Late spring greens

Laura and I went to our spot at Eaglecrest looking for nettles and late fiddleheads.  It was a glorious day today of sun and temp in the 60’s.  We made it across the log that crosses the creek, and took our time threading our way up through the devils club.  We followed a dry creekbed uphill as these usually hold nettles.  We soon found lots of young nettles plants.  Most of the ferns had unfurled from their fiddlehead stage, but we still found some fiddleheads emerging.  This was the latest we’d ever looked up here I think, and we noted that maybe in the past when we thought there were no nettles in a spot that maybe they just hadn’t come up yet.  We also found what we thought maybe currants amidst the devils club and salmon berry bushes, so I may have to look later in the summer to see.  Supposed to rain hard starting tonight so glad we got out today.

Victory for a change

Finally found a computer module for my old truck. It’s been down since January. Found a great mechanic locally who diagnosed it, but he couldn’t help find the part. First I sent the one in that was in the truck to get fixed, but the company couldn’t fix it. Then I started looking at outfits that dealt in ECM’s and found a lot of outfits with poor ratings and customer service. Normally I don’t mind just buying a random part and figure it will work – the computer for the truck is $800 and up, so you really want to know it’s coming from an honest, reputable company. Which I hope I have.
I got the computer yesterday and installed it this morning. It’s as easy as changing the air filter. 3 bolts hold it to the firewall, and then 3 wire harnesses plug into the computer. A five minute job.

Then came the moment of truth. I hooked up the batteries again, then climbed in and turned on the key. Everything lit up on the dash board like it’s supposed to!  The truck started, and the tachometer and alternator were again working. So far so good. I started up the road and immediately noticed I had full power like a big diesel truck should. The only problem: it wouldn’t shift out of first gear!  And, the speedometer wasn’t working.

I called my mechanic and asked him to look at it. He said it was probably the transmission speed sensor or something, but couldn’t look at it for a week. I scheduled an appointment, then looked  up the sensor location on You Tube. Then I crawled under the truck and there it was. Unplugged!  I’m sure my mechanic probably unplugged it when he was troubleshooting the computer, and just forgot to plug it back in.

I plugged it in, and now had all my gears and the speedometer. Happy day. I texted the mechanic to let him know what happened and that I could cancel my appointment. Now to get Brian’s outboard on the boat.

Jeff and Andrew helped me ease the old Yamaha 115 off, then I pulled out all the cables. I got the 135 Merc on myself, and started pulling the cables. Just have the fuel and oil hookups left and then a test fire and hopefully a test run after that.

Craig Spring

I’ve been here in Craig a week so thought I’d better write down what’s been going on. I opened up the container a week ago. Everything good, and no mice this time so looks like however they got in when I arrived in Feb is cured.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I helped the kelp farmers film several recipes I’d tried. Each time they tasted something I made, they were tentative on the first bite, then looked at me in amazement with the YOU made THIS expression. From bagels to sweet bread to jam to elk sausage to salsa, they approved them all. I think the videos will be on Seagrove’s website after editing.

I’ve been fishing twice with Brian and several times on my own. The first trip with Brian the 5 of us caught 7 kings and 6 or 7 nice halibut out on the big ocean. So nice to be with a group of men that can butcher fish. We had the fish filleted and in buckets in no time at the dock when we got back. I got enough halibut for Sara and I for the year.

The second trip I went by myself and got one decent king. Then my outboard quit and I couldn’t restart it. Seemed starved for fuel. I was drifting safely and tried to troubleshoot for about an hour. I feared I was out of fuel and that would be the biggest embarrassment if Brian had to come all the way out and tow me in. He was gone to the other side of the island for the day, and so I figured I’d be there at least overnight if I couldn’t figure it out. I started to pull apart and test the fuel system. I pulled off a line on the tank side of the filter, sucked on the line, and immediately got a mouth full of gas. Which made me happy. I wasn’t out of gas and thought- clogged filter. I was still drifting okay, but headed eventually for the rocks on the other side of the bay, so I threw out the anchor.

I drained the bowl and there was no water. And as this issue happened last year and I knew it was a new filter on there,  I still went ahead and put my new spare on. Then I pulled a line after the filter and could not suck fuel into the filter. Just as happened on my boat in Juneau!  I bypassed the filter with a union right to the outboard bulb, and it cranked right up. Took an hour or two but I was back in business. I thought about heading back to town, but it was such a nice day I fished til late in the afternoon and didn’t catch another king or see any bears on the beach.

