The 8-day Wilderness Canoe Immersion

 It’s Fox here and I’d like to share about my experience in the first session of the 8-day Wilderness Canoe Immersion, a course designed and guided by Abel Bean with the Teaching Drum Outdoor School.

Check him out:

He’s been dreamin’ about this course for ten years. Participants learn:

  • Basic and advanced canoe maneuvering techniques
  • Efficient paddling methods
  • Stealth canoeing
  • Scouting for the best campsites
  • Making fire by friction and advanced fire tending
  • Navigating the wilderness without the help of a compass or GPS (lost-proofing)
  • Predicting the weather without instruments
  • Primitive cooking (without the help of pots, pans, or utensils)
  • Setting up a cordless tarp for shelter
  • Wildlife tracking

I signed up knowing very little about any of the above skillset; mine looks more like playing guitar (half-assed), tent camping, riding a bicycle, etc…However I’m no stranger to a canoe and I do love the river. Our group was 7 people: Abel, Amanda, and OdeMakwa, along with myself and three other men of varying experience and reasons for joining. Surprisingly I did feel some anxiety coming into the experience, not only to face the challenge of learning these new skills, but to live and work as a team with this group of characters for 8 days in the wild sounded terrifying.

fire

Our objective: To spend one week on the Pine River with the bare essentials for survival on a guided canoe immersion in the Headwaters Wilderness of the Chequamegon-Nicolet Forest -Wisconsin Northwoods.

My equipment: A solo canoe, paddle, tarp, sleeping bag/blanket, clothing, towel, knife and sheath, water filter, brushes (tooth and hair), pencil, and journal.

**While there was an emphasis on wilderness survival and canoeing skills, we were also guided towards a deeper relationship with ourselves and the natural world through team building and dream sharing.

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Each day began at first light, we woke up under our cordless-tarp shelters, on the ridge above the frosty lowlands along the river below. We gathered in a circle around the hearth for a fire and the morning dream share. What’s that, you say? Well here’s a real dream that I had and shared with the group during our experience:

~We’re on the beach, Christina and I, she smiles and laughs and then her sister walks by rubbin’ her belly and for the first time it’s obvious to me that she’s pregnant, her sister that is. I voice that to Chris and she nearly slaps me; smiles are long gone replaced with anger like I called her sister fat cuz she’s not pregnant and I’m a dick. ~

I woke up feeling frustrated. By sharing a dream like this with the others out loud, I began to learn that the feelings in dreams are most important and I’m guided to look at each character within the dreamworld as an aspect of me in the waking life. I am the one who sees the obvious but feels misunderstood; I’m also the one who’s easily offended, and I’m even the one who walks by having an impact on others without knowing. So maybe in my real life, I continue to encounter situations where I think I’m right about something while someone else has an opposing viewpoint and frustrations ensue. To come to an understanding like this through dream recall and to share the process with the others each morning was one of my favorite parts of the canoe adventure. More on dreams later…

Before we left our first camp, we learned how to set up cordless tarps as shelters. I can definitely see this coming in handy in the future when stealth camping.

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Next we learned about our solo canoes, how to carry them, how to get in without tipping, and basic paddle techniques.

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Abel showed us how to stand in the middle for balance and how to sit cross-legged in the bottom of the boat.

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It wasn’t long before we all had the hang of it and loaded our boats to push off for the next camp.

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We crossed a dozen beaver dams like the one below…industrious little critters.

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We found a potential spot to camp so we brought the boats on land. First we scouted the area and found our hearth location. Next we set up shelters and then we took care of our water. We found fresh water springs and drank from the earth. The food always comes last. Our cooking was done over the fire, no matches, no pots, no pans.  We ate venison, fish, roasted fat, cabbage, leeks, squash, peppers, nuts, fruit, etc…Yup, that’s a deer head on a stick. You won’t find that at the state fair.

