Alice, Malice,Hellcat

My old Voodoo packs finally gave up the ghost. I purchased two packs about 5 years ago for about $125 each with the intention of keeping them for a bugout bag. Well if you’re going to have a bug out bag you should at least test them out, right? I did every weekend and over time the bags just wore out. Mostly the shoulder strap padding. The stitching has held up and I really don’t have an issue with the products themselves. I think for the money and the amount of abuse I have put them through they have been troopers. I will keep them for a range bag or light loads in the future. I can’t say they are ready for the trash bin.

So I was standing in my gear room thinking that I didn’t want to spend $400 plus for a new pack (like a Mystery Ranch) , and I really didn’t want to use my big ruck for my weekend hikes. Looking around I had an old medium ALICE pack sitting in the corner that I have never used and was given to me years ago. I also have a MOLLE II pack that is currently issued. That got me to thinking, how could I combine the two very incompatible packs into one.

Thinking that I was pretty smart and I was doing something that had never been done before I started ripping apart both packs with the goal of combing the two into one franken pack. Well I did it. Not real well I have to admit, but I did it! And I have taken it on two rucks so far with pretty good results.

I started poking around the interwebs and found a lot of videos and articles on how to do what I thought, being the smartest man in the room, had never been done before. After recovering from the smack in the back of the head I realized I wasn’t so clever. This has been done before, and by smarter people.

After reading some, I found out that I was pretty close in my attempt.

First thing I did was cut the old cinching hardware and replaced them with fasttech buckles.

The waist/hip belt and shoulder straps installed

Shoulder suspension straps attached to the frame

Replaced the internal radio pouch hardware with fasttech fastener

Added a drag handle

The magic bag of fasttech buckles. These replacement buckles came with the MOLLE II ruck as a standard issue.

Now, you’re sitting there thinking, cool! you didn’t show me how to put it all together. Well there are smarter people than me so I will include a couple links  on how to put it together properly along with how to create a drag handle, which I have to say is stupid easy to do. Some call the above modifications a HellCat, some call it a Malice like Tactical Taylor, or just a Alice pack mod. Whatever you call it, it is a pretty easy project to do in a few hours and it is pretty cheap with Alice packs in the surplus market running pretty inexpensively. A quick Google search gave me $20 for the frame and $50 for the sack. Midway sells both the frame and sack for $110. The MOLLE II straps and waist belt run around $75.

I used the two videos that are included below. Each very informative and provides a step by step on the processes. Stupid easy.

Alice pack mod

Drag handle

Alice packs have been given a pretty bad rap over the decades, and rightly so. The original Alice was never intended to carry the weights it ended up carrying, and there are a lot of guys out there with bad backs, messed up necks and knees that can attest. I only have about 12 miles on my back with this modified pack and so far it has treated pretty good. I will admit that I am only carrying about 35 lbs on my weekend rucks and I only carry what I need to get me by for a day or two. Nothing long term or an extended time out in the field.

A brief history of the Alice Pack

So what’s next?

So what’s next after you buy an off grid property? I get asked from co-workers. “you bought 43 acres? what are you going to do with it?” I really have to laugh, you don’t have to do anything with it! most people think if you don’t drive it, or if it isn’t consumable then it is a waste of money. If I say a vacation house, they all raise their eyebrows and say “ah” or “awesome”. The whole thing about no water, no electricity, and an outhouse just blows over their collective heads. 99% of people have no concept of living without modern conveniences, there is no mental reference. The ex mil guys I work with get it, civilians generally don’t.

But what do you do? Since a off grid place wasn’t really in our thought process when we set out on this adventure, it has kind of opened some possibilities and some challenges. In the beginning and right up until we found the place we purchased we were not out looking for places that were off grid.  It was mostly raw land, or land with an established  homestead. The raw land we did look at for the most part had infrastrure near by either with county water at the road, electrical service near-by, county garbage pick-up. All the modern conveniences.

After we closed on the property I did a little exercise in how do I bring the those modern things to our land? My first call was to the local electric company to see if we could have power run to the cabin. They said Sure! $7 a foot! and by the way? roughly, that will be $18,000.  I thanked the engineer for his time and hung up.  So electric is out of the question for now. Maybe down the road we will look at solar, wind power, or a generator.

Water, well? (no pun) a few options available are, have it delivered? about $200 for 2000 gals. Bring it in ourselves? Rain water catchment system? Or drilling a well at $10 a ft? I was able to look up what the average well depth in the area of the cabin. 850 ft. with a static level of around 700 to 750 ft. and no guarantee of hitting anything other than rock. Then how do you pump it out without 222 volt electrical service?

Grey water and black water? We do have an outhouse. And a pretty decent one at that. Grey water right now just runs outside, we produce very little grey water.

The poop house, or what I call the shit factory

out-house

 

We spent  5 days over the Christmas Holiday in the cabin and had a few learning curves to go through first. No refrigeration, no flushable toilet, no showers, and conserving the water we did bring in by using it sparingly. Our potable water was hauled in using 5 gallon plastic carboys that I purchased from Walmart for $7 each. During our stay  our daily usage was about 5 gallons a day for 2 adults and 1 dog.

