You gotta like slush and mud to be biking in Maine right now

It’ is not even winter yet, but it’s much more challenging to get outside and bike and hike in Maine right now.
First, we’ve already had two major snow storms that have resulted in serious downed limbs, branches, and even whole trees laying across our usual wooded trails.
One November storm was so brutal that we lost our electricity for five whole days. That’s what happens when you have gale force winds pushing against trees rooted atop soft ground that had not even shed their leaves. The weight of twenty inches of wet sticky snow accumulating on the branches makes the trees top heavy, resulting in uprooted messes toppling like pick-up-sticks across the countryside.
A week ago Andre, Buck, and I headed over to the Rockland Bog on snow shoes to clear out some of the usual riding loops that we have been favoring for the past twenty five years.
We all packed small saws that are surprisingly efficient at slicing through even larger trees that lay across the trails, but there were several behemoths that we left for the big boys on their snowmobiles to dispatch with their chain saws.
Here’s Andre using his snowshoes to stay on top of a particularly despicable half frozen mass of broken up ice partially frozen in nasty mudded-up water.

Andre atop ice

Andre atop ice

Sometimes there are no decent go-arounds, and you need to just work straight across, through the ruts and mud.

No place to tip over

No place to tip over

Thank God there are even a few bridges that we can cross. This is not a place to slip into the water, either on foot or a bike .

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Andre and Buck considering foot placement

Just before we got back to the cars in the lot along the Bog Road, we decided to just go around this particular nasty tangle of downed branches, and yes, normally we are in the habit of being able to ride right through this stream and along the path ahead.  Not going to happen.

Almost on the Bog Road

Almost on the Bog Road

Two days later, we three went back in, along with 5 other cultural iconoclasts. The Bubbas in the Woods have been stuck in a rut of sorts,  for a few decades now. We have these group rides on Sunday morning, and also Tuesday and Thursday nights, year after year- for decades. Incredible but true.  This past Tuesday night, it was pitch black at 5:15 PM, the temps were in the low 20’s, and much of what was soft and mucky was now frozen solid and slippery.

I had charged up my Turbocat handlebar and helmet-mounted lights for the event, my first night ride of the fall season. And yes, I realize my ancient Turbocat system is now old history, and after the ride I realized it would be way cheaper for me to upgrade to a Magicshine LED helmet light than to buy another replacement lead-acid battery that was acceptable way back when.

I also hope not to fall, so just in case, I wore my Fox padded shorts underneath my tights to prevent a broken hip or tailbone ( Right,  Lincoln Jamrog ?).  A recent Men’s health magazine article  about winter fat-tire biking, The Winter Sport That Burns 1,500 Calories an Hour, helped explain why I was a hurting unit just a half-hour into Tuesday night’s ride.

It was ridiculously tough going for me- churning through snow, mud, half-frozen water, and trying to see the path through partially fogged up /frozen safety glasses.  Here’s a map of the 7.5 miles that I somehow managed to finish on Tuesday night:

Bog Ride.  Green dot on Bog Road.

Bog Ride. Green dot on Bog Road.

Here’s a pic of the Hawk, taking a quick break in the middle of a particularly wet piece of the Bog ride.  The darkness at the bottom is black pools of water , interspersed between elevated hummocks of land and mounds of solid ground with trees somehow surviving in there.

The Hawk usually churns right through everything

The Hawk usually churns right through everything- not tonight, though.

It’s what we do, and I’m actually looking forward to my next ride in the dark with these guys.

I’m hoping that my new Magic Shine headlamp works it’s magic on my performance out there!

Maine’s Past Is It’s Presence

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I’m waiting this morning for the start of the next winter Nor’easter snowstorm by reading this stained old library book that was published in 1942. Just about every page is dog-eared, and most of them stained with coffee, grease, and several worse-looking colors.  It’s We Took To The Woods, and is the suggested background reading for the winter outdoor skills course I’m taking from Mahoosuck Guide Service in three weeks that will be taking place somewhere out in the bush on Map 18 of Delorme’s Maine Atlas and Gazetteer.

