Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bits and pieces and miles

This week a number of little tasks were completed. The repair kit is all but done, I just need a few feet of fiberglass tape for the ultimate nightmare, a crack in my kayak. The kit contains a sleeping pad repair kit, silicone seal, devcon adhesive, a tent pole repair sleeve, the Whisperlite expedition repair kit and a multi tool.

The last of my dry bags have been ordered, I pulled the trigger and ordered a tapered bag for my stern which will hold all my clothes. As well as a new waterproof compression dry bag for my sleeping bag. And the first two 13 liter ration bags. The rest of the team will have to order their own ration bags.

Claudia from the NOLS Rocky Mountain Branch is sending me the first of the food, 8 pounds of the NOLS potato hash browns, and the plastic bags that will be used to pack the rest of the food.

I completed, printed and bound the topo maps of the route. They were printed on National Geographic Adventure paper which is waterproof and tear resistant. I am almost ready to print and bind another book, this on of charts of the route compiled from the NOAA booklet charts - which bring the majority of the route down to 8.5 x 11 size, and easy usability on the deck of a kayak. We will also bring along the charts on my office walls that were just about the first purchase made at the beginning of planning. They have been updated with marks for campsites.

Having the charts done I was able to run a piece of cord - marked with mileage - along the route. Doing so, I discovered two things. First, my preferred route has a stretch of around 40 miles that only have 'possible' campsites instead of solid knowledge. While this makes me a little nervous it is at its heart what adventure is about. The other thing is that I had done the math loosely on the route and found it around 375 miles. But by doing it with the cord it came up around 409 miles (though I just did a conversion to nautical miles and that is actually around 355). This is striking because an additional 30 miles is a fair bit of kayaking. It our daily average from 11 miles to 16. Of course I know full well that there wont be 'average' days. The distance we paddle will be dictated by weather, and conditions and the comfort of the team. But really we have 30 days to do this or we will all be late getting back to work. The plan calls for 25 days of kayaking, with 5 days for weather/rest days, which really isn't much.

Here is the schedule as it stands now:

Ketchikan to Pt. Higgins - 10

Pt. Higgins crossing to Caamano pt. - 11.5

Caamano to Niblack pt. - 7

Niblack pt. to Three islands - 11.5

Three islands to Emerald Bay (stopping in Meyers Chuck) -21

Emerald Bay to Change Island - 9

Change Island to Found Island - 12

Found island to Nemo pt. - 18

Nemo Pt to Wrangell - 13

Wrangell to Coney Island - 22

Coney island to Petersburg - 13.5

Petersburg to Dry bay - 19

Dry Bay to Cape Fanshaw - 22.5

Cape Fanshaw to Church Pt (?) - 28

Church Pt. to Mole Harbor (?) - 25.5

Mole Harbor to Windfall Island (?) - 19

Windfall island to Oliver Inlet (?) - 17

Oliver Inlet to Juneau Alaska - 21

Juneau Alaska to Auke Bay - 15

Auke Bay to Circle Island -16

Circle island to Point Bridget - 12

Pt. Bridget to Pt Sherman - 13

Pt. Sherman to Eldrid rock - 13

Eldrid Rock to Haines Alaska - 24

Haines Alaska to Skagway Alaska - 16

That's how I have it figured, 25 days, 409 miles. Will it play out that way? in terms of distance, it will, in terms of days or averages probably not. The key is just to continually be heading north. It will unfold however it unfolds. As a Buddhist I try hard not to worry about things I have no control over. But as a human, I can't always help it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Yesterday, Someone googled...

How to go to the bathroom on an expedition.

They were led to this blog post, which unfortunately for them didn't answer the question. Since it is a very common question - literally the first question my sister asked when I returned from my first Alaska trip - I decided to write a post about it.

One of the certifications I have acquired over the years is 'Leave No Trace - Master Educator', and I follow strict LNT rules when in the back country. Here is the LNT process for going to the bathroom.

Here is the short version:

200 feet from fresh water, dig a cat hole - six inches across, six to eight inches deep - Deposit waste in the cat hole. Refill the cat hole and disguise the site. I was taught that toilet paper must be packed out, but the LNT site currently says that non-colored, non-perfumed toilet paper can be buried along with the waste. I don't pack any toilet paper on expeditions. More on that later.

I like this for digging my cat hole as it works well and keeps BPA laden bottles out of the landfill.

