Monday, June 8, 2015

I've been away.

I have been working very hard.

I have lost sight of some things that are very important.

But I will be back.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Survival Gear

When I am prepping for a big trip do a lot of thinking about the gear I am packing. I have this fear, which is almost completely unwarranted, that I will be in the water with rescuers looking for me. They will fly right over me, or move past be in the water and never see me. I will see my rescuers slide off into the distance, having missed their goal - me - by a few hundred meters, and never know it. I will then die, slow, cold, and alone, bobbing in the water.

To fight this fear there are some things I do. On big trips I carry a spot device - if I do another big trip I will switch to an ACR personal locator beacon. I am also a big fan of strobe devices, which live in the pocket of my PFD. I am not a big fan of flares, because I have read too many times about them being discharged and not noticed. Also in the pocket of my PFD is a Fox 40 whistle, which is just ridiculously loud. I of course always leave a float plan with someone trust worthy, and in the cockpit of boat there is a dry bag, with power bars (of some sort, not actually powerbar brand) a headlamp, a compass, a chemical light stick... little stuff like that.

People are obsessed over survival gear. A quick peek at and you will find links to "the ten best pieces of survival gear" and knives designed by navy seals. (everyone wants to be a Navy Seal!) Head over to Reddit, and you will find r/survival with 60k subscribers and links to dozens of other related survival subreddits. This is from the sidebar of r/survival

r/survival defines Wilderness Survival as the philosophies, knowledge, techniques, and actions applied in a Wilderness environment, in a short-term survival scenario, which serve to increase the likelihood of survival of the individual or group.

So, the scenario is, your small plane crashes, you are lost at sea, you inexplicably get lost in the woods, or your cars satnav leads you of course on your way to your weekend getaway, and then the snow starts. By study, and patience, and what you read online you will be prepared to survive. 

There is another scenario, one that I saw frequently at my last job. The preppers, or as I prefer "end of the worlders." These are people preparing for the apocalypse, the government collapses, a dirty bomb is detonated, an EMP is detonated destroying all electronic equipment, or of course, we can't possibly forget... zombies. 

I think a big part of the reason for all the doomsday prepping we are doing is a combination of the culture of fear we have created, along with our rampant consumerism. I am afraid of this problem, therefore I will fix it by buying something that will make me feel safe. A $200 survival  kit, a glock 19 and 200 rounds. Better make it 300... Well, how about 500. Okay 1000. 

The Outdoor School I am working with has an amazing instructor. He teaches a wilderness survival class, and it is almost always full. He really is a great teacher - former US Military and taught survival for decades. The class is wonderful, and people really enjoy it. I think for most people it is a fantasy role play kind of thing - now, when the unthinkable happens, I will survive, and be famous... maybe for a few minutes. 

Here is the thing. I hate anything that begins with the word survival. I hate large impractical fixed blade knives, I hate paracord bracelets, and necklaces and bikinis  I hate any number of fire starting devices - if you can remember to pack a flint and magnesium, why can't you pack a lighter? 

I hate survival kits, that focus on weapons, but don't have any system for filtering water. I hate the whole concept of the bug out bag. If you buy a survival kit, or a bug out bag but don't know how to use any of the things in the bag, then it is useless weight. Likewise for first aid kits. You don't need that much, and you can improvise a lot with just a little knowledge. Take a Wilderness First Aid class. Please. 

I have spent a lot of the past 30 years in the woods or paddling on the water. I have never really been lost. I have dealt with cuts, and scrapes, and blisters, and one puncture wound - that's what you get for bushwhacking! - in the back country. You are never going to need quick clot, or a tourniquet, or even sutures. 

Want to be prepared for when things go wrong? Become skilled in the backcountry. Get to know a map and a compass. Learn to understand the weather, and terrain. Learn to dress appropriately for any environment. If you have gear for a weekend backpacking trip, you have the ability to cook, filter water, sleep warm, produce light, and just about anything else you will need to do. 

Spend some time in the woods, and you will learn the skills you need to make sure you never need a survival kit. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

You never know...

