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?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hero 4 first impressions, and why I just might do it.

I have been working with GoPro Cameras seriously since the original HD - I loved that camera! - I have shot just about everything you can think of with it. Including two expeditions. I knew that a camera was coming, as they have released one every year since that original HD. Yesterday was the day.

They are a little early this year, but the hero 4 will be available in 5 days. The Blogoshpere has gone wild! I am impressed that they seem to be doing this roll out better than previous rollouts, as they have gotten cameras to testers early - unfortunately I didn't get one! - which leads me to believe they are in a much better position to roll out cameras in large numbers for the holidays. As opposed to last holiday where there were clearly shortages of cameras.

I have seen number of videos of the cameras, but I haven't seen a side by side of actual images. Yesterday I had several conversations with other "GoPro Power Users" and most of us were saying we weren't going to buy this camera. Here is why.

I don't need 4k at 30fps. I have no way to edit or view it. So the biggest feature is useless to me. I think this is a feature really only for full on professional film makers who need a disposable camera that can shoot 4k. (and by disposable I mean compared to a $100,000 Arri Alexa or a Red Epic) As much as I would like to shoot with a RED and use the GoPro as my "it might get hurt camera" that isn't going to happen.

I really want image stabilization, I am very curious why they aren't even a digital image stabilization, and I hope to find out when I am at GoPro Headquarters in November.

I must have better battery life, for the things I shoot, that is a killer - and was the primary reason I switched to the 3+ - and my initial realization that they made the battery smaller (1160mah vs 1180mah) said shorter battery life. To add insult to injury, they changed the shape of the battery, so the batteries I have for my 3+'s won't work.

So as of 9pm last night, I was done. I wasn't getting one.

But that was last night. This morning I had a number of thoughts. All of them bad(for my bank account).

Here is why I am now considering it.

Manual control of the exposure, and the ability to do night time lapse. I am intrigued. This sounds really interesting, and I need to see what it looks like. But this has me interested.

Yes, the battery is smaller, but the processor is much faster, which I read as more efficient, which may mean better battery life. Again, I will see what the first tests show us.

1080p at 120fps! Super crisp slow motion at full 1080p? okay, I am interested.

Finally, I needed two cameras for my Alaska shoot. Beyond that, I don't use two cameras at once. It hasn't happened. In the back of my head it may happen, the big advantage of two is you can move the camera less often. But in practicality I am not doing it. I can sell both to pay for a 4 and I will have some money left over for batteries.

I still want to see what the video tests look like, but right now... I am actually considering it.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Flying frog Adventure Race

Beth, who was a paddler on the Alaskan Glacier Awareness Project, and wrote the exercise for expeditioning guest post -  took part in the Flying Frog adventure race here in Greensboro this week.

How did she do?

How did she do so well*? Because she smoked her competitors on the paddle section. How did she smoke her competitors? Because she knew how to paddle. Because she took paddling lessons and worked at it. This is the difference that knowing how to paddle, versus getting in a boat with no training and paddling makes. So after you get that shiny new kayak, get someone to teach you how to use it. You don't have to be entering  race, you just have to be motivated to have more fun in a boat. And who doesn't want to do that!

Congratulations Beth, I will paddle with you anytime. 

*okay, Beth is also a personal trainer - so in great shape - and the field was small... But her paddling skills definitely made a difference. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The gear doesn't matter.

As I look around me, I realize how much my life is intertwined with gear. My work, my play, and my passion are wrapped tightly with some sort of outdoor gear. I have spent the better part of the last 20 years, learning, playing, thinking, using, deconstructing, repairing and teaching people about gear for the outdoors.

I have had the great pleasure of working for some amazing organizations - currently I work for the largest provider of outdoor education in the world* - albeit the newest branch of that organization. I have seen how gear fails for a single recreational user and at the institutional level. I have also heard every excuse from users as to what made a piece of gear fail, when I can see - and know - right away, that it was user error or misuse.

I know where the manufacturers send your gear when you send it to them to get it repaired, and I know - for the most part - which company owns which company and what is still privately owned. I know if a product has stitching where it is made and if it has stitching and poles that it was made someplace else.

I know which organizations swear by which pieces of gear and if it will work for them, with thousands of uses in a summer, it will work for you, mister weekend warrior.

