Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Shoshin (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning "beginner's mind". It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

I don't remember where I grabbed that bit of text from, but when I read it, it struck me as a powerful concept. It sat on my desktop for several weeks and I just realized yesterday that I wanted it to be a theme for this new year. 

A friend at work made a comment the other day that his goal for 2012 was to learn something new every day. This has actually been a mantra of mine for years. They can be simple things, or complex things. The beauty of it is that when you get in the habit of seeking out new knowledge, it becomes a habit. You can stop seeking it from the expected places - teachers, instructors, bosses - and realize that you can learn things from anyone. Everyone has something to add. Something to give. 

I love teaching the forward stroke, because every time I learn something new about it. Consistently, beginners will have an insight into what it feels like to perform the stroke that I will not have heard before.  And because I am open to the concept of learning from the very people I am teaching - I hope - I am a better instructor for it. I don't have much patience for people who teach something who have no interest in other points of view. As a species we tend to get locked into 'our perspectives' on topics. We tend to defend our position - or stance - on something without actually being open to the ideas of the people we are talking with. 

I commend my friend for his goal for 2012, though I would encourage it to be a goal for life. Perhaps if more of us acted with more of a 'beginners mind' then there would be less trouble on the planet. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Stocking Stuffers For the Paddler in your life.

A few weeks ago I posted Christmas gift ideas for the paddler in your life, as the Holiday season is less than a week away I thought maybe you would need some ideas to fill out the stocking - that is hung by the chimney with care - of that paddler who is so hard to shop for. In no particular order, they are all under $25.00

#1 I am sad to see that my favorite paddling shoe is being discontinued and replaced with a more expensive version by NRS. But it still exists as a close out item and is a steal at $11.25.  I have worn this shoe (they call it a sock, but it is definitely more shoe like) from Alaska to the Caribbean. It's low profile yet comfortable.

#2 Another NRS closeout - These pogies served me well in Alaska this summer - So well I left them there. Somewhere between Juneau and Skagway. Probably on a  rock. I like pogies much more than gloves. These are a nice simple neoprene version.  $21.95

#3 Don't be fooled by the one bad review on This little five liter dry bag is the bomb! Durable, with tie downs on the sides it makes an awesome deck bag. A reader actually suggested it, and I will never go back.  $19.95

#4 Don't want to spend $49.00 on the Black Diamond storm - Try this for $19.95. This updated Black Diamond Gizmo is 35 lumens and weighs just a couple of ounces.

#5 Already shooting with a GoPro Hero HD2? Then they need this. $20.00 gets you a bicycle seat post adapter. Why would you need that? Because it fits perfectly on a paddle shaft.

#6 This is one of my favorite things. The replacement pad for the NRS quick change duffel. You already have a bag that all your gear goes in, but how many times have you stood next to it to change into or out of your paddling clothes and ended up standing on cold wet gravel mixed with mud? This is a round piece of nylon with a draw string around the outside. I stand in the middle of it to put on or take off my drysuit. It keeps my feet dry and clean, and protects the booties of my drysuit until I put on my desperado Socks. If you leave wet clothes in it you can then pull the draw string - it ends up looking like a big dumpling! - to keep your wet clothes from getting everything else wet. The best $15.95 I ever spent.

#7 To help you build Chi in the new year how about these Black Diamond Chinese exercise balls.  You can find this same item less expensive without the Black Diamond Logo, but they make such nice steel products I think it's worth it. I have a pair of BD chopsticks that I received as a gift from the president of BD. And they are so beautifully made it's incredible.

#8 Another company that makes amazing products out of metal, Snow Peak makes this amazing piece of cutlery. $9.95 for titanium, you can't beat that.

#9 This is a book that really helped me get my meditation rolling (no pun intended), I highly recommend it. Don't knock it until you have tried it. And if your going to meditate I find a timer essential. $1.99 gets you my timer of choice.

#10 And finally, Don't get lost. I love this Wilderness Navigation book, It's not marine specific, but it is very good.

I hope everyone has a healthy and happy holiday. I will see you in the new year.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

They Help

Over the years I have found several things that help the kayaker, that have nothing to do with kayaking. I thought I would pass a few of them on.

Martial Arts/Tai Chi: When I say Tai Chi and Martial arts what I am really saying is internal and external arts. I learned early on that people who practiced martial arts - particularly people that used weapons like the staff - took to the movements of kayaking very easily. You will find it easier to accept the concept of rotation faster if you already understand this movement from working with a staff, or throwing a punch correctly. Tai Chi teaches 'flow' and balance and patience better than anything I have ever seen. You also learn that power can come from slow, balanced, flowing movement, like a forward stroke.

Meditation: If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you know that I consider paddling a meditation. So meditation on dry land can only be good as well, right? I recently read a description of meditation that I liked, it described it as lifting weights for the brain. We spend our days focusing on many pieces of information all at once. the phone is ringing, while cooking dinner with the TV on, and the dog wants to go out, and little Johnny needs help with his algebra. As a species we do much better when we are focused on one thing. Our minds have become the kings of short attention span theater and this is never better illustrated by the friend you have that only calls you when they are driving somewhere and doesn't have something to do in the car. They will tell you it is a good use of time, but the real reason is that they aren't comfortable with their own thoughts. And they aren't comfortable with their own thoughts because they are constantly drowned out by a ridiculous amount of stimulus. By meditating you will learn to focus your thoughts down to one thing, your breathing. (When I am paddling I focus on the movements of a paddle stroke.) By doing this repeatedly you will make it easier to do - I think it is one of the more difficult things I do - and will give you a level of calm and peace you have never experienced before. You will also see the world with a clarity you have never seen before.

Neti Pots: If you are unfamiliar with a Neti Pot, it looks like a small tea pot. You put body temperature water in it, and a salt solution - so the water is the same salinity as your body - You then put the spout of the tea pot to a nostril, lower your head a bit, and pour. The water will go in one nostril, through your sinuses and out the other nostril taking all manner of things with it. What does this have to do with Kayaking? It is wonderful after a day of working on rolling when all sorts of liquid ends up inside your head. You can flush it out, and it will leave you feeling cleaned and refreshed. It is also a way to get the last of a cold out of your nose, And just recently I used one as I felt a cold coming on and the symptoms went away. Though this could have been a psychosomatic reaction.

Yoga: Yoga will help balance, and patience, and clarity and stretch. You want to learn to Greenland roll, your going to need to be flexibly and Yoga is the key. I was born pretty flexible - to the point that yoga instructors have commented on it, it certainly isn't through hard work on my part! - but you can gain a remarkable amount of flexibility and strength through yoga classes.

There are others, for more 'hard' skills, like land navigation sets you up for the more difficult water navigation, but this is another post.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Bear - extended version

A lengthened version of 'The Bear' encounter from the Inside Passage trip this summer has been picked up by Stop by and check it out.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Recently I received an email from an old friend. He asked a simple question, one that I am amazed I hadn't covered before. His question was this:

For beginners do you recommend a lake, river or bay setting?  If you had the choices of course.

Wonderful question. And the answer of course is, it depends. I take most first lessons on a lake. In part due to proximity, but in part due to controllability. I don't have to worry about tides, or the current of a river. Tides and currents are both important elements to take into consideration. 

I previously lived near the Hudson river, which is also tidally influenced. It is a great paddling destination,  but one has to be aware of the tidal effects. When the tide is flooding, it is fighting the effect of the rivers current. But when the tide is ebbing, they are working together. I always tried to start my paddle heading into the current, so that when I am tired and turn around, I am not fighting the current to get home. 

The same can be said for early paddles in a bay. What is the tide doing and how does it effect the local waters? Plan your paddle accordingly. So you start off working against the tide (tides can create currents, but they aren't the same thing), so you have its help coming home. If you plan accordingly you can put in towards the end of a tide cycle, and turn around when the tide does. So you are getting a current push in both directions. 

Of course all of these answers are neglecting to take into account wind. Beginning lessons I like to have on fairly windless days. But around lesson three - when a student is starting to get comfortable with the forward stroke - I will seek out some wind. I have certain exercises that I like to make a new student do to experience the power of wind. 

