Saturday, July 11, 2009

Counting Calories

The customers want to take a commercial flight to Alaska while we transport their uncheckable oversized gear instead. We went out to the airplane to check if the most awkward piece of customer equipment would fit in the airplane. With some rearranging of what we already have, the conclusion was yes. It's amazing how asymmetric an airplane can be and still look symmetrical. The wing lockers are not the same size or shape.

The other odd thing, as I mentioned before, is going north to the United States. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around that. As I packed for this trip, I looked at my passport and thought to myself that it was unlikely I would need it. I knew we would be concentrating on the northern areas during the few weeks of the year that they aren't covered in snow, but of course I brought it anyway and now I'm headed north across a border. I keep having to remind myself that all the things that apply going south, apply to this border crossing, too. In Canada the US is referred to as "Our Southern Neighbours." It's just odd going north into their country, and not have it be one of the technically north bits like between the Great Lakes in the Detroit-Windsor area or the Angle near Kenora. The customers promise to get us a list of all the equipment and serial numbers for our customs broker. Our route will pretty much follow the Alaska highway to Fairbanks, where we'll clear customs and from there up the Dalton Highway to the coast. I was really surprised to learn that there was a road all the way to the coast.

I went to buy the rest of the Alaska emergency supplies. The rules didn't specify that we needed a fishing rod, just fishing tackle, and I'm sure one could improvise a fishing rod from the wreckage or catch fish on handlines, but I'm thinking we could have some fun and "test" our survival gear. A collapsible fishing rod is $30 but a kid's rod is only $15. I have a choice of Pirates of the Caribbean, Barbie, or Disney Princesses. I chose the one that came with a bonus tackle box.

Bughoods are cheap and available, no problem. The guy at the hunting store tried to sell me a better, electric device for repelling mosquitoes. He touts it as able to create a five metre radius zone devoid of mosquitoes. An area effect spell, in D&D terms. He didn't use D&D terminology, though. Not a lot of hunting store proprietors do, I imagine. It would probably be great, sitting on the ramp in northern Alaska in a mosquito-free zone. But I stick to the shopping list.

I'm also looking for survival food. What I want is a little pile of bland-to-yucky, shelf stable, high calorie, survival food bars. Something that won't be destroyed by immersion, won't tempt someone to eat out of boredom, and that requires no preparation, so you can eat it while sitting in the remains of your mangled aircraft with a broken leg, cowering under your bughood and wrapped in your emergency blanket. The hunting store has lightweight foil-packaged meals, but you have to boil them in a pot with water, and I want no-preparation food.

This store is out of signalling devices, so I try another. Most people probably fulfill this requirement with special shells, but lacking a rifle or shotgun, I have to find a self-contained device. Eventually I find a pen-type device that comes with both signal flares and bear bangers. Seems to fill the bill. It's almost fifty dollars, but it has to be both safe, and fire pyrotechnics, so one has to pay for that. This store also just has boil-in-bag hunting food, for people who plan to eat it. Emergency food should, you see, be barely palatable, so you only eat what you have to.

Plan B is to just buy reasonably long-life items like granola bars. Not as calorie-dense, but they'll have to do. Now that I reread the requirement for "food sufficient to sustain life" for one week, I kind of go "huh?" A pack of tic-tacs should meet that. You don't starve to death in a week. You just get really hungry. But on the shopping trip I had "a weeks worth of food per person" in my head, and hadn't read carefully enough to see that all I had to do was sustain life. So what's a week's food? I fixed on the number two thousand calories a day. I think that's what the RDA on food packaging is based on. So with two people on board, I needed 28,000 calories (or kcal, or however you want to count them). The word calorie is kind of like pesos: you have to know which multiplier you are dealing with. According to the side panel nutritional information, a box of granola bars is about 1000 calories. I pick up seven of those. So, 21,000 calories to go. How about some sardines? I pick up a can and read the label. It's only a hundred and ten calories. So I'd need eighteen cans for a day's worth of calories. What? I know for a fact that I can bicycle for fourteen hours fuelled by only eight cans of sardines. Maybe these are low-calorie sardines. There are some of those little cheese snack things with cracker sticks. They are also marked as 110 calories each. What? I could eat eighteen of those before dinner and still eat dinner. I think I don't understand calories. I throw in a couple of bags of raisins, some beef jerky. Still 19,000 calories to go. I eye the candy aisle. I mean, wow, I'm starting to understand why so many people fulfill much of their daily caloric requirements through junk food.

I fill the quota mainly with different sorts of energy bars. I'm imagining how mad or grateful people would be if they really were stranded in the woods for a week eating what I had purchased. So maybe I will throw in a bit of candy, too.

Back at the hotel, I mention the 2000 calorie per day figure that I used and get responses ranging from "maybe for YOU; I'd need at least 3000!" down to "I'd think 300 would be enough." I probably went overboard, but the food will get eaten in the end. I buy a mouse-resistant plastic container to seal it all in, and stash it in the airplane with the axe, tarps, water purification and other emergency supplies. Also my computer, which I left running, seems to have shut itself down. Curious. At the time I thought perhaps it downloaded an automatic update and got confused trying to reboot itself. I hit the on-button: the light came on and the fan started up, so I went for supper. Damn that constant need for calories.

