Saturday, March 29, 2014

-Boundary Waters Expedition Day #6

*The One Mile Day*

February 23, 2014:

            My biological clock has now taken effect after almost a week out here. 0600 give or take a minute or two and I'm wide awake. For at least another 15 minutes or so I lay there preparing myself for the sound my sleeping bags zipper makes, exposing my warm body to the bite of -20 degrees. 
My bed & Fire food
It doesn't take long to come to full consciousness.. Quickly I begin snapping sticks for a decent bundle to place in the stove and with a small piece of birch bark I've got instant flames. Within minutes as the tent warms I can no longer see my breath and it's a comfortable 70+ degrees. It's great not having to "pick out what your going to wear ." Every morning, in order: top base layer,  wool socks, wool pants, wool long sleeve shirt, suspenders, wind break parka, mukluks, gators, wool gloves and rabbit fur hat. Before packing, my frosty mummy bag must be dried out beside the molten hot steel box stove, personal gear is then ready and staged beside my toboggan. Following a bowl of hot oats and the disassembling of group gear, I pack both tents, a box of food and personal gear onto my sled. Everything is double checked, nothings left behind, give the fastening straps one last hard pull and off we go to experience yet another beautiful day.

         We bushwhacked and traversed 1 mile through the forest, breaking our own trail up steep elevation, fighting 4+ feet of snow and clearing debris to make way for our toboggans. As we skirted the banks of this beautiful river connecting the two lakes, I would sit on my gear from time to time for a moments rest. The sound of a free stone flowing river and it's constant babble is like getting lost in the flames of a flickering fire or consumed in the view from high peaks. It's always changing, never losing its magic, no one moment is the same as the next and you're completely in it. Natures television at its finest..
"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it."
              We had thought we were free and clear of open waters and made our way back onto the ice to get around the last point of the inlet. Paul took lead with the ice chisel in hand, poking his way forward to make sure the ice was safe. No more than 100 yards along the narrow and just as Paul was rounding the point, he speared the ice to his left and the chisel broke through on impact. "Well, it's pretty thin here guys" he said. "No more than two inches." The shoreline was about six feet to his right so he turned and poked at the ice, once again busting right through. Shattering a good portion this time,
A very close call..
his right foot slowly began to sink.. "Paul, get out of there, back up towards us" I said. Almost in a whisper as if my voice would cause him to plunge in to the frigid waters. He inched his way backwards as the ice gave way. It was a tense moment for sure and an enormous sigh of relief when he was clear of the paper thin ice. "Better find another way" Paul said. We were all in agreement. Another hour went by as we packed yet another trail over land and onto the open terrain of Lake Jasper. We've only traveled one mile today and it's taken us a little over five hours (that's not a typo). Five hours to move A mile and we are too exhausted for this 20mph head wind, so the very first cove sheltered from the North would be our home for the night.

          To accompany our dinner, I made another cinnamon raisin bannock for the guys but this time it was topped with a heavy, melted chocolate drizzle. The drizz was created with hot water, whole powdered milk, chocolate bar chunks, cocoa mix and butter liquefied to perfection over the fire. Again, a complete experiment that turned out to be unbelievably tasty. What a delicious treat, we might as well be kings out here! The richest men in all the land... Goodnight.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

-Boundary Waters Expedition Day #5

*Point Man*

February 22, 2014:

           Temperatures had fallen into the negatives over night as a cold front moved in from the Northwest. My -20 degree mummy bag had a ring of frost around the opening where my face peaks out, created from the moisture in my breath while I slept. Setting out to cross Alpine Lake it was -5 degrees with a wind chill of -20 or more. The winds were a steady 30mph, never had I endured such conditions. This is the kind of stuff I've only read about or watched in documentaries as explorers venture to barren landscapes of the Arctic or Antarctic. Somehow I couldn't help but smile knowing I'm actually living it. On days like this I often question how I got here.. My thoughts drifted to my tours overseas, the challenges, the close calls, my brothers who paid the ultimate sacrifice so I could live in this very moment. I felt so fortunate having been given this opportunity and to become part of such a wicked experience not many others will ever witness.

