Monday, December 31, 2007

Do it yourself

If I watched TV, I'd probably spend all my time watching the DIY channel. I'm fascinated by the guys woodshops and the metalworkers who fabricate anything they need. In my reality though, as well as most Americans I suspect, when something breaks I buy the parts and fix it. OK, probably most Americans just throw whatever it is away and buy a new one. I'm too thrifty to do that.
My snowblower broke before Christmas. I checked with Sears and they could "order" me the part. I didn't want to wait. Things warmed up after Christmas and I had the day off. I told my sons I was going to make a new one. They didn't believe it was possible.

I had a wide L bracket that I had scrounged somewhere years ago. It was about the same size but a lot wider. Using basic hand tools, I transformed a piece of scrap into a usable bracket.

First I spent about 30 minutes hack sawing off a chunk that was the correct width. Then I filed the sharp edge down. The kids lost interest long before this point. Then I drilled a pilot hole with a small bit using a variable speed pistol drill. I used thick chainsaw bar oil to keep the drill bit lubed up. Then I stepped up a couple sizes at a time until I got to the right size. I don't have a fancy shop, so I just used a C clamp and a piece of angle iron to hold it.

When I was done, I hacksawed the notch in the bracket. Why am I blogging about this? I truly enjoyed making this bracket. It didn't make economic sense. I am no craftsman and it looks rough. However, it does work, my kids thought it was so cool that I could make it, I enjoyed the entire experience, and my snowblower works! I had forgotten how much fun it was to work with metal.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Skiing, Cooking, and Landowner Relations

Half the fun of cooking outdoors is trying out recipes indoors. I'm always looking for simple recipes. My biggest complaint is that recipe books use too many ingredients. Keep it simple and use normal ingredients and you can take advantage of a bad situation.

My wife makes a lot of homemade bread. Often, there will be stale pieces left behind which she feeds to the chickens. However, if you are out on a trip and your bread goes stale, what should you do? Make bread pudding!

Simple Bread Pudding Recipe I adapted

2 c Milk (use some evaporated milk)
2 tsp cinnamon or nutmeg
1/4 c Butter or oil
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs (I haven't found a good source of powdered eggs- has anyone else?)
8 slices old bread (NOT moldy- just crunchy and stale)
1/2 c Sugar
1/2 c Raisins

In dutch oven, heat up the milk and melt the butter into it. Beat eggs and salt together in the milk mixture. Break or rip bread into small pieces into the bowl, add the cinnamon, the raisins and then mix. Stir until bread is well soaked. Bake until toothpick comes out clean at approx 350, about 30-40 min.

If I ever get a reflector oven, I'll try this there. Until then, I'll stick to the dutch oven.

We went cross country skiing today on the 20 acres behind our house. It was fun looking at the tracks. There are snowshoe hares everywhere on the land that was clear cut 10 years ago, which probably explains the hunter tracks we found all over the place. If you hunt on someone else's land, please take the time to contact the owner. This guy gets way to close to our horse pasture and house and makes us feel uncomfortable.

I'm tempted to post our land "Access by Permission Only". I'm not opposed to hunting at all. I just want to know who is on my land and why they feel the need to get so close to my kids, my animals, and my house. It is very inconsiderate of this one fellow. If he had the sense to meet me, I'd tell him where it was OK to hunt on my land and we'd all get along just fine.

So if you guide hunters, please be considerate to the landowner. A little time spent on landowner relations goes a long way.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Learning the Ropes of Knot Teaching

I was asked to teach knots to kids last night. I thought I was ready. I went to Home Depot and bought 50 feet of yellow poly rope. I bought 20 feet of brown/orange poly rope. I cut 2 foot pieces of each for each kid (20 ropes total). I came up with this cool idea that the kids would tie their ropes together using square knots (the knot I was supposed to teach) and then throw an inner tube to a teammate 20 feet away.

I thought the game would be fun. Well, the kids had fun but it was chaotic and confusing. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes. First, spend the money on softer rope. I spent extra money for fatter rope but clothesline would have worked great with their little hands. The large diameter poly rope was difficult for them to tie and the knots came out easily. The kids were frustrated. I was frustrated. Fortunately the kids like to throw things so I was covered there.

I used a 20' piece of rope, tied it to the inner tube, and we played the game. I learned a lesson. The two colors of rope was a good idea. The poly plastic rope was a bad idea. The fat rope would be good for teaching splicing but not for teaching elementary school aged kids knots. I'll post about this again- if I try this again.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Adventures of Bill Geagan

Leading the simple life isn't so simple as you might know. Shortcuts often complicate things. Recently I've been making the time to read Bill Geagan's book Nature I Loved which was printed in the 50s and reprinted in the 70s. My parent in-laws and brother in law highly recommended this book to me when they gave it to me while I was studying for my Maine guide exam earlier this year. Unfortunately I haven't made the time to read it until now.

It seems Bill was unsure about what he wanted to be when he grew up. He paid $50 for a cabin on the edge of a pond in the North Maine Woods and proceeded to make a life there. Along the way he has described how he came to befriend a skunk and a crow. He goes into great detail about his piscatorial adventures as well as his interactions with reynard. Imagine being free to live the good life being eaten alive by black flies as you cook wizened trout for breakfast beside the brook where you camped under your canoe the night before. Mr. Geagan has done a great job so far and I can't wait to hear about more of his misadventures with his canvas canoe and the shelf ice as I head into Winter and the last half of his book.

