The 2013 edition of the Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous in Fairlee, VT was a superb. Many tents were set up with wood smoke puffing out of 4″ stovepipes. Over 100 people attended the sold out weekend.
We opted for a heated bunk room, took in the displays at the vendor tables, and scored up front row seats in the big room for Friday night’s program.
Willem Lange kicked off the program with a reading of a couple of his highly entertaining Vermont- based stories. Will’s vitae includes 8 books, numerous careers, and founding the Geriatric Adventure Society.
For me, the highlight of the evening was Tim Smith‘s talk- “Nature as Wallpaper” . Tim is a nationally known bushcraft and survival skills instructor, with his Jack Mountain Bushcraft School running courses out of Marsadis, Maine. He posted an entry about his talk on his blog.
Tim told attendees that his talk would be on the web, soon. Here is the podcast of that presentation- it’s short, but drives right to the point. Tim is an authentic voice connecting people to the natural world. I hope to take a course with him.
From time to time I post from other peoples’ blogs related to hiking, biking, and the outdoor experience. Here’s one with content that stands out above and beyond what you’d expect.
On October 5, I posted an entry about my disappointment with Fatbiking the Arctic- to date, an apparently failed Kickstarter project which I funded. This was in response to Outside Magazine’s Oct. 4, update on the project, which appears to have been halted in the town of Pink Mountain, somewhere near the southern start point of the Alaska Highway. That article is here- Fatbike Expedition Comes to a Quiet Halt.
Today I will highlight an hour long interview with another Yukon/Alaskan adventurer, but this trip was a resounding success.
Krudmeister is one of my online friends, and I know that I’ll meet him in person someday. This April, Krud completed a 4,700 mile human powered trip on bike, foot, and canoe.
Here’s the lead-in, from Trail Runner Nation– “Our second interview with Adam Bradley, aka Krudmeister, a record-holding long-distance trekker! The last time we talked to him he had just set a world record for a self supported Pacific Crest Trail trek. This summer Adam did a self-supported, human-powered trek over 4700 miles from Reno, NV to the Bearing Sea in Alaska. This is an amazing story of endurance. We talk “Krudmeister” about his 2 1/2 month journey through some of the American Continents most beautiful country, the wildlife he encountered, and his determination to keep going day after day.”
Krudmeister rode his bike from his doorway in Reno, NV up through Glacier National Park into British Columbia, Jasper, the Icefields Parkway, then Alaska’s Cassiar/Stewart Highways, all the way up to Skagway, Alaska, completing that segment of 2,847 miles ( in just 31 days).
Enjoy. What really impresses me is that he did this solo. Krud not only put it out there, he delivered. If Andrew Skurka gets on the March 2011 cover of National Geographic for 4,679 human powered miles through Alaska and the Yukon territory, don’t you think Adam Bradley deserves increased national exposure?
FSTPKR: BLC to the Bering Sea.—-< Click. Now!
You absolutely have to check out what Krudmeister is up to this season. It is practically inconceivable to me that someone has both the interest and the skills to undertake a solo excursion that combines bicycling to Alaska from Reno, then backpacking the Chilkoot Trail out of Skagway, then assembling a kayak and following traversing the length of the Yukon River, all the way to the Bering Sea! What is even more inconceivable is that in this day and age, there will probably be no one who will read about Krud’s adventure in the sport section of a newspaper, where we are exposed to the daily whining of multimillion dollar base and basketball stars.
Krud is one of my virtual friends. He figured into a couple of my gear acquisitions. I came to know him when he and Scott Williamson broke the Pacific Crest Trail Speed record, I think in 2006. I went to my local Patagonia outlet and showed them his blog. He was and maybe still is a Patagonia customer service employee. He was trumping up their Houdini jacket, and one of the employees gave me one, that I used on my PCT and Long Trail thru hikes. It is still as good as new.
Then he posted a picture of some wildly garish New Balance shoes that I tracked down through my brother Roy, who works for the company. They are a product that is sold in Japan.
I though of Krudmeister yesterday when I was aglow with the shoes on my birthday.
Krud, want a pair to wear when you get back?
