Friday, April 18, 2014

Trans-Atlantic Canoe Trip

67-year-old retired engineer, Aleksander Doba, arrived in Port Canaveral, FL, last night, Thurs., 17 April, after crossing from Portugal. He continued today through the Canaveral Barge Canal to the ICW, and will complete his trip when he arrives in New Smyrna Beach in a couple days. If you have not been following this, there has been substantial writing on his trip. These may be found on Facebook by searching for Expedition Canoeing & Kayaking.

The Edge of Nowhere

Jacket credit:
On The Edge of Nowhere, by James Huntington and Lawrence Elliott (pub. 1966 by Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 183pp.)

Having read the book, I’d have chosen a different title---In the Heart of Nowhere. It is a true story about the author’s life in Alaska around the turn of the last century. It is about a man able to not only survive, but make a living off the land and support his family in the face of unlimited challenges and with little more than a rifle and a belt axe.

Again, I was shocked to see that our local librarian had been able to find such a book for me here in Oklahoma. It’s great that she indeed was able to find a canoeing book in a land where water barely exists, but indeed, what was at the same time so disappointing was that the last time the book was checked out was in 1971. Now that is a bloody shame. This is a book that should be required reading for every student in high school. It is not only a breathtaking book and non-stop adventure that they would enjoy, but it is about fortitude and perseverance, and making one’s way in life. While kids cry about being bored, and that they can’t survive without every trinket and gizmo, they need a little truth about making a go at life with nothing---with nothing and against seemingly impossible odds. The kids need this, but it wouldn’t hurt adults to read it as well. As written in the forward by Lowell Thomas, this autobiography “makes life and all its problems look incredibly insignificant for most of us.”

The book is packed with action that exceeds the stories of Jack London. London probably wouldn’t have added much of this in a novel because the stories would have made a novel unbelievable. In this case, the truth is indeed stranger than fiction. The author is a half-breed who had to come to terms with that label. His mother was Athabasca Indian and his father white. His mother had already made local history by traveling a thousand miles across the Arctic tundra in the depth of winter alone and on foot, and surviving. Later, at the age of seven and one of three small children, he awakes in an ice-cold cabin and comes downstairs to find his mother dead and hanging halfway out the door. His father is gone on the trapping trail. He must survive and keep his brother and infant sister alive as well. To survive as he grows, he starts trapping and hunting. He runs dog sleds, and later became one of the most noted dog sled racers in Alaska. He ended up in a hand-to-hand battle with three bears simultaneously with nothing but a belt axe, having had one bear snatch his rifle out of his hands. He is tracked by a timber wolf and suddenly realizes he is surrounded by 20 wolves just waiting for the pack leader to make his move. He knows he can’t run, but he’s armed with nothing but a single-shot .22.

Okay, you just need to read the book. It is one you will always remember. His brother, Sidney Huntington, also wrote a book about their lives. It is called “Shadows on the Koyukuk: An Alaskan Native’s Life on the River.” Some feel that James’ is the better of the two autobiographies, both are worthy of your time.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


There's was no attempt at matching colors.  The candles were
poured just as the wax came out of the coffee can.  My little
cat, Piper, kept an eye on quality control.
“Man loves company, even if it is that of a small burning candle.”
            Georg Christph Lichtenberg
“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
“A good teacher is like a candle--it consumes itself to light the way for others.”

What is it about candles? You can’t wed without them. You can’t worship without them. You can’t be buried without them. You can’t celebrate a birthday without them. They make a romantic dinner better. Even campers love the small light of a candle lantern in the tent or at the cabin table. They offer illumination, heat, and somehow even serenity.

When we were sailing in the colder months, we always used oil lamps over electric lights. For one thing, they saved the draw on the batteries. Likewise, a few candles easily illuminated the cabin, while also driving out the chill.

