Lookout for Towers

posted Apr 28, 2017, 11:10 PM by Dustin Thomas

I remember coming across an old fire lookout tower on a hike with a friend when I was younger. It was about 80 feet tall, and well past its structural prime. My friend had been there before and took great joy in running back and forth while we were up top, rocking the whole thing and terrifying me.

Despite that introduction, I've always been interested in fire lookouts. Below is a map of rent-able lookout towers - information provided courtesy of

Underwater Biking

posted Apr 20, 2017, 7:37 PM by Dustin Thomas

I wrote a post a while back titled Pedal Power about some unique pedal powered contraptions. One of my favorites was a submarine called the Scubster; and it reminded me of another project I'd seen a few years ago. It took some searching, but I finally found it. Again. It's been a while but the website looks the same as I remember it so I don't know if this is still going forward or not. It is definitely a super cool idea.

Pedal Sub
If James Bond's Q were to design an Olympic event, this would be the vehicle used. The thing was designed by a Russian professor and a company called Marine Innovation Technologies was working toward mass-producing their prototype. Maybe they are still working on it (I hope so). The projected price is/was around $50,000 so the subs aren't free, but are well with the realm of possibility. Certainly in line with what many already pay for a high-end ski boat.

It sounds like vacation resorts and other commercial operations make up most of the target audience. If you own a resort, you should know that I can’t imagine passing up the opportunity to pedal around underwater for a few bucks. Here’s a website dedicated to the project:

The more I stare at that picture, the more I want one of these things.

Now I am thinking that this is where our "get kids in shape" money should be going. Send a bunch of teenagers out in these and they'd all be world class cyclists by the end of the summer.

Grandma's Banana Jam

posted Apr 3, 2017, 3:33 PM by Dustin Thomas   [ updated Apr 3, 2017, 4:33 PM ]

I have always loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (peanut butter and jam actually, but I still say "jelly"). Really, I don't know if there is a better food out there. One thing that comes close is a peanut butter and banana sandwich - the flavor is great but it is hard to get enough banana slices in there, and it seems like whole slices end up sliding out leaving just peanut butter and bread on the next bite. Disappointing.

That's pretty much how my peanut butter-based sandwich world existed for the first 30 years of my life. Then two things happened. First, I tried a peanut butter and bacon sandwich - those are delicious too (and messy if prepared correctly). But that is a different story. The second event started with a conversation I had with my mom about pancake toppings. She eats her pancakes plain. Seems odd in and of itself so I asked what the heck she was doing. Turns out she doesn't really like maple syrup. I ask about jam. She says, "I don't like jam." Now, I know what you are thinking and the answer is: no, I don't believe my mom is insane. Even though a blanket statement like "I don't like jam" seems like the tip of the insanity iceberg. After a Tom Cruise-worthy cross examination, it turns out that she really doesn't like any kind of jam, not even homemade raspberry. At the end of this whole conversation, she casually throws out that her mom (my grandma) once got a bunch of over-ripe bananas for free and made banana jam with them. WHAT???

You see, I had never heard of banana jam. I asked her if it was good (dumb question). She of course said, "no, I don't like jam." She did add, somewhat reluctantly, that other people did seem to really like it. Luckily, my grandma was still alive then so I was able to secure her banana jam recipe - which I have now made a number of times. It's good on biscuits, it's yummy on pancakes, but where this stuff really shines is in the best peanut butter and jam sandwich you will ever taste. Here's the recipe:

Banana Jam
12 Cups sliced bananas (approximately 20)
6 Cups sugar
1.5 Cups orange juice
.75 Cups lemon juice
3 strips orange peel
6 strips lemon peel
2 cinnamon sticks
sprinkle nutmeg

Mix everything together.
Stir and heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves.
Boil gently for 10 minutes.
Simmer, stirring constantly until thick (15-20 minutes).
Remove the cinnamon sticks.

Now, it's done. You can can it if you know how to do that. I don't so I just put it in little plastic containers and freeze it. That's what us chefs call "freezer jam."