For the past month I have really been doing two things. Working, and editing. This morning while editing I noticed something interesting in the background of some footage.

We didn't know he was back there. from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

This is very rough footage, I just threw a couple of clips together to get a feel for what was going on. He is actually in two of the clips, not just the one shown twice at the end. This particular morning we had seen a lot of seals, and they came pretty close. At one point, while I was changing the mount on a camera, my boat got bumped, and when I turned around I saw a large fella submerging. We saw three or four of them this morning, they were with us as long as we were in the ice.

As soon as we left the ice, they stopped following us. What struck me as funny, was that I am now wondering how often they were right behind us, or under us. We would never have known, except we had this camera running off the back of Beth's boat.

With a seal it isn't a big deal, but how many other times are we spied on by animals without our knowledge. It is really Mountain Lions that concern me - not bears. Mountain lions are silent, and can be very aggressive, and cover a pretty big swath of the United States. At least in a  boat I know I am okay.

Note. You should probably go full screen with this video. Particularly to see the earliest shot.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

TESTED goes Camping.

I have mentioned a number of times how much I like - and in particular that I am fascinated with Adam Savage. In part because the guy can make anything, I can make anything, but it never looks good. I am a good improviser, but he can really build beautiful prop replicas. Check out his one day build series, they are amazing. Just before Halloween they showed how to make a replica of your own hand, which prompted an idea in my head about a  prop for the wilderness medicine classes I teach. I will keep you posted.

I have learned many great things from this website. Most recently I upgraded to a sortimo case (alright, it is really bosch, but they make sortimo in the US, and the inserts say sortimo) for most of my GoPro gear. It is sensational.

The flip side, of my interest in Adam Savage is that we are polar opposites in terms of possessions. He has both an extensive shop - where he builds - and a largish beautiful home. Both of which are absolutely filled with props from movies, momentos, and keep sakes. And while the Italian Blade runner poster is cool, both his home and his office freak my internal minimalist out in terms of the sheer number of items present. One thing I would like to make is a Maltese Falcon to perch on my mantle. Adam has an obsession with these and has made several. There is a great talk about it here.

But all of this serves as an introduction, to get to the point that today, Adam is on my turf. He took his boys camping, and it sounds like it was a wonderful trip. But in listening to his podcast on the topic I realized a number of things he could do better, or things that had slight misconceptions tied to them. For the past 9 years my job has been steering people in the right direction to both have fun, and be safe in the outdoors. So without further ado, my comments on what Adam Savage has to say camping.

At the 6 minute mark, he talks about how all his gear is twenty years old, he spent some time and money upgrading, and at the same time built out packs for his boys - who I think are around 15. He built them alcohol stoves - I would expect nothing less from Adam - and he got them packs, tents, sleeping bags and pads, and Kelty packs. The only item he mentions by brand name.

Two important things to keep in mind here. "20 year old gear, and Kelty Packs for his boys". Every two or three years we see a big jump in one of the "big three" pieces of gear. Sleeping bags, Packs or tents. So Adam is right to upgrade from 20 years ago. His gear will be lighter, and perform better and he will be way happier. But, Kelty for the boys may not have been the way to go. 20 years ago, Kelty ruled the outdoor world leaving a lasting impact on the people who used their gear. The have incredible brand loyalty, even though their gear hasn't really improved in the last decade. Their packs are heavier, and don't carry a load as well as a more modern design. If Adams boys are still in youth sizes I would look at a youth osprey pack. If they aren't in youth sizes the options are large.

At the seven minute mark, they are both right. You should aim for your pack weight to be 1/4 to 1/3 of your body weight.

At the 8 minute mark, they start talking about food, and Will Smith - not that Will Smith - has it right when he says "if your going for a weekend you can cook whatever you want!" Adam is raving about Mountain house, which I do think is the best freeze dried food brand, but he mentions that the Pad Thai is shite. Mountain House doesn't make a Pad Thai, Back packers Pantry does, and he is right. Garbage. He loves the Mountain house Lasagna, he should try the Beef Stroganoff or the Chicken Ala King.

The third host, Norm says go with Ramen, and I think this is a remarkably bad idea.