When the candle burns down to the stub, rather than throwing it out, I cut out the remainder of the wick and drop the wax in a Folgers coffee can. If it is a gift candle in a glass jar, I melt the remainder left at the bottom and pour it over a sheet of aluminum foil with the edges curled up. When cooled, the wax is broken into smaller pieces and joins the candle scraps in the Folgers can. Over the years, I’ve saved a substantial amount of wax, so during the miserable weather of a winter that has refused to end, I decided it was time to put the old wax back into service by pouring a bunch of tapers. I have a plastic mold that I got decades ago from some craft store, and I picked up a couple packs of candle wicking. Once I cleared a spot on the workbench next to the canoe cradle, I set to work. You can’t go into mass production with a single mold, so the project helped to keep me occupied for weeks as the wind, sleet, snow and hail continued on outside. When the wax was gone, so was most of winter, and I have a nice collection of tapers to bring me comfort and enjoyment for months (probably years) to come.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Midway & Paddle to DC

Dave & Amy Freeman and the signature canoe.
Credit: Paddle to DC

Written in the jacket cover of North to Cree Lake was a cryptic message about what we are now seeing in fruition. It said Art Karras shared “his love for the wilderness as it was, and may never be again, unless we reshape our values and attempt to restore what we have almost lost.” Here are two must-see videos that invite us to examine our own values, to better understand our undeniable and often destructive impact on the world we live in, and to hold politicians and money interests accountable for their anything-for-a-buck, and to hell with everything else attitudes and practices. The first link goes directly to the video. In the Paddle to DC link, please read the blog concerning the issues, and then view the video that is included. There is a lot here to think about.

Paddle to DC has been added to the "Favorite Blog" section in the right margin so you can follow along while also visiting Log of Ibi.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Trip Plan - 2

7. I incorporate a legend or key every few pages. You can adapt this to your own needs, but this is the one I use.

W-water, F-facilities, A-camping, G - groceries, S-showers, R- ramp, L-laundry
D - Diner,grill, RA - road access
Facilities, of course, are restrooms. Here is a sample of a day from one such trip plan.

          Chart 25
24 RA    South Island Ferry Ramp to Hagley Ramp                                     17mi

     Go E to Winyah River and turn NW. If a foul current, consider looping around S
          end of Western Channel Island and going up Winyah Bay shallows.
     W - Belle Island Marina (843)546-8491, L33.30688 Lo79.29065. (mile 4.8)
     Entrance to Sampit River and Georgetown, SC, harbor facilities. Two stealth
           spots either side of river mouth on Winyah.  Inside, Morgan Park and East
          Bay Park ramp at L33.35659 Lo79.28021, (mile 8)
               Hazzard Marine (843)527-3625, L33.36108 Lo79.27964
               The Boat Shed (843)546-4423, L33.36181 Lo79.28002.
               Harbor Walk Marina (843)546-4250, L33.36388 Lo79.28173.
     G - Groceries from above marinas, roughly a mile. Walk NE 2 blocks to
          Highmarket St., and turn L. Cross N Fraser St. (Rts. 17/521) Piggly Wiggly
          (843)527-4841, in 2nd block at Lynch St., or 1620 Highmarket St.
     R - Turn S in Sampit River toward S. Fraser St., Rt. 17 bridge, and just on S side of
          bridge is large ramp at L33.35729 Lo79.29522. (mile 9.2)
     G - From ramp parking lot to Food Lion (843)546-0972. Walk S. on S.Fraser St. to
          2234 S. Fraser. Is 1 mile from here or 2 1/4mi from Johnson’s campground.
     A-F-S-W - Johnson Marina & Campground, (843)545-8633 at L33.35534
          Lo79.32064. A bit further S on Sampit, and may be a bit pricey. (mile 10.9)
     R-W - Leaving Georgetown, Winyah becomes Waccamaw River, and continuing
          up E side of Waccamaw leads to Hagley ramp at L33.43633 Lo79.18227. (mile
          16.3 not counting any detour into Georgetown.) This would be a stop only.
          6/10mi further is a ramp & marina with limited space & no info.

