Friday, September 23, 2016

Leaving the wilderness

It meant a lot of headache and getting incomprehensible answers to probably extremely stupid questions, but as you see I did manage to move my website – yay! And no, I didn’t inadvertently lose lots of content along the way, I just took the opportunity to de-bloat my blog and delete posts I didn’t want to cart around with me any longer. I love getting rid of stuff.
It’s been a frantic week, actually two frantic weeks: because our old satellite internet modem had been acting up, we got a new one set up (read: my boyfriend had to get the installer and all the hardware in by boat, and then the weather turned so rough that the installer had to stay overnight – and in the meantime the old modem had of course decided to fix itself and was –is!- working beautifully again). While I packed for my year as a wildlife rehab volunteer, fiddled with the blog and mysterious things like CNAMEs, alias roots and A-records, and raced to finish my latest book translation, my boyfriend harvested and pickled a greenhouse worth of cucumbers. Plus it’s hunting season … cutting up and hand-grinding moose meat soon joined the multitude of other tasks. We’re so very grateful for the meat and yet so sorry we took this life.
Now we’re as organized as we can hope to be. Next week I’ll take the ferry from Skagway to Prince Rupert and continue on by train to Smithers to help take care of wild animals in need while my boyfriend has the opportunity to spend an entire winter out here by himself. Well, the summer and next fall, too, but then it’s easier to get out if he wants to or needs to. If he ends up blogging about his lonely bushman life, I’ll let you know. 

Goodbye for now, wilderness life ...

... log cabin, lake and mountains ...

... my sweet porcupine …

... and my love. Come follow me into the world of orphaned bear cubs, deer fawns, moose calves and other young animals whose chances of survival would be very slim were it not for Northern Lights WildlifeShelter.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Laundry challenges of the northern kind

The brownish soup of suds and fabric steams on the woodstove, adding a note of washing soda to the winter cabin atmosphere of dog and ashes smells. I heave the heavy pot off the stove onto the floor and swing our toilet plunger into action – the only kind of action it sees since our outhouse “plumbing” is impossible to plug. You can buy plungers especially designed for doing laundry by hand, but I find the good old rubber bell works just fine.

With gentle farting noises it sucks the increasingly dirty water through the fabric, dislodging the grime. This is the relaxed … no, I can’t bring myself to call it “fun” … part of doing laundry in the winter. I wring out as much water as I can, and now there’s no way around the rinse cycle anymore. Cycle because of its cyclical nature: mainly the grunting back and forth between lake and cabin with a bucket in my hand. I pour water and pieces of ice from hacking open the hole on the lake over the laundry, squish the clothing around, wring it, and so on and so forth. Repeat five or six times.
When the rinse water comes out clear follows the tricky part. At -10°C (15°F) and colder the sodden pile of laundry becomes increasingly reluctant to part from the rinse tub and indeed, each item from the other. Longjohns cling to socks like Velcro and shirts stick to the walls of the rinse tub, giving way to my progressively more hectic tugging with a sucking sigh.
One more time I wring each item, faster and faster, before I drape it over the line, the fabric freezing in my hands. Water drips off the dangling ends in slow motion, congealing into icicles before my eyes. As always, in the end I lose the struggle to hang the laundry over the line in such way that one side of the item won’t freeze to the other, making it impossible to remove before it the weather warms. Laundry pins would come in handy, I think as I have been thinking for 11 winters. Thoughts that have yet to result in making or buying laundry pins.

Of course the laundry won’t dry out there. In the winter our laundry line turns into something like an extra closet, a storage space from which I bring in shirts and pants, socks and longjohns bit by bit, snapping the icicles off outside the cabin door. The frozen clothing always looks as if it would prefer to stay outside: shirts stick their stiff arms mutely towards their still hanging companions and refuse to lie meekly in my arms. I wrestle them through the cabin door and fold them over the drying lines behind our stoves, where they begin to drip and sag.

It’s only when they’re finally dry that I feel happy about the whole procedure. I sneak little whiffs of clean-smelling clothes aroma as I put them away in the closet, avoiding thoughts of the already growing new mountain of dirty laundry.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Of barefoot shoes and suffocation hazards

I’m a very reluctant shopper but had to bite the bullet and get some new camping gear. I’m also a reluctant reader of gear reviews and have never written one before. But I imagine you, gentle readers, to be an outdoorsy crowd, and so I’m biting yet another bullet by sharing how the new barefoot shoes, bug bivy, tarp and tent performed.

Barefoot shoes – already the name is an oxymoron. They are basically very lightweight and flexible sneakers without the raised heel “normal” shoes and boots have, the idea being that the human body evolved to walk without shoes and certainly without the need for stiff soles and the constant wedge of a raised heel underneath our feet.
I’ve been wearing homemade moccasins for the last two summers and figured barefoot shoes in all their plastic glory would be great to switch to when the going gets wet, because my moosehide moccasins turn into amorphous leather bags in rain and on wet ground. I found Vivobarefoot’s hideously coloured Trailfreak on sale and from all the hype out there about how barefoot shoes enable your feet to actually feel the ground you’re walking on, figured they’d be quite similar to my moccasins.
But when I put the Trailfreak shoes on, my first (and lasting) impression was: “Huh. Feels like plain old shoes.” Lightweight and flexible shoes, to be sure, but definitely shoes. My moccasins, on the other hand, feel like I’m wearing socks and actually do let me feel the ground, including the temperature.
The Trailfreak’s sole is pretty slippery on wet rocks and roots – not good at all. On the upside, they don’t turn into loose baggies like my moccasins when wet and dry out fairly quickly, so in that regard they serve their purpose. But if anyone out there wants shoes with a true barefoot feeling, sew yourself a pair of moccasins – it’s quite easy to do.

