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Monday, December 24, 2018

My favorite memory of Christmas in NYC


Santa Spoilers Ahead.

I am a big fan of Christmas. I enjoy the trappings of the holiday. A good meal shared with people I love, giving gifts - receiving gifts makes me a little uncomfortable - and the joy the season brings. I have several traditions that are important to me. Every season I read A Christmas Carol, and Christmas morning I enjoy a champagne cocktail. I have also always enjoyed what I can only describe as the production design of the holidays, particularly in NY. I am sure there is a real term for what I am describing, but my background in photography calls it this. The decorations, the soundtrack, the glasses on the table. They all come together to tell a story, and it is one I enjoy. Having lived in Manhattan for over a decade I found it easy to avail myself of the beauty that is Christmas in the city. I generally avoided the big tree at Rockefeller Center, though I did ice skate there once, and though I am not much of a shopper I used to take a walk down Fifth Avenue at the beginning of the season to get myself in the spirit. Get a light dusting of snow in the West Village and was always game for a walk with a spiked hot chocolate.

But my favorite Christmas memory is none of these. When I worked in photography I ran a photo studio for an small stock photo agency. We produced a lot of imagery, and maintained a staff that fluctuated from five to eight. A couple of us were jack of all trade types but we had a guy who worked with us whose specialty was casting. He cast people that could fulfill any role from banker to craftsman to sports star. He truly had a talent for it. His name was Ken. Ken had been an actor, and after working with me moved on to some fame on a reality TV show, which will remain nameless.

But it turns out that Ken had a side gig at the holidays. Ken worked during the holidays at Macy's as a Santa. He was Santa Ken. This memory came rushing back to me this morning because I was listening to David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries, in which "Santa Ken" has a brief mention. I suddenly remember in a rush of emotion the year I visited Santa Ken at Macys.

I am not sure how it started, or how it came up. I think I must have mentioned over lunch that my sister brought her boys to Macy's every year, Ken told me they had to come and see him specifically, and that he would make it really special. I protested, as it made me a little uncomfortable, the gift thing, but Ken insisted. And so I was given a Christmas assignment.

I am guessing here, but my sisters boys were probably eight and three? I am honestly not sure. I think the oldest was starting to not believe in Santa, but the younger of the two was deep into the mythos as every child should be. Ken gave me a list of questions to ask my sister. The boys names, and their teachers names. If they played any instruments. What they wanted for Christmas, things like that. A couple of emails back and forth and everything was set. But here was the kicker. I had to go with them. This was non-negotiable. It was explained away as this, Uncle Brett and Santa go way back, they are old friends and he is going to come with us to visit his friend Santa. I was the cool uncle. So it was on a weekend morning - probably hung over - that I found myself at Macy's in line to see Santa with my sister, her husband and the two boys. I had specific instructions that "when I got to the magic tree, tell the elf you want to see Santa Ken." I have to say that the line actually went pretty fast, and before too long I found myself at the magic tree, whispering to an elf "We need to see Santa Ken" feeling like a complete lunatic. But the elf was a professional, and orchestrated everything perfectly. What you can't tell from the magic tree is that there are 6 or 8 different Santa houses. But this elf got us where we needed to be, without it being obvious that he was manipulating the line or the flow to Santa. He had us pause just outside the door to Santa's house and as we stood there I realized something very important that no one had mentioned. I had to enter the room first, or Santa Ken wouldn't know it was show time. At the last minute I cut in front of everyone and walked into Santa's house and was greeted by the bellowing howl of a laughing Santa Ken. "Well hello Brett! Is that "S" and "I" you bought to see me? I said it was, and ushered them to Santa. The oldest "S" sat on Santa's lap and was asked all manner of questions about the goings on at his school, to which Santa had an amazing amount of knowledge. If I remember correctly, "I" was a little too overwhelmed to sit on Santa's lap. Pictures were taken, and the experience was amazing. As we were leaving, I thanked Santa, and he said "Not so fast Brett, you have to sit on my lap too!" So I sat briefly on Santa's lap and posed for a picture. As we left Santa's house, "S" asked my sister "How did he know my teachers name?" to which my sister replied "He's Santa."

