Yes, it’s true. Woods Monkey went to W.A.R. last Friday–W.A.R. standing for the Wilderness & Adventure Rendezvous hosted by Marty and Aggie Simon of the Wildnerness Learning Center outside of Chateaugay, New York. The Wilderness Learning Center hosts two large events each year known as WAR and PEACE. The PEACE event is held in the spring. This was my first time visiting the Wilderness Learning Center and I must say that I was very impressed by its layout.
To see a gallery of pictures from the weekend, just click here!
I first met Marty and Aggie a couple of years ago at a Practice What You Preach Camp-Out that’s held every April outside of Marion, North Carolina. They made the seventeen-hour journey from the U.S./Canada border to see what we had to offer in the South, and they’ve been back a couple of times since then. Right off the bat, it was evident that both have a great deal of experience in the outdoors and they fit right in with our crowd on the mountain and we were happy to have them participate in our event. After meeting them and hearing about their get-togethers, I wanted to return the courtesy by visiting them as well. Actually, I wanted to visit because of all the great things I’ve heard about their camp-outs and I knew it would be a great time.
I rolled into camp around 3:30 p.m. on Friday after making the long haul up north. As you travel the last leg of the journey through the New York countryside, you’re overwhelmed by the rustic beauty found in the towns and rural landscapes as you approach the Canadian border. As I pulled up, I could see that there were already several camps set up with people relaxing after their own respective journeys. The first order of business for me was to say hello to Marty and Aggie and then get camp set up before it dark. Before I got to making camp, Marty gave me a quick overview of the premises and its facilities. It’s hard to describe how pretty and how well laid out the camp is. The area where everyone camps is actually a circle with a diameter the length of about 1.5 football fields (just guess-timating here), with a large campfire ring in the center. Along approximately 1/2 of the circle is the edge of the woods where you can set up your tents/shelters and use the trees for tying off your guy-lines. The other 1/2 of the circle just leads out into open fields that provide a spectacular view of the area. After you walk about twenty feet into the woods, you’ll find several structures spread out for visitors to use. There is a large kitchen structure for preparing camp dinnners that’s very nicely equipped to help feed a large group of hungry folks. There is also a classroom structure and a new building to be used by winter survival camp students to get warm up every now and then. There is a wooden outhouse structure with two restrooms, and if that’s not enough, there’s even a building where you can get a shower as well! That’s especially nice for those long weeks in the woods when you start feeling a little gamey.
After the greetings, I pitched camp and immediately knew that I should have investigated a little more so I could have the best shelter for the area. I typically like to use an open-air tarp (like the Siltarp) as my shelter, but that’s not the best option when the area has a heavy mosquito population. As soon as I pulled in and started working, I was immediatey set upon by the pesky critters. They sensed fresh meat and went right to work on their dinner–me! Luckily, I had my Bens Deet 100 Max insect repellent that I just happened to pick up recently from www.backcountry.com. So, I slathered it on in rapid fashion. Even as good as this repellent is, I found I had to touch up every 2-3 hours to keep the mosquitos at bay. Let me tell you, after applying a few layers of this on yourself, you begin to feel quite pickled in the stuff. But, a couple hours after dark, the mosquitos called it a day and sleeping without the netting turned out not to be that bad. But, this would be an ideal situation for a Hennessy Hammock (which a couple of campers used), since it has the built-in roof with sides made of netting. Those individuals using that set-up were quite happy with their comfortable environs during their sleep each night.
I didn’t stay up too late Friday as I was very tired from the trip and wanted to be rested for the next day since Saturday was when the instructional sessions were to begin. Besides all the great comraderie at the camp, there were some excellent classes presented on various subjects and I found them very informative. The classes included Knife Sharpening, Flint-Knapping, Packbasket-making, Knot-Tying, Water Purfication, and the group also did a plant walk as well. Simon Frez-Albrecht taught the knife sharpening class. He’s a smart young man with great outdoors skills and had few tricks to show the crowd in getting the best out of their sharpening techniques. Garrick Malone was the person who conducted the flint-knapping class and his work was truly beautiful. He produced several pieces over the weekend to sell in between meals and classes. He works quickly and provided great information on the subject to those that attended his class. Mick Jarvis was the instructor for the Packbasket Making class. He is the owner of Adirondack Baskets and Heritage Design and he not only showed off the baskets that he makes, he also showed students how to make the baskets step-by-step from the beginning. After the day was done, there were some very nice baskets on hand that were made by the students of his class. Mick was a teacher for 25 years and that instructional experience came through during his class.