Has anyone else read this book? I haven't seen this referenced in anyone else's recommended book list. Did you read it and like it? Would you recommend something else? Drop me a line....

Christmas List

We all have different things we're hoping for this year. I thought I'd list out some of the things I'd like to see under the tree.



Membership Renewals:
Maine Combination Hunting and Fishing License $38

Misc. Supplies:
Tung Oil, Boiled Linseed Oil, Turpentine

Mini Adventures:
A Day Ruffed Grouse hunting with someone who can demonstrate how to prepare and cook them
A Day Rabbit hunting in my back yard with someone who can demonstrate how to prepare and cook them

Should I be wishing for something else? Let me know.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cooking with kids over a campfire

For those of you who guide families into the woods, how do you encourage the "helpful" kid when mealtime rolls around. Sure, you could make the menu include hot dogs, foil dinners, and rolls on a stick. I prefer to keep a nice food menu with little extra side dishes prepared by the kids themselves.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to be cooking for a group at a campsite which included another group of kids. One of the kids in the other group, was extremely interested in what we were up to (no wonder, it took them 3 hours to get their charcoal started, their meal prepared, and finally were ready to eat). In any case, this kid was asking me all sorts of "what are you doing?" questions. I put him to work breaking eggs into a mixing bowl, then stirring cake ingredients in the same bowl.

I try to bring a couple things that kids can cook all by themselves in a campfire with me. Nonstick aluminum foil and a pair of leather gloves makes a campfire accessible to kids and, if you are concerned, you can easily reuse the foil more than once before crunching it up and packing it out. This weekend I had grabbed corn on the cob, bananas, apples, and brown and serve sausage in addition to the ever necessary s'more making materials.

The kids this weekend were interested in baking corn in the husk. As I was cleaning the corn and preparing to wrap it in foil, an older gentleman in the group said "that's not how I'd do it". Sometimes at these points it pays to listen. When asked how he'd do it, he said he'd put the butter on the corn before he'd bake it. With nothing to lose, I buttered the corn liberally, put the husk back on, wrapped it all in foil and tossed it into the coals. The results were much better than any corn I've ever baked before. Small spots that might have been burned before were now caramelized in butter. The results were very tasty and the kids were eager to bake more.

At breakfast time, I made sourdough pancakes with dehydrated blueberries that came out very tasty. Since I was cooking on the dutch oven lid, I only get 3 or 4 pancakes at a time. While they are waiting, I have the kids make worm in the apples. Core the apple, shove in a brown and serve sausage, then wrap in foil and place in the coals. In about 15 minutes the kids get applesauce and a sausage to eat with their pancakes. Happy kids make for repeat customers.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Tips for Speeding Up Dinner Preparation for Campfire Cooking

Cooking over the campfire is a very rewarding experience and I enjoy the opportunity to cook for a group. Inevitably, when the fire finally gets going and I finally get the right coals for cooking, I am pressed for time and the group hovers around the fire waiting patiently and eagerly to eat. I feel pressured to feed them and take risks which sometimes effect the quality of the meal.

On Saturday evening, after riding 18 miles on horseback, I prepared Beef and Beer Stew loosely following this recipe:

1/3 cup finely chopped salt pork or bacon
2 ½ to 3 lbs. Beef stew meat
3 large onions, sliced
3 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 12 ounce cans beer
1 cup water
1 6 ounce can tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
4 large potatoes, cubed
6 large carrots or parsnips, thickly sliced

Cook salt pork in a large stew pot until rendered. Add meat; cook and stir over medium high heat until lightly browned. Remove meat. Reduce heat to medium; add onions and cook until tender. Return meat to pot and add seasonings, beer, water, tomato paste and Worcestershire; stir to mix. Cover and simmer until beef is tender, about 1 ½ hours.

Add prepared vegetables; cover and simmer until vegetables are cooked, about 45 minutes.

We got back at 5PM and my preparations began, dinner at 6PM, I knew I was in trouble. I chopped up the fat back (salt pork without the salt), potatoes and carrots and onions just before I started the campfire. I used very dry hardwood and got the fire started around 6PM. Because I was pressed for time, as always it seems, I fried up the pieces of salt pork in the dutch oven until they were half liquid and half pork rinds. I browned up 4 pounds of stew beef, I then threw the onions directly in with the beef. I let the onions cook for 10 minutes. Then I dumped in the beer and vegetables and cooked everything for another 25 minutes. Total cook time was only an hour, a good hour and 15 minutes faster than the recipe called for. AT 7PM my group hungrily devoured the stew and pronounced it good.

How could I have made the same stew better in the same faster amount of time? Answer: dump in veggies that are already cooked. (NOTE: I'm not opposed to using canned veggies for canoe camping- burn out odors, crush flat, and pack them out very easily) If I had used canned cubed potatoes and carrots, and frozen chopped onions, I could have saved a ton of prep and cooking time. I could skip the cutting board entirely- why pack it if the food is already prechopped. In fact, all I would have needed to do was to chop up the fat back (salt pork) before the trip and put it into a ziplock bag or I could substitute lard or butter instead. Just remember, nothing calls people to a campfire faster than the small of frying bacon or salt pork.

Another suggestion, made by my father in law who was helping me, was to cube up steak instead of using stew beef. At first I laughed at the suggestion, after all this is stew and I was using "stew" beef, but once I ate it I realized why this was such a good idea. By speeding up the recipe, I wasn't stewing the beef and it was far from tender. My group of hungry customers would have eaten anything I put in front of them. Next time, if I cut up steak ahead of time, instead of using stew beef, the shorter cook time won't matter a bit.