It didn't seem like a big deal at the time, though I am pretty sure my sister cried and gave me a big hug. The following Monday at work I gave Ken my thanks and told him he was amazing. He truly was Santa. In the years that followed when I would think about the experience it would strike me, that in essence, it was a little thing Ken did. He was already there, doing a job, it wasn't that much more to do this for me. But in fact it was. I hesitated when he first suggested it because I don't like to make work for people, and it was more work for Ken to take the notes and keep them hidden, and to act convincingly as Santa for my nephews. It was a little thing that echoed for years, and to this day I am grateful for the experience. It is those little moments where we do something for each other, the gestures for the holidays to say "I appreciate you, and I can do this little thing for you." that make the holidays special. I haven't talked to Ken in close to twenty years, but this little act of kindness sticks with me. I still look for things like this I can do for people, but I doubt I will ever have the impact that Santa Ken had on me.

And that, is my favorite Christmas memory from living in New York City.

Merry Christmas everyone. Thanks for reading and following and playing along.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Where Dreams Go To Die.

Just spreading the word about a documentary I just saw and loved. No, it's no Free Solo - which I saw and loved, it's amazing, check it out! - but this one about the Barkley Marathons. Here is the trailer.




If you don't know the Barkley Marathons, they are a really extreme trail based ultra-marathon. It is listed to 40 people per year, and the registration process is a secret. It starts when the race organizer lights a cigarette - somewhere in a 12 hour time span. You have 60 hours to complete 5 loops which are listed as 20 miles each but vary and are usually 25 or so. They call completing 3 loops the "fun run" and only 16 people have completed the 5 loop version.

It is insanity on two legs.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Missing Glaciers of Prince William Sound - Episode 2

Well, we got to Alaska, but still had to paddle quite a ways to get to the glaciers. In this episode, a lot of paddling, and a lot of eating.


Monday, December 3, 2018

Holiday Sales on all Books.

Getting ready for the holiday season? With that in mind I decided to run a sale for the month of December on all the books I have written. 

At the iBook store, Enlightened Kayaking is now $3.99 (originally $5.99) and GO! Planning weekend trips to month long adventures is $7.99 (originally $10.99) Finally, Forward, the short book that just focuses on the forward kayak stroke is Free. All of these books are digital only and can be read on the iPad, iPhone or your Mac. 

At Amazon, GO! is also $7.99 and the Paperback version is $12.99 (originally $15.99). 

This sale is going to run through the month of December. January first they will go back to full price. On either platform you can send these books as a gift in either digital form or paperback. 

I like the thought of giving the gift of experiences for Christmas, and these books can help give people the skills to create their own experiences. 

If you have already purchased one of my books, thanks for supporting an independent author, and if you enjoyed it, please give the book a review wherever you bought it. If you didn't enjoy it, please send me some feedback. The joy of being independent and publishing digitally, is that I can make changes. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Adventure Otaku Stocking Stuffer Guide 2018

Part two of the Adventure Otaku Christmas is the stocking stuffer list. Once again, these are all Items I use. They make my outdoor life better, safer and more fun. Here is hoping they will have the same effect on your loved ones. 

Snow Peak Gigapower Torch $57.95 - I bought this after years of wanting it. It takes a lot for me to buy something I don’t really need, but this thing gets used all the time. I use it to start campfires mostly, which it does quickly and easily, but I have also used it to melt cheese over a bowl of soup. Talk about versatile, and it uses the same fuel I am already carrying for my stove. A little pricey for what it is, but it is beautifully made. 