Later, I found out a friend had gone by me out there when I was on anchor. His partner said you might want to check on that boat to be sure he’s okay, and my friend said if he’s in trouble, he would be out waving at us. And at the time I thought just that. But also thought I didn’t want to hold someone up all day towing me to town if I could figure out the problem. Which I eventually did. Of course, when I found out two days later it was a friend who had gone by, I texted him and said I’d just got to town by paddling. I said it was okay til the drinking water ran out. The doctors think I’m gonna make it, but the ICU is no picnic………….

Brian took me and two Mikes to the big ocean on the second trip. We caught 2 kings in the first hour, but then nothing the rest of the day. Except for 3 black bass rockfish, which I kept. We had good weather and good company and came in mid-afternoon. There was only one other boat out there. A whale was working some feed, and about 20 eagles were circling the whale until they could get a fish out of the school the whale was working, and then flew back to the beach to eat it and rest until they were ready for another try.

I mailed the vac sealer bar in to a guy in Washington who could fix it for me. I’m just not able to do it right with the parts myself it seems. I later found out when I got back the bar that it wasn’t all me. The vac packer still didn’t work. Thom the repair guy talked me through a troubleshooting session and he determined it needs a new transformer. So he’s gonna see if he can make one work and send it to me.

I got to work on fixing the boat issue. I took my filter housing to Chet and showed it to him and he said it could have sucked air past some light crinkling of paint at the lip where the gasket seals the filter to the top of the housing. He thought I could just scrape off the paint and it would be good. I tried that the next day but still didn’t like the looks of it, so I went back to his shop and bought a new one. I then butched a king salmon and the rockfish, and put the scraps in front of the cabin. It took awhile, but several wary eagles finally came in, along with a couple ravens, and soon ate the scraps in place, or carried them away. I was surprised to see a raven was able to carry the entire king salmon head off.
After a week of sun and highs near 70, Tuesday it turned southeast and only 40 degrees. After I packaged up a king salmon and rockfish from yesterday, I put on the new fuel filter housing and bulb on the tank side of the  fuel line to easily prime the filter during filter changes,  and got the fuel system primed. I had no more problems the rest of my stay.
Nick texted me and said they could use help packaging kelp, so I went down in the afternoon and volunteered on the assembly line at Kenny’s. I noticed they were discarding the thicker stems near the hold fast. I took a bite out of one and it was crunchy, salty and fresh. I gathered up a bag of the discards. I stopped at the store on the way home and bought the ingredients for Dolly Garza’s bull kelp recipe, and I would use the ribbon kelp instead. I put it on to simmer for 2 hours and went to dinner with Brian. Upon return, I arrived just before it might have scorched. I tasted the batch and added 3 tablespoons of sugar for sweetness, and then poured 15 half pints and canned them. The kelp tastes good and will get even better after it sits awhile. I think I can reduce the simmer time considerably with the more delicate ribbon kelp.

Went to the range and shot the .308 and .243. I was surprised after thinking I’d sighted them in across the hood of my truck in a gravel pit that they were off. Not so much side to side but the .308 was particularly high. Now they both shoot in the bullseye at 50 yards.

Went fishing north and got a nice king, got a big hit that was gone when I got to the rod, and a shaker. Saw two bears on the beach but in little coves where I could not get to the beach in time before they wandered off. But exciting, nonetheless.

I took a trip around the north end of Prince of Wales Island with Bill, who was taking his boat back to Ketchikan. We anchored in Exchange Cove for the night, and Brian picked me up at Coffman Cove the next morning. Bill dropped me off a little before 7am and the pick up was to be about 8 am, so I just started walking through Coffman Cove to the junction, then headed out the highway. I got about 2 and a half miles out the highway before Brian arrived, and the early morning weather was spectacular. Lots of birds singing, and I saw 3 wood peckers land at the same time on a power pole. We saw a small black bear on top of a rock pile atop a 50 foot high cement wall looking down at us on the Coffman Cove highway.