25     Lay Day

Okay, it is day 24, and you are working off of chart 25, which in this case happens to be an ICW chartbook. RA tells us that this would be a good contact or rendevous point, because there is road access at any of the stops. The day’s run will be 17 miles from point to point. You know the current is strong in Winyah River, and you notice from the chart that if the current is ebbing, you can get out of most of it by ducking around the south end of Western Channel Island and running the inside of the curve and the shallows. If you need to stop, the first stop is 4.8 miles away at a marina.

This is where Google Earth proves itself to be the paddler’s best tool for planning. You click on Tools, Ruler, and Path. Click at your departure point, and click point to point to follow the contour of your proposed track. If you wish to follow, go to L33.25077N Lo79.26930W, which you will find in the canal south of Georgetown, SC. Going E, you will exit the canal at Mile 0.9. Looking for any possible stopping places, scour the shores of both the river and island. (This is where you can add greatly to the information in an official guide. A published guide can only list sites that have been approved by the land owners and the waterway managers. There are a lot of potential stealth sites you can find on your own to supplement the guide.) We see that the shore appears to be all mud until we reach Belle Island Marina at Mile 4.8. If the wind is strong out of the north and there is a foul current, we can look at the plan and see that our next possible stop is 3.2 miles further with two possible stealth camping spots. If the conditions are bad enough, we can weigh hanging out at the marina until the current turns, or slog uphill for another 3.2 miles. This answers the third method of mileage measuring mention in paragraph 3 above. Continuing along our route, we mark and retrieve the lat-long of every facility, ramp, sandy shore or spoil island, etc., to meet our needs. In this way, it only takes a glance to see where our next possible stop would be, what we could expect to find there, and how much further we need to go to get there.

In Georgetown Harbor, you’ve maked the position, name and phone number of every facility, and location of ramps, campgrounds, and grocery stores. Since this is day 24, you know tomorrow is a planned lay day, and with all facilities and things of historical interest, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place for a day ashore. On the other hand, if you’re fully provisioned, and you’d rather avoid the expense and crowds in Georgetown, plus pick up a few extra miles, a quick glance at the plan would show (not shown in the example) that if you continued another 5 or 7 miles, you’d have your choice of either of two quiet marinas.

Two caveats are best mentioned here. For grocery stores, go on Google (or whatever browser) home page, and click on maps. In the search field, type “grocery stores near Georgetown, SC.” Markers will come up for every store that has food, but search them closely, as some will offer nothing but ice cream cones, or wine and cheese, or be a convenience store with nothing but junk food. A look at the map will easily show where the grocery is, how to get there, and using the Google path again, you can see how far away they are. You can use the same method for finding canoe/kayak outfitters, West Marine stores, or the post office.

The second caveat has to do with Google Earth. Things don’t look the same from the cockpit of your kayak or canoe as they do from a satellite 370 miles in space. What appears to be open water may be strangled with deadfall. What appears to be clear ground may indeed by impenetrable 10-12 foot-tall reeds. A nice sandy-looking landing may indeed be thigh-deep mud. Otherwise, a beautiful stealth camp spot may have been invisible to the satellite due to obscuring tree stands. Seeking and saving the position for as many favorible spots gives more options, and the chance of a nearby alternative for the occasional surprise. In spite of the occasional surprise (or disappointment), Google Earth is a fabulout tool to explore and use to your greatest benefit.

There you have it. No one style or design fits every application, but there should be a lot of ideas here to choose from, and once you explore these, you may dig deeper and come up with other ideas. You can use what you like, and ignore what you don’t. If you have other useful ideas, please share.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Trip Plan

We’ve already discussed guides for rivers and watertrails. We’ve discussed maps and charts, different types, where to find them, and how to use them. Perhaps we’ve also gathered some additional information to suit our taste, like points of interest, cultural events, history, and so on. We are now ready to put it all together into a trip plan. By putting it all together, I mean that this plan tells us virtually everything we will do during the duration of our trip. Here we will determine how many days the trip will take, and thus how many supplies and provisions we will need, where and how we will resupply, what and where we can find any and all resources we will need from water, food, laundry, camping, boat ramps, and road access where others may get to us or where we can find transportation, showers and restrooms, drug stores, post offices, and the list goes on. When I started this discussion, I referred to the saying about there being more than one way to skin a cat. This is never truer than when we make decisions about putting all the aspects together into an actual operational trip plan. The nice thing about the process is that it can easily be tailored to any trip, whether backpacking, expedition paddling, or sailing. This will be long enough that I’ll break it into two posts.