Urine is a non-issue as it is sterile and has very little effect on the environment, but it should still be 200 feet from fresh water. It can sometimes attract animals due to the salt it contains, so urinating on gravel, pine needles, or soft soil will help prevent this. You can also dilute it with fresh water.

Notice all these descriptions say fresh water. The concern is contaminating ground water, which we then end up drinking. As a sea kayaker I am not terribly worried about contaminating the sea as there is a massive amount of bacteria that helps biodegrade anything that might get into it, but I am still digging my cat hole away from the ocean. Though I will urinate in the intertidal zone.

So why don't I pack in toilet paper? There was a time where you weren't allowed to bury toilet paper, and if you used it you had to pack it out. Let's be honest, no one is packing out used toilet paper. You can't burn it because the paper will burn, but the feces will not. My toilet paper substitute of choice is rocks. I will generally grab three or four rocks from the water line before heading off into the brush. These should be rocks that have lived a long time in the water, and are nice and smooth and rounded. Nothing with hard or sharp edges. I use them and simply drop them into the cat hole when I am done. I have also used moss, pine cones, and various other natural items. But I like rocks the best.

I am not a hygiene fanatic, but a lot of back country ailments can be traced to dirty hands, and so I do carry a small bottle antibacterial gel for preventing for keeping hands sanitary. In the front country I think antibacterials are a bad idea, as they are breeding more robust bacteria that will be harder to kill in the future. But in the back country where it is very hard to wash your hands effectively I think it makes sense.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Two things

Two items that will be on this trip that I don't normally carry are a deck bag, and a ditch bag. When I do Alaska kayaking trips I use a deck bag, and this time will be no different. I don't use one on shorter trips because I generally wont spend as much time in the cockpit of the kayak. But with the potential for 8, 10 or even 12 hours in the cockpit on this trip a deck back will be an essential piece of gear. It will have some things in it that require easy access, and I will be using this seal line deck bag.

Inside it will be the pelican case for my water proof point and shoot camera, as well as a pelican case with all my GoPro accessories - if they all fit. A small pair of binoculars for both wildlife and scouting beaches for landings, and sea state for launches. Power food/Snack food. A GPS - again in a pelican case, and a regular compass.

the ditch bag is something that I haven't carried before. Ditch bag may be the wrong term, more like the everything emergency bag. It will have my general repair kit which includes a multi tool. As well as some emergency fire starting supplies, some power bars, a light source, an extra wool hat. If we decide to bring a spot, it will be either in the ditch bag or the deck bag.

My large first aid kit will be at my feet in the cockpit, but a smaller - band aids, Ibuprofen, etc - will also be in the deck bag.

In general I don't like the idea of having gear on the deck of my kayak, they make the boat more susceptible to wind, as well as more difficult to roll. But these are items I will need to get too in during a paddle, and it will also free up some space inside the kayaks.

One other piece of gear that over the years I have toyed with purchasing, but haven't until recently is a tapered dry bag. I tried this one out the other day, filling one with all my paddle clothing - including my dry suit - and then stuffing it in the stern of my kayak. My thought process is this. For my clothing I use two 20 liter dry bags and always have. It has been a good system, one filled with 'weather' clothes and one filled with everything else. Slowly the two bags merge into one, as just about everything gets a bit damp on a month long trip in Alaska. The two twenty liter bags are generally full en route to the put in, but once I put on paddle clothes one of the is only half full. This system has worked well for me for years.

Recently though I had been thinking that I wasn't maximizing the space in my stern. I have gotten good at packing things in my bow, but because the stern dry storage is so much longer it is hard to get things deep into the area directly in front of the rudder. It occurred to me that I could get this tapered dry bag, and fill that area completely. It doesn't go all the way back, I think there is just enough room for a liter fuel bottle. I am excited as I think this will also free up space inside my kayak. It will certainly shift the order of things, as my clothes have been in two twenty liter dry bags directly behind my cockpit. Clothes will be slightly more 'buried' in the boat so I will need to be a bit more thoughtful in my planning for each day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The ride

I finally got a kayak on top of the roof rack and on top of the car that will be driving to Alaska. It was nice to finally get into the water, it had been close to a month between weather, the drysuit and work. I met my wife for lunch after paddling in cold wet conditions and she immediately saw the difference in my mood. I am noticeably happier after kayaking, as I have said before it is my meditation. It sets my mind straight. And that is the joy of kayaking.

I wish that the crossbars were a bit further apart, but the rear bar is just in front of the rear bulkhead, and the front bar is just behind a hull support that runs across the floor of the cockpit - I originally thought that bar was to stiffen the hull in the cockpit while paddling but when talking to Mark Hall of Delta kayaks he informed me that it for exactly the reason above. To stiffen the kayak when on a roof rack.