Recently paddling with my student Grace, there was a ten knot wind, and we paddled into it. I wanted her to feel how much even a soft wind can effect her speed. After a time we came around a point - that for a time sheltered us from the wind, and then created a wind zone as we rounded it. This implanted the idea of using the land to shelter you from the wind. We then paddled a stretch of coast that led to a dam. The dam was buoyed off. And we did the following exercise. We paddled up to a buoy and circled it. This allowed Grace to feel the effects of the wind as the boat was turned 365º - it also forced her to work to turn a long kayak quickly. At the next buoy we turned the boats the opposite direction. So again she could feel the wind on all parts of her boat front/side/stern as she circled the buoy again. 

So really the answer is Any of these locations is suitable for a new paddler, as long as the conditions match the skill level. Think about where you are before you are on the water. What is the tide doing and when does it change, how is the land interacting with the tide, or wind, or current and how will that effect me on the water. Most importantly, look at your surroundings. See how they are effected by the current conditions, and keep track of that effect. how much are trees moving, and how much is water moving from wind, and current. Keep track of those changes so when they do change, for better or worse you notice them. And respond accordingly. 

You may notice,

On the lower right side of my blog is a new Delta Kayaks Logo, that when clicked will take you to their site. Over the past three years I have developed a good relationship with a handful of people at Delta.

Delta Kayaks and myself have entered into a simple link swap. But this is where I point out that Delta Kayaks doesn't pay me, I am a long time user of their products and my opinions of those products aren't influenced by Delta in anyway.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Santa's paddling style

More readers, by far, come to this blog with one question. It is some variation on this:
Which is better, high angle or low angle paddling, or what's the difference between high angle and low angle, or when would I use high angle or low angle paddling style.

I have gone over the differences in the past, so I won't go into it again. However, this evening as we were decorating out Christmas tree my wife handed me two nearly identical Christmas tree ornaments. She said "we have two of these you should hang them both." As I looked at them I realized that while in theory they were identical - Santa Claus in a kayak - to the trained eye of a kayaker they in fact were very different.

Yes, they are both kayaking, and in touring kayaks. They both have a little dog on their bows, which is how I paddle most of the time. But one Santa is paddling a low angle style and one is clearly paddling a high angle style. The controversy of low angle vs. high angle extends all the way to the north pole.

I hung them on opposite sides of the tree so the two of them don't get into an argument of the benefits of their particular styles. As we have slid into December, I hope you are still finding time to get yourself into a kayak.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gear Concept

This is an idea I had while doing the Alaska Expedition, While I wouldn't want this level of information in my face everyday, on a long, expedition driven day, this level of, and access too information would be helpful. I would like a sunglasses company to team up with garmin and make this happen. What information would you want in a heads up display for kayaking?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Behold the power of muscle memory (updated)

About a year ago I made a conscious decision to stop attending my dojo. I think I may have blogged about it, but in short it was because I disagreed with several decisions they made in terms of instruction, and it was a big enough issue that I felt I needed to sever ties. I still work out six days a week, and part of that work out regularly involves the heavy bag. There is nothing like working out on a heavy bag. What I have rarely done in that year was Kata.

Kata, or Forms, are a prescribed set of movements designed to simulate fighting multiple opponents. When you test for a belt promotion you are graded on your ability to do the Katas for your skill level. I had learned six of the eight Katas for my school.

last night in my gym it was relatively quiet. At the end of this holiday weekend few had found their way back to the gym to work out. A large mirrored aerobics room was empty and I decided to do my Kata. I started facing the mirrors with the open glass behind me, so I could see how it looked. Almost immediately I got into a flow moving from my White belt katas up through what were essentially the Brown belt katas for my former dojo - even though I was only a blue belt. There were a few times that I wasn't sure I remembered the next step, and when that occurred I merely shut off my brain and did what felt correct. When I did, they flowed perfectly, the movements occurring smoothly for the most part, but with a few stumbles. Despite the stumbles I was happy that I remembered them all.

This is the perfect example of muscle memory. If you do something repeatedly, your body learns the movements and your brain only gets in the way. When you brush your teeth in the morning I guarantee you do it the same way every day. I am sure my friend the Chef cut onions the same way every time. I would be willing to bet you can find an example in your life of your muscles taking over when they know what they need to do.

The best example of this in kayaking is rolling. There is zero difference between a combat roll and a roll in a swimming pool. Yes the conditions may be different, the weather, the current, but the movements are identical, but so many people miss their roll when under pressure. For a very simple reason. Their brain gets in the way of muscle memory. When I teach people to roll and they get their roll correctly for the first time I tell them 'that was perfect, now do it 200 times.' You have to build that memory.

In one of the 'This is the Sea' movies by Justin Curgenven (I think disc 3) The great Freya Hoffmeister is paddling with a large group at a large tidal rip. Freya is probably one of the best kayakers in the world today, without a doubt the best, most prolific long distance paddlers currently active. I have heard it said that she can do 50 different greenland rolls, and yet in this tidal rip she failed to roll her boat. The reason is simple, her brain got in the way of muscle memory because she was thinking about how big the water was. (Clearly this is my assumption for the sake of an example as I wasn't there, Freya is an amazing paddler and I mean no disrespect)

And while rolling is a great example, we aren't limited to muscle memory effecting our roll. Muscle memory comes into everything we do in a kayak, from getting into and out of our kayak through all of our strokes.

When it comes time to react to something, you will always do better if you let your body react versus thinking about what the reaction should be. By the time you think about the appropriate reaction the time for that appropriate action has passed. A great quote from a bad movie, 'fear causes hesitation, and hesitation will make your worst fear come true.'


Today I received a comment that I felt deserved a bigger response than just a follow up comment. You can read it below, but here it is:

IMHO,you're right and you're not. I experienced lately a roll in cold water, the first attempt,based on instinct didn't succeed, (independently, I developed the same theory as you did and accordingly I rolled last summer at least 600-700 times) after the second attempt, despite the 7deg Celsius water, and no drysuit, I needed to bring my thoughts together and do it with more brain involvement, and less muscle memory, and voila, I rolled! But still, training is building muscle memory and confidence.I think you need both. Rolling 5 times after another doesn't mean by far that you're ready to go and won't fail
I suppose you know this better

So first let me say I welcome the comment and the conversation. I think I am a highly skilled kayaker, but the day that I stop trying to learn is the day I will stop writing this blog and for that matter stop kayaking. I welcome the conversation, and the debate, as long as both parties are open to hear both sides of the debate.  There is one particular kayak blogger who disagrees with me on a  number of concepts - and that's fine - but his lack of an open mind to my concepts - In my humble opinion - isn't. So I take what this anonymous commenter says very seriously. 

I have blogged about the exact thing that he mentions on at least two occasions. I did a post about rolling at the National Whitewater Center, And this post about 'fall back plans'. They are both about me missing rolls, one in a stressful situation, and one in a cold, but not dangerous situation.  

In my opinion when the commenter mentions "I needed to bring my thoughts together and do it with more brain involvement" I think he actually has it backwards. I think with the missed roll, a number of things are happening at once, the water is cold, and shocking. There is the stress of being in a bad situation. And the stress of the 'what if's'. What if I miss my roll. I'll get hypothermia and die. I'll end up in the next set of rapids upside down! From my point of view - and what I was trying to say in the original version of this post - is your mind is racing because of the 'what if's'. In my opinion when he calmed himself down he was taking the fear out of the situation, and allowed his body to relax and do what it needed to do. So I still consider that a muscle memory situation. 

I see what he is saying though, when I roll my kayak I am thinking as I do it, but it is more of gentle, slowing guide. The same applies to when I am sparring. I am thinking, but more about what I need to be doing, not how to do it. 