The cabin is fully wired and the previous owners used a generator to hook up to the cabin from outside connection or plug in. I found out the hard way that the inlet was wired initially for a 50 amp 220 volt plug.  I swapped out the 50 amp inlet (female plug) to accept a 30 amp male connection so I could connect my generator to the cabin. Easy right? Remember I mentioned 220 volts a few lines above? Yeah well, when you change to a 30 amp 120 volt connection to the wire or circuit that was wired for a split 220 volt input you now have 2 hot wires, a common, and a ground. I learned this after the incident, read on.

I plugged in a battery charger for my screw gun and I have never seen that amount of pure white sparks come out of a piece of electrical equipment like that in my life! Kinda cool but it did cost me $70 to replace the charger. Lesson learned. I did have a circuit tester with me and went around and tested all the outlets before I plugged anything else in. I found only 1 outlet and 2 overhead lights that worked “properly”. Only knowing basic electricity I am going to leave it up to the pros to come out and look at how the panel is wired. I know the previous owner was a welder by trade and he was using a generator that he runs his welding equipment with to power the cabin. Most of those are 50 amp 220v right?

Propane is the main source of heat and cooking for the cabin. A really neat thing is the previous owners installed Humphrey Gas Lights negating the real need for electric lights. Based on my experience, these little lamps kick out the heat, enough to keep the entire cabin warm enough to sit around in a t-shirt and jeans on a 30 degree night. I mentioned that cooking is also done with propane. There is a propane stove/oven installed and we cooked a pot roast during our Christmas stay, it was 57 degrees out that day and close to 95 inside with that oven going. Talk about kicking the BTU’s!

These are all challenges, not show stoppers in our book. And what is really cool? we don’t really need any of the modern conveniences to enjoy our stays.

In the immediate our intent is to use the property as a vacation get away for now. Long term? slowly develop the property or maybe not. I do know we are going to install a rainwater catchment system for our needs into the foreseeable future. With 800 sq ft of roof? why not? it’s not California and the rain is still free.

 

cabin

Pulling the trigger

5 or so years ago my wife and I were looking for a place to take a extended weekend away. What we were looking for was someplace quiet, away from crowds, fairly inexpensive, and not a long drive from our house. I’m not sure of the chain of events but the spousal unit picked Eureka Springs Arkansas for our long weekend, it was one of the few times in my life where I knew I wanted to be and wanted to come back to permanently.

 

out-house

Fast forward a few years to present day and after easily visiting Arkansas 8 or so times since that initial visit we felt we needed to make a change in our lives. We spent a fair portion of those trips “looking” at houses, and just raw land. What I wanted and what the wife wanted were 2 wildly different things. That can be hard thing to reconcile if you are not prepared for that sort of vision disagreement. We spent literally, months and years almost daily searching the interwebs looking at listings. There was a lot of back and forth about what I wanted and what the wife wanted. At times the wants and needs were wildly at opposites ends of the spectrum. If you are not prepared for a compromise, you will never have buy in from your spouse. It will always be something that she, or he will never participate in.

We did engage a realtor once on our first discovery trip and told her from the beginning that we were a couple years out from pulling the trigger on a purchase. We also shared with her we preferred to look at land on our own without a agent standing there looking at her watch. I want to beat the brush and see what is over the next hill, like, is there a hog farm with a 100,000,000 gallon pond of pig shit waiting for the next heavy rain to burst the banks and let loose with a wall of shit on me, downstream?

The agent didn’t stay with us, even after a courtesy call every time we popped into town.,How are things going? do you have a moment to pull a couple listings for us?  Nothing major like drive us all over NW Arkansas so when can go shopping (yes that happens).  On our trip this last September she was kind of indignant and distant. Her loss. There are too many other agents out there willing to be flexible for us to deal with someone who in the end just kind of became a bitch. I worked for 2 major Real Estate companies in my past and learned a lot about agent personalities. Majority are great!, a small minority can’t be bothered of you are spending more than $500,000. She fell into the minority.

We did narrow our search in September and became more serious about what and where we wanted to eventually settle. We found 2 listings and I called for more information. It so happened the agent listing the property turned out to be a great person, down to earth, very laid back, and fit our personalities. The properties we looked at were a bust, either they needed a lot of work, the owner was to set on to high a price, or there was just something hinky about how they were getting water, from the neighbors? By November we found 2 places that we wanted to see that was 2 counties over from where we originally looked back in September. We called our “new” agent and she was more than willing to meet us not only an hour’s drive away from her office but at 0900 in the morning.

We followed her car out to the first listing on our sheet of we wanna see’s for that day, 43 acres with a small off grid cabin. It turned out to be a really neat place tucked back in the woods sitting on a bluff overlooking a small valley. The agent and I did a little hike on the property, while we were gone the wife had gone over the cabin. She looked at me and said, let’s make an offer! Wow! ok, I wasn’t expecting her to say that.

