Stoney Creek, Day 1, Wednesday

On the first weekend of June, I had the experience of a lifetime. I got to relive history! On June 6 1813, 205 years ago, the British Redcoats engaged the American army in what we know as The Battle of Stoney Creek, a small but decisive conflict that was a part of The War of 1812.

I was given the opportunity to go work at the reenactment of the battle, as a ‘sutler’, or ‘merchant.’ I was working in the kettle corn tent, selling bags of the good stuff to all kinds of people as they went by on the way to the battle or to look at the historic sites. My boss, Dana, is a real history buff, with about a million and five (at least) stories to tell about everything under the sun. He’s my kind of guy, and the kind of boss you actually want to hang out with.

Here is the story of my adventure, which I will release in a number of segments so that it is a bit more reader friendly. If you have any questions please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Enjoy!

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Stoney Creek, Day 1, Wednesday:

At around noon, Dana drove up to my house in his big red truck, pulling an equally large silver enclosed trailer. The trailer was jam-packed chock full of popcorn making equipment, supplies, corn, sugar, oil, salt, the whole deal. The truck was loaded high with canvas, coolers, and camping supplies. Somehow we found enough room for me to ride shotgun, and I threw my bag on top of the precarious pile already threatening to topple in the back seat.

The drive was about an hour and a half or so, which we filled with yakking about Dana’s service over in Afghanistan, which I found really interesting. I had just read Dana’s book – if you want to hear a firsthand account of what it’s like to be right out there where the fighting happens, you definitely should read it, click here – and so Dana was able to tell me lots more stories about some crazy stuff. What an experience to have.

When we got to the Stoney Creek Battlefield House Park, we began unloading and setting up. On the right side of us, Jeff, or ‘Sutler Cyrus,’ sells the very creative (and delicious) Cartridge Candy, and is currently running a political campaign for Willy the Weasel, an aspiring rodent politician who doesn’t mind admitting that he’s only in it for the money. For more about Willy, head over here.

On the left side, was Four and Twenty Blackbirds, a period bakeshop that sells amazing baked goods of all shapes and sizes, including… butter tarts! Oooh those tarts were good! They also sold lemonade in green glass bottles, which was a huge hit when it got hot.

Since the vendors are part of the reenactment, everything had to be period accurate, or in other words, everything must look as if it was from 1812. All the guys wore button up pants with suspenders, and all the ladies wore long dresses. The tents were of real canvass, with wood pole supports and blacksmithed tent pegs. Everything modern got tucked away in the back of the supply tent.

After setting up everything, I met all Dana’s reenactor friends. One guy, Mike, was an amazing photographer, and since I had brought my camera along, we naturally started chatting. We talked about everything from photography tactics to the history of the War, and everything in between.

Dana and I then walked to a nearby restaurant for a fantastic fish and chips supper. When we returned we got a campfire started and all the sutlers pulled up lawn chairs, and sat around chatting until it was time to turn in. And that was the first day!

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Water Boiling Over the Fire

Bottle Boiling

You’re lost in the middle of nowhere. You have a source of water but no suitable container with which to boil it in. You need to purify your water, but how? Here are a couple cool alternative water boiling techniques that actually work!

#1. Plastic Bottle Method:

If you’re in a situation where you have to boil water and don’t have a metal container to boil it in, this is a great option. Since plastic water bottles are common even as litter on the side of many trails, there’s a good chance you might be able to find one on the ground if you don’t have one with you. Simply fill the bottle with water, take the lid of, and suspend it above the fire. It’s crazy, but it does work. It won’t take long to boil, then let it simmer for about 10 minutes if you’re trying to purify it. As long as water is touching the plastic on the inside it won’t melt. Some plastics release chemicals faster when heated, so this method isn’t recommended for regular use unless you need to. Try it out at your next campfire, and have fun!

#2. Heated Rock Method:

Start by finding 10-20 dry stones that will fit in your water vessel. I say dry, because if you choose rocks from a riverbed or wet area, the rocks may have absorbed water, which, when heated could result in an explosion (which you don’t want). Put all the stones in the centre of your fire, and maintain the fire for about 30 minutes with the rocks inside it. After this time, take a couple of sticks to use as tongs, and very carefully take the rocks out of the fire, blow off the ashes, and place in your water. Do this with all your stones, and pretty soon your water should be boiling. KEEP YOUR TOES AND FINGERS AWAY FROM THE ROCKS! These rocks when heated like this can be over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 530 degrees Celsius)! Using this method you can boil water in many different types of containers that can’t be put over a fire, such as wood.  Here’s a great video on how to correctly do the heated rock technique.

Have fun trying out both of these out, but remember to be careful, because you’re dealing with very hot stuff!

Lost on a Mountain in Maine

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Here are a couple reflections on the book Lost on a Mountain in Main.

Twelve year old Donn Fendler becomes lost on Maine’s highest peak, Mount Kathadin. Donn spends the next nine days trapped alone in a deadly, miserable wilderness with an abundance of cold, rain, bugs, sharp rocks, and lethal precipices.

Throughout the adventure, despite great pain, fatigue, fear, and hunger, Donn shows extraordinary courage and a will to live.

