Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking forward to an Enlightened 2014 - Pale Blue Dot

I am occasionally optimistic. Actually I am usually optimistic, but when it comes to the state of our planet, it is only occasional. I am regularly frustrated, ashamed, and terrified at the things we are doing to our planet, and it is all in the name of corporate and private financial growth. Put another way, greed.

We use resources at a far greater rate than the planet makes them available. We produce garbage at a far greater rate than we can responsibly dispose of it. We have far too many people, and because of it, many are sick and dying, and hungry. 20 percent of children in 37 states live in a food insecure household. That is occurring in the wealthiest, fattest country in the world. If that isn't proof of the one percent, nothing is. So that is why I am only occasionally optimistic about the state of the planet.

But then I will read something like 70% of Americans (Finally!) believe Global Climate Change is real and a great threat to the planet. I start to get a little hopeful. We still lag far behind the rest of the world in this obvious piece of science, but I am hopeful. Oh, and if you are wondering, the only thing Al Gore was wrong about, the situation is worsening faster than he predicted. The science is conclusive, the science is understandable. the science is real.

But then I see something like this video, and I am hopeful that the words of someone like Carl Sagan can make an impact. I have read the "pale blue dot" speech many times - in fact, I have read the book, and it is wonderful! - but this one hit me at the right time, and really struck me. (Thanks Doug and Lynn for posting it! The two of you continue to inspire me, and impress me.) There are great voices out there, and they need to be listened to.

This one is pretty good too.

Boom - de - ada!

Happy New Year everyone.
Lets work together, and make 2014 amazing.
And lets all go paddling together soon!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Paddling Otaku: the year in review.

2013 was an interesting year here in the land of the Otaku.

This site started as a way for me to create my first book, Enlightened Kayaking. After the book was published I viewed the site as a way to promote it and document my expeditions. With 2013 being an off year in terms of expeditions it was difficult for me to always come up with content. I delved more and more into gear, which proved to resonate with readers. As great sites like tend to ignore kayaking I think there is a small market for a kayaking gear site. I am toying with starting Let me know your thoughts on that.

So obviously, gear posts were popular on the site, but it was a good year for all different sorts of content regardless. Here are the top five posts for the year:

Posted in July, My story about the Best Breakfast on the Inside Passage is by far the most popular post on the site (with the aid of Reddit). It has more than double the hits of any other post. Next in popularity, posted in February is a story about the evolution of fleece and what I have chosen to wear over the years, A tale of Three Fleece and a primaloft jacket. I suspect this was picked up somewhere and got popular and I don't know where - as I had some issues with site tracking this year! - because it didn't get popular until the last half of the year. Third on the list is Unfortunately a change in plans, The post where I explain that the labrador expedition isn't happening. Honestly, This post is number three because there is a photo of a famous supermodel in it. If I had known that worked I would be posting pictures of women in bikinis with every post. The fourth posted just a month or so ago, was the Camelbak Cortez post. Rounding out the top five, is the former number one post. Yesterday someone googled.... which is all about how to go to the bathroom in the woods. It is also the only one of the top five posts that isn't from 2013. Those are my top five posts of the year, and also all time. Which means they drew a tremendous amount of hits in a short time. In terms of hits it was a very good year, and long term this site is showing steady growth, which I am really happy about.

On a sad note, as mentioned briefly above, the Labrador trip died due to time constraints, and some logistical hurdles that just proved too difficult to overcome. But a new trip was born, and will occur this summer. If all goes as planned we will be paddling for most of the month of June in Prince William Sound. 'Surveying' glaciers is the plan. and you can read about it here.

I worked hard to find a handful of sponsors for this trip, and it proved to be very difficult. I guess unless you are willing to throw your kayak off a waterfall you won't get too much notice. I would have thought paddling the inside passage, and writing two books would help, but apparently not. I only approached companies whose products I use and love, and in general I had a contact within the company but still no luck. If you read here frequently it should be obvious who I reached out too. (There are still a couple of slim chances that something will come through) So if you wanted your name on a film about glaciers let me know, we can probably work something out.

