Saturday, December 27, 2014

TESTED goes Camping.

I have mentioned a number of times how much I like - and in particular that I am fascinated with Adam Savage. In part because the guy can make anything, I can make anything, but it never looks good. I am a good improviser, but he can really build beautiful prop replicas. Check out his one day build series, they are amazing. Just before Halloween they showed how to make a replica of your own hand, which prompted an idea in my head about a  prop for the wilderness medicine classes I teach. I will keep you posted.

I have learned many great things from this website. Most recently I upgraded to a sortimo case (alright, it is really bosch, but they make sortimo in the US, and the inserts say sortimo) for most of my GoPro gear. It is sensational.

The flip side, of my interest in Adam Savage is that we are polar opposites in terms of possessions. He has both an extensive shop - where he builds - and a largish beautiful home. Both of which are absolutely filled with props from movies, momentos, and keep sakes. And while the Italian Blade runner poster is cool, both his home and his office freak my internal minimalist out in terms of the sheer number of items present. One thing I would like to make is a Maltese Falcon to perch on my mantle. Adam has an obsession with these and has made several. There is a great talk about it here.

But all of this serves as an introduction, to get to the point that today, Adam is on my turf. He took his boys camping, and it sounds like it was a wonderful trip. But in listening to his podcast on the topic I realized a number of things he could do better, or things that had slight misconceptions tied to them. For the past 9 years my job has been steering people in the right direction to both have fun, and be safe in the outdoors. So without further ado, my comments on what Adam Savage has to say camping.

At the 6 minute mark, he talks about how all his gear is twenty years old, he spent some time and money upgrading, and at the same time built out packs for his boys - who I think are around 15. He built them alcohol stoves - I would expect nothing less from Adam - and he got them packs, tents, sleeping bags and pads, and Kelty packs. The only item he mentions by brand name.

Two important things to keep in mind here. "20 year old gear, and Kelty Packs for his boys". Every two or three years we see a big jump in one of the "big three" pieces of gear. Sleeping bags, Packs or tents. So Adam is right to upgrade from 20 years ago. His gear will be lighter, and perform better and he will be way happier. But, Kelty for the boys may not have been the way to go. 20 years ago, Kelty ruled the outdoor world leaving a lasting impact on the people who used their gear. The have incredible brand loyalty, even though their gear hasn't really improved in the last decade. Their packs are heavier, and don't carry a load as well as a more modern design. If Adams boys are still in youth sizes I would look at a youth osprey pack. If they aren't in youth sizes the options are large.

At the seven minute mark, they are both right. You should aim for your pack weight to be 1/4 to 1/3 of your body weight.

At the 8 minute mark, they start talking about food, and Will Smith - not that Will Smith - has it right when he says "if your going for a weekend you can cook whatever you want!" Adam is raving about Mountain house, which I do think is the best freeze dried food brand, but he mentions that the Pad Thai is shite. Mountain House doesn't make a Pad Thai, Back packers Pantry does, and he is right. Garbage. He loves the Mountain house Lasagna, he should try the Beef Stroganoff or the Chicken Ala King.

The third host, Norm says go with Ramen, and I think this is a remarkably bad idea.

He also makes grilled cheese sandwiches - because his producer says it is the best camping food - They are both wrong. I do believe Adam is a great cook, and makes an amazing grilled cheese sandwich, but Macaroni and Cheese - from scratch - is an amazing and easy backcountry meal.

Will Smith knows his shit. He talks about how everything in the backcountry tastes better, and he is right. This is one of the big take aways from my backcountry cooking class.

At 16 minutes Will is talking about the level of remoteness in California, a level you can't attain on the east coast - he actually says the appalachians which I agree with. If he thinks that level of remoteness is incredible, he should go to Alaska.

Then they delve into Canoe Camping: Adam bought the Oru folding kayaks. Interesting choice.
But he mentions that you can't get a 40 pound pack on the deck! Please. For all that is holy, don't ever put a pack on the deck of any kayak. You are dramatically upsetting the center of gravity, and even a stable kayak will be a nightmare.

At 25 minutes they talk about the PCT and the Lost cost trail. ( I would like to hear Cheryl Strayed on the Talking room)

At 30 minutes they start talking about REI/The Wirecutter. Since I have discovered I have wanted an outdoor version. They mention the REI return policy. Adam says "now you only have a year" - This is incorrect. Here is the REI return policy:

You have one year for satisfaction. If within one year you are unsatisfied with a product you can return it. But you have the life of the product for materials and workmanship. (keeping in mind that things have a life span.) If something doesn't work for you, you can return it.

Yes. The Baltoro 80 is awesome, but a very big pack!

at 31 minutes, they talk about how to find good locations to camp/hike, check out all I agree, you don't need titanium pots. Overpriced, and you don't need them (Adam, the only titanium I own is a spork as well!)

Water filtration (36 minutes). Will is wrong,  Giardia is not for life, you can be treated. Jamie (of Mythbusters) loves the steripen. Great product. bring batteries. Adam seems to like gravity filters, which rock, but I prefer the sawyer brand.

Headlamps (39 minutes). Yes. Do a headlamp. No flashlights. The black diamond Spot or Storm.

at 39:30 we start talking about footwear. Current boots - with a few exceptions - don't need a big break in period. Unless you are buying a heavy duty PU based sole mountain boot, you don't need to worry about it. Most Keens, Vasques and Lowas are good to go.

Finally, "REI will restore your faith in Humanity". I agree, they restored mine.

Here is the whole video.

We are better when we spend time in Nature. Thank you Adam Savage.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Holidays From Paddling Otaku

It has been a very different year for me. I am currently working very hard to build an outdoor program for a major outdoor retailer. The by-product of that is I have very little time to write. I am hoping that changes in the spring when we are up and running full steam. But in the meantime, I wanted to talk about a few things that are going on.

Every year I have run this website, I have posted both a Stocking stuffer post, and a christmas list post. This year I started writing them a couple of times, but was feeling uninspired. In part, because these lists are generally driven by the gear I have added to my personal gear bag, and this year I have added very little, because I really don't need any gear. But for those of you interested, here are some previous Christmas suggestion posts, this is last years, and this is the year before.

One piece of gear that I have upgraded is my GoPro. I sold my two 3+'s and purchased a single 4 silver. So far I am very happy. They do a very good job of making wonderful cameras, which is probably why it is the second most popular camera in the world. Guess what the most popular is?

I am excited that someone came up with a replacement for Royalex. I am also really excited watching the development of the drone market, and curious to see what GoPro announces next year. The rumors are they are getting into the market, and I have been waiting to get into the drone game, but I am going to continue to wait.

I am really curious to see this new Kokatat 2 in 1 drysuit, that becomes single pieces. I love my drysuit, it has a lot of miles on it. I like my system for wearing it, but I am curious to see what this looks like.

I am very close - meaning I just need to find the time - to order a new werner paddle. After This years Alaska Trip I had to permanently retire my Carbon Camano, and that is exactly what I am replacing it with. In fact, my Kalliste will become my backup. Which means I am downgrading my paddle. Part of the reason I upgraded, was I felt to be taken seriously I had to be using the top of the line paddle, but I have since come to my senses. I no longer want to make purchase decisions based on other peoples perceived perceptions of me, and my skills as a paddler.

I am a little upset with I used to love GearJunkie, as I felt they did real reviews. Now I feel like it is a commercial for gear. I don't feel that they offer any real insight, and they never say anything bad. A review should have good things and bad things about the product, no product is perfect. I love my Delta Seventeen, but there are a few things about it that aren't perfect, and I have talked about it. Despite the fact that I am upset with Gearjunkie, I don't think they care.

As I am working a real job - my other jobs were real, but this is more real - and it has me thinking about my goals and where I want to spend my time. I think a very interesting post is coming, but I think it is still a long way off.

As I slide into a new year I am thinking about the things I am thankful for. I am happy to have had such an amazing year (and life really) and all the things I got to do. To go paddling in Alaska with two wonderful people. To paddle on quiet days here in central North Carolina. I am really a very lucky person. If you don't feel lucky, you should work on it. We only get one chance at this. Make it count.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Random Acts of Pasta

Just a human being, thinking of others. This sort of thing gets me every time. At the end he says "thanks Olive Garden, you just made those peoples lives a little better" But it wasn't Olive Garden. It was him.

Remember, The light at the end of the tunnel may be you.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Damn Lumbersexuals

I didn't realize when I posted the article about lumbersexuals how big of a thing it was about to become. I didn't realize that it has been written about in Cosmo, Buzzfeed, and many others. I didn't realize that the term Lumbersexuals was coined by Tom Puzak at GearJunkie - despite what urban dictionary says.