This recipe was a hit. The aroma of beef cooking in beer was fantastic. The stew had a very nice flavor (even though I skipped the Worcestershire sauce and spices, and used cheap beer). I'll definitely cook it in the dutch oven again. Hopefully I'll remember my own quick preparation tips for speeding up dinner next year when I try to be both a participant and cook at this event.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Survival Whistle Comparison Testing

I haven't been able to find any good information on the Internet as to what whistle is best for a survival kit. I'll need to choose a whistle to use with clients when I "take to the woods". I picked up a whistle made by NRS for marine use at Eastern Mountain Sports for under $4. I needed a whistle for my whitewater training back in April and my kids had "borrowed" my other whistle at the time. The NRS whistle is flat and clips onto your clothing though there is a place to put a lanyard through.

I also picked up a Fox40 "Classic Whistle with Lanyard" at Walmart in the Sporting Goods section for about $6. My kids were very excited to help me "test" the whistles and we headed for the woods. Right away it was clear that the whistles were not audible over the babbling brook near my house.

However, it was amazing how far away we could hear each other with the whistles even in dense evergreens. My kids thought the Fox40 whistle was loudest. I thought the NRS whistle was loudest. I suspect this is because the FOX40 is a higher pitched whistle. I'm quite a bit older than the kids, so I am less able to hear the higher frequencies than my kids. Perhaps I'll get more scientific in the future, but for now I'd say either of the whistles is adequate, but I'll be buying more of the NRS whistles. The further away I can hear a whistle, the better. I'd be interested to hear someone else's opinion about different types of whistles.

On another note, I got my Maine Guide written exam results back yesterday. I did much better than I thought and was surprised at my score. I mailed in my $81 today and hope to get the actual license soon.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Registered Maine Guide Written Exam Passed

This morning I took the written exam to become a Registered Recreation Maine Guide at the Augusta Armory. There were about 22 men and 3 women taking the test. Of those, nearly half were for the Sea Kayak guide license, 2 were recreation, 3 were fishing and the rest were hunting. We got our test booklets and an answer booklet. According to my booklet my test was written in 2003.

I had questions on heat stroke and first aid. I had a few questions about animals, birds, and their mating, breeding, and feeding habits. The "Critters of Maine" book prepared me for these. I had a ton of questions on canoeing and canoe rescues. It was a good thing I knew the parts of a canoe. I thought I knew a ton about boating laws, lights, pfd types, and pfd requirements. There was more on the exam than I knew. I guessed a bit when it came to larger boats and boat navigation.

When it came to mammal, bird, and fish identification, I had prepared with "Critters of Maine" and the IF&W published "Fishes of Maine". Most of the pictures seemed straight out of the fish book and I think I got all the fishes correctly identified. As for mammals, the black and white pictures are tough to discern. Suffice it to say, you'll need to know the difference between a bobcat and a lynx, an otter, weasel, mink, marten, and fisher, chipmunks and 3 different types of squirrels, etc. As for duck identification, I completely did awful. I guessed on all 5. The pictures were bad and though specific characteristics were there, all I could do was know that I was choosing a drake or a hen from the multiple choice answers. It was not a proud moment.

I finished third of fourth and the administrator told me to wait if I wanted to know if I had passed or not. Of course I waited to see how I had done. After a few minutes he gave me the thumbs up. I'd like to have done better but a pass is a pass. I'll be learning more guide stuff and taking trips with other guides this year so stay tuned.....

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Registered Maine Guide Oral Exam Passed

I arrived at my Maine Guide Oral exam appointment early, 24 hours early in fact. There were already two candidates standing there and looking at me. They asked if I was here for the 9:30 appointment too. At first, I thought the IF&W had screwed up. In the end, one of the guys was supposed to be there Wednesday. One was there at the correct time. I was was a day early. So fate brought 3 of us there at the same time. The IF&W was trying to figure out how to deal with the guy that was 24 hours late so I left and went to the sales counter.

I bought a neat book to help me with mammal and bird identification called "Critters of Maine Pocket Guide". I'll go through it this weekend and, once I take the written exam, provide feedback as to how good it is. The IF&W guy also gave me a book called "Fishes of Maine" published by the IF&W. Hopefully that is adequate to prepare me for the fish identification portion of the written.

At that point I had another 24 hours to mentally prepare myself for the oral exam which took place on Friday morning. The Suunto A10 compass I had been using to practice had been driving me crazy as the left side and right side were not parallel (in fact they were 3 degrees different). I stopped at EMS in Portland and traded up to the next model, a Suunto M2, which was shorter and wider. I like the design of the more expensive one but the bezel doesn't fit into the base plate tightly and it is possible to slide it left or right. When I got to the actual exam, the compass they provided me was an even more expensive model that had this same type of bezel so I was comfortable using mine.

I spent a lot of time recording my lost person scenario plan and going over the details of the contents of the survival pack. I then listened to myself and tried to determine how I could do better. There was always room for improvement even when I got to the actual exam. I spent much less time preparing for the client care portion of the exam as I was very nervous about the compass and lost person scenario.