Another issue we had this year - which is also unresolved - was finding a glaciologist who would act as a technical consultant. I had three reach out to me, and they all decided not to help us out, with the only reason that I can think of for not joining us is that it doesn't pay anything. This disappoints me greatly, as you would think a glaciologist would be excited to help spread information about the state of Glaciers in Prince William Sound.

The Biggest loss of the year was undoubtedly that of my best friend. My beloved dog abby, who sat next to me for countless hours while I was writing finally passed away. Here she is keeping me company while I proof read Enlightened Kayaking.

I didn't get to paddle quite as much as I would have liked this fall, as I was very busy. But with AGAP only five months away - and my paddling partners need to get serious, and spend some serious time in the cockpit. I will be introducing all of them in the coming months. At the moment there are only three of us going - though if the stars align, there might be a fourth. 

With AGAP approaching there is some near gear arriving, expect some gear reviews in January and February. 

Just after thanksgiving, my wife and I decided the house was too quiet without Abby. And while she could never be replaced, we did find a new companion. She isn't as good at keeping me company while I write, but there is hope she will grow into that skill. At the moment her energy level is a little out of control. 

The final piece of the year falls into place as I hit the publish button. This post makes 94 this year. Which just happens to be the same number of posts the first year I started writing, which also happens to be the most posts I have ever done in a year. So maybe I can come up with one more, to set personal record? 

I hope you all had a great holiday, and have a wonderful new year. See you in January!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I always thought Casey Neistat was a little weird.

I have watched a number of his short films, and while they are very good, he comes across as a little insane, and a little obsessed. Having worked in the film industry I saw a lot of people like that, and it is a big part of what made decide to leave the industry. When you put someone insane/obsessed into a position of power it doesn't take much for that person to be, forgive me, an asshole.

Listen to the Christian Bale audio of him freaking out on the lighting guy, he is a little insane, and a little obsessed, and again forgive me, but an asshole. I saw people, including myself, get treated poorly on a daily basis. I watched millions of dollars get spent on advertising for products that never made it to market. Money thrown away that could have been used to do some good.

There are great and talented people who work in the film industry, but there are also a lot of people who are just horrible. It is what pushed me out of the creative arts, and into worlds where I could have an impact on people. First Emergency/Paramedicine and finally outdoor education.

Every now and then, you will see something done by people in the film world that is amazing and breath taking. But it is - in my experience - far too little, and far too infrequent. Then I saw this video by Mr. Neistat.

I applaud Mr. Neistat for doing this, and I view him very differently now. He was given an opportunity to do something, and sold the people in charge that it would be good for them to let him do it.

I don't applaud 20th century fox - or really the ad agency that Fox employs - for allowing him to do this. Here is why. First, they are clearly getting more than their monies worth. This video is going viral and will get way more notice than a more traditional short film. And lets be clear here, their only - in my cynical view - goal is to get good press for the Secret Life of Walter Mitty (which looks great by the way, and I was planning on seeing it anyway!) They are getting plenty of that. The second reason I don't applaud them is this. $25,000. Really? That is a sneeze. You can't produce a television commercial for $25,000. Let alone air it. So Fox got their marketing and I am happy for them. Casey Neistat got to do something cool, help people, and prove that he is a good guy. He has my respect, and admiration.

We get to see that there are still good people on this little planet, who when given an opportunity to do some good, or make a profit, they will choose to do good. And with the holidays around the corner, I think that is a good message to end this on.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


This is wonderful. Particularly as I get older. I am of course north of 35, some might say well north. I have made a number of decisions that have allowed me to work in the outdoors, and enjoy what I do. I will never make a lot of money, but I am very happy.

Every now and then I question my decisions. I look at friends and former business associates and see their careers progressing. I am genuinely happy for them, but I can't help but wonder where I would be now.

So when I see something like this, it re-affirms my decisions.

35 from ARC'TERYX on Vimeo.

Monday, December 9, 2013

From Patagonia on Black Friday

I meant to post this right away, I think this is an interesting thing for Patagonia to do on the most commercial of commercial days.

Black Friday - which is called that because historically it is the day that retailers go into the black for the first time of the year - is considered by most to be the most important shopping day of the year. The holiday sales forecast is based on the numbers from that one day. It can make or break a company. And it is a completely contrived event, to make people shop.