When I posted it on Facebook - I commented that I was too busy working in the outdoors, to work at looking like I work in the outdoors! - I had no idea that it would become my most viewed post on Facebook this year!

Tom has written a followup post over at gear junkie retelling the crazy growth. It is quite the story.

The reason that I didn't notice any of this going on around me is how much I have been working. I am in the process of helping to open a new outdoor education market for a large company. It is interesting, and has been keeping me very busy at NOT kayaking. I am even struggling coming up with items for the annual shopping list!

But back to lumbersexuals. I know many people that dress like that for many reasons. None of them are lumberjacks, though they are all extremely active in the outdoors. We used to use the phrase - though it never got picked up into a wider vernacular - Patagoniacs. For some reason I think when you add the suffix 'sexual' it skews the meaning into something vaguely odd... I am not sure how to describe it. Maybe they should be called Plaidiacs?

Literally decades ago, I was in a conversation with someone - I lived in Manhattan at the time - we were discussing 'types', like metrosexuals, and I said I didn't think I really had a type. She said "oh you are the mountain dude!" I wasn't wearing - nor have I ever worn - plaid.

I think if you are applying the lumbersexual title to people who are seeking out this look, it is probably okay. But I think if you wore plaid before this craze, and wore it because it was warm, durable, and sort of inexpensive, to still be called a lumbersexual is a little insulting.

But maybe we just don't need quite so many titles.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Too Much Stuff

In the past week, I have flown just over 7000 miles. On 6 airplanes involving four airports. There are road warriors out there that will scoff at those numbers, but for a normal human that is a lot. I don't actually mind flying, but I despise airports. Here are a couple of reasons why.

The airline industry is the only industry that raises the price of a ticket, the closer to your departure time. This makes no sense. You want to fill those seats, You don't want a plane flying with empty seats. It costs the same to fly from New York to San Francisco regardless of how many seats are filled so you might as well fill them. It makes no sense for the price to go up.

During the great recession airlines added baggage fees to cover the cost of fuel, but now fuel is cheaper than it has been in quite a while, but of course they haven't removed the baggage fee, which would make you think that all these people carrying on their baggage are doing so to save money. The by product of everyone carrying on their baggage is a bad experience for everyone. It takes longer to get on and off the plane, and the plane and the terminals are way more crowded.

You are a prisoner of the airport. I had a nalgene bottle confiscated because it had liquid in it. I couldn't pour it out - without going out of the 'secure' zone and back through security again - and I couldn't drink it. Of course I didn't have time to go back through security. Flying out of Atlanta recently, I realized I had forgotten to put a beloved pocket knife in my checked bag. So I put it in the bottom of my little 18 liter backpack and hoped it would be obscured by my iPad, charging cable. I figured if they found it I would just say I forgot it was in there and they would confiscate it. If they saw it, they never said anything.

Really? $12.00 for a crappy sandwich? really? $6 for a yogurt? Okay.

But the thing I really hate about airports, is it makes me realize how much stuff we Americans have. We have way too much stuff. I overheard a woman on line at TSA saying that she had packed five pairs of shoes. Five. Unless she was moving where ever she was going that is too many. She also mentioned that two of them were boots! I had figured the people carrying on their baggage had done so to not check bags, but no, they are doing both, and packing huge suitcases. I really don't understand what people are packing? I just did a two destination trip for work. To California (warm) where I would be trained on GoPro and paddling then to Nashville (cold) to teach. My checked bag had my teaching materials, a drysuit, paddling shoes, two changes of clothes, a rain shell, and a fleece. I used a medium sized duffel for all of that. My carry on was 18 liters. Now, I don't know where people were going, and how long they were staying places, but the average sized suitcase I saw was giant.

Do we really need all this stuff? When I got home, I felt remarkably like doing a purge.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

GoPro Hero 4 Hands On

I have had an interesting week. The new job I have been working at for the last 4 months has kept me very busy. So busy I have barely been able to update here, not to mention paddle. But there are some perks. I get to work with some amazing people and I have the opportunity to make them amazing instructors. I also get little perks like this, a trip to GoPro headquarters. GoPro has a good working relationship with the company I work for, and when they release a new product, they bring us out to be trained on it.  So that is how I found myself on a plane to San Francisco.

When the Hero 4's were announced I knew I would upgrade, and since I had always bought the highest level camera I assumed it would be Hero 4 Black's I would go to, but this season there is a slight price jump. So I knew I would have to go from two cameras to one. But I wanted to wait until I went to GoPro HQ, learn about the camera and then make my decision.

We only had a day and a half, made worse by the fact that I had to fly directly to Nashville to teach a Wilderness First Aid class, So I spent about 48 hours in beautiful San Mateo California. First I have to say that our GoPro hosts were sensational. They were extremely knowledgable about their products - which isn't always the case, I could tell you stories about certain companies employees who don't know what they are talking about - they kept us on schedule, and most importantly they were fun. A lot of fun. In all, there were about 20 or so of us in the group, including the GoPro employees. After a group dinner Wednesday night, We met at our hotel on Friday morning to head to HQ.

After signing in (and signing a non-disclosure agreement I can't tell you about the Hero 6+ I saw... kidding!) we got started training on the Hero 4's. We spent a fair amount of time going over the training materials we will use to train our staff, learning a ton of details about the cameras, After that it was time to head outside to play. But first we needed cameras. 

What you see there, is a bucket of Hero 4 blacks, and behind it, a bucket of Hero 4 silvers. We were also given a bag of accessories to work with (I say given, but we had to return them) and we headed outside. We went paddling, which I didn't mind. Okay, so some hands on info.

The new cameras have a better sensor, and lens than the 3 and 3+'s. The big jump to the 4 black, gets you 4K video at 30 FPS - which you probably knew. They have changed the buttons on the camera slightly, making it easier to get into the settings for the mode you are in, instead of doing the two button juggle game we have all had to learn - though using the app is still the best way to change settings on the camera.

The camera now uses bluetooth to aid in the pairing process, no more going into the settings menu on your device to find the camera's wifi network. This also saves battery power as bluetooth is low power compared to wifi.

They have added a "highlight" button - which is also the wifi button - which puts a tag on your footage when you press it, to indicate something amazing just happened, making it easier to find that footage in post. At the moment that is only available with the GoPro studio software.

This is important. It used to be that just about any class ten card worked in the camera. I learned this week, that currently only two cards are approved by GoPro to work with the cameras, though more will be approved. They are the Sandisk Extreme and the Lexar 633x.

They updated the one button mode and now call it quick capture, and it works much better with far more versatility, and is also designed to save more battery power.

Speaking of battery, the biggest physical change in the camera is that the battery now loads from the bottom, and the battery door is now connected to the camera. Your 3 and 3+ batteries will not work in the new cameras, but every other accessory from your 3's will work.

There is now an auto low light mode, that automatically lowers your frame rate when you need morel right.

The GoPro Codec - cineform - is now an industry recognized codec, with attached standards, and Adobe Premier will edit it natively.

Here is the big change. The Hero 4 black is really aimed at the Prosumer, or Professional film maker. There are really only three differences between the Black and Silver cameras.

#1 The Black doesn't have the LCD screen. The primary reason is it traps a lot of heat.

#2 The Black shoots at 4k and 30 FPS which produces a lot of heat, see #1

#3 The Black does 1080p at 120 FPS.

So for myself, someone who was thinking about buying a Black, since I have no interest, and no computer capable of dealing with 4K footage, the only thing I get by  buying  black is 1080p at 120FPS. The silver will do 1080 at 60, or 720 at 120FPS. So unless you are shooting in 4K or doing 1080p at 120 all the time, the Silver is now the primary camera for consumers, and it is what I will be getting.

There is one other feature worth mentioning. Actually, there is one other feature, that for me is really a game changer. It used to be that when the sun set you put your GoPro away. It just didn't do a great job in the dark, picking up a ton of noise. And honestly, I never played with protune on my 3+'s because the video looked great right out of the camera.

Now protune is available for still photography, which gives a wide array of control over the camera - which I love! - and more importantly, there is a dedicated Night mode for still photography, and a night mode for time lapse, called appropriately enough Night Lapse.

This was the third photo I took in our evening session. This is a ten second exposure at 100 iso. I didn't even have a tripod, I placed it on the ground. This is simply an incredible result.

This is a 30 second exposure, with a change in color balance, all done in camera. And you can shoot time lapse this way too! Finally, I got a little trippy....