He also makes grilled cheese sandwiches - because his producer says it is the best camping food - They are both wrong. I do believe Adam is a great cook, and makes an amazing grilled cheese sandwich, but Macaroni and Cheese - from scratch - is an amazing and easy backcountry meal.

Will Smith knows his shit. He talks about how everything in the backcountry tastes better, and he is right. This is one of the big take aways from my backcountry cooking class.

At 16 minutes Will is talking about the level of remoteness in California, a level you can't attain on the east coast - he actually says the appalachians which I agree with. If he thinks that level of remoteness is incredible, he should go to Alaska.

Then they delve into Canoe Camping: Adam bought the Oru folding kayaks. Interesting choice.
But he mentions that you can't get a 40 pound pack on the deck! Please. For all that is holy, don't ever put a pack on the deck of any kayak. You are dramatically upsetting the center of gravity, and even a stable kayak will be a nightmare.

At 25 minutes they talk about the PCT and the Lost cost trail. ( I would like to hear Cheryl Strayed on the Talking room)

At 30 minutes they start talking about REI/The Wirecutter. Since I have discovered I have wanted an outdoor version. They mention the REI return policy. Adam says "now you only have a year" - This is incorrect. Here is the REI return policy:

You have one year for satisfaction. If within one year you are unsatisfied with a product you can return it. But you have the life of the product for materials and workmanship. (keeping in mind that things have a life span.) If something doesn't work for you, you can return it.

Yes. The Baltoro 80 is awesome, but a very big pack!

at 31 minutes, they talk about how to find good locations to camp/hike, check out all I agree, you don't need titanium pots. Overpriced, and you don't need them (Adam, the only titanium I own is a spork as well!)

Water filtration (36 minutes). Will is wrong,  Giardia is not for life, you can be treated. Jamie (of Mythbusters) loves the steripen. Great product. bring batteries. Adam seems to like gravity filters, which rock, but I prefer the sawyer brand.

Headlamps (39 minutes). Yes. Do a headlamp. No flashlights. The black diamond Spot or Storm.

at 39:30 we start talking about footwear. Current boots - with a few exceptions - don't need a big break in period. Unless you are buying a heavy duty PU based sole mountain boot, you don't need to worry about it. Most Keens, Vasques and Lowas are good to go.

Finally, "REI will restore your faith in Humanity". I agree, they restored mine.

Here is the whole video.

We are better when we spend time in Nature. Thank you Adam Savage.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Holidays From Paddling Otaku

It has been a very different year for me. I am currently working very hard to build an outdoor program for a major outdoor retailer. The by-product of that is I have very little time to write. I am hoping that changes in the spring when we are up and running full steam. But in the meantime, I wanted to talk about a few things that are going on.

Every year I have run this website, I have posted both a Stocking stuffer post, and a christmas list post. This year I started writing them a couple of times, but was feeling uninspired. In part, because these lists are generally driven by the gear I have added to my personal gear bag, and this year I have added very little, because I really don't need any gear. But for those of you interested, here are some previous Christmas suggestion posts, this is last years, and this is the year before.

One piece of gear that I have upgraded is my GoPro. I sold my two 3+'s and purchased a single 4 silver. So far I am very happy. They do a very good job of making wonderful cameras, which is probably why it is the second most popular camera in the world. Guess what the most popular is?

I am excited that someone came up with a replacement for Royalex. I am also really excited watching the development of the drone market, and curious to see what GoPro announces next year. The rumors are they are getting into the market, and I have been waiting to get into the drone game, but I am going to continue to wait.

I am really curious to see this new Kokatat 2 in 1 drysuit, that becomes single pieces. I love my drysuit, it has a lot of miles on it. I like my system for wearing it, but I am curious to see what this looks like.

I am very close - meaning I just need to find the time - to order a new werner paddle. After This years Alaska Trip I had to permanently retire my Carbon Camano, and that is exactly what I am replacing it with. In fact, my Kalliste will become my backup. Which means I am downgrading my paddle. Part of the reason I upgraded, was I felt to be taken seriously I had to be using the top of the line paddle, but I have since come to my senses. I no longer want to make purchase decisions based on other peoples perceived perceptions of me, and my skills as a paddler.

