Bronze's Expedition Log

Archive for February, 2009

Crop Power

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

I am now beginning to learn the other, more important tool in the mule-handlers arsenal: the crop. Treats only get me so far–what Bootsie really responds to is a nice whack. It sounds mean, but as anyone who owns a horse knows, they use bites, kicks, and swats to communicate with each other in the herd. A whack from me is a like a good scolding. She doesn’t pout about it. The term carrot and stick is bandied about a lot, usually in reference to North Korea, or tax policy or something. It’s fun to experience that term non-metaphorically!

I had a nice long session today with Dee Howe, my Mule Guru. It was incredibly informative, and served to illustrate just how little I understand how to handle my mule. It’s humorous to me that I am attempting to walk 1500 miles with a 900lb creature of whom I have little comprehension, and on whom the success of my entire journey hinges.

Up until now, when I’ve reached any resistance or fear I’ve consistently chosen not to push through it. I figure it’s better to err on the side of caution since any mistakes I make could take precious effort to undo. Thanks to Dee, I know have a pathway through the fear, pain , or resistance I might encounter in Bootsie and I can’t wait to get out into the streets and work with her. Things had become sort of dull around the yard…

Seeing Dee handle her was eye opening. As mentioned above, it gave me a good perspective on acceptable amounts of force to use. After observing, I would try the exercises myself and Dee would give feedback. I could sense a change in Bootsie’s responsiveness and comfort almost immediately. Keep in mind here that I’m the one being trained. These exercises aren’t about teaching Bootsie how to be lead, but teaching her that I can be trusted to lead her. As it stands, that trust is negligible. That is going to change starting this week.

One of the most useful things we did–almost by accident–was to have Dee lead me. Being on the other end of the rope was very illuminating and I think it’s a good practice for anyone who wants to handle horses. It demonstrated to me just how clear and direct every signal must be. Not necessarily big or forceful–but clear and direct.

Some things I learned:

  • Her nose is never to pass me when leading. As soon as it does she gets a whack on the nose. I should be able to walk, speed up slow, down stop, start, anything–and her nose should never pass me.
  • If she gets scared I want her attention on me. I should be facing her directly, an arms length away, and her attention should be locked onto me. I can use the crop to keep her from swinging away or pivoting. We’ll stay like that until she realizes she’s not going anywhere, and she’ll still be fine.
  • If I ask something of her, I must keep at it until she does it. No angrily or impatiently. I’m just going to keep tapping that foot with my crop until she decides it’s in her best interest to move her legs.
  • Likewise if she does something I haven’t asked, like stepped forward or turned her body away, I’m going to ask her to return where she was. It will be for me to decide when she moves.
  • She can turn her head and neck wherever she wants, but not her body. It’s important for her to be able to see what’s going on around her, in fact encouraged. But she only moves her body at my direction.

All of these things are good practical rules for obedience and training, but the underlying product of these actions is that she sees me as the absolute authority. Thus, if I’m calm–she’s calm. She will look to me for safety and leadership, not look to her surroundings for hazards around every corner. I’m eager to head back and start practicing all my new skills, but of course when I’m by myself it will likely be an entirely different experience.

Hardtack Factory

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

I’ve got the process of making hardtack down to a pretty good science now. I made 8 rations this weekend, and 16 last weekend. 70 to go! I combine 4 cups of unbleached whole wheat flour with 1 tablespoon salt. I mix it together in the Kitchenaid with the dough hook, and slowly add water until it makes a dough–usually between 1.5 and 2 cups. There is usually a little unmixed dry flour in the bottom of the bowl but it’s quicker to just let it be than to try and mix it in with the dough.I knead the dough for about a minute and then cut it into 2 chunks. These are rolled out and cut into squares using a cooked piece of hardtack as a template. I poke a set of holes on each side with a fork and it’s ready to bake. Unfortunately my stove has two settings–off, or 550°–which is completely absurd. Thus I’m not sure exactly how long or at what temperature to cook it. I believe about 45 minutes at 350° should do it.