While the fit of the rack is perfect - after many years of Yakima use, this Thule rack was the easiest fit I have ever done - the rectangular bars flex a bit more than I am used to when loading a kayak on board. Yakima's round bars are clearly stronger. I could have used the Thule Aero bars, but they are a bit more expensive.

The absolute coolest thing though, is that the little Toyota Yaris has a removable tow hook on the front right side. Making a bow line easy to attach. No more crawling under the car looking for something to hook it onto.

I did see about a 6 mpg drop with the roof racks on, I can only assume it will be worse with two kayaks up there. Hopefully the price of gas will drop back down by the end of June.

One year.

I realized last night that today was the one year anniversary of starting this blog. I've had fun, and learned a lot.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Drysuit update

My mango red Kokatat GMER dry suit is once again in my hands. Shipping was slower than I had hoped a bit more than a week each way, and then there was a little issue with UPS not knowing where it was for 26 hours - which only had me slightly insane. It turned up this afternoon and looks wonderful.

It came in a box folded like it was done by someone who has folded a lot of dry suits. It had a tag on it with my name, and a list of where it was to be patched.

The outside of the drysuit had small bits of something on it, it almost looks like melted plastic shavings, they were on the suit exterior, but the interior was clean.

I counted 14 small patches inside the suit, there may have been more. They did a beautiful job, and I am very excited to get this back on and in the water. Here is my only concern. Yes this suit is about two years old, and yes it gets a lot of use. But I take very good care of it. It lives in its own dry bag, it hangs dry after use. I really cant account for 14 holes.

Jordan from Kokatat was awesome, He couldnt tell me what caused the pin hole size leaks - how could he - but he explained that they are common in high wear areas. He was awesome about keeping me informed as to the status of the suit, and explaining the process for the repair. Though I would like to see a video of how they pressure test the drysuit. So this is one less thing that needs to be taken care of before Alaska.

Another item off the list is a power adapter for the car. I bought a 12 volt accessory adapter that will charge the GoPro. So I can shoot video on the drive, and hit the ferry with fully charged batteries. I will also be prepared to charge the batteries on the ferry as I assume I will be able to find a standard electrical outlet. I would like to shoot video of the route on the way down.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Batteries are the bane of my existence. At least in terms of this expedition, and I am sure they are problematic on all expeditions. My GoPro takes its own lithium ion battery, as does my Olympus point and shoot. My headlamp takes AAA's and my GPS and VHF take AA's - and my VHF has it's own lithium ion as well. My iPod of course has its own non-removable battery.

I can of course pack AA and AAA batteries for the various devices I am bringing, but it is really the GoPro and Olympus that are the trouble makers. I currently own 3 batteries for the Olympus, and 5 for the GoPro, and I plan on buying 2 or 3 more for the GoPro. I just don't know when and where I will be able to plug in the camera to charge. In fact the Olympus requires a special charger to charge the batteries - the GoPro you just plug in the camera and it charges, which is a plus. I am glad I don't have to worry about charging a laptop on the trip, as that would be nightmarish. I do with there were an easy way to blog - or even just take notes electronically for blogging afterwards - while on the trip.

For the past six months of so I have been watching this company, and I am very excited by the products they are offering. I was even more excited to see this - the smallest item they make available at my local REI, and if I wasn't going to a massive rain forest I would consider it, I just don't think I will get enough sun to make it worth the money.

What I would like to see are devices lithium ion batteries become standardized. So chargers will become prolific, and there will be no guess work as to what works with what, and how long a recharge takes. Sort of the way SD cards have become standardized - though my biggest gripe about my Olympus is it uses a non-standard SD card which is very frustrating.

Now here is a million dollar idea that I would love someone to create. Solar chargers are great, but as a paddler they are usually not waterproof, and I tend to paddle in places without a lot of sun. I would really like to trail a tiny line off the back of my kayak with a small propeller that gets turned by my movement through the water. That turning is then turned into electricity in a dry box on my back deck, which in turn charges batteries. If someone could get to work on that I would really appreciate it. Something tells me the market for expeditionary kayaking isn't quite big enough to warrant the creation of such a device.

Friday, March 4, 2011

This is a cool blog.

It's about kayaking down the mekong and is written in a wonderful style, If I didn't have to go to work, I would be sitting here all day with a cup of coffee reading it.