Map 18 is one of the fringe maps in the Gazetteer.  It’s on the border of Maine and New Hampshire, and only 1 map down from Quebec.  Andover is the town with the largest and boldest print on map 18, however it boasts around 800 residents. The last time I was up there was a couple of years ago when I helped out my hiking pal Old Buzzard, who maintains the very remote and steep stretch of Appalachian Trail from the South Arm Road to the top of Old Blue Mountain.  Andover center is a tiny place, and home to The Cabin, a renown AT hostel where I plan to stay this coming hiking season.

Last month, I passed the requirements that let me wear this patch on my plaid wool coat.  IMG_3718 2 The course I’ll be taking in December is designed to cover the skills needed to safely guide others in the winter.  Some of the topics that will be covered are hypothermia, reading winter ice, preventing and treating frostbite, and navigation techniques in white-out conditions.  I suspect we’ll each spend a winter bivouac with just the clothes on our backs- possibly in a snow & bough shelter. I’m excited about picking up some skills on fire building without matches, and learning the basics of dog team use.  We’ll get some time on a snowmobile as well.
Back to the book.  We Took to the Woods was initially published in 1942, and is about a young couple from away who move to one of the most remote spots on the far edge of Map 18, overlooking the Rattle River somewhere between Pond in the River and the Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge.  Life in the 1930’s in backwoods Maine was tough back then, and is tough even now.  Louise Dickinson Rich and her husband had to cut, split, and haul 10 cords of wood to heat their living space each winter.
A couple of weeks ago, I joined a dozen other neighborhood men as we sawed, split, hauled and stacked 10 cords of firewood for our neighbor Andy, who was down and out with a back problem that will put his wood hauling off the to-do list for a few months anyways.
I’m so worked up right now about living and working in Maine.  The same basic survival skills that I am reading about in this gem of an old book is going to be be my curriculum for four days in  a couple of weeks.  If we are confident in foundation skills that are necessary to be comfortable and safe living outdoors, it doesn’t matter if it is 1934 or 2014.  Freezing cold,  fire building, moisture management, and staying warm with less can not only save a life, but assist us in making that vital connection with our ancestral past.  It’s somehow all in side us, but has to be rekindled, like a skillful application of a tiny flame.

 

Midwest Winter Camping Symposium- my take

The big event on the shore of Sturgeon Lake in Minnesota was a huge success. My travel from Maine was originally scheduled in order for me to work in the vendor area at Don Kevilus’ Four Dog Stove booth.

Don Kevilus steering the Four Dog Stove operation

Don Kevilus steering the Four Dog Stove operation

I worked the Four Dog Stove booth in 2011 at Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia, where twenty thousand hikers converged at the Appalachian Trail’s biggest weekend event. It’s fun being front and center at a major event where there are so many people who are excited about getting out in the woods and trails and walking for day, weeks, and even months at a time.

The days were all sunny, the night cold but not frigid, and the sleeping was delicious, or was that deciduous?  Lots of trees nearby, just like back at home in Maine.

We are here at the Midwest Winter camping Skills Symposium.

Here is a video journal from Four Dog Stove that captures the energy and the experience of the weekend’s festivities.

Here’s a Facebook page for the Winter Camping Symposium.

And the link for the schedule–> See the wide variety of workshops  and seminars presented at this event.

I was Saturday’s Keynote Presenter

P1040551  Here’s my biography, with a pic of me walking white winter in Acadia National park: Thomas Jamrog has been backpacking, riding mountain bikes, and living in the outdoors for close to 50 years.  Tom maintains his popular blog: Living Large While Walking The Big Trail, and Tom’s Trailjournals have amassed close to one million web visits.   Tom is a member of the Iron Butt Association, a long-distance motorcycling community whose basic entry requirement is to ride 1,000 miles in one day. Tom rides mountain bikes year round in Maine. For one calendar year, Tom commuted 32 miles a day to work, on a bicycle, through the winter. Tom’s winter camping experiences have recently expanded to include winter fat-tire biking.From 2007 to 2013, Tom backpacked over 8,000 miles in the United States. On October 24, 2014 The American Long Distance Hiking Association-West awarded Tom the Triple Crown of Hiking, for having completed continuous through hikes of the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide Trails, joining a relatively small club of 200 people who have received the award to date.  
Tom has completed winter walking trips in Canada and conducts yearly trips in Maine, where he has lived with his wife, Marcia, for the past 40 years.Tom Jamrog