I brined the king I caught two days ago using Nevette’s recipe – 1 cup of salt, 9 cups of water, for 10 minutes – and put it in Bill’s smoker. It took awhile for me to get an fire going with the alder as it’s been a long time since I used a fire – and not a heat plate – to burn the alder and make the heat for a smoker. I returned about every hour until the fish was about half done and then brought it back to can. I realized I took the wrong gasket from Juneau with the canner I have here, but luckily Jen and Bill had one here they let me borrow. The fish made a case of 12 half pint jars and 5 pint jars.
Nick and I went fishing north of town and didn’t catch anything but good to get him out after hitting it hard harvesting at the kelp farm. He got me some sugar kelp – my new favorite – to try and then he and I made up two cases of salsa to split between us. I only simmered the salsa for 10 minutes and it is really good.

I went fishing right by the boat ramp the next few days. I got a fish each day. I decided it was time I had a smoker, so I made one from scrap plywood and 2×4’s around the cabin, and grabbed some scrap metal roofing from the metal pile to cover it. I bought some wire mesh and made racks like Bill had in his smoker. I put a piece of old aluminum sign in the bottom of it, on which I would put a single burner electric hot plate. I then screwed the whole works to my shed, which I felt safe in doing since the shed is sided in metal roofing. I brined the fish and then loaded up the smoker. I put in the hot plate, and put pieces of alder I’d cut last year that I shaved the bark from right on the coil of the hot plate. I saw the bottom rack was a little close to the hot plate, so I put some shims in to raise it up a bit, but other than that, the smoker worked great. I did several batches of king salmon, including the back bones. I mostly ate on the backbones for later trips in the boat and will freeze the rest of the pieces for later use. Nice to have a smoker onsite. Steve brought along some smoked deer burger when we went fishing that was really good so want to try that in the fall.

I decided to go try hand trolling for a day. I went out where Kevin was, and he advised me on the drag to fish and depths. I put out one gurdy and followed a power troller who Kevin said knew his business so I could plot the drag on my chart plotter. When we were in a straight stretch and trolling with the wind, I put out the other gurdie, and no sooner got the line out when I got a king on. I cranked up the gurdy and played the fish to the boat. I had the gaff ready, then saw the fish wasn’t hooked very well, so I grabbed the net to be sure I got it. Boom. Just that easy. A just legal fish. I fished the rest of the day and caught a second fish- a nice one – and lost 3. I sold my fish to Kenny. When I saw the check for $244 for two fish totalling 24 lbs, it made losing the other 3 fish even a little more painful, but the money is enough for new trolling wire, which I need both in Craig and in Juneau. Plus, hearing the bell I have hooked up to tell me when I have a fish on just makes me happy. Steve mentioned something when we were sport fishing about not having a snubber on the release so the hook would set when the fish hit. It got me thinking I need to take the snubber off my troll gear and try the same thing, especially when fishing with treble hooks and bait.

I decided to leave for Juneau in 2 days. And of course, the next day, in classic last minute Craig fashion, I get the call. We’ve got bear meat for you. Andrew found he loves black bear meat after trying the meat from the bear Jeff and I got last year. Many people only hunt bear for the cape, but in the spring in this area, the meat must also be salvaged, so it’s easy enough to get bear meat if you just put the word out you’ll take it. I helped Howard get the cape off, then we took off the quarters, and got the quarters and torso onto his four wheeler and ran it over to my place. Luckily, the tailgate of the four wheeler was the same level as my pickup tail gate, so it was easy to roll the meat over onto the cutting boards set up on my tailgate. Ellen also called. Come get the rhubarb root for the bed I prepared. So I did that, too, and planted the rhubarb.

This was the first bear I’d butchered. I was surprised at how much meat there is on a bear. And how heavy it is. A hind quarter looks a lot like a ham from a pig. There was an inch or two of solid fat on this bear, which is amazing seeing as it likely came out of hibernation a month or less ago. I trimmed away alot of the fat to get to the meat, and soon I had a pile of eagles sitting in the tree, waiting their turn for the scraps. I know the fat is good for baking, but wasn’t sure Andrew did any baking. I got over a 120 lbs of meat, including the leg bones, which just fit into three 50lb fish boxes. I put the meat in the freezer overnight. The next day, I boxed up the bear, along with the fish and kelp I’d acquired during my three week stay, and headed for the airport with Howard and after a long delay for fog in Juneau, finally got home in the afternoon.

Andrew was excited to see way more meat than he expected. He took one box to process and package, and we put the meat in the other boxes in pillow case meat bags and hung them in my garage to keep cool. He had the good news his wife and 2 daughters are finally in the final stages to move here, so a doubly good day for him. He also showed me photos of a friend in Liberia I’d hooked Andrew up with regarding fish farming over there, and was gratified to see how much they were still doing since I did some volunteer consulting with them there in Liberia in 2016.