A Very Heavy Head Wind
For a good portion of the day I took lead, packing the trail for those behind me. There was a decent snow pack in the center of Alpine so it was "easier" for my snowshoes to float closer to the surface. Being up front is the most wild place to be, just the landscape for your eyes to consume while pulling a hundred pound sled and navigating using only map & compass. At the age of 19, I was the point man through much of my tour in Afghanistan, traversing the mountains along the Pakistan border and paving the way for 100+ Marines behind me. A lot of confidence went into a kid choosing the best possible route for such a large group 
(either that or they just didn't like me very much) I suppose I would have been the first one to encounter numerous bad scenarios but I loved being point
man. Looking back, it was an enormous amount of responsibility and I felt it to be an honor having been placed in such a position... But here I don't have to look over my shoulder where the lake only resembles a wide spread of sand dunes, wind gusts piling up snow into large mounds and carving out sculptures in the hard packed formations.
Wind Carving
 The snow so dry, it even sounded like sand being carried and blown across a desert floor. Surely it was a tough day but my adrenaline was pumping, keeping one foot in front of the other for a nice rhythmic pace. Our day of fighting heavy winds and dodging crazy snow drifts came to an end at the mouth of a river connecting Alpine with Jasper Lake. This is where we must portage a half mile through the forest and looking like some steep elevation to navigate too, as we are losing daylight this obstacle will have to wait until morning. We've got our routine of setting up tents, stoves, chipping the ice hole, cutting and splitting wood down to just under 2 hours. Then of course we must boil water and cook dinner, so I'm exhausted at this point. With got a full belly I'm encapsulated in a thick layer of down feathers, my eyes are drifting and it's time for this guy to get some rest...


3 Year Beard

Nearing the end of my "Return of Saturn" I have come full circle. The transformation over these last few years has been enlightening to say the least...I'm feeling complete and whole, with a fresh sense of motivation and excitement for the beginning of my next decade in this life. Check out "The Human-Nature Hostel" tab to see where I'm going with all of this :)


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

-Boundary Waters Expedition Day #4


February 21, 2014:

Red Rock Lake
My Toboggan
       More than 10 inches of snow covered the ground as we continued our morning routine, firing up the wood stoves for a hot breakfast prior to packing and disassembling camp. The snow would continue to fall for the better part of our days hike in nearly whiteout conditions. The shorelines barely visible, a feeling of absolute wild came over me. In all the months prior to this expedition it never even occurred to me the magnitude of what we were actually setting out to do. I guess it's conditions dependent that really sets the level of difficulty and the conditions we're being tested with are easily the toughest out of all possibilities. I mean, we are out here! This is by far the deepest, most remote location I have ever been in the wilderness. More than 50 miles from any person, road or hint of civilization and unplugged from all material connections. This new feeling really sunk in throughout the day, paving our own path in deep, powdery snow. I trudged along, battling heavy, steady winds from the North making the snow fly almost directly horizontal. Where am I? The Arctic? Perhaps another Planet? I was letting myself get lost in these wild moments, how awesome! This experience brings "epic" to a whole other level in my life and the further we hike, the more connected and aware I become. Don't be mistaken. I am not out here "surviving", this is not reality television, there is no cash prize or reward, these are not "skills" I'm acquiring. It's a way of life and I'm out here living...I'm remembering a forgotten way, the basics of a living man and the relationship to his home. Once you remember, there is no forgetting and no going back.

Snow Blurr
     We made it to the end of Red Rock Lake where we had a quarter mile portage through the woods to the shores of Alpine Lake. The snow was at its deepest yet as we packed a trail prior to lugging our toboggans. Untouched by heavy winds the forest floor is drastically more challenging compared to lake crossings. Once on Alpine we ate lunch under a few grandfather pines, sheltered from the early afternoon winds and snowfall. Our energy level was collectively low after this mornings pull so an early day it is and our new home location was decided. It's pretty amazing how quickly each camp feels like home. Although it may take a few hours each day following a strenuous hike, once settled between the canvas walls with a stack of fire wood cut and split, there is no greater feeling of accomplishment and comfort. This evening I made dessert for the group, a cinnamon raisin bannock. Bannock is a quick bread with just a few simple ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, water and of course, your creative mind. I added LOTS of cinnamon and raisins, the tent smelled of a local bakery in the morning after dozens of fresh pastries have been displayed behind glass. To top it off, I melted down a quarter pound of butter and slowly added brown sugar forming the perfect drizzle topping consistency. Every bite summoned a smile with closed eyes and sounds of deliciousness filled our 9x11ft humble abode. Mmmm....mmm.. the universe is so good to us :)       

Good Morning


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Transcending The Beard...

