Thursday, January 29, 2009

Low tech canoeing VIII

Continuing about my 1948 canoe trip from "Wooden Canoe":

" Grandpa complained that the one thing they could count on throughout the trip was that the wind would always be in their faces, no matter from which direction they were paddling. The same phenomenon held true for smoke from campfires---always in the eyes."

We only got really lost once. It was after a day in civilization. When we reached the northernmost point of our journey we had arrived at the little wide-place-in-the road on TransCanada Highway 17 known as Wabigoon. We spent a short time in a Hudson's Bay Post replenishing our provisions and a long time in an Official Ontario Purveyor of Beer. We returned late to our last campsite which we had named "Slimy Island" because that's what it was. Next morning we are off on the return which, after some upstream paddling and a couple of portages, will find us in the Turtle River, a tributary of Rainy Lake. In a big marshy bay we find what we think is the right river flowing in and confidently head upstream. It is extremely serpentine thus masking what direction we were really heading. The hangovers from the previous day's imbibing didn't help. Late in the day we came to a bridge where no bridge should be. We have inadvertently arrived back at the TransCanada Highway an unknown number of miles east of where we spent the day before. Determined not to waste an entire day we decide to skip camping and spend the night going back downstream to where we started the day. So with the bow man snoozing and the stern man steering we drifted all the way back to our point of departure. Daylight enables us to find the right stream and we are on our way again. Today I used Google Earth and MapQuest to go back and relive that misadventure.

" The year 1948 was back in what Grandpa called the good old days when smoking was fun and guilt-free. The veterans' habits had been nurtured during the war by the availability of cigarettes at 5 cents per pack in the PX or ship's store and free in field rations. The point of his telling about their low-cost addiction was to try to explain away why, after leaving their last pack of cigarettes on a rock towards the end of the trip, two grown men would paddle back several miles to retrieve the fags and travel an equal distance to get back to where they turned around. Grandpa said that one consolation was that one of these legs was downwind."

Cigarette adds used to dominate magazines and radio like prescription drug commercials and two-page ads dominate TV and magazines now. My Dad smoked Camels so that was what I learned on. I didn't start until I was 19 and had a hard time with coughing and hacking but I stuck with it until it took. "I'd Walk a Mile for a Camel" their ad went. "Lucky Strike Green Has Gone to War" their ad said when they changed from green packs to white to save chromium. "Blow a Little My Way" said the seductive girl to the Chesterfield smoker.

"It was four skinny, hard muscled, sun tanned, mosquito bitten, unshaven, smelly canoeists who successfully and happily arrived back at Rainy Lake. Ken, Ned and Jim, freshly graduated from engineering school, went on to start their careers and John went back to college."

John and Ken are gone now but Ned is still around, living in a fancy retirement community on the Atlantic. The Old Town Otca still exists, one year older than I am, but that's another story

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Low tech canoeing part VII

Continuing about our 1948 canoe trip from "Wooden Canoe".

"In portaging as well as in paddling the two teams were well matched. The huskier team carried the heavier Old Town and the smaller team carried the lighter Penn Yan. All portages were two man carries. No one had the skill to carry an 18 footer solo."

"Attempts to emulate the Indians by carrying gear with a tumpline over the forehead failed miserably. They could not stand the pain in the neck caused by the weight of the packs. The four college guys had to admit that volleyball, downhill skiing, or elbow bending does not develop neck muscles. The best pack turned out to be a war surplus ski trooper rucksack. It rode on the hips, had a low center of gravity, and had room to lash bulky gear on top."

(Another pack we used was a war surplus bent-plywood packboard that the Infantry used to carry mortar parts or the Quartermasters used to backpack ammunition or jerry cans. It worked OK but you always had to lash or unlash the load. We also had a traditional frame and canvas packboard. We placed the packboards in the bottom of the canoes to keep the loads out of the wet. We used GI ponchos to wear in the rain, cover the load or string up as a kitchen fly. Let's put it this way, most everything an infantryman wore or used to live and fight in the open was useful to the canoeist traveling in the wild, GI mess kits for instance. Of course we didn't have to wear helmets or carry rifles.)

