Sunday, October 11, 2015

A day in the life of a kayak instructor

This past weekend was my last scheduled group kayaking class for the large organization I work for. By my math, in the last year I was teaching for about 350 hours and probably had 70 or 80 students. People always say "what a great job" or "I wish I had a job like that". It is definitely nice to have my job, and I worked hard to make it happen, and made a lot of sacrifices along the way. It is great to earn the bulk of my living outdoors, and the thing I love is being able to impact people and help them be active in the outdoors and most importantly to do it safely. I thought I would give you an idea of what a day is like on a kayak course for me.

While it is normally a great job, it isn't all sunshine and flowers. When it is cold and raining out, I am still teaching. When it is 103 degrees out I am still teaching. I have to be prepared for a lot of eventualities, and this summer I had my first skin cancer scare - and I am very careful about sun exposure.

I know about classes weeks or a month (or sometimes a little more) in advance. As opposed to when I was teaching privately it was very "hey, you available this week?!" But what I am doing leading up to a course is watching how many people are enrolled in a class. There is a big difference between teaching two, or teaching 6 - and a couple of times I have had groups of 12 or 15.

Two days out - I start watching weather, and prepping my gear, which may change depending on the weather. I think a lot about what I am wearing and making sure it is appropriate to the conditions because I am role modeling for new paddlers constantly. I also don't trust weather reports that look more than 48 hours into the future.

One day out - Actually the night before, I pack all my gear for the following day (as I will have an early start) I make sure I have all the paperwork I need (Blank course evaluations for participants to fill out, roster and sign in sheet for participants, course end report for me to fill out, plus all the emergency reporting paperwork should something bad happen.) My large first aid kit is packed, sealed and in a dry bag. I pack water, and snack food for myself for the day, as well as a surprise snack for my participants. I always pack more gear than I need, for example if someone asks about navigation on a long trip I want to have some charts even though I won't need them where I am teaching. I always have a large dry bag in my bow compartment with extra layers of clothes in case someone should get wet, and I always carry sunscreen and water for people.

Morning of a 9:00am class

7:00 am - Rise and shine, a quick light breakfast out of the house by 7:30, having checked the weather and my email for any cancellations. Load my boat on the roof of my car - I prefer to paddle my boat as opposed to the fleet boats the participants use. I like my boat more. My gear goes in the car in a big mesh duffel, two paddles and the cooler that lives in my car has snacks, lunch and reusable cold packs.

7:45 - stop for coffee and if it is hot, I may be getting a watermelon for my participants (if it is cold they may get hot chocolate!)

8:05ish - At the venue, my boat and gear is unloaded, I unlock the storage container with fleet boats, and pull a boat, paddle, pfd, bilge pump, and paddle float for every paddler. I line them up and make them look pretty. A clipboard for each participant, with a Liability form, and an end of course eval form. They do one at the beginning, and one at the end.

8:30 - Usually everything is ready to go 30 minutes early. This gives me some time to drink my coffee, and relax. If the sky is anything but clear and blue I do another weather check. Usually someone arrives 20 minutes early and I have to make small talk.

9:00 - Usually one person is late and I have to stall while I wait for them. I use this time to make small talk and determine skill levels/previous paddle experience. Someone usually asks a question about my experience, and I can tell good Alaska story, which eats time until the late person arrives.

9:05 - the late person arrives, we discuss and sign liability forms, Paper work is stored someplace dry and safe until the end of the course. Give participants the plan for the day, so there are no surprises.

9:10 to 9:45 - Everyone learns to fit a PFD, what size paddle to use, and how to have 5 points of contact (i.e. how to sit) in a kayak. Then they are shown how to carry a kayak - 2 people per boat please! Don't carry them by the handles please, hold the hull of the boat! and we bring the boats to the water line, where my boat is waiting. While people do a final bathroom run I gear up. Skirt, pfd, glasses strap, final sunscreen application, sandals off paddling booties on. Spare paddle on back deck, First aid kit at my feet. Throw bag within reach. Bilge pump and paddle float on front deck along with contact tow. Watch the time, always watching the time. Phone in a waterproof pelican, in a dry bag, in the cockpit within reach (If I get a phone call my phone will vibrate the entire boat - I am thinking about calls from co-instructors with questions, or a phone call from my bosses)

10:00 - An on the land forward stroke class, followed by how to get into a kayak.

10:15 to 10:20 - I get everyone launched onto the water.

10:20 to 11:00 - paddle to a protected cove to work on skills. This gives people time to get a feel for the forward stroke while getting coaching from me. I always make sure everyone in the group gets one on one coaching, multiple times in a day (it is hard with big groups but people really like it) This gives me the opportunity to see who has a good feel for it, and who is struggling. Who is itching for more knowledge and who can't handle what I have given them. Seek out the people who aren't sitting in their kayak with five points of contact - it will dramatically effect their ability to keep up with the group. This is the time when I start to realize I will be spending the rest of my day paddling as slow as I possibly can so I don't lose anybody.

