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!

“How To”- Winter Camping in Heated Tents

My crew- out on Attean Pond around Jackman, ME-  Hauling a heated tent set up.
My crew- out on Attean Pond around Jackman, ME- Hauling a heated tent set up.
Just in time for holiday gifting. Consider an immediate purchase of the grandaddy/grandmummy reference of old-school traditional warm comfort in the winter camping.

This book has been out of print ( again ) for several years now, but is back and available untilo it sells out again. I recently re-read the book (I have a couple of my own treasured inscribed copies) and discovered additional material that I’ve somehow overlooked or breezed over on past readings.

You won’t find this Fourth edition on Amazon, but it’s now available from one of the authors:
Snow Walker’s Companion : Winter Camping Skills for the North, written by Garrett & Alexandra Conover
Paperback – 288 pages, 32 full-color pages, from Stone Ridge Press.

Snow Walker's Companion
Snow Walker’s Companion

From the North Woods Ways Web site:
“Snow Walker’s Companion is a guide to comfortable winter camping using tried and true traditional equipment and native skills. The Conovers show us how to sleep warm, travel safe and enjoy the white season. Guides in Maine and Labrador for over 30 years, Garrett and Alexandra have learned not only how to survive in the North in winter, but to thrive. They share their little known secrets in an easy–to–read conversational manner.

-Learn how to stay warm in extreme temperatures
-Tips on reading lake and river-ice conditions
-Practical advice on setting up tents & stoves
-Choosing the right footwear and clothing
-How to pick the best snowshoes for you
-Common sense psychology for the trail

BONUS! A 32–page color insert on Garrett & Alexandra’s epic 350 mile snowshoe trip across Ungava, Quebec. Excerpts from their journals are highlighted with photos from the expedition.

Prices: US: $25 + $10 (s&h), Canada: $25 + $14 (s&h), Europe: $25 + $20 (s&h)

If you would like it inscribed to someone, send the name(s) along. You can pay via PayPal. Remember to include your shipping address. Checks may be made out to:

North Woods Ways
2293 Elliottsville Road
Willimantic, ME 04443
USA ”

In the meantime, if you can’t wait for your own copy and want to learn more about the specific techniques that are detailed by the Conovers, check out this recent blog post from Paul Kirtley, entitled How to Live in A Heated Tent . Paul runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions. Paul’s photos and text hits a lot of the highlights of just how heated tent winter camping works in the UK, which is strikingly familiar to how it works here in the USA and Canada.

If you decide to get your own copy of the Snow Walker’s Companion, tell Garrett that Uncle Tom sent you.

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.

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

How To Live In A Heated Tent

Three buddies are heading up with me to the Jackman, Maine wilds next week for a five day winter camping trip.

Photo by Paul KIrtley

Read another superb blog post from UK’s Paul Kirtley, blogger, wilderness bushcraft instructor, and general expert in outdoor skills.

Paul’s blog entry has loads of info about how we will survive, in style.

Click it!  – How To Live In A Heated Tent.

Snowshoeing to Camden Hills

After several days of now-we-have-it-now-we-don’t electricity due to one ice, and two snow storms I’m here tonight in a stone-floored, enclosed shelter with no electricity or cell service, but…. there are three bunk beds, two chairs, a wood stove, an an outhouse.

I backpacked about 7.9 miles to get here- out the door of my house, on with the snow shoes, and down a snowmobile track on the abandoned Proctor Road.

Down the Proctor Road
Down the Proctor Road

Then off with the show shoes, for two miles of road walking through the center of Lincolnville, where I was made to wait by professional sign holder while two utility crews had a couple of guys way up over the road in a boom-bucket trimming ice coated branches over the power lines.

Snow shoes back on for the Thurlow Road where the abandoned upper half frustrated me with major blockage due to ice and snow-coated tree branches that often were right down to the ground, blocking the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  More aggravation!  Cascades of freezing snow fell down my neck as I pushed my way through the ice-prison bars.

After crossing Youngtown Road I connected with another snowmobile track heading up toward Cameron Mountain.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was inconceivable the going would be even more difficult, but it was at the start.  At one point the woods were so thick and the limbs so interlocked and frozen in ice that I had to get down on all fours, then get on my stomach and squirm like a worm over the snow and press myself under the tangled mess. I made it through where a snowmobile stopped and turned around.