Big Agnes Ultra Pump Sack -  $34.95 Blowing up an air pad isn’t too bad, but this is just so much better. Essentially a large dry bag with a connector on the bottom that mates to Big Agnes sleeping pads, depending on which pad you are using it will take about two full pump sacks to fill your pad. When not being used as a pump it is a waterproof bag for clothes our whatever you need to carry and keep dry. 

The UV and insect Shield buff - $20ish. The first thing I pack when I am teaching. Whether it is summer or winter. Versatile, lightweight, and inexpensive. It is the perfect accessory. In the summer it is sun and bug protection. In the winter it is warmth. Can’t beat it. 

Sawyer Permethrin - $14-$20  Because I teach in the outdoors, I try to not use too many chemicals on my skin. That is why I usually use permethrin on my clothing instead of bug spray on my skin (or sunscreen for that matter!) Spray your clothes, let it dry and it keeps bugs at bay for 6 weeks or 6 washings. I was skeptical at first, but once you realize others in your group are shooing mosquitoes while you are sitting comfortably you will realize how well it works too.

MSR Mug Mate Coffee and Tea Filter - $16.95 Super simple, super easy, super light way to make great coffee.

Fox 40 Whistle - $6.00 Everyone should have a fox 40 whistle. Ridiculously loud, inexpensive, and the ultimate piece of safety gear. People don't like buying safety gear, so buy it for them. 

Warm Socks - $14 to $40 Whether your choice is smart wool, Darn tough, or farm to feet, a high quality pair of wool socks cannot be beat. Nothing makes for a better stocking stuffer than awesome, warm, cozy, socks. Whether you are wearing them around the house, or inside a sleeping bag after a long day of paddling. Everyone loves warm socks. 

These last three items combine to make a great gift, you could even add the Jetboil Mighty Mo from the previous list, and make it a super Christmas for someone. 


Hot Chocolate Mix -. $14.00 A great thing to have in the backcountry on a cold day. Here is a great recipe you can make yourself, and prepackage as a gift for someone. If You want to buy it pre-made I have tried tons of brands and my favorite is Godiva Dark chocolate hot cocoa. Paired with the Jetboil Mighty Mo, and a vessel for heating water and this is the ultimate cold weather kit for a hot drink. 

Hydro Flask Vacuum Insulated Coffee Cup $24.95 - keeps coffee hot or cold for a long time, and most importantly seals tight when not in use. Love it, and it fits in a cup holder. And yes, it replaced my Yeti. This is better. 

The GSI Halulite Kettle - $24.95 And here is your vessel for heating water. It packs small enough to carry on a day hike, but big enough to carry a Stove and a canister of fuel. 

Here is your bonus gift. Available via the link on the right side of this list is GO! which is available to give as a gift on either amazon for kindle, or paperback. Or on the iBookstore for iPad and Mac. On sale for $7.99 from December first through New Years Eve. Get your friends or family members the gift of the written word, and the skills to plan their own adventures. 

Happy Holidays Everyone. 


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Missing Glaciers of Prince William Sound

A few years ago we took a voyage to Alaska with a lot of gear and a great team. Our goal was to photograph the glaciers in Alaska's, Prince William Sound. What we saw was both amazing and confusing.

Here is the first video installment from that trip.




More to come, subscribe to the Youtube Channel to see more.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Adventure Otaku Gift Guide 2018 - 5th Edition

It's that time of year again, The music is playing, the fire is cozy, and it is time to buy some gifts for the adventurer in your life.

A few changes this year. With the switch to Adventure Otaku (from Paddling Otaku) I can now talk about gift ideas for people besides paddlers! Doesn't everyone know an Adventurer? Also, this years list will include Amazon Affiliate links. Maybe you could help me make a few pennies, but still no ads. So that's a positive right?

With just a few exceptions these are all items I have used and truly love. Whether you are just starting out in the outdoors or are a seasoned professional, there are things here for everyone. This year the list ranges from $24 dollars to $1000, depending on your budget, But fully half of them are under $200.