Late winter Bagels and Banana Bread

Still winter here in Juneau. I skied through 4 inches of new snow on Friday. I’ve had a neuroma issue with my right foot much of the winter and have had to switch from skiing every day to every other day to balance getting the foot to heal with getting the cross country skiing exercise I’m addicted to in. The neuroma was caused by my ski boots being too small, but there as big as I can find. Still working for a better solution for next year.

Non-skiing days have included baking, canning jams from frozen berries in the freezer, grinding and canning deer meat from the freezer, sausage making from venison and salmon from the freezer, and cleaning the house more often. Although we don’t have cable television, I figured out how to stream the men’s and women’s NCAA games over the laptop and then run a cable from the laptop to the big TV Ron and Jeanne gave us when they left for a great viewing experience. And this week, I’m doing the same watching the Master’s golf tournament. I admit I have enjoyed watching hours of television after not doing so for decades as I’m more of a radio listener.

Bagel making is becoming old hat, and still interesting at the same time. Bagels are a nice alternative to bread, and a great platform for the jams and canned salmon and sausages.  I continue to like making them because the two cook stages leave a lot of room for error. They are not perfect but always edible – except for the time I tried making them out of 100% rye flour, which I later learned is not a good flour to use on it’s own because it doesn’t have the gluten to feed the yeast and make the dough rise. I still ate them, of course, but in some sort of soup or stew, as they were too heavy to enjoy on their own.

I don’t much go by measuring amounts of the ingredients anymore. For each batch, I use about a cup of sourdough starter, yeast, sugar and warm water for the yeast sponge,a 1/4 cup of sweetner  (honey and molasses, maple syrup, or the traditional barley malt syrup), 1 to 3 cups of moisture provider from the freezer (pureed blueberries; chopped rhubarb with sprinkled sugar and roasted in the toaster oven for 20 minutes and then pureed; pureed fiddle heads;  or chopped bull kelp stipe or frond), and about 4 to 6 or more cups of flour – usually organic whole wheat bread flour which I can buy in bulk from our local health food store, where we are shareholders.

I use Sara’s kitchen aid mixer with dough hook and the bowl that comes with the mixer. I know a “batch” in this bowl will be about 4 cups of flour, but will vary alot depending primarily on what moisture provider is used. I put the activate yeast sponge, sweetner and moisture provider in the bowl and start the mixer. I add the first 4 cups of flour a cup at a time to the bowl. As the dough forms, if dry flour is stuck to the bottom of the bowl, I stop the dough hook and scrape it from the bowl side and start the hook again to hopefully pick it up in the dough ball. If the dough is very sticky I just continue to add flour a little at a time until it forms a single ball and takes on a drier texture – about as dry as I can make it and still have the dough form a single ball in the mixer. I use warm water to fine tune everything if I need to.

It’s all down hill after this. The dough goes in an oiled bowl and covered with plastic or a damp town to rise. I fold the risen dough in on itself in about four inward folds, and let it rise again.

From here, the bagels get formed. I used to flatten the dough mass into a big rectangle about 3/8 inch thick and then cut it with a dough cutter along the long side of the rectangle in about a 3/4 inch strip, then roll the strip into a rope and attach the rope ends. This last time, I did everything the same until the last step, and simply made a ball of dough out of the strip of dough, flattened it, and put my thumb through the middle and rounded it out to make each bagel. This seemed simpler and easier to make a more uniform size bagel.

The bagels are laid out on a flat baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and covered with plastic where they’ll rise a last time. After all the bagels are formed, I start a pot of about a gallon of water with a 1/4 cup of sugar to boil. Then I make an egg white wash with about one egg per batch. By the time the water boils, the bagels have risen on the sheet.

From here, each bagel is boiled for 3 minutes on each side for a total of 6 minutes total. Boiling time can vary alot by recipe. When I first started making bagels, I started out boiling them for just 1 minute as that’s what the recipe called for. Over time, I have found that 3 minutes seems to make the best texture for my liking, and they freeze well after baking.

At the end of 6 minutes, the bagels are removed with a slotted spatula to a drying rack set on a baking sheet to catch the drips.