This was a 30 second exposure, hand held. I love the night modes on this camera, and was sold at that moment. Each GoPro camera is a step up from the last generation. This is no different. I will be upgrading as soon as possible.

We spent our last half of the day back at GoPro HQ going over the GoPro studio software. I have been working with this software for a while, I still choose to work with Final Cut, but there are a couple of things I thought were particularly impressive about GoPro Studio. The biggest is how easy it makes it to create a time lapse. When importing media it recognizes a string of photos and automatically makes it a time lapse, that you can drag and drop like any other clip. This will now be my chosen method for making time lapses. They have also created their own version of twixtor, If you don't know what that is, google it, but their version called flux, is free - built into their software - and pretty amazing. Glad I didn't buy twixtor a couple of years ago when I was pricing it. If you are new to GoPro I think it is a great way to get started editing.

One final photo. With all the amazing stuff we saw, and all we learned, I really think this was the most fun thing I saw. Amazing. One of these is in my future. I just have to figure out how to pay for it.

I can't thank the amazing staff at GoPro enough. It was really a wonderful experience. Now. Does anyone want to buy a Hero 3+ or two?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Nature is Speaking

And honestly, Nature sounds a little pissed off....

.... Rightfully so.

The Trees are a little pissed too.

We treat this guy, like dirt...

Yes, we will wage wars over you.

And this guy, he sounds indignant, and angry. I spend a lot of time with him, and I am a little afraid.

All of these are brought to you by Nature is Speaking ( When I saw it, I figured it was going to be lovely pictures crossed with he destruction we have wrought. I am glad they didn't go that route. I am glad Nature is angry. I am a angry, and very sad. I love nature. I really do. If that makes me a hippie, or a lefty or a freak, I am okay with that. This is a small planet, and we have no place else to go. If we don't start taking care of this place, we are in for a very. big. surprise.

I realize the truth in that statement. Do you? 2014 is on track to be the hottest year in history. The bee's are dying. Disease is spreading. California has no water. Last year my town in North Carolina got more rain than Seattle, Washington... Does that sound right to you?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hero 4 first impressions, and why I just might do it.

I have been working with GoPro Cameras seriously since the original HD - I loved that camera! - I have shot just about everything you can think of with it. Including two expeditions. I knew that a camera was coming, as they have released one every year since that original HD. Yesterday was the day.

They are a little early this year, but the hero 4 will be available in 5 days. The Blogoshpere has gone wild! I am impressed that they seem to be doing this roll out better than previous rollouts, as they have gotten cameras to testers early - unfortunately I didn't get one! - which leads me to believe they are in a much better position to roll out cameras in large numbers for the holidays. As opposed to last holiday where there were clearly shortages of cameras.

I have seen number of videos of the cameras, but I haven't seen a side by side of actual images. Yesterday I had several conversations with other "GoPro Power Users" and most of us were saying we weren't going to buy this camera. Here is why.

I don't need 4k at 30fps. I have no way to edit or view it. So the biggest feature is useless to me. I think this is a feature really only for full on professional film makers who need a disposable camera that can shoot 4k. (and by disposable I mean compared to a $100,000 Arri Alexa or a Red Epic) As much as I would like to shoot with a RED and use the GoPro as my "it might get hurt camera" that isn't going to happen.

I really want image stabilization, I am very curious why they aren't even a digital image stabilization, and I hope to find out when I am at GoPro Headquarters in November.

I must have better battery life, for the things I shoot, that is a killer - and was the primary reason I switched to the 3+ - and my initial realization that they made the battery smaller (1160mah vs 1180mah) said shorter battery life. To add insult to injury, they changed the shape of the battery, so the batteries I have for my 3+'s won't work.

So as of 9pm last night, I was done. I wasn't getting one.

But that was last night. This morning I had a number of thoughts. All of them bad(for my bank account).

Here is why I am now considering it.

Manual control of the exposure, and the ability to do night time lapse. I am intrigued. This sounds really interesting, and I need to see what it looks like. But this has me interested.

Yes, the battery is smaller, but the processor is much faster, which I read as more efficient, which may mean better battery life. Again, I will see what the first tests show us.

1080p at 120fps! Super crisp slow motion at full 1080p? okay, I am interested.

Finally, I needed two cameras for my Alaska shoot. Beyond that, I don't use two cameras at once. It hasn't happened. In the back of my head it may happen, the big advantage of two is you can move the camera less often. But in practicality I am not doing it. I can sell both to pay for a 4 and I will have some money left over for batteries.

I still want to see what the video tests look like, but right now... I am actually considering it.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Flying frog Adventure Race

Beth, who was a paddler on the Alaskan Glacier Awareness Project, and wrote the exercise for expeditioning guest post -  took part in the Flying Frog adventure race here in Greensboro this week.

How did she do?

How did she do so well*? Because she smoked her competitors on the paddle section. How did she smoke her competitors? Because she knew how to paddle. Because she took paddling lessons and worked at it. This is the difference that knowing how to paddle, versus getting in a boat with no training and paddling makes. So after you get that shiny new kayak, get someone to teach you how to use it. You don't have to be entering  race, you just have to be motivated to have more fun in a boat. And who doesn't want to do that!

Congratulations Beth, I will paddle with you anytime. 

*okay, Beth is also a personal trainer - so in great shape - and the field was small... But her paddling skills definitely made a difference. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The gear doesn't matter.

As I look around me, I realize how much my life is intertwined with gear. My work, my play, and my passion are wrapped tightly with some sort of outdoor gear. I have spent the better part of the last 20 years, learning, playing, thinking, using, deconstructing, repairing and teaching people about gear for the outdoors.

I have had the great pleasure of working for some amazing organizations - currently I work for the largest provider of outdoor education in the world* - albeit the newest branch of that organization. I have seen how gear fails for a single recreational user and at the institutional level. I have also heard every excuse from users as to what made a piece of gear fail, when I can see - and know - right away, that it was user error or misuse.

I know where the manufacturers send your gear when you send it to them to get it repaired, and I know - for the most part - which company owns which company and what is still privately owned. I know if a product has stitching where it is made and if it has stitching and poles that it was made someplace else.

I know which organizations swear by which pieces of gear and if it will work for them, with thousands of uses in a summer, it will work for you, mister weekend warrior.

I don't mean any of this as bragging (I don’t mean to brag about any of this.) I know many people with much more knowledge than I have and we all talk about gear and the way people use it - or misuse it - and chuckle. When I don't know what the answer is to a particular problem, I know exactly who to go to for an answer.

I decided a long time ago that I wanted to earn my living doing something I enjoy, I also knew that following that path would mean I would never be "well off" in the traditional American sense. I was okay with that, though I sometimes feel out of step with the world around me.

But when it is all said and done: when I think about the gear that I deal with every day, the gear I am always learning more about and teaching people about, the pack that I lug, or the box that I haul, the boats I put on the roof, or the stoves I am constantly cleaning, I realize none of it matters. What matters is getting outside, and sitting around a campfire with friends and a simple dinner or a quiet ride through the woods on my very simple mountain bike following someone I trust, knowing I can just follow their line…or that effortless roll, just to cool off.

It is about being outside, and feeling the sun on my face, or the rain, or the wind, and knowing, at that moment, that it doesn't get any better.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The New crop of watches.

I have worn a suunto vector for over a decade. I chose it because I wanted an ABC watch, that was a step above the Casio Pathfinders I had been using, and a decade ago it was the best ABC watch on the market. ABC stands for Altimeter, Barometer, Compass, and for me, as paddler I won't hit the water without a barometer. 

Here is why. Barometric pressure is the pressure that the air is exerting on you, in a column from above, and it is what makes weather move. When you have an area of low pressure, bad weather - ie. stormy weather with rain - is drawn into it. Think of a Hurricane with an eye in the center drawing bad weather into that very low area of low pressure. As the air is drawn to a location with lower air pressure, it rushes to get there, creating wind. I don't mind paddling in the rain, but wind will really ruin your day. A lot of times, you will feel the wind, before the bad weather hits you, and it is usually a different temperature (cooler), so it is easily noticeable. 

High pressure pushes that bad weather away from you, giving you clear, cool skies. Think crisp fall mornings with a blue sky and just a bit of a chill in the air. That is high pressure doing its work. 

So that is why I wear a Vector, which has been replaced by the upgraded suunto core. I rarely use the compass, and only use the altimeter (which is really just a barometer with a differently calibrated scale) when I am hiking. 