11:00 - In the protected cove spend time on the sweep stroke, teaching it first as a static stroke, and then how to use it while paddling.

11:30 - continue paddling, coaching the forward and sweep stroke. At this point people start asking about other strokes. Give it to them as they can handle it, but don't let them get overwhelmed. At 12 stop for a surprise snack, use the opportunity to teach the draw stroke to get everyone rafted up.

12:00 to 1:00 Spend the time paddling back to our put in. Keep coaching to a minimum now, peoples brains are tired. At the take out make sure people know that their legs might be wobbly. Help those that need it.

1:15 have people fill out evaluation forms, and thank them for coming, tell them next steps for their paddling development.

1:30 return all the boats to storage. Making sure they are clean and dry for the next course. All gear is stowed, and/or hung to dry. All garbage, and sand is out of the boats. Inspect all gear for damage Take ten minutes to fill out my post course paperwork, which will get sent to the main office.

2:00 Send a text message to the boss telling him the course is complete with no incidents

3:00 unload my personal gear, including my boat, make sure everything is dry, or hang it to dry.

A big part of all my days is self care, and group care, but I come first. Making sure I am fed and hydrated, then making sure they are hydrated and have sunscreen. I am constantly counting participants to make sure I know where everyone is.

It is a lot of work, it can be a lot of fun. The paperwork isn't too bad, the part the drags on me the most is how much time I spend loading/unloading/moving boats. I don't think I am exaggerating when I say I have probably moved 50,000 pounds of plastic kayak in the past year.

I am usually working weekends, when my friends and my wife aren't working which can be difficult, but I also generally have a days off during the week. The best part is when I get to see people who "get it" and understand the joy of spending time on the water.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

It's about customer service Part II

Three years ago I wrote about great customer service from Patagonia, The North Face and Immersion Research. I have a new story to tell.

Since 2011 I have been using a Uniden VHF radio. It accompanies me on expeditions, and long day trips - particularly at the coast. About two weeks ago I took it out of its pelican case and found that the plastic latch the holds the battery in place was broken. A great radio, rendered useless by a cheap piece of plastic.

I reached out to Uniden for a repair, and was told that there is a flat fee for all repairs on my specific radio model. $69.99, plus a $10 shipping charge. My radio was $130 brand new, and I started to do the math. Should I just replace the radio and have something new? Or pay the $80?

It was Samantha at Uniden that was helping me, and as I was running numbers in my head she said this, "let me see how much the part is, maybe we can just send it to you?" she put me on hold while she looked for a price. I wasn't optimistic. She came back on a few minutes later and said she couldn't locate the part number, and if I would give her my email address she would let me know a price. I gave her my email, but still wasn't terribly optimistic. Regardless I thanked her for her time and the effort, and hung up my phone.

I then went to Reddit and posted on r/kayaking if people had recommendations on a VHF. I really feel like the options for VHF aren't great. People recommended Cobra and Icom, and I looked at the radios and remember not being terribly impressed. My Uniden is small, 5 watts, and runs on rechargeable batteries or AA batteries which is super important for long trips. I stopped looking because it was frankly getting depressing.

A few hours later - much to my surprise - I got an email from Samantha. The part was $.44! and If I would send her my address she would send it to me for free, and cover the shipping! This is the kind of customer service that gets a customer for life, and Uniden - thanks to Samantha - you now have one. About a week later the tiny part arrived, and it took me all of 5 minutes to make the replacement. I spent more time trying to find the right torx bit to remove the screws.

Here you can see the broken one - removed - and the new one in place. Uniden, you have entered the rare stratus of companies that do the right thing. Thank you. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bear Spray

By now you should have seen this video. Judging by the near 3 million views I think everyone has seen this video.

This woman was not far from where I had my own bear encounter while paddling the Inside Passage. But despite the fact that you have probably seen this video a few times, there are a few things I want to point out. However, before I do, I want to say that I wasn't there - though I have been in situations like this, not far from her - but as I discuss her actions, I need to be clear it is for the benefit of other paddlers, I don't have any problem with this woman, and my intention is not to malign her.

For clarity, it is important to understand that she is standing at the front door to a cabin, where she could go for safety. From what I have read, she had just brought a load of gear including her food to the cabin, when she heard something outside. What she saw was a 600 to 800 pound coastal brown bear - I am saying that based on the hump on his back, and the shape of his face, If I am wrong, please let me know!

