Friday, June 20, 2014

Mushroom Mania

A few of you have asked how we manage to get around the world, given that neither of our massive top-boxes have sprouted a money tree... well, here is an example of how we work to make it work:

Since leaving Canmore, Roel and I had been toying with the idea of taking the ferry from Haines to Prince Rupert, which would save us 3-4 days of riding back along the same road we had already ridden, about $350 in fuel and $60 in oil (for my bike, of course). Plus, it was supposed to be a stunning way to see the coast (really the only way, actually) and there would be a possibility of seeing whales, and resting our bodies and the bikes for a couple of days would be a given.

However, it would still be about $400 in addition to take the ferry, a cost we simply couldn’t swallow. Plain and simple, we did not have enough money in our budget and so we kept putting it out of our minds.

When we got to Carmacks and heard about the morel pick, which was being likened to a modern-day gold-rush, we started day-dreaming again about whale-watching from our perch on the top-deck of a ferry. We went out to check out the situation and get some information.

Baskets of fresh-picked morels, waiting to go into the mushroom-drier

Not surprising, perhaps, were the number of similarities between gold rushes of the past and the morel pick… there was oodles of money to be made, but greed was also a serious hazard, with stories of cars/tents being burglarized, and with everyone wanting their share of the action: boats to take you across the river to where the decent picking was were charging $20/head each way and ATVs to take you up into the forrest to where the REALLY good picking was were charging $60-$80/head, each way.

Roel and I decided cautiously to go out for a day, with a reasonable and attainable goal: make enough money to take the ferry.

So we returned to Carmacks, left all of our belongings, but for the tent, pads and bags at Jon and Jenna’s and returned to the picking site with only Roel’s bike. 

Loading up the Africa Twin with empty baskets

By 6am, we were picking up our empty picking baskets and strapping them to the Africa Twin.
By 7am, we were across the river and hiking, sharing the already heavy load of the empty baskets and our supplies for the day.
By 8am, we were covered in deet and had gotten about 7 kilometers into the forest. You had to at least get past the 3k mark, because land within 3k of the river was owned by the First Nation and was un-harvestable.
We began to find some small mushrooms and slowly, slowly, filled our baskets. We tried different sides of the road, different areas, different levels of vegetation versus burn. But we could only find morels that were between the size of a Champagne cork and a tulip, and we were determined not to pay to be taken deep into/out of the forest where the larger morels could be found. So we picked, and picked and picked.
By 11am, we were covered in soot from the burned trees and sap from the still-live trees we had crouched under to unearth elusive little morels.

Soot-covered
At noon, we realized we had forgotten to transfer our lunch from the bike to the backpack, but not to worry, we had 15 granola bars to share between us.
By 1pm, we realized we had not brought enough water as the sun had suddenly appeared and was beating down on us.
And by 8pm, we determined that by filling the 7 baskets we had brought up with us, we would earn enough money to pay for the ferry.

And so onto our next dilemma… how to carry the heavy and bulky load the 7+ kilometers back to the boat launch. BY MIDNIGHT when the last ferry would leave. (And don’t worry, we are so far North now that the sun hardly sets… so it is never really dark.)

We had a tarp, some zip-ties, some bungies, all of the wood we could ask for, and our semi-strong backs. We tried a variety of methods, from a one-pole-one-shoulder carry, to a two-pole-two-shoulder carry (which caused near strangulation), to dragging the load and finally settled on a stretcher type construction. This was the best option, but we were exhausted, dehydrated, and after squatting perhaps literally 1000s of times that day to pick annoying ground-dwelling mushrooms, our legs were spent. We were only able to make it a couple hundred meters at a time, at best.

As ATVs full of paying customers and their mushrooms sped past us, we realized we had been walking back for 3.5 hours and we began to fear that we would not make the last boat to the other side. This would mean being stranded on the fire burned side of the river, with only our tarp and some sweaty clothing to pass the night in/under.

Roel ran ahead with a smaller load of mushrooms to talk to the boat guys and see if he could arrange to have a guy wait for us, and I continued to slowly drag the rest of the load of mushrooms and leftover supplies over the sandy, root-filled path to the boat.
We made it, and a nice boat driver took us across the river, offering a cold Pepsi from his stash to quench our thirst.

We took everything out of the massive top box of the Africa Twin and I waiting with our stuff spread out on the ground of the boat launch parking lot, while Roel made two trips to our mushroom buyer down the road with his top box overloaded with Morels.

Thank goodness for the midnight sun - loading 16-hours worth of mushrooms on to the Africa Twin

I cannot remember a time when I was so utterly exhausted and dehydrated and dirty, but I will enjoy every blessed moment of that ferry ride.

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