The American economy is based on growth, if sales are flat to the previous year they are considered a failure. Every year retailers work hard to get more and more out of the American consumer, and they do it by extending Black Friday. Stores will continue to open earlier and earlier offering better and better deals. Which is how we end up with places like Walmart open on Thanksgiving. It is all a plan to extend the shopping season.

How important is shopping to the American economy? I happened to live in lower Manhattan on 9/11. Do you remember the instructions that the President of the United States gave to the American people? The instructions to show our resolve to 'the evil-doers'? I remember vividly, because I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It wasn't to mourn the dead, or get a steely reserve for the coming fight. On December 7th after the attack on Pearl Harbor FDR called it 'A day that will live in infamy'. President Bush told us to go shopping. And why wouldn't he? He knew that what makes America strong, in large part is the power of its economy. He knew that people shopping would stoke the economy, he just wasn't very subtle about it.

Now, this strikes me for a couple of reasons. It may just be the media - or lack thereof - that I watch, but I see changes in part of the psyche of the American population. At least a small part of it. I see things like the Tiny house movement, (24,000 subscribers on reddit) where people are realizing they don't want to be a slave to their mortgage. They don't want to pay a fortune to furnish, heat, cool, and maintain a house, thousands of feet larger than they need. How many McMansions are empty awaiting foreclosure? People are finding work arounds to build houses that most building codes would deem illegal. Some - though not most - measuring under 100 square feet, and no, I didn't drop a zero. One Hundred. Some other subreddits of note, r/simpleliving has 33,000 subscribers, and one of my favorites, r/minimalism has near 80,000 subscribers. So while these numbers are comparatively small (r/Gameofthrones has 275,000 subscribers) there is a growing section of the population that is tired of their emergency instructions being to go shopping.

So it is fascinating that a company like Patagonia, on the busiest shopping day of the year chose not to offer a compelling special deal, other than buy something from us and it will last you a really long time. Now, you could argue that Patagonia is making a lot of money anyway, and they are choosing to make a point on black Friday, and you would be right. Patagonia isn't having any difficulty in the sales department. If you need proof try and find a re-tool snap t. But they are making a conscious decision not to go after low hanging, Black Friday fruit. Of course as I check my inbox, I have plenty of emails from Patagonia. Just about one a day, and the most recent is offering a 50% off web special. Maybe they just chose that day to send a message.

Interestingly, some Apple stores are open on Thanksgiving. Waikiki beach, Las Vegas, and the 24/7 store in New York (On fifth avenue). Apple was going to open a handful of other stores on Thanksgiving, which was vetoed by Apple CEO Tim Cook, siting the importance of Apple employees spending time with family.

My question is how long, and how far can we go on Black Friday? Are we going to see Black Friday specials on Wednesday next year? At some point is the holiday shopping season going to start just after Halloween? I applaud the stores that chose not to open on Thanksgiving. I think it is important that at some point we draw the line, and say that our problems aren't solved with shopping. Yeah, I like a new piece of gear as much as the next person, but I try to not let it define me. And I love that looking at the gear that I regularly use, some of it is old enough to have been featured in the Worn Wear film. I may not have walked 11,000 miles of trail wearing the same hat, but I have had the same fleece for nearly 25 years, and it is a story I wear. Thanks Patagonia.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Review - Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown Vol. 3

First, a disclosure. I am a fan. I don't know when I first discovered Gordon Browns book Sea Kayak - a manual for intermediate and advanced kayakers, but it quickly became my favorite sea kayaking book, and when people ask me to recommend something, this is the book I mention (shortly after mentioning my own!) I received the Volume 1 DVD as a gift, and was amazed watching Mr. Brown paddle, and was equally impressed with his ability to teach. At some point I would love to get to Scotland and spend a couple of days with him on the water. I purchased Volume 2 when available and asked my wife to get me Volume 3 this Christmas. Then I opened my big mouth.

In my 3rd annual Kayaking Christmas post I mentioned that I dream of being asked to review a future volume, later that day I got an email, that a copy was on its way to me. An early Christmas present, and much appreciated it was. All this occurred on a particularly rough day, so it was a very nice surprise indeed. So with all that said, I am a little partial to both the film maker, and the Kayaker in charge.