Joe was the native guide on a 200 mile canoe trip I took on the Grand River in Labrador several years ago. He was the kindest, most humble, and most knowledgeable outdoors man I have ever met. Joe, and especially his brother Horace, are probably the last of the line to possess the encyclopedia of skills that encompass trapping, bush survival skills, hunting, and survival in the harshest environment I have ever traversed. For a glimpse of this life, read Rugge and Davidson’ Great Heart, now back in print. I consider Great Heart a treasure of a read, one that I have enjoyed several times. The book inspired my own motorcycle trip to Labrador in 1993, when my friend Alan MacKinnon and I were the among the first motorcyclists to traverse the newly constructed gravel-and-sand Trans Labrador Highway. The mosquitoes there were so bad that nothing I have encountered since seems too bad, including a month in Alaska and 6 months on the PCT.
O my God! I was totally absorbed into, and moved to tears by this book. It is a dual soundtrack experience, the true story of two young men who become thoroughly lost in the same area, but several years apart (1998, 2001) . The writing is excellent, not much to skip over, plus there are actual maps to refer to. You are viscerally transported to the boggy, nearly impenetrable landscapes of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Quentico Provincial Park. We’re talking big trees, thick boreal treescapes, black flies, and mosquitoes. Both stories start off as many of us have experienced, one a solo backpacking weekend, the other a Boy Scout canoeing expedition where the lead Eagle Scout guide become separated from his charges. I’ve read stories like this before, where the rescuers open a shelter and 100% believe they will find a corpse inside. What comes to mind is the incomparable Great Heart, by Rugge and Davidson. There are innumerable factual references to wilderness survival skills here as well, as the author successfully yo-yoed me up and down into the consciousness of two suffering, desperate men. The break was needed. Brutal stuff, observing death approaching, in this case cadaver sniffing dogs, capable of detecting a corpse sunken beneath the cover of a sphagnum bog. I got a glimpse into the portal to real-life terror this past June, in the deep snow cover over the invisible Pacific Crest Trail, when I was twice lost. The courage to survive can take many forms and some may not be easy to stomach. Best quote of the book: “A great thirst is a great joy when quenched in time.” Edward Abbey.
I was supposed to be up to Lobster Lake today, starting a three day canoe trip, but it got postponed. We’ve moved it to next week. We could not deal with this record rain, it has not stopped. Should be a good trip, food and coffee will be featured, plus I hope to be testing a new titanium wood backpacking stove, the Bushcooker Lite, which was just released by Don Kivilus, of Four Dog Stoves, out of Minnesota. Here is a shot of the stove:
This stove is only 4 inches in diameter and 5 inches high and weighs 3.5 ounces. Don has engineered it so that it burns alcohol, solid fuel tabs, charcoal, wood, or any available biomass. I’ll have videos and a full report after next week.
I woke up with a startle after I remembered that it was my 37th wedding anniversary and that I had just spent the night in a tent with Mike Gundel instead of my wife Marcia. Or was it tomorrow?
We had our last breakfast together.
Gus and Beck had eggs, and Mike and I each had another wagon wheel pancake with bacon.
The river this last day was holding maximum water, with many more audible feeds streams swelling the flow rate. It broadened out as well.
Mike and I had many chances on whitewater today, as we successfully dealt with two major sections of Class II rapids in the 12 miles of river this morning. In the end, we only had two really close brushes with swamping our canoe, along with the usual numerous near mishaps. Both times Mike and I abandoned the canoe, jumping out into the rushing waters. We eventually pushed, pulled, and leaned the craft over enough to slide off the partially submerged ledges. A few times, we careened off serious boulders that we did not have the time, experience, or both to avoid.
We’ve finished the trip in 8 days.
Canada is in sight. The takeout is right before the bridge in the village of Allagash on the Canadian border, within sight of the confluence of the Allagash and mighty Saint John rivers. After we hauled the canoes up to shore, we walked up a hill. The first house west of the river is Evelyn McBride’s place. Even though it was approaching noon it was cold out.
We knocked on her door as instructed by the shuttle service. The local outfitters park their customer’s cars on Mrs. Mc Bride’s property so that the cars will be near the landing when customers finish their trips. Evelyn charges $2 per day for parking and $1 for landing. Mrs. McBride lives alone.
She told us that her husband died 30 years ago, had been in the lumber business, and that she was 92 years old. She was a Pelletier, and the Pellitiers had owned this river frontage for several generations and formerly operated the ferry across the river where there is now a bridge and the canoe landing. Mrs. Mc Bride appears to be to be related to most everyone in town.
After we placed the canoe on the rack of Mke’s car, he reviewed some visual history from our trip on the river.
“Damn, I lost the crown of my tooth!” exclaimed Mike, just as he was enjoying the the cheeseburger special and fries at Rock’s diner in Fort Kent.
We were eating an early lunch.
