Thursday, November 5, 2009

From Watson Lake - More Conversation

10/31/09 Watson Lake Update

Wow! The snow is falling heavy here this AM but it's not as windy. My host family is away caribou hunting. This is the last day of the season.

I found a snow shovel but I'm considering I may need to get down the road a little faster and ahead of full blown winter so may take the bus at least to Ft. Nelson and see how it is from there.

11/1/09 Watson Lake

Snow stopped and even a little sunshine this afternoon. My hosts are away getting swine flu shots. Decided I will take the bus to Ft. Nelson after all and spent a few days with my friend John Brucker. I leave tomorrow evening.

When I first met him and his young family they were living in a cabin at the mouth of the South Nahanni R. I wanted to see, if possible, this "Dangerous River," that R. M. Patterson described and I had read about. I chose a route beginning near Ft. Nelson that would at least take me by the mouth of the South Nahanni R. on the way to the Mackenzie. At that time there was no road connecting the AK Highway with Ft. Simpson that passes near the mouth of the South Nahanni R.

I ended up staying with them a few days. As it turned out he helped me and several other river travelers I met there find a river boat we could use that would get us up the South Nahanni to Virginia Falls.

This was my first BIG river adventure in the north by kayak, a Folbot as it was called. We made it but walked the last eight miles to the Falls. The river was still running high from breakup. The whitewater at Hell's Gate was impressive and intimidating. We elected to walk from there.

Later the Bruckers moved from the Nahanni to Ft. Nelson. I've visited them several times since. His wife Marge has passed. He lives alone now but one of his sons lives nearby.

Friend You know you we were going to have a conversation about the boat that shows up in your blog and your bike gear.

Peace Rider Let's do it, I have some time. Usually when I hit town I'm really tired and need to rest. Then I need to round up more food and sometimes fuel for my alcohol stove which doesn't leave a lot of spare time to just kick back.

PR How about bicycle gear first.

F Okay!

PR My bike is nothing special, a 24 speed Giant Mountain bike with disc brakes. In Homer I got a good deal on a used B.O.B (trailer) with a rear shock absorber from Cycle Logistics. The B.O.B comes with a waterproof carrying bag which is big enough for food, tent, collapsible stove and fuel.

On top of that I carry lighter weight gear like sleeping bag and winter coat in another waterproof bag. In all between 60 and 70 pounds in the B.O.B with more winter clothing in side panniers hanging from a rear bike rack. On top of that, In a day pack behind the seat I carry miscellaneous gear plus two quart water bottles in insulate sleeves filled with hot water, actually boiled in the AM for the days run.

Even getting up at 5:30 AM it takes me three hours to get ready, packed up and ready to go when there is enough daylight to cycle. I can cook on the wood stove but to boil enough water I usually have to use the alcohol stove for the final temperature rise.

I have a pair of Schwalbe Marathon XR touring tires and a pair of studded tires with extra tubes.

F You've talked about your tipi tent before, what's that like?

PR My tent is great. It is a four man, floor less tipi tent made by Kifaru, the smallest tipi tent they make. But it's big enough for me and all my gear including bicycle and B.O.B. I added a small ground cloth for laying my sleeping bag and air mattress on. The best feature is a fireproof ring near the top for a stovepipe from a cleverly designed collapsible stainless steel stove. I added a frost liner and a collapsible hand saw for the stove. Tent and stove are in the 10 to 15 pound range.

I wouldn't have attempted a trip this late in the year without it. I've cold camped enough to know it can be rough.

What else? Winter clothing and sleeping bag of course but one of my best investments was an air mattress with a built in hand pump. Pat and Kathy suggested I get one. It's Swiss made, I think, but rolls into a small relatively light weight bundle that is really comfortable when your body needs a good rest. No moisture gets inside with the built in hand pump. An A + for this one although one of the tubes has now partially separated under continuous use.

A Black Diamond head lamp with two intensities and battery pack is another valuable addition. I usually wake up in the dark and go to bed in the dark. To save battery power I also use a candle.

F How about your boat?

PR Do you want the long or the short spiel?

F Let's try for the shorter version. I know this is one of your passions.

PR Okay, I'll try. The photo you see is of me leaving the Homer boat harbor in early June in Wave Dancer, a homemade dory I made several years before over several winters. My friends Tom Irons and Jean Aspen saw me off and took the photo.

F So what's it made of.

PR The hull is 1/4," 5 ply marine grade plywood covered with epoxy coated fiberglass inside and out. It's a few inches shy of 20 feet.