I don't mean any of this as bragging (I don’t mean to brag about any of this.) I know many people with much more knowledge than I have and we all talk about gear and the way people use it - or misuse it - and chuckle. When I don't know what the answer is to a particular problem, I know exactly who to go to for an answer.

I decided a long time ago that I wanted to earn my living doing something I enjoy, I also knew that following that path would mean I would never be "well off" in the traditional American sense. I was okay with that, though I sometimes feel out of step with the world around me.

But when it is all said and done: when I think about the gear that I deal with every day, the gear I am always learning more about and teaching people about, the pack that I lug, or the box that I haul, the boats I put on the roof, or the stoves I am constantly cleaning, I realize none of it matters. What matters is getting outside, and sitting around a campfire with friends and a simple dinner or a quiet ride through the woods on my very simple mountain bike following someone I trust, knowing I can just follow their line…or that effortless roll, just to cool off.

It is about being outside, and feeling the sun on my face, or the rain, or the wind, and knowing, at that moment, that it doesn't get any better.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The New crop of watches.

I have worn a suunto vector for over a decade. I chose it because I wanted an ABC watch, that was a step above the Casio Pathfinders I had been using, and a decade ago it was the best ABC watch on the market. ABC stands for Altimeter, Barometer, Compass, and for me, as paddler I won't hit the water without a barometer. 

Here is why. Barometric pressure is the pressure that the air is exerting on you, in a column from above, and it is what makes weather move. When you have an area of low pressure, bad weather - ie. stormy weather with rain - is drawn into it. Think of a Hurricane with an eye in the center drawing bad weather into that very low area of low pressure. As the air is drawn to a location with lower air pressure, it rushes to get there, creating wind. I don't mind paddling in the rain, but wind will really ruin your day. A lot of times, you will feel the wind, before the bad weather hits you, and it is usually a different temperature (cooler), so it is easily noticeable. 

High pressure pushes that bad weather away from you, giving you clear, cool skies. Think crisp fall mornings with a blue sky and just a bit of a chill in the air. That is high pressure doing its work. 

So that is why I wear a Vector, which has been replaced by the upgraded suunto core. I rarely use the compass, and only use the altimeter (which is really just a barometer with a differently calibrated scale) when I am hiking. 

But watches are changing. The first and biggest change is that most people aren't wearing them. I see this when I teach Wilderness First aid. Most people use their phones to tell time. But in the last couple of years we have seen some new watches hit the shelves in our favorite outdoor stores. 

In particular I am thinking about the Garmin Fenix and Fenix 2, and the Suunto Ambit and Ambit 2. These watches add so many features it is dizzying. They are of course ABC watches, but they add GPS technology. Giving you the ability to not only track your location, and plot it on a map, but to know your exact speed and distance and direction to a known point. I was skeptical of the Fenix at first, while it is waterproof I figured it didn't have any features to really make it usable by a paddler. Then I saw that you could switch your units of measure to Nautical. I was delighted, but refused to give up the $400 required to get into the Fenix game. There is now of course a Fenix (and ambit) 2 offering even more features. 

There is also the Garmin Quatix - dubbed "the mariners watch" by garmin, this does a lot of what the Fenix does, but they tout the ability to sight a distant point - and creating a waypoint and paddle towards it. It also has a number of sailing specific watches, it will interact wirelessly with garmin chart plotters, and it will feed NMEA data as well. It has a barometer and programmed tide tables as well - I am not sure if I trust watch based tide information, if you have used it let me know. I would like to try this watch but it is still $400! 

I could buy the new Apple watch for less than that. And speaking of... No mention of waterproof, or battery life, but if it runs apps - which it does - then there could be kayaking specific apps running while you paddle. We will have to see how this looks for real, not just in demo in a keynote. 

What watch are you wearing? 

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Hullaport Problem.

I am a big fan of the Thule Hullaport. I don't have the desire to fold my J cradles down, so I stay away from the more expensive Hullaport Pro - or the Yakima Bowdown. I like the simplicity of the Hullaport. As I have mentioned before I particularly like them on shorter vehicles, I am not very tall, but it is hard to get your boat into a j cradle when the boat has to be lifted on top of a tall SUV.