When the I turn the next batch of bagels into the boil at 3 minutes, the bagels on the drying rack have shed their water and I brush them with the egg white wash and put them back on a flat baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

When the sheets are full – usually about a dozen bagels per sheet, depending on bagel size and sheet size – they go into a 425 degree F oven for at about 20 to 25 minutes. If I can fit my whole session of bagels into the oven at once, I bake them for 20 minutes and turn off the oven and leave the bagels to continue to bake in the residual heat. Like boiling time, baking time doesn’t seem to be precise. Sometimes my bagels might be a little underdone but I know I will be first freezing them and toasting them anyway.

This last session I made bagels using chopped kelp frond in one batch and pureed rhubarb in the other. When the kelp bagels were formed, the dough had turned sticky and I had to use a spatula to help get them off the parchment paper and some I had to reform before dropping them into the boil. I think the kelp may have been a tad frozen when I made the dough and released more moisture during the three rises. The bagels held together just fine through the boil and the bake, although they were a little lumpy instead of rounded in the end. Again, bagel making seems so forgiving.

I started making banana bread in earnest in Craig about 2 years ago, using the recipe on the bag that the over ripe sale bananas came in from the lone grocery store in town. I’ve started using almond flour to replace the whole wheat bread flour as Sara is trying to limit refined wheat flours and sugars in her diet. And because Costco has started carrying the almond flour it in bulk. As a 1 for 1 replacement for wheat flour, the bread has come out nicely edible – maybe a little more crumbly and grainy, for sure, but still tastes good and a great use for ripe bananas.

Nearly half way into April here, and lots of people are getting twitchy and begging for spring. I’m happy to have the snow hang on as long as it will and ski the nice long days and hear the male hooters starting to call up the mountain at the end of the ski trail. Grouse love won’t wait for the snow to melt.

Trek in the snow

Just got back from our scout monthly overnight camp out. A 3 mile uphill hike to John Muir Cabin, a forest service cabin. The day started on a sour note. When I arrived to pick up Sam, noted evader of all things work, was still in bed. Didn’t “remember” there was a hike that we’ve been scheduling all winter at scout meetings, or the text I sent him the night before. His dad hadn’t read the email from a week earlier about the campout. So home he stayed. When another scout hadn’t arrived by 1015 – 15 minutes past our assigned meeting time of 10 am, I called his dad. “Yes, we’re on our way. Meeting time is 11 am, right?”  Apparently, scout camp out emails are not must see tv.

We had borrowed a bunch of snow shoes for the kids from Dirk, an elementary school teacher who strives to get his kids out doing activities Juneau has to offer. I had been putting together what I thought was a fool proof ski package instead of snow shoes, so I was the only one without snow shoes. Big mistake.

We started up the trail, which is 3 miles to the cabin at 1700 feet. The first 3/4 mile is the steepest and then the trail goes sideways and gradually uphill. It’s a long 3 miles, trust me.

When we had gained elevation and got out into muskegs, there was at least 3 feet of snow. The cabin and trail is well used, so it was packed down from snow shoe traffic. I put on my skis with skins. And the skins would not bite going up hill. Downhill, they would. And no, they weren’t on backwards – there’s only one way to put them on.   So, any place I had to go uphill was a struggle. Slip and slide backwards, then fall down. And when I’d put out my arm to break my fall, it would simply plunge up to my shoulder, when my body would stop my from plunging further.

I’d take the skis off and walk. That was okay, but not great. It’s sort of like walking on a log over a creek. I had to try to stay right in the middle of the snow shoe trail or risk post holing up to my thigh. The rest of the troop pressed on in their snow shoes and arrived in 4+ hours. I was more like 6+ hours. I kept in touch with the scout master by phone so he didn’t have to worry.

It was a blue bird day as we moved up the mountain. Blue sky and the temperature about freezing. I was sweating buckets but every so often the snow on the spruce bows would give way and douse me, and it was actually refreshing.  As I trudged on, I thought about the arctic explorers that would pull 100 lbs or more sledges across the ice after having to eat their dogs to survive.   I would make it to the cabin  It was just gonna take awhile.

As I neared the cabin, the snow got much more grainy and did not pack well from the snow shoes. After a lot of post holing, I put the skis on after pulling off the skins, and the fish scales on the bottoms gave decent traction.  On I went. I could hear voices every now and then. I think after I first heard them, it was still and hour more of hiking. The cabin isn’t visible until you are almost right on it. Sighting the brown metal roofing means I’d made it.