This was the topic for my presentation:

Winter Walking the West: Preparing and Adapting to Snow Travel in the High Sierras and Rocky Mountains–Tom Jamrog has recently completed 400 miles of walking on snow and ice over the High Sierra in California and several hundred miles above 10,000 feet in Colorado.  He will discuss his physical and mental preparation and how he adapted the skills learned from traditional “Winterwalking” in New England and Northern Canada to succeed in being awarded the Triple Crown of Hiking.

I also made some new friends.

I was camped right next door to Kevin and Beth Kinney, who are making a very respectable go at it sewing super well-designed winter outer ware from traditional textiles like cotton and fur. We’re talking Empire Canvas Works.

The big needle at Empire Canvas

The big needle at Empire Canvas

 

At the Four Dog Stove booth, we provided some table space for Ben’s Backwoods. I liked hanging with Ben Piersma and am reading through his authoritative blog right now.  His bio reads:  “Ben’s full time job is testing, researching, and selling tools and outdoor goods for life in the north woods. He uses hand tools like axes, hand-saws, and knives daily for fishing, hunting, foraging, self reliance, and primitive bushcraft. His goods can be found at Bensbackwoods.com

Did you know that that residents of other states can be licensed as Registered Maine Guides. I enjoyed talking trail and skills with Scott Oeth, from Minnesota, who had passed all the testing requirements for the Maine Guide license last year. Scott’s blog is tops, and full of interesting outdoor angles.

Scott checking out some very warm custom mittens

Scott checking out some very warm custom mittens

I was impressed with the camaraderie here.  For example, Don Kivelus invited Ben to set up a his Ben’s Backwoods goods table at Don’s Four Dog Stove booth, making for many grand choices on one long table full of shiny metal , or polished wooden stuff.  These two guys are in effect  direct competitors, supplying the bushcraft public with a number of the same items, but sometimes work together, like this. I also know that both Ben and Don live in the sticks, and at least Don has an actual farmstead, with animals running around a wide expanse of Minnesota.  Don prefers cutting and hauling his firewood with some of the five mules he tends on the back forty.  He sometimes posts pics of mules plowing up a field, not something you see everyday, even way out in rural areas where tractors rule.  Any product these two guys consider to sell is first used, abused, and sometimes refused before it goes up for sale. A true American business experience, a rare occurrence these days.

In the next few weeks, I plan to post a few Four Dog Stove Youtube videos related to this event and also highlight some of the products I am evaluating that I picked up out in Minnesota. Stay tuned.

Russell Pond Campground in Baxter state park

Chimney Pond –>Roaring Brook Campgrounds–>Lean-to at Russell Pond CG.
10.8 miles

Despite adding another hiker to our duo, we were able to started hiking today at 7:15 AM. We encountered dozens of hikers that were coming up the 3.3 miles ( and 1500′) from Roaring Brook campground to Chimney Pond.

Chris had come in on his own, and had the consciousness of a heap of throb after he lumped his 40 pound pack up here yesterday afternoon.  However this morning, he carried himself surprisingly well on the descent.  We stopped just once on the way down. Here is a video clip of Chris checking in with “The Daily Inventory of Pain”, a phrase and practice coined by my Canadian hiking buddy The Burglar.


When we reached our cars at the parking lot, Chris decided to take me up on my offer to look through his stuff and suggest what might be left behind to get his pack weight down.  I implemented the bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, and clothes closet pile technique and watched him orient his gear in the proper categories.  Chris’ empty backpack/ day pack military ops combo weighted 6 pounds one ounce empty. He reluctantly replaced that with the 3 pound ULA Catalyst that I had given him.  Even his camp chair was dumped, shedding 2+ more pounds. In the end, Chris reduced his load to 28 pounds, a much more reasonable weight that included even more meals than he carried up last night.

