Wednesday, September 15, 2010

School and life...

...have gotten in the way of me keeping a regular posting schedule.  I'd rather continue to live life then write about past experiences (call me crazy).

Once I returned home from camp I had less than a week to prepare for school.  I made the most of it, and what was left of my summer 'freedom', by seeing friends, reading books, watching movies, and getting in as much basketball as my injured knee would allow.

But you don't care about any of that.  You want to know what's happening with this blog.

A friend of mine had a brilliant suggestion- simply scan my notebook into my computer and post it.  And that's exactly what I'm going to do.  It means I won't be able to edit it for spelling or grammar but lets be honest- I've been doing a craptacular job of that anyway.  So, this weekend I'm going to scan in as much as I can and post several days all at once.  You'll get the feel of the journal, and all it's messiness, and I won't have to worry about keeping a posting schedule.

Win/win.

Ben

Monday, September 6, 2010

Back from Camp!

Last night I returned home from being an instructor at Sorcerers Safari, Canada's only magic camp.  Every year, for the past 9 years, I've attended SS and every year its one of the highlights of my magic experience.  The kids are passionate and eager (some of them are downright awesome) and the staff and special guests are people I'm lucky enough to call my friends.  Superstars of the magic world, world champions, authors, producers and people who have contributed in every aspect to the art come together to help the next generation learn and develop, and it's wonderful thing to behold!

Photo courtesy of Dennis Gorya.  I didn't ask his permission to use it but he didn't ask my permission to take it so... :)

The special guests this year included Dan and Dave Buck, Wayne Houchin, Aaron Fisher, Lee Asher, Shawn Farquhar, Greg Frewin and Eric Leclerc!  As you can tell from clicking any of the links- these guys are amazing magicians and a blast to hang out with!

Showing off for the ladies... alright, it was magic camp- showing off for the lady.

As great as magic camp was though its nice to be home.  I promise the next update is coming soon.

Ben

Monday, August 30, 2010

Away again, and a change in format.

Hey everyone,

I'm heading up north to be an instructor at Canada's foremost magic camp, the Sorcerer's Safari, and I won't be home for about a week.  This means I won't be posting on here for a few days.

Of course, anyone who's been following the blog knows this isn't anything new- I promised to post daily at 8pm and while I started strong, life, as it is prone to do, has often gotten in the way.  So I'm changing the format- I'll be posting weekly now, still at 8pm, every Friday.  This means we'll be following a new schedule, but a schedule I can keep.  So, check back weekly to find out what's been happening!

Ben

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day 11- New Friends

Today was an interesting day... in a very good way.

First, the sun finally came out which was beneficial because it dried my equipment and 'brightened' my mood.  I made some Red River (which was great) then headed out on a 7.3km hike.

The hike was really nice, and I enjoyed ever moment of it.  I was well rested and cheerful from my rest the day before and it made all the difference.

I took a break at one point to climb a small mountain (or rather a large hill) to get a panoramic view of the lakes I had stayed at, the Lake of Two Rivers and Starling Lake, and the view was stunning.

 Insert clever caption here.  Or not.  Who actually reads these things besides me?

As I continued my hike I met a man named David who was doing his first solo trip.  He was doing one night, trying to get over his fear of being alone, and he told me about the private plane he owned that he wanted to use, one day, to fly to a remote region to camp out in.

Once I had finished the hike I got directions to the highway where I waited to hitchhike. 

 Would you pick me up if you saw me?  You would?  LIAR!

I don't know why I just assumed someone would pick me up but after an hour I felt like Raskoloniskov (from Crime and Punishment)- I developed a disdain for humanity and resented being in a situation where I was forced to rely on anyone's good will.  Suddenly a card stopped, I could hardly believe it- it was the people who had given me directions earlier!  Their names were Jane and George, a nice older couple, and they were there with their middle-aged daughter Sarah.  My faith in humanity had been restored!

They dropped me off at the entrance to the camping ground and after registering I hiked over to my site.  I was so tired by then, and having skipped lunch, that I just dropped my pack on the ground a lay down.

A man approached me and after telling me his name was Gary Cartilage he asked me if I could use a beer.  At first I said no, as I'm not really a beer drinker, but he insisted.  I'm glad I did- it was a Moosehead Beer and it might have been the best thing I've ever had to drink.

My blog- promoting alcoholism since 2010.

Gary introduced me to Bill Robinson and then their respective families.  We spent a long time talking about camping (all of them were very knowledgeable), life, and every topic in between- God, work, fishing, beer, ghost stories, etc.  Their wives were very sweet and their kids very polite and friendly.

