Monday, February 28, 2011

Water, and the Ferry.

As a storm rages outside my window, big logistics, and little details are filling my head today. One of the biggest logistics is getting the team and all of our gear to Skagway Alaska, we then will load all of our stuff onto the ferry and head south to Ketchikan. Where our paddling will begin.

The ferry is a major concern. The logistics of just getting everyone and all of our gear to the ferry - on time - is enough to make someone crazy. But after having just gotten off the phone with the Alaska Marine Highway System I feel slightly better. They recommend making a reservation a month or two prior to our trip, though since we don't have vehicles they aren't very concerned about there being space for us. The cost is $147.00 per person and $47.00 per kayak, and the trip will take about a day and half.

The little details that are filling my brain are still fairly important. Water and maps. We will be bringing along a Sawyer gravity fed water filter. It is a nice system, that uses two bags, one for dirty water, and another for clean water, with a filter in between. Gravity forces the water through the filter delivering filtered water into the clean bag. But, I didn't want to bring the sawyer clean bag since most of us use MSR dromedaries. So I spent a fair amount of the day creating s system to use the sawyer quick connect plugs with the MSR bags, but then I realized that by doing that I would be giving up an additional 4 liter bag - the sawyer clean bag. So I scrapped my ideas and will just transfer water to the Dromedaries from the Sawyer clean bag.

The Topo maps have been scaled and are ready to print - I even did a test print on regular paper - now all I have to do is order the special waterproof paper that the topo maps will be printed on, and have them printed. I will have the large NOAA charts - that currently adorn the office walls, covered with post it notes for campsites - with us, somewhat cut down to size so they are easier to use. But I am also toying with the idea of printing the NOAA booklet charts for the area. I can't decide if they will be helpful, or if the scale is so small that they will be uselessly small sections of water.

I have done trips planned on maps that look completely usable during preparation but when you hit the trail you realize the maps used to plan were the most useless scale to really judge what is happening. I am concerned that something like this will occur with these charts. But when it is all said and done, and we are on the water, little things like water bags and the scale of charts will hopefully be non-issues.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Long lists, and guyouts.

The amount of things that need to occur on a trip like this one is almost mind numbing. Most days I walk around with a small spiral pad to make notes of things that need to be purchased, built, prepared, or in some other way made ready for this trip. Even as wired as I have my gear, there are many things to do.

A big item on the list is repair kit related. A trip of this length, in conditions like this it is almost inevitable that something(s) will break. And so a repair kit is necessary. My repair kit is in a small yellow plastic waterproof case, and at the moment it has in it, a multi-tool, a sleeping pad repair kit, an MSR whisperlite expedition maintenance kit. It will soon have aqua seal, duct tape, silicone seal, and anything else I think might be needed. There will also have to be a kayak repair kit with epoxy for repairing the kayaks, and cables and hardware to fix rudders and skegs.

On todays agenda from the never ending list, was to set up my tent and add guyout lines to many of the guyout tabs on the tent. I had a few on it, and while the tent was purchased with this trip in mind, I have never had the opportunity to really put this particular four season tent to the test. I have spent many nights in many different four season tents. There are tents I like, and tents I don't. This particular tent - made by REI - was purchased because I couldn't get the tent I really wanted. It was a back up. But After using it a few times, it has proven itself as one the best tents I have ever used. Easy to pitch, bombproof, roomy. Huge vestibule. Just a fantastic tent.

Most people don't realize that there is a right and wrong way to load a guyout point on your tent. You want to load it in the direction it is sewn. It will be significantly stronger that way.

There is also a preferred way of tying the lines so that they are knot free and easy to adjust.

The truckers hitch with a half hitch is a great way to do this. In the video below you will see me tying this simple combination of tensioning knots, and then releasing them. Leaving the rope knot free.

truckers hitch from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Whisperlite, and simmering.

One of the key pieces of gear coming along on this trip is our stove. Or more accurately I should say 'stoves' as there will be three. One for each cook group, and a backup. Our stove of choice, and the first choice of many expeditions is the MSR Whisperlite.

Yes, it is heavier than a canister stove. Yes, you have to prime it. But that is where the disadvantages end. It is much more efficient in terms of fuel use than anything else. It is extremely reliable. It will run well in the cold, and the wet. It packs small, and supports a big pot. It is easy to maintain in the field, and almost never needs it. It is an easy choice.

There is one other complaint people have with this stove, and that is that it doesn't simmer well. In fact it doesn't simmer at all. If your boiling water it isn't a major issue, but once you really start cooking you may need the ability to simmer. Many times I will just regulate heat by moving, and/or holding the pan above the flame. And this works well enough. There is also a device called the 'scorch buster' which goes over the flame and creates indirect heat. I haven't used it, but it has a great reputation.