The reader joins Donn in his fight to survive the brutal wilderness as he spends more than a week alone, with no more than the clothes on his back.

Here is an excerpt from the book, which you can buy here:

“… I had come back to the same sign. For a second I was stunned. I just stood there looking at it. I knew now, for sure, that I was lost. I was running in a circle. I didn’t know what to do, so I stumbled around looking for other marks, on that same trail. I guess I went a long way over rocks and over pucker bush and sometimes under it too, searching and hunting for another trail marker. I didn’t find any, but I kept going down. I remember that. After a while, I came to a place where there was a lot of gravel, and boy, was it slippery! That place was dangerous, for a slip might mean a bad fall – maybe a hundred feet or more. I slowed down. I could imagine myself lying there, in the cold and dark, with a sprained ankle. Meanwhile the rocks were getting bigger and bigger…”

Camp Breakfast

S0015002.JPGWhen you go camping, it is good to have good healthy food to eat along the way.  For breakfast it is often nice to have a piece of fruit first thing, and then have something else later.  Good foods for breakfast while camping include eggs, oatmeal, pancakes, as well as others.

As a Scout many years ago, my grandfather learned a lesson about eggs. on a camping trip he had brought half a dozen eggs but they were at risk of getting cracked inside his pack.  One of the other Scouts had brought his eggs already cracked and inside a bottle or jar.  That’s a great way to bring eggs on a trip if you are not worried about the eggs all getting mixed around with each other.

For oatmeal, boil 1 cup of water (and/or milk) for everyone who will be eating.  Add ½ cup quick cooking or old fashioned oats per person once the water is boiling.  Stir until it’s nice and thick and not watery.  You can shake in ¼ tsp salt and a spoonful of cinnamon if you want.  You can also stir in raisins, diced apples, or whatever.  Just add whatever you want and have available.

For pancakes it’s nice to use a mix that only requires adding water, but if you have all the ingredients with you, it can be healthier to make your own from scratch.  You can add blueberries or mashed banana if you have them.  Pancakes are best if cooked for a longer amount of time on very low heat.  If they are on high heat, the outside will burn easily and the inside does not cook.  Cast iron pans are best over open flame, but you have to put oil or butter on before cooking.

There are many different options for camp breakfasts, and it all depends on what you have got with you.  Remember, even if you are just camping out in your backyard (see my former post “Scouting from the Cottage”), it can still be fun to make breakfast on an open fire in the morning.

Scouting At The Cottage

IMG_00001442For my birthday my Grandparents took me to the cottage, and my Grandpa gave me a list of these four requirements that I would have to try to accomplish within the next twenty four hours:

Build a fire that lasts all day.

Build an insulated lean-to by the fire.

Sleep in the lean-to all night.

Cook breakfast on the fire in the morning.

Each one counted for a reward if I accomplished it.  I started by building a fire so that I could look after it while building a shelter.  I put some small tinder and kindling in the shape of a teepee around some newspaper, and then lit it on fire.  I slowly added larger and larger pieces of wood gradually making a bigger fire.  My original teepee design collapsed but I kept the fire going.  I found a big log in the shed and put it on, and Grandpa found another big rotten log to put on.  After that I only had to check on it every once in a while and throw a few sticks on, because larger logs burn slowly.  But they only burn if the fire is hot, if it is not, the log won’t really burn.

I then started an insulated lean-to.  I picked a location just behind the fire.  I started sticking some forked sticks into the ground.  I lay a long stick across the two of them.  The frame was quite wobbly so Grandpa showed me how to take advantage of a nearby tree, and to use it as one of the end posts.  For the other side we fastened two sticks in an X.  We lay the top stick that we had tied to the tree in the top of the X and tied it down.  We reinforced the main structure with a few more poles.  Grandpa explained that a shelter does not only have to be nature (sticks, leaves, etc.), because scouts are scroungers, which means that they can find uses for anything they find.

IMG_00001438After that, I found an old tarp that we lay over the top and tacked down to the ground using some twigs.  Grandpa found some cardboard and an old shower curtain.  We put the clear shower curtain over the entrance so that I could still see the light of the fire.  Grandpa used the cardboard to cover the opposite side while I dragged some evergreen branches and put them inside for bedding.  Grandpa found a plastic blanket that we put on top of that.  We set up a light in case I needed it, and Grandpa even hooked up a little old heater!

Later that night I went out and got into my sleeping bag.  I had a knife with me, just in case (grin) but I never had to use it of course.

In the morning I revived the fire, quickly prepared a pancake mix, and grabbed some bacon.  I started with the bacon because it takes longer to fry.  Grandpa came out of the cottage and helped me make breakfast.  We tried to find the right place over the fire for the pan so it wouldn’t burn the food but would still cook it evenly.

Later, I fried some sausage and eggs as well.  Grandpa told me a story of when he was on a camp out in boy scouts.  He had brought eggs and he was worried about them breaking in his pack, but his friend had his eggs already cracked into a bottle, so all he had to do was dump them into the frying pan.  I thought that is a great idea if you have to hike to the camp site.

After breakfast we cleaned everything up and Grandpa reminded me of the scout’s camping motto:

“Leave only footprints, Take only photos.”

I learned a lot from Grandpa and had a lot of fun!IMG_00001445