I have been using the Hullaport for a long time. I am actually on my third set, and when I got my most recent set, I realized they made a design change.

Here is an old Hullaport:

As you can see this hullaport, is curved on both top and bottom. Simple. Classic. Easy to strap a boat too, should you choose to do it that way... You shouldn't but many do. Here is the new one:

Instead of being a loop, top and bottom, it is a loop on the top, and it dead ends on two plugs on the bottom. I am sure this makes manufacturing easier, but you can immediately see the problem. My boat rubbed one of the plugs, and it popped out. I didn't notice it, and have no idea where it happened. Actually, that isn't entirely true... I noticed it the first three times it occurred, picked it up, put it back in the opening, and said to myself "I need to do something to that to hold it in place." and promptly didn't fix it. I thought this was a PO problem, but in fact I am not alone. I parked next to someone at work the other day, and this is what I saw...

I am not alone, and if there are two of us, there are many more. Thule, could you do something about this?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fall is right around the corner!

And a lot of change has occurred in this Otakus life.

Shortly after getting back from Alaska, my employer posted a job opening that was pretty close to my dream job. I applied for it, and got it, and have been working really hard at it for the last three weeks. Which is why there have been few posts here of late. For the first time in a decade I am working fairly regular hours.

When we came back from Alaska we really raced back, and it was for two reasons: one so I could spend my birthday with my beloved and saintly wife - who lets me do crazy things like go to Alaska for a month - and two, to close on a house. It seems the bank wouldn't let my wife buy the house without my signature.

That's right, I bought a house. With two pretty kayaks nestled in the backyard. So if you are paying attention, I may have become an adult. I own a house, and have a semi-normal job (okay, I am still in outdoor education, so it isn't THAT normal). But do you know what buying a house means? I'll tell you.

It means you buy stuff. I now own a weed wacker, can you believe it? I have had to buy a number of things for both the house, and working on the house, and if you read here a lot you know that I am a minimalist, and that it really hurts to add things to my personal tally of items, and so, that means that it is time for a purge!

Starting September 1st I will be doing the purge I did a while back. It is called the minimalist challenge and I first read about it here. We are going to try and do it again. Are you with me? If you are, leave a comment here, or like this post on Facebook. I will post the occasional picture of the stuff I am getting rid of.

Now I am wondering if getting rid of things the previous owner left behind counts....hmmm.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thule Hullavator Madness

The Thule Hullavator is an interesting product. Designed to assist in the lifting of your kayak onto the roof of your vehicle, it is a beautifully designed item, particularly if you are a smaller paddler. If you aren't familiar with it, here is how it works.

Each cradle - which is sort of a modified J type cradle - is connected to a gas assist arm. In the up position, it sits flat on the roof of your vehicle. In the down position, it pulls out to and lowers to the side of your vehicle. Meaning you can put the cradle down, put your kayak in it, and secure it, and then the lift assist will help you get it on the roof of your car or truck. You don't have to lift the kayak above shoulder height. Here is a video showing how it works:

This essentially removes 40 pounds of weight, as you lift the kayak. So in this video, he uses no effort because it is a small boat, for me, it would be the equivalent of lifting a 12 pound boat onto the roof. This is a great thing? Right? Particularly if you are a short paddler like me, or you have a tall vehicle. But there are a couple of problems with it. First is the price - $600. Though I did see it is marked down a bunch of places when I was researching this post - the second is the weight. It weighs 44 pounds. I will get back to why that is important in a minute.

despite how awesome this thing looks, I had never seen one in the wild. Meaning on an actual paddlers car. The only place I ever saw them was at trade shows on display cars. But about two weeks ago, I saw five Hullavators in 3 days. I couldn't believe it.

I saw these two when I was putting in my boat. I never saw the paddlers, I was very curious what they were paddling. The day before this I saw another hullavator on a different vehicle. But then the day after this I saw the ultimate.

It is a little hard to tell in this photo, but that is two hullavators on one vehicle. Now I remember a Thule Rep telling me you couldn't - or shouldn't - do this. But as I peruse several sites I don't see any mention of that. In fact, when I googled it I found a lot of people are doing double Hullavators - which I feel I should point out would be $1200 before the cost of the base rack (which is at least $300) and all of a sudden you are at the cost of a pretty nice kayak!