There is of course one other method. This method isn't in the directions for the stove. I learned it in Alaska in 2000. I have to stress, attempt this at your own risk. I am merely illustrating a technique. I don't believe this is recommended by the manufacturer or anyone else. But here it is. Light your whisperlite as usual.

1. set up your stove with wind screen and heat reflector. Attach the fuel bottle which has been pressurized with around 10 pumps.

2. open the valve on the pressure pump to allow some liquid fuel into the priming cup on the bottom of the stove. When the cup has a little fuel in it, close the valve.

3. light the liquid fuel in the priming cup with a match or lighter. Allow this raw fuel to preheat the stove.

4. As the fuel is about to burn out open the valve again, allowing fuel to flow out of the fuel bottle, it gets heated and vaporized in the fuel line, where the gas exits the top of the stove you will now have a nice blue flame. Your ready to cook.

Here is where you adjust the system to make it simmer.


5. After preheating your stove, and having it ready to cook, turn off the fuel valve, and blow out the stove. You should still hear the sound of gas escaping for a few seconds.

6. Pick up the entire stove from the fuel bottle, as the stove is very hot. Unscrew the pressure pump just enough to allow the fuel bottle to become unpressurized. Do not do this near an open flame.

7. Put the stove back down, open the valve on the pressure pump to allow fuel to flow again, and light the stove once more at the burner - not the priming cup.

You now have a stove set to simmer. you may need to give it one or two pumps every now and then to keep it going. Or, you could buy a simmer lite, or dragonfly, both of which offer good flame control. Have I mentioned NOT to try this technique? Good. Here is a video illustrating the above method. Unfortunately in daylight you can't see the difference between the regular flame and the simmering flame.

Simmering with a Whisperlit from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

One thing worth mentioning, a lot of people turn off their whisperlite incorrectly. Many will turn of the pump valve allowing the stove to extinguish itself. And while this works, it also causes the stove to sputter to a stop, which creates soot which can clog the jet. A better method is to turn off the valve, and blow out the stove. The remaining - vaporized - fuel will just vent out of the fuel line.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Men, Heavy bags, Driving and kayaks.

The Gym I attended most days has a number of free standing heavy bags - the boxing kind - scattered around the facility. They also make available boxing gloves, but they don't offer instruction. Invariably about once a week I will see a man put on a pair of gloves and hit the heavy bag for a minute or so. Also invariably they punch incorrectly. Most men don't know how to throw a punch, yet most men think they do.

I was taught to throw a punch by a girlfriend. The situation played out in a gym, in Manhattan and after I punched the bag, she destroyed the bag, and then proceeded to teach me how to effectively throw a punch. It was humbling to have a girlfriend teach me to punch, so I did the only reasonable thing I could think of, I married her. Over a decade later she can still beat the pulp out of me - if she chose to - and she is not a big woman, as I am not a big man. She is a couple of inches shorter than me. What she has is skill. Finely honed skill near 30 years in the making, studying various forms of martial arts.

Driving is the same way. Men not only think they can drive, but they think the only difference between them and anyone in Nascar, F1, indy or him is the car. I am sure I am guilty of this myself. I have been driving since my early teens, driven every manner of vehicle for a living, and feel confident that on a race track I could produce a reasonable time. I am also sure I am wrong. While I have read about apex's and turning, and when to accelerate in corners I know there is a big difference between reading about it, and doing it.

I don't fully understand why men think this way, and I have never run into a woman who thinks this way, though that doesn't mean it doesn't happen, I just don't experience it. I think it has to do with the fear of not knowing how to do something 'a man' is supposed to know how to do, but that is a guess.

Not surprisingly I see the same thing occur with kayaking. Regularly I see instructors of other disciplines think they can instruct kayaking because they can sit in a kayak. Regularly I see men who say 'Oh, I know how to kayak' because they have been in a kayak a couple of times. Recreational kayaking is a very popular sport. It is popular because you don't need instruction to get started, but that doesn't mean you don't need instruction. I don't generally see this kind of attitude in female kayakers, but again, that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. In order to learn any skill you have to open your mind to new concepts, and prepare yourself to take in new information that may be very different than your preconceived notions of that skill. I think kayaking has one of the highest levels of misconception of any skill set in the outdoor world. Particularly canoeists who think a kayak is a similar craft, but with a different paddle. You have to put away the fear of not knowing, and open your mind to the possibilities of finally learning.