Tuesday, April 24, 2012

East Coast Kayak Festival 2012

This past weekend I did the drive down to Charleston for the East Coast Canoe and Kayak Festival. This is the largest gathering of paddlers - that I am aware of - in the south east. I attended twice before. Once while I was deep into looking for the kayak to use in Alaska, and a couple of years after that just for fun.

It was cool and overcast when I arrived, but I was immediately struck by how much smaller the event was this year, compared to my past experiences. Vendors set up tents around the curve of a lake. Previous years there had been no open shoreline. This year they weren't packed as tightly as they had been in past years and there were still a few gaps on the shore. There was however a good crowd, as it was the first time I had to park in a distant parking lot. The last time I was in attendance Delta kayaks was present, all the way from British Columbia. They weren't at the event this year, which is a shame because I was curious if they had new offerings coming soon. Werner paddles was there, but a much smaller presence than previous years.

What was in attendance was Stand Up Paddle boards. Tons of paddle boards, and paddles and accessories. Even classes, this time specifically devoted to stand up paddle boards. Call me old fashioned, but this rapidly growing segment of 'paddling', to me isn't paddling. Let's start with the fact that this is the East Coast Canoe and Kayak festival - I think they should change the name to East Coast Canoe, Kayak and SUP festival. I tend to think of SUP'ing as closer to surfing, or at least a hybrid between paddling and surfing. I've tried it, it's fun, but it isn't paddling. sorry.

My real goal was to see what was happening in the industry, and besides SUPing, it appears not much. Epic kayaks had a surprisingly large presence, as did Tahe marine. Tahe makes beautiful greenland style boats - and as I look at their website it appears they are now making NA style boats in rotomolded plastic, which either I didn't see or missed at the festival. I made a note to paddle the Tahe boats. I also scoped out the Nigel Denis Kayaks people as I wanted to paddle an Explorer. I was also curious about a Valley.

I put on paddling gear and started shopping for kayaks to buy someday. I was surprised how heavy the fiberglass boats were, its been a few years since I paddled a glass boat and my thermoformed plastic is much lighter. I am a bit of a hard fit for most kayaks, as I need a kayak that is responsive and fits my narrow hips well, but at the same time will hold a months worth of gear and food. This is a tough combination. Usually the boats that fit the way I like don't have enough storage, and the boats with enough storage I could swim laps in. All of the boats I was interested in paddling didn't have a rudder option, which meant that the stern compartment would have a skeg box. Translate that into my large tapered bag wouldn't fit. In fact all of the high end touring boats had much smaller storage than my current boat, and smaller than I would need for the next big trip I am planning (that's another post).

I did have fun with the guys from Astral Buoyancy as I tried on a couple of new PFD's. I have to say I was pretty impressed with the Green Jacket. I think this will be my next major paddling purchase. I liked its lower profile compared to my 300r. It doesn't have the fleece pocket, but everything is a trade off.

So I half-heartedly paddled some boats, but was truly uninspired. I decided to sit in on a class or two. A friend from WMI was giving a class on 'bites and stings'. Jon Lowrance is a wonderful teacher and incredibly funny. I then Slid into a class taught by Jeff Cooper of H2Outfitters mainly because I was intrigued by the title. 'Cutting through the hype'. This was about what the vendors tell us about their gear versus realities of gear, or finding the right gear for us. He talked about bent shaft paddles, and dry suits and wicking layers. Jeff has a tremendous amount of kayaking experience and knowledge and it was a really interesting topic. I agreed with most of what Jeff said, with just a few exceptions. He did say something that really struck a chord with me though. He felt the festival was moving away from instruction, in the 'symposium' sense and moving more towards a sales pitch. Which I agree with. He also talked about how he saw 'experts' at the festival paddling with horrible form. Arm paddling. As I went outside to watch people paddle I could see that he was right. I saw people testing $4000 kayaks who didn't know how to paddle. It seems Jeff and I still have a lot of work to do.

Photos from the festival are at

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The 21 day (two minute) meditation challenge

A week ago I posted this, and I have really loved switching to a two minute format from my longer 20 minute meditation sittings. While the effect isn't as staggering as a good longer session, it is much less daunting, and frankly the time commitment makes it much more attainable. I used to be happy if I meditated twice a week. This week I have meditated five times.

The shorter sessions have also allowed me to put more of a focused effort into making those two minutes as good as possible. Short meditations are a little different than long meditations. The effects won't be as profound, it is more like running a sprint, than a marathon. But what it is doing is creating a habit. I wake up, and go to the gym, and at the end of my workout I find a quiet corner and sit for two minutes (though I generally enjoy it so much I stretch it to five).

