Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ten Campers Killed in Ball of Fire

Ten campers, including children, were killed while camping along the Pecos River in SE New Mexico following an underground pipeline explosion.  Details at http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=96090&page=1

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cart Portage

I’ve spent the last couple days going through all my gear to see what could be multi-purposed or left behind, trying to reduce weight as much as possible.  While we were at Canoecopia, I purchased a Cooke Custom Sewing (http://www.cookecustomsewing.com/) Explorer Hybrid canoe pack, which is comparable to the standard #3 Duluth canoe pack.  With everything packed, here’s what I ended up with:
Camp Bag: tent, ground clothes, stakes, spare stove bottle, sleeping bag and mat, pillow = 24 lbs.
Food sack: meals and snacks for two weeks = 24 lbs.
Wanagan: all cooking gear, coffee, tea, drink mix, soap, medicines = 10 lbs.
Canoe Pack: foul weather gear, camp shoes, Hippies, dry suit, clothing, SPOT, GPS, guide & maps, map case, and  everything else not mentioned above = 30 lbs.

So, with canoe, cart, food, water, gear, and provisions, the weight on the ground all came to 177 lbs.  With the canoe on the cart, I jiggled and jostled until the canoe was balanced, attached a tow line and pole to the bow, and off we went to give the cart portage a go.  All went well on the pavement and packed gravel, but in thick grass, I could feel every one of those 177 pounds.

The tow line was fastened to the bow handle and the forward thwart on the canoe, and then to a wide web belt I put around my waist.  It took only a couple miles to realize that with no skeletal support at the waist, that put all the strain on my spine, and I soon began to develop a sore back.  I stopped in the parking lot of the vo-tech school, lengthened both the line and pole, and after a short trial with the belt over one shoulder, pulled the belt up around my chest.  That helped a lot, but was still not the solution.  With this set up, however, I struck out and did 4.77 miles, which is just one mile shy of the Grand Portage.

It was obvious I needed a harness that would employ both my torso and shoulders.  My thoughts logically turned to the man-overboard safety harnesses that had seen Jean and I safely across several ocean crossings and thousands of miles of open sea.  I won’t need the tether, since that leads from the front of the harness, or chest, but will wear just the harness with the tow line looped through the back of the harness.  Short of putting a motor on the cart, I think that is as good as it will get. 
While a canoe portage wouldn’t meet with a second thought up in New England, you have to appreciate the humor in towing a loaded canoe through cattle and wheat country, in the part of the country Gen. Zebulon Pike called the Great American Desert.  I had a couple vehicles slow down to about 5 mph as they passed.  I had to assume they were giving me a good stare, as I couldn’t see them through their heavily tinted windows.  One woman did pull alongside and roll her window down to ask, “Are you alright?”  “Fine,” I said, pointing at the loaded canoe, “just out for a little stress training.”  “Oh, that’s cool,” and she pulled away with a thumbs-up.

The best reaction was from about a 12-year-old girl that pulled her bike alongside to ask, “Do you mind telling me what the heck you’re doing!”  I offered a brief explanation that didn’t register, so she added with a giggle, “What is this, your new car?”  “Sure, “I said, “and the other two wheels are supposed to be delivered next week.” 

With a smirk, she said, “Well, I don’t know about all this, but your clothes need a major makeover.”  Taking on the role of fashion police, she continued.  “First of all, it’s summer time.  It’s time to lose that hat.  And that red scarf around your neck just isn’t a good look.  It doesn’t work.  Also, the long sleeved shirt and long pants.  Like I said, it’s summer time.  You should be wearing a tank top and shorts, or at least a short-sleeved tee shire.”
I tried to explain.  “This is a wicking shirt.  The long sleeves are for sun protection, and the shirt draws sweat away to keep me cool.  And, I rarely wear shorts unless I’m going swimming, and they’re called trunks.”
“Trunks!!  No one has said trunks for like---forever.  Forget that word.  Promise you’ll never say trunks again.  They are called swimsuits.”
Feeling the generational gap, I said, “Men wear trunks, women wear swimsuits.”
“No.  No.  Men and women both wear swimsuits.  There are no trunks.”
“What is that, some PC unisex word to use the same term for both men and women?”
“Yeah, now you got it.  But never say trunks again.  And who the heck are you anyhow? as she changed the subject.

Altogether, it was a richly rewarding exercise.  I got a chance to do a portage dry run to test the cart, towing set-up, and test myself, and got a free fashion makeover all at the same time.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Credit: npr.org
The Price of Freedom, Opportunity, Personal Rights, Voting,
and everything else we take for granted.