Guthook was on his own today. He went back up high over Hamlin Peak then took the North Peaks Trail and ended up with us in lean-to #5 at Russell Pond.

Number 5 , Baxter style

Number 5 , Baxter style

I was hoping to meet up with the Russell Pond ranger, Brendan, who lives not far from my house, but Guthook met up with Brendan, who opted for the challenge of the high route as he was headed home for a couple of days.

The walking was especially great, and followed a big day of going up and down. I was transported back in time as we passed the huge glacial boulder known as Halfway Rock. My wife Auntie Mame and sons Lincoln and Arlo were in my thoughts today, as they were physically back in the 1980’s when our family traversed this and many other of Baxter’s trails on our annual Columbus Day weekends.  Today the trail was wooded, dappled in greens, and frankly, easy.  We were in the green tunnel all day long. Today, Chris and I took the right fork over the Wassataquoik Trail.

We made two fords: one little and another wider over Wassataquoik Stream, about 2 miles before we ended the day’s walk. It made sense to keep my feet bare and walk the 100 feet or so across a fairly soft footpath to the second ford, rather than putting the boots on and taking them off and then putting them on and off again a minute later.  I was shocked to find a leech already stuck to the heel of my foot, even though I had been in the water for less than a minute.

We were way off on our own in Lean-To #5 at Russell. 

Lean-To #5

Lean-To #5

Dead wood was scarce, and what few solid sticks we could find were some distance from our spot. I bear-bagged my food way up in a tree after I spotted a huge pile of bear crap beside a nearby blueberry patch.
The crowds are gone now that we left Katahdin.
We had our session of “cowboy TV ” on a small wooden bench in front of the  cracking spruce wood fire.
I was asleep before dark.

Big Miles in Montana

Today we drove 300 miles north to East Glacier, where we had a room at the Whistling Swan Inn. My mom and I took a different route than we took on our way down to the southern part of Montana last week. It’s a heck of a vacation- bouncing from Glacier to Yellowstone Park and back, but what’s 300 miles when you have a brand new rental car, with the wide open spaces calling us out again?

The sparse population of Montana stunned us today, and we were traveling on some of the more frequented highways in the state.
“Montana is ranked 4th in size, but 44th in population and 48th in population density of the 50 United States. The western third of Montana contains numerous mountain ranges. In total, 77 named ranges are part of the Rocky Mountains. “ – Wikipedia. I’d add that three of my favorite big National reserves are in the state, with the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument following up on Glacier and Yellowstone ( which is mostly in Wyoming).

It would be very difficult for anyone from the eastern US to really appreciate the feeling of vastness without visiting Montana.

I have been here several times now, and today’s drive found me startled with the vastness of the countryside, a term that is not restricted to any particular part of the state.

Montana plains

Montana plains

Sure, the western portion of the state has all the mountain ranges, including the two National Parks, but huge visual expanses of green vastness were omnipresent as we motored north today.

The highlight of the day was revisiting the tiny community of Augusta, MT. I backpacked as far as Benchmark, MT, some 30 miles up and west with Train, and Dick Wizard last September 3. We had a most difficult time with getting to Augusta in order to buy food for the next 130 mile segment through the Bob Marshall Wilderness. You can read about our most interesting adventures in Augusta here, on my Trailjournal. I loved reuniting with Aimee today, the owner of The Bunkhouse, who did so much last year when we were in Augusta. She remembered my name, and even asked about Train and Wizard.

We had the rental car until 8 PM, so after we checked into our room at 5 pm, we hightailed it from East Glacier up to St. Mary, here we went as far on the Going to the Sun Highway (GSH) as we could, with our ride stopped at around the 10 mile mark. The the middle section of the GSH is still not fully plowed at the highest point around Logan Pass and the Big Drift. Two weeks ago, Glacier was reporting 50-70 foot snow depths around that area.