But watches are changing. The first and biggest change is that most people aren't wearing them. I see this when I teach Wilderness First aid. Most people use their phones to tell time. But in the last couple of years we have seen some new watches hit the shelves in our favorite outdoor stores. 

In particular I am thinking about the Garmin Fenix and Fenix 2, and the Suunto Ambit and Ambit 2. These watches add so many features it is dizzying. They are of course ABC watches, but they add GPS technology. Giving you the ability to not only track your location, and plot it on a map, but to know your exact speed and distance and direction to a known point. I was skeptical of the Fenix at first, while it is waterproof I figured it didn't have any features to really make it usable by a paddler. Then I saw that you could switch your units of measure to Nautical. I was delighted, but refused to give up the $400 required to get into the Fenix game. There is now of course a Fenix (and ambit) 2 offering even more features. 

There is also the Garmin Quatix - dubbed "the mariners watch" by garmin, this does a lot of what the Fenix does, but they tout the ability to sight a distant point - and creating a waypoint and paddle towards it. It also has a number of sailing specific watches, it will interact wirelessly with garmin chart plotters, and it will feed NMEA data as well. It has a barometer and programmed tide tables as well - I am not sure if I trust watch based tide information, if you have used it let me know. I would like to try this watch but it is still $400! 

I could buy the new Apple watch for less than that. And speaking of... No mention of waterproof, or battery life, but if it runs apps - which it does - then there could be kayaking specific apps running while you paddle. We will have to see how this looks for real, not just in demo in a keynote. 

What watch are you wearing? 

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Hullaport Problem.

I am a big fan of the Thule Hullaport. I don't have the desire to fold my J cradles down, so I stay away from the more expensive Hullaport Pro - or the Yakima Bowdown. I like the simplicity of the Hullaport. As I have mentioned before I particularly like them on shorter vehicles, I am not very tall, but it is hard to get your boat into a j cradle when the boat has to be lifted on top of a tall SUV.

I have been using the Hullaport for a long time. I am actually on my third set, and when I got my most recent set, I realized they made a design change.

Here is an old Hullaport:

As you can see this hullaport, is curved on both top and bottom. Simple. Classic. Easy to strap a boat too, should you choose to do it that way... You shouldn't but many do. Here is the new one:

Instead of being a loop, top and bottom, it is a loop on the top, and it dead ends on two plugs on the bottom. I am sure this makes manufacturing easier, but you can immediately see the problem. My boat rubbed one of the plugs, and it popped out. I didn't notice it, and have no idea where it happened. Actually, that isn't entirely true... I noticed it the first three times it occurred, picked it up, put it back in the opening, and said to myself "I need to do something to that to hold it in place." and promptly didn't fix it. I thought this was a PO problem, but in fact I am not alone. I parked next to someone at work the other day, and this is what I saw...

I am not alone, and if there are two of us, there are many more. Thule, could you do something about this?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fall is right around the corner!

And a lot of change has occurred in this Otakus life.

Shortly after getting back from Alaska, my employer posted a job opening that was pretty close to my dream job. I applied for it, and got it, and have been working really hard at it for the last three weeks. Which is why there have been few posts here of late. For the first time in a decade I am working fairly regular hours.

When we came back from Alaska we really raced back, and it was for two reasons: one so I could spend my birthday with my beloved and saintly wife - who lets me do crazy things like go to Alaska for a month - and two, to close on a house. It seems the bank wouldn't let my wife buy the house without my signature.

That's right, I bought a house. With two pretty kayaks nestled in the backyard. So if you are paying attention, I may have become an adult. I own a house, and have a semi-normal job (okay, I am still in outdoor education, so it isn't THAT normal). But do you know what buying a house means? I'll tell you.

It means you buy stuff. I now own a weed wacker, can you believe it? I have had to buy a number of things for both the house, and working on the house, and if you read here a lot you know that I am a minimalist, and that it really hurts to add things to my personal tally of items, and so, that means that it is time for a purge!

Starting September 1st I will be doing the purge I did a while back. It is called the minimalist challenge and I first read about it here. We are going to try and do it again. Are you with me? If you are, leave a comment here, or like this post on Facebook. I will post the occasional picture of the stuff I am getting rid of.

Now I am wondering if getting rid of things the previous owner left behind counts....hmmm.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thule Hullavator Madness

The Thule Hullavator is an interesting product. Designed to assist in the lifting of your kayak onto the roof of your vehicle, it is a beautifully designed item, particularly if you are a smaller paddler. If you aren't familiar with it, here is how it works.

Each cradle - which is sort of a modified J type cradle - is connected to a gas assist arm. In the up position, it sits flat on the roof of your vehicle. In the down position, it pulls out to and lowers to the side of your vehicle. Meaning you can put the cradle down, put your kayak in it, and secure it, and then the lift assist will help you get it on the roof of your car or truck. You don't have to lift the kayak above shoulder height. Here is a video showing how it works:

This essentially removes 40 pounds of weight, as you lift the kayak. So in this video, he uses no effort because it is a small boat, for me, it would be the equivalent of lifting a 12 pound boat onto the roof. This is a great thing? Right? Particularly if you are a short paddler like me, or you have a tall vehicle. But there are a couple of problems with it. First is the price - $600. Though I did see it is marked down a bunch of places when I was researching this post - the second is the weight. It weighs 44 pounds. I will get back to why that is important in a minute.

despite how awesome this thing looks, I had never seen one in the wild. Meaning on an actual paddlers car. The only place I ever saw them was at trade shows on display cars. But about two weeks ago, I saw five Hullavators in 3 days. I couldn't believe it.

I saw these two when I was putting in my boat. I never saw the paddlers, I was very curious what they were paddling. The day before this I saw another hullavator on a different vehicle. But then the day after this I saw the ultimate.

It is a little hard to tell in this photo, but that is two hullavators on one vehicle. Now I remember a Thule Rep telling me you couldn't - or shouldn't - do this. But as I peruse several sites I don't see any mention of that. In fact, when I googled it I found a lot of people are doing double Hullavators - which I feel I should point out would be $1200 before the cost of the base rack (which is at least $300) and all of a sudden you are at the cost of a pretty nice kayak!

But here is the problem with the Hullavator - and particularly the double set up above - it goes back to the weight. 44 pounds per Hullavator. Most car racks will support a max weight of 165 pounds. Really, it isn't the car rack that is the problem, it is the roof of the car - Now, We all know that number is designed to be low, and I have had WAY over 165 pounds on the roof of my yaris, going to Alaska I had 150 pounds of boat alone! But still, you have to be safe... Right? So, 44 pounds, plus the weight of the base rack, another 15 or so and you are right at 60 pounds. That leaves you 100 pounds for gear on the roof. My seventeen  and sixteen weigh 102 pounds combined. Now add on that second Hullavator in the picture above. Keep the math simple, two 40 pound Hullavators, and two 40 pound kayaks and you are above the weight of the roof before adding in the base rack. I can see using one, but two seems a little risky to me.

I have to say, I have used just about every kayak hauling device made by Thule and Yakima. I am currently using a Thule Base system, and love it. Though I prefer Yakima round bars, as they flex less. I have always preferred the Thule Glide N Set over the Yakima Mako Saddles and Hully rollers - if you are interested in why, let me know. For the most part J style cradles - which are what I am currently using, are pretty interchangeable. Though the current Thule Hullaports have a slightly different design that I like less than the old ones.

But Thule has something that I think looks really nice, and as soon as I come up with a reason to purchase it, and sell a set of J cradles I will. It is this.

This makes it easier to load, while keeping the boat flat, which makes for a better ride in the car. All of this seems like a lot of obsessing over something that shouldn't matter that much, but really does. If you load your kayak on and off your boat all year, you will learn what works and what doesn't. Like anything else it is easy to see when a product is designed by paddlers who have used it a lot, versus designed by a committee. I like the look of this product a lot. I look forward to trying it out.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Guest Post - Exercise for Expeditioning

Spending a lot of time with the same group of people leads to some interesting conversation. Since both Beth and AJ are accomplished cyclists we talked a lot about long distance cycling and how it compared to long distance paddling. Aj is an avid gamers, so there was a lot of game discussion, and what makes a good game, or what keeps a good game from being great - his level of knowledge, and the ability to pick apart a game and isolate the subtleties of what works and what doesn't is staggering, he should really work in the gaming industry. - But Beth is a personal trainer, with a degree in Kinesiology. She is my go to person when I have a training question, and training and nutrition was a regular conversation. After talking with her, I realize I eat way too much protein, and will never have need of a drink like gatorade - and you probably don't either. I asked her to create a post for me that highlighted the exercises that would benefit kayaking. I did far less intensive pre-trip workouts on this trip, then I did for the Inside Passage, and I felt it. I will never let that happen again, and now i have a guide. Below is Elizabeth Hansens Guide to training for kayak expeditions. Enjoy. 

