Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Poling a Canoe Upstream

I've been working on the chapter covering human-powered watercraft this morning for my book project: Bug Out Vehicles and Shelters and one of the topics I am covering are the different methods of propulsion for such watercraft.  Everyone thinks of paddles and oars when it comes to moving small boats, but the simple pole is often forgotten. While poling may be the most primitive way to move a boat known to man, it can also be extremely efficient in certain conditions.

I first began to appreciate the value of poling when my canoeing buddy, Ernest Herndon and I traveled downstream for several days on the Rio Coco, which forms the border between Honduras and Nicaragua.  On that trip, we hired some Miskito Indian guides and one of their long dugout canoes carved from a log to travel downriver, but all along the way we passed other locals poling their dugouts back upstream between the widely scattered villages along the river.  The Rio Coco has a considerable current and some treacherous rapids in some places, but despite this, once they dropped us off at our destination, our three guides would have no way home but to pole their way back up river, staying in the shallows near the bank.  I don't know how many days it took them to get that heavy, 30-something foot canoe back to their home village, but it couldn't have been easy, considering that it was a four-day journey  with all five of us paddling it downstream with the current. 

But in places like Mosquitia, where outboard motors are still rare and gasoline for them is rarer still, if you would use the river as a highway through the jungle, you must be able to travel upstream as well as downstream.  This is also true if you plan to seriously contemplate bugging out into remote wilderness areas where no other boat but a canoe or kayak can go.  On my own long-distance kayak trips, I have had to travel some stretches of river upstream for a few hundred miles in order to reach a divide and cross over to another river where I could go downstream.  It's slow going and a work-out, but an efficient sea kayak can be paddled against the current, especially if you know how to play the eddies.  A canoe is not so easy to paddle against the current as a sea kayak though, and the bow will frequently get swept around when you least expect it, making for frustration as you lose ground you worked so hard to gain.  By standing up and using a long pole to push off the bottom, you are able to put your entire body into the effort and the result is that you can make remarkable progress, even in swift water.  The experts make it look really easy.  I especially like this video I found YouTube, and watching it makes me want to shut down the computer, throw the canoe on the truck racks, cut myself a long pole and go!  Have a look for yourself and see if you don't feel the same way:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Oregon Trip and Interview

The Oregon trip went well and I got to do about everything I'd hoped to during the brief time I was there, including driving more than 500 miles all over the northwestern section of the state and hiking in various locations from Silver Falls State Park to the Mt. Hood area and a rugged section of the coast at Ecola State Park.  Here are a few photos I took, but I still have hundreds to go through and edit, as well as some video footage that will take even more time.

Silver Falls State Park:

Mt. Hood:

Ecola State Park:

Those of you who are familiar with Oregon know that this state has no lack of natural beauty and magnificent scenery to enjoy the outdoors in.  But one thing is for sure: despite the rugged topography of this northwestern part of the state, the human population here is dense compared to the areas east of the Cascades and to other western states like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.  As I mentioned in my book, Bug Out, Oregon has comparatively few large roadless areas for a western state, but some of those remaining areas that do exist are quite inaccessible and could work as bug-out locations for those prepared to deal with the steep terrain and wet conditions.  Another thing about these dense coniferous forests that was evident even on the relatively short hikes I had time to do, is that game is abundant, evidenced by numerous trails and fresh elk tracks and droppings.  Lots of edible plants abound as well, as these forests are incredible green and lush from all the rainfall they receive.

My interview on AM Northwest, a regional morning show on Portland's ABC station: KATU Channel 2, involved a brief discussion of some of the topics of my book, Getting Out Alive: 13 Deadly Scenarios and How Others Survived.  There's never enough time in an interview to go into depth about the subject matter of a book - much less in an interview of just over 5 minutes in length.  But the two hosts asked some good questions, particularly the very first question, with regard to the Canadian woman who recently survived 7 weeks stranded in a van in a remote Nevada wilderness.  Again, there wasn't enough time to respond with everything I would have liked to talk about, but the point is that most of the scenarios in my book involve people going out for a day or weekend outing and getting into a situation that could become a matter of life or death because they simply did not take into account the possibility that something could happen to delay their return.  This happens with automobiles, boats, motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles and any other kind of vehicle that can transport a person rapidly into a remote area, much farther than they would normally be able to travel under human power alone.  The technology then fails them in one way or another - either mechanically or by getting stuck somehow, and then people who only planned to be out for a short time are faced with what could be an ordeal of much longer duration - such as this woman's 7-week stranding that few would have survived. 

