I received a Christmas card from a friend of mine the other day containing one of those family newsletters. In it, his wife Susan details all of the family activities over the last year ending with a short paragraph about Bob. It reads very simply, "CANOEING", topped off with a 10-day trip on the Demoine River in western Quebec last summer. I'm very jealous and also delighted. I can remember some 10 years ago canoeing with Bob on the Deerfield river near his home in Whately Ma. We ran a small section of very mild white water during which Bob turned into your classic "GUNNEL GRABBER". I haven't seen him for a few years but it sure sounds as if he has gained a bit of canoeing confidence. It is guaranteed that he will spend the winter reviewing trip notes and pictures, along with pouring over maps and charts planning for the next trip. Susan in their Christmas letter called it his once in a lifetime trip. Well I am sure she knows as well as I do, this is wishful thinking.

One of my favorite winter pass times is playing around with maps, looking at past trips and constantly searching and laying out new ones. I can spend hours, even days at this. Just ask my wife and kids. Chances are if you come to visit anytime between now and early spring you will find our dining room table cluttered with maps and guidebooks. I am not quite sure where this passion came from. Most likely it was inherited from my grandfather, the one who nick named me Hemlock Pete. In fact it is his collection of 1897 series topo maps of the Adirondacks that I get the most enjoyment from.

Topo maps (U.S. Geological Survey Topographical maps) are great fun. Once you get a feel for reading them you can literally explore an area before you ever get there. The contour lines show you the lay of the land (and water) allowing you to pick out many natural and man made features. For example; dams, waterfalls, ravines, cliffs, gorges, etc. If you are not well versed in the use of topo maps, raised relief maps may be your ticket. A raised relief map takes those contour lines and actually raises them up off the page giving you a three dimensional view of the area. Even if you are an expert with topo's, raised relief gives you something to check your map interpretation skills against. U.S.G.S. topo maps cover a small area and are relatively easy to get hold of. Most outdoor shops carry them and even some bookstores. Raised relief maps on the other hand cover a much larger area and are a bit more difficult to locate.

You tend to find them in unlikely places. The last one I purchased was from the gift shop at the Balsams Resort in Dixville Notch, N.H. Another good source for maps and charts are guidebooks. As an added bonus, along with the maps you get some very enlightening written information about the waterways covered in the book. .

As I sit at the table pouring over my maps, I enter a dream world picturing myself on a trip somewhere out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by magnificent lakes, rivers, forests and mountains. I tend to be partial to the Northeastern forests, but my journeys take me all over the world. If I could travel through time I would pick the turn of the century. (The 20th century that is) I find this era truly fascinating simply because so much of the northern wilderness had yet to be explored or developed. Just getting there was sometimes an expedition in itself. Most of the roads we use today did not exist and what little transportation infrastructure that was in place was limited and tended to be railroads. This for me even adds to the mystique of the time period. Just imagine traveling for days in a railroad car along with your canoe and supplies headed for some lonely river crossing to start your trip. Now I know this is not for everyone but for me it is pure heaven. Actually you can still do this today in some of the more remote areas of Canada. Take a look at a map of Northern Canada sometime; if you are anything like me your imagination will go wild.

If you really feel ambitious, consider China, or the former Soviet Union. There has got to be some wonderfully wild, undeveloped territory left there. Several years ago while standing in the Chinese exhibit at Epcot center surrounded on all sides by scenes of the Chinese wilderness I remember thinking what a great place this would be to explore. The northeastern regions of the Soviet Union must be equally as desolate if not more so. The volume of territory is mind-boggling.

Until next time, HAPPY PADDLING!!!

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