Let’s do a little experiment

Welcome back science enthusiasts! This week I’m going to talk a bit about the scientific process, and the importance of the first experiment.

So, full disclosure – I’ve been a bit slow in getting this blog going, so Geo-wife and I are actually pretty far into making our plans. I’ll write more in detail about our planning process later, and get into some neat science that we’ve run into during our decision making, but I’d like to catch you up to where we are as a bunch of stuff is starting to come together now. Here’s where we stand.

First off, we’ve bought a new car. It’s an SUV, which we wanted both for the off-road ability and for the storage capacity. This was a bit of a surprising decision for us (I think I mentioned that we’re both eco-nuts), but it turns out that the SUV we picked actually gets better gas mileage than our old civic. Cars have come a long ways in the past 16 years. More on this later, but for the moment suffice it to say that we’ve solved our car problem, and we’ve tried to do so in as environmentally friendly of a way as we could while keeping this road trip in mind.

The second problem was being uncertain how to camp with an infant, particularly in the event of inclement weather. Geo-wife in particular has spent a lot of time looking into how to do this well, while I’ve taken a bit of a lazy approach and networked with friends and colleagues who have personal experience. Two different approaches to what I might call a ‘literature review.’ The short version is that it’s actually not too hard – mostly you just need a lot of clothes, replacement clothes, warm layers (for both day and night), and some form of sun protection. We’re pretty sure that we’ve got what we need to keep our Little Miss protected from the sun during the day and comfy and warm at night, even if it dips a bit below freezing. We’ll still need to bump up the preparations a bit if we’re taking her into a full-on northern winter with snow camping, but in the warm Arizona fall we’re going to be OK.

We were also admonished to “just not over think it,” which is often sound advice when trying something out after researching it for a bit. Fundamentally, we’re just moving Little Miss’s bed into the outdoors, which means bundling her into more and warmer layers. All the normal rules still apply – keep her on a firm surface free of blankets or pillows that she might suffocate on. We’ve got a number of warm layers designed for an infant to sleep in that will let us adjust how she’s bundled up based on the predicted weather (and change her layering if needed), along with redundancies for the inevitable accidents, spitups, and drool. Did I mention that Little Miss is a serious drooler? As for a firm surface, she’s actually going to be sleeping on her change pad. This may sound crazy, but it meets most of the criteria, and it fits in our tent along with us and our gear. It’s not perfectly flat, but it should be safe enough, and the raised sides may help keep her from scooting off of it while she sleeps. So, yay! Don’t worry – we’ll make certain that the changing pad is clean before we let her sleep on it.

As for the third task, we’ve added a bit to our equipment. This involved a few necessary updates, like a full camping stove for family car camping rather than our old pocket-rocket style single burner backpacking stove. We’ve also invested in a bear bag for food stuffs, a new hatchet, an LED camp lantern, and few other sundries. We’re trying to keep the new equipment to a minimum for the moment as we’re still in the early stages of preparation. We’ll get into equipment in more detail once we start testing stuff out and seeing what works, what doesn’t, and what we wish we had. This leads us to our present stage in the planning process – the first test.

Every good scientist knows that however much they’ve planned, there will inevitably be a time when those plans need to be tested. In science, we usually refer to this as the experiment, and the first experiment is often one of the most important. You know that you’ve prepared, and you’ve put your best plans into effect, but there’s always that uncertainty about whether or not it will really work out. Once you do the experiment you’ll know if your research agenda has a chance of success, and maybe even an idea of just how much more work you’ll have to do to get there in the end. It’s frightening, but if you never take that first step then you’re not really doing research – just making plans that you’ll never fulfill.

This is where we are now – it’s time to make a first test. Have you ever read the book The Martian? It’s about a future astronaut, Mark Watney, who gets stranded on Mars. He builds a plan to survive, making a list of tasks he needs to accomplish, and ultimately tests his plans with increasingly ambitious trials. For example, he invents a creative way to extend the range of his rover, allowing him to travel further from his base camp. Unfortunately in the process, he nearly freezes himself to death. Sorry – minor spoiler there – but that’s where we’re at.

We’re going camping – away from our base of operations, but not so far away that we can’t abort if things go wrong. We’re also hoping not to freeze ourselves to the rover floor. All joking aside, we presently reside in Phoenix, so we’re going to travel a few hours to the east to the Tonto National Forest. The weather will be a touch cooler than down here in the valley, but it shouldn’t be anything too extreme. There’s a ton of neat geology there, which we’ll explore and write about, and some good camp grounds. Our plan is to drive out, camp for a few days, and test our current equipment. If it works well, it will build up our confidence to try going further afield. If it goes poorly, we’ll abort back to home, and hopefully learn something in the process.

So, here we are. We’ve developed a plan, loaded the car, and we’re headed out into the wild. This isn’t the grand trip where we’re expecting to be away from home for weeks or months at a time, but it is our first trial. The initial experiment. If all goes well, then we’ll know that we can do this crazy thing. If it doesn’t, we’ll learn why it doesn’t and be better able to design an improved plan. If you’d like to follow us, feel free to watch our feed on Instagram. Or, you know, just wait here for the next post.

Until next time.

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