From the video it looks like she still has some gear down by the boat. It is also been said that this encounter was going on for a few minutes before she started taping. The bear is standing on the grass below her. She has the time to say "I am going to pepper spray you in the face". I am going to estimate the bear to be between 20 and 30 feet away (Based on the distance that pepper spray shoots, 30 feet approximately, and the fact the bear appears to be at the edge of that range.) This bear is not exhibiting any aggressive behavior. It is essentially sniffing around. It's fur doesn't appear to be up. It isn't making any noise. It isn't standing on its hind legs. It isn't charging (clearly). It isn't doing anything aggressive. She has the time to say "I am going to spray you with pepper spray". If you can say that, you don't need to use pepper spray. This is a great time to make a lot of noise, bang some pots and pans, maybe throw a rock - as I did. She could have even retreated to the cabin. The time to use pepper spray is when a bear is being aggressive or threatening. She doesn't need to.

After she discharges spray, the bear heads towards the boat. The bear is interested in the seat, and the cockpit area, because clearly it smells of food. As someone who has paddled the Alaskan coast, I can say I am sure she ate in her cockpit while paddling. You have to. There is almost no choice. Now that the bear is attacking the boat, I am curious why she didn't spray it again?

At the end of the day, this bear was just being a curious bear. It smelled something it liked, and was investigating.

I strongly suggest people read "bear attacks: their causes and avoidance" - it is the leading authority on bear behavior. I would also say, Don't paddle alone, particularly in bear country. I didn't want to do it, I am impressed she did. But if she had someone with her, they probably could have scared the bear away, and then gotten the rest of their gear - and maybe even the kayaks - into the cabin.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

My Meat Problem

In the past few months I have started to have a problem. The problem is, that I am beginning to think I shouldn't be eating meat. As a human being I would like to think that I have evolved enough to not eat the flesh of another creature for sustenance. It just seems a little barbaric. I know that my body evolved to be an omnivore. I have teeth evolved to chew meat (as well as teeth designed to chew leaves), and organs that can quickly turn meat into fuel. But at an intellectual level I know that it is wrong to be eating a creature that thinks, and has a personality.

I have been struggling with this for quite some time, and have been talking to a number of friends about it. I have a dear friend who is a vegan. My wife is mostly vegetarian, pescetarian actually. Beth, who went on the last Alaska trip was vegetarian when we were paddling but since has gone back to eating meat. So I have many people and perspectives to discuss my dilemma with. My struggle is actually on a couple of different concepts. The first issue I had was factory farming. I don't like the way animals are treated when they are mass produced for consumption. My work around for this was to buy locally raised dairy products, which is surprisingly easy to do. We have found local providers, meaning people who have farms, and are producing for sale, milk, butter and eggs. (actually about half of my eggs come from friends who have chickens). I was in the process of finding local purveyors of meat. What stopped me was the other issue, which is this, I don't think I should be eating things that have a personality, and all the animals I eat have personalities. Think about it like this. Elephants are smart. They have personalities, and family groups. They mourn when an elephant in their group dies, and they protect their young from danger. Clearly, I would never eat an elephant. Can they be that different from say, a rhinoceros? I am not going to eat a Rhino. How about a zebra? That is for all practical purposes a horse, and I know horses have personalities. Friends tell me horses are just like big dogs. I am certainly not going to eat my dog. Could you eat this?

She is smart and certainly has a personality, but no more so than a pig. This is a big problem for me, that I am still struggling with. Then I found this:

This Ted talk helped me clarify my thoughts a bit, and also said some of the things I had been thinking to myself, though feeling like an oddball for thinking it.

Then two days ago I saw this film.

I work really hard to be good to the environment. I do all the things I am supposed to do as a good environmentalist to care for the planet. I was shocked to see that my actions aren't really the problem with the environment. My car also isn't the problem. (For clarity sake, my car isn't great, but cars are highly regulated in terms of carbon output, the bigger problem is Electricity generation, power plants do far more damage in terms of carbon production than cars do. So if you are thinking about an electric car, investigate where your power comes from. You may be doing more harm than good. I live 20 miles from the 14th most polluting power plant in the nation located on Belews Creek, As long as I live where I do, as long as I am connected to the grid I can never get an electric car!) The problem is the cheese burger I ate for lunch.

That's right, cows produce more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. Cows make more greenhouse gasses than cars, trucks, planes, ships, and railroads combined. Then add to the fact that we are also cutting down forests to raise cattle, forests which could help reduce carbon in the atmosphere. Also, we could feed everyone on the planet if we stopped growing grain for cattle - which is inedible by humans - and grew wheat and corn for human consumption. The trailer for conspiracy doesn't do the film justice. Please watch it on netflix.