They invited me for dinner (which was wonderful) and then to their campfire afterwords.  After some cold drinks, food, and great conversation I hit the bed (With my new inflatable air mattres- a gift from Bill).

Dinner with the Cartilages.  I'm so lucky they kept Kosher...

This was a wonderful day.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Status- 3 day hiatus.

I'm all about living life to the fullest- my philosophy is that all experiences are friendly and profitable, all men wholly and all days divine. And this blog is all about sharing my experiences with you.

For that reason I won't be posting until Monday.

Why, you ask?  Because this weekend several of the world's greatest magicians are coming to Toronto- David Blaine, Bill Malone, Michael Weber, Bill Kalush, Ricky Smith, Derek Delgadio, Rafael Benatar... and Mr. Steve Forte (one of my long time heros).

Subsequently I will be spending every waking moment I can spending time with these gents.  While you wait for my next post- only a few days away, I urge you to watch this video of Steve Forte.  It'll blow your mind.

Check out Steve HERE.

Ben

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Day 10- Bumming Around

Afternoon
When it rains it pours... literally.  I woke up late this morning (7:30am) because the sun, responsible for signaling morning, was not out.  Since it was also drizzling I decided, in lieu of my difficult day yesterday and today being a day off, to stay in bed.  I read, mopped up puddles (this tent is no longer waterproof!  This brings up a valuable point- you rally do get what you pay for with camping gear.  It seems like for every dollar you spend you can add another small percentage of enjoyment to your trip.  Case in point- $20 mini-stove?  Can't even boil water.  But I digress.) and generally loafed around until 11.  Had it not been for the rain and dampness it would have been heaven.

 This was, for three weeks, my home entertainment system...

Unfortunately the rain still hasn't let up, meaning fire making was quite difficult (though I did it) and everything I own is damp.  I cannot tell you how much I'm looking forward to having a warm, dry towel (I've been forced to use an extra pair of boxers :( ), a soft mattress, and friends.

Also, and this surprises me, I'm eating very little (compared to normal).  Even with all the hiking I'm eating one helping of stuff, not my usual two.  And I'm both content and satisfied.  When I start the second half of my trip (the big 16-dayer in the Western Uplands) I plan on bringing a lot less stuff :) (oh, and Canisbay lake, where I'm headed to tomorrow, has a laundromat and shower facility.  I can't wait!).



Evening
You know what robs you of your confidence in surviving the terrain?  Hearing a tree 'randomly' snap and fall in the woods.  If you stop and listen it actually occurs fairly frequently.  This got me thinking- what is one falls on me, while I'm sleeping?  Assuming it doesn't kill me (a possibility) it would still shatter some bones.  What would I do with a broken ankle when I'm miles away from the nearest person?  Am I strong enough to crawl 7kms to find help?  I hope I don't find out.

The rest of the day was gloomy.  The drizzling never stopped the the sun never broke through.  I spent most of the day reading, playing with my cards, and ducktaping the tent (to, I hope, prevent future leaks).  I f the rain comes down hard though, and it will at some point, I'm screwed.

This was the lake I stayed at.  I climbed to a summit peak the next day and got this photo.

Tomorrow I do 7.5km which is a pretty good few hours, then I get to Canisbay.  This assumes someone will give me a lift at the highway, or else it'll be... gulp... about 17km.  It'll be highway, so a lot easier, but stll- I don't know if I'll make it  (not with 80lbs on my back!).

I didn't see anything interesting today as the rain kept most things seeking shelter (I assume).  Its 8:30pm now but since there's no sun it's already dark- I'll be hitting the sack soon.

That's what "tired" looks like.

Night.
Ben

I didn't post last night...

...because I was at a CPR training course and a staff-meeting for the summer camp I will be attending in 2 weeks.

I didn't think anyone actually read the blog, other then my mom, but it turns out several people do.  I know this now because I got several messages asking where the blog post was!

Sorry people.  I'll try not to let it happen again.

As an apology here is a wonderful photo I took of a sunset.  Can you imagine how nice it was sitting out on rock, drinking tea, while watching this?  Amazing.

 I've actually commissioned an artist to do a watercolor of this... I'll post photo when it's done.

Ben

Monday, August 16, 2010

Day 9- All Kinds of Crazy.

Morning
I'm stalling.  It's 8:20am and I've been up for more then an hour and a half.  It's cold and wet and everything I have is soaked.  I don't know how to pack it all up and I have a full day of hiking to do- I have to go.

