lördag 21 februari 2015

Living with the forest

A trip to the forest is pretty much the same as visiting another country. You could book an all inclusive trip to a southern warm country, eat nice food, sleep in a luxury hotel and go swimming at the beach. Then when you get home you can tell everyone what the country looks like.
But that's all, you haven't talked to the locals, you haven't tried their food, you don't know how they live, how their homes smell, what they do in their free time. All you know is what you have seen through a window made by the travel agency.
If you instead go there with no plans, maybe couch surfing, speaking to the locals, rent a bike, leave the tourist streets in the cities. You will get a much deeper connection to the country. You will experience it with all your senses.
In a similar manner we make a choice when we visit the forest. Do we want to go there and look at it, or do we want to experience it?

The rythm of nature

When I was younger I always slept in tent on trips. I felt safe inside the tent-walls, keeping the scary night outside. It took a long time before I realized that I don't need to be afraid of the night. It is part of nature. So if I do a trip and hide from the night, I miss a part of the experience, a part of the nature I'm there to experience. Nowadays I prefer to just sleep under a cotton tarp. There's no walls so I can hear all the sounds, smell the air and watch the stars when I fall asleep. And then wake up to the sunrise, completely following the rhythm of nature.
An amazing sunrise, easily missed if you sleep in a tent, disconnected from the world around you.
On early winter trips it's not uncommon to go to bed at 5 pm, and then sleep for 16 hours. It may sound crazy now when you read this by your computer. But when you're out there it feels completely natural. The sun sets at 3 pm, then you make dinner and then it's too dark to do anything else. You could bring a flashlight. But then you disturb the rhythm and lose a part of the experience.
A camp that is part of nature.

The forests burning energy

Gathering stones. Building a tripod. Sawing and chopping wood. Carefully preparing the fireplace. And finally, the magical act of starting the fire. Watching it burn is like hypnosis. It's the forests energy turning to light and heat. It's quiet and relaxing and will let you cook your food, dry your clothes and keep you warm for the night. The forest is giving you all this for free.
Now, imagine if you had brought a gas stove instead. It makes a lot of sound, don't give any warmth and your food will be done in seconds. Are you not here for a relaxing experience?
Take your time to build a nice fireplace, even for a lunch during travel. It makes the experience so much more enjoyable.

Connecting through your gear and tools

I'm out paddling with a wooden paddle, one which I made myself. I know every part of it. I chose the material and formed it after my body and paddling style. I can feel it moving in the water, it tells me what is happening under the surface. Is it deep or shallow? Are there any currents? Seaweed? It's like an extension of my body, just like the canoe which I also made myself. And I know, if I lose my paddle or canoe, they will go back to nature, back to the circle of life.
I don't need an ultra light carbon fiber paddle or a bent shaft super fast paddle. I'm not out here to race. And I don't want gear which is made on the cost of the very nature I visit.
How could you be in a hurry away from here?
For me the material creates a flow. A gore-tex jacket is just like the tent walls, cutting me off from nature, while a cotton jacket lets it flow trough. The cotton also gets along better with the fire. A piece of ember usually won't even make a hole, unlike the synthetic jacket which melts right away. By wearing fast drying instead of waterproof clothes you get to experience the rain and river much closer and you don't need to worry about getting wet.
The moment you learn to not fear and take cover from the nature is the moment you will really feel freedom on your trips.
Take your time, relax, make a pizza!
Or anything else delicious!

torsdag 19 februari 2015

Paddle project: Spear (pointy) blade paddle

The idea for this paddle came from a blog post on another blog. What really caught me attention was the grip, I wanted to make something similar. But the end result actually isn't very similar at all. I got a lot of new ideas along the way. The slight difference in the wood color is because I finished the shaft and blade with a tar and oil mix. And the Grip with just raw pre-oxidated linseed oil.
The reason for the spear blade was mainly because I had never paddled with one before. From what I have heard they were used for spearing fish and as weapons against other tribes. Murat, the owner of the paddle making blog told me they were used in Africa and Amazonia where the bottom is often muddy. If the blade gets stuck in the mud you just have to flip it and it gets loose. A normal blade is too wide to flip when it gets stuck.
I have a theory as well, that by putting all the impacts in the middle, where the paddle is as thickest and where the fibers go all the way through the paddle, it won't breat as easily. A wide blade can get stuck between stones and split the blade.
The shaft length is 64 cm (25") and the paddles overall length is 130cm (51"). The shaft tapers from a round shape by the grip to an oval shape towards the blade, for a good grip and better balance.
The surface is not sanded. I will go deeper into this in another blog post.

onsdag 18 februari 2015

Some very good old canoeing clips

There are some really good and very old canoeing clips out on the net. Here's a few I found extra interesting.