Rolling, I think - slow down, set up, hands in the right place? Good. Hip snap with your head down. 
Rolling, Don't think - Ibettermakethisrollorlifeisgonnasuck! (Your brain is racing, let your body take over)

Sparring, I think - protect, move, strike after he tries to strike
Sparring, Don't think - after he throws a right, I will block, and then kick to the head (Thinking this much will get you punched in the face)

In both of these situations we want the brain to be calm, and not racing. That way our body can do what it knows how to do. Without our brain adding a million thoughts, concerns and a whole lot of adrenaline to the mix. I am a big proponent of the concept of 'slow is fast'. Doing something slowly and correctly is much faster than doing something quickly and incorrectly. 

Thanks for the comment, and the conversation. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Kayaking Christmas

While this blog isn't generally about gear, I am a big fan of Christmas. Yes, I am a Buddhist who likes Christmas. I guess I'm an enigma. With that in mind I wanted to give a list of what I think would be a great top ten list of gear for the kayaker in your life. From least expensive to most.

#1 Adventure Medical Kits Slim Rescue Whistle $6.00 Because you can blow a whistle longer and louder than you can yell for help, every PFD should have a rescue whistle attached.

#2 Smartwool Cuffed Beanie $18.49 Keep your head warm on those Alaska paddle trips, feels wonderful and packs small.

#3 Long sleeve tech T $29.50 The fastest wicking shirt you will ever wear. (and it can't tell the difference between sweat (what it was designed to wick) and water) It dries super fast after rolling sessions. And offers great SPF protection.

#3A The Rescues - Gordon Brown DVD #2 $29.95 Gordon Brown is the Scottish Yoda of kayaking. His book is amazing, and while I haven't seen this video yet I am sure it will change the way you view rescues.

#4 Black Diamond Storm $49.00 For those early morning starts or late night paddles. 100 lumens bright, and waterproof.

#5 Brunton Deck Compass $86.39 Time to finally fill that spot designed for a deck compass, yet I know a lot of kayakers who haven't done it. Strap on deck compasses just aren't as good.

#6 Half Dome 2 $179.00 This is a wonderful little tent. Perfect for those first forays into kayak camping.

#7 GoPro Hero HD2 $299.00 Too much fun in a tiny package. Use it to shoot all your kayaking adventures.

#8 Werner Kalliste $400.00 I can give you so many reasons to buy this paddle it isn't even fair. Do the Carbon/Carbon version and skip the bent shaft unless you have elbow trouble.

#9 Kokatat Meridian Dry suit $1100.00 Help justify the price by saying it is safety equipment and it will extend your paddle season. It doesn't get better than this dry suit. And if your going to do a dry suit do the socks and relief zipper option. If your going to do it, do it big.

#10 Delta Sixteen $2300.00 I love my Delta, and when I paddled this last year it was my seventeen but just a touch snappier. It would make a great second boat.

That list would make anyone the happiest kayaker on christmas day. I just love the idea of a kayak under the tree.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Seat taken - Update

I have a number of friends who check in with my blog who are not serious Sea kayakers. One is a very serious cyclist, the other is a serious whitewater paddler. I had conversations with both of them regarding the seat taken post.

My cyclist friend confirmed that the exact same rules apply to cycling. People tend to want big comfy seats when they start, and then as they learn what they want, and what works, go to ever smaller seats. He mentioned people with big gel seats that are sliding all over the place and have no real connection to their bike. Which sounds exactly like kayaking.

My whitewater friend - Andy, who I have mentioned before - has moved to Key Largo and I have lost my best kayaking friend. In fact, I wore his spray skirt in Alaska and told him that I felt badly that his skirt went to Alaska and he didn't. To which he replied "then I was there in spirit". An amazing guy who I miss paddling with, But I digress. He said the seat back looked a lot like the seat back he had in his whitewater kayak which he said he loved but on long days it would dig into his back. So I am curious long term how my new seat back does.

I have long been envious of the cockpits of whitewater kayaks. They have all sorts of contraptions to hold the paddler in place to make the kayak ultra responsive. We don't get any of these gadgets in sea kayaks. About the best we get are foam blocks we can shave into place.

I very much appreciate the perspective of two non-sea kayakers as I realized that the issues that I talk about in kayaking transcends my realm and is really experienced in other sporting realms.

If you live in the United States Enjoy your holiday weekend. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Seat Taken

Back in April I wrote a post about seat backs, and the novices love of a big comfortable seat back that replicates the lazy boy in their living room. I mentioned that I was considering installing a simple Immersion Research back band into my Delta. I had actually been told by someone from Delta that it would fit in the boat. About a month ago I was doing some research and contacted Delta about which IR back band fit my seventeen, and if they knew how to Install it. I had a great conversation with someone there that said it would fit, though I would have to do some work to make it happen, but that they had their own - similar - back band that would not require I change anything. He explained that it was still a prototype, but if I was interested they would sell me one - It actually cost half what the IR back band would have cost - and that they would like my feedback. It arrived about a week later.

Clearly a prototype, it has no Delta logos or markings on it. It came in a padded envelope with no instructions for installation. But upon looking at it, and the seat in my kayak, it seemed pretty straight forward in terms of Installation. I had it installed in about 10 minutes, which I would say is pretty good time considering I had no one telling me how to do it. I did have to peel back the thigh brace on the right side to release the end of the cord that supports the seat back - I have since learned there may be a way to install it without doing this - so I need to re-glue this thigh pad.

                               new back band       original seat back    original behind new

As you can see in the photo it is much smaller than the standard Delta seat, and it is fairly flexible. It sits comfortably at the small of my back actually mimicking the contact I got with my standard seat reclined all the way. Though I should point out having the standard seat reclined all the way was rubbing on the cockpit coaming, and after 21 days in Alaska it looked like someone took sand paper to the coaming.

My initial response to this change in my cockpit was very positive, once I got it adjusted it wasn't long before I forgot it was there - which is perfect! It was comfortable and flexed nicely with me.

The week after I installed it was the 2nd annual Paddling Otaku Expedition Skills camp (ESK2) and I got to use it for an extended period of time. It really was sensational. It did everything I wanted, offered a little support to my lower back, without getting in the way of anything I wanted to do. I am sure someone skilled in greenland style rolling would be very happy with this addition.

My only concern is that it may be too flexible. I worry how it will do over time - will it weaken from flexing - with the flip side being I might not like it if it were stiffer. Colin at Delta was very receptive to my feedback and I was very receptive to a new seat back.

I like it's minimalist sensibilities, and I like that it isn't more than I need it to be. I look forward to seeing how it does long term.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Last night

Last Night I gave a talk at my local REI in Greensboro North Carolina. I talked for about an hour in regards to this past summers Inside Passage trip. I was extremely flattered with the turnout, and the warm response I received.

A number of people were expecting to see the videos I made, I chose not to show them months ago in part because I didn't want the evening to be about seeing a movie which is a one way conversation when I could have a two way conversation with the people in attendance. If however you came last night to see the three episodes of Paddle North they are viewable to the right if you click the Inside Passage link.

I mentioned very briefly that I was a Buddhist and after the talk someone approached me with questions. For that person I promised a series of links to an Author I found very helpful when I was first sliding into Buddhism. Thanks again to everyone who came last night.

Steven Hagen has written a series of books I found enjoyable and very helpful. This, his first, I found particularly enjoyable and insightful. Two others, this, and this were also very good reads. 

Those of you who have been reading here for a while know of my interest in Eugene Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery. Which I also highly recommend. 