Ironically, I return to the hotel in time to catch the second half of an episode of Survivorman. I've never seen it before but another blogger recommended it. The star of the one-man-show is pretending to have survived a small airplane crash in the Temiscaming winter, with a broken arm. After four days he admits he's not doing that well, and has just abandoned the fake broken arm to take a partly frozen rabbit out of a snare. As he prepares the rabbit, the footage is edited to reduce the gore on TV, which is too bad because I've never dressed a rabbit. I know some wild animals have musk glands that you should remove properly before cooking, and I don't know what they look like. I also remember that you can get sick from a diet of only rabbits. He does mention the latter and explains that you can protect yourself from protein poisoning by eating the bone marrow, eyeballs and organs.

His next move goes against the normal advice for air crashes. He builds a toboggan out of the wreckage and starts to walk back to civilization, towing his gear on the toboggan. I think that's part of the premise of the show, that he always has to prove his ability to escape from the situation. Air crash wisdom is that one should stay with the airplane because it is an easier target for searchers, may have been observed on radar (okay, probably not in Temiscaming), may be sending an ELT signal, and perhaps provides shelter. And you need fewer calories to stay in one place than to struggle through the snow.


dpierce said...

Calories =/= satiation. 140 cals from a can of Coke versus 140 cals from a candy bar ... both give you the same amount of energy, but only one helps you feel full.

In a survival situation, ideally, I'd think you could easily use more than 2000 cal/day. But 2000 is certainly more than enough to maintain life.

Calories are a great simple metric of energy, but energy found by a calorimeter in a lab doesn't necessarily equate to energy extracted by the body. Carbs cals are burnt very differently from protein cals -- a whole different metabolic process. For short term survival, it's carbs that will keep you alive and kicking.

Chocolate is not only good for energy, but morale.

It's great you're putting so much thought into this, and fun (as always) to follow along. (I like Survivorman, too.)

Jimmy Mack said...

Hey, just a quick point from my old survival training days - a great reflective device is a CD. You can use the centre hole to aim it, and they are visible over 2 miles away by an aircraft. Unfortunately, no one carries CDs around anymore! But they don't take up a lot of space in a survival kit. said...

I'm a pilot and live in Fairbanks, Alaska if you need any local contact type info or assistance or lunch while you're in town.

townmouse said...

There are detailed instructions on skinning and dressing a rabbit here. (Then go on to read the comments, if you fancy a laugh)

Icebound said...

I wonder what the world does with all those unused pyrotechnics bought by boaters and pilots....
which expire in 4 years and must be replaced to remain legal....

...more like 3 years, really... because it's usually almost a year after manufacture that they actually hit the store shelves...

Geekzilla said...

"... Sitting in the remains of your mangled aircraft with a broken leg, cowering under your bughood and wrapped in your emergency blanket."


Maybe you can resort to eating a less-than-lucky customer or crew member. I wonder how many calories are in the edible portion of an average human. At least it's gluten free.

Aviatrix said...

Love the rabbit skinning advice.

The trick with the pyrotechnics is to buy the ones with an expiry date in July, so you can set them off for Canada Day/Bastille Day/the 4th of July. I've never done that, and I'm sure someone's going to tell me it's illegal now.

Anonymous said...

A serious weight loss diet is 500KCal a day (when you read "calories" anywhere on food items they really mean KCal).

1500KCal a day is enough for the average person with normal activity to not gain weight.

If you're planning of hiking out of the Alaska wilderness, you probably need more than that, especially in winter.

So go on 1500KCal a day per person if you plan to wait for rescue.
If after 3 days there's still no rescue, you can cut rations to a third and have 2 more weeks of food. You're going to loose weight, but you're going to survice for over 2 weeks. And if you're not found in 3 weeks (you can go the last 3 days without food if you've not found any sources near the crash site) you're not found, you're unlikely to be found.

In fact those protein shakes might be a good idea. Each package is self-contained, just add to a container of some sorts with some water and shake vigorously.
And they not just contain all the KCal you need in ready to use form, they also contain all food supplements you need (vitamins, trace elements). After all, they're designed to be used as the sole source of food for a person on a strict diet for weeks on end.
And some brands also come in the form of candy(like) bars, with the worst of them tasting like sawdust (thus fulfilling your requirement that the food be just barely edible).

Anonymous said...

"I wonder what the world does with all those unused pyrotechnics bought by boaters and pilots....
which expire in 4 years and must be replaced to remain legal.... "

My guess is that the majority of people that buy them just put them in a bag in their boat or aircraft and never look at them again.
Then, when and if there's a coast guard (or whatever) inspection and they get told their pyros are no longer legal and need replacement (with a fine if the inspector is nasty) they get massively embarrassed, throw the things in the garbage (rather than correct disposal) and buy new ones that end up the same.
Just like most people that buy canned food for "emergencies" and never refresh or rotate their stock with new.

Cirrocumulus said...

Geekzilla: make sure you eat the vegetarians first, because the higher up the food chain you are, the more animals' pollution you accumulate.