I am a little upset with I used to love GearJunkie, as I felt they did real reviews. Now I feel like it is a commercial for gear. I don't feel that they offer any real insight, and they never say anything bad. A review should have good things and bad things about the product, no product is perfect. I love my Delta Seventeen, but there are a few things about it that aren't perfect, and I have talked about it. Despite the fact that I am upset with Gearjunkie, I don't think they care.

As I am working a real job - my other jobs were real, but this is more real - and it has me thinking about my goals and where I want to spend my time. I think a very interesting post is coming, but I think it is still a long way off.

As I slide into a new year I am thinking about the things I am thankful for. I am happy to have had such an amazing year (and life really) and all the things I got to do. To go paddling in Alaska with two wonderful people. To paddle on quiet days here in central North Carolina. I am really a very lucky person. If you don't feel lucky, you should work on it. We only get one chance at this. Make it count.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Random Acts of Pasta

Just a human being, thinking of others. This sort of thing gets me every time. At the end he says "thanks Olive Garden, you just made those peoples lives a little better" But it wasn't Olive Garden. It was him.

Remember, The light at the end of the tunnel may be you.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Damn Lumbersexuals

I didn't realize when I posted the article about lumbersexuals how big of a thing it was about to become. I didn't realize that it has been written about in Cosmo, Buzzfeed, and many others. I didn't realize that the term Lumbersexuals was coined by Tom Puzak at GearJunkie - despite what urban dictionary says.

When I posted it on Facebook - I commented that I was too busy working in the outdoors, to work at looking like I work in the outdoors! - I had no idea that it would become my most viewed post on Facebook this year!

Tom has written a followup post over at gear junkie retelling the crazy growth. It is quite the story.

The reason that I didn't notice any of this going on around me is how much I have been working. I am in the process of helping to open a new outdoor education market for a large company. It is interesting, and has been keeping me very busy at NOT kayaking. I am even struggling coming up with items for the annual shopping list!

But back to lumbersexuals. I know many people that dress like that for many reasons. None of them are lumberjacks, though they are all extremely active in the outdoors. We used to use the phrase - though it never got picked up into a wider vernacular - Patagoniacs. For some reason I think when you add the suffix 'sexual' it skews the meaning into something vaguely odd... I am not sure how to describe it. Maybe they should be called Plaidiacs?

Literally decades ago, I was in a conversation with someone - I lived in Manhattan at the time - we were discussing 'types', like metrosexuals, and I said I didn't think I really had a type. She said "oh you are the mountain dude!" I wasn't wearing - nor have I ever worn - plaid.

I think if you are applying the lumbersexual title to people who are seeking out this look, it is probably okay. But I think if you wore plaid before this craze, and wore it because it was warm, durable, and sort of inexpensive, to still be called a lumbersexual is a little insulting.

But maybe we just don't need quite so many titles.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Too Much Stuff

In the past week, I have flown just over 7000 miles. On 6 airplanes involving four airports. There are road warriors out there that will scoff at those numbers, but for a normal human that is a lot. I don't actually mind flying, but I despise airports. Here are a couple of reasons why.

The airline industry is the only industry that raises the price of a ticket, the closer to your departure time. This makes no sense. You want to fill those seats, You don't want a plane flying with empty seats. It costs the same to fly from New York to San Francisco regardless of how many seats are filled so you might as well fill them. It makes no sense for the price to go up.

During the great recession airlines added baggage fees to cover the cost of fuel, but now fuel is cheaper than it has been in quite a while, but of course they haven't removed the baggage fee, which would make you think that all these people carrying on their baggage are doing so to save money. The by product of everyone carrying on their baggage is a bad experience for everyone. It takes longer to get on and off the plane, and the plane and the terminals are way more crowded.