Planning for the NFCT

Taken as a whole, the two guides, the 13 maps, and some help
from Google Earth, and the tools on the NFCT site, and you are
all set.

Planning for such a trip takes some time, so don’t be in a rush.  First, get acquainted with the NFCT by checking out their official site at http://www.northernforestcanoetrail.org/  You will find a wealth of information here from a description of the trail, an interactive map that will enable you to follow the trail on the screen while seeing all of the points of interest and resources available for the entire trail, or any point along the way.  You can read the blogs of previous Through-Paddlers, and their insight will prove valuable as you read the guides and begin to comprehend the obstacles being encountered.  Read the questions and answers section for a good overview.  Then, become a member.  Membership helps to support the work on the trail, and also offers discounts on the guides and maps you will need to purchase; a win-win.
To really appreciate the trail, you have to comprehend the amount of work contributed by an army of volunteers along the length of the trail.  They build steps in wood and stone to help paddlers ascend steep banks for portages and campsites, clear and create new campsites, build lean-to’s, picnic tables, fire pits, privies, sign-in boxes and kiosks, and follow-up with ongoing maintenance.  There won’t be a day go by that you won’t reap the benefits of hundreds of helping hands.  

The Official Guide

There are two guides for the paddler planning to tackle the trail.  “The Northern Forest Canoe Trail: The Official Guidebook” is a 302-page detailed breakdown on every twist and turn from Old Forge, NY, to Fort Kent, ME.  The second guide is “The Northern Forest Canoe Trail Through-Paddler’s Companion,” by Katina Daanen.  Katina is herself a Through-Paddler, and writes to address the specific needs of the paddler on the trail.  This is 240 pages plus index.  So, wouldn’t you expect them to be pretty much the same?  Well, No!

Most trails follow a specific route, and that trail’s official guide carries the paddler along that route, and in a prescribed direction.  The Florida Saltwater Circumnavigation Paddling Trail goes counter-clockwise around the coast of Florida, and the other trails, like the Georgia Trail, the Intracoastal Waterway, all follow the counter-clockwise movement around the Eastern United States.  The rivers, Missouri and Mississippi, go in one direction from source to sea.  All references, all mileage counts, all shore identifications, all navigational markers assume you are following the prescribed route.  If you are not, the consistency of downstream and source-to-sea makes it easy to realize that all references will be reversed.  No problem.  The NFCT guide, however, assumes you are a section paddler picking rivers you can float, or rapids you can run.  This approach is undoubtedly used because they feel the bulk of their visitors will be sectional paddlers.  For the Through-Paddler, however, it becomes confusing at times.  This is not to take away from the trove of valuable information the guide provides, just the mental gymnastics needed to be going in one direction yourself while the guide is going forward, back, forward, back, etc. to follow the current flow of every stream you encounter.

The Through-Paddler's Companion

Katina Daanen puts all the confusion to rest with her “Northern Forest Canoe Trail Through-Paddler’s Companion.”  Every section of trail includes all the information needed to progress steadily with all the  portages, types of portages, the map to use for each section, the distances involved, types of waterways or challenges to be encountered, the services available, points of interest, and lodging/camping options, and a narrative to tie everything together.  Additional information is added on poisonous plants, pests, wildlife, and how to handle them, route planning, skills needed, boats and carts to use, safety and awareness, camping, water and food, and much, much more.  She helps you pronounce all of the unusual names, and lists every applicable service available in every town along the way with address, phone number, and, using the NFCT kiosk near the landing as the reference point, the distance needed to walk to get to each one.

The bottom line is this.  They are both outstanding guides.  If you are a sectional paddler/vacationer, get the official guide.  If you are a Through-Paddler, then the Through-Paddler’s Companion is a must.  If you suffer from a touch of OCD, like myself, by all means get them both.  I bought the official guide with the maps on line after becoming a NFCT member, and then got Katina’s ‘companion’ from her (autographed) at Canoecopia.  In either case, the guides accompany the essential maps.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail

I guess I had it bass ackwards.  If I had the time and was able to do them all, I envisioned doing the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) as a training ground for doing the full Mississippi River, and that as a ground breaker for the Missouri River.  Then I saw the video with Norman Miller seeing Kris Laurie and his cousin (http://www.avoidingbarges.com/#) off on the next leg of their Missouri River Source-to-Sea trip.  As the paddlers pushed away from the shore, someone behind the camera suggested to them that once they got the Missouri done, they should go try the NFCT.  After getting deeper into the true nature of the NFCT, I now sense the trail is more a doctoral dissertation than an indoctrination.

