhere long enough to be able to do it. Also, when factoring conservation laws and obtaining permits it starts getting a little confusing in terms of when and where we can fish for what. For now this is being put aside since it seems unlikely that we’ll even want to have to carry the equipment around. If we change our minds, we’ll either have to make a detailed fishing map or have our fishing spots planned out before hand.

For now this mostly just leaves questions about equipment. I’m very confident that we’ll be able to stay true to our theme (even if it means toiletries will be accompanied with leaves…) however our equipment lists remain to fully sorted out. Once we have that figured out, I’ll be able to determine what we can get across the boarder and what we can get onto a plane.

Another bit of news: this weekend is a two day training walk for us. We’re headed a bit north to get our first taste of what it’s like to walk all day, camp, and than get up in the morning and do it again. I’m looking forward to it, even if it is like to be cold.


Walking Scotland Legally Part 1.

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The path we’d take during this walk was something that we mulled over and altered a few times.  Admittedly planning a walking trip across a landmass you’ve yet to even visit is tricky at best.  In truth, it had been our hope to across cross much of Ireland in our pursuit of the cure.  However a small amount of research proved that camping on foot across Ireland would be difficult, for the same reason that it would be in many countries.  That reason being the illegality of wild camping.  If we were bringing vehicles or simply backpacking, this might not have been a concern.  However planning to travel from one legal campsite to the next on foot seemed a lot less practical, or at the very least logistically a lot more difficult.

Wild camping in Scotland however seemed to be a different story.  At least the The Land Reform Act 2003 has lead me to believe so.  One of my primary concerns with our trip was the extent of which we could stuck to our fantasy/medieval theme, while still being both ethical and law abiding campers.  As such, my next few series of posts will be dedicated to answering questions such as the following:

-Do wild camping laws apply to tourists?
-Where can we construct fires?
-Can we carry torches or oil lamps?
-Bow hunting is illegal, however do such laws apply to crossbows?
-If crossbow hunting is legal, what kind of license would we need?
-What can we hunt?
-How can we obtain fishing licenses?
-What of our equipment might not be legal to bring across the boarder?
-How easily can we stay to our theme, while still adhering to proper camping etiquette?  This question primarily referring to camp construction, fire building, and of course toiletries.

This list is likely to expand as research is preformed. However this remains for now our starting point.


These Shoes Were Made For Walkin’

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Last week I realized that I needed new shoes.

My running shoes I got very gently-used second-hand back in August. They lasted a surprisingly long time – the extra weight on my frame tends to wreak havoc on my poor footwear and it almost never lasts this long. They’re even still good, if slowly degrading; I can feel my feet aching a little more on longer walks than they used to, and on one of my long walks in July I hurt the arch of my right foot.

Looking through dozens of articles on marathon running and walking online in the days leading up to a Payless sale that Andrew told me about, I found some great points that I thought it would be relevant to share here.

First and foremost, how a shoe is actually supposed to fit. Half an inch of room in the toe. Snug enough that the heel doesn’t slide around and cause blisters. Things that I knew on some level but didn’t pay enough conscious attention to when shoe-shopping before.

I also learned that walking shoes and running shoes are made differently. Walking shoes have softer heels, usually even curved upwards, because walking is a very different motion than running and you usually step down on your heel first, unlike in running where the balls of your feet are the highest-impact areas.

But the thing that made the most impact (ba-dum ching!) was a simple number that I read on several websites: that the lifespan of a pair of good shoes tends to be between 300 and 500 miles of walking. They’ll stay together after that, but that’s when they start degrading.

To me that’s a hell of a sign. But it also means that the shoes I bought last week will only last me about half of the year between now and the Quest, and that’s if I don’t walk quite as much as I want to… but I’m going to keep a tally of how many kilometres I walk in this pair and see how it goes.