I had built several river dories before and knew that in general it's a very seaworthy design.

I found this Ed Davis designed "Camp Cruising Surf Dory" in a WoodenBoat magazine article. I bought a set of plans from him. I modified the design further at his suggestion adding a narrow deck around the gunwales and a motor well. The latter was my idea after I figured out a way to sleep aboard on a collapsible wooden bench suspended between the three seats.

Sorry, this may be more than you care to hear about but there may be some boat aficionados out there who may be interested.

Over the open part of the boat I made a tent canopy supported by three rigid aluminum tent frames, bent to shape, that come apart, held together by bungee cords similar to a backpacking tent. The bottom of the tent canopy fastens with snaps to a raised coaming along the deck edge.

F Enough already, so where did you go?

PR I was headed for Seward around the outer coast of the Kenai Peninsula. It was my first long solo trip in Wave Dancer. I was a bit apprehensive about it all. But it was also a kind of vision quest for me. What is it I'm supposed to do with he rest of my life kind of thing?

Peace Rider was already in the back of my mind.

F You obviously made it, so how was it?

PR You know it turned out to be one of the best trips I've ever taken all all levels, spectacular scenery, seals, sea otters, whales, Dall porpoise and sea birds of many kinds. Thrown in were some really challenging sea conditions rounding the three outer capes en route. I was weathered in in three different places waiting for sea and wind conditions to moderate.

I also discovered that once you round the bottom end of the Peninsula and head northeast again you leave the big boat fishing traffic out of Homer behind. With gas prices high it gets expensive the further you go.
My boat may be slow, at 4 1/2 knots with a 5 hp, 4 stroke Honda but it's also very economical plus I was able to sail when wind conditions were right, roughly 1/3 of the time as it turned out.

From there past Gore Point and much closer to Seward the coast is wild and little visited. Much of it is in protected land status. It was great!

F Weren't you afraid being out there by yourself?

PR You know the dory design is just incredible. It may be a small open boat but it's amazingly seaworthy being double ended and round bottomed. Even under the roughest conditions when I was getting bashed about I never felt in danger of capsize.

My experience of the boat was much the same as designer Ed Davis who sailed his "Tropic Bird" in the Bahamas.

You know I also felt cared for on this journey as well. Looking back now I can see this was also happening at a younger age when I was less appreciative and aware.

F What did you mean when you said it was the best trip on all levels?

PR I'll share one experience I've shared with some others that was really special. I was heading east just out of Thunder Bay after being weathered in there for several days. This part of the coast is exposed to the open ocean and of heart rending beauty, shear rock walls rising out of the sea a thousand feet and more, I judged. Cliffs that sea birds just love. The sea had flattened and puffins and others paddled out of the way as I motored slowly by these bird rich cliffs.

Up ahead, high, I noticed two donut ring contrails separated by some distance. Hmm, holding patterns of some sort, at least 29,000 feet I knew from prior experience. Odd, it was a long way from Anchorage air traffic, still... It was a bit of a puzzle.

When I looked up again the two patterns had merged edge to edge forming a figure eight laying on its side. Curious. More hmm. The it came to me, the sign for infinity, that which is everlasting and eternal, a reflection again of that which is unnameable and indescribable, the Great Mystery.

Then as I continued my path and the symbol merged. It seemed to me then and now that it was an affirmation of our essential Oneness with that which is greater than self and known by many names. Wow, words fail at such moments!

When I awoke the next day in Crater Lake Cove it was to a gorgeous crystal clear and dead calm morning. A seal head popped into view and disappeared. I was unfastening my tent when I looked up and saw contrails from a military tanker. Behind it were four fighters closing in to hook up for refueling. This was the likely source of the donut hole contrails the day before. Tankers often set up a circular holding pattern somewhere expected to wait for their "customers."

Yet that which is eternal and everlasting had used what we consider power in human terms, but impermanent, to show where true and everlasting power lies, so it seemed to me.

It wasn't the only event of this kind but as I said before it's there if we have eyes to see and look deeper than form.

PR This is already overlong so let's bring this to a close and give readers a break.

F Sure!

PR Before I go though, I wanted to give a special thanks to Barry and Susan Drury (see the photo at the start of this post) in Watson Lake for hosting me, a place of peace and rest in the midst of a literal storm.

Until next time.

1 comment:

  1. I am following your physical journey by tracing your route on my atlas, and I am holding your spiritual journey in my prayers.