But here is the problem with the Hullavator - and particularly the double set up above - it goes back to the weight. 44 pounds per Hullavator. Most car racks will support a max weight of 165 pounds. Really, it isn't the car rack that is the problem, it is the roof of the car - Now, We all know that number is designed to be low, and I have had WAY over 165 pounds on the roof of my yaris, going to Alaska I had 150 pounds of boat alone! But still, you have to be safe... Right? So, 44 pounds, plus the weight of the base rack, another 15 or so and you are right at 60 pounds. That leaves you 100 pounds for gear on the roof. My seventeen  and sixteen weigh 102 pounds combined. Now add on that second Hullavator in the picture above. Keep the math simple, two 40 pound Hullavators, and two 40 pound kayaks and you are above the weight of the roof before adding in the base rack. I can see using one, but two seems a little risky to me.

I have to say, I have used just about every kayak hauling device made by Thule and Yakima. I am currently using a Thule Base system, and love it. Though I prefer Yakima round bars, as they flex less. I have always preferred the Thule Glide N Set over the Yakima Mako Saddles and Hully rollers - if you are interested in why, let me know. For the most part J style cradles - which are what I am currently using, are pretty interchangeable. Though the current Thule Hullaports have a slightly different design that I like less than the old ones.

But Thule has something that I think looks really nice, and as soon as I come up with a reason to purchase it, and sell a set of J cradles I will. It is this.

This makes it easier to load, while keeping the boat flat, which makes for a better ride in the car. All of this seems like a lot of obsessing over something that shouldn't matter that much, but really does. If you load your kayak on and off your boat all year, you will learn what works and what doesn't. Like anything else it is easy to see when a product is designed by paddlers who have used it a lot, versus designed by a committee. I like the look of this product a lot. I look forward to trying it out.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Guest Post - Exercise for Expeditioning

Spending a lot of time with the same group of people leads to some interesting conversation. Since both Beth and AJ are accomplished cyclists we talked a lot about long distance cycling and how it compared to long distance paddling. Aj is an avid gamers, so there was a lot of game discussion, and what makes a good game, or what keeps a good game from being great - his level of knowledge, and the ability to pick apart a game and isolate the subtleties of what works and what doesn't is staggering, he should really work in the gaming industry. - But Beth is a personal trainer, with a degree in Kinesiology. She is my go to person when I have a training question, and training and nutrition was a regular conversation. After talking with her, I realize I eat way too much protein, and will never have need of a drink like gatorade - and you probably don't either. I asked her to create a post for me that highlighted the exercises that would benefit kayaking. I did far less intensive pre-trip workouts on this trip, then I did for the Inside Passage, and I felt it. I will never let that happen again, and now i have a guide. Below is Elizabeth Hansens Guide to training for kayak expeditions. Enjoy. 

Preparing for an expedition is a time consuming process; from checking (and double checking) gear, arranging life to continue while you are away from home, and attempting to mentally prepare yourself for life in the backcountry, it is a journey of its own simply to prepare yourself mentally for all you will encounter.

Whether it’s riding a bike, hiking up a mountain or paddling in less than ideal conditions, it is nearly impossible to completely prepare yourself for the awesome experiences that lie ahead of you. Calluses are never thick enough and it’s amazing how just an hour of cold rain can wash away one’s resolve. That is why physical and mental preparation are the key to any successful expedition.

With that being said, here are some exercises I found helpful in my preparation for our expedition to Alaska (or wish I had focused more energy on before I left). Brett does a great job of breaking down the paddle stroke into phases and this article will follow the same format. Each exercise is specifically designed to target a particular element of the forward stroke and strengthen the stabilizer muscles involved. Proper body mechanics are impossible to achieve for extended amounts of time without sufficient muscular endurance. Therefore, it is recommended you do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
Each phase of the forward stroke is further explained here. (note from Paddling Otaku - my current favorite version of the forward stroke lesson is in the free book "Forward" available from iTunes.)  Start incorporating these exercises into your routine and almost instantly you will see a difference in the quality of your forward stroke!