So I am left with this dilemma. Meat is bad for the environment, and I think it is morally wrong to eat sentient creatures. But here is the thing, meat tastes good. I am still trying to figure out what the right thing to do is, but for starters I am drastically reducing the amount of meat I eat. I am vegetarian most days, and when I do eat meat it tends to be in smaller portions. Currently meat is a special occasion kind of thing. Time will tell how it plays out for me, but that is where I stand right now. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Like a gift from the Rain Shell Gods - REI Shuksan II

I have been obsessing over what to do about a rain shell. Several times I came close to just ordering an expensive Arc Teryx out of necessity. But I really didn't want one.  For me, there is really no more important piece of gear than a rain shell. I carry it all year, regardless of season or class I am teaching. And having one that wasn't really working was not only inconvenient but a little dangerous.  Just before ordering an expensive jacket I didn't really want, I took one last look at REI offerings. I looked at mens rain jackets, and then narrowed my search to something on the expensive size. As I was scrolling through the options, not really expecting something new, I saw this.

That's right, the Jacket the I loved, and that died, was the REI Shuksan. The Jacket on the bottom left? The Shuksan II. An update, and just in time. I know this jacket wasn't on REI's website a month ago. As a friend of mine said, procrastination pays off.

If you were watching my instagram, you know it arrived yesterday, and because it was an updated jacket I felt comfortable ordering one sight unseen.  I knew if I hated it I could return it to REI so I went ahead and pulled the trigger, and with the southern US on its fifth straight day of rain, and a tropical storm off the coast, it couldn't have come at a better time. I immediately noticed that the fabric was very different. It has a grid pattern to it now, and a different hand feel - though that could be compared to an old jacket which has softened up. According to it now uses a rip stop fabric - I have heard people complain that the older shuksan can tear when bushwacking, to which my response is don't bushwhack.

the new ripstop fabric.

I decided today to spend some time comparing the two jackets side by side. The first thing I look for in a jacket is the number of panels that make up the back, and then a total number. As a refresher, the number of panels means a better fit, but it also means more stitching and seam sealing which means more labor intensive and more expensive. The back of the the Shuksan has three panels, the back of the the Shuksan II has 1. The sides of the Shuksan has three panels. The sides of the Shuksan II has one. This tells me that REI decided to produce this jacket a bit less expensively than its predecessor.

The hood assembly is very similar, with a similar amount of panels, the drawcord assembly is almost identical. The front panel assembly is very similar between both jackets, and the new Shuksan II keeps the two napolean pockets, one on either side of the main zipper. The zippers on the first Shuksan, were waterproof, and on the new Shuksan II they are "highly Water resistant". I am okay with this, particularly as they are much easier to use.

Old on top, and new on bottom.

The sleeves are still on the longer side, and I am pleased to see they didn't change the cuff closures which are velcro and can be operated with gloves.

Under the sleeves I found a surprise, pit zips. The original Shuksan has no pit zips. The pit zips on the shuksan two are huge, which makes me concerned that the new ripstop Fabric isn't as breathable as the old fabric. Time and usage will tell.

My biggest complaint is that the front hand pockets have been lowered, and become useless as soon as you put a backpack with a waist belt on. That is a shame.

Notice the height difference of the pockets
In general what I am seeing is a jacket that was built for outdoor professionals, and the highly active converted to a jacket for everyone. This isn't surprising, as that is really who REI is targeting as their customer.

Despite these changes, I am excited to try out this jacket and see how it performs. I still like the cut, even though it isn't as many panels. I like the attention to detail in the hood, and that the jacket has water resistant zippers and zipper flaps. I am excited that the zipper garages stuck around for Shuksan II and that it is still a long cut jacket - meaning no cold back when you bend over. It still layers well, and feels good.

I will be spending a lot of time in this jacket, maybe even a lot of time in the next week. So expect updates on how it is performing. I am excited to get this wet!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

When good gear goes bad - part II

In the previous post, When good gear goes bad, I talked about beloved gear that has arrived at the end of its life. One of those pieces is my beloved REI Shuksan jacket, which is an eVent rain shell. It  died shortly after my latest Alaska trip, and unfortunately it isn't made any longer, so its replacement will not be easy to find. I thought I would take give you some insight into what I look for in a rain shell, and when it is time to replace a shell jacket.

For me, the most important aspect of any rain shell, is the waterproof breathable fabric that the jacket is made out of. My last jacket was eVent, which is a waterproof membrane that allows vapor to flow from inside the jacket to outside without allowing water to move from the outside in. It is important to understand every rain shell is waterproof - a garbage bag is water proof - but what you are paying for is breathability. As you go up in price, you go up in breathability. It is the difference between a $99 jacket, and $399 jacket. Not the only difference, but a big one. So why eVent? because it is more breathable than gore-tex. Gore-tex revolutionized the outerwear industry. Away went rubber rain coats, and they were replaced with supple material that was both waterproof and breathable. Meaning you could work up a sweat and remain dry. I have owned many gore-tex jackets, and after using eVent I vowed I would never go back. It may be hard to keep that promise, but more on that later. Another thing to keep in mind is that many companies make their own version of gore-tex. Things like TNF's Hyvent, Marmot's Preccip, Patagonia's H2NO or REI's Elements are similar designs to gore-tex fabric. They tend to be less expensive which translates to not as breathable.