Fall has clearly arrived here in the American south. The leaves have fallen and the temperature is about to take a deep drop. I have a lot of work to do on the book, and have been focused tremendously on it. But while the weather and the work ahead push me, and us, away from the water, now is the time that we must force ourselves back onto the water. We must be comfortable in the uncomfortable. If we are going to skilled on the water we must be comfortable in all conditions. The wind, and the rain, and even the snow and ice. Now is the time to be heading onto the water. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

Because I am always looking

I habitually watch the way people paddle. Recently I was giving a lesson to two people early on a sunday morning. I saw a paddler moving towards us, and after we passed and exchanged greetings I stopped and waited for my students. When they got closer - quietly - I asked them if they saw anything wrong with what they saw. They were quick to point out that the paddler who was now a good distance away, was slouching in his kayak seat. If you're slouching you can't engage your core muscles. He was also paddling with his arms, and his PFD was too loose. If you watch the paddlers around you, you will see many similar instances. The vast majority of people who get into a kayak make very little effort to paddle correctly. It is both the bane and the benefit of kayaking being so accessible. So as I am looking at paddlers on the water I am never surprised to see people that could be paddling more efficiently. But there is no excuse for this:

I took this picture of a page in a major magazine - guess which one? - because I was so infuriated by the photo. Look at the photo on the banner of this blog, then look at the photo above. Now look back to the banner. Now back at the photo above. Both are paddlers heading away from the camera at an angle. The photo on my banner is of Sarah, taken somewhere on the inside passage this summer. Please note that her elbows are both quite low. Now look at the photo from the magazine. This paddlers left elbow is well above his shoulder. This is not only bad technique, it is actually dangerous. Any time your elbow is above your shoulder, it only takes a little bit of pressure to dislocate it.  Your hands should move across your face with your elbows below your shoulders. Now I should point out that in a past life I worked in photography, and I know how this photo was created. Someone found a model who couldn't paddle, and had them 'paddle' into the sunset for a great shot. They didn't care that the model couldn't actually paddle. I mean, who would notice? Right? I did. And honestly the editors of a major outdoor magazine should know better. So spend some time looking at photos, and looking at the paddlers around you. And most importantly watch yourself. Keep track of where your arms, and elbows and hands are. Keep track of how deep your blade goes in the water. And where the blade enters the water and where - in relation to yourself - you pull it from the water. Think about what it feels like when your pushing on your foot pegs, and what the kayak feels like when you edge. Be alert to what is happening around, and feel the wind on your face. Most importantly, be present in what you're doing. What ever your doing. Think for a moment of the monk who will sweep the floor for hours, intent on only that thing. Think about how amazingly well the floor will be swept. Imagine what your forward stroke would look like with the same level of attention applied to it. Most people aren't present when they are completing routine tasks. Their mind wanders as their body goes through the motions. They begin to think of all nature of things that have nothing to do with the task at hand.  Take what you are doing to the next level. Be present, and watch.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Less paddling, but a little more Zen.

16 years ago I went through a very difficult - for me - divorce. Shortly thereafter I first read about Feng Shui which in short governs the placement of items in your surroundings and their effect on you by influencing your Chi (or Qi, if you prefer). I studied Feng Shui and ended up using it to make some major changes in my life. In retrospect, my early learning's of Feng Shui cast me upon a path towards Buddhism, though it was still a few years off.

One of the first things I learned in my studies of Feng Shui was to de-clutter my surroundings. So one night I came home to my little west village apartment in lower Manhattan and set to it. I used massive contractor grade garbage bags and took 16 of them down to the street to be recycled, thrown away or donated. I followed a simple rule, if I thought I might need it, I threw it away. I only kept things I knew I would need. I sold furniture, a record collection, most of my stereo. I gave away a lot of things too.

It was liberating. Truly liberating. The first thing I noticed was that if I couldn't find something there were only a few places to look. Also, my small apartment now seemed much bigger. In our extremely materialistic world, people took great pleasure in giving me a hard time. I laughed along with them as I knew I was happier. I was literally having the last laugh.

What brought this to my attention recently was that I have lately been feeling like there are a number of things 'I want'. I have a couple of different jobs, and one of them would really benefit from an iPad. I have another new source of income pending, that down the road would benefit from a high end HD camcorder.  I literally feel a bit of guilt that I 'want' these things.

The past several weeks I have run across a number of really interesting web sites. This one is about a couple that moved into a 'micro house'. I have been following the micro house movement for years and would love to be living in one, but alas my wife's book collection alone would fill it. This one is about the 333 project which I could do easily as I don't really have a dress code anywhere I work. This guy reduced all of his possessions to 100 items! Adding even more of a challenge to my theory of 'if you might need it'. This blog is written by a much more serious Buddhist than myself, and I love this post about suffering, and ironically he wrote this post about not taking it so seriously!

All of these amazing sites reminded me of how strict I had formerly been. So I am going to do a bit of a purge of the things in my life, so I can remember that liberated feeling. It will also help my desk be a bit more uncluttered. I would like this more current effort to translate into my digital life. Do I really need that file, or this photo? Won't my computer run better with more free space on its hard drive? Will my digital life mirror my non-digital life as giving a liberated feeling once the de-cluttering is done.

All of this hearkens back to early lessons in kayaking. We talked about Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do. Less movement, nothing extraneous. Keep it simple. All relates back to a simplicity of movement in our kayaks. I prefer the cross bow rudder to the bow rudder because there is less movement involved. Is there any reason that these concepts can't be applied to every aspect of our lives? Do we have to be defined by our possessions, or can we define ourselves with our actions. Do I really need three paddles? the third of which was the first one I ever bought made of plastic and aluminum?

I will continue to think about ways to simplify my life and my surroundings, and when the time is right or the need is imperative I will probably obtain the additional things I 'need', but in the mean time I won't beat myself up for wanting them. Does anyone need a paddle?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Inside Outside

This is a view we have seen - in part - before. I had opportunity to mount a second camera under my deck at the same time I had a camera on top of my deck. I used them to get a good view of myself 'finding good contact' when entering the kayak as well as the foot and leg motions that go along with the forward stroke. It is hard to see how my body moves the kayak when I edge, it's there, but it's subtle.

So many things we have discussed before, but that are always worth mentioning again, and again.

Contact - five points of contact between the paddler and the kayak. This way the kayak will move as you move, and react to the movements of your body. Alternately giving you information to what forces the kayak is feeling from wind and water.

Forward - with each stroke we rotate our core at the belly button. The hand in the air (opposite the blade in the water) is pushing with relaxed fingers.  And with each stroke we are pushing with alternating feet. This is where our power really comes from. When I am paddling slowly, I don't even engage my feet, but as soon as I want to accelerate I start pushing with the foot on the same side as my pushing hand. We never think about pulling the paddle through the water, just pushing through the air and with our feet. We are doing very little work with our arms, letting our large torso muscles and the even larger muscles in our legs do all the work.

It's amazing how much light comes through the hull of the kayak.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kayaking with Grace

Several Sundays ago I found myself in my kayak at around 8:15 in the morning. I was giving a lesson to a young woman named Grace. This is her third lesson with me in borrowed kayaks as she waits for delivery of her handmade - by her brother - strip built kayak.

We had just started paddling and I was getting comfortable in my boat. The morning was absolutely glorious. Just warm enough to be in a long sleeve quick dry shirt and a pair of shorts. Just a little breeze as  we paddled out onto the water. Warm light danced on the surface of the lake we paddled, and the sky was a nearly perfect shade of blue. The trees here in North Carolina were just starting to show off amazing fall colors.

Within a few minutes from across the water Grace mentioned that she was jealous of how effortless I looked, while she was still struggling with the intricacies of the forward stroke. I replied with a thank you, and that really all it took was practice - ten thousand hours, if you have been here before! - and that she was doing well and just needed to keep at it.

This interaction came back to me a couple of nights later as I was re-reading Eugene Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery. When the student is talking to the master about his failure to fluidly loose an arrow, the master replies:

" Don’t think of what you have to do, don’t consider how to carry it out! " he exclaimed. `The shot will only go smoothly when it takes the archer himself by surprise. It must be as if the bowstring suddenly cut through the thumb that held it. You mustn’t open the right hand on purpose." 