Bug bivy. I got the Outdoor Research bug bivy for short excursions or trips where paring down pack weight is important, and I love it! Summers are bug-filled in the north and because the sun only dips below the horizon for a couple of hours here, tents can get very hot. Sleeping in the bug bivy felt totally different than sleeping in a tent. You get the whole outside experience of looking at the sky, feeling the breeze and enjoying the summer smells without being sucked dry by mosquitoes.
It weighs only 454g (16 oz) and can be used without a groundsheet. The only thing I’m not too crazy about is that you have to worm your way into it from the head end. A zipper along the side would make getting in and out much easier.
The warning label seems a bit of a joke:

Now who would defeat the whole purpose of a bug bivy by leaving the zipper open and letting the bugs in? I’m happy to report that I didn’t suffocate and can’t imagine how one would go about it in there either.
Tarp. The colour of MEC’s silicone Scout Tarp (see bug bivy picture above) is super ugly, but that is the only drawback I have found. The 2.9m x 2.1m size (roughly 9’x6’3”) makes for a fine one person shelter and it weighs in at 515g (17 oz?). Apart from reinforced tie-out grommets along the edges there’s a reinforced centre patch with a loop, so you can suspend it or prop a stick or paddle up under the middle. The silicone-coated fabric allows lots of light to seep through so you’re not sitting in the dark.
And last, but not least – the tent. Sigh.
I love my ancient Moss Outlander tent fiercely. I’ve babied the increasingly stretchy tent fly and failing zippers for as long as I possibly could, but this summer had to face the unsavoury fact that I needed a new tent. Alas, Moss is a long defunct company that made incredibly high quality, beautiful tents, so I had to look at other options and after much humming and hawing decided on MSR’s Nook.

I wanted a glorified one person tent that can accommodate two if necessary, and I wanted something lightweight of good quality. The Nook’s material, as that of most new MSR tents, is whisperthin and light, and its size is exactly what I wanted.
What I found somewhat shocking and can’t understand: the rain fly is about 3” too short at the end. The inner tent sticks out below it, will get wet in rain and develop condensation there because the foot end is only single-walled thanks to the short rain fly. It’s a mystery to me why MSR skimped on the length of the rain fly and also why the tent reviews don’t mention this. Coverage is fine everywhere else on the tent. I was torn between returning the thing, but there’s not really another model out there I could sufficiently warm up to, so I grudgingly decided to extend the fly myself – a sad state of affairs when you have to modify a $450.- tent from a renowned company.
The Nook was put through its paces this summer with very strong wind gusts, heat and rain. With every guy line employed it can weather the wind, though it still shudders and complains – but unlike my beloved Moss, this is not a 4-season or mountaineering tent, so that’s to be expected. I really like the two vents on the rain fly, they greatly help with ventilation. While the light grey fly and canopy colour aren’t up my alley, they do make for a bright tent interior.
The Nook weighs in at 1.46 kg (3lbs 4 oz). If it wasn’t for the too short rain fly, I’d call it a decent tent.
Since I’m pretty underwhelmed with the MSR Nook and have acquired a sewing machine, I’ve decided to try sewing a new rain fly for my Moss Outlander. I primarily got the sewing machine to make fleece pants, an article of clothing we wear for 7 months of the year and which for some mysterious reason is not available anymore – so why not revamp this old tent?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

(Mis)adventures in food dehydration

Few things are more tortuous to a ravenous backpacker than the smell of garlic and a fresh steak frying in olive oil when you’re sitting in front of cold pasta without sauce after a 10-day hike. I know this because that was what a friend and I faced half a lifetime ago on the North Boundary Trail in the Rockies. We subsisted on energy bars and pasta for the entire ten days, using soup powder for sauce until we ran out on the last day. That’s when we had only bland noodles to eat, and they were cold because they fell into the dirt when we drained them. It was then and there, among the tantalizing garlic aroma from somebody who’d just started their hike from the opposite, that I decided to eat better when out camping. And carrying a 10-day supply of spaghetti is no fun.
Fast-forward a decade and a half:

No, it’s not out of control slime mould, it’s – yogurt! Behold my terribly unsuccessful attempt at drying it. Well, it dried alright and clung to the baking sheet with a vengeance (you’re supposed to dry it on parchment paper, but that’s not exactly easy to come by around here).

The problem was it wouldn’t rehydrate properly – stubborn lumps remained and the whole thing tasted like water with yogurt flavor. I’m not so desperately keen on spooning yogurt while kayaking this summer that I want to give it another try and stuck to my time-honoured favourites for stocking up the camping food supplies. Tomato sauce dries to the consistency of fruit leather and keeps for years if stored in a cool, dry place:

I never bother to cook up actual tomato sauce before drying it, but simply spice up tomato paste, spread it thinly on a baking sheet and it’s done a few hours later. Don’t look for actual recipes and detailed how-to instructions on here, these are merely a few ideas of dehydrating food (you don’t need a dehydrator – experiment with drying in your oven at the lowest setting or on top of a wood stove; it’s really not a high-tech procedure).
Pea soup also works well and dries into little chunks that could be pulverized with a rolling pin, but it will rehydrate just fine in its crumbly state. Kidney beans and black beans for chili and refried beans are equally easy to do.

I like to dry a batch of moose hamburger, trimming out all fat to avoid it getting rancid. I can add it to the tomato sauce, dried beans or spice it up with curry. One nice thing about dehydrating your own camp food is that not only will you know it’s going to actually fill you up, but it will taste the way you like it. And it costs just a tiny fraction of the commercial stuff out there.

And I made some more jerky out of moose meat – always good for snacks or to add to the odd meal.

If you plan to go camping this year, give dehydrating your favourite foods a try!