(The cover photograph of the June 1997 issue of "Wooden Canoe" that carried Adam's story showed Ned and Ken portaging the Penn Yan upside down over their heads. It shows that for shoes they wore regular sneakers. Brother John wore war surplus canvas jungle boots from the South Pacific. I wore L.L.Bean canvas canoe shoes. I think the L.L.Bean shoes were best.)


These are from my narrative/monograph "Locating Michigan's Old Canoe Portages":

In an article in the August 1893 issue of "Harper's New Monthly Magazine", Frederic Remington, famed for his western art, tells of a canoe trip on an Ontario river:

"...a mile of impossible rapids made a 'carry' or 'portage' necessary. Slinging our packs and taking the seventy-pound canoe on our shoulders, we started down the trail. The torture of this sort of thing is as exquisitely perfect in its way as any ever devised. A trunk porter in a summer hotel simply does for a few seconds what we do by the hour, and as far as reconciling this to an idea of physical enjoyment, it cannot be done." At the end of the portage he concludes, "...and it is with a little thrill of joy and the largest sigh of relief possible when we again settle the canoe in the water."

The late Canadian canoeist/artist Bill Mason echoes this sentiment in his beautiful video "Water Walker", "Anybody who tells you portaging * is fun is either gotta be a liar or crazy. Now the walk back for the second load, that's the part I like."
* He pronounced it port-ta'-zhing with with the "a" like in "tag".

Deep River Jim said: "Nothing feels quite so good as the rest at the end of the carry."

Low tech canoeing part Vl

Continuing from the "Wooden Canoe" article about my 1948 canoe trip in Western Ontario.

"Shooting rapids was a thrill in more ways than one. It never dawned on them that they should have life jackets (this was before these were called "personal floatation devices"). Deep River Jim's book didn't mention them and Lloyd's Emporium didn't say anything either. Their whitewater training was strictly on-the-job when they started encountering rapids far, far out in the wilderness. Grandpa said that if they really screwed up and need to be rescued, they intended to set an island on fire in the hope that the Canadian authorities would fly over to see what's going on."

"The Otca and the Penn Yan performed admirably in the rapids (no longer catamaraned of course). They slid off rocks that their drivers weren't skilled enough to avoid with hardly any damage beyond scratched paint. Even when their drivers involuntarily bailed out, the canoes continued to run the rapids (upside down or right side up depending on what caused the paddlers' departure). Then the canoes would wait patiently in some downstream eddy until the swimming or wading voyageurs arrived. The performance of these canoes was a true testament to the practicability of wood and canvas, said Grandpa."

"According to him, the most difficult decision when facing a rapids often was not so much whether to run it, but whether to unload the canoe and carry the gear around. A bad decision in this regard meant wet sleeping bags for a couple of nights and the scorn and/or pity of one's companions."

(We didn't need maps or a guidebook to know when we were going to face a rapids. You could hear the roar well upstream and the louder the roar, the worse the rapids. We would get to shore upstream of the rapids and scout them out. The really bad ones and the falls we would portage around. The ones we decided to run we had to choose whether to run them loaded or empty. Each canoe dumped once. When brother John and I dumped we were empty, having portaged out gear around. When Ken and Ned dumped, they were loaded thus causing a delay until they could get their sleeping bags etc. dried out.).

(When you get dumped from your canoe in a rapids the thing to do to avoid serious injury is to go down on your back feet first using your arms out like a double-bladed kayak paddle.When John and I dumped it was because we didn't hit a triangular standing wave on center. I can still replay in my mind slow-motion that tilt and dump).

( Happily none of us got hurt on the trip. We were prepared. We had a good first aid kit and were well trained. Advanced First Aid was part of the curriculum at the Colorado School of Mines. I suppose that's because we were expected to graduate to hazardous jobs. Ken and Ned had Mining Engineer degrees and did, in fact, pursue mining engineering careers, mostly in foreign countries. John had already had a ship sunk out from under him in the Pacific so he was no virgin when it came to swimming for it. I was just a self-confident ex-Army Engineer, used to command. I was the acknowledged leader of the expedition but my companions irreverently called me "Shallow Puddle Jim" instead of my preferred title, "Deep River Jim").