Mike and I had been reviewing the partial list of challenges that we have faced over the course of the week: the remote location, lack of personnel to rescue us if we encountered an emergency, black flies and mosquitos, below freezing temperatures, incessant wind on the big waters, rain, wet feet ( daily), cuts on my hands, hot temperatures and humidity, a sleep deprivation experiment involving a wild mob of 23 Russians, black and blue hip from slipping and falling on the rocks ( Mike only), bare miss of hitting a canoe broadside that had crossed out path at the last minute while we were exiting a rapid, reversed waves on the river due to high winds, at least one day of steady 30 MPH winds that halted our forward progress at 10 AM.
The Allagash trip would pose most, or all, of these challenges to anyone. Note that the list above does not even include our lack of technical skills needed in the rapids. Mike and I worked very well as a team, and Mike revealed that after taking in Gus’ s advice he sometimes was reciting the Lord’s prayer after only counting to three.
We both feel that we’ve received much more from being in the outdoors than we expected. Up here, Mike and I strengthened an already deep bond that began way back on that rope belay on Hurricane Island when Mike held me from the end of the rope on the ground, and I swallowed hard, leaned forward , gave it all up, and flew into the sky.
It is 26 degrees at 5:30 AM. Water that was left out was frozen, with white frost riming our gear that was out.
Today we traveled with Gus and Beck. We somehow, without speaking directly, coordinated our departures so that both canoes pushed off from the shore together at 7:30 AM. Made sense, actually, as we’d help each other today.
Parts of the trip this early morning allowed us to lazily drift the river, gliding past huge elm trees that are so isolated here that they have managed to escape the dreaded Dutch Elm Disease.
Even not paddling moved us forward, as the current now is stronger. The air was cool, with the wind still dormant. At one point while the sun was shining down on us, Gus reminded us, “ It doesn’t even get any better than this, guys.”
The river is moving faster now, after it has gathered increased water from the many streams that have been feeding into the main channel for the past several miles.
By 10 AM, we had completed the third of a mile portage around the majestic Allagash Falls after traveling just three miles on the river. Mike and I followed Gus’s canoe today, studying his every move in our attempt to improve our whitewater skills. Gus’s main advice if we get ourselves stuck in a bad place in the rapids was, “ Count to ten and say the Lord’s Prayer.” Gus added that most of the time, you don’t have to do much of anything to move a canoe off a rock. Unless the canoe’s exact mid point is fully engaged, some principle of physics eventually releases the canoe.
For the whole trip , I had been nervous about this final stretch, as it lists two sets of Class II rapids.
Gus is the real whitewater deal. Gus has told us he had been certified as a whitewater instructor with the American Canoe Association, was the instructor for the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society, and works part time in the summers running rubber rafts loaded with paying clients for one of the rafting companies up in the Forks, which runs trips on the Kebnnebec and Dead Rivers. It was uncanny how Gus appeared out of nowhere to assist us. Just his quiet, steady presence was enough to improve my confidence.
We were fighting wind and pushing through shallow waters again today. As we approached the roaring Allagash Falls, a warning sign appeared on our right.
We eventually beached the canoes, when Gus told us that it might be possible to move the canoes even further downstream, cutting the portage distance. Gus took all of us up the hill where we eventually found the path down to the shore. What I saw looked scary as hell. Gus explained that, “You have to get the canoe right in here, because just a bit downstream is the falls. You have to hit this.” He explained that he was confident he could get a fully loaded canoe through the rapids, multitude of boulders, and weave across the river in time to avoid a trip over the falls. He had done it before.
So Mike and I watched Beck and Gus push their canoe off upstream and confidently maneuver their craft right over to our feet. There was no way that Mike and I could pull off what Gus just accomplished, so Gus offered to stern our canoe with either Mike or I in the bow. I graciously relinquished the front seat to Mike, and watched him and Gus smoothly execute the serpentine watercourse.
Mike told me that when approaching an obstacle Gus told him instructions like, “ Give me two strokes and a draw.”
We four carried each of the two canoes over the portage trail, which was much easier on the shoulders than with just two people carrying the one canoe. It took no time to move everything to the put-in site below the Falls.
Down the trail on the portage we encountered a party of 8 men who were struggling to portage their gear, which included numerous coolers and four outboard motors, which appear to associate themselves with many additional gasoline jugs. There are no marinas here that sell gas, mainly because there is no service of any kind on the whole 92 miles of the AWW.
We fished , or lounged a bit beneath the forty foot Falls. Here is quick video on the action.
We could reach the cars today and head home if we wanted to, as the vehicles were only 13 miles away in Allagash village, and we had the whole afternoon to get there. Both groups decided to stay on the river another night; Gus and Beck because they planned it that way, and Mike and I because it just made more sense to stop this afternoon. We still had to drive home after we loaded our vehicles. Incredibly, home was five or six more hours south.
We stopped at the Big Brook North campsite. It was early enough that I made up a pot of Darkstar.
Tonight I made a super pasta meal, rehydrating a pint of tasty tomato sauce with meat, cooking up the ziti, adding parmesan and cheddar cheeses, and finishing it all off with a half a Whoopie pie.
Tomorrow would be our last day in these woods.
Mike and I awoke to below freezing temperatures. All of the gear that was left out was covered with frost. I had ice in my Tiki-Man water bottle, so it got down to the mid-20’s. The sky was dark when we exited the tent at 6 AM.
While I began to cook breakfast of sausages and pancakes it started to rain, and cold rain can’t be ignored out here.
Mike and I quickly put up the rain tarp over the ridge pole, and I staked out the corners.
We needed to get some warm food into us, as it would be cold on the river, which had a version of sea smoke rising from the surface.
By 7:45 AM we had eaten, washed dishes, organized and pack up most of our gear. I retreated into the tent to warm up in my down sleeping bag. Out plan was to leave this Croque Brook campsite and the cover 15 miles to Allagash Falls to stay there for the night. Mike had no dry shoes left so I showed him how to put plastic bags over his socks to help keep his feet warm.
There were more headwinds to content with again today. On the way downstream, we stopped to fish an hour or so at the confluence of the Musquacook Stream and the Allagash. We didn’t have much luck, but I walked past a large painted turtle on the shore.
Later, we stopped at the Cuniff Depot campsite where Mike fished and I wandered in the woods until I found the remains of two rusting Lombard Log haulers, 10 to 30 ton machines that could haul 300 tons. Logs were hauled on sleds in trains of four to ten sleds, at speeds of 4 or 5 miles per hour and 20 miles per hour down hill. Eighty- three Lombard steam log haulers were made, and were mostly used in Maine and New Hampshire but three went to Russia. Lombards were phased out with the advent of the trucking industry in the 30’s. I took two photos of them, but later learned that my Panasonic digital camera was internally fogged and that the photos were unacceptable. I was able to successfully dry out the camera in three hours by keeping it in a shirt pocket.
We didn’t make it to Allagash Falls today. The cold wind was just brutal in the afternoon. The river was widening out at this point, and the flat light and wind was making it impossible to see into the water and we were hitting many stretches where the water was so shallow that we were fetching up on the bottom. Our only action was to push and grind ourselves ahead by planting the tips of the paddles into the gravel and muscle ahead. We also learned that the water level on the river at this time of year was unusually low, due to a lack of snow cover up here this past winter.
We planned to take a break at Michaud farm campsite. The ranger came out to greet and sign us out, as this was the official end of the AWW. He mentioned that “ Your friend [Gus] is here, and wanted me to tell you that it is OK for you to share his site tonight.” We learned that Gus was actually guiding Beck’s first Allagash trip. She was from Swanville, ME and had always wanted to do the Allagash. It was fun to share the site with them with the talk all about canoes, past trips, and winter camping.
The temperature kept dropping all afternoon. At one point I had three layers of Ibex wool under shirts, then a Pendleton wool dress shirt on under my Patagonia Puffball jacket. I had a wool hat and gloves on. I put on my rain pants over my wool long johns and heavy long pants for extra warmth. Even so, I was fighting to maintain warmth.
After Mike and I had warm supper of hot dogs, beans, cole slaw , brown bread, and freshly baked chocolate cookies everyone retreated to the tents early.
It’s freakin’ May 30th and it may snow tonight here! We are truly in the North Country, with the Canadian border less than a full day’s paddling ahead.
Our only hope to get off this Island was to start early, and try and cross back to the western side of Eagle lake and move ahead. We packed everything we could the night before, grabbed a bar and a swig of water, and pushed off into the water at 5:15 AM. Mike and I were really hoping to move ahead at least a few miles, as the wind was also supposed to pick up today. Our crossing was quick and the wind , although present, was manageable. We chugged along the shore at about a 2 MPH pace until we started to home in on our next landing site, known as the Tramway Carry. We were hoping to locate the remains of two steam locomotives that hauled logs here from 1927-1933. This article provides a brief history of the most ambitious and unique venture.
The only signs here on the Waterway were the initial entrance sign, and the small triangular brown wooden signs that discreetly mark each campsite. There was no sign for the path that leads to the engines, but we were summoned to the correct place by the loud splash of a beaver whacking its tail on the water just in front of a beaver lodge that marked the entrance to a little cove. We expected to push through overgrown thickets to find the trains, but after a brief uphill rise, an opening in the forest revealed these gigantic locomotives, each over 60 feet long.
The wheels were 5 feet high. We were floored to see them here, so far into the deep woods.
Mike and I explored them a bit, snapped some shots and then were on the water again.
The wind kept coming at us, and we continued to hug the western side of Eagle Lake, and eventually made the 1 mile crossing of Russell Cove.
Next, we skirted the two mile long shoreline of a big peninsula where we passed three campsites. The only watercraft we saw on those sites were the usual 20 foot square ended boats fitted with 10 horepower outboard motors.
Next, we planned to stop at the Eagle Lake Ranger Station, mainly to cook up our belated breakfast. There was nobody home, and after using the outhouse, we were getting ready to unload the cooking gear when the white powerboat from yesterday came right at us. It was the same ranger who checked on us yesterday. We learned his name was Kevin, and we thanked him for his advice to head back to Pillsbury Island and wait out the wind.
Kevin laughed and told us, “ Only 10 per cent of the people I talk to ever listen to me.”
We listened even more carefully when he looked at his watch and told us “ I’d get off this beach as soon as I can. It is almost 10 AM and that is when the wind really picks up”.
I asked him if we had time to whip up a quick breakfast, and he said, “ If it was me, I’d eat later.”
We said good bye and he headed off.
Mike and I really struggled to get off the beach, which by this time was getting clobbered by high rolling waves, which were big enough that if you went broadside, would swamp the canoe. By pushing directly into the waves, and paddling like heck, we managed to get off the beach, but furious paddling into the waves was now causing us to go out into a two mile wide mini-ocean, which was not good. If we swamped out there, we’d be goners. Shouting back and forth, we agreed to surf back into shore again and somehow move the canoe left along the shoreline. Adrenaline was copiously entering my bloodstream. We tried to paddle along the shore but couldn’t do it. Mike spotted a quieter pond of water behind a natural retaining spit and we jumped out the the canoe into the water and haulded it back over the rocks and were able to paddle along the shore in this more protected channel for a few hundred feet. Eventually the pond ended and we pulled the canoe back over the wall again and really had to dig deep to make forward progress. We inched two miles up the shore paddling into whitecaps, and our full strength strokes were not even giving us 2 MPH. This was the final solution until we reached the protection of the Fred King campsite in the most northeast corner of Eagle Lake.
For a brief moment in time, we entered camping la-la-land: a sunny, sheltered spot; fresh clean water bubbling past us from a visible stream; and a rest, preparing us for the afternoon’s adventures.
Mike prepared huge servings of “caboose hash”, a family recipe handed down to him through his grandfather, who was connected with the railroad: bacon, eggs, cheddar cheese, onions, with white and sweet potatoes. I perked up another pot of DarkStar.
The Waterway narrowed down as we moved through Round Pond, went under John’s Bridge, and evenually reached Churchill Lake, where we ended our day at what has to be one of Uncle Tom’s Top Ten campistes of all time : Scofield Point. All and all , we moved close to 20 miles today.
In the spirit of “ a picure uquals 10,000 words”, here’s a two minute walk-through of this most spectacular site, which was all ours for the next 18 hours.
Mike was fishing off the point this afternoon, where encountered a nesting pair of Canada Geese. He had first noticed their empty downy nest, and on his second trip out there spotted 5 freshly laid goose eggs.
Mike and I seem well suited for this work together. Both of us might be described by some as mostly focused in our energy, and both of us are taking a cautious approach to the challenges we’ve faced so far.
Kevin visited us again this afternoon. He gave us some tips about the best campsites for the next few days, mentioned some preferred fishing holes, and offered us a strategy for dealing with the wind on the upcoming Umaskis Lake.
Mike and I beamed like two proud children when Kevin told us, “You two are good canoeists. You are going to do all right from here. I knew you guys could get up this far today”
Later, as I sat on my sheetrock bucket writing these notes, a big gust of wind came up, and I instinctively started rocking my hips, as if I was in the canoe again.
At 7 PM, Mike is fishing again, “ I almost brought in a 12 inch Brookie ( trout). Now I know they are out there. Don’t wait up for me. I may be here into the dark.”