This morning as I was sitting down to meditate I was thinking about how much I was enjoying the new format, when I had an idea. Several months ago - in support of a friend - I did a 21 day meditation challenge through the Chopra institute. Why not see if I can do 21 days of two minute meditation sessions? I wondered if my friend would be open to trying it with me? Then I thought, why not open it up to everyone. So that is what I am going to do, Starting Sunday the 22nd of April. Twenty one days of two minute sessions. You can sit at any time of day - though I think a morning session clears your head for the day - and all you have to do is like a Facebook post.

Here is a post at ZenHabits with the hows and whys to meditate - actually, these are wonderful instructions on how to meditate! Use the two minute format. Here is what you have to do to join the challenge:

Go to and leave a comment that your joining the challenge. Everyday I will post something on Facebook related to the challenge - a picture, a line of text. Whatever I think of - and you just need to 'like' that days post. That will show you meditated too. We are on the honor system.

I am going to figure out some sort of small prize for the people who do 19 days of meditation. 19 Days? But this is a 21 day meditation challenge? Yes, it is. But I am giving everyone two 'gimmes'. You miss a day, you can call a gimme, and keep going. We all have busy lives and sometimes we just get wrapped up in things and we forget.

So why should you do this? Because sometimes we get so wrapped up in things we forget to take two minutes! Do you have a hard time settling your brain when its time to go to sleep? Do you have high Blood Pressure? Are you stressed? All of these can be fixed by mediation. In fact, here are 100 things that are fixed by meditation, and meditation is free, requires no special equipment, and you can do it just about anywhere.

But you say 'I don't have time?' Really? You don't have two minutes? You're honestly telling me you can't take two minutes for yourself? You couldn't use two minutes of quiet time? Wake up in the morning and put the water on to boil for coffee and while your waiting you could be meditating. You couldn't use two minutes to, just, stop. Take two minutes a day for 21 days, and see what happens. It may be life changing. And if it's not, it was only two minutes.

What do you have to lose? You can do this!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

an iPad review? Really? At a kayaking blog?

Yes. There is a reason that makes sense, just give me a chance.

I made the plunge and purchased an iPad - my first - on release day, just about one month ago. There were a couple of reasons that I decided it was time. When I teach wilderness medicine I work from 5x7 index cards which are about the same size as an iPad screen. I knew I could go digital. Additionally, the book that is almost done is initially only going to be available in the iTunes store for the iPad. It is an enhanced E-book with HD video. At some point it will be available for the Kindle as well. But I needed an iPad to preview the finished layouts, so on release day I found my way to an apple store and managed to get a brand new iPad without waiting in line. I have a couple of connections at a couple of Apple stores. I splurged a bit and bought the 32GB wifi+4g model.

While this was my first iPad I am not new to the Apple ecosystem. I was late to the 'iPhone party' primarily because I am not much of a cell phone user. I used the cheapest cellphone I could for a very long time. I knew I would love an iPhone, but wasn't prepared for how much it would change my day to day life. But I suppose that is another story.

Before that I was late to the 'iPod Party' not getting my first until the iPod 3rd generation. The one with the very non-apple row of four buttons across the front.

And if I was late to the iPod/iPhone I was early to the Macintosh party. Actually I was at the party before the was one. I was at the party before it went sour and came back again. I was at the original - almost - Macintosh party. I have always enjoyed the Apple Aesthetic, and have enjoyed watching it's designs mature, From beige boxes - they were once - to colorful candy, to titanium and then understated aluminum. Almost entirely in laptop form. I knew I would like an iPad.

The unboxing was relatively sedate. I was surprised it didn't come with a screen cloth like my MBP did. I opted against the smart cover as I already had a sleeve from Timbuk 2 that I love. The screen is beautiful, But I wish it was edge to edge - the same goes for my laptop - I feel there is a lot of waisted space around the screen.

It is my preferred method for surfing the web, it is just so intuitive to touch the things that are of interest to me instead of using a trackpad. Though I wish some of the track pad features existed on the multi touch iPad. For instance, I can swipe to the right with two fingers on my track pad, and safari will go back a page. I can't do this on the iPad. Speaking of Safari, why don't I get an opening screen of my favorite web pages like I do on my laptop? I would rather have my iPhone, and iPad and OS X perform as close to each other as possible.