(We were also prepared if it came to damage to our canoes We had a repair kit that included canvas and glue for patches, copper tacks and fine wire. For anything major that was fixable we had a good axe and knives, the woods were full of black spruce trees for gum, birches for bark, and downed seasoned wood. Spruce gum mixed with a little bacon grease would give us the same material that the Heward party used for "gumming" their birch bark canoes back in 1790. These days we would carry a roll of duct tape, but in those days only furnace men knew about duct tape. If we wrecked one canoe we would have doubled up, shed some gear, and hurried on downstream. If we had wrecked both canoes, there was always the Set-the-Island-on-Fire alternative).

(On the Turtle River fishing was so good it was delaying us so we adopted a rule: No more than two casts above each rapids or falls and two below. The walleyes were usually above and big old northerns below laying in wait for whatever came through. Of course we would release everything except maybe a couple of walleyes for supp

Monday, January 26, 2009

Low tech canoeing part V

Sphene Lake
Like Hugh Heward in 1790, I kept a journal of my 1948 canoe trip only I called it a Canoe Trip Log. After studying Hugh's elegant journal I am a little ashamed of mine. Here are some samples:
"Sat. 30 July: O515 left civilization between railroad and power line. Paddled 1/2 hour to Homestretch Island. Lost big muskie by horsing...caught 16" pike (Northern pike, the natives called them "jackfish") 10 minutes later Ned caught big pike at island. Ate breakfast at 1000. Canoes lashed together for rough water. Rained in at Hook Island .Long haul in rough water (We are on Rainy Lake) to Standingstone Point. Spent night. Caught pike".
" Windbound Sun July 31 Took refuge on island off point. Noon meal on island...swim. Camp Sun night..2 pike".
"0900 on way Mon AM. (Aug 1) Big bass...largemouth. Hector (Ken) caught pike. Stopped for lunch. John no longer virgin...his first pike. Camped Mon night on Sphene Lake after portage from Rainy Lake. (RAIN), Hamburgers, fried onions, macaroni and cheese and cocoa for supper...saw two deer."

Devil's Cascade

"Picture #4 at Devils Cascade, #5 at Sphene Lake. Picture #6 at first portage of Manitou River. Camped above rapids after 2 portages, 3 wades & 2 paddle-through rapids.
Two canoes and four guys passed us. They are going to go down the Albany."
Very soon I tightened up the herky-jerky narrative and quit counting fish and describing menus. In re-reading this log I have enjoyed reliving some of those upstream struggles of six decades ago.
Here is a sample of Hugh's journal. On April 23 the party (Hugh and seven French-Canadian paddlers in two 20 foot birchbark canoes) encountered some Indians spearing sturgeon (near present day Onondaga). He called them "an ill looking band of about 12". They traded some tobacco for a sturgeon and took off when they saw more Indians coming. They ran the rapids at present day Eaton Rapids and kept going and camped probably about where Burchfield County Park is today.

First Portage

"Saturday Apl 24th 1790. Refitted our Cannots with Gum & set off passed a Rapid in about an hour (Dimondale) after which high broken Land & some pine Trees the banks of Red land from thence came to a River from the East (Red Cedar) & a little lower two cabins of Indians from Sagana (North Lansing) they were providing Cannots for their Departure the course to this Time nearly Nore West by Nore from thence high broken Land & some pine & Cedar about 11 o'clock came to an island in the Middle of the River & a long Rapid & afterwards another Island about Mid Day. (Delta Mills) Dined the Course West Nore West & came to another Island afterwards three Small Islands and some Pine trees on each Side of the River & high Rocks on the North (Grand Ledge) & a small Run of Water from the South (Sandstone Creek) after which another small Island & and a long and pleasant drift of an equal and strong Current the Banks high but the Beach level & Gravelly bottom to a long but not very strong Rapid & to another Island the Course West by North to again high Banks to the North to another Island from thence to four others all together following from here a high Sandy Bank with some pine Trees on the south side after which a Large Island & two small ones following afterwards three Small Islands & two small meadows to North this last Course nearly West heavy Wood on all Sides Encamped Opposite an Island" (In Portland State Game Area near Sebawa Corners).
I took the time to insert punctuation at the logical places when I was doing my research in 1989 and 1990. That made it easier to follow his route on maps and along the river.
This is the day's paddle commemorated by the annual 50 mile Hugh Heward Challenge. This year's Challenge runs from Dimondale to Portland on Saturday April 25 2009.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Low tech canoeing part IV