(EXCLAIMER:  I do not watch "Duck Dynasty", I do not follow the Red Sox, I would never wait til November each year if I didn't want to shave for a month, I love the people I meet at beard competitions but I'm not there to win and I am not "cool" or "the man" because I made the choice not to shave)   

       A few years back when I was discharged from the Marines my intentions were not to grow a beard. I had shaved every single day, sometimes forced to shave twice a day for the previous 8 years. Simply put, I just didn't want to pick up or purchase another razor ever again and the beard began to leap from my face...

   You could say it was a rebellious act. I wanted to walk a path completely opposite from the unfathomable reality I had just endured for so long. I had an idea and pursued it with a sense of grandeur.  Not once did I looked back and as my beard grew, so did I. Never having been off the East coast I traveled 12k miles around country with no plan but to witness these lands I had been "protecting." Then came the Appalachian trail, hiking 2,184 miles over mountains from Georgia to Maine. My journey spiraled from there, volunteering at a tree house hostel in GA, making 64k pounds of honey in the orange groves of Florida, spending a summer in my tipi on 40 acres of land I just purchased deep in the Southwestern Maine mountains, living a wilderness education in Northern Maine and undertaking a truly wild snowshoe expedition on the border of Canada and Minnesota. These recent few years feel as if decades have passed...

 Upon my discharge I had no idea where I was going in life. Rather lost in this existence but I had a positive attitude, keeping my heart open and always smiling. Never did I say No to a new opportunity and I met thousands of wonderful, beautiful, inspiring beings along the way. Connecting with the natural world and all the people my path had crossed was astronomical to my physical, mental and spiritual growth in ways I never knew possible.


This is what my beard became a reminder of. A symbol of all the places, people, freedom, happiness, peace and enlightenment I had been awoken to. A new direction in truth and love discovered, budding from a time when I gave up the razor. I almost can't even comprehend my life before the beard.


I am not my beard. The beard does not define who I am. I know who I am, I am ME, I am aware and live by the natural order I know to be true. I no longer need this symbol on my face as a reminder, all I have discovered is within me.
I have transcended the beard...     

(Well, this beard anyhow)

Red Woods
Just Bee
AT 2012
Petrified Natl' Forest

Painted Desert
A living Education
Tipi Life
Winter Expedition
Rock Climbing Garden of the Gods
Sequoia Natl' Park
Grand canyon
First look at Pacific ocean


Niagara Falls

Salvation Mountain
RIP: Lenard Knight

Vegas! Eeek!

Crazy Horse
This Guy?
Grand Tetons

-Boundary Waters Expedition Day #3

*It Otter-Be*

February 20, 2014:

Wool, wool  & more wool
          We set out from camp this morning with a heavy tail wind. One of the more challenging daily battles we face out here is regulating our body temperature in such conditions. For 5 - 6 hours each day we pull more than a hundred pounds through deep snow fall and sweating can be very bad on the good/bad scale. You'll never be as cozy & warm as if you were laying upon pillows & quilts by the crackling fire in a log cabin sipping on something hot while reading an adventure memoir or cuddled with the soft company of a woman (even though my mind may often wander there), so the idea is to be "comfortably cold." Even when the temps are far below zero, I'm usually wearing only a pair of wool pants and a long 
sleeve wool shirt with a base layer. Always prepared for lunch or a moments rest I have extra layers on standby secured under the straps of my toboggan. My jackets, hats and gloves come on and off many times through out the day so I keep them easily accessible to regulate an ideal body temperature. The wind can be unforgiving with improper clothing so I also use a very light weight shell jacket that virtually cuts the wind completely. It's all part of the routine out here, never neglect the smallest detail with gear, body and mind, it can go from good to bad like water goes from a liquid to a solid at -50.        