Preparing for an expedition is a time consuming process; from checking (and double checking) gear, arranging life to continue while you are away from home, and attempting to mentally prepare yourself for life in the backcountry, it is a journey of its own simply to prepare yourself mentally for all you will encounter.

Whether it’s riding a bike, hiking up a mountain or paddling in less than ideal conditions, it is nearly impossible to completely prepare yourself for the awesome experiences that lie ahead of you. Calluses are never thick enough and it’s amazing how just an hour of cold rain can wash away one’s resolve. That is why physical and mental preparation are the key to any successful expedition.

With that being said, here are some exercises I found helpful in my preparation for our expedition to Alaska (or wish I had focused more energy on before I left). Brett does a great job of breaking down the paddle stroke into phases and this article will follow the same format. Each exercise is specifically designed to target a particular element of the forward stroke and strengthen the stabilizer muscles involved. Proper body mechanics are impossible to achieve for extended amounts of time without sufficient muscular endurance. Therefore, it is recommended you do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
Each phase of the forward stroke is further explained here. (note from Paddling Otaku - my current favorite version of the forward stroke lesson is in the free book "Forward" available from iTunes.)  Start incorporating these exercises into your routine and almost instantly you will see a difference in the quality of your forward stroke!

5 points of Contact



C. Lunge

As a starting guide, incorporate a single phase at a time into your regular workouts. For example, if you typically do cardio on Fridays, you would complete your regular workout and then add in your 5 points of contact work. Make sure to give yourself at least a day of rest between strength work to allow for recovery
And finally remember: “In a kayak, the harder you work, the slower you go.”
So don’t work harder, work more efficiently. Efficient bodies effectively utilize energy with minimal waste, making your expedition that much more enjoyable.

 -- Beth Hansen is a veteran personal trainer living and working in her hometown of Greensboro NC. She graduated from the University of North Carolina with a BS in Kinesiology and will finish her MS in Exercise Physiology in Fall of 2014. An ACE certified personal trainer, Beth is a NOLS graduate who specializes in conditioning established athletes and novice adventurers for various types of expeditions.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Garmin, Kayakers would like this feature, please.

On both the Inside Passage and the AGAP trip I used a Garmin GPS. In fact I used the same Garmin GPS, A Dakota 20. I am a big fan of GPS - despite the fact that I teach map and compass classes, I think they are two tools that work great together. Most of the time I use GPS as a check for map and compass work. But before I explain what features I don't see from Garmin, Let me explain how I use a GPS.

I don't leave it on all the time. I know Geckopaddler does, and he creates great maps of all his paddles, but for me I would rather do that on paper. I guess I am old school in that way. Ages ago I pined for Garmin to make a simple tracking device. waterproof, two buttons. Long battery life. Mount it on your boat, bike, or pack, turn it on, activate it, and with no other interaction tracks your movements in three dimensions. When you get home, download it onto your computer and do with it whatever you want. It has no screen and no interaction other than that it is on and tracking. I imagine it looking something like a spot connect only smaller. A lot of people want to know the data from their run/ride/paddle, but that just isn't me. If I really wanted to do that, I could do it with a Garmin Fenix.

I also don't generally load maps on my GPS. Repeat after me, you don't need to load maps on your GPS for it to be functional. All I need a GPS to tell me is my distance to a known location, and the direction to that location. If I know the distance and direction to where my car is parked, I know where I am. There are two times I have loaded maps on my GPS, when I was using it as a bike computer for my commute to work, I wanted roads on my basemap. When I did the Inside passage I loaded topo maps onto my Dakota. Let me just say they won't replace my charts and topo maps - though I do see digital taking over for this. It is only a matter of time until my iPad or something like it is inside my chart case. I do like the idea of having access to satellite images on my handheld, but honestly, I want them to be live, as in, I want to see the top of my own head in real time - or close to it. But that is a discussion for another time.

So if I don't have my GPS on all the time, and I don't want maps installed, what is it I want? I want my GPS to be able to tell me the distance to two different way points at the same time. Here is why. The one time I leave my GPS on all the time is when I am doing an open water crossing. Here is a quick story. A handful of years ago I was paddling the South and North Core banks - Off the coast of North Carolina with a friend. We were in the position of having to make a final crossing - about 2 miles - to get back to the mainland and our car at the put-in. Unfortunately we got stuck at a tiny pile of mud - some would call it an island - before being able to make our crossing. We were stuck there by a series of squalls moving through the area. We waited out through one of them, and then realized we had a break long enough to make it across. My friend had a waypoint where the car was, and he told his GPSmap 60 csx to "goto" that waypoint. I made a waypoint where we were, and told my old etrex legend to "goto" that waypoint, even though it was right where we were. Here is why. As we paddled across the channel my friends way point would tell us how far we had to go, and mine would tell us how far we had come. So at any given moment we knew which way offered safety closer. I want to be able to do this same GPS trick with one GPS unit. It could be as simple as on the trip computer screen, a Distance to field, and a Distance from field.

The other benefit of using this trick is that your compass bearing information gives you important knowledge about the path you are paddling. If you are paddling towards a point your bearing should stay the same (a heading is where your facing, a bearing is where you want to go) But if your bearing is changing that is because your kayak is being pushed left or right, while you are paddling forward. This is very hard to determine without a navigational aid - it can be done, but you need to be super aware, and paying attention to landmarks, and in an open water crossing with large waves, limited visibility, and a high level of stress, it is almost impossible.

So Garmin, it would be great if you could help us out with this. A simple add to the features of your GPS's.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Gear that didn't survive

The Alaskan Glacier Awareness Project was the second major expedition for a lot of my gear. Most of it was purchased years before the Inside Passage trip, but with the expectation that it was for expeditions. Which is why I did things like, buy a four season tent when my three season tent died. So this post, I want to talk about the gear that either needs to be replaced, or upgraded after this trip.

My sleeping pad, the Thermarest Prolite Plus didn't even go on this trip. The last two overnight trips I did, I didn't sleep well on it. It is an inch and a half thick, and that just wasn't enough for my shoulder and hip bones. Oddly, I have used this pad for a long time and never and a problem, so clearly the comfort issue is changes in my body, not the pad. Instead of this trusty pad I brought along a borrowed Big Agnes Q-core SL. For a long time I have stayed away from the new generation of blow up pads, primarily because I think after a day of paddling or hiking, having to blowing up your pad is akin to punishment. But my friend loaned me not only the pad, but this. The NeoAir Mini Pump uses triple A batteries to inflate a pad, and despite the fact that it is made by thermarest it works well with this Big Agnes Pad. It is very "Glamour Camping" or as some prefer "glamping" but I really like it. I will be purchasing both of these products at some point. Unless REI makes a version of the incamp pad that is closer to a regular size (it is 25 x77 and I would like one that is 20 x 72). That pad has a built in hand pump, that works really well.

My beloved tent had a couple of problems. I use an REI four season tent that isn't made anymore, it is essentially a North Face Mountain 25. The first problem was that the shock cords in the poles have lost a lot of their stretch. This is not surprising, and is easy to replace. The bigger problem is that in certain places the fly is leaking. This is confusing because the material is still beading up water like it should. I will re-coat it with DWR and try and figure it out. But I need to keep an eye on it. Particularly before the next rainy trip. Speaking of Shock Cord I need to replace the cords on the deck of my kayak. But that is for another post.

I think my Kelty Noahs Tarp is dead. This leaked like a sieve the entire trip. The material also feels like it has gotten papery thin. I am pretty sure it just needs to be replaced. Which makes me sad, because it is only 4 or 5 years old.

My Immersion Research Shockwave is pretty close to dead. It has been re-taped once by IR, and needs to be done again. The taping on the tunnel came off pretty much right away, and leaks from a couple of places. This is a skirt I got for free, and it has been amazing. It really sold me on the idea of, if you want a great skirt that doesn't pop off, get a whitewater skirt.

My back up paddle, a Werner Camano carbon/carbon is dead. The wiggle in the joint was just too bad, and I have in fact already sold it. I am going to buy a new Camano and drop my Kalliste down to backup status. I like my Kalliste, but I want the lower weight of the Camano as my daily paddle.