Sustenance and sanitation on our 1948 canoe trip (from the "Wooden Canoe" article):

"Their food guide was Deep River Jim's "Grub list for a Two-Weeks' Cruise", very heavy on bacon, flour, macaroni and beans. On Lloyd's Emporium's recommendation they added hardtack, dried fruit, Canadian canned butter, sugar butter and Cadbury's Carmello Chocolate Bars. (the first time I had ever run into Cadbury's. I thought they were great, still do). Their food supply, supplemented by unbelievably good fishing, turned out to be quite adequate and nourishing but they vastly underestimated their appetite for sweets. Exertion-driven energy demands and a shameful failure of self discipline caused them to deplete a two week's supply of sugar, candy, jam and syrup in five days".

"They were thus facing many days of desperation and possible sucrose starvation when a minor miracle occurred. They rounded a point on what they believed to be a wilderness lake when lo and behold, there was a fly-in fishing lodge with two good-looking Chicago girls in bathing suits sitting on the end of the dock! Grandpa said that it was indicative of the state of their desperation that they were as interested in the prospect of acquiring sugar as they were in the girls".(We prepared food pretty much the same way Hugh and his crew did in 1790. We cooked over an open fire and used mostly "squaw wood" for fuel. Squaw wood is firewood that you can gather without using tools. I had a good lightweight L.L.Bean Hudson Bay axe but seldom used it. I still have it. It is always part of my display at the annual Quiet Water Symposium. We had no stove, no fuel container, no propane, no butane, no Coleman fuel, no freeze-dried foil-packed meals, no saw, no fire pan, no reflector oven, no folding water bucket or cooler. We did have lots of waterproofed matches. We weren't up to flint and steel which is probably what Hugh and the Canadians used. After all, they carried flintlock muskets).

(Hugh's crew probably cooked in copper trade kettles. We used a GI surplus nesting aluminum kettle kit topped by a steel fry-pan/cover with a folding handle. The biggest kettle served as our water bucket with the smaller ones for cooking. Our water came straight out of the river or lake, no filter, no chemicals).

(We didn't have any trouble with critters getting into our food except for one morning I woke up and there was a skunk going through our stuff. You can be sure I laid there quietly so as to not disturb it until it was satisfied and wandered off. We just had to trim a little bacon).

(Traveling through essentially endless wilderness, personal sanitation was no problem. We washed and bathed in the lakes or streams, although the water was too cold except for the briefest of swims. When nature called we would just slip out into the woods and scrape away a spot in the leaves or pine needles. We didn't even carry a shovel to make "cat holes". Our route was little travelled. We only saw one other canoe party the entire trip. Additionally, our jungle hammocks gave us the ability to camp where no tent-campers could. Contrast this with canoeing in the Boundary Waters now where you can only camp at designated sites with box latrines. Or contrast it with the way that Charlie Parmelee travels in his Kruger Sea Wind. He prides himself on no-trace camping, using a fire pan under his stove and some sort of traveling "Thunder Mug"---I've never actually seen it---so that the only sign of his presence might be some matted-down grass where his tent was pitched. He can even sleep in his canoe).