Canoeing by Reg Blomfield

Reg Blomfield, an amazing canoeist. Here he shows some breath taking and very creative tricks which I have not seen done by anyone else.

American Indian Trappers, Traders and Canoe Builders ( 1946 )

Some very good birch bark canoe building footage as well as some interesting paddling clips. Notice the short paddle shafts and how they never move the grip hand above the eyes. This makes paddling much less straining in the long run.

Grey owl (Archie Belaney)

The guy who fooled the world, he sucessfully pretended to be a native American. He literally lived with beavers, and was one of the first people realizing and speaking up about how we humans destroys the nature. There has also been made a movie about him which has some very nice canoeing scenes (with an actor who can actually paddle for once).

And this one I couldn't embed: https://www.nfb.ca/film/beaver_family/

Nipigon trails 1924

Some fantastic white water paddling and lineing scenes. As well as a bit of portage. Near the end you can see the stern paddler is for some reason splashing up a lot of water when paddling. I can't figure why, unless they were just playing around.

Voyageur - Adventure on the Mississagi, Ontario (1933)

More white water and some interesting scenes from a voyageus camp.


About a native girl who's forced to marry a trapper. Lots of interesting footage from native camps/villages.

Ikwe by Norma Bailey, National Film Board of Canada

If you have sugestions for other clips please let me know an I'll add them :)

Edit: Added Nipigon trails and Voyageur clips suggested by Murat

torsdag 5 februari 2015

Crossing thin ice with a canoe

The thing about canoes that amazes me the most is how you can pass through pretty much any terrain with them. On lakes, rivers, sea, and on land. So why should we let some ice by the shore stop us from paddling?
Last 2 years during my outdoor/friluftsliv course at Sjöviks folkhögskola we got to practice crossing the ice by the shoreline and get out to the open water with the canoe. We did this by leaning on the canoe with one hand on each gunwhale and pushing it forward. This distributes our weight so we can get out on really thin ice. Here it helps to have chose with a good grip so you don't need to put much weight on the ice. The moment the ice breaks, we jump into the canoe. The ice always breaks under our feet, not under the canoe. And you can feel it starting to break under your feet so you have time to jump into the canoe.
Canoeing on ice in winter
Two different methods of pushing the canoe. Another one is to go with one leg in the canoe and one on the ice. Photo by Matthias Crommenlinck
Now for the next part we have a special tool, it's a stick about 1m / 3 feet long with 2 points at the end, one going forward and one sticking out to the side. Traditionally these were used for log driving and you can sometimes find them on ebay or second hand (called pike pole). I believe there are modern versions too, but I think they lack the weight needed to get a good hit in the ice. With this you can either use it in the stern and push the canoe forward, or in the bow and pull it forward. And voila, you're out on open water!
Pike pole for ice canoeing.
The pole in action.

I guess I don't need to say it, but this is dangerous and you should not do it alone. Since your weight is distributed on the whole canoe you can get very far out on thin ice. So it will be hard to get back to shore. Bring ice nails and a waterproof change of clothes.

Tie the canoe to a rope so a friend can pull you back if needed.
When practicing it's a good idea to have a rope in the canoe and a friend on shore who can pull you in if you get stuck. Photo by: Matthias Crommenlinck
I got lucky the other day and found an old pike pole cheap on the Swedish ebay. It was covered in rust and didn't have a shaft so I started off by removing the rust. A quick google search adviced me to soak it in vinegar over night. I did that, then brushed it with steel wool the next day and that did wonders. I had to repeat it a few times but now it looks like new. I finished it up with some linseed oil. The shaft I made from a slow grown spruce (about 50 years with a diameter of 5 cm / 2 inches) that I had lying around.
Rust removal using vinegar.
The hook before and after vinegar treatment.

And finally, some photos of my latest winter paddling.

Paddling in winter.

Ice formations

Cottage covered in snow

Canoe on ice.
Back on thick ice, you can see the track made by the canoe.