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 .

IMG_4053

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!

Two great presentations from the Snow Walker’s Rendezvous (Nov. 2014)

Two superb presentations took place in November at this year’s Snow Walker’s Rendezvous in Fairlee, VT.

If you would like an overview of the whole Nov. program, I recommend tuning into Alex Gusev’s six minute YouTube video. Alex is handy with the camera, and weaves several presentations into a compact package.

Now, on to the two highlights of the weekend:

The first was Scott Ellis’ multimedia presentation entitled “Finding Simplicity in Winter Camping”.  I appreciated Scott’s low-key approach to having adventures outdoors.  Scott’s got tons of experience, and puts together informative videos about taking minimal gear and having fun in all conditions.  For his presentation he loaded up some clips from his videos.  Here is the full length version of him taking a piece of plastic sheeting, building a makeshift teepee, and putting some heat and comfort in his shelter by setting up a wood stove stove in there.

The second top-shelf presentation was by Paul Sveum , ” 21 day Snowshoe Trip in the Boundary Waters”.  His talk  highlights a twenty one day winter trip that takes place in march of 2014 in Minnesota, from the end of the Gunflint Trail (Saganaga Lake) 75 miles into downtown Ely. It was a particularly cold trip, with night time temps getting to 55 below zero.  Paul is an instructor at the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School way up north in Marsadis, Maine. The video captures an adventure of a lifetime, with a cast of characters that you rarely get to watch in action.  

It’s these types of programs that keep me coming back to Vermont every November to catch the latest installments from the Masters of Winter Wilderness Travel. It’s all set to repeat in Nov. 13-15, 2015. The event cuts off reservations at 100 folks, and if you have never been there- consider going. Stay tuned to this bog, where I’ll post the registration link sometime next fall.

Snow Walker’s Rendezvous – welcome to winter 2014

Last weekend, I attended the Snow Walker’s Rendezvous in Vermont .

Home made tent and stove

Learn by Doing

I experienced the weekend through a new lens-through the eye of a newly Registered Maine Guide.  Other Maine Guides were in attendance, including Master Maine Guide Tim Smith, and another new friend I made at the weekend, Portland-based Lou Falank.

I really enjoyed hanging out with Tim on Saturday night.

Tim Smith

Tim Smith has been finding his way into the conter of the bushcraft/backwoods survival skills spotlight for some time now. He developed and continues to run his Jack Mountain Bushcraft School,  the highly respected Maine-based ” University of Outdoor Skills” .  Tim’s long-term immersion programs are the longest and most comprehensive bushcraft, survival and guide training courses in North America.

What’s bushcraft?  The JMB website explains: ‘Bushcraft is the active component of our interaction with the natural world. Both art and science, bushcraft is doing, making, crafting, traveling, building and living in the natural world. It is an inclusive term for doing things outdoors and is composed of activities such as, but not limited to, primitive skills, modern survival, classic camping, expeditionary skills, prepping, hiking, paddling, crafting and outdoor living, as well as more specialized disciplines such as hunting, fishing and trapping. Bushcraft has no political agenda or worldview, isn’t about preparing for the end of the world, and isn’t an “ism”. It is made up of people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds who share a love for being active outdoors.’
Now Tim’s going to be on our living-room or palm-based screens in upcoming episodes of Dude, You’re Screwed on the Discovery Channel.  Tim’s episode should be entertaining us before 2015 rolls around, sometime in early December.  Stay tuned for more details.

The normally bushcraft-distant New York Times gave considerable column length to the show in their Dec. 20, 2013 review :  “Dude, You’re Screwed” centers on five men, most with advanced military training, who take turns running gauntlets designed for them by the others. Episodes open with essentially a staged rendition — the mark is kidnapped, hooded and bound at the wrists, then spirited off to who knows where. Unhooded, he’s left to fend for himself with just a handful of tools provided by the team. (As for suspension of disbelief, wouldn’t the participants know their destination when they’ve presumably gone through passport control?)
While the contestant in the game — all the men refer to it as “the game,” though there’s no prize — makes his way through various struggles, the other four men observe him remotely, and sometimes say grim things like “Moisture kills out here.”
But more often, their mood is light. Its like the home run contest before the All-Star Game, an essentially meaningless display of skills where titans watch one another show off. But the casual mood also serves to take the edge off the very real struggle of the man in the wild.
I want to see this show, but I don’t subscribe to the Discovery Channel.  If tell you when it’s on, can someone help me see it?  