You are a prisoner of the airport. I had a nalgene bottle confiscated because it had liquid in it. I couldn't pour it out - without going out of the 'secure' zone and back through security again - and I couldn't drink it. Of course I didn't have time to go back through security. Flying out of Atlanta recently, I realized I had forgotten to put a beloved pocket knife in my checked bag. So I put it in the bottom of my little 18 liter backpack and hoped it would be obscured by my iPad, charging cable. I figured if they found it I would just say I forgot it was in there and they would confiscate it. If they saw it, they never said anything.

Really? $12.00 for a crappy sandwich? really? $6 for a yogurt? Okay.

But the thing I really hate about airports, is it makes me realize how much stuff we Americans have. We have way too much stuff. I overheard a woman on line at TSA saying that she had packed five pairs of shoes. Five. Unless she was moving where ever she was going that is too many. She also mentioned that two of them were boots! I had figured the people carrying on their baggage had done so to not check bags, but no, they are doing both, and packing huge suitcases. I really don't understand what people are packing? I just did a two destination trip for work. To California (warm) where I would be trained on GoPro and paddling then to Nashville (cold) to teach. My checked bag had my teaching materials, a drysuit, paddling shoes, two changes of clothes, a rain shell, and a fleece. I used a medium sized duffel for all of that. My carry on was 18 liters. Now, I don't know where people were going, and how long they were staying places, but the average sized suitcase I saw was giant.

Do we really need all this stuff? When I got home, I felt remarkably like doing a purge.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

GoPro Hero 4 Hands On

I have had an interesting week. The new job I have been working at for the last 4 months has kept me very busy. So busy I have barely been able to update here, not to mention paddle. But there are some perks. I get to work with some amazing people and I have the opportunity to make them amazing instructors. I also get little perks like this, a trip to GoPro headquarters. GoPro has a good working relationship with the company I work for, and when they release a new product, they bring us out to be trained on it.  So that is how I found myself on a plane to San Francisco.

When the Hero 4's were announced I knew I would upgrade, and since I had always bought the highest level camera I assumed it would be Hero 4 Black's I would go to, but this season there is a slight price jump. So I knew I would have to go from two cameras to one. But I wanted to wait until I went to GoPro HQ, learn about the camera and then make my decision.

We only had a day and a half, made worse by the fact that I had to fly directly to Nashville to teach a Wilderness First Aid class, So I spent about 48 hours in beautiful San Mateo California. First I have to say that our GoPro hosts were sensational. They were extremely knowledgable about their products - which isn't always the case, I could tell you stories about certain companies employees who don't know what they are talking about - they kept us on schedule, and most importantly they were fun. A lot of fun. In all, there were about 20 or so of us in the group, including the GoPro employees. After a group dinner Wednesday night, We met at our hotel on Friday morning to head to HQ.

After signing in (and signing a non-disclosure agreement I can't tell you about the Hero 6+ I saw... kidding!) we got started training on the Hero 4's. We spent a fair amount of time going over the training materials we will use to train our staff, learning a ton of details about the cameras, After that it was time to head outside to play. But first we needed cameras. 

What you see there, is a bucket of Hero 4 blacks, and behind it, a bucket of Hero 4 silvers. We were also given a bag of accessories to work with (I say given, but we had to return them) and we headed outside. We went paddling, which I didn't mind. Okay, so some hands on info.

The new cameras have a better sensor, and lens than the 3 and 3+'s. The big jump to the 4 black, gets you 4K video at 30 FPS - which you probably knew. They have changed the buttons on the camera slightly, making it easier to get into the settings for the mode you are in, instead of doing the two button juggle game we have all had to learn - though using the app is still the best way to change settings on the camera.

The camera now uses bluetooth to aid in the pairing process, no more going into the settings menu on your device to find the camera's wifi network. This also saves battery power as bluetooth is low power compared to wifi.

They have added a "highlight" button - which is also the wifi button - which puts a tag on your footage when you press it, to indicate something amazing just happened, making it easier to find that footage in post. At the moment that is only available with the GoPro studio software.

This is important. It used to be that just about any class ten card worked in the camera. I learned this week, that currently only two cards are approved by GoPro to work with the cameras, though more will be approved. They are the Sandisk Extreme and the Lexar 633x.