Another thing that should be telling for how much I like, and revere these products is that I as a minimalist I tend to pass things off to others in need when I am done with them. I have fewer DVD's than fingers, but I have all three of these and they aren't going anywhere. (Though I may make the AGAP team watch them!)

So. On with it.

The disc is broken up into 4 parts. Emergency Situations, First Aid Kits, Navigation, and Rolling. If you are new here then you don't know that I am a former NOLS Sea Kayak instructor, and a current WMI instructor. I teach kayaking privately, and other wilderness skills for various organizations. I spend a big portion of my life thinking about, and teaching a lot of the topics on this disc. Particularly the first three topics. So I loaded this disc into my computer with a great deal of interest.

The first section - Emergency Situations

The section is made in a partnership with Her Majesty's Coast Guard, giving a lot of access and a wonderful 'other side of the rescue' view - I don't care who you know, I doubt you could get GoPro's mounted inside the cockpit of a US Coast Gaurd Seahawk! The film presents two situations, one in daylight, and one in darkness. I have been trained to initiate rescues and to hand off my patient, but it was interesting to see from inside the helicopter or boat how difficult it is to see a kayak. They offer great insight in how the rescue crews work and how best to prepare to be rescued. 

While I am in the US I suspect the US Coast Guard works a little differently, but from the kayakers perspective I am sure it is very similar. An amazing amount of information is shown, and it will dramatically change the way I do things on the water, and the gear I carry. I have  had a fair amount of experience with helicopters - though not from a kayak - but despite that, there are still things I will change in my interaction with the noisy, windy machines, and the way that I am prepared to signal a rescuer. 

The first, a situation where a paddler falls in the water and loses their kayak. The second, a situation where paddlers take a break and lose their paddles without spares. While I suspect that these represent typical problems,  neither of the situations involved injured kayakers, which is something I pracite from time to time (and we see later in the film how hard that can be!) Both of these scenarios offer practical advice presented beautifully. 

The second section, Sea Kayak Navigation is a topic I am much more experienced with, as I teach navigation frequently on both land and sea. This is probably the most comprehensive 45 minutes on navigation I have ever seen on video. It covers a lot of ground, but does it effectively. Every time I caught myself saying “they should really be covering xyz” it was mentioned a moment or two later. it is a very nice progression from basics to semi-advanced, with great video illustrations of tides, tidal streams (what I would call a tidal current) and using transit lines. The last section of navigation is planning a route, and they did a fancy trick to calculate your bearing when paddling with a current to reach a desired point. I hadn’t seen it before and it made me want to take a BCU navigation class. 

First aid kits was again something I was interested in seeing as I teach wilderness first aid. I thought this was a good look at marine FA kits, but I liked that they were stressing that importance of training, and not just classroom training, but taking courses that get you outside working in the real environments. They did a couple of things I hadn’t seen before, one of which will have me adding string and a paper clip to my first aid kit, I will also be adding electrical tape to my kit. Ill leave it at that, check out the video for the reasons.

The final section was rolling, which is laid out slightly different than the others, with its own menu, and instructions to practice with friends and a video camera. I have to say I have been waiting for Mr. Brown to cover rolling since the first video, and I wasn’t disappointed. He works with six students in a pool and takes them through the steps to effective rolling, and manages to get two of them successfully rolling by the end of a 3 hour pool session. He has some techniques that I will definitely be borrowing the next time I teach rolling. 

There is a lot of information on this disc, with the first two sections running right around 45 minutes and first aid kits running 20 and rolling running 30+ minutes. 

This is an excellent video and well worth the time and cost, I simply can't recommend all of these products (book and DVD's) enough. Gordon is an amazing resource, and the entire process is shot beautifully. As I mentioned at the beginning, I am a fan, but in the past I have promised reviews of DVD's and I chose not too do them primarily because I wasn't too impressed. So if I didn't like this disc I wouldn't be writing. This is another sensational film that I am thrilled to be able to watch. Thanks for the early Christmas guys!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

10 reasons I paddle all year (and you should too!)

#10 - It forces you to develop systems and use them. For example, dressing consistently, and learning what works for you. Planning for a hot drink while in the boat, and good ways to make that happen. You will spend more time thinking about the 'what if's' and planning for contingencies. What if you get wet? How will you deal with it? That is a good skill to practice.