Well, we made an offer, and then a counter offer. The closing took a bit longer than normal, and it was on us. We changed mortgage companies midway through the process mostly because of the interest rates being offered, but we also found out no one wanted to finance an off grid property or raw land.  That wasn’t our intent at the beginning, to find an off grid place. It just happened.

The amount of financing we wanted was also a factor for changing midstream, for some mortgage companies that was an issue, not enough.

Insurance was also an issue, no insurance company will want to take the risk on a off grid property either. Another point learned was, yes if you borrow money the mortgage company will want insurance to protect their investment, duh. I do have to say that I did know the above information, it was more of a reminder than a realization.

As soon as the words “no utilities” are mentioned, because they will ask, most companies say no. The other thing we experienced is companies will insure you, but you will pay for it. And other companies were a flat out “say no”.  It wasn’t until a insurance adjuster actually went out to the place and had a look for himself before we were able to get a honest insurance rate.

Off grid is a relatively new phenomenon in the mortgage and insurance world from my experience, so if you are going down that path of off grid, it isn’t as simple as obtaining pre approval on a regular home mortgage or insurance.

 

 

So here are a couple takeaways if you are going down the off grid path, whether directly or indirectly like us.

Local mortgage companies, credit unions, or banks and insurance companies are your go to guys if you do go  looking for insurance or a mortgage. They understand the local market better than some algorithm in a mainframe located 1000 miles away with a customer rep reading a script does. We went local for both financing and insurance. We were pre approved on a conventional loan and having all my financial information available and at an arms reach helped the process. The credit union we used also gave me a veterans discount. It saved a few dollars.

Rural loans take a bit more leg work to do than the conventional. Expect push back from some companies either on the mortgage or insurance side, they may want more documentation, and in some cases more money upfront in the form of a down payment. Do your homework, and be aware that your options are far fewer in the rural mortgage and insurance world than the conventional market. We found that 20 yr. mortgages are the norm on rural loans, that can be good and it can be bad. A bad would be, If you’re strapped monetarily by taking on a second mortgage or able to put more money towards a down payment.

We also discovered our current home owners insurance will cover liability on the property but none on the cabin, cabin interior or any other structures located on the property. We had to make many phone calls to local insurance agencies to find coverage on the cabin and the contents inside.

With all the extra time and legwork it was a good learning exercise and worked out. Wouldn’t do it again, but I am better prepared if I do.

A picture of bliss

porch-view

 

In the end it worked out, and we were able to capitalize on a still fairly down market.

Boots, and socks

Quite a few months ago I had a comment on a post asking what type of boots and socks I use. I know in the past I have written about boots, blisters, and foot care ad nauseum. I suffered through a lot of bad blisters over the past couple of years, mostly to poor fitting boots. And I tried everything that was suggested to me by former Infantry guys and then some. Suffered is an understatement.

After wearing Naval steel toe flight boots, Army GI issue boots (23 years worth), reading a lot of boot reviews, talking to other joes, and a number of bad choices, I landed on Rocky boots, S2V type. I have rucked, did some running in them, and with around 500 miles over the last year and change. I, have not had any major foot issues since wearing these bad boys. The only 2 things I have done since the initial purchase was to replace the insoles with the same Rocky branded type that I bought direct from Rocky for around $30. I just wore out the original set out, so they needed replacing. The other was, I just used some GI suede boot cleaner/conditioner to keep the leather pliable.

This is not a sales pitch for Rocky boots, but I highly suggest a consideration if you are shopping for hiking boots.

The stitching is solid (triple stitched) and I have not had any separation of any kind anywhere on the boot so far. The Vibram soles still look like the day I took them out of the box and the laces have held up very well with no wear or rub marks from pulling them though the eyelets. The inside of the soles are made for Air Assault repelling (which is not something I do on my weekends) High Walled I think is the term Rocky uses along with a Cordura patch for abrasion resistance.  Rocky thought these boots out for the person or warrior that will be living in their boots.

The point I am trying to make is, with so many kinds of boots on the market you may have to spend some money, do research to find the kind of boot that is right for you. I think an even bigger issue is you have to walk in them, with weight on your back. Just can’t get around it. You have to walk with a pack on your back.

Boots are like anything else you have to find what works for you. My friend wears Keens, I can’t I need the extra ankle support that Keen’s do not offer me.

rkc050__96847.1439386855.1280.1280

Socks, again like the boots above. You just have to try different types out. I have worn cotton white tube socks, GI issue socks, Fox brand socks, and a couple others that I can’t remember the names of. I settled on Bass Pro Red Head Mountain Bear socks. Just can’t beat them in my book. The Red Heads are knee high, a wool blend that washes in a normal laundry cycle and dries quickly.


sox

As long as you are changing your socks you won’t have foot issues. Just a fact.

I normally change my socks every 5 miles or so when I am rucking. Just having dry socks on (winter or summer) not only keeps your feet in good shape, but dry socks are a real moral booster.

What do you do with your wet socks? hang them off the back of your ruck and let them dry as you walk. Simple huh?

That’s my thought’s. Everyone is different, feet sweat more, or less. Need more ankle support, blister easy or less, wear their boots tighter or looser. But, to beat a dead horse, you have to ruck march with a weighted pack.