So put on some Christmas music, get some cocoa, and check out this years list!

Lodge Cast Iron Skillet  ($24.95) - Obviously you aren’t taking this backpacking, but for car camping or vanlifing there is nothing better. Easy to maintain, and naturally non-stick, these pans are versatile, durable and with a little care will literally last for generations.

Black Diamond Spot ($39.95)- This headlamp is on the list most years, and with good reason. In the brightness vs dollars category, this is the hands down winner, a great headlamp particularly at the price, and every year they make it just a little better. No affiliate link for this one, if you order it, make sure you are getting the 325 lumen version. Amazon only seems to carry last years model at 300 lumens. 

Patagonia R0 Sun Long Sleeve Shirt ($49.00) - This year I replaced the shirt I paddle in. I took 14 shirts to the fitting room,  to find the one that fit my needs. It had to be comfortable, wick efficiently and offer UPF 50 protection with long sleeves. The Patagonia came out the winner. As I was trying them on I was hoping some underdog like NRS would offer the best shirt, and a lot of shirts offered the features I needed, but none fit like the Patagonia. 

Jetboil Mighty Mo ($49.95) - The most underrated backpacking stove out there. Slightly bigger than the revered Pocket Rocket it adds a push button igniter and a pressure regulator for better performance in cold weather and altitude. Well worth the $5 more than the MSR. 

Snow Peak Pack and Carry Fire Place ($89.25 for the small) - I bought this mainly because it would look cool in photographs, but it is amazing. I use it most often when I am teaching on a cold day so students can warm up, even though it is fairly small it is great for physical warmth and psychological warmth. I set it up at a party a while back and it immediately became the focal point. Best of all it folds flat. I have the smallest, it is only about a foot across, they get much bigger. 



Patagonia Nano Puff  ($199) - My go to winter insulation piece. Because I often adventure in wet weather I try and stay away from down. This packs small and keeps me warm. What else do you need. 

ACR Personal Locator Beacon ($289.95) -  I don’t want the level of communication that most people want in the backcountry. I want a rugged reliable device that has one feature. When the pooh hits the fan, and my life is in jeopardy, get me the hell out of here. This is that device. Built to a much higher level of durability than a spot or Inreach, it has one button, one use, and no service fee. 

Goal zero Sherpa 100 ac ($299.95) - I used the Sherpa 50 for the last Alaska expedition - actually two of them - and they were awesome. This updated version with a lithium ion battery is a fraction of the weight with a lot more power. It has more power than the Yeti 400 I use in my van. This will power just about anything, from your GoPro to a laptop. 

GoPro Hero black 7 ($400) - Mark my words, this camera will be looked back on as the camera that saved GoPro. For two reasons. First is the image stabilization. Nearly gimbal good. Second, is the TimeWarp - I really prefer to call it hyper lapse, which is what it is - which combines a traditional time lapse with the above mentioned image stability. Both are amazing. Additionally, an unsung feature is the new user interface which is so much better than the last version. 

iPad Pro ($799) - I am writing this post in a tiny house on my iPad Pro. I do everything but final book layout on my iPad Pro and I absolutely love it. It has replaced laptops for me, easily. I use it extensively planning classes as well as for media consumption. It is smaller, lighter and frankly better than any piece of portable computing gear I have used. I absolutely love it. To have access to satellite imagery, detailed weather and communication anywhere is impressive, If only it were waterproof. 

Mustang Survival EP 6.5 Ocean Racing Jacket ($999) - Okay, as I am just delving into sailing, I have no need of this product. Yet. But this is the coolest looking jacket I have ever seen. Mustang survival makes some great gear. This looks like it belongs in a sci-fi movie. *This is the only product on this list I haven’t used. 

So that is this years list. Let me know what you think. In about a week there will be a second list of Stocking stuffer ideas, with nothing over $50. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and maybe it is evens snowing where you live. Happy Holidays!




Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Outdoor Misconceptions

As the woman walked away from me she said, "the gloves have to be waterproof, because it feels like it's never going to stop raining!" This is just one of the misconceptions that I hear regularly. Some of them are specific, like this one. But some are generalizations that are just plain wrong. But whether they are things that are purported to be facts, or vast generalizations based on nothing substantial I - and I am sure many of my colleagues - hear them all the time.

Here are some of the most common things I hear, that are just plain wrong.

For some reason, in the area of water treatment there are a lot of misconceptions. The first is people looking for water treatment, saying "I need a water purifier." No. You don't. Yes you need to treat your water to make it potable, but you don't need a water purifier. When water is "purified" it has been treated to the viral level for contaminants. Most people active in the backcountry don't need this level of treatment - unless you are going to a country where they don't do a good job of segregating waste water from drinking water, or an area of severe flooding.

"I'll Just use Iodine" is another good one. If you are using iodine as a water treatment you are wasting your time. Iodine is effective at treating Giardia, but not cryptosporidium, and there are too many factors to consider - water temperature, turbidity, and PH - to make iodine treatment of viruses useful to us in the backcountry.

If you have questions about treating water, check out this post from a couple of years ago. The only thing missing from it is mention of the MSR Guardian water filter which is a bit heavy, and very expensive but an outstanding filter if you need viral protection.

Another area that has a lot of misconception is anything to do with Bears, here is my favorite, "Grizzly bears are the largest and most dangerous bears out there." This is just plain wrong. Grizzlies are neither the largest, or the most dangerous which I will clarify by saying they are not the most aggressive towards humans. The winner of both of these awards goes to the Polar Bear. Which is to say that Polar bears are both taller, and heavier than Grizzlies (which actually come in third in the size category) Polar bears also subsist mostly on meat, and are far more predatory than Grizzly bears. Grizzlies evolved on the plains, where they had an option of fight or flight, but Coastal Brown bears - which includes Kodiak bears, as well as many other subspecies of brown bear - evolved on the coast, where the ate diets rich with protein - salmon - which helped them grow bigger, and they didn't have anywhere to run in a fight, so they evolved far less likely to flee an altercation. Most scientists agree that Polar Bears are both the most aggressive and the largest bear on earth - though you are less  likely to run into them unless you are in the Arctic. But Kodiak bears are sometimes found to be bigger, this may be a statistical anomaly, but there are cases.

"Bear Spray isn't proven effective." Also just plain wrong. Bear spray has been tested over and over again, and is proven effective against all types of bear, including a handful of cases with polar bears. I have discharged bear spray a couple of times, but always in training. It sprays a cone of mist around 25 feet, and is potent. A friend of mine had an accidental discharge on his back - it is designed for use on mucus membranes remember! - and he said it felt like an iron was pressed against his skin. Now imagine that in your eyes or nose. Now imagine the effect on a bears nose, a nose that can smell bacon from two miles away.

"A gun is far better for defense against a bear, than pepper spray." Okay, imagine this scenario. You are standing 25 feet from a large brick wall, holding a basketball. You throw the basketball at the wall. As soon as you release the ball you draw your gun, and aim and shoot the ball before it gets back to you. If you can do this, then by all means, use your gun. If you can't shoot a charging bear in the head and guarantee a brain shot, then stick to bear spray. It is really that simple.

Okay, enough about bears. Go read Bear Attacks their causes and avoidance. It is the book Outdoor professionals read. 

"Kayaking is a great upper body workout." Only if you are doing it wrong, or are doing it at the Olympic level, take a kayaking class and learn all that you have been doing wrong.

"I need waterproof gloves." You probably don't, and waterproof gloves are expensive and horrible. If your hands are going into liquid water you need water proof gloves, but even I - a lover of cold water paddling - don't use waterproof gloves because they stink. TO make a glove actually waterproof, all the seams - and look at  pair of sewn gloves, and see how many seams there are on the fingers! - have to be sealed with tape or welded. This is time consuming and expensive. If the glove is also truly waterproof chances are it won't breath well, which means your hands will end up cold and wet (from sweat) anyway. Water resistant gloves are just fine for most people. I love and highly recommend power stretch gloves, they are made by a number of different companies.