In reality, the compass portion and lost person scenario portions went extremely well as I had overprepared. I walked into a little room with pencils, tape, rulers, and a compass on a 3x6 folding table where two examiners sat, one a man and one a woman. There was also a little wooden table in the corner by a window that looked out onto the capital building in Augusta. I was given an 8x10 map of an area north of Jackman by the Canadian border. The map had a 3/8" circle on it at the inlet of a stream to a pond. They told me to start there and give them a bearing to the outlet of another pond. Then I was to give them a bearing to the inlet of a different pond. Then I was to give them the bearing to the point of origin. I was a bit concerned because I was so nervous and the whole table was shaking. I oriented the map between each bearing. I also double checked with their compass since I was allowed to use anything on the table to get my bearings.

In about 12 minutes, I provided them with 6 correct answers for magnetic and true bearings. He was very reserved and I thought I must have done something wrong but then he said I had passed. He then told me that a lot of candidates had been to guide school and he wanted what I would do in a lost person situation not what the guide school told me to do. He explained that while he was marking up my map, he wanted to hear what information I would get from the clients on a phone call in February for a trip in September. He then wanted to know what I would do for a pretrip briefing when my clients arrived for the trip. I was unable to finish telling him about what I sent the clients for information before he sped me along to the pretrip briefing. While I was discussing my pretrip briefing he sped me along before I could discuss my signal system. He handed me my map with all sorts of black lines on it. He told me I had 2 couples that had come for a moose photography trip. When we left on the hike, one of the woman was too sick to go with us and stayed behind in the tent to read her book. We left at 9AM and when we returned at 4PM she was gone. She left a note saying she felt better and was coming to meet us.

In my hasty search I looked around the campsite and ran up and down the trails close to the campsite looking for clues. I had no last known direction for the woman and was given none. That is how the scenario started and it went on from there. By looking at the map, I was able to give him a plausible theory of where she had gone. I explained that when I taught her how to read the map and had gone over the days hike, I had mentioned a stream which she should not cross as she would be going in the wrong direction. I also said our hike was to be along the lakes all day so she would know she was headed in the wrong direction. Eventually I found a fresh footprint. This went on until he sped me up and said "where do you think she is and why?" I said she would have returned to camp before nightfall if she wasn't hurt, I think she is here on the steep section of trail with an injury. He said we were done and I had to wait for 10 minutes while they debated whether or not I had passed.

In 10 minutes, he came out and got me. He gave me no clue as to how I had done, then said I had passed, and that other than missing a couple of details, I had done fine. We moved onto 25 questions or so some of which were worth 12 points each and he'd tell me when those were. There were a lot of questions and things are already blurry in my head. I was tired and stressed and he didn't want me to write anything down. Writing things down helps me to slow my brain down and helps prevent me from saying stupid things. For example, name two ways to purify water. Did I say "filter it", no, first thing out of my mouth is boil it. How long? Six minutes. Only six minutes? Well, I'd boil it for 10 but 6 is what the book said.... Give me another way to purify water. Again, I took the more difficult route. Chemically, like with drops of bleach. Really- you are going to provide your clients with bleached water. How much bleach per gallon? Only a couple drops... we moved on.

Things I know I messed up- I didn't provide enough symptoms of hypothermia, though I believe I did fine in describing the treatment. Getting my clients to strip down and get into a sleeping bag with him. That always makes for a trip to remember. Of course, then he took the sleeping bag away from me so I had folks trade clothes with him and huddle under a survival blanket. He seemed satisfied.

I totally switched out the treatment for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. I identified the problems fine but treated one for the other. I was really tired and stressed out after and hour or so of this grilling. For the most part, though, I was very comfortable with my answers and there weren't a lot of curveballs. He was looking to trip me up and got me with his last two questions. I was able to give answers and stuck to them. I'm sure I got partial credit.

I'd guess my scores were A, A, C for the total exam. I needed to spend more time on the client care part of the exam, specifically on first aid. If you plan to take this exam, brush up on your first aid treatments. This exam is tough. Fortunately, I'll never have to take it again. I need to take a 200 question written exam to become a Registered Recreation Maine Guide. I can also take other exams to become a fishing guide and a hunting guide. I would describe the process as tough, challenging, but not impossible.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Emergency Survival Kit Thoughts

I've been thinking about what should be in a survival kit that all of my "sports" take with them on one of my trips. Note that this is not my survival kit which will be more extensive. It needs to compact down into a small bundle and should include at least the required items in the orange "You alone in the Maine woods" book.

NOTE: this little survival kit is in addition to the whistle and compass I'll put on a lanyard around every client's neck

Emergency Survival Kit contents
these items are deemed mandatory in the orange book:
knife (you can use this for many things including splitting firewood and making fuzz sticks)
waterproof matches
spare compass
spare whistle
required medicines and spare glasses
survival food (I need to look for something better than energy bars)

items not deemed mandatory in the orange book that I think should be in the kit"
waterproof firestarters
band aids and basic first aid kit
led headlamp with spare batteries
map of the area
copy of "You alone in the Maine woods" orange book
pencil stub
flagging tape (long strips that can be hung in trees around the camp"
space blanket
signal mirror
water bottle with built in purifier
parachute cord

Other ideas?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Contoocook River Class II

Despite the fact that we went to bed late, I woke up at 4:15 and then about every 15 minutes until the first of the group got up. Most everyone arrived early at the church for the 7:30 start. We had an ample continental breakfast served by a full kitchen staff. We put on our paddle gear and assembled. We were given a name tag and a ribbon. The ribbons helped to insure that the right people and boats were shuttled to the right place. I was matched up to my instructor Dick Morin, a whitewater paddler with decades of experience.