#9 - It makes you a better paddler. You aren't spending a chunk of the year not paddling. Skills don't wither while you are hibernating through the winter.

#8 - Scenery. The landscape is different and beautiful. Even places you have paddled a million times have a very different feel and look.

#7 - Solitude. So few people paddle in the winter, that you will have the amazing scenery mentioned above to yourself. It is a wonderful time to be introspective, and soak in the beauty of the world around you.

#6 - Hardcore paddler cred. You will impress your friends and relatives with how hardcore you are! "You went paddling n December? You must be crazy, let me buy you a beer!"

#5 - You don't have to worry about storing your kayak for the winter! You will be too busy using it.

#4 - If you are a gear head, it gives you an opportunity to by new gear. You will need some specialized gear to do this safely.

#3 - It is a break from the world - particularly the holiday madness. Tired of dealing with the traffic, the shoppers, and the general madness that looms between Thanksgiving and the new year? head for the water.

#2 - Paddle in Ice. Have you paddled with ice? It's a blast!

bf1012 from Brett Friedman on Vimeo.

#1 - If you love paddling in the summer, why wouldn't you love it in the winter? I have said many times that paddling, for me, is a meditation. Why would I stop doing something I love just because it has gotten cold out.

You do have to do this safely. Dress for immersion, leave a float plan with someone you trust, and have a contingencies for when things go wrong. All great skills to practice, that help set you up for longer trips.

For me though it is the solitude. I love paddling and having the world to myself for even a short time.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Stocking Stuffers for the Paddler in your Life 2013!

As tradition dictates, a couple of weeks ago I published the annual kayaking Christmas list. Here is The lists little elfin brother, to help you fill out the stocking of that paddler you love, and every item is under $25

Smartwool Midweight Hiking Socks $18.95 - Something I teach students who are planning long trips is the idea of "sacred socks." Socks that never leave the bottom of your sleeping bag. At the end of the day, you take off your probably damp socks. Dry your feet off, and put on clean fresh socks in your bag. By sleeping in clean dry socks you dramatically decrease the chances of getting immersion foot, and it just feels nice!

Light My Fire FireSteel Scout 2.0 $14.95 - makes a tremendous spark compared to some of the others on the market. I keep it in my fire starting kit, for when things go really wrong, or I just want a little challenge.

Vacuum bottle $19.50 - I can paddle all day long in the cold and the wet, if I have a hot drink to go back to. It just makes an uncivilized world seem more civilized.

Sealline Deluxe Bailing Sponge  $14.95 - This seems silly. $14.95 for a sponge? Yes. You see, it is wrapped in the same material as a super absorbent pack towel. So it soaks up moisture two ways. The covering also extends the life of the sponge.

Batteries for the Hero 3+ $19.99 - Yes, the new Hero 3+ has better battery life, but you may still want extra batteries. GoPro has also released a bunch of new really awesome mounts you should check out. Also check out any of the new mounts they released at the same time.

WMI Med Kit 1.0 $14.00 - I love first aid kits, and this one from WMI is awesome! This is a new product line from WMI, and no one knows wilderness medicine better than they do.

The loudest whistle in the world! $5.99- Your PFD should have a whistle in a pocket. We all know this. But this is the loudest whistle in the world, for when you really need to be heard.

NRS Straps in whatever length you want! $5.60 and up - after some time loading a boat onto your roof you will realize you spend as much time securing the unused end of the strap as you do actually securing the boat. How about a strap that is exactly the length you need? NRS sells them by the foot, and they say the size right on them!

Sawyer Mini -$24.95 I love my sawyer water filter, but I am upgrading to this new smaller lighter version. A water filter for 24.95? Yes!

The Smartwool Microweight Beanie $20.00 - Sometimes on a cold day of paddling you just need a little hat, and here it is.

If you need more ideas, here is last years stocking stuffer list, and the one from the year before. There is of course both of my books, and one of them is free!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Christmas wishes DO come true!

A brief mention in a post, and the Christmas fairies go to work. 

Expect a review soon. Well, as soon as I can find the time to watch it, which I am really looking forward to.

Thanks Simon! You made my week!