Monday, January 24, 2011

Packing adjustments

As planning for the Alaska trip continues, I am making some adjustments to the way I normally pack. In part because we are going to need every square inch of space in the kayaks, and in part because we will be carrying some gear that I don't normally carry.

I have mentioned before the 262 pounds of food. That food will be broken down into 3 ten day rations. What isn't eaten from the first ration will work into the second, and so one. That means each ration weighs 87 pounds. Divide that number by five - there will be five kayakers on the trip - and that means 17 pounds per ration. So each kayak will have 3, 17 pound rations on board. Which is 52 pounds. I think we are going to store them in these bags. Which means on top of everything else we have to pack, we need to have room for 3 17 pound, 13 liter dry bags with food.

In addition to that there will be bear spray - still deciding on other bear related items - At least one video camera, with many extra batteries, and mounting gear. Still cameras, VHF, Cell phones, water filters, the list goes on and on.

With that in mind, I have decided I will be getting a new water proof compression stuff sack for my sleeping bag. I am also thinking about a compression stuff sack for my tent, and one for my cooking tarp. It is a tough question, because when you compress things they get much smaller, but they also get much harder. When they are uncompressed, they are bigger, but softer, so it is easier to fill gaps with them. I will have to play with packing my kayak. The other bit of guess work is will the rations fit inside those dry bags?

On the Navigation front, I think all the campsites have been plotted on the big charts, and on the digital topo maps which create waypoints on the GPS. I am starting to create little topo maps that will be printed on this special paper. This is very cool stuff as you use it in your regular ink jet printer, but once you do they are completely water proof. A good friend of mine demonstrated this by thrusting an entire map under water, and then pulling it back up and putting on his deck. The ink didn't run, and the paper didn't tear. So I am going to create the route on 8.5 x 11 double sided pages. The nautical charts will be cut down to a more manageable size.

If money were no obstacle - which it is! - I would also print the route using these NOAA bookletcharts. Which are charts made specifically for people who don't have a massive chart table to look at your maps. Like us kayakers. The Planning continues.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Charts and Maps

The route begins to take shape. While it is a fairly direct course from Ketchikan to Skagway, there are a few decision points that need to be addressed. But yesterday I spent an hour and a half reading notes from an inside passage blog with information about campsites and transferred those campsites to our charts. The charts which hang on the walls of my office are now covered with 25 small yellow post it notes. Each one with the name of a campsite, and other little bits of information. Little bits of information like 'BEARS'. The post-its are next to highlighted sections I created on the charts.

I then turned to technology. I have a copy of National Geographic TOPO! installed on my laptop. I transferred these campsites to the digital topo map, and created waypoints of each. I then transferred these waypoints to my GPS which previously had the maps for the inside passage loaded on board.

The locations of campsites are really the determining factor in what our days will look like. Most people don't realize that you can't usually just 'get off the water' whenever you want to. In most of the world Trees, or cliffs or some other natural obstacle will keep you from getting off the water, and too safety. In order to camp we not only need to be able to get back on land, but we need a place that isn't going to be flooded at the next high tide - and Alaska can have tide cycles that can range 20 vertical feet - there also has to be room for us, our kayaks, and enough space that our tents aren't on top of each other. The distance between these campsites is going to be what determines the length of our paddling days. If the next campsite is 10 miles away, but your team is tired and need a shore break, guess what. You keep paddling. It will be the determining factor if our days are ten miles long, or thirty miles long. It's the difference between a 4 hour paddle day and a 14 hour paddle day.

I will continue to pull camp site data from other sources - a book is next - and I will continue to load them into the TOPO! software and the GPS. Before we depart for Alaska, I will print the topo maps which will have the campsites marked on them. We will also have our charts with the campsites marked on them. As paddlers it is good to use both, as we need both water, and land information.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A day of many accomplishments.

Today was a very busy day in the land of inside passage prep. It started with a solve to the parking problem. We have three options. A location that will store the vehicles for approximately $50 for the month. A place where we could park the cars with the only risk being a possible ticket - not towing, as I have it on good authority that Skagway doesn't own a tow truck. But finally, and I think this is what we will do, we can park at the ferry terminal for free. So I will consider that problem solved.

I did the math on the drive, and it looks like it will cost around $650 per car to drive round trip. That is assuming 35 miles per gallon, at $3.00 a gallon - both of those numbers will fluctuate - based on 3700 miles to Skagway from North Carolina.

Finally, I had another round of emails with a very nice woman, Claudia Pearson, from the NOLS Rocky Mountain Branch. She was assisting me with the ration plan. NOLS doesn't plan food around individual meals, it plans them around the concept of having a pantry of food, and creating meals as you go. This system works very well for big groups, or long trips. With her help, and the help of the NOLS cookery I figured that we should plan on 1.75 pounds of food per person, per day for 30 days. Further I decided that it should be 3 rations of ten days each, for five people. We will be broken into two 'cook groups', one of 2 and one of 3. This actually works out well, as 2 of us are vegetarians, and 3 of us are not.

Claudia was nice enough to plug our information into her computer and generate a list of foods, and I can see how they break out per cook group, and for each ration. At the end I can see totals in terms of weight for the shopping.