I also had a great time talking with Lou Falnak.

Lou Falank -photo by Emily McCabe

Lou Falank -photo by Emily McCabe

Lou runs his Mountain Bear Programs and Guide Service.
Lou has provided programs as a director, instructor, and co-facilitator at camps & schools across Maine, New York, and Pennsylvania. He’s a Registered Maine Guide. His L.O.S.T.(Learning Outdoor Survival Techniques) Program specializes in bringing youth from a wide variety of backgrounds into the outdoors to learn skills and experience community. He’s making a difference in the lives of children in the Portland area, bringing after-school bush-crafting skills to the next generation.

Lou and I hit it off. We’ll get together in the near future, after Thanksgiving, to do something together in the outdoors.

I  was recruited to kick off the weekend at Friday night’s whole group meeting ( the event cuts off at 100 registrants) with a half hour reading from my blog. This was old school, no iPhoto or Powerpoint, just one guy trying to entertain the faithful by reading a half-hour story of an actual deep winter adventure in the Maine woods.

I  read about my one-week walk across the frozen Moosehead and Seboomook Lakes.    Here’s the link to the talk- this time there are photos and three video clips -The Great Slush Walk of 2009.

Mark Shaw exits our hotel room

Mark Shaw exits our hotel room

I plan to include at least one more entry about the weekend.

There was so much to be excited about !

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.

Hiking Close to Home

I spent the last three days hiking away from my house and camping with friends and family. When I mean hiking away from, I don’t mean driving someplace and hiking there. I mean walking out the door, and stepping away from the house and crunching over the thick mantle of snow through the fields and forest to be outside for a while.

UT and Roy heading out- photo by John Clark

UT and Roy heading out- photo by John Clark

I’m very fortunate. While it’s probably true that anyone can walk out their door with a backpack on and eventually embrace trails and walking paths, if I walk for five minutes in just about any direction from my house then I’m in the woods.
Yesterday, brother Roy, my hiking buddy Tenzing, and I walked 7.2 miles to get to this cabin. We used snowshoes to break out the first half mile of trail, then put them away for a 2 mile road segment.

On the way there, we had a couple burgers and a sub sandwich at Drake’s, the only liquor/ gasoline/convenience store in this part of town.  Later, I was walking up a steep segment of steep trail when I shouted out,” Hey, we all forgot to pay for our  food!”

“I paid,” said Roy.

“So did I,” said Tenzing.

I was only able to make it right, via my pleading  “$10-bill-down-to-the-store” phone call to ever-faithful Auntie Mame, who helped me out yet again, as she does each and every single day.

Roy and Tom fueling up

Roy and Tom fueling up

We made good use of a freshly tracked snowmobile trail that had us chugging up 600 vertical feet. We put the snow shoes on again for the last two miles of our walk. We met a porcupine who was overhead, chomping bark along a branch of oak .  Roy learned that in Maine, you always look up in the woods, to see if there is a porcupine above you.

Twenty feet up in a tree- photo by John Clark

Twenty feet up in a tree- photo by John Clark

At the camp, we welcomed Dave and Kristi, who arrived on the back seats of two snowmobiles, with their sled full of gear in tow.  They made a couple of new friends on the way up here.

Kristi snags trail magic

Kristi snags trail magic

Auntie Mame and my sister-in-law V8 showed up an hour later after I cranked the wood stove and had the building warmed up.  Plenty of dry ash for us to throw into the cavernous stove.
The Jamrog brothers cooked up a Polish feast for dinner: three kinds of pierogis, grilled kielbasa, horseradish, sour cream, and mustard.
It was warm enough in the cabin that we let the stove go out overnight.
Different day the next morning- warmer and raining. Roy, Tenzing, and I perked up a few cups of coffee and headed back up the ridge for a four mile loop back to the cabin.  It was raining, in the 40’s, and the footing was like walking on sand.  The ice was melting.

Moist Weather Conditions- by John Clark

Moist Weather Conditions- by John Clark

I was packing light: iPod Shuffle, earphones, Garmin eTrex30, and my iPhone ( for  photos). The trail had softened up enough to make snowshoes a must, even with 1/4 inch of ice coating the branches of trees up on the 1200 foot ridge.