1. The first thing you need to do is inspect your maps for the entire trip. You want to make sure you have indeed left no lapses in coverage. You want to double check areas of greater interest or greater difficulty to decide if you need to supplement what you have with any maps of some larger scale. It is also important to check the scales of all maps to insure there are consistent references, whether these are for mileage, lat-long, elevation, soundings, or any changes in symbols or abbreviations. If there are any inconsistencies, be sure to highlight them so that in your fatigue or confusion during the trip you don’t mistakenly begin using an inaccurate scale of reference.

2. Then take all the maps and mark them for mileage. Some maps and charts come already referenced for mileage. Mississippi River maps and charts, for example, use mileage to reference everything. Hazards, confluences, locks, ramps, even things like marinas, campgrounds, and restaurants are referred to by the mile marker they are near. In radio communications, you’ll call a tug according to what mile marker he is near and whether up or down bound on the river. Mileage is not only the easiest way to reference things, but also the fastest way to calculate a day’s run, how far we need to go to find the next rest stop, campsite, or any type of facility.

3. If the maps aren’t already marked for mileage, there are three common ways of proceeding. The simplest is to take a mile’s span and walk it off on the map, making a tick mark or dot for each mile. You can use a pair of dividers, if you have them. You can use the scale on the edge of your compass if it matches the map scale, or you can take a piece of scrap paper and mark several miles on it from the mileage scale, and transfer those miles to the map as you slide the marked paper along your route. The second method is one I don’t recommend, but it has been used by some that have become accustomed to it. Here, you take what you feel is your normal cruising boat speed, and walk the map off in intervals of time, expressed as the distance made good through the water during each hour. We will have hereby reversed the normal process. Instead of measuring by miles of travel, you are measuring by the number of expected hourly runs you can normally accomplish. This method fails in not allowing for the effects of wind or current, whether they are adverse or beneficial to your progress, or even how fatigue, nutrition, or state of mind are affecting your performance. A mile is consistent. Making bets on how fast you can paddle regardless of conditions is not. The third method is accomplished with Google Earth, which I’ll get to momentarily, but has to do with maintaining a running distance plot of every point along the path.

4. You need to decide on the depth or detail that your written plan will take, or if you need to even use one. Some paddlers feel a prepared plan takes the adventure, excitement, or the sense of discovery out of the trip. That is a decision we each need to make for ourselves, but for me a written plan brings with it much greater safety, convenience, and confidence, and there is so much that goes on during any trip that I’ve never found that it detracts from any sense of adventure or discovery. Even with a plan, I find surprises around every bend.

5. Another issue concerns your navigational style. Some use a mapping GPS, and at the other end of the spectrum is the paddler that uses a map and compass. There are benefits to both. When I do a trip plan, it is peppered with a lot of GPS positions. However, I’d strongly encourage you to learn traditional navigation or orienteering with map and compass. A mapping GPS is mindless. There are times when that’s the way to go. If it’s pouring rain, or fog is beginning to close in and visibility is approaching zero, such a navigational aid can be a true blessing. However, they tempt the paddler to become lazy, as their traditional skills become rusty, and then nonexistent. We also need to remember that a GPS is nothing more than a radio receiver. They are much more reliable than ages past, but they can still give inaccurate information due to interference, weak signals, solar flares, poor programming, or indeed when transmissions are intentionally degraded or turned off. Maps are reliable, and assuming precautions are taken to prevent induced deviation, a compass is foolproof. If your gizmo packs up while you’re in the outback, unless you carry a spare, you could be a week or a hundred miles away from getting it replaced. It only takes a couple minutes to pull the map and compass out of the pack.

