As I transition into the bravado years of tripping, I have started to strive for lighter canoes and longer trips. As I age I see myself fast hurtling towards the line between true canoe tripping and backpacking. Part of this hubris stems from a trip I took four years ago along the Bloodvein River. At the time, my gang of 10 other young men made the rash decision to opt to not take the floatplane into Arterie lake (headwaters of the Vein) but instead start fifty miles east in Red Lake. Sadly, these fifty miles were more overland than via lake or river leading to three days where I often wondered why I bothered to bring the gruelingly heavy Penobscot I so often found on my shoulders. After one such day of back to back to back fifteen hundred-meter portages, I huddled around a fire desperately stirring a pot of macaroni, cursing the fire gods as the water refused to boil. As I waited for the sweet bubbles to rise and indicate it was time to “Send in the Noods,” I began to chat with my fellow paddler and Appalachian trail hiker, Nathaniel Verbeek. It was here nestled high up on an esker overlooking an unnamed marshy puddle of a lake that we forged the idea of the fireless trip.
The concept is simple. Imagine a canoe trip that did not require fire to make your meals. Without the need to make a fire or even heat water, major components of weight are lost, namely hatchet, saw, and grate, which are all pivotal to any cook set . Gone would be the use of pots to make morning oatmeal or heavy cast iron to fry pancakes, replaced by two Nalgenes. Each person would have one Nalgene for water and another for meals. Breakfast would be a simple meal of cold oatmeal or a meal we call power breakfast. Power breakfast consists of grape nuts, oats, M&MS, peanuts, chocolate chips all topped with optional powdered milk, a sweet and long-lasting slurry that would fit well into anyone’s breakfast Nalgene. The lunch would be equally as simple utilizing a staple that I have yet to go away from in my ten years of traveling: PB&J Pilot biscuits. The fallout from the post-WWII era sailor boy Pilot biscuits are one of the most long-lasting staples I have come across and when paired with generous amounts of peanut butter and a rotating door of Malkin’s jam, makes quite the fast meal. While both of these meals are quick and substantive, the ever-present Cliff bar or bannock is equally as important to supplement through long lakes and winding portages. Finally comes the dinner, the crux of any fireless meal plan, and where the trip truly shines. The divergence from the fire requires heavy use of dehydrated food. Meals like black bean chili and lentil soup work well with the crown jule of the fireless dinner…ramen bombs. Ramen bombs consist of instant mashed potatoes mixed with the crushed contents of an entire instant ramen packet.
While this is a vastly efficient food barrel, the folly of it is also quite clear. One must simply look at the desperate circumstances it was born from two tired, hungry, and dehydrated twenty-somethings yearning while plodding across the least forgiving sections of one of Canada’s most iconic rivers. The fireless trip works in the guise of the ultra-gritty super-distance expedition, rather than the pure land paddling trips that I myself enjoy over numerous ventures into the Quetico Superior Country. When portages are few and the lakes fall along with the sloping Canadian shield, the fireless trip is easily replaced by barrels of wine bags and extravagant meals of pizza and corn beef hash.
Written By Ian Patton