Here is Deep River Jim's "Grub List for two persons on a two-weeks' cruise into wilderness country":

6 lbs. Bacon 2 lbs. Cheese 1/2 lb. Cocoa
6 lbs. Flour 2 lbs. Dried Lima Beans 4 lbs.Corned Beef Hash
3 lbs. Onions 2 lbs. Dried Prunes 2 lbs. Powdered Milk
3 lbs. Cornmeal 1 lb. Dried Apricots 3 lbs. Baked Beans (cans)
3 lbs. Sugar 1 lb. Pea Soup Powder 3 lbs. Tomatoes (cans)
2 lbs. Raisins 1 lb. Chipped Beef 2 lbs. Corn (cans)
2 lbs. Rice 1 lb.Dehydrated Potatoes 2 lbs. Macaroni

The only carried food mentioned in Hugh Heward's journal was pork and corn. Catching, netting or spearing fish would have been easy and they had muskets for killing game. The French explorer LaSalle in his account about walking across the Lower Peninsula in the spring of 1680 tells of shooting stag (deer), bear and turkey for food. They carried flintlocks too.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Low tech canoeing part three

Heading north: Continuing from the "Wooden Canoe" article about my 1948 canoe trip in Western Ontario:

"The Indians who buzzed by them in gasoline powered freight canoes didn't think the guys were foolish they thought they were stupid for paddling when outboard motors were available.. Grandpa said that from then on they called themselves "the stupid white men".

"The Indians that were encountered were mostly families traveling in 20-foot wood and canvas canoes with square sterns for their outboards. Usually these canoes were double-ribbed with half ribs between each pair of full ribs."

"The year this trip took place was well beyond the era of birch-bark canoes but a little before the time when Grumman made it possible for canoeists to aluminum-plate every other wet rock in the north country".

"Rainy Lake is big, windy water to eighteen foot canoes so they turned the two canoes into a catamaran by lashing them together outrigger fashion with two sturdy saplings. This system provided excellent stability. Four paddlers gave them good power and it didn't matter on which side Ken paddled."

(I Emailed Valerie Fons and asked when Verlen developed his catamaran system. She says: "The catamaran poles were part of Verlen's design early on. His prototype Loon had holes drilled in the deck combing for the fiberglass pole to fit into. Ultimate Canoe Challenge may have used a pole with Steve--don't know. Verlen used the pole with my canoe when we paddled Baja, The pole system developed into a pontoon design for the Eddie Bauer Mississippi River Challenge where we used a single hull and put floats out for stability in big Mississippi water.").

(Valerie lives on Washington Island between Green Bay and Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. She has adopted six kids. She and Joe run Bread & Water, a restaurant, lodging and kayak tour business. Her big deal this summer is the Washington Island Canoe and Kayak Race, Expedition and Symposium. She needs a kayak tour leader--a paid position. Also a cook for the kitchen at Bread & Water--hopefully someone who can paddle too).

Continuing: "Army surplus jungle hammocks were used in lieu of tents and worked out very well. Jungle hammocks have sewn-in mosquito netting and waterproof roofs. All you need for a camp site are a few trees and a place to build a fire. Since no level ground was required their choice of camp sites was practically unlimited."

(You had to do a good job of tying your hammock to the trees as Ned learned the first night when his hammock sagged and dipped his butt in a puddle. We used war surplus down and feather sleeping bags. They worked fine. As I learned on a subsequent trip on the Manistee the GI blanket sleeping bag is way too cold.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Low tech canoeing part two

Planning for my 1948 canoe trip (from the "Wooden Canoe" article):

"Their trip planning guide was an autographed copy of Deep River Jim's Wilderness Trail Book published in 1935 by the Open Road Pioneers Club for Boys" .

(The Open Road for Boys was a monthly boys' magazine encouraging the outdoor life published from 1919 into the 50s. It cost 10 cents per copy).

"Of course this was well before Cliff Jacobson was dispensing canoe trip wisdom in books and magazines. In fact, it was probably before Cliff was born".

"After months of planning and days of driving the intrepid foursome arrived at Ft. Francis, Ontario, across the border from International Falls, Minnesota".