It struck me that this is the way it must be when you are perfecting the forward stroke in a kayak. You don't think about walking down the street, yet you do it everyday. You must get to the point in your kayak where your forward stroke occurs without thought. I should point out that this is a lesson that applies to anything you are trying to learn. I have mentioned in the past the difficulty I have with certain kicks, it is as equally applicable to a tennis serve, or making a souffle or perhaps even learning to incorporate some flair with your drum. In order for it to look relaxed it has to be relaxed and you can't try to be relaxed. It is like trying to think about not thinking. "Zen Archery" goes on a bit further, as the student continues to question the master, the master responds again:

" You must hold the drawn bowstring ", answered the Master," like a little child holding the proffered finger. It grips it so firmly that one marvels at the strength of the tiny fist. And when it lets the finger go, there is not the slightest jerk. Do you know why? Because a child doesn’t think: " I will now let go of the finger in order to grasp this other thing." Completely un−selfconsciously, without purpose, it turns from one to the other"
" Maybe I understand what you are hinting at with this comparison, " I remarked. " But am I not in an entirely different situation ? When I have drawn the bow, the moment comes when I feel: unless the shot comes at once I shan’t be able to endure the tension. And what happens then? Merely that I get out of breath. So I must loose the shot whether I want to or not, because I can’t wait for it any longer. "
" You have described only too well " , replied the Master,
" where the difficulty lies. Do you know why you cannot wait for the shot and why you get out of breath before it has come? The right shot at the right moment does not come because you do not let go of yourself. You do not wait for fulfilment, but brace yourself for failure. So long as that is so, you have no choice but to call forth some thing yourself that ought to happen independently of you, and so long as you call it forth your hand will not open in the right way ̇ like the hand of a child: it does
not burst open like the skin of a ripe fruit. "

There was an afternoon in Alaska where Sarah and I paddled through some very rough and unexpected water. Twice it spit us out in a direction we didn't want to go before we figured out a way through, or more accurately, around it. At one point Sarah said she was concerned about how rough the water was, but she looked over to me and I was just paddling along calmly. She said later that this made her relax, in part because her comfort level increased, and in part because she knew she didn't have to worry about me, she could focus on herself. This was flattering for me to hear as I regard Sarah as one of the better paddlers I have had the pleasure of sharing a route with, but I recall thinking that at the point when she looked over I was pretty concerned about what was happening. I am glad that she saw a calmness in me that I didn't feel myself.

And I think this is what Grace was seeing, a relaxed paddler allowing the stroke to occur. I won't be so presumptuous to say that I gave it no thought, I am always tweaking and playing and perfecting - or trying to - my stroke, but I think I am approaching that level of relaxed. And with practice so will Grace. But the key is not thinking about making it relaxed, simply allowing it to happen. Like the fingers of a child opening. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Will someone please make an eVent Paddling Jacket!

The last few weeks has been transitional weather here in the American south. The dog days of summer are over - and with summers departure my favorite quick dry top is no longer quite enough anymore - and it isn't quite drysuit weather as the the air is in the low 60's and the water is in the 70's. The drysuit - while convenient in terms of staying dry, is a bit warm, even though it is made of gore-tex.

Which leaves me with a paddling jacket that I love and have used for years. It is - or was, as it is no longer  manufactured - made by Patagonia and is called a Skanorak or sea kayak anorak. It's a wonderful jacket with a large rubber rand at the waist and good wrist and neck gaskets. But oddly I have found myself NOT wearing it. This is the perfect weather for a tried and true piece of gear, but I just keep picking up something else. Something not even made for kayaking.

It is the REI Shuksan jacket. I bought it three or four years ago as a rain shell and it has been wonderful. It's light weight, layers well, and packs down to nothing. But the best thing about it is how incredibly breathable it is. Far more breathable than any gore-tex shell I have owned and far more breathable than my drysuit. I first grabbed the REI jacket for paddling because it was all I had, I ended up at the water under dressed and I had it in the car. I figured it was better than nothing - which was true! - but it was better than most anything! I put it on first, then my skirt, then my PFD. It is so thin that I barely feel it under my gear, it has a hood like my Patagonia Skanorak, it is even a similar color orange. But the breathability is incredible. NRS does make an eVent drysuit and I would consider it if I didn't have an amazing Kokatat drysuit. I can't really justify two drysuits. So what I really need/want is a paddling jacket made out of this amazing fabric.

If someone could get to work on that I would gladly product test it and give appropriate feed back.

Friday, October 14, 2011

House Keeping.

This is not a blog post about how to keep your tent and kayak clean and tidy on long paddle trips, though now that I think about it that would be a good post.

This is a blog post to tell you that this blog is now located at:

The blogspot address will still work and redirect you here. Or you could update your bookmarks. If you have any trouble with RSS feeds or readers, let me know.

Thanks for stopping by


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Good Camp/Bad Camp

When the time comes to get off the water for the day, and a campsite has to be created, there is a great deal of thought that gets put into all facets of the site. The first is location. Is this a place that I can easily get off the water, with space for three things. A good site for a tent, level, and flat. A site for a kitchen, a good distance from the tents, level and flat would be nice but it isn't necessary. A place for the kayaks to sleep, preferable above the tents - in terms of tide height - but if not above the tents then at the same height, and regardless of height above tide they must be able to be tied to something stout. It wouldn't do for a wave to come in and take our boats away while we slept warm and dry in our bags. Keep in mind that most of the foot traffic in a campsite is in the kitchen area, so it should be on the most durable of surfaces. Rocks, gravel, dirt. No grasses or mosses, nothing fragile that would be impacted by our trampling feet. The same goes for the location of the tent and the kayaks, but because there is less traffic to those locations we need the kitchen to be on the most durable surface.

Our new home may take on the look of a yard sale while we are setting up, cooking and eating dinner, and relaxing afterwards. People tend to try and hang things to help them dry and food bags get their contents strewn about during dinner preparation. But once it is time to call it a night and climb into a warm bag with a good book, the yard sale has to be put away. Everything is packed. Food is stored safely with Animals in mind. All our gear is packed and stored well above the tide line. I like to put things back in their dry bags, and then back into the kayaks. In Alaska I would put my gear in their two large mesh duffel bags and put those on top of my kayak (over turned so the mesh was down and the waterproof bottom was facing up) and then I would carabiner them to the kayak. 

The thought process behind this is that we need our gear, and we need to take care of it. Just as it wouldn't be beneficial to have our kayaks wash away, it wouldn't do to have any of our gear wash away. But what could wash away our gear, you ask? Well, besides the fact that we may make a mistake calculating the next high tide, there are also storm surges that can create higher tides than predicted. It could also be something as simple as a ferry or cruise ship a dozen miles away. Its wake hits the beach and pushes way above the predicted high tide line. We were very careful in Alaska.

So you can imagine our surprise when early in the morning we came around cape fanshaw - it was probably seven AM and we wanted to be some unpredictable weather around a point known for big water - and saw the epitome of a 'bad camp'. We could see tents in the trees way above the beach - which in and of itself is fine, but the rest of what we saw was a little scary. Click the image below to see what scared us. 

A tarp that was about to be blown down and away. Thirteen kayaks, that didn't look tied up, or to each other - they may have been but as far as some kayaks were from others led us to believe otherwise. A vast amount of gear on the beach, just above the high tide line. And as incredible as all that is, someones red jacket on the grass, waiting to be blown away, washed away, or just simply rained on. The number of dry bags and water bottles waiting to disappear was very disturbing. This is poor leadership, and poor role modeling. We never saw this group again, we suspected that they were heading south while we were heading north. I hope their trip ended well, but honestly, they were setting themselves up for disappointment. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thanks Steve.

    I am at a loss, so I will just say thanks. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Wind and clothing

I spent this morning paddling. I have had very little time to paddle in the past few months. In part because my free time has been spent editing video, which I will be doing more of tomorrow morning, and in part because I have been working a tremendous amount. I only had a little time this morning and when I got to the water it was cooler and windier than I thought it would be. I was under dressed and the majority of my paddling clothing was at home. I would have put my dry suit on, if I had it with me, but I didn't, so I had to improvise.

There was a fleece in my car but while that would keep me warm it wouldn't protect me from wind or water. I had a shell jacket - the eVent Shuksan jacket by REI - and I decided to try it out as a paddling jacket. I put it on, then my skirt then my PFD. It was absolutely the perfect layer. I wish REI would make a paddling jacket out of this wonderfully breathable material but alas, they don't. It was light, and comfortable and with the cuffs velcro'd tight it worked well as a paddling jacket.