Entering Red Rock Lake
       The day moved along briskly as we hiked 4 miles west, maneuvering over our first portage from Lake Saganaga to Red Rock Lake. A "portage" connects one lake to the next, usually by stream, river or simply a path through the woods. Some are 50 yards, others could be a mile or more and there's often the danger of open waters or thin ice in the Winter. These portions of our trek can be time consuming and difficult to navigate. With the lack of heavy winds in the forest we must break trail through snow twice as deep and traverse slopes of steep elevation. We leave our gear behind so we may navigate our way, pack the snow and clear debris. Having to walk back to retrieve our sleds makes each portage 3x the distance and energy expended, but there's a sense of wonder in the woods, so I find these passages to be visually stimulating and exciting. This particular portage was minor compared to some we will encounter, with open waters flowing into Saganaga we had to bushwhack through only a small stand of trees to get to Red Rock. An Otter hole greeted us just on the other side with tracks and marks of his belly glides coming and going. I was hoping to see Mr. Otter pop out onto the ice while we stood there admiring his path. The first sign of life among us brought a glow and chatter to the group, so simple, so awesome.
An Otters Creation

       A few hundred yards down the shores of Red Rock Lake we found a nice nook to construct our home. These tall trees and elevation in terrain should give us more shelter as an expected snow storm and high winds from the North closes in. It's not too late into the night as I lay here writing of today's events and the snow has already begun to flurry...  


Friday, March 14, 2014

-Boundary Waters Expedition Day #2

*Little Foot*

February 19, 2014:

           February 19th, today is my fathers birthday. Fortunately I was able to give him my best wishes a few days ago while in transit from Maine but it sure would be nice to spend time with him, share some of the day or maybe a few laughs. Many qualities in my father that I try to emulate, he'll always be a hero to me. Lots to celebrate when I return, sending warm thoughts your way. I love you Dad, Happy birthday.


        Started my day off with a hot bowl of oats, dried cranberries, whole powdered milk and butter. One of the best oatmeal breakfasts I've had on trail and I've been on many trails, I think it was the "whole" powdered milk that really tied it together. We've allotted roughly 4,000 calories each day per person, giving ourselves many options and combinations to be creative with. A tasty, hot meal can make or break an exhausting day. In  these conditions, our furnace is constantly running on high, even while sleeping our bodies will expend energy heating each breath we take in.

Dried fruits:  Bananas, apples, strawberries, cranberries, raisins, apricots and pineapple.

Dried veggies:  Green beans, sweet corn, broccoli, parsnips, carrots, green peppers, peas, onions, potatoes and squash.

Meats:  Venison jerky, eye-round jerky, pepperoni links and bacon.

Other:  Pasta, rice, lentils, cheese, nuts, fruit cake, cookie product, oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, spices, powders eggs, powdered milk, 1/2lb butter per day, tea, coffee, coco, brownie mix and 11 pounds of chocolate..

           Our camp consists of two canvas "snowtrekker" tents and two steal box stoves, all weighing roughly 20lbs a piece. After breakfast, camp was then disassembled and packed onto our Black River Sleds. I'm carrying both tents, a 25lb box of food and personal gear (axe, saw, sleeping system, clothes, miscellaneous items.) I like my gear to be squared away, organized, a tight sled, cinched down and wrapped up like a burrito. Attention to detail and taking pride in the smallest things is an acquired skill drilled into me from my years in the Marine Corp. which has proven to be very beneficial to my later years. Failure to pay attention could come at great cost in a place like this.

      It was oddly warm today at 20 degrees as we hiked 5 miles West on Lake Saganaga. Warm weather is unwelcome on an expedition such as this, too warm means snow melt, getting wet, harder pulling, sweating and then freezing as the sun goes down. Right around 5 degrees or less is ideal. Cold, dry air means exactly that, you're cold but dry (that's what layers are for.) I have no doubt the weather is soon to show us some extremes... Over the course of the day I quickly realized my choice of snowshoes was going to be a huge burden on me. The only one among the group with "modern" snowshoes, size 930 and fitting for me on the sizing scale but I do believe that is the recommendation for backyard, look at me, packed trail recreation. We are not out here for recreation, packing our own trail through 3-4 feet of snow and looking to cover some wild terrain over many miles, this is going to be quite the obstacle for me. The other fellas, using a traditional style snowshoe (2x the size of my bear paws) float much higher on the snow pack making the exertion of energy far less than mine. There is not nearly enough float in each of my steps causing me to sink way too deep when breaking trail and even breaking my own trail when walking in their trail.. Ahh, this is frustrating, exhausting and a bit disappointing for day two. I'm a leader by nature but there is no leading this pack when I can't contribute to packing a trail for any measurable distance. No sense in getting too wrapped up on the delema because there is nothing I can do about the situation besides make the best of it. Looks like I'll have to harness my inner Marine and suck it up. I've pushed myself and been pushed through some pretty tough times, definitely not going to let a little extra hard work get me down. It's going to be a physical/mental challenge at its best and I love challenging myself, so this should keep things interesting. Here's a good comparison photo of one of my shoes to Pauls traditional---

         Before nightfall we constructed our home for the second night, this time just off the shore of "Long Island" on Saganaga. I'm really looking forward to some restful sleep upon my snow bed...   


