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Ahh climate change, meaning, in this case, the change in climate from late November maritime Wales to my bone dry, eerily warm Southern Utah casa. Thanksgiving is only a week away and the autumn foliage is long gone, but the nights still aren’t freezing here, even at 7,000 feet, and there’s nary a breath of wind. Yeah, it’s easy livin’ and that’s cool, but the weather feels decidedly off. It’s as if the whole landscape is holding its breath for a seasonal change that’s stuck like a jammed bullet.
After two road weeks and a frenzied couple days of photo process, e-mails and expense sorting, I’m in post-travel fashion mode, a couch-themed guy-without-chains style my wife loathes – rogueishly unshaven in a rodent-chewed sweatshirt I scavenged from a Sierra Nevada trail, a beater parka over that, then ratty cargo shorts and puff booties. Mistress Betty’s eyes roll skyward, but the ensemble is warm for core and extremities, while the shorts lend street cred and a dash of rebel mojo.
The shorts also allow me to better bake my travel-hardened legs in the warmth of our new wood pellet stove, installed only weeks ago and now heating the spacious A-frame here at Rancho Elvis with a glass-encased campfire glow. Short version: This techno caveman stove totally rocks, providing us with a cheap, green, low-footprint heat source to replace expensive oil-refined propane. I’m quite puffy about it in a look-at-my-bright-red-Prius kinda way.
It’s a simple but effective burning process and totally thermostat controlled. Compressed wood pellets feed automatically from a hopper, a sprinkle at a time, to be incinerated in a turbocharged ceramic bowl. The bellows-enhanced flame tornadoes around in a soundproof glass enclosure, kind of like a cross between bonfire and ore smelter. Other fans force incoming air across heat exchangers and out into the room. The flame throws out light too, a flicker-in-the-grove ambiance without any soot, smoke-dodging, or ashtray smell.
I’ve already been down that road and split wood is not for me. For years I heated Fort Torrey with nothing more than pinyon logs and a space heater, but eventually I tired of crinkling newspapers in the dawn chill, and fly ash doesn’t blend well with high tech computers and film scanners. So I yanked the Franklin and put in a high-efficiency propane furnace, the only gas option available out here in Hayduke misanthrope country. All was fat for a decade, until last December when we were suddenly paying $450 a month for glorified camping gas. Not sustainable. We changed strategies to prepare for peak oil and economic slumpage.
We chose wood pellets in part because of our location near a small timber mill that specializes in salvage logging and log home building. They’ve got a huge stock of logs courtesy of the local pine beetles, along with multiple acres of scrap wood and sawdust which they now process into pressure-molded pellet fuel that strongly resembles dry cat food. This provides us a huge local supply of formerly wasted byproduct fuel, and we now pay about $45 a month for heat rather than $450. Its seems that even in 21st-century-bill-paying-suburbia, fire and sticks can still be survival staples. –Steve Howe
P.S. Heads up readers! It’s winter and the hiking rules have changed. Weather’s tougher. Packs are heavier. Days are shorter. Storms are bigger. And there’s usually no one else around to happen across your bacon and save it. Winter cold also means your crisis clock counts down much, much faster anytime something goes wrong. In fact, unexpected overnights may not be survivable without extra clothing, shelter or fire. So plan conservatively and always carry enough duds, nav gear and smarts to get you secured before nightfall. Always have enough emergency gear to make it until morning if Plan A doesn’t work. Winter is beautiful, and solitude is an easy call, but it’s like working without a net. The only second chances you’ll get are the ones you bring along.