The second thing I look for is panels, and construction. When talking about panels, I am referring to how many pieces of fabric are connected together to make the jacket itself. The more panels that make up the jacket, the better fit you will have, but it also means you have more seams to seal. The more seams you have to seal the more the jacket costs, because it is more labor intensive to manufacture. To me it is an indicator that the designer and manufacturers "gave a shit" about making a highly functioning jacket. Then, once I see the number of panels I look at how the jacket is constructed, are the seams stitched and taped? or welded, which lasts longer, sits flatter against your body and of course costs more. Are the zippers waterproof? or do they have a flap behind them to keep water from hitting you after passing through the zipper. Is the hood adjustable? is it helmet compatible? Are the pockets at the same height as a backpacks waist belt (which makes them unusable when wearing a pack!) Interior pocket(s)? Napolean pocket? phone/ipod pocket? How do the wrist cuffs adjust? Can you operate them with a gloved hand? Is it cut longer in the back so I when I bend over to load a kayak or pick up a pack my lower back isn't exposed to cold and rain? Are the arms a little long, so when I reach over my head my wrists aren't exposed? How big are the pit zips? I think of pit zips as the jackets designer telling me how well it is going to breath. If it breathes really well it doesn't need pit zips, but if they run from the waist to your elbow you are in for a wet ride! My last eVent jacket had no pit zips, though you could make the argument that the pockets on the front would offer some venting because they were backed with mesh. If you are really fanatical, look at the way pocket zippers are finished, do they just stop, leaving a tiny hole - about the size of a pencil point - at the end? or does the zipper slider (which is the part that joins the two ends of the zipper into one) end in a zipper garage?  A little 'house' that ensures that the top of the zipper won't leak.

I also never buy a 3 in 1 style jacket. These are shell jackets that when you buy them they come with an insulation piece of some sort. A fleece, or  some other kind of interior jacket with the intention of insulation, that connects to the outer shell. Essentially making one jacket. So you get an outer shell (piece 1) an inner insulation piece (piece 2) and put them together and use them together (piece 3). Traditionally you can zip the pieces together by means of a second interior zipper - called a second track -  I don't like these because usually you will be stuck with one of the pieces being inferior. And while they do save you a little money, if you wouldn't use both pieces individually then it is actually costing you money in the long run. Finally, you never want the interior jacket connected to the outer jacket - if you are really active in the outdoors. There are two reasons, the first, it inhibits movement slightly. Skiers complain about this the most, as the direction of movement that is hindered is side to side. The bigger reason is that when active, you should always be adjusting layers. The rain stopped? take off the shell. It's raining but got warmer as I descended the ridge? Dump the liner, and keep the shell. Those adjustments are much harder to make with the two pieces zipped together.

Finally, when looking for a new shell, I think about sizing. It has to fit big enough to fit an insulation layer underneath it, like a fleece or a primaloft jacket. I will use this jacket all year, from rain protection in the dead of summer, to wind, snow and ice protection in the dead of winter. I need to be able to adjust accordingly with layers from super thin weight for wicking, to super thick for insulation. Always try a jacket on with different layer types underneath it.

So how do I know when my jacket is at the end of it's life? First, you need a benchmark. When you buy a new jacket, splash some water on it so you can see how actively water beads up on the surface. This happens because the jacket is coated with a Durable Water Repellent finish or DWR. DWR helps keep the pours of the jacket open, so it can breath. When the jacket gets dirty, it slows or stops breathability, and can become a conduit for moisture to move inside the jacket, particularly with eVent who states that you should wash their jackets frequently.Of course the more you wash a jacket, the more the originally DWR coating wears off. Also, the more you ball a jacket up and stuff it in your bag, the faster that DWR finish is removed.  When the jacket stops beading up water it is time to reapply the DWR finish with a product like Nikwax TX Direct. This is available in both a spray, and a wash in, I prefer the wash in as it gets very even coverage. But before you re-apply the DWR your jacket needs to be cleaned, and regular laundry soap isn't going to cut it. First you need to wash it with another Nikwax product, Techwash. I have used products other than Nikwax and in my opinion they don't work as well. This will clean it thoroughly, and prepare the surface for the coming DWR - which won't adhere if the jacket is dirty or is washed first in regular laundry soap - regular laundry soap leaves a microscopic film on the jacket that keeps the new DWR finish from adhering. So if your jacket stops beading water, it doesn't mean it is time for a new jacket, it just means you need to reapply the DWR, which costs about $20 for both the cleaner and the finish. (I have been told that ironing your jacket can revitalize the DWR, and ironing right after applying your new DWR finish helps it adhere to the jacket better - thereby lasting longer. I haven't had the guts to take an iron to my jacket, but I do put my jacket in the dryer on low heat which helps it adhere as well. ) As always check labels and follow the manufacturers instructions.