By the time I got there, the scouts had already had something to eat and drink, and got their second wind. They had their tents sent up in the yard outside the cabin in a neat little camp site. They’d first tramped down sites for their tents with snow shoes, then made little walk ways to each other’s tents and to the cabin.  Some of them were already out exploring on their snow shoes.

For me, it was recovery mode. I stripped off my we gear and hung it over the propane cabin heater. Then I got out my jetboil and collected snow and started some coffee. I settled into the bench next to the heater, already dreading the hike back, but knowing from past experience that that hike would take care of itself.

The kids floated in and out of the cabin to warm and gossip. By now, they are well trained to put masks on when they get inside, and take them off when they go outside. It’s become second nature.

Keith and I chatted as I drank very weak hot coffee and rejuvenated.  It was a long hike, and I was tired, but not too sore and no cramps. A year ago, I had a random encounter with the pharmacist in Craig when I had a prescription renewed there, instead of here in Juneau. She suggested I take CQ10 with the prescription, and it seems like that cured the aches in my knee and elbow joints that I had written off to getting old. Almost a miracle.

The scout assigned to cooking started getting her pots and stoves and food together, and Keith gave the kids a demonstration of the different kinds of stoves we had. Soon the first batch of tortellini, basil, and sun dried tomatoes was started. Then a whole pot of hot water and tortellini fell to the floor. I was about to grab the scout and get her hands out into the snow, and was relieved to hear her say she was okay and wasn’t burned. Lessen learned about small stoves with a large pot on top that’s top heavy. Keith’s dog had a field day cleaning up the tortellini.

The kids filtered in around the table as dinner was cooking. I took out a jar of prized Yakutat smoked sockeye salmon from Nevette, along with ritz crackers and some sharp cheddar cheese. I put it out on a plate for the kids to try. It did not last long. Only one kid rated it as “just okay” and he soon had another piece in his mouth. And still another, as it must have grown on him.

Keith brings the adults a meal. This time it was pad thai and chicken, which we both enjoyed, even with some chewy noodles. Some of the kids tried the pad thai and Keith and I sampled the tortellini. Not a drop of either left.   Big hikes = big appetites.

The kids went upstairs in the cabin, and we could hear their continued gossiping of all things junior high and early high school. Keith and I swapped stories about fish and game work.  Shortly after dark, the kids drifted out to their tents, and I headed to the loft, where I guessed it would be toasty warm. I was not disappointed. I hardly remember sleep when I’m camping out. I’m not sure if remember is the right word, but I’m constantly waking up and shifting on my air mattress to another position. During these times, I can often hear Keith in his bunk or tent doing the same thing.

We were up at first light, and the kids started drifting in one by one. The cook made oatmeal, and everyone ate until it was all gone. I headed out early while the rest of the troop broke camp. I fell within 20 yards of my start, and the kids started my way to help me up. I told them I was okay and I needed to be sure I could get up myself with the ski set up I had. I rolled over, got my skis downhill, and took off my pack so I had something to push against else my arm would just sink to my armpit again. Keith harassed me from the cabin window. I had to put the skins on.

Once I got the skins on, I could see that might work. I got a little further down the hill and fell again. It was gonna take a little practice, but it would work. After that, I was off and feeling pretty good. Slow steady ski walking with the skins on. I could see some deep post holes that I skied over, and knew that walking wasn’t a good option yet.  The screws holding the binding down on the ski with my bad foot loosened, so I got the Leatherman from my pack out, tightened the screws, and put the Leatherman in my hoodie pouch as I’d guess I’d need it again, which I did a few more times.

I got down the trail a mile or more. By this time, the troop had already caught up to me and passed me by. My feet were kind of hurting as they didn’t stay in the bindings just right and so my right foot, especially, was pressing to the outside of the ski and increasingly uncomfortable. I saw there weren’t many post holes the lower elevation and so took off my skis and tried to walk. Good move.

There was a light rain falling after the snow had firmed up overnight, and now the trail was solid. I started walking and didn’t stop til I got to the parking lot. Keith and the kids were surprised to see me. They’d only arrived 10 minutes earlier and were milling around waiting for parents to show up.

We’ve got a couple brothers in the troop that moved here from Chicago a year ago. They help the rest of us get a better sense of how lucky we are to participate in scouts here where we live. With communications so simple now, they constantly relay photos and descriptions to their scout friends back home, and the kids there can hardly imagine the experiences we have here as they are largely limited to car camping there.