As an experiment I didn't activate my data plan for close to two weeks. I wanted to see if I needed it. It wasn't until I travelled outside of my normal routines that I did. Most of the places that I normally go had free wifi that was of a fairly good speed.

Battery life is good, particularly if you are doing something other that looking at video. Video is a battery killer. And the battery in this iPad is huge, and takes an equally huge amount of time to charge. Remember to plug it in at night so you start the day at 100%. I have discovered that it charges best from its included wall charger - a 10watt charger. I have also learned that the new MacBook Pros have both a 10w and 5w USB port on their side. In that order from front to back. My MBP is too old - only a few years - and only has 5w USB ports. If I plug it in to my MBP and watch a video on it, and it uses power faster than it charges. That is a bit of a bummer.

The virtual keyboard is adequate. I can type with a handful of fingers. Better than my iPhone, but not as good as my MBP - which is where I am typing this.  And that is understandable.

This is where it excels. It is big enough to be useful, and small enough to go with me everywhere. Almost everywhere. I take it places I would never bring my laptop. It is light enough I don't think twice about bringing it, I just do. and I love that.

There have been reports of excessive heat and poor wifi performance and I have experienced neither of those. My iPhone apps automatically loaded on my iPad, which was nice - and expected - but I wish they would automatically upgrade to full iPad versions. I am occasionally left with an iPhone size screen left in the center of my iPad. There is a way to make them larger but with sharpness being sacrificed.

So why is this on a kayaking blog? This is the reason. A friend reported to me that he read in Backpacker magazine something to the effect of 'leave home your map/compass/gps and just bring your tablet in a waterproof case. This is a massive mistake - at this point I haven't been able to find the actual quote, but regularly I hear from students 'why would I buy a GPS when my phone has one?' So this concept has now been upgraded to Why not bring my iPad or other tablet device that can do the same things?

This is why:

Battery life. My Garmin GPS uses AA batteries. They last for around 30 hours. I can carry multiple sets. I can't replace the batteries in phone or tablet and I don't get near that amount of battery life from any of these devices.

Waterproofness. My Garmin GPS is waterproof to one meter under water for thirty minutes. My iDevices or other smartphones are not. Not even close. Don't even bring them to a wet environment. (There is a coating you can have applied called liquipel  which looks amazing but is getting bad 'real world' reviews.) My map and compass work beautifully without any special precautions for waterproofness.

Electronics break. Even GPS. I love my GPS but it is a backup for map and compass. Learn how to use a map and compass. Check your work with a GPS.

There will come a time when paddlers and hikers will be using electronic devices in the backcountry for navigation but they will be purpose built to withstand the environment. Here is what I want. waterproof paper maps with a couple of small sensors or registration marks on them. A clear 'plastic' board - I like the name NAVGLASS with a touch screen. You lay the Navglass on the paper map. Its internal GPS knows where it is. It 'sees' the registration marks on the map when it moves over them, so it knows what part of the map it is laid on top of. It then draws your location on the glass, and you see the map underneath. As you move the navglass - without moving the map - the icon that represents you moves freely around the 'screen'. Add all the navigation tools you want to this interface.

I would also like real time satellite imagery. When I am paddling the coast I want to see the top of my head. I think this technology already exists. But I think Google is going to have to put up its own satellites for us to get it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

And Facebook too!

In preparation for the release of my long awaited - at least by me - book. I have decided to create a Paddling Otaku Facebook Page. If you already on Facebook - and come on, who isn't - you can click the link on the right. Posts will be released on Facebook shortly after they are released here. I will also post more frequent updates with smaller - though relevant - information. Including links to tested gear and thoughts on the next big expedition. I would also like to add some small giveaways - T shirts and stickers and things like that. I also plan on opening up the fall expedition Skills camp to everyone, not just people that are working on expeditions with me. This will make it easier for me to communicate with people.

But most importantly it will hopefully create more two way communication between myself and the paddlers following me. I already have a few readers who follow me on my personal Facebook and I would like to migrate that traffic to

Making a habit

The other day I stumbled across this post at ZenHabits. I thought it was sensational in its simplicity. Simple works, most of the time, but the part I liked most was that it talked about making meditation a habit. You need to make things - particularly things that are good for you - a habit. Most of the things my friends complain to me about I offer up meditation as a potential cure. Much like chicken soup, it certainly couldn't hurt. Can't sleep? Meditate. Stressed out? Meditate. Can't focus on something, meditate.