Then it got better, but now was getting dark and I still had at least an hour to go.  When I reached the intersection of the Cameron Mountain Trail up to Zeke’s it was untraveled.   I was running out of steam, so I took a hard left, continuing on the Cameron Mountain Trail that ran on a snowmobile track for 1.4 miles where it reached the Ski Lodge (Multiuse) Trail.  This would add an extra 1.1 mile to reach the Ski Shelter, but I did not want to head up the 600 extra vertical feet to Zeke’s, in snowshoes, in the dark and increasing cold.

I made the right decision.  Traversing the much wider road, any downed trees were easily skirted.

My hands were painfully cold.   Once again, I could have taken mittens and even some chemical hand warmer’s but no, my thru-hiker mentality sometimes has me so vigilant about keeping it as simple as possible that I over scrimp.  I ended up shoving a hand down my crotch, easing the pain after fifteen minutes when my other hand cries out for a warmth.

I turned on my headlamp when it became unsafe for walking, within a half mile,  made it into the shelter.
Two dark departing figures beneath a couple of headlamps told me that the shelter was still warm, with coals in the firebox.
I stoked the wood stove, stripped off my set socks and shirt, and settled in- reading, listening to music on my iPhone, and watching the cowboy TV through the glass doors of the wood stove while I waited for my bunkhouse buddies to arrive.

Guthook and his posse made it in after 10:30 PM, where we all spent another hour or so chatting up and claiming spaces for our warm night in the Maine woods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s the map that I recorded on the way back the next day:

Home to the Hills
Home to the Hills

 

Snowshoeing Start Up

We’ve had a rare two feet or powder snow drop here on the Maine coast this past pre-Christmas week. I am nursing my sore body after two short but steep snowshoe hikes in the past three days. I have to remember to bring a headlamp with me-  came back in the dark last night. I usually hike from here with nothing extra.

I am fortunate enough to be able to walk just a 1/4 mile up the street and then strap on my MSR Lightening Axis snowshoes and hit the trail, most of it on a neighbor’s land. David doesn’t mind me keeping up the trail.  Before the snow came, I gave back to him a huge wrench that I found in the grass that he had lost this logging season.    Here’s a picture of the elevation profile.

20131220-080940.jpg
On the walk I saw a spruce grouse explode from the snow into the sky and even better, watched a little white weasel streak across the trail ahead of me. It was only the second white weasel I’ve seen in my life.  Fresh paths made by deer, rabbits, and even a moose were all over the ridge.20131220-082242.jpg

Back home, the same deer have not feared to come right up against the foundation and eat the greenery of some yew shrubs. They do that every year now, when the food is scarce for them.   This patch of land we live on is known as having a previous history as a top notch bean field. Two cemeteries flanking the house have signs of “c. 1830” on them. My wife suggests that the deer feeding here may have been passing on old wisdom for close to 200 years.

Unfortunately, this two feet of snow is not going to stay.   Here’s the weather report for the weekend.

Yikes!

Yikes!

Getting into Snowshoeing

Excellent snowshoeing conditions are going to end. It’s been great, white, fluffy, deep. I have been out four times in the past week or but showers and forty degree temps are expected for the next three days. It’s a primal shuffle that you get into out there, a gait that has been practiced for thousands of years in this part of the world.
Snowshoeing is more difficult than regular walking, while still a satisfying way to move about the winter country.
Sectionhiker just posted an excellent, brief, and accurate Beginner’s Guide to Snowshoeing. Required reading !
Rick and I spent three hours last night walking up to the top of Ragged Mountain from the Hope Street parking lot access to the Highland Path. Here’s the map:

Hope Street up to Ragged
Hope Street up to Ragged

Last night, it was cold, with winds up to 25 miles and hour. Rick and I were there by 5 , decided to head all the way up to the top, and felt we could be out by 8 PM. We never reached the summit. On the way up near the top, we missed a turn. The trail petered out and we realized we were truly bushwhacking. At this point we had been out for close to a couple of hours, the temps were dropping, and my headlight was not burning particularly brightly. So we backtracked our way back down. Here’s a bleak (but brief) video clip from that point.