And it got me to thinking about paddle gear. While I have lovely paddling pants and jackets that I sometimes use instead of my dry suit - in the in between seasons like it is now in the American south they work beautifully - what if your new to paddling, and you don't want to spend what could easily be several hundred dollars on paddle specific clothing? A lot of the clothes you have for other outdoor activities could work double duty. As I mentioned the shell jacket I had worked really well. A pair of rain pants could work as splash pants, though I would put the bottoms of the legs inside a rubber boot or mukluks of some sort because they will absolutely get wet on the inside which wouldn't be too comfortable. Under my dry suit I already wear non-paddling-specific base layers. Patagonia capilene works beautifully, as does smart wool or the REI power dry. I have always used mid weight base layers designed for hiking, when I paddle and they perform amazingly well. Wicking moisture, insulating and drying quickly. Paddling in Alaska close to glaciers I go to a heavy weight or capilene 4 as the water - and therefore the interior of the kayak - gets much colder.

This morning I spent my time - what I had of it - playing in high winds. Those of you who have read this blog know that I like to play in the wind on my local waters. I find that it gives me a higher level of comfort when the water gets big to have spent time learning how my kayak performs, and in short 'acts' when subjected to wind from all points of the compass. I enjoyed seeing how she paddles and how strokes that I use work and didn't work when 17 feet of kayak is getting pushed by high winds. For instance the cross bow rudder that I use frequently for quick turns wasn't as nearly effective trying to turn a kayak that is getting pushed around by the wind. I am watching the wind and how it effects the surface of the water, and the trees on the shore. The noise it makes, the sound of the leaves. Over time this will give you reference to what conditions feel like when you hear and see certain things. I also like to look for wind lines created by land because it gives me a good 'edge' of wind and no wind to play with. How much will my kayak jump when I hit that line? This was useful in Alaska when we crossed the entrance to the Stikine river. We could see the line, where the ocean and river met, and while I wasn't sure, it looked like other lines I had paddled through, and in fact ended up being very similar in feel. You have to spend time in your kayak, in all kinds of water, and weather, and wind to get a feel for how your kayak - and you - will react. Remember the ten thousand hours. More video in a few days.

Monday, September 5, 2011

On meditation, Yoga and the forward stroke

The past few weeks I have been exceptionally busy. Rolling back into work after seven weeks of adventuring has been challenging. Adding to that I have spent most of my time away from work, working on the video from the trip. I have to travel for family this weekend, and the next two weekends I will be teaching far from home.

Despite this a couple of things have occurred that I have really enjoyed. A friend mentioned to me that Depak Chopra was offering a free 21 day meditation challenge, and would I be interested in doing it. It would be her first foray into meditation. I meditate far too infrequently, but when I do it clears my head, makes me noticeably more calm, and despite the fact that I find it very difficult, I truly enjoy it.

I took part in the Chopra meditation challenge for all of one day. They are guided meditations that were created so I could not download them, which presented a challenge. (I use a couple of apps on my iPhone to help me meditate, one is a guided meditation app, and the other creates nature sounds which is nice when meditating in a noisy or busy place, like my gym where I frequently meditate). I found myself 8 minutes into the first 13 minute meditation and I was still listening to instructions, and goals of the meditation challenge. It was a little too 'self help' for me.

But while I abandoned Chopra, I didn't abandon the challenge. I began meditating daily in support of my friend, and though I did miss a day, she has not and I am very proud of her.

I find, for me, a much better form of meditation is paddling. Particularly when focusing on the forward stroke. It gives me a clear focus, and takes my mind out of the daily race it is in. I was reminded of this recently as I was teaching two students at the same time. One, paddling a sit on top kayak - a very nice sit on top, the WS tarpon 140 - and one paddling a loaner touring kayak while she waits for delivery of her hand made wood strip kayak. He, on the tarpon is a very active in yoga, and has previously been very active in martial arts. I have seen in previous students that martial artists pick up kayaking very quickly, and he did as well. The young woman in the touring kayak had the struggles that most do their first time when they have to unlearn what their body thinks kayaking is. Martial Artists, and I think to a degree yoga practitioners have a better connection to their body. And this makes forcing your body to do something that at first seems unnatural significantly easier. Also, as I have mentioned previously, the rotation of kayaking is very similar to the rotation throwing a punch.

I made the comment to both of them that it was important that when you stray from pushing and rotation, and slide back into slouching and pulling with your arms, which you will do, that it is important not to chastise yourself. Just acknowledge that it has happened, and come back to where you need to be.

This is equally true for meditation. if for example you are focused on your breathing your mind will invariably stray to something like, what should I cook for dinner, or why did he say that to me? It is important to accept that you have strayed from where you want to be, and bring your self back. Without criticizing, or judging. Just accept and move on. It isn't normal - or really, what we are used to - for our minds to be calmed to the point of no thought, particularly in our multi-tasking world. I am envious of a monk who can focus on one thing - sweeping the floor of the temple - for an entire day. That is his only concern. His only focus. Focus and meditation can be in anything we choose.

My wife, who has close to 30 years of martial arts experience has this summer in my absence taken yoga as her new daily ritual. She is doing yoga in our gym, or at a local yoga studio, and when she can't make either of those occur, I will come home from work and find her doing poses in the living room. She does nothing 'just a little bit'. So naturally I have been doing some yoga as well. We stopped on the way home from Alaska and did Yoga in Vancouver and Boulder, Colorado. I enjoy yoga, but it doesn't sing to me the way some other things do.

But it was in a yoga class that an instructor said something I find myself saying to students over, and over again. Which is not to chastise yourself when you can't do something. Or when your mind strays, or when it takes you a little longer to do something than your neighbor, partner, friend or co-worker does. We are all different, and all have different skills. I know that I am very good at forgiving those around me for their missteps. I work daily to be at ease with the world around me and to offer compassion to those in need of it. But I am not so good at offering that same compassion to myself.

My favorite quote of the Dalai Lama, when asked to describe his religion he said 'my religion is very simple, my religion is kindness'. Offer kindness to the people around you, but direct some of it back to yourself. Particularly when your forward stroke strays from where it should be.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Power of VHF

An important part of my kit on this trip was a hand held, waterproof VHF radio. Primarily for localized weather reports, but also for communication with vessels while paddling. I envisioned my VHF being for primarily weather and the occasional 'securite' call. A securite is a process whereby you let vessels - or potential vessels - know of your position and intentions. It is essentially a warning. When I thought of securite calls before the trip I thought of alerting vessels in our vicinity to our plans for a crossing. It would sound something like this: Securite sécurité sécurité. To all vessels in the vicinity of Cape Fanshaw. Please be advised that two kayaks - one red, one white - will be crossing from cape Fanshaw, west to the entrance of Seymour Canal. We will be traversing both the finger islands and the brothers on a heading of 280º. Our approximate crossing time will be three hours. Thank you. This is a fairly basic securite. It is telling vessels the intentions of two - hard to see, invisible on radar - kayaks as the move across a channel, perpendicular to powered boat traffic. While I have done securite calls in Alaska before I didn't get to make this kind of call on this trip. In fact for the first time in my life a securite was made so I would know the intentions of a vessel. A much larger vessel. As we were paddling towards Juneau we had to do a five mile cross with an island in the middle. The crossing would bring us across the Tracy arm, a popular destination for cruise ships to see calving tidewater glaciers, but we would be moving parallel to the main channel. As we concluded the first half of the crossing - to the island in the middle - I noticed an increase in boat traffic. A number of small fishing vessels, a black hulled ship - that we later identified as U.S. Coast Guard, and a large white Cruise ship. Because traffic was building I decided to take the VHF out of its pelican case in my cockpit, turn it on and attach it to my PFD. I only did this because I wanted to monitor the radio traffic - if any - in our vicinity. Less than five minutes later we heard this: "Securite sécurité. This is the Carnival Spirit. In approximately ten minutes we will be entering the Tracy arm." Sarah and I discussed this - in a mildly frantic tone of voice - for a few seconds. His course would take him directly across our paths. and while we had the right of way 'legally', he had the right of tonnage. We decided to make him aware of our presence. I responded: "Securite, sécurité, Carnival Spirit, please be advised you have two kayaks on your starboard side." He immediately responded: "Confirmed! We have a visual on you and will be passing you on our starboard side." Translated, this was him telling us that 'we see you, and you should really stay right where you are in the vicinity of that island, while we cut in front of you.' I responded again: "Carnival Spirit, we are holding our position until you are passed." Translated, Okay, you win. we aren't moving. This illustrates perfectly the use of VHF and its importance. Sarah and I did discuss one thing though. We are curious if the cruise ship made the securite because the Coast guard was there - listening to the entire conversation. If the coast guard hadn't been there would they have just gone, passing in front of us? We hoped to see the ship in Juneau. I promised Sarah that if it were there I would get us on board and talk to the person on the other end of the radio. But Alas by the time we got to Juneau the ship was gone.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Please note that on the side of this page is a new option. I have decided to offer instruction in two ways.