I really thought that my sleeping bag, an REI Lumen was going to make its last trip this time, but it keeps chugging along - unfortunately because I would really like a Sierra Designs backcountry bed. But my Sea to Summit Compression dry sack has already gone in the garbage. It got a hole that I repaired on the Inside Passage - it is amazing what you can do with duct tape and aqua seal - but this time it got a tear that was about two inches long. Not the fault of the dry bag, it got stuck on a bare screw under my deck compass, I need to get acorn nuts for them. But it will be replaced with a similar bag. I am using almost exclusively Sea to summit dry bags now. After years of swearing by seal line, it just sort of happened, a bag at a time.

The Spot Connect worked fine, but I hated it. It will not be doing another trip if I can help it. If I do another big trip I will either use an ACR plb, or a Sat Phone. Time will tell...

The fact is, that gear doesn't last as long as you would like to think. For instance, working fro NOLS one summer I did two courses almost back to back. I used my own North Face sleeping bag that was new. I could have rented a bag from NOLS for free, but I really like having my own trusted bag to sleep in every night. The problem with that was, at the end of the summer, it was really and truly dead. Which means it had a life of around 90 days. Now if you use a sleeping bag 4 times a year for a four day trip, that is a long life. But do a couple of 30 day trips, and gear just breaks down.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gecko Paddler Asks....

"Hey PO which of the three is the fastest? Love my load monster 15.5 but might try a demo 17 to compare it to."

This is a great question, but unfortunately a very subjective one. Having spent a fair amount of time in all three of these Deltas I have a pretty good feel for them, so which one is "the fastest"? To determine that we need to understand what "fast" means in a kayak.  A big part of how fast something is, is determined by the motor, and in this case, the paddler is the motor. 

I know from paddling my Seventeen with a GPS that I can cruise at 3.5 or 4 knots, and sprint to 5.5. A couple of times I have hit 6, but I can't keep it up for long, and everything needs to be perfect for me to hit that speed. I am actually not a very fast paddler. So that is the first part of the equation, The speed of the boats will of course vary with the ability of the paddler, and I wouldn't be surprised if Gecko paddles faster than me. 

The boat of course plays a role, The longer a boat is, the faster it will travel. The reason for this is pressure. Pressure on the hull. You have to propel the boat through the water, and to do that you have to physically push the water aside, as it moves down the hull. The front half of the boat is pushing the water ever further apart until it reaches the midpoint. So at the midpoint of the boat - where it is the widest - is the point where pressure starts to decrease.  So the longer the boat is, the more hull you have from the narrowest point - the bow - to the widest point, at the midpoint. So if that distance is longer, the pressure on the hull is less because it is distributed over a larger area. And of course, the wider the boat is, the more you have to press the water apart. Which is why a long, narrow boat is faster than a short wide boat. 

So the Delta 15.5 is of course fifteen feet, six inches long, and 24.5 inches wide. The Sixteen is longer and narrower, sixteen feet long, and 22 inches wide. When you are talking about kayaks width, 2.5 inches is a lot. Then you have the seventeen. Longer at 17 feet, but 22.5 inches wide. So if we are talking about absolute speed, my guess is that the Sixteen and the seventeen are pretty close to identical, with the 15 being slower.  But we are probably talking about a total difference between the 15 and the 17 of half a knot. 

But if you have ever driven a high performance car, you learn that top speed isn't really that important. It is getting to that speed that is the fun part, and if we are only talking about half a knot speed difference, then that just proves that top speed isn't that important. What is important is acceleration. And without a real way to measure acceleration in a kayak, it is all about feel. 

When someone gets into a boat, and does a handful of strokes, and says "wow, this feels fast" what they are really saying is, wow, this accelerates fast. And I will say right now, the Delta Sixteen accelerates fast. It is a nimble, responsive boat. I think the fifteen is pretty fast, but definitely accelerates slower than the other two. And the Seventeen is right in the middle. 

The Fifteen has been pretty consistently referred to as "the minivan" of the Delta line. It hauls a lot of gear, and for a boat of its width is a lot of fun to paddle. The Seventeen is the classic touring kayak. Seventeen feet is a great length for touring, it holds a lot of gear, accelerates fast, and cruises all day long. the Sixteen is like getting in a corvette. Fast off the line, responsive, with a slightly smaller payload. 

So, Gecko, I would definitely demo a seventeen. 

Delta Sixteen - In Depth Review.

We received a Delta 16, as our third boat, for AGAP about a month before departure. Beth Spent a lot of time in it, during prep, both paddling it and packing it. We did self and assisted rescues with it, and then in Alaska, spent a lot of time in it, in all sorts of conditions. I didn't paddle it until recently, so much of what I am going to tell you, is from Beth's perspective.

Straight out, it is a beautiful boat, with clean lines, and the amazing Delta attention to detail. The boat we received is a year old, and has been slightly updated in the product line, but I believe the changes are pretty minimal. Sixteen feet long and 22 inches wide, with spacious bow and stern hatches, as well as a small deck hatching front of the cockpit.

Beth immediately found the boat comfortable and responsive. She found the cockpit outfitting comfortable - I found the seat back a little high, not surprising since I replaced the seat back on my Seventeen. The rudder pedals were easy to adjust, and she found them to be in a good location. We both had room in front of our feet for more storage. The seat bottom is adjustable, and is the standard Delta seat, which is very good.

Packing the boat was easy with her large hatch covers, that utilize hooks inside the compartment to hold it closed. No neoprene internal covers, which we both liked. It took Beth a couple of days to get the hang of the locking mechanism, but I found them easy to use, and very secure. This boat is surprisingly spacious in terms of storage. Beth loved the day hatch in front of the cockpit on day paddles, but didn't use it on the actual expedition. There tended to be gear on top of it, like a deck bag, and it made it a little more difficult to get a pelican case with a camera into the cockpit. I don't use day hatches, but this one is nicely designed and built, I am just glad it isn't behind the cockpit like most.

The boat we received was the skegged version, which has a small skegbox in the center of the rear compartment. While this wouldn't let me use my large tapered bag, Beth had no problems packing. Speaking of the skeg, it too is well designed and we had no trouble with it, with the one exception being the cord that holds the skeg in place needs a refined mechanism, it sometimes slipped out of the cleat, and the skeg would fully deploy when she only wanted it to deploy halfway.

When I paddled it first I was immediately impressed. Its rounded chines don't hold an edge quite as well as the hard chines on my seventeen, but is very easy to get on edge. The boat is very quick to accelerate, and carries speed well. It is a very fast little boat. I say little, but it is only a foot shorter than mine.

I think this is the perfect boat for the smaller paddler - just like the eighteen is great for the really big guys, my friend who is 6' 6" fit in it perfectly - it gives you the ability to easily do multi day trips, but is still fun, and agile for day trips. I would highly recommend this boat.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Black Belt Kayakers

I paddled today, actually for the first time since Alaska. It was lovely. In part because it was just nice to paddle, and even better that the boat didn't have 150 pounds of gear in it. In part because it was a beautiful day. But in part because I was paddling with family. Particularly my wife, who doesn't love paddling, it has been at least a couple of years since she has paddled with me.

As I was paddling something occurred to me. Everyone in the kayaks, from my 10 year old nephew, to his 13 year old sister, Their mother, my wife, son and myself are all trained in martial arts. Most of the people in the group were black belts. Here is something most people don't realize about the term Black Belt. When people hear that term, they immediately think expert. Something I found very interesting in the Dojo, was that isn't really what it means at all. It means you have learned the basic movements in whatever art you are studying, and now, with this knowledge you can really start to learn.

My wife is a 3rd degree black belt - A Sandan in GoJu Karate. I think she would have been higher, but she stopped testing for belts, which I will explain more about later. My niece is a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and my Nephew a 1st. AJ, my stepson, is a Brown Belt, also in GoJu Karate, but was literally raised in a Dojo. He lost interest in his early teens, and stopped attending. My sister-in-law is a 4th degree black belt in Goju Karate and a 2nd degree in Tae Kwon Do. I am a lowly blue belt - two steps below black. I didn't lose interest. I still practice, and occasionally do Kata. I love to spar, and hit the bag. But I stopped because I was disenchanted with my Dojo. The teachers had great skill, but weren't great teachers, and as an educator that really bothered me. For years I have been saying (jokingly) that my wife, a psychologist, generally knows what I am thinking before I think it, and then, because she is also a martial artist can kick the crap out of me for thinking it. It is even more humbling to think my 13 year old niece could as well.

