My name’s Ben, but you can call me Portage.
What’s a Portage?
A portage (pronounced pohr-tazh) is when you have to carry your canoe on top of your head.
A portage is a point on a canoe trip when you have to carry everything you have over land to get to another lake or around an obstacle. Turns out, the hardest thing to carry on land is a boat. Turns out, the best way to carry a boat on land is on your head.
So, yeah. A portage is when you have to carry your canoe on top of your head.
Why would you ever do that??
Years before I learned to backpack, I learned how to carry a canoe on top of my head.
I was lucky enough to spend the summers of my childhood at a camp called Keewaydin, in Middlebury, Vermont. Over a century old, Keewaydin taught me old-school backwoods skills in order to learn how to go on month-long canoe trips. One of them was how to carry a canoe on top of my head. I’ve spent weeks in Northern Canada, paddling over lakes and down rivers, and yes, portaging over land.
What does this even have to do with hiking…?
Even though Keewaydin focused on canoe tripping, it couldn’t pass up on all the wonderful hiking available right there in the Green Mountains. So in addition to learning how to carry a canoe on my head, I learned how to carry everything I needed on my back.
The backpacking trips at Keewaydin were notorious for being far more difficult than the canoeing trips. When I was picked for a 100-mile trip along the Long Trail from Mount Mansfield all the way back to camp, the other campers and I joked that we were doomed to “Portage over the mountains” for nine days.
Ooooh, so it’s your trail name.
The only “decoration” on my pack is a little green button, right on the shoulder straps. It says Keewaydin, and has the symbol that marks the start of every portage trail: a man with a canoe on top of his head.
I put it on there early last summer when I started my end-to-end hike of Vermont’s 270-mile Long Trail. It was my way of remembering my camping heritage; Keewaydin is the place where I learned how to live outdoors, and where I learned to love nature.
I finally got enough questions about what the symbol on the button was that I started going by “Portage.” A few people have said I’ll need a new name on the AT, but it would take a lot to supplant Portage.
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