Option 1: if you are in the Central North Carolina Area and want to learn to paddle feel free to contact me for pricing and scheduling. I teach a progression from the forward stroke through rolling, navigation, and expedition planning.

Option 2: If you don't live in the Central North Carolina Area I offer instruction through video. If you record yourself doing various strokes I can critique you, via Skype or iChat and give you skills to work on. This process actually works very well, as we BOTH get to see what you are doing, right and wrong and work towards getting your skills where you want them. If you don't have the equipment to record yourself paddling I can assist you in making inexpensive camera purchases and discuss mounting options.

In the not to distant future - probably January - I will be offering an online expedition planning E course. This will teach you the skills that you need to plan your own adventures safely. Always wanted to Hike in Alaska but didn't know where to begin? Begin with the E course to teach you the in's and out's of expedition planning. Until I offer the E course I am available as a consultant for expedition planning. Contact me for more information.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dry bags

You all know that I packed and repacked my kayak before going to Alaska, as a major fear of mine is that I will get to the put in and not get everything in the kayak. But while I was waiting to load onto the ferry I ended up meeting a number of guys doing long distance motorcycle rides through Alaska. They were heading home as I was heading to my put in, in Ketchikan.

We got to talking about the gear they had packed on their motor cycles. Most had hard cases - panniers - on tiebacks of their bikes, but within those they had waterproof bags that fit the cases perfectly. It made packing much easier because you could pack your bags and that would fit perfectly onto, or into the motorcycle.

I had a wonderful experience with the tapered dry bag I used, so much so that I will buy another one for my next trip so I have one in the bow and one in the stern. But this is really as close as we get to 'custom' bags for kayaks. The vast majority of us literally putting round pegs(dry bags) in square holes (our kayaks) and then filling the extra space with odds and ends. Even the tapered bag I use and love, doesn't slide all the way back into the stern. I found myself wishing for a 10 liter tapered dry bag that could go in front of my larger 35 liter tapered dry bag.

Why doesn't someone make dry bags that fit the shape of our kayaks? Why doesn't the manufacturer make - or contract out to a maker - a set of bags designed specifically for their boats? It would be another source of revenue, and it would make everyone happy.

The key to quickly packing your kayak is always packing the same gear in the same place in the same way, but invariable this doesn't happen. I can pack  kayak pretty quickly, but even on a a trip like the inside passage where the load is unchanging, just getting smaller every day as we eat food, and use fuel, it should be the same, but it rarely is. Now if I had a set of Delta kayaks dry bags, made specifically for my Seventeen by Seal line I probably would.

Earlier in the year I was thinking Seal line - or some other manufacturer should make bags not only in more and different colors, but with large icons to denote what is in them. A food bag. A clothes bag. A first aid bag, and so on, and so on. You could buy them in a set or individually. It would also help create brand loyalty as some would want a system that worked well together.

Another thing I was thinking of as a bear chased us from a perfectly good beach, Hunters wear clothing lined with charcoal - I think they use charcoal, I'm not a hunter! - to mask their odor from the animals they are hunting. Why can't we - or any outdoors person - use something like this for food and garbage? and while we are on the topic why aren't there soft, bear proof options? a bear proof/odor proof bag for food and garbage? Well, in all fairness there are bear proof bags but they are ridiculously expensive.

The answer to why none of these things exist is market share. The number of paddlers doing overnight trips compared to the number of paddlers is a very high ratio. There simply aren't enough people doing paddling trips of the kinds that would benefit from products like I mentioned to make it feasible for a company to offer these products. As painful as it is for me to admit most people in the US are paddling for away and going home - really most new paddlers, believe it or not, are fisherman. At least in the United States the largest growing group of paddlers are fisherman - and don't need any of the things I have mentioned. But it would be nice wouldn't it?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Forward stroke again

The focus of this blog is and always will be instruction. Even the coverage of my inside passage trip was based in instruction. I had a lot of time to think while paddling in Alaska. We did around 325 miles in 18 days of paddling. Which averages to 18 miles per day. By my math around 700,000 paddle strokes were done in those 18 days. That is a lot of time to think and tweak your forward stroke. In the first few moments of the trip I thought to myself - how many strokes will I do? And towards the end of the trip I started to think - How many strokes are left?

Psychologically there is a very interesting thing that occurs when you talk to people during a trip like that. In the beginning people will say "wow! you have a long way to go!" which is a painful sentence to hear. And then at some point what they say changes. It becomes "wow! you've come a long way."  Which is an amazing sentence to hear. Our last night of the trip we were in Haines counting the minutes to get back on the water. We were ready to be done. We were waiting to take showers and a woman who said she was a kayaker asked where we came from. When we told her we came from Ketchikan and got there in 17 days she was speechless. Then she warned us about the wind.

If your going to do a trip involving 700,000 paddle strokes though your stroke has to be efficient. I noticed a couple of things with my forward stroke in the 18 days we were paddling. When the water got choppy and rough I tended to shorten my paddle stroke, and I think this was because I wanted to be able to brace if I needed to. But the by product was it slowed me down. I had to remember to lengthen my stroke out to not give away speed.

There are three things I like to watch for in my forward stroke:

Number 1 - Am I planting my paddle up by my feet? I want a nice long forward stroke utilizing as much of my rotation as possible.

Number 2 - Am I making my stroke too long? Where is my paddle coming out of the water? It should be at my hip. Any further back and I am lifting water up, instead of pushing my kayak forward.

Number 3 - How much blade is going in the water? In the middle of my stroke - or yours - the water line should be right at the throat of the paddle, where the shaft joins the blade. More than this, and I am wasting energy. Having the shaft in the water is only causing resistance in the water. But not having the blade fully submerged and I am giving up surface area that is providing propulsion.

I need to hit three sweet spots in each paddle stroke. Every time. No exceptions. Every. Stroke. Counts. And when you have 700,000 of them you get some time to think about it. But at the same time you have to control what those thoughts are.

When meditating - a foundation of Buddhism - it is important to keep your mind focused on the present. I always think of the forward stroke as a meditation. It has to happen without thought. Yet must be thoughtful. It is important to remember when meditating and your mind wanders, which it will do, that you bring your focus back to the present. But at the same time it is important to accept the wandering without chastising yourself, which is just another thought taking your focus away from the present, your chastising yourself for something that occurred in the past - just go back to your focus. The same thing has to occur with your forward stroke. When it strays from perfection, which it will do, just go back to focus. Check your three sweet spots, make sure your rotating, make sure your posture is correct. Make sure you are pushing with your feet.

Stay focused and in the moment and a fluid, beautiful forward stroke will come.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Kayak review: Delta Seventeen Long term test

If you have been reading this blog you will already know that my Delta was purchased specifically for the Inside passage trip I just completed. I realized while paddling in Alaska, that I have never written an actual review of the kayak - though it is probably pretty clear from my writings here just how much I love the boat. That said she is not without her faults, and spending 18 days paddling a long way in kayak you really have a lot of time to think about what your paddling, and so here are those thoughts.

My kayak is the Delta Seventeen Sport. There is an expedition model which is the same kayak with the deck raised 1 inch providing a little more leg space and dry storage. They Also make an 18.5 which fit my 6 foot 6 friend perfectly. And for something a little smaller they make an amazing 16 foot kayak.