So when is it time for a new jacket? When it does what mine did, which is this. After a lot of use, the tape that covers the seams started to come off. So I washed the jacket in preparation to send the jacket to the west coast to have the damaged sections re-taped. When it came out of the wash, all the taped seams had come off, and the seal that contained the waist drawcord had come open too. It would have cost as much to have the jacket re-taped, as to buy a new jacket. You may also see the interior coating on the jacket start to flake off. It will leave little pieces of white fluff everywhere you go, this is the jacket delaminating - the waterproof membrane is literally separating into its components and falling apart. This is another sign that the jacket is dead.

So what am I going to get to replace my beloved jacket? Very few companies work with eVent, because to do so means that you can't also work with Gore-tex, and even though eVent is a better product, everyone active in the outdoors knows Gore-tex. The few companies that do make eVent only offer jackets outside of my price range, or don't offer some of the features listed above. Currently, in my opinion, the best jackets on the market today are made by Arc Teryx. They meet all of my requirements except they use Goretex instead of eVent. But that isn't the reason I hesitate. I hesitate because they have a reputation to be worn by people who want to look like the play or work in the outdoors more then they actually do work or play in the outdoors. Kind of like driving a BMW, I don't want people to notice the brand of jacket I wear before they even start a class with me. With that said, I know a number of instructors who swear by them, and it will probably be what I end up going with.

Monday, September 21, 2015

1000 hours

In what I like to refer to as "the year in hell" - I loved the job, but it was very hard physically and hard on my family - I did very little paddling, but I did do a lot of yoga.

I came to realize that a lot of the connections that I made in Enlightened Kayaking between paddling and martial arts and Buddhism exist into yoga as well. I am working on a yoga for paddling post because of how strong the connection is.

I got see many new paddling students this past year, and I saw that the problem that a lot of them had was a lack of twisting ability. They literally lacked the ability to rotate at their core, which is a small problem for the forward stroke, but a huge problem for the sweep stroke. I realized that this could be remedied with a simple yoga practice - I have started telling people that everything we do in the outdoors is made easier if you do yoga!

sweep from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

I would like to find yoga positions that replicate the movements of paddling, I think that could help a lot of people with things like the sweep. In particular, I think that everyone can benefit from a simple yoga practice. And like most things, it is best to get that instruction from a qualified instructor.

I started to talk to my yoga instructor about the training process. Not because I am interested in becoming a yoga instructor - believe me I have enough on my plate - but because I am becoming ever depressed with the quality of kayak instructors that I see.

I think what is contributing to the low quality of instructors that I see - and I should stress, I am not talking about any of the instructors I work with, this is when I observe instruction while I am paddling on my own. I always watch other outdoor educators when I have the opportunity.

Here is what I think may contribute to the problem. You can take a week long class to become an ACA certified instructor, and go and teach students. ACA will teach you the format and the skills to teach. But there are no - that I can find - prerequisites for paddling history. Meaning, if you can master the skills in the class you can be an instructor, regardless of real world experience.

But if you want to be a yoga instructor, you have to do 200 hours of training, which my research says seems to take about 10 months. That ends up being 10 months of real world experience.

When I became a Paramedic, I did hundreds of precepted practical hours. In ambulances, in Emergency Departments, as well as pediatrics, nicu, etc. etc. It forced me to spend time doing what I was learning, and gaining real world experience.

All too often I see outdoor educators who did what I like to call "certification hunting". They find the certifications that people want to see, and they take the courses to obtain them, acquiring many along the way. ACA Level 1, 2 or 3 for coastal or whitewater kayaking. Wilderness First Aid, or Wilderness First Responder. Leave No Trace Master Educator. Swiftwater Rescue. High Angle Rescue, AMGA rock climbing. These are just a handful, but you can spend so much time doing it, you don't have time   to practice using these skills.

After getting my Paramedic, which is essentially a pile of certifications - Pre-hospital Advanced Life support(PHTLS), Pediatric Advanced Life Support(PALS), Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) I promised myself I wouldn't go certification hunting again. With the caveat that as soon as I didn't get a job because I lacked a particular certification, I would obtain that one. It has been close to twenty years and I still haven't had that happen.

Now, I don't mean to knock certifications. If you are a paddler, and want to work on your skills, by all means take a course. But I think instructors should be held to a higher standard. I would like to see instructors have to log their personal trips and their teaching time. It would be great if kayaking instructors had to have 200, or 400 or even 1000 hours of paddling time - maybe broken up between teaching time, and journeying time. I think it would give us instructors with way more depth, and experience to draw on.

I did some quick checking, and in the past year, I have taught around 350 hours. That doesn't count time prepping for classes, or reviewing classes and their outcomes. It also doesn't include personal trips. There is no substitute for teaching time - just like when I was a paramedic, there is nothing better than patient contact time! There is nothing better than doing the thing you are teaching people to do.