In total the plan calls for carrying 262 pounds of food. This will probably not be exact because we have the opportunity to resupply en-route 3 or 4 times. We will also probably carry more fresh food than NOLS normally does. There was one line on the ration sheet that grabbed my attention. It calls for 32 pounds of cheese. That is a lot of cheese. This food will be packed in dry bags, 3 per kayak weighing 17 pounds each. We will also have a gallon of fuel in each kayak.

Add on top of that, personal gear, tents, a cook tarp, etc, etc. and you have 5 very heavy kayaks. While I am not too worried about my kayak, as it is a load monster of a boat, I am concerned about some of the smaller boats with smaller hatches. There is always that fear, 'will it all fit'. The only thing I am sure of is every day we will get stronger, and every day the kayaks will be lighter. That is assuming we get all of this gear, and the paddlers, to Ketchikan to get into the water.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Parking, Part 2

I have talked before about Google Earth and what a great resource for planning it is. But today as I still try and figure out parking for two cars for a month in Skagway something occurred to me. I thought, wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to walk the streets of Skagway looking for a good safe place to park for a month. To see what it looks like. To look at businesses and see what their parking lot is like. Then it occurred to me, I could. I used Google street view to 'walk' the streets of a town 3500 miles away. I now know the airport is really small. And there doesn't appear to be long term parking at the ferry terminal. While I am still looking for a place to park, I now can see where I am going to be. It really is an amazing thing. As I 'drove' from the airport to the ferry terminal, I thought, in a few months I will be driving this for real. The way technology has changed the process of planning an expedition is incredible. Google earth was a game changer. The ability to email the Skagway Chamber of Commerce and the Visitors Bureau is awesome. That as we paddle through certain locations we will have cell phone service making it a little easier to contact our families and tell them that we are doing fine will take a mental weight off of us, and our loved ones.

You can debate the intrusion of technology into the outdoors. It does make for more rescues as people perceive it as a safety net, and so therefore take greater risks. But for the people who actually need it and use it responsibly it is an absolute - and literal - life saver. I carry a VHF radio for emergency communication and weather reports. 30 years ago was this viewed as technology intruding into the outdoors? How soon until I have live, up to the minute satellite weather maps on my phone or other device making the weather radio obsolete? I bet it's not that far off.

SPOT has just announced a device that pairs with your smart phone to send text messages via satellite from just about anywhere on earth. How soon until this technology is two way? How soon until Personal Locator Beacons are the size of an Army Dog tag to be worn around your neck. Press a button on it and the cavalry is alerted.

For now I will continue planning our trip, using what ever tools I have at my disposal. Which means paper charts, digital maps, GPS and compass. At the end of the day they are all just tools, and each has it's place.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Paddling in cold water

Many of you know that I am a big fan of the drysuit. After many years of saying 'you don't need it/you can accomplish the same things less expensively' I finally gave in, and purchased one two winters ago. I never looked back. It is an expensive piece of gear. Probably the most expensive piece of gear you will buy with the exception of your kayak. But the comfort and freedom it gives you is unbelievable. I no longer worry about getting my feet wet, or getting in the water to help someone into or out of their kayak.

This week, several of the kayakers doing the trip are thinking about clothing, as they want to be paddling, but the weather has gotten bad. I went paddling this week with one of the Alaska team mates, so he could try out some clothing combinations. We were lucky enough to have some ice on the lake we chose to paddle on. This isn't the type of ice we will have in Alaska, but it was still an interesting experience. In Alaska, when near glaciers we will have icebergs and 'bergie bits'. Small chunks of ice ranging in size from fist sized to the size of a large television. On the Lake here in the Carolinas we had sheets of ice. Thin enough that we could paddle through it, but it definitely made it's presence known. It was noisy. In sections you had to break through it with your paddle to get your stroke started. It was an interesting experience, and while it doesn't directly relate to conditions in Alaska, it does give us the chance to work on layering and head, hand and foot wear.

ice from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Friday, January 7, 2011


As planning continues for this summers expedition it is clear what the biggest challenge will be. Logistics. Simply getting the people, the kayaks, the gear, and the food to a put-in in Ketchikan Alaska. This is true of most expeditions in my experience. We have already researched the best ways to get five kayaks and assorted gear to our put-in. The least expensive way is simply to drive the kayaks on the top of a pair of cars to Skagway. Load the boats and gear on the ferry to Ketchikan. And paddle back north.

So here is today's dilemma. What are we going to do with two cars for a month in Skagway Alaska. We need to park them someplace safe, and walkable to the ferry terminal. I am sure we could find long term parking someplace, but anyway that we can save some money is needed.

So I am putting it out there. Do you know someone who lives in Skagway, Alaska?

Here is your chance to help.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I talk frequently about several concepts.

Integrating different strokes together into one fluid movement.

The importance of connection to your kayak, so that your movements are its movements, and when it moves, you feel the movement and can react accordingly.

The key strokes that make a paddler amazing are the simple skills diamond. Low/high brace, Forward stroke, Sweep stroke - simple strokes taken to the next level by good edging.

This is a video I found on youtube via reddit - I think - of a paddler in a tide race in Victoria BC. He perfectly exemplifies the concepts above. He flows smoothly between different strokes, braces, forward strokes, and stern rudders as he moves from trough to peak of each wave. Truly beautiful to watch - the slow motion helps, but I am sure it is beautiful to watch at regular speed as well.