Bronze's Expedition Log

Expedition Log

Phase One

June 1st, 2009

At the time of this penning Bootsie is en route to Oregon.  Traveling along with her is several days worth of hay, my riding saddle, pack saddle, panniers, assorted ropes and halters, and the accouterments of her care such as brushes, hoof picks, fly spray etc…  I hope to be reunited with her by June 15. Read the rest of this entry »

Video Test

May 18th, 2009

Campfire Journal Test from Bronze on Vimeo.

One Month Left

May 3rd, 2009

I now have a mere 30 days until I take leave of my vocation and head up to Oregon to complete the final stages of provisioning.  At present I am feeling quite comfortable with the level of preparation to date, there being but few necessities left to acquire or craft.  Indeed, my typically lengthy to-do list has dwindled to a few small tasks per day, and is easily completed.

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Managing Expectations

April 27th, 2009

My mule being of the utmost importance to the successful persecution of the expedition, I have resolved to spend at least some small portion of each day with her, from now until our departure.  She has demonstrated her capacity for bearing and conveying my panniers, for standing quietly for grooming and body work, for generally obeying my commands and directions.  Likewise, I have come to a basic understanding of her handling, her care, and the usage of her attending equipment.  All of this knowledge will however want for employment should we lack that basic level of trust and camaraderie which will keep us working towards the same goal harmoniously. Read the rest of this entry »

Mule Packing Trial

March 29th, 2009

It’s been a pretty productive week for ol’ Bronze.  I attended a equine handling clinic taught by Dee Howe last weekend, which gave me more hands-on practice at recognizing and easing pain.  She also let me practice loading some uncooperative horses into her trailer, which will no doubt be a valuable training for when Bootsie and I come across a ford or rickety bridge. Read the rest of this entry »

Bedroll Field Test

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

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

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.

The Cavalry Horse and his Pack

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Treat Power

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. Read the rest of this entry »