OSCODA – “It was worth every minute,” said Angel Johnston, of her four-hour drive to Lumberman’s Monument in Oscoda Township, where she attended the Michigan Bushcraft Spring Gathering this past Saturday, May 7.
The Three Rivers resident, joined by a friend from Kalamazoo, arrived the night prior and stayed in a cabin, before heading to the event site the next morning.
Johnston raved about the multitalented Brooke Whipple, host of “Girl in the Woods,” on YouTube, sharing that she watches the videos religiously. Whipple has also appeared on seasons four and five of the History Channel television program “Alone,” as well as on the National Geographic Channel’s “Yukon River Run.”
So when Johnston learned that Whipple would be one of the presenters at the gathering, that in itself was reason enough for her to make the long drive. She was impressed with everything else the event had to offer, too, saying it was an added bonus that Dave Whipple was also in attendance.
He competed in season four of “Alone,” alongside wife Brooke, and Johnston is a big fan of Dave’s “Bushradical” YouTube channel, as well, which is all about rustic living.
Lessons on life in the outdoors, whether for an extended period or just a day, were also at the heart of the 2022 Michigan Bushcraft Spring Gathering.
As reported, the event had a successful first run in 2018, and an even more impressive turnout for round two in 2019. But as it continued to build steam, COVID-19 hit, putting the affair on a two-year hiatus.
There was a welcome return last weekend, though, as a large crowd came together for a full day of free, family-friendly activities.
Organized by event co-founder Tim Parsell and fellow members of the Michigan Bushcraft volunteer team, it was held in coordination with the U.S. Forest Service.
Those who helped host the gathering remained on site at Monument Campground for the duration of the weekend, May 6-8, but Saturday is when they were really able to showcase their skills.
This included the 9 a.m. “Compass Basics” program with Melissa Hardwick, which kicked off the presentations that were held every hour, on the hour.
Following was “Axe Theory” with Ethan Goss, owner of Sugar Shack Forge in Traverse City, who produces such handmade goods as axes and knives. He also restores/modifies axes, grinds racing axes and makes cup edition timbersport axes.
Goss shared a number of tips and information with the crowd, including the best way to make a wedge; why he prefers axe handles made with white ash, which are more springy/flexible, when chopping; how the interlocking ring pattern of elm wood can generate the toughest handle, but also lots of difficulty for those creating it; and why he favors other products, over linseed oil, for the finish.
Up next was “Survival Psychology,” which was the first of Whipple’s two presentations that day.
Born and raised in Michigan, she is a wealth of knowledge in her field. Along with a bachelor’s degree in outdoor/adventure recreation management, she has built homesteads in Alaska with Dave, and her endless list of credentials has included being an author, filmmaker, wildland firefighter and outdoor educator and guide.
When Whipple and her husband spoke at the 2019 Michigan Bushcraft Spring Gathering, they recounted their experiences on “Alone,” where the pair were given limited supplies while competing against others to see who could survive the longest in the wilderness before calling it quits.
The couple – who divides their time between Alaska and Michigan – endured 49 days on a remote island near Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada. When Whipple returned for season five, she was left in the isolated northern reaches of Mongolia, where she survived alone for 28 days.
While not everyone is equipped to undergo something quite as extensive, Whipple did encourage those who sat in on her presentation to give solo camping a try.
She is frequently asked how she does this alone, and she explained that it requires tapping into some psychological aspects.
She confessed that the first time she tried to camp by herself, she bailed. But no matter who you are, being alone in the woods, in the dark, with unusual sounds in the air and animals passing by, is enough to give anyone the chills.
When talking about fear and how the mind can sometimes play tricks on people, “You’re hearing things that aren’t there,” one audience member noted as an example.
“Or, you’re hearing things that are there,” Whipple said, which is important in terms of safety and preparedness.
She listed several suggestions for people to ready themselves before and during a solo camp. This starts by becoming familiar with the area first, before staying overnight, to get a feel for it, see what there is to work with and to take a mental picture of the land.
As she continued sharing her tips, she drove home the fact that one’s mind and energy can be extremely powerful, and that people can do so much more than they think – physically, mentally and spiritually – if they tap into that.
She recalled a time when another “Alone” contestant spotted a cougar near his camp. Rather than freeze or cower, he leapt up with arms outstretched and yelled.
Whipple said it spooked off the cougar, and that the same effect can occur with a lot of other animals, because it’s something they’re not expecting.
When it comes to, say, black bear threats, she pointed out that every time a human has been attacked or killed, it was in daylight hours. So, if you hear something stirring outside your tent at night, it’s likely not a black bear looking to cause harm. That’s not to say people shouldn’t be alert and remain prepared, but it serves as an example of how the mind can make them more fearful than they need to be in some situations.
Whipple takes a firearm when she goes camping, for various reasons. But with bears, in particular, she said it’s been proven that bear spray is actually more effective.
She and the audience then swapped stories about their experiences seeing large predators in the woods, with many saying it was scary, but also exciting.
“If your heart’s pumping, it means you’re alive,” she agreed.
Her talk also covered how difficult it is to live completely off the land. While she did offer up suggestions, she advised that it’s hard to get calories when so much energy is spent in the process of finding food. “That’s why people lived in tribes.”
Next, in the noon presentation slot, was “Wilderness First Aid Kits” with Al Coutts. He explained how to assemble a kit for the average person as, oftentimes, they buy or create large ones but don’t have the kits with them when needed. A more compact size means a greater chance that people will bring them on their jaunts.
Coutts said that something as simple as a quart-size Ziploc bag can be used, and filled with what you may need. Removing some of the packaging and excess items is also helpful. For example, sanitizing wipes are good to have, but don’t take the entire pack. Instead, put a few in a smaller plastic bag as a way to save space.
He also recommends including dressings, coupled with Ace brand bandages instead of tape, as well as band-aids made with fabric, not plastic, which will hold up longer. And, while it’s very rare for a person to ever need something as formal as a combat applied tourniquet, it is an option. However, blood pressure cuffs are one of the best tourniquets, so these can be put in the kits also.
Coutts gave advice on what to do in more serious situations, as well, such as when a person sustains a large wound/blood loss.
He also warned that hypothermia can be a surprisingly sneaky threat to life, and he stressed the importance of gradually warming up rather than, for instance, jumping right into a hot vehicle.
Mylar emergency blankets, which are reflective, inexpensive and thin, should be part of one’s wilderness first aid kit, as well. “They work great,” Coutts said, not only if hypothermia is setting in, but the blankets can also be used in shelter building.
He highly recommended that people contact their local Red Cross for details on CPR and first aid classes, which are either free or very inexpensive. He said they will be happy they did, especially if something happens to a relative.
From here, the presentations continued at Monument Campground, during “Shelter Tours with the Hammock Crew.” There were a range of setups, including the standalone hammocks which can be used if there are no suitable trees to attach to.
Visitors learned about everything from the material options and ease of use, to prices and quality. Virtually all of the guests were also seen walking into the shelters for a closer a look, and taking photos as they admired the sites.
Following this, Greg Foltz gave a demo during his “Knot Krazy Talk” presentation.
He shared the pros and cons of both natural and synthetic fibers; why certain ropes and knots are ideal for some situations, but not others; how compression and friction plays in; and how the materials can be weakened by such factors as sunlight. Or, if they’re wet and become frozen, it’s essentially like cutting the rope with small ice knives. Even tying just a single pretzel knot, he said, reduces the strength of a rope to 45 percent.
For climbers, Foltz pointed out that they’re literally trusting their lives with the right rope and how it’s tied. Other outdoor enthusiasts can also benefit from gaining knowledge in this area, whether they’re traveling with gear attached to a vehicle, sailing, anchoring a boat, hitching to something and so on.
He explained the different classifications of knots and demonstrated more than a dozen examples, from basic to complex, including reef, alpine butterfly bend, double sheet bend and several variations of hitch knots.
Next, along with fulfilling his duties as event organizer, Parsell led one of the eight presentations offered that day. As the owner of Parsell Artisan Works, his handcrafted leather goods were included in the vendor lineup, as well.
His demonstration – which was followed by the concluding event, “Bannock Cooking” with Whipple – focused on leatherwork using household items. He showed the audience how to craft a functional, aesthetically appealing wallet using only a handful of materials, including a small piece of bridle leather, a harness needle, thread and a scratch awl tool.
He said that this is the perfect project for people who have never done leatherwork, who doubt their ability in this craft or who don’t think they would have the right materials. Several templates are available on his website, parsellartisanworks.com, for those who want to give it a try at home.
In addition to the leather knife and axe sheaths, handbags, belts, bracelets, dog collars and more from Parsell Artisan Works, as well as the axes and knives offered by Goss’s Sugar Shack Forge, others who had goods for sale and/or gave resources and information, included Jackpine Institute Emergency Preparedness & Bushcraft Education, Sick Puppy Publishing and Mighty Oak Leather Craft.
A Whitetop Overland truck with a rooftop tent was also on display at the gathering, as was a 1970 M35A2 Kaiser-Jeep, the latter of which was brought to the event by Lee Kullick, Midland.
The truck, which he purchased from a private seller, was made in Ohio and used for general troop transport in Vietnam. The modular vehicle could also be utilized as either a supply hauler for ammo, rations and the like; equipped with cranes; used as a recovery truck; outfitted as a wrecker; and more.
Upon doing some work and maintenance on the 14,500-pound machine, Kullick has used the truck, which he referred to as a workhorse of the woods, for such tasks as helping local farmers.
But this past weekend, he drove it to Oscoda solely to be enjoyed by Bushcraft attendees, who were able to climb inside, take photos and ask questions.
Kullick, who also took part in the 2019 spring gathering, remarked that it’s a great event and he hopes it will continue to grow. This year, he was particularly impressed with the Hammock Crew, saying that they introduced him to a whole new level of camping.
Parsell was also pleased with the 2022 Michigan Bushcraft Spring Gathering, which brought in visitors from all across the state, as well as Ohio and Indiana.