So I try to meditate once or twice a week for twenty minutes or so. With the goal always to be to go longer. But I love the simplicity of making a commitment to two minutes a day. Make it a habit first and then you can make it longer.

So this morning I added two minutes of meditation at the end of my work out. I enjoyed it so much I did five! So easy! So doable! It is easy to make this a habit. Follow the directions in that link. As every Jewish grandmother would say, 'it couldnt hurt.' it just might help.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

New Addition to The Paddling Otaku Store

The most angst driving factor in the planning of the Inside Passage trip this past summer was this, Where are good campsites? Unlike a hiking trip, where you can usually walk off the trail and set up a tent, the biggest problem on long distance kayak trips is simply getting off the water. The world is not lined with perfect sand beaches. So the question in your mind when planning is this "how far will I have to paddle each day before I can find a spot where I can get off the water, and not have my tent under water at high tide." As much as I enjoyed both Robert Millers book, Kayaking the Inside Passage, and Denis Dwyer's blog, the camping data was very incomplete. What I wanted were actual waypoints instead of descriptions of where things were located. While I still recommend both the Miller book and Denis' blog - they offer great insight into the paddle - to help you plan I am offering this indispensable data. Use it in conjunction with the other resources on the web. Here is what is in the package:

The Three NOAA nautical charts in Digital Format.
A digital map of the three nautical charts joined with my route and campsites.
My actual Garmin waypoints (GPX)
My actual waypoints in Google Earth format (KMZ)
Digital maps of the IP for your Garmin GPS
My Gear list
Waypoints of campsites based on information from Denis Dwyers blog, and the Miller book.
in both GPX and KMZ format.
The tentative schedule we worked from
The Actual schedule of what we paddled
TOPO maps of our route
A day by day trip report from our Inside Passage trip
And Track data from my GPS.

750mb of data, to aid you in planning your own trip from Ketchikan to Skagway. Available today in the Paddling Otaku Store.

To access this much data with no delay - as would be caused by shipping a CD - I am sharing the files via a website called Dropbox. You have to register with drop box and install a small piece of software. It is free and easy, and if you don't want to use dropbox after this you can uninstall it. If someone has a better way for me to share the data easily (one file is 300mb) I am eager to listen, but this was the best free way I could find.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

In case you were wondering.

The top three posts on this blog:

"Yesterday someone googled" - A post about how to go to the bathroom in the backcountry

"Whisperlite and Simmering" - A post about how to make an MSR Whisperlite simmer

"Ten Essentials for Sea kayaking" - a ten essentials list like the classic list for backpacking

The thing that is interesting about this to me is that the first two are about a year old. The third is a month and half old, and is only behind the number two post by about a third. It may soon be my most popular post. Rounding out the top five are two other posts less than four months old. Further proof of how small the kayaking community is, in the top five only the Ten essentials post is a "for kayakers only post". The rest of the posts are applicable to just about anyone active in the outdoors. As I am typing this it occurs to me that "Yesterday someone googled" has been as popular as it is without a title that actual says what it is about is staggering. I may repost it with a  different title.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The inverted bike shop

This is a wonderful five minute short film about a bike shop in Brooklyn. It is 'inverted' because instead of walking in and buying a bicycle that is designed for a particular use - mountain biking, road biking, a fixie, or a cruiser - you sit down with a person who talks to you about what you want to do with your bike. Then they order parts, and either build it for you or help you build it yourself.

I have friends that run an amazing bike shop. I am always impressed by the guys that work in the shop who can build these amazing bicycles for customers. They are also usually building amazing bicycles for themselves. I think this is an amazing thing. To be able to look at a catalog of parts, order a frame made of the material you want. Add the drive train, and the wheel set, and the braking system, and having a bicycle that was designed for you. even if the parts are coming off a shelf and mass produced there may be no other bicycle like yours.

My question is, why doesn't this exist for kayaks? I know there are many more people riding bicycles than paddling kayaks. I also know a basic kayak costs much more than a starting bicycle. You can get a good bike for $500. You can't get a good kayak for $500 - short of used. I could build a wooden kayak, and have all the choices being mine, but why can't I do it with composite kayaks? Why isn't there a place that measures my body, and talks to me about paddling style, and what my paddling goals are, and builds a boat to my specifications? With the type of hatches I want. The rudder or skeg system I want. The Deck line configuration I want. The seat I want.

I am sure the answer is cost. A kayak like that would cost tens of thousands of dollars. But I dream of having that control in the design of my own kayak. I dream of the inverted kayak shop.