Here are some photos of the park from our evening ride.

West into GNP

West into GNP

The drive back was quite exciting, with no guardrails on the outside lane of the extremely twisty, uneven, and elevated roadways through that portion of the Park. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It got so bad that my mom, who was sitting even closer to the edges that I was, resorted to closing her eyes, and faintly whispering her Hail Marys as she pointed her clasped hands to heaven.

Carey Kish: It’s time to step up to the 1,000-mile challenge | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

As part of a regimen for the 1,000-mile goal, include hiking time in Acadia National Park. With views like this, you’ll be invigorated in both body and mind. Carey Kish Photo

As part of a regimen for the 1,000-mile goal, include hiking time in Acadia National Park. With views like this, you’ll be invigorated in both body and mind.
Carey Kish Photo

Carey Kish’s idea is superb. I like the idea of setting a long term goal that requires bit of a stretch. Totally in the right direction, which is getting outside. It’s also Maine-based.

Hey, Carey, I’m on this bus! Maybe we can hike together sometime in this 2014 campaign. I vowed to stay close to home this year, and your plan is making me look forward to the next few months.
I’d like a third hike of the Hundred. Carey’s thru-hike of Baxter state park inspired me to do the same this coming August. And yes to Grafton Loop. Definitely will do a thru hike of the George’s Highland Path and all of Camden Hills State Park

Readers click here—>>Carey Kish: It’s time to step up to the 1,000-mile challenge | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.

Day 3 Moose River Walk

Day 3 Moose River Walk
Early morning rising is easy when the lights are out at 7 PM.     Hard to believe but it was even colder last night.

Sunrise over the freeze

Sunrise over the freeze

Pat was up first – his coffee Jones propelling him to head down to the open lead and fetch water, and then kindle the wood stove and start the coffee percolating.
By 8:30 AM, the bacon was ready, and the rime frost that lined the acreage of the 9 x 12 Egyptian cotton tent had already thawed, so the thin fabric was dry again.  The double whammy of bacon and coffee fragrances makes the heart want to reach out again and embrace the frozen world around us.
Who knows what adventures the day may bring?   There are no set plans.  We have a big pile of firewood that we worked up yesterday so I might just hang out and stoke the fire and eat, read, and write. Or I could head back to Attean Pond and explore along the shore, or pack a track partway back to the car in order to make our exit easier.  Or we could move back up river over the superhighway that we laid down yesterday and set up there.

In the end, I spent a few hours stoking the stove while finishing up Journal of A Trapper: A Hunter’s Rambles Among the Wild Regions of the Rocky Mountains, 1834-1843.

Diary of a Trapper

Diary of a Trapper

If you feel like it is a big deal to be out and live in the cold for a few days, read this.  Nine years of wandering around the Yellowstone region trapping beavers, eating basically nothing but meat, and befriending or, if that fails, getting Indian arrows stuck into you.  Unbelievable.  I was reading from this book and came up with a passage that had Osborne eating pemmican.  IMG_2574  I had some  with me made by my friend Craig and we snacked on that .

Pat and Matt went back up the river for a six mile walk.  Bad Influence and I walked across the frozen river to a small bog where we sawed down three dead, standing spruce, delimbed them with the axe, and then hauled them back to our firewood processing yard.

Bad Influence sawing our fuel

Bad Influence sawing our fuel

We worked quickly with two saws and then I split up the larger pieces while BI stacked them inside and more outside the tent.

We then did some architectural renovations to the heating system, adding extra crib work under the stove, shoveled more chunks of ice and snow into the pit that had melted under the stove, and secured some of the two foot sections of 4″ stove pipe that had come loose during the day’s wind and stove’s settling into the pit.

Pat was on for supper tonight, which we put off as long as possible yet commenced at 4:40 PM. Carr’s Crackers with cheddar cheese and pepper salami made up the appetizer, with chili and cornbread, and home made chocolate cookies for dessert.

The cold doesn’t seem so formidable to me tonight.  I must be getting used to it.