Today is the first day I wish I wasn't doing this.  But I am and I have to persevere.  F***- everything stinks like sweat and filth.  It's horrible.  Where the f*** is the sun?'

Evening
I've never truly known the meaning of the word 'exhaustion': I write this at 8:30pm- too tired to make a fire (used stove) and too tired to write coherently- like my mind is currently operating, this will be pieces of thoughts, mere fragments.

1. The woods are daunting and it's enough to break any man's spirit.  You cannot tell how much further it is to your destination, .5km or 5km because its just an endless sea (or rather, forest) of trees.


2. I almost started crying today and I gave up.  I dropped my pack and started shaking of exhaustion.  My body was racked with pain and I was starting to get 'crazy' (talking to yourself, hearing strange noises, etc).  I ended up being 8 minutes from the site when it happened.

3. After I dropped my pack and started walking without it.  I had completely given up.  I ended up finding my site a few minutes away and the only way I was able to get there was by reciting the marching song from "Full Metal Jacket" (This is my riffle this is my gun, this if for fighting this is for fun...), doing sound-offs with myself and counting to 600.  Yes, it got crazy.

4. What I'm proud of though, and no one can take this away from me, is that I did it.  Any maybe it wasn't the most orthodox method but I did it right- pack on back, camp set up, bowls and pots cleaned- food hung so it won't attract bears, tarp up in case of rain... etc.  I did it.

I DID IT!

Oh, and I saw an otter today and some people (Mark and Simon).  I got some great shots of a frog by walking really really slowly (8 minutes!).




I need to sleep.
Ben
p.s.
A few nights ago I spent almost half an hour watching a snapping turtle swim around.  It was amazing.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Day 8- Tornado!

Everyday, it seems, is hard for an entirely new reason.  Today I had a short hike, 4.1km (giving me a rest for tomorrows 11+ km hike) but for the last km I was rushed at a very difficult pace by the sounds of thunder and impending rainfall.

video


Luck was with me though and I made it just in time to set up my tent, the tarp on top, and get everything inside just as the rain started to fall.  I felt like a superhero- saving the day in the nick of time.  I was lucky... or so I thought.

video

On of the things I've learned from my time in the wild is that mother nature is a powerful teacher.  You can learn a lot from it (where to set up camp by looking at the foliage for instance), but the second you think you know it all, that you "beat" her, she punishes you.  In this case while I was bragging on video about 'winning' the race against the elements my tent began to flood.  Bad.

video

The location I had chosen to set up my ten, while offering a stunning view, also offered no cover from the rain- I was totally exposed.  Now had this been a short, light, rainfall I would have been fine, but this was a five and a half hour monstrosity (I actually saw lightning knock over a tree!) and my tent sprung several leaks- from the top and the bottom.  The flooding was so bad, both outside and inside, that I had to move the tent while it was still raining.  It was, to put it mildly, not fun.

video

Now I had done some pre-planning so everything important- clothes, food, first aid gear, maps, matches, etc.- were in waterproof containers or dry sacks, but the rain did get into my tent, the main pack itself even my sleeping bad (not bad though as I put it away as soon as I realized the tent was starting to flood).

video

It was clear what I had to do- recant and offer an apology to mother nature. Sure enough, as soon as I did the rain stopped and she sent some sun to help dry things off. 

Later
Most of my stuff is ok now, though some of it is still a little damp.  I'm a little worried as I remember from past camping experiences that the only way I got through sleeping with a wet sack (hehe) was knowing I would be home the next day, but here I have three more weeks.  Yikes.

There's always good news though.  First, my site is stunning- one of the nicest I've been to yet.  It has a great view, interesting terrain, and its own little swimming poop.  It's a shame I didn't get to take advantage of it today.  Also, another monster storm started coming but then past me by.  I saw lighting striking things as it went by.  I guess mother nature realized I learned my lesson.  I have- she wins every time.

Time for bed.
Ben
p.s.
It wasn't until I spoke to my parents that I found out that I had actually been caught in a tornado!  What a rush!

A shot of the storm as it was leaving.  As beautiful as it was scary.

Missed a Post!

Sorry peoples!

I had a new post set to be uploaded automatically, at 8pm, but I goofed.  I promise to fix the problem and have the next post up, on time, tomorrow.  Check back at 8.

Ben

Friday, August 13, 2010

Day 7- Death

I've never been this exhausted in my entire life.  I hiked 8km today but an additional 2 or so trying to get my bearings.  While the terrain itself is difficult (a lot of rocks to climb, swamps and long grass to navigate through, and of course the incline) it is my 80lb pack that's proving the biggest obstacle.

