Whether executing a quick and dirty weekend warrior blitz or an epic slog-fest, ultralight, ultra-fast and ultra high-tech are the buzzwords du jour. But what if freeze-dried, fast and furious isn’t your thing? If canoe tripping to you is paddling a lake less traveled, rather than a conquest attained, you’re not alone.
In contrast to today’s hectic lifestyles, many are looking to slow down and absorb, rather than speed up and conquer. There’s an attraction to exploring traditional skills and a deliberate move away from dependence on high-tech gear. This interest has been reflected in spikes in enrolment at traditional skills schools, including the Maine Primitive Skills School, where apprenticeships, courses and day classes are filled to capacity. Here students can learn to forage, make packs from hides and wood, and erect shelters, all without the help of modern materials.
Program staffer Michael Douglas attributes this to folks wanting to “increase our awareness and appreciation for the landscape.” It’s finding a sense of purpose and belonging through using traditional skills that keeps trippers coming back, he says. Take, for example, the once-staple kitchen box, the wanigan. For the uninitiated, a wanigan is a piece of traditional tripping heaven. Made of wood and portaged with a leather tumpline, it neatly stores the tools to create backcountry feasts that feed the body, as well as the soul. When its duty is done, the wanigan is a place to rest weary bones or pass the time playing a game of checkers on its painted lid.
Woodworker Donald Merchant of Pole and Paddle, a company specializing in traditional canoes and gear, has seen a bigger demand for his hand-made wanigans over the past two years…
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