Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Low Tech Canoeing VII - Portaging

Continuing  about our 1948 canoe trip from "Wooden Canoe".
"In portaging as well as in paddling the two teams were well matched. The huskier team carried the heavier Old Town and the smaller team carried the lighter Penn Yan. All portages were two man carries. No one had the skill to carry an 18 footer solo.
"Attempts to emulate the Indians by carrying gear with a tumpline over the forehead failed miserably. They could not stand the pain in the neck caused by the weight of the packs. The four college guys had to admit that volleyball, downhill skiing, or elbow bending does not develop neck muscles. The best pack turned out to be a war surplus ski trooper rucksack. It rode on the hips, had a low center of gravity, and had room to lash bulky gear on top."
Another pack we used was a war surplus bent-plywood packboard that the Infantry used to carry mortar parts or the Quartermasters used to backpack ammunition or jerry cans. It worked OK but you always had to lash or unlash the load. We also had a traditional frame and canvas packboard. We placed the packboards in the bottom of the canoes to keep the loads out of the wet. We used GI ponchos to wear in the rain, cover the load or string up as a kitchen fly. Let's put it this way, most everything an infantryman wore or used to live and fight in the open was useful to the canoeist traveling in the wild, GI mess kits for instance. Of course we didn't have to wear helmets or carry rifles.
The cover photograph of the June 1997 issue of "Wooden Canoe" that carried Adam's story showed Ned and Ken portaging the Penn Yan upside down over their heads. It shows that for shoes they wore regular sneakers. Brother John wore war surplus canvas jungle boots from the South Pacific. I wore L.L.Bean canvas canoe shoes. I think the L.L.Bean shoes were best.
                               REMARKS ABOUT PORTAGES
These are from my narrative/monograph "Locating Michigan's Old Canoe Portages":
In an article in the August 1893 issue of "Harper's New Monthly Magazine", Frederic Remington, famed for his western art, tells of a canoe trip on an Ontario river:
"...a mile of impossible rapids made a 'carry' or 'portage' necessary. Slinging our packs and taking the seventy-pound canoe on our shoulders, we started down the trail. The torture of this sort of thing is as exquisitely perfect in its way as any ever devised. A trunk porter in a summer hotel simply does for a few seconds what we do by the hour, and as far as reconciling this to an idea of physical enjoyment, it cannot be done."  At the end of the portage he concludes, "...and it is with a little thrill of joy and the largest sigh of relief possible when we again settle the canoe in the water."
The late Canadian canoeist/artist Bill Mason echoes this sentiment in his beautiful video Water Walker: "Anybody who tells you portaging* is fun is either gotta be a liar or crazy. Now the walk back for the second load, that's the part I like."
* He pronounced it port-ta'-zhing with with the "a" like in "tag".
Deep River Jim said: "Nothing feels quite so good as the rest at the end of the carry." 
NEXT: Wind and smoke

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