Thursday, March 13, 2014

-Boundary Waters Expedition, Day #1

*Celestial Twilight*

February 18, 2014:

             After 14 days on snowshoes living in the North Maine woods for the Winter expedition semester as part of the Jack Mountain Bushcraft Immersion Program ,Robbie and I arrived here last night in Ely, MN. Following a two day 1,500 mile drive along the Trans Canadian Highway we are about to begin an expedition that will prove to push the edge of my limits to much greater heights.
80+ Miles Across the Boundary Waters


         We began our trek at the "end of the road" literally. A 60 mile winding road named the Gunflint Trail which comes to an end deep in the heart of the Boundary Waters Wilderness area. It was an ideal threshold for the heroes journey as the 5 of us (Paul, Robbie, Jerell, Kelly and I) stood on the edge of Lake Saganaga watching our shuttle disappear around the bend. Prepared for the next 25 days,  each of us had a 9ft toboggan, pulling roughly 125lbs a piece consisting of personal/group gear and food.
 This vast & wild area is one of a kind to the lower 48, with over a million acres it is accompanied by a thousand+ lakes. Our neighbor to the North is just a few miles away, with a mirror image of wilderness named "Quetico" (twice as big) extending far into Canadian lands. There are no motorized toys allowed (boats/snowmobiles), restricted to airplanes, strict hunting regulations, no mining, no nonsense. One of the first things I noticed or became aware of was the absolute silence. I tried my hardest to listen, concentrating my ear drums in every direction expecting to pick up something, anything, but there was nothing. It was complete silence, the harder you listened there only seemed to be a slight ringing in your ears. This was a new experience in itself, the sense of how remote we actually were was beginning to sink in..
            The Moon in it's waning phase was not out tonight so there was zero ambient light among the cloudless, crystalline starry sky. It's a rare occasion to have such a defined view of the endlessness above, every visible star to the naked eye was showing off in all its glory. As I've been learning more about the night time sky I could pick out fourteen constellations, nine magnitude stars and a very prominent view of Jupiter which is currently in Gemini. How I do love Winters constellations and the clarity of each star brought on by the crisp, cold, dry air.
Top Left Star: Betelgeuse
Bottom Right Star: Rigel
Orion, always guiding me, the great hunter is never to be missed with his two magnitude stars Betelgeuse and Rigel, surrounded by Canis Minor, Canis Major, Gemini, Auriga, Taurus and Lepus. As we set up our tents, stoves and gathered firewood in the darkness, Kelly yelled "Turn off your headlamps and look North!" When our lights went out my eyes went wide, we all stood motionless, no one said a word and once again in my life time had ceased. Like an Amoeba, a sea of green lights flowed and danced along the Northern horizon. Jetting streaks of color ejecting from the glowing mass as it streamed closer to us, I was in complete aw. An experience that cannot truly be articulated, is there a word that describes an indescribable moment or feeling? Perhaps, Love? I don't know, but it was the most amazing, spectacular display of natures beauty or phenomenon with in our Galaxy I have ever witnessed. Paul had brought along a copy Edward Abbeys benidicto from "Desert Solitaire" and after many moments had passed he shared it with the group aloud, under this mystical sky he read: 

     "May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous leading to the most amazing view. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets' towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm, where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you-"

        Was this real life! How fitting is that! Our first night out here and this is what we are greeted with? I have no more words...Just..Wow! Knowing there's 25 days ahead on this epic journey, I will sleep soundly tonight.                           
(Our cameras could not capture what we saw. This shot I found online is the closest display resembling the open, crystalline sky with the Aurora Borealis on the horizon in front of us)
Similar view from Lake Saganaga 

Snowshoe Expedition Synopsis...

I shot this video on my road trip from Minnesota back to the Adirondacks of upstate New York after being immersed for 36 days in sub zero temperatures. I thought it was pretty neat how Bob Seger's "Turn the page" was playing on the radio. "Here I am, on the road again..... there I go, turn the page"   Much more to follow :o)