6. If you want a reasonably accurate plan to permit you to anticipate the timing of everything to be encountered during the trip, allow a lay day every fifth day. The lay day could be for time lost due to being weatherbound, doing laundry and provisioning, visiting some historical or cultural point of interest, anticipating when another paddler can join or leave the trip, recovering from an injury or illness, visiting with friends, or just having a nice dinner ashore that you don‘t have to eat out of a pouch or used Country Crock tub. If trying to paddle continuously, you will get pretty sick of the routine if there isn’t an occasional break to recharge your own batteries and smell the roses. That usually comes out to about once every five days. Even though you are still working on moving the trip forward, like shopping, repairing, or managing logistics, the change of pace will work wonders for improving your attitude and enhancing your enjoyment.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A. L. Karras

Art Karras in 1932.
In reading ‘North to Cree Lake,’ I became interested in the author, and went looking for some biographical material. There isn’t much to find. While he wrote a lot about others’ lives, he was rather reserved about his own tale. What I did find, I found even more fascinating.

The characters in the Cree Lake story were A.L. Karras and his brother Ab. Their proper names were the author, Art, and his older brother Albert. While Art was born in 1914 in Rosthern, he and his brother grew up in a farming family on the Canadian prairie, 56 miles north of the U.S. border, near the small town of Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan. When he and his brother took off for Cree Lake, 550 miles further north, neither knew anything of outdoor life beyond what they experienced on the farm, knew nothing of the wilderness experience, or trapping, and neither had ever been in a canoe before. If that wasn’t enough, Art was only 18 years of age.

North to Cree Lake was initially promoted primarily by word-of-mouth, but went on to become a classic that has gone through five printings. A. L. Karras went on to write two other books that were biographies on the lives of other Canadian trappers. The first, “Face the North Wind,” told of the lives of Fred Darbyshire and Ed Theriau. Then, his third book, titled “Northern Rover,” told the life story of Olaf Hansen, for whom Hansen Lake and a local road are named.
After his years as a trapper, Art went on to become a grain dealer, town administrator, and school administrator. He passed away in April, 1999, in Nipawin, Saskatchewan.

Monday, April 7, 2014

North to Cree Lake

Cover credit:
North to Cree Lake, by A. L. Karras (pub by Trident Press, New York, 1970, 255pp.) Illus. by Laszlo Kubinyi.

North to Cree Lake records true accounts of experiences in a land “where no tin cans, or bottles, or paper, or other man-made litter was to be found,” and no “influx of tourists, or developers, or promoters, or sportsmen, or despoilers” had yet arrived.

From 1932 through the winter of 1939, the author and his brother, Ab, moved into Northern Saskatchewan to live where the Depression had little effect. They built several cabins, survived minus 70-degree temperatures, and lived off the land. They decided they could get what few supplies they needed by trapping, but they knew nothing about trapping. It was hoped that they could learn from experienced trappers, but they soon found that the men who knew the trade had no intentions of sharing their knowledge. Knowledge came through many trials and a lot of errors.

We have inherited a Hollywood-induced picture of the wilderness winter, but through the author’s experiences, you get to share a lifestyle that had certainly changed little since Lewis and Clark. On the morning that the temperature dove 100-degrees below freezing, Karras described standing outside the cabin. When he exhaled, the moisture in his breath instantly froze in the air, creating a sound like a sheet of paper being slowly torn. You will find yourself being led on winter trapping trails, across frozen lakes, following caribou herds that had packed snow so hard that feet of snow could be traversed without the need of snowshoes. His accounts of wildlife encountered while walking the trap-lines gives great insight into the habits of wolves, deer, caribou, fox, bear, and others. As they build and use a dogsled team, you learn in detail what that entails. If you have read and enjoy books by Grey Fox, another wilderness writer, you’ll enjoy this book.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Celebrating Culture

A young man celebrates his pride in his heritage.
Jean brought my attention to the fact that Google has used a number of my photographs in Google Images. She had searched “kaw powwow images”, and when I went back to check, there were 19 of my photographs. Without pointing out which are mine, if you search “kaw powwow images”, you’ll see mine and great photographs taken by many others. Except for crowd or dancing photographs, none were taken without the person’s consent, which is always a good practice. It is also a good practice to check at the information booth or with officials near the grandstands for any concerns over photography. Some of my photographs may also be seen at:

Since Oklahoma is so linked to Native American culture, we felt it important to take the granddaughters to experience a powwow. There were six tribes represented at the Kaw Nation powwow: Pawnee, Otoe-Missouria (originally of the Winnebago), Osage, Tonkawa, Kaw, and Ponca. They were all part of the Kaw or Kanza Nation, who gave their name to the Kansas River, also called the Kaw River, and the States of Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas, and many other locations.

If you’ve never been to a real powwow, I’d strongly recommend taking part in such an event. At the link below, there is a calendar for most of the events across the country. If your area is not represented on the link, let’s say it is for New Jersey, just Google “New Jersey Native American PowWow,” and you should find one there or a surrounding state.

Best of all, I’ve never been to one of these events where I haven’t been made to feel very welcome. They are rightfully very proud of their heritage, and will even take the time to explain the different dances and ceremonies.

Also, if you are planning to attend a powwow, you may wish to read this guide on etiquette for such an event. Remember that many of the activities have spiritual or religious meaning for participants.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Spring on the Plains

Spring housecleaning.

This is the time of year when a lot of people lose their homes, and some their lives.  Welcome to tornado season.  In recognition of weather turning from ice and snow to 300-mph winds, I cleaned out the tornado shelter this morning.  After vacuuming out the spiders and crickets, I put in a 5-gal bucket with a screw-on air-tight lid for a slop bucket, 3 rolls of toilet tissue, 2 gallons of water, and the battery-powered flourescent camp lantern.  I haven't found it yet, but I've been looking for my air horn.  If wreckage locks us in and all the cell communications are out, it would be nice to attract the attention of would-be rescuers.  We're forecast to have severe weather the next few days with the potential of tornadoes.  On the next trip to the store, I'll grab a box of granola bars to put in there.  Given my dislike of hunger, and the potential for being trapped for up to 3 days, I'd just as soon not be dealing with claustrophobia and starvation at the same time.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Raising "Howard"

We have a neighbor that hates squirrels, because he is jealous of the pecans the squirrels might eat off his tree.  We'll call him Howard. A few years ago, we had a real laugh over Howard and his squirrels.  Howard was using a humane trap to catch squirrels from the nearby public park. It was from there that the squirrels were commuting to dine on Howard’s pecan tree. He would load the traps into his pickup and drive them a couple miles outside of town to release them in a wooded area near a farm.

Some of the neighborhood men have a coffee klatch at the local drugstore. Kidd Drugs has what must be one of the few remaining real soda fountain counters. One farmer sitting there was lamenting about being overrun by a huge increase in the local squirrel population. To reduce the numbers, he was having to trap the squirrels and bring them to town to release them in the public park. We cracked up over the image of these squirrels spending a day at the farm and a day in the park, while waving to each other as they traveled back and forth between.

The camera flash was scaring them, so I starting taking their
pictures in a mirror, which they didn't seem to mind.  That
is what makes Minnesota read backwards.
Jean is a licensed caregiver for injured and orphaned animals. A few weeks ago she got eight orphaned squirrels, four each from two nests. Their parents had been killed on the highway. She uses a syringe to feed them fortified kitten milk replacer until she weans them onto solid food. They can latch onto the syringe and suck so hard that they will pull the plunger into the syringe barrel. Jean has to hold back pressure on the plunger to keep them from choking or drowning themselves. The two litters are apparently just a few days apart in age, based on the comparative rate of developmental changes, so it’s impossible to tell one from another. I deal with this by calling whichever one Jean is feeding at the moment Howard. She doesn’t like naming them, because it makes the separation anxiety that much worse when she has to return them to the wild and say goodbye  Jean says that once they are released, they stay nearby for about three days as they become acclimated.  We’ll go camping with them as they venture forth a bit more each day, returning occasionally for yet one more bit of food from the more familiar source, the two-legged Mommy.