5 points of Contact



C. Lunge

As a starting guide, incorporate a single phase at a time into your regular workouts. For example, if you typically do cardio on Fridays, you would complete your regular workout and then add in your 5 points of contact work. Make sure to give yourself at least a day of rest between strength work to allow for recovery
And finally remember: “In a kayak, the harder you work, the slower you go.”
So don’t work harder, work more efficiently. Efficient bodies effectively utilize energy with minimal waste, making your expedition that much more enjoyable.

 -- Beth Hansen is a veteran personal trainer living and working in her hometown of Greensboro NC. She graduated from the University of North Carolina with a BS in Kinesiology and will finish her MS in Exercise Physiology in Fall of 2014. An ACE certified personal trainer, Beth is a NOLS graduate who specializes in conditioning established athletes and novice adventurers for various types of expeditions.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Garmin, Kayakers would like this feature, please.

On both the Inside Passage and the AGAP trip I used a Garmin GPS. In fact I used the same Garmin GPS, A Dakota 20. I am a big fan of GPS - despite the fact that I teach map and compass classes, I think they are two tools that work great together. Most of the time I use GPS as a check for map and compass work. But before I explain what features I don't see from Garmin, Let me explain how I use a GPS.

I don't leave it on all the time. I know Geckopaddler does, and he creates great maps of all his paddles, but for me I would rather do that on paper. I guess I am old school in that way. Ages ago I pined for Garmin to make a simple tracking device. waterproof, two buttons. Long battery life. Mount it on your boat, bike, or pack, turn it on, activate it, and with no other interaction tracks your movements in three dimensions. When you get home, download it onto your computer and do with it whatever you want. It has no screen and no interaction other than that it is on and tracking. I imagine it looking something like a spot connect only smaller. A lot of people want to know the data from their run/ride/paddle, but that just isn't me. If I really wanted to do that, I could do it with a Garmin Fenix.

I also don't generally load maps on my GPS. Repeat after me, you don't need to load maps on your GPS for it to be functional. All I need a GPS to tell me is my distance to a known location, and the direction to that location. If I know the distance and direction to where my car is parked, I know where I am. There are two times I have loaded maps on my GPS, when I was using it as a bike computer for my commute to work, I wanted roads on my basemap. When I did the Inside passage I loaded topo maps onto my Dakota. Let me just say they won't replace my charts and topo maps - though I do see digital taking over for this. It is only a matter of time until my iPad or something like it is inside my chart case. I do like the idea of having access to satellite images on my handheld, but honestly, I want them to be live, as in, I want to see the top of my own head in real time - or close to it. But that is a discussion for another time.

So if I don't have my GPS on all the time, and I don't want maps installed, what is it I want? I want my GPS to be able to tell me the distance to two different way points at the same time. Here is why. The one time I leave my GPS on all the time is when I am doing an open water crossing. Here is a quick story. A handful of years ago I was paddling the South and North Core banks - Off the coast of North Carolina with a friend. We were in the position of having to make a final crossing - about 2 miles - to get back to the mainland and our car at the put-in. Unfortunately we got stuck at a tiny pile of mud - some would call it an island - before being able to make our crossing. We were stuck there by a series of squalls moving through the area. We waited out through one of them, and then realized we had a break long enough to make it across. My friend had a waypoint where the car was, and he told his GPSmap 60 csx to "goto" that waypoint. I made a waypoint where we were, and told my old etrex legend to "goto" that waypoint, even though it was right where we were. Here is why. As we paddled across the channel my friends way point would tell us how far we had to go, and mine would tell us how far we had come. So at any given moment we knew which way offered safety closer. I want to be able to do this same GPS trick with one GPS unit. It could be as simple as on the trip computer screen, a Distance to field, and a Distance from field.

The other benefit of using this trick is that your compass bearing information gives you important knowledge about the path you are paddling. If you are paddling towards a point your bearing should stay the same (a heading is where your facing, a bearing is where you want to go) But if your bearing is changing that is because your kayak is being pushed left or right, while you are paddling forward. This is very hard to determine without a navigational aid - it can be done, but you need to be super aware, and paying attention to landmarks, and in an open water crossing with large waves, limited visibility, and a high level of stress, it is almost impossible.

So Garmin, it would be great if you could help us out with this. A simple add to the features of your GPS's.