In my naiveté, when I approached the idea of the NFCT, I was drawn to the pictures of flatwater paddles through quiet, pastoral streams in company with beaver, loons, and moose, shade-dappled banks topped by round barns, white-spired churches, and classic Victorian New England architecture.  But wait, I thought, all of New England is mountains.  There’s no way to have flatwater through mountain ranges.  As I continued to dig deeper, shreds of reality began to invade my tranquil mental images.  Two guide books and a stack of maps later, here is some of that reality.

First, if you don’t have an acquaintance with the NFCT, it is a 740-mile water trail through four states (New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine) with about a three-day foray into Quebec.  It includes 22 rivers, 56 lakes, 3 wildlife refuges, 40 communities, many with provisioning, lodging, and outfitting services, and 62 portages.  There are 35 segments covered by thirteen maps.  It starts in Old Forge, NY, traverses the Adirondacks, Lake Champlain, plays tag with some of the Appalachian Trail, and finishes as far north as one can go in this country, by the Canadian border, in Fort Kent, ME.  To tackle the trail with confidence, the Through-Paddler should be experienced with paddling through Class III rapids, open big-water crossings, navigation, poling, lining and tracking, portaging, and primitive camping.  And, the paddler should be able to deal with leeches, mosquitoes, black flies, no-see-ums, ticks, and wildlife.  If done by segment, some areas are perfectly suited to novice paddlers.  The segment paddler can pick and choose both location and timing.  The Through-Paddler, however, does not have such luxury, and must conquer the challenges as they appear.

Now, here’s the hook.  Let’s go back to the 62 portages I glossed over real fast.  They are supposed to cover a total of 55 miles, with the longest portage being 5.7 miles on the Grand Portage, and with much of it wheel-able.   Heck, I thought, that’s a nice long walk, but no big deal.  But, then there’s more of that reality stuff.  Those 62 portages that total 55 miles come with the assumption that you can do all those Class III rapids, including the 162 miles upstream against the Class I, II, and III rapids and current, can manage the lining and tracking and poling, and that by some huge miracle you reach each and every stream when it has optimum water levels.  However, what happens if you don’t possess all those skills, especially while managing a sluggish, loaded canoe, or find yourself faced with dry creek beds and rock gardens?  Most of those deficiencies can be allowed for by portaging around those obstructions. 

Two of the emphasized skills that are required---and stressed---are common sense and good judgment.  If you are paddling solo, you need to take extra precautions.  Any risks experienced are now that much greater when there is the chance of injury or the loss of camping gear and food during a capsize.  If bravado overpowers good judgment, perhaps the scattered broken canoe parts along the trail will encourage greater consideration.  If your skills are so great that you can honestly negate those risks, great, but if not, then you have to mitigate those risks by hitting the portage trail.  In my case, after planning out the entire route, I totaled all the potential portages that could result from great caution or bad luck, and came out with an estimate of 189 miles of portaging while carrying or dragging a canoe loaded with a hundred or so pounds of provisions and gear.  A few of those portages have double-digit mileage, and dragging is done over roughly 6,000 feet of changes in elevation over the course of the trail.  Now, THAT is reality.  But here’s another reality that helps to offset those fearsome stats.  If you had only one canoe trip to make in a lifetime, the NFCT, the longest totally inland water trail in America, should be it.  The trail offers the solitude and beauty of the Boundary Waters, raging rapids to Class V, as well as those meandering streams that I found beckoning to me, challenges for both the novice and experienced paddler, every kind of spectacular scenery from bogs to mountain crests, long lists of flora and fauna and geology, chances to proclaim your navigational skills and then get lost, and share the tons of history lived by thousands of years of Native Americans, trappers, lumberjacks, traders, settlers, and exuberant fishermen.  The trail is awesome.  Most people pick and choose the sections they want to do so they are almost always going downstream, and time their trips for the best water levels.  Finishing the trail as a Through-Paddler, however, is a totally different animal.  There is no best time of year to make a Through-Paddle.  The trail changes so much through its course that all kinds of variables will be encountered regardless of season.  Part of the challenge is in mentally and physically meeting those variables and overcoming them.  Succeeding as a Through-Paddler is a huge accomplishment, and only 27 people can stake their claim as a Self-Propelled Through-Paddler.  There are other categories, however, such as an Integrated Through-Paddler, those who utilize a shuttle for completing one or more legs, and the Sectional Paddler, who does the entire trail, a piece at a time, usually going downstream, and over several years.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Paddle Cart

Before I start, we’ve had two new folks join Log of Ibi as subscribers.  Thank you for joining us, and a continued ‘thank you’ to all of you that have been long-time subscribers.  The second-most-recent to come aboard was Anne Muntean, a paddler from Ogden Dunes, Indiana.  The most recent, just yesterday, was Sandy Tarburton, the Membership and Communications Director for Northern Forest Canoe Trail.  Thanks, Sandy.  I’ll be out there paddling while knowing you all will be peeking over my shoulder the whole way, and not feel so alone.