(With the Old Town on top of my Dad's 1940 Chrysler Windsor and the Penn Yan on a boat trailer behind).

"There they decided to patronize Lloyd's Tourist Emporium-Canoes, Blankets, Tents, Indian Guides and Provision to stock up on food, advice and any needed equipment that they hadn't bought at the War Surplus stores back home".

"Their intention was to paddle the length of Rainy Lake and by a series of lakes and straits, and one long portage across the height-of-land, work their way into the Hudson Bay drainage and re-provision at a Hudson's Bay Post. The return was to be upstream on a different chain of lakes and streams to two small portages, which would take them to the headwaters of the Turtle River, then down the Turtle and back into Rainy Lake".

(I worked out this route using Canada Department of Mines and Resouces maps which I had sent for that showed in detail all lakes and streams as well as roads and railroads. In those days Ontario was much better mapped than Michigan. Also in those days there was but one east-west road between the international border and the Arctic Ocean, Ontario Highway 17. Our north-bound destination was Wabigoon on that highway).

"The outfitter told them the trip they planned was dangerous and that they were foolish to go without guides. The two veterans concluded that waves on Rainy Lake or rapids on the Turtle River couldn't be as dangerous as a foxhole on Okinawa or a Destroyer Escort under Kamikaze attack in the East China Sea. Ned and Ken just didn't know any better. So guideless they headed into the wilderness."

Low-tech canoeing part one

I suppose I sound like an old man nostalgic for the " Good Old Days" but I am glad I did my canoeing before GPS was invented. It must take away a lot of the thrill of wilderness travel when you know you can't get lost.

This is a re-telling for the Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge 09 audience of the story of my 1948 canoe trip in Western Ontario which was first published in "Wooden Canoe", the journal of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, in its June 1997 issue. The article was entitled "Grandfather's Collegiate Canoe Trip". The author was my grandson Adam Tury.

I will Email this in what my nieces call "digestible bites" to those who were last year's recipients of my almost-daily reports on Charlie Parmelee's Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge progress paddling and wading and portaging from Lake Erie to Lake Michigan. If you want off the list or know anyone who would like to receive this year's reports let me know. Once th UHHC 09 gets underway I will send out daily reports.

Canoe and equipment-wise in 1948 we were much more like the 1790 Hugh Heward party than the Challengers who will be paddling and portaging across Michigan's Lower Peninsula this Spring. Grumman was just converting one of its World War II fighter-plane factories to the manufacture of aluminum canoes. Royalex and Kevlar had not yet been invented, graphite was for pencil lead, bicyle wheels were for bicyles not canoe carts, and what I might call the Kruger Revolution in canoe design was still decades in the future. In fact, this trip took place 15 years before Verlen first paddled a canoe of any kind.

"Once upon a time four college guys went on a canoe trip to Western Ontario. Two were veterans (war veterans, not canoe trip veterans) and two were not. I shall call these collegiate voyageurs Ken, Ned, John and Jim.

Ken and Ned purchased an 18 foot Guide Model Penn Yan wood and canvaas canoe from a War Surplus store for the trip and sold it back to the same store afterwards. They were both of rather sleight stature and quite inexperienced.

Jim and John, the veterans, had their family's 18 foot wood and canvas Old Town Otca which had been built in 1921 The Otca had spent most of its previous career on a local resort lake surrounded by cottages and big-band dance pavillions, and where the only wild things were the Saturday night parties. Jim and John were both over six feet tall and had paddling experience.

I turned out to be an even match. The Penn Yan had a low bow and stern and was sleek and light in weight. The Otca had the clssic high ends and was heavy with many layers of paint and varnish. Thus the two smaller, inexperienced canoeists in thei fast Penn Yan kept right up with the two larger, stronger, more experienced paddlers with their heavy weight wind bucker. Actually the Penn Yan traveled more miles than the Old Town because Ken didn't believe in the J-stroke. He insisted on switching sides to steer when he was in the stern, a practice which resulted in a lot of zigging znd zagging by the Penn Yan.