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“He sat by the fire with a roasted head in his lap and put on his reading glasses before he cracked the skull open with a rock. I ate some of the brain; we nibbled on the nose; the ears were crunchy; I tasted the tongue and he popped an eye ball in his mouth.” -from my journal

More deer head? Nah, I’m not a big fan. I do appreciate how the entire animal is honored though, everything can be used. We used the skin for raw hide which became the string for our bow drills. We each had the chance to make our own fire kit. To bring flames to life the old way instills a new respect for the power that comes with a small coal.

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We saw geese flying south and found our cardinal directions with the rising and setting of the sun. Using these directions, we hiked as a group through the forest without a compass and we came upon a fall zone where severe weather had caused a down burst of wind and rain that flattened 1,000 trees. Abel tells us about the history of this forest and why it’s so lumpy. We learned to read the clouds as they come in low and fast. What might that mean for the weather?

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We pay attention to the trees. The Birch and it’s wonderful bark and the Cedar of course, the Aspen and her short life, the White Pine towering over them all with her teardrop-top which was shaped by the prevailing winds, and the golden needles of the Tamarack. The Balsam Fir (your Christmas tree) is a favorite. Her flat boughs can be quite comfortable to sit on around the fire or you can place them under your sleeping bag for extra padding. The needles have an antiseptic value and work great for cleaning hands. The trunk of the tree has blisters filled with sap and that pitch is more effective on cuts than any salve you can buy at a drugstore. I saw the blood moon eclipse through a small hole in the forest canopy.

This all sounds great but it wasn’t easy out there and we did have conflicts.

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How’s that for a look of frustration? Wanna fight? I usually run from confrontations. It’s always been a challenge for me to confront people calmly without blaming or shaming; it seems far easier to avoid those encounters and to take responsibility for my own frustrations. This might be why I like to work alone? Speaking up in the moment with a clear, concise and respectful truth is a skill I wanted to develop further while on this adventure.

Having Amanda along on the canoe immersion was a blessing and she’s been a great teacher for me. She and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum with many of our personality characteristics. Where she’s enthusiastic I’m skeptical; I have a need to be heard and she struggles with listening; she wants to be engaged with planning and strategy and I desire spontaneity; she dives into the details of a situation and I look at the big picture…the list goes on. As you might imagine, her and I got into some dynamics out there but through conflicts with Amanda I’m coming to know myself better and I see that maybe we’re not so different. At the root of it all, we both believe we’re right and we both show attachment to our own way of seeing things, like Christina and I in the dream I shared earlier. So through this relationship I see a place to heal old wounds, to lose attachment, to open up and truly listen; I see a powerful opportunity to speak my truth and communicate clearly with empathy and understanding; I see a chance to greatly improve my ability to get along with others and to be more comfortable and effective in a team work environment. These are the most valuable lessons I learned during the canoe immersion. Just like the dreamworld, every character in my life is an aspect of me and I’m grateful for the guidance I’m receiving. I learned a lot out there with this group.

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canoe

My dreams were vivid on our last night and this one seems worth sharing here too…

I had lunch with mom and sis in a busy corner cafe. The line stretched out the door as we finished and left. On the way out we ran into my friend Alyssa who I embraced. Mom and sis parted ways and I said farewell and began walking down a steep sidewalk. It reminded me of the hills in San Francisco. I felt like I forgot something so I turned around but then it was clear that I hadn’t forgot anything. Right then my shoes seemed to sprout wheels and I started cruisin’ down the hill. I did a 360 and jumped a curb. I took off and flew high above the road. On the way down, I felt a little scared as the ground approached fast but I totally landed it and I woke up with that.

As I look back at the canoe immersion, it all feels like a dream. Now that I’ve returned to the school and I’m back in the flow, it’s time for me to use what I’ve learned -time to stick this landing.

Coming into the course I had some doubts about leaving behind my responsibilities for a week and I wondered if I should spend the tuition on other things. Would it be worth it? Now that it’s all over I can honestly say it was totally worth it! One day I’d like to use these new camping skills on another bicycle tour and it’s always been a dream of mine to have a long-distance canoe trip with my father when he retires. It’s gonna be sweet to share some of these skills with him.

If you’re interested in participating in a course like this, visit: http://teachingdrum.org/

**Photographs courtesy of OdeMakwa

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