Ibi, a heavier Superior Expedition decked-canoe on the PaddleCart
after the new stainless axle replacement

 I’ve had the PaddleCart (http://www.paddlecart.com/) for quite a few years.  It is everything it was promised to be and has served me extremely well.  On the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a reliable canoe cart is essential, and there has been a long list of carts that have failed to make the grade.  While reading blogs from previous through-paddlers, I’ve seen reports of broken plastic wheels, failed bearings, failed axles, and failed frames.  The PaddleCart is one that has had no breakdowns on the portage trail.  It is rugged, yet light, being made of welded aluminum, and it can be quickly disassembled for storage in any stage of readiness.

The old aluminum axle about to be replaced was
again slightly bent at both ends.

Nothing is perfect, however, and in spite of the dependability of this cart, there have been a couple things I’ve had to address as glitches in R&D.  First, I purchased the Dually, which has four large wheels and tires.  This model greatly aids moving the load through mud, sand, grass, gravel, or normal trail obstructions.  The four wheels also mean you have immediate backup for flats or bearing problems.  I started getting flat tires from sand burrs.  The first thing I did was replace the thin, standard equipment tubes with thick puncture-resistance tubes.  As a further precaution, I installed tire liners like those I had purchased to stop bicycle tire flats, and put them in each of the four tires.  In the five years since, I have never experienced another flat tire.

Buffalo Gal is ready to go with a new axle, and I anticipate
no further problems.

If you order a PaddleCart now, you will not experience this last issue.  The cart was originally all aluminum, including the axle rod.  The projected load capacity, consequently, was low.  I called PaddleCart, and emailed them, saying that they needed to change to a stainless steel axle.  The weight of many boats would reach their load limits while empty, and any camping gear and provisions would make them overloaded.  My aluminum axle had been bent.  A couple paddling friends asked to borrow my cart to bring their boats from the beach, through the state park, and to the parking area.  I found out later that instead of moving them one at a time, they had erred in loading both boats on the cart at once.  I straightened the axle, but with the weakening of the axle from the metal fatigue caused by bending and straightening, particularly with aluminum, I’ve never been able to fully trust the cart since.  I knew I had to get the new stainless axle before attempting the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.   I never received any acknowledgement to my communications, and perhaps others were telling them the same thing, but they did change to a stainless axle.  As a small company, they couldn’t afford to eat the expense of a recall, but they did supply the replacement axle and carriage frame at cost.  I now have 100% confidence that I can portage indefinitely with no further concerns.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Taking Buffalo Gal for a Walk

Buffalo Gal with the NFCT decal on the bow.

Katina Daanen’s “Through-Paddler’s Companion” lists every portage, but more importantly, it breaks each portage into what portion is wheelable, and what is not.  She even breaks some of them down to ‘wheelable with difficulty,’ indicating where roots, rocks, or other problems may make using a cart difficult.  Unfortunately, most of the hand carries, versus portage cart carries, appear early in the trip, and one is 1.3 miles.  Later, the portages are longer, but are mostly wheelable with an appropriate cart. 

With a new hat on top, and my Keen hiking shoes on the bottom,
it was time to give it a shot.

With the canoe yoke done, it was time to make a portage and try everything out.  The wind yesterday was blowing about 20-25 mph, but I tried to make a portage as we took a break from watching the radar for tornado development.  It was like carrying a sheet of plywood on a windy day, as the wind tried to spin me and the canoe first one way, and then the other.  The pads pressed into my neck muscles and caused a lot of strain.  I went about a quarter mile, and was done.  After a bit of thought, I decided the pads must be too close, so I moved them outboard on the yoke so they had a 20 cm separation.

This morning, I tried the portage again before the wind got up to normal strength.  It was only about 15 mph.  The separation of the pads made all the difference in the world.  I walked a full mile with two short stops of 2-3 minutes to give the shoulders a break, one at a half-mile, and the second at about eight-tenths of a mile in.  I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but upon my return, I took a tape measure and measured the spread on the Adirondack pack canoe yoke.  It is 19 cm, so I know now I’m in the right ballpark, and am happy with the results.