EVERYTHING hurts.  My feet (even individual toes!), my ankles, my calves, my thighs, my butt (especially my butt), my lower back (ok- especially my lower back!), my shoulders, my chest... even my jaw from eating so many hard nuts for protein.  It is the first time that I can recall that I noticed my elbows- which also hurt from carrying the dry sack didn't fit into my main pack.

I worry about tomorrow and whether I'll be able to finish the trip.  I know I can make the next 7 days without a problem but I'm worried about starting the treacherous 16 day hike in the Western Uplands.  A lot of hills, a lot of long (10km+) hikes.  I don't know what I'm going to do.

Another problem that has presented itself- the poorly marked trails and no indicators of distances.  I missed my site last night (because I was supposed to turn down the side trail... no one told me that!) resulting in an extra few kilometers, and today I couldn't locate my campsite at all.  Eventually I became so tired I decided to just take a nap right in the middle of the path.

Now this wasn't as strange as it sounds.  I could walk for hours without seeing anyone else so I knew I wouldn't be in anyone's way, and I knew I wouldn't be disturbed either.  I just pulled out my pillow, lay down in the middle of the track and fell asleep.

Suddenly I was woken up by the sound of growling.  I didn't open my eyes- I knew a bear was about to rip my face off and I simply accept death.  Then I opened my eyes.

It wasn't a bear.  It was a hummingbird.

It was hovering inches from my face, it's wings beating so hard and fast it simply sounded like a growl.  Grrrrrrrrrr.  I was struck by the juxtaposition of a tragic expectation to a beautiful surprise: instead of being mauled and eaten I witnessed something wonderful I had never seen before.  It was amazing.

Other things of note- struggled to put up my bear-hang but got it up eventually, and I gave up on making a fire because it started to rain, relying instead on the little stove I brought with me. What a piece of shit that turned out to be- it doesn't even boil water!  Eventually I ate, then headed to bed. I love being out here.

Ben

Spelling, Grammar and Syntax

"I wonder if they'll buy this excuse..."

At least one person has written to me to point out some of the errors that have made it onto the blog.  These are, for the most part, intentional.

I rely on spell-check to bail me out.  In the woods though I had no dictionary, no spell-check program, so errors crept in.  I decided to leave some of those in, to keep the feel of the original journal, only fixing errors if the original was undecipherable.

At least that's what I'm hoping you'll think.  The truth is writing about the journey isn't nearly as rewarding as the journey itself, but to quote Chris McCandles: "Happiness is only real when shared".

Ben

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 6- Lesson Learned

It rained hard last night, causing my tent to rock back and forth and preventing me from getting more then a half hour of sleep at any given time.  When I finally got up it was 7am, a little later then I had intended, so I hurried to collect firewood to make breakfast (soup- a hot meal to start a cold day).  As you can imagine it was a challenge making a fire with wet wood, but I had birch bark and pine needles so it only took a few tries.

Once I had cleaned up my campsite and packed up I headed out to pick up my permit for the Highlands Trail.  Once I had that I headed out on a 4km walk- I decided to take it really easy for the beginning of the trip since I was unfamiliar with the terrain and the pack was so heavy.  Still, the trek was hard (but managable) and I had a lot of fun...

...until frustration set in.  I knew I had walked more then 4km and yet I hadn't seen any sites.  Something had gone wrong.  I checked my map and compass and sure enough I had missed my site by several kilometers- what had started as a 4km hike had turned into 8. 

What had happened was this.  The map advises you to follow the colored trail markers if you want to find your site.  Eventually you come to a fork in the road.  One direction says "side trail" and the other shows the colored trail indicator.  So, wishing to eventually find a site to set up in you follow the colored marker.  Wrong.  The side trail takes you to your site.  Unfortunately no where is that indicated so I had simply passed by it.  I only realized my mistake once I decided to explore one of those side trails.  Lesson learned.

Pretty sweet set-up eh?  A massive kitchen, a beautiful 'pool' and a place to sleep.  What else could a man ask for?

Eventually I made it to a site and set up camp.  I read a little of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" then took a little nap. When I awoke it was around 7:30 pm and I started making dinner: spaghetti and tomato sauce.  It's true what they say- everything tastes better up here.  Around 9pm, as the sun set, I headed to bed; full, tired, and content.  I can't wait for tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Day 5- The Departure

In my journal this day's entry came before the previous.  I couldn't explain, nor can I now, the significance of this ordering except I knew, at the time, that it made sense.  In order to keep these entries chronological I've reversed the order in which I wrote them but, for the sake of clarity and honesty, this is a little disclaimer explaining the change.