But here is the thing. They never would. If you spend enough time in a Dojo, you begin to realize that fights in the real world are to be avoided. You always lose, even if you are the victor. When some people reach brown belt they get an illness sometimes called 'brown belt-itis' A swelling of the ego, as they are starting to get fluent in their skills, and they start looking for fights. My son is at his core, a pacifist. He is very gentle, extremely loving, and will back down from any real fight. I weep for the person who backs him into a corner and forces him to act. It will not end well for that person. I know this from experience, when he was 10, on a beach in the Outer Banks, he knocked me on my ass with a punch to the chest. He is now 24. His lifetime in a Dojo inoculated him from brown belt-itis.

Today as I was paddling I was thinking about martial arts because of the group I was with. I have trained many martial artists to paddle, and I have known for quite some time that they make great paddlers. Many of the movements are the same, for example power comes from the core and the legs, the key is torso rotation. Martial artists are both comfortable translating their skills to the boats, and they are also skilled at following instructions to learn something physical. I of course, teach paddling as a martial art, and that technique came to me while in the Dojo, probably while doing my one millionth reverse punch.

Paddling, of course doesn't have a belt system of ranks, but we do have ranks of sorts. Certified by either ACA, BCU or Paddle Canada, we take classes and tests to illustrate and demonstrate our skill level. Some people wear these rankings as a matter of pride. I have never done a course like this, because I never had to. I was trained by the National Outdoor Leadership School to teach, and for everyone who has hired me, that has been enough. Most of the time, when talking to these people I am underwhelmed. Not so much with their skill level, but with the experience level, for example, these are the Prerequisites for the BCU Level 5 star sea kayak assessment, the highest offered.

Assessment Prerequisites:
Previous experience -
The candidate must provide documented logged evidence of a minimum of 24 varied,
quality, advanced sea kayak days in 3 different sea areas. This should include at least
one multi-day trip.
  • Recognised First aid award (minimum 16 hrs training including CPR) within the last 3 years
  • Relevant Leadership Training - 5 Star Leader Sea training within the last 3 years or ‘old’ style
    5 Star Sea Training within the last 3 years. Due to the nature of this award and its important remit for leadership it is required that candidates show 3 days (2 days and 2 nights) logged experience of training in leadership and personal skills, safety and rescue, and must include an overnight camp. It is also strongly recommended that further endorsed training be undertaken based on the candidates action plan in different sea areas and a variety of environmental conditions.
  • Relevant Safety Training: BCU Open Water Navigation & Tidal Planning Training or 2 days specific training on open water navigation tidal planning from a registered BCU 5 Star Leader Sea Provider.
  • Home Nation Registration (LR Form)
  • Aged 18 years or above. 
Now, when I look at this compared to myself, I have 24 days in 3 different sea areas all in one multi day trip, in just the last two months. Everything else on that list, not only have I done, but I teach them as well. It is important to understand, I am not knocking BCU at all. I think it is the premier program in the world - though I have very little exposure to Paddle Canada, but from what I have seen looks like a great program! - for kayak certification. I guess I never got BCU five star-itis. At some point, I won't get a job because I lack a certification, and then I will go get it, though I can't go right to 5 of course, I will have to work my way through the ranks. Part of the reason I don't like "certification hunting" is because when I was a Paramedic, it is all about certifications. ACLS, PALS, PHTLS, CPR, AED, etc, etc. I had a stack of cards saying I had passed tests, but none of them said how good of a medic I was.

I think that was why my wife stopped taking tests to advance her rank. She realized there was no point. She didn't need the rank for work - some actually do - She had no need to impress people. She continued to work out, and perfect her skill, but had no need to have her skill denoted by a stripe on a belt. My problem is that an ACA or BCU 1 star won't be enough. I will have no choice but to work my way up the ranks, in essence to match my experience. It will be time consuming, and expensive. I know I will learn things, we never stop learning, and for a couple of years I have been saying I want to take paddling instruction to push my skills. There are few people I want to work with though, and the two I do want to work with are both pretty far away. One, four hours, and the other in Scotland.

I like to think of certifications the way my Sensei described his black belt. He said to me once, "at the end of the day, it just holds up your pants"

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Delta Seventeen is the Best Expedition Kayak on the planet. Period.

I know.

That is a bold statement. But I have now put a ridiculous amount of miles under the hull of my seventeen. And it is true. I have paddled the Seawards, I have paddled the NDK's, and the Wilderness Systems boats. The P&H Cetus is a beautiful boat too. I came close to buying a Necky Looksha, but at the end of the day, I will stick with my Delta.

After literally thousands of miles, I still love this boat. Let us start with build quality. Beautifully finished, glossy and sexy. With great finishing touches - I would like some more outfitting options. Like a choice of seats, and such. I have made one repair to this boat, and it took me literally seconds - I replaced the hatch cover seals which Delta sent me at no cost. High quality gas pedal style foot braces,  have given me literally zero trouble. After six years and thousands of miles, I have yet to make a repair to my rudder, or rudder cables (and people say they are more prone to problems than skegs, but in the same amount of time I have repaired four skegs for friends or employers) and if you want it with a skeg you can have that too.

Thermoform plastic is a 21st century material, Fiberglass is very 20th century. Sorry folks, but that is how I see it. (the theme of this week at Paddling Otaku is 'drop the dogma' so lets just throw out the notion that fiberglass is the only way to go, because people say it is) Thermoform - when done right, like Delta does - gives me a stronger, lighter, and more forgiving material than fiberglass. Now someone will say "Oh, but you can't fix thermoform like you can fiberglass!" Nonsense. I repaired The Delta 15 after it got damaged from a forklift - yes, that is what it takes to crack one of these boats - and then it did the AGAP trip without issue.  I have done things to this boat where I was sure I had cracked it, and gotten nothing but scratches. I have slid this boat down rocky beaches to get away from bears - yes, a massive coastal brown bear in Alaska, literally had his front paws on my stern hatch, it did no damage - I have loaded it and unloaded it on rocks because it was my only choice for a campsite. It has been on the roof of my car for two round trips to Alaska. Drive the Alaskan highway and you will get hit with debris, I have the cracked windshield to prove it, but no damage to the boat.

For long trips, this boat is exceptionally easy to pack. Large openings, that close easily. No neoprene to fight with over the hatch covers. No day hatch,  with a  tiny opening and adding a bulkhead to the stern. I can put a gallon can of fuel - standing upright! so I don't have to worry about it leaking - in the bow compartment. I don't know of another boat that can do that. Behind the cockpit I can fit three 15 liter dry bags of food, side by side.

A metal locking ring behind the cockpit can also be used as a tie point for towing, and they put supports in the hull where the boat will be sitting in a roof rack. That is the kind of attention to detail I like.

You don't fit well in the seventeen? Well there is a very similar eighteen and sixteen. The sixteen performed amazingly in Alaska, and I will have a review coming up soon.

I think the only real competition for this boat is the NDK explorer, which is a great boat, is beautifully made, and has some incredible attention to detail. The angled rear bulkhead to help empty water out of the cockpit is genius. But it is heavy, and over $1000 more, but neither of those problems  is the deal killer for me. I need to do one thing on an expedition. Move a lot of gear and food. The bow of the Explorer holds 58 liters versus The Seventeens 83 liters. On the explorer add the day hatch to the stern compartment, and you have a total of 99 liters behind the cockpit. The Delta has 135 liters behind the cockpit. We won't even get into the fact that the Day hatch on the Explorer makes it more difficult to pack.

If you have a touring boat you think is better, lets go paddling. Prove me wrong.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Shokunin Mindset.

The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning.  The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. … The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people.  This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.” – Tasio Odate

Kayaking is too frequently taught as dogma. I don't believe this is the best way to learn something. I work very hard at two things. Being the best teacher I can be, and doing the best forward stroke I can do. I don't think it can be taught by one method. I have used many over time, and I have learned to tailor lessons to the people in front of me. Not everyone learns the same way. Why should we teach them the same way, particularly something as difficult to teach as the forward stroke. 

Bruce Lee knew that fighting styles shouldn't be taught as dogma. He took this, and he took that and he combined them to create his on style of 'no style'. 

It is that combination of things teaching, and the forward stroke, that I feel is my Shokunin. It is my obligation, to not only continually refine my forward stroke, but to refine how I teach it. Don't get me wrong. I think I am a good paddler, but there are many who are better. I am great at expeditions, but there are many that are better. By I am obsessed by the forward stroke, and appalled by the little bit of attention it gets. 

I am continually drawn back to the film "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" because it is at once so inspiring and so humbling. Today I was struck by a sentence, spoken by the man who sells eel and octopus. That is all he does, is sell eel and octopus. Jiro's son goes to him - as he does all his fish vendors - because they are experts at their craft. Jiro is an expert at making Sushi, but he goes to people who are experts in fish. He knows he can't possibly know as much as they do, because they specialize in just one thing. The eel man said, "even at my age I am learning new techniques. even when you think you know it all, you are just fooling yourself, and you feel foolish."