When I became a NOLS sea kayak instructor, my instructor training was 35 days in British Columbia. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done (Becoming a WMI instructor was harder!) Having the time to do that much paddling with so many wonderful paddlers was the best learning experience of my life. When I looked around the room on day 1, I literally thought "what am I doing here with these people, I am not in the same class as them." I walked away realizing I was an okay paddler, but a pretty good teacher (Today I think I am a pretty good paddler, and a great teacher, it only took me a decade to get to this point!) 35 days gave me so much experience to draw on when teaching today, it is a tremendous benefit.

I am frequently asked by younger instructors what their next step should be for both experience and advancement. I have a couple of pieces of standard advice that makes instructors stand out to potential employers, but the biggest thing I tell people is to do a NOLS Outdoor Educator course. Yes, they are expensive, but you will pick up so much skill, in both the venue (kayaking, climbing, etc) but you will walk away a far better instructor.

My advice to you as a new paddler? Yes, your instructor should have some sort of certification, but ask them about their paddling history? If you want to get into touring, what kind of touring have they done? If you want to do whitewater, what big rivers have they paddled? Get a feel for them as outdoorsmen, not just instructors.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


I will continue on my ongoing minimalist theme, with something I have been seeing frequently.
People claiming they "need" something, not just want it. I'll give you an example. 

If you read this blog then you know I am a big fan of Adam Savage, of myth busters fame. We have a number of things in our personal histories in common. I absolutely love his ability to build things, a skill I do not have, and he is fascinated by a number of things that I too am fascinated by. One of them is old adventure vehicles. He has a fully restored Toyota FJ-40. If I had the means I would own one of these vehicles in a heartbeat - honestly I would rather a Landrover Series IIa from the year I was born, but I digress. Recently he posted a picture of a Lego FJ-40 that matched his actual truck identically, and he said something along the lines of "I love this because it matches my FJ, I don't want this, I need it!" With all do respect Mr. Savage - and I really do have a lot or respect for you - you don't need it. 

Today I came across this photo of a home craft project utilizing a tire, some wood, and a rope. Please read the caption. 

Let me say for the record, No one needs this. I don't even think most people want this. 

I completely understand what both of the people in these examples are trying to say. They are saying this is something really special that speaks to me on a higher level, and I would like to acquire it. That having this particular thing will make me extremely happy. The problem is, they are wrong. 

I don't know Adam Savage - but if he is ever in town, I would love to buy him a drink - but I think he seems like a genuinely happy person. I don't think having that lego truck is really going to make him any happier. I also don't think that a used tire covered with rope is going to make anyones life better. 

I think that sayings like this elevate the concept of needs to a place that they shouldn't be. People need food. People need water. Those are needs. I am serious, right now there are people in the world who need food and water.

recently I was watching the latest Apple media event. a week or so ago I sold my aging laptop, and a monitor that connects to it. My wife and I share an iMac, which I am typing on now. My only other "computer" is an iPad mini. My plan was to sell the laptop, use the money to buy a new iPad mini, and then sell my older iPad mini. But during the Apple presentation I saw the new iPad Pro. I was really impressed. To have that much power in the form of a tablet? That high res of a screen? I was really impressed with the apple pencil too! I could see using the pencil to annotate maps, or some such. I was stumped, I wasn't sure which to get. I decided to think about it for a few days. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that while having an iPad that could do all that would be amazing, I didn't really need it. I need to be able to travel with my iPad easily, It needs to go everywhere with me. The Pro was just too big. I love the stylus, but I don't really need it. I wanted the iPad pro, but I don't need it. If I could get an iPad mini pro, they might have something.

I don't mean to be a buzz kill or a fun sponge, I understand what everyone means, but I think we should keep things in perspective. There is a difference between needing and wanting. What do we actually need? If you think about it, most of you probably have what you need. A lot of things fall into the want category. Just don't think that having those things will actually make you any happier.

Come on, is Spock ever wrong? 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Gear Monolith

I have a lot of gear. Despite being a pretty strict minimalist I still have a lot of gear. Part of the reason is that I teach multiple disciplines. I of course have my paddling gear, but I also teach various land based courses. Photography. Cooking. Map and Compass/GPS. I teach GoPro Classes and of course Wilderness First Aid. Each these topics have their own little (and in some cases not so little) gear sets. Add to that large pile the gear I need to do the things I do for fun. Like Mountain biking, and camping.

My current - largest in terms of time - employer gives me the ability to purchase gear at a pretty good discount, some of you may be aware of the term prodeal, I have that ability. It only gets better if I pick up a sponsor or two. So acquiring gear is not a real problem, but after a time you come to realize you don't really need anything - unfortunately I am at a point after two major expeditions where I have a lot of gear that needs to be replaced, but that is another story! Yes, every now and then I see something that is super cool, but I generally don't buy it unless I need it. But that still leaves me with a large amount of gear, and after moving to our current house last July fourth, I had gear in several places. It made it particularly difficult to find that particular thing I needed.