Three tools I recommend, which have made this job infinitely speedier and easier: a silicon rolling mat, a non stick rolling pin, a stainless steel dough scraper. When working on my car, fixing things around the house or undertaking a craft project, I find having the right tools for the job saves precious time and frustration. Baking is obviously no exception. (Unfortunately this is rarely the case for me, witness: the stove.)

Below you will find some photos of the process.




Above is 8 days worth of hardtack. About 2.5 pieces per day, yielding a nominal 400 calories. That is less than 10% of my projected caloric intake, but I figure it will be a welcome change of pace from the pemmican!


Saturday, February 21st, 2009

macrame-1I spent about 2.5 hours this evening making slings for my water gourds using 1/8″ jute rope. The method I used is macrame, which is essentially just a series of square knots.

I started with six lengths of cordage, about 6′ long. I started with one big square knot, and then radiated out wmacrame-2it smaller ones. It looks a little like a flower.

From there, you just alternate square knots to form a basket.

Eventually you can slip the gourd into the basket and start to tighten up the knots for a nice fit.water-gourd-1a

I gave myself a lot of extra cord so I could braid it into a rope. Hopefully I can lash it onto the pack saddle and it will always be within reach.

Once I got into the swing of it, it went pretty fast. Though somewhat tedious, I tried not to rush my work and to ensure that every knot was true and the braiding tight. Were my handiwork to fail it could result in my gourd falling and splitting open; my precious water supplies compromised.

water-gourd-1dwater-gourd-1cPondering this served to remind me that throughout most of our history a man lived and died by the quality of the tools he crafted, the care he gave to his possessions, the forethought and planning he gave to his actions. The world I live in today is blessed with such abundance and ease (generally at the expense of Chinese peasant labor, sadly). If the sole of my shoe wears out, I can replace the whole pair for dollars. If a kitchen knife breaks, another can be had in 20 minutes. Part of the appeal of this expedition will lie in knowing that I have absolutely no one other than myself to rely upon. I’ll have to stitch the sole back together myself. The knife cannot be allowed to break.

The Cavalry Horse and his Pack

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

I just finished reading the above treatise on late 19th Century military equestrian matters. It was published in 1903 and, reading in hindsight, quite a few passages are rather bittersweet given that the topic to which the author so clearly devoted an immense amount of research was in its twilight of relevancy. It is quite applicable to my endeavor though, and was a worthwhile read. (more…)

Treat Power

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

I had a successful go-round with Bootsie this morning, possibly thanks in part to the awesome power of treats. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner, but it appears that Bootsie is willing to overlook certain concerns she might have about the scariness of an area if it seems there are treats to be had. (more…)

Packing Rig

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

I’m finding it somewhat difficult to locate a packing rig to purchase in Southern California. Of course there are plenty of setups to be found online, but I can’t quite bring my self to throw down $800+ on something so crucial, sight unseen. I need to play with it in person–feel it in my hands, visualize how my supplies will fit in it. (more…)

Provisioning Update

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

I made 8 days worth of hardtack today, bringing my total rations to 43 days worth. To reach my goal of 140 rations I’ll need to make 6.4 cups of the stuff per week from now until June 1. (more…)

Packing Advisor

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

I got out to Western Feed & Livestock Supplies in Yucaipa and spoke with the very affable and knowledgeable owner, Ken Winnefeld. He could not have been more helpful and friendly and I feel lucky to have crossed his path. He’s been doing some pretty extensive packing trips for the last 4 years or so and had an answer for any question I could muster. (more…)

Mule Whispering

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

Today I enlisted the aid of a horse whisperer named Dee Howe. Given my utter lack of equine skills, I have up until now restricted my visits with Bootsie to simple grooming and walking around the yard. The one time I took her out for a walk down the road nearly ended in disaster, and since then I have been hesitant to act without some guidance. Mules, from my understanding, remember all your mistakes; I have no interest in giving her any further reasons to believe that I am a clueless fool.

Bears and Hardtack pt II

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

The week ends with moderate successes in the Mule Department. I returned Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday and have been able to execute the bodywork without any real difficulty. Bootsie is very responsive in our walks around the property, navigating with ease the various obstacles I arrange for her. (more…)