The lesson here is prepardness.  If you are always in a state of prepardness wherever you go and whatever you do, you are much less likely to find yourself in one of these situations.  This means having adequate shelter, clothing, food and water to last much longer than your planned adventure.  This is why when I ride my dual sport motorcycle into the woods, paddle a kayak off the coast, or sail away from land on a larger boat, I always have extra supplies for those unexpected delays.  I learned this the hard way many years ago when I first started sea kayaking and paddled 12 miles to a barrier island for an overnight trip.  A strong weather system moved into the area, whipping up seas that made my return impossible, and keeping me stormbound on the island for 4 more days.  I had only taken food for one night, but it was a good island for foraging, so I made out okay until the weather broke and I was able to leave - but it was a lesson I never forgot. 

Here is the interview for those who are interested:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Looking Forward to the Oregon Outdoors

Working on the current book project has kept me busy and kept me indoors too much.  Tomorrow, my publisher is sending me to Portland, Oregon for a television interview to talk about the most recent book: Getting Out Alive: 13 Deadly Scenarios and How Others Survived.  The interview won't take long, then I'll be free to explore for a couple of days.  I definitely want to do some hiking in coastal areas that look like this:

Leon Pantenburg, of Survival Common Sense, who lives in Bend, Oregon, also recommended that I check out Silver Falls State Park, which he wrote about here.   It's not far south of Portland and certainly looks worth the trip:  

It would be nice to have a couple of weeks in Oregon to really get out into the backcountry, but this trip will be a short one.  As I wrote in Bug Out: The Complete Plan for Escaping a Catastrophic Disaster Before It's Too Late [Paperback], Oregon has some truly spectacular big wilderness areas, particularly in parts of the Cascade Range and for example, the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area.  But any short hike I can do near the coast or in the old-growth forests will be a welcome break from working behind a keyboard; and from the heat and humidity that has already arrived to mark the beginning of another sweltering Mississippi summer.  

I'll have more about the interview and some photographs from the trip after I return.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Could You Bug Out on a Harley?

I've posted recently about motorcycles as alternative bug-out vehicles, specifically dual-sport adventure type bikes like my KLR 650.  My new book, Bug Out Vehicles and Shelters: Build and Outfit Your Life-Saving Escape will feature a chapter on motorcycles and the key considerations you must take into account if you were to choose the two-wheeled option for bugging-out.  Needless to say, researching this book has been interesting.  One story I've been following for a few months is Doug Wothke's winter bike building project, in which he converted a stock Harley Davidson 1200 Custom Sportster to a capable dual-sport motorcycle he calls the "Dirtster," (and XL GS). 

Doug (rtwdoug) on the Adventure Rider (ADV) Motorcycle forums, is well-known for his outrageous long-distance adventures on unlikely motorcycles.  He's ridden an Indian Chief and two Harley Davidson choppers most of the way around the world, and has taken more conventional adventure bikes like the KLR all over places like Africa.  Doug, who lives over in neighboring Alabama, takes a big adventure trip every summer, and this customized Sportster was built to take him across Europe and Asia and the extreme eastern end of Siberia, to Magadan, hence the need for improved suspension, knobby tires and a bigger fuel tank.  Here is the route, outbound leg in brown, return in white:  

He chose the 1200 Sportster for it's near bullet-proof Evolution engine, which is simple, requires little maintenance other than oil changes, and produces loads of low-end torque like all Harley V-Twin engines.  The Sportster frame is better in this application than the bigger bikes since it is lighter and more agile and has the best power-to-weight ratio of any stock Harley.  Doug began with this 2003 100-year Anniversary Edition:

Modifications included converting the belt drive to a chain drive, to avoid the chance of breaking the belt due to small stones getting between it and the pulleys, which can happen on gravel roads. The front forks were exchanged for KTM forks, and rear suspension switched out for longer travel and a taller stance.  Forward controls were dispensed with for rear-set mid-controls with off-road style pegs.  The exhaust system was upgraded to the get pipes up where they would clear the water on river crossings, and tires were switched out for knobbies.  The stock 3.3 gallon fuel tank was replaced with a custom 4.2 gallon tank for more range.  Sportsters get up to about 50 mpg., so it's good for around 200 miles between fill-ups.  Other additions were things like the dual headlights with protective grill, the custom engine guard, racks for aluminum panniers and the Pelican-type waterproof top box:

Doug has begun his journey and is posting updates in this thread on the ADV forums:

Shortly after completing the build, he posted this YouTube video of a test run down a muddy, north Alabama road:

Examples like this show that sometimes the best vehicles for a particular purpose are not anything you can go out and buy off the showroom floor.  While Doug could certainly  do this trip on a KLR 650 or a BMW GS 1200, there's something to be said for the satisfaction of doing it your own way and highly modifying an existing machine.  I'm not the mechanic Doug is, but I know from my own experiences with boats, that the way to get exactly what I want is to build my own, which is what I'm doing in the case of my Tiki 26 catamaran.  I just thought I'd share this interesting journey for those who might be contemplating motorcycles as bug-out vehicles or back-up vehicles. 


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