All that has changed. I now have all my gear in one location, sorted by usage. It makes it super easy to pull gear for either a trip or a class. It looks like this.

Sorry I couldn't get a better picture of this monstrosity, but I couldn't get far enough away from it with my iPhone to get it all in  frame. 

So here is how I use it. Yesterday I taught a paddling class. I grabbed my primary paddling duffel and paddles. I then grabbed the cooler for lunch and drinks, and my rain shell. From the Electronics shelf I grabbed the pelican case for my iPhone. When I came home I reversed the order. I didn't have to look for where anything was, and I didn't forget anything. 

In all it took me about 4 hours to build, and about $200 in lumber. Well worth the time and investment, after years of trying to remember where a particular piece of gear is. Admittedly, it is big. 8 feet wide, by six feet high. It still needs some organizing and fine tuning. But so far I am extremely happy with it. How do you store all your gear? Post a link in comments, I truly want to see it. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

My little Neck of the Woods

Every year Outside magazine publishes an Article with a title like, where to live now, or Best towns, or Best outdoor towns. I find these articles really interesting. If truth be know, I would really love to live in a place like Port Angelas, Washington. Or Portland, or someplace that is both outdoorsy, and cool. I'll tell you a quick story from when I worked in Photography.

I travelled a lot, which was good because I was newly divorced and didn't have much going on outside of work. I went to Seattle a bunch of times for work, essentially shooting the city and the Olympic Peninsula. I was a photo assistant at this point in my life, and myself and the photographer got up early to shoot sunrise, and I got out of the car to get us both coffee. I was wearing a red Patagonia Retro X fleece - which is talked about in this post - it was for a while THE fleece to wear if you were outdoorsy, and as I was waiting for my coffee, the woman behind the counter said "Nice Fleece". She actually had to say it twice before I heard her. There are two reasons for this, the first, I was a little jet lagged from the flight in. But more importantly, I didn't hear here because I am from New York. New York City actually, and in NYC, people don't talk to you. People don't make polite conversation. I heard her the second time, and after getting over my shock that someone was talking to me, I said thank you, and then looked around. What I saw amazed me. I was in a city of people like me. People who loved the outdoors. In NYC, I never really fit in. I have loved Seattle since.

So I have longed to get back to a city like that, where I feel I fit in, and the city is cool. I want to live in a city that makes a list like Outside Magazines Best places to live. Every year that list comes out, and not only doesn't my city make the list, it isn't even in the running!

So I thought I would point out a few features of my city that I think make it "list worthy". Maybe your city is list worthy too! Maybe Outside magazine doesn't know what they are talking about.

My favorite part of where I am living now is the weather. Yes it gets pretty hot in June and July, but winter is like 6 months of Northeast Fall. Which is the best of all worlds if you are into the outdoors. I paddle all year long (a couple of times the local lakes have frozen over). It never gets really cold. We get the occasional dusting of snow.

But being into outdoor activities there are too many options for things to do. I have access to over 30 miles of greenways within the city limits. For those of you not aware, a greenway is a paved path for walking/running/cycling that generally follows, lakes, streams, or roads, but sometimes takes the place of abandoned railroad lines. Sometimes, they have cool bridges that cross lakes.

I also have the ability to ride almost 40 miles of single track mountain biking trails in the city limits. Some really wonderful mountain biking. Not into mountain biking? Prefer the road? We have a huge cycling community, supporting 9 full service bike shops (one of which has beer on tap!) It is easy to find a group ride on weekends.

We have 42 miles of hiking trails. All within the city limits. Most of the trails are along our watershed lakes which offer kayak and SUP rentals. All of my sites kayaking instruction videos were shot on my local lakes. If you are lucky, you will see one of the bald eagles that reside on the lake I paddle at most frequently.

We also offer easy access to more remote hiking, an hour and half away is the largest canyon east of the Mississippi. The Appalachian trail goes through the western half of the state - close to Asheville, which DOES occasionally make the Outside Magazine list, bastards - and there are numerous National and state parks out that way. Head the other direction and you have hundreds of miles of protected seashore. with camping, kayaking and fishing access.

What's that? You like a good meal after your ride/hike/paddle? How about a burger? TripAdvisor just decided we have the best Burger Joint in America.... and it isn't my favorite burger joint in town! We have a great Brick oven pizza place that is all organic and local. There are any number of great places for a cold beer, or hell, just head to a brewery! Want something a little more upscale? we have that too.

Need someplace to stay? How about the nations fist "Leed Platinum" Hotel? It is super swanky too.

Outside, I really think you need to check us out. Or on second thought, stay away, it'll keep the riff raft out.