Brothers on another Summit

Brothers on another Summit

When we got back, Tenzing cooked an over-the-top mess of bacon, sausage, eggs, and onion home fries on the wood stove. IMG_2767

Inside my down sleeping bag, settled atop my Neo  Air,  I read Outside magazine and Cache Lake Country: Life in the North Woods.  We gabbed, and I was back and forth between z-time and reading.

Later, they’ll be more from Mame’s bottomless pit of appetizers, along with Kristi’s chili, Dave’s corn bread, and Jan’s Carrot Cake Cupcakes.

It’s getting windier, and clearing. Winter left for just a bit.

A couple of hours later, found Tenzing, Roy, and I atop the summit of Bald Rock Mountain, on a full-moon 5-mile hike to a summit overlooking Penobscot Bay. The rest of our gang had walked a more sensible three miles and turned back when it started to snow a bit.

Full moon weirdness- by John Clark

Full Moon Man Greeting – by John Clark

Roy maintains, “Up here, you can hike 20 miles in the snow and rain, and still gain weight.”

“May be, Roy, may be”.

Snow Walking is Alive and Well…

..even if the book is still out of print.

This past week I have been re-reading Garret and Alexandra Conover’s definitive Snow Walker’s Companion: Winter Camping Skills for the Far North.

Snow Walker's Companion

Snow Walker’s Companion

Reading it again makes me wonder if I was paying attention the first few times I read the book, which is currently out of print. There is so much to be learned from the pages of this book. Coming off a 4 day winter trip of my own earlier this month on the Moose River near the Canada border, I appreciate filling in my knowledge gaps with the details that are laden onto each page. If you can find a copy at a used book store, snag it.

Over to Youtube.  I have been tagging potential videos for the past few months and took some time last night to view some of them on my TV set by the glow of the wood stove. 

I stumbled onto this gem, which is a MUST VIEW for all lovers of boreal trekking in the wintertime. It is stellar 50-minute piece of work entitled “Snowwalkers”.

This was a 10-day, 100km ( 62 miles) trip down the historic Missinaibi River in mid-winter. Released on Youtube on Feb 24, 2014, the video is to you by Laurentian University, the LU Alumni Association and Lure of the North. The video features Garrett Conover in action, portrayed here with justified reverence and capturing him in his usual, low key, hard-to-squeeze-anything-out-of-him style of leadership. I remember asking him numerous questions on the few trips that i had the fortune to take with him, and the answers were always preceded by, “Well, it depends….” I now realize how right he was.

See for yourself- invite some friends over, grab some popcorn and take notes until the book is republished.

Day 5 Moose River Winter Walk

Map of the area.

Map of the area.

Finishing any multiple day walk ramps my excitement up a notch.  On last days, I have always acted like a horse getting closer to the barn, often speeding up and taking on longer mileage days as the idea of coming home catches fire inside of me.  I like being in the outdoors, and this trip has only confirmed my desire to get back somewhere in Maine for another longer winter walk in 2015.
Several things stand out about these past few days:
First, we had no set itinerary to stick to- something that is difficult for me.  I’m goal oriented, however a fresh goal is embracing improvisation. If you want to explore how improvisation can improve your outlook on the inevitable changes in life- here it is-Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson.  Thanks to Brad Purdy for bringing me this information!
There was serious democracy in action out here. By the third day, no one had to talk about what to do – cutting firewood, splitting it, fetching water, cooking, washing up.  It just got done.  Fine men around me, all. The best example of this was our “rest day”  where each person was free to walk all day on a day hike, or to lay around inside the sleeping bags and read and sleep.
I learned that cold hands are inevitable when it gets below zero and there is close handwork to do, like packing toboggans, and cinching ropes.
Despite being one of the top snowmobiling capitals of Maine, Jackman is still far away from civilization.  We were surprised to see just a half dozen sleds on the Pond.  Consider midweek vacations if you want to avoid crowds.
 Old stuff works.  Old snowshoes, traditional cotton tents, mukluks, axes, saws.

Just yesterday I read a interesting story that came to me from my stove/fire guru and proprietor of Four Dog Stove,  Don Kivelus.  Fresh from Minnesota Public Radio, it’s about one man’s shift from cold to warm winter camping–>click on the hotlink below for a superb article about another guy doing just what we what we did.

Why would you camp in the winter?”

Here’s one reason why ( from the MPR article)!

photo by Chris Gibbs/For MPR News

photo by Chris Gibbs/For MPR News