"It's going to be cold so I need a four season tent!" Your tents job isn't to keep you warm. Your tent is like a shell Jacket. It protects you from wind, rain and snow. Keeping you warm is the job of your sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. A four season tent is designed for high winds and a heavy snowload. I own a four season tent for kayaking in Alaska, because of how much wind you can get on the coast. We should really stop calling them four season tents, because it leads people to think if you are camping in winter you need one. My three season, three person tent weighs just under four pounds. My four season, three person tent weighs 11. Do you really want that in your backpack? No.

Before you start spreading misinformation like any of the things listed above, think about the source. If there are any things you hear frequently that are just plain wrong, let me know in the comments.


Monday, October 29, 2018

Paper vs. Plastic.

The dilemma of our time. We are standing in line at the market, with our fresh organic produce. And we need to decide paper or plastic. About a decade ago I did some research. Here is what I found.

I found that they were about the same. That while plastic is made from oil, it biodegrades pretty quickly, and that paper, while killing trees to make them, the trees are harvested specifically for that purpose -- it's not like they are cutting down virgin forests for them - and the too are designed to biodegrade pretty quickly.

Proof that you can find data to support anything you want, I just found out that all of this is wrong. This started for me in a small privately owned market down the street. This place was transformed a few years ago, it was a dingy 1950's supermarket that had grey meat and dusty canned goods. It still looks like it could use a new floors and fixtures, but they got smart. They lined an entire wall with open front refrigerators and filled them with craft beer. It is now the go to place for the local students. My town has a large university and five colleges. The bulk of our residents are students, faculty and administrators. They now do very well and have a good selection of produce, and a handful of other things. It is a great place when you realize you are out of dog food on a Sunday night at 8:00, and really just want to run in and run out. So I heard the young woman at the register - tattoos, face piercings, blue hair, talking with a customer buying a six of craft beer that she thought it was about the same, paper or plastic. I decided to go home and check my research. I was wrong. way wrong.

Yes, the paper for bags is from carefully controlled and harvested trees. They are left un-dyed so when they biodegrade they don't pollute. But here is the problem. First, they take up a lot of space in the landfills. Second, they take thousands of years to biodegrade, because they are packed so tightly into a landfill, they don't get any oxygen. Which is needed for them to break down. It also takes a lot of water, and power to make them, so they are impacting the environment that way. Though it should be stated that more people recycle their paper bags than plastic. which usually ends up in the garbage.

On the other hand, plastic bags were designed in the 1970's to replace the environmental impact of paper bags. They take very little power, and no water to produce. They are made out of ethane which is a by product of natural gas production. It is usually just burned off, but they figured out a way to make bags out of it. Plastic bags weigh nothing, and they are made to biodegrade very quickly, even in a landfill. They really are brilliant engineering.

So if you have those two choices, plastic is by far the winner.

But you don't have just those two choices do you? No, you have a third. Frankly, I think if you want a bag at a store you should have to pay for it. This would be the single biggest thing we could do to minimize their use. Well, maybe the second biggest thing, we could make them illegal like California.

No, what you should be doing is keeping a reusable bag or two in your car. Let's just eliminate the problem completely. I bought a couple of bags, for each of our cars. They cost me about $5 a piece. Sometimes I forget to grab them, but I have drastically reduced the amount of plastic I use. You can do this too. Give it a shot.

Hey! Do me a favor.

If you are one of the many people who have bought my book GO! on either Amazon or iBooks. Please take a moment to review it. It is the single biggest thing you can do to support a self published author. Even more than buying my book. It takes just a few minutes, and you would be doing something nice for another person. It would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks.