A tail of two tents

To adequately cover a gathered end hammock such as the blue sky (109″?), a hex cut (6 sided diamond) rain fly might have a centerline length of 144″; the several inches of overhang is actually tapered and thus less material than otherwise is used. But My Hennessy has more than enough sidewall length, which while making me feel completely secure from weather intrusion, also gates the wind and provides tremendous privacy. /from nearly all angles other than looking past the suspending trees like a barrel./ this of course requires
Staking out the wings or otherwise tying out four guy lines.

While I like a free standing tent, I have found too that the UL 2 must also be guyed down in windy conditions. A spring storm at Jenny lake in the Tetons brought 20-30 mph winds that pressed down the roof to on top of me, despite having all 6 lines guyed. In still conditions, this may not seem requires but given the uncertainty, guying seems cheap insurance.

So whether using a hammock tent and fly or ground tent with guy-able fly, I will be making 4 to 6 quick knots with near certainty and using grounds stakes as likely with each approach.

After several days of ground tent camping, you will find that there is no better sleep than in a hammock. like a puppy among litter-mates, the pressure on hips and shoulders is gone and there is no better rest. But what where their are no suitable trees, and can be the case with improved camp sites offering only a gravel pad and strict boundaries?

And what about moisture management without a ground cloth? Already a hammock tent collects moisture that will likely but harmlessly make it inside to the occupant. moisture will accumulate on the bottom even out west in dry conditions. As one shifts about on their sleeping pad and touches the outside exposed fabric, condensation may work it’s way in. Yet With a synthetic bag this presents no problem or discomfort. Products to insulate the outside of a hammock look to be over-kill, increasing weight.

So why not carry both a hammock tent and fly and ground tent with fly? Clearly the problem is redundancy increases weight. And sadly, the flys are not suitable for one another; the UL has interfered guy lines that attach only in conjunction with the fly and it is too short and misshaped to cover a hammock. The Hennessy fly would cover the UL but absent critical guying connection points.

One idea where there are no trees is to pitch the gathered-end-hammock on the ground such as a bivy under the hex tarp, but lacking a water proof tub, this seems ill advised. Atop a tyvek ground cloth seems more reasonable. Poles too would have to be used to support the hex cut flys centerline, along with four lines holding out the wings.

Europe Cycling: North Sea (to Baltic Sea?) to Black Sea

The North Sea Cycling route circumnavigates the North Sea, appropriately, from the Shetland Islands (UK) south along the coast before hoping the channel for the Netherlands and running north along the coast of continental Europe another 3,000 some miles into Norway. An interactive map here: www.NorthSea-cycle.com

Edinburgh is the first international city intercepting the route going counter clockwise. Yet Glasgow (GLA) is less expensive and available direct from Florida. I spent $355 for the one-way ticket from Orlando (MCO) at the end of June, including a $95 sports item bike fee.

Edinburgh without a doubt is more tourist oriented than Glasgow, but the two cities are only 60 miles apart. A traffic-free barge towpath, making up the National Cycling Network’s Route 754, offers one day ride solution:

This route starts on Route 7 and uses the towpath of the Forth and Clyde canal from Bowling, through north Glasgow, to the Falkirk Wheel; and then the Union Canal towpath (joining Route 75) into the heart of Edinburgh. (http://www.sustrans.org.uk/ncn/map/route/route-754)

“Route 754 is canal towpath, and much of the surface is unbound” but heading east to Edinburgh, it is after Falkirk  that several posters have complained of conditions. Yet NCN754 is still considered a nicer route than NCN75.

Thus, the moderator at SusTrans comments that “…from Falkirk you could leave it for Route 1 at Linlithgow (climbing over the hill to the coast at Bo’ness – stick to the coast on the new path to Blackness Castle – not yet signed as NCN 76.” One would rejoin the North Sea Cycling Route at South Queensferry.

There are ferry options to cross the channel before reaching London, including Newcastle to Ijmuiden, Teesport to Rotterdam and Kingston upon Hill-Rotterdam. There are also port destions further south, including Brugge. NOTE: Ferry route names may borrow from their origninating river more often than the town you’ll be looking to catch it.

Across Germany

From about Cuxhaven (Bremerhaven 43km away given as actual origin/terminus) to Dresden, the 850km Elbe Cycling Route “mostly runs on dedicated, asphalt cycle paths, often on or alongside the Elbe embankment. Mostly traffic-free. Asphalt is the predominant surface. Be prepared for headwinds when cycling downstream.” I plan to head upstream.

http://www.germany.travel/en/leisure-and-recreation/cycling/elbe-cycle-route.html

But off route at Travemunde on the Baltic Sea, several ferry options might carry one as far away as St. Petersburg (Russia) or Helsinki (Finland). Rostock, futher east, is another ferry port and beyond that few hundred km east is Barth, the site of a German Army WWII POW camp, though the structures are unrecognizable now, from what one gathers. A return towards Dresden and Prague beyond might included following the Oden (http://www.germany.travel/en/leisure-and-recreation/cycling/oder-neisse-cycle-route.html)

Prague (Praha) to Vienna (Wien) Greenway

http://www.pragueviennagreenways.org/gwmap.html

Europe Cycling: Equipment

This summer I plan to follow the North Sea from Edinburgh, Scotland to Cuxhaven, Germany, then follow the Elbe for the Vltava and Prague. Next, I’ll roll southeast on the Prague-Vienna (Praha-Wien) Greenway, follow the Danube though Budapest, Hungary (and Bucharest, Romania just off route) for the Black Sea. One mid-trip option is to navigate to Barth, Germany on the Baltic Sea to visit where my grandfather spent nearly 12 months as “a guest of the German Army” in a POW internment camp. See Route information here.

REVIEWS TO FOLLOW! I hope to provide gear updates on each item on tour to see what works and holds up.

Bicycle

IMG_0371
Marin Muirwoods: Steel frame 29er with 20mm Alex rims (32 spoke count), Shimano Alevo 8-speed 11-34 Megarange rear cassette, Hollowtech triple chain ring crankset (with 42, 32, 22 Shimano SLX steel chainrings), Tek mechanical disc brakes (168mm rotors), Shimano Doere long arm rear derailleur, and shimano alivo front derailleur. Not shown; new Continental Top Contact II 700×47 touring tires with Conti-tube 180 gram 700×47 tubes with 40mm metal Schrader valve.
IMG_0359
Modifications: rerouted front derailleur cable to replace bulkier bottom-pull derailleur with lower profile, like-grade top-pull derailleur to increase rear tire clearance. Also, old-school bull horn handlebars and smaller diameter stem.

 

Rerouted cable to pull front derailleur from top in order to clear 2″ tires on previous trip. But with running Continental 700×47 thing tours, which is equal to about 1.85 inches, no long required but why bother switching back? Not sure what this part is actually designed for but a shout out to bike mechanic Glen for the hack.
IMG_0389
VersaRack with Continental Top Contact II 700×47 tire 🙂

 

 

 

 

IMG_0366
Planet Bike Versarack for disc brakes. Not heavy duty but we’ll see how it holds up.
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Tektro Novela mechanical disc brakes are about the cheapest mechanical disc brakes out there and rumored to be on par with BB5’s. They came with the bike and stop the bike. I ordered new pads for $5.99 each on Amazon to replace the first set with many miles on them. But hey, they pretty much work fine.
IMG_0363
Not so much a problem on the rear, the Tektro Novela’s can slip on the front disc brake mounts so that the rotor rubs the discs. The 4 or 5mm hex bolt must be loosed, the brake mechanism aligned and retightened. I’ve had this problem most often after transporting bike with front tire off; the brake strikes things.
Promax brake lever that came with the bike and works.
Promax brake lever that came with the bike and works.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rack: Planet Bike Versarack ($20)

Panniers: Orlieb Back Roller (not classic)

Other Packs/Bike Bags: Walmart Bell fuel tank bag with clear plastic touch-able top to hold iPhone 5 or SE in view for navigating ($15), Bell underseat bag for holding space tube, tire levers and patch kit ($10), Jandd frame pack ($34) with spare spokes, Alien tool, Leatherman, other.

Tires: Continental Top Contact II 700×47 (about 1.85″ wide). So sexy and exciting, first time I’ve ever had proper new tires 🙂 Tubes: 180 gram Conti-tube 700×47 40mm schrader. Metal stem protects against rim rub.

Pedals: flats with old school toe cages (toe clips)

Saddle: Adamo spit saddle Road Gel

Clothing

Shoes; Merrell Moab GorTex

Puff; Outdoor Research Cathode Hoody

Pant: Prana Convertible Zion Pant

Shirts: Icebreaker Oasis 200 Bodyfit Graphic Long sleeve T’s (2), one short sleeve.

Socks; icebreaker wool hiker light crew, conti-wool bike sock

Cycling Shorts(2): Craft Puncheur shorts with pad, Nishiki shorts with pad

Camping

Sleeping Bag: Mountain Hardware synthetic hyperlamina Flame +20

Mattress: Sea to Summit Ultra Light air

Tent: Big Anges Fly Creek UL 2

Ground tarp: Tyvek housewrap

Hammock tent and fly? See article here soon.

Stove

Pot

utensil

Tools

Leatherman

Alien

Spare Spokes

Cassette Tool

Chain whip?

 

 

Travel thoughts: India

Leh (J&K) at 11,500 ft AMSL in the Himalayan north is wonderful in it’s own right and most manageable of all of India. It is arid and part of the Tibetan Plateau so precipitation is infrequent though the two roads in begins to snow-in by later October. (Jet Airways flys in easily from at least Delhi.) The town is comprised mostly of Buddist with some Kashmiris that come over from Shringar to do the selling. There are also some local Muslims and an amplified mosque calls to prayer near daily before sunrise. Guesthouses are 400 IR along Changspa Rd. The narrow streets are made up of dogs and dust; it is India, after all. But there are French, German and Israeli tourists as well. Trekking is cheap. I dismissed a homestay trek in Marka Valley as too easy (you walk jeep roads between tiny unelectrified villages) but regretted it; I had the time and it can be done without a huge production. There are several gompas and monasteries within a short drive like Lamayuru, Alchi. Local bus is a riot! Shared jeep taxis to Marka are cheapish (700IR?). Trekking up Stok Kangri (20,100) is magical, strenuous but not technical. It takes three days. You can see China and Pakistan from its tapered granite summit.

Manali (HP) is 340 km southwest of Leh and a spectacular drive on motorbike or auto. It is high like Leh but has large evergreen trees and is more temperate. It is popular with South Indians and foreigners alike. Kasol (HP) is nearby and a pot smoker oriented travel spot; I passed.

Traveling clockwise through the Spiti Valley (Losar, Kaza, Nako) is arduous but heroic (at least on the motorbike). But one can reach Shimla (HP) and Dehradun and Rishikesh (Uttarakhand) more directly from Manali. I can ask the German, a well traveled friend, about the latter two as you get closer to deciding. Rishikesh and Dehradun, along with Leh, is where I’d focus first for one trip. Shimla’s toy train connects to Kalka outside of Dehli and is a useful station for onward travel should you want to leave the cool mountains for the plains. The mountain town of Chitkul is a haul from Shimla, but interesting and if couple with a storied Rupin Pass trek, perhaps worthwhile.

Amritsar (Punjab) in the Indian portion of the Punjab has the golden temple, important to Sikhs. The boarder with Pakistan has a gate closing ceremony each evening. The city can be smoky and very dusty with fewer like-oriented tourists; many are old British but some are young. The food here, Punjabi, is delicious! You must find chicken saagwala from a messy street side dhoba. (And Leh’s chicken tikka at Budshar Inn is to die for!)

Rajasthan is the Thar desert and I think safe. There are plenty of tourists but you might feel you’re being sold to more so than anywhere outside of the in-your-face big cities, particularly Jaisalmer. The forts at Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur are quite amazing, the latter with the best vibes. Bikaner is not as isolated as Jaisalmer and so an apparent substitute for some travelers. Jodhpur has a good train station so I hopped on with bike to Goa along the Konkar Railway from there. I never heard anything in particular to make me think I messy up skipping Jaipur and Pushcar.

Goa is hot and about the beach though the warm water is brown and looks sharky. It’s hot even in December. It’s not my scene to rave but Goa used to be heady. The scene moves with the season. Gokarna (Karnataka) was sleepy, Palolem nice, Vagator (Goa) nice. The warm whether is conducive to spice farming, and the Portuguese had a colonial interest in the area and an elaborate slave port in Africa en route in the times of the Merchant of Venice. So there are Catholic churches and pork.

Kerala is next on my to-experience list. Indeed, I thought it was safer but the state has had two nasty gang rapes this past month alone. Reading Times of India at a Lavazza espresso cafe in Leh will frighten you to move beyond the simplicity of the Himalayas. But along Kerala’s coast are mountains good for motorbiking, rivers and forest. The crazy sounding Thiruvananthapuram, once called Trivandrum, sounds to be the area in recent events, and so just like other South Indian cities. Avoid Dehli (fly through to Leh but don’t exit the airport if you don’t have too), Mumbai seemed perhaps more manageable, Bangalore (Karnataka), now Bengaluru, seems as safe as its attitude nativist.

Varanasi is out there a ways and folks going on to Nepal often stop, and the Taj Mahal is not too far outside of Dehli. Hampi near Bengaluru may have a similar feeling; massive architecture in the middle of nowhere. Yet Varanasi has the Ganges though its headwaters it Uttarkhand may be of interest too. India has been a going-concern civilization for three thousand years, with temples and markets and populations that thrive and collapse. Yet people still defecate in the open and some 600,000 villages remain unelectrified.

Uber brief travel thoughts in re; India 🙂

Ski With Me! Photo gallery now up and running.

Exciting to finally have a gallery to share all the great photos of kiddos and adults from group and private ski lessons! Parents and principals: You can now visit www.BeauBlessing.com/skiwithme/ to view, comment on and download photos. Happy with your experience and photos? Make a contribution! Just select the amount in the drop down box (on desktop version; currently unavailable on mobile site).

The next step with be to set permissions for parents and principals to access fuller featured photos and provide greater privacy. It would also be great if new users registered and elected to receive travel blog updates. So far, it looks like I will be touring Europe from the North Sea to the Black Sea, starting in Amsterdam and following the Elbe to the Vltava and Prague before jotting down along the Greenway to Vienna and picking up the Danube through Romania for that inland coast!

 

Might a transition to normalized wages for servers in lieu of tipping lead to a mismatch of supply and demand in table-service resturants?

By Beau Blessing (a working paper) November 4, 2015

From the front of the house to the back, U.S. table-service restaurants are busy with people working for a less-than-otherwise minimum wage and so too, dependent on customers’ tips. From the hostess to the server to the expediter to the bartender, the post-service payment that the customer eventually makes typically includes a 15-20% gratuity, from which the server will also make a distribution to the other aforementioned service roles at the end of his own shift. An expediter delivers ready food from the kitchen on the busiest nights to the indicated table as soon as ready, reducing the risk that remain under heat lamps and perhaps come back to that even on the busiest nights that it does not sit and so there is a reduced change a customers will need to send it back. the kitchen along with a complaint. A hostess greets arriving parties and rotates the seating of guests among servers’ sections so that the workload of the server is spaced out, increasing utilization; just after dropping off ready food at table 3 and returning change from a payment made by table 4, food orders may be taken from table 2 just after table 1 is greeted and places their order for drinks. A bartender makes adult drinks from their own floor space, adding expertise while alleviating the server from a decidedly different task than his own. (Bartender too are cross-functional and often have table guests of their own.)

In 2015 criticism of the tipping system is percolating, and it is argued that customers are in fact serving as restaurant servers and facilitators’ paymaster while restaurateurs dodge a higher cost of capital by keeping less than a fifth of the cash of the cash on hand for meeting payroll than would otherwise be required. Indeed, evidence supports that tipping does not increase the servers performance, and too may lead to subtle discrimination. But that the sentiment against tipping tracks closely those who also oppose GMO’s and hail from Colorado, Oregon or California, I am curious what lies upstream.

The performance of a service delivery system relies on many things, not least the human resources required. The explosive casual-fast dinning sector, which includes the likes of Subway, Chipotle, Evos and Moe’s among others, has opted to omit drive-throughs and table service in favor of quickly filled orders taken away or consumed within the finite, on-site seating capacity. Chiptole and Moe’s with high sales prices than Subway are particularly robust queuing systems posing as restaurants. From a single queue multi-phase system with poison arrivals and mean distribution of service times, the number of servers required to facilitate their mass customized production of burritos is effectively a science.

They also benefit from the law of large numbers and asymmetries of information. A chain restaurant by definition has more instances from which to collect data, the collection and processing benefits from a zero-cost of replication; and greater data integrity control processes than say, a small town Mexican restaurant with only a few investors and the labor contributions of owner-operators.

In reality, demand in the restaurant business is less than ideal to forecast as it deals principally in people and food; the former are socially complex creatures with wide-ranging variability in their arrival patterns; the latter, a perishable that must be ordered ahead of time based on assumptions about the foretasted demands of the former. The exact arrival pattern and sales figures for a given night for the smallest restaurants may never be accurate enough to be actionable so that increasing the wage rate of servers and facilitators means the cost of over scheduling capacity increases, yet without the economies of sales of co-sharing of inventories to stymie overage food order loses.

And so the ability to increase or decrease capacity quickly and efficiently is important. Like in the classic “overage, underage” news-vendor problem, there is a cost to unsold, perished food. There is also a cost to foregone profits had you sold an extra plate. We want to find a balance.

That servers “tip out” as a function of sales, we are partly down the right track using “sales dollars” as a metric. So it falls to management of even the smallest restaurants to forecast sales and still find a mix of servers, expediters and hostesses to facilitate those sales, independent of the rate at which those sales occur. Thus is may be forecasted that Wednesday’s dinner result in $1,800 of food and beverage sales. And so based on the inter-arrival period, this may be telling us that 9 servers will each sell $200 worth of food facilitated by two hours of hostess and two hours of expediter over a period a say, 5:478-9:20pm.

It may also be telling us that 9 servers sold $200 worth of food without any facilitators over a slightly longer period with less variability in the inter-arrival periods; business was steady and uniform with no “rush”.

Restaurants using the gratuity system have the unique position from which they can increase capacity through human resource decisions quickly and for little cost. The servers themselves are the ones who in exchange for an average hourly pay in excess of similarly available wage jobs, are sometimes sent home early. Thus their “over-payment” relative to other wage jobs is in fact compensation for unrewarded set-up costs.

So then, it seems servers who are employees for a normalized set wage might expect to be scheduled and indeed perform a full shift without being sent home early and so forgo their previous compensation for set-up costs. The integer is now not server hours but nightly servers, forcing on the firm the decision to which they can only lead, lag or straddle forecasted demand.

Hammock Camping Starters; Simple and Cheap

Hammock Camping in Georgia, near Vidalia July 2015
Blue Sky Outdoor Netted Mosquito Traveler Hammock ($42) with Hennessy Hex Tarp ($70), camping near Vidalia, Georgia. The tarp is secured to four stakes using a Cawley Knot, one side raised for better ventilation. The two factory attachment points were later changed out for 5-mintues-to-make-at-home Amsteel Whoopie slings.
Blue Sky Hammock as Mosquito net under bunk in Nosara, Costa Rica
The Blue Sky Traveler Mosquito Netted Hammock used as, well a mosquito net in Norasa, Costa Rica. I’d intended to camp several night in Cabo Blanco at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula as well as inside Corcovando Park (near Drake Bay), though I never left Playa Guiones (near Nosara) in all of my nine weeks in country.

“…you’re giving up the option to keep occasional company with a hammock. You also have to exit the hammock to pee at night.”

By Beau Blessing

In 2014, I managed over 90 days of camping in a borrowed Viperine 2 by Mountain Hardwear (discontinued), a nearly six pound free standing, front entry tent with 42″ of head height and room for two. While most cyclist were still below this weight (the Seedhouse SL2, for example), riding the Divide Route for the first 2000 miles, however, I passed several CDT hikers who swore by tarps, and still others that swore by hammocks. At any rate, theAmerican West offers a mild-to-cool summer (based on elevation) with few mosquitoes and infrequent rains. The Atlantic Coastal Plains, stretching from North Carolina to Texas, are much warmer, buggier and wet.

Netted Contenders

Hennessy Explorer (disambiguated from Expedition!) $212 (includes Asymmetrical tarp); 56 x 108; rated 300 lbs; weight 3 lbs

Blue Sky Mosquito Traveler $42; 54 x 115; Rated 330 lbs; weight 1.4 lbs

Grand Trunk Skeeter Beeter PRO; $60; 60 x 126; rated 400 lbs, weight 2.2 lbs

Grand Trunk Skeeter Beeter (disambiguated from larger PRO) $60; 54 x 114; rated 250; weight 1.25 lbs

Other; Enjoydeal $23; 43 x 98; rated 260 lbs; weight 1.4-shipping)

(Warbonnet Blackbird is a hammock that outdoorgearlab loves, though I didn’t look at it too much; it runs $185 without tarp/rain fly.)

That the Hennessy Expedition came with a rain fly and bug netting for $145 was impressive. Unfortunately at 6’1″, I’d need to go up to the longer Explorer version. But at $210 now, I was nearly to my default front entering, free standing 28 square ft tent, the Seedhouse sl2 for $300 and the practically same weight. Already, you’re giving up the option to keep occasion company with a hammock. You also have to exit the hammock to pee at night. (Note: Spirit Airline offers a free sub-carryon personal item; it is limited to 16″ at it longest measurement, 3″ shorter than the folded poles.) The Seedhouse SL2 is my default tent that if I had to pick today, would take on my next cycling trip from Amsterdam to Prague and Vienna and Croatia next summer.

Non-netted, A non-Starter

The popular if not nontechnical Grand Trunk and Eno Nest were reviewed as notably tear-prone based on their material (which is nearly the same as the Blue Sky and Easydeal, too. The Kijara Single is cheaper than both but all three are non-netted. That an optional zippered bug screen would add weight o more than 20 oz was suspect, and the $60 price tag steep. A stand alone bug screen used for sleeping in countries with malaria or dengue was $15-30, but would need to be modified for hammock use and suitable hammock entry; I didn’t want any sewing machine projects. The most basic parachute fabric hammock, and a petite version at that, was $20. So the suitably long Blue Sky netted hammock for $42 seemed to fit the bill. (Carabiners were offered separately for $7 a pop; no thanks.)

Rain Fly

For a rain tarp, silnylon is renown for making light weight shelters and perhaps the go to of ultra light hikers that tarp camp with or without a bug bivy. Cuben fiber is another next gen fabric that is said to collect less condensation. Both are also pricey, and the options vary from $120 for a suitably sized catenary cut (arched, curving length panels) hammock tarp with 6 attachment points to more complex tarps that lend themselves to a myriad of uses and tent-like configurations. Theses material’s wider range of use is appealing but at higher price points, a hard choice to make under so much uncertainty.

 

The poly treated nylon squares would be the cheapest option, an 8×10 costing $50. But attachment would be made using grommets, presenting a possible tear issue. Another option, an 9×6 rectangle with 6 more suitable attachment points at the corners and center lines for $55 seemed reasonable. A review mocking this items description as XL left me size concerned; many places receive more than occasional rain and I’d be taking the hammock with me to Costa Rica.

So working up price wise, at $71 the Hennessy hex (includes tie lines) was big enough at a modified 12×10 but weighting 23 oz., was no worse than treated nylon (itself treated polyester). It also has suitable corner tie points, though I’d prefer cat cut along ALL sides (4 of 6 are) in order to keep the tension distributed equally along the two longest lengths, baffling passing winds and dis-allowing rain to pool along the Hennessy’s hemmed, rasied edges. The ENo Dry fly and Pro fly are a bit smaller, but are cat cut and have appropriate anchor points, but I saw no feature advantage to going up any higher on the price scale and would rather take minor pooling over a smaller tarp.

A last point; the tarp should extend beyond the length of the hammock itself no less than 12-18″ to prevent rain penetration. The attachment points will thus be covered at their closet to the hammock, allowing for the attachment of drip lines, or small lengths of simple cord that are tied to the attachment lines to create a dip edge for rain water trying to follow the lines.

WhoopIe Sling

Nearly every hammock mentioned here is considered a “gathered end hammock”, meaning that the material comprising the hammock is simply brought together at its ends by passing an attachment cord through sewn sleeves; none use spreader bars. The standard cording can thus be replaced with lightweight Samson AmSteel Blue, a marvel of engineering strength and workability.

The whoopee/whoopie sling design allows instant attachment and effortless length adjustment. This DIY Whoopie Sling YouTube shows you how to make your own and gives length and size (7/64) material will need and was the easiest to follow.

Another Youtube shows that water will follow the suspension and whoopie sling to reach the hammock, so a couple inches of small cord tied onto the whoopie just before the gathered end of the hammock and still under the fly will divert any sneaky water, directing it to drip from here down.

Suspension

Attachment to the tree requires only 1″ polyester webbing with a martin head knot (at 4:24) that cinches around the tree, leaving a tag line. A marlin hitch spike along this tag end is where you’ll simply slide over the working end of the whoopie sling, and slide to adjust. For a spike, use just about anything that won’t crush (wine corks DON’T work, bolts do but are heavy; sticks vary). Specially sold Easton Aluminum spikes sound like overkill that I’ll mark as a ‘maybe’.

FLY KNOTS, RIDGELINE KNOTS & STAKES

Secure your rain fly and ridge lines (the two center attachment points) and slide taught using an adjustable Cawley hitch (at 1:32). Not only is it super easy to remember and keeps tension, but releases with a simple pull. For attachment to the ground, any light stakes will work; Easton seem to me expensive and so use 9″ big orange aluminum stakes from Wal-Mart (use a piece of wood in the palm of your hand to press firmly into the ground).

Colder weather camping

On October 19th, 2015 the temperature fell to about 43 degrees near Uvaldia, Georgia. A mattress pad is essential for preventing heat loss. I use the most basic foam, non-inflating Therarest Ridgerest ($30, 1.3lbs) in the  longest lengths for all camping, including inside the Blue Sky Traveler hammock. The argument for non-inflating is that it cannot fail if punctured and provides quick, optional day time seating outside of the tent or hammock. The so-lite model and other newer mattress pads likely beat this classic, but hey, its what I still have.

The rain fly could be used to help retain heat in temperatures below your bag rating, but other flys are available that would do this better. Otherwise, watching the stars as you fall to sleep is something to cherish.

Warm Weather Camping

In warm weather, the netting of the camping hammock will hender breeze, as will any other no-see-um mesh. The parachute fabric sweats more than standard linenes, but still breathes sufficentyly to remain dry while any dampness quickly disipates after the sweating stops eg when it gets cooler. The rain fly, on the other, will impede breezes but is still rather optional unless raining. Morning dampness may be an acceptable trade off for cooler, start filled nights.

Buggy Camping

Treating the bottom panels of the hammock tent with an insecticide will deter mosquito and ticks. Permethrin is a toxin, but may prevent bites from disease carrying mosquitoes and ticks.

Towards a calculus for tiny houses?

The economics of zoning, construction and living large.

by Beau Blessing, April 21, 2015

 

Passing through Jackson, Wyoming on a cross-country bicycle trip, I’d heard of a skiing instructor living in a teepee in the Gros Ventre Wilderness for an entire season without being moved along. The Jackson Hole valley, a cowboy would offer, was “where the billionaires were pushing out the millionaires”. I personally poached a camping spot off of Cash Creek Road in town, stealth camping for ‘free’ against the $179 lowest nightly rate for a hotel room, and this after paying $38 to pitch a tent on a gravel RV site out towards Wilson the night before. In Montana, I’d met a car camping jolly old timer exploiting the National Forest’s 14-day consecutive camping limit in Kootenai, soon heading on for more of the same, and in Mesa Verde, spent a few days with a disabled Vietnam veteran who moved among the Nation Parks enjoying the country’s great sites on discount, with the odd hotel stay and proper bed calling every 5 to 8 days, as it were. A couple passing through Jacob Lake lived in their RV full time with an Arizona mailbox etc serving for domicile address. In my home state of Florida, seasonal residents rent a patch of land for park model RVs while minimizing certain taxes; my grandmother does so full time.

 

There’s a lot of ways to save on shelter without being rooted to the land. Hitching over Togwotee pass two days out from the town of Jackson, I shared a ride with a woman who lived and worked there enough to know; she was on her way to view a trailered cabin for sale in Dubois that could be hauled back for her own living quarter. Later, I learned that the median sale price of a home there was $749,000, qualifying her effort (TownofJackson.com). Cranking along on a bicycle for five months, I stealth camped and paid camped, ever ready to answer the risk of being asked to move along or pay more with economic “exit”, having little skin in the game. My nightly rate for a patch of land on which to camp averaged about $8. This, for 24 square feet of nylon tent considered spacious by hiking standards. (By comparison, a queen mattress is 33 square feet).

 

Which returned my thinking to consider the value of transient possibilities and living for less, longer term.

 Gimme Shelter

 

Shelter is a principal need, according to Abraham Maslow. As a general rule, it is suggested that no more than 30% of one’s income should go towards it. Maintenance costs add another 1-3% of the homes value to the ticket annually. But housing is one of three areas where capitalism “has singularly failed to operate” according to the Economist Newspaper. (Capitalism begins at home, Economist, Jan. 10, 2015, available at Economist.com.) In fact, housing could very well be the biggest source of rising inequality, due in part to “planning restrictions which, by inhibiting new construction, allow homeowners to earn such big returns on their assets”. (Inequality and housing: Through the roof, Economist, Mar. 28, 2015, available at Economist.com.) In a response to Thomas Piketty’s claim in his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century that growing returns on captial in recent history are outstripping actual economic growth, quasi-contrairian Matthew Rognlie, a graduate student at the Massachuesetts Institute of Technology, instead looks to return on assets other than housing to suggest “housing wealth” is as much to blame. (ibid.) As the Economist explains, “home ownership is not especially egalitarian. Many households are priced out of more vibrant places. It it no coincidence that the home-ownership rate in the metroploitan area of downtrodden Detroit, at 71%, is well above the 55% in booming San Franscico.” (Urban Land: Space and the city, Economist, April 4, 2015, available at Economist.com.)

 

Bloomberg recently highlighted a report from Zillow, a real estate information service, that identified a relationship between scarcity of construction and housing outflows it considered unafforable. It notes the “correlation isn’t perfect-New York metropolitan area remain prohibitively expensive despite building activity that is near the national average, and rental affordability can be somewhat misleading. (Housing costs more in NY than Houston, but new Yorkers are less likely to be making monthly car payments.)” (Patrick Clark, Why the Most Popular Cities Are Out of Reach for Young Professionals, Bloomberg Business, March 27, 2015, available at Bloomberg.com.) But this language of scarcity can be compared with the epic growth of free sprawling Houston, where the Economist notes in another article that though the city’s growth “infuriates new urbanists who insist that dense, walkable places such as Manhattan or San Francisco are the future”, it nonetheless remains “a place to live well cheaply” (Houston’s economy: Life in the sprawl, Economist, Mar. 14, 2015, available at Economist.com.) Yet nationally, already, builder reported low supplies of lots are driving up lot costs. (Taylor).

 

According to Zillow.com, the median rent list price in Tampa, Florida is $1,225 and $1,355 nationally. Like most Florida cities, Tampa would not be considered so walkable as to exclude requiring a car. Following our rule of thumb, a person’s monthly take home would need to be a little more than $4,000 in order to afford renting among the lowest priced half of homes. In the US, $50,033 is the income at which there are as many full-time, year-round working males making more as there are making less, and yet it is still surprisingly short of affording the middle U.S. rent (DeNavas-Walk & Proctor, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013, September 2014, available at census.gov.) Of course, taking on a roommate is one way to reduce outflows, increasing utilization of common areas and thus lowering the marginal square foot requirements by sharing. Military sailors regularly take over ‘hot bunks’, sleeping shifts in common beds, while submarines tile the vessels’ floors with canned goods that is eaten down underway. Attractive by comparison, recent college grads should be glad for the ability to tolerate shared housing until one comes to value privacy and free range so greatly that they’ll pay for it.

 

Economic Housing Quantity

 

Another option is right sizing. An estimate of the national average building cost per square foot is $94 (census.gov). Assuming a linear relationship of cost and square feet, building or renting a smaller space could reduce monthly outflow as one moves down such a curve. Interestingly, and equally as frustrating, is a difficult to exploit relationship between volume and area: Whereas area increases squared, volume increases cubed. The insight is that surface areas increase costs while volume increases living space, but only by so much; we live in standardized, two dimensions, with things like 8 ft ceilings and 6’8” door heights often codified to accommodate typical head heights.

 

Moreover, one might be surprised to find that their economically optimal quantity of living space faces other hurdles. Right sized to income but tiny site built homes may fall below local zoning created thresholds. That housing is an annualized liability, this may be especially true of some service and hospitality jobs where earnings show seasonality, or more acutely, do not exist the entire year such as skiing instruction. Even at the conforming but low end of the size spectrum, a permanent or site built house that just meets code requirements may still face an uncertain resell environment. Already it is generally accepted that a 2 bedroom fetches more per square foot than say, a one bedroom or studio. Even the most talented architect may be pressed to carve up a small print to overcome this market reality, self-imposed or otherwise.

 

County and city ordinance and even privately contemplated deed restrictions that specify minimum footprints may also prohibit certain types of living units, such as mobiles. Observed nuisance ordinances appear less demanding, with minimum standards such as a 150 square ft of floor space the first occupant, and 100 more for each an additional occupant, along with a water closet and kitchen sink with hot and cold water (municode.com). Clearly, some restrictions are well-intentioned efforts to protect citizens’ health, safety and welfare, while many land-use regulations are simply a result of ‘nimby’ phenomena (Not In My BackYard). But regulatory restrictions to growth lead to market mismatch by limiting houses in areas where there is high enough demand for them. Even in the great metropolises like London, Mumbai and New York “the scarcity is artificial. Regulatory limits on the height and density of buildings constrain supply and inflate prices”. Consequently, “high housing prices force workers towards cheaper but less productive places”. (Urban Land, Economist).

 

Moving On

 

Dubbed “tiny houses” by popular culture and reality based television shows, it is not hard to see why many folks are opting for custom micro units that can be either hauled or share space alongside other permanent structures. Importantly, they can also offer owners an opportunity to self-contribute. The average price per square foot for new single-family home sold in 2013 was $93.70 (census.gov). Total construction costs account for about 62% of the sales price with 19% going to the finished lot (Taylor). Of construction costs, the largest share at 17% goes to framing and trusses (ibid). At $94 square foot, a 12×26 micro home should cost nearly $30,000. But building 400 square feet of stick-frame is a manageable project for many folk. Not only are direct labor costs converted to savings, in areas where higher labor inputs are attributable to land-use created mismatch, self–building offers non-parametric returns. Another option can be to first build in a lower cost market, though transportation costs upwards of $7 per hauled mile can drive off such savings.

 

Obliviously, where “nimbyish resident of low-density districts…exploit planning rules on everything from light levels to parking spaces to block plans for construction” (Economist), its hard to imagine the neighborly acceptance of micro mobiles. When cousin eddy shows up announced to the Griswold residence in the holiday send-up, “Christmas Vacation” he warns Clark not to “go falling in love with” the ramshackle RV in his driveway “…because we’re taking it with us when we leave here next month.” In fact, the author’s home county of Pasco, Florida limits the stay of an RV or travel trailer to just seven days on residential property, up to 30 consecutive days with permit. Otherwise, such a unit must be placed in a properly zoned RV park.

 

Already there are numerous tiny house communities in practice or being set up across the US, according to a blog by Cat Johnson (shareable.net). Indeed, some are being zoned RV parks while others are demonstration-only examples of “urban infill”. Intentions range from commercial (a hotel made up of small trailers in Portland) to civic desires to house the homeless. Portland’s non-profit Micro Community Concepts proposed “micro communities” that are in the works aim to lower rent for the working poor, though a change in original strategy from imported units to locally built ones may defeat the economics (the effect of vowing that rent “doesn’t go to developers, shareholders, or bankers” is less clear). Moreover, a tax on land, “…no matter how heavily it’s taxed, …will not reduce its supply. As a result, such taxes are relatively efficient—they don’t distort incentives or activities” (Erik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee, The Second Machine Age, at 226 (1st ed. W. W. Norton & Co. 2014.) As a policy tool, “…a high tax on land creates an incentive to develop unused sites”, freeing up space for growth. (Urban Land: Space and the city, Economist, April 4, 2015, available at Economist.com.) Thus, efforts to demonstrate long-term urban infill may too miss a larger opportunity.

 

George Orwell, obsessed with poverty and the working poor, periodically tramped off for a life on the cheap. Mark Twain thought it wise to invest in land; they weren’t making anymore. Ken Kesey boogied across the U.S. in the repurposed school bus, ‘Further’, spreading merry and promoting psychotropic drugs. Is there room for everyone in a tiny house?

 

Perhaps the best case for a tiny house other than the freewheeling libertarian that doesn’t mind dodging restrictions or moving on every once in a while, is in a properly zoned RV park where there are opportunities to “share resources and take advantage of economies of scale.” (DeNavas-Walk & Proctor, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013, September 2014, available at census.gov.) RV parks have been around since RVs though a hip factor stands to influence the development of next generation parks with more energetic opportunities for engaging with neighbors than staid shuffleboard. While zoning for new parks may hit its own roadblocks of nimbyism, policy changes could facilitate impermanent arrangements that collectively offer long-term solutions through improved utilization of cities’ most desirable space, at least for those considered in need of state help. Indeed, where existing public facilities and services are in place (such as “urban service areas”) and taxes on unimproved or vacant land high, a scheme of issuing tax credits to landowners who temporarily host a micro community of platform-based homes for a set number of years could encourage interim use while awaiting future development.

 

You’re either on the bus…

 

For still others, there is a Port Royal appeal in going small and dodging dogged regulation for a life free from the tyranny of geography. Those wishing to use thrift to finance entrepreneurship while holding back old school capitalism inertly at the gates could benefit also. Staying on land but mobile offers the ability to match living location with terrestrial work, while allowing some economic exit. Generally, maximizing the footprint of a house to its movable foundation is the surest way to distribute the relatively fixed cost of the platform itself whether wheeled or hauled (or even floated). A wheeled abode no wider than 8.5 feet and no taller 13.5 can be trailered without restriction, while the trailer itself gives the practical length constraint, perhaps as long as 33 feet, for a grand floor space of around 280 square feet. But pushing out to 12 or 14 feet offers some surprisingly roomy floor plans as the 400 square feet mark is neared. A special permit is required for such wide loads, and in Florida can be self-issued online. Weight considerations are a factor to mobility as well and the cost of moving an oversized load goes beyond a reasonably inexpensive special permit to include hiring pilot vehicles along with the actual hauler.

 

But its hard to ignore that a secondhand travel trailer offers shelter too; a 26 foot Argosy from 1977, for example, will set you back only $5,700. The “painted airstream”, it was produced by Airstream in a separate facility beginning just a few years after the company’s purchase by Beatrice Foods in the late 1960’s. Using lower cost methods and materials, and covering over otherwise blemished panels with paint, the brand served as a test bed for their polished aluminum stalwart (“VintageAirstream.com”, 2015. Online.) But rather than a shinning example of capitalism bringing a ‘want’ within reach of the masses, the plant was closed and the line and brand discontinued when Airstream was sold off in 1978 (ibid). Nearly a decade later, Beatrice itself was acquired by the private equity firm KKR, likely financed with “junk bonds, bank loans and a little cash” (Atlas). Still, its economical shelter, ready made and ready for the road. It just may be finding a place to park it that turns out to be the real economic challenge.

 

 

 

References:

Town of Jackson Municipal Services, 2013. Online. www.townofjackson.com/about-jackson/housing/

Capitalism begins at home, Economist, Jan. 10, 2015, available at Economist.com.

 Inequality and housing: Through the roof, Economist, Mar. 28, 2015, available at Economist.com.

Patrick Clark, Why the Most Popular Cities Are Out of Reach for Young Professionals, Bloomberg Business, March 27, 2015, available at Bloomberg.com.

Houston’s economy: Life in the sprawl, Economist, Mar. 14, 2015, available at Economist.com.

Yahoo!-Zillow Real Estate Network, 2015. Online. www.zillow.com/tamp-fl/home-values/

DeNavas-Walk & Proctor, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013, September 2014, available at census.gov. 

Urban Land: Space and the city, Economist, April 4, 2015, available at Economist.com.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2013. Characteristics of New Housing. www.census.gov/contruction/chars/highlights.html

Heather Taylor, New Construction Cost Breakdown: Special Study for HousingEconomics.com, National Association of Home Builders, January 2, 2014 available at www.nahb.org courtesy of HousingEconomics.com

www.municode.com/library/fl/pasco_county/code_of_ordinances/pticoor_ch18bubure_artvmihost

Cat Johnson, “11 Tiny House Villages Redefining Home”, September 17, 2014, www.shareable.net/blog/11-tiny-house-villages-redefining-home

MicroCommunityConcepts.com,” Online.

Erik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee, The Second Machine Age (1st ed. W. W. Norton & Co. 2014)

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (John Productions 1989)

Rivad Atlas, What’s An Aging ‘Barbarian’ To Do?, New York Times, August 26, 2001, available at NYTimes.com.

“VintageAirstream.com”, 2015. www.vintageairstream.com/frequently-ask-questions-faq/general-notes-history/