We discussed paddle strokes and water safety. Our job is to get the person out and to shore then save the canoe and any gear. We shuttled to the river for training. Student to teacher ratio was nearly 1:1 and there were many more staff members in little kayaks which provided safety and support roles. They zoomed all around setting up a 2 balloon slalom courses with balloons and brick anchors on strings while we discussed paddle strokes on the shore. They looked like little ducks all swarming around on the river.

Once we hit the water, there were additional rescue staff members on the shore taking pictures mostly but quick to assist with any swimmers. I was in the open canoe tandem class. We broke into groups of 4 canoes so there were 4 students and 4 instructors in my group. There was at least one other group of tandem canoes and quite a few solo canoe folks. The rest were all whitewater kayak people.

Dick held the canoe on shore while I demonstrated strokes to him in both the bow and the stern. Then we put into the water and I got to demonstrate bow and stern strokes while we went up and down the river avoiding strainers and other natural features. When he was satisfied I wouldn’t take him for a swim, we practiced on the balloon slalom course. That was fun.

Then all the canoeists got together to play canoe soccer. Basically we broke into 2 groups- 8 red canoes against the other colors (4 green, 2 tan, 1 orange, 1 blue). Some of these canoes were tandem and some were solo. At first Dick and I hung back and played defense. Then he encouraged me to get aggressive and we started ramming boats. He steered us right into the action and we were right in the jumble of boats. It was a fairly safe way to practice strokes in a “panic” situation. I got splashed many times and we managed to accumulate an inch or so of water in the canoe. Only one person went for a swim and it was a solo canoeist that got rammed by other canoes. The game immediately stopped while we “rescued” her in the 3 feet of water.

While I had a total blast playing this game, I was REALLY glad I wasn’t playing the game in a boat that I owned. I guess whitewater paddlers aren’t afraid to bang their boats around a bit. This was a great way to get to know my partner and by this point I felt comfortable and ready to hit the whitewater.

We loaded the boats and shuttled back to the church for lunch. The warm water had been a nice treat when we took a break mid-morning. Now, as I sat eating cheese and crackers, and drinking vegetable juice, I realized that I could have just brought hot soup in the thermos. It sure would have been tasty!

My wetsuit was very warm and moist and the nylon splash suit had blocked most of the water but I was still quite moist. During lunch I pulled down the farmer John wetsuit so that my tshirt could dry. I had to leave my splash pants on since I was too lazy to take off my paddle shoes. In retrospect, since we ate and then talked for a couple hours, it would have been time well spent to take off my splash pants.

We ate lunch, taked about canoeing informally, then assembled for river training. We talked about rapids and how bubbles in the water cause the boat to become less buoyant. We discussed how obstacles such as rocks will appear in different water speeds and depths. We discussed scouting and best ways to “read” the river.

After lunch we shuttled up the Contoocook River. We needed to carry the 80lb canoe across a swampy area and then slide it down a snowy slope. Though Dick had 30 years on me, there was no question in my mind that I was slowing us down. Once on the river, we decided I’d be in the stern, and practiced peeling out of the eddies and eddying out into the eddy. We ferried across the river and were ready to peel out into fast rapids when the boat just ahead of us flipped instantly while doing the same maneuver. Dick yelled “boat over”, said to lean and we quickly peeled out as planned and went on to provide rescue support downstream. I was a bit apprehensive at doing the exact same thing when the other canoe had flipped but we were fine.

We headed into sets of rapids and it never seemed to fail that Dick would pick some obscure eddy and we’d hit it just right and eddy out. It was really great having such a strong paddler in the bow and being able to stop in the middle of a maelstrom. After we took on some water during a rough section, we pulled up on shore to bail out and I switched to the bow. We ferried across into the rapids and then into an eddy, we then surfed back up into the middle of the rapids and ferried/surfed out into the rapids where we peeled out and back down the river. It was very clear to me what a class 3 or 4 whitewater paddler is capable of. Though I admit I was scared, it was amazing what we could do in the canoe.

All the other rapids paled in comparison and we arrived at the takeout point just below a covered bridge. Dick caught a shuttle back to his vehicle where we put in and I caught a ride back to the church where I changed into warm, dry clothes. I had put on a fleece jacket after lunch against Dick’s advice and I had been too warm. The basic gear set he recommended the night before seems to be just the right combination for paddling this time of year.

We had appetizers and then a huge dinner. Dick introduced me to his wife and we were able to compare notes. They are a very nice couple and I hope I can paddle with them in the future. Soon after, they announced that they were canceling the Sunday portion of the class due to the large blizzard that was headed our way. We discussed future tripping options with the club and headed our separate ways around 8PM. I headed Northeast and arrived home at 11:45 PM totally exhausted and sore. I can’t wait to paddle with these folks again.

Southwest to the Whitewater Class

NH AMC Paddlers

Friday I left the house around lunch and headed Southwest down to North Conway where I went to EMS and LL Bean Outlet looking for the last couple items on my gear list. I was planning to wear a bike helmet and I knew it would be cold so I wanted a hat. I had seen one in the NRS catalog that looked perfect called a Mystery Sea Hood. LL Beans doesn’t carry it but EMS does. EMS in North Conway didn’t have it in stock but they just got one in Concord. I decided I’d stop at EMS in Concord to pick it up.

I headed South on 16 and took a slight detour to 28 to Wolfeboro Falls and stopped in to see Tim Smith of Jack Mountain Bushcraft.