One of the other instructors was Kevin Estela and he did classes on knot-tying and water purification. Kevin is also a teacher for a Conneticut high-school and he’s a staff instructor for the Wilderness Learning Center. Kevin has spent a great deal of time in the outdoors and has taken many outdoors and survival courses himself. It was fun watching him teach beginners and enthusiasts alike in the knot-tying class because the participants helped each other and they contributed to the class information as well. His course on water purification covered devices and brands including basic iodine, the Polar Pur system, Potable Aqua tablets, MicroPur tablets, Steripen and Lifesaver Systems’ Lifesaver Bottle. Kevin also served in other capacities during the weekend as well. He helped facilitate the Air Rifle competition/class and he was the "wilderness priest" that conducted the just-married celebration for a couple of the campers. The celebration included vows, gifts, and a wedding cake that was sliced up and served with a Becker Patrol Machete. The happy couple got a couple of nice gift cards to use at various outdoors retailers, so they were beaming all day after that!
As mentioned, there was an air rifle competition where the children were able to get more involved and they had a blast as they got their instruction from the chaperones and started hearing the pings as they began hitting their targets. There was also a large wood stump set up as a target for throwing knives and tomahawks, and several individuals burned off some time there as well, including myself. I hadn’t really thrown any hawks before and I liked it right off. The activities and the weekend has inspired me to look deeper into the sport of tomahawk throwing, so maybe I’ll have a new hobby in the near future! And, after all the classes were over and the activities were done, everyone had dinner and gathered ’round the fire to tell stories and share in new friendships. The children helped tend the fire and the adults relaxed in that wonderful feeling that comes from stress-free days.
Come Sunday morning, the campers started buzzing with excitement at the prospect of winning some nice loot during the prize drawing. And, let me tell you, there were a lot of great prizes available for everyone. In fact, after everyone had won a prize, there will still enough left over to go into a second round. First, and usually the most coveted prizes, were the knives that were on the table. Unfortunately, I can’t list every vendor or prize that was available, but I want to highlight a few. Bark River Knife and Tool provided a good-sized batch of knives that were ooooh’ed and aaaahhh’ed over during the drawing. There were survival kits put together in ammo cans. There were several leather Baldric rigs and tool sheaths donated by Sharpshooter Sheath Systems. In addition, there were other prizes including pocket survival kits, whistles, compasses, flashlights, and other outdoors tools. Everybody walked away with something, and several folks got a couple of things. One of the best prizes was a voucher that allowed the winner to participate in a WLC’s outdoors class free of charge in the future. Myself, I won a great little fire-starting kit and a kit that contained a survival whistle, candles, and a compass. The fire-starting kit was very nice. It had a couple of pieces of flint, a tin for tinder (yes, alliteration is provided free of charge), and a steel striker all contained within a skillfully-crafted leather pouch that makes you think of times long since past. The prize drawing was a great deal of fun for everyone and it put tools and products in the hands of not only enthusiasts, but beginners as well, and that’s always a nice thing to happen so even more folks can get attracted to and stay involved with outdoor activities.
If all of that wasn’t enough to make for a great weekend, you could find even more pleasure in the great food that was provided by several stations throughout the camp. The food included venison stew, venison sausage, steak, cowboy potatoes, all-beef hot dogs, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, brownies, wedding cake and just about anything else you can imagine. Needless to say, you went to bed tired from all the activities and satisfied from the meals. Combine that with the great hospitality, new friendships, informative classes, and all the prizes, and you’ve got the makings for a fantastic event! That’s exactly what W.A.R. was, a fantastic event. Marty and Aggie did an outstanding job hosting the event and the instructors did a great job providing useful information to all the participants. The campers all did their part by sharing information, bartering and making good deals, and by being great members of the outdoors community.
I drove off from the event happy with the time spent during the weekend. It was very satisfying to me to know that the long journey to the northern edge of our country was time well spent not only to see a different part of our nation, but to have fellowship with a group of like-minded individuals that were friendly, outgoing, and shared my interests. If you feel like your soul is starving for something and you’re not quite sure what it is, I would encourage you to hit the road and go to one of these events. I think you’ll find yourself quite settled and at peace after the event is done. Marty and Aggie did a terrific job with W.A.R. and I recommend it to anyone that wants to attend in the future. Besides the two annual events they hold each year, they have the outdoors classes throughout the calendar that you can attend as well. So, no matter when your vacation is, you’re sure to find a time to visit the W.L.C. that will work with your busy schedule. The staff are experienced outdoors people and even if you are as well, you’re still sure to pick up some information that will be useful in the future. At the very least, you’ll find a place that will allow you the time and opportunity to hone those outdoors skills you already possess. Either way, time spent at the Wilderness Learning Center will be a rewarding and fulfilling experience for anyone that visits.
For more information about the events, center or the available course, just visit www.weteachu.com