We piled all of the snow shoes into my car for their return, and the parents showed up to collect their kids. I duffed my pack and put it in the back seat, put my skis and poles in the roof rack, and looked forward to a hot shower and hot coffee all the way home.

Cross Country Ski boot challenge for large feet solved.

Well, after skiing all season with these boots last year, this year they have caused me trouble with my right foot from the start.  I contracted Morton’s Neuroma, which is where the nerves bunch up on the ball of a foot under the middle toes.   According to what I could find on the internet from medical sites, it is more regularly an ailment of women wearing narrow toed shoes.  My cross country boots – like most all of them – have a narrow toe box  and soon after starting skiing, my right foot started to feel like my socks were bunched up under the ball of my foot.  
John the town cobbler tried widening the toe, and that did help some, but there’s only so much room in the shoes – they barely fit lengthwise as it is, so not a whole lot can be done.
Cross country ski boot makers just don’t make boots for people with big wheels.  I need at least a 52 (size 16 or 17), and I was lucky to find the size 51’s I did get, but now they aren’t cutting it, either.
People with regular size feet like my wife and friends think “someone MUST make big boots, because all those big footed Norwegians or basketball players get their boots SOMEwhere”.  I welcome them to find me my size.  Even someone who custom makes boots who would make a pair for me.  And I’ll take a boot for any binding – nnn, sns, 3 pin – anything.  I’ve yet to find them.
First, I tried a technique I’d seen online.  I removed the soles of some old SNS boots, and then cut the boot in two near the heel.  The front part with the pin that fits in the binding I taped to my extra tuff boots.  It worked okay, but not great, and was uncomfortable on the soles of my feet because of the tracks on the bottom of the SNS sole.
So, I looked at an old pair of army cable bindings I bought when I was desperately looking for boots the last time I was looking, when my old 3 pin boots fell apart.  I searched online for how to mount them and use them.  I soon found a video of the Army base in Anchorage using the same bindings with bunny boots.  I got to work.
I mounted the bindings.  First I tired using xtra tuffs, and they worked okay, but it was hard to keep the toe in the toe box of the binding, even with the cable around the heel holding the boot forward.  I re-reviewed the Army video and noticed many of the soldiers had a strap across the toe box to keep the boot toe in.  I found some Army boots in closet I got somewhere and had never used, and these looked better than the extra tuffs.  I took them out today on some old llllllloooooooonnnng heavy cross country skis, and they worked okay.  But boy, are the bindings and boots heavy as compared to lighter cross country gear used on groomed trails.  
So, I came home and took the bindings off the old heavy skis and replaced the nnn bindings on my lighter, shorter skis I’ve been using all season with the cable bindings.  That was the ticket.  Lots better.

The only problem left with the bindings was that it took all the strength I had to pull the cable around the back of my boot.  In fact, I had to put the boots on first with both hands with the ski on my lap, and then when I got to the ski trail, slip out of the boots I had on into the boots attached to the ski.
I started looking for cable substitutes that I could make longer.  First I called a bike shop in town as the cable is similar to bike brake cable.  The shop keep said he might have something, so he was option 1.  Then I thought – the cable looks like a manual choke cable.  So I went to Western Auto and found a choke cable – but the inner sliding cable was just a thin wire that was not big enough.
Next I went upstairs and showed the clerk in the marine section what I was looking for as I had the cable with me.  He had just what I needed.  3/15 steel cable in a vinyl sheath.  And crimps to go on the end.  And crimpers to crimp the crimps!  I measured out the cable I’d brought plus another 3/4 inches, and headed home to try it.  It would work, but was still too tight to be able to put the boots on while I had them on my feet.  The cable set up cost less than $3, so I returned with the whole ski and binding and thought I’d experiment until it worked.  I moved up another inch and a half, and that one worked.  It was a little loose, but I realized I could shorten it, and add a little bit of beefiness to the cable, by doubling up on the crimps at each end, plus the bindings themselves had an adjustment nut that gave me maybe an inch to tighten.
So, now I have cross country ski bindings that will fit whatever boot I want to use in them.  They are a lot heavier than with the traditional set up, but I figure that’s only gonna make me work harder, which is the point of my skiing anyway.   
Here’s a photo of the ski binding, which will fit a size 16 Keen hiking boot.  The bindings are Ramer military cable ski bindings, which are not made anymore I don’t think, but can be found at times on Ebay or from Army Surplus Stores, etc.