His road had plenty of slippery snow on it and I ended up helping a car out so that I could park. I walked down the hill to see Tim’s place. He has a great setup with a nice large barn where he is currently stretching canvas over a canoe. We discussed reflector oven designs, cooking, trips, etc. over coffee. He gave me some sourdough starter and I headed South to Concord about 4:30. I got to EMS and LL Bean in Concord about 5:30.

I found an aluminum dutch oven made by GSI Outdoors on sale at the LL Bean outlet. This is a great find as I was unaware of anyone making aluminum dutch ovens anymore. The aluminum models are a lot lighter and more practical for canoe tripping than the traditional cast iron.

At EMS they had my hat in stock though it was more money than I wanted to spend. As I was making my purchases, the EMS clerk told me it would take about 45 minutes to get to Henniker from Concord. He advised that I drive South on 93 then north on 84 to get to Henniker. It is a straight shot on 202 but on a Friday night, travel would have been slow.

I made it to the class in Henniker 10 minutes before class started. I couldn’t believe the number of people in the Church meeting hall- there were almost 50 students! We discussed plans for the weekend and the storm that might mess up our plans for Sunday. We then covered basic river safety, how cold the water was, and what to do when you take a swim. We discussed proper cold weather gear. The instructor was Paul who has been whitewater paddling for over 40 years. His neoprene shirt was fringed with red, white, and blue and looked straight out of the 70s! His favorite wool shirt was a yellow plaid with huge holes in the back. It was good to hear that he felt that the traditional and durable materials are still OK. It was also good to see that he had gotten many years of service from his gear.

We then broke into our groups for a gear check. I was a bit skeptical since our intro class had brought be way over prepared with gear. My leader put more than half of my gear in a pile and said I’d be fine. I was left with my coolmax tshirt, techwick boxers, NRS farmer John wetsuit, polypro shirt, wool socks, paddle boots, neoprene gloves, and my nylon jacket and pants. I put the rest of the stuff in a bag and decided to keep it around in case I went for a swim.

Class dismissed and I grabbed a ride to a fellow student’s house. There were 3 other students staying with him (all related to him in some way). They are planning a trip to the St. John in May and this class was their training plan. We stayed up until 11:30 talking all about rivers, canoes, gear, etc. Finally we all just went to sleep on the couches.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Cold Water Gear Test

My NRS Farmer John wetsuit arrived in the mail from LL Bean yesterday afternoon. I put on my polypropylene union suit. Then I put on my wetsuit. Then I put on wool socks and my paddle shoes. I discovered the paddle shoes wouldn't fit over my wetsuit but the wetsuit would zip over the paddle shoes. Everything fits very snugly. I was unable to pull the NRS Rio pants over the paddle shoes, so when I'm actually on the river, I'll need to remember to put the paddle shoes on last.

I filled the tub with cold water and tested my gear by jumping in. Amazingly enough, the paddle shoes stayed dry for 10 to 15 seconds. Then the zipper let in a slow flow of very cold water. Once the water warmed up though, my feet were still toasty warm.

I lay down in the tub and the cold water seeped into the wetsuit. It was shocking how cold it felt. I lay still and waited for the water to warm up. I was very comfortable except for the most sensitive parts which remained ICE cold even after waiting 5 minutes for things to warm up. So I'll need to look for some sort of wool underwear or some other solution. All in all though, I feel the gear test was a huge success. I really like the wetsuit and it seems to fit. The whitewater class this weekend should be a lot of fun.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

LL Bean

I went to LL Beans yesterday to pick up an NRS wetsuit for next weeks whitewater class in Henniker, NH. This week instead of the semi-helpful "expert" in the canoe section, the clerk was extremely helpful and a complete expert. He recommended a dry suit but wasn't pushy. He asked where I was going for trips and where I'd been for trips. He gave me all sorts of useful websites like Piragis Northwoods Company. He was disappointed Beans didn't have my wetsuit in stock, personally called their catalog store, adjusted the price since the catalog was more expensive, asked the catalog associate when it would arrive at my house, and then handed me the phone to complete the order. He suggested that I order two and return one in case it was the wrong size. He also assured me that if for some reason the wetsuit didn't arrive on time, I could call him and borrow a Kokata Meridian Dry Suit for the trip. Now that is service. I like Beans but this was the first time I really felt one of their associates had really gone out of their way to be helpful. What a place to work- this guy loves what he does and does what he loves. He's not getting rich but he was happy.

I'm still putting together all the gear I'll need for next weekend's trip. I need to decide if I'm going to buy a new fleece union suit or if I'll use my old itchy polypropelene base layer. I'm looking at Immersion Research and NRS union suits. I really like the Immersion Research design but I can't find one locally to try it on.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Oral Exam Scheduled

You may remember that I sent in my Maine Guide exam application on March 7. On March 31, I received a letter with a scheduled oral exam date on it in April- not a bad turn around time. I just checked for an official description of what is on the oral exam and here is what I found at the state website:

The oral exam will cover General client care issues, Weather related questions, First aid, Safety, Ethics (legal business practices and behavior of clients), Aquatic vegetation, Clothing, Sanitation, Watercraft laws/rules, Map & compass, and Lost person scenario. You will also be asked to demonstrate your ability to work with a map and compass and to explain to the Board what steps you might take in the event that a person becomes lost while in your care as a Guide.

After successful completion of the oral exam, you will be scheduled for the written exam....