They updated the one button mode and now call it quick capture, and it works much better with far more versatility, and is also designed to save more battery power.

Speaking of battery, the biggest physical change in the camera is that the battery now loads from the bottom, and the battery door is now connected to the camera. Your 3 and 3+ batteries will not work in the new cameras, but every other accessory from your 3's will work.

There is now an auto low light mode, that automatically lowers your frame rate when you need morel right.

The GoPro Codec - cineform - is now an industry recognized codec, with attached standards, and Adobe Premier will edit it natively.

Here is the big change. The Hero 4 black is really aimed at the Prosumer, or Professional film maker. There are really only three differences between the Black and Silver cameras.

#1 The Black doesn't have the LCD screen. The primary reason is it traps a lot of heat.

#2 The Black shoots at 4k and 30 FPS which produces a lot of heat, see #1

#3 The Black does 1080p at 120 FPS.

So for myself, someone who was thinking about buying a Black, since I have no interest, and no computer capable of dealing with 4K footage, the only thing I get by  buying  black is 1080p at 120FPS. The silver will do 1080 at 60, or 720 at 120FPS. So unless you are shooting in 4K or doing 1080p at 120 all the time, the Silver is now the primary camera for consumers, and it is what I will be getting.

There is one other feature worth mentioning. Actually, there is one other feature, that for me is really a game changer. It used to be that when the sun set you put your GoPro away. It just didn't do a great job in the dark, picking up a ton of noise. And honestly, I never played with protune on my 3+'s because the video looked great right out of the camera.

Now protune is available for still photography, which gives a wide array of control over the camera - which I love! - and more importantly, there is a dedicated Night mode for still photography, and a night mode for time lapse, called appropriately enough Night Lapse.

This was the third photo I took in our evening session. This is a ten second exposure at 100 iso. I didn't even have a tripod, I placed it on the ground. This is simply an incredible result.

This is a 30 second exposure, with a change in color balance, all done in camera. And you can shoot time lapse this way too! Finally, I got a little trippy....

This was a 30 second exposure, hand held. I love the night modes on this camera, and was sold at that moment. Each GoPro camera is a step up from the last generation. This is no different. I will be upgrading as soon as possible.

We spent our last half of the day back at GoPro HQ going over the GoPro studio software. I have been working with this software for a while, I still choose to work with Final Cut, but there are a couple of things I thought were particularly impressive about GoPro Studio. The biggest is how easy it makes it to create a time lapse. When importing media it recognizes a string of photos and automatically makes it a time lapse, that you can drag and drop like any other clip. This will now be my chosen method for making time lapses. They have also created their own version of twixtor, If you don't know what that is, google it, but their version called flux, is free - built into their software - and pretty amazing. Glad I didn't buy twixtor a couple of years ago when I was pricing it. If you are new to GoPro I think it is a great way to get started editing.

One final photo. With all the amazing stuff we saw, and all we learned, I really think this was the most fun thing I saw. Amazing. One of these is in my future. I just have to figure out how to pay for it.

I can't thank the amazing staff at GoPro enough. It was really a wonderful experience. Now. Does anyone want to buy a Hero 3+ or two?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Nature is Speaking

And honestly, Nature sounds a little pissed off....

.... Rightfully so.

The Trees are a little pissed too.

We treat this guy, like dirt...

Yes, we will wage wars over you.

And this guy, he sounds indignant, and angry. I spend a lot of time with him, and I am a little afraid.

All of these are brought to you by Nature is Speaking ( When I saw it, I figured it was going to be lovely pictures crossed with he destruction we have wrought. I am glad they didn't go that route. I am glad Nature is angry. I am a angry, and very sad. I love nature. I really do. If that makes me a hippie, or a lefty or a freak, I am okay with that. This is a small planet, and we have no place else to go. If we don't start taking care of this place, we are in for a very. big. surprise.

I realize the truth in that statement. Do you? 2014 is on track to be the hottest year in history. The bee's are dying. Disease is spreading. California has no water. Last year my town in North Carolina got more rain than Seattle, Washington... Does that sound right to you?