Make Me a Map

posted Mar 20, 2017, 5:22 PM by Dustin Thomas

CalTopo - Heart Lake

I love maps! I enjoy using maps to help plan trips, and I love looking at maps of places I've been to reminisce. Growing up, that meant paper maps - you know: REAL maps. I still prefer paper maps over digital maps for most things, but there are some great online mapping tools out there that certainly offer some advantages too.

One of my favorite online mapping tools is They've got the usual basics nailed: zooming, panning, printing, and distance measuring tools. They also support various basemap formats including 7.5' topos; and they allow you to view realtime data from water gauges, weather stations, and SnoTel sites.

The best part of CalTopo is the ability to customize your own map and share it with others. There are tools for adding points, paths, and other more specialized things to the base map. I've found the paths to be the most useful so far - the interface makes it quick and easy to add a path that follows a series of trails without having to draw a bunch of straight lines to approximate where you want to go. When you're done customizing your map, you are provided with a simple web address you can share with people so they see can see what you've created. You will also see a list of all the maps you have created so you can jump back to them any time.

CalTopo also allows you to import data from your GPS. You can also export to your GPS as well as a to Google Earth.

Whether you are planning a trip, reviewing an old journey, or just looking for some armchair adventure, check it out:

Flooded Mine Exploration

posted Mar 20, 2017, 4:06 PM by Dustin Thomas

First, going into an abandoned mine of any sort is dangerous. A mine filled with water is extra dangerous. There are all sorts of ways to die so don’t do it – at least, don’t say that I told you to do it.

Abandoned mines are cool though and scuba diving in one is absolutely awesome! Still, don’t do it.

People mine for precious metals all over the world. Eventually the deposit runs dry or the miners run out of money, and the mine is abandoned. Sometimes the mine entrance is intentionally collapsed to help return the area to its natural state, and to make it safer. This was very rare in the gold rush days – closing mines costs money (for “nothing”) and the miners were often in a hurry to get to the promise of the next spot. Now here in the United States, the government has gone back and dynamited many abandoned entrances while installing metal grates over some. Still others remain hidden, waiting to be found. Which is not to say that anybody should go find them – these things are dangerous. Now, some metal grates are actually locked gates which can be opened if you find the person with the key. I am not saying you should do it, just saying that it can be done.

One of the cool parts about an abandoned mine is that often people just left. They were working one day and then gone the next. It was too expensive to remove a lot of the equipment and tools that had been hauled deep into the bowels of the mine, so much of that stuff remains to be “checked out” by future explorers. Don’t let that tempt you though: Danger, danger, danger.

Now sometimes a mine was dug below the surrounding water table. That meant that pumps had to be brought in to pump the water out while the miners excavated further. These are special. When these mines were abandoned, the pumps stopped running. The excavated tunnels filled with water. This makes the mine less likely to be explored by your average Joe. It also makes them AWESOME! And dangerous!!! Don’t do it!

One thing that is safe is to watch YouTube videos of other people exploring. Kinda like watching Indiana Jones rather than being shot at yourself. A lot of the videos are from other countries (where the general attitude towards this sort of thing is much more lax). Here’s one of my favorites from Germany:

Here’s one in Washington state, which is much closer to my home. The lighting isn’t the greatest but the scenery more than makes up for it in my opinion. This is actually part two of three – all three parts are worth seeing, but I think this one is the coolest:


If you want to get in on the adventure with less risk of death, I’d recommend checking out Bonne Terre Mine near St. Louis, Missouri. Bonne Terre is a monstrous flooded mine that isn’t flooded all the way to the ceiling (in most places). So, it is really more of an underground lake allowing you to return to the surface anytime if necessary. The water is crystal clear and all “exploration” is performed with a pair of guides who lead you along designated underwater “trails.” I believe all certification levels are allowed to participate. The place is incredible!

Million vs Billion

posted Mar 14, 2017, 3:58 PM by Dustin Thomas

From a conceptual perspective, a millionaire and a billionaire seem about the same to me.  A million and a billion are both really big numbers.  Unfortunately, the government seems to think a million and a billion are about the same when it comes to spending as well.  Here’s an interesting way to put things in perspective so you can tell the two apart better:

A million seconds is about 12 days.

A billion seconds is about 32 years.

See - they are different.

