Frank-ly Speaking

posted Jun 20, 2017, 9:18 AM by Dustin Thomas   [ updated Jun 20, 2017, 9:42 AM ]

Frank Church
In total, there are over 600 million acres of public land that are owned equally by ALL Americans. That's nearly a million square miles. If it was all arranged into a single, uniform land mass, it would be over 1000 miles across. That's a lot of land!

Unfortunately, public lands come with a lot of controversy. How should they be used? Who should manage them? What about financial benefits? The issues are complicated and I am still trying to wrap my head around a lot of it.

The bottom line though is that this land is out there and you are missing out if you don't go enjoy it. To that end, I am helping lead a group of Boy Scouts on a 50-mile hike through part of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area in Idaho. We've been strengthening our muscles, honing our packing skills, and gathering as much knowledge as possible in preparation for what promises to be a very memorable trip. I've lived in Idaho for over 20 years, so the Frank is something I've come to cherish. I thought I would share a couple interesting tidbits I recently picked up regarding our beloved Frank:

I thought I knew that the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area was the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states (and probably the longest name). Turns out, that isn't true. Death Valley Wilderness Area is actually larger by about 600,000 acres. Here's a table of wilderness areas in the United States for those interested in the numbers: Now I think I remember someone once hedging the "Frank is largest" talk with something about being all within one state - Death Valley Wilderness Area is in both California and Nevada. The point becomes a little moot when considering all 50 states because Alaska is king (Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness is almost twice as big as Death Valley and The Frank combined).

I was listening to back issues of The Dirtbag Diaries yesterday and I heard about one of the coolest ideas ever. The episode was titled "The Remotest" and it chronicled Rebecca and Ryan Means's plan to visit the most remote spot in all 50 states. One thing that caught my attention was the mention of Idaho's most remote spot being 17.9 miles from a road. I thought that had to be wrong. Could 17.9 miles really be the furthest you could get from a road in Idaho? I doubted it right up until I pulled out my Frank Church River of No Return map and took a look for myself. Yup, it looks like they did their homework. Thinking about it, 17.9 miles from any road really means that you are 17.9 miles from at least 2 different roads (otherwise you could move over and be more remote), That's nearly 36 roadless miles as the crow flies. That is a long ways. Rebecca and Ryan have chronicled many of their adventures, including an extensive write-up about their Idaho trip on their website: Take a look!

That's all I have for now. Get out and play on your land!

Loft in the Trees

posted Jun 13, 2017, 12:01 PM by Dustin Thomas

I saw this on Pinterest and had to know more:

Tree Net 

I did some looking around, trying to find where I could buy one of these “lofts.” It didn’t take long to figure out this was not a “product” I could go buy. The key ingredient is fairly easy to find online: treehouse netting. There are multiple tree house supply stores that sell this stuff (check out the netting at Another good option is The Net House: – you can custom order your net including a roped border to make it closer to “ready to install.” Both sites also sell the hardware you’ll need to get it installed. I’d recommend working with an arborist or someone else familiar with rope work in trees (or don’t hang it higher than you are comfortable falling from). Here’s some very general information to help get you started:

One Knot

posted Jun 8, 2017, 9:50 AM by Dustin Thomas

I've said it too many times to count: if you only know 1 knot, make it the bowline.

The bowline is primarily used to tie a loop in the end of a rope that won't tighten. Boy Scouts teach it as a rescue knot that can be used to tie around the chest of a stranded person and haul them up to safety. I've come close to using it for that once - I used it to aid a person who was trying to climb a short vertical section of a cave. I've used it many more times for non-rescue applications: tie a rope to a post, make a loop for a tow hook, impress the ladies - with all with different degrees of success. You can even use two interlocking bowlines to tie two ropes together, and it will be easy to get them back apart later.

Here is an instructional video on tying the bowline:

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…

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