I just spent an hour at the Visitors Center with a ranger named Josh, a tall thing fellow who looks to be a year or two younger then me, and despite having my route now planned out and my sites reserved I'm more aprehensive than before.

I worry about the bears, the wolves, and the other prefetors.  I worry about injury and starvation.  I worry about heat stroke and disease.  I worry in general.  For a moment I found it reassuring that I was, at least, aware of the risks and challenges I faced, but then my apprehension returned with the realization that I had no idea what to do if any of those situations were to occur.

As I walked back to my campground, now entirely mine as the result of my friends departure, I feel excited and anxious- as if everyone is staring at me, knowing I'm unprepared and utterly alone.

Walking the path- alone but with my head held high.

I turn the corner of the winding pathway, my tent still not in sight, and it dawns on me that this walk is a metaphor for my trip- I'm following my own path, with all the worry that accompanies it, and I cannot see where it goes or how it ends.

I can only hope it ends well.
Ben

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 4- We Arrive.

Journal Entry:
It's Saturday July 17th and I'm at Algonquine Park with my friend James, his wife Lyndsay, and Chad Zhou (a wonderful magician from China).

I've set up camp, made a fire, and cooked everyone food.  It's funny but I feel like my father- no one listened to exactly what I said as far as how to prepare for the trip (and like insolent children they regretted it- no sleeping bag or pillow Chad?), everyone expected me to do all the word and everyone expected me to do it perfectly.

 Nothing like some hot soup to get a trip started!

Lyndsay and James aren't exactly 'camping people', something I will no doubt tease them about for a while (especially because of their native background...)- they kicked me out of my tent in order to get their massive, queen sized air mattress in (then complained it wasn't comfy enough) and chose to drive to the gift shop rather then go hiking.

Chad enjoyed his first camping experience though and seemed up for anything; hiking, collecting firewood, setting up the tent and even some late night stargazing.  I'm glad he's having a great time.

James and Lynn are talking about heading out a day early, and since they're his ride Chad will have to go with them, but nothing has been decided yet so we'll have to wait and see.

Ben

Monday, August 9, 2010

The First Few Days- Prep, Prep and Prep.

Planning a camping trip, any camping trip, requires a lot of work.  Planning a solo trip requires more so- as you're the only one who will be able to carry provisions, you need entertainment, you have to plan well for emergency situations, and so on.  Planning a month long trip, where you won't be restocking on food or any other supplies takes even more.

In other words- you need to spend a lot of time planning routes, buying supplies, and working out numerous little details.

Or you can do what I did and sort of, um, wing it.

Don't get me wrong, I did plan quite a bit and prepare.  I bought quite a few new supplies and updated old one (new dry-sacks, shoes, saw, cooking gear, water-filter, etc), and I knew generally what my route would be, but I was still doing some of this prep work on the day I was leaving.  For instance- I didn't own a rain jacket and I was heading into the rainy season so I picked up a jacket a mere 2 hours before I want (and thank goodness I did!).

After I had most of what I needed my friends James, Lindsay and Chad picked me up.  For some of them it was their first camping trip in 15 or 20 years.  For others it was their first trip EVER.  But they agreed to come up for a night or two to help me, as it were, acclimatize and to enjoy a little camping as well.  One night in Barrie and then we'd be off the next day.  It's going to be a fun trip.

video
This is a quick, poorly shot video of me moments before I left.  I'm attempting to weigh my bag before I go.  
After all was said and done the bag and my supplies clocked in at, gulp, 87 pounds.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

So... what is this?

Early in July of 2010 I left on a three and a half week solo camping trip, heading into the deep woods of the Algonquin Park interior in order to fulfill a long time dream of mine- getting really dirty and stinky.  No, wait, that's not right- I did it in order to find myself and see if I could survive, by myself, in a 'hostile environment'.

Three and a half weeks later I returned- happy, covered in mud, and with a journal documenting my thoughts and adventures.  Rather then simply filing this away, never to be seen again, I thought I would post it online, on this blog, to share it with anyone who might be interested.  Over the next few weeks I'll be posting daily (8pm everyday), supplementing the posts with links and photos, and creating a permanent online document about the entire trip.  I promise to do my best to be honest, even if it means revealing some dark secrets, and will do my best to make this blog interesting and kind of fun.

I survived hypothermia, dehydration, mountains, swamps, even a tornado!- and I'm look forward to sharing it all with you.

Speak to you soon,
Ben Train