My partner on the IP was paddling a beautiful - though older - Necky Looksha made of kevlar. (When I was boat shopping the Looksha was my first choice until I paddled the Delta. She met all the requirements of an expedition kayak that would do 30 days unsupported and fit a smaller hipped paddler like myself) It had very sexy elongated lines with a  flat deck. She is a beautiful boat. And while it was made for long paddling trips  those elongated shapes - long narrow pointy bow, and stern. Low decks - made the boat harder to pack. In contrast the Delta is thermoformed plastic and weighed a bit more. Had slightly harder chines. Its less elongated bow gave her a longer waterline which means slightly more speed, and easier packing. The Delta is made to be packed. The word 'roomy' doesn't do it justice.

The kayak paddles beautifully, carving a beautiful edge turn, she is stable, holds an edge well and is easy to roll. The kayak has that shiny finish of much more expensive fiberglass kayaks. In fact I would say it 'feels' like a fiberglass kayak when paddling her but at a third less expensive and in my opinion a bit more durably. The boat is treated with a coating called solarkote to protect the color of the kayak from fading, and it works. My kayak is three years old and as vibrant a red as the day I got it. Unfortunately the inside of the cockpit isn't treated with solarkote, and it has faded to a sort of light green/yellow. I may paint it.

In my experience Glass boats tend to be a bit more brittle whereas the thermoformed Delta tends to have a bit more flex. When departing a rocky beach in a hurry - say after a bear visits your campsite - I was able to  slide my Delta over the rocks with ease while the Looksha had to be carried. I am sure I put some scratches in the bottom of the kayak, but I wasn't worried about scraping off gel coat or worse.

The cockpit is roomy and very comfortable on long days. The comfortable seat - which adjusts forward and back - is simple, with a thin foam pad on it, and the seat back - which is adjustable as well moving both up and down, and hinging forward and back - is very comfortable, though a bit big. I have it lowered all the way, and reclined all the way back, so essentially I am not using it. I only contact it at the very base of my back. But when I rotate at my core - as we all should when we paddle! - it tends to rub against the cockpit coaming which is causing some wear and tear. I have been told that you can remove the seat back and put in the Immersion Research Back band which I will do, and should have done before this trip.

The bow and stern hatches use a wonderful seal that doesn't use a neoprene cover which makes them very fast in terms of getting into a hatch easily. Historically they have been very dry. In fact when I paddle here in North Carolina in the spring, when the water is cold and the air is warm, the hatches seal so well that the cool water has cooled the warm air in the stern, causing it to contract, sucking the stern hatch down so much that I couldn't get it open very easily. In fact there was so much suction that the hull was slightly 'oil canned' in. But when the hatch cover was released the hull immediately popped back out. I have actually had this happen twice. The seal is that good. However, in Alaska where so many of the beaches were gravel, small bits of gravel would get in the seal of the hatch prevent a good seal. I routinely had more water in the compartments than I would have liked to see. It was just very hard in that environment to keep the seals free of debris. I would still call it user error.

My kayak has a rudder - though it is available with a skeg - I chose the rudder so as not to give up the storage space in the stern. The rudder is beautifully made with 'Gas pedal' style controls. They are easily adjustable, by flipping a tab sideways you can adjust the placement of the pedals which works well. Though I would like to be able to move the pedals with the same tab that locks and unlocks them (with my hand) instead of having to use my foot to slide the pedal back and forward. I have written about the difference between rudder and skeg so I won't go into them here, but I am starting to think of a rudder as a skeg on steroids, that post is coming soon.

A few complaints. The boat scratches very easily. I wouldn't mind so much if she wasn't so damn pretty. I have bought the Novus polish/scratch repair system which works well, but doesn't amaze me with its results. I am sure this is just the nature of the plastic used, and there probably isn't much that can be done about it. The first real scratch occurred while assisting someone with a rescue, I slid my paddle under a bungie and left a long scratch in the deck. I would like it to be a bit more scratch resistant.

When the kayak is empty it handles beautifully. It tracks well without the rudder down, and with the rudder down the kayak is unbelievably solid in wind coming from all points of the compass. She is a very impressive kayak in this regard. But, when fully loaded in a following sea she wants very much to Lee cock. (turn flat to the waves). I am sure this is because with more weight she is sitting lower in the water and the waves pushing the stern have more to push against. Even with the rudder all the way over and correcting with paddle strokes she was hard work in a following sea (when fully loaded).  I don't know enough about designing kayaks to know if this is something that could be corrected through design changes. I say over and over again that everything in a kayak is a trade off and I am sure this is a trade off of some sort. That is my only performance short coming in this highly versatile kayak.

I would, and have recommended this kayak to others. The few times that I have let others paddle her they have all cursed me afterwards because she is such an impressive paddle. I would buy this kayak again in a heartbeat. She is as comfortable on a day trip with no gear as she is for a month in Alaska. She is beautifully designed, and finished with a great deal of thought going into so many aspects of the finished product. She is as fast, as stable and easy to roll as any high end kayak on the market, but as I said above at a less expensive price than any composite boat. I will be paddling her - happily - for many years to come.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A week on, some thoughts.

The Flu that I picked up in Juneau full force is still sticking around in the form of a hacking cough, and some congestion. I have had it for close to 19 days, and everyday it gets a little bit better.

I have done quite a bit of driving since arriving in Skagway and as I type this I am at one of the Lodges in Yellowstone National Park, drinking a whiskey, and trying to pull together all the thoughts that have run through my head while driving for the past week.

First I have to say that being at Yellowstone after 21 days kayaking unsupported in Alaska is a little like going to Disney after walking across the desert. There are so many people here it is a little overwhelming. While the scenery is very beautiful it feels sort of like someone put a national park at a shopping mall. And honestly, my four season tent looks a little out of place surrounded by massive RV's. Tonight I will be cooking dinner on my whisperlite while I suspect my neighbors will be using their microwave. And it took every fiber of my existence to listen to the lecture on bear safety in our campsite (E170) from the lovely woman who checked us in.

My first, and overwhelming thought is that this route - the protected, docile, inside passage route - is anything but. We paddled with some big winds, some on our bows, but mostly - thankfully - on our sterns. We paddled some big water, and some very surprising and very powerful currents. This is not a route for the faint of heart. There were a number of times that Sarah and I chose to take a more aggressive line and a couple of times it almost bit us in the behind.

My second thought, which ties into the first, is that this is a route in desperate need of a designated water trail. So much of the information that I had, from many sources, was either - wrong, outdated, or wildly inaccurate. With the exception of the Alaska ferries (The Alaska Marine Highway System) and most of the Harbor Masters we dealt with, there is very little support for kayakers. The vast majority of the 'possible' campsites that I gleaned from various sources were not campable beaches. We camped on several perfect beaches that I had never come across in my research. If a group of concerned locals would band together from Ketchikan to Skagway (and maybe an arm off to glacier bay) to create designated campsites, and reliable information and a support network - I would have gladly paid for an official guide book! - More people would do the route which would provide more revenue to local merchants.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the experience was wonderful. The scenery was beautiful, amazing in fact. We saw humpback whales most days. We saw bald eagles every day - multiple times a day. Seals and sea lions where nearly constant companions. We saw a few sea otters, and for the first time for me we saw a pod of Orca. Granted they were at a distance, but it was still nice to see. But every time I paddle Alaska I am amazed by the scale. This is an actual conversation:

Paddler A: ice berg, left side, a few miles off.

Paddler B: I see it.

Paddler A: wait. I think that is actually a cruise ship.

On our last day, paddling into Skagway I saw what at first I thought was a pair of white buoys. Small one's marking a crab pot or something like that. A few minutes later I realized that they were 50 foot long sport fishing boats.

the scale of what you are seeing around you is so massive it distorts your perceptions. I can't explain why this doesn't happen paddling the BC coast - which is breathtakingly beautiful - but it doesn't.

If you haven't been to Alaska you must go. I don't know how many times I have been, but I will return and it will always be amazing.