Keeping Wayfarers Fed, Part One

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Among the first things that we did at our meetings was to divy up the responsibilities between us; because Dan has this image of me as a ‘great cook’, I’ve ended up in charge of figuring out what, exactly will be keeping us going – physically, at least – for our weeks in Scotland. (Note that I’m not disputing this image of me. He said it, not me.)

In keeping with our theme, the standard array of high-tech superfoods was out. I haven’t even looked into them, because I just know that I’ll find something that would be just perfect for our trip, except that it’s entirely too modern.

So instead, I Googled things like “crusades food” and “how did travellers eat medieval times” and “native flora scotland”. There were a lot of things that piqued my interest – and as I’m able to do some more research on them, I’ll be posting more – but one food was repeated time and time again: Hard tack, also known as hardtack, pilot’s bread, molar breakers, dog biscuits, and other wonderful and unfortunately descriptive names. Realizing that this was going to be one of the things we ate a lot for our trip was one of the first signs that this was, in fact, going to be a difficult journey, regardless of the distance.

For those who don’t want to look at the link above, here’s a basic recipe for hardtack:

2 cups flour
3/4 cup water
3/4 teaspoon salt

…and that’s it. No fat (as it would spoil eventually), no sugar (ditto). No flavouring at all, probably to reduce cost. You mix those ingredients, push it on a cookie sheet, and throw it in the oven. Then you cut it into squares, turn it over, and bake it again.

The result is a hard, tasteless brick of carbs – that will last for years before spoiling. And if it’s baked another two times, it’ll last even longer! It’s designed to be dipped in some sort of liquid before you eat it, mostly because those who skip this step are those who gave it the nickname “molar breakers”.

So, I made some. I had flour in my cupboard, and we had a training walk planned a few days after I discovered this, last weekend. I brought them along, and despite the abuse they took in my backpack over the course of six hours’ walking, we pulled them out and  dipped them in my iced coffee when we sat down at a Tim Horton’s. We all bit down, attempted to chew what we could, and unanimously decided that, without some changes, there was no way we’d be able to eat it. Luckily, I have some ideas already – I have a list of herbs native to Scotland, and the recipe linked above includes a note that you can add shortening to make it softer, but it cuts down on the length of time before it starts to spoil.

It’s going to be interesting, definitely. I’m not sure if it’s going to be good-interesting or bad-interesting, but interesting is a sure thing.


Heavy Armour, Hard To Carry?

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My armour is probably the most visible thing we’ve worn to date on our public training walks. It has gotten a few comments from people, from ex-SCA players to people who wanted to know if we were making a movie; some people have wanted to touch it or even try it on. (Sadly, I have to turn down the ones who want to try it on – I would have to take off my pack, and I’m always worried that once I take it off I’ll never convince myself to put it back on…)

In a recent article on the Science NOW website, some researchers at the University of Leeds did tests on a person’s energy output when walking in 30-50kg of plate armour and found that it expended “more than twice” the energy that just walking did.

The linked article explains that a lot of that comes from leg armour, of which I won’t be wearing much – greaves, sabatons and cuisses are just things I do not own and likely won’t by the time we leave (though if you’re looking to get rid of some…). My chainmail and other armour is mostly arm and torso protection; while the arms are far enough away from my centre of gravity to cause a bit more wear, the fact that I can swing them close (or even fold them, if it comes down to it) will mitigate that.

The armour is heavy, and it certainly takes a toll – I was more tired after my last training walk than the one before it, despite more training in between them, because of the armour being worn. I also just received more armour that I’ll be wearing – some plate for my arms and shoulders – which adds probably 15-20 pounds by themselves. I’ll be doing a full weigh-in on my entire kit very soon so that everything’s accurate by the end of it all, mostly for my own interest.

In addition to all the gear we’ll be carrying – tent, food, cooking ware and health supplies – this armour will be a great strain across my back that I can’t share with the rest of my party. As I play D&D – fairly regularly again, starting just a couple months ago – every time our characters stop for the night I imagine how it’s going to feel to take off the armour…

… and I realize that they don’t, if they want to stay protected during that first watch.