Bronze's Expedition Log

Author Archive

Bronze on the trail

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Looks like he is working on something, I’ll try to find out just what he’s doing.

New Pictures Added

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Becoming the mountain man

Click here to see the updated pictures, starts around pg 34.

First journal entries

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

I’ll be posting pictures of Bronze’s handwritten journal as he sends me updates. Please let me know in the comments if its too hard to read, or how it could be improved etc. Enjoy!

Journal Pictures

Bedroll Field Test

Monday, March 9th, 2009

I accomplished much this weekend, oddly enough, since most of my time was spent playing poker out at the Whitehorse Ranch. I stopped by the Hide House in San Dimas on my way out to the ranch, where I picked up some leather. I bought a small odd-lot commercial braintan deer hide for a very good price. I figure it’s a good idea to have all the leather scrap I can get for repairs and improvisation along the way. I bought a long thick latigo and buckle, which I made into a belt at the ranch.

I also bought a nice thick, stiff cowhide scrap. I want to make a sheath for my tomahawk and the veg-tan that I was originally going to use just seemed too flimsy. It was useful for a template however. Unfortunately I got distracted while cutting it and messed up my original plan. I had intended to leave a pair of long straps attached to the top to fold over for belt loops, but now I suppose I’ll have to just lash the loops on as separate pieces…

Further down the road in Yucaipa I stopped in at Western Feed and Livestock Supplies to order my pack saddle from Ken. I got a sawbuck saddle and 2 over-sized panniers, a manty, rope and a scale. It will arrive this week and then I can begin getting Bootsie accustomed to having all this stuff slung on her back.

Spending the night out at the ranch gave me a great chance to test the warmth of my bedroll, and it performed admirably. Currently I have two sheepskins inside what is essentially a long oiled canvas sack. Seeing as how each pelt amounts to a 4 inch thick wool blank with plenty of loft I would expect this to keep me warm well below freezing. It got down to at least 37°, and I was warm as can be.

Of course this set up is quite bulky and heavy. I believe the bedroll weighs around 20 lbs, which might be excessive. I’ll need to play around with it–possibly trim the edges of the pelts to their absolute minimum width to cover me. (This would be good as I’ve been considering lining the insoles of my moccasins with a piece of the sheep pelt for cushioning.) I might even shear once of the pelts down considerably to save weight, using the light one on top for warm nights and the thick one for cold nights.

I’m willing to carry the extra weight and bulk of a good bedroll for the sake of a comfortable night sleep. A passage in Galton’s “The Art of Travel” really struck me a seasoned and sound advice:

Indeed, the oldest travellers are ever those who go the most systematically to work, in making their sleeping-places dry and warm. Unless a traveller makes himself at home and comfortable in the bush, he will never be quite content with his lot; but will fall into the bad habit of looking forwards to the end of his journey, and to his return to civilisation, instead of complacently interesting himself in its continuance. This is a frame of mind in which few great journeys have been successfully accomplished…”

On Sunday I payed a visit to Bootsie and we had a nice little walk around the neighborhood. She is leading very calmly and obediently. There is a storm drain up the street of which she is scared to death, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to practice on working her past her fear of a specific object. This will no doubt be useful practice for fording streams or crossing bridges and the like.

Halfway There

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Well, I baked 8 more days worth of hardtack this weekend, bringing me half way past my projected need. It’s definitely satisfying to see that my tedious labor with rolling pin and mixer is yielding some results. The rations almost exactly fill a box that recently contained 5000 sheets of 8.5×11 copier paper. Now I just need to fill another!hardtack-box

I returned to work solo with Bootsie on Sunday. I pleased to say that it went a good as I could have hoped and I ended the day with a good deal of satisfaction and excitement. The training from Dee has already made a drastic difference in her responsiveness. It’s amazing how clearly the change can be perceived in even her body language. Whereas before she would walk alongside me–head up, ears perked–she now trails me with her head down, calm and surrendered to her role as the follower. She was very responsive to my speed and movement. Very impressive!

Now I have renewed desire to get out there and play with her! It was starting to feel like a chore just doing the body work around the yard. Of course that must continue too, but I’m eagerly awaiting the chance to take her out past her comfort zone and start working on her trust in me!

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…)