Saturday, March 24, 2007

University of Scouting

I had an opportunity to attend the University of Scouting put on by the local Boy Scout district. For $10, I got a day full of training along with lunch- a deal that can't be beat. Here are the highlights from what I learned today:

I met a guy from Harrison that was so excited to meet someone else that can pole a canoe that he invited me to come down and pole the Crooked River in Harrison with him. This is exciting news as I have looked at the river on the map and thought about trying it. What better way to do the river than with a local who does the river all the time. I'll keep his number handy and take him up on his offer later this spring.

As for his Allagash advice, he recommends multiple coolers. You don't open the coolers that contain the last few days of food until the day they are needed. Pack the top of those coolers with newspapers to keep the cold in. He recommended the Little Ossipee River trip as practice for Chase Rapids. He also said the St. John trip was better than the Allagash! I have to find someone that is going on the St' John trip this Spring. Black flies won't keep me away (they may keep me from going back but they won't keep me away). He also recommended the water bottles with purifiers built in. That way the kids are sure to have clean water and they have a "cool" "wow" factor.

He has a Tripper XL and loves it on paddle trips. However, he doesn't enjoy poling it. This is good information and I really think I'll be buying an Old Town Tripper 17. However, I'll wait until after the whitewater training class before I buy anything. That should be a great opportunity to try a bunch of canoes.

My next class was all about cooking with Dutch Ovens. He didn't provide any handouts but I took note of a few things. Use more charcoal on top to bake and more charcoal on bottom to boil. Don't scour a dutch oven or you'll need to reseason it. Season it with mineral oil or peanut oil NOT olive oil. Olive oil goes rancid.

Ask churches for their wax candle stubs after Christmas. You can melt all the candles down and use the wax for firestarters, waterproof matches, etc. Lee Valley Tools sells Kelly Kettles for less money than Lehman's BUT you have to pay extra for shipping.

He had a very cool trick for his Pineapple Upside Down cake. He brought a circle of cardboard the size of the inside of his dutch oven. He covered it with wax paper and duct taped it in place. When the cake was done, one quick flip and the cake came out of the over and sat on the cardboard. Peel off the aluminum foil and voila- one pineapple upside down cake ready to eat.

The next class I attended was called "Mad Scientist" and it was about cool experiments you could do in the field. By boiling the outer leaves of red cabbage, you can make Red Cabbage Indicator which will allow you to see how acidic something is (it turns red) or base something is (it turns green yellow). She suggested checking the PH of river water on a trip. Still water in stagnant pools can become quite acidic she said. She also mentioned making a color chart based on known things like vinegar, lemon juice (sour acids) and milk, baking soda, tums (sweet bases). Things that stay bluish with Red Cabbage Indicator are more neutral.

Then we made lava lamp like things in a test tube with corn syrup, water, and oil. Then we dropped in a few pinches of salt. As it slowly dripped down, bubbles of oil would burp back up to the top. It was cool. Even better, then we dropped in a small piece of alkaseltzer and there was a lot more action.

On to lunch, they had a Major General in the National Guard as the speaker- here was his intro joke:
What is the difference between the National Guard and the Boy Scouts? Answer: The Boy Scouts have adult leaders.

After lunch, I went to "Wooden it be Fun!" where I got all sorts of ideas for making shapes out of wood to use as a picture frame. They'd make great souvenirs for trips. For example, a State of Maine shape with a cut out for a picture, wood burn on the date (or use a black marker) and insert a picture. What a great souvenir for your "sports" to take home with them!

In the Geocaching class, I got all sorts of ideas about making geocache courses and group activities that involve hiding containers with trinkets and a log book. GPS units have come way down in price and adults and children love to hunt for "treasure". I can think of a multitude of ways this could help a guide on a trip- think rainy day activity for example.

The last class of the day was on food dehydration. The lady had a lot of great information but she hadn't done a lot of food dehydration before. She recommended that we buy predehydrated stuff at the grocery store. However, we were able to taste test homemade vs store bought dehydrated bananas and apples. The homemade stuff tasted better but looked worse. She gave us handouts which described how to dehydrate vegetables, fruits, and how to make jerky. Her jerky was rubbed which meant it was VERY spicy. But with a little water and some dehydrated veggies, it would have made a great stew or soup! I hope I'm inspired to use that dehydrator that has been hanging around the house unused for years!

I asked if anyone had thought of dehydrating frozen veggies (think minimal prep time). No one thought it would work. However, I found a website here that talks about just that. So now I think I have to try it. By dehydrating my potatoes, onions, carrots, and corn, all I'll need to add is a trout or some jerky, with milk and or water, to make a stew or chowder.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Whitewater Canoeing

Last year, I had an opportunity to take a Whitewater trip with Kevin Slater down the East Branch of the Penobscot. I really enjoyed it and started to seriously think about becoming a Maine Guide. This spring, I'm not going to be able to take Kevin's class so I've signed up for a Class II clinic put on by the AMC group that calls themselves NH AMC Paddlers. I had to fill out an application form and go through an interview process on the phone. These folks are serious about whitewater canoeing and brave the cold Maine and New Hampshire waters year round to do it.

As part of the class, we had a 3 hour get together last night at the Boys and Girls club of New Hampshire so that we could try out gear in their pool. They had a discussion about cold water/weather gear and then the kayak folks had to demonstrate a wet exit. The canoe folks looked at and compared different brands and types of gear. They really seemed to recommend NRS and just about everything they make. One woman in the class recommended dry suits and said that Kayak Academy rents dry suits for $30 per day. Not a bad deal at all.