Steven Callahan – Adrift

posted Mar 8, 2017, 4:57 PM by Dustin Thomas

I just finished reading Adrift, Steven Callahan’s account of the 76 days he spent drifting across the Atlantic in a life raft. The book is an absolutely gripping tale and well worth the read. Callahan’s fortitude and resourcefulness are on full display, but it is largely his preparedness that left the most lasting impression. Most survival manuals will lament on the importance of being familiar with your equipment, including practicing with it. There were certainly a few items Callahan probably wished he had tested beforehand, but for the most part he knew what he had and he knew how to use it.

I’ve heard the sermon, but always thought, “I’ll do it when I have time.” What good is my flint and steel if I’ve never used it before? What about my signal mirror – did you know there is a little red dot in there to help you aim that thing? I’ve finally turned the corner and made the extra time to become familiar with the survival items I carry in the field. It makes sense to learn at home rather than during the final 10 minutes of my life while hypothermia wins the final battle. That flint and steel is a lot harder than the guys on TV make it look. I am still practicing; and now I know to carry extra matches and a lighter and a backup lighter, just in case.

So, if you haven’t read Callahan’s Adrift, do. And if you aren’t familiar with the items in your survival kit, get familiar. If you don’t carry any sort of survival kit, uh oh…

Komati Springs

posted Mar 2, 2017, 4:14 PM by Dustin Thomas

Ever since I read Diving into Darkness, I have been intrigued by Dave Shaw’s “proving grounds” in South Africa: Komati Springs.  Komati Springs is a flooded mine that consists of a central pit that provides open water conditions down to about 160 feet.  The pit also connects to a multilevel cave system that has been explored to a little over 600 feet – some of this exploration is touched on in Diving into Darkness.  Don Shirley (Dave’s mentor and eventual dive buddy) still offers technical diving courses, including cave, at the mine.

If you are like me and you live too far away for a quick trip to South Africa, here’s a video I found of a couple diving in Komati Springs.  The video is a little dark, but it still gets my heart pumping.

Check out Don’s operation:

Airplane Mode

posted Feb 27, 2017, 8:40 PM by Dustin Thomas

It seems like whenever I am about to leave the house and need to grab my phone, the battery is almost dead. I usually make a half-attempt to throw it on the charger for a couple minutes and take off hoping there aren’t any long conversations in my future. Hopefully, the 911 operator won’t put me on hold if I am attacked by a pack of hungry wolves. Well, I hope I am not attacked by wolves at all – hungry or otherwise.

Now to the point: I heard a tip on the radio saying to put your phone in airplane mode if you are looking to charge it quickly. You still have to put it on the charger, airplane mode isn’t magic. The advantage is that your phone will charge much faster if it isn’t dinking around with signal reception. I gave it a shot the other day and it worked like a charm.

Bring it on hungry wolves!!!

Rickshaw Run

posted Feb 22, 2017, 3:08 PM by Dustin Thomas

You know how there is always some guy at the office gathering who has a crazy story about the summer he spent hitchhiking across Afghanistan? Or the woman at the bar who has everyone enthralled with her sketchy trip through Central America with her cousin and some guy named Louie? Haven’t you wanted to be that guy or girl? I am not talking about a sex change here – I am talking about the unbridled adventure that comes from putting yourself in a foreign place with only the vaguest of plans.

If you’re like me, taking a summer off to “find yourself” may no longer be in the cards. There’s still hope though, but it is going to take a little stretching of your envelope. Enter the Rickshaw Run. One of a collection of “races” setup by a group called “The Adventurists” ( If you check out their website, you will find an assortment of slightly organized activities (not really races in the conventional sense) that are sure to pique your interest. The Rickshaw Run is the original, and it is an adventure across India using one of those 3-wheeled rickshaws that aren’t bad for delivering pizza, but are somewhat lacking for what you’d typically desire in a cross-country vehicle. The Run has a start and a finish, but little else. You pick your route, you decide where to eat and sleep, you deal with the consequences of your actions. In other words: don’t go THAT way unless you enjoy being ransomed by pirates.

Check out their website for other similarly themed “races”: Here’s a video guide they put on YouTube:

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