I haven't held kayak paddle as long as this man has held octopus. I think I am at the point, after 20 years, where I am starting to get good. 

When you choose to do something, you have to choose to do it well. You have to say, Today I am going to be the best I can be. And you have to say it everyday. If you don't you are letting yourself down. But if you do this, you will excel, in whatever you do. If you are a brick layer, strive to be the best bricklayer.

too often I see people who fail, because they don't want to try. I work hard to be as good as I can be. If I know I can't compete I move onto something else, I am not saying I have to be the best, because I am certainly not, But I have to be MY best. Which is why I am no longer a paramedic.

every time I get into the cockpit, I am thinking about all the minutia. The feel of the boat, the feel of the water. The feel of the paddle. I am working to be the best paddler I can be, particularly as it relates to the forward stroke.

You may think that this level of attention is a little crazy. It's just paddling after all, but it makes a difference, at least to me. And the pay off is when I see a student start to get it. Or when I have that perfect day, and the paddle glides effortlessly through the water. That is when it is worth it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Practical Minimalist.

For me, my minimalism started out of divorce. Shortly after I found myself alone in an apartment in lower manhattan - before I owned a kayak - While Desperate for an end to sadness, I discovered Feng Shui. I read that my environs affected my emotions, and the first step to happiness was an organized space. And the first step to an organized space, was decluttering. I threw out a lot. Honestly, I threw out, gave away, or sold most of what I owned, and it was freeing. I don't know if it was Feng Shui or not, but I definitely felt better.

Today - nearly 20 years later - I consider myself a practical minimalist. I have made up that term so let me explain what that is. The past year or so I have spent a lot of time at a couple of specific subreddits at the website reddit. Particularly r/minimalism and r/tinyhouses. I enjoy both because they both align with more simplified life. There is r/simpleliving as well, which I like, but it doesn't grab me as much. Here is the problem with r/minimalism. probably 50% of the posts relate to a lifestyle that isn't practical. I love the photos of the desks with just a macbook air on it claiming to be a 'workspace', but that isn't going to be me. I do too much video work to edit on a little screen, and my desk is always covered with a) the piece of gear I need to fix b)the piece of gear I just fixed c) the Gopro camera that is charging d)the materials from the class I am about to teach, or did just teach. Another popular post subject on r/minimalism is "everything I own fits in this 30 liter backpack". Which is invariably posted by someone who writes code for a living, and can do it with a macbook air at a cafe in Paris for his client in wherever. He doesn't need a desk, he sleeps in hostels and has one change of clothes and two pairs of underwear. This is a great lifestyle, and I wish I had it, but I love my wife and my dog, and I am not getting rid of them because my entire life doesn't fit in a back pack. And apparently to be a minimalist you really have to have a macbook air, apple should use this in marketing. But despite the fact that I don't live my life on a 13 inch screen most of my friends and acquaintances are fascinated by my lifestyle. A month ago if you came to my house and wanted to sit in the living room, you were either on the floor or a piece of folding camp furniture.

I recently moved, and everything my wife and I own fit in half a 14 foot U-Haul. I don't have a TV. I don't have a DVD collection. I didn't move a bed - I got a new Tuft & Needle discovered on r/minimalism - and I didn't have a couch.  I own about 20 books. I am constantly giving away gear, and books. If I am done with a book, and I think you might enjoy it, I am giving it to you. I am regularly selling old gear when I need to upgrade. I don't buy a piece of new gear unless I need it - not want it. If I have no use for a piece of gear, to me, it has no value. If you would enjoy it, I get pleasure out of giving it to you! I actually own dishes (okay, only 8 dishes and 6 bowls) and cook wear, but I am not buying a unitasker kitchen item.  I have a very small wardrobe and three pairs of shoes. I do one load of laundry per week - As a side note, if you live your life in the outdoors and most of your clothes are wicking/quick dry, your 'drier time' is very short.

I moved recently because I bought a house (This kicks me immediately out of the minimalist club!). My wife and I have been renting for years. Burned in the housing bubble we were hesitant to make the investment again. But we realized that we are going to be in our present location for at least 6 or 7 years, and a mortgage would be a few dollars more than our rent. Literally a few dollars. So we found a house we liked, in a neighborhood we liked and I moved the kayaks. We didn't move into a tiny house, even though I love the idea. We did move to a house that was smaller than our rental. My rental landlord, was flabbergasted to hear we were moving to something smaller. This smaller home will be easier to heat, and cool. And because we don't own much, it still looks and feels  roomy. At the moment we think we may retire to a tiny house. It would really only be about 700 Square feet smaller then what we are in now. My friends are amazed because we actually bought a couch. The living room in the rental was mostly empty.

This is what I consider a practical minimalist lifestyle. I have the things I need. If I don't need it, I don't own it. The important distinction here is need versus want. Most Americans buy what they want. I am not purging absolutely everything I own so that my life fits in a 40 liter backpack or dry bag, but I am also not buying things I don't need. When we moved I realized that for some reason we had 18 spoons. I got rid of 8 of them. If there are four people in my house for dinner, and we have dessert, I could need 10 spoons. Twice a year I have six people for dinner. I may end up washing a couple of spoons, but that's okay.

My house has a very uncluttered feel. In fact it feels very open. It is soothing. It is lovely.

This is one of the reasons I like expedition kayaking. Everything I need is in the boat. If it isn't there, I am living without. But even this is open to change. Because we were making the film on the last trip I had a lot of gear I didn't have before. Solar panels and Sherpa Batteries, and multiple cameras, and tiny tripods. I felt like I had more gear than I needed. But after thinking back through the trip, there are only a couple of things I had in my boat that didn't get used. The first is my first aid kit. I carry a large one on expeditions. I am not getting rid of that. The other was my fire starting kit. Despite the fact that AJ really got into making fires on this last trip, he only used one thing from my fire starting kit. The whole thing can be made much simpler. Certainly smaller than the pelican case it is in now.

Also on this trip Beth used my backup paddle as her primary paddle. The wiggle in the joint got noticeably worse, so when I got home, I put it on craigslist and sold it. I  decided on the trip to make my Kalliste my back up paddle, and I want to downgrade my primary paddle to the Werner Camano.

I am downgrading for a couple of reasons. The biggest, is weight. The Camano weighs less than the Killiste (and costs less). The other reason is, I am not sure the foam core in the blade is actually benefiting my paddling. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but if it isn't helping me, it is hurting me. So why not go back a step. It is simplifying, plain and simple. Much like the reason I don't use a bent shaft. It weighs more, costs more, and I don't think it is actually providing a benefit. I don't have to have it, just to prove I am a great kayaker. (and for the record, I have a long way to go before I consider myself a great kayaker)

For a long time I felt like people didn't take me seriously as an instructor because I didn't use a fiberglass boat. I came to learn my gear isn't dictating my skill level. It may however be dictating your perception of my skill level. And that is a level of crazy I am not interested in dealing with.

Similarly, when I go back to New York - where I am from - I am very self conscious that my peers will think I am a failure because I don't have a high power job, making a lot of money. I have a friend who is a successful chef. I have a friend who is a photographer for the NY Times - and does many books. I always wonder what they think of my job teaching kayaking, and map & compass and things like that. The last time I was there, I met an old friend for lunch. She is a judge. An actual NYC Judge, and she makes a very good living. She asked if I was going back to Alaska this summer, I said I was. Then added that I wasn't making any money - projecting my own concerns on what I thought she was thinking - Her response was "You are living the dream!" So while I was concerned she was judging me for my simple job and lifestyle. She was actually envious of me and the things my lifestyle allows me to do. There is no way a chef, or a judge, can take off 5 weeks to go kayaking. I stopped worrying about it then.

So what do I want? Well, I am practical, and I am a minimalist. So my wants are both of those things. There is a list of places I want to paddle that I haven't. Cape Cod. Newfoundland. Norway and Patagonia. I do want to continue to shrink my personal possessions but it is getting more and more difficult. I simply don't own that much.

My goal, as a practical minimalist is a simple lifestyle. With very few worries and stressors. I want to enjoy my life, while having a minimal impact on the world around me. I want to have the time to enjoy little things. The swell rolling under my boat. The sound of rain hitting the water as I paddle through the ice. A good cup of coffee on a cold morning. Of course, I only have one coffee cup. So I won't stress over which one to use.