I tried on my wet suit before the class and discovered that sometime in the last few years, I have matured into an XXL from an XL. I can shoehorn myself into my suit but there is no room for polypro or coolmax or any other layers that the NHAMCPaddlers recommend.

Here is a listing of their recommended gear for training day:
Coolmax or other polyester undergarments
Polypro or fleece long johns
NRS Farmer John or Jane wetsuit
NRS splash jacket
Sealskin glove liner
NRS neoprene gloves
Sealskin or Wool socks
NRS neoprene booties

We did talk a bit about dry suits but the concern was cost of the suit vs insulation ability and durability- one rip and its over.

They recommend a fun little exercise at home for a gear check. Freeze some jugs full of ice. Fill your tub with cold icewater. Take a tub. If you are comfortable with your gear on- you are probably all set. If you are cold- buy more gear!

We took a look at the canoes that they use and I realized that these folks are in a different canoe world from me. These canoes were fully rockered (rounded from bow to stern). Every canoe I have ever paddled has been flat bottomed and designed for touring. Their canoes looked like a cross between a canoe and a kayak. They even have foam saddles, knee pads, and straps to help hold you in the canoe. I'm sure I will get lots of good ideas for touring, and hopefully don't get too addicted to solo paddling in the white water. It really looks like fun.

My first impression of these folks is that they are genuinely interested in getting people into white water paddling in either a Kayak or Canoe. They were very enthusiastic and serious in their discussions. Most of these folks have been doing this for years and are either retired or in some business that allows them the flexibility they need to hit the rivers when the rivers call them. I know I am very exited about the White Water Class II class coming up.....

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Red Cross First Aid Training

Part of the Maine Guide certification process, is the requirement that you be certified in Red Cross First Aid prior to sending in your application for the Maine Guide oral and written exams. Once you are a Maine Guide, your first aid certification can lapse and the state will still let you renew your license. From a liability standpoint, I would hope a Guide would stay current with their first aid skills just in case....

I had signed up for the class at the Red Cross office in Portland on Congress Street. The course included CPR and First Aid and cost $40. The last CPR training I had had was in the 1980's. The training was very different- first aid is now basically stabilizing the patient and dialing 911. When CPR is necessary, you get right into chest compressions quickly and only do 2 breaths for every 30 compressions. The trainer told us not to freak out if we heard ribs cracking while performing CPR. I'm not sure how I'd feel in that situation and hopefully I never need to find out.

They discussed liability and good samaritan laws in the class. You have to ask a person if it is OK to help them and if they say NO- you can't help them. You just dial 911 and wait for them to pass out. Once unconcious, you ask them if they are OK, and if they don't reply, consent is automatic. Also, if there is a kid that needs assistance, their parent has to allow you to help the child, if not, it is hands off and dial 911 again. The trainer said that this can make for a very difficult situation.

All in all, it was a great day. It is nice to feel like you might be able to actually help someone in an emergency situation. I wish everyone would go out a take one the Red Cross first aid class. I plan to every 3 years whether I decide to guide or not.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Maine's Ice Fishing Regulations 2007

Just for fun, I read the entire State of Maine Ice Fishing Regulations for 2007 today. OK- it wasn't just for fun. I feel I need to know this stuff if I'm going to be a guide. Besides, some of this material might be on the guide exam.

In any case, I learned some cool things. Here are my notes:

  • You don't need a license to ice fish in Maine on 2/17/2007 and 2/18/2007. I wrote those days down, good days to take the kids ice fishing. (The Saturday and Sunday immediately preceding President's Day each year are free fishing days).
  • No ice fishing at night is allowed. You can ice fish only between 1/2 hour before sunrise and 1/2 hour after sunset.
  • The bag limits for fish per day are actually between noon of one day and 11:59am the next day. So if you only fish one day, you can catch your limit in the morning, have a huge fish lunch and go out again in the afternoon to catch your limit again.
  • Only 5 lines/traps per person
  • Don't cut off heads and tails until you are ready to cook the fish
  • Use 2" Letters on your ice shack
  • All brooks, streams, and rivers are off limits to ice fishing unless they are listed in the rule book as open to ice fishing
  • Maine resident kids can fish without a license until they turn 16. Out of state kids can fish without a license only until they are 12.

Hopefully someone else finds this material interesting too.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Self Preparation for Maine Guides License

A year ago while reading Gil Gilpatrick's Allagash Guide, I decided I'd like to prepare to become a registered Maine guide. I considered taking a guide preparation class but in some ways, I was concerned that this would prepare me only for the exam and not for a guiding career. While hunting around for guides that might teach me valuable skills, I found an organization called Maine Wilderness Guides.

The folks at Maine Wilderness Guides encourage exploration of the back woods of Maine by non-motorized means. Since I was looking to improve my rusty canoeing skills, these guys suited me fine. They were offering a white water canoe class down the East Branch of the Penobscot.

I signed up, met some great folks, and really enjoyed myself. I hope to write up my trip here in the near future. For now, you need to know that Kevin Slater of Mahoosuc Guide Service organized the trip. He has done the East Branch over 100 times and I got the impression that he started his guiding career by apprenticing on that river. Tim Smith of Jack Mountain Bushcraft was my sternman for most of the trip. It was a real pleasure to camp, cook, and canoe with a group of Maine Guides. The exposure I had on this trip really helped me to commit to obtain my guide's license.

I plan to keep this site up to date with what I'm doing or reading about in order to prepare myself